to fuel a power station, to fuel a lorry, to be fueled with
a filling station/ a gas station
to deplete natural resources
to run out of natural resources; to dwindle, dwindling natural resources
energy resources, alternative sources of energy, to develop alternative sources of energy
solar power, wind power, wave power, tidal power, hydroelectric power
to do research on solar power
renewable/inexhaustible sources of energy, non-renewable sources of energy
global warming, to prevent global warming
to contaminate, contamination, to contaminate smth with radioactivity
to release/emit gases, emission
to store, storage
to dump, dumping site
to dispose of smth, disposal site, disposable (syringes)
coal-mine, coal piles, oil-rig
side effects, environmental side effects
to spill oil, radiation; to spill radiation into the atmosphere
to pose a threat
to confront smth, to be confronted with
to have an effect/impact on smth
to take effect
to affect smth; to be exposed to smth; to be subject to (control)
effective, efficient; defective, deficient
topical/ actual/ urgent; unfounded
to sustain, sustainable, sustainable development
car pooling, car sharing
to develop smth, to invest in research
to estimate, estimation, estimates of smth
short-term, long-term, long-term disposal sites; in the short/ long term
to address/ solve problems, to deal with problems
to look to the future; to turn back on smth
to insulate, insulation, insulated (buildings)
to be manned by smb
to take precaution, safety regulations
to foresee smth, to foresee every eventuality
to become uncontrollable
to render the region uninhabitable
to hold smb to ransom
to get smth in compensation, to cover risks
to prove abortive
to put high taxes on gasoline/petrol; to charge more for gasoline/petrol
to rise at a rate of 2% per year
to be prone to
Ever since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki governments have been at pains to stress that the atom has a peaceful as well as a warlike side. In early propaganda films to win the populace round to the idea of a nuclear research programme, we were shown pictures of a high speed train travelling around the world, powered, so the commentator said, by the equivalent of the energy contained in a glass of water. Energy won by “harnessing the power of the atom”, it was claimed, would be cheap, efficient, clean, and above all safe. No longer, it was said, would men have to labour beneath the ground in dirty and dangerous conditions to win the coal which would fuel our industry. The nuclear power stations of the future, we were told, since they do not depend on burning fossil fuels like coal or oil would not deplete the world’s natural resources and hence were a good thing.
It all took a lot longer to happen than predicted. The first disappointment, of course, was that they could not actually fuel a power station with a glass of water. Early experiments suggesting that this would be possible proved abortive. No, the power stations still had to be fuelled with radioactive and potentially dangerous substances won, like coal, from the ground by accident-prone miners. These substances had to be transported to the power stations by train in special containers. Many of the early objections and protest campaigns came from the inhabitants of villages through which such trains passed, who feared that in the event of a collision the containers of radioactive substances would break and spill radiation on to surrounding houses and countryside.
Concern was almost never directed at the power stations themselves which, we were assured, were manned by scientists in white coats who had taken every precaution and foreseen every eventuality. What the nuclear power stations designers and engineers had not taken into account, however, was Murphy’s Law which states that if a thing can possibly go wrong, sooner or later it will. And so it proved at Three Mile Island in the USA, and Windscale in the UK. Accidents were happening despite all precautions, radiation was spilling into the atmosphere and we heard for the first time of the China Syndrome – the dreadful possibility of a nuclear accident burning through the earth all the way to China. This was dismissed as a fanciful concept until Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident so far. We saw pictures of a “melt-down”, where the entire core of the reactor becomes molten and uncontrollable, but also heard for the first time of a “melt through”, where the radioactive mass melts through the earth’s crust and at the very least contaminates the ground water of an entire river basin system, rendering thousands of square miles uninhabitable for decades and totally destroying the agriculture of an entire region.
The fact that it was not as catastrophic as this is due to the incredible and heroic self-sacrifice of Soviet fire-fighters who tunnelled beneath the molten mass, entering the radioactive zone, to build a shield of concrete beneath the power station and wall it off for ever.
Europe and the world were faced with an ecological disaster as great as any posed by an accidental firing of a military weapon, and suddenly without a shot being fired in anger, the “peaceful uses of atomic energy” did not seem so peaceful any more.
There are two principal places fossil fuels are used: the burning of oil in cars and trucks, and the burning of gas and coal in the generation of electricity. In both instances, if the green movement wants to solve the problem of global warming, it is going to have to embrace new technologies rather than reject them.
Solving the problems by changing behaviour simply isn’t an option. Americans are not going to go without electricity, and they aren’t going to quit driving. American politicians are not going to force Americans to drive smaller cars by putting higher taxes on gasoline, or to use less electricity by charging more for it.
In the case of electricity, we already have a technical solution at hand. It is called nuclear power – a clean way to generate electricity that does not cause global warming. Yet there is nothing the green movement likes less than nuclear power. In Europe, closing nuclear power plants is at the centre of Green Party political platforms.
This ugly choice is going to confront the green movement with a moment of truth. What does it like less: global warming or nuclear power?
There isn’t any third way. Solar power simply cannot do what is necessary. There isn’t enough sunshine available to provide the electricity needed during the night, during the winter and during cloudy weather. Solar power also takes enormous amounts of space devoted to ugly collectors.
Nuclear power is one of the few examples in which human sociology has completely dominated hard science. Serious studies consistently show that, to generate the same amount of electricity, more people will die if coal is used than if nuclear power is the energy source.
Remember a year ago when two workers died in a nuclear power plant in Japan? Their deaths were in the headlines of every newspaper in the world. How many people do you think die every day in the coal mining industries of the world?
In America, we kill about 36 per year. In China, they reportedly kill 10,000 per “normal” year. Together, China (the world’s biggest producer of coal) and America (the world’s second-biggest producer) mine half of the world’s coal. We don’t know the exact death rates elsewhere, but we do know how many millions of tons of coal are produced in different countries. If we assume that the developed world has a death rate per million tons mined equal to that of the United States and that the Third World (India is the world’s third-largest producer of coal) has a death rate per million tons mined equal to that of China, 55 people per day die in the world’s coal mining industries. Few of those deaths make headlines.
The problem with nuclear power is not that it kills people; it kills very few. Its problem is that humans have a fear of something they cannot see, hear, feel and smell. Humans are used to the idea that a rock can fall on your head and kill you. They have not been able to get used to the idea that an invisible particle they cannot sense can kill them. Nuclear radiation is the ultimate ghost.
But there is another, perhaps more important, dirty little reality about nuclear power that the green movement would rather not talk about. Most of us know with certainty that we will not be the ones killed in a coal mining accident. We don’t work in the world’s coal mines. Someone else does. They are the ones risking their lives to give us electricity. We don’t want to risk our own lives with nuclear power to give ourselves electricity – no matter how small the probabilities may be.
The fatality equation is clear. Nuclear power is much safer than coal. It is also safer than natural gas; the number of American deaths in oil and gas exploration is more than twice that in coal mining.
The environmental side effects are equally clear. Coal piles are slightly radioactive. Millions of tons of fly ash have to be dumped somewhere. Burning coal causes global warming. Nuclear power is cleaner.
This leaves members of the environmental movement between a rock and a hard place. They don’t like global warming, and they don’t like nuclear power. But if they want to prevent global warming, they are going to have to embrace nuclear power.
Alternative Sources of Energy
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the sun was the only source of energy widely available to humankind. Wood has been used since prehistory. Sails to use the sun-created wind were first raised 5,000 years ago, windmills 2,000 years later, and water-wheels 2,000 years after that. Coal came into general use just 300 years ago, and oil and gas only in the last 100 years. Not until the 20th century did non-solar energy arrive in the form of nuclear power. The natural flows of energy that have been used for millennia are known as renewable resources. The amount of energy fossil fuels can supply is ultimately limited by geology. These are known as non-renewable sources. As global energy demand grows and non-renewable sources begin to run out, so attention is turning back to the renewables.
Biomass energy is plant or animal matter that can be converted into fuel. Nearly half the world’s population relies on biomass, mostly in the form of wood which is the principal fuel for 80% of people in developing countries.
Falling water generates 25% of the world’s electricity, about 5% of total energy demand. Although the most mature of the renewable technologies (over 30% of the developed world’s hydro potential is harnessed), it is still underexploited.
The sun already contributes significantly to the energy needs of buildings through the walls and windows, but because this energy is free, it is not counted in official statistics. Recent years have seen a massive increase in investment in technologies to make use of the sun’s energy.
Power from the sea
Ocean power comes in four main forms: wave power, tidal power, current power, and ocean thermal energy conversion which exploits temperature differences between surface and depths. The ultimate energy potential is massive, but only a small fraction is likely to be harnessed.
Winds are caused by uneven heating of the Earth’s surface. Windmills can be used either to generate electricity or to do mechanical work.
1. Why are hydropower, solar, ocean and wind power sometimes called alternative sources of energy?
Professor Marvin Burnham of the New England Institute of Technology: “We are in an energy crisis and we will have to do something quickly. Fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) are rapidly running out. The tragedy is that fossil fuels are far too valuable to waste on the production of electricity. Just think of all the things you can make from oil! If we don’t start conserving these things now, it will be too late. And nuclear power is the only real alternative. We are getting some electricity from nuclear power stations already. If we invest in future research now, we’ll be ready to face the future. There’s been a lot of protest lately against nuclear power – some people will protest at anything – but nuclear power stations are not as dangerous as some people say. It’s far more dangerous to work down a coal-mine or on a North Sea oil-rig. Safety regulations in power stations are very strict.
If we spent money on research now, we could develop stations which create their own fuel and burn their own waste. In many parts of the world where there are no fossil fuels, nuclear power is the only alternative. If you accept that we need electricity, then we will need nuclear energy. Just imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t have electricity – no heating, no lighting, no transport, no radio or TV. Just think about the ways you use electricity every day. Surely we don’t want to go back to the Stone Age. That’s what will happen if we turn our backs on nuclear research.”
Jennifer Hughes, a member of CANE, the Campaign Against Nuclear Energy: “I must disagree totally with Professor Burnham. Let’s look at the facts. First, there is no perfect machine. I mean, why do airplanes crash? Machines fail. People make mistakes. What would happen if there were a serious nuclear accident? And an accident must be inevitable – sooner or later. Huge areas would be evacuated, and they could remain contaminated with radioactivity for years. If it happened in your area, you wouldn’t get a penny in compensation. No insurance company covers nuclear risks. There are accidents. If the nuclear industry didn’t keep them quiet, there would be a public outcry. Radioactivity causes cancer and may affect future generations.
Next, nuclear waste. There is no technology for absolutely safe disposal. Some of this waste will remain active for thousands of years. Is that what you want to leave to your children? And their children’s children? A reactor only lasts about 25 years. By the year 2000 we’ll have “retired” 26 reactors in the UK.
Next, terrorism. Terrorists could hold the nation to ransom if they captured a reactor. I consider that nuclear energy is expensive, dangerous, and evil, and most of all, absolutely unnecessary.”
Dr. Catherine Woodstock, the author of several books on alternative technology: “We can develop alternative sources of power, and unless we try we’ll never succeed. Instead of burning fossil fuels we should be concentrating on more economic uses of electricity, because electricity can be produced from any source of energy. If we didn’t waste so much energy, our resources would last longer. You can save more energy by conservation than you can produce for the same money. Unless we do research on solar energy, wind power, wave power, tidal power, hydroelectric schemes etc, our fossil fuels will run out, and we’ll all freeze or starve to death. Other countries are spending much more than us on research, and don’t forget that energy from the sun, the waves and the wind lasts for ever. We really won’t survive unless we start working on cleaner, safer sources of energy.”
Charles Wicks, MP, the Minister for Energy: “I don’t agree with some of the estimates of world energy reserves. More oil and gas is being discovered all the time. If we listened to the pessimists (and there are lot of them about) none of us would sleep at night. In the short-term, we must continue to rely on the fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas. But we must also look to the future. Our policy must be flexible. Unless we thought new research was necessary, we wouldn’t be spending money on it. After all, the Government wouldn’t have a Department of Energy unless they thought it was important. The big question is where to spend the money – on conservation of present resources or on research into new forms of power.”