“Nuclear energy by the numbers”

A truism is a claim that is obvious or self-evident as to be hardly worth mentioning, except as a reminder or as a rhetorical device. If only that were true! What do I mean by that little sarcasm? Whenever I read an article from an anti-group regardless of topic, they use a technique which uses a true fact to lead a scientifically and mathematically ignorant public to a false conclusion. Hmmmm.

When I started writing this series about our nuclear biosphere, I promised myself that I would try to avoid stating a bunch of numbers, pushing partisan politics, definitely no religion and to keep the articles to 600 words. Well, this week I have to violate the numbers rule.

Recently, I started reading a manuscript for a new book about energy and the planet. In the chapter titled “Lets Run the Numbers”, there are many detailed figures for what it means to have nuclear vs. wind and solar as a primary energy source. The comparison was based on standard size 500MW power plants to provide electricity distribution through the US national power grid to service the same base of customers. The following four statements were made and the rest of the chapter referenced supporting statistics, formulas, modeling numbers and did I say lots of números to backup each of the following statements.

  • It would cost over $29 Trillion to generate America’s baseload electric power with a 50 / 50 mixture of wind and solar PV farms, on parcels of land totaling the area of Indiana. Or:
  • It would cost over $18 Trillion with Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) farms in the southwest deserts, on parcels of land totaling the area of West Virginia. Or:
  • We could do it for less than $3 Trillion with AP-1000 Light Water Reactors (Gen3+), on parcels totaling the area not much bigger than Roswell, NM. Or:
  • We could do it for $1 Trillion with liquid-fueled Molten Salt Reactors (Gen4), on the same amount of land as the AP-1000, but with no water cooling, no risk of meltdowns, and the ability to use our stockpiles of nuclear “waste” as a secondary fuel.

Whatever we decide, we need to make up our minds, and soon. Burning carbon fuels are killing us and killing the planet as well. Sorry folks, but a good planet is hard to come by. The above 4 statements are from ‘Power to the Planet’ manuscript/new book by Mike Conley, except for the reference to Roswell, NM.

Without doing the math myself, I actually came to a similar conclusion that nuclear was more efficient than all other sources of energy by sheer observation and a little bit of scientific research. When the energy density of uranium or thorium fission is 2 million times more than the next densest source, coal, you have to wonder why we would want a mixture of other less efficient energy sources with capacity factors less than 50% at production time. The capacity factor is where nuclear power excels; it’s almost always above 90% online. And it’s why the most productive power plants in America are nuclear (Palo Verde, AZ is #1).

For those of you who have been reading my column weekly already know that nuclear is my preference for electricity generation. After 3 years of writing about nuclear I am starting to get redundant and have decided to move on to the next revolution of technology: nano-technology and robotics. This will keep me busy for the next couple of years writing some very interesting articles.

One last comment – Pope Francis is the first Pope to have studied chemistry and who worked as a chemist prior to entering the seminary. In section 104 of the Encyclical it states: “However, we cannot ignore the fact that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, the knowledge of our own DNA and other potential advances that we have acquired, offer us tremendous power and opportunity”. This sentence should have been in section 1. Unfortunately, main stream media won’t read past section 10 and focus only on climate change and social injustice issues.


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