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Electricity comes from a socket

"The only real alternative to the ecologically destructive coal-burning power plants in North Bohemia is clean nuclear energy", said an ambassador of the government of Prague in an interview during an anti-nuclear-energy campaign in Bohunice. That is also the "best" argument the Czech have for the expansion of nuclear energy in their country. But there is an alternative!

For many people electricity simply comes from the socket...
Picture by T. Micke

Most of us know that burning brown coal that contains a lot of sulfur is quite a dirty business. But what a lot of people don't know is that Czechoslovakia invested a lot of money in the expansion of nuclear energy instead of equipping their antiqued coal-burning power plants (some of them date back to the twenties) with filters. According to a report of the Austrian Institute for Ecology "only one of the Czechoslovakian caloric power plants is equipped with a sulfur dioxide filter and even that doesn't work".

This is even more alarming considering that three quarters of the Czechoslovakian electricity are won from coal, petroleum and gas. Only a fourth of the electricity is generated from nuclear energy. Only an insignificant percentage of 6% is hydroelectric power. In comparison: three quarters of the Austrian power are hydroelectric and one quarter of the energy is won from gas, petroleum or coal. Telling our neighboring country to follow our example seems like the obvious thing to do but it isn't that simple. Using waterpower in Czechoslovakia isn't as easy as in Austria. The actual energy recovery of waterpower is already 40%. The poor water quality and the structure of the country are to blame.

So Czechoslovakia has no other option but to choose the lesser evil - nuclear energy or coal-burning power plants - to cover the growing energy demand? The Austrian "electricity producers" are also making it easy on themselves: more energy is needed and that's why we need to build more plants.

But there is also another way easily neglected and nobody feeling responsible for: "saving electricity" - however not in the sense of relinquishment, limitation or regression. Helmut Haberl of the Ecology Institute: "It's not like human beings need electricity, petroleum or coal as such. They need a warm home, a cold fridge, lit rooms, working machines etc, - in other words: "a provision of energy services". The less energy we need for these services the better for us. In spite of the improving life standard the energy consumption can sink if better and more efficient technologies are used."

Actually this system isn't new, thermal insulation of apartments is self-evident nowadays.

Countries like Czechoslovakia are decades behind on this area. After all, words like "environment protection" and "energy saving" were foreign words until the political turning point. Even the former Czechoslovakian minister of energy Suva admitted that the total energy demand could be reduced by a third (!) with very easy methods.

Dr. Wolfgang Hingst, Austrian historian and commentator on current affairs, is disgruntled: "No wonder! In Czechoslovakia it is common to turn the radiator on full and control the room temperature by opening windows."

An example: to heat an "average house" without isolation and a living area of about 130 square meters about 4700 liters of oil are needed per year. If this house was to be renovated and isolated according to the newest technologies, the oil supply could be cut down to 1300 liters per year. The investment will pay off after a few years.

The Europeans are not very conscious about saving energy. Useless heating often while the windows are open or leaving the lights switched on in deserted rooms are only 2 of the most common "sins". The reason is that electricity is cheap and it just comes out of the socket.

Every driver becomes aware of how much energy his car uses every few hundred kilometers. If he wants to keep on driving he has to fuel his car and pay for it.

The TV however works whenever we switch it on. If we would have to insert a coin every 10 minutes to keep watching, we would certainly not watch all TV shows at random. Like this less energy would be used.

An interesting new alternative to atomic power: A power plant from up-drift winds
Picture by SBP

Saving energy is one of the best alternatives to nuclear energy. When we speak of alternatives, we usually mean "alternative energy sources" like solar power, wind energy, heat pumps and tidal power stations. These energy sources are often brushed under the carpet because they are said to be insufficiently developed or unprofitable.

That these methods are already in use all over the world without any complications is often forgotten (soon there will be wind power in the USSR). The biggest solar power plant of the Alps is in use on the Loser in Upper Austria since June 1989.

Dr.Hingst: " More than 100 billion dollars have already been invested in nuclear power. If this kind of money would have been spent on alternative energy sources and energy saving methods and the energy saving concept would have been carried out, we wouldn't have any energy problems anymore." On top of that we would be spared of the never-ending fear of a nuclear accident.

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© A report by Tobias Micke (02-05-91) – Contact