Archives for Dear God, Make It Stop!

Political Fallout

Categories: Dear God, Make It Stop!, Politics and Local Topics, Rants and Rambling, and Tech.

It’s started. We knew it would.

Japan current nuclear plant problem is real. I don’t want to take anything away from that.

But the anti-nuclear rhetoric is already starting. This big scary nuke plants must be a danger to us all. And I freely admit, there are dangers involved. The only rational response I can think of, is a quote from Wikipedia:

Comparing the historical safety record of civilian nuclear energy with other forms of electrical generation, Ball, Roberts, and Simpson, the IAEA, and the Paul Scherrer Institute found in separate studies that during the period from 1970 to 1992, there were just 39 on-the-job deaths of nuclear power plant workers worldwide, while during the same time period, there were 6,400 on-the-job deaths of coal power plant workers, 1,200 on-the-job deaths of natural gas power plant workers and members of the general public caused by natural gas power plants, and 4,000 deaths of members of the general public caused by hydroelectric power plants.In particular, coal power plants are estimated to kill 24,000 Americans per year, due to lung disease as well as causing 40,000 heart attacks per year in the United States. According to Scientific American, the average coal power plant emits more than 100 times as much radiation per year than a comparatively sized nuclear power plant in the form of toxic coal waste known as fly ash.

Now, don’t think for a minute that I believe nuclear plants are a good idea. No centralized, high-capital approach to energy is a good idea. But since we seem to be limited to centralized, high-capital approaches, nuclear power is about the best option we’ve got.

Here’s to hoping Japan can solve this problem with the least possible damage to life and property. And to hoping we can learn the lessons needed to make this sort of thing safer in the future. But any discussion about the risks of nuclear power must consider the relative risks of just about every other energy source we currently have.

Texas May have Banned Marriage

Categories: Dear God, Make It Stop!, Politics and Local Topics, Rants and Rambling, Silly Stuff, and United States of America.

Texas passed an amendment in 2005 with the intent of banning gay-marriage. But they may have banned more than they intended.

The amendment contains the text:

This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

Logically, it seems like “marriage” is a member of the set of legal statuses “identical or similar to marriage”. Of course, there’s no telling how a judge would interpret the idea of something being “identical or similar” to itself.

Incandescent Lights: What EISA Really Means

Categories: Dear God, Make It Stop!, Eco-nerd, Politics and Local Topics, and Science.

There’s been a lot of press coverage recently of the incandescent lighting provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and it’s largely been of the form “The US Government is banning incandescent light bulbs.”

While this makes for good prime-time newsvertainment, it’s not really true.

The tungsten light bulb was invented in 1905 as a fairly radical improvement on the earlier carbon filament bulbs, which would generally last less than a week before burning out. The humble incandescent light bulb was pretty constantly improved — both in terms of lifetime and efficiency — until about 1964. At that point in time, a bulb that used 100 watts could put out between 1,300 and 1,700 lumens. And that’s where we are now. The most commonly used incandescent bulbs have seen no real improvements in the past 45 years.

Now, let’s look at what EISA actually says about incandescent bulbs. A careful reading shows that it doesn’t eliminate incandescent bulbs. Far from it. All it does is set minimum efficiency standards for them. The relevant information comes from Pub.L. 110-140, Subtitle B, Section 321 (a)(3)(A)(ii)(I)(cc); the important columns from the table are:

Lumens Maximum
1490 – 2600
1050 – 1489
750 – 1049
310 – 749

The four lines in the table correspond roughly to modern 100, 75, 60, and 40 watt bulbs respectively. So, those are certainly aggressive compared to the ’60’s technology that we’re using today. But it’s not a “ban on incandescent bulbs” any more than recent automobile efficiency regulations are a “ban on internal combustion engines.”

In fact, you can already buy, right now in 2009, a number of bulbs that meet these standards. Sure, they’re a bit pricey right now, but so were 13 SEER air conditioners five years ago. When regulations force minimum efficiency standards, economies of scale almost always kick in and drop the prices to be very close to those of the older, less efficient technologies.

On top of this, we’ve seen some extremely promising advances in incandescent technologies, including laser treatment of filaments and coatings that turn waste heat into visible light. Either of these alone would completely blow the EISA standards out of the water, beating them by a margin of more than 30%. And there’s no reason to believe that they can’t be combined with each other for additional efficiencies.

So, before you start writing your eulogies for the humble incandescent bulb, I’d give the industry some time to show us what they can do when given a challenge.

Edit: there are additional EISA provisions that kick in January 1st, 2020; these require an efficiency of 45 lumens per watt or better. This will be more difficult, but the kinds of advances I talk about above are already close to this standard — the laser technique gets you to 35 lumens per watt — so even that isn’t likely to be incandescent’s death knell.