Nuclear to Replace Wind and Solar
By Norman Rogers
In the words of James Hansen, the scientist most responsible for promoting global warming, wind and solar are “grotesque” solutions for reducing CO2 emissions. Michael Shellenberger, a prominent activist, has the same opinion. Hansen and Shellenberger, as well as many other global warming activists, have come to the conclusion that nuclear energy is the only viable method of reducing CO2 emissions from the generation of electricity. Nuclear reactors don’t emit CO2. Coal and natural gas do. Hydroelectric electricity does not emit CO2 either, but opportunities for expansion are limited. In the United States most of the good sites have already been developed.
Wind and solar are grotesque because there are many problems. Promoters of wind and solar simply lie about the problems. Reducing emissions of CO2 by one metric tonne, 1000 kilograms or 2204 pounds, is called a carbon offset. Carbon offsets are bought and sold, usually for less than $10 each. If you build wind or solar plants to displace electricity from natural gas or coal plants, you will generate carbon offsets. Each carbon offset generated will cost about $60 if electricity from a coal plant is displaced. If electricity from a natural gas plant is displaced the cost per carbon offset will be about $160. Wind and solar are expensive methods of generating carbon offsets.
Wind and solar are not remotely competitive with coal or natural gas for generating electricity. The promoters of wind and solar lie about this constantly, claiming that they are close to competitive. The lies have two major components. They ignore or misrepresent the massive subsidies that wind and solar get, amounting to 75% of the cost. Then they compare the subsidized cost of wind or solar with the total cost of gas or coal. But wind or solar can’t replace existing fossil fuel infrastructure because they are erratic sources of electricity. The existing infrastructure has to be retained when you add wind or solar, because sometimes the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. The only fair comparison to the compare to total cost of wind or solar per kilowatt hour (kWh) with the marginal cost of gas or coal electricity. That marginal cost is essentially the cost of the fuel. The only economic benefit of wind or solar is reducing fuel consumption in existing fossil fuel plants. It is hard to build wind or solar installations that generate electricity for less than 8-cents per kWh, but the cost of the fuel, for either gas or coal, is about 2-cents per kWh. Wind and solar cost four times too much to be competitive.
Wind and solar run into difficulty if they are the source of more than about 25% of the electricity in a grid. Getting to 50% generally involves adding expensive batteries, further destroying the economics and the usefulness for CO2 reduction.
The only justification for wind and solar is the reduction of CO2 emissions, but wind and soar are limited and costly for this purpose. CO2-free nuclear energy can be both economical and practical. That, clearly is the reason why prominent global warming activists are advocating nuclear, rather than wind and solar to alleviate the supposed global warming crisis.
Neither nuclear nor coal is currently cost competitive with natural gas. It’s not that nuclear or coal are so expensive as it is that natural gas, thanks to fracking, is incredibly cheap. Gas that cost more than $10 per MMBtu (million British thermal units) a decade ago, now costs less than $2. Gas-generating plants are very cheap to build and incredibly efficient. A gas plant using a combination of a gas turbine and a steam turbine can turn 65% of the energy in the gas into electricity. By contrast a coal plant struggles to reach 40%. Both coal and nuclear are handicapped by well-organized and unprincipled political opposition from the Sierra Club and similar organizations. The Sierra Club hates natural gas too, but most of their efforts go into scaring people with the imaginary danger of coal. The Sierra Club doesn’t need to expend much effort scaring people with nuclear because the nuclear industry has already been destroyed in the U.S. thanks to previous efforts of the environmental movement.
Coal and nuclear have one very important advantage over gas. They have fuel on site to continue operating if fuel deliveries are interrupted. For coal this is around 30 days, for nuclear more than a year. Some gas plants can temporarily use oil from local tanks, but in most cases that won’t last long. Gas deliveries can be interrupted by pipeline failure or sabotage. The pumping stations on natural gas pipelines are increasingly powered by electricity, rather than gas, creating a circular firing squad effect.
Nuclear electricity is a young industry with a big future. That future is materializing in Asia given the successful propaganda campaign to make people afraid of nuclear in the U.S. and in much of Europe. Nuclear fuel is extremely cheap, around four times cheaper than gas or coal. Nuclear reactors don’t have smokestacks and they don’t emit CO2. New designs will dramatically lower costs, increase safety and effectively remove most of the objections to nuclear. It is an incredible contradiction that most environmental organizations advocate wind and solar and demonize nuclear. In the future nuclear may be cost competitive with natural gas.
It is an intellectual and economic failure that the 30 U.S. states with policies designed to reduce CO2 emissions, called renewable portfolio standards, mostly explicitly exclude nuclear power as part of the plan. Instead they effectively mandate wind and solar. There are signs of reform as some states have provided support to prevent nuclear power stations from being closed.
The global warming hysteria movement is surely one of the most successful junk science campaigns ever launched. Predicting a catastrophe is a great way for a science establishment to gain fame and money. The many responsible scientists that object are attacked, if not fired. Money trumps ethics every time. The environmental movement needs looming catastrophes too, so they act as PR men for the science establishment. The tragedy is that our legislators swallow these lies and waste billions on boondoggles like wind and solar. It is ironic that increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere has a bountiful effect on plant growth, greening the Earth and increasing agricultural production. Rather than a threat, CO2 is a boon.
If you still believe in the global warming hysteria movement, you should face reality and dump wind and solar for nuclear. Wind and solar are not appropriate for the problem they are assigned to solve. Nuclear is.
Norman Rogers is the author of the book: Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy.
This article appeared on the American Thinker website at