The thing about energy is that so few people know how it actually is made. The disaster in Japan has brought to the forefront a reconsideration of Nuclear energy. What people are missing in all this is that the Japanese government chose to swing into action on the emergency before the emergency occurred. That has some people off balance because we are not used to governments acting pre-emptively towards protecting their citizens.
Nuclear energy is not the best choice for a renewable energy source. For all its brownie points as far as being safe in its production, it has huge negative aspects when you consider its potential for harm and its waste product that no one yet has figured out what to do with to get it gone.
But when you look at the other alternatives, they come with their own sets of plusses and minuses. Coal, oil and gas are acquired disruptively, have some of the highest death rates in the energy industry and produce pollutants. Wind and solar seem wonderful but a) aren’t reasonable sources of energy for most geographies and b) have a huge detrimental ecological impact. Solar produces a waste product (solar panels) that most people are unaware are taken out of service after 7 years and no one has figured out a way to recycle the panels yet. So we have growing piles of them.
All these sources of energy eventually funnel down to plants that use turbines. Turbines are extremely large, hazardous things that when they blow – are capable of taking out whole towns.
The thing is, with all these sources of energy, we have never really thought through their implementation or effect. We just sort of rush into the “next best thing” usually based on some faulty data and mostly based on emotional decision-making. We form our energy policies in reaction to disasters rather than formulate them when there is time to think it through.
France gets 3/4s of all its electricity from nuclear sources. Germany is a close second and America, in recent years, started moving towards reopening the business of building plants.
Alternative energy development is typically limited by NIMBY (not in my back yard) thinking. Infact, just that we use the term “alternative” should tell you how seriously we take looking into other sources of energy. A part of this also stems from the fact that any source of energy would have to be able to step in immediately to prevent a disruption to the existing sources and new technology just doesn’t work that way.
Few companies and governments are inclined to invest in alternate energy sources because the public is so fickle and prone to throw the baby out with the bathwater in an instant.
I mean, for god’s sake, the CFL switch is being undermined by personal preference and cries that the bulbs are ugly. That is not solid thinking on energy matters. Everyone is craving all these little gadgets to “make our lives easier” and not giving a thought to what becomes of the old ones and their batteries.
Hybrid cars aren’t selling well because of the myth that they lack power or look funny. Oddly enough, small cars, like the smart car are being adopted as energy efficient when in fact they get abysmal gas mileage.
Solid thinking on energy starts in the home and workplace. How do we use our resources? What are the expectations we have of our power supplies? If we learn by looking at our own models in our own lives, we can spin our thinking outward to cities, towns and countries.
A nuclear plants equivalent in our homes lies in our appliances. They are great and convenient but should they blow, boy do they go and we have yet to find a way to really dispose of the old ones. Which of your appliances would you chose to do without, or with a different model that may be less efficient (but safer in the event of a disaster)? And which of our humming and gurgling appliances really has the data behind it to prove that it does not adversely effect our bodies? We keep our food chilled in mechanical and chemical cases. We cook by irradiating or exposing food to fumes and heat.
What we need is not a discussion that is focused on the ills of the nuclear industry, but a discussion that begins to examine the ills we have accepted as bearable as a society. Why do we need SUVs and Minivans when just a few decades ago, parents were transporting more kinds in smaller vehicles and it was just fine?
Why do we penalize people who live in urban areas and choose not to own personal cars as somehow suspect or untrustworthy? Just look at your local personal ads and you will see that many will say, “must own a car.” Why?
People want energy sources that are 100% infallible and that is not possible. Nothing in this world is 100% safe. Engineering can project stressors on a system but we cannot simulate them to a 100% degree of accuracy to guarantee our plans will work “in the event of.”
Perhaps the best approach to resolving our energy crisis safely is to not look for ways that allow us to keep expanding our usage, but to learn how to use what we have to the maximum of its efficiency.
Solar farms would be great for some areas. Wind farms for others. A Hydro-electric plant here, a nuclear reactor there – place the technology where there is the least chance of disaster that could effect it and stop trying to force it into an all-or-nothing plan. But it is this all-or-nothing mindset, coupled with reactionary rhetoric that creates the most unstable part of any energy plan – us.