Seed Magazine has an interesting set of articles that roost under the title: The Lesser Evil: Nuclear or Coal? Well, you have to give a magazine room to gin up its content. Gwyneth Cravens, author of the Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy, offers an entry:
Wind and solar are too diffuse and intermittent to provide baseload, and they require backup, mainly from fossil fuels. Nuclear has about the same carbon footprint as wind but is astronomically more compact and efficient and operates at 90 percent capacity (coal: 53 percent capacity; wind: 34 percent). Nuclear waste is therefore tiny in volume. The world’s entire annual inventory could fit in one large townhouse. Nuclear waste recycling, done abroad, drastically reduces volume, radioactivity, and the need for long-term disposal. Civilian nuclear plants have never produced atomic bombs.
That doesn’t sound like a lesser evil, that sounds like a good. We admit that, just as Cravens can make us purr like kittens because she says nice and true things about nuclear energy, so can others put us in a hissy-spitty mood. This is not entirely fair on our part. For example, from a certain perspective, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Benjamin Sovacool’s piece – he’s an American working at the University of Singapore – but we think his argument is a recipe for not doing anything very effective.
There is no devil’s choice between nuclear power plants and coal-fired facilities because both are Faustian bargains. A broad assortment of other options, ranging from energy efficiency to renewable resources such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass, can more effectively respond to the energy challenges facing the United States. By far the cheapest, cleanest, and quickest strategy to meet America’s growing demand for electricity is energy efficiency and demand-side management.
We like energy efficiency fine, but to make it work as a primary method requires a series of mandates that could rapidly become oppressive. In conjunction with a rich source of baseload electricity like, oh say, nuclear, energy efficiency is more easily promoted as a social good than an enforcement procedure. But see - that’s just us. Sovacool’s piece seems more idealistic than practical, what with throwing nuclear and coal overboard, but that’s actually an appealing stance, just not a promise of a very appealing outcome.
Also contributing: K.J. Reddy from the University of Wyoming (pro clean coal). Victor Rudolph from the University of Queensland (also pro clean coal); and Edwin Lyman from the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program (three guesses). Have a gander.
Gwyneth Cravens. Should you ever have a professional portrait done, this would be a pretty ideal approach, even if you look like Ingmar Bergman’s about to put you through an emotional wringer.