Renewable vs Practical Electricity Obama Finally Embraces Nuclear?
I'm glad President Obama finally recognized the importance of nuclear power - the ONLY practical, proven clean energy source which can do more than produce a marginal amount of our energy.
Even if wind power didn't mean that someone had to live with those monsters in their back yard, we simply can't build very many, we can't get the necessary rare earth metals for the magnets.
Environmentalists will jump on me for promoting nuclear so I feel the need to mention my credentials which don't include sitting in a city apartment wishing for a different world.
First of all, I recycle grass into beef and lamb and we get most of our water from cisterns collecting the rain - I'm an organic rancher/farmer and I planted 500-600 trees last year - I'm not a "burn em down and pave over" crackpot.
What all that means is that I have to know a lot more about real ecology and practical technology than people living in high-rise apartments who have never grown anything more important than a chia herb pet.
I'm also a trained scientist - that doesn't make me right about everything, but readers should ask what reporters and authors know before they put too much credence in their ideas.
For example, we all know that wind power is unreliable, step outside. Is the wind blowing right now hard enough to generate electricity?
Solar? Does it get dark where you live and, if so, isn't that a time when you especially want electricity?
Some in the extreme environmental movement (those who think that just wishing strong enough will change physics or who don't understand complex technical issues in the first place) see hydroelectric as able to carry the "base load" with wind and solar to fill in when extra is needed. The Oregonian newspaper reported in August 2009 that there were power shortages due to low water levels - 40% of the area's electricity is hydroelectric.
California is also running out of water to grow our food.
Let's face it, when nearly 40% of the U.S. adult population can't even name a fossil fuel, we are close to being in real trouble if someone doesn't step up and point out that the terrible 3 Mile Island accident did almost no damage. You can't say that for even one day about letting 16-year-olds drive yet we do that without a blink and for no real purpose except to stop them whining.
Another problem with giant wind and solar farms is that you have to build a new power grid to get the power where it is used. That alone will cost more than just building standard nuclear reactors. The further separated are the source and the user, the more power is simply wasted.
Heck, the U.S. Navy has been building compact, powerful, and safe nuclear reactors for decades - we could have one near every large town, perhaps buried deep underground to protect them.
What about the waste? there is actually very little waste compared to coal waste and there are all those lovely uranium mines which are already radioactive. Why not put the waste there?
The rare earth limiting factor trumps fantasy solutions
When people start telling you that wind and solar power can save the planet and grow jobs in the U.S., bear in mind that China owns between 92 and 98 percent of ALL the rare earth metal production in the world. They know this and are using that position to build their own industry - if we are going to put millions of electric cars on the road they will be built in China. Same for the technical gust of wind turbines (not the big propellers which are made locally.)
Even a move to nuclear is becoming problematic because China is racing to buy up uranium resources and, between them China and India have plans for building more nuclear power plants than all the rest of the world combined.
Not only that, but France and even Japan are far ahead of the U.S. in practical nuclear engineering since they have been building nuclear power plants right along.
We already live in a radioactive environment from radon gas seeping out of the ground to radioactive emissions from burnt coal, to cosmic rays.
How is having some controlled and contained radioactivity which really benefits the world such a terrible threat?
There was one significant nuclear accident in the U.S. Three Mile Island in 1979. How many people were even injured except by media powered panic?
The U.S.S.R.'s Chernobyl accident was terrible but irrelevant - that terribly sloppy and dangerous design was never used in any other parts of the world. It also mostly killed the reactor and emergency workers who tried to control the damage.
The coal and oil lobbies in Washington are very strong, one getting research grants for "clean coal." Toxic sludge piles and pumping CO2 into the ground aren't "clean" in any sense.
While we criticize China for polluting, they are also building clean nuclear power plants as fast as they can and buying up uranium as well as rare earth resources around the world.
France gets most of its electricity from nuclear power.
Modern Russia wants to build 26 new nuclear plants and they are already hoarding nuclear fuel.
India is also moving to nuclear power as fast as they can.
The sad fact is that China and India are now ahead of the U.S. in clean energy technology.
In the U.S. environmental lobbies which sometimes get a bit fanatical about things (remember the snail darter) along with the carbon fuel lobby has successfully scared enough of the population to block all thought of nuclear power as we slip into second-world status.
Solar - panels are made with toxic chemicals and use rare earth elements (which are rare).
Windmills - are blight on the landscape and use about a ¼ ton of rare earths in their magnets.
Solar concentrators are a pretty good solution but, like windmills, only work part of the time and both unfortunately work best far from the places which need the electricity necessitating vast funding and local land battles over potentially dangerous gigantic transmission lines.
(Small nuclear plants, such as are used on submarines or another design, could be mass produced and put close to demand centers.)
Alternatives - what they don't tell you.
One small nuclear plant generates far more electricity 24x7 than do a dozen giant wind farms (ever stood or tried to live near a wind farm?) In the U.S. more people have been killed and seriously injured in building and just being near wind turbines in the past decade than by all nuclear power plants in the U.S.
Coal miners die every day (I know, I used to work in a mine.)
Electric cars, wind turbines, solar panels all use rare earth elements hundreds or thousands of pounds in every application. Even Tamiflu needs a rare earth element to be made. There are already shortages of the necessary metals and China owns or controls in excess of 90%of the world's supply - that's the country which announced it wants to start building vast numbers of electric cars and wind turbines using its own rare earths.
Predictably, as with silver, the U.S. government has sold most of its stockpile and opening a mine on one of the few good domestic sources takes decades.
Nuclear power leaves relatively tiny amounts of easily stored waste and generates no carbon dioxide.
Coal plants have demonstrated for centuries that the wastes are just dumped out in the open near the plants and left to nature (which tends to get the toxic waste into the air and ground water.)
Burning coal puts radioactive waste in the air just because there is a tiny amount in every ton but, unlike nuclear plants which burn nothing and use very little actual fuel, coal plants need to burn tons of coal every minute.
Small nuclear power plants could be built and placed where needed for less than it would cost just to build the grid to get solar and wind power to the cities.
This is another example of my not asking you to do what I say, but to open your eyes and think for yourself.
Without an alternative to the fossil fuel economy we appear to be facing two possible futures.
Which do you prefer, Mad Max? or Soylent Green"
Ever been in a coal mine? I have, and I've seen miners injured in the mines and known many who died from breathing coal dust for decades. Ever lived near a coal-fired power plant? I have. Ever been in a nuclear reactor? I have. One is filthy, the other spotless.
Even if nuclear weren't a fine option adopted by every other country in the world capable of building or buying a power plant, just where are we going to get the rare earth metals needed to build all those high-tech generators which can fit in a wind turbine or in electric cars?
China already owns almost the entire world supply and they are using it.
There is simply no available source for the materials needed to build enough wind turbines to be practical sources of most of our power.
Rare earths are a group of 17 rare metallic elements and 30 elements in total, with very unusual properties that turn out to be vital for advanced power generation and use and high-tech batteries.
See scientific information about the Actinide and Lanthanide rare earth series' at
Large generating plants which don't have to be suspended in mid air can rely on older-style generators which don't use exotic elements.
Several are used for electric car magnets.
Terbium is used in CFL lights.
Others are used in smart weapons, catalytic converters, critical medicines, etc. etc.
Chinese ban on exports
By the way, China isn't hoarding the metals, they just see that soon they will need all they can get to power their own "green" industries.
Eccogeek.org gets it
And, a final thought if you are thinking yet, we already use wind and solar power to grow plants and regulate weather.
What would be the unintended consequences if we actually could sap a significant percentage of those two power sources?
Probably nothing to worry about.
But when has any major project ever had NO unintended consequences?
Remember when burning one of the world's major food sources (corn) seemed like a wonderful idea until people started starving because the price went up and someone calculated how much oil and fertilizer were needed to grow and harvest that much corn and convert it into a fuel?
John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories. Contact John through NewsBlaze.
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