Lesser of Two Evils?

Coal and nuclear power provide the vast majority of our electricity. Coal brings environmental and health hazards with it every step of the way, from mine to smoke stack. Nuclear energy, with all of its benefits, comes with its own risks (as ill-perceived as they may be). So which is the least bad solution? Seed magazine asked a panel of experts and came up with this interesting quorum. [%comments]

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  1. Gary says:

    I really hadn’t expected the experts to respond so favorably towards coal. That said, I think the risks with regard to nuclear power are way way overblown.

    I think Benjamin Sovacool really nailed it though. Energy is scarce, and we’ve been through this with oil. When oil became scarce, we used less of it, and got more out of what we used. We need to do the same with electricity. More efficient computers, TVs, appliances, and better building design could go a long way towards reducing our demand for dirty electricity, and buy us some time to replace the dirty electricity with cleaner sources.

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  2. bc says:

    We need to get away from a one-size-fits-all mentality and have multiple solutions. Those who think wind will never meet the bulk of the demand have never visited the plains states. We need to expand this conversation to include the costs (financial, environmental) of transmission and fuel transportation. Perhaps we shouldn’t be shipping coal across the country to be burned when nuclear would be more sensible. We most certainly should avoid constructing nuclear plants in southern CA, when they have ample sun to take advantage of solar. Let’s stop trying to force an either/or solution, when it really needs to be an all/by region solution.

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  3. doug says:

    I vote Nuclear.

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  4. paulwesterberg says:

    The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.

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  5. paulwesterberg says:

    Why must we choose evil? Energy generation is not like some bizarre form of pseudo-democracy where there are only two choices.

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  6. Logan says:

    My problem with nuclear isn’t with the hazardous waste (although that doesn’t help). Rather, it’s two things:

    1. Like coal, it depends on a rare, finite, and expensive fuel which must be mined and refined (an additional environmental cost, often overlooked) and which is subject to shifting markets and costs.

    2. It’s extremely expensive. Show me a nuclear plant that came in ahead of schedule and under budget and I’ll show you a polka-dotted flying elephant. A quick look at all the lawsuits from the 80′s related to canceled nuclear plants will show you why investors are loath to spend money on them without ridiculous government subsidies and guarantees. Just look at this current debacle in Finland: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/business/energy-environment/29nuke.html

    Do we really want OUR country to be the one dealing with those kinds of headaches? I don’t. Wind and solar are simple, relatively MUCH cleaner, and can be built quickly. It’ s just a matter of building enough of it.

    Plus, nobody ever mentions the #1 cheapest source of energy: EFFICIENCY. I guess turning off the lights just isn’t as sexy as a gleaming new industrial eyesore.

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  7. Johnny E says:

    If you want to flatten W. Virginia and displace all the people, pollute their streams, and eat mercury-laden fish, opt for coal. Where do they dump all the ash? Human-caused global warming is real and will cause problems for future humans.

    If you trust everybody opt for nukular. I knew a guy who worked security for the construction of a nuclear plant and he was worried. The corruption and shoddy workmanship of the contractors forced them to close the plant before it was brought online. Scientists back in the 70′s were already warning about terrorists crashing planes into nuclear power plants. We still haven’t solved the waste problem politically or technically. Cooling water is becoming less available because of drought and other uses. All human made devices eventually fail. The only benefit is lack of greenhouse gases and doesn’t require massive amounts of fuel.

    Putting solar collectors on every building would distribute the production without requiring major upgrades to the grid. The income generated could fund the scaling-up of the program. The titans of industry wouldn’t get their mega-profits from the distributed approach, however. Having numerous wind turbines is little different than having radio towers and power lines across the landscape. If enough were built they would be reliable enough because power can be moved to where the wind is light.

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  8. econobiker says:

    Johnny E, wrote” Putting solar collectors on every building would distribute the production without requiring major upgrades to the grid. The income generated could fund the scaling-up of the program. The titans of industry wouldn’t get their mega-profits from the distributed approach, however.”

    And that in is the rub, who controls the profits. Each time I few into a hot, sweltering Dallas, TX I could not but notice the hundreds of dark roofed houses just sucking up sunlight and requiring HVAC cooling especially at the worst times of the day. If someone could “mine” roofs for the solar sunlight and control the output then it could be done.

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