Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Perils of "No Alternatives"

The Drumstir:
"...nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable substitute for coal. It's that simple."

This is something that I've struggled with too, but Moore's case is persuasive. There aren't any other realistic alternatives for replacing coal-fired facilities, and the issues of safety, waste, and terrorism, though genuine, are manageable.
Why do liberals feel the need to prove their credibility by embracing idiotic ideas? (Yes, this is relevant to Iran.) Let's look at the facts: Nuclear is more expensive, more dangerous, and more polluting than solar or wind. The intermittency problem is somehow seen as a deal-breaker, but the reality of nuclear waste that is lethally toxic for millenia is waved away as "manageable". No, no it's not. Atmospheric CO2, as damaging as it is, would largely be sequestered out of the atmosphere over a matter of centuries anyway. That is to say CO2 is a problem that is far more "short-term" than it's uranium oxide equivalent.

As for the problem of intermittency, ultracapacitors may very shortly solve the problem of electrical storage. In particular, EEstor of Texas may have the key technology to a) rationalize electrical grids, b) make natural gas generators obsolete, and c) finally give us all decent electric cars. I wrote about EEstor previously here.

Even if EEstor in particular doesn't pan out, ultracapacitors are already being used in some transport applications (Maxwell builds them.) And everyone acknowledges that UCs have a lot of potential.

Adding storage costs to a renewable electrical utility does add to the costs of green technology, but considering that wind is already cheaper than coal in some areas, and solar is already cheaper than natural gas, it's difficult to see how a green utility could cost more than a nuclear one, even if it needed to pay for its own storage.

As to Moore's assertion that nuclear is "the only substitute", I wonder why this rhetorical trick fools so many liberals. The Iraq war was sold as "the only alternative" (something Kevin Drum gullibly supported for most of the pre-war period), Iran will be sold as "the only alternative", and nuclear and clean coal will both be sold as "the only alternative", when there were and are plenty of alternatives for those who actually put two seconds of thought in to these issues.

Why do liberals keep getting fooled like this? It's been happening at least since Maggie Thatcher, right? Are we really this dumb?

1 comment:

LeoPetr said...

Yes, but we can get nuclear up faster than we can get solar or wind. The manufacture of solar and wind plants requires a much larger use of oil than does nuclear, and thus results in a lower return on energy invested. Replacing both coal and nuclear with wind at the same time is a tremendously expensive and difficult option. Getting enough wind up so that we are able to make more wind plants using only wind power is the big hurdle. I think we should be building both for the time being.

Citing ultracapacitors as something we should bet the pot on reduces your credibility because they are not After all, I could be arguing that we have become spectacularly better at reducing pollution at nuclear plants thanks to recent advances, that we could be disposing of waste in the same mines we dug it out of, and that breeder reactors are much more fuel efficient and thus produce far less waste than conventional ones.