Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I love wind and solar.  But they are intermittent, diffuse resources.

When the wind does not blow in the North Sea because of changing weather patterns, the turbine blades don't move.  

Baseload electricity only comes from hydroelectric, fossil fuels, and nuclear.  Therefore, if Germany has a problem supplying energy from renewables, it must turn to one of these resources.  If they don't want to buy needed electricity from France, they have to get it from coal plants burning brown coal, which is environmentally really dirty.

Anti-nuclear power folks need to make up their mind about greenhouse gases.  If GHG are their chief concern, then elimination of fossil-fuel electricity plants should be first on the agenda.  To control carbon emissions, nuclear power is essential.

If you follow the logic of the argument that nuclear power will not significantly reduce carbon emissions, especially in the near term, then you have to conclude that carbon emissions from coal plants are insignificant and so are political attempts to reduce emissions, like the carbon tax and Kyoto.

The antis want to have it both ways:  they're saying we desperately need carbon-control programs but also saying that carbon-control is really not a big problem if it means we replace coal with nuclear.

The volume of nuclear waste is extremely small in comparison to the volume of waste in the air, on land, and in water from fossil fuel combustion.  It is possible to isolate and shield nuclear waste for very long periods until it decays to about the level of natural background radiation.

Finland and Sweden are both working on repositories deep in rock.  Spent fuel will be enclosed in casks inside chambers carved inside rock.  Safe storage is indeed possible.  In fact, it is going on every day around the world.

Safe storage of coal waste is possible but it is not being done.  This is causing severe problems for the entire planet.

by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 12:59:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, but did you hear me say any of these things? I hate the coal and gas producer with a vengance, and they need to be replaced as quick as possible. I just don't think, that nuclear is the best solution for the afforementioned reasons.

Tidal power (ok. not that much in Germany, but it would be bigger in Britain (where I live) and France), geothermal, electro voltaic and all the other methods. the salvation is not in a single form of producing power, but in having many small producers adopted to the circumstances.

and the most important. Saving energy, producing and using eneryg locally. every household produces its own power and becomes self sufficient.

now we only have to talk about industry power production...

by PeWi on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 01:09:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you.  We need many resources, starting with conservation.  Local emissions-free power generation is a beautiful thing. Tides, geothermal, solar, wind--yes!

But, as you say, industrial power is another matter.  As Jérôme, wind-powerologist extraordinaire, points out, wind turbines are heavy industry.  They are not carved out of wood by cheerful peasants.  To make their components requires factories and cement plants, the mining and smelting of ores, the forging of steel, the making of plastics from oil, etc., etc.  In other words, baseload energy is required.

So we have a choice.  The US gets 5% of its electricity from hydro.  That resource is dwindling as droughts reduce dam levels around the country--thanks to global warming.  So that leaves CO2 emitting fossil fuel plants (about 75%)or emissions-free nuclear plants (20%).  Wind and solar come to less than 1%

In fact the wind can stop blowing, just as rain can stop falling in one place and start falling elsewhere.  As ocean currents are affected by the huge influx of fresh water from melting ice caps and glaciers, and the Greenland ice sheet, winds may change and go blow elsewhere.

As for the economics of nuclear power, the OECD has made some findings:

The OECD does not expect investment costs in new nuclear generating plants to rise, as advanced reactor designs become standardised.

The future competitiveness of nuclear power will depend substantially on the additional costs which may accrue to coal generating plants. It is uncertain how the real costs of meeting targets for reducing sulphur dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions will be attributed to fossil fuel plants.

Overall, and under current regulatory measures, the OECD expects nuclear to remain economically competitive with fossil fuel generation, except in regions where there is direct access to low cost fossil fuels. In Australia, for example, coal-fired generating plants are close to both the mines supplying them and the main population centres, and large volumes of gas are available on low cost, long-term contracts.

A 1998 OECD comparative study showed that at a 5% discount rate, in 7 of 13 countries considering nuclear energy, it would be the preferred choice for new base-load capacity commissioned by 2010 (see Table below). At a 10% discount rate the advantage over coal would be maintained in only France, Russia and China.

This was updated in 2005 with a joint report by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Energy Agency showing that nuclear power had increased its competitiveness over the seven years. The principal changes since 1998 are increased nuclear plant capacity factors and rising gas prices. The study did not factor in any costs for carbon emissions from fossil fuel generators, and focused on over one hundred plants able to come on line 2010-15, including 13 nuclear plants. Nuclear overnight construction costs ranged from US$ 1000/kW in Czech Republic to $2500/kW in Japan, and averaged $1500/kW. Coal plants were costed at $1000-1500/kW, gas plants $500-1000/kW and wind capacity $1000-1500/kW.


A detailed study of energy economics in Finland published in mid 2000 shows that nuclear energy would be the least-cost option for new generating capacity. The study compared nuclear, coal, gas turbine combined cycle and peat. Nuclear has very much higher capital costs than the others --EUR 1749/kW including initial fuel load, which is about three times the cost of the gas plant. But its fuel costs are much lower, and so at capacity factors above 64% it is the cheapest option.

In 2003 the MITpublished the outcome of a 2-year study of nuclear energy prospects in the USA. Adjusting its assumptions to those more in line with industry expectations ($1500/kW & 4 year construction, 90% capacity factor, interest rate 12%, and adding fees & taxes) the generation cost comes out at 4.2 c/kWh, the same as coal without any carbon cost.

The French Energy Secretariat in 2003 published updated figures for new generating plant. The advanced European PWR (EPR) would cost EUR 1650-1700 per kilowatt to build, compared with EUR 500-550 for a gas combined cycle plant and 1200-1400 for a coal plant. The EPR would generate power at 2.74 cents/kWh, competitively with gas which would be very dependent on fuel price. Capital costs contributed 60% to nuclear's power price but only 20% to gas's. While the figures are based on 40-year plant life, the EPR is designed for 60 years.

A UK Royal Academy of Engineering report in 2004 looked at electricity generation costs from new plant in the UK on a more credible basis than hitherto. In particular it aimed to develop "a robust approach to compare directly the costs of intermittent generation with more dependable sources of generation". This meant adding the cost of standby capacity for wind, as well as carbon values up to £30 per tonne CO2 (£110/tC) for coal and gas. Wind power was shown to be more than twice as expensive as nuclear power.

Without the carbon increment, coal, nuclear and gas CCGT ranged 2.2-2.6 p/kWh and coal gasification IGCC was 3.2 p/kWh - all base-load plant. Adding the carbon value (up to 2.5 p) took coal close to onshore wind (with back-up) at 5.4 p/kWh - offshore wind is 7.2 p/kWh, while nuclear remained at 2.3 p/kWh. Nuclear figures were based on a conservative £1150/kW (US$ 2100/kW) plant cost (including decommissioning).



Uranium has the advantage of being a highly concentrated source of energy which is easily and cheaply transportable. The quantities needed are very much less than for coal or oil. One kilogram of natural uranium will yield about 20,000 times as much energy as the same amount of coal. It is therefore intrinsically a very portable and tradeable commodity.

The fuel's contribution to the overall cost of the electricity produced is relatively small, so even a large fuel price escalation will have relatively little effect. For instance, a doubling of the 2002 U3O8 price would increase the fuel cost for a light water reactor by 30% and the electricity cost about 7% (whereas doubling the gas price would add 70% to the price of electricity).


There are other possible savings. For example, if spent fuel is reprocessed and the recovered plutonium and uranium is used in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, more energy can be extracted. The costs of achieving this are large, but are offset by MOX fuel not needing enrichment and particularly by the smaller amount of high-level wastes produced at the end. Seven UO2 fuel assemblies give rise to one MOX assembly plus some vitrified high-level waste, resulting in only about 35% of the volume, mass and cost of disposal.

Sources for this information:

OECD/IEA, 1992, Electricity Supply in the OECD, (above Figure from Annex 9).
OECD/ IEA NEA 1998, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity
OECD/ IEA NEA 2005, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity- update
OECD, 1994, The Economics of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle.
Nuclear Europe Worldscan 7-8/97
NEI: US generating cost data
Siemens Power Journal, Dec 1999.
Tarjanne & Rissanen, 2000, in Proceedings 25th International Symposium, Uranium Institute.
Percebois J. 2003, The peaceful uses of nuclear energy, Energy Policy 31, 101-08, Jan 2003
Gutierrez, J 2003, Nuclear Fuel - key for the competitiveness of nuclear energy in Spain, WNA Symp.
Nucleonics Week 20/2/03.
Royal Academy of Engineering 2004, The costs of generating electricity.
ExternE web site
Canadian Energy Research Institute, August 2004, Levelised Unit Electricity Cost Comparison Š Ontario.
University of Chicago, August 2004, The Economic Future of Nuclear Power.
Feretic D, & Tomsic Z, 2004, Probabilistic analysis of electrical energy costs, Energy Policy 33,1; Jan 2005


by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 01:36:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you know currently both to little and to much wind is not good for windturbines, but the engineers in the company my wifes works for are working on that problem. Soon it will not matter how little or how much wind blows. They will produce either way - and don't tell me, that wind one day will stop blowing... ( sorry, that was an unfair snark...)
by PeWi on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 01:13:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I love wind and solar.  But they are intermittent, diffuse resources.

I'm sorry, what exactly is intermittent and diffuse about the sun? I expect what you mean to say it that is has planetary variability, but to suggest the sun if 'diffuse' is rather odd. Ditto wind; again what I think you mean is that the technology to move turbines at very low speeds - large turbines at least- has yet to be nailed. You can however right now cover your roof with small modular turbines that will move in very low wind velocities and amply power your house. So scale is absolutely essential for understanding the many solutions we can look at.

Your quote above is a direct quote from the NWA site, and I wish you had acknowledged that, and/ or unpacked it a bit to make a point with some credence.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:49:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The website may be WNA but the references are from a variety of academically acceptable sources.

How do you plan to make steel using solar power?  How do you plan to make the concrete needed for the bases of wind turbines with solar power?  

France runs its trains on electricity made cleanly by nuclear power, a baseload source.  How do you plan to run trains on solar or wind power?

These renewables are great on a small scale and we need them.  We need every clean energy source possible.  But renewables cannot supply baseload.

by Plan9 on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 10:45:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How viable is it to have each renewable generator store up to 24h worth of its own power on site? Does that solve the baseload problem, and if not, why not?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 10:49:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You make steel in an electric furnace in Arizona, powered by photovoltaic solar panels in the day and a pumped storage supply for night. Perfectly practical. Expensive.
by asdf on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 11:19:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Basically, I think your vision is rather limited. There is no question that whatever fuel sources we find, we are going to have to rethink major aspects of our way of life, because this isn't just all about continuing the status quo, because it simply isn't sustainable.

Something to ponder - the USA currently has 5% of the world's population and uses 30% of the world's resources; Europe uses 20%. If China achieves a 1st-world lifestyle for it's 1 billion + inhabitants, it will require 90%. And India is a piddling couple of hundred million short of China's population, and has the same, perfectly reasonable aspirations. Get the picture?

We are going to have to rethink everything. And no, I'm not advocating a return to darkness and hovels, but pointing out an immutable fact. Working out appropriate energy sources, and what we do with that energy is about far more than just slotting 'energy source x' into the place of current fossil fuels.

On top of that, you don't seem to be aware of just how rapidly now advances in renewable energy and a whole suite of radical new technologies is happening. One example - as the article says, one hell of a  scientific breakthrough.

they've just made photvoltaic cells out of plastic. A 1km high solar tower is being built in Australia, along with solar thermal fields in Aus and the USA, all generating n x 1000 MW, a 30,000 MW wind farm has just been proposed for Canada. I could go on and on.

You say in a post further down that (paraphrasing) 'we've been waiting for the big breakthroughs in renewables for years'  - yes we have, and with peak oil  now a reality, there has been a huge interest and increase in research and development, and the results ar tumbling in.

You also obviously discount the possibilities of modular renewable energy, smart grids etc.

Take a tour 'round the site www.worldchanging.com   - as it's tag line aptly says "another world is here" - you've just got to know where to look.

What we have now in political terms is the final tussle
between those looking to milk the current fossil fuel reliance for every last penny, and global future be damned, those who understand we will need some sort of sensible transition but overall fail to realise just how big a shift we need to make globally, and those who are trying to broaden the horizon and showcase the myriad of possibilities.

Who will win? Who do we want to win? I know I want to see some pragmatic and necessary work done to deal with ameliorating the impacts of fossil fuels as much as possible while we transition, and I want to see efforts focused on the myriad of possibilities, not locked into a nuclear future when there are clearly many other possible answers, if we only have the courage.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:40:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Worldchanging discusses intelligently, and fairly objectively, the many options for dealing with a post-fossil fuel future all the time.

Try this article for an example.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:43:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes they can.

Wind is actually a part of the baseload production, in that it does not have the flexibility to provide peak power. However, up to at least 20% of power provided, the cost for the network to accomodate the intermittent nature of wind power is negligible, and easily absorbed by the network, as demonstrated in Denmark and Germany and by studies by network operators all around (I don't have handy links, but have repeatedly seen presentations on that topic)

20% of power (in kWh) is A LOT of wind. Let's get there before we complain about the intermittence of the source. Maybe by then we'll have managed to develop better (i.e. not too expensive) storage facilities that allow wind power plants to provide their power on a more regular basis, to take over a bigger chunk of production.

I hear your arguments about nuclear, especially in relation to coal, but you are, imo, too dismissive of windpower.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:18:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I appreciate the correction.

As you know, I am in favor of wind power--thanks in part to your persuasive diaries and sobriety.

If I sound dismissive it is because many people have an idea that you just simply eliminate fossil fuel and nuclear and run our civilization on wind and solar power.  I hope some day that will be the case.  But right now that's magical thinking.  And we need practical solutions that can be put in place now.

I am not advocating for nuclear power to replace renewables.  I am advocating for renewables and nuclear--a mature technology without a storage problem yet to be solved--to replace all fossil fuel generation in the long term.  It is unrealistic to assume that as a short-term goal.

The best we can hope for is improvement of coal technology and strict control of emissions.  

I have a feeling of urgency as I continue to hear daily about the destruction of the environment as we know it.  We are facing a terrible problem. We have workable solutions which need to be implemented as soon as possible, and we have solutions in progress which also need to be supported.

What do you think?  Aren't we on the same page here?

by Plan9 on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 09:43:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We're mostly on the same page, in that I agree that nuclear is the less bad of the main available sources of power for baseload in the medium term. What I am critical of in your eloquent posts is that I think you are in general too dismissive of wind and other renewables, including as a baseload source.

  • A pretty big chunk of the baseload needs can be provided by wind today at little cost to the network, so we should focus on this first;

  • Focus R&D efforts to find some smart storage/battery technology cheap enough to associate with wind locally to eliminate the problem of intermittence;

  • in  the meantime, I agree that we should focus on the elimination of coal powered plants before nuclear powered plants.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 23rd, 2005 at 09:47:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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