Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths

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Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent, UK (photo Simon Ingram, 2014)

Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent, UK (photo Simon Ingram, 2014)

Don’t believe the spurious claims of nuclear shills constantly putting down renewables, writes Mark Diesendorf, Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at UNSW Australia. Clean, safe renewable energy technologies have the potential to supply 100% of the world’s electricity demand – but the first hurdle is to refute the deliberately misleading myths designed to promote the politically powerful but ultimately doomed nuclear industry. Courtesy The Ecologist.

Nuclear energy and renewable energy are the principal competitors for low-carbon electricity in many countries. As renewable energy technologies have grown in volume and investment, and become much cheaper, nuclear proponents and deniers of climate science have become deniers of renewable energy.

The strategies and tactics of renewable energy deniers are very similar to those of climate science deniers. To create uncertainty about the ability of renewable energy to power an industrial society, they bombard decision-makers and the media with negative myths about renewable energy and positive myths about nuclear energy, attempting to turn these myths into conventional wisdom. In responding to the climate crisis, few countries have the economic resources to expand investment substantially in both nuclear and renewable energy. This is demonstrated in 2016 by the UK government, which is offering huge long-term subsidies to nuclear while severely cutting existing short-term subsidies to renewable energy.

This article, a sequel to one busting the myth that we need base-load power stations such as nuclear or coal, examines critically some of the other myths about nuclear energy and renewable energy. It offers a resource for those who wish to question these myths. The myths discussed here have been drawn from comments by nuclear proponents and renewable energy opponents in the media, articles, blogs and on-line comments.

Myth 1: Base-load power stations are necessary to supply base-load demand. 

Variant: Base-load power stations must be operated continuously to back-up variable renewable energy systems. 

Variant: Renewable energy is too variable to reliably make the principal contribution to large-scale electricity supply.

This myth is refuted in my previous article.

Myth 2: There is a renaissance in nuclear energy.

Global nuclear electricity production in terawatt-hours per year (TWh/y) peaked in 2006. The percentage contribution of nuclear energy to global electricity peaked at 17.5% in 1993 and declined to under 11% in 2014. Nowadays annual global investment in nuclear is exceeded by investment in each of wind and solar. Over the past decade the number of global start-ups of new nuclear power reactors has been approximately balanced by the number of closures of existing reactors. While several European countries are phasing out nuclear energy, most growth in nuclear reactor construction is occurring in China, Russia, India and South Korea. (World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015)

Myth 3: Renewable energy is not ready to replace fossil fuels, and nuclear energy could fill the (alleged) gap in low-carbon energy supply.

Most existing nuclear power reactors are classified as Generation 2 and are widely regarded as obsolete. The current generations of new nuclear power stations are classified as Generation 3 and 3+. Only four Generation 3 reactors have operated, so far only in Japan, and their performance has been poor. No Generation 3+ reactor is operating, although two are under construction in Europe, four in the USA and several in China. All are behind schedule and over-budget – the incomplete European reactors are already triple their budgeted prices. Not one Generation 4 power reactor – e.g. fast breeder, integral fast reactor (IFR), small modular reactor – is commercially available. (World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015) So it can be argued that modern nuclear energy is not ready.

On the other hand, wind and solar are both growing rapidly and are still becoming cheaper. Large wind and solar farms can be planned and built in 2-3 years (compared with 10-15 years for nuclear) and are ready now to replace fossil and nuclear electricity.

Myth 4: Nuclear weapons proliferation is independent of civil nuclear energy.

Variant: Nuclear weapons explosives cannot be made from the type of plutonium produced in conventional nuclear power reactors, or from the thorium fuel cycle, or from the IFR.

Six countries (France, India, North Korea, Pakistan, South Africa and the UK) have covertly used civil nuclear energy to assist them to develop nuclear weapons. In addition, at least seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Iran, Libya, South Korea and Taiwan) have used civil nuclear energy to commence covertly developing nuclear weapons, but then terminated their programs (references in Diesendorf 2014). Thus nuclear energy is facilitating proliferation and therefore is increasing the probability of nuclear war. Even if the probability of nuclear war is small (and this is debatable), the potential impacts are huge. Therefore it is inappropriate to ignore the proliferation risk, which is probability multiplied by potential impact.

Thorium reactors are under development in India. Thorium is not fissile, so it first has to be bombarded with neutrons to convert it into uranium-233, which is. Like any fissile element, U-233 can be used either to generate heat and hence electricity, or as a nuclear explosive. Nuclear weapons with U-233 as part of the explosive have been tested by the USA (Teapot MET test), Soviet Union and India.

Some nuclear proponents claim incorrectly that the hypothetical IFR would be proliferation-proof.  The IFR has only ever operated as a single prototype in the USA. The project was cancelled by Congress in 1994 for reasons including funding, doubts about whether it was needed, and concerns about its potential for proliferation (Kerry 1994). The IFR offers at least two proliferation pathways. Once it has separated most of the highly radioactive fission products from the less radioactive transuranics by means of an experimental process known as pyroprocessing, it would be easier to extract the plutonium-239 from the transuranics by means of conventional chemical reprocessing and use it to produce nuclear weapons. An alternative proliferation pathway would be to modify an IFR to enable it to be used as a breeder reactor to produce weapons grade plutonium from uranium-238 – see also Wymer et al. (1992).

Myth 5: The death toll from the Chernobyl disaster was 28-64.

These absurdly low estimates are obtained by considering only short-term deaths from acute radiation syndrome and ignoring the major contribution to fatalities, namely cancers that appear over several decades. For Chernobyl, the lowest serious estimate of future cancer deaths was ‘up to 4000’ by the Chernobyl Forum (2006), a group of United Nations agencies led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has the conflicting goals of promoting nuclear energy and applying safeguards against inter alia accidents and proliferation. Estimates from authors with no obvious conflict of interest range from 16,000 from the International Agency for Research on Cancer to 93,000 from a team ofinternational medical researchers from Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere.

Myth 6: The problem of permanently storing high-level nuclear wastes has been solved.

All high-level waste is currently in temporary storage in pools or dry casks. Not one permanent repository is operating in the world. Development of the proposed US repository at Yucca Mountain in the USA was terminated after expenditure of $13.5 billion. Underground repositories are under construction in Sweden and Finland. Even if the technical and economic challenges could be solved, the social problem of managing or isolating the repositories for 100,000 years remains.

Myth 7: The IFR could ‘burn up’ the world’s nuclear wastes.

The IFR only exists as a design. If it were ever developed, it would become another proliferation pathway (see Myth 4). At best it could convert most transuranics to fission products, so underground long-term repositories would still be needed for the highly radioactive fission products.

For a fuller exposition of the problems of IFRs and other ‘new’ reactor designs, see Amory Lovins’s classic 2009 essay, recently republished on The Ecologist: ‘ “New” nuclear reactors? same old story‘.

Myth 8: Nuclear energy emits no or negligible greenhouse gas emissions.

Neither nuclear energy nor most renewable technologies emit CO2 during operation. However, meaningful comparisons must compare whole life-cycles from mining the raw materials to managing the wastes. Nuclear physicist and nuclear supporter Manfred Lenzen found average life-cycle emissions for nuclear energy, based on mining high-grade uranium ore, of 60 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (g/kWh), for wind of 10–20 g/kWh and for natural gas 500–600 g/kWh.

Now comes the part that most nuclear proponents try to ignore or misrepresent. The world has only a few decades of high-grade uranium ore reserves left. As the ore-grade inevitably declines, the fossil fuel used to mine (with diesel fuel) and mill uranium increases and so do the resulting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Lenzen calculates that, when low-grade uranium ore is used, the life-cycle GHG emissions will increase to 131 g/kWh. Others have obtained higher levels. This is unacceptable in terms of climate science. Only if mining low-grade ore were done with renewable fuel, or if fast breeder reactors replaced burner reactors, could nuclear GHG emissions be kept to an acceptable level, but neither of these conditions is likely to be met for decades at least.

For more on this topic, see Keith Barnham’s article ‘False solution: nuclear power is not low carbon’.

Myth 9: Nuclear energy is a suitable partner for renewable energy in the grid.

Making a virtue out of necessity, nuclear proponents claim that we can have both (new) nuclear and renewables in the same grid. However, nuclear energy is a poor partner for a large contribution of variable renewable energy in an electricity supply system for four reasons:

(1)  Nuclear power reactors are inflexible in operation (see response to Myth 10), compared with open cycle gas turbines (which can be biofuelled), hydro with dams and concentrated solar thermal (CST) with thermal storage. Wind and solar PV can supply bulk energy, balanced by flexible, dispatchable renewables, as discussed previously.

(2)  When a nuclear power station breaks down, it is usually off-line for weeks or months. For comparison, lulls in wind last typically for hours or days, so wind does not need expensive back-up from base-load power stations – flexible dispatchable renewable energy suffices.

(3)  Wind and solar farms are cheaper to operate than nuclear (and fossil fuels). Therefore wind and solar can bid lower prices into electricity markets and displace nuclear from base-load operation, which it needs to pay off its huge capital costs.

(4)  Renewables and nuclear compete for support policies from government including scarce finance and subsidies. For example, the UK government commitment to Hinkley C, with enormous subsidies, has resulted in removal of subsidies to on-shore wind and solar PV.

Myth 10: Nuclear power reactors can generally be operated flexibly to follow changes in demand/load.

The limitations, both technical and economic, are demonstrated by France, with 77% of its electricity generated from nuclear. Since the current generation of nuclear power stations is not designed for load-following, France can only operate some of its reactors in load-following mode some of the time – at the beginning of their operating cycle, with fresh fuel and high reserve reactivity – but cannot continue to load-follow in the late part of their cycle. This is acknowledged by the World Nuclear Organisation.

Load-following has two economic penalties for base-load power stations:

  • Substantially increased maintenance costs due to loss of efficiency.
  • Reduced earnings during off-peak periods. Yet, to pay off of their high capital cost, the reactors must be operated as much as possible at rated power.

France reduces the second economic penalty by selling its excess nuclear energy to neighbouring countries via transmission line, while parts of Australia soak up their excess base-load coal energy with cheap off-peak water heating.

Myth 11: Renewable energies are more expensive than nuclear.

Variant: Nuclear energy receives smaller subsidies than renewable energy.

Both versions of the myth are false. Levelised costs of energy (LCOE) depend on the number of units installed at a site, location, capital cost, interest rate and capacity factor (actual average power output divided by rated power). LCOE estimates for nuclear are $108/MWh based on pre-2014 data from the IPCC and $97-132/MWh based on pre-2015 data from multinational financial consultants Lazard. The IPCC cost estimate does not include subsidies, while the Lazard estimate includes US federal government subsidies excluding loan guarantees and decommissioning.

None of these US estimates takes account of the huge escalation in costs of the two European Pressured Water Reactors (EPR) under construction (mentioned in Myth 3). The EPR proposed for the UK, Hinkley C, is being offered a guaranteed inflation-linked price for electricity over 35 years, commencing at £92.5/MWh (US$144/MWh) (2012 currency), more than double the wholesale price of electricity in the UK, together with a loan guarantee of originally £10 billion (US$15.3 billion). Its capped liability for accidents and inadequate insurance is likely to fall upon the British taxpayer.

In 2015 Lazard estimated unsubsidised costs for on-shore wind across the USA of US$32–77/MWh. An independent empirical study by US Department of Energy (Fig. 46) found levelised power purchase agreement prices in 2014 for wind in the US interior (region with the highest wind speeds) of US$22/MWh, and in the west (region with lowest wind speeds) about US$60/MW. The US government subsidises wind with a Production Tax Credit of US$23/MWh over 10 years, so this must be added to the DoE figures to obtain the actual costs. In Brazil in 2014, contracts were awarded at a reverse auction for an average unsubsidised clearing price of 129.3 real/MWh (US$41/MWh).

Lazard estimated unsubsidised costs of US$50–70/MWh for large-scale solar PV in a high insolation region of the USA. In New Mexico, USA, a Power Purchase Agreement for US$57.9/MWh has been signed for electricity from the Macho Springs 50 MW solar PV power station; federal and state subsidies bring the actual cost to around US$80–90/MWh depending on location. In Chile, Brazil and Uruguay,unsubsidised prices at reverse auctions are in the same range (Diesendorf 2016). Rooftop solar ‘behind the meter’ is competitive with retail grid electricity prices in many regions of the world with medium to high insolation, even where there are no feed-in tariffs.

For CST with thermal storage, Lazard estimates US$119-181/MWh.

Comparing subsidies between nuclear and renewable energy is difficult, because they vary substantially in quantity and type from country to country, where nuclear subsidies may include some or all of the following (Diesendorf 2014):

  • government funding for research and development, uranium enrichment, decommissioning and waste management;
  • loan guarantees;
  • stranded assets paid for by taxpayers and electricity ratepayers;
  • limited liabilities for accidents covered by victims and taxpayers;
  • generous contracts for difference.

Subsidies to nuclear have either remained constant or increased over the past 50 years, while subsidies to renewable energy, especially feed-in tariffs, have decreased substantially (to zero in some places) over the past decade.

Myth 12: Renewable energy is very diffuse and hence requires huge land areas.

Hydro-electric dams and dedicated bioenergy crops can occupy large areas, but renewable energy scenarios for few regions have large additional contributions from these sources. Solar farms located on-ground may occupy significant land, often marginal land. Rooftop solar, which is widespread in Germany and Australia, and bioenergy derived from crop residues occupy no additional land. On-shore wind farms are generally located on agricultural land, with which they are highly compatible. The land occupied istypically 1-2% of the land spanned. renewable energy deniers often ignore this and misleadingly quote the land area spanned.

For an economic optimal mix of 100% renewable electricity technologies calculated for the Australian National Energy Market, total land area in km2/TWh/y is about half that of equivalent nuclear with a hypothetical buffer zone of radius 20 km, as belatedly established for Fukushima Daiichi (Diesendorf 2016).

Myth 13: Energy payback periods (in energy units, not money) of renewable energy technologies are comparable with their lifetimes.

Nowadays typical energy payback periods in years are: solar PV modules 0.5-1.8; large wind turbines 0.25-0.75; CST (parabolic trough) 2; nuclear (high-grade-uranium ore) 6.5; nuclear (low-grade-uranium ore) 14 (references in Diesendorf 2014, Table 5.2). The range of values reflects the fact that energy payback periods, and the related concept of energy return on energy invested, depend on the type of technology and its site. Critics of renewable energy often quote much higher energy payback periods for renewable energy technologies by assuming incorrectly that each has to be backed-up continuously by a fossil fuelled power station.

Myth 14: Danish electricity prices are among the highest in Europe, because of the large contribution from wind energy.

Danish retail electricity prices are among the highest in Europe, because electricity is taxed very heavily. This tax goes into consolidated revenue – it does not subsidise wind energy. Comparing tax-free electricity prices places Denmark around the European average. Wind energy in Denmark is subsidised by feed-in tariffs funded by a very small increase in retail electricity prices, which is offset by the decrease in wholesale electricity prices resulting from the large wind energy contribution.

Myth 15: Computer simulation models of the operation of electricity grids with 80-100% renewable electricity are meaningless over-simplifications of real systems.

Although a model is indeed a simplified version of reality, it can be a powerful low-cost tool for exploring different scenarios. Most modellers start with simple models, in order to understand some of the basic relationships between variables. Then, step-by-step, as understanding grows, they make the models more realistic.

For example, initially the UNSW Australia group simulated the operation of the Australian National Electricity Market with 100% renewable energy in hourly time-steps spanning a single year. Wind farms were simply scaled up at existing sites. The next model included economic data and calculated the economic optimal mix of renewable energy technologies and then compared costs with low-carbon fossil fuelled scenarios.  Recently the simulations were extended to six years of hourly data, the renewable energy supply region was decomposed into 43 sub-regions and a limit was imposed on non-synchronous supply. With all these refinements in the model, the 100% renewable energy system is still found to be reliable and affordable.

Meanwhile, researchers at Stanford University have shown that all energy use in the USA, including transport and heat, could be supplied by renewable electricity. Their computer simulations use synthetic data on electricity demand, wind and sunshine taken every 30 seconds over a period of six years. Using synthetic data allows modellers to include big hypothetical fluctuations in the weather. Such sensitivity analysis strengthens the power and credibility of the models.

Strangely, some of the loudest critics of simulation modeling of electricity systems, a specialised field, have no qualifications in physical science, computer science, engineering or applied mathematics. In Australia they include two biologists, a social work academic and an occupational therapist.

Conclusion

Computer simulation models and growing practical experience suggest that electricity supply in many regions, and possibly the whole world, could transition to 100% renewable energy. Most of the renewable energy technologies are commercially available, affordable and environmentally sound. There is no fundamental technical or economic reason for delaying the transition.

The pro-nuclear and anti-renewable energy myths disseminated by nuclear proponents and supporters of other vested interests do not stand up to examination. Given the political will, renewable energy could be scaled up long before Generation 3 and 4 nuclear power stations could make a significant contribution to electricity supply.

References

Diesendorf M (2014) Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change. London: Routledge and Sydney: NewSouth Publishing.

Diesendorf M (2016) Subjective judgments in the nuclear energy debate. Conservation Biologydoi:10.1111/cobi.12692. (See the Supporting Information as well as the short article.)

Kerry, Senator J (1994) Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 1995. Congressional Record, 11 August.

Wymer RG et al. (1992) An Assessment of the Proliferation Potential and International Implications of the Proliferation Potential and International Implications of the Integral Fast Reactor. Martin Marietta K/IPT-511 (May); prepared for the Departments of State and Energy.

Editor’s Note

Reprinted with minor revisions, with permission, from The Ecologist.

Comments

  1. Diarmuid Foley says

    Mark ,

    Why not renewables + nuclear ( existing LWR + advanced ) + storage ? Seems to me we need ALL the tools available to tackle climate change rapidly.

    Majority of pro-nuclear are pro-renewables so why are the renewables-only lobby anti-nuclear ?

    • onesecond says

      Because renewables are not compatible with baseload power stations in general. Baseload is not needed at all in systems where renewables deliver the bulk of electricity.

      • Hans Hyde says

        Where are THESE systems that deliver the bulk of their electricity from renewables? And please no posting of all the ‘cheerleading’ articles of ‘X country was 100% renewable for Y hours or Y days’ as I’ve seen them all.

        • Karel Beckman says

          Here is one such article: http://cleantechnica.com/2016/05/21/100-renewable-electricity-portugal-4-days/
          Why don’t you want to see that? Isn’t that evidence that it can be done? No one said renewables are delivering the bulk of electricity today. The point is whether they are capable of doing so.
          Experience in e.g. Portugal, as evidenced by the article, shows that it can be done. Germany too has shown it can be done.
          But it is mostly about the future. That’s where the models come in which Diesendorf cites.

          • Hans Hyde says

            Karel, that is exactly what ‘onesecond’ said…

            “Baseload is not needed at all in systems where renewables deliver the bulk of electricity.”

            It’s not that I can’t see it, I can. But I can also see the forest through the trees; this list can be become very long…. (and I will paraphrase the articles, studies & reports)

            1) Germany continues to struggle with building its transmission system need to integrate further renewables.

            2) Germany’s carbon emissions increased 2% last year, returning to coal while closing nuclear.

            3) German “greens” spilling over into Belgium to force the closure of Belgium nuclear plants.

            4) The never ending drone about Hinkley, but never a mention about EDF’s substantial RE fleet in the US & elsewhere.

            5) Denmark cutting back on RE deployments, “too expensive to sustain”.

            6) Hawaii continues to curtail large wind on a regular basis to minimize price volatility, yet the solution is the “democratization of energy” code for rooftop solar & home batteries.

            7) Ontario has decarbonized its electric sector (closed its last coal station) primarily on the back of nuclear, but should Ontarians do what the Germans are doing and shutter “perfectly good” nuclear plants only to recarbonize their electric sector?

            8) Do we want to talk about all the very suspect hydro projects under discussion around the world; Grand Inga, Brazil, SE Asia… but hydro is a big part of Stanford’s Jacobson “trifecta” of wind, solar & hydro plan (Myth 15)

            9) The UK runs without coal for the first time in 100+ years, but no mention that DRAX is importing biomass from overseas. Sustainable? Carbon “neutral”?

            Sorry, this article is mostly a “hit piece” missing the reality we need to be addressing our carbon emissions & our existing carbon debt (oceans & atmosphere), and at this late [too late?] stage of the game, eliminating all nuclear now does nothing to address the waste we have accumulated and will only increase our carbon emissions in the short & mid terms to whose gain???

            • Jason says

              “eliminating all nuclear now does nothing to”

              The article isn’t suggesting eliminating all nuclear. (Strawman)

              It’s saying that the money needs to be spent in a way that gets the most energy per dollar. *New* nuclear absorbs large quantities of cash that would be better spent on cheaper, faster to market, better EROEI renewable projects or subsidies.

              • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

                “cheaper, faster to market, better EROEI renewable projects or subsidies”

                Nuclear is cheapest, fastest, and has the best EROEI of all technologies, even fossil fuels, in recent decades.

                Renewable energy projects are horribly expensive, very slow to ramp up and have terrible EROEI. To force a switch to renewables would decimate the global population (which, by the way, is exactly what some so-called ‘greens’ want!)

                https://stevedarden.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/eroiwithstorage.png?w=500&h=375

                • Jason says

                  Can you cite a single nuclear project that has gone from ‘lets build’ to ‘providing power’ in under a year? No?

                  How about 2 years? Maybe somewhere in China where regulations can be ‘smoothed away’. No?

                  I made a phone call and 2 weeks later I was putting solar power into the grid. Now clearly a GW scale plant isn’t going to do that, but it’s not far off. Approvals for GW PV plants are trivial compared to nuclear. Weeks rather than decades. In many countries they’re not even required. A nuclear plant has to be complete. Really absolutely complete before the first joule is produced. PV farms start producing from the first few days of construction and when they’re a quarter built, they produce a quarter of their final output. Half built, half their final output and so on.

                  Nyngan solar plant got the go ahead in January 2013, broke ground January 2014 and was completed 2 1/2 years later in july 2015 but it started producing power in June 2014. It cost under 2 AUD per installed watt. Levelised over a year that’s equivalent to 10 AUD per installed watt.

                  In comparison Hinkley C got the go ahead in 2008. So far they’ve completed the parking lot and the seawall. Actual completion date is something that no-one is prepared to speculate on. It’s got a nameplate of 3.2 GW and is currently expected to cost 24 GigaPounds. Given an operation of 80% (which is generous) it works out to 9.3 GBP/W. That’s about 18 AUD, or roughly double the cost per delivered watt compared to solar. (Solar prices have fallen significantly since 2013 when Nyngan’s contracts were signed) Energy invested tracks very closely with cost, so it’s reasonable to assume that the energy invested will be about double the per watt value for solar. However unlike solar, it’s not then free to operate. I can’t get any reliable figures on what it will cost but the phrase “a lot” springs to mind. The energy needed to mine, refine, transport and then enrich the uranium needed to run it is far from inconsequential. Estimates are between 60 and 120 gCO2/kWh. Then there’s the cost of storing and guarding the waste.

                  All this leaves out the fact that the insurance for the plant is socialised almost completely. Fukashima has cost about 500 billion USD so far. Nearly all of that has been paid by the Japanese government. Estimates for European nuclear insurance are that a properly insured nuclear plant would need to charge over 2 Euro per kWh to break even.

                  You can’t possibly claim that nuclear is the cheapest or fastest. It just *isn’t*. It’s clearly 2-4 times more expensive to install and vastly more expensive to operate and decommission. You can’t claim it’s faster. Even construction that’s ‘on track’ is at least a decade from ‘go ahead’ to the first joule on the grid.

                  You just can’t seriously claim these things. It’s just *obviously* false.

                  I’m a total technohead, space nut fanboy and I think fears of radiation or whatever are totally overblown rubbish, but even so, it just doesn’t make the slightest sense. That’s even before you look at the tiny issue that we’ve got something like a century’s worth of uranium easily available. Currently electricity is about 15% of our energy consumption and nuclear produces about 10% of that. So 1.5% of our energy comes from nuclear. So we’d have to scale it up by about a factor of 65. We’d use all the world’s easily available uranium in under 2 years. Then what? Extract it from seawater or granite? We’d also need to build 30 000 new nuclear reactors. We get one expensive disaster about every 20 years now. Amp that up by a factor of 60 odd and that’s 2-4 per year. Who’s going to pay for that?

                  • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

                    France went from zero to 80% nuclear electricity in 20 years. Order of magnitude faster decarbonisation than wind/solar (which can’t even reach 80%). French power is the cheapest in Europe, because they built their nuclear fleet during a time when raving antinukes werent running the show. If we can’t solve AGW with nuclear, then we sure as heck aren’t going to solve it *without* nuclear.

                    30k NPPs sounds about right. But solar, wind and water could provide up to 50% of supply so perhaps only 15k NPP’s would be needed. 15k units seems like a lot be they can be completed within 30 to 50 years assuming historical NPP build rates / GDP.

                    Uranium from seawater is indeed the ultimate source of fission fuel. Oceans get fed with about 35k tons of U from erosion so it’s literally inexhaustible. And there’s thorium of course….

                    • Jason says

                      You need to read what I’ve said carefully.

                      When I say “Even construction that’s ‘on track’ is at least a decade from ‘go ahead’ to the first joule on the grid.” You should not try to refute that by claiming that: “France went from zero to 80% nuclear electricity in 20 years.”

                      Pointing out that France, with all hurdles cleared away, took twice as long as the minimum time I said, to construct 59 of the planned 170 power plants doesn’t help your case.

                      It seems you’re reliant on sounding authoritative rather than actual facts.

                      Here ends my discussion. I’ve got into many arguments with people who hold a position regardless of facts and it never ends well. Facts and maths is all I have. If you want to argue emotions, you’ll need to find someone else.

                    • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

                      New nuclear plants last for 80+ years. Whether they are built in 4 years or 10 years doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s a proven and competitive technology that is zero-carbon. Its the only one we have. Anyone who attacks the nuclear option is worsening the climate/energy crisis.

                    • Rian says

                      In recent years, the av. age of closed nuclear plants was ~40yrs (IAEA-PRIS).

                      How can nuclear with its high operating costs of ~$50/MWh survive the coming competition of wind & solar (~$30/MWh)?

                  • turnages says

                    “Hinkley C got the go-ahead in 2008.”

                    Wrong. Hinkley *still* has not received the go-ahead. So the clock hasn’t actually started ticking on it yet. Once it does, it will take about 8 years. This is what is to be expected for a cumbersome new design after a generation of British nuclear inactivity.

                    The Westinghouse AP1000, planned for Moorside in Cumbria, is much more modular and construction is going well in South Carolina and China. The Moorside project might even beat Hinkley to the grid.

                • Jason says

                  Oh, and before you write me off as ‘anti-grid’, I’ve just retired from about 20 years working in the grid industry. You won’t find a bigger grid fanboy. I think the grid needs to be much much bigger. Global in fact. See my comment about UHVDC

                  • Helmut Frik says

                    I totally agree. A a large grid makes a renewable power supply for everybody in the world a no brainer.

            • Bas says

              Hans,
              Some of your points don’t fit with reality:

              1) Germany need those new lines not now, but later on. Hence they don’t hurry. The lines will be ready when needed.

              2) The increase in CO2 is not caused by the electricity sector (more cars, etc,).
              Coal use decreased substantially as well as other ff.

              The Energiewende reduced the share of nuclear from 29% to 14% now, while renewable increased from 6% towards 33% now. That implies that renewable also replaced 12% produced by fossil fuel!

              3) 2 of Belgium’s nuclear reactor vessels have dangerous hair cracks. So they would be closed in the USA by the NRC. But Belgium need them (they have no interconnection with the German grid and only small one’s with the Dutch and French grid).
              The call to stop those reactors was by the whole German parliament as well as that of Luxembourg.

              5) Denmark sticks to it’s renwable targets: 50% by wind in 2020, etc.

    • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

      The renewables-only lobby *is* the antinuclear lobby. There is no difference between the two. It is the same lobby, only operating under a different name.

      The IPCC states that renewables *and* nuclear will be needed to address climate change, but antinukes don’t support the IPCC assessment of science.

      “At the global level, scenarios reaching about 450 ppm CO2eq are also characterized by more rapid improvements in energy efficiency and a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero- and lowcarbon energy supply from renewables, nuclear energy and fossil energy with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS), or bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) by the year 2050 (Figure SPM.4, lower panel).”

      https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers.pdf

      • Hans Hyde says

        Very good point Joris! And they are often the anti-grid lobby too. If they lobbied as much for transmission expansion in places such as Germany, as they did against nuclear, maybe, just maybe, North Sea offshore wouldn’t be hitting the evacuation bottlenecks it currently is.

        In the US, this same lobby is the “democratization of energy” crowd, and they’ve amassed a jaw-dropping [sarcasm intended] ~12.5 GW of rooftop solar against a system size on the order of 700 GW base. Whippy do. But as they are anti-grid, pro-distributed, anti-“monopoly”, pro-“democratized energy”, sorry you don’t get to count that 90 GW installed of Wind, large solar, CSP, or the 75 GW of existing hydro. How’s that 12.5 GW (~20-5% CF) going to displace our 100 GW (85% CF) nuclear fleet? It’s not, and say hello to even more nat gas generation and a longer existence of our 300 GW of coal capacity.

      • lucky biker says

        I think you are misinformed about the various lobbys that you refer to. As a recently retired clean energy lobbyist, I readily acknowledge that there is a need to keep open the nukers that can compete in the market place. There are lots of clean energy lobbyists that are not anti-nuke and most tend to not have any position; except when it comes to proposals, such as the failed one in IL from Exelon, to further subsidize their failing nukes which was unfair and attempted to shift the risk of these plants onto the ratepayers.

  2. Diarmuid Foley says

    Spot on Hans / Joris . These guys are living in fantasy land, I don’t know one of them who can stand up under peer review. Nuclear delivers firm power 24/7, so I say challenge the RE sector to deliver firm power 24/7 and see what the price is

    • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

      Precisely. Where is the solar panel factory which is running 24/7 on solar power? It doesn’t exist. If it did exist, then how much would the PV panels it produced cost?

      Chinese solar PV panels are the cheapest in the world. Chinese solar panels are manufactured using dirty coal power. Enough said.

      Mind you, I support the development and application of renewable energy sources. *IF* it’s done sensibly. And *IF* this development is not employed for the purpose of antinuclear propaganda.

      People like Mark Diesendorff have been saying “We don’t need nuclear” for decades. They are wrong. Antinuclearism is the fundamental cause of the global warming problem. Without antinuclearism, the world would have been powered by nuclear today and the global climate crisis would not be occurring.

      The following graphic shows the historical decarbonisation rates achieved by various technologies. Nuclear is *by far* the fastest way to increase clean energy production. Hence, it is *included* in all credible decarbonisation pathways as assessed by the IPCC. People like Mark Diesendorff are attempting to fool humanity into making a horrific mistake, one which will cause epic destruction and human suffering. We cannot let that happen, for the sake of our children en children everywhere. We *need* nuclear, whatever the antinuclear movement tries to have us believe.
      http://breakthrough.turing.com/images/elements/GRAPH6.png

      • Jason says

        “it is *included* in all credible decarbonisation pathways”

        Can you cite a ‘credible’ scenario from the IPCC? All 50% or better chance to stay under 2C ones I’ve seen include either time travel or fantasy inventions (in the same class as ray guns and flying cars ie. imaginable plot device in an SF story, but not yet and probably never constructible) as part of their basic assumptions. Most have both. I’d be interested to read a credible one.

        • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

          It’s funny that you say there is no credible pathway to 2°C, but at the same time you are spreading antinuclear/100%RE propaganda on this website.

          Could you explain how that works please?

          • Jason says

            It’s not propaganda, it’s maths.

            The IPCC pathways that lead to less than 2C require time travel and/or un-invented giant kit.

            Those are both facts. ‘how that works’ doesn’t parse into a question I can answer.

            Most apples turn Red when ripe

            At the same time Miami is south of Oslo

            Could you explain how that works please?

            • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

              What I mean is that if you already believe that the 2°C target is out of reach (which it might well be) then why on earth are you advocating *against* nuclear power?

              • Jason says

                I explained that above, but I can explain it again.

                Because it’s cheaper, you get more energy per dollar invested.

                Because it’s not limited by availability of Uranium.

                Because it’s quicker to build by decades, which means we hit peak carbon earlier and decarbonise faster, which then means that our end temperature will be lower albeit well above 2C.

                • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

                  None of that is true Jason. The only truth I see is that you are fighting nuclear power.

                  • Jason says

                    “None of that is true”

                    You really need to look at that statement and decide if you’re evaluating facts or working on emotion.

                    You’re maintaining that it’s ‘not true’ that RE is cheaper? Solar is about 0.3 USD/W and under 1.5 USD/W installed. With an energy delivery of about 25% that’s 6 USD/W installed with zero ongoing costs for 25 years. I’ve already pointed to a grid size solar power plant that cost less than 1.5 USD/W installed (Nyngan). Hinkley C is 3.5 GW and will cost 35 billion USD or 10 USD/W. At 80% availability that’s 12.5 USD/W installed, but then costs plenty of money to operate and decommission.

                    You maintain that it’s ‘not true’ that Nuclear Fission reactors are limited to the available uranium? I have no words… Are you an Economist by chance?

                    You maintain that it’s ‘not true’ that RE is quicker to build? I built one in under a month…

                    Look, I’m a giant nuclear fan. My Grandfather designed the control systems for the first British reactors. My Godfather was one of the physicists at the Lucas Heights experimental reactor. I could explain the basics of 1950’s reactor’s passive safety systems before I could read. I’ve grown up around nuclear. However, I’m actually a realist. I love big shiny cool kit that glows cherenkov blue, but it’s not the right solution for the disaster that faces us. To maintain that it is means you’ve lost touch with reality. You really have. Take a good hard look at what you’ve said!

                    • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

                      Your solar cost figure for 25% capacity factor systems are for equatorial regions, not for the UK (the focus of the article) which has a solar capacity factor of about 10%.

                      Your price quote for Hinkley nuclear of 10$/W does not reflect industry standard cost figures in countries with mature nuclear industries and regulatory practices, such as in South Korea (<3$/W) and the latest new builds bid in China (1.5$/W !!!).

                      So you are relying on extreme outliers of cheap solar and expensive nuclear.

                      You state the the operating cost of solar is zero. At a solar energy conference I visited fairly recently, this fairly popular claim was blown out of the water by an actual solar technology provider, who stated with some irony that the operating cost of solar PV is not even zero even if the installation was built indoors. Solar radiation, dust, thermal cycling and weather takes its toll on solar installations. Operating costs of solar are real and cannot be ignored.

                      Uranium availability is not a concern. Again referring to China, that country has a complete roadmap for its giant nuclear program. It includes a fully pencilled-out transition to fast breeder reactors in a few decades from now. By 2100, the entire Chinese nuclear fleet, comprising 1000 GW, will be fast breeder reactors, eliminating concern about uranium supplies.

                      You state that you are a big supporter of nuclear, but I don't think you are. It's the fairly obvious antinuclear/prorenewables bias in your arguments which give you away, in my opinion.

                      To be clear, I'm not against renewable energy per se. I'm against antinuclear propaganda, and that is what this article is a clear example of.

                    • Jason says

                      No reply button to your comment.

                      I’ve compared developed country costs (Australia) with developed country costs (UK). Not outliers.

                      If I was going to compare lowest cost options, then I could simply compare solar where there is a small subsidy that results in individuals installing RE. In terms of PV installed v’s public funds expended then it can and has resulted in significantly below 1 dollar per installed watt. I’ve avoided that to make it incontrovertible (or so I thought).

                      I’m apparently to restrict myself to the UK, existing technology, and to solar (which was only one RE example) however you can spread your wings to include China in 80 years time and technology that doesn’t exist. Yet you accuse me of not comparing apples with apples… Further more you claim nuclear can be built out quickly, yet you’re projecting nearly a century in advance. Were I to give over to flights of fantasy such as yours that depend on uninvented technology, then I could come up with an amazing rosy picture too. For instance, like your projections of what China will be doing in 80 years… Lets just explore a fantasy that’s roughly equivalent to yours. A bit of extrapolation, some optimism and unfettered by reality, Module prices have fallen by an average of 10% per year for some decades. By 2100 module price will be 0.01 cents per W. AI controlled Robots will install them for free. Sydney house prices have risen by 20% per year for a few years. In 2100 an average house will be worth 2.1×10^12 dollars. Simply by convincing some old lady to leave her house to the cause, we’ll be able to fund 10 000 TW of solar power. We won’t need China’s piddly 1000 GW of Nuclear. Sound absurd? It makes more sense than your ideas as it doesn’t even depend on inventing followed by extrapolation of things that shouldn’t be extrapolated. Just depends on extrapolation of things that shouldn’t be extrapolated.

                      If we’re restricting ourselves to the UK, then solar’s not as great, but at 10% it’s installed cost is not much different to Nuclear, as long as we ignore the multiplication effect of small subsidies that brings it back down to under 6 USD/W levelised. However onshore wind is cheaper (in the UK) than either. Even cheaper than coal! https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/07/onshore-wind-farms-cheapest-form-of-uk-electricity-report-shows

                      Ok, You did catch me in an exaggeration, grid scale solar is not zero cost, only rooftop solar is zero public cost. However you’re seriously comparing washing birdshit off the panels every 3 months with running a nuclear power plant? Seriously? These are the uninvented breeder reactors? You know, the ones that generate plutonium? This is your low cost, quick to grid solution?

    • onesecond says

      There already are proposals for delivering the exact same output as the proposed Hinkley C would but with solar and battery storage (which clearly isn’t the cheapest renewable option) and they are beating Hinkley C very easily on price, while not only delivering firm power but also flexibility and not having the risk of a catastrophe and nuclear waste storage problems. You should inform yourself before making such comments.

      • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

        I have been asked by the moderator to refrain from comments involving nuclear power in this thread.

        I will simply state here that you are incorrect.

      • Bas says

        Quite right!
        With an inflation of 1.5%/a Hinkley C will get a much higher guaranteed price for its electricity than wind+solar+storage in 1925 when the NPP starts!
        And the difference will increase much over time!

  3. says

    The article features a very useful set of bullets. Missing: energy efficiency actions that would reduce the need for electricity and demand response which at least in Europe has been barely tapped and which will allow RES intermittency to match load variation (over a 24hr period) & at a very low cost (given DR is delivered using IT). Multi-day periods of low RES (wind PV) can be (partially?) addressed with a range of tech (PHS) and maybe biogas/P2G. Because there is no clear cut solution, now, does not mean that solutions will not arrive.

    In the case of RES costs, I’d observe that off-shore Danish wind is delivering a MWh at around 75 – 80Euro (Horns Rev 3). The next round will deliver probably around 65 – 70Euros/MWh (lifetime).

    The evolution of energy systems is a never ending journey – fossil with some nuclear was dominant but for self evident reasons is being elbowed out by RES. Future generating systems are likely to be hybrids – nuclear might have a role to play – but given current costs this seems unlikely. I have a question for nuclear supporters: have you invested your own money into the nuclear industry (suppliers of kit or owners of generators)? This would show a certain confidence in outcomes. For my own part, I have invested most of my wealth (such as it isn’t) in RES – so far results have been reasonably positive. Like it or not, current energy trajectories favour RES, not least because by any objective measure it is cheaper than alternatives whilst still having great potential for lower costs driven by tech’ development.

    • Jason says

      Multi day periods of low RE can be fully addressed now with off the shelf ultra high voltage direct current transmission. Somewhere, the wind is always blowing and the sun is always shining. It’s just a matter of linking them together and coming to some arrangement where your peaks fill in their troughs and visa versa. It’s basically a semiconductor technology and like other semiconductor tech, price has been falling by about 50% every 2-3 years. You can get power from one side of the planet to the other now with efficiencies in the same ball park as round trip efficiency of batteries. Winter in England? It’s summer in Australia. Cost is only about 2 million dollars per km. You could network the whole world for well under 200 billion dollars. The price of 10 nuclear plants. Once that’s done, the need to massively overbuild renewables to get enough power during lulls in production or peaks in demand, goes away. The need for storage, goes away. The volatility of the energy market that makes investment difficult, goes away. The need to transport raw materials from where they’re mined to where the energy is cheap, and then to market, goes away. All these ‘insurmountable’ issues just vanish.

      • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

        “You could network the whole world for well under 200 billion dollars.”

        Source please.

        • Jason says

          “Source please”
          Basic arithmetic. The world is 40 000 km around. UHVDC costs less than 2 million USD/km. So you can go around once for 80 Billion USD. 200/80 is 2.5, so you can go around two and a half times. Plenty to connect every large network to every other large network.

          • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

            I think you’re oversimplifying.

            1. Your cost figure is in $/km while it should contain a $/GW component. Meaningfully connecting the USA to Europe for example implies a capacity of hundreds of GW. What is the $/km cost of a 1000GW UHVDC line from Europe to the USA? I guess it would be 100 times as much as you assume

            2. You ignore redundancy. If Europe is going to run on USA electricity, there better be multiple lines linking the two. We can’t have Europe to be plunged into darkness because a single line fails or needs maintenance (or because an enemy sub chooses to cut a single line). Your circuit breakers and conversion stations all need to be redundant as well. I guess a factor of 3 at least, over your cost assumption.

            3. You seem to ignore electrification and energy demand growth. Electricification is likely to double the demand for electricity (at the cost of oil and gas) and electricity demand growth is likely to double total electricity demand during the next few decades. A factor of 4 over your cost assumptions.

            Altogether, your cost estimate is 100 x 3 x 4 = at least 1000 times too low.

            That said, I would agree with you if you would say that the cost of transmission is a relatively small part of the total cost of electricity supply. In regional grids, the cost of transmission is less than 2 ct/kWh. But high penetration intermittent renewables would probably halve the utilisation of transmission lines (or worst), implying at least doubling of the specific transmission cost/kWh. I would guess that adding (robust) interconnections between regional grids across the globe is liable to double the cost/kWh again if not more. I can easily see that amounting to over 10 ct/kWh for transmission costs. For that money, you could just build regional nuclear power plants and reduce your transmission costs to a fifth. You won’t even need to bother building any wind or solar.

      • says

        Jason – I guess my point was that perhaps before building out infrastructure we could look at, for example, energy efficiency and demand response – I Europe at least both are embryonic and compared to infrasturucture, cost next to nothing. I’m not against infrastructure, I used to run power networks – but why not do the low cost stuff first – in turn this will give a clearer view of what additional infra’ is needed. BTW – the Germans seem to be doing things the other way around – which, in my view is foolish.

        • Jason says

          I think demand response is a great idea. I really do, I’m all for smart meters, and smart networks that allow supply following load rather than load following supply. I don’t see how you could have got that I was anti that from what I said.

          Efficiency on the other hand… Unless it’s tied heavily to cost increases for the consumer, has never been shown to decrease demand. If you can run a light for 1/10th the electrical demand, you just run more lights. Failing that, you have more spending power and that’s used to buy more goods, all of which take energy to make. There may be an example of efficiency decreasing overall demand, but I’ve never seen it. Nor has Kevin Anderson. He’s quite scathing about efficiency.

          http://kevinanderson.info/blog/dont-muddle-energy-efficiency-with-reducing-emissions/

          • says

            Efficiency can take many forms. British Gas introduced a “read your (gas & elec) meter once per month, send the reading to us & we will give you a real monthly bill. They also gave away Alertme home energy monitors (which showed how a householder was performing compared to others in thr energy stakes). Result: 12,000 households saving around 10 – 12% on energy &, depending on the mix, reducing CO2 emissions.

  4. turnages says

    If Mark Diesendorf actually cared about the environment and global warming, he would not be attacking the source that generates 63% of the USA’s low-carbon energy in a solid, reliable, dispatchable manner, while wind&solar generate less than 10% of it in a highly fickle and unreliable manner.

    Sure, there’s a place for wind and solar. But once you get past 20% penetration, you simply have to rely on backup, almost always fossil fuels. You then start baking in fossil fuel dependency.

    Do we care about CO2 or don’t we? Because if we do, then there’s a much bigger place for nuclear.

    We need both. Rejecting nuclear is anti-environmental. Such people can well be described as FOEs of the Earth.

    Simon

    • Jason says

      You need to look up what ‘dispatchable’ means. Nuclear is the exact opposite. It’s the very essence of Non-dispatchable generation. Dispatchable generation can be turned on and off at the command of the guys in the national grid control room. Hydro, wind and solar are highly dispatchable, in that they can be turned on (if available) and off at a moment’s notice. Gas and diesel is moderately dispatchable. It can be turned on and off with 10s of minutes notice. Peaking coal, while inefficient is somewhat dispatchable. It can be turned up and down rather than on and off over a period of hours. Nuclear and coal is completely non-dispatchable It needs days or weeks to start up or shut down.

      You also need to look up the word ‘reliable’. Again, nuclear is the exact opposite of reliable. Reliable and intermittent are not the same thing. RE is generally highly reliable. With thousands of individual generators that have thousands of connections to the grid, no single failure can shut them down. Available output can be *reliably* forecast days or even weeks in advance. In contrast Nuclear and Coal are continuous but unreliable. They can and do shut down with no notice and require much more spinning reserve to maintain a stable grid.

      Whoever has been feeding you your information on how to run a grid has been lying to you.

      • turnages says

        “When I use a word”, said Humpty Dumpty in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”.

        You have just done that with the words “dispatchable” and “reliable” in connection with wind and solar: “…wind and solar are highly dispatchable, in that they can be turned on (if available) and off at a moment’s notice.”

        And for the 60 – 70% of the time when they’re not available? How do you dispatch them then?. The answer is, of course, you don’t, because you can’t. What you really do is turn to a completely separate source of actually-dispatchable generation to bail them out, typically fossil gas. All of a sudden, your “renewable energy” is neither so cheap, nor so low-carbon.

        Well, you can overbuild by say, a factor of two. This doubles the variability, but does reduce the CO2, at the cost of having an investment that’s sitting earning nothing most of the time.

        Yes, wind and solar are reliable. Solar-PV will reliably disappear completely every night, reliably drop in output by about 90% when a cloud goes in front of the sun, and reliably need backup hydro (scarce), or backup OCGT (600g CO2/kWh), or solar thermal storage (wildly expensive, Ivanpah cost $2.2 billion for a semi-dispatchable average output of 75 MW), or interconnections with pliable neighbours (throwing the problem over the fence). As for wind, its output variation can be relied upon to be as smooth as a porcupine’s bottom.

        And, yes, wind and solar are dispatchable, sort of, when they’re running. You can turn them down. Unfortunately, with subsidies as they are, their owners have every incentive not to do that. Why curtail when you have mandated grid priority and can get paid a handsome FIT of €87.50 a MWh on top of the pool price? See http://www.res-legal.eu/search-by-country/netherlands/single/s/res-e/t/promotion/aid/premium-tariff-sde/lastp/171/ . Too bad that your wildly varying output is inflicting a real hammering on the rest of the generators in order to keep the overall grid stable. Why should you care? You’re not paying to maintain their generators, they are, and you’re getting a free ride!

        Contrast all the above with genuinely dispatchable CCGT. A modern CCGT station will generate electricity with CO2/kWh quite similar to wind&solar-with-OCGT-backup, with no renewable paraphenalia needed. Or, better still, use some dispatchable nuclear at 40g/kWh or better. Yes, dispatchable. See http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2013/02/14/responding-to-system-demand/ . Modern nuclear can ramp output between 60% and 100% at 5% per minute. This is perfectly adequate for day-to-day if variable renewables are not bumping the system around. To be sure, shutdown to zero and startup from zero are slower and more difficult, but that’s not often needed. Some new designs have variable steam bypass to do hot-standby at near zero.

        As far as reliability is concerned, any type of generating station, renewable, hydro, coal, gas, or nuclear, can “suddenly shut down with no notice”. That’s why it is completely normal to have 5 – 15% standby reserve capacity on the grid, so a fault in any one station can be ridden through. And nuclear is second to none in its general quality of station maintenance and reliability. Set the output at 85% and it stays at 85%. That, in my book, is more reliable than power that varies randomly from 0 – 100% at the whim of the weather.

        • Jason says

          Read *everything* I’ve written, including my replies to you and to others again, carefully this time. You may think you know how to run a grid and keep it stable but you don’t. You’ve got so many misconceptions and you’re clinging to them so firmly that it’s impossible to talk to you. Your level of understanding is so low that you can’t even use the right words. It makes it almost impossible to understand a subject if you don’t have even the basic tools needed to talk about it. Someone has filled your head with absolute garbage. You’ve clearly got an emotional investment in a position. You need to put that aside and read again carefully.

          When you’ve done that have a look at this interview with someone who actually runs a grid. He sounds exactly like the guys in the control room I worked in though this is the UK one and I was in an Australian one. Listen to this guy. He has no axe to grind.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vX0G9F42puY

        • Tilleul says

          What’s funny is that the whole PV industry exists because radioisotope thermoelectric generators were too unreliable for space missions and satellites…

          Japan got no nuclear power for several years because atomic power plants were all going through maintenance, how reliable is that ? Every energy trader will confirm you that strikes in french nuclear power plants brings far more uncertainty in the european power market than wind power which everyone has learn to predict. And the energy gap to cover with low wind and solar is 2 weeks per year, so that’s more available 95% of the time.

          Regarding your comment about having plenty of investment sitting doing nothing : that’s actually how the centralized power system work. A centralized grid can’t have the reliability a modern society need so that’s why every b2b consumers have to install inverters with lead acid batteries and emergency genset in their buildings to cover for a loss of power. The decentralized system is far more reliable and makes a better use of its assets as now we are seeing these reliability equipments being replaced by solar and lithium batteries which are able to get revenues by bringing services to the grid.

          I think you’re missing a big point here in that it’s not energy companies or states who are going renewable and making these investments in solar, wind turbines, small scale hydro, batteries, biogas or woodchips chp… It’s energy consumers… Consumers don’t care if their new load profil without baseload is not fit for the nuclear power plant owners because they are the one who are paying for the nuclear power plant owner salary. Nuclear needs to change to adapt to the needs of its clients, not the other way around. And if you want to make them adapt to your needs they will just find a way to leave you, and no regulation will save you from that.

          • turnages says

            blockquote>What’s funny is that the whole PV industry exists because radioisotope thermoelectric generators were too unreliable for space missions and satellites.
            Funny you should choose that example. Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) have done, and still do, sterling service on all the deep-space missions: Cassini/Huygens to Saturn/Titan, Voyager 1 to Jupiter/Saturn, Voyager 2 to Jupiter, Saturn , Uranus, Neptune and interstellar – it’s still sending data. New Horizons to Pluto too. Curiosity Rover continues to trundle round doing its thing on Mars since August 2012 thanks to its RTG.

            The solar panels on the Beagle 2 Mars lander, on the other hand, failed to open properly on landing, obscuring its radio link and writing off the mission. The Rosetta Philae comet lander, whose battery was to be recharged by solar panels, became an expensive pile of junk when the panels ended up in the shade.

            RTGs simply knock the spots off solar panels for space missions beyond 2 AU or so.

          • turnages says

            Japan got no nuclear power for several years because atomic power plants were all going through maintenance, how reliable is that ?

            Except for Fukushima Daichi, they were not shut down because they had failed or were unsafe. Most of them continued to operate until their scheduled maintenance was due. They were then shut down for an extended period because Japan needed to get its nuclear regulation sorted out, and because of acute national radiophobia.

          • turnages says

            Every energy trader will confirm you that strikes in french nuclear power plants brings far more uncertainty in the european power market than wind power which everyone has learn to predict.

            Red herring. That is not because of nuclear specifically, that is because of French industrial unrest and anti-government protests. Oil refineries have also been affected.

            And the energy gap to cover with low wind and solar is 2 weeks per year, so that’s more available 95% of the time.

            Absolute rubbish. The longest hiatus is about 2 weeks; there are many shorter ones. Solar goes down 365 nights a year, of course, averaging 10 – 20% of nameplate capacity; wind averages 20% – 40%. All these numbers, you will note, are less than your claimed 95%.

            …The decentralized system is far more reliable and makes a better use of its assets…

            Precisely. The larger the power grid, the more reliable it is and the better it makes use of its assets, whether these are run by conventional utilities or customers. Customers who want to become generators as well, however, cannot expect in the long run to go on free-riding the system, getting full retail price offsets when the wholesale price is very low or even negative.

        • Hans says

          “And for the 60 – 70% of the time when they’re not available?”

          It appears that you confuse capacity factor with availability. A modern windturbine produces electricity for 70 to 90% of the time, just not at full power.

  5. says

    Turnages, the figures I quoted on energy payback periods for nuclear power were published in a peer-reviewed journal by Manfred Lenzen, an expert life-cycle analyst, nuclear physicist and supporter of nuclear power. Reference: Lenzen M 2008. Life-cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review. Energy Conversion & Management 49:2178–99.
    The World Nuclear Organisation is hardly a credible source.

    • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

      The WNA is credible because it relies on referenced, publicly available science and it doesn’t employ the kind of cherry picking that you do.
      You say in one of your “myths” that renewable energy is cheaper than nuclear energy. That is comparing apples to oranges. How can solar energy be cheaper than nuclear at night? How can wind energy be cheaper when the wind dies down? The gaping hole in your cost comparison is that you disregard the cost of transforming intermittent renewables into a stable energy source. By disregarding this integration cost, you create the illusion that renewables are cheap, while in fact a 100% renewables electricity would be extremely costly, not only financially, but also in terms of environmental impact. Adding a few percent solar or wind to an already operational grid tells us nothing about the cost of running that grid entirely on solar or wind.

      • Bas says

        Wind alone delivers >40% of Denmark’s electricity. It will be >50% in 2020.
        Renewable will produce all electricity of Denmark in 2040!

        Wind + PV-solar deliver >20% of Germany’s electricity. And the share is increasing with ~1.5%/a, scheduled to be 40%-50% in 2030. Renewable will deliver >80% (probably 90%) of Germany’s electricity in 2050.

        So it’s not about a few percent wind + solar, but about near 100% in the end.

  6. Donough Shanahan says

    I return and once again editorial oversight is sorely lacking. There are many points in this article that have no basis provided. And then there are ones that are sorely incorrect. Lets take just one.

    “Danish retail electricity prices are among the highest in Europe, because electricity is taxed very heavily. This tax goes into consolidated revenue – it does not subsidise wind energy. etc”

    It is clear that the author does not understand how the subsidy system works. It is well documented by comparing the installation rates of wind capacity versus the overall retail cost of electricity, that a strong correlation exists between the two.* The PSO system in operation pays wind operators more subsidy when the wholesale price goes down so as to keep them profitable. The additional tolls and taxes are mainly for grid costs associated with the wind build out.

    For example from the Irena link “The rules provided guaranteed interconnection and power purchase of wind-based electricity. Noticeably, the price was set relative to retail rates, and not relative to the cost of production for wind generators (Farrell, 2009).”

    But lets just ignore the energy related tolls and taxes bit and assume they do not exist.

    *www.pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/pfb_skyrocketing_electricity_cost_2014.pdf
    https://www.irena.org/documentdownloads/publications/gwec_denmark.pdf

  7. Bas says

    Excellent overview!
    I like to add to the often used energy density argument (m2 needed per KWh/a, which in itself is hardly relevant), that the US NRC site shows that nuclear require at least 10 times more m2/KWh than renewable. Being wind + PV-solar + storage (batteries + power-to-gas-storage-to-power)!

    • turnages says

      And, Bas, I’d like to add that the moon is made of green cheese.

      See? Anyone can assert anything they like on the internet. They can even repeat plausible-sounding garbage and calculations full of fallacies written by their friends, as you have done repeatedly with the supposed risks from Gorleben etc. Doesn’t make it true though.

      Prove me wrong. Show us some worked calculations of the energy density of, say, the Gravelines nuclear power plant, which feeds about 5GW electricity 24/7 to France and the UK. By all means make a deduction for the energy required to enrich the amount of uranium needed for Gravelines at the Georges Besse plant at Tricastin. You may also include the share of area and energy required to mine the uranium ore required in Niger, Canada or Australia. Don’t forget to make a fair pro-rata deduction for the fact that these mines often mostly produce other ores of copper, zinc etc, and uranium is a byproduct of the tailings.

      Now do a similar calculation for the area of solar panels, wind farms, power-to-gas-to-power storage facilities (taking proper account of their round-trip energy efficiency), grid enhancement, and backup gas plants required to produce the same 5GW, 24/7, in a controllable and dispatchable manner. (And please don’t do silly cheats like using the area of the wind turbine’s tower footing as the area required to generate its energy.) Don’t forget the mining, manufacturing and energy/area footprints involved in constructing all this. Make a realistic allowance for plant lifetimes. As an illuminating sideline, calculate what proportion of the Gravelines energy per annum, neglecting storage, could be supplied by putting solar panels on a realistic proportion of the south-facing roofs of the greater London area. Discuss the practical problems involved in so doing, with suggested solutions. By all means use David McKay’s “Renewable Energy, without the hot air” as a starting point.

      You see, Bas, we can all wish for 80% – 100% “renewable” solutions. (Or, in my case, 100% low-carbon, low-impact solutions, which is a bit different.) But they don’t come just for that. They only come by hard-headed attention to the real numbers, the real engineering practicalities, and, indeed, the real politics.

  8. Bas says

    Another myth, often used by pro-nuclear:

    “Nuclear radiation from nuclear power plants & accidents is not dangerous.”

    While it is shown many times that any increase in nuclear radiation causes substantial health and (worse) genetic damage!
    E.g.: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110526091308.htm

    Even normal operating nuclear plants cause significant genetic damage in new born up 35km away, as shown by the significant increase in the m/f ratio of new born!

    • Joris van Dorp, MSc says

      You are lying again.

      (I don’t know how your repetitive lies about nuclear power and radiation keep getting through moderation, but I guess it is up to the readers of EP to keep countering your lies, again and again.)

      Here are the facts (again), from UNSCEAR:

      “It has been generally concluded that no heritable effects in humans due to radiation exposure have been explicitly identified (specifically in studies of offspring of survivors of the atomic bombings). Over the past decade, there have been additional studies that have focused on survivors of childhood and adolescent cancer following radiotherapy, where gonadal doses are often very high. There is essentially no evidence of an increase in chromosomal instability, minisatellite mutations, transgenerational genomic instability, change in sex ratio of offspring, congenital anomalies or increased cancer risk in the offspring of parents exposed to radiation.”
      http://www.unscear.org/docs/GAreports/A-68-46_e_V1385727.pdf

      • Bas says

        That report is from 2013. Before due diligence research by pro-nuclear scientists around nuclear waste site Gorleben found even higher genetic damage with more significance (thought p<0.0001), after which government had a conference with discussion between all involved pro- and contra-nuclear scientists and then closed the still largely empty huge storage site prematurely last summer (500x20m building with 0.5m thick walls in which the thickwalled dry casks are stored)!

        Much new research is published after 2012. UNSCEAR was clearly not aware of these research results as it refers only old research (atomic bombs, radiotherapy) in it's 2013 report. Still UNSCEAR found it already necessarry to insert cautionary words. You cite:
        "It has been generally concluded …."
        So UNSCEAR didn't conclude and the word 'generally' recognizes that they knew other conclusions exist in science, so the issue was not clear then….

          • Bas says

            The jump-like increase in the m/f sex ratio (5% – 15%) is shown for new born around all significant nuclear facilities (NPP’s, processing plants, surface waste storage facilities), provided enough people live within the 40km radius around to show the increase with statistical significance.
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26527392

            It indicates significant genetic damage caused by nuclear as DNA of male fetuses is somewhat smaller, hence less risk to be hit and deadly damaged by radiation particles (workers in the radiation zone of Sellafield get >35% more boys than girls as shown by Dickinson etal)

            If data mining or dredging was involved than it would not show around every nuclear facility with such high significance.
            The data mining argument was used in the discussion about the the increase in m/f sex ratio of new born around Gorleben when the first nuclear waste castor’s were stored there in the huge building. So pro-nuclear scientists expanded the research area greatly by involving districts from the neighbor state (which are more east while west winds are the mojor wind direction).
            To their surprise they found an even higher jump with more significance. So the data mining argument was again devaluated and German government had no choice but to close the huge, still largely empty storage facility.

            This PPT illustrate the mechanisms and shows more supporting studies: https://www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/fileadmin/ICB/biostatistics_pdfs/scherb/HELENA_Scheyern_2013.pdf

  9. TimS says

    Lesson from Germany’s Energiewende: no nukes, more renewables = more fossil fuels
    Electricity in Germany(wind&solar) remains 6x more carbon-intensive than in France(carbon-free nuclear power)
    https://scontent-lga3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/t31.0-8/14890510_10153777293291895_2959939548529440336_o.jpg
    Germany(Oct 25, 2016): 40GW of solar at 2.7% capacity factor, 48GW wind at 4.6%. Blessed coal.
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cvu0i2fVMAEysTb.jpg
    “100% renewable energy” is a myth, a scam to lure taxpayers to waste their money; in the end, coal and natural gas/fracking energy is that will play a role of reliable baseload to compensate intermittencies of wind/solar bird-choppers/landscape-destroyers.
    Carbon-free nuclear power is the only way to fight global warming.

    • Bas says

      Energiewende = less fossil fuels!
      In past decade, CO2 emissions from electricity generation in Germany decreased >10%.
      I estimate a bigger reduction than any other major country!

      In 2005 all fossil generated 373TWh.
      In 2015 all fossil generated 340TWh, 9% less.
      And that 340TWh of 2015 was generated in part by new 30% more efficient power plants. So the improvement is >10% in last 10years.

  10. Are Hansen says

    Thank you!
    A very good article, and highly needed. All the myths you describe keep popping up in the comments here, again and again.

    Impossible to say whether those writing them are paid by the nuclear industry to spread misinformation, or just innocent individuals who believe the propaganda and propagate it

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