Saturday, April 9, 2005

The Nuclear Option

How do we get the energy which drives our society? If we are to continue living in the style to which we are accustomed, the energy source needs to be something other than oil, coal or any of the other carbon based fossil fuels. There's several reasons for that, one of which is environmental quality.

If we ignore the fossil fuels, what are we left with?

  1. Hydro-electric
  2. Nuclear
  3. Wind
  4. Solar
  5. Tidal

I have in front of me an op-ed column in the NY Times going over the non-fossil choices, and he says Nuclear power is the obvious conclusion. EEK!!!

Nukes Are Green (By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, Published: April 9, 2005, NYTIMES.COM)

The very concept of the title is counter to the typical "Green" ecologist. I know it's really bothering me. So let's take a look at what he has to say.

Global energy demand will rise 60 percent over the next 25 years, according to the International Energy Agency, and nuclear power is the cleanest and best bet to fill that gap.

Hum, that strikes me as being similar to the Neuro-Linguistic-Programming technique where the person says a true statement, followed by the statement they wish the subconscious to accept as true. Nuclear power isn't the cleanest, however it is true that global energy demand is rising at a fast pace. How? Why, it is the industrialization of the 3rd world, especially the boom happening in India and China. Along with industrialization must go a rapid rise in energy demand, because it is through energy that industrialization can occur.

Solar power is a disappointment, still accounting for only about one-fifth of 1 percent of the nation's electricity and costing about five times as much as other sources. Wind is promising, for its costs have fallen 80 percent, but it suffers from one big problem: wind doesn't blow all the time. It's difficult to rely upon a source that comes and goes.

Here we see a debate technique, to poison the well of the opponents.

The alternatives of Solar and Wind haven't taken off very well because the cost to buy the equipment is higher than the cost to buy fossil fuel equipment. It's economics, and short-term economics at that. And it's an uneven playing field, because the fossil fuel industry is entrenched and has economies of scale to its benefit that the solar industry can only dream of. Solar power hasn't had the dedicated R&D which the fossil fuel industry has been able to apply, and so I ask, what would happen if the investment in Solar power were greatly increased? The history of technology shows that when people are funded to solve a given problem, they'll find a way to do so. But the bulk of existing R&D is to improve the fossil fuel industry, when it's the fossil fuel industry that's the problem.

The Wind technology is a different story. The cost for that equipment is dropping to where it's starting to be competitive with the entrenched fossil fuel industry. As a result there's increasing investment in its use. But his argument there is ridiculous, because all one would have to do is store the electricity and release it when needed. Unfortunately electricity is tough to store, but that's solveable. For example one can use todays electricity to pump water uphill, then release the water through a hydroelectric system tomorrow.

He goes on to argue that the nuclear power plants can be safe, that the new pebble-bed designs are meant to be entirely safe, impossible to melt down, etc. Hmm... that's a tough argument to make given the background of the nuclear industry and the long history of accidents. Additionally the byproduct of nuclear plants is a highly radioactive materials that will remain unsafe for tens of thousands of years. I don't care how few people live in Nevada, the idea of storing such poisonous wastes as that for that long is simply ridiculous.