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Comment Dated Feb 21, 2009


DOING IT RIGHT

While what's left of what used to be Western civilization reels under the ravages of clueless leaders who think that advanced, industrial societies can run on windmills and chicken-manure engines, the emerging superpowers of tomorrow show how it should be done. The picture shows the Korean nuclear park at Yongwang, with 6 x 1,000 MW reactors. Energy use is probably the single best measure of the wealth and living standards that a society has attained. The human race possesses the knowledge and the ability to ensure that every child born on the planet could look forward to a healthy and well fed body, an educated mind, and the opportunity to become the best that he or she is capable of. If the world is to get serious about bringing a decent quality of life to all of its peoples, nuclear is the only way to go.

But I don't think the world is serious about it. The real motive behind the anti-technology, anti-energy (read "climate change") hysteria that plagues our times is a phobia of uncontrolled population growth. This is a perfectly legitimate view to hold. But it's a social and political issue, and should be openly recognized and treated as such. Trumped up phony science will eventually be refuted, and the main casualty will be trust in any science--which is happening.

I believe that the fear is misplaced. In primitive, agricultural societies, children are an economic asset. With plenty of simple work to be done around the farm, no life insurance, retirement benefits, or care programs, and conditions of relatively high infant mortality, large families make sound economic sense. In more developed economies, children become expensive to house, feed, and educate, and with the added effects of changes from traditional lifestyles, family sizes plummet. In the meantime, while old ways and customs continue to exist alongside improving longevity and falling child mortality, of course populations are going to increase. So it was in Europe in the 18th to 19th centuries, in North America in the 19th-20th, and currently across the Third World. It's a sign that things are getting better, not worse. The dynamics of animal populations, which simply consume resources, aren't applicable to humans, whose inventive ability creates new resources. A resource isn't a resource until the knowledge and the means exist to make use of it. In short, societies progressing to higher levels of wealth creation eventually become self-limiting in numbers in ways that Thomas Malthus never dreamed of.

Matching the capacity of the above complex at Yongwang with wind generators, which appear to be the present fad of Western legislators, would require a wind farm 175 miles wide, extending from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Direct solar would require somewhere around 20 square miles of collector area alone, i.e. without allowing any spacing for steerable geometry or the maintenance access that a practical plant would require.

However, the comparisons don't end there. The higher energy densities associated with nuclear transitions represent the kind of breakthrough into new realms of energy control that not only enable present things to be done in cleaner, more effective ways, but open up completely new possibilities in the same kind of way that aircraft and electronics were unthinkable in the age of steam. The so-called "alternatives" do not. (See also earlier posting)