Talk:Sustainable energy

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Environmental technology template

I'd like to replace the Environmental technology template with one that matches the standard navbox style, i.e. horizontal instead of vertical, collapsing and typically placed at the bottom of article pages. I've done a mock up of what this would look like at {{User:Jwanders/ET}}. Figured this was a big enough change that I should post before going ahead with it. Please discuss here--jwandersTalk 22:03, 17 February 2008 (UTC)


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Nuclear power[edit]

I was just taking note of this book and came here, only to find myself shocked that nuclear power is not mentioned in the lead. You can make a weakish argument that fission is not sustainable.

Thorium is three times as abundant as uranium and nearly as abundant as lead and gallium in the Earth's crust. The Thorium Energy Alliance estimates "there is enough thorium in the United States alone to power the country at its current energy level for over 1,000 years."

I supposed the following text supplies justification:

Sustainable energy is energy that is consumed at insignificant rates compared to its supply and with manageable collateral effects, especially environmental effects.

Windmills and solar hardly require less extractive mining during the capital investment cycle (on the back of the present carbon industry we sort of take for granted).

So deep down, the criteria appears to be without adding any new ugly extractive industries over and above what we've already got.

Nor is it the case that solar and wind won't generate an enormous, problematic waste stream (the mechanical build for the power levels desired is simply enormous, and all of this is exposed to the harsh elements). But again, the criteria seems to be without adding any new problematic waste streams over and above what we're already used to.

My attitude toward nuclear has long been "show me the fuel cycle". The fuel cycles adopted at the beginning of the nuclear age were adopted primarily to dovetail with existing initiatives in the military–industrial complex (nuclear submarines, see Freeman Dyson) and gave effectively no deep consideration to civilian safety or sanity, beyond vaguely plausible PR.

I believe that our best design effort on modern technology (this has not change just a little bit since the 1940s) would improve the existing fuel cycles by one or two decimal orders of magnitude (even then, I'm not sure it will be good enough under a full accounting, but it certainly makes the question worth revisiting with an open mind).

And then there's fusion.

Nuclear fusion is unlike nuclear fission: fusion requires extremely precise and controlled temperature, pressure and magnetic field parameters for any net energy to be produced. If a reactor suffers damage or loses even a small degree of required control, fusion reactions and heat generation would rapidly cease.

Additionally, fusion reactors contain relatively small amounts of fuel, enough to "burn" for minutes, or in some cases, microseconds. Unless they are actively refueled, the reactions will quickly end.

...

Hydrogen is highly flammable, and in the case of a fire it is possible that the hydrogen stored on-site could be burned up and escape. In this case, the tritium contents of the hydrogen would be released into the atmosphere, posing a radiation risk. Calculations suggest that at about 1 kilogram (2.2 lb), the total amount of tritium and other radioactive gases in a typical power station would be so small that they would have diluted to legally acceptable limits by the time they blew as far as the station's perimeter fence.

...

The large flux of high-energy neutrons in a reactor will make the structural materials radioactive. The radioactive inventory at shut-down may be comparable to that of a fission reactor, but there are important differences.

The half-life of the radioisotopes produced by fusion tends to be less than those from fission, so that the inventory decreases more rapidly. Unlike fission reactors, whose waste remains radioactive for thousands of years, most of the radioactive material in a fusion reactor would be the reactor core itself, which would be dangerous for about 50 years, and low-level waste for another 100. Although this waste will be considerably more radioactive during those 50 years than fission waste, the very short half-life makes the process very attractive, as the waste management is fairly straightforward. By 500 years the material would have the same radioactivity as coal ash.

...

In general terms, fusion reactors would create far less radioactive material than a fission reactor, the material it would create is less damaging biologically, and the radioactivity "burns off" within a time period that is well within existing engineering capabilities for safe long-term waste storage. [ed: Don't blame me. I got it from Wikipedia.]

That's an awful lot of "could be"s in this assessment, and devil is always in the details with these things. But I wouldn't presently stamp it as intrinsically unsustainable.

Which brings us back to politics: there are probably many people in the environmental movement who think that the present economic reality does not justify chasing after the clean fusion chimera, when all that talent and effort could be directed renewable technologies, supplemented with some prudent energy-use growth-rate belt-tightening. (Clap clap, new world order with actual adults in charge, job done.)

Which makes this article about a particular sustainable energy scenario (the bird in hand coupled with a green philosophy of economic moderation) rather than sustainable energy in the large.

When I get around to reading MacKay, the main question in mind will be this: what energy cost did he assign to the problem of maintaining enough geopolitical stability to keep nuclear energy from causing more problems than it solves? If geopolitical stability is left off the balance sheet, no narrow calculation can be fully trusted, even by a bright guy like MacKay.

So the "manageability" of any technology is tied the economic cost of maintaining a compatible world order and we have now entered the domain of wicked problems.

For my money, we should point this out, rather than sweep it under the environmental consensus rug. — MaxEnt 21:26, 10 June 2017 (UTC)

I get the impression that you're hoping this article be factual and reasonable, however it is created by editor consensus which is often idealistically green and emotional. I agree that any form of energy production has a level of adverse effects, where is the cutoff line?? Dougmcdonell (talk) 03:30, 11 June 2017 (UTC)