photo credit : jo
Energy Banquet : Glittering Prize
New Nuclear Energy is a Parasite on Effective Climate Change Solutions
by Jo Abbess
26th March 2008
While Britain's Business Secretary, John Hutton, declares a Nuclear Power new-build bonanza, and "Nuclear Nicolas" Sarkozy of France gets a fat pact handshake from Gordon Brown at a glittering banquet, the reality for Energy in Britain is that new Nuclear will mean a skills shortage for Renewable Energy technologies, and massive delays in delivering new electricity supplies to top up the National Grid.
NOT A PRIZE : NUCLEAR IS A PITFALL
It seems like John Hutton wants to stamp on every sustainable energy project going. There is only miniscule funding (comparatively) for renewable technologies in the United Kingdom, and the projects get pushed progressively farther into the future, or gradually pushed off the agenda entirely.
Meanwhile, he's quite eager to join the global Nuclear Power bandwagon that American has been rolling along for a while now, evangelising the great Gospel of Atom Splitting in every nation, including those of the Middle East. Except Iran, of course.
Today Mr Hutton has been appealing to the unions, apparently, promising them that New Nuclear can stimulate the Economy, create billions in business and create a hundred thousand "jobs", that special trigger word, that gets even quite ordinary politicians salivating.
What he doesn't bother to explain is that this Energy banquet will be very short-lived, including the "highly skilled" employment he envisions, and that most of the long-term profits will benefit foreign, private companies, and not make Britain greater (or richer) at all.
The only companies that appear to have an appetite for new Nuclear projects are those with enormous budgets who can afford the insurance on a Nuclear build going horribly wrong. These multi-billion Euro organisations are prepared to help diversify the United Kingdom's "energy mix", for the right price.
They were told that they could not consider public subsidy for new build, but they've probably been guaranteed electricity sales prices. It seems the big energy companies have been highly involved in rigging electricity prices higher over the last few years, so they know they'll get a good return on selling the resulting electricity, even without Government guarantee.
RISKS & PROBLEMS
There are problems with selling off Nuclear Energy plant and other parts of the business, even though this is recommended, nay, pushed by World Trade Organisation rules on utilities. For example, it seems possible that all the Nuclear Waste Disposal for the UK will be done by American companies. Now, they will almost certainly be keen to avoid dumping it all at home, and they'll probably get further contracts to process radioactive waste from other countries, too.
So, guess which country will end up as the nuclear dumping ground ? There was talk that it could be somewhere in Aboriginal Australia, or in the Yucca Mountains in the United States, but if we completely sell off all our nuclear sites and waste ponds, guess where the international radioactive waste is coming ?
WHY THE TAXPAYER WON'T COUGH UP
John Hutton says that the scale of the Nuclear Energy "rennaissance" will be "breathtaking". He calls for "significant expansion". The changes in planning lawhave opened up the possibilities, with new reactor designs approved before they're seriously tested for the most part, and he's inviting investors to believe that there is an open doorway, putting Great Britain forward as the "gateway" to a new Nuclear Europe.
But the questions still remain : if Nuclear Power is such a desirable thing, why aren't the British Government prepared to invest in it ? Obviously, they want to keep the budget sheet clean of any infrastructural investment, including new energy provision, which they've been unsuccessfully not avoiding for a while now, what with their boots in deep mud over the LNG Liquid Natural Gas pipeline network spilling out all over the place. And on national parkland too.
But I think that the UK Government is unwilling to divert financial resources into Nuclear Power because they know, actually, that it's a white elephant, a hopelessly uneconomic technology.
Plus, they also know if they look at their own figures that Nuclear Power is not really going to help with Climate Change much, since as of 2006, 23 Nuclear Power plants were only responsible for 7.5% of the UK's total Energy needs. And it's not even Carbon-free, especially if you have to build new ones.
And will they be to time and on budget ? Very probably not.
BUSY DOING NOTHING
The central issue is that resources will be locked down, tied up with Nuclear new build. All those skilled engineers and concrete mixers. And not a single electron in the wires for ten years, leaving us wide open to a Natural Gas crisis in that time. Who knows when Russia or whomever large Natural Gas provider will see we have a looming Energy gap - the difference between supply and demand - and start restricting or controlling delivery ?
We shall be busy doing nothing for a decade, when we could be up and twirling with Wind Farms, or down and gushing with Sea Power of one kind or another.
Nuclear new build is not actually an energy project. It's a construction project, but it could end with a wipe-out if the reactors fail. Why can't we do Renewables instead ?
JOBS PER BILLION IN INVESTMENT
Some have calculated that that green energy jobs are more plentiful than dirty oil recruitment or booming atom employment, so why try to sell new Nuclear build on the basis of the extra staffing required ?
Green Energy jobs last, but Nuclear build jobs will not. Hope the union people can see that.
SHORT-TERM ECONOMIC BOOST
Yes, there's nothing like a spending drive, like new Nuclear build could be good for the Economy in the short-term, with big influxes of cash to get the ball rolling, but that boost will wear off, when the build phase is over.
And another thing that's not in the equation is the risk of project failure. It could all go belly up, we we'd be left with no extra electrickery and heaps of joblessness overnight.
NOT JUST IN TIME : JUST TOO LATE
Climate Change is a threat multiplier acting in a timeframe of less than a decade, so offering new Nuclear Power in ten years' time is not "just in time" to help with Carbon Cuts : it's actually too late.
It's like Clean Coal - possibly available in 2020 when it becomes economic. The Hydrogen Economy - available in the early 2020s when it becomes economic.
We cannot afford to wait - not for Clean Coal - not for new Nuclear.
Why do I not see a strong policy on Carbon Energy Conservation, with economic recompense on Carbon Cuts, through sales of Renewable Energy for example, and Carbon Shares ?
It's not only the UK coupled with France that say they are pursuing New Nuclear. There's the USA, India, China and a string of other nations. It seems quite likely that rapid, large-scale new Nuclear build on the global scale could induce Energy cannibalism, whereby the Energy from existing supplies has to be used to build new nuclear plants, and that each phase must feed the next in its turn (see below).
In addition, the full lifecycle of Nuclear Power plants is definitely not Carbon-free, and in particular the build phase is Carbon-intensive, meaning it uses a lot of "conventional" Fossil Fuel energy.
Energy Parasitism :-
Thermodynamic limitations to nuclear energy deployment as a greenhouse gas mitigation technology
Author: Joshua M. Pearce
Address: Clarion University of Pennsylvania, 106 Peirce Science Center, Clarion, PA 16214–1232, USA
Journal: International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology 2008 - Vol. 2, No.1 pp. 113 - 130
Abstract: To both replace fossil-fuel-energy use and meet the future energy demands, nuclear energy production would have to increase by 10.5% per year from 2010 to 2050. This large growth rate creates a cannibalistic effect, where nuclear energy must be used to supply the energy for future nuclear power plants. This study showed that the limit of ore grade to offset greenhouse gas emissions is significantly higher than the purely thermodynamic limit set by energy payback times found in the literature. In addition, any use of nuclear energy directly contributes heat to the Earth, which the Earth must radiate into space by raising its temperature to maintain thermodynamic equilibrium. This is a relatively small effect, but as energy consumption grows it must be considered for a world powered by nuclear energy. The results of this study demand modesty in claims of 'emission-free nuclear energy' as a panacea for global climate destabilisation.
NUCLEAR INVESTMENT : NOT AN ATTRACTIVE PROPOSAL
Getting private capital to invest in new Nuclear build is going to be hard if there are other options. General Electric, for one, wants to build more and more Renewables. They are fast-to-grid and they have fabulous payback. Return is fast and sure. Private capital is not going to be too keen to lock up financial power in slow, risky projects like Nuclear Energy.
Emphasising that the UK Government expects new Nuclear build from private companies may well encourage them to invest something in it. But it's one sure way to entirely cripple the Energy business for years to come - starting projects with long lead-times when they are expected to be unproductive, withholding these skills from speedier results, using an unpopular brand of technology.
Yes, lock up all that capital in Nuclear Fission building projects that are actually Carbon-positive (create net Carbon Emissions) for at least a decade. Sounds like a bad idea to me.
And I haven't even started to consider Peak Uranium - the evidenced concept that good quality fissile material will begin to peter out and petrify in the very near future - just when we've finished building lots of spanking new atomic plants, no doubt.
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