REALITY CHECK ABOUT RENEWABLE ENERGY AND WHY NUCLEAR ENERGY MUST BE PART OF A CARBON FREE FUTURE

1. Introduction

Unbelievable as it may seem, the human race lived in poverty not so long ago. Just fifty years ago still 47.85 percent of the human race lived below the poverty line defined as an income of U$ 1.98 per day or below (https://ourworldindata.org/a-history-of-global-living-conditions-in-5-charts). By 2015, people living in poverty fell below 10 percent due to enormous economic growth in food production and industrial output underpinned by research and development. The economic growth has also led to great improvements in health, housing, clothing, education and other aspects of the human condition. All these improvements have been made possible by reliable and affordable energy supply. Today, in many parts of the world, it would be inconceivable not to have electricity, air conditioning, television, mobile phones and internet day and night. But not everybody is that lucky. It is estimated that even today close to one billion people out of the over seven billion of the world population do not have access to electricity, and rely on burning wood for their energy supply (https://ourworldindata.org/energy-production-and-changing-energy-sources).

There is no question that reliable and affordable energy supply dramatically improves the human condition. The crucial question is, where should this energy come from?

My contention is that whilst renewables ought to be part of the energy mix, they are not going to replace other energy sources in the foreseeable future. Hence, the only carbon free reliable and affordable energy source is nuclear.

2.Renewables…. some reality checks

Vaclac Smill (2017) provides the startling truth about renewable energy supply as part of the global energy consumption of 153,595.66 TWh;

    Crude oil approx. 35.0 %

    Coal    approx.       28.3%

    Gas approx.           13.9%

    Biofuels approx.    7.1%

    Hydro approx.        2.6%

    Nuclear approx.    1.7%

    Wind approx.        .73%

    Solar approx.         .28%

So, renewables (i.e. Bio-fuels, hydro, wind and solar) provide approximately 10 % of the energy need of the world, but the renewable energy supply is dominated by bio-fuels. Bio-fuels are primarily represented by burning wood chips which is hardly environmentally friendly. So that leaves us with hydro, wind and solar energy sources. 

Apart from the poor power density of solar and wind energies, the inherent difficulties with these power sources are twofold; they are not reliable as the sun does not shine all the time and the wind does not always blow and they require huge land mass. Let me give you insights on these issues.

The generally proposed solution to the unreliability problem of solar and wind energies is battery storage. However, technologies for large scale energy storage is still emerging including the batteries-based solutions. The cost of currently available storage technology is financially prohibitive. The investment into battery storage must be for the longest estimated period without wind and/or the sun shine. The cost of such an over investment can be prohibitive. For example, for the US to rely one hundred percent on renewable energy, the cost of battery storage and the associated costs would be 2.5 trillion dollars (J. Temple, 27/8/2018 MIT Technology Review). Furthermore, proponents of battery storage also seem to gloss over the inhumane conditions of cobalt mines, where children as young as seven forced to work ( https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/12/phone-misery-children-congo-cobalt-mines-drc). Finally, the Helmholtz Institute in Ulm estimates that by 2050 the cobalt supply will diminish ( https://www.hannovermesse.de/en/news/raw-materials-for-lithium-ion-batteries-are-running-out-83008.xhtml ).

The land mass requirements associated with solar and wind energies are a much debated topic(https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2013/08/calculating-solar-energys-land-use-footprint.html). One reasonable estimate is that 1ha of gas fired plant would require 73 ha of solar panels, 239ha for wind turbines and 60000ha for biomass (B. Lomborg 15-16/6/2019, The Australian). Clearly, countries like Canada and Australia would have enough land mass for renewables. But smaller countries, like Japan, would not have that much ‘spare’ land mass or they would have to give up land at the expense of agriculture. Furthermore, the environmental damage associated with these developments on bird life, the land and other environmental issues have never been articulated by the greens (https://scitechdaily.com/wind-farms-cause-more-environmental-impact-than-previously-thought/ ). Research and development such as supersized wind turbines and/or blade-less turbines may mitigate some of the land mass requirements of renewable energy ,especially if they are located off shore like the proposed Haliade-X(https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/3/8/17084158/wind-turbine-power-energy-blades). This particular turbine is almost three times the height of the Statute of Liberty and more energy efficient, but it is still at an early stage of development.

Undoubtedly renewable energy will have an important role to play in the future. However, politicians should support research and development in renewables and let scientists and industry to come up with the best solutions rather than set arbitrary target dates for carbon free future, which are well beyond their political life. In the meantime, politicians should encourage investments into nuclear energy as it is currently the best and cleanest reliable energy source. Furthermore, governments should stop virtue signalling about their green credentials and waste tax payers money on inefficient renewable technologies (P. Vasan 21/3/2018 Science). They should focus on providing electricity to the close to one billion people without electricity to improve their human conditions.

3. The advantage of nuclear energy

Nuclear energy is the most efficient and cleanest source of reliable base load energy source with a capacity factor of 92%. The only comparable base load energy source is hydro. However, most of the possible hydro sites have already been developed. The possible future hydro developments are in China and Latin America only (https://www.mpoweruk.com/hydro_power.htm). Other base load energy generators have a significantly lower capacity factor. Natural gas is around 56% and coal is about the same, although it may be ramped up to 80%. Wind turbine capacity is around 42%, although in some high wind areas like Scotland may go up to 65%.

The land mass requirement for a nuclear power station is the smallest of all based load generators.(https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2013/08/calculating-solar-energys-land-use-footprint.html). Furthermore, the globally generated high level  of nuclear waste so far is approximately the size of a three meter high football field(http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-wastes/radioactive-waste-management.aspx).

 Nuclear power plants are scalable from very small sizes to very large ones. Nuclear submarines have been around since 1954 (the US commissioned their first nuclear submarine Nautilus on the 30/9/1954). More importantly, Russian scientist have already developed floating nuclear power stations(https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/26/business/energy-environment/russia-floating-nuclear-power.html). The floating nuclear power plants can be used in remote areas or coastal towns. Finally, large scale nuclear plants are used in many countries to provide most of their electricity. For example, in France 74% of their electricity is provided by nuclear power plants.

The capital costs of building nuclear power stations are higher compared to gas or coal powered fire stations (http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-aspects/economics-of-nuclear-power.aspx ). However, the running costs are low and nuclear power stations have a ‘life expectancy’ of sixty years.

 In the light of the hype generated by the greens and by ignorant, brainwashed school children about global warming (which morphed into climate change and recently into climate crises), a number of governments have made deliverable announcements about renewables. Fortunately, there are countries that recognize the advantage of nuclear energy and are building new reactors as part of their energy supply mix (China, South Korea). Others, like the USA, explicitly support their existing nuclear plants. In the USA, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act was approved by the House of Representatives 361 votes to 10 votes in favour of the Act on the 27/7/2018 after having been approved by the US Senate. Also, some smart innovative companies are working on safer new nuclear generators (see for example www.kairospower.com).

4.Yes, but what about nuclear waste and accidents?

Opponents of nuclear energy are running a scare campaign against nuclear energy based on the treatment of nuclear waste and nuclear accidents.

There are well established procedures for treating nuclear waste and the cost of this is priced into the cost of nuclear energy. No other energy source has explicit requirements to treat their waste.  Nuclear waste is classified into three different levels of waste from low level waste (LLW) to medium level waste (ILW) all the way to high level waste (HLW).  The main concern lies with the tiny amounts of HLW, which can be encased in steel cylinders and can be disposed  by different methods including the deep geological method. To have a sense of the amount HLW produced by a country with significant nuclear energy generation, nuclear medical and nuclear military applications, consider for example the nuclear waste produced by to UK until now;

               4,400,000 cubic meters of LLW

                   290,000 cubic meters of ILW

                       1,000 cubic meters of HLW

(From;  http://ukinventory.nda.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/18/2014/02/2010-UK-Radioactive-Waste-Inventory-Summary-of-the-2010-Inventory.pdf.)Countries which educate their public about nuclear waste, like Sweden and Finland, have no problem of producing and disposing their nuclear waste close to populated areas (https://earth.stanford.edu/news/qa-what-should-we-do-nuclear-waste).

Nuclear accidents are classified by the International Atomic Agency’s Nuclear Event Scale. According to this classification, to date there have been three major nuclear accidents, Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011). The number of direct deaths caused by these incidents are Three Mile Island-zero; Chernobyl-28; and Fukushima-zero. These accidents occurred in early models of nuclear power plants where some of the safety measures had not been observed (Chernobyl and Fukushima.) or were caused by human error.

 The number of indirect deaths is much higher by attribution based on the linear no threshold model (LNT). However, the validity of this model has been challenged by a number of scientists (Wall St Journal, 13/8/2016). The LNT model and its validity is also currently being evaluated by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

One of the remarkable aspects of nuclear accidents is that the recovery period of native fauna, wild animal life and marine life in these accidents sites are much shorter than predicted. For example, there is  healthy, non-deformed  wild life in Chernobyl(http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190701-why-plants-survived-chernobyls-deadly-radiation,( B. Hard and C.Bradshaw,7/10/2013Conversation). Furthermore, the actual exploded nuclear power plant and the exclusion zone have been tourist attractions at least for the last two decades( T. Parfitt, 13-14/7/2019, The Australian).

5.Key takeaways

If global warming is real (!?!?) and will have catastrophic consequences for the earth as predicted by IPCC, should society not take its ‘chances’ on well established, environmentally friendly and safe base load energy provided by nuclear energy? Should the greens not be on the ‘barricades’ fighting for nuclear energy with its zero emission?  Or are the greens just Neo-Marxists and determined to destroy the capitalist system under the guise of global warming? Should we not educate our children about the benefit of nuclear energy?

 After all, without base load energy, there can be no further research and development in renewables let alone manufacturing of the wind turbines, solar panels and batteries.

So please;

                                                 PLEASE THINK AGAIN TODAY

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