Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Running Debate on Nuclear Energy

Janet BurganWe suppose you could call it a running debate:

Stating that the country's atomic energy program is self-sufficient in terms of human resources, advisor to Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Prof MGK Menon on Monday said, "In the past two decades, the country has successfully been able to generate trained people to carry out nuclear energy programs on its own."

Menon goes further:

Menon, a former ISRO chairman, said, "We need nuclear energy because it is a source that does not leave carbon footprint. The development of the country rests upon nuclear energy and hence we need it in abundance."

But do we need it? Switzerland has studies:

Over the past few months, a group of researchers at the Energy Science Center (ESC) of ETH Zurich have carried out an intensive examination of whether the available options will enable Switzerland to scope out a medium-term energy future without nuclear power, as decided by the Swiss Federal Council in May. Their answer was yes.

Well, okay. How?

If the remaining 40 TWh [not supplied by hydro, which is tapped] is to be provided without nuclear energy, this will need a major expansion in new renewable energy sources, mainly photovoltaic, followed by the localized utilization of biomass and finally geothermal energy.

That sounds a little – implausible.

According to the ETH Zurich researchers, flexible gas-fired power stations or electricity imports will be indispensable to cover demand peaks, at least in the short term.

Ah, there we go. Maybe they can import it from France. If this sounds as though the ESC is struggling a bit, just wait:

[F]oreseeable technological development should enable, from 2020 to 2025 onwards, the construction of combined gas-fired power stations in which the CO2 produced can be captured and stored.

Or not. Do read the whole thing, though, for the full perspective. Energy efficiency will also play a big part.

Or ESC could just look next door, at Germany:

The upshot [of keeping eight nuclear facilities closed]: so far, Germany has lost about 10 percent of its power-generation capacity, officials said.

But surely things will improve:

The phase-out was hasty, some say. And by some measures, it has backfired. Despite extensive support for renewable energy, Germany is now producing more carbon emissions. At a time when its economy is already slowing down, businesses are bracing for brown-outs and higher energy prices.

Perhaps Germany can right the energy boat with some imports from France.

I guess one could say that tough decisions lead to tough choices. But let’s let the debate play out:

Helen Caldicott, M.D., will speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 10 on “Lessons from Fukushima: What role should nuclear energy and natural gas extraction play in our energy future?” The free event, which begins with a concert by recording artist Janet Burgan at 6:30 p.m., will be held in Binghamton University’s Mandela room in the Student Union.

I’m sure Dr. Caldicott will find some kind of a place for nuclear energy and natural gas extraction, don’t you? But at least Ms. Burgan, whose tune “No Fracking Way” is catchy if over-earnest, will provide a little leavening to the dough.

Janet Burgan. From No Fracking Way: “Landsmen came to me one day; No,no, no fracking way; Want to lease my land for pay; No, no, no fracking way; What about the waterway?; No, no, no fracking way; Where our brother fishes play; No, no, no fracking way.” Ms. Burgan’s work doesn’t seem as committed as this generally, though there are titles such as Range War and Trouble in the Fields in her songbook. We looked for a nuclear-themed song by her, but came up dry.

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