Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear power – the least viable alternative to fossil fuels

Why Nuclear Energy May Not Be Our Best Alternative Option To Fossil Fuel, Forbes, 9 Sept 17 , Michael Barnard, low-carbon innovation analyst, on Quora“…..Nuclear ….environmentalists aren’t nuclear power’s problem.

Its first problem is that it keeps getting more expensive while alternatives keep getting cheaper. It was in global decline in terms of absolute and relative generation since 2005, with a small uptick last year due to China’s deployment. That’s because it’s expensive compared to alternatives. Until recently it was fiscally challenged by natural gas generation. A handful of years ago it stopped being competitive with onshore wind. Now it’s not cost competitive with utility scale solar. Depending on the forecast, it’s either not competitive with offshore wind today or in the next two years.

Efforts to make nuclear cheaper, like CCS, have failed. The Toshiba Westinghouse AP1000 was supposed to be a standard, easy to build, cheaper option. It’s turned out to be incredibly expensive in reality and Toshiba Westinghouse has entered bankruptcy. A recent US report on next generation fission technologies found that roughly $2 billion had been spent with no progress. Fusion’s best hope is the ITER Tokamak which is expected to go live in prototype with no generation in 2040, meaning that if it works, some commercializable technology might be contributing by 2070.

The second problem is that nuclear is an inflexible form of generation. Some of that is the technology, but regardless of that, the business case requires about 90% capacity factor for nuclear in order to make money due to the extraordinary capital cost of the technology. That’s just the reality. And inflexible generation doesn’t work with intermittent renewables. If you can’t scale the various technologies up and down cost effectively, then there’s a problem. Ontario has been a bellwether in this regard with its surplus baseload generation problems of the past few years. While people tried to blame this on wind energy, what’s really happening is that the nuclear fleet is too big and can’t be turned off, so Ontario has been paying neighbouring jurisdictions to take the excess electricity. California built a lot of pumped storage to give nuclear something to do at night. France built expensive follow-the-load nuclear which basically wastes all of the generated heat without generating electricity. As France’s new President Macron has said, he used to run that ministry and even he doesn’t know how much they spent on nuclear or how much it costs.

The third problem is that nuclear is a geographically limited solution to a global problem. There are only 30 countries with nuclear today and we mostly don’t want to expand that number for reasonable geopolitical concerns related to radioactive material supply chain security, nuclear waste security and expansion of uranium enrichment technologies which happen in many cases to be useful directly for creating nuclear weapon’s grade uranium or masking the purchase of that enrichment technology. Dirty bombs anyone? A new nuclear bomb owning dictator anyone?……

Nuclear power is a 1970’s solution and hasn’t aged well. It hasn’t become cheaper, more flexible or more ubiquitous and it won’t. It’s failing in the marketplace, not due to environmentalists. …… Should we pay much attention to expanding nuclear? No. Why bother wasting breath on something that doesn’t have a business case…….

Renewables are the answer because they are massively scalable, cheap and solving the problems of renewables is easier than solving the problems of nuclear that is down the road.

The big kerfuffle recently about whether we can get to 100% renewables by 2050 or not was very interesting for one reason. Everyone involved agreed we could easily get to 80%. The question was how hard the last 20% would be.

But getting to 80% globally is a huge advance and is much cheaper to achieve than trying to ride the dead horses of nuclear and carbon capture on fossil fuels. We have to find ways to take carbon out of the atmosphere, likely soil carbon capture with global transformation of agricultural approaches, but it can’t be considered a successful part of the solution to get our emissions to zero.

September 11, 2017 - Posted by | General News

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