July 8, 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
Subject: The Phoenix Project
Dear Mr. Sulzberger:
My staff sent some background information to you and Howell Rains last September on the Phoenix Project, a $6 trillion plan that would make the U.S. energy independent of not only imported oil-but all fossil and nuclear fuels-with wartime-speed (i.e., by 2010). The sense of urgency is due the exponential and interrelated nature of the global energy, economic, and environmental problems. Given that energy is a trillion dollar a year business; the government will not need to subsidize, but rather help to organize, this "transition of substance." The rapid schedule is possible if a mix of state-of-the-art wind and solar hydrogen production technologies are mass-produced in automotive, aerospace and ship building industries, and every existing vehicle (including aircraft) is simply modified to use hydrogen fuel. However, no one from the Times has followed up on the story, and we are frankly puzzled.
The "trigger mechanism" for this reindustrialization effort is the passage of Fair Accounting Act legislation in the U.S. Congress that will eliminate subsidies to fossil and nuclear systems, and factor in the environmental and military costs of using such fuels. If such a fair accounting system is used, solar-sourced hydrogen will be the least expensive fuel. This is the critical market incentive for oil and utility companies (not taxpayers) to make the multi-trillion investments for the mass-production of wind and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) systems that will be needed for large-scale hydrogen production. Millions of Americans will be employed in the process as the U.S. is rapidly transformed from being the world's largest energy importer, to a Saudi Arabia-class energy exporter, with a fuel that is non-toxic, pollution-free, and inexhaustible.
While fuel cells may be cost effective at some point in the future, hydrogen is a "universal fuel" that can also be used to power the existing fleets of cars, trucks and SUVs, as well as aircraft and spacecraft-or a Coleman stove on a mountain top. Moreover, because hydrogen can be made from water with electricity, consumers will be able to refuel their vehicles at home as well as the local gas station. Thus filling up with pure hydrogen will be easier, and much safer, than using gasoline or other hydrocarbon fuels where the hydrogen is chemically bonded to carbon.
Saving Ocean Ecosystems While Making the America Energy Independent
No one in the presidential campaign is talking about the impending death of global ocean ecosystems. The U.S. Navy is probably the only organization that could enforce the necessary ban on commercial fishing, but a more fundamental solution involves deploying fleets of "Windships" and OTEC ships (which can be seen on the phoenixproject.net website).
Such systems would not only generate enough hydrogen to make the U.S. energy independent of all fossil and nuclear fuels-but the deployment of such a fleet would provide a critical sanctuary for the remaining fish and other marine organisms that are being exterminated by oil spills and destructive fishing practices. Given that over 90% of the ocean ecosystems have already been lost, there is very little time to take corrective actions. As such, the American public needs to be made aware that the U.S. Congress needs to pass Fair Accounting Legislation that will provide the necessary incentives for energy companies to build and deploy the Windships and OTEC systems that are no more difficult to build than automobiles and oil tankers.
The website images of the Multi-Array wind systems were developed from engineering designs by Professor William Heronemus, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who was then paid by the Navy to receive his graduate degree in naval architecture from MIT. He then served as a U.S. naval architect, working in the largest shipyards in the country, until his retirement from the Navy in 1965. Heronemus then accepted a teaching position at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst College of Engineering, where he and his students developed engineering designs for both Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) and Multi-Array wind systems, including "Windship" systems that could be deployed in large numbers offshore. Multi-Array systems can also be deployed on land but the Windships at sea would be integrated with manned electrolytic hydrogen production facilities that would be located in submerged spheres, which would also serve to counterbalance the wind array during storms. As you may be aware, wind speed increases exponentially with altitude, and as the wind speed doubles, as it typically does offshore, the power output of the wind turbine is increased by a factor of eight, thereby offsetting the higher capital costs of deploying systems at sea.
Because OTEC systems operate at the temperature of warm solar-heated seawater, they have a relatively low thermodynamic efficiency of 2%. However, the photosynthetic processes that have been successfully used by microorganisms on the earth for the past 3.5 billion years are only 1% efficient. The lesson is that economics and sustainability are more important that efficiency. OTEC was initially conceived in the 1880s by the highly respected French physicist, d'Arsonval, and the first operational OTEC power plant was a land-based system that was built on the island of Cuba by engineer George Claud in the 1930s. In the 1970's, a prototype OTEC system was developed and successfully deployed for the U.S. Department of Energy by Lockheed. Additional OTEC designs were developed by Grumman, Bechtel, TRW, the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University, and the College of Engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
In addition, the U.S. Navy is actively involved in OTEC research and development. Dr. Chih Wu, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the United States Naval Academy is evaluating OTEC systems, and Lt. Eric Hahn, who is with the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps, has recently presented a paper to the Society of Military Engineers on using OTEC systems as part of a Sea-Based Joint Mobile Offshore Base (JMOB) that is now under consideration by Admiral Vern Clark as part of the Navy's Sea Power 21" project. The American fleet of wind and OTEC ships could be mass-produced in currently idle shipyards like the Liberty Ships of World War II, when every major industry was retooled in about 12 months.
With such high-volume production, the capital costs for the wind and OTEC systems would be expected to be in the range of $500/kW. Given these values, the cost of the 10-million hydrogen production units would be about $5 trillion, which would not come from taxpayers, but from oil companies that would rapidly become solar hydrogen companies.
Given that energy is nearly a trillion dollar a year business in the U.S., the $5 trillion dollar investment on equipment that will operate for many decades to extract a pollution-free fuel that is inexhaustible will not require any government subsidies. Over 15 million cars and trucks are manufactured for the U.S. market annually, and given there is a current excess worldwide automotive production capacity of 20 million units annually, the 10 million wind and OTEC systems, which are similar to automobiles and ships from a manufacturing perspective, could and should be built and installed by 2010.
Thousands of vehicles, including automobiles, trucks and even submarines and torpedoes, were modified to use hydrogen in the 1930's and 1940's in Germany and the UK. In the case of the 225 million automotive vehicles currently operating in the U.S., the cost of modifying an average vehicle to use liquid hydrogen (including a liquid hydrogen injecting system, cryocooler and liquid hydrogen storage tank) would be expected to be in the range of $2,500, resulting in a total cost of $563 billion to modify the U.S. fleet. It is suggested that at least half of the conversion cost could be returned to vehicle owners as a tax credit, which would be paid for by a temporary $0.50 to $1.00 a gallon carbon tax that will be imposed by the passage of the proposed Fair Accounting Act legislation. Assuming $1 a gallon, the carbon tax would raise about $200 billion annually, until it is phased-out with the use of gasoline and other hydrocarbon fuels by 2010.
Nuclear Time Bombs
While the national news media has been consumed with Iraq, the Bush administration has quietly re-licensed old nuclear plants in the U.S. that would have otherwise been decommissioned. There are important reasons to decommission nuclear plants as soon as possible, because the longer a nuclear plant operates, the greater the probability that a major loss of cooling accident will occur due to corrosion of the reactor's internal plumbing and components. The inevitable cracks and leaks caused by rust and corrosion are predictable events that result when metals are exposed to high temperatures, pressures, and corrosive agents (such as water or boric acid). According to a confidential report that was leaked to The New York Times (November 20, 2002), the highly secretive nuclear industry's internal oversight group has warned utilities that a focus on production over safety had endangered a number of nuclear installations, including the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo, Ohio.
A series of additional articles by Matthew Wald that were published in The New York Times (Jan. 4, 2003, May 1, 2003 and June 6, 2003), further detailed that the corrosion at the Ohio reactor was only discovered after investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ordered the plant closed for inspection-in spite of the objections of the plant owners (First Energy Nuclear Operating Company) -- who argued the inspection was unnecessary. As it turned out, if the plant owners had not been forced to have the inspection, Toledo and the surrounding communities may have become a permanent radioactive deathcamp. The NRC inspectors found the plant was indeed a ticking time bomb because rust and corrosion had eaten away 70 pounds of steel that was 6 inches thick in the reactor cover. Only a quarter of an inch of steel was left to keep the reactor vessel from failing, thereby causing a meltdown that would be an unprecedented multi-trillion dollar environmental catastrophe that will permanently contaminate the continental United States.
Similar corrosion problems have also caused a reactor 90 miles southwest of Houston, Texas, to be shut down. In the case of the Texas reactor, which is only 15 years old, the leaks are at the bottom of the rector vessel, which makes them much more difficult - if not impossible - to repair because of the significant radiation hazards. The leaks were found to be in two of the 58 nozzles that are on the underside of the reactor, but the problem is that the nozzles cannot be replaced because they are welded from inside the reactor vessel. The stopgap plan is to cut and replace the parts of the tubes that extend from the outside of the reactor, but that will leave a critical gap between the old and new tubes, which will allow the highly corrosive boron cooling water to get access to areas that could result in a failure of the cooling system. It is now clear that this fundamental corrosion problem is occurring in all of the reactors that are now operating, and the only solution is to begin the staggering task of decommissioning these ticking time bombs.
The radioactive waste problem is especially insidious because it is virtually impossible to contain, and it is invisible to the human senses until disease or death occurs. Radioactive isotopes spread in an ecosystem like red dye spreads in a glass of water, and some isotopes, such as Neptunium-237, Cesium-135 and Iodine-129, have half-lives of over a million years. In the case of Iodine-129, its half-life of 16 million years means it must be sequestered from the natural environment for over 160 million years. Assuming a single maintenance technician earning $50,000 a year is considered, the cost over time would be $8 trillion, the vast majority of which will be paid for by billions of taxpayers in the future for over a million centuries.
Iodine-129 is a particularly toxic isotope to humans and other mammals because iodine is an essential nutritional element. As such, the microbes in the body selectively extract iodine from food, water, and the air. Once acquired, the iodine is then stored in the thyroid gland. The problem is that radioactive and non-radioactive iodine are identical from a chemical viewpoint, thus the body's microorganisms do not distinguish between the two elements, storing either in the thyroid. If the iodine is radioactive, it will result in fatal thyroid cancer. Because Idoine-129 is highly toxic for such a long period, and because it is highly mobile through both engineered and natural-sediment systems, it is one of the key radionuclides that the Department of Energy (DOE) seeks to control. The high mobility problem is due to Iodine-129's anionic nature that causes it to be repulsed from negatively charged surfaces, which dominate essentially all materials. In spite of the fact that billions of dollars have been expended over the past 50 years to try and contain such isotopes, according to investigators at DOE's Savannah River site, there has still been little actual testing of proposed containment systems.
According to the EPA (The New York Times, March 28, 1991), the engineers who built the nuclear weapons in the 1950's dumped over 127 million gallons of highly radioactive waste containing Iodine-129, into the ground just a few miles from the Columbia River, the 4th largest river system in the U.S., which flows into the Pacific Ocean. According to July 4th article by Matthew Wald, a federal judge has stopped the Bush administration from changing the definition of millions of gallons of "highly toxic" radioactive wastes that are already leaking from rusted containers to "incidental," which would then allow the leaking containers to be simply covered up with dirt and concrete. The original plan was to clean out the tanks and then solidify the liquid wastes into glass logs, which would then be shipped to some deep geologic repository, presumably Yucca Mountain. However, "major technical problems and cost overruns" in the billions of dollars caused Bush administration to simply redefine the waste and simply "cover up" the problem, which will be spreading into the environment for the next 160 million years. The ethical implications of creating such insidious poisons are simply impossible to comprehend.
Utopia or Oblivion
Because of the exponential nature of the problems and solutions that are now evolving, we are rapidly approaching either a molecular biology-based utopia of "biochips" and "designer genes," that will eliminate aging and disease, or an oblivion scenario of mass-starvation as global food production systems fail. These are indeed serious issues. We are truly like the passengers on the Titanic and there is only a limited amount of time to change course, but at present, no one in the federal government has any idea of what to do. The energy bill put forward by Senator Domenici that focuses on fossil and nuclear fuels is a case in point. We invite investigative analysts of The New York Times to ask the hard technical and economic questions about the specifics of the Phoenix Project. And if it is indeed possible to supercharge the economy by rapidly making America energy independent of all fossil and nuclear fuels while simultaneously protecting, rather than destroying, what remains of the earth's ancient ecosystems, doesn't the American public have a right to know about such an plan?
Given the serious nature of these interrelated issues, if The New York Times does not consider this a significant story, would you at least explain why?
HYDROGEN POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE
6128 North 28th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Telephone: (602) 977-0888
Cell: (602) 722-6171