The Future’s so Bright, I’ve Got to Wear Lead
by David Glenn Cox
(I first published this article a little more than a year ago and when I came across it today it seemed more relevant than ever)
The third Bush/McCain term courses on like a runaway, coal-fired steam train. Mr. Obama, CEO of Gopasskiss, Incorporated, formally known as the United States of America, has announced that Gopasskiss, formally USA, will offer up $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to build two new nuclear power plants in Georgia. This was the centerpiece in John McCain’s energy strategy. McCain wanted to build 45 new nuclear plants. McCain claimed to be a supporter of the free marketplace, as does CEO Obama, so why is Gopasskiss subsidizing the free market nuclear power industry? Why at a time of massive budget deficit, when the United States Senate can only come up with $15 billion for the unemployed, can they so quickly come up with $8.3 billion for two small plants in Georgia?
In Norway they are using a different approach; plans were recently announced to build the world’s largest wind turbine. The turbine will have a rotor diameter of 475 feet and produce ten megawatts of electricity, or enough for 2,000 homes. This will be a new generation turbine with reduced weight and fewer moving parts. The prototype will be built at a cost of $23 million and tested for two years before going into full production. So for the cost of Gopasskiss, Inc.’s nuclear monstrosity we could build 415 state-of-the-art wind turbines generating enough electricity for 830,000 homes. No nuclear waste problem, no terrorist security problem, no fears of meltdowns or nuclear contamination.
In Britain, business Secretary John Hutton announced in 2007 a plan by European energy leaders to dot the British Isles with over seven thousand wind turbines. Enough, Hutton says, to light every home in the UK with green electricity by 2020.
“Our traditional sources of North Sea energy – although still hugely important, are declining,” Hutton said to a group of European energy industry leaders. The UK produced 1.87 million barrels of oil per day in 2005, mostly from offshore drilling; by 2009 that’s expected to fall to 1.38 million barrels per day. “It’s time we sourced more energy from our abundant natural resources – sea and wind,” Hutton said. Haven’t they read the memo from Gopasskiss? Nukes are the way to go, with lots of super expensive technology and government subsidies that guarantee profits a future so bright that you gotta wear lead!
In Europe a consortium of 12 large companies are working on the Desertec Industrial Initiative. Their goal is to build a massive solar power plant in the Sahara Desert. The amount of solar energy in the Sahara Desert is so large that a plant measuring 90,000 square kilometers could produce enough electricity for the entire world from a tiny speck in a desert that covers 9 million square miles. Low-tech collectors would collect solar heat, which would be converted to steam to turn turbines to generate electricity. No atomic piles or nuclear regulators, no spent fuel rods or high tech security barriers. Heat makes steam, steam makes electricity. Desertec estimates that a 250 Mega-watt plant, with a salt storage capability allowing the plant to run for up to seven hours after sunset, will cost around $2 billion. It will, however, run almost forever and will never need fuel, as similar plants set up in the Mojave Desert during the Carter administration are still running with almost zero maintenance.
The tiny island of Samso in Denmark began 12 years ago investing in ten wind turbines at a cost of $4.4 million dollars each. The wind turbines belong to the islanders themselves and investors recouped their investment in only four years. Before the wind turbines Samso received regular deliveries of heating oil by ship, and cables brought coal-generated electricity from the mainland. The islanders began to use solar electricity and geothermal energy. They even make their own synthetic diesel oil from rapeseed found on the island to power their tractors.
Within eight years the island was producing 40% more electricity than it used and has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to virtually zero. Paul Erik Wedelgaard was the guiding hand behind the Samso project. He was a man in his seventies, at the beginning, who believed, “We have to do something for the children.” He sold half of his own holdings, worth almost a million dollars, to be an early investor in wind turbine number six. Soren Hermanson has continued the project. “Everyone can do what we are doing,” he says. “Everything has to belong to the people. Big companies are not permitted to own anything, which was a big selling point. You can’t do anything from the top to bottom; everything has to belong to the people. It has to become their project.” I don’t think that Gopasskiss, formally the USA, would much approve of this approach.
Hermanson explains, “The question was: How can we all continue living on Samso? In the year before, the slaughterhouse had closed down putting hundreds out of work. It was our Great Depression; the plan is better than the slaughterhouse.” The community has taken their profits and built five more offshore generating plants and the proceeds nets the islanders roughly $4,000 per day, or three times their revenues from raising cows. Hermanson laughs, “I think the weather is always good, when the wind blows, the rotors turn. When it rains the feed for my cows grows and when the sun shines, I take my boat out for a spin.”
Japan has a plan for a string of geothermal plants to generate electricity. In Australia the plan is to build a 50-megawatt geothermal test plant producing enough electricity for 75,000 people to be followed up by a 500-megawatt plant which is expected to be on line by 2016. New geothermal plants are being built in Germany, El Salvador, the Philippines and Iceland. Geothermal is good for generating baseline electricity; unlike solar and wind it is dependable and constant. Geothermal electricity construction costs are generally lower than building a nuclear plant. Capital costs for geothermal are $1,150 to $3,000 per kW vs. nuclear at $1,500 to $4,000 per kW. Geothermal also has lower operating and maintenance costs than nuclear plants. Geothermal costs .4 to 1.4 cents per kilowatt-hour versus 1.9 cents per kilowatt-hour for nuclear plants. Large tracts of land in the western United States are ideally situated to build geothermal plants, but Gopasskiss, Inc. says no. A Bush-era law passed in 2005 set aside $18 billion to aid the nuclear power industry, because in this case the free market needs help.
The promise of the new nuclear plants is the same promise that we’ve always been given: safer, cleaner and cheaper. It is the same promise we’ve heard so many times before, the unsinkable ship, the safety of Zeppelins and double-hulled oil tankers followed by the same explanations of a strange anomaly or an unexpected event. Stuck valves, broken pipes, and we have only sixty years’ world experience in nuclear power. The margins of error are too thin and the price of failure is too high and the risks are too great to keep building nuclear Hindenburg’s. Time marches on and it’s time to look towards the future instead of repeating the same toxic monuments of failure from the past.
The answers are out there, and they are cheaper, they are cleaner, they are wiser and they are truly renewable. Gopasskiss, formally know as the USA, wants to build nukes because big business wants to build nukes and that’s all that matters to them. They want to spend your $18 billion because it’s burning a hole in their pocket. They want you to forget Three Mile Island and Chernobyl because there are big bucks to be made in nuclear energy, subsidized by your tax dollars. When, in fact, for the economy it offers us nothing. A future so bright you’ve got to wear lead.
Brought to by the Bush/McCain reelection committee, Barack Obama, chairman.