Monday, June 09, 2008

The Future of Energy

Many times on late Sunday afternoons, we go to our community's spiritual and geophysical center, where we lay on the green grass under the Pecan trees, occassionally jumping into the almost cold waters to reduce our body temperatures, increase our moods, and as sunset approaches, enrich our souls. It works pretty well.

This Sunday, we went by the book store first, and we bought a couple of magazines to read. We saw the Mother Jones issue on the Future of Energy, so we grabbed it.

I suppose the editors worked pretty hard on the issue, but if ever there was a misnamed issue, this one qualifies. The articles inside are a regurgitation of the old, and as you might imagine, a rather tilted attempt to convince their liberal readers that nuclear energy is the only real salvation we have.

Here's part of the end of the article where the close happens:

"One reactor in the offing, the Next Generation Nuclear Plant, can be cooled with helium instead of water and might be capable of producing industrial hydrogen to power emission-free cars and other power plants. Another, the Advanced Fast Reactor, can burn up the radioactive elements that remain behind in a light-water reactor.

Other countries—India, China, South Africa—are working on their own prototypes. "There's also a great deal of interest in designing smaller reactors for developing nations," McFarlane says, "anywhere from 20 megawatts to 600 megawatts, to provide distributed power to outlying areas."

McFarlane has noticed that nuclear engineering has become a hot major in college again. "We're seeing a fantastic increase in undergraduate enrollment," he says. "A lot of universities are reinstating nuclear engineering programs they dropped back in the '80s and '90s." (clip)

"The world we have made as a result of a level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems we cannot solve at the same level at which we created them," said Albert Einstein. In other words, we have driven ourselves into a technological quagmire. There is no easy route back, but there may be many paths forward.

Nuclear power is expensive, flawed, dangerous, and finicky; it depends on humans to run properly, and when those humans err, the consequences are worse than the worst accident involving any other energy source. If there isn't a way to do it right, let's abandon it—but only because we're secure in the belief that we can replace coal-fired electricity with energy from the wind, the sun, and the earth.

When rising seas flood our coasts, the idea of producing electricity from the most terrifying force ever harnessed may not seem so frightening—or expensive—after all."

So, let me assure the writer and those who might fall for this brilliant soft sell.

When rising seas flood our coasts, the idea of producing electricity from gigantic fires from coal or rocks will seem remarkably undeveloped and crude.

For by that time, advancements in the material sciences will provide us usable, scalable electrons, from every surface that sees sufficient photon bombardment.

Our outdoor surfaces will convert photons to electrons while our indoor surfaces will convert electrons to photons to emit efficient, gentle light from our walls and ceilings.

We will use the advanced science that Einstein actually received his Nobel Prize in, the photovoltaic effect, not the science of Enrico Fermi and his atomic fission chain reaction.

Moving back to nuclear energy is not just one small step backward, it is a giant leap into hell for humankind.

Nuclear fuel is just as finite as oil and gas, and it requires a huge police force to defend the plant, to secure the fuel, to protect the public and the environment from the waste, and to insure against the possibility of weaponization.

And let's not be fooled a second time, nuclear plants will be even more expensive than they were the first time.

Let's move deep into the future.

Towards a unified photonic energy web.

That's the Future of Energy.
Not some Madison Avenue pipedream to promote intoxication.

illustration courtesy of Mother Jones



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