Duncan Currie takes a look at various energy sources and the history of their use – using the books Energy Myths and Realities by Vaclav Smil and Power Hungry by Robert Bryce as a basis – and comes to some conclusions that, at the very least, are true:
Compared with solar and wind, nuclear and natural-gas energy boast much higher power density and can deliver far greater capacity. Bryce argues that they are the true "fuels of the future," though he concedes that nuclear plants are extremely costly to build and take a long time to become operational. Therefore, he urges a short-term expansion of natural-gas production and a long-term transition to nuclear.
Earlier in the piece, Currie’s survey leads him to conclude that large shifts in energy policy are incremental and thus the run up to a nuclear future need not be immediate to be effective.
He exaggerates a bit. Southern Co.’s Plant Vogtle reactors are scheduled to go online in 2016 and 2017, which isn’t all that far off, and, as David Bradish demonstrates in the post below, even the cost issue can be problematic – but it’s a fair point.
I’m also a little skeptical about the use of natural gas as a stop gap – it produces half the carbon dioxide of coal but that’s still rather a lot – and more than a little skeptical at Currie’s breezy dismissal of renewable energy sources:
Solar and wind energy both suffer from major structural deficiencies. As Bryce observes, they are "incurably intermittent" and very difficult to store, and have low power density. Because of their low density, solar and wind "require huge swaths of land — which often becomes unusable for other purposes."
“Incurably intermittent” is too definitive for my taste – technology, notably battery technology, marches onward – and wind farms frequently cohabit with farm farms – that is, the kind with crops and animals. That mitigates its need of “huge swaths of land” devoted to its use alone.
But it’s an interesting article and not overwhelmed with ideology, which can be a problem at political web sites. Well worth a read.
Taiwan is feeling pretty good about a clean bill of health from the IAEA:
Taiwan has for the fourth consecutive year been placed on an international list of countries whose nuclear materials are all used for peaceful purposes, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) reported Tuesday.
Taiwan has three nuclear energy plants housing six reactors. It gets about a fifth of its electricity from nuclear energy and about 40 percent (the most) from coal. But a couple of new reactors are under construction, so those percentages will likely tilt in nuclear energy’s (and a clean air) direction. So good for Taiwan.
But this aroused curiosity:
The IAEA's announcement put paid to media speculation about the purpose of Taiwan's nuclear development and confirmed the government's consistent policy of "not developing, producing, acquiring, storing, nor applying" nuclear weapons, the AEC said.
Because, after all, if nobody suspected Taiwan of harboring an interest in weaponry, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. Global Security has a concise rundown on where the suspicion lies:
Speculation over a covert Taiwanese nuclear program intensified on 13 October 2004, after the Associated Press reported that International Atomic Energy Agency officials disclosed they had evidence that Taiwan experimented with plutonium during the early 1980s (AP). Taiwanese experts voiced strong opposition to the idea of a nuclear program, saying it would bring direct conflict with China and isolate Taiwan from the United States (Taipei Times, ETtoday).
And a little more:
Taiwan does not have its own natural reserves of nuclear raw materials and actively cooperates with other countries in searching for and exploring uranium deposits. A five-year agreement between a Taiwanese and an American firm on joint development of uranium ore in the United States was signed in 1985.
One doesn’t have to be too naive to think Taiwan’s opportunities for mischief are not very good and its consistent support for non-proliferation (it’s signed the NPT treaty) and a tight control of nuclear materials only add to that. At most, it appears to have been “weapons-curious” and not even that for many years.
But Taiwan does appear to have to beat back speculation and one would be naive not to weigh China’s interest in uncovering provocative activity in Taiwan when considering such stories. So the IAEA’s seal of approval in this area has a notably tactical value for Taiwan that it might not have for other countries on its list. So be it.
Taiwan Power Company's No 3 Nuclear Power Plant in Hengchun.