Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
events at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, we all have seri-
ous questions about the safety and reliability of nuclear power. Even if
the engineering details make nuclear power intriguing, as a real-world
mater, implementing it raises too many questions and—even if it should
win public approval—would take far too long. It's not a viable option.
Geothermal energy has the great advantages of being inexhaustible,
creating no byproducts, remaining constant through time (unlike solar
or wind energy), interfering in no natural motion of the winds or tides,
and requiring no extraction from the Earth (a claim that not even nuclear
power can make, reliant as it is on the mining of uranium). But it, too,
requires us to intervene into the Earth's systems, for when we drill some
distance beneath the surface, we may risk triggering seismic disruptions,
even small earthquakes. A greater problem is that over much of the Earth,
bedrock of a sufficiently high temperature (300°) is found very far below
the surface; in most of the western half of the United States, for example,
geothermal engineers would have to drill down four miles or more, and
in most of the eastern half, over six miles. 39 Drilling that deep on a large
scale is technically and financially difficult and will be feasible only after a
lot more research and testing.
This sort of problem applies not only to alternative forms of energy,
but to the possible transformation of our use of fossil fuel as well. Many
observers suggest that we cannot rely on renewable sources alone; we
will also have to burn coal and natural gas—not as we have done in the
past, releasing ruinous quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,
but by capturing and storing it deep in the ground. Although the process
of capture and storage will take up part of the energy the plants gener-
ate and will thus raise energy costs, at least it will not harm the atmo-
sphere. The real problem in this case—and it's a big one—is that this
technology is largely untested; so far not a single coal plant has actually
tested carbon capture technology in any serious way. Moreover, just as
the Environmental Protection Agency is pondering whether to ban the
release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from future coal-burn-
ing plants in an effort to force them to capture carbon, the low price of
increasingly available natural gas is removing incentives for utilities to
build such expensive plants at all. 40 Nevertheless, Carbon Engineering
has created prototype carbon cleanup systems in Calgary, Alberta,
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