Grist has an article from Amory Lovins on Stewart Brand's new book "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto" - Stewart Brand’s nuclear enthusiasm falls short on facts and logic. I like Brand and usually agree with him, but I'm with Amory on this one.
Supporting technical details and citations for this post can be found here: “Four Nuclear Myths” (PDF).
I have known Stewart Brand as a friend for many years. I have admired his original and iconoclastic work, which has had significant impact. In his new book, Whole Earth Discipline: an Ecopragmatist Manifesto (Viking), he argues that environmentalists should change their thinking about four issues: population, nuclear power, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and urbanization. Many people have asked me to assess his 41-page chapter on nuclear power, so I’ll do that here, because I believe its conclusions are greatly mistaken.
Stewart recently predicted that I wouldn’t accept his nuclear reassessment. He is quite right. His nuclear chapter’s facts and logic do not hold up to scrutiny. Over the past few years, I’ve sent him five technical papers focused mainly on nuclear power’s comparative economics and performance. He says he’s read them, and on p. 98 he even summarizes part of their economic thesis. Yet on p. 104 he says, “We Greens are not economists” and disclaims knowledge of economics, saying environmentalists use it only as a weapon to stop projects. Today, most dispassionate analysts think new nuclear power plants’ deepest flaw is their economics. They cost too much to build and incur too much financial risk. My writings show why nuclear expansion therefore can’t deliver on its claims: it would reduce and retard climate protection, because it saves between two and 20 times less carbon per dollar, 20 to 40 times slower, than investing in efficiency and micropower.
That conclusion rests on empirical data about how much new nuclear electricity actually costs relative to decentralized and efficiency competitors, how these alternatives compare in capacity and output added per year, and which can most effectively save carbon. Stewart’s chapter says nothing about any of these questions, but I believe they’re at the heart of the matter. If nuclear power is unneeded, uncompetitive, or ineffective in climate protection, let alone all three, then we need hardly debate whether its safety and waste issues are resolved, as he claims.
The much ballyhooed "nuclear renaissance" meme has been given short shrift in the SMH today as well - Nuclear delusions keep mushrooming.
Little wonder Australians are reconsidering the nuclear option for electricity production. The recent wave of euphoric predictions of a global nuclear renaissance from industry promoters has created high community expectations.
But on closer scrutiny, nuclear power's real potential is disappointing. Despite over half a century of intensive subsidisation and promotion, it produces less than 15 per cent of the world's electricity. This may seem hard to believe, given the fervour with which its promoters have been singing its praises of late, but the numbers speak for themselves.
In addition to 430 reactors operating worldwide, 52 reactors are listed by the International Atomic Energy Agency as ''under construction''. Thirteen have been on that list for over 20 years, and 24 still don't have an official planned start-up date.
One oft-quoted goal of the nuclear industry is to grow to 730 reactors worldwide by 2030. This would require one to be completed every 24 days, every year for the next 20 years. And it would assume none currently operating will be shut down. This seems improbable as the average age of operating power plants is 25 years.
Meanwhile the industry gestures excitedly at China (16 under construction), India (seven under construction) and Russia (nine under construction), which are unlikely even to compensate for lost global capacity as older reactors will have to close.
Predictions of huge expansion in Eastern Europe or North America - even in Australia - over the next two decades border on hysteria. Don't be deceived by talk of ''planned reactors'' or ''new generation solutions'': ask to see the poured concrete and the installed reactor core.
A realistic appraisal suggests we will see reactors built, and continue to hear excited talk about nuclear expansion. But it is almost as certain the so-called "renaissance" will be more of a protracted, agonising expiration.