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If Not Nuclear Energy, What's The Alternative?

In response to Peter Asmus' July 6 piece in the Washington Post, NEI Vice President Scott Peterson submitted a letter to the editor that was printed in today's edition:
Peter Asmus ["Nuclear Dinosaur," op-ed, July 6] clearly opposes increased reliance on nuclear power to meet the nation's energy needs, but what is his alternative? His one reference to "smaller, smarter and cleaner power sources" encompassed technologies that already are the recipient of the same federal "intervention" that he decries for new nuclear power plants.

Mr. Asmus attempted to depict support for nuclear energy as a Republican position, but the Energy Policy Act of 2005, including provisions supporting nuclear energy, recently received bipartisan support in the Senate.

On emissions, nuclear energy fares well relative to other technologies. A 2000 study by the International Energy Agency showed that, next to wind power, the nuclear energy life cycle resulted in the lowest emissions of greenhouse gases. Wind is hardly a technology Americans can rely on to provide the round-the-clock, bulk electricity that nuclear plants provide.

Mr. Asmus's reference to the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant "in the 1980s" was irrelevant to energy policy deliberations today; the U.S. nuclear energy industry has vastly improved its performance during the past 20 years, setting electricity production records for four of the past five years with average capacity factors -- a measure of efficiency -- hovering at record-high levels of 90 percent. By comparison, U.S. wind power projects had an average capacity factor of 32 percent last year, and a 1,000-megawatt wind farm planned off the coast of Britain -- 1,000 megawatts is the capacity of a typical nuclear reactor -- is projected to cost $2.7 billion and will receive government assistance to improve its economics.

It is because nuclear power plants are performing so well that policymakers rightly see them as a vital element of a diverse portfolio of energy sources for our nation in the decades to come.
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DV8 2XL said…
I believe that it’s important for us to see “alternate energy” for what it is: a stalking horse for coal. Anyone with any grasp of number knows that wind, solar and biomass cannot even make a dent in future power requirements. However the only sector that will gain in the long run from the public and the government’s infatuation with these is coal; which will be waiting in the wings when the grim reality of failure becomes apparent to all. Of course this will be after the funds and the lead time that should have been applied to nuclear have been used up and our collective backs are against the wall.
Justin said…
Perhaps he may be referring to nuclear fusion. It seems to me that when people refer to nuclear energy, they're referring to fission, and tend to place nuclear fusion in a different category.

The problem with nuclear fusion is that most policymakers seem to be getting dated info, beleving that tokamak reactors and ICF is the only way to fuse atoms, when there are potentially better alternatives like the Field-Reversed Configuration. While ITER may be a success, Tokamaks may not be commercialized for another 50 years.
These people know exactly what they are saying. They don't want us to use electricity. They want to "go back to nature" meaning, of course, subsistence farming.
Matthew66 said…
I think Stewart is right, however these people who romanticize "the good old days" would hate the reality: extreme levels of infant and maternal mortality, regular famines, life expectancy of around 40, and the most appalling smells you can imagine, B.O. being among the least offensive.

Thanks, but I'll take the modern world powered by nuclear energy any day.
Paul Gunter said…
Hi guys,

A comment on renewables as the "stalking horse for coal" is a clear distortion of what actually is happening globally.

CNN reported (July 19, 2005) that scientists at Stanford University have produced a world map that plots wind power potential for the first time.

They say that harnessing even 20 percent of that energy would produce eight times more electricity than the world consumed in 2000.

"The main implication of this study is that wind, for low-cost wind energy, is more widely available than was previously recognized," said Cristina Archer, formerly of Stanford's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

North America had the greatest potential for wind energy with consistent winds found in the Great Lakes region and along both the north-eastern and north-western coasts.

The Stanford researchers work as published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, estimates that locations with sustainable winds could produce approximately 72 terawatts -- or 72 trillion watts -- a year. It would take more than 500 nuclear power stations to generate a terawatt and in 2000 the world consumed just 1.8 terrawatts in total.

Wind is already the fastest growing source of energy in the world, with average annual growth of 34 percent over the past five years.

Paul Gunter, NIRS
Paul Gunter said…
Another news clip re: "stalking horse" distortion:

July 20, 2005 (Reuters) - Portugal's Socialist government said on Monday it would grant licenses within six months to build massive stretches of wind farms, as part of a 2.5 billion-euro ($3-billion) investment plan in renewable energy.

Economy Ministry spokesman said the licenses, to be awarded to business consortiums, would allow for the generation of 1,700 Megawatts (MW) of energy. That's more than the capacity of a new nuclear power plant proposed by private investors last month, and immediately rejected by the government.

Paul, NIRS
Eric McErlain said…
You can always count on Paul to pile up the statistical distortions. First off, while wind could be categorized as the "fastest growing" power source, you have to understand just how little wind capacity there is in the first place. For example, between 1994 and 2004, the U.S. added the equivalent of 18, 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors to the American electrical grid. Over that same period, only 10,400 megawatts of renewables were added -- and 8,900 of those were from hydropower.

As for the Portugese example, I have a question: When is 1,700 megawatts of capacity not 1,700 megawatts of capacity?

It's when you're talking about wind energy, of course. To understand this, you need to deal with capacity factor -- and wind's capacity factor is about one-third that of nuclear.

As a result, as we've pointed out before, constructing a wind energy facility that could generate the equivalent electricity of a 1,000 megawatt power plant, would require 150,000 acres of land. And to replace all 103 nuclear reactors in the U.S. would require a wind farm the size of the state of Wisconsin.

Nice try. Too bad your numbers don't add up.

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