Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Energy Debate is Heating Up

As I perused through my greenblogs and news mags this morning, I kept seeing a theme emerging among the articles- the power play. How are we going to create the energy to meet our demands without contributing to global warming? Once again, the nuclear debate is floating to the surface.
As a Gen-Xer (hey, how come nobody uses that phrase any more?) I was taught that nuclear energy was bad stuff. Dangerous, expensive, and most importantly, bad for the environment. Californians agreed, and put a moratorium on new nuclear plants some decades ago. Countries around the world and especially Europe banned new plants or completely blocked the use of nuclear power after the Chernobyl incident.
Last year I attended a debate on nuclear energy here in San Francisco. The two speakers were Peter Schwartz and Ralph Cavanaugh, old friends who considered themselves on the same side in the fight against global warming, but differed in their opinions on how to fuel the future.
I entered the debate with a strong feeling about nuclear energy as evil, and left thinking that it may be a possible option. How could this be? Now, before any of you out there rip my blog from your bookmarks folder, hear me out.
Remember that nuclear energy is a technology. Technology is defined as a development that changes over time, improving as it progesses. Look at computers and how they've developed over the years. We banned the technology in California because at the time it was dangerous and inefficient, but since then nuclear technology has made significant improvements in the amount of energy extracted from the process, in reducing the waste left over, and in safety. When you look at the amount of raw material required to generate the power, it out performs any other sources of energy except the sun.
I'm not the only one reexamining nukes.
Jesse Ausubel of the Rockefeller University in New York recently wrote an article claiming that renewable energy will further degrade the environment. "Nuclear energy is green," he claims, "Considered in Watts per square meter, nuclear has astronomical advantages over its competitors." He sites proportions of scale as a big reason wind farms and biofuels simply won't work.
The Long Now Foundation has a lecture on the cue for September 14th with Gwyneth Cravens and Rip Anderson to discuss the nuclear power debate.
And while they aren't necessarily pointing directly towards nukes, many environmentalists like myself are starting to get uneasy about the potential disasters we may face when our depleted agricultural lands are put into overdrive with the growing biofuel demands.
I haven't yet satisfied my desire for clarity before I make any proclamation to be pro-nuclear. But I encourage you all to get yourselves up to date on the issue if you haven't looked at it recently, so you can make informed decisions in the subject. (Even if I can't get off the fence.)
Places to start:
Wikipedia, of course! Nuclear Power
The Long Now and Nuclear Power, Climate Change and the Next 10,000 Years
The CSM looks at nuclear power in light of recent earthquakes near power plants
The Sydney Morning Herald looks at the hazards of coal plants
And check out my previous articles on the subject of alternative energy for more links
May 14th, More Warnings on the Push for Biofuels
May 5th, Wind Power and its Effects...
April 30th, Why Care About the Farm Bill?

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer, good points! Although nuclear energy makes me real nervous too; partly because it does not encourage people to conserve.