Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Concepts of James Lovelock

Dr. James Lovelock: “There is no sensible alternative to nuclear power if we are to sustain civilization.” - James Lovelock, preeminent world leader in the development of environmental consciousness. Since 1974, Lovelock has been a Fellow of the Royal Society. Since 1994, he has been an Honorary Visiting Fellow of Green College, University of Oxford. New Scientist described him as “one of the great thinkers of our time. The London Observer has called him, “one of the environmental movement’s most influential figures.” Prospect magazine named Dr. Lovelock in September 2005, “one of the world’s top 100 global public intellectuals. But in fact he just about tries to demolish every renewable energy source as of little benefit in tackling global warming! His response to nuclear waste. “I have offered in public to accept all the high-level waste produced in a year from a nuclear power station for deposit on my small plot of land it would occupy a space about a cubic metre in size and fit safely in a concrete pit, and I would use the heat from its decaying radioactive elements to heat my home. It would be a waste not to use it. More important, it would be no danger to me, my family or the wildlife.” This of course would be a stunt as universal disposal in this manner. For one thing we would end up with nuclear material of a strength or activity much higher than background radiation all over the place, a rather irresponsible thing to do. Lovelock does not appear to have perception that the nuclear industry will never ever be a safe one as the world is entrenched in crazy ideologies and to disperse material such as this even in a limited way will play into the hands of the black market even more than what is happening now. Granted we are in dire need to produce clean energy but there is an even greater need to produce this energy without creating an apocalypse that can easily destroy us long before global warming does.

There are 27000 nuclear weapons 70 times more powerful in the world today than those dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and of those 27000, 4000 are set on hair trigger alert to explode at a few minutes notice from threat or perceived or through accident or malfunction or by decision of the machine. There is no safe nuclear waste storage anywhere in the world and there is no properly managed inventory and probably will never be, to account for spent and waist products or nuclear fuel itself. There are many buyers out there to buy black market nuclear fuel and there were 650 cases of smuggling nuclear fuel in the last ten years. Thanks to the internet diffusion of knowledge a good PhD student could make a crude nuclear weapon in the backyard in two or three years.

No ethical code for scientists exists. Too many scientists have nuclear knowledge and not containing it and putting it up to the highest bidder and making money out of it. Scientists must think of the end result of their work. And not just say I’m a computer scientist or I’m a nuclear scientist or an environmentalist etc. And despite it being true that the world is bathed in low level radiation both from within and from our nearest safe nuclear reactor, the sun, it is not a legitimate reason to use this to deaden the understanding of just how tremendously dangerous the nuclear path is. A huge amount of capital is invested in the armament industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs are directly involved in it and we are all involved in some way or other and it will become worse if we take Lovelock’s approach. And he states, “I believe nuclear power is the only source of energy that will satisfy our demands and yet not be a hazard to Gaia (Planet Earth) and interfere with its capacity to sustain a comfortable climate and atmospheric composition This is mainly because nuclear reactions are millions of times more energetic than chemical reactions. The most energy available from a chemical reaction, such as burning carbon in oxygen, is about nine kilowatt hours per kilogram. The nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms to form helium gives several million times as much, and the energy from splitting uranium is greater still.” He cites Biomass, writing, “Bio fuels are especially dangerous because it is too easy to grow them as a replacement for fossil fuel they will then demand an area of land or ocean far larger than Gaia can afford… We have already taken more than half of the productive land to grow food for ourselves. How can we expect Gaia to manage the Earth if we try to take the rest of the land for fuel production. Just imagine that we tried to power our present civilization on crops grown specifically for fuel, such as coppice woodland, fields of oilseed rape, and so on. These are the ‘bio fuels’, the much-applauded renewable energy source…We would need the land area of several Earths just to grow the bio fuel.” This I do agree on! And we could also damage even further our health and not only the planet’s health. Presented by National Geographic, Strange Days on Planet Earth, reveals intriguing new discoveries about the health of our fragile planet which in turn affects our health e.g. dust blown from one continent causing asthma and many other strange things happening in a far removed country. He also tries to demolish all natural energy flows as being worthless not noting that the whole annual energy requirement of the world in sunlight falls in just two days over the area of Australia alone and that economies of scale will kick in with all the technologies used. Or that new solar cells are many times more efficient than the older generations of them and also many times less expensive e.g. slither solar cells and distributed on every roof are a very sensible way to produce extra power. And he appears to be uninformed about the potential of solar thermal energy with storage as it is now. His fossilized concepts of a past century appear to not allow him to understand that energy wise we do not need to continue in the same way as we have done in the past.

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