National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Trains, Water & Clean Nuclear




Three interesting headlines lately point to the new direction that the Obama administration’s economic fundamentals will be taking the nation and the world.

Of all people, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote on March 15 about, of all things, controlled thermonuclear fusion power in his column entitled, “The Next Really Cool Thing.”

A few weeks earlier, Times correspondent Michael Cooper wrote about high-speed rail in a story entitled, “Faster Trains, Maybe, But Still Behind Others in the World.”

Then, the April edition of Bloomberg Markets magazine features a special report by John Lippert and Jim Efstathiou Jr. entitled, “Global Water Crisis: Running Dry,” which echoes the concerns expressed by the United Nations that the greatest challenge facing humanity in the next 50 years is going to be fresh water shortages.

All these articles beg the question of new, or ignored, powerful technologies that supercede the nation’s dangerous dependence on fossil fuels. They all also report on the kinds of things that have been systematically bad mouthed and suppressed by Big Oil ever since it hooked the nation on its slimy narcotic in the 1950s.

Nuclear fusion energy harbors the greatest potential for clean and incredibly powerful energy generation available on the planet. It is, after all, the process that fuels the sun. Not too shabby. And it’s clean and safe.

Scientists and engineers have known it can work for four decades or more, but the national commitment to mastering the admittedly-challenging methods to make it feasible has never been there. Any wonder why?

By comparison, other alternative energy options, such as wind and solar power, are woefully inadequate, even with improved efficiencies in the recent years.

Rail has always been a far better means of moving goods over land than automobiles, trucks or planes. The nation’s infrastructure was built with rail in the 19th century, and even up to the point that Big Oil hoodwinked the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s to invest enormous national resources into one of America’s biggest-ever projects, the interstate highway system.

Had the same resources been put into rail, the nation’s efficiency of production and transport would have been far greater, and dependency on oil infinitely less. After all, freight rail can move a ton of supplies 436 miles on a single gallon of gas.

For years by now, the U.S. has been far, far behind its European and Asian rivals in the development of high-speed rail.

Another effective alternative energy is hydroelectric power, generated by the movement of water. It has also been crushed under the heel of Big Oil, as has the use of large-scale water diversion projects to irrigate arid land and turn deserts into highly-productive agricultural regions.

While water supplies to Las Vegas from Lake Mead could completely dry up, massive efforts were undertaken to quash plans developed in the 1960s for diverting an enormous volume of fresh water from the northern and western-flowing rivers in Canada and Alaska to the southwestern U.S., to the High Plains to replenish the Ogallala aquifer, and even to northern Mexico. Tremendous amounts of clean hydroelectric power would also flow from such a system, and the irrigation would produce vegetation that would help to reverse global warming.

This water now flows untouched into the Arctic and northern Pacific Oceans, but despite the efforts in the early 1970s of Sen. Frank Moss (D-Utah) to bring this so-called “Northern American Water and Power Alliance” (NAWAPA) plan to the U.S. Congress, it died in the same Big Oil-backed frenzy that stopped conventional nuclear and fusion development. It resulted, among other things, in an extremely ill-advised Congressional ban on “inter-basin water transfers,” and no one in Washington has shown any interest since.

It’s good to see there is currency in such big ideas again, as Obama tries to restore development, and not usury, as the cornerstone of the national economy.

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