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Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Nuclear Energy Denier

 Cross-posted from Consumer Energy Report

I was rebutting a comment I found under a CER News Desk article titled: Utility Head: Japan Can’t Afford Renewable Energy, Needs Nuclear when I realized I had generated enough material for an article. Here is a similar article titled Green energy to hit Germans' bills.

What labels would you choose for yourself?
  1. Renewable Energy Advocate
  2. Nuclear Energy Advocate
  3. Renewable Energy Denier
  4. Nuclear Energy Denier
I would choose labels 1 and 2. I used the term "denier" in my title only to make a point. I don't know who first applied the term "denier" to global warming skeptics but I have never used the term quite simply because it is hateful. I've also seen the terms "green energy denier" and "Chernobyl denier" used (see Radioactive Wolves!).

Global warming skeptics are not in any way analogous to the nut jobs who deny the Holocaust or the AIDS epidemic as the term is meant to insinuate. From Wikitionary:

Person who denies something.
Holocaust denier (see Wikipedia:Holocaust denial)
Global warming denier (see Wikipedia:Global warming denial)
AIDS denier (see Wikipedia:AIDS denial)

The renewables verses nuclear debate is as disingenuous as it is nonsensical. They are not mutually exclusive. They both replace fossil fuel as a source of carbon emissions. Renewables should be viewed as an alternative to fossil fuels, not nuclear.

Read The Nuclear Enhanced Renewable Grid (NERG) and Reframing Nuclear Power as an Ally of Renewable Energy.

As usual, environmental journalist George Monbiot is ahead of the curve on this issue. In a letter he penned to David Cameron earlier this year countering the letter sent to him "by four former directors of Friends of the Earth" Monbiot says:
"For nuclear and renewables, as the Climate Change Committee has rightly pointed out in numerous reports, this is not an either-or choice; we need increasing deployments of both in the UK’s energy mix in the future (see appendix 1). Thirdly, the 12 March letter focuses significantly on economics, in short, arguing that nuclear is too expensive. We would point out that even if this were true, the writers themselves would have helped make it so by devoting decades to campaigning against the technology during their tenures at Friends of the Earth. In addition, if anyone has yet invented an inexpensive low-carbon energy source, we have yet to hear about it – Friends of the Earth today campaigns vociferously in favour of the retention of the solar feed-in-tariff, which delivers perhaps the most expensive, unreliable and socially regressive electricity ever deployed anywhere. Once again, we would refer you to the Climate Change Committee, which found that nuclear was potentially the cheapest of all low-carbon options available by 2030 (appendix 2)."
Although not a single talking point in the following comment I address is novel (few thoughts are), and not a single footnote to a source was proffered, the comment serves a larger purpose by providing me an opportunity to express some critical thought. I don't want the commenter to feel singled out and welcome him to continue to participate, but I would also like to suggest that he take the time to provide links to sources so the audience knows who the originators of the talking points are and so they can assess the quality of the sources of the information he passes along. I know of one site that does not allow unsourced comment. I don't think this is necessarily a good idea because it has a tendency to spill over into censorship.They do this in an attempt keep the comment field from becoming a come-one-come-all liar's club (although most people are inadvertently passing along information they don't realize--or care--is bunk).

George Harvey said:  
"According to the US Department of Energy in 2011, based on data taken in 2010, hydro, wind, biomass, and geothermal are all less expensive than nuclear..."
Which, if true, is at odds with the 2011 Department of Energy Quadrennial Technology Review that promotes the use of small modular reactors:
"The United States has traditionally taken a leading position in crafting the international civilian nuclear technology “rules-of-the-road” and has helped develop a sound technology base to implement and enforce those rules. With a current global deployment of 442 civilian nuclear power reactors and an additional 65 reactors currently in some stage of construction, civilian nuclear energy sits at the nexus of energy, climate, and security."
George continues:
"...even when costs to the consumer associated with waste and Price/Anderson insurance coverage are not included in the equation."
Those costs are already reflected in your very reasonable and competitively priced nuclear energy utility bill as an almost imperceptible surcharge.
"This challenges the concept of baseload power; when the wind is not blowing in one part of the country, it will be blowing in another."
If that were true they would have replaced their idled nuclear with wind instead of fossil fuels.
"...the questions that remain [about energy storage} are matters of fine-tuning... These things combine with the other challenges to the concept of baseload power to show it is actually mythology, a bogeyman created by those who can profit by it."
That is absurd. Baseload power isn't the result of backroom conspiracy theories. It's the inevitable result of a market seeking lowest cost solutions. Most renewable energy today is baseload. Read Dirty, Baseload, Centralized, Renewable Energy and A Baseload Free Power System.

Storage is rarely used quite simply because it is prohibitively expensive. For example, building a reservoir and pumping water into it can easily cost more than the stored energy is worth. Ditto for any number of other power storage schemes, like making hydrogen, or methane. And in cases where it can be economical, it can be used to improve the fficiency of any number of power sources, like nuclear for example, which could then provide peak power as well as baseload.

"The costs of nuclear that have not been faced yet, such as waste management, are without question apallingly high."
I find that claim to be very questionable. The nuclear industry has for many decades been required  to pay into a fund to deal with waste storage, which like their insurance, is already reflected in your very reasonable and competitively priced nuclear energy utility bill as an almost imperceptible surcharge. Never mind the fact that nuclear energy generates so little waste that to date is is all be stored on site in their own parking lots after half a century of power generation. From Wikipedia:
"With $32 billion received from power companies to fund the project, and $12 billion spent to study and build it, the federal government had $27 billion left, including interest."
George continues:
"Unlike nuclear power, renewable power has the upside of diminishing costs as greater investment is made..."
Nuclear has the same potential--as the aforementioned DOE report promoting the small modular reactor attests. Nuclear power plants often operate for more than half of a century. Obviously (conspiracy theories aside) they are cost effective or you would see higher electric bills when power is nuclear generated. Wind turbines as well as solar have much shorter lifespans. Read Nuclear Energy is Not a Mature Industry.

"Per unit of power produced, renewable power employs five or six times as many workers, while reducing costs to the consumer."
Stan, another renewable energy advocate nuclear energy denier, says to George Harvey:
"I’m really sorry buddy, but that is baloney, and then straight onto a bold faced lie."
True or not, the number of jobs created is irrelevant. What matters is economic efficiency. For example, a hypothetical power source that reduced energy costs by half, yet provided no jobs, is vastly superior to a hypothetical energy source that produced lots of jobs that had to be funded by increased energy costs.
George continues:
"Production may be locally owned, and profits stay local."
This is a moot argument. "Local" is relative. Universe, galaxy, solar system, planet, country, state, city, neighborhood, home. Most utilities are at the state level. They send power across state lines in the name of economic efficiency. Many are at the city level or even lower. The University of Washington has a natural gas power plant adjacent to our local bike trail right here in Seattle. You don't get much local than that, assuming that local ownership is always a good thing, which it isn't.
 "Renewable power can be a personal goal, the object of a cooperative or community."
 A well for your water can be seen as a personal goal, but it is usually better to use your "community" water system. Ditto for a septic system verses your "community" waste treatment system. For economic reasons, most people prefer to have a simple water line and sewer line, as well as a power line coming to their home, rather than deal with the time and costs of maintenance issues that come with owning a well, septic system, or a power plant on their roof.
"On the other hand, it can also be a good investment for big business, and can make more money than nuclear; notice the increased investments in renewables, and the lack of investments in nuclear by big business."
Certainly there are instances where renewables are cost effective, like Hoover dam. Investments in renewables like wind and solar are in large part thanks to the huge subsidy per unit energy they have been receiving. I'm eligible for $30,000 in subsidies if I put solar on my house. Read
Do Government Subsidies Ever Pay Off?
"Notice that the CEOs of two major businesses in the nuclear power business have said they see no future for it"
Notice that many more CEOs of  major businesses in the nuclear power business have said they see a big future for it.
"As renewable power has achieved grid parity, nuclear power has become obsolete."
If solar and wind were really at grid parity there would be no debate about letting their subsidies lapse. Nuclear is anything but obsolete, and is undergoing major technological growth.
"There is only one reason anyone can claim to be able to afford it, which is that is really handy for making bombs."
One might think, that because nuclear weapons came first, that it would not take a quantum intellectual leap to at least suspect that you don't need a nuclear power plant to make bombs. And sure enough, some nuclear powers didn't go to the trouble. They built small reactors instead, which produce no electricity, to make weapons grade material. Read Helen Caldicott--Nuclear Power Plants are Bomb Factories?

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