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Posts posted by myotis

  1. So you have no answers for the deadly and toxic waste problems? Do you even care about it or will you just ignore it and hope other generations will deal and pay for the nuke-mess you are so strongly promoting?

    Or maybe you are just here to promote this book of yours... <_<


    When considering a national energy policy, we should make the most informed decision possible. How is this achieved? By weighing up the costs, benefits, dangers and so on. As I have clearly pointed out to you, I believe the benefits of nuclear power (namely due to the lack of a viable alternative) outweigh the costs and dangers.

    However, your point is valid so we'll address it. In keeping with the numbers theme:

    Isn’t the waste from nuclear reactors a huge problem?

    As we noted in the opening of this chapter, the volume of waste from nuclear reactors is relatively small. Whereas the ash from ten coal-fired power stations would have a mass of four million tons per year (having a volume of roughly 40 litres per person per year), the nuclear waste from Britain’s ten nuclear power stations has a volume of just 0.84 litres per person per year – think of that as a bottle of wine per person per year.

    Most of this waste is low-level waste. 7% is intermediate-level waste, and just 3% of it – 25ml per year – is high-level waste. The high-level waste is the really nasty stuff. It’s conventional to keep the high-level waste at the reactor for its first 40 years. It is stored in pools of water and cooled. After 40 years, the level of radioactivity has dropped 1000-fold. The level of radioactivity continues to fall; after 1000 years, the radioactivity of the high-level waste is about the same as that of uranium ore. Thus waste storage engineers need to make a plan to secure high-level waste for about 1000 years.

    Is this a difficult problem? 1000 years is certainly a long time compared with the lifetimes of governments and countries! But the volumes are so small, I feel nuclear waste is only a minor worry, compared with all the other forms of waste we are inflicting on future generations. At 25ml per year, a lifetime’s worth of high-level nuclear waste would amount to less than 2 litres. Even when we multiply by 60 million people, the lifetime volume of nuclear waste doesn’t sound unmanageable: 105 000 cubic metres. That’s the same volume as 35 olympic swimming pools. If this waste were put in a layer one metre deep, it would occupy just one tenth of a square kilometre.

    There are already plenty of places that are off-limits to humans. I may not trespass in your garden. Nor should you in mine. We are neither of us welcome in Balmoral. “Keep out†signs are everywhere. Downing Street, Heathrow airport, military facilities, disused mines – they’re all off limits. Is it impossible to imagine making another one-square-kilometre spot – perhaps deep underground – off limits for 1000 years? Compare this 25ml per year per person of high-level nuclear waste with the other traditional forms of waste we currently dump: municipal waste – 517 kg per year per person; hazardous waste – 83 kg per year per person.

    People sometimes compare possible new nuclear waste with the nuclear waste we already have to deal with, thanks to our existing old reactors. Here are the numbers for the UK. The projected volume of “higher activity wastes†up to 2120, following decommissioning of existing nuclear facilities, is 478 000m3. Of this volume, 2% (about 10000m3) will be the high level waste (1290m3) and spent fuel (8150m3) that together contain 92% of the activity. Building 10 new nuclear reactors (10GW) would add another 31 900m3 of spent fuel to this total. That’s the same volume as ten swimming pools.

    And how much does this cost?

    The nuclear decommissioning authority has an annual budget of £2 billion for the next 25 years. The nuclear industry sold everyone in the UK 4 kWh/d for about 25 years, so the nuclear decommissioning authority’s cost is 2.3 p/kWh. That’s a hefty subsidy – though not, it must be said, as hefty as the subsidy currently given to offshore wind (7 p/kWh).

    You have been making a lot of assumptions about this book. You've suggested that it's pro-nuclear, and I have responded that it is simply pro-arithmetic. I have no agenda and neither does the author. We simply want to see Britain realise it's goal of sustainable energy independence. If you are interested in sustainable energy independence, then I recommend it. If you want to keep your head in the sand, then carry on.

    I think the next question we should ask is "How can we make private companies adhere to strict safety standards?" instead of a blanket refusal to consider what could of great benefit to a sustainable future.

  2. Yes and I think you are somehow overestimating the sheer size of land that will be required for renewable energy gathering.

    Read the book and find out, this is very easily quantified.

    Let’s be realistic. What fraction of the country can we really imagine covering with windmills? Maybe 10%? Then we conclude: if we covered the windiest 10% of the country with windmills (delivering 2W/m2), we would be able to generate 20 kWh/d per person, which is half of the power used by driving an average fossil-fuel car 50 km per day. Britain’s onshore wind energy resource may be “huge,” but it’s evidently not as huge as our huge consumption. We’ll come to offshore wind later.

    I should emphasize how generous an assumption I’m making. Let’s compare this estimate of British wind potential with current installed wind power worldwide. The windmills that would be required to provide the UK with 20 kWh/d per person amount to 50 times the entire wind hardware of Denmark; 7 times all the wind farms of Germany; and double the entire fleet of all wind turbines in the world. Please don’t misunderstand me. Am I saying that we shouldn’t bother building wind farms? Not at all. I’m simply trying to convey a helpful fact, namely that if we want wind power to truly make a difference, the wind farms must cover a very large area.

    and so on...

    The entire essence of the argument is this:

    Because Britain currently gets 90% of its energy from fossil fuels, it’s no surprise that getting off fossil fuels requires big, big changes – a total change in the transport fleet; a complete change of most building heating systems; and a 10- or 20-fold increase in green power. Given the general tendency of the public to say “no” to wind farms, “no” to nuclear power, “no” to tidal barrages – “no” to anything other than fossil fuel power systems – I am worried that we won’t actually get off fossil fuels when we need to. Instead, we’ll settle for half-measures: slightly-more-efficient fossil-fuel power stations, cars, and home heating

    systems; a fig-leaf of a carbon trading system; a sprinkling of wind turbines; an inadequate number of nuclear power stations. We need to choose a plan that adds up. It is possible to make a plan that adds up, but it’s not going to be easy. We need to stop saying no and start saying yes. We need to stop the Punch and Judy show and get building. If you would like an honest, realistic energy policy that adds up, please tell all your political representatives and prospective political candidates.

  3. So what you are saying is you have no answers or ideas on how we can safely store the highly dangerous and toxic nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years?

    Maybe you shouldn't go around promoting nuclear energy when neither you nor the nuclear industry have any real, cost-effective and safe storage ideas?

    This is a trick question. I can pose many ideas for storing nuclear waste, but obviously all of them will have a flaw of some kind. I'll simply say that there are many places in the world where neither you nor I are allowed to go. I think that with good oversight and regulation these problems can be overcome.

    Here in Sweden offshore wind farms have created safe places (once constructed) for the declining fish stock in the Baltic sea. So it's really a win-win situation.

    But the older upper class don't want too see any wind farms because it "clutter" their view. Instead they want to have opencast coal mines or an toxic nuclear plant placed far away from them and instead near and around where poor and middle class people are living.

    I think you are somewhat underestimating the sheer size of land that will be required for renewable energy gathering. A wind farm the size of Wales could power 1/3rd of a very energy efficient Britain. Good luck persuading every social class, RSPCA and a hundred other environmental groups that it's a good idea.

    This is not an argument about aesthetics, but practicalities. The necessary volume of renewables will have their own environmental and social impacts, you cannot avoid that.

  4. I'm not supporting nuclear power per say and I hope my posts have conveyed that. I just think that saying no to nuclear should be tempered by the hard facts about renewable energy schemes. Perhaps we don't really have much choice in the matter - every solution to our energy problem has it's own mix of advantages and disadvantages, we will most likely have to settle for a compromise.

    If anything should be taken away from this discussion, it's that we should push governments to adopt stronger nuclear legislation for accountancy and safety. Nuclear can be successful if well managed - look at France (the positive public opinion is astounding).

    Among all the energy-supply technologies, the three with the biggest potential are wind power, nuclear power, and solar power.

    Now let's imagine that technology switches and lifestyle changes manage to halve British energy consumption to 60kWh per day per person. How big would the wind, nuclear, and solar facilities need to be to supply this halved consumption?

    If we wanted to get one-third of our energy from each of these sources we would have to build wind farms with an area equal to the area of Wales, 50 Sizewells of nuclear power and solar power stations in deserts covering an area twice the size of greater London.

    I'm not recommending this particular mix of options – there are many mixes that add up. What about tidal power, wave, geothermal, biofuels and hydroelectricity? In such a short article, I can't discuss all the technology options. But the sober message about wind and solar applies to all renewables: much as I love them, they only deliver a small amounts of power. So if we want renewable facilities to supply power on a scale comparable to our consumption, those facilities – whether centralised or decentralised – must be big.

    Whatever mix you choose, if it adds up, we have a very large building task. The simple wind/nuclear/solar mix I just mentioned would involve roughly a one-hundred-fold increase in wind power, and a five-fold increase in nuclear power; the solar power in deserts would require new long-distance cables connecting the Sahara to Surrey, with a capacity 25 times greater than the existing England-France interconnector.

    It's not going to be easy to make a energy plan that adds up; but it is possible. We need to get building.

    So the problems associated with nuclear that Simon mentioned must be weighed up against the problems of not using nuclear. I don't think I'm really qualified for that decision.

  5. No I probably won't. Because he sounds like a nuke-hugger. ;)

    Jesus Christ, this illustrates perfectly just how much emotion comes into play when talking about environmentalism. Do you consider yourself well informed? Do you view all sides of an argument before making a decision? Have you read anything I've written or just cherry picked a few points to counter?

    Yes I agree. Time is unfortunately no longer on our side, as you probably know. So why are you such a vocal supporter for nuclear energy?

    Because if we were to ignore the waste problems, the potential terrorist threats, the extreme costs and the nuclear weapons we still have one major problem. And that is the fact that it takes years to build a nuclear reactor. And especially now when the nuclear industry luckily haven't been much active in building new plants.

    It takes years to build anything. An equivalent area of wind turbines to a nuclear power plant is 100km2. You think that can be done in a few years? Have a look at this:

    I heard that nuclear power can’t be built at a sufficient rate to make a useful contribution.

    The difficulty of building nuclear power fast has been exaggerated with the help of a misleading presentation technique I call “the magic playing field.” In this technique, two things appear to be compared, but the basis of the comparison is switched halfway through. The Guardian’s environment editor, summarizing a report from the Oxford Research Group, wrote “For nuclear power to make any significant contribution to a reduction in global carbon emissions in the next two generations, the industry would have to construct nearly 3000 new reactors – or about one a week for 60 years. A civil nuclear construction and supply programme on this scale is a pipe dream, and completely unfeasible. The highest historic rate is 3.4 new reactors a year.” 3000 sounds much bigger than 3.4, doesn’t it! In this application of the “magic playing field” technique, there is a switch not only of timescale but also of region. While the first figure (3000 new reactors over 60 years) is the number required for the whole planet, the second figure (3.4 new reactors per year) is the maximum rate of building by a single country (France)!

    A more honest presentation would have kept the comparison on a perplanet basis. France has 59 of the world’s 429 operating nuclear reactors, so it’s plausible that the highest rate of reactor building for the whole planet was something like ten times France’s, that is, 34 new reactors per year. And the required rate (3000 new reactors over 60 years) is 50 new reactors per year. So the assertion that “civil nuclear construction on this scale is a pipe dream, and completely unfeasible” is poppycock. Yes, it’s a big construction rate, but it’s in the same ballpark as historical construction rates.

    A few country sized solar arrays? What are you talking about? According to experts:

    "...only a fraction of the Sahara, probably the size of a small country, would need to be covered to produce enough energy to supply the whole of Europe." source

    Oh yes, my bad. I ment to say really, really big. Whats the difference? The costs and political considerations are still astronomical.

    Lifestyle changes are a must. And if we don't accept that fact it doesn't matter if we invest in nukes or wind.

    But maybe the UK could start by making their homes more energy efficient? It seems I constantly hear on the news that the old homes and houses in the UK are far from insulated and releases major quantities of heat. Energy efficiency is the key to success.

    Yes, we can do all that, but there are limits. See what I wrote above about embedded energy use above. Also don't forget that us frugal, tree-loving eco-warriors are still a minority. Most of my friends are highly educated and morally conscious people, but they remain uninformed and apathetic about the environment. I'm the only person I know that has bought carbon offsets for flights. Don't be fooled by the internet, it creates an illusion by bringing like-minded people together.

    According to who? It seems you don't take into account the progress that is being made in terms of energy efficiency. Just because we get more electric tech stuff doesn't nessecarily mean the energy usage will increase. In Sweden and many other countries the energy usage is actually going down creating unwanted surplus of electricity.

    This is a fair point, I concede that energy use will decrease, but not to the extent that countries with a high population density can cope with just renewable energy. It's great if Sweden can get by and even export energy (though methods for storing it during wind lulls and night time will be needed for a truly carbon neutral country). So, you guys are sorted, as are several other European nations with a good resource to population ratio. What about the rest? Don't you find it at all disturbing that the UK, with such an abundance of renewable options and efficiency measures accounted for, won't be able to power it's own needs? I've said this several times, but seem to have been ignored.

    And Sweden can’t sell the energy surplus because a majority of the countries in Europe also have a surplus of electricity. Denmark, a neighbouring country to Sweden, even has considered donating away its energy surplus to other countries."

    Do you have a source for this? A renewable energy surplus is good, a fossil fuel surplus is bad. How will the field change once we go green, can you still predict the majority of EU will have a surplus?

    But you are saying against yourself here. It's about emission reductions as well as sustainable energy. And with renewable energy you will get both of that. With nuclear energy you will only get one of those things: emission reductions. But those emission reductions will come too late and will be too expensive. And nuclear energy is not a sustainable energy source. The fuel to run nuclear energy will eventually be depleted, just like oil. With todays usage(!) the fuel is said to be depleted within 60-80 years, and that is according to the more positive reports.

    In terms of sustainability, uranium won't last forever, but it will last a lot longer than you think. See page 161 of the book I recommended for a thorough evaluation (there is much uranium to be found in sea water with not such a bad cost of extraction).

    But I wanted to save this point for last, because it is at the very core of my thoughts on this subject. At this point, we should accept any and all emissions reductions we can get. Halting the deployment of nuclear plants is only prolonging our dependence on oil and gas.

    So if you have a better idea, lets hear it. And remember not every country is Sweden. What do you think we should do? Maybe you should be in charge of telling all those people that they should have wind turbines on their beautiful countryside or offshore shipping lanes. Maybe you should tell house owners that they should pay for solar panels and heat pumps. This is what I object to the most about my anti-nuclear environmentalist comrades. They seem to envision the future as some kind of eco-topia where all problems are solved with a little hard work and co-operation. Please build an opinion based in reality. It doesn't matter what is fastest, cheapest or best. We need them all.

    Please, please read this.

  6. Myotis, 'as we live' is totally unsustainable, & will have to change!!

    I think you're right in arguing that lifestyle changes are required, but as these cannot be forced upon us, I am skeptical about the scale of change we can implement. Replacing incandescent light bulbs is a no-brainer and we've known about it for over 15 years now, but I bet you have a friend or two who still use them. Realistically, the government needs to overhaul the tax system to provide market incentives for going green. UK Lib Dems seem pretty keen on the idea, but other major (and more popular) parties are lagging.

    I'm sure that once we get our act together about heat pumps, solar heating etc. then a lot of wasted energy can be saved, but there will be a few setbacks:

    - Firstly, much of our energy use is embedded. Everything we use and consume has a footprint, including goods and services made abroad. Once you factor this into the equation (if we start producing locally, or take responsibility for imported energy), our per person energy consumption increases.

    - Secondly, energy use is projected to increase. 5 years ago we didn't have broadband internet. 10 years ago we didn't have mobile phones. 15 years ago we had very few personal computers. All of these gadgets consume vast quantities of energy. Think about what will be available to us in the future. You would be surprised at the crazy amount of power is used by going online. Efficiency gains in electric components should be wiped out by these developments.

    So there are obviously limits on reducing our energy use, disregarding massive lifestyle changes or a population decrease and if we want the public's support on this, we can't change too much too fast. If renewables cannot supply our needs then we have to use clean coal, nuclear, or import energy.

    On a level economic playing field with a strong price signal preventing the emission of CO2, we don’t expect a diverse solution with a wide range of powercosts; rather, we expect an economically optimal solution that delivers the required power at the lowest cost. And when “clean coal†and nuclear go head to head on price, it’s nuclear that wins. (Engineers at a UK electricity generator told me that the capital cost of regular dirty coal power stations is £1 billion per GW, about the same as nuclear; but the capital cost of “clean-coal†power, including carbon capture and storage, is roughly £2 billion per GW.) I’ve assumed that solar power in other people’s deserts loses to nuclear power when we take into account the cost of the required 2000-km-long transmission lines (though van Voorthuysen (2008) reckons that with Nobel-prize-worthy developments in solar-powered production of chemical fuels, solar power in deserts would be the economic equal of nuclear power). Offshore wind also loses to nuclear, but I’ve assumed that onshore wind costs about the same as nuclear.... Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to be pro-nuclear. I’m just pro-arithmetic.

    I don't know anything about lobbying or the politics behind this. I don't see why that is an issue, the most important thing we need right now for any climate platform is a realistic social, economic and scientific model. Of course I don't like it. Where I am currently living, the state owned power company tricked a minority tribe (they were illiterate) into leasing a small part of their island; it was used to dump leaking barrels of nuclear waste and has been ignored ever since. But as it stands nuclear is on par with wind for fatalities/GWyear, the numbers really are insignificant.

    Are you for incinerators too? :huh:

    I've no idea where this came from, why don't we have a constructive conversation?

  7. And here is another example of people who fail to acknowledge the fact that renewable energy is not just wind turbines.

    Also, James Lovelock has said that:

    "Professor Lovelock FRS has given a recent assessment in which he discards nuclear (“It is a way for the UK to solve its energy problems, but it is not a global cure for climate change. It is too late for emissions reduction measures”)..."

    I'll acknowledge the lovelock quote: nice find. The important thing to note here is that he is talking about CO2 reductions, an altogether different cup of tea. Sure we could bury lots of charcoal to combat climate change, but where are we going to get our electricity from? How can Britain's energy use become sustainable?

    I think I said quite clearly that MacKay takes into account all natural resources available to us. You should read his book. He proposes putting a solar panel on every south facing roof in the country, filling the whole Atlantic shoreline with wave power, the whole North Sea shore with offshore wind, tidal power where we can, changing crops to biofuels and hydro in Scotland. Even an optimistic estimate falls far short of our energy needs.

    It's no good hyping up offshore projects and localized solar if it's only going to produce a small percentage of our energy needs and remember that the UK has some of Europe's best natural resources. We desperately need change now. Perhaps nuclear is one option, just until we manage to build a massive European grid and a few country sized solar arrays in North Africa.

    EDIT: I'm not saying we shouldn't get those solar panels and turbines up, just that we should stop saying no to other options.

  8. Hi all, I came across your website and just registered to post a wee comment about this nuclear issue here.

    I think it is important to talk about what is physically possible when having a discussion on sustainability. I would like to recommend David MacKay's book Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air for some information on this subject. It is written by a Cambridge researcher who does some fairly basic calculations and attempts to create a renewable energy plan for Britain.

    You will be surprised at his findings. People always talk about how many homes a wind turbine can power, but they fail to mention that we would need country sized areas of these renewable generators to power our current lifestyles. He takes into account every natural resource we have available to us and we still fall short by a significant margin.

    I believe that nuclear will have to have a place in any realistic energy plan, regardless of Al Gore's economic concerns or Greenpeace's ineffective protests. It's either that, carbon capture coal or importing energy from desert states.

    I would also like to point out that James Lovelock says nuclear is our only hope and he's a guy worth listening to.

    MacKay's book is available free here:

    Thanks :)