Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Thoughts From the Gristmill

Some thoughts about the nuclear energy industry from David Roberts at Gristmill:

It got me thinking about the nuclear question again, and a post I wrote almost a year ago -- one of my favorites -- called "Renewable energy and the devolution of power." The idea was basically this: The kind of distributed-energy/smart-grid future greens envision would, if implemented, devolve political power outward from Washington. It would substantially increase regional self-sufficiency. This, as much as any technical debate, explains why the power elite has neglected to pursue it, and even fought against it.

It also, I think, explains Washington's love of nuclear energy. Nuclear is a familiar template for them: a large industry with one or two dominant corporations, with lobbyists that move in and out of government positions -- the usual chummy arrangement. It's something they can understand and control.

If regions create their own energy, they have much less need for, and are much less in thrall to, D.C. That has enormous implications. I'm not sure renewable-energy advocates have really thought it through.
I just sat in on a 60-minute lecture about the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, a technology that promises to provide small-scale distributed electrical generation to millions. It isn't pie in the sky, the concrete for the first unit near the Koeberg nuclear plant in South Africa is going to be poured next May. Why not talk about the PBMR? Why not mention its implications? Because right now, as it was just explained to me, the PBMR could be built just as quickly and more cheaply than a coal-fired plant with equivalent generating capacity. Better yet, the PBMR is scalable, with the ability to expand its generating capacity built into the design.

It's one thing to just point fingers at one another, something I'm not interested in doing anymore. But when it comes to providing electricity to hundreds of millions of people trapped in poverty, these old arguments just aren't going to cut it anymore.

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Anonymous said...

My reaction to renewables is almost exactly opposite. I think a move to renewables encourages involvement of large corporations and government control. Why? Renewables are generally cyclic and undependable. An independent small company can't be successful because they can't predict when they will be able to supply the customer. If the cost of other sources increases significantly a large corporation might be able to successfully compete with renewables that are geographically and technology diverse. Absent this model, the only way renewables get into the market is for governments to mandate that renewable power be purchased whenever and wherever it can be produced, regardless of demand or competitiveness. (Exactly what we have now.) This doesn't exactly match the "small is beautiful" model.

Don Kosloff said...

Enron was the largest wind energy company when it ran into its troubles. The suits at Enron were also anti-nuke. See if you can find those facts in a news article within the last two years.

Don Kosloff said...

Let us not forget the tiny Toshiba reactor or the Canadian Slowpoke reactor. Both are excellant examples of local power sources.

Plus I would like some spent fuel literally in my backyard (or basement) as my own local source of energy.