Remember the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan that got hit by the earthquake and tsunami. It turns out that the damage was much more significant than authorities let on in the beginning. Apparently there was a complete meltdown of three reactors and a partial meltdown of the fourth on the day of the tragedy. Much more radiation was released than was told the public and it was (and still is) a much greater health hazard than everyone was led to believe.
When it was thought that there was no meltdown (by most of the world except insiders at TEPCO), many opined that nuclear power was still a viable option for future power needs – a cleaner greener option with less carbon dioxide emissions. Since then, things have really soured. Not only is Japan thinking about scaling back nuclear power, Germany is beginning a plan to phase it out as well. The problem with phasing out such a significant source of energy is that it will make electricity much more expensive. At this point, Germany plans to make up for the lack of electricity from nuclear power with off shore winds farms which are more expensive and produce intermittent power. Also, wind turbines do not come without side effects. While they are currently the “greenest” alternative energy option, they do have adverse effects on the weather, flying animals, and perhaps fish. Some scientists suspect that the constant droning sound of the wind turbines might stress some aquatic life.
Back in Japan, ground zero of the meltdown, they are already feeling the effects of living without nuclear power and much of the rest of the world is mulling transitioning to other forms of “green energy”. Various countries are looking toward alternatives not only because of safety issues but because a recent study has shown that nuclear power is not as scalable as many people previously thought. The study indicates that we could probably triple our current nuclear power before the rising cost became unsustainable. If we wanted to power the world with nuclear (fission) we would need to increase our nuclear capacity by about 45 times. So it looks less and less likely that nuclear fission will be the energy of the future. It might even be rapidly phased out if the price of other energy options continues to decline (like solar). I am still holding out some hope for nuclear fusion. In the next couple of years, while wind and solar power gain traction, natural gas could become the cleaner, cheaper, and slightly “greener” fuel of choice to keep society afloat.
Have a nice Wednesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.