Of course I'd prefer all our energy to come from clean, renewable, cost-efficient sources. Wouldn't we all? But guess what, we're not there yet. Consumers are not prepared to pay much more for clean energy so we'll have to wait until newer renewables (wind, tidal, solar..) and technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) are cost-competitive with older technologies (like traditional coal, nuclear...).
Until then, we have a hard choice to make: Do we go with a mix of technologies to meet our energy needs (and yes, that WILL require nuclear, no matter what Greenpeace and others tell you - but I'm open to debate on that!) or do we cut our consumption? I don't see the latter having much traction (though improvements in efficiency are making a big difference).... So my guess is nuclear will still stick around for some time.
And, judging by how long it will take to decommission San Onofre, looks like nuclear will stick around for a lot longer than we'll actually need it: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-san-onofre-nuclear-20130609,0,3498797.story
While I think nuclear is an amazing technology, mostly clean (in terms of emissions, not radioactive waste, of course) and somehow cost-effective (again, a tough claim as most externalities -such as dismantling costs of around USD 3 bn in this case- are never accounted for. Same goes for coal, by the way), its benefits come with some hard choices.
What will we do with the growing amount of nuclear waste? Can we insure that the waste will be dealt with correctly in the future?
Knowing all this, would you now be willing to pay more to make renewables more cost-competitive so as to bring much more clean capacity online, reducing the need for fossil and nuclear? And while some lucky, well-off people have this choice, is it fair to ask growing economies like India and China (which are both bringing lots of new nuclear capacity onto the grid) to forgo cheaper technologies like nuclear and fossil for the benefit of the environment and health? I would say investing in clean energy is worth it and actually works out as cheaper in the long-run, if we account for all externalities (coal subsidies, respiratory health costs due to fossil, etc etc etc). What do you think?
(Image courtesy of awnisALAN)
Category: Sustainable energy