Monday, February 19, 2007

FuturePundit Asks a Question About Nuclear Energy

Randall Parker, the brains behind FuturePundit, has been reading an EPRI study about the prospect of the electric industry being able to constrain carbon emissions going forward, and asks a provocative question:

The study assumes only a two thirds increase in nuclear power.

[...]

But imagine instead that we no longer built new coal or natural gas burning electric plants and all new electric plants used energy sources that generate no carbon dioxide. Coal burning technology isn't ready for full carbon sequestration. So go with nuclear and wind instead.

Most drastically, we could halt all carbon dioxide emissions from electric generation (cutting out a third of US CO2 emissions) by switching to only non-fossil fuels for electric power generation. For example, in the United States we could switch to nuclear where we now use coal and natural gas. In 2005 nuclear power accounted for 19.3% of total electric power generated. The United States had 104 nuclear reactors operating in 2005 with a total capacity of 97 gigawatts (almost 1 gigawatt per plant). So as a rough first approximation if we built 400 nuclear power plants or 4 times as much as we already have we could shut down all the fossil-fuels burning plants. Though that would not provide enough electric power during the peak afternoon demand periods.

So here's my question for knowledgeable readers: What percentage of electric power is used for baseline demand and what percentage is used for above baseline usage? Would we have to build 6, 7, or even 8 times as many nuclear plants as we have now in order to eliminate all use of fossil fuels to generate electricity?
I've already sent a link to Randall's post to the interested parties here at NEI, though we're all scattered around the Washington area for the President's Day holiday. Then again, there's no reason why our readers can't participate. Drop by and be sure to comment where appropriate.

5 comments:

Doug said...

It looks like my buddy Gerry Wolfe has posted the nearly-identical text to FuturePundit that he's posted on dozens of other sites, such as:

http://indyhack.blogspot.com/2007/01/reject-nuclear-power-nuclear-energy-is.html

Wolfe seems to be going around putting his CSP pitch up anywhere that anyone mentions nuclear power as a possible way forward to combat global warming. Someone should call him on it. He could at least just post a link instead of copying the same drivel over and over. And he should admit he's an anti-nuclear activist.

Brian Mays said...

Yeah, but after you've seen his spiel a half dozen times (it doesn't take long), you tend to ignore it.

There is no point in calling him on it. He doesn't stick around to read the other comments.

The best that you can do is to point out to the other readers (and perhaps the moderators) that his drivel is spam.

Joffan said...

He actually tracks where the spam goes at a dedicated page on the TREC-UK website, but there's no associated discussion page that I can see.

Brian Mays said...

Wow! A spamlog! Now that's dedication.

Stewart Peterson said...

Regarding the post itself, I've had a similar idea: no new fossil fuel power plants and a phaseout of coal-fired power plants, in exchange for no carbon tax and starting a national CTL initiative to prevent a collapse of the coal industry. All new power plants would have to use non-fossil-fuel processes, with no prejudice toward either renewables or nuclear (the exception being a cap on spent fuel production to encourage better use of uranium). The net result is independence from foreign oil, a positive impact on the economy, and a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Longer-term, plug-in hybrids can then start backing out coal until the necessary advances in battery technology are made.

I am confident enough in the (currently rather feeble) business case for reactor technology that I think such a system would result in about 85% nuclear (meaning about 25% light water, 20% heavy water, and 40% LMFBR), but if wind/solar/magic wiffle dust is as good as certain unnamed parties think it is, it would have just as much of an opportunity to succeed if not more.

What do you think?