Skip to main content

Thinking Twice in Scotland

WindmillNuclear-thumb Nuclear energy supplies about 40% of the energy in Scotland, but its two plants are due to be retired in 15 years. What then? The Scots have been looking at wind energy, and that's still on course:

A new independent report has found SNP [Scottish National Party - the liberals in the Scots' political mix] ministers' target of generating half Scotland's electricity from renewable sources by 2020 is achievable.

But it will require a five-fold increase in the number of wind farms and nuclear power should still be considered longer term to provide the 'base-load' the national grid requires.

Well, that's always the way with wind, isn't it? Base-load in this instance essentially implies energy that is not affected by intermittance - you don't want your energy generation rising and falling with the tides, so to speak. But:

Despite warnings their stance could lead to the "lights going out", SNP ministers have vowed to use their control over planning applications to block any proposals for replacements.

Of the nuclear plants, that is. But, but:

It [The Scottish Council Development and Industry, which produced the report] estimates that that onshore wind farms will provide more than 80 per cent of the increase in generation from 'green' sources.

But Scotland needs to spend £10billion on new projects by 2020, with demand for electricity north of the Border predicted to rise 10 per cent.

We've seen stories like this before, notably from Germany.

Nuclear energy sometimes seems in these stories a trap for the unwary - an unappealing but plausible energy source to complement wind farms because nuclear doesn't produce the emissions that make renewable energy sources attractive in the first place.

(There's another element, too: wind energy looks great in TV ads, as benign as kittens. Nuclear energy has had a nice image overhaul to better match its reality, but using it still involves an industrial plant - just like coal. A nuclear plant just isn't as pretty as a windmill. Let's not underestimate the power of images to affect - and warp - policy.)

This is the real trap:

The report concludes the best mix of electricity would be a balanced combination of renewables and fossil fuels that produce less carbon.

Well, yes, that might be nice, but which fossil fuel that produces less carbon might they have in mind? Advanced coal technologies might or might not be available, but nuclear energy is ready to roll and Scotland already has a trained workforce. Seems a no-brainer.

The report is highly in favor of nuclear energy; we'll have to see whether it really encourages Scotland to think things through a little more thoroughly.

Wind and nuclear - bff? This picture comes from Belgium not Scotland, but it fits the theme of this post rather well.


Anonymous said…
A nuclear plant just isn't as pretty as a windmill.

I don't see where you get this. I think windmills are just plain ugly monstrosities. They are huge, spindly, ungainly-looking things that for a typical wind farm cover tens of square miles of territory and clutter up the view for hundreds of miles around. Contrast that with a nuclear plant of equal energy output, maybe a single cooling tower and some other low-profile buildings on a few tens of acres of ground.
Anonymous said…
Windmills are for suckers:
Anonymous said…
I think that renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro, etc. combined together MIGHT supply up to 20% of electrical needs. I don't think these sources should be vilified (did I spell that correctly?), but rather put in their proper place.

Obviously nuclear should be the remaining 80%. Furthermore, there should be a good nuclear mix: obviously advanced PWRs and ESBWRs / ABWRs, as well as PBMRs, Kirk Sorensen's molten salt thorium reactors, General Atomics HTGCR - OK, Rod Adams' HTGCR :-), and perhaps even a Carlo Rubbia energy amplifier or two, etc.

We should NOT rely solely on light water reactor technology and solely on uranium as a fuel source. BUT the regulations in the US NRC are skewed solely to LWRs and Peter Lyons, one of the commissioners (who by the way is pro-nuclear, unlike Harry Reid's Jackzo), stated a few years ago in a speech (that I can't locate right now) that no one should expect any fast progress on the part of the NRC in licensing non-LWR technology.

Hey, even ideas like the ultra-small Galena reactor that Toshiba proposed are worthy of pursuit (and Toshiba did meet with the NRC), BUT until the NRC gets out of its precautionary principle state (and the UK's HSE Directorate for Britain and Scotland), we won't see any good advanced reactor technology any time soon - and indeed it'll be a miracle if the nuclear come-back takes off at all.
Mark Flanagan said…
I take your points, and modern windmills don't carry the romance of the kind in the picture. But if you can show me a "green" energy ad that doesn't feature a windmill, I'll (consider to) agree that modern windmills are homely. (Admittedly, the modern windmills appeal to me aesthetically. Different strokes and all that.)

So I think the point goes to me on this one. (And, really, the larger point is the more important one: wind energy is an easier sell as long as the target audience doesn't know anything about it.)
Anonymous said…
I wonder - would the average ancient Egyptian have considered the Pyramids ugly when first built?

Why is it that when man builds something, then it's automatically ugly, but when a beaver or some other animal does it, then it's automatically beautiful.

I am a man and I like what man builds. It's suicidal in a species sort of way to hate what man builds just because man built it. A hundred wind mills off Cape Cod or two more nukes next to the Pilgrim nuclear station, or both together would actually be great.

The fact of the matter is that I stand in awe of the great big concrete structure that forms a containment building at a commercial nuclear power plant, just as I do the giant wind mills a few miles south of I-90 between Utica and Syracuse. Of course, reactor containment is far more useful than the wind mills!

Rod Adams said…
The image that most people associate with nuclear power plants is the cooling tower, not the containment dome.

Though we all know that cooling towers are also associated with other thermal plants, the image that gets repeated for nuclear plants is the hyperbolic tower that is 4-5 times larger than the containment dome with steam pouring out of the top.

That is an unfortunate image - it resembles a mushroom cloud.

I remember a long ago interchange with the local paper when I was living on the West Coast of Florida. It published an article about the Crystal River nuclear plant with photo that took up almost half of the page. It focused on the cooling towers.

I pointed out to the paper that the nuclear plant was visible in the bottom corner of the photo, but that the cooling towers on the Crystal River site have NOTHING to do with the nuclear plant - it is cooled by a canal into the Crystal River. Manatees love to congregate there in the winter.

The cooling towers are for the coal fired plants.

The story's writer acknowledge the factual nature of my comment, but stated that the cooling towers made good shorthand for nuclear power - especially since those are what always showed up in stories about Three Mile Island.

BTW - I am going to be continuing to publish some less flattering photos of wind turbine farms that do not gloss over the roads, transformers, wires and all of the other inherent components of an operating wind farm. The blades themselves might be graceful, but the installation is not as green as the advertisements imply.
Anonymous said…

I agree 100% with you that "...the installation [of wind turbines] is not as green as the advertisements imply."

That being said, I for one LIKE the works of man: cooling towers, containment domes, wind turbines, and even the Pyramids and the Parthenon! ;-)

OK, I'm bad; I admit that. But my point is that I am a human and I love being human and I love the works of humans (well, not war and destruction and pollution). Given a choice between dams erected by humans for the purposes of humans and dams erected by beavers for the purposes of beavers, I prefer dams erected by humans - and nuke plants and wind turbines, too. As Robert Heinlein wrote in his book, "Time Enough for Love" (and no, Rod, this is NOT directed at you or any one particular person - it's more rhetorical than anything else):


There are hidden contradictions within the minds of people who "love nature" while deploring the "artificialities" with which "Man has spoiled 'Nature.'" The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of "Nature"--but beavers and their damns are. But the contradictions go deeper than this prima-facie absurdity. In declaring his love for a beaver damn (erected by beavers for beaver’s purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purpose of men) the "Naturist" reveals his hatred for his own race--i.e., his own self-hatred. In the case of "Naturists" such self—hatred is understandable; they are such a sorry lot. But hatred is too strong an emotion to feel toward them; pity and contempt are the most they rate. As for me, willy-nilly I am a man, not a beaver, and H. Sapiens is the only race I have or can have. Fortunately for me, I like being part of a race made up of men and women-- it strikes me as a fine arrangement and perfectly "natural." Believe it or not, there were "Naturists" who opposed the first flight to old Earth’s Moon as being "unnatural" and a "despoiling of nature."


By the way, I'll wager that the building of the Pyramids and the Parthenon weren't so green either. I didn't mention the obvious Roman Colliseum because that was used as a place where Christians were martyred, and that's a different topic.
David Walters said…
Folks, the MAIN point is that Scotland finally stated something "official" in favor of more nuclear power.

If the dream of Scottish nationalism is a Scottish Republic, it will have to be powered by fission.

Anonymous said…
David Walters, you are correct.
George Carty said…

Most of the environmentalists I've seen in the news still wear clothes...
Rod Adams said…
@anonymous (Dec 11 10:28)

Like you, I am a fan of Ayn Rand and agree that human's can produce beautiful objects that serve human needs. There is nothing wrong with that. (BTW - I have a guess about your secret identity.)

However, my comment about the imagery associated with cooling towers was not about whether they are attractive structures or not. It is more about the emotional response that they engender and the fears that may surface when people see them.

I believe that the mushroom shape that happens to be thermodynamically efficient is part of the problem. We nukes do not HAVE to choose a cooling tower shape and size that constantly reminds many observers of the death and destruction that would result from an atomic explosion.

We know that reactors do not explode and are not a necessary part of a weapons program, but why do we put two or three massive, mushroom cloud shaped billboards next to a nice doomed shaped containment building? Heck, people LIKE domes. Some of the world's most famous and often visited tourist sites include a dome or two.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.


The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.

What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot., the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.

From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…