Nuclear Renewables TCASE

TCASE 4: Energy system build rates and material inputs

In TCASE 3 – The energy demand equation to 2050, I concluded the following:

The world in 2050 will demand ~700 EJ of thermal energy, or roughly 300 EJ of electrical energy. This will require ~10,000 GWe (10 TWe) of generating capacity, which is a 5-fold increase in electricity generating capacity, or 680 MWe, every day, for the next 40 years (2010 to 2050).

Given the large uncertainties associated with this forecast, the actual value could easily be as high as 15 TWe, which would up the daily built-out rate to a little over 1 GWe per day. But let’s stick with 680 MWe rate for this post.

What would that mean in terms of today’s zero-carbon (when generating) energy sources? Consider three technologies that are potentially (i.e., theoretically) able to be scaled up sufficiently to do this job (wind, solar thermal and nuclear fission), and then look at the limit analysis (what would be needed for any one technology to do the whole job — accepting that in reality, there will always be some diversity of energy technologies that are deployed worldwide). I will, for simplicity, use US capacity factors for these energy sources (solar thermal from Spain), based on the latest (2008) data. We can assume the US situation would be reflective of global conditions if the technologies are properly deployed worldwide (with due expertise and siting considerations).


1. Wind turbines. Wind power collects ~2 W/m2 (or 2 MWe per km2), and this figure is not really dependent on the turbine size. (If you have larger turbines, you need to space them further apart. If you build large turbines with tall towers, the increased hub height does access stronger winds, increasing the yield by ~30%). The 2008 US capacity factor for wind was 23.5%. For our unit, let’s choose a widely deployed turbine, the 2.5 MWe (peak), the GE 2.5xl (rotor diameter = 100 m, hub height = 75 – 100 m, cut-in windspeed of 3.5 m/s, peak at 12.5 m/s, cut-out at 25 m/s).

To get 680 MWe average power, 680/0.235  = 2900/2.5 =  1,160 GE 2.5xl turbines per day, worldwide, spread over 340 km2 of land area (a square 18.4 x 18.4 km). Based on the University of Sydney ISA report (p145), which also agrees with Prof Per Peterson’s figures, this will consume ~1,250,000 tonnes of concrete and 335,000 tonnes of steel per day. Every day, from 2010 to 2050. Adding 1 day’s energy storage using NaS batteries (to make it equivalent to the solar thermal example below), increases the mass of steel required to 455,000 tonnes per day (see chart at bottom of the post).


2. Solar thermal. In good desert locations such as the Sahara or central Australia, concentrating solar power would access ~15 W/m2 (or 15 MWe per km2). In Spain, it is closer to 10 W/m2. These figures are derived after taking account of mirror/heliostat spacing required to avoid shading. It agrees with current experience with solar thermal. Case in point (from Mackay 2009):

“Andasol – a “100MW” [is a] solar power station under construction in Spain. Excess thermal energy produced during the day will be stored in liquid salt tanks for up to seven hours, allowing a continuous and stable supply of electric power to the grid. The power station is predicted to produce 350 GWh per year (40 MW [average]). The parabolic troughs occupy 400 hectares, so the power per unit land area will be 10 W/m2.”

The Andasol-1/2 plant will will have a capacity factor of (100 x 8760)/350000 = 40% thanks to its 7 hours of thermal storage (without thermal storage, the CF of solar thermal is 15-22%). Let’s take Andasol as our exemplar.

To get 680 MWe average power, 680/0.4 = 1700/100 = 17 Andasol plants per day, worldwide, requiring (in an ideal desert location) 45 km2 of land (a square 6.7 x 6.7 km). Or, to put it another way, this means rolling out 520 m2 area of mirrors field per second, every second, from 1 Jan 2010 to 31 Dec 2050.

The material figures for the parabolic trough Andasol plant come from the detailed NEEDS report (p88). Based on these carefully document figures of an operational solar thermal plant, a 680 MWe build would equate to 2,215,000 tonnes of concrete, 690,000 tonnes of steel per day — shipped out to a remote desert site, each and every day, from 2010 to 2050.


AP1000 footprint3. Nuclear fission. The AP1000 reactor, a Generation III+ design by Westinghouse that is now being heavily deployed in China, has a small concrete/steel footprint compared to other designs (see figure) — about 100,000 m3 of reinforced concrete incorporating 12,000 tonnes of steel rebar. The AP1000 unit’s island buildings would cover about 4 ha (0.04 km2) and generate 1,154 MWe (peak) at a capacity factor of 91.5% (based on US 2008 operations).

To get 680 MWe average power, 680/0.915 = 743/1154 = 0.64 (close to 2/3) AP1000 plants per day, worldwide, or roughly 2 x AP1000 reactors every 3 days, from 2010 to 2050. (This would require ~160,000 tonnes of concrete [based on 2.4 tonnes per cubic metre] and 10,000 tonnes of steel per day). Compare this to the figures for wind and solar thermal given above!


In the case of wind turbines, much of the land below could presumably be used for other purposes (e.g. livestock). This is not true of solar thermal — the desert ecosystems under these mirrors would be destroyed. Nuclear sites would be restricted industrial zones, as they are today.

What’s missing from the above? Plenty! For instance, the above calculations take NO account of relative cost of implementing any of the above built-outs, nor does it consider the issue of overbuilding and geographical distribution, unit/facility operational lifetimes, large-scale energy storage and backup requirements, relative contribution to grid reliability, etc., etc. In reality, as I shall explain in the future, the figures I cite above for wind and solar, huge though they are, will turn out to be severe underestimates. The devil in these details will be explored in later posts in the TCASE series. I will also compare historical build rates to see how they stack up against the above projections (for renewable energy and nuclear power).en_pwr_area

The main point of this post, TCASE 4, is to take a one step in quashing the absurd ‘bait-and-switch’ meme that some disingenuous anti-nuclear folk repeat: That because the energy replacement challenge facing nuclear energy is huge (a 25-fold expansion on today’s levels), it couldn’t possibly do it, so renewables are our only sensible option. On the basis of this post alone, any objective reader can see that this is pure, quantitatively unsupportable, nonsense. It’s going to be really tough, no matter what — and believe me, I’ve not even warmed up on the problems with renewables taking the lion’s share of the work.

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

181 replies on “TCASE 4: Energy system build rates and material inputs”

I just recrunched those NEEDS numbers from the real construction data, and they’re mighty ugly.

Andasol-1 is rated at 46 MWe peak with a an energy output of 150 GWh/yr. This is a CF of 37%. Let’s say 40%.

This makes the 680 MWe average equivalent to 2,215,000 tonnes of concrete and 690,000 tonnes of steel per day. This is a lot worse than wind.

Anyone else care to verify my calculations?


Darn Mac – nope the comment # does not pop up – but glad I helped you our Perps.

And yes Barry that is very true. Believe the science, not the special interest propaganda.


Barry #32560

I have done an analysis for my next book of concrete and steel per ouput GWh over the plant lifetime comparing wind, solar thermal and PV against nuclear. These are the numbers in ratio terms that I came up with from various sources including the NEEDS report I sent you.

Materials (tonnes per output GWh) Ratio to nuclear
Con Steel
Wind Onshore 7.6 11.5
Solar Thermal 27.4 48.4
Solar PV 2.0 2.5
Nuclear 1.0 1.0

From what I can work out from your original wind estimate the ratio between solar thermal and wind for concrete is about right (3.6x) but the steel ratio seems a bit low. I make it over 4 times more than wind. This is the primary reason that solar thermal power cost are (and will continue to be) signficantly higher than wind unless they come up with some ground-breaking new solar thermal technology.

Peter Lang’s point is also very important. Solar thermal advocates often talk about baseload replacement which (whatever the RE spin doctors like to say) really is a 24 x 7 problem. Andasol-1 is not a 24 x 7 solar thermal power plant. To make it one (without resorting to gas co-firing) means at least a doubling maybe a trebling of the solar field and storage tanks so these concrete and steel numbers are very conservative.

I hope this helps.


Martin, I can read the table okay, but if you could send the working numbers to me that would be much appreciated.

I jumped over to your website — your book looks very interesting. I’ll have to get myself a copy and read it. Do I understand correctly from your last post that you’re currently writing another book?

The Solar Thermal numbers you present are stunning. As an engineer, do you suspect these material inputs will be able to be reduced significantly with improved technology? I understand that the diffuse nature of the resource to be collected will always mean a large material component, but would slimmer, more lightweight designs be feasible?


I was just thinking further on the numbers presented in the table in comment #32612. Martin, what lifetime did you use for wind, solar thermal and nuclear?

If I use 30 years for wind and ST and 60 years for nuclear, and then convert this to the 680 MWe average power per day, I get the following material figures (per day).

CONCRETE (million tonnes per day)
Wind 1.36
ST 4.9
NP 0.36

STEEL (millions tonnes per day)
Wind 2.06
ST 8.72
NP 0.36

However, you say in your table tonnes per GWh but also ratio to nuclear, so perhaps the absolute values of the above are wrong, if you’ve used a value per GWh for nuclear that is different to 1 tonne.

Short question is, could you help me advise the correct way to translate your GWh ratios above to material requirements per day based on 680 MWe average power for each of the above technologies (ignoring storage).


Martin Nicholson,

Excellent post. This is a valuable comparison. It would be great to have reliable figures for steel and concrete posted here.

I have no doubt you have the tonnes/MWh figures correct and have used the appropriate lifetimes for each technology. However, I wonder if the MWh for each technology are truly comparable.

For example, nuclear provides power on demand 365/7 (with about 6% redundancy for refuelling). But Wind and Solar need energy storage to be able to meet demand 24/365. Barry added 130,000 tonnes for NaS batteries to the steel for Wind power (the 130,000 tonnes is actually the total weight of the batteries, but applied as steel for simplicity). I’d suggest this should be included for wind, and appropriate quantities for steel and concrete for energy storage should be included in PV and the extra amount needed for Solar thermal to make it 24/365 capable.

The weight of the NaS batteries was calculated from here:, parent web site is here:

By the way, Martin, here are some figures for the Huron wind farm, Ontario Canada. The detailed figures have been removed from the web site:

Generating Capacity MW 3,100
No of wind mills No. 5,740
Land area ha 46,000
concrete volume m3 1,300,000
Glass fibre reinforced plastic tonnes 290,000
steel tonnes 360,000
truck loads (Owen Sound to site) 52,000
Cost C$ $17,000,000,000
design life years 20

Click to access 34.pdf


Barry #32617

I don’t pretend to be a solar thermal technology expert but I largely agree with your statement “that the diffuse nature of the resource to be collected will always mean a large material component”.

I can’t say if new technology breakthoughs for collectors will significantly reduce the amount of glass, steel and concrete.

NEEDS suggests that the solar field efficiency might improve by 10-30% by 2025. This should therefore reduce the volume of steel, glass and concrete needed per MW assuming the efficiency of the power block doesn’t change much. So I don’t see “order of magnitude” reductions in materials used for solar thermal plants.

Yes I am writing another book specifically on low-carbon electricity designed for layman readers not engineers. I’m hoping to influency this crazy debate we are having in the public forum around what is actually possible and at what cost.

I will crunch some numbers and get back to you and Peter re your specific questions.


Thanks a lot Martin. By the way, I ordered your “Energy in a Changing Climate” book online, this morning! If you want me to look over drafts of your new book, I’d be most happy to (it would be a pleasure, as I’m keen to see the content).


Barry #32619

Clearly the material used per GWh depends on the lifetime and the capacity factor of each power source. I used often quoted industry standards (which may not be those delivered in practice):

Wind 30% cf, 20 yrs
ST 25% cf, 20 yrs
Nuclear 85% cf, 40 yrs

I may have misunderstood your original calculations but as I understood it, it really didn’t consider the energy generated but the power needed to be constructed. You came up with 10 TW of new power to be constructed over 40 years thus needing 680 MW of new capacity per day (assuming all the plant built had a lifetime exceeding 40 years).

Clearly if you used my lifetimes then 680 MW per day would be too small for wind because all the wind turbines would need to be replaced somewhere in the cycle. So perhaps this is where our numbers would differ.

Personally, I think all comparisons between power sources are best done considering energy generated over the lifetime of the plant rather than just considering capacity.

So to answer you “short question”, I think I would start with how much energy do I need from the source over say 40 years. For the purpose of discussion, let’s say that it is a million TWh. I would then work out how much energy I can get from 1 GW of wind power (say) over the plant’s lifetime. Using my numbers of 30% cf and 20 year life that would be 52.6 TWh. So I would need to build 19 TW of wind power to deliver 1 million TWh or 1300 MW per day. Note this is close to twice your number because wind turbines do not last 40 years. Clearly if you did the same sums for nuclear power the answer would be much less. 1 GW of nuclear would generate nearly 300 TWh over it’s lifetime. So I would need only 3.3 TW of nuclear power or 230 MW per day.

The numbers are now spinning around in my head so if I have made a monumental blunder in these calculations then please forgive me. Hopefully you get the gist of the argument.

Peter #32629

You are right to question whether the MWh from each technology is comparable for the reasons you discuss. But they are much more comparable than the MW capacity (as I know you know). If indeed you were making a decision “Do I build all wind power or all nuclear power” then you would need to take the storage materials into account. The real world is that we will use a combination of sources and depending on that combination we may or may not need storage. For example if we used nuclear for all the baseload and solar thermal and hydro for peaking power and solar PV for peak demand reduction in buildings we may need very little storage.



Without going back and checking, I think Barry based his calculations on ‘average power’ which is OK for these simple, ball park analyses as long as the calculations include the allowance for the life expectancy of the plant.

I persume your capacity factor for ST = 25% includes storage. Because clearly that figure is too high if it does not.

I do not agree that is is appropriate to compare a MWh of energy from a wind turbine with a MWh from a nuclear plant. The scenario being considered here is not the situation with say 20% or less of wind capacity. We are looking at what is needed to supply the world’s power needs. Wind and solar cannot make a significant contribution without either energy storage or back up. So it is not a fair comparison if you do not include the costs, mass of steel and concrete etc to allow wind and solar to provide power of the same quality as nuclear.

As you know, energy (and average power) hide the problem that power must be supplied on demand – even at night, when no wind is blowing and on days of overcast conditions and no wind.

You said “The real world is that we will use a combination of sources and depending on that combination we may or may not need storage.” Do you mean the ‘real world” withoit government intervention such as mandatory renewable energy targets”?

It is grossly unfair on the investors in the nuclear and fossil fuel plants to expect them to pick up the extra costs imposed by regulations that mandate a proportion of renewable energy. If wind can compete without being mandated or subsidised, then your argument would be valid. Otherwise, it is not.


I think the ‘gas boom’ may arrive in easy stages, not a whoosh. Yesterday a complex of gas fired generators was opened in Tasmania. It included both combined cycle intermediate load and turbine only peak load. The rationale was The power station features low emission, efficient gas turbine technology using gas sourced through the Tasmanian Gas Pipeline from Victoria, thereby reducing the State’s reliance on brown coal generated electricity from the mainland via the Basslink cable and helping to minimise the stress on Tasmanian hydro dam levels.
Coupla questions
1) where are the new renewables?
2) what happens when the gas runs out?


John Newlands, on October 28th, 2009 at 20.53 wrote “what happens when the gas runs out?”

Build algae farms to produce biomethane before then.


I just found out the gas comes from an underwater field with the amazing name of Basker Manta Gummy, which are kinds of fish apparently.

I think the gas grid needs to be maintained long term and supplemented with ‘unnatural gas’ for peaking power and convective heat. Different kinds of gas input should be able to be blended so they have consistent heating value and can use the same burners. The candidates would be natgas, coal seam methane, fermentation biogas, methanated syngas, dimethyl ether, nuclear hydrogenated synthetic gas and this algae gas you mention.


NOTE: The materials figures/calculations and Chart in the above post have now been update to make use of the best available information. Thanks to the terrific feedback from commenters that has improved this post.


John D Morgan,

we’ll quickly run out of […] land that we’d prefer wasn’t impacted by turbines and transmission infrastructure.

Which impacts should be our concern? One constraint is clear, we want the turbines away from human dwellings. Say at least 1 km away.

I did estimates for Australia, assuming 20 mln km2 for 20 mln people of whom 95% leave in big cities. (including suburbs that is.) Didn’t find a problem… heaps of space here.
Maybe there are other constraints… I keep thinking of it, and I am not finding any. Turbines seem compatible with any sort of farming and almost any sort of industry. Barring airports of course.

And so, I expect that the use of wind will be restricted by intermittency costs before it is restricted by land use.

Another problem that you mention, “pests and diseases” that will be brought in… but it seems that for quite a modest outlay one could buy very stringent quarantine-type measures. One could even take machinery apart and sterilize (most of) the parts at 100+ Celsius ! And issue workers with new uniforms and boots for every new national park that they enter… prohibit taking those home… prohibit coming to work in their own vehicles… etc etc.

Thank you for the nuclear links. Would not be appropriate to discuss them in this thread I’m afraid, it’s off topic, hopefully some time later. I am still reading them anyway.



The high value wind resource is mostly coastal – see for instance the Australian renewable energy atlas. Its mostly concentrated in the southwest, and much less to the northeast.

Australia’s share of world energy consumption is about 1% (see TCASE3). So the Australian wind development requirement is ~3.4 km2/day, till 2050. Forty years of days is 14600. So we’d need, more or less, 14600km of coastline packed to ~3.4 km inland with windfarm.

The CIA world factbook has the coastline as being ~25000 km long. So lets say we need roughly the coastline extending from Port Hedland to Melbourne plus Tasmania turned into windfarm about 3-4 km deep. (Have I missed an order of magnitude anywhere?)

Again, thats paved on about a 500 m grid, with heavy construction at the grid nodes. “Dynamiting, boring, trenching (so the turbines can pull power from the grid), concrete, roads, powerlines” (as a post here puts it), felling trees to clear way, grading earthworks, etc. etc. Is it really a serious impact? Hell yeah. Thats half the coastline industrialized, at a rate and density that won’t permit sensitive development.

I realize the birdkill impact is downplayed, and that may be reasonable with todays trivial deployment, but to get serious with wind would turn the coastline into a birdkilling field kilometres deep. The consequence would probably be extinction of some larger coastal birds. For instance.

Remember too, this example is worked with naively generous assumptions on the quality of the wind resource, that is, not accounting for the overbuild required to cope with more than 1 days wind outage. Its been put in discussion elsewhere here that many more days storage is required, with consequently much more generation capacity to charge it up.

Fortunately, we don’t need to go down this path. Thank goodness.

If you have any thoughts on those papers of Gerald Marsh et al., I’d say post them here, staying on topic be damned.


This is a recent New Scientist article on the long suffering Desertec project:

Some relevant extracts:

“Prospects for the project, called Desertec, have blossomed over the past year, and this month 20 major German corporations are expected to announce the formation of a consortium that will provide the €400 billion needed to build a raft of solar thermal power plants in north Africa. They include energy utilities giants E.ON and RWE, the engineering firm Siemens, the finance house Deutsche Bank and the insurance company Munich Re.
The current plan, outlined by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in a report to the federal government, envisages that the project will meet 15 per cent of Europe’s electricity needs by 2050, with a peak output of 100 gigawatts – roughly equivalent to 100 coal-fired power stations. Preliminary designs in the German report show electricity reaching Europe via 20 high-voltage direct-current power lines, which will keep transmission losses below 10 per cent (New Scientist, 14 March, p 42). Trans-Mediterranean links will cross from Morocco to Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar; from Algeria to France via the Balearic islands; from Tunisia to Italy; from Libya to Greece; and from Egypt to Turkey via Cyprus.”

€400 billion for 100 GW peak?? You could build at least 200 GW of continuous nuclear power, close to the load, for the same money. What price politics ….

A very experience colleague of mine who used to be at CSIRO said “It is only a plan. A cynic could conclude that the plan was the whole deal.”

Let’s hope he’s right.


John Newlands, on October 29th, 2009 at 9.32 — The algae go into anaerobic digesters to produce biogas. For consistent heating values, an amine process (or a newer, more efficient one) is used to separate the CO2 from the nearly pure methane, often called biomethane. The latter is good enough to feed directly into the natgas pipelines and this is being done at all too few locations in the USA and Europe. More specialized operations simply burn the biogas to produce local electricity and process heat.

Any wet biomass can go into an anaerobic digester although woody materials need to be pre-disgested to break down the celulose. A point about this is that rather than dump municiple sewage suldge into the oceans (as was being down in Sydney late last century during my visit), putting it through an anaerobic digeter produces enough biogas to support the wastewater management and a bit extra for the natgas network.


Barry on this:

Based on the University of Sydney ISA report (p145), which also agrees with Prof Per Peterson’s figures, this will consume ~1,250,000 tonnes of concrete and 335,000 tonnes of steel per day. Every day, from 2010 to 2050. Adding 1 day’s energy storage using NaS batteries (to make it equivalent to the solar thermal example below), increases the mass of steel required to 455,000 tonnes per day (see chart at bottom of the post).

Someone pointed out to me that this is ‘only’ 128 million tons of steel a year. World production is over 1500 million tons so this would only represent 9% increase and totally doable.


Agreed David, it’s certainly more than ‘doable’ from a production perspective (wind, solar, nuclear), but why do it with solar (where you have to also transport all this steel and concrete to a desert site) when you can use more than an order of magnitude less materials with nuclear and do it right near your factories (and load centres).


Agreed David, it’s certainly more than ‘doable’ from a production perspective (wind, solar, nuclear), but why do it with solar (where you have to also transport all this steel and concrete to a desert site) when you can use more than an order of magnitude less materials with nuclear and do it right near your factories (and load centres).

It might be doable in a world with a substantial baseload capacity not dependent on the weather, time of day, and season of the sun, but I consider it unproven that such production capacity could be maintained with the sort of industrial base technosolar alone could support.

And if it can be done with reliable nuclear power, why worry about the technosolar component at all?


David, further to Barry’s question “why do it?”, we should also ask, why would we want to do more than an order of magnitude more mining for the same energy output? With the mining comes an order of magnitude more processing, material handling, transport, fabrication, construction, etc. Why would we want to do an order of magnitude more of all this? For what benefit?


I’d like to take up Finrod’s point.

If steel is to be made sustainably, would this not be thru some sort of plasma based production (can’t be coal)? This is a very hi energy industrial process. I would imagine the inefficiencies would be staggering (any numbers on this sort of problem, Peter et al? I don’t want to rely on “staggering”) were the electricity for the procedure to come from wind/solar.

anyway, this is a question I have thought about for a long time without having the knowledge to answer it.

renewable power needs to make more renewable power–otherwise it’s not really renewable. any thoughts on wind/solar powering hi energy industrial processes?

Hope this question makes sense. I share bloggers sense of urgency but lack their years of practical experience with such questions.


@ David B you seem to be saying that amine scrubbing of CO2 from biomethane has a low energy penalty. I understand fermentation gas can contain up to 40% w/w CO2 whereas power station flue gas is about 13%. That suggests biogas cleanup to natgas standard could have an energy penalty of 25% or more. I made a methane digester loaded with cow poo and lawn clippings and I concluded it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Natgas and other mainly-methane gas can of course be used as a reducing agent in iron smelting though some think it too expensive. Nobody seems to have a price yet on nuclear hydrogen made using the sulphur-iodine cycle. For seepage resistant long distance piping it could be turned into methane bio C + 2 nuc H2 = CH4 with the CO2 from burning reabsorbed by plants.

Yet another reason I think the SA west coast is the perfect place for an integrated nuclear industry would be to use hydrogen in the steel mills. It’s slightly bizzare. The coke ovens at the Whyalla steel mills release ammonia as a pollutant yet nearby it proposed to have an ammonia based solar thermal plant.


John Newlands, on November 2nd, 2009 at 8.48 — Here almost all I know about anaeorbobic digesters:
which states the CO2 content varies from 25–50%, which I take to be by volume, and depends upon the feedstock. In wastewater management much of the biogas is burned for local process heat and electricity; typically some is unneeded and rather than just flaring it off, some installations go to the trouble of cleaning it to a high enough grade to sell into the natgas pipelines. So irrespective of the (low) costs, the amine treatment more than pays for itself.

While algae will not produce the highest grade of biogas, it has the advantage of potentially low enough production costs for the biomethane to (almost) compete in the natgas market. While nuclear for Australia is hoped to come to pass, it is certainly possible to start an algae farm pilot project right away, say by slightly modifying

Sorry your own project has not worked out (so far). I gather that anaerobic digesters can be somewhat tricky and finicky; experience helps.


Key factors with the different forms of methane are what I’d call ‘collection effort’ and ‘dispersal effort’. With clean natgas you make a narrow hole and the ground and it practically sends itself through pipes. The shimmering heat and CO2 from the application is barely noticed. No muss no fuss. With fermentation gas we currently rely on sunk costs like sewage farms, feedlots, municipal tips and dairies. Some gas is used for heating the digester in cold locations and on farms the digester waste is spread back on the fields using diesel tractors, not biogas powered.

Everybody says it’s wonderful. However take away free ‘muck’ imported onsite and cheap diesel and the economics changes. I believe some countries also give carbon credits which I think is wrong in principle. The reduced collection and dispersal effort is where algae may have an advantage provided it doesn’t have other problems.


With clean natgas you make a narrow hole and the ground and it practically sends itself through pipes.

Tell it to the Russians, who use almost half the gas from their Siberian gas fields to pump the other half to their customers in Europe.


Australia’s LNG exporters managed to get 60% free permits under the emissions trading scheme now postponed til next year. They argued that while the foreign customer was emitting most of the CO2 they used a lot of NG to run the compressors That means they will pay at lot less carbon charges than a domestic grid dedicated generator. I heard they used 5% of the original gas but that could be on the low side.

Now the leaky Timor Sea gas rig has caught fire I wonder if they get a carbon credit for ‘flaring’ the methane.


Just to pick up on the leaking Timor sea hole, what does this say about the idea of Carbon Sequestration.

I notice the government is prepared to carry all the risk of leakage. Yet the rules for nuclear risks are totally different. This is an example of the distortions that are so biased against nuclear and in favour of just about anything else.


John D Morgan,
Thank you for the map, you do have a point concerning availability of windy sites. Maybe “3.4 from the coast” is too restrictive, though. The map has thick red lines tracking (some sections of) the coastline; these lines look like roughly 100 km thick.

“Dynamiting, boring, and trenching” sound bad to us humans. But that’s an anthropocentric view. When all is done, only a few percent of the vegetation will have been removed; insects and animals are hardly affected, although their numbers will have to shrink similarly, to match the available food base.

On birdkill, indeed it could be worse than commonly assumed. There are comparisons showing that cars and windows kill so much more – but, those I’d seen, did not claim to apply to all or even most bird species; leaving the possibility that some select species, wind turbines do matter.

On Gerald Marsh’s papers, their stated purpose is to show that fast reactors and reprocessing won’t make the security situation worse than it already is. They make credible argument, although somewhat inconclusive because of these two weak spots:
(1) the terror option to use gun-type “thin man” device with plutonium is dismissed too suddenly, I could not see how that followed from the preceding discussion.
(2) it is revealed that a pyroprocessing facilitiy could have an “aqueous unit”, and it could even be the case that a mere change of operating parameters allowed to obtain weapons-grade plutonium (presumably from suitably irradiated fuel, not just any spent fuel.) This change would be detectable by on-site inspection, but still, that’s an issue.

On the bigger security picture, one of the papers has two potentially helpful claims. One, that cheap energy promotes peace – and this could well be so, but by how much? And another claim, that non-nuclear routes are easier for terrorists.

I’d like to say more on this last one. It seems plausible. But even so, the more of dangerous technologies there are in use, the more terror opportunities arise.

At one extreme, there may be terrorists who decide “let’s go nuclear” and proceed head-on. Say they storm a nuclear plant. Having more nuclear plants doesn’t make us less secure with this type of terrorist, because such situations would be limited not by the number of plants, but by the number of terrorists. Besides, they would’ve done better to choose something else than nuclear, so having nuclear power, by distracting them, even made us safer.

At the other extreme however, terrorists are waiting for an opportunity (say, an employee desperate for money and willing to sell them stuff). Under this scenario, additional nuclear activities, or any hazardous industries, mean additional opportunities. Double nuclear power use, double the opportunities.

The reality is probably a mix between these two extremes. The terror danger from nuclear power may not increase linearly as nuclear activities increase; but increase it probably does.


“10,000 tonnes of steel per day”

What is the source for this information?

I found some other numbers:

EPR, AP1000, ESBWR and ABWR (ranging from 1100 to 1600 MWe):
Concrete – 842,400 t
Reinforcing steel and embedded parts – 46,000 t
Structural steel, misc. steel, decking – 25,000 t

Click to access RM132_CEEDATA_2006.pdf

Construction masses of a 1 GW(e) nuclear power plant
Steel 150,000 tonnes
concrete 850,000 tonnes
(excluding piping, wiring and other materials)



it’s a very interesting website and I will continue reading (I especially like chapter 2 as it gives a good introduction into this very basic physics, and still too many people have no idea about all this kWh, GW, J, the concept of power and work and so on), but just a few questions after reading this article:

Nobody will want to produce all electricity from one source, but let’s assume this for calculation reasons

*) Wind power:
350 km²/day * 365 days * 40 years = 5.110.000 km²
area of europe = 10.180.000 km²
area of the world = 510.072.000 km²
so why shouldn’t we use 1 percent of the world area to change our energy supply to renewable resources? Further – as you have said – you can use the area between the wind power plants e.g. for agriculture or e.g. photovoltaics, which would reduce the amount of “land use” essentially

I don’t think that we will run out of concrete, but let’s face the steel question:
In this case let’s take the numbers of Solar Thermal as these are worse:
690.000 t/day *365 *40 = t
world production: 1.326.000.000 t/year *40 years =
so why shouldn’t we use ~19% of the world steel production for a shift to renewable energies? also in this case the numbers will be different because we will not only use solar themal but also wind, pv, biomass etc.
Further steel is perfectly recyclable, so you can the material for the new power plant at the end of the life time.

Please let me know about any errors in my calculation!!!!
Thanks, take care


Michael, you are quite right that the question is not whether we’ll run out of steel, concrete, or even land. It’s whether we’d be willing to waste this volume of resources, and the additional money and labour it will cost, on wind and solar power, when we could achieve a much more compact, reliable and cost-effective outcome using nuclear power.



You ask:

so why shouldn’t we use ~19% of the world steel production for a shift to renewable energies?

so why shouldn’t we use ~19% of the world steel production for a shift to renewable energies?

I’d like to put the question back to you. Why would we want to use some ten times more materials to provide our energy needs than we need to?

The only thing renewable about ‘renewables’ is the fuel. The materials are not. The fuel for nuclear is very small quantity, and will be far smaller in future.

So why would we want to use so much more land area, and dig up and process so much more material for an unreliable, low quality, value power supply such as solar and wind power.

You might be interested in and especially the section “How achievable are the build rates”. If you want more details click on the link to the pdf version; the pdf version includes the footnotes, references and appendicies.


Hi Peter, Hi Barry,

thank you very much for your answer! I really appreciate this quite open-minded discussion at an at least very basic scientific level. No stupid comments or insults in this forum :-) Thanks also for this pdf – I will print it this afternoon as I am currently very much into this topic

Last but not least: Yes you are right: In my opinion – generally in strong favour of renewables – the very limiting factor is the needed increase in production rates, I like to calculate this with my Senior High School students all the time

Well, talk to you later..



I read through the paper and of course one could spend easily a week in calculating all these numbers and figures and so on, but just a few key points:

*) I didn’t find anything about PV! At least one of the renewable scenarios must include photovoltaics as it is currently the only large renewable energy technology where prices are DEcreasing (even prices for wind power are already rising again due to increasing steel prices) and PV is the only renewable technology where there are hardly any limitations at all.
You have to be aware of the fact that renewable energies can only supply the world’s energy demand TOGETHER – and that means more than just one or two of them. You need at least these 5: wind, solar power (pv and solar thermal), water and biomass!! Please have a look at the German Kombikraftwerk:

Click to access Background_Information_Combined_power_plant.pdf

In certain areas – where access to some of these 5 resources might be restricted, you can replace them by others: I don’t know much about Australia but maybe you don’t have that much water power so you could replace this amount for instance with solar updraft towers (to be futuristic :-) or a larger PV share.

*) As I have already said above I don’t think that prices for wind power will decrease (table 4 on page 15) but who knows..

*) You did not cover the topics of
-) safe uranium depletion
-) price development of uranium due to sky rocketing demand (I expect you want more or less the whole world to copy this Australian scenario and one day all former nuclear weapons from the cold war will be used up)
-) safe waste storage
-) insurance for possible nuclear accidents
so I am not going to ask any questions about that.
I believe that you certainly know a lot more about nuclear power than I do so I assume that you have already thought about all that. Nevertheless one question remains: You wrote:

“The fuel for nuclear is very small quantity, and will be far smaller in future.”

How can you be so sure about that? For decades we are waiting for affordable electric cars, nuclear fusion and other bright technologies, and I am only 23 now but I already learned to believe only in things that already exist.

So you can cover the world’s energy demand with renewable energies. We still have large problems with storage for transporation systems of all kind. But with today’s technology we can already save 80% of the energy problem (in theory easily 100% but then some solutions might not be very smart ;-)

Thank you again for this very interesting paper!
Looking forward to your answer
take care, michael


Hi Michael,

Thank you for taking the time to read this paper carefully. It is very encouraging that a school teacher does take the time to do the research.

The points you make in this post and your questions are all addressed on the BraveNewClimate web site. You have read one paper in the chain, but you do need to read the papers cited that are the precursors to this paper. Below are links to a few that will address your questions and comments:

I didn’t find anything about PV!

Start with papers ‘Solar Power Realities’ and then “Solar Power Realities and Transmission Costs – Addendum”

You have to be aware of the fact that renewable energies can only supply the world’s energy demand TOGETHER – and that means more than just one or two of them. You need at least these 5: wind, solar power (pv and solar thermal), water and biomass!!

See this post I made yesterday in reply to a similar comment: .

The comments you are raising and many others have been discussed at length on this and the other threads.

If you want a bit more background on energy matters, you may want to start with the TCASE articles and other articles listed on the ‘Renewable Limits’ tab .

Regarding: safe uranium depletion, uranium price, storage of once used nuclear fuel, insurance for accidents, all these issues are addressed in the post listed on the threads on the ‘Sustainable Nuclear’ tab. You will notice that the comments posted on each thread are largely by highly knowledge people. The comments are well worth reading if you want more information on the issues.

“The fuel for nuclear is very small quantity, and will be far smaller in future.”

How can you be so sure about that?

This is covered in the threads mentioned above. See this one in particular:

However, you may say, OK that’s for Gen IV but it is not in production yet, so what if it doesn’t’ work out? What if we have to run with Gen III? To start with I don’t believe that is realistic. What we are really talking about is how long until it is commercially proven. This could be a range of one to three decades. However, even if we wanted to continue with Gen III, uranium would last for centuries. The amount of uranium in the Earth’s crust is similar to that of tin and zinc. There is no question of running out of any of them. As we need more we explore for more and improve our mining methods to extract it. I have posted the figures for this in other posts and can come back to it if you want to explore this question further.

So you can cover the world’s energy demand with renewable energies.

Our energy consumption is going to continue to rise, and do so faster than population growth or world GDP growth. We can expect that for all of this century. Renewable energy is unsustainable. It requires far too much land area and mining of materials, and their processing, manufacturing, construction and transport between all these steps. The threads linked on the “Renewable Limits tab” cover this issue. In my opinion, belief that renewables can provide our energy needs is an ideological, not a rational, belief – Love wind power, hate nuclear power!

I presume you have read “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air”?



Regarding the massive popular and government suport for renewable energy in Europe, (subsidies, feed in tariffs, and mandatory renewable energy targets) you may want to read these.

Click to access Germany_Study_-_FINAL.pdf

Click to access 090327-employment-public-aid-renewable.pdf

Thes renewable energy policies are sending Europe broke and sending jobs to Asia. Spain lost 2.2 real jobs for every ‘green job’ made. Green jobs are not real, productive jobs; they are publically funded jobs, like public servants. The destroy a countries wealth, not build it.


I’m noticing that biogas is increasingly mentioned as the backup power source to renewables. Even Adelaide Uni is supportive
However I believe the net energy is just a fraction that of natural gas once contaminants are removed and large masses (partly faeces based) are transported back and forth. Increased adoption of biogas will involve cultural de-sensitising to living close to highly visible flows of human and animal wastes, for example raising pigs in the suburbs. With natgas Mother Nature has done the brewing for us over millions of years. Unfortunately we are now fast depleting that accumulated reserve.

By the way I did make an 80L digester fuelled with cow manure and lawn clippings. I used an inverted fish tank as a mini gasometer. I thought the gas flame was weak, possibly because it could have contained as much as 25% CO2.

I’m not sure how to quantify the net potential of biogas energy assuming it supplies all its own fuel i.e. no coal fired electricity or diesel tractors. However I’m near certain that the idea biogas can ever compensate for lulls in wind and solar is wildly wrong.


Germany is also constructing a lot of new coal fired power plants:

Why? Thats about 20000 MW. As much as Germany has nuclear power, witch they want to shut down. I thaught it was ment to be replaced by renewables, not coal.


Hi !
wow so many replies :-)

@ John Newlands 1:
*) I am Austrian (not Australian, but we have nice t-shirts for tourists saying “no kangaroos in Austria” ;-) unfortunately we have lots of cows though which emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases ^^ Yes, both, Germany and Austria speak German and we are neighbours but I am not that familiar with German politics.

Just my personal opinion:
I usually use three core topics to argue in favour of renewables and I am convinced that even every single of them is enough to decide in favour of renewables:

*) environmental reasons: coal causes dirty emissions, nuclear causes problems from depletion till waste deposition (Peter, I still have to read through the “Sustainable nuclear” part of this homepage), oil (oh yeah, gulf of Mexico) and so on…
*) economic reasons: Austria (and Australia as well) are highly developed countries. We can only stay competitive if we develop high-technology and renewable energy technology is exactly that. Further it just hurts me seeing my grandmother sending thousands of Euro each year to some oil sheikhs to get oil to heat her house. This is a wasted chance of spending huge amounts of money in the local community.
*) Finite resources (one day all fossile fuels and uranium will be used up. I personally don’t care whether oil peak was in 2005, will be in 2020 or 2050, for me that’s all the same)

so to answer your question: I don’t like this climate hype. As you can see I don’t use climate change as an argument for renewable energies, because

1st) I like to keep everything as simple as possible. All the arguments above can be understood by a child in primary school. I personally believe in climate change but I cannot prove it and therefore do not use it as an argument for anything.
2nd) Using climate change as an argument leads people to think “Oh China is growing. They do what they want and therefore our acting in Europe will not change anything. Let’s relax or start crying and let’s continue like before”

to answer your question: I believe that all these conferences like Kyoto or Copenhague will never lead to anything. Further, the combination of emission trading and feed-in tariffs for renewables is absolutely counterproductive. Maybe Angela Merkel understood this, but to be honest I don’t know.


@ Peter Lang 1:
Peter, first of all MANY MANY thanks to you for this link to I was always searching for something like this! I started doing similiar calculations on my own but this is obviously very time-consuming and this professor has already collected all the data! This is the perfect source for the core concept I want to teach my students and it makes my life much easier :-) to be honest, this book is also the reason why I did not yet have the time to read through vour other argumentations on

I am not a school teacher but a mechanical engineering student and I am holding these seminars just for fun on a summer academy for highly gifted students. They are usually very critical and it is great fun discussing with them.

I just started reading your first link about PV costs and I don’t accept any further calculation about the costs of renewable energies as long as the scenario does not include at least the 5 technologies wind, pv, solar thermal, hydro and biomass. If you have a calculation about the costs for the “”-scenario we can continue to talk about this topic, otherwise we will never end debating because
*) I will say nuclear is maybe 4 ct/kWh and PV is (at the moment) 40 ct/kWh (and this will decrease) and therefore never 25 times as expensive and you will answer that you have to include some costs for storage and I will add that nuclear cannot provide any peak power and so on…


@ Peter Lang 2:

this study wants
a) emission trading
b) R&D
to “support” renewables.

a) is completely wrong as I said in my post at 6.36
b) is fine, but R&D can never compensate for economies of scale! Only the combination of R&D and economies of scale lead to considerable price drops in technologies like PV.

Further, this paper is talking about things like “total burden for past installations”, page 39 of 42. You currently cannot say how much people will have to pay during the next 20 years. The costs can even become zero if electricity prices continue to increase and power plant operators sell the electricity on the market instead of using the feed-in tariffs. So you can only calculate the actual costs and these have been 1.46 EURct/kWh in 2008 (total price is around 20 EURct/kWh for an average household). I am sorry I did not find latter numbers.

One of the economic advantages of renewables is that you can more or less “predetermine” your energy price for the next years. Wind, PV etc. only have neglectible operating costs. Once installed you do not depend on fuels like gas, oil or uranium, which are all traded on the stock exchange and you can therefore never be sure how much the price will be in the future.


I did not fully read it – just two points:

*) Yes, Spain had this PV bubble, unfortunately they tend to overreact sometimes – see also the real estate bubble, I think Spain has brand new homes for 4 million people and nobody knows what to do with them because they were just built for investment reasons – economy is weird sometimes…

*) Anyone can manipulate statistics to achieve an agenda so we should take all of these reports with a grain of salt. I could post now e.g. 3 studies that “prove” a positive effect and you will send me back 10 more “proving” the negative effect, that’s senseless. To be honest: maybe it is like that, maybe it is not, I do not know.

I will write comments to all other posts later – because of the time shift I must go to bed now, sorry


One of the economic advantages of renewables is that you can more or less “predetermine” your energy price for the next years. Wind, PV etc. only have neglectible operating costs. Once installed you do not depend on fuels like gas, oil or uranium, which are all traded on the stock exchange and you can therefore never be sure how much the price will be in the future.

The price of power from a nuclear plant is not strongly driven by the price of uranium. The main cost of nuclear power is the capital cost of building the plant. Fuel coss are so minor that the price of uranium would have to rise greatly to have even a minor impact on the price of power. If the Japanese are correct in their claim to be able to produce uranium from sea water at US$100-300/kg, this represents a cap on its price for the forseeable future.


Michael writes: “…one day all fossile fuels and uranium will be used up.” and “Wind, PV etc. only have [negligible] operating costs. Once installed you do not depend on fuels like gas, oil or uranium, which are all traded on the stock exchange and you can therefore never be sure how much the price will be in the future.”

Michael, please read the article at the link Finrod offered you. That and other discussions about fuel for fast reactors that can be found on BNC clearly point out that not only is uranium utilized in fast reactors an essentially unlimited source of power, but the amount that we already have available as a waste product means that it is essentially free, and thus can’t be considered in the same economic sense as oil and gas. It is simply an invalid argument to conflate them.

Spain’s unfortunate experience with solar feed-in tariffs is not, alas, only their problem. Germany has also blown their wad on solar, and continue to persist on a path that is economically insane in service to eco-correctness. See my article on the subject.

As Barry has pointed out elsewhere, the question of whether solar or nuclear are more practical/economical is illustrated beautifully by the recent decision of the UAE to build four nuclear power plants in a country with vast areas of sunny desert that is arguably one of the best locations in the world for maximum insolation. One can reasonably assume that before making such a multi-billion dollar investment decision they carefully weighed their options.



If you have a calculation about the costs for the “”-scenario we can continue to talk about this topic, otherwise we will never end debating because
*) I will say nuclear is maybe 4 ct/kWh and PV is (at the moment) 40 ct/kWh (and this will decrease) and therefore never 25 times as expensive and you will answer that you have to include some costs for storage and I will add that nuclear cannot provide any peak power and so on…

I suggest you need to do this analysis yourself. I’ve pointed out how to do it here:

There are thousands of academic studies like the link you have pointed to. This one is dependent on hydro. But the amount of hydro available is small. None of the other renewables a recontributing to reducig the cost of electricity. They are all raising the cost. But it won’t matter how many times anyone explains it to you, you will not understand until you crunch the numbers yourself.



I think that’s a good proposal, let’s agree on that. As practically everybody posting here has already created his/her argumentation in a pdf, I should do something similar, but I will need some time, at least some days maybe weeks as I have currently lots of stuff to do..

Talk to you later


Barry, thanks for a great article!

It would be interesting to add resource consumption for sea based wind power which is gaining popularity at the moment. Obviously this is going to be much higher because the sea based foundations are huge.

It would also be interesting to look at resource usage per GW of capacity and perhaps add something about resource usage over plant lifetime or produced GWYear. A nuclear plant may last 40-60 years whereas a windmill have to be rebuilt every 20-25 years.

Best regards


This article was posted on October 18, 2009. The following is a list of of the major announcements in solar less than a month after it was posted


10/30/2009 – Wrapping Solar Cells around an Optical Fiber

Dye-sensitized cells get a double boost from nanowires and optical fiber. These cells work on cloudy days when light is diffuse\



11/10/2009 – Cheap 3D Solar Cells – 6x More Efficient – Work Underground



11/13/2009 – SRS Energy Receives Coveted Edison Award for its Solar Power Roofing Tile



11/13/2009 – China announces that it is aiming for 2GW in total installed solar by 2011



10/22/2009 – Sharp Develops Solar Cell with World Record Conversion Efficiency of 35.8%


What does this mean?? Just this – Due to the fact that solar is advancing at an exponential rate (untrue of nuclear efficiency), the numbers Barry cited in this article were seriously obsolete only a month after he cited them (and probably BEFORE he wrote them) and are absurdly outdated now

Solar WILL reach grid parity and the world WILL go grid-less solar. There’s no stopping it now


@ Stephengn, on 6 July 2011 at 6:38 AM

This is a quote from your second link:

“Until EarthSure can raise more funds to develop a prototype device or Wang creates a start up company to produce and market, concealed solar panels will remain out of reach for most consumers.”

Stephen, there isn’t even a prototype…

At link 5 – from 31.5% to 35.8% efficiency improvement? This is news? What about nights? How does it scaled up?

Barry is comparing technologies which are at or close to commercialisation, technologies we are using right now in our attempt to replace fossil fuels. He is doing so because in order to address CC it is imperative that we start building now, using the most effective technologies presently available.

If you’re not convinced about nuclear power for reasons other than CO2 mitigation then that’s another conversation, but if it’s because you believe we have more effective options then please, show me a commercially available technology (or even suite of technologies) which has the proven capacity to replace an average 1GW coal plant, 24/7/365, because that’s what we need to do – over and over and over again.


“This is a quote from your second link”

You’re missing the point. That quote was from news story posted almost 2 years ago and as I said, MUCH has happened since.

The point is that regardless of what has happened to any one particular invention, innovation in nano-solar is accelerating at an exponential rate

To quote famed futurist Ray Kurzweil from five years ago:

“None of the global warming discussions mention the word “nanotechnology.” Yet nanotechnology will eliminate the need for fossil fuels within 20 years. If we captured 1% of 1% of the sunlight (1 part in 10,000) we could meet 100% of our energy needs without ANY fossil fuels. We can’t do that today because the solar panels are too heavy, expensive, and inefficient. But there are new nano-engineered designs that are much more effective. Within five to six years, this technology will make a significant contribution. Within 20 years, it can provide all of our energy needs.”

– Washington Post, , Monday, June 19, 2006

Proof of the above statements is occurring now on countless levels.

17 GW of solar was installed in 2010 manufactured, shipped, and installed in 2010 that is 17 reactors. It can take decades just to install a new nuclear plant.

( I know, as of now Nuclear is a baseload resource and solar is more of a “peaking” resource, but this is changing)

China’s announced in May that it is aiming for a massive 50GW in solar by 2020. And this amount will not come close to servicing the future demand for solar. Other economies will ramp up production as the technology becomes even cheaper.

As i’ve said, I am not against nuclear if it is truly necessary. But I really don’t think you are grasping the fundamental and radical differences between these two technologies, their costs, or the difference in how quickly each technology can be deployed.

While the nuclear of the future will remain cumbersome, highly specialized work, Solar has the capacity to be infused directly into building materials. Solar windows, roofing and even solar infused into walls and road building material already exists and solar can be deployed as easily as paint.

Solar will thus put far more people to work than nuclear


“Barry is comparing technologies which are at or close to commercialisation, technologies we are using right now in our attempt to replace fossil fuels. He is doing so because in order to address CC it is imperative that we start building now, using the most effective technologies presently available. ”

I agree with this, so a little math is in order:

if Australia were to start building IFRs today:

First I must admit that I am ignorant of Australia’s projected energy needs, though I do know that Australia’s population might grow by maybe 2 million more people in 15 years So my first question is

1. How many more GWs will Australia need in 2025?

2. How long would it take to complete the new IFRs?

3. How much would each GW of current nuclear cost when compared to current alternatives?
– I think nuclear wins this one hands down RIGHT NOW, but…

4. Given the rate of advance in alternatives, Is there a reasonable possibility that the future costs of alternatives might derail nuclear projects and thereby making nuclear endeavors a waste of time, money, resources and CO2?

Two other things MUST be factored in: politics and waste

1. We both know that (for good or ill) nuclear is fraught with politics. It is hard to realistically forecast how much nuclear power the Australian public might be accept within the energy mix but because of nuclear’s history, such calculations are necessary. (The same could not be said of solar if they were even close to the same cost wise)

2. There is currently no such thing as wastes free nuclear. So where will Australia dispose of its nuclear waste? Or will Australia worry about waste disposal later as they are doing in all the other nations that use nuclear?

Please read


Cyril, the steel figure comes from the rebar estimate in the diagram reproduced above the calculations, which compares the footprint of the AP1000 to other designs such as the Sizewell B (65,000 tonnes) and the EPR (60,000 tonnes).

The comment thread above is worth taking the time to skim through – there is a lot of interesting discussion around this issue.


Ok, so the 15 tonnes/MWe average is only for the rebar, that makes sense. Rebar is only a part of the metal input of a PWR. Lots of metal is required for the reactor pressure vessel, steam generators/seperators, pumps, piping, secondary steam circuit, steam turbine, electrical generator, and condenser tubing. These don’t change much with physical plant size. I googled this excellent reference on nuclear materials requirements, that also looks at specialty materials availability such as neutron poisons.

Click to access ndc-2011-15.pdf

It’s interesting how all the passive GenIII+ are so close in steel use, they’re all around 35-40 tonnes steel per MWe average. BWR (ESBWR, 32 tonnes) or PWR (AP1000, 42 tonnes) doesn’t seem to matter much either.


Yet the rebar for the EPR, according to that diagram, is 28t/MWe average whereas for the AP1000 it is 11t/MWe. So the AP1000 must be lower than the EPR — I’m not sure about the ESBWR.


I also looked at the materials requirement for different energy sources, both peak Watts and average Watts. A Dutch friend helped me out with it (it is for a Dutch audience presenation so it is in Dutch). We distinguished between metal use:

And non-metal use, mostly glass, concrete, and plastic (concrete dominates for hydro, wind, coal and nuclear, whereas PV uses lots of glass and plastic):

If you’re having trouble with the labels, “drieklovendam” is Three Gorges Dam Hydroelectric Project in China. “kolen” is obviously coal, PV silicium NL is monocrystalline silicon PV in the Netherlands climate. “CSP trog” is linear axis tracking parabolic trough concentrated solar thermal electric.


Yes, the AP1000 has less steel. But because many components don’t scale down much with physical plant size (pressure vessel, turbine, condenser tubing etc.) the total metal effect is a bit less spectacular. According to Per Peterson,

1970s PWR: 40 metric tons steel per av. MWe
EPR: 49 metric tons steel per av. MWe
ABWR: 51 metric tons steel per av. MWe
ESBWR: 40 metric tons steel per av. MWe
(could be as low as 32 metric tons, this is an estimate)
AP1000: 42 metric tons steel per av. MWe


This compares to:

Onshore wind: 300 tons metal per av. MWe
Offshore wind: 400 tons metal per av. MWe
Silicon PV in cloudy climate: 800 tons metal per av. MWe
Parabolic trough (traditional thermal oil cooled): 600 tons metal per av. MWe.

These figures include copper and aluminium but >90% is iron and steel (except for PV that often uses a lot of aluminium) so in retrospect its a lot less work to just look at iron and steel.


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