An expert reveals the truth about energy and problems — and why we need to pay attention now.
So, who would want to think about the effects increasing global carbon dioxide emissions are having on our common home, planet earth? Who would want to think about the destruction of our oceans from acid rain? Or who, during a well-earned summer vacation, would want to think about violent weather patterns and rising sea levels? Of course none of us would. As unromantic as it sounds, we must pay attention now or life as we know it on the earth we love will disappear.
There is a lot of conflicting information out there, and for this reason we decided to get the facts from the best experts this country has to offer. To this end, we'll be presenting The Earth We Love, a series of interviews with leading scientists and other experts on climate change and related topics. First, we bring you Joseph M. Shuster, an energy expert, entrepreneur, chemical engineer and author of Beyond Fossil Fools, The Road Map to Energy Independence by 2040. The following questions and answers speak for themselves. If what you learn is disturbing, join the growing number of citizens who are doing something about it.
YourTango: There is much being written about climate and energy problems these days. It also seems that everyone has an ax to grind. What is yours?
Joseph M. Shuster: Great question. I'm an old man and as corny as it may sound, I simply want our children and grandchildren to be blessed with an abundance of clean energy to support productive lives. We are already going to saddle them with a mountain of debt; it is too late to remedy that. But we still have a chance to fix our climate and energy problems. Urgency is needed. Other than that, I really have no axes to grind, no vested interest to protect, no biases to hide, and neither politics nor profits motivate me.
YT: For years there has been considerable debate about whether global warming was even real. Now it seems to be universally accepted in the scientific community, but how much should we believe about increasing world temperatures, rising ocean levels and more extreme storms?
JMS: You are right, most scientists now agree that carbon dioxide from coal plants and automobiles are destroying the world's atmosphere and doing serious damage to our oceans. Together they belch out over 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the environment every year. A predictor of what's to come can be found in the world's oceans today. Coral reefs are disappearing and food fish are dying due to the increase in ocean temperatures and increased acidity as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide from coal plants combine with water to form acids — thus the term 'acid rain'. We can reasonably expect, left unchecked, planet earth will experience exponential changes that will challenge all aspect of life as we know it.
YT: That sounds ominous. We have lots of non-polluting renewables. Why don't we stop burning fossil fuels and switch to energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal to get us out of this mess?
JMS: My original research was aimed at creating a plan using the very renewables you ask about. But once I put pencil to paper, it was apparent that while they can be part of the solution, they can't get us there. Once I understood this, I started looking for other solutions which led me to learn about, and become an advocate for new advanced nuclear technologies.
YT: If carbon dioxide is so incredibly destructive, and if there is a solution as you suggest, why does the world continue burning such large amounts of coal and petroleum? It sounds like suicide on a global scale. It doesn't make sense.
JMS: What is happening does defy logic. We have adequate carbon-free energy sources, and the world can easily afford a completely clean non-polluting energy regime. So, why are we so incredibly irresponsible? The reason is because powerful environmental groups have convinced us, and our political leaders, that the majority of our best international scientists are dead wrong when it comes to nuclear. They arrogantly tell us they know better than most scientists but have failed to offer even one workable solution. The net result is we are being distracted and precious time is being wasted. The world simply cannot fix its problems with only conservation, wind and solar as proclaimed by many environmental groups. Most scientists agree that, in addition, we need to build many modern safe nuclear plants as fast as we possibly can. It is the fastest and surest way to stop or significantly reduce the otherwise inevitable march to disaster. I do not understand why many environmental groups continue to passionately hold on to their energy fantasies when simple mathematics can expose their wrong thinking. Many large environmental groups such as the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) use their huge budgets (NRDC’s is over $100 million /year) to generously pay an army of attorneys and lobbyists to spread energy and environmental misinformation. They certainly do not understand the almost impossible shortage of time left for the world to make the necessary transition to clean energy. The film Pandora's Promise is an excellent fact-based documentary and discusses how many anti-nuclear activists came to embrace the new advanced nuclear technologies.
YT: You spoke of new advanced nuclear plant technologies. How do they differ from traditional nuclear plant technology?
JMS: New advanced Generation IV nuclear plants called Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) are safe, carbon-free and we can afford them. The IFR will use as fuel the so called nuclear waste we were going to throw away in Yucca Mountain but are currently storing on site at nuclear power plants. This is the toxic waste that has been piling up since the 1950s from over 100 U.S. reactors and from over 440 reactors worldwide. So instead of having to store that waste for 300,000 years, the world would simply burn this so-called waste in an IFR. The ultimate waste from an IFR needs to be stored for only 300 years. By using this waste as fuel in an IFR we would not have to mine any new uranium for about 500 years. Bottom line is we get rid of the incredibly dangerous waste from all existing nuclear plants, and generate all the clean energy the earth will ever need for thousands of years. What’s not to like about getting rid of two incredibly huge problems at the same time?
YT: What serious issues remain? How about proliferation and what about a possible repeat of Fukushima or Three Mile Island or even Chernobyl?
JMS: New advanced nuclear plants shut themselves down when trouble appears, so a core melt down or a Fukushima or a Three Mile Island or Chernobyl accident is not possible. Further, IFRs have been designed proliferation-resistant, making it impossible for anyone to extract material from any part of the process to make a bomb.
YT: Since Fukushima, our understanding is that all nuclear plants in Japan were shut down, and no new plants are to be built?
JMS: Japan's existing plants are all quite old, and none are of the new IFR design. However, Japan surprised everyone by declaring recently that they will be restarting all 48 reactors previously closed in the wake of Fukushima after they pass new safety tests. They also plan to build new reactors in the future. The reason is after the shutdowns their carbon dioxide emissions doubled, and consumer electric bills skyrocketed.
YT: Can you give our readers some idea on what is happening globally relating to nuclear energy and climate change?
JMS: South Korea, Russia, England, China and India and many other countries have already decided to use nuclear energy in their battle against the devastating effects of unwanted climate change. The one notable exception is Germany, which has decided to eliminate nuclear from their future energy mix. Many are watching Germany struggle with this decision including Dr. Carol Browner who was the top White House energy adviser and head of the EPA from 1993 to 2001. As a result, Dr. Browner has come to the realization that nuclear cannot be taken off the table if we are to address climate change saying "Nuclear more than just matters ... it's essential."
YT: You spoke of unthinkable happenings if the world does not stop burning coal and other fossil fuels like petroleum and natural gas. You also said time is running out. Could you give our readers some idea of the timeline?
JMS: Unthinkable? Think again. Carbon dioxide concentration in the earth's atmosphere is now at about 400 parts per million. Some scientists believe that in about 30 to 40 years this concentration could reach 500 ppm or more, at which point it may become impossible for the earth to recover. Further, the mechanism of rising ocean levels is quite clear, and some predict at about the same time ocean levels will rise moving the coastline of Florida to somewhere in Georgia. Also, since many of the great cities of the world are on low ocean coasts, many will be under water unless expensive, gigantic dykes can be built to hold back the ocean. WE MUST NOT LET THIS HAPPEN. Drastic and immediate action is imperative.
YT: What can our readers do to help prevent the possible disastrous future you so candidly describe?
JMS: Arm yourself with FACTS and become an advocate for a workable cooperative worldwide rational energy program that includes nuclear while the world still has time to stave off the worst of what might happen. Above all, don't be misled by the anemic and time-consuming solutions proposed by many environmentalists and special interest groups. They have been advocating solutions to the exclusion of nuclear, for over 20 subsidized years and have had little impact. In spite of all these subsidies and capital invested in solar and wind they provide only about 2 percent of the world's electricity. New modern clean and safe nuclear plants can be built quickly, and can be strategically placed so the time consuming modification to the national electrical grid would not be immediately necessary. This is the most important problem the earth has ever faced and if my career has taught me anything, it has taught me to act long before problems become too big to manage.
We look forward to continuing the discussion on The Earth We Love with the often quoted, world renowned climatologist Dr. Jim Hansen as he presents the global scientific consensus on what must be done. He will also discuss popular energy and climate misconceptions.
photo credit: weheartit.com