renewable vs. sustainable

This is like my favorite rant. You know how legislation is targeting renewable energy? Well that’s a bad idea. Back in my day, people used the word “sustainable” to describe energy sources and lifestyles that were just that — they could continue for a very long time without us running out of resources, killing everyone, etc. Well now renewable has gained favor and is the obvious way to go for everyone who doesn’t know any better. At first glance, most renewable things seem sustainable. But that’s not necessarily the case! Wind and Solar are renewable, but are we considering the quantity of rare earths needed to get the current technologies up to significant levels? Not necessarily. (BTW, solar thermal is way better than solar photovoltaics (solar panels)). And just to make the point more clear, consider the following renewable energy sources:

  • Trees
  • Whale Blubber

Not very sustainable, either of those.

Another beef is that people use renewable to exclude nuclear power. Well you can’t do that anymore.

Nuclear Energy is now Renewable

Typically nuclear is not considered renewable. But the Japanese have recently demonstrated that they can pull Uranium from the sea for something like $100/kg. And guess what? Lowell Wood has recently pointed out that plate tectonics move the earth’s crust at a rate that replenishes the uranium in sea water faster than we could ever use it. So that means Uranium is now renewable. So HA.

Keep in mind that renewable doesn’t mean sustainable. In typical reactors only 5% or so of the uranium is burned. We’ll have to do better. Consider high burnup reactors like fast breeders, TWRs, LFTRs, etc.

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