Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Electricity as a Moral Imperative

Seoul, KOREAWe cannot fully endorse everything that puts nuclear energy in a favorable light:

It isn't hard to see the one energy source that's grown lockstep with South Korea's economic ascension...
The country built its first nuclear power plant in 1977. Its rise to economic powerhouse began in 1980.
Today nuclear accounts for 30% of generation, but because of its high reliability, it accounts for 45% of the country's total electric consumption.
Since that first reactor in the late seventies, South Korea has built 22 more. The United States hasn't built any.
(The U.S. ranks 26th in Internet connectivity and has no high-speed rail. You decide if there's correlation.)
Korea plans to bring 11 more reactors online between now and 2021, bringing nuclear's share of electric generation up to 60%.
It's not true that no U.S. plants went online after 1977, but the point here is that the author overloads nuclear energy with responsibility for South Korea’s phenomenal economic growth. It is electricity itself that should receive that credit because it allowed the country to industrialize. (70 percent of electricity generation there is not nuclear-based, after all.)
Electricity generation is indeed a key to growth for developing nations – South Korea then, other countries now. Alex Flint, NEI’s senior vice president for governmental affairs, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in April, explained it exceptionally well, insisting on a moral dimension that gives the argument considerable force.
“The earth has 7 billion people on it,” Flint said. “Today, 2 billion of those people’s principal source of energy is burning firewood or dung. More than 1 billion people have no access to electricity, and non-OECD electricity growth will far surpass that of OECD countries for several generations.
“As we see population growth in those countries,” he continued, “we will see tremendous demand for electricity and energy of all sorts. It’s a moral imperative. There is a correlation between life expectancy and access to electricity. I believe politicians who do not provide sufficient energy for their growing economies and populations will face political peril.
“As a result we are going to see energy deployed around the world principally based upon its cost and availability, and other considerations like the environment will be secondary in most of the world.
Flint concluded, “In that world, I see a tremendous need for baseload electricity. I think nuclear energy will provide a substantial amount of that.”
OECD is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Is Flint implying that the environmental factors are relatively unimportant? Of course not: but nuclear energy answers to the issues of “cost and availability” while also answering to environmental considerations. Almost nothing else currently does (hydro comes closest).
But we need to be clear: it is electricity that matters. If that happens to be generated by nuclear energy, so be it and all to the good.
Seoul, South Korea


EntrepreNuke said...

I think that first quote is a bit poorly worded. I think it should read that nuclear makes up 30% of South Korea's nameplate capacity but provides 45% of their actual electricity generation. That would make more sense than to say 30% of their generation and 45% of consumption. In the U.S., I think nuclear is something around 15% of nameplate capacity, with right about 20% of actual generation.

Also, the tone of this whole post seems to be a case of America not having a single, unified nuclear industry. NEI, as the primary nuclear lobbying organization in the minds of most people, is a bit hamstrung by being funded in large part by organizations with significant vested interests in fossil fuel-burning technologies. Because of this, NEI seems to be fairly muted rather than just outright bragging about the FACTS of how incredible peaceful atomic energy production is.

Rod Adams said...

The growth of South Korea's NUCLEAR electrical generation is a very important part of their economic development because it is not just "electricity" but low cost electricity that is an enabler of economic development of energy intensive industries.

South Korea has no pipeline gas available; its neighbor to the north prevents any imports from coming overland from China. It has little or no coal of its own; certainly not enough to supply a growing demand. Even if it did, adding coal burning would have slowed development by causing the air quality to resemble that in China.

Nope, I have to disagree with NEI on this one. Nuclear electricity has been a huge boon for South Korea that would not have been possible with other sources of electrical power.

Rod Adams said...

Oops - I almost forgot that South Korea has also landed a $20 billion contract to supply nuclear power plants to the UAE. I also noticed that many of the components being delivered to Georgia and South Carolina for Vogtle and VC Summer are being sourced from South Korea. Again, those sales would not have been made if South Korea had chosen to base its industrialization on another source of electrical power.

DW said...

EnterpreNuke is correct...don't go by capacity figures, go by capacity factor: indeed, 45% of all electricity is provided by nuclear. But wait, there's more.

As Rod notes nuclear is important for generation. But so much of Korean nuclear plants are domestically produced it provide a "core" heavy industry development that is almost immune to western market pressures, like Korea's booming, sometimes, auto industry.

Nuclear in many ways acts as a "nuclpex" of economic stability and reliability. It should not be down played but emphasized.

On the point of the article itself: yes the wording is awkward but...electricity IS about development and economic stability.