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Peak Electricity: March 11, 2011?

Peak Electricity, globally, was probably March 11, 2011, when the earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Several countries have already announced a pull back from more nuclear power, a number of older reactors and reactors near earthquake faults are likely to be closed for good, especially if the radiation releases from Fukushima continue for a while.

Japan now has rolling blackouts due to the permanent closure of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station. This is likely to increase their demand for imports of Liquid Natural Gas and perhaps coal for electricity. This new demand will increase the cost of LNG and coal, which will increase the cost of electricity generated from those fuels and that will further decrease demand. Perhaps more important, the economic consequences from this disaster will reduce demand for energy consumption in Japan and probably the rest of the world.

from Dmitry Orlov

 If we give up on nuclear energy, what will replace it? Nothing, probably. Let me try an example: if your lucrative murder-for-hire business suddenly runs afoul of a few silly laws (even though it has so far killed many fewer people than planes, trains or automobiles) that doesn't mean that you should keep killing people until you find another source of income. Same thing with electricity: if it turns out that the way you've been generating it happens to be criminally negligent, then you shut it all down. If you have less electricity, you will use less electricity. If this implies that economic growth is over and that all of your financial institutions are insolvent and your country bankrupt, then-I am sorry, but at this point in time that's not even newsworthy. Don't worry about that; just keep the nuclear accidents to a bare minimum, or you won't have anything else left to worry about.

Peak Electricity by Mark Robinowitz

originally written May 2010

Oil is not the only critical resource that is "peaking." The amount of electricity is also approaching a peak of production due to finite supplies of the fuels used to make electricity (coal, uranium, natural gas). Renewable energies are ideal generation sources, but they are a small amount of the electric grid and cannot be expanded fast enough to maintain current levels.

Coal: Dirtiest and Biggest (but finite)

Half of the electricity in the US comes from burning coal to spin steam turbines. Coal is the dirtiest type of fossil fuel in terms of mining damage and greenhouse gas production. Estimates of the amount of remaining coal have been exaggerated and "peak coal" globally is likely in the next decade or two. There's not enough coal to fuel endless growth projections, but there is enough to further foul our air.

For more info: the best book: Richard Heinberg "Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis."

Nukes: Just a Fancy Way to Boil Water

The richest uranium deposits in the US were in the Colorado plateau, the best were extracted decades ago (with severe health and ecological impacts). Globally, uranium deposits are mostly in a few countries and are nearing their peak.

As of 2010, about half of the nuclear fuel in US power reactors comes from the "Megatons to Megawatts" program, which has diverted uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear bombs to civilian fuel production. Using weapons materials for power generation reduces weapons stockpiles, but still creates more high level nuclear wastes. This program will run out in 2013.

Some nuclear boosters want to revive plans for "reprocessing" of irradiated fuel rods, the most toxic technology ever invented. Reprocessing dissolves extremely radioactive "spent" nuclear fuel rods into acids, and uses solvents to extract the unfissioned uranium for reuse. The byproducts include the myriad "fission products" left over from the reactor's operation ("high level waste"), dissolved into a nasty mix of toxic solvents and acids. It is thermally hot, lethally radioactive and extremely difficult to contain.

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