Thursday, January 17, 2008

Defining Renewable

The South Carolina House Environmental II sub-Committee, Chaired by Rep. Dwight Loftis, met yesterday to take up a Senate bill that attempted to define "renewable energy."

The SC Senate had included "nuclear energy" as a renewable resource. Listening to the debate, I asked myself "What is the underlying question here?" I concluded that the question yesterday was whether or not to keep "nuclear" in the definition of "renewable" and whether nuclear is renewable. The environmental community testified that they did not want nuclear energy included. I have given the topic a lot of thought and research, so here is a summary of my thoughts:

Isn't the environmental community sort of at odds with itself over this issue, when taken in the "Global Warming" context. There are virtually no air emissions issues with nuclear energy, especially carbon emissions. The real concern is the by-product or waste product produced in nuclear energy. How do we dispose of this waste, safely for human populations as well as the environment? I share this concern and plan a visit to Yucca Mountain to see the national storage site for myself soon, as part of my education on the issues of the day.

Even with my concerns over the future of storing nuclear waste, I believe that nuclear energy expansion is the answer to many of our future energy needs - and I believe that the US is behind the curve on nuclear energy supply and technology. In addition, I believe that nuclear produced electricity is cleaner and more friendly to the atmosphere than any other conventional means of electricity production. And, unlike air emissions, we have some control over the nuclear waste in that it is in a manageable, tangible form that we can contain.

The question of the day, though, was: should nuclear be included in the definition of "renewable." My research concludes that: 1. The US Dept. of Energy does not include it in the definition, but they have also been part of the policy implementations of the past 30+ years that delayed and discouraged the proliferation of nuclear energy for electricity; 2. Well respected nuclear physicist Bernard Cohen (Google his name for more) stated as early as 1983: "We thus conclude that all the world’s energy requirements for the remaining 5×109 yr of existence of life on Earth could be provided by breeder reactors without the cost of electricity rising by as much as 1% due to fuel costs. This is consistent with the definition of a “renewable” energy source in the sense in which that term is generally used."

All sides will have a differing opinion on the definition of renewable, just as we will all have differing opinions over the extent of man's impact on the environment versus the earth's own natural cycles. I am currently not advocating one position over the other. Nor am I falling for a lot of spin on the issue of Global Warming. I am educating myself on the issues in the hope of forming my own opinion, and I don't have an economic gain or loss either way, unlike many others in the debate. I personally don't see a problem with including nuclear in the definition of renewable, if it helps move the ball down the field toward the goal of more nuclear energy for electricity production; but, I don't see a problem with commonsense conservation either, and I applaud the environmentalist movement for encouraging energy conservation, investments in wind, solar and alternative fuels technologies.

All, I believe, are part of the solution to make us less dependent on foreign fossil fuels and better stewards of God's creation.