The latest situation with damaged Japanese nuclear power plants seems if anything more potentially dire and apocalyptic than what prompted my comment on Don Arthur’s post:
Seems to me that whatever now happens the nuclear power option is almost certainly a dead duck in all western nations with free media. Whatever may be the wholly utilitarian risk/benefit analysis, the images and sense of Armageddon we’re seeing coming out of Japan will be imprinted on people’s minds permanently, meaning that politicians from now on simply won’t be able to propose nuclear power solutions without facing terminal electoral consequences.
The images coming out of Japan mean that it’s game, set and match to the Greens on the nuke power issue and we need to get on and develop other sustainable, low carbon baseload power options.
However, it appears that currently feasible non-nuclear and non-fossil fuel baseload power options (i.e. commercially deployable in the near future) are by no means obvious.
Nuclear pebble bed reactors seemed to hold some hope of cheaper nuclear options that didn’t carry the risk of overheating and meltdown so evident in Japan. However, trial reactor programs have largely been abandoned as unpromising.
Hydrogen fuel is fraught with problems that haven’t been solved, mostly related to its volatility, lightness and very low energy/volume ratio. Compressing or liquefying it are both extraordinarily expensive.
Solar thermal might be capable of development to something approaching baseload constant availability with storage of energy generated during the day (e.g. superheated water) but certainly isn’t ready to be deployed on a large scale. Moreover cost appears almost prohibitive:
Due to the nature of technology and the electricity market, says BZE, the carbon price would need to be above $70 a tonne before it could begin to have benefits for any new form of renewable energy generation. Between $70 and $200 a tonne, the signal is for extra growth in wind power combined with (what Wright calls) ”fossil gas”. More than $200 a tonne is needed to make baseload solar thermal viable at current prices.
“Clean coal” is almost certainly an expensive fantasy at least in most parts of the world, because very large underground storage caverns for the Co2 extracted to make “clean” coal just don’t exist.
So what else is there? I’d be most interested in readers’ thoughts.
I note that the Green lobby is arguing that you really don’t need any baseload power sources at all, and that enough continuous electricity can be delivered by a patchwork of renewable but non-continuous sources, perhaps supplemented occasionally by reserve LNG plants. Mark Diesendorff is a leading local proponent of that approach, and a retired scientist Dr David Mills claims that the US could meet all its current electricity needs with such a patchwork approach and without relying on either nuclear or fossil fuels. Somehow I have my doubts, but again I’d be interested in readers’ thoughts (especially those with some relevant knowledge/expertise).