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Nuclear vs renewables: A tale of disparities.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Nuclear power plants (Image: Fast Company)

The Times’s Eduardo Porter has a short piece on nuclear power vs renewables where he makes a plea for supporting the development of new nuclear technologies with improved safety and efficiency. He is also not impressed with the history, cost and future potential of renewables. One of the simple facts that people who support renewables seem to constantly downplay is the sheer scale on which they would have to replace fossil fuels, and especially coal, and the short time which they have to accomplish this; the gargantuan scale is one which – in spite of continued developments in technology – they are just not in a position to address for several decades. As Porter indicates, even a $30 per metric ton carbon tax would not help them scale such heights.

Nor are renewables cheap. The much touted German “miracle” of apparently cheap and limitless solar power benefits from subsidies. It also masks the inconvenient fact that Germany still imports cheap nuclear-generated electricity from France. In addition, the Germans have had to switch to coal to compensate for widespread nuclear power plant shutdowns and this has caused emissions to rise. The German tale of cheap energy from the sun is thus rather deceptive; in fact it’s really an illustration of what happens when you suddenly switch to an unproven energy source and abandon a time-tested one. The story seems to reinforce the fact that every time you vote against nuclear power you are voting in favor of fossil fuels, and this is true even in a country aggressively committed to renewables.

Nor is renewable-generated energy cheap in the US. As Porter puts it,

An analysis of power generation in 21 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency projected that even if the world were to impose a tax of $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, neither wind nor solar could outcompete gas and coal.

A new generation of nuclear power, by contrast, is potentially the cheapest energy source of all.

The study projected that the typical nuclear generator in North America could produce power at $50 to $75 per megawatt-hour, depending on assumptions about construction costs and interest rates, against $70 to $80 for coal-fueled power. Wind-powered electricity would cost from $60 to $90, but there are limits to how much it can be scaled up. A megawatt-hour of solar power still costs in the hundreds.”

Part of what has made nuclear power cheaper is a silent revolution in the 90s – partly inspired by Three Mile Island that killed exactly zero individuals – which led to retrofitting of existing nuclear plants and significant gains in efficiency, even as new orders were being cancelled. New plant construction is still expensive though; partly for sane reasons, partly because of the draconian standards that nuclear plants are subjected to, and partly because of older designs that have been locked in due to a lack of innovation. However this state of affairs is decidedly changing; there are plenty of new designs as well as modifications of existing ones that promise to cut costs while improving safety and efficiency. And a new breed of young and old entrepreneurs is stepping into a space that has been devoid of innovation for way too long. These innovators have moved past the bugbears and scaremongering of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima and are far more worried about the very much real specter of climate change.

As for renewables, cost is not the only issue. One aspect of solar power which Porter doesn’t mention in his piece and people don’t seem to appreciate is how much pollution it can cause. A 2000 piece in Foreign Affairs magazine by Richard Rhodes and Dennis Beller pointed out the toxic metals – substances which unlike radioactive isotopes have an infinite half-life – that the solar power industry generates. Wind power also has similar deep-seated issues, including usage of vast tracts of land and destruction of bird life.

“A 1,000-MWe solar electric plant would generate 6,850 tonnes of hazardous waste from metals processing alone over a 30-year lifetime. A comparable solar thermal plant (using mirrors focused on a central tower) would require metals for construction that would generate 435,000 tonnes of manufacturing waste, of which 16,300 tonnes would be contaminated with lead and chromium and be considered hazardous…Wind farms, besides requiring millions of pounds of concrete and steel to build (and thus creating huge amounts of waste materials), are inefficient, with low (because intermittent) capacity. A wind farm equivalent in output and capacity to a 1,000-MWe fossil-fuel or nuclear plant would occupy 2,000 square miles of land and, even with substantial subsidies and ignoring hidden pollution costs, would produce electricity at double or triple the cost of fossil fuels.”

These are serious and deep problems, and it’s completely unclear how renewables can overcome them both on a large scale and in a short amount of time. Most advocates of renewables have not come up with a comprehensive plan to resolve these basic issues. Nobody is arguing against the development of solar and wind technologies since they can certainly play a vital role in certain areas, especially those with plenty of sunshine. But to deploy them on a nationwide scale means to confront the kind of issues which Germany is just starting to see. We need a lot of energy, and we need it fast, and it seems for now that an aggressive push toward safe, efficient and low-carbon nuclear power is the only dominant strategy that can kill both these birds with one stone.

Related posts:

1. Nuclear energy might have saved 1.8 million lives.

2. “Pandora’s Promise” and the truth about nuclear energy.

Ashutosh Jogalekar About the Author: Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar is a chemist interested in the history and philosophy of science. He considers science to be a seamless and all-encompassing part of the human experience. Follow on Twitter @curiouswavefn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. M Tucker 5:18 pm 08/22/2013

    “One of the simple facts that people who support renewables seem to constantly downplay is the sheer scale on which they would have to replace fossil fuels, and especially coal, and the short time which they have to accomplish this; the gargantuan scale is one which – in spite of continued developments in technology – they are just not in a position to address for several decades.”

    Sure but how many years / decades are needed to develop “new nuclear technologies with improved safety and efficiency?” Planning; approval; demonstration projects; selecting the site; impact reports; and finally building, with the inevitable construction delays and cost overruns, all need to be considered. New generation nuclear power plants will not be built overnight.

    Then the new power plant constructions are either for keeping up with increased demand or due to old retiring plants and not to replace fossil fuels. Also, costs for renewables are coming down but natural gas is still the design of choice and that is a fossil fuel.

    “ATLANTA | If Georgia was starting from scratch, it would not build a nuclear power plant.

    That conclusion from a state financial analyst illustrates how an anticipated boom in nuclear power turned into a bust as natural gas prices fell.

    An analyst working for state regulators, Philip Hayet, said in written testimony that the total costs of building two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle is more expensive than the next-best option, constructing natural gas plants.”

    No one is talking about replacing the dirty plants that have not reached the end of their lifespan.

    Give me numbers for nuclear. How many tons of concrete and steel? What new generation design will we select? What is the REALISTIC timeframe for completing that plant? What is the cost, and I want predictions for overruns because of their history.

    Now, given that no one is talking about replacing the existing fossil fuel plants what is the realistic timeframe to seriously cut CO2 emission?

    So far nuclear, existing design or new generation is not impressing me with their speed. Stop whining about regulations. Renewables labor under difficult regulations too. So, we need to include the time needed to improve the regulation environment. I’m thinking that if you want to ‘replace’ existing fossil fuel and also build for increasing demand you will need a couple of decades with the new nukes.

    Oh, stop with the bird death from wind stuff. Cats kill more and no one is talking about getting rid of them. How many birds die from impacts with airliners? Give me numbers for wind turbines. Compare those with other common frequent manmade causes including cats.

    Link to this
  2. 2. curiouswavefunction 5:28 pm 08/22/2013

    Yes, we definitely need to streamline regulation; for nuclear, for renewables and for drugs for that matter. For instance the small release of inert radioactive xenon-133 during TMI led to a stifling requirement for all existing nuclear plants to spend billions of dollars on new features and modifications; this has been partly responsible for increased costs (just imagine if this requirement were applied to other industries; for instance, if every car accident led to calls for redesigning every single automobile on the market). Xe-133 is actually used as an imaging drug, so the reaction was by almost every definition an overreaction. I would also like to point you to a report issued earlier this year by the Breakthrough Institute titled “How to Make Nuclear Cheap”; it addresses some of the points that people have been debating.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Crocodile Chuck 6:10 pm 08/22/2013

    There’s no such thing as ‘renewable energy’. Solar PV contains toxic metals you mentioned, and get scratched/scuffed (which lower efficiencies of converting light-> current; wind = murder to birdlife, and even hydro is time-boxed-most dams silt up after half a century.

    Migrating to ‘renewables’ is still important-but so too is a concentrated, resolute effort to lower absolute levels of population through this century.

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  4. 4. rkipling 6:41 pm 08/22/2013

    Dr. Jogalekar,

    Exactly! I’m sure you are prepared to be vilified for speaking the truth. I’m pretty sure many of the SciAm editors will not agree. At some point reality matters.

    I salute you, Sir.

    Link to this
  5. 5. rkipling 6:49 pm 08/22/2013

    You crocodiles are sneaky. I’ll bet you have plenty of ideas on how to lower population levels, don’t you? You have been after your zeeba neighba for years.

    Folks, if he invites you to lunch, don’t accept.

    Link to this
  6. 6. dennisj 10:54 pm 08/22/2013

    1: would like to see flow chart on costs/benifit of new thorium reactors. the byproduct issue seems promising and thorium is abundaent.

    As few years back there was a discussion on plummiting vitrified redioactive waste into the deep ocean at tectonic plate margins (subduction zones) It still seems promising, especially with new location technology. it sure seems to beat hell out of a politically radioactive mountain in Nevada.

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  7. 7. John Miller 10:57 pm 08/22/2013

    The piece by Eduardo Porter should not be in the news section. It is a profoundly biased opinion piece by someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He touts the pro-nuclear film “Pandora’s Promise.” For the truth about that movie, read my review of it in the New York Times. I’m a former nuclear engineering officer on a Navy submarine:

    Dr. John Miller

    Link to this
  8. 8. rkipling 11:02 pm 08/22/2013

    Yeah well so was Jimmy Carter.

    Link to this
  9. 9. rkipling 12:49 am 08/23/2013


    I’m posting this on some of the other blogs.

    Link to this
  10. 10. sault 1:45 am 08/23/2013

    Way to go, bring up only the (mostly imaginary) positives and only the (mostly imaginary) negatives of renewable energy. Are you even trying to be unbiased here?

    Sure, newer reactor technology MIGHT make nuclear power cheaper and safer, but that’s a big MIGHT. Right now, fluoride reactors seem like our best bet, but if they achieve commercial operation by 2040, I’ll be surprised. BTW, that’s too darn late to amount to a hill of beans as far as climate change is concerned. But right now, we have AP1000s like the $8B apiece units going up at the Voglte generating station in Georiga…units that may take 10 years or more to build. And that’s only AFTER Georgia power gets to milk BILLION$$$ from their customers in “cost recovery”…whether the reactors are finished or not! Sounds kind of like a feed-in tariff, but at least in Germany, people actually get electricity out of the power plants they subsidize with this arrangement! And don’t forget that the Price Anderson Act saddles the U.S. government with the liability for nuclear disasters too. And what about all the billions in R&D that have gone to the nuclear industry? What about the billions in debt racked up by Ontario Hydro, WPPS and now Duke Energy with their two flubs at Crystal River and Levy county? Oh, and heard of San Onofre? Nice track record the nuclear industry is accumulating. “Too cheap to meter” was really “too expensive and slow to matter”.

    And if you think a study on renewable energy 13 years out of date is still valid, no wonder you believe all this pro-nuclear propaganda. You do know that solar panels use 10% or even less material than they did in 2000, right? And we could look back 30 years and see a quote in Forbes saying “Nuclear Power was the biggest management disaster of the 20th Century”, can’t we? Well, at least THAT hasn’t changed. Now you want to make it the “biggest management disaster of the 21st Century” too?

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  11. 11. rkipling 3:48 am 08/23/2013


    Earlier when I said the editors would not agree with you I had no idea they would actively attempt to hide this blog post of yours. This is just short of removing your blog from the site. Reprehensible!

    Link to this
  12. 12. disabled-dave 6:22 am 08/23/2013

    I have nothing against the IDEA of green enbergy and would be all for green energy if it was possible, but it isn’t.

    For all of the pro-windpower people, consider this: windmills are made of concrete and steel which have a massive carbon footprint for their manufacture, and even if a windmill operated at 100% all of the time it would take 25 years to cover that footprint compared with other energy sources. So what is the design life of the windmills? 15 years. That’a right, 10 years LESS than the time needed to cover the footprint and make the energy green.

    And that is if they operate at 100%, but given that they don’t work in low wind speeds and they have to be shut down for safety reasons in high wind speeds, they actually only operate at about 1/3 capacity so it would actually take close to 75 years to cover the footprint of something that only works for 15 years. Yes, we are 60 years short of covering the footprint and getting to green energy.

    Then when a windmill reaches the end of its life, do we leave them rusting away as an eyesore, eventually falling over and killing any unfortunate life-form underneath, or do we create an even bigger carbon footprint in dismantling them?

    Then here in England we have another problem; we need power for cooling in the summer and heating in the winter, which is precisely when the weather produces long periods of low, or no, wind. So we don’t get any power at all from the windmills just when we actually need it.

    So what do we do? We have gas-fired turbines running continuously without producing electricity so that they can be called on at a moments notice to generate power when the windmills don’t. So why not have just the gas turbines which are running anyway and avoid the massive carbon footprint of the windmills?

    However, we haven’t got enough gas turbines, so they are now doing deals with everyone who has a private back-up diesel generator to provide the power that we need when the turbines and windmills can’t keep up with demand. How eco friendly are small diesel generators? Probably the worst source of power you can get!

    Will it actually work? Figure this: you are a businessman running a factory and you have a back-up generator which you are being paid $1000 per week to have available for national purposes. When the lights go out are you going to:
    a) start the generator, shut down your factory, and put power into the national grid, or
    b) start the generator to keep your factory going, and the national grid can go hang?

    So how did we get to this situation? Our politicians were conned by big businesses that saw an oportunity to make mega-bucks from producing useless windmills to help the politicians claim to have green credentials. And the “greenies” are generally too stupid to do the calculations and work out that windmills are actually an ecological disaster, so they go along and cheer for every new windmill erected.

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  13. 13. curiouswavefunction 10:19 am 08/23/2013

    #11: The editors are not making any attempt to “hide” this blog post. Sci Am bloggers have complete flexibility in picking the topics of their posts without any editorial oversight whatever.

    Link to this
  14. 14. sault 11:17 am 08/23/2013


    You should not post a bunch of unsubstantiated nonsense thinking that it is true. If you had links to reputable sources in your post, I could have verified what you said. However, you just posted a bunch of lies formulated by fossil fuel companies to make their competition look bad instead. Here’s somebody that ACTUALLY knows what they’re talking about and it completely blows all your drivel out of the water:

    “It has become an article of popular faith that building wind farms also involves constructing fossil-fuelled power stations for back‑up when the weather is calm. As a result, some opponents go on to say, wind turbines do little or nothing to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

    Now the National Grid has studied what actually happens in practice, with explosive, if surprising, results. Between April 2011 and September 2012 – its head of energy strategy, Richard Smith, told the Hay Festival – wind produced some 23,700 gigawatt hours (GWh) of power. Only 22GWh of power from fossil fuels was needed to fill the gaps when the wind didn’t blow. That’s less than a thousandth of the turbines’ output – and, as it happens, less than a tenth of what was needed to back up conventional power stations.

    It proved to be much the same with emissions. Wind saved nearly 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over that 18 months; standby burning of fossil fuels only reduced this by 8,800 tonnes, or 0.081 per cent.

    Not surprisingly, given these figures, no new fossil‑fuel power station has been built to provide back‑up for wind farms, and none is in prospect.”

    Link to this
  15. 15. sault 11:25 am 08/23/2013


    In reality, German solar power is bailing out the French when their inflexible nuclear reactors can’t keep up with demand:

    “Because France has so much nuclear power, the country has an inordinate number of electric heating systems. And because France has not added on enough additional capacity over the past decade, the country’s current nuclear plants are starting to have trouble meeting demand, especially when it gets very cold in the winter,” Craig Morris of Renewables International writes.

    And, with relatively sunny skies above, guess who’s coming to the rescue—good old solar power from Germany.

    “As a result, power exports from Germany to France reached 4 to 5 gigawatts – the equivalent of around four nuclear power plants – last Friday morning according to German journalist Bernward Janzing. It was not exactly a time of low consumption in Germany either at 70 gigawatts around noon on Friday, but Janzing nonetheless reports that the grid operators said everything was under control, and the country’s emergency reserves were not being tapped. On the contrary, he reports that a spokesperson for transit grid operator Amprion told him that ‘photovoltaics in southern Germany is currently helping us a lot.’”

    Link to this
  16. 16. sault 11:42 am 08/23/2013

    And another thing…relying on 13-year-old reports is BOUND to get you into trouble in a variety of ways! Richard Rhodes and Dennis Beller were remarkably mistaken when they wrote:

    “A wind farm equivalent in output and capacity to a 1,000-MWe fossil-fuel or nuclear plant would occupy 2,000 square miles of land and, even with substantial subsidies and ignoring hidden pollution costs, would produce electricity at double or triple the cost of fossil fuels.”

    Wind power plants are now signing long-term power purchase agreements for 4 cents a kWh:

    “Among a large sample of wind projects installed in 2012, the capacity-weighted average installed cost stood at nearly $1,940/kW, down almost $200/kW from the reported average cost in 2011 and down almost $300/kW from the reported average cost in both 2009 and 2010.”

    Meanwhile, nuclear plants are coming in at aroud $8,000/kW. But it gets better!

    “After topping out at nearly $70/MWh in 2009, the average levelized long-term price from wind PPAs signed in 2011/2012—many of which were for projects built in 2012—fell to around $40/MWh nationwide.”

    Yeah, that’s coal power-levels of CHEAP!

    But wait…it gets even BETTER:

    “Recent studies show that wind energy integration costs are almost always below $12/MWh—and often below $5/MWh—for wind power capacity penetrations of up to or even exceeding 40% of the peak load of the system in which the wind power is delivered. The increase in balancing reserves with increased wind penetration is projected, in most cases, to be below 15% of the nameplate capacity of wind power and typically considerably less than this figure, particularly in studies that use intra-hour scheduling. Moreover, a number of strategies that can help to ease the integration of increasing amounts of wind energy—including the use of larger balancing areas, the use of wind forecasts, and intra-hour scheduling—are being implemented by grid operators across the United States.”

    So, this is what happens when you rely on “information” that’s 13 years out-of-date and don’t bother to look for more recent information. Wind power is really cheap, power grids can handle its variability with little problems even with more than 40% market penetration, and the whole land use issue is moot since farmers and ranchers can still use 99% of the land in a wind farm for its original purpose.

    Just face it, you have an anti-renewable energy and pro nuclear bias. You should strive to overcome that bias to give us readers better information. This article just doesn’t cut it, I’m sorry to say.

    Link to this
  17. 17. rkipling 11:52 am 08/23/2013


    No, no, I understand they don’t have any control over your post. But almost always your latest post would show up (in this case)under Topics: Latest in Energy & Sustainability and in Latest News on the SciAm home page. That’s how most people would know you have a new article posted. Go look for yourself. This article isn’t there in either category. Unless someone checks your blog on a daily basis, there is no way they know your 8-22-13 post is there.

    Usually a new article on this subject would be covered up with comments. When it didn’t draw many yesterday, I wondered why? This post still isn’t listed on either home page category as of a few minutes ago. To people just going to the home page you are invisible.

    I’m not setting my hair on fire over this. I just think your article deserves at least as much coverage as the Glue-Spitting Velvet Worm article that also posted yesterday. Now glue-spitting worms are way cool, but still.

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  18. 18. curiouswavefunction 12:36 pm 08/23/2013

    #17: Thanks for pointing that out, I will look into it. I am sure it’s a glitch in the system and nothing specific to my blog.

    #16: Yes, I do have a pro-nuclear “bias” if you want to call it that (just like you have a pro-renewables bias). That’s because I think nuclear makes sense. You are mistaken about my anti-renewables bias though because none exists. I just think that renewables cannot be a dominant part of the energy mix compared to nuclear. That does not mean I am opposed to funding their development and deploying them.

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  19. 19. rkipling 12:42 pm 08/23/2013

    #18: Thought you might want to know. More people should know it is there. You know what they say. Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

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  20. 20. rkipling 12:46 pm 08/23/2013

    #18: I wouldn’t describe your bias as pro-nuclear. I think pro-(what actually has a chance to work) is more accurate. Should objectivity be considered a bias now?

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  21. 21. Cramer 1:33 pm 08/23/2013

    Please, let us just attempt to communicate honestly instead of playing semantic games. Having a bias is not a equivalent to having a well-informed opinion. It is more equivalent to having a prejudice. See:

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  22. 22. sault 5:24 pm 08/23/2013

    “I just think that renewables cannot be a dominant part of the energy mix compared to nuclear.”

    bias (from the link provided by Cramer):

    “A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment.”

    Since you did not address ANY of the evidence I presented, this leads me to assume that you aren’t exercising impartial judgment. And since you’re still sticking by a hopelessly outdated “report” that I took apart with more reputable and up-to-date information, this is equally troubling. Seriously, every point you brought up from Richard Rhodes and Dennis Beller’s article was outright wrong or hopelessly outdated.

    And what’s REALLY surprising is that renewable energy already IS a dominant part of the energy mix in many areas. Iowa is looking to hit 39% wind energy next year and California has a MANDATE to hit 33% renewables by 2020. Germany, regardless of what your biased pro-nuclear (i.e. pro fossil fuel) sources have told you, has hit 25% renewables with no signs of slowing down and its renewable energy programs are immensely popular in the country. Spain and Italy are close behind while solar and wind have already hit grid parity in Australia.

    Look, if nuclear didn’t need billion$$$ in pork and preferental regulatory treatment, then I’d show it more support. However, wherever nuclear power has tried to compete in deregulated electricity markets, it has been a collosal failure. From the $19B in “stranded debt” that Ontario Hydro racked up in its disastrous CANDU reactor build-out, to the billion$$$ in debt offloaded onto utility customers in the Pacific Northwest because of WPPS’s inability to keep their reactor construction projects economically sound, and to today’s multi-billion-dollar flubs at the San Onofre, Crystal River amd Levy County plants. Nuclear power is a financially risky proposition and all that money sucked down the nuclear black hole over all these decades could have brought wind, solar and efficiency a long way towards solving our climate, environment and energy problems.

    Only in Socialist countries where the government can mandate which forms of energy will be built like in China and previously France has nuclear power been able to come on line smoothly. The bloated costs of reactor construction were probably obscured by massive subsidies and opaque contractor operations, but who’s counting, right?

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  23. 23. Cramer 6:19 pm 08/23/2013

    I actually do agree that in the near future “renewables cannot be a dominant part of the energy mix compared to nuclear.” But what about in fifty years?

    The problem with nuclear power is the black swan risk (Nassim Taleb). Was Chernobyl an acceptable accident? I have nuclear industry expertise, so I am well aware that graphite-moderated RBMK reactors are inherently unsafe. But what about the Fukushima BWR?

    When you combine this with an industry that is “too big to fail” and “too big to jail,” you end up with a the same moral hazards that created catastrophes on Wall Street and in oil exploration. Moral hazards are the biggest risk to the future of the nuclear industry, NOT reactor design. Remember the BP oil spill? That was pure criminal negligence. This same negligence is beginning to raise it head in the nuclear industry.

    Why shouldn’t executives/management cut costs when there is no penalty for getting it wrong? [Remember, profits must always be increasing.] Worse case is that they retire with multi-millions. Most Wall Streeters only see themselves as having a five year career horizon anyway. This belief even begins before they finish business school (yes, most of them believe they will be rich within five years and then buy a vineyard (do something else) — that is the mentality).

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  24. 24. curiouswavefunction 9:59 pm 08/23/2013

    #16: If you don’t like old links, here are a few new ones:

    Here’s a Forbes report: Why It’s The End Of The Line For Wind Power
    The report puts the total cost of wind at 15 cents/kwh and also cites some other problems.

    This set of graphics gives an excellent idea of the huge amount of land required for wind in comparison with other technologies:

    Here’s another critique of wind power that talks about land use, size, impact on wildlife, noise etc.

    Here’s a report about how British wind farms as not as emissions-neutral as we think.

    Anyway, we can go back and forth on this and I don’t wish to; the point is, I support wind power but I don’t find myself as dewey-eyed about it as you do. Since my disagreement is mostly a matter of degree I am not going to argue about this further and I would suggest that you refrain from extended comments repeating the same points (and as I have been asking other commenters lately, I would also ask you more generally to condense your multiple comments into one and try to keep them brief). Also, I don’t find it productive to keep quibbling about dictionary definitions of words so I don’t want to continue that debate.

    #23: You bring up some good points. In my view, two serious accidents during six decades of about 400 nuclear reactors operating throughout the globe is an excellent record. I think this is an acceptable risk, especially given the far more ubiquitous occurrence of fossil fuel accidents. Also, if you look at the retrofitting of existing nuclear power plants that was done in the 90s, you find that most nuclear utilities actually played it very safe and in fact bent over backwards to satisfy sometimes draconian safety requirements. There is an excellent discussion of this in William Tucker’s book “Terrestrial Energy”. By the way, the five year window of profitability that Wall Street executives covet is a problem in every industry, particularly so in the one in which I work (pharma and biotech).

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  25. 25. sault 11:59 pm 08/23/2013


    So, how is it that you take a blogger’s word about the cost of wind power over an in-depth analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy when they ACTUALLY survey all the wind power purchase agreements written and come out to 4 cents per kWh?

    And guess where Chris Helman got his info: two political operatives at the American Tradition Institute!!! Are you telling me that you’ll believe a think tank funded by fossil fuel dollars over ACTUAL surveys of ACTUAL power purchase agreements? Look, the ATI is a right-wing organization funded by polluters to launder their propaganda:

    “ATI “is part of a broader network of groups with close ties to energy interests that have long fought greenhouse gas regulation.” The group has “connections with the Koch brothers, Art Pope and other conservative donors seeking to expand their political influence,” reported the Institute for Southern Studies in October 2011.”

    You SERIOUSLY think this is a more reputable source than the DoE?

    And again, land use issues are non-existent for wind farms. Ranchers can still graze cattle and farmers can still grow crops on 99% of the land that a wind farm occupies. The AWEO is just one of many astroturf groups that polluters set up to stifle their competition. They bring up nonsense about bird deaths while making up garbage like “Wind Turbine Syndrome” out of whole cloth.

    Look, did you honestly even read the links I posted? They pretty much answered your points before you even made them. And posting garbage from polluter-funded front-groups is beneath the standards for Scientific American. Maybe you should read that definition of “bias” one more time.

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  26. 26. GuestPosting 12:20 am 08/24/2013

    A new report says Germany’s Solar Energy production is shattering records, and Wind Energy is right up there.


    34.5 GW Solar Energy
    30.5 GW Wind Energy
    65 GW Wind + Solar

    This means that Germany’s production of Solar and Wind energy alone is 17.5 % of the World’s nuclear energy use!

    AND Germany’s Solar/Wind production alone is the equivalent of 76 nuclear power plants!

    Renewable Energy will always be the CLEAN and CLEAR winner.

    Link to this
  27. 27. Quantumburrito 2:20 pm 08/24/2013

    I am not a big fan of nuclear energy but I do think it represents a better option than renewables (which also have an important part to play). The main problems I see with renewables are; intermittency, limited locations, low efficiency and massive subsidies. I too don’t see renewables providing the bulk of our energy in a short time. The fact is that in spite of promises by people like Amory Lovins in the 70s that renewables would provide upto 30% of energy till 2000, the numbers say something else. Wind provides about 4% of electricity in the US and solar only about 0.1% (this is from Wikipedia); in addition this is limited mainly to certain regions and states. Nuclear in comparison generates about 20% so it definitely has had a big head start. I think we should invest as much as we can in new nuclear technologies like SMRs.

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  28. 28. CaptD 2:06 pm 08/25/2013

    FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff: Solar ‘Is Going to Overtake Everything’

    One of the country’s top regulators explains why he is so bullish on solar.

    If anybody doubts that federal energy regulators are aware of the rapidly changing electricity landscape, they should talk to Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

    “Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything,” Wellinghoff told GTM last week in a sideline conversation at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

    If a single drop of water on the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium is doubled every minute, Wellinghoff said, a person chained to the highest seat would be in danger of drowning in an hour.

    “That’s what is happening in solar. It could double every two years,” he said.

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  29. 29. CaptD 2:09 pm 08/25/2013
    snip 2
    The Crossborder Energy study in California concluded the benefits of DG are near retail rates, he noted. “If utilities say that study is wrong, let’s get their studies and the studies from the solar side, and let’s have a hearing, let’s have full discovery, and let’s have a fully litigated process. That’s what regulatory commissions at the federal and state levels are for, to put all that data on the table and see what the accurate answers are.”

    FERC isn’t involved in that process because it is a retail rate issue, Wellinghoff explained. “But DG and distributed solar can be wholesale grid resources if a wholesale grid operator can access those resources and have some control over them. What FERC has to do is ensure these distributed systems get recognized and compensated and integrated into the wholesale grid.”

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  30. 30. dburress 1:07 am 08/28/2013

    I would take the nuclear supporters more seriously if even one of them mentioned the implicit Price-Anderson subsidy. Even with it, new nuclear power plants are not currently economically feasible, based on the estimates of the industry. Without it all existing nuclear power plants would close down in 30 seconds. In a level playing field economy with a carbon tax and no subsidies, there would be no room for nuclear power. Therefore nuke supporters need to start by explaining why taxpayers and bystanders should bear a huge risk that private insurance markets view as immense. For some reason they never do. Instead they attack the most mistaken points made by opponents, as if that were a positive defense of nuclear power. It isn’t, and they haven’t made one.
    David Burress
    Lawrence KS

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  31. 31. Carlyle 6:01 am 08/28/2013

    There is no such subsidy. There is a guarantee scheme funded by the industry.

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  32. 32. curiouswavefunction 1:06 pm 08/29/2013

    #30 and others: Here’s a 2008 analysis of federal energy expenditures from 1959 to 2006; it found that of the $725 billion that was expended, 73 percent ($530 billion) went to oil, natural gas and coal; 18 percent ($130 billion) to hydro and renewables; and 9 percent ($65 billion) to nuclear. Thus nuclear got less subsidies than renewables and far less than oil and coal.

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  33. 33. Carlyle 1:00 am 08/30/2013

    I believe it is much more lopsided now. Price-Anderson was amended & though it gives guarantees in case of accident, it is funded in the end by the industry.

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