The Energy Solution That Should Make Everyone Happy

Fake science is a plague that inhibits the advance of the economy and causes vast sums to be wasted going up blind alleys.  Fake science is promoted not solely by crackpots.  Scientists are in the game, too.  If I went through the long list of fake sciences, I'd probably offend every reader.  So I won't.  For the argument here, I need to mention only global warming, nuclear radiation, and renewable energy.  Personally, I think global warming is fake science.  But whether it is or is not fake does not matter for my argument. What I am going  to suggest will solve the global warming problem if there is one.


Nuclear radiation has been the target of a long running scare story.  Yes, a big dose will make you sick or kill you.  But the evidence is that small doses are harmless or beneficial.  This is important because society will not accept nuclear power if it is terrified of nuclear radiation, even though the radiation emitted by nuclear power plants is microscopic.  The argument for the danger of low-level radiation is demolished easily.  You only need to observe that elephants are not suffering greatly from cancer, even though they have vastly more cells that are suspectable to radiation damage.  There are scientific studies that back up the elephant story completely.


Renewable energy is a crackpot invention of the environmental Left.  Supposedly, renewable energy uses sources of energy that will not run out, anytime soon, like the sun.  Renewable energy must not emit CO2, because that might cause global warming.  But the renewable energy proselytizers can't stick to their story.  Hydroelectricity is obviously renewable, but it is excluded because the environmental Left hates dams.  Geothermal energy, using the heat in hot rocks underground to generate electricity, is considered renewable, even though the hot rocks frequently cool because the heat is used up.  The "fuel" runs out.  Wind and solar are loved by the environmental Left, even though they are expensive and brimming with serious problems.  Nuclear is hated and not considered renewable, even though it emits no CO2, the fuel is potentially inexhaustible, and there are no noxious substances coming out of smokestacks.


About 30 states have set quotas for renewable electricity (renewable portfolio standards).  For example, Nevada's quota demands ramping up renewable electricity to 50% by 2030.  California has these same quota: 50% renewable by 2030.  The main scalable renewable energy is wind and solar.  Both California and Nevada are wind-poor and solar-rich.  The best wind is in the middle of the country in states like Iowa and Texas.  Wind and solar are subsidized approximately 70% by the federal government.  The state quotas are effectively an additional subsidy because the electric utilities have to agree to long-term contracts with wind and solar promoters in order to meet their quotas.  The unsolvable problem with both wind and solar is that these are erratic sources of electricity that come and go according the wind and sun.  As a consequence, the electricity they supply is a supplement that can't be counted on.  When wind or solar electricity is flowing, some fuel is saved in the main fossil fuel plants, usually natural gas–powered plants.  Solar has the additional problem that most electricity is delivered at the wrong time — in the middle of the day, not in the early evening, when it is needed.  For technical reasons, it would be difficult and expensive to get to 50% renewable electricity by 2030 by depending mostly on wind and solar.  The wind and solar people have schemes such as new subsidies for batteries, but nothing is on the horizon that will cure the huge problems of wind and solar.


The golden age of nuclear power ended around 1970, when the environmental Left launched a sustained attack based on scaring people with predicted nuclear disasters and cancer.  Even though hundreds of power reactors have been operating around the world for the last 50 years with few problems, the anti-nuclear propaganda blitz has succeeded in crushing he nuclear power industry in the U.S.  The only serious nuclear disaster was the destruction of the Chernobyl reactor in the Soviet Union in 1986.  Thirty-one people were killed in the accident, and nine more died of cancer.  That reactor was a product of socialist disregard for human life.


The reactors being built today will seem complicated and crude compared to the reactors that will be available in 20 years.  The problem of meltdown if the cooling system fails will be cured by passive cooling systems that will protect the reactor even if electrical power has failed.  Almost all reactors today use ordinary water, called light water, as the coolant and moderator.  A moderator is a substance necessary to sustain the chain reaction by slowing down the neutrons released when atoms are split.  There are many architectures available for nuclear reactors besides the dominant light water model.  There is also an alternative fuel to uranium: thorium.


The theory behind the new generations of reactors has long been understood. Many of the ideas were prototyped in working reactors prior to 1970.  One of the most interesting current developments is small modular reactors.  A number of companies and governments are working on these, mostly outside of the U.S.  These reactors would be built in factories and moved by truck to the location where they will be installed.  They would be meltdown-proof and most likely buried underground. They could be used to make steam to generate electricity in a power plant on the surface.  In some cases, they might be used to supply heat to an area or process heat for industry.  To utilize them to make bombs would require a major industrial reprocessing plant.  In other words, they will be extremely bomb proliferation–resistant.


Because small modular reactors would be manufactured in factories from standardized designs, cost would be dramatically lower.  The cost of nuclear electricity today is dominated by the capital cost of the reactor.  The nuclear fuel is very cheap, cheaper than coal or natural gas by a wide margin.  If a large power plant is needed, the modular reactors could be ganged together to provide any amount of power.


If over a period of time electricity generation transitioned to nuclear, about half of world's CO2 emissions would be eliminated.  Since the other half of CO2 emissions are already absorbed by the Earth, CO2 in the atmosphere would cease growing, and global warming would be stopped, assuming that it is largely caused by CO2.


I am not the only one who sees nuclear as the global warming solution.  Prominent promoters of global warming, such as James Hansen, Michael Shellenberger, and Stewart Brand are all promoting a nuclear solution.


Federal research on small modular reactors runs about $50 million per year.  Spending to subsidize useless wind and solar is probably in the range of $5 to $10 billion, at least 100 times more.  The people who profit from useless wind and solar have more influence than people who are seriously worrying about the future.


Norman Rogers writes often on energy issues.  He has a website, Nevada Solar Scam, and he is the author of the book Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy.