Amory Lovins: “One needn’t argue about whether it’s proliferative or unsafe or whether we know what to do with the waste if there’s no point building it because it’s a money loser…. If you built a new nuclear plant you would actually be making global warming worse than it should have been, because you are buying a lot less solution per dollar … nuclear is both costlier and slower than modern renewables, or, for that matter, energy efficiency which is typically cheapest of all. If you close … distressed nuclear plants, buy efficiency instead with the saved operating costs, you will save money and carbon. Now renewables are so cheap that they beat often just the operating costs of the nuclear or coal or gas plants. So they are what we should run whenever they are available in order to save money: that’s the way grids are supposed to work, you run the most the plants that cost the least to operate. It’s called economic dispatch. If you do that, then you find that the inflexibility of nuclear plants, in particular, is quite an obstacle to running the grid reliably and economically. You might think that because there’s not a continuous supply of fuel required the nuclear plant is in some sense more resilient; you can have a year or two of fuel easily stored on site. But renewables, of course, don’t require fuel at all. And they don’t have this disagreeable property that if there’s a heat wave, so you can’t dump enough waste heat out of the reactor, you have to close it. Or if there’s a major disruption to the grid, a regional blackout, and the reactor suddenly has to shut down for safety reasons, it’s very hard to restart. It can easily take a fortnight to restart because of the way the nuclear physics works: certain elements accumulate that soak up the neutrons and you have to wait for those to decay before there are enough spare neutrons to get the chain reaction going again. So from a technical perspective nuclear is actually not as reliable as you might suppose, and we’ve had instances of major failures of a lot of plants at once. And, of course, the simplest way that can happen is when there’s a big accident like Fukushima in Japan. That shut down, ultimately, every reactor in the country. And only a few have restarted because there are concerns about their safety – and there should be concerns about their economics. But the notion that we need nuclear or other large thermal plants to run the grid reliably is quite obsolete: it’s a bit like debating the merits of horse and buggy when we’re building a modern highway system. I’m afraid that [Hinkley Point C] will simply be one of those other great money-wasting projects we wished we never heard of but nobody had the guts to stop. It speaks to the utter dominance of nuclear theology over British energy policy. This has been going on for over half a century: some scholars believe it’s because of the links between the civil and military nuclear capabilities of the United Kingdom; some think it’s nothing to do with that, but simply the way that a hermetic group of influencers and civil servants and politicians all talk to each other and reinforce their biases and find it difficult to accept that this is a “future” technology whose time has past, the world has moved on. There’s no business case for it. Let’s cut our losses and let markets actually work.
Carbon Brief 4th July 2017 read more »