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back to article Profs: Massive use of wind turbines WON'T destroy the environment

Windy professors in the States have produced research in which they say that massive use of wind power would not, as had been thought, damage the planet's atmosphere and cause undesirable climate changes. They also argue that it would be "practical" to obtain half the energy required by the human race using wind turbines. …

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Page:

Give it a rest, Page.

We don't come here to read your ill-informed crap about non-IT subjects.

No, we come here to read your ill-informed crap about IT subjects, so have at it.

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"Is that actually enough to provide half of humanity's power? Well, 7.5 terawatts is the same as 237 exajoules each year. Total world energy supply at the moment is 490 exajoules annually right now, so it would seem that Jacobson and Archer have cocked their sums up right out of the gate. Even if they're right, wind can only do 48 per cent of the job."

Oh yeah that massive difference between 50 and 48 per cent.

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Anonymous Coward

Yup, I stopped reading at that point. If it's going to be a splitting hairs I don't need to read two pages of it (but will complain here, so el reg knows why I didn't read it). A far better first argument, which may appear later in the article, would be to point out that global energy consumption is increasing, so half of today's usage won't be half tomorrow's.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmm...

I'll just leave this here, then:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/dec/17/register-climate-myths

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Pint

Re: Hmm...

If you'd bothered to read the comments section of that article, you'd see what a mistake it was to use it to try to prove a point.

And in any case, what does this have to do with Page's article today? Are you that unable to counter his argument here and now that you feel the need to try raking around for some dirt to throw?

I think the answer to that is clearly yes!

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Meh

50 and 48 per cent....

I think the point is that the entire idea is batshit insane, 50, 48% who cares? I really wish I could get paid for writing out my BS dreams (BTW is my engineering degree the last one to teach that the bottom line is getting the most bang for your buck?) Most wind power is generated by the politicians and lobbyists.

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He is not quibbling over 2%

If you had read the article you would have read that they were claiming wind could handle 50% of the energy needs up to 2030. As noted in the article the 7.5 teraWatts would only account for 48% of the energy needs in 2012. Do we really expect a negative growth in energy usage over the next 18 years?

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Re: Hmm...

I'll take Register over Guardian any day.

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Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

Yes, by improving efficiency. Wide scale adoption of saving energy (such as insulation, LED lighting, hybrid/electric cars, etc) could reduce our overall energy needs considerably. Claiming that the developing world would require the same energy needs as Americans today is ridiculous.

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Re: Hmm...

Eventhough I'm not a Guardian reader, I know which one I would trust to provide me the facts and which would spin the facts so they claim exactly the opposite from what the original research says.

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Anonymous Coward

Think the point he is making is that they said if they installed all those wind turbines they could generate "more than enough to power half the world's power demand in 2030" (18 YEARS IN THE FUTURE) but in reality they would generate less than 50% of our power requirement TODAY.

Which is plainly unrealistic - i.e. unless our power requirement over the next 18 years just stayed the same.

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Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

He's not claiming all the developing world will require as much as Americans but there are a LOT of people in the developing world and over the next 15-20 years their power requirement is likely to increase (as a percentage) very quickly.

Perhaps we should compare power usage 36 years ago, 18 years ago and now to better judge where we might be in 18 year time. Any efficiencies are likely to be swamped by increased power requirements in the developing world and increased population and 'growth' worldwide.

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Stop

This entire article can be summed up with a single quote from it:

"So, assuming..."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmm...

"I'll take Register over Guardian any day."

I take the register and the guardian sometimes (and the torygraph too to balance it out).

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Re: Hmm...

I read the Express and the Economist.

I think government regulation of the markets killed Diana.

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Mushroom

Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

Wilco you really do live in cloud cuckoo land.

Our consumer economies require the waste of massive amounts of energy to produce consumer goods we dont actually need for us to buy to keep the economy turning.

The only way to move away from current energy usage levels would be a massive change in how we live in the "developed" world.

The only problem with that is that about 2 billion Indian and Chinese people now want microwave ovens, colour TV's and MTV so the global consumption of energy is going to far outstrip any pious changes you dream of.

If we want to consume 30% less energy as a planet now we need to move to a far more simple way of living, we cannot simply replace our current modalities with more efficient ones to achieve your dream, we are many, many years away from electric cars that are not a joke or from renewables that can provide enough energy without doing massive harm to the environment in the process, after all, your 4 million wind turbines at 100m height will require a rather large amount of cement to hold them down and how many billion tonnes of CO2 will be produced to make that cement? And thats before we look at the other raw materials required.

The reality is we still want a comfortable way of living and for that we need large amounts of energy, and with that comes a decision on how that is generated, and that decision needs to be a global one, it matters little if the UK produced zero CO2 if India and China continue at current rates.

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Same here - I largely agree with Lewis (this time), but when I saw him gloating over them saying half when the actual figures were 48%... that's a significant red flag. If you get excited about scoring those sorts of cheap shots, it makes the reader doubt if they have any really significant arguments.

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You rather missed the point. The authors were talking about meeting 1/2 of the energy demand *in 2030.* How are the wind turbines supposed to do that when:

a) They would only meet about half of today's requirements

and

b) World energy consumption is going up, not down?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

@Wilco1 wrote:

Wide scale adoption of saving energy (such as insulation, LED lighting, hybrid/electric cars, etc) could reduce our overall energy needs considerably.

If you try to replace internal combustion powered vehicles with electrically powered ones then you will massively increase the amount of electrical energy you need to generate.

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Facepalm

Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

The thing is there aren't really massive amounts of energy available to us, so there is little opportunity to allow for large increases in the amount of energy we use. The oil price has gone up 5x since the 90's, and production has stagnated. I very much doubt we can provide enough oil at low prices for a few billion extra people in 2030.

So unless we find a way to dramatically increase the availability and price of energy, the energy use per person will have to come down significantly as population grows while scarcity and prices increase.

Now this can be done in several ways, deny a large part of the population energy, lower our living standards, use technology to increase efficiency or find cheap supplies of renewable energy. I am sure you'll agree we need to concentrate on the latter 2 options. And yes, you're right that this needs to be a global decision to make an impact on the amount of CO2 we release. But it doesn't mean that improving energy efficiency or renewable energy is a bad idea even if done unilaterally. For example a 50mpg car costing £5000 more than a 25mpg car pays itself back in 2-4 years. Win-win situation for your wallet and the environment. If enough people start to think like that (and that does seem to happen given current oil price) then it does make a difference.

Electric cars are already becoming a reality, so in 5-10 years I'd expect battery technology to have improved enough that the issues of range, cost and charging will have been solved. In 2030 most new cars will be electric - with an optional fuel-cell range extender running on bio fuel.

The paper is about the potential of wind power resource, getting 50% of world energy use just from wind power is not realistic with current technology. While it is true a large turbine needs a lot of concrete and steel, the amount required per KWh produced is decreasing fast due to efficiency improvements. Note the CO2 emissions from building a turbine are typically repaid in a few months.

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Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

Not massively. There is no denying that we need to improve the grid. But electric cars can actually help with stabilizing it rather than causing it to fall apart.

Firstly remember at night power consumption is low so even the current grid can be used to charge a few million cars overnight. Secondly assuming a range of 150-200 miles most people would need to recharge only once or twice a week. So only a fraction of electric cars will need charging from empty to full. Finally any plugged in car can become part of a smart grid and provide temporary storage to smooth out peaks in demand.

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Boffin

Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

There's a considerable sleight-of-keyboard that Lewis engages in here. (He's not alone, almost everyone elides this, I'm not sure that half of them even know they're doing it, though Lewis surely does...)

There's a huge difference between "electricity" and "energy". Global *electricity* production amounts to about 22 PWh, or 79-odd exajoules. (Source: http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle800.do?categoryId=9037156&contentId=7068663 ) Global *energy* production (consumption) is much higher - the '490 exajoules' that Lewis talks about - because that includes all the power that never gets converted into electricity, such as the natural gas and biomass that's burned in stoves and boilers, the petrol in cars and planes, etc.

7.5 TW of installed wind capacity, operating at an average efficiency of about 35%, would replace *all* the world's current electricity generation, including the 13% that's already generated from renewable sources (not including nuclear). If the 7.5 TW is meant to be the *average* power output, then global *electricity* consumption could increase six-fold, and the wind generation would meet 50% of it.

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Holmes

More fundamental fuckup

Actually, his screw-up is more basic than that, though I have to post the warning that I can only scan his garbage for a few seconds before getting too nauseous to continue.

Thermal energy is NOT equal to electrical energy. When we burn hydrocarbons to generate electricity, there is a massive waste, either when we convert it to electricity or when we burn it in smaller and much less efficient devices (AKA cars) to produce direct motion. In contrast, wind turbines are measured directly by their electrical output.

Let's not consider the complexity of batteries, since the distinctive characteristic of the author of the article is that he demands extremely simplistic answers to every question. That's good when there is a simple answer, but he persists in tackling questions where his simplistic answers are not just wrong, but downright idiotic.

My own view is that future generations will look back at us and curse us for burning the hydrocarbons. Their advanced chemical processes will be able to do extremely impressive things--but we shall have burned almost all of the complicated hydrocarbons. If they put up a statue to this author, it shall be to his monumental stupidity and shortsightedness, even though his contribution to anything was minor.

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Re: Hmm...

"I'll take Register over Guardian any day".

High praise indeed. After all, The Guardian is the gold standard worldwide for truth, integrity, factual accuracy, and scientific insight.

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Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

Veti

35% average efficiency? Didnt they look at Scottish wind farms over a year and work out it was around 22%?

35% would need consistent high winds, few calm days, more resilient turbines etc etc

The problem with wind is that its neither a fixed variable or even a dependable one, what's your plan if we have a low wind period?

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Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

Re: 35% average efficiency? Didnt they look at Scottish wind farms over a year and work out it was around 22%?

I know of one large utility company that uses 12% average efficiency in their budget calculations.

And that isn't including the wind farm (purchased as part of a larger purchase) that has a average utilisation of less than 1% as it was built where there was no wind. The funny thing is that the government subsidies in these countries actually make all the wind farms profitable in the first 5-10 years of operation....

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Re: He is not quibbling over 2%

@nsld:

I don't have a plan. I don't know how much efficiency you get out of the wind turbines in practice, or how much you might be able to improve that in principle. I was just pointing out why Lewis's figures are meaningless. He's comparing apples to marrows. And I'm pretty sure he knows it.

In fact, as I understand it, the average efficiency is irrelevant, because the paper is talking about the effect of taking that much energy out of the atmosphere - so the '7.5 TW' must refer to the average power output, not installed capacity.

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Re: Give it a rest, Page

A well reasoned counterargument...

Not.

And what's with the 'we'? Who elected you?

Did you get upset at the link to the Nature article which backs up Page's contention that Fukushima wasn't actually that harmful, or was it the sums which confused you?

I quite like the coverage of 'technology'. It would be boring if it was just about IT.

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Joke

Re: We

Obviously, it's the queen posting anonymously.

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There seems to be a problem in the calculations

When calculating the energy required, Page says we should assume a growth in energy use of 3x as the world's economies grow. He calls that "realistic".

Then when calculating the GDP he says we should assume a "drastic" reduction in output because of those evil IPCC scientists.

Finally Page assumes that even when producing 4 million wind turbines there will be no economies of scale whatsoever, instead suggests we should "multiplying our $12tn cost figure a few times at the very least".

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Thumb Down

Re: There seems to be a problem in the calculations

"When calculating the energy required, Page says we should assume a growth in energy use of 3x as the world's economies grow. He calls that "realistic"."

This is vastly more realistic that fantasising about energy consumption reducing. Its unlikely that energy consumption will drop in the developed world, and terribly unfair if it doesn't rise in the developing world. There are many times more people in the developing world... so, yeah, I'd say thats realistic.

"Then when calculating the GDP he says we should assume a "drastic" reduction in output because of those evil IPCC scientists."

Yes, that has been stated on more than one occasion that the most realistic way to drop CO2 emissions is to cut energy use. The two statements are in opposition, that's really the point. One is the demand, the other is what is going to happen. Guess which is which.

"Finally Page assumes that even when producing 4 million wind turbines there will be no economies of scale whatsoever, instead suggests we should "multiplying our $12tn cost figure a few times at the very least"."

The multiple was about including all the costs of building the infrastructure necessary to support the millions of turbines. Did you not see that? Economies of scale don't really exist in the way you seem to expect for building huge new road networks, electricity grids and so on. The technology is all there now and well refined, very little refinement economies to be had here, engineers could price out an implementation pretty well for all the support infrastructure.

There's problems in this article, but these ain't them.

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Re: There seems to be a problem in the calculations

It's not realistic at all.

Simple fact is there will be massively destructive resource wars before India and China come anywhere close to reaching the consumption levels of the USA.

It makes zero, zip, nada, fuck all sense to complain about a 2% or whatever shortfall in projected energy output while ignoring the fact that there simply aren't enough physical ingredients - water, rare earths, accessible nitrates for fertiliser, copper, and many, many, more - to make all the shiny the developing world might be persuaded to want.

Yeah, and we waste a lot of energy too.

Oh - and only a troll like Page seriously thinks renewables people obsess about wind to the extent he does.

People in the biz are waiting on tidal barrage, tidal stream, osmotic, hydro, geo, OTEC and the many varieties of solar to make up the rest of the mix.

The real problem isn't that renewables don't work - it's that some people still believe that renewables are some kind of personal insult for entirely irrational reasons that have no basis in fact or science.

They're the kind of people who would have laughed at the Wright brothers for trying to get one of their basket contraptions to fly.

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WTF?

Re: There seems to be a problem in the calculations

Tidal barrage - will interfere with migration patterns, generally screw around with the estuary causing many known and unknown effects.

Wind - I want a cup of tea when the wind is not blowing, got it! Uses significant amounts of rare earths in the generators, which are necessarily not the larger/ massively more efficient ones used in large power stations.

Hydro - probably the best understood, but still involves covering rather large areas of nature with a shiny new lake. Hence a very limited supply of useful locations.

Geo - Yay! Not enough locations available with current tech... but looks good as far as I can tell.

Solar - Very significant amounts of rare earths required. What to do in the night time?

--

There are huge engineering challenges to be met in building the above at the scales needed. Sourcing the required rare earths alone is going to be prohibitive at current costs.

It is not irrational to point this out.

Neither is it irrational to say that a toy power installation is not representative of a commercial scale installation. You can make a solar panel that works without any issues.

If a large country were to convert to solar/ wind (for example, although it holds for most renewable sources as they are currently understood) in earnest, then the minerals needed to manufacture them would run out almost immediately, causing large price spikes; as these minerals are shared with other industries, it would make electronics, motors and the like spike in price as well.

Then there's the more basic commodities like steel, concrete and the like. These are already in heavy demand due to economic development around the world. It is not clear that sufficient quantities are even available, let alone that they can be had at a price that makes the project economically viable.

It is not a simple, or straightforward, thing that is being proposed.

I have an issue with people looking 10 years down the road and saying that we will have to endure power cuts and rolling black outs. I refuse to accept that this is somehow reasonable; given how much warning we have, it simply isn't.

If that is the projection, then we cannot 'wait on XXX', we need to build power stations now, of any description, so long as they will generate power when it is required.

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Unhappy

Bah

Stopped reading when you pooh-poohed the researchers for referring to 48% as "half" as though that invalidates the whole thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bah

Shame you didn't read it properly then - he was saying they got it wrong comparing the best estimates for wind power generation 18 years from now with the actual power usage today when power usage is going to increase.

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Nice

To see an acknowledgement on El Reg that there are 'greens' (as opposed to Greens, perhaps) who favour nuclear power.

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Re: Nice

Unfortunately, those greens who have faced up to the facts about nuclear power - specifically its actual risk to life (even when the worst happens) and its capacity to generate low carbon baseloads the world needs *today*, have found themselves largely ostracised by the green movement.

Such is the disconnect between reality we're seeing in the 21st century.

A country no less at the centre of western civilisation than Germany only recently decided it was going to ditch its nuclear plants, then pretend it had solved a problem while quietly getting its neighbours to burn fossil fuels to power the country. It is no surprise that Germany is sprinkled with wind turbines. The people there probably think they're generating all the power now.

Bless.

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Mushroom

Re: Nice

German guy speaking: The ditching of Nuclear Plants was a stupid Idea of our Government. Most people were actually against it and know it to be stupid, but the green party think that Nuclear Power is the root of all evil and they just needed to convince the other parties (who are also very much incompetent) that getting rid of nuclear power is a good idea that'd get them elected... In reality getting rid of them has nice side effects for us: France is building Nuclear Plants near the Rhein, the High-Tech-Fortress that is Poland is getting excited about Nuclear power and may even start building Nuclear Plants also (near the German border of course, so exporting is as cheap as possible and when something should blow up, the winds carry the radiation to Germany)

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Re: Nice

Seems like a great plan.

The Greens like it so they vote for you.

Still mine the same amount of coal so the unions vote for you

Pay lots of feed in tarrif for solar so the home owners vote for you.

The only people that lose are the poles that are now burning the dirty coal - and if they don't like it they shouldn't have put their country next door to Germany.

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Mushroom

Re: Nice

"Unfortunately, those greens who have faced up to the facts about nuclear power - specifically its actual risk to life (even when the worst happens) and its capacity to generate low carbon baseloads the world needs *today*, have found themselves largely ostracised by the green movement"

Yes we have. We very much have. I am an active environmentalist who cannot join any of the main environmental lobbying groups because whilst they'll happily take my money, they wont listen if I try to point out flaws in their anti-nuclear stance. Yes, Friends of the Earth, I am very much looking at you.

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Happy

Re: Nice

I saw an old school Czech nuclear plant back in the late 80's on a film by a German reporter.

It had the word "Skoda" on the side.

There next nuke will be a VW.

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Re: Nice

Actually Germany has a plan - to reach 39% renewables by 2020.

The plan was greeted by the usual hooting, shrieking and faeces throwing from the 'critics' when it was announced.

The reality is that renewables have been breaking generation and reliability records year by year, and 39% is now looking like a conservative estimate.

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Germany and nuclear power

"!The ditching of Nuclear Plants was a stupid Idea of our Government."

No, it wasn't, It actually was a great idea, and probably the single good thing this and the previous government has done. Around 35% of electricity in Germany now comes from "green" sources, and this percentage is increasing. All the scaremongering by the nuclear industry and pro-nuclear activists about the lights going out in Germany because of the lack of electrictity has turned out to be utter BS. In fact, it has turned out that the nuclear plants weren't even needed, as even them Germany produces a lot of excess energy which is regularly bought buy neighbouring countries like France.

"In reality getting rid of them has nice side effects for us: France is building Nuclear Plants near the Rhein, the High-Tech-Fortress that is Poland is getting excited about Nuclear power and may even start building Nuclear Plants also (near the German border of course, so exporting is as cheap as possible and when something should blow up, the winds carry the radiation to Germany)"

So you think abandoning nuclear by the German government was bad because other countries are building power plants close to the German border (which they probably would have done anyways even in Germany had kept nuclear)? What a stupid argument. As Chernobyl has demonstrated clearly, it doesn't really matter that much where on the continent a power plant is going bang, it will always have a drastic effect on Germany (as it has on other countries).

Actually, one of the main reason nuclear has been abandoned was that if something goes wrong, a huge area is affected. This and the fact that the nuclear industry has clearly proven on every occasion to be completely dishonest with borderline on being criminal, and have a complete lack of regard for public safety.

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RE: There seems to be a problem in the calculations

What adjustment in the calculations would you suggest to make wind viable as a the primary source of power for humanity?

You see, when I have a go, the costs are absolutely off the scale.

What is odd about the 21st century and specifically wind generation is that when the maths get in the way, they seem to just be ignored, and the politicians plough regardless. Wind turbines are *visible*, and it that's enough to make it seem they're working for a better world.

Meanwhile, nuclear power - the only viable low-carbon base load generating technology at our disposal, is reviled and neglected.

The consequence? The world continues to fuel itself largely by digging out vast quantities of carbon rich fuel from fossil reserves and liberating it into the atmosphere.

So much for the enlightenment...

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Nuclear is reviled for good reasons

You and Lewis may be happy to have a nuclear power station in your backyard, but most people do not. The chances for another Fukushima are slim of course, but non-zero nonetheless. None of our ageing nuclear power stations are 100% safe. And there have been plenty of accidents in the UK where nuclear material was released in the environment. We need reactors with 100% passive safety - and that is going to cost a lot more.

Nuclear power is ridiculously expensive already, from planning to building to decommissioning, and then there is the fuel cost, and completely unsolved issue of waste disposal. Remember we will be paying well over £73 billion to close down the current reactors in the UK. Storing used reactor cores in open water in open air, eventhough the cores have been rusting for years and are leaking (on some UK sites), is just asking for trouble. Such is the sorry state of nuclear power in the UK. And you want more of this?

Until we have good solutions for all these issues nuclear should be off limits. Clearly we do not know how to deal with nuclear power safely and cost-effectively yet.

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Re: Nuclear is reviled for good reasons

Btw for those who don't believe we actually have open air fuel ponds in the UK which contain a dangerous mess of corroded fuel and other radioactive waste exposed to the air, here is a link:

http://sellafieldsites.com/solution/risk-hazard-reduction/first-generation-magnox-storage-pond/

Is that your preferred solution of dealing with radioactive waste too? Let the downvoting by the true nuclear supporters begin!

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Mushroom

Re: Nuclear is reviled for good reasons

Most modern reactor designs, including Westinghouse and General Electric have passive safety. Anti-nuclear activists are stuck in the 1970s. Even TMI had passive safety features (which failed to prevent the partial meltdown because of a malfunctioning valve). Nuclear reactor design has advanced tremendously over the past 20 years. The efforts to stop nuclear are counter-productive. Old dangerous designs that produce a lot of waste are still being operated because opposition to building new stations using modern reactors is so great. The costs of waste disposal are wildly overstate. A reactor produces 10-16 cubic meters of high grade waste per year. That costs $2-5 million to dispose. I won't even mention low grade waste because that's pocket change. Those figures are much lower for newer reactors (though can't quickly look up the study).

If we built national or international infrastructure for radioactive waste disposal and long-term storage, the costs for disposal and insurance would come down tremendously (and something like Fukishima wouldn't happen and there would be no long-term local storage of expended rods). That's not to say they are now exorbitant. Nuclear costs about the same as oil and coal-fired plants, but without all the fuss of pollution. Only gas is cheaper and that's a temporary phenomenon because of US fracking boom. The decommission costs that greens like to bring up so much are already accounted for as, at least in the US, power companies are required to create a special fund for decommissioning and pay into it from operational proceeds.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nuclear is reviled for good reasons

A pal of mine works at Sellafield and that pond isn't apparently the most dangerous part of the site. What has to be remembered is that the place was put together in a great hurry for the purpose of creating material for bombs and was criminally mismanaged by the military for a number of years afterwards. It is completely atypical of the legacy of a commercially run electricity generating installation, and it is slowly being cleaned up (at great expense).

Nuclear physics remains the most intensely studied branch of science in human history. If we can't apply that knowledge, we are all doomed.

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