by Amory B. Lovins
Capitalists have already scuttled Patrick Moore's claimed nuclear revival. New U.S. subsidies of about $13 billion per plant (roughly a plant's capital cost) haven't lured Wall Street to invest. Instead, the decentralized competitors to nuclear power that Moore derides are making more global electricity than nuclear plants are, and are growing 20 to 40 times faster.
In 2007, decentralized renewables worldwide attracted $71 billion in private capital. Nuclear got zero. Why? Economics. The nuclear construction costs that Moore omits are astronomical and soaring; low fuel costs will soon rise two-to fivefold. "Negawatts"—saved electricity—cost five to 10 times less and are getting cheaper. So are most renewables. Negawatts and "micro-power"— renewables other than big hydro, and cogenerating electricity together with useful heat—are also at or near customers, avoiding grid costs, losses and failures (which cause 98 to 99 percent of blackouts).
The unreliability of renewable energy is a myth, while the unreliability of nuclear energy is real. Of all U.S. nuclear plants built, 21 percent were abandoned as lemons; 27 percent have failed at least once for a year or more. Even successful reactors must close for refueling every 17 months for 39 days. And when shut by grid failure, they can't quickly restart. Wind farms don't do that.
Variable but forecastable renewables (wind and solar cells) are very reliable when integrated with each other, existing supplies and demand. For example, three German states were more than 30 percent wind-powered in 2007—and more than 100 percent in some months. Mostly renewable power generally needs less backup than utilities already bought to combat big coal and nuclear plants' intermittence.
Micropower delivers a sixth of total global electricity, a third of all new electricity and from a sixth to more than half of all electricity in 12 industrial countries (in the United States it's only 6 percent). In 2006, the global net capacity added by nuclear power was only 83 percent of that added by solar cells, 10 percent that of wind power and 3 percent that of micropower. China's distributed renewables grew to seven times its nuclear capacity and grew seven times faster. In 2007, the United States, China and Spain each added more wind capacity than the world added nuclear capacity. Wind power added 30 percent of new U.S. and 40 percent of EU capacity, because it's two to three times cheaper than new nuclear power. Which part of this doesn't Moore understand?
The punch line: nuclear expansion buys two to 10 times less climate protection per dollar, far slower than its winning competitors. Spending a dollar on new nuclear power rather than on negawatts thus has a worse climate effect than spending that dollar on new coal power. Attention, Dr. Moore: you're making climate change worse.
This article appeared in Newsweek in its May 26, 2008 Issue
Link to a recent WSJ blog post on Moore, in case you haven't been keeping track...
What a pleasure to read this article, or anything by Lovins for that matter.
Either way, we're in for a challenge.