Foldvary: Energy Problem: Solved!
|October 11, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Energy Problem: Solved!
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The industrial revolution, which began in the late 1700s, was fueled by abundant carbon-based energy sources: wood, peat, coal, oil, and natural gas. Oil is now the most important energy source, since it powers most vehicles and is used for much of the world’s heating and electricity. But as is well known, the supply of oil is vulnerable to disruptions. Oil-producing areas are plagued with conflict: political problems in Venezuela, rebellion in Nigeria, governmental intervention in Russia, and of course the continuing bombing of pipelines and facilities in Iraq. The supply of oil from Saudi Arabia is vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Besides these disruption problems, the long-run supply of oil will be shrinking. Better technology has enabled more extraction from the older fields, but the fact remains that the total amount of oil as a natural resource is fixed. Oil can be produced from natural gas, but that is expensive. The consumption of oil has been increasing faster than the increase in supplies as much of the world is rapidly becoming highly industrialized. China and India, each with over a billion persons, will be demanding ever greater amounts of energy. Rapidly increasing demand, combined with threatened supply, has led to the price of oil rising to over $50 per barrel.
The large and rapid recent increase in the price of oil has acted like foreign tax, draining the U.S. and other oil importers of funds that would have been used for other goods. Oil imports contribute to the huge U.S. trade deficit. And oil has incited the U.S. chiefs of state to intervene in the Middle East to safeguard the oil supplies. This intervention in turn has incited fanatical terrorists to attack the U.S. and its foreign assets. Oil and coal also create pollution, and the rising contamination of the atmosphere is the likely cause of a global warming that could be catastrophic. We violate the prime rule: don’t upset mother nature.
Environmentalists have pushed for the development of alternative energy sources, such as windmills, solar panels, and ocean waves. These have been installed because of tax credits and other subsidies. These sources are inadequate for most energy demands. Solar energy and wind will not power your car.
The only economical alternative to oil and coal is nuclear energy. Nuclear power does not create global warming, and it is not vulnerable to conflict and war in the Middle East. The main problem with nuclear reactors has been the radioactive waste. The U.S. federal government seeks to bury this waste in Nevada, but the radioactivity will last for many thousands of years, making the burial vulnerable to leaks and earthquakes.
Technology has come to the rescue! The Sovereignty Journal and Sunday Telegraph reported on 26 September 2004, in the article ‘British Firm Finds The Nuclear Industry’s ‘Holy Grail” by David Harrison, environment correspondent, that a British company, Amec, has announced that the nuclear waste problem has been solved.
Amec is a substantial firm; it was a major player in cleaning up Ground Zero in New York City (where the World Trade Center had been) and rebuilding the Pentagon after the 9/11 attack. This company uses a vitrification (conversion to glass) technique devised by the Battelle research institute in Ohio. The process, called ‘geomelting,’ mixes one part nuclear waste with four parts soil, and heats it at a high temperature. The GeoMelt mixture turns into glass which when cooled is harder than concrete. According to Amec, the glass-enclosed nuclear waste can be stored safely for 200,000 years, longer than the radioactivity. The radioactive atoms will decay into harmless elements before the glass corrodes.
Amec bought the technology from Battelle and holds an international license for the process. Vitrification has already been used for storing nuclear waste, but the process has not been long-lasting and required reprocessing, in contrast to the new GeoMelt method.
Geomelting has been successfully tested by the U.S. government, which is now building a pilot plant in Washington state to use this method to treat nuclear waste from atomic bomb tests. Amec has also been negotiating with government-owned British Nuclear Fuels. An official of U.K.’s Department of Trade and Industry stated that a large expansion of nuclear power is needed to avoid an increase of greenhouse global-warming gasses. Environmentalists are now more favorably inclined towards nuclear energy than previously, and when vitrification becomes recognized as the safe way to dispose of nuclear waste, environmentalists who are not ideologically locked into solar and wind will become advocates of energy from nuclear fission.
Besides being a source of electricity, nuclear power can replace gasoline for cars. Fuel cells require hydrogen, and the problem has been that separating hydrogen from oxygen in water requires much energy. Nuclear power can provide that energy. Geomelting can therefore eliminate the use of gasoline in vehicles, and that will terminate dependence on oil while eliminating pollution. Our cities will have clean air, and global warming will be averted.
The energy problem is now solved. The main problem with nuclear energy will be the threat of a terrorist attack on the plants. But the large-scale replacement of oil with nuclear power will induce the U.S. and Europe to disengage from the Middle East, while oil revenues dry up and deplete the oil producers of political might. Until that time, the nuclear plants will have to be tightly guarded. Meanwhile, the best way to protect against terrorist attacks is to prevent them, not just by military means, but mainly by ending the attempt to dominate the Middle East. Encourage local democracy, and then remove foreign troops and stop supporting non-democratic regimes. Solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by making Israel pay rent for West-Bank settlements and by promoting a confederation of Israeli and Palestinian states.
Geomelting should be good news welcomed by environmentalists, residents of Nevada, peace seekers, and economic reformers. Energy has been at the heart of our economic and political conflicts, and now this problem is evidently solved. We now need to move rapidly to eliminate any governmental restrictions on nuclear power so long as this safe method of disposal is used. The era of petroleum is about to end, and the new era is dawning, where nuclear energy with geomelting disposal will bring humanity safe and abundant energy.
Copyright 2004 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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