Nuclear Energy, Plutonium and Radioactive Power Part 4 Alternatives

About the alternatives to nuclear energy including wind, solar and trash, a look at nuclear energy, plutonium and radioactive materials.

Leave On the Lights, but Turn Off the Plutonium

By burning trash, we could get at least 10% of our electricity. Trash is already being used as fuel at the Union Electric Company plant in St. Louis, Mo., and plans are under way in Connecticut for converting all the State's garbage to low-sulfur fuels. Other localities are following suit and for good reason: The heat potential in the refuse from the urban population of a State like New York is so great it could produce 13 billion kilowatt hours of electricity (New York Times, May 22, 1974). Yet refuse combustion is only one of several practical, available, and competitive energies.

Wind power is another workable technology that can contribute energy to meet some of our needs: The "fuel" is free and nonpolluting. Civil engineering professor William E. Heronemus from the University of Massachusetts has designed a wind-power system that could be constructed off the shores of New England to produce 19 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity at a cost competitive with nuclear fission.

National Science Foundation (NSF) experts stated in December, 1972, that solar energy could ultimately "easily contribute 15-30% of the Nation's energy requirements." For far, far less than we've spent on fission, the development of this stunningly attractive and relatively pollution-free technology could be greatly accelerated. The NSF report concluded that if solar energy research were strongly supported, solar-energy "building heating could reach substantial segments of the public in a year or 2; building cooling in 5-9 years; synthetic fuels in 4-7 years; and electric power production in 9-14 years.

About a quarter of the nation's energy now is used for heating and cooling buildings. Solar energy could eventually provide 30-50% of this energy. There are no major technical barriers to this accomplishment, according to a 1973 report commissioned by the AEC. Using a specialized form of solar energy--photoelectric cells--solar energy could eventually provide 10-20% of our electricity, but technical barriers must be overcome to lower the costs of producing the cell arrays in large quantities. Direct solar energy for heating water is practical and economical, and is currently used in parts of the U.S. such as Florida, and elsewhere.

Although solar energy could soon substitute for fission, the AEC and the utilities are trying to deceive the public that solar energy is still just a gleam in the eyes of a few absentminded scientists. Meanwhile, major oil companies--which already largely control coal, uranium, oil shale, tar sands, and gas--are buying up solar power companies so that, as Sen. James Abourezk of South Dakota says, "they can thwart solar energy development" and "eliminate interfuel competition."

Geothermal energy is yet another enormous resource that so far is relatively untapped. The hot water and steam under the Imperial Valley in California have been estimated to contain enough energy to have generated 30-90% of the U.S.'s entire electrical production in 1970. And geothermal power is no pie-in-the-sky alternative energy--it is "online" now. The Geyser geothermal field in Sonoma County, Calif., run by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, generates power cheaper than the company's Humboldt Bay nuclear plant. The geothermal fields now in use generally are those close to the earth's surface and deeper reserves may be very hard to tap. The ultimate share of our power contributed by geothermal sources depends on how costly and effective this drilling will be relative to other technologies, but present indications are that it can be an important energy source.

Surely with so many alternatives available--and considering the vast quantities of energy now being wasted--there is insufficient justification for allowing irresponsible, profithungry industries to foist on us the huge risks and gigantic costs of nuclear-fission electricity.

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