Nuclear power is best energy source
POTCHEFSTROOM - Nuclear power is the only non-greenhouse gas emitting energy source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand.
This is the opinion of Dr Patrick Moore, internationally renowned environmentalist and Chairperson of Greenspirit Strategies, who visited the North-West University (NWU) on 4 March 2008 to share his perspectives on alternative energy sources and the implications of nuclear power for South Africa and the world.
Dr Moore believes that nuclear energy is not only cleaner than energy from fossil fuels, but also more sustainable than other energy sources such as fossil fuel, wind, and the sun.
In his opinion hydro-electric plants and nuclear plants are the best options for base load to sustain a country’s economy. He is very positive about wood and geo-thermal sources as renewable energy sources. He pointed out that wood captures carbon and, when replaced with new trees upon felling, wood recycles the carbon contained in it. When put to good use, wood, containing approximately 50% carbon, can be viewed as sequestering carbon.
“If we have to weigh the consequences of introducing nuclear energy or not, taking into account the carbon dioxide emissions and the future depletion of fossil fuel, it is clear that the pros are more than the cons,” Dr Moore said.
After a visit to the NWU's Pebble Bed Micro Module test facility, (PBMM) and the Heat Transfer Test Facility at the Faculty of Engineering, Dr Moore said that nuclear energy produced by a high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear plant such as the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) is superior to conventional nuclear power plants since the heat from the PBMR can be used in thermo-chemical water splitting (producing hydrogen for industrial use), as process heat e.g. in the petro-chemical industry, and renders itself ideal for desalination or water purification.
Even with nuclear power cycles, the amount of carbon dioxide produced in the full life cycle of nuclear energy production represents only 2% of the total amount produced by fossil fuel power plants as a result of the manufacturing and transportation (that is if carbon-based energy is used) involved in erecting the plant.
By burning coal at the current rate, we are consuming 300 million years of fossil fuel in a period of three centuries. Countries like China use huge amounts of coal. It is estimated that China’s coal consumption may by 2030 equal the current coal consumption of the rest of the world. Burning coal at this rate, is not sustainable in the long run.
Energy sources such as wind and solar energy are inherently intermittent, and the energy produced on sunny or windy days currently cannot be stored cost-effectively to use when there is no wind or sun.
One nuclear power plant produces as much energy as between 500 and 1 000 wind turbines. Wind turbines contain much more materials per unit electricity produced than other plants; this increases the so-called carbon footprint of wind energy significantly.
Although the initial capital investment for nuclear power is high, the costs of nuclear plants compare well with those of coal power plants and nuclear plants are definitely more cost-effective than wind or solar energy systems.
Solar systems are also very expensive and will only be cost-effective when they cost 10% of what they cost currently. Dr Moore pointed out that it will take a solar system about seven to nine years to produce the amount of energy it takes to manufacture the system initially.
Referring to global warming and air pollution, Dr Moore pointed out that transportation is the greatest challenge for carbon dioxide reduction. “We should concentrate on developing clean energy systems for transport purposes,” he said.
Dr Moore’s visit to the NWU included an academic discussion and an intercampus colloquium.
During his visit to the NWU, Dr Patrick Moore (right), renowned environmentalist and Chairperson of Greenspirit Strategies, visited the NWU's Pebble Bed Micro Module test facility (PBMM). With him is Prof Gideon Greyvenstein, Director: Postgraduate School for Nuclear Sciences and Engineering at the Potchefstroom Campus of the NWU.
Dr Patrick Moore (right) takes a look at the Heat Transfer Test Facility at the Postgraduate School for Nuclear Sciences and Engineering on the Potchefstroom Campus. With him is Prof Frikkie van Niekerk, Executive Director: Research and Innovation.
Prof Frikkie van Niekerk
Executive Director: Research and Innovation
Tel (018) 299 4926
Prof Gideon Greyvenstein
Director: Postgraduate School for Nuclear Sciences and Engineering, Potchefstroom Campus.
Tel (018) 299 4060 / 082 558 3917
Ms Phumzile Mmope, NWU Institutional Office
Executive Director: Corporate Affairs and Relations
(018) 299 4931 / 073 2189691