8) Water Power
As with wind and sun, wave action is just as endless. On a stop in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, we learned that a $4 million dollar pilot project is being proposed there to turn ocean waves into electricity. The areas Journal Tribune newspaper carried an AP report that said in the pilot phase of the project, the wave energy plant would power 500 homes.
The newspaper reported that four tubular steel pieces would move with the motion of the waves. And hydraulic pistons would create energy as the device pitches and yaws on the ocean surface. (There is also talk of creating electricity from the region’s strong tidal currents.)
Our administration would try to encourage such research and development around this clean, renewable energy resource.
Another way to utilize water is through geothermal applications. In Ohio and Michigan, we researched geothermal methods of heating a home.
In Florida, Ohio (pop.: “If you blink…”), Steve Batt told me his geothermal system consisted of a series of looped pipes that run below his flooring and into the ground outside his home. Water is pumped through these. In the winter, the groundwater is warmer than the outside air temperature, said Batt, and the heat is drawn from it to warm the house. In the summer, it’s the reverse.
In Houghton, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, David Bach talked to us about geothermal as well. Bach is a carpenter with a strong environmental bent and a regional coordinator of Habitat for Humanity.
The geothermal system he uses to heat his home involves tubes running from his hot water heater and snaking below smooth, painted concrete flooring in the house. The hot water circulates through the pipes (and back) heating the floor, which in turn heats the home. Bach said with this system he averages a monthly winter heating bill, in the rather frigid Upper Peninsula, of $17.
Like with wind and solar initiatives, our administration would provide a series of creative incentives to help many undertake geothermal applications.
Note: At the end of the interview, David Bach said to me: “We need a (U.S. Energy Plan based on sustainability.” And we are confident the strategies we’ve proposed in this position paper for our Energy Plan will move the U.S. toward sustainability in a tremendous way.
9) “No” to Future Nuclear Power Production
Nuclear energy currently accounts of some 16% of worldwide energy production, and about 20% in the U.S. As people got more and more “power hungry, or even power addicted,” they looked for any expedient means to meet their need for immediate gratification – with in some cases, a real lack of well-considered thought about the long term ramifications to the environment, to people in harms way, and to those in future generations.
And nuclear energy, we believe, is one of those ill-considered energy solutions.
We traveled to Luck, Wisconsin where we met with “Nukewatch” co-director Bonnie Urfer. (Nukewatch is a non-profit nuclear industry watch dog agency.) Ms. Urfer noted that in Feb. 2002, U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham unveiled “Nuclear Power 2010 Plan,” a joint, cost shared effort to identify sites for new nuclear reactors. She said the government and the nuclear industry claim nuclear power is cheap, safe and clean.
Ms. Urfer said that is a misrepresentation.
First of all, Ms. Urfer said utility companies are in the business of making money and are “not vested in people living simply (energy-wise).” She also noted that nuclear energy is not “renewable.” That is, estimates are that readily available uranium fuel won’t last much more than 50 years.
Addressing the safety issue, Ms. Urfer pointed to the catastrophic Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant incident. In April of 1986, a chain reaction at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in the former USSR (now the Ukraine) got out of control. Explosions and a fireball blew off the reactors heavy steel and concrete lid – releasing clouds of deadly radioactive material into the atmosphere for more than 10 days. These clouds spread out over northern Europe, contaminating air, crops, and ground water.
In a Texas speech several years ago, Dr. Vladimir Chernousenko, who is the former head of the Ukrainian Academy of Science and was the lead investigator of the Chernobyl Clean-Up, said the amount of radiation emitted from Chernobyl’s accident was immense. He said it was comparable to the detonations of all nuclear tests, ever.
While just 31 people died immediately after the Chernobyl accident, Dr. Chernousenko said millions of people were affected through breathing the air, ingesting radioactivity in their food, and so on. (And what’s more, at an energy seminar at the University of Las Vegas, I learned it’s tremendously hard to pin point and track incidence of cancer, birth defects, and so on, that will occur in radiation fall out areas – for years to come.)
Toward the end of the speech, Dr. Chernousenko said America’s Three Mile Island Nuclear incident in the mid-70s would have been the same – if the catastrophe hadn’t been averted last minute.
According to a series of Washington Post articles, a huge hydrogen bubble started to form in a reactor at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. If there had been a reactor explosion like with Chernobyl or a meltdown, the Post reported, there would be a release of radioactive iodine that could dose people living down wind with as much as 150 rems of radiation in a single day. According to one of the articles, a lethal dose is 400 rems, but the sick, the elderly, the young, and unborn children could easily die from a dose of 150 rems.
What’s more, the article went on to say that a dose that strong could begin to kill bone marrow so fast that death might follow in a matter of months.
In February of 2002, a routine check-up at Ohio’s Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant revealed that corrosion had chewed a hole into the reactor head. Only 3/16th of an inch of steel prevented a potential catastrophic nuclear release, according to Nukewatch material. The story immediately gained national attention. (We were on a campaign stop in Port Clinton, Ohio – in the shadow of the Davis Besse plant – two years later on the day a new reactor head, with much fanfare, was trucked into the plant to replace the damaged one.)
While the people living down wind from the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant were lucky the crisis was averted, people living downwind from the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant, in the middle part of the last century, apparently weren’t as lucky. The Hanford Plant, located in southeastern Washington, had a significant number of controlled, and documented, radiation releases.
According to a Seattle Times article, in early December of 1949, scientists conducted a secret experiment. They poured caustic chemicals on a ton of radioactive uranium fresh from a nuclear reactor. This spewed a plume of radiation that was carried downwind to, among other places, Walla Walla, Washington.
Walla Walla’s Steve Stanton was five-years-old at the time. He went on to become the father of three, a civil engineer, and in his mid-30s – contracted thyroid cancer. The Times article said Mr. Stanton, and some 2,300 “Hanford Down Winders” with cancer, birth defects, respiratory illness, and other physical maladies that could possibly be tied to the radiation releases were suing the companies that built and ran Hanford.
On a stop in Walla Walla, I interviewed a woman who grew up here during some of the radiation releases. Her career was cut short when she contracted a brain tumor, and a number of other debilitating physical problems. She too believes her physical problems were tied to the radiation releases from Hanford.
10) Disposal Plan for Current High-Level Nuclear Waste
Besides the ever-lurking potential for catastrophic Nuclear Power Plant accidents, the other issue of significant concern is the disposal of high-level nuclear waste from these plants, said Nukewatch’s Ms. Urfer.
The current proposal is to bury 77,000 tons (and counting) of high-level nuclear waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
We went to California where we interviewed Mohave Community College geology professor John Squibb. The college is in the Yucca Mountain region, and Professor Squibb has followed Yucca Mountain developments closely. He said geographic fault lines could develop near Yucca Mountain, triggering an earthquake, or volcanic reaction, sparking a ‘high level’ radioactive release that could put the region in tremendous peril.
Mike Farrel, a Hollywood director, actor (“Mash”) and anti-nuclear activist, wrote that: “Yucca Mountain sits in an earthquake zone and above a fresh water aquifer.” And he added that he believed the nuclear industry “has no right to create a dangerous substance it can neither, safely contain, or control.”
On the containment end, Professor Squibb noted that there’s a good possibility the containment vessels for the nuclear waste will breakdown long before the tens of thousands of years it will take for the nuclear reaction inside to stop. I wrote a guest column for the Lima (OH) News explaining this. Then I posed a scenario. Say some 1,000 years from now, the containment vessels break down, or there’s an earthquake in the area, triggering a radioactive release that kills many. Even though there would be no legal ramifications for our generation being energy addicted and extremely careless – would there be spiritual ramifications?
That is, would we be culpable for the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” thing?
Professor Squibb said he believes the safest way to dispose of the high-level nuclear waste is one proposed by former Atomic Energy Chairperson Dr. Dixie Lee Ray. Professor Squibb said Dr. Ray explained to him that this proposal is to drill a hole in a “desert region” of the Pacific Ocean near North America. The reinforced hole would extend quite deep to the “Moharavcic Zone of Discontinuity.” Then the nuclear waste would be injected into this hole in such a way that the North American platelet (which is in slow, continual motion) would fold it over toward the core of the earth. Professor Squibb added the core of the earth is radioactive, and this nuclear waste would dissolve into the original atoms. (According to Squibb, this option would be much more expensive than the Yucca Mountain proposal.)
I told the Kingman (AZ) Miner newspaper that even though this proposal would be more expensive, I would be in favor of the disposal of the nuclear waste in the safest way possible. And at the same time, I would stridently work to end this nuclear (power plants, weapons) madness, while just as stridently trying to inspire energy conservation and a tremendous shift to clean, renewable resource energy production.
The exhaust from fuels (“dirty fuels”) we, for the most part, burn in our motor vehicles add carcinogens to the air and spew a tremendous amount of global warming gases as well. This spells mounting environmental disaster and absolutely terrible environmental stewardship.
Our administration would propose a series of things to significantly reverse this.
At a seminar on Peak Oil at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio recently, I learned we stand on the precipice of “peak oil” production worldwide, and as we move into the declining end of oil production, gas prices will continue to rise. I told a reporter at the Cortez Journal in Cortez, Colorado that mounting gas prices is a “good thing” for America. That is, it will force some Americans to cut back on driving (which is a tremendous pollutant). And it will force us to look to much more alternative transportation – and alternative fuels.
In Durango, Colorado, we learned about a new biodiesel fuel made of soybean and canola oil, which can be mixed in with gasoline and doesn’t require engine modification to use. In the nearby San Juan Basin of Colorado, a Biodiesel Cooperative was starting up to produce alternative fuels for the area.
While traveling through Nebraska, we learned this state now has 11 operating ethanol plants, and plans for a dozen more.
Our administration would promote more federal incentives and urge more local and state incentives as well to further spark this trend. And we would provide incentives for growing, perhaps, the best biomass fuel around: switch grass.
According to the National Geographic article on energy (sited earlier), switch grass is a plant native to North America’s prairies. It grows faster and needs less fertilizer than corn. And it grows on land unfit for other crops. It is also a source for animal food and further reduces the pressure on farmland. The article noted that the National Bioenergy Center’s Thomas Faust, a technology manager, said “if you increase auto efficiency to the level of hybrid, and go with a switch grass crop mix – you could meet two-thirds of the U.S. transportation fuel demand with no additional land.”
Our administration would also push for more incentives for research and development of hybrid technology.
For instance, we went to Bowling Green, Ohio to meet with Bowling Green State University’s Jon Opperman. He is involved with BGSU’s Alternative Vehicle Department. Helped by a NASA grant, this department has developed a “hybrid bus” that has been put into use as a shuttle bus around campus. The friction from the braking action on this full size bus is transferred to an “ultra-capacitor.” Then this energy is regenerated into power for starting the bus up again after each stop. This process currently saves 30% in fuel, said the professor. The lightweight ultra-capacitor replaces the heavy batteries often used to store electricity and, with some work, could be adapted for hybrid cars.
Our administration would also push for more incentives and public education programs to inspire much more use of mass transit, whether buses, light rail, etc. And we would consider incentive programs for research and development of totally electric or solar powered vehicles, and so on.
In addition, we would push for a move to make towns more alternative vehicle friendly – and walking and bicycling friendly as well – with Dan Burden’s “Walkable Community Model.” Burden, who Time Magazine called one of the top environmentalists in America, travels the country showing towns how to significantly slow speed limits, increase walking and bicycle corridors, locate senior living facilities above downtown mercantile sections, and much more. Burden told me a number of towns now have adopted his model, and he’s optimistic that as the fuel crisis mounts, and we also realize the tremendously negative environmental impact of our current transportation habits (pollution, urban sprawl…), more towns will get on board with his model.
And to connect these towns, besides our country’s current National Highway System, our administration would line up behind Santa Cruz, California’s Martin Krieg. On a stop in Santa Cruz, we interviewed Krieg, who is the founder of a movement to get a “National Bike Tail System.” Several years earlier, Krieg had almost been killed (was actually dead on arrival at the hospital) after a motor vehicle accident. He believes more bicycling and walking would certainly save on energy and pollution; it would also save on the quite significant numbers of maiming and deaths (one every 13 minutes in America) from motor vehicle accidents.
What’s more, we believe the more walking and bicycling Americans do, the healthier they will be. A common sense component to our Health Care policy as well.
“Schriner said he uses his bicycle to get around Cleveland about 95% of the time.” – Valley Courier newspaper, Alamosa, Colorado