Nuclear Power in Europe, general ETP insight from Bill Gates

Last Thursday’s lecture demonstrated nuclear power, insofar as economics and technology are concerned, is likely the most efficient way to decarbonize our energy system.  It is difficult to make a solid case against nuclear in favor of another low/no carbon energy source for electricity production.

Looking for something interesting to watch while cooking dinner, I ran across this episode of fora.tv (green science series) on Hulu (free):

http://www.hulu.com/watch/264906/foratv-environment-bill-gates-on-energy-innovation-technologies-to-replace-oil-and-coal#s-p1-sr-i0

It is fairly long at 56 minutes but Bill Gates provides a surprisingly frank and in depth analysis of energy technology and policy.  He is more knowledgeable on the subject than I expected.  After learning his multi-billion dollar charity currently invests in dozens of energy companies globally, his acumen makes more sense.  He is fascinated, if not spellbound, by the inherent energy density and overall efficiency of nuclear power.  On the contrary, he appears to consider all but the largest commercial applications of solar to be at best a waste of time; at worst a distraction from really solving our energy problems.

The Economist is covering the ongoing saga in Europe about the future of nuclear.  As Japan continues to grapple with their distraught reactor (this month it almost overheated the point of risking a chain reaction again), Europe is bailing on nuclear at a rapid pace (1).  France is aggressively trying to export its technology while the countries with a green conscious and currency to pay for it, like Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium, are stepping back from prior commitments.  François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy’s socialist rival, is campaigning on reducing France’s own percentage of power supplied from nuclear by 33% (2).

On top of safety concerns, South Korean and Chinese nuclear reactor construction firms are taking market share from France’s state owned Areva.  Areva ran substantially over-budget on its more recent projects and has admitted to becoming too bloated, announcing widespread layoffs during the upcoming quarter.  Despite Europe’s issues, the International Atomic Energy Agency is predicting Asia’s nuclear capacity to double by 2030 (2).  If nuclear does thrive, it appears the developing nations will reap the benefits.  Who would have considered the possibility of Switzerland trusting a Chinese firm over a French one to build a nuclear reactor in their backyard?

(1) http://www.economist.com/node/21547265

(2) http://www.economist.com/node/21541833

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