Climate, pollution, nuclear

The Gregory Benford proposal sounds like the cheapest and safest method for climate modification.

Of course society should to actually stop making the problems worse as described in Jamais article. But a problem is that most plans from environmentalist fail to recognize the scope of the problems or involve everyone suddenly becoming virtuous. Some propose that we all start car-pooling all the time and use far less electricity. I actually spoke with some people from the Post-carbon institute recently who espoused these views. These are equivalent to the obesity problem would go away once everyone starts eating right and exercising or medicare would have far lower costs if everyone went on calorie-restricted diets. Those plans do not recognize the reality of human nature. Plus this “everyone becomes instantly virtuous thing” would also involve stop shopping, since China makes a lot of the products and 85% of their power is from coal power.

The failure to accept the scope of issues is where some evironmentalists like German Herman Scheer (member of german parliment, who is credited with getting the feed in tax introduced to support renewables) talks about a massive and near instantaneous switch to renewables. I heard him speak at the same event and he claimed that a wind generator can be installed in one week and we can install them anywhere. The most efficient wind generators (5 MW) are about 45 stories tall and to replace current coal electricity with them we would need over 250,000 of them.

The recent study for the wind generating capacity of the east coast of the USA is 330GW using 160,000 wind generators.

There are some studies that wind generation would effect local and global climate, which makes sense because of the super-mothra scale of this butterfly effect. I still think we proceed with wind but we just need to perform some due diligence.

Herman also wants everyone to switch to electric cars. Which means of course someone would have to start building them in huge numbers. There are 70 million new cars every year. China is going form 4 million new cars in 2006 to 8 million in 2007. There is an installed base of over 500 million cars. Plus until we switch off from coal and gas the electric cars would suck even more coal and fossil fuel power. Plus the steel and materials would also be made using fossil fuels.

“The stop digging the environmental hole deeper” are huge problems that barring breakthroughs in technology will need the use of every technology and clever plan we can come up with. This includes nuclear power, which more people need to look at the actual incremental risks of making more nuclear power. There are 443 reactors in the world now making 369GW of power (note more than the theoretical amount from east coast of the USA wind). People don’t like new ones built near them. But what do nuclear reactors do to the area around them and to proliferation ? One of the most popular country for tourists is France. Yet they have 85% power from nuclear energy. A lot of people would move to France with its beautiful countryside if they could afford it.

France has some of the best statistics for greenhouse gas emissions. Better than Germany.

Germany still and looks like it will continue to get most its power from coal. They also end up importing a lot of power from France.

If nuclear so called waste is examined in detail, the parts that people have the most problems with can be used. The 99% unused nuclear fuel from current once through reactors. Not all reactors are the same and we should use molten salt reactors.
For the immediate term, we should up-power existing reactors (recent MIT work indicates 50% power increases are possible) and continue to make more reactors from existing technology (200 being built, planned or proposed).

I am all for wind, solar, biofuels, conservation and everything not coal. But being pragmatic coal will be with us for a long time we need to do everything to get off it as soon as possible but also try to clean up what we do have. The coal plants that are the dirtiest are the smallest ones (less than 50-100MW). Get rid of those first and find ways to make the existing ones less deadly (1 million dead per year from air pollution from coal, 27000 in the USA each year, 25 times Iraq war dead) while they are being used.

Future pundit also looks at scaling up nuclear to offset fossil fuels over the next 23-25 years

4 thoughts on “Climate, pollution, nuclear”

  1. btw: Rikkim, I appreciate your comment.

    One other aspect is that with bigger ships, transporting hundreds of people there will have more supplies , structure and mass to provide shielding.

    I also think that by developing non-chemical propulsion (magnetically inflated superconducting cables to make multi-kilometer solar collectors and concentrators. 200MW achievable in about 5 years, 18GW in 10-15 with significant investment. Using that to power some ion or MPD drive, could provide something with high thrust (thousands of newtons) and high ISP (10000-30000). 3-9 days to Mars on a close pass.

  2. Here is some reference to some new light weight ideas for shielding. Plus simple configurations of surrounding crew with the water and supplies that they need. On the moon or Mars people can either dig in or pile the dirt onto their building structures.

    Lunar electrostatic radiation shield

    Magnetic radiation shield
    Space radiation has two distinct problems. One is that cosmic rays expose one to 80 millisieverts per year, well above the maximum safe occupational threshold of 50 mSv, and well above the healthy population maximum of 3 mSv. Another, separate issue is that solar flares occasionally emit very large amounts of soft x-rays, and energetic particles. When these events occur, they can exceed 4 sieverts, the lethal dose for half the population. The most interesting result of the studies was the discovery that large space habitats are effectively shielded by their structure and air, which easily exceeds the two meters of steel needed. Smaller habitats could be shilded by stationary (nonrotating) bags of rock. Sunlight could be admitted via mirrors in radiation-proof louvres.

    Various liquids and supplies for stations and large, long term space vehicles can be arranged to surround the crew.

  3. There’s another issue to colonizing space — it will not be safe to travel for long distances in space until we develop a method of shielding the travelers from protons and other particles that can go through pretty much everything we know about now (except maybe water).

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