Facts of energy life

I don’t usually comment on letters about energy issues, but Robert Palgrave’s comments (Letters, 12 March) were based on incorrect facts.

First, the main supplies of uranium come from Canada and Australia and not unstable countries as was stated.

Second, Mr Palgrave needs to be aware that various studies have been performed on the lifecycle carbon discharges of nuclear plant building, operation, and disposal and ‘nuclear’ compares closely with wind and other renewables and is nowhere near the carbon discharge profile of gas or other fossil-fired plant. The mining of uranium is a small part of this carbon footprint. These figures are reported from reliable authorities.

Third, the writer has totally mis-interpreted the ‘availability’ of nuclear v wind. Statistics show that current nuclear plants operate 90 per cent of available time, most of this at full load as required. The downtime for maintenance and so on is on average 10 per cent or less. DTI statistics for wind power in the UK show that the average output is 26-27 per cent of design output — because the wind doesn’t blow any more than this.

The approach suggested by Mr Palgrave for major solar power stations in north Africa is an excellent one and will take shape with many new ideas in time. But this approach will not replace the 30 per cent or more of our old nuclear and coal-fired stations which will be shut down around 2020 due to old age. We don’t have much time to fill this big gap which government has not really publicised — perhaps because it is not ‘good news’.

But we do need to harness many new energy sources to achieve the supply capability replacement in time, or the lights will go out. We can’t just choose which ideas seem best to our ideology. We need to start building known technology now, including new nuclear, new clean coal, new renewables and start taking energy saving more seriously.

When we have the survival route established we can and should be imaginative on the many new electricity routes for the future.

Rob Beith

Felixstowe, Suffolk

Robert Palgrave’s anti-nuclear comments made some points worthy of debate — but his argument of security of supply (mining uranium from politically unstable countries) didn’t seem to factor into his recommendation to import electricity from solar stations in north Africa and the middle east.

Is there a reason why, when the unreliability of renewable energy sources — particularly wind — is discussed, the large-scale storage of power in Regenesys-type battery storage plants is never mentioned? Am I right in thinking that this project was cancelled for largely financial reasons at a time when the world desperately needs it?

Robin Herrick