Posts tagged with: nuclear

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 10, 2006

“Throughout history, shortages of vital resources have driven innovation, and energy has often starred in these technological dramas. The desperate search for new sources of energy and new materials has frequently produced remarkable advances that no one could have imagined when the shortage first became evident.” So says Stephen L. Sass, a professor of materials science and engineering at Cornell, in today’s NYT op-ed, “Scarcity, Mother of Invention.”

He concludes, “If there is anything to be learned from history, it’s that we need to face the harsh reality of fossil fuel scarcity and begin something like a Manhattan project to develop clean, economical, and preferably sustainable new sources of energy. Just as importantly, we need to innovate on the side of conservation and efficiency.” While there is valid dispute about just which point we are at with regard to the scarcity of fossil fuels, the larger considerations stand.

I made a similar point in my most recent Acton Commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” in which I argue that “human stewardship of oil and other petroleum-based fuels entails a responsibility to use the economic opportunities they afford to find and integrate other renewable, sustainable, and cleaner sources of energy, especially represented by the promise of nuclear power, into our long-term supply.”

On a related note, check out this WaPo story, “Md. County Offers Incentives To Boost Nuclear Operation”:

There may be growing acceptance of nuclear power, owing to concerns over global warming, dependence on foreign oil and skyrocketing energy costs. Some leading environmentalists are saying nuclear energy should at least be explored as a way to offset global climate change.

But Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace International, said nuclear power remains unsafe and is too dependent on government subsidies. He is keeping an eye on Calvert County developments. “No ifs, ands or buts,” he said. “Until the last dog dies, Greenpeace will be anti-nuclear.”

In this week’s commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” I ask the question: “Why did God create oil?” I raise the question within the context of debates about global warming and the burning of fossil fuels, including Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and the work of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

I argue that nonrenewable resources, especially fossil fuels, “have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.” Nuclear power is one source that meets these criteria. The NRO blog Reconcilable Differences passes along this NYT magazine story about the potentially bleak future for nuclear power in America, “Atomic Balm?”

The point about nuclear energy is important because the burning of coal accounts for over half of the domestic use of electricity, and that high-profile campaigns like “What Would Jesus Drive?” paper over this key fact. I wonder “just how many coal-powered SUVs have you seen lately?”

Well, it turns out that there is technology that allows us to turn coal into oil, although it is costly and potentially ineffecient. Even so, the high costs of oil are currently turning this into a more feasible economic possibility. For more on this, see this NYT story, “Mining for Diesel Fuel; The Search for New Oil Sources Leads to Processed Coal” (TimesSelect required).

Read the entire commentary here.

One of the more lively and illuminating discussions at last week’s Advanced Studies in Freedom seminar revolved around the question whether and how classical liberalism is applicable to foreign policy, specifically with regard to questions of war. In the New York Times earlier this week, Robert Wright, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, wrote a lengthy op-ed that bears on the relevant questions, “An American Foreign Policy That Both Realists and Idealists Should Fall in Love With.”

Wright argues, “It’s now possible to build a foreign policy paradigm that comes close to squaring the circle — reconciling the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists.” He calls this paradigm “progressive realism” and the remainder of the essay outlines the planks of such a platform. Wright’s alternative is rife with important observations and useful principles.

For example, he writes that “the national interest can be served by constraints on America’s behavior when they constrain other nations as well. This logic covers the spectrum of international governance, from global warming (we’ll cut carbon dioxide emissions if you will) to war (we’ll refrain from it if you will).” Even so, the problem beyond the mere curtailment of absolute national sovereignty is the ability of mutual enforcement. America doesn’t want to get stuck being the only one who plays by the rules.

Wright also observes that “domestic security depends increasingly on popular sentiment abroad makes it important for America to be seen as a good global citizen — respecting international laws and norms and sensing the needs of neighbors…. Much of the war on terror isn’t military.” There’s a sense in which what Wright is arguing for is a system of international affairs that will foster some sort of solidarity, an end that advocates of globalization and increasing free trade recognize. Thus Wright says, “A correlation of fortunes — being in the same boat with other nations in matters of economics, environment, security — is what makes international governance serve national interest. It is also what makes enlightened self-interest de facto humanitarian.”

During the discussions last week about classical liberalism and war, my reaction was not to first ask the question: “What is a classical liberal approach to war?” I’m not so concerned with simply finding and articulating a classical liberal position, but instead am focused on finging the right position.

To this end, I contend that we ought to begin with just war theory, an approach that predates by millennia the rise of classical liberal thought and which is officially advocated by the Roman Catholic Church, among others. We then might apply classical liberal principles and see to what extent the two are compatible, and there may be reason to adjust the conclusions of one or the other on the basis of an insight that one of the perspectives provides. It does strike me that on many levels, however, Wright’s “progressive realism” is an approach that has significant cross-over appeal for classical liberalism.

These are questions, of course, of the utmost relevance for today. A worthy post at the Belmont Club (HT: No Left Turns) raises the question of collateral damage and the loss of civilian life in military campaigns. This is an issue that stands at the heart of just war theory.

Detroit News editor Nolan Finley raised the question of our policy toward rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea: “Why don’t we just nuke ‘em?” You can gauge the response to this question from the survey of letters to the editor here. But even so, Finley’s column raises an important and real difficulty with regard to nuclear weapons: “We know as well as our enemies do that we’ll never push the button.”

As one of the faculty observed at the seminar last week, the question of whether it is immoral to possess nuclear weapons is different than the question of whether it is moral to use nuclear weapons, and the two may not be entirely compatible. There is the potential for a paradox, which is what Finley is getting at I think, in that it may well be moral to have nuclear weapons as a deterrent, in the style of mutually-assured destruction, but that it would always violate just war principles to use them. Even Finley’s emphasis on tactical and smart weapons is overwrought, I think, given that even conventional smart weapons almost always result in some sort of collateral damage to civilians. We have seen this most remarkably in the events between Lebanon and Israel in the last few days.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Continuing the discussion of energy usage from yesterday, check out this review in the New York Sun of Children of the Sun (W.W. Norton), by Alfred Crosby, emeritus professor of history, geography, and American studies at the University of Texas.

Reviewer Peter Pettus says that Crosby “has written a direct and clearly expressed analysis of the energy problem without hysterics, apocalyptic threats, or partisan rancor.” These, of course, are the precisely the characteristics that are so often found in discussions of energy policy.

Crosby finds that the essence of the problem is this: “we cannot solve the growing problem of our dwindling supplies of fossil fuels by turning to such popular palliatives as wind farms and solar panels, because to do so would condemn millions of our fellow humans to inevitable death. The answer to this dilemma is (as always): We must somehow find new sources of energy. The question is: where?”

Crosby does not rest at simply raising the question, but attempts to find a solution. Must we find a new answer, some novel technology as yet undreamt of? No, for “it already exists: the nuclear reactor waits at our elbow like a superb butler.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Arnold Kling at the excellent EconLog says that “the government should empty its strategic petroleum reserve and buy energy futures contracts instead. At some point, the futures market has to be taken seriously.”

He concludes, “The government has all sorts of subsidies for alternative energy. However, the most efficient subsidy would be to buy oil futures contracts. If we must have an energy policy, it should consist solely of strategic futures market purchases.”

This on the heels of the announcement by Whole Foods Market Inc. that “the company is buying enough wind power credits to cover energy use at all of its U.S. stores, bakeries, distribution centers, regional offices and its Austin headquarters.” For Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley’s take on wind power, click here (and listen here for a radio interview [mp3] with Bradley on the subject). Read here about offshore wind farms.

I’m all in favor of the market determining what alternative energy sources there are and who decides to use them. Good for Whole Foods, I wish them luck. I’m not convinced, however, that I need to help pay for their switch to wind power, which government subsidies for such ensure that I do. Nuclear energy deserves a second look, and the harsh realities of energy markets is forcing even Europe to recognize this, as various European nations slate the construction of new nuclear reactors.