It could be seen as surprising that 2006 being the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is also the year in which Egypt has deemed to see the foreseeable future of nuclear energy for power generation.
Have you ever wondered how much potential wind resources the Gulf of Suez possesses? From this perspective let’s consider some aspects in regards of nuclear energy versus wind energy. Some argue that wind turbines are “unsightly”, but these anti-wind groups, often supported by the nuclear industry, should consider how aesthetically pleasing deformed babies and cancer victims are.
Compare this to the financial costs of nuclear energy. According to the government’s plan to achieve a situation where 11% of current national electricity production is nuclear power, would require the construction of two typical nuclear power plants, each with a capacity of around 1000 MW (a typical reactor size).
Based on several recently commissioned third-generation reactors in Japan and South Korea, these reactors would cost between $1500 and $2000 per kilowatt to commission, and therefore a plant would almost cost $1.5 billion. Clearly, nuclear power is more expensive. Once built, the plants require fuel rods, an additional cost, and these must be enriched at a separate facility, which would cost over $500 million.
Nuclear power has higher operational and maintenance costs compared to wind power, and nuclear power stations take longer to commission (seven to ten years) than wind turbines (three to six months once delivered). More carbon dioxide is emitted in the construction of a nuclear power plant, and in the enrichment of fuel rods, than in the construction of wind towers.
Once a wind turbine is up and running it will have generated as much clean energy after six months as “dirty” energy used in its manufacture. It takes about seven years for a nuclear power station to generate more carbon dioxide-free electricity than was spent building the plant and getting it operational. Over the lifetime of a wind turbine, it will generate 17-39 times the amount of energy as was used to build it. Nuclear power plants produce only about 16 times the energy used to build them.
Each 1000 MW nuclear power generator would produce about 33 tonnes of highly radioactive waste per year, which would then need to be stored at additional cost, reprocessed at an even greater cost, or dumped — the cheapest and most likely option for dollar-saving corporations.
Unlike wind turbines, nuclear power plants cannot be disassembled once their operational life is over. Standard (non-breeder) reactors have a lifetime of about 30 years after which they have to be decommissioned. Since so much of the power plant is radioactive by this time, decommissioning is a serious problem. Contaminated machinery must be disposed of or stored so that environmental damage will not occur. Decommissioning or refitting will be very expensive (perhaps $200 million to $500 million) and is an important aspect of planning for the use of nuclear power. It is possible that dismantling of old decommissioned reactors may become one of the highest costs for the nuclear industry. The resulting radioactive wastes await a place to store them for many years.
Wind on the other hand is a clean fuel; wind farms produce no air or water pollution because no fuel is burned. The most serious environmental drawbacks to wind machines may be their negative effect on wild bird populations and the visual impact on the landscape. At an equal investment, wind power generates 5 times more jobs and 2.3 times more electricity than nuclear. In electricity terms: 24 TWh/year for wind instead of 10 TWh/year for Energy Power Reactor. In the wind option, construction is more evenly spread over time and employment takes the lead over nuclear.
As a matter of fact, the Gulf of Suez’s wind resource potential is estimated to be 20,000 MW according to the New & Renewable Energy Authority (NREA). Only 235 MW have been installed by the end of 2006. The current target is 850 MW by 2010. Unfortunately, wind energy in Egypt only represents 0.08% of its energy mix; a dilemma that is worth considering.