Friday, November 12, 2010

Making the Case for More Nuclear Power

From yesterday's Detroit News:

To be sure, we also need to consider all forms of renewable energy as they become cost-effective, but the unavoidable truth is that nuclear plants occupy a small fraction of the land required for solar and wind power. And while nuclear plants produce electricity about 90 percent of the time, wind turbines generate power, on average, only 30 percent of the time and require back-up electricity from fossil fuel turbines on days when the weather isn't cooperating. Solar energy is less efficient, providing electricity only 20 percent of the time.

Nuclear power, therefore, must play a larger role in maintaining our nation's energy security and reducing atmospheric pollution and acid rain. Nuclear power also has economic benefits, as it provides a stimulus for new jobs and revenue.

The Saudis can build nuclear plants. The Turks can build nuclear plants. We can, too. The enormous power at the heart of the atom promises to benefit economies worldwide.

27 Comments:

At 11/12/2010 9:37 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

A good argument. Nuclear makes much more sense and is better for consumers, producers, and the environment.

 
At 11/12/2010 9:38 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

the US is going to have a very difficult time adding nuclear plants. just the permitting takes a decade and can cost $100 million. that's a lot of money and time to spend before you even find out if you will be allowed to build one. it makes it a very daunting prospect and a very risky investment.

 
At 11/12/2010 9:58 AM, Blogger Michael Hoff said...

Meanwhile, across Pennsylvania's beautiful Allegheny mountains, more and more windmills are popping up. And they're hideous. But I'm sure Ed Rendell is getting rich(er) off of them somehow.

 
At 11/12/2010 10:01 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"just the permitting takes a decade and can cost $100 million"...

Good point morganovich and now the federals and locals want that sort of nonsense and more to apply to coal fired plants too...

Leave it to what is foisted off as news to continue to play on the acid rain scam...

 
At 11/12/2010 10:11 AM, Blogger cluemeister said...

One more great legacy from the hippie generation. Why didn't they all go live on a commune somewhere and leave the rest of us alone?

 
At 11/12/2010 10:51 AM, Blogger Camillo said...

whats the costs for insuring a nuclear plant? does that still make it cost efficient?

 
At 11/12/2010 11:03 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

From The World Nuclear Association:

U.S. nuclear production represents 30% of worldwide nuclear power.

"Despite a near halt in the new construction of more then 30 years" U.S. nuclear plant's share of electrical generation has grown from 11% to 20% of national output. How? Increased power output plant utilisation through improved refueling, maintenance and safety systems.

Only four new plants will come on-line by 2020 because of competition from low natural gas prices (and burdensome costly permitting)!

 
At 11/12/2010 11:55 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

china has been experimenting with a very interesting new nuclear reactor design called pebble bed.

it's essentially a hopper of balls made of uranium and graphite. i'm not quite sure what to make of the hype as i have not seen any data i trust, but the design has a significant advantage in that it cannot possibly go supercritical.

wind will never work. it's far too inconsistent and the fact the power is a fourth power function of wind speed makes even moderate fluctuations in breeze a huge deal.

those turbine are putting out about 15% of faceplate power in practice.

 
At 11/12/2010 12:09 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

whats the costs for insuring a nuclear plant? does that still make it cost efficient?

Let companies self insure and there won't be a problem. Nobody has ever died because of a nuclear plant accident in the US and the industry is the most heavily regulated in the country.

 
At 11/12/2010 12:31 PM, Blogger James said...

Nuclear power is the primary source of electricity in France. In 2004 it accounted for 425.8 TWh out of the country's total production of 540.6.

If they can do it so can we.

 
At 11/12/2010 12:36 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

china has been experimenting with a very interesting new nuclear reactor design called pebble bed.

Based on what I have been hearing lately the Chinese may go with another design because of the cost issue. Eskom has said that the pebble bed reactor was never in its plans, which makes sense given the fact that the South African government finally cut support for the development program.

But I think that if they can make the pebble bed idea work it will be a game changer because of the very low build cost and scalability.

 
At 11/12/2010 12:47 PM, Blogger Don Culo said...

One more legacy from Three Mile Island.

I even heard Russian is building a new power plant in Chernobyl, since the last one was so efficient.

 
At 11/12/2010 12:57 PM, Blogger Jason said...

The militant arm of the Demoratic Party (the California contingent) will never let nuclear happen on their watch.

Fortunately their watch is nearly over...

 
At 11/12/2010 1:22 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

For a fair comparison you would have to include the land used to mine and process uranium, but the argument is most probably still valid.

 
At 11/12/2010 1:22 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Large scale wind and solar projects will have permitting challenges, too.

 
At 11/12/2010 1:27 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Permitting is all about allowing public participation. It gives some peopel the right to say no, concerning the use of someone elses property, at little or no expense too themselves.

People who use this new property right should be required to pay for it. That way the market would have a say in what the relative worth of building and not building is.

 
At 11/12/2010 1:33 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Let companies self insure and there won't be a problem.

================================

Are you out of your mind? That guarantees there will be a problem. It is like letting Bernie Madoff self insure. That would be letting the power plants assume OUR risk as if there is none.

Instead, let themm buy insurance in the insurance marketplace, from someone who actually has the assets to pay off if required.

In case of a major accident, insurance will be the least of your worries, but we can hope that won't happen for a long time. Then again, airbus engines don't fly apart very often, either.

 
At 11/12/2010 1:36 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

the industry is the most heavily regulated in the country.

==================================

Wait a minute. I thought regulation was bad.

 
At 11/12/2010 2:26 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Are you out of your mind? That guarantees there will be a problem. It is like letting Bernie Madoff self insure. That would be letting the power plants assume OUR risk as if there is none.

Not at all. Most of the big utilities have plenty of value on their books that can be sold off in case of a problem. But given the new design criteria and safety systems there simply isn't much damage possible from a nuclear plant. Nat gas plants are probably more dangerous to the surrounding area than nuclear could ever be.

Instead, let themm buy insurance in the insurance marketplace, from someone who actually has the assets to pay off if required.

I have no problem with that either as long as the insurance companies were liable for real damage rather than imagined harm that often causes massive losses in the US legal system.

In case of a major accident, insurance will be the least of your worries, but we can hope that won't happen for a long time. Then again, airbus engines don't fly apart very often, either.

What major accident? Have you ever seen the safety systems on a modern nuclear plant? You are more likely to get killed by a wind generator or blade falling off a tower than from any nuclear power accident.

 
At 11/12/2010 2:27 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Wait a minute. I thought regulation was bad.

It is bad. But given the fact that all of the people who are opposing nuclear are huge fans of regulation there is little to complain about because there is plenty of unnecessary rules that ensure that all parts of the process are reviewed many times to ensure that nuclear power plants are safe.

 
At 11/12/2010 2:40 PM, Blogger bix1951 said...

or we could stop feeding the dragon and let prices go up to discourage consumption

 
At 11/12/2010 4:02 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

vangel-

i'm a little confused. you seemt o say that pebble bed are too high cost then you speak of low build costs.

what's the discrepancy? is it high cost to operate or fuel process?

 
At 11/12/2010 11:17 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Vanges: your last statement is a remarkable piece of circular logic. Regulation is bad unless it is forced on us by those scared s__fleas of nuclear power?

What major mechanical system have humans ever built that has never had a failure?

I agree the chances are slim, but every plant and every year increases the (still small ) odds that you will make a place the size of Connecticut uninhabitable for decades.

We Americans are nutzo about spending huge sums to reduce small risks. The odds of being a victim of an air terrorist are something like 20 times less than being hit by lightning.

If we put a similar effort into preventing a near inevitable nuclear failure as we spend on preventing air terrorism, what would be a commensurate response?

Vange is probably correct that wind turbines are more dangerous than n-power. Wind and solar will be widely distributed. A lot of travel will be involved in maintenance, and we can pretty well calculate what the risk of that will be.

I favor nuclear power, but I think they should buy their own insurance.

 
At 11/13/2010 12:57 PM, Blogger QT said...

Mark,

Good column. About time there was some economic and technological sense on this issue.

Pebble design is only one of many IV generation designs offering greater safety, longer operating life, and greatly reduced risk of core melt-down.

Juandos,

Thanks for the link. Interesting how people are always trying to bend the evidence to fit the agenda.

 
At 11/13/2010 1:44 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...

This is one of the few things I'd want to see more of as well. Just don't cut corners in worker safety.

 
At 11/15/2010 4:38 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

i'm a little confused. you seemt o say that pebble bed are too high cost then you speak of low build costs.

what's the discrepancy? is it high cost to operate or fuel process?


If the pebble bed design works the build costs will be very low because you can use standard parts to build identical reactors. If you want more power all you do is pop a new reactor next to the existing one. The typical light water reactors are custom jobs that are not easily scalable and are extremely expensive to build.

The cost problem has been in the development. We just saw the South Africans throw in the towel on their design program because they got very little for all of the money that was spent. We will have to see how the Chinese program works out.

 
At 11/15/2010 4:49 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

What major mechanical system have humans ever built that has never had a failure?

Failure is not the problem. The problem is the outcome of that failure. The US nuclear industry has had no fatalities due to an accident.

I agree the chances are slim, but every plant and every year increases the (still small ) odds that you will make a place the size of Connecticut uninhabitable for decades.

There is no chance of that ever happening. There is a much better chance that you will see a nuclear bomb being set off on US soil than an American reactor will have a catastrophic accident.

We Americans are nutzo about spending huge sums to reduce small risks. The odds of being a victim of an air terrorist are something like 20 times less than being hit by lightning.

No, you aren't. You are 'nutzo' about other people spending their money to reduce nonexistent risks.

If we put a similar effort into preventing a near inevitable nuclear failure as we spend on preventing air terrorism, what would be a commensurate response?

Your ignorance is showing. First, there is no inevitable failure that would kill many, if any, people. Second, we have already seen huge sums spent to prevent failures and negative outcomes if there are failures.

Vange is probably correct that wind turbines are more dangerous than n-power. Wind and solar will be widely distributed. A lot of travel will be involved in maintenance, and we can pretty well calculate what the risk of that will be.

It is clear that wind turbines are more dangerous. They kill thousands of birds and animals, produce low frequency noise that disturbs the sleep of many individuals, create a flicker effect that disrupts daily life for people near them, spin off chunks of ice that have damaged property, get hit by lightning, are dangerous to maintain and install, etc.

I favor nuclear power, but I think they should buy their own insurance.

They also need tort reform so that they can get insurance. They will not be able to afford insurance unless the insurance companies understand the regulatory and legal risks, not just the risk of failure.

 

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