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"It's a lateral transfer" -- George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States
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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Environment & Energy Saturday

Is nuclear the answer?

I've long been a supporter of nuclear energy as an attractive short-term alternative to coal-based electricity generation. Mark Hertsgaard, however, says nukes aren't green. The main problem, he says, is that nuclear plants are too expensive to build, and that the billion-dollar government subsidies granted to get these plants up and running would be better spent if invested in energy efficiency. A report by the Rocky Mountain Institute says that if $2 billion (the typical price of a nuclear power plant) was instead invested in things like better insulation and super-efficient washing machines, it would make unnecessary seven times more carbon consumption than a nuclear plant would.

He says:
The case against nuclear power as a global warming remedy begins with the fact that nuclear-generated electricity is very expensive. Despite more than $150 billion in federal subsides over the past 60 years (roughly 30 times more than solar, wind and other renewable energy sources have received), nuclear power costs substantially more than electricity made from wind, coal, oil or natural gas. This is mainly due to the cost of borrowing money for the decade or more it usually takes to get a nuclear plant up and running.
I'm all for more subsidies to renewable energy producers, providers and researchers, but he makes a very sneaky move when he says: nuclear power costs substantially more than electricity made from wind, coal, oil or natural gas. If the point is to reduce emissions, then cost isn't an issue. The only renewable energy he mentions is wind, which at the moment has a precarious future since:
Wind plants produce electricity only when the wind blows, so if the wind is not blowing, the plant is not producing electricity.
(Which makes me wonder why someone hasn't found a way to store wind energy yet - but that is a different discussion.)

He goes on to say:
A second strike against nuclear is that it produces only electricity, but electricity amounts to only one third of America's total energy use (and less of the world's). Nuclear power thus addresses only a small fraction of the global warming problem, and has no effect whatsoever on two of the largest sources of carbon emissions, driving vehicles and heating buildings.
I see, so, electricity generation is no big polluter. But just paragraphs earlier he admits:
Coal, the world's major electricity source, kills thousands of people a year right now through air pollution and mining accidents. Coal is also the main driver of climate change, which is on track to kill millions of people in the 21st century.
Which is it?

Then there is his criticism that nuclear energy has no effect whatsoever on two of the largest sources of carbon emissions, driving vehicles and heating buildings. When was the last time a wind-powered car passed you on the highway?

His third argument however, is much more convincing:
The upshot is that nuclear power is seven times less cost-effective at displacing carbon than the cheapest, fastest alternative - energy efficiency, according to studies by the Rocky Mountain Institute. For example, a nuclear power plant typically costs at least $2 billion (up to $5 billion with overruns). If that $2 billion were instead spent to insulate drafty buildings, purchase hybrid cars or install super-efficient light bulbs and clothes dryers, it would make unnecessary seven times more carbon consumption than the nuclear power plant would.

In short, energy efficiency offers a much bigger bang for the buck. In a world of limited capital, investing in nuclear power would divert money away from cheaper and faster responses to global warming, thus slowing the world's withdrawal from carbon fuels at a time when speed is essential.

But is efficiency really the fastest alternative? I don't see much of it happening...

Look, I'm all for efficiency incentives. But we should start converting out of coal as quickly as possible. Why not invest in a reliable, market-driven, immensely powerful energy source as a short to mid-term solution? Doesn't that, combined with better efficiency, offer the best chance to becoming completely carbon-independent in the shortest amount of time?

Related:Holes in the Energy Law
What could really work? Enforceable fuel standards for cars and trucks; higher national building codes for energy efficiency; a tax on carbon emissions to fund research into promising technologies; requirements that utilities maintain a certain percentage of renewable fuels in their portfolios; and a moon-mission national focus on achieving energy independence that informs policy decisions for years to come. That's exactly what's missing from Bush's new law. And yesterday, the price of crude hit $66 a barrel.

E&E Saturday off-topic links:

Growth Stirs a Battle to Draw More Water From the Great Lakes

Liquefied petroleum gas is becoming more popular among drivers

Global-Warming Discrepancy Solved

Giant waterfall discovered in California


Blogger Natalia said...

wow...thanks for the boatload on info. Definitely a lot to think about here.


8/13/2005 08:51:00 PM  

Blogger Redneck Texan said...

More Spam?

The Empire Strikes Back

8/13/2005 10:48:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

This is getting out of hand...
That's what I get for trying to drum up some discussion.

8/13/2005 11:34:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

I'm no browser snob. I'll give it a shot. Especially lately Firefox has been freezing up on me, annoyingly causing me to lose my posts when I use the "blogthis" feature. If IE is more stable, and will let me download a sleeker skin, I could be won over.

The search bar integrated into the browser is a godsend. The cool thing about Firefox's is that there are literally hundreds of search engine plugins that you can install. Great if you use more than one search engine, or search a specific site like the University of Michigan or Amazon.

I'd like to see that in an IE browser.

8/13/2005 11:50:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

Man, this is really disheartening.

Really. This sucks.

Am I gonna have to start registering people?

8/13/2005 11:56:00 PM  

Blogger Redneck Texan said...

Pretty much everything MS is talkin about doing with IE7 the Maxthon upgrade I am running already does.

I hope MS "new" search box is configurable to use google or a user defined search engine instead of just MSM bs.

8/14/2005 07:02:00 AM  

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