Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lovelock Quote

I rather like this quote from James Lovelock, who earned his radical environmentalist credentials when he originally proposed the Gaia Hypothesis:
An outstanding advantage of nuclear over fossil fuel energy is how easy it is to deal with the waste it produces. Fossil fuel burning produces twenty-seven thousand million tons of carbon dioxide yearly. This is enough ifsolidified to make a mountain nearly two kilometers high and with a base ten kilometers in circumference. The same quantity of energy if it came from nuclear reactions would make fourteen thousand tons of high level waste. A quantity that occupies a sixteen metre sided cube.
I haven't checked his math, and I am not entirely sure he is accurate. I think he is assuming French or Japanese reactors powering the world not American ones. They use reprocessing which results in only 4% of the waste we produce. Still, that is viable technology and we certainly could run the world off of it.

I also just had a particularly good argument for nuclear power enter my head. Environmentalists often claim we only have a few decades worth of Uranium remaining. This is used as proof that it is a waste of time to dramatically increase our use of nuclear power. However if true it would also make an amazing argument on why we should be using nuclear power. By definition any fuel that can power a nuclear bomb can also power a nuclear reactor. If we could burn up all our fissionable isotopes in reactors than the world could be freed from the risk of nuclear weapons.

Now that people know it is possible to build nuclear weapons it will never be possible to put the cat back in the bag. With the knowledge that it is possible to build a nuclear weapon a hundred or so scientists with reasonable funding and access to materials could at least construct a small nuclear weapon. The only way to perminantly protect from this is to burn up all of the potential fuel for such bombs in civilian nuclear reactors.

This idea suffers a fatal flaw since there is so much Thorium and Uranium 238 that it will take tens of thousands of years to burn all of the fuel. However I suspect anyone who truely believes that we are running out of fuel for nuclear reactors, and among environmental groups these types appear to be common, would agree that the world would be better off if we burned up all possible fuel for bombs and stored the radioactive waste deep underground. The threat of nuclear waste is far less than the threat of nuclear bombs.

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