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Message: Nuclear Power, It's No Contest
For reasons that have mainly to do with politics and the media's thirst for sensationalism, nuclear energy has been a subject of much disinformation and alarmism for several decades. In fact, nuclear is safer, cleaner, and potentially cheaper and more abundant than any other proven source of energy that the human race has come up with. But beyond this, it’s real significance is that it represents the next natural step in the evolutionary progression that has marked the history of energy development.
From unaided muscle power, through the use of animals, wood, wind and water, to coal, and oil, finding better ways of doing the work involved in living has reflected the harnessing of more concentrated energy sources. A lot is written about how much energy can be obtained from this source or that source. But if you really want to do things more easily and efficiently – and open up ways to doing new things that were inconceivable before – what counts is energy density. How much can be packed into a given volume. It's easy to calculate how much energy it takes to lift three hundred people across the Atlantic, and how much wood you'd need to burn to release that much energy. Okay, now try building a wood-burning 757. It won't work. The mountain of logs will never get itself off the ground. You need the concentration of jet fuel.
Some people argue that we don't need nuclear power because we already have other ways to generate electricity. This misses the whole point. It would be like somebody in an earlier century telling Michael Faraday that we didn't need electricity because we already had other ways to heat water. What made electricity so different was its ability to do things that were unachievable to any degree with existing technologies, and the whole field of electrical engineering and electronics that we take for granted today was the result. A similar distinction sets nuclear processes apart from conventional sources. All forms of hydrocarbon and other chemical combustion involve energy changes in the outer electron shells of atoms. The energies associated with transitions of the atomic nucleus are thousands of times more intense, and hence represent a breakthrough to the next regime of energy control that the growth of human populations and wealth creation require. The so-called alternatives do not.
Our present use of nuclear energy, as a replacement for conventional heat sources to generate electricity by steam turbines, is just a first, exploratory step into a qualitatively new realm of capability, opening up prospects of obsoleting most of today's cumbersome and polluting industries in much the same way as the introduction of electricity revolutionized the coal-based methods of the nineteenth century.
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