Fusion Energy League

Bringing People And Nuclei Together





Let’s Nuke Fossil Fuels

Rezwan Razani - August 26, 2013

Fossil Fuels are nuking our planet.  We need to strike back.  Then go beyond.

Hans Rosling explains mankind’s epic challenge:  To achieve a sublime quality of life for ten billion people with zero carbon footprint.  That’ll take a lot of energy. 

Is that possible?  Yes, with a Big, Hairy Nuclear Energy Plan.  Release the nukes!

But first, a look at what “nuking” means.

Definition of Nuke

“Nuke” (informal) is an abbreviation of the word, “nuclear.”  The word is versatile. 

My dictionary defines “nuke” as both “a nuclear weapon” and “a nuclear power station.” 

As a verb, “nuke” can mean, “attack or destroy with nuclear weapons.” It can also mean “cook or heat up (food) in a microwave”. 

Annihilate, empower, bake a potato.  It’s a fine line.

The Best Sense of “Nuking”

“Let’s Nuke Fossil Fuels” is shorthand for adopting a big, hairy, nuclear power goal (with a diversified portfolio that includes conservation and renewables, of course).  No nuclear bombs will be detonated to rid us of fossil fuels. 

We’ll blow fossil fuels away by simply being the superior form of energy. 

We are not oil and gas haters.  We think they are some of the most valuable resources humans have, and are shocked, shocked, that people are simply burning them for fuel. 

This is the Fusion Energy League.  We think in terms of thousands and millions of years ahead.  While scientists work on fusion, we don’t want people to trash the planet with short term thinking.  We want the most sensible energy choices made during this time of turbulence.  And we want the fossil fuel to last.  We’d like mankind to have access to easy fertilizers and cool petroleum based products in perpetuity.  Lipstick forever!

We shouldn’t even be calling it fossil “fuel”.  That word was made to burn.  How about “fossil resources mistaken for fuel?”

On a practical note, we won’t be able to reduce the tragic misuse of fossil resources that quickly.  It’ll take a while to convert the bulk of the transport sector to electrical power (Go Tesla!)  In the meantime, just like the ancients burned the library of Alexandria to run a hot tub, we’ll keep burning the fossils.

Note that we’re using “nuking” symbolically.  We couldn’t bomb anything even if we wanted to.  First, we don’t have the authority to launch a nuclear missile strike.  Second, launching missiles at “fossil fuels” would not succeed in “nuking” them.  They are a diffuse target.  The bombs would be wasted.

What!?  You psycho!

Wait!  No, I didn’t mean “waste” as in, “too bad we didn’t get to blow stuff up”!!  I meant that instead of blowing it up, you can take the bomb, dismantle it, and use the fissile material to run a nuclear power plant.  To light up a city instead of blowing it up.  Note the reverse process isn’t as easy. 

Yes, let’s dismantle those warheads and use the fuel to nuke fossil fuels.  So we’d be nuking the nukes at the same time.  Dual target meta nuke.

Still not warming up to the “N” word? 

The “N” Word

In “Fusion, Fission and the “N” word (Nuclear)” we talked about how fusion should position itself with respect to fission, in light of the stigma associated with the word “nuclear”.

Not “nukes” mind you.  Just “nuclear.” 

While writing the post, I realized the “N” word stigma is so strong, it doesn’t make a difference if you use “nukes” or “nuclear.” 

Since it doesn’t make a difference, and “nukes” also means energy - it becomes a matter of preference.  Do you like the word, “nukes”?  I do.  If only because it’s easier to pronounce than nuclear (Is it “new clee yer” or “nyoo kyoo lar”?

So I took the phrase, “Let’s nuke fossil fuels” for a test ride.

This response by @ITERorg is illuminating.  First, it’s sensible: We don’t want people to confuse weapons and energy.  Second, it has that LOL. 

And therein lies the flash of insight. 

The word “nukes” is awkwardly humorous.  And it’s funny for a number of reasons that Steven Pinker could write a book on.  The word opens a window onto our teeming inner conflict with power, violence and absurdity.  Don’t believe me?  Try the “FU” test: 

If you say, “Nuke you!” will people be offended?  They will probably be amused.  Perhaps because the beneficial aspects of nuclear energy are present on a subconscious level.  Perhaps because no one has the weapons to back the threat.  Imagine a kitten trying to nuke someone. 

Perhaps it’s funny because it reminds us of the impotence of nuclear weapons.  All that power, nowhere to go, buried alive in a silo somewhere.  And that, perhaps, reminds us of ourselves.  So much potential, and yet - what are we doing with our lives? And how did we get involved in so many petty conflicts that we can’t seem to resolve?  And doesn’t that just fill us with rage, and… 

Go nuke yourself.  That’s not nuking funny.  Now get back to that sensible talk about weapons and energy or…the kitten gets nuked.

Whoa!  Take it easy.

Weapons v. Energy

For most people, there is little distinction between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.  The damage has already been done.  Nukes are nukes. 

For those who still want to make the distinction, FAQs have been written to help you

Doesn’t the spread of nuclear energy increase the risk of nuclear proliferation?
There is no relationship between the global expansion of nuclear energy and nuclear proliferation. No nation has ever developed a weapon by first developing nuclear energy. To the degree that there has been a progression from one to the other, it has always been the opposite, with nations first developing weapons and then energy.

Some nations claimed to be developing nuclear energy capabilities when they were in fact attempting to develop a weapon, but these claims were transparently false to virtually all observers. By international law, nuclear energy facilities must be open to international inspections. The International Atomic Energy Agency [“IAEA”] has an extensive monitoring and inspection network, and it is not difficult to distinguish a weapons program from an energy program.

How do you feel after reading these FAQs?  Have they won you over?  I’m sure you’re confident   in the IAEA’s monitoring capabilities and are ready to embrace nuclear energy.

If not, does this help?  Page 17 of The Breakthrough Institute’s “How to Make Nuclear Cheap

In reality, virtually all nuclear technologies, with enough effort and knowledge, can be modified to produce weapons-grade material.  In almost every case, however, the cost and effort is substantially greater than pursuing weapons through traditional means, namely by covertly obtaining centrifuges and enriching uranium or building “research reactors” designed intentionally to produce weapons-grade material easily and discretely.  Neither tactic is easily confused with developing a legitimate nuclear energy program.

See!  Miles apart.  Now you can sleep even better at night, knowing that there are quicker paths to nuclear weapons than going through the cost and rigamarole of developing nuclear energy. 

Swords to Plowshares

The reverse path is easier:  going from weapons to energy.  It’s happened now with the Megatons to Megawatts program.  All those weapons, quickly consumed.  The US Energy fleet is hungry for more weapons to consume as energy.  It’s poetic.  A description of the program from AheadOfTheHerd.com:

During the twenty year Megatons to Megawatts Program Russia will convert 500 tonnes of highly enriched uranium (HEU - uranium 235 enriched to 90 percent) from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons into low enriched uranium (LEU - less than 5 percent uranium 235) for nuclear fuel and sell it to the US. The terms of the Megatons to Megawatts Program also required that the HEU be converted to LEU in Russian nuclear facilities.

The United States established a government corporation - United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) to purchase and transport the LEU to the US. Russia designated Tekhsnabeksport (“Tenex”) a commercial subsidiary of its Ministry of Atomic Energy (MinAtom) to implement their side of the program.

The Megatons to Megawatts program had, as of August 2011, down-blended 425 tonnes of HEU - equivalent to 17,000 nuclear warheads. The twenty year program to down-blend 500 tonnes of weapons grade Russian HEU into fuel for nuclear reactors will eliminate the equivalent of 20,000 warheads by the time it comes to an end in 2013. 

Truly swords into plowshares, nuclear warheads that were once on Russian ICBMs aimed at American cities are now providing 50% of the electricity produced by America’s nuclear power plants.

Take back the Nukes

Nukes are scary.  The people who want to use nuclear weapons are scarier. 

Scariest, most insidious, and effective, are the people who use the fear of nuclear weapons and radiation superstitions to keep the world literally disempowered. 

Fossil fuels are nuking the world in the worst sense of the word.  The sooner we are able to measure the real impact of different threats, the sooner we will realize what we need to do.

We need to put nuclear energy to work, supplying clean energy to the world. 

We need to nuke fossil fuels.