Tag Archives: Nuclear

… ongoing discussion on developing the wind and nuclear comparison

The following is in reply to Robert Wilson specifically and some of the other blogs more generally (see Carbon Counter)

1. Robert suggests the term power station is commonly understood to refer to the number of reactors on site; hence he proposes the capacity (GW) figure I used should be doubled.

The question about stations, reactors or sites may certainly be open to interpretation; however the question posed by Jim Al-Khalili was: “the amount of energy produced by one modern nuclear power station – how may wind turbines would that need?”

Given the Radio 4 programme was aimed at the lay public, I am unsure as to whether the typical interested rather than expert listener, or indeed the presenter, would have understood “one modern nuclear power station” to have meant ‘as many reactors as you can fit on a site’. But perhaps that is what they thought. Only asking the presenter and polling listeners could give an answer to this.

2. Robert suggests 6MW should be a high estimate of future wind turbine capacity (I’m unclear as to the timeframe of his comment)

Despite various comments and suggestions, I remain of the view that 6MW by 2020 is completely reasonable – if not conservative; please note the 2020 date! Are those that disagree, suggesting 6MW turbines are unlikely to succeed – or that this is some threshold of capacity – there are certainly turbine manufacturers that think differently. Again, please note I was and am talking about 2020.

3. Robert suggests “talking in terms of turbines is not a good idea, instead we should be talking in terms of watts per square metre.”

I’m very unsure about watts per square metre as being a useful measure. But if it is to be used I think it would need a time dimension and include all the fuel phase for options being compared, and, from an LCA perspective, the construction, decommissioning and waste phases too. So the exploration, extraction, enrichment, land transport, ports, ships etc, would need to be factored in, along with any space used in relation to the waste. Then this would need to be considered over time – to give a watts per square metre-year. As I say, I think this is unhelpful – but I certainly have no idea how the numbers would pan out – or how waste storage over decades to centuries should be factored in. In addition, some estimate of the frequency and severity of nuclear & wind accidents would need to be assessed and any changes in use of areas impacted considered – again measured in square metre-years. Personally, I’d stick with number of turbines being a least-worst proxy – after all, such figures are just a guide.

Two final points.

A) I get a sense (which I acknowledge may be incorrect) – that those arguing against my numbers are unreasonably favouring nuclear over wind in terms of load factors, capacities and operating dates. I took the view from the start that a new nuclear plant could be operating in the UK by 2020 at 85% load factor and assuming one of the three designs outlined. Similarly, I took the view that the 6MW wind turbines now being installed could be typical by 2020, and quite possibly could have reached 10MW. Moreover, that a 40% capacity factor was not unreasonable to assume for well sited arrays of large offshore turbines by 2020. For both nuclear and wind I took what I continue to hold to be a positive and achievable view of the future. However, I find it difficult to understand how the repeated disregard, by some bloggers, of the 2020 date along with their dismissal of both the 6MW capacities and the 40% capacity factor (as viable norms for 2020), can be said to represent a balanced contribution.

B) Finally, on reflection I recognise that the tone of my original comment could have been construed as unnecessarily critical of Sue Ion. This was not my intention – rather I was and remain committed to trying to analyse and compare all energy options fairly, with the relative merits and drawbacks considered openly and honestly. So whilst I hold to the conclusion of my initial response to the Sue Ion interview, I wish to assure her, should she be following any of this, that my observations were not personal, but about the substance of her comments on the numbers of turbines and informing the media.

Supporting information on wind-nuclear comparison – Ref: response to Sue Ion

Further to my response to Sue Ion’s comparison of nuclear and wind turbine output, there was some disagreement on Carboncounter as to the numbers I had used. I take the view that this disagreement is unjustified, with my reasons outlined below.

Fair comparisons need to compare like with like!

I made absolutely clear my calculations were for comparing proposed new build nuclear in 2020 with an assessment of typical large offshore turbines in 2020; for which I assumed 6MW at the lower end (as these are already being built and operated) and 10MW for the upper end.

The 2020 date here is pivotal and is being missed by some others’ comments and calculations, where they compare a new nuclear plant operating in 2020 (or possibly 2018) with current operating offshore turbines; this is not like with like!

Personally, from a policy and investment perspective I think there is not much benefit in comparing today’s technologies; but if we are to do so it needs to be on a fair basis.

So here goes:?5MW turbines are already generating electricity offshore around the UK (e.g. Ormonde wind farm). So I suggest a fair comparison for today is the UK’s largest nuclear station (Sizewell B) at 1.191GW (according to British Energy) with the largest turbines at 5MW.

In terms of capacity factors if, as some comments suggest, the last few years of offshore wind is to be used as a guide, then so should the last few years for nuclear generation, i.e. a five year mean load factor of 60% (see DUKES)

Using these figures, the number of turbines is between 408 and 433.

I will finish by stating that I am agnostic about nuclear power, but hold strongly to the view that comparing the various merits of different options and portfolios of options needs to be done fairly. Moreover, in considering the future, whilst we need to be guided by history, assuming the future is the same as the past is unhelpful. This is why my original calculations took a positive view about nuclear and wind.

Nuclear expert, Sue Ion, dramatically underestimates output of wind turbines

Pdf version of the full comment is available at Response to Sue Ion on wind turbine numbers

In BBC Radio 4’s the Life Scientific (Tuesday 26th February), Jim Al-Khalili interviewed the former technical director of British Nuclear Fuels, Sue Ion.

This is a response by Kevin Anderson to her comments on wind turbines

Sue Ion suggests 1500 offshore wind turbines generate the same electricity as one nuclear power station; the real number is much lower – somewhere between 250 and 600.

Early on in the programme Sue emphasised how she is committed “to try and do more to help get facts across as opposed to just let the media run with whatever they thought … sometimes stories run when they actually do have no foundation in fact”.

Certainly the world of energy and climate change is awash with educated eloquence trumping quantitative analysis – and any attempt to rescue the latter from the former has to be welcomed.

However, despite Sue Ion’s concern about energy stories often having “no foundation in fact”, when it came to drawing comparisons between electricity generation from nuclear and wind power her comments only added to the misinformation that pervades energy debates.

 “To get a feel for the numbers” Jim Al-Khalili asked about “the amount of energy produced by one modern nuclear power station – how may wind turbines would that need?”

Sue Ion was very specific and categorical in her response; “well you’re talking about one thousand five hundred [1500] of the modern turbines out at sea. So to get the space for that is similar to that of greater London – so you’d be covering the area that is currently greater London with wind turbines – out at sea.”

The real numbers are however very different.

Over a typical year, one of the proposed new nuclear power stations would generate the same quantity of electricity (TWh) as would 250 to 600 modern offshore wind turbines  …  figures far removed from the 1500 Sue Ion claims.


The calculations demonstrating how the estimate of 1500 turbines dramatically exaggerates the real numbers and, in so doing, inadvertently risks misleading both the public and policy-makers, are available at Response to Sue Ion on wind turbine numbers