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Solving Energy Shortages without Nuclear Power:
Three Easy Rules

John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D., CNR Chairman
Egan O'Connor, CNR Executive Director; April 2001





  • Part 1 -- Three Easily Remembered Rules
  • Part 2 -- Energy Efficiency (EE): A Huge "Supply"
  • Part 3 -- Uncalculated Benefits of Energy Efficiency
  • Part 4 -- Solar Energy: How Big Is This Renewable Supply?
  • Part 5 -- Tapping Solar Energy, on Its Way Back to Space
  • Part 6 -- Are Solar Technologies Still Too Expensive?
  • Part 7 -- Storage of Solar Energy: The Hydrogen Economy
  • Part 8 -- Nuclear Power: The Ultimate Selfishness
 

*  Part 1.  Three Easily Remembered Rules

      *  The three main arguments against nuclear electricity are even stronger now than they were 30 years ago, when CNR began putting them forth. This very short summary, with some updated resources, will be handy during the new effort to revive nuke-power.

Rule One:  Rely on energy efficiency.
Rule Two:  Rely on the various solar-energy technologies.
Rule Three: 

Never choose nuke-plants, which inevitably create radioactive poisons which threaten 40+ generations.

 

*  Part 2.  Energy Efficiency (EE): A Huge "Supply"

      *  Priority belongs on actions which increase the efficiency with which humans use energy. When we use two units of energy to achieve the same benefit we could have achieved by using just one unit, we are in effect throwing away half of the energy for which we pay.

      *  How big a dent can Energy Efficiency make in the need for new supplies?

      *  "It is typically cost-effective to save at least half the energy used in a factory or home, and much larger savings are often possible," assert Amory and Hunter Lovins in the May 2000 issue of Green at Work (www.greenatworkmag.com). Amory and Hunter Lovins founded the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado (www.rmi.org; Tel 970-927-3851), which offers numerous publications on the economics and practicalities of improving Energy Efficiency. Their expertise is world-recognized.

      *  Another source of practical information is the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in Washington, DC (www.aceee.org; Tel 202-429-0063). ACEEE's motto is "Economic prosperity and a cleaner environment through energy efficiency." It has an extensive catalog of publications describing the demonstrated benefits (not wishful thinking) of Energy Efficiency in vehicles, homes, larger buildings, home appliances, industrial motors, factories, etc.

 

*  Part 3.  Uncalculated Benefits of Energy Efficiency

      *  Improvements in Energy Efficiency (e.g., home insulation) require resources, of course --- including money (and interest not earned on the cash) and energy to "build" such improvements. But exactly the same is true for "building" any new supply of fossil fuels, nuke-plants, or solar technologies. When it costs no more to save an energy-unit than to increase the supply by one unit, the obvious choice should be Energy Efficiency, because EE delivers important additional benefits. What are they?

      *  Less Pollution. Measures to increase EE are generally less polluting than the procurement and burning of new energy supplies.

      *  Reliable Supply. Energy Efficiency takes place in a decentralized fashion, "on-site" in homes, workplaces, and vehicles. Thus, Energy Efficiency provides the equivalent of new supply without costly, very long-distance transmission wires and pipelines which are vulnerable to storms, earthquakes, or acts of sabotage.

      *  No Rising Energy Costs. Every choice to save a unit of energy, instead of throwing it away by inefficient use, protects the choosers from future price increases (and price manipulations) on each energy-unit they choose to save.

 

*  Part 4.  Solar Energy: How Big Is This Renewable Supply?

      *  How big a dent can solar energy make in the need for new fossil-fuel supplies and nuke-plants?

      *  Farrington Daniels, the late great chemist and author of Direct Use of the Sun's Energy (Yale U. Press, 1964), wrote in 1970: "Solar energy is amply adequate for all the conceivable energy needs of the world. It is harmless and certain to work."

      *  Sir George Porter, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, stated in the 1970s: "I have no doubt that we will be successful in harnessing the sun's energy . . . If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago."

      *  Leon Gaucher wrote in the National Petroleum Institute's 1972 "US Energy Outlook" document: "Had it not been for an abundance of fossil fuels . . . we might today have a `solar energy economy' just as effective and efficient as our `fossil fuel economy.'"

      *  Shell Oil Company states in a March 2001 TV Ad: Fossil fuels alone are not the solution. Over half of our energy can come from solar energy.

 

*  Part 5.  Tapping Solar Energy, on Its Way Back to Space

      *  Solar energy becomes manifest in many natural forms: Wind, lightning, heat, visible light, photo-synthetic products (plants), falling water, waves, ocean currents, temperature differences in ocean layers, etc. Solar technologies are devices to turn these forms into fuels, electric power, and heat or motion where we need it. Among such devices (ancient and modern) are water-wheels and grindstones, windmills and windturbines, woodstoves, greenhouses, photo-voltaic electric cells, low-temperature vapor turbines, etc.

      *  In the September 1971 issue of Scientific American, Dr. M. King Hubbert explained what happens to the solar energy arriving on earth. These are his estimates:

      *  Solar technologies enable humans to tap into the enormous solar energy supply, as it passes through the ecosphere on its way back into space. Information on solar technologies is available from an especially interesting book, Charging Ahead: The Business of Renewable Energy by John J. Berger, 1997; ISBN 0-8050-3771-3. Also: American Solar Energy Society, (www.ases.org; Tel 303-443-3130), and American Wind Energy Association (www.awea.org; Tel 202-383-2500).

 

*  Part 6.  Are Solar Technologies Still Too Expensive?

      *  In many U.S. locations, several solar technologies (windturbines, photo-voltaic electric cells, solar heat for buildings) were already cost-competitive with fossil fuels and nuke power, even before the recent price increases in fuel and electrical power. Other solar technologies, which were close to cost-competitive in 2000, would be cheaper now than fossil fuels and new nukes in many locations.

      *  Windpower in Europe already generates as much electricity as would nine new 1,000 megawatt (electrical) nuke-plants. Cost of windturbines continues to drop. Some large birds have been killed by their turning blades, so the newest turbines have blades which rotate very slowly. In the USA, windfarms and windranches are sprouting from Pennsylvania to the West Coast. Farming and ranching continue among the wind-towers. Leasing space for the towers is starting to save family farms.

      *  Federal and state governments could accelerate a mass-market (and thus falling prices) for solar technologies by deciding to use such technologies themselves.

      *  In order for Solar Technologies to completely replace fossil fuels and nuke-power, the costs of storing solar energy must be realistically acknowledged --- and so must the economic benefits of solar energy for a healthy population and environment.

 

*  Part 7.  Storage of Solar Energy: The Hydrogen Economy

      *  It is no mystery, how to store solar energy (when sunlight is absent or low, or the wind is blowing too lightly or too strongly). For instance, solar-generated electricity can be used to compress air (in France, Zero Pollution Motors has started manufacturing a car which can travel 120 miles on a tank of compressed air), to wind-up flywheels, to pump water to a higher location (to fall through a turbine later), or to split water into oxygen gas and hydrogen gas.

      *  When fuel cells recombine hydrogen with oxygen, the cell produces electric power whenever (and wherever) needed. The only emission from hydrogen fuel cells is water. Fuel cells are a technology which has been performing for decades on our manned space flights.

      *  Hydrogen gas can also be used directly, as a fuel to replace natural gas and oil. When it burns, the only product is water. A Japanese-Israeli-German team, led by Stuart Licht, has made a major cost-reduction in solar-energy generated hydrogen gas, according to Science News Vol.158, Sept. 16, 2000. The team's new design of photo-voltaic (PV) electric cells converts sunlight, with 18% efficiency, directly to electric current having the ideal voltage for splitting water. The current creates hydrogen by passing through acidic water. The new PV cell may have made hydrogen commercially competitive, even before natural gas prices rose. Moreover, the breakthrough indicates that 31% efficiency is probably possible, reducing cost per unit of hydrogen gas even more.

 

*  Part 8.  Nuclear Power: The Ultimate Selfishness

      *  The hydrogen economy, with the hydrogen provided by various types of solar technologies, can liberate the planet both from production of more radioactive poisons by nuke-plants and from the greenhouse gases and other pollutants produced by fossil fuels. The USA could commit itself to the hydrogen economy now, for the sake of health, the environment, national security, and abolition of wars over oil. The fuel of responsible civilizations will be renewable solar-generated hydrogen gas.

      *  Compare a commitment now to a solar-based hydrogen economy, with a commitment to building more nuke-plants.

      *  During each year of operation, a 1,000 megawatt (electrical) nuke-plant --- no matter how "advanced" its design --- produces as much long-lived radioactive poison as does the explosion of about 1,000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs. The electricity is used immediately, but some of the poison remains radioactive for well over a thousand years --- more than 40 generations. Radioactive atoms emit ionizing radiation as they decay.

      *  Evidence from the past 30 years establishes (a) that exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation is considerably worse for health than we knew in 1970, and (b) that the danger is proportional to dose, right down to zero dose. Of course, neither radioactive nor non-radioactive poisons hurt anyone or anything if they are perfectly isolated (contained).

      *  Catastrophic radioactive releases from "advanced" nuke-plants, according to their advocates, are impossible. New designs surely have improvements over the old designs, but can any design defeat the actions of an insider terrorist? Claims, that "advanced" nuke-plants are inherently safe, merit no credence until their proponents show that they believe their own claims. If they do, they would openly beg Congress to exempt every "advanced" nuke-plant from the law (the Price-Anderson Act) which protects the nuke industry from full liability for catastrophic radioactive releases.

      *  In any case, sudden catastrophic releases are a threat limited to a few decades of operation. The real problem endures for over 1,000 years. About 400 nuke-plants now operate worldwide (100 in the USA). Permission to operate a few additional nuke-plants might appear like a minor issue. But if ten new nuke-plants each operate for at least 30 years, they would commit posterity to isolating (containing) additional radioactive poisons equivalent to the long-lived poisons produced by exploding 300,000 Hiroshima-bombs: 1,000 bombs/year per plant * 10 plants * 30 years. The poison generated by just ten plants would be about 20 times more than all the long-lived radioactive fallout from all the atmospheric nuclear bomb-tests conducted by the US, UK, and USSR combined (about 13,000 Hiroshima equivalents; based on Radioactive Heaven and Earth, 1991, ISBN 1-85649-021-1, p.35).

      *  Each additional nuke-plant of any design inevitably increases the legacy of radioactive poison --- to threaten posterity for at least 40 generations. This fact was and remains enough to make nuke-plants unacceptable --- the ultimate selfishness. Ethics aside, it is clear that nuke-plants were not necessary in the past, and will not be necessary in the future. Case closed.


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