Monday, July 28, 2008

Crazy Idea #2 - Dr. Strangelove

The above still is from a movie called "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Atomic Bomb". If you are like me and do not watch movies when you can make a decent guess as to what the movie is about based on pictures from the movie, than you also know that this movie is about a man who somehow learns to bring bombs to life and then ride these bombs around like flying horses. And that is my second Crazy Idea - figure out a way to bring atomic bombs to life and then ride them around life flying horses. How did we not figure this one earlier? It is a clear formula for success. Living bombs+horses = economic success. I also like formulas. They break things down to their simplest essence.

OK, so this is the most terrible idea ever. If we did figure out how to bring bombs to life, then how do we know that they would let us ride them around like flying horses? Maybe they would just sit in the corner like cats, and when we try to pet them, they keep putting their butts in our faces. You're not in charge of me, bomb. It just can't be guaranteed, so there must be some other way to harvest the power of nuclear energy to our great benefit...

Crazy Idea #2 - Evolve Michigan into a nuclear-power providing Super Power

Now this idea might even be more controversial than my now world-famous Crazy Idea #1 - Make Michigan the "Gayest Place on Earth", though I do have to admit that at the time, I didn't think I would be able to top that one. In fact, I'm not even entirely convinced that I approve of this idea, but it does have some extremely significant potential upside.

As the global standard of living continues to increase, there are two things that the developing and developed world will probably need more than anything else: energy and water. Michigan has water in spades and this is an important issue for discussion at a later time. The global hunger for energy can easily be highlighted by the stomach-churning increase of the cost of a barrel of oil over the past couple years. The word 'overwhelming' probably doesn't do this price increase the appropriate amount of justice. Everyone is actively seeking a solution to the energy problem. Wind, water, solar, cellulosic ethanol, and nuclear are all being considered by many nations with a ferocity never before seen when the cost of oil was so much lower.

Nuclear energy was discovered in 1934 and was first generated by a nuclear reactor in 1951, so it is not new by any standards. In the absolute simplest terms possible, to create nuclear-based energy, you drop a rod of uranium (or some other element) into a vat of water, chemical reactions between the uranium and the water produce steam from heat, and then this steam turns turbines, thereby creating electricity. In a nutshell, you are creating steam and harvesting the power from this steam.

The downsides to nuclear energy are not actually specific to nuclear energy, but rather from the byproducts of this process. First and foremost, you create a certain form of plutonium that can be turned into atomic bombs. Second, if the plutonium is not properly cooled and stored, radiation from the plutonium can have very detrimental health effects (simple things like death or near-death). As a result of these possible byproducts, Americans are TERRIFIED of nuclear power and have not turned on new any nuclear power plants since 1996.

Here we are; our world craves energy, Michigan already has 3 nuclear power plants (Cook, Fermi, and Palisades), and building, operating, securing, and selling the actual energy are all multi-billion dollar industries. As in more than ones-of-billions. There are probably thousands of positives and negatives that I was unable to encompass here, but I've already gone on too long and have probably lost most everyone's attention.

At the very least, Michigan requires and deserves a forum to discuss the possible pros and cons of expanding our nuclear power capacity. Texas, the state most tied to oil, is doing pretty well in the difficult economic times ongoing in our country. Our potential ability to provide more energy to the world could insulate the state from the economic pressures currently buffeting the US, and continue to drive investment, job creation (construction, maintenance, nuclear scientists, etc.), and enable Michigan to fulfill an unmet need for the world.

Michigan: The Texas with Water and No Stupid Hats

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