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The beginning of the end of nuclear power

The world’s powerful nuclear establishment took a big public relations hit in July, 2010.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency-backed
Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) project, declared that, for the
second year in a row, the quantity of “newly installed capacity” of renewable energy in Europe
and the U.S. outpaced that for fossil fuels and nuclear. The report suggests the same outcome is
likely on a global basis by next year.

As reported in the July 15, 2010 Report on Business section of the Toronto Globe and Mail
newspaper, the report stated that green energy has “reached a clear tipping point” as the main
kind of new electricity supply.

Green energy includes such sources as wind power, solar energy, biomass, geothermal, hydro
power, ocean wave and tidal power. Also, energy conservation technology could be considered a
major form of green energy.

Of course, it will be many years before the tipping point becomes an overwhelming reality. But
the trend is quite clear. A comprehensive system of green energy and conservation alternatives is
rapidly developing around the world.

Some countries continue to plan for more nuclear energy projects, e.g., China and Russia and
even the U.S. But it can take a decade or more to build nuclear plants, whereas many green
energy and conservation projects can be completed in a much shorter period of that time. Also, it
is likely that countries now planning more nuclear energy will be unable to proceed with many of
their projects for financial, design and safety reasons.

There are many downsides to nuclear power generation. To mention a few, it requires fabrication
processes which cause noxious emissions and greenhouse gasses, uses non-renewable and ever
more costly uranium deposits with increasing amounts of energy inputs, emits radioactive tritium
into the air and water, requires massive public loans and subsidies, contributing greatly to the
national debt, is the basis for nuclear weapons proliferation, and a desirable target for terrorism. It
is a technology that must have an impossible-to-achieve perfect record of zero tolerance for
accidents over an entire reactor life cycle, as there is no safe level of ionizing radiation.

Furthermore, some observers point out that , in the unlikely event that all planned nuclear reactors
are finally built, they would contribute little or nothing to global energy supply or to the mitigation
of any possible adverse effects of climate change, since they will largely be replacing old
decommissioned reactors.

And then, of course, there is the intractable nuclear waste issue. A few countries are still planning
to develop permanent underground repositories, such as Canada and Sweden, and likely China.
But there is a growing reluctance in other quarters to pursue the permanent underground nuclear
waste burial option.

Aside from the fact that the underground burial option is certainly no solution to the waste
problem and should not be pursued, the act of challenging and thus slowing the development of
nuclear waste repositories has helped to “buy time,” for the expansion of green energy and
conservation technology.

Renewable green energy may only be providing a small percentage of the world’s energy now, but
the tipping point is great news for all of us who have worked so long to bring about a “paradigm
shift” away from nuclear energy and fossil fuel toward a sustainable alternative clean energy
future and a much safer and healthier planet.

Walt Robbins
August, 2010