Why Nuclear? pt. 2: Capacity

For starters, we absolutely need to get away from fossil fuels. The argument that the earth warms and cools over cycles that last thousands of years are based on a half-truth; this cycle consistently has global Carbon Dioxide levels of around 180 part per million during ice ages, and around 280 ppm during the warmer times. In 2013 we reached 400 ppm; Humans burning fossil fuels are directly responsible for this.

So why not just use wind and solar? Well, the simplest answer for that is capacity factor. Capacity is how much energy a generator has the potential to produce; capacity factor is how much of that it actually produces. For example, wind turbines average between 40-45% capacity factor, or they produce 40-45% of what they could if they were running at 100%. Nothing ever runs at 100%, but when a wind farm is producing less than 50% of it’s potential, you need to build twice as many wind turbines just to keep up.

Solar has a similar capacity issue, averaging closer to 20%. Many, many solar panels and wind turbines must be built, taking up huge amounts of land (though now some are being installed at sea), to put out a fairly meager amount of energy. When the sun’s not shining and the wind’s not blowing, most of the time it’s natural gas that picks up the slack, essentially negating the whole concept of wind and solar being emission free.

In contrast, nuclear power averages around 90% of capacity, while emitting no CO2 and not needing to be backed up by something else that does. On top of that, nuclear plants aren’t affected by severe weather the way solar and wind are. Nuclear plants are built to withstand the most extreme circumstances, of which severe weather doesn’t even compare.


So: Here I’ve restated that the number one priority is to move away from fossil fuels, and to do that I’ve compared the nuclear energy option to the two largest renewables for capacity factor. There are many other reasons to choose nuclear over wind and solar, and I will tackle each of those reasons one at a time in future posts. Below are two of the sources I got some of this info from.

1. CO2 levels: https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/news/7074.html
2. Capacity Factor: https://openei.org/apps/TCDB/#blank