Browsing the blog archives for January, 2009.


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    Nuclear Power – Like it or not

    alternative, energy, green living, Uncategorized

    A couple of days ago I posted a response on a forum about whether nuclear energy should still be an option for the future. My answer was yes. This in turn has created some controversy among readers. In the meantime somebody else suggested I write about why ”the US and other countries insist on nuclear power when a reactor produces more waste in one day than will take over a million years to get rid of. Some of the technology should go to solving that problem before anyone tells us it is clean energy.”

     

     

    I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have been looking into this. According to researchers at MIT we have four options to reduce our carbon footprint for our future energy needs:

     

    ·         Nuclear Energy

    ·         Renewable Energy

    ·         Increased Energy Efficiency

    ·         Capturing Carbon Emissions[1]

     

    Obviously I do not consider nuclear power the best option. I personally believe that wind will be our future in the coming decades. Wind is not just a source of electricity, the power from a wind tower can be used to produce hydrogen and then the tower itself can be used to store the hydrogen.[2] Hydrogen is a great source of carbon free fuel. Solar is also a great fuel source, at this point it is not cost effective for large scale application or the average consumer. The Japanese are working on a Space Solar Power System(SSPS) that will catch the sun’s rays in space without atmospheric interruptions and then beam the energy in the form of lasers back to earth.[3] These are awesome plans but will not be functional for decades.

     

    Today we have an ever increasing demand for electricity and transportation fuel, and an ever shrinking reserve of fossil fuels. Basic economics of supply and demand are telling us the cost to produce electricity and transportation fuel is going to sky rocket again in the near future. As the price of oil increases again it will be even more obvious we need to use more natural gas than oil for our transportation and electrical needs. Natural gas is commodity that is readily available from North American sources. The infrastructure is already in place to transport and use it and it is cleaner and easier to mine than coal. Natural gas does not have to be purchased from countries that do not like us and is cleaner than oil. Natural gas powered cars can be filled using a device at your home and putting up filling stations around the country is a small price to pay compared to what we are paying for our foreign oil habit. Companies like Mirant, who own non-nuclear electric plants, have already converted most plants to use natural gas, coal or oil depending on price. They have also gone to great lengths to reduce emissions.[4]  But the fact remains that however much we increase efficiency and decrease emissions we still are leaving far too much of a carbon footprint.

     

    Then there is nuclear energy. The biggest things nuclear has going for it are that it produces large amounts of electricity without producing carbon and the technology already exists and is in place and can be replicated. Everything else about nuclear power is not so pretty. First of all is cost, the initial outlay of time and money does not make new nuclear power plants competitive with other sources of electricity. There is also the issue that even if we did build new nuclear power plants to meet the up coming demand for electricity that there would only be sufficient uranium available for 50 or so years. Then there is the issue of proliferation, the stealing of technology and/or enriched uranium or plutonium.[5] After the break up of the USSR, 9/11 and the North Koreans this is a serious issue.  And then there is the storage of the spent fuel. According to Entergy Inc., owner of many nuclear plants, 80% of spent fuel loses its radioactivity within 3 years and can be stored on site safely for up to 100 years.[6] Yet the remainder can take thousands of years to break down. There is no doubt that huge irrepairable mistakes have been made with the handling of nuclear waste in the past.  Today the Department of Energy is making plans to build a repository in Yucca Mountain to store and seal off the spent nuclear fuel for eternity.[7] Not perfect, but a best case solution for a very serious problem.

     

    So the deal is we need to reduce our carbon footprint yesterday. The best solution is to have large scale renewable energy in place today, but that is still decades off. We need a bridge to get us from foreign oil dependency to 100% renewable, carbon free energy. One piece of that bridge is nuclear power, whether we like the idea or not. The other parts of that bridge are using more natural gas for transportation and electricity production, improving existing technology to lessen our carbon emissions and to push forward with research for renewable, carbon free energy.

     

    I invite everybody to check out the Pickens Plan and to pay attention to the plans our new President, Barak Obama, will bring forth. Please take time to visit the other websites used in researching this blog. Be informed.

     

    The Pickens Plan: http://www.pickensplan.com/index.php

    The Office of the President Elect: http://change.gov/


    [1] The Future of Nuclear Power, An Interdisciplinary MIT Study:http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/

    [5] The Future of Nuclear Power, An Interdisciplinary MIT Study:http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/

          Entergy Inc. : http://www.entergy-nuclear.com/environment/fuel_storage.aspx

    [7] Department of Energy: http://www.rw.doe.gov/index.shtml

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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