Much has been said at length on this subject. But I think the debate begins and ends with this fact:
The solar energy hitting the earth exceeds the total energy consumed by humanity by a factor of over 20,000 times. More solar energy hits the world in a day, than we use in fifty years, at current rates.
Nuclear fission has massive unquantifiable tail risk. Solar power has almost zero tail risk.
An Australian company is launching industrial solar arrays producing 15 times the energy per unit of area, so there is considerable hope. The problem of course is that solar is a very long way from cost effectiveness. It will get there, but banishing coal requires more than a few wild assertions from Al Gore. From a cost/benefit analysis or risk management perspective, shutting down coal is economically disastrous for dubious environmental benefit.
The problem of course is, you guessed it, governments picking winners!! Wind is proving to be environmentalism’s greatest folly at massive financial and environmental cost for small return, while solar still has enormous (unrealized) potential, as does geothermal. Would the greenies accept fusion power if it ever becomes energy positive? Unlimited power for the masses? I doubt it.
The fact is that such technologies will become viable when and if they become economically so. Anything less than that is a case of governments picking winners, and we know where that leads.
Global peak oil is now in the rearview mirror (proof: we are refining tar sand and shale oil). Clean coal is a hoax. Fraccing is going to cause more enviro disasters than oil, maybe even nuke. Solar is excellent in theory, but the energy required to produce pv panels is at present a break even. Nothing will replace the cheap oil bonanza, certainly not in the time frame required (now). Reality will dictate a major ramp down. Many theorists, myself included, believe this to be not only inevitable, but good for all life, including human, in the long run (humanity is being driven mad by duality, i.e. separation from nature). Unfortunately, there will be much pain in the transition. Buckle up, amigos.
You realise that diesel can now be artificially manufactured from engineered bacteria for $50 a barrel? The only reason they don’t do it is because it’s still much cheaper to pump (though that ain’t reflected in OPEC prices).
I think humans will be able to go on burning hydrocarbons for centuries so long as we proceed with caution through the transition from natural hydrocarbons to synthetic & solar, and so long as we manage to keep atmospheric CO2 fairly stable (carbon scrubbing is the best technology for this).
Ah yes, another gaggle of genetic mutant microorganisms mixed into the base of the food chain. What could go wrong? (see: massive crop failures do to gmos, roundup, ‘cides, ahead).
It’s got nothing to do with the food chain, though. You store it in vats with water, shine the sun on it, it respires and excretes diesel. I personally believe genetic-engineering of the food chain is extremely risky (in Nassim Taleb language it is a non-linear domain with massive tails), and I think Monsanto are a bunch of disgusting, corrupt monopolists who have destroyed business for a lot of first-world and third-world farmers. I think Monsanto (and similar companies) need to be regulated to the point of bankruptcy and that engineering food products should be illegal (I’m sure others will disagree with me, but for me the tail risk is too big). But using genetic-engineering to make fuel is a totally different domain.
Well guess what, Nuclear Fission was there not really to power our homes but to power our ICBM arsenal with enough dirty capacity in the first place.
Below are all unsound nuclear principles
The only Nuclear Fission technology that is truely sound are Thorium based reactors, Thorium cannot go critical like the current generation PWR/BWR and ABWR reactors can reach with no effort at all. Also a major advantage is that it makes the world around us alot safer no one can claim “it’s for medical purposes, TRUST US !” production of military grade material is almost completly out of the question.
Thorium can be used as fuel in a nuclear reactor, and it is a fertile material, which allows it to be used to produce nuclear fuel in a breeder reactor. In 1997, the U.S. Energy Department underwrote research into thorium fuel, and research was also begun in 1996 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to study the use of thorium reactors. Nuclear scientist, Alvin Radkowsky, of Tel Aviv University in Israel, founded a consortium to develop thorium reactors, which included other companies: Raytheon Nuclear Inc., Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. Radkowsky was chief scientist in the U.S. nuclear submarine program directed by Admiral Hyman Rickover and later headed the design team which built the USA’s first civilian nuclear power plant at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, which was a scaled-up version of the first naval reactor. Some countries, including India, are now investing in research to build thorium-based nuclear reactors. A 2005 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency discusses potential benefits along with the challenges of thorium reactors. India has also made thorium-based nuclear reactors a priority with its focus on developing fast breeder technology.
Some benefits of thorium fuel when compared with uranium were summarized as follows:
* Weapons-grade fissionable material (233U) is harder to retrieve safely and clandestinely from a thorium reactor;
* Thorium produces 10 to 10,000 times less long-lived radioactive waste;
* Thorium comes out of the ground as a 100% pure, usable isotope, which does not require enrichment, whereas natural uranium contains only 0.7% fissionable U-235;
* Thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction without priming, so fission stops by default.
However, unlike uranium-based breeder reactors, thorium requires irradiation and reprocessing before the above-noted advantages of thorium-232 can be realized, which makes thorium fuels initially more expensive than uranium fuels. But experts note that “the second thorium reactor may activate a third thorium reactor. This could continue in a chain of reactors for a millennium if we so choose.” They add that because of thorium’s abundance, it will not be exhausted in 1,000 years.
The Thorium Energy Alliance (TEA), an educational advocacy organization, emphasizes that “there is enough thorium in the United States alone to power the country at its current energy level for over 1,000 years
I am bullish on thorium reactors. But in the long-range, nothing can compete with solar. The sun has billions of years of output left for us to tap into.
Thats not the argument here, i´m just trying to prove why Nuclear fission does not suck, there is ample Thorium-fuel on planet earth to support us for atleast two to three millenia to come, if were by that time still around.
But myself ofcourse i endorse Solar power 100% but that does not mean i exclude Nuclear Fission from the equation, we need to offer our politics alternatives it can pick from, Fission and Solar being two.
Thorium is potentially less bad than uranium. But like all forms of nuclear fission, it does have significant tail risk:
Of course thorium is nowhere as bad as uranium. A more accurate title for this post might be “Uranium Fission is Completely Awful, Thorium is Slightly Less Bad, And Solar is Better than Everything Else”
No need to get sarcastic, The enviromental risks are at a mezzanine level equal enviromentally. But not in absolute terms that risk is definatly 90% lower
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So, let remove all the rain forests, deserts, tundra, and national parks and replace them with solar panels and cover the oceans with solar cells to power the world