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Wave power compared to nuclear power

Costing wave power against nuclear

Professor Stephen Salter was maybe thirty years ahead of the times when it came to harnessing the energy of waves. His innovative 'duck' design was sidelined by the nuclear power industry and other vested interests in the 1980s. Well, he's now been finally vindicated and given the credit he richly deserves.

Back in the early 1980s it was the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) that was tasked with analysing the effectiveness and cost efficiency of alternative sources of energy. Turkeys, apocryphally, do not vote for christmas of course and I can remember as a student at Edinburgh University, listening to a lecture by Professor Salter where he outlined just how his 'baby' had been cut out of the running.

The UK Nuclear industry effectively killed it. The nail in the coffin was the (some consider deliberate) miscalculation of the duck's efficiency by an 'independent' analyst that meant the figure was out by a factor of 10. One of the analytical approaches that artifically elevated the cost effectiveness of the nuclear programme was that the cost of decommissioning, long term waste storage and overall environmental impact were not costed.

The UK development programme for alternative sources of energy was first started during the oil crisis of the 70’s. The alternative energy programme was played off against nuclear energy, not just financially but also by defining the challenge as being able to assemble single units capable of replacing power stations (wave energy devices then and since have favoured small scale devices that are scaled up into high output wave farms). Given all these artifical, or omitted, parameters it's no surprise that nuclear power stations were deemed to be more economical, at least in the very short term. In a closed committee meeting on March 19, 1982, attended largely by representatives of the fossil and nuclear fuels industries, wave power was quietly strangled. Salter described overhearing a conversation in the gents toilets that day that made it clear the decision was going to be a foregone conclusion.

So it was with joy that I learned this week that the Scottish Government had presented him with the inaugural Satire Prize, under the auspices of Scotland's £10m Saltire Prize marine energy challenge, in recognition of his pioneering work in generating energy from the oceans.

(2011)


This is just one of the stories from my energy talk

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