The Carbon-Capture Juggernaut

Governments and big polluters are claiming to be able to “solve” the global warming problem by capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) and burying it in a big hole a mile underground, hoping it will stay there forever. The plan is called CCS, short for “carbon capture and storage”.
This would be the largest hazardous waste disposal project that humans have ever undertaken, and among the most dangerous as well. A large leak could be as dangerous as a leak of nuclear fuel.
A Greenpeace report states that, even if it works, it will arrive too late to do any good.
Here’s why:

  1. CCS wastes energy and water. Capturing carbon dioxide will consume 10 to 40% of the energy produced by a power plant. This means that, on average, CCS would need a fifth power plant built for every four that are used to do CCS. Thus CCS requires, on average, 25% more coal mining, transportation, and waste disposal than non-CCS power plants. CCS would also increase the water requirements of power plants by 90%.
  2. CCS is expensive. It will double the cost of a power plant and will increase the cost of electricity by between 21 and 91%. Worse, CCS will divert funds away from renewable energy sources and energy conservation projects, which will achieve results faster and at lower cost than CCS.
  3. CCS is uninsurable. A large leak of CO2 could kill vegetation, animals, and humans over a fairly large area. Industry is already angling to get taxpayers to shoulder the liability. With some 6,000 CCS burial projects required to make a significant dent in the CO2 problem, chances of serious mishaps will be likely.
  4. CCS is still many years away. The most optimistic industry plans say CCS could begin in 2020 – too late, but most experts say CCS won’t be available until 2030 to 2050.

In the US, Obama and McCain are both enthusiastic supporters of coal with CCS tacked on. So their coal industry will be sitting pretty, if precariously, on a CCS promise.

New York Times 23.4.08 / Greenpeace / Jill

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