Positive Energy

Friday, May 25, 2007

3. Security of Supply

Do you agree or disagree with the Government's views on the security of supply impact of new nuclear power stations? What are your reasons? Are there any significant considerations that you believe are missing? If so, what are they?

Disagree. Diversity does not improve energy stability if inferior technologies constitute the diversity. Each candidate technology for a diversified energy mix must first of all stand on its own as a reliable, clean, safe, and inexpensive possibility. For example, the diversity argument makes sense if it is used to justify continued interest in fission and fusion, since both are clean, and presumably reliable. Or the argument could be used to justify the development of both uranium and thorium fuels. But invoking the diversity argument to justify wind power is muddled thinking. Wind mills are not reliable nor inexpensive, and they cause extensive environmental damage. Security of supply is reduced by including wind power in the mix because the variable input from wind farms causes failures in the distribution system. Bitter experience has proved this to be the case in Alberta. The UK government is using the diversity argument to rationalize spending for wind power, but this approach will only make UK energy more expensive and less reliable. The argument being used to increase security of supply will in fact reduce it.

The UK government goes to great lengths to argue that a diverse approach is needed, and then fails to include the most important factor for a diversified nuclear power industry, namely the use of thorium fuel. Thorium is easier to obtain than uranium, and it offers politically valuable characteristics related to spent fuel management and weapons proliferation. India has an advanced program of research and development for thorium fuel, and Norway is starting such a program. The UK government just cannot claim to want diversity of supply and not include thorium fuel in this mix.

The full capability of fission technology for security of supply has not been accounted for. Fission fuels, uranium or thorium, are compact, easy to handle, readily stored for long periods, and inexpensive. Large quantities of these fuels could be purchased now and kept on site, guaranteeing an energy supply for decades. Then the spent fuel could be used in fast reactors built during these initial decades, guaranteeing supply for centuries. This is complete energy supply security - the UK would never again have to purchase energy from any external organization.

Security of supply is usually discussed in a political context where the fear is that other organizations or national groups will restrict fuel sales. But the problem can occur if the supply is keyed to any process that is not controlled by the UK government. Weather is such a problem. Making major portions of the energy supply dependent on weather will cause supply interruptions, especially in the more extreme weather expected with global warming. Wind and hydro power must be taken out of the supply mix for this reason.


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