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Monday, July 28, 2008

let's look outside-the-antiquated-box.

After my last couple of posts on the dangers of nuclear waste and growing wind power sector, I received more than a couple of emails from readers ranging from fairly positive to the predictable "no, we can't, we can't, we can't" from those who's thoughts continue to float in an unmarked antiquated box somewhere.

With Ontario-based Bruce Power announcing that over 2,700 jobs would be created with the construction of a nuclear power plant in Alberta's Peace Country, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a county that is rejecting nuclear energy, and as a result has seen its renewable energy sector flourish.

In 2002, German legislators turned their backs on nuclear power when they passed of the "Act on the structured phase-out of the utilisation of nuclear energy for the commercial generation of electricity." Since taking power in 2005, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is continuing plans to phase out nuclear power by 2020.

German renewable energy sector jobs almost doubled from 160,500 in 2004 to 249,300 in 2007, leading some to suggest that as many as 400,000 jobs could exist in this sector by 2020 (over 100,000 more than some previous studies had predicted). In 2007, renewable energy sources in Germany generated 8.5% of that country's total energy consumption, and saved 114 million tons in carbon dioxide.

Sigmar Gabriel, German Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety was quoted as saying:

"The systematic expansion of renewable energy is not only good from the environmental and climate policy point of view but also for innovation, growth and employment in Germany."
Gabriel has also announced that Germany, the world's sixth largest greenhouse gas emitter, will expand its environmentally friendly energy production target to 27% by 2020.

A recent NASA report (h/t DSB) has reported that Canada's coastal areas have the wind power density to produced intense amounts of wind energy through offshore wind farms. The construction of offshore coastal wind farms on Canada's coasts would be a smarter way to meet our energy needs (and maybe make a couple bucks after selling surplus energy south of the 49th parallel).

As our provincial government continues its rosey-eyed high school-style relationship with nuclear power, we as citizens have a responsibility to understand that there are plenty ways to moving forward in filling our energy needs beyond nuclear power. There is a growing need for a larger energy supply, but we have a responsibility to ensure that the effects of our developments do not adversely affect the lives and well-being of the current population, as well as generations to come.

Maybe having antiquated thinkers drive our debate isn't the smartest idea in the first place?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Merkel's Conservatives Advocate Return to Nuclear Energy

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3399861,00.html

Germany to stay nuclear in Merkel U-turn

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1556830/Germany-to-stay-nuclear-in-Merkel-U-turn.html

Merkel Nudges for Nuclear Power Comeback

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,492202,00.html

The fact remains, for wind and solar electricity to work, you either have to overbuild to such a degree that you have four times as much capacity and a huge grid to move the power around (in a situation where you have an environment that can reliably offset other sources, just building four times as many windmills in the same place doesn't help, and during the winter in Alberta solar can't be used for offsetting).

In other cases, you need enough offsetting power from the traditional electricity sector, including coal and gas plants, to keep the grid powered. Even a gas plant needs time to start up.

Nuclear power is safe, and since Alberta's market is deregulated Albertans would face no financial risk from allowing a plant to be built.

To actually reduce GHGs we need to think about big solutions. One nuclear power plant (one reactor) can reduce emissions by 15 megatonnes. That is triple the projected amount for carbon capture and storage (which may have risks of its own).

Right now, at this moment, 87 megawatts of wind electricity is being generated of 497 megawatts of installed wind power. Even with ten times the amount of installed wind power, if we accept today's real world generation numbers as a floor, we couldn't shut down one major ghg source.

I'm not arguing against using wind as part of a mix, but replacing base load power with wind power is unfeasible. Fortunately TransCanada wants to build a new huge hydro plant that will increase generation by 176% or approximately 1200 megawatts:

http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKN2022940420080320

Alberta's other renewable option would be biomass, using timber to generate electricity. That would provide reliable baseload generation.

Going back to Germany, in 2005 the generation mix in Germany comprised 46% hard coal/lignite/peat, 28% nuclear, 11% natural gas with just over 4.5% each for hydro and wind (Eurostat, 2007). The Germany target for renewables for 2010 is 12.5%.

Alberta right now for renewable share is 13%.

kr said...

"Nuclear power is safe, and since Alberta's market is deregulated Albertans would face no financial risk from allowing a plant to be built."

And I suppose the market take care of the waste for the next 50,000 years? No risk whatsoever.

daveberta said...

anonymous -- for someone who is this immersed in this topic, it's unfortunate that you're remaining anonymous.

I agree that energy diversification is key, any one source by itself probably isn't going to cut it. I'm not skeptical of nuclear's capacity to create energy, but our maturity in taking responsibility over what we are creating. I'm not convinced that we fully understand the responsibility that we are handcuffing future generations with when we talk about nuclear left-overs, the market may be absorbing the short-term financial costs, but there are long term costs and implications that cannot be undone, and that is one of the main reasons why I am skeptical of nuclear power.

Anonymous said...

""Nuclear power is safe, and since Alberta's market is deregulated Albertans would face no financial risk from allowing a plant to be built."

And I suppose the market take care of the waste for the next 50,000 years? No risk whatsoever."

Waste is governed by a federal act, that collects money from nuclear operators to build a long term storage site. Sites selection studies are currently underway. Waste from power reactors is much easier to manage than the examples Dave has brought up, like nuclear weapons processing in Oregon and fuel reprocessing, fuel upgrading in France.

Waste from nuclear power is containable, manageable, and by volume small. We have to remember that all over the world there are radioactive deposits that have been successfully contained by nature. Using lessons from nature, we can build storage facilities that will contain the waste until it is as safe as any naturally occurring phenomenon. (10,000 years or so)

daveberta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
daveberta said...

Considering how young humanity is, I'm not sure how anyone can take seriously the claim that we have the maturity or longevity to take responsibility over something for the next 10,000 years.

I'm sure the Roman's believed that their empire would stand for 10,000 years, so I'm not sure it would be very wise for us to be under the same impression.

kate said...

Merkel's 360 Degree turn on nuclear power since her election in 2010 is simply political maneuvering. She is simply shoring up her base support for the campaign and it is unlikely that the German government will reverse their already successful position. The renewable energy sector in Germany is booming and is the envy of other sectors around the globe.

Take Notice Canada said...

"Considering how young humanity is, I'm not sure how anyone can take seriously the claim that we have the maturity or longevity to take responsibility over something for the next 10,000 years. "

So really, your problem isn't a science problem, it is a truthiness problem. In your gut, you don't think we can build something that can contain something for that many years.

A said...

"So really, your problem isn't a science problem, it is a truthiness problem. In your gut, you don't think we can build something that can contain something for that many years."

How is that not a science problem? Is there any scientific evidence to suggest that we can? Has someone conducted a 10,000 year study with a statistically relevant sample size, taking into account factors like geological migration, war, and what an ice age would do to a nuclear storage facility?

If so, do tell. If not, I for one would like to see what wind, sun, and other such clever things can do over large concrete tubes that secrete glowing green goo.

tjk said...

You're making an interesting argument on this issue Dave...aside from this continued reliance on an "antiquated thinkers" logic.

You went to it on taxes and you go to it on this.

It simply isn't proper debating and discussion of an issue to address someone you're (merely) disagreeing with in this fashion. Attempting to diminish them in such a way does nothing to further your case.

I for one grow tired of the viscerally negative reaction that so many have to nuclear power, based on what happened in the 1970s and 80s with technology that is no longer relevant. Doesn't mean I think they're antiquated thoughts...

ian said...

good commentary dave. I am continually disappointed in politicians who continue to tell us that 'it can't be done.' Alberta has the ability to do amazing things with our wealth. Alberta could and should be a world leader, and yet our leaders are comfortably content on relying on public relations to deal with our energy and environmental challenges.