Saturday, March 22, 2008

Energy for the Future?

When even the New York Times runs a negative article on ethanol, you know that people are starting to discover the scam.
MOUNDVILLE, Ala. — After residents of the Riverbend Farms subdivision noticed that an oily, fetid substance had begun fouling the Black Warrior River, which runs through their backyards, Mark Storey, a retired petroleum plant worker, hopped into his boat to follow it upstream to its source.

Nelson Brooke, the executive director of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, walked along an area of the river near Moundville, Ala.

Oil and grease from a biodiesel plant had been released.

It turned out to be an old chemical factory that had been converted into Alabama’s first biodiesel plant, a refinery that intended to turn soybean oil into earth-friendly fuel.

“I’m all for the plant,” Mr. Storey said. “But I was really amazed that a plant like that would produce anything that could get into the river without taking the necessary precautions.”

But the oily sheen on the water returned again and again, and a laboratory analysis of a sample taken in March 2007 revealed that the ribbon of oil and grease being released by the plant — it resembled Italian salad dressing — was 450 times higher than permit levels typically allow, and that it had drifted at least two miles downstream.

The spills, at the Alabama Biodiesel Corporation plant outside this city about 17 miles from Tuscaloosa, are similar to others that have come from biofuel plants in the Midwest. The discharges, which can be hazardous to birds and fish, have many people scratching their heads over the seeming incongruity of pollution from an industry that sells products with the promise of blue skies and clear streams.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” said Barbara Lynch, who supervises environmental compliance inspectors for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “This is big business. There’s a lot of money involved.”
So let's review. Food prices are rising because so much of our food crop is being diverted to biofuels. The government takes on more debt and skews the market due to subsidies to biofuel producers because biofuels can't compete on their own in the free market. The natural landscape of our county is damaged in order to plant more crops to be turned into biofuel. There is more environmental damage. And now we have to deal with pollution from biofuel plants?

On the other hand, there is the energy source that dares not speak its name: nuclear.
The fear mongers would have us run screaming at the mere mention of the word with thoughts of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and The China Syndrome colliding in our minds. However,
Consider: At an average 1,000 megawatt coal plant, a train with 110 railroad cars, each loaded with 20 tons of coal, arrives every five days. Each carload will provide 20 minutes of electricity. When burned, one ton of coal will throw three tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We now burn 1 billion tons of coal a year—up from 500 million tons in 1976. This coal produces 40 percent of our greenhouse gases and 20 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.

By contrast, consider a 1000 megawatt nuclear reactor. Every two years a fleet of flatbed trucks pulls up to the reactor to deliver a load of fuel rods. These rods are only mildly radio-active and can be handled with gloves. They will be loaded into the reactor, where they will remain for six years (only one-third of the rods are replaced at each refueling). The replaced rods will be removed and transferred to a storage pool inside the containment structure, where they can remain indefinitely (three feet of water blocks the radiation). There is no exhaust, no carbon emissions, no sulfur sludge to be carted away hourly and heaped into vast dumps. There is no release into the environment. The fuel rods come out looking exactly as they did going in, except that they are now more highly radioactive. There is no air pollution, no water pollution, and no ground pollution.
You should especially read about the objections to nuclear energy.
Another objection to nuclear power is the supposed waste it produces. But this is a mischaracterization. A spent fuel rod is 95 percent U-238. This is the same material we can find in a shovel full of dirt from our back yards. Of the remaining five percent, most is useful, but small amounts should probably be placed in a repository such as Yucca Mountain. The useful parts—uranium-235 and plutonium (a manmade element produced from U-238)—can be recycled as fuel. In fact, we are currently recycling plutonium from Russian nuclear missiles. Of the 20 percent of our power that comes from nuclear sources, half is produced from recycled Russian bombs. Many of the remaining isotopes are useful in industry or radiological medicine—now used in 40 percent of all medical procedures. It is only cesium-137 and strontium-90, which have half-lives of 28 and 30 years, respectively, that need to be stored in protective areas.
Environmentalist fear mongers are hoping that no one look into their claims. They get angry when people do. And over the past few generations they've conditioned a docile public to accept their semi-regular pronouncements of doom, and to panic every time a new prediction of death and destruction is brought forth. It doesn't matter that all of the past predictions of a falling sky have proven false. We are trained to forget the past. This one, this time, they assure us, is the real thing. They have computer models to prove it. And they have propaganda campaigns to shut down their critics. Are they part of the global Jihad? They do seem to have the same end, the destruction of Western Civilization. But rather than a seventh century caliphate as their utopia, they yearn for the fantasy past of the noble savage, when people lived at peace with their neighbors and in harmony with the Earth. Only someone who truly has forgotten or never studied the past can believe in either one of those fantasies.

Both the Islamic fantasy and the environmental fantasy have to be stopped because unfortunately we live in the real world.

UPDATE: Here is a great piece on the connection between biofuels and famine.

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