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The Environmental Movement Undergoes Spontaneous Fission Over Nukes - Chain Reaction Coming!
Published on July 27, 2005 By Phil Osborn In Physics
I heard on recently on NPR an interesting discussion about a major split allegedly taking place among Greens and other environmentalists on the issue of nuclear power. It seems that a lot of the former rabidly anti-nuke types are now starting to realize that nukes may offer a way out of global warming, which could kill us all as well, along with the majority of other mamalian and avian species on the planet.

This is hardly news to those who have paid attention to the science. The interviewer on the program spent some time in commentary after the various interviews, etc., in which he brought up some of the known caveats from the anti-nuke side.

Such as, nuclear power is hardly a perfect solution. It generates heat - although not as much, net-net by at least 50% less compared to burning coal, especially when you take into account greenhouse effects. It also generates extremely toxic waste that is hard - some would say damn near impossible - to safely dispose of.

However, as Gregg Benford has pointed out, there ARE safe nuclear waste disposal sites. They're called subduction zones, deep in the ocean, where one of the major tectonic plates is sliding under another one. Anything put there is GONE! - or at least if you bury it there, and nobody drops a nuke down there deliberately just to recover it, it will end up under miles of permanent mantel rock decades or centuries in the future. Short of a major asteroid strike of the kind that would kill us anyway, putting something there is the END of it.

So, we still have terrorism to deal with, and human stupidity. The U.S. nukes are alledgedly among the world's least safe, based on a faulty early design. However, as I've discussed here and elsewhere on my blog, http://philosborn.joeuser.com/index.asp?AID=8010, the real underlying problem is the corporation.

Mind you, I have nothing against shareholder-based enterprises. I think that they can be a fine way for the citizen/worker to invest in productivity. But because our legal system became corrupted to enforce social attitudes and morals instead of equity, it became too risky for the older, non-corporate shareholder models, who could be wiped out, along with the trustees or shareholders themselves, if they had actual control, by a single punitive award. So, we got the corporation, with liability limited by state fiat to the assets of this ficticious person, literally a child of the state.

A ficticious creature created specifically to limit damage awards is just about the very last thing you would want running a nuclear power plant! That artificial cap on liability, it can be mathematically proven (and I did so), creates an incentive to ignore dangers above the threshhold of the assets of the corporation - or, worse in the case of U.S. nukes, the cap of $800 million per incident created just for them by congress.

The risk of accidents that are significantly more expensive than $800,000,000.00 is perhaps small, but not zero, by any means. A major blow-up of any of a few dozen nukes in the U.S. could easilly cost into the tens of $billions or even more. And a small risk multiplied by a large number of nukes starts to get really scary.

But that's what is being proposed. As Benford pointed out in his recent lecture on global warming, it would take building one new nuke per DAY! for the next fifteen years to offset the fossil fuel burning. This, however, is both politically impossible and could not be done using conventional nukes anyway, as there simply isn't enough uranium on the planet.

Which means: plutonium nukes and hundreds of "breeder" reactors to create the thousands of tons of plutonium needed. This also multiplies the risks by some factor greater than 1, perhaps 5 or 10, speaking conservatively.

The interviewer on NPR also made at least one error in discussing the fact that 50% of the fossil burning is done by cars, which can't run off nuclear power. Actually they can - via hydrogen or simply rechargeable batteries. It's not really necessary, BTW, to sit around for hours waiting for your electric car's batteries to charge. What do you do with your radio-controlled RV? You CHANGE the batteries. Standardized slide-in battery blocks for full-sized autos or long-distance truckers could become SOP if it became necessary.

So, what are our options? As Benford points out, if we did EVERYTHING that is feasible, politically, economically, scientifically here on earth, we may still easilly fall short of what's needed, by perhaps 50%, in which case we die anyway. The one solution that the scientific panels reportedly agreed upon as one that would actually work and was technologically, economically and potentially politically feasible, is a sun-shade.

That is, a BIG sun-shade positioned between earth and sun. All we need is to block about 1.5% of the incident solar radiation and we're home free, as far as global warming, anyway. As we then do switch to other power sources (there is only so much burnable carbon, after all) the shade can be adjusted or discarded or even used to boost sunlight as a reflector. This huge rotating fresnel lens, the size of the continental U.S., although only a couple millimeters thick, would take about twenty years and estimated $6 trillion to build, or about one year's gross national product. It would require a major base on the moon - a few hundred personnel and a LOT of industrial robotics. Doing it from the earth would be prohibitively expensive. Nothing in the proposal appears to require any new scientific or technical breakthroughs, so the bottom line is that we CAN do it.

After all, if we WEREN'T burning any fossil fuel, we would be in another major ice age now. That much we know. We stopped the ice age. We just went about 100% too far. So now we get to make the correction. Or else.

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