Building the World

October 1, 2019
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ENERGY: Traveling Wave of the Future

“Prometheus bringt der Menschheit das Feuer,” by Heinrich Fuger, 1817. Image: Wikimedia.

Ever since Prometheus gave fire to humankind, energy has changed civilization. But energy has now become what some believe the critical challenge of the future, growing increasingly critical due to climate change. We must solve energy in this century; some say in the next decade. What if there were a form of energy that was cleaner, safer, with very low carbon emissions, and used – to power itself – some of the most toxic, undisposable waste on earth? Sounds good, but will it happen? Traveling Wave is the term given to this form of nuclear reactor, or TRW for short. It’s a fission reactor that, theoretically, could run decades, self-sustained by its own internal processes, because it uses spent fuel. Traveling wave reactors were once called “breed and burn” dating back to Saveli Feinberg in 1958, followed by advances by Michael Driscoll, Lev Feoktistov, Edward Teller and Lowell Wood, Hugo van Dam, and Hiroshi Sekimoto, among others. It was the world of Teller and Wood that attracted notice by Bill Gates, Intellectual Ventures, and TerraPower. TerraPower’s scientists applied for patent EP 2324480 A1, following WO201009199A1 “Heat pipe nuclear fission deflagration wave reactor cooling.” Plans for TerraPower to partner with CNNC, in a 2015 MoU, are perhaps in development after being on hold due to international trade issues recently in the news. While some may say nuclear energy is too dangerous to develop, others state that the world may not be able to make a climate-driven energy transition to renewables and non-carbon-emitting sources unless nuclear stays in the energy mix. ITER, in France, is working on fusion energy; TerraPower, in the USA, is working on better ways to do fission.

Alert Einstein, 1921. Image: wikimedia

Powerful enough to light and heat the world, yet yielding very few carbon emissions, a form of energy that is 70 years old this year may be due for a remake. It was in August of 1939 that physicist Albert Einstein wrote a letter to then United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt about the work of Fermi and Szilard proving “the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy.” What followed was the development of atomic power through the Manhattan Project, revealing the danger and destruction that led Los Alamos Lab Director J. Robert Oppenheimer to quote the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become death,/ The destroyer of worlds.” While the Atomic Energy Act go 1946 reversed the purpose of developing nuclear power, turning the energy into productive and peaceful uses, there still remained dangers.

Nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl, Russia and Fukushima, Japan are among tragic occurrences that have plagued the use of fission energy.

Fukushima nuclear disaster: Image, wikimedia.

Another problem has grown to considerable proportion: toxic radioactive waste. Presently, the United States has 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste that needs disposal; the substance is often called “spent” fuel. Disposal is controversial, and unwanted: case in point: Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Worldwide, the picture is even more troubling. With nuclear waste building up, and old power plants breaking down, the nuclear energy question looms: where should we head in the future? Four problems are often cited: 1) danger of radioactivity from a reactor accident like Chernobyl or Fukushima; 2) limited supply of fuels U-235 and Pu-239, as presently obtained; nuclear energy is expensive; threat of misuse for military purposes. And then there is all that spent fuel.

Bill Gates. “Climate change solutions.” Image: wikimedia

But what if all that spent fuel could power future nuclear reactors capable of transforming and eliminating the world’s toxic nuclear waste, while providing enough clean energy to power the future AND stop climate change? Should we rethink nuclear energy? At 70 years of age, nuclear power may be ready for a makeover. Want to know more? Hear some ideas in Bill Gates’ TED Talk.

Ahlheld, Charles E, John Rogers Gilleland, Roderick A. Hyde, Muriel Y. Isikawa, David G. Mcalees, Nathan P. Myhrvold, Thomas Allan Weaver, Charles Whitmer, Lowell L. Wood Jr. “Heat pipe nuclear fission deflagration wave reactor cooling.” https://patents.google.com/patent/EP2324480A4/en.

Bobin, Jean Louis. Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion. World Scientific Publishing, 2014. ISBN: 9789814590686.

Gates, Bill. “Innovating to Zero.” TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates

Gates, Bill. “Inside Bill’s Brain.” Episode Three: “The Search for Climate Change Solutions.” Netflix.com, 2019.

Einstein, Albert. “Letter of August 2nd 1939 from Albert Einstein to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.” http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/psf/box5/a64a01.html/ and Building the World (2006), pages 488-490.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Waste and Environment Safety Section, Vienna, Austria. “Estimation of Global Inventories of Radioactive Waste and Other Radioactive Materials. June 2007. IAEA-TECDOC-1591. ISBN: 9789201056085.https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications?PDF/te_1591_web.pdf.

Oppenheimer, Robert. On the Manhattan Project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb13ynu3Iac

Teller, Edward. “Nuclear energy for the third millennium.” Office of Scientific and Technical Information, Department of Energy, United States of America, 1 October 1997.

Transatomic Power. http://www.transatomicpower.com

United States Congress. “Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982.” https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheet/radwaste.html and https://www.congress.gov/bill/97th-congress/house-bill/3809.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unporte

 

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July 14, 2019
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CITIES: Dangers in Deltas

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. “KatrinaNewOrleansFlooded” by Kyle Niemi, U.S. Coast Guard, 29 August 2005. Image: wikimedia commons.

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA: it’s an unprecedented situation. New Orleans, a city on the Mississippi River Delta, is under threat. The river, normally about 7 feet high in the summertime, sits presently at 16 feet, the result of spring flooding along the waterway. Add to that a virulent storm barreling towards the city, driving a surge of 2 to 3 feet. If so, the river may crest at 17 feet. On land, there may be as much as 10-15 inches of rain from the storm, a dangerous followup to the 9 inch downpour that inundated the area the same week. Storm storage, high rivers, and rain – it’s a deadly combination. Delta cities, like New Orleans, may be in peril with climate change.

Cities, throughout history, have been built on coasts, offering access to trade through ports and waterways.  Singapore may be the quintessential city upon the waters, developed as one of the first Specialized Economic Zones. New York (and Brooklyn) became leading business centers when their place on the Atlantic Ocean became linked to inland towns, the the Great Lakes, through the Erie Canal. But now, rising seas, threaten coastal cities. In 2019, the Northeast Atlantic will experience a 140% increase in coastal flooding, compared with two decades ago. Worse still, the Southeast will suffer a 190% flood increase, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And that’s just the USA.

Maeslantkering, floodgates in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Image: wikimedia.

Worldwide, cities are sinking and seas are rising; Jakarta, Indonesia may suffer some of the the worst effects of climate change; Indonesia’s capital might need to relocate. According to the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2019, 90% of all coastal areas in the world will be affected by climate change; some cities will combat sea rise 1/3rd above mean level. The bigger the cities (more heavy buildings), deeper sinking.

Delta cities, like New Orleans, are in danger; the list includes:

DELTA CITES ENDANGERED BY SEA RISE:

Dhaka

Guangzhou

Ho Chi Minh City

Hong Kong

Manila

Melbourne

Miami

New Orleans

New York

Rotterdam

Tokyo

Venice.

Source: Muggah, 2019. World Economic Forum 2019 states “Even if we keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees centigrade by 2050, at least 570 cities will be damaged.” That means people, drinking water and sanitation, mass transit, power, roads, homes, businesses, hospitals, schools.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, a Delta City. Image: wikimedia.

It’s a sad business but a big one: coastal flooding could threaten 2 million homes in the United States, worth $882 billion. Worldwide, rebuilding or relocating coastal cities will take cause spending of $100, 000 Billion – per year. Is there any hope? Some historians observe that change and innovation  often are the result of crisis, citing examples as diverse as the Roman Aqueducts in response to a water crisis when the Tiber became not only polluted but endangered by terrorism (a threat of an enemy poisoning of the city’s water supply) to the intense research and development of the Manhattan Project resulting in the harnessing of Atomic Energy. Today, we face a similarly serious threat: will innovation save the day, or the century?

Rising seas, increasingly intense storms and hurricanes, are among forces eroding coastal cities, like New Orleans (or Jakarta). Saving sinking cities will demand significant innovations in urban harbors and cityscapes; cities with canals may lead the way to a better future. According to Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Netherlands and team leader of Rebuild by Design, “Worldwide, water is the connecting issue, the number one global risk and the opportunity for comprehensive cultural change.”

Andone, Dakin, Paul P. Murphy, Brandon Miller. “New Orleans faces a never-before-seen problem with Tropical Storm Barry. July 12, 2019. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/11/weather/new-orleans-flooding-trnd/index.html

Brown, Justine. “Innovative Plans Help Cities Effectively Live With Water.” 9 September 2014. Recovery: Emergency Management. https://www.emergencymgmt.com/disaster/Innovative-Plans-Help-Cities-Live-Water.html.

Kusnetz, Nicholas. “Sea Level Rise is Creeping into Coastal Cities. Saving Them Won’t Be Cheap.” 28 December 2017. Inside Climate News. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/28122017/sea-level-rise-coastal-cities-flooding-2017-year-review-miami-norfolk-seawall-cost

Lemperiere, Francois and Luc Deroo. “Peut on éviter les inondations à Paris?” January 2018. Symposium du DCBR: comité français des barrages et réservoirs.

Lou, Michelle. “High-tide flooding is only going to get worse, NOAA says.” 10 July 2019. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/10/weather/noaa-high-tide-flooding-increasing-report-trnd/index. html.

Muggah, Robert. “The world’s coastal cities are going under. Here’s how some are fighting back.” 16 January 2019. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/the-world-s-coastal-cities-are-going-under-here-is-how-some-are-fighting-back/

NOAA, “2018 State of U.S. High Tide Flooding with a 2019 Outlook.” June 2019. https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/publications/Techrpt_090_2018_State_of_US_HighTideFlooding_with_a_2019_Outlook.Final.pdf

Radford, Tim. “Coastal flooding ‘may cost $100,000 BN a year by 2100.” 11 February 2014. Climate News Network. https://climatenewsnetwork.net/coastal-flooding-may-cost-100000-bn-a-year-by-2100/.

REBUILD BY DESIGN. http://www.rebuildbydesign.org.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

 

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November 3, 2018
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Migration and Innovation

Net Migration Rate, Map by Kamalthebest, 2017. Image: wikimedia

Human history is one of migration. We all came from Africa. Cyrene, ancient city-state where art and science flourished (the first map of the stars, the mathematics of doubling a cube), was founded by climate migrants escaping drought on Santorini. Atomic energy was the discovery of an immigrant: Albert Einstein advised President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the danger, and potential, that resulted in the Manhattan Project. Migrants shaped the future of Australia: two-thirds of the 100,000 builders of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric were recruited from displaced refugee camps after a war that had forced many from their homeland. Far from being seen as a threat, homeless were recruited by Sir William Hudson, first commissioner of the Snowy: You won’t be Balts or Slavs…you will be people of the Snowy!

Immigrants founded AT&T, Comcast, eBay, DuPont, Goldman Sachs, Google, Pfizer, and Tesla, among others. Immigrants are twice as likely to start a new business as those native born, perhaps because of the courage, hope, and vision it takes to walk to a new horizon. Everyone who is an American is either indigenous (0.8%), immigrant or refugee. Immigrants start 25% of engineering and technology companies in the United States, employing 560,000 people and producing sales of $63 billion.

Conca, James. “We Are All Immigrants, Refugees Or Their Descendants. ” Forbes, 4 July 2014. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/07/04/we-are-all-immigrants-refugees-or-their-descendants.

Davidson, Frank P. and Kathleen Lusk Brooke, Building the World, Volume 2, page 529. Greenwood:ABC-CLIO 2006. ISBN: 0313333742. www.buildingtheworld.com

Livi-Bacci, Massimo. In Cammino, 2010. Translated to English, A Short History of Migration, by Carl Ipsen (2012). ISBN: 9780745661865.

McKissen, Dustin “This Study: Immigrants are Far More Likely to Start New Businesses Than Native-Born Americans: Research shows that the economy benefits, in a big way, from immigration.” 1 February 2017. Inc. https://www.inc.com/dustin-mckissen/study-shows-immigrants-are-more-than-twice-as-likely-to-become-entrepreneurs.html.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

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October 13, 2018
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Eyes on the Prize

Nobel Prize in Economics 2018 goes to carbon tax advocates: William Nordhaus and Paul Romer. Image: wikimedia.

The Nobel Prize in Economics, awarded to William D. Nordhaus and Paul M. Romer, followed a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warning of urgent and dire effects if the world does not limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). Nordhaus advocated carbon pricing and taxation, stating: When I talk to people about how to design a carbon price, I think the model is British Columbia. You raise electricity prizes by $100 a year, but then the government gives back a dividend that lowers internet prices by $100 a year. You’re raising the price of carbon goods but lowering the prices of non-carbon-intensive goods.

Co-laureate Paul Romer stated at a press conference following the announcement: It’s entirely possible for humans to produce less carbon. There will be some tradeoffs, but once we begin to produce fewer carbon emissions we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as it was anticipated. Romer advocated supporting and encouraging innovation, while at the same time starting with a very low tax on emissions that will rise over time, if required. Outcome? “Innovators will start investing now in ways for people to get what they want without paying the tax. They will stop investing in ways to extract more fossil fuels that will be subject to the tax. Recent pessimistic environmental warnings might be true, but bad news is not always motivating, and can even cause avoidance and apathy. Romer continued: Optimism is part of what helps motivate people attack a hard problem, hoping that the Nobel award “will help everyone see that humans are capable of amazing accomplishments when we set about trying to do something.”

Davenport, Coral. “After Nobel in Economics, William Nordhaus Talks About Who’s Getting Pollution-Tax Ideas Right: A few governments – notably parts of Canada and South Korea – have adapted the the ideas in ways that frame them as a financial windfall for taxpayers.” 13 October 2018. The New York Times.

http://www.nber.org/chapters/c7620.pdf

Nordhaus, William. https://economics.yale.edu/people/william-d-nordhaus

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “Few countries are pricing carbon high enough to meet climate targets.” 18 September 2018. http://www.oecd.org/tax/few-countries-are-pricing-carbon-high-enough-to-meet-climate-targets.htm.

Rathi, Akshat. “Why the newest Nobel laureate is optimistic about beating climate change.” 8 October 2018. Quartz Media. https://qz.com/1417222/why-new-nobel-laureate-paul-romer-is-optimistic-about-beating-climate-change/.

Romer, Paul. https://paulromer.net/about-paul-romer/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

 

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December 15, 2017
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Words and Swords

Word balloon types. Image: wikimedia commons.

Code talk and authorizations. What is the not-so-hidden code in a government directive that certain words or phrasing not be used in budget proposals, lest those words become swords killing the possibility of funding. Forbidden phrases: “science-based” and “evidence-based.” Word prohibitions include “diversity” and “vulnerable.” Authorizations throughout history have varied: some were a notes scrawled from parent to child, as in the Trans-Siberian Railway. Others were private handshakes made public, as in the New River. A few espoused values for the future of humanity: the Atomic Energy Act set the guiding purpose of peace. But de-authorizing certain code words by directive may be one of the few instances where values are so explicitly defined, and demanded. Summing up the reaction of many, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, tweeted: “Here’s a word that’s still allowed: ridiculous.”

What do you think about “science-based” and “evidence-based?” What about the other directives? Can language ever be changed, or is it beyond directive? Abram de Swaan, of the Amsterdam School for Social Research, University of Amsterdam, observed that military conquests cause the spread of new wordings and even languages, but as soon as the newcomers are ousted, language returns to its natural evolution.

De Swaan, Abram. Words of the World: The Global Language System. Wiley 2013. ISBN: 9780745676982. Originally published, Polity Books, 2001.

Sun, Lena H. and Juliet Eilperin. “CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity.” 15 December 2017. The Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-gets-list-of-forbidden-words-fetus-transgender-diversity/2017/12/15/f503837a-e1cf-11e7-89e8-edec16379010_story.html?utm_term=.08926eab4d6a

https://www.cdc.gov

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October 7, 2017
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Sign of Peace

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). It was the nuclear threat that resulted in the design, by Gerald Holtom, of the peace symbol; in 1958, the artist was commissioned by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), led by Bertrand Russell. Holtom recalled: “I was in despair. I drew myself, an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards. I formalized the drawing into a line, and put a circle round it.” The elements spelled out ND for nuclear disarmament.

Peace symbol, designed by Gerald Holtom. In 2017, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Image: wikimedia commons.

During World War II, science and technology had advanced to a level of power that threatened not just the present but the future. After the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 developed a safeguard for control of fissionable materials with international scope for “all forms of energy released in the course of or as a result of nuclear fission or nuclear transformation.” In 2017, the peace symbol drew 15,000 people together, at the Glastonbury music festival, to set the world record for the greatest number of participants forming the peace sign. The symbol was never copyrighted; instead the iconic symbol was offered to the world, in the spirit of peace.

ICAN:http://www.icanw.org

Nobel Peace Prize: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/

Atomic Energy Act: https://science.energy.gov/~/media/bes/pdf/Atomic_Energy_Act_of_1946.pdf

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September 3, 2016
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The 38% Solution

Will 38 soon become 88? Image: wikimedia.

China and the United States have both ratified the Paris climate agreement. In Hangzhou, on the eve of the G20, China greeted arriving American President Obama with the announcement. Together, the two nations account for 38% of the world’s carbon emissions. The Paris agreement’s goal is to hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). Will Christiana Figueres, chief architect of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and her words delivered on 6 April 2016 to the University of Massachusetts Boston at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, inspire the world to build a better future?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

 

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February 5, 2016
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Stellar(ator) Performance

W7-X stellarator may help to build a better world. Image: wikimedia commons.

The world just took another step towards the future. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute invited Chancellor Angela Merkel (who has a doctorate in physics) to press the start button on the stellarator W7-X that someday may produce nuclear fusion. A cleaner, renewable, more advanced form of energy than nuclear fission, this new form of atomic energy is also being pursued by ITER in France. While ITER uses the Russian design tokamak approach, Germany’s program uses an American design stellarator. Whichever method proves to be chosen for fusion energy, the future of this new power may draw environmental and social dimensions from the Atomic Energy Act.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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January 14, 2016
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Sunny Forecast?

“Sun mask of Apollo” by Johann Melchior Dinglinger. Source: Google Cultural institute, and wikimedia commons.

Solar technology continues to develop, and scientists are once again looking at the Sahara Desert for opportunities to generate, store, and distribute power. African visions are diverse, regarding Desertec (which some term green exploitation) and related initiatives that hold promise. Will other sunny desert areas of the world follow suit? Solar power is the preferred means of providing electricity in space, including celestial habitations such as the International Space Station. Will proposals for global solar power from space be developed in the vision of Glaser, holder of patent US3781647 A? Or might atomic energy developments, including ITER, create sun on earth with nuclear fusion? United Nations Climate Change conference, COP21, set standards for a balanced environment. What advances in energy are needed to build a better world?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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January 6, 2016
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Building a Better World: Energy

Phonons in action. Image: wikimedia commons.

The identification of phonons in 1932 by Igor Tamm gave rise to harmonic oscillators. With implications for thermodynamics as well as quantum computing, phonons are shaping the future. Design of cell phones and solar panels is also heating up, according to Professor Gang Chen of MIT. The discovery of atomic energy transformed the world in dramatic ways. What is the future of phonons in energy and the environment?

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