Comments on: Why I Still Support Nuclear Energy, Even after Fukushima, WSJ, April 23 & 24, 2011

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Click to read the original article, Why I still Support Nuclear Power – Even after Fukushima, by William Tucker.

Part I – More Automation and More Energy

Based on excerpts from the Book (Draft) We Can Give our Grandchildren a Better World

More automation is essential, if we are to grow the pie bigger for all (a fundamental precept of Better World) .   It’s been the key to greater production, with higher quality at lower cost since the industrial revolution began.  Fewer people with better machines can out-produce many people with poor machines. For instance, Ely Whitney’s cotton gin could produce as much clean cotton as fifty people working by hand.  Henry Ford made the Model T the car affordable for the general population through innovations and improvements in the assembly line process.  Edward Demming, an American engineer and statistician taught the Japanese auto companies how to use statistical process control and improved management techniques to build-in higher and higher quality.  His “Red Bead Experiment” is the classic for demonstrating why working harder without working smarter is futile.

Short digression: American companies could have set the quality standards and stayed ahead in world manufacturing in the 70’s & 80’s if they had had broader and more long-term vision.  Dr. Demming tried to educate them but they weren’t interested until Japanese products became the standards.  At the time they were more interested in the end-of-year balance sheet than how to hold market share for the next decade.  America as a whole needs to improve its long-term thinking; we absolutely must start thinking in terms of decades.  [Note: This is a benchmark lesson we need to learn from the Chinese culture to stay ahead in the game.] Some of the key facets of business are building good foundations of quality, efficiency, creativity, and flexibility.  The world is changing at an ever faster pace.  American independence of thought and action are excellent attributes supporting creativity and flexibility.  Our tradition of solid work ethic supports quality and efficiency.  Now we need to add: breadth of thinking – the business terrain is changing; and long-term thinking – what do we do today to prepare the world for our grandchildren and them for the world of tomorrow?

Back to automation:

If we think about how standard of living tracks energy usage for a minute or two it becomes obvious.  At the most basic level one person, with one person of energy, can only produce one-person’s amount of crops and/or goods.  But as soon as that person starts putting other energy sources to work for them, they can have more and better “stuff.”  Earliest records show man using fire for cooking, then about 5,000 years ago we added: slavery for various uses (note: a form of theft that concentrates wealth but does nothing to raise the per-person production); also animals, and wind power for transportation (which does raise per person production).  About 2,000 years ago the Romans employed the water wheel for grinding grain.  Windmills arrived around 1100 AD, steam engines in the 1600’s, internal combustion engines in the 1800’s, nuclear power reactors and solar cells in the 1950’s.  As our methods of energy production became more sophisticated our standard of living improved. Someday fusion power or even matter – antimatter conversion (Jules Verne’s science fiction of the 1800’s included submarines and rockets) may one day supply us with cheap abundant power, but in the interim we need to rely on today’s technologies.

The brief look at history, above, shows man’s improved standard of living has been driven by ever-advancing sources of energy.  The direct correlation between increase in energy production and increased standard of living is discussed in “Global Energy Futures and Human Development: A Framework for Analysis by Alan D. Pasternak, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Report no. UCRL-ID-140773, October, 2000 .  The paper compares electricity production with Human Development Index (HDI).  It also explains that HDI is more focused on meeting basic human needs,  versus Gross Domestic Product, which is more economics oriented.  If we are to give our Grandchildren a better future we want them to do better than “meet basic human needs.” How much more electricity can we expect to need if (for example) we switch from gas & diesel powered to electric powered autos.

We are creating more labor-saving tools and devices for even some of the most labor-intensive tasks: home, farm, construction, and office.  Have you watched a house being built lately? Many of the hand tools are air- and battery-powered these days.  Landscaping is done by one guy and a Bobcat® instead of several with shovels. The steno pool has been replaced by computers and a couple good tech editors.  Given today’s computers we can create even better robotic assembly lines, and we can create factories with ever higher productivity per worker.  By combining new tools and new production methods with advanced sources of energy, a small number of people can provide an abundance of goods, and a small number of people can grow enough food for a large number of people.

All of these factories, tools, and labor multiplying devices will need new, better sources of energy.  The next installment of this series on Energy will look at several sources and potential sources of energy.  The series will conclude with why nuclear is still a good gamble.

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