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The Expansionist
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
(Note: Blogger, the Google blogging service, has gone crazy and wiped out all my paragraphs in much of this post. I have tried to restore them. Blogger has destroyed my changes. I don't know what is wrong with the geniuses at Google that they allow Blogger to destroy users' formatting. Usually, Blogger puts in extra spaces between paragraphs, and takes out non-breaking spaces between words. Now, twice in a row, it has destroyed paragraph breaks. I am not going to spend the next five hours trying to defeat Blogger's malicious intention to eliminate paragraph breaks. I mark paragraph breaks with a plus-sign (+), which Blogger has not deleted. So in the portion of this post in which Blogger has destroyed paragraph breaks, you can still see where I intended there to be visual paragraph breaks.)

Energy Dangers: Radiation and Offshore Drilling. The fossil-fuel and nuclear-power industries have been fiting "green" (renewable) energy viciously for decades, trying to sell populations and their leaders a bill of tainted goods. Renewable energy is too expensive. It would bankrupt all the world's economies. No, it really wouldn't. And fossil fuels and nuclear power are proven technologies that are safe and effective at addressing the energy needs of the modern economy. No, they really are not either safe nor effective in serving the energy needs of today, much less tomorrow. + We have already seen, in regard to offshore oil drilling, the catastrophic consequences of an accident — ONE accident, much less several or even many. The more wells you drill, the more chances for a calamitous accident.

So, many people opposed to simply going green with renewable energy, have shifted their argumentation to "safe", "clean", and "low-cost" nuclear power. I frankly don't understand the motives of ordinary people in this regard. I can understand the nuclear-power industry's pushing its lies upon a gullible public. I cannot, however, understand the public's gullibility. Even ordinarily intelligent people have bought the absurd lies about nuclear power. Until a couple of weeks ago, when the claim that nuclear energy is safe, clean, and low-cost were blown literally sky high by events in Japan that unleashed dangerous radiation even without a Chernobyl-level catastrophe, the nuclear-power industry was pushing for new nuclear plants all across the United States.

Delighting in Nuclear Panic. I and millions of other intelligent and cautious people have been trying to warn the world, for decades, that fossil fuels and nuclear power cannot be made safe. We have tried to wake people to the enormous expense of these energy sources. In the case of oil, there are, at a minimum, these various processes: exploration, drilling, transporting the oil from the wellhead to a refinery, be it by tanker or pipeline to a nearby refinery; refining; transporting the resultant products from the refinery to a distribution center; offloading the refined product (be it gasoline, kerosene, or anything else) to a tanker truck or other container; and transport to a local dispensing point, such as a gas station. All these are expensive processes, and the only way that oil is an economically viable energy source is that every single step of the many processes it must go thru is regarded as a tax-deductible business expense. If NONE of those processes' costs were tax-deductible, oil would be not just prohibitively expensive but hugely prohibitively expensive. Let me just snatch a number from the clear blue sky of speculation: without active tax-code subsidy of the oil industry, each gallon of gasoline might cost $13, $20, or more. Perhaps one shouldn't just invent speculative numbers, but people do it all the time, so I might as well toss numbers around casually too. + What this actually means, tho the oil industry doesn't want you to think about that, is that the tax writeoffs the oil industry takes, cost everyone who has to make up the difference, such that in REALITY, gasoline DOES cost us, directly and indirectly, anywhere from $13 to $20 — or more — per gallon. + Compare this to the costs of "green" energy. + With ethanol, you grow corn or switchgrass as a crop. No exploration. You know exactly where the soil and water are right for that crop, whichever crop that you grow may be. You might not even need irrigation nor much of any other attention, if the soil is rich enuf for that crop. You harvest the corn or switchgrass, mechanically separate the productive part from the waste, ferment the energy-rich portion for alcohol, and return the waste to the soil as compost, or perhaps burn it in a co-generation station. + With some other biofuels, you use waste oils such as have been used in frying foods, filter them, and use them directly in diesel engines. A simpler use of biofuels is burning wood in fireplaces or wood-burning stoves, not just for heat but also for cooking. + With hydroelectric power, you build a dam, once, in an area that is not environmentally delicate, put in water-driven turbines, and harvest the energy ever after. + With wind power, you erect a windmill, of whatever size — and they don't have to be hugely expensive giants; you can have small-scale windmills on every farm and rooftop in a windy area even of a major city, such as Riverside Drive in NYC, where the winds in winter are so fierce that you have to lean forward to get to the corner down a sidestreet. The wind blows. You get electricity, with minimal maintenance. + With wave power, you install wave generators at the seashore away from recreational beaches and entryways to ports, once, and they generate electricity ever day thereafter, with only the need of regular, inexpensive maintenance. We don't have wave generators installed much of anywhere, if anywhere at all. Is that because the technology has not been created, or because of a lack of political will, or because, absent the kinds of business-expense tax deductions that fossil fuels get, such mechanisms are nonviable economically? I don't know. But the technology sounds sensible. + With tidal generators, which can be usefully installed in a few places, such as the Bay of Fundy in the Canadian Maritimes and the area near Mont St. Michel in France, the moon drives turbines twice a day, going in, and twice a day, going out. + With geothermal energy, you drill a hole, like an oil well, except you know with certitude before you drill that there is a geological hotspot there, and tap into an enormous amount of energy produced by the forces of gravity and radioactivity deep within the Earth's crust or, in thin spots of the crust, in the Earth's mantle, and draw out an infinitesimal fraction of that huge energy source. In the United States, we have what has been termed a supervolcano in the Yellowstone area of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Some scientists speculate that this supervolcano, now dormant, and indicated only by geysers, hotsprings, and the like, could explode in a catastrophic event that would devastate not just its immediate area but also the entire planet. Could tapping into its enormous energy with millions of geothermal wells reduce its explosive potential? I don't know. What I do know is that if the Yellowstone area is so full of potentially explosive energy, then it assuredly could provide vast amounts of energy not just for its immediate area but also for cities hundreds of even thousands of miles away. Indeed, if tapping such energy would do anything at all to reduce its explosive potential, one must wonder why we aren't drilling millions of geothermal wells all around the park. + Solar energy can be harvested in a number of ways. Wind power and hydroelectric power are ultimately solar in nature, in that the energy from the sun drives the winds and lifts the water from lower altitudes up to higher elevations thru evaporation and precipitation. That's not what we generally mean by "solar power". Rather, that term embraces things like utilizing the heat or lite of the sun to do things like heat water for household use or boil water for electric generation. Solar panels on the rooftops of family homes or of office towers and other businesses can produce electricity and hot water for heating, year-round, even in cold climates. Arrays of mirrors focused on a tower in which water or salt is stored can produce enormous amounts of energy for immediate use and even, in the case of molten salt, overnite. The 'unreliability' of solar power is grotesquely exaggerated by its competitors, who protest that cloudy days and each and every day's nite renders solar power impractical in many, even most, localities. That is both true and false, but largely false. + For one thing, there are areas so often sunny that if we locate solar generators there, the amount of daylite downtime is negligible, and with at least some technologies, you don't need full-on sunshine, just substantial sunlite. Moreover, if such solar generators are tied into batteries, water tanks, or other enduring heat sinks, some applications of solar energy, such as home or office heating, persevere past downtimes, without batteries. + Of course we do have rechargeable batteries, and can make many, many more. + But the need for batteries is exaggerated by the enemies of solar energy, in that the demand for electricity in the middle of the nite, when solar arrays do not operate, is starkly, hugely less than during the business day, for the good and sufficient reason that the great preponderance of the human population is asleep at the same time as solar arrays are down. So their lites, television sets, computers, microwave ovens, and almost every other kind of device that pulls electricity are OFF. If we do not take an all-or-nothing approach, but use solar energy when it is readily available but oil or gas for heating at nite, we can reduce fossil-fuel usage by 90 or 95%, even without massive arrays of batteries for each household. + And if during the time when solar arrays are working, we use some of their energy to electrolyze water into oxygen and hydrogen, and store the hydrogen to burn when the solar arrays are down, we may need almost NO oil whatsoever, at any time of the day or nite. Cars can run on hydrogen. Cars can run on electricity. Cars, buses, trucks, etc., can run on a variety of fuel sources. So what legitimate objection can be raised against solar, wind, water, lunar, geothermal, and other kinds of renewable energy that do not entail pollution of any kind? There are indeed questions as to what other kinds of renewable energy — solar, lunar, geo, or other — that we might develop. It is only the easy, if hugely expensive and polluting, availability of fossil fuels, subsidized by the tax system, that keeps us from doing research that might produce technologies that will render fossil fuels as irrelevant to our future as buggy whips. + The Dirty, and Dangerous, Alternatives to Green Energy. I have already mentioned the dangers of offshore drilling for oil. Onshore drilling is less dangerous, but still entails risks in transport of the resulting product. And onshore sites of great potential are ever fewer in the modern age, often in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR, pronounced áan.wor, conceived of as "Anwar", like Sadat). + Over the course of the last few years, a colleague in northern England has repeatedly urged me to abandon my hostility to nuclear power. I have pointed out to him that the costs of nuclear power are immense. For one thing, the construction costs are enormous; then the "useful life" (I don't like to use the word "life" for anything that doesn't actually live, but "useful life" is the term of art) is not hundreds of years but only decades; and then a nuclear plant cannot simply be demolished and replaced with another, newer version, but must be entombed for hundreds of thousands of years to prevent its nitemarishly toxic radioactive wastes from spewing into the atmosphere, leaking into groundwater, etc. + I have not heretofore published our exchanges on this matter, even after the Japanese problems drew worldwide attention. I have been waiting to see how serious or trivial the damage to Japan's nuclear-power plants might be. + No "China syndrome" nor Chernobyl cataclysm has, as yet, occurred, but there has been serious and worrying radioactive pollution affecting significant parts of a country that is home to the world's third-largest economy. Air, water, and foodstuffs have been affected, and radiation from that area has drifted several thousand miles across the ocean to and then over the United States, even to my area, the East (Atlantic) Coast, 2,500 miles from the Pacific Coast. As of yet, the effects here are nearly undetectably small. Will that change? No one knows. + We do know, however, that serious radiation has reached the world's largest city, the Tokyo-Yokohama megalopolis (or, in British parlance, "conurbation"). We also know that disruptions to Japanese energy grids and human safety have produced reductions in Japan's economic output, which is affecting the production of a number of high-tech manufactures, as is starting to affect even U.S. production of cars manufactured by Japanese corporations that have evaded U.S. import restrictions by making their cars here. The availability of Japanese-manufactured components is also affecting the production of myriad electronic devices. + It's all starting to look like the "For Want of a Nail" thing.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Alas, it's not, at outset, as trivial as the want of a nail in a horseshoe. Radiation can kill, and not just one person. Japan of all places should have known that. How could Japan, the only country on which nuclear weapons have ever been dropped, and which suffered the loss of untold thousands of lives to radiation poisoning, have been so cavalier about nuclear power plants in the tectonic "Ring of Fire" — volcanoes and earthquakes all around the Pacific Rim? + The Japanese like to think themselves very smart. Indeed, so effective has their propaganda been about the high quality of Japanese manufactures and other proofs of intellectual brilliance, that the whole world bought the idea that Japan is a nation of geniuses. Yeah, right. Geniuses who build nuclear power plants within the Ring of Fire. + Now we are told that Japan's nuclear-power problems are unique, and could not occur in other areas, that do not have Japan's peculiar set of risks. But, then, the people of Japan were assured that nuclear power is so utterly and completely safe that only a lunatic could think it presented any danger of any kind to anyone. Sound familiar? + Here, then, is a recent exchange between me and my generally very intelligent and astute colleague in northern England, starting with his email of January 1, 2011. As he started it off, it read:
On 11/12/2010 22:06, XPUS@aol.com wrote: NO, most of the Third World is hot and sunny, so solar energy is a very quick fix to the problems of energy availability in most of the Third World.
(That was from his British email server. My records, however, show the date as 12/11/2010 — December 11th, not November 12th, as we in the United States read "11/12/2010". The world needs to standardize this, somehow. In practical terms, the month is more important than the particular date, and the year is largely irrelevant at any given time, so that argues for 12/11/[20]10 as December 11th (in the year 2010). In logic, however, going from the smallest and most particular, the individual day, to the largest, the year, and passing thru the medium-large month, makes sense, so 12(th)/11(November)/[20]10(year) makes its own kind of sense. Or do we have to introduce another leading-zero for date or month — but not both — e.g., 01 thru 012 for the month? That is, 01-012 for months is a smaller number set than 01-028, -029, -030, or -031 for the days in the various months. We've gotten used to the logically needless leading-zero in some dates, such as 03/30/10 for March 30th, 2010, or, worse (more needlessly) 05/07/10 for May 7th, 2010. So why not 012/11/10 for December 11th, 2010? In Europe, using the same leading-zero convention, 11th December[,] 2010 would be 11/012/10 — so the date would always be clear, by virtue of the leading-zero, no matter how the date is rendered, even 1001211, the form of dates by which computers would store everything so adjacent dates would be listed as adjacent files). That's a pretty darned simple fix for the problem of different date orders in different countries, no?) + The fuller, and more revealing, quote of my point in this discussion of nuclear power, would have been:
NO, most of the Third World is hot and sunny, so solar energy is a very quick fix to the problems of energy availability in most of the Third World. We NEVER need nuclear energy, and it is, I repeat, much too dangerous a technology to employ widely. This is one way in which modern technology empowers the Third World to skip something like a century of what the First World had to go thru, in building enormous networks of hard-wired electricity and telephone service. Now, each house or village can be its own electric generation station; each household can have a solar oven. And cellphone technology enables every family to have a phone without anyone's having to build an enormous, house-by-house landline network.
In any case, my colleague went on to answer my points thus:
People using grid electricity expect power to be available on demand, 24/7, so weather-dependent sources such as solar and wind are not suitable unless they are backed up either by fossil-fuel generation (as is the case in most industrialized countries) or by batteries (which would be ruinously expensive for large-scale generation). In addition, they are highly diffuse and thus need huge collectors. Here is a photo of a cellphone tower in a remote area where grid power is unavailable. Note how large an area of solar panels is needed just to power this one tower! [I don't know the source for this foto, and if the owner objects to its use here, I will remove it, but here is the foto my colleague sent.]

Even in the Middle East (close to a best-case scenario for solar power), interest in nuclear power has been shown not just by Iran, but also by Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Solar power may be more useful for the purposes of desalination however (as this produces an easily storable product -- fresh water -- and therefore does not need 24/7 reliability.) The only case where I'd advocate solar or wind energy for mainstream electrical generation would be on small isolated islands, where there isn't enough demand for electricity to justify building a large conventional power plant (either fossil fuel or nuclear). Most such islands today use diesel-engined generators which are extremely expensive to run (especially if the diesel fuel has to be shipped thousands of miles from the mainland), so a set of wind turbines or solar panels with battery back-up may actually be a more cost effective option.
[Quoting me, again:] Nuclear power generation is NOT secure from terrorist theft of nuclear materials, and, as we see in Iran, governments can pursue nuclear weapons under cover of pursuing nuclear power.
Why would terrorists intent on building a dirty bomb attempt to steal nuclear waste from a power plant, when it is much easier to steal medical radioisotopes (as used for cancer treatment) instead? In fact, a blood irradiator containing 1000 curies of cesium-137 was recovered by Sandia Labs from an abandoned hospital in Africa, where it had been left totally unguarded. Given that there is no real problem when it comes to sourcing suitable materials for a dirty bomb, isn't it rather telling that no such bomb has ever actually been used in a terrorist attack? Dirty bombs are overrated -- they are weapons of disruption rather than of destruction. As for Iran secretly constructing nuclear weapons under the pretext of developing nuclear power, didn't both Israel and North Korea also secretly develop nuclear weapons, without hiding behind nuclear power?
[Further quoting me from a prior email:] There are always a lot of lunatics in any population. It's part of the discovery of modern genetics that a lot of DNA is garbage and mistakes that don't get expressed in an actual person unless two copies, one each from mother and father, combine in a child. Some loons are harmless. Having babies in the Orkneys might not do much harm, unless Britain has a "baby bonus" kind of program that takes other people's money to pay for them.
I think this is an example of religion causing people to maintain obsolete values that no longer make economic sense. In pre-industrial times, society as a whole was very poor and economic growth was negligible, meaning that the only way to appreciably increase one's wealth was to rob it from someone else by aggressive war. Given the state of weapons technology at the time, it was also a truism that "victory belonged to the bigger battalions". These factors meant that in pre-industrial times, natalism made sense. (I wonder if fear of the armies of Islam may have originally led Catholicism to adopt its anti-contraception stance.) In modern times these conditions no longer apply -- nuclear weapons mean that aggressive war against other major powers is now suicidal, and we can better increase our wealth by improving our productivity through mechanism, rather than by grabbing more natural resources through aggressive war.
I replied:

I would think that the amounts of radioisotopes available from unguarded medical facilities are too small to be of use in a dirty bomb. You will never persuade me of the utility of nuclear power. The costs of building, then entombing nuclear plants are astronomical, and the wastes are dangerous for centuries or even millennia. I compare this to the use of cyanide or sulfuric acid or whatever in mining projects. The actual or potential harm of such techniques largely undoes their utility. We should NEVER deliberately generate enduring hazardous materials if there is ANY alternative. + Solar, wind, and water power (even from salt water, in the form of wave or tidal generators) are more than adequate for almost any combination of needs, esp. if some of that renewable energy is used to electrolyze water to create hydrogen that can be burned after dark. In a rural village in the Third World, for instance, the demands for electricity after dark are relatively trivial, amounting, per household, to a few lites (which could be provided by low-power-usage LED lites), a TV, maybe a computer in a few houses, or radio or music systems. For such a power-usage pattern, renewable energy would be much more than adequate. A lot of devices, like cellphones and small, portable music players, are powered by batteries that could plainly be recharged during the day for use at nite. Since more than 55% of the total population of the Third World today still resides in rural areas, solar, wind, waves, tides, hydrogen from electrolysis, etc., could handily take care of most of their needs, even electric cars and buses. And solar ovens would empower the Third World to replenish forests now being destroyed for firewood.

As for that cellphone tower powered by a solar array, I regard that as a tiny, nearly infinitesimal array -- what? 30 feet square, sloped, as takes up even less than 30 feet of ground space. The deserts of the Third World are millions of square miles in extent, and semi-desert comprises additional hundreds of thousands or millions of square miles. Solar panels elevated 12 feet or so could provide shade for human activities beneath. Put a few hundred thousand square miles of such shade-producing and solar-energy-absorbing arrays in place and you may be able to reduce temperatures in that region by more than any reduction in CO2 would achieve in the same area, maybe even in planetary terms. And unlike reducing CO2 by reducing living standard, reducing temps thru solar arrays would INCREASE living standards.

I hope the Obama Administration finally gets around to creating those Green Jobs that Obama campaigned on. I haven't heard of any actual action in that regard.

(The current U.S. military death toll in Iraq, according to the website "Iraq Coalition Casualties", is 4,441 — for Israel.)

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