We can't seem to stop thinking about nuclear power. Given what's at stake -- the biosphere, the economy, our genetic integrity -- this is understandable. But I think too many are getting distracted from the fundamental problem with splitting atoms and arguing scientific questions we are unlikely to resolve anytime soon.
Much of the recent hand-wringing is a reaction to George Monbiot's quasi-conversion to a nuclear power advocate. His latest column, Evidence Meltdown, practically radiates scorn for the "anti-nuclear movement," which he manages to reduce to a monolithic cult led by Helen Caldicott. It's a travesty, he writes, that we have been lied to by those who claim upwards of a million deaths can be blamed on fallout from Chernobyl, when in fact, the true number is a tiny fraction of that.
Keith Kloor, now of Climate Central, inflates one British columnist's rant about an Australian activist's sloppy research into a major meltdown, wondering "Whether or not Monbiot has delivered a knockout blow to the anti-nuclear movement remains to be seen."
Chris Mooney at the Intersection is impressed by Monbiot's transformation, too. Although he and most of his commenters are skeptical that Caldicott is representative of anyone but herself, and Chris is now exploring the homo or heterogeneity of the "left" approach to nuclear power in general, given the lack of scientifically rigorous research on the health effects of nuclear energy.
[Update: Andy Revkin gets on board.]
With all due respect, I think this is a waste of our energy. Why? Three things come to mind.
The threat posed by nuclear weapons generates little debate. This is why Helen Caldicott was so admired back in the 1980s. Her campaign against the bomb very likely helped bring about the end of mutually assured destruction. She deserves our undying thanks. But by turning her energy against nuclear reactors without first arming herself with supporting science, she is doing no one any favors, and as was pointed out at Chris's post, who on this side of the pond had even heard of Caldicott's latest claims before Monbiot brought them to our attention? Why are we paying so much attention? I know Monbiot's a formidable and hitherto respectable climateer, but he is, as Douglas Adams said, "just this guy, you know?"
The health threat posed by nuclear reactors remains a murky subject, and that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. If you think the climate denial lobby has been successful taking advantage of invented, misrepresented, and exaggerated uncertainty over global warming, then imagine how easy it will be for that same crowd -- and it is the same crowd to a large extent -- to exploit the lack of hard data linking reactors and cancer. It's a war the anti-nuclear campaign cannot win.
There is one powerful reason not to build any more nuclear reactors even if they were 100% inherently safe and waste disposal wasn't the ultimate NIMBY challenge: They cost too much. Why waste money when there are cheaper, faster, cleaner, and yes, safer, options?
Even if we could find a way to build reactors cheaply, they aren't a wise choice because we need to start replacing fossil-fuel emitters with clean renewables now, not 15 years from now. At best, we can expect any nuclear renaissance to start making a significant contribution to carbon emissions reductions in 25 years. They should be off the table until new technologies (liquid thorium, perhaps?) have been developed that offer cheaper and safer ways of controlling fission reactions. Of course, by then, I expect we won't need them, as solar PV will be too cheap too meter....)
These last two issues are, excuse the word, critical. If those of us who are not keen on nuclear power concentrate our efforts on the both Achilles heels -- cost and lost opportunity -- we would a much better chance countering the pro-nuclear lobby.
I recognize, of course, that both problems are rooted in safety. Reactors wouldn't cost so much and they wouldn't take so long to site, commission, review, and build if there weren't some serious concerns about what might happen if one melts down. To that extent, safety is a genuine problem, one that Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima make clear. But by dribbling all over the court worrying about vague unknowns like just how many expected cancer deaths can be attributed to a given exposure to radioactive iodine, we're missing more than one clear shot at the basket.
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I'm pro-renewables. I'm also a Health Physicist who has worked in the nuclear industry. There is an odd psychology with nuclear power because the risks of occurrence of an event is low, but the consequences high. So, such an event stands out against the background of a more dilute pattern of death, which happen much more frequently.
No reasonable person has ever said that there is zero probability of occurrence of a nuclear accident. Yet, psychologically, that is what people "hear". The risk of anyone dying by lightning strike is small per year. But every year people die from it.
Fukushima (or an accident like it) is a virtual certainty over time. Bet on it.
If the cost was truly high, no one could afford the electricity. Yet we do.
There is a big difference between the uncertainty associated with global warming and that associated with cancer & reactors. We can and have studied cancer & reactors, after reactor accidents, and if the causal link was strong, the uncertainty would be low. But it's not. We can't study the uncertainty associated with global warming because it hasn't happened yet. It's like trying to study cancer at the onset of a reactor accident.
One point: given as it's reasonably unlikely that we'll have replaced enough of the world's fossil fuel power with renewables in 15 years time, having a bunch of nuclear plants coming online around then would be a useful stopgap. I certainly wouldn't want to see any new nuclear reactors being built after, say, 2040 or 2050. We certainly need to be building renewables now (but if someone wants to build a reactor then that may well help in a decade or two as well).
I'm happy enough for the economics question to be decided by the market: as long as the nuclear industry receives not a fraction of a cent per kWh more than renewables (that must take into account decommissioning costs and long-term waste storage - and at minimum an equivalent amount in startup capital should be avaiable to renewables) that should take care of itself.
Theoretically the safety issues could be mitigated by regulations, but we all know how consistantly they get bipartisan support, don't we?
Sidebar: here in Australia, a long-opposed timber mill recently got clearance to be built after the company went to the government with a list of new environmental regulations they volunteered to be enforced upon. Maybe the nuclear industry should come forward with something similar?
Having taken the time to listen to the program between Monbiot/Caldicott earlier this week I clearly apparent that Caldicott was outclassed and actually up feeling sorry for her. I can't help thinking it conjunction of the between the electrical power industries (big facilities) and nuclear that is the real problem. The amount of military nuclear accidents of which the majority which seem to have been aircraft/bomb related have dropped off considerably since the cold war. There was only 5 civilian accidents 2000-2009 period. None of which reported any loss of life. (I am relying on Wikipedia here) I am of the generation when teachers would suddenly yell "Drop" and we had to get under our desks with our backs to the windows. I felt that our fear of nuclear came in a large part from that formative experience. I also think that which measure risk against things we do on a normal basis like driving at interstate speeds. Of course I still have my "Our Friend the Atom" book. I was 12.
There is some cognitive dissonance here.
The main argument against nuclear (the only viable large scale mostly carbon free energy source) proposed here is economic. It is as if James thinks that the technology exists to do what a nuclear or coal-fired power plant can do, but we're not using it for some reason.
The US federal government spends between 5 and 20 billion dollars a year on new energy sources (depending if we count basic science and engineering research) that could replace fossil fuels and nuclear. Why would we be spending all that money every single year on energy source technology research if that technology already existed?
More than that, as someone who regularly attends research seminars at a major research university almost solely focusing on renewable energy sources, most 'efficient' sources that could become carbon-free are not beyond the basic physics and chemistry stages. That is, it will likely take 10's to 100's of billions of more research dollars, if not trillions, to find that right technology that can provide energy on demand, in large enough quantities and with as little environmental detriment as possible.
So we're not saving any money by going to renewables over nuclear. Nuclear is expensive to implement, but the technology has been refined for over half a century. Hopefully renewables will be cheaper to implement on large scales, but we're going to have to be willing to sink possibly trillions of dollars into fundamental scientific and engineering research to get us to a viable replacement technology.
Either path will cost a lot of money. So to claim that nuclear is 'too expensive' with respect to renewables really doesn't make any sense to me. With no viable renewable, carbon-free energy source technology available, we have no idea how much it will cost.
One aspect of the nuclear energy discussion that never ceases to amaze me is that proponents claim that it is cheap. This of course is only arguable if the calculations do not include insurance for liabilities for third party damages claims and assume that the profits go to the shareholders/stakeholders but the damage restitution will be paid by the taxpayer. I doubt that anyone can reasonably assess the total economic damages that will arise in the Japanese scenario, but it is clear that TepCo hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of actually meeting the liability claims. What would the economic cost be if a large area of greater New York or were to become uninhabitable for a thousand years ?? What would be the per-kw cost of nuclear power if the utility companies had to factor in the insurance costs for that ?
Similarly, the actual cost of long-term waste disposal cannot currently be assessed, simply because we have no idea how it will be done and until a viable technical and environmental solution is found that meets the long-term storage and safety needs, any estimates of the real cost of nuclear power production/consumption are illusory.
1. The nuclear industry provides insurance up to $12.6 billion in the U.S.
2. Similar statements about cost and long term effects can be made about fossil fuels. It wouldn't be so inexpensive if we accounted for global warming and many other issues associated with it. Likewise, there is a cost to not having fossil fuels or nuclear energy. We live longer and healthier today (compared to before the industrial revolution) because of these technologies. Future generations inherit all the benefits and the detriments of these technologies.
Rock solid evidence that there is a great deal of lies and misdirection at the heart of anti-nuclear hysteria, evidence to be found in the best peer reviewed studies and journals. And what does the "ScienceBlogs" community do?
Well, proof, if proof were needed that the SB is nothing to do with science or reason or skepticism, but with group think and affirming the orthodoxy.
"What would the economic cost be if a large area of greater New York or were to become uninhabitable for a thousand years ??"
"The nuclear industry provides insurance up to $12.6 billion in the U.S."
So - I guess - you think that would cover all the costs? Wishful thinking!
I never said or wishfully thought that that amount would cover all the costs. I said what I said.
There is $0 insurance coverage to cover the catastrophic costs of fossil fuels.
We socialize the risks in order to socialize the benefits. We could also go back to the pre-industrial age, and be less healthy and live shorter lives. And there would be no blogging, either.
First of all, please stop fearmongering:
"We can't seem to stop thinking about nuclear power. Given what's at stake -- the biosphere, the economy, our genetic integrity -- this is understandable."
Is 100% FUD. Even Chernobyl (about the worst possible case) has almost zero effect on global biosphere or genetic integrity (wtf?!?).
Right now the most compelling argument in favor of nuclear is: "There's nothing cleaner to replace it".
The drop-in replacement for a nuclear power plant is a coal power plant (or a natural gas power plant if you are VERY lucky). And it already happens as new coal power plants are being built instead of decommissioned nuclear reactors.
Argument about economy is also not valid. It assumes that fossil fuel is cheap. So right now in choices between nuclear, fossil and alternative fuels, fossil fuels almost always win. And alternative fuels are competitive only because of government subsidies.
Then there's "unconventional nuclear power": IFRs, pebble-bed reactors, continuous burning wave reactors, thorium-based designs, etc. They promise even cheaper energy than conventional nuclear.
Argument about economy is also not valid. It assumes that fossil fuel is cheap. So right now in choices between nuclear, fossil and alternative fuels, fossil fuels almost always win. And alternative fuels are competitive only because of government subsidies.
Monbiot seems to be in danger of being the nuclear Judith Curry if he's not careful. James was spot on - the whole 'is radioactivity dangerous' line is a bit of red herring. I'm much more interested in the money, because that's what will kill nuclear - its a loser.
The reason why nuclear comes back (zombie-like) time after time is the deep-seated love of politicians for all things big and shiny, and their lack of faith in anything 'alternative'. Add to that the effective lobbying by the nuclear and fossil fuel industry, and you see why 'conventional' fuels and nuclear seem so cheap - costs externalised and massive subsidy. And we wont even start on stuff like 'Salters Duck'...
There are a fair number of nuclear fans on this thread. So lets ask the question. Do you have money in nuclear? And if not, why not? Put your money where your mouth is. Of course the French taxpayer is doing just that for Ariva and EDF, but I suspect they are losing on the deal.
I reckon the people who manage you pensions are looking at the footage of the explosion at Fukashima and thinking 'no way'.
Renewables can deliver cheaper, quicker and more profitably. There are no waste problems (Yucca Mountain anyone?), and its difficult to see someone crashing a 767 into a PV farm as anything more than a glitch, not a reason for mass evacuation.
Nuclear is so bad, even Wall Street wont touch it.
> ...in 15 years time, having a bunch of nuclear plants coming online around then would be a useful stopgap.
But it wouldn't be "a bunch". It would be a handful - at best. Each nuke takes up billions of $$$ of capital and sucks up resources and man-power from utilities. They take 10+ years to deploy - assuming all goes according to plan... which rarely happens.
Also, every nuke takes billions of $$$ that could be spent on renewables now that could be deployed in literally months.
Also, nukes are not compatible with renewables:
* Renewable Energies and Base Load Power Plants Are Essentially Incompatible. http://www.unendlich-viel-energie.de/en/details/article/523/campatibili…
And each nuke is a ~60 year commitment (assuming claims of longevity from the nuke lobby hold true) - plus 100,000+ years for the waste. That's not really a "stopgap" - that's an eternal commitment.
MikeB, well said.
James, looks like the Nuclear Online Damage Limitation Squad have found your blog. ;)
'Renewables can deliver cheaper, quicker and more profitably.
Putting the basis of your argument to work, if renewables are so great, why won't smart businessmen invest in them?
Surely if renewables are so great and make so much money, it wouldn't matter how many people lobby against them, right? Making money is making money.
I still don't know where this idea that renewables were a viable choice for energy deployment in today's world came from.
One of the things that annoys me about the Japanese reactor issues is this:
Those reactors ran flawlessly for DECADES and it took not just an earthquake but a tsunami to lay wreckage to it.
...and they come here to peddle their lies about insurance for nuclear plants in the US. It's bollocks. A single catastrophic event like Fukushima would be virtually entirely uninsured with the costs borne by the taxpayer. And these costs extend to decades of remediation which insurance would not cover. There is no such thing as free-market insurance for nuclear power - it is all capped at a very low level (designed to exclude coverage for the events that matter) and under-written by the government.
Additional to the lack of real insurance is the complete lack of any means of dealing with the growing piles of nuclear waste - Yucca has been a monumentally expensive failure - paid for by the taxpayer.
"Nuclear is cheap", if the taxpayer subsidises it to the hilt.
No kidding Tony P and Fukushima Daini and Onagawa also got hit by the same quake and tsunami and are still intact and in cold shutdown. Funny irony Onagawa is now a shelter for the locals because they have power and plumbing.
Ah, so *some other* nuclear reactors *aren't* spewing large amounts of long-lived highly-radioactive substances in the air and water following catastrophic failures.
That's all right then?
Sometimes you have to wonder at the mentality of the nuke-fans.
Funny how successful examples gets in the way of someone's ideology. Got to wonder about the mentality of the anti nuke cult.
Smart businessmen are investing in them - so much so that we're rolling out renewables at a rate far in excess of even the most optimistic scenarios of the nuclear industry (e.g. 16GW of wind installed in just the first 6 months of 2010). Meanwhile, all I see on the pro-nuke side is a bunch of people commenting on blogs. Come back when you've got some investors lined up and some projects running on time and to budget.
That's really not the sort of argument I'd be throwing about in favour of nuclear power. You might want to invest in a mirror.
It's wonderful that renewables are growing so. There is a total of 200 GW in renewables worldwide and a total of about 375 GW in nuclear. Of course, there's a difference between GW's and GW-hrs (ability to deliver vs. actual delivery).
Investors are lining up for both. In the U.S. there are about 6 license applicants (some multi-reactor) who have docketed with the NRC their intent to apply for COL's (Constructing & Operating License)before 2015. These are for Generation III reactors, not the older GII PWR's & BWR's.
India started 2 commercial reactors in 2010 and 1 in 2011. China has 43 reactors forthcoming, etc. Even Iran is moving forward with one.
Maybe you read too many blogs.
"Smart businessmen are investing in them - so much so that we're rolling out renewables at a rate far in excess of even the most optimistic scenarios of the nuclear industry (e.g. 16GW of wind installed in just the first 6 months of 2010)."
Here's a one dirty secret that wind power people don't tell you. The 16GW of wind power in reality is just about 4GW, since the average capacity factor of wind power is just around 20%.
In comparison, that's the baseload power of ONE nuclear power plant.
BlueRock: that's why my conditional was that renewables must get *at least* as much in subsidies per kWh. If it's possible for someone to make money building a nuclear power plant on a level playing field (and that level has to take into account safety and waste storage), then I don't see why they can't do so. Renewables are still my preferred option, though.
Despite the fact that nuclear's been building out for about 60 years, whereas renewables have only been building out for about 20, and has only really ramped up seriously in the last 10. Looks like a pretty favourable comparison to me. Oh, and the renewables build out is ramping up at a much higher rate.
Yup - Rajasthan 5 & 6 in 2010, at a massive 202MW (net) each, and Kaiga 4 in 2011 for another 202MW net. Very impressive, I'm sure...
I'm perfectly well aware of capacity factor considerations thanks - although the average capacity factor is typically higher than that. 20% is the very bottom of the range of typical values (although oddly popular amongst pro-nuke blog commenters), whereas 30% is more usual. Oh, and the typical capacity factor for nukes is also not 100% - more like 70% here in the UK, and 90% in the US. Taking all that into account, wind alone (never mind all renewables combined) is still being deployed faster than nuclear.
Note that I am not arguing here that nuclear isn't growing at all, or that nuclear and renewables are necessarily in opposition. I'm just refuting the ridiculous notion that nuclear is the only game in town because nobody's interested in investing in renewables. The fact of the matter is that renewables are currently growing faster, both in absolute and relative terms, and that their rate of growth is also increasing more rapidly.
Maybe I do, because I see you commenting on nearly all of them all of a sudden...
The industrialization of India & China has only skyrocketed in the last 20 years. They are the ones driving the growth. The "16 GW of wind power installed in just the first 6 months of 2010" is associated with China.
Since China/India can build renewables faster than fossil/nuclear plants, of course the ramp up is going to be higher.
"I'm just refuting the ridiculous notion that nuclear is the only game in town because nobody's interested in investing in renewables."
No one said that no one is investing in renewables. That's an exaggeration. You said:
"Come back when you've got some investors lined up and some projects running on time and to budget."
That was also a sarcastic exaggeration. I provided a list.
"Maybe I do, because I see you commenting on nearly all of them all of a sudden."
Yet another sarcastic exaggeration.
The trend is obvious.
"maxwell" did at comment #14, as quoted in my comment (#20), which you were responding to. To save you having to scroll all that way, here it is again:
Which I would hope you'll agree pretty strongly implies that no-one (at least no-one "smart") is investing in renewables. That is what I was responding to, which is why I quoted it in my initial comment.
You're right, it was a sarcastic exaggeration. Well spotted. Heaven forfend that anyone should employ sarcasm as a rhetorical technique... In blog comments, no less!
And Maxwell was responding to MikeB's Comment 12:
"Nuclear is so bad, even Wall Street wont touch it."
Which isn't true.
For Americans, there are two Exchange Traded Funds whose performance is interesting.
PowerShare's Global Clean Energy (a mix of clean energy stocks) hit a low about a year ago of $9/share and is now at about $15.44/share. An increase of about 1.7.
Market Vectors Nuclear (a mix of nuclear energy stocks) hit a low at about the same time at $15.21/share and is now at $25.35/share. An increase of about 1.67 AFTER Fukushima!
I don't particularly care what maxwell was responding to and I'm not defending MikeB's comment, as (a) it's completely irrelevant to the specific point I was addressing (i.e. whether or not anybody's investing in renewables) and (b) I'm not MikeB. So I'm afraid this is something of a non-sequitur...
But you said:
"Come back when you've got some investors lined up and some projects running on time and to budget."
Which is just as erroneous as what maxwell said. Maybe maxwell was engaged in sarcastic exaggeration.
"Heaven forfend that anyone should employ sarcasm as a rhetorical technique... In blog comments, no less!"
You missed my point, maybe on purpose.
The comparison I put to MikeB was how much of the energy market is getting invested in renewables, on their own. That is to say, where are most businessmen/women investing money with respect to energy production?
The VAST majority of money is invested in oil and coal. The VAST MAJORITY.
So to point out that China has invested some money into wind is great, but they're also building a coal-fired power plant every week as well as supporting brutal dictatorships and unethical business practices to get oil.
The fact that they have invested a minute amount of money in some wind plants doesn't really change the fact that China and the rest of the world are buying an order of magnitude more oil than wind energy.
And that was my point. Not that there is more investment in nuclear. Not that nuclear was more profitable.
It was simply to point out the fallacious reasoning in proposing that renewables are such a great investment. If they were, less people would be investing in fossil fuels because making money is making money.
Do you get it now?
"Nuclear is so bad, even Wall Street wont touch it."
Wall Street (or the City of London, for that matter) really still isn't very interested in nuclear, whatever the hand-waving about India or China. Michael Grunwald's recent article in Time spelt out the reality:
'there aren't many utilities that can carry a nuclear project on their balance sheets, which is why Obama's Energy Department, a year after awarding its first $8 billion loan guarantee in Georgia, is still sitting on an additional $10 billion. A Maryland project evaporated before closing, and a Texas project fell apart when costs spiraled and a local utility withdrew. The deal was supposed to be salvaged with financing from a foreign utility, but that now seems unlikely....The utility was Tokyo Electric.'
As for Market Vectors Nuclear? Well, their Coal ETF is on the rise, 'more than 13% since the Japan Tsunami on March 11th. The fear of meltdowns at nuclear reactors in Japan has caused many investors (and governments) to think twice about the viability of nuclear power as an alternate to oil.' The Nuclear ETF is down today to around $23, and its fairly obvious that the ETF's rise overall (some of the individual stocks have still fallen)from its low point in mid-March was due to Obama's energy plan, which throws even more money at nuclear, if that's possible. Whether anyone is actually going to build anything is another matter...
Over at Climate Progress (I can hear the hate from the pro-nukers even now!), there is an article http://climateprogress.org/2011/04/06/does-nuclear-power-have-a-negativ… on costs. It does not make happy reading for anyone hoping to make a buck out of nuclear.
If Dr Chu is right and other are right, and PV is grid competitive within 5 years or less, and its possible to install even 4 GW (rather than 16) of wind in six months, why wait 10 years to get nuclear, with its over-runs, waste problems and general fear of glowing in the dark?
I just read that 'Global demand for photovoltaics is expected to grow by 75 gigawatts over the next five years, with utility-scale solar power plants making up a significant part of that growth.' GE has just announced a new factory to make the most efficient thin film PV yet. That is where the growth is (although the UK government is confused about that), not nuclear. Follow the money.
'If Dr Chu is right and other are right, and PV is grid competitive within 5 years or less, and its possible to install even 4 GW (rather than 16) of wind in six months, why wait 10 years to get nuclear, with its over-runs, waste problems and general fear of glowing in the dark?'
Because nuclear is on-demand energy production that is actually comparable to coal. Without the necessary battery capacity (which has its own set of dilemma with respect to the environment) there is not a way to produce energy via wind and solar whenever anyone wants it.
So while I agree that it could be a very useful supplement to the sources like nuclear and coal, it won't replace coal/nuclear as via sources of energy for the whole economy until we can still get energy from them when it's dark and calm.
So again, we're stuck in this pseudo-reality in which some are arguing that solar/wind is the way to go even when those sources cannot even do what nuclear does. They can't provide on-demand energy for the consuming public. Without that, there really isn't a comparison to be made.
To me, that's why the market is growing for these sources. They have a niche in the energy market as supplements, not sources. So they're not really competing with coal. And as long as coal is in the competition, it's going to win.
My points are not that anyone specifically should invest in one energy source or another for their own personal financial gain/loss. My point is that there is a lot of investment in nuclear power by lots of countries. They all may be wrong, but nonetheless there is heavy investment and ongoing costruction.
It is avoiding to reality to state otherwise.
Nuclear gets subsidies and so do renewables. And as maxwell (and you) point out, coal is doing quite well, too. Because, unlike nuclear, coal is socializing all of its catastrophic costs.
It's also a bit of a canard to refer to cost overruns associated with Generation II PWR's & BWR's of decades ago, when no one is buying those.
Who killed nuclear in the US for the future, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. With the decontrol of the electric power industry the generators are distinct from the power retailers. As a result if you want to build a plant you need to sign a long term contract with a power retailer. (Just like Cape Wind had to do to get financing). No one will finance a plant without it. Now as a power retailer you are operating on a small margin, and your goal is to get the cheapest power with few commitments longer than a couple of years. Given that with Nuclear its 5+ years between the beginning of construction and the plant coming on line, a power retailer signing such a contract would be committing corporate suicide. (This is why the Texas plant is backed by CPS(San Antonio and the City of Austin, that part of Texas electricty is still the old fashioned model as is the LADWP). Now in parts of the country where the old model holds the utility company can just push the cost of the plant onto the rate payers. (Recall the old stranded costs issues during the de-control process).
For a coal plant or a gas turbine plant the time to online is smaller so the uncertainty is less.
I did not see any "conversion" in Monbiot's columns.
He doesn't seem "pro-nuke", just annoyed with the "anti-nuke" rhetoric, specially how they behave in the "big" media.
Maxwell, its perfectly true that most of the money is going into coal and oil/gas. Thats not surprising, we are addicted to fossil fuel, and have been for over a hundred years. In a world where we might have reached peak-oil, investing in getting what is left out of the ground is bound to be attractive.
But of course fossil fuels are also heavily subsidised,both directly by governments, and indirectly through the externalisation of costs.
Its low or no carbon power sources which we are talking about here, and when you look at the alternatives (in the broadest sense), if you want to make money, nuclear really isn't happening.
Personally, I'd argue for nuclear over coal, and there is no reason it can't be part of the low carbon mix - its good as a base load provider. Its just that nuclear doesn't make any money. Other sources are capable of making money quicker and easier. As an investor, which would you choose?
Nuclear is only ordered when its subsidised to the hilt. Now you can certainly argue that PV, wind and wave are also subsidised. They are, however relatively new technologies, and their costs are coming down all the time. Nuclear is seemingly going up.
And although you can say that these cost overruns are about the previous generation nukes (although I'd invoke the old Molly Irvins dictum 'look at the record, look at the record, etc), the reality is that the new generation isn't doing so well either, and not many people (outside China) are ordering them.
The argument that everyone gets subsidies has to be judged in the light of this statistic:
'In the US, the federal government has paid US$74 billion for energy subsidies to support R&D for nuclear power and fossil fuels from 1973 to 2003. Nuclear power R&D alone accounted for nearly US$50 billion of this expenditure. During this same timeframe, renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency received a total of US$26 billion.'
So all renewable research, and energy efficiency (probably the most cost effective way to save carbon) got about half as much in R & D money as nuclear alone.
As far as the 'as long as coal is in the competition, it's going to win' argument goes, its probably true. That said, the AWEA has just told investors that wind is now competitive with combined cycle natural gas, and 2 cents cheaper than coal. However, if you put a price (or cap) on carbon, then other sources really come into play.
sensevisual - Monbiot is jumping the shark on this one. He's engaging in the classic tactic of 'look over there!' When he debated nuclear with Caroline Lucus of the Green Party in the Guardian on March 26th, he simply blustered about costs, which was one of her key points.
Monbiot - 'we're not looking at cheap sources of electricity any way we do this. When you have a relatively low penetration of renewables on the grid â 10, 20, 30, even 50%, the costs will not be that high. But once you get beyond 50% or maybe 70%, they are likely to escalate dramatically, ....My guess, because I haven't yet seen a comparative study, and I don't believe one exists, is that when we get up to those sorts of levels, nuclear is likely to be quite a lot cheaper.'
Lucas went away, and couldn't find anything to back up this idea. He carried on handwaving. His new angle is that feed-in tariffs are very expensive, and are therefore bad, while expensively subsidising nuclear is good. Costs of nuclear, and its track record? Simply not covered. Waste and decommissioning? The same. Sad really, to see Monbiot as a new Lovelock.
Monbiot has been pro-nuclear for years. Read his book "Heat" for more information. After doing calculations and looking at technologies he reckoned that in order to achieve an 80% cut in CO2 emissions we, meaning the UK, would need nuclear to some extent. I can't recall if he thought everyone would need nuclear, but in the book he promoted the idea of Sahara solar generation and a DC cable to Europe, increased insulation in houses, and a wide variety of other ways of decreasing CO2 output.
The problem with his article is that he then tars the entire green movement with silliness, which is odd because he'd probably agree he was a green himself. It might be the fault of the headline writer at the newspaper though.
Actually there is a well known way to handle surplus renewable energy. It is the Sabatier reaction which takes Hydrogen and Co2 and makes methane for it. It is seriously talked about for use on Mars. What you would do is electrolyze water when there is surplus renewable energy, and then run it thru the reaction to make methane and water. The first place to do this is in existing gas fields since a lot of natural gas includes some Co2 that has to be removed and then dumped into the atmosphere. (Also in a natural gas field there is a easy way to put the methane into the pipeline system since its already there). Note that a good bit of heat is given off by the reaction so you could power the rest of the process by the heat. Everyone seems to prefer the more elegant solutions yet this one is carbon neutral, in that the Co2 would otherwise be released, and in conjunction with a combined cycle gas plant provides an excellent back up to renewables.
This is the bottom line.
Wind and solar CANNOT produce sustained baseline power. Period.
The only technologies we have that can do that without producing CO2 are hydroelectric and nuclear.
I think we're pretty tapped out in the hydroelectric department.
Nuclear power is the ONLY choice for continuous baseline power production without emitting CO2.
This is your choice. Coal, natural gas, or nuclear. Take your pick.
The way to deal with the non-reliability of solar and wind is to price power according to demand. That would shift demand that can be shifted to low demand periods. Electric water heaters don't need to run 24/7. Neither do air conditioners.
Power can be stored as compressed air too. Gas turbines use a very large fraction of their output to compress the air they use to burn the natural gas. Store compressed air underground off peak and shift the compressor work to electricity generation during peak, and you have shifted a large fraction of the output of the gas turbine at pretty low cost. Much cheaper than a green-field plant of that capacity.
It would be better to get the methane hydrates off the sea floor and burn them before global warming destabilizes them.
The nuclear cost argument has a fatal weak link:
The cost of a renewable grid is just as high or higher than new nuclear. Neither (nuclear or a renewable grid) can compete on cost with coal as long as we continue to fail to penalize it for its external costs with something like a carbon tax.
If you don't believe me, go to findsolar dot com to see what it would cost to replace your electric use with solar on your roof, assuming your roof is big enough to hold that many panels. Mine isn't, and it would cost $60K, never mind the maintenance costs over the next 25 years.
So drop the cost argument.
The nuclear weapons argument can also be dropped.
"...While nuclear power and weapons programs were once joined at the hip, this is no longer true. Twenty-one nations deploy nuclear power with no weapons capability. If itâs a weapon you want, there is no slower, more expensive way of creating substandard material than by using a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power is not a threat to peace..."--Ben Heard
Hydro-power dams eventually silt up, geothermal wells eventually cool down ...the arguments against nuclear power have been exposed to the light of day by the internet and have been found wanting.
The best source I've found on nuclear is the BraveNewClimate site.
Nuclear could be used to enhance a renewable grid. Google "Biodiversivist Nuclear"
Russ, if the cost argument against nuclear is so flawed, how come nobody is actually building nuclear plants in the US or the UK? Its true there are plans, but cement being poured, not so much.
China is hoping to build them in large numbers, but this is a (very) state controlled policy. And even they are having a second look at their plans, which is hardly surprising when you consider how seismically active China is.
I agree that the security threat from rogue states with nuclear power is overstated (if you want a bomb, your going to get one), although still worried about the terrorist threat to nuclear plants (crashing an aircraft or exploding a bomb near cooling ponds would be a real nightmare). The radiation stuff? Ignoring the main point. Nuclear costs a lot of money, and takes a lot of time.
Nuclear construction costs are rising http://climateprogress.org/2011/04/06/does-nuclear-power-have-a-negativ… . On the other hand, solar might soon be viable against fossil fuels on the electric grid in the most sunny regions such as the Middle East (or the American South West). PV is basically doing a sort of Moores Law, with costs falling and efficiency rising. And of course you can just put it on a roof, and it really doesn't have maintenance (or fuel) costs.
'the arguments against nuclear power have been exposed to the light of day by the internet and have been found wanting'. The trouble is that the internet isn't reality, and in reality nuclear needs large amounts of capital, large amounts of subsidy and lots of time. That's why utilities are not buying them.
Its been observed that that the one who wins a battle is the one who gets there 'fastest with the mostest'. Nuclear isn't fast, and its not delivering the most (for least cost). If it can, then welcome to the party. Until then..
"...Russ, if the cost argument against nuclear is so flawed, how come nobody is actually building nuclear plants in the US or the UK?...."
Mike, if the cost argument is so flawless, what are the nuclear opponents worried about? If the nuclear opponents really believed that argument, why is their hair on fire? What idiot is going to invest in something they know will lose money?
Their beef is with government subsidies, but only the ones to nuclear, not wind and solar. They all require assistance to compete with coal and gas on price.
"....Its true there are plans, but cement being poured, not so much ...China is hoping to build them in large numbers, but this is a (very) state controlled policy. And even they are having a second look at their plans, which is hardly surprising when you consider how seismically active China is...."
You are trying to downplay how many reactors will be under construction worldwide in the next decade. That argument, that few are under construction, will soon be obsolete.
"...although still worried about the terrorist threat to nuclear plants (crashing an aircraft or exploding a bomb near cooling ponds would be a real nightmare)..."
The Twin Towers was a nightmare, no nuclear needed. 40,000 Americans kill themselves in cars annually, not to mention the number horribly maimed and crippled. A recent paper suggests that biofuel subsidies are killing about 200,000 people annually. Perspective, perspective ....
"...Nuclear costs a lot of money, and takes a lot of time..."
Replace the word "nuclear" with "continent wide renewable energy gird." Get it? Both schemes are more expensive than fossil fuels.
"....On the other hand, solar might soon be viable against fossil fuels on the electric grid in the most sunny regions such as the Middle East (or the American South West)...."
Getting the sun's energy from sunny places to where it is consumed is the real problem, especially at night ; )
"...PV is basically doing a sort of Moores Law, with costs falling and efficiency rising. And of course you can just put it on a roof, and it really doesn't have maintenance (or fuel) costs..."
Costs are coming down on panels, but it is not even close to following Moores Law. How cheap And panels are just a small part of the cost. A super grid that can send wind and sun to far ends of the country on windless nights is the real challenge, both technically and financially.
Nobody claims that a PV system is maintenance free. The average life span for an inverter is ten years. The panels have to be washed periodically, and the system will have failures, corrosion at terminals, rodents gnawing on wires, and on and on.
"...The trouble is that the internet isn't reality, and in reality nuclear needs large amounts of capital, large amounts of subsidy and lots of time. That's why utilities are not buying them...."
Take away the government subsidies and those are the exact same arguments against solar and wind.
"....Its been observed that that the one who wins a battle is the one who gets there 'fastest with the mostest'. Nuclear isn't fast, and its not delivering the most (for least cost). If it can, then welcome to the party. Until then..."
Take a look the following energy chart to put into perspective the magnitude of what we face and then ask yourself if it's wise to exclude a low carbon energy source like nuclear from the mix: http://www.grist.org/i/assets/llnl-energy-flow-2009.jpg
"that must take into account decommissioning costs and long-term waste storage"
How do you make that happen? By the time it's started up, the owners who agreed have cashed in and scarpered. So have their replacements.
And if the shit ever hits the fan, they'll just run off and let you go spit for the money.
You can't MAKE the cost include decommissioning and long term storage (or accident cleanup) because they will incorporate and run away, leaving you with the empty shell.
Only something as draconian as MAKING the individual CEOs who get the contracts PERSONALLY responsible (unto the final generation) for a problem and face jail time (in a real jail) or death (if an accident occurs and was attributable to making short cuts) would change the dynamic.
"The main argument against nuclear (the only viable large scale mostly carbon free energy source) ..."
No, there's your problem right there. Assertion by fiat that nuclear is the only viable large scale mostly carbon free energy source.
Additional problems are included when you consider whether the point is to make new and bigger mistakes or try at least to consider not making a decision we're stuck with for generations.
If (as you imply) the ONLY consideration is carbon free, then the answer is much simpler: cut power use drastically.
It's more complicated than that, but you ignore them because some of the complications don't make for happy reading for you.
"Putting the basis of your argument to work, if renewables are so great, why won't smart businessmen invest in them?"
Dumb businessmen or businessmen who are considering only the secrecy that nuclear power can hand a business to hide profit-maximising schemes may invest in nuclear, but only if they have a guaranteed income if the plant fails to come up roses.
"Because nuclear is on-demand energy production"
Well this nails it.
Maxwell doesn't have a freaking clue what he's talking about.
The spin-up time for nuclear is of the order of 24 hours. Not to go from cold to working, but to go from ticking over (and throwing the energy into a dumb load if demand is very low) to full production. From cold to working takes days or weeks.
That is one of the reasons why night time electricity is cheaper. If it were possible to reduce load enough to cope with the nighttime reduction in power requirements, they wouldn't have to dump the power at below cost (since otherwise it's dumped for zero payback).
"Wind and solar CANNOT produce sustained baseline power. Period."
Power demand isn't constant. Fact.
The matching of demand to production is far better between user demand and renewables than it is between user demand and coal or nuclear.
And when you overproduce you either have to run down a station (running less efficiently), cut it off completely (in which case cooling and heating of the turbines loses energy and takes time, lots of time), or dump it (either through dumb loads or as night time electricity) which means you have to subsidise the cheap rate by hiking the peak time rate.
All of which reduce the effective utility of the wall-plate production of the non-renewable sources.
Oddly forgotten by the industry shills and helpful idiots.
I just love how everyone speaks of this debate as if they live in a magical place with no weather (or possibly California).
In some of the far off lands where white stuff falls from the sky, wind and solar run into a lot of obstacles, particularly solar.
Wind power varies significantly from day to day and season to season, since the wind isn't a steady breeze off of the ocean. There are some days that the wind turbines stand still, not because of no wind, but too much wind. Do we sit in the dark on those days?
Solar suffers a severe drop in capacity, since there aren't 16 hour days year round and the sun is significantly less intense, even during summer. Not only that, but that white stuff previously mentioned requires the panels to be cleaned frequently. Sometimes that white stuff happens to be hail, which can get large enough to punch holes in those expensive, fragile pieces of technology.
So when you continue your debate on whether these renewables are the solution to everyone's power problems, maybe you should think for a bit and realize that it may only be the solution to your climate region's power problems. They have a long way to go before they fulfill everyone's needs.
"In some of the far off lands where white stuff falls from the sky, wind and solar run into a lot of obstacles, particularly solar."
Have you ever checked what the power hitting the ground under full cloud cover is?
Go ahead and try.
HINT: there's a reason why it's a lot brighter on a cloudy day and you can still see miles away when you have no chance doing so at night when the earth is covering the sun.
"Wind power varies significantly from day to day and season to season"
As does demand.
Nuclear power goes down for maintenance and for accident. It's about 67% available in the UK for example.
So when you continue your diatribe against renewables, maybe you should think a bit and realise that nuclear power isn't the panacea you want to believe it to be.
I see Alex is still spewing the same nonsense.
Baseload: Fact, distributed wind turbines (and by extension, solar facilities too) can provide base load power. It's done. Multiple studies confirm this. Now, you can stop using that arguement.
Cost: Fact, The Commanche Nuclear plant in Texas is estimating that it will cost between 10 and 20 billion to add another 3.5 GW of power. That same amount of money will buy 10-20 Gigawatts of NAMEPLATE wind power and figuring in a capacity factor of 20%, you still get 2-4 GW of power (and if you think that nuclear plant will be at the low end of the cost range, I have some property in the swamp I think would make a great investment for you.)
If you really want to get creative, you could drop a 5 of that 20 billion on a Gigawatt battery facility and have a backup for when the wind don't flow.
Now, you can stop using that argument because wind still beats nuclear, even with the capacity factor figured in. Of course, we haven't mentioned fuel costs or personnel costs yet either... and I think the insurance would be a bit cheaper for a block of solar cells or a couple of turbines than for a nuke plant.
Now, who was it that said a $65,000 system would be needed to supply their home? Dude, you might want to think about your electricity use habits. A $65,000 dollar solar system at 5 hours of sunlight per day will get you 3400 kWh worth of electricity each month. That's a lot. I live in central Texas and use a lot less than that each month, even in the summer. (BTW: The place I'm getting this from is having a sale. For another $5000, you can get 4200 kWh per month. Just FYI.)
I'll freely admit that you probably can't make it worth your while to invest in that. It's called economy of scale. I can sympathize.
@Wow - 50
"HINT: there's a reason why it's a lot brighter on a cloudy day and you can still see miles away when you have no chance doing so at night when the earth is covering the sun."
I never made the assertion that cloud-cover prevented the use of solar generation, my comment on "White stuff falling from the sky" was my sarcastic way of describing areas of higher latitudes. My assertion is that the intensity of the sun at these higher latitudes reduces solar efficiency, and the seasonal power generation abilities of solar is reduced in the winter months (which tends to be the months with highest energy consumption).
This isn't to say that solar is not viable in these areas, it's to say it will not be a viable option until much later than areas with ideal condition for solar.
""Wind power varies significantly from day to day and season to season"
As does demand.
Wouldn't it be a fantastic little dream if those things lined up?
Interesting debate going on here.
I was struck by this:
I'd like to think the anti-nuclear campaign couldn't win an argument that relies on a lack of evidence - but that isn't my experience at present. There is no evidence of harm at levels of exposure below 100mSv. The text of BEIR VII, often quoted as supporting such harm, supports plenty of cherry-picking activities in both directions. It does not, though, present a case of a linear continuation of harm to zero. In order to maintain the possibility of low-dose harm in the knowledge of evidence that it does not fit the LNT hypothesis, a factor called DDREF is summoned to scale down below a linear relationship to high-dose harms. Clearly such a factor destroys the "simplicity" of a linear model.
One piece of cherry-picking I indulge in is the following statement, p194:
It is followed by the words "Possible explanations"... but not by any serious actual analysis.
So yes; your main point, that health effects are too uncertain to be a rational argument against nuclear power, is correct. But your arguments on cost and speed are also flawed because you fail to compare with preferred alternatives - using the average power output of say a solar farm divided by its permitting and construction time. Do this and you will find that, to oppose nuclear on these grounds, you must also oppose wind and solar.
"In most cases, rates for all causes and all cancer mortality in the workers were substantially lower than in the reference populations."
A claim most extraordinary.
What would the causation be?
"Wouldn't it be a fantastic little dream if those things lined up?"
They do. The load factor for renewables changes more in line with demand and increases the actual baseload capable of being met by about 20%, taking renewables up in to the baseload capability of nuclear.
and learn something for a change.
"I never made the assertion that cloud-cover prevented the use of solar generation"
Then what was the freaking point of your inane comment?
""White stuff falling from the sky" was my sarcastic way of describing areas of higher latitudes. "
It snows on Killamanjaro. Idiot.
"and the seasonal power generation abilities of solar is reduced in the winter months (which tends to be the months with highest energy consumption)."
Whilst wind tends to be higher than average.
""I never made the assertion that cloud-cover prevented the use of solar generation"
Then what was the freaking point of your inane comment?"
Don't hate reading comprehension, it's your friend.
""White stuff falling from the sky" was my sarcastic way of describing areas of higher latitudes. "
It snows on Killamanjaro. Idiot."
What a revelation! My argument is in shambles!
""and the seasonal power generation abilities of solar is reduced in the winter months (which tends to be the months with highest energy consumption)."
Whilst wind tends to be higher than average."
These technologies are seperate, not connected. There are, in fact, many successful wind farms in Canada, but they require quite a bit more engineering to ensure they can generate their power through a variety of temperatures and wind speeds, raising costs significantly.
Solar, however, runs into the problems I've listed above, making it much more expensive to generate the equivalent average power as it would closer to the equator. Therefore, it will require better price-performance (which means more time) to be a cost-viable option for large scale power generation in those regions.
Just because wind can make up for the lack of power generated at a solar plant doesn't mean that both are good options.
"Don't hate reading comprehension, it's your friend."
Not yours, though.
"What a revelation! My argument is in shambles!"
Indeed it is. Thanks for belatedly realising.
"These technologies are seperate, not connected."
Yup, photovoltaics and wind turbines are different technologies. Well done. Have a cookie.
"Canada, but they require quite a bit more engineering to ensure they can generate their power through a variety of temperatures and wind speeds, raising costs significantly."
Still cheaper than anything other than coal (cheaper than coal if you count in the subsidies given to the technologies, much cheaper if you remove the externalities of fossil fuel burning currently being paid from everywhere else).
"Solar, however, runs into the problems I've listed above"
Oh dear. I thought you'd said you realised your argument was in shambles.
Seems you lied. Again.
The loading factor of solar or wind already take these figures into account.
"Just because wind can make up for the lack of power generated at a solar plant doesn't mean that both are good options."
Because you can make up for a lack of power generated at a solar power plant with wind power means that you don't need nuclear to provide baseload.
Because nuclear costs a shitload and doesn't work as well as renewables means that it is a terrible option.
Because we can use renewables to provide baseload at a much better match to demand than coal or nuclear, they are good options compared to the alternatives.
"Still cheaper than anything other than coal (cheaper than coal if you count in the subsidies given to the technologies, much cheaper if you remove the externalities of fossil fuel burning currently being paid from everywhere else)."
Hate to poke holes in your argument by going off topic (that's your thing) but the levelized cost of hydro and natural gas is cheaper without the added cost of adapting the wind turbines for extreme weather.
Counting in government subsidies does not make a case for viability, it's just offsetting the cost to a different investor.
"Because nuclear costs a shitload and doesn't work as well as renewables means that it is a terrible option."
Again, levelized cost of nuclear is significantly lower than solar (and only somewhat higher than wind). This is solar without the added problem of reduced solar intensity at high latitudes, which would increase the price per kWhr due to reduced output. Solar panels that can handle the severe cold add even more cost.
That is, according to the US Department of Energy.
My point has always been that the differing climate from the more ideal conditions seen in many areas of the world will make it more expensive to use some of these technologies, delaying the timeline wherein they are viable.
"Hate to poke holes in your argument by going off topic (that's your thing) but the levelized cost of hydro and natural gas is cheaper without the added cost of adapting the wind turbines for extreme weather."
Hate you poke holes in your argument, but the amortized cost per kWh of onshore wind is less than coal. Your figures come from a disreputable source: the fossil fuel industry.
"Counting in government subsidies does not make a case for viability"
That's odd. What's the reasoning behind it? If nuclear could survive without subsidy which hides the true cost, why does it get the subsidy? Why does coal and oil?
"Again, levelized cost of nuclear is significantly lower than solar"
Completely wrong and peddled by a think tank that fronts monied players who want the money rolling to them, scared of the capability of micro or self generation, cutting them out of their business.
"My point has always been that the differing climate from the more ideal conditions seen in many areas of the world will make it more expensive to use some of these technologies"
That point is moot. With perfect conditions, you can get more than 80% nameplate output from solar or wind. That they are given a load factor of 1/3 nameplate shows this already is taken into account.
Go look (which you haven't yet) at:
and go to greenman's site where he has other explanations you so critically need.
It's energy free for the taking, unlike nuclear.
Got it, the government is covering up the truth about how cheap solar and wind are, and Greenman Solar (a company that sells commercial solar panels) are revealing the truth in a completely unbiased way.
It must be because the United States has the vast majority of the coal, natural gas, uranium and oil in the world, and peak oil means only profit for the US. Unless I'm mistaken...
"Completely wrong and peddled by a think tank that fronts monied players who want the money rolling to them, scared of the capability of micro or self generation, cutting them out of their business."
You make a good point (but not the one you're trying to make). For the individual business/community, small scale wind and solar are viable with government subsidies in Northern areas (they have a special program in Ontario to sell back the power to the grid). However, in large scale (country-wide) power generation, these subsidies cannot be taken into account, as the money has to come from somewhere.
"That point is moot. With perfect conditions, you can get more than 80% nameplate output from solar or wind. That they are given a load factor of 1/3 nameplate shows this already is taken into account."
Good, I guess I'll plug in a solar panel on a house in Winnepeg and get the same output as LA, then. The article showed net output to the grid, with no regards to rated output, making your point moot.
"Got it, the government is covering up the truth about how cheap solar and wind are"
I've got some tinfoil you can use.
"and Greenman Solar (a company that sells commercial solar panels) "
Nope, Greenman is his internet handle. He doesn't sell Solar panels.
"Unless I'm mistaken..."
Not the first time.
"For the individual business/community, small scale wind and solar are viable with government subsidies"
Because they're still under heavy development. $1/Watt is nearly there.
Meanwhile your claim that subsidies are not indicators of valid power sources goes out the window as soon as you can chuck it.
Now, back to the 7Bn/yr for the US only subsidies for nuclear...
"Good, I guess I'll plug in a solar panel on a house in Winnepeg and get the same output as LA"
Good, I guess you are an idiot. Thanks for proving it.
"The article showed net output to the grid"
The article you pointed to has been proven unreliable.
Having lived thorough the Cold War period and the early days of nuclear energy, which was at that time inextricably linked to nuclear arms production I have spent most of my life as a nuclear opponent. That was until climate change came into such prominence. Now we have no choice but to entertain mad technologies, because we've shot through the tipping point. The various hazards associated with nuclear energy are much diminished and much of the developed world is already reliant on the over 400 nuclear power facilities that already exist.
I believe, compared with all other power sources and their ability to deliver, that risks associated with nuclear power are not such that it should be forsaken. BUT... there is one issue that holds me back from an advocacy of nuclear power. All of the above pertains to a situation of stable governance. Nuclear power is one technology that has to be managed in a highly regulated environment, no cost cutting, no great political instability.
If we believe â and many of us do â that the world is entering a period of economic collapse and global political instability, then how on Earth can we manage the 10,000 or more nuclear power facilities that would need to be built if they are to make a measurable reduction in fossil fuel power output. In a word, no chance.
"That was until climate change came into such prominence."
However, any chance of nuclear power being an option to reduce the impact of climate change was pissed away by intransigence and denial over the fact of AGW.
Your point about political upheaval is another reason why we needed to start a long time ago: we'd have had 20+ years of moving over from oil to renewables and reducing power demand by waste reduction and the impact of oil prices would not be a factor, even if we were looking at the same level of climate change at this time.
The current power generation methods for nuclear are still ineffective and dangerous, so by all means we ought to progress the state of the art (and with some eye to using nuclear power generation as a way of encouraging nuclear waste treatment and neutralisation).
But we really don't have the time to wait for nuclear power to come of age as a valid answer to power generation and we don't have time left to experiment.