ENERGETIC REALISM.

 

LIFE, PHYSICS, ECONOMY AND POLITICS ARE ALL ABOUT ENERGY.

And Saying, Or doing, Whatever, Does Not Help.

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Abstract: Various considerations, some unusual, on energy, and those who talk about energy. Plenty of realistic news. In passing, the bad news about Fukushima: although the reactors themselves seem under control, at this point, unit 4 could go Chernobyl, I say (See the report: The Fukushima-Daiichi Incident, Dr. Matthias Braun, AREVA, March 29, 2011).

There will be a violent nuclear explosion (a so called "criticality excursion", as in Chernobyl, and as seems to have already happened on a small scale), with an enormous release of radioactivity (possibly like Chernobyl), IF the pool containing the (uncontained, since, it’s in the pool!) reactor core of unit 4 goes dry (so that ought to be prevented by any means imaginable). That could well happen, for example after another major quake in the area (so this event ought to be anticipated). That was probably the meaning of these helicopters dumping water…

Considering the insanity of the proximity of the already deranged couplings of reactors and pools to each other, the explosion of that pool is possible. (Apparently storing nuclear fuel in pools next to live reactors is done systematically in Japan and the USA, but not in France, or Canada. It’s the craziest thing, as nuclear fuel has one million times the energy density of conventional explosives.)

The worst imaginable case at Fukushima was that the six reactors, and seven nuclear pools, all blow up, making the radioactivity from Chernobyl, plus Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, tiny in comparison.

First lesson of the entire Fukushima freak show? The fiercest United Nations oversight of nuclear energy ought to be implemented. Nations which refuse to submit should be submitted to the proverbial "no-fly zone" treatment. Call that colonialism, if you wish to sound foolish, but that’s actually survivalism, and no misplaced semantics will stand in the way.

The obdurate ones who refuse to understand will otherwise contribute, and be submitted to nuclear war, one way or another, and they will like that even less.

WikiLeaks revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency had warned Japan about earthquake danger, and the Japanese government promised to do something about it. In 2008. As it was Japanese nuclear plants could resist at most a 7 Richter quake, although the country was submitted to 9 Richter in the last 1,000 years, or so. And 10 Richter seems possible.

Ultimate lesson? Energy is the most serious business. Most solutions engaged into now, are not really sustainable solutions, considering their contexts. The main effort consists in unraveling the energy (and pollution!) stored over 450 million years of fossilization, in one geological instant. That is worse than the worst nuclear war.

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WHEN FATE THREATENS:

Japan and France have plenty of nuclear reactors; they are high tech countries, deprived of serious indigenous energy. It is easy for others, better endowed, to give pious lessons. Germany can easily eschew nuclear energy, since it has a lot of coal, making it black, rather than green. The USA and Russia, would not have been what they became, without enormous reserves of oil. The USA was the world’s main oil producer, for most of the oil age.

Great energy savings could be made in the USA, with energy conservation. But countries such as Japan are already conserving nearly as much as possible. Too bad they conscientiously forgot about tsunamis.

The general area of Fukushima had been hit by a 6 meter tsunami in 1960, coming from Chili, so it was made impervious to 6.5 meter tsunami; that is called mathematics. In recent years, much higher tsunamis hit Japan, killing many, thus the authorities got used to live in a very high state of denial, with dozens of nuclear reactors waiting patiently for Poseidon’s visit.

Some nuclear reactors in Japan are made to resist to only a 6.5 Richter earthquake. It is even worse in the USA, with many reactors able to resist at most quakes hundreds of times less than the power delivered by the faults on which they sit. In any case, making reactors resisting a maximum of 7 Richter, is criminally optimistic, since the strongest quake of the nuclear age was 9.6 Richter, that is, 260 times more powerful.

Canada thought more carefully about quakes. The country decided to prepare for the sort of quakes one can have in 2,500 years. The Canadian conclusion was that 7.5 Richter quakes are possible in Quebec. Yes, Quebec. There is a fault system all along, below the Saint Laurent, plus a buried meteorite, and its 60 kilometers wide crater. All that tends to move.

Hospitals have to work after a quake. However two hospitals in Quebec were expected to collapse in a Richter 7.5 quake. Thus, they will be demolished and completely rebuilt.

New Yorkers, just to the south, may want to consider their own 7 Richter faults, and how close they are to the local nuclear reactors.

Let’s notice that Europe had an 8 (?) Richter quake in Bale (Basel), in the Middle Age. Most significant buildings were destroyed within 30 kilometers. A 9 Richter subduction quake 300 kilometers south of Lisbon, 250 years ago, crushed Lisbon, burned it, and flooded it with a tsunami. The tsunami washed the entire North Atlantic, causing a massacre in Portugal and Morocco.

Also let’s not forget the Messina quake and tsunami which killed maybe 150,000 people, in 1908. Super giant tsunamis have happened in Europe because of methane hydrate eruptions too. It could be a wise thing to consider for the cackling French as they self satisfyingly congratulate themselves on the apparent lack of tsunamis on their perfidiously quiescent French coasts. They may have the occasion to test the resistance of the EPR nuclear reactor, constructed by the sea. Greenhouse warming is reaching the abysses, and will cause methane hydrate eruptions.

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THE FOSSIL FUEL-CORRUPT BANKS TRAP:

We have a fossil fuel propelled civilization. It burns chains of hydrogen attached to carbon that living organisms made using solar energy, in the last 450 million years of frantic labor. When we will be finished, some seem to hope, the percentage of carbon dioxide will be so high, that life may be impossible under any form. Idiotically, the plutocrats say not to worry, they are philanthropists.

CO2 goes back in the oceans, react with water and makes the acid found in carbonated drinks. Only some algae resist to that treatment, as CO2 rich volcanic areas off Naples have demonstrated. (Another area with 5 million people waiting for a disaster to happen.)

Of course the bitter end of this drastic devolution will not come to be, because various disasters such as the death of oceanic vertebrate life, and rise of the oceans by seventy meters will occur first, followed, or more probably preceded, by all out nuclear war.

Why nuclear war? Because it’s best for holocausts. In a free-for-all, it cannot be beaten. Nuclear fission is at least more energetic by a factor of a million, per unit of mass, than gasoline (and other chemicals).

War is about impacting the enemy with more energy than can be safely dealt with. The higher the energy density, the more impact. So serious war will be nuclear, and there is no pacifist whining loud enough to drown the supersonic roar of nukes. Pacifism cannot do anything about the dogs of nuclear war. Except vaccinating with war societies or religions prone to mad dogs before those can store nuclear explosives… As Pakistan has been doing, religiously.

What is gasoline? Essentially, hydrogen made denser than in pure liquid hydrogen (diesel is similar: the exact nature of molecules in gasoline-like fluids vary widely, but the idea is the same: plenty of hydrogen atoms, attached to a few carbon atoms). Our transportation system depends completely upon gasoline. When people talk about a hydrogen economy, they mean gasoline, because it’s the best hydrogen there is.

Ecological gasoline can be made out of algae, absorbing the CO2 in the atmosphere. It works. A plant exist in Spain, using the local sun, and CO2 from a fossil fuel installation. Problem: such algae plants require a lot of capital to build them (30 million euros for the small Spanish plant). As we know, banks prefer to engage capital in corruption and derivatives trading (with each other).

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NO MORALITY, NO ECOLOGY, NO LAW, BUT THE JUNGLE:

Banks are amazingly corrupt. They have a fiduciary mission, historically speaking. "Fiduciary" comes from the root "fidere", to trust. In Roman law, fiducia was "a right transferred in trust". That right, that trust given to banks is money creation, by lending. This is made possible by the back-up of the state, as the money lent is more than ten times what the banks really have (in the case of Lehman Brothers, that "investment" bank lent 50 times what it truly had). So banks are actually governmental institutions, privately managed. they have a government given monopoly, and the government gives them the seed money. For free.

In counterpart, banks are supposed to help the state, that is, society. Instead, recently, they have opted to give money to each other, or various plutocrats they are associated with, beyond the breaking point of the society which entrusted them with the creation of money. That was made possible by buying off politicians, or, worse, making everybody so stupid that the preceding description escapes the imagination, let alone the wisdom or knowledge, of the for-profit economists.

Thus banks, in the West, have pretty much balked at financing big, useful projects. Some American solar companies have gone to China for financing… Yes, to the People’s Republic of china. Even the communists have a better banking system, a better capitalist system: Western capitalism has sunk that low, that commies make better capitalists.

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WHY DOES INDIA LIKE QADDAFI’S LIBYA?

India decided at the United Nation Security Council, that Libyan civilians did not deserve protection from their dictator. Less well known, but related to the preceding, there is a rebellion in India, the Naxalite insurgency. It covers about 40% of Indian territory. The hyperlink I gave to Wikipedia is interesting in a negative way, because it does not reflect, not at all, what is driving the insurrection presently.

The area in rebellion corresponds to metallic mining, and the plutocrats (which the Marxist inspired Naxalites prefer to call "bourgeois capitalists") have tried to expel the natives to better exploit the rare earths found there. Rare earths are crucial to all "green energy", as they are involved in making materials for electricity production or distribution.

It is ironical that the greens, whose hearts are pure, are associated with the world’s worst regimes, through the rare earths their hopes rest on (I will not bother mentioning what the world’s largest rare earths producer is; it just occupies a very large foreign country. Or two. So it is rather touchy.)

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CLEANEST OF GREEN?

In particular giant windmills and hybrid cars need rare earth elements, and a giant open mine in California will reopen in 2011: the world has found out that it depended too much on China.

Coal kills hundreds of thousands of people, worldwide, just by fine particles pollution. Of course it kills in many other ways. Mining coal kills thousands a year.

Coal also emits mercury vapor when burned, and said mercury makes the oceans poisonous.  How many people did civilian nuclear energy kill? Answer, aside from Chernobyl: most deaths associated to the nuclear industry have been conventional mining incidents.

Wind energy is often viewed as the cleanest, and it is price competitive with coal. Before covering the earth with 1,000 feet, 300 meters high windmills, two caveats.

Windmill efficiency varies with the cube of wind speed. So under anti-cyclonic condition, when it’s very hot, or very cold, no more electricity from wind mills. Also, as the greenhouse proceeds, wind speed, overall, will go down. 10% down in wind speed means 30% less electricity produced, and that is guaranteed. 50% down is entirely possible when the greenhouse is in full swing, because the earth’s Carnot engine will lose its cold sink, so will not produce work (that is wind) anymore. (Average wind down is compatible with the occasional super giant hurricane… which will happen.)

Second caveat: we have only one way to store electricity efficiently: hydroelectric dams. Nuclear power plants already use them, refilling them during low demand for electricity. Dams are of course extremely dangerous. They have killed hundreds of thousands by breaking without warning, in China alone (!). Nuclear energy never killed anyone in France, but just one minor dam break, the Malpasset dam, killed around 500 people (in 1959).

Expansion of windmills will require elevated man made lagoons offshore, equipped with turbines, should one want electricity from the wind to become more available. That will augment enormously the ecological footprint, and lethality, of wind.

Other methods to efficiently store electricity do not exist, outside of science-fiction books. Giant superconducting rings to store electricity are far-off, and will require enormous thinking, discovery, and investment. (First we will have to do something about bankers, so we can release capital for worthy research projects, rather than unworthy bankers.)

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GROTESQUE SHOW AT FUKUSHIMA:

Old, quasi decrepit reactors, of a type constructed precisely because they were cheap. No emergency plan. Complete insanity of putting the reactors too close to each other, and, unbelievably, putting storage pools next to them, or, more exactly, on top of them, inches away.

There can much more energy under the form of old fuel in one of these pools, than inside the active core of a reactor. By orders of magnitude (that means 10, 100, may be more times).

The pools have all the problem associated with nuclear reactors, only much worse, and without any of the safety features. They depend just on water to stop neutrons to start a chain reaction. Besides having much more energy within, in general, the pools, differently from a reactor, have no containment (that makes them like Chernobyl; but they can have much more potential energy than this ill fated reactor).

The entire core of unit 4 was removed, for maintenance, and put in a pool. The pool is leaking. If the pool drains completely, that uncontained reactor core will burn and explode, with a catastrophic release of radioactivity, Chernobyl style (releases of radioactivity have been minor, so far, in comparison).

The boiling water reactor can work with a thin containment vessel. Thus one can save money, and still operate an unsafe reactor. Boiling water reactor of the Fukushima type are the most primitive reactors still in operation. They have nearly no safety features. Uncontained capitalism goes well with uncontained radiation.

Pressurized Water Reactor need stronger vessels. Only two factories, one in Japan, one in France, build them, with the best steel, and age old secrets. The EPR reactor built by Areva can, in theory, contain a completely melted core (it has a special sponge to help that, and another to recombine hydrogen into water, if steam gets too hot). But stronger vessels cost more. So when the Europeans tried to sell their disaster proof reactors to Abu Dhabi, the emirate preferred cheaper South Korean reactors.

To avoid potential catastrophe is more expensive. However, the real question is not whether it is expensive to avoid a catastrophe, but whether one can afford the catastrophe. In the case of Fukushima, the worst possible scenario which was taunted was an unimaginable disaster (permanent evacuation of a big part of Japan, including Tokyo). It was totally avoidable.

In a way, the entire planet is going Fukushima: a perfectly avoidable disaster, thus courted as much as possible, with total disregard for basic evidence and logic. One gets there through a combination of short term comfort, intellectual laziness, lack of imagination, incrusted privilege, playing the casino to win, and a taste for danger.

Apparently all Japanese nuclear reactors are easily accessible by tsunami. Same in California, but, at least, Californians have only 4 reactors, and do not know what the word tsunami means… Also California as a place of civilization is barely more than a century old, so has no institutional memory of its (not so infrequent) tsunamis.

Now, of course, there is a good reason to put a nuclear reactor by the sea. The reactor produces enormous heat, so it needs an enormous cool sink to make heat flow down from hot to cool. In France about half of the combined flow of all the streams of France passes through the nuclear power plants’ cooling systems. This also means, as the French found out, that any large nuclear reactor is at the risk of flooding (because it will always have lots of water nearby).

But having a reason does not mean that one is reasonable. When constructing nuclear reactors by the sea, one should assume that a 40 meter tsunami will pay a visit. (An Indian nuclear reactor under construction was annihilated by the 2004 Sumatran tsunami, so we are not evoking rare events here.)

Large nuclear reactors are threatened with melt down always, because they pile up so much energy in one small place. One needs a lot of water to flow through to keep the nuclear combustible cool, as long as one cannot stop the nuclear reaction right away, and definitively.

Today’s nuclear reactors are simmering nuclear bombs (one does need to have simmering nuclear bombs to use nuclear energy, but so it is at this point, because the present reactors evolved from military designs).

The closest back-up mobile generators from General Electric for its Fukushima plants were apparently in Florida, USA. The tsunami wave wrecked the plants, including the back-up diesel generators. Power lines which could have brought electricity from the electric grid were drowned (at the very least). Anyway, the grid was down.

Tsunami defense at Fukushima consisted of a natural bluff, plus a little wall, or so. It could take a 6.5 meter tsunami. Unsurprisingly, the tsunami was 15 meters. That was lucky. That same tsunami wave reached a height of 42 meters in other places. A 40 meter wave is pretty standard for the Richter 9, subduction quakes which bristle around the Pacific rim. Such wave heights, or even higher, can be generated by quakes ten times less powerful: this is not understood, but it is a fact.

There was an 8.8 Richer in Chili, on the same plate, less than a year before Fukushima got hit. The 1960 quake in Chili was 9.6 Richter, with various lethal foreshocks, including an 8.2 Richter quake. In California, the San Onofre nuclear reactors are on the beach, waiting for the tsunami, which will come some day. Someday soon.

A large indigenous tsunami in California will happen, all the more since it did not happen for a long time. The preceding giant tsunami at Fukushima was in the Ninth Century. Waves went at least 3 kilometers inland. There were a bunch of smaller ones in the meantime, including a three to six meter wave from the 1960 Chilean quake… A wave which killed about 150 Japanese, after crossing the entire Pacific ocean, in its greatest dimension.

A tsunami wave is not like a wave on a beach. The elevated part of a three meter wave on a beach may extent ten meter. A three meter tsunami wave can be elevated over 100 kilometers, as it approaches a shore. So the tsunami is a wave with 10,000 times the mass.

This what reality is made of. If the 42 meter wave had hit Fukushima, the six (6) reactors would have melted down and exploded right away. This is an important point. After the Richter 9 quake, the reactors were essentially undamaged and underwent successful emergency shut-down ("SCRAM"). Then the Fukushima reactors were only at 6% power, and cooled down by water circulation, thanks to the diesel reactors. 55 minutes later, the tsunami struck. The diesel failed. Cooling still went on with the emergency cooling from the "core isolation pumps", however that depended upon some batteries and some pumps, which failed within hours in unit1 and days in units 2 and 3.

After that the cores cracked, then caught fire, and partly melted, as temperatures reached half of that of the sun. Steam dissociated, into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen, released through pipes to alleviate pressure, built up in the building outside of the confinement zone and subsequently exploded (spectacular, but not important).

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PLANET GOING FUKUSHIMA:

It is a perfect planetary storm. The grotesque show at Fukushima is exemplary. A six year old could have picked up the grotesque mistakes: did you think about a tsunami? Why are the reactors so close? Why are the pools welded to the reactors? What if the pools drain?

Can we have such a large scale catastrophe, on a world scale? Driven by even more titanic stupidity and greed?

Of course. It is even on-going, and everybody knows it. It’s GLOBAL HEATING. OK, the frogs call it "Global Warming" at this point, and they croak. The frogs are happy. When the water warms up, just so, the frogs are content. But soon they will croak differently. The whole planet, in a sense, is a slow motion Fukushima.

When even the frogs discover that warming is turning to heating, it will have various consequences, including nuclear war. Global Heating is not just about quickly rising acid seas and desertification. It is also going to be about frogs fighting each other, to stay cool, to get to that cool place, over there. The irony of semantics…

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THE NUCLEAR BOMB AT CHERNOBYL:

When some ecologists rile against nuclear energy, the way they do it, they may as well rile against knives, or complexity. The devil is in the details. By ignoring the details, one ignores the devil.

A good example is Chernobyl. It was of course a terrible accident. Thousands of people died, although how many is not known, even up to four orders of magnitude.

Officially, it’s only a few thousands (some official reports ludicrously talk about only 6.000 excess thyroid cancers, and 16 deaths, mostly from contaminated milk).

However Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment [a 2007 Russian publication] finds, from medical records between 1986, the year of the accident, and 2004, 985,000 excess deaths from the radioactivity released, mostly in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Up to 800,000 "liquidators" from all over the USSR passed through the contaminated area to work at containing the radioactivity, for a short while, and it is not too clear what happened to them .

If they read that, simple ecologists of the primitive type will jump up and down, like excited monkeys, and howler that nuclear energy is bad, here is the proof! Instead, the correct analysis is that bad political systems can turn very deadly, thanks to modern technology. Chernobyl was a Soviet reactor, it was basically a military realization, and it was designed as the world’s largest fission bomb. All of this has to do with fascism, not energy.

So the real question is: what are the ecological simpletons going to do about fascism? Soon afterwards, and in part because Chernobyl had made obvious the limitations of fascism, Gorbachev discontinued the USSR.

The Chernobyl reactor was designed to become an exploding nuclear bomb, after losing its coolant (an insane idea, which ought to be totally unlawful, I readily admit). This is not caused by nuclear energy, or nuclear reactors in general, but because of this particular type of reactor, graphite-gaz. Also studied in France in the 1960s, before this drawback, known as a positive void coefficient, became a no-no. In a Chernobyl style reactor, the coolant is a reaction moderator; when it’s gone, the nuclear reactions grow and multiply, as the number of neutrons augment. In the type of reactors used in the West, a PWR, loss of coolant let neutrons go too fast to be captured, and the nuclear reaction stops.

Another design flaw at Chernobyl insured that if SCRAM was engaged, the nuclear reaction would augment dramatically . It was as if, when you engaged in desperate braking, first the accelerator would be floored. There were more drastic design flaws, such as making the reactor the more unstable, the less power it had (it’s so stupid, it’s hard to visualize).

In any case, operators, at one in the morning, deliberately put the Chernobyl reactor in a desperate situation, unable to cool, the same situation encountered at Fukushima several hours after the tsunami, several hours after the Fukushima reactors stopped in SCRAM. When the reactor started to become unstable, it jumped back to full power, and then many times that, overheated, in less than a minute. The operators engaged SCRAM, and the nuclear reaction accelerated exponentially, while the heat deformed and blocked the sedate descent of the nuclear reaction killing control bars (at a snail like 40 centimeters per second).

The Soviet reactor reached 33,000 Megawatts (!), and much more, steam blew its 2,000 ton lid. Steam had slowed down the nuclear reaction. With steam gone, the reactor went critical, or, otherwise said, became the largest fission bomb ever contrived. Within three seconds, a powerful nuclear explosion tore the machine, and reached the stratosphere.

OK, it was all insane. Well, so was the USSR. Want even more, much more, insane? Just look at Pakistan. You have apocalyptic religious types, their fingers itchy for the apocalypse, and they pray about it every day. Anybody caring about ecology, let alone peace, should worry about finding a solution to the Pakistan problem.

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PV IS THE FUTURE

The Obama administration is giving large subsidies for PhotoVoltaic panels (which still cannot compete with wind). Subsidies help to create an industry, and that is one thing a government can do. But as long as PhotoVoltaic does not compete in price with fossil fuels, we have a non sustainable situation. So the necessary thing, of course, is for the government to finance research (financing industry helps research only indirectly).

There is every reason to believe that PhotoVoltaic panels could extract energy from infrared radiation (as some labs claim to have achieved). Multifrequency PhotoVoltaics could operate all day long, and even at night (thus one could even argue that they would absorb the greenhouse…).

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NO ESCAPING NUCLEAR:

Could futuristic PhotoVoltaics allow us to escape both the greenhouse and nuclear energy? Not really. Avoiding nuclear is an illusion.

Our ancestors did not renounce carbon just because some hit others with sticks made of carbon. Instead they learned not to follow those who renounced wood. 

That’s how our ancestors have been, for so long, that most of us, if not all of us, are still like that. Those who claim differently are hypocrites. It’s enough to see Jose’ Bove’, famous for having destroyed a Mac Donald, smoking his pipe, a personal carbon burning thermal plant.

So why nuclear?

First, why progress?

Second, nuclear energy is not a choice the West is free not to do. Pakistan has piled up already 200 thermonuclear warheads, within easy reach of the crazed hands of those rendered mad by apocalyptic superstition, a literal reading of the Qur’an. So, except if we subdue Pakistan first, there will be nuclear war. It’s in their book(s).

Third, we have barely scratched the surface of nuclear energy: completely different technologies are imaginable (such as liquid Thorium reactors). They will not have the problems associated with present reactors. They should be very safe, and much more efficient. There is plenty of Thorium.

Fourth, we need energy, aplenty. At this point we cannot be sure that PV energy will do it all (as infrared PV is semi science fiction, and the cost and feasibility to extract electricity from all light not clear). The other non carbon energy schemes have drastic conceptual flaws, or are unproven. Whereas nuclear energy can be made safe, and is a proven massive energy source, productive by a factor of one million times more than any other energy source. So nuclear energy has to be developed, as a back-up. However, since the possibilities are mysterious and numerous, a lot of research has to be done (for example on liquid reactors). I don’t advocate a reactor in every kitchen.

Fifth, it seems that only nuclear rocket engines will allow to conquer space with more than robots. The other efficient candidate is ionic propulsion, but the engines are tiny, whereas giant rocket nuclear engines have already been tested (successfully). The idea is simply to have liquid hydrogen pass through a nuclear core, cooling it, and acquiring a much greater speed than from burning stuff. Nuclear propulsion would allow to go to planets in weeks rather than months, or years, and carry any burden, and go down any gravitational well. Simply that would be best done where one does not have to worry about adding radiation too much (space is already stuffed with radiation)… Nuclear tugs to take off from, and return to, low earth orbit maybe unavoidable, once serious space colonization starts (that word again!) Just my observation: visiting the moon with exalted twelfth century technology has already happened, but much more than that will not happen without nuclear energy.

Some have long scoffed about the conquest of space. They say that sheep shall own the earth, by eating the grass, true, so not to worry. But those sheep eat already too much grass, and wear too much cotton.

Indeed, there is no palatable choice. There are already too many of us doing too many things on a small place. Vast zones of the Solar System have resources we already desperately need, as we use one and half Earths right now, and extending a minimum of comfort to most of humanity will guarantee that we use several Earths worth, within a decade or two. Otherwise the most simplistic ecologists can go and make war on 6 billion people to prevent them to consume commensurately with what they do. I would rather make war on simpletons.

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Conclusion: The stupidity of experts can be quasi infinite. Nuclear industry has been most helpful to reveal this without causing a holocaust (yet). Seeing a nuclear plant dominated by a wave, as happened at Fukushima, should become an iconic depiction of dementia by expertise. Workers were killed by the wave in the turbine hall of unit 4.

Modern physics is all about minimizing a term called the action, which depicts energy, submitted to some constraints empirically determined.

That activity does not differ fundamentally from what humanity has to do in a democratic fashion as it determines its energy choices. Insisting on that situation is another way of calling attention to the high complexity of the situation humanity, and its leaders, are faced with. Cries from the heart, although they have to be included in all and any computation, cannot be the policy, they can only be what gets it to move.

People screaming that they are green can completely overdo it. Hitler was importantly supported by oil companies. As was his good friend Mussolini, who ended hanging out at an ESSO gas station, by the feet, in a discrete allusion to that fact. However, the Nazis were ecological fanatics. This is no coincidence, a subjacent syndrome lurks below: love beast, not man, so turn man into beast. That is a danger, a temptation, and so is selfishness; rich countries cannot ask people who use a tenth, or less, of the energy, to go ecological while they mount a huge plane because they need to visit a tropical beach in the middle of winter, for a few days, instead of just watching said beach on TV inside their warm bed, under bright lights.

Historically, it has taken 50 years to deploy a new energy system. This time, we don’t have that time: we are past peak oil (as long as one does not count crazy oil, which desperate oil companies find in the formerly glaciated regions, and very deep under the oceans, or in extremely polluting oil sands, or shale oil). We need algae oil now. Big time. Diverting subsidies to anti-ecological corn ethanol is worse than a waste (as much corn for car is now produced in the USA as for feeding livestock).

The European Middle Ages turned nasty around 1320 CE, after an exploding population ran out of fuel and building materials, which, at the time, were both made from wood.

It was not by dearth of the ecologically correct. The economy had to be sustainable, or die. Windmills and water mills were all over (in 1080 CE, England by itself had 6,000 watermills, and the Alps, much more). But that ecological correctness did not make a dent. The forests shrank too much. Haitian style soil destruction ensued. Plague, and many centuries of war, followed soon after. Within 30 years, perhaps more than half of the European population was dead. Not an example to emulate.

Now of course the late Middle Age catastrophe had many causes, and, ultimately, the major governments acted well. The European governments took drastic ecological measures, of the fascist type, including the forceful evacuation of entire regions. We also have to take drastic measures, and we have much more leeway to do so efficiently. But that depends upon not ducking reality.

We sink, therefore we duck, say all too many ecologists. We duck, therefore we sink, observe many pacifists, and they croak. Time to stop ducking reality, folks, if you mean it. Those who claim to want progress should learn to love the details, philosophically, and technologically.

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Patrice Ayme

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4 Responses to “ENERGETIC REALISM.”

  1. MC Says:

    Nice essay. Energy is the key I agree. And rhyme.

    We in the west are so used to floating in a sea of cheap energy that we deny the fact that the plug on the pool was pulled many years ago and the pool is getting very shallow.

    Undeveloped countries understand what it’s like to live on tiny amounts of energy.

    When I go backpacking the gasoline that I carry for a week weighs about a pound and boils many, many liters of water to hydrate and heat drinks and freeze dried food for 2-3 people ( I think I calculated about 50 liters of boiled water from less than a liter of gasoline. When you depend on a small amount of fuel for 5-7 days it’s shocking how much energy is in fossil fuels. I have great respect for it, and can’t stand wasting it. It’s really a miraculous product.

    Most everyone just takes it for granted. When it runs out, it’s going to get very ugly.

    Merrill

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks for liking my essay, Merrill!
      I made enemies recently for suggesting to remove Kadhafi and rising taxes… Funny, but taxes are the number one way of modifying behavior, short of an outright revolution. Incantations from ecologists will not change anything, they just like to group up an chant together, in a pre-fascistic ritual. But taxes would.
      A tribunal just decided in Switzerland to bury high tension wires, wherever they attack the esthetics of the landscape; that will bring much economic activity, and will reduce losses.

      Yes, we are used to a sea of cheap energy, but there is every reason to believe it will NOT last, except for radical discoveries and their successful implementations… Gasoline is indeed a miraculous product. it would be difficult to do those long treks without it. Rubbing wood to make fire at 10,000 feet seems challenging…. We are far from those 3,000 degrees Celsius at Fukushima….

      Funny thing, as I mentionned, fuel from algae is correct in ALL ways, except requiring vast capital to be deployed massively. It’s a form of solar energy actually. So, in a sense, we have the solution. It’s not implemented because of vested interests.

      Otherwise, well, it’s already ugly, and going to get worse, indeed!
      PA

      Like

  2. Jeff McG Says:

    Wed, Aug 24, 2011 4:36 am
    Energetic Realism: GE mega-augments uranium enrichment

    Patrice,

    If you were hoping the nuclear power industry would pause, take a deep breath and do some serious re-evaluations of the safety of its reactors worldwide, especially with an eye toward shutting down older, relatively unsafe ones, think again. While GE’s Mark I reactors were melting down at Fukushima, the company, which has said it has no legal liability whatsoever for the design of these reactors, was already investing in more uranium enrichment capacity.

    Yesterday a news item said that GE has invested $1 billion in a new uranium enrichment plant that can produce enough fuel for 60 reactors.

    Jeff

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    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Jeff,

      Yes, well. Boiling water, first generation reactors in Japan with secure emergency generators survived the tsunami. The reactors at Fukushima had not. And were supposed to resist to a maximum of 5.5 meters tsunami. They got 16 meters. Power cables were cut, generators destroyed. All avoidable, easily. The Jap gov ought to have forced the utility to complete the work (as was done elsewhere, as I said). Tsunami evidence was found, decades after GE had completed the work.

      Avoiding greenhouse heating and CO2 poisoning will not be easy. Merkel’s plans are lamentable. Let see what Germans think of them when they have to evacuate areas next to the sea, or build polders.

      Eschewing nuclear energy is as clever as eschewing fire, 2 million years ago: after all chewing meat and avoiding cold climate were two alternatives. New nuclear tech ought to be evolved, of course.
      PA

      Like

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