Friday, May 09, 2008

Food, Daily Needs & Nuclear Power

What is the stupidest thing ever conceived and consistently executed by mankind ? Arguably, it is burning fossil fuels for getting energy. Oil, coal or natural gas release paltry amounts of energy as they burn with Oxygen in the atmosphere. These minerals are otherwise useful for making fertilizers, plastics and several valuable things. But as they get burned for energy, these mineral reserves get depleted at an enormous pace, and will vanish completely within 200 years ! The costs of energy rise exponentially, and so do the costs of everything (everything uses energy for production and for transport). As oil and coal reserves go downhill, so does the purchasing power of people. People will starve and governments will tumble.

The only people that get richer are those who control access to the tap. There are 23 countries in the world that derive at least 60 percent of their exports from oil and gas and not a single one is a real democracy !

But above all, fossil fuels are one of the dirtiest ways to derive our energy. Combustion of oil or coal releases thousands of waste products directly into our fragile atmosphere. Most of them are poisonous and a few of them are even radioactive. They are tremendously affecting the thin layer of atmosphere that sorrounds us - these effects range from global warming to acid rain. As a result, millions of people are dying and millions of plant and animal species are going extinct.

Why do we continue with this insanity ?

A green world run on nuclear energy

Let me present you an alternative scenario. We use solar energy to cater to about 30% of our energy needs, that is as much as it makes economical and ecological sense. For the rest of our energy needs, we construct nuclear power reactors which utilize Uranium and Thorium reserves. A new design called the breeder reactor, though slightly more costly to build, makes 100 times more efficient use of the nuclear fuel. Energy equivalent to a gallon of petrol will be produced as cheaply as 0.5 cents (6 paise for a litre of petrol in Indian terms). The electricity production will be entirely clean; the radioactive waste of the entire world for one year will fit into a small room. We convert this waste into glass, seal it in multiple layers and store it deeply in the rocks. We construct an elaborate railway network, and heavily discourage road transport. We replace gas-guzzling cars in the cities with noiseless electric vehicles. We run those indispensable road vehicles of the countryside using biofuels, and later shift to Hydrogen. In terms of safety and cleanliness, this economy will be million times more efficient.

In principle, this nuclear-fission based economy will be sustainable for several million years. But within a few hundred years, science will inevitably discover newer, more efficient ways of producing energy.

In this series of posts (tagged nuclear), my objective is to untangle a few strands from the cobweb of doubt and fear which sorround nuclear energy. Many people have legitimate concerns about nuclear, and I treat them with respect. My intention is to add some more information and perspective into this debate.

" What's at stake ? "

Opposition to nuclear energy is costing us the battle with coal and oil. This opposition is fuelled discretely by oil and coal company bosses, who might infiltrate green environmental groups with their spies ! Solar energy cannot fight coal and oil by itself, and it is not just good people who are aware of this. A shift away from oil based economy will hurt certain people, and they will do their best to prevent this shift from happening.

The US dollar is tied to the oil prices, and a falling dollar is accentuated by an immediate rise in oil prices. These oil prices drive the prices of food and daily needs everywhere around the world, as is happening right now. Whenever there is talk of investing in clean energy options, the oil prices are strategically reduced. The very next moment, they are rised again. A lot of FUD is spread over all kinds of alternative energies, including nuclear. Unconsciously, several environmental groups become party to this strategy. Breaking from the vicious oil economy through nuclear power is vital to ensuring the security of food and daily needs in poor countries.

If the primary concern with oil is inflation, that with coal is pollution. The statistics are alarming. China is building 10 times more coal plants than nuclear plants. A similar story repeats throughout the world. The filth dumped by coal into the atmosphere affects the world in entirety. This is why it is important to encourage clean energy production, particularly in developing countries such as India.


Alexandra Prokopenko said...

As long as there is a huge lobby in governments of countries who "rule the game" when it comes to energy resources like coal, oil and gas, there will be lots and lots of dirty PR against nuclear power. Nuclear also has its drawbacks but the humanity did not invent any better so far, as they say.
Even in the world's most democratic democracies it's not the people who decide :) the governments are just too good in persuading the public that it's the people who have the power.

Navneet said...

While I think your rosy vision of Nuclear Energy is exaggerated but yes it is true that Nuclear Energy has lesser carbon emissions than coal or other fossil fuels. So switching to it as an option makes sense if our only other choice is coal. This might be a good read for you. Radioactive Waste

Ray Lightning said...

Hi Navneet

I am aware of the problem of radioactive waste. But do you even know that this very waste will become fuel for breeder reactors. We have sufficient radioactive "waste" (fuel) to sustain the entire world for 300 years with no need to mine further Uranium. Breeders generate no long term nuclear waste. So your problem is solved.

Please check the following reactor types : integral fast reactor, liquid flouride thorium reactor.