The Titanian Referendum

Part Two, see for part one here.

Annalee West was watching, together with her boss, the preview of the upcoming parliamentary debate. Two political commenters were discussing the importance of the debate, both for the future energy supply and the credibility of the incumbent government.

Annalee, as an employee of the Titan Power Corporation, generally shared her employer’s points of view regarding Titan’s energy policy. So the girl didn’t take the necessity of a new traveling wave nuclear fission reactor into question. When she began with her job as a part-time administrative assistant, Niklaas had explained the country was facing a potential energy crisis.

Until then, Annalee had never known that Titan’s oldest power plant would only last for five more years. Since nuclear fission had proved to be a reliable power source for the past fifty-five years and there had never been any incidents with traveling wave reactors, Annalee found it nothing more than logical the buy another fission reactor of this type. And Niklaas had told her why solar power wasn’t a suitable alternative.

The greatest ambition of the seventeen-year-old girls was to become a high-ranking government official, and therefore it was a good opportunity to start her career at the Titan Power Corporation. As the administrative assistant of the company’s CEO, she could get a promotion after a few years, and if she would do her best Annalee would be a member of the board in ten years.

*    *   *

Ray Morgan stood behind the lectern, waiting at the moment when the chairman of the National Assembly would open the debate. The minister for energy security knew that his main opponent, the honorable representative Zowlis Nirhim, would try to convince the house to defeat the government’s bill in a few days, when the actual would be held.

The member of government knew that Nirhim’s party was looking for an opportunity to bring down the government for month and so to force an early dissolution of the National Assembly, and therefore a snap election. Until now, there had never been an early dissolution of the National Assembly in Titan’s short history. Of course the progressive-greens were hoping to beat the social-liberals in that snap election, and to become the largest party and therefore to force the Social-Liberal Union into the benches of the opposition, while the Progressive-Green Party would form a new government.

But it was Morgan a mystery why Nirhim was carrying that rather large cardboard box. It was obvious that progressive-green opposition leader wanted it to use somehow during the debate; why else should he took the box with him, when he could have left it in his office if he wouldn’t need it during the debate?

The minister saw that Nirhim had taken a seat. The opposition leader was talking with a few other Progressive-Green Party parliamentarians, while the other members of parliament were entering the main conference room. Clerks of the National Assembly’s presidium were counting the number of present parliamentarians, looking whether the quorum was met.

Morgan wasn’t nervous, he had participated many parliamentary debates before, and he had been member of a debating club, when he was at high school. But due to the importance of this debate’s subject, he knew that this would be his most difficult debate of his career.

*    *    *

The chairman of the National Assembly of the Republic of Titan was raising from his chair, he gave with his hammer a blow at his desk. “Dear honorable members of this house, I have just been informed by the clerks, that all ninety members of this house are present. Therefore I will open the debate on the bill of our honorable government on the future of Titan’s power supply.

“I will give the floor to the Honorable Member of Government, Ray Morgan.”

“Thank you, honorable chairman. Chairman, as you know our beloved country needs each day a lot of power, both electrical and thermal. Without a sufficient and reliable supply of energy, human life wouldn’t be possible here in the Saturnian System.

“When the first of our honorable compatriots arrived in orbit around the moon Titan, their power demands were met by a traveling wave reactor named Huygens I. Who had been operational since they had left the Terrestrial system five years earlier. During the travel from a terrestrial orbit to Titan, Huygens I was used both for providing electricity and heath to the crew, as for propulsion. Actually most energy was used for the propulsion system.

“When the Huygens I was leaving near-earth space it contains enough fuel for sixty years. Now it is fifty-five years after the Huygens I was provided with fuel, so in five years it will run out of fuel. This reactor provides a significant part of our power consumption, if we don’t do anything, we’ll face an acute energy crisis in five years.

“Of course the government don’t want to cause an energy shortage crises. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to refuel Huygens I before 2127, since the spent fuel has to decay to safe levels. Therefore the government had decided to order a new traveling wave reactor. We have started negotiations with the Elysian Nuclear Technology Corporation, the same company which had built Huygens I and all our other nuclear fission reactors.

“The new reactor will be built in Jovian Trojan regions and it will take four years to transport it our moon. Therefore we have to decide very soon whether who want to order this new reactor.”

When Ray Morgan had finished his words, the chairman gave the floor to the Honorable Representative Zowlis Nirhim.

“Chairman, our Honorable Minister for energy security has given us a very clear explanation on the seriousness of our nation’s energy situation. I agree with him that we have not much time for making a decision about our energy future.

“However, I don’t agree with his proposed solution. Of course the Huygens I has served our country very well, I wouldn’t dare to deny that, since I was one of the first colonists of Titan. I have lived with the power supplied by Huygens I since I was just one year old.

“In the late 2050s, when the colonization of Titan was prepared by early colonies in Near-Earth space, nuclear fission was the most suitable way of providing power for a manned mission with a hundred plus colonists. The traveling wave reactor design had been chosen, because this reactor type didn’t need either fuel enrichment or refueling for decades.

“So when the first colonists settled in orbit around our moon Titan, it was Huygens I which provided them with the needed power. And since Huygens I wasn’t needed any longer for propulsion, all power was available for starting up the proper colonization of the Saturnian System.

“When Martian metals arrived, and Huygens City was build, the new city got its energy from this reactor. But when the population of Titan grew, and more toroidal space habitats were needed, more energy was needed.

“In order to increase to power production each flight to Titan with new colonists, was equipped with a traveling wave fission reactor. Of course again also to provide the spacecrafts with adequate propulsion. This continued until 2080, when was decided to use salt water rockets for further deep space missions.

“In 2080 all our eighteen fission reactor had a total capacity which was a few times greater than actually needed. But five years later it was estimated there would be a power shortage in 2100. In order to resolve this problem, this house decided to build a few, rather small, solar power plants in 2086.

“Although at that moment the government considered Solar power not as possible main energy source for our country, it was deemed to be sufficient to solve out acute energy shortages. Since then Solar power has grown to a fifteen percent share of our power supply.

“When in 2086 our nation’s Solar Power program started, there was a great number of Titanian citizens, who asked whether it wasn’t possible to phase-out nuclear fission power and to gradually switch to a hundred percent Solar power economy.

“When the government refused to investigate to possibility of nuclear phase-out, these people decided to take action. In the summer of 2086 they founded my party, the Progressive-Green Party, in Huygens City. At the elections of 2087, my party became the second largest party and has maintained this position ever since.

“The Progressive-Green Party had always push for a gradual phase-out of nuclear fission power. Why? Because of several reasons, first there are no large reserves of easily extractable uranium and thorium in our direct neighborhood, the Saturnian System. Therefore our dependence on nuclear fission also implies a dependence on foreign suppliers of uranium and thorium for our power supply.

“This is for our country a serious issue, since we are proud on our very liberal political climate. But the other space colonies, especially Elysia, the Federation of Agricultural Republics and Mars are less liberal than we are. And let it happened that the largest producers of uranium and thorium are the three countries I have just mentioned.

“I know we are allies with both Elysia and Mars. But in international relations your closest ally can rapidly change into your greatest enemy. So in order to maintain our political achievements, it is necessary to be as self-sufficient in our basic needs as possible. I realize that our opponents are saying, that this reasoning is also valid for our other imports.

“But I want to tell these people, this: in the last decade our imports of raw material, especially metals, has sharply declined to almost zero. Instead we are extracting most of our material needs from within the Saturnian System.

“Another reason why the Progressive-Green Party is in favor of a nuclear phase-out, is the problem of nuclear waste. As our Honorable Minister for energy security has stated, this problem will become real from 2127. I have read official government reports, in which it is stated that our Honorable Government is considering either to dump radioactive waste in Saturn’s atmosphere or to shoot it out of our Solar System, both after reprocessing.

“Both solutions are, in the opinion of Progressive-Green Party, unsatisfiable. Since the waste disposal problem actually only becomes salient when spent fuel has to be removed for later refueling purposes, which our honorable government is proposing in the bill we are discussing, we believe it is best to keep it where it already is, safely shielded.

“If we decide to phase-out nuclear fission power, we don’t need this old fission reactors any longer. And the need to remove their old fuel will then vanish also.

“The Progressive-Green Party has always realized that the current fission reactors should serve their days out, until they will run out of fuel, and then they should be left alone.

“The question we should ask ourselves is: what possibilities do we have to guarantee our power supply? One obvious answer is of course Solar Power.”

At that moment Ray Morgan wanted to interrupt Zowlis Nirhim’s monologue. The chairman decided that the minister for energy security should have the opportunity to give a reaction.

“Chairman, honorable representative Zowlis Nirhim, has given us a nice and interesting history about our country and her power supply. I understand his point of view regarding nuclear fission power. And we all know that Progressive-Green Party wants to switch to hundred percent Solar power economy. But Honorable Nirhim and his colleagues should have to realize that we, here in the Saturnian System only receive one percent of the amount of Solar energy which the planet Earth receives. In order to generate enough power to meet our demands, we need to construct an elaborate system of very huge mirrors, which will concentrate sun light to near-earth intensities.”

Since Zowlis Nirhim wanted to react to this statement, the chairman gave word back to him.

“Chairman, first I want to say to our honorable minister Ray Morgan, that the total energy production of Earth in one whole standard year is equal to what the third planet receives in twelve standard hours. Since there are 365,25 days in a year, we can easily calculate that the Terrestrial population only uses slightly more than one thousandth of their share of solar power.

“Further we have to take into account, that there are living eleven billion people on Earth, while our country has only two point one million inhabitants. That is a difference of a factor five thousand.

“According to the scientific institute of the Progressive-Green Party, a transition to hundred percent Solar power economy would cost only twenty billion guilders in the next twenty years, while the replacement of our current fission reactors, would cost at least seventy billion guilders, and this latter number is without interest included.

“We have an example of a space nation, which had switched from fission to Solar power: the Republic of Mars. When the first colonists arrived at Mars around 2040, nuclear fission was their primary source of energy. But in 2093 the Martian Federal Congress had passed a bill, which determined that Mars should have switched to a hundred percent Solar power economy in 2113, and in 2112 the last Martian fission power plant was shot down. A year earlier than scheduled, because the transition to Solar power was much easier than had been anticipated.

“I know that Mars receives much more Solar energy then we do, but the Martians still got less than Earth. They have shown that it is possible to switch from fission to Solar power. And unlike us, the Martians own large reserves of uranium and thorium on their planet. So they didn’t even need to switch.

“I don’t need to tell anyone here, that space nations like Elysia and the Federation of Agricultural Republics had always relied on Solar power. In fact both nations mentioned got ninety-three percent of their energy from the Sun. Only the remainder is nuclear power, most of which is actually energy extracted from natural decay instead of fission.”

And again Ray Morgan had the need to interrupt his opponent, and again the chairman decided to change the floor to the minister for energy security.

“Chairman, honorable representative Zowlis Nirhim has provided us with several numbers, some of them are indeed correct. But his claim that a transition to Solar power is actually cheaper than maintaining nuclear fission power, is based on research done by his own party. I don’t want to undermine their credibility on purpose, but the scientific institute of Progressive-Green Party can’t be regarded as a neutral and independent body at first glance.

“We don’t know which assumptions are used in their calculations, and no one, save of honorable representative Nirhim and his party, has ever seen their report with those assumptions and calculations. So we can’t verify their conclusions. Of course the government is willing study this report, if the Progressive-Green Party should release this report.

“Honorable representative Zowlis Nirhim, has referred to the case of the Martian transition to a hundred percent Solar power economy. But he had admitted the Martian situation is different to ours, since Mars receives a lot more Solar energy. So we can’t use this case, although very interesting, as an argument in our own debate on our energy future.”

Then the chairman decided that Nirhim should continue.

“Chairman, honorable minister Morgan has asked for the release of the report of our scientific institute. Well, the Progressive-Green Party will put the entire report on our web page after this debate, we hope that as many people as possible should read it and check our conclusions.

“But nevertheless, the leadership of the Progressive-Green Party realizes that a transition to a hundred percent Solar power economy would be harder for our society than the Martian one. And if take recent predictions of our population growth into account, we have to reach the conclusion that a hundred percent Solar power economy would very hard to realize. A power economy which has a fifty percent share of Solar energy seems to be a more realistic scenario.

“But we, the Progressive-Greens, are still in favor of the out-phasing of fission power and we believe it is possible. I have asked a member of the faculty for planetary sciences of the University of Huygens City, to investigate which alternatives we have for nuclear fission as power source. One solution she came with was tapping off some energy from Saturn’s large gravitational potential energy, another idea was using Saturn’s magnetic field to generate electricity. But these two solution are technically very hard to implement.

“But this report, which by the way we’ll also put on-line, also offer a third possible alternative. When I read this section of the report, I was surprised to learn that Elysia, Mars, the Federation of Agricultural Republics are investing more money in this possibility than we, while this option is far more attractive for us then for them. And it isn’t even a new way of power generation.

“Does anyone here know what happened on November the eighteenth, 2019, in a country formerly known as France?”

Nobody seemed to know what Zowlis Nirhim was talking about. But everyone was looking at him with great curiosity.

“Chairman,” Nirhim resumed his plea, “I see that most of us are so used to nuclear fission, that they have taken it for more than granted. I suppose, most of us haven’t ever thought about why we are still using an old-fashioned way of power generation in the twenty-second century.

“But actually our nation is the only country in the entire Solar System, which still use nuclear fission as a major part of its power supply. On Earth, which has the majority of nuclear fission reactors ever built, nuclear fission only accounts for less than one percent of its energy supply. Twenty-five of Earth’s energy is produced by Solar power, another twenty-five percent by wind-power.

“On November the eighteenth, 2019, a very important experiment was done in Southern France. The results of this particular experiment are used to produce about fifty percent of Earth’s energy supply.

“On November the eighteenth, 2019, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor achieved its first plasma, and soon after it became the first nuclear fusion reactor which produced more energy than it consumes ever. In fact it produced five times more energy than it consumed.

“Of course this ITER was just an experiment, soon after a new fusion reactor was built which produced about twenty times as much power, than it consumed. In 2025 the European Federal government decided that all coal and gas-fired power plants had to been shot down by Juli the first 2045, after that date only power generation by renewable resources and nuclear fusion were allowed.

“Not only in Europe, but anywhere on Earth fusion power plants were being built. While at the same time, the first space colonists were powering their communities with a near hundred percent Solar economy. Most terrestrial fusion plants are using deuterium and lithium as their fuel. The lithium is transmuted into tritium, which is fused with deuterium to helium four, a non-radioactive isotope of helium.

“Terrestrials extract deuterium and lithium from their oceans, at their current consumption level they have enough for thousands of years. But in the mid-2050s, the Elysians started to experiment with another fusion reaction, instead of tritium (which doesn’t exist in nature) they used helium three, another stable isotope of helium. For their experiments the Elysians extracted helium three from rocks of the Earth’s moon.

“But extracting helium three from lunar rock is a very expensive enterprise. But the four gas giants of our Solar System contains enough helium three to power mankind for many billion years. Both Elysian and Federal-Agricultural companies are investing money to extract helium three and deuterium from the atmosphere of Uranus.

“I remember me a debate in this house, we held last year. That debate was about our concerns about the suddenly increased activities of Elysia and the Federation of Agricultural Republics on the Uranian moon Miranda.

“I have read the transcript of that debate yesterday. We had concluded that these two nations were about to colonize the Uranian system, and we, as house, were more concerned with the consequences for our national security then with the reason why Miranda was colonized. Actually no one had mentioned the reason why, and from the arguments used in that debate I conclude that everyone was thinking that these nation were purely busy with military-strategic reasons.

“But when I consulted an Elysian newspaper, I learned there weren’t any military reasons, and in fact Elysia and the FAR had just signed a treaty for the peaceful exploitation of Uranus.

“But I want to get to the point of my plea. Uranus is not the only place to find helium three, our own Saturn has an even larger reservoir of helium three and deuterium. And one fusion reactor can replace four traveling wave reactors. Furthermore fusion power plants don’t produce radioactive waste, only non-dangerous helium four.

“Therefore my fraction has draft a bill, in which it is stated that our country will out-phase nuclear fission and instead fusion reactors will be ordered. Fusion power is the clean way of our future. Thank you, chairman.”

*    *   *

Only the members of the fraction of the Progressive-Green Party were applauding, the other members of the National Assembly were whispering with each other. But they didn’t like to be very supportive for this new fusion bill. Zowlis Nirhim was right, Titanians were used too much to nuclear fission as the natural way of power generation, that they didn’t think to other possibilities for supplying their energy demands.

Ray Morgan was still curious about Nirhim’s cardboard box, why the hell had Nirhim that with him? Or had he just one other surprise?

*    *    *

Zowlis Nirhim saw that the National Assembly wasn’t very enthusiastic about his bill, but he had expected this lack of enthusiasm and actually he knew for sure that the National Assembly would reject his fusion bill as too new. In the best case future parliaments would be more open-minded, but Zowlis Nirhim didn’t want to wait until then.

He had prepared another move. The leader of the opposition was going to invoke a never used provision of the Titanian constitution. For this purpose he needed his cardboard box. Zowlis Nirhim knew that the constitution acknowledged only one authority higher than the National Assembly.

The parliamentarian asked the chairman if he could say one more thing. The latter gave his permission and representative Nirhim took the floor again.

“Thank you, Chairman.

“Chairman, I realize that my fusion bill isn’t likely to be passed by this house. But my colleagues of the Progressive-Green Party had worked hard, during the past days. But they have achieved their mission. In this cardboard box, and in nineteen others, I have some fifty thousand signatures, requesting that a popular vote shall be held in which the Titanian people can vote between the government bill and our fusion bill.

“According to our constitution, I needed just two percent or forty-two thousand signatures, in order to force a public vote. Well, we have them.” At that very moment nineteen other cardboard boxes were brought in. The chairman decided to suspend the debate, so that the clerks could verify the signatures.

Half an hour later, the chairman announced that the signatures were valid and there were enough signatures for a public vote. Therefore the debate was closed.

Read Part three here



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