Keywords: critical, environmental, transboundary, air pollution, global warming, sustainable
Some critical environmental issues of the energy discussions
There are two complementary approaches to studying the environmental effects of fuel use and energy conversion. The first is to be completely systematic and to follow through each technology in great detail, and itemise each impact, whether large or small. The second, followed here, is to pick out those items that either dominate the risk or impact, or dominate the public perception thereof, and try to understand them in some detail. I pick the following that I believe are the most important environmental issues today: 1. What is the effect of particulate air pollution at today's levels? 2. What is the probability that carbon dioxide emissions will cause global warming? 3. Can we use this energy source in a sustainable fashion over several millennia? I will spend much of the space on a discussion of these three. However, there are a number of other items that some group or another think are important. They must also be considered to a sufficient extent to persuade everyone involved that indeed they are less important. These include: 4. What is the probability and effect of a severe nuclear power accident? 5. Why is there public concern about nuclear waste although it is not justified by the calculations? 6. Why are hydroelectric dams not as universally popular as they were? 7. Can we avoid the proliferation of bombs using plutonium if we have a nuclear power program? 8. Can we reduce the cost of electricity from nuclear power to what is was 25 years ago?