We mistakenly refer to the generation of electricity by steam turbines heated by the heat by-product of nuclear reaction as atomic power. In point of fact electricity is produced by turning a wire wrapped rotor through the magnetic field of wire coils mounted around the static mounting of the generator, as designed by Nick Tesla over a century past. Rotating that shaft, by whatever means is the key; steam turbines are the machine of choice for the commercial production of energy for sale. Burning coal or natural gas to produce the steam is the most common system, but the atomic option offers some tempting alternatives. Coal burning and its release of radioactive elements and carbon pollution is not sustainable for our environmental future. Over 10,000 Americans die each year as a result of coal pollution and downwind lakes and rivers suffer from acid rain, killing off fish and amphibians. Another century of such pollution and most industrial regions will be uninhabitable.
Water is the key to two other methods of generation, hydro and nuclear, both of which turn the shafts that turn the generators, but at vastly different effect on the environment. Hydroelectric once meant high dams and huge impeller wheels in power plants throughout the mountains of America. A century ago these systems electrified the nation, but the impact on reverine fish populations and the problems of dam maintenance were serious, long term. Today, however, new technology makes smaller, lightweight generators that can be installed on flowing creeks to power local communities without the massive transmission losses of current practice.
And water is the secret with atomic plants as well. Cooling the reactor core and shielding the “spent” fuel rods from violent oxidation demand millions of slowing water, which is why such power plants are located along ocean fronts and rivers. Water converts to steam from the heat side effect of the nuclear fission, turning the turbines that turn the rotor that interrupts the magnetic field that produces the current. Failure of that water system can be disastrous, as in the case of Fukushima, and poses catastrophic dangers to surrounding communities, not to mention the overall environment.
Ultimately the solar option must be selected. If for no other reason than it is the only electrical source without moving parts or needing water, solar is best used in individual applications such as home roofing and industrial panel installations. The capitalist system of massive sun farming and transmission systems is unworkable, but the utility industry won’t surrender its cash cow easily.
This year the decisions must be made on what sources of energy will power the future, and the deciders will be politicians, God help us.
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. “The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.