It is Earth Day today, a chance for all tree huggers, green activists and other self absorbed eco-types to feel good about themselves by disparaging their neighbors. There was a time when environmental issues were rightfully at the top of people's concerns—the skies above our cities were brown and noxious, our rivers and streams poisoned with pollution, lead was accumulating in the environment and our children. The problem is, though most major problems have been addressed, the bureaucracy that was created to fix the environment cannot help but look for new problems that demand solutions, even if the problems are slight and the solutions draconian. Chief among these new problems is “carbon pollution” by which the eco-enforcers mean CO2 emissions. The tragedy of Earth Day is that governments spend billions of dollars on meaningless efforts to curb carbon dioxide while billions live in poverty and squaller around the world.
The number of earthquakes in the U.S. has risen dramatically since the advent of widespread hydraulic fracturing for the recovery of oil and natural gas. In both North America and Europe, concern that such activity could cause damaging earthquakes is rising and the debate shows signs of becoming another unscientific brouhaha fueled by ignorance and fear. It has been known for many years that fracking can cause seismic activity, as can damming rivers, mining minerals and pumping oil from underground. Is fracking being subjected to unfair criticism? Several new reports and a multi-national study, just published in the journal Science, attempt to take an objective, scientific view of the problem.
Writing in a paper to appear in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, NASA scientist and noted climate alarmist James Hansen has come down on the side of nuclear power. He and coauthor Pushker A. Kharecha claim that getting power from nuclear energy actually saves lives. “Global nuclear power has prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths,” they report. Of course it also prevented 64 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, when compared to the burning of fossil fuels, perhaps explaining why Hansen has suddenly become a nuclear power booster. With global warming on hiatus for the past decade and a half, the climate change cabal may be growing desperate for allies and have turned to that most unloved of energy sources—nuclear. Is this a sign that warmists and tree-huggers have a developing schism over nuclear power?
One of the best kept secrets regarding alternative energy sources is based on an element most people have never heard of—thorium. Named after the Norse god of thunder, Thor, thorium is a fertile (not fissile) fuel that can power safe nuclear reactors to provide almost unlimited amounts of emissions free power. At the same time, such reactors can also burn up existing stockpiles of nuclear waste. For various political reasons thorium has not found support in countries like the US, but now a Norwegian company is making the switch from uranium to thorium, running one of its power reactors for a four year test to prove the viability of this true source of clean alternative energy. Norway, like the US and many other countries, have abundant supplies of this element—perhaps it is time to actually solve the world's energy problems for the foreseeable future, without all the expensive solar cells and bird killing wind turbines.
There's been plenty of talk about potentially radical US foreign policy changes as a result of the shale boom. While one shouldn't expect any dramatic US foreign policy move away from the Middle East, factors are influencing a greater focus on Asia. Only one thing is certain in this transforming world: The shale boom is real and the implications are many and difficult to predict. The Resilient Earth is pleased to bring you the following interview with energy security expert Michael Levi.
A study commissioned by the California legislature has just reported that, in order to achieve the state's aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions by 2050, the golden state will need to more than triple the percentage of electrical power it gets from nuclear energy. In the January 6, 2012, issue of the journal Science a paper outlining the report's findings was published and they may be a bit unsettling for deep green Californian ecologists. It finds that technically feasible levels of energy efficiency and decarbonizing the state's energy supply alone are not good enough. The answer? Here is a hint—electric vehicles powered by expanded nuclear energy.
International negotiators at a recent UN climate conference held in Bangkok repeated the demand that global warming this century be limited to no more than 2˚C. But while those attending the UN boondoggle stuck to the climate alarmist party line, results from a newly published Canadian government climate study concluded that “it is unlikely that warming can be limited to the 2˚C target.” The modeling based paper found that reaching the stated IPCC goal would require that greenhouse emissions “ramp down to zero immediately,” which means shutting down the global economy and banning the automobile. Moreover, starting in 2050 scientists would need to actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, requiring a rush to implement controversial and possibly dangerous geoengineering programs. Why does the global warming lobby continue demanding the impossible? Perhaps it is because global warming isn't about climate change at all.
Precaution is now an established tenet of environmental governance, law, and public policy at the international, national and local levels. When it comes to pollution, toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, endangered species and climate change, the so called precautionary principle has become the guiding doctrine for timorous souls everywhere. But more than that, it is a codification of the idea that before anything new is allowed, it must be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to cause no harm to anything in anyway, under any conditions, anywhere—period. It is “look before you leap” on steroids and a major legal weapon used by environmentalists and neo-Luddites everywhere to hamstring human progress. Raising angst to an art form, progress hating activists have managed to block needed energy and industrial expansion at a critical time in humanity's development.
Breakthrough Institute co-founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus returned to Yale University last month for a retrospective on their 2004 essay, “The Death of Environmentalism.” Rarely does a critical assessment of an inflamed public debate so clearly shine the light of reason on why a cause was lost. In their speech Shellenberger and Nordhaus, bloth life long environmentalists, argued that green politics and the climate change crisis were destroyed from within, by exaggerated scientific claims, fantasies about green jobs and “An Inconvenient Truth.” After detailing how climate change alarmists managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the authors go on to offer some advice for the green movement: 12 theses for a post-environmental approach to climate change. In effect, they are saying that the world needs to concentrate on solving the problems that matter to people—food, energy, economic development—and the environment will be fixed as a side effect.
As public concern rises over the safety and ecological soundness of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, the nuclear power industry is quietly ramping up to build new, smaller types of reactors that can be deployed as sealed power units. Russia is moving ahead with plans to locate floating nuclear power plants along its northern coast and a French company has designed a small offshore nuclear power plant called Flexblue. At the same time, efforts by the US Department of Energy's Savannah River Site to host a range of proof-of-concept units from several vendors has run afoul of bureaucratic infighting. Around the world, nuclear power is progressing, while former nuclear technology leader America founders.
After all the fanfare a few months back, when US President Obama announced government loan guaranties for a new nuclear power plant in Georgia, the truth is emerging—Obama is quietly letting the nuclear Renaissance die from neglect and broken promises. Trying to distract green critics and the public with its approval of plans to build the world's biggest solar-thermal power plant in the Southern California, the administration ignored the faltering plans to expand an existing power plant on the Chesapeake Bay. Constellation Energy sent a letter to the US DOE stating that the terms offered by the government to guaranty financing for expanding the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant were “unworkable” and that the project could not go forward. Despite paying lip service to reviving nuclear power by providing government backed loans, the extreme greens in the Obama administration are trying to kill the nuclear power industry.
One of the arguments used by critics of nuclear power is that there is not enough uranium to power a nuclear world for an extended time. The energy hungry world would just be trading looming oil shortages for uranium shortages, they claim. As with most anti-nuclear scare-mongering these charges are totally bogus. MIT has just released a major report on the nuclear fuel cycle that finds uranium supplies will not limit the expansion of nuclear power in the US or around the world for the foreseeable future. It suggests that nuclear power, even using today’s reactor technology with the wasteful once-through fuel cycle, can play a significant part in satisfying the world's future energy needs.
In Europe and North America, the development of nuclear power effectively halted after the March 1979 accident in Pennsylvania at Three Mile Island. Until recently the building of additional nuclear reactors in most developed nations was unlikely. Meanwhile, the greatest hope of the alternative energy industry has been wind power, but people around the world are starting to question the safety and effectiveness of large wind farms. As the public's infatuation with “green” energy has faded, the resurgent nuclear power industry has been quietly ramping up its efforts to provide the energy the world will need in the future. Even ecological activists have come to realize that nuclear is the only viable option to fossil fuels. As a result, a nuclear surge is underway, with 52 new reactors under construction around the world and more in the planning stages. This about face in energy policy amounts to nothing less than a nuclear renaissance.
Driven by a constantly expanding need for electricity, Chile is considering building seven new dams and a transmission line through its southern wilderness. This isolated land of condors and monkey puzzle trees is home to the third largest reserve of frozen freshwater in the world—the Southern Ice Field. Critics say the environmental risks have not been fully examined, and the risk to southern Chile's unique ecosystems is unacceptably high. Proponents of the dam project argue that hydroelectricity is a clean source of energy, just waiting to be tapped. Chile needs the 3500 MW/yr of power to meet its development goals and lacks indigenous oil or coal reserves. Moreover, the electricity from the dams would displace dirty generation, greatly reducing Chile's greenhouse gas emissions. Give all the benefits, why are so many people, within Chile and without, so opposed to the dams—opposed to the point of preferring new coal plants?
In news that signals a sea-change in European nuclear energy policy, Finland's parliament has voted to build two additional nuclear reactors to augment the four they already operate. When this expansion is complete, nuclear power will provide half of Finland's electricity. Following in Finland's footsteps, their Nordic neighbor Sweden has announced that it will also build new reactors. The intention being to replace the reactors at their 10 existing nuclear power plants when the old ones are shut down. This reverses a 1980 referendum that called for them to be phased out entirely. Sweden and Finland have concluded that greenhouse gases can only be cut and energy security guaranteed with continued or greater reliance on atomic power.