World Nuclear Association Blog

All things being equal

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The EU is currently debating the issue of state aid to nuclear and other energy sources , with Germany opposing them. Among the many arguments in play one of the more questionable is that reported here by Greenpeace.

"The problem - for Germany - is that the plans would put new renewable technologies at a disadvantage by putting them on an equal footing with older, established technologies." (The older technologies presumably meant to include nuclear)

But exactly how much older is nuclear energy? The first artificial self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, at Chicago Pile-1,  took place in December 1942. The first electricity supplied to the grid from a nuclear power plant came from Obninsk, Russia in June 1954. The first commercial nuclear power plant was Calder Hall, England, which started operations in 1956.

In comparison, although primitive solar cells had been existence since the late 1800s, the first practical solar cell was demonstrated in 1954 at the New Jersey based Bell Laboratories located in Murray Hill. So the first practical solar cells date back to about the same time as when the first nuclear power plants were coming on line. 

For wind, while windmills have been used for centuries, the first wind turbine designed to generate electricity dates back to 1887, as built by Prof James Blyth in Glasgow, Scotland. A more substantial turbine was developed by Charles Brush in Cleveland, Ohio over the winter of 1887/8.

Electricity generation at central power stations only started in the early 1880s - initially using coal-fuelled steam engines or hydropower.

So it appears that, far from being younger technologies, wind and solar renewables have been in use for as long, or even longer than nuclear power and some are amongst the oldest forms of electricity generation. With that in mind, isn't putting all technologies on an "equal footing", as the Greenpeace article describes it, the fair thing to do?