When All Else Fails, There’s Always Nuclear Energy
Jack Spencer /
Flash back to the mid 1990s. You’re the coach of the Chicago Bulls and your team is down by one with seven seconds to go. It’s crunch time. Who do you get the ball to, Michael Jordan or bring in the 12th guy off the bench. This isn’t a trick question; it’s just a no brainer. You get the ball to MJ.
Energy policy is no different. When facing an energy crisis and countries face a disruption for one reason or another and they need a lot of energy, are they going to choose windmills or nuclear power? This one’s also a no brainer and many countries are making these decisions today.
As a result of Russian-Ukraine natural gas disputes, Ukraine and much or Europe has been forced to make critical and immediate decisions concerning their energy supply. Unsurprisingly, these nations did not attempt to solve their energy crisis with wind or solar. Also unsurprisingly, they turned to nuclear. The WSJ reports:
Eastern countries like Slovakia and Bulgaria have been among the hardest hit by the crisis, because they are nearly totally dependent on Russian gas. Both have restarted Soviet-era nuclear reactors they mothballed as a condition to join the European economic bloc. Slovakia’s president openly said that, faced with a “cold and dark” winter or a wrist slap from Brussels, he’s prepared to power up the nuclear reactors and deal with the consequences later. Poland, which isn’t in the EU, just said that nuclear power will be a cornerstone of its new energy policy.
Even Western European countries long leery of nuclear power are rethinking it. Italy’s large gas reserves kept it insulated from the latest crisis, but it still sparked government officials into a call for more nuclear power to boost Italy’s energy security.
Even in Germany, where Green Party politicians hold a nuclear moratorium sacred, the debate is getting fresh legs. Power sector executives said today they are pretty confident that the double whammy of climate change and the need for more energy security will force Germany to reconsider its current nuclear policy.
A similar argument can be made here in the United States. No, we do not have a natural gas crisis, but if we are serious about meeting increasing energy demands, nuclear energy must play a large part in the mix. That doesn’t mean picking nuclear as a winner and other sources such as coal, wind and solar as losers. It means letting the market determine how we meet our energy demands, and just as the Ukraine and many countries in the EU have, I’m confident nuclear will emerge as a frontrunner.
But instead, the government is subsidizing this massive flavor-of-the-month energy source, that’s just not very reliable A Wall Street Journal article yesterday said that the turbines made by Suzlon Energy Ltd., the world’s fifth-largest wind- turbine maker by sales, cannot handle the wind and are cracking. This is not a new phenomenon. As this study shows, wind power reliability is a top concern for industry. And in Northern Ireland, a blade from a turbine fell off and cut through a family’s farmhouse while they were sleeping. (Fortunately, no one was hurt.)
Then there’s the problem that wind is intermittent, producing electricity only about a third of the time. Can you imagine having a 1 in 3 shot that your TV or light switch turns on? This means that power plants are needed to provide electricity when the wind is not blowing. Also, the life expectancy of windmills is projected to be 20 years, which is about one fourth of the life a nuclear power plant.
Speaking of nuclear, nuclear is that staple source of energy that will always be there when wind isn’t. 435 nuclear power plants currently operate worldwide providing 16% of the world’s electricity, with many more plants on the way. The reality is, they just don’t fail you. They’re constantly running at a high capacity factor. They’re not subject to the wind blowing or the sun shining or if there’s Russia-Ukraine natural-gas disputes.