Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Review of "Terrestrial Energy" by William Tucker

Mr. Harmon is a friend of the museum and offered to read and review "Terrestrial Energy," by William Tucker, for us. Hope you enjoy!

“Terrestrial Energy” by William Tucker:

After years of research and failed attempts to get his book published, William Tucker has finally provided the general public with an easily understood overview of the entire energy picture including the familiar sources of energy from fossil and nuclear, as well as the more innovative alternative sources of energy including renewable and solar. He presents two basic premises: 1) As long as we continue burning fossil fuels, there is the possibility we may be modifying the earth’s climate that could bring wrenching and irreversible changes; and 2) the only way we are going to supply ourselves with enough energy while reducing our carbon emissions is through a revival of nuclear power. These premises are seldom, if ever, presented in a common text; however, the small but growing number of public figures willing to embrace these two premises include one of the Cofounders and former Director of Greenpeace (Patrick Moore) and a former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (Christie Whitman). During his presentation at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History Einstein Gala last spring, Patrick Moore presented his reasons for converting from an avid opponent to nuclear power to one who embraces it as an appropriate technology for one our future energy sources.

Mr. Tucker, a veteran journalist who has been writing about energy and the environment for over thirty years, is supportive of nuclear energy, but recognizes that the future requires contributions from all sources of energy and candidly discusses the benefits and limitations of them all in his most recent publication. One of these limitations, common to most renewable sources of energy, is the vast amount of land mass required for their support and the fact that most of these sources are only available when they are exposed to the wind or sun. As Patrick Moore expressed during his presentation last spring, irrespective of the amount of energy produced by alternative energies, reliability of their energy supply requires that an alternative source of equal size must be available to replace that energy when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

Mr. Tucker’s text clearly demonstrates that solar and renewable energy sources are limited to potentially satisfying our peak power demands in circumstances where that demand is concurrent with availability of the energy source. Efficient use of these intermittently available energy sources requires significant energy storage capabilities that are not yet available and will require a large life-cycle carbon footprint associated with their development, manufacturing, and maintenance processes. These intermittent energy sources will not be capable of contributing to the base power load of this country in the foreseeable future. That role is essentially limited to the large power generating stations that use a combination of fossil and nuclear energy sources to generate the thermal energy necessary to provide large quantities of steam to their turbine generating systems. While a proponent of nuclear energy, he also recognizes that it is not the only answer. Rather, it is a necessary component of the mixture of energy sources available for this country’s journey into the future.

“Terrestrial Energy” discusses each energy source’s benefits and limitations in an organized manner starting with the fossil fuels including coal, oil, and natural gas and then discussing solar and renewable energy sources including hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, waves, biofuels, and hydrogen. His final section is reserved for a thorough discussion of nuclear energy including a reasonable overview of the accidents at both Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the current renaissance including the public’s resistance to nuclear, and the eventual necessity of closing the fuel cycle with some form of reprocessing rather than indefinite retrievable storage in some repository whether is it is located at Yucca Mountain or another acceptable location. This comprehensive presentation of our current and future energy situation a good companion text to “A Brighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise of Nuclear Energy” written by our former Senator Pete Domenici and published in early 2007. Terrestrial Energy is a must read for anyone interested in what direction our nation is heading in its search for a sound and comprehensive energy policy.

Charles D. Harmon
Immediate Past Chair
American Nuclear Society Trinity Section