Wednesday, August 01, 2007

No We Don't Need Nuclear Power!

Oh yes we do! Oh no we don't!

Remember our much discussed post on nuclear power generation development and the problems of disposing of nuclear waste?

Well, a response from emeritus professor Keith Barnham appears in today's Guardian. He argues that we just don't need nuclear power at all, and proposes that solar, especially, and wind technology, will rapidly make the suggested expansion of nuclear power generation facilities a non-starter.

The usual clutch of comment posters have already been busy, most falling in to diametrically opposing camps, as usual, but there are some very interesting comments, facts (well, some, maybe, and some a bit questionable....ish) and figures quoted.

Interestingly, there are a few posters who, (maybe with some justification?), question the veracity of an author who is a founder of a solar panel development business.

Me? Well, I'm still confused. I still harbor doubts that 'renewables' technology can develop fast enough to fill the gap that carbon based power generation will surely hit in the future. And I still believe that storing nasty nuclear waste for when future generations can dispose of it safely and securely with a workable industrial scale transmutation technology is not really the correct thing to do.

As ever, there seem to be more questions than answers; and more 'facts'(?) flying about than you can shake a stick at. I'm open to persuasion either for or against nuclear, especially as it does seem to offer the most obvious stop-gap solution. But I think I'll stay sitting on the fence for now.

Anybody want to persuade me to drop down one side or the other?

Well, interestingly, despite Italy banning nuclear power station construction years ago, some at The Vatican do seem to be in favour of nuclear power! Plus they intend to become the planet's first carbon neutral sovereign state! See article from USA Today. Pity that it appears that most of this is to be achieved via offsetting.


Peter said...

As with so much these days, we view the messenger perhaps even more than the message.

I have no problem with someone 'pitching' their company, but once heady titles such as 'Prof.' get lobbed in it gets murkier. Like having clawed to the top in academe doesn't make you as prone to venality as the next person.

So then you fall back on facts, but as noted for every one in favour there is one at the other end ready to negate it.

So you tend to look to a trusted arbiter. Trouble is, there are few of these around any more. Government? Forget it. Media... pause to lie on floor giggling.

So I guess that means I'm as confused as you... and the answer is ... not yet!

Eric McErlain said...

The actual answer is that demand for electricity is going to be so great on a global scale, that we're not going to be able to ignore any source of electricity. Throw in the imperative of constraining carbon emissions, and it's inevitable that both nuclear and renewables will have a place on the electric grid. In fact, many might suggest that presence of nuclear on the gird makes the grid safe for intermittent sources of electricity like wind and solar.

Lawrence Clark said...

In the UK, peak demand for electricity is in the winter in late afternoon/early evening. As George Monbiot has said, one of the few things that you can be certain of in this debate is that there is no solar power when it is dark!

The question then becomes one of whether you can store the electricity generated when the sun is shining, or whether you can smooth out the daily and seasonal changes in demand for electricity.

In the summer, for example, you could imagine that we would run our washing machines during the day, so that they became solar powered. The next question is how to make this automatic, given that we are not a nation of electrical engineers. You can imagine something like the reverse of economy 7, where the driver is the cheap price of electricity during the day because there is lots of sunshine.

In the winter, there is no way that PV is going to do much for us. The best you can say is that at least the greater windiness of the winter means that there is more output from wind turbines (as long as you don't expect anything much from building-mounted turbines in urban areas).


Dave said...

Eric, welcome to the junkk blog, and thank you for your pertinent comment.

I have to admit that you are very likely to be correct. The current rapid (and future projected, soaring) growth in demand for electricity is often ignored in many discussions and will almost certainly mean that any available source of power generation will get thrown into the overall mix.

The one huge advantage of nuclear is it's ability to very rapidly respond to peaks and troughs in the overall demand; which can, as you suggest, get the grid over the intermittent troughs that will be inevitable with many renewables.

That said, it doesn't do anything to allay my fears about nuclear waste material. The lack of an industrial scale transmutation capability will mean that we will still have to store the stuff for decades. And leaving this problem to our children and grand children is surely not the most ethical thing to do?

enviro said...

I think we believe and rely too much on nuclear power to be our main power source in future. We should understand and be aware that renewable power sources can be the alternative to nuclear power despite what the pro nuclear lobby says. We are at the crossroads of that happening now.
W also have to cite the very obvious that we will never have a safe nuclear industry because we live in a world entrenched in crazy ideologies. We are in dire need to have safe cheap power sources and reduce global warming as well and only renewables will in the end do that.
There has been a breakthrough in renewable energy base power production! I refer to solar thermal power using a cheap flat mirror system and storage by the disassociation of ammonia in an endothermic reactor then stored at ambient temperature and used at any later time even during wintertime the sun's energy is not lost being chemically locked up. Then reapplied to an exothermic reactor heat is produced at about 500 degrees to provide steam for power generation. This closed loop system enables 24/7 base power production for industry and it also is able to provide medium or peak power on demand. Not only that the storage system is easy to do and cheap and is based on mature technology and enables the sun’s energy to be stored any length of time without loss so that the energy can be extracted in the wintertime if necessary or any time in the future! No other storage system can do this and it is a real breakthrough. A gigawatt plant is right now being built in America financed by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla who says that solar thermal power is poised for explosive growth because of it’s low costs together with Australian scientist Dr David Mills.. A general understanding and awareness of solar thermal power (CSP) can be seen on and ( and and understanding of the storage system in schematic form can be seen at

Dave said...

Welcome to the Junkk Blog and thank you for your input.

I am fully aware of the closed loop technology that you mention and have always expected that it would be perfectly feasible, at least some time in the short to medium future (as in several decades). However, I was totally unaware that anybody was attempting to develop it on a gigawatt scale already!

I shall keep a watching eye on developments with interest.

Regarding nuclear, I certainly do not believe that mankind should be dependent on it as a sole primary power generation source. I have always considered that we should regard nuclear as a stop-gap whilst new and improved renewable technologies are developed. And as you have pointed out, perhaps this will happen much more rapidly than many of us realised.