Will an Energy Miracle Solve the 'Defining Challenge of the 21st Century'?

Supplying power and transportation to 10 billion people while limiting hazardous emissions may be the defining challenge of the century. Many energy analysts think renewables won't get us there, and are betting on a nuclear energy miracle.

1 minute read

March 12, 2013, 7:00 AM PDT

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


"Many environmentalists believe that wind and solar power can be scaled to meet the rising demand [of billions emerging from poverty], especially if coupled with aggressive efforts to cut waste," reports Justin Gillis. "But a lot of energy analysts have crunched the numbers and concluded that today’s renewables, important as they are, cannot get us even halfway there."

Gillis discusses the most promising innovations in nuclear power, which many technologists see as the most viable option for providing a reliable source of electricity without carbon emissions. These include "a practicable type of nuclear fusion", "a fission reactor that could run on today’s nuclear waste", and "a safer reactor based on an abundant element called thorium."

"Beyond the question of whether they will work," he adds, "these ambitious schemes pose a larger issue: How much faith should we, as a society, put in the idea of a big technological fix to save the world from climate change?"

And as is appropriate for a nuclear-related news item that appeared on the two-year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, we offer a reminder of the twelve different nuclear power "near miss" events that occurred in the United States in 2012.

Monday, March 11, 2013 in The New York Times

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