Thursday, April 27, 2006

Turning nuclear swords into plowshares?

Thorium Power has patented technology that could allow the Russians to begin burning, for the first time, weapons-grade plutonium mixed with Thorium in their existing nuclear reactors.

In an article for CNNMoney.com, Peter Green reports that, "After ten years of shoestring research at a nuclear laboratory in Moscow, Grae is waiting for the U.S. government to fund a final round of testing. For the first time, weapons-grade plutonium will have been burned in a commercial Russian reactor. If the tests are successful, Grae says, the Russians could start burning plutonium-rich Soviet-era warheads within three years."

The technology could also be a big help for the nuclear industry in the country, with it's on-going hassles with the United States Federal Government over the long-term nuclear waste storage facility it was supposed to build (with money it collected from the Nuclear industry, btw) at Yucca mountain. "Commercial nuclear power plants ... spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the U.S. alone to store highly toxic plutonium waste. Using thorium technology, Grae says, they could turn their waste into more fuel that would leave far less radioactive material behind it."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ethanol is the problem, not the solution

Let's switch to ethanol and then we can tell the Middle East where to "get off." Right.

Ethanol will never be a major fuel player in this country. Last time I checked we're not a tropical country like Brazil, who cuts down it's rain forests to grow acres of sugar, which is a much more efficient plant from which to extract ethanol. We'd have to use every acre of land in the USA to grow the corn necessary to replace our current needs for gasoline, which obviously isn't going to happen.

James K. Glassman in his TCS article on President Bush's plans to lower the price of oil ("I'm from the government and I'm here to help") pointed out, "It's clear that shortages and price spikes are the result of an inability to move ethanol, whose production is still a cottage industry, around the country."

Congress mandated that refineries switch from the old federally mandated oxygenate MTBE to ethanol. Its just a mandated fuel additive, not a fuel replacement, and we can't produce enough or ship it where it's needed because it has to be hauled everywhere in tanker trucks.

If we can't even produce enough ethanol to use as a fuel additive, how are we going to use it as a replacement for gasoline produced from oil?

Glassman points out the real (as opposed to the delusional eco-utiopian dreams), but politically unpopular, solution to high gasoline prices: "The right approach would have been to end the boutique fuels and ethanol nonsense once and for all. He should have pinned the blame where it belonged -- on Congress, for refusing to take steps to encourage drilling on the Continental Shelf and for pandering to the ethanol (that is, corn) lobby by forcing drivers to use a pricey fuel with little environmental value."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Horses instead of cars?

With the price of gas these days, some may romanticize the idea of going back to the horse and buggy days. Who would want an oil-burning, air-polluting, loud vehicle instead of a beautiful horse and carriage?

Everyone, that's who.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, major cities like New York removed tons of horse manure from city streets daily. Now that's pollution! Think of the smell, the disease, the removal effort.

Also, something like a quarter of grain production at the time was for animals for transportation. As cars became used widely, that land could be used to produce food for humans. The land area required to pump oil from the ground is negligable by comparison, which means the environmental impact is less.

Think about that for a second - if we all used horses instead of cars, we'd have to take something like a quarter more land area that is currently wild and raise grain on it for the horses. That means cars have much less of an environmental impact than horses. So if you're an environmentalist, you should be glad that we drive cars instead of using animals for transportation. Cars are good for the environment!

Cars are dangerous? What about a kicking horse or a run-away horse pulling a carriage? Deaths from horses were not uncommon. More or less than cars? Hard to say, but then there a lot more poor people back then who just walked (especially anywhere near or in a city) who would use cars today.

People could choose horses today, but they don't for very good reasons. They take up a lot of area to house, produce lots of disease-carrying manure, and are expense to care for (vets!) and feed.

Cars are just a much better form of transportation.

Oil is a great, inexpensive source of energy. If we want the government to help lower the cost of oil and products made from it, like gasoline, we should insist that the Federal tax on gasoline be lowered, that burdensome laws that prevent oil companies from exploring or building refineries in the USA be rolled back, and that restrictions on drilling in the national waters of the North American continental shelf be removed, whether the nearest State (like California, New York and Florida) like it or not.

I know it's painful to pay for gasoline these days, but the next time you're filling up your gas tank, just imagine what you might be scooping off the ground (or stepping in) instead.