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Nuclear power is not energy solution, say UK MPs

Tania Branigan and John Vidal, Guardian
A new generation of nuclear power stations cannot solve energy supply problems in the short term and crucial questions of security, cost and effectiveness remain unanswered, MPs will warn in a report to be published this weekend.

The findings of the parliamentary environmental audit committee raise concerns over the risk of terrorist attacks, but also focus on the full costs of nuclear generation, such as the disposal of waste and decommissioning.

Its report on nuclear power, renewables and climate change questions whether new plants would cut carbon emissions as dramatically as promised and suggests they could crowd out other energy sources such as windpower. “You cannot claim nuclear is the answer to problems of supply in the gas market [in the next few years] … Nuclear power couldn’t appear over that sort of timescale,” said a source who has seen the report.

But the issue is becoming more pressing because of rising demand, increasing insecurity in conventional sources of energy and the approaching energy gap. It would take upwards of 12 years to gain approval for and build new plants.

The government’s energy review – given the specific task of reconsidering nuclear power after it was rejected in the energy white paper two years ago – finished taking evidence this week and is expected to report back in July. The source who has read the report described expert testimony on the risk of attacks as “impressive and alarming”, adding: “If Blair is right that the world has changed, then it must apply to this area as well.”
(14 April 2006)
Related from the Guardian:
Caught between global warming and an energy crisis, Blair looks north for answers
Oil price adds urgency to review

Forget computers. Here comes the sun

John Markoff, NY Times via Climate Ark
…The contrast between the two uses of silicon could not be more pronounced. As it turns out, the fledgling solar-cell industry uses just about as many silicon wafers as the chip industry does, but the resemblance ends there.

Today, solar cells are a tiny niche in the energy business — rapidly expanding to be sure, but without the potential for exponential gains in performance and falling costs that are hallmarks of the computer world.

Indeed, the solar-cell industry is reliant upon government subsidies, to the consternation of Mr. Rodgers, an outspoken libertarian [T.J. Rodgers, the computer entrepeneur].

“The culture that got built is what I call a grant culture,” he said. “They’re all pitching to the U.S. government, looking for funding.”

Such criticism aside, the subsidies are in place, both in the United States and Europe, and Mr. Rodgers is ideally positioned to capitalize on the government support he has long railed against. “I can make a good profit for my shareholders,” he said, “and provide a lot of good eco-stuff to the world as well.”

The paradox is that Mr. Rodgers, 58, who has long been a free-market iconoclast, even by the tough-guy standards of the valley’s chip industry, may end up striking pay dirt by moving from the cutthroat world of computer processing power to the more sensitive realm of solar power.
(14 April 2006)

Biofuel: who benefits?

Christopher D. Cook, The American Prospoect
Ethanol could be a huge boost to small farmers and the rural economy. But unless we are vigilant, the big winners could be the usual suspects.
When president bush suddenly embraced wood chips and biofuels on national television, renewable energy producers received a prime-time injection of hope. Ethanol backers forecast a boon for farmers and the environment. Yet serious questions remain about whether ethanol merely enables our addiction to an unsustainable auto-centered society — unless it’s part of a broader shift in consumption and production.

Equally critical is the matter of what a carbohydrate economy means for America’s two million farmers (by no means a monolithic lot), and for the future of sustainable agriculture. Will biofuels benefit smaller growers, or just large-scale producers and agribusiness? How will pressures for increased production and reduced energy prices effect farmers? Would small and mid-sized growers fare any better in the energy economy than they have in a rapidly consolidating food economy that has driven so many off the land and into poverty?

The stakes are significant: Protecting smaller-scale, diversified farms is intrinsic to ecological stewardship and rural economic health, sustainable farming advocates (and some biofuels proponents) argue. A major biofuels expansion could spur yet more large-scale industrial agriculture, which often relies heavily on petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides and deploys fuel-guzzling farm machinery. Pressures for large-volume production and cheap energy might ultimately harm smaller farmers and the environment — unless there are explicit policies to protect both.
(8 April 2006)
Also posted at Common Dreams.

Uganda: energy crisis likely to cause global environmental catastrophe – Price-Waterhouse report

Elias Biryabarema & Martin L. Oketch, The Monitor (Kampala, Uganda)
The global energy industry must reform fundamentally to move fast to avert the full impact of an environmental catastrophe that is already unfolding, spawning deadly consequences for human survival, according to report by the PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

A result of a survey of 116 top executives at the world’s leading energy companies, the report released yesterday says the most popular opinion passionately echoed in boardrooms across the world was of the “need to adopt a 10-year plan to halt environmental damage, developing new technologiesâ-oeand finding new fuel sources,” The sort of change needed, PWC said, was nothing short of a revolution in the energy industry to give it enough capability to respond to the emerging challenges of supply disruption and growth rigidities, exploding demand and environmental crisis.

This report’s observations strike a particularly familiar note in Uganda where an unsettling power crisis is inflicting immeasurable damage to the economy. That electricity shortage has been blamed in part on the lowering of Lake Victoria water levels, itself caused by the effect of global warming that has seen persistent droughts become more frequent and higher lake-surface evaporation rates.
(13 April 2006)

Scientist urges switch to thorium

Brett Evans, ABC (Australia)
Supporters of an alternative energy source say it has the potential to revolutionise the nuclear power industry and is a safer alternative to uranium.

Thorium oxide, which is three times more abundant than uranium, is also a radioactive material.

But senior research scientist Dr Hashemi-Nezhad, from Sydney University, says it is safe to hold in your hand. “This is the future of the energy in the world – energy without green, without greenhouse gas production,” he said.

Dr Hashemi-Nezhad says thorium has all of the benefits of uranium as a nuclear fuel but none of the drawbacks. It can generate power without emitting greenhouse gases and it can be used to incinerate the world’s stockpiles of plutonium.

… But Australian Conservation Foundation president Ian Low says although thorium has advantages he says using thorium is like being run over by a diesel train rather than a steam train.

“It’s true that the period of danger of radioactive waste from thorium reactors, if the design can be worked up and proven, would be hundreds of years rather than hundreds of thousands of years,” he said. “But we’re still talking about very long lifetimes.”
(14 April 2006)