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For many years I have enjoyed thinking that I know everything I need and want to know about the economics of nuclear energy. But recently I published an article called 'In the head of U.S. Energy Secretary Chu' in the important forum EnergyPulse, and the discussion of my article (and nuclear energy in general) was so thorough and stimulating that I decided to extend some of the materials in my analysis, and also the work I am presently doing on this topic. By "work" I am particularly concerned with my articles on nuclear, as well as my forthcoming energy economics textbook (2012).
In addition I want to call attention to an article in a new journal that has just been launched by the International Association of Energy Economics (IAEE), and which is called 'The Economics of Energy and Environmental Policy'. I see no reason to conceal that the reaction by students to the few lectures I gave on environmental economics at Griffith University (in Brisbane Australia) soured me on all printed matter having the word 'Environmental' in the title, but in a 'mini-survey' in the aforementioned journal (2012), MIT economists Paul L. Joscow and John E. Parsons say that "talk is cheap", and furthermore talk about a nuclear renaissance is mostly "hype and hope".
For what it is worth, they are absolutely correct, however this makes little or no difference in the overall scheme of things, because as long as voters (and influential non-voters) prefer more income to less income, their language and behavior will eventually make it clear to their political masters that existing nuclear reactors must be retained, while new reactors must be constructed, and possibly at a quickened pace.
When I use the expression 'political masters' in a lecture, I often focus on the persons giving the orders in China. The thing that both scholars and anti-scholars fail to understand is that the goal in China is not merely to construct and/or operate individual reactors in response to an expected increase in the demand for electricity, which appears to be the case in much of the world, but to install and exploit a very large nuclear industry, in which the lessons that some of us absorbed in our study of economic theory can by applied in a highly efficient manner. As noted by Joscow and Parsons, China has 26 reactors under construction, and I was recently informed that they have at least a hundred reactors in the planning stages.
The Chinese are already constructing the most inexpensive reactors in the world, and it is not likely but certain that similar equipment can be constructed elsewhere. Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany, and the Socialist candidate for president in France, can huff and puff to their heart's content about abandoning nuclear, but neither German nor French voters can be expected to show a sustained enthusiasm for the attack on their standard of living that a nuclear retreat would set in motion, particularly if the price of nuclear-based electricity were lower than alternatives.
In some of my replies to comments on my Energy Pulse article, I often used derogatory terms when referring the persons who provided my main critic (the California environmentalist Tam Hunt) with data or gossip. I would like to use this opportunity to explain why I took that approach. Those 'researchers' and pseudo-researchers have concluded that the cost of electricity provided by large reactors in the United States (U.S.) is nine cents per kilowatt hour (= 9 cents/kWh). Normally I would have no problem with this, because it is identical with a result I obtained when preparing the short course in energy economics that I was asked to present in Spain. But when I saw that the figure provided for wind was 6 cents/kWh, and moreover it was claimed that wind could be employed to generate the electric 'base load', I realized that I was mistaken. I was mistaken because the ladies and gentlemen responsible for these numbers are irresponsible or foolish or both. Subsequently, employing the 'raw data' provided Mr Hunt, I believe it possible to demonstrate that the (kWh) cost of nuclear-based electricity in state-of-the-art installations is lower than 9 cents/hour.
Here I want to say that calculating the cost of nuclear facilities is as much an art as a science, by which I mean that a sophisticated knowledge of economics is more valuable than the physics that dominates much of the discussion about nuclear energy. For instance, according to Charles D. Ferguson -- an engineer and physicist -- and president of the Federation of American Scientists (in Washington DC), the capital cost of a large nuclear reactor with a power rating of 1000 megawatts ranges from four billion (U.S.) dollars to nine billion, depending on reactor design (2011).
In terms of the economics that I study and teach, this contention cannot possibly be correct. Four billion dollars does not sound accurate to me, but if it is -- or is close to accurate -- then according to orthodox economic theory the sellers of reactors costing a great deal more than that amount would descend into bankruptcy, although it may be later rather than sooner. Some of us are prepared to argue that energy may be as important to the United States at the present time as aircraft were doing the Second World War, and (with certain scandalous exceptions) manufacturers of fighters and bombers who were unable to match the performance of the superb planes that became available about l944 were soon told to find something else to produce.
Fond Memories of the Singapore Energy Week
At the Singapore Energy Week, where I gave a short lecture on nuclear energy, following which I made a few remarks in what could charitably be described as a debate, I was unable to complete my contribution before the environmentalist Jeremy Leggett rushed toward my chair, and with outrage in his voice accused me of spreading falsehoods about the time needed to construct a reactor. As usual, five years was the number I presented the audience, while he stated that 'they' insisted that this activity required ten years. He also served notice that I had disgraced my university with what he felt was a bogus assertion, and later notified an itinerant charlatan that my status at the university (or Uppsala) should be investigated.
Investigations are completely unimportant to me, and I am willing to confess to any and all personal and professional shortcomings except bad teaching, bad lecturing, bad research, and a failure to mention the many guest professorships I have received. But information has reached me (and countless others) through the business grapevine that 1000 MW reactors have been made available in China -- from ground break to grid power -- in slightly less than 5 years, and the cost of a kilowatt of power may be as low as 1600 dollars. Anne Lauvergeon, the former director of the French nuclear giant Areva, and sometimes called 'The Queen of Nukes', once referred to all this as "worrying", although more worrying to me are the attempts to dismiss this impressive achievement.
The tragedy in Fukushima has resulted in a palpable slowing down of what some observers call the nuclear renaissance. By some observers I include myself, and while I do not use the expressions renaissance (or 'revival') as freely at the present time as I did a few years ago, I have no doubt that it will become viable once again. Until that time I would like to see colleagues and students busying themselves with closely monitoring and attempting to comprehend an ongoing nuclear game involving the 'smart' and the not-so-smart, the 'haves' and the have-nots, and the ruled and the 'rulers'.
Regardless of what they say or do, a majority of the smart and the rulers still believe in nuclear energy: they know as well as I do that it is indispensable, especially if renewables and alternatives are to achieve their optimal proficiency. They also know that it is not judicious to broadcast this conviction in all social contexts. Though perhaps meaning well, they understand that a principal issue here is political power, and not just the heat and light required for town houses, or the elegant chateau in which you and yours enjoy your annual skiing holiday. My favorite reference here is the behavior of the former student of physics and chemistry Angela Merkel, who believes that she has latched onto a political gravy train by adopting a bizarre anti-nuclear agenda instead of the pro-nuclear stance that she publicly assumed only 7 or 8 months earlier.
What we are dealing with here is a game whose rules were described to Jacob Bronowski by supposedly the best brain of the 20th century -- the mathematician John von Neumann -- during a taxi ride in London during World War II. According to von Neumann, "Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do. And that is what games are about in my theory." Apparently the great man forgot to mention threats, lies and the relentless spreading of misunderstandings disguised as scientific truths, however according to the book by William Poundstone (1993), these were often on the tip of his tongue.
According to Tam Hunt, my humble work on nuclear deserves to be ignored because of my failure to provide numerical evidence that nuclear is as economical as I am in the habit of advertising. Admittedly, I am tempted to regard Hunt's criticism as a provocation or a challenge, however since I live in Sweden, and have a vague insight into its economic history, that is unnecessary. The Swedish government panicked after the first oil price shock, and without consulting voters, industrialists, scientists, or visitors to the discos and student clubs in Uppsala and Stockholm, created the conditions to rush through the construction of 12 nuclear facilities in just 13 years. This is not the place to go into details, but those facilities played a major role in making the electric price to Swedish households and especially industries among the lowest in the world.
I seem to remember hearing from the excellent Mr Hunt that large subsidies were involved in this program. I am prepared to claim that no subsidies were involved for taxpayers as a group because of the benefits that inexpensive electricity provided for the Swedish macro-economy, and in addition the social welfare in this country.
In my talk at the Singapore Energy Week, I make the unpopular statement that where technological progress is concerned, nuclear was superior to other energy options.
I did not elaborate on this, but fundamentally two issues are involved. The first is the reputed presence of at least three times as much fissionable thorium in the crust of the earth as uranium. This might be one of the reasons that some economists believe that nuclear is a 'backstop' against the depletion and/or drastic price escalation of items like natural gas and coal, as well as uranium. More important is the progress likely to be made by breeder technology during the present decade.
A nuclear physicist that I have often communicated with, Michael Dittmar (at 'Cern' in Geneva), has another opinion, but I am afraid that this outcome cannot be avoided. "Afraid" because I have my doubts as to whether the large amount of plutonium that will be produced can be managed in an optimal manner. I therefore hope that that movers and shakers are thinking about this as they go about correcting the mistakes that they have or will make in providing the energy all of us deserve.
(2012) Banks, Ferdinand E. 'Energy and Economic Theory. London, Singapore and New York: World Scientific Publishing Company (Forthcoming)
(2012) Joscow, Paul L. and Parsons, John E. 'The Future of Nuclear Power after Fukushima'. Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy (March)
(2011) Ferguson, Charles D. 'Do Not Phase Out on Nuclear Power - Yet'. Nature (May)
For information on purchasing reprints of this article, contact sales. Copyright 2013 CyberTech, Inc.
Thank you EnergyPulse for publishing this article. Thank you because last night I saw on Swedish television the film THE CHINA SYNDROM, in which the dangers of nuclear were graphicallly described: in case of a meltdown in a nuclear reactor, the floor beneath this equipment would be set on fire, the reactor would descend through that floor, and continue to descend until it reached China - unless of course it ran into some groundwater, in which case its load of uranium would be vaporized and spread all over the place.
Pro-nuclear people in the film responded by asking how the lights would be kept on if nuclear were dumped? Pondering that kept me awake for a good ten minutes, because I found myself explaining to an actor who mouthed those lines that the issue was not "lights" The issue is our standard of living in the broadest sense. That film completely missed this point, because it did not take up the small matter of what would replace nuclear. The Big Lie circulating through anti-nuclear circles in Sweden - and of course in Germany - is renewables and alternatives, and while precious few in Sweden believe this, they DO believe that open disbelief will make them unpopular.
Harry Valentine 6.28.12
Low and competitive cost per kW that is free from subsidy, will be factors in encouraging new investment in nuclear power stations. Direct and indirect subsidies to various forms of renewable and fossil energy only serve to distort the actual cost per kW of various forms of energy. A phasing out of subsidies and special tax breaks would encourage more cost-effective and cost-efficient investment in new power generation.
With regard to Fukushima, Japan's government knew decades ago that the Pacific Ocean had a propensity to generate tsunami's . . . . and they built the seawater-cooled nuclear power station on the Pacific coast. The alternative location would have been on the coast of the Sea of Japan, that is at far lower risk for a tsunami.
In my view, the use of uranium fuel instead of thorium fuel underlies much public opposition to new nuclear power. The Canadian CANDU reactor is able to operate on thorium, except that during the period of state ownership, Canada promoted uranium fuel . . . uranium occurs in abundance in Canada. India is undertaking research into thorium-based nuclear power generation.
In my view, expanded use of thorium fuel will likely quell much of the ongoing opposition to new nuclear power. It may be in the commercial interest of the private owners of the CANDU technology to further develop the reactor to operate on thorium and promote the thorium option.
Tam Hunt 6.28.12
Fred, you've got to warn me before you start throwing my name around! I might not have seen this article.
Anyway, I'm glad that you seem to be making some progress in looking at actual numbers. The key word here is "some" because you still fail to make even a basic economic case for the affordability of nuclear power. You suggest that nuclear power may have something to do with Sweden's relatively low power rates and you suggest that China may be building nuclear plants as low as $1,600/kW (and imply that what can be done in China, a centrally planned economy with extremely weak environmental protections, should be emulable in other countries). Surely you have some research or primary data you could use to back up these assertions? I'm a policy guy, but I traffic in numbers all day long. I'm surprised that you, as an economist, don't seem to think real numbers are necessary.
Maybe you can provide some real numbers and analysis to back up your assertions in comments?
Tam Hunt 6.28.12
PS. You also incorrectly state that my sources re power costs suggest that wind power is a baseload power source. Of course wind is not a baseload power source, it's an energy source. That doesn't mean it needs to be backed up with baseload power on a one to one basis, for a variety of reasons, but it does mean that it can provide quite cheap energy when available. Germany is now getting over 10% of its power from wind, Denmark more than 20%, Spain more than 20%, and Portugal too. This is a real source of power that can, combined with baseload renewables like biomass, geothermal and hydro, and probably some form of energy storage, fully replace expensive and risky sources of power like nuclear.
Jim Beyer 6.28.12
I don't think 9 cents is far off. Costing nuclear power is very difficult. And no, it's not fair to cite construction costs in China and compare them with the U.S. Not the same. I think we'd understand costs in the U.S. and Europe if we started building them again. Then we'll know.
I don't think 6 cents/kW-hr is far off for wind either. But what does that mean? Is that for nameplate/rated capacity? Not the same thing, and obviously, it's not a baseload power source, so it's not comparing apples to apples, as nuclear IS a baseload power source. And since nuclear is typically up 95-98% of the time, nameplate capacity IS the capacity of the plant.
According to this , if solar can be had for $2/Watt, then lifetime costs of solar is then 8.38 cents/kW-hr. I don't think this calculation include the Cost Of Money, but still I find that intriguing. Solar is not a baseload power source either, but given it's likelihood to be outputting something useful on hot Summer days (when electricity is needed) I find this interesting.
Solar panels have dropped A LOT in price the past few years. I think comparing nuclear to wind is a bit of a strawman; comparing it to $2/Watt solar should be considered as well. No, I don't think solar can replace nuclear; as I said before, it's not a baseload source. But at the margins, it might mean we can get away with a bit less nuclear, and have more distributed energy production. That's probably a good thing.
Tam Hunt 6.28.12
Jim, the 6 c/kWh figure that Fred uses are from the California Energy Commission's levelized cost of electricity report that I cited in previous comments. They put it out every couple of years and the point of a levelized cost analysis is to allow apples to apples comparisons. Now, it's not entirely apples to apples because you're right that nuclear is baseload and wind and solar are not. But the cost of integrating wind and solar even up to relatively high percentages, such as 30-40% has been shown in numerous studies in the US to require no more than 10% of the cost of energy. So wind at 6 c/kWh becomes about 6.6 c/kWh - still a lot cheaper than nuclear. And the 9 c/kWh figure for nuclear (I'm not sure where that figure comes from) is in my view way too low because it excludes a lot of risks and assumes that capital costs are far lower than they are proving to be with the new round of nukes being constructed. The CA Energy Commission actually finds that nuclear plants coming online in 2018 will have costs of 34 c/kWh (no joke), compared to wind that year at about 10.5 c/kWh. Here's the link to the CEC's latest levelized cost analysis:
I'd like to say I trust anything coming out of California w.r.t. energy, but I do not. They are simply really mixed up there. It was CARB that killed the electric car fercrissakes! And you guys want to build a 'hydrogen' highway (instead of an NG highway). And we can't forget that it was you guys that got in so much trouble deregulating electricity. Just ridiculous stuff. So no, the fact that an energy board in California says something carries very little weight with me. Sorry.
Specifically, I'd say that the integration level of 30-40% is something determined by one of these boards. Hmm. I'd be very wary of that figure. That being said, we can probably accommodate a much higher penetration than we have now.
Ferdinand E. Banks 6.29.12
Tam, the fact that you admit that wind and solar are not base load sources of energy means that I apologize for anything nastiy I have said to and about you. You see, the ignoramuses in this country and elsewhere are confused on that point.
Jack Ellis sent me some figures indicating that 1500-1600 is too low, and he is probably right. But I dont worry about it. Every year they will knock X dollars off the KW price because of the increased experience of the people who construct those things you dislike so much, and if that won't do it the plutonium that they manufacture will - the plutonium of the kind that the Japanese have been religiously collecting for the last 22 years or so. Need I tell you why.
Anyway, THE KEY ISSUE IN ALL THIS IS THE DUMB BELIEF THAT NUCLEAR CAN BE REPLACED BY RENEWABLES. It cant, although this does not mean that renewables should be dropped from consideration. They probably have a lot to offer, but not enough to maintain OUR standard of living. Let me put it this way: nuclear without renewables is probably a bad idea, and renewables without nuclear is just plain stupid.
Jim Beyer 6.29.12
Looking for a stone to etch this in:
"Let me put it this way: nuclear without renewables is probably a bad idea, and renewables without nuclear is just plain stupid." -FEB
For all our resource problems (CO2 levels, peak oil) we should be optimistic that there IS a path forward, via IFR nuclear and/or Thorium nuclear, and costs of solar and wind have come down quite a bit. Even batteries are coming along. (Of course, I can't extinguish the nagging thought that they should've kept going with NiMH, but I won't get started on that.)
Tam Hunt 6.29.12
Fred, nuclear without renewables is actually quite possible. Indeed, that situation exists in a number of countries today, such as Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and many others.
For countries that currently rely on nuclear, natural gas is an obvious replacement in the short term and as renewables come online significantly they can replace much of the natural gas required. Keep in mind that geothermal, biomass and hydropower are generally baseload (hydropower not always), and wind and solar can provide much of the energy and peak required, depending on the location at issue. Energy storage is getting cheaper all the time. So replacing nuclear is actually not a technical problem, it's just a matter of time and money. And with nuclear costing so damn much, it will almost certainly be cheaper for ratepayers to not build new nukes and probably even to decommission existing nukes (or at least let them retire gracefully at the end of their useful lives).
Tam Hunt 6.29.12
Jim, the great thing about CA energy commission reports is that they're entirely transparent. If you don't like their numbers, just look at their calculations (they even have a publicly available Excel spreadsheet) and tell us where they're wrong.
Regardless, wind at 6 c/kWh is actually kind of expensive right now and many sources corroborate this. I'm in the wind biz and I'd be happy to provide calculations showing that this figure is kind of high for a site with good wind resources (35% net capacity factor or higher).
Jim Beyer 6.29.12
It wasn't the wind price that bothered me, rather the 35 cents/kW-hr for nuclear. I did look through the report and didn't see that (it's a big report). I'd say 90% of the table cite no nuclear at all, and the few that do seem to be citing a singular Westinghouse plant. One table (page 20?) cited a cost of 16 cents; still very high, but not the 32 cents you stated.
Tam Hunt 6.29.12
See page 31. It is based on a Westinghouse design, but that's entirely legitimate. It's for an online date of 2018. Tell me why they're wrong.
Ferdinand E. Banks 6.30.12
Tam, you've got it backwards: what you mean is renewables without nuclear. Of course, to me it doesn't make any difference what you mean, because in a seminar room or conference I would cut you off at the knees.
Denmark has about 27% wind and a large part of the remainder is coal. And there is a big import of electricity. They also have some of the highest electricity prices in the world. Now, if the reigning Swedish authorities would come to old Prof. Banks and give him a big piece of money, he would tell them to cut all the wires to Denmark and Germany and any other country buying Swedish power. As for Norway, they have all the power they need from water and gas, and Iceland has those...those....whatever you call them.
But let me tell you where you and I agree. If these countries would stop getting into stupid wars on the other side of the world, and use the money those wars cost to subsidize the energy we need and deserve, I would never contribute anything to the nuclear literature again...maybe.
Jim Beyer 7.2.12
I don't find the report transparent at all. For them to come to the cost of 32 cents per kW-hr, they need to making some assumptions about construction costs for the AP1000. Well, it would be nice to know what they are. Just citing the final levelized price is the opposite of transparency, in my opinion.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.3.12
Tam, nobody in this forum is going to buy your delusions about nuclear. Why dont you just come to your senses on this subject. I was going to suggest that you get some help from the people in the economics department of your local university, but they probably know less about it than you do.
The Japanese prime minister explained to the voters in his country that Japan was in deep trouble without nuclear, following whichl a large number are calling him a fool and demanding that he changes his mind. This is good, This is the best thing that could happen. There was no excuse for the Fukushima tragedy, or similar tragedies in other countries that could or will take place, and everything humanly possible must be done to keep that sort of thiat sort of thing from happening again. You see, we - meaning you as well as me - cannot have what we want without nuclear. Unfortunately, it is indispensible.
Tam Hunt 7.3.12
Fred, you're not making sense. I've presented clear financial evidence of the costs of nuclear power, and you return to bluster without data. It's more than a little silly to suggest I talk to local economists when you haven't even begun a serious rebuttal to the points I've raised.
Anyway, I certainly agree with you that a) I got it backwards in my last post, of course I meant renewables without nuclear; b) let's end stupid wars. Amen.
Tam Hunt 7.3.12
Jim, you didn't look very hard. P. 6 shows the assumptions regarding costs of each technology, showing that the Westinghouse nuclear reactor has by far the highest capital costs of any technology considered. Just search for "Westinghouse" in the report. The report explains its methodology in great detail. Did you read it?
Jim Beyer 7.3.12
Thanks for the page. Hey, it's a big report. Anyway, looking at the wiki page on "Economics of new nuclear power plants" you see considerably lower estimates. For U.S. plants, the figures vary from about $2500/kWe to $6000/kWe for a final or "all-in" cost. Nuclearinfo.net claims they will cost "over $3500/kWe", but it seems more like $3460/kWe.
Anyway, this is all much less than the $7300/kWe (or so) cited by the report. I don't know where they got their numbers from.
Anyway, that's the point I was trying to make. I assumed that the Ca. report would make unusual assumptions about nuclear power costs, and I was right. They are much higher (2X+) than other estimates from other sources.
bill payne 7.3.12
Hello Fred, Second request for comment on veracity of
Tuesday April 3, 2012 06:00
The US produces only 7% of the uranium it consumes, Byron King reported.
Five new generators are on track for completion this decade, including two reactors approved just a few weeks ago (the first new reactor approvals in the US in over 30 years). Those will add to the 104 reactors that are already in operation around the country and already produce 20% of the nation’s power. Those reactors will eat up 19,724 tonnes of U3O8 this year, which represents 29% of global uranium demand. If that seems like a large amount, it is! The US produces more nuclear power than any other country on earth, which means it consumes more uranium that any other nation. However, decades of declining domestic production have left the US producing only 4% of the world’s uranium.
With so little homegrown uranium, the United States has to import more than 80% of the uranium it needs to fuel its reactors. Thankfully, for 18 years a deal with Russia has filled that gap. The “Megatons to Megawatts” agreement, whereby Russia downblends highly enriched uranium from nuclear warheads to create reactor fuel, has provided the US with a steady, inexpensive source of uranium since 1993. The problem is that the program is coming to an end next year.
The Upside to a Natural Gas Downturn Marin Katusa, for The Daily Reckoning Monday April 2, 2012. ____
Sunday July 1, 2012 07:43
Hello Mr Fitzpatrick and Mr Lutwen,
Your article Renewables for Baseload Generation - Probably Not contains ...
Just recevied email from Russell Ray but have not read.
regards, Google 'ryan crocker j orlin grabbe', aboulghassem zirakzadeh' and 'embedded controller forth for the 8051 family'
We're in Bradenton, FL visiting my 99 year-old father-in-law and my 3 sister-in-laws ... all of whom are divorced.
Jack Ellis 7.3.12
I'm sorry I joined late and missed most of the fun.
Fred's right - I did challenge the numbers in a lengthy paper he wrote and then had to plead for mercy when a report by the California Council on Science and Technology proved him to be correct. Korea is building new reactors for about $2,800/kW. I keep having to remind myself that many of the nuclear cost overruns were caused in large measure by the compounding cost of financing as anti-nuclear activists managed to continually delay construction.
But let's cut to the chase and address Tam's discussion about the need to back up wind (and solar). He's correct that other sources can be employed, but he's wrong about the amounts those sources can contribute. Geothermal potential is limited by geography, technology and cost. Biomass is similarly limited by feedstock availability, the cost of transportation, and in some cases, competition with food crops. At current prices, storage is far too expensive, though a lot of effort is being devoted to driving the cost down. However I can tell you based on nearly four decades in this business that it's absurd have this conversation solely on the basis of busbar costs. What I'd like to see from the renewable energy advocates is an analysis that calculates the average delivered cost of energy based on a fully built-out electric supply system and a real, system demand curve, and here's why. A system that relies entirely on renewables will need enough capacity to meet peak demand on a series of adverse days, where adverse days have little or no wind and little or no sun (in the eastern US, typically the result of a stationary weather front). Whether the required amount of backup capacity is provided by storage or biomass or geothermal, it is entirely redundant on days when the wind blows and the sun shines. Moreover turning down biomass or geothermal energy when the sun reappears and the wind comes up again is neither cost-effective nor simple. So I say again, design me a real power system based solely on renewables and then tell me how the cost compares with a diversified mix of renewable, nuclear and other resources. That's the apples-to-apples comparison we need in order to have a meaningful, intelligent discussion.
The risks associated with nuclear energy are real, but there's been an overwhelming tendency to sensationalize and overstate them. Roughly 45,000 people die every year in auto accidents in the US, yet we don't ban automobiles. Roughly 10% of all auto-related deaths involve drunk driving, yet we don't ban sales of alcohol. Thousands of people die every year from gunshots but we don't ban guns. Hundreds die from coal mining accidents. If you believe the environmental studies, air pollution from burning fossil fuels is responsible for thousands of premature deaths every year. Without necessarily taking a position on either side of the nuclear debate, UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller's book "Physics for Future Presidents" discusses some of the tradeoffs in terms any politician ought to be able to comprehend.
No doubt the required standard of care to build and operate a nuclear plant is considerably higher than the standard required of renewable and fossil-fired plants. Perhaps we need to redirect our best and brightest minds away from Wall Street to focus on how nuclear power can be produced safely and cost-effectively.
William Marcus 7.3.12
Entergy says nuclear power costs >$8000/kW and 14.4 cents/kWh. http://www.apscservices.info/pdf/12/12-038-u_3_1.pdf (Testimonyof Kurtis Castleberry, pp. 22-23 in Arkansas PSC Docket 12-038-U)
Jack Ellis 7.3.12
One more thought. Jim, the folks at Green Econometrics apparently don't understand the role of thermodynamic losses when converting fossil fuel to electricity. Their energy costs per kWh for coal, oil and gas are low by about a factor of three.
As for solar PV, the levelized cost calculations tend to be less than straightforward when tax and depreciation are involved, but for a residential consumer, it's fair to approximate the cost by using the standard formula for calculating a level mortgage payment assuming some rate of return on an alternative investment and a service life. A 30 year mortgage at 6% is amortized at about $6/month per $1000 of investment. Solar PV typically has a capacity factor of around 20% (just under 1800 kWh of energy per kW of capacity). So a rough rule of thumb is solar PV costs about 4 cents per kWh for every $1000. per KW of investment, which validates the source you cite. But that's still not the whole picture because it ignores the cost of however much storage might be required to tide a homeowner over on a series of cloudy days plus however much surplus PV capacity you'd need to charge the storage, and it also ignores the fact that a PV array oversized to charge storage is doing to be spilling a lot of energy when demand is less than available supply.
David Barge 7.3.12
I'll rehash some old ground here. The fundamental problem with nuclear remains that nobody in the Free World (going back to the cold war-ish US/Europe definition) has built a new commercial reactor on time and on budget for the last thirty years at least. As someone mentioned above, you can not reasonably compare whatever the Chinese are doing with current construction in the west.
For cost estimation, the current published cost of the Vogtle expansion is, I think, the best proxy that exists for US costs. As near as I can tell, that cost is currently projected at ~$15 Billion ($14 billion initial, $900 Million current overrun estimate, and you have to round up with Nuclear). That is about $6500/kW.
I also think that is an overnight cost including financing, so it should be fair to assume a capacity factor (say 95%, which should be conservative for new nuclear) and a lifespan (say 35 years initially) and divide out to get ~$22.4/MWh for capital. So if you can run the things for the next thirty five years under $27.6/MWh (eminently doable given the big players' current track record for operating nuclear costs), you are under about $50 power all in (5c/kWh).
Let's assume I am wrong about financing, and amortize at 8%. Then you are looking at about ~$68/MWh. Significantly uglier, but still under $100/MWh and nowhere near 32 or 35c/kWh, so I am dismissing that out of hand without bothering to look at the assumptions.
In general, I come down in favor of nuclear expansion. The fundamental problems remain the sticker price and the fact that there is no current, relevant, Western experience of how to build a generation three reactor on time and on budget. Maybe Southern will provide that experience (or at least on time and within some percentage less than 100 of budget...). Furthermore, it is entirely possible at this point that Southern will beat the Finns and the French to get the first new nuke built in the generation three era in the West.
The other big unknown is that the current nuclear fleet has tended to need at least a quarter of a billion per reactor in capital every ten years (the reactor vessel head replacements being the most recent example) for random previously unknown reasons beyond any planned capital... That is not inducing of warm-fuzzies...
There is plenty of other argument out there of the relative merits of relying on US gas to remain at benign costs, or the idea of relying on renewables as base load, so I am not going to argue those points now. I could, at length...
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bill payne 7.3.12
google 'shabhab mozaffari''
He liked ' googole 'aboulgassm ziralzadeh'. on Facebook.
bill payne 7.3.12
We make misteaks.
Terry Peterson 7.3.12
Sigh. More irrelevant rambling arguments about counting angels on the head of a pin (nuclear plant costs v. renewables) when the crux of the matter is the curare on the pin's other end (humanity's utter inability to deal with keeping anything out of mischief for even one thousand years). That is why we cannot "afford" a nuclear renaissance.
Len Gould 7.3.12
David Barge (and others in similar vein) "there is no current, relevant, Western experience of how to build a generation three reactor on time and on budget." -- Apparently everyone continues to forget AECL (Atomic Energy Canada Ltd.) and the CANDU reactors, most recent examples of which were build BY AECL at Quinshan in China in 46 months first concrete to first criticality. They've completely computerized the planning process and refined every step of construction for speed and efficiency. Off-site manufacturing of reactor vessel and heat exchangers. One-lift crane installation with the roof off the containment of all large assemblies. With the experience and proof-of-execution achieved at Quinshan by 2003, AECL USA was travewlling round offering to build pairs of 750 to 1000 MW units on your site at a guaranteed price of US$1,450 / MW guaranteed PROVIDED bullet-proof guarantees against legal interference in the schedule. (Note that recent changes in $Cdn exchange rates likely bring that up to $1,450 x 97/62 = $2,268) The difference between construction costs in China and in N. America are NOT very great. Cement and steel are still almost pure energy, and energy costs the same in both places, in fact cheaper here. Add perhaps 20% for the higher cost of labour. Of course, it is the "Legal" shenanigans which Tam etc are counting on (implementing the shenanigans themselves) to increase that cost to the ridiculous numbers which they are using.
Thanks a lot, Tam.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.3.12
Good article Fred,
David Barge professes there to be no comparison between what we do in the west wrt nuclear new build and what they do in China. I fully agree. The west allows interventionists to delay delay delay knowing that with each days delay the cost goes up due to the interest on the financing. Akin to having your house construction stopped while you are paying the construction loan interest. The Chinese Government does not allow it. The US does. THAT is the big difference. And of course David is completely incorrect in the statement that none have been built on time and on budget. Both of the Quinshan reactors were built by AECL under budget and two months EARLY although such positive news was never reported in any media outlet. Good news does not sell. The Koreans are building four plants in the United Arab Emirates. We will see whether they build them on time and on budget. I suspect they will.
I must express a certain dislike of the term nuclear renaissance or revival since over 100 reactors in the USA have been producing reliable cheap electrical energy for over 40 years and over 20 reactors in Canada doing the same. Nuclear never ever went away therefore it did not need "reviving".
Of course with around 63 new reactors under construction, Japan steadily restarting its fleet, the USA building new plants and finishing off units started many years ago and life extensions for most existing plants I suppose you could call that a revival or the revelation of T.Boone Pickens that wind energy requires the wind plantations that would require a windmills in everyones backyard.
Not a revival but more of a steady increase in nuclear capacity to feed an energy hungry world.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.3.12
Of course Tam speaks complete baloney. Conveniently tells half the story. The admission that a wind generator requires a back up source of power means that the capital cost of the windmill must include the additional capital cost of the back up supply which is NOT factored into his "calculations". The simple fact is that people need electricity when the wind does not blow. So when the wind does not blow something else must be taking its place or electrical appliances cease to operate. So you need a wind generator AND a gas, coal oil or solar fired plant to achieve the same capacity factor as a nuclear plant. Double or more the capital cost for the same or worse performance that can be routinely delivered ny a nuclear plant that needs NO back up and operates 24/7 wind or no wind, sun or no sun. I call this Tamonomics or making 2 + 2 = 5.
However it is irrelevant. The future is nuclear so get used to it.
And of course he steadfactly refuses to answer my often asked question - where does all the neodymium come from to make all those heavy permanent magnets that windmills MUST have otherwise they would be much larger than they currently are and virtually impossible to build. With China holding and controlling 90% of the worlds entire supply of that material I find it incredible that he would base the entire power economics of the USA on a product imported and strictly controlled by communist China.
However as I always have an eye for business, when the windmills start to fall apart after 10 or so more years I'll be buying them up cheap and selling all that very expensive neo.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.3.12
Fred, With respect to Thorium and the reason that Canada did not opt for this fuel in its CANDU nuclear reactors I can offer some insight. As you may know the CANDU industry was created in Ontario Canada which has no indigenous supplies of natural gas coal or oil. Actually the last statement wrt oil is not strictly true. The first oil well in North America was at a place called Pertrolia near Sarnia in Southwestern Ontario - NOT Texas as the Americans would have you believe. However those supplies are virtually non-existent now
The early power industry in the Province of Ontario was based entirely on hydroelectricity first at Niagara and then the ST. Lawrence River and then far flung sites such as Des Joachims on the Ottawa River and Abitibi Canyon. Unfortunately the economy outgrew the supply of hydro electric power.
However Ontario DID have supplies of Uranium at a place called Elliott Lake in North Western Ontario.The only reactor technology that could use natural uranium (the Canadian Government did not want to build an enrichment plant for political reasons) was either CANDU or the British graphite moderated MAGNOX reactors.
So with lots of natural Uranium and a bunch of really clever engineers at Chalk Rivers AECL labs the CANDU reactor was born. At the very early stages it was realized that Thorium could also be used in these reactors if the supply of Uranium ever got tight because they are very frugal with neutrons. Heavy water has an extremely low neutron capture cross section. But of course the supply of Uranium never did get tight as vast discoveries in Northern Saskatchewan at concentrations of over 20% made Canada the cheapest producer and one of the largest exporters of Uranium Oxide (Yellowcake as it is called) in the world. And it still is. Simply put there was not and is not an economic incentive to move to a Thorium cycle although it is entirely possible to do it.
The reason is that the cost of fuel in a nuclear reactor is such a very small part of the cost of operating them that any change to the price of Uranium hardly makes any impact on the cost of electricity produced.
So there is no supply shortage incentive and no cost incentive to change from the current fuel cycle.
But as an earlier writer noted, the US will need to begin importing Uranium as the Megatons to Megawatts program winds down and ends in 2013 and with this increased demand the price of Uranium will skyrocket.
Cameco has been signing agreements to export to both India and China and when the US utilities come back into the marketplace there may not be enough of it to buy.
This will be temporary as new discoveries come on stream but mines take many years to bring into commercial production so expect a Uranium shortfall for about 10 years. Current mines produce only about 80% of the current demand from 450 or so reactors. By 2020 - only 8 short years away there will be a net addition of 90 new reactors. Maybe then will be the time for Thorium technology but not now.
And of course the CANDU reactor is the ONLY design that can be factory built and site assembled which was the REAL technological breakthrough in Quinshan - not the hard working Chinese - although they do deserve great credit for their diligent work ethic.
It is simply the most elegant and safe nuclear technology in the world.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.4.12
Tam. the comments above are wonderful, and I include yours. You dont need figures from me. People like Malcolm and Len Gould and Jack Ellis have supplied in this string of comments and others all the figures both you and I need, especially me. And when I talk about wonderful comments I include David Barge. Since he says that he is in favor of nuclear but it costs too much, I am going to assume that if we were in a seminar room, and some money had changed hands, I would be able to convince him that he is way off target.
But why bother: WE HAVE NO CHOICE IN THIS MATTER . Isn't that clear. We must have nuclear whether we want it or not. Jimmy Carter had the right idea.
Let me also say that Sweden constructed 12 reactors in 13+ years. Those are ALL the numbers I need, although perhaps I should also mention that after those reactors were 'tuned up'. they gave us some of the chapest electricity in the world. Now get this Tam and David: 12 REACTORS IN 13+ YEARS, AND A SHORT TIME LATER SOME OF THE CHEAPEST ELECTRICITY IN THE WORLD. Can't you and the members of the anti-nuclear booster club understand that with that fact in the background, it is impossible to arrive at the 'numbers' you are selling? Deregulation ruined that of course, but my fellow economists are too dumb for me to to attempt to teach them how to add and subtract.
And Malcolm, the anti-nuclear booster club does deserve credit for one thing. They have sold some of the most bizarre lies and misunderstandings since Adam and Eve to university educated decision makers AND their engineer advisors. I told some remarkable lies when I was in the US military, but when I see what is happening with nuclear (and perhaps also natural gas), I admit that I was only a babe in the woods.
dennis baker 7.4.12
The primary source of GHG is fossil fuel burning electrical generating facilities. http://dingo.care2.com/pictures/causes/uploads/2012/01/GHG-emitters-2010.jpg 7 Billion humans generate vast quantities of excrement. I believe this excrement is capable of providing all human electrical demands. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiolysis Right now hydrogen is perceived as a negative by product, of Nuclear Energy, when it should be the product, as the Pentagon has considered. reference info Request for Information (RFI) on Deployable Reactor Technologies ... DARPA-SNfirstname.lastname@example.org https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=d0792af88a6a4484b3aa9d0dfeaaf553&... Large scale conversions sites are intended to replace fossil fuel powered electrical facilities the Primary Source of Carbon Emissions. http://www.populist.com/99.12.krebs.blob.html In what officials now say was a mistaken strategy to reduce the waste's volume, organic chemicals were added years ago which were being bombarded by radiation fields, resulting in unwanted hydrogen. The hydrogen was then emitted in huge releases that official studies call burps, causing "waste-bergs," chunks of waste floating on the surface, to roll over.
Dennis Baker 106-998 Creston Avenue Penticton BC V2A1P9 cell phone 250-462-3796 Phone / Fax 778-476-2633 email@example.com #dennisearlbaker
Tam Hunt 7.4.12
Malcolm, a quick response and more to come later. You're patently wrong regarding the need for a one to one backup for variable renewables. I'm surprised you don't know this. Many studies have been completed in recent years finding that modern grids can handle up to 15% or more variable renewables without building any additional backup power. CA for example is at only about 5% variable renewables (wind and solar), so we have a long way to go before we need to worry about backup power. In fact, CAISO recently completed a study looking at reliability issues re the 33% by 2020 renewables mandate passed by Gov. Brown. They found that we would literally need zero new capacity by 2020 to meet this mandate because we already have a large amount of reserves on the system.
It's also ironic that you raised this point in a discussion on nuclear power. As you may know, one of CA's two big nuclear plants has been offline since January (San Onofre) due to faulty tubes in the brand new $670 million steam generators. How have the lights stayed on with this instantaneous loss of 2,000 MW of power? Because we have a required planning reserve margin built expressly to handle loss of load like the San Onofre debacle. The irony is that when a nuclear plant goes down you're looking at 2,000 MW in one fell swoop, whereas wind and solar ramp up and down smoothly state-wide, which is why they're accurately known as variable and not intermittent. Renewables are actually far easier to integrate than mega-scale nuclear and coal plants. So many ironies, so little time...
bill payne 7.4.12
Hello Prof Banks, No response from you about Mr King's or Mr Katusa's assertions about availabilty of buclear fuel yet.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.4.12
Tam you talk utter nonsense at times and you carefully steer the uninformed reader away from the real facts.
Windmills have a capacity factor of only 25% at the best sites. That means you have spent money to build a plant that at BEST will only operate 25% of the time. That means something else is replacing the other 75%. In order to keep the lights on another generator with another capital cost price tag is operating because the windmill does not. By any calculation you have built TWO power plants and incurred TWO capital costs because your plant cannot operate at 100%. The same is ALSO true of nuclear power plants but to a far lesser extent. With capacity factors well above 90% you only have to replace it with other capital investment 10% or less of the time - a much better deal.
In Ontario a massive amount of gas fired plant has been installed for the sole purpose of backing up wind generation when it does not work most of the time.
So please don't give me that baloney. If you install a 2MW generator and only get a 25% capacity factor something else is replacing that power the rest of the time. Since power plants are not free - that is more capital outlay for the same installed MW.
I can assure you that what is backing up San Onofre is NOT wind generation. Almost certainly it is natural gas and imports. Although your carefully crafted words make it sound like it is windmills. Like I said pure baloney from the master spin doctor. Malcolm
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.4.12
Dennis, Interesting post and I agree that it is a much more plausible source of energy than most. However I am not sure about the net energy output since moving all that sewage around takes some large pumping capacity although I suppose one could argue we already do that.
I do consider that practical ideas like yours deserve more thought but it is not quite so easy to do. The City of Vancouver is testing out a system to produce methane from the city sewage and the pressurize it to feed it back into the gas mains for use. The problem is that what you get is not pure methane and has to be cleaned up before entry into the gas system. I have seen farm generators operating on cow manure methane so it is possible but the question is whether it is economic on a large industrial scale.
But it does solve 2 problems at once so a good use of capital. The difficulty is that with gas prices so low it likely isn't economic compared to conventional natural gas supplies.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.4.12
Bill to answer the questions about the availability of Uranium to fuel US nuclear plants as noted by Byron King and Mr Katusa.
Firstly US production has been increasing in recent year. Cameco is operating the Ranger Mine which is an in situ mine that uses different production technology than the regular hard rock mining. It is true that about half of US plants have operated on down blended Russian warhead material for almost 2 decades. The rest have been operating on Uranium from the marketplace. But there is plenty of Uranium in the ground but i do expect the price to increase because we have not been exploring for it (due to low prices) for some years. Uranium mines are long lead time facilities so in the short term once the megatons to megawatts program ends there will be a supply shortfall while new mines come into production.
Of course it must be said that the US is not self sufficient on anything in the commodity line except perhaps food but you have a friendly neighbour to the north that can supply all the Uranium you need.
Australia - another friendly nation - also has vast supplies of Uranium too so I am quite sure the world can provide the US with more than enough Uranium to keep all the existing 104 and the new 5, 10, 15 or 20 that you will be building over the next few years humming along nicely.
However a smart investor would be taking advantage of low cost shares in producers since the Megatons to Megawatts program ends in 2013 and the current mines cannot produce all of the worlds requirements - and by 2020 there will be another 90 net new reactors operating...and they all run on Uranium.
Don Hirschberg 7.5.12
I come much too late to this discussion to contribute in context.
But I did read a long news article that I found very depressing about the current prospects of fusion. The only thing that has kept me thinking man has a future is fusion. It goes back to about 1955-1960 when we heard great things about fusion while the first commercial fission plants were going on line.
Today we learn that commercial fusion is still in the realm of a dream. The About 1950 we were told it was “as much as 50 years in the future.” Fission seems to be our only realistic and timely salvation.
Professor Banks wrote:
“I told some remarkable lies when I was in the US military.” I wish I hadn't seen this. My experience has been quite the contrary. In the Army of the Korean War I was never lied to as far as I know.. Although I was likely then merely a 2d Lt Professor Banks would have been in quite serious trouble if he had ever lied to me.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.5.12
I would have lied to you, Don. I would have lied to you and you would have taken it and liked it. How do I know this? How can I make such a brash statement?. The answer is that I got EVERYTHING I wanted from the United States Army, and more, much more, and I got it because I learned how to deal with obnoxious superiors, and later the parasites and charlatans I have to contend with in the academic world.
In my last year of college I took the US State Department exam, which of course I passed easily, and also the German language exam, since I had been stationed in Germany for 15 months. But they didn't call me for an interview, Evidently they had discovered somethin about me that offended them, and so I called them , and as a native American and veteran insisted on an interview. Therefore, reluctantly, the interviewers cancelled their departure plans and gave me an interview late one friday, or maybe it was saturday. I gave them their money's worth.
I appeared for the interview in fatigue trousers and a 'muscle revealing' T shirt, It was at the Federal Building in Chicago, and when the FBI gentleman who greeted me noted that I looked like I was in good shape, I gold him that I had been "playing a little ball." Several times during the interview - in which I addressed ithe interviewers in an insolent and arrogant manner - I made it clear that my life began when I entered the United States Army, because as a Marine said, in the military you learn how to lie and steal. Stealing isn't on my radar, but I do know how to lie when it is necessary, especially when I have to deal with persons who have mistakenly been appointed to give me stupid oders.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.5.12
Bill Payne, what kind of response can I give.? If I remember correctly, Mr Kok covered that topic quite thoroughly for this forum, and definitely to my satisfaction-
I never think about nuclear fuel however, because despite having confessed to being a serial liar occasionally - occasionally - as a young soldier, I also happen to believe that there is no shortage of nuclear fuel. And if there is a shortage, so what. The voters will just have to inform the movers and shakers to insist that the nuclear scientists and engineers stop playing games and start producing commercial breeder reactors.
This is another topic I dont think about, because like (President) Jimmy Carter, I believe that the breeder is inevitable, but I also think it likely that the movers and shakers and liars and or fools - like George W. Bush and Barack Obama - are unable to manage these assets the way that they should be managed.
Len Gould 7.5.12
Don, I "think" fusion power is very likely doable even now, if a masive R&D effort were put into a crash program to develop ITER. The problem is that "cheap affordable clean fusion power" is somewhere a long way off, if ever possible.
David Barge 7.5.12
Len - your experience of the CANDU reactors in China does not qualify. They were not built in the west. Maybe my sentence you quote was not specific enough, but I think the thrust of my thought about experience in the west is clear. I am all for the Canadian design being built in the US... They could not take a project from greenfield to criticality in 46 months in the US, though.
Fred - on balance I agree with your idea that maintenance of standard of living will require expanded nuclear, and a lot of it, but your continued citation of Sweden building nuclear reactors in the 1970s is totally irrelevant. The fact that they could do it then (and so did the US, all of the 104 current reactors were commissioned in that same period) has nothing to do with the realities of construction and project management today.
With the amounts of money and time involved, targeting a 20 year rollout and 2050 for a large and online expansion of Nuclear in the West is probably reasonable.
Malcom - Maybe my intent (above reply to len) wasn't sufficiently clear... Look to the first sentence of my post ("in the FREE WORLD"). There is no WESTERN example of generation III nuclear being delivered on time and on budget. The Finns were supposed to provide that experience if you look back 10 years. How did that turn out? Western companies building in China does not count...
bill payne 7.5.12
From: XXXX To: firstname.lastname@example.org Sent: Thursday, July 5, 2012 11:37:14 AM Subject: Solar Power
Bill, I assume you saw where Schott closed it's NM plant & we have no recourse to recover the $160 million of state money the Richardson administration invested. A friend in the "new Santa Fe administration" told me that Schott could/would not account for about $100 million of that money. I wonder how much old Bill got? So much for NM being the Solar Technology Center. It appears solar energy is as we discussed. XXXX
What am I miissing fin your commnet that there is appraently no problem with future nuclear fuel supply?
Len Gould 7.5.12
David: Your "reactors in China does not qualify. They were not built in the west. " puzzles me. If provision is made for differences in labour costs, and the solid rider added that no frivolous legal manouvers be allowed to impede the process, why shouldn't the same result be achievable in "the west"?
Don Hirschberg 7.5.12
Glen, I think the first sentence of your two sentence posting of the 5th annihilates the second sentence. POOF - nothing left.
Further, as the “E” in ITER stands for EXPERIMENTAL then who can say that we have not already succeeded.
Don Hirschberg 7.6.12
I did it again Len , not Glen but Len in my posting above. I'm so sorry.
Professor Banks bragging about his succcess over the decades as a liar has me quite upset.
Don Hirschberg 7.6.12
I was a 2d Lt in the Korean War. (Twice subject to the draft I also am a a veteran of WWII.) We did not act on lies. Lives were always at stake – nearly everything an officer does in warfare means lives. When I went to Officer Candidate School we had at least one college degree, and understood the West Point Code, to not lie,cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do. We were a few years older than those from West Point. When Professor Banks brags about lying his way through his Army service I am annoyed, and a bit incredulous. He repeatedly says he was ever so much smarter than than the Army. I challenge that. I am so glad Ferdinand E Banks was not one of my marvelous men.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.6.12
The West Point code dealing with telling lies means the following: A West Point officer does not lie to other West Pointers. What he does where lesser human beings are concerned is quite another matter.
And Lieutenant Hirshberg, in case you have forgotten or dont know, a West Pointer - General Douglas MacArthur - formerly a superintendent of West Point - ordered an assault on Manilla that cost a thousand American lives and the lives of about 100,000 Filippinos, just so he could enjoy the comfort of the hotel suite where he shacked up with some broad before the war. No wonder President Truman dumped him, and General Omar Bradley called him monumentally stupid.
And I WAS smarter than the army. A lot smarter, and I was once in a company (at Fort Ord) in which a quarter of the trainees were college boys and hipsters and intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals from LA, and many of them smarter than me, and they knew it, and the Army knew it. At the end of the basic cycle, only four or five of us went to advanced infantry training, and the other 150 or 200 went to Paris or Berlin or Brussels or somewhere sweet and mellow. I dont know how you would have commanded those young Americans, but I know that our company commander developed an inferiority complex, although not the other officers: they had inferiority complexes to begin with. And by the way Lieutenant, being in outfits like that gave me what I needed to win.
Afterwards I went to Leadership School, with the intention of continuing to OCS. I was first in the class, but on the last day I was boarded out - expelled - though the reason why was not given me. Nor was I interested. If you remember your game theory, in a situation like that all that counts is the terminal nodes, and backward induction will take you the rest of the way.
Everything an officer does in warfare means lives you say. Maybe you should work with some numbers, Lieutenant. As Paul Fussell pointed out, in his class at Harvard there were many veterans, but he was the only one who had seen any ground combat. And by the way, President George W. Bush few jet fighters, but he made it his business to stay as far away from Vietnam as possible - at least that's what one of his commanding officers said.
I have just completed a book of short stories called WINNERS LEAD THE WAY. Maybe you will honor me by buying one when it is published, if it is published, although to tell the living truth I care less about that book than the math problems I solve every day.
Rustem Igizbaev 7.8.12
We developed a way of expanded reproduction of the electric energy, not dependent neither from climatic conditions, nor from existence of natural energy resources. It will provide in short terms to solve problems of production, distribution, is sold cheap at prime cost and the non-polluting electric power, in comparison with existing traditional ways of power production, and also the express solution of the sharpest ekologo-economic and social problems of the present. With functioning of artificially created hydrodynamic design of the vertical linear closed waterway (water circulation) generally their families, the induction of nonconservative system of forces is reached. That is such system of forces under the influence of which there is a violation of laws of preservation: • composite pulse of forces or full number of movement; • full moment of an impulse of forces or full moment of number of movement; • energy. Development and the solution of this problem are in detail stated in two scientific articles of the name which are provided in a final part of our Address. The offered way of expanded reproduction of the electric power is based on operation of this induced by a complex of hydrounits of nonconservative system of forces. This introduction, our answer to the persons who are not tired as parrots, to repeat phrases, it seems: • «energy can't be expanded is reproduced, for something from can be received nothing»; • «they don't disappear and don't appear, and turn from one look into another» •, etc. The most advanced physicists (The Nobel prize winner Leon Cooper, Jay Orir, Eric Rogers, Charlz Kittel, Walter Knight, Melvin Ruderman and ??) said long ago possibilities of research of nonconservative forces, therefore and opening of violation of laws of conservation of energy that is proved by us.
Absence of consumption of natural energy resources at is expanded a way of reproduction of electric energy will allow to reach: • improvement of the ecological situation connected by an adverse effect of traditional ways of power production; • approximately identical cost of production 1??? hour of electric energy in any country of the World; • introduction of economically reasonable general currency: power - dollar, power - euro, power - ruble, etc. and thereof economic independence of the countries of not having large supplies of energy resources; • reductions of the conflicts in the World occurring because of energy resources; • etc. We bring to your attention ours «MESSAGE TO CITIZENS OF THE WORLD (ENERGETICS you tube)»
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.12.12
One more simple thought, Lieutenant Hirshberg I signed up to be Uncle Sam's soldier, and not his fool. But if I could do the song and dance over again I would do it exactly the same way, because the most important thing I learned was how to deal with the gentlemen he appointed to keep the machine running. They were often pretty sad, though admittedly not as sad as some of the clowns in the corriders and restaurants of academia.
Tam Hunt 7.12.12
Malcolm, you don't know what you're talking about. Here's a link to the CAISO report I mentioned. I highly recommend that you read it:
And here's the LBNL report finding that integration costs for wind power up to 40% of grid capacity costs no more than a 10% premium on top of the energy cost (slide 55):
There are many reasons why nothing like a one to one backup is required for wind and solar, but for wind the key is that wind power is an energy source not a power source. That is, it's considered "as available non-peaking" at most locations and so is not considered a baseload source at all. And as I've already mentioned, all modern grids have planning reserve margins already re baseload power that exist to backup all types of generation, not just renewables.
As for wind power being a 25% capacity factor at the best sites, again you're simply wrong. 40% and up is not uncommon at the best sites. 25% is very bad for commercial wind.
Solar power is actually a pretty reliable peak power source because of course it produces power during the day when demand is often the highest. And peak power is worth a lot more than non-peak power on most grids, so the cost comparisons are quite favorable for solar power vis a vis status quo power sources.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.13.12
Tam, what you are saying just above is not even goofy. How can somebody as intelligent as you probably are make some of the statements you make about wind and solar.
Listen, I am circulating a long paper on nuclear, and in that paper I say a couple of things that will probably warm your heart. In regions where there is some - any - evidence that wind and solar make sense, I am in favor of them, and that includes subsidizing them. I also notice that the Japanese government is nationalizing TEPCO. Way to go fellas and gals.
Tam Hunt 7.13.12
Not sure what you're referring to exactly, Fred. Can you provide some details on what exactly you think is "not even goofy" in what I wrote?
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.14.12
Tam, everything you write about nuclear and wind and solar is worse than goofy, silly is a better word.
But what's the problem? I have lived and taught in Sweden for more than 30 years, and I doubt whether I can write a paragraph of Swedish that mades sense. I passed the US State Department's exam on German, and now I have to strain to read a page, and many times I talked French with colleagues in Africa and France, and after three oclock in the after noon I cant speak or understand any of it.
I failed physics twice at Illinois Tech and was expelled, but I know the economics of nuclear better than anyone I have met. Of course, the teachers of economics in the US are probably so rotten now that this is unavoidable.
Jim Beyer 7.16.12
In defense of Tam, I think some points concerning solar make sense. Take this plausible scenario, if not possible now, then probably in the near future: Solar Panels are installed on a building in downtown L.A., at the cost of $1-$2/Watt. So these panels work only when the sun is shining, to be sure, but it shines often enough in L.A., and certainly during the hot sunny days when everyone in the city is cranking up their A/C. If you run the numbers compared with the expected cost of nuclear, this is a good deal. Makes sense. Economical. Wise. Saves on transmission infrastructure and losses as well. All of that.
The problem is that the 5 kWatts or so of panels on this fictional roof needs to be replicated 300,000 TIMES to replace a single large nuclear power plant which runs day and night, even when the sun is not shining. There is also some issue with the quality of an energy source which is not available 24/7 but much more penetration by solar is needed before this is relevant.
The good and the bad of solar is its diffuse nature. That makes it easy to install incrementally (you don't need to spend $10+ Billion before you generate a single Watt) but hard to build up in significant amounts to make a difference. That's basically the long and short of solar (and many other renewables as well).
Tam Hunt 7.16.12
Fred, you're a pot calling the kettle black. You present anecdote and rumor as economic fact regarding the merits of nuclear and yet you can't answer even the most basic questions about the actual costs of nuclear power. Give us hard numbers and then I might take your points seriously.
Tam Hunt 7.16.12
Jim, solar has demonstrated its ability to scale remarkably well. Germany installed 7 GW of solar in 2010 and then again in 2011, and is on track to do the same in 2012. 7 GW is equivalent to a 1 GW nuclear plant, so Germany is effectively replacing the energy produced by one nuclear reactor each year with solar. But solar is a peak power resource, not baseload, so it's actually economically far more valuable than nuclear power. Germany has already seen its wholesale peak market prices drop significantly from the massive amounts of solar power being installed, demonstrating its economic benefits.
Globally, solar grew from about 1 GW installed in 2000 to 28 GW installed in 2011. We're now at about 80 GW installed globally and we've seen 70% annual rates of growth for the last six years. This is a doubling of capacity every 1.3 years. If we keep doubling at anywhere near this rate, we'll be more than half solar before 2030. The question really is: can we keep up the torrid rate of growth in solar installations globally? My guess is that we can because we have seen such dramatic decreases in the cost of solar (about 50% in the last couple of years).
FYI, solar installed in LA is still not close to $1-2/watt. More like $4-5/watt, but coming down quickly.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.16.12
The reason for the ignorant nuclear retreat in Germany is to get Frau Merkel and her foot soldiers another term in the Reichstag, and nothing else. And listen, solar is an economic failure in Germany. Ms Merkel and friends are counting on purchases of nuclear generated power from Sweden, France and Belgium - as well as imports of non-nuclear power from elsewhere to make her crazy program work., by which I mean work to keep her in office.
Incidentally, I am NOT against the use of wind and solar, nor am I against subsidizing renewables and alternatives. As for my ability to provide basic economic facts, I really wonder how you can talk about the torrid rate of growth in solar installations. Dont you realize how nutty that sounds where Europe is concerned.
Jim Beyer 7.16.12
According to Wikipedia, solar power in Germany only runs about 700 hours (of rated capacity) per year. So this is more like 8% capacity rather than the 14% (1 divided by 7) that Tam cites.
Tam Hunt 7.17.12
Jim, you're right that I over-estimated Germany's capacity factor for solar by about a factor of two. So I stand corrected: Germany has been installing enough solar in each of the last three years to replace about half of a 1 GW nuclear plant. Still very impressive. And don't forget that solar is actually still a relatively small component of Germany's power mix, with wind and biomass both comprising more than three times the power than solar provides. These other renewables aren't growing as fast as solar but they're still growing. Biomass is of course baseload so it's viable as a complete replacement for nuclear power. It seems quite likely that Germany will be able to weather the replacement of its nuclear fleet quite well in coming years.
Tam, You seem to have a problem with the concept of power need and solar (or renewable) energy availability. The two do not line-up well for most of the country and therein lies the rub.
Glibly stating that X megawatts of solar power can replace X megawatts of nuclear power is painfully myopic.
Further, simply touting the installed cost of solar energy is naive, at best. The "all-in" cost is what counts and that includes paying off the debt during the time the asset is actually producing power.
To the extent that renewable energy can provide supplemental power, that's fine as long as the price is reasonable. That remains an unfulfilled hope. Ditto for cost of power supplied by new nuclear plants built in the US.
As far as Germany is concerned, I am sure the French will be happy to sell them all the power (which will be nuclear) the Germans need.
Your "happy-face" assessment of Germany is just whistling in the dark as the economic situation becomes ever more grim.
Jim Beyer 7.18.12
Michael: I don't understand this:
>Further, simply touting the installed cost of solar energy is naive, at best. The "all-in" cost is what >counts and that includes paying off the debt during the time the asset is actually producing power.
I guess there is some maintenance, etc. for solar, but that's not very much. I really don't know what you mean.
Given that the sun shines during the working part of the day, I think there is pretty good alignment with our energy needs. I don't know what level of penetration is possible before it's intermittent nature becomes evident, but even if its only 10 or 20 percent, there is much more that can be done with solar. As penetration increases, it's savings with respect to grid loading (because they can often be placed on the structures that need the power) may become more prominent and appreciated as well.
Tam Hunt 7.18.12
Michael, you've misunderstood what I've written. I have not equated solar and nuclear as you state. I have, rather, stated that of course nuclear is baseload and solar is a peaking as-available resource. Therefore there is far more to the equation than simply matching MW for MW. I did note in my discussion of solar power development that Germany is installing solar capacity each year equivalent to the production (I wrote "effectively replacing," which is shorthand) of about half a nuclear plant, so this is probably where your misunderstanding arose. Every grid needs to ensure reliability in terms of meeting energy demand and voltage regulation, as well as other nuances.
As for "installed cost" of solar vs. "all-in cost," you are right that looking at the installed cost alone is not the whole story. But this is why whenever I compare actual costs of different sources of electricity I look to the "levelized cost," which is an all-in cost over the life of the project. It's a comprehensive measure. It provides an apples to apples comparison of different technologies, with the one caveat being that variable renewables like solar do need integration resources when penetration reaches about 15% or so. And as I have also noted in this thread, the cost of such integration is generally less than 10% of the cost of power, so if the levelized cost is already favorable then the additional integration cost will generally not tip the balance away.
Jerry Watson 7.18.12
Trivia update, just when it got interesting did everyone see that the US commerce commission levied massive tariffs on several Chinese PV manufacturers of around 30%. That is a huge blow and will likely make US solar economically unattractive for several more years. It is about economics and solar economics especially PV had changed greatly and now took a large step backwards. It was difficult to fathom that PV was becoming an economical means generation. A few years ago who would have ever thought it, CSP seemed the only possibility. However, times and technology do change. As the result of the complaints of a German company these tariffs were levied. I wonder if it is possible that the German company really did not have the US best interest at heart?
Jerry Watson 7.18.12
This is an edited but repeat comment, I have briefly studied southwest summer load profiles and solar PV generation profiles in that area. I was formerly NERC certified as a Reliability Coordinator and traded energy so I have some expertise in this area.
It appears to me that the system as it now exists could reasonably support 30% to 50% of system peak generation coming from controllable single axis PV without storage. In this area the peak load is roughly twice base load, in the morning hours the solar may need to be detuned if system mins couldn’t support full output but with single axis PV that is easy enough. In a 30% scenario, without evening detuning (setting the panels at less than the optimum angle), PV output would peak around 1000 and remain fairly stable to around 1700. Fossil generation would start ramping up around noon rather than the current 0600. Assuming the peak to be 200% of base, at system peak at 1700 fossil load would only be around 150% of base for the peak. The fossil generation would continue to ramp up until around 2000 at 180% of base. It appears 30% PV would shave 20% off the peak and shift the fossil generation peak 3 hours later plus reduce fuel consumption by 15% for the day. This 30% PV scenario assumes 50% to be near the turndown mins for the fossil fleet.
Using controllable single axis PV could easily replace 50% of peak generation mix without storage. Across the day solar would have to adjusted (detuned) to allow the fossil fleet to maintain minimum loads. Near the system peak fossil would start ramping up and continue to ramp up to compensate for the drop in PV generation. Fossil generation would still peak around 2000 at 180% base but fuel consumption would be reduced 20% without any storage. In this scenario solar utilization would be less than 100% but would require no storage or other as of yet pie in the sky technology.
Michael Keller 7.18.12
If you borrow money to build something, you must normally pay back your creditors (unless you're a bunch of democrats running the government). Those costs must be included in the product you are selling.
I am not a big fan of levelized costs as games can be played with the life of the asset, inflation, etc., etc. For instance, a nuclear plant generally has a 60 year life and the mathematics of "levelized" then makes the cost look great. Well, maybe for our children, but so much for the generation building the plant.
A more even-handed method is Total-Overnight-Cost, which only looks at "kick-and-count" costs. Factor in the cost of financing and then see what you have to charge near-term (say over the first 10 years).
As to filling the grid full of solar energy, I do not see the value for the consumer, as costs will necessarily skyrocket because the asset is unreliable. To the extent that solar/renewable assets act as peaking type generation, OK, so long as those selling such energy keep their hands off the taxpayers wallet.
Jerry Watson 7.18.12
Admittedly, I am starting to wane, but I still a supporter of Nuclear power, but the US cost is ludicrous for the still maturing technology. It is obvious that the overnight cost of Nucs needs to be under $4000/kw. When Nuc whispers restarted, costs of $1500-2000/kw was the perceived cost and nothing can compete long term with $2000/kw Nuc. But Vogtle’s cost of $6600/KW does not work unless economics are ignored and if one does that what doesn’t work? We could drill down near the mantel and supply all our needs with geothermal that is year round 24 hour a day supply that could be throttled to balance supply and demand with zero fuel cost, better than even Nuc, we have the technology to do it. I could list all the advantages of this approach dependable, little pollution, is it a domestic source.... The reason we do not do this is its overnight cost is too high. There is no reason to exempt Nuc, Solar, Wind or any other source from this logical constraint. It is equally absurd to phase out existing Nucs simply because they are Nucs as some propose.
Jerry Watson 7.18.12
All machines can last forever, if we can build it to start with can replace or repair all parts. We replace machines because we have better ones and replacement is logical usually based on economics. Why not say Nucs will last a thousand years, they could. What is tougher to say is in the next thousand years the technology will not be obsolesced. I fear that the AP1000 is already a dinosaur more a construction of our fears and bureaucracy than nuclear energies true potential. I think it is a little silly to believe the nuclear state of the art will be static for the next 60 years.
There are plenty of coal plants in service that predate the nuclear fleet so they have already lasted nearly 60 years with their 20 year design life. Many of them owe their long lives to difficulty in permitting replacements that does not make them better it simply makes them old.
One last thing your solar statement is wrong. In the southern US (cooling region) Solar better aligns than Nuclear with load profiles. Nuclear output is typically near 100% or zero. Is there a single US nuclear plant Load following? PV output more closely follows load it is highest when the cooling load is highest and will not cause any problems with minimum loads at night. It is funny to be purely Nuc one of two things must happen, either load following Nucs or massive amounts of storage are necessary. Everyone’s first thing when speaking of solar is what how about cloudy days. FYI cooling loads are also much lower when it is cloudy.
I mentioned this earlier and it may not be done anywhere yet, but single axis PV can load follow with simple controls. If you can move the panels you can vary the output. If single axis PV was cheap enough it could be build with a reserve margin by having it at less the optimum angle to the sun and almost instantly pick additional load by improving that angle.
Michael Keller 7.18.12
In my view, comes down to costs and competition. If your product cannot compete, then "adios". Technology marches ever forward - although pin-headed government regulations are less-than-helpful.
As far as the South is concerned - pretty hazy, humid and fair amount of clouds and rain in the summer. Remain skeptical about solar, unless the price is right.
The folks footing the bill for Vogtle may be less than happy as costs continue to balloon ever upwards. Pretty much inevitable for complicated projects using massive amounts of concrete, steel and wire, no matter what you are building. Throw in complicated government regulations and you are more-or-less doomed, as Finland has found out.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.19.12
As Finland has found out, Michael? The facility that Areva was supposed to construct in five years will be eight and maybe nine years. But Areva and not Finland will eat the cost of the extra three or four years. Of course, all this playing around with nuclear has annoyed the Finns - it has annoyed them so much that they are talking about ordering another nuclear facility or maybe two.
What's the explanation here? The answer is that the educational system works as well or better in Finland than in any country in the world, and so the voters in that country are not prepared to play the fool for the kind of nuclear foolishness that Tam and his friends are selling. In addition, if you examine the history of the Finnish nuclear sector, you will see that their reactors - Swedish and Russian - have served them well.
In a textbook world the cost of nuclear would be on its way to 1500-2500 dollars a kW in countries on the technological level of the US.. That of course is impossible in The Big PX, where the history of WW2 and the industrial miracles accomplished then are completely and totally unknown to the 'broad masses'. The Chinese know about it however. There is also the sad fact that when the subject is energy, gross ignorance and stupidity is not only tolerated but welcomed. The lies and nonsense about nuclear may turn out to be trivial as compared to those about shale gas and especially shale oil.
My humble knowledge of nuclear begins and ends with what has been accomplished in Sweden, both positive and negative. By negative I mean listening to the half-educated bunkum being circulated by Tam and his 'comrades in ignorance' like the Swedish Energy Minister
Tam Hunt 7.24.12
Michael, using total overnight cost to compare costs of different technologies is, well, absurd. How do you account for the fuel costs of natural gas, coal or nuclear, vs. the zero cost of fuel for renewables? Seriously.