Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Cold Case Of Cold Fusion

Hard Science

Industrialized societies have always sought low-priced "cheap" energy; this is certainly the case today. Sometimes "scientists' veer off into the unscientific and unproven, considering wishful thinking and science fiction as a necessary apparati to bring it all about. Such might be the case with cold fusion (also called Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions), which I had thought was dismissed soon after its breathtaking announcement in 1989; yet, it still makes the headlines today [see here]. Lorna Salzman rightly puts the cold logic of facts behind such speculative and possibly wasteful research. "Despite a press release noting the involvement of a "Princeton graduate" and physicists, a google search on the US Naval Research lab work on "cold fusion" comes up devoid of ANY peer reviewed publication on this topic."

by Lorna Salzman

No matter how hard I try to escape, my footsteps are dogged by "cold fusion" advocates. And despite repeated experiments, including some at the US Naval Research Laboratory, no one seems to be able to explain what is going on. This hasn't stopped the promoters who promise cheap electricity (where have we heard that before: "energy too cheap to meter"?) at a penny a kilowatt-hour. 

Despite a press release noting the involvement of a "Princeton graduate" and physicists, a google search on the US Naval Research lab work on "cold fusion" comes up devoid of ANY peer-reviewed publication on this topic. Whatever is happening in this lab is being held close to the vest, private, secret....though this does not prevent cheerleaders from declaring definitively that a "cold" nuclear reaction has occurred, just like Roman Jews declared that Jesus' empty tomb proved that he had risen.

One commenter refers to the experiment and resulting heat as a possible catalytic reaction of the metals involved. Nor is there any indication that the resulting heat in the experiment is either sufficient to ultimately boil water and produce electric power or that it involves a reaction at the atomic level, or, most important, that this laboratory-size heat can be scaled up to run a power plant to generate electricity for thousands of people.

The fact that just about everyone is puzzled about what this experiment actually IS indicates that it is premature, to say the least, to declare that it is a nuclear reaction. There's nothing wrong with this as long as it remains a garage experiment that doesn't involve taxpayer money.

Of course, back in the real world, electricity is not part of our energy crisis. In a major technological misjudgement, (not to mention huge public subsidies down a rat hole with little to show for them except dangerous wastes and catastrophic accidents), many countries (most of whom have nationalized energy sectors that need not heed public opinion) have over the past half century become over-reliant on electricity as a result of their misguided decision to invest in nuclear power reactors. Consequently we have France which is 80% dependent on nuclear reactors for electricity and which, in order to sell its excess capacity and justify its inefficient over-electrification of end uses, exports much of its electricity elsewhere, Japan is (or was) about 30% dependent and Germany about 23%.......with only Germany having the good sense to shut down nukes before its dependency increases.

The USA gets about 20% of its electricity from nuclear power, with electricity representing approximately 18% of ALL end uses of energy. Thus, if we were to stop throwing money down the nuclear sink, we might have a chance of becoming a global leader in renewable energy technologies. But it is now clear that Germany will pull far ahead of us because we have a bunch of dickheads running our government and energy policy who talk a good talk about the need to remain competitive in technology but do nothing to actually promote or implement renewable energy technologies.

Given how tiny the nuclear electricity sector is, and how our electricity needs (along with efficiency and conservation) can easily be provided by wind turbines, photovoltaics and solar electric farms, one begins to realize the stubbornness and ego of the nuclear scientists and engineers who denigrate the proven, demonstrably effective and already off-the-shelf technologies of renewables in favor of mysterious black boxes in remote laboratories peopled by faithful claques.

Imagine where we might be on renewables if these true believers were, instead, thronging congress and the media with demands for terminating government support for nuclear reactors that will never get built much less operate and instead starting pushing hard for efficiency and renewables. Their failure to do this is in a real sense a kind of treason because it is allowing countries like Germany to move ahead and become dominant in technology and thus in the new economy that inevitably will be based on renewable energy.

These scientists are a drag, a brake, on progress in the renewable energy field. They are on the same level as the climate change deniers who are also committing a form of treason, sacrificing people and the natural environment out of a secular religious fervor based on no facts or evidence whatsoever. Nuclear scientists, the Tea Party, the right wing radicals: ignoramuses all who care nothing for either humans or science. Tragically, the absence of brain power in Washington is matched by the disinvolvement of the environmental community and the lack of tough principled leadership, the kind that invigorated the country in the 1970s after Earth Day.

The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.

Copyright ©2013. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at www.lornasalzman.com.

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