Wind & Solar Can NOT Replace Coal & Gas — But Nuclear Is the Answer

November 9, 2017

by Cathie Adams, Eagle Forum International Issues Chairman

Energy produced by wind and solar cannot replace the amount produced by coal and gas, but nuclear can stated two prominent spokesmen during the climate change meeting in Bonn, Germany.

Dr.James Hansen

Dr.James Hansen

Presenter James Hansen, a Ph.D. in physics and former NASA scientist, is absolutely convinced that climate change is man-caused and that fossil fuels must be left in the ground. He is most known for his testimony before the U.S. Senate in 1988 stating that NASA was 99 percent certain that the climate warming trend (that stopped 20 years ago) was not a natural variation but was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere. Hansen also supports a carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions and calls himself a scientist turned activist.

The second presenter Michael Shellenberger, is the Founder and President of Environmental Progress who led the grassroots environmental effort to save nuclear power plants in Illinois and New York. Time Magazine honored him as “Hero of the Environment.” In the 2000s, Michael advocated for and helped realize an expansion of federal investment in renewables and energy efficiency. He lives in Berkeley, California. 

These two presenters did something most remarkable: they defended the fact that wind and solar cannot replace coal and gas, but nuclear energy can. But to move forward with their ideas, they must convince their fellow leftists. Most conservatives would disagree with the carbon tax and manmade climate change, but would agree with their thinking on nuclear energy.

It is helpful to understand the process that Hansen and Shellenberger must maneuver. Since 1997, I have attended UN climate change meetings. Most of the attendees are not scientists; rather, they are political figures. The proceedings are not run by a democratic process, but by bureaucrats who cajole and manipulate delegations using a Delphi process in which the outcome is pre-determined. National delegates may add a jot or a tittle, or even stall the process for a day or two, but they will never change a UN’s pre-determined outcome. And the UN will never be deterred from its power-usurping agenda. Now you understand the challenge before these two gentlemen.

Mr. Shellenberger started as a wind and solar advocate but changed his mind about renewables after reading a UN document on the Chernobyl disaster that dispelled the fearful myths. Dr. Hansen then invited Shellenberger to join him in Bonn to state their positions on nuclear energy.

Shellenberger noted that non-CO2 emitting energy is produced mostly by hydro, then nuclear, followed by wind and solar. He added that while there have been 114 times more government subsidies for renewables over nuclear per unit of energy generated in the U.S. in 2016, wind and solar have been unable to make up the 7% decline of nuclear energy due to plant closures. Even the New York Times noted that the government has spent in only 10 years on wind and solar what it has spent in 54 years on nuclear.

Using wind and solar to create energy does nothing to diminish carbon dioxide levels in the air, which is only .038%! There is, however, a significant decarbonization with nuclear and hydro-generated electricity. The biggest reason for that is that wind and solar do not produce very much power.

Germany, for example, has invested $222 billion in renewables since 2000. They used 4% more solar but generated 3% less electricity due to less sunshine. Even with an 11% increase in the wind last year, it produced 2% less electricity. As a result, German electricity prices are up 50% over the last decade, while it remains locked into coal to generate electricity, but the government does not want to discuss its phase-out of nuclear.

French electricity costs half the price of German electricity because most of its energy is produced by nuclear. It is also interesting to note that wind declines 40% in value when it becomes 30% of the grid. Solar declines by 50% in value when it becomes 15% of the grid. The reason for the declines is that it produces a lot of power when we do not need it, yet does not produce power when we do need it.

Renewables also require a lot of materials. Solar is built with steel, glass and cement, inversely related to energy return on investment. Those materials create 300 times more toxic waste than nuclear per unit of energy. When it is dismantled, it is typically done in poor areas subjecting children to cadmium, chromium, lead and other toxins that never decline in toxicity. Nuclear, on the other hand, is the only fuel that totally captures all its waste products.

Shellenberger also pointed out that the storage capacity of electricity in California today is only enough for 23 minutes of use, yet that would mean that even car batteries would be used for backup, but it is unrealistic that all cars would be taken off the roads simultaneously.

The facts from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster were edifying. There were 28 deaths caused by acute radiation syndrome and those were the firefighters closest to the fire. There were 15 deaths due to thyroid cancer over the next 25 years, no effect on fertility, malformations or infant mortality. Nor was there an effect on pregnancies, inheritable effects, and no proven increase in any other cancer.

In Fukushima, Japan, there were no deaths from radiation, but there were 1500 deaths caused by fear-mongering about radiation. There was no effect on thyroid cancer or pregnancies. By contrast, 15,000 people were killed by Japan’s 2011 tsunami and 170,000 died when the Chinese dam collapsed.

Shellenberger and Hansen concluded that nuclear is the only way to create massive amounts of power without carbon dioxide emissions. Hansen closed with a quote from former President John F. Kennedy, “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

May we think–and seek God, the source of wisdom.