A pilot plant for the extraction of uranium from seawater under construction in India. (From Rao  , 2010)
This is Part III of the “Sustaining the Wind
” series of essays by NNadir
. For Part I, click here
. Part II is here
In part 2 of this series, we discussed the claim of Udo Bardi, an academic “peak oiler” out of the University of Florence, that uranium supplies are subject to exhaustion, this because, according to Bardi, and a correspondent evoking, if not actually citing, him in this space, extracting meaningful amounts of uranium from seawater, where its mass vastly outstrips the quantities obtained from domestic ores, is too expensive in terms of energy and cost. According to Bardi, we face “peak uranium” just as we face “peak oil,” the latter being Bardi’s main focus, although my cursory impression is that, many, if not most “peak oilers” are also “peak uranium” types. As a practical matter, I am really neither of these. I acknowledge that the world might run out of oil, but unlike most “peak oilers” as I understand them, I’m unconcerned about its consequences. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner we run out of oil, the better. In my opinion, the replacement of oil is straight forward, which is neither to say “easy” nor to say “cheap” but nonetheless, in the golden age of chemistry, clearly technically feasible, and clearly desirable. My problem with petroleum has to do with the status of the main dump for its waste, this being the planetary atmosphere. A secondary concern has to do with the diversion of oil to make weapons of mass destruction, a routine practice on this planet, as well as the hysteria about oil as a cause of wars of mass destruction, followed by a concern about oil terrorism, which among other things, lead to the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Part 2 of this series was all about “peak indium,” inasmuch as it is involved in so called “renewable energy,” which in some cases, indium in “CIGS” (copper indium gallium selenide) thin film solar being one, is running out of key materials before it has become a significant form of energy. And let’s be clear: After half a century of jawboning about the subject, and after the expenditure of trillions of dollars to try to make it work, so called “renewable energy,” excepting hydropower, is not a significant form of energy.
Although overall this series is entitled “Sustaining the Wind,” we will not be focusing very much in this part on wind energy itself, but rather on this fuel for nuclear energy, uranium, considering very dilute sources, one of which will be seawater. Part 3 of this series is all about the concept of “peak uranium” as raised by Bardi and many others, including a vast segment of the population that knows nothing at all about nuclear energy, but hates it anyway.
There is good reason for doing this in a series on wind energy. First, if one spends any amount of time looking into the claims of those who advocate for so called “renewable energy” one will quickly see that for many of the advocates for this expensive, and thus far essentially useless form of energy, are often less interested in replacing dangerous fossil fuels than they are in displacing nuclear energy. (In Part 5 we will look at some prominent academics associated with this tragic anti-nuclear, pro-“renewable energy” rhetoric, focusing mainly on Mark Z. Jacobsen, Professor of Civil Engineering at Stanford University.) Since nuclear energy remains, despite much caviling, the world’s largest, by far, source of climate change gas free primary energy, easily outstripping all others, we should suspect that these advocates are spectacularly uninterested in climate change and other forms of air pollution, which I assure you, are far more dire catastrophes than the reactor failures at Chernobyl and Fukushima that so obsess this sort. Secondly, if nuclear energy is safe, clean, and infinitely or nearly infinitely sustainable, the rationale for constructing truly massive numbers of wind turbines collapses. As we have seen in parts 1 and 2, wind turbine construction involves digging up huge amounts of increasingly rare elements, as well as vast quantities of elements that are not yet rare but nonetheless involve significant environmental impacts to refine. Historically, as we shall see, uranium mining has been as problematic as the mining of other ores, probably not as odious as coal mining or petroleum mining, but, given that it occurred in an era – the last half of the 20th century – featuring a “once through,” waste mentality, nevertheless, leaving a scar on a future generation, specifically our generation. Herein we will suggest approaches to healing this scar and preventing new such scars.
Opponents of nuclear energy often lump it with dangerous coal, and the other two dangerous fossil fuels, dangerous petroleum and dangerous natural gas. While overall this is absurd, in one way it has a modicum of truth: Like dangerous petroleum, dangerous natural gas, and dangerous coal, uranium and thorium are irreversibly consumed when used for the generation of primary nuclear energy, and on the surface however, it would seem, therefore, theoretically that there are limits to the sustainability of access to these fuels.