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Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover
Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover was Chief, Naval Reactor's Branch of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. He championing the U.S. nuclear Navy, starting with the USS Nautilus, the world's first atomic-powered submarine, from which he is scene emerging.

Rickover's Energy Prophecy

Maryland Representative Roscoe Bartlett's January 26, 2007 Special Order speech on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

By EV World

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett has begun citing a speech given by Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover -- the 'Father of the Nuclear Navy' -- in 1957 that eerily presages the world in which we now live in the early 21st century. You can listen to Rep. Bartlett's January 26, 2007 Special Order speech in Congress by using either of the two MP3 Players above.

Below is an intriguing excerpt from Rickover's speech, which takes a provocative stance on transportation in general and automobiles in particular. You can download the complete text of speech (pdf) here.

The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume.

In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.

Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.

Engineers whose work familiarizes them with energy statistics; far-seeing industrialists who know that energy is the principal factor which must enter into all planning for the future; responsible governments who realize that the well-being of their citizens and the political power of their countries depend on adequate energy supplies - all these have begun to be concerned about energy resources. In this country, especially, many studies have been made in the last few years, seeking to discover accurate information on fossil-fuel reserves and foreseeable fuel needs.

Statistics involving the human factor are, of course, never exact. The size of usable reserves depends on the ability of engineers to improve the efficiency of fuel extraction and use. It also depends on discovery of new methods to obtain energy from inferior resources at costs which can be borne without unduly depressing the standard of living. Estimates of future needs, in turn, rely heavily on population figures which must always allow for a large element of uncertainty, particularly as man reaches a point where he is more and more able to control his own way of life.

Current estimates of fossil fuel reserves vary to an astonishing degree. In part this is because the results differ greatly if cost of extraction is disregarded or if in calculating how long reserves will last, population growth is not taken into consideration; or, equally important, not enough weight is given to increased fuel consumption required to process inferior or substitute metals. We are rapidly approaching the time when exhaustion of better grade metals will force us to turn to poorer grades requiring in most cases greater expenditure of energy per unit of metal.

But the most significant distinction between optimistic and pessimistic fuel reserve statistics is that the optimists generally speak of the immediate future - the next twenty-five years or so - while the pessimists think in terms of a century from now. A century or even two is a short span in the history of a great people. It seems sensible to me to take a long view, even if this involves facing unpleasant facts.

For it is an unpleasant fact that according to our best estimates, total fossil fuel reserves recoverable at not over twice today's unit cost, are likely to run out at some time between the years 2000 and 2050, if present standards of living and population growth rates are taken into account. Oil and natural gas will disappear first, coal last. There will be coal left in the earth, of course. But it will be so difficult to mine that energy costs would rise to economically intolerable heights, so that it would then become necessary either to discover new energy sources or to lower standards of living drastically.

For more than one hundred years we have stoked ever growing numbers of machines with coal; for fifty years we have pumped gas and oil into our factories, cars, trucks, tractors, ships, planes, and homes without giving a thought to the future. Occasionally the voice of a Cassandra has been raised only to be quickly silenced when a lucky discovery revised estimates of our oil reserves upward, or a new coalfield was found in some remote spot. Fewer such lucky discoveries can be expected in the future, especially in industrialized countries where extensive mapping of resources has been done. Yet the popularizers of scientific news would have us believe that there is no cause for anxiety, that reserves will last thousands of years, and that before they run out science will have produced miracles. Our past history and security have given us the sentimental belief that the things we fear will never really happen - that everything turns out right in the end. But, prudent men will reject these tranquilizers and prefer to face the facts so that they can plan intelligently for the needs of their posterity.

Looking into the future, from the mid-20th Century, we cannot feel overly confident that present high standards of living will of a certainty continue through the next century and beyond. Fossil fuel costs will soon definitely begin to rise as the best and most accessible reserves are exhausted, and more effort will be required to obtain the same energy from remaining reserves. It is likely also that liquid fuel synthesized from coal will be more expensive. Can we feel certain that when economically recoverable fossil fuels are gone science will have learned how to maintain a high standard of living on renewable energy sources?

I believe it would be wise to assume that the principal renewable fuel sources which we can expect to tap before fossil reserves run out will supply only 7 to 15% of future energy needs. The five most important of these renewable sources are wood fuel, farm wastes, wind, water power, and solar heat.

Wood fuel and farm wastes are dubious as substitutes because of growing food requirements to be anticipated. Land is more likely to be used for food production than for tree crops; farm wastes may be more urgently needed to fertilize the soil than to fuel machines.

Wind and water power can furnish only a very small percentage of our energy needs. Moreover, as with solar energy, expensive structures would be required, making use of land and metals which will also be in short supply. Nor would anything we know today justify putting too much reliance on solar energy though it will probably prove feasible for home heating in favorable localities and for cooking in hot countries which lack wood, such as India.

More promising is the outlook for nuclear fuels. These are not, properly speaking, renewable energy sources, at least not in the present state of technology, but their capacity to "breed" and the very high energy output from small quantities of fissionable material, as well as the fact that such materials are relatively abundant, do seem to put nuclear fuels into a separate category from exhaustible fossil fuels. The disposal of radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants is, however, a problem which must be solved before there can be any widespread use of nuclear power.

Another limit in the use of nuclear power is that we do not know today how to employ it otherwise than in large units to produce electricity or to supply heating. Because of its inherent characteristics, nuclear fuel cannot be used directly in small machines, such as cars, trucks, or tractors. It is doubtful that it could in the foreseeable future furnish economical fuel for civilian airplanes or ships, except very large ones. Rather than nuclear locomotives, it might prove advantageous to move trains by electricity produced in nuclear central stations. We are only at the beginning of nuclear technology, so it is difficult to predict what we may expect.

Transportation - the lifeblood of all technically advanced civilizations - seems to be assured, once we have borne the initial high cost of electrifying railroads and replacing buses with streetcars or interurban electric trains. But, unless science can perform the miracle of synthesizing automobile fuel from some energy source as yet unknown or unless trolley wires power electric automobiles on all streets and highways, it will be wise to face up to the possibility of the ultimate disappearance of automobiles, trucks, buses, and tractors. Before all the oil is gone and hydrogenation of coal for synthetic liquid fuels has come to an end, the cost of automotive fuel may have risen to a point where private cars will be too expensive to run and public transportation again becomes a profitable business.

Today the automobile is the most uneconomical user of energy. Its efficiency is 5% compared with 23% for the Diesel-electric railway. It is the most ravenous devourer of fossil fuels, accounting for over half of the total oil consumption in this country. And the oil we use in the United States in one year took nature about 14 million years to create. Curiously, the automobile, which is the greatest single cause of the rapid exhaustion of oil reserves, may eventually be the first fuel consumer to suffer. Reduction in automotive use would necessitate an extraordinarily costly reorganization of the pattern of living in industrialized nations, particularly in the United States. It would seem prudent to bear this in mind in future planning of cities and industrial locations.

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Times Article Viewed: 17203
Published: 30-Jan-2007

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