Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Belgium Ponders Non-Nuclear Future

Though this article from Expatica is more than a year old, I'm sharing it with you because it presents the dillema that many European nations with aging nuclear reactors are facing: How to meet their Kyoto targets while phasing out nuclear energy and still keeping the lights on:

Currently, nuclear energy remains the number one source of electricity in Belgium, amounting to 70 percent of production. That will fall to 52 percent of domestic electricity production in five years time.


But due to the fact that electricity only amounts to 16 percent of total energy use, nuclear-powered electricity amounts to 9 percent of use in Belgium.

Oil and other fossil fuels account for 90 percent of Belgian energy use, while renewable energy — such as wind, solar, biofuels etc — accounts for 1 percent.

Renewable energy use will only increase to 3.7 percent — or at most 5 percent — in 25 years time, because it remains expensive to produce.

The Belgium government intends to abandon nuclear energy from 2015 and in the 10 years after that, the nation's seven nuclear reactors will need to shut down.
Am I the only person shaking my head as I read this? While I topped out at Introduction to Calculus as a high school senior, you don't need advanced math skills to figure out that if Belgium phases out all of its nuclear capacity that renewables alone can't fill the gap -- a leap the author doesn't seem to be able to make.

Even better, we also get the meaningless statistic that's being repeated over and over again: While nuclear provides (insert percentage of electricity) it only provides a small fraction of total energy use -- as if you could replace all of the nuclear generating capacity with fossil fired capacity with a snap of your fingers and without suffering any ill effects in electricity prices or air quality.

Instead of looking at Belgium's current energy mix as a blessing, and an incredible boon toward meeting their Kyoto targets, this piece was titled, "Belgium's Nuclear Addiction". Perhaps Belgium's real addiction is to faulty reasoning.

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Ruth Sponsler said...

Good commentary!

I've recently done a post that profiles a number of the European countries' electricity usage pictures using charts from the International Energy Agency. The differences in energy policies between the European countries are strikingly visible when you look at the charts.

Italy is in a bind now, paying high prices for imported oil and gas, because of its 1980's-era decision to close its nuclear facilities. Belgium, which is a quite industrialized country, needs to avoid going down that road.

Fortunately, polling results for Sweden look favorable to keeping its nuclear capacity (contrary to the 'official' government policy, inherited from the anti-nuclear flaky politics of the 1980s).

GRLCowan said...

Someone in a newsgroup was asking for comments on this about four years ago -- before the Ghislenghien disaster -- but never acknowledged my response.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
How personal mobility gains nuclear cachet

Robert Schwartz said...

I hope that Belgium Shuts down its plants and dismantles them before the Jihadis take over.

Doug said...

It could be very instructive to have one European country after another attempt to defy the laws of physics by simultaneously abandoning nuclear power, reducing greenhouse emissions, and meeting rising demand. People don't quite understand that the greens to which they've ceded power on energy issues just say "no" to everything without having real solutions. How can you prove that conservation and renewables won't be enough, until you try it out. Once blackouts become routine perhaps the real debate will finally begin.

Brian Mays said...

Eh ... It's just one more reason the French have to make fun of the Belgians.