Exempt from the mandatory emissions reduction cuts required of developed countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol, pressure is being put on developing countries to make more significant efforts to increase energy efficiency and reduce their greenhouse and other polluting gas emissions.
It turns out that South Africa, relatively speaking a beacon for wildlife conservation and with one of the world’s biggest ecotourism industries, also ranks high up on the worst polluters’ list: A recently released report pegs the country as the 15th-larget emitter of carbon dioxide, ahead of developed countries such as the UK with much larger economies. Like most of its counterparts, the South African government is looking at expanding the use of new, cleaner coal and nuclear power to reduce emissions per unit and supply growing demands for electrical power and fuel.
Cleaner Coal & Nuclear Options
It’s not just external political pressure from the US and EU. Rapidly industrializing countries like China and India are some of the biggest polluters in the world, and they are increasingly affected by the health, safety and environmental consequences of pursuing economic growth without adequately addressing the issue of environmental sustainability and responsibility.
The fact that South Africa relies on coal is the fuel used to produce 86% of the nation’s electricity certainly doesn’t help. With actual and forecast electricity demand outstripping supply, the South African government, for valid reasons and like most nations, is looking to nuclear power to make up a big portion of the gap. Like the US, it is also devoting serious time, money and effort into underground carbon capture and storage.
Nuclear is looked at as a clean, though not really renewable, source of energy by many in government and industry, despite the dangers, risks and problems of nuclear waste disposal and the potential ramifications building new nuclear plants has for national and global security.
The advantages of building nuclear power plants and using new methods and means of generating power and fuel from coal, along with ways of removing noxious emissions are clear: both coal and nuclear power generation provide the huge amounts of electricity necessary to keep modern societies running, they both have long track records and hence are familiar from a technological perspective, and both have long and well-established companies with the infrastructure in place to support them and the capital and motivation to develop these resources further.
The case is even more compelling for countries such as the US and South Africa, which have access to relatively large amounts of coal and uranium ore and the undeveloped land and underground geologic structures that would appear to lend themselves well to underground emissions and waste storage.
A couple of salient questions are whether governments and industry should and could be doing more to develop cleaner, renewable fuel and power alternatives and how much they are willing to gamble on the risk-reward trade-offs associated with making greater use of coal and nuclear power?