Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Black Community, Global Warming & Nuclear Power

Although there is significant talk about nuclear power as a solution to global warming because the technology emits no greenhouse gases (GHG), the mainstream environmental movement still monolithically opposes it. Politically, it appears that support or opposition for nuclear power will break down along partisan lines with Democrats opposing and Republicans supporting the technology. This conference will address the issue of nuclear power and whether it is beneficial or detrimental to African Americans and other minority communities.

Does nuclear power represent environmental justice or injustice? The environmental justice movement mirrors the mainstream environmental movement on most traditional environmental issues. The mainstream environmental movement supports environmental justice in theory but is still one of the most segregated sectors in America. Nuclear waste is an ongoing issue for everyone regarding commercial nuclear power. The Department of Energy says a repository in Nevada will not be ready until 2017. There is an environmental justice history with nuclear power and the Black community will have a role in the future development of this technology.

Although not monolithic, what position will the Black community take on nuclear power? Barack Obama is running for president; what position will he take? Rev Al Sharpton will probably run for president again. What is his position? What about Rev Jesse Jackson and other voices in the community? Maybe African American opinions on this issue will just be ignored.

6 comments:

GerryWolff said...

Regarding "Black Community, Global Warming & Nuclear Power" (2007-02-14), there is absolutely no need for nuclear power in the US because there is a simple mature technology that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

I refer to 'concentrating solar power' (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and, of course, these are not always nearby! But it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the US and Canada too. A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south western states of the US "could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or ***about seven times the current total US electric capacity***" (emphasis added).

In the 'TRANS-CSP' report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

Further information about CSP may be found at www.trec-uk.org.uk and www.trecers.net . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from www.trec-uk.org.uk/reports.htm . The many problems associated with that technology are summarised at www.mng.org.uk/green_house/no_nukes.htm .

Norris McDonald said...

I see you are proposing a solution to the 30% capacity factor problem that limits solar power electricity production. You state:

"It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days."

Can you provide specs for such a storage facility and list any operating projects? You are writing from the U.K. - - are there any such commercial projects operating there? And if it is so good, why aren't American utilities rushing to develop it here?

Michael Stuart said...

CSP is no substitute for nuclear energy!

Concentrating Solar Power (or CSP) is inefficient, expensive, and has notable environmental impacts.

Inefficient
According to the California Energy Commission ( http://www.energy.ca.gov/electricity/gross_system_power.html ), all of the utility-generated solar power in the state amounts to two-tenths of one percent of the state's electricity production. Because of the limited availability of sunlight, these systems have notoriously low capacity factors and are therefore cannot be relied upon for baseload power.

Expensive
According to the California Energy Commission ( http://www.energy.ca.gov/electricity/comparative_costs.html ), at 13 to 42 cents per kWhr, solar power is *the* most expensive way to generate electricity, hands down. In a time when energy prices are skyrocketing, few people can afford a large-scale conversion to solar power. What's more, due to its low capacity factors, solar capacity must be backed up with additional stand-by power generation, which adds to the overall cost of solar.

Environmental impact
Solar collectors also require a huge area of land, which must be dedicated to solar generation. Even in the desert, this would disrupt the ecology. Additionally, in order for the salts to remain molten at night, CSP requires fossil fuels to be burned for heat. According to a US Department of Energy study ( http://www.nrel.gov/docs/gen/fy98/24496.pdf ), these systems are "hybridized" with up to 25% natural gas. Ironically, this renewable technology is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions!

Nevertheless, concentrating solar technology, along with many other renewable power sources such as wind, tidal, and geothermal, should continue to be supported in hopes that a breakthrough will someday allow them to be a significant source of energy generation. Today however, CSP is no replacement for baseload energy generation sources. In the medium term, we cannot abandon the proven, effective, and efficient source of low-emission energy that nuclear power has to offer. To learn more about the benefits of nuclear energy, check out http://www.nei.org/index.asp?catnum=1&catid=11 and http://www.casenergy.org/WhyNuclear/TheBasics/tabid/66/Default.aspx

Michael Stuart
http://www.na-ygn.org/

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