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Ron Bailey/Reason: Gore’s proposal to generate all power carbon-free in 10 years requires trillion$ on nukes

On July 17, Al Gore challenged our nation to produce “100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly carbon-free sources within 10 years“.

Ron Bailey, science correspondent of Reason online, has examined whether Gore’s proposal is at all practically achievable.  Bailey reviews the main options mentioned by Gore (solar, wind and geothermal) and the chief option implied but unmentionable – nuclear power – and concludes that low ball estimates of the costs for realizing Gore’s target are on the scale of $1 trillion to $6 trillion, with nuclear being by far the cheapest.  Concludes Bailey:

Curiously, nowhere does the “N-word”—nuclear—appear in Gore’s speech. Currently, 104 nuclear power plants generate about 20 percent of America’s electricity. Once a nuclear plant is up and running, it is essentially carbon-free. Westinghouse claims that it can build a third generation 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant for around $1.4 billion. Assuming this estimate is right, all U.S. carbon-emitting electricity generation plants could be replaced with nuclear power at a cost of about $1.2 trillion by 2018.

“Of course there are those who will tell us this can’t be done,” warned Gore. I am not one of those people. I am sure it can be done. But before embarking on his “generational challenge to re-power America,” I would like the former vice-president to sketch out a few more details on how it’s going to be paid for and who’s going to be stuck with the bill.

These numbers – roughly on the scale of our out-of-pocket and committed costs for our Iraq and Afghanistan adventures (largely corporate welfare for the defense/logistics industry, good friends of Republicans) – help us get a bit of a handle on the opportunity costs of those wars, which have undermined rather than improved our security and jacked up oil costs.

Bailey also comments on the costs of shifting our automobile fleet to one that is powered by electricity.

Bailey’s piece is here: “Al Gore’s Curiously Cost-Free Plan to Re-Power America“. 


  1. TokyoTom
    August 6th, 2008 at 04:02 | #1

    Andeeh, I agree with Person: besides hydro dams, “renewable” resources have a simply enormous environmental footprint. Moreover, wind and solar are intermittent and can’t provide baseload power.

    Nuclear power is far more environmentally benign. Further, we can get even more safety, greatly expand recoverable energy and nearly eliminate the “waste” problem by moving to fast breeder reactors: http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/designs/ifr/anlw.html

  2. August 4th, 2008 at 15:10 | #2

    andeeh: There are “little” reserves of uranium because people aren’t looking for it because people aren’t building nuclear plants because the government isn’t issuing permits. Reverse the last, and you’ll see uranium start being found. Estimates about reserves in the Rockies are pretty high.

    And yes, it doesn’t require “a lot” of fresh, clean oil to be able to extract uranium, but here’s a secret: the EROEI is still much, much higher, meaning the total CO2 per unit of nuclear power energy is ridiculously low. That’s why they call it carbon free — it very nearly is.

    And by the way, even the oil used to get that uranium can become carbon-free through the miracle of nuclear octane: use the cheap nuclear energy to suck CO2 out of the air and store it as fuel.

    Now, since of course you want to make a fair comparison, do you know how much oil — and other environmentally damaging materials — it takes to put up those beloved solar panels? There are many case of people being “environmentally friendly” by setting up solar panels built in China who are actually shipping their pollution and CO2 overseas while barely making up the energy used in making them!

  3. TokyoTom
    August 2nd, 2008 at 10:10 | #3

    andeeh, I believe that most of the opposition to nuclear power comes from the fact of its inital connection with government, but actually nuclear power is extremely safe, is much more reliable than “alternative” power, and by far poses the least environmental costs. Every thing else requires ripping up much more ground, leaving more messes, putting more stuff into the air or otherwise taking up space. Waste can easily be reduced (and power supplies multiplied by orders of 100s) by using breeder reactors. It is the other energy options that by far socialize much more risk.

  4. andeeh
    August 1st, 2008 at 17:47 | #4

    Here’s a couple of many articles on Sanders Research (site is now closed but you can still see them) there are answers to your question here:



    A side issue is that there isn’t enough Uranium available anyway and so the costs of Uranium itself will go to the moon if so much demand is brought to bear. The truth is that there is no solution that allows for business as usual for electrical utility. The next decade will see a lot of shutdowns and brownouts. The best prospect I have seen is perhaps a solar project for the sahara desert. So maybe Gore is right in that respect but generally I think the whole CO2 trading issue is a “grab on the commons” or in Austrian School paralance you might say it’s changing a condition of human welfare i.e. the ability to emit Co2 freely to being a factor of production. Either way its a scam.

    I believe nuclear was always a spectacle of big government, it’s never been a cost effective endeavour and would never have survived if it were not for the atomic bomb. The only way nuclear looks cost effective is to completely disregard decommisioning and waste disposal. In UK this is done by socializing those risks – the dirty business of decomissioning and the nightmare of digging a huge tunnel underneath a mountain to dispose of the waste.

  5. TokyoTom
    August 1st, 2008 at 15:53 | #5

    Andeeh, thanks for you (strong) opinions. Perhaps Ron Bailey was overstating his case by saying “essentially”, but if we replaced all of our fossil-fuel power generation with nuclear, on a net basis would out emissions rise, stay steady or drop dramatically? Would we have to rip up as much ground? Would we put as many heavy metals, other pollutants and particulates in the air, ground or water?

  6. andeeh
    August 1st, 2008 at 15:31 | #6

    The idea that nuclear is carbon free is complete and utter garbage. There are huge volumes of ore that must be processed to create tiny amounts and this requires lots of energy…. i.e. fossil fuels. Think monster trucks and machinery and massive milling operations. For the Olympic Dam in Austrialia – uranium grades are lower than 1 gramme per ton!

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