Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Who needs nuclear?

The official opening yesterday of the £160 million Glendoe hydro power station in the hills above Loch Ness coincided with an announcement from Scottish and Southern Energy that it intends to create two new hydro schemes in the Great Glen.

This is excellent news for those of us who believe that real effort should be made to ensure much more use of renewable sources of energy are used. Although we don't yet know any of the details of the proposed Great Glen schemes, projects like this are important if we are to make a real switch to greener energy.

These new hydro schemes should be seen alongside the development of other forms of greener energy. I have blogged before (here, here and here) about the potential contribution which renewable sources can make to Britain's energy requirements.

The development of wave and tidal power (still in their infancy, but with potential to deliver very significant amounts of energy), together with contributions from solar power, offshore wind farms and geothermal, between them have the capacity to deliver a huge amount of Britain's energy requirements within the next few decades.

The question thus arises as to why we should bother investing in new nuclear fission power stations. As I've highlighted before, nuclear power is not renewable, it still produces significant amounts of waste to which the only 'solution' is burial for a few thousand years until we've worked out what to do with it, it's quite an expensive way of generating power and it's not even that good at reducing carbon emissions.

In answer to my own question, with the big energy firms investing ever more sums in renewable energy schemes, I don't see that we do need nuclear fission power. I have no problem with research continuing into nuclear fusion power, but at the moment that's very far from being a viable source of power. And until that happens, our focus should be on developing renewable sources of energy - not going down the failed route of nuclear fission power.


Stephen B said...

Just wondering but...isn't your faith in the ability of technological progress to adapt to meet the energy needs in the future from their present inadequate state really just the same as, say, Lord Lawson's belief that human technological adaptation to the challenges of climate change means we really don't have wear green hair shirts and tax ourselves into the stone age?

In other words, why factor in unproven technological progress in this model but not, for example, in the Stern Report?

Bernard Salmon said...

For a start, your line about taxing ourselves into the stone age is not the kind of caricature I expect from you, Stephen.
Secondly, it's not a matter of unproven technological progress. The technology is there and it works. For example, the tidal project on Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland is now generating power, while there are major solar photovoltaic plants in Germany and Portugal. A 550 MW solar plant is to be built in California, which will be fully operational by 2013. These things are happening now, so the only question is whether we have the political will to do likewise.

Richard T said...

Well the problem is that the present base load power stations - the 11 or 12 built from the 1960s to the late 1970s are reaching the end of their useful lives as are the AGRs with Torness being the last to close possibly by 2020. This amounts to around half the generating capacity in Britain and about 60% of the winter peak - the rest being gas fired plant and the use of these is more than questionnable as the need to import the gas for them grows.

There is no large scale 'green' or green tinged means of generating electricity available to replace these in the time horizon in whch they need replaced. The solar plant you cite in California has the same capacity as one of the generators in the power stations in question.

The choice then is unpalatable - a green future with limited power and extensive brown outs supplemented by wind turbines everywhere (which can't supply contstant power) or a programme of coal fired and nuclear stations until and if tidal power becomes viable.

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