Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Asking Some Uncomfortable Questions

Our friend Norris McDonald snuck into a press event promoting the release of Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change by Bruce Smith of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER). One reporter managed to ask an uncomfortable question:

Mr. Smith provided us with a complimentary copy of the book and we will review it soon. Their reliance on wind energy as a replacement for nuclear power is the weakest of their arguments. One reporter questioned how many windmills it would take to back out their estimate of 2,500 nuclear plants needed by 2050 and the number was astronomical. It is also unacceptable to single out nuclear power for opposition while accepting all other forms of electricity generation. The world needs a mix of energy sources, particularly nuclear power, to meet current and future electricity needs.
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Anonymous said...

Come on guys, this is dirty pool. You're well aware that no one needs to "sneak into" press conferences at the National Press Club; they're open to the public. It's irresponsible to intimate that IEER was attempting to keep pro-nuclear advocates out of the event.

Norris McDonald said...

But doesn't the 'sneaking in' description sound so much more intriguing?

Kelly L. Taylor said...

So glad you endorsed it, Norris. I like the sound of it, but then, it sounds just like me!

Tom Gray said...

Sorry to see the cheap shot at wind. Do we avoid such tactics or not?

Tom Gray
American Wind Energy Association

David Bradish said...


Where's the cheap shot?

IEER says it would take 1,000 nuke plants or more to make a difference. Nuke plants are the largest sources for capacity on average.

So if nukes are the biggest how much would be needed from other sources such as wind? 5,000 wind farms? 10,000?

The largest nuke plant in the U.S.(Palo Verde) is 4,200 MW and the largest wind farm in the U.S. (Altamont Pass) is 330 MW. So if wind builds 1,000 GW instead of nuclear, that's more than 3,000 Altamont Pass'. And that's just matching GW. This figure doesn't even account for the intermittancy of wind.

These aren't cheap shots. IEER tries to dismiss nuclear by saying 1,000 nukes are an impossible build yet do not provide how much of the alternatives are needed.

David, NEI

Anonymous said...

David, figuring a 25-30% capacity factor for wind energy sources (a reasonable average), you're looking at 9,000 to 12,000 facilities the equivalent of Altamont Pass. If 1,000 GW of nuclear capacity is an impossible build, how impossible does that make putting up 12,000 Altamont Passes?

But the real Achilles' Heel of intermittant, dispersed, low-capacity energy sources is managing a grid-type system based on these sources. Having been in the hot seat of the dispatching center of a "traditional" transmission company trying to balance load and supply with more conventional, intense sources, I can say that doing even that is often a challenge. Trying to manage tens of thousands of little bitty generators, all subject to local variations in environmental conditions, is truly a nightmare of monumental proportions. And, no, it isn't just a matter of "software". There's a lot more to it than just updating computer programs.