Green Living: The Quest for a Balanced Energy Portfolio

Electricity pylonSince the earthquake a week ago affected the nuclear reactor in Fukushima, government officials have been doing everything they can to contain the damage.  Just earlier today Japan raised severity of nuclear accident to INES level 5 (out of 7), like 1979's Three Mile Island. By comparison, the Chernobyl accident was a level 7 event. The scale classifies a level 5 event as an "accident with wider consequences". In addition to this, Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that the problems at Fukushima I could take "weeks" to work through. All this has brought the debate of nuclear power to the fore-front once again.

The debate has firmly put nuclear vs coal vs renewable energy in discussions. George Monbiot weighs in by saying, "Even when nuclear power plants go horribly wrong, they do less damage to the planet and its people than coal-burning stations operating normally." He goes on to state an article in Scientific American that, "points out that the fly ash produced by a coal-burning power plant "carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy".

A recent article in The Economist points out that in spite of the dangers of nuclear power, "nuclear power plants are a lot safer than they used to be, and they don't emit any CO2; countries that rely heavily on nuclear power, like France and Japan, are vastly lower per capita emitters of carbon than countries like the United States and Canada."

Many countries pushing for nuclear, like India for example have used Japan as a reason for extended debates on the subject. India's Environmental Minister recently said that India should not abandon its plan to invest in nuclear power. He pointed out that nuclear energy already contributes 3% of the country's power supply the objective is to double this to 6% by 2020 and 13% by 2030. Environmental groups including Greenpeace have been opposing this move. They have pointed out that renewable energy offers the chance to reach the masses through decentralized power generation schemes. The fact remains that developing countries are in severe need of power and governments are struggling to meet this demand. The conundrum of meeting growing electricity needs as well as emission targets is one that does not have an easy answer.

It is not wise to swing one way or the other. The aim of every country in need of new power should be a balanced energy portfolio. Not one that sways too much in the favour of either renewables, coal or nuclear. It should keep everyone happy, but how long is this going to take? And who's going to do it?