• Railroads and "Nukes"

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by Gilbert B Norman
 
A concern I have held for the railroad industry's future outlook has been the potential loss of coal traffic brought about by the various air quality legislative initiatives. Electric utility companies all seem to be of the "voice" that they will be phasing out the use of coal fired generation in favor of alternative fuels, which means natural gas and - nuclear. Even developing economies, such as within China, appear to be under pressure, both from within and from the worldwide community with which they desire to have trade relations, to supplant coal fired electric power generation. This would represent a 'double whammy" to the railroad industry as Asian export coal appeared to be a traffic source that would offset the loss of any domestic use.

Now comes the Japan disaster, and the world learns "those nukes ain't as safe as they told us they were".

Possibly members may wish to share thoughts whether the still-unfolding man-made (triggered by a natural) Japan disaster will cause a "rethink' on the world-wide use of coal as the principal means to generate electricity. Lest we forget, America has more coal than the Arabs have oil - and there is only one reasonable and practical means to move such either to the plant or dock.
  by DutchRailnut
 
<<and the world learns "those nukes ain't as safe as they told us they were".>>

no one ever claimed Nuclear plants were safe when built in a earth quake zone, so my question is who finally woke up ???
The extreemes in conditions now at Japan are a once in 2000 year event,
yet all our current power production plants except for wind/solar are all continous daily polluters, endangering those around the plants much more than Neuclear ever will.
  by Patrick Boylan
 
I read or heard a quote yesterday that said at least so far, and under most reasonable scenarios, the damage from the reactors is a relatively minor problem compared to all the other damage from the quake and tsunami. Sorry I can't remember the quote's source
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
OK granted, that the potential 'worst case', namely that all four damaged nuclear reactors "melt down", would still be small when compared to the natural damage the region has suffered. Further, some will be quick to note that "we' intentionally caused more nuclear destruction (and some will say needlessly as the Japanese were already making overtures for a graceful means to surrender) upon Japan than these US designed (GE) plants could begin to cause.

Relating to this topic, Today's New York Times reports that there could be resistance to expansion of the nuclear power industry:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/14/scien ... itics.html

Brief passage:

  • WASHINGTON — The fragile bipartisan consensus that nuclear power offers a big piece of the answer to America’s energy and global warming challenges may have evaporated as quickly as confidence in Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors.

    Senator Joseph I. Lieberman wants to “put the brakes” on nuclear construction for now while studying what happened in Japan.
    Until this weekend, President Obama, mainstream environmental groups and large numbers of Republicans and Democrats in Congress agreed that nuclear power offered a steady energy source and part of the solution to climate change, even as they disagreed on virtually every other aspect of energy policy. Mr. Obama is seeking tens of billions of dollars in government insurance for new nuclear construction, and the nuclear industry in the United States, all but paralyzed for decades after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, was poised for a comeback
But I hope that the participants will not turn this topic into a "geopolitical' one, and rather direct towards the possibility that the "nuke" initiative that I for one see growing will be slowed. Again, lest we forget, the interests of an industry all here follow, whether as a hobbyist or a stakeholder, could be favorably or adversely affected by the outcome of the current nuclear disaster.

Finally, dig deep, please dig deep, for the disaster relief charity of your choice.
  by Ken W2KB
 
Gilbert B Norman wrote:Possibly members may wish to share thoughts whether the still-unfolding man-made (triggered by a natural) Japan disaster will cause a "rethink' on the world-wide use of coal as the principal means to generate electricity. Lest we forget, America has more coal than the Arabs have oil - and there is only one reasonable and practical means to move such either to the plant or dock.
You mean coal slurry pipelines? ;-) But for the lobbying by the railroads a couple decades ago, the pipes would have displaced many coal trains.

The other potential means being bandied about is heavy taxpayer/ratepayer subsidy to construct massive transmission projects for wind generation. A lot of that transmission could/would transverse coal producing regions, facilitating new generation to be built at the mine mouth or pit. Coal by wire.

Most definitely, it will be interesting to see how all this pans out for the railroads, coal suppliers and the electric generation industry, and whether electricity remains affordable for most.
  by BigLou80
 
Ken W2KB wrote: You mean coal slurry pipelines? ;-) But for the lobbying by the railroads a couple decades ago, the pipes would have displaced many coal trains.
I have no factual or other working knowledge of coal slurry but it sounds like a terrible idea. it would have to be abrasive and otherwise very hard on pipes and pumps. I am also going to take a shot in the dark that coal slurry has a lot of water in it and there for won't burn. I can only imagine how much energy would go in to "drying" the slurry which I would think would create a whole lot of dirty water. I some how doubt the rail roads had to lobby all that hard, but I could be all wrong.
Ken W2KB wrote: The other potential means being bandied about is heavy taxpayer/ratepayer subsidy to construct massive transmission projects for wind generation. A lot of that transmission could/would transverse coal producing regions, facilitating new generation to be built at the mine mouth or pit. Coal by wire.
I doubt we will ever see that. Transmitting moving electrons is a very inefficient process ( often times in the high single digits), the father way a plant the more coal it would need to consume to replace the same amount of electricity generated closer. I suspect it's still the most environmentally friendly and cost effective solution to load the coal on a train and make the electricity closer to where it's needed.

The best solution ( in the world according to me) would be to use all of this "free/green" electricity to produce hydrogen from water ( close to the generation source) which can then be shipped ( via rail??) to where it's needed. Picture a unit train ( would probably be a pipeline but oh well) of water heading out in to the desert to provide the feed stock for a hydrogen plant. I think hydrogen and fuel cells are really where it's at for the future, you can start and end with drinkable water no emissions no waste, just some heat ( which could be useful) and water
Ken W2KB wrote: Most definitely, it will be interesting to see how all this pans out for the railroads, coal suppliers and the electric generation industry, and whether electricity remains affordable for most.
I think the rail roads will be OK even with the loss of coal revenue, Other factors like $5.00/ gallon diesel fuel ( bad for them, way way worse for trucks) and our gov'ts inability to afford the D.D.E interstate system are working in their favor.
  by Patrick Boylan
 
BigLou80 wrote: I have no factual or other working knowledge of coal slurry but it sounds like a terrible idea...
I some how doubt the rail roads had to lobby all that hard, but I could be all wrong.
I agree, you could be all wrong :)
Sorry I tried to resist, but succumbed to the temptation. I agree that there are plenty of factors against coal slurry pipelines so that the railroad lobbying probably wasn't the final straw against them.
BigLou80 wrote: The best solution ( in the world according to me) would be to use all of this "free/green" electricity to produce hydrogen from water ( close to the generation source) which can then be shipped ( via rail??) to where it's needed. Picture a unit train ( would probably be a pipeline but oh well) of water heading out in to the desert to provide the feed stock for a hydrogen plant. I think hydrogen and fuel cells are really where it's at for the future, you can start and end with drinkable water no emissions no waste, just some heat ( which could be useful) and water
I've often wondered why when folks talk about how wonderfully clean hydrogen fuel cells are they usually don't mention the often dirty energy that has to go into making the hydrogen. It's kind of like us foamers who talk about how trolleys are clean because they produce no fumes, ignoring how we made the electricity to feed the trolleys. So again I agree. As you say, if it's free green electricity then both the fuel cells and the trolley cars get a lot greener themselves.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
BigLou80 wrote:I think the rail roads will be OK even with the loss of coal revenue, Other factors like $5.00/ gallon diesel fuel ( bad for them, way way worse for trucks) and our gov'ts inability to afford the D.D.E interstate system are working in their favor.
Lou, the "fallout" from the Japanese disaster seems to escalate every day; and at this time, there seems to be no end in sight.

Now I realize that i am an advocate for the railroad industry (yes, I know over at the Amtrak Forum, they think otherwise in view of my anti-Long Distance trains positions that I have held likely ever since I hired on with the industry during 1970, but I think that many participants there loose sight that Amtrak revenues are not more that 1% of the industry's total revenue - and the Long Distance trains only 26% of that), but sooner or later, there will be a backlash against further proliferation of nuclear facilities. Yes Chernobyl was twenty five years ago (likely one third of the membership at this site was not even born; and FWIW I was overseas in the UK when it occurred) and Three Mile Island (thirty two years ago) was successfully contained, but this incident arose from a natural phenomenon well known to a highly civilized society with competent technicians operating the equipment that was designed by General Electric (as distinct from some branch of the Politburo and operated by a cadre of cronies).

The nuclear power industry is simply in a "no win"; yes "Obama the Idealist" campaigned in favor of such during '08, but come '12, I doubt if "Obama the Pragmatist" will have too much to say about such (same for HSR).

Yes, I am quite aware of the coal slurry initiative Mr. Brown notes that was moving forth when i "hired on", but at that time, there was reasonable doubt how much of a railroad industry would be left what with one -third of the mileage (including my own) operating under bankruptcy protection and the "healthy" roads rapidly disinvesting (remember ICIndustries, Northwest Industries, Chicago Milwaukee Corporation, Santa Fe Industries, anyone?), publicly owned railroads could well have become transportation - freight and passenger - of the last resort. Now there is little doubt that investor owned railroads are here to stay and will constitute a preferred transport means (even passengers in certain markets). Again America has more coal than the Arabs have oil; so far as I'm concerned "let's dig it".

Finally, again 'dig deep", please "dig deep' for the Japanese relief charity of your choice. Some may say what difference will my fifty bucks make? The difference is that you know you have given up something in your own life because others have had so much more taken from them. In my case, there will be one less concert attended this year (which defeats the point of sorts in view of that there is no such a thing as a proprietary symphony orchestra - but that's the only public event i attend in this life).
  by 2nd trick op
 
First and foremost, I'm not prepared to "go off the deep end" in either direction on this issue; it's another "growing pain" in the developemnt of a process which, like it or not, we are all going to have to live with. There is no "off the shelf" alternative to the nuclear systems which have been under development for sixty years, and our second thoughts about non-renewable fossil fuel began to arise not long after. (I first heard concerns about "greenhouse gases" in a public-relations film --- produced by either AT&T or General Electric, IIRC, way back in 1961, when I was a sixth-grader.)

And I'm not ready to "swallow anything whole" if it comes from the likes of either Fox or CNN. The media's prime clientle is the stay-at-home "trailing spouse" with the lion's share of responsibility for raising the nestlings ... hence the emphasis on both security and its mass-marketing.

Regarding the exchange between Mr. Boylan and "Big Lou":
BigLou80 wrote:

The best solution ( in the world according to me) would be to use all of this "free/green" electricity to produce hydrogen from water ( close to the generation source) which can then be shipped ( via rail??) to where it's needed. Picture a unit train ( would probably be a pipeline but oh well) of water heading out in to the desert to provide the feed stock for a hydrogen plant. I think hydrogen and fuel cells are really where it's at for the future, you can start and end with drinkable water no emissions no waste, just some heat (which could be useful) and water

Mr. Boylan's response:

I've often wondered why when folks talk about how wonderfully clean hydrogen fuel cells are they usually don't mention the often dirty energy that has to go into making the hydrogen. It's kind of like us foamers who talk about how trolleys are clean because they produce no fumes, ignoring how we made the electricity to feed the trolleys. So again I agree. As you say, if it's free green electricity then both the fuel cells and the trolley cars get a lot greener themselves.
I don't mean to raise this issue to "diss" either of these gentlemen, but the highly technical nature and the physical characteristics of both the energy and "heavy" transport sectors make them extremely vulnerable to second-guessing and Monday-morning-quarterbacking by people who don't understand the economic constraints, long horizons, immovable nature of the assets, and all the other concerns that are easily manipulated by people with an agenda, and who recruit heavily among the non-technical "touchie-feelies" described above, for short-term political and/or economic gain.

The "green" movement remains in denial where many of these realities are concerned ... they espouse rail technology only when it can be used to get their hands on the means of production for a vision which revolves more around centralized planning, and concentration of the authority of the state. Hence the quick flowering, and equally quick demise of the promotion of HSR as a panacea. It's time to lock up the liquor, valuables and weapons, and keep a close eye on the chronic whiners who are always looking for somebody to blame for the "issue of the day".

One last thought;

I don't fiond it the least bit suprising that the Japanese ended up "carrying the ball" in this latest phase of the development of a global, civilized and hopefully, open society ruled by both parliamentary democracy and the free exchange of both goods and opinion. They are the first (and not yet fully 'vetted') industrialized society wthout a Western monotheistic heritage, and they are the only nation which, to date, has felt the sting of atomic energy used in anger. The nature of their existence ... 100+ million people crammed on a rocky archipelago ... renders them vulnerable, and accounts for a culture which venerates innovation, yet discourages too much individuality.

Hopefully, we will all continue to learn from each other.
Last edited by 2nd trick op on Wed Mar 16, 2011 11:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by BigLou80
 
Mr Norman,

I am looking out my bedroom window at the containment building for a GE mark1 boiling water reactor, I will sleep fine tonight. I think this crisis is actually forcing some people to learn a little bit about the nuclear power industry in our country where our plants are built to the highest standards in the world. I feel much better about Vermont Yankee (VY) after reading about differences between the two plants. The mere fact that the plant in japan has not had a complete melt down is amazing, it speaks wonders to the integrity of these plants. Chernobyl will never happen in this country, that reactor lacked a containment building due to the Russian Gov't wanting to save money. On a side note VY had its own siding that I am going to assume was used during construction.

I agree however that for the time being we won't be seeing any new plants come on line which is sad because it's the only off the shelve combustion free technology for generating base load power. We do have a lot of coal but I don't see digging it up and burning it as a great solution to our problems.

My comments about coal slurry were an attempt to imply the railroads had a fairly easy battle in front of them. Technical and economic factors make shipping coal by rail the all around best deal. It's cheaper then coal by wire and simpler then coal slurry. I can only imagine how often they would need to replace sections of pipe full of abrasive coal slurry. What was the desire for the mine owners to look at a coal slurry pipe line ?
  by BigLou80
 
2nd trick op wrote: Regarding the exchange between Mr. Boylan and "Big Lou":
BigLou80 wrote:

The best solution ( in the world according to me) would be to use all of this "free/green" electricity to produce hydrogen from water ( close to the generation source) which can then be shipped ( via rail??) to where it's needed. Picture a unit train ( would probably be a pipeline but oh well) of water heading out in to the desert to provide the feed stock for a hydrogen plant. I think hydrogen and fuel cells are really where it's at for the future, you can start and end with drinkable water no emissions no waste, just some heat (which could be useful) and water

Mr. Boylan's response:

I've often wondered why when folks talk about how wonderfully clean hydrogen fuel cells are they usually don't mention the often dirty energy that has to go into making the hydrogen. It's kind of like us foamers who talk about how trolleys are clean because they produce no fumes, ignoring how we made the electricity to feed the trolleys. So again I agree. As you say, if it's free green electricity then both the fuel cells and the trolley cars get a lot greener themselves.
I don't mean to raise this issue to "diss" either of these gentlemen, but the highly technical nature and the physical characteristics of both the energy and "heavy" transport sectors make them extremely vulnerable to second-guessing and Monday-morning-quarterbacking by people who don't understand the economic constraints, long horizons, immovable nature of the assets, and all the other concerns that are easily manipulated by people with an agenda, and who recruit heavily among the non-technical "tuochie-feelies" described above, for short-term political and/or economic gain.
I full well and understand the massive amounts of capitol that goes in the the physical plants of both rail roads and power generation. You can't just pack up a nuke plant and move it to another location. rail roads just don't appear where they are needed to move a few cars, I get that. I was merely expressing an opinion that was based on a better then average technical understanding of the issues. It always makes more sense to ship the raw energy (coal/oil/NG) and covert it to electricity near the source of use then it does to ship it via wire. This is why coal plants were not built in the middle of no where by the mines and" plugged" in to the grid.
2nd trick op wrote: The "green" movement remains in denial where many of these realities are concerned ... they espouse rail technology only when it can be used to get their hands on the means of production for a vision which revolves more around centralized planning, and concentration of the authority of the state. Hence the quick flowering, and equally quick demise of the promotion of HSR as a panacea. It's time to lock up the liquor, valuables and weapons, and keep a close eye on the chronic whiners who are always looking for somebody to blame for the "issue of the day".


I agree the green movement is in denial about those and many other realities. I see it all the time in my remodeling business. I am forever arguing about how solar is an absolute waste of money here in New England . The trouble is as you said people with a political agenda preventing the real change needed, which in my opinion is a conversion to hydrogen as a raw fuel source. Which will take time and cost money but is hardly the first time we have needed to roll out new infastructure when we converted primary fuel sources .
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
BigLou80 wrote:My comments about coal slurry were an attempt to imply the railroads had a fairly easy battle in front of them. Technical and economic factors make shipping coal by rail the all around best deal. It's cheaper then coal by wire and simpler then coal slurry. I can only imagine how often they would need to replace sections of pipe full of abrasive coal slurry. What was the desire for the mine owners to look at a coal slurry pipe line ?
Again, Lou, allow me to reiterate my earlier point that "you had to be there" in order to realize the uncertainty of the railroad industry's future during its "darkest hour' of the '60's and '70's. As I noted, some one third of the industry's mileage was in bankruptcy and the "healthys" were also looking for the exit signs with the "diversification" initiatives I also noted. We were on our way to an "AmFreight" (nationalized) railroad system.

From the perspective of the mining industry 'they had to do something' and the slurry pipeline was really the only alternative - and a mighty impractical one at that as you noted. The 'coal by wire' initiative, i.e. building electric power plants at a mine's base, was equally impractical as our wealth of electric power transmission knowledge here at the site has shared.

But now that the industry has entered into its "Second Golden Age" (yes, i know passenger train advocates hold differently), the mining industry is confident the railroads will be there to serve their transportation needs.