Astronaut and Professor Brian O'Leary says that burning uranium and hydrocarbons is very, very bad for our health and the environment, and is utterly unnecessary. Clean breakthrough energy is on its way with the Rossi Cold Fusion Energy Catalyzer likely to come first.
Image source: Project Camelot interview
Today is the 65th anniversary of the birth of my beloved wife Meredith and the 22nd anniversary of the discovery of cold fusion by University of Utah chemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons. In the years since, not only have we had dozens of authentic proofs-of-concept that certain nuclear reactions of nonradioactive elements can be assisted chemically, we now seem to have the first practical device that could provide the world with its first commercially viable, clean, "over-unity" energy device ever; and thus end the tyranny of dependence on our current toxic energy systems that so rule us in our daily lives.
Have Warned of Nuclear Dangers for Years
For many decades I have had intimate contact with energy issues—as a U.S. Congressional senior consultant on nuclear power, as a university professor, and as an author and editor of books and studies on the subject—all of which was undertaken free of vested corporate and political interests. As I have examined the issues in more and more depth, I have come to realize that nuclear energy is one of those topics that scares the living daylights out of me.
The dangers of reactor safety and waste disposal, not to mention the proliferation of nuclear weapons, could result in this source of electricity and its weapons applications killing almost all of us. It's time for the public to become more aware of the danger of using radioactive fuels that will be with us for generations to come. We are stealing not only our own healthy environment but that of our children, their children and onward for thousands of years, because of selfish decisions being made by the mad mainstream myopic culture that dominates us. The deadly toxic plutonium, cesium-137 and other highly radioactive byproducts now escaping into the atmosphere, ground, water and food from the Fukushima reactors could kill thousands, perhaps millions, of people over the next tens of thousands of years and render the region permanently uninhabitable (like Chernobyl). For example, the half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,000 years! And how about the millions of long-lived highly radioactive fuel rods that are scattered all over the world and we don't yet know how or where to dispose them? How could our governments and industries be so mad as to provide electricity from such a dangerous source of fuel?
In 1975 when I was a nuclear energy advisor to U.S. Congressman Morris Udall (D-AZ) and his subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, I and others from the scientific community took a close, hard look at nuclear fuel cycle safety issues. We came to the sober conclusion that nuclear power is extremely dangerous—so much so that this technology should be abandoned as soon as possible worldwide. The risks involved, especially when these power plants are built on fault zones or in areas that are vulnerable to tsunamis, are simply untenable.
With 36 additional years of hindsight under our belts during which a litany of accidents occurred–most notably the "impossible" meltdowns at Three Mile Island, then Chernobyl and now Fukushima–it is now obvious that we were correct in our recommendation to abandon nuclear technology. I can recall going through the calculations that accurately predicted some of the apocalyptic happenings we now face and which could have easily been avoided if the safety of the planet had not played second fiddle to the profits of the nuclear industry.
During the 1970s a proposal to build over 1,000 nuclear power plants in the United States was promoted by the nuclear industry, by President Richard Nixon and by the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Fortunately, this potential nightmare was thwarted by public outcries about the dangers of nuclear power, by our subcommittee's Democratic majority oversight authority, and by market forces unwilling to risk the dangers involved in nuclear power. As a result, over the past three decades we have successfully placed a moratorium on building new nuclear power plants in the United States. We now have 104 nuclear power plants, instead of over 1,000 that had been advocated by the industry during the 1970s. But with the increasing pollution, resource depletion and climate change resulting from relying on coal and oil power plants, the nuclear industry has seized the opportunity to renew its campaign to build more nuclear power plants, shamelessly promoting them as "clean and safe energy."
The ravages of nuclear power are but one sad example of how our large vested infrastructures have become corrupted by powerful financial interests. The influence of short-term financial profit affects our energy systems more than any other sector, but it is also having an increasingly deleterious effect on our financial, water, agricultural, waste, military and governance systems as well. Our planet is rapidly becoming grossly unsustainable, with massive devastation guaranteed within a generation due to wars, pollution, climate change, deforestation, water shortages, soil destruction and economic instabilities. But there is no issue more dangerous than the Faustian bargain we have made with our commitment to nuclear energy.
As I watch the unfolding saga in Japan, I feel nearly paralyzed by another dose of grief over the disastrous effects that our fossil fuel/nuclear juggernaut has had on all of us, as we once again pick up the pieces and try to carry on almost as if the nightmare hadn't happened.
The 2011 Japan nuclear crisis is but the latest indignity we suffer globally, simply because of the blatantly false assertion that this source of electricity is clean and carbon-neutral and therefore we should have a worldwide nuclear renaissance. To the contrary, according to Dr. Helen Caldicott, a nuclear power plant would have to operate for 18 years before becoming "carbon neutral," because the mining/transport/ construction infrastructure consumes an enormous amount of fossil fuels. Nuclear power is not only far from being carbon-neutral, it is even farther from being safe, as the latest nuclear crisis, this time in Japan, demonstrates. Yet the official response here, as promoted by the nuclear industry and echoed by the media, is similar to that in the other disasters: well, it looks like we got through this one (whew!), but it's now time to return to business-as-usual and re-enact our collective amnesia.
The oil and coal disasters fall into the same pattern: the recent $8 billion judgment in Ecuador against Chevron-Texaco for dumping millions of gallons of oil-slicked toxic waste into the biodiverse Amazon rainforest and water supply, killing and rendering sick thousands of local residents; the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico; the carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributing to probably irreversible climate change and ocean acidification; the wars for oil now expanding to Libya; the leveling of mountaintops for coal; dwindling supplies of easily obtainable oil [Editor's note: the immediate "scarcity of oil" is actually a politicized myth, as North America has vast untapped reserves (Ref.)]; and the depletion of hydrocarbon resources, to name a few of our grossly unsustainable energy policies. In the face of the latest oil-and-coal-related disasters as well as nuclear disasters, it should be obvious to the most casual observer that oil, coal and nuclear energy should be phased out as soon as possible worldwide, especially since we have access to clean and safe alternatives.
My research and analyses from decades of experience as a professor and as an energy advisor to U.S. Congress and presidential candidates, clearly demonstrates that in the near future we'll have to abandon both hydrocarbons and nuclear power as our primary energy sources (now about 93% of the energy mix worldwide), and that we need to find another energy source to replace them soon. King CONG (coal, oil, nuclear and gas) is grossly unsustainable when we consider full life-cycle environmental costs.
When most people consider an alternative to uranium, oil, nuclear and natural gas, they think of the traditional "renewables," such as biofuels, hydropower, solar power and wind power. Although all of these are greatly superior to hydrocarbons and nuclear in their impact on the environment, it is important to note that they all use much too much land and materials to be considered truly clean and renewable. If they were our only alternative, we would have to make them work somehow, but it would require enormous changes to our life-style and economy in terms of reducing energy needs and improving efficiency. What is not widely known, however, is that there are numerous potential sources of clean energy that do not require excessive land and materials, and which would be far less disruptive to our lifestyle and economy than converting to traditional renewables.
During the past 25 years I've visited the laboratories of dozens of researchers who have come up with a variety of proofs-of-concept of breakthrough clean energy technologies that appear to be clean, cheap, decentralized, scalable, safe and potentially transparent/open source. Concepts include energy from the vacuum (sometimes called "zero-point"), cold fusion and advanced hydrogen and water chemistries. To date, these remarkable possibilities, which require further research to come to full flowering, have so far been violently suppressed by vested interests that profit enormously by preserving the status quo. The researchers themselves have suffered untold calamities due to lack of support and often outright intimidation. There's little or no short-term money in this field (so far), which means that these highly creative and dedicated scientists have been forced to carry on their work on a shoe-string budget, always with a pressing need for funds, and despite a deep and realistic fear of reprisals from vested interests in the energy industry.
In order to protect this absolutely essential research from threats from the established energy industry, we need to create protected R&D laboratories scattered around the world to do the necessary perfecting of some of these technologies so they can be brought forward to humanity as soon as possible. We need to establish independent scientific panels to assess the efficacy of the technologies, guided not by the profit motive but by concern for humankind and nature. So far, this kind of concept design philosophy has been stymied by the disbelief of mainstream scientists and environmentalists who have their own vested interests and are unwilling to even examine the evidence for breakthrough clean energy, thus forming an unwitting alliance with the powers-that-be, who simply want to go on with business-as-usual for short-term economic gain.
Yet as a scientist myself, I am convinced that any one or some of the new energy concepts, when carefully researched by competent teams, could effectively transform our reliance on hydrocarbons and nuclear into an energy source that would be widely available at virtually no cost to the environment. One almost-commercial example is Andrea Rossi's Cold Fusion Energy Catalyzer. Two excellent websites describing the state of the art of over 100 promising clean breakthrough energy concepts are http://www.peswiki.com and http://www.free-energy-info.com. (Go ahead. I dare you to go to those sites and examine the evidence with an open mind!)
For the sake of our very survival, we need to begin this process immediately. Even if you personally do not believe that radically new energy generation is realistic, would you not agree that the seriousness of the crisis makes it worth a try? If it is within our power to develop and utilize breakthrough clean energy, then we must develop the political will to overcome the obstacles to making it available so that we can save our planet. So far, the conundrum suggests that we shouldn't venture forth, simply because of powerful industrial interests and our short-sighted fear of the unknown. We know that large corporations like General Electric and large governments like the U.S. simply don't want new breakthrough clean energy because it threatens their vested interests in large nuclear reactors and centralized fossil fuel facilities and grid systems. But this conundrum needn't go on forever if we do things differently.
As a member of the Apollo team during the 1960s I had the experience of participating in tiger teams (skunkworks), which were characterized by a "can-do" attitude that certain outside-the-box goals could be accomplished with the right optimism and discipline. And these remarkable teams, which were in large part protected from the voices of doubters and vested interests, accomplished amazing results that were far outside the box of conventional expectations. But so far nobody has yet run with the opportunity to develop breakthrough clean energy in a way that matches the urgency of the Apollo mission, nor is there much public discussion about this possibility.
I believe new energy should be the Holy Grail of our time if we are to have any hope for a truly sustainable future for our home planet. There are several promising new energy concepts, any one or some of which, with further development, could provide the energy solution for the Earth. Most conventional decision-makers, however, in their preoccupation with short-term gain, are unable to step back and even consider the possibilities of developing a radically different approach to energy. Therefore, it is likely that we will need to support and protect the R&D process far away from the grip of conventional decision-makers on energy policy.
It's ironic that one form of nuclear energy that is dirty, expensive, unsafe, unreliable and highly centralized (nuclear power plants) can very soon give way to another form of nuclear energy (the Rossi cold fusion device) that is clean, cheap, safe, reliable and decentralized. The Rossi reactor is the first of many new energy technologies that could end the nightmare. This energy source comes in manageable, local, 10-killowatt units that could provide truly sustainable electricity and heat for all of civilization. Any radioactivity emitted during the reaction is very small and containable (honest!) and the raw materials for the reactions are abundant and nonradioactive (fine nickel powder, hydrogen and an undisclosed catalyst). And none of the by-products are radioactive. This is authentic transmutation, this is the safe alchemy, to provide the kind of energy we can reliably and affordably use.
The Rossi reactor is crucially important to the credibility of an energy solution revolution because after dozens of proof-of-concept experiments over the years, we at last have a technology that will likely be able to stand alone in its ability to compete in the marketplace as well as provide the world the kind of energy source it so desperately needs. The Rossi device is a role model for what we need and can have. The challenge now is not that we don't have what's necessary for humanity's quest for truly clean energy, but that we can assure its urgent and ethical introduction to a world riddled with hubris and greed.
A few of us in the innovation field gathered in 2010 at Montesueños-Vilcabamba and founded a non-profit organization called the Global Innovation Alliance. Our mission is to develop and assess those technologies that could achieve the goal of sustainability. We propose that a given lab would work on a number of technologies: (1) some near-term "bridge" technologies that could provide economic independence of the laboratory alongside creating a learning experience about the multitude of localized nature-friendly approaches, and (2) longer-term projects such as the production of clean breakthrough energy and water purification devices and other truly sustainable technologies. The first such laboratory and educational center is being prepared in New Zealand. We are also compiling a list of some of the most talented inventors and scientists to participate in the laboratories we envision.
We here in Latin America—with our wealth of natural resources, indigenous wisdom, environmental awareness and newer progressive governments—live in an ideal locale to build the kinds of facilities and develop clean technologies that pass the true tests of sustainability. But in order to achieve this goal, the various nations will have to become more sovereign from imperial corporate interests. In Ecuador, for example, we are discussing with government officials and indigenous groups the possibility of introducing new energy technologies, sustainable organic and medicinal agriculture, localized energy-water-food-waste management systems, restoration ecology, regional currencies and other infrastructures that could replace the dirty but temporarily lucrative extraction of petroleum, minerals and agricultural monocultures for export.
Initially this is a hard sell to government officials and other funding sources, mainly because of the short-term thinking of corporations and governments seeking cash flows right away. But in order to get to where we need to go (true sustainability) we have to create new alliances, new entities that can move forward with innovations. I believe Latin America is one of the few "safe" places on the planet to carry out this controversial but essential research and development. It's relatively free of the many vested pressures of the global North, whose focus is on imperial militarism, economic and resource exploitation, and financial tyranny.
The ideal solution will be to establish some protected R&D laboratories and educational centers (innovation sanctuaries) worldwide. For this job, we'll need the cooperation of both governments and private funding sources. However, the laboratories could become self-sufficient after a year or two when some of the bridge technologies are introduced. The proposed enterprises come out of a deep conviction regarding the importance of preserving the sanctity of nature and furnishing truly clean infrastructures as a first priority, and profit only as a second priority.
In summary, nuclear power is dangerous to our health and to the environment and must be stopped. Extracting and burning fossil fuels results in polluting our land, waterways, oceans, climate and atmosphere so badly that we cannot continue to pursue fossil fuels either. It is time to think outside the box, to come up with solutions that are truly sustainable. That such solutions do exist should be considered and accepted by creative decision-makers who have an open mind and a sense of responsibility for what we are doing to our planet. Developing and implementing breakthrough clean energy technologies is the course we must follow if we are to have any chance of reversing the onslaught of planetary destruction and achieving a sustainable world of harmony with nature. What are we waiting for? Another, even worse, ecological disaster? If not now, …when?
In the darkness of our times, there's a glimmer of hope that can light our way to a brilliant future. Our job now is to recognize what that is and to act on it.
I thank Chuck Millar for his able editing of this essay.
Follow-up Comment by Sterling D. Allan
I concur with Brian O'Leary's sentiments regarding the need to phase out dangerous and polluting energy technologies with safe and clean technologies that have been developed and are ready to emerge into use; and that Andrea Rossi's cold fusion technology does indeed appear to be a great candidate; and that there are many other clean energy technologies as well that offer similar promise.
However, I do not agree that establishing centers of research and development under government funding or auspices is the answer. Government, in all nations, is a huge impediment to progress. We have a saying on our websites: "He who is one step ahead is a genius, he who is two steps ahead is a crackpot." When I presented that saying to a group in Estonia, someone astutely quipped: "He who is one step behind is the government."
Government, by its very nature, tends to be detrimental to innovation. They excel in bureaucracy, regulations, red tape, redundancy, etc., which are contrary to intuition, bold initiative, accelerated progress, etc., the very things we need the most right now. When I think of government, I think of suppression.
Society is moving from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. Government-organized labs might have worked okay during the Age of Pisces, which is central-authority governed; but they are unfit for the Age of Aquarius, which is marked by individual initiative and enlightenment, freed from a central authority.
I'm not opposed to having meetings with government leaders to encourage them to consider taking leadership in these new areas of energy, but I'm not optimistic that such meetings will be highly fruitful. I'm much more in favor of an open source, grassroots movement to disseminate the emerging technologies to help speed the obsolescence of tyrannical government. The government of the future will be hugely streamlined, even more than what the Founders established in the United States.
So my agenda in meeting with government leaders would not be to approach them about helping with research, financing, and promulgating breakthrough clean energy technologies, but it would be to plead with them to stay out of the way and expedite any certification and approval processes that might be required.
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What You Can Do
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