Earth Day, 2016 by Douglas Black
Since we gave our planet the status of St. Valentine, Columbus, and the Stars ‘n Stripes, April 22 has been the annual opportunity to talk about conservation, windmills, and the evils of plastic shopping bags. Second graders all over America create artistic homages declaring “why I love the Earth” on cue. It is a day for old tree hugging hippies to get out their tie-dyes and roll 4/20 into 4/22, for climate scientists to make the rounds of morning talk shows declaring the end of days, and for fuel industry stooges in Congress to spout nonsensical rhetoric about how cold it is today for a warming planet.
I have been firmly in the camp triple bottom lines and the three R’s for three decades. Renew–Reuse-Recycle, and social-environmental-economical bottom line business models have been the backbone of my lectures, papers, and building analyses since even before launching the ENERFICIENCY blogspot and consulting business in 1999. But I propose a new, perhaps heretical direction.
Long range planning for energy use in America should include a dramatic ramp-up in nuclear power. Yes, I said it. Lessons have been learned during the adolescent stage of the industry and now we need to build the next generation of smaller, safer, and sensible nuclear plants, the NIMBY’s be damned.
Clearly the coal industry is undergoing a slide into obsolescence. Those on the bleeding edge of this regional catastrophe would have you believe it is entirely the fault of enviro-leftists who want nothing less than the destruction of western civilization. This is not so. I am sure those who earned their living in the whaling industry felt the same way about the fossil fuel industry. And the water-wheel makers and surrey factories demonized coal burning turbines and automobiles in their turn.
Coal may find a new niche, it should, because we certainly have abundant supply at our shovel tips. But burning it may not, and should not, be an option in the future. The same must be said about oil – tar sand, Texan, or tapped from the deep blue – burning is too expensive when considering the triple bottom line costs to our grandchildren and theirs.
Oil has many great uses including industrial lubricants, plastics, medicines and cosmetics, but not burning. Not great for the same reasons noted for coal.
Natural gas is a relatively clean way to produce power for our electricity dependent civilization, but must be seen as it is, namely a stop-gap measure that will play itself out before the end of the century.
Wind, solar, geo-thermal and hydro have their permanent places, but will not supply 100 percent, or even 50 percent of societies power appetite according to most industry experts. At least until an unforeseen tech breakthrough occurs and that, by definition, is unknowable.
So that brings us back to nuclear power. No new nuclear plant has been ordered in the U.S. since 1978, nor has a plant been finished since 1995. What have we learned during this down time? Don’t locate cooling pumps below sea level. Don’t build right atop a fault line. Build Generation-III and IV designs (like Korea and India are developing), not Chernobyl style technology. Employ displaced coal industry workers as the builders of next generation nuclear power plants. And build a hyper long-term disposal vault for spent fuel deep in Yucca Mountain and be done with it.
Within fifty years we in the United States should be generating nearly 50 percent of electricity needs through wind, solar, hydro or geo-thermal systems. All clean and practically environmentally friendly. And within fifty years we in the United States should be generating 50 percent of electricity needs through next generation nuclear plants. A little bit of diesel or natural gas generators will be inevitable.
Heretical? Yes. Practical? Absolutely.