In defence of nuclear power

Yesterday I wrote a post in defence of offshore wind. Today I feel compelled to write in defence of nuclear power. I do not see any contradiction here – both are major climate mitigation options that can play a substantial role in decarbonising the UK economy. Ironically, however, today’s attack on nuclear comes from environmentalists, many of whom have devoted years of their lives to raising awareness of the threat from climate change and seem unable to appreciate the harm they are currently doing.

At issue is a press release I received this morning via email entitled ‘Lawyers send complaint to the European Commission about subsidies for nuclear power’. I cannot find it online to add a link, but earlier material from the group responsible, an outfit called ‘Energy Fair’, may be found here. The release begins:

A formal complaint about subsidies for nuclear power has been sent to the European Commission. If it is upheld, it unlikely that any new nuclear power stations will be built in the UK or elsewhere in the EU. The complaint may be followed by legal action in the courts or actions by politicians to reduce or remove subsidies for nuclear power.

It further alleges that nuclear operators are not “properly insured”, and that

if nuclear operators were fully insured against the cost of nuclear disasters like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima, the price of nuclear electricity would rise by at least 14 Eurocents per kWh and perhaps as much as 2.36 Euros, depending on assumptions made. Even with the minimum increase, nuclear electricity would become quite uncompetitive.

At this point, you may be wondering – like I was – who Energy Fair actually is, and who might be behind this legal challenge. The press release states that

Lawyer Dr Dörte Fouquet, with a lawyer colleague, has prepared the formal complaint to the European Commission on behalf of Energy Fair and other environmental groups and environmentalists

and (with admirable openness) reveals that Dr Fouquet is actually Director of the European Renewable Energies Federation, whilst others of the supporters also have commercial interests in the renewables sector. These include Jeremy Leggett from the company SolarCentury, whilst the originator of the press release, a Dr Gerry Wolff, is involved in the Desertec solar initiative in North Africa.

In other words, what Energy Fair seems to represent is an effort from one heavily-subsidised industry to attack presumed subsidies in another – hardly very ‘fair’. It is disappointing that members of what I call the ‘Green orthodox church’ (those of a certain age who have never had an open mind on nuclear and never will, like Leggett, Jonathon Porritt and Tom Burke) have joined this effort despite the unacknowledged commercial conflict of interest. And it is particularly disappointing to see Friends of the Earth also on the list, and to see Mike Childs from FoE quoted at length in the press release.

All this is especially depressing given the reality of the figures, which is that nuclear provides the vast majority of the UK’s current low-carbon electricity – as much as 70% according to the Nuclear Industry Association, whilst avoiding the emission of 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. This is why I want to see more nuclear power in the UK and elsewhere, in order to avoid more carbon emissions, and I cannot understand the reasoning of those who claim to work for the good of the climate but put so much effort into opposing the primary existing source of low-carbon electricity.

As George Monbiot aptly puts it in an email to me today in response:

The efforts some people will make to destroy a low-carbon technology are remarkable. We are facing perhaps the greatest crisis humanity has ever encountered – runaway climate change – and instead of tackling the source of the problem (fossil fuels), environmentalists are attacking one of the solutions. People will look back on this era and wonder how such madness took hold.

Having said all this, in my opinion there is some truth to the charge that currently nuclear sites are not subject to sufficient insurance cover – the cap prescribed in the 1965 Nuclear Installations Act (as amended) is only £140 million per plant, hardly enough for a major accident. This is in fact recognised by the UK government, which is proposing a seven-fold increase to 1.2 billion euro liability per site. The Secretary of State Chris Huhne is quoted in a January 2011 press release saying:

“The government is determined to provide certainty to low carbon investors, but there will be no public subsidy for nuclear power which is a mature technology. We are taking steps to reduce any risk of the taxpayer having to pick up the tab for new nuclear further down the track. We’ve already set out how operators will be required to put aside money from day one for their eventual clean up and waste storage, and now we’re increasing substantially the liability to be taken on by operators.”

Regarding the international situation, there is useful information on the World Nuclear Association’s ‘Liability for Nuclear Damage‘ page. It is certainly not true – as anti-nuclear activists often allege – that nuclear is completely uninsured or uninsurable. But as the Fukushima accident showed, when accidents do occur they can entrain enormous liabilities – of the sort that governments normally cover as insurers of last resort (like the recent bank bailouts, in the interests of the wider economy). I do not see why nuclear should be forced to assume more liability than any other industry causing third-party risk – such as the chemicals industry (think Bhopal), gas industry or the aviation industry (think 9/11) – but the nuclear industry should certainly be required to cover its liabilities as much as any other.

To finish, the current situation in the UK was summarised by energy minister Charles Hendry in a recent Parliamentary answer (scroll down to ‘Nuclear Power Stations: Accidents’) – the increase in liability has not yet been brought into law, but is likely to be soon. However, the issue of liability is governed by international agreements, so cannot be seen in isolation in any one country. I can’t claim to have done the figures, but I strongly doubt the accuracy of Energy Fair’s assertion that properly-insured nuclear would be too expensive to build. This sounds like more anti-nuclear propaganda to me – as time will surely tell.


  1. martyn

    Seems perfectly reasonable that a sector under enormous scrutiny for the open subsidy it receives should want to level the playing field with a competitor recieving hidden subsidy. That is not a pro or anti-nuke position, just a plea for fair play.

    It is also somewhat irrelevant what % of current low carbon power comes from nukes as that is a function of energy policy over the last 50 years. The decision on New nukes needs to look for the best solution for the next 50 instead.

    And finally I agree many industries are not really fully insured – banks being the obvious example – but nukes should at least be required to match oil company cover – look what BP paid out in the gulf of Mexico. Again it is unfair competition if oil foots such bills and nuclear doesn’t.
    Government should also be much clearer about what risks it imposes on taxpayers by choosing certain policies – whether that be city regulation or reliance on particular forms of energy.

    None of these points are pro or anti nuclear, they are important issues that should be out in the open so sensible decisions can be made. You should support that.

    1. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      Yes I do largely agree with you, though of course open subsidies are rather easier to quantify than ‘hidden’ ones, which can be quite subjective.

    2. Rod Adams

      Open subsidies are also direct costs to taxpayers, which is the real point here. The complex manipulations of the truth regarding nuclear plant insurance are just one example of the way that people that hate competing with an incredibly energy dense, emission free, reliable fuel do everything they can to “level the playing field” that nature created.

      One of my most prosperous college classmates has invested his career in the incredibly profitable business of providing the insurance that is mandated for nuclear power plants in the US. His company just keeps on collecting the premiums and has never had to pay out a dime.

      In the early days, insurance companies, which base their business on actuarial tables that calculate risk with as much precision as possible, were reluctant to insure the unknown represented by nuclear plants. They had no history on which to base their tables. A few companies specialized in accepting the risk left over after the government organized (but privately funded) insurance pool arrangement was established.

      Now, the nuclear plant insurers are reluctant to allow anyone else into their lucrative niche market. There are few businesses in the world that have higher margins than those that insure licensed nuclear plants.

  2. Rory Bergin

    I keep an open mind about nuclear, and will continue to do so, but I do not understand George Monbiot’s or your defence of nuclear energy generation as it currently stands. The costs to Japan of Fukishima are astronomical, but you put it in the category of bank bailouts. Is that a good thing? Hardly. The primary reason for embracing a low carbon is to mitigate the risk of climate change. replacing the risk of climate change with the risks accruing from nuclear is just substituting one set of problems with another. I don’t think that we should be shutting down existing nuclear stations before their time is up, but our money is better spent on other areas such as smart grids to allow renewable energies from one county to feed another.

    1. Rod Adams

      Most of the astronomical costs associated with Fukushima are a result of the forced evacuation of perfectly acceptable dwellings and buildings based on irrationally selected radiation exposure limits. (Aside from the damage caused by the actual earthquake and tsunami, that is.)

      The 20 mSv per year limit is several times lower than the naturally occurring radiation levels found in several places around the world that have been inhabited for centuries without any indication of elevated health risks.

      One thing to keep in mind with regard to “costs” associated with cleaning up – economic transactions have two sides on the accounting ledger. One side’s cost is the other side’s revenue.

      One more thing to keep in mind is the huge improvement in the profitability of the liquified natural gas (LNG) trade as a result of both 30-40% price increases and 20-40% increases in the volume of fuel purchased. Do you really want me to believe that the methane salesmen do not recognize the business value of maintaining fear of radiation with every trick they can invent?

    2. not you

      not really, underground shale contains plenty radium and the frackers don’t care.

  3. Aiden

    Don’t know if you have seen this article on world nuclear news about the price increase of electricity if societal and policy costs are included to factor in core meltdowns.

  4. Mike Childs

    I didn’t see the press release before it was published or the complaint, but I had earlier given the group a quote about the idea of challenging subsidies. My quote was:

    “The UK coalition government promised that nuclear power should not get any subsidies. That was a sensible decision that recognised that time-limited subsidies should only be given to new technologies, such as wind, solar, wave and tidal, to enable them to develop, become mature and be competitive. It’s time for the nuclear subsidies to stop and this legal case is a useful contribution in achieving that aim.”

    I should add that this refers to conventional nuclear power (which is anyway said to be cheaper than other low carbon options so why subsidise it?). We support research into thorium nuclear power as a potential new generation of low carbon energyy. See an earlier blog at:


    1. quokka

      You seem to be taking your eye off the main game which is to reduce carbon emissions. Whether nuclear should have subsidies or not surely should depend on whether nuclear is cheaper than fossil fuels not whether it is cheaper than renewables. The widespread recognition of the need for a carbon price of some sort suggests that fossils fuels are likely to remain the cheapest form of electricity generation for some time to come. Talk of “time limited” subsidies for renewables are just a wee bit disingenuous.

      Renewables (and nuclear) are just a means to an end of achieving sustainable low emission energy production. Far too often renewables seem to have some almost mystical qualities ascribed to them. In the process, any realism about serious emissions abatement goes down the drain.

  5. Huw Jones

    Am I the only one who thinks it is massively hypocritical for people such as Jeremy Leggett and others at SolarCentury et al, who are complaining about an alleged subsidy to nuclear power, are also demanding that massive subsidies to solar power remain?

    1. martyn

      Sadly you are probably not the only one, but that doesn’t make the question a sensible one.

      I’d have hoped we could all agree there is nothing hypocritical at all about supporting a tapering subsidy for a new technology to get it to a position where it can stand on its own two feet without help, and opposing an ongoing subsidy that has lasted decades and is still needed.

      It is probably less likely that we all agree that is a fair description of the two subsidies, and that may even mean Leggett et al are wrong. But they are not hypocrites, and name calling doesn’t get us anywhere.

    2. Cyril R

      There’s nothing new about solar panels, these have been around commercially for decades and way over 100 billion in subsidies have been granted worldwide to it. Many giant companies such as Sharp are producing them. If anything, it’s highly subsidized technology that should have been developed to cost effectiveness already.

      We should be asking the question, if PV got way over 100 billion in subsidies already, how come it can’t compete with coal?

      Nature cannot be fooled. Solar panels don’t produce power most of the time. You get capacity factors between 10 and 20% depending on how much sun you get. That means you don’t have power, on average, 80 to 90% of the time. So you can’t power countries with this energy source.

      In winter you get almost nothing if you’re in a country such as the UK or Germany. Every night the output is zero. The physical hardware needed (kg/kW) is also huge, about 10-20x more than conventional powerplants, and the area needed is large. That’s because of the low power density of solar and its poor productivity (not there most of the time).

      These problems are inherent, relating to the resource. They are not in the technology. The problem is with the resource, and throwing subsidies at it won’t change that.

      Failure to recognize these problems as inherent (resource related) has caused Germany to put in 100 billion euros in guaranteed subsidies while doing nothing to phase out coal power. Germany is the world’s biggest user of brown coal – the dirtiest type of coal, you know. Germany uses just as much coal today as they did before they started off with their solar subsidy money hole.

      Nature cannot be fooled.

  6. Karl-Friedrich Lenz

    I am not sure why you would want object to a no subsidy for nuclear policy. One of the reasons to accept the risks and the undemocratic large structures is supposed to be that nuclear is cheaper than renewable energy. So if you, as a supporter of nuclear energy, want subsidies, doesn’t that negate that argument?

    Do you want to go on record to state that nuclear energy can’t compete on its own?

    1. Huw Jones

      I think subsidies for all forms of energy should be scrapped. Instead, energy sources should be taxed according to their true cost to society (health effects, damage to the environment etc.). In this situation, coal and possibly gas will become completely economic. Left will be nuclear and most renewables. It would be interesting to see which wins in this situation, but my money would be on nuclear. Most likely, neither would win outright, and the most economic (and pragmatic) arragement would be a mix of several renewables and nuclear. Check this blog for example –

    2. Alwin Wiederhold

      The prefix ‘un’ is missing before the word ‘economic’ in the sentence about coal and possibly gas.

    3. Karl-Friedrich Lenz

      @Huw Jones

      My post was addressed to Mark Lynas, not to your post which just happened to appear immediately before mine. Sorry if that was misunderstood.

      I understand from your response that you would agree that nuclear should not get any subsidy, which would contradict what Mark Lynas said (his post is directed against the idea that nuclear should get none).

      As to your idea that renewable should not get any subsidy either, that point was raised in the Preussenelektra case the European Court of Justice decided when the utilities first tried to kill the German feed-in tariff right after it was enacted two decades ago. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out. The Court decided that these are not subsidies in the first place, so there was no need to discuss if they are in violation of the European Union subsidy rules.

      The case for renewable feed-in tariffs is that without them renewables would not get cheaper fast enough. Germany has paid most of them world wide, but the results (drastic reductions in solar panel prices) are exactly what the feed-in tariffs were designed for.

      That page you linked to is interesting, thanks. However, I am not quite convinced yet that the great nuclear/renewable war will be shut down any time soon.

  7. Jason Kobos

    What is the point of having a debate about one subsidy to another when no money amounts are included?

    Who defines when a technology is mature? Is there a set cost per kwh at which a technology shifts from one to the other. Is it based upon time? market share?

    Is the goal of subsidies to make prices cheaper or to put more low emission tech on the grid? Since nuclear is cheaper than solar then for the same money spent on subsidies more zero carbon plants can be built faster. Even if you subsidize solar it takes time for the manufacturing and research to affect price. Just as it takes time to build a nuclear plant that has its manufacturing chain and research finished.

    The question really isn’t if one tech is mature or not. The question is if you have X billions of dollars to spend between now and 2050 what distribution of payments among all technologies will result in the lowest emission grid in 2050?

    Just some food for thought about speed of construction. Assume some renewable tech and nuclear both emit zero emissions and cost the same and both sites will last till 2050. The renewable site is built instantly today, while the nuclear site finished in 10 years. So the renewable site runs for 38 years at 50%cf and the nuclear runs for 28 years at 90%cf. Over this time period the nuclear plant will have generated 38% more power than the renewable plant. Thus mitigating more co2. Also note that if the renewable cf is changed to 15% then the nuclear plant only has to run 2 years before it takes the lead in emission reduction.

    Reminds me about the story of a tortoise and a hare.

  8. Gerry Wolff

    Dear Mark,

    Without going into a lot of detail, here are some points in response to what you have said:

    * The press release can now be seen via a link from our home page at .

    * The point about under-insurance of nuclear power has been well put by the Washington Post: “From the U.S. to Japan, it’s illegal to drive a car without sufficient insurance, yet governments around the world choose to run over 440 nuclear power plants with hardly any coverage whatsoever” (21 April 2011).

    * A report by the Insurance Forum, Leipzig, a company that specialises in actuarial calculations, shows that full insurance against nuclear disasters would increase the price of nuclear electricity by a range of values — Euro 0.14 per kWh up to Euro 2.36 per kWh — depending on assumptions made.

    * The subsidies that we have identified are summarised in “Forms of support for nuclear power” ( There is more detail in two other reports that are referenced in the summary.

    * The Union of Concerned Scientists has written: “Government subsidies to the nuclear power industry over the past fifty years have been so large in proportion to the value of the energy produced that in some cases it would have cost taxpayers less to simply buy kilowatts on the open market and give them away.”

    * Connie Hedegaard, the EU commissioner for climate action, has said that offshore wind power is cheaper than nuclear power (see

    * I don’t receive any money from Desertec but even if I did, that should not prevent me from raising issues about nuclear power. We should be playing the ball, not the man.

    * When you say: “I want to see more nuclear power in the UK and elsewhere, in order to avoid more carbon emissions”, I believe your reasoning is wrong. Renewables can, in general, be built much faster than nuclear power stations, they are cheaper than nuclear power, they provide greater security in energy supplies than nuclear power, they are substantially more effective in cutting emissions of CO2, there are more than enough to meet our needs now and for the foreseeable future, they provide diversity in energy supplies, and they have none of the headaches of nuclear power.

    Detailed evidence in support of these points can be found via .

    In terms of the fight against climate change, nuclear power diverts attention, effort, and large amounts of money away from renewables and the conservation of energy, where those resources would be better spent.



    1. Mark Lynas (Post author)


      I am grateful for you taking the time to respond. Thanks for the press release link, that is helpful. On a few of your substantive points:

      * Your figures on insurance costs come from a report by the Insurance Forum, Leipzig, you say. I presume it is this report. You omit to mention that it was commissioned by the German Renewable Energy Federation, so is hardly an unbiased source. I daresay had the figures been less convenient to the renewables lobby, the report would not have seen the light of day. As it was, they were chosen purposefully to make nuclear seem expensive – the report uses a cost of 6 trillion euros for a nuclear disaster, an order of magnitude or more above even what Fukushima is likely to eventually cost.

      * Your ‘Forms of support for nuclear power‘ paper also makes some very questionable assertions. For instance, that ‘protection against terrorist attacks’ is a subsidy. This is absurd – all individuals and businesses in a country have a right to benefit from security measures, whether airports, trains, large buildings or whatever. This is not a subsidy. You also talk of the cost of nuclear waste disposal, without acknowledging that most of this was generated in the public sector, through civil and nuclear facilities operated in previous decades. You also assert that nuclear emits 9 to 25 times more carbon than wind power, though no source is provided. This is hardly surprising, because the figure is wrong – the IPCC calculates that nuclear is about equivalent with wind in terms of carbon intensity, and certainly cleaner than solar.

      * Quoting the Union of Concerned Scientists proves nothing – they are another anti-nuclear ‘green’ campaigning group.

      * Regarding Desertec, it is ironic that you want us to give up the largest-scale proven low-carbon energy source in order to swap it for a project which is still a fantasy. Whether the deserts of North Africa will ever be covered with solar panels I don’t know – but I wouldn’t like to bet the climate on it. And it is highly material whether you personally receive funding from this source: if I were in the pay of the nuclear lobby, you can bet that my ‘green’ friends would make a great meal of it, and rightly so.

      * All your assertions about the benefits of renewables are equally challengeable. I could point out that renewables are intermittent, expensive to store, need fossil backup, expensive to build and so on. But I won’t, because I believe that we should be developing renewable capacity along with nuclear new-build. That is because my top priority is to deal with climate change, not to build renewables. These days I get the feeling that many ‘greens’ are so obsessed with renewables that they have entirely forgotten about climate change. Yourself included.


    2. martyn


      I find the absolutism of your rejection of anything about renewables that has ever been said by someone connected with renewables troubling. I’m all for full disclosure of interests, but a blanket rule becomes a nonsense. I would equally reject a position that said everything the nuclear industry ever says is false, simply because they said it.

      On your point about terrorist protection, I think you are wrong. If one proposal offers terrorists a bigger or more dangerous target than another, then the additional cost of protecting it from terrorists is a material consideration in deciding which proposal it is best. If the “dangerous target” proposal remains cheaper despite the additional security costs, then the people building it can cover the additional cost and there is no need for subsidy.

      But if the dangerous proposal is only viable if the taxpayer foots the additional security bill, then that is a subsidy.

      It also is not entirely true that the public pay the price of protecting all industries and infrastructure – random examples would be that football clubs pay towards the cost of policing their games, and huge numbers of companies pay security firms to secure their buildings etc.

      I agree there are situations where you are right – like pubs that sell masses of alcohol to people who then brawl in city centres on Saturday night at considerable cost to our health and police service – but the argument that these pubs should chip in to the cost of this has quite a bit of support too.

    3. Alastair Leith

      You comments regarding costs of disasters like Fukushima present Nuclear accidents as simple accounting exercises to be amortised over the life of a project. Many costs are never accounted for. Who’s buying Japanese seaweed these days? What is the Japanese organics industry worth the day after Fukushima?

      How much damage has been done to their food industries, in particular exports would be hard to estimate going forward. How do you estimate buyer caution? How do measure the cost to all the displaced Japanese who lived in the surrounding areas reportedly in atrocious temporary conditions one year on. The emotional cost to those who lost loved ones or those who may give birth to deformed babies.

      You also draw comparisons with risk assessment for air-travel citing 911, first time an airline hasn’t had to payout for an accident I imagine but even so what is the reasonable alternative to air-travel for business people? Teleportation? Yet with Stationary Power generation the renewable alternatives are plentiful and on compelling learnings curves up and cost curves down. Nuclear is on much slower learnings curves up and cost curves up.

      I’m open minded on Nuclear Power to the extent that it has a better safety record (but imperfect non-the less) than Coal/Gas/Oil and the health impacts are much less as far as we know today as are the Greenhouse gas emissions (though not close to zero b/c of mining, transportation and massive infrastructure construction). Whatever we choose in developed countries to invest in, we can expect developing countries to follow the established path. So if we increase rather than decrease Nuclear there’s no way we can put a lid on world-wide proliferation of Nuclear power and the attendant security and waste risks in poorer countries where corruption is the rule and honesty the exception.

      Recently the PM of my country followed US interests in extending a yellow-cake sales invitation to India. Gillard cited transparency as our safe-guard! Transparency in a country that just had major Ministers in the National Govt including someone touted as a future PM involved in a multi-billion dollar fraud selling of bandwidth licences to a cabal who then on-sold the licences at an average %1600 mark-up. “Transparency caught them out in the end” you say. Well I don’t want to find out who sold the waste to make a dirty bomb 3 years after it’s been detonated in a large city by extremists of any colour or political/religious/sociopathic persuasion. Not when the alternatives for Stationary Energy are so compelling and so clean. Yellow-cake mining is having a terrible effect on the Great Artesian Basin too, with many hot spring oases that have been Aboriginal sacred sites for countless centuries drying up and all it supports dying. Thing of all the dates for eg. we could be growing and still keeping the desert alive with all that water that mining industry takes for free. Those costs are never accounted for in Nuclear Energy.

    4. Rod Adams

      Just in case anyone would like to learn more about the history of the Union of Concerned “Scientists”, there is a fascinating interview of Henry Kendall, one of the founders of the organization available at

      According to Kendall own words, there was a two or three year period in the early 1970s when a more accurate name for the group – which was already holding press conferences, issuing technical reports, and testifying in front of congressional committees – would have been the Union of One Concerned Scientist with One Concerned Lawyer/Economist. That was the extent of their membership until they stumbled upon the lucrative market for spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about nuclear energy.

      There are a lot of establishment donors who have a financial interest in doing everything they can to slow down nuclear energy development including everyone involved in extracting, financing, transporting, processing, storing, and marketing coal, oil and natural gas.

    5. Gerry Wolff

      Some points responding to what you have said:

      * It sounds from what you say about insurance as if you would not object if nuclear operators were required to take out full insurance against the costs of a nuclear disaster, in much the same way that car drivers are required to be properly insured.

      * The document ‘Forms of support for nuclear power‘ is merely a summary of two reports referenced in the summary (“Nuclear Subsidies” and “Subsidies for nuclear power in the UK government’s proposals for electricity market reform”, ). The legal arguments in the formal complaint are to do with Government proposals for the disposal of nuclear waste from any new nuclear power stations that may be built, not waste from existing nuclear power plants. References relating to carbon emissions are in the second of the two reports mentioned above.

      * The remarks by the Union of Concerned Scientists is based on detailed research in their report “Nuclear power: still not viable without subsidies” (

      * It is more than a little misleading to describe Desertec as “still a fantasy”. Solar plants in Spain and North Africa are already producing electricity. The programme by the Desertec Industrial Initiative is on track to start delivering electricity by 2015, which is several years before any new UK nuclear power stations may produce electricity (see and ). Around the world, the annual growth in solar power in recent years has been about 30% and the average annual growth of wind power has been more than 27%. In 2010, the worldwide growth of solar power was an impressive 70%. Meanwhile, nuclear power plants are being closed down.

      * Your brief remarks about renewables suggest misunderstandings about power supply. There is probably not enough space to discuss relevant issues here. There are now many reports showing how to decarbonise the world’s economies without nuclear power (see It is a hindrance not a help in the fight against climate change (

    6. quokka

      As I understand it, world installed PV capacity is about 50 GW. A reasonable and possibly generous assumption of 15% capacity factor implies that the whole planet’s PV output would be about equivalent to about seven Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear power plants. There are about 430 nuclear reactors generating electricity worldwide. At this time PV is insignificant in emissions abatement compared to nuclear.

      I recently read a projection of about 43 GW of PV to be installed in 2015. World energy consumption is forecast to rise at 1.5% per annum between now and 2030. Back of envelope suggests that to just match that increase in demand would require that 43GW to be multiplied by a factor of 35 each and every year until 2030. Not going to happen.

      Another projection I saw was 2000GW sometime in the 2020s. This would put PV about on a par with current nuclear – if it happens!- but less than nuclear in the IEA’s low deplyment scenario.

      Do we see where this is heading? There is no realistic deployment of PV over the next 20 years that could possibly come anywhere near addressing the emission problem on the required scale.

      PV currently is a tiny portion of world energy production and yearly percentage increases certainly do not have the kind of weight that one might ascribe to then for forecasting purposes if PV was actually much more significant than it is. Abusing Moore’s Law (really an observation and utterly dependent on miniturisation), presenting projected cost declines as cast iron fact, and blind faith that the intermittency problem will be resolved at reasonable cost seems to me to demonstrate a reckless disregard for the future of our climate.

      Which suggests to me that the renewables only fanaticism is driven not by reasoned analysis and certainly not by a sane attitude to risk. Is it radiation phobia? Yearning for some sort of renewables energized future utopia where by magical means selection of particular electricity generation technologies (implausibly) generates social and economic changes at a fundamental level? Good old fashioned self interest?

      Whatever it is, it is plain to me that preservation of a safe climate is not the primary goal. We are desperate for low emission capacity. The anti-nukes want to shut down by far the most important capacity (along with hydro). They could at least wait until non-hydro renewables matched and surpassed nuclear and have unequivocally demonstrated their adequacy, but no, there is a unseemly haste about it all that strongly suggests that a safe climate is not the primary goal.

    7. ColinJ

      @Mark Lynas

      You dismiss the insurance costs report because it was commissioned by the German Renewable Energy Federation. Not a convincing ‘argument’. Similarly, you suggest it is not believable because it is a magnitude higher than Fukushima – which ignores the fact that Fukushima is sparsely populated in comparison to many areas surrounding nukes in Europe. Also, your argument assumes that any future nuke disaster would be the same as Fukushima which is obviously not true.

      You then attempt to compare security measures necessary for trains and “large buildings” to those required for nuclear power plants. Using your own words – “this is absurd”. Nuclear power plants are so dangerous that they must have on-site, armed personnel at all times. This is just one of the many very expensive ‘hidden’ costs of nuclear energy.

      Not sure what point you are trying to make by noting that most nuclear waste is from energy produced decades ago. That’s part of the problem: the constantly accumulating pile of radioactive waste.

      Your assertion about CO2 emissions of nuclear compared to renewables relies on highly biased figures that originate from the nuclear industry. The Sovacool met-analysis of peer reviewed papers puts nuclear at 66 grams CO2 / kWh. Wind is about 10 grams. Further, your belief that nuclear can offer significant CO2 reductions ignores the inconvenient fact of how long they take to build: 10+ years. Note: the fact the Chinese seem able to throw them up old reactor designs in 5 years is irrelevant to what happens in Europe.

      In fact, the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission calculated that even if the UK’s existing nuclear capacity was doubled, it would only give an 8% cut on CO2 emissions by 2035. QED: nuclear offers no real solution to CO2 emissions.

      You dismiss the Union of Concerned Scientists because you believe “they are another anti-nuclear ‘green’ campaigning group”. It seems many nuclear proponents suffer from this circular logic: any source that criticises nuclear is “anti-nuclear” and any source that is “anti-nuclear” is ignored. This is nothing but denial on display, no different to the climate change deniers.

      You believe Desertec is “a fantasy” thereby demonstrating that you are uninformed about this subject. Construction on the first solar thermal plant will begin this year in Morocco. Desertec is not a “fantasy”, it is a massive engineering project that is happening. Note: no one is “betting the climate” on Desertec alone, as you suggest. It is part of the solution.

      You claim that “renewables are intermittent, expensive to store, need fossil backup, expensive to build” apply equally and more to nuclear. What do you think happens when a nuke goes offline unexpectedly? Also, renewables will not need fossil backup once a full network of renewables (wind, solar, biomass, biogas, wave, tidal, etc.) is deployed.

      Your claim that “greens” are obsessed with renewables and have forgotten about climate change is absurd. Every (??) major environmental NGO on the planet advocates for renewables as the best method to combat climate change – but, for some reason, you think you know better. Who agrees with you? The nuclear industry, some governments with nuclear weapons or desire to get hold of them, and a bunch of often irrational ‘internet experts’.

      A doubling of current global nuke capacity would require a new nuke being built every 15 days from 2010 to 2050. That is impossible – and it would only reduce global emissions by 5%. If your “top priority” really was to deal with climate change, then you would start acknowledging the facts that show your nuclear dream will do nothing to avert climate catastrophe. In fact, the money and resources absorbed by nuclear power means far less renewable energy will be deployed.

      Therefore, your advocacy for nuclear power is making climate change worse. You are part of the problem.

    8. Len

      [QUOTE] A doubling of current global nuke capacity would require a new nuke being built every 15 days from 2010 to 2050. That is impossible [/QUOTE] Well, 435 working reactors worldwide (see ) , you propose building new ones at a pace of 1 each 15 days, or about 24 per year, needs 18.125 yrs to reproduce, not the 40 yrs you propose.

      I know, I often make such errors myself.

    9. quokka

      Your sweeping generalized claim that “renewables are cheaper than nuclear” is in general not true. Hydro may be, but cost is very project specific and resources are limited.

      The UK climate change committee sums up its assessment of the costs of various technologies on pages 19 and 70 of The Renewable Energy Review. According to their assessment the LCOE of nuclear is similar to that of on-shore wind and substantially lower than that for all other renewables. This situation is projected to remain essentially unchanged right through to 2040.

      In it’s 2011 Analyst Day presentation, SCANA Corporation provided an estimate of $0.076 kW/h for it’s AP1000 project in South Carolina. (Page 28). It is difficult to argue that cost is not competitive.

      In light of the importance of a global perspective on emissions, it is important to understand that electricity generation costs vary by region and even nation as well as by technology. For a comprehensive world wide view, see the IEA’s 2010 Projected Costs of Generating Electricity. Unfortunately the full report appears to be no longer available for free download, but the executive summary provides a decent indication.

      The IEA report is based on actual reported project costs. It seems fashionable to dismiss the IEA’s work as it is allegedly not up with the latest developments. Before taking anybodies word on that one, it would be prudent to wait for the next IEA report based on actual project costs rather than some ambitious claims.

      The claims that renewables are in general cheaper than nuclear are to put it bluntly, currently unsupportable.

  9. Robert Bernal

    We should be concentrating on the BEST sources of energy. Does it emit infrared on a large scale? Conventional solar PV would, but GaAs fresnel would only need half the land, and since being twice as efficient, emits even less infrared. Just a thought to consider before building robotic factories…

    What about nuclear wastes? Well, everyone should know by now that ANY water reactor is an accident waiting to happen as they are inherently unsafe because they need grid power (or bucket brigades) for coolant water. I admit that American and French reactors have a good track record, but, as the saying goes, eventually something will happen!
    The better choices are clearly the molten salt (LFTR) or molten metal (IFR). Please search these before debating about nuclear as the benefits are too numerous to mention here 🙂

    1. Alastair Leith

      I remember when the Chernobyl disaster occurred we were told this could never happen with the modern Class III reactors we have today — oh those stupid Russians — no containment vessel etc etc. [My father was a nuclear/radiation research scientist so I heard this commentary first hand at the laboratory lunch tables from some of the more chauvinistic enthusiasts for Nuclear Power].

      As news of Fukushima spread leading Australian Nuclear expert Ziggy Switkowski informed all that cared to listen that a melt-down was practically an impossibility with a modern reactor and the Japanese should be praised for how on top of the situation they were.

      A week later we learned not only was melt-down of at least one reactor a likelihood but the secondary containment vessel that was blown skyhigh by exploding gases was being used as a storage facility for most of their spent fuel rods since where else can you store nuclear waste?

      And not to be a magazine of record but a more a science-porn journal for people with smarts New Scientist actually ran a front page beautiful full-colour 3D modelled cut-away illustration of a theoretical Class IV nuclear reactor that could never-ever, ever have a disaster or waste problem — ever. Lead article in NS within a calendar month of millions of people were legitimately terrified by a nuclear disaster, simply because we need to boil lots of water to make lots of steam to have enough electricity for all of us to get by in the modern world.

    2. Iain

      “..As news of Fukushima spread leading Australian Nuclear expert Ziggy Switkowski informed all that cared to listen that a melt-down was practically an impossibility with a modern reactor and the Japanese should be praised for how on top of the situation they were…”

      Mr. Switkowski was right:

      The 3 oldest BWR reactors were the ones that were effected:

      Fukushima I – 1 BWR-3 Mark I March 26, 1971 460 MW – Partial meltdown in core, hydrogen explosion that partially uncovered spent fuel pools
      Fukushima I – 2 BWR-4 Mark I July 18, 1974 784 MW – Partial meltdown in core hydrogen explosion that partially uncovered spent fuel pools
      Fukushima I – 3 BWR-4 Mark I March 27, 1976 784 MW – Partial meltdown in core

      Newer MWR reactors have significantly safer designs that allowed them to ride out the Tsunami with little or no effect:

      Fukushima I – 4 BWR-4 Mark I October 12, 1978 784 MW – Not effected
      Fukushima I – 5 BWR-4 Mark I April 18, 1978 784 MW – Not effected
      Fukushima I – 6 BWR-5 Mark II October 24, 1979 1,100 MW – Not effected

      The newest planned ABWR’s would have been even safer:

      Fukushima I – 7 (planned)[25] ABWR Canceled 04/2011
      Fukushima I – 8 (planned)[25] ABWR Canceled 04/2011

      “..A week later we learned not only was melt-down of at least one reactor a likelihood but the secondary containment vessel that was blown skyhigh by exploding gases was being used as a storage facility for most of their spent fuel rods since where else can you store nuclear waste?..”

      The secondary containment vessel was NOT blown sky high, just the outer “veneer” building covering the containment vessel. The explosion was caused by a buildup of Hydrogen gas from the spent fuel pools.

    3. Alastair Leith

      If *three* reactors had partial melt-down — and it sounded like one went fully China Syndrome to me (obviously I’m not the expert) — how does that make Switkowski’s comments accurate?!

      He was describing *all* of the Fukushima reactors as modern in comparison to the Chernobyl reactor which almost, but due to shear luck not good design nor good management, didn’t go China Syndrome. I note Mr Switkowski kept his head down after those initial comments were shown to be more than a tad Polly-Anna. I note there are only 8 years b/w oldest and youngest of the reactors and some 19 months between dates you give for reactors

      I realise it was the ceiling cavity of the building that went sky-high and that’s why I described it as secondary containment, perhaps I should have said tertiary whatever — it was the final skin b/w the air we breathe and the highly radioactive materials which cause major health concerns and illness both then and for years to come. But hey Iain, nice nit picking. My passed father, Ian would have said exactly the same thing to me!

      My central point of that comment was that the nuclear industry and it’s political lapdogs always say forget about the past the future is so bright. In the 50s it was unlimited power for one and all at the price of a farthing. Now its no waste and mining. Yeah really. It’s the mining and weapons industries which create the political vacuum around leadership concerning the Nuclear industries’ excesses. Stop the need for mining yellow-cake and making weapons and the political will for nuclear fission based stationary power would evaporate overnight in most Western nations.

    4. Rod Adams

      Actually, nuclear energy today is cheap enough – at least in the United States – so that the plant operators could readily afford to sell power at a fixed monthly cost without actually measuring the amount of power consumed. In other words, it is cheap enough so that there is no need to go to the trouble of metering the service.

      It costs almost exactly as much to OWN a nuclear plant as it does to OWN & OPERATE a nuclear plant.

    5. Alastair Leith

      That Ron Adams article is really saying that the cost of shutting down Reactors and administrating the usage is more costly than just running the reactor for longer set-length periods and providing a limited/capped supply to users. That’s not too cheap to meter, that’s like a moibile phone plan and we all know how cheap they are and how little profits telcos make.

      If the yellow-cake fuel is so cheap why is my country, Australia, allowing unsupervised mining in an environmental World Heritage area (Kakadu) in the full knowledge that the mining companies do not report the leaking from settlement ponds of Heavy metals and radioactive material into once pristine River systems. The law says mandatory reporting but whistle blowers and independent observations show that’s not true. The reason? Massive profits so the operation of nuclear is expensive, it’s just inconvenient and expensive to flick the switch on reactors.

    6. Rod Adams


      No one ever said that nuclear energy was going to be free or even that it was going to be cheap. The exact 1954 quote from Lewis Strauss was:

      “It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter, will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age.”

      I just saw a newsreel promotional video of the effort to construct the Shippingport reactor. Even in that Atomic Energy Commission sponsored clip, the announcer stated that no one should ever expect nuclear plants to deliver free energy because it requires a lot of carefully laid concrete and high quality steel to build the plants.

      You are correct in stating that the billing structure I propose is more like a mobile or cable bill. Customers can pay a single monthly fee to use all they want up to the capacity that they have paid for. If they need more power than that because they are operating a business or living in a huge home with lots of devices, they can simply pay for a higher capacity connection.

    7. Alastair Leith

      Dr Switkowski also said there would be no levels of harmful radiation of concern to anybody outside the immediate reactor plants. ie. No need for mass evacuations.

      Ziggy Switkowski disputes Fukushima emissions would rival Chernobyl’

      It’s interesting that if one Googles Switkowski Mar 2011 not a single hit comes up. Remove Mar and you get plenty of coverage in Murdoch national newspaper of what Nuclear industry shill Dr Switkowski has to say on matters nuclear and otherwise.

      Anyhow crowd sourced measurement of radiation around the reactors and in the sea and also later media reports suggest that the effects of this disaster were seriously under-reported and the consequences for radioactive contamination more than Chernobyl. Please demonstrate if this is an incorrect conclusion to arrive at.

    8. quokka

      The BBC has a tabular comparison of the Fukushima and Chernobyl accidents.

      Notably, there have been no deaths from radiation exposure at Fukushima and no cases of acute radiation syndrome. Nobody is hospitalized. If there are any public health consequences, they are likely to be too small to be detectable. Evacuations at Fukushima occurred within five hours of a nuclear emergency being declared and before large radiation release. At Chernobyl, there was no warning. Access to potentially contaminated foods has been much better controlled at Fukushima.

      At Fukushima, the heavy metals – U, Pu etc – are still inside containment and contamination is just about exclusively fission products. At Chernobyl, everything was blown up into the atmosphere with no containment to speak of.

      Radiation release at Fukushima is about an order of magnitude less than at Chernobyl and a lot of it has gone into the ocean where it has quickly dispersed to harmless levels.

    9. Alastair Leith

      No deaths from Fukushima — yet. Who knows how many cancers and other illnesses/deformities are to be observed going forward.

    10. Alastair Leith

      “The contribution, if any, to this [disaster] from the nuclear fleet, I expect even under worst case scenarios is going to be small,” [Dr Switkowski] told Fairfax Radio Network this morning.

      ‘In most cases the concerns about nuclear power are based on an incomplete understanding of the technologies, suspicions of the way the facilities are managed and the view that these are unacceptable risks.’

      –– > Going on whistle-blower accounts since I’d say the questions/suspicions about management procedures and ethics very well founded. Scientist promoting Nuclear with shining stats and 3D cut-away illustrations never seem to factor in greed, managerial cost cutting, corruption, lazy oversight, complacency

      ‘Whether this freakish, extraordinary, unpredictable coincidence of a magnitude-9 earthquake followed by a tsunami of awesome power could have been built into the specifications, and should have been, or we can never build anything that can withstand something like that, and you go to the obvious conclusion.’

      WTH?! Consultants to the actual project made recommendation that it not be placed on a fault line but were ignored. Why it was not thought of to have a concrete watercourse that could gravity feed water from a lake or elsewhere on higher ground to the reactors in the case of a power failure and diesel generator back-up I’m not sure but even easy low-tech options that would have help were not done so this is total false-dichotomy Switkowski has created to say it’s nukes everywhere or nothing at all. I’l take the second option if it is such a dichotomy.

  10. Doug Sherman

    I find it quite stunning that you recognize the ‘Green orthodox church’ for its dogmatic rejection of nuclear, but fail to see the same mentality is behind the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming fraud.

    Legitimate science and the climategates have exposed and destroyed this pseudo-scientific charade. The carbon markets have closed, shut down. Govenments see no political capital in cap and trade tax schemes.

    No rational thinking people believe that doom and gloom prophecies of these people anymore.

    Yet, people still use it as a basis for argument. It only undermines your attempts at developing nuclear power.

    1. Robert Bernal

      You think that over 100 CUBIC miles of oil and coal converted into XSCO2 is a fraud? We all know that humanity is converting FF’s into XSCO2 and an ever increasing scale. Thus, it ain’t “cool” to mess with the very air we breath, I mean, that’s a “like duh”…

      Now OBVIOUSLY cap and trade is NOT any solution… but that does NOT mean that the physics is not real.

      Thus I stand with proponents on the science,
      I stand with deniers on the politics
      I agree on closed cycle nuclear for the energy…
      to power… robotic renewable energy and battery factories for the jobs!

  11. John Harrington

    Maybe it’s time we all qualified the term ‘nuclear’.
    ‘Nuclear’ implies the death, destruction and dangerous waste that is inherent in uranium-based reactors, ie, nuclear = high risk and danger, which is incorrect, it’s actually uranium = high risk and danger.

    Proven back in the 1960’s, and now being developed by several countries, thorium-based reactors are safe and efficient. The only reason the world chose the uranium route was to produce plutonium; thorium LFTR reactors proved to be very safe, manageable and with little waste, but of no benefit to the weapons industry as they can’t produce plutonium.

    So, maybe we should start referring to it as thorium energy or uranium energy, and encourage the world to learn that there’s a big difference between the two.
    There’s nothing wrong with ‘nuclear’ energy, just how it’s derived.

    1. George Carlin

      John, LFTR still fissions uranium to produce heat. Thorium breeds the uranium.

      It is not the thorium per se that makes LFTR safer, it is the molten salt fuel running at atmospheric pressure over solid fueled reactors cooled by water at high pressure that offers the biggest safety advantage. That coupled with removal of fission products and high burnup to reduce the amount of long lived trans-uranics offers a much better overal way of producing power from fission.

      Thorium’s benefit is it is found all over the world in much higher concentrations than uranium-235 (used in LWR’s, CANDU’s, etc.) so in the long run could provide the worlds power for over a thousand years.

    2. SAMURAI

      Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (or similar molten salt reactors) will most likely be the energy of the future. As mentioned, these reactors work at single atmospheric pressure, convert 99% of Thorium to energy (as opposed to existing standard solid fuel reactors 0.5~0.7% conversion efficiency), waste products can easily be removed from the molten salts during operation, there is Zero% chance of meltdown event, no high pressure water (or ANY WATER for that matter) is needed (heat exchanger heats He gas to run gas turbines, waste heat (900C) can be used to desalinate water or synthesize NH4,passive fail-safe system works as long as there is gravity, only 7000MT of Thorium/yr required to supply Earth’s energy needs, Thorium is as plentiful as Lead (Pb) whichwill never run out given small amount/yr required, plant construction costs about the same as a standard NATURAL Gas fascility, very little nuclear waste generated as 99% efficient (what little remains only has about 300yr half life), can be built in desert as no water is required to run, thorium only has one Isotope, so it’s ready to use as found in nature and doesn’t need expensive processing like solid fuel reactors, etc., etc, etc,

      It’s a proven technology (there was a test reactor at the Oak Ridge Lab that ran flawlessly for 4yrs) It works. It’s not a theoretical pipe dream.

      All that is required is for the government to establish rules, regulations, industry standards and permit process to build them. The government wouldn’t even need to put up R&D/development costs as private sector funding would be easily procured if government gave offical approval

      China is already working feverishly to build LFTRs and is expected to have a test LFTR built within 2-3 years.

      LFTRs addresses ALL the major concerns against nuclear power and should be aggressively pursued before China has the opportunity to roll it out on a large scale, while other nations are caught flat footed.

      Policicy priority should be shifted from solar/wind power to LFTRs as the cost is 10~15 TIMES less per kWh.

  12. James Aach

    Here in the US, PBS ran a “Frontline” documentary the other night that was quite good from my perspective as a longtime nuclear energy worker who also acknowledges there are problems with this (and every) energy source.

    I’m afraid the debate will go on and on and on. I think discussion of all our energy options would be greatly helped if people understood them better – – for nuclear, at least better than treating a power plant as a black box that occasionally spews out toxic goo. A typical nuclear faciilty in the US has over a thousand workers. What are they doing?

    So here’s what I did to address that. Can’t beat the price……..

    “Rad Decision: A Novel of Nuclear Power” follows a plant like Fukushima as it experiences a similar event. It is free online – just google the title or go to my website. Mainstream media coverage has been slight, but online readers lseem to ike it as per the homepage and Amazon comments. Environmental icon Stewart Brand said: “I’d like to see Rad Decision widely read.”

    Oh… and I like wind turbines too. But their limitations (capacity factor, total generation per acre) need to be better understood.

  13. Robert Bernal

    I like wind turbines too. Any (clean) source (and even some dirty sources) I must agree with as we all need as many choices as possible.
    RE will be needed to help promote robotic LiFePO4 (or better) battery factories, to deal with low capacity factors so that when they figure out how to make more money out of LFTR, will be able to make cheaper electric cars powered by the clean nuclear. The XL pipeline should have been pursued by America because now, if they don’t get it (all the extra pipeline jobs) China will get the oil and emit the XSCO2 anyways.

    1. Andy S

      It’s actually more likely that eventually some form of the KeystoneXL pipeline will be built than any new pipeline to Canada’s Pacific coast. See here, for example:

  14. Barry Woods

    Each ‘cheaper’ electric car has an environment cost

    Ie each and every Nissan Leaf (pure ev) has 4kg of lithium. leaving aside where te Extra electricity for millions if ev cars would come from…

    Lithium is not a pleasant material to mind process and eventually dispose of..

    1. Alastair Leith

      Yes good buying opportunity as I noted a few years ago. IBM is working on a new storage cell applicable to cars with even greater energy density per KG than Lithium ion batteries. They’re talking it up, google it.

  15. Robin Curtis

    The most important question posed so far in this debate (from Jason Kobos) is:

    “The question really isn’t if one tech is mature or not. The question is if you have X billions of dollars to spend between now and 2050 what distribution of payments among all technologies will result in the lowest emission grid in 2050?…”

    and it’s not just the lowest emission grid – it’s the lowest (CO2) societal emissions full stop – in the fastest possible time.

    391ppm now and growing fast – see We have to tackle electricity, heat, transport ,waste, agriculture, deforestation etc. Time to revisit the Socolow Wedge proposals and see how little we have achieved –

    1. martyn

      I agree that he asks the crucial question – but you can’t answer it without conidering the question of maturity.

      If one technology has been around a long time and the cost reduction curve has levelled off, while a second technology is currently more expensive, but is a relatively new product that has seen rapid price falls that are ongoing, you may well get the wrong answer to the crucial question by simply looking at today’s price tag.

    2. Robin Curtis

      You are correct. I just wanted to highlight the fact that we have to get away from the time consuming debates over single technology issues – and start moving rapidly on as many large scale CO2 reduction fronts as possible. We cannot afford to go on releasing 30Gtonnes/yr of global warming material into our atmosphere.

      And before anyone starts digging – this is from an ex-nuclear engineer – now working in renewables.

      With the UK third from bottom in Europe on % of renewables,
      – failing to mobilise a nuclear rebuild programme at any significant speed,
      – just waking up to the fact that CCS on any significant scale in the short term is a pipe dream,
      – and a domestic renewables incentive programme in total disarray

      we have some serious action to get underway. In the meantime we are just on a burn burn burn approach……450ppm here we come.

  16. Robert Wilson

    It is never fair play to accuse people of being shills, but it must be asked, are these people in the pay of the fossil fuel companies?

    The expansion of carbon taxes to include nuclear power is not likely to stop there. If, as this press release claims, nuclear power should not be exempt, then next generation biofuels, Algae etc. would not be either. Any expansion is likely to weaken the size of the carbon levy, and thus increase emissions.

    Do Lucas, Leggett et al. realise what they are actually doing here?

  17. Alastair Leith

    Nice to see you using Museo, Mark.

  18. Arya

    The TRUE cost of so-called “cheap” and “safe” nuclear energy:

    A Higher Justice awaits all those responsible for this Crime against Humanity, Nature, Life and God – including YOU Mark Lynas.

    Wait and see…

    1. Tom Blees

      Really, Arya? You really want to go there? Divine wrath for Mark and other nuclear power advocates? Surely you jest!

  19. Robert Palgrave

    While it is absolutely essential to analyse the costs, efficacy, safety etc of various emissions reduction techniques, and to implement ‘the best’, this is just one part of humanity’s challenge. Framing carbon as the overriding problem facing us, ignores the reality that excess carbon emissions are just one symptom of a greater malaise.

    Tackling the underlying problems of over-consumption and our abuse of Nature is more difficult than imagining hi-tech solutions to ‘fix the atmosphere’. But ultimately that more fundamental appraisal is what’s needed – in fact it’s well overdue.

    Since the UN Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992, global manmade carbon emissions have increased by 50% compared to emissions over the previous 240 years of industrialisation. There has been a complete political failure to address carbon emissions, primarily because it is impossible to cut them deeply enough without significantly changing the current economic paradigm, in other words we must end “growth economics” if we are to make the difference that is needed.

    However, even if we were to cease carbon emissions tomorrow, and also draw down atmospheric carbon by ‘negative emissions’, the effect of other problems within the human ecological system – such as food, water and mineral resource shortages – will still create a severe crisis over the next few decades. Academic, public policy and intelligence agency research has repeatedly forecast this over recent years, but the messages get drowned in the clamour for carbon reductions and energy security (almost invariably aimed at protecting the rich minority and their unsustainable consumption patterns).

    And fights like this about nuclear power.

    The concentration on the carbon issue in isolation detracts from a more meaningful and balanced debate about the impacts of the human system in general. Were we to stop all fossil fuel burning tomorrow, and change nothing else, the eventual outcome for the human species would change very little. The crisis of human ecology is much greater than the carbon issue; the fixation upon carbon emissions is leading us to ignore equally pressing trends that will also create just as many issues for humanity over the course of this century.

    (acknowledging the work of Paul Mobbs, whose ideas and words I respect)

  20. Anon

    Gerry Wolff Said ” …[renewables] are substantially more effective in cutting emissions of CO2 ….Detailed evidence in support of these points can be found via [the energyfair website]”

    The Energyfair website appears to provide no evidence in support of this extremely contentious comment. Moreover, a comparison of the carbon intensity of electricity generation of countries with high renewables penetration such as Denmark, and high nuclear penetration such as France, strongly suggests that Mr Wolff is wrong. Nuclear power is the only means through which large volumes of electricity have been generated with a carbon footprint below 100kg/MWh. A high renewables scenario struggles to attain 300kg/MWh. These are real world data, not speculation or opinion.

    With respect to nuclear safety and Fukushima, it should be emphasised that the worst energy accident in history occurred at a renewable energy facility – not a nuclear power station. The failure of the Banqiao Dam in 1975 killed over 170,000 people, and made a further 11 million homeless. Following environmentalist “Fukushima” logic, should we abandon hydroelectric power – or do we recognise that extrapolation from one country to another of the risks associated with different means of generating electricity is not simplistic?

  21. Cyril R

    In defense of nuclear power, death per TWh rates for different electricity sources:

    In further defense, I argue that large releases such as Fukushima can be prevented altogether, by having passive devices that guard against it.

    For example at Fukushima there was overpressure in the containment that caused hydrogen and fission products to leak, and hydrogen also evolved from the spent fuel pools. Simply having passive hydrogen recombiners (passive catalysts) to prevent explosive hydrogen buildup, and having passive overpressure protection (a simple tube of water with a filter attached) can reduce radioactive emissions 10000x even if you get into a Fukushima style situation. We should of course make sure that sufficient design basis exists to guard against tsunamis in the first place, where applicable (obviously an inland nuclear plant need not worry about 15 meter tsunamis). A high enough sea wall, waterproof bunker buildings.

  22. Jon Flatley

    Getting back to some of the earlier comments on subsidies for nuclear versus ‘renewable’, etc. I will start out by saying, I do feel we need to take a hard look at nuclear, especially the “fast reactors” that are supposed to be safer and more efficient. The “renewables” don’t seem to be able to fill the massive void that would be left when carbon fuels are discontinued. I agree with James Hansen when he mentioned the need for a “baseline” energy source to get off carbon-based fuels and then keep developing renewables.

    Back to my first sentence (sorry for getting off track)…I feel we need a “carbon tax” to realistically cover all the damage that fossil fuels do to health and the environment, and since the Industrial Revolution. After a carbon tax is levied can we really see where the true costs line up of oil/gas/coal versus solar/wind/hydro and nuclear.

    Just my 2 cents.

  23. Andy

    In engineering analysis there is a simple and useful method developed by Perkins Engines to evaluate ease of maintenance tasks by rating the frequency of the task and the consequences of not performing it. It can be extended to many systems, thus for energy you could consider the need for nuclear power against the consequences of it failing. On this basis nuclear falls down badly on the overall rating, since although need is moderate (ie there are other alternatives at probably not disimilar economics) the consequnce of failure is massive, as at Fukishima or Chernobyl. As raised elsewhere the insurance costs need to be considered. I personally think that terrorism would be excluded as is generally the case for most insurance, which is also a relevent point re. aviation industry and 9-11. I personally dount that unlimited liability insurance coudl be obtained for Dungeness for example, which has the potential under a Fukishima type scenario, to require evacuation of large parts of Kent, disrupt channel traffic, and probably impact in a major way on London. You could argue that as Fukishima was an’act of God’ in insurance terms then it would also have been excluded, in whcih case the taxpayer needs to take a cut of profits as the ultimate insurer anyway. If there was no alternative then it would be different, but there are many other options which would appear more economic in true terms. They are however open to smaller companies to take advantage of, unlike nuclear which is the domain of a few extremely large ones with the apparant ear of the regulator and lobby groups.


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