Prelude

In music a prelude is a kind of musical form that can be structured or free but important. Actors and singers do vocal exercises to warm up their vocal chords. Let this be my prelude to a topic that is indeed important and it does indeed need some preparation. 

Energy is fundamental to human survival and prosperity. It has been and always will be. It is a good thing that countries, who historically have lived in poverty and been ruled by leaders unwilling or unable to improve living conditions, have now finally started to grow economically. But, for all of us,  the  quality of life we experience depends on the kind of energy we use and how we regulate it. Coal is still the dominant energy source.

Being Canadian means getting used to weather extremes. Our winters require heat and gradually our homes have changed to adapt to the kinds of energy used to heat them. Over a hundred years ago we relied on wood stoves and coal but now, if we have an extended power failure in the winter1, most homes are not equipped with wood stoves or coal and many of us could freeze to death.  That makes us vulnerable if we change our habits and play too much with the energy mix. For example adding too much wind and solar without nuclear energy will also require natural gas.

As a Canadian and resident of Toronto, Ontario I have a unique perspective on Energy. Ontario made a full reversal on coal eliminating it entirely as a source for electricity. 90% of Ontario’s energy is emission free2. Nuclear provides  60% and hydro provides 25%. But wind and solar energy are not always available. We need natural gas to fill in the gaps. That releases large amounts of CO2.

We are faced with a challenge as a human race. Evidence reveals that we have been too busy using the planet’s resources to notice we have gone too far. We have grown accustomed to abundant energy.  Most people don’t even question where their electricity comes from let alone what energy is best for the environment. When the question does come up there is little awareness of the actual energy mix. 

Climate scientists and ecologists who endorse nuclear energy are calling on us to action to reverse climate change. These environmentalists3 have concluded that to prevent the threat to species extinction and quality of life issues that nuclear energy is the only solution. We need zero greenhouse gas emissions. Only nuclear can be scaled fast enough and robustly enough to be able to replace the abundant energy that coal currently provides. Clearly these pronuclear supporters are not afraid of nuclear reactors. How did they become supporters? It is difficult to step out of the shadow of fear. They say the truth will set you free. Don’t take my word for it. Research it yourself. Begin by looking up deaths per kWh (kilowatt-hour) for each energy source. Also look up half-lives and the inverse relationship of short half-lives to radiation intensity4; how short half-lives make for quicker decay and disappearance of the more radioactive elements. Then look up hormesis and the evidence that small doses of radiation above a certain amount5 actually benefits us.  Then try to understand how the excessive safety6 requirement of nuclear plants drives up their cost.

The truth is that CO2 has been accumulating and increasing faster than the oceans can handle. We can no longer simply support any random green movement and think it is better than doing nothing. Our tipping point is rapidly approaching. To make our planet whole again means we can no longer simply stop emitting various greenhouse gases. We need to capture the excess accumulation of gases and convert them back to a solid so they no longer occupy the air or the oceans7.

In order for wind and solar to take on the role of replacing coal it would  require more raw materials than are available worldwide8. Also, natural gas has been known to leak. Being a much stronger green house gas it only takes a 4% leakage rate9 to equal the CO2 emissions of coal.

Now we have new companies like Ontario’s Terrestrial Energy10 showing us the potential of new designs that are even safer than already “very-safe” nuclear technology providing a way to take spent nuclear fuel as an excellent source of energy.

Refurbishing11 reactors is really a complete upgrade, easily doubling their lifespan but also improving efficiency, the physics and the chemistry. No other energy source gets so thoroughly scrutinized. As a result they are the safest and cleanest long-lasting energy sources available. One big advantage is that their power easily equals that of coal making our quest for an end to coal achievable.

Among the antinuclear citizens of Ontario there has been a push to seek replacing nuclear energy with Hydro power from Quebec. Recently my friend Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues  commented: “Has anybody asked Quebec if they are willing to create another lake the size of Belgium12 to provide the hydro power needed by Ontario? The answer would be a polite no.”

The Dalai Lama, James Hansen and countless scientists who support nuclear energy indicate that acceptance is a matter of education. Once we get over the irrational fears of radiation and false connections to nuclear weapons we can then consider how nuclear energy can make a better future.

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Prelude Footnotes

  1. http://www.ieso.ca/en/corporate-ieso/media/news-releases/2017/01/ontarios-independent-electricity-system-operator-releases-2016-electricity-data
  2. https://atomicinsights.com/14838-2/
  3. https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Basic_Physics_of_Nuclear_Medicine/The_Radioactive_Decay_Law
  4. https://atomicinsights.com/positive-effects-low-dose-radiation-dr-jerry-cuttler-via-go-nuclear/
  5. http://www.nucleartownhall.com/blog/tag/ted-rockwell/
  6. Developments and Innovation in Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Capture and Storage …
    edited by M. Mercedes Maroto-Valer

    “Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) represents a key component of a larger porfolio of advanced energy technologies and climate policies needed to mediate the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Geologic CCS systems are specifically designed to remove CO2 from various point sources and safely deposit CO2 in secure storage sites deep underground…”
    The experiments for ocean CCS still needs greater investigation.
    The socioeconomic costs of ocean acidification.
  7. Here are a few quotes from Mathijs Beckers’ book the Non-Solutions Project. He does an excellent job of projecting the amount of materials needed to run a so-called 100% renewables scenario. Beckers does an admirable job of laying it all out using graphs, equations, numbers and analysis:

    “Copper has many uses: wiring; in semiconductors as circuitry; in piping and plumbing; as a building material; in electric motors; we even use it as a hull material for boats, but renewables have only had a marginal share of all available copper. However, that will change if we choose to implement the 100%WWS Roadmap. Copper use for wind and solar is currently only 3.3%, but if we adopt the roadmap plan it could rise to 75~80%. The limitations of copper production might just be the straw that will break the camel’s back…

    It is important to note that known reserves are roughly 720,000 thousand metric tons. Suppose we could reach 100,000 TWh of annual energy production on Wind and Solar, and it would require 200,000 thousand metric tons of copper, we would have extracted more than one-fourth of all the copper known to be available. It is not so much the amount of copper required that makes this challenge so big, it is about the increase in copper production growth required, that makes it hard to achieve…

    Even if we keep production as high as possible, we wouldn’t be able to build all the wind turbines and solar panels required before 2050 due to the deficit in copper. Also note that we are already behind 1500 GW of annual required wind and solar additions (which is about 15 times more than we currently add)…

    Shortages of rare earths already plague the renewable industry. Research institutes confirm that there’s a tremendous strain on resources already and foresee a shortage of materials in the not-so-distant future. I doubt that we can sustain the raw material production levels that are needed to facilitate this rapid growth in wind and solar as required in the 100%WWS Roadmap. And research and development on raw material recovery is lagging, so we may conclude that the 100%WWS Roadmap is already facing serious startup problems…

    If we want to do an all-out build-off bonanza as required in the 100%WWS Roadmap, we will be faced with massive shortages so long as mining capabilities trail behind the demand. Lake Baotou in China, which is a dystopian place, is one of the shady sides of rare earth mining. Once the rare earth materials have been mined, you have to separate them from the ore, which is done by a host of different chemical processes with hazardous tailings and other valuable elements going to waste…

    The people who work in the mines and live near the refineries pay the price for our technologies. So let’s go for the technologies that are most efficient in terms of materials used. As long as we fail to clean up our mining and purification practices, ‘clean energy’ will be an oxymoron…

    However, we already have a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly technology for generating electricity―nuclear energy, especially when produced by modern plants that can “burn” our stored nuclear waste as fuel…”

  8. https://www.kcet.org/redefine/socalgas-aliso-canyon-leak-a-disaster-for-climate
    https://atomicinsights.com/worth-threshold-gas-gas-renewables-bad-climate-coal-plant/
  9. See http://www.terrestrialenergy.com/clean-sustainable-energy/ re:Spent Nuclear Fuel
  10. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-06/exelon-said-to-seek-license-to-run-nuclear-plant-for-80-years
    http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/cnf_sectionA.htm#candu_refurbishment
  11. http://energyrealityproject.com/thanks-to-the-power-of-pickering-nuclear-plant-we-replaced-coal/