Nuclear 'Green', Renewables Not?
31 Jul, 2007 04:27 pm
I'm not sure what to make of this:
Renewable does not mean green. That is the claim of Jesse Ausubel of the Rockefeller University in New York. Writing in Inderscience's International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, Ausubel explains that building enough wind farms, damming enough rivers, and growing enough biomass to meet global energy demands will wreck the environment.
I can't access the original paper, entitled 'Renewable and nuclear heresies', which is published in the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology. A cynical view would therefore be that the pro-nuclear stance is unsurprising, but the author, Jesse Ausubel, is, it seems, an enthusiastic and early advocate of 'decarbonisation' - the somewhat lofty goal of entirely weaning us off fossil fuels - so should not perhaps be dismissed out of hand as some sort of industry shill.
His argument seems to be that compared to nuclear power, renewable energy generation uses up an awful lot of space: To match the output of one 1000 MWe nuclear power station (where the e stands for electric - this is a measure of electricity out rather than the greater amount of energy used to produce that electricity), you would need to:
* Flood 30,000 square km an area the size of Ontario (900,000 square km) for hydroelectricity;
* Cultivate 2,500 square km field for biomass;
* Cover 770 square km with windmills;
* Cover 150 square km with solar panels.
Multiply this up by however many MWe power plants you'd need to supply an entire country (probably in the hundreds or thousands), and that's a lot of real estate you're using up. In one sense, then, this is the ultimate 'Not In My Backyard' argument. Without access to the article I can't check the math: some reckon his calculations are a little on the pessimistic side, but you can generally argue these things either way. Others have also pointed out that using land for wind or solar doesn't necessarily mean that you can't use it for something else too - you can stick farms, or buildings, underneath.
I personally find the premise a bit simplistic - does environmental impact really just boil down to the space used? Even with hydroelectric, the big lake is not so much the serious environmental issue as the effects of the big lake - things like the trapping of sediment behind the dam and eutrophication. A big field of windmills may not be aesthetically pleasing to some, but their actual environmental impact in terms of pollution is quite low. And even if a nuclear power plant doesn't take up much space, it does produce highly radioactive waste material which we still don't know what to do with. Of course, I'm fairly pro distributed generation and suspicious of nuclear (in the sense that I'm unconvinced that it can solve the problems some claim it can over practical timescales), but even so this seems like a weak argument.
Originally posted by Chris Rowan on: Highly Allochthonous