Sunday, May 21, 2006

So how much more reliable is nuclear electricity?

Nuclear power fans' favourite argument these days is that "the wind doesn't blow all the time" and that therefore you need nukes for baseload capacity. It has a degree of truth, although the usual bollocks level has to be taken into account. But just how big is the difference?

According to the manager of Hinckley Point A, his station is offline for 140 days a year. (140/365)x100=38.3 per cent of the time, in other words. Now, the rule-of-thumb capacity factor for wind generators is 30 per cent - i.e. that they run at full power 30 per cent of the time. The UK average was 27 per cent in 2004, but it improves as you go out to sea. Looking at the nuclear station that way around, you get a figure of 61.7 per cent of maximum annual production delivered. It's more, but it's not as much as you might think, especially when you remember that overproduction is as bad as underproduction. Nuclear stations run at full pelt all the time they are working, so just as you have to find something to do with wind power on a windy night, you have to do something with the spare electricity when demand is insufficient to soak up all the nuclear.

The question is matching supply and demand.

For extra value, note the amusing planning objection to a nearby wind farm - apparently it's too risky that a 7-tonne turbine blade might be blown 900 metres into the side of the reactor hall...which supposedly will withstand a 747 crashing into it, right? There are some industries who the Prime Minister ought to mark up on the wall like the character in Memento did, next to the legend DON'T BELIEVE THEIR LIES! BAE is one. BNFL is another. EDS, Siemens Business Systems, Capita and CapGemini all ought to be up there.

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