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Total power

To The Editor:

A way to think about the total power needed to sustain our lifestyle.

I like the term “energy servants” found in this book: Nuclear Power: What everyone needs to know by Charles D. Ferguson


“As physicist Richard Wolfson has shown, a person of average strength can light a 100-watt bulb with relatively hard effort by turning a hand crank connected to an electrical generator. Averaging throughout the day and night, a U.S. citizen uses about 10,000 watts of power, including power used by agriculture, industry, residences, government and transportation. Therefore, a typical American requires the equivalent of 100 ‘energy servants’ turning these hand cranks. A typical European, in comparison, uses about half this amount of power.”

By definition, one horsepower (electrical) = 746 watts. Let’s assume a healthy horse can crank out the equivalent of 1,000 watts. In the 18th century, a typical American or European had approximately 10 “energy servants” plowing their fields and taking them to church. And that plus harvesting doesn’t go on 24 hours/day!

My wife and I recently observed village life in rural southern India. My guess is that they have less than 5 “energy servants” per capita. Indian city-dwellers probably use about the same amount of power.

Even with an optimistic goal of less than 50 “energy servants” per capita, worldwide potential baseline demand exceeds today’s total capacity by a wide margin. I see no way to responsibly meet this demand except to use very old parts of the earth’s crust that are not a direct consequence of cumulative solar energy and don’t contribute to global climate change—the fissionable heavy elements Uranium and Thorium.

Those who unequivocally oppose nuclear power generation are not stepping back far enough to see this big picture.

Dave Ellis




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