Nuclear power presents an interesting group of problems for people trying to resolve their carbon dioxide/electrical power generation problem. The world needs electricity. Cheap electricity dramatically improves the quality of life for people living in poor countries.
Green Power is expensive. Environmental groups like carbon taxes, which don’t make green power cheap, it simply makes alternate forms of power more expensive. Poor people all over the world are left without a choice. And green power is unreliable too.
Nuclear power is economical and clean. Many global warming worriers have been advocates of some form of nuclear power. Unfortunately it can create serious environmental problems when mistakes are made and people will make mistakes.
There is no perfect solution.
Wind mills and solar panels provide clean power but only when Mother Nature feels like providing the resource. Solar panels are both location and time specific, they only work in sunny places during daylight. Wind is only successful in windy locations and much of the USA is not suitable for wind (the white and tan areas of the chart below).
I was not surprised that the best place in the USA to build wind is in the Aleutians in Alaska. There’s an old saying about weather in the area that goes like this
It rains or snows and the wind blows 300+ days a year….and then there are 50 really bad days.
The best places to build wind ….are also the worst places to build wind. Imagine wind farms in the Aleutians or the mountains in Montana or in the middle of Lake Michigan. All have high installation costs, their own environmental problems and are a great distance from power centers.
Too many environmental groups like to make decisions based on the world they would like to have an not on the one we all share right now. Their green solutions for power use ignore the real world. Al Gore did this in his 2008 Op-Ed piece in the NY Times title The Climate for Change.
Mr. Gore’s goal was carbon free power in 10 years. Today, 4 years later, we have not yet started down the path Mr. Gore advocated. Why? Because it was wildly impractical, and politically and financially unrealistic. It ignored all the problems are a part of any carbon free solution…including Nuclear Power.
The electric power system we have right now needs reliable power. What we call in the trade base load power. Wind and Solar will not work as base load….and saying they will doesn’t make it so.
Suppose you live in Atlanta, what are your choices?
Solar is probably you best renewable choice….when the sun is shining. The average solar panel works about 4 to 5 hours per day and are much more efficient in the summer than in the winter. It will help with the summer AC peak, but be of little use in winter. It is the most expensive source of power widely available.
What are you going to do the other 20 hours of each day? I suppose one could build solar all over the country to increase the time covered. Unfortunately, the USA is only 4 time zones wide, so there is going to be 16 hours a day, every day, when solar won’t work.
Wind, hydro and geothermal also have the same siting difficulty. Good locations are far, far away. That means transmission lines, lots of transmission lines and lots more wind turbines in many different locations to cover for the variability of wind production patterns. And we still need a backup power plant for the dark, windless nights in winter.
Electricity is an on demand system, you turn on your light switch, the electric company provides the juice. There is no storage (except for hydro). The power must be available at all times. The only electrical source….available in large quantities right now….that is carbon free…..is Nuclear Power.
NOW for the test, do you fear carbon emissions more or less than the risks Nuclear Power presents. A single event on March 11, 2011 changed many minds. A tsunami hit the Fukashima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan and nuclear power lost much of its luster.
Despite the wishes of the green community, power plants will need reliable base load of some kind. So what’s it going to be? The choices are 1) coal, 2) natural gas or 3) nuclear power. These are the only choices available right now. No fair choosing something that doesn’t exist.
Hmmm. Natural gas….but that’s for another post.