Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is Nuclear Energy Our Best Hope?

by Gwyneth Cravens, Discover

Despite its negative image, nuclear energy may be the most efficient and realistic means of meeting the rapidly-growing demand for power in the United States. by Gwyneth Cravens

Four years ago this month, James Lovelock upset a lot of his fans. Lovelock was revered in the green movement for developing the Gaia hypothesis, which links everything on earth to a dynamic, organic whole. Writing in the British newspaper The Independent, Lovelock stated in an op-ed: “We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear, the one safe, available energy source—now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.”

Lovelock explained that his decision to endorse nuclear power was motivated by his fear of the consequences of global warming and by reports of increasing fossil-fuel emissions that drive the warming. Jesse Ausubel, head of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, recently echoed Lovelock’s sentiment. “As a green, I care intensely about land-sparing, about leaving land for nature,” he wrote. To reach the scale at which they would contribute importantly to meeting global energy demand, renewable sources of energy such as wind, water, and biomass cause serious environmental harm. Measuring renewables in watts per square meter, nuclear has astronomical advantages over its competitors.”

All of this has led several other prominent environmentalists to publicly favor new nuclear plants. I had a similar change of heart. For years I opposed nuclear power, but while I was researching my book Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy, my views completely turned around. (link)


If one accepts the scientific consensus, as I do, that global warming is a very serious problem and must be addressed and be addressed soon, there is little to be encouraged about. Kyoto has been a dismal failure. The world's output of greenhouse gases continues to increase rather than decrease. The carbon trading and carbon off-set mechanisms are scandal-ridden and are ineffective. In 2007 the US passed new CAFE standards, which will take years to have any impact and then, only minimal. In 2008 the US Congress considered, and wisely rejected, a seriously flawed Cap and Trade bill. If the next Congress should revive and pass the bill, it will enrich some, at the expense of others. It may also very well destroy the economy, while having minimal impact on our carbon output. The G-8 summit passed a very weak declaration to do something about global warming, someday and even that was rejected by India and China. The promise of ethanol turned out to be false. Ethanol has led to higher food prices, increased starvation in the undeveloped world, and has done little to curtail greenhouse gases.

Looking for bright spots in a gloomy picture, gas prices have increased, which for the first time ever has resulted in Americans reducing the amount of driving they do. The bad news is that politicians of both parties are pandering to a public which wants lower gas prices. Another piece of good news is that, thanks to the efforts of oilman T. Bone Pickens, there is a major push to promote wind power. This renewable resource looks like a viable, alternative energy source. Wind power alone, however, can not meet our energy needs.

Nuclear energy may be our best hope. Nuclear energy may be able to curtail global warming in time to avoid a calamity. This energy source would definitely have to be coupled with other alternative sources of clean energy; policies that curb carbon consumption, and futher investment in some promising new technological developments in carbon sequestration. Nuclear is not without its problems, but not using nuclear energy is more threatening than using it. In the above article, the author makes this argument. Unfortunately, many of the people who are most passionate and proactive about global warming are also the same people most passionate about stopping nuclear energy development.

James Lovestock, one of the world's most prominent environmentalist, has gone from being an opponent of nuclear energy to a proponent. This article explains why Lovestock and other rational environmentalist are now supporting nuclear energy as an important part of the strategy for stopping global warming.

Nuclear energy supplies only 20% of America's energy needs. That percentage is constantly slipping, and no new nuclear plants have been built in America in 30 years. America's energy demand continues to increase, and the US is the world's greatest contributor to global warming. If we are serious about combating global warming, we need to embrace nuclear energy.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

1 comment:

  1. Come on, Rod, get serious -- nuclear power is ridiculous. It's too risky (why take the risk of contamination on a mass scale if you don't have to) and too expensive (we still don't figure in the cost of waste disposal and decontamination because no one knows how to do it yet). The government has to push power companies to start replacing their power plants with renewable energy, or should go into the business itself. Even if we only replace 20 percent of the fossil fuel generating facilities, we'll rescue the economy and help the environment!