Elizabeth Way: a solar answer to the the world’s energy problems?

Elizabeth Way, a long-standing member of CND is perturbed about the prospects of new-build nuclear power stations, because most of the commercial reactors operating or under construction in the world today require enriched uranium fuel which can also form the core of a nuclear weapon. 

She asks: 

Could the world’s deserts help to solve the world’s energy problems? 

Various studies worldwide have shown that the world’s energy needs could be met by renewables at a fraction of the cost and without the emissions produced by fossil fuel and nuclear energy. 

Nuclear energy comes with problems and at an increasingly astronomical cost, further raised by the growing shortage of uranium. There is the prohibitive cost of insuring against nuclear accidents and the catastrophic nature of such accidents.

Excess levels of cancers have been found in the vicinity of some nuclear power stations leading many to see radio-active emissions as an ever-present risk. 

No satisfactory solution to the disposal of nuclear waste has been found; high-level waste can remain radioactive for 100,000 years. Who can foresee the social and geological conditions at the end of such a vast perspective of time? Will the waste be safely buried? 

Of all renewable sources of power the sun must be the most powerful; it could replace nuclear energy without the problems of waste or radioactive emissions, and at a fraction of the cost. 

The technology is being developed and, in some places, is already in place. In Rajasthan in India it has been converting hard water into drinking water since the 1980s. Desertec is a project based in the German Aerospace Centre [DER]. It aims to provide 15% of the energy needed in Europe and North Africa and to start feeding into the Spanish National Grid by 2013, given the funding and political will.


It will operate through a series of gigantic mirrors, focussing the relentless heat of the sun on to mechanisms to produce electricity we need and, as a bonus, will be the desalination of seawater bringing irrigation to the desert, which will enable the growing of plants in the shade of the mirrors. 

Many advantages: no waste, no dangerous emissions #


As some fear the possibility of political regimes taking over such developments and question the wisdom of building huge grid systems, a search for European sites revealed a surprisingly large number of deserts which could generate electricity for neighbouring regions:

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