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Nuclear vs Renewable Power ¦ Or How To Separate the Poor From The Rich

At the June 2011 Vienna Energy Forum, the energy debate clearly was divided into two camps, a northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere.  The Southern group is clearly for nuclear power, while the Northern group is for renewable energy.

"We must have nuclear energy if India is to develop," said Srikumar Banerjee, the chair of India's Atomic Energy Commission. South Africa minister of Energy, Elizabeth Dipuo Peters, agreed stating her country has recently signed agreements to add 9,600 megawatts of nuclear power.

Peter Droege of the European Association for Renewable Energy said "Nuclear energy is dead. It's finished," to some of the Vienna Energy Forum's 1,200 delegates who watched the debate.

In Europe nuclear power is very unpopular, the German government passed legislation that will result in the closure of all 17 nuclear power plants by 2022. Italy and Switzerland have made similar announcements.  

Support for nuclear energy globally has fallen from 54 percent to 38 percent. It is now lower than coal, according to an Ipsos public opinion poll conducted in June to assess the impact of Japan's ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster. In Japan, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is starting a new division dedicated to enhancing safety measures at nuclear power plants in Japan.

Solar and wind public support remains very strong at 97 and 93 percent, respectively. German support for nuclear has fallen to 21 percent. In Italy it is 18 percent. While in France, where 75 percent of electricity is generated by nuclear, public support has fallen to 34 percent, with over a quarter of the population strongly opposing nuclear power.

In Japan the number of new wind turbines is down for the first time in 3 years. The move to tap wind power is losing steam in Japan as government subsidies ended.

In the USA, the Southern Company, a large electricity wholesaler has obtained some approvals from the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) for additional nuclear reactors. That approval from the Georgia PSC allows the Southern Company to collect money from current customers to build the new reactors. However there is strong opposition to the new reactors and is still possible that they will not be built.

The nuclear power industry is very unique, in that they collect money from current customers to build new reactors. If they actually build them and produce power, they are then allowed to charge appropriate fees and make a profit. However, the customers that had to contribute to building these new nuclear reactors do not share in the profits as investors, their money is gone.

In Australia renewable energy has won, somewhat controversially as Australia has taken a major step in reducing its future greenhouse gas output. The plan will initially place a tax on every ton of carbon pollution produced by hundreds of the country’s major emitters. Of course this tax will be passed on to the consumer.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a televised address on Jul.10 stated "Most Australians now agree our climate is changing. This is caused by carbon pollution. This has harmful effects on our environment and on the economy and the government should act."

Unfortunately, all this effort by Australia to reduce “greenhouse gas output” will be almost a joke if the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the lower USA states is allowed to proceed. Estimates for refining this dirty oil for use place the CO2 output at 150 Million tons annually, so IF Australia makes great strides in reducing theirs it will be negligible.

The automotive industry is doing everything as quickly as possible to move the public to electric vehicles and hybrids. There are moves to restrict or cease building new nuclear reactors in the northern hemisphere. Technology to recharge the electric vehicles at an affordable cost, when not connected to the power grid is simply not available. In many areas outside of Japan where they had a major natural disaster that created available power problems, power distribution and availability are also problematic. Where is this power going to come from to charge the batteries in all these new EVs?

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