At the same time, the access and price of electricity for the most vulnerable of the world need to be kept at a level compatible with the overall reduction of poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Our obligation to future generations is to address these challenges of energy security and sustainability today. Therefore, we need to advance on many fronts: policy design and implementation, effective regulation, full recognition of the negative impact of carbon emissions, and ensuring the security of supply.
Clearly, the development and commercial deployment of low carbon or carbon-free energy sources are essential prerequisites for the achievement of sustainable energy policies. Nuclear energy should be a part of such a better future; but only if we can reconcile its development with social and environmental concerns. Cleaner, carbon-free sources will also help to respond to growing energy demand.
Nuclear energy has the potential to meet a significant part of future demand, while reducing tensions on hydrocarbon markets and alleviating the risk of global climate change. However, the management of radioactive waste is an important concern for governments and society at large.
The volume of waste is small but its radio toxicity is high. Making progress towards the construction, commissioning and operation of repositories for all types of radioactive waste should fully address this concern, and in a manner that enhances public confidence. In the nuclear domain, the role of governments goes beyond setting national energy goals. Governments should work together with private stakeholders to enhance the effectiveness of regulatory regimes and to ensure that the nuclear industry keeps safety and environmental protection as its highest priority.
Today, compared to other sources of base-load electricity, notably coal and gas, nuclear-generated electricity is very competitive in most countries. In their efforts to mitigate the economic and social consequences of the present economic crisis, governments may rely on nuclear energy to enhance the competitiveness of domestic industries and underpin economic growth. Financing nuclear plants and fuel cycle facilities is, however, an issue.
The current generation of reactors is very capital intensive and takes a long time to build.
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This involves risks which may be difficult for private investors to accept. The current crisis is adding to the challenge of financing the nuclear power industry, as well as wind and solar projects. However, the financing of carbon-free energy facilities will bring along opportunities to create new businesses, new industries and millions of new jobs. Governments can facilitate investments in the sector by ensuring a stable regulatory regime and avoiding undue licensing delays.
Furthermore, specific measures, such as loan guarantees, public-private partnerships and other innovative means to finance nuclear facilities and to mitigate risks for developers of new technology, should also be explored. Currently identified uranium resources are sufficient to fuel nuclear power plants for many decades, while production capacities are distributed in a broad range of countries.
In addition, strategic stocks could be accumulated easily and at low cost. Hungary and South Africa are also exploring uranium extraction from coal fly ash.
Nuclear Power and the Energy Crisis: Politics and the Atomic Industry by Duncan Burn
There have been three large-scale accidents involving nuclear power reactors since the onset of commercial nuclear power in the mids: Three-Mile Island in Pennsylvania, Chernobyl in Ukraine, and Fukushima in Japan. The partial meltdown of the Three-Mile Island reactor in March , while a disaster for the owners of the Pennsylvania plant, released only a minimal quantity of radiation to the surrounding population. According to the U. Nuclear Regulatory Commission :. The explosion and subsequent burnout of a large graphite-moderated, water-cooled reactor at Chernobyl in was easily the worst nuclear accident in history.
Twenty-nine disaster relief workers died of acute radiation exposure in the immediate aftermath of the accident.
In the subsequent three decades, UNSCEAR — the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, composed of senior scientists from 27 member states — has observed and reported at regular intervals on the health effects of the Chernobyl accident. It has identified no long-term health consequences to populations exposed to Chernobyl fallout except for thyroid cancers in residents of Belarus, Ukraine and western Russia who were children or adolescents at the time of the accident, who drank milk contaminated with iodine, and who were not evacuated.
The occurrence of these cancers increased dramatically from to , which researchers attributed mostly to radiation exposure. No increase occurred in adults. Pacific Gas and Electric. A full-body CT scan delivers about mSv. The statistics of Chernobyl irradiations cited here are so low that they must seem intentionally minimized to those who followed the extensive media coverage of the accident and its aftermath. Yet they are the peer-reviewed products of extensive investigation by an international scientific agency of the United Nations.
They indicate that even the worst possible accident at a nuclear power plant — the complete meltdown and burnup of its radioactive fuel — was yet far less destructive than other major industrial accidents across the past century.
Nuclear power in the UK – a history
To name only two: Bhopal, in India, where at least 3, people died immediately and many thousands more were sickened when 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant; and Henan Province, in China, where at least 26, people drowned following the failure of a major hydroelectric dam in a typhoon.
For example, the Chernobyl rate is nine times lower than the death rate from liquefied gas… and 47 times lower than from hydroelectric stations. The accident in Japan at Fukushima Daiichi in March followed a major earthquake and tsunami. The tsunami flooded out the power supply and cooling systems of three power reactors, causing them to melt down and explode, breaching their confinement. Although , Japanese citizens were evacuated from a mile exclusion zone around the power station, radiation exposure beyond the station grounds was limited. Nuclear waste disposal, although a continuing political problem in the U.
Like most things electronic, solar power has been getting cheaper.
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Tomorrow, he says, it will make sense for almost everyone. Martin Roscheisen, CEO of a company called Nanosolar, sees that future in a set of red-topped vials, filled with tiny particles of semiconductor. He won't say exactly what the particles are, but the "nano" in the company name is a hint: They are less than a hundred nanometers across—about the size of a virus, and so small they slip right through skin.
Roscheisen believes those particles promise a low-cost way to create solar cells. Instead of making the cells from slabs of silicon, his company will paint the particles onto a foil-like material, where they will self-assemble to create a semiconductor surface. The result: a flexible solar-cell material 50 times thinner than today's solar panels.
Roscheisen hopes to sell it in sheets, for about 50 cents a watt. At that price solar could compete with utilities and might take off. If prices continued to drop, solar cells might change the whole idea of energy by making it cheap and easy for individuals to gather for themselves.
That's what techies call a "disruptive technology. We believe solar electric systems will be disruptive to the energy industry. Yet price isn't the only hurdle solar faces. There are the small matters of clouds and darkness, which call for better ways of storing energy than the bulky lead-acid batteries in my system. But even if those hurdles are overcome, can solar really make the big energy we need? With solar now providing less than one percent of the world's energy, that would take "a massive but not insurmountable scale-up," NYU's Hoffert and his colleagues said in an article in Science.
At present levels of efficiency, it would take about 10, square miles 25, square kilometers of solar panels—an area bigger than Vermont—to satisfy all of the United States' electricity needs. But the land requirement sounds more daunting than it is: Open country wouldn't have to be covered. All those panels could fit on less than a quarter of the roof and pavement space in cities and suburbs.
Wind, ultimately driven by sun-warmed air, is just another way of collecting solar energy, but it works on cloudy days. One afternoon I stood in a field near Denmark's west coast under a sky so dark and heavy it would have put my own solar panels into a coma. But right above me clean power was being cranked out by the megawatt. A blade longer than an airplane wing turned slowly in a strong south breeze. It was a wind turbine. The turbine's lazy sweep was misleading. Each time one of the three foot meter blades swung past, it hissed as it sliced the air. Tip speed can be well over miles kilometers an hour.
This single tower was capable of producing two megawatts, almost half the entire output of the Leipzig solar farm. In Denmark, turning blades are always on the horizon, in small or large groups, like spokes of wheels rolling toward a strange new world. Denmark's total installed wind power is now more than 3, megawatts—about 20 percent of the nation's electrical needs. All over Europe generous incentives designed to reduce carbon emissions and wean economies from oil and coal have led to a wind boom.
The continent leads the world in wind power, with almost 35, megawatts, equivalent to 35 large coal-fired power plants. North America, even though it has huge potential for wind energy, remains a distant second, with just over 7, megawatts. With the exception of hydroelectric power—which has been driving machines for centuries but has little room to grow in developed countries—wind is currently the biggest success story in renewable energy.
He's director of project development for a Danish energy company called Elsam. He means not only the number of turbines but also their sheer size. In Germany I saw a fiberglass-and-steel prototype that stands feet meters tall, has blades feet 61 meters long, and can generate five megawatts. It's not just a monument to engineering but also an effort to overcome some new obstacles to wind power development.
One is aesthetic. England's Lake District is a spectacular landscape of bracken-clad hills and secluded valleys, mostly protected as a national park. But on a ridge just outside the park, though not outside the magnificence, 27 towers are planned, each as big as the two-megawatt machine in Denmark. Many locals are protesting.
Danes seem to like turbines more than the British, perhaps because many Danish turbines belong to cooperatives of local residents. It's harder to say "not in my backyard" if the thing in your backyard helps pay for your house. But environmental opposition is not the only trouble facing wind development. Across Europe many of the windiest sites are already occupied. So the five-megawatt German machine is designed to help take wind power away from the scenery and out to abundant new sites at sea. Many coastlines have broad areas of shallow continental shelf where the wind blows more steadily than on land and where, as one wind expert puts it, "the seagulls don't vote.
It costs more to build and maintain turbines offshore than on land, but an underwater foundation for a five-megawatt tower is cheaper per megawatt than a smaller foundation. Hence the German giant. There are other challenges. Like sailboats, wind turbines can be calmed for days.
To keep the grid humming, other sources, such as coal-fired power plants, have to stand ready to take up the slack. But when a strong wind dumps power into the grid, the other generators have to be turned down, and plants that burn fuel are not quickly adjustable.
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A wind-power bonanza can become a glut. Denmark, for example, is sometimes forced to unload power at uneconomic rates to neighbors like Norway and Germany. What's needed for wind as well as solar is a way to store a large energy surplus. Technology already exists to turn it into fuels such as hydrogen or ethanol or harness it to compress air or spin flywheels, banking energy that can later churn out electricity.
But most systems are still decades from becoming economically feasible. On the plus side, both wind and solar can provide what's called distributed energy: They can make power on a small scale near the user. You can't have a private coal plant, but you can have your own windmill, with batteries for calm days. The more houses or communities make their own wind power, the smaller and cheaper central power plants and transmission lines can be.
In Europe's big push toward wind power, the turbines keep growing. But in Flagstaff, Arizona, Southwest Windpower makes turbines with blades you can pick up in one hand. The company has sold about 60, of the little turbines, most of them for off-grid homes, sailboats, and remote sites like lighthouses and weather stations. At watts apiece they can't power more than a few lights. But David Galley, Southwest's president, whose father built his first wind turbine out of washing machine parts, is testing a new product he calls an energy appliance.
It will stand on a tower as tall as a telephone pole, produce up to two kilowatts in a moderate wind, and come with all the electronics needed to plug it into the house. Many U. Except for the heavy loads of heating and air-conditioning, this setup could reduce a home's annual power bill to near zero. In Germany, driving from the giant wind turbine near Hamburg to Berlin, I regularly got an odd whiff: the sort-of-appetizing scent of fast food.
It was a puzzle until a tanker truck passed, emblazoned with the word "biodiesel. Germany uses about million gallons 1. Biomass energy has ancient roots. The logs in your fire are biomass. But today biomass means ethanol, biogas, and biodiesel—fuels as easy to burn as oil or gas, but made from plants. These technologies are proven. Ethanol produced from corn goes into gasoline blends in the U. In the U. What limits biomass is land. Photosynthesis, the process that captures the sun's energy in plants, is far less efficient per square foot than solar panels, so catching energy in plants gobbles up even more land.
Estimates suggest that powering all the world's vehicles with biofuels would mean doubling the amount of land devoted to farming.