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A Civil Debate on Nuclear Energy and Renewables

Click here for a pointed, but civil, debate on nuclear energy and renewables between Dave Erickson and James Aach over at Re/Action on Climate Protection. Here's an excerpt from one of Erickson's comments:
Re: Nuclear/fossil fuel and numbers. First of all, we want to get rid of the fossil fuel plants. That's the whole reason for this discussion. In particular, we're discussing the replacement of the coal plants that generate over 50% of the power in the US as a first step. This amounts to 0.3 TW total capacity. If you figure 1000MW for a nuclear power plant, that amounts to 314 new nuclear plants. As you know, it takes 10 years to build a nuclear power plant. As you also know, it is an enormous project to build one nuclear plant, not to mention find the site.
Later, Aach responds to a number of the assumptions built into this model, but there is one point I'd like to address.

Coal powers 50% of U.S. electric generation because it is abundant and the least expensive option available. And despite the technology risk that coal represents (concerns not only about GHG emissions, but also mercury) coal is not going away anytime soon.

In other words, we won't be building 314 nuclear plants in the U.S. in the near future (whether the infrastructure to build that many plants in such a short period of time is another question entirely). NEI's best estimate is that by 2025, 30,000 MWe of new nuclear capacity will be in operation, with at least that much more under construction. According to current averages, that's about 60 plants.

And as Tim Worstall and Matt Schor have pointed out, when you keep nuclear energy as an option, reducing greenhouse gas emissions gets a whole lot easier.

Putting all our eggs in one energy basket doesn't make sense, as we discovered in 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted oil and natural gas supplies in the Gulf of Mexico. Significant fractions of that production capacity remain offline today, and some of that capacity, according to reports in the trade press, may never return to production ever again.

So we shouldn't take anything off the table. We need coal. We need IGCC. We need natural gas. We need renewables. And we need nuclear energy too.

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David Bradish said…
It should be noted that you won't have to build as much GW of nuclear to match the same generation of coal. Coal is mostly a baseload fuel source; however, many coal plants operate as peakers and many are shutdown occasionally to meet air standards. Nuclear plants are all baseload and you don't have to worry about emissions.
Jim Hopf said…
One small correction. 30,000 MWe of nuclear capacity would correspond to ~20-25 new plants, not 60. The rated capacities of the AP-1000, the ESBWR, and the EPR are 1,000, ~1,500 , and 1,600 MWe, respectively. All of the new plants will be one of these three designs.
Eric McErlain said…
Thanks Jim. I was using the average capacity of one of today's plants in my example. We try to be conservative when we make estimates.
Rod Adams said…
It is interesting to note that America managed to build the 103 plants (plus some that have been shut down) in about 20 years. That feat occurred when most engineers were still using slide rules and with a significant amount of opposition.

I am a bit more optimistic about our ability to build a large number of plants in a reasonable period of time than are most of the members of NEI. Then again, my company has no competing divisions that use fossil fuel energy sources. :-)

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