China and Nuclear Power

China has decided to ramp up its nuclear power program. It wants to have 100 Westinghouse nuclear reactors in operation or under construction by 2020.

If China follows through on these and other nuclear plans they should have 200GW of nuclear power completed by 2025. This would be double what the USA has now.

While China steams ahead to a nuclear future, here in the USA the talk is all about "alternative energy." I'm afraid we are stuck on stupid. Suppose we were to try to build a 200 gigawatt photovoltaic solar power plant, by scaling up a cutting edge plant, the Serpa solar power plant. This plant, in sunny Portugal, was completed last year and is one of the largest in the world. The solar panels in this plant rotate to track the sun as it moves across the sky.

It occupies about 0.234 square miles of land, and is expected to produce about 20 gigawatt-hours per year. That works out to an average power output of about 2.28 megawatts. How much land would we have to cover with these panels to get 200 gigawatts?

200,000 / 2.28 x 0.234 = 20,526 square miles.

That's like covering all of Massachusetts 2.5 times over. Compare the footprint of the proposed drilling in ANWR

3.13 square miles

The plain truth is that solar power plants on this scale are not going to happen. It would be nice if we had some political leader out there who understood that. Instead we get fantasies about solar, biofuels and wind. I suppose this is what politicians have always done, promising the impossible to win votes. I'm reminded of Bart Simpson, running for class president:

My opponent says there are no easy answers. I say, he's not looking hard enough!

At what point does a lack of a realistic energy plan compromise national security? How long can we keep putting off taking the necessary steps to avoid a catastrophic energy shortage? The time to drill for more oil is now. The time to get our nuclear program back in gear is now.