I came across the above video on a post at The Energy Collective titled A Month after the Oil Disaster, We Need Obama to Lead. As I watched it, I could not help but nod in agreement with some of the points while wanting to cry out “what about nuclear” at other points in the discussion.
The problem with the “renewable” energy sources that have captured the hearts and minds of many people in the environmental movement is that they simply do not work. Though they produce some power some of the time, wind and solar energy are unpredictable and diffuse energy flows that require enormous collection systems impacting vast tracks of land. While it is possible to cover the roof of an apartment building, office complex or factory with solar panels, the output from those solar panels can only supply a tiny fraction of the power being used in the buildings underneath them.
There was a time when I was also enamored with the idea of using natural, renewable energy. I had just finished a 40 month tour as the Engineer Officer on a nuclear powered submarine. The memory of the stringent rules and the challenging work environment was fresh in my mind. I was on shore duty as a staff officer the U. S. Naval Academy and decided that I would take advantage of a little known opportunity to audit classes while I was there. As an undergraduate, I had majored in English, but I had developed a desire to improve my engineering knowledge after spending 10 years in various engineering assignments.
One of the courses that interested me was an alternative energy course being taught by Dr. Chih Wu, a man who had published several books (including one on ocean thermal energy conversion) and numerous papers on the subject. After many homework assignments and design projects, I had convinced myself that wind and solar energy, though well marketed, were simply too limited.
Historical Aside. I reported to the Academy in January 1991. You may recall that there was a brief run up in oil prices in 1990-1991 and an increasing interest in efforts to replace oil, coal and gas consumption. Some of my friends and former colleagues were fighting a war with a country led by a guy named Saddam Hussein who had attacked his neighbor in an attempt to establish control over more of the world’s oil resources. End Aside.
One of the eye opening moments came when I designed a solar heating system with the sole task of keeping a coastal California swimming pool at a comfortable temperature. Once I had accounted for evaporative heat loss and make up water, I calculated that the system would need collectors with a total surface area equal to the area of the pool and it would need to include a thermal blanket that would help reduce evaporation and nighttime cooling. That blanket would have to remain on the pool for 16 to 20 hours per day during much of the year. During some weather conditions, the blanket would have to remain in position for a week or more to keep from losing too much heat. The design project received an ‘A’, but in my technical opinion the technology received an ‘F’.
If Robert Redford and his friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council are truly interested in protecting wilderness areas in the west – which is one of the things that Redford discusses with Keith Olbermann in the video above – and they are interested in establishing an energy policy that may alleviate some of the economic pressure to drill for oil in increasingly challenging and environmentally sensitive areas, they should take a hard at revising their organizational opposition to expanding the use of nuclear energy.
Paul Newman, who starred with Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidd and The Sting and became his close personal friend, might have a few words to say on the topic – if he was still alive. In his later years, Paul Newman became a strong supporter and even a promoter for nuclear energy. He often raced his cars with Go Nuclear stickers on them. I have one of those Newman-Wachs racing Go Nuclear stickers on my Jetta, which is definitely NOT a racing car.
Here is a quote from a press release from the Atlantic Racing Series dated September 26, 2008.
“This is an exciting time of growth for nuclear energy as America confronts mutual concerns of rising energy demand, environmental impact and energy independence,” explained Mike Kansler, Entergy chief nuclear officer. “That’s why Entergy feels it is crucial to talk with new entrants into the country’s labor force about the many opportunities available in the commercial nuclear power industry.”
Entergy Nuclear, the sponsor of the Swift 016 formula car, is the second largest owner and operator of nuclear power plants in the U.S. and was named to the 2007 Forbes list of America’s Most Trustworthy Companies.
Team owners Paul Newman and Eddie Wachs noted, “The objective of our partnership with Entergy and NEI is to aid overall public awareness and to promote public policy that supports the beneficial uses of nuclear energy. It’s a long road, so what better way to start at than at the race track?”
Sadly, the date on that press release is also the day that Paul Newman passed away after a long battle with lung cancer. The course of action following an eye opening incident like Deepwater Horizon, which demonstrates the hazard of reaching into ever more difficult places to extract oil, might be altered if a forward thinking leader like Newman could help his friends understand how nuclear energy can help. It can make oil and gas exploration and extraction a bit less profitable. We would be able to reduce our consumption enough so that the remaining needs could be supplied by the easy-to-reach petroleum where the potential consequences of inevitable faults are lower.
New York Times Dot Earth Blog – Burning, Baby, Burning