I had another editorial prepared for this space but events have developed such that I am going to take this opportunity to make some radical suggestions instead. I only use the term radical to set apart my suggestions from those of the mainstream. I'm proposing an integrated solution which incorporates both existing technologies and those on the immediate horizon. I'm not for a moment suggesting that others haven't arrived at the same conclusion, merely that I haven't read anything as comprehensive as what I propose.
Here is a brief list of some of the problems I propose to address:
While not a comprehensive list, intelligent application of some elements of my proposal could even address elements such as waste disposal! So how does it all fit together?
First and foremost, we have to address the energy issue. The lack of precipitation in the Pacific Northwest over the last winter has resulted in low water levels in the reservoirs which feed the hydroelectric generators in Washington and Oregon. This should serve as demonstration that even "clean" energy sources can be influenced by external events. While nobody is suggesting that the reservoirs in the Tennessee Valley are about to dry up, an extended period of drought would be disastrous.
The solution is nuclear power, specifically the CANDU reactor system. This system is the safest in the world and, by it's very nature, could never cause an accident such as those at Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. For additional information on this innovative design, visit the following link: http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/~cz725/cnf_main.htm#toc
Americans are generally opposed to nuclear power for a couple of reasons. First is the fear factor; after the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, this is understandable. The other is the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) syndrome. Individuals and counties wield considerable power in the United States so the problem becomes where to locate the generating plants. It might require enactment of expropriation laws such as those in Canada in order to be able to override local resistance. Efforts will also certainly require education as to the safety of the CANDU system.
One of the most exciting developments of late has been the testing of the use of CANDU reactors to burn weapons-grade plutonium. The disposal of retired nuclear weapons has been of considerable concern to the US Department of Energy. By building CANDU reactors in their own country, the US wouldn't have to ship radioactive material to Canada. Once consumed in the reactor, the material is far less radioactive and so would not require the protocols currently in place for highly radioactive plutonium.
Air pollution has become a huge problem in the large cities of the United States. Here in Atlanta we regularly experience smog alert days. In fact, due to a failure to deliver a plan to meet air quality requirements, no federal funding will be available for the construction of new road projects here. Of course, automobiles are one of the largest producers of air pollution; building more roads encourages more driving, generating ever more pollution.
The United States is one of the biggest consumers of oil, much of it imported. This dependence on foreign supplies leaves the US subject to the whims of bodies such as OPEC. It also contributes to the debit side of the international trade balance sheet. To reduce both pollution and this dependence on foreign oil we have to change the way we fuel the automobile.
The solution is one which has been maturing for years in the space program. The hydrogen fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen and generates water as the reaction product. In the shuttles and the space station, this water is consumed by the astronauts. On earth, it could be collected at the hydrogen supply stations and, with very little treatment, be fed into municipal drinking water systems. In other words, the only by-product of the fuel cell system can be directly recycled.
The only remaining element of the equation is how to obtain the hydrogen fuel. The answer once again lies in the use of the CANDU reactor system. With enough energy, water can be 'cracked' to generate it's constituent elements: hydrogen and oxygen. Thus the cycle is complete: nuclear power plants provide electrical energy for consumers as well as to crack water to generate hydrogen. Hydrogen is consumed by fuel cells to generate water, which can be collected and recycled back to consumers.
While this might sound to be an overly-ambitious plan, I believe that the benefits out-weigh the costs. The beauty of the plan is that it is incredibly clean. It consumes leftovers from the cold war while generating only one hazardous by-product. It will vastly reduce air pollution and reduce dependence on foreign resources. As an additional benefit, it will provide many person-years of employment. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think.
May 5th, 2001
Copyright © 2001 by Phil Selby