On Wednesday, President Obama delivered his much anticipated Energy Policy speech, telling listeners that it was time to ‘get serious’ about our dependence on foreign oil. So, just what is the Obama Administration’s idea of “getting serious”? Reducing our current “11 million barrels a day” of oil imports “by one-third” by 2025. I don’t know about you, but reducing our imported oil consumption from 11 million barrels a day to 7-1/4mil… just 1/6th of ALL oil consumed in the U.S…. partly by “increasing domestic production” (approving nearly 40 new offshore drilling leases since the Deepwater Horizon explosion last year, including four even deeper wells in just the past few weeks), over a 14 year period, isn’t my idea of “getting serious”.
While President Obama did (mercifully) call for more investment in “alternative energy”, he included in that list “natural gas” (another carbon-emitting greenhouse gas) and “nuclear”… all in addition to “increased domestic drilling.” Drill baby, drill. <gack>
Two weeks ago, I went down the list of reasons why Nuclear Energy is neither, cheap, safe, nor green:
- $11 Billion to build a single powerplant with only 30 to 40 years of useful life.
- $1.5 to $3 Billion a year to operate.
- The Federal government must insure each plant both during construction and once in operation because no one will take on the financial risk.
- Takes ELEVEN YEARS of nuclear power generation to counter the air pollution created in its construction and mining of the ore used in it.
- Require millions of gallons of cold water to keep its reactors cool, and the resulting superheated waste-heat is then pumped back into rivers and streams where it kills the fish and aquatic plant life.
- Water around the core becomes radioactive waste that we put into barrels and bury underground, where it has been known to leak into the environment.
- No one wants a nuclear reactor or nuclear waste site in their backyard (NIMBY).
- And, of course, every new plant is a ripe new terrorist target.
There are numerous other, CHEAPER AND GREENER ways to produce more energy domestically or reduce waste due to inefficiency than building more nuclear power plants and drilling for more oil here at home:
- Update the “power grid” so less electricity is wasted in transmission. America’s electric “power grid”… the transmission lines and transformers used to carry electricity from where it’s created to where it’s needed… is under severe strain and is seriously out of date. Built in the 50’s and 60’s, long before today’s electronic power hungry homes came into being, a tremendous amount of electricity is wasted simply pushing it through aging copper wires and outdated transformers. According to this report (pdf) by Engineering megacompany ABB, updating our power grid could increase efficiency by 10% in the short run and as much as 20% ten years later. That’s more electricity saved than produced by EVERY SINGLE NUCLEAR REACTOR IN THE U.S. COMBINED (currently, there are 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S. providing 19.6% of all the electricity used in the U.S.). – Cost: After a quick check, I can’t find an estimate of rebuilding America’s power grid. But estimates of rebuilding Iraq’s power grid… roughly 1/10th the size of the U.S.’s… has been estimated around $4 Billion dollars over three years. Compare that to the roughly $650Billion dollar cost to build/run a single nuclear reactor to provide less than 0.2% of America’s electricity needs (20% electricity production divided by 104 reactors).
- Wind – A single wind farm produces around 200Megawatts. Though considerably less than modern nuclear reactors estimated to produce between 1,100 and 1,500 Megawatts of electricity, “wind farms” can be built for a fraction of the cost and is infinitely safer than constructing a new nuclear reactor. Again, without getting into the weeds, 375 square miles of wind turbines (apx 60 units) would generate as much power as one nuclear reactor. This may seem like a lot of land, but that’s a plot less than 20miles by 20miles. By comparison, Death Valley is 550 square miles. And that is only if you intend to rely solely on wind power for your electricity production. No. The idea here is to combine ALL these alternatives for optimal benefit.
- Solar panels on the roofs of every government building. – Even at their current efficiency, electric solar panels generate (very) roughly 15watts per square foot (depending on lighting conditions). An accurate number of government buildings in the U.S. is next to impossible to come by… post offices, schools, prisons, IRS buildings, DMV’s, libraries, state houses… the list is endless, but the total acreage of unused available real estate is unquestionably huge. Covering the roof of one government building would provide (roughly) 20%-50% of their electricity needs, again, eliminating the need for more nuclear plants or coal-fired electric generators. – Cost: without getting into the weeds of “cost per kilowatt”, the amount of electricity used by the average government building, and “number of panels required” to generate at least 50% of their power needs, $50,000 per building isn’t unreasonable. The costs could easily be recouped in less than two years of savings. For the cost of a single nuclear power plant, you could place panels on the roofs of 1 million government buildings. (Note, PV [Photo-Voltaic] panels aren’t the only way to generate Solar Power. “Solar Boilers” using mirrors to power a steam generator also exist, but are less than half as efficient as wind turbines which generate more power per acre and can operate day & night.)
- Tidal – There are a number of ways to generate electricity using the tides, which… like wind and unlike solar… can produce electricity day & night. Some tidal generator designs include floating tidal-buoys that use a floating ring that bobs up & down around a tubular generator. More practical are underwater turbines, similar to a windfarm on the ocean floor, that use ocean currents to generate electricity.
- Geothermal – When natural hotsprings are unavailable, massive water tanks are buried deep underground where the Earth’s own heat boils the water, producing steam that turns a turbine (similar to how nuclear reactors work). The stream is captured and piped back down into the boiler, so no water is wasted.
- The Obama Administration is the first administration to set/raise fuel efficiency standards for (currently exempt) large COMMERCIAL vehicles (including buses, 18-wheelers, delivery vans, farm vehicles, etc), but the goal of these new standards (set to begin in 2014) is more to “reduce CO2 emissions” than reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The new standard set by the Obama Administration would only save “500million barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicle“. The entire country uses 19.6 million barrels a day, or 500 million barrels every 20 days. Personal use cars & trucks account for only 22% of all the gas/diesel used in the United States. We’ve gone about as far as we can optimizing purely personal-use consumer vehicles, and even huge improvements like the Chevy Volt (achieving 111mpg in real world tests) won’t make as big a dent in our oil usage than even a small increase in the miles-per-gallon rating of large transport vehicles (including planes, trains and buses) used to ferry people & products across the country. If a “2.7 mile per gallon increase” in the efficiency of “personal use” vehicles (that make up only 22% of all vehicles on the road) would “eliminate our need for Persian Gulf oil”, we could do the same thing with an increase of just 0.85mpg on all Commercial vehicles.
- Promote high speed rail, particularly MagLev/electric. – Trains are already drastically more fuel efficient than airplanes, but U.S. trains are generally much too slow to compete with air travel. High Speed rail can travel the same distance in only slightly more time while using far less fuel, but with all the alternatives ways of generating electricity mentioned above, electric-powered “MagLev” (magnetic levitation) trains can travel the same distance nearly as fast as an airplane (is 268mph fast enough for you?) without using a drop of oil or producing an ounce of smoke/soot or CO2.
We need to start thinking of newer/smarter ways to generate power in this country than continuing to rely on the ancient technology of combustible fossil fuels or (as Japan is showing us) catastrophically dangerous nuclear. Just imagine the total amount of surplus energy that would be created if we enacted ALL of these ideas.
ABC News reported on their website last Tuesday a list of 56 Major Safety Violations at nuclear power plants in the U.S. over just the past 4 years. The Rachel Maddow Show expanded on that list Wednesday to report at least a dozen other critical nuclear mishaps you probably never heard about over the past 40 years here in the U.S. that were nearly as serious as the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979.
- NRC: 3 U.S. Nuclear Plants Need Increased Oversight.
- GE To Build Largest Solar Panel Factory In U.S.
Postscript: Next Friday will be the Budget deadline over whether or not we raise the Debt Ceiling or allow Republicans to shutdown the government, default on our loan obligations, stop paying mailmen, teachers, suspend distribution of Social Security checks (et al). I had to endure listening to a parade of Republican “deficit hawks” all Sunday morning whine about the exploding Deficit, advocating Slash & Burn budget cuts and possibly shutting down the government rather than ask GE or Exxon to chip in. Expect a few words on that subject next Monday.
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