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Comments by Gerry Runte Subscribe

On Some Lessons Were Learned from TMI, Others Were Not

"Subsidy" is a loaded word, implying more than it should. Convential wisdom defines subsidy as an artificial (and unfair) reduction in the cost of renewables. These "subsidies" simply offset the total costs of energy from that source.  Their "competition" in the market, however, are not costed at their total cost of energy. "Subsidies" would not be necessary if, for example, all tax credits and production incentives were removed from oil and gas; loan guarantees, production credits and Price Anderson support from nuclear; costs of respiratory health treatment and coal miner disease coverage for coal use; and the incremental costs of the military budget for oil protection were all reflected in what an end user pays for those resources.  Let all of those additional costs be reflected in each energy resource and then make policy based on the economics.

April 13, 2014    View Comment    

On Some Lessons Were Learned from TMI, Others Were Not

Just to set the record straight, there were no out of court settlements over health claims at TMI.  The cases that were filed were repudiated by several courts and courts of appeal for lack of evidence. The last appeal was in 1996.  Epidemiology is a tricky science.  For example, the levels of cesium in milk in the area around TMI were significantly higher as a result of fallout from Chinese nuclear testing than from anything that ever emanated from the site. 

April 13, 2014    View Comment    

On Some Lessons Were Learned from TMI, Others Were Not

I'm not celebrating anything.  I'm just mystified that many nuclear advocates seem to forget that this is a business in a marketplace.  What a waste of energy to rail at the ignorance of the public with their overblown perception of risk or attack renewables as if nuclear is being displaced by them.  Public perception is generally pro nuclear and has been for 30 years.  Nuclear plants are certainly not in competition with any renewable resource at the moment (unless and until there is economic grid scale storage) because they are baseload only and therefore only compete with coal and gas, whether in a vertically integrated utility, a generation company or as a merchant plant.  Nuclear plants are not being built because of a poor business case, period.  There is a lot that's bad about the patchwork quilt of how electricity is generated, transmitted and distributed in the US and the regulatory framework in which it exists, but it is what it is - a market that is not conducive to nuclear technology. Nuclear advocates ought to focus on cost issues and articulate why it makes sense to pay a premium for nuclear power.  See http://worthingtonsawtelle.com/where-are-the-smart-nuclear-advocates/ 

April 9, 2014    View Comment    

On Some Lessons Were Learned from TMI, Others Were Not

I'm afraid you might misunderstand how our electricity delivery system works.  The wholesale grids calls for power to meet demand.  The order by which it calls for that power (and bids for power) is based on cost: lowest cost units first, highest cost units last. THis cost does not include capital- it is purely operating costs - fuel and O&M. What a bidder charges for their power is up to them.  This is only "fossil fuel" centric because they happen to be the cheapest units available, as long as you buy the idea that their other costs (e.g., enivironmental) are externalities unless and until they can be monetized.  Monetization requires either a value placed on emissions or lack thereof, either by cap and trade or by taxes.  

If you build a nuclear plant your plant does not have very much cycling ability, so it must run baseloaded, so it can only compete with other units that are pricing out at less than 5 cents/kwh, sometimes less than 2.

But what you sell that power for and what you need to get to make a return on the investment are two very different things.  No investor is willing to wait forever to get its money back, and therein lies nuclear's problem.

This is why nuclear is the quintessential technology for centrally planned economies where the units are owned, operated and regulated by the government.  Only a government has the financial resources to cover the added expense of nuclear and/or the costs when something goes wrong.  And only a government has the patience to get extremely long returns on its assets.

All this talk of considering the longevity of units in cost, by the way, is just a red herring.  There are 10 coal plants that began operation in the 20's; another 20 that began in the 30's.  The average age of the coal fleet is 47 years old.  Nuclear plants are built by companies that are making an investment, and while you could claim an operating life of 100 years to make the capital recovery factor drop, no one is willing to wait that long for a return.

April 8, 2014    View Comment    

On Some Lessons Were Learned from TMI, Others Were Not

You are right- it's not entirely about overnight capital.  It's about the overall busbar cost of electricity (as established by your allowed acounting system using a reasonable asset life)  and how that cost competes in the wholesale power market.  It's also about your perception of future financial risk.

Now,if you start at over $7,000/kW installed and assume the maximum lifetime, that means your busbar costs just for capital recovery is about 11 cents/kwh.  Now add in fuel and O&M and you're in the 14 cents/kwh neighborhood. You might take a look at the daily transactions on any of the wholesale grid websites and compare a cost of generation in the teens/kwh with the going rate for baseloaded power.  

So if you are the decision maker on building new generation, you ask yourself two questions: what best meets my new demand at a cost that is competitive in my grid; and of those options which has the least long term risk for added costs or premature shutdown.

Given that, is it surprising that people are not lining up to buy new large nuclear generating stations?

April 8, 2014    View Comment    

On Some Lessons Were Learned from TMI, Others Were Not

The only places that can ignore the costs of nuclear are centrally planned economies where market economics do not matter and where the state has the financial resources to afford the technology and deal with consequences when problems occur.  Under the current US system the choice of nuclear is in the hands of a buyer and that buyer needs to satisfy its stakeholder needs: shareholders, regulators and customers.  

April 7, 2014    View Comment    

On Some Lessons Were Learned from TMI, Others Were Not

I'd like to add to your commentary on the lessons not fully learned.  At the time of the accident there were pockets of small but rather vocal and visible anti-nuclear activists.  For all practical purposes, they had little effectiveness in terms of achieving their goals, and public opinion was then (and continues to be) majority pro-nuclear.  The hysteria that resulted was fueled by other factors.  Two weeks before the accident the film China Syndrome opened and became a global hit.  Its plot mirrored TMI somewhat, at least enough for people to draw direct comparisons, except there was no WIlford Brimley at TMI to keep a meltdown from happening.  Secondly, as you noted, the plant management was both clueless about what was happening in the plant and, coming from the Rickover School of Communications, had no business talking to reporters.  But most importantly was the role the NRC played in creating hysteria. At the time of the accident the only NRC voice came from DC and not from the plant.  If reporters talked to the onsite NRC person, they could get a different story than from DC because neither knew what the other knew.  NRC HQ was not getting instant information from the site, so when an operator said one thing and reporters asked HQ, they would deny it.  Public officials had no idea what was happening and no confidence in what they were being told, so by Friday morning (30 March) evacuations were recommended. And then came the NRC HQ's baffling announcement Friday night regarding the possibility of a hydrogen explosion within the primary cooling loop, a possiblity any high chool chemist could quickly dismiss using Boyle's Law. A H2 explosion did ultimately occur, but inside containment, resulting in no external release.

I'd like to add another lesson not yet learned: it costs a lot more than you think to cleanup and accident and/or decomission a reactor.  Before TMI decontamination insurance was limited to $300 million.  Getting TMI to its current state, which is somewhat akin to the NRC entombment case but not quite (more interior decontamination would have to occur) cost a little over $1.2 billion.  Decommissioning of the first generation reactors that had no accidents are costing about that amount.  The NRC,however, is still approving site specific decommissioning cost estimates at around $300 million. 

And then there's the lesson the industry thinks it learned: the 30 year hiatus in reactor construction occurred because of public fears resulting from TMI and Chernobyl.  Public perception in the US (I think the EU is a different story) had nothing to do with the hiatus.  It was all about cost and it is still all about cost.  The last few reactors commissioned in the US in the mid 80's cost over $5,000/kW.  That's $11,000/kW in 2014 dollars.  The reactors now in construction are likely to come in at a little over $7,000/kW.  Nuclear advocates haranguing the press about public risk perception and attacking non-baseloaded renewables are simply trying to divert attention from the real problem faced by nuclear: why would a plant owner risk the investment in a technology that is not competitive?

April 6, 2014    View Comment    

On Climate Skeptics Against Global Warming

If you read the Breakthrough "analysis" cited above, what it says is 1) take the fuel mix of 1940, assume it stays the same until present.  2) calculate the carbon emissions under that hypothetical. 3) calculate our actual carbon emissions since 1940, and, voila, look how great we've been compared with what we could have become.  If we changed nothing since 1940, that is.

It also only uses the metrics of carbon emissions, energy intensity and carbon intensity, failing entirely to note that some of that reduction over 1940 came as a result of greater efficiency of generation, end use, and, lately, reduced demand in the economy. I bet those three items reduced far more carbon than the nuclear and natural gas contributions.

They ought to rename this organization the "Breathtaking Institute" because of the breathtaking extent to which they overreach.

October 3, 2013    View Comment    

On Nuclear Energy: Mark Bittman's Renewables Delusions

EIA's numbers are for a $5,400 kW installed cost plant with 2 cents/kWh for O&M.  New nuclear is more like $7,000/kW awith higher O&M.  

September 10, 2013    View Comment    

On Nuclear Energy: Mark Bittman's Renewables Delusions

George:
First, a comment on comparing nuclear with photovoltaics that I posted a few days ago:

Until large scale economic energy storage becomes available, anyone who compares large nuclear plants- or any other form of central baseloaded generation - to renewables is advertising that they don't understand how electricity delivery systems function.  When you can adequately aggregate intermittent generation through storage, then maybe a comparison could be made, as long as the incremental grid infrastructure is included in the equation.  The question, of course, is whether the central generation model is still viable in all regions.

Regarding cost, with the exception of China, Russia, South Korea and India, where actual costs are not exactly transparent, installed costs for nuclear are averaging above $7,000 kW.  Add in operating costs and the levelized buss bar cost for  new unit is in the neighborhood of 14 cents/kwh.

September 10, 2013    View Comment    

On Nuclear Energy: Mark Bittman's Renewables Delusions

Bob:
Nuclear's share of global electricity generation was about 13.5% in 2012.  It will only be about 12.8% by 2020.

You need to look at the subsidies study done by the Congressional Research Office.  You also need to be careful how "subsidy" is defined.  

September 10, 2013    View Comment    

On Nuclear Energy: Mark Bittman's Renewables Delusions

There are 54 reactors that have been decommissioned , are in decommissioning or are about to start the process.  The average cost is running about $1,635/kW.  The NRC target for funds is a more or less flat $300 plus million.  Vermont Yankee's fund is $500 milliion short.  San Onofre at least $300 million.  Check out Zion, Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Rowe.  The latter came in at $3,500/kW.  The UK estimates that its decommissioning funds are going to be $100 billion short.  This is not hard ot find information.

According to data compiled by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the $154 billion spent on federal R&D from 1950-2010 was as follows: nuclear $74 billion; coal $36 billion; renewables $24 billion; oil $7 billion; natural gas $ 8 billion; geothermal $4 billion; and $2 billion hydro.  You might also take a look at "Renewable Energy R&D Funding History: A Comparison with Funding for Nuclear Energy, Fossil Energy, and Energy Efficiency R&D" from the Congressional Research Office.

Vogtle is still negotiating its loan guarantee.

As to fossil units "freely polluting" I doubt that there are any scrubbers on coal units that were installed "for free." Or NOx controls for that matter.


September 5, 2013    View Comment