Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear’

It may come as a surprise to most people, but we don’t really have an energy crisis, and we don’t have an oil shortage either! During the past couple of days, CNN has been reporting on the discovery of vast oil reserves in North Dakota. It’s not really a discovery though, because the oil business has known about the North Dakota oil for a long time. However, the media only now are revealing to us that there is three times the amount of oil in North Dakota as there is in Texas!

I suppose a lot of people have forgotten about the announcement of the vast oil reserves discovered in the Gulf of Mexico a couple of years ago. That is an offshore place where our oil companies are already drilling. The estimates were that the oil under the Gulf waters is greater than all of the oil in Saudi Arabia. Did you hear, about a year ago, when it was announced that huge amounts of oil lie under the ocean off Ireland’s northwest coast? Once again the estimates were that there was more oil there than there is in Saudi Arabia. If you consider the vast amounts of oil in North Dakota, the Gulf, off the coast of Ireland, and other places it is pretty clear that we won’t be running out of oil tomorrow.

Recently, it was announced that Exxon Mobil reported the largest quarterly profit of any American company in U.S. history. Exxon Mobil drills for some of their oil, but not all of it. They also buy a lot of oil from Middle East sources and refine it so they can sell the resulting gasoline and other products. You might wonder why they don’t just drill for all their oil, especially if there is so much in North Dakota, under the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Ireland, and other places. The answer is really pretty simple. Exxon Mobil might be in the oil business but they are really in the moneymaking business, like any other profit making company. In some cases they can make more money buying oil from the Middle East and refining it than by drilling for crude itself.

The oil in North Dakota is a good example of how this works. It’s about two miles underground, so it isn’t exactly the low-hanging fruit the oil companies would like to pick. It’s expensive to drill that deep. Same with the Gulf of Mexico and the Irish coast. However, with oil now at $120 a barrel it suddenly makes economic sense to drill in North Dakota, and the place is booming. It won’t be too long before we are flooded with North Dakota oil, but don’t expect price of gasoline to go down. It doesn’t work that way.

So, how long will these “newly discovered” reserves last? A pretty long time I would guess. Of course it will keep costing more, and it will keep polluting the atmosphere when we burn it, but we aren’t going to run out of oil in your lifetime. The real question is how long do we want to keep living this way? Isn’t there a better, cleaner, cheaper, more reliable form of energy that we could use? The answer to that is yes, but don’t tell the oil companies. We have heard a lot of people talk about getting alternative energy from the wind and sun and other less well-known sources, like ocean waves or ocean tidal power. These are the so-called green energy sources. However, don’t be fooled, by the green label. I would call this environmental energy. Remember reading about the law of conservation of energy in high school physics? As far as I know, no one is looking at the environmental impact of these “green” energy devices that could extract truly massive amounts of energy out of the natural environment and convert it into electricity. What will the long-term effect be on the environment? Is anybody asking that question?

One form of energy that a lot of people are very concerned about is nuclear energy. It sort of has a bad name, doesn’t it? It sounds something like “nuclear bomb”, and that’s pretty scary. Then there are the radiation leaks that occurred at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. That was pretty scary too. Despite the fears and doubts of many Americans, nuclear fission reactors are used extensively throughout the world today and they now have a remarkable safety record. France gets about 80% of its electricity from nuclear power. In the U.S. there are currently 104 operating nuclear reactors. Looking towards the future, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing nine license applications for new nuclear power plants and there are another twenty-four nuclear power plants that have been proposed in the U.S. This brings to thirty-three the number of possible nuclear power plants that could be built in the next ten to twenty years. (Are these the thirty nuclear plants you refer to, Johnny, when you say you want to build them before 2030? Come on Johnny, that’s not really a government program. That’s just current nuclear industry plans.)

The principal problem with nuclear fission power plants that does require some concern is radioactive waste. All fission plants generate nuclear waste products that have dangerous levels of radiation. These waste products remain dangerous for 100 years after they are removed from the plant, and they need secure, safe, storage. This seems to be the primary problem with nuclear fission power plants these days, but it needs to be taken seriously. There is another potential form of nuclear power plant that doesn’t have this problem: nuclear fusion.

Before the turn of the century, the U.S. had a major research program dedicated to developing nuclear fusion power. The U.S. effort envisioned the use of high-energy lasers to confine the fusion reaction; however, the experiments were not as productive as hoped. Meanwhile, the Russians were exploring the use of high field magnets to confine fusion reactions. It turns out that the Russians had some success using magnets they called tokamaks. Today the world’s leading effort to develop nuclear fusion reactors is conducted in France at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). It uses tokamak technology. From its inception, ITER has been funded by a consortium of the world’s major nuclear technology countries including the European Union, Russia, China, India, and the United States. However, recently the U.S. elected to reset its ITER funding to zero dollars. “Zero?” Yep, zero. We’re not playing anymore. Meanwhile, China immediately increased its funding for ITER by 10% to make up for the loss of U.S. funding, and work goes on at ITER unabated, without us. Our government didn’t stop with cutting funding for ITER. U.S. government funding for nuclear physics research in general at all of our research facilities has seen breathtakingly massive cuts this year. The European Union is now the clear world leader in nuclear physics research.

How have we come to this state of affairs? How have we gone from being the world leader in physics research to being a bystander relegated to the fringes of scientific inquiry? Why doesn’t our government have a coherent energy plan for our country? Why are we always saying we want to be energy independent, but we take no steps to attain energy independence? The answers are unavoidable: our government has no interest in developing nuclear energy. Our government has no interest in becoming energy independent. Our government is a government of big business, by big business, and for big business, and the purpose of big business is to maximize profits for its owners, not to take care of the people of this country.

The time has come for our government to once again have an independent sense of vision and destiny. We need to have an energy policy based upon real knowledge of our country’s energy reserves and requirements and the advice of our best, independent, scientists and physicists. We need a government that will no longer be led by big business and their interests. We need a government that will provide independent leadership and set a rational, well thought out course for permanent energy self-sufficiency. It’s your choice this November. Choose wisely.

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