Chernobyl Gives Solar Power 3 Thumbs Up!

Chernobyl with 3 thumbed hand

Ukraine plan to install a 1GW solar farm in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Illustration: Tsunami Hee Ja

Why shouldn’t you wear underpants made in the Soviet Union?

Because Cher-nob-yl fall out.

And if you think that terrible joke doesn’t apply to you because you are female just spend some time in Chernobyl and maybe you’ll grow something that can fall out of your Soviet underpants.

Nuclear Power Is Not That Bad

Because I’m making bad Chernobyl jokes you may think I am down on nuclear power, but really I’m not. It’s a great source of energy. It is very cheap provided you don’t pay much for it and 100% safe unless there is an accident. I’ve been told it is a growth industry in China but I’ve looked into this and not everyone in the industry has growths.

While nuclear power cannot compete with renewables, if I had to choose between building a new coal power station or a new nuclear power station, nuclear power would win hands down.

The World’s Worst Nuclear Power Disaster

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine was the site of the world’s worst nuclear power accident and currently 2,600 square kilometers of surrounding land are part of a radioactive exclusion zone. That’s enough room to arrange 35 million adult blue whales in neat rows or 46 million if you tessellate1 them.

Some people say the zone will be too dangerous for human habitation for thousands of years, but my Russian sources tell me in a few hundred years it will be fine! Just don’t lick anything.

The disaster occurred in 1986 when, as the unexpected result of a safety test in reactor number 4, the nuclear core attempted to jump through the ceiling. Perhaps 5% of the core managed to get through the roof in one form or another and become fallout. No one knows exactly how much radioactive material was released.

People Still Work In The Exclusion Zone

Nuclear fallout is not good for your health as it can cause cancer. Also, it can frizz your heir. As a result the exclusion zone was created to keep people from living in contaminated areas for their own safety. But after the disaster people did not stop working in the exclusion zone. There were a total of four reactors at the site and the cores of reactors 1, 2, and 3 didn’t attempt to leap through their roofs at all.  When you think about it, 3 out of 4 isn’t that bad. Except when it comes to nuclear safety.

The last of the reactors that didn’t explode even a little bit weren’t shut down until December 2000.  This means people were working there all that time.  In fact, there are still people working there now making sure things don’t get worse. The workers don’t stay overnight, precautions are taken to make sure they aren’t exposed to large amounts of radiation, and my Russian sources tell me they are fine!

So while it is not a good idea to live there, working there for a short period of time is not much of a health risk. Or at least not compared to smoking, drinking vodka, or eating whale blubber contaminated with mercury. This especially true if people are working in the less radioactive areas.

For this reason it should not be difficult for Ukraine to carry out its plan to install around 1 gigawatt of solar panels, which may cost around $1.5 billion, in the exclusion zone. According to Bloomberg several banks and renewable energy companies are interested in the project.

Advantages Of Building Solar Power In The Exclusion Zone

Solar output in the exclusion zone will be around 21% less per watt of PV than in cloudy old Melbourne. This might sound bad, but oddly enough there is no place in the Ukraine where sunlight just stabs down out of the sky most of the time and punches a fist full of photons into the ground like in the Australia, so they have to make do with what they have.

Despite the lack of Australian levels of sunshine, the nuclear exclusion zone has a number of advantages for solar power. Firstly, the land there is really cheap. Really, really cheap. Honestly, you can’t give it away. It’s illegal.  And there’s plenty of it.  A one gigawatt solar farm would take up less than 0.4% of the exclusion zone which is less space than is required to fit 184,000 tessellated blue whales.

The zone also has the advantage of having 4 gigawatts of transmission capacity already in place. One gigawatt for each of the nuclear reactors that used to operate there.

Ukraine will also appreciate the energy security the solar farm will bring. In 2014 the country suffered rolling blackouts when coal supplies were interrupted by killing.  Also, at times some of their 15 reactors that aren’t inside nuclear exclusion zones have to shut down without warning in order to make sure they remain outside of one. And they’d really like to be even less reliant on Russian natural gas, for some reason, possibly to do with that killing I just mentioned.

Building a solar farm in the nuclear exclusion zone should be a great theft deterrent and it may be possible to catch solar panel thieves with a Geiger counter.

Solar farms, even huge ones, can potentially be built in months and need very few people to operate and maintain them, so no workers should be required to spend long periods in the exclusion zone.

If the project does go ahead it will take time for all the pieces to fall into place, but it is hoped a 4 megawatt test bed solar farm will be constructed in the zone by the end of the year.

Possible Future Expansion

The project could eventually be expanded to 4 gigawatts or more to take full advantage of the existing transmission capacity. That would be interesting because while there is currently plenty of transmission capacity heading into Ukraine, I believe most of it actually heads into Belarus and Russia. But Ukraine is sunnier than Belarus or Russia, so it’s all good. Ukraine is often a large exporter of electricity and if they go back to regularly exporting power to Russia it will be just like old times. Except with no chance of a nuclear core trying to leap through the ceiling.

Footnotes

  1. Blue whales are said to be tessellated if they are arranged so there are no gaps between them.  Apparently you can also tessellate things other than blue whales.  If you really want to.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Highly entertaining writing, as usual. You prefer nuclear options to coal, Ron? Delete me, now!~ You just don’t get it… .

    • Hi Lessor…Sorry, but I guess I don’t get it either! I’m with Ron. Nuclear is the only way forward in the long term.

      • People need to get over being scared by the words “nuclear” and “radiation”. Yes, they’re dangerous. So is sunshine and driving. Lack of investment in nuclear power is meaning NASA is running out of power for remote solar system travel, that NERVA engine development stopped nearly 50 years ago.
        It also prevents medical research into nucleotides, and undermines Australia’s natural Uranium resources (Of which we have the largest in the world).

  2. Ron well said. We will need a baseload source of electricity to supplement our renewables. Nuclear is by far the cleanest form of renewable energy per TWh if you factor variables in. Not all parts of the planet are energy rich and I believe densely populated nations will still require reactors to develop.

    The Chernobyl idea would be good assuming all the transmission lines are still in situ since unit 3 was shut down in 2000.

  3. It is nice to see renewables fans acknowledging what’s really important about nuclear energy, it is very low carbon. And that (along with a lack of particulate matter and poisonous gases like NOx, SO2 etc) is really the whole point of moving away from oil, coal and gas. It makes little sense to use “natural gas”, aka METHANE, as the go to source to supplement/backup renewables.
    Let’s start doing it right.

  4. john nielsen says

    Hi Ronald,
    Yes, many things can do that, but not octagons. My wife often uses this expression.
    I am all for nukes. If we were to shut down all, the more than 430 nuke power plants around the world today, we would all be coughing sooth. There are perhaps more than 70 new nuke power plants under construction. 15% of world power generation comes from nuke plants. It is no doubt the safest and cleanest form of energy after solar power. Despite my opinion on nukes, I believe we should all put pressure on our governments to promote Solar Power. I think for a long time to come, we will still need a base load and hopefully this will be from nukes not coal.
    John Nielsen, Silkwood.

  5. Now it’s a good news..

  6. Just google “total cost of nuclear energy” and you will find examples from the top down that it is NOT the chapest form of energy at all when all things are considered.

  7. Good Nuclear Video

  8. Erik Christiansen says

    If we must use nuclear fission to provide energy, then let it be Thorium reactors, as they don’t produce or use weapons grade material. Nevertheless, local fission reactors are a big backward step from the available remote fusion reactor that isn’t going to explode for millions of years yet.

    I.e. the remote fusion energy collector in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is a safe way to use nuclear energy. Local reactors are not.

    Molten salt, pumped water, batteries (eventually), and long E-W networks of solar arrays, can all time shift solar energy. The losses are no big deal – just erect more panels. Embodied energy is no big deal, so long as no fossil fuel is used in their manufacture.

    For out on the farm, I wonder how much energy can be stored in a modestly sized steam accumulator? One for a suburb would be pretty big, mind you.

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