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Posts Tagged ‘nuclear research’

A few days ago, President Obama gave a speech at MIT during which he reiterated the need to switch to green energy in order to preserve the environment.  He also said that the use of fossil fuels, particularly foreign oil, places the country in a precarious situation. If a foreign country cuts off our oil supply it could cause great hardship in the U.S.  He also said that a massive effort to create a green energy industry will be a significant stimulus for our economy. Speaking about the worldwide competition to create new sources of green energy he said, “The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy.”  I’m not so sure of that.

As usual, isolationist Americans tend to be unaware of advances made in the rest of the world.  Ever since we won World War II we have had a tendency to view ourselves as the world leader in anything technological. It might then come as a surprise to many Americans that the call to action for the creation of green energy has been heard a long time ago in Europe – while Americans were happy to drive their gas guzzling SUVs and Hummers and heat their homes with fossil fuels and generate electricity with coal.  While Americans were comfortably cocooned in their homes watching football on their widescreen TVs, Denmark was busy building gigantic windmills for the generation of electricity. Today, Denmark is the world leader in wind-produced electricity, a result of a National plan developed in 1976.  They make some mighty large and mighty efficient windmills in Denmark. It’s not clear to me that even MIT can overtake the Danes anytime soon in this type of technology.  Do we really think we will be producing next generation windmills anytime soon and be selling them to the world?  The world already has significant wind generation capability.

What about solar power?  Surely the world needs that. True, but the world has been working on that for quite a long time – while we were driving our SUVs around town trying to find houses we could flip.  Germany is the world leader in solar technology and has been for quite a while. The Germans are currently building a 40 megawatt solar power plant for their own power generation needs. I doubt that the Germans will be one of our customers for solar power technology. Germany is the world leader in producing solar power.

OK, so what else is there? Nuclear? Whoa, hold yer horses, fella. What do you mean “nucular”?  That’s dangerous. Don’t you know they make bombs out of that stuff?  We Americans don’t want that! (Just disregard our stockpile of thousands of nuclear bombs.) Meanwhile, the French – actually not “meanwhile”, ever since the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973  the French decided that they would never again be held hostage to foreign oil.  So they built a bunch of nuclear power plants all over France.  France is the world leader in nuclear power plant technology, not the U.S. I don’t think they’ll be lining up to place any orders from the U.S. even if we do decide to resume nuclear power research.  The leading institution in the world for the future of nuclear energy, i.e. nuclear fusion, is called ITER. It’s in France.  Under the Bush administration the U.S. had all but dropped out of this research effort. Our country stopped paying its dues and had almost zeroed out all funding. Meanwhile the other six members of ITER: China, European Union, India, Japan, Korea, and Russia have made great strides toward the production of power from controlled nuclear fusion – a process that produces very little radioactive waste. Recently the U.S. chipped in a little money that helped to make back payments that the Bush administration failed to make. Even so, we are hardly on the cutting edge of nuclear science compared to the rest of the civilized world.

The fact that President Obama wants to spend a lot of money on energy projects in America is good news. It’s about time. But let’s not kid ourselves. The rest of the world is way ahead of us.  The Obama plan will undoubtedly create more jobs in the U.S.  for people who will be engaged in energy research. It is something we need to do.  It is also something the rest of the world realized they needed a long time ago.  It is unlikely that we will find a large foreign market for our energy technology, whether it is solar, wind, nuclear, or anything else in the near future.  We have too much catching up to do. Because of that, it is unlikely that launching a massive energy research and development project can be the near term solution for our economy. We won’t be exporting windmills to the Danes, solar panels to the Germans, or coals to Newcastle. They have enough, thank you.

The fundamental problem with our economy is not that we don’t do energy reserach, it is the outsourcing of people’s jobs by multinational companies.  We simply cannot go on having our multinational companies make everything in China and then sell it to us in Wal-Mart stores while we get the money to pay for all this stuff by playing economic bubble games and getting home equity loans.  Green energy research is good. It’s good for the scientists and engineers who need jobs. It’s good for the environment. But let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not going to be the solution for the much deeper problems of our pathetic economy.  The solution will only come by tackling head on the iniquities of multinational economics and the exportation of American jobs and manufacturing capabilities to foreign countries.

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