My heartfelt condolences goes out to all those families have been affected by the tragic events that have unfolded recently in Japan.
In this post I am NOT taking lightly the nuclear problems ongoing in Japan. While conditions have not worsened, the situation is still very grave. I sincerely hope that conditions continue to stabilize and improve instead of deteriorating into what would be a truly nightmare scenario.
That being said, by no means can we simply write off nuclear energy as a source of power for the future. Even though what is going on now in Japan is awful and what took place at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl is also terrible, nuclear energy is vital to our energy supply today and tomorrow.
Citing the EDF Observor, 13.8% of the world’s total electricity production came from nuclear energy.
What would be the cost of replacing that with other fuels and where would those other fuel sources be found?
We are heavily dependent on the Middle East for our energy supply (along with Canada, Nigeria, and a handful of other countries) as it is. Our population continues to grow and our energy intake is rising. Concomitantly, demand from China and India is increasing exponentially (China, like Japan, is also heavily reliant on nuclear energy). Energy demand is very much increasing globally.
The idea of increasing our energy supply from fossil fuels to replace nuclear energy is much easier said than done. It would cause the price of gas, heating, electric, and many basic goods and services to jump many times higher than it is today (even if this transition was gradual and done over a multiple year span.
According to the IEA, the decline rate of production from existing oil fields is 6.7% per annum at the moment. This means that almost 35% of world oil production needs replacing over the next 5 years with either new fields or more wells in existing fields (or new technologies in existing fields)
China and India are scraping along to meet their energy needs. China has been extremely active in buying into foreign oil production sites and oil fields along with resorting to using desalinated water. India and China use coal-to-liquid technology to meet their oil needs.
The US EIA now says that US gas production will only grow by 0.8% per annum over the next 25 years. Nuclear energy is a vital, sustainable source of energy, but definitely one that comes with strings attached. Can we just shut out nuclear energy as a source of energy for the future? No chance – unless we want to pay $10 at the gallon, have our electric bills quadruple, and see our disposable income (the income we spend on whatever we want) shrink tremendously
The question then becomes, what price do we put on our “energy safety.” In other words, how much tolerance will we have for nuclear events like that in Japan or oil spills like that in the Gulf of Mexico? Are we willing to trade our quality of life for a nuclear accident every so often or an oil spill now and then?
Unfortunately we engage in this devil’s bargain whether we realize it or not. What we can do on an individual level is lessen our energy use as an individual. (GE’s website has many simple tips on reducing daily electricity expense.) Now, I am not talking about planting trees every other day, but I am talking about making sure you unplug electronics, not cranking up the AC in the summer and the heat in the winter (keep it cool in the winter and warm in the summer), and opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator. (Or walking instead of driving)
More importantly, what I am talking about is informing oneself of how much unnecessary energy we consume each day. One person will not change the world’s energy security and you may be thinking so what if I leave the lights on, big flipping deal.
Let me respond to that thought by writing a small story I once read (I don’t remember where but it was NOT me who created this story):
A young girl sitting on a beach noticed another boy in the distance continually bending down and throwing something in the ocean. When the boy approached she saw that the boy was throwing starfish back in the water that had been washed up from the tide so that they survive. The girl noticed that these starfish littered the beach – they were everywhere. The girl, noticing the boy was sweating and breathing heavily, remarked:
“There are thousands of starfish on this beach! You can’t possibly make a difference to all these starfish that cover the many miles of this beach.”
The boy, hesitating at first, bent down and picked up a starfish next to his feet and threw it in the ocean and responded: Maybe, but sure made a difference to that one!