87. EATING URANIUM
One of the key "texts" of peak oil doom is "The Oil We Eat" -- a puff piece by Richard Manning, originally published in the Feb. 2004 issue of Harper's Magazine. The piece itself is basically a misanthropic screed which talks about humans "stealing" food from animals and the earth. It also spreads the lie (debunked in #28) that fertilizer is made from oil. Here's Manning in top form:
With the possible exception of the domestication of wheat, the green revolution is the worst thing that has ever happened to the planet.SourceManning is clearly a doomer, and a traitor to the species, who thinks the earth would be a better place without people on it, because humans are a pestilence... a CANCER.
Still... the idea of "eating oil" is interesting. It makes you wonder: if we can eat oil, can we eat uranium?
The answer turns out to be: Yes. Nitrogen fertilizer can be produced from nuclear energy. Consider this:
About 97% of nitrogen fertilizers are derived from synthetically produced ammonia, the remainder being by-product ammonium sulphate from the caprolactam process and small quantities of natural nitrates, especially from Chile. The production of anhydrous ammonia is based on reacting nitrogen with hydrogen under high temperatures and pressures. The source of nitrogen is the air, the hydrogen being derived from a variety of raw materials, including water, crude oil, coal and natural gas hydrocarbons. The hydrocarbons provide the energy for the energy-intensive process. SourceAs we have seen earlier, nitrogen fertilizer is not made from oil. It is made from natural gas (or syngas produced from coal). The interesting thing, though, is that the only part of the natural gas used in the production of ammonia (the basis of nitrogen fertilizer) is the hydrogen. Since hydrogen can be produced through the electrolysis of water, it is possible to produce fertilizer from WATER, as noted in the above passage. The energy necessary for producing the ammonia can also be derived from fission, so clearly (if necessary) we can turn uranium into nitrogen fertilizer.
In fact, we could even go a step further, and use uranium to supply light, heat and mechanization power for multi-story vertical farming facilities, located in the middle of the cities they feed. This would greatly increase the carrying capacity of the earth, eliminate fuel wasted on long-distance food transport, and reduce the human footprint due to agricultural activities:
Vertical farming practiced on a large scale in urban centers has great potential to:
1. supply enough food in a sustainable fashion to comfortably feed all of humankind for the foreseeable future;
2. allow large tracts of land to revert to the natural landscape restoring ecosystem functions and services;
3. safely and efficiently use the organic portion of human and agricultural waste to produce energy through methane generation, and at the same time significantly reduce populations of vermin (e.g., rats, cockroaches);
4. remediate black water creating a much needed new strategy for the conservation of drinking water;
5. take advantage of abandoned and unused urban spaces;
6. break the transmission cycle of agents of disease associated with a fecally-contaminated environment;
7. allow year-round food production without loss of yields due to climate change or weather-related events;
8. eliminate the need for large-scale use of pesticides and herbicides;
9. provide a major new role for agrochemical industries (i.e., designing and producing safe, chemically-defined diets for a wide variety of commercially viable plant species;
10. create an environment that encourages sustainable urban life, promoting a state of good health for all those who choose to live in cities. All of this may sound too good to be true, but careful analysis will show that these are all realistic and achievable goals, given the full development of a few new technologies.Source