Saturday, July 28, 2012

Oil, The Green Movement, And National Security

Two years ago the President opposed building the Keystone pipeline to allow us to receive and refine Canadian crude. Bad move, you see, Canada is arguably one of our oldest and most reliable allies and so receiving oil from transactions with a Canadian company would reduce our dependance on middle eastern and south american oil fields. That reduction in dependance on the oil resources of potentially hostile nations has been a priority for every president since the creation of the internal combustion engine and it's adoption in military vehicles. Why did Obama block it? Concerns over the environmental impact mostly, and a support for moving away from fossil fuels.

Let's take a look at the why of this. Obviously we need to get off of fossil fuels eventually since they are effectively a finite resource (the earth does produce oil through action of pressure and heat on hydrocarbons in the sub strata of the earths crust and mantle, we just use it faster than it is produced and have such vast reserves due to the millenia of this process taking place without large scale tapping) we have to explore other options for power. Even if you don't buy in to the concept of anthropogenic global climate change, man-made global warming as it is more commonly known, there is little reason not to explore cleaner and more efficient power generation methods either.

The problem is none of the technologies that environmentalists want to replace fossil fuels with are really mature. Even if we switched all corn production in the United States to the production of corn ethanol based biofuel it would only produce between thirty and fifty percent of the fuel requirements of the nation as a replacement for conventional fossil fuels. That is before we get in to the waste gases produced by corn ethanol and it's production, it shares a lot of end chemistry with conventional fuels though. Solar power is arguably the holy grail of green energy, but even now it is fairly inefficient, with peak hours that are middling at best, the plus side is it really is "green" and despite unimpressive peaks is a fairly steady production method through most of the day if weather is permitting. The downside is that you need good weather conditions, solar panels are still fairly fragile, and to get enough energy to be worthwhile you need fairly extensive solar panel "farms" that remove that land from other potential uses. Wind energy shares all the same problems as solar, with the added detractor of needing good wind conditions and their larger profile makes it even harder to get them cleared through zoning. Thermal tapping is an interesting new field, one that needs more research done. Basically the process of tapping trapped lava flows and using the gasses to power turbines, the principles are sound but  it has yet to be done on a truly large scale and can currently only be done in areas where the crust of the earth is thin above a lava flow.

What's my solution, you ask? Or am I just bloviating? Well, obviously to some extent we need to continue oil and natural gas production, it is a steady, mostly safe means of energy production that we can expand in our own country. We do that with the understanding that fossil fuels have to be seen as a transitional power source while we explore other options. We should also begin taking a look at nuclear energy again. No I'm not talking about the old Uranium based power plants, those are old hat and some other countries have moved beyond them to the wonder isotope, Thorium 232. Thorium 232 is 100% useable in the reaction process unlike Uranium 235 which is only .7% useable, and we have enough of it worldwide to supply power across the globe for the next thousand years if the trend in power consumption remains constant. Best of all Thorium 232 is only fissile using priming of a breeder reaction system that transforms it in to Thorium 233, meaning it is essentially impossible to have a meltdown, and completely impossible to have an uncontrolled meltdown. With 100% useable mass the only byproducts of Thorium after it completes several cycles of use and reclamation are inert.

We know all of this because Germany, India, France, and a company in Texas have been operating research reactors that use thorium beads since the mid 90's for the most part, and proof of concept reactors have been in existence since the 1960's, though none have been in constant operation that long. We need to stop demonizing the production of energy and start turning to science for answers, or our national security will always be dependent on Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and other such nations to sell us the fuel our military needs.

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