Why I Prefer Wind to Nuclear

First of all, don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-nuclear.  I’m not fond of the waste, but theoretically, it could be reused in other reactor types.  It’s a powerful, concentrated source of energy.

No, the main reason I prefer wind/solar to nuclear is based simply on economics and the environment.  Let’s look at some case studies.

Three Mile Island… construction beings in 1968. The first reactor is commissioned in 1974. Six year construction time. Total cost: The initial construction cost was 400 million US$, equal to $1,781,448,883 today

Commanche Peak, Texas… construction begins 1974. First commission date: 1990 (16 years) Total cost: unknown, but the upgrade (two more reactors) $8.5 billion to $20.4 billion for a 3,400 MW plant.

Now, how much wind power can you build for 8.5 billion? 2007 cost per megawatt 1.2-2.6 million per megawatt of nameplate capacity. Even a conservative estimate would yield almost 4 Gigawatts of nameplate capacity.  If you take the 20 billion figure, you can get almost 10 Gigawatts of nameplate capacity.  (Note that these values do not include fuel, which, while lasting a long time, isn’t that cheap.)

In 2009 almost 10,000 Megawatts (10 Gigawatts) of wind power were brought online in the US. Up from the 8900 MW of 2008. So that’s kind of an estimate on how long it takes to build a wind farm… less than a year. Because it’s a distributed source, it takes much less time to build turbines and install them than a single nuclear reactor.

Now, what are you using for power in the next 6-16 years while your nuke plant is being built… coal, oil, natural gas… so, for 6-16 years, your nuclear plant is not doing anything to help the environment, while the generator capacity I installed in less than a year is already pumping out electricity 4-10 Gigawatts of juice.

Finally, wind and solar are simpler and distributed.  The maintenance costs of turbines are very small.  A three man crew could probably maintain a 100 turbine wind farm (that’s about 2 days of maintenance per unit per year).  A nuclear plant takes way more people.  If a turbine breaks, I lose 1-5 Megawatts until it’s fixed.  If a nuclear plant breaks, I lose 3.4 Gigawatts until it’s fixed.

I’m not anti-nuclear. I’m fine with it. I just don’t see it as effective anymore. Choice between nuclear and any fossil fuel. I go nuclear. Choice between nuclear and wind/solar. I go wind/solar.

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