Tag: Japan nuclear crisis earthquake energy oil
First of all, I think the Japanese are doing a tremendous job in the face of an epic earthquake and nuclear crisis. Granted, it might take months to mitigate the current nuclear situation and it’s associated risks. By design, the overall radioactive output should be limited, even as current events are still unfolding in a less than ideal manner. Hopefully the situation can be contained as quickly as possible. But even if it is not fully contained for months, or even several years, nuclear energy remains a future reality that the world must face.
Japan’s earthquake caused a nuclear nightmare, to be sure, but the Japanese authorities should – overall – be commended on the handling of the crisis in the wake of the epic 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Many people are understandably clamoring to ban nuclear energy as a result, and many takeaway lessons will be learned – including how to design nuclear plants that are even safer.
There is a fundamental, worldwide problem looming in the not-too-distant future: the world is running out of oil. What is the world going to do when when it runs out? In a world rapidly running out of oil, it will not be feasible to ban nuclear energy. It’s more of a question of how best to manage it. It might not be desirable in all cases, or even appropriate in some locales, but in a world running out of oil, nuclear energy is realpolitik. You have to deal with the world as it really is. You might want to change the world, but that takes time. When more suitable energy sources and technologies make nuclear energy less than ideal, only then can we move beyond nuclear energy as a viable energy alternative.
According to USA Today 1, the United States gets 37.3% of it’s energy needs from oil, 24.7% from natural gas, 20.9% from coal, 8.8% from nuclear energy, and just over 8% from other sources. Seems like nuclear energy doesn’t really matter all that much, except that the world is running out of oil.
To get some context, the oil industry began about 150 years ago in the United States, in a little town in Pennsylvania called Titusville. In fact, it was in 1859 when the first oil well in Titusville produced 25 barrels of oil. Amazingly, world oil supplies have peaked today – that is, in the year 2010 or so – and world oil capacity will be exhausted sometime in the next century. With energy demand soaring, including rapidly expanding regions in Asia, such as China, this is a serious worldwide crisis with global ramifications.
With that in mind, let’s review the famous Hubbert Curve 2. In 1956, M. King Hubbert, a Shell Oil geologist, proposed a production curve, which has a bell-shaped curve. Production from any specific oil well would ramp up quickly as production increased and would then peak and drop back down quickly, until all the oil was exhausted from the well. Hubbert then further extrapolated his model to world oil production. The Hubbert Curve accurately predicted that the United States’ oil reserves would peak in 1970 3.
In a world running out of oil (and even natural gas), and with consumption sky rocketing around the world, what Pollyanna really believes that nuclear energy will really be totally shelved? Well, maybe it will be shelved in Germany, but not for long. The ensuing energy crisis will press nuclear energy back into full production. Coal is plentiful and cheap, but when compared to oil and nuclear energy, it’s effects on the environment are far worse than oil and nuclear energy. In fact, naturally recurring radioactive elements in coal make it even worse than nuclear energy4. Indeed, we can’t even ban coal (though we should require environmental filtering of its emissions) until we start creating a more sustainable energy model. And that we must do, if we expect the world to survive for another millenium.