Nuclear Britain

On Thursday 10th January 2008 Business Secretary John Hutton announced to MPs that he was giving the green light for new nuclear build in the UK. He is inviting energy companies to bring forward plans to build and operate new nuclear power plants. However considering the nuclear cliff, has the decision come too late to maintain the nuclear contribution?

The nameplate capacity of the UK nuclear fleet, stacked, from the peak capacity in the late nineties and following the published decommission schedule. Three life extensions are shown in red. Source: British Energy & Nuclear Decommissioning Agency


The UK pioneered civilian nuclear power generation with a young Queen Elizabeth II opening the world's first public grid connected power station on 17th October 1956. Calder Hall's four 50MW reactors were finally shutdown in 2003 after generating 70TWh of electricity and more than two tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium over its 47 years of operation. Astonishingly by today's standards, Calder Hall was designed, constructed and commissioned in just three and a half years following Prime Minister Winston Churchill's order in 1952. Amazing how quickly you can get things done when you don't know what you're doing!

Whilst this old power plant's electricity contribution was modest in the grand scheme of things its recent closure is representative of the fate facing the rest of the fleet in the near future.

Oldbury Nuclear Power Station

This photo is my local nuclear power station, Oldbury on the East bank of the Severn Estuary, 15 miles north of Bristol. Opened in 1968 it is scheduled to close during 2008 with the loss of 435MW from its two reactors.

An important thing to remember about nuclear power plants is that they share a lot in common with fossil fuel plants. They generate electricity by using the heat given off by radioactive fission to raise steam which is then used in normal steam turbines. In the photo the turbine building can be seen in front of the two reactors. Each of the reactors at Oldbury for example generate 815MW of thermal output, of which only some 218MW emerges as electricity indicating a thermal efficiency of 27%. This is an important point to be aware of when making primary energy comparisons. The primary, chemical, energy contained in coal, oil or gas should not be compared directly with the electrical output from a nuclear power station without first accounting for this thermal efficiency, something to remember when looking at how many nuclear power stations it takes to replace fossil fuel depletion.

The British nuclear fleet is now split into two categories. There are the nuclear legacy sites which are now under the control of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA) and the eight modern sites which remain under the control of British Energy. The NDA have responsibility for 20 civil nuclear sites including decommissioned research facilities, fuel plants, fusion research, storage sites and the Magnox fleet. 15 of those sites are managed by British Nuclear Group and Westinghouse under NDA contracts. These were until recently both British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) group companies but Westinghouse was recently sold to the Toshiba Corporation to the surprise of many outsiders considering the then uncertainly surrounding the nuclear industry in the UK.

Magnox Fleet

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The nameplate capacity of the UK Magnox nuclear fleet, stacked, following their construction and decommission schedule.
Position mouse pointer over the chart to reveal power station breakdown.

Magnox is short for Magnesium non-oxidising and refers to the alloy of magnesium and aluminium used as a cladding for unenriched uranium metal fuel. The design was initially created to produce weapons-grade plutonium but later larger reactors were exclusively used for civilian electricity generation. It is said that North Korea used the Magnox design developed from the declassified blueprints of Calder Hall to generate plutonium for their nuclear weapons programme.

The decommission schedule is almost complete now with the end of the Magnox era clearly in sight, due significantly to the fact that the fuel assembly corrodes in water, limiting storage and the required fuel reprocessing plant is also at end of life. The decommissioning project is extremely complex since no consideration was given to decommissioning during the design and build in the 50's and 60's. This was a phase of nuclear R&D resulting in many one-off designs and very poor records of site inventories, how the site was used and in some cases a lack of design drawings! Such problems are not expected when the British Energy sites are decommissioned. A wealth of information is available at the above linked websites.

Build DateCapacity MWPublished LifetimeDecommission Age
Hunterston A 1964 360 1989 25
Berkeley 1962 276 1989 27
Trawsfynydd 1965 390 1991 26
Hinkley Point A 1965 470 2000 35
Bradwell 1962 242 2002 40
Calder Hall 1956 194 2003 47
Chapelcross 1959 196 2005 46
Sizewell A 1966 420 2006 40
Dungeness A 1965 450 2006 41
Oldbury 1967 434 2008 41
Wylfa 1971 980 2010 39

The nameplate capacity and life of the UK Magnox nuclear fleet.

The Magnox fleet

All the power stations are built approximately at sea-level on the coast, with the exception of Trawsfynydd located on lake in Wales. The long-term decommission schedule is unclear but over 100 years is not unreasonable. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority currently have plans for 125 years. Any new build will most likely be on existing sites therefore maintaining operational power stations until at least 2080 followed by their decommission process. Placing such long lasting and potentially vulnerable assets at sea-level, given the current uncertainly surrounding ice-sheet melt sounds risky to me. If the main reason for reusing existing sites is public pressure this seems an unreasonable risk.

AGR and PWR Fleet

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The nameplate capacity of the UK AGR and PWR nuclear fleet, stacked, following their construction and decommission schedule.
Position mouse pointer over the chart to reveal power station breakdown.

Whilst the Magnox fleet's time has all but passed the future of the more modern British Energy sites comprising of seven advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGR) power stations and one pressurised water reactor (PWR) is not quite as certain. British Energy was privatised in 1996 with what was then seen as the commercially viable British nuclear interests. The private venture didn’t turn out to be particularly viable though with the government forced to invest £3bn in 2004, assume liabilities worth between £150m and £200m p.a. over the next ten years and reclassify the company as a public body. The 1996 privatisation had netted just £2.1 billion.

The red areas in the chart above illustrate the recently granted extensions. Dungeness B's operation was extended by 10 years from 2008 to 2018 and more recently Hunterston B and Hinkley Point B were extended by 5 years from 2011 to 2016. The extension of the latter two, as well as only being 5 years came with a caveat. The output has been reduced to 70% of full power. The three that have been granted extensions were, by no coincidence I'm sure, the first three to face decommission in 2008, 2011 and 2011 respectively. Without any other information to hand it is probably reasonable to assume similar modest extension to the remaining four - something that might become critical as we will see later.

Build DateCapacity MWPublished LifetimeDecommission Age
Hinkley Point B19761220 2016 40
Hunterston B1976 1190 2016 40
Hartlepool1983 1210 2014 31
Heysham 11983 1150 2014 31
Dungeness B1983 1110 2018 35
Heysham 21988 1250 2023 35
Torness1988 1250 2023 35
Sizewell B 1995 1188 2035 40

The nameplate capacity and life of the UK AGR and PWR nuclear fleet. Includes extensions (Dungeness B 10yrs, Hinkley Point B 5yrs, Hunterston B 5yrs)

The AGR and PWR fleet

Again, sea level, coastal locations.

The UK Nuclear Fleet

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The nameplate capacity of the UK nuclear fleet, stacked, following their construction and decommission schedule.
Position mouse pointer over the chart to reveal power station breakdown.

Combining all the power stations produces the above chart.

One interesting observation is that if we sum the annual nameplate capacity from the grid connection of Calder Hall in 1956 to 2007 to produce a total energy figure of 389 GWyears and similarly sum the capacity from 2008 to the decommission of Sizewell B in 2035 to produce 123 GWyears we can say we have depleted 76% of our installed capacity. This percentage assumes a constant load factor however the situation is probably worse as the load factor is decreasing as the infrastructure reaches end of life. The UK’s installed nuclear resource is as depleted as our North Sea oil and gas resource!

Load Factor

In 2006, in nameplate capacity terms the nuclear fleet represented 15% (DUKES 5.7) of grid connected capacity, this is slightly misleading as the load factors of generators vary with nuclear being higher than average, 69.3% opposed to 52.8% for the average load factor over all plant (DUKES 5.10). Despite its relatively low nameplate proportion nuclear managed to generate 19% (DUKES 5.1) of the UK’s electricity in 2006. As the fleet ages though, this high load factor can not be assumed to remain. The chart below shows how the nuclear fleet's load factor has declined over the last decade after a string of technical problems reduced the operation hours.

Load factor of the UK nuclear fleet. Generated by dividing the nameplate capacity by the annual output.

I have no explanation for the low load factor in the late 70s and 80s. I can hypothesise that during this period the new AGRs were commissioned (two in ’76, three in ’83 and two in ’88) and that in the first few years, during their commissioning they were operating at significantly less than optimal load factors for tests and observations.

The data for 2007 is not available yet but given the increased level of closure last year I can only assume the figure will be significant lower, low 60s I expect. The power derating of the extended AGRs above is not the same as reducing load factor but is analogous in that less electricity will be produced in the future than the nameplate capacity would suggest.

Looking forward, assuming the current load factor of 69% can be maintained the output of the existing fleet will decline as shown below. Remember the 2006 data point was only 19% of the total supply.

UK nuclear output, forecast based on decommission schedule and 69% load factor.

New Nuclear Build

On Thursday 10th January 2006 the widely anticipated announcement came, the green light for new nuclear build in the UK. Business Secretary John Hutton announced to MPs:
"The Government believes it is in the public interest that new nuclear power stations should have a role to play in this country's future energy mix alongside other low-carbon sources, that it would be in the public interest to allow energy companies the option of investing in new nuclear power stations and that the Government should take active steps to open up the way to the construction of new nuclear power stations."

"It will be for energy companies to fund, develop and build new nuclear power stations in the UK, including meeting the full costs of decommissioning and their full share of waste management costs,"

It has taken a long time and two consultations to reach this decision and it is important to note that this isn't the Government ordering power stations, they will be built with private money, Hutton confirming there would be no subsidies except in event of emergency at a nuclear plant.

This 6 minute video package was broadcast by BBC's Newsnight programme on Tuesday 8th January 2008. It provides a good background and touches on many of the main points.

The clip reports the Government's consultation as saying even if the decision to build new power stations was taken today, would be 8 years before construction would begin, going on to add construction would take an optimistic 5 years meaning new power stations could not be online before 2021.

EDF Energy anticipated this decision and in September of 2007 submitted the plans for their 1.6GW EPR (Evolutionary Power Reactor) power station to the UK regulators for design assessment ( Press Release). Detailed information on this design is available from the EDF/AREVA website: This is the same design as is being built in Finland at Olkiluoto and in France at Flamanville.

The Finland build is the first one and has had some problems. Initially it was meant to cost 3.7bn euro and be complete in 2009, construction started in 2004. Since then there has been a 2 year slip and the cost increased by 1.5bn euros. So we're looking at 7 year build time and 5.2bn euro (£3.9bn).

What if the UK does manage to create the environment needed for EDF to build? Newsnight's 2021 figure assumed 5 years. If there's one thing that the UK doesn't have a good reputation for it's building large capital projects on schedule. 5 years is likely too optimistic, lets say 7 years but also cut a couple of years off the planning/regulatory approval stage bringing us back to 2021. Let's order 4.

The chart below shows what 4 new 1.6GW EPRs in 2021 do for the UK fleet. A sizeable gap remains and why some are calling the decision of new build too little, too late. The new capacity does not come online soon enough. However, Heysham 1 and Hartlepool have not yet been granted extensions, if like the three AGRs before them they are also granted extensions the gap closes up considerably. Position your mouse pointer over the chart to reveal the impact.

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The nameplate capacity of the UK nuclear fleet, stacked, following their construction and decommission schedule and including 4 hypothetical 1.6GW EPRs in 2021.
Position mouse pointer over the chart to reveal impact of 6 year extensions to Heysham 1 and Hartlepool.

The extensions I've hypothetically added to Heysham 1 and Hartlepool are 6 years and derated to 70%, I don't think this is unreasonable and it does make a real difference. A sizeable gap still remains, capacity stands at a minimum of 5.3GW in 2019 and 2021, down from 10.9GW in 2008 representing a loss of 5.6GW. I think this is the best realistic scenario for future nuclear output (I don't think bringing on new generation before 2021 is realistic) so in that sense the decision has come too late - if the goal is to maintain >10GW of nuclear capacity. Of course this isn't a universal goal and some would be quite happy to see the back of nuclear altogether but this article is only considering the energy contribution of the nuclear fleet.

John Hutton said in his speech that he hoped the first new reactors would be online by 2018. I'm of the opinion he's basing that hope more on the nuclear cliff graph than realistic analysis of how long it will actually take. He needs the first one in 2018. If it's taken this long to get this far, how long is it going to take to (a) choose a design and (b) create the commercial environment the manufactures will demand?

A loss of 5.6GW generating capacity doesn't sound awful until we consider the background against which it is likely to occur. UK gas production will be almost over by the end of the next decade leaving the country reliant on imports from Norway, Russia and beyond. This raises serious question marks over the long term viability of the 36% (2006 DUKES 5.1) electricity the country currently generates from gas. In addition to that approximately one third of the existing coal fleet is scheduled to close under the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive. In times of hardship EU directives will be the first thing to ignore but even the coal supply is questionable as the UK imports most of its coal and is now competing in an increasingly competitive market.

In 2006 the UK generated 394 TWh of electricity - what will the country generate in 2020?

Previously on The Oil Drum

Daddy, will the lights be on at Christmas?
Offshore Wind
The European Gas Market
UK Energy Security
Energy: the fundamental unseriousness of Gordon Brown
CO2 capture and storage: The economic costs

Excellent and informative piece. Thank you very much.

It's really excellent.

But you can improve it in one way. You gave Sizewell B a 40 year life. But we aren't talking about a crappy old gas reactor from the 70's, so you could well increase the lifespan by 20 years, to 2055.

The scheduled decommission date is 2035 - I expect you're right and a significant extension will be possible. However our problems are sooner than that. The issue is what happens in the second half of the next decade - within 10 years.

The issue is what happens in the second half of the next decade - within 10 years

And given that nuclear can't make any difference in that timescale, what "Plan B" would? i.e., how do we reduce our short-term future electricity demand (and/or increase supply) without increasing fossil fuel consumption?

how do we reduce our short-term future electricity demand (and/or increase supply) without increasing fossil fuel consumption?

This is the big question for the whole world not just the UK. Another question is ... how do we continue to grow our economies with rapidly declining fossil fuel consumption?

After reading the IPCC conclusions on Dangerous Antropogenic Climate Change the world's politicians have decided that CO2 emissions MUST fall to 80% of the 1990 levels by 2050 - however this assumes that the levels of CO2 start falling steadily from NOW.

If the 80% decline is to be met by 2050 then by 2020 we need to have reduced emissions by 30% or so - if we delay the decline then the deadline is not 2050 but some much sooner time - especially if we continue to actually increase emissions in the short term, or if the politicians are too optimistic with their 'best guess' as to what is safe.

So, what is the UK (and the world) to do? ... it looks like the UK can easily meet the 30% targets just by avoiding imports of coal, oil and gas ... a large number of new nukes may be out of the question as well, since they put a lot of CO2 into the air during the construction phase (just at the time we will be struggling to reduce the emissions).

It doesn't look like the UK has a coherent, adequate, timely plan 'A' let alone plan 'B' and we actually have oil, gas, and some coal - unlike most other European countries!

Does that mean we will get dangerous climate change because growth will be more important than climate change? ... if so forget about the nukes! ... we will need the money and declining energy earmarked for them to rebuild all our major coastal cities on higher ground.

Dear Xeroid,

This simple, harsh, and depressing answer to your last rhetorical question, 'Does that mean we will get dangerous climate change because growth will be more important than climate change?' is 'yes, 'we' will choose growth above any other consideration, until the bitter end!'

Anything else is unthinkable and unrealistic, regardless of the consequences. Putting ameliorating climate change would mean reversing, at the very least, as a timid start, the last thirty odd years of Western and now global economic policy, the so-called Reagan-Thatcher 'revolution' which has become the socio-economic paradigm of our age. The presumed foundation of our wealth and prosperity, though the model is now beginning to falter and totter. Such a reversal will not be easy or occure overnight. Too many people, though a minority, have benefitted and have never been richer or more powerful. One is almost talking about a social revolution and the resistance to this type of change will be dedicated, and red in tooth and claw.

'yes, 'we' will choose growth above any other consideration, until the bitter end!'

The more I understand how the world all hangs together the more I'm sure you are correct, and therefore am basing my strategy on that basis!

That means the oil, gas and coal will not last anything like as long as they could ... no growth in primary energy = no growth in economy!

So, what do I advise my son or grandchildren to help them plan for the future ... their long term outlook is 80 years or so?

Within 10-15 years there will be various of short term fixes that will help alleviate the situation:
1) Electricity and NG imports. AFAIK France is building an EPR reactor on the other side of the channel specifically for exports to the UK
2) Conservation - I expect a huge amount of the electricity currently wasted for non-essential purposes (e.g. using A/C in the British climate) will be foregone once electricity rates double or triple
3) Coal - I don't think the plans of retiring the UK coal fleet will ever materialize, once the seriousness of the situation sinks in
4) Wind will add some help, but I expect its contribution to be much less material than expected, and to reach some point where not a lot more could be added - specifically the decline of NG powered generation will decrease the ability to absorb more wind in the UK grid.

Overall I think it is too early to press the panic button yet, which is not to say that the situation could become very dire. It all depends on the speed UK moves on building the nukes and implementing the measures listed above.

Current projections are based on Business As Usual. If shortages ever happen, IMO you will see how quickly you are able to proceed on things that used to take years. It's human nature to protract problems until they reach a crisis point.


I think your information about costs is useful but incomplete. You give an estimate of 3.25 euro/Watt ($4.84/Watt) to build but with a subsidy to cover the risk of a nuclear accident. Do you know if Lloyd's was consulted to determine what the premium would be to cover a plant built on an inland site with a Chernobyl scale accident? Building on the Thames, for example, might run to $0.04-$0.10/kWh I think. Also, do you know if the EROEI was considered in this decision? I suspect that nuclear power can't approach even half of the EROEI of wind and thus would be more expensive.



Hi Chris (mdsolar),
Your blog on Nuclear EROI is really good. Do you have a reference for the French enrichment numbers that you quote? (only thing I see missing from your great article).

So, essentially, the nuclear EROI values have been skewed by inputs from the cold-war era. H.T. Odum supports your position of low nuke eroi. And I notice that C. Hall also puts the value at the near 10 mark. Without a high eroi, then uranium really will run out by 2050 or so.

The estimate for France is pretty crude since it only uses numbers of reactors. The three reactors used for diffusion are at Tricastin. I see now 59 power plants in 2002 in France. A more careful calculation would include the size of the reactors and the amount of enriched uranium France exports, but since the calculation only looks at enrichment, it should still give an idea. The main point of the post is that even using centrifuges, nuclear power does not compare well with renewable sources. This is shown using industry supplied numbers in the table. I don't think that cold war uranium skews EROEI as much as I originally thought, it should still be above one I now think. But, cold war weapons grade uranium, taken together with actual EROEI numbers that are lower than for coal, makes it painfully obvious that nuclear power is primarily about politics, especially non-proliferation, rather than about energy generation. We may be able to keep it limping along if we use higher quality energy sources for the majority of our energy generation, but increasing its fraction of the whole would be impoverishing. I think there is a risk that even maintaining the current fraction of nuclear power could lead to plants being shut down before the end of their design lifetime owing to lack of fuel. This would tend to reduce EROEI since the energy cost of construction would not be carried over the anticipated period of operation. Shifting the associated finacial risk to pivate investors, as the UK is proposing, is a wise move I think. Proposed federal loan guarantees in the US seem like a problem.


Your blog on Nuclear EROI is really good.

It's not even numerate. I went through this in the previous thread, but it's worth a repeat just to show the disappointingly dishonest arguments Chris seems to think he's somehow justified in making.

In his blog article Chris use this formula to calculate EROEI:

(1) EROEI = (Net Energy/Ein) + 1

where Net Energy = Eout - Ein

This is where alarm bells should first have started ringing. Why does Chris use a more complicated formula to calculate EROEI when it is easily computed with Eout/Ein? We shall see in a minute when we consider the example given on his blog (my original thought experiment from the other thread). But first let's show that equation (1) is equivalent to EROEI:

EROEI = (Net Energy/Ein) + 1
= (Eout - Ein)/Ein + 1 (step 1)
= (Eout/Ein) - (Ein/Ein) + 1 (step 2)
= (Eout/Ein) - 1 + 1 (step 3)
= Eout/Ein

Thus equation (1) does indeed calculate EROEI and Chris is within his rights to use it.

Now on to the example. We consider a country whose reactors use uranium with an energy equivalent to Eu each year. Their only energy input is for diffusion enrichment which takes half the output electricity of the reactors and hence half the input uranium. In such a situation you might think the EROEI would be 2 (and you'd be right) but Chris calculates a value of 1.5. How does he do this? Here's his formula with all values inputted:

EROEI = (Eu/2)/Eu + 1

For net energy he uses Eout = Eu and Ein = Eu/2 (Eout - Ein = Eu - Eu/2 = Eu/2).

However, the value he uses for Ein in the denominator is Eu, the entire energy value of the uranium used by the reactors, not just that used to power the enrichment process. Thus he is using a different value of Ein in the denominator than in his calculation of net energy in the numerator. As can be seen above in step 2, this means that Ein/Ein does not equal 1 and therefore equation (1) is not equal to EROEI.

I pointed this out to Chris in this post and yet he repeats the same flawed argument here. Either he cannot comprehend simple mathematics or is blatantly attempting to deceive.

I think you need to read the blog again. For net energy I use Eu/2, the energy that can be converted to electricity for use by society. For Ein I use Eu, the energy that is expended. I think you have your ins and outs confused.



For net energy I use Eu/2

And net energy = Eout - Ein, so if Eout = Eu then your Ein must logically be Eu/2.


For Ein I use Eu

So you admit your Ein's are inconsistent leading to an incorrect calculation of EROEI?

Seriously, Chris, this is getting ridiculous. I'm a proponent of nuclear power, believing it vitally necessary to help us cope with climate change and fossil fuel depletion. However, I can honestly say that in all the words I've written about nuclear and renewables I've never knowingly tried to deceive anyone with a lie. Anyone with even small mathematical ability can see that your calculation of EROEI is flawed, designed to produce an artificially low value that tells you nothing about its energetic sustainability. Did you really expect to get away with this on TOD where there are lots of people far brighter than either of us?

Your really are confusing yourself I think. Ein is Eu, not Eout. If Eout were Eu, then EROEI(thermal)=1 not 1.5. Obviously Eout is Eu/2 to be converted to electricity for use by society plus Eu to be used for the process next year, just as you originally proposed. Thus, EROEI(thermal)=1.5. If you take Eout to be Eu then you have not bothered to enrich any uranium.


If Eout = Eu/2 and Ein = Eu then

Net Energy = Eout - Ein = Eu/2 - Eu = -Eu/2


EROEI = Eout/Ein = (Eu/2)/Eu = 1/2

The reason we get these nonsensical values is that you include all the energy of the uranium as an input. If we were talking about oil, for example, were you got a 100 barrels back for every one you invested, it would be like pretending that Ein was 100 instead of 1. This is why you use this equation:

EROEI = Net Energy/Ein + 1

in order to hide the fact that you are using different values of Ein to suit your purposes. However, as I've shown above, when doing so, this equation no longer calculates EROEI.

Read what I wrote again. Eout is both the energy going to society and the energy in the enriched uranium to be used during the next refueling. The net energy is what is available to convert to electricity for use by society. You seem to be confusing yourself by not reading carefully.



Read what I wrote again.

I've read everything you've written very carefully, Chris, and the fact that you can't admit your mistake and stop trying to deceive is increasingly painful.

EROEI = Eout/Ein

and also

EROEI = Net Energy/Ein + 1

If you are correct, Chris, then you should be able to explicitly state your Eout and Ein and get the same value of EROEI using either equation. We both know you can't do that.

Better read again. I've stated what Eout in both my last two posts since this seems to be where you are getting stuck. Divide that by Eu and you'll get 1.5. I thought your example would give two before converting to electricity by analogy with oil but it doesn't. I tried rather hard to make it come out to two because I was somewhat surprised. Perhaps it would help you to try to carry out the calculation yourself.



Perhaps it would help you to try to carry out the calculation yourself.

Very well.

Thought Experiment

A country has nuclear reactors and uses half the output to enrich the uranium for next year. The other half is used to power factories, homes, etc. There is no other energy input but that used to power the enrichment process. The energy used to mine the uranium, build the reactors, deal with the waste, etc, is assumed to be zero.

Energy Content of Uranium = Eout = Eu
Energy required to Enrich uranium = Ein = Eu/2

Net Energy = Eu - Eu/2 = Eu/2

EROEI = Net Energy/Ein + 1 = (Eu/2)/(Eu/2) + 1 = 1 + 1 = 2

Thus giving the obviously correct answer. This would be the same for oil, gas, coal, etc if half the output were used to mine/refine the input. It is no different for uranium.

This is helpful because it shows where you are confused. The energy expended is obviously Eu rather than Eu/2. The energy produced is also clearly Eu in enriched uranium plus Eu/2 in thermal energy that can be used elsewhere. You are undercounting both the input and the output. The net energy is indeed Eu/2, but you must calculate this as (Eu+Eu/2)-Eu rather than the way you have done. You don't get that net thermal energy unless you use the whole system. Confining your analysis to half the system is what is steering you wrong.


And this is helpful in showing where you are 'confused'.


The energy produced is also clearly Eu in enriched uranium plus Eu/2 in thermal energy that can be used elsewhere.

No, the energy produced by the inputted uranium Eu is Eu/2 to enrich next years uranium, Eu/2 thermal energy to be used elsewhere, and Eu embodied in next years uranium. This sums to 2Eu, hence net energy is Eu and EROEI = Eu/Eu + 1 = 2.

Your mistake, Chris, is in ignoring the energy used to enrich the uranium as an output. You seem to be conflating net energy and gross energy. You do have a penchant for apples/oranges comparisons. They're seldom valid, you know.

Before you were undercounting, but now you are overcounting. The energy used to enrich uranium is used up. All you get is the enriched uranium as an output. You are kind of wanting to keep your cake and eat it at the same time. Hope this clears things up for you now.


Oh things are now very clear. Let's recap:

The Mdsolar Patented Way to Calculate Nuclear EROEI

1) Take as Ein all uranium used Eu, not just that for enrichment.

2) Eout is now the energy in next years enriched uranium, Eu, plus the thermal energy not used for enrichment.

3) EROEI can now be calculated with Net Energy/Ein + 1.

This accurately describes the method you use to calculate EROEI in my original thought experiment, in which half the reactors were powering the enrichment process, leading to a value of 1.5.

Okay, now the fun part: we vary the original assumption of the thought experiment and see what happens.

Enrichment uses only 1/10th reactors output

Ein must still be Eu
Eout is now the energy is the enriched uranium, Eu, plus the thermal energy not used for enrichment, 9Eu/10.
Therefore Net Energy = 9Eu/10
and EROEI = Net Energy/Ein + 1 = (9Eu/10)/Eu + 1 = 1.9

Hmmm, very strange. We've reduced the power needed to enrich the uranium by 5 times, and yet our mdsolar approved EROEI has only increased from 1.5 to 1.9.

Okay, let's really go mad:

Enrichment uses only 1/1000th reactors output

Ein = Eu (of course!!)
Eout = Eu + 999Eu/1000
Net Energy = Eout - Ein = 999Eu/1000
Therefore EROEI = Net Energy/Ein + 1 = 1.999

Curiouser and curiouser. Only one fivehundredth of the original energy is used for enrichment but our EROEI still hasn't breached 2.

Hmm, wonder what would happen in the case were no energy at all was used in the nuclear lifecycle. Surely Chris's foolproof method will give us an infinity for EROEI, as it must. Let's see:

Enrichment uses none of reactors output

Ein = Eu
Eout = Eu + Eu = 2Eu
Net Energy = Eout - Ein = Eu
Therefore EROEI = Net Energy/Ein + 1 = 2

That's right, Chris, in the event were there are no energy inputs your method calculates an EROEI of 2. May I humbly suggest you are mistaken.

Reductio ad absurdum. I was puzzled by that result. Thanks.


And if I weren't so dense that I actually read what you wrote rather than assuming, we'd have got to this point ages ago.

I've corrected the blog and added an acknowledgement as a comment. I think you'll agree that the thermal/actual terms help to clarify what we were discussing in a previous thread, but let me know it you disagree.



but let me know it you disagree

I know you'll be just delighted to find out I have other problems with the blog entry, Chris. I'll concentrate on the next one.

We've finally come to an agreement that in the thought experiment were half a country's reactors are used to enrich their uranium - and there are no other inputs - then EROEI = 2 in terms of primary energy input to output.

You then go on to calculate EROEI in terms of electrical output to primary energy input using this formula:

EROEI = (0.3*(Eu/2))/Eu/2) + 1 = 1.3

However, this is incorrect. The point I was erroneously making in our discussion above about inconsistent Ein's is ironically valid when discussing this calculation. Essentially you're multiplying the net energy by 0.3, which leads to a different Ein in the numerator than in the denominator. If we multiply the equation out we shall see that it does not equal the traditional definition of EROEI:

If EROEI = (0.3*Net Energy)/Ein + 1
then EROEI = (0.3Eout - 0.3Ein)/Ein + 1 = 0.3Eout/Ein - 0.3 + 1 = 0.3Eout/Ein + 0.7

If your equation was truly calculating EROEI(electric) then it would simplify to 0.3Eout/Ein. Also, reductio ad absurdum, if Eout = 0, EROEI = 0.7 not zero.

The actual calculation of EROEI(electric) is:

(Using a factor of 1/3 to account for conversion to electricity and make the maths prettier)
Net Energy = Eout - Ein = (1/3)*Eu - Eu/2 = Eu/3 - Eu/2 = -Eu/6

Therefore EROEI = Net Energy/Ein + 1 = (-Eu/6)/(Eu/2) + 1 = -1/3 + 1 = 2/3

Which brings us right back to the motivation for the original thought experiment: to show that EROEI(electric) is a poor measure of energetic sustainability, giving a value of < 1 for a process that produces an energy profit.

I want to consider two cases. The issue we are dealing with here is scope because I want to compare what it takes to run an electric toaster given EROEIs in various forms. So, how do we handle scope?

Let us say we have an oil well with EROEI(well head) =2 and a refinery at some distance. The oil company has two choices on how to transport the oil. It can use a sail boat with the strange property that 70% of the oil transported during the journey evaporates, or it can use a tanker that burns 70% of the oil. To calculate EROEI at the refinery terminal rather than the well head the way I am doing it, I want the evaporation case so net energy is 0.3*(net energy at the well head) and I get EROEI(terminal)=0.3*1/1+1=1.3. You object to this because you want to retain the difference in the net energy calculation and apply the conversion also to oil that was used to pump I think. In the case of the tanker I think we would both say that Eout=2 and Ein=1.7 so that EROEI=1.176. Net energy is the same in both cases, 0.3, but in one case we just lost the oil while in the second case we used it so that it affects the denominator.

Based on this, we might account for waste in conversion as though that energy were actually used as an input. So, if X is a reported thermal EROEI and Y is the conversion efficiency then 1-Y is the fractional loss which is applied to the original net energy. This is (X-1)*Ein. So, we write (1-Y)*(X-1)*Ein as the additional term for the denominator. X=Eout/Ein and without loss of generality we can set Ein=1 so that Eout=X. This then gives:


Where X' is the desired effective EROEI for X greater than 1.

If Y=0 then X'=1. If Y=1 then X'=X. If Y=0.5 and X=1.05 then X'=1.024. If X=10 and Y=0.5 then X'=1.8 and at higher X we approach 2, just as you pointed out to me earlier. In the case of actually burning the oil, this would make sense since we are seeing the limiting case of the tanker using half the oil it transports. When Y=0.3 then X' approaches 1.43 (1/(1-y)).

But this is not really sensible when we are considering losses because we do expect improvements in X to lead to improvements in X' that are quasi-linear.

So, I think that we need to work on the numerator.

I am indeed multiplying net energy by 0.3, so now X'=Y*(X-1)+1. If X=1 then X'=1, if X=0 the X'=0, If Y=0, then X'=1 and if Y=1 then X'=X. If X=10 and Y=0.5 then X'=5.5. Now, I think you criticism is not so strong because I am looking for a way to carry forward from the net energy, and what it's composition was beforehand does not seem to me to be all that important. It is the net energy which undergoes a loss. But I do notice is that taking X to the limit gives an asymptotic behavior with successively lower X' going to a limit of 5 for Y=0.5 and this is not transmitting improve initial EROEI.

So, I think that there is a way to compare thermal sources with those that provide electricity directly and it looks something like 0.3*Eout/Ein in its behavior, but I'm not sure yet what it is.


Oh dear, you have constructed a house of cards, Chris. You concoct this oil analogy and consider it to be essentially equivalent to our earlier uranium thought experiment, only it isn't. In our earlier discussion all the uranium - i.e. the gross Eu - was converted to electricity at an efficiency of 0.3. In this example only the net energy is subject to conversion.

Also the EROEI in your example is 1.3 regardless of whether the tanker or sail boat is used. Why?

Beginning of Process:
Ein = 1 unit of oil

End of Process:
Eout = 1 unit of oil at well head + 0.3 units at terminal = 1.3

Therefore EROEI = Eout/Ein = 1.3/1 = 1.3

This is true for both transport methods.

With regard to costs, I'd also be interested to know what sort of payback time there is on the building of a nuclear plant. If a plant first goes live in 2021, when is it likely to start making money?

The point has often been made, including in Gail's latest posts on the oil drum, that with peak oil, the calculations for lending over long periods of time are likely to change. I think that most peakists see an oil peak well before 2021, so it's not unreasonable to think that the latter stages of any nuclear construction project will be completed when general sentiment has come to question perpetual growth. Will banks and governments be willing, or even able, to lend for what I'm guessing is quite a long time, in such a situation?


The problem with fully charging for risks for the nuclear industry is that we ought in order to rationally compare our choices to charge for the worst possible events in other industries as well as in the nuclear industry to have a level playing field.
There is the additional point that no-one now will build a plant to the same specifications as Chernobyl, ie with no containment vessel, so in practise you are asking the industry to over-insure simply because it bear the same label, ie nuclear.
That is a little like asking a modern steamship to be insured against loosing it's masts, because it is still called a ship and wooden ships had masts! :-)
Having a containment vessel means that even in the unlikely event that the accident is not fully contained, then releases are still reduced by many orders of magnitude compared to not having one.
Here is a discussion by Bill Hanaghan of risk costs for different industries:
Just scroll down for his post.
The fact is that nuclear bears far more of it's costs than any of the alternatives.
The coal industry just sends out of it's chimneys large amounts of radioactive uranium, a substantial fraction in fact of the quantities which is carefully treated as waste in the nuclear industry.
I actually work in the insurance industry, and in practise all very large risks such as war are uninsurable and uninsured - the reason for that is simple, firstly that you could never afford to do anything at all if you had to pay the full premium for the risk, and secondly that any event which has a real impact on the whole society will also impact the guys who have offered to insure, so they won't have any money to pay out.
Even before you take into account any allowance for relative carbon emissions nuclear power is far cheaper on any equally-costed reckoning than any of the alternatives, in coals case for obvious reasons, in renewables case because at northern latitudes at least the intermittencies of present renewables makes them unreliable as well as vastly expensive.
I am not against the development of renewables, but do feel that we need a rational assessment of present technological capabilities.
Should the UK go for the off-shore wind power scheme they are talking about, they will be paying huge amounts for a unreliable source.
This is not a theoretical question,as in northern Europe cold kills, and energy that expensive will kill hundreds or thousands of societies most vulnerable.
As it is, the complete cock-up the British government has made of the energy industry means we are faced with a massive gap in supply, as so ably pointed out in this article.
My guess is that they will build a load of gas-plants to fill the gap, as that is the quickest and easiest option, and so for many years we will be stuck with a by then very expensive and insecure energy source.

You seem to have a strange conception of reliability. I know of no forecasts that wind will cease to blow around the UK while there are credible forecasts that uranium will be in shortage fairly soon. But, what is even stranger is your logic: First you say that there is very little risk with nuclear power, and then you say that the risk is so large that the insurer could be wiped out, not by the payout, but by the effects of the nuclear disaster itself. To avoid this result, one could consult with some other firm other than Lloyds, but I would say that it would be very useful to know what an insurer would charge as a premium. My estimate is based on one major accident every 40 years and estimated property values near Indian Point. I use this because Indian Point has been poorly run and thus seem more accident prone than most other reactors. But, input from an insurer might be very useful in guiding the siting of new nuclear power plants. Premiums related to the risk of not realizing a plant's design lifetime at a low population density coastal site might be balanced against premiums for using an inland site with high population density. It might turn out that cost savings could be realized by designing for a shorter plant lifetime, with a plan for migration to slightly higher ground should sea-level rise be a problem. Current estimates for the cost of new nucelar power stations near $5/Watt are pretty high so some rethinking is in order in any case. Lacking input from insurers, decisions are poorly informed.


It seems you are being deliberately obtuse - or at least I hope so.
It was entirely clear in the context I wrote that 'reliability' referred to 'Is the power on when I need it?'
In that context you do not know when the wind is going to blow.
As for 'credible forecasts that uranium will be in short supply' you are presumably talking about disingenuous chat, not forecasts, based upon the amount of uranium in the proven supplies when uranium was very cheap and there was no incentive to look for more, and also assuming zero reprocessing and a once through fuel cycle.
This ignores the fact that the only reason reprocessing does not occur is because uranium is so cheap that there is no incentive to do so, that that includes no allowance for the use of thorium, which is four times as abundant and for which there are firm plans to burn, including in the ultra-safe CANDU reactor, or that fuel is a tiny part of the cost, so that for very marginal increases in total costs you could process resources which were 100 times leaner in uranium than that which you are counting as resources.
You are either entirely ill-informed or else disingenuous.
Your 'figures' are in fact based upon fantasy, and in no way deal with a true comparison of risk - at the present there is little if any premium charged for the risk of terrorist action against a natural gas tanker - what do you imagine happens if one of those goes 'bang'?
Are you an advocate of levelised costs including all the risks of present production?
Do you think that the many thousands of people who have been killed by dam-burstsin that 'renewable' resource should be accounted for as a 'risk' against the almost entirely theoretical 'risk' of large accidents killing thousands in the west?

Most people who want to be absolutely sure the power is on when they want it are not adverse to using a battery, of which there should be a plentiful supply. The reason uranium in spent fuel is not reprocessed is because it is poisoned, so you are asking for a much larger energy input. In fact, you are asking for increased costs for electricity by requiring high processing costs. In any case, I am thinking of nearer term shortages than running out of uranium in workable mines.

Do you think that an attack on a tanker would place the port out of commission for thousands of years? You are talking about an act of war, not a risk that is an intrinsic part of peacetime operations.

I'm always surprised when the bit of FUD about dams is brought up. Dams play a role in flood control. How much property and how many lives have been saved by dams? Yes, they don't always work, but there is a reason they are built nonetheless. Occasionally airbags kill people too.


You obviously have no idea what batteries cost.
Get some figures for what you are talking about, then come back.
Bear in mind that during the doldrums of the summer,and during the cold. clear days of winter, you might have little wind for days or weeks.
I have no idea what you are talking about when you say' I am thinking of nearer term shortages than running out of uranium in workable mines'
So what shortages are you talking about, bearing in mind that it is going to take around 15 years to build Britain's first new reactor, against the action of the Luddites?
As for acts of war and so on, you were talking about risks, and a risk is a risk - presumably you do not discount the risk of a nuclear site being targeted by terrorists? (hint: it is actually a fairly hard target)
In any case, it would not need an act of war to explode a LNG tanker, just a spark in the wrong place.
I did not say that dams should not be built, just that any form of construction, and any method of generating electricity, has a level of risk - there is no perfect way, and the assumption of some that 'renewables' are in some way risk free is erroneous.

From your comment, it is clear that you did not read the link I provided which deals with the cost issue. You may not have read this concerning uranium supplies.


I don''t really understand how the link you gave is relevant in regard to battery costs- it mentions no specific costings.
However, since it is talking about solar power, perhaps it is worth remembering that in the UK for a 1Kw installation,during the months of Dec,Jan and Feb you get around 3watts on average!
Sine the normal PV installation is around 2.6kw, you would not be able to boil a kettle for three months were that your only source of power.
The intermittency of wind means that it is no better.
There are proposals for off-shore wind, of an installed capacity of 33GW, available probably 10GW on average, but that is the key, point - it is on average - sometimes it ain't windy.
The cost is projected to be huge, possibly of the same order as to build 33GW of nuclear power, perhaps 30Gw average output.
The only thing renewables do is to entrench the position of fossil fuel, as you need that to back up this unreliable source, often running at lower than optimum efficiency, as you do if you are not running it all the time.
As for the point about not having sufficient uranium, it is odd that this is usually raised by those who are against nuclear power anyway, and so presumably would welcome it.
There are so many contrary opinions and options available to counter the link you give, that it is really redundant to quote them, as I am sure you are aware.
Perhaps suffice it to say that the ex-Chief Scientific officer for the UK has recently quoted that with re-processing we could run the whole of the nuclear industry in the UK for around 60 years using the waste form Britain's past nuclear program.
Or should I take it that you are a supporter of this Fuji technology, which would allow a 50% burn-up of fuel, against 1% currently, and would welcome it's fast-track introduction?
Somehow I don't think that you would, and are looking for any stick to beat the dog with.
For the record, I strongly support cost-effective, sensible renewables such as residential solar thermal and heat pumps.
thank you for the original article, anyway, which is certainly very informative.

I actually referred you to the information about batteries in the post. As indicated in the abstract, it is towards the end. Your figures for solar seem a bit skewed. The lowest value I could find for a suprisingly lossy 1 KWp system in the UK was for December giving an average output of 25.4 W, with May giving the highest at 149 W. You can check yourself. Perhaps you have missed a factor of ten somewhere? The UK does not have a great solar resource though it might be worth considering for export to France which has difficulty with its sumertime generation. However, batteries work with wind as well.


Dear Davemart,

You seem to be getting angrier and angrier with people who dare to venture an alternative view to yours. Is this tone of contempt really necessary? Do you imagine it actually gives weight to your comments and is good style or form? I think it undermines your posts and the way I respond to your arguments. Can't we attempt to keep a reasonable and civil tone on this site?

Personally I have great contempt for many of the leaders and politicians who have ruled the UK over the last few decades. I think it's OK to insult them, the people responsible for the mess we're in, but they are outside this site and it's rather impersonal. Insulting people here who one disagrees with is something else.

If you wish to make a criticism of my postings, please do so in relation to a specific post, and the post it was in response to, rather than a generic comment on how I respond.
Like most of us, I vary from time to time, and would be the first to admit it were I too hasty on a specific occasion.
This comment of yours seems to me rather ad hominen.

I agree completely. Those advocating nuclear sound like "nuclear fundamentalists" who will not tolerate those who dare to question or ask for clarification of their assumptions.

My knowledge of nuclear power is growing and my views are becoming more nuanced (I hope) DESPITE their posts rather than BECAUSE OF them. The nuclear fundamentalists are probably doing more to swing informed opinion away from nuclear than a whole team of Greenpeace or FofE campaigners!

Keep up the good work guys!

It was entirely clear in the context I wrote that 'reliability' referred to 'Is the power on when I need it?'

Like many who decry renewables, you are apparently unaware that power stations are not hooked directly to homes, factories and businesses, but that there's something called "the electrical grid" which is carefully managed so that when demand rises, generation rises, when generation in one area is insufficient power is taken from a surplus elsewhere, and that the whole system is deliberately designed to have a surplus to shuffle around to match variability in demand and supply.

For example, late last year in my state there was a collapse at the coal mine near a coal-fired power station, lowering the amount of power it could generate. You could say that the power supply had become... unreliable! We simply drew power from other stations instead.

We already balance varying supply and demand, and often in response to things we've had very short notice of - mine collapses, wind dropping, etc. Every country with more than one power station of whatever kind does this. It's called "an electrical grid".

I am puzzled as to why an unplanned drop in generation of 500MW from coal-fired stations we can cope with, but an unplanned drop of 500MW from wind or solar stations we couldn't cope with. After all, with modern weather forecasting, we'll have more notice of still-aired overcast days than we'll ever have of mine collapses.

Great post Chris. I'd add that, given last year's technical problems, it would be optimistic to assume that there aren't going to be more over the next ten years, making that canyon in ten years' time even deeper.

There will be so much pressure to speed up the new nuclear build or not delay the projects that the risk of corner cutting will be high.

It's a depressing picture. If all that resource (financial, human and energy) were instead devoted to tapping as much of the family of renewable resources that the UK has in copious quantities, plus, if we really clamped down on wasteful, inefficient use, we could put ourselves in a much stronger position by the 2020s.

The report looked at how this might be achieved, were the political will there. To my mind, the problems we would have to solve, were we to follow the ZCB report route, look to be more manageable than the ones we will be creating for ourselves if we go down this nuclear path.


Finally we are waking up.

Is 10 enough? I think we will need more like 25, but it is a step in the right direction.

Of course there is a bit of a skills gap at the mo':

But I am sure we can sort it.

A question that I don't think I've ever seen properly addressed is "how many reactors can the industry actually build in practice?" While I'm absolutely no expert, these things obviously involve a fair bit of specialized engineering, and the supply chain must have a limit to both its current capacity and the rate at which it can be expanded. For example, I seem to remember reading on here a while back that the manufacturing capacity for big power transformers is really quite limited. Sure, economics indicates that increased demand should drive investments in new capacity, but it doesn't happen overnight.

How many reactors can the industry build?

The French launched their massive nuke program in 1974. And...

At its peak in the early eighties, the French nuclear industry was adding to the grid six 900 MW units per year (a maximum of eight in 1981), without running into any production bottlenecks. At this rate, it took only a few years to build 34 three-loop 900 MW units, then the twenty four-loop 1300 MW units, while saving along the way some capacity for export to Belgium (three units), South Africa (two units), Korea (two units) and, more recently China (four units). Now, the last series of four four-loop 1450 MW units undergoing commissioning is closing this chapter of the initial nuclear investment in France.

Text is from about 1999 I guess, the four 1450 MW units were connected in 2000 IIRC.

Excellent post Chris. Everything I wanted to know about the UK nuclear energy in one post. Presumably 4 new nukes is the maximum we can expect to go ahead just now. The economics for new build now are not very good, apparently.

On the subject of UK natural gas production / imports, the DBERR (UK govt Dept of Business Enterprise, formerly DTI) January 2008 statictics suggest that we are importing about one third of our gas consumption this winter (Dec-Feb), The statistics only go up to Oct 2007, but extrapolating from last winter, importing a third looks about right.


Really good post thanks very much. The graphs look a bit scary when you consider the decline in North Sea production and the closure of plants failing to meet the LCPD around 2016.

Having to run the current generation of plants for an extended period of time is not a smart idea.

Any ideas how much longer Drax is going to keep going for?

Start working through this lot:

BTW, Green Activists and assorted, Bilbos, Tom Bombadils, elves and pixies etc. tried to shut down Drax. But then they are against Kingsnorth, Nukes, Tidal Barriers, Carbon Capture Technology...(yawn)

Ah well, after the anouncement about Nukes yesterday, maybe the Tom Bombadils will retreat and lick their wounds for a while. Maybe Goldberry will plat them new sandals from dried leaves or comb the Meusli out of their beards or something.

Its good to win :-) ...even in incremental steps.

But we need at least 20 Nukes

But we need at least 20 Nukes

No we don't, we need a programme of demand-reduction. That'll save us 20 nukes, their 20 replacements, and so on ad-infinitum.

Even with 'demand destruction' (which is another way of saying major thirties style depression) we will still need 20.

Clarkson says it better than anyone: (And its been my perfect week as well...)

Jeremy Clarkson – Should be Prime Minister….

This has been my perfect week
Jeremy Clarkson
A couple of weeks ago, plans for a wonderful new coal-fired power station in Kent were given the green light and I was very pleased.
This will reduce our dependency on Vladimir’s gas and Osama’s oil and, as a bonus, new technology being developed to burn the coal more efficiently will be exported to China and exchanged for plastic novelty items to make our lives a little brighter.
It’s all just too excellent for words, but of course galloping into the limelight came a small army of communists and hippies who were waving their arms around and saying that coal was the fuel of Satan and that when the new power station opened, small people like Richard Hammond would immediately be drowned by a rampaging tidal swell.
They argued with much gusto that if Britain was to stand any chance of meeting Mr Prescott’s Kyoto climate change targets then we must build power stations that produced no carbon emissions at all.
You’d imagine then that last week, when Gordon Brown announced plans for a herd of new nuclear power stations, they’d have been delighted. Quiet power made by witchcraft, and no emissions at all. It’s enough, you might imagine, to make Jonathon Porritt priapic with pleasure.

I think all Jeremy Clarkson's musings should be taken with a pinch of salt. They are written for amusement, not as an intelligent insight into a serious subject. Does he really think that nuclear power emits no greenhouse gases? I doubt it, but saying it doesn't sure pleases a lot of people.

Jeremy is very much a young lad who doesn't want to grow up.

Jeremy's a tool, but it's fair to say nuclear lifecycle GHG emissions are on par with renewables.

At the end of the day its about electricity and whether you want the lights ON or OFF.

What price ON compared with what price OFF.

I revised my mock O levels by candle light.

I revised my first year winter exams ... by candle light.

(may explain a lot actually...)

Jeremy Clarkson cuts thru the Politically Correct bullsheet clouding this whole debate. And with wit and more than an ounce or two of laymans common sense.

And yes, why are the greens not jumping up and down about nukes, fusion research, the severn barrage?

What exactly they got against human civilisation?

Just build the damned things, have done with it, and bury the freakin waste.

Remember: do you want them ON or OFF?

Your call.

Even JHK has suggested a full debate: ' if America is going to keep the lights on after 2020'.

On or Off? ladies and gentlemen.

Off, of course.

To squeeze out a few more years of electric lighting we are going to leave radioactive toxins strewn around the environment for the next 1000 millenia?

BTW All those sea-level sites will be underwater this century. As they are abandoned the radioactive goop will go into the oceans. More fun!

Now, good or bad surely depends on your point of view. Cockroaches have nothing to worry about. Mammals, however, seem to have evolved under low-radiation conditions.

We will not fare as well.

Humans have lived for 3 million years without electric lights. If we shut the damn things off, we would probably be good for another 3 million.

the toxins can be safely buried - just need politicians with the balls to do it.

Maybe you should try and walk the walk : you 'shut the damned things off'

That way you can then go live in a cave.

The uranium which produced the power was radioactive to start with.
We produce power from it, and are left with materials, waste which is also radioactive.
All this human waste together is a small fraction of the natural radioactivity of the remaining resources in the earth.
So you really have a very small problem which has been blown out of all proportion.
Advanced reactors may well use this waste to produce more energy, and wastes which last in a dangerous state for far less time.
As for the comment about humans living for 3 million years without electricity, a few million of them did so at a very low standard of living.
That leaves about 6.5 billion to many of us to do the same.
Are you volunteering to be part of the disposable surplus?

Nuclear reactors INCREASE total radioactivity. This is basic. It is deceptive to imply otherwise.

BTW This is one reason I do not believe one thing the industry says: They are liars all.

"Are you volunteering to be part of the disposable surplus?"--You are too eager to kill, as is inevitable for those committed to an unsustainable way of life.

Civilization has walked us out on a cliff, and there is no easy way up, back, or down. But killing your neighbor is not the way out of it.

Nuclear schemes just prolong the disaster, and then make the damage permanent.

AFAIK radioactivity is not increased by the use of uranium as fuel, although the rate of decay may be changed.
I would like to hear form those with expert knowledge on this subject though.
As for you statement that all in the nuclear industry are liars, you have successfully insulated yourself from all reasoned debate by the use of it.
Presumably you would be happy for those who disagree to infer that all those who classify themselves as greens are foolish and deliberately obtuse.
All dialogue ends with those sort of assumptions, and in fact neither those in the nuclear industry nor greens are homogenous bodies, and motivation, veracity and intelligence varies widely within both communities.
Your statement:
'"Are you volunteering to be part of the disposable surplus?"--You are too eager to kill, as is inevitable for those committed to an unsustainable way of life.'
is simply absurd, as I was clearly not advocating the death of anyone, indeed was saying everyone should have a chance, since any proposals to cut down to a pre-industrial level of energy use would, by any rational judgement, lead to the death of billions.
You said:
'Nuclear schemes just prolong the disaster, and then make the damage permanent.'
In your opinion. If you have any facts to back this up, or any way that the nuclear genii can be put back in the bottle, please present them, as your bare word unfortunately does not carry authority to the rest of us.

To squeeze out a few more years of electric lighting we are going to leave radioactive toxins strewn around the environment for the next 1000 millenia?

BTW All those sea-level sites will be underwater this century. As they are abandoned the radioactive goop will go into the oceans. More fun!

Now, good or bad surely depends on your point of view. Cockroaches have nothing to worry about. Mammals, however, seem to have evolved under low-radiation conditions.

It does not depend on anyone's point of view.

A few hundred or a few thousand nuclear powerplants dissolving into the ocean, supposing such dissolving to be possible, would have no capacity to change our environment, or any sea-creature's environment, to a high-radiation one. There is a lot more long-lived natural radioactivity in the ocean than there is long-lived artificial radioactivity in all the world's nuclear power plants.

That is why you hear of nuclear submarines that have sunk in mid-ocean, but you never hear of any detection by coastal monitoring stations of their leakage. Such leakage isn't necessarily not occurring, it's just that there is no way to tell.

Radioactive waste is not like carbon dioxide. We have inadvertently increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations by a third, but it would take us centuries of gradually increasing the size of the nuclear power industry before we could increase oceanic radioactivity by that fraction, even if that was our aim.

How shall the car gain nuclear cachet?

"That is why you hear of nuclear submarines that have sunk in mid-ocean, but you never hear of any detection by coastal monitoring stations of their leakage."

The place to look is in the deeps where the spills are.

But of course, no one is looking.

It is simply false to say we have not altered the radioactivity of ocean environments.

You know, false, as in NOT TRUE.

The place to look is in the deeps where the spills are.

But of course, no one is looking.

Of course people are looking. Some submarines sank decades ago; their leakage, such as it is, must have travelled far by now.

It is simply false to say we have not altered the radioactivity of ocean environments.

You know, false, as in NOT TRUE.

But no-one said that. It would be like saying the saltshakers in the Titanic did not increase the oceans' salinity.

How shall the car gain nuclear cachet?

I saw that comment of Clarkson's too. The response I posted went something like: "If there were an Olympic medal to be won for utter, infantile futility, Jeremy would be winning gold for England every time" And you can say the same for the pro-nuclear lobby. Forget it. The road to Olduvai beckons. Get used to it.

Sorry, so damned ill at the moment, I haven't the energy for diplomacy. The basic idea, already often aired, is that -- having got into this desperate, worldwide hole -- more of the same that got us here isn't going to get us out. Our options are: change fundamentally, or die. My bet is that not enough of us are going to see and embrace the need for change deeply enough, soon enough. The pro-nuke massed Clarksons are good examples of what I mean. Slag away, if you feel inclined, guys. I won't be reading it. Back when (if) I feel better. Cofion, RhG


60 + millions in the UK , climbing to 70 million in a decade.

Muslim nutters on one side, pissed off (formerly) white working class on the other side.

And you are happy to throw the light switch...

Nice plan.

I take it your part of Hobbiton has some kind of protection by Rangers...

I have no time for orcs.

Well if we get this wrong and the lights go out, the orcs might have a lot of time to spend on you...

If all British reactors except the PWR at Sizewell B are phased out, an addition of twenty 1600 MW EPR's would push the nuclear share to about 60 %, a reasonable number.

If demand stays reasonably constant, which can be a rather reasonable expectation.

If demand stays reasonably constant, which can be a rather reasonable expectation.

There's nothing reasonable about that at all. It's time to start asking the difficult questions. What should our energy demands be? Not based on money, how many gadgets each home wants, or other specious criteria, but instead grounded in a deep understanding of ecology and sustainability.

We need to move from the concept of "demand" (the word conjures in my head an image of a childish tantrum) to one of "need".

Are you saying that demand will keep growing, or that it will fall?

The experience in my country is that constand multi decade efficiency measures and campaigns generally reduce demand by pretty much the natural level of demand growth.

And quite frankly, using more electricity is not a problem, as it usually signals more efficient use, more value added per joule and maybe even a reduction in total energy consumption.

I'm not sure that Sweden's electricity consumption is going down. I remember I had a look for figures, a while back, and discovered that Sweden's consumption wasn't growing very quickly, but was still growing. I found this quote in a briefing paper on Nuclear Power in Sweden:

Sweden's electricity consumption has been rising and it has one of the world's highest individual levels of consumption: about 18,000 kWh/head. About half of domestic production is nuclear, and up to half hydro, depending on the weather - see contrast below.

However, Sweden does have a much higher GDP growth rate than the UK, at 4.5% (according to the CIA World Fact Book).

While the economy has grown very strongly during the last 20 years, our power demand has been practically flat.

I think this because of two things (no2. is a theory of my own invention).

1) Constant focus on efficiency, especially in the energy intensive industry.

2) Nuclear overbuild in the 80's created a glut of electricity, which was channeled into direct electric resistance heating (which has low capital costs) on a massive scale. This has resulted in something of a "spare capacity". When power demand grew because of economic growth, the electric heating was gradually, thorugh market forces and government intervention, replaced by other forms of heating, almost exclusively wood stoves, wood-fired distrct heating and electric heat pumps.

In the last few years this situation has changed as the "spare capacity" has run been run down because most electric heating has been replaced. It's been even worse as the 1200 MW Barsebäck nuclear power plant was prematurely shut because of pressures from the CO2-loving Environment Party.

The situation has been even further exacerbated by the growth of the Russian economy. Cold winters we used to import power from Finland, and Finland would import power from Russia. Last winter Russian demand had grown so much that the country suffered electricity shortages.

This is why the Finns are building a new reactor and planning another two.

So should us Swedes. A few days ago the Liberal party launched a new energy policy which would include four new nuclear reactors, 350 km/h high speed rail and an intense research effort on electric cars and plug-in hybrids. This just might have something to do with the fact that the chairman of ASPO has been an elected official of the Liberal party, and has earlier worked closely with the new Liberal party chairman (current secretary of education) on energy issues...

PS. Don't look to closely at the high Swedish per capita power consumption. It's very dark and cold here, we use an unusally high share of our total energy in the form of electricty, and we have an extreme concentration of heavy industry in the country (paper, pulp, steel etc) which gulps down about half of our power, IIRC.

And I suppose you would wish to appoint yourself as the dictator who decides what is "a deep understanding of ecology and sustainability", and therefore has the right to throw off the island anyone whose consumption you have arbitrarily decided is merely a "demand" rather than a "need"? Though I suppose a country that already has a spy camera on every lamppost and two ASBOs in every mailbox might be headed for some sort of Oliver Cromwell II tyranny even without such help.

Be careful what you wish for. You may be the one thrown out.


DO AS A I SAY!!!!;jsessionid=B233KLCHE2Z23QFIQ...

Survey shows eco-warriors are worst polluters

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 13/01/2008

A survey of travel habits has revealed that the most environmentally conscious people are also the biggest polluters."Green" consumers have some of the biggest carbon footprints because they are still hooked on flying abroad or driving their cars while their adherence to the green cause is mostly limited to small gestures.Identified as "eco-adopters", they are most likely to be members of an environmental organisation, buy green products such as detergents, recycle and have a keen interest in green issues.

Yes, yes - hypocrisy is the human condition. However, the fact that many people who claim to care about environmental issues don't actually have either a basic clue or the stones to live up to their rhetoric doesn't actually change the underlying issues.

For example, my mum seems to think that if she makes a lot of small, easy changes (installing CFLs, etc) then she can fly to Australia and back every year. I'm afraid I don't quite have the heart to tell her how wrong she is.

However, reading the (rather sparse) article, I see this:

But the survey of 25,000 people, by the market research company Target Group Index, found that eco-adopters are seven per cent more likely than the general population to take flights, and four per cent more likely to own a car.

Which, to me, basically says that "eco-adopters" are more likely to be upper-middle class. To imply that there is a causal relationship between being an "eco-adopter" and having a large carbon footprint seems questionable - they're both determined by socio-economic status.

In the interests of disclosure: I do not fly recreationally (despite this leading to several awkward discussions with friends and relatives abroad), I hardly ever fly for business (less than once per year, shorthaul), and I have never owned a car.

And you seem to think that you are just the fella to decide on everyone else's behalf what they 'need!'
There is no technical problem with producing all the energy for the goods people themselves feel that they want or need, without your kind offer to decide for them.
The problem is more to do with the efforts of the technologically illiterate to obstruct and obfusticate, and impose solutions which are fantastically expensive and inadequate.
I find I am unusually harsh here, but people who think they know what other should need and want get my goat.

If demand stays reasonably constant, which can be a rather reasonable expectation.

It might be reasonable to expect that demand will stay reasonably constant for current uses of electricity. However, to me it seems more likely that electricity demand will grow substantially because it will have to take over for fossil fuels in such areas as transportation, whether we end up with battery powered electrical vehicles or with ones fueled by something like hydrogen that will require a large energy source to synthesize the fuel. One also has to take into account that world coal supply is likely to peak in about 15 years. So coal might be able to keep up for a few decades but then leave the picture. That assumes we even allow coal generation in spite of its global warming consequences.

So it seems unavoidable that you will need a several fold increase in nuclear power in the next 30 years or so. The plan recently announced and documented here might be OK for now before the crisis is recognized but it will almost certainly need to be revised upwards dramatically once the magnitude of the problem is fully recognized.

Why build on existing sites?

1: Infrastructure for transport of fuel, waste, and generated electricity.

2: Availability of trained personnel - they're already there

3: Planning permissions. Look, we've already got two nukes here, what's another one going to matter?

Now we need a graph of possible sea-level rises over the lifetimes of these plants.

Should we build them on stilts? :-p

Half of the Netherlands is under sea level. They seem to manage it.

So's New Orleans. And they... uh... Never mind.

Of course, if you ignore flood protection, you're going to get what's due.

IPCC 100 year sea level rise is only about half a meter. They didn't consider accelerated glacier melting which seems to be happening in Greenland, and the West Antarctic. Even so the contribution from the meltwater today is still a fraction of that from seawater expansion (as it heats up). It would take a very large increase in glacial melting to add a meter. We should be reasonably safe if we plan on a worst case of say 2 to 2.5M. Presumably these sites are that high, -or at least any new construction could/should be built to withstand this level.

There are myriad problems related to modelling the future pattern of climate change, so much we don't understand about feedback loops, tipping-points, and on and on.

But I do believe there is a general trend perceivable; and that is, the more information we collect, examine, analyse and project; the more 'uneasy' one becomes about the possible future implications of climate change.

For example, it would appear that what was until recently considered a worse-case scenario for sea-level rise over the coming centuries, may, in fact occur far sooner than we until now have anticipated, and this is worrying. The very lastest research and observations of the rate of glacier melt suggests things are speeding-up considerably, in Greenland, the Antarctic and pretty much everywhere else. Huge cracks are appearing in the ice going all the way down to the underlying rock foundation. Surface melt-water is flowing down under the glaciers and 'lubricating' the surfaces between the rock and the underside of the glaciers so the ice is beginning to flow faster than was anticipated. This is all rather new and complicated, but what it implies is that the rate of break-up of the glaciers could be much faster than we've thought likely or even possible. Also when a very dynamic process like this starts it's extremely difficult to model and even more difficult to reverse. If 'reversal' and 'mitigation' were ever, really, realistic alternatives, but that's another more 'political' story!

Taken together, the combined global melt-rates, could, given our current knowledge and speculating about the future, mean a 2 to 2.5M rise in sea-levels by the end of this century! This would of course not only pose somewhat of a challange to the placement of our nuclear power plants, but to the rest of civilization as well. However, a lot more research still has to be done, but I do believe a pattern or trend is emerging, that should council caution and relection about where we choose to build the new nuclear stations.

[Australian ABC TV] KERRY O'BRIEN: What are your particular fears with regard to the melting of the polar ice caps?

[NASA climatologist] JAMES HANSEN: Well, the problem is that the climate system in general has a lot of inertia and that means that it takes time for the changes to begin to occur but then, once they do get under way, it becomes very difficult to stop them and that is true in spades for the ice sheets. If we once begin to disintegrate it will become very difficult, if not impossible, to stop them and we are beginning to see now on both Greenland and west Antarctica disintegration of those ice sheets. They're both losing ice at a rate of about 150 cubic kilometres per year and that's still not a huge sea level rise. Sea level rise is now going up about 3.5 centimetres per decade. So that's more than double what it was 50 years ago. But it's still not disastrous; it's a problem, but it's not disastrous. But the potential is for a much larger sea level rise. If we get warming of two or three degrees Celsius, then I would expect that both West Antarctica and parts of Greenland would end up in the ocean, and the last time we had an ice sheet disintegrate, sea level went up at a rate of 5 metres in a century, or one metre every 20 years. That is a real disaster, and that's what we have to avoid.

KERRY O'BRIEN: What is the most recent evidence of what's really going on with the ice caps, the Arctic and the Antarctic?

JAMES HANSEN: There are two things that are cause of concern. First of all, if we look at the history of the Earth, we know that at the warmest interglacial periods, which were probably less than 1 degree Celsius warmer than today, it was still basically the same planet. Sea level was perhaps a few metres higher. But if we go back to the time when the Earth was two or three degrees Celsius warmer, that's about three million years ago, sea level was about 25 metres higher, so that tells us we had better keep additional warming less than about one degree. And the other piece of evidence is not from the history of the Earth but from looking at the ice sheets themselves, and what we see is that the disintegration of ice sheets is a wet process and it can proceed quite rapidly. We see that the ice streams have doubled in their speed on Greenland in the last few years and even more concern is west Antarctica because it's now losing mass at about the same rate as Greenland, and west Antarctica, the ice sheet is sitting on rock that is below sea level. So it is potentially much more in danger of collapsing and so we have both the evidence on the ice sheets and from the history of the Earth and it tells us that we're pretty close to a tipping point, so we've got to be very concerned about the ice sheets.

On the other hand, pace the IPCC's fatuous claims of near-papal levels of certainly on the cause and effects of global warming,
we have this information about ice-cover and sea levels in times of high-temperature:;jsessionid=IUQQAI5LLBRHHQFIQ...
The plain facts about global warming is that it is probably occurring to some degree, that coincidentally man-made CO2 levels are rising, and that the two may or may not be linked with effects of which we are totally unsure, in spite of the IPCC's 'models' or 'scenarios' , which is a weasel-term to avoid having to properly substantiate their figures, which incidentally they are unwilling to release the precise workings of their models, whilst at the same time trying to convey that they have some kind of 'scientific' aura of authority.
We don't understand most of the inputs to temperature and climate, we have no good models for reflectivity and how it varies, for ocean currents or water vapour.
We also don't know how much the earth's heat output varies, or fully understand the solar cycle.
None of that makes me a 'global warming denier', to use the objectionable quasi religious cant of the more proto-fascist elements, as on balance it seems to me possible or perhaps even probable that CO2 emissions and so on will have some noticeable effect on climate.
Since we don't understand any of the major inputs the pronouncements of the IPCC are frankly ludicrous though, and are designed to bamboozle, not inform.

Dear DaveMart,

It's fascinating how people can differ in their assessments! You seem to view the IPCC with barely concealed contempt, and apparently believe their reports are grossly exaggerated propaganda for a wild-eyed conspiracy, hatched by a group of ultra-radical scientists, who want to turn the world on its head and undermine western civilization, for some obscure political end!

Whilst my friends, inside, but admittedly on the periphery of the IPCC, and for obvious reasons wish to remain anonymous, have precisely the opposite view of the nature of the IPCC! They think the leadership of the IPCC is conservative and far too mild and open to compromise and willing to accept political interference with their results and reports. My friends say the IPCC is almost cowardly and irresponsible, because they refuse to go public with what they really think about where man-made climate change appears to be taking us.

You, of course, may be right about the IPCC, and it's an organzation full of knaves bent on destroying capitalism, and I hope you're correct, as that would be a comforting thought and we can all stop worrying and relax.

Where money comes from seems in this instance to be more important than the -isms of the people who get it.

The IPCC is made of publically funded scientists. The public exchequer is the biggest taker of oil and gas profits, so they are oil-and gas-funded scientists. Although they have no choice but to report that the atmospheric buildup of spent coal, spent oil, and spent gas is noticeably changing the climate, and will do so to a much greater extent if it continues and accelerates, they are biting the hand that feeds by so reporting.

DaveMart's criticism of them is very wrong, and very familiar-sounding. It is as if, on this matter, he were quite unable to think for himself.

It is an odd critique which lays the charge of an inability to think for oneself on one who goes against the conventional wisdom.
Specifically, you seem to imagine that 'government' is some monolithic entity, which because of it's dependence on oil and gas has no option but to give a certain result - in fact the different department can have very different priorities, and I would suggest that of the IPCC is to say that there is a problem with man-made climate change - no change, no problem, no department!
I am one of the outsiders, who think that climate change is indeed a problem ,and that the last 15,000 years have been an unusually stable period in the earth's climatic history, and that even then civilisation-shattering change has occurred, for instance the failure of the Nile floods in 2400BC, which led to the collapse of the Pyramid-building civilisation, as they failed for 200years!
The falsification and over-simplification encouraged by the IPCC has led to a setback in the understanding of climate change, just as a similar UN-sponsored body which was charged with the assessment of the impact of Aids led to the misallocation of resources from high-risk groups where they were desperately needed to programs to 'educate' the general population, on the false premise that there was a general major risk.
Alarmist talk does not provide a public service, although some say 'we are alerting people, this is the least risk strategy' - it leads to massive disruption, and no action in areas where it should be taken - for instance, the emphasis on CO2 emissions may have lead to ignoring development on sea-coasts, which could have severe consequences.
Please do not make allegations such as 'unable to think for himself' without substantial, detailed grounds, as it may lead to your dismissal as someone who makes knee-jerk responses.

I do not intend to conceal my contempt for the IPCC'c methodology!
They do nothing which is in conformity with normal scientific methodology - they have put back the cause of studying climate change by years or decades, and much important information is not being evaluated due to their obfustication.
They are to the study of climate change what the Catholic church was to the study of astronomy prior to the reformation - ie they base their claims to authenticity on the weight of opinion - 'the vast majority of scientists agree ' and so on rather than sourced argumentation, reject critiques, do not reply in any rational manner to questions, do not release the detail of their modelling, grossly misrepresent to the public how the scientific method works and what 'degrees of confidence' means, and so on.
Just the same, it would be wrong because of their misrepresentation to totally disregard the thesis which they so incompetently support - global warming due to man-made emissions may still occur.
The fact that they have fastened on to it to jet off to Bali periodically, whilst supporting measures which are pure scams and cost consumers billions which go straight into the pockets of the chosen should not overwhelm our judgement

Dear Davemart,

With respect - calm down. You've just gone over-the-top, you do realize that don't you? As the Clash used to sing, 'Anger can be Power, if you know how to use it!' On the other hand, it can also, if one doesn't know how to use it, make one appear close to the edge.

Whatever - it appears you have nothing to say about the actual points raised - or perhaps you feel that the IPCC uses good scientific methodology?
If so, please state in what way they have conformed to it, and account for their total failure to respond to critiques- see the recent article on this blog about the possibility that peak coal is not far off, and their failure to respond when asked to substantiate the amounts of fossil fuel they had assumed to lead to the CO2 release their models are based on - even for the lowest level of climate change.
Climate change may be happening, and may be man-made, but the IPCC do nothing at all to bring any credibility to the case.

You seem to fundamentally misunderstand what the IPCC is and what it does. It does not do any original scientific research, because that is not its purpose. What it does do is attempt to synthesize and summarise the results of original scientific research, and provide policy guidance based on that synthesis.

The logical conclusion from what you are saying - even if you were right - is that we are doing a live experiment with the world's climate. Will you give us a guarantee about what you write? We have to stop the experiment ASAP. With every month of new research we find climatologists UNDERESTIMATED the changes.

I think that climate is an ever changing and very dangerous unknown, and that we don't know much about it, and need to investigate urgently.
I also think that jumping to conclusions, and pretending to a false certainty is likely to discredit genuine research and delay proper understanding.
And there is no way of 'stopping the experiment' as you put it - not with 6.5 billion people on the earth.
And supposing we could, the earth's climate is not necessarily benign - a 'natural' ice age would kill most of those 6 billion.
FWIW I do not disagree with efforts to minimise CO2 emissions.
But we should not pretend it is the answer, as we don't even understand the question yet.

IPCC 100 year sea level rise is only about half a meter.

And that is using 18 Tboe as the amount of coal that will be burned compared to a more realistic 1.6 Tboe that Dave Rutledge of CalTech says we have left.


You may well be right, and so may the IPCC, on the other hand it could be way off. It's very complex gathering, analysing and projecting the data forward. There are so many factors involved, some we understand rather well, and many more we don't. This is unfortunate, but we appear to be getting better at it.

I know a couple of people who have worked on the latest IPCC report. They said the atmosphere was like an intellectual civil war at times. This isn't unusual for academics, but this was the worst they had ever witnessed. The final report was heatedly debated and the result of many, many, compromises and that was before the White House got involved! The IPCC report is a highly edited and compromised document, a very 'political' report, in the sense of, how will the politicians react to this and what happens if we come out and say we have to drastically alter the economic and social structure of our civilization?

I think if the IPCC used a realistic coal number they would not get projections that give the dire consequences for global warming that they want. So they are using more widely accepted numbers for coal that are likely very wrong.

Please critique what is written, not a straw man you have set up.
I was criticising the IPCC's debasement of scientific methodology, and specifically said that the thesis that man-made emissions may affect climate change may be correct when there argument is faulty.
It is my view though that the IPCC does no service to the evaluation of climatic effects, and may lead to the discredit of very real and important influences, when their faulty methodology and argumentation is exposed.

This is what tends to happen in the US. They just build another reactor on an existing facility's lands and overhaul the old ones when the time comes.

Major reasons to do so are:

1) Site already approved as safe for nukes (no earthquake faults nearby, etc.)

2) Existing Transmission lines (these can be uprated if need be far more easily than building new lines).

3) Usually minimal NIMBY (nuke workers have lived locally for decades and are good neighbors, people are used to nukes, etc.)


Chris Vernon wrote:

In times of hardship EU directives will be the first thing to ignore but even the coal supply is questionable as the UK imports most of its coal and is now competing in an increasingly competitive market

The Independent reports today that the UK's coal output has fallen to pre-industrial levels.

Coal production in Britain has fallen to its lowest level since the industrial revolution, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS's index of production showed that the coal industry recorded its worst ever reading in October, at 42.9 (with 2003 representing the base index level of 100). Annual production is set to fall below 15 million tonnes, a level last seen 200 years ago. Production peaked in 1913 at 287 million tons. The ONS said that UK electricity generators have been turning to coal as the price of natural gas has climbed even more steeply, but that demand has been met by imports from Russia, Australia and elsewhere. Foreign coal accounts for two thirds of UK consumption.

Maybe we'll just go back to burning oil.

The World bank says it'll be down to under $75 a barrel in the "longer term":

oil markets are expected to remain finely balanced over 2007–09, in part because of production discipline by exporters, and prices are expected to remain above $75 a barrel for the coming two years.
In the longer term, the oil market balance is expected to loosen and prices are projected to fall toward $50 per barrel.

I made this chart almost two years ago:

Part of this story: The return of coal?

Seems the trend continued.


Excellent post, which so graphically illustrates the problem we face.

What does a 20% shortfall in actually electricity mean? A 4 day week, rolling blackouts and massive price increases for the available electricity.

Meanwhile the UK electricity consumption has risen by 11% in the last decade.

I think that the only stop gap measure we have is to build some new "clean" coal plants. These can be built in a fraction of the time of nuclear plants, and some of the new supercritical and integrated gasification coal plants can produce electricity at close to 50% efficiency.

This Australian Coal Association article explains the technology

To get the full picture of the scenario that faces us, we need similar illustrations for the decommissioning dates of the existing CCGT and coal fired plants - surely some of these will have reached end of life before 2020.

Why did we put all our eggs in the gas basket in 1990? Those chickens are now coming home to roost.

I don't believe one can examine or truly understand Britain's energy policy, or lack of an energy policy, or even the total abdication of responsibility for Britian's overall energy policy, without looking briefly at the ruling political and ideological dogmas of last thirty years.

Put crudely, the Conservative Party wanted revenge for what they saw as the threat to the established order posed by Trades Union power, illustrated by the fall of the Heath government. They wished to break the power of the Unions and the strongest Union was the National Union of Mineworkers. Even before Margaret Thatcher came to power she and her closest allies were planning for a confrontation with the mineworkers. It was an effective and simple strategy. Crush the power of organized labour once and for all. Then one would have a free hand to radically alter the socio-economic structure of Britain along free-market lines. Conservative, market values would form the core of modern British culture.

So, basically, the entire British coal industry was sacrificed in order to destroy the power of the minerworkers and by extention the Union movement, and when this was complete the old Labour Party was also severly weakened and eventually disappeared. Political power was now concentrated in the hands of very few people, as the opposition was no longer there. A new political era dawned and now it's mutured. Parliament now, de facto, only represents a single, all-powerful, political force; one can characterise it as a one-party state with three factions, or a system controlled by three conservative parties. But for most purposes democracy has evolved, or degenerated, into a kind of soft, authoritarian, dictatorship.

Of course in this thirty year period gas and coal where cheap and plentiful, providence had provided Britain with an economic life-line, a golden opportunity to finance a re-structuring of society, and investment in the modernzation of the education sector, health, physical infrastructure and industrial base of the entire country. Unfortunately this never really happened. Instead reform and investment, one chose to squander the oil and gas legacy on thirty-year consumer party, and now the chickens are coming home to roost, the party is over and all one's really got to show for it, is a hangover.

I keep hearing some Brits say that Maggie destroyed the coal industry.

Then I look at a long term graph of coal production and I do not see how she altered its trajectory by much.

Look at the data and stop thinking about the personalities. I think the personalities were far less important in reality.

Dear FuturePundit,

I'm at a loss. There's a difference between coal consumption and coal production. The facts, and the data, more or less, speak for themselves. Whilst the domestic coal industry was decimated and production fell, coal imports have rocketed over the last thirty years. Nobody disagrees about that, how could they, when that is what happened. British, domestic coal production has fallen substantially currently close to pre-industrial levels. That is the reality of the current situation.

Britian's closed about 90% of it's coal mines and fired a corresponding number of mineworkers during this period. Which was the whole point of the exercise. It was about politics, not economics.

Today Britain produces around 18 million tons of coal and imports around three times as much.

Writerman, look at the graph of UK coal production ... it's a classic, of the sort we see all the time for depleting oil wells/fields ... peaking in 1913 and production slowly, smoothly, falling back to where it was 200 years ago.

Put simply, UK coal mining of the remaining coal mostly isn't profitable - the stuff that is left is not 'reserves' it is just rock -don't blame Maggie for that.

Dear xeroid,

With respect, I don't really understand what you're saying, or your point. Are you impying that the coal production figures for the last century have been deliberately falsified or what?

Your second point is, if I understand you correctly, somewhat of an over-simplification. There isn't much real controversy about the coal reserves. Some people say a thousand years, some five hundred, some two hundred years, some a hunderd years worth left. In anybodies language that must mean 'a lot'. Of course it all depends on the rate of extraction. But I believe the concensus position was that Britain could produce between 75 and 100 million tons of coal a year for a very long time.

I simply don't know what you mean about the estimated reserves really being 'rock' and not coal, I'll have to think about that.

As regards 'profitability', this is an area of great complexity and controversy. It all depends on what one means by 'profitability' or even 'uneconomic' doesn't it? Who decides? What criteria does one employ? Does one look at it on the level of individual mines? Groups of mines in the same region? Or Britain as a whole? Then one has to examine the the question of the wisdom of denying Britain the possibility of accessing a strategically important domestic source of energy. Britain is now very dependent on huge ammounts of imported coal, much of it shipped from the other side of the world, how sensible is this?

Then one has the cost of running down the British coal industry. It was staggeringly expensive and wasteful. But that was a political, not an economic decision. Organised labour had to taught a lesson and crushed. So any cost was acceptable. It was, after all, 'class-warfare' to coin a somewhat archaic phrase.

The cost to the State of crushing the miners in the conflict was vast. Then there was the cost of unemployment benefit for the miners who lost their job. Then the social cost of the destruction of mining communities, retraining, employment projects, the break-up of families, the rise in crime, drug addiction, stress, depression, physical illness... Taken together one is talking about billions of dollars virtually thrown out of the window and wasted, but the 'class-war' was won, and that was the important thing, not the cost.

At the time of the Thatcher attack on the British coal industry, the government provided the mines with a financial subsidy to produce coal which was then sold to mostly produce electricity. This was effectively a subsidy for the domestic consumer and British industry as well, which industry approved of as it kept their costs down. But this is getting very detailed and complicated, sorry.

The money used to crush the mineworkers union and close the pits, could have been used to keep the economic subsidy going for years and modernize the industry and today Britain would be in considerable more favourable position and not in the desparate straights it' landed in because of Thatcher's short-sightedness and hatred of the union movement.

I spent a lot of time on the 'frontline' and got to know and talk to lots of miners. I really wished they'ed been real revolutionaries and more politically aware. The vast majority of them were ordinary, decent, working-class, people fighting to defend their jobs and families. They never expected to be attacked by the full-weight of the State and crushed. Most of them really believed they were living in a democracy, with laws and rules. All told, around twenty-three miners were killed during the strike and hundreds wounded. It was a form of civil war.

I saw policemen dressed in riot-gear beating the wives of striking miners with battons, beating them to their knees. Many of these women had sold everything they had in order to keep the strike going. Thousands sold or pawned their wedding rings, jewelry and watches, anything they had. At the same time I saw policemen laughing at them and waving huge wads of cash in their faces, hundreds of pounds they had been paid in overtime. It was vile and despicable. The police acted like an occupying army. Thatcher's private army.

What was really tragic was the lack of support from the leaders of the rest of organized labour and the Labour Party. They let the miners down and betrayed them. Ironically they also paid a heavy price for the defeat of the miners. I talked to a number of Labour politicians about why they were letting the miners be crushed, and the answer was, they were afraid of what Thatcher might do if they helped the miners and called a General Strike. They told me they knew Thatcher would ask the army to break the General Strike and that with armed soldiers on the streets of British cities, anything could happen. The events in Northern Ireland and Chile were still fresh in their minds.

And no, I don't blame 'Maggie' for not mining rocks, whatever that means. I blame her for a lot more than that.

The imported coal was cheaper.

Digging very deep underground holes in Britain to extract coal from smaller veins costs more than digging out of thicker veins closer to the surface.

Britain's production declined because what remained became increasingly harder to reach as compared to what can be dug out easily in places like Australia. We had the same thing happen in the United States with Eastern and Western coal. We didn't need some capitalist leader to attack a nationalized industry in order to make it happen.

Again, stop looking at it in political terms and look at the economics and technical aspects.


I won't be following your dictat about stopping looking at the energy sector in political terms, if one does that one blinds oneself to a whole range of interesting and informative perspectives. Neo-classical economics is such a blinkered study, so many costs are externalized and hidden. You genuinely seem to sincerely believe that somehow economics and technology are neutral and function outside of politics and the power relationships of society. How can this be, given all the contrary evidence? I simply don't understand.

Economics is primarily concerned with ideology. Economics is an way of quantifying and an expression of power. Politics is connected to and an expression of ideology. Sepparating these subjects artificially isn't really possible and it's also undesirable if one wishes to understand more than the most basic and formal characteristics of how society and the economy functions.

Economics is also connected to power relationships in society, surely this is obvious, what's controversial about that? Power relationships in society are constructs, they are not natural. Most of our laws developed from the myriad questions relating to property rights and the distribution of wealth. The distribution of wealth in society is an expression of fundamental power relationships.

I'm afraid I don't really know enough about the detailed 'economics' of the coal industry in the eastern United States to answer you, so I'll take your word for it. However, it's notoreously difficult to compare the ways different countries choose to produce or price different products and resources. Let alone the different statistical methods used to quantify any similarities or differences. So I'm sceptical about the real relevance of the US coal industry to that in the UK.

You seem determined to challange my assertion that the way one calculates the cost of producing coal in the UK is very complex indeed and far from clear cut or obvious or simple. I can assurr you it's every bit as complex and controversial as the debate we've been having about the nuclear industry! Why do you choose to simplify such a complex subject?

There are lots of areas of society which the State chooses to pay for that are 'unprofitable' but deemed necessary. You seem to think I am unaware of the cost difference between deep-mined coal and surface, open-cast coal, and between thick and thin seams, are you attempting to be funny or is it irony?

You use the word 'cheaper' with a flourish, almost like a magician pulling rabbit from a hat, maybe that's apt, as the concept of 'cheaper' is far more complicated than you imply. What does 'cheaper' mean? Cheaper for who and how and over what timescale? You seem to regard 'price' as very simple concept too. How can this be? It isn't simple at all, surely you understand this? I'm sure you do in reality. BUt you seem determined to ignore complexity in favour of your political attitudes instead.


Some things are hard to compare. But other things are easy to compare. You are taking a topic where the comparisons are easy and trying to make them hard because you want to see political forces as paramount over economic forces.

Surface mining is cheaper than underground mining. That's not hard to know.

Underground mining gets more expensive the deeper it gets and the thinner the veins get. Again, that's not hard to know.

Price: It is what you can buy something for. Sure, there are external costs such as pollution. But coal extraction in Britain doesn't have lower external costs than it does in Australia or in the Wyoming Powder River Basin.

Britain's coal industry was kept alive for longer (though still in continuing decline) by political forces such as government subsidies. A political decision was made to let market forces play a bigger role. Then prices made their effects even more strongly felt and the high costs of British coal extraction cut British coal production even further.

The imported coal was cheaper

Writerman is entirely correct. However, to understand him, you have to have lived in the UK in the 1970's and to have been reading the newspapers.

Cheaper is a much more subjective measure than one would imagine. The Pound Sterling is at around US Dollars two. By any impartial measure, it ought to be at US Dollars one. Just compare prices of pretty well anything that consumers buy in the shops or for services and you will get my point.

If the exchange rate of the pound were half its present value, importing coal from Poland, Russia and South Africa would be a non-starter in competition with local sources.

The cost of ocean transport has been increasing at a faster rate than the price of oil over the past 10 years. It has increased by 800% over the past 6 years. Baltic Dry Index This has led to a considerable increase in interest in restarting coal mining in the UK.

The question arises: Can governments raise their exchange rates artificially? - my answer isYes, absolutely

It is very much in the interests of the City of London to have a high exchange rate - that encourages foreigners to put their cash into the UK. This is achieved by having higher interest rates, accelerating depletion of the North Sea's resources and suchlike.

So, I hope you see that politics is really quite important and it can have profound effects on the cheapness or otherwise of a nation's coal.


The UK government did not go on a big US Treasury bond buying spree to lower the value of the Pound ala the Chinese. Similarly, the US government didn't go on a big foreign bond selling spree to raise the value of the Pound.

The UK government did not keep interest rates so high as to raise the value of the Pound either. Go down the list of mechanisms a government has for currency manipulation and explain how the UK government did what you claim it did.

The US dollar has declined because the US has run such huge trade deficits for so many years.

This is probably a futile exercise, but...

"Cheaper" and "price" and "free market mechanisms" all very problematic concepts for me. Especially the "free market". It does not exist, it never existed, it will never exist. Or at the very least it's existance is highly questionable.

I would contend that society chooses to define what things cost and how we are choose to pay for them. Here the concept of "choice" is in itself highly complex, as the ability to choose is very closely connected to the power to choose. Whilst on a very primative level, our power to choose what goods and services we buy is related to the money we have in our pockets, this conviniently sidesteps the question of how, and how much money gets into our pockets. The entire wage structure of society is, once again, very complex, and once again related to the distribution of power in society. Economics doesn't exist in a vacuum separate from the rest of society.

Here is a "simple" example of the way the state can choose to control the "price" or "cheapness" of products in the "marketplace".

Instead of choosing to subsidies the coal industry the sudsidy was removed and the domestic coal industry in the UK declined. On the face of it imported coal was "cheaper" and more "competative". Apparently this was a purely economic, and technical decission, and had nothing to do with politics. I don't believe this is a correct analysis, but nevermind.

But why make the decission to remove the subsidy from coal and choose to let the full power of market mechanisms loose on the coal industry? One could argue that the subsidies were too costly and that coal could be bougt cheaper from abroad. This is the standard economic answer. The State is just allowing the neutral market to decide and take its natural course. If something can't stand on its own two feet then let it fall. Economic "Darwinism". The law of the jungle.

However, at the same time as the economic support for the coal industry was being removed, by choice, the agricultural sector was receiving massive economic subsidies from central government, again by choice. Sudsidies that were many, many times the ammount received by the coal industry. Why did the Conservative government choose to remove the sudsidy from coal, but choose to keep and increase it for agriculture?

Because the farmers were natural Conservative supporters, many members of the Conservative party owned farms, the rural economy was based on agriculture, many more Conservative voters lived in rural areas than in mining towns. I debated this subject with Conservative supporters at the time and they all agreed that agriculture had to be supported, otherwise rural culture would die, a whole way of life would probably disappear. This was probabley true, but then one has to ask why was it OK to let the "way of life" and culture of the miners go to the wall? It was reasonable to protect the farmers from the "free market" but not the coal industry. This was a political choice made by politicians and had very little to do with "economics" as one normally defined.

Finally, one could mention that this model applies to European and American agriculture as well. In both continents agriculture is subsidized massively and protected by tariff walls. Over the last thirty or forty years, why didn't we choose to just let the whole industry and culture go to the wall, as most of their products could be purchased far "cheaper" from abroad?

If anyone still believes that a "free market" exists in the real world, as opposed to an economic "fairy tale", I challange them to examine the workings of the US agricultural sector or the European Union. Then when they've studied the realities come back and enlighten me, and with a straight face, tell me that politics has got nothing to do with economics!

NASA climatologist Hansen has written a draft letter to Brown and Merkel, NOT to build new coal fired power plants:

He puts his case against coal (example Iowa) in one of his best papers:

See my above comment

The ONS said that UK electricity generators have been turning to coal as the price of natural gas has climbed even more steeply, but that demand has been met by imports from Russia, Australia and elsewhere

By the way how will coal from Australia be brought to the UK when there are fuel shortages?

Chris - I'll add my voice to those above - a great informative reference work on UK nuclear!

There's been a lot of news flow recently in the UK energy sector - is it 20 GW new offshore wind(?), new neuks and the acquisition of Airtricity (UKs largest wind developer) by Scottish and Southern Energy (owner of all our Hydro power). SSE are also building our first large Hydro scheme for many decades. I wonder how all these pieces will fit together?

Would you care to comment on how new wind (balanced by gas or hydro) may help plug that awesome gap that opens up 10 years from now.

I heard a news item last week where the SNP Government (Scottish National Party) stated that Scotland exported 25% of the electricity it generates - to England. I believe we generate 40% of our electricity from nuclear (Hunterston and Torness). If it is true that Scotland exports so much, and that much of the 20 GWs new wind will be in Scotland, then I can see a scenario where we can likely get by without new nuclear build.

I'm not anti-nuclear - but this seems a likely scenario to me. If Scotland runs down its nuclear industry then there will be zero chance of any English nuclear waste being stored here.

That 40% is of nameplate capacity. Actual generation last year was 31% nuclear. Or, as the SNP chappie put it on Newsnight, 92% of our indigenous use was supplied from non-nuclear sources.

I was particularly amused when the Labour chappie tried to argue that the existence of a UK-wide electricity market was somehow a strike against political independence - like the UK (actually, England) doesn't import electricity from France! ;)

I am new to TOD comments, but have been reading it for quite some time now. I first questioned our energy predicament in 2002 when oil prices started to rise. I came across the concept of peak oil and it seemed logical to me.

" We need at least 20 nukes "

What about the hydrogen economy? We will need 60 plus reactors just to make the hydrogen! I have just read a post claiming we can run our cars on water (again).

Does anybody have an opinion on why avaition fuel has gone from 600 dollars a tonne to 900 dollars a tonne in the last 12 months? Is it geopolitics, falling dollar or the fact we can't produce the stuff fast enough any longer? According to the UK Daily Mail there is a chronic short fall of 3% in the UK. Esso and BP have stopped producing paraffin to cocentrate on aviaiton fuel. From where I'm standing there is no good news on the horizon as far as oil supply is concerned.
Our politicians have the solution to this; buld a third runway at Heathrow. I digress.

I can't see the nuclear programme getting off the ground in anything like the scale required to save the day, in both reactor numbers or time. The other issue is the cost. The UK has a £50 billion budget deficit, £1.3 trillion consumer debt (75% of the european total) and little or no resource to construct the things. Whether the money comes from private investors or the public purse ( we're told this is not an option) the consumer will have to pay one way or the other, the former via bills or the latter by taxation.
A further concern is will it be possible to secure the money for a project that will take 13 years before it will generate any return (via electricity) in the current economic climate?

Can't anything be done about the planning process? 8 years is ridiculous. We need to start construction as soon as possible to avert an energy crisis that could endanger society.

weatherman asks,
"Can't anything be done about the planning process? 8 years is ridiculous."

I was thinking the same thing exactly. Quoting from the keypost...
"Calder Hall was designed, constructed and commissioned in just three and a half years following Prime Minister Winston Churchill's order in 1952. Amazing how quickly you can get things done when you don't know what you're doing!"

Apparently they did know what they were doing, as the plant operated for 51 years with no major accidents!

I have said this many times, and the above example is just one more bit of evidence: What we face is not so much an energy crisis as competency crisis. The same type of "make work" system exists in all types of energy planning, from nuclear to oil and gas to the renewables. Everyone has to be given long lead times to have "imput". Every department in every corner of the beauracracy wants it's little piece of the action.

Despite the so called "high speed" information system we pay billions of dollars a year for, our management and information/communication systems are becoming slower and slower.

We could do big projects much better before the age of computers/fax/remote wireless communications. How can that be explained?

I am becoming increasingly concerned that we may at some point allow people to freeze in the dark rather than rationalize our management systems. After all, we allowed them to drown like rats in New Orleans.

Who will say it? The revolution in management/logistics/communications MUST begin before the revolution in energy production and use can hope to get underway.


One word: complexity. Tainter's theory of societal collapse states that as a society "advances" as a problem solving unit, its complexity eventually rises to a level where it meets the point of diminishing returns. Unfortunately the only way out of this seems to be collapse - there is no manageable way of reducing societal complexity.

- Jay

I am familiar with Tainter's theory, and it does in many cases hold validity.

But much complexity is a matter of choice, or a matter of outdated technology.

We have just seen a small example of complexity of choice in the writer's strike in the U.S. There was concern about the Golden Globe awards. How could they be given out?

Simple: Just give them out. The job of an awards show after all is to present the awards. All of the glitz and complexity can be stripped away if it has to be....thus, in a stripped down version of "the show" the awards were presented and the task was completed. All of the other glitz has been for years nothing more than a "make work" program for the writers and producers of the show. The task, if it had to be, could be completed without it.

In a case of outdated technology, I think of automotive history. In the pre WWII years, a large powerful car often had a 12 or 16 cylinder engine. Developments in metals and combustion efficiency meant that after the war, an 8 cylinder engine could deliver the power and torque of a 16 cylinder. Thus, for the most part, except in extreme status cars, 12 cylinder engines faded away. 16 cylinder engines disappeared from the market place. Recently, 4 and 6 cylinder engines are the norm, delivering all that is needed to the job that once was done by the 8 cylinder engines

These are only two cases were decreased "complexity" improved the situation considerably.

Some complexity is unavoidable. But much complexity is a matter of choice or bad design that will be jettisoned when real crisis comes along. Or at least it should be.


Roger you say a lot of dumb things, but this one made me chuckle.

Rethin, just remember the old rule of rhetoric, "insult is not rebuttal."


Rog, we've traded posts before. Would it really do either of us any good if I pointed out you have no grasp of Tainter's theory of societal collapse. (Nor it seems of automobile engines).

You seem to suffer an odd sort of denial. Its been amusing to watch you evolve into this "we have no idea" intentional ignorance. But really, comparing the golden globes to Tainter is just plain amusing.

You're not right, you're not even wrong.

Regarding the awards show, they could just do away with them altogether and they would barely be missed.

You talk utter and abolute sense. Health and safety for example, has nothing to do with not killing people; it a mitigation game. The original and sensible intentions of the health and safety at work act are well and truly burried.
I go round various organisations as part of my job and I am sick and tired spending half a day being told not to drive in front of trains, earth moving machinery etc etc and then answering a list of questions an 11 year old could answer.

When should you walk under a moving train?


The answer is moving towards always

Sorry about the cynicism, but its not that far out!
As my old boss used to say we're fiddling while Rome burns.

The shrinking number of cylinders in internal combustion engines is being accomplished with increased complexity. The direct injection engines have more sensors, more injectors, higher tech injectors, faster computers to process the larger flows of sensor data.

We can strip out a lot of complexity in many areas when necessity intervenes though. I think we are going to witness a lot of interventions by necessity in the next 20 years.

Despite the so called "high speed" information system we pay billions of dollars a year for, our management and information/communication systems are becoming slower and slower.

It's being misused with billions of unnecessary chats, video down loads, games etc. It's the same as with freeways. Lots of superfluous traffic.

Matt said, in reference to our information system
"it's being misused with billions of unnecessary chats, video down loads, games etc. It's the same as with freeways. Lots of superfluous traffic."

To which I can only say...."yeah, what he said." :-)


Yeah, I don't understand. Why does it take 8 years to prep and approve a design with many thousand reactor-years of proven operation. In a sane world, Areva GE or Toshiba would be clearing the site tomorrow morning... sigh.

Not even 30 miles from the border, the French seem to have it refined to an art.

It's daft that individual nations should even feel that they should have to go over the same ground as Europe anyway.
The Areva design at least has already gone through European, French and Finnish certification.
The CANDU design has been certified in Canada and South Korea, and the Westinghouse certified in the US.
What does the British government feel that it can add, that has not already been done elsewhere?
New levels of incompetence, presumably.
They have already proven beyond any doubt that they are unable to manage the energy system to as to avoid shortages, or construct a planning system which allows things to be built in any reasonable period of time
As for off-shore wind, I would love to have an electricity bill which does not include paying for that - let the extra £5bn a year or so that it would cost be added to the bills of those who fancy it.

Can't anything be done about the planning process? 8 years is ridiculous.

Well quite. The French programme mentioned upthread demonstrates the sort of construction times that are possible if you put your mind to it:

Decision taken to dash for nukes - 1974
First reactor online - Dec 1977
12 units online (capacity > 10GW) - Feb 1981

Projecting that onto the current British situation, this suggests that the first unit could enter commercial operation as early as 2012 if we took the issue of energy independance as seriously as the French did in the 70s. Even adding 50% to the timeline to allow for British uselessness when it comes to large infrastructure projects means that we could be getting something online by 2014-15 or so, which is closer to a big gap in capacity than ideal but not disastrously so.

Of course I'm entirely familiar with the argument that it'll all take too long to be of any use; but that's not an engineering fundamentals argument, it's an institutional/governance argument - "Nuclear reactors aren't a viable source of energy because we'll bog them down in legal challenges" isn't really a strong technical argument in my book.


This is a good point. Assuming those French numbers are right then the UK's nameplate capacity nuclear gap illustrated above is wholly avoidable. It seems that the number and speed of new nuclear power stations build has more to do with politics than engineering. If the country really wanted to build 10GW of new nuclear within a decade it probably could.

The same could be said for wind, for the Severn tidal barrage, concentrating solar power, for conservation etc... if we really tried we could mitigate the worst effects of energy depletion.

Well, not all the potential mitigations are equal. If you want to preserve the power on demand characteristic of the current electrical power system, the most straight forward way to do it is with nuclear. Otherwise you have to build really elaborate storage systems that may cost more than the primary energy systems and also use up on the order of 50% of the generated power.

I completely agree about having the will. Matt Simmons has often talked about a World War II scale effort. If the French could do it without the serious motivation that Britian will have, I am certain you will be able to if you have the will. Once the populace understands that without this kind of building program they will have to do without electricity and possibly transportation as well they will go crazy and demand it.

I find all these comparisons to World War II a little tiresome. The Germans did not occupy the UK mainly for these reasons:

  • The UK's umbilical cord to the USA and its colonies was never cut. For example, oil was never as scarce as it was on the Continent. The Germans had a total of around 150,000 barrels/day to run a whole continent and to carry out a war against Russia
  • The aircraft that defended the UK (i.e. the Spitfire and the Hurricane) were developed a long time before hostilities broke out - largely with private money. The Germans used lower octane fuel - out of necessity - for their aircraft and subsequently had inferior performance.
  • The sonar that enabled the UK to keep its sea-lanes open was developed long before the war. The ships that carried it were built a long time before the war
  • The information system that was used for sending defending aircraft into combat was developed before the war. The opportune arrival of radar was slotted into an existing system. Watson-Watt's patent was dated 1935 and the work on radar actually started decades earlier (1904)

The role of the "British Spirit" in what came to pass is largely war-time and post-war propaganda. The inference that the Poles, Czechs, Dutch, Belgians, French etc. did not have "spirit" is a piece of egoistical BS

It is interesting to see that the nuclear capacity gap creates a kind of double peak. UK oil production also had a double peak. There were 2 causes. Oil production first peaked after the giants peaked. Then there was the Alpha piper accident which worsened the situation. It seems the first oil peak was not expected so early and new fields were not ready to replace the giants. Are there similarities in that bad planning was done?

Very informative article.
Does anybody have any information on Scotland's coal reserves?
There was interesting, if I caught it correctly, nationalist SNP government rhetoric in last few days that Scotland would not build nuclear and had billions of tons of coal reserves.
A separate 'lifetime' scenario for current Scottish nuclear could be interesting within the excellent scenarios provided by Chris.
I found the last UK coal peaks, successively lower even when desperately needed in WWII and during dire energy supply problems to 1960, very suggestive of terminal geological constraint.
phil h

The debate has been over what is a reserve, and what just a resource. If you can't get it out of the ground economically, then it can't be counted as a reserve. In recent times, and in competition with cheaper oil, natural gas, and foreign imports, British coal in general has not been economically competitive.

The debate is as to whether it ever will be, and as alternative choices start to disappear, and perhaps as technology changes are made, then it might be possible for coal to make a significant comeback. There is still a lot of it around (even in Kent - though that is quite deep).

There doesn't seem to be an easy way out. If the price of oil can double in 18 months or so then the same could happen to coal and LNG. European carbon targets may be reached purely by uncapped demand reduction. Tensions seem likely. Those who have investment cash like national oil companies may need it for their own nuclear build at home. The welfare budget may dig deep into government coffers. I feel sure many will be enraged by the opportunism of the French. Aren't dour Yorkshiremen (my maternal ancestors) supposed to exploit the dirty jobs no-one else wants?

Conceivably after a decade of belt tightening people might find they can live with less energy. Either that or there is no spare money left whether they want more energy or not.

No opportunism by the French -- the British were free to make the same long-term planning decisions back in the day :)


I not sure if the British were really free to take long-term planning decisions about energy policy two or three decades ago. I think there was no planning and the decisions were a dictat from above. Everything was short-sighted. All the government was good at, was war!

The Conservative Thatcher government had a political agenda in relation to energy supplies - destroy the mineworker's union at at cost! What happened next was that the coal industry in Britain declined drastically. There was a great deal of debate at the time about the economics of the coal industry and how cheap imported coal was compared to UK coal, which was called 'uncompetative' 'old-fashioned' it wasn't 'modern'. It's extremely debatable that coal was really as grossly uncompetative as the government aledged at the time. In fact the governments figures we mostly propaganda designed to justify their policy of undermining the coal industry for a political goal. Still this is a complex discussion to get into here and now. A lot of it hindges on what one means by 'uneconomic'?

At the time the main, militant, mineworker's union argued that it was terribly short-sighted to close the mines, because no one really knew what the future price of imported coal would be, and there was the question of whether one wished to see Britain so reliant on imports of energy. Also the miners argued that it was risky to base so much of Britain's energy policy on purely market interests, didn't one need to see Britain's energy policy in a wider perspective? Shouldn't one examine coal, oil, gas, nuclear, and alternatives, as a whole rather than putting all one's eggs in one basket? They also questioned whether individual companies opperating in the private sector had the ability or duty to develope an integrated energy strategy for a entire country, surely this was the role of central government, like in France?

I remember talking to young miners on the picket lines, guys who were politically aware and fighting not just to preserve their jobs, but their mining communities as well. They were fantastic people and brave too. Hard-working men. Really the salt of the earth. They took me down a mine in Yorkshire and it was an eye-opening experience for me. Some of the coal seams were only about a metre thick so one had to crawl inside with a drill and work. They cared passionately about the future of their industry, and believed in had a potentially great future. What a waste of knowledge and skill, and culture. They were surprisingly well-informed about the challanges of the future. I remember one giant, Scottish miner with incredibly long, red hair, he was called Big Archie, who argued that Britain would need the miners and the coal when the oil and gas began to run out, and then what would we do? He thought there was enough coal to last five hundred years under the ground. He was an intelligent and perceptive guy. Archie ended up in hospital after four soldiers disguised as policemen set opon him for no real reason, and beat the shit out of him. Archie looked like a team of wild horses had run him over. I'd never seen anything like that and I threw up. It reminded me of story my grandfather used to tell about being beaten by Nazi stormtroopers in Hamburg. A beating like Archie received marks a man for life. I thought the country was on the edge of a revolution or a civil war. I started to think, this is what Chile was like before the generals took over. A couple of years later I went into self-imposed exile. But that's another story.

Anyway, a more rational and far less political strategy would have been to maintain Britain's domestic coal industry as a kind of 'insurance policy' for the hardtimes which always turn up. This approach was emminently feasable in purely 'economic' terms and would have allowed Britain to put less emphasis on consuming and exporting oil and gas as rapidly as possible. Clearly the oil and gas reserves were far too valuable strategically to squander. The ghastly phrase - The Dash to Gas - made my blood boil. The country was being run by blinkered fools! This idea, using gas to produce electricity was incredibly, criminally short-sited and only made 'economic' sense if one had the attention span of a goldfish!

Now, of course, Britain's energy 'policy' is in almost total disarray. The government has allowed the country to be boxed into a corner were the options available are severely restricted. The current New Labour 'policy' seems to be - 'panic', based on desparation and abject confusion. Let's go nuclear, only it seems to be a little late for that! Nuclear takes time to introduce. It's going to be touch and go. But we'll build them really quickly, that sounds reassuring in relation to safety! Yeah, we're so good at big, complex, and capital intensive projects in Britain! We've a history of success to be proud of! Then we will dump the old-fashioned planning and environmental objections, steamroller them through, now that sounds 'democratic'! Well, will you even care about democracy when the lights go out, don't you see we're in a bind? That sounds like one should really have faith in the abilities of the politicians to take strategic decisions and plan for the future! Are we really supposed to believe that the same systema and minions who got us into the mess are suddenly going to grow a functioning brain and miraculously solve all the problems they are responsible for? I think not! Or at the very least one should be wary and sceptical of their abilities. They will probably fuck this up, just like everything else they touch. Personally I would rather have had Big Archie in charge. I seriously doubt he'd have made a worse mess of things! He still saw clearly - even with his one good eye.

As far as I understand, not a single power plant in EPR technique is operating right now. Any reasonable investor would ask for references. The only reason for ordering at once a whole fleet of novel power plants in such a situation is panic. The risk: If technical problems of any kind should emerge, you will have them in all of the plants.

Chris, this is a great post, it puts the whole issue in the correct perspective whilst still being accessible to the common man. Why can't the MSM do it like this?

I'd just note that the UK Nuclear Output seems bound to follow an Hubbert Curve. This is really interesting even if fortuitous.

Also to those folks above that hinted at Wind substituting Nuclear, it must be taken into account that these two sources have different roles in supplying the energy grid. Nuclear is tailed for base load generation while Wind, due to its intermittent nature, more fit to load balancing.

I'd just note that the UK Nuclear Output seems bound to follow an Hubbert Curve.

I did think about titling this piece, Nuclear Britain: 76% depleted. I do think it's interesting that the production of energy from our nuclear resource will mirror the production from our oil and gas resource. The only difference is that it started a little earlier and that we can "replenish" the nuclear resource within 20 years by throwing a few tens of billion pounds at it. The same can not be said for North Sea hydrocarbons. However - over at least the next decade this difference is largely academic and we need to find a way to live with the nuclear decline just as we need to live with the depletion of the North Sea.

I do think it's interesting that the production of energy from our nuclear resource will mirror the production from our oil and gas resource.

And the reason is the same: we cannot add enough new plants to replace the old declining ones.

Another point for Richard Heinberg's "peak everything"

Given the magnitude of frivolous spending in any Western economy, and a ridiculously drawn-out planning process - i.e. perpetual hearings where NIMBYs and BANANAs trot out the same old rubbish ad infinitum - would that be really be "cannot"? Isn't it truly "choose not to", the same as here in the USA?

How about, if keeping your lights on is a matter of some importance, Parliament simply chooses to shut down the endless hearings (which have yielded zero useful information for decades, as it is no revelation that everyone wants abundant goods and services, and every twit wants the necessary plant put Somewhere Else, and the supply of Somewhere Elses is largely exhausted due to overpopulation) and also chooses to raise taxes, issue bonds, and/or allow electric rates to rise, should that be necessary? And maybe, horror of horrors, it even chooses to realize that nothing in this wicked world is perfect, the absolute zero of risk is unattainable, and, like it or not, some of the old plant may need to run longer than it might have run in some parallel utopian universe?

we cannot add enough new plants to replace the old declining ones

That certainly has not been demonstrated. It might take a while. Certainly you guys could build the five or so reactors that it would take to replace the current fleet. And many times more!

The Energy Watch Group ( has shown the whole world is facing a similar (but less severe) problem with nuclear plant construction. I expect this report has already been seen, but here is the chart where they show the gap forming and the curve of reduced capacity world wide.


When Britain's energy situation going forward presents such formidable challanges, I've been wondering why, or what benefit do we accrue from 'antagonising' or 'provoking' the Russians; who, on the face of it are going to become one of the, if not the largest suppliers of oil and gas to Western Europe.

It's a bit like a drug addict pissing off their supplier. I know this happens a lot, but it's not a particularly wise or sensible practice.

Then I wondered if it might not be part of strategy to undermine or de-legitimize the Russian government, but that's also a bit risky considering the enormous British investments in Russia, especially in the energy sector. Why disrupt relations with Russia for no good reason? The role of the British government seemed to make no apparent sense. After all, we need their oil and gas, the Russians are perfectly willing to sell it, while they have it to sell, so what's it all about?

Then yesterday it suddenly struck me, perhaps it's got almost nothing to do with Russian behaviour, maybe the real cause of the friction with Russia is about internal politics in the UK? Specifically UK 'energy policy'. By focusing on the problems with Russia and the potential for supply disruption, etc... One neatly provides a very powerful argument for a radical re-think of Britain's energy policy; namely a shift and focus on nuclear power, the benefits of which are, to say the least, controversial. Hey presto! One conjures up the spectre of the Russian bear and one can get away with almost anything! If we were 'friends' with the Russians and believed we'd get all the oil and gas we'd ever need for decades, the argument for building a 'new generation' of nuclear plants wouldn't anywhere near so apparently pursuasive, or a least it would be more difficult. A cogent and logical case would have to be made. Now the decision to build these new plants can be hurried through with virtually no debate at all, very smart, Gordon.

There are of course a number of other arguments about Britain's strategic interests, and our overall relationship to Russia, and why we don't want to be too reliant on imported oil and gas, but they are very complex, and not really relevant at this juncture.

I'm sure some one will mention the recent problems with Ukraine and Poland and the curtailment of gas supplies to Western Europe, but it wasn't the Russians who cut off the supply. The problem was the route of the pipeline supplying Western Europe with gas went through Poland and the Ukraine and they in a dispute with Russia about payment for Russian gas. This dispute is also very complex. What's interesting in this context is that Germany is currently building a gas pipeline from Russia through the Baltic which bypasses Poland completely, as Germany seems more concerned about the Poles controlling their gas rather than Russia! And in way this new Russo-German pipeline project also illustrates the 'strangness' of the UK governments 'diplomacy' in relation to Russia.

This story inadvertently paints a damning picture of British technology.
A short comparison will do. British reactors have a life expectancy of 40 years. Most American power reactors are expected to last at least 60 years, and at least some could last much longer. American reactor perform with significantly greater efficiency. For example, in November 2007 the 104 American reactors produced 89% of their rated output. American reactor maintenance programs include not only replacement of worn parts but up rating of reactor performance. Over time American reactor operators have learned how to operate their reactors more efficiency, and with down time.

In contrast the British reactor "fleet" produces power on the average of 52.8% of rated capacity. The average British reactor can be expected to produce power for no more than 40 years. Far from being up rated many British reactors produce power at a rate that is far less than their name plate capacity. This would suggest that the reactors have been poorly maintained.

I'm not so sure. Another way to look at it would be to say that the UK's program is more realistic about risk and the US program is irresponsible. In Veremont, concerns about safety are leading to new legislation to rein in the NRC. And, the NRC may be getting the message.


Chris – thank you for a great informative reference work on UK nuclear!

I (by now) have just one question.
One of your diagrams shows UK nuclear capacity declining towards 2020, before regrowing.

Could nat gas be one of the candidates to fill the gap towards 2020?


I'm currently looking at this - how to fill the nuclear chasm - Watch this space.

Gas I doubt, the chasm is 30TWh deep in 2019. In 2006 gas supplied to the grid 124TWh from 278TWh of gas (DUKES 5.6). To generate 30TWh extra we would need an extra 67.3TWh of gas, or 6.26bcm (1bcm = 10.75TWh). So you tell me, with the UK's indigenous gas supplies all but gone by then, is it realistic to expect an additional 6.26bcm to be available for electricity generation?

There is no gap if they get 10 year extensions (Heysham and Hartlepool) and further extend the other plants another 5 years. Plus if they can get their operating efficiency up to 80%. All things that they are investing in and working towards.

gliderGuider - I am willing to bet that US nuclear power will not drop to 700 billion kwh because of aging plants and slow new power build for two years in a row (takes care of some one off short term situations). If nuclear fusion or some other technology upside situation happens then the nuclear fission could get replaced but not if we are in roughly the same technology situation now. ie. I am betting the nuclear power generation will not drop to that level for negative reasons.

Hartlepool investment and work for an operating extension

A spokesman for British Energy said today: "As of June 2006, we are investing heavily in the plant - £20m last year and £20m this year - to make sure the plant is in the best possible state to get through to 2014. "In the next few years we will be looking at life expectancy, assessing the plant with an initial view to look towards a 10 year extension, looking at a minimum of five years."
This week, British Energy posted operating profits for the past year of £635m, benefiting from higher power prices because it does not face rising costs for oil, gas and coal

British Energy is planning to invest more than £250m in productivity improvements at its eight nuclear power plants over the next year. 27-Feb-2006 [trying to raise operating efficiency]

The current lifetime of the gas cooled reactors is such that by 2023 all existing plants will have closed with the exception of Sizewell B. Sizewell B was designed for a 40 year life, but extension to 60 years is widely considered to be practical.

there were similar plans to extend the lives of two other nuclear power stations, at Hartlepool and Heysham, which are due to be decommissioned in 2014. A decision on these will be taken in 2011.

It has never been discussed here in how far the nuclear accident in Chernobyl in 1986 had contributed to the downfall of the Soviet Union. It coincided with the peaking of oil production in the West Siberian fields. It must have been a terrible energy double whammy. It destabilzied the Eastern European countries, too.

Does the english change of heart on Nuelear power have any thing to do with the change of Prime Minister and the fact that Gordon Browns Brother Andrew is the press officer for EDF ! One of the main contender to build the new plants as the english no longer have ther experienced design staff/workers

I think the problem of planning is due to Europe. They have these rules imposed on us, though of course the French ignore them. If Chris said that in a crisis European directives would be the first thing to ignored but I am not hopeful. Remember this government's supposed subservience to the US is nothing compared to that their subservience to Europe. They would go in front of a firing squad before they would ignore a Euro directive.
Also by the time things get that serious it would be too late. According to what I have read it takes 3-4 years to build a nuclear power station. To keep the lights on we need to start as soon as possible.

I'm not so sure. Another way to look at it would be to say that the UK's program is more realistic about risk and the US program is irresponsible. In Veremont, concerns about safety are leading to new legislation to rein in the NRC. And, the NRC may be getting the message. - Chris

Chris, The NRC has been very conservative in its regulation of the American Nuclear Industry. You are not facing the British reactor quality issue if you lay superior American reactor performance off on poor regulation by the NRC. American reactor operators have to jump through very considerable hoops in order to get 20 year extensions on their reactor operation licenses from the NRC. It is doubtful that a plant which could only produce at a fraction of its rated power wold qualify for a license extension by the NRC. The evidence is that British Reactors would not withstand NRC standards, rather than the NRC setting inferior standards. You cannot simply account of the British reactor quality problem by pointing problems at one American plant.

I'm not so confident of how the NRC operates as you are. I notice, for example, that their risk assements are generic. They investigate a containment breach after a meltdown using a low population density mid-western location, what they consider to be generic. But, not all reactors are so located so they underestimate the risk. If you try to estimate the property value at risk for such an accident occuring at Indian Point, it becomes fairly clear that federal Price-Anderson liability could not be met without pushing the Federal Government into receivership. You might want to call UK regulators nervous nellies, but setting a low bar for powering down a reactor, leaving adequate time during refueling to attend to maintenance, and shutting reactors down when they reach their design lifetimes seems more like prudence to me. The US approach seems more like trying to change the rules of the game (engineering principles) for the convienence of the industry.


The US nuclear industry has been operating at 85-90% load factor for many years. There has not been a problem requiring government payment of a liability. Also, there has never been a containment breach. So one has never needed to be investigated.

It appears you are saying it would be better for the NRC to tighten rules to get the load factor down to 60-70% in the US. A 20% drop in power or about 150 billion kwh/year. Obviously wind and solar would not be able to step into that breach. So it would be coal and natural gas or power outages. Coal and natural gas would mean more air pollution deaths.

Along with the million of deaths each year from air pollution there is also probably mutations.
Air pollution causes 60% more mutation in mice sperm

That could mean that the changes may be a more general response to particulate pollution, says Somers. For instance, metals bound to the particulates can favour the production of chemically reactive forms of oxygen called reactive oxygen species.

"If that’s the mechanism, you might think that it has general applicability to other sources of pollution, not just steel mills," says Samet.

Actually, TMI did vent, but you are correct that we have not had the big one yet. Why would you not want to investigate risk?


TM1 a non-event so nothing happened in 50 years of nuclear power in the USA.
50 years. 4000+ reactor years.
Why ? A lot of offset coal and air pollution. A lot of saved lives. Each year of safe nuclear power is saved lives from less air pollution and less coal.

Because the primary alternative, coal, has plenty of not just risk but actual hundreds of thousands of avoided deaths.

What is the risk to the actual feasible alternative.
Coal has a lot of deaths.
Power down would have a lot of deaths. Elderly people with less of the powered conveniences that save lives.

There is no perfectly safe alternative that can displace nuclear (in a realistic and timely way). And if you have it then displace all of the coal first.

You keep ignoring not just the risks but the actual deaths from the actual alternative.

I'm always amazed at people who have persuaded themselves that nothing happened at TMI. Also, I have noticed your strange love for coal. There are cheaper alternatives that are actually non-polluting. Claiming coal is the only alternative is a logical error known as the fallacy of the excluded middle, often used intentionally in insincere arguments.


I am always amazed that you ignore coal and fossil fuel air pollution deaths and pretend that there is some other non-fossil fuel and non nuclear power option to generate 20-60% of the worlds electricity. 20% if you are talking replacing nuclear power and 60% if you are saying no coal and no nuclear.

Coal supplies 40% of world electricity. It is the primary energy source currently available and if you talk as you do about massive reduction in nuclear power (the next big source) then there is no timely energy alternative. The article talks about the "nuclear gap in the UK". Well then why aren't companies racing to build the wind and solar or other cheaper non-polluting alternatives? If they are cheaper then they can make more money building them. Why don't you get a company together to take advantage of these opportunities ?

where are the cheaper non-polluting alternatives that can scale. How long ? You never show your recommended plan. Cost and time and available materials.

Modern wind energy systems, with good wind conditions, take
460 metric tons of steel and 870 cubic meters of concrete per megawatt.
So 1 TW of wind would take 460 million tons of steel and 870 million tons of concrete.

Nuclear power plants built in the 1970’s used
40 metric tons of steel, and 190 cubic meters of concrete,
for each megawatt of average capacity.

Modern central-station coal plants take
98 metric tons of steel and 160 cubic meters of concrete
—almost double the material needed to build nuclear power plants.

How long to scale up the turbine factories ? How long to get the staff for the factories and for the installations ?

How long to save the lives from air pollution ? Show me that we can get rid of both coal and nuclear power. I have made no logical error. I have looked at all the power sources. Make the case and show the work. I have not seen this apparently obvious solution which you claim is workable. Over many threads you keep claiming it but never show it. It looks like you are lying to me and to yourself.

Total global energy usage breakdown (electricity is about one third)

Hydro 19% of world electricity (but limited places to add more)

Solar 1/10th of 1% of world electricity (Nanosolar and other companies taking years to make relatively tiny solar cell plants.)
Wind just over 1% of world electricity

A Worldwatch [pro-renewable] institute report on energy

The cumulative global investment in renewable energy since 1995 (til 2005 according to the 2006 report) is nearly $180 billion.

The US put $3.7 billion (real 2006 dollars) into wind project installation in 2006, for a cumulative total of more than $18 billion since the 1980s. At the end of 2006 in the USA, that $18 billion had bought 25 billion kwh/year and took 26+ years of building wind.

Germany's usage of coal is increasing, despite many billion of euro per year supporting solar and wind from the feed-in tariff

From the European Research Network
External costs for electricity production in the EU (in EUR-cent per kWh**)

It seems very strange that you say that wind has produced only 25 billion kWh/year for $18 billion cumulative invested. Let's see, taking a lifetime of 30 years, that's $0.024/kWh. Not a bad investment I'd say. Most likely a fifty year lifetime with minor reinvestment, would be a better bet since you don't have to redo towers and transmission all that often and turbines can be refurbished rather than remade. Seems like a much better deal than sinking $5/Watt into new nuclear and then having to deal with a fuel shortage.

On coal, I've contributed to scuttling two new coal plants and worked with others who have done much more. What have you done? If coal is the problem, work towards the better alternatives and give up on nuclear. It is a distraction which will slow us down.


I've contributed to scuttling two new coal plants and worked with others who have done much more. What have you done?

Advancednano has been an advocate for an energy source that would dramatically displace coal, the worst air pollution and global warming energy source. The effect of your advocacy has been to maintain or increase the use of coal. There is no better alternative to coal than nuclear. It amazes me that you people are so unconcerned about the devastating actual effect of your advocacy.

Actually, in energy terms, nuclear appears to be a loser. Thus, it carries a high opportunity cost and slows the transition from coal. We should concentrate on the better alternatives to coal and wait until we have completely converted to renewables before considering any new nuclear power.


That amount of power is three nuclear reactors (less than 1% of the world total, 30 times less than nuclear in the USA), which have the same or lower cost and those plants have 60+ year operating averages in the USA. Nuclear watts have higher three times higher operating load. The price per kwh for nuclear and wind are close and drop to lower levels for nuclear. There will be no fuel shortage for nuclear (uranium recovery from flyash, more exploration, reactors with 50 times higher fuel efficiency, annular fuel for double the efficiency). Again I am not against investing in wind but wind and nuclear power together will displace more coal faster and save lives from air pollution sooner.

I am promoting solutions that will actually work and getting the correct information out so that better decisions get made. Your information, analysis and recommended solutions are wrong. We need to provide the increase in power that society wants in a safer way. In terms of your claim to helping scuttle two new coal plants, I say bullshit. What was your contribution ? If you had not been there would the result have been the same. It is like saying that you got the president elected because you were one of 100 million who voted for him. Coal plants plans are changing because of changes in the economics and policies [expectation and business risk of increased coal/carbon fees and taxes]. So which coal plants are you claiming a major contribution in scuttling ? I would like to analyze those actual situations.

Nuclear power has been over 10,000 times safer than coal based on the actual historical record. It has provided more power (19% of world electricity)and displaced more coal than renewables during the time nuclear reactors have existed. Nuclear power has displaced 200 large coal plants in the USA and 900 around the world.

Isn't it a bit absurd that you say you need flyash as an input to nuclear power?

I'll let you ponder that for just a moment before saying that you might just as well mine uranium from dirt. You've been drinking the kool-aid I think.

GPUS was helpful in scuttling a coal plant in OK, and a show of local community resistance was also helpful in scuttling plans for an Alcoa sponsered plant in MD.


I mentioned the flyash projects to extract uranium from coal waste because they seem likely to be economic. It is not a required input [ie one that makes or breaks anything, but it seems to be one that will be developed] but it is one source that is being developed. There are billions of tons of flyash lying around from decades of coal use. Until coal is stopped being used then this is a source of uranium. I may not have like that coal was used but why ignore a resource just because it has a bad pedigree. The use is in the past and extracting the Uranium now is making the best of what has already happened and does not make any pollution situation worse. The billions of tons of flyash have already been created. Your grasping at this issue shows your inability to be rational and unbiased with data.

From the 50 million tons/year of flyash that is generated in Europe, there is 100 to 300 ppm uranium. This would be 5,000 to 15000 tons of Uranium that could be recovered. The US generates over 100 million tons of flyash each year (10,000 - 30,000 tons of Uranium. China also has a lot of flyash. Besides the annual amount there are the decades of flyash generated lying in places like landfills.

Uranium can also be extracted from seawater [3 billion tons], but that is a bit more expensive.

There are regular reserves of Uranium and efficiency gains.

You are saying that the Green Party of the US did something important in stopping coal plants. Which ones and which companies ?
The role of the Green Party [supporting Ralph Nader] seems to have help cost the election of Al Gore and allowing the Bush presidency to have been realized and its resultant anti-environmental policies.

If Uranium prices stayed high (ie there was a need) then production of Uranium from phosphate would be re-activated. Before the price of Uranium fell they took Uranium out of the phosphate as a byproduct when they were getting fertilizer

Phoshate has 50 to 200 parts per million concentrations of Uranium

Mining for uranium-laden phosphate rock begins with a dragline that scrapes a "matrix" of clay, sand and phosphate rock from the earth. The matrix is processed to separate the clay and sand from phosphate rock.

Then the phosphate rock is mixed with sulfuric acid. That step creates gypsum and phosphoric acid. The acid contains the uranium.

The next step is to mix a solvent with the phosphoric acid to extract the uranium. The resultant solvent mixture -- minus the acid -- is sent to another plant where the uranium is removed as yellowcake.

Although the residue from ordinary phosphate mining and uranium production customarily raise notions of radiation hazards, the uranium extraction process historically has been safe, Lloyd said.

there is a lot of phosphate rock

In 1998, the US Geological Survey estimated that world phosphate rock reserves amounted to about 11 billion tonnes, with a larger reserve base of about 33 billion tonnes

So 2-6 million tons of Uranium in phosphate rock.

I think you'll find that you have substantially overestimated the concentration of uranium in fly ash:

Again, you might as well mine dirt. Which seems to be what you are doing with your political comments as well. It seems to me that when greens ask for a recount they ask for a full recount and people go to jail when they don't get it. Some other parties could stand to learn from this.


and yet the actual tested concentrations in China and Europe are higher, which they are actually developing. As opposed to looking for data that you can spin into why it won't work you could see that companies are actually developing the resources.

Actually working trumps spun data.
A lot of actual deaths trumps "risks of something happening"
Actual deaths, actual incidents trumps fears and risks.
Risks where little happened over decades.
Actual incidents and deaths every day.

This coal has a high ash content (approximately 20-30%), and the coal uranium content varies from about 20-315 parts per million (ppm) and averages about 65 ppm. Both the bottom ash and fly ash samples tested by Sparton contain approximately 0.46 pounds of U3O8 per tonne. [160-180 ppm]

The ash contains 160-180 ppm U - above the cut-off level for some uranium mines. Sparton was commissioned by WildHorse Energy to assess the potential for recovering uranium from European coal ash having 80 - 135 ppm U.

Some 99% of flyash is typically retained in a modern coal power station (90% is some older ones), and this is buried in an ash dam.

The uranium from flyash process works

Since signing the agreement with China, Sparton has also signed agreements to do similar programs in six countries in Central Europe and with South Africa.

A large coal fired power station (1000MW) burns about 11,000 tonnes of coal every day. Total emissions of radioactive material released are therefore about 40kg per day. As a consequence, tens of tonnes of U and Th are concentrated each year in the fly ash of such a power station.

Russia wants to double uranium production from the current 2200-2500 tonnes to 4000-4500 tonnes by 2010. Russia plans to pump $10 billion into expanding its uranium resource base over the next 10 years [2006-2016], part of a program to accelerate the country's nuclear energy output, top government officials said on Feb. 27, 2006.

The program of russian supply of highly enriched Uranium (500 tons that provided 10% of US supply for 11 years). Goes to 2013. The US still has its own excess supplu of 570 tons of highly enriched uranium.

Highly-enriched uranium from weapons stockpiles is displacing some 10,600 tonnes of U3O8 production from mines each year, and meets about 13% of world reactor requirements.

Highly-enriched uranium in US and Russian weapons and other military stockpiles amounts to about 2000 tonnes, equivalent to about twelve times annual world mine production.

You talk about supply problems with Uranium as if multi-billion nuclear power corporations would ignore supply problems and not do anything about it.

no timely energy alternative [to nuclear power]

the Government's consultation as saying even if the decision to build new power stations was taken today, would be 8 years before construction would begin, going on to add construction would take an optimistic 5 years meaning new power stations could not be online before 2021

You have an unusual view of "timely". 2024 would seem to a modestly optimistic schedule for the FIRST new UK nuke, and decades more before the last coal power plant goes off-line.

May I suggest a more timely alternative.

1) Totally redo wind turbine licensing in the UK and override local objections by a variety of means (say an annual tax on land owners if they do not allow WTs to preserve their precious viewscape, or a surcharge on their electric bills). Give an incentive for wind generated power (say 3/4 pence/ kWh).

2) Build the Severn barrage

3) Build about 8 or so GW of pumped storage in Wales and Scotland.

4) Contract with EdF to build three, not one, new EPR 1,6 GW nukes just south of England and devote them to the British market for XX years (30 years with options to renew ?)

5) Contract with Landsvirkjun for a 2 GW link from Scotland to Iceland and incentives for Iceland to develop renewable power (summer hydro, geothermal, wind) for export to Scotland.

6) Massive push for insulation, conservation, efficiency and perhaps even solar hot water heating (should be effective for at least half the year in many areas ?).

7) Start building that first British new nuke ASAP !!


Mdsolar was arguing for tightening US nuclear regulations to drive operating load from 90% down to the UK level. that was the original part of that thread. Alan, you have a way of hopping into discussions and ignoring the original posts. Your trigger seems to be whenever the topic ends up with someone like Mdsolar ignoring the fact that solar is fraction tiny fraction of 1% and wind is at 1% and they claim that it can displace 60% of the worlds power. If you want to help out Mdsolar's side of the argument then show a reasonable timeline for displacing 60% of the world's electrical power with solar, wind or whatever.

The time it takes the UK to get new reactors, I have already indicated that the gap referred to in the original article can be dealt with longer operating extensions to the existing plants. The ones currently scheduled for 2014 and 2016 shutdowns. An extra 5 years or so and higher operating loads and there is no gap in British power supply.

If you want to help out Mdsolar's side of the argument then show a reasonable timeline for displacing 60% of the world's electrical power with solar, wind or whatever.

World electricity use is around 2,000GW. Worldwide, solar photovoltaic manages 10% load factor in countries like Germany, and 25% in places like Arizona - basically, it depends on latitude. A pessimistic worldwide average would be 15%.

So for every 1GW of delivered power, you'll need 1/0.15 = 6.67GW of peak capacity.

Worldwide capacity at the end of 2006 was about 5.4GW. 1.744GW of that was installed in 2006 alone, compared to an installation of 1.47GW in 2005. Indeed, from 2001 to 2006, installation of new solar photovoltaic units increased by 19% annually on average.

If this trend continues, we get the following annual installations of peak capacity solar photovoltaic,
2006, 1.744GW
2007, 2GW
2008, 2.3GW
2009, 2.7GW
2010, 3.2GW
2011, 3.8GW
2012, 4.5GW
2013, 5.3GW
2014, 6.3GW
2015, 7.4GW
2016, 8.8GW
2017, 10.4GW
2018, 12.3GW
2019, 14.6GW
2020, 17.3GW
2021, 20.5GW
2022, 24.3GW
2023, 28.9GW
2024, 34.3GW
and so on

This leads to a cumulative peak capacity of,
2006, 5.8GW
2007, 7.8GW
2008, 10.1GW
2009, 12.8GW
2010, 16GW
2011, 19.8GW
2012, 24.3GW
2013, 29.6GW
2014, 35.9GW
2015, 43.3GW
2016, 52.1GW
2017, 62.5GW
2018, 74.8GW
2019, 89.4GW
2020, 106.7GW
2021, 127.2GW
2022, 151.5GW
2023, 180.4GW
and so on

Now some snapshot figures of delivered power, going on that 15% load factor. Sure, technology could improve and siting could, too, upping that load factor - but that assumes technical advances. I don't like it when nuclear and fossil fuel advocates assume technical advances, it's just too close to religious faith, so I won't do it with solar photovoltaic. Hell, I won't even assume "best practice" of today - just ordinary old 15% load factor.

2008, 1.5GW
2010, 2.4GW
2015, 6.5GW
2020, 16GW
2025, 38GW
2030, 91GW
2035, 218GW
2040, 519GW
2045, 1,238GW
2050, 2,952GW

Of course by 2050 there'll be more people in the world, and development of poor countries will mean more power consumed. Well, from 1980 to 2006 population increased at 1.14% annually, while electricity generation capacity increased at 2.79% annually. Ignoring UN projections that population will plateau (rising education and prosperity, etc), by 2050 we get 12.1 billion people and a total electricity demand of 6,700GW. So the 2,952GW is 44% of this.

Put another way, current electricity generation is 300W per person in the world, and on current trends will hit 550W per person by 2050. Is that enough? Well, the UN reckons that the HDI (Human Development Index - that's per capita GDP, longevity, and education) more or less maxes out at 4,000kWh per person annually - more power doesn't make you much better off. 4,000kWh annually is 457W. So that'd be 457W x 12.1 billion people = 5,557GW needed.

In 2050, 2,952GW of delivered PV-derived power is 53% of that 5,557GW. That's a bit short of your 60% request. But hey, let's run that PV buildup for another year until 2051 and we get
Peak PV capacity = 23,420GW
Delivered energy @15% = 3,513GW
World population = 12,400 million

Energy demand @4,000kWh per capita = 5,634GW
Solar share = 62%

Energy demand @ current rate of increase = 6,900GW
Solar share = 51%

Not bad. And so, if current trends of photovoltaic production and population growth continue, we could see 150% of total current electricity generation by 2051, which would be 62% of what people actually need, and 51% of likely demand. 2051 is a good year to look at, since that's just after the year the IPCC likes to talk about having us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by.

Is 42 years of continuing current trends a "reasonable timeline"? I dunno. That's how long ahead peak oilists and climate change worriers are asking us to plan.

Of course, you may argue that the current trends can't continue, that we'll hit technical obstacles. But when people advocate for nuclear, they often speak of France managing to build and fuel half a dozen reactors annually. 6 stations for every country in the West, and maybe a few for India and China and the undeveloped countries, too... we're supposed to believe that's possible and not an insurmountable technical problem, but continuing PV deployment at this high rate of increase isn't?

Why are "technical problems" with building heaps of nuclear solvable, but technical problems with building heaps of renewables not? Are wind turbines and PV cells technically more complicated to build and operate than nuclear reactors?

I've no particular love for solar, I just want to know why building heaps of nukes is so practical and doable, but heaps of renewables isn't. It reminds me of a guy in a traffic jam sitting there saying, "good thing I don't use public transport, it's so slow."

Thanks for spelling it out like that. I often just give the growth rate and the year when we reach some level of production. What you have done is clearer. I would say that 50% or higher growth is more likely in the short term. This is what is happening now and the cost of production is falling. In terms of installation, the US experienced 83% growth in 2007 and should see similar levels in the next few years as states like California, New Jersey and Maryland meet their goals. Before long, this level of installation growth requires a boost in production growth even if installation growth holds steady elsewhere. Because thin film has a short term advantage owing to supply constraints for silicon, we will be seeing a diversifying supply which should also enhance the fundementals for supporting stronger growth. Lower cost silicon refining compared to the Siemens process has an opportunity to become the major feedstock supplier so that silicon may retain its dominant market position over thin film. Silicon, owing to its ability to supply 100% of a home's electicity use, does better in the residential market which also has the largest fraction of available roofspace.

I tend to agree with George Monbiot that solar does not currently have a large role to play in the UK. Wind will be the primary source of electric power once gas is depleted. This is because the solar resource in the UK is less attractive. However, I do expect solar to become competitive with wind in the UK in new construction where there are cost savings available because installation labor can displace some roofing labor. The cost of inverters can be avoided if one used the DC directly to run a Sabatier process to supply methane to the UK's gas infrastructure. Feedstocks would be water and cabon dioxide from the atmosphere. I expect that net metering in the UK will take the form of gas metering rather than electic metering for the most part. This likely becomes competitive at an installed price near $1.30/Watt. Expansion of the solar markets in the US, Germany, Spain, China and India should allow the UK to piggyback and get that kind of pricing within a decade or so. I think that ultimately, solar will be the lowest cost power source even in the UK, but it will not be so much lower than wind that it will quickly displace it. The build out of offshore wind is going to bring the cost of wind down substantially as scale is achieved so that Monbiot's picture seem correct to me, though his reliance on gas may soon be problematic. Solar will be helpful there.

The most important aspect of the growth of solar is the availability of very cheap power once we have displaced fossil fuel use entirely and have brought net carbon emissions to zero. Hansen is saying that the atmospheric concentration for carbon dioxide needs to be below 350 ppm rather than 450 ppm. I think that if we want to resume the Holocene we need to aim for the preindustrial level though. The availability of very cheap power provides us the opportunity to sequester carbon directly from the atmosphere and thus reverse global warming. As we understand more about tipping points, we may find that this is abolutely essential. Thus, the high exponential growth rate of solar power and its associated cost reductions provides some hope that we will have the capacity to take emergency measures to clean up the pollution from fossil fuels.


50% long-term seems to me overly-optimistic. I try to apply the same standards and assumptions to fossil fuel, nuclear, biomass and renewables.

Typically an advocate for one will take the most optimistic projections and considerations for their favoured form of power generation, and the most pessimistic ones for their unfavoured forms.

So for example a pro-nuclear guy will say, "using the best current technology for nuclear, and considering the actual historical performance for solar", while the solar guy will do the reverse. Which is like looking at a couple of guys who are going to race and comparing the personal best time of one guy with the average time of the other, and predicting the first guy will win. Well, duh. It's fair to compare like with like; the personal best of each guy, or the average of each guy.

Likewise, we must apply similar standards to different power sources. We cannot say, "we couldn't possibly build that much nuclear, it's technically difficult!" and then talk about increasing solar PV by 50% annually for decades. We must be consistent.

I think that the current rate of solar PV building simply reflects building up from a very small base. It's like when an unemployed guy gets a job, his income doubles or quadruples in one week; that does not mean his income will double next week, too, and each week thereafter.

It seems fair to assume that the rate of building electricity supply worldwide will remain the same over time that it's been from 1980 to 2006. That's 2.79%; it's had ups but no downs, around 1% twice (1981 and 1992) with several years in the middle of 4%, and even one year (1984) at 6.22%. But the average has been 2.79%. Individual countries have had "crash" programmes of building which achieved higher rates, notably China and India. These show rates of total generation increase of about 6% annually for a decade or more. By contrast, the developed West usually has 1% or so. So, "business as usual" is 1%, and "crash programme" is 6%.

That's a rate of total generation increase which has been shown to be physically and technically possible over time. Sure, you might build more coal or more solar, but then you'll build less wind or tidal.

The question then becomes what that 1-6% will be made up of, whether it'll be more coal-fired, more nuclear, more wind turbines or whatever.

I've been considering this stuff in detail lately in my Ecotechnia series. I expect that when I've finished, I'll tidy up and condense them into a TOD article or two. But you can see my draft thoughts there.

I don't have a lot of confidence in greater than 50% growth beyond 2015 or so. At some point the reduction in the cost of production of panels becomes less important than the other costs involved. Labor costs for installation could be substantially reduced with more efficient panels because they are less bulky. DARPA is sponsoring commercialization of 40% efficient panels so if these can be produced cheaply then we should see some labor cost reduction. Scale and standardization may bring lower costs for inverters. But, we need to see how these things go. $1/Watt installed with a 30 year life is 1.8 cents/kWh in the US Midwest and 1.3 cents/kWh in the US Southwest.

It is worth noting that in the US wind installation was 30% of new generation in 2007 with 5.244 GW installed. That is about 200% annual growth. So, large rates of growth look like they can be sustained into the few percent market penetration level at least.

I don't think I've been saying that building nuclear power is technically too difficult, at least at currently used safety levels, though I have been saying that it is not very nimble and is expensive. I think it could probably keep up with demand growth after a decade or so. But I am more interested in displacing fossil fuel use in developed countries by 2030 or so, so I am more interested in a faster build rate than just meeting demand growth. Having an alternative power source that is cheaper than coal makes coal mining seem a little silly. Scaling up solar is expected to get to that point whereas is seems doubtful that nuclear power will come in below $5/Watt to build and obviously has much higher operating expenses.


When you get to the range of the levels that you have predicted for 2035 and 2040

Delivered power
2035 218GW
2040 519GW

then we still will not have displaced old power but substituted some of the new power added, then we can start planning for that last bit of growth push over 5-10 years after those levels are hit. ie Full steam ahead with nuclear until we start getting to that significant level of renewables.

If faster or slower growth rates happen we can see. But there are a lot of not just technical issues but logistical and supply chain issues.

One of the differences between "heaps of nuclear" being practical is that as with the UK reactors, the reactors are on order and in the process of being built. The countries, companies that are going to build the nuclear reactors are declared not by me but by the companies and the countries themselves.

Your figures are actually the levels for all non-hydro, non-geothermal renewables in the most aggressive growth scenario of the ASES. A scenario where everything goes right for the renewables industry under fuel crisis scenarios with federal and state politicians making the right policies. That is one of the biggest leaps of faith. Federal and state politicians consistently making the right policies over decades. With nuclear the policies have already been made (2005 energy policy). Although one more (not several) in the works is the climate change bill (probably 2009).

The technical problems with nuclear for a basic level of buildup (the 300+ reactors on order) are already solved [certified designs]. There is a higher level of growth based on somewhat unproven nuclear technology (hyperion uranium hydride mass produceable reactors - funded expected in 2012, molten salt reactors) but those are like advanced highly scalable solar. Unproven and more speculative.

The american solar energy society projections to 2030

The base case is essentially a “business as usual” scenario, which assumes no change in policy and no major RE&EE initiatives over next 23 years. The base case is based loosely on the EIA reference case from the Annual Energy Outlook 2007, which assumes that “all current standards, laws, and regulations remain as currently enacted.” Under the EIA reference case, total U.S. primary energy consumption is projected to increase from 100 quadrillion Btu (quads) in 2005 to 131 quads in 2030.
During this period, the share of renewable electricity generation is forecast to remain constant at
9 percent, while coal is expected to increase its share of electric power generation from 50 percent
in 2005 to 57 percent in 2030.

The moderate scenario assumes that various moderate, incremental (above the base case) federal
and state RE&EE initiatives are put in place during next two decades. This scenario was based
on various “mid-range” estimates, incorporating modest initiatives and assumes a continuation of the positive policies that are in place, with market conditions favorable to renewables. This
analysis estimated that electricity from new renewable resources (excluding hydropower) could supply 13 percent of demand by 2030. We estimated that the renewable electricity generation under the moderate scenario would be about 15 percent.

The advanced scenario “pushes the envelope.” It indicates what is possible using current or impending
technologies and includes what may be realistically feasible both economically and technologically
in such a scenario The advanced scenario also assumes that the RE&EE industry is available to take the United States in a new direction. This scenario requires appropriate, aggressive, sustained public policies at the federal and state level during next two decades. The results of the advanced scenario represent a dramatic indication of what would be possible under a longterm program of aggressive renewable energy development Factors that might drive such a scenario include fossil fuel shortages and price increases, security concerns, recognition of global warming, etc

The results, excluding geothermal and hydropower, forecast a renewable contribution to electricity
of 16 percent by 2030, and as much as 25 percent by 2050. In the United States under an
advanced scenario, additional renewable capacity could exceed 600 GW by 2030. Renewable energy technologies will meet 50 percent of its energy requirements by 2050.

The factories to make all of the solar cells and wind turbines have to be built.
The machinery for the solar cells and turbines have to be produced.
The people to staff the industry have to be hired and trained.

There are material supply issues:
Wind: 1990’s vintage, 6.4 m/s average wind speed, 25% capacity
factor, 15 year life [2]
–460 tons steel / MW (average)
–870 cubic meters of concrete / MW(average)

the Gen III+ ALWR estimated to have the lowest inputs, the 1380 MW(peak) General Electric
ESBWR, are 80 cubic meters /MW(ave) concrete and 32 MT/MW(ave) steel.

A paper, "Greenhouse-gas Emissions from Solar Electric- and Nuclear Power: A Life-cycle
Study," by Vasilis M. Fthenakis and Hyung Chul Kim of Brookhaven National Lab

Our analysis shows that, although the construction cost per kWh electricity produced is similar for both structures, the amount of steel used for the NPP [nuclear power plant] is 3-10 times less than the PV BOS.
[This would suggest a steel input of from 120 MT to 400 MT per MW of generating capacity. Probably for supporting structures]

Crystalline silicon modules typically have a specific silicon requirement in the order of 16 - 17 tonnes per MW.

This powerpoint presentation compares solar pv versus solar water heaters and has 2020 projection with 20% growth for PV

North America could go to about 60% renewable electrical grid in about 30 years. And 30% or so nuke (almost all current nuke retired by then, almost all new build nukes). Last 5% to 10% of fossil fuels is tough to get rid of (one reason I studied France and their residual FF use).

One example would be Florida. Enough nuke to send surplus after midnight to pumped storage near Chattanooga via HV DC. Enough nuke + solar PV at solar noon to also send a surplus to pumped storage. Two HV DC lines from western Oklahoma, one direct to central Florida and other to Chattanooga, forming a HV DC triangle (OK, Chattanooga, Orlando FL).

When FL needs power (say 6 PM evening secondary peak), they draw either directly from wind in OK or pumped storage in Chattanooga. OK wind goed to FL, AL, GA, or AZ & CA etc. if there is a need, and into pumped storage if there is not.

A spine HV DC from Manitoba (5 GW of hydro ready to build + wind). SK, AB down to Texas. Massive geographic diversity from the "Wind Export Belt" to feed Wind Belt local demand and also send wind power directly to remote customers (SD > OK > FL, GA, AL if South Dakota has a surplus of wind beyond needs of IL, IN, OH and calm in OK).

Best Hopes,


Chris, your comment is not on point. Your criticism of the NRC does not explain why American reactors have proven fare more durable than British reactors, and why after 40 year of operation many American reactors are producing over 100% of rated power, and none have been derated, while many older British reactors only produce a fraction of name plate power. Your attempt to say that this is all due to a problem with the NRC is both absurd and dishonest. Why don't you acknowledge that the problem is with British technology, and methods of reactor repair? Your attempts to point to flaws in the NRC's operation is nothing more than grasping at straws. in order to avoid the obvious.

I know, for example, that Vermont Yankee continued to operate while it's cooling tower was collapsing, though it shut down not too long after because the operator, Entergy, had failed to grease a bearing during the previous refueling. It seems strange to me that with a major malfunction, they continued to operate and the NRC said nothing. It would seem wise to me to derate older reactors as the UK has done rather than to try to push them beyond their design specs. That's OK for NASCAR, but not really for a reactor.


A large broken pipe with non-radioactive water.

No radiation leaks and no meltdown risk and no lives at risk and no injuries.

There was redundant cooling.

It does not look so redundant like that.


The redundacy are other pipes carrying water in other places.

Jets often have more than one engine. If one falls off, the pilot lands at the nearest airport because the redundancy is no longer there.


And if one engine were often falling off, even though the plane landed safely with no casualties, there'd be a big investigation and it would worry people. See for example the recent crash-landing of a 777 at Heathrow. You don't find the aviation authority saying, "oh but no-one was hurt so there's nothing to worry about."

Whereas our pro-nuclear friends often speak in that way of nuclear reactor accidents. If no-one was hurt, they claim it's nothing to worry about.

They apply different standards to things.

If a water pipe breaks leading into the airport, do they shut down a terminal at Heathrow ? The size of the nuclear plant (vermont Yankee) is 125 acres. 1/4 of a square mile. Many other nuclear sites are bigger (Diablo Canyon 750 acres with thousands of acres controlled in a buffer zone). The Heathrow site is 1200 hectares for the whole airport (5 terminals). A terminal with its runways would be about 200 hectares. North Weald Airfield is a 155 hectare site. So the larger airports are bigger than some of the nuclear plant sites, but some nuclear plants are as big.

The Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas is on a 122 acre site. If they go to 95% water pressure what do they do with the fountains or the hotel guests ?

The Vermont Yankee has 22 cooling towers.

The engine analogy is not correct. It is springing a leak on the coolant for one of the engines and going to 95% cooling pressure.

Less than 5% of the water cooling was temporarily lost. They did step down to 50% power to be safe.

That depends on the water pipe, where it is and what it does. If it were a water pipe that supplied the fire department part of the airport, then yes they'd start shutting the thing down.

So, they wound it back to 50% power, eh?

Good thing nuclear doesn't have those nasty problems of being intermittent, eh?

And yet operating load for nuclear was still 90% in the USA for that period.

When they are that efficient it is news when they have to lower the power on 1 reactor out of 104 for a month or two.

Does it make news when there is less than windy day (wind power) ? a cloudy day (solar power) ?

Are we surprised when shaq misses or makes a free throw. How about if Steve Nash misses one. Yet who would we rather have throwing free throws for us on a regular basis.

On page 12 of this 44 page pdf - on coal plants
Unit 2 has experienced many of the problems common to pulverized
coal-fired units, including unplanned outages, tube leaks, weather related incidents, steam pressure adjustments, situational unit deratings, fuel condition changes, such as wet fuel days, equipment outages, and normal wear. This makes Big Bend Unit 2 a typical
example of a U.S. utility boiler.

the average capacity factor of the 720 GW [coal] of generating capacity installed in the United States is 49.6%. (1997)

Coals average capacity factor

I think the best years for modern coal plants is 75%. an Coal plants are thus out 8-16 weeks more than a nuclear plant in the USA

Before rushing to build new nuclear capacity, as proposed in the White Paper ( and supported in many of these posts, it would be prudent to consider the Safety, Performance and Financial Risks.

Safety Risk. The White Paper fails to mention any quantitative 'Reactor Safety Study' for the UK or elsewhere. Yet there are at least three. The methodology adopted for all three is that Risk = Probability x Consequences, where the Probability is estimated by 'Probabilistic Risk Assessment'. This last depends upon trying to foresee all possible chains of events through a tree-structure representing the nuclear power plant. However, huge numbers of nuclear accidents have already occurred due to events that were not foreseen. Therefore the Probability is always an underestimate, and by an amount that is not just unknown, but logically unknowable. Hence the risk can only be assessed in terms of the Consequences of the various radioactive releases. According to the Swedish Reactor Safety Study, these range up to 100,000 prompt fatalities and a contaminated area of 10,000 to 100,000 km2. The area of the UK is 244,000 km2 and the area of Belarus contaminated by Chernobyl was 144,000 km2.

Performance Risk. Performance short-falls can arise due to construction delays and – after start-up - design or quality faults. Moreover, although the White Paper mentions nuclear 'accidents' and terrorism, it fails to consider that another major radioactive release anywhere in the world would lead to demands for immediate shut-downs. In the context of ‘new nuclear’, this could occur at any stage – before or after construction start, start-up, or energy payback.

Like all power plants, nuclear power plants are subject to ‘forced outages’. However, this is greatly aggravated by their large unit size. Almost all the UK generation capacity available at short notice – hydro and pumped-storage of 1320 MW – is committed to covering the loss of Sizewell B of 1250 MW. (See p 62). Moreover, the current outages of four AGRs must be replaced by gas and coal-fired plant. (See

The White Paper expresses the uranium reserves in terms of market economics. (Section 2.37). Yet these resources are finite and have been quantified using energy analysis. (See As the uranium ore grade fell to about 0.01%, all nuclear plants would incur fossil fuel costs and CO2 emissions approaching using the fossil fuels directly - and then have to be replaced. The result – for uranium use at present rates – is about 50 years. Hence even if all the above performance short-falls were avoided, any 'new nuclear' would last less than 50 years from now - i.e. less than 40 years from the earliest possible start-up. This is well understood within the nuclear industry, and occasionally voiced. (See Since the more new nuclear plants were built, the shorter would be the lifetime of the uranium resource, the only rational energy policies are non-nuclear, as chosen by most countries in the world, or nuclear phase-out, as already chosen by Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

Financial Risk. Despite statements to the contrary, nuclear power receives at least four subsidies.
a) R & D funding. This has amounted to $ 1 trillion in Europe alone to date. Since other energy technology options bring much better returns, this represents a very large opportunity cost.
b) Euratom funding. This means that – regardless of the risks - capital is made available and at below-market rates only for nuclear projects. Not only is this a market distortion but the costs must show up somewhere. For some reason this EU fund is allowed to violate EU rules.
c) Insurance limits. No nuclear plants can obtain insurance against all the risks. (See Therefore they only operate under special provisions, limiting their liability to levels far below those from foreseeable 'accidents'. In the UK, this is the Nuclear Installations Act of 1965, including later amendments. This amounts to a subsidy that is infinite – or what civil servants call 'unquantifiable'. (See Section 30.2).
d) Waste Storage. Since their half-lives range up to 4.5 billion years, nuclear wastes have to be stored essentially for ever. Moreover, some of the costs of such waste storage are of energy, which – being indestructible – cannot be discounted. Hence the present value of any such costs over infinite time is infinity. Since any fund would be finite, this is a second infinite subsidy.

The White Paper has considered only the 'direct' cost elements of nuclear electricity. However, since it receives two infinite subsidies, the true cost is also infinite.

No quantitative study has been published with the White Paper showing how nuclear power would help to meet the UK carbon reduction targets, while meeting the demands for heat and transport fuels, as well as electricity. However, I carried out a quantitative study 'Energy Solutions for 60% Carbon Reduction' showing how these demands could be met with energy savings and renewables supply. This was submitted to Government for the 2002 Energy Review and then published together with all the working files. (See The model is embodied in simple spreadsheets, affording full transparency of both logic and data. This shows that there are ranges of solutions – so providing flexibility - using current energy technologies (i.e. not nuclear or carbon sequestration). These include energy savings, energy efficiency through large-scale combined heat and power, and renewable energy supply from biomass and wind turbines. Moreover, Part II proposes a framework for ensuring the delivery of the UK carbon commitments through Energy Service Companies subject to absolute Carbon Emission Obligations.

The above is shortened and recast from a letter sent via my M.P. to the (then) DTI in 2006. The earlier version contains links to many more references. (See

Dear Gordon Taylor,

Thank you. I was about to begin a time consuming post like yours, but I began to wonder whether it was really worth it and put it off. Luckily for me you covered most of the points I was going to mention and saved me a lot of time and trouble, so thanks once more. I'm drowning in work and almost seeing double at the moment!

I'm really quite surprised at the ammount of support for nuclear on this site, when it's, in my opinion a very, very, controversial source of energy and deeply, deeply, problematic. I can only assume it's a sign of desparation that nuclear power is apparently making a comeback. I'd thought it was on its last legs and had almost forgotten about it, and now it's back and with virtually no proper debate or qualified discussion. I fear this is yet another sign of the times we live in - the post-democratic era.

I'm really quite surprised at the ammount of support for nuclear on this site,

It's because they're so traumatised at the sudden realisation that some day fossil fuels are going to run short that they can't handle the idea that the uranium will run short some day, too.

"Can't burn this? We'll just burn something else!"

Apparently, finite resources with finite rates of extraction run short when they're fossil fuels, but not when they're radioisotopes. Apparently it's not acceptable to talk of tar sands because of their slow extraction and low EROEI, but quite acceptable to talk of getting uranium from seawater with... slow extraction and low EROEI.

What you're coming up against is people who simply can't accept that we can no longer get our energy from burning up finite resources. It's called a "monkey trap." That's where you trap a monkey by putting food in a jar whose opening is large enough to let his hand in and out, but not his hand with the food in it. He won't let go of the food even as the hungry local approaches him with a club. He can't get solve his problem by the same kind of thinking that got him into it, but still just can't abandon his old way of thinking.

"Can't burn this? We'll just burn something else!"

please try again, with credible sources

Well, well, finally some good sense in this thread (in addition to the original article, of course).

Some hard information, not that Clarkson stuff.

G. Taylor, have you looked at the document recently put out by the French "Réseau Sortir du nucléaire" (Exit nuclear-power group)? It is titled "Nucléaire, comment en sortir" (How to exit nuclear power).

They look at two exit scenarios, one over five years, the other over ten. The five-year program strikes me as wildly optimistic, the ten only somewhat less so, but there is some interesting data pointing toward feasible longer scenarios.

Of course, your data points in the same direction, but for other reasons.

Let me know if you have looked at it. I would like to have your opinion.

Thank you,

Safety Risk: Using the example of Chernobyl is disingenuous. That was a half-weapons, half-electricity design with no containment dome; and the design was had "positive void coefficient" which made it dangerous but useful for making plutonium. All western power reactors have containment domes and negative void coefficients. It is physically impossible for a chernobyl-type event to happen due to these two factors.

Minor accidents may happen, but the negative effects will be small and far less than the thousands killed in Britain by air pollution every year, not to mention the future prospects of climate change. Japan's largest reactor just withstood a 6.6 earthquake directly beneath it- pretty much a worst case scenario- and simply shut down safely, without any fatalities, or even injuries. An inconsequential leak of radioactive substances was detected, and of course the media had a field day. Even a very determined terrorist would be able to achieve little against a reinforced concrete dome. A softer target would be more likely.

Performance Risk:Construction delays are possible, but if the French get involved then they seem to do much better than the British. The main delays will be in planning as the Green Lobby will fight tooth and nail, no doubt bringing up the all-but-discredited Stormsmith report, as well as others by Gas/Coal/Green lobbies.

If the planning phase could be brought down to a sensible 2-3 years, that would allow for any build delays encountered.

Interesting that you bring up Germany's decision to eventually close its 17 nuclear stations. It is clear that the coal and gas lobbies are very strong in Germany. From Wikipedia:

As a Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder was a strong advocate of the Nord Stream pipeline project, which is aimed to supply Russian gas directly to Germany, bypassing transit countries. The agreement to build the pipeline was signed two weeks before the German parliamentary election.


Soon after stepping down as chancellor, Schröder accepted Gazprom's nonination for the post of the head of the shareholders' committee of Nord Stream AG, raising questions about a potential conflict of interest.


In an editorial entitled Gerhard Schroeder's Sellout, the American newspaper Washington Post has also expressed sharp criticism, reflecting widening international ramifications of Schröder's new post. [12] Democrat Tom Lantos, chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs and holocaust survivor, likened Schröder to a "political prostitute" for his recent behaviour. [13]

Mr Schroder also signed the deal for Germany's new generation of 15-20 coal-fired power stations currently under construction.,2144,2396828,00.html

If the chasm in generation in the UK is realised, and electricity prices double or triple, popular opposition to Nuclear may melt away as the effects of not having a reliable electricity supply become apparent.

Financial Risk: The rules are always different for large state projects. Market considerations need not always apply.

The waste issue is spurious-the main "hot" waste loses most of it's radioactivity after a few decades in a storage pond, after which it can be put into deep storage. Materials with a half-life of millions of years will not decay fast, meaning they are safe to handle.

Interesting site you have, at least you have quantified the alternatives. It remains to be seen whether the British public has any interest whatsoever in conserving energy or burning less oil. It is clear that the UK gov is panicking and has decided that rather than try to push through planning applications for thousands of small energy installations; or try to change people's lifestyles, a few large nuclear plants is simply easier.

electric_future, I think you make some not totally invalid points. However, you still address only some of the given counter-arguments and your points are also not completely convincing.

I also feel that Chernobyl is not a good example for possible reactor disasters in the west (though likely still a good example for some reactors in the "east", whose eventual failure might still spark strong anti-nuke sentiment in the west, again).

Still, can you really discount the possibility of a major accident? I think Gordon Taylor's point is that you can't know what risks the designers have failed to anticipate, and therefore you must assume a big accident can happen any time.

Are the Storm-Smith report(s) really discredited? Did you read the whole discussion? Have you done the numbers yourself? I think the issue is far from settled. Just because nuke lobbiyists or techno-optimists say it's descredited, it doesn't have to be so.

I don't think the coal and gas lobby is behind any anti-nuclear campaign. Its rather the opposite - if you switch off nukes, you must source your energy elsewhere. And with many politicians not really understanding either climate change or peak oil/gas/coal, they go for what they know.

You dismiss the financial risk point much too cavalierly, I think. Yes, big, long-term investments must be state-sponsored to take off sometimes. Look at the Airbus story for an example. However, Gordon Taylor argues that waste managment and eventual burial efectively represents an infinite subsidy, like a loan with no pay-back component, just interest. At the end of the day, "the state" must also make an opportunity cost estimate and a risk assessment. Can we really make sure forever that the buried nuclear waste will not become unguarded, migrate or otherwise dangerous? I accept your point about the hottest radionuclides decaying fastest. But even the ones that are active longer at lower radiation levels are still hazardous, be it as part of a dirty bomb, as a long-term low-level increase of background radiation when dug up and distributed by potentially ignorant inhabitants of the (far?) future or simply as chemical poisons.

My personal main concerns with nuclear are that it is again based on finite resources that are estimated to peak around 2035 (based on industry data!) and that it has a very high opportunity cost. Saving energy and supercharging the buildup of alternatives would be a much more benign and sustainable route.



Gordon Taylor you appear to take a typical "green" approach to nuclear power. Most Greens do not know why the Chernobyl reactor was far more dangerous than a Light Water Reactors. Do you? Do you know why a Chernobyl type accident can't happen with a light water reactor? Do you know anything at all about nuclear safety. Can you explain the passive emergency coolant system of the Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor?

Risk insurance costs Governments nothing. Governments do not pay premiums. If there were real risks involved in "insuring" light water reactors, governments could simple insist that power companies use inherently safe reactors, and yes there are such things.

You reference stormsmith. Did you know that the Storm-smith work has not been published in any peer reviewed journal, and is now widely regarded as discredited? Martin Sevior ( and others have discussed the problems. Are you aware of the various critiques of Storm-smith? The Storms-smith research is based on very dated material, and ignores energy efficiency advances in such fields as mining and uranium processing technologies during the last 30 years. Empirical investigations of the "storm-smith model have reported that the "storm-smith" model produces energy input estimates that are grotesquely out of line with observable reality. In one case the storm-smith model produced an estimate of diesel fuel use in a uranium mine, that exceeded the total amount of diesel fuel for the country in which the mine was located. The cost of the "storm-smith" estimate diesel fuel was twice the sale value of the Uranium which the mine produced. "Storm-smith" never checked on the facts, and of course Storm van Leeuwen and Smith's "research" was paid for by European Greens, and thus they are not going to deviate from the Green party line on nuclear power. Nor are you, I suspect.

The White Paper has considered only the 'direct' cost elements of nuclear electricity. However, since it receives two infinite subsidies, the true cost is also infinite.

The same concept of infinite subsidies applies to coal. How many millenia will it take to get the CO2 back to pre-industrial levels? And what are the global warming cost during that period?

I notice that the white paper mentions concern about the risk of sea level rise to current nucelar sites and would be open to development of new sites, but I did not see any mention of the impact of the London Dumping Convention, which prohibits dumping of nucelar waste at sea, on these issues. Do you know if the government has addressed this?



While the quality of your post is excellent, I am afraid your forecasts are wildly optimistic.

Dungeness got it's extension, but that is because, despite being forty years old, it is still effectively being commissioned. Dungeness is really half magnox / half AGR, and they still haven't worked out how to run it properly. As a result it has never worked in anger for more than a few months at a time and has a nuclear core that is effectively near new. As a result it hasn't ever made any profit and is subsidised by Sizewell and Heysham B. Given the last thirty years history it seems unlikely it ever will run properly.

Hunterston and Hinkley Point have been given extensions at 70%, which is the capacity they are currently running at, because their boilers are donald-ducked. As a result they are also being subsidised by Sizewell and Heysham B. BE reckon they can fix the boilers, just like they can fix Dungeness, but don't hold your breath.

Hartlepool's boilers are also d-d'ed and are not fixeable, and along with it's sister Heysham A have been run very hard as workhorses until recently. Serious problems emerging at both stations. They will be lucky to make their current lifetimes, never mind extensions.

Given the history of the other five plants, it is difficult to have long term confidence in the future of Heysham B and Torness, but you never know.

Some things to bear in mind; the AGR technologies are entirely unique, and are being run for unprecedented life spans (believe it or not most of the control systems are original). And being nuclear plants are not easy to access and maintain, to say the least. Known issues like cracking of the graphite cores and boiler cracking are already causing very severe problems, and new issues are coming up every year.

Expect a lot more 'interesting' news from BE over the next three to four years, both technical and commercial.

With regard to new build it is also worth bearing in mind that the UK is small and densly populated, and outside the big cities mostly very pretty. Apart from Heysham, almost all the nuclear sites are on very attractive coastline. We probably have more greens per square mile than anywhere else on the planet and a history of democratic involvement and environmental campaigning and direct action. Trying to get new nuclear built is going to be a complete nightmare.

Britain has only three short term options for provision of electricity: build more coal plants and import the coal from Australia / S Africa / USA. Build more gas plants and more import facilities, and import from the ME or anywhere else that is selling. Import nuclear electricity from France via the interconnecter.

The long term option for electricity is to work with the Spanish to build an interconnector to Morocco and with the Italians to build an interconnector to Algeria / Tunisia. (And also build a second interconnector from East Anglia to Holland to break the French monopoly) And then we can import cheap winter mega-solar from Spain and Africa (it will be cheap because it will be designed for peak summer air-conditioning loads in Southern Europe).


Thanks for your post.

I started to think of how small Britain is, and how crowded, and the dire and extraordinary consequences of a major nuclear disaster, which could make vast tracts of the country uninhabitable for centuries. Where would the survivours go, where would they live? How would one calculate the cost of losing the North of England? Would we all have to crowd into the Home Counties and share our homes with strangers? Could a severe accident literally mean the end of Britain as functioning nation? The end of thousands of years of history and culture? Surely the consequences of such a disaster, however small, need to be thought through? What is the 'economic price' of England? Where would we 'buy' another country if Britain became a nuclear desert and uninhabitable?

Also there's the whole question of what the 'nuclear state' will look like politically. Is nuclear a threat to democracy and our values? You're probably right about the number of Greens in Britain, who are subject to considerable denigration and vilification at the moment. As if they are responsible for the absence of a planned and comprehensive energy strategy. It's almost like blaming Jews for the Holocaust? What nonsense!

You also mention environmental campaigning and direct action. I believe the 'nuclear state' will come into direct conflict with our cherished, and threatened, democratic values. How will the National Security State deal with dissent and opposition in relation to nuclear power? Will active or militant Greens be regarded as 'terrorists' and 'the enemy within' and a 'threat to our way of life'? Already legislation is being enacted in the United States that specifically mentions the potential threat posed by environmental activists. Do we really want to go down this road and where will it end?

Personally, I think England is already virtually a one-party state and Parliament grossly unrepresentative due to our 'undemocratic' voting system which effectively disenfranchises millions of people.

Is the 'nuclear state' compatible with democracy in the long run. I have my concerns and doubts that it really is. But this is another complex and controversial area to get into. Only I think we should consider and reflect; yet that's not what the Westminster crowd are doing. Either intentionally or through incompetance they have left things very late in the day, so our options are severely limited and the room and time for debate drastically proscribed. I believe the ruling elite are going to go for nuclear and coal in a big way, whether we like it or not.

Try reading "Wormwood Forest" Its an interesting analysis of the natural history of the Chernobyl exclusion zone following the accident. If theres some good to come out of Chernobyl, it dispels a lot of the scaremongering myths if looked at with an objective eye.

I think the label of greens as terrorists isn't far off the mark. Recently they tried to shut down Drax B, a coal fired station which supplies about 7% of the countries electricity. If they had succeeded it would have caused a major disater. I could imagine them trying some stunt with a nuclear power station. The coniquences can be imagined.

I'm not sure how putting your energy infrastructure in potentially hostile countries is a good idea. I thought we were trying to move away from this paradigm. Try again.

One other option is an connection with Iceland (they asked a decade or so ago, and UK was not interested).

Iceland has hydro (lots of summer only sites), geothermal and wind potential. I know the UK is too precious to risk seeing a wind turbine, but parts of Iceland are less sensitive.


kagiso, Your observations are very much along the line I suspected. This would suggest that if the UK is to invest in new reactors, they should be built using American or French technology. The Westinghouse AP-1000 has superior safety features, uses its fuel efficiently, requires fewer parts, and less concrete and steel. An AP-1000 kit costs somewhere between 1 and 1.4 billion per GW, and they can be completed in something like three years after the earth if first dug on site. And no, I don't work for Westinghouse or the reactor industry.

As solar moves into grid parity it is complete madness to start investing in nuclear, simply on commercial grounds, never mind environmental. Any nuclear plant started from today forward will be a white elephant.

So far solar grid parity is the one which is the white elephant. A large scale solar plant producing at cost at least near coal or nuclear is yet to be demonstrated. It will be even more interesting to see how that will work in cloudy GB.

Personally I remember the talks for "grid parity" as far back as my childhood. Given that, what do you suggest the utilities to do? Hang around and hold their thumbs that this time solar will deliver cheap and reliable energy? Or invest in already proven technologies?

It is of course a matter of choice but if you think the prudent choice is to gamble I'm not sure you understand what the stakes are for the parties involved, and for everyone else indeed.

As I said in my first post, I think the UK should stick to proven technologies of coal and gas fired thermal plants.

Nuclear is not a proven technology, it has never worked without substantial state aid of one sort or another.

Solar has already reached parity in places like Italy, and is very close in Spain, and the south west of the US. It would be bizarre to install large scale solar in the UK.

As the price of coal continues to go up, and solar continues to go down, solar will be installed in Spain as an easy way to deal with peak air conditioning loads in the summer. This will result in excess supply in the winter, surplus electricity which Spain won't need. This will coincide with peak demand in England, so Spain will sell surplus electricity through into the French grid. France will sell the surplus on to the UK through the existing interconnector under the channel.

As the market matures, Morroco, Algeria and Tunisia will connect into and supply the European grid, as far North as Norway where energy will be stored during the day in existing hydro capacity.

Coal? We *know* how many people coal has killed over the last six decades and we have a strong suspicion that the CO2 it emits will kill a whole bunch more over the next century or two if we don't make some serious changes. It has been vastly more lethal than nukes, promises to get even deadlier and in an ideal world we would be shutting it down yesterday.

Gas? From where exactly? In case you hadn't noticed UK gas reserves are falling over the same cliff our oil fell over a few years back.

Solar? For the UK? Yeah, right.

Massive build out of tidal and wind are more reasonable prospects for the UK's situation (uh oh - watch out for NIMBY) plus demand reduction, CHP, biomass, methane digesters, pumped storage hydro - all that good stuff.

If we do all that *and* we put CCS rigs on our existing coal fleet (unproven tech with nasty potential failure modes) *and* we go full throttle to decarbonise our transportation infrastructure (which will increase electricity demand of course) *and* we push for a pan-European HVDC grid *and* ramp up our research funding into fusion, cellulosic ethanol (and god knows what other speculative technologies) .... we might get away with only needing to build a handful of nuclear plants rather than scores of the bloody things.

The simple, brute fact is that we need to be doing it all and we should have started ten years ago.

Nuclear isn't *the* answer but is *an* answer - coal is so NOT the answer it's not even funny.


kasigo said:
'As the price of coal continues to go up, and solar continues to go down, solar will be installed in Spain as an easy way to deal with peak air conditioning loads in the summer. This will result in excess supply in the winter, surplus electricity which Spain won't need.'
Do get some idea of what you are talking about before posting.
Even at the latitude of the Mohave desert in California, way south of anywhere in Spain, solar incidence in mid-winter is around 25% of that in mid-summer,
There will not be any surplus in the winter from Solar installations in Spain.

You do realise that at the latitude of the UK a PV installation of 1Kw in Dec, Jan and Feb actually turns out an energy flow of around 3watts?
At the average installation of 2,6kw you couldn't boil a kettle for three months without firing up fossil fuel power?
I do wish greens would stay on the right planet to debate alternative energy systems.

I've recently re-read The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. It was an edition published by the University of Chicago with copious notes and references. I can recomend it wholeheartedly. The last time I read Adam Smith was at university and it resulted in no end of problems. I have a pretty good memory for things that interest me and can quote at embarassing length if need be. This 'ability' became something like a curse in my studies, as I soon discovered the head of the department had never really read The Wealth of Nations even though he repeatedly taught courses about Adam Smith and economic theory. At this time Smith was 'rediscovered' and regarded as a guru. Alas the prof. hadn't read him, let alone understood him or the historical context he wrote in. I was absolutely horrified and deeply shocked by this travesty of education and proceeded, gently at first, to probe and question the entire factual basis of the course and the way we were being taught. I thought we were being subjected to propaganda or quasi-religious indoctrination by a representative of a de facto priesthood. Being young, precocious, and stupid, I wrongly assumed it was enough to be Right, boy was I in for a surprise! I really had no idea I would be perceived as a threat, a pain in the arse maybe, but not a threat!

The point of this long preable is that the views of Adam Smith have been distorted, oversimplified to the point of virtual idiocy, and prostituted, in the service of a conservative, and deeply reactionary, social and economic ideology or dogma, over the last thirty odd years. His views on the market and how it works have been bent and twisted out of all recognition. Adam Smith would turn in his grave and tear his wig off, if he knew how he'd been used and abused by politicians and economists to justify tremendous and staggering social injustices and close to insane economic policies which are unravelling before our very eyes with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Though Smith was a Scott he would have been aghast, appalled, incredulous, at the way the British economy has been missmanaged. For Smith, simple put, for the free market to function optimally or perfectly the consumer also has to be 'perfect' and rational. This means that a high degree of 'equality' is necessary for the market to function properly and freely almost like an invisible hand is helping things along. This idea has profound implications for the marketplace, and in its way it's a revolutionary and utipian concept. Free, perfect markets, and free and perfect consumers interfacing with the invisible market mechanisms. One can't really have one without the other. Now all this was completely over the heads of the Conservative politicians who have been running Britain into the ground for the last few decades. Successive governments over the last thirty years and the hidden and delayed costs incurred and dumped on future generations who have been sold down the river. This is glaringly and especially true of the entire energy sector, the missmanagement of which beggars belief and is still hard to fully comprehend and digest. It's the shere scale of the stupidity that taxes one! Unfortunately the political ruling class have no concept of honour or responsibility for their actions or policies. That is so old-fashioned. Now they just say sorry and ask us all to move on to the next disaster. What a bunch of wankers!

If we are struggling to find the engineering capacity to build 4 (or 20) nukes now, with what engineering capacity (and money and primary energy and societal structures) will we decommission them and make safe in 2060-2080?

This is a good point. Building new nukes now is a bit of a bet that complex industrial society will survive at least for a century longer. The only reason we are able to decommission the old Magnox fleet is because we are richer and more technically competent than we were then. The economy of the 1960s would have a hell of a job if faced with our current decommissioning task. It's certain that new reactors will be far easier to decommission than the old Magnox ones - but it will still require complex industrial society. All other energy technologies are failsafe to a certain degree, you can just walk away without anything particularly bad happening. I’m not saying we will lose complex industrial society within a century but it is a risk associated with new nuclear build.

Just build the nukes underground and walk away when you are finished with it - no need to decommission ... failsafe.

I think it's disingenuous to argue we'll have a total societal collapse. You think in that case that dormant nuclear reactors are going to be the greatest threat to world life? geez...

That isn't my point. My point is that nuclear power stations need pro-active technology-intensive management many decades into the future, where almost anything else we do is pretty failsafe and can be abandoned without anything dire happening.

Okay, so spent fuel sitting in very durable concrete canisters is a threat because they might sit there in an angry fasion, where as an abandoned dam and its associated burst isn't the least bit dire?

The point is that we could have a lot of nuclear, but could never have a lot of hydro. So even if they were equally dangerous, nuclear would be more dangerous because there'd be more of it. If you want to say that renewable energy is dangerous, then, you have to tell us the dangers of wind turbines, etc, because hydro will be small potatoes.

Hydro has current peak capacity of 816GW. The WWF estimates total global “economically feasible” capacity is around 2,270GW, which would give us 1,454GW spare. Condering climate change we can expect that some old sites will become untenable. For these reasons, an order of magnitude estimate spare world capacity for hydroelectricity over the next century at around half the WWF amount, or 750GW.

Thus, 1,566GW of peak capacity. Hydro manages a load factor of around 45%, so from this we get 705GW delivered power.

By comparison, world wind power potential has been estimated at 72,000GW. Load factors start high at 35% or so, as the first wind farms usually get put in the plum spots, but then as more is installed less ideal places are used, and it declines to 20%. Pessimistically, then, we could get a worldwide load factor of 20%, leading to 14,400GW of delivered power.

Solar potential comes to similarly large figures. What we get is that hydroelectric will be only a small proportion of all renewably-generated electricity. It's just that we have much more wind and sun than we do rivers.

Whereas the capacity for nuclear energy is held by its advocates to be rather in excess of hydro's 1,566GW peak. So that's the difference. If we built as much nuclear as we physically could, we'd be left with a lot of potential danger; if we built as much hydro as we physically could, we'd be left with far less.

So even if hydro were as dangerous as nuclear, there's just less of it to build. Thus, if you want to argue the dangers of a society based entirely on renewable energy, you have to explain to us the dangers of wind turbines, solar PV, solar thermal, tidal, etc.

Hi Chris,

A little more than a year ago I went to an open energy debate at Warwick University UK. I think it might have been as a part of their "One World" week. They had a representative of the nuclear power industry, a Russian lady there and in open questions at the end of her presentation I asked her what danger was posed by nuclear power during a societal collapse, caused by for example, oil depletion. She just remarked that it was unlikely to happen and the rest of the audience laughed nervously at my far-fetched and inappropriate question.
I am glad you see it as a risk as well. To me it is one of the greater risks of nuclear power.
Not that I am anti-nuclear you understand, we just have to remove all scales from our eyes to make good decisions in the face of what I believe is the beginning of a worldwide energy and financial crisis.

Carbon, Coventry, UK

kagiso, The Salt Lace City Deseret Morning News today published a story on Utah's energy future:,5143,695244161,00.html
It should maje sobering reading for everyone. One of the most striking statements in the story is from Dave Eskelsen, of the Rocky Mountain Power in Salt Lake City. According to Eskelsen a "concentrating solar" system, like that used in the California desert, comes in at an estimated $180-plus per megawatt-hour. This would appear to be without an overnight storage system. That price is over twice the most pessimistic estimate of the coust of nuclear power. It would be helpful to the human future, is solor advocates would get a grip.

Hi Charles,

$180-plus per megawatt-hour (18 cents for kWh) sounds high for concentrating solar. The bids I hear about are in the range from 11 cents to 13 cents per kWh. I would be skeptical of any price predictions for power from a new nuclear plant in the US until one is actually built. It is not clear to me that we need to compare them in any event, because they provide a different kind of power. Nuclear plants provide steady base power, while concentrating solar is load following.

For a Californian, the issue is moot. I do not think we are allowed to build a new nuclear plant until a national waste repository is approved.


Dave, A 2007 estimate for the cost of 10 MW plant in Phoenix, AZ, indicated the LCOE ran between $0.15 to 0.22/kWh. The Ontario Power Authority is offering to pay PV power produces $0.42 CDN per kWh over a period of twenty years. That is just plane wacky.

While the industry is confident they can bring the cost of solar cells down, the cost of other materials that are required to rapidly rising. Given the probable future problems of the dollar, the cost of construction materials and other parts of the instalation - ie concrete, steel, electrical parts, copper wiring, etc. - may be the keep the potential of solar power from being realized. Nuclear reactors designs can be radically changed to greatly reduce materials demand, while actually enhancing safety, while at the same time lowering operating costs, and fuel demand. The advantage will ultimately go to a new wave of low slimmed down Pebble Bed and Molten Salt reactors.

I think the 8 year period until first construction could be shrunk to a year or two given sufficient motivation. Suppose world oil production starts declining next year. The motivation will go way way up.

We have far far better reactor designs than were available in the 1950s and 1960s. We have plenty of materials advances and computing advances. Reactors are getting built around the world. I do not see how a design and review phase has to take 8 years. That makes no sense.

As for expertise: With today's communications capabilities very distributed expertise can be organized to work on a project. I coordinate people in different countries and so do many others.

Alternatives: Britain is too far north and overcast for solar in the winter. Solar will reduce the rate at which coal and natural gas get used. But it'll have to do that because their supplies will decline.

Wind will help. But aside from wind what else can play as big a role as nuclear once the fossil fuels supplies start declining? Does Britain have any geothermal potential?

Herewith my replies to responses from electric_future, Charles Barton and others:

Safety Risk. I did not use Chernobyl as an example, but as evidence of the area contaminated. The sheer magnitude of this downside shows that safety must be taken far more seriously than just relying on reassurances or even Generic Design Assessments. My point is that no Reactor Safety Study (RSS) has been done for the UK, nor is one even mentioned in the White Paper. Its absence is a dereliction of duty, while the lack of even a mention shows that the Government is either ignorant or has something to hide. Both are inexcusable. However, we may note that huge numbers of nuclear accidents have already occurred due to events that were not foreseen. (See and Hence the Probability of any given release is always an underestimate, and therefore unknowable, and must be taken as one. As for the Consequences, in the absence of any UK RSS, I chose to use those of the Swedish RSS.

I noted under Financial Risk that no nuclear plants can obtain insurance against all the risks. The White Paper notes ‘As mentioned in the consultation document, in accordance with our international commitments, there will continue to be certain potential liabilities that may fall to the Government as a result of a nuclear event’. (Para. 2.53). Footnote 111 refers to the Consultation document which notes that ‘Under the Brussels Convention, the Government steps in to provide compensation when (broadly speaking) the operator’s liability limit is exceeded, ..’ (See Para. 4.13). However, these mentions fail to point out that the Government liabilities are ‘unquantifiable’ - i.e. infinite. (See Section 30.2).

If the advocates are as confident as they say, let the nuclear builders or operators carry all the liabilities. Anything less is surely significant, and at the very least is a huge distortion of the market, so any statement of nuclear power ‘costs’ is meaningless.

Performance Risk. I will focus on the issue of nuclear fuel depletion, and your dismissive mention of the ‘StormSmith’ work. My point is that no primary study of this issue has been published with the White Paper, but instead it refers only to secondary sources. (Para. 2.18). As ‘Storm’ and others have noted, ever-leaner ores must lead to an ‘energy cliff’ ending in a ‘point of futility’. Thus they have simply sought to estimate where the CO2 emissions (for current uranium ‘burners’, similar to those proposed for ‘new nuclear’) equal those for gas-fired plant. (See and However, this is the ‘reductio ad absurdum’ case and much too favourable to nuclear power, since – according to the Consultation document (Para. 44) – the lifetime CO2 emissions of wind turbines are at least 17 times lower. An extensive study on electricity from wind by the UK Energy Research Centre has established that backup has no need for dedicated plant and no significant impact on the CO2 emissions of wind electricity. (See Slide 9). Hence even at current uranium ore grades, electricity from any ‘new nuclear’ would incur far higher lifetime CO2 emissions than those from wind turbines. Thus it is curious that the White Paper compared it with only gas- and coal-fired plant and not wind turbines. (Para. 2.22).

Financial Risk. I am amazed that you say ‘the rules are always different for large state projects’ when the White Paper says ‘It will be for energy companies to fund, develop and build new nuclear power stations in the UK, including meeting the full costs of decommissioning and their full share of waste management costs’. (Para. 1). Of course the latter carefully ignores the ‘unquantifiable’ liabilities noted above.

I am pleased that you have noted my quantitative energy study. I submitted this to the Government in response to the Energy Review of 2002, and also sent hard copies to Sir David King and others. However, ‘whether the British public has any interest whatsoever in conserving energy or burning less oil’ is precisely why in Part II, I proposed that the Government set the framework for Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) to meet the Carbon Emission Targets. This would give the task of reducing CO2 emissions to those best able to deliver them – without ‘picking winners’ or micro-management. A recent study by Vattenfall and McKinsey has shown that large reductions are available at negative lifetime costs. (See ( Slides 44, 45, 48 and 49).

By publishing the Consultation document, the White Paper and supporting documents, the Government has sought to show that nuclear power is a valid option for the long term. I contend that they have failed to do so, due to the lack of any RSS, any study of uranium depletion, and any study of the truly sustainable energy options. I invite you to look at my presentation ‘Energy Criteria for Sustainable Energy Solutions’. (See Slide 4 shows that the sooner we invest massively in energy savings measures and certain renewables, the higher the level of sustainable energy services. Humankind is facing it’s greatest challenge (climate change) and cannot afford to waste further finite fossil energy resources on ‘dead ends’ like ‘new nuclear’. Slide 26 gives links to other quantitative energy studies from the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. Moreover they are all in English, so there is no excuse for ignoring them !

Gordon, If the UL chooses American Reactor designs, it can rely on NRC Reactor licensing procedures which exhaustively research the safety of each reactor design. The UK government can simply publish the NRC safety findings. The current generation of American reactor designs is extremely safe. The NRC estimates that the Westinghouse AP-1000 will average one core meltdown for every two million years of reactor operation. Given the multiple levels of containment within the AP-1000, the only reactor products likely to escape from a core mel;t down are nobel gases.

Clearly then more people are likely to be killed by falling wind generators, than by nuclear accidents involving AP-1000.

You continue rely on Green propaganda horror stories, rather than looking at nuclear safety. Greens appear to believe that reactors exist outside time, and thus there is no history of nuclear safety. Greens appear to believe that no scientific study of nuclear safety exist, and there for nothing is known about how to build safety into reactors. Because Greens refuse to acknowledge in principle that nuclear safety is possible, the steadfastly refuse to enter into a dialogue with the nuclear industry directed to making reactors safer.

It is clear that Storm van Leeuwen and Smith Have tried to cook the books on nuclear power for idio0logical reasons. I wonder why you rely on the ideologically tainted Storm-smith studies, when numerous other studies which reach far different conclusions have been published in peer reviewed literature.

The Storm-Smith life cycle studies yield CO2 emission levels from nuclear power that are 4 to 5 times higher than empirical studies. In addition to relying solely on Storm-Smith, you ignore studies which suggest CO2 emissions from renewable life cycles that are far higher than even the grossly exagerated storm-Smith estimate. For example the 2003 ExternE report to the European Commission (European Commission, 2003) which showed photovoltaic installations in Germany as emitting 180 g CO2-eq. /kWh, i.e., ten times higher than the GHG emissions of the nuclear-fuel cycle, and 45% of those of combined cycle (CC) natural-gas power generation in the same country. These conclusions have been rightly criticized for using the same sort of date that Storm-Smith used to assess the Nuclear power life cycle.

I would like to deaw your attention to Vasilis M. Fthenakis and Hyung Chul Kim1 peer reviewed study, "Greenhouse-gas Emissions from Solar Electric- and Nuclear Power: A Life-cycle." Which can be downloaded from the internet. They conclude that that "lifetime GHG emissions from solar- and nuclear-
fuel-cycles in the United States are comparable under actual production conditions and average solar irradiation, viz., 22-49 g CO2-eq./kWh (average U.S.), 17-39 g CO2- eq./kWh (South West) for solar electric, and 16-55 g CO2-eq./kWh for nuclear energy." Thus the life cycle CO2 emissions are similar for both solar and nuclear power.

What is striking however is that the amount of steel used in reactor construction is from 3 to 10 times less than that that used in PV power production facilities. I might add parenthetically that Switching to the safer Molten salt reactor design, while greatly decreasing the demand for steel and concrete in reactor construction, while offering inherent reactor safety.

Finally while you see a great decreased Uranium supply, I see no problem. Consider what we have on hand in the United States 700 million kilograms of spent uranium in stockpiles, Many thousand tones of mixed U238, U235 aqnd Pu239 are found in so called reactor waste. All of this be used in Molten Salt Reactors, and the U238 can be breed to produce Pu239. There is enough fertile U238 already mined U238 already in stockpiles to last the world for several hundred years. After that breeding can concentrate on Thorium. There are millions of tons of thorium locked up in tailings from phosphate and other mineral mines. After we work through the mine tailings we might go exploring for thorium deposits. After we do that we can begin mining the sea for uranium and thorium.

There's almost a 'religious' tone creeping or leaping into this discussion about nuclear power. Sometimes one wonders if the whole pro and con debate isn't in some was a surrogate for another argument altogether.

Personally I am not against nuclear power in principle. I think it's an exciting, interesting, and promissing technology, which has a long way to go, in the future.

However, I also believe large-scale nuclear power development is problematic. One cannot, surely, contend that it isn't controversial, and that questions about the economics of nuclear power aren't hotly contested?

The idea that all that's holding the nuclear industry back is criticism from 'Greens' is an oversimplification. If nuclear was really as unproblematic, clean and troubl-free, and cheap as many assure us, more plants would have been built. Is this a particularly controversial argument? In the UK private industry is interested in building new nuclear plants, but they won't get involved without massive government subsidies. The debate between the nuclear industry and government is about the size of the subsidy. Clearly the government are wary about committing themselves when the size of the subsidy could reach 'infinite' levels.

The private sector would ideally like the government or taxpayer to take on responsibility over the longterm for both decommissioning and waste storage, once again this is a area of disagreement and negotiation. How big will the final bill really be? Surely no one believes it won't be substantial even at todays prices, but what of the future?

I must admit I'm confused about the attitude that nuclear is incredibly safe and that the likelyhood of a disasterous accident is close to zero. Surely this can't be right given the industry's history. Also, given the potentially catastrophic consequences of an accident in a country the size of Britain, the least one could ask for would be an independent and thourough risk assessment of the highest possible standard. As far as I know, nuclear isn't perfectly safe, there is always a risk involved. How big is the risk contra the benefits? It's difficult to quantify. How much is England worth? How does one put a price on a culture? Surely this is 'economism' taken too extremes? How would we replace England anyway?

Saying that an accident cannot happen, seems rather odd, and seems to fly in the face of both logic, science and all experience. I seem to remember that the Titanic was marketed as an unsinkable ship as well. Surely it's folly to tempt the Gods with the same type of argument?
The idea that the 'Greens' must accept in principle, that nuclear is perfectly safe, is, frankly a totalitarian concept and attitude.

Let's assume that we build a whole 'New Generation', my that sounds so NuLabour, of nuclear plants and become reliant on them. Then a substantial accident happens somewhere else, something far really bad. How will the British public react to such a event unfolding on their television screens? I believe they'd react very negatively and demonstrate, blockade and demand that the government close all Britain's nuclear plants immediately. This would be an emmotional response, but could one blame them? How would the government react to millions of demonstrators filling the streets and bringing society to a standstill? Would they dare ignore the 'will of the people'? Would they attempt to risk riding out the storm? Would they attempt to crush the 'terrorist greens' by force? Would the government 'cave in' and close down Britain's nuclear industry, even temporarilly? And then where would we be?

The unknown 'writerman' goes wrong at many points. Only the first I came to can I deal with here.

Personally I am not against nuclear power in principle. I think it's an exciting, interesting, and promissing technology, which has a long way to go, in the future.

However, I also believe large-scale nuclear power development is problematic. One cannot, surely, contend that it isn't controversial, and that questions about the economics of nuclear power aren't hotly contested?

It's easy to favour-in-principle, or as he says not-oppose-in-principle, something that can take money from the oil and gas interests -- until it starts to do so. With nuclear energy, that happened about 1970, when it ceased to be subsidized and started rapidly expanding. Endorsing an oil-and-gas-interest defunder that is a present reality is, apparently, hard.

Indeed one cannot "contend that [nuclear energy] isn't controversial". As we speak, it's producing electricity that otherwise would require $600 million a day in natural gas.

Recently the prices were, per tonne uranium, $0.234 million; per uranium-tonne-equivalent in natgas, $4.5 million; per uranium-tonne-equivalent in petroleum, $9 million. Some of that is production royalties, and in some markets there is substantial additional tax, i.e., for gas that is reticulated to houses and small businesses. Others here would know better how much.

How could this not be controversial? How could those taking the pro-fossil-fuel side make any headway, or be at all effective in slowing the retreat, if they acknowledged that this was their intent? Of course they have to tell us, and if possible believe, that the dispute is about 15 other things.

writerman said:
'However, I also believe large-scale nuclear power development is problematic. One cannot, surely, contend that it isn't controversial, and that questions about the economics of nuclear power aren't hotly contested?'
To me it is critical what the actual argument s are.
If the criticisms are well founded, then I come over to that side of the argument, if they are not, I don't.
You will always have someone, somewhere who disagrees.
So flatearthers remain flatearthers, and I continue to believe that they are nuts.
Much of the opposition to nuclear power is not at root rational, but superstitious or quasi-religious in nature, indeed, some of the 'Mother Gaia' comments are overtly religious.
In those circumstances you are never going to reach a situation without controversy, but I ain't prepared to freeze my arse off or pay huge amounts for off-shore wind because of it.
Reasoned comments deserve a reasoned response - so for instance comments like 'Chernobyl contaminated 100,000 odd kilometers need measuring against criteria like :
Do we build reactors like Chernobyl anymore?
How likely is a repeat?
What is meant by 'contaminated?' - is it a sentence os instant death, or does it mean that it might be a good idea to stay in for a couple of days, and the especially vulnerable might take an iodine tablet?
I would contend that once you get away from the headline phrase, and get down to actual cases, the real risks of nuclear power are vanishingly small.
If your criteria for support is that there should be no controversy at all, that is not going to happen, simply because much of the opposition is not based upon the rule of reason at all, but it emotional or religious in its foundation.

Why don't we set aside all stereotypical sneers at "Greens" and "Pro-Nukes" and just try to compare the quality of arguments?

Here are mine, please state to what level you agree or disagree:

1. Modern reactors may be much safer than older ones - granted. But unless you can prove 100% safety from major radioactive spills, it's not good enough for me. In any case, if a majority of people believe 99.9999% safety (or whatever safety level independent experts claim) is indeed good enough, let the nuclear industry bear any risk premium that insurers (who deal in nothing but risks, mind you) might want to charge. If they can't get any outfit to insure them, end of story.

2. The comparison between a major nuclear spill and the release of radionuclides from burning coal does not really fly. I am totally against burning coal for various reasons (including the radioactive pollution), but as is so often the case, speed of change is the most important variable. If tons of uranium/plutonium get released instantly in an accident, it is very different from the same quantity of uranium and other (non-plutonium) radionuclides getting released over a much, much longer period and in a geographically more dispersed fashion.

(Just as with Peak Oil or global warming: If the decline of oil production or the increase of average global temperature is just slow enough, we might be able to adapt. The faster any of the two materializes, the harder it gets to adapt. If it is coming very fast, collapse is almost inevitable. Another example: ordinary traffic kills about 100,000 people per year in Europe alone. Does anybody in his or her right mind ask for a total shutdown of individual mobility due to that fact? No. On the other side, if 100,000 people get killed in a war scenario within weeks, it justifiably causes a big outrage.)

Social risk:
The risk of the population demanding a fast shutdown of all nuclear reactors due to a reactor accident in another country with less safe technology cannot be discounted. It might be totally unjustifiable from a technological standpoint, but the psychological effect would be real enough anyway. And I encourage anyone to look at the opportunity costs here, too: If a wind turbine blade goes flying and hurts or even kills someone, this will not cause people to ask for a final shutdown of all wind turbines forever.

Molten Salt Reactors:
Charles Barton sees to see molten salt reactors as the all-singing-all-dancing solution.
However, according to, albeit having an impressive list of advantages, this technology is not market ready (and has not for quite a long time) and faces some specific, unsolved challenges.

CO2 emissions comparison: solar vs. wind vs. nuclear
It seems the CO2 emissions numbers Charles Barton gives apply for today’s uranium mining operation. Once you get into ever-leaner ores and ever-larger wind turbines (forget about solar PV for the time being), the balance shifts more and more in favour of the wind energy option.

Uranium resources:
As I pointed out in several other comments, even the uranium mining industry does not see enough uranium on the market beyond 2035 for even a moderately enlarged reactor fleet and, in fact, a supply gap as soon as the military conversion uranium stocks are depleted. The former boss of Nukem USA, a leading fuel rod manufacturer, stated in one of his presentations (which has been withdrawn from the web since Nukem USA changed owners recently): “Forget the nuclear renaissance. There’s just not enough fuel.”
Extracting uranium from sea water seems to be utter nonsense. Dr. Michael Dittmar calculated that just to extract enough uranium from sea water to run a single nuclear plant would require to process a water flow about double that’s running down the Rhine river.

Performance risk:
Sure, nations could try to speed up their planning phase. Even if they would cut it down to the bare minimum of, say, 2 to 3 years, with almost unprecedented 5 years super-fast construction, that still gives us about 8 years until the first new reactor would operate. If the industry would try to build more than just a few at the same time, it would certainly be seriously stressed in terms of delivery times for critical, complex components and qualified people, leading to longer building periods.
To claim that this will not happen seems pretty naïve to me – it happens all the time with much less complex projects.
And again look at the opportunity cost: How many wind turbines could be built in 8 years with the same money and expertise and resources? Thousands, with incremental capacity additions starting with the first one to go into service.




Thanks. I'm relieved at the calm tone of rationality your post expresses. I think most of your arguments are quite valid and reasonable. I was beginning to fear that my brain was going into 'meltdown' reading some of the posts here. Perhaps it has. However, I feel we may be moving away from a society where the 'quality of arguments' occupies a central position, towards something else. A society where superstition, faith, magic, and raw power, return, once again to dominate discourse.

I would add that there is really a fundemental difference between releases from nuclear plants and coal plants. Coal plants retain thorium and uranium in fly ash, while nuclear plants release mid-mass (induced) fission products as far as the wind will carry them. These radioactive fision products have a large bioavailability but are rare in nature because they have fairly rapid decay times and are not produced by the spontaneous decay of uranium. This means that they get incorporated into our organs and produce large amounts of ionizing radiation in portions of the body that are usually shielded from the external background.

If you think about it, the concentration of uranium in coal is only slightly higher than the concentration in wood. Coal has somewhat less hydrogen than wood. The fly ash from coal has the same concentration of uranium and thorium as wood ash, because it has the same source, incorperation of elements other than carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen from the soil. Coal tend to have the soil mixed in as well so you see some silicon in coal fly ash. But the character of the fly ash is basically dirt without the humus. So, the concentration of uranium and thorium is not raised much above the background level.

Coal does have huge envoronmental issues including mining, spreading mercury and sulfur, and most importantly right now increasing the atmospheric concentration of cabon dioxide. But slightly increasing the concentration of uranium and thorium above the background level in the ash is not a big issue. I consider the web page at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory web site on this subject to be a huge embarrassment both for the laboratory and the country.


Where is the safety standard for coal and fossil fuel plants ?
It is not even a matter of paying for insurance premiums for accidents, but paying for actual damage and health effects.

In regards to government support and subsidies for different energy sources
A 2002 Cato Institute report showed that in the previous 20 years renewable technologies received $24.2 billion in US federal R&D expenditure, compared with $20.1 billion for nuclear and $15.5 for coal (adjusted 1996 dollars). The result of this was minimal electricity contribution from non hydro renewables, and 20% and 50% respectively contribution from nuclear and coal.

A 2006 study from Management Information Services on The US Energy Subsidy Scorecard showed that total federal incentives (of which R&D expenditure is only a part) from 1950 to 2003 totalled $63 billion for nuclear power, $111 billion for renewables, $81 billion for coal and $87 billion for natural gas (2003 dollars), lining this up against the resultant contribution to US energy.

Government support versus actual delivered electricity

R&D versus electricity generation

Focusing on R&D alone over 1994-2003, the study showed coal got $3.9 billion and nuclear $1.6 billion - both commensurate with their contribution to US electricity, while renewables other than hydro received $3.7 billion - vastly more than their foreseeable contribution.

Germany applies a mixture of incentives for renewables, such as a feed-in tariffs. The average feed-in tariff apart from solar PV is 8.5 c/kWh, or 16.4 cents including solar PV in 2006 (solar PV being 49 cents). The combined subsidy from consumers and government totals some EUR 5 billion per year - for 6% of its electricity.

Germany also provides producer subsidies to its coal industry amounting to EUR 68 per tonne for 34 Mt coal in 2000 - total EUR 2.3 billion.

EU energy subsidy analysis from 2004

External energy costs totals for energy. In the notes a discussion of the hypothetical severe nuclear accident. Chernobyl cost $370 billion. Equal to 10-20 years of excess coal or oil costs for the EU15 only. 2-6 years for world (US, China, India etc...) excess coal or oil costs.

Paul Scherrer Institut (swiss) for the study of energy costs with impacts and externalities included

333 final report on energy external costs

External energy costs added to costs of energy. High estimate on top and low estimate below. Nuclear price looks good.

Top ten energy related events for evacuees and costs

Chernobyl is put at US (2000) $370 billion. $6 billion for three mile island. when compared to the annual higher external costs for coal and oil. Then 10-20 years of EU only external costs balances out one Chernobyl. The coal and oil damage for the US and china and other non-EU countries would balance out the one time Chernobyl Chernobyl 3-5 times faster. Chernobyl happened once in 50 years with a particularly dangerous reactor.

Immediate fatalities counts by energy source. Latents for chernobyl not counted and latents for fossil fuel air pollution not counted. Latents for oilwars not counted. Some of China's immediate coal deaths not counted.

2. Speed of release
Speed of release of pollutants by itself is meaningless. It is what happens damage and death wise with the release. If speed effects the damage and death then it matters, but speed by itself is meaningless. Plus all pollutants need to be considered not just radiation.

The Ivy Mike nuclear bomb test of 1951 released 100 times the radiation of Chernobyl and it was released faster, but no one died from Ivy Mike.

I do consider the 1.2 million global deaths from cars an outrage. More should be done to reduce those fatalities. Systematical adjustments like getting off of coal is a factor here. 6 billion tons of coal is moved (rail and trucks). Getting off of coal would reduce traffic accidents by about 3-10% and freight rail by (20-40%).

Social risk: A lot of wind power could have environmental effects. Drying out of peat bogs. Enough wind could effect weather.
There is the clear deaths from coal and oil as I have described, for some reason this is socially acceptable.

Nuclear from seawater. They dip the polymer adsorpant netting into the ocean and let the ocean currents flow by. They then pull out the netting and extract the uranium. It is like fishing with nets. You would not pump the water because the water is already moving.

If 2g-U/kg-adsorbent is submerged for 60 days at a time and used 6 times, the uranium cost is calculated to be 88,000 yen/kg-U, including the cost of adsorbent production, uranium collection, and uranium purification. When 6g-U/kg-adsorbent and 20 repetitions or more becomes possible, the uranium cost reduces to 15,000 yen. This price level is equivalent to that of the highest cost of the minable uranium. The lowest cost attainable now (2006) is 25,000 yen with 4g-U/kg-adsorbent used in the sea area of Okinawa, with 18 repetition uses. This is about $220 per kg (114 yen to 1 US Dollar in 2007) The price of Uranium is currently in the $80-120/kg range.

It does take 1000 three MW wind turbines to equal one single 1 GW nuclear reactor. It takes ten times the steel and concrete to make those wind turbines. Plus the wind turbines and blades need to be built in massive factories. The wind turbines are 30-40 stories tall and the blades are larger than the wings of a jumbo jet.

I think you had better read the footnote to your table. Looks like nuclear has a high range external cost 136 EUR bn/yr, much higher than the others.

A more serious look at subsidies can be found here. The bottomline is that nuclear's R&D effort came in the 50's, 60's and 70's which your table excludes. You know better than this so why are you trying to pass off this hokum?


As I had already indicated:

A 2006 study from Management Information Services on The US Energy Subsidy Scorecard showed that total federal incentives (of which R&D expenditure is only a part) from 1950 to 2003 totalled $63 billion for nuclear power, $111 billion for renewables, $81 billion for coal and $87 billion for natural gas (2003 dollars), lining this up against the resultant contribution to US energy.

That includes the 50,60, and 70s. (1950-2003 includes 1950-1979, I think even you know that)

I have also indicated what I believe are accurate figures for nuclear reactor accidents based on the actual damage and death from Chernobyl. Also, just the potential cost of an accident needs to be matched up against the risk of its occurring.

Space shuttle accident rates versus airplane accident rates are very different. Likewise the risks for reactors are different and ignoring those differences would be hokum.

The risks rates need to be for the incremental risks associated with the new reactors. No one is going to build a Chernobyl style reactor. All existing Chernobyl style reactors have containment domes, limiting nearly all situations to a Three Mile Island level or less.

The AP1000 has a maximum core damage frequency of 5.09 x 10-7 per plant per year. The Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) has a maximum core damage frequency of 4 x 10-7 per plant per year. General Electric has recalculated maximum core damage frequencies per year per plant for its nuclear power plant designs:

BWR/4 -- 1 x 10-5
BWR/6 -- 1 x 10-6
ABWR -- 2 x 10-7
ESBWR -- 3 x 10-8

Frequency times cost.

1 in 100,000 times 6 billion would be $60000/year
5 in 10 million times 6 billion would be $3,000/year

Core damage does not mean breaching containment.

You seem a little light on nuclear subsidies. In 1999 dollars they seem to be $145.4 billion for nuclear, $4.4 billion for solar and $1.3 billion for wind. Are you sure you are not counting money for flood control and river navigability improperly?

I think, to estimate risk, you need to look at the current arrangement or about on major disaster every 40 years. Your guesstimates don't seem to reflect this so they are likely too low.


Your data is missing the 2000-2007 period when there were more subsidies for solar and wind. I think your data is over counting the nuclear and undercounting the solar and wind subsidies.

1. Even with your numbers the subsidies levels are proportionally
1999 25 times more subsidies for 200 times more power from nuclear in 1999 for the USA.

2. Your own document on subsidies has the quote.

It takes a good deal of investment to bring an energy technology to maturity. In the technologies investigated here, much of that investment has come from the public sector.

So is the implication that until $140 billion more in subsidies has been spent on solar and wind we should not expect them to contribute the same electricity as nuclear ? Is it also saying that there should be 20-30 ramp to that maturity and cost competitiveness that goes along with that $140 billion ? Is it that wait until 2030+ before we get serious about offsetting coal and oil and the pollution and death ?

Germany spent 5 billion Euro per year for a decade to get to 6% solar and wind for total electricity. Spanish subsidies for wind power in the last eight years have helped it become the world's second-largest producer of wind power after Germany. Spain will devote €1.8 billion a year until 2010 to subsidizing wind power, 50 percent more than 2006. Solar power subsidies will almost double.

The technologies are global.

Actually, you need to read it more carefully. It shows that both wind and solar will give a greater return on R&D investment than nuclear power.


You seem to be getting to the 136 EU bn/ yr by dividing the highest estimate for a nuclear power accident anyone has every come up with EUR 5,469 billion and then dividing it by 40 ? Then you are saying that the 15 nations of EU should have an accident 14.7 times more costly than Chernobyl every 40 years ? So not just the world would have one of these never before seen huge accidents every 40 years (which if you were right then we are overdue for about three or four of these huge containment breaching disasters that are 14 times more costly than Chernobyl).

The EU 15 for which the externalities chart is providing costs.
* Austria (zero reactors)
* Belgium (7 reactors)
* Denmark (zero)
* Finland (4 reactors)
* France (59 reactors)
* Germany (17 reactors)
* Greece(zero)
* Ireland (Republic of)(zero)
* Italy (zero)
* Luxembourg (zero)
* Netherlands (1 reactor)
* Portugal (zero)
* Spain (8 reactors)
* Sweden (10 reactors)
* United Kingdom (19 reactors)
125 reactors total of the world's 439 active reactors

The EU 15 have never had one major nuclear accident. No USA for TMI. No Ukraine for a Chernobyl. How would we end up with 14.7 times worse than Chernobyl with reactors with containment domes and other better designs ?

You have made several big mistakes even for your massively pessimistic scenarios and assumptions. One accident every 40 years for the world is wrong for non-Chernobyl reactors. Especially containment dome breaching accidents.

Core damage rates are in the 1 in 100,000 (once every 200 years for 500 reactors but were in the 1 in 10,000 range with the old fleet and operating methods) up to 1 in 2 million for better reactors. But containment breaches with simultaneous big leaks have never occurred.

You are blatant with your over the top bias.

Looks like we agree that with the current reactors we get a big meltdown every 20 years. To me, that looks like a containment breach every 40 years. I think it is correct for you to divide by 3.5 so EUR 5,469 bn/40 years/3.5 (Europe's share)= EUR 39 bn/year, still high. On the low side in your table, I would assume the accident occurs outside of Europe and then use the cost of shutting down all the European reactors before they reach their design lifetimes. In between would be the accident happening outside of Europe but still contaminating parts of Europe.


We do not agree that with current reactors we get a big meltdown every twenty years.

There were two major events with old reactors and processes, which have since been improved.

Three mile island had a small radiation leak not a containment breach.
The Chernobyl plant had no proper containment.

If you are going to use those old events as your basis then Chernobyl cost 370 billion dollars and TMI 6 billion and both were outside of EU15. They happened outside of Eu15 and the EU15 reactors did not get shutdown. If you are going to say that safety has not improved then your calculation is 300 billion euro for two events/3.5/50 years for EU1.7 billion/year added to the high side.

However, I believe the core damage event not breaching containment would cost $6 billion max (loss of reactor) and for the current reactors and processes 1 in 100,000. So once every 200 years for a slightly larger than current reactor fleet.

5 billion euro / 200 years = 25 million euro/year

1 in a million for some kind of containment breaching event
500 billion euro / 2000 years = 250 million euro/year

New reactors are 20 times safer.

How could a 5.5 trillion euro damage event happen ? Even blowing up like a nuclear bomb (which is impossible since the uranium is not pure enough) reactors are not close enough to population centers with the blast radius.

The world only has $140 trillion in financial assets.

Even estimates for the nuclear bombing of New York do not have direct economic damage at that level.

The worst case analysis for a terrorist attack on Indian point reactor. Is 1 trillion to 2.1 trillion. (700 to 1.5 trillion euro). All reactors are not near important financial centers, so the value of the surrounding areas would be less for all other reactors.

However, the analysis has been that nuclear reactors would not release radiation if hit by a plane

Third Post on ‘Nuclear Britain’ Gordon Taylor 2008-01-17

Safety Risk. Notwithstanding Charles Barton’s response of the 16th, I must point out that we can no longer rely on ‘normal’ operation, but must now take account of terrorism. Furthermore, as shown by 9/11, the attackers may be highly skilled, while also wanting to die. Hence the ‘Probability’ of any given nuclear release is even more ‘unknowable’ and must logically be taken as one. Moreover, I repeat that the ‘Consequences’ of a nuclear release were demonstrated by Chernobyl. Yet since only a fraction of the core was released, the worst case ‘Consequences’ would be far greater.

As an engineer, the obvious inference is to choose only energy options for which the maximum ‘Consequences’ are minuscule. Even if attacked, the worst outcome should be only inconvenience, so these would not be attractive targets. For example, I envisage the UK being supplied increasingly with electricity from wind farms – mostly located offshore. While connecting cables and substations might be attacked, this could take out at most a few hundred MW, which the grid would well withstand. As another example, I envisage heat for urban buildings being supplied via District Heating (pipe networks) from Combined Heat and Power plants. This would replace piped gas and individual boilers, and reduce the fuel required by some 80%. (See my energy study at Section 3.9). This would remove the cause of accidental gas explosions and greatly reduce the demand for gas, and thus for LNG – for which the storage tanks present extremely vulnerable targets. Most modern piped heat networks operate at maximum temperatures of less than 100 C – and usually more like 70 C. Hence the worst case outcome from any accidental or terrorist events would probably be wet feet.

Performance Risk. I will focus on the CO2/GHG emissions of electricity from nuclear power plants and wind turbines. Mr Barton mentioned ‘Greenhouse-gas emissions from solar-electric and nuclear power: a Life Cycle study’, by Fthenakis and Kim. (See This gives the lifetime GHG emissions of nuclear electricity, assuming 100% centrifuge enrichment, of 12g CO2eq/kWh. (p 13). The range – for differing life cycles and LCA methodologies – is 16 to 55. It also mentions that the impact of uranium depletion on the lifetime emissions was recognised by Chapman in his study dated 1975. Since the above study does not include wind turbines, I would cite the summary ‘Carbon Footprint of Electricity Generation’, produced by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), and dated October 2006. (See This gives the lifetime GHG emissions of nuclear electricity as about 5g CO2eq./kWh, of which uranium extraction accounts for 40% of the CO2 emissions. ‘However, a 2006 study by AEA Technology calculated that for ore grades as low as 0.03%, additional emissions would only amount to 1.8gCO2 eq/kWh. This would raise the current footprint of UK nuclear power stations from 5 to 6.8gCO2 eq/kWh’. For electricity from wind turbines, the POST summary gives onshore as 4.64 and offshore as 5.25g CO2eq./kWh. The values for nuclear and wind are both subject to uncertainty. However, this is one of my points. Given the momentous nature of the choice of energy options, it should be informed by at least two primary, original and independent studies. My purpose here is simply to show that wind turbines must be considered, as should electricity saving measures.

Financial and Other Risks. The UK would be very ill-advised to paint itself into the nuclear corner, since it would then have to import almost all the plant – along with most of the skills – at a huge cost to the balance of trade. Moreover, during the plant lifetime, it would have to bid against other ‘nuclear’ countries for the fast-depleting reserve of uranium fuel. Furthermore, this would arise when the UK is losing its ability to pay its way, due to an ageing population with declining skills. Evidence for this is the recent 25% decline of Sterling against the Euro. Already both France and the USA are making ‘Faustian’ bargains for oil – with the French selling nuclear technology to Gulf states, and the USA selling ever more powerful weapons systems to Saudi Arabia. This is like throwing petrol onto a fire, and they – and we - will surely live to regret it. Instead the UK should follow the example of its (other) Continental neighbours, and build up its capability in energy saving and renewable supply options, including wind turbines. This can best be done on the basis of a strong home market – helped greatly by the UK possessing some 30% of Europe’s wind power resource. Wind turbines can create many jobs at home, and many more for export markets. Moreover, they would not increase nuclear or weapons proliferation nor incur future bills for fuel. Furthermore, this would start the UK’s transition to a sustainable energy solution. (See Is it only me who thinks in such long range, strategic terms ? Surely this is an essential part of the role of government ?

Gordon Taylor,

Unfortunately, I believe the answer to your last points is probably, 'yes', it's you and apparently only a handful of other people who think in long range, strategic terms about these complex questions; and this small group of people are not in positions of real power.
If this is an accurate description, the next question is how come? What are the societal mechansims that lead to such a state of affairs?

I think one could argue that this 'short-termism' and lack of long range, strategic planning may have deep roots in our culture that go back at least a hundred years. Others have compared and contrasted the UK and the US, to central europe, and concluded that there may be Germanic-Rhineland model, which is different to the Anglo-Saxon way of doing things.

It would appear that there's something in this idea, but once again, it's rather complex comparing cultures and histories. However, it does seem that Germany and many of the countries influenced by Germany and close to Germany do do things differently in the UK-US. Better long term, strategic planning in a whole range of different areas compared to Britain and better overall organisation. There's a joke where I come from that if one puts a bunch of Germans on desert island they will immediately start to organize themselves into groups and begin to delegate responsibilty and start working! I spent about a month in Germany on holiday last summer, and what impressed me was the level of organisation and efficiency I saw almost everywhere. In restaurants and bakers, at the beach, on camping sites, museums... I was also impressed with the number of skilled workers producing all sorts of things in their shops, and they still have industries which have almost totally disappeared in the UK. The de-skilling of the workforce and masacre of manufacturing is far less evident in Germany.

Clearly, in Britain over the last thirty years the process of long term, strategic planning on a national level, which is an essential part of the role of government, has been rolled back even more than usual, with, I would argue, dire consequences which are now becoming more and more obvious and impossible to hide. One could mention the differences between the relative qualities of the German and British railway systems, as just one example. Or the standard of termal insulation in their buildings. Their support for alternative energy.

Personally, I think the British electoral system may have something to do with why there is less strategic planning. British governments don't have to compromise and develope a societal concensus, because they form one party majority governments. In Britain a party with less than 40% of the votes in an election can form a majority government with an unasailable parliamentary majority in the hundreds, enabling them to do virtually whatever they want. So it's possible for an extremist sect to gain power and push through sectarian policies which are totally at odds with the wishes of the majority of the population. This is hardly 'democratic' and seems closer to an elected dictatorship in my opinion. And 'dictators' have a tendancy to eventually run their countries into the ground.

Regarding uranium could it be extracted directly from coal? Then coal could be mined for its uranium content rather than burned.