Alternate energy sources must be explored

Given all the recent controversy over the fate of our planet, and that the obvious source of the issue is mankind's increased reliance on the burning of fossil fuels, it's time that we examine possible alternative energy sources.

Two potentially viable alternative energy sources are nuclear power and hydrogen fuel cells. Opponents cast nuclear fission in a negative light; they feel that the risks of accidents such as meltdowns or waste spills outweigh the benefits of nuclear power. One argument raised by opponents of nuclear power is that it produces as much air pollution as coal plants, due to the energy expended in mining uranium used in nuclear fission reactions.

I have no idea where those who allege this got this piece of information, and it seems neither do they. It may be an example of biased information supplied online. Whatever the case, without any sort of evidence to support the attempts, it's most likely completely false. In order to extract coal to burn in plants, mining must also be done when producing comparable amounts of air pollution during the mining of uranium.

The sheer quantity of carbon dioxide waste produced by the burning of fossil fuels in power plants (approximately 24,126,416 metric tons in 2002, according to the Statistics Division) far outweighs the amount of waste emissions produced by the actual process of nuclear fission: none.

What's more, the waste products produced by nuclear power, while dangerous, are far less prevalent in our environment than those caused by such unclean power production methods as coal, gas and oil burning. Stored properly, the waste products of nuclear fission will have no chance to harm the environment or those who live in it.

Another shortsighted tendency of opponents of nuclear power is to focus heavily on such problems as the famous disasters of Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island, rather than its vast benefits. Those meltdowns were anomalous; in each case some sort of problem arose that would not under the normal conditions and precautions used by nuclear power plants today. In fact, they are highly safe and equipped with multiple systems of fail-safes to ensure that meltdowns do not occur again.

A second energy source, hydrogen fuel cells, is generally viewed in a more optimistic light, especially regarding its implications for transportation. Fuel cells employ hydrolysis, the breakdown of water into its constituent parts of hydrogen and oxygen by passing an electric current through it. Hydrogen, a highly combustible, clean, and renewable gas, could be used to power a vehicle.

However, these emergent technologies face several stumbling blocks, the foremost of which is the fact that the world economy is based largely upon oil production and trade. I won't point fingers, but it is evident that, in the past, policymakers have opposed any action that would impinge upon the oil industry's profits. Leading NASA climatologist Jim Hansen asked, "If an alternative scenario is practical, has multiple benefits, and makes good common sense, why are we not doing it?" However, he answers his own question with the understatement that it seems to him, "special interests have been a roadblock wielding undue influence over policymakers."

Fortunately, thanks to the recent surge in awareness and interest in our self-imposed doom, it is likely that technologies such as these will in fact come into standard use sometime within our lifetimes. However, as with any major societal change, it must be introduced gradually and methodically.