Turn On The Lights – WIF Next Gen Power

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The Future of Power:

New  Sources

of Energy

Listen, fossil fuels have been great. They’ve provided such an abundance of cheap energy over the last century and change that we’ve ridden their wave from horses and muskets all the way to rocket ships and the internet. But there are costs to burning them (you know, like how you also burn the planet). As the cons begin to outweigh the pros, it’s abundantly clear the time of oil and coal is rapidly coming to an end.

The debate over which renewable sources could potentially replace them (and therefore deserve more public investment) has been raging for years now. But solar, wind, hydroelectric and nuclear (fission) are just the beginning. Turns out one thing we don’t have a shortage of is jaw dropping ideas for energy production that can, with the right resources and public investment, be implemented within our lifetimes. Things like…

8. Nuclear Waste

Nuclear fission reactors have been around forever, currently provide roughly 20% of America’s energy, and will likely be a central component to any climate response plan due to the low greenhouse damage they cause. Contrary to popular belief, they’re also quite safe, as accidents like the infamous Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters are preventable and rare. But there is one problem that isn’t being overblown, and that is the nuclear waste issue.

Current light-water technology surrounds uranium fuel rods with enough water to slow the neutrons and generate a sustainable fission reaction, but only an unacceptably inefficient 5% of the uranium atoms inside the rods can be used before they have to be replaced. The remaining 95% kind of just gets dumped into an ever-growing stockpile (90,000 tons and counting) that we don’t really know what to do with. This is where Fast Reactor technology comes in, which submerges the rods in sodium and can therefore switch those numbers: using 95% of the uranium and only dumping the remaining 5% rather than further contributing to the current mess. If we can muscle our way past the political stigma against nuclear power, this technology has real potential.

7. Nuclear Fusion

Of course, we don’t have to stick with fission at all. At least not long term. Nuclear fusion, in which molecules are combined into a new element using immense heat and pressure, is safer, overwhelmingly more powerful, clean and harmless to the environment, and could provide power in enough abundance to launch mankind into the kind of future only dreamed of on The JetsonsSadly, at this moment it’s not easy to sustain net positive (meaning we get more energy out of the reaction than we have to put in to trigger it) fusion reactions long enough to be commercially viable.

There’s an old adage commenting on the long, long road fusion has already traveled and how far it still has before we start rolling it out: “nuclear fusion is the power source of the future, and always will be.” It’s funny and a bit depressing, given the enormous potential that always seems to be just one breakthrough away. But we know fusion, the Holy Grail of clean energy research, works. We need only look up at the stars, which exist because of fusion. So technically, since none of us would exist without the sun, you do too. 

6. Geothermal Energy

As appealing as fusion and wind are, though, there’s certainly something to be said for an energy source that doesn’t depend on expensive reactor facilities or unreliable weather conditions. Enter geothermal energy: heat pulled straight from beneath the surface of the Earth, where there’s always plenty. Now technically, we’ve been harnessing geothermal energy for over a century by just collecting it from water and steam. But modern geothermal harnessing techniques are limited, both in range of use (even when the technology is mature, it’s mainly used for basic heating and cooling functions) and by geography itself (we have to harness the heat where it is, almost always in tectonically active areas).

However, we’re constantly improving at both getting to the heat and spending less money, effort and time doing it. And in the very near future, expect technologies falling under the umbrella of Enhanced Geothermal Systems, which drill and pour water into ‘hot dry rock’ areas in the earth’s crust in order to turn the currently inaccessible energy stores there into several times more usable, clean energy than fossil fuels currently give us access to, to reshape the energy landscape.

5. Space-Based Solar

The first thing anyone thinks of when they hear the term ‘renewable energy’ is probably solar. Why wouldn’t they? The sun is bombarding the earth with more raw power every second than we’ve ever managed to spend in a year. But the problem was never a lack of it; it’s always been harnessing and storing the stuff. Luckily, solar panels are getting cheaper and better at an alarming clip. But what if we could harness the sun’s energy in space? It’s always there, after all, in waves not filtered and diluted by the fickle atmosphere (which reflects 30% of it back into space anyway).

The basic idea would be to construct enormous solar farms which would collect the sun’s high-energy radiation and use mirrors to deposit the energy into smaller collectors, which would then send it to Earth in the form of microwaves or laser beams. As of right now, this technology is prohibitively expensive. But maybe it won’t be for long. After all, companies like SpaceX are constantly engineering ways to drive down the cost of sending cargo into space, so hopefully we’ll be running out of excuses not to build one of these world-changing (and charging) behemoths in our lifetime.

4. Solar Windows

But you know what? Cool as space solar is, we don’t actually have to go into space to revolutionize solar energy generation (which is already revolutionizing energy itself). Down here on the surface, solar panels are already covering rooftops throughout Europe and desert expanses in the American Southwest, not to mention steadily eating away into fossil fuel dominance. With upcoming quantum dot solar cell technology about to burst onto the scene, which essentially replaces standard silicon with artificial, solar-energy collecting molecules, expect the revolution not just to continue, but to accelerate. 

Before we continue, it’s worth noting that lots of cool but ultimately impractical solar-panel-as-something-else designs (where solar panels replace roads, walls, windows, etc) have been floated lately. The problem always comes down to the fact that solar panels just aren’t advanced enough to double in function. But quantum dot tech may change that. Imagine every window in the world filled with solar harnessing technology that you wouldn’t even be able to see with an electron microscope. So say goodbye to those unsightly panels, because without even looking different, your transparent windows might function as mini power stations in just a few short years.

3. Tidal Power

We already have hydroelectric power, generated by massive dams that use rushing river water to turn energy turbines. It’s powerful, clean stuff and certainly worth continuing to use. But it’s nothing compared to the untapped energy of the ocean’s currents, which, if properly harnessed, could power the planet several times over. Sadly, solar and wind cornered the renewable market early on, and as a result, tidal power is only just now getting reconsidered due to its enormous potential.

Oyster, for example, is essentially a giant hinged flap bolstered to the ocean floor, which swings back and forth with the current and pumps enough resulting energy to the surface to power thousands of homes. There’s also the Terminator turbine, designed by Air Force Academy engineers and inspired by aircraft, which ditches drag technology for wing-like lift, in order to (theoretically) harness an astonishing 99% of available tidal power (as opposed to the standard 50%). And the potential isn’t limited to raw energy generation, either. Perth, Australia just started using a tidal-powered desalination plant that can provide drinking water for more than half a million residents.

2. Hydrogen

Advantage number one: burning Hydrogen produces just about no pollution or greenhouse emissions at all, which is why NASA has been using the stuff to send rockets and shuttles into space for years. Sadly, it’s tough to expand this energy source to a global scale since hydrogen, the simplest and most abundant element in the universe (by orders of magnitude) isn’t available in large enough quantities where we can actually get it (unless it’s combined with other elements like Oxygen, as is the case with H2O).

But if we could figure this out, maybe by engineering a way to separate hydrogen from the elements of which it’s a part, we could change the world. Luckily, such hydrogen fuel cells, which may very well be the future of transportation, are already being built. Honda is actually planning to demonstrate the power and efficiency of this technology with a new Clarity Fuel Cell car by plugging the vehicle into a house which it will then power (as opposed to electric vehicles, which would draw power from the house). Like all new technology, of course, this will be expansive and unavailable to the public at large for some time. But the potential is real.

1. Biofuel

Like a lot of entries on this list, biofuel itself has been around for ages. Henry Ford actually envisioned his Model T car running on ethanol before cheap oil was found everywhere and captured the energy market instantly. Ethanol, the first generation of biofuel, is making a comeback too, but the fact that it can only be harnessed using the same land and resources as food is problematic (and driving up the cost of food). Generation 2’s switchgrass was floated as an alternative for a while, due to its hardiness and ability to grow like a weed virtually anywhere. But we’d need an amount of land equivalent to Russia and the US combined to grow it in large enough quantities to overtake fossil fuels as the primary power source for cars, so that won’t work.

But what about algae? Its natural oil content is over 50%, it’s not food, and doesn’t require fields or fresh water to grow. Instead, the remaining parts of the plant can be converted into gas and electricity and fertilizer to grow more algae in small labs. This one’s no brainer, folks.


Turn On The Lights

WIF Next Gen Power

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 82

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 82

“Maybe it’s not a good idea to poke that thing around, not knowing what the result will be?”…

Careful now!

— Energized and ever curious, the two-remaining visitors on Mars press on to the depths of the alien ship. As they near the geometrical center, there is the palpable lets-go-exploring-calvin-and-hobbessensation of power about, much like being yards away from a pulsating 30,000 volt transmission line. The black hair on Sampson’s forearms stand on end and Celeste’s blond-locks react statically.

Sampson surmises that they are nearing the “engine room”, “Judging by its staying power it has to be nuclear or whatever style of atomic fuels they use. Old Karl at GLF would be drooling about now.”

The technology needed for intergalactic travel is beyond Earthly understanding, though they are currently on the right track. The NEWFOUNDLANDER most certainly did not plod along to get to Mars, like Chronicle did, or like the 21st Century New Mayflower is about to.

Brightly coded signs, reading gobbledigook threatening in form, leading them to believe they have found the engineering section with supercharged propulsion onyx-black-001unit/s. Upon gaining entry to the forbidden area, thank you Celeste and your mystically useful black rock, they can only wonder why it is so closely secured.Related image

There are more lifeless Newfoundlian bodies here than the
rest of the ship combined. Gathered in a tight circle, like Uni-Scouts at a Saturday night bonfire, are 10 of the NEWFOUNDLANDER’s crewmen. There is an object/i.e. device in the midst of the fallen bodies, five feet in diameter and eight feet tall. Two corpses are closer than the rest with what looks like tools in their hands, as if repairing something fragile.fork-001

While bending over to relieve one of them of his tool, “Where do you think this goes,” he beckons Celeste to come join him.

Sampson manipulates the tuning fork shaped instrument, twist it at various angle and degrees. He even goes as far as trying to shove it into the middle, where the two cones intersect, in the middle, but the smooth surfaces are not receptive.

“Maybe it’s not a good idea to poke that thing around, not knowing what the resultarrow-down will be?”press_button_receive_bacon

“You have a point; this has more and different juice than the magical-meal machine.”

The “thingy” Sam is handling inadvertently drops to the deck of the engine room from waist level.…..


THE RETURN TRIP

Image result for falling objects gif

Episode 82


page 77

 

I’m Radioactive! – WIF Contaminated Geography

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The Most Radioactive

Places on Earth

There are many terrifying places in the world, but few of the horrors that they contain are as scary as radiation. When a site becomes thoroughly nuclear, you can’t fight it, you can’t outrun it, and you’re pretty hard-pressed to contain it. No matter how well the location is cleaned and taken care of, the residual radiation can still affect the environment for hundreds of years. There are many of these extremely creepy and dangerous sites around the world. These are their stories.

10. The Polygon

When the Soviet Union crumbled and Kazakhstan became independent, one of the first things they did was shutting down The Polygon. This Soviet nuclear testing site had seen tryout nukes of various sizes for over four decades, and during its Cold War heyday, it was home to an estimated 25% of the world’s nuclear tests. The site was originally chosen because it was unoccupied, but this didn’t take into account the many villages that were located near its perimeter. Years of nuclear radiation bombarded the area, and eventually, the residents of the “safe” villages started showing birth defects and various radiation-related illnesses.

Today, it is estimated that at least 100,000 Kazakhs near the Polygon area suffer from the effects of radiation. The radioactive materials at the Polygon itself will take hundreds of years to reach safe radiation levels, and the poor people suffering from the effects may do so for five generations.

9. Chernobyl

It’s impossible to discuss radioactive sites without bringing up Chernobyl. The 1986 nuclear power plant explosion in Ukraine is considered the worst nuclear disaster that the world has ever witnessed, and despite the fact that it’s been extensively researched, many questions remain. The most pressing of those questions concern the long-term health impacts of the people who were exposed to the radiation. Acute radiation sickness wreaked havoc among the first responders to the scene, but that was just the tip of the deadly iceberg: The nearby town of Pripyat was not evacuated until 36 hours after the disaster, and at that point, many residents were already showing symptoms of radiation sickness. Despite all these clear signs that the situation was pressing, and the realization that the disaster sent nuclear winds blowing towards Belarus and into Europe, the Soviets still tried to play the situation close to their chest — right up until the radiation alarms at a nuclear plant all the way in Sweden went off, and the terrifying situation unfolded.

On the surface, Chernobyl’s death toll was surprisingly moderate: “only” 31 people died in the disaster and its short-term aftereffects, and the Still, the long-term effects to the people in the area were still unsafely high, though just how the disaster affected their lifespans is very difficult to measure. For instance, an estimated 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer in Ukraine,  Russia and Belarus may be connected radiation exposure in some way, but it’s borderline impossible to directly link them to the disaster.

8. Siberian Chemical Combine Plant

Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) is an old uranium enrichment plant in, yes, Siberia. When it comes to its waste disposal, it was always a product of the patented Soviet “eh, just put it wherever, comrade” way of doing things: Significant amounts of the combine’s liquid radioactive waste were pumped into underground pools of water. That would probably been bad enough even without the nuclear accident of 1993, which saw an explosion damage the radio-technology plant of the complex. The blast wrecked two floors of the building,  and more importantly, destroyed a tank containing highly dangerous materials such as plutonium and uranium.

The radioactive gas released by the incident contaminated 77 square miles of downwind terrain, and only sheer luck prevented the fumes from turning the nearby cities of Tomsk and Seversk into Fallout locations. The cleanup process took four months, but for locals, the disaster was just the beginning of the nightmare: They found out that there had been a whopping 22 accidents at the SCC over the years, and even during its normal operations it released around 10 grams of plutonium into the atmosphere every year. For reference, it takes just one millionth of a gram to potentially cause serious diseases on humans.

7. Sellafield

Sellafield is to Great Britain what Chernobyl is to Russia: The worst ever nuclear accident to happen in the country. In a way, it managed to be even more badly managed than its more famous counterpart — or rather, managed in a more British way. When the Windscale No. 1 “pile” (a sort of primitive nuclear reactor) of the Sellafield nuclear material processing factory caught fire in October 1957, eleven tons of uranium burned for three days. Despite this rather worrying situation, everyone went  about their day as if nothing had happened. While the reactor was close to collapse and radioactive material spread across the nearby areas, no one was evacuated, and work went on in the facility with a stiff upper lip. In fact, most people weren’t even told about the fire. The workers realized that something was going on, but were told to “carry on as normal.”

Meanwhile, a true disaster was just barely averted, largely thanks to one heroic man. When the fire started, deputy general manager Thomas Tuohy was called on site from a day off. When it came apparent that the blaze could not be easily contained, he threw away his radiation-recording badge so no one could see the doses he was taking. Then, he climbed at the top of the 80-foot reactor building, and stared at the inferno below him while taking the full force of the radiation. He did this multiple times over the next hours to assess the damage, and when the blaze started to reach the melting point of steel, he made the last-ditch call to use water to drown the pile. It was a risky maneuver that was untested on a reactor fire, and if anything had gone wrong, the whole area would have been blown up and irradiated to the point of uninhabitability. Fortunately, Tuohy’s gambit paid off, and 30 hours of waterworks later, Sellafield was saved. While the area was thoroughly irradiated all the way down to its milk and chickens, Britain carried on with a stiff upper lip. Of course, Tuohy himself, who had basically wrestled with the burning reactor, eventually died … at a respectable age of 90.

6. The Somali Coast

The coastal areas of Somalia are better known for their pirate activity than their nuclear materials, but that’s just because the radioactive waste tends to be hidden under the surface.  Weirdly enough, the two phenomena have the same cause: The area’s unrest during the 1980s led to a long period where the country had no central rule, which left its shores unguarded. Unfortunately for Somalia’s residents, this meant that every unscrupulous operator and their mother was free to cheaply dump their unwanted nuclear and other hazardous waste along the country’s coastline, instead of disposing of it in a safer (and much more expensive) manner.

The United Nations have been aware of the problem for years, and describe it as a very serious situation. It was further aggravated in 2009, when a large tsunami made the problem literally resurface. The wave dislodged and broke many of the containers, causing contaminants to spread at least six miles inland. The cocktail of radioactive materials and assorted toxic sludges caused a host of serious health problems for the residents, and may even have contaminated some of the groundwater.

5. Mayak

Even before Chernobyl, there were whispers that the Soviet Union’s track record with nuclear power wasn’t exactly spotless. Some of said whispers were almost certainly about the Mayak complex, which was the country’s first nuclear site. Built in the remote southern Urals shortly after WWII, Mayak was a secret military site that was near the closed town of Chelyabinsk, and specialized in manufacturing plutonium for the army. Its secretive nature eventually came in handy for the Soviet government.

In 1957, the complex suffered one of the worst little-known nuclear disasters, when an accident at the facility contaminated 7,700 square miles of the nearby area, which affected roughly 270,000 people. The incident would eventually become known as the Kysthym disaster, after the nearest town. At the time, however, the authorities fully played the “secret facility” card, and released little information about the crisis. The true scale of the disaster would not emerge until the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s. It took until 2009 for the villagers nearest to the Mayak facility to be relocated … and even then, most of them were just moved a little over a mile up the road.

4. Church Rock uranium mill

In 1979, a spill at the Church Rock uranium mill in New Mexico sent 1,100 tons of uranium mine tailings and 94 million gallons of effluent into the Puerco River, spreading contamination some 50 miles downstream. Together, these released three times more radiation than the notorious Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

To this day, the Church Rock spill remains the largest accidental release of radioactive material the United States has ever seen, and its damage to the environment was wholesale. Radioactivity was in water, animals, plants and, eventually, the Navajo population of the area, who suffer from an increased likelihood of birth defects and kidney disease.

The disaster is particularly tragic because it would have been perfectly avoidable. The spill happened because one of the dams holding the United Nuclear Corporation’s disposal ponds at bay cracked. Later, both the corporation itself and various federal and state inspectors noted that the rock it had been built on was unstable.

3. Fukushima

In March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake moved the entire Japan several feet east, and sent tsunami waves washing over the country’s shorelines, causing a death toll of 19,000 people … and the worst nuclear plant disaster in the country’s history. Initially, it seemed that the Fukushima Daiichi power plant had withstood the watery onslaught, and that all of its reactors had automatically shut down and survived without significant damage. However, the plant was not quite as tsunami-proof as everyone had assumed, and it soon became evident that the wave had disabled the cooling systems and power supply for three of the reactors. Within three days, their cores had largely melted, and a fourth reactor started showing signs of trouble.

The government evacuated roughly 100,000 people from the area, and engaged in a battle to cool the reactors with water — and even more importantly, to prevent radioactive materials leaking in the environment. Since the facility is just 100 yards from the ocean and on an area that’s prone to various natural disasters, the cleanup process is a difficult, yet urgent task. The radiation inside the plant is so deadly that it’s impossible to enter the facility, so no one’s even sure precisely where the molten fuel is within the plant. In a massive, unprecedented challenge that is estimated to take decades, the cleanup officials are currently mapping the terrain with radiation-measuring robots, and hope that strong robots are eventually able to seal and retrieve the radioactive substances from the premises.

2. Mailuu-Suu

Mailuu-Suu is a town in Kyrgyztan that not only lives under the constant shadow of Soviet-era radiation, but has actually made its peace with the fact. Some locals joke that they actually need the radiation to survive. You can even get walking tours to the worst radioactive waste dumps — followed by a healthy dose of vodka to flush the radioactivity out of your system, of course.

The town is one of the largest concentrations of radioactive materials in former Soviet Central Asia. Because the area is naturally rich in uranium, the Soviet Union mined it to death, while toxic waste was buried all around town. All in all, some two million cubic meters of radioactive waste lies under gravel and concrete, in 23 different dumping sites around Mailu Suu. The sites are often just lazy piles of hazardous material lying in their deteriorating bunker pits, halfheartedly marked with barbed wire and concrete posts.

Unfortunately, this makes Mailu Suu both a current crisis and a future, potentially much worse one. The dumping sites are located right by a fast-moving water source, the Mailuu-suu river, which is a water supply for two million people downstream. What’s more, the area is tectonically active, and extremely prone to landslides. This has already led to one nasty disaster: In 1992, one of said landslides busted one of the waste dumps open … and 1,000 cubic meters of radioactivity spilled into the river.

1. The Hanford Site

In the 1950s, America was happily entering the Atomic Age, and the nuclear site in Hanford, Washington was where the future was made. The plant had already made its mark in the 1940s during the Manhattan Project, for which it was built to produced the plutonium required for the nukes. After the war, the future seemed bright in more than one way. Although every kilogram of plutonium the site produced came with a side order of hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive waste, the site’s entrepreneurial owners believed they could sell even that. Unfortunately, they couldn’t … and they also hadn’t bothered to create proper ways to store the deadly sludge.

As years went by, temporary underground containers quietly became permanent, cracked, and allowed their radioactive contents to seep in the ground. The Atomic Energy Commission, which oversaw the manufacture of nuclear bombs, didn’t even bother to set up an office for waste management, so unregulated radioactive material ended up buried wherever, in containers that creaked at the seams. In the end, Hanford and its nearby areas were so saturated with radioactive waste and strange toxic sludges that the site became the largest nuclear cleanup site in the entire western hemisphere. The cleanup process has gone on for decades, caused health problems to dozens of workers, and cost billions of dollars, but the treatment plant that’s meant to deal with the sludge is yet to materialize. In fact, the area is still so deeply dangerous that when they started to demolish the site’s plutonium finishing plant in 2017, 42 workers became exposed to radioactive particles despite all the precautions.


I’m Radioactive! –

WIF Contaminated Geography

I’m Radioactive! – WABAC to Chernobyl

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"Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Put on your HAZMAT suit Sherman My Boy & let’s head to 1986 Russia.”