I have finally worked my way through nearly 3 hours of the town hall meeting at the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 held on August 10, 2009 in Las Vegas Nevada. The panel included John Podesta, President and CEO of Center for American Progress, Al Gore, Harry Reid, T. Boone Pickens and Cathy Zoi, Assistant Secretary of Energy For Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. According to Tyler Suiters from Clean Skies News, this group included “the real heavy hitters on policy making in terms of clean energy and energy efficiency”.
Though it is possible that I stepped out of the room at just the wrong time, I am pretty certain that neither the word “nuclear” nor the word “atomic” were spoken during the entire discussion. I heard a lot about the importance of natural gas. In fact, here is a quote from Susan McGinnis of Clean Skies News, when she was fulfilling her anchor duties by summarizing what she had heard during the morning sessions at the Summit.
It’s something that we did not hear a lot about out of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, in the past anyway, is natural gas, something T. Boone Pickens has been pushing for quite a while. It really seems that at this energy summit that his crusade finally has solid legs. I mean T. Boone Pickens is now at every major energy gathering that happens. The words “natural gas” are coming out of the mouths of Al Gore, Steven Chu and lots of others. Margaret Ryan was talking earlier about being surprised that this has such a prominent place at a summit like this one. Whereas a year ago there were all other kinds of renewables being talked about. One year later it does seem that natural gas does have a place at this table, Tyler.
(Ref – Minute 2:30-3:00 of national Clean Energy Summit 2.0 Town Hall Video.
The panel also talked a lot about wind turbines, solar panels, solar thermal energy, carpeting an area 95 miles on each side with solar collectors, building energy efficiency, reducing dependence on foreign oil and even some words about carbon capture and sequestration from coal burning power plants. I heard T. Boone Pickens state that financing wind turbines when natural gas costs less than $7.00 per MBTU is not possible (that is nearly 2 times the current market price). I also heard Harry Reid say that he believes that it is necessary to give eminent domain powers to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) so it could force land owners to accept the installation of electric transmission lines. He compared the needed powers to those that were available during the 19th century railroad construction boom and those used to enable the current interstate highway system.
However, I did not hear one of the panelists or anyone in the audience mention the fact that we discovered a vast new emission free energy source in the middle of the 20th century.
Since not one of the panelists mentioned nuclear power or atomic energy, none of them could talk about the fact that the power source does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions or any other form of air pollution. None of them could talk about the vast reserves of fuel found in North America or Australia. None of them could talk about the job growth in the industry or the recently announced expansions of production facilities by Shaw Group, Northrop-Grumman, Areva, and Westinghouse. None of the could mention the fact that the 26 nuclear plants waiting in line for license reviews at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, if completed, would produce more electricity each year than ALL of the windmills installed in North America. None of them could describe how this almost magical power source grew from inconceivable to 8% of the world energy market in just a couple of decades, despite the inevitable teething pains of new technology development and a well organized opposition to its expansion.
One of my readers recently accused me of being a nuclear fanatic and described my attitude as similar to someone with a hammer who sees the world as being full of nails needing pounding. I think he is pretty close. I am a fission fan (that is the short form of the word “fanatic”) who gets seriously frustrated by the lack of routine discussion about a power source that has a lot to offer to a world in serious need of what it can do.
During the morning round table at the Clean Energy Summit Al Gore said something to the effect that the people alive on earth today have to ask themselves – how can we not act knowing what we know about the effects of climate change. He said he thought that our children and grandchildren are going to be pretty disappointed with us if we do nothing.
Along those same lines, I have to ask – how can I not make the case for using more fission as forcefully as possible? How can I not keep reminding people who would prefer not to complicate their plans or offend their donors that we have an energy source that is at least as American as natural gas, produces far less carbon dioxide when used, and is far more abundant than gas will ever be? How can I fail to point out that a natural gas powered ship would be terribly impractical because of the massive fuel tanks required, but ships burn a lot of oil that could be otherwise put to use? How can I help people like Al Gore and John Podesta understand that natural gas is not accessible in places where there are no pipelines, but small nuclear plants have a proven track record of providing reliable distributed power in the most inaccessible places on the planet?
I need your suggestions. How can we make sure that Clean Energy Summit 3.0 does not ignore the existence of fission and treat it like Harry Potter’s friends treated Voldemort – as that which must not be named?