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Energy reality

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 1 year, 1 month ago Saved with comment

A page on energy issues

 

Despite their best attempts, lawmakers and other politicians can't escape reality forever. And more to the point, neither can their supporters.

 

You can't fool all the people all the time, and the penny must eventually drop. It's just a matter of how much damage needs to be evident first.

 

We may even be approaching a tipping point where anti-nuclear activists will be seen as the climate change deniers that they have now in reality become. 

 



 

Reality number one: Electricity use will increase

 

Most people in the world want to use more electricity.

 

Most of the people in the world have reasonable and environmentally sound reasons for wanting to use more electricity.

 

This includes not just people in rural communities who would like a refrigerator and have a right to access to a computer, and don't currently have any means of getting either. It also includes people in the most highly developed economies who would like to drive an electric car, and depending on where they live they may shortly have no other choice if they wish to drive a car at all.

 

Globally, electricity use is increasing, and no amount of conservation will reverse this trend. 

 

Reality number two: In order to provide even the current levels of electricity consumption, the only choice is between fossil and nuclear

 

Wind, solar, hydro, geothermal... they're all attractive (although you'd be stupid to want to live downstream of a hydro dam or within smelling range of some geothermal plants). They are part of any rational energy policy. But there is no way they can replace either fossil or nuclear, let alone both. The figures just do not add up.

 

Germany is just replacing some old coal-fired plants... with new coal-fired plants. Unless they wish to import even more natural gas (another fossil fuel) there is not a lot of choice. Well... there is always atomkraft, but as the bumper sticker says, they've decided nein danke

 

See also what happens when you do not go nuclear.

 

 

Reality number three: The world is going nuclear

 

It's not a choice of whether. It's a choice of what sorts.

 

Chernobyl would probably never have been built or operated as it was had the Western Greenies given it the same scrutiny they were giving Western PWRs at the same time. Its risks were published in the 1950s before it was built, and acknowledged by the Soviets at that time.

 

Some nukes are better than others. The tragedy is, by their one-eyed opposition to all nuclear reactors, and at best support for unproven technologies such as fusion, the "environmental" movement has lost any say in how the nuclear industry will develop.  

 

Reality number four: The anti nuclear arguments are overwhelmingly bogus

 

There may be valid concerns. But we have yet to hear them.

 

Instead we hear the three old turkeys: Bombs, wastes and accidents. None of them at all convincing if you do a little homework. More recently there's the claim that nuclear is more expensive than its alternatives, and it can be but it need not be. Can we have a level playing field please, in which deliberate financial sabotage by well-meaning greenies, and the disposal of the radioactive waste dumped by the fossil fuel industry, are also costed? Do that and it will be a very different story even without considering the CO2 emissions (but we should do that too).  And now that one is being progressively debunked, there's the straw man that nuclear can't replace solar and wind. Too right. But nobody is saying that it should or even that they could. They're all part of any rational policy. Even limited use of fossil fuel is rational, just not for large-scale generation of electricuty, no way 

 

The bomb

came first. The nuclear power industry has benefited from and been shaped by military technology, but never the other way around. And there are good reasons for this, see fool grade, it's a fascinating story. And the best way we have of reducing the chance of a second nuclear war is the NPT which is based on guaranteeing access to peaceful nuclear technology, including nuclear energy.

 

The knowledge question

is a more recent variation on the bomb argument. It goes that nuclear engineers trained for nuclear power are useful to miltary programs, so we should shut down this education, and therefore also shut down nuclear power.

 

There's a grain of truth to this. In countries that have nuclear powered warships, the navies train their own nuclear engineers, but there are more weapons states than ones with nuclear naval propulsion. They can be expected to use whatever expertise is available.

 

But this program of denying potential weapons developers knowledge is morally indefensible, and ineffective anyway. The nuclear engineering necessary to design, build and operate a PWR is no longer secret. Any military program can easily train their own nuclear engineers to this level, even without warship reactors.

 

And the argument raises other moral questions. If you wish to cripple a potential aggressor's military, why stop at nuclear? Why not instead deny the country and its people steel and aluminium industries? Far more effective. That denies them not only nuclear weapons but also tanks, aircraft and even rifles. But again morally indefensible, and likely to lead to wars not avoid them. 

 

The NPT of course takes the opposite approach, that of empowering people rather than oppressing them.    

 

The waste question

is a solved problem. The nuclear power industry is the first power industry yet to account for its waste and fund its disposal. If its competitors were to do this, by a carbon tax for example, they would all close down in a very short time. If the natural gas industry were to account for and dispose of just its radioactive waste according to nuclear industry standards, much of it would be uneconomic even without a carbon tax, as would many coal-fired plants. 

 

There is a risk of accidents

and even fatalities. There has even been one power reactor accident in the USA that killed three people. But this risk has been dishonestly and incompetently reported, see The Linear No Thought Model or LNT. In reality, and to most people's surprise, accidents in other power industries are far more dangerous and deadly both to industry workers and to the general public.

 

The straw man

is the argument that goes, nuclear can't and/or shouldn't replace solar or wind. Nobody is saying it should. Solar in particular is great for generating electricity at the point of consumption (but not so great in giant "solar farms", wouldn't those same cells be better used in smaller point of use installations?). 

 

Nuclear should replace coal and gas. And urgently. See what happens when you do not go nuclear.

 

An excellent use of nucear power, for example, would be in powering megafactories in which solar cells and rechargeable batteries are produced. And use these cells and batteries where they are urgently needed. 

 

And finally the cost

Yes, in some parts of the world, notably the USA, nuclear power has deliberately and artificially been made expensive. It would still compete with fossil fuel if a reasonable carbon tax were to be imposed. See Are nukes economically viable.

 

The downside

of these commonly and honestly believed misconceptions goes far beyond the damage of unintentionally but directly promoting the use of fossil fuel. By its inconsistency and its record of false alarms, the "environmental" movement has become to many The_Boy_Who_Cried_Wolf. That is an invalid ad_hominem argument of course, but none the less politically damaging for that.

 

And that is serious, because the evidence is that in the case of climate change there is a wolf, just as in the case of ozone depletion there was a wolf.   

 

 


 

Bumper sticker design by Robert Bernal. Used by permission.

Views expressed in the rest of the page are the sole responsibility of Andrew Alder   

  

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