The Electric Economy will put us on a track like that described in The Next Internet, a prosperous time for those who understand the importance of clean energy technology and its export. Once on that track, it’s interesting to think about where it could lead us in the long term.
Unstable Middle Eastern countries like Iran are interested in joining the brotherhood of nuclear nations—actually pronounced “nucular” according to our president. While they profess their interest is strictly for energy purposes, their threats against Israel and other saber rattling make it difficult not to believe they are interested in weapons technology as well. After all, Iran’s neighbors, like India and Pakistan, already have nuclear weapons capability making it is easy to see why Iran would want the security of having their own. Is a Middle East arms race something we must live with? Will they have the discipline to control weapons-grade materials?
Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the Manhattan Project, and his collaborators who developed our nuclear capability in the 1940’s understood the dangers of what they were developing. For them, at the time, it seemed (and probably was) a case where the benefits outweighed the risks. However, many contributors to the project, including Oppenheimer, voiced their concern about “letting the nuclear energy genie out of the bottle,” foretelling future concerns.
And indeed, we are now at that point. Iran argues with a straight face that their only interest in nuclear technology is for energy purposes, which seems odd coming from the country with the second largest oil reserves. Yet, if we were an unbiased third party, it would seem a logical argument. Why should some countries be allowed to have nuclear technology for energy purposes, and some not?
This could be another benefit of developing our Electric Economy from solar thermal sources. We currently generate 20% of our electricity from nuclear reactors. Suppose we were to phase these out, decommission them in an orderly fashion, replacing that capacity with solar thermal generation. This would eliminate the nuclear “you have it, so can we” argument, and ultimately eliminate nuclear reactors altogether. Perhaps we could put a genie back in the bottle!