The Second Chapter of the Industrial Energy Revolution – This article contains a series of articles on A History of Fossil Fuel Dominance. Therefore, to understand the whole series of these stories, you should read the previous articles. We have compiled the previous articles to the last article on the following list;
The Second Chapter of the Industrial Energy Revolution
In OECD countries, after the end of the Second World War, dry-bulk container tankers fueled by oil were first introduced; in 1956 the first standardized containership based on an adapted oil tanker was sailing across the oceans. Shipping of oil itself in oil tankers had already become common decades earlier, and oil-fueled military ships had been introduced in the 1910s in the UK and United States. The first cellular containership was commissioned in 1960, and by 1982 1,000 such ships had been built which could handle 3,000 to 18,000 containers. Today over 50,000 containerships are transporting millions of tons of goods across the globe. The use of airplanes emerged just as rapidly as shipping. The first airlines using propeller planes for airmail and passenger transport were set up in Europe and the United States in the 1910s and 1920s. Transatlantic flights began in the 1930s, and the early much faster jet engine planes were introduced in the 1950s after the Second World War. The growth of air flight since has been so rapid that the size of the civilian aircraft fleet in 2015 reached nearly 25,000 planes.
Along with the development of transport and electricity, modern forms of heating were introduced, especially after the Second World War. Natural gas as the third fossil fuel after coal and oil had already been discovered in substantial quantities in Russia and the United States in the late nineteenth century. There was no way to use it, however, due to a lack of means to transport it, and most of the gas was simply vented in the air. The United States was the first to build gas trunk lines of 1,300+ kilometers in the late 1920s from Panhandle gas fields in Texas to Chicago and Detroit, followed by even longer trunks to New York and West Virginia. After these pioneering efforts and new welding and pipe construction innovations, a pipeline construction boom started across the world. The former Soviet Union built the 800-kilometer-long Saratov–Moscow transmission pipeline in 1946, pioneered the construction of above-ground gasholder stations, and established the first underground gas storage station in 1957 to deal with seasonal demand swings. Other countries also saw a gas pipeline boom following new large gas discoveries—including in the 1950s–1970s—in Germany, Hungary, Spain, the Netherlands (Slochteren), France, the UK, and Austria among others.
Natural gas quickly became a priority fuel for household heating and cooking in cities and densely populated countries. It also added to power generation in countries without abundant coal supplies or with depleted coal mines such as the UK. By 1975 natural gas supplied 10%+ of all energy usage in 10 out of the current group of 33 OECD countries, with proportions as high as 20%, 30%, and 50% in respectively Mexico, the United States, and the Netherlands.
At the same time, the invention of the atomic bomb during the Second World War led to a race among the UK, the US, Canada, France, Japan, and the Soviet Union into nuclear power plant technology, with a wave of over 400 nuclear reactors built from the 1950s to the 1980s.46 The expansion came to a standstill after the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979 and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 in the former Soviet Union, now at the border of modern-day Ukraine and Belarus, which spread radiation all over Europe. Even today no people live within a 19-mile radius of this former nuclear plant that is encased in a 400,000 m3 concrete dome to prevent radiation leakage.
It was a rude wake-up call for many who declared that an all-nuclear era was emerging. At the time it was anticipated in the majority of countries that nuclear would become the dominant source of power generation. President Richard Nixon in his 1973 address told the United States Congress that nuclear would provide more than 50% of power by the year 2000. The only countries that have reached such a market shares are France and Japan, before the disaster at Fukushima in 2011.