Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Nuclear Energy in France

Number of nuclear power plants in France: 59

Percent of electric power production in France from nuclear: 87.5% (see chart above)

World's largest net exporter of electric power: France, exporting 18% of its total production to Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, and Germany

Electricity costs in France: For industry ($.0533 per kWh in 2007), the lowest in Europe; for households ($.1515 per kWh), among the lowest in Europe

Sources: Wikipedia and International Energy Agency

21 Comments:

At 9/02/2008 8:19 AM, Anonymous EJ said...

though im all for nuclear power, you have to remember that in france's case, it is heavily subsidized by the government. Now you could also make the argument that fossil fuels are being subsidized by military expendatures that protect flows of oil around the world, but still lets just keep in context all of the caviets.

 
At 9/02/2008 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I commend your comparison of the US generation stack to France's nuclear-dominated stack, I would like to make two additional comparisons. Germany, which is just about the size of Montana, generated nearly twice as much wind power as the US in 2006, and 32% more in 2007.

Second, Germany, with a solar-climate similar to Seattle, with 2/3rds of its day's overcast, generated vastly more solar power than any other country in 2006; more than 4.5 times the US, which has much more favorable locations for solar power.

Finally, with regards to the so-called 'clean coal' technology, which is Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle (turn coal into a gas, burn it in a turbine) and eventually Carbon Capture and Sequestration, there is no real advancement on this front. I should point out there there is only one operating IGCC plant in the US (without CCS), and it was built in 1995. There are very few new IGCC's under construction (I know of one), so for all the ACCCE's advertising on CNN, they are doing very little to demonstrate their "commitment to clean coal."

 
At 9/02/2008 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

However, nuclear power is not without issues. The NRC routinely finds minor problems with all of the 104 reactors in the US, and has found material problems in a number of reactors. I would point in particular to Palo Verde #3 which had numerous emergency system failures that went unaddressed for months, and to Davis-Besse which suffered significant reactor vessel head degradation.

The NRC has indeed done a great job ensuring safety, but they do this only at great lengths, including assigning on-site inspectors to every reactor, and having a very lengthy certification process for new reactors. Some may argue that these regulations are too complicated, but they also are the reason we have had no major nuclear accident.

Generally speaking, the public's aversion to nuclear power comes more through a misunderstanding of the term 'radiation' such as what followed in the 3-Mile Island incident. This unjustified fear of 'radiation' in general, without understanding the types or strengths, is the same reason there is great fear of a 'dirty bomb' even though the practical consequences of casualties and decontamination have been modeled to be relatively benign.

Those issues aside, there are still strong reasons to support more nuclear power. Look even at some of the eco-radicals as their opposition to nuclear power has greatly softened in the last 10-15 years, as most dramatically demonstrated by Patrick Moore, former founding member of Greenpeace and now nuclear power advocate.

 
At 9/02/2008 9:13 AM, Anonymous EJ said...

anon 9:06,

In germany, like france's nuclear, solar power gets huge subsides from the german government. Why such a cloudy contry at high latituds has decided to put its eggs in the solar basket is beyond me. Without the price supports, solar would be unviable in Germany.

 
At 9/02/2008 11:01 AM, Anonymous QT said...

Nuclear offers far better generating capabilities than solar and second generation technology has eliminated the potential for nuclear meltdown.

The Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station in California which opened in 1975 and was capable of generating 900 megawatts of electricity. The plant was converted to solar power and today generates 4 megawatts of electricity.

Although we hear lots about wind & solar which require large land mass and high capital costs, we hear virtually nothing about hydro-electric which produces no carbon emissions and is still the most efficient of the renewables.

 
At 9/02/2008 12:30 PM, Anonymous QT said...

Subsidies for solar in Germany are 43 cents per kwH. Germany has been very aggressive in promoting solar and is now experiencing growing resistance.

The problem with subsidies is that the market mechanisms which shake out the great ideas from the non-starters are not allowed to work. Inevitably, people get fed up with subsidies and junk the works.

 
At 9/02/2008 1:27 PM, Blogger randian said...

Wind power? It deserves nothing but utter contempt. It was great when the measure of power was a horse. Today, it's wasteful of land and capital.

 
At 9/02/2008 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"hydro-electric which produces no carbon emissions and is still the most efficient of the renewables."

Uhhhh, hello, hydro-Quebec and their massive project. Seriously the rest of the hydro opportunities have already been taken.

"Wind power? It deserves nothing but utter contempt. It was great when the measure of power was a horse. Today, it's wasteful of land and capital."

Really? Because GE is managing to sell a ton of turbines and there has been a massive addition of wind to the grid, most of which is ITM at around negative $10 with tax incentives (location marginal pricing). Even without tax breaks, its still cheap gen. Yes, its non-firm, but that's not a major issue until you try to get more than 20% of your entire capacity from non-firm sources.

Why the carpe diem folks are so anti-solar and anti-wind is beyond me. You all seem to think that these technologies are stupid because they are unprofitable without tax breaks. First, that's not entirely true in all cases, and second, tax breaks help fund development and improvements that reduce costs, which can make things potentially profitable (just like we do for oil companies that explore).

Yes energy storage is needed, and yes some energy storage already exists, and already other countries have real size new storage solutions on their grids (so do we). The nukes, yes we need them, along with a build-out of combined-cycle nat.gas plants. The nukes are coming but they take a long time to get through the NRC.

Why you would want to be against an energy source that requires no energy input after cost of production + O&M is baffling.

 
At 9/02/2008 2:18 PM, Blogger randian said...

Wind power is cheap only if you

a) ignore the cost of the absurd amounts of land required to host it
b) ignore the cost of the baseload plants required when the wind isn't generating
c) care only about operating costs, not capital costs

Check out England's North Sea wind farms. Utter failures.

 
At 9/02/2008 2:59 PM, Anonymous QT said...

From Wikipedia:
"Hydroelectricity is the most widely used form of renewable energy. It produces no waste, and does not produce carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas. Hydroelectricity now supplies about 715,000 MWe or 19% of world electricity, (16% in 2003) accounting for over 63% of the total electricity from renewable sources in 2005."

Hydro Quebec has the ability to screw up anything. They had province wide black outs with an advanced fibre optic transmission system.

Actually, North America has a plethora of sites suitable for small, low cost, highly efficient hydro generating. Many of these sites were used for hydro-electrical generation and were phased out when government monopolies like the Tennessee Valley Authority became the norm.

 
At 9/02/2008 3:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

randian:

In a Class 4 region, you're talking around $85/MWh without tax breaks, which is easily below the cost of running a CT unit, and marginal MW sets the system price. That's an all-in cost, including land, capital, O&M, liquidated damages, etc. In Class 3, its around $110, which is still under a high-cost CT unit, meaning this is all profitable during on-peak times without the tax breaks.

 
At 9/02/2008 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

qt: I completely agree that hydro is the Golden source. The smaller hydro at the utility I used to work for costed it at only $0.32/MWh.

There is a problem with small hydro, by which I assume you mean <50MW. Typically the existing dams cannot accommodate the turbines to be retrofit in an economic fashion (we looked at this on several dams in the Midwest). They also tend to have some operational issues, like chunks of fish clogging up the turbines, etc, more-so than the larger units that benefit from scale.

HQ, call them what you will but the James Bay Project with the Rupert diversion will offer a ton of power, power that we often import into NYISO and PJM.

 
At 9/02/2008 4:23 PM, Anonymous QT said...

With regard to fish, couldn't one use a screen like they do in Scotland? The deterent to small hydro installation seems to be the endless government red tape raising the engineering and consulting costs. I know of one project that has taken over 5 years just to get approval.

Additionally, there are also problems with breaking blades with wind turbines. See
here and
here as well as the effects on wildlife to be considered.

 
At 9/02/2008 10:02 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> they are doing very little to demonstrate their "commitment to clean coal."

And perhaps this has something to do with the fact (I presume) that the entire cycle you describe isn't a cost-effective way to generate electricity, and so far there is (thankfully) no major subsidization going on to ram it down peoples' throats (and make them pay far more for a kw of electricity).

 
At 9/02/2008 10:07 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

Anon 9:10a

The main issues with nuke plants derive far more from the age of the plants and the almost complete lack of standardization of design.

Most new proposals involve a semi-mass-produced, interchangeable parts design, and some involve using thorium (non-weaponizable, at least as far as "explosion" goes). The main things preventing nuclear power from taking off in the USA derive from, as you suggest, the fact that some people go into anaphylactic shock upon hearing the word "radiation", but also various NIMBY rejections and legal challenges.

Luckily, with the hippies starting to die off, we can see some rationality coming into play again in the near future.

 
At 9/02/2008 10:19 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> we hear virtually nothing about hydro-electric which produces no carbon emissions and is still the most efficient of the renewables.

qt, the problem is, if I understand correctly, that the majority of the available hydro sites in the USA have already been developed, and this was true over 20 years ago. I seem to recall reading that we're over 90% of possible development on this.

Any more and you'd have to start throwing people off of large swaths of land and/or doing all sorts of undesirable things to the environment -- in a reasonable sense of that latter than the more common "green" sense.

Most hydro works on about 40-60 feet of drop, and, small as that sounds, it also has to allow for an area to be turned into a defacto lake -- you pretty much have to have that drop inside of a moderately short distance, usually in a narrow canyon you can seal off. Then there are failure issues -- you don't really want to build such a thing a few miles upstream of a metro area, lest something happen and you get another Johnstown. Hence yet another site restriction.

As an alternative, you should look into Ocean Thermal, which is the only "good" earth-based solar power system there is... it requires some engineering developments, however, to make it profitable. So of course the Fed doesn't put any money into R&D in it.

I don't say OTEC is the way to go, but *if* one criteria is to resist nuclear, it's probably one of the better options.

 
At 9/02/2008 10:23 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> You all seem to think that these technologies are stupid because they are unprofitable without tax breaks.

LOL, that would generally be considered a good definition of "stupid" around here. I suspect most could accept the idea of tax breaks to help overcome initial resistance to something, or to help R&D for a while, or even to lower the entry barriers for a time.

The problem is that these have been getting subsidies for over 30 years, and show no sign of competing with other techs after all that time.

That is, pretty much by definition, "a bad investment". Time to liquidate it and put the money into something else.

 
At 9/02/2008 10:38 PM, Anonymous QT said...

Obloodyhell,

Came across this website spelling out some of the issues on small scale generation. As you can see, the economics are not very good unless you use "sweat capital" thanks to the usual array of endless government red tape.

 
At 9/03/2008 12:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Headline: Germany Plans Boom in Coal-Fired Power Plants -- Despite High Emissions

"New power plants will secure thousands of jobs in Germany. The projects resemble a giant program for the stimulation of the economy. The power plant operators plan to invest more than €30 billion ($40 billion) in construction and infrastructure. "

They expect to sell energy and make a "profit" Gasp!

"Energy security is another argument Gabriel and his colleagues like to invoke: Germany must not become dependent on Russian natural gas, they say."

"They want the planned power plants to help bridge the electricity gap that will inevitably arise in coming years due to the phasing out of nuclear energy. Germany's previous governing coalition between the SPD and the Green Party decided in 2001 that Germany would abandon nuclear energy"

Interesting. What does Germany know that France doesn't? Or vice versa.

 
At 9/03/2008 6:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cost of electricity from utility-scale wind systems has dropped by more than 80% over the last 20 years.

Its not a bad investment, because wind and solar have no fuel cost. Coal, nat.gas, oil; they are all finite, unless you are a abiogenic-devotee.

Now we all should know by now that coal plants spew out crap. If you've ever been to one, you'll know what I'm talking about, the fly-ash everywhere. Even on our Western plants with 'emissions controls', we're managing to really only scrub a portion of a crap that we're burning.

And I'm not even talking about carbon here, just things that we know-for-fact are bad; SOx, NOx, mercury. These things are proven pollutants. But if you burn nat.gas, or if you turn coal into a gas and then burn it, you dramatically cut down on the amount of these pollutants you release into the air.

Yes, the trade-off is efficiency, just like it is with a conventional scrubber, which saps something like 10% of a unit's power. The fact is, even ignoring the carbon issue, we can't keep burning coal like we are, so if coal is going to stay, it needs to take a different form.

"qt, the problem is, if I understand correctly, that the majority of the available hydro sites in the USA have already been developed, and this was true over 20 years ago. "

Yup.

"Any more and you'd have to start throwing people off of large swaths of land and/or doing all sorts of undesirable things to the environment -- in a reasonable sense of that latter than the more common "green" sense."

Yup, what Hydro Quebec is doing to increase their gen; re-routing a river to their dams.

 
At 10/08/2008 5:45 PM, Blogger gerg said...

I find it is hard to draw any hard conclusions from this blog.

How subsidized is frances energy? How does this compare with solar? What changes do we estimate we will see in the total costs of solar and nuclear respectively?

I guess i'm not complaining about the post, but i've been having a discussion about nuclear power vs solar power with a friend and i find most articals very biased either way.

What are the hard #'s? Solar advocates will bring up France as an example of how expensive nuclear is. ie: it is cheap only because the French government subsidizes it. How subsidized is it? How much are the full life cycle costs for 1TWh of plugin electricity for Solar vs Nuclear?

 

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