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Nuclear Energy - The Power to Save The World?

Last night Long Now Foundation has presented a seminar of the title Power to Save the World by Gwyneth Cravens and Rip Anderson. To summary its theme in one sentence - nuclear fuel is THE magic fuel that will save the world from destruction.

With the looming risk of global climate change, nuclear power is making a come back. It is the only power source that can generate significant power today with minimal green house gas emission. Note that this isn't an energy corporation wolf in sheep's clothing trying to push their agenda. This idea is advanced by many conscientious people and environmentalists, after weighting the risk and benefit, have considered nuclear power is preferable to burning coal and the risk of global climate change. This position also pit them against other unconvinced environmentalists.

There isn't many earth shattering new data coming from the seminar. It is more of revisiting many fact and data that I already know that force me to reconsider my opinion. Uranium is a highly concentrated fuel. Very little of them can generate great deal of power. Coal is horrendous. Besides the green house gas emission, burning coal throws out tons of toxic waste, including mercury and some uranium. It is responsible for serious pollution and a great number of fatalities each year. And we have to consume tons and tons of coal to fuel our energy need.

What about the danger? What about the Chernobyl disaster? They are quick to point out Chernobyl has serious design flaws and was not enclosed in a concrete containment shell as any nuclear reactor should have. The only other incident in the 50 years of history of nuclear power generation is the Three Mile Island accident, which resulted in no deaths or injuries.

Of course I don't just take his word for granted. The April 2006 issue of National Geographic ran a story on the Chernobyl disaster on its 20th anniversary. From the article I can validated the direct death toll was in the tens, much lower than people have feared. It was a catastrophe nonetheless. But it is a catastrophe those extent has now been understood. On the other hand, global climate change is an unknown risk. What will happen if the ocean stop acting as a carbon sink one day? It could be a catastrophe of epic proportions. It is actually comforting to understand a worst case scenario than to face some unknow risk.

Long Now foundation has many stellar presenters in the past. Gwyneth and Rip are rather old school in comparison. They talk slowly and has few climax or punch line interspersed. The lack of style is more than made up by substances. Moreover Rip has used an excellent parable in his closing, which I will retell here.

Once upon a time the river has flooded and threatened a village. There was an old man remain in his house. Police has came to his house and asked, "Do you want to leave in our car?". The old man refused and said "No I am not leaving in the car. God is going to save me." Later the water has flooded the streets. A rescue team on a boat has came to his house and asked, "Do you want to leave in our boat?" The old man has again refused and said "No, I am not leaving in the boat. God is going to save me." Later water level has raised even more and the old man was stranded on the roof. A helicopter has came to his house and asked, "Do you want to leave with us by the helicopter?" The old man has again refused and said, "No, I'm not leaving by the helicopter. God is going to save me". So the water keep rising and the man was finally drowned.
Upon his judgement day the old man asked "My Lord, I have believed in you all my life. Why didn't you come to save me?" The God said "I have seen you stranded and I have sent a car, a boat and a helicopter to rescue you. What more do you want me to do?"

Rip then asked, now we have found fuel that contains a lot of energy, emit no green house gas and has a deposits large enough to last well into the future. What more are people looking for?

2007.09.15 [] - comments

 

 

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