Those who know me likely consider me somewhat contentious and argumentative. I enjoy arguments. Not knock down screaming matches, but debate over various sides of an issue. I also like to agree with people and in particular I like to find areas of agreement with people I generally disagree with on most issues.
The Obama administration, even with this week’s scare in Japan, have been supporters of nuclear energy. Me too. Sort of.
Nuclear energy is, in my opinion, the best of a number of not very good choices.
Coal, even supposed clean coal, comes with a number of negative issues. Topping the list is that all coal is very pollution heavy. There is no way around it that anyone has yet found. As one elected official said earlier this week, “We’re working on lowering the carbon in coal and once we do that it will be almost pollution free.” No, air is completely pollution free. Obtaining coal is costly in human lives and in environmental damage. Over 20 times as many people have been harmed by coal, per kilowatt hour, than by Nuclear world-wide. Coal is also a very limited resource.
Oil can be cleaner than coal. Well, except perhaps when you include oil spills. Oil is also a limited resource and there are some growing concerns about the unknown impact of emptying the earth of its oil. One of my biggest concerns with oil though is that it is money that flows out of our economy at a rapid rate and more concerning, is that this money is used to fund terrorists who are fighting against us.
Hydro-Electric dams have caused a number of environmental problems along the rivers we’ve built them on and even if we could get around that we simply do not have enough rivers to provide even a minute amount of the energy that we use.
Wind and Solar. Economically these are not yet ready for prime time. The cost to manufacture, purchase land, install, and maintain these systems is massively greater than the costs of other alternatives. And even with these there are a host of concerns from ugliness (Ted Kennedy certainly didn’t want them anywhere near his properties) to the vast amount of space they take up. These are also not free of environmental impact concerns including the impact of reducing the earth’s natural heat absorption, interfering with natural and necessary wind patterns (as large windfarms do), and impacts on plants and animals.
Check out this from the University of St Andrews
Newer technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells are still too far off in the future.
We should continue to explore all of these and other alternatives to find more efficient ways of meeting our energy needs and with less environmental impact. And perhaps more importantly, we need to explore ways to reduce our energy consumption and encourage everyone from neighbors to industry to consumer less. By some estimates as much as 20% of our energy use is completely wasteful.
Realistically though I’m not holding out hope of seeing massive decreases in our energy consumption or of any huge breakthroughs in energy generation.
Nuclear has a number of major problems from what to do with spent fuel rods to inevitable nuclear disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Japan, and the certainty of others in the future. It’s not perfect, but may well be the best of a lot of not very good options.