In early October, I mentioned that I had purchased a new book titled Beyond Fossil Fools by Joseph M. Shuster. During my nice, long Thanksgiving weekend, I have had the opportunity to catch up on some long overdue reading, so I have now finished the book. (That process has been helped by a recurring bout of insomnia – perhaps in a couple of days I will be able to share with a bit about the reason for that recent affliction.)
Fossil fools is a clear eyed, computationally accurate look at some of the very real challenges that the world faces in terms of providing reliable, affordable, clean energy to a growing population. It recognizes that a major part of the challenge is in overcoming the political strength of the established energy industry. Here are some example quotes:
“Expect reluctance and resistance. Technical changes will come, and they are as inevitable as the opposition that they will spark.
Be very skeptical of people with vested interests criticizing new technologies that threaten their interests. It is natural for people to protect their positions and defend their turf. However, these self-interested criticisms, protections and defenses are often not in the broad interests of the general public. The can cause delay, sow confusion, and inhibit progress. Delay can lead to oil depletion, resource wars, and an earth that becomes less and less habitable as it becomes more and more toxic.”
Shuster, J.M., Beyond Fossil Fools, Beaver’s Pond Press, 2008 p. 302
“Although Big Oil has no obligation to enhance the long term energy security of the United States, the public similarly has no obligation to provide it subsidies. It seems oil companies find it easier and more profitable to invest in lobbyists, political favors, and ANWAR drilling than to develop our vast oil shale reserves. To be sure, oil companies will continue to grip the levers of government influence they control and will continue to foist misleading statements upon an inattentive and unsuspecting public.”
Shuster p. 329
“There are no technical problems keeping us from a final energy solution. There are powerful special interest groups (fossil fools) however, that want to ride the dying horse of fossil fuels because the money potential is huge in the short run while devastating to all of us in the long run. Do not be fooled by the rhetoric of vested interest groups.”
Shuster p. 364
It is clear that Joe Shuster has a strong business sense, excellent math skills, and an open and inquiring mind. He has thought deeply about the challenge. He has vowed to give any profits from his book to support research into alternative energy, including nuclear.
I highly recommend the book, but offer two quibbles:
1. Like Tom Blees, author of Prescription for the Planet, Joe Shuster has apparently spent most of his chat time with nuclear specialists at Argonne National Laboratory and other centers that focus their efforts on liquid metal cooled, fast reactor research.
Reading this book, one comes away with a clear conclusion that nuclear fission offers the only source of the kind of power and energy that people need, but the book would lead one to believe that the only way to achieve a lasting and sufficient contribution from fission is to focus development on implementing fast reactors with UREX+ or pyroprocessing fuel recycling. I am not against that option per se, but I believe there are other equally viable contributing fission technologies like LFTR, advanced light water reactors, heavy water reactors, Light Water Breeder Reactors, high temperature gas cooled reactors configured as converters or breeders, and high burn-up traveling wave reactors.
In other words, there is a diverse mix of technologies that all share a common basis – they all rely on splitting heavy metal to release energy. The very best fission power concepts also include the design philosophy that burying acitinides merely because they are in a form that requires a bit of effort to convert into useful heat is a waste of resources that might be valuable to future generations.
2. The final quibble is something that I need to research a bit more – Joe offers and provides support for his opinion that the very best transitional hydrocarbon option for the US to use while building out the necessary infrastructure to support a fully electric transportation system is to mine shale oil from the Rocky Mountains. I am not yet convinced that is the right way to go, but if the heat for an in situ process like that developed Shell comes from fission reactors, I might be able to be convinced that the process is adequately clean and environmentally sound.
Has anyone else read the book or visited the Beyond Fossil Fools web site? What do you think of the diagnosis and prescriptions offered?