It seems every week, there is another estimate regarding what percentage Natural Gas and renewable energy sources will be providing in energy throughput. You know, via solar panels on every roof, electric cars in every driveway, blah, blah. You know, the renewable energy economy would not only help prevent climate change but also create millions of new jobs.
Between 2009–15, the U.S. invested $150 billion dollars in renewables and other forms of clean tech. There were, of course, issues. Can you say FAIL?
Solar roofs are still too expensive, and cost about twice as much as electricity from solar farms. However, solar and wind farms require huge amounts of land. For communities trying to preserve wildlife, particularly shore and migratory birds, the long transmission lines are a problem.
Large wind turbines are the most serious new threat to important bird species. The rapidly spinning turbines act like an apex predator which big birds never evolved to deal with.
Building a solar farm is a lot like building a gated planned urban development. You have to clear the whole area of wildlife.
A cautionary tale is Germany, which is the world leader in solar and wind energy. Its electricity prices increased 50 percent between 2006–17 as
Still, with solar, Germany’s carbon emissions have been flat since 2009, despite an investment of $580 billion by 2025 in a renewables-heavy electrical grid. That is almost a 50 percent rise in electricity cost.
France produces one-tenth the carbon emissions per unit of electricity as Germany and pays little more than half for its electricity but leveraging nuclear power.
As Germany pressured them to change, France spent $33 billion on renewables. Unfortunately, that caused a rise in the carbon intensity of its electricity supply, and higher electricity prices, too.
In terms of overall expense, 70 to 80 percent of the costs of building nuclear plants are up-front. The costs given for solar and wind don’t include the high cost of transmission lines, new dams, or other forms of battery.
Despite the fear, a recent study by the British medical journal Lancet, finds the same thing: nuclear is the safest way to make reliable electricity.
Even during the worst accidents, nuclear plants release small amounts of radioactive particulate matter from the tiny quantities of uranium atoms split apart to make heat.
Over an 80-year lifespan, fewer than 200 people will die from the radiation from the worst nuclear accident, Chernobyl, and zero will die from the small amounts of radiant particulate matter that escaped from Fukushima.
Because nuclear plants produce heat without fire, they emit no air pollution in the form of smoke. Climate scientist James Hanson found that nuclear plants have actually saved nearly two million lives to date that would have been lost to air pollution.
Thanks to its energy density, nuclear plants require far less land than renewables. A solar farm requires 450 times more land to produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear plant.
Energy-dense nuclear requires far less in the way of materials, and produces far less in the way of waste compared to energy-dilute solar and wind.
A single Coke can’s worth of uranium provides all of the energy that the most regions will ever need. At the end of the process, the high-level radioactive waste that nuclear plants produce is the very same Coke can of (used) uranium fuel. The reason nuclear is the best energy from an environmental perspective is because it produces so little waste and none enters the environment as pollution.
All of the waste fuel from 45 years of the Swiss nuclear program can fit, in canisters, on a basketball court-like warehouse, where like all spent nuclear fuel, it has never hurt a fly.
By contrast, solar panels require 17 times more materials in the form of cement, glass, concrete, and steel than do nuclear plants, and create over 200 times more waste. There is no plan anywhere to deal with solar panels at the end of their 20 to 25 year lifespan.
Experts fear solar panels will be shipped, along with other forms of electronic waste, to be disassembled—or, more often, smashed with hammers—by poor communities in Africa and Asia, whose residents will be exposed to the dust from toxic heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and chromium.
They are not safer either– wind turbines kill more people than nuclear plants.
There was no amount of technological innovation that can solve the fundamental problem with renewables.
Our history has been a movement from matter-dense fuels towards energy-dense ones–from renewable fuels like wood, dung, and windmills, and towards the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas, and eventually to uranium.
This progress can be better for the world-we stop using wood for fuel we allow grasslands and forests to grow back, and the wildlife to return. As we move from fossil fuels to uranium we clear the outdoor air of pollution, and reduce how much we’ll heat up the planet.
It seems silly to have to say this, but nuclear power was the fundamental break from fossil fuels everyone is striving for. And it can power New York.
Unfortunately nuclear is has been abused by a concerted effort by fossil fuel, renewable energy, anti-nuclear weapons campaigners, and environmentalists to ban the technology.
Ideas like the Green New Deal are stupid. France shows that moving from mostly nuclear electricity to a mix of nuclear and renewables results in more carbon emissions, due to using more natural gas, and higher prices, to the unreliability of solar and wind.
Will Americans ever buy a vowel when it comes to energy? As more
On the upside, life will continue to thrive without us.
Data from Michael Shellenberger, Science Daily, GE Nuclear were used in this article.