On 10 February 2010, Dr Tom Blees (an honorary doctorate), a former commercial fisherman ‘has given up fishin’ for fission’.
Tom Blees, standing over 2 metres tall, addressed an assortment of scientists, physics students and staff at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) on how nuclear power is an answer to climate change.
The event was sponsored by a local group, ominously called ‘Safe Radiation’.
Former National Party senator for Queensland Bill O’Chee from the Australian Nuclear Association Inc gave the 50 or so guests (nearly all men) a hearty welcome saying that all he was qualified to do was to invite us to partake of refreshments in the foyer.
His speech reminds me of the Brave New World portrayed by Aldous Huxley:
“The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables”. —’BRAVE NEW WORLD’ by Aldous Huxley
With no solution to climate change in Copenhagen what better time for the nuclear lobby to bring the ultimate solution to Brisbane — a new generation of mass produced nuclear power plants to replace the old ‘light water reactors’ that dot the landscape of advanced capitalist countries like the US, Britain and France.
As the traffic slowly crept south on the freeway outside, Dr Blees painted a future high energy consuming world without global warming, with no more ‘resource wars’ and where planes are powered by boron, cars by ammonia, and waste disposed of by ‘plasma torches’ that produce hydrogen and carbon. This combined with the wondrous prism reactor would soon give the world a technology fix if only the nation states and the politicians could see the light.
I had not heard of Plasma torches so I looked up the website, Brave New Climate—
“Pour all the waste society produces into incinerators which are so hot (around 17,000 C, or a couple of times hotter than the surface of the sun), that they don’t produce the usual ash and char (nor vent heavy metals, dioxins etc. into the air) — they instead dissagregate the molecular structure of everything that goes into them. Something for the distant future perhaps? Well, no actually, these so-called plasma reactors are already operating and thermal plasma torches have been used for years in industry.”
Dr Tom Blees got down to business telling us that the US government and General Electric were keeping under wraps a fix for climate change – a new generation of nuclear reactors using Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) technology; they burn depleted uranium, never melt down and produce igneous waste that can be safely stored for 300 years.
Dr Blees stated that the new reactor will not require any more uranium to be mined. At a meeting in Brisbane this week, a BHP rep, sarcastically asked the good doctor ‘how much time do we have?’
If only it were true and the coal fields were no longer necessary and the uranium mines at Jabiluka and Olympic dam were redundant.
Blees is talking to the Russians who he hopes will build the first IFR reactor. The only problem is the Russians want to use the nuclear energy to pump natural gas to its neighbours thus making big roubles helping to sell more greenhouse gases.
There were heaps of questions from the pro-nuclear audience. With not a single bodyguard in sight this humble giant explained how he had come up with solutions for waste, CO2 and war; if only he could get political support. I suppose Malcolm Turnbull has asked the same question.
No one asked about the waste product called heat.
No one asked about how to power the plasma torches that are capable of converting subterranean space under reactors into molten glass.
No one asked about concentration of such technology in the wealthy countries, or if they are to be housed near the biggest cities in those wealthy countries
And no one asked about the health and safety of the workers in these vast plants that could make plastics with the hydrocarbons from the plasma machines.
Dr Blees liked the idea of the Russians being involved especially given the nuclear proliferation that occurred during the cold war.
I know that Dr Blees solution was not framed with a nuclear winter in mind but nevertheless I was reminded of Dr Strangelove’s explanation of the need for a doomsday machine:
“Mr. President, it is not only possible, it is essential. That is the whole idea of this machine, you know. Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy… the FEAR to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision-making process which rules out human meddling, the Doomsday machine is terrifying and simple to understand… and completely credible and convincing.”
That bloody human meddling, it always gets in the way of good science (sigh).