Monday Jun 24, 2013
- Tuesday Jun 25, 2013 -
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - USA
Data Informed´s Marketing Analytics and Customer Engagement provides marketing, sales, and customer support managers with the information they need to create an effective data-driven customer strategy. more...
Monday May 20, 2013
- Saturday May 25, 2013
- 8:30 AM Eastern -
Stowe, Vermont - USA
Legal Essentials for Utility Executives: May 19 to 25, 2013 and October 6 to 12, 2013 This rigorous, two-week course will provide electric utility executives with the legal foundation to more fully understand the utility regulatory framework, the role of more...
We know you have something to say!
There is an immediate need for articles on
the hot topics in the Power Industry!
EnergyPulse, like no other publication,
also provides a means for our readers to
immediately interact with experts like you.
When the subject was oil, my students at the Asian Institute of Technology (Bangkok) were politely asked to study the situation in the United States. It told me everything I needed to know about the peaking of oil production, and I presumed that it would do the same for them. In the matter of nuclear, my students in other institutions of higher or lower education this year will be told to study the situation in Sweden -- assuming that they prefer a passing to a failing grade.
In the past month or two, several contributions have appeared that turned thumbs down on nuclear energy. Among these were one by Dr Benjamin Sovacool (2010), who provided a strange claim as to why a nuclear renaissance should be questioned, and more lately Diana Powers (2010) who discussed in the New York Times some work of Professor (of economics) John O. Blackburn of Duke University (USA), who was assisted by a graduate student named Sam Cunningham. The conclusion Blackburn and Cunningham arrived at was that a crossover point has been reached for the cost of electricity generated by nuclear and Solar Voltaic systems. The figure they gave was sixteen cents per kilowatt-hour (=16 c/kWh).
Under the heading of cost, Dr Sovocool has some interesting news for non-thinkers. His levelized cost figures include 3-7 c/kWh for hydro, 5-12 c/kWh for wind, 18-30 c/kWh for nuclear, and 20-80 c/kWh for solar voltaics. For what it is worth, his figure for solar voltaics does not match that cited by Ms Powers.
The important thing above is that hydro is the lowest cost source of electricity, which I make a point of accepting and telling my students to remember. Without knowing (or being interested in) the exact cost figure for hydro, I can use Swedish and Norwegian data to infer that nuclear and hydro have about the same unit costs for electricity. I get this because Norway has almost 100 percent hydro, and Sweden has approximately 50-50 hydro and nuclear, and since (before deregulation) Sweden and Norway had about the same (aggregate) electric cost, the cost of nuclear must have been approximately the same as the cost of hydro. The algebra for that contention is shown in the next edition of my energy economics textbook (2011). In addition, my cost calculation for nuclear is 9 c/kWh.
What about the price of wind generated power. Again Sweden provides a lovely example. The Swedish utility Vattenfall -- the 5th largest in Europe -- deals in hydro, nuclear, soft coal and wind. According to the last published report, the first three of these made a profit, but wind made a loss. In case anyone is interested, Vattenfall is a boisterous booster of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS). What they make it their business not to discuss is that if they decide to go into CCS in a big way, only hydro and nuclear will guarantee a profit. As for the situation with wind, nobody in their right mind should expect this to always guarantee a profit, although it may be true that occasionally profits will be registered by wind parks in favourable localities. Tierra del Fuego, for instance, might be at the top of the list here.
Of course, I don't need Dr Sovocool or Professor Blackburn or anybody else to tell me anything about the cost of nuclear. The Swedish nuclear inventory of 12 reactors was constructed in only 13-14 years, and since I teach economics and not physics, I happen to believe that when it becomes necessary -- in this country and elsewhere -- it will be possible to construct large Generation 3 reactors in three years. And eventually it will become necessary!
Banks, Ferdinand E. (2007). The Political Economy of World Energy: An Introductory Textbook. Singapore, New York and London: World Scientific.
Powers, Diana S. (2010). `Nuclear energy loses cost advantage'. The New York Times July 25 (Global Issues).
Sovacool, Benjamin K. (2010). `Questioning a nuclear renaissance'. GPPi Policy Paper No. 8. Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy (Singapore)
For information on purchasing reprints of this article, contact sales. Copyright 2013 CyberTech, Inc.
We may have had our disagreements in past on this website but I will be the first commenter to your article here that agrees nuclear can provide very competitive low-cost electricity. And I will restate what you have always claimed that we need considerably more of it, especially in North America. We also need a lot of refurbishing of many existing aging nuclear plants in North America.
The biggest real problem in my view in getting our policymakers and utilities to do this is in convincing them to raise enough money up-front to build them. From what I have read on this website and heard in the past few years, the up-front financing is too high to stomach during these times of economic pain, and when our governments are routinely running huge budget deficits. THIS IS IN SPITE OF THE FACT that they already know once the construction of a nuclear plant is paid for, it can produce lots of very low-cost electricity for a very long time.
The solution to the nuclear problem in my humble opinion is finding ways to finance their construction that is palatable to them and the public. As a prominent economics professor who specializes in energy economics, you more than anyone else who writes on this website might be best able to suggest those ways. I for one would be very interested in learning how they could raise the necessary money without creating debt crises within government or utility budgets, or without foisting sudden rate increases onto everyone's energy bills.
The door is open Fred if you care to help.
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.3.10
If the people on this site were in the investment banks - you, Malcolm, etc. etc - the problem will be solved. Instead, unless I am mistaken, the people in the investment banks know about paper, and not iron and steel and electrons and the like. But that's alright with me. The taxpayers in the US bailed out General Motors, and the last I heard GM was back in the black. Therefore, if necessary, let the taxpayers pay for the nuclear reactors that THEY are going to need, and perhaps need in the near future.
I don't know how much money Canada is spending on those dumb wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but of the trillion dollars that US taxpayers have spent, I think that they could have financed the extra reactors THEY will absolutely and certainly and definitely need. What about renewables and alternatives. We live in democracies, and so the taxpayers can have some of those too - as little as possible until we know the right mix.
About my paper. It is mostly about how incompetent people have managed to put themselves in an issue they know nothing about. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Harry Valentine 9.3.10
You've presented a some very enlightening arguments in this article, especially in regard to the costs of various forms of power generation. These costs to vary from nation to nation for various reasons, however, there seems to be a valid economic case for nuclear power. The cost per kilowatt of power generally decreases as the size and output of the generating technology increases.
The small size and low ouput (eg: 200MW) of some of the early generation nuclear power stations in the UK resulted in relatively higher cost per MW. New generation installations of over 1000MW and even up to 3000MW involve lower capital and operating cost per MW output.
One interesting aspect of wind energy where Ontario offers 13.2-cents per kW/Hr . . . . the cost of generation is some 6-cents per kW/hr, the transmission charge is about the same as is the debt repayment charge (Ontario incurred a hydro debt of $32-billion). If Ontario allowed for adjoining propoerty owners to connect private power lines across their private property lines, there would likely be cost competitive wind power in Ontario.
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.4.10
Thanks Harry. The evidence where wind and nuclear are concerned is rather simple for me, because I know where and how to look. I'm convinced that on the average, wind is uneconomical. But note the word 'average'. There are probably some locations where it makes economic sense. Supposedly they have found one of these locations in the north of Sweden. Given the options, I don't believe this. As far as I am concerned, educated and intelligent people are being made fools of by other educated and intelligent people, with the bottom line being money - a transfer of money from energy consumers to elegant crooks. Some of that money transfered will be mine because of the subsidies that are involved, and it won't be moving in my direction.
At the same time, as I always say, we live in democracies. Here you can remember the song so beautifully sung by Lena Horne: FUN TO BE FOOLED. The German people were fooled by Hitler and Goebbels, with catastropic results. People in the same country are being fooled by this wind thing, but fortunately the results will not be catastropic, and there are probably many worse things happening.
Michael Keller 9.6.10
I remain of the view that renewable energy amounts to nothing more than funneling money to a bunch of welfare queens while resulting in little or no meaningful reduction in greenhouse emissions. A much more productive use of the money would be increasing the efficiency of energy production and energy use.
That being said, I am not so sure conventional nuclear power is that big of a bargain either. At ++6 billion dollars for a power plant, the impact on the consumer is devastating. The financial risk is also pretty severe – an investment whose cost and completion time remain highly uncertain. Strikes me that having the taxpayer massively subsidize nuclear power is very similar to having the taxpayer massively subsidize renewable energy. Both are bad ideas.
Nuclear power needs to be able to compete with natural gas combined-cycle and coal power plants. If it can not, then the technology is a poor fit for the US.
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.6.10
In case you haven't heard, Germany has decided to renew the 'lives' of its old reactors so that they operate until 2030. New equipment can continue even longer.
The German say that by extending the lives of reactors - and probably constructing new ones - they will have more time to install the optimal renewable and alternative energy portfolio. THIS MAKES ALL THE SENSE IN THE WORLD TO ME. The greens are annoyed, but they are always annoyed when somebody figures out that the impossible cannot be made possible because they want it. The entire nuclear thing is one big circus.
And MIcheal, the South Koreans are going to construct reactors in the Emirates for 5 million they say. I'm betting that they can do it, because reactors are already being constructed for that price.
Jack Ellis 9.7.10
Harry, I would advise against building reactors larger than 500 or 600 MW for the simple reason that there are diseconomies of scale (if there is such a word) in the power business that are not captured by a simple busbar cost analysis. Even in a grid the size of France's, the loss of 3,000 MW due to any kind of outage is a significant event that requires some form of reserves.
Moreover, there's the problem of dispatch. A large reactor (or any other kind of base load plant) limits the grid operator's flexibility during low demand conditions. With or without renewables, most grids today need flexible plant more than they need base load plant, at least until someone comes up with storage technologies that are relatively cost-effective and can be sited quickly and easily. Big nuclear plants create problems in this respect that are difficult and expensive to solve. Smaller nuclear plants are less problematic because they can be more easily built to match demand growth. Better to pay somewhat more for smaller reactors that don't have the same impact on supply adequacy (at the time of peak).
Fred, if reactors can be built for $5,000/kW and operated at high (90+%) capacity factos, then I'd agree with your 9 cent figure. If one accepts the logic of a UC Berkeley physicist named Richard Muller, nuclear plants are far less dangerous than activists have led the public to believe (see "Physics for Future Presidents").
Michael Keller 9.7.10
I do not doubt that nuclear makes sense in areas of the world where fuel supplies are limited and the economics of nuclear power are more reasonable relative to alternatives. However, the US does have a number of fuel choices and, at the moment, new nuclear power plants are generally a poor investment in the US.
As to bringing nuclear costs down to levels achieved in China: essentially impossible in the US as our labor costs are significantly higher and construction labor costs account for very roughly 40% of the cost of the plant. The large amount of steel, concrete and equipment associated with nuclear power also allow only limited cost reduction potential, particularly in light of the mature nature of the technology.
Efforts are underway to develop smaller nuclear plants that are more modularized, thereby reducing costs. However, this flies in the face of “economies-of-scale” and likely results in plants even less likely to compete with the primary alternative, the combustion turbine power plant.
There may be cost reductions possibilities in the financing of new nuclear plants, but I believe utilities need to re-think their current approach. One method used in the past is the construction-work-in progress (CWIP), where electric rates are raised to pay for some of the work while the plant is being built. In effect, utilities obtain no-interest loans from ratepayers that are never paid back. That obviously does not sit well with consumers.
I believe CWIP might be more palatable if it is thought of as an equity investment in the plant by the ratepayer, with the utility accepting a significantly lower rate of return (perhaps zero) on their (the Utility’s) equity contribution until such time as the ratepayer’s investment is bought out by the Utility. In effect, the Utility is banking on higher levels of long term profitability. Given the +60 year lifetime of a nuclear power plant, I believe such an approach is reasonable. However, with the short-term mindset in the US, such an approach may be too much to expect.
Jim Beyer 9.7.10
I don't mean to sound crabby, but this whole nuclear vs. non-nuclear debate is mostly immaterial to the pending (and critical) problem of peak oil. And even the cost of electricity, for that matter. Electricity costs are now low due to the economic slowdown due to, well, peak oil. The problem of peak oil will hit us long before the issue of tight grid capacity will, or even the issues with global warming for that matter.
On the other hand, should we succeed in addressing some of the issues with peak oil by displacing oil use with electricity (via electric vehicles or PHEVs) I'm afraid some of the same grousers about the cost of solar/wind will grouse about the high cost of these vehicles.
Ironically, peak oil may hasten the resurgence of nuclear power not because of the electricity needed to charge EVs and PHEVs, but due to the impact of coal-to-fuel plants on coal supplies and thus the higher cost of burning coal. (Yes, I am in a dreary mood today indeed....)
Jason Marks 9.7.10
This article erroneously conflates the costs of power from existing plants with the cost of building new plants. (E.g, the Sweden vs. Norway comparison). Comparing the costs of electricity from existing plants will not serve as a proper basis for analyzing the costs of new power.
For example, here in the U.S., it's widely acknowledged that the existing nuclear fleet is our least cost source of power, in the range of $0.02/kwh. But the cost of the proposed next generation of U.S. nukes being permitted is well in excess of the costs of fossil fuel electricity or even some renewables at $0.14 and above. At these prices, a new nuclear plant can't compete with a new gas CC plant.
There may be factors that make new U.S. nuclear development more costly than new nuclear in Asia or Europe and change the analysis, but my central point is that you need to look at the cost of NEW plants, not compare existing portfolios.
Don Giegler 9.7.10
Might be worthwhile hearing again one of the comments in the string of "Some Economics of the Great Coal Game" :
Tis heartening to see some respondents looking toward DOE EIA annual statistics, even if selectively. One finds the EIA EPA 2008 summary of average power plant operating expenses for U.S. IOUs at: www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epat8p2.html. As has been the case in past years, the overwhelming advantages of hydroelectric and nuclear are apparent. What's missing, of course, is the criteria used by state regulatory agencies to evaluate utility strategy for recovery of new construction costs and the ultimate price per megawatt that assures regulators of fuel source competitiveness.
John Herron, president and CEO of Entergy Nuclear, gives us a sample of the industry's thoughts on this aspect in the July-August 2010 Nuclear Plant Journal: " When you look at natural gas being a little over four dollars right now, it's hard to make the business case to achieve the present value that we would want from new generation capacity. Net present value is a vital measure when evaluating the investment. ...Our view on the markets, both rate-regulated and wholesale, is that it's pretty bearish right now. The country has large supplies of natural gas and a huge supply of shale gas that's available. Additionally, the demand for electricity has come down due to overall economic conditions of the past couple of years. Even as the economy has started to recover - and we are seeing some recovery in our utility service territory - it is not to the point where we're seeing demand that would drive natural gas prices up. "
Such an outlook has caused Entergy to suspend two COLs for future use.
BTW, Herron also emphasizes the present w.r.t. the uncertainties of U.S. natural gas cost and U.S. regulatory stability. He is clear that there may be a need for new nuclear in the near future.
Jack Ellis 9.7.10
Jason, the $.02/kWh cost you cite is the plant's running cost. If the nuclear plant can be built for well below the cost of the last few that entered service in the US, Fred's $.09 figure is in the ballpark. At that point, it doesn't look quite so bad compared with gas and coal plants. Add more stringent emissions controls to a coal plant and the difference narrows some more. Carbon aside, the only coals plants I've ever been in that are even close to being clean are stoker-fired. Pulverized coal plants are awful - inside and out.
Being an engineer rather than an economist I might have this all wrong, but it seems to me markets don't do a good job of pricing long-term scarcity. If they did, we wouldn't be comparing nuclear plants with $5 gas.
It's entirely possible that clever folks will figure out how to build small reactors that don't require all of the infrastructure large ones currently do. When that happens, the price will fall dramatically.
bill payne 9.7.10
So where will the world nuclear industry obtain the uranium fuel for all these new reactors? That's a darn good question. Just in the US, annual uranium use for the nuclear power industry is about 55 million pounds. The US produces less than 4 million pounds of this fuel - about 7% - and imports the rest.
Ok, so you speculated that if any I-bankers ever read this stuff, the problem of financing the nukes would be over. Not so. As an investment banker (and former utility engineer), I can tell you why everyone is so reluctant to build nukes. The various permissions are problematic and revokable for unforeseeable political reasons.
It is the frequency and duration of the political interventions that absolutely DRIVE cost of power from a nuclear power plant. Since no one can provide an absolute OK to build to commissioning, the LEC is a crap shoot. No one wants to buy that kind of uncertainty and the most familiar and presumably easiest to permit designs are so large and costly that they weigh down the balance sheet of even the biggest utilities.
Thomas Conroy 9.7.10
Jason Marks, kudo's for your correct observation. The comparison of new power generation COE's to 30-to-40 year old fully depreciated nuclear plant costs is erroneous and disingenuous. In the US and most democracies, new nuclear plants are unlikely in the extreme to be commissioned for anything near those existing COE's...unless we write off tens of billions of CAPEX again as we did during the last nuclear building boom in the USA. Of course, those writeoff's would be in addition to the currently authorized US$54 billion of loan guarantees, that so far do not appear to be "enough" to kick start nuclear progress. Also note Areva's latest new reactor in Finland, completion for which is already 3 years behind and >US$2.1 billion (50%) over budget, with "further projections" not being provided. Hoping and wishing that public and stakeholder opposition will go away is wonderful, but not a realistic assumption for those who need to seriously plan future power strategies.
Don Hirschberg 9.8.10
This discussion of the cost of a kWh reminds me of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
Is electricity actually being fed into the grid commingling 2 cent kWh energy being with 80 cent kWh? That's unlike anything else on this planet now or ever.
In any sane business we expect costs to be known to 2 or 3 significant figures: Here we don't see even one significant figure.
Surely we could express cost of a kWh by giving two numbers: Say operating and fixed costs. Maybe the economists might want to sum three numbers.
Good grief when we rent a car it is so much per day plus so much per mile. See, we can handle two numbers.
H.S. Gopal 9.8.10
While reading the article, I got excatly the same thought as Jason Marks. Comaparing cost of generation from old and probably completely written down nuclear ractors with today's renewables is just not correct. Comparisons should be on what costs if the utility is built now. Further, no body has considred the cost of dismantling the nuclear reactor once its life is over. Also the cost of storing the hazardous nuclear wastes will be huge. We have borrowed this world from our Children. We should leave it to them with no hazzles. Therefore it is necessary for us to work on clean energy sources.
H.S.Gopala Krishna Murthy, Bangalore, India.
Adrian Lloyd 9.8.10
As Bob Amorosi says, “the solution to the nuclear problem …… is finding ways to finance their construction that is palatable to them and the public” to which I would also add the government, as I can see no way in which new nuclear build can occur without significant government involvement.
I agree with Fred’s 9c pr kWh, based on current claimed nuclear built costs, operating costs, the post-tax rates of return typically required by utilities and the average interest rates currently charged by banks for large long life infrastructure projects.
The trouble is that, as Bill Lemon points out, bankers (and utilities) see mountains of political risk associated with new build nuclear and liabilities (for the spent fuel and the decommissioned plant) that stretch out for decades beyond the end of the life of the plant.
The response of the utilities is to a) put very large contingencies into the build program, b) to include a premium during operation to cover fuel-waste management, decommissioning and after-care and c) increase their required rates of return.
The response of the bankers is a) to ask the utilities to increase the contingencies further (the logic is no more sophisticated than “if the utility has added this much we had better add some more to make sure”) and b) increase the interest rate required on the loans.
This last bit is particularly problematic; since fall 2008, banks have become totally mistrustful of each other (and with very good reason, there will be more bank failures to come in the next couple of years, particularly if/when the European commercial property loan market implodes). This means that nearly all large infrastructure loans are now based on “club deals” (rather than loans which are syndicated after financial close). In a club deal, the most risk adverse member of the club typically sets the interest rate (banks will protest that this is not the case, but in my experience that is what happens). My best guess is that the loan interest rate has to rise well above the rest of the infrastructure market in order to attract enough members to the club for a nuclear power plant deal.
The net result of all this is that IMO the sales price of electricity will need to be significantly higher than 9c per kWh (12c to 14c?) for a nuclear power plant to be financeable in the current banking market.
Adrian Lloyd 9.8.10
As I don’t see market prices reaching this level anytime soon, the only logical conclusion is that government intervention is required. This could be through
a) subsidies (but IMO these are politically unacceptable as they would not reduce the financial risk profile and therefore government would effectively be handing tax-payers money to banks and utilities at a time when the coffers are empty, thanks in part to the banks)
b) a national nuclear portfolio along the lines of the state renewables portfolio programs, which effectively would mean that consumers nationally would fund the new build (similar effect to what Michael Keller proposes with his CWIP in that it would raise consumer’s bills now in return for lower prices in the future but would still enrich banks at consumers’ expense as it would not reduce the risk profile)
c) the government building the required nuclear plant itself as happens in China and in France (through state owned utility EdF). This would increase government debt and no doubt would have the utilities screaming (as they would in future be competing with the government utility so created as well as each other, although of course once built the government could privatize them)
d) strengthening of the government’s loan guarantee program (which may be more politically acceptable, which will reduce the risk profile leading to lower finance costs but which will leave the government with a contingent liability that, if required to be shown on the balance sheet, would increase the size of government debt)
e) changing the permitting regime so that once a plant has been through the approval process it is bullet proof from further challenge
f) changing the way that electricity is sold, through the creation of a number of “pools” through which all generation has to be sold and from which all generation is centrally dispatched (pool systems generally benefit nuclear power as it enables them to operate in pure base-load mode and increase operational efficiency, removing the problem that Jack Ellis identifies).
Of the above, IMO and in an ideal world, the government would do a combination of d), e) and f), however given the scale of the legislation reforms that would be required to achieve that, I think the probability of it ever occurring is very low. My conclusion therefore is that only d) is achievable.
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.8.10
Where did all the comments suddenly come from?
Anyway, I'm not concerned with present history. The most intelligent politician in Sweden is a woman with the environmental party. Her arguments against nuclear are pathetic. And I'm sure that it is like that in many countries and regions. That kind of thing doesn't interest me. When the first oil price shock came along, the Swedes stoped their ignorant chatter about the THIRD WORLD and constructed 12 reactors in 13-14 years. If the firm ASEA hadn't mostly left the country, they could do the same thing again. And the plan in this country was to build a million apartments in the l960s. All the bankers said that it couldn't be done, and some of those were very intelligent men, but they constructed slightly more than a million, and that was the end of those charming slums..The population of this country at that time was less than 8 million.
The Finnish reactor is 3 years over the 5 years that it was supposed to take to obtain those 1600 MW. What happened - they want two more. They want two more because they want energy independence.
In 3 years the US constructed a navy the size of all the other navies in the world.during WW2. That they could do that and cant construct a few nukes is something that I'm not ready to accept - although I could be wrong. I don't expect anything of academic economists in the US - many of them are dumber than their dumest students - but I'm amazed that American engineers can be so pessimistic. I guess that the Chinese are going to have to take it all, and sooner rather than later.
Len Gould 9.8.10
Certainly most of the cost-per-kwh figures being discussed here are well below present-day new-build cost-per-kwh for present-technology solar thermal baseload generation. AND solar thermal with storage has the advantages of a) construction in small increments b) peak output during peak demand c) significant potential to greatly reduce its cost in the near future.
Its simply no contest. And yes, solar-thermal will work in eastern and moderately northern climates (eg. populated Canada). Ontario gets nearly 80% the insolation of Arizona and significantly more than any place in Germany, the present leader in PV installs. Once utilities and IC's figure this solar-thermal thing out (man they're slow though) the discussions above go moot for N. America.
Bob Amorosi 9.8.10
Thank-you for your tremendous insight into infrastructure financing of nuclear plants, and especially for your list of suggestions on how to possibly overcome the barriers. Very informative. There are clearly many deciding factors that evolve over time for building new nuclear plants, especially government policies, financial market investment climates, and utility company strategies.
Too bad Dr. Banks didn't write your comments as I had originally requested. He seems far more interested in saying anything is possible if you only look at what grand-scale projects were done in the past.
Christopher Noble 9.8.10
There is sometimes a huge difference between variable cost and total cost, which in the case of energy includes waste remediation, the opportunity cost of non-renewable resources, and the long-term cost of environmental degradation.
Making arguments on the basis of variable costs is a classic example of substituting precision for accuracy.
Len Gould 9.8.10
Sorry, i meant that to read "well above present-day new-build cost-per-kwh for present-technology solar thermal "
Adrian Lloyd 9.8.10
I guess the holiday period has given some of us a bit of time to actually post comments instead of just scanning Energy Pulse!
I don’t think people are being pessimistic, they are just being realistic about trying to get new nuclear build in the democracy that is the US today.
I have no doubt that the US government and industry are capable of matching the scale of the achievements in WW2 to roll out nuclear power, provided that the electorate could be persuaded that it was in the national interest to do so. IMO the trouble is that there is no clear cut argument accepted by the overwhelming majority that new nuclear power is in their (and the nation’s) interest.
68 years ago there was national consensus about where the national interest lay. There were no successful legal challenges to the yards and factories that built the ships and tanks. The people did not let the casualty rate deter them, and they did not seem to care that the war effort was putting an already financially troubled nation deeper into debt. They just wanted to get the job of winning the war done.
Roll forward to today and there is no consensus as to what the job is, let alone how it should be tackled. The people are being told by many commentators (including many nuclear advocates) that AGW is bogus, so the “environmental” argument in favor of nuclear power doesn’t hold water with a large proportion of the population. The people are also being told that there is enough natural gas (conventional or otherwise) and coal to keep the nation’s lights on, so the future energy shortage argument is not very persuasive either. And many of the people who do believe in AGW believe that renewables should be developed before any more nuclear plant are built (as we have seen in this forum many times). If you then tell the people that they are going to have to pay higher taxes and/or rates in order to pay for the new nuclear plant, I could see the majority of the population not being in favor (even if they are not actively opposed to nuclear power).
My guess is that most politicians do the same math and then decide it is in their (the politicians) interest to take the position of “yes, but not yet”. It is part of the price we pay for living in an irrational democracy, but which nevertheless is worth paying if the alternative is living in a rational dictatorship like China. However, if someone produced a nuke that could fit under the hood of a vehicle and freed America from dependence on middle eastern oil , I could envisage an altogether different outcome.
Michael Keller 9.8.10
According to the NETL, the average incident solar radiation in Detroit is 139 Wh/m^2 while that in Phoenix is 287 Wh/m^2. At best, Ontario has about 48% of the incident radiation of Arizona.
The economics of solar energy in Ontario, Canada are hideous, at best.
Jack Ellis 9.8.10
Christopher, current variable costs for nuclear plants are in the range of two cents. the 9 cent number floated by Fred includes variable costs and an amount to amortize the fixed costs.
Adrian, I don't care how big the pool is, the economy of scale argument has been bankrupt since the 1980s. Any power plant larger than around 600 MW has a disproportionate impact on the amount of capacity that must be held in reserve. Building a larger plant in order to save a few percent on busbar costs is false economy.
While I can agree that we ought to be building more nuclear plants, I don't think nuclear power or any other single technology is a silver bullet. Nuclear power is a poor choice for peaking duty, just as gas-fired generation is a poor choice for base load duty (for reasons other than short-run costs). Coal is cheap for a reason - it's probably the most noxious way to produce electricity one could imagine.
Notice, by the way, that I never mentioned carbon. Not once.
Don Hirschberg 9.8.10
H. S. Gopal wrote: “We have borrowed this world from our Children. We should leave it to them with no hazzles. Therefore it is necessary for us to work on clean energy sources.” Who can argue with that?
Let’s look at India’s dilemma. While Indians on average produce little CO2 hundreds of millions have neither electricity nor the use of a sanitary toilet. Yet India produces a great amount of CO2. And India accounts for more of the annual world population growth than any other country. India’s population is projected to exceed China’s in only a few years.
All I seem to see in the news is about green projects. So what is reality?: Not only is India the 3rd biggest producer of coal but she is also the 4th biggest importer of coal. India makes 69% of its electricity from coal – only five other countries make a higher percentage.
India is building many new coal-burning power stations, opening new mines and is making long term agreements in other countries to get more coal. Despite the green rhetoric India clearly knows its future depends on more, not less coal.
It took mankind >million years to reach a population of 1 billion circa 1830, about the time my great-grandparents were born – and then only because the steam engine needed coal. India’s population zoomed through a billion ten years ago with no fanfare and is now about 1.2 billion.
Michael Keller 9.8.10
A combined-cycle combustion turbine power plant has no problem running in a base-load configuration and can make a good profit at night if the price of power is high enough. Because a combined-cycle plant can reduce load in a reasonably efficient manner, the plants are backed-off at night when the demand for power drops, as dictated by economics. Nuclear plants are not very good at responding to fluctuating grid demands for technical reasons associated with they way the plants were designed.
Economies of scale are, in fact, in play today. Combined-cycle plants of +800 MW(e) output are more cost effective than smaller units. That is why the manufacturers of combustion turbines make them bigger, witness the big "G" and "J" machines.
The US (and European) grids can and do accommodate the loss of large +1000 MW(e) power plants. The emerging problem for the grid is the erratic nature of renewable power, not the loss of a big power plant.
Bob Amorosi 9.8.10
Your long-standing argument on this website is “excessive” population is the real problem at the root of many energy or other world problems, perceived or real. Well in the US “excess” population is being cruelly dealt with quite effectively.
The economic crisis that started with the recession in 2008, and the past decades of lost manufacturing industries and emerging overseas competition has resulted in the now persistent unemployment of nearly 10% in the US. That's a staggering 30 million people or so, equivalent to nearly the entire population of Canada! The majority of them are willing to work but cannot find any except for low-paid temporary jobs most of the time.
Something like 2 million US homes are also presently facing foreclosure by the banks as another consequence. In essence millions of US citizens are being marginalized from society, destined to be poor unless some miraculous economic magic starts creating hundreds of thousands of jobs per month for them.
This scenario is surely going to lead to unspeakable levels of social problems, and also lower the country’s birth rates even further (since the unemployed with any common sense know they cannot afford to raise families). Another consequence will be that the US will not be able to afford as many new expensive infrastructure projects, such as large nuclear plants, new roads and bridges and highways, etc., and overall demand growth for energy will be reduced.
My other point here is…. so what if nuclear is a potentially low-cost energy source, it won’t matter if the country can’t afford to build them or doesn’t have the demand growth that accompanies growing populations.
So Don, the solution to “excess population” is to practice US economic policies since they ultimately have a habit of removing large swaths of population from society, eventually.
Bob Amorosi 9.8.10
The only hope for the US, in my humble opinion, to build many new nuclear plants, and to save the millions of unemployed, is for the Obama administration to continue to borrow huge sums of money from foreign creditors and implement what Obama recently told the TV audience - put people back to work building infrastructure all across the US. Sure it will add massively to the already huge public debt, but this is what as Adrian points out was done very effectively in WW2. It can work as long as foreign creditors are still willing to lend the US money.
Adrian Lloyd 9.8.10
I'm pleased I was able to add something to the debate, however I don't know if the insight I offered is so much "tremendous" as "battle-scarred" - the financial markets remain very fragile and it is very, very much harder to raise long term infrastructure capital today than it was before 2008. Unfortunately this has coincided with the point at which we need to start building nukes if they are to be online by 2018 (which is when I think we will need them looking future supply and demand projections).
Just to give you an insight of how hard it is, some time ago my colleagues and I were trying to arrange a loan for a new (conventional) power plant. As part of their due diligence, the banks’ lawyers were asking questions about possible operational risks, including "can you think of anything that could cause the power to stop flowing down the transmission line to the grid". One of my colleagues was bored by their lack of understanding and decided to have a bit of fun at their expense by sarcastically replying “yes, the approach of a black hole”. The rest of us found this very amusing until we were asked by the bank, in all seriousness, to produce a report describing the probability to this event occurring, the possible consequences, and the estimated time and cost required to rectify the situation.
I am of the opinion that it will be possible to finance new nuclear power plant, it is just that it is going to be very hard and I don’t know how long it will take. But my instinct tells me that if the government doesn’t get properly involved, it could take a very long time.
Where I may part company with you is with the neo-Keynesian idea that it is possible for the US (or any country) to spend itself out of a recession when that recession has been caused by a the collapse of a classic credit-fuelled asset bubble. It’s the financial equivalent of getting drunk again to cure a hangover. However, as this is an energy forum rather than an economics forum, I shall not reignite here the battle that has been raging on financial blogs for the last two years.
Adrian Lloyd 9.8.10
I am aware of the consequences that large units have on the requirement for spinning reserve to avoid brown-outs following the failure of the largest unit generating at any given time (I used to be an engineer before I became a usurer).
I disagree with your hard and fast 600 MW figure – the actual amount of spinning reserve required also depends on the overall size of the grid (in geographical terms, in terms of load flows and in terms of capacitance), transmission stabilization methodologies (i.e. voltage and frequency regulation), the amount and type of fault protection employed, the amount of storage hydro available and (to a lesser extent) the amount of open cycle peaking plant available to the system operator. As Michael has pointed out, various countries quite happily accommodate units larger than 1000 MW. To illustrate this the French, who have high levels of storage hydro and the highest usage of nuclear power in the world, will use the 1650 MW Areva/Siemens/EdF EPR unit for all future planned nuclear power stations. They do not see spinning reserve as a problem. Likewise, the 1100 MW CANDU 1000 unit is finding a market. The benefits of the scale do outweigh the additional reserve costs.
But I think that as far as financing new nuclear plant goes, the two points that you are missing are that
a) where the system demands smaller units, it is possible to build several smaller units in a single power station and still achieve significant costs savings
b) the costs imposed by the unit size on the system are only of relevance in so far as they affect transmission charging. Putting it bluntly, if the costs of spinning reserve on the system are mutualized as they are in most countries, why should financiers care? (and they don’t).
I agree totally with you that nuclear is not the silver bullet. It can never be the only answer, but it should be a part of the complete answer.
The point I was making about pool based markets with central dispatch was not to do with the spinning reserve issue but to do with enabling nuclear plant to run as base load to achive higher capacities and therefore lower operational costs. This is achieved by the fact that all demand is aggregated to produce a system baseload, which is typically much greater than the sum of individual baseload demand. In markets where generators self-dispatch I calculate that no more than 15% of total demand can be supplied by nuclear before some or all of the nukes have to become load following for some of the time. In pool type markets, I calculate that between 20% and 25% of total demand can be supplied by nuclear before some nukes have to become load following for part of the time (it does of course depend on the characteristics of the demand supplied by the pool). This should translate into a large costs saving.
Michael Keller 9.8.10
We are in the process of voting out the socialists (aka Democrats). We'll be fine once we run them out of town on a rail and hack the government down to a proper size. Personally, I’d like to tar-and-feather them as well, but that has been out of favor for quite some time.
Kenneth Kok 9.8.10
The primary argument I hear from you is related to uranium supply and the future of nuclear energy for producing electricity. Current data published by the OECD, the NEA, and the IAEA indicate that the assured resources of uranium available for less than $130 per kilogram of refined uranium are on the order of 5,468,000 MT. The additional estimated supply is on the order of 10,000,000 MT at a higher extraction cost. There is also about 22,000,000 MT available from phosphate deposits and about 4,000,000,000 MT available in sea water. The recovery of uranium from phosphate deposits and the recovery of uranium from sea water are proven technologies. It is also estimated that the amount of thorium available in the biosphere is 4 times larger than the amount of uranium.
What do these numbers imply? Based on the current once through fuel cycle; we will only use 5 percent of 0.7 percent of the material as fuel. Using the 5,468,000 MT, this gives us 1,914 MT of U235 to burn. The thermal energy available from burning uranium is 1 MWD/gm, 0.082 QUADs/MT or 0.074 QUADs/ton. The yield from 1,914 MT is about 157 QUADs. Therefore the amount of energy available is limited as many want to claim. This is truly an inefficient use of a resource. However, if we use a fuel cycle that includes fuel reprocessing and fast spectrum reactors the total amount of uranium available is the 5,468,000 MT which will yield about 450,000 QUADs.
Another interesting fact is the depleted uranium stock pile that the US DOE has today. It is estimated to be between 700,000 and 1,400,000 tons. This material is currently stored as UF6 at Portsmouth, OH and Paducah, KY. The DOE is planning on disposing of this material by shallow land burial after converting it back to uranium oxide. The energy content of this material is 52,000 to 104,000 QUADs. Remember the total energy use of the US is on the order of 100 QUADs/yr.
The implication that a looming shortage of uranium leading to the decline of useful nuclear power is misleading because of the amount of uranium in the biosphere and the fuel cycle technology applied to its use. No new discoveries are required since both the recycle of used fuel and the use of fast spectrum reactors are proven technologies.
Bob Amorosi 9.8.10
If there are other viable solutions to the economic crisis, and to funding the construction of many new nuclear plants, I would be all for them since none of us really relishes the idea of the feds getting into massively higher debt levels if they can be avoided. I just hope any other solutions don't take too long to implement. The 30+ million unemployed might starve while we wait for them.
Good luck Michael and to those of you in the process of voting out the socialists. When the social problems of 30+ million unemployed rear their ugly heads in the coming years, I hope for your sake you guys vote in something better. The alternative, the neo-conservatives as I think you call them, were the ones in power (for the last how many years?) in Washington as the crisis slowly developed and finally unfolded with the bursting bubble.
Jack Ellis 9.8.10
Adrian Lloyd wrote, "I calculate that between 20% and 25% of total demand can be supplied by nuclear before some nukes have to become load following for part of the time"
We're pretty close to that point now, with around 20% of all electric production coming from nuclear.
I guess we'll have to disagree on the single unit size issue. It's not the amount of contingency (spinning) reserves that would concern me. It's installed reserves. In my experience, the supply reliability impact of large generating plants has rarely considered, if it ever was. Planners use reserve margins because they're easier to explain to regulators, but statistical measures like loss-of-load probability or expected unserved energy are more appropriate metrics because they account for the impact of one or more supply resources that are substantially larger than average.
I agree completely that it makes sense to cluster several reactors at a single site, but not too many. Even if it costs a bit more, having generation spread around makes the grid less vulnerable to a single "event". So does having generation located close to load, but that method of assuring supply security is no longer available.
I'd be curious to know how busbar costs and plant availability vary with size for nuclear plants.
Don Hirschberg 9.8.10
I despair of undertaking the daunting job of commenting on much false and misleading information recently posted about the US. However, since it has been mentioned more than once today, and because it involves no controversy and because it is so easy to correct – the number of US unemployed was 14.9 million (9.6%) in the September 3rd report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not 30 million.
Considering that these are bad economic conditions, and considering the difficulties the US has to employ two large minorities, compared to Europe the US is doing quite well. Blended into the US rate is Black unemployment at 16.3% and Hispanic 12.0%. It is a little ironic that millions of illegal immigrants are here because they could find better work and benefits than they could at home.
Neither the media nor politicians will touch this subject, even recognize it exists – there is no pc word for it- the Black minority problem.
Today 33% of young Black Americans (18-34?) are in jail, on probation, on parole or under court supervision of some kind. (These are only the ones who got convicted.) Here is what George Will had to say a few days ago: But America's tragic number -- tragic because it is difficult to conceive remedial policies -- is 70 percent. This is the portion of African American children born to unmarried women. It may explain what puzzles Nathan Glazer. More than 60 percent of black high school dropouts born since the mid-1960s go to prison.” George Will 8/29/10 Remember in the ‘60s the last vestiges of legal impediments to Blacks had been removed. Until the 60s steady progress had been made. Alas, since then it has all been downhill. The test scores of Black children are abysmal. In general the highest school expenditures and the lowest class sizes(as in large cities) correlate with the poorest student performance. It is not getting better
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.9.10
Thanks Kenneth Kok. Those numbers of yours are valuable, and the point is to see that they are circulated to the movers and shakers - assuming that they can read.
Michael Keller, so Democrats are socialists. Well, fortunately they have a Muslim president to do their bidding. As for Don H., I seem to remember Richard Widmark saying in a film, "what the point of being in a war and not learning anything from it", or something like that.
They don't know how to run the schools in the US - that's where the problem is. They haven't learned anything from the wars - of which the US has had more than any civilized country. When I worked in Singapore I lived across from a school. Every morning they sang somebody's national anthem IN MALAY. The day should begin in every American school with the pledge of allegiance to the flag, and the singing of the national anthem. Mandatory for all citizens. The day should end with prayers for those who want prayers. Oddball clothing is out, students help to keep the school spotless, etc etc. Something like the barracks, except for some of the language of course.
Len Gould 9.9.10
Don. Those are some terrible stats. In my occasional hobnobbing up and down the social ladder i've concluded that the only thing that explains them is inexplicit (ie. no-legal-recourse) discrimination. It's tough enough in this society we've constructed, especially in the US, for a child from a poor family to get a start. Throw in then a decade of being scorned or worse shunned at school simply for race, then a few bad employment experiences... It is also my opinion that the problem of single motherhood MUST NOT be resolved by starving the mothers and children, no matter what else you choose to try. Smart would be to hire the mothers to group together in childcare while the willing get educated. I personally know of one young black single mother who's amdition in life is to be a pediatrician. She's got the smarts (and the school grades) but no financing or family help. IMHO unfortunately she'll be licky to make it to nursing school.
Bob Amorosi 9.9.10
I believe your numbers for the plight of blacks in the US, and it's shocking as no one would have easily expected in recent decades that the US could manage to create such a tragedy.
However, the present 30+ million unemployed I continue to harp on I'm sure include a large portion of whites and Asians in addition to blacks. These include not just factory laborers or hamburger flippers either, since I'll bet there are many thousands of managerial and professional types that have lost high-paying jobs too. The latter is also partly responsible for the steadily declining numbers of young people choosing to enter science and engineering schools. There are simply fewer and fewer good paying jobs in these disciplines being created in America for them to go to when they graduate, and kids know it.
I like Len’s suggestion of putting all the single mom’s to work in childcare or in schools for those willing to learn. The big question is who would pay for this if it didn’t come from public coffers.
Don Hirschberg 9.9.10
“It is also my opinion that the problem of single motherhood MUST NOT be resolved by starving the mothers and children, no matter what else you choose to try.” (Snide and patronizing.)
Go to a supermarket in a Black neighborhood. You will see fat and often grossly obese women and lots of fat children. They will often have two carts. One for food stamp eligible stuff and one for non-eligible stuff such as frozen lobster and cigarettes. (One day I was at the egg bin. The store was having a loss-leader on extra large eggs for, say, 29 cents. The black woman next to me took a couple dozen jumbo eggs. When I pointed out the special price on the extra large eggs she said, “We like the jumbos.” It so happened I was behind her at the checkout counter and she paid with food stamps. Trivial case, sure, but I have been observing stupid to outright anti social behavior for decades.
Generations of sociologists and educationalists and enlightened, sincere do-gooders have tried almost everything that can be imagined. Nothing has worked. When I heard of Project Headstart I said “this has to work.” It didn’t. By third grade the headstarters could not be told from their nonparticipating peers. And to make matters worse there was an attempt to keep this data hidden.
I can’t put my hands on the data right now but I saw data on illegitamacy about in 1905. Both whites and Blacks had very low rates – something like 2 - 4%. Remember there was no pill and abortion was a serious crime and amateur abortions very dangerous.
“I personally know of one young black single mother who's amdition in life is to be a pediatrician. She's got the smarts (and the school grades) but no financing or family help.”
It is generally thought that an IQ of about 115 is required (among other things) to become a MD, engineer, lawyer, commissioned office, or CPA. This means only about 16% of Caucasians and about 3% of Blacks qualify. I know, I know, there are exceptions. But with a 6 ½ shoe size, small hands, and a29 inch inseam I could never quite make the team in any sport. Someone should have told me early- on I didn’t qualify.
Len Gould 9.9.10
Hmmm. I have an observation, you counter with an observation. All I can say about the ones you've offered Don is "Perhaps it would be wise also to put some of those single mothers to work learning then teaching healthy nutrition and finance management". Though I agree that the single mother problem happens disproportionately among blacks, I recommend looking deeper than skin colour for the causes.
Len Gould 9.9.10
Nd i'm quite sure the 115 IQ requirement is there (IMHO by a long shot) , as are the 90+% marks from senior year catholic highschool Canada and the work ethic. However, there is clearly a deeper problem to do with peer pressure, family values, bans on birth control systems etc. etc. Studies also indicate that young inner-city black men place disproportionate esteem value on "getting as many girls as possible pregnant". We should be giving them cars to dote over like all the other young male teens.
Graham Cowan 9.9.10
Kenneth Kok's numbers --
Based on the current once through fuel cycle; we will only use 5 percent of 0.7 percent of the material as fuel. Using the 5,468,000 MT, this gives us 1,914 MT of U235 to burn. The thermal energy available from burning uranium is 1 MWD/gm ...
are valuable-ish, but in the above case, wrong. First, if the energy units are MWD, megawatt-days, the mass units should be kg, not "gm".
Next, the current once-through fuel cycle uses effectively 100 percent of the 0.7 percent of mined uranium that is 235. (If the fuel gets enriched, the enrichment tailings, aka depleted uranium, still contain some 235, and in all cases so does the spent fuel, but during the spending enough 238 is converted and burned to make up for that.)
So the thermal energy is, not 1, but 7 megawatt-days per kilogram.
Current data published by the OECD, the NEA, and the IAEA indicate that the assured resources of uranium available for less than $130 per kilogram of refined uranium are on the order of 5,468,000 MT.
That's a time-varying estimate. Between the 2005 "Red Book" and the 2007 one, it increased by about 1000 tonnes per day, and between the 2007 and 2009 ones, the increase was 1144 tonnes per day.
This is especially encouraging in light of the fact that petroleum, which is being burned at a rate on the order of 800 tonnes-U-equivalent per day, costs about $8000 per kg-U-equivalent.
Don, at the present time, two things impress me in life: The greed of the rich, and the stupidity of the well educated. Things don't have to be the way that they are now, particularly in the Big PX, but the voters don't know that. I'm not satisfied with Mr Obama, because he isn't doing what I want him to do, and as things stand today I'll probably have to refrain from voting, because I'm not ready to believe that the security of the US depends on moving a fifteenth century country into the sixteenth century.
Bob Amorosi 9.10.10
Canadian Candu reactors have evolved over decades to the point of becoming one of a very small club of players as nuclear generation technologies. If the US and Canada refuse to build all the new nuclear plants we need for the future mainly because our policymakers believe they are too costly to build, but China and other overseas countries are buying reactors instead, in my opinion Canada should be very aggressively selling our Candu reactors to them. In any engineering and manufacturing operation there is no better way to get your products' costs down than by producing them in numbers, since the profits from this activity can be re-invested in refining their design and their production methods to lower costs.
Canada has developed and nurtured its Candu reactor technology now for decades using a lot of public money to do so along the way, under its crown-owned corporation the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). In spite the growing overseas market for reactors, our present conservative Canadian government under prime minister Stephen Harper has been in the process of "privatizing", read selling off AECL this year to foreigners because they apparently don't believe it's worth keeping in Canadian ownership.
Either our Canadian government doesn't believe nuclear has a promising future, or they are very foolish to say the least. Since you are unhappy with the Obama government in the US, there are probably many in Canada who feel the same way about our Canadian government for all the same reasons and more.
Len Gould 9.10.10
Bob, the only reason the western oil province-based conservative are selling off AECL is because they're western oil province-based. I go with your "very foolish to say the least". Harper's likely to go into history as another Avro Arrow cutting Diefenbaker-nutbar.
Bob Amorosi 9.10.10
Len, I was thinking of the Avro Arrow too when I wrote this today. I forgot Haperites came from western Canada, so you're probably very correct as usual. I like your "nutbar" reference, and so should Fred since it fits nicely what he and others would likely call some in Obama's government (I'll bet Fred thinks Chu is a one of their nutbars).
Kenneth Kok 9.10.10
The number is 1 gram per megawatt day. I ran a research reactor for several years in the 60' and 70's and that was the value we used to calculate the amount of U235 that was fissioned. Our final accounting after the reactor was shut down and all the fuel reprocessed was in error by less that 0.1% over 19 years of operation.
Graham Cowan 9.10.10
... The number is 1 gram per megawatt day ...
I agree with that. I must have misread the earlier message, thinking it referred to energy per gram of mined U rather than of 235-U.
Bob, this thing about reactors is amazing. The Chinese are making fools out of ______, because they are smart enough to know what works and doesn't work, and as a result they don't need a lot of talking and thinking about these things. If you have a sense of history, it all began when they stopped our advance in Korea.
Everywhere I turn I see examples of the stupidity of the highly educated, and this is just another trivial example. Of course we are going to need a lot of renewables and alternatives, but the right/optimal mix of renewables and alternatives. Who is going to decide what is the right mix? Well, it's not going to be me - I don't know anything about those items, nor am I interested. But there are plenty of engineers and scientists who do. Where are thos people? They are evidently not in the USDOE, although they should be there, and working day and night to get the right message out.
Newsweek chose Finland as the Oscar winner this year, with Switzerland and Sweden as runners up. Actually Switzerland is first and Finland and Sweden are in the top ten. But one thing the Finns know: energy is not just important, but very important. So they are going for Gen 3 reactors in a big way. Too expensive - ask them in 40 years when there are 4 billion more people on this old earth of ours, and only enough fossil fuels left to light the lamps of Park Avenue and Beveraly Hills.
Don Hirschberg 9.12.10
Professor, yes, all it would take for an increase of 4 billion people in forty years is a continuation of the current rate of increase at 1.3%. 7x10^9x1.013^40=11.7x10^9 in 40 year, actually an increase of about 4.7 billion from today.
Forty years is one hell-of-a-long time, particularly for one who has already defied the actuary tables. I was born into a world of fewer than 2 billion, at that time by far higher than ever before since we walked upright on two legs.. Now we can talk about an increase of 4 billion. It blows my mind. I wish I could see this out as I'd bet we never get there.
As for the Korean War, my war, I'd call it a military success for the US. Our kill ratio of Red Chinese was obscene, those poor bastards. Political success? I don't know. We still have troops in Korea. South Korea has been an incredible success.
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.12.10
My position is and always has been the the U.S. has never lost a war, and that includes Korea and Vietnam. What happened in Korea was that the Chinese stopped our advance, and it was correctly decided by President (General) Eisenhower that it was a waste of time and resources to continue that project, Incidentally, I voted for Eisenhower, although he was a Republican. Eisenhower was also against becoming involved in Vietnam.
Of course, something to remember is that the US is the only civilized country in the world to have had a war every generation since its inception. Now we have two, which is totally and completely insane, but perfectly logical: the US has, as you may know, consecutively elected three presidents - Clinton, Bush, and apparently now Obama - who have made the kind of mistakes that, in theory at least, American presidents should never make. And we might get worse.
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.12.10
One more thing Don. In one of my first books 'Scarcity, Energy and Economic Progress', published in l977, I said that if something was not done about population growth, we were going to be in a lot of trouble.
There is a site called Master Resource that occasionally sent articles to me, which I sometimes commented on. But I haven't gotten anything lately. The reason is that I made it clear to them that their ignorance and stupidity in the matter of population was absolutely unacceptable. One of their heroes for example was Julian Simon, who believed that the more people the better, because then you have more brains for solving problems. Imagine brains like Bill Clinton and George Bush solving problems. Clinton for example was too stupid to understand that if he had spent a couple of billion dollars a month for medicines for children in Iraq, Mr Obama would not have to make a fool of himself challenging Al Qaeda.
Len Gould 9.12.10
Agreed Fred, that would certainly have been the cheapest and simplest way to stop Al Qauda cold. Too logical for present world strategiic "thinkers" though I guess.
Warren Reynolds 9.12.10
Prof. Banls: C'mon get REAL. Let me put the last nail in nuclear power's coffin.
As an ex-nuclear engineer for GE, I want you to etch this in your memory: Nuclear Power is dead in the U.S.! It is not competitive at $ 0.15 per kilowatt. The Government subsidy brings that down to around $0.10 per kilowatt.
It is not well known but each nuclear reactor puts out hundreds of curies of radioactive Kr85, Tritium and Xe133 gases into the atmosphere each year. The Xe133 decays within a year to radioactive iodine. This eventually falls to the ground into plants and our thyroids. Let us inspect nuclear power's "dirty past". As recently as the 1970's, there was almost universal agreement on the notion that nuclear power was the energy source of the future. This high technology power generator was seen as the inevitable replacement for fossil fuels. Thousands of nuclear reactors, with generating capacities as high as 4,000 gigawatts were projected worldwide by the year 2000 according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The 1980's witnessed a virtual worldwide collapse of orders for new nuclear power plants. The previous 10 years had been marked by frequent technical mishaps, serious accidents, huge cost escalations, and a rapid decline in public acceptance of nuclear power. Electricity planners were beginning to favor faster and cheaper efficiency improvements over commitments to massive centralized nuclear power stations. Today, nuclear power has fallen far short of expectations. Just 343 gigawatts of nuclear power are actually in use which is 1/10th the amount expected. Currently, this is about 17% of the world's electrical demand. Now, worldwide only 9 nuclear reactors remain under active construction while a growing number of aging reactors are retired. These massive centralized units are now "dinosaurs" that will cost $billions for the public to phase them out. The reasons for the collapse of nuclear power systems include: (1) Safety problems, (2) Inability to dispose of nuclear waste, (3) The potential uncontrolled proliferation of fissile materials in the hands of terrorists. (4) Highest cost for generating electricity (15 cents/kWhr) of all fossil fuels and all of the renewable energy sources. (5) During the period 1985-2007, there was a huge cost escalation from $1.1 billion for a 1,000 Mwe reactor to more than $9 billion for the same size nuclear plant (6) It takes almost 10 years for permitting and plant construction. There have been 3 cases I know of where the commercial nuclear siting committee had held "town hall" meetings in 3 cities in Alabama and N. Carolina. In each case, the committee was told to "get out of town" that we do not want nuclear power plants near us. Not In My Backyard (NIMBY). This is happening all over the U.S. So nuclear is dead. In the late '80s and early '90's, The Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, the Monju breeder (Sea of Japan) and Ural Mountains nuclear incidents led the death knell of the nuclear industry. Downwind of the Chernobyl incident, the childhood cancers are three times the average ! As serious as these problems are, they are secondary to a more fundamental failure of nuclear energy to establish itself as an economically competitive means of generating electricity. By taking into account the cost of uranium mining, processing, conversion to nuclear power rods, and waste disposal, there is only a net 3% margin over cost. However, with the Government subsidies, it is a little more profitable for the nuclear power companies. My company is building the world's largest 24/7 solar-hydrogen power plant near San Diego. It costs less than 25% of the nuclear power construction costs and the permitting time is less than one year. So, Ferdinand go figure. Dr. Warren Reynolds, CEO Eco-Engineers Corporation
Don Giegler 9.12.10
If you hurry, you can sign up for llinois Institute of Technology's internet-based course on radiation fundamentals. It starts tomorrow at www.radiationtraining. com. Understand they might have a follow-on covering nuclear power plant operating license extensions and the economics of electric generation. Sounds like information CEOs of solar-hydrogen power plants could well profit from. Might also aid digestion of coffin nails!
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.13.10
I'm certainly not going to say that you're wrong. Unfortuntely though I know what nuclear has meant to Sweden, and will mean to Finland. I studied math at the engineering school in Stockholm for a semester, and boxed there for a few years, and among other things I found out that Swedish engineers are very very smart, and they know it, but unlike some of us they keep that knowledge to themselves until the grog starts flowing, and then they tell you exactly what they think about the lesser breeds.
I will never believe that what is done in the Sweden and Finland, and also in France, cannot be done in the United States of America. The problem in the US is not an engineering or a scientific problem, but a cultural problem. There is too much freedom in that country - freedom to soak up and bask in lies. In addition the border is not open enough - it should be opened in a manner that the degenerates in the US media find themselves on the outside looking in.
Going to Illinois Institute of Technology. I was there Don. I got the boot from there once in fact, and I' would sign up for their internet course too if there was a chance of my getting the boot from that too.
Don Hirschberg 9.13.10
I will accept that both Warren Reynolds and Professor Banks are both men of good will.
I am glad that Warren has become a Pulser. He has the credentials. Welcome.
When I got to visit the first Commonwealth Edition nuke one evening (Braidwood) with a group of engineers I was delighted. There was this wild talk about electricity would not even need to be metered. (Even then engineers did not believe that kinda stuff.)
We, at least I, didn't know how serious was the problem of nuclear "waste." Our tour guide, an engineer, was more interested in future fusion than fission. And this was a very long time ago,.
I can hear the groans already, but our problem on this planet is too many people.
Len Gould 9.13.10
Warren: Any "real" reference on that $0.15 / kwh for nuclear energy? I suppose it could be possible on peak periods in an open market, but in that case you pervaricate by failing to mention that all other sources would also be costing that much....... Perhaps retail prices? Very confused.
Bob Amorosi 9.13.10
It seems the cost per kwh of large central nuclear plants is very dependent on location, location, location, and on the state of the general economy with regards to construction labor costs, and more recently on the ever growing myriad of competing generation methods of the day. In case anyone didn't notice, this list of variables continuously changes from year to year and from decade to decade. Not to mention the environmental impacts on a growing number of radar screens these days.
Predicting the cost of nuclear must clearly be a tough job, and must become somewhat of an art with practice over time. Is it any wonder why financiers shudder at the risk of bankrolling the construction of a new plant that won’t enter service until several years out into the future.
Bottom line is those who are wrong about nuclear today, as in this the subject of this article, need only wait a while when they could eventually become right, and perhaps vice versa too.
Jack Ellis 9.13.10
On reason the cost of building nuclear plants soared the way it did was a determined (and in my opinion misguided) opposition that caused lengthy delays once plants were under construction. A little forensic analysis will reveal that for Comanche Peak and Vogtle, two of the last plants build in this country, financing costs were roughly equal to the "bricks and mortar" costs of the plants.
There's no reason nuclear plants have to be as costly as they are. Mass produce them, use fail-safe passive safety systems that don't break and are not costly to maintain, and take advantage of recent design and fuel cycle innovations.
Nuclear plants are as costly as they are largely because segments of the public have an irrational fear of them. Sure, there are risks in operating reactors, just as there are risks in building and operating gas-fired plants (ask the folks in San Mateo, California about natural gas), coal plants and even wind and solar plants. Show me a technology - any technology - for converting one form of energy to another that has no environmental or social impacts. There are no perfect solutions. There are only imperfect solutions with a number of tradeoffs that have to be balanced. Unfortunately, it seems we make far too many important decisions based on emotions and far too few based on a cold, rational assessment of the facts.
Bob Amorosi 9.13.10
Well said Jack Ellis. To technical people like yourself, and myself, and to many others that deal with the engineering of technologies in any discipline, your comments couldn't be more true.
One unfortunate thing that many engineers who design technology eventually learn the hard way is that the emotions of the public, and their elected political representatives who make policy decisions, are too often irrational. Technology doesn’t always sell itself based purely on its merits or (lower) costs. In the case of electric power generation the public are the end customers, and all customers' emotions, irrational or otherwise, are much more important to decision making than we techies might prefer.
A mark of a good salesman or seasoned engineer is the ability to recognize this and always consider customers’ “perceptions” in their work. It becomes their job not only to innovate technically, but also to influence perceptions of their customers.
Some universities in North America in recent years have recognized the importance of technology’s social impacts and perceptions, where they now offer engineering programs that are equally combined with arts courses. Another emerging trend in university programs is environmental engineering. They have realized a successful engineering career should / must always weigh its work against its impact on society and on the environment.
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.13.10
Building a nuclear plant in 4 -5 years and getting electricity for 8 or 9 cents per kilowatt-hour is what it could be in Sweden if they decide to construct nuclear plants again. Less in Japan and China of course. As for the subsidies that Warren mentioned, there were no subsidies for nuclear in Sweden the way that I calculate, and anyone thinking that there are can meet me at a conference or in a seminar if they want to be made a fool of.
There are probably very high priced nuclear facilities in the US. After all, if you vote to continue a war that was started on the basis of a lie that was proved to be a lie before the shooting started, and eventually end up paying almost a trillion dollars for making that mistake, then anything can happen or not happen. Speaking of things happening, the woman interviewing a Muslim Imam in the US called the Tribeka district in New York "sacred ground", because of 9-11. This confused the Imam because there are stripper bars in that district, and who knows what else, but it didn't confuse me, becase stripper bars and the like have become sacred in the US, along with the lies and foolishness used to to discuss nuclear .
Don Giegler 9.13.10
Well, Fred, as if on cue the 9/27/2010 Forbes presents "Atomic Spring", a description of Southern Company's exercise to place two new AP-1000 units on the Vogtle site in GA. Apparently, the effort will use the coattails of the AP-1000 due to produce electricity for the Chinese by 2013 to help avoid FOAK pitfalls. In all, the article does provide a snapshot of a new U.S. project that is currently underway.
Don't be too hard on IIT. They've worked pretty diligently, as have Graham Cowan, John Sutherland, and others, to counteract the faulty screed offered by folks who should know better.
Bob Amorosi 9.14.10
Don and Fred et al,
One thing should be very clear from all the foolishness that surrounds nuclear in the US; the nuclear industry has failed miserably to sell itself in the face of much stronger competition that has emerged over the last many years from the myriad of other generation sources out there. Yes gentlemen, marketing of your technology does have significant value and significant importance in getting your customers to buy into it.
If you think customers haven't bought into nuclear because of plain customer stupidity, consider that your customers have been “educated” by nuclear’s competitors much better than the nuclear industry has educated them.
My message to the nuclear industry is welcome to the world of growing open competition in the US for power generation. I'm sure the situation is similar in many other countries. In countries like China where they are already sold on nuclear, the nuclear industry should do a little market research there and find out from the Chinese what specific marketing and technical parameters have swayed them in favor of buying a lot of nuclear, and then make use of those findings to aggressively sell elsewhere.
Don Giegler 9.14.10
I find the "Preface to the Third Edition" for Petr Beckmann's "A History of Pi" a more refreshing assessment of the "irrationality" that seems to be giving you so much difficulty. The balance of Beckmann's book, though dated for some, is worth perusing too. Should one be fortunate enough to read same, von Neumann's assertion that "In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them." serves one well.
Jack Ellis has hit the nail on the head - get used to it.
Bob Amorosi 9.14.10
You habitually misunderstand me, I agree Jack Ellis is absolutely correct. The problem I harp on is that any "irrational" customer behaviour when it comes to them choosing a product or technology, can be, and is MOST OFTEN, highly influenced by the makers of the products or technology themselves. THIS is what the nuclear industry has failed miserably at doing in the US.
Arno A. Evers 9.15.10
Here you can see a graphic about the 12 steps in making electricty from nucelar energy, please observe that the clock is running backwards: http://www.hydrogenambassadors.com/background/electricity-from-nuclear-energy2.php
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.15.10
Arno or somebody
What about summing up for poor dumb me what they say in that "graphic".
Michael Keller 9.15.10
I am not so sure nuclear’s problems are the result of a failure to "educate" the consumer nor is a great idea to portray customers as dumb. The problem is cost; in the US, nuclear costs way too much relative to the alternatives.
Michael Keller 9.15.10
Re: "graphic" looks like an attempt to imply that nuclear is bad because of all the energy required to take the ore from the ground, turn it into fuel and ultimately put the waste somewhere. A major implication being: all kinds of CO2 is created during the process.
Bob Amorosi 9.15.10
Try telling that to Dr. Banks. He routinely infers the US is rife with "lies" about nuclear, which if true can only be the result of wrongly educated (or brainwashed for lack of a better term) customers. Nor does Fred believe nuclear's cost is far above the alternatives anywhere on earth. After all isn't this why he wrote this article?
I grant you the main complaint of our policymakers about new nuclear plants is too high cost, but one must examine WHY those costs are too high in the US. After all, we live in a global economy nowadays, don't we? Costs of labor and materials shouldn't vary tremendously from one country to another when only a very select few suppliers are bidding on plant construction. If the prices are tremendously variable with geography, then something is very screwed up with our global economy these days.
I beg to differ with you Michael. If nuclear were better marketed and customers better educated by the nuclear industry as to how it compares in every aspect that Jack Ellis describes in his last post above, the US might be more open to financing the large costs of building a lot more large central nuclear plants.
Consdier the basics of Marketing101 Michael - why do some consumers buy a big Cadillac and others buy a small Chevrolet when both cars can get you from A to B. Because the customers buying the Caddy have been convinced by GM that they will like it more, and so they will pay a higher price for the Caddy wanting its particular advantages over the Chevy even though the Chevy has its own other advantages over the Caddy.
Don Hirschberg 9.15.10
I can understand if I want to sell toothpaste I will have a campaign to “educate” the public about all the advantages of using my product. If I am Proctor and Gamble I have done this very well. People buy lots of Crest . And I can understand if I were to dissuade people from smoking cigarettes I need to “educate” them about all the bad things smoking can do to them and all the good things they can do with the money they save.
These are “selling” the public. But”educating” the public about nuclear energy, “selling” them on nuclear power stations is a horse of a different color. The public buys toothpaste and cigarettes they don’t buy power stations. Unlike toothpaste all electricity tastes the same. The public votes for their toothpaste by buying it – and there are many to chose from.
When a nuke is proposed only the anti-nuke folks demonstrate and will be noisy, informed and glib. They will ask devastating (from a PR standpoint) questions - What are you going to do with the waste? Oh? Well then, just where is the waste from the first nukes?
Michael Keller 9.15.10
Bob, Having helped build a number of power plants on various parts of the globe, I can state unequivocally, costs vary significantly (both labor and materials).
In fact, even in the US, costs vary significantly, with labor costs in the Northeast running maybe twice that of areas with significantly lower costs-of-living. Also, unionized labor tends to be more costly, but you do not have to worry about the quality of the work because the craft know what they are doing.
Nuclear costs are high because the current generation of plants contain a lot of steel and concrete and are subject to extremely heavy bureaucratic cost burdens. That is not the case of the chief competitor, the combined-cycle power plant.
I'd tend to equate the cost of a nuclear plant to that of a very high-end car. Most of us can not afford them.
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.16.10
Get Don H. to tell you how South Korea looked at the end of the war. Today South Koreans are going to construct nuclear plants in the Gulf for 5 billion. and when their rhythm gets better it will be for less. Certainly the Chinese will construct plants for less. Here in Sweden it's certain that plants can be constructed for less if the anti-nuclear booster club's 'fellow travelers' were not so influential
The secret to getting the electricity we want and need is through education. When the educational system gets rotten because dumb politicians want to fight dumb wars rather than finance the right kind of education and educationsal institutions, then eventually everything will go bad. That's what happened in the Big PX, and it warms my heart to see how the Chinese are fighting against the tidal wave of ignorance and stupidity based on the US concept of freedom - mostly the freedom to use gutter language and be exposed to pornography. Of course, in the long run our Chinese friends will probably lose, but you know what Keynes said about the long run - in the long run we will have to give up beer and drink shaving lotion and medicinal alcohol.
Len Gould 9.16.10
I'm impressed Fred. I didn't even know present-day economists knew about "the long run" LOL.
Bob Amorosi 9.16.10
"The secret to getting the electricity we want and need is through education." I like this and the other statements Fred makes in his last post above.
Michael, it is very sobering and disappointing to hear how the very few suppliers of nuclear plants are subject to widely variable labor and material costs that are specific to where the plants are being built. This is unlike most other global industries today where companies have their products made anywhere in the world they can get them made for the lowest costs, and then ship the pieces to the end market for final integration. It would appear to me from what you’re saying the final integration of the pieces of a nuclear plant is where most of the costs are, and for various political or other reasons must be done most often by local labor and local materials suppliers.
What a shame.
Bob Amorosi 9.16.10
You know guys, education may not be the ONLY "secret to getting the electricity we want and need" as Fred says. The other secret for the US is to get its labor and material costs down to become much more competitive with China and other courntries. This would probably go a long way to solving the nuclear impasse in the US, and might even restore some of the decimated manufacturing industries that have closed up shop in droves here over the last 40 years.
Michael Keller 9.16.10
Bob If we follow your line of logic, then how about if we pay everybody the wage scale of say, India. Ditto for materials. Think how cheap everything would be! However, our standard of living would collapse.
Seems to me that in order to thrive in the US, nuclear power needs to completely outflank the competition, stupefying regulations and irrational fear. That means a quantum leap to a much more advanced nuclear technology. I believe that will actually occur.
Bob Amorosi 9.16.10
Michael, I look forward then with great interest and anticipation of the nuclear industry. It may not bring back our lost manufacturing industries, but, if it happens, we might eventually get all the low-cost electricity we want and have grown accustomed to in the past in America. At my next dinner and glass of wine, I will drink to the prospect of exciting new nuclear technology some day. In the meantime I hope they don’t take too long to develop and commercialize it given the growing list of competing generation methods being deployed that we ratepayers and taxpayers are starting to painfully pay for.
Eckhart Stoyke 9.17.10
Ferdinand E. Banks is all wrong on the viability of nuclear since the disposal of nuclear waste is discretely swiped under the carpet and the millenia this waste will have to be safeguarded is omitted and left to future generations. Not to mention the contamination with radioactive material escaping regularly from these installations and measurably affecting the health of neighboring settlements. The protection against terrorists is iffy and the cost of a Three Mile Island type disaster is left largely to the taxpayer. While wind generation is becoming cheaper with larger units, the cost of nuclear trends upwards, see the Finland debacle. Cutting power use in half for the nation by efficiency measures is cheaper than supplying that energy by renewables or fossil sources. So forget nuclear energy. Eckhart Stoyke, Energy Consultant
Michael Keller 9.17.10
Your claim that: "… contamination with radioactive material escaping regularly from these installations and measurably affecting the health of neighboring settlements" is factually incorrect. No such problems exist, as numerous studies have clearly shown.
The spent fuel from nuclear plants is a valuable resource because it contains fuel that can be re-cycled. Ultimately, some waste will occur but the amount of radioactive material is very small and easily contained. On a relative scale, we generate stupefyingly greater amounts from troublesome waste from our own trash.
Further, the cost to the public of a "Three Mile Island" type accident is insignificant. In point of fact, the containment structure of the Three Mile Island plant worked as designed, with the vastly overwhelming amount of radiation kept within the structure. The accident was not a catastrophe for the public but was a financial catastrophe for the company owning the facility because a large power plant was rendered useless.
Bob Amorosi 9.17.10
Some of your words are indeed being echoed across North America by our electricity planners. The efficiency measures is a big one that will be continually pushed onto the public, in fact it is being forced onto the public through emerging government legislation that will ban older less efficient consumer and industrial products, and mandate newer higher levels of efficiency targets on future products.
However I don't think governments are forgetting nuclear altogether. There are many large nuclear plants in service providing dozens of Gigawatt-hours of energy all over North America. To lose them would cripple our society, and so must be kept running and refurbished to extend their operational lifetimes. The disposal of nuclear waste, and the occasional contaminated emissions they release, are daunting problems for sure, but having undesired environmental impacts are not something unique to nuclear. There is a myriad of other forms of environmental impacts from any other generation source, some much more ominous such as climate change (if you believe in it).
Like I suggested in my earlier posts above, every generation method has advantages and disadvantages which must be weighed in choosing one, so nuclear is not likely to be completely ruled out by every jurisdiction. It's a simple matter of there being a growing list of generation options being developed and coming on-line that will co-exist with nuclear for many decades to come yet.
Aside from environmental impacts, the bigger problem in my view is the cost impact to consumers and the economy as the grid adopts all the new changes coming out. Massive electricity rate increases over short periods of time, rising must faster than inflation, can have severe economic and social consequences in North America. I'm sure most of our politicians are acutely aware of this and will steer our policymakers to choose the changes that have the lowest impacts on the economy in the short term, and the lowest impacts on the environment over the longer term. This a daunting balancing act, to say the least, and I for one wouldn't want their jobs.
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.18.10
Eckhart, you have come to the wrong forum with your nonsense. There is an electrion in Sweden this sunday, and the ignorant parties of the left - whom I would normally vote for if I voted in this country - would definitely appreciate you placing the silliness you are selling at their disposal. Making fools of voters is not an easy job, even if voters try to help their political masters..
I'm giving talks on oil here in Uppsala and in Paris in the coming weeks. Why? I've been lecturing since I was 18 years old, in the US army, and so I don't need any more exposure, but I hear so much nonsense about oil that I just cant take it any more. And listen, I'm taking no prisoners. The torrent of lies coming down the pike, courtesy of would be experts, is...excruciating.
I have some advice for you. This string is about finished, so write an article on nuclear, giving EnergyPulse your precious opinion. I know a bit about this subject, but I am strictly an amateur compared to many contributors to this forum.