Nuclear As A Sustainable Stop-Gap?
The first instance came after Church on Sunday night, when a friend of mine made the mistake of engaging me in conversation about my work — and forging ahead even when he realized what he was getting into. I was gentle on him at first, letting him guide the conversation rather than battering him with almost a decade’s worth of covering clean technology and environmental politics. His basic idea was that nuclear made the most sense in a world where fossil fuels were bad for the planet and renewables weren’t sustainable.
The reality was that my friend had not encountered much in the way of education about renewable energy, which had therefore biased him towards nuclear.
His view was a naive one, based on very little information."
Which means what exactly and what is "IDEA#1" exactly? First of all I find it rather poignant that you talk about a friend, while he doesn't know what your profession is and secondly that you've baited him into making a point without having the guts to tell him where you come from, in order to get an even stage from which to debate on, and finally I think that you sound a little condescending... I wouldn't want to be your friend.
This is a rather challenging way to start an article in which you are going to argue that nuclear could be a "stop-gap" or is this not what you intend to do? You obviously state that you're biased. The picture of the sunset over the wind farm suggests that you find this a beautiful and enthralling picture of said technology?
Now let's delve into the idea of "clean technology", I've learned in the previous years that not a single type of technology is, as you say, "clean". Have you done any research in the total life cycle of all the technologies? From the onset it looks as if you've thoroughly investigated Gas, Coal, Petroleum, Wind, Solar, Geothermal, Biomass, and several nuclear technologies and have concluded that some of them are "clean" and some of them aren't. Could you be more specific about which ones are clean, and which ones are not? And a semantic question, what constitutes a "clean" form of technology? I mean it sounds as if you're preaching to the choir here...
My ears simply started itching when I read your article, there was something about it that really tickled my spine in a bad way. Now I don't really have an audience, and I have a rather polemic nature, so I will indulge my reflex and blast away, okay?
The second instance I encountered a position in favor of nuclear was reading an article on Business Green, a guest post written by Energy for Humanity’s co-founder Kirsty Gogan. Energy for Humanity is a pro-nuclear non-profit organization, and in reading this article I was once again confronted with this relatively unpopular idea — unpopular in the circles I run in, at least.
Cogan bases her argument in a new arena — that of conservation, asking the blatantly contentious question, “How many species are we willing to lose?”
Which, once again, is a naive assumption to make — however, unlike my friend, this is willful naivety."
First of all, I'm a pro nuclear environmentalist who is opposed to renewables, you probably know how detested from all sides I am... Does that make my case any less credible? Simply because a lot of people do not believe me or rather don't hear or read my argumentations doesn't necessarily prove that I am wrong. If you think it does - this is called the ad populum fallacy.
Would you be so kind as to share this article with us, or tell us where it was published? Why you ask? Well it sure seems like an ad-hominem attack on Kristy Gogan and I want to see in what context she (?) has made said argument. You are clearly building an anti-nuclear case at this moment. May I call you dishonest?
"Invest in Nuclear or Renewables?Kirsty Cogan continued to argue for renewables, stating that “it is essential to weigh nuclear risks against the risks posed by continued use of fossil fuels.”
Now to be clear, both Kirsty and I are both more than willing to admit that nuclear has potentially fatal risks — the nuclear issues suffered at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station in 2011 being the most recently recognisable of these near-catastrophes."
Ah there it is!!! The Fukushima picture, thank you for finally showing your true nature, you're opposed to nuclear but want to bait people into believing that you're simply a skeptic.
To be honest it sounds like Kristy is making a Black and White assertion and I have to concur with the notion that it will be either Coal or Nuclear that will constitute the brunt of energy generation on Earth. It is quite simply a matter of energy density, lifecycle costs, time before EOL, MTBF.
"However, Cogan again makes it a black and white issue when she says that there are only two options — coal or nuclear. According to Cogan, renewables simply do not hold any potential to stave off the immediate issues — there is a necessary stop-gap.
Rather than block nuclear, it is vital to invest efforts in accelerating the development of smarter, cleaner, safer nuclear plants that use long lived radioactive waste as fuel, cannot meltdown, are proliferation resistant, and can be mass produced to drive down cost. These designs do exist but need commercial development.
However, if these “safer nuclear plants” require “commercial development,” then why not invest that same money in non-potentially risky renewable energy — such as wind, for as we have seen, it ranked similarly with nuclear as having the “highest benefit-to-cost ratio.”"
Sure why not invest all that money in Nuclear Fusion development? The question why increase innovation in nuclear energy rather than in wind power is quite easy to address. I've done it already here : Are windmills a smart choice? Let's be reasonable about it...
I am not going to do all the math again, but the premise is clear, renewables i.e. solar and wind do not pack the punch required to KO fossil generated electricity out of the picture. Add to that the immense amount of mining, purification, manufacturing, transportation, construction, maintenance and decommissioning (waste) emissions to the mix, the fact that wind turbines only last for two decades and work just a fifth of the time do the rest.
These millions of wind turbines required to fuel the world's energy needs aren't going to be magicked into place by leprechauns...
"The open letter (presumably written by Brooks and Bradshaw, despite being written in the third-person) supports the idea of nuclear power playing “a substantial role … as part of a range of sustainable energy technologies that also includes appropriate use of renewables, energy storage, and energy efficiency” — which sounds for all the world as if the nuclear industry as a whole is more than willing to offer renewable energy its crusts."
Oh yes and I even go further than that, renewables are a niche product and will remain a niche product in the world of energy generation on Earth. Simply do the math... Once "our" safer, more efficient, waste and megatons eating nuclear reactors prove their commercial viability every nation in the world is going to be standing in line to join the party. There simply is no comparison between the power of the nuclear force (one of the four elemental forces) and the feeble punch packed by wind technologies. Now this might sound arrogant? It is the truth... Denying it is unscientific and makes me question if you really are the "expert" you claim to be as presented in "IDEA#1"
"“Given the historical antagonism towards nuclear energy amongst the environmental community, we accept that this stands as a controversial position,” they write, once more the ill-treated step-child, forced time and again to sweep the kitchen out while its siblings and parents go to the beautiful ball."
You clearly hate our guts... This is the most lame metaphor I've seen so far, sure the renewable energy community has a lot of kudos, they have an excellent promotional campaign going for themselves, but ask yourself this : am I ready to own up to the millions of tons of waste released by the "renewable energy" industry in contrast to the easy manageable (check the impeccable track record of nuclear repositories) amounts of "nuclear waste" and "spent fuel". You seem to forget that this actually IS fuel for new designs of highly efficient nuclear reactors...
Because, until now, renewable energy proponents have simply been dismissing nuclear because of some vague idealistic notions we had about Chernobyl.
Oh yes we're almost done! Chernobyl has come to act as the ghost of the past, did anyone mention that the Chernobyl disaster made us think about how to avoid critical design flaws? And didn't Fukushima remind us of the implications of design flaws in nuclear reactors? Yes thank you, we know... Do I feel guilty for still being a nuclear proponent? No, not even remotely guilty. Why? Because it is the technology that can save the biosphere from being ruined, in contrast to renewables...
"And at this point, I stopped and wondered what information these conservation scientists have been reading lately. Putting aside for the moment the already-addressed issues of infrastructure necessary to transport your ever-so “compact and energy-dense” nuclear energy, the apparent ‘fact’ that renewables are “too risky to rely on” comes as a bit of a surprise."
Which I will casually and loosely paraphrase into this :
"and at this point, I stopped and wondered what information Joshua Hill has been reading lately. Putting aside for the moment the already-addressed issues of infrastructure necessary to transport your thousands and millions of ever-so "clean" wind turbines and solar panels, the apparent ‘fact’ that nuclear is “too risky to rely on” comes as a bit of a surprise.
"Without belaboring the point, Scotland seems to be doing all right, with its renewable energy capacity repeatedly generating more than enough in a month to power all households in the country. Across the world, 2014 was a significant year for wind development, installing over 51 GW of new wind energy in 2014, up 44% and acting as a “solid sign of the recovery of the industry after a rough patch in the past few years.”"
And what happens if the wind doesn't blow in Scotland? Do the English have to ramp up their fossil fuel generation to compensate? What a shame! Darn it!!! And yes Scotland has a shitload of wind turbines, this is like one of the less densely populated countries in the world.
Let's see, there are about 5.3 million Scots living in Scotland, hardly the dream scenario for any renewable advocate. They don't pull it off without any backup.
And then there is the 51 GW added wind energy capacity that's a nice figure but lets be reasonable about it. Wind energy accounts for less than 1% of the total energy generation on Earth, 44% of 1% isn't a lot. A total of 370 GW's worth of wind capacity is quite feeble in a worldly context. And guess what, they don't even say how much it is contrasted to the entire electricity generation of the Earth, why not? Because it looks silly... http://www.gwec.net/global-figures/graphs/
“Wind power is the most competitive way of adding new power generation capacity to the grid in a rapidly increasing number of markets around the world, even when competing against heavily subsidized incumbents,” said Steve Sawyer, GWEC Secretary General.
If you take away the political uncertainty surrounding wind energy in country’s like the United States, Australia, and several countries in the EU, the investment dollars needed to make “safer nuclear power plants” can be used to develop cleaner, more economically viable, and publicly acceptable energy."
That is not taking into consideration the lifespan of roughly 2 decades, the need for backup generation, energy storage and lifecycle emissions. whilst nuclear energy plants can easily run for five or six decades. And what the public accepts isn't necessarily good, as long as you keep brushing over the waste streams tied to wind and solar, we're not going to agree on anything.
The average carbon footprint of wind turbines per GW is about three to four times higher than a contemporary Generation III AP-1000 Nuclear Reactor. If we take it up a notch and go for a Generation IV LFTR or WAMSR reactor proposed by Flibe Energy and Transatomic Power, the figures will even worse for wind. A part of the calculation can be found here.
Let's take a different, more rational view shall we?
Capacity average wind turbine : 5MW
Capacity average Nuclear Power Plant : 862MW
There is about 369.597 MW of installed wind power in the world. Ill be generous, let's call it 370.000 MW or 370GW. That would account for roughly 74.000 5 MW wind turbines (there are actually 300.000+ wind turbines in the world... so i am giving them a lot of leeway)
Now i'm going to cite a pro-renewable site : Total Surface Area Required to Fuel the World With Solar
"A 5 MW turbine can be expected to produce 17 GWh per year (they are 40% effective from their peak rated capacity – 5 MW x 365 x 24 = 43.8 GWh). Therefore, it would require 11,748,294 of the 5 MW capacity turbines to create the same yearly output. There are 500 million cars in the world so it’s not like that’s an unattainable goal from a manufacturing standpoint. And each 5 MW turbine is a 30 year lifespan money making machine for whoever buys it. The same can not be said for my car. But if we can build 90,000 Cape Wind size installations, we would be there on wind alone. Based on that installation, each turbine requires 1/2 square mile of area for offshore sites. This would require 5.85 million square kilometers for 2030 world energy needs."
So they extrapolate that 11,75 million wind turbines are required to satiate a demand of 678 quadrillion Btu's. And let's be honest, the lifespan of wind turbines is about two decades. If we want to continue on this course we're going to need two and half times the amount of windmills i.e. 29.38 million to achieve the same energy production as nuclear does in a five decade timespan... And that is granting the 40% effeciency, which is more than likely to be 20 or 25%...
There are 438 nuclear power reactors operable at a capacity of 379 GW now the strange thing is that these 379 GW's actually get used 90% of the time whilst the 370 GW's of wind power only get used a fraction of the time. This translates into 862MW per unit.
Let's say that a nuclear powerplant runs for 90% of the time : 862MW x 365 x 24 = 7551 GWh @ 90% makes 6795 GWh's wortth of energy.
"Converting this to KW•h [1 Btu = .0002931 kW•h (kilowatt hours)] makes 198,721,800,000,000 kW•h (199,721 TW•h)."
But i'm counting my beans in GWh... 199.721.000 GWh / 6795 = 29.000 - 862MW nuclear powerplants rated @ 862MW. Still an extremely stupefying number but we have to note that this also includes a completely electrified transportation... Instead of burning diesel, gasoline, kerosine and other combustibles we would have zero emission transportation.
More interestingly look at this article
Let's do "just" getting Coal out of the picture? There are about 7000 coal units in the world, let's settle for 7000 nuclear power plants (i.e. LFTR's WAMSR's MSR's, Fusion) shall we and look at solving the rest from there?
Reverting back to Joshua Hill
"I am more than willing to respect the notion that nuclear energy may need to play a part in the future energy mix — especially if we are to quickly divest ourselves of fossil fuel generation. I respect the opinions of Kirsty Cogan, Barry W. Brook and Corey J. A. Bradshaw, and the 75 academics who signed the open letter, and all those who are willing to acknowledge the need for a change in our energy generating techniques."
"However, as always, I am not willing to respect those who push incorrect, incomplete, or incendiary opinions as facts."
Did any of the people you were trying to rebut do this? I.e. Kirsty Cogan, Barry W. Brook and Corey J. A. Bradshaw, and the 75 academics who signed the open letter.
"Nuclear can and maybe should play a part in the future, but to so easily and childishly dismiss renewable energy in favor of one of the most potentially dangerous and fatal energy generation methods — one that comes with absolutely no feasible waste-disposal method and has no immediate or even short-term impact on global energy poverty or wealth balance — based solely on lazy assumptions and assertions that “it’s simply better” is the height of arrogance and intellectual bias."
It is not "Maybe" it is a "Fact" that nuclear has to and will play a part in the future. The dismissal of renewable energy in a wider context has to be done, why? Because we cannot make people believe that we can run the energy needs of humanity through windmills and solar panels and expect zero negative ramifications from it. Secondly they simply don't pack the punch required to kick fossil fuels out of the picture. Simple math will prove it...
As for your "lazy assumptions and assertions" let's call the kettle black shall we? You didn't cite credible sources to back up your claims. You've done nothing other than pointing your finger at fukushima and Chernobyl, have not acknowledged any of the current innovations and progress made in the nuclear industry and have used nothing but "quotation marks" to make clear that you don't believe that the proposed technologies actually are safer and more efficient. The only thing you've done is pleaded to revert possible funds from nuclear innovation to wind energy innovation which is like trading a Tesla Model S for a Model T Ford...
From my short and basic math i will conclude that we are need of a really big punch in energy generation. Especially if we all want to be driving around in teslas... Let's remain reasonable, shall we?
And with that I will leave you, have a nice day.
P.S. A nice prospect you make for migratory birds, bats and people who want to sleep...
I have no copyright on this picture it comes from here