The Oil Drum points out that while coal is falling into disfavor in the US, it is widely used by developing countries because it is freely available and cheap.
The reality is that many of the nations that are switching to coal to provide the power for the next 20 years or more are doing so in part to bring their people closer to the living standard of the West. When villages have no power, we do not have the right to tell their government that they cannot provide it, even if coal is the only power source available.
If we don’t want hundreds if not thousands of new coal plants in the coming decades then alternatives need to be planned for now. Renewables like wind, solar, hydro, and wave can certainly play major roles, as can an emphasis on smart electronics and appliances that conserve energy. But what if spent nuclear rods could be reused? GE thinks this is economically feasible and is working on it. And yes, only a deep-pockets company like GE can fund something like this.
The market opportunity to recover the vast amount of useful energy in spent nuclear fuel remains available if a firm, such as General Electric, can develop the technologies to safety recover it without the environmental issues associated with aqueous recycling methods.
Maybe one day the government will be funding research into cleantech and cheap power. The fast developing Third World will be requiring vast amounts of power, and they will do it either with cleantech or with coal. If the developed countries make the right choices now and provide the technology for developing countries to produce clean power at a reasonable cost, then they won’t have to use coal. If not, then they have little or no choice.