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The nuclear tooth fairy

I came across a Cape Times today, with a flurry of letters in support of nuclear power. I fired off a quick letter in response, but here is a slightly expanded version, as the constraints of the letters page aren’t the best place to discuss this properly.

Besides all of its other problems, nuclear power has a long lead-time. Waiting for nuclear power to save us is like waiting for the tooth fairy. We need to do something before that. Reducing demand by rolling out solar powered traffic lights, and solar-powered water heaters, is a good start, and the only unfortunate thing is that it takes a crisis to implement something so obviously sensible.

An 8-pole traffic light apparently uses the same amount of electricity as a family of four occupying a three bedroom house (source). It seems that the traffic authorities should also be looking at using LED’s or some other more energy-efficient bulb!

The next factor in the mix is cost. One of the Cape Times letter writers was complaining about the expensive cost of electricity in Germany, and then complaining about the lack of electricity here. Well, there’s a connection – scarce resources that are artificially sold at low prices become unavailable – just ask Zimbabweans.

Electricity in South Africa is ridiculously cheap. If it cost more, producers would be empowered to offer small-scale renewable solutions, individuals would be incentivised to offset the cost of their electricity by saving energy, and using alternatives. The solar water heaters, about to be subsidised, are one example of this.

The cost of electricity to the consumers is a different issue, and government subsidies of basic amounts, as with water, are required. It doesn’t help to confuse the consumer price and the producer price, and claim that electricity should be cheap for the poor, and still expect it to be supplied miraculously.

Denmark has a flourishing wind-power energy, with small-scale businesses all contributing. The same for Germany and solar. Germany’s solar power success story makes a mockery of claims that it’s not viable in South Africa, with its far superior solar profile.

Many small contributers make for a much healthier system than just one or two large ones. Open up the legislative framework so that small contributers can play a role, and you’ll unlock all our latent creativity, and go a long way towards solving the crisis.

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2 replies on “The nuclear tooth fairy”

As an expat, it’s alarming reading about the situation there, particularly with prominent stories in the broadsheets about the cable car problem and the withdrawal of resources to neighbouring countries.

Cape Town and PE could take a another leaf out of Germany’s book- drive ANYWHERE in the northwest corner and you’ll see dozens of windturbines everywhere. Can’t beat the profile of places familiar with horizontal rain…

1. I think most local authorities are already installing LED-lit traffic lights. OTOH it doesn’t make sense to replace an existing/functioning lightset “just because” — they tend to wait until someone knocks the pole over or similar.

2. Here’s something not being talked about in the whole “Yay Nuclear” thing….

given the long lead times to build a nuclear-fuelled generator…

given that here in SA we’re going to site them on the coastline…

given that the breakup of ice-sheets as a result of climate change, and the resultant release of continental ice into the oceans could well result in massive (Hansen at NASA think 5m or more) sea-level rise in a period of less than a decade…

How’s it going to play when the nuke being built is under several metres of water before they even finish building it? Is nobody thinking about this? Or do they just not believe the sea-level-change predictions, preferring to rely on proven-rubbish like the IPCC’s model?

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