We live in challenging times. while, in a previous blog it was pointed out that the” climate catastrophe” is not real and the scientific reasons why for a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration the average temperature rise would be less than 0.4C, almost negligible and well within the Paris accord without changing anything we are doing about CO2 emissions.
If increasing CO2 production is not the problem, then what is? Let us take a look at the sources from which U.S. generates electrical energy.
We live in challenging times indeed, with enormous environmental challenges. It takes a lot of energy to clean up the mess we have generated over the ages. It would be a shame to use up our remaining coal, oil and gas to produce the electricity needed to clean up. Oil coal and gas will eventually be depleted and we need to save some for our great grandchildren so they can enjoy flying like we have become accustomed to. Like the famous conservationist Sarah Palin once said: “for when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Solar generation is about 4 times more expensive (without subsidies) to produce energy than coal and gas, but has important niche applications, such as on roofs for backup in case of short grid failures and for peak power assist. The Amish people have given many practical applications on how to live off the grid.
Wind power is cheaper when the wind blows, but the full generation capacity has to be there even when the wind doesn’t blow, so the only gain from wind power is to lessen the mining or extraction of carbon. In addition, wind power kills birds, the free yearly quota of allowable Bald Eagle kills was upped from 1200 to 4200 during the Obama administration. Golden Eagles and a few other rare birds have a quarter of a million dollar fine associated with their kills. If wind power is increased without finding a solution to the bird kills, whole species may become extinct.
Hydroelectric power is for all practical purpose maxed out, except one large untapped resource; the Kongo river in Africa. Some hydro electrical project do more harm than good, such as the Aswan Dam in Egypt, and some are waiting for the next big earthquake, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China.
Geothermal power is good but difficult and risky to utilize in geologically unstable areas.
Biomass should never be burned for electricity production but be used for soil regeneration to combat erosion. Only polluted biomass such as medical waste and plastics should be incinerated at high temperature, complete with scrubbers to eliminate poisonous gases.
All necessary cleanup and recycling consume a lot of energy, and it has to be generated somehow. We would like save some Coal, Natural Gas and Petroleum for our great grandchildren. This leaves us only
Nuclear power. After a nearly thirty year hiatus in building new nuclear power plants they are slowly being built again. The permit process is fraught with citizen opposition (NIMBY), very strict bureaucratic delay, first by the Three Mile Island incident, then by the Chernobyl disaster/unintended sabotage, and finally by the Fukushima catastrophe. In addition conventional nuclear power produces large amounts of transuranium waste products that has to be stored for a million years. The Obama administration ended reprocessing of spent fuel rods, so not only must the transuranium products be stored, but also some unused U235. This makes conventional nuclear power using enriched Uranium too expensive to compete against coal or natural gas. But there are powerful commercial interests to keep it this way. After the Westinghouse bankruptcy GE has a virtual monopoly on nuclear power. They are in no hurry to make any changes.
There is a better way: Thorium Nuclear power. The advantages are:
5. Radioactive waste from an LFTR decays down to background radiation in 300 years compared to a million years for U-235 based reactors.
10. Molten Salt Nuclear Reactors have a very high negative temperature coefficient leading to a safe and stable control.
13. Thorium Nuclear Power generators scale beautifully from small portable generators to full size power plants.
There is no time to waste. This is my suggestion list:
1. Immediately take Thorium off the list of “source materials”. While Thorium is radioactive slightly above background radiation no amount of Thorium can make it go critical, and it cannot be source material for making bombs.
2. Make separate regulations for Thorium based Nuclear plants apart from Uranium plants. One thing that goes away is the need for evacuation zones due to the inherent safety of Thorium Nuclear plants.
3. Declare Thorium Nuclear Power to be the preferred replacement for Coal or Gas powered electric plants.
4. Streamline the permit process, like Uranium powered plants enjoyed when there was a desire to build Nuclear Bombs.
5. Increase research and development into Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactors to speed up their development.
6. Develop hybrid Tokamak powered Thorium reactors like the one Russia is developing to burn off transuraniun nuclear waste products.
With all this done, I envision coal, gas and biofuel Power stations to be eliminated within ten years, and transuranium waste products to be eliminated within twenty years.
When Coal, gas and biofuel are eliminated as source for Electric Power, then it is time to switch most of the transportation to electric cars and trucks, but not before.
After that, maybe, just maybe it is time for Fusion Power to take over.
Let us get going!