Monday, March 24, 2008

Should Nuclear Power Enable Our Lifestyles?

Some folks see nuclear power as a great solution to the global warming / fossil fuel problem. It can be viewed as a convenient source of energy that doesn't emit CO2 gas into the atmosphere and also doesn't rely on declining fossil fuel resources.
Continued below.

Power lines near Enterprise, Oregon. Seen on my 2001 bike tour.

I often find my radio tuning to Bill Wattenburg (actually I'm tuning it myself). He's a weekend talk show host on KGO in San Francisco who often speaks the virtues of nuclear power in getting us out of our fossil fuel jam.
* KGO can be heard all up and down the west coast at night via ionospheric AM radio skip It's also on the web.

Sure, there's solar energy, wind power and some other "more idealistic" sources, but it seems like quite a few people feel that these things are not convenient enough to provide the vast amount of energy needed in our civilization; at least in the near future. Nuclear is already providing much of the electricity used in France, for instance.

I'm not against nuclear and I think it's likely to be part of the solution. On the other hand, here is a question I have been pondering.

"Is it better to fly across America in a jet plane, or ride your bicycle across America?"

Think about it for a bit. Fly across, or bicycle across?

Basically, there really isn't an absolute answer to this question.

It's better to fly across, if one is in a hurry and needs to get to the east coast with-in a few days to attend a wedding for instance.

On the other hand, what if someone wants to sample home cooking at various cafes all across Montana and North Dakota? Then the bicycle might be better. What if one is wishing to be in shape and fight the propensity toward obesity? What if one wants to take lots of pictures? What if one wants to have a good excuse to take several months break from the job routine?

I can think of a lot of reasons to favor bicycling. Still, I'll admit that the bicycle is a big part of my lifestyle. It wouldn't be the answer for everyone, nor probably most of the commerce that runs this society.

Still, much of this society seems like a rat race to me and it can be said that faster isn't necessarily always better.

It's time to have an honest dialog about many of the cultural assumptions we make. Is more consumption always better?

I know many folks who will say, "taking the train is better than flying, driving or bicycling."

Yes, I took the train home after bicycling across USA. Met many interesting people. Train is great for social life.

Continued below.

Spring budding along Interurban trail south of Bellingham.

The nuclear power debate is a good context to bring up these questions about our culture of speed and consumption because there are a lot of people who have trouble stomaching the idea of nuclear power.

There seems to be no magic answer where we can continue the consumptive culture with no lifestyle change, but at the same time, refuse to use technological means, such as nuclear energy, to power that culture.

Remember, solar is "technology also." I'm thinking about some friends who say there can't be a "technology fix."

So, how about a lifestyle fix? Are these friends addicted to their cars?

There's an old phrase that goes, "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

Now you might be asking, "how can nuclear power run an airplane?"

There are several answers to that question as well. One being that nuclear could produce a lot of our electricity, rather than coal; thus freeing up more fossil fuel capacity (both in the atmosphere and the ground) to keep the planes running for a while at least. Keep things going for the next few decades.

Also, electricity can power vehicles directly (maybe not aircraft now days at least).

Hydrogen fuel can be made from an abundant source of power, such as nuclear. This can be a non carbon fuel for vehicles and aircraft.

Sure, I think wind, solar and other idealistic "green" technologies can offer more promise than some of the advocates of nuclear might be willing to admit; especially in the somewhat more distant future. On the other hand, it seems like nuclear will be part of the mix. A dialog about lifestyles and culture needs to be part of the mix as well.

Do we really need to live in such a fast paced, consumptive society? I hate to be dogmatic and say, "bicycling is better," but I think bicycling can play a bigger part of the mix. Also downsizing. Smaller houses, more compact neighborhoods, even shorter workweeks, less consumption, more quality social life and family time.

Many years ago, I heard another radio personality, Paul Harvey, speak disparaging about a possible future of "bearded bicyclists" versus the promise of some energy company.

I'm not too much of an alarmist against energy production, but show me where the bearded bicyclists are. I think they're sexy.

Worse fates can befall our society. I like slender cyclists, bearded or not.

Speaking of lifestyles and sexuality, let's not forget, reducing population growth. That's a big part of the equation that so often gets overlooked.

So many issues are interconnected, it's impossible for me to use compartmental thinking.

Solutions can come from quite a few different directions such as technology, but also cultural change.

Speaking of technology, radio is one of the more efficient things out there. KGO's signal, that brings me Bill Wattenburg's discussion of nuclear power, is 50,000 watts. At night (thanks to ionospheric skip) 50,000 watts can blanket the entire west coast of this nation. When I do the math and convert this to horsepower, 50,000 watts equals less horsepower than a lot of your average automobile engines.

Continued below.

Radio is an old example of very efficient technology.

In this age of changing technologies, how much energy does day to day commerce require?

Think about it for a while.


moneythoughts said...

Hi Robert,

I was just checking out people interested in economics and came across your blog.

I write and paint. Take a look at my blog, I think you might find it of interest.


Red Craig said...

I liked your article and the way you're laying out the choices. But I think the situation is more stark than you do. It's not a choice between changing lifestyles and using nuclear energy. By my arithmetic, it will take some serious changes in lifestyle and all the nuclear plants we can build and all the renewable energy we can manage plus very ambitious conservation in order to minimize the harmful effects of global warming.

Think about it. We have to change all the fossil-fired power plants to non-fossil sources and generate enough energy to displace all the motor fuels we're burning. Even that won't do it; we have to change farming practices to minimize greenhouse-gas emissions, too.