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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The nuclear option: Safety concerns are only one big reason wind and solar better

From a commentary by Mark Z. Jacobson in the New York Daily News:

The powerful earthquake and tsunami that caused reactors at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant to shut down - releasing radiation and endangering workers and evacuees - have many Americans asking whether nuclear energy is worth the investment and risk.

I say not. In fact, it should not have taken a disaster of this kind to move us decisively away from nuclear and toward safe, clean, renewable energy. . . .

If the world's energy needs were converted to electricity for all purposes - and nuclear supplied such energy - 15,800 large nuclear reactors, one installed every day for the next 43 years, would be needed. The installation of even 5% of these would nearly double the current number of reactors, giving many more countries the potential to develop weapons. If only one weapon were used in a city, it could kill 1 to 16 million people.

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Why do we need nuclear energy when we have safer, cleaner options that can provide greater power for a much longer period and at lower cost to society? These better options are called WWS, for "wind, water and sunlight." The chance of catastrophe caused by nature or terrorists acting on wind or solar, in particular, is zero.

During their lifetimes, WWS technologies emit no pollution - whereas nuclear does, since continuous energy is needed to mine, transport and refine uranium and reactors require much longer to permit and install than do WWS technologies. Overall, nuclear emits 9 to 25 times more air pollution and carbon dioxide than does wind per unit energy generated.

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Some argue that nuclear is more reliable than WWS systems. This is not true. A nuclear reactor affects a larger fraction of the grid when it fails than does a wind turbine. The average maintenance downtime of modern wind turbines on land is 2%. That of France's 59 reactors is 21.5%, with about half due to scheduled maintenance.

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