Thursday, January 10, 2008

Nuclear Power Endorsement

There are a number of irritating conceits and half-truths in this Nuclear Power Briefing by Greenpeace on the government's decision to endorse the manufacture of new nuclear power plants.

Comments like this, from the Greenpeace Nuclear Power Briefing:

"“We need baseload, and renewables can’t supply that.”

We also need what’s known as baseload – guaranteed electricity to meet
constant demand - and Britain can generate it with low-carbon technologies like
CHP [Combined Heat and Power] and some renewable technologies like tidal, biomass, biogas and hydro.
More efficient use of fossil fuels also has a part to play."

They don't seem to offer any evidence to support this assertion. Tidal projects are very admirable but there aren't many places that lend themselves to use in the this way. The Severn Barrage is one example, but I don't know if tidal and biomass methods can account for a large fraction of our electricity consumption, yet alone a large fraction of our energy consumption.

Is it not also possible that we could use different designs of nuclear power plant, like the Chinese or South African pebble bed reactors? These address the safety concerns and concerns about productions of weapon grade enriched uranium. Because the Chinese models are intended to be "mass produced" and don't require elaborate safety measures they could also be much cheaper than conventional nuclear reactors.

Surely the solution to the problem is to increase efficiency, increase the proportion of our energy sources that are renewable and low in carbon dioxide emissions? Nuclear power helps fulfill the latter of these points.

Greenpeace seem uninterested in providing figures to support their arguments. I'd like realistic estimates of how much of our energy needs could be met by low CO2 emission renewables and how much our energy needs could be reduced before I dismiss nuclear power.

More from the Briefing:

"“If we don’t go for nuclear we’ll be dependent for gas on unstable regimes
like Putin’s.”

The real threat to our energy security is interruptions to our oil supply. However,
essentially all of Britain’s oil is used for transport and cannot be replaced by
nuclear electricity.

Much has been made of the threat of becoming over-dependent on imported gas,
particularly from Russia. Unfortunately, half of our gas is used directly for
domestic space and water heating and cannot be replaced by electricity.
More is used for industrial processes, leaving under a third that is used for
electricity generation.

Much of that third is used to generate electricity at peak
times because gas turbines can be easily switched on and off to meet short term
spikes in demand. Nuclear power stations must be run continuously. This
considerably limits the role nuclear electricity can play in reducing our
dependence on gas, from wherever it is imported."

OK. So wouldn't it make more sense if our cars and buses and trains didn't run off oil? The stuff is going to be running out soon anyway, and we have an opportunity to get in on the ground floor with hydrogen or cell-powered cars.

Shouldn't our intention be to reduce carbon dioxide emissions? Nuclear power stations could be set up to provide electricity at peak times and spend the rest of their time producing hydrogen via electrolysis that could be used to power transport infrastructure.

As to the problem of heating homes - surely we can come up with some solutions based on electricity and greater efficiency? Combined heat and power has a lot of potential in this area.

We're going to have to switch from an oil-based transport infrastructure to an alternative at some point.

"“We can have nuclear AND renewables.”
In reality going nuclear would squeeze out renewables. Indeed, then Secretary of
State for Business Patricia Hewitt said in Commons debate on 2003 Energy
White Paper:

“It would have been foolish to announce …. that we would embark
on a new generation of nuclear power stations because that would have
guaranteed that we would not make the necessary investment and effort in both
energy efficiency and in renewables.”

Since then nothing has changed."

Huh? We're saving the world here. Can't we ditch Trident and pay for both? Again Greenpeace gives no figures and does not give any concrete evidence that we couldn't or wouldn't pay for development of both renewable and nuclear power.

I find myself in a situation where I don't know whether to believe the government or the greens. This is frustrating and counterproductive.

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