Unsustainable: The Energy Problem

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Not money, not sex, but rather energy, is what makes the world go round — literally and figuratively. The ever-increasing sophistication in our ability to manipulate energy is primarily responsible for the rapid development of our society, and should we wish to continue such progress, it is imperative that we choose wisely before taking the next step.

We’ve come a long way since the days of slaves, bull-whips and carriages, turning to oil and coal to supply the majority of our energy needs. These sources are — for the time being — plentiful, but that will inevitably change. Eventually we will need to jump to a different track, or else we plummet off the not-so-distant cliff. As the Earth’s oil supply drops, the price will rise, and the expense of using oil as the backbone of our society will be unsustainable. A new source of energy is needed, and there are plenty of options from which to choose. The puzzle is finding one that satisfies the needs of tomorrow as well as today, and nuclear energy is the solution to that puzzle.

As battery technology improves, so does the feasibility of electric cars. This shifts the energy burden of transportation from gasoline to electricity generation. Right now coal owns that market, and is responsible for just under 40 percent of electricity generation in the United States. If we drive up demand for electricity by switching to electric cars, something will rise to meet that demand. Since the development of fracking technology, natural gas seems to be a viable candidate, at least in the short term. However, natural gas use emits greenhouse gases, albeit less than coal, which are responsible for climate change. The long-term viability for natural gas is therefore hard to defend.

Renewable sources, such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power all have their place, but when considering long-term goals, you can’t get any longer than space. While solar cell technology and energy storage are improving, you still require the sun to be shining in order to generate electricity. Establishing space stations, exploring below the surface of moons such as Europa and Enceladus (which may harbor life) and even possibly leaving the solar system at some point would have huge energy demands for which only nuclear energy would be capable of meeting. Therefore, it makes sense that we push to develop the technology here on Earth so that we may meet those energy needs in the future.

So great, we have a method of generating a large amount of energy that gives off no greenhouse gases and can operate for over half a century once operational. The question then becomes, what about tsunamis? The Fukushima power plant disaster of 2011, which prompted Germany and Switzerland to shut down their nuclear programs, happened to Generation II reactors. We now have developed Generation III reactors, considered to be much, much safer by regulatory bodies.

As long as we move forward with developing nuclear technology, our ability to guarantee their safety will only continue to increase. Hiccups are bound to happen, but letting them drive you to cowardice instead of sticking it out and learning will only hinder us in the long run.

 

Jake Weber is a second-year literary journalism and philosophy double major. He can be reached at weberja@uci.edu. 

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