Tuesday, October 24, 2006

economics of nuclear power

It's interesting to note in this press release from the Australian Greens that Dr Ziggy Switkowski (head of the Prime Minister's nuclear taskforce) that nuclear power is not economically viable in Australia without a carbon tax. As the government has refused to consider such a carbon tax this seems to rule out nuclear power for Australia. I expect that other countries have similar economics.

I imagine that nuclear power would be viable for a country that lacks adequate wind for wind power, is not very sunny so solar power doesn't work, has few rivers so hydro-electric power can't be used, and which has no option of geo-thermal power. Is there such a country?


cate said...

You forget the energy demand and the possible production. Wind, sun, and hydropower use energy from (directly and indirectly) sun. Sun energy is limited (but big). IIRC a study say that sustainability is near 2000W per person (the energy from sun for usable surface). So now the renewable energy is not enough to suply our demand. [Ok, Australia has a lot of surface and "few" people]

OTOH, the main energy consumption is used for heating, cooling and transportation, which use only partially electricity, and which you can increment the efficiency by large factor with very low costs, and carbon tax could decrement a lot of fuel consumption, which is not only the cause of climate changes, but also for local health problems.

To avoid nuclear plants, it is not only needed more renewable energy but also an increase of efficiency. There is a lot of waste of energy!

An interesting link to all these problems: http://www.ipcc.ch/ Warning: it is a huge quantity of paper!

Wouter Verhelst said...

There are a few other factors to consider. First, to use wind, solar, or hydropower, not only do you need natural elements strong enough to use this power; you also need the space to build a plant that will utilize it. Nobody wants to live near a windmill park; nobody can live in the lake produced by a dam which is required for hydroelectic power production. Solar panels can be placed on top of city rooftops, but for it to be adequate to supply a population with electical power, much more than that is needed.

Thus, most of these renewable energy sources can only be used viably in countries with a low population density, such as Australia, Norway, Canada, etc. A small but highly populated country such as Belgium, will have to rely on nuclear power for 60% of its energy needs, even though there are areas where it could be economically (as opposed to socially) viable to use wind power.

Jon Kåre Hellan said...

Nuclear power may not be economically viable without a carbon tax. Or some other subsidy^h^h^h^h^h^h^h incentive.b But that's probably true for solar and wind as well. As to hydro, there isn't much left to develop.

Jama Poulsen said...

Here's an Australian nuclear energy expert:
http://aud1.kpfa.org/data/20061011-Wed1700.mp3 (her interview starts further in the podcast)

Also consider the whole production process: uranium mining, transport, coal burned for the uranium enrichment process, waste products (there's a lot more to this aspect also), waste distribution, nuclear waste storage, waste site protection.

Most other recently proposed energy alternatives really are cheaper, healthier and more sustainable.

Anonymous said...

It's not that easy. From the alternatives you name:

hydroelectricity is already used (and produces more than 20% of electricity in most countries), but there are not many rivers left. Btw, usually ecologists don't like dams...unless they are already built. go figure.

solar photovoltaic is no good: captors are expensive in money, expensive in energy. They hardly produce enough energy to offset the cost of producing them.

wind energy is cheap in money, but takes space (ie you need a place with no houses around). maybe not a problem in Australia, but a blocker in many countries. Offshore wind energy might be a solution.

In fact, here in Europe, honest ecologists will admit that their alternative to nuclear power is in fact mostly gas. Sure, it's fossile energy, but with modern gas power plants, it is transformed efficiently to electricity, and that makes a real difference.

So no, it is not big bad atom and stinky oil vs good sun and wind. It would be too easy :-)


Jacobo said...

Also, wind energy is unreliable (too little wind and your generator does not turn; too much wind, and your generator must be stopped to keep it from breaking), so it can be used at most as a supplement to other, more reliable, power sources.

etbe said...

In Spain http://etbe.blogspot.com/2007/03/spanish-wind-power.html they have wind power as the largest source of electricity on windy days. Spain has mostly old wind turbines (the Model T of wind power) and they have a smaller land area and a larger population than Australia.

Australia and the US could use wind power more effectively than Spain.