AND RENEWABLE ENERGY
A safe and healthy energy system will result from use of non-polluting, renewable energies as primary sources -- such as sun, wind, micro-hydro, biomass, biogas and heat from the earth's core -- plus efficient end-use of energy in housing, transportation and industry.
Wind, sun and ocean waves are raw energy sources which surround us every day and are freely available. Unlike uranium and fossil fuels, they do not have to be ripped from the earth. They produce no radioactive waste and few or no toxic emissions. Given the choice, who would not prefer to use the sun, wind and water for energy, ending the destruction caused by the mining and burning of poisonous fuels?
A safe energy path is achievable and sustainable. It means making choices that will not deprive future generations of a livable world. Because sun, wind and water are naturally provided every day, we will never run out of safe energy. It is meaningless to hoard it, and there is enough for all.
Public relations firms and lobbyists for the nuclear and fossil fuel industries claim renewables and energy efficiency are not "cost- effective"and cannot power a modern economy. In fact, renewable and efficiency technologies have made so many advances in the last ten years (many unknown by politicians, the public or even many energy experts) that they are already cost-competitive with fossil fuels and nuclear power. Since 1980, the price of solar cells has fallen more than 90%, while the cost of wind turbines is down two-thirds. We can meet global energy needs through a combination of wind power, solar thermal energy, photovoltaic solar electricity, small hydropower, biomass, geothermal, ocean energy and conservation.
Between 1950 and 1990, the U.S. government and U.S. utilities spent $492 billion on the direct costs of nuclear power. In spite of this huge investment, nuclear power today provides only 7.7% of the energy used in the U.S. By contrast, renewable energy sources already provide 7.1% of U.S. energy consumed, without producing toxic wastes or greenhouse gases. In the last twenty years, the U.S. saved more energy through efficiency practices than was produced by all of its nuclear reactors combined.
The cost of generating electricity for a new nuclear reactor in the U.S. is about $.14 (U.S.) per kilowatt hour. If indirect social and environmental costs are included, figures must be at least doubled. No monetary assessment of nuclear-fueled power's costs reflects the potential long-range consequences to the health and well-being of all life. In comparison, solar and wind power now generate electricity at half the cost, producing no radioactive waste and almost no pollution.
Some renewable energy sources -- including biomass, hydro-electric, geothermal and tidal power -- provide steady, "dispatchable" electric power that can be distributed to far-off locations. Other sources, such as solar and wind, vary in their energy output depending on weather conditions, but follow regular patterns of availability that can be predicted and built into planning. Steady, renewable sources are effective backups for the ones that vary.
Future energy planners will combine a range of supply, storage and back- up technologies into an integrated, sustainable system that will provide reliable renewable energy at all times and in all seasons.
SAFE, RENEWABLE AND SUSTAINABLE ENERGY...
* is abundant worldwide and inexhaustible.
* has been the central means of energy production throughout human history, except for the very recent industrial period.
* simultaneously solves or improves a number of problems at once: nuclear waste "disposal," nuclear weapons proliferation, air pollution, global warming, acid rain and dependence on dwindling oil reserves.
* does not threaten international security or the future of life, since it cannot be turned into weapons of mass destruction and does not produce toxic radioactive wastes.
* eliminates the environmental devastation associated with the extractive industries of uranium and coal mining and oil drilling.
* is simpler and faster to build -- especially on a community level -- and is far more versatile than nuclear- or fossil-fueled power production.
* provides fairer access to energy for all people, since abundant sunshine, winds and surplus biomass are more available than petroleum, coal or uranium reserves.
* tends to be naturally decentralized, making it easier to integrate into local economies.
Safe energy is economically viable and cost-effective, even more so when environmental benefits are taken into account. There are no hidden costs for which we and future generations must pay with our health and our lives.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Reducing Energy Use
The "cleanest" energy is saved energy. We can do much to reduce our consumption of energy by drawing on efficiency technologies and by using energy responsibly. These choices offer the greatest promise for ending global dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power. Efficiency measures will bring additional benefits such as the creation of new jobs and industries.
By fully implementing currently available energy efficiency technologies, the U.S. could eliminate all its nuclear reactors -- and generate four times as much energy in the process.
SOLAR POWER: Earth's Daily Energy
Each day the earth is bathed in sunlight equal to many thousands of times the energy currently consumed by human endeavors. Sunlight falls on every part of the earth. The sun is the basis of life on earth -- without it, our planet would be a cold, dark, barren wasteland. Our ability to harness the sun's abundant energy will be a key factor affecting the quality of our future.
Solar Thermal Energy
Solar thermal electric power technology uses concentrated sunlight to heat liquid, which is then used to produce steam to turn a turbine to generate electricity. In order to heat the liquids to high enough temperatures, the sunlight is concentrated using mirrors and lenses.
Solar Photovoltaics: Power for All Seasons
With photovoltaic power, sunlight falls on a special conducting material such as silicon, creating an electrical current which is then either transported to a battery for storage or fed directly into the power stream. Photovoltaics can be used in many different settings since they operate with natural, diffuse sunlight, are unaffected by temperature and humidity, and need very little maintenance. Thus they are not geographically limited in the same way as are solar thermal electric plants, which must be placed in areas of long and intense sun exposure to operate efficiently.
Photovoltaics are in wide use today in rural electrification projects throughout the developing world. Because they are stand-alone systems that generate electrical current directly, they are ideal for use in remote areas. It is much cheaper to install photovoltaic panels than to build electric power or gas lines to link remote areas to the central power grid. (The "grid" refers to the distribution of energy through power lines from power-generating facilities to distant customers.)
Many utilities throughout the world are also experimenting with using photovoltaics on a large scale to provide power to the grid. The prospects are considered favorable.
Passive Solar Energy
Passive solar technology condenses the sun's energy and makes it useable as a heat source. In many regions of the world, simple, inexpensive solar cookers are being used to prepare food. This saves trees and reduces long journeys in search of firewood.
Humans have harnessed the power of the wind for thousands of years to do everything from grinding grain and pumping water to sailing ships across the seas. After two decades of rapid development following the oil crises of the seventies, wind turbine electric generators are now a mature and proven technology. At $.04 to $.05 (U.S.) per kilowatt hour, wind power is commercially competitive with other low-cost sources.
Wind power systems offer some of the same advantages as solar energy: they are versatile, clean and accessible. They can range from small stand-alone systems for powering remote communities to large facilities that supply electricity to the grid. They can be installed as quickly as needed, without the long start-up times required for nuclear- or fossil- fueled facilities.
Biomass energy makes use of plant matter (biofuel) to produce liquid and gas fuels or to generate heat and electricity. Biofuels include wood and wood wastes, grasses, shrubs, agricultural residues, animal dung, and even everyday household garbage.
Biomass provides 38% of primary energy used in the developing world, where three-fourths of the world's population lives. Wood fires, the oldest form of biomass energy, have been used for millennia for heat and cooking and are still the primary domestic energy source in many countries.
The use of biomass to make fires, however, is not very efficient and has resulted in severe deforestation in many parts of the world. In developing countries, a movement to switch to inexpensive and much more efficient stoves for domestic cooking and heating is already helping to slow deforestation.
POWER FOR THE FUTURE
Coal gave us the Industrial Revolution with its soot-covered cities, lung diseases, factories and coal mines. Oil brought us the Age of Combustion with automobiles, big highways, jet planes and the glorification of consumerism. Nuclear power has given us the Atomic Age and an enduring legacy of radioactive contamination and health problems. But renewable energies -- the sun, wind and water -- will bring us into the Solar Age and change our society in more favorable ways than we can yet imagine.
CREATING A SAFE ENERGY FUTURE
At this time the only known protection of life from an increased burden of radioactivity is to stop all production of nuclear materials, contain and monitor those that already exist, and continue research over time in hope of discovering ways of minimizing the damage they cause.
Healthy, safe and renewable energy technologies are available now. The barriers to a sustainable energy future are not technical or economic. The biggest obstacles are fear of change, lack of political will, and the energy industry's drive to maximize profits. Governments, communities and industries must fundamentally change their approach and make a firm commitment to promote and develop renewable energy and implement conservation and energy efficiency practices.
We all bear the great responsibility of passing on a livable world to the diverse peoples, plants, animals and ecosystems of the future. What we ultimately aim for is a complete reassessment of modern society and the interests it serves, leading to a fundamental reordering of society's priorities toward sustainability and social justice.
It took billions of years for humans to emerge on earth, and we have lived in communities, villages and cities for only the last 10,000 years. We want all peoples and all species to enjoy life on earth for countless generations to come. This is a basic criterion for a sustainable society. Appropriate, safe and renewable energy technologies are key to achieving this goal. Working together, we can create societies that endure into the future, living in harmony with the earth.
Toward a Plutonium Free Future
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