Friday, December 12, 2008

There is a lot to do for Dr. Chu

We here at Ecoversity would like to welcome  Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Chu and support Dr. Chu in his daunting task of being the new energy secretary. We believe he is an excellent choice to meet the dual and sometimes conflicting challenges in energy and climate change. 

Though very close to Al Gore in his understanding of global warming, in contrast with Gore, Chu doesn't believe that all the solutions are readily available, and he is probably right. An enormous amount of research needs to be done and not just on bio fuels from algae and cellulose (on which Chu has concentrated in the past, see the Helios Project). 

It doesn't look like Mr. Chu is swayed by the oxymoronic 'Clean Coal' slogan --he has stated that "Coal is his worst nightmare"-- and he is too smart to believe that the nuclear option provides any kind of easy way out. Effective carbon sequestration for coal is a long way off, and so is 'safe' nuclear waste storage --not to mention the problem of proliferation. 

What Steven Chu will likely concentrate on is  on renewable energy sources and the infrastructure it will take to wean America off oil. What is needed is an upgraded  electricity transmission system which removes the greatest obstacle to integrating renewables into our aging energy grid. Likely this will require of mr. Chu a deep ability to politically maneuver between states and vested bureaucratic interests.  These kinds of projects and research will be labor intensive endeavors: hopefully it will put a lot of people back to work. Problem is this: it will require a federal investment that is more or less equal to the Wallstreet bailout that has been committed so far, and in that sense the DOE  will have to compete quite strenuously with deeply ingrained old boys' interests. Good luck, mr. Chu!

Finally a word of caution. What a lot of people don't realize is that the nuclear weapons infrastructure and the National Laboratories involved in the upkeep and development of these weapons are hidden in and administered by the DOE (Dept. of Energy). A can of worms. Historically the weapons laboratories have dominated the DOE -- they  represent  roughly 30% of the DOE budget, with another 25% dedicated to nuclear cleanup closely related to the activities of the laboratories themselves. What is left of the budget is equally split between 'science' and new power generation. So you can imagine that the bureaucracy of the DOE may not always welcome Steven Chu with open arms. 

Obama has been urged to reestablish America in a global leadership position on nuclear disarmament. We understand from Obama's campaign that an Obama government will be serious not only about the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) but perhaps more importantly about starting to give the NPT (Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty)  meaning through actual nuclear disarmament measures, and by stopping any new development of nuclear weapon facilities, such as the CMRR building being planned in New Mexico or instance, and finally, by dismantlement of nuclear weapons.  

Steven Chu is key in redirecting DOE funding towards these goals.

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