June 13, 2015

Our nuclear renewable energy future, conservation, and related thoughts

As close regular readers of this site know, I have regularly voted for Green Party presidential candidates, but am not, and do not anticipate becoming, a member of the Green Party at any time soon.

It's primarily over GMOs and alt-medicine.

However, I have occasionally discussed nuclear power before.

I'm not "pro-nuclear," nor am I "anti-nuclear," if its framed in terms of current American nuclear energy.

Rather, I'm "smart nuclear." Much of this is resumming old ideas.

First, nuclear fusion power is NOT "just around the corner," as has been claimed for what, 50 years? Abandon those ideas.

Second, current American power plants are poorly designed.

We need new plants to be the latest in some sort of breeder-type reactors, to get the maximum possible amount of energy out of the nuclear fuel, which will also reduce problems with some types of nuclear waste. To the degree that greater worries about terrorist threats of nuclear fuel theft are higher with breeder reactors, then we need to improve security.

We need the U.S. Geological Society to continue to work on updating faulting maps, especially in the central U.S., so we don't mis-site plants.

As for wastes that still remain with breeder reactors? Rather than worrying about a Yucca Mountain that will always be a political football, we should look long and hard at moving toward on-site disposal.

As for claims that nuclear is carbon-intensive because of the amount of work in building containment domes? It's true. But wind turbines and solar panels aren't carbon neutral either, and both will need at least minor upgrading work long before a good breeder reactor ends its lifespan.

And, while wind turbines have decreased bird kills, they haven't eliminated them. And, solar panels, though producing some energy anywhere (Germany) are best sited in the Southwest in fragile lands near desert big cities. (Environmentalists voluntarily leaving SoCal, Nevada or Arizona, raise your hands.)

Plus, nuclear has steady "baseload" power.

Now, to that, some environmentalists will offer two responses.

The first is that we're working on storage batteries for high-production periods on solar and wind, for release at slack production times. Yes, we're working on them. But we don't have them yet.

The other is that we have a renewable baseload power source in hydroelectric.

Two problems.

First, most notably in the Pacific Northwest, damns aren't environmentally friendly; they kill salmon and other fish. They kill nonmigratory fish due to siltation and massive temperature swings. They kill plant life through interrupting normal river flows.

Second, in the Desert Southwest, there's still a good likelihood that either Lake Mead or Lake Powell hits "dead pool" by 2025 if not a bit sooner. While this primarily affects water for cities and agriculture, at that level, the lakes will be low enough to be seriously below peak electrical production.

And, beyond that, in Washington and Oregon, white greens' homeland, Grand Coulee and other dams on the Columbia will still be killing salmon.

Finally, where's conservation? How many warm-weather environmentalists run their AC at 76, while running box and ceiling fans? Or, once the evening gets much below 80, actually opens the windows?

Al Gore stereotypes aside, and not trying to confirm any Dick Cheney sneers, the number's probably not that high.

Driving a Prius to save gas is "nice," but it's not that nice if you're still running AC at 72, or less. And if you're running the heat at 70 in winter. Beyond that, adjusting heating and cooling a bit more closely to natural conditions means that the great outdoors doesn't seem quite so hot in summer, or quite so cold in winter.

And, there's some environmentalism there — environmentalism that might get one to be a nature lover.

And, I've not even talked about the explosion in use of mobile "devices," the power needed for server farms for social media sites, cloud computing and more.

Speaking of "clouds," cloud-like distributed electric generation and transmission could be an environmental boon, an economic scam, bits of both, some of neither or something else.

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