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Is the threat of proliferation enough to reject nuclear power?



Following the National Audit Office’s (NAO) November report on Sellafield and its running costs, Joseph Iddison takes a look at the history of nuclear energy and weighs up its advantages against its difficulties, as both an energy source and a human danger.

Nuclear power is arguably the most contentious source of energy there is. Some camps class it as valuable low-carbon power; others see its impact as a threat to humanity. The reality is that it is probably a necessary evil.

A common problem with nuclear energy is its waste, which remains for roughly 100,000 years, while high-level waste from power plants can last even longer. This makes it incredibly difficult to store.

Existing storage sites can be used for 100 years at most, according to the European Commission. As B&GT publisher Simon Leadbetter wrote in this very magazine, “We need to find storage solutions that will last longer than any other man-made structure and that’s an enormous ask.”

On top of its storage problems, nuclear waste is radioactive, meaning it poses serious health concerns were any contamination or mismanagement to occur. The UK now has a stockpile of over a hundred tonnes of deadly plutonium, with few plans over what to do with it. A small volume of escaped plutonium can be fatal.

The EU produces some 7,000 cubic metres (247,203 cubic feet) of high-level radioactive waste annually. There have been major calamites over the years to do with nuclear waste misconduct, with the most recent case occurring last month against Sellafield nuclear plant, which is to be prosecuted over allegations that it sent low-level radioactive waste to a landfill site back in April 2010.

More recently, on December 16 last year, the first of dozens of rail shipments of nuclear waste from Dounreay to Sellafield was made overnight. A total of 44 tonnes of material is being moved, in the hope that the shipments will be turned into plutonium and uranium to create more fuel for nuclear power plants. The environmental group Friends of the Earth has criticised the transportation, saying that it endangers citizens located near the railway line.

In a report published by the NAO, Sellafield was said to have had £1.6 billion spent on its running and clean up during 2011/12. A further £411m was spent on major projects at the site during that period. With such significant cost, as well as regular issues with timescale and budget, is nuclear power a necessary source of energy for the UK?

At present, there are over 430 operating nuclear plants worldwide and they provide over 2% of the world’s total energy output and 15% of its electricity. According to Greenpeace, even if nuclear power plants were built at the most optimistic rate – approximately 10 new reactors by 2024 – our carbon emissions would still only be cut by 4%.

Storage of this waste is problematic due to its contamination risk. One of the EU’s favoured storage methods is vitrification, where the nuclear waste is dissolved in molten glass, poured into steel canisters, which are then buried. The glass later solidifies, trapping the toxic waste. The UK’s preferred method of waste storage is to encapsulate it in specially formulated cement. The waste is mixed with cement and sealed in steel drums, in preparation for disposal deep underground.

However, in August last year, researchers at the University of Sheffield found that a method of storing nuclear waste normally used only for high-level waste could provide a safer, more efficient, and potentially cheaper solution for the storage and ultimate disposal of nuclear waste.

We found that gamma irradiation produced no change in the physical properties of these glasses, and no evidence that the residual radiation caused defects”, said Professor Neil Hyatt at the time.

We think this is due to the presence of iron in the glass, which helps heal any defects so they cannot damage the material.”

However, there is another problem concerning nuclear power: proliferation. There are growing hazards posed by the radioactive materials nuclear power produces – some of which can be used in nuclear weapons and all of which can be used in so-called ‘dirty’ bombs.

Such is the concern of nuclear proliferation, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger discussed its global threat“There has emerged in the region, the current and most urgent issue of nuclear proliferation. For 15 years, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have declared that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, but it has been approaching.

“In a few years, people will have to come to a determination of how to react, or the consequences of non-reaction. I believe this point will be reached in a very foreseeable future.”

The threat of both proliferation and meltdown means nuclear is included in the sextet of sin – the six core untouchables of the ethical investment universe. But whilst this is enough to put many people off the energy source, legally-binding carbon reduction targets will be difficult to meet without it.

Investing in clean, renewable alternatives like wind, solar, hydro and biomass is clearly the long-term solution. But nuclear could be a necessary, low-carbon stopgap in the coming years.

Further reading:

Hollande’s France and its shift from nuclear to renewables

Surviving without nuclear power

On this day in 1996: France suspends nuclear tests

On this Day in 1946: UN addresses the problems raised by atomic energy

Fukushuma: one year on

Joseph Iddison is a master’s student at the University of Leicester. Having graduated from the same institution in July 2013 in English, Joseph will start the global environmental change course in September.


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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