Comparison of nuclear with wind, solar and biomass

Theodore Rockwell


One advantage of nuclear is energy density: each gram of uranium does the work of several tons of the best chemical fuels. (And, of course, wind, solar, waves etc. are even further down the food chain.)

This difference is both inherent and fundamental. It results from the difference in binding energies of atoms vs. molecules. No amount of research and development can change it.

This can sound awfully abstract and ho-hum. But it can—and should—be made very dramatic. Many believe/claim that a butterfly flapping its wings in Borneo can cause a hurricane in Boston. So how should they feel about a windmill whose “wings” are the length of a football field, and its wingtips move at near-sonic speed? Only nuclear can deliver Gigawatt-hours of electricity from less than an ounce of fuel. And nuclear fuel doesn’t compete with food, fiber or other essential human needs. Nor does it require hundreds of square miles to do the work of a nuclear station with two or more large plants on a single square mile. Lots of fuel means not just tearing up the earth to mine it, but tearing up more earth and polluting the air with trucks or trains to haul it.

What about wind and solar, that don’t use any fuel at all? Recognize that, in addition to the large amounts of concrete and steel needed for each windmill or solar generator, those fuelless “generators” do not generate any energy, they merely draw some of the energy out of the passing breezes or fleeting rays of sunshine. (They are put where the wind or the sun is best, not where the consumers are. That requires long transmission lines, designed to handle the max load, which almost never comes. You know that story.) Windmills or solar panels can be made slightly more efficient, but they can draw energy only from the breeze or sunshine they have access to. No researched improvement can enable them to draw energy from breezes or sunshine they cannot reach.

Regarding waste: The amount of waste is always some significant fraction of the input fuel. If you’re using millions of times as much material for a chemical fuel (like coal, oil or biofuels), then you’re going to have millions of times as much waste than for a nuclear fuel.

Ted Rockwell - February 10, 2010


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