Energy generation: small is beautiful
t’s difficult to get your head around the sheer massive size of nuclear reactors. The things are absolutely huge. Just to give you a flavour, in Flamanville, France, where EDF are building a ‘state of the art’ EPR reactor, the roads aren’t wide enough to transport the large reactor components to the construction site.
People sometimes forget that nuclear reactors are just kettles. Great big kettles. The hot nuclear fuel inside the reactor boils water which turns into steam which turns the turbines which generate electricity. Those turbines, as you can imagine, are also huge.
Being so large and heavy, they can’t be transported in any conventional way. Often they’re shipped on giant barges. They’re shipped very slowly and very carefully. Sometimes not slowly and carefully enough. You know where two $10-million 107-tonne turbines destined for the Canada’s Point Lepreau nuclear power station found themselves last October? Spending five days on the bottom of Saint John Harbour.
And that’s another of the major problems with nuclear power and why a so-called nuclear ‘renaissance’ will be impossible to achieve: the nuclear industry has no economies of scale. You cannot increase production of nuclear power stations anywhere near quickly enough to fulfil the promises made by the industry and save us from the worst of global climate change.
Wind turbines and solar energy couldn’t be more different. You can build a working wind turbine in two weeks. The renewable energy industry is a hugely scaleable one. Smaller and more readily available components make it far, far easier to expand production. Want a hundred kilometres of solar cells produced in a day? Mass-produced printable solar cells are already being trialled. The renewable energy technologies are ever improving.
The components of nuclear reactors are too large and complex to mass produce or produce quickly in the same way. Japan Steel Works, the only company in the world currently making specialised steel containers for reactor cores, already has a three year backlog. All those countries boasting of building new reactors in the near future are going to have to join a very slow-moving queue.
Posted by Justin on February 20, 2009 3:03 PM | Permalink