Tuesday, March 22, 2011


It makes no sense for people to make so much fuss about the nuclear power plants in Japan. The earthquake and tsunami killed over ten thousand people, and the nuclear plants have not killed a single person. This incident actually makes me feel better about nuclear power; those ancient plants survived a really nasty string of disasters that would not happen in the USA, and modern plants are far safer.

The numbers suggest that the Japanese spent too much money on nuclear safety. If they had spent that money on better tsunami protection, it could have saved hundreds or thousands of lives.

Coal mining kills hundreds of people each year, and the pollution from burning coal kills thousands more. The world would be a much better place if coal plants were replaced by nuclear power plants. Any yet the public paranoia about nuclear stuff makes it impossible to buy insurance for nuclear power plants, which kills investment in them.

Of course, if these numbers are right, building any large power plant now would be a mistake. In one or two decades, solar panels may be so cheap that it will never make any sense to run a power plant during sunny days.

I do not think that the future will have all households making their own power. It will certainly be much easier to live off the grid, with solar and biofuels, but it will still be more efficient to buy your power from a specialized provider. But specialized does not mean centralized. A lot of power is lost in transmission. Instead of big power plants, utilities will, if solar gets cheap enough, scatter solar cells all over the place, so the generation is close to the consumer and a single cloud will not reduce the power too much.

Traditional power plants will mainly provide supply at night and during cloudy days, and to meet demand spikes. For that you need a plant that can be turned on and off quickly, like natural gas. Nuclear power plants only make sense when they are run constantly, providing a steady supply of power.

Basically, In a world of cheap solar panels, nuclear power makes little sense. This is especially true if biofuel production technologies advance, as it seems they will. All issues surrounding nuclear power could become history in a generation.

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