Modern society requires a massive amount of electricity to function, and traditionally that electricity comes from burning fossil fuels which then cause a range of environmental and climate problems. In the search for an alternative to fossil fuels, both nuclear power and renewables like wind or solar are prominent contenders to unseat fossil fuels. Energy Fair, a group of Scientists in the UK, released on Tuesday a statement saying that the cost of offshore wind power has fallen enough to have a lower cost than nuclear power, suggesting that “there is absolutely no case for subsidizing nuclear power” and that continuing to do so will be an economic and climate disaster.
Nuclear power beckons with the hope of emissions free electricity that has no environmental or climate impact. In some circles this makes it an attractive alternative to fossil fuels for electricity generation. But nuclear power plants are costly and time consuming to build, and are not without environmental risks as was proved by the Fukushima disaster in 2011. At the same time costs for building wind energy infrastructure is falling.
Energy Fair suggests there is an “opportunity cost” in pushing for nuclear power plants. The question is what is the best allocation of resources at the macro-economic level, especially considering that because of subsidies given to nuclear power plants there are government tax dollars on the line.
Suggesting that “nuclear power diverts attention, effort, and large amounts of money away from renewables and the conservation of energy, where those resources would be more effectively spent,” the Energy Fair group asserts the following:
Renewable electricity generation resources are cheaper to build than nuclear: A report in The Guardian is cited, which says that today’s cost of generating electricity from offshore wind turbines is about about £140/MWh today (in the UK), and that this cost could drop to about £100/MWh by 2020. At the same time estimates of nuclear power for electricity generation is a £100/MWh cost for the electricity generated, but to get that cost the UK government must subsidize it heavily and that the true cost is probably £202/MWh.
Renewable electricity generation can provide greater security in energy supplies than nuclear power: In the UK all Uranium is imported, making a dependency on Nuclear power a dependency on an imported fuel. This argument carries less weight in the US because that country does have its own Uranium resources. However because of the size of a nuclear power plant, if that plant is taken off line the loss of hundreds of megawatts of electricity generation can be quite disruptive to the grid. On the other hand because each offshore wind turbine contributes only 5-10 megawatts, individual turbines can go on- and off- line with little disruption to the grid.
Renewable electricity generation is substantially more effective than nuclear power in cutting emissions of CO2: Peer-reviewed scientific studies find that even though nuclear power plants emit no CO2, the construction and operation and decommissioning of the plants is an energy intensive process that emits 9-25 times more CO2 than do wind power plants. Nuclear power plant construction requires massive amounts of concrete, which is energy intensive to produce. Mining and processing of Uranium is energy intensive. Decommissioning of nuclear power plants is likewise energy intensive. One must also consider the potential carbon footprint of events like a nuclear war, because the nuclear power industry enables the existence of future nuclear wars.
Renewable electricity generation plants can be built much more quickly than nuclear power plants: The extensive design and review and government permitting processes required to get a nuclear power plant built is extensive. And, thinking back to the Fukushima disaster last year, the extensive review is justified because of the huge risks involved. Renewable power plants like wind farms can take a while for approval, but the issues are much smaller.
Renewable electricity generation can easily meet all our needs for energy, now and for the foreseeable future: It’s just a matter of building enough wind farms or solar farms to collect the energy. There’s way more than enough energy from wind and solar to drive global electrical needs.
Renewable electricity generation provides more flexibility than nuclear power: Nuclear power plants are difficult to turn up or down to meet electricity demand, instead they prefer to stay running at a steady state for years on end. Renewable electricity can easily be turned up or down, especially when coupled with grid energy storage systems. Additionally the build-out of a renewable electricity site one wind turbine or solar panel at a time, coming on-line piece by piece, while nuclear power plants cannot go into operation until the whole thing is built.
Renewable electricity generation provides diversity in energy supplies: There are a variety of technologies for renewable energy, and as the old adage goes it’s not good to put all your eggs in one basket.
Renewable electricity generation is largely free of the several problems with nuclear power: Renewable electricity does not carry with it the baggage of nuclear weapon proliferation, the still-unsolved problem of nuclear waste disposal (materials that remain toxic for 10’s of thousands of years), nor the risk of major disasters like the one in Fukushima in 2011.
Source: Energy Fair
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