The power generation industry, taken as a whole, is the world's biggest industry. As such it has the largest effect of any industry on the conditions on earth. Some of the effects, particularly the ones associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, are far-reaching both geographically and temporally.
Awareness of the dangers associated with this and other aspects of power generation has been slow to register but since the 1970s a series of events have provided graphic evidence. Acid rain during the 1980s; nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl in 1986; critical reviews of large hydropower projects in the 1980s and 1990s; the recognition of the dangers of global warming during the 1990s; the ever-present haze that has blighted many of the world's cities for 20 years and more: by the end of the twentieth century concern for the environment was one of the major international issues.
As a consequence of this, environmental concerns are beginning to shape the power generation industry. This is an effect that will continue through the next four or five decades of the twenty-first century.
There are environmental considerations which relate to each different type of power generation technology. These are considered in turn, in conjunction with the technologies, in the chapters that follow. This chapter takes a broader look at the most important issues and how they are being treated.
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