Wednesday Night #1314: ‘Nobody’s Fuel’ – Nuclear Energy

Written by  //  May 9, 2007  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1314: ‘Nobody’s Fuel’ – Nuclear Energy

In contrast to most Wednesday Nights, there was a very specific focus on “Nobody’s Fuel”; the labour of love patiently put together by the Lightfoot family, Douglas, along with his sons Brian and Steven. They presented a detailed look at the findings set out in detail in the newly-released video, while Frank Kinnelly’s informed interjections set the tone for questioners.

Astri Reusch, one of Wednesday Night’s favorite and best-known artists, has returned from her winter season artist-in-residence stay at the Pilchuck Glass School north of Seattle.

Marilynn Vanderstaay has moved her column to the new Westmount Independent which will be published every two weeks and delivered to all Westmounters by mail. The publisher is David Price of Price Patterson Publishing, the editor, Loreen Sweeney. This will be the only newspaper available to Westmounters that is entirely produced in Westmount, by Westmount residents.

Hubbert’s Peak
The world (at least 85%) runs on carbon or more specifically, on fossil fuels, coal, natural gas and petroleum; but time is running out. Historically, energy consumption has been a function of affluence, rising with disposable income, increasing availability of clean water, longevity, health care, housing, communication and transportation.
Marion King Hubbert accurately predicted that U. S. petroleum production would peak in the ’70s and world petroleum production, in the early part of this century.

[Note: The 100-year period when most of the world’s oil is being discovered became known as Hubbert’s Peak. The peak stands in contrast to the hundreds of millions of years the oil deposits took to form. Dr. Hubbert’s methods predict a peak in world oil production less than five years away.]

Even with the remaining lifespan of current and as-yet-undiscovered petroleum reserves, the prospect of diminishing production in the face of increasing demand resulting from increased world affluence and population growth is frightening. Forty percent of oil is used to create electricity. Petroleum-based products are so much a part of contemporary life that it appears more palatable to rely on human ingenuity to find a solution when the crunch occurs, than to work towards one today.

– We are using up oil faster than we can find it and we can’t get the non-conventional oil out of the ground fast enough – some of it we can never get out

– You don’t know for several years after whether the peak has been reached

– Price doesn’t make the reserves any bigger – it only extends the time over which the reserves will be extracted

– There is a U.S. estimate that we will find more oil in the next 30 years than we ever have

Other sources of energy include hydro and tidal electricity, wind and geothermal. They supply approximately 9% of our energy needs today. The use of coal has a severe effect on climate change although technology has been developed to deal with carbon dioxide emissions and it is possible to capture the heat produced to heat buildings, streets and sidewalks. Although the cost has decreased, wind power has been relatively expensive and is intermittent, requiring an auxiliary energy resource on standby.
Nuclear energy the answer?
The logical prime energy source for the future, if human life on the planet is to survive, is nuclear. In the minds of knowledgeable experts, this will be our salvation, provided that the reactor technology required to meet the world’s energy demands can be successfully developed in time.
The very first electricity produced by nuclear reactor was in the U.S. in 1951 and today the nuclear energy programme is coming back to life; the French and the Russians have had fast reactor technology for more than 25 years, but these have not been without problems
Currently all commercial nuclear reactors are based on nuclear fission. Nuclear fusion power is an experimental technology that can produce electricity by fusion, harnessing energy within the atom through the use of fast breeder reactors which, it is predicted, can be productive for millennia (as opposed to ten to twenty years for reactors producing energy through fission) while leaving no radioactive waste. The Japanese, who do not have uranium, have a very good programme to develop an advanced fast breeder reactor.
Unfortunately it is not certain that we have the time to develop and produce fast breeder reactors. ITER, a joint international research and development project, aims to show fusion could be used to generate electrical power, and to gain the necessary data to design and operate the first electricity-producing plant.

[Editor’s note: “Canada become a participant in negotiations in 2001 by proposing a site for ITER, but left the project at the end of 2003 when it was not selected.” That would have been under the Liberal government – not something to blame on the “New Canadian Government”]

Meanwhile, 28 new nuclear reactors are being built in 12 countries.
Knowledgeable skeptics insist that in the last half of the twentieth century, nuclear energy was seen as a stop-gap measure for a quarter century or so, while the search for a more permanent energy source was undertaken, and still believe that the solution to the containment problem in fusion is not attainable in time. The solution, they believe, is to reduce the use of energy while continuing to live well. Recognizing the problem of developing more accessible clean energy sources, they see human ingenuity and more realistic pricing practices as highly motivating factors in adapting to a different yet successful sustainable lifestyle. They see the price increases in petroleum to date as have been totally insufficient in reflecting the reality of the situation. They suggest that a pricing policy more realistically reflecting the gravity of the situation and concurrent investment in human ingenuity and creativity can provide a solution for the future and is the way to go. They see the government as playing a major role to play in this, taxing carbon, investing taxes in mass transportation as well as creative use of the heat produced by conventional energy sources.

At some point the curves have to stop going up; we have to assume that energy consumption per capita has got to level off and, hopefully, decline. That has got to come about through conservation afforts that do not force the human race to sacrifice most of the standards of living that the richer nations have achieved
The problem is not with the per capita consumption – it is the increase of the ‘capita’

The economy (see also Jacques Clément’s Report)

The world economy is in better shape than it has been since before World War I.
Although core inflation has been a little higher than predicted, the stock market has done remarkably well, and barring an unpredictable uneasiness that things seem too good, will continue to do so for a while. In China, the economy has increased by 10½ percent, India, 8½ percent, Russia at 7%. These countries will continue to place a huge demand on natural resources. Commodity prices have risen incredibly, leading to uneasiness by some Canadians concerning foreign acquisition of commodities here by multinationals.

It doesn’t seem that things are as good as they are; absent long-term considerations of a host of issues, the world economy is in pretty good shape – but most people are going to feel uncomfortable about it
Oil is a cost-plus commodity

Foreign Takeovers – Bad, Ugly or Good?
The recent wave of foreign takeovers of Canadian multinationals, including this week’s news that Alcoa has made an offer for Alcan, provokes a number of reactions. Some Wednesday Nighters expressed confidence in the creativity of local entrepreneurs to take up the slack, pointing to such success stories as Cirque de Soleil, Softimage, Discreet Logic (now the entertainment division of California-based Autodesk). Others were uneasy about the future of Montreal as a world-class city;  today it has only a handful of giant multinationals,  with the disappearance of almost all the head offices that were formerly resident here. These people see a considerable loss in terms of high-end jobs and talented young people who are more interested in the complexity of the big companies.

– You can’t defend the Alstom approach – protecting two [multinationals] instead of one; you have to have a strategy to build five more. Montreal doesn’t have a strategy
– Perhaps we’ll see some positive changes with the advent of the ADQ
– Small is wonderful, so is medium and so is big; we need them all

[Editor’s note: Recently, Gazette business columnist Jay Bryan 1. points out that Canadian companies are also involved in international takeovers and 2. cites Wednesday Nighter Karl Moore’s statement that “global headquarters aren’t nearly as centralized as they used to be” continuing, “Moore counts five headquarters operations, including a major one in Paris, retained after Alcan took over Pechiney, a French aluminum company. [Furthermore] Moore notes that Bombardier Inc. has the global headquarters of its rail operations in Germany. Nokia, the Finnish cellphone giant, has some headquarters operations in Britain. Ericsson, a Swedish telecom company, has key research and development responsibilities in Montreal.”
In a second column, Foreign takeovers don’t gut Canada, they benefit it he quotes Statistics Canada’s findings that:
-Foreign-owned firms do more research and development, on average, and tend to be more innovative than Canadian-owned ones.
-Foreign-owned firms actually increase head-office employment at the Canadian firms they control. In fact, they do so at a more rapid rate than head-office employment increases at Canadian-owned firms.
-A recent Statistics Canada research project studied head-office employment in Canada for 1999 to 2005. It found that foreign-controlled firms accounted for about two-thirds of all Canada’s increase in head-office employment during this period.]

The Prologue

Douglas Lightfoot will be with us this Wednesday to discuss his newly-released video Nobody’s Fuel which carries the intriguing and controversial subtitle ‘Energy supply is more important than climate change’. He explains: “Climate change and global warming are very important issues… it is clear that most people have no idea how much energy our society consumes, nor how important it is to Humankind and the adaptation to climate change. …The signs on the wall all point to a time, perhaps within a generation, when affordable, high quality energy may begin to become scarce.”
The topic expands on at least one aspect of last week’s discussion of renewable (clean) sources of energy.
There is little doubt in the minds of most Wednesday Nighters (thanks to persuasive arguments of our OWN Judith Patterson and others) that Hubbert’s Peak is a reality. Douglas presents cogent arguments for adoption of nuclear fission as a primary source of energy to meet the world’s future needs. We are also delighted that Frank Kinnelly, former Science Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa will be with us to provide knowledgeable comments and questions. He mentions that “Many of the sessions at the annual AAAS meeting in San Francisco focused on energy policy, while others focused on climate change, and for the first time since I’ve been attending these sessions there was a serious look at nuclear energy.” Frank and Douglas are already engaged in a vigorous e-mail exchange which we have enjoyed.
There will, of course, be other topics, both related and not.
In the related category is the release of the report of the third working group of the IPCC (if you have to ask, you haven’t been paying attention!) with its optimistic conclusion that “There is considerable economic potential for the mitigation of global greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades, that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels.”
Even more timely, is the meeting of the 26th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change from 7-18 May. More
Moreover, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the G8, has pledged to put climate change at the top of the agenda next month when leaders of the world’s richest nations gather at their Summit.
On the heels of the report’s release, comes the news that Canada’s New Government (when WILL they stop?) welcomed release of the IPCC Report … Interesting, how quickly optics change.
By now the surfeit of analyses of the outcome of the Iraq security conference in Egypt, awaits the combined wisdom of Wednesday Night
The French presidential election has been decided – confirming Wednesday Night predictions of a “Sarko” victory. Amidst all of the comments and predictions, we recommend “Nicolas Sarkozy’s triumph in the French presidential elections could open the way for deep political and social changes, not unlike those that began with the era of Margaret Thatcher in Britain in the 1980s.”
While the Wolfowitz saga, on the other hand, is still not resolved [his lawyer is quoted as saying that he will refuse to step down even if the special committee concludes that he was acting unethically], his Director of Communications Strategy, Kevin Kellems has announced his departure effective next week.
The vote in Scotland for a Pro-independence nationalist majority has certainly raised a few eyebrows, but it should be appreciated that the new government is not a majority and therefore unlikely to be able to call a referendum.
The date for the elections, which may or may not resolve the power struggle in Ukraine, will have been announced
By Wednesday Night, Queen Elizabeth II will have been and gone from her six-day tour of the U.S. where doubtless the most enjoyable part will have been her first-ever Kentucky Derby – we cannot imagine that it was her visit to the White House (Note the Guardian’s gleeful report of the Presidential gaffe )
The media itself is in the news, with the Murdoch proposal to take over the Dow Jones empire, and more recently the Thomson Corporation bid for Reuters And there’s always the Conrad Black saga with David Radler now on the stand.
Finally, for lovers of international intrigue and the mysteries of the justice system, Carlos the Jackal is due for another trial even though he is already serving a life sentence.

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