Friday, September 09, 2005

Profiting From Adversity

Historians say that civilizations only make big advances when under stress. Here are two things that the US should do under the stress of Katrina: re-introduce DDT and start building a lot of nuclear power plants.

Re-introduce DDT

Rescue workers in the Gulf face swarms of mosquitoes grown fat on the detritus of the disaster. And we all face the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. Unfortunately:

In 1972, on the basis of data on toxicity to fish and migrating birds (but not to humans), the Environmental Protection Agency banned virtually all uses of the pesticide DDT, an inexpensive and effective pesticide once widely deployed to kill disease-carrying insects.

Since the banning of DDT, insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue — and now West Nile virus — have been on the rise. The World Health Organization estimates that malaria kills about a million people annually, and that there are between 300 million and 500 million new cases each year.

Even the lefty WaPo has noticed:

As HIV/AIDS gains new (and deserved) attention and funds, it will be ironic if Western governments overlook another accelerating epidemic that has killed and disabled even more people in the past 20 years. It is malaria.

Down this path looms catastrophe of epochal proportions. But that tragic result is readily avoidable, using proven strategies that are certain, simple and cheap... As Bill Gates observed, "It is unacceptable that 3,000 African children die every day from a largely preventable and treatable disease."

Amen to that.

Start Building Lots Of Nuke Power Plants

Katrina showed how little of its oil the US produces domestically & how vulnerable it is (to Chinese subs as well as hurricanes). Long term, an escalating price of oil is no big problem - it will cause more exploration and conservation. But in the short term it hugely enriches the enemies of the West - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela who will eventually use their riches to do us harm.

The US (and UK) should - for once - follow the example of France:

France has 59 nuclear reactors operated by Electricite de France (EdF) with total capacity of over 63 GWe, supplying over 426 billion kWh per year of electricity, 78% of the total generated there.

Nuclear energy, with the fuel cost being a relatively small part of the overall cost, made good sense in minimizing imports and achieving greater energy security.

As a result...France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and almost the lowest cost electricity in Europe. Over 90% of its electricity is nuclear or hydro.

The US has excellent and safe designs and a good base to build from:

The USA has over 100 nuclear reactors providing 20% of its electricity.

The Westinghouse AP-1000...has now been given final design approval by NRC. It represents the culmination of a 1300 man-year and $440 million design and testing program.

Capital costs are projected at $1000 per kilowatt and modular design will reduce construction time to 36 months. The 1100 MWe AP-1000 generating costs are expected to be below US$ 3.5 cents/kWh.

It is under active consideration for building in UK and USA...

The Brits also generate 20% of their power from nukes. They've paid the price of pioneering (world's first commercial reactor in 1956). and have several of old and inefficient reactors to get rid of. Still they have all the technologies and resources for a complete switch to nuclear using new PWRs.

In case you're worried about spent fuel (my ellipsis):

... the fuel is reprocessed to remove the fission products, and the fuel can (then) be re-used. The...fission products removed from the fuel are a concentrated form of High Level Waste (HLW).

In 1989 and 1992 (France) commissioned commercial plants to vitrify HLW left over from reprocessing oxide fuel...there are adequate facilities...in the UK. The capacity of these western European plants is 2,500 canisters (1000 t) a year, and some have been operating for 18 years.

Vitrification turns the HLW into a glass-like solid that can't contaminate the air or water, and can safely be buried somewhere out-of-the-way.

Of course the environmentalists hate this, because it reduces greenhouse gasses but doesn't wreck our economies.

Go to it, Mr. President!