The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Nuclear Energy is no solution – Pasquale Pistorio

Malta Independent Sunday, 26 September 2010, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

It was an object lesson on the values of ecology in private and public policy.

The speaker was Pasquale Pistorio, for over 25 years at the head of STMicroelectronics. Now retired, Mr Pistorio, at 74, is still very active and travels around the world both as a well-known speaker and because of his many business links, apart from sitting on many international foundations.

He was speaking on Friday to a full house in the Phoenicia ballroom at a business breakfast organised by Leading Talks with, among others, The Malta Business Weekly as a sponsor.

There were people present yesterday who were absent last Friday when the government held the first consultation on a document on environment policy. Minister George Pullicino was not there nor were other ministers, (they accompanied the Prime Minister to a visit to Gozo’s Magro Brothers) but Labour MPs Leo Brincat and Owen Bonnici were, as were the chairmen of Mepa and of WasteServ. They, and a hall full of businessmen, were not wasting their time for Ing. Pistorio gave a memorable talk with unusual (for his listeners) clarity.

Eighty per cent of the energy needs of the world are satisfied by fossil fuels, Mr Pistorio began. Only six per cent of the world’s energy needs are satisfied through nuclear power, while 14 per cent are satisfied by traditional renewables, such as burning wood or bio-mass. New renewables are still too new to figure.

Fossil fuels dominate the energy needs of the world and formed the basis of the industrial revolution. The growth of the past 200 years in the world economy was due to fossil fuels, especially after World War II.

However, fossil fuels are dangerous for humanity.

1. They are dangerous because of the pollution they cause, such as the recent accident in the Gulf of Mexico. In Asia, some 600,000 people die every year because of pollution caused by fossil fuels. One has only to think of heavily polluted Beijing or Shanghai. In Italy, it has been calculated that if the cost of gasoline were to pay for all the maladies caused by it, the real price would double.

2. A global economy based on fossil fuels is the biggest threat to humanity, since they lead to the extremes we are seeing in weather patterns, more severe drought and increased desertification of the planet. Beijing, which risks being overtaken by the desert, is planning a wall of trees to keep the desert at bay. An increase of just two degrees in sea temperature will see millions forced out of their homes because of rising sea levels.

3. Fossil fuels in short supply may lead to wars. Among the causes of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, oil supplies or their risk constitute a major factor.

4. Poor countries have difficult access to fossil fuels, so they pay an additional tax.

5. And, most importantly, fossil fuels are finite. Whether they will end in 50 years or 70 years is immaterial. As the end of supplies approaches, the scramble for the remaining supplies will be frantic, as we saw when oil rose to $150 a barrel and the world economy collapsed.

If the world is not to remain anchored to the very finite supplies of fossil fuels, what should be the alternative?

There has been, and still is, a big debate regarding nuclear energy. In Italy, where a 1987 referendum banned it, after 23 years they have still not dismantled the nuclear energy stations that there were.

Nuclear energy accounts for six per cent of the world’s energy supplies and produces 16 per cent of the electricity consumed in Europe.

But nuclear energy is not the way forward. Third generation nuclear power stations are very expensive. One has to factor in all the costs, not just the cost of the fuel and the cost of the operation, but also the cost of ensuring full security and the cost of decommissioning the plants.

Finland, which is building one new nuclear power station, is finding out two years down the line that the costs have doubled. According to a calculation made in Italy, the cost of electricity produced by a nuclear power station would be around $0.12 or $0.14 per kilowatt hour, whereas gas works out at some €0.08 and solar energy works out at some €0/10.

Only three developed countries are planning to build nuclear power plants: Finland, France and Japan. Not the US.

One reason could also be because of the time it takes to build a nuclear power station – from six to 10 years. The IEA has estimated that by 2030 the number of nuclear stations in the world will not be very different from the number we have today.

In addition, the uranium basis of such plants is also finite – we have some 70 years of supply at most. If, conceivably, the use of uranium were to increase four-fold, we will have used up all the uranium in 10 years. And then what?

Then there is also the issue of where to put the waste produced. The US has long had a project to bury such waste in the Utah Mountains, but after 20 years they have given up. In Italy, they are still deciding where to bury the waste produced pre-1987.

The only two solutions to the energy crisis are:

• cut energy consumption through more efficiency; and

• renewables.

At ST, an example was set so many years ago in 1993 when the company issued an Environmental Decalogue. This was based, back then, on an intuition that has since been proven to be correct: less energy used means more competitiveness. In the 11 years from 1994 to 2005, when Ing. Pistorio ended his term as chairman and CEO, ST made savings of some $900 million through the investment of some $300 million, hence increasing its profits by $600 million. In 2006, the company saved some $230 million more.

The Malta STM facility played a key role in this. Over the same 10 years it saved $30 million in energy costs, including $4.2 million in water consumption. All the water used is now recycled and 70 per cent of it is re-used, adding to a 60 per cent reduction in water consumed.

Can this be done by a country? It has been estimated that were the US to go for energy conservation, excluding the question of transportation, from 2010 to 2060 it would make a saving of $1.2 trillion following an investment of some $600 billion, thus saving $520 billion.

There is a very simple mechanism for doing this. There are three main players:

• the institutions

• the business enterprises

• the citizens.

And there are three ways of doing things:

• incentivise

• regulate

• educate.

Through these three, one can perform a miracle.

Incentivise: A government can get citizens to cut energy consumption such as, for instance, by providing tax rebates of up to 55 per cent to upgrade the environmental profile of their home. This is an action ‘for today, for the past and also for the near future.

Regulate: In the UK, as from 2016, new residential buildings have to be zero emission. By 2019, this will also apply to new commercial buildings. The rest of the EU will follow some years later. Italy has also planned to abolish the use of incandescent lamps. Other rules apply to appliances.

Educate: Get people to change their lifestyles. There is a small book entitled 50 ways to save the planet. Get people to prefer taking a shower instead of having a bath, as the latter uses more hot water. Get people to walk to buy the paper, rather than taking the car. Set the air-conditioning at an acceptable level – in hot Arizona you have to wear a coat in restaurants because they run the AC so high.

The EU has what it calls its 2020 targets, which also mean a 20 per cent cut in energy consumption by 2020. But the targets may even go up to 30 per cent. It would be easy if there was the right political will.

As for renewables, they are now a reality, from solar to thermo to PV, to wind to geothermal to biothermal.

Wind renewable energy is now mature. It could soon be as cheap as fossil fuels. In most coastal areas, wind energy could be as low as €0.05 per kw/hour. This is even cheaper than fossil fuels. Twenty per cent of the energy needs in Denmark come from wind energy, 10 per cent in Spain, eight per cent in Germany and from three to six per cent in the EU as a whole.

In 2009, wind energy produced some 158 gigawatts in the whole world, which works out at something like 55 power stations compared to the 375 nuclear power stations. But wind stations are increasing by 25 per cent a year. By 2025, energy from wind will overtake energy from nukes.

Solar energy is still young. Over the past year it produced only some 25 gigawatts, equivalent to four power stations. But it has a 50 per cent growth rate and the costs are falling. Last year in the US solar energy went below the $1 mark.

Thermo dynamics create energy through using huge mirrors. Covering just two per cent of the world’s deserts by such mirrors would solve all the energy needs of the entire world. The cost is still high but is falling.

Photovoltaic energy will reach parity by mid-decade. There is still so much research to be done that will make this and other renewables more efficient and cost-effective by the second half of this century.

Malta is in an ideal situation to go for renewables. It is a small island, its population is quite intelligent and it is very sunny. A Sicilian saying says that the sun that hits one square metre of Sicilian land is the equivalent of one barrel of oil.

Malta could become the first country in the world to be carbon free, for instance by 2030, the first country in the world to get its energy needs from clean renewables.

A green economy also creates jobs. In Germany, three to four million jobs have been created by the green economy – 400,000 in renewable energy and 900,000 in energy conservation. There are very few jobs in nuclear energy.

Malta is very small; the three principals mentioned earlier could come together and plan the future as Copenhagen did when it said that 10 per cent of all buildings had to conserve energy over two years. New buildings in Malta could be made energy efficient, while old buildings could be made energy efficient as well. Malta is not a cold country, so houses do not need 24-hour heating. Light appliances could be regulated, banning all except energy savers. Malta could also go for electric cars, since it is so small. And Malta could also establish a PV facility with 100,000 units, or a wind farm, in Sicily, say, with the energy so produced reaching Malta through an undersea cable. Or it could build a 20,000 sq. km plant in Libya and use it to supply energy needs in Malta.

Malta could very well become a zero carbon emission country by 2030.

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