Saturday, 12 July 2008

Fixing Planet Earth: The Energy Crisis

Fixing Planet Earth


The human population is currently in the midst of an energy crisis. The supply of fossil fuels that we have been using for the past two and a half centuries is rapidly drying up, combined with the global warming problem that burning them causes. Coal, gas and oil, substances that take millions of years to create are some of the most toxic and environmentally hostile products that man can burn to create the energy he so sorely needs in order to supply power to his miniature barbeques, cars with TVs in the headrests, islands being built from scratch and trainers with lights in them.

This is an economic problem and everyone is feeling the pinch. With the price of oil skyrocketing, food prices have shot up – entire populations in certain regions of the world are struggling to afford even the most basic food rations. Cars are being run off biofuels that are diverting the supply of ethanol and corn away from poorer countries that need these essential supplies and into the cars of the economic powerhouses of the west. This of course creates the current food crisis, another economic problem that will be covered in a future essay.

However, no one can argue that the energy crisis has caught mankind off guard. We have known for decades now that the supply of fossil fuels will eventually dry up, and that we must wean ourselves off these products in order to help reverse some of the tremendous damage that their constant burning has done to the atmosphere and environment. So why has no action been taken? One simple answer: MONEY.

Developing nations such as India and China, while economically rich, have such massive populations and needs that they cannot afford to invest in alternate energy sources. Developed nations (use any of the G8 countries as an example) don’t want to spend the money building wind farms, tidal gates or vast fields of solar panels in order to provide their energy. And the nations still in the grip of poverty – Africa, much of South America and large swathes of Indochina – simply cannot afford to begin investing in such technologies.

In my opinion, it is the job of the developed nations, particularly that of Western Europe, America and Russia (the countries that cause 90% of all the worlds global problems) to invest money and research into these technologies, making them cheaper and easier for other nations to use them. Do you think the first oil rig, or coal mine, or gas works or even atom smashing plant was cheap to create?

However, the human problem rears its ugly head here. Because there is too much money to be lost by the oil, gas and coal companies. And unfortunately, these companies make up a fairly sizeable percentage of the most powerful corporations on the planet. These businesses are the ones that lobby within governments, often buying or installing politicians into administrations in order to make them more sympathetic to the needs of these global dominators. This is not a ‘New World Order’ conspiracy theory; these organisations do not want to take over, rather, they just don’t want to see their share prices plummet when America or France or Britain ditches oil for 50% of its power output and goes solar. They will do anything to stop that from happening, despite the benefits it would bring to vast swathes of the human population – increased manufacturing means more jobs in certain sectors (possibly balanced with a loss of jobs amongst, say, oil drillers, though such jobs have been continually lost to the advances of computer science of the past twenty years), cleaner energy means less pollutants, power derived from renewable resources means a stop to drilling massive holes in the earth and it makes fossil fuel rich countries less hot points of interest, meaning that global conflicts in such areas would decrease, leaving nations to sort themselves out as they should be allowed to.

So what’s the solution? Well, initially it appears there is no easy solution. In order to put a halt to the energy crisis humankind would have to quickly develop cost efficient, high energy converting technologies to tap into these clean sources of renewable energy. This has not been done, and will take many, many years to do. Nations would have to stop their dependency on fossil fuels, which leads to companies taking huge profit losses, individuals (especially those within a certain North American administration) facing a tremendous downturn in profits and many countries having to find other streams of revenue to bolster their economy.

But wait! Hold your horses! I see a white knight on the horizon! Well, its kind of white, but as he gets closer he seems actually to be green. Glowing green. Radioactive green…

Yes folks, nuclear energy is our immediate saviour. Until Governments bite the bullet and really go for renewable energy sources (trust me, there will be a few ups and downs, coups, possible assassinations and power struggles before that happens) nuclear power is the answer to everyone’s woes. Allow me to point out the benefits: clean, infinitely renewable, safe, cheap and in plentiful supply. The New York Times recently said:

‘For the first time in decades, increasing the role of nuclear power in the United States may be starting to make political, environmental and even economic sense.’

Now, the anti Nuclear lobby – Subtitle: left wing hippies – is dead set on urging a global ban on nuclear power. They claim it is expensive, hazardous and dirty. Let’s just have a look at these assertions shall we? Now, thirty years ago, when the technology to tap into nuclear energy was fairly new, it was a dangerous power source. We did not fully understand that with which we were dealing with, and as a result ‘accidents’ (Three Mile island and Chernobyl in particular) happened. Consequently nuclear energy became demonised as critically dangerous to anybody near it or using it. That is the the first myth of the anti nuclear lobby; because nuclear plants do not give off nuclear radiation in large doses. Even the Three Mile Island meltdown event caused (and this is quoted by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission):

‘… no deaths or injuries to planet workers or members of the nearby community.’

Those people that were exposed to the "horrifying" and "dangerous" radiation were exposed to levels that were equivalent to that of a single chest X-ray.

Now, I hear the gears in your brain turning, conjuring up the images of Chernobyl, a catastrophe where the reactor exploded and burned for ten days. A terrible event to be sure, but the fatality rate was and still is minute compared to the amount of people that die every year mining for coal or drilling for oil. Chernobyl happened (1987) when the USSR couldn’t even power tractors, let alone run a safe nuclear power plant. It made Springfield Nuclear Plant and Homer Simpson as safety inspector look like the most well run organisation in the world, so it was not an event that would have happened with new technology and the proper security procedures in place.

Of course, the other whine that the anti nuclear morons throw at us is that nuclear power plants are a possible… (wait for it) TERRORIST TARGET. Now, think about that, people are seriously saying (the same people that are anti-war and think there is a solution to the terrorism that they claim is a threat) that we shouldn’t build nuclear power plants because they might, someday be attacked by terrorists. I suppose that also means we can’t build anymore planes, subways/tubes, skyscrapers or oil plants. I suppose we’d better shut down New York City, Washington D.C and London. Grow some balls. Everything in the world is subject to terrorist attack. Even you and me.

So, I’ve comprehensively knocked down the three major whipping posts of the anti-nuclear lobby. Let me expound the real benefits that are not mentioned by such environmental pressure groups. Since Chernobyl, engineers have (surprisingly) engineered cheaper, safer, more environmentally friendly nuclear power plants. But by stopping new plants being built, we’re left with the older ones that are not as safe or cheap as the new ones will be. so the technology is so far advanced now, so safe, that disasters like Three Mile Island could not happen again. Opposition to building new plants to create more energy with greater efficiency is like opposing the development of self stick stamps because you like the taste of licking stamps. It’s stupid and it goes to stupid lengths.

Oh but wait! Wait! I forgot the one other problem with nuclear use: nuclear waste. Now, transporting nuclear waste – contrary to popular belief - is easy. Trucks carrying 25 tonnes of nuclear waste have been hit by trains travelling at 80 miles and hour and have also been left in a pool of burning jet fuel for ninety minutes, reaching a temperature of 1400 degrees and not one thing has happened. The waste stayed contained and safe. (These experiments (conducted by the US Department of Energy) were also performed in the 1980s when the technology was far less safe than it is today). Even if the waste fell off a train you could simply just put it back on. It is a myth that it is constantly dangerous; I woulddn't advise exposure, but if it sat there for a day or two there would be no problem. It would just sit there. If it stays there for a week or two, only then do you start to have am issue.

Now, as for long term storage, both the United States is intending to store their waste beneath a Yucca Mountain, in a facility specifically designed to store nuclear waste. The waste will be buried about 1000 feet under the (solid granite rock) ground inside the mountain. This waste will never, ever cause a problem. There will be no issue of nuclear waste. It won’t be a problem in 200 days, 200 weeks or 200 years. There is plenty of nuclear material in the earth already, causing no harm to anyone or anything. You also have to take into account the advancements in technology in the future, that will ensure the waste remains safe. Oh, and no one will forget it’s there.

By building only 400 new nuclear reactors, the United States could generate 100% of its electricity. 100%. No need for oil, coal, gas, solar, wind, tidal. 400 cheap new nuclear reactors and the energy crisis is solved. And if the United States only needs 400, think how few Britain or France would need by comparison.

So there’s your answer to the energy crisis. That’s it. The west must keep researching into solar energy, wind energy etc. in order to wean itself off fossil fuels – particularly oil, the liquid of war - and all their problems, but in the meantime, the entire planet can afford to use nuclear power. I have chopped down the big fighting points against nuclear energy, and outlined all its benefits. As long as we let silly, ill thought out hippy symbols scare us, we’re screwed. Those against nuclear are using dated arguments, and are, quite frankly, ignorant and not keeping up to speed with the world. If we live the present, we run out of energy. If we live in the past we die. We have to live in the future. Energy is like air; it will run out. And mankind will always need more. We in the west, and only we, are to blame for the current energy crisis, and we in the west are the ones that must be responsible for fixing it.

1 comment:

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