On the Precipice: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Lead Fight for Energy Independence

Lakota activist Phyllis Young speaks to members of Congress, scientists and representatives of the energy industry on Capital Hill alongside fellow Lakota activist Travis Hardin and eco-architect Timothy Maloney on November 2, 2015. (Photo: Wiyaka Chasing Hawk)Lakota activist Phyllis Young speaks to members of Congress, scientists and representatives of the energy industry on Capital Hill alongside fellow Lakota activist Travis Hardin and eco-architect Timothy Maloney on November 2, 2015. (Photo: Wiyaka Chasing Hawk)

“Once again, our grandmother, the Earth, has offered us, her children, the elements we need to survive. Will we listen?”—Russell Means 1939-2012.

According to a new study by NASA, rising temperatures and melting ice sheets are responsible for a redistribution of the Earth’s weight, causing a shift in the way the planet wobbles on its axis.

Warming ocean temperatures, now considered unstoppable, are responsible for unpredictable severe weather patterns, heat waves, drought, floods and reduced food supplies.

Antarctic ice has begun to melt and break apart. The collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, also considered unstoppable, will eventually contribute to sea level rise by more than 10 feet, scientists warn. This collapse would leave cities such as New York, Boston, Miami and New Orleans, as well as many other cities around the globe, in peril.

If we were to collectively cease the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels today, and shift to alternative sources of clean energy, these changes may only slow, but not stop, the trajectory we are on.

A New Possibility

Living up to the words of Russell Means, the late Oglala Lakota activist and cofounder of the American Indian Movement, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota are leading an effort toward energy independence.

This effort, if successful, could serve as a model for how to slow anthropogenic climate disruption.

Their hope is based on a controversial clean energy technology, which is often discredited as conspiracy as it quietly moves into reality.

Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) is being considered by many to be the future of energy.

LENR is defined by E-Cat World, an industry site based on the work of LENR innovator Andrea Rossi, as “the phenomenon where anomalous amounts of heat are created when certain metals (e.g., nickel, palladium) absorb hydrogen or deuterium and an external stimulus such as heat or an electric current is applied. The reaction takes place at a relatively low temperature and sometimes results in transmutation of elements as well as the production of heat.”

Tim Maloney is an architect and eco-designer who has consulted for NASA, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Energy and has been an innovator of eco-friendly home designs.

“My personal view is that you and I are cave men, looking out the door of the cave in anticipation of potentially stepping out.” Maloney told Truthout. “I find that to be really good news. Who knows what it feels like on the other side, but I’m looking forward to getting used to it.”

His architecture firm has received awards from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for creating homes that maintained an efficient relationship to the sun and environment as well as advances in solar energy technology and related building products.

“We really are at the tipping point of the formal acceptance of this technology,” Maloney said. The challenge, he said, is, “How do we introduce something too good to be true?”

The answer, according to one company developing this revolutionary technology, may be to provide it first to the Lakota Nation, which has approached the company about a potential collaboration.

According to Brillouin Energy Corporation (BEC), which is working alongside the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), the company’s “unique form of LENR, the Controlled Electron Capture Reaction (CECR), generates excess thermal energy (heat) by using very small amounts of hydrogen, nickel and electricity for inputs. Hydrogen is loaded, in the form of either a wet electrolyte, or as a gas, into highly engineered metallic cores constructed from nickel inside of a pressure vessel…and catalyzed with electrical charges…generating industrially useful process heat, and no (zero) pollutants of any kind.”

On November 2, 2015, in Washington, DC, BEC held a demonstration for Congress and members of the scientific community of its LENR technology, intended to open up opportunities for discussion of the commercial development of the Brillouin boiler system.

Brillouin’s system is expecting to return 10 watts of thermal energy for every 1 watt of electrical energy input.

At the demonstration, Phyllis Young, a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota and Ihanktonwan Dakota (Hunkpapa Lakota and Ihanktonwan Dakota are different bands of the same Oceti Sakowin-or Sioux Nation) Nations and a co-founder of the activist organization Women of All Red Nations, spoke to the room full of scientists and engineers about the possibility of bringing this energy into our homes.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has endorsed LENR technology, sometimes referred to as “cold-fusion” or, in Brillouin’s case, “controlled electronic capture reaction,” and is seeking funding from the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture for the deployment of clean energy projects, education and planning of this technology.

BEC chief executive officer Robert W. George II told Truthout, “We were approached by members of the Lakota Nation. We told them what we were doing and we felt that there is a need there.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has proposed that scientists and engineers come to the colleges of the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) to educate and train its members in the application of this technology. Additionally, young college students would get involved by going to SRI and BEC to observe the technology and learn firsthand about its possibilities.

The Hunkpapa Development Corporation was formed, according to Young, by members throughout the Oceti Sakowin to receive grants and begin construction on a series of specialized dome housing units based on a design by David Weinkauf of Two Trees Inc. These units will be based on a model built specifically to house the Brillouin Boiler and will be built on land specifically designated for their construction.

Members of the Oceti Sakowin will be involved in the education, planning and construction of the housing.

“They are a sovereign nation within the United States,” said George. “This will allow housing that they have been building on the reservations to have heat and hot water and the energy independence that would be necessary for them to increase their standard of living.”

Racing such companies as Lockheed Martin Skunk Works division, which also have claimed recent breakthroughs in this area, George explained to Truthout that BEC is only about two years away from a commercial boiler system prototype that a manufacturer could begin reproducing.

Further separating them from the pack, explained George, is BEC’s claim to have designed an “on and off switch” which can control the flow of energy output for their system. “We are not aware of anyone else who has a control system,” George told Truthout.

“You don’t need any fuel,” he said. “There’s no fuel because there’s no combustion going on. So you’ll basically have a boiler which can operate on the Lakota Nation with a tiny amount of electricity which can run off a battery.”

Safety Concerns

Given the ongoing horror of the Fukushima disaster, any mention of the word “nuclear” understandably generates fear and skepticism. LENR technology, however, has not been found to produce any of the harmful waste associated with current forms of nuclear or conventional energy production.

Joseph Zawodny, a senior research scientist with NASA’s Langley Research Center, told Forbes reporter Jeff McMahon that LENR “has the demonstrated ability to produce excess amounts of energy cleanly, without hazardous ionizing radiation, without producing nasty waste.”

“The easiest implementation of this would be for the home. You would have a unit that would replace your water heater. And you would have some sort of cycle to derive electrical energy from that,” Zawodny told McMahon.

In his article on LENR, McMahon quotes Dennis Bushnell, the chief scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, as saying that “several labs have blown up studying LENR and windows have melted … indicating when the conditions are right prodigious amounts of energy can be produced and released.”

However, McMahon’s article also includes a response from Chicago physicist Lewis Larsen, who argues that “all such violent energetic events are quite rare — only a handful have ever occurred over the past 20-plus years during the course of literally hundreds of thousands of LENR experiments … and most importantly, NONE of these incidents were caused by a nuclear explosion per se.”

If the research on LENR yields practical results, this technology might even be considered as a possibility for space flight: Doug Wells of the NASA Langley Research Center has proposed a study for LENR-powered spacecraft.

In this proposal, he states, “The purpose of this research is to investigate the potential vehicle performance impact of applying the emergent Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) technology to aircraft propulsion systems. LENR potentially has over 4,000 times the density of chemical energy with zero greenhouse gas or hydrocarbon emissions. This technology could enable the use of an abundance of inexpensive energy to remove active design constraints, leading to new aircraft designs with very low fuel consumption, low noise, and no emissions.”

LENR’s relative safety can be attributed to its slow-moving neutrons. As Extreme Tech explains, “Whereas fission creates fast neutrons (neutrons with energies over 1 megaelectron volt), LENR utilizes neutrons with an energy below 1eV — less than a millionth of the energy of a fast neutron. Whereas fast neutrons create one hell of a mess when they collide with the nuclei of other atoms, LENR’s slow neutrons don’t generate ionizing radiation or radioactive waste. It is because of this sedate gentility that LENR lends itself very well to vehicular and at-home nuclear reactors that provide both heat and electricity.”

An End to Energy Scarcity?

This technology could potentially end the fossil fuel energy industry and usher in a new period that Maloney refers to as the “end of scarcity.”

“It strikes me in the short term as very problematic. The closer this gets the more concerned I am at the level of disruption which this is going to cause,” said Maloney about potential shifts in geopolitical alliances and global interests that an unlimited free energy may create. “But in the long term,” he adds, “an opportunity of unimagined proportion.”

This reality is becoming hard to ignore.

In an unprecedented shift in public discourse, Congress’s National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 brings the subject out of the realm of “junk science” once and for all, while warning about its consequences:

The committee is aware of recent positive developments in developing low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR), which produce ultra-clean, low-cost renewable energy that have strong national security implications. For example, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), if LENR works it will be a “disruptive technology that could revolutionize energy production and storage.” The committee is also aware of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) findings that other countries including China and India are moving forward with LENR programs of their own and that Japan has actually created its own investment fund to promote such technology. DIA has also assessed that Japan and Italy are leaders in the field and that Russia, China, Israel, and India are now devoting significant resources to LENR development.

Even more explicitly, it goes on to say:

To better understand the national security implications of these developments, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to provide a briefing on the military utility of recent US industrial base LENR advancements to the House Committee on Armed Services by September 22, 2016. This briefing should examine the current state of research in the United States, how that compares to work being done internationally and an assessment of the type of military applications where this technology could potentially be useful.

Still, not all are convinced. LENR has often been shunned by the scientific community since its original inception, when it was called “cold fusion.” Huw Price, a Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy and a fellow of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, writes, “As a question about sociology, the answer is obvious. Cold fusion is dismissed as pseudoscience, the kind of thing that respectable scientists and science journalists simply don’t talk about (unless to remind us of its disgrace).”

Lakota supporters of this technologyremain undeterred. In Washington, DC, Young spoke about educating young people about LENR as well as the need for her nation to become partners with those in the US who share the desire to cease the dependence on fossil fuels.

Young told Truthout, “Technology has exceeded balance. It has created a toxic environment that is more harmful and damaging to human life. A human life is threatened after three to five days without water. Native People are keepers of Mother Earth. There is a limitless clean energy that we have a duty to create and develop and use for the people.”

The Vision

The idea for the use of LENR by the Lakota originated in 2008, when Russell Means brought the idea of the Lakota Nation being powered by LENR to media ecologist and radio show host James Martinez, who has been working to see it happen ever since.

Martinez had been speaking about the technology on his show when Means heard about it.

“I was initially scared out of my mind,” Martinez told Truthout, about being approached by Means. “It was not going to be an easy task. I didn’t want to let him down.”

Martinez said, “I knew why he was asking me. I knew it was for not only the rise of Native American culture again to where it should be but also for the ethical deployment of the technology through the eyes, ears and hearts of the Lakota people…. They are the real environmentalists.”

“Our energy project is called ‘Wi Waci’, which literally means ‘sun dance.’ Our ceremony is called ‘Wiwáŋyaŋg Wačhípi.’ That refers to our sacred Sun Dance ceremony,” Young explained to Truthout, differentiating the project name from the ceremony of renewal at the heart of her culture.

Young said that she and other Lakota supporters of LENR technology believe that just as the sun warms the Earth every spring and brings life and renewal to the Earth, LENR can also serve a similar purpose, ushering in a new era of life and renewal not only to the Earth, but to the outmoded ways of thinking which have brought us to the precipice we find ourselves on now.

This technology “must be endorsed,” Young said. “It must be funded, invested in, developed, and implemented. Our existing technology has taken its toll on Mother Earth. It’s time to protect her existence. Human survival depends on it.”