Sunday, May 8, 2005

The rising demand for new nuclear power plants

With the death of the oil age coming, there is a rising tide of pushing for nuclear power.

Blair demands nuclear power to protect high 'living standards' (By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent, The Independant of London, 09 May 2005)

Tony Blair has ruled out making changes to "living standards" to tackle global warming, and is drawing up plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions instead.

The Prime Minister has personally endorsed "keeping the nuclear option open" and is planning a government statement on a change of policy before the summer, in the face of opposition from cabinet ministers, including Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment. Mr Blair's decision to revive the nuclear agenda was revealed two weeks ago by The Independent which reported that Mr Blair's own strategy unit was working on it.

Hmm, the article places the cause as the need to tackle global warming and carbon dioxide emissions. The issue of power, its sourcing, and the side effects of generating power are multidimensional. To place the issue soley with the environment is, in my opinion, short sighted.

By sourcing I mean, where are you getting the fuel used to generate the electrical power? Is it coal, oil, natural gas, solar, hydroelectric, wind, or nuclear? Each of those sources has its consequences. For example, extracting coal means denuding whole landscapes, or it means black lung and mine collapses. Extracting oil or natural gas means occasional fuel spills, huge refineries, toxic chemicals, and so on. Oil also, increasingly, has to be bought from overseas becase both the U.S. and Britain are running out of domestic sources. This means an increasingly bad balance of trade, with ensuing economic and political problems.

The revival of nuclear power is bolstered by the Prime Minister's admission that he is opposed to asking people to make changes to their lifestyle - such as buying energy-efficient refrigerators or taking the Eurostar instead of flights to Europe - to reduce global warming. Mr Blair has said publicly there is no political will to force people to make lifestyle changes to less fuel-hungry cars or energy-efficient lightbulbs.

This is a shame. In truth, there are more efficient ways to live the lives we lead.

The concept is called "negawatts". This is electrical production that doesn't have to be built because the people use less electricity to do the same thing.

The simplest example is the energy-efficient lightbulbs mentioned.

I have been using compact flourescent bulbs for over 15 years. The price and compatibility have improved over that time, but the equation has remained the same. The purchase price is a lot higher than typical incandescant bulbs. However you win two ways, first the bulbs use 1/3rd of the electricity, and second the bulbs last a lot longer. Over the useful lifetime of these bulbs the cost is equivalent.

The output of light bulbs is measured in lumens. Lumens are lumens once they get outside the light bulb and fill the room with light. Where compact flourescents win, energy-wise, is that they use 1/3rd the wattage to produce the same number of lumens. Hence, you use less electricity to gain the same effect.

There are many examples where you can achieve the same effect using less electricity. Energy-efficient refridgerators, fuel-efficient cars, bicycling instead of driving a car, etc. For example, I'm typing this on a laptop computer, and the energy cost of laptop computers is far less than it is for a typical desktop. Additionally, LCD computer monitors use far less electricity than do CRT monitors.

The negawatt idea is very simple. One simply looks for ways to achieve the same effect while using less energy. The ways to do this is boundless, and has a far more beneficial impact on the environment than building more nuclear power plants would have.