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Oct 25 / Jonathan

Monbiot: Nuclear energy

While the context of George Monbiot’s article on nuclear energy is British politics, it’s directly relevant to the US as well.

Ten cents of investment, he shows, will buy either 1 kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity; 1.2-1.7 of windpower; 2.2-6.5 of small-scale cogeneration; or up to 10 of energy efficiency. “Its higher cost than competitors, per unit of net CO2 displaced, means that every dollar invested in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar.” And, because nuclear power stations take so long to build, it would be spent later. “Expanding nuclear power would both reduce and retard the desired decrease in CO2 emissions.”

It’s certainly a good idea, as people like Sir David recommend, to have a “diversified energy portfolio”. But, as Lovins points out, “this does not mean … that every option merits a place in the portfolio purely for the sake of diversity, any more than a financial portfolio should include bad investments just because they’re on the market.” Building new nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom would be a political decision, not a scientific one.

5 Comments

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  1. Tian / Oct 25 2005

    I like the fact he pointed out that energy efficiency has way more bang for the buck than the other choices on the list. That is true for mobile as well as stationary consumption. If we could just get all those consumers out there on their bicycles the price of gasoline would plumet!

  2. Eric McErlain / Oct 26 2005

    Tim Worstall pointed out a major flaw in Monbiot’s analysis yesterday.

  3. Jonathan / Oct 27 2005

    There’s an ongoing dispute about what constitutes an apples-to-apples comparison of costs. The Guardian article that Worstall cites, for example, also says,

    In other words, wind power expensive, nuclear power cheap (in comparison to wind). But Oxera’s methodology has been challenged. It ignores the tens of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money which have been spent in developing and cleaning up after the nuclear industry over the past 50 years, and ignores the rate at which wind power technology is becoming cheaper – to the point that, Tony White warns, government action should be considered soon to stop the owners of onshore wind farms making “superprofits”.

    When no new reactors have been built in the west for so long, too, working out how much they might cost is an inexact science. “Nobody’s built one of these things in Europe for 20 years,” says Juniper. “Where are these figures coming from?” A report just out from an independent think tank, the New Economics Foundation, suggests that the costs of a new generation of reactors in Britain has been underestimated almost by a factor of three.

    The picture in the US is even murkier, with the newly renewed Price-Anderson Act subsidizing and capping the nuclear industry’s liability.

    I’m reminded of the ongoing and unresolved dispute over the net energy gain in using alcohol as a gasoline substitute. None of the studies I’ve read are entirely convincing.

  4. Wes Rolley / Dec 3 2005

    These issues bring together some very disparate groups. For example both the Sierra Club (Carl Pope) and the Cato Institute (Jerry Tailor) are talking about a zero-subsidy energy policy from the Federal Government.
    With that kind of advantage, Green sources just might win.

  5. Peter / Apr 12 2006

    Wind power is cheap, but fuel recycling with fast neutron reactors will reduce nuclear waste to 1 percent of the original material, with none of it capable of being useful for making weapons. In the long run, both could be equally cost-effective sources of power. See the article in the December 2005 issue of “Scientific American” on the future of nuclear power plants.

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