Michio Kaku, Elon Musk And Charles Seife On Solar, Clean Coal, Fission And Nuclear Energy

Forging the future of energy, from conventional fuels to clean renewable sources.

Michio Kaku, Elon Musk and Fukushima nuclear power plant workers
Evan Agostini / AP Images

Forging the future of energy, from conventional fuels to clean renewable sources.

Michio Kaku and Elon Musk agree that solar and other renewable energy would provide the best possible future for energy. Charles Seife and Professor Kaku also consider the future potential for renewable energy from fusion using seawater in the video below.

Elon Musk and Michio Kaku agree, however, at least for now, more conventional forms of energy are needed to meet the increasing demand for electricity, in addition to harvesting renewable sources. There is a hot debate between clean coal and nuclear energy to bridge the gap on the path to renewable energy.

Elon Musk also feels a need to replace gas-powered cars with electric, even if the electric plants are fueled by hydrocarbons. Elon Musk told PBS he believes that any form of electricity is better for the environment than powering transportation directly with fossil fuels.

“Electricity is the universal currency. You can generate electricity in many ways, including renewable ways such as solar power, wind, geothermal — and in ways which are less damaging to the environment such as nuclear and — and then even if you would generate energy with hydrocarbons such as coal or oil or natural gas, the energy efficiency of electric transportation is so much greater that you can still be twice as better off than you would otherwise be.”

Elon Musk disagrees with Michio Kaku on nuclear fission power plants. While this Inquisitr report reveals Michio Kaku has said before that building nuclear power plants is like a Faustian deal with the devil, Elon Musk says more nuclear power plants are needed.

“We should build more nuclear power plants. I think that’s a better way to generate energy than, certainly, a coal power plant or a natural gas power plant. Burning hydrocarbons — I think people now recognize is a pretty bad thing. You know over time there’s a certain limit to the CO2 capacity of the atmosphere and the oceans.”

While Michio Kaku agrees with Elon Musk about carbon dioxide levels and has expressed concern about the melting of the polar ice caps according to this Inquisitr article, Michio Kaku is far more critical of nuclear energy than Elon Musk.

Professor Michio Kaku, while he has deep reservations about existent nuclear power plants, sees a future for nuclear fusion plants once the technology is developed. Fission nuclear plants like those that currently provide energy are dangerous according to Michio Kaku, who points to accidents like the ones at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

While Elon Musk has visited the devastated Fukushima site, Elon still believes nuclear energy can be safe, even in Japan. Michio Kaku apparently disagrees. See Elon Musk’s comments in the video below.

Elon Musk believes that even aging nuclear power plants are preferable to coal-powered plants. Musk really hates the idea of putting more carbon dioxide in the air. So much so Elon Musk would prefer nuclear power to coal plants.

“It’s true we’ve not built new nuclear plants in a couple decades, although, what most people don’t realize is that the existing nuclear plants have been massively upgraded.”

While Elon Musk is perhaps the biggest proponent of solar energy in the world, he believes that nuclear fission is safer and cleaner than coal. Elon Musk acknowledges it will take time to expand solar energy to meet the demand.

Perhaps the biggest argument for clean coal is job creation. Elon Musk did not acknowledge this factor, only looking at emissions. Coal has been in decline for decades and that has hurt many individuals and local economies, especially when combined with a loss of industry. Can solar farms eventually employ as many workers as coal mines?

Professor Michio Kaku, however, sees nuclear fusion as the ultimate answer. Professor Michio Kaku interviews Charles Seife author of the book Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking in the video below.

While Elon Musk works to build up the infrastructure needed to power the world with renewable energy, theoretical physicists like Michio Kaku are looking for new answers, including the possibility of safe and economical energy from seawater, and the principles of nuclear fusion.

Professor Charles Seife told Michio Kaku in the video above, the main principle of both fission and fusion is something he calls “iron envy.”

“Fission and Fusion are two sides of the same coin. In some sense, every atom wants to be iron or has iron envy. So things that are heavier than iron, like uranium and plutonium want to split apart in the same sense a ball wants to roll down the hill. In the process of splitting apart, they release energy.”

Charles Seife explains to Michio Kaku and the audience how fission works with small relatively safe substances.

“Fusion, on the other hand, takes light elements, light elements in some sense want to stick together getting heavier, getting closer to iron. It turns out that the fusion and the reaction are more energetic per atom than fission. That is breaking apart atoms gives you a lot of energy but fusion gives you a lot, lot more.”

Japan's Earthquake and tsunami March 15,2011
Japan’s earthquake and tsunami March 15,2011 Matt Dunham / AP Images

While Elon Musk is looking to the sun to fuel solar panels, nuclear fusion is a part of this technology as well. Charles Seife and Michio Kaku explain the sun itself is a giant fusion reactor, but what scientists wish they could do, is capture a bit of the same type of energy used by the sun in a sort of container or “magnetic bottle” using it to generate electricity.

As Michio Kaku and Charles Seife explain, hydrogen is the smallest and most common atom. With fusion, hydrogen produces helium, a harmless element that would be clean to release into the atmosphere. This is exactly what the sun does. Many people have theorized that by extracting hydrogen from seawater and using it for controlled fusion, there would be an unlimited supply of energy.

coal mining operation
Coal mining operation 1968 / Shutterstock

Sadly, as Charles Seife and Michio Kaku agree, although fusion theoretically at least holds great promise, the use of controlled fusion to produce energy has never been executed in a lab, despite many attempts. What seems like an obvious solution evades science according to Michio Kaku and Charles Seife.

Elon Musk, Michio Kaku, Charles Seife and so many others are contemplating the future of energy. Greenpeace believes that by 2050, nearly all the world’s energy needs can be met with various sources of renewable energy, “in a safe and reliable way.”

Michio Kaku and Elon Musk do not agree though on the best interim solution. As society marches forward on renewable energy path, Michio Kaku is not in favor of building more nuclear power plants. Elon Musk favors nuclear power over all hydrocarbons, including coal, fuel oil, and natural gas.

Elon Musk and many others are working to create the infrastructure needed to fully harvest and utilize enough renewable energy, even without Michio Kaku and Charles Seife’s dream of using seawater for nuclear fusion.