Two posh britishmen discussing nuclear power. Not exactly my cup of tea, I really don’t like the arrogant tone both regularly use, but interesting to follow.
by Ricardo Sequeiros Coelho
Cool the Earth, August 10, 2011
Jonathon Porritt argued in a blog post that nuclear power supporters within the environmental movement are hijacking the debate over the future of energy, by putting it in terms of choosing between nuclear and renewables (Practical Action). In reply, George Monbiot dared him to explain why can’t nuclear power co-exist with renewables (Guardian). And that’s when the debate becomes interesting.
Porritt wrote an extensive answer to Monbiot, explaining why nuclear is more expensive than renewables and why nuclear and renewables cannot peacefully coexist (JonathonPorrit.com). Monbiot counteracts also with an extensive piece, arguing that investing in nuclear power allows us to reduce emissions faster than just investing in renewables and that shutting down nuclear plants implies increasing emissions (Monbiot.com).
I think both articles are self-explanatory so I’ll make only one remark. Monbiot seems to miss the point completely when discussing costs of electricity generation. He is absolutely right in criticizing Porritt for using data from the renewable energy industry as if it was as reliable as data from independent studies. But then he doesn’t understand a very important argument that Porritt makes: that costs will evolve in the future according to the choices we make in R&D and infrastructure.
If we invest heavily in nuclear power, then its costs can go down (that hasn’t been the case so far but let’s assume that it can happen in the future). But the same can be said of wind, tidal and solar energy.
This is the point that Porritt was rightly making when he quoted the report from the UK Committee on Climate Change (PDF). Monbiot points to figure 4, in page 23, where it is shown that nuclear power is cheaper than most renewables, to argue that Porritt got it wrong when claiming that nuclear was expensive. But the question remains, as the report notes in the conclusion (end of page 25):
The relative positions of technologies will depend on the scenario combination selected, such that it is possible to find cases where offshore wind, CCS, and nuclear are each lower cost than the other two. It is clear that pushing deployment can affect the relative costs of technologies.
So, offshore wind can become cheaper than nuclear if it is deployed massively. As offshore wind can supply a hefty part of the electricity needs of the UK it is hard to understand why Monbiot thinks that the UK government should choose nuclear instead.
And now for the cherry on top: to criticize the massive investment Germany has made in solar energy, Monbiot quotes the Breakthrough Institute. The same right-wing think tank that is fiercely anti-environmentalist and supports climate denialism. He sure knows how to pick his friends, now that he has passed on to the other side of the barricade.
Nothing surprising here. Mark Lynas, another “green” who advocates nuclear power also quoted a post from the same think-tank some time ago, only to be shamed by the fact that the data was flat wrong, as I wrote then (link). Now Lynas is portrayed as a “pragmatist” by the Breakthrough Institute (link), along with the climate denialist Roger Pielke Jr. and the other known “pragmatist” Stewart Brand.
I wonder how much more time we will have to wait to see Monbiot included in the list of the “pragmatists” that he rightfully criticized in the past (see, for instance here his attack on Brand and Lynas). He has already made peace with Lynas as both support nuclear power. Maybe supporting GMOs will do the trick.
Edit: I just remembered that this is not the first time that Monbiot quotes a right-wing anti-environmentalist think-tank to support his claims against the German renewable energy program. In March 2010, in a debate with the solar energy entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett, he used the same trick (Guardian).