Saturday, March 04, 2006

Nuclear vs Renewable

Even as President Bush inked a historic nuclear deal with India, I received an e-mail from the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think-tank, arguing that the deal was reckless on every score. In the past, I have read with some interest reports put out by the Worldwatch folks, but possibly because of self-interest, I read this e-mail a lot more critically and found it replete with flawed logic and lies. (As an aside, every person should read the 1954 classic book 'How to Lie With Statistics').

Here is just one instance of this:

Globally, the nuclear construction business has been in decline for more than two decades. Worldwide, nuclear power is growing at an average rate of less than 1 percent per year. By contrast, renewable energy--wind, solar, and biofuels--is on a growth surge, averaging annual expansion rates of 25-35 percent, as President Bush noted enthusiastically in speeches in Colorado and Michigan last week. Total investment in the world's renewable energy sector reached $30 billion in 2004, according to the 'Renewables 2005: Global Status Report'.

Well yes, it helps to have a really small number to grow a lot. Nuclear power supplies an estimated 8% of the world's energy needs, 27 quadrillion BTU, according to the US Department of Energy. Geothermal, wind, biomass and solar and other sources supplied about 6 quadrillion BTU. In the US, nuclear power supplies about 8 quadrillion BTU per year, while biomass under 3 quadrillion BTU, and solar and wind about 0.1 quadrillion BTU or less. And let's not forget the pressures put upon the nuclear industry that have essentially killed the industry.

Look, I'm a environmental engineer and a bit of a tree-hugger myself, but we cannot hope that biofuels and solar and wind sources are going to come close to tackling our energy needs in the near future. Nuclear is an option, one that produces low emissions and can be safe with adequate safeguards, and we need to embrace it, rather than have think-tanks scare people with snake oil science!

No comments: