[FoRK] Malthusian machinations

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Wed Jun 16 04:22:03 PDT 2010

On Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 02:37:33PM -0500, Dave Kammeyer wrote:

> 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

The market mechanism does not deal well with highly volatile prices
and long-term plans. Notice that we wouldn't have this problem if
we wouldn't have started dealing with it when we should have, which
was some 35 years ago. Everybody has absolutely dropped the ball. 


Now is not the time for finger-pointing and blame assigment. 
Now is the time to roll up the sleeves and get cranking.

> 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

It's not just oil, conventional or otherwise. We're facing a concerted
series of multiple peaks in a rapid succession, due to unanticipated
rises in demand across the entire world. Involving not just fossil 
energy, but also multiple key minerals.

> will still be available for many years to come though at higher

You haven't understood the problem of peak oil, then.

> 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

Unfortunately the numbers tell a different story. And it's a nasty one.

> heating can move to gas without much trouble.
> Solar is great, and it's a nice supplementary technology, but it takes

The understatement of the millenium.

> up too much land.  It could power the earth now, but not if we want to

It covers up zero additional land, actually. The math is pretty
straightforward. And it it doesn't "take" the land, since if you insist
to put panels on top of land for some unfathomable reason you still can 
use the land below. In fact, in drier, high-insolation regions it will 
help with agriculture. 

> consume 100x as much energy as we do today.

Right now solar flux is some 10^4 in excess of what we need today.
And of course that's solar flux just intercepted by Earth, and we do
have a nice pile of atoms sitting just 1.3 lightseconds from here.
You will find a cubic mile of silicon or silicon carbide does go a 
long way at micron thickness.

Your bottleneck at what can be used down here is how much radiative
cooling you could make happen. Three orders of magnitude higher energy
demand than today looks doable. Solar flux across Earth is some 2 kg/s,
total solar output is some 4 MT/s. Draw your own conclusions.
> 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

You haven't understood the problem of peak resource, then.

> 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.

You're unfortunately, dangerously wrong. If that's still the prevalent
mode of thinking we're in deeper trouble than I thought.
> 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

Breeder reactors don't exist. As commercial products. Fuel reprocessing
de facto has stopped. You might have noticed that France nuclear industry
has serious problems, which I expect will get worse in future. 

> cycle reduce Uranium consumption by about 100x, and fortunately,
> existing reactors can still be used as part of a breeder-based fuel
> cycle.
> The seawater option is just for reassurance -- if we ever need massive

The seawater option doesn't exist. Nor does the granite option exist.
We're out of prime rib pitchblende, I'm afraid. It's now kicking
dead whales all the way up the beach.

> 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.

Again, my suggestion is that you're dangerously wrong and this will
mean you will run into serious, unanticipated problems apparently out
of nowhere. There is no need for this.

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820 http://www.ativel.com http://postbiota.org
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