A worthwhile 20 minutes on nuclear

Michael Shellenberger makes a sensible case for nuclear power. A worthwhile 20 minutes with a lot of interesting statistics especially in comparing nuke power to renewables in terms of life cycle costs.

Some interesting stats are as follows:

Germany’s carbon emissions have been flat since 2009, despite an investment of $580 billion by 2025 in a renewables-heavy electrical grid, a 50 percent rise in electricity cost.

“Consider California. Between 2011–17 the cost of solar panels declined about 75 percent, and yet our electricity prices rose five times more than they did in the rest of the U.S.”

Building a solar farm is a lot like building any other kind of farm. You have to clear the whole area of wildlife…Thanks to its energy density, nuclear plants require far less land than renewables. Even in sunny California, a solar farm requires 450 times more land to produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear plant.”

“Solar panels require 17 times more materials in the form of cement, glass, concrete, and steel than do nuclear plants, and create over 200 times more waste…We tend to think of solar panels as clean, but the truth is that there is no plan anywhere to deal with solar panels at the end of their 20 to 25-year lifespan…Experts fear solar panels will be shipped, along with other forms of electronic waste, to be disassembled—or, more often, smashed with hammers—by poor communities in Africa and Asia, whose residents will be exposed to the dust from toxic heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and chromium.

Storing the Fukushima nuclear waste


Scattered throughout Fukushima prefecture are some 5.5mn black bags containing soil contaminated by the crippled reactors. This picture is on the outskirts of the exclusion zone. To put it in perspective this is what it looks like from the air. They now have huge black tarpaulins draping over them to keep it dry.


Most of the ‘unusable land’ has been converted into waste dumps like this or solar parks. Cars with flashing blue lights waft slowly around the neighborhoods to prevent theft and looting from deserted homes.

Even driving into Sendai some 100km+ north the highways have radiation level information alongside speed limit signs. A reminder of that terrible event 6 years ago which was highly preventable had the money been spent on relatively low cost sensible placement of the back up generators (in the $10s of millions) on high ground. It was forgone because the plant was scheduled for closure 6 months after the quake. The idea was that the risks of a tsunami or quake were so negligible that penny-pinching was the right thing to do. Of course PM Kan refused to give the order to release the presssure inside the reactors against the advice of nuclear experts. The clean up is in the 100s of billions. Go figure.


Fukushima City feels dead. It is a long way from the reactor but unsurprisingly infamous for one thing now. As I mentioned a few weeks ago I’m guessing the government will turn up investment projects to revitalize it.

For a good video on the reactor check ABC’s Mark Willacy on Foreign Correspondent