President Obama is down in the Everglades today drawing attention to the fact that climate change and continued growth in south Florida, up and down both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, is pumping salt water in and sucking fresh water out of the state’s porous limestone base at a rate that will soon leave that rainy, spongy area in a predicament nearly as perilous as the American Southwest is facing in its current historic drought.
“Water and nukes?” “What’s the connection?”
Glad you asked.
But first, let’s emphasize that while no new nuclear plants have been brought on line in the United States since Three Mile Island, significant advances have been made in how to generate nuclear power, to the point that a comparison between what is known as Generation II nuclear plants — the hulking, multi-billion dollar monstrosities at Monticello and Prairie Island here in Minnesota — and Generation IV plants largely on drawing boards around the world is kind of like comparing glowing rotten apples to nectarines.
Most liberals, in my experience have simply closed their minds to nuclear power on the grounds that A: It always produces toxic waste that lasts thousands of years, B: Can melt down in any terror attack or natural disaster and kill thousands in the surrounding area, or C: Is an energy source that can only be built by the same greed head bastards who have polluted the atmosphere and wound us into god knows how many international conflicts with medieval sultanates and lunatics around the world.
The third issue there — lining the pockets of the likes of Koch Industries — is still a factor, but the first two are no longer anywhere close to relevancy as too many otherwise sophisticated people believe they are. In fact, Generation IV nukes have the ability to consume, i.e. “clean up” all the existing waste sitting in concrete casks and once planned for centuries of internment at Yucca Mountain north of Vegas.
Don’t believe me. But read this from James Hansen, arguably the godfather of climate change, the man who brought the issue to the world’s attention almost 30 years ago and is still a respected thought-leader on how to actually reduce the impact of this human-exacerbated disaster.
Says Hansen: “In all countries first priority should be energy efficiency, which has tremendous potential. After that comes renewable energies and improved low-loss smart electric grids. Everybody hopes that will be enough, but I cannot find real world energy experts who believe that is likely in the foreseeable future, even in the United States. This is all the more true in India and China, which are even more dependent on coal and have faster growing energy demands.The current fleet of (2nd generation) nuclear power plants is aging. The 3rd generation plants that are likely to gain construction approval soon have some significant improvements over the 2nd generation, using less than1 percent of the nuclear fuel, leaving the rest in long-lived (>10,000 years) wastes. If that were the end of the story, I would not have any enthusiasm for nuclear power. However, it is clear that 4th generation nuclear power can be ready in the medium-term, within about 20 years. Some people argue that it could be much sooner – however, the time required for its implementation is of little importance. The reason that 4th generation nuclear power is a game-changer is that it can solve two of the biggest problems that have beset nuclear power. 4th generation uses almost all of the energy in the uranium (or thorium), thus decreasing fuel requirements by two orders of magnitude.”
For a slightly more pop and more easily-digestible version of what Hansen says and the current reality of 4th generation nuclear power in reducing carbon emission, dial up the 2013 documentary “Pandora’s Promise” on Roku or Apple TV.
Fellow liberals have mostly ignored the startling advances in nuclear power generation in the belief that the world’s energy demands can be met, in our children’s lifetimes at least, by an aggressive commitment to solar, wind and geothermal power. But while substantial advances are being made in all those technologies, each would have to experience truly exponential growth, and immediately, to provide anything close to the amount of fossil fuel that is going to be burned over the next 50 years powering advanced and burgeoning economies and … providing water to climate change-ravaged regions of the planet.
A vast new supply of electrical power — for desalinating sea water — could be a viable long-term solution to Florida’s dilemma, the so-called “mega-drought” currently effecting California and most of the heavily-populated desert Southwest, along with innumerable other regions around the world. (Additionally, the infusion of an immense, almost entirely “renewable”, source of electric power could radically accelerate the transition to electric-powered vehicles. Not just pricey Teslas, but cheap scooters and vehicles for Third World economies, thereby offering a substantial, secondary reduction of carbon emissions.)
Obviously, in an era when half the American legislative system has nothing to offer but juvenile obstruction there’s no reason to get our hopes too high that anything far-sighted will occur in our remaining years. But the cynicism of one end of the political spectrum is no reason that supposedly more open-minded progressives shouldn’t at least drop their blinders and educate themselves on what is both possible and pragmatic.