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On Nuclear Energy Is Cheap and Disruptive; Controlling the Initial Cost of Nuclear Power Plants is a Solvable Problem

@Wilmot - just a point of clarification. My statement is that nuclear costs are "controllable" not that they are "controlled". There is a subtle but important difference. A controllable variable still requires effort and attention to keep it under control.

Your brainstorming idea is certainly one path that may work. It is the path being undertaken by NuScale, Hyperion, and mPower, among others (like <a href="">Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.</a>)

The idea of building a lot of $50-$300 million plants with plenty of opportunities for learning curve improvements on the way to producing the same power output as a single $10 billion investment is quite alluring. 
February 6, 2010    View Comment    

On Nuclear Energy Is Cheap and Disruptive; Controlling the Initial Cost of Nuclear Power Plants is a Solvable Problem

@Wilmot - I guess I would have to start my response by asking the question - "respected by whom?" I am referring to your adjective describing Climate Progress.

Actually, I suppose you are not incorrect in using that adjective; Joe Romm and his team are respected by some. However, the reality is that many of his backers - like John Podesta are unabashed natural gas promoters who stand to gain financial rewards if nuclear growth is effectively discouraged and pushed out into the future.

The only real costs that I can point to with regard to nuclear energy are the production costs that I quoted in my post. All other costs and schedules that you read about are predictions for the future or are negotiating positions by organizations with a strong incentive for predicting costs that turn out to be just enough less than the costs of power from competitive sources to win sufficient sales at a high price to get the industry established again.

My post is aimed at the talented and stubborn engineers, financial managers, investors and project managers who can learn to understand the inherent physical advantages of concentrated, emission free energy and recognize the opportunities that it presents to them to really make a difference in the world. 

This is not about predictions or arguing with people like Romm - a guy who earned a degree in physics but has spent his career as a policy maven aiming at encouraging the development of energy sources that are anything but nuclear, with the especial aim of making his employers lots of money from selling natural gas. 

A statement of opinion like "nuclear power is simply more expensive than other "low carbon" alternatives" should expose the motives and belief system of the author. Fission is not a "low carbon" power source - it is a NO carbon power source whose only "carbon footprint" is due to assumptions about the power sources used in the supply chain of the initial raw material. Even with some very conservative assumptions, reliable studies have shown that the amount of carbon per unit energy produced during a nuclear plant life cycle is about the same as is produced by a wind turbine - 10-30 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour. For natural gas, even with the most efficient power conversion systems, the value is more like 350 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hr, more than an order of magnitude greater.

My aim here is to encourage the practical minded doers that have made our world a much better place to live than it would have been without their technological contributions. We actually do know how to build things, operate them, maintain them and keep costs reasonably well controlled.

February 6, 2010    View Comment    

On Is a Federal Grant Really Income?

Charles - I almost agree with you. However, since every rate payer is also a tax payer who has to pay their share of the subsidies, I am certain that it is not "impossible to judge" if onshore wind is less expensive than nuclear.

The facts are in; nuclear generation is not only more reliable, it is cheaper. The average all in production cost for nuclear is only 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour. Wind gets that much just from the PTC. The fuel may be "free" but the cost of maintaining and operating 30-40 story tall towers with enormous generators and blades exposed to the weather costs more than 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour of actually produced electricity.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
February 5, 2010    View Comment    

On Nuclear power support

@Lou who wrote:

"Why expand nuclear loan guarantees–which weren’t even capitalized on last year–when the budget is already, as everyone and their mother knows, strapped for cash?"

Perhaps if you take a hard look at the budget you will answer your own question. Take a look at page 179 of the President's Budget Submission data tables. In the line marked "Guaranteed loan accounts" you will see the following numbers - in billions:

2010  (-42)
2011 (-34)
2012 (-22)
2013 (-10)
2014 (-4)

Let me translate. For fiscal years 2010 (now) through 2014, the government expects to collect $112 Billion in fees from various loan guarantee programs - that is what the negative signs mean. 

I have no idea how much of those are from the nuclear loan guarantees and how much is from other programs where the government guarantees the loans and collects fees, but this program is a cash generator, not a cash expense at least in the near term when lots of other parts of the budget are bleeding cash today. This certainly will not make a huge difference, but those are some reasonably large numbers even on a federal budget level comparison.

February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On President Obama Answers Question From a Young Person By Explaining at Least One Reason to Invest in Nuclear Energy

@T Haynes - I guess you just beat me to it. Sometimes having to work for a living can get in the way of responses on blogs. (grin)

You do bring up an excellent point - one of the systems that many people who are opposed to nuclear energy bring up as a potential replacement in the "baseload" market is a solar thermal system with storage.

Besides their rather inaccurate description of the thermal storage system as being like a thermos bottle (it is more like a wide open thermos bottle if you are actually producing power when the sun is low on the horizon or not visible at all) the proponents of solar thermal forget about two site selection criteria of their proposed technology that tend to move in opposite directions.

To capture the largest quantity of energy during daylight hours, you want to find a dry, sunny place. To have the highest efficiency for your thermal energy conversion system (heat engine) you need a heat sink, preferably a large body of water - the cooler the better - or an evaporative cooling tower. 

Hmmm. How many hot, dry land areas are conveniently located near large bodies of cool water?
February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On When a coal state goes nuclear

John Whitehead wrote:

"My pride about coal? It is a cheap energy source that powers the homes of millions. A bunch of my friends grew up and went to college on coal money, etc. There are benefits and costs to the stuff. "

Interesting. Here is my version:

"My pride about nuclear fission? It is a cheaper energy source than coal that powers the homes and businesses of millions, even though there are people alive today who were adults when the basic phenomenon was discovered. I grew up and went to school partially on nuclear money - my dad was not involved in nuclear energy himself, but the company that employed him, Florida Power and Light, owned built and operated four nuclear reactors. My children also grew up and went to school on nuclear money; I have served as the Engineer Officer of a nuclear powered submarine and still get a tidy bonus every year because of my nuclear training. 

My granddaughter is now starting the process of growing up on nuclear money; her dad is also a nuclear trained submarine officer who recently completed his qualifications as an engineer officer.

I recognize that there are costs and benefits, but the benefits heavily outweigh the costs. By the way, I did not get involved in nuclear technology because it happened to be the local business where I did not have any choice in the matter. I have always done pretty well in school, earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in subjects other than nuclear energy, and have plenty of other choices on how to make a living.

One more thing - not only is fission cheaper than coal, but it is clean enough to run inside a sealed submarine."

For those who wonder what to do with used fuel after 50, 100, or 150 years - if it has not already been recycled into new fuel and other valuable materials, simply keep inspecting the containers being used. If they show signs of wear or corrosion, fix them or replace them. The material gets easier to handle every day as the radiation decays away.

If you have ever studied economics, you can figure out that costs that are far into the future can be discounted heavily in today's dollars. 
February 1, 2010    View Comment    

On GE and Washington: Too cozy?

Marc - excellent piece full of great information about a company that has been good at collecting government support for over 100 years. Though it is hard to list all of the businesses where GE is dependent upon good government relations, no one should forget about a large business where the government is the primary customer; GE is a very large defense contractor that sells a lot of jet engines, electrical systems, and other components. 

For a number of years, GE has been embroiled in an effort to obtain funding for the development of a second supplier for engines for the Joint Strike Fighter. The primary contractor is Pratt-Whitney, but a GE/Rolls Royce partnership has been pressing their design as an alternative.

One of the keys to GE successes over the years has been projects where the government pays for the technology development while GE retains the Intellectual Property rights and repeated sells that technology both to the government and to commercial customers. 

It is kind of funny how many GE employees think they are working for a competitive commercial company when they are really wards of the state.

Disclosure: I own a small quantity of GE stock purchased when it seemed like no one else wanted it.
February 1, 2010    View Comment    

On When a coal state goes nuclear

John - I have seen both coal waste dumps and nuclear "waste" storage facilities. Put the nuclear one in my backyard, but keep the coal ash piles and smokestacks somewhere FAR away from me.

In fact, I would love to be paid 0.1 cent for every kilowatt hour of nuclear electricity in order to take on the responsibility for safely storing and monitoring used nuclear fuel. Bring it on.

(I will not tell anyone else that my real plan is to use that income to quietly build the capacity to recycle the material into new fuel. It still contains 95-97% of its initial potential energy. It also contains a wide range of other useful and unique materials, some of which have market values that are well above the price of gold or platinum.)
January 31, 2010    View Comment    

On Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Thinks Nuclear Is Too Expensive and Produces Waste That No One Wants. I Disagree

@tbhurst - I am glad that you enjoyed the clip. Producing video can be fun, but it sure takes a lot of time compared to writing!

I recognize that my attitude about energy efficiency can be annoying, but here are some bits of information that should be considered in a critical evaluation of the efficacy of the investments.

1. Energy efficiency and insulation is not a new idea. In most parts of the country, building codes have included standards for those at least since the energy crises of the 1970s. 

2. If a home is relatively new and well maintained, there is not a lot of low hanging fruit left. If the home is old and not well maintained, there is a good possibility that the residents use techniques like another layer of sweaters and blankets to keep warm rather than turning up the heat. They might not even bother with air conditioning.

3. Energy efficient appliances like refrigerators that run all of the time can be worthwhile investments, but if they are in a home with several children who open the door and stare at the food trying to figure out what they want for a snack, many of the savings go out the door.

4. Highly efficient light bulbs can be a worthwhile investment for applications where they are on a high percentage of the day; that same savings can often be achieved by use of the on/off switch when the light is not needed.

In mild climates or in small residences, the energy consumption in heating and cooling is often overcome by the cost of running computers and/or television sets much of the day. Like light bulbs, the best way to save energy here is not a replacement device; it is the on/off switch.

My bottom line - I am not opposed to energy efficiency and conservation, but I am opposed to encouraging homeowners to layer more debt onto their homes to pay for improvements unless they are really necessary. High levels of debt in an economy with a shaky job market is simply not a good idea.
January 31, 2010    View Comment    

On The SOTU and Energy

Marc - people who plan and operate grids for a living do not consider wind turbines to be significant additions to "capacity" in the technical sense of the word that means they are ready to meet variable loads. In fact, most grid operators only assign large wind farms a capacity credit of just 10-20% of their name plate capacity, meaning that 80-90% of their generation potential cannot be depended upon.  

As far as I can tell, the only reason that large companies are investing any money at all in solar energy is because there are enormous government grants, tax incentives and mandates that make the investment profitable, even if there is little to no power generation. The other possible reason for some companies like BP and Chevron to invest in solar energy is for the deception advantages. They get to print pretty photos in their ads while still putting the vast majority of their capital budgets into hydrocarbon extraction efforts. It has been a while since I checked the annual reports carefully, but several years ago I wrote a post about BP's claim to be "Beyond Petroleum".

January 30, 2010    View Comment    

On Concrete Action to Follow Strongly Supportive Words On Building New Nuclear Power Plants

@Wilmot - I agree with you analysis of the options on the table. Only fission has the ability to compete with combustion for supplying on demand power when and where people need it. 

There are a large number of design variations that fit the bill for meeting any real concerns about pollution, waste disposal and proliferation. The currently operating plants, for example, do not have pollution problems; all of their used material is kept out of the environment so it does not qualify as pollution. Waste storage and eventual recycling is more appropriate than disposing of valuable used materials because someone claims that they are "waste". Proliferation is a political issue rather than a technical one. 

Until the nuclear weapons powers are moving in the direction of actually following through on their obligations under the NPT, I believe that we will have a difficult time convincing other sovereign nations that they must abdicate technology that is commercially useful just because someone claims that it is "dual use" or has breakout potential. We are building too many new enrichment facilities in the US to have any credibility in trying to convince the world that enrichment facilities are inherently linked to a desire to produce weapons. It is very easy to understand why some believe that we are simply trying to protect our own market and ability to sell in export markets.

I long ago became reconciled to the fact that I have always lived in a world where large numbers of nuclear weapons exist. I want to continue living in a world where no one uses nuclear weapons.  I am not willing to sacrifice the benefits of nuclear energy for myself or for inhabitants of any other country; I believe that the material abundance that nuclear fission technologies make possible will reduce the frictions over basic components of survival (energy, food, fresh water) that can lead to warfare.
January 30, 2010    View Comment    

On Communicating Climate Change: Joe Romm on Cutting the Crap

Dan - I am also curious about the turn that Romm might take. If he truly believes that climate change caused by carbon dioxide emissions is an "existential threat" and he truly recognizes that logical consistency is a hallmark of any successful scientist, then perhaps he can stop advocating a policy that concentrates on burning natural gas while claiming that building new nuclear power plants is simply too expensive or too slow.

I happen to agree that it seems that building new nuclear power plants is too damn slow and too darned expensive. The solution to that is to solve the cost and schedule challenges so that the plants can be built more quickly for a lower cost. Anyone who has any experience in the nuclear industry and also has experience in other production industries like aircraft manufacturing or chemical plant construction knows that there are many open avenues for improvement in new nuclear plant construction. Heck, we can even learn from our own successes in project management that reduced the cost and time required to refuel reactor plants.
January 29, 2010    View Comment