Thursday, June 14, 2007

A post about Power

Looking at the title, after having read so many blogs dealing with "feminism" and "racism" and other "-isms" one may think this post is going to talk about all of those "-isms." Nope. I'm talking about REAL power. You know, the kind that lets you read this post right now. Yep. That magical thing known as electricity.

We need more of it. We also need to conserve it. What we really need is a never-ending supply that has minimal pollution or damage to the environment. Am I talking about wind power or solar energy or ethanol? Nope, not really. In the end, none of those alternate sources of power will make the difference becasuse they could never supply more than the tiniest fraction of our power needs. Ethanol in particular is problematic because even if we used all of our farmable land to grow, say, corn for use as ethanol, we still would supply only a fraction of the fuel needed. And we'd starve. As it is, food prices are being pushed up significantly by the increased use of ethanol. Not exactly a wonderful tradeoff.

So what is the solution? Well, something we already have. Nuclear power. And for cars, electric cars with batteries recharged by plugging into that nuclear power grid. It is actually the safest and cleanest source of power we have that can actually supply 100% of our power needs. The only real problem is waste disposal, and that is something that Europe has figured out a way to deal with in a cheap and easy fashion - they reuse spent fuel, mixing in plutonium that was created by a plant's operation, so there is something like 90% less waste to begin with, and then they do a very simple process of encasing waste in solid glass cubes and burying it - which is actually very safe. And even if that bugs you, in the US we have the Yucca mountain facility that, while probably unnecessary, is certainly a safe place to store whatever waste there is from across the entire country.

What about Three Mile Island? Well, that was really a very minor thing. Moreover, that was with a plant made with 40 year old technology - plants today are even safer and more efficient. Except that we don't build any because of politics. The left protests out of ignorance. The right prevents it as a sop to oil companies, who would rather not have the competition. At least, that's how I see it.

But as with many things, politics and hysteria trumps reality, so we probably won't go there anytime soon. What got me thinking about this? A few articles I read recently. There was even a recent episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit that covered this, though it did not get into what they are doing in Europe with nuclear power, which would have been a good addition to the show (if I'm remembering correctly).

I really like solutions to problems that are permanent. Oil always worries me, not just for the geopolitical problems associated with it, but because of the basic fact that it will run completely out and we won't be able to get any more. Even if that takes 1,000 years (it will be much sooner) it still bothers me, because then I think, what happens in year 1,001? The practical side of me always looks for things that are permanent - or self-sustaining. Like paper. If you use paper, you can always plant more trees. And in fact, all the fuss over recycling paper to save trees is bullshit, because really, if it were not for the paper, the trees never would have been planted in the first place - they have tree farms specifically for making paper. So without the paper creation, you might instead have had a parking lot for a mini-mall on that plot of land. Penn and Teller did an episode on that as well, come to think of it.

Anyway, back to my last point - I like solutions (or systems, if you will) to be self-sustaining, indefinitely. It just is something that satisfies me in the way that a fine piece of art can satisfy you. Perhaps that makes me a bit of a freak. I think it is also what makes me financially responsible and organized, amongst other things. And so that is why I really like nuclear power over all of the alternatives.


Robert said...

I was going to leave a post on how Nuclear Power isn't an infinte thing, but some quick research on the internet showed claims that with breeder reactors and modern technology we have enough nuclear fuel for billions of years.

I think that sounds like a significant overestimate, but even if it is, we still probably have plenty for any kind of forseeable future.

So, yes consider me converted.

Also it seems silly to be concerned over the safety of nuclear reactors to the general populace when we use them as power sources in military vehicles (you know, that may be attacked and destroyed).

James Aach said...

You might find my blogsite to be of value - - I'm an engineer at a nuclear plant who has written a novel that captures how these big machines realy work, the people involved, the politics, Chernobyl, TMI, etc. Unfortunately, all the traditional sources out there are rather superficial and often misguided (whether pro or con). "Rad Decision" is available at no cost on the website (with some additional commentary) and is also in paperback at online retailers. Reader reviews are found in the homepage comments. I like to think we'll make better decisions about our energy future if we understand our energy present first.

Maya's Granny said...

It seems to me that Three Mile Island proved that the failsafes work. It's been a while, and I don't remember the details, but there was not a meltdown and there was not a meltdown because the safety features did their job. If anything, TMI proved that nuclear energy is a good idea. I've been concerned with the waste issue, but if that is solved, what need is there to hold back?

cornucrapia said...

Good post. I love bullshit, those guys are amazing.

Matt said...

But then how will the politicians and car companies distract us by pretending to invest in a product, but are actually just charades to hide the real truth.

ballgame said...

I've agreed with almost everything I've read of yours, DBB, until this. The idea that we can routinely and safely transport and store substances that willl be lethally contaminating for thousands of years by just, you know, hiding them somewhere is nuts. I also think that direct utilization of solar energy holds far greater potential than you give it credit for.

Zhasper said...

You said:
And even if that bugs you, in the US we have the Yucca mountain facility that, while probably unnecessary, is certainly a safe place to store whatever waste there is from across the entire country.

You have that?

I'm sure that the last I heard about it was that it was the most likely choice for a site, but that its choice hadn't even been confirmed, let alone work started, let alone work finished on that site..

Am I wrong?

zhasper said... suggests that it will open in 2017, if things go to schedule - a far cry from having it now....

DBB said...

Ballgame - first, there are ways to vastly reduce the amount of waste produced - look into what they do in Europe - France in particular.

Second, it is solid waste - it isn't liquid - solids are extremely safe to transport. It's not like a solidly encased solid can "spill" like a liquid can. So dangers of transport are vastly overblown.

True, storage is the hardest issue - but again, look at what Europe is doing that is working well, and even if you don't like that, there is Yucca.

The problem with Solar is the same problem with all other 'alternate' sources like wind power - it simply cannot produce enough electricity to really make much of a dent in our usage. Sure, we should use it where we can, but no, it will never be able to supply us with 100% of our needs. Nuclear can.

Oh, and as far as Yucca - yes, it won't be online officially for another ten years, but it is well underway (on bullshit they showed how much progress has been made in building the facility - alot has been done), and it would probably take a lot longer than that to get even one more new nuclear reactor built (and I don't think there have been any new ones in decades because of ridiculous regulations - ironically, the regulations keep the older plants operating and prevent newer, safer and more efficient plants from being built, so we are actually worse off for the regulations).

Robert said...

I disagree with the statement that solar power can never supply all of our energy needs.

The earth absorbs enough solar energy in a day to be equivalent to all fossil fuel energy in a year.

True we can't harvest all of that, but with interlocking solar, wind, and tidal power we can have a large 100% clean renewable energy reserve.

That doesn't mean nuclear power isn't an option, but it hardly invalidates solar power technologies.

DBB said...

Don't get me wrong, I think solar is great and we should use it where we can, but realistically, we're not going to cover the planet with solar panels, and even if we did, keep in mind that all that solar energy imparted to the earth does other things like, you know, warm the planet and keep all of us from freezing to death, and so on. ;)

When I say nuclear power can provide 100% of our power needs, I mean it in the sense that TODAY we could start construction on and build sufficient nucelar power plants such that, by the time they were completed (however long it takes to build a plant) we could be 100% on nuclear power, and such a thing is actually a realistic prospect - what you talk about with solar panels is, at best, theoretical.

hedera said...

You point is valid, and I agree on the issue of recycling spent fuel, but I still have massive reservations about nuclear waste disposal. There's always some left, and as ballgame said, it's going to be able to kill people for so long that we won't be able to rely on them understanding the signs we put on the waste dump, saying the stuff is dangerous.

My personal preference would be to figure out some failsafe way to shoot the stuff into space, but my husband pointed out that we can't just send it up on a rocket - consider the impact if Challenger had been carrying a load of spent nuclear fuel. Damn. I suppose he's right.

DBB said...

Yeah, shooting into space has lots of problems - beyond the risk of accident, there is the problem of cost - and also that we use a lot of combustion fuels when we send things into space.

I think the risks of the material, though, are overblown. The waste is solid, after all. So as long as you keep it away from water in some way, it isn't going anywhere. And it can easily be shielded from the surrounding environment. There are far far more dangerous chemicals (in liquid form) that get moved around all the time across our country, but because they aren't radioactive, no one seems to care. And yet I bet if a truck full of liquid chlorine burst open and spread deadly chlorine gas across a city, far more people would die than would if a dozen radioactive-waste carrying trucks split open. (In fact, there may be no fatalities at all from the nucelar waste if it is packaged right).

Another thing to keep in mind is that we have lots of radiactive material already out there - most of it sitting in warheads. And we are going to have to live with it for thousands of years anyway - why not get some real use out of it? (As I think the French have - incorporating plutonium into power usage).

People are afraid of having nuclear waste - but most of that fear is not based on facts. And we just may have no choice - oil WILL run out, as will coal. Even before oil runs out, the price will start getting higher and higher. There are also pollution considerations. It would be terribly tragic if we burn all the fossil fuels and start a runaway greenhouse effect that kills all of us just because we don't want to try and store a (relatively) small amount of radioactive material.

At the very least, one needs to consider that we already do have SOME nuclear power in this country, yet due to ridiculous regulations, the plants are all decades old - so they are less safe and less efficient than they could be - talk about the worst solution - keep on using nuclear power, generating the waste, and doing so for less return and more risk.