Alternatives Available to Us
The map on the following page indicates the status of nuclear power in the United States as of December 31, 1978. The total generating capacity, of all reactors planned, will be some 201 million kilowatts (see Appendix 7). This will represent some 15 percent of the generating capacity of the United States in 1980. Quite obviously, there are alternatives available to us. One is simply to plan on using 15 percent less power in 1980. We shall discuss this important alternative later.
But we have another alternative that does not require any reduction in power consumption. Philip Sporn, retired President and now Consultant to American Electric Power Company, prepared a report for the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, which shows that the electrical power industry has ordered some 91-million kilowatts more generating power than the projected growth in demand will require. If the 89 million kilowatts of nuclear power were eliminated now, the supply would match the projected growth nicely. In other words, it is reasonable to halt the growth of the nuclear power industry right now, to await its guaranteed safe development. And meanwhile, we can also consider the alternative sources for electric power.
The Fundamental Question: How Much Power?
All the nuclear critics we know deplore dirty, fossil-fuel-generating plants as much as, perhaps more than, they do nuclear plants. No one can deny the ill effects of the noxious gases that belch from the chimneys of these plants. (As we shall show, fossil fuel plants do not have to be dirty.) But noxious gases and radioactivity are not the only objectionable by-products of electric power production. There is waste heat—enough waste heat to change our ecology drastically if our projected power needs are real. Subsequently, public discussions must not be restricted to questions like "at what temperature shall the heated water from a given plant be discharged into the public water?" "How much radioactive waste shall be discharged into our common air supply?" To begin by asking these questions, is to begin in the middle of the story.
We must start with the fundamental question: "Why more power?" It is a question that has been publicly discussed only very recently. The flat, unqualified assertion that ". . . power needs are doubling every eight years" is not sufficient. Unqualified acceptance of this statement would be tantamount to endorsing the notion that electrical power consumption is a desirable end in itself.
Today, when environmental questions are paramount, we must question the basis for all intrusions on the environment. We do not know that more power is needed. The population of the United States grows by about one percent per year. It does not necessarily follow that a population increase of one percent per year demands an increased power consumption of about ten percent a year.
It is by no means certain that power asked for is equivalent to power needed. How is the power to be used? The advertisements by our utility friends stress the use of power for lighting hospital operating rooms, running audio-visual aid equipment in our schools, making possible stereo recordings of Brahms and Beethoven, and a host of other culturally interesting things. It is highly unlikely that these uses account for a significant fraction of the present or projected power use. Look closely, and it becomes readily apparent, for example, that the Pacific Northwest probably wants its added power to operate aluminum smelters in order to meet the growing need for beer cans and TV dinner trays.
That these factors are recognized, at the very highest levels of government, is evidenced by these excerpts from the keynote address at the American Power Conference in Chicago, given April 21, 1970, by Carl E. Bagge, Vice Chairman of the Federal Power Commission:
Does it seem possible that it was but six years ago, in November 1964, that the Federal Power Commission, in cooperation with all the segments of this industry, published the first National Power Survey? This comprehensive nationwide survey was undertaken in order to define and articulate the long range goals of the industry. Some of the finest talent in government and industry studied the past performance of this highly fragmented industry; and as they observed the developing trends in generation and transmission; and as they projected the future supply and demand for electricity, there emerged a concept—a vision, if you will, which was translated into presumably attainable objectives—which were characterized as "guidelines for growth." . . .
A little further in his talk, Commissioner Bagge stated:
Obviously, one of the most significant factors has been the sudden emergence of an almost religious fervor about the quality of our environment which has provided, within the political dynamics of this industry, a substitute for the old orthodoxy—the public's relentless demand for cheap power. Few issues have so captured the public's imagination. The speed with which it was transformed from a benign environmental ethic into a zealous ecologic faith has been nothing less than meteoric. Its sudden emergence as a national religion has profound implications to our theologians—and to the electric power industry. The environmental awakening will achieve even greater impetus throughout the Nation tomorrow when, to the accompaniment of teach-ins, marches, and demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of converts rivaling the crusades of Billy Graham will make commitments to the new religion of ecology.
And a little later he stated:
In the past, all of us have paid the price for the devastation inflicted upon the household of mankind by an industrial society. But it was assessed as a social cost which could be measured only to the extent that the benefits of our natural environment were denied to us. The damage was not reflected in the prices paid by us. Thus, the true cost of goods and services were understated to their competitive advantage. Today, we acknowledge that industry and consumers must bear the cost required to put an end to environmental degradation. This social cost must as a matter of national policy be recognized as a cost of doing business just as the cost of preventive maintenance reflects the price paid by the consumer for safety and reliability.
There is a tendency for the electrical power industry to equate demand for electricity with the need for electricity. On this subject Commissioner Bagge said:
The market-oriented philosophy reflected in your research effort has another outcropping in the form of promotional practices and promotional rates. While the industry has waged a campaign for an increasing share of the energy market, the success of these skirmishes has accelerated the already spiraling load forecasts and has created a level of demand which, in some cases, cannot now be met. It is paradoxical that the industry persisted in this objective at the very time there existed warning signs of forced load curtailments, through brownouts, voltage reductions and interruptions of service. In its quest for promoting greater electric use, this industry is now obliged to expend its resources to meet market demand—which it has itself, in part, created while experiencing difficulties in meeting normal market demand.
Commissioner Bagge is by no means alone in the critical questions he raises concerning electric power consumption. Just recently the following article appeared in Time Magazine, December 28, 1970, under the title, "Heresy in Power."
"In 1967, when Charles F. Luce became Chairman of New York's huge Consolidated Edison Co., his first priority seemed clear. Since the average New Yorker then used only half as much electricity as the average American, Luce yearned to boost consumption,—and did. But last week he told a startled Manhattan audience: The wisdom of three years ago is the idiocy of today." Instead of trying to increase consumption, he now wants to decrease it.
Mr. Luce is certainly to be complimented as a leader, in the electric utility industry, of the development of foresight that will be essential for this industry. Not only does he question the wisdom of stimulating electric power consumption, he recognizes the central importance of developing alternative methods for power generation—alternative methods with minimal intrusion upon the environment.
Further questioning of the wisdom of, or need for, major increases comes from the Editor of Science, Dr. Philip H. Abelson, (in Science, December 11, 1970, Volume 170, No. 3963) in an editorial entitled "Costs versus Benefits of Increased Electric Power." Especially important is his criticism of the wasteful use of electric power for home heating and of the misleading advertising which hides the pollution problem involved in electrical heating of homes. Dr. Abelson's remarks follow:
Professor Dean Abrahamson, of the University of Minnesota, in Environmental Cost of Electric Power, points out that the primary metals industry is by far the largest consumer of electricity. The fastest growing and biggest user is the aluminum industry. It requires five times as much electrical power to produce aluminum as to produce steel. Substituting steel for aluminum, wherever possible, would conserve considerable electrical power.
Moreover, to reclaim steel from junk takes one quarter of the energy required to produce it from ore. We should begin to recycle steel to the fullest extent. One problem here is that copper contained in junked products makes it difficult to recycle steel. Could automobile manufacturers be required to eliminate copper in the manufacture of cars?
Aluminum junk is an indestructible litter. Recycling aluminum would conserve considerable electric power. In Rodale's Environment Action Bulletin of July 18, 1970, the following appeared:
On May 19 Reynolds Aluminum opened an aluminum reclamation center at 5455 Bonacker Drive in Tampa. What has happened since then is an example of what could be done if industry and the public would combine their efforts in an attempt to solve the country's solid waste disposal problem.
This attractive difference in the cost per ton does not even include the substantial reduction in electrical power consumption. The aluminum companies can make an equal, or greater, profit from recycling the aluminum in all kinds of products, and at the same time the environment suffers less damage. What's wrong with that?
Unfortunately, power consumption is not synonymous with the standard of living. Power consumption relates more directly with the production of litter and solid waste and the decline in the quality of the environment. The biological evidence demonstrates that our technology became uncoupled from the standard of living in 1950. The increase in Gross National Product, since that time, has been associated mainly with the production of garbage.
The biological data demonstrate that infant mortality among fifty percent of the United States population (those below the median family income) is more than double that which occurs in the upper 25 percent income bracket; more than that, their life expectancy is reduced in excess of 8 years. For twenty percent of the United States population (those with the lowest family income) the infant mortality rate is four times that of the upper 25 percent income bracket, and life expectancy is reduced by more than 16 years. This situation has remained static since 1950. During the same period, environmental pollution has increased to near crisis proportions.
Our science and technology have not only become uncoupled from society; our environmental pollution and urban decay demonstrate that they are actually detrimental to society.
What we need is a master plan for improving the quality of life in this country. It cannot be a piecemeal operation, since each sector affects all others. We have the capability today to look at these large problems, to isolate the various interlocking factors, to determine the nature of the interplay, and to propose integrated solutions to the problems. We have the scientific and technological knowledge; we have the industrial capability within an extremely viable free enterprise system; and, as the space program demonstrated, we have a genius for organization. We could improve the quality of life in this country if we made the effort.
In his book, Garbage As You Like It, Jerome Goldstein shows a number of ways that we could do this by creating jobs with garbage while still turning a substantial profit and actually improving the environment.
The present day industrialists, and many of their governmental counterparts, say that we cannot turn back the clock. No one concerned with the environmental crisis is talking about turning back the clock. Quite the contrary; environmentalists are concerned with ending the laissez faire line of least resistance approach pursued by our government and industry. We must demand that our government and industry leave this path, and challenge them to meet the real needs of society without degrading, but by improving, the environment. Our scientists and technologists should be urged to use their skills for solving the difficult problems that have been neglected for decades. Turn back the clock? Hardly! That is the problem; we are approaching the 21st century with 19th century concepts. The environmentalists want to set the clock to the correct time: Now. This was stated very eloquently by the noted scientist and philosopher, Bertrand Russell:
. . . Whether men will be able to survive the changes of environment that their own skill has brought about is an open question. If the answer is in the affirmative, it will be known some day; if not, not. If the answer is to be in the affirmative, men will have to apply scientific ways of thinking to themselves and their institutions. They cannot continue to hope, as all politicians hitherto have, that in a world where everything has changed, the political and social habits of the eighteenth century can remain inviolate. Not only will men of science have to grapple with the sciences that deal with man, but—and this is a far more difficult matter—they will have to persuade the world to listen to what they have discovered. If they cannot succeed in this difficult enterprise, man will destroy himself by his halfway cleverness. I am told that, if he were out of the way, the future would lie with rats. I hope they will find it a pleasant world, but I am glad I shall not be there.
Clean Fossil-Fuel Plants
In his talk cited earlier, Commissioner Bagge states:
Faced with these pessimistic developments in the nuclear field, it has become evident that the need for fossil fuel generation will appreciably increase. Even if nuclear generation should emerge as originally envisioned, fossil fuel generation will nearly double in the next twenty years. To many, especially those who had counted so heavily on nuclear generation, this realization has been slow and difficult. It even caught some segments of the industry unprepared. After all, who wanted to consider the environmental ugly duckling—when the promise of nuclear generation was ultimately to redeem this industry.
Later in that speech, Commissioner Bagge explains the major reason for the air pollution from fossil fuel plants:
. . . The research and development effort for atomic energy received over 84 percent of all the federal funds for energy R&D. It has also received approximately three billion dollars of government expenditures in the past twenty years. Compared with this ambitious federal commitment to atomic energy, the amounts of money which have and are being allocated for the improvement of fossil fuel generation and for other fossil fuel energy research are ridiculously small . . .
The September 14, 1970, issue of Barron's (national business and financial weekly) carried a front page article, "Coal Imbroglio," that echoed Commissioner Bagge's assessment:
. . . Legislation aside, Washington for years has subsidized the design, development and (through underpricing enriched uranium) operation of nuclear power plants. Official enthusiasm, generated largely by the Atomic Energy Commission, also succeeded in overselling the utilities on their state of perfection and ready capability, a miscalculation which the latter aren't likely to repeat. On the contrary, Duke Power reportedly has bought its own coal reserves, while Duquesne Light has agreed to finance the expansion of mine capacity . . .
Thus we see that fossil fuels will form the backbone of our electrical generating capacity well into the 21st century. We can expect twice as many fossil fuel plants in the next two decades. So it is imperative that we develop pollution-free fossil fuel generating plants. In the August 28, 1970, issue of Science, Dr. Arthur M. Squires published a lead article entitled, "Clean Power from Coal." In this article he demonstrates that we could have clean fossil fuel plants if we supplied the necessary research and development dollars, dollars that are now almost totally devoted to atomic power. Moreover, he demonstrates that the net result would be not only clean power, but cheaper power.
The power would be cheaper because the efficiency of the plants could be increased. As much as 50 percent more power could be produced per ton of fuel burned. This would substantially reduce the problems associated with waste heat.
Dr. Philip H. Abelson, editor for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, concluded an editorial in the September 25, 1970, issue of Science as follows:
. . . In principle, all our energy needs could be met for a long time with coal. This raw material could be processed to yield sulfur-free fuel, liquid hydrocarbons, and methane. In practice, however, the development of the use of coal is limping along and is underfinanced. A few hundred million dollars a year devoted to research, development, and demonstration plants could be the most valuable expenditure the government could make.
If we improved the efficiency of fossil fuel plants and made them pollution free, we could reduce the waste heat problem and literally create a breathing spell, wherein we can await the safe development of the power sources for the future.
Power Sources for the Future
Now that our declining environmental quality is beginning to receive proper notice, more and more of our best scientific and engineering talent is beginning to look at our means of generating power. We can therefore anticipate that some novel approaches will surface. One such approach is the use of the solar energy which bathes the earth each day. Although this idea has been denigrated for years, we should not cast it aside until these fresh looks at the problem have been given an opportunity.
Geothermal energy (underground steam) and tidal energy deserve imaginative consideration as potential additions to our pollution-free sources of power. Professor Robert Rex, of the Institute of Geophysics, University of California, has recently reported that one geothermal field, running from the Salton Sea deep into Mexico, is massive. The steam available from just the U.S. portion of this reservoir of underground stored energy, he estimates, could provide 20,000 to 30,000 megawatts of power—as much power as the total current generating capacity of the entire state of California (27,700 megawatts).
Professor Rex estimates such sources of incredible amounts of power can last, undiminished, for 100 to 300 years. Numerous other resources experts continue to express enthusiasm for the pollution-free power, readily available to man, from such geothermal sources. A minor diversion of ill-advised funds in the AEC fast-breeder program could materially advance geothermal electric power development.
Energy Efficiency: Our Largest Energy Supply
Fission power will never be acceptable as an energy source. And we have no need for it. We now know that the cheapest and largest source of energy available to us in the early future is energy-efficiency. We use our energy very unefficiently now; in fact, several countries in Western Europe achieve a similar standard of living equal to ours with only half as much energy-consumption.
In the U.S., we waste about 45 percent of the energy we use. We are not talking about changing life-styles, and we are not talking about doing without energy, either in our economy or in our daily lives. We are talking about how it lowers our standard of living to pay for energy and then throw it away through inefficiency.
If we made simple alterations in the way we build our buildings from now on, and if we did some retrofitting of old buildings, we could save enough energy to substitute for the energy that would be generated if we built 430 giant 1,000-megawatt nukes in operation (sometimes). It makes no sense to build hazardous and expensive nuclear plants in order to waste their energy! Simply by using energy efficiently in our buildings, we could create a supply of available energy far larger, far cheaper, far better for our standard of living and for employment, far more reliable for the economy, far safer than nuclear power—and ethically responsible.
There is an additional huge source of energy which we are right now throwing away, an energy source we once used until the electrical utility industry destroyed it in order to increase its own business. That source is called "cogeneration" of power. Innumerable industries generate great quantities of steam for their industrial processes. If turbines were installed in many of those industries, they not only would generate their own electricity, but they could feed large quantities of surplus electricity into the country's power grids. Such electricity would be far cheaper than the power generated by nuclear fission plants. Cogeneration of power this way could provide as much power as 200 giant 1,000-megawatt nukes.
So just these two kinds of energy-efficiency alone (in buildings and from cogeneration) could provide energy equivalent to 630 giant nuclear plants, provide it far more cheaply, and help the economy and our standard of living at the same time. This we have learned since Poisoned Power was first published.
Naturally, the electric utility industry will do everything possible to prevent such constructive ideas from becoming reality. They may well create some fake power-shortages and brown-outs in order to frighten people into allowing continued operation and licensing of nuclear plants.
The hostility of the utilities to nonnuclear ideas has a simple explanation. While the average person may think that the utility companies would benefit by making electricity with less expensive installations, exactly the opposite is true. Through the collusion of public utility commissioners with the electric utilities, the ridiculous situation exists which allows the utility companies to make more money by building more expensive electrical generating plants. Utilities are "entitled" by such commissioners to make a comfortable percentage of profit on their investment. The bigger the investment, the bigger the profit. So the electric utility companies love nuclear plants because they are so expensive!
In the longer term, we must phase out the use of fossil fuels for generating electricity. Fortunately, in the years since Poison Power was first published, it has become so obvious that several ways of using solar energy are both technically and economically feasible. The amazing progress with solar energy technologies has been accomplished with pitifully little help from the government, since taxpayers' money is wasted so lavishly on nuclear power.
The statement that we must wait for the twenty-first century for practical solar power is an outright lie, supported and repeated by those who stand to gain by preventing solar energy from coming into widespread use. The great fear of the utilities is that solar power can be decentralized. The thought of losing control of our electricity supply, and of losing the monopoly prices which such control gives them, terrorizes the utility industry.
Between energy efficiency and solar energy, there will be an abundant supply of energy, the economy will be healthier, more jobs will be created, and our standard of living will be improved. And our dependence on OPEC oil will diminish dramatically.