Among many environmentalists and politicians, even some who ought to know better, it\’s been an axiom that we need nuclear power, because coal is so dirty and toxic and contributes so heavily to climate heating.
Unfortunately, nuclear is also dirty and toxic, as well as extremely dangerous. And despite its claims, it\’s far from carbon-neutral when you look at the whole fuel cycle. Those who looked closely, long before the tsunami wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi six-reactor complex, have been opposing nuclear power for decades.
Here are just a few of the many severe problems with reliance on nuclear:
- If a plant has a major problem, and has to be removed from service permanently, it causes disruption in the energy systems of the communities that depend on it, because a lot of power generation is taken off the grid at once—and sinks enormous amounts of unrecoverable capital. In the case of Daiichi, most of those reactors can never be used again.
- The consequences of failure can be extremely severe (ask the people who used to live near Chernobyl, where a large swath of land remains uninhabitable after 25 years)—and the risk factors are numerous: not just earthquakes, tsunamis hurricanes, and terrorism, but also component failure, and the lovely little thing called \”human error\” (both of which were factors in Japan, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island).
- Over the entire fuel cycle, starting with mining uranium and ending with attempting to find a solution for safe storage of nuclear waste, the process requires enormous energy inputs and excretes carbon, so the actual gains in usable power and greenhouse gas reduction are very tiny, if they exist at all. One study I’ve seen, by John J. Berger, states that from 1960-76, the nuclear power “generation” industry actually consumed five times as much power as it generated. I cited this study in my first book, Nuclear Lessons, published all the way back in 1980. For this, we\’re risking our future?
- And don’t forget: there is no permanent solution to storage of radioactive waste, requiring isolation from the environment for up to a quarter of a million years. Considering that the oldest objects passed down to us are only about 40,000 years old, and that no human language has been around for even 5000 years, I have serious doubts about this.
OK, so what about coal?
- Just in the U.S., 104,722 coal mine workers were killed on the job in the past 110 years, an average of 952 deaths per year. In China, 2,433 miners were killed in 2010 alone.
- Much more sobering: in these two countries combined, a shocking 530,000 people reportedly die every year from coal-pollution-related diseases. Extrapolating worldwide, that means coal is responsible for millions of deaths per year. Clearly not sustainable.
What, then, is the solution to our energy needs? It lies in the arms of good old Mother Nature.
Clean, renewable, non-destructive energy sources like solar, hydro, geothermal, wind, and even exotic sources like molecular or magnetic power can generate enough power so we can dispense with both coal and nuclear (as well as other polluting, greenhouse-gas-generating fuels like wood, which are renewable but not sustainable).
But in order to do so, we need to rethink the way we do energy. I propose three basic principles:
- Energy should be generated close to or at the place where it will be used, to minimize friction and transmission losses.
- Small-scale systems cause much fewer negative environmental consequences than large ones (for instance, in-river hydro that lets the water keep flowing is far more environmentally benign than large dams).
- \”Negawatts\” and \”negabarrels\”—the energy we save by increasing our energy efficiency—can account for reductions of 50 percent or more in our energy needs.
So…how can we Green And Profitable entrepreneurs move this rethinking forward? For starters, we can make sure we\’ve had recent energy audits at our businesses and homes, and have implemented many of the suggestions. We can look at ways to conserve, and to use locally generated clean, renewable power. And we can create social pressure through our trade associations, our customer networks, and our purchasing to move away from every kind of unsustainable power source to the sustainable ones.
Shel Horowitz, shel at greenandprofitable.com, shows you how to “reach green, socially conscious consumers with marketing that has THEM calling YOU.” He writes the Green And Profitable column and is the primary author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green (John Wiley & Sons, 2010).