This does not mean what you think it means

But Jochen Flasbarth, president of the Environmental Protection Agency in Germany, who advises the German government, said: \”We are not missionaries, and every country will have to find its own way in energy policy, but it is obvious that nuclear plants are too inflexible and cannot sufficiently respond to variations in wind or solar generation, only gas [power stations] do.\”

This is used as an argument to not build nuclear but to build instead wind and solar backed up by gas.

But total emissions would be much lower if one built nuclear, did not have the gas back up and completely forgot about the wind and solar.

For, leaving aside that back up thing, nuclear emissions are around and about, total lifecycle, the same as wind and some one third of solar.

The low carbon option is thus nuclear.

13 comments on “This does not mean what you think it means

  1. Tim – we can’t have nukes any more in Germany. We just can’t.

    What happens if we get a tsunami?

    Won’t someone think of the children?

  2. (Dry rasping sound of the bottom of the arguments barrel being scraped.)
    Gulp!

    Logic aside is this actually true? Reactors on warships & subs have to cope with widely varying demand levels. Surely it’s pull the moderators out, drop the moderators in?

    OK I can understand you wouldn’t want long term problems of thermal shock to the circuits but nuclear fuel’s not the big expense in a reactor. Just keep the cooling medium at operating temperature & dump waste heat. I think that’s what’s done in the naval context.
    Anyone confirm?

    As a back-up, nuclear might even be better than gas.

  3. “The low carbon option is thus nuclear.”

    Absolutely (and put some money into fusion research). Also, thanks to science and engineering, we might do better than plants built 30 or 40 years ago.

  4. I guess one reason why nuclear might not be the first choice for backup is that the ratio of capital to fuel costs for nuclear is considerably greater than for gas. (I’m assuming that they have similar total costs.)

    Even if it is technically possible to turn nuclear power stations on and off rapidly, you still have the problem that when they’re off you’re only saving the (relatively small) cost of the fuel and you’ve still got the (relatively large) cost of the capital. So nuclear looks expensive as backup.

    You can see this at

    http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/Cost_of_Generating_Electricity.pdf

    which is the first thing I found from Google. Figure A8 on p39 is for gas and Figure A9 on p42 is for nuclear.

    So best just to leave the nukes on all the time…

  5. But that wasn’t his argument, was it? His argument was over flexibility not cost. If it was cost, it’s anything but wind

  6. Nuclear for baseload, gas for peak load and wind and solar for boutique power in out of the way places with strange sounding names.

    Why is this so difficult to grasp, after all it’s been the basis of the French power system for many decades now.

  7. I’m with Kevin B. There is a baseline level of demand which always has to be met. That should be nuclear.

  8. You are all missing the point. The EU is committed to using “renewable” energy sources, even if they consume more energy than they provide (which is the case with many aluminium windmills that have stopped functioning within months, let alone years, of construction – I was horrified by the number of non-functioning windmills I saw while driving back from my niece’s wedding this summer: some windfarms had half their windmills idle while the other half were spinning). There is no question of efficiency, let alone cost. So, in Herr Flasbarth’s context, gas is the best back-up to wind power because it can switch from spinning idle (a total waste of energy) to producing power in a matter of seconds. The total waste of energy while the gas-powered combined cycle plants are waiting for the wind to drop does not matter. The increased pollution and carbon emissions compared to the nuclear alternative do not matter. Only obedience with the EU diktats based on the demands of the environmentally-unfriendly “Green” party matter.
    Fortunately it is more than eight hours since I last ate.

  9. The success of East German/Soviet penetration and propaganda lingers on and on. So much for the claim that commies couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.

  10. I’m pro-nuke, but:

    So, in Herr Flasbarth’s context, gas is the best back-up to wind power because it can switch from spinning idle (a total waste of energy) to producing power in a matter of seconds.

    Idle gas power is a total waste of *not very much energy at all* though, is the point.

    The success of East German/Soviet penetration and propaganda lingers on and on. So much for the claim that commies couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.

    ?!?!?!?!?!?

    Are you claiming the Soviets were anti-nuclear-power? Are you *certifiably insane*? Or are you suggesting they built budget nuclear power plants and then put clueless maniacs in charge of them to deliberately cause an epic meltdown and discredit nukes in Westerners’ eyes?

  11. john b – “Are you claiming the Soviets were anti-nuclear-power? Are you *certifiably insane*?”

    They certainly were anti-nuclear-power in the West. And probably had some role in the formation of the German Green Party. There is a nasty rumour that Petra Kelly’s husband killed her because he did not want her to read their Stasi file.

    But I assume that comment was humour.

  12. bloke in spain – “Logic aside is this actually true? Reactors on warships & subs have to cope with widely varying demand levels. Surely it’s pull the moderators out, drop the moderators in?”

    I think that they have fairly constant power demands actually. There is a problem with nuclear power reactors and Xenon-135. It absorbs neutrons. It is a product of nuclear fission. All reactors have to be kept carefully at the right output because of the production of Xenon-135. Too much and the reactor can suffer from Xenon-poisoning. This is a problem when you reduce power – you’re now producing fewer neutrons, but you have the same levels of Xe-135. The reactor can then suddenly shut down. You can’t then start it up because you have to wait for the Xe-135 to decay. It has a half life of about 9 hours. Which means a day or two after your reactor closed itself down, it can now choose to start itself up. Unless you close it down properly.

    Even at the best of times, reactor output tends to wobble. Getting it wrong means the reactor suffers poisoning, closes itself down and won’t work for a few days. So getting it right is very important.

    This is one of the bonuses of the molten salt reactor – fission products are removed as they are produced.

  13. Submarine reactors – I think that they have fairly constant power demands actually.

    Nope, they have quite variable power demands, which is why PWRs are so good – the moderator / coolant becomes a better moderator, therefore more power – as more power is drawn off by the heat exchangers. The responsiveness of this cycle is determined by the primary circuit circulation period – well under a minute.

    But neutron poisons are a problem – Xe-135 less so than some of the longer half-life ones, which do affect how quickly you can restart after a scram (hence the replacement of sub reactor cores when they still have lots of fuel left). You adjust your (hafnium?) rods to maintain primary coolant temperature within a reasonable range in the medium (10s of minutes).

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