Tuesday Energy Blogging: In case you missed it.

23 Feb 2010 11:51 pm
Posted by: Donna

Yesterday CNN.com presented both sides of the nuclear power debate. I’m loathe to characterize complex issues as “debates” with concrete positions but for simplicity’s sake and because CNN presented it that way, I’ll go with that.

Taking the pro-nuke side was environmentalist Stewart Brand, who was interviewed by CNN:

Looking for a surefire way to cut greenhouse gases, Brand said the alternative to burning coal became clear: “We already had a very good supplier of …electricity. It worked like mad and was as clean as it could be — and that was nuclear.

“Looking at nuclear more closely made me look at coal more closely and I got to realizing what a horror it was across the board, and as I learned more about nuclear, I started learning all this stuff that my fellow environmentalists had been careful not to let me know about.”

Read about Bill Gates’ argument for nuclear power

I gotta say I’m a skosh leery of Brand, who acts like his fellow environmentalists are engaging in a conspiracy to keep information from him. Especially since he helped to found a consulting firm called the Global Business Network.

Plus, I find the insertion of the link to Bill Gates annoying. Last time I checked, Bill Gates is neither a nuclear physicist nor a environmental scientist. Being fantastically successful in one area and making a lot of money does not necessarily translate into expertise in everything. Gates is shilling for nuclear because he’s invested a bunch of money in a speculative venture. Whoopie for Bill but it’s still an argument couched in the lamest logical fallacy of them all – Appeal to Authority.

On the anti-nuke side was Stanford engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson:

If our nation wants to reduce global warming, air pollution and energy instability, we should invest only in the best energy options. Nuclear energy isn’t one of them.

Every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on clean renewable energy and one more dollar spent on making the world a comparatively dirtier and a more dangerous place, because nuclear power and nuclear weapons go hand in hand.

In the November issue of Scientific American, my colleague Mark DeLucchi of the University of California-Davis and I laid out a plan to power the world with nothing but wind, water and sun. After considering the best available technologies, we decided that a combination of wind, concentrated solar, geothermal, photovoltaics, tidal, wave and hydroelectric energy could more than meet all the planet’s energy needs, particularly if all the world’s vehicles could be run on electric batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

We rejected nuclear for several reasons. First, it’s not carbon-free, no matter what the advocates tell you. Vast amounts of fossil fuels must be burned to mine, transport and enrich uranium and to build the nuclear plant. And all that dirty power will be released during the 10 to 19 years that it takes to plan and build a nuclear plant. (A wind farm typically takes two to five years.)

The point about how much fossil fuel is burned to produce nuclear energy cannot be stressed enough. Proponents of nuclear energy act as if uranium is mined by magic elves and flown to the power plants by the gossamer wings of non-carbon-emitting fairies. They focus on how “clean” nuclear energy is at the one point in it’s generation where it’s not emitting pollution and conveniently ignore the entire fuel cycle.

Mind you, solar, hydrogen, and wind energies also require fossil fuel to be burned to produce them so it’s important that all energy technologies be viewed in terms of the totality of their production and not just those aspects that put them in the most favorable ecological light. With that said, Jacobson claims that wind energy blows nuclear out of the water on that score:

The on-the-ground footprint of nuclear power, through its plants and uranium mines, is about 1,000 times larger than it is for wind. Wind turbines are merely poles in the ground — with lots of space between them that can be farmed, ranched or left open — or poles in the ocean. Geothermal energy also has a much smaller footprint than nuclear; solar only slightly more. But while geothermal, solar and wind are safe, nuclear is not.

For nuclear to meet all the world’s energy needs today — 12.5 terawatts (1 terawatt = 1 trillion watts) — more than 17,000 nuclear plants would be needed. Even if nuclear were only 5 percent of the solution, most countries would have nuclear plants.

Another little discussed, but inescapable, issue with nuclear energy is that it uses a lot of water. By a lot, I mean, billions of gallons. So much water that droughts can force nuclear reactors to shut down.


  1. Comment by Timmys Cat on February 24, 2010 9:21 am

    Bt funny, but nobody really addresses the lefover pooh that comes out of a nuke plant.
    I actualy worked at Palo Verde for a number of years. Those huge reactors are about at their lifespan.
    If some horrible accident were to occur, most of the west valley would be devastated if not killed.

    I prefer the much more benign wind and solar method. Collateral damage is minimal.

  2. Comment by solutions on March 5, 2010 8:45 am

    It may not make a great deal of sense for nuclear in desert country such as Arizona, but I believe there is a place for nuclear. I worked at an electric company in Wisconsin, we had a nuclear plant, and it saved a great deal of money for the customers of that electric company. It is a clean, efficient source of energy. We have the know-how to come up with solutions for the waste. I believe in more of a sensible approach with a myriad of energy sources. I agree with you wholeheartedly that Arizona is the perfect place to put eggs in the solar basket!

  3. Comment by solutions on March 5, 2010 8:53 am

    Also, if you really are honest to yourself, Stewart Brand has excellent credentials to be talking about this stuff. He practically started the environmental movement. (I am alot older then you) You failed to mention his many expert environmental credentials. I guess that’s why it’s a blog. All I am saying is we need to keep an open mind right now about nuclear power and the possibility that it could help us in our quest for clean efficient sources of energy

  4. Comment by Mohammad Murphy on May 19, 2010 5:41 pm

    Hydrogen Fuel is very promising, i only hope that we can mass produce soon enough.-*”

  5. Comment by Madeline Morgan on July 22, 2010 9:20 pm

    hydrogen fueled vehicles are the best but they are still not widely available.~’*

  6. Comment by Leon Murray on August 3, 2010 8:48 am

    wind farms are great but they also take up a large land area;”‘

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