Monday, March 21, 2011

4 out of 5

From "5 Myths About Nuclear Energy"  by By Michael A. Levi, Wednesday, March 16   Washington Post

Myth number 4:
Nuclear power is the key to energy independence.
When people talk about energy independence, they’re thinking about oil, which we mostly use in vehicles and industrial production. When they talk about nuclear, though, they’re thinking about electricity. More nuclear power means less coal, less natural gas, less hydroelectric power and less wind energy. But unless we start putting nuclear power plants in our cars and semis, more nuclear won’t mean less oil.
From Wikipedia:
Levi holds a bachelor's degree in mathematical physics from Queen's University, an M.A. degree in physics from Princeton University where he studied string theory and cosmology, and a Ph.D. degree in war studies from the University of London (King's College) where he was the SSHRC William E. Taylor fellow.*
This is no ordinary fellow. That's a lot of education to have and yet believe that the only way nuclear power could make it into cars would be to have mini nuclear power plants in each car. First the idea that energy independence means only oil should be reconsidered. Many countries do not have our coal and natural gas resources. Energy independence for them is different. Then they compete with us for energy from abroad. Imagine Japan without the nuclear power plants. Might they be a larger competitor for energy worldwide (including oil) and thus increase our cost of foreign sources of energy? Second, he should reconsider his assumption that nuclear energy means less energy from natural gas, coal, etc. Actually, if the usage of electricity were to increase a great deal in some odd scenario, nuclear power might not mean less of any of these things. We might need them all to make sure our electricity is made in a way that is not dependent upon imports.

And what odd scenario would have electricity usage increasing rather rapidly? Perhaps people will buy cars in the future. Because if they do buy cars in the future, they are much more likely (as prices of oil go up) to buy the Volt type car with a plug using standard house current, or the Prii (plural of Prius) that will have plug in options next year. As time goes on these cars will get better and better. Would that reduce our dependency on foreign energy in the form of oil? Well, yes. These are actually the cars of the future we are banking on to make ourselves more energy independent. Many will be using nuclear energy in the form of electricity. Some Volts are now, assuming they are located somewhere near nuclear power plants. Cars don't need mini nuclear power plants to use nuclear power, although I imagine a few elementary schools students from the 50's might have dreamed of them.

 If all that weren't enough to betray your trust of higher education (the royal kind: Queen's University, Princeton, and King's College ) Mr. Levi later argues about this myth: "Alas, we’ve already replaced pretty much all the petroleum in the power sector; the opportunity to substitute oil with nuclear power is gone."  In realithy 2 percent of our nation's electricity is actually still generated directly from petroleum. (This doesn't even consider home heating oil. A dedicated program to wean home heating off of heating oil would probably include electricity.) And 2 percent here, and 2 percent there, that IS how you make a country energy independent. A Prius here, an electric lawnmower there. Strengthening our electric grid has abeen a major priority. Why? Because electricity is the future and we need to get it from windfarms or wherever, to the final user. Nuclear energy could have been a great source of electricity for our cars and homes, and  helped make our country become much more energy independent while helping curb greenhouse gases that increase with the usage of coal, natural gas, or even ethenal. If only we could have trusted the guys with the expensive educations to make nuclear power as safe as they claimed it was...