Saturday, February 18, 2006

"America is addicted to Oil"

Every now and then, I fee like debating political issues; issues that affect our current and future lives. We all know these debates are based on personal beliefs and interpretations of current news and often degenerate into ideological babble (a la religious fanaticism) where people want to hear themselves more than others. And we all know that the expense of energy, squandering of tempers, raising of voices, challenging the "adversary's" cognitive faculties and citations of highly questionable results and personal opinions as sound evidence is all for naught. The sun will still rise the next morning and the politicians will do as they please, completely oblivious to the tensions thousands of miles away in a 600 sq. ft. apartment. But, it is fun. Or as Aditya once referred to it: "mental masturbation".

I just read Aditya's current post about
India's reliance on foreign oil imports and how nuclear energy might offer an alternative. I posted a reply but thought I should post it here as well.

-------Begin post

As always, a well researched post... but here's my take on it: yes, we need alternate sources of energy, but the nuclear option is not it.

By making nuclear option civilian and disabling our nuclear research apparatus, we will ensure that we become completely dependent on countries that currently possess the know-how to build and run these. Not a politically strong position. (We’ll need to throw tenders, they'll give the best deals/ bribes and they'll win)

Also, nuclear-power leads to a very profound by product: nuclear waste. Unlike C02, methane and other "organic" by-products of burning fossil fuels, the disposal of nuclear waste is a very very big problem. it has a half-life of a few billion years and is an assured way of causing cancer if ingested (alpha emitters).

The state-of-the-art disposal technique vitrification and burial is clearly an invitation to accidents and hence a persistent threat to present and future generations.

Even if we do inhumanly decide to go this route, we (India and the rest of the world) will need land fills that are isolated from human population; not just by distance, but including any and every environmental conduit such as jet streams, underwater flows, tectonic shifts and the like. With these many constraints, any piece of land seems to be a prized property (the moon and the sun now actually sound reasonable). And by the laws of supply and demand then, the cost of access to this property (since all nations will want to go there to be guilt/ litigation free) will be fairly high.

What then is the alternative then? An energy solution that is cheap and effective in its entirety: acquisition, transportation, storage, access, consumption and disposal. And we don't have anything competitive to fossil fuels. Not yet.

The one true driver for the entire energy cycle of our planet is the Sun. It has been around for at least 4 billions years (the earth's age) and is expected to remain around for at least as much. We all know that the earth receives enough absolute energy each day to solve all our problems.

However (and this is a huge "however"), the current state-of-art in solar cells is in the teens in terms of efficiency (acquisition problems).

The Sun shines the brightest in the deserts (once a day) and in space (365/24/7) which are not usually where people consume energy (transportation problems).

Related to this is the issue of energy density. To be useful in vehicles such as an 18 wheeler or a commercial airline, batteries are a bad idea. We need something with better or comparable energy density than fossil fuels (storage and access problems).

Disposal is almost completely undefined for this situation as it depends immensely on the techniques used to address the challenges in the prior categories.

Hence, for long term self-reliance, our focus should be on the Sun (tackling individual problem areas above). Invest in solar research and stocks.

bottom-line: "nucular" helps a handful of companies/ people, and may potentially harm us more


Aditya K said...


Let me first say thanks for your kind words.

The point I was trying to make in my original post was that India should negotiate the civilian nuclear agreement such that India gains access to advanced power generation technologies without compromising the strategic options and capabilities. In other words, India must safeguard its military program from external influences and oversight. As far as the import dependence in the civilian sector is concerned, that can be alleviated by negotiating seperate agreements with the conuntries in the NSG.

Now for the power generation, nuclear power in the only option that provides abundant and reliable energy. All other alternative sources of energy, like solar, wind, tidal, geothermal etc., are either too expensive, inefficient or unreliable at this point in time. They may or may not become viable in the future.

So, in the short term, energy from nuclear fission appears to be the only solution.

Anonymous said...

another reason to be against nuclear...

nuclear leak coverup

kage said...

another blurb about nuclear leaks due to recent earth quake in Japan. Read it on CBS here

kage said...

solar stocks jump on tax credits. Read all about it on Thomson Reuters