Why look at nuclear, with all its problems, when it looks like solar, wind, electric cars and biofuels are gaining momentum?
Concern for our home environment is not new. Data has been coming in for decades regarding the pollution in our atmosphere, in our oceans, our rivers, even our food. We seem to have been waiting and hoping that ‘They’ would find solutions.
And ‘They’ did find solutions to secure our foreign oil interest so that our cost to burn fossil fuel remains low and we can continue to live comfortably.
There are jobs in North Dakota, where industry has been scarce, for the first time in decades. People are going to work and somewhere up the economic food chain executives and stock holders will make massive amounts of money. Like many of the US population those folks really need those jobs. But, the cost to our environment is very high and may be even higher than we can estimate.
Concerns About Fracking
Fracking (Hydraulic fracturing or industrial gas drilling) to produce the more economical and ‘cleaner’ fuel, natural gas, releases huge amounts of methane particles into the atmosphere. Methane is an even ‘dirtier’ pollutant than CO2. Hundreds of gallons of water are required to produce a gallon of natural gas.
We still don’t know how many of the resultant chemicals are leaking into our aquifers. Those aquifers are the water we depend on now and in the future.
All this is to say that our world is becoming more and more fragile as populations increase, as technologies allow, as the bottom layer of the economic pyramid reach for the same opportunity that most of us not only share, but take for granted.
As resources are consumed at a more and more rapid pace, our environment becomes less and less able to respond to our demands.
Concerns About Solar
It’s exhilarating to see so many renewable energy companies being born. There are huge strides being made in solar. The sun is a constant source of energy. To use it to power our lives only makes sense. However, there are hazards associated with solar, as well. Currently large fields of solar arrays are being placed on agricultural land. The manufacturing of panels often creates a toxic effluvia, that doesn’t go away.
China owns the market on panels and it’s not possible to compete because of their much lower pricing. It would be great to see someone leap frog past solar panels to solar painted roofs, large vertical towers, solar heating windows or any of the other brilliant idea’s that are taking form.
Wind and Weather
Wind is wonderful. It seems that everyone except birds and bats, loves wind. It’s so clean and refreshing. It just also happens to have a will of its own and fails to perform on demand. We are currently seeing a crop of new storage devices for both wind and solar that will optimize their usage. Still it’s all completely weather dependant.
The Dirty Alternative
We are in a race. We continue to pollute every day. I drove nearly 100 miles today. Many are required to drive that distance in their daily commute. That is my only outing this week, still I burned fossil fuels. As more and more power is required in developing areas, we respond more readily by going to the cheapest source of power, which today is considered coal. Coal also happens to be another of the dirtiest fuels.
The question then becomes: can solar, wind, biofuels, wave power, geothermal, and electric cars create enough clean energy fast enough to reverse the current damage we have done and are continuing to inflict as we consume? Studies tell me that it is going to be a real stretch with a very iffy outcome. Even IF we had all the governments in the world behind it and all humans lined up on the same side of the fence, it would likely continue to be humanities greatest challenge.
The Clean & Safe Nuclear Race
Experts estimate that clean, safe, sustainable nuclear power will not be available for at least a decade. That means we need to start now. In order for nuclear power to become viable, we, the consumers need to become informed and educated about nuclear.
For most of my life the word nuclear created images of the big black cloud; the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasake and more recently Fukushima. The very word created fear.
Why would we even look at it when we have seen the effects?
Because there are many types of nuclear power and some are very clean and very safe. Uranium and enriched plutonium are not only lethal, but also remarkably inefficient. They both seem to be good for making weapons of mass destruction, but as a fuel, we only burn a small percentage of the material and the rest goes to fields of toxic waste.
The Abundance of Thorium
However, another radio active material that can be converted readily to deliverable power is thorium. Thorium is abundant. It is a part of our earths crust. It is estimated that Lemhi Pass, between Montana and Idaho, alone, has enough thorium to power the US for a millennium. Thorium is not good for making weapons. It is currently used in our camera lenses and in lantern mantles. The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor is safe. It is a liquid fuel that cannot melt down. Estimates say long term waste is 1% of current reactors.
Other possible advantages of LFTR technology is the creation of clean, pure water harvested from the ocean, and the creation of isotopes that may be used for various medical treatments.
And, there are other types of nuclear solutions underway. Two nuclear engineers at MIT have created a prototype for a reactor that uses spent fuel rods as its fuel source. Wouldn’t it be something to have that sitting beside Hanford munching down all that waste?
The Safety of Thorium
I’m particularly fascinated by thorium; its abundance, its safety, its power. It also feels sort of warm and fuzzy, somehow, to use power that has been with us forever as part of the earth, but does not spew foul particles into the atmosphere. It seems kinder. And, yet, it can produce over 100 times the power of uranium. I’ve read that you could carry around a ball of thorium in your pocket and not get a mild burn.
We humans have a mess to clean up if our grandchildren are going to have a healthy planet to inhabit. So, in favor, of our grandchildren and their grandchildren, I advocate that we pursue all clean options. We should move full speed ahead with those more mature renewables, while building thorium nuclear reactors in preparation to go on line in 10-15 years. If we lose the race with all the other renewables, there is a clean, powerful, abundant resource that can come on line when we will need it even more than today.
The clock is ticking. Isn’t it worth taking a closer look?