Terrestrial Energy to Supply the World's Energy Needs

This webpage does not necessarily represent the views of Luther College.

Problem: "Can the sun and wind satisfy our energy needs?"1

"Energy has to be produced for modern society on a huge scale. The only way you can do that is with energy sources that have concentrated energy in them—coal, oil, natural gas and the quintessential example of it is nuclear, where the energy is so concentrated. I mean you have something to work with. With solar your main problem is gathering it."1

"It is the collection process that is not inexhaustible and not always renewable. Hydroelectric dams, the most successful form of non-fossilized solar energy, back up resevoirs covering hundreds of square miles in order to generate the same amount of electricity produced by a square mile coal plant (not counting the area required to mine the coal). Wind farms will have to cover almost a hundred square miles to do the same thing. Fueling only a portion of the nation's automobiles would require dedicating almost our entire inventory of agricultural land to growing biofuels. Obviously, being "renewable" is not the only standard by which energy sources can be judged.

People often talk of harnessing the ocean waves and tides. The waves are a form of solar energy, since they are driven by the winds, but the tides are more correctly called "lunar energy," since the pull of the moon's gravity is the biggest factor. Once again, these forms of energy are extremely dilute and would require covering vast tracts of ocean with a collection infrastructure."2


"Let us look at how this works in real life. The North Omaha Power Plant in Omaha, Nebraska, produces 500 megawatts (MW) of electricity, about one-fifth of the power needed to run the city. Every three days, a 110-car unit train arrives, each car is loaded with 125 tons of coal. One car produces twenty minutes of electricity. The plant occupies more than two square miles—much of it needed to store the mountains of coal.

Each day's consumption of 4,500 tons of coal at North Omaha will combine with atmospheric oxygen to form 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide...Across the country, America has 600 similar coal plants that provide half our electricity and put 3 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year—10 percent of the world's total. This is the greatest single source of global greenhouse gases on the planet.

About thirty miles south of Omaha lies the Cooper Nuclear Station on the banks of the Missouri River. The plant occupies two square miles, slightly less than the coal station. Every eighteen months, a single tractor-trailer arrives carrying several dozen bundles of 18-foot nuclear fuel rods. These rods are only mildly radioactive and can be handled safely with gloves. They are loaded into the reactor core, where they will undergo nuclear fission for three years. After the fuel rods are spent, they will be removed from the reactor core looking exactly as they did when they went in, except they will be highly radioactive. They can be stored in a 40-foot-deep, on-site "swimming pool," where their radioactivity dissipates in six feet of water. There, they can remain for decades. After three years, when the radioactivity has dropped by half, they may be moved to nearby outdoor dry casks. There they may remain for almost a century. The Cooper Station produces no sulfur emissions, no mercury, no soot, no particulate matter, no ash, no slag, and no greenhouse gases. And it does produce more electricity than North Omaha—750 MW.

Terrestrial [(nuclear)] energy is something completely new in human history, qualitatively different from anything we get from the sun. That is why there has been such a lag in public understanding. Solar energy, in its many forms, has accustomed us to the idea that using energy must create huge environmental impacts, either by polluting or by occupying vast tracts of land. Terrestrial energy is so highly concentrated that it can provide us with enormous amounts of energy while barely leaving a trace. Combined with the contributions of solar power, terrestrial energy offers us the opportunity to power the world while eliminating all manners of environmental degradation."3


1. Frontline Nuclear Reaction: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/etc/script.html
2. Tucker, W. Terrestrial Energy; Bartleby Press: http://www.bartlebythepublisher.com/, 2008; Page 32, available from http://www.terrestrialenergy.org/
3. Tucker, W. Terrestrial Energy; Bartleby Press: http://www.bartlebythepublisher.com/, 2008; Page 38-39, available from http://www.terrestrialenergy.org