Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclear power for cars

As fossil fuels lead to global warming, I remember thinking that nuclear power may make a comeback as more vehicles go toward using electricity. For the electric car, the power has to be generated somewhere.

The disaster in Japan is likely to put a chill on future expansion of the nuclear power option. That leaves us with other choices such as solar power and wind farms. In many ways, solar is ideal, but it's fairly hard to collect thus making it somewhat expensive. Similar problem with wind power.

There's also the T Bone Pickens plan to use natural gas in vehicles. It's cleaner than oil based gasoline from a global warming standpoint, but still a global warming fuel. I once heard that natural gas is about 40% cleaner than oil when it comes to greenhouse emissions. Maybe my figures aren't exact, but ballpark idea.

Looks like we may have to adjust the economy to the reality of more expensive energy. The automobile is one of our biggest energy hogs so switching it over to electricity may be problematic. That's one of the reasons why I've kept advocating bicycling, walking and public transit. Making our residences more compact, rather than sprawling countryside living. Having jobs and errands within walking distance of at least the bus line is a great way to plan.

Ironically, we may have to live more like the Japanese. Use less energy per capita and rely more on public transit. One reason why Japan uses a lot of nuclear power is the fact that they don't have much domestic energy. They have to import just about all their fossil fuel.

The US started out as a large oil provider and built it's infrastructure around cheap gasoline. Now the US must import most of it's oil as well. The US is sometimes still called the "Saudi Arabia of coal." We could go back to burning coal and then generating electricity to switch gasoline running cars to coal; I mean electricity.

Someone wrote to my blog once calling electric cars "coal cars."

Maybe the greenhouse gas from coal can still be sequestered into the ground, rather than spewed into the atmosphere, but that ads to the cost of energy also; if the technology even becomes available.

Nuclear is still an option and the newer designed nuclear plants would be a lot safer than the older technology. I read that the plant in Japan that's having problems was built in 1971. Safety technology has come along way since then, but nuclear would be a hard sell.

We may just have to figure out how to have an economy that is less dependent on cheap energy. Ironically, like the Japanese who have been used to living on an island with little fossil fuel resources, we may have to rely more on public transit, walking and bicycling to combat global warming; rather than some magic "electric car" fix. Learn to build our suburban areas more compact. Live in smaller and better insulated homes. More of us live in apartments. My brother doesn't live in an apartment, but he does have solar panels on his roof. Gets a large part of his electricity from the sun.

Technology can still create magic, but it needs to be more "low energy per capita" style of magic. We should think about the advent of light emitting diodes, for instance.

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