Category Archives: Energy Solutions

Food Or Fuel?

Last week My Conservative Friend™ was railing on about how they use sugar cane for fuel in South America and by God why isn’t America running its cars on American corn? I had to explain to him that actually we are, we do, and we have: and some of us don’t think it’s a good thing to turn our food into fuel. Not when people are going hungry, not when food prices are going up, not when Wall Street speculation on corn prices causes price spikes, and most of all not when corn fuels are so energy-intensive to produce that they don’t really solve our energy problems or the climate change problem.

He was completely unaware of the whole ethanol thing, how we now mix ethanol with gasoline. I couldn’t remember how much, but I did remember that it was a couple years ago that Congress mandated higher ethanol content in gasoline, and I remembered some people raising a big stink about it because ethanol can tear up some engines, especially things like lawnmowers. And I remember gas pumps have a big sticker on them indicating the percent of ethanol content in all gasoline. So how someone like My Conservative Friend™ can fill up his big gas-guzzling SUV with gas every week but not be aware that it’s mixed with ethanol is a little mind-boggling to me.

Over at Grist I saw this article which says 40% of all U.S. corn produced goes into our gas tanks. That’s a lot of corn, and I have to say, even I didn’t realize it was that high.

One of the things that frustrates me about our world today is that people are being increasingly asked to engage in the public discourse, yet they are not given the information they need to do so with any level of accuracy. It’s like the Powers That Be want people to be uninformed, but they also want people to be engaged. I guess it’s easier to manipulate an uninformed populace, and giving people politics instead of news and opinion instead of information is the modern-day “bread and circuses” which makes us feel like we are involved in our democracy without actually having control over anything.

I mean, seriously. How can we have a discussion about national energy policy when people don’t even know that American gasoline is mixed with corn ethanol? How can our opinions be valid when we aren’t even informed about what our government is currently doing?

Anyway, Grist calls corn ethanol “the boondoggle that won’t die,” and it’s hard to disagree:

What’s frustrating isn’t that the government is investing in alternative liquid fuels. It’s that, national security be damned, we’re barking up the wrong energy tree: All the data point to ethanol being a climate dead end. And it’s a dead end that’s eating our food. Yet the government finds ways to keep the money flowing towards ethanol. It’s truly the boondoggle that just won’t die.

There is an education gap that makes debating public policy issues so difficult. All the Republicans have to do is come up with some amygdala-triggering slogan: “Nuke The Ragheads!”, “Drill Here, Drill Now!” and “America Fuck Yeah!” None of these things educate people about the world as it is, policies that are currently in place, or the issues that these policies raise. But they do provide an emotional release.

The Left operates on the assumption that people already know what policies are in place, what issues they present, and let’s talk about what we need to do. And we get nowhere.

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Filed under energy future, energy production, Energy Solutions, environment, gas prices

>No More Nukes!

>[UPDATE]:

Glenn at Pax Americana informs that he’s just begun a series of stories on nuclear waste. Check it out.

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Thank you, Bart Gordon:

Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon is urging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission not to allow foreign radioactive waste into the United States.

An American company called Energy Solutions wants to import 20-thousand tons of waste from decommissioned nuclear power plants in Italy. The material would be processed in Tennessee at Oak Ridge, then hauled to the company’s dump in Utah.

Gordon says that would set a precedent the nation can’t afford.

“It reduces our capacity to maintain the waste stream here in the United States, and quite frankly, we don’t have an adequate amount of storage here. Makes no sense to me that we would waste our limited storage capacity on foreign waste when virtually every country in the world does not allow foreign waste to come into their countries.”

And Gordon warns, if the existing American facilities fill up, there will again be pressure to create a dump in Oak Ridge.

You know what I love about this story? That there’s a company calling itself Energy “Soutions” claiming it’s

“solving the problems of global warming and energy dependence in addition to cleaning up the environmental consequences of the cold war.”

No, you’re not! You aren’t “solving” anything. You’re moving nuclear waste around the globe. That’s not a solution, that’s a huge problem! How’s this stuff supposed to get here, anyway–container ship? And since when has America The Beautiful been Europe’s radiocative dumping ground, anyway? It’s bad enough we have China dumping their toxic waste here in the form of pet food and children’s toys.

Calling nuclear energy a solution to global warming is laughable. At its most basic, global warming is a waste problem: greenhouse gases are the waste produced by burning fossil fuels. What’s the big problem with nuclear energy? Dealing with radioactive waste. Europe hasn’t figured out how to do it–that’s why they want to send their junk here. There is no “solution,” not yet, and until there is one, we shouldn’t be trading one global energy waste problem for another.

Nuclear energy is also one of the most heavily subsidized industries we have. Free market advocates take note: Without the intervention of the U.S. government nuclear energy wouldn’t exist. The reason is the Price Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act, passed into law in 1957 and renewed ever since (most recently in 2005). The act basically acknowledges the potential for widespread, catostrophic damages from a serious nuclear accident, the cost of which would be far beyond the reach of any energy company to pay for. Price-Anderson provides a pool of money, primarily from the government although industry contributes, to cover the costs of insuring nuclear reactors.

When this legislation was first conceived back in the 1950s, nuclear energy was a scary new technology that no private insurance company would touch. Everyone expected that to change once the nuclear industry proved itself with a strong safety record, so the bill was set to expire in 1967. Except, of course, nuclear energy never did prove itself not to be the scary technology we all have every right to fear; the bill has been renewed repeatedly, because private insurance companies won’t go near it.

Have I mentioned I hate insurance companies? Here’s one case where I think they’re right on. Say what you will, but the insurance industry knows about risk.

Back when I was a young pup, working toward a degree in environmental science, nuclear energy was a hot button issue. Industry types and politicians tried to tell us it was our only path to energy independence. I call bullshit. It is a path, but not the right one. It has all the same problems that we have with fossil fuels, save the fact that “our” uranium isn’t under “their” sand. Instead, it’s in Australia, Niger and Namibia. And the open-pit uranium mines are an environmental disaster:

Lovely, yes?

(h/t, Volunteer Voters)

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Filed under Energy Solutions, nuclear energy, Price Anderson Act, Rep. Bart Gordon