Wind energy and other renewables take on nuclear

» By | Published 28 Jun 2010

A lively and engaging debate was posted on the TED website this month with top-level speakers discussing the benefits and costs of wind energy and other renewables compared to nuclear. Interestingly, more people in the audience converted to wind and other renewables from nuclear than vice-versa after watching and participating in the debate. Here’s why:

Professor Mark Jacobson from Stanford put across these points:

Nuclear takes much longer than wind power to put up – between 10 and 19 years allowing for all permits and actual construction. Wind power takes an average of two to five years. So, says Jacobson, if you count all the time you wait for a nuclear plant to come on-line in terms of fossil fuels burnt during this period, “nuclear puts out at least nine to 17 times more CO2 equivalent emissions than wind energy.”

His next point was wind energy’s ‘footprint’ compared to nuclear. Wind power has “by far the smallest [footprint] of any energy source in the world” because the footprint is just the area of the turbine pole touching the ground. The space between turbines can be used for agriculture or other purposes, he points out. Nuclear, on the other hand, has a larger site, a considerable buffer zone surrounding it, and there’s the issue of uranium mining.

“To power the entire world with 50% wind, you would need about one percent of world land,” Jacobson claims.

Jacobson’s contestant, Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth catalogue, argued in favour of nuclear based on the small amount of waste it produces compared to the vast quantities of CO2 coal-burning pumps into the atmosphere, the ‘footprint’ of wind energy on the land, and his claim that nuclear energy is a “disarmament tool” when it comes to weapons.

Listen to the debate, form your own opinion and tell us about it by commenting below. In the meantime, here’s a quote from Jacobson: “Nuclear energy puts out more carbon dioxide, more air pollutants, enhances mortality and takes longer to put up than real renewable systems.”

Categories: Climate change