> Dr. Arjun Makhijani
> Tuesday, March 25 at 11:30 AM
> Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free
> Does eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels require a
> shift to nuclear power? Is there a more realistic roadmap for creating
> a zero CO2 society by eliminating dependence on oil and coal?
> Dr. Arjun Makhijani, a Berkeley electrical engineering Ph.D. who heads
> the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, and author of the
> new book Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, says, “If we are bold enough,
> the U.S. can simultaneously solve the problems of oil imports,
> proliferation of weapons of mass destruction linked to nuclear power,
> and carbon-dioxide emissions. A technological revolution is brewing:
> this book shows how we can address the climate change crisis and build
> a healthy economy.”

Dr. Makhijani began by explaining that he did his Ph.D. research in an environment where energy efficiency was not yet a widely shared topic. In fact, there was no faculty advisor or funding to do the doctoral research. Not long after that he began working for S. David Freeman at the energy policy project of the Ford Foundation in Washington, DC. When the first oil crisis hit they were the only independant people in town with a detailed understanding of the issue. He has studied various aspects of energy and sharing his findings since that time.

Dr. Makhijani then explained some of the reasons he thinks nuclear power is not a good idea. He pointed to the widely shared idea "France recycles nuclear waste" and explained that it is 1% true for the plutonium component. In addition they pollute the English Channel with byproducts in the process, despite the fact that a dozen other countries with shorelines they are contaminating have asked them to stop. Also France has not solved the problem of isolating its high level waste for the long term. Using nuclear power to address global warming will require new uranium enrichment plants. Look at the problems the west is having with just one such plant in Iran. Do we want to build two or three such plants a year?

Dr. Makhijani thinks a good slogan for one part of the solution is "parking lots are the answer". Putting a solar awning on a parking spot will generate about one Kilowatt of power during the day. In the USA there are 10 parking spots for every car. We can't use them all but they can supply much of the electricity we require. If we switch to Lithium Ion batteries electric cars will get the range needed for most people's driving habits. Using solar power to drive battery based cars is one way to go.

Dr. Makhijani thinks another good slogan is "weeds are part of the answer." He thinks diverting food crops into the gas tank is not smart. Making corn into a fuel puts us into a situation where the hungry are competing with cars. Enough work has been done on using algae in water to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) that it looks like a good way to gather energy near coal plants. Research should be funded into ways to convert algae to oil for biodiesel economically.

Looking at the global picture, Dr. Makhijani thinks that for global CO2 emissions to fall by 80%, American must reduce our CO2 output by 92%. This is possible. Wind energy from North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, and Montana alone have the potential to replace all of the fossil fuels used to generate electricity in the USA today. Solar power can also provide a chunk of the solution. If the consequences of CO2 induced climate change appear to be dire. We need to be working on this transition now.

During Q&A a number of interesting things came up:

Q: Somebody said "it will take $600 billion to convert the electricity sector."
$600 billion for changing electric power sector over a period of decades is not that much in a country where the annual spending on electricity and other forms of energy is $1.5 trillion. The change will occur over time. It won't be overnight.

Dr. Makhijani is not a fan of the India/USA nuclear deal. He thinks it would be a bad thing for India to get into a situation where someone they could end up in political disagreements with would have control over their fuel supply.

Dr. Makhijani thinks Detroit abandoned the electric car too soon. They were having difficulties making it work with lead acid batteries. Many of the problems with those are made obsolete by switching to Lithium Ion batteries. He sees plug in hybrids as a step in the right direction, but not the whole answer.

A question regarding the situation of the USA in the world was answered with:
Dr. Makhijani thinks the peak year for American Hegemony was 1973. Reasons include: that was the year they disconnected the $US from gold, that was the year the Vietnam war ended, that was the peak year for wages of working Americans, and that was the US economy's first oil shock.

Spain has the best large scale solar thermal systems, which is a technology that is coming back.  A Spanish company has made an agreement in Arizona to install a system that makes sense financially at 14 cents per KWHr.

Dr. Makhijani thinks one area where a technology breakthrough would be nice is in large capacitor storage for electricity. If capacitors that could compete with batteries came along it would enable many new technologies.

Dr. Makhijani researched that slogan "nuclear power is too cheap to meter" and discovered that it was propaganda related to making the US atom look peaceful. Even then the technical people at GE were saying that nuclear power was going to be expensive. It was part of the cold war with the Soviet Union.

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