A Solution to Global Warming and Clean Energy Needs

By Jim Dougherty

Jim DoughertyToday, global warming is both a threat to our shared human environment, and, if responded to wisely, it is an opportunity to improve living conditions for people worldwide.

Over the last 250 years, the average global temperature has increased approximately 1.5 degrees Celsius. This average incremental increase in temperature corresponds almost exactly to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas of concern, because it is emitted on such a huge scale by modern industrial civilization.

To put this in what is perhaps an unfortunate perspective, the planet-wide impact of human-caused global warming is estimated to be the equivalent of detonating about 400,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs each day or 4.6 atomic bombs per second.

That heat has to go somewhere, and scientists don’t fully understand how the earth is dealing with all the extra heat. Global temperature will continue to increase if nothing is done — but it’s hard to predict how bad or what the consequences will be.

The key is not the problem but the solutions — none of the ones being proposed currently have any realistic chance of succeeding.

Despite 40 years of concerted effort, conventional clean energy technologies, while making impressive gains, do not yet have the capacity or efficiency to fully address global warming and energy needs worldwide.

In the United States, renewable energy sources account for 11.09% of U.S. energy consumption. Half of the renewables include biomass (organic) (5.5%) which is not emissions free. The remainder is made up of hydroelectric (2.83%), wind (1.98%), solar (.48%), and geothermal (.25%).

Under the best case scenario, solar would add 1% capacity per year and is still expensive at around 21 cents per kilowatt-hour. Though falling, its cost far exceeds that of natural gas which has a cost of around 5.7 cents per kilowatt hour.

More important, no matter what we in the developed world do to limit our energy consumption and convert to greener energy technologies, it will have almost no impact on the overall problem due to the growth of energy consumption — and greenhouse gas emissions — in the developing world, where expensive technologies we might be able to afford are harder to deploy on anything but the smallest scale.

Wealthy nations can follow sound environmental instincts, but on the larger issue of global warming, it makes almost no difference at all. Every 10% cut in U.S. emissions is wiped out by 6 months of China’s emissions growth. As physicist Richard A. Muller put it, “Expensive efforts to reduce Western emission may set an example, but it’s a worthless example if the developing world can’t afford to follow.”

In the developing world, it’s not just the cost of energy, but its very availability that is a matter literally of life and death. In every quality of life category, people’s well-being and very survival correlates directly with energy availability

One study notes that 44% of the world’s population lacks access to even 1 kW of energy which can ensure access to drinking water, low infant mortality and raised life expectancy. The same study indicates that 85% of the world’s population lacks access to 5 kW of energy needed to reach the highest levels of quality of life.

Energy is the difference between a decent and a miserable life for most of the world’s population. It is crucially important, therefore, to have cost-efficient solutions for the developing world, not only for the planet’s sake, but as we’ve seen, for the wellbeing of the people themselves.

The world needs a clean, carbon-free energy source that can meet the demands of modern industrial society and the growing demands of a modernizing world, and nuclear is the known, available technology with the capacity to meet those needs on the scale required.

Why not then investigate who, if anyone, has been safely using nuclear power for decades  — actually 5,700 reactor-years?

The answer is the U.S. Navy. It is one of, if not the largest, operator of nuclear power plants in the world, and has a remarkable safety record.

One common sense approach to solve the problem of energy and global warming is to understand what those with a successful track record have been doing, and consider whether their methods and technology can be applied on a larger and more efficient scale, in this case to provide safe, clean, affordable, and abundant energy.

Perhaps that’s why, despite Chernobyl and Fukushima and the understandable safety concerns about nuclear power, people are beginning to reconsider it.

Current applications have been more expensive, harder and longer to build than anyone ever anticipated. For example, the most recent nuclear plant, Watts Bar II at TVA, just went online after 43 years under construction. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of nuclear power — very low fuel cost and virtually no air pollution of any kind — are so favorable that it makes sense to give it a second look, and ask, if the safety issues can be dealt with, could this be the solution to global warming  and energy abundance we’ve been looking for?

Fukushima illustrates among other things the inherent safety risk of all land-based nuclear reactors: overheating and meltdown from loss of coolant. All land-based reactors have the same problem: they are dependent on mechanical cooling and a water source to keep them from overheating. Perhaps that’s why the Russians, Chinese and MIT are all looking at offshore reactor placements.

MIT professor of nuclear science and engineering Jacopo Buongiorno explains why floating nuclear plants could withstand earthquakes and tsunamis.

Even though it’s mostly military discipline that keeps Navy reactors so safe, there may also be an inherent safety advantage that all Navy reactors have in common: they’re surrounded by millions upon millions of gallons of water — an infinite heat sink. While it doesn’t replace good engineering and best safety practices, offshore placements make just enough difference so that the best practices of human beings — operating with inherently dangerous technology — do not result in catastrophic failures, as the Navy’s 5,700 reactor-year safety records attests.

Offshore nuclear has been proposed before, in the form of the 1970’s-era Atlantic Generating station, which would have been the largest ocean construction project ever. That very size and scale may have been part of its undoing. However, the project was cancelled when the 1972 oil embargo reduced the demand for electricity from oil refineries.

Many of the requirements contributing to the high costs of the Atlantic Generating station, such as a gigantic artificial reef to protect it from collisions and weather, are still factors today. This is why one alternative, that admittedly has its own special costs, is underwater placement which immediately reduces the risks from weather, collision or terrorist attack. It also dramatically increases the number of available locations, from a handful of carefully selected ones to just about anywhere power is needed.

This approach would allow placement offshore of developing countries, making affordable and clean energy available to people for whom it is vital. It would also overcome one of largest barriers to investment in the developing world: fear of stranded costs and asset seizure by any third world dictator or tribal chief who decides to occupy your power plant. Operated under a Merchant Marine model with private ownership, operation and competition combined with military supervision for safety, security and the absolute protection of public interests — those assets would be inherently safe.

The companies that bid for and win the right to build these stations and operate them will pay hefty license fees to the federal government while still undoubtedly earning staggering profits for their investors: a bonanza of revenue for both economic growth, and important public endeavors as well, like education, healthcare, infrastructure, and the environment.

Surplus energy could power our transportation network, hugely simplify automation of vehicles, and overcome the biggest problem with electric cars: the batteries.  Between automation removing the risk of collision and highway electrification removing the fuel, vehicles can be smaller, lighter and cleaner, creating a revolution in transportation.

Ship-like construction would also mean all the benefits of mass production would apply as well as port or dry dock maintenance for optimal conditions for servicing and repair of stations. There’s been substantial discussion of the benefit of small modular reactors over the last two decades. This takes the concept one step further and makes the entire power station modular — no gigantic, heroic, record-breaking, fantastically expensive construction projects in the field — just quiet, efficient, standardized manufacture and maintenance in a controlled, optimized facility with the right tools and the people who know how to use them in the same place.

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The author’s EA Content mobile education and development center for the offshore nuclear project.

There’s much more we need to consider such as advanced nuclear fuel cycles that use the normally unusable 99% of naturally occurring uranium to allow thousands of years of clean energy, even with current technology; safety, security, what-if disaster scenarios, public perception and education, and the somewhat ambiguous but healthy competitive/collaborate relationship among different clean energy technologies. All that is also fertile ground for the research still to be done.

Offshore nuclear power has the potential to be not only an economically and environmentally, but a morally transformative technology, allowing us to both be good stewards of the earth, and to foster the prosperity and happiness of our fellow human beings. Safe, abundant, clean energy is not just a convenience but an essential and practical tool to substantially build the ideal world sought by Unificationists and many of our greatest spiritual leaders.

Protecting the global environment while improving living conditions for billions of people worldwide are goals supported by Unificationist teaching on the second and third blessings given by God to Adam and Eve in the biblical account of creation. To have dominion is not only to master our environment, but having loving and protective stewardship of it, and to preserve it for future generations. It is therefore noteworthy that Mrs. Hak Ja Han Moon stresses the importance of protecting the environment and intends to revive the very successful International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences.♦

James H. Dougherty is owner of Editorial & Advertising Content Services. He is a retired editor of the Register-Star newspaper in Hudson, NY, and recipient of the 2001-2002 New York Newspaper Publishers Association Award of Excellence for Distinguished Editorial Writing. Jim is also a former CARP leader. More information and articles (by writer/researcher Matthew Formby) can be found at www.offshorenuclear.com.

Graphic at top: An MIT-designed concept of a floating nuclear power plant eight or more miles offshore (courtesy of MIT/NSE).

8 thoughts on “A Solution to Global Warming and Clean Energy Needs

  1. The science is far from settled. Global temperatures are no higher now than they were 15 years ago. It is all based on computer models.

  2. Jim,

    I totally agree nuclear power could be a significant part of a solution whether land- or sea-based. Modern land-based passive cooled reactors are far safer than the Fukishima design. The problem is not the technology, operational safety of the plants, or even ecological concerns. Current technology is sufficient to make a difference.

    The problem is political. Who will build the reactors? Who will control the radioactive fuel? You seem to be proposing a model that will entail world energy control from America, or, even worse, Russia and China. Countries are not going to set themselves up to be held hostage to another power that controls their energy supply. However, if you give over control of the plants and the fuel to countries that need it the most — i.e., third world countries which generally have unstable governments — then you are also setting the world up for nuclear terrorism.

    The key issue for me is how to solve the political problems in order to allow nuclear power to fulfill its potential for global benefit. I don’t yet see a feasible model to do this.

  3. I like the idea of nuclear, and this might be earthquake proof, but I don’t know about hurricanes or missiles. It seems if they sink, they will mess up the ocean.

    There are a couple of types of reactors that don’t melt down — even if there is no water to cool it. One German design uses conventional fuel in ceramic coated pellets delivered slowly on a conveyor belt rather than rods. The thorium reactor Alvin Weinberg (formerly head of ICUS) had in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, could be turned off with a switch when he went home for the weekend, and turned back on Monday morning when he came in.

    I agree with David that large plants that feed large grids become military and terrorist targets. In fact, one reason we use the system we have in the U.S. rather than Weinberg’s is the military’s influence. Any large grid system managed by a power monopoly also suffers the problem of cronyism with the government. Far better energy systems would be self-powered homes, and some forms of miniature nuclear design — safer than Navy submarines — are about there, but governments and power companies will lose out if people get this.

  4. Thank you, Jim, for this thought-provoking piece. The concerns and caveats raised by David and Gordon show that much wider consideration is needed, but your reasoning for bringing the issue to more Unificationists’ attention is indeed persuasive.

  5. Just a followup: India is set to launch a thorium reactor next year, and a $1,000 unit than can power 10 homes is in the works. In the U.S., governments and power companies will resist this tooth and nail. See this link.

  6. Pollution has greatly increased in the last 20 years due to China and India’s economy massively expanding yet global ‘warming’ has not increased in the same two decades.

    Tornadoes and hurricanes in the USA are down in annual numbers.

    Twice now in the last two years, the ship of environmental scientists specialising in ‘melting ice analysis’ got stuck in ice on the way to the Antarctic before it could even get there. Then, the humongous Russian ice breaker that came to their rescue ‘also’ got stuck in ice there was so much of the stuff; a 60% increase in fact.

    I could go on and on here.

    It’s sad to see the political line that humanity is in imminent danger from man-made global warming being touted on this site.

  7. I just finished reading Melanie Phillips’ book, The World Turned Upside Down. Phillips used to write for The Guardian and the chapter in her book on climate change was a real eye-opener. I don’t deny climate change, but believe there is reason to be skeptical about the data, causes, severity, and solutions.

    Phillips points to a study that NASA conducted that found that 6 of the 10 warmest years in the 20th century were between 1916 and 1946, way before there were the kinds of carbon emissions that we see now. She cites numerous examples of how data was manipulated (even by scientists) for political gain — and how some of these folks openly admitted that they were in on the scam. She names names and cites the bogus reports.

    Protecting the environment is no small matter, but science is about seeking evidence to support conjecture. As Jonathan Wells suggests in his critiques of Darwinism, if you ignore evidence in favor of advocating a desired paradigm, you’re not really doing science at all.

  8. President-elect Donald Trump said that some aspects of Global Warming are a hoax, and he wants to withdraw from programs which are harmful to the US. Also, he has not denied global warming exists.

    It is time that we came to grips with the reality that we are experiencing a climatic difference. I am not going to attempt to convince anyone that the world is ending or that man has caused the difference. Instead, I am joining the chorus of those who accept Trump’s vision, from the point of view of a believer in global warming.

    I believe that most of the way that our present government has handled the whole issue is a hoax. The cap and trade ideas are simply ways to equalize the United States, rather than to actually cut down on the burning of fossil fuels. We have seen equalization before. When we took the students from good schools and equalized so that some of them went to bad schools, and visa versa, the whole level of our schools went down, so the best were more mediocre. Equalizing our world’s nations will not cause the low to rise, but rather it simply causes the advanced to fall.

    We can no sooner give up our dependence on the sun’s stored energy in fossil fuels than we can simply stop eating. From the eyes of someone who has believed in global warming for 50 years (for decades in a vacuum of any confirmation), I believe that we need to start to burn coal, again. Even clean coal adds CO2 to the atmosphere (now we have ways of capturing it), yet, we need to burn it to prosper. We need to live with this reality or yield the strength of our nation.

    Now, with Trump coming to the White House, we will burn our coal and oil and become great and rich again. With prosperity, we will have the resources to deal with the need to extract CO2 and CH4 (methane gas; 19 times more effective as a greenhouse gas) which is now pouring into our atmosphere from the receding permafrost.

    Most important, with our world poised to see more and more flooding, more destructive storms, more droughts (world hunger), more forest fires, sea rise, worse winters, etc., we need a president in the White House who can deal decisively with these issues.

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