Debunking solar myths: What about nuclear?


‘Uncle Bob’ is that proverbial character who shares at family gatherings all he believes to be true about solar and why it just isn’t a good idea. Dan Shugar, founder and CEO of Nextracker, has had this experience. Based on his 33 years in the solar industry, he offers short, fact-based responses to Uncle Bob’s assertions, which range from “solar is taking coal jobs” to “solar is unreliable”.

In this part three of the series, Shugar debunks myths about nuclear energy.

The proverbial Uncle Bob asks, “What about nuclear? That’s reliable runs all the time. Why don’t we do more of that?”

You could say, “Listen, Uncle Bob, there are things we like about nuclear. We know you don’t believe in global warming. But we like that nuclear is a zero-carbon option.”

Then explain that there are only two problems with nuclear. First, there’s radioactive waste, and second, it’s too expensive.

Let’s ignore the radioactive waste that is around for hundreds of years. Let’s talk about money.

A new nuclear plant today is about $180 a megawatt hour. A new solar plant today is $60 a megawatt hour. That’s about a third of the cost. And if you add batteries, it’s about $75 a megawatt hour. That’s well under half the cost rather than dollars per megawatt hour.

Now let’s just talk about money of real plants. When I started in my career, in 1985, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant was just finishing the original budget of that plant was $380 million. And the plant was actually completed at five and a half billion dollars, half of PG&E’s net income was being absorbed by the interests of the plant.

In more modern history, the two Vogtle units, one of which is operational in Georgia and the other is supposed to come on online shortly, were under construction for over 10 years and had an original budget of about $14 billion. They came in at about $30 billion, which is very expensive.

Speaking as an environmentalist, I really hope nuclear can have a resurgence, including the modular nuclear power plant designs that have been under development for decades. But I want to underscore the bar keeps going up because solar and wind costs are going down. While reliability keeps improving nuclear power is just too expensive Uncle Bob.

Episode three: What about nuclear?…

We’ll continue this series with fact-based responses to additional myths such as: Solar takes too much land–there’s gonna be no room for farms if we have solar panels…

Stay tuned as we unpack these objections, so you’re ready for your next dinner party with Uncle Bob.

View earlier episodes:

Part one, “All panels come from China” here.
Part two, “Solar is unreliable” here.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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