So, I see in my inbox a invitation to block offshore drilling in the Atlantic. I see my mother campaigning for not running a CNG pipeline in West Virginia. And yes, all these things sound good, but.. well, no, they don’t.

Here’s the problem. I have been a champion for nuclear power for a long time – based on the fact that it kills less people per kilowatt-hour than any other form of fueled power we know. (I don’t have data for solar and wind – hydro obviously kills people making dams and also tends to kill people when those dams fail). I also don’t think we’ve come anywhere near making the safest nuclear plant we can – we’re still using some really outdated ideas which A: make it difficult to extract even a fraction of the energy out of the nuclear fuel and B: make a unpowered nuclear plant a disaster waiting to happen because of the waste heat issues. We know of a number of ways to build reactors that don’t suffer from these issues, but the money people who pay to build nuclear plants are inherently conservative and so we’re not building them yet. Also, some of the best plant designs are based on things that are not in any way making-nuclear-weapons friendly, and we don’t like that at all. It probably makes a lot more sense to get power out of thorium than uranium, for example, because of the vastly higher energy density, but there’s no way we’re going to make weapons-grade anything out of thorium.

Anyway, I digressed there for a moment, but here’s my point. We like having energy. Energy makes our lives easier. Energy can turn salt water into fresh water, it can make it possible to grow crops in Alaska, it makes getting to work a lot easier, it makes things like Google possible. We like having energy, but we don’t want to have to pay the piper.

The reality is, that power has to come from somewhere. Solar is not a acceptable option for baseline load because I’d like to have heat at night. (Solar plus pumped storage might be, but we’re not building that just yet). Coal is a really bad answer because large numbers of people die in the production of coal, plus the ecological costs are not insignificant. Oil is a finite resource and is really more useful for manufacturing. Natural gas is actually a pretty reasonable way to generate power if one insists on using non-nuclear fuel. So, yes, we’re going to have to run some gas pipelines. I for one am not ready to opt out of having twenty kilowatts at my beck and call.

Nuclear actually does a good job of highlighting the fact that we as a planet have a somewhat stupid decision-making process. If we’re going to ban something nuclear, let’s ban the *#%# bombs – as for a way to produce power, nuclear is about the best answer I think we’re going to find. I am the first to admit that ionizing radiation is dangerous, but so are a whole lot of things, and it’s a well-understood danger that we can work around. Why are so many people so rabidly against nuclear – often without understanding it at all? I suspect it’s because every incident at a nuclear power plant gets plastered all over the news, because it’s lovely and sensational and apparently we like to be frightened.

By the way, a side note, someone was ranting against CFLs and one of the things they talked about was that they ’emit radiation’. I’m not sure what type they meant.. I’m going to guess they were talking about the EM field – but it’s a very bad light bulb indeed that does not emit radiation. I’m going to assume all my readers get the joke here.

Anyway, my point is, don’t protest energy extraction unless you want to give up using energy. Protest *stupid* energy extraction like fracking – yes, absolutely. And encourage energy companies to use wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, tidal, and other forms of energy that are not scarce and don’t come with a huge body count. But we are going to need some CNG pipelines, and we are likely not done pumping oil from under the ocean just yet.

As most of you know, I want a lot to see things like Battery 500 succeed, and I want to see us move to a long-term-sustainable transportation grid. I would really like us to no longer have anything to fight wars over, and wars over resources that destroy resources in the process strike me as extra-stupid. But that doesn’t mean I want to stop using power. I *like* my house climate controlled, my water clean and delivered under pressure, and my ability to publish anything I create to the entire world and to learn about everything we know about without leaving my home.

One Response to “Energy”

  1. Alderin Says:

    I’ve been watching “Cody’s Lab” on YouTube, (my girlfriend calls him my “new crazy guy”) and watching him extract or purify metals from ores and dirt at home makes me wonder just how hard would it be to build a Thorium reactor? (My “old” “crazy guy” on YouTube is JMEMantzel )

    In the midst of this California drought, living on the edge of the San Francisco Bay, I keep thinking that a nice Thorium reactor down by the water powering a desalination plant would do wonders for the whole water conservation thing. After all, most of the water infrastructure (all?) is currently based on snow-melt and rainwater. Some of this needs to be used specifically to replenish groundwater, so groundwater doesn’t count. The bay is tidal, so it won’t be emptied until/unless the Pacific Ocean level drops by several hundred feet, but the Golden Gate protects the bay from tsunami by acting as a choke point. Since a thorium reactor is so relatively small, the structure that houses it could be made earthquake proof (6 standard shipping containers in two levels of 3 would be enough space for the reactor).

    “let’s ban the *#%# bombs” – yup. It also amazes me just how paranoid people are about ionizing radiation, they act like ANY is TOO MUCH. They don’t realize how much ionizing radiation they get exposed to in normal sunlight. Makes me sad along the same lines as people actually voting to ban di-hydrogen-monoxide.

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