Global Warming and Nuclear Power ?

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by blackfox, Jul 29, 2004.

  1. blackfox macrumors 65816

    blackfox

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    #1
    After watching a BBC Hardtalk discussion regarding the dangers of Global warming. There are many who believe that with current or increased use of fossil fuels (ie China and India), that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will trigger major melting of the Polar Icecaps and/or Greenland, flooding many of the major Coastal cities worldwide. Some predict this may happen as soon as 2050. Some, like the gentleman interviewed by BBC, who is the progenator of the Gaia theory, believe that once we pass a certain threshold of CO2 in the atmosphere, we will be powerless to affect any change after that time.

    This gentleman goes on to suggest that a possible route of salvation is the increased use of Nuclear Power by Nations to fill their energy requirements, replacing oil and coal-based power and supplementing Natural power generation techniques such as Hydro and Wind-based power.
    He also mentions the relative safety of Nuclear Power, and of the relatively small amount (in size) of nuclear waste generated, especially considering some heavy-metal contamination/petroleum contamination associated with other traditional energy-producing methods.

    So my questions are many:
    1. What credence to you put into the Global Warming hypothesis? Do you feel it is as serious as some make it out to be? Do you agree with the time-frames suggested.

    2. Do you agree/lend credence to the Gaia Theory?

    3. Do you feel Nuclear power is an appropriate (at least stop-gap) measure to ward off ecological catastrophe and/or create Energy independence? Do you feel it is sufficiently safe or that the risks are manageable considering the alternatives?

    4. Does the potential risk of Nuclear material falling into the wrong hands from proliferation of Nuclear Power across the world, trump the longer-term concerns of Energy Independence/Production and potential ecological disater if not undertaken?

    5. Alternate suggestions? Questions not raised?

    I find this topic to be quite interesting/disturbing and a bit of a change from Partisan Politics of Bush/Kerry...so FWIW
     
  2. Colirio macrumors newbie

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    #2
    Well, I honestly tend to be skeptical. The 60's and 70's had the world scared of an approaching ice age. Now we are scared of being burned to death and drowned from the polar ice caps. I think that we should study this out more and gather more evidence before making rash decisions that could cause even worse damage.

    To a degree, the Gaia Theory has many elements to which I agree. However, as I stated for #1, I am not sure of the effets of global warming on the environment. Another element of the Gaia Theory would be that the Earth itself might adjust to the change (if any) on its own. (Although slowing our processes down to give it time to adjust would be a priority if indeed global warming theories are correct.)

    I think that there might be better alternatives, but, in the end, I believe that we will need to figure out ways to make nuclear power safer as it will most likely be the energy source we use in the future before moving on directly to solar, hydrogen, and wind power exclusively.

    It is a concern to say the least. Unfortunately, our social structure would probably need to be fixed before moving too far ahead with this source of energy. Some of it falling into the wrong hads could put us in a similar or even worse scenario than global warming.

    Possibilities of studying and duplicating the process that plants use to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen could be implimented. That would turn the burning of fossil fuels into something not so dangerous perhaps?


    I'm sure most of you won't agree with my feelings, but, they are just my opinions.
     
  3. pseudobrit macrumors 68040

    pseudobrit

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    #3
    I think it's real, and I think it's still more than a little unpredictable. But we're changing the climate to a frightening degree, and we shouldn't play wait-and-see to find out if it'll be catastrophic.

    I think its results are accurate, if not its reasons. Nature most certainly fixes its imbalances. There's only so far we can twist her arm.

    Yes, it should be used as a stopgap to ease the transition between fossil fuel use and green energy use. There are reactor designs that are safe and effective. As long as we have a good, solid plan for nuclear waste, there's no problems with it.

    This is moot. AFAIK, only research and hybrid reactors are capable of producing the critical concentrations required for weapons-grade material.

    Fusion research.
     
  4. Durandal7 macrumors 68040

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    #4
    1. I would say there is definite climate change. I have not seen any evidence to convince me that fossil fuel emmissions are causing it and I think it is far more likely it is linked to the unusual solar activity we have been seeing. Having said that, I advocate cutting fossil fuel emmissions for more tangible health-related reasons.

    2. Ceratin aspects of Gaia seem like they would be correct, again I have not seen enough evidence to buy completely into it yet.

    3. Nuclear Power's reputation has been tarnished by Chernobyl. It is a shame because it is generally safe. There have been some recent experiments with small reactors that do not contain enough radioactive material to go critical and cause a meltdown yet still generate a massive amount of energy. These would be an excellent alternative to traditional oil and coal based plants.

    4. Most of the "wrong hands" you refer to would probably be hurt even more if the United States was no longer dependant on them for oil. Any benefits that extra nuclear material floating around would provide them with would not be enough to balance that.

    5. What we need is for a future President to initiate a "big science" project in the spirit of the atom bomb and the Apollo project. This project would entail large-scale mining of Helium-3 from the Moon and the construction of a massive Fusion plant.

    Fusion is the most likely future energy source since it has the potential to be used for enormous political advantage (crippling the Middle East, makes the President look visionary, makes China look bad, generates tech jobs, looks good during re-election)
     
  5. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #5
    in short, i am pro nuclear energy. my major misgivings are what i perceive to be lax safety practices and a weak NRC.

    also, it'd be nice to finally figure out the long term storage issue. many of those storage pools are dangerously overstocked.

    pumping a lot of R&D money into renewable sources, wave farms being my favorite, would not only give the economy a nice boost, but pay off down the road.
     
  6. takao macrumors 68040

    takao

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    #6
    1.half-half is my guess... i'm stil a little bit scepticalabout the amount the human plays ..i would guess 40% is human made..

    2.gaia theory ? is that the thing from the final fantasy movie ? (apart from the movie i never heard about that theory)

    3.very difficult question...i would say: no ...already built nuclear plants should be used as safe as possible ... but building new ones ? i don't like that with that attitude nuclearp lants will be around forever
    safty is enough but 5 unlucky/bad minutes are enough to create a disaster aka. GAU (german: "Grösster Anzunehmender Unfall" translates to "biggest imaginable disaster")
    austria voted against nuclear power in the 70ties ..and since 1986 the nuclear power discussion is dead...70% of all electricity produced from water and enough potential to create more out of water...

    4.you mean in the form of terrorism ? i would say: yes
     
  7. brap macrumors 68000

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    #7
    To see changes in climate, all one as to do is open your eyes. When was the last time there was significant snow here? 93? Summers are shifting more toward September/October. Friends who live abroad also see these upheavals; northern Spain is seeing rain (in large amounts) during their summer, which is unheard of. Yes, I certainly believe something is happening, and it's happening now. The time frame? It's happening already, and will probably increase speed exponentially, as does consumption.
    Sure, nature sorts out the little problems. This, however, isn't a little problem.
    Absolutely. I've believed that relative to the known problems with fossil fuels, turning your back on nuclear energy is the ultimate stupid move. I'm no nuclear physcist, but since these things have been at least rudimentarily manageable since the 1950s there must be some way of harnessing it safely today. It's just a pity Chernobyl caused such a knee-jerk move away from research into nucear power.
    I'm sure if someone were to really try, the former Soviet Union's stockpile would help out even nowadays. Nobody has been stupid enough yet - MAD and all that. There needs to be control, real control over nuclear materials. If it were wanted by the higher echelons of government, it could be done with relatively little trouble.
    Wish I didn't have to go to work right now, otherwise I'd discuss more... but nuclear power shouldn't really be seen as the dirty option IMHO. It's the old chestnut of governmental apathy in underfunding new technologies - "I'll sort that problem out when it comes". Government apathy, though, is also fueled by general public apathy; the SUV thread here a while back showed how a lot of people don't see the way in which they could (I say could) be hurting the environment. Isn't a little bit of caution a good thing? Hey, this might be really bad for everyone - but we can't prove it. I see using lack of proof as an excuse for carelessness a purely selfish move.

    Quite honestly, I'm terrified about the world in which I'll be living in in 40 years, and the fact that there is nothing I can do about it.
     
  8. Leo Hubbard macrumors newbie

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    #8
    Links from this site lead to discussions how man made global warming is false and not backed by real science. For example
    They do have more recent articles as well.

    It is scientific fact that solar activity is at its high point right now and that such solar activity would cause increases in temperature. Thus, our warmer climates may be due to the activities on the sun and not the ones on the Earth. Which by the way have real scientific proof behind it.

    This same site also points out that
    And if you look at the bottom of the page this thing wasn't written by a bunch of crack pots but well known scientists from a variety of very well funded scientific establishments.
    http://www.sepp.org/ is a great source of information about this stuff.
     
  9. 2jaded2care macrumors 6502

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    #9
    Thanks for the link, Leo.

    I don't think there is much denial that climate change is occurring, the question is the extent to which it is influenced by human activity, and the extent to which the ecosystem can correct any imbalances. Solar activity, volcanoes and wildfires (as well as intentional deforestation) are all factors. There seems to be some disagreement within the scientific establishment, so personally I don't understand how laypersons can claim to have all the answers.

    Nevertheless, I also believe that it never hurts to be cautious. Certainly we should be encouraging energy conservation and exploring alternative energy sources, including established ones such as nuclear power as stop-gap measures. The problem with nuclear IMO is mainly the possibility of an attack on a nuclear facility.

    The problem of waste is also important to me, considering the recent controversy over the Savannah River Nuclear Plant (a weapons facility, not power plant) and its leaking vessels. Apparently our Congress "agreed to ease cleanup requirements for tanks holding millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste..." "The provision allows the Energy Department to reclassify some of the radioactive sludge in 51 South Carolina tanks, so it can be left in place and covered by concrete, instead of being entombed in the Nevada desert." And no, even though I usually vote Rep, it is not lost on me that it was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who advocated this move (to "quicken waste cleanup"), and Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., who opposed it.

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2001947259_nukewaste04.html

    While I can see some of Graham's arguments, it seems to make no sense to me to leave radioactive waste near a major river, population center and the coastline, as opposed to burying it in a desert. But what would I know?

    OTOH, and to drag the election back into this, we should not worry because the "Kerry-Edwards plan will increase energy conservation and create clean, renewable sources of energy that no terrorist can sabotage and no foreign government can seize." http://www.johnkerry.com/issues/energy/

    Hyperbole is the kindest term for such prose that I can find... And no mention of nuclear power, either.
     
  10. takao macrumors 68040

    takao

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    #10
    i can agree with you on that...

    historically this isn't the first time mankind changes the enviroment 'by accident': around the mediterran sea during the time of the ancient greeks/romans/etc. so much woods got chopped in some regions that whole landscapes transformed into deserts because of the erosion (sp?) (for example on the balcan+greece)

    we have to be more carefull with our resources not all of them are unlimited like water and weather...we only have a certain amount of oil which we will need for many plastics ..this point is sadly often missed out ... more than 90% of all oil is just burned to produce energy which could be produced different.. we have to switch to different resources as long as we still have oil left for that
     
  11. Ugg macrumors 68000

    Ugg

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    #11
    You can quote all you want but the fact remains that there is no consensus when it comes to global warming. What we do know is that man has had a dramatic influence on local weather patterns around the globe. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that what happens locally can be happening globally.

    Whenever the argument comes up that by limiting our destructive output we will be destroying economic activity, I can only say that wealth is created by innovation not by limiting ourselves to the technology of the past. Our oil-based economy is going to come to a screeching halt in the next few decades whether we like it or not, it seems that it would be prudent and worthy of the US' innovative nature to back technology that would take us into the 22nd century. Reliance on 19th century technolgy isn't the way forward.
     
  12. mischief macrumors 68030

    mischief

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    #12
    The thing that gets me about the recent-history angle of Global Warming is that it fails to take into account the physics of large energy systems. The larger a thermal body (particularly when Water is involved) the longer it takes for any significant change in temperature to occur an the more impact Energy Thresholds have on the system.

    The recent detectable upshift in global Ocean temperatures is the most telling. Water is a stubborn medium when talking about temperature shifts over a vast mass with diverse currents and thermal zones.

    I think if you want to link Humans to climate change you have to look all the way back. From our first Ice-Age use of Fire and it's accompanying population explosion, we were adding heavy hydrocarbons and increased CO2 to the system. I think that things really got out of hand in the earliest parts of recorded history when deforestation became most intense and again during the Rennaisance and Industrial Revolution.

    I think we're actually producing LESS complex emissions than we ever have before... We're just now seeing the effects of the last 500 years catching up to us. The process has accelerated recently due to extensive clear cutting, deforestation of the tropics, failure to replant trees and, most of all the HUGE algal die offs in the deep ocean.

    There is a more productive approach than concentrating on emissions, which I believe will be too little too late. We should be concentrating on bio-engineering more warm-water tolerant blue-green alga, planting trees in every available open space, planting ground cover and shrubbery on every unused portion of the cityscape: rooves, highway medians, etc.

    We should encourage fish farming to halt the depletion of fish stocks so the oceans can recover their ballance. In short we need to take FULL responsibility for our duty as Stewards of the planet.
     
  13. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #13
    I'm a nuclear power sceptic on a number of grounds.

    First, no matter how you look at them, nuclear power plants are the world's most complex and expensive tea kettles. Something deep in my gut says this is not a triumph of modern science.

    Second, in many places in the world, finding a suitable location for a nuclear power plant is a virtual impossibility. The last one built in California, the Diablo Canyon plant near San Luis Obispo, was found during construction to be located on a previously unknown earthquake fault. It took many, many years to bring this plant on-line, and at far greater cost than was ever anticipated. I don't know that it ever generated the amount of power for which it was originally designed.

    Third, nuclear power seems to pencil out only when the cost of storing and disposing of the waste products and the eventual decommissioning of the plants when their useful life ends, are externalized.

    Fourth, most of the fissionable material used in nuclear power plants is imported. So if we're seeking freedom from foreign energy sources, then nuclear isn't going to get us there.

    I believe that nuclear power is only on the map today as an energy source because of the huge investment in nuclear made by the government for military purposes. If similar investments were made in other alternative energy-generating technologies (fusion and solar having already been mentioned), I believe we'd be looking at far better options for clean, renewable, domestic and cost-effective sources of energy than nuclear can or will ever be.
     
  14. mischief macrumors 68030

    mischief

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    #14
    Good points all around Reilly

    I drove through northern Baja recently. El Centro to the top of the Gulf to San Diego. there's NOTHING out there. It makes the painted desert look like an Oasis. All I could think while looking out at an absolute wasteland of dust and blasted rock was "This is the absolute best place for a gargantuan solar array.".

    If we invested in Solar the way we've invested in Nukes we'd be independant and close to zero impact in less than a decade. The technology is incredibly underfunded and coming very close to a breakthrough in efficiency.

    There's something to be said for biomass energy too. Since most of our energy production is essentially converting heat into kinetic energy there's massive potential in (say) compost generated heat. There's a lot to be said for bacterial and algal growth energy too: Has anyone looked at what kinetic energy is created by the increase in mass generated by rapidly multiplying microorganisms?

    There are a lot of ways we can increase the efficiency of our resource management through greater use of biotech, decentralization and ecotech. We're using a system of resource management that was devised more for it's boons to the government agencies doing the building than for long term sustainability.
     
  15. 2jaded2care macrumors 6502

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    #15
    IJ, I thought fusion power plants would theoretically work similarly to fission power plants, only "less dangerous" (no threat of meltdown) and more eco-friendly. IOW, I thought they would still be "giant teakettles", only with a different type of heat source to turn water into steam to turn a turbine etc. etc. -- is this wrong? At least, I've seen speculative designs illustrating the principle... Anyone?
     
  16. mischief macrumors 68030

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    #16
    Fusion has many theoretical applications.

    The ways to harness Fusion are several, mainly because we haven't actualy done it yet so we don't know exactly what the most efficient means would be.

    There's the standard thermal model in which the cooling system for the reactor functions as an energy source for turbines.

    There's the plasma turbine model in which expanding plasma generates a stron EM field in a form of induction turbine, there's a few others. Until we have actually made it work at least once outside of weapons design it's not really worth discussing IMHO.
     
  17. takao macrumors 68040

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    #17

    i thought that a fusion plant defacto was even more powerfull and because of that much much harder to control (with magnetical things etc.)
    the advantage is (as far as i know) that fusion doesn't involve radioactivity (at least not neccesarily)...and that is huge advantage
    disadvantage is that you need power in the first place to get the process running (to run those lasers and magnetic fields etc.)

    fusion power will be available one time ..but the problem is that nobody knows _when_ perhaps 20 years...perhaps 50..perhaps 100
     
  18. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #18
    Yes. It's still down to containment. Imagine if you lost control of a process running at 11,000,000 degrees. It could get a bit too warm for comfort.
     
  19. mischief macrumors 68030

    mischief

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    #19
    See also the Fision/Fusion Hydrogen Bomb design which, incidentally is the only "successful" and repeatable Fusion experiment to date.
     
  20. krimson macrumors 65816

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    #20
    We did a nuclear power debate back in our senior econ class.

    Fusion DOES create it's own radioactive (low level) waste, at least the research from 10 years ago said it did. (that tidbit got me an A+ for that project) Things may have changed, or they've found ways of stopping the irradiation of the surrounding environment (ie equipment, accumulation in the building, etc), but fusion itself is not perfect.

    And as long as the world holds it's NIMBY POV, no viable power source other than the established will ever gain a good foothold.
     
  21. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #21
    well, is that fahrenheit or centigrade?
     
  22. mischief macrumors 68030

    mischief

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    #22
    I think it may even be Kelvin. :eek:
     
  23. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #23
    or Rankine!
     
  24. blackfox thread starter macrumors 65816

    blackfox

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    #24
    OK, some comments, opinions and clarifications of my own...

    Whether you knew it or not, the Earth adjusting to a change is
    precisely the problem. Not for the Earth itself, mind you, just for us Humans. Could result in anything from a Global Ice Age (as so eloquently put forth in that Crap-tastic blockbuster THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW) to melting of the Polar icecaps and Global Flooding, to actually making Michigan a decent vacation spot...we just don't know, but I tend to err on the side of caution especially when it dovetails with our need to wean ourselves off of fossil-fuel dependency.
    Vague, but interesting idea, although I don't agree with your last sentence as a reasoning behind it, or a main benefit of...
    This needs some clarification on my part...indeed you are correct, but I was thinking more of indirect threats, such as weapons programs secretly developed under the auspices of Nuclear Energy production, or the threat to safety Nuclear Reactors posed vis-a-vis Terrorist attacks.
    I agree with this point, although it should be mentioned that water is not an unlimited resource and will be perhaps second only to oil in terms of shortages and the disruption it will cause in many parts of the world in the coming decades.

    I mention Nuclear Power as a stop-gap technology because of course it will do nothing to curb the use of oil for transportation and some manufacturing, power needs which might best be addressed by Hydrogen Fuel-cell technology. It is prudent to begin a transition while the amount of (and cost of) fossil fuels remains manageable, to avoid economic and social disruption (or to at least minimize it).
    Excellent and cost-effective solutions, Mischief. Although they do nothing in themselves to address our Energy needs, there is no good reason not to implement these ideas poste haste.
    Excellent points IJ...this does not mean a modest use of Nuclear Power should not be considered in places where other forms of power are unfeaseable and where it is safe to implement Reactors. This may preclude places like California, but any decrease in coal or oil-based Energy would be a victory imo.

    As far as the importation of fissionable material affecting our energy independence, I concede that point, but I feel it must be somewhat preferable to the relationship we are forced to have with the ME and the resultant Political power-structures.
    This is a very interesting idea, that I had not thought about. Thanks.


    I personally find the idea of Global Warming to be somewhat Scientifically inconclusive. I personally believe, however, that it is happening and is a problem...the part humans play in it is almost irrelevant.

    The real problem is that things like emissions and Energy needs are Global problems, requiring Global solutions. Much of the former third-world is Industrializing at a rapid pace and Global Energy needs are rapidly rising, along with a lack of pollution controls in many parts of the world.

    So while most of the Western World may be able to come up with innovative Energy solutions and pollution controls, our contribution to these twin problems will continue to decline, relatively speaking. One must ask what technologies will be most appropriate and cost-effective to Nations like China and India, as well as most Politically viable as suggestable ones. Does Nuclear have a better chance than most other alternatives? As imperfect as it is, I believe it does, at least in the short-term.

    More later, thanks for all the thoughtful replies...










    __________________
     
  25. Bobcat37 macrumors member

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    #25
    The problem with Global Warming is there is so much crap to sift through... I could spend probably hours on the internet researching it, but end up not being quite sure which sources to trust and whatnot. To attempt at answering your questions...

    1) I'd say Global Warming is real, but no, I don't think it is as serious as many make it out to be. The Day After Tomorrow isn't going to be tomorrow ;)

    2) Sorry, haven't looked into the Gaia Theory

    3) Sure, I think nuclear power would be appropriate, at least as a stop-gap. But as others have said, I think down the road there will be better alternatives.

    4) Is this question referring to one of those "mad scientist plots" we see in movies all the times? Hehe, I guess it's possible... dunno about likely though. Either way, as I said above I think in the long run there will be better alternatives

    5) Well, most of them have been listed here. I'm hoping hydrogen fuel will become a standard for cars at least within the next 15 years. As for larger power sources, fusion/fission I guess... but then we'd have to watch out of Doc Oc (he used fission in the movie, right?)... and we'd need Spiderman to save us :p (just lightening the mood)
     

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