Steve Chu Fanboyism

What a friendly shade of blue.

What a friendly shade of blue.

Steve Chu is our Secretary of Energy. Steve Motherfucking Chu. Steve “If I tell you that nuclear power is our best option, listen the fuck up” Chu.

I am a happy man.

No, I’m not being sarcastic. I have no qualms at all that Obama chose to pick a physics professor and a Nobel Prize winner, for his research in trapping and cooling atoms with laser light, as the United States of America’s twelfth Secretary of Energy. Neither does the Senate, as Chu got confirmed unanimously. There is not a single person more qualified, not a single citizen more knowledgeable, of the field he’s now responsible for. Bush has often ranted on about his future legacy, but Obama’s already made history with a single tap on the shoulder: ladies and gentlemen, we finally have experts, honest-to-god qualified experts, in charge of our infrastructure.

Maybe it’s time we started listening to them.

Secretary Chu is famous for his stance on green power in general, and nuclear energy especially. To make it unambiguous, he’s now the biggest proponent of the use and development of nuclear technology to wean the US away from fossil fuel use, believing it to be by far the most effective way of generating power for the US infrastructure while minimizing its effect on the environment.

The thing is, if you understand anything at all about the nuclear power industry, you would quickly see that you’d have to be an absolute crackhead to disagree with the man. We have advanced leaps and bounds beyond the days of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – both of which, incidentally, were not so much proof of nuclear power’s intrinsic dangers as they were evidence that if you put a bunch of prats and idiots in charge of a billion-dollar-plus nuclear facility, you’ll win the bet on whether or not you can redefine the term “foolproof.” In fact, despite the radical leftist fearmongering over the dangers of nuclear power, most of Florida and ALL OF FRANCE has been successfully powered for years by nuclear reactors.

In the case of France, they even have enough surplus at night that they’re almost forced to direct it towards the production of hydrogen, just to do something with the excess.

In case I failed to stress it enough, reactors are safe. Reactors are powerful. Reactors spit out byproduct in the form of dihydrogen monoxide – commonly referred to in English as… wait for it… water. True, the water’s lightly irradiated, but so are you from being near a lamp. In fact, ironically, a nuclear reactor’s total radiative output is actually far less than that of a common coal plant.

Blows your mind, doesn’t it?

Furthermore, as they are designed now by the nations that use them, a nuclear reactor’s possibly one of the safest constructs mankind can ever imagine of building with today’s materials technologies. From a personal anecdote alone, as the marketing associate for a piping stress analysis software company, I’ve heard many designers for such systems half-jokingly claim that the best way to prevent a future earthquake disaster in California, they should build a few nuclear reactors on top of the San Andreas fault, so as to keep it from moving.

What about the waste products? Nothing. Forget about the superfund project. We have been developing ways to reprocess nuclear waste back into usable form, stripping them of the worst of their long-term radioactivity in the process. It used to be that said material tended towards the same isotopes that could be used for military projects, but that is simply no longer true. Though the recycled byproducts will be white-hot, their half-lives are measured in much more easily manageable years and decades, instead of the millennia that unprocessed waste would’ve lasted.

Reactors are safe. It’s been decades since Three Mile Island, and the world’s science community has not slept on the technology, even if the public has. There is no reason to fear nuclear technology.

I’ve inferred as to how powerful the damned things are too. In terms of sheer output, you can probably power the entire country with a dozen at most. Even most of China, with their billion-and-counting population level, can be easily powered for the next few decades, at continued breakneck development, by a similar handful. You want to talk about fossil fuel independence? Solar panels can’t do it, wind farms can’t do it, there aren’t enough viable geothermal points, and dams cause more environmental damage than they’d theoretically prevent.

All combined may have a shot at doing it, but for how long? Humankind’s lust for power is limitless, driven by our population growth and the increased sophistication of our technological prowess. We need nuclear technology – or face an eventual decline and reversal that’d make the Dark Ages look absolutely sunny.

The only problem left, of course, is the cost. And interestingly enough, Obama’s nearly trillion-dollar bailout package specifically calls for the development of long-term infrastructure projects…


~ by Gonzo Mehum on February 3, 2009.

11 Responses to “Steve Chu Fanboyism”

  1. As a complete aside, speaking as someone in the ‘industry,’ so to speak, the RBMK reactor design at Chernobyl was actually an inherently flawed, poorly-built and poorly operated reactor. It was in no way capable of meeting anything resembling western safety standards. And TMI’s design actually worked as intended – the system contained a major fission product release admirably, given the…cumulative errors…that resulted in the release in the first place. And new reactors – and refurbished ones – have been redesigned with those lessons learned.

    There is nothing safer, in the terms of power produced, than a modern nuclear reactor with its associated safeguards, the vicious internal monitoring system emplaced and the terrifying outside agency reviews that a plant goes through. The Department of Energy’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a modern-day Inquisition that can shut down any plant anywhere in the US if it so much as even toes the line of safety. There is no other government agency with that sort of regulatory power.

  2. Aside from the NIMBY crowd that won’t understand that nuke power is relatively safe (and we could use some cheap and safe power), how do you get the people who will spout off that building nuclear plants is painting bulls-eyes for hypothetical terrorists that will, 24-style, against the high improbability of such an action, manage to defeat all the safeguards and blow the thing up?

  3. Point out that absolutely none of the 9/11 targets had anything related to nuclear power, and that the same standards that allow engineerings to jokingly suggest stabilizing the San Andreas fault with a power plant means it can probably withstand more than one direct hit. From inside and outside. And given the 0.000001% chance they manage to beat all that (what’d they do, sneak in a fleet of trucks made of C4?), TMI, as Bob pointed out, showed that even early designs were quite capable of preventing a nasty situation by sheer, intrinsic design.

  4. So, basically, we say that they’ve had the hell engineered out of them to prevent such a thing, whether by accident or by design. Cool. And is it possible to show them the reprocessing procedures so that they can see what comes out as waste product? Can you win over the people who think their backyards are going to glow Tiberium if they put in a power plant?

  5. Ah… the reprocessed waste material might be a bit tricky. They’re much shorter-lived isotopes, but as I said, they’re pretty darn hot.

    As for the Tiberium backyards… that’d be kinda cool, actually, from a gamer’s perspective. From a real-world perspective, the increase to background radiation will either be null, because they live too far away, or negligent, because if they’re living near power plants anyhow, again – the nuke reactor’s producing less than the coal or natural gas plant it replaces.

    I mean, when you’re wrapping kilotons of concrete around a comparatively tiny block of uranium, it’s got all the nuclear hazard of trying to shine a flashlight at somebody through a wall.

  6. Fair enough. Not that people are rational creatures when they’ve seen what can happen if things go horribly, horribly wrong (or what they believe is what happens).

    So what kind of step up are we talking about here if we drop in some nuke power across the country? If we can met demand and then some, what sort of additional packages can you think of that would sweeten the deal (or at least deaden the negative sentiment)? Are we talking “With a dozen nuke power plants, we could switch our vehicle fleet totally over to electrics and still have enough left over to power all your houses and devices.” capacity? Or “We could lay down track and build a maglev that would crisscross the country and still power everything”? What will all that excess power be convertible to?

  7. I believe the latter is what we should be moving towards. Despite the cons of it, I was very impressed with how the British rail system worked. For what amounted to a pittance, compared to what one would’ve spent on fuel for the same distance, you could make the trip from Lincoln to London much faster, and with the Underground you essentially didn’t need a car. Granted it’s a lot of walking, but people need to do that anyway.

    They’re trying to put a rail system in down here in Orlando, but it’s meeting some opposition for stupid reasons. Especially since the opposing councilwoman’s own constituency is in support of the measure. I’m not to sure as to power consumption, but it couldn’t be any worse than the energy burned off by millions of car engines every year.

  8. It’s far less, rather, given that you’re essentially packing less cars with more people. Not to mention that running it off a nuclear power grid simply means less petroleum used.

  9. I’ve always wondered why the United States abandoned rail as the primary means of transporting people and goods across the country. Probably with the suburbification and urban sprawl, it became too expensive to run spokes out to all the new spots. With some excess power and the need to build infrastructure as economic stimulus, though, we could certainly give a shot at connecting rail lines – hell, even turning Amtrak into a bullet train line – Boston to Los Angeles in the span of what, 12 hours?

    I’d love to be able to get on that line, go, say Seattle-Chicago-Ann Arbor and be able to visit home for a couple days, then jump back on the bullet line and come back, for a little bit of inexpensive and being willing to take a day off work to go and a day off work to come back.

  10. The US still uses rail for bulk transport, actually. Flat land and a powerful diesel locomotive’s still cheaper than getting a cargo plane. But, yes, the closer you are to urban areas, the less tracks you see.

    And I’d fully support the development of a continent-wide nuclear-powered transport system. Getting capitalism to Work As Intended means narrowing the perceived distance between the links of the supply train.

  11. The US abandoned rail as mass commuter/passenger goods from a combination of economics, social forces, and good ol’-fashioned Conspiracy. The fact that most US cities are now *built* specifically for car traffic doesn’t help, and neither does the crippled public transport system left in the wake of the Goodyear, GM, and Greyhound boys. There’s a social stigma attached to public transport that doesn’t exist in many other countries, namely that if you take the bus, there must be something wrong with you which is why you can’t drive. Self-fulfilling prophecy.

    But I didn’t come here to talk about automobiles. I came here to talk about -the war- energy.

    I live downwind of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant. I’m delivering a report, tomorrow, on sane energy plans on the municipal level. I’m mostly wondering what will be done with the waste and where the uranium will come from, when it comes to nuclear. And why it couldn’t be leavened with tidal, geothermal, wind and solar energy…where such projects would be feasible.

    I hope Mr. Chu is also willing to tell America they need to buy electric cars and not drive them, which is going to sting, and that heating your home is damned stupid if you live in SoCal, which is going to sting more. Reducing per capita *demand* on energy will go a long way to helping us meet our energy needs…even if it is, economically, an uphill battle.

    One last question…if we run out of fossil fuels, how will we make plastic?

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