Radford Words: The Need for Energy Affects the Environment

Radford Words
The Need for Energy Affects the Environment

Energy is a hot topic these days with the rising gasoline, heating oil and natural gas prices and the concern of how our use of fossil fuels affect the environment. The prospect of alternative energies such as biodeisel fuel, solar and nuclear power may not seem too far off--and could be the answer to saving the environment for future generations.
Radford University physics professor Rhett Herman says that the easily recoverable oil, which is the least expensive, will be depleted by 2020. What then?
Herman says there are several ways to obtain oil but many are more difficult than just pulling it out of the ground. There is shale oil buried in areas such as the Rocky Mountains, Canada and Siberia. The shale is dug up, pulverized, heated, refined and turned into gasoline. Oil sands in Canada and Siberia can be treated and gasoline can be extracted.
The gasification of coal is an option, says Herman. The current supply of coal, which has a high sulfur content, could last hundreds of years. The technology of creating clean energy from coal is available, but expensive. "It all comes down to how much we are willing to spend before we decide to make a change," says Herman.
Herman thinks nuclear energy could be the future of energy. "We know how to produce nuclear energy safely. But people are scared of it. They don't understand that you get more radiation during a day of sunning at the beach than you would during an accident at Three Mile Island, the nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, because of the latest in safety technology," says Herman. He cites the Chernobyl accident in Russia as a horrible example of what could happen when the safety specifications are ignored in the construction of a power plant. But by using the knowledge the nuclear industry has at its fingertips, a similar accident in the US would not happen, explains Herman. Also, the capability to store nuclear waste safely long enough to lose its radioactivity is common knowledge among nuclear experts.
France is a great example of a country utilizing nuclear power, says Herman. In 1999, France had 58 nuclear reactors supplying a significant percentage of its energy. "I don't think the U.S. would move forward with alternative energies until it is forced to," says Herman.
What does all this mean for planet Earth? According to the scientific community, says Herman, the planet can heal on its own if steps are taken to reduce pollution. He gives the example of the growth of the ozone hole in the Antarctic due to the increase in the use of chlorofluorocarbons in household items such as refrigerators. Once the use of CFCs was banned, evidence shows, the hole has stopped growing. Herman says that there are scientific indications that the hole will actually start to shrink and return to historically-normal levels in a few decades. "Can the planet recover? Sure," says Herman. "We need to consciously stop throwing things out of balance and start being proactive in providing viable solutions to our energy problems. The scientific community knows what those solutions are," adds Herman. "We just need to use them."

Article courtesy of Radford University (www.radford.edu).