Scientific American says IGNORANCE main reason people are anti-nuclear

I’m not being rude, as the vast majority of my life I was anti-nuclear out of sheer ignorance as well! There are 4 other reasons people are anti-nuclear, but from personal experience I this first one is the most powerful! As the Scientific American article says:
1. Ignorance: This simple reason remains remarkably pervasive. I am not trying to sound preachy or elitist here but reading two or three books would greatly benefit people who have a gut reaction against nuclear energy. The whole set of beliefs about any kind of radiation in any proportion being harmful, about nuclear plants releasing large amounts of radiation (when in reality they release fractions of what everyone naturally gets from the environment), about nuclear waste being a hideously convoluted and insoluble problem (the problem is largely political, not technical) can be dispelled by reading some basic books on radiation and nuclear energy. The most important revelation in this context is how, in our daily lives, we face risks that are hundreds of times greater than those from nuclear energy (transportation, air pollution etc.) without being nonplussed.
In the half century during which almost 500 nuclear power plants have been steadily humming and providing energy to millions, there have been only two serious accidents – Chernobyl and Fukushima – one of which was a truly rare event and the other was entirely preventable. The number of deaths from these two accidents are a small fraction of the number from almost every other energy source, not to mention from indoor and outdoor pollution arising from chemical and fossil fuel sources. In addition coal-fired plants emit much more radioactivity than any nuclear power plant. The small casualty rate from even the two worst nuclear accidents in history attests to the generally outstanding record of nuclear safety all over the world and in the US in particular. The large-scale adoption of nuclear energy in the US has been thwarted more by political inertia and gut fears rather than by a sound assessment of the costs and benefits. The high costs are mostly capital and have stemmed from unrealistic standards and layers of bureaucracy. If you typically think of problems like waste reprocessing or disposal that on the surface seem like insurmountable technical difficulties, delving deeper will usually reveal that the real issues are political and social. Nobody thinks that waste disposal and making nuclear plants failsafe are trivial issues, but deeper investigation almost always reveals that the situation is much better than most people think and that the principal opposition has been human, not scientific.
There’s several objective books that presents a balanced view of the topic. As a starting point I would recommend Richard Rhodes’s article in Foreign Affairs and his book Nuclear Renewal which talks about the extensive and safe deployment of nuclear energy by countries like France. Samuel Glasstone’s timeless classic Sourcebook on Atomic Energy is still excellent on basics, so is Bernard Cohen’s book. Gwyneth Cravens’s very informative “Power to Save the World” is particularly noteworthy since Cravens was vociferously against nuclear power before she educated herself and found herself in favor of it; it’s a remarkable example of how someone can change their mind in the face of evidence. Another informal, breezy and excellent treatment is Scott Heaberlin’s A Case for Nuclear-Generated Electricity: (Or Why I Think Nuclear Power Is Cool and Why It Is Important That You Think So Too). For those who are ok with a slightly heavier dose of science, I would strongly recommend David Bodansky’s Nuclear Energy. In addition there’s some very promising new technologies on the horizon in the form of advanced new-generation reactor designs and new thorium-based fuel cycles. These developments are geared toward increasing safety (both passive safety and proliferation resistance) and efficiency and reducing cost. Liquid fluoride thorium reactors are especially noteworthy in this regard and Richard Martin’s “Superfuel” does a very good job of explaining their function and advantages. The main obstacle to the testing and use of these designs is again political rather than scientific.
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Martian flag

Mars already has its own flag! It’s based on the Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, and is an ambitious statement about the journey towards terraforming Mars into another Blue planet.FlagOfMars-OriginalColors.jpg

The thing I love about the story of terraforming Mars is how fast the first stage can happen! Let’s call “Green” Mars a Mars that can at least start growing plants on the surface, protected by radiation and the beginning of a hydrological cycle. (Rain!)
“Blue” Mars is the hardest part, creating a breathable atmosphere. But “Green” Mars is certainly a far easier place to enjoy than sterile “Red” Mars as it is today! And “Green” Mars might only take 200 years!

Let me explain: all the ingredients are there to give Mars an atmosphere (not breathable yet) if we just warm it up! And we know how to warm a planet, because we’re already doing it here on Earth! Warming up Mars will move it to the start of the “Green” phase and give us 5 massive benefits within about 200 years!

This includes the first 100 years to build our first city of a million people and create a significant industry! According to Zubrin, it might only take 100 years to build a city of a million people, and then another 100 years of that city producing super-greenhouse gases to ‘cook’ Mars up. If we warm the poles, so many things change. Mars has enough frozen carbon dioxide at the poles to start a cycle that would eventually heat CO2 out of the Mars regolith and give it 30% of Earth’s atmosphere. 30% earth’s atmosphere gives us 5 huge advantages over the near vacuum on “Red” Mars today.

1.  RADIATION PROTECTION: Just like water, atmosphere can protect us from solar and cosmic radiation! No magnetic field is necessary to protect us from radiation at 30% earth air pressure! An artificial magnetic field would help, as it would stop the solar wind blowing the atmosphere away over millions of years. A satellite or space station at the Lagrange 1 point could broadcast a magnetic field which would protect the Martian atmosphere — and this itself would accelerate the warming process, as Mars has  tiny volcanic emissions that would help build an atmosphere.
2. CLOTHES on the surface of Mars! We could rug up in warm clothes, and not need space suits. We would still need breather masks because the atmosphere would be mainly carbon dioxide. But imagine Matt Damon in “The Martian” being able to wear normal (warm) clothes as he worked around his base? Outdoor work would be safer and easier without a heavy, constricting, pressurised  space-suit.
3. RAIN! The frozen water on Mars would start to melt and form the basis of a hydrological cycle. Rain on Mars! Amazing! The start of the hydrological cycle would probably generate massive erosion events, especially as Mars has no plant life holding the soil together. They’d have to build their city somewhere safe from all that, and it might even require large walls around it.
4 FARMING! Start farming on the surface! The radiation protection of an atmosphere and the start of rain on Mars would eventually allow farming on the surface.  And there are nutrients on Mars, but just as on Earth, we might need to mine them and apply them as fertilisers. Just the ability to start growing forests for construction materials would be a huge relief to Martian colonists. And of course, trees would begin the long journey towards an oxygen rich world.
5. SAFER HOMES! Again, remember “The Martian”. Matt Damon’s potato habitat exploded because there was a massive pressure imbalance between maintaining one earth atmosphere inside against near vacuum outside. A third earth atmosphere would allow larger, safer habitats.
BUT HOW TO WARM A PLANET? ‘Easy’, do the same thing we’re doing on earth! Once a reasonable sized city is built on Mars, we can manufacture super-greenhouse gases that are 17,000 times more powerful than CO2. That alone would eventually do the job. There is enough thorium on Mars to power our civilisation forever. But when Mars has its own space industry it can build giant space mirrors to reflect abundant sunlight down to the planet for growing crops more efficiently, also warming Mars and the poles. Future Martians might even build giant rockets on large ice asteroids and fire them into Mars to aerobrake high in the Martian atmosphere, adding heat and water. Eventually they will walk on the surface in normal clothes and a breather mask. That is just the start. Farming on the surface opens up easier food, faster soil creation, and the start of the 1000 year journey towards a breathable atmosphere — which would finally become “Blue Mars”. But that’s a whole other story!
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Sceptics v denial

“The first is to doubt and question, and the second is to listen to the answer,” he said. “Sometimes that requires some intellectual hard yards and I think some people who call themselves sceptics don’t want to do those hard yards. Calling themselves sceptics is a badge of honour they haven’t earned.”

Barry Jones, former science ministerthinkers

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How to feed the world

Giant kelp farms could feed the world.

Bren Smith has pioneered what he calls ‘3D ocean farming’ (or vertical kelp farming) to feed the world. *

  • Kelp can be eaten in various ice-creams, salads, and dried or fried snacks.
  • The base of the kelp farm can grow all the shellfish and oysters we could want.
  • Kelp farms encourage other fish and ocean creatures to grow, stimulating the ocean ecosystem and creating a larger fish catch.
  •  It soaks up nutrient pollution that causes dead zones, and returns some of those NPK nutrients back to our land or soils if we harvest the kelp for fertiliser!
  • About 2% of the world’s oceans have enough nutrients to grow kelp, but the actual area required to actually feed the world is far less. The oceans are 361.9 million km2, and 2% of that is 7.2 MILLION km2). But the area required to feed the world is only about 180,00 km! (See quote below). That means the nutrient rich 2% of the world’s oceans are 40 times larger than we need to feed today’s population!
    • “Seaweed farms alone have the capacity to grow massive amounts of nutrient-rich food. Professor Ronald Osinga at Wageningen University in the Netherlands has calculated that a global network of “sea-vegetable” farms totaling 180,000 square kilometers — roughly the size of Washington state — could provide enough protein for the entire world population. The goal, according to chef Dan Barber — named one of the world’s most influential people by Time and a hero of the organic food movement — is to create a world where “farms restore instead of deplete” and allow “every community to feed itself.”But here is the real kicker: Because they require no fresh water, no deforestation, and no fertilizer — all significant downsides to land-based farming — these ocean farms promise to be more sustainable than even the most environmentally-sensitive traditional farms.”
  • Bren Smith’s TED talk is on youtube

  • He’s so serious about his vision for feeding the world that he has open-sourced his farming system.
  • Kelp could also act as a biomass feedstock for the vat-grown meats that are starting to come down in price and will soon be competitive with normal meat from animals.
  • IF that worked, it means we could stop farming all our meat livestock and return a third of the (non-ice) land on earth to nature, getting all our protein from kelp from the sea & vat-grown meat!
  • Kelp could also be biocharred to help improve soil quality, which would reduce the water and nutrients required to grow our crops. The bottom line? Could kelp be the silver bullet that will fertilise all our agricultural needs and replace all our grazing needs? Could kelp give us all the seafood and wheat and rice and lamb and chicken and beef and turkey that the world could ever want, without killing any animals and returning all that grazing land back to nature? (Which is a third of the non-ice surface of the earth!)
  • Could kelp be the silver bullet to feed the world?

It gets more fantastic than ‘just’ feeding the world!

  • Tim Flannery (Australian of the year and member of the Australian Climate Council) discusses a paper about super-giant kelp farms that cover 9% of the world’s oceans. But as we have seen, the problem is only 2% of the world’s oceans have enough nutrients (from erosion or oceanic upwelling) to grow kelp. Where do the extra nutrients come from for a patch of ocean the size of the African continent? In-situ recycling, they claim. First they farm the nutrient rich waters. Then a previous season’s kelp is biodigested in big submersible bags to collect methane gas out the top, leaving the digested kelp nutrients behind. These are then recycled into slow drip feed hoses and ‘tea-bags’ that slowly fertilise the kelp in what would otherwise be nutrient poor water. They claim we can recycle nutrients and grow kelp out in the open ocean, away from the continents or ocean upwelling areas. But I find it hard to believe that nutrients can be recycled in situ like this without the ocean just washing it away too quickly to be absorbed? That seems to be the crux of the matter, and I have no way  of testing the claim.
  • IF it works, the results could be amazing!:-
  • half a kilogram of seafood per person per day, to feed a world of 10 billion people!
  • all the biofuels and biogas we could need to replace fossil fuels and provide the ultimate backup to wind and solar power
  • remove ocean acidity
  • restore our atmosphere to 350ppm by 2085
  • In other words, is seaweed farming a silver bullet to feed the world, save the oceans, and save us from climate change?
  • It’s all in this free PDF. “Negative carbon via Ocean Afforestation”. Just register, and download it for free.
  • I still think we’ll need abundant reliable electricity from nuclear power, as the in-situ nutrient recycling above sounds dubious. But even if we could only farm Bren Smith’s way and at least feed the world from the oceans, let alone going to the full Tim Flannery 9%, would not that be an amazing break for the environment?
Posted in Biofuels, Ethanol, Food, Ocean | Leave a comment

The African Union’s first real success?

GO AU! In solving the Gambian constitutional crisis of 2016, you’ve taken your first step on the proverbial journey of a million miles towards a “United States of Africa”. Go team! May this increase peace and prosperity for a continent with some very sad history.

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Vox piece so good it restructured my blog

Hi all, search.pngVox news wrote such a good summary of the state of various 100% renewable energy reports, that I had to restructure my renewables page and subpages to fit it! You’ll see a new Renewables tab with my various summary pages underneath. I think this layout helps, and I hope to be updating some of these tired old pages with new data soon.

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Global warming moves pests

It just gets better! “Mass migration of species to cooler climes has profound implications for society, pushing disease-carrying insects, crop pests and crucial pollinators into new areas, says international team of scientists”
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