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Nuclear lobby in USA and Australia gives misleading critiques on renewable energy

  • Overcoming the military-industrial complex: nuclear has always been a centralized industry, with just a few firms that have very close contacts to the government. And keeping nuclear skills for military purposes seems to be a driver in the UK’s push for new nuclear.
The US (and Australian) nuclear camp critiques studies for 100% renewables. Without reading them. Energy Transition ,by Craig Morris, 15 May 2017

Over the past year, the Anglo world has become interested in nuclear as a complement for wind and solar towards “deep decarbonization,” or a (nearly) 100% carbon-free supply of energy or possibly just electricity. Today, Craig Morris reviews a few papers by Americans and Australians and advises them to tackle the best European studies for 100% renewables head-on, not ignore them.

The first paper is by Stephen Brick and Samuel Thernstrom. Thernstrom has been calling nuclear “an essential part of the puzzle” since at least 2010. The paper is peer-reviewed; unfortunately, none of the reviewers noticed the oversights I found. But let’s start off with a contention the authors state in the introduction:

“In seeking to demonstrate that renewables can by themselves replace all fossil fuels and nuclear energy, these studies run the risk of treating renewables as a societal end in itself, instead of just one among a suite of technologies that could be used to achieve the combined goals of environmental protection, cost-containment, and electric system reliability.”

Why shouldn’t renewables be an end in themselves? Assuming nuclear power (plus whatever) is the cheapest low-carbon option, might other impacts society dislikes relativize the low price? To name just a few examples (and we’ll leave out whatever nuclear risks may or may not exist):

  • Overcoming the military-industrial complex: nuclear has always been a centralized industry, with just a few firms that have very close contacts to the government. And keeping nuclear skills for military purposes seems to be a driver in the UK’s push for new nuclear.
  • Transparency in democracy: as numerous authors from various countries have found, the nuclear sector has always come at the expense of open democracy. Strikes, for instance, are a safety issue.
  • Stronger economic growth in communities, especially rural ones: if communities can make their own energy, why would they want to pay some out-of-town corporation, even if the energy is slightly cheaper? People simply are willing to pay more for quality, and local jobs are a quality (not to mention being energy-independent). The price is relative when you pay it back to your community…….

the real problem here is that lower consumption does not jibe with nuclear historically. Nuclear originally promised nearly unlimited electricity, and the technology’s supporters say more energy is needed, not less, especially in developing countries. Here is one pro-nuclear group attacking, for instance, renewables advocate Amory Lovins’ call for efficiency. Nuclear proponents often depict the efficiency aims (= lower consumption) called for by renewables proponents as unrealistic.

In contrast, the renewables camp sees efficiency as crucial because, for instance, we don’t have enough sustainable biomass to support our wasteful habits today. In addition to efficient devices, “sufficiency” – changing lifestyles to make do with what Mother Nature gives us – is therefore crucial. Switching to an electric car is not enough; we will need to walk and cycle more, both of which require compact neighborhoods (a societal, not technical, issue)………

The overlooked update

What’s worse, in their 2017 paper Heard at al. discuss Mathiesen’s 2009 paper on a 100% renewable Denmark as though nothing had happened since. The six-page summary (PDF in English) of the follow-up 2014 scenario is admittedly sparse on details, but we can see a plan taking shape. In 2015, Mathiesen, not unknown to my readers, and his team then fleshed everything out in a 159-page PDF (in English), including a new scenario called the IDA Energy Vision. As you can see below, [table on original] biomass is still based as much as possible on waste, and the rest is mainly wind power. This is what a 100% scenario looks like when you do the footwork for a given country. It would look much different in, say, Saudi Arabia, with very little wind but ample solar. It would also look different in countries with lots of hydropower. One conclusion is thus that investigating 100% renewables is hard without saying where.

In the end, we are left with a discussion in the English-speaking world held by nuclear advocates about 100% renewable energy, in which too little notice is taken of the main studies in two leading countries investigating “deep decarbonization” without nuclear or CCS: Denmark and Germany. What’s worse, not a single journalist covering these papers, including Vox.com’s David Roberts (one of the best) pointed out the oversight. America’s best minds write about 100% renewables, and no one notices the gaps. As President Trump might say: sad. https://energytransition.org/2017/05/the-us-nuclear-camp-critiques-studies-for-100-renewables-without-reading-them/

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May 17, 2017 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA, spinbuster, USA

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