37: Nuclear to hydroelectric to fossil to wind to solar power

Fly over Europe in this thing? Sure, why not?  Today, Switzerland proudly completed a solar-powered flight from its westerly region to Madrid, although why anybody would land in Madrid when perfectly delightful places such as Barcelona, Granada and Seville are so handy is beyond me. Source: AFP

Switzerland has 18 years to figure out how to make up almost half of the country’s electrical supply that will be lost when it closes its nuclear reactors.

Who can argue with the shutdown?  A nuclear meltdown in Switzerland would not have the dissipating effects of an ocean to float over for a year before making landfall. Instead, the DNA-altering radiation would funnel down in the valley between the Jura Mountains and the Swiss Alps, making Provence and its lovely vineyards but a memory. Good-bye Geneva, the United Nations, the Red Cross and Shania Twain’s home in Montreux.

The Swiss are looking to hydro-electric and fossil fuels to make up the 40 per cent power shortfall expected when the reactors go quiet, which might make environmentalists scream in agony, but there it is. The fact is people get testy when they turn on the light switch and nothing happens, and if this is true anywhere, it would be 10 times truer in Switzerland, the land where a train running two minutes late produces scowls and 15 minutes late is a national scandal. This is probably a good time to point out that Switzerland’s lauded rail system is powered by hydro-produced electricity, making it a non-emission producing transportation system. That’s how important electricity is here.

That does not mean the Swiss or the Europeans have waved the white flag on alternate energy. Europe as a whole is tinkering with it, although while the word “tinkering” might apply to the results produced, it is not the right word for the amount of money they’re putting into it. A better word would be “flooding.”

In 2010 and 2011 combined, Europeans chucked 25 billion Euros into wind power development, according to a report from the European Wind Energy Association. And for it, wind-sourced power  in 2011 comes in at 9,600 MW, while hydro-electric systems have delivered 179,000 MW. You can see that wind power has a long way to go, but one wonders how far it actually can go. It’s currently at around 6%, with expert forecasting optimal outputs at 20% of electrical energy requirements in about another 20 years. That’s still a long way from home.

It would be helpful at this point to learn how much money is going into the hydro-electric infrastructure system, but that is a harder one to peg. With wind, the numbers relate to new installations. With hydro-electric, it includes upgrades, maintenance and installations. It’s not an apple-to-oranges measure, although one could argue the merits of either system can be weighed based on money spent to MW-production. That seems like a good idea. But it is sunny outside, so I am not going to do the math on that. This is but a tiny little blog.

Here is where I stop quoting investment and output figures, because the numbers vary depending on who is writing the report. For example, the European Commission says only 19 billion Euros have been invested in wind power over 30 years, while the EWEA offers much higher figures. Frans Van Hulle, technical director at the EWEA says that wind is poised to become a mainstream energy supply, but then says it is only a nibble of the Euro-energy diet at three per cent.

I’m not an engineer, but when I see authoritative sources dueling over their stats and then making grandiose statements like Van Hulle’s, I suspect there might be more sales pitch and less science in their report.

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Teddy Bears: The Swiss’s Secret Weapon in the Event of a Nuclear Disaster

That teddy bear will teach that nuclear monster a thing or two.

A somewhat shaky grasp on the management of natural gas leaks isn’t all that excites us about Switzerland. There’s also the threat of a nuclear disaster.

We get a good view of a nuclear silo on the train ride between Zürich and Biel, but I talked myself into believing it’s just a grain silo, a very wide and somewhat oddly shaped one, but still one that would be good place to store wheat, or perhaps, nuclear stuff.

That little personal myth melted away this week. In the mail, among all the usual sales brochures was a German, French and Italian  square blue and white packet from our Canton police, military, population protection and sports – yes sports – branches.

This Czech Republic nuclear plant is ready for disaster - see, it's next to a chapel, cause if it blows, there will be a prayer meeting like the Czechs have never seen before.

It was the sports part that got me nervous – were they suggesting only the athletic would survive whatever warnings were coming from the police, military and sports divisions?

A quick run through Google Translate revealed that we are within 20 km of a nuclear power plant. The opening line, intended to have a calming effect, declares that nuclear technology is very safe, but the authorities want to minimize any “risk of prejudice in an accident.” What does that mean? In the event of a nuclear meltdown, a little bit of prejudice might be a good thing, seeing as prejudice means to “pre-judge,” and if pre-judgment means I’ll be stocked up on food, water and iodine pills, well, I’m all for that.

The brochure details the rules of behavior in “an increase of radioactivity.” I don’t need the Swiss to tell me that. My rule of behavior will be to run madly in circles, screaming “Oh no, oh no oh no!!!” It may be ineffective, but it’s straightforward and simple to follow.

Swiss authorities to nuclear-fall-out residents: Grab your teddy bears. This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better!

According to the pamphlet, the first thing to do is to listen to the radio and follow the authority’s instructions. The second thing to do is – and I’m not kidding about this, it is in the brochure – is to continue to listen to the radio and continue to follow the authority’s instructions. 

This suggests that the authorities don’t really have any other bright ideas to follow up their first recommendation.

There’s also advice to not let pets outside and to head for your cave or abri. I’m not sure what an abri is, but the accompanying illustration suggests it is a reinforced subterranean bunker, as depicted by a very thick black line that is about 6 times the width of the black lines depicting the house or regular basement. Obviously, it should have no ventilation, but heck, who wants to breathe when the air is full of isotopes or other deadly nano-particles.

But it will be a fun time down in the bunker as the Swiss authorities mandate that we should all bring toys for children. It’s going to be a regular play-date. Yes, a teddy bear will get us through a nuclear meltdown.

Now we are in Switzerland, not Russia, so I don’t really worry about a nuclear disaster, but if I had been in Japan, I would have said exactly the same thing, and I would have been wrong. Cue nervous jitters.