Nuclear energy, a climate change solution?

 Last week I was fortunate to see a preview of Pandora’s Promise, a documentary on nuclear energy coming out in 2013, followed by a discussion with the filmaker, Robert Stone. His film looks at various scientists and environmentalists who have recently accepted nuclear power as a viable answer to climate change and increasing world energy demand. Prior to this event, I had done some reading on new nuclear technologies in the peer-reviewed literature that shook my worldview. 

There are many reasons to be anti-nuclear power: we don’t know what to do with the waste, nuclear weapon proliferation is too risky, meltdowns are too real, it’s too expensive… For years, these claims convinced me that nuclear was not the way to go, not even worth considering. But then I thought about the relative risks of nuclear. When considered next to renewables, it is hard to see nuclear as clean or safe, but what about fossil fuels?

Thermal energy (oil, coal and gas) currently makes up most of the world’s base-load electricity. These resources fit the bill for large-scale generation: plentiful, dependable and cheap. I’m a big believer in the potential of renewable energy, but we have yet to rely on it for our base-load energy supply. This will require breakthroughs in battery and energy storage technologies, or enormous smart-grid infrastructure like green power superhighways. Is large-scale development of these technologies really viable for both developed and developing countries in the short-term?

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Growing certainty of link between hydrofracking and earthquakes in the US

I was shocked last August when my friend told me that an earthquake shook his office building in Dutchess County, NY. It was yet another strange event to place alongside hurricane Irene and the blizzard in October. The earthquake made me think of something- have you ever considered the possibility of a link between earthquakes and oil and gas extraction? Well, it turns out that the US Geological Survey has. According to a recent study, mid-continent earthquake occurrence (magnitude 3 and greater) increased six-fold between 2001 and 2011 compared to the 20th century average. The report almost certainly link this increase to anthropogenic causes, pointing to changes in extraction method, ie. the use of hydrofracking. We don’t have too much information now, so keep your eye out for the proceeding full report.

Here’s the abstract of the report.

Here’s the article from the New York Times.