NRC/NAS report: “Energy in Transition, 1985–2010”



The National Academy of Sciences released a report, ‘Energy in Transition, 1985–2010,’ which sums up the findings of a 4-year study that cost over $4 million. In a sense, the study was in response to the hue and cry of ‘What are we doing about the energy problem?’ Probably the events that have come to pass since the study began were not anticipated. Nonetheless, aside from political considerations, the report attempts to assess the exceedingly difficult energy problems of the future. There was a large commitment of effort in the study to intersperse problems of the environment with those of the energy needs. It is this commitment to maintain a clean environment that left the conclusions more or less undefined. The report seems to hold the view that not only will energy be in short supply, and that conservation alone will not suffice, but that most of the energy technologies envisioned to replace conventional energy sources will be hazardous. The ‘clean’ energy sources, such as solar, geothermal, and nuclear fusion, are either not well enough developed to make large contributions to the nation's energy needs or are too costly at this stage. In a discussion of the report in Chemical and Engineering News, the policy of the NRC/NAS committee is summarized as twofold: vigorous conservation, coupled with enhanced U.S. production of petroleum products. One of the NRC committee members is quoted as summarizing the conclusion, ‘Use less oil; get more oil.’ (Chem. Eng. News, 39–40, January 28, 1980). Nuclear fusion, particularly the liquid-metal fast breeder reactor, is to be needed during the next 30 years and beyond (it states that breeder reactors can extend the supply of nuclear fuel for hundreds of thousands of years). Coal will also have to be used in great quantities, and in judging the combined effect on the environment, another committee member is quoted as writing ‘We do not really know whether carbon dioxide is worse than plutonium.’