Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Can nuclear power save the planet?

The human contribution to global warming is finally accepted and the contribution negatively impacting upon our environment is greenhouse gas emissions -- mostly released by burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars. If this trend cannot be reversed or at least halted then the future of life on this planet as we know it may be doomed.

James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia theory that has been embraced by environmentalists, is advocating the massive expansion of the use of nuclear energy. He calls for an end to “green romanticism” that supports only unrealistic alternatives to the use of bio-fuels. He argues that however attractive wind and solar power may be, these alternatives cannot come close to provide the world’s electricity needs and time is short to avoid a climate catastrophe.

This from Der Spiegel:
A few days ago, the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking gave a speech in London in which he said that nuclear war no longer poses the only threat to humanity's very existence. According to Hawking, the dangers posed by climate change are now almost equally as great, and we must do everything that is humanly possible if we are to have any hope of averting them.

When James Lovelock heard about Hawkings' lecture, three hundred and fifty kilometers away at his remote estate near Cornwall, he exclaimed loudly: "Hawking is underestimating the danger."

Lovelock is a chemist, inventor, author and visionary environmental guru. Using a detector he invented himself, he was the first to provide evidence of ozone-consuming fluorochlorohydrocarbons (FCHC) in the atmosphere. More importantly, Lovelock is the inventor of the famous "Gaia hypothosis," which holds that the planet (which he named after the Greek goddess of the Earth, Gaia), constantly controls all of its systems on land, in the water and in the air in such a way as to preserve life -- almost as if the earth itself were a living organism.

Lovelock's fellow scientists were initially appalled by the New Age nature of his theory. But now his ideas have not only become a cornerstone of the environmental movement, but have also acquired a new name: "Earth System Science."

Lovelock's current prognoses for the earth's inhabitants are as gloomy as they are provocative. He is convinced that the 21st century will not be a good one. He claims that climate change caused by human activity will devastate large swaths of the earth, and by the year 2100 there will only be about a billion people left -- and possibly only half as many.

Lovelock is now 87 years old and happy that he will be able to avoid this future -- although he has nine grandchildren. Sometimes he feels like a Roman citizen living around the year 480, watching as an empire meant for eternity fades away, or like a doctor delivering a fatal diagnosis. And at times he probably relishes how he distresses his audiences (he is in demand worldwide as a speaker) in his role as a prophet of doom. "Even a nuclear war," says Lovelock, "would not lead to the level of devastation worldwide that global overheating will cause."

No world power, no scientist, no politician, no consumer forsaking his or her familiar comforts, and neither emissions trading nor wind energy nor biofuels will be capable of preventing the earth's demise, he says. According to Lovelock, it will at best be possible to delay the catastrophe for a while -- primarily through the massive expansion of nuclear energy.

*****
"Our situation," Lovelock says, "is similar to that of a boat that suddenly loses engine power shortly before reaching Niagara Falls. What's the point of trying to repair the engine?" To save what it can, Lovelock believes, the world must embark on a completely different path. Most important, it must abandon the notion of "green romanticism."

Lovelock has nothing but ridicule for environmentalists' favorite issues, such as "sustainable development" and "renewable energy," calling them "well-meaning nonsense." He is convinced that wind and solar energy will never be even remotely capable of meeting worldwide energy needs. In China alone, for example, a new large coal power plant is put into operation every five days, imposing additional burdens on the atmosphere. The only solution, according to Lovelock, is the massive expansion of nuclear energy worldwide.

A reliable supply of electricity, says Lovelock, is the key issue when it comes to survival on a warmer planet. He loses no sleep over the risks of nuclear power.

"Show me the mass graves of Chernobyl," he demands provocatively. No more than a few thousand people died after the 1986 meltdown -- a small price to pay, he says, compared to the millions who could fall victim to CO2. He adds that compact nuclear waste is vastly easier to control than the close to 30 billion tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere each year by the burning of fossil fuels.

"Fanatical Greens" who confuse nuclear power with nuclear bombs, says Lovelock, have discredited this source of energy. Do-gooders, he adds, are concerned about pesticide residues in bananas and the link between mobile phones and cancer, all the while accepting CO2 poisoning as a necessary evil. "They strain out the mosquitoes while blithely swallowing camels," he says.

Lovelock does give his readers at least some reason for optimism. Humankind, he writes, could use the tools of technology to ease its suffering. For example, engineers should develop jet engines that can tolerate traces of sulfur in kerosene. This, according to Lovelock, would be the easiest way to eject sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere, where they would reflect sunlight back into space, thereby helping cool the earth. Giant mirrors positioned in space would be another option.

And yet none of this will prevent the planet's illness from progressing, at least according to Lovelock's diagnosis, which is ultimately fatal.
You can read the entire article here.

10 comments:

Miles said...

I agree that all options have to be on the table. At a time when the United States in general and Virginia in particular are still relying on coal for electricity, zero-emissions sources like solar, wind, and nuclear should be considered.

Will said...

Nuclear's the way to go. If the French can do it, so can we. The Navy has been doing it for decades.

Wouldn't it be nice to chuck OPEC onto the ash heap?

RobC said...

I'd never presume to challenge Dr. Lovelock, but our capacity for constructing new nuclear plants will have to accelerate from nearly stopped to full speed. It'll take at least five years to get the first plant built, maybe ten. In the meantime, there's plenty of room for conservation. For now, renewables can only play a small role, but they ought to be employed where they make sense. Remember passive solar heat for buildings? That works.

Bill Y said...

I think Lovelock has the right of it, if not just a tad overly gloomy.

The US is the biggest contributor to global warming. Followed closely by China and India.

The US built about 100 nuclear plants in about 20 years. The French built over 50 in less time than that. The US needs about 250 more 1GW plants to replace coal fired generation.

The biggest obstacle is the lack of wisdom and political will of our national leadership. You have 2 choices: government fiat to replace coal or tax the begeebers out of fossil fuels. Unfortunately the spineless politicians (not to mention a few dim bulbs) we have in this country won't be able to stomach either option.

Electrical power generation is only half the problem. The other half is transportation. The same fossil begeebers tax is needed on road fuel.

If we would show some statesmanship and vision on global warming, we would be in a position to help and lean on China and India. (China and India both are already actively expanding their nuclear generation capacity.)

Bill Y said...

OBTW, Virginia doesn't depend solely on coal. It has 4 very nice reactors and another is on the way. (Thank you, Dominion!)

Kit P. said...

Westinghouse just won a big contract to build reactors in China. It would appear that the Bush administration was instrumental with that and has recently reached an a agreement with India for commercial nuclear technology. All of this creates US jobs while reducing global warming.

Randal Leavitt said...

I would like to consider a more positive future, one where our standard of living is much better than it is today, one where we use thousands of times as much energy per person, and one where all this happens without harming the planet. Nuclear fission offers that possibility. We should be using it more and improving it as we go.

sushil yadav said...

The planet will be saved when we stop making all unnecessary consumer goods - more than 90% of consumer goods we see today did not exist 50 years ago - they are not necessities.

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.


Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.


When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.



A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.



FAST VISUALS /WORDS MAKE SLOW EMOTIONS EXTINCT.

SCIENTIFIC /INDUSTRIAL /FINANCIAL THINKING DESTROYS EMOTIONAL CIRCUITS.

A FAST (LARGE) SOCIETY CANNOT FEEL PAIN / REMORSE / EMPATHY.

A FAST (LARGE) SOCIETY WILL ALWAYS BE CRUEL TO ANIMALS/ TREES/ AIR/ WATER/ LAND AND TO ITSELF.


To read the complete article please follow either of these links :

PlanetSave

EarthNewsWire

sushil_yadav

James Aach said...

My biggest concern with any discussion of electric energy policy is that few understand how electricity is actually made now. If we don't understand our energy present, how can we hope to pick the best energy future?

I work in the U.S. nuclear industry, but am not sold on any particular kind of energy for the future. To help with the discussion, I've written a thriller novel looking at nuclear power - its people, its politics, its technology. The book is free online at RadDecision.blogspot.com - and readers seem to like it, judging from their comments on the homepage. (Its also now in paperback at online retailers.) "Rad Decision" has been endorsed by another prominent environmentalist who, like Dr. Lovelock above, is calling for a second look at nuclear power - Stewart Brand, the founder of "The Whole Earth Catalog", internet pioneer, and noted futurist.

Sinus said...

Suchil Yadavs solution is of the kind "if all people on earth could just become other individuals altogether, the planet would be saved."

Of course, people will not change willingly. The only reasonable way to achieve this fast enough is brute force, and there will be resistance. If green fascists were 100 times more powerful than today we would have a global civil war.

As it stands now they will just (try to) wreck any effort of damage control.