The Answer to Climate Change Is Renewable Energy, Not Nuclear Power  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Huffington Post has an article on the pros and cons of nuclear power vs renewable energy - The Answer to Climate Change Is Renewable Energy, Not Nuclear Power.

There are a number of reasons that nuclear power is a bad solution to the climate crisis. The first is that the technology is really not available. Nuclear power plants are capital-intensive, technologically complex to manage, and difficult, if not impossible, to site. These are not minor issues. Investors would rather put their money elsewhere and communities intensely resist siting a plant in their backyard.

This means that even though we know how to generate electricity this way, and we have many decades of experience doing it, in the U.S. these plants will never be built in sufficient quantity to reduce global warming. In other parts of the world, we might pay attention to the lessons we should be learning in Iran. There is a thin line between the technology of nuclear power generation and the technology of nuclear bomb development. While it's too late to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, let's stop pretending that human political systems or organizational processes can manage the risks of this technology.

There are other issues associated with current nuclear technologies that render them problematic as well. The toxicity of its fuel and waste, for example, should not be ignored. Catastrophic accidents may be rare, but when they occur, their impact is intense and long-lasting. While a well-managed plant poses little real danger, it is difficult to judge the danger posed by a poorly managed one. One also cannot dismiss the possibility of sabotage. Terrorists taking over a plant and threatening to allow an accident to occur could hold a city hostage.

Electric utilities, like water and sewage utilities, are natural monopolies that require government regulation. The investment in infrastructure to generate and transmit electricity is so massive that it makes little sense to allow more than one system per city. This investment in infrastructure and equipment reinforces the tendency of electric utilities to be highly centralized, vertically integrated organizations. These utilities tend to be rigid, unimaginative and monopolistic. While most other elements of our economy have moved into decentralized networks of organizations, the energy sector remains highly centralized. This is true of oil companies as well as electric utilities. These organizations outsource, but they are far less network-dependent than many other private organizations. It should not surprise us if the energy sector is insular and resists innovation. Instead of embracing renewable energy, many, though not all, are fighting it.

Renewable energy could change the energy business. While some large-scale organizations will always be part of the energy industry, we are seeing the start of decentralized, distributed generation of energy. Although the conventional wisdom tells us that solar power, battery technology, and smart grids are far in the future, we are only a breakthrough or two away from a new age of decentralized energy technology. While none of us can predict the future, and technological breakthroughs cannot be assumed, the risk of nuclear power is not difficult to predict.

The price of solar energy continues to come down, as the number of solar cells continues to grow. Breakthroughs in nanotechnology have the potential to shrink the size of these cells, making it possible to imagine smaller, more inexpensive installations of solar arrays. While some of the discussion of solar technology imagines utility-scale centralized power stations, my own view is that improved solar cells coupled with improved battery technology makes it possible to imagine a far more decentralized approach to energy generation

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