Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nuke or Wind? (round 3)


Round Three
Nuke or Wind?


As a reply to your reply to my reply let me say this:

I did say that its complicated! Let me take another stab at laying the case that saying absolutely no to nuclear in any place, anywhere, anytime, is not consistent with reducing carbon emissions and improving the quality of life for the 6 billion human beings on the planet.

Here’s a graph (using data from the IEA) which plots wealth per capita (G/P) against Energy intensity (CO2 produced for Total Primary Energy Supply i.e. F/E). Each dot is a country. Ideally we would all be in the top left hand corner: Low emissions and high wealth. Now before you think wealth is a bad thing, broadly speaking GDP per capita is a reasonable indirect metric of average well being of people in a country (until you become very wealthy).

The countries that are doing the best in this context are Norway, Sweden, France and Iceland.
·    Iceland uses a lot of geothermal (specific to local geology)
·    Norway and Sweden have a lot of hydro (specific to local geology)
·    France and Sweden use a lot of nuclear

I can already hear you scream that wind is Ireland’s local specific advantage. The problem is that wind is expensive. It isn’t me who says this. The European Wind Energy Association (and you have to believe those guys will put the best possible spin on it) say that wind needs a carbon tax of €35 per ton to be cost competitive with a gas fired power plant. I know we are talking about nuclear power, but as previously noted the cost of nuclear per kW is not clear. But even this assessment is only part of the story, as you can decide to have something provided cheaply at point of use so as to maintain an equitable society, and meet the real costs through substantial subsidies. We do this with food in the EU. We could do this with energy, and the argument would then not simply be, “this is cheaper than that”.  So, you have to accept that many countries will consider all the issues and decide that nuclear is reasonable. France and the UK are two cases in point.

As Ireland has already started to expand electrical interconnection to the UK grid and has plans for interconnection to France, we will be closely linked with the nuclear generating capacity of these two countries, and indeed we may well depend on it to even out the intermittency associated with high penetration of wind power as planned.

As for the risk of bad thinks happening, I do agree that bad things do (and will) happen. The nuclear industry responded to safety concerns with technical solutions for risk mitigation (e.g. passive failsafe systems for a loss of coolant accident – LOCA- event), and have now driven the quantified risk of accidents down to very small levels. However, William Nuttall in his book “Nuclear Renaissance” argued that people want a reduction in fear, not a reduction in risk only.

But life is a risky business. For example, about 300 people die in road accidents every year in Ireland. We could cut this to nearly zero simply by choosing to fit all vehicles with speed limiters set at say 15kph. Equally we could resolve the thorny issue of climate change by everyone on the planet agreeing to live a life similar to the pre-industrial age (with endemic malnutrition driven by poor food security; high infant mortality; short average life expectancy; and huge societal inequality). Neither is going to happen, because the benefits of taking the risks of are perceived to be high. I would argue that the same is true of nuclear power.

The challenge for us as a species and as a society is to maintain the benefits of high energy consumption with manageable environmental impact. As I said previously, nuclear is de facto part of that solution. It is not a silver bullet. We need to continue to develop and deploy other, new technologies. But we need to use all the tools in the box.


Thank you again Craig for your continued input on this subject. I think we are debating on two completely different base lines. I would not, and could not argue on the basis of your science. 

My point is fundamental bog logic. Any farmer will tell you if you over crop a field, it will not be fruitful unless you pump it full of chemicals. If you continue to spread too many chemicals, the soil will deteriorate, the essential bacteria and bio balance will break down. 

Marine biologists are telling us that we are taking too much from the sea, and putting too much rubbish into the sea, and unless we stop, the balance will be destroyed. 

No maths - no science; if you use your well as a toilet, the water is contaminated.



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