Nuclear vs Wind – only 2000 wind turbines needed to replace Sizewell B

In David MacKay’s plan C, the balance of wind and nuclear can be varied interchangeable depending on political expediency (consensus).

In David’s plan C 37 nuclear power stations like Sizewell B are needed for UK, Sizewell B produces 1188 MW (This is 3% of UK’s current ELECTRICITY needs – 37 will produce 111% of current UK ELECTRICITY). 2000 2MW wind turbines would be needed to replace Sizewell B according to MacKay using 2000 km^2.

I would like to say that the nuclear power station only needs 2000 wind turbines to replace it. If we look at complexity of the nuclear power station and the risk of damage it is capable of, the amount of engineering and materials that go into building it, you will see that 2000 is really not a big number.

A quick look at at costs seems to show this is reasonable to assume the two sources can be swapped.

Cost of Sizewell B was 2.7 G£ in 1991 (2.7 billion pounds or 2700 million pounds). Inflation would make this around 4.5 G£ today. Some disadvantage to nuclear are the fact that build costs seem to be significant before production starts, some plants are delayed, and no production occurs before the whole thing is finished and delivered as safe. There is also problem of decommissioning but lets assume that will be cost discounted into future enough, or paid for by builder of future plant, who will use same site in perpetuity because site can never be used for anything else.

If we compare to wind power the costs are fairly similar to nuclear at the moment. These may be reduced by mass production since there are probably more similarity between wind turbines than between nuclear power stations. Costs according to the guardian in 2005 where (1110 build+ 1250 connect = 1350 total) 1350 M£ per GW in 2005. (costs in their article are misleading because there is not enough room to build half on land half offshore, and offshore seems to incur high costs to connect power to the grid). I also doubt this includes storage costs, but I think in the end I expect we can get used to not working when it isn’t windy enough.

The guardian columnist used these numbers to show that wind is cheaper. Although they can only really show that the costs are of same magnitude. I think it would be interested also to compare amounts of concrete and steel used to make 2000 wind turbines compared to one nuclear power station. Also same calculation can be done for total energy input to build the two.

Thanet wind farm from Gaurdian
A wind farm, if it breaks we don’t get any electricity

One thing in favour of nuclear build for UK is small footprint, but this claim is put into doubt if we are going to have any disasters. If we assume a 50 km radius around the plant is rendered unusable by a small leak this takes out 7854 square km of land. About 4000 is the plant is on the coast. The current disaster as Fukushima is leaking radiation into the sea and polluting fish stocks and seaweed for Japan Korea and China. Radiation spread into the atmosphere will have harder to quantify effect over larger amount of land and sea.

Disaster stricken Fukushima nuclear plant with smoke rising
A Nuclear power station, if it breaks it really breaks.

2000 2 MW wind turbines to replace one Sizewell B nuclear reactor takes about 2000 square km offshore. However the use of wind power doesn’t remove the use from other uses, actually it may help UK to have stronger claim on her Territorial waters. If stations are build close enough it is probably hard to use larger trawlers so smaller trawlers from closer ports can probably have some advantage if any fish can survive. Off shore cables can also probably be used to bring power from tidal generators and wave power generators. Tidal generators may help to balance energy supply since tides flow even when the wind doesn’t blow. Since they depend on position of the sun and moon they are predictable, although they are not generous enough to always at the same time each day.

Nuclear’s green cheerleaders forget Chernobyl at our peril (Guardian)



  1. 2010 installed capacity of wind in UK is 5000 MW. Sizewell B is rated 1,200 MW.

    So far we have replaced 2-3 nuclear power stations.

    • And how much acreage have you blighted with the unsightly monsters?
      You’ve replaced 2-3 small nuke plants and China is in the process of building or planning TODAY 50 more.

      Remember this when you wave FUKUSHIMA around…
      A uranium bomb was exploded over Hiroshima. A plutonium bomb was exploded over Nagasaki.
      Hiroshima today ( not 10,000 years later) has a population of 1.2 million people. Nagasaki houses over half a million.

  2. “It is interesting to note that France, being 79% nuclear, has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per person in Europe (as well as cheapest electricity) and Denmark which is leading the way with wind technology (20% wind) has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per person.

    There hasn’t been any deaths caused to workers in the Nuclear power in the US, but wind has 41 Worker Fatalities, 16 Public- Includes falling from turbine towers and transporting turbines on the

    …When all is said and done, wind generation will occupy land areas of over 50 Acres Per Megawatt of power output. At the most 60,000 acres would be required to produce the same power output as a large, 1.2 gigawatt, conventional power plant which occupies less than 200 acres of land. That means that wind turbines would use about 300 times the amount of land as conventional power plants. ”

    • Another way to look at wind…
      Replacing ALL the coal fired electric generation in the Easter US takes about 250,000 wind turbines. Yea! a quarter million of em.

      The seacoast from Main to Florida is about 2500 miles long.
      If you could jam 10 turbines per mile ALL THE WAY DOWN THE COAST ( about 1 per city block ) you could install 25,000.

      To get to 250,000 you need to build them at least 10 deep out into the ocean anchored on the ocean floor. What a lovely thought.

      Wind wont cut it. Nuclear will.

      • Sounds feasible to make 25,0000 wind turbines, I don’t think they will look bad. I much prefer to see a wind turbine than a nuclear power station. You don’t need to put all of them in the sea, and you don’t need to put them all on the coast. You have a lot of space in America.

        If you put them in the sea, what about putting them further from coast, where they can’t be seen from land (say 10, 20, 100 miles away) depending on geography.

        For nuclear power you need to build 125 power stations. Lets say we will build these on the coast too, since they need cooling water, and it is convenient to use corrosive salt water (this is the real logic used). If we place out nuclear power stations all the way down the 2500 mile coastline from Main to Florida we need to put 1 every 20 miles ALL THE WAY DOWN THE COAST. Nuclear won’t cut it either.

  3. Land around wind turbines can still be used, you might only lose the land under the base of the turbine.

    Are you really saying that no one was killed during construction and maintenance of all nuclear power plants in US? That would be truly remarkable.

    I think you can only get that kind of number if you say all deaths not caused by radiation don’t count. Then saying that those caused by radiation would have died anyway and you only accelerated the process of their death. Any remaining deaths you say they aren’t statistically significant so can’t be caused by nuclear radiation. Then any statically significant deaths you say there isn’t a causal link. Only by this sort of dishonesty I expect you can say there have been no deaths caused to workers in Nuclear power plants. The major method may be to count them all as military nuclear `incidents’.

    • Why do you find it remarkable no one died in the construction of the nuclear plant? I wouldn’t. I am not against renewables, I love renewables. I just don’t hate or am hysterical about nuclear power.

      Anyway, say nuclear causes more deaths than wind, which I thought it did before I read up on it recently, why isn’t anyone ever concerned about the tens of thousands that die in coal mines or die of cancer through smoking cigerettes? Why does Switzerland run away from nuclear power because of Fukishima that killed no one (yer I know your argument that millions are going to die but will always be in the future) and turns to Hydro power which has been responsible for the worst cotastrophy in energy industry history killing hundreds of thousands of people in China?

      You also the new nuclear technology of SMR’s and Thorium and even Bill Gates is investing a lot of his time and money into research.

  4. Hi Matthew,

    After writting I thought about it being remarkable that no one died from constructing I think it would be 103 nuclear plants in the USA. I have looked on google for quite a time trying to find out but can’t find anything however I would think there would have been some deaths and want to retract my first sentance 🙂 I am not saying there were deaths, but I don’t know anything about work safety in the construction industry and 103 is a large number of plants that take years to build.

  5. Hi Lincoln, thanks for your comments. What I am trying to say in that given the equivalence of 2000 wind turbines to 1 nuclear power station, we should probably build more wind turbines and less nuclear power stations.

    The equivalence 2000 wind turbines to 1 nuclear power station is due to David Mackay (I think this is a reasonable estimate – I know David a little and he seems to be Pro-reasonableness).

    If you are looking into the use of nuclear power, you will see there is a lot of complications to construction and maintenance of nuclear plant, there are releases of nuclear material from both the routine operation and accidents. There is a history of lax safety. A degree of control being necessary which is unusually high. In the event of an accident it takes a long time to shut down the reaction. Operation subjects materials to high temperatures, in corrosive environments with fluctuating loads. There is potential for release of radiative isotopes generated even after the process stops producing useful power since waste material needs to be stored for say 100,000 years. (So more than 50 times longer than the history of Christianity). In all there are a lot of difficult to quantify risks which may lead to inadequate control and to catastrophe’s which poison the environment we depend on.

    In comparison the risks from wind power seem reasonable easy to estimate and control. The potential down side seems much less bad.

  6. Matthew, you can’t sesnibly just compare installed capacity or 5000 MW wind and 1200 MW sizewellB .and say we have replaced 2-3 nuclear stations. You need to allow for capacity factor (i.e average fraction of max power generated). 5000MW wind at 31% CF vs 1200 MW sizewellB at 88% means’ we’ve only replaced. 1.5 nuclear stations so far.

  7. I agree, that’s why I used David MacKays numbers. He suggests that 2000 x 2 MW wind turbines (4000 MW) is equivilant to the 1200 MW of a Sizewell B. UK installed capacity has been quoted as 5204 MW so you are right to say it is about 1.5 nuclear power stations.

    • It might seem reasonable, but isn’t.
      Study ( came out in early 2013 (I know it’s more than a year after your comment) but people looked at just how much energy the wind turbines actually produced.

      Average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive.

      That 5204MW wind installed, at 24.08% actual output is… 1.25MW, Or basically just ONE sizewell B.

      Not looking so good now, is it? It gets worse though

      “At each of the four highest peak demands of 2010 wind output was low being respectively 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.”

      Wind’s a great ‘feel good’ energy source, but one that’s pretty useless in reality, and just makes a few companies a lot of money.

  8. Why would you want to “replace” nuclear power stations, which have very little environmental impact per unit energy generated? If you want to “replace” anything, replace an equivalent amount of coal-fired generation. Heck, even replacing natural gas generation is a better deal. The UK is very heavily dependent on Russian natural gas. They’ve got you by the short ones on that count. Better to wean yourselves off of that addiction that go around hammering the nuclear industry.

    • “Replace” in a mix between nuclear and wind. Please read post above. I am talking about David MacKays “plan C” from his book “Sustainable Energy without the Hot air”

  9. Wow.
    As a Chartered Electrical Engineer this article is littered with so many flaws and inaccuracies – it isn’t even worth starting to list these, They are so numerous.

    • I am interested in any suggestions you can make on how the article can be improved.

      In my opinion the calculation is sound, so please do state your objections.

      I noticed from previous comments that a lot of objections seem to be from people who don’t seem to have properly read the article, or maybe I have failed to explain correctly. I am worried that the second may be the case so please help me to understand where I have not explained, or why I am wrong.

      • How long do wind turbines last? 15-20 years depending on the materials used and operating conditions. How long does a nuclear power plant last? At least 40-60 years. So, realistically you would need 4,000-6,000 wind turbines to replace one nuclear power plant.

        The only deaths, public and workers, related to nuclear power in the United States was in 1961 at the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The neutron flux in the core was to be mapped by inserting flux wires into the core. In order to do this the control rods were disconnected from the drive mechanism to allow for easy access to the core. The three crewmen working the night of the SL-1 accident were reconnecting the control rods manually to the drive mechanism when the accident occurred. The central control rod was being connected to the drive mechanism when the explosion occurred. The central control rod should have only been manually raised 3 inches in order to connect to the drive mechanism. It was later determined that the control rod was raised in excess of 20 inches which caused the reactor to go critical in 4 milliseconds. This caused the reactor to be at full power and the water surrounding the fuel to immediately turn to steam and the pressure of the steam caused water overhead to be ejected from the core with great force causing the vessel to be shot into the air 9 feet above the ground. All three crewmen were killed, from the explosion not from radiation, and one of the crewmen was found pinned to the ceiling by a control rod shield plug.

        How many deaths have occurred because of wind energy; public and workers?

        What type of base load energy will you use when the tidal generators and wave power generators will not be in use?

        I am a proponent of all forms of energy that is not fossil fuel based. It is sad that people always use nuclear power as a fear mongering way to sway the publics opinion.

  10. Dear Megan, about the lifetime of the wind turbines, I don’t think we really need to double the number again like this. If we want to make a more complicated analysis we should also consider funding and cash flow. A lot of the cost of building a wind farm is the capital cost of building the infrastructure to connect the turbines. The cost of replacement in 15-20 years can be expected to be far less.

    Also I think I can use similar trick to say that no workers will have been killed by the wind.

  11. That’s 2,000 wind turbines if the wind is blowing. A recent report showed that capacity dropped to around 10% for significant periods every week. In other words you need more like 5,000.

    You also ignore the impacts of manufacturing, construcing and installing these things. You have to pour thousands of tonnes of concrete into the sea, landscape acres and acres of land, and mine tonnes of material.

    Those are not reasons for efforts for renewables to stop, but let’s get real about the impacts of these things…

  12. The issue never included when discussing the viability of windmill power is the cost and environmental impact of the batteries and/or spinning reserves associated with windmill power production. In the US utilities are required to keep spinning reserves to deal with changes in windmill power production(spinning reserves is a fully running coal plant which can be connected to the grid in seconds). Battery production has a huge environmental impact (batteries are used to stabilize windmill output). One must include all aspects of wind power generation to fairly compare it to nuclear power generation.

  13. Dear Somedude, David MacKay does discuss those in his book. Please note the value includes the over production necessary for times without wind.

    In his book David suggests using batteries of on-grid electric cars to provide a storage facility.

    Personally I think that there are large opportunities to tailor demand from factories by pricing policy.

    For domestic power supply wind does at least have the advantage that is is generally windier in winter in UK when we have largest demand for power.

    My point about the equivalence of wind and nuclear power is that 2000 wind turbines seems like quite a small number to replace one nuclear power station, given the complexity of running such a complicated machine, which has disastrous consequences of failure.

  14. hi, they seem to miss the point of long term risk with nuclear and the cost of storage which they still haven’t solved.

  15. It seems like wind turbines have got bigger now, last weekend I heard a politician on the radio say that only 1500 wind turbines are now needed to replace on nuclear power station. It still seems like a much easier option to me.

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