August 10, 2013
Tom Whipple, a retired CIA analyst who writes a good deal about peak oil and other energy issues for various publications, had an article on LENR (low energy nuclear reactions) again, this week, over at the Falls Church News Press where he writes regularly, http://fcnp.com/2013/08/07/the-peak-oil-crisis-the-3rd-window/, in which he says:
When somebody says, “I have just made a discovery that will give the world all the cheap, clean energy it will ever need; that will solve the global warming problem and clean up the environment; that will do away with the need for fossil fuels; that will supply us all the clean water we can use; and that could even lift us all out of poverty,” obviously you are going to think him nuts, a fraud, or overly optimistic.
He then goes on to explain why he thinks there might be a chance that LENR is a real, reproducible, commercially viable energy source. He has taken a good deal of heat over this from some in the doomer community. And, in fact, the whole idea of LENR is a pretty contentious one within the scientific community.
Although I have read several articles, pro and con, on the subject, my knowledge of nuclear energy is very slight and I have no opinion either way although, if you are interested, I have put links to sources and articles you might peruse on your own at the end of this post.
What has interested me more, in what reading I’ve done over the last year or so is what might happen if such an energy source were, in fact, possible. In effect, what really would change?
The first promise in the quote is of all the cheap, clean energy the world will ever need. While the promise might be there, electrical generation and transmission has been around for 130 years, yet we still have 1.3 billion people in the world with no access. Even when energy sources such as coal, oil and gas were relatively cheap, billions still went without electricity – whether from economic, political or geographical reasons. Will that really change? I don’t know, but I do wonder.
The second promise is that it would solve the global warming problem and clean up the environment. Presumably, a cheap, clean, versatile energy source would do away with the need for fossil fuels and “hot” nuclear energy waste as billions of homes, businesses and transport modes switched to LENR generated energy. But I don’t see the multi-billion dollar oil, gas, coal or nuclear industries simply throwing up their hands and going quietly into that good night. Will they simply make a political move to gain control over this new energy source so that they can find a new way to keep the poor poorer and the rich richer? What about products such as plastics and medicines that are largely oil based? We are currently dredging up the dirtiest fossil fuels as peak oil progresses, with no significant let up in our use. If we switched to the more environment and climate friendly LENR energy, would these giant industries simply find new ways to use every drop of oil, lump of coal or btu of gas freed up by switching to all that cheap, clean LENR energy? Would we just wind up with an ever increasing number of plastic islands swirling around in our oceans? And, with all that cheap energy available, do you really think the big multinational corporations would use that clean, new energy to stop their physical assault on the earth’s non-renewable resources rather than speed up that assault? Honestly, I don’t. In fact, I’m so sure they wouldn’t, I don’t even bother to wonder about it that much anymore.
The third promise is all the clean water we can ever use. A wonderful promise indeed, but modern filtration and purification of water has also been around for around 130 years, yet today there are almost 780 million people with no access to clean water. In spite of that and with water supplies growing increasingly scarce around the world, we have large corporations and financial institutions buying up water supplies or water rights around the world and selling it back to us in little bottles as “more healthy,” for a ridiculous price. Will they throw up their hands and go quietly any more than the energy companies, or will they just find another way to control water supplies? Are big agriculture, the extraction industries or even we individuals in the developed world likely to become less or more wasteful of water if we’re promised all the clean water we could ever use? Would any of that change? And could such a promise even be kept? I really wonder about that.
The forth promise is that it could even lift us all out of poverty. But we live in a globalized world that, frankly, thrives on inequality in a globalized economy that has, so far, pretty much squandered our resources in a constant quest for “more”. It’s not that I’m rooting for doom. I grew up on the science fiction of Heinlein, Asimov and Bradbury, for crying out loud. For most of my life, I was a hardcore believer in Progress. But one of the things I learned from all that reading was the law of unintended consequences. Even with an unlimited supply of cheap, clean energy, could such a world ever be happy with “equality”? Could such an economy ever be satisfied with “enough”? I don’t know, but I do wonder. And if we couldn’t, I wonder what would really change?
http://lenr-canr.org/acrobat/BarnhartBtechnology.pdf (Defense Intelligence Agency)