Defining “Renewable Energy”
NEI Nuclear Notes has recently posted a link to this blog entry from a member of the South Carolina legislature, pondering the question of nuclear energy and “renewable energy”.
“I concluded that the question yesterday was whether or not to keep “nuclear” in the definition of “renewable” and whether nuclear is renewable. The environmental community testified that they did not want nuclear energy included.”
If renewable energy is a meaningful factual term, then it needs to have a rigorous, meaningful, scientifically useful definition. The environmental community can’t just make up their own definition as they go along.
So, what is it?
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary was the first good and credible English dictionary I could find that was searchable online.
re•new•able /rnjubl; NAmE nu/ adj.
1 [usually before noun] (of energy and natural resources) that is replaced naturally or controlled carefully and can therefore be used without the risk of finishing it all: renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power.
Nuclear energy can be used without the risk of “finishing it all” on a timescale relevant to our human civilisation on this planet into the future. There is sufficient uranium and thorium in the Earth to supply the energy needs of an advanced civilisation for every person on Earth for no less than one million years, assuming it is used sensibly and efficiently using Generation IV reactors and sensible fuel cycles.
So too can the energy from the sun, or the geothermal heat from radioactivity within the Earth. Based on this part of the definition, these systems, for example, are certainly renewable energy.
Are the nuclear fuels in the Earth being “replaced naturally”? Well, no, they are not. But the hydrogen in the sun is not being replaced naturally, either. The geothermal heat produced by the radioactive decay of uranium, thorium and potassium within the earth is not being replace naturally.
Clearly, if solar energy and geothermal energy are renewable energy, then this definition isn’t right, either. But the problem goes deeper.
The free energy of the universe is not being naturally replenished, now, is it?
It doesn’t matter what particular energy system you’re considering – if this is our definition of renewable energy, then renewable energy does not and cannot exist – that is the Second Law of Thermodynamics.