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On Coal Plant Pollution - Sierra Club Endorses Jim Hansen Solutions With a Notable Exception; They Ignore Nuclear, He Does Not

Anne - I have an agenda, but it is not hidden. When a "renewable" energy source can supply reliable power by itself without being connected to a widely distributed grid of various power sources that include contributions from fossil fuel combustion or nuclear fission, then I will officially stand up and take any blows required and retract my statement.

I could not care less what a politically appointed lawyer has to say about the need for baseload power plants.

Sorry if you think the above is offensive. I was trained as a power plant engineer who was not allowed to sugar coat or make bad news sound better. We have a saying in my profession - bad news does not smell better with age.
January 1, 2010    View Comment    

On Areva targets Fresno, California, for new reactor

Margaret - I lived in CA for about 20 months in the mid 1980s, and I have visited on a number of occasions. The surface political discussion often revolves around conventional liberal versus conservative themes, with many people dismissing the liberals as "fruits and nuts". 

However, in real life, the state is full of consumers and people doing business in an effort to make money. There are huge freeways, swaths of suburban sprawl, and a fair amount of industry. 

My impression is that the state moved away from early support of nuclear energy based on some very hard working and well funded activists. Initially, the Sierra Club was quite supportive of nuclear energy - it even ran an "Atoms not damns" campaign. That ended when the organization decided to begin accepting corporate contributions in order to give it more heft and ability to participate in important campaigns. Interestingly enough, some of the people in the organization that worked their way to the top on the basis of their fundraising abilities had close ties to Gulf Oil and Standard Oil of California two of the largest and wealthiest companies in the state in the 1960s.  Those two companies merged in 1984 to become Chevron. 

They were not just oil companies but oil and gas companies. More than half of the electricity in California comes from burning natural gas. 

Coincidence?
December 31, 2009    View Comment    

On Unnatural gas

Stephen:

You wrote:

"So nuclear fuel is only available from countries that have enrichment capabilites."

I suggest that you ask Canadians, Indians, South Koreans, French, Russian and British engineers if that is a true statement. All of them have experience in operating nuclear power plants using natural uranium as the fuel. 

Enrichment can offer some economical advantages, but only if it is available. For a long time, the US maintained a world wide monopoly on enrichment services, so some countries decided to go a different route in technology development.
December 31, 2009    View Comment    

On Green Jobs Booming

Stephen:

I think you are confusing me with someone else. I have certainly pointed out that nuclear is growing in China and India, but I have never suggested that American industry should sit idly by and allow manufacturers from those countries to win in the US market without a competitive fight. I am a huge fan of Hyperion, B&W, NuScale, and TerraPower as companies who appear to be working towards building their systems here. I am also excited by the facilities being constructed by Shaw Group and Areva-Northrup-Grumman to build large components for Westinghouse and Areva reactors. 

I am not a protectionist and do not like laws that raise barriers to entry, but I am a competitive son of a gun who happens to like living in places where all of my neighbors have good job opportunities - even if it means that I may not make a 7 figure salary or take home an 8 figure bonus. My expectation is that there are many other business focused leaders with that same attitude who will throw out the bums that are selling out their country.

Besides, part of my comment was about the need for operators, engineers, maintainers, technicians, regulators and even security guards at nuclear facilities. A 1000 MWe nuclear power plant represents between 400-800 full time, family wage jobs in a fixed location. Those people go to work every day and come home every day in the same location and can do so for their entire career. At many plants in the US, there are second and even third generation workers at the plant.

No one is going to pick up those electricity production factory jobs and move them to another country.

The other job producing benefit is that those electricity production factories produce very low marginal cost electricity. The average cost of producing power from our existing plants is just 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour. They produce that power 24x7. There is a reason why the UAE wants nuclear power plants to supply aluminum production facilities, why the French use dedicated nuclear plants to supply their enrichment facilities and why Google is interested in the long term potential of locating server farms in areas where there is low cost nuclear electricity available at off peak times.
December 30, 2009    View Comment    

On Snapshots of the future of nuclear energy

With regard to a statement he made about the contribution of hydroelectricity to the US electrical production, Bob Wallace wrote:

"In the US we have approximately 80,000 dams with about 2,400 (3%) used for power generation. We get 20% of all our electricity from those 2,400 dams."

The Energy Information Agency of the US Department of Energy, which publishes enormous quantities of actual reported data from energy producers and consumers, produces a table titled "Table 1.1. Net Generation by Energy Source: Total (All Sectors), 1995 through September 2009" that table can be found at 

http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table1_1.html

For the last year for which complete data is available - 2008 - the actual quantity of hydroelectricity produced in the US was 248,085 thousand megawatt hours. The total quantity of electricity produced in the US was 4,110,259. The portion of electricity that was produced in hydroelectric dams was thus 248,085/4,110,259 or 6%. 

For the period from 1995-2008, the portion of the US electrical power supply produced by hydroelectricity ranged from a low of 5.8% in 2001 to a high of 10.2% in 1997. If you plot the annual production numbers on a chart and compute a trendline using readily available spreadsheet capabilities, you find that the slope of the line is a negative 2% per year. (There is some annual variation due to rainfall and other considerations in operating multi-purpose dams.)

When another commenter pointed out that Bob's number was off, here is what he said:

"Nathan, my quite bad.  Not 20%, closer to 6 or 7%.  Sorry."

Translated - is it really so bad to be wrong by only a factor of between 2.9 to 3.3 among friends? Will customers really be concerned if the smart grid cuts off a portion of their desired consumption because the grid has less production available to meet demand than needed?
December 30, 2009    View Comment    

On Green Jobs Booming

David:

Thank you for the interesting article, but most thank you for posting the link to your Journal of Management Studies article about offshoring in the global economy.

One of the reasons that I am so adamantly supportive of nuclear fission technology as a solution to many of the world's problems is that it offers an opportunity to resist the tidal pressure from economically privileged elites to push wages ever lower though global competition. Unlike power systems based on passive collectors like wind turbines and solar panels, a great deal of the value associated with nuclear energy production comes from the knowledgeable and detail conscious workers that the industry must employ.

Your inspiring student interested in clean energy opportunities would be far better served by getting solid technical training that would enable him to build skills that are valuable and hard to replace instead of working on low-skill, inherently low income work like weatherization.  There is only so much one can do to reduce heat transfer to surround environments, after major improvements are made, there is a diminishing return. Of course, one hurdle that will always remain for entrants into the nuclear field is that there are no quick certifications available - gaining the requisite knowledge and skills takes hard work and a certain amount of time.

Keeping a nuclear power plant in top condition and allowing it to continue producing valuable, emission free electricity on very low cost fuel manufactured in the United States is a profession that has contributed to the formation of some very pleasant communities full of hard working people who value continued training, integrity, and quality workmanship. The communities near existing nuclear plants and nuclear equipment manufacturing enterprises are pockets of prosperity that offer hope for the future. In many cases, they have excellent property tax bases that enable cultural benefits, community athletic facilities, and good educational systems. They sometimes even get a good discount on their power bills. http://bit.ly/7fllDk

I encourage you as an academic interested in this issue to take the time to find out more about clean technology, nuclear energy related jobs that cannot be off-shored and why there are some capitalist enterprises that would prefer to avoid investing in these worker empowering facilities, even though they are an overall benefit to the economy. There is a reason why so many large multinational firms - including traditional energy multinationals like BP, GE and Siemens - that are fully engaged in the wealth shift from workers to corporations love non-fission alternatives to fossil fuels. Those energy systems build on their current skills by requiring a lot of low cost manufacturing that can be done in remote corners of the world. They also will never really reduce our dependence on those fuels.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast
Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
December 29, 2009    View Comment    

On Snapshots of the future of nuclear energy

Bob:

You wrote: "Well, we all missed your point about "Projections of future costs..." because you simply did not present that point."

Your quoted study put electricity cost numbers on a list of systems that include

"Coal IGCC with Carbon Capture & Storage (IGCC with CCS)" and new nuclear power plants. Obviously those numbers were "Projections of future costs. . ." since there are no coal IGCC plants with carbon capture and storage systems and no new nuclear power plants. In fact, there are not even any projects far enough along with either technology to be able to compute a final price at better than a class D (+-40%).

December 28, 2009    View Comment    

On Snapshots of the future of nuclear energy

Bob:

You missed my point as shown in the following paragraphs:

"Do you honestly believe any study that computes busbar costs to 5 significant digits for systems that have not yet been constructed and, in some cases, invented?"

Do you understand that when someone attacks a reply based the amount of rounding done, a misspelled word, an uncrossed t,  or some other non-important detail in the presentation others generally realize that the attacker is likely dodging facts that they don't like?


Projections of future costs for energy systems without any error bars, allowances for local conditions, variations in project duration, or recognition of the difference between good project management and bad are simply wrong. I am not avoiding them as "facts" I do not like, they are predictions for the future that are merely a matter of opinion.

You also missed my point about working to drive costs down. I am not just investing money; I am refining designs, seeking to improvements in licensing processes, trying to understand cost drivers, and working to apply the economy of unit volume/series production instead of the failed "economy of large unit scale" that has driven nuclear technology decisions in certain companies. 

I actually agree with you about why companies might not be interested in investing in nuclear technology based on the choices and price estimates that are being offered, but there are proven ways to use fission that result in completely different economic computations. 

You diss my shipboard experience, but fail to understand that fully 6% of the world's daily oil consumption is being consumed in ships that COULD be using fission. Those are essentially baseloaded power plants burning some very expensive fuel. Fission is a proven ship propulsion alternative to fossil fuel combustion; I cannot think of any others that can replace massive quantities of fossil fuel in the task of moving large quantities of freight across the ocean. I also am quite focused on providing power in places where there is no grid, so the power system has be able to do the job that the currently installed diesel generators are doing which is supply whatever power the customers demand when they demand it.

You also claim that there is no economical way to vary the power output from nuclear fission power plants. You have the right to that opinion and may even be correct. However, US Patent number 5309492 explains the operation of a major component of the system working in a power system where the heat source is a high temperature gas reactor with a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity like the German AVR, the Ft. St. Vrain reactor, or the Chinese HTR-10.

http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/5309492/description.html

Going back to my "bragging"; I apologize for making a statement that might have been confusing or arrogant. I did not claim victory in that discussion; I said that I enjoyed sparring. I did mention that I considered my opponent to be "unarmed", that was a bit of trash talking that should probably have been left out. Others could have judged the contest differently.

BTW - care to share any information about your own "cause" that prevents you from seeing anything positive about nuclear energy? What is it that motivates you to spend so much time in our discussion?

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
December 28, 2009    View Comment    

On Snapshots of the future of nuclear energy

Bob:

Do you honestly believe any study that computes busbar costs to 5 significant digits for systems that have not yet been constructed and, in some cases, invented?

Are future projections by politically appointed bodies acceptable at thesis defense boards?

I want to make another confession here that I try to make clear for those people who follow my blog and my podcast. I am not involved in an "intellectual" discussion on energy. (Therefore an accusation of intellectually dishonesty or unfairness does not mean much to me.) I have a deep enough sense of ethics that I used to teach that course at a college level, so I do try very hard to be honest and forthright.

I am actively involved in trying to produce reliable power systems and expect to sell their output at a price higher than the cost to produce. In other words, I plan to make a profit at the exercise. (Disclosure of that fact is one of the reasons I include my association with Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. in my signature on occasion. I do not always do it, but it is always easily found via a web search using whatever tools you like for that task.)

I have not spent a lot of time at a university earning a "piled higher and deeper" degree for adding more and more knowledge about nothing. I have, however, earned a couple of degrees and completion certificates from "trade schools" that are reasonably well respected and competitive that reward people for obtaining knowledge that is practical and enables survival in difficult environments. Each of the schools I completed also claim to train and grade people for a difficult to measure skill called "leadership". 

I do not often point to "studies", most of my sources come from technical papers written by people who are reporting their experiences with technology. I also use journalistic reports that focus on the facts and other bloggers who document their computations and the source of their numbers. 

I am also not someone who wants to wait for the price to come down in a technical area where I modestly believe I have a more technical and real world knowledge than most of my competition. I want to drive down the price through sound decisions and management. Failure is aways a possibility.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast
Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.

PS - when did I "brag" about beating someone else in a discussion? Also, your analogy about living in a paid off house is one that is often used by people like Lovins, but I believe a better one would be operating a paid off, productive factory. 

The real cost of owning a capital asset used for income generation is the difference between the cost to operate and the annual value at which you can sell the output. If there is a big enough difference between those two numbers, almost any sized loan can be paid off.

Why do you think that ExxonMobil can invest $30 billion into an LNG production system in Qatar or a consortium of extractors can invest $90 billion into a similar project off the coast of Australia?
December 28, 2009    View Comment    

On Snapshots of the future of nuclear energy

Bob:

"I have no idea where you get the idea that reactors can be turned off and on at will.  You have any documentation for that assertion?"

No documentation, just several years worth of watching indicators with my own eyes. I grant that the reactors I operated were not central station power plants with capacities in excess of 1000 MWe, but neither are the atomic engines that hope to build someday.
December 28, 2009    View Comment    

On Snapshots of the future of nuclear energy

Bob:

You wrote: "How does one operate an expensive to own/operate facility 24/365 when there are sources of competition which can easily capture a number (possibly most) of those 24/365 hours?"

Nuclear plants are expensive to buy, but they are inexpensive to operate. On average, the total O&M cost for a US nuke is 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Only 0.5 cents of that is fuel cost. Because of the way that nukes are refueled even that does not vary much with operation. In other words, owning a nuke that is not operating costs almost exactly as much as owning one that is producing its fully rated power. The main difference is that there is no revenue coming from a nuke that is not operating while a large one that is operating can produce several million dollars per day of income in a good market.

Nukes can also produce power on demand. They can legitimately engage in contracts to sell their power at a fixed time in the future with reasonable assurance that they will be able to deliver on that contract. You have mentioned the non availability number for nukes, but you have failed to mention just how small the "unplanned" portion of that number is.

I have worked with a number of venture capitalists on ways to value new nuclear powered machines as assets as part of my effort to build Adams Engines™ here in the US. 

The biggest hurdles are human imposed licensing rules that are applied in a capricious manner. They add a tremendous amount of uncertainty that makes it difficult to price out the system in a way that will ensure profitability. If all goes well, the profits are immense, but we have not yet been able to prove to investors that a Shoreham is outside of the realm of possibility. (Shoreham is that plant that was completed, federally licensed and then shutdown by political action.) We have not given up trying and we expect that the proof will be easier as more experience is gained with the current licensing process.

Our investors have agreed that if we can get our plants built, we will be able to make a substantial profit in most locations in the US. We do not plan to try to build them in fiercely competitive markets. There is, by the way, a large variation in the local price of electricity in various places around the US, but there is little variation in the cost to produce electricity from a well designed nuclear power plant.

I will also proudly proclaim that I am a nuclear fission cheerleader who is rather dismissive of the capabilities of all other power sources. It is hard to be humble about a technology when you have operated a 1960s vintage version of the system that could respond within minutes to all demands, used a bit less fuel in 14 years that my own body weight and supplied all of the propulsion and electrical power needed by a 9,000 ton ship. Oh yeah, it did that while "holding its breath" underwater for months at a time.

When comparing power alternatives, I like to ask the question - is the limitation imposed by humans or by nature? If the answer is that it is imposed by humans, then I know it is a weakness that can be overcome. (Cost is a parameter that meets that definition.)

If the limitation is a natural one - like the fact that the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine - then I do not even try to overcome it. I am lazy that way.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
December 27, 2009    View Comment    

On Snapshots of the future of nuclear energy

Bob:

Just out of curiosity, have you ever synchronized a generator to a grid? Have you spoken with grid operators to find out what they think about the requirements to integrate nuisance power sources whose frequency, voltage and phase are difficult to control and that contribute nothing to the power factor adjustments that grids must undertake to make up for the uncontrollable loads that get connected?

I presume you are aware that interest costs were responsible for the lion's share of the cost overruns during the first atomic age. I remember that era very clearly; the first house I purchased in 1983 came with a great deal on the loan - the interest rate was "only" 12.5% because I was being subsidized by the VA. At 12.5% it only takes about 6 years to double your loan balance if you are still in a construction project and not yet able to make any payments.

You are quite correct that many nuclear projects have been delayed since 2007. It is completely shocking that utilities would decide to slow down large construction projects at a time when their load growth has shrunk due to a world wide recession.

With regard to projects during the first atomic age being cancelled or shut down - how many solar panels do you think were removed from roofs and how many wind turbine projects were partially or completely abandoned as a result of 1970s era subsidy programs? 

I may be off by one or two, but I believe that only about 10% of completed nuclear plants were shut down early. There were a few one of a kind or early demonstration plants that also shut down because spare parts were difficult or very expensive to obtain. 

Again I will state that the experience of our operating reactors is instructive because at the time that they were being built, there was a very active and well funded effort that made exactly the same accusations of cost and schedule that are being made today about new build. It is not hard these days to dig into the record to see how many articles were written at the time and how many pressure groups tried to get utilities to abandon the projects. How accurate were the predictions?

There were also plenty of utility executives that thought that the projects were too expensive or who made a lot of public statements about how they were not needed and who explained why their company was making different choices. How correct were they? Could they have been motivated by a desire to protect their own markets from competition? 

That might not have been as true then as it is now. I take the statements of a guy like John Rowe who runs a company that already owns 17 nuclear plants operating in "deregulated" markets with a grain of salt. He has a strong economic interest in keeping supply down while demand rises - that pushes the price of the commodity that his company produces up and increases his annual bonus payments.
December 27, 2009    View Comment