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Tuesday, December 07, 2004


This is a letter I have had in the Scotsman today. It was in reply to a letter of 3rd December from a ocean energy producer supporting more windfarms. As both are feeding from the same public trough they are more mutually supportive than in economic competition. To be fair it is possible that some forms of ocean power may be competitive on the other hand they are currently so far from being built that cost estimates are pretty theorectical & building turbines in remote areas with strong tidal races may prove more expensive in real life than on paper.

Renewable resource

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other receivers of government subsidy in the energy industry may be a sensible strategy, but Richard Yemm’s letter (3 December) in support of wind factories has some basic errors.

His claim that "today, wind energy and hydro electricity are the only two utility scale renewable technologies available to the market" ignores the fact that nuclear can be sustained over, at least , the next 4.5 billion years. As that is close to the lifetime of this planet, it seems unlikely that either wind or wavepower will be much use thereafter.

By any fact-based definition, nuclear is a fully renewable resource. If a definition is required to include wind and wave but exclude nuclear, perhaps the term subsidy-demanding technologies would be more accurate.

A further error is in the statement that "robust energy supply systems have invariably utilised a wide range of core technologies". Historically, most energy systems have instead relied for the vast majority of their power on a very few basic reliable systems, with the esoteric stuff being very marginal.

Scotland has, for example, relied on nuclear for 45 per cent of its power, hydro for 10 per cent and coal for the rest. In recent years, gas has replaced much of the coal power and it is apparently hoped that, at some stage, after subsidy of sufficient billions, wind may pass the 2 per cent mark.

However, France is currently relying on nuclear for 80 per cent of its power (at less than a third of the cost of wind), and the fact that it is exporting power to all its neighbours means that its supply system must be considered "robust".

They left out a bit about France supplying 5% of the UK's electricity, tho' keeping in the reference to them supplying all their neighbours. France is currently spending 3 billion on building a nuclear reactor complex on the Cherbourg peninsula which is badly placed to serve French industry but as well placed as can be to serve British. Since hysteresis losses in transmission will probably amount to 10% crossing the Channel it would, of course be 10% more efficient if located in England & presumably France will be making a profit on this.

Please understand the following is a genuine question: you say that nuclear fuel is "fully renewable" with a facts-based definition. Could you explain what you mean by that? In my understanding, nuclear power does require U235 as fuel (or perhaps U238 for a Dounreay style breeder reator).

Is it breeder technology you're referring to? Japan still remains comitted to that technology, I believe?
Basically it is renewable in that we can bring in new uranium (or thorium) for as long as we want. It will not run out proveably for 4.5 billion years according to calculations by Prof Cohen*, but in fact longer since uranium is not worryingly rare & more common the deeper you dig.

Whether to use fast breeders or thorium or whatever is an economic & waste disposal decision. The important fact is that we need never worry about it running out.

*Check this out for a real expert
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