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Getting beneath nuclear power



We are facing an energy crisis. Fossil fuel reserves will eventually run out and so we urgently need to find cleaner and more sustainable sources of energy.

Renewables certainly represent a large part of the solution. Wind and solar technologies are rapidly growing and some estimates say that by 2050, Europe could be 100% powered by clean energy.

But some people are still quite hostile about nuclear power, mostly because of issues relating to its safety, management and potential as a weapon. In many cases, though, it could be that they simply don’t know enough about it.

At an industrial level where the amount of energy required is far greater, things work differently. In addition, many governments are still reluctant to invest in large-scale clean energy because they feel it is unreliable.

In February, the UK unveiled a 40-year subsidy scheme for the nuclear industry. Nuclear accounts for the 13% of the world’s total energy and has often been indicated as a realistic low-carbon technology that will help us meet our climate targets.

In an attempt to dispel some of the myths around nuclear, we spoke to Giorgio Locatelli, PhD lecturer at the Lincoln School of Engineering, who has researched different types of baseload energy, trying to establish which one is the best in terms of its social, economic and environmental impacts.

What was your research about?

We tried to understand which characteristics make energy sources different from each other.

If your source is coal, you depend on who gives it to you. Oil and gas work in the same way; you rely on your suppliers. Hydropower does not have this problem; neither does nuclear because its fuel lasts for a long time and it is very easy to get.

We wanted to show decisionmakers the sectors that are worth investing in.

What do your findings say about the most sustainable energy source?

Hydropower turns out to be the best technology: it is independent, incredibly simple, easy and cheap to produce and its environmental impact is very low compared to others.

You need to worry about a few maintenance operations, but not about fuel. You don’t have to worry about oil or gas prices fluctuation. The only problem is that every big spot in Europe is now taken and there is no more space to do it, while on the other side the demand for electricity is growing globally.

But also micro-hydropower plants are quite effective and easy to set up.

Do you think the difficulties around the storage of nuclear waste outweigh the benefits of nuclear as an energy source?

To keep nuclear, you need to be in a system that works where there is no corruption. Even in a mixed energy system where you have hydro, wind and solar energy, you need a source that produces electricity all the time.

That something can be nuclear, coal or gas: but all these will produce waste. Even solar waste has a huge impact. Nuclear waste is highly toxic, but it can be safely stored underground. Fossil fuel waste goes in the air and it’s impossible to control once released in the atmosphere.

How can nuclear waste be managed effectively?

Nuclear waste is incredibly small compared to coal waste, for example. Waste sites obviously need to be managed perfectly: they have to be stored in a safe place underground or they can be reprocessed to obtain more energy.

Today we can reprocess about 50% of nuclear waste, but this percentage is likely to rise in the future.

Aren’t there too many risks with nuclear? And why are so many countries are phasing it out?

Each energy source has its risks and coal and gas are the first to carry huge health and safety risks.

The choice of phasing out depends on the country. In Germany for example, it is a political-based choice.

Nuclear power works if it’s part of a balanced energy portfolio and if there is a sufficient number of reactors; otherwise the cost is too high.

What about the risk of nuclear proliferation?

To be able to use nuclear power as atomic weapon, you need a specific technology that is able to enrich uranium up to 95%. For civilian use, it is at 3-4%.

The risk is when a country decides to get this technology without the approval of an international safety organisation.

Why do you think many people and governments still seem to be sceptical about the efficiency of renewable energy?

The UK is investing in wind power, which is very effective in this country, but some people still have aesthetic concerns about it. Offshore wind farms are usually better as the wind is more constant in the sea and in this way they are also more distant from people’s view.

There are places, like Sweden or Scotland for instance, where renewables are very reasonable and effective. The energy mix strongly depends on the country where it is produced.

What’s the matter with gas and oil?

Gas power plants are cheap to build, but you need to buy the fuel all the time, so they are quite expensive to run. And if the gas price goes up, you simply dump its cost on consumers.

Oil prices will rise as soon as it would become more difficult to extract it. The question is not, “How long will we have oil or gas reserves?”, but instead, “At what price?

Further reading:

Events in North Korea shed light on the risks of nuclear power

Government nuclear strategy ‘outdated and expensive’

Hinkley nuclear power station gets planning consent

New nuclear stations essential to meet climate goals, says energy committee

Government set to provide nuclear with four-decade financial backing


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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