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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-17-10 09:35 PM
Original message
Four Nuclear Myths
Four Nuclear Myths: A Commentary on Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Discipline and on Similar Writings
AUTHOR: Lovins, Amory
DOCUMENT ID: 2009-09
YEAR: 2009
DOCUMENT TYPE: Journal or Magazine Article

Some nuclear-power advocates claim that wind and solar power can't provide much if any reliable power because they're not "baseload," that they use too much land, that all energy options including new nuclear build are needed to combat climate change, and that nuclear power's economics don't matter because climate change will force governments to dictate energy choices and pay for whatever is necessary. In this review of recent publications about nuclear power, Amory Lovins scrutinizes the logic behind the publications.

Available for download here:

Public discussions of nuclear power, and a surprising number of articles in peer-reviewed
journals, are increasingly based on four notions unfounded in fact or logic: that

1. variable renewable sources of electricity (windpower and photovoltaics) can provide little
or no reliable electricity because they are not baseloadable to run all the time;
2. those renewable sources require such enormous amounts of land, hundreds of times more
than nuclear power does, that theyre environmentally unacceptable;
3. all options, including nuclear power, are needed to combat climate change; and
4. nuclear powers economics matter little because governments must use it anyway to
protect the climate.

For specificity, this review of these four notions focuses on the nuclear chapter of Stewart
Brands 2009 book Whole Earth Discipline, which encapsulates similar views widely expressed
and cross-cited by organizations and individuals advocating expansion of nuclear power. Its
therefore timely to subject them to closer scrutiny than they have received in most public media.

This review relies chiefly on five papers15, which I gave Brand over the past few years but on
which he has been unwilling to engage in substantive discussion. They document6 why
expanding nuclear power is uneconomic, is unnecessary, is not undergoing the claimed
renaissance in the global marketplace (because it fails the basic test of cost-effectiveness ever
more robustly), and, most importantly, will reduce and retard climate protection....
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postulater Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-17-10 10:31 PM
Response to Original message
1. Thanks
I will save it to read later.

I always thought Lovins had a helpful viewpoint.
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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-17-10 10:38 PM
Response to Original message
2. It's unsurprising to have anti-nukes post tripe from gas company freaks.
Edited on Sun Jan-17-10 10:46 PM by NNadir
The guy is paid by Chevron, Shell Oil, Conoco and all the other companies that own the anti-nukes lock stock and barrel.

No wonder he opposes the world's largest, by far, source of climate change gas free primary energy.

It reads like a laundry list of car CULTists who want to greenwash their filth with a slick, uneducated snake oil (renewable of course) saleman:

His clients have included Accenture, Allstate, AMD, Anglo American, Anheuser-Busch, Bank of America, Baxter, Borg-Warner, BP, HP Bulmer, Carrier, Chevron, CIBA-Geigy, CLSA, Coca-Cola, ConocoPhillips, Corning,Deutsche Bank, Dow, Equitable, Ford, GM, Hewlett-Packard, Holcim, Interface, Invensys, Lockheed Martin, Mitsubishi, Monsanto, Motorola, Norsk Hydro, Petrobras, Prudential, Rio Tinto, Royal Dutch/Shell, Shearson Lehman/American Express, STMicroelectronics, Sun Oil, Suncor, Texas Instruments, UBS, Unilever, Wal-Mart, Westinghouse, Xerox, major real-estate developers, and over 100 utilities. Public-sector clients have included the OECD, UN, Resources for the Future, the Australian, Canadian, Dutch, German, and Italian governments, 13 US states, Congress, and the U.S. Energy and Defense Departments.<[/div>

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4dsc Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 11:13 AM
Response to Reply #2
8. Attacking the messenger willl never win any arguments here
Try rebutting the argument and you might get somewhere here..
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HillbillyBob Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-17-10 10:55 PM
Response to Original message
3. No Nuke power plant has actually 'paid for itself' ever.
Edited on Sun Jan-17-10 11:36 PM by HillbillyBob
They are paid for by huge subsidies of tax payer $$.

We have a total electric home.

If we all took some time and figure out the little things to make our houses use less power it will cost us less and lighten the load on the grid..we plan to get to where we can run on our own solar power set up with battery back up.
We spent 3500 over 3 yrs to save nearly 3,000$ yearly, that is going from using 3300 kwhrs down to 900-1200kwhrs and we are no where near through.
$1500 in air conditioning costs just last summer.
Our yearly power bill is now 1,800$ instead of 4800$+

Eventually we will be total solar for power and water heating, the solar water heater is large enough to run under floor radiant heat. Yes it will cost several thousand, but its 40% more efficient to run that kind of heat and we will be able to run the pumps via solar power and we'll add a bunch of insulation.
Then we will tell the power company buhbye since they use a lot of coal to generate power.

NNadir are you accusing Lovins and his contracts of green washing? Say so.
I see that he has advised them not in green washing, but towards more efficiency. I had read a few articles and seen a few programs about him and his work and that is my take.
Do you just love nukes?
Can we bury that spent fuel in your yard?

I don't have a choice of building green because it was all we could do to buy a was a good deal and it was an existing building.
We wanted to build a green home. As is after being homeless then only being able to rent at a high cost we found an existing structure that had a good basis to take it green.

It is about 15 yrs old, but is no where nearly as efficient as it could be.

We have already made huge strides toward being fossil full free and we do own 2 cars one gets 39mpg and we would have gone with a hybrid if we could have afforded it. We had to take the path that we could afford since we have taken so many hits to our income with me now disabled and my partner having to take pay cuts that are more than 55% of what he was making before in order to just work. I have listed in other posts some of what we have done to make the house eat less power and as we save more and more and get the car paid off we have long range plans that will be somewhat expensive as in 2-3000$ chunks, but we will be fossile fuel free aside from some of the farm equipment and the car over the next 10 15 yrs, then I don't much care how much gasoline costs.
Over all budget will be in the neighborhood of 15-22,000$, but the ROI will be about 10 yrs on the solar power plant with back up batteries.
How bout adding something constructive to the discussion.
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caraher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-17-10 11:40 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. The same can probably be said of fossil fuel power also
It's true that the economics of nuclear power have been a far cry from the '50s "too cheap to meter" propaganda. But there are very few major elements of our energy and transportation infrastructure that have *not* been heavily-subsidized, or that will not turn out to have been vastly more expensive than previously envisioned (e.g. the ultimate costs of climate change after decades of burning "cheap" fossil fuels).

So while I take your point, I don't think in and of itself the existence of subsidies for nuclear energy is a very persuasive argument against it any more than I think we should *not* subsidize solar. Our automobile "culture" is massively subsidized both in terms of fuel and the roads required, the climate change costs of coal have not been paid...

And congratulations for your hard work weaning yourself from the grid. I hope more and more people who can afford it follow suit - soon!
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 05:05 AM
Response to Reply #4
6. Nuclear hasn't touched the subsidies that fossil fuels have, but it too couldn't stand on its own.
Fossil fuels get yearly the same subsidies that nuclear got over its lifetime, something like 2-3 times over, even.
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 05:01 AM
Response to Original message
5. This is E&E, on topic, and informative, why the unrecs?
Post got you scared?

Maybe it is a bit redundant since most of us know these are myths, but I doubt that's why it is so unrecced.

K&R for solidarity. If on topic you shouldn't unrec.
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notesdev Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 10:12 AM
Response to Reply #5
7. The 'baseload' discussion misses the point entirely
Electricity demand over a 24-hour cycle never drops below 60% of peak, that is the fundamental fact of the baseline argument; and despite spending several pages on the topic, this "myth" busting (actually a strawman-busting) study does not even mention it.

So how does wind/solar generate that 60% of peak when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing?
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 03:28 PM
Response to Reply #7
9. That's "the fundamental fact of the baseline argument"?

What happens to that "fundamental fact" when you actually pay attention to what was written? If you characterize it as a "fundamental fact" then you just weren't paying attention. That is exactly what the paper goes to the heart of. Can you show why efficiency, solar thermal, wind at night, and other distributed generation and storage technologies CAN'T provide the 24/7 power that users require?

Let's start simply - please explain and justify the 60% claim you've made as being a "fundamental fact".

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notesdev Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 06:27 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. Let's try being coherent
One of the two things in your post cannot be true. Either you accept the 60% baseline figure and claim the paper addresses it, or you dispute the 60% baseline.

Pick one and get back to me, I'm not going to waste my time with someone who throws spaghetti at the wall as a means of trying to advance an argument.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 06:43 PM
Response to Reply #10
11. There is no "60% baseline" in the paper.
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notesdev Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 07:35 PM
Response to Reply #11
12. OK good then
So you admit that the paper doesn't address the issue.

Now let's look at the typical 24-hour electrical load profile:

Notice that at the minimum, we still use most of the electricity we use at the maximum.

This is the problem that wind and solar can't solve, which is why you won't hear much about it from the people making money off of the subsidies thrown in that direction.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 07:50 PM
Response to Reply #12
13. The paper DOES addresses the MYTH of baseload electricity.
You are engaging in the typical obsfucation that is the trademark of nuclear power's supporters.

YOU are the one claiming the 60% figure and you've yet to support it. First I asked you do define it. You have even now (two posts later) not explained exactly what you mean by "baseline" as opposed to "baseload" and why the discussion in the OP paper is flawed.

Your unsupported opinion and a meaningless graph isn't enough.

The baseload myth

Brand rejects the most important and successful renewable sources of electricity for one key
reason stated on p. 80 and p. 101. On p. 80, he quotes novelist and author Gwyneth Cravenss
definition of baseload power as the minimum amount of proven, consistent, around-the-clock,
rain-or-shine power that utilities must supply to meet the demands of their millions of
customers.21 (Thus it describes a pattern of aggregated22 customer demand.) Two sentences
later, he asserts: So far comes from only three sources: fossil fuels, hydro, and
nuclear. Two paragraphs later, he explains this dramatic leap from a description of demand to a
restriction of supply: Wind and solar, desirable as they are, arent part of baseload because they
are intermittentproductive only when the wind blows or the sun shines. If some sort of massive
energy storage is devised, then they can participate in baseload; without it, they remain
supplemental, usually to gas-fired plants.

That widely heard claim is fallacious. The manifest need for some amount of steady, reliable
power23 is met by generating plants collectively, not individually. That is, reliability is a statistic-
al attribute of all the plants on the grid combined.24 If steady 24/7 operation or operation at any
desired moment were instead a required capability of each individual power plant, then the grid
couldnt meet modern needs, because no kind of power plant is perfectly reliable. For example,
in the U.S. during 200307, coal capacity was shut down an average of 12.3% of the time (4.2%
without warning); nuclear, 10.6% (2.5%); gas-fired, 11.8% (2.8%).25 Worldwide through 2008,
nuclear units were unexpectedly unable to produce 6.4% of their energy output.26 This inherent
intermittency of nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants requires many different plants to back
each other up through the grid. This has been utility operators strategy for reliable supply
throughout the industrys history. Every utility operator knows that power plants provide energy
to the grid, which serves load. The simplistic mental model of one plant serving one load is valid
only on a very small desert island. The standard remedy for failed plants is other interconnected
plants that are workingnot some sort of massive energy storage devised.

Modern solar and wind power are more technically reliable than coal and nuclear plants; their
technical failure rates are typically around 12%. However, they are also variable resources
because their output depends on local weather, forecastable days in advance with fair accuracy
and an hour ahead with impressive precision.27 But their inherent variability can be managed by
proper resource choice, siting, and operation.28 Weather affects different renewable resources
differently; for example, storms are good for small hydro and often for windpower, while flat
calm weather is bad for them but good for solar power. Weather is also different in different
places: across a few hundred miles, windpower is scarcely correlated, so weather risks can be
diversified. A Stanford study found that properly interconnecting at least ten windfarms can
enable an average of one-third of their output to provide firm baseload power.29 Similarly, within
each of the three power pools from Texas to the Canadian border, combining uncorrelated
windfarm sites can reduce required wind capacity by more than half for the same firm output,
thereby yielding fewer needed turbines, far fewer zero-output hours, and easier integration.30

A broader assessment of reliability tends not to favor nuclear power. Of all 132 U.S. nuclear
plants builtjust over half of the 253 originally ordered21% were permanently and
prematurely closed due to reliability or cost problems. Another 27% have completely failed for a
year or more at least once. The surviving U.S. nuclear plants have lately averaged ~90% of their
full-load full-time potentiala major improvement31 for which the industry deserves much
creditbut they are still not fully dependable. Even reliably-running nuclear plants must shut
down, on average, for ~39 days every ~17 months for refueling and maintenance. Unexpected
failures occur too, shutting down upwards of a billion watts in milliseconds, often for weeks to
months. Solar cells and windpower dont fail so ungracefully.

Power plants can fail for reasons other than mechanical breakdown, and those reasons can affect
many plants at once. As France and Japan have learned to their cost, heavily nuclear-dependent
regions are particularly at risk because drought, earthquake, a serious safety problem, or a
terrorist incident could close many plants simultaneously. And nuclear power plants have a
unique further disadvantage: for neutron-physics reasons, they cant quickly restart after an
emergency shutdown, such as occurs automatically in a grid power failure. During the August
2003 Northeast blackout, nine perfectly operating U.S. nuclear units had to shut down. Twelve
days of painfully slow restart later, their average capacity loss had exceeded 50%. For the first
three days, just when they were most needed, their output was less than 3% of normal.32

To cope with nuclear or fossil-fueled plants large-scale intermittency, utilities must install a
~1520% reserve margin of extra capacity, some of which must be continuously fueled,
spinning ready for instant use. This is as much a cost of firming and integration as is the
corresponding cost for firming and integrating windpower or photovoltaic power so its
dispatchable at any time.33 Such costs should be properly counted and compared for all
generating resources. Such a comparison generally favors a diversified portfolio of many small
units that fail at different times, for different reasons, and probably only a few at a time: diversity
provides reliability even if individual units are not so dependable.

Reliability as experienced by the customer is what really matters, and here the advantage tilts
decisively towards decentralized solutions, because ~9899% of U.S. power failures originate in
the grid. Its therefore more reliable to bypass the grid by shifting to efficiently used, diverse,
dispersed resources sited at or near the customer. This logic favors onsite photovoltaics, onsite
cogeneration, and local renewables over, say, remote windfarms or thermal power plants, if
complemented by efficient use, optional demand response, and an appropriate combination of
local diversification and (if needed) local storage, although naturally the details are site-specific.

The big transmission lines that remote power sources rely upon to deliver their output to
customers are also vulnerable to lightning, ice storms, rifle bullets, cyberattacks, and other
interruptions. These vulnerabilities are so serious that the U.S. Defense Science Board has
recommended that the Pentagon stop relying on grid power altogether.34 The bigger our power
plants and power lines get, the more frequent and widespread regional blackouts will become. In
general, nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants require transmission hauls at least as long as is
typical of new windfarms, while solar potential is rather evenly distributed across the country.

For all these reasons, a diverse portfolio of distributed and especially renewable resources can
make power supplies more reliable and resilient. Of course the weather-caused variability of
windpower and photovoltaics must be managed, but this is done routinely at very modest cost.
Thirteen recent U.S. utility studies show that firming variable renewables, even up to 31% of
total generation, generally raises windpowers costs by less than a half-cent per kWh, or a few
percent.35 Without exception, ~200 international studies have found the same thing.36 Indeed, the
latest analyses are suggesting that a well-diversified and well-forecasted mix of variable
renewables, integrated with dispatchable renewables and with existing supply- and demand-side
grid resources, will probably need less storage or backup than has already been installed to cope
with the intermittence of large thermal power stations. Utilities need only apply the same
techniques they already use to manage plant or powerline outages and variations in demandbut
variations in renewable power output are more predictable than those normal fluctuations, which
often renewables variations dont augment but cancel. Thus, as the U.S. Department Energy
pithily summarizes, When wind is added to a utility system, no new backup is required to
maintain system reliability.37

This is not just a computational finding but a practical reality. In 2008, five German states got
3040% of their annual electricity from windpowerover 100% at windy timesand so do
parts of Spain and Denmark, without reliability problems. Denmark is 20% windpowered today
and aims for ~5060% (the rest to come from low- or no-carbon cogeneration). Ireland, with an
isolated small grid (~6.5 billion watts), plans to get 40% of its electricity from renewables,
chiefly wind, by 2020 and 100% by 2035. Three 2009 studies found 2940% British windpower
practical.38 The Danish utility Dong plans in the next generation to switch from ~15%
renewables (mainly wind) and ~85% fossil fuel (mainly coal) to the reverse. A German/Danish
analysis found that diversifying supplies and linking grids across Europe and North Africa could
yield 100% renewable electricity (70% windpowered) at or below todays costs.39 Similar all-
renewable scenarios are emerging for the United States and the world, even without efficiency.40

Brand nonetheless concludes that wind power remains limited by intermittency to about 20
percent of capacity (so that 94 gigawatts is
four-fifths illusory), while nuclear plants run at over 90 percent capacity these days; and there is
still is no proven storage technology that would make wind a baseload provider. That view has
long been known to be unfounded. There is no 20% limit, in theory or in practice, for technical
or reliability or economic reasons, in any grid yet studied.41 The fourth-fifths illusory remark
also appears to reflect confusing an imaginary 20% limit on windpowers share of electrical
output with windpowers capacity factor (how much of its full-time full-power output it actually
produces). Anyhow, capacity factor averaged 3537% for 200408 U.S. wind projects, is
typically around 3040% in good sites, and exceeds 50% in the best sites.42 Proven and cost-
effective bulk power storage is also available if needed.43

Even if Brand were right that variability limits windpowers potential contribution, that would be
irrelevant to windpowers climate-protecting ability. Grid operators normally44 dispatch power
from the cheapest-to-run plants first (merit order or economic dispatch). Windpowers
operating cost is an order of magnitude below coals, because theres no fueljust minor
operating and maintenance costs. Therefore, whenever the wind blows, wind turbines produce
electricity, and coal (or sometimes gas) plants are correspondingly ramped down, saving carbon
emissions. Coal makes 50% of U.S. electricity, so on Brands own assumption of a much smaller
(20%) windpower limit, windpower saves coal and money no matter when the wind blows. To
put it even more simply, physics requires that electricity production and demand exactly balance
at all times, so electricity sent out by a wind turbine must be matched by an equal decrease in
output from another plantnormally the plant with highest operating cost, i.e. fossil-fueled.

Further layers of fallacy underlie Brands amiable dismissal of solar power (pp. 101102):

For photovoltaics (PVs) to become a leading source of electricity does not require
numerous breakthroughs, sustained over decades; it requires only the sort of routine
scaling and cost reduction that the similar semiconductor industry has already done. Just
riding down the historic Moores-Law-like experience curve of higher volume and
lower costa safe bet, since a threefold cost reduction across todays PV value chain is
already in viewmakes PVs beat a new coal or nuclear plant within their respective lead
times. That is, if you start building a coal, gas, or nuclear power plant in, say, New
Jersey, and next door you start at the same time to build a solar power plant of equal
annual output, then by the time the thermal plant is finished, the solar plant will be
producing cheaper electricity, will deliver ~2.5 a coal plants onpeak output, will have
enjoyed more favorable financing because it started producing revenue in year one, and
will have been made by photovoltaic manufacturing capacity that can then reproduce the
solar plant about every 20 months45so youd be sorry if youd built the thermal plant.
Photovoltaics business case, unlike nuclears, neednt depend on government subsidies
or support. Well-designed photovoltaic retrofits are already cost-effective in many parts
of the United States and of the world, especially when integrated with improved end-use
efficiency and demand response (e.g., PowerLights 2002 retrofit of three acres of PVs on
the Santa Rita Jail46) and when financed over the long term like power plants, e.g., under
the Power Purchase Contracts that many vendors now offer. PVs thrive in markets with
little or no central-government subsidy, from Japan (200608) to rural Kenya, where
electrifying households are as likely to buy them as to connect to the grid.
Photovoltaics are highly correlated with peak loads; they often exhibit 60% and
sometimes 90% Effective Load Carrying Capacity (how much of their capacity can be
counted on to help meet peak loads). PV capacity factors can also be considerably higher
than Brands assumed 0.14, especially with mounts that track towards the sun: modern
one-axis trackers get ~0.25 in New Jersey or ~0.330.35 in sunny parts of California.47
Solar power, Brand asserts, does not work well at the infrastructure level (i.e., in
substantial installations feeding power to the grid; the largest installations in spring 2009
produced about 4060 peak megawatts each). This will surprise the California utilities
that recently ordered 850 megawatts of such installations, the firms whose reactor-scale
PV farms are successfully beating California utilities posted utility price in 2009
auctions, the firms that are sustaining ~6070% annual global growth in photovoltaic
manufacturing, and their customers in at least 82 countries. Global installed PV capacity
reached 15.2 GW in 2008, adding 5.95 GW (110% annual growth) of sales and 6.85 GW
of manufacturing (the rest was in the pipeline).48 Thats more added capacity than the
world nuclear industry has added in any year since 1996, and more added annual output
than the world nuclear industry has added in any year since 2004. About 90% of the
worlds PV capacity is grid-tied. Its operators think it works just fine.

The belief that solar and windpower can do little because of their variability is thus exactly
backwards: these resources, properly used, can actually become major or even dominant ways to
displace coal and provide stable, predictable, resilient, constant-price electricity.

Full paper (with notes) available for download here:

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notesdev Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 07:54 PM
Response to Reply #13
14. Try reading the text you quote
and you'll see it never addresses what we were discussing.

For that matter, you have now twice contradicted yourself in consecutive posts.

The key problem is: Where does the power come from when the sun ain't shining and the wind ain't blowing?

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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 08:13 PM
Response to Reply #14
15. More nukenut obsfucation and evasion.
Edited on Mon Jan-18-10 08:16 PM by kristopher
It's your 4th post and you have *yet* to even define what we are supposedly discussing.

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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 11:34 PM
Response to Reply #7
16. Wind + solar is complimentary, and can handle well over 60% of peak.
The sun is shining somewhere and the wind is blowing somewhere, that's how the paper refutes the myth.
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notesdev Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-18-10 11:59 PM
Response to Reply #16
17. All you need now
is a global energy grid.

Good luck with that one.
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joshcryer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-19-10 12:14 AM
Response to Reply #17
18. WinDS shows that our energy grid doesn't require that much more.
Edited on Tue Jan-19-10 12:15 AM by joshcryer
Since coal and nuclear and natural gas are hopelessly broken and have required redundancy, it's mostly there.

I admit we need more, but it's far better than I believed it was a few days ago.
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