Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “nuclear power plants”

Want Water, Get Nuclear – Roger Ingalls

We can debate the dangers and virtues of nuclear power but its proliferation is inevitable. Pro and con arguments are irrelevant. One basic human need makes nuclear power an absolute necessity.

Water is humanity’s lowest common denominator. Without it we die. Drinkable water is precious and in short supply. Only one percent of all water on Earth is potable and accessible. Currently, twenty percent of the world’s population does not have daily access to fresh water. Let me rephrase, “today, November 17, 2011, approximately 1,400,000,000 people will not taste safe water”.

Fast forward 40 years to 2050. The number of people on Earth has increased by 50% and now sits at approximately 11 billion. Since the Earth won’t magically make more potable water, half the world’s population (7 billion) will struggle to survive.

Clearly, something needs to be done. We could just let people die off but that would be an economic disaster because we need an ever-expanding population to fuel our financial system that is based on perpetual growth (crazy as that sounds living on a finite planet).

The only option we have is turning salt water into fresh water. Desalination is an energy intensive process. Today, fossil fuels are already stretched thin and most energy experts say we are in or heading into a peak oil scenario where we are draining cheap oil reserves faster than we can find new ones. Also, oil and natural gas are used to manufacture pesticides and fertilizer (respectively) so they will be in heavy demand for agricultural purposes to feed the new billions.

The only way we can produce an adequate amount of fresh water is by running desalination plants with nuclear power.

Again, the arguments about safety are irrelevant. We need to look at this in terms of future lives saved. Nuclear power will prevent the deaths of billions from starvation and thirst. Forget about saving 30 or 40 people from radiation poisoning over the next 50 years – that’s crazy logic.

Think in terms of benefits. Think a generation or two into the future.

 * The 104 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S. over the past 40 years have not caused a single death while wind energy has already killed 41 in its short existence.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Germany Going Nuclear Free

Last month, the German government announced that it will close all the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022. While the rest of the world seems to have just accepted Japan’s nuclear disaster, Germany has declared that it will become the first major industrialized nation to go nuclear-free. Germany has the largest economy in Europe and is the second of the G8 (behind Italy) to take this step.

Are we entering the last chapter of nuclear power?

What i find impressive is that only late last year, the government had declared their intention to extend the lifespan of the country’s seventeen reactors until 2036. It completes a remarkable about-face for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right government.

I want to congratulate the Chancellor for making the u-turn. There are not many politicians who are willing to stand up and say they now feel a need to change given new facts or, in this case, witnessing what has transpired in Japan. Ms. Merkel admits that the helplessness of such a technologically advanced nation in the face of the Fukushima disaster was responsible for her rethinking her nuclear policy.

“We want the electricity of the future to be safe, reliable and economically viable,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Monday after overnight negotiations among the governing parties. “We have to follow a new path.”

About 25% of Germany’s electricity was produced by nuclear power at the beginning of the year (the same proportion as the US incidentally) with energy from solar, hydroelectric, and wind producing roughly 17% of the country’s electricity. To wean themselves from nuclear power, the German government aims to boost its share of renewable energy to around 50%.

A solar energy tower in Spain

Germany boosts a significant grassroot organization of activists opposed to nuclear power since the Chernobyl disaster sent radioactivity over the country. After Fukushima, there has been a swell of people (quoted at tens of thousands of protesters  repeatedly taking to the streets  to urge the government to shut all reactors quickly.

Last week, Switzerland which relies on nuclear power for 40% of its electricity, announced that it will take its last plant off the grid in 2034.

Europe is making changes while America, ravaged by natural disasters, remains silent. Will our visionary leaders please stand up?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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