[FoRK] Malthusian machinations

Dave Kammeyer kammeyer at kammeyer.org
Tue Jun 15 12:37:33 PDT 2010

On Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 8:32 AM, Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> wrote:

> So I guess there's a third disagreement, too: you don't see any way to
> bridge a gap, so going straight to the end game is your only solution. I see
> no way to avoid there being a gap, so I'm preoccupied with ideas for how to
> build bridges.

The thing that will get us a bridge is diversity of energy sources and
the market mechanism.  The government also has a role to play here to
ensure that some of the long lead-time development happens before it
is needed.

In the near term, it's possible that conventional oil has peaked.  It
will still be available for many years to come though at higher
prices.  Gas continues to grow, particularly in the U.S.  Shale frac
technology and horizontal drilling has dramatically increased the
available supply.  A lot of oil driven industry, transportation, and
heating can move to gas without much trouble.

Solar is great, and it's a nice supplementary technology, but it takes
up too much land.  It could power the earth now, but not if we want to
consume 100x as much energy as we do today.

On the Uranium supply front, there won't be much of an issue as long
as people can tolerate slightly higher prices.  Right now, natural
Uranium is only 2% of the price of delivered electricity, so even
dramatic increases in Uranium prices wouldn't cause too much trouble.
Uranium is only mined in only a few places in the world for commercial
reactors, but if we really started looking, there are lots of other
places that we could find it.

For the past decade, there hasn't been much mining activity because
the Russians have been flooding the U.S. market with decommissioned
bomb fuel.  This program will end soon, and the price will probably go
up for spot Uranium.  The futures market reflects this.  We also have
a huge stockpile of spent fuel rods that can be reprocessed, and lots
of bomb plutonium available.  Breeder reactors with an IFR style fuel
cycle reduce Uranium consumption by about 100x, and fortunately,
existing reactors can still be used as part of a breeder-based fuel

The seawater option is just for reassurance -- if we ever need massive
quantities, it's available.  I don't expect enormous shocks because
there are lots of viable options with different lead times, capital
requirements, and resource availability.  The market, with a few
nudges from the government, will be able to continuously adjust the
mix as time goes on.

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