Hi Thom and friends,
I'd like to preface this by saying that I'm about as progressive as they come. I believe in single payer health care, breaking up the big banks, oil companies, media companies, and financial institutions. And I've been listening to Thom for over 3 years. Keep up the the good work Thom!
What I want to address is the topic of nuclear power. I, like many of you, have been anti-nuclear my whole life. What do we do with the waste? What about weapons proliferation? What about catastrophic accidents?
Well these problems have been aknowledged by the nuclear industry and have been largely resolved. It's true. And because of this, my opinion on nuclear power has changed. And I'm not the only progressive who thinks nuclear power has to be part of a solution to get to a zero carbon economy.
Please take the time to read the remainder of this post:
Displacing coal plants is hard because they are really cheap (since the utilities are not assessed of their pollution), they can be built anywhere where water is available (all thermal power plants, fossil or nuclear, have to be able to get rid of excess heat), and because they provide power 24x7. That's why every week to 10 days, another coal-fired power plant opens somewhere in China that is big enough to serve all the households in Dallas or San Diego.
Getting rid of them is hard. Even with all the awareness about the harm of coal plants to the environment in the US, we have been unsuccessful in displacing them. Today, we still get 49% of our electric power from coal plants. If we can't displace coal plants in the US, how can we expect other countries, like China, to displace their coal plants?
Fundamentally, to get rid of coal plants and have any hope at all on controlling climate change, you must to come up with a power plant capable of 24x7 operation that can be built anywhere that is just as cheap (or cheaper) to build and operate as a coal plant. If you had that, then you'd have an economic incentive for people to make the environmentally responsible choice. There would be no reason to build coal plants anymore.
So if the US developed a way to generate electric power that had no CO2 emissions, was as cheap as coal, and provided 24x7 power, and could be built anywhere, and didn't require a lot of land to build, and was very safe, and didn't increase the risk from terrorism then that would be a great thing. It would mean that China would have an economic incentive to build these plants rather than coal plants.
We don't have that now. Concentrated solar plants can only be economically built in certain locations. Same for wind power. And both are intermittent sources (although if you have enough wind power over enough area in the right corridor, it can be pretty reliable).
Such an invention would, quite literally, save the planet from destruction. It would be the "holy grail" in the fight against global warming. It would arguably be the most important invention in history.
So you'd think that if such an invention existed, everyone would know about it, wouldn't you?
Well, would you believe that our top energy scientists invented a technology that does all those things and more! These plants can also get rid of the waste from existing nuclear power plants! And unlike nuclear plants where there is only a finite amount of nuclear material available (I think about 100 years), these plants make their own fuel so they will last 100,000 years. Remember Einstein's famous E=mc2? The point is that if you do it right, a little bit of matter can make a lot of energy.
And would you believe the research was done more than 20 years ago in 1984 by a large group of US scientists at Argonne National Laboratory?
The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) is a fourth generation nuclear design that provides a clean, inexhaustible source of power, cheap, with virtually no waste, inherently safe (if you remove the cooling, it shuts down rather than melts down), and the added benefit that it consumes the nuclear waste from other nuclear plants that we can’t figure out how to get rid of.
- It can be fueled entirely with material recovered from today's used nuclear fuel.
- It consumes virtually all the long-lived radioactive isotopes that worry people who are concerned about the "nuclear waste problem," reducing the needed isolation time to less than 500 years.
- It could provide all the energy needed for centuries (perhaps as many as 50,000 years), feeding only on the uranium that has already been mined
- It uses uranium resources with 100 to 300 times the efficiency of today's reactors.
- It does not require enrichment of uranium.
- It has less proliferation potential than the reprocessing method now used in several countries.
- It's 24x7 baseline power
- It can be built anywhere there is water
- The power is very inexpensive (some estimates are as low as 2 cents/kWh to produce)
- Safe from melt down because if something goes wrong, the reactor naturally shuts down rather than blows up
- And, of course, it emits no greenhouse gases.
What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing...that is if you look at the facts and the science rather than the words.
Sadly, most people when they hear "nuclear reactor" or "breeder reactor" react negatively. "Not in my backyard," they say. But that's because of second generation nuclear technology. When people say "no nuclear," they really are referring to "second generation nuclear." Everything about the IFR and fourth generation technology is completely different. The words with negative connotations are no longer negative. Yet we have this bad habit of remembering the bad associations. We have to overcome that. For example, one scientist told me, "Breeding, however, is a dirty word these days, so the GNEP emphasis is on burning the transuranics, instead of using them to assure an expanding source of clean energy into the indefinite future." So, in other words, we are doing stupid things because "breeding" is a dirty word. "Breeding" for the IFR is the nuclear equivalent of "recycling and re-using." That's a good thing, not a bad thing. And the safe word, "burning," is actually a bad thing. So the connotations are actually reversed.
When Bill Clinton cancelled the funding in 1994, he said in his State of the Union speech that he did it because the project was unnecessary, not because it didn't meet any of its objectives. In his speech, he said, "We will terminate unnecessary programs in advanced reactor development."
He never asked the National Academy of Sciences to look into whether this project was unnecessary. Why not? Shouldn't you do a little objective research before you pull the plug on the biggest energy research project in history?
The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) technology is arguably the single most important thing we can do to stop global warming. If it isn't the single most important thing, it's awfully close to the top.
So if this is so great, how come everyone isn't all over this technology?
Because nobody knew about it!
How can that be?
Because the DOE ordered the scientists working on the project not to talk about it.
Why would the government do that?
Why do you think the government would pour billions of dollars into the biggest energy research project in history and then not just cancel it, but do their best to bury it? The researchers at Argonne developed a safe and economical source of unlimited clean energy. Between that and the other renewable power technologies we wouldn't need oil, coal, gas or uranium mining/drilling anymore. We're talking about putting the most powerful corporations on the planet out of business. Not out of malice or spite, but simply because they won't be needed anymore and because what they're doing to the planet is killing us.
Some people think that the fossil fuel lobbyists could tell you why our government ordered the scientists not to talk about it. It's similar to the gag order (and edits to manuscripts and reports including IPCC reports) that the administration likes to put on scientists who try to talk about global warming. Jim Hansen can tell you a few stories about that since he's experienced it first hand.
In fact, Hansen himself just found out about the IFR recently. Hansen is very informed. So if he didn't know about it, it's probably not well known. And that's what I found when I asked around.
According to this article that just appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bill Gates is investing in a project at Intellectual Ventures to "create a new type of nuclear reactor that would use fuels other than enriched uranium -- including spent fuel from existing reactors." The article quoted Myhrvold as saying " The idea is to create a nuclear reactor that is simpler and cheaper than current reactors, and generates clean power without waste or proliferation problems."
Well that's exactly what the IFR did. They knew about the IFR. It would be great if he could help it succeed or has ideas on how to make it even better.
GE has created a commercial plant design called the S-PRISM. GE is ready and willing to build a plant (a) to demonstrate the technical feasibility of a commercial-scale operation, and (b) to narrow the existing uncertainty in the final cost. They are not proposing, yet, to plunge into mass production of S-PRISMs. We can start building a reactor vessel for around $50 million.
Apparently, Al Gore doesn't know about the IFR either. Check out this video where Senator Craig (a strong advocate of the IFR in 1994 but not really known for his advocacy of good science) chastises Gore for his role in cancelling advanced nuclear research in 1994. Gore doesn't know what Craig was talking about. More recently, people associated with the IFR tried to brief Gore, but they couldn't get past Gore's defensive linemen.
More info here:http://www.skirsch.com/politics/globalwarming/ifr.htm
and please check out the book "Prescription for the Planet" by Tom Blees. It will change the way you view the future of energy. http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m1NNNDINM37YHM/ref=flash_player_2_preplay