Nuclear vs. Renewable Energy – Two Myths and the Reality

By Ingo Koenig
After the disaster at the Fukushima I plant in Japan a heated discussion over nuclear power and renewable energy has resumed. Before the accident, nuclear power was almost “green” as a non-GHG emitting form of energy –it probably is, in comparison to fossil fuels.

All green washing aside, the two biggest arguments pro nuclear power usually are:
1. it is more reliable and
2. it is cheaper than renewable energy

With this Double Chart of the Month we’d like to proof these two myths wrong.

The first chart compares Fukushima I with the wind energy production of Germany, Spain and Denmark over the last twenty years. Clearly, wind turns out to be more reliable than the nuclear power plant. When taking a closer look at the individual reactor blocks at Fukushima I (there are six), it gets even worse. If one wind turbine needs to be shut down for maintenance … who cares? If a nuclear power plant goes out, a whole country can be in trouble.
The second chart deals with the price myth. Comparing the different energy forms on a full cost basis including all costs (generation costs, government subsidies, and also external costs) as a recent study has done, reveals that nuclear power is almost twice as expensive as hydro or wind power. Solar power is still more expensive, but that is going to change.

This situation is somewhat special to Germany with its high subsidies for nuclear and high productivity of wind. However, it is clear that a similar picture will develop in most economies in the near future: There is only one way for the cost development of traditional forms of energy with longer approvals, higher fuel prices, more safety requirements and leveling productivity will go– up, up, up. For renewable energy, the opposite is true. There are huge gains in efficiency and productivity in production, approvals and energy transformation still to be captured with free, unlimited fuel. The costs also have only one direction – down, down, down.

Ingo studied business administration and economics at Kiel University where he received a PhD in economic policy and also earned an MBA from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, USA. Visit