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Author assesses future of world’s energy sources

Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Oct. 23, 2015 -- Award-winning author Richard Rhodes, who wrote the book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” told an Oak Ridge audience that despite new forms of clean energy being developed, coal is still the world’s primary producer of energy, listing several reasons.

“In a world of cheap energy sources, coal is one of them that is continuing to be used – not so much going back as it hasn’t continued its historic decline,” Rhodes said during a talk at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge that was part of Nuclear Science Week activities in Oak Ridge and Knoxville. “It kind of leveled off in 1973 during the Arab oil embargo and it has stayed there ever since. The other reason – and this is a sadder reason – that despite all the idealism of the environmental movement, when you move away from energy sources like natural gas and oil, you inevitably move toward coal. If you want to get rid of nuclear power, you’re basically saying we want to burn more coal.”

Rhodes said increased energy demand worldwide means use of natural gas and nuclear energy will expand as the 21st century progresses.

“You can actually mark the point where a society reaches 70 years of life for its average citizens in terms of how much energy they use,” Rhodes said. “If you put these countries and their individuals on a graph, you find countries where people are not doing well – Energy in a certain sense is life. If you decide you’re going to cut off one source, you end up with another source.”

Rhodes is working on a book about the future of the world’s energy usage that he hopes to publish in the next two years.

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