Mark Gibbs recently wrote a very interesting article for Forbes titled “Cold Fusion and Unintended Consequences”, discussing the unintended side effects that could potentially occur if cold fusion really takes off in the way that many hope it will.
We are talking about years into the future, when cold fusion exists as a practical technology that can provide huge amounts of cheap electricity. Devices would cost little and provide populations around the world with abundant energy.
In the future that we are imagining cold fusion devices will the ultimate source of energy and provide nearly all energy to humanity. We are talking about billions of cold fusion machines around the planet; from tiny personal devices, to giant gigawatt scale plants.
With such a large number of devices out there producing energy in all corners of the globe, any negative side effects, no matter how small, become multiplied greatly.
Imagine it cold fusion devices are discovered to produce small amounts of radioactive waste. Due to the exceptionally low price of the energy they would still be highly popular, yet on a large scale that small amount of waste could become a big problem.
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Gibbs explains that if, on average across all cold fusion devices (from tiny personal units to giant grid-sized plants), radioactive waste was produced on a scale of “1 milligram per device, as a consequence, globally you’ll have just under 2,012 tons of waste per year to deal with, a not inconsiderable amount.” (Current nuclear power plants operating in the world today produce between 2,000 and 2,300 tons of waste a year.)
In the article he also looks at the efficiency of the cold fusion devices, and the potential side effect of huge amounts of excess waste heat produced by the billions of units.
He worries that cheap cold fusion generators will only work on a similar level of efficiency as current machines, such as car engines; typically around 30% efficiency, at the most.
This means that each device will release most of the energy that it produces into its surroundings as waste heat. Then, given the fact that the energy will be so cheap and abundant, energy will be used far more than it is presently used, for example: buildings will never be chilly as it will not cost much to heat them up; people need never suffer the heat as air conditioning units could be run permanently; even such extravagancies as heating the side-walks in winter could become a reality.
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This mass increase in energy usage will elevate the effect known as ‘urban heat islands’ to such an extent that local ecologies around the cities could be severely altered. Gibbs gives examples of: “more rats, a longer growing season and therefore more plant growth, more pollen and therefore more allergies, greater impact on regional weather systems.” Or, “take an area that historically has had cold night and make them a few degrees warm all year long and in many areas mosquitos will become a bigger problem and diseases like malaria will become a bigger risk.”
And finally there is another negative side effect that could potentially come to bear with the success of cold fusion; that of increased toxic waste in third world countries.
Cheap cold fusions devices would transform poor areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, especially by enabling the purification of water supplies via the simple process of boiling. However desalination by boiling, without extensive engineering, can create large amounts of toxic waste in the form of deposited heavy metals, salts, and minerals.
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com