Researchers recognized a long time ago that the source and quantity of the energy human beings use shapes their society and its complexity. Until about 10,000 years ago, people everywhere lived by collecting wild plants and hunting animals.
Beginning about 10,000 years ago, groups living in a number of places around the world greatly increased the size and complexity of their societies through growing their own plant foods and raising their own animals for consumption and work. This led to the development of the great civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, and Mexico.
The next big change in capture and use of energy occurred about 200 years ago, when Europeans discovered that huge quantities of energy could be obtained through burning coal, and later oil and natural gas. These new energy sources led to the Industrial Revolution and the development of modern technology, along with huge population increases.
World population is currently 7.3 billion, up from 2.5 billion 60 years ago and headed by some estimates for 11 billion by the turn of this century. All of this has been made possible by burning fossil fuels, which currently supply 80 percent of the world’s energy.
But there is a problem, a big one. The burning of enormous quantities of fossil fuels can’t go on indefinitely since reserves of coal, oil, and gas are finite and unlikely to last past the end of this century at present use rates. Moreover, the CO2 produced by burning vast quantities of fossil fuels is changing the chemistry of the earth’s oceans and altering the planet’s climate. This is a fact, as sound as any found in the earth sciences today.
There is a growing recognition worldwide that burning fossil fuels has to be substantially reduced in the coming decades if life on earth is to continue as we might hope. This is a stark view of the future but should not be viewed as a gloom-and-doom scenario. Needed changes in energy use should be viewed as presenting an enormous opportunity for all of humanity to move forward.
I believe Nye County and all of central Nevada may be able to benefit economically from these changes.
Humanity appears to be approaching a tipping point wherein nations of the world will begin to seriously deal with the problem of CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels. As the United Nations global warming conference gets underway in Paris, many European nations are on board for doing something about burning fossil fuels. China and India have given indications of support for action. China’s latest major report on global warming’s coming impact on China has been described as “somber.” A recent poll released by Pew Research indicates that, in a survey of 40 countries, the majority in every nation except Pakistan favored “placing limits on gasses warming the planet,” including 69 percent in the United States, 71 percent in China, 77 percent in Nigeria, and 88 percent in Brazil.
Nye County Opportunity
How the world meets the coming changes in energy production is going to require a large amount of research. Conducting such research will become a growth industry. Nye County (central Nevada) is endowed with a premiere research facility that can play an important role in conducting this research. The Nevada Test Site was established by President Harry Truman in 1950 within the larger Nellis Air Force Gunnery and Bombing Range. A total of 1,021 nuclear detonations took place there. Nuclear weapons technology was perfected there. In 1992, the tests ended and the site’s mission became to certify the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. It was renamed the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).
The Nellis Air Force Gunnery and Bombing Range and adjoining former test site are an ideal place, either on those facilities or on adjoining public lands, to conduct research on improvement of existing and development of new energy technologies that do not negatively impact the earth’s climate. Yucca Mountain would help seed in this effort. I suggest that Nye County create a research entity designed to bring government and private energy-related research efforts to central Nevada.
Examples of Energy Research
The following are examples of ongoing energy-related research efforts in which Nye County might play a part:
As I have previously indicated, Bill Gates is said to be involved in funding the development of a new model of a nuclear reactor that, as I understand it, will operate on nuclear waste. There is the suggestion that the prototype will be built in China. Why not build it in Nye County on land on or adjoining the Nevada Test Site?
It is also reported that Gates is part of an effort that will spend billions on developing zero-carbon energy technology. Nye County needs to explore what role its resources can play in this effort.
A recent article in the leading science publication Nature told of efforts by two companies, one Canadian, the other Swiss, that are developing the technology to remove CO2 from the air and use it as a carbon source.
Carbon Engineering in Calgary, Canada, will remove CO2 from the air and, with energy and water, convert it into diesel fuel. That Canadian company is led by a climate physicist at Harvard University.
The Swiss company, Climeworks of Zurich, will use the CO2 it captures to enhance the growth of plants in greenhouses. Nye County may be a good place to conduct carbon capture research.
If we are to successfully kick the fossil fuel habit, large quantities of nuclear energy will be required. As Peter Theil, a partner in the Founders Fund, said in a recent column on nuclear power in the New York Times, “If we are serious about replacing fossil fuels, we are going to need nuclear power, so the choice is stark: We can keep on merely talking about a carbon-free world, or we can go ahead and create one.”
Nye County is an ideal place to conduct research on nuclear power. Let’s make this a world center for nuclear power research. Furthermore, central Nevada is an ideal place to produce commercial nuclear power and send it to California and throughout the West. Doing so would create large numbers of high-paying jobs locally and help the planet at the same time.
Nuclear fusion obtains energy through fusing atoms as opposed to fission, which splits them. Today all nuclear power generation technology comes through fission. Energy production through nuclear fusion is a tough technology to master.
Basically, it involves harnessing the power of the hydrogen bomb. One of its advantages will be that it produces little nuclear waste. Nuclear fusion likely lies at the core of humanity’s energy future.
Interestingly, there are a number of startup companies working on fusion technology, including Tri Alpha Energy in California. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, has invested in General Fusion, a British Columbia venture.
Perhaps some of these fusion research companies might find it beneficial to do research and development in central Nevada.
Bob McCracken has a doctorate in cultural anthropology and is the author of numerous books in the Nye County Town History Project, including a history of Pahrump.