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Last Tango for Nuclear?

Photo by Michael Kappel (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The U.S. nuclear power industry’s three-step: Revival, long goodbye or state-aided life support.

As pressure to reduce climate-changing emissions grows, nuclear power is drawing growing attention — for better or worse. In this piece, the first of a series of three originally published at Environmental Health News with funding from the Rockefeller Family Foundation, EHN writer and editor Peter Dykstra looks at the current status of nuclear energy in the U.S.

Everybody loves a comeback story. If you like the U.S. nuclear power industry, it’s a Michael Jordan-type gallant return. If you don’t like nukes, it’s more of a Gloria Swanson gruesome comeback in Sunset Boulevard.

Similar to both Jordan and Swanson’s character, Norma Desmond, the industry has tried more than one revival. The current one may be more about salvaging economically dicey nuclear reactors than building new ones.

Promise and Peril

There is some promise for nuclear: Projects in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee may yield the first new nuclear plants in decades. The industry and its advocates are touting new, safer reactor designs.

Aerial photo of nuclear reactor construction site

The nuclear power business is booming near Columbia, S.C., where South Carolina Electric & Gas is building two new reactors. Photo courtesy of SCE&G (Flickr/Creative Commons).

In addition, thanks to a federal appeals court decision, utilities no longer have to add to the $30 billion burden of paying for the abandoned Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pressing hard for its rules to reduce carbon emissions, which would squeeze competing coal-fired plants.

But on the flip side, Wisconsin, California, Florida and Vermont are shuttering aging nuclear plants, and some planned new ones have been shelved in Maryland, New York, Texas and Florida. Closing and decommissioning isn’t cheap — usually a billion dollars or more. As many as seven reactors in Illinois, Ohio and New York could close this year if not rescued by ratepayers.

Nukes also have been getting their lunch eaten in the deregulated electricity marketplace, mostly by cheaper natural gas. More on that in a bit.

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant at Vernon, Vt., is among those being shuttered due to unfavorable economics. Photo courtesy of Nuclear Regulatory Commission © Entergy Nuclear (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Those new nukes are falling behind schedule and soaring over budget, making an already-jittery Wall Street even more skeptical. Earlier this week the builders of two new reactors at Georgia’s Plant Vogtle disclosed additional delays and overruns, potentially making the project over a billion dollars in the hole and three years late. The demise of Yucca Mountain means there’s nowhere for the industry to permanently store its waste. And just when you thought it was safe to atomically boil the water, Fukushima provided the first nuclear mega-disaster since Chernobyl a quarter-century earlier, fairly or unfairly reviving public unease about nuclear energy’s safety in the U.S.

And it didn’t help when the longtime CEO of America’s biggest nuclear player stuck the financial fork in shortly after his retirement.

John Rowe, a longtime nuclear booster and former CEO of Exelon, the Chicago-based offspring of mergers between Commonwealth Edison of Illinois, Philadelphia’s PG&E and Baltimore-based Constellation, oversaw 23 reactors. “I’m the nuclear guy,” Rowe told a gathering at the University of Chicago two weeks after his 2012 retirement. “And you won’t get better results with nuclear. It just isn’t economic, and it’s not economic within a foreseeable time frame.”

Rowe was commenting on plans for newly built reactors. But old ones, including up to six of Exelon’s fleet, may be on the block.

States to the Rescue

In the 1990s, the federal government and many states moved to deregulate electricity. Leaving every potential power source free to marketplace dynamics, it was reasoned, would serve ratepayers well and promote competition among generators. The biggest boosters of deregulation were heavy industries looking to reduce their enormous power bills, and an up-and-coming energy trader called Enron, which thrived for a few years before collapsing in scandal.

The industry’s embrace of deregulation isn’t universal, though. In at least four states, nuclear utilities have sought state government assistance to benefit nuclear plants, if not keep them alive and running.

Officials at Chicago-based Exelon say the free market may soon kill off several of its nukes. Exelon’s CEO has been outspoken about its opposition to subsidies for its wind industry, but the company is not shy about seeking short-term help for its own financially troubled nuclear plants.

Illinois may be nuclear’s short-term ground zero. Exelon operates nukes at six sites in the state and acknowledged that three — the two-reactor complexes at Quad Cities and Byron, and the Clinton single reactor site — may have priced themselves out of the market. Closure of the three could mean 7,800 job losses at the plants and related industries, according to Exelon’s spokesman Paul Adams. A report earlier this month by several Illinois state agencies cited a smaller job-loss figure, 2,500, but added that the state could add 9,600 jobs in the next four years through energy efficiency and a renewable energy standard.

While Exelon CEO Chris Crane insists that the company is not seeking a bailout, and Exelon spokesman Adams said that all “energy technologies should compete on their own merits,” Crain’s Chicago Business and other publications have reported that the company is pushing state regulators to restructure power markets in a way that critics say could stack the deck for their beleaguered nukes. Exelon senior vice president Kathleen Barron told the Illinois Commerce Commission last September that the company needs rate increases that would bring in $580 million in additional revenue to keep its nukes afloat. That extra cash would come from ratepayers, particularly at times of peak power usage.

While Exelon bristles at mention of the word “bailout,” others see it as exactly that. “We don’t think Illinois consumers should be called upon to bail out Illinois nuclear plants,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the nonprofit Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Exelon also is pushing the state for a carbon tax, which would hit its fossil fuel rivals in the energy market but leave nuclear plants unscathed. Years ago, the company swore off coal for electricity, selling its coal assets. Its Illinois nukes comprise 95 percent of the power Exelon sells in Illinois and neighboring states. Exelon also is banking on its nukes in Illinois and elsewhere to help states meet the EPA’s proposed carbon reduction mandates.

Another Exelon nuke, the Ginna plant near Rochester, New York, is on the brink. Facing a deadline on power purchases from the 45 year-old plant’s biggest buyer, Rochester Gas & Electric, Ginna will close without a rate hike, according to Exelon. The plant’s license doesn’t expire till 2029.

Ohio is considering rate hikes to save several aging coal plants and the Davis-Besse reactor near Toledo. FirstEnergy, operator of the trouble-plagued Davis-Besse, calls for an estimated $117 million “power purchase agreement” for its ratepayers. Longtime energy activist Harvey Wasserman called the potential rate hikes a “pillaging” of Ohio.

The utilities have spiced up the battle by resisting efforts to disclose financial data that could shed light on the plants’ financial health, and the need for a rate hike. And while the state ponders lending a hand to coal and nuclear, the Ohio Legislature effectively smothered wind and solar in the state by killing renewable energy standards last June.

Turkey Point nuclear power plants

A shifting regulatory environment is providing a boost to Florida’s Turkey Point nuclear facility. Photo courtesy of Nuclear Regulatory Commission © FPL (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Florida also has pitched in to help the industry: In mid-January, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection drew fire from conservationists when it loosened oversight over hot water discharges from the Turkey Point energy complex south of Miami. Turkey Point’s two reactors and three fossil-fuel plants dump heated water into a four-decade-old network of cooling canals, where algae blooms and rising salinity are believed to threaten to coastal waters, public drinking water wells and Everglades recovery. In writing a new permit for the plant, the DEP cut local water officials out of the regulatory process, leaving the state agency in sole command of the canal field, a radiator-like matrix of 165 miles of waterways extending south from Turkey Point.

Unlike the reactors in Ohio, Illinois and New York, there’s no talk of imminent financial demise at Turkey Point. In fact, Florida Power and Light has state approval to build two more, larger reactors at the site, and is awaiting a green light from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, expected in 2016.

This piece is funded via a foundation grant from the Rockefeller Family Foundation.

Peter Dykstra's picture

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Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Feb 4, 2015

All non-fossil energy sources require subsidy or other governmental support to compete against artifically cheap fossil fuels, whose enormous external costs are borne by the taxpayers instead of the energy buyers. So it’s rather disingenous to point a finger at nuclear for it’s alleged failure to be competetive in a marketplace where the playing field not only isn’t level, but is positively mountainous.

Wind, solar and biofuels are also uneconomic absent large government support. If you don’t believe that, take a look at what happens to wind turbine installation rates when Congress has allowed wind’s PTC to lapse: they fall through the floor.

If failure to be competetive against fossil fuel is what we’re basing our energy decisions on, I guess we can all give up on the climate fight and just burn natural gas. But I certainly hope we are smart enough not to use such a short-sighted metric.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Feb 4, 2015


I was wondering about that. How much would a carbon tax add to electricity from gas? Certainly not as much as for coal. Does a modest carbon tax really level the field for gas?

It would be nice if our electric supply and our heating fuel supply weren’t subject to common mode failures and market gyrations. Markets don’t account for tail risks very well, as we saw in the Financial Crisis.


Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Feb 4, 2015

Coal currently costs about $55/ton in the US (or $61/tonne). With a carbon tax of $40/tonne C, that would increase the fuel costs of a coal-fired generator by 66%, assuming coal is 100% carbon.

Gas currently costs $3/MMBTU, which produces 117 lb of CO2, or 32 lb C. So it would take 69 MMBTU of gas for 1 tonne of carbon emissions. With a carbon tax of $40/tonne C, that would increase fuel costs of a gas-fired generator by 19%.

It must also be remembered that fuel costs are not the only component of electricity costs. 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 4, 2015

All non-fossil energy sources require subsidy … to compete ..
E.g. Most hydro does not.

One may expect that subsidies end. At least that they decrease.
And they do with wind and solar.
Germany expects that solar won’t need subsidy after ~2023.

But with nuclear they are increasing. And their size is insane.
New nuclear power plants cost >3times more than their turnover.
Now even written off NPP’s need subsidies ..

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 5, 2015

As to why nuclear is still competitive with other low carbon energy sources in south eastern US locations such as Florida and Georgia, see this wind power resource map:


Regarding deregulated electricity markets, they were designed to help for-profit companies with fossil-gas burning power plants (with low up-front cost) take market share away from regulated public utilities which owned capital-intensive baseload plants.  They are really no better for wind and solar than they are for nuclear: in most locations, wind power is purchased by utilities using long-term power purchase agreements, which provide the plant owner with a predictable income stream (basically the same thing a nuclear plant owner would need).

Regarding the low priced fossil gas which is out-competing new nuclear in the US, note that gas gets a huge subsidy by the oil market.  Recently and for most of the history of gas in America, companies almost never drill wells just to get gas; ususally it’s a low value side-product from oil production or wells drilled for “natural gas liquids” (which is the propane and butane which are more valuable even than oil).  In Europeam gas contracts, the gas price is usually tied to the price of oil, hence gas is too expensive to be a primary source of electricity.  In the US we still have a gas glut, but this is likely to change as LNG and CNG are gradually being adopted for transportation which should help to balance supply with demand.

We’ve allowed the energy encumbents to tilt the playing field in their favor, but what about developing nations with rapid demand growth and room for new players?  Well coal is still king, but in China which has as much coal pollution as they can tolerate, they are building nukes as fast as they can (with 26 reactors under construction now and many more being planned).

A final note on the Rockefeller Family Foundation, which funded this article: I find it interesting that the Rockefeller Foundation (founded by John D. Rockefeller, who also founded Standard Oil) was one of the original anti-nuclear activist and basically pioneered the LNT propaganda campaign (see this Forbes article on fear of radiation).

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Feb 5, 2015


Yes, and if you look at a map of solar and geothermal, the northeast and midwest have too little of those as well. That leaves coal, gas, nuclear, or importing it via some form of low-loss, high-capacity grid from other places.

At the moment there is still a fair amount of nuclear. Natural gas is rapidly replacing coal because there is a glut of it (nearly 40bcf/day and rising). Spot prices in the Marcellus are at $1.12/MMBTU.

Gas replacing coal is an improvement, carbon-wise, in the short term. Gas replacing nuclear is the wrong direction, carbon-wise.

The cost overruns at Vogtle are unfortunate; that can’t go on.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 5, 2015

… nuclear is still competitive with other low carbon energy sources in south eastern US locations such as Florida and Georgia…
No longer.
Despite the many subsidies (investment paid by rate payers beforehand, etc) the estimate is that Vogtle will start in 2020 earliest, and then produce for ~10cnt/KWh.

While Georgia Power bought solar for 6.5cnt/KWh..
And solar goes down with ~8%/a. So in 2020: 4cnt/KWh; in 2025 3cnt; in 2035 2cnt/KWh.*)

How do you think that the new NPP can compete in such environment??
Considering that:
– then most customers have solar (often with battery), etc.;
– nowadays even fully written off NPP’s cannot compete…

*) Consider e.g. the project of Makoto Konagai, one of Japan’s most celebrated solar scientists.
His goal is to smash through the theoretical efficiency limit of silicon cells, demonstrating efficiencies of 30 percent by 2016 and up to 40 percent by 2021.
So expecting cheap panels with 30% efficiency in 2030 is not optimistic…

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 5, 2015

…cost overruns at Vogtle are unfortunate; that can’t go on…
That will go on.
Partially because rate-payers will continue to pay the investment levy after the NPP is ready until all cost overruns (incl. interest) are paid…

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Feb 5, 2015


I guess the question is, should we extrapolate the overruns at Vogtle? 

It looks to me like the choice with nuclear is the classic “go big or go home” — you need a robust supply chain and experienced engineers. contractors, and operators, which the U.S. probably lacks right now.

If we don’t have nuclear for base load, and fossil fuels are deprecated, then renewables have to be so cheap — at least in some place — that they can be used to create fuels for long distance transportation and storage, such as hydrogen or methane. Even a wide-spread electricy grid and batteries will not suffice. We need a buffer to get through the winters.


Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Feb 5, 2015

> Most hydro does not.

Hoover Dam was built with government money. The same is true of Grand Coulee Dam, Chief Joseph Dam, John Day Dam, and the TVA dams the electrified the South. Even the Niagara Falls hydro station was built with government money, although it was the state rather than the feds. You might be able to find some dam somewhere that was built privately with no subsidy, but overall hydroelectric generation in the US (and elsewhere) is highly dependent on large government subsidies. So I really have no idea where that comment is coming from.

> But with nuclear they are increasing. And their size is insane.

Total government subidies for nuclear power are $3.01/MWh generated, while for wind they are $29.44/MWh and for solar, $121.34/MWh. So if nuclear subsidies are “insane”, what adjectives would you apply to the subsidies for solar and wind?

[Sources: Dollar amount subsidies for FY 2010, latest available, are from for 2013 (latest available) are from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. EIA numbers for 2013 are not out yet but closely track BP in earlier years.]

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 5, 2015

As Vogtle, Hinkley, etc. show: Nuclear makes it far more expensive..

Solar is now at <5cnt/KWh level (Austin), going down further.
Wind is now at <3cnt/KWh level (the plains), going down further.
Batteries, Power-to-gas/fuel conversion also go down.

What do you suggest for nuclear, when wind produces more than 100% of what is needed during 100days/a (Denmark expects that 2020)?
Continue production for $1/MWh or zero?
How can nuclear than still be profitable?

buffer to get through the winters
In winter there is more wind. But in addition:
Power-to-gas can produce enough (Germany has many pilots). Enough underground gas-storage.
Similar with power-to-fuel.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Feb 5, 2015


 I don’t disagree with the concept, but the power-gas process has to be in place before we can do without nuclear and fossil fuels. 

If that can work reasonably well, then the ongoing investment in combined cycle gas turbines would not be a loss when moving to renewables. 

Where I live, at least, we have ample storage capacity for gas in old mines. And it would not be a bad transition if the fossil gas were still tapped in a diminishing way.


Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Feb 5, 2015

In the US we still have a gas glut, but this is likely to change as LNG and CNG are gradually being adopted for transportation which should help to balance supply with demand.”

In the US, with the recent findings on gas reserves, and including a complete switch from liquid fuels to natural gas in transportation, it seams unlikely the glut will disappear anytime soon.

The Colorado School of Mines in 2012 found technically recoverable US gas reserves at 2.4 thousand TCF (slide 7), which does not include methane hydrates, yielding 92 years at current rates of US gas consumption (26 TCF/year).  Note that, presently, natural gas as vehicle fuel is 0.03% of total consumption.  US gasoline and diesel consumption is roughly 11 million bbls/day, which full conversion is the energy equivalent of 23 TCF-gas/year, still yielding almost 50 years of consumption with TRR gas. 


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 6, 2015

Actually that 6.5 ¢/kWh Georgia solar power has not yet been built – the costs aren’t there yet; if the actual costs don’t fall to that level by the expiration of the PP agreements, the developers simply won’t build them.  And don’t forget those prices are generously subsidized with a federal 30% investment tax credit; plus this is only for sunny day power – adding storage could easily triple the price.

So once again, solar promises low cost, but still in the future, and only when diluted 4:1 with dispatchable power.  It should be pointed out that the southern US in general (likely including Georgia) has its grid demand peak in the summer, so low cost solar could be an effective compliment to baseload nuclear power.  Such a combined system would need an order of magnitude less energy storage than a system which used solar+storage to achieve night time power, and it would slash the amount of dirty and unsustainable fossil fuel use for cloudy-day backup as well.


ralpph allen's picture
ralpph allen on Feb 6, 2015

Ohio has a Republican govenor and they are trying to eliminate alternative fuels.  Are you surprised?   They are also about to give their poeple a huge price hike for electricity.  Are you surprised?


They are also trying to stop the MSR technology.  These guys have sold their souls to the oil and gas industry. 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 6, 2015

Nuclear is failing because we did not build in accordance with the suggestions from the inventor of the molten salt reactor (and co-inventor of the LWR). Alvin specifically stated that the LWR be used for military ships and that the MSR be scaled up for global civilian use. He knew about the excess CO2 problem way back when. Of course, Mr Weinberg got fired because that was against the cold war strategy.

He also stated that we should build solar – lots and lots of solar – to be backed by the meltdown proof, wastes reducing MSR in the evenings, at night and early morning. He would not appreciate how us clean energy advocates have divided ourselves!

Instead of getting lost in the politics of the old, we need to promote the new (and proven at ORNL) nuclear, to be assembly line produced at a cost similar to fossil fueled plants. They, along with their fuel, can and should be recycled – that’s what machines are for. The excess CO2 challenge necessitates innovation – not quitters. We also need to make solar as cheap as dirt, work on fusion, etc (oh, and them cooling towers are lovely)

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 6, 2015

Bas, learn more about solar (especially how to make it dirt cheap as the inventor of the MSR wanted for daytime use). You’re just wasting your time when you go against other people’s favorite (and reliable) clean energy source. Thanks to you, I promote nuclear even more!

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Feb 6, 2015

So can I buy your vaunted solar power in the evening when the sun has gone down in Georgia? No.

I really am tired of your deliberately deceptive comparisons. By the way, your vaunted Denmark appears to have the highest power costs of any nation in Europe. 

As for nuclear, would not be my choice in the US as natural gas is significantly more cost effective. 

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 6, 2015


Spot-on comment for Georgia. With expansion of solar and new nuclear coming online Georgia could eliminate coal in early 20s and then starting working on lowering usage of Natural Gas.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 6, 2015

Also Georgia will be getting 250MW of wind from Oklahoma starting in 2016.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Feb 6, 2015

The pin-heads at Exelon over-paid when they bought the assets, ballooning up the price required to make a profit. I do not have much sympathy for them. The plants in California and Florida broke and were too expensive to fix.

Also, the Exelon nuclear assets are “merchant” plants; they have to compete in the market place. There is an oversupply of generators (at least for the moment) in a lot of areas, hence low power prices. The current power markets are really pretty dopey and a contrived government attempt at emulating a “free-market”. The use of a kind of a “Dutch auction” in power markets invariably creates stunning price dislocations when the balance between demand-and-supply runs amuck. The approach does really poorly when dealing with strategic issues involving building power plants which require years-and-years to get approvals and then be built. 

Consumers would be a lot better off if the government acknowledged the obvious: electrical power is a fundamental monopoly, so just let the states regulate it. Give the guys providing a power a reasonable rate-of-return (as long as they manage the effort properly), with the fundamental philosophy of building prudent new generation (that would be low cost). Completely ignore the religious hysteria over “global warming”.


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

Total government subidies for nuclear power are $3.01/MWh…

You miss:
– Investment subsidies
  Loan guarantees that government pays. For Hinkley £10B. Value ~$50/MWh.
  Vogtle; in addition to loan guarantees, investment paid beforehand by ratepayers via a tax.

– The accident liability limitation subsidies
  In US ~$20Billion, while e.g. Indian Point can change NYC in a spoke city. damage $20Trillion. History shows 1 disaster per 4000 reactor years. Assume av. damage $2T. Value ~$100/MWh.

For the new reactors (AP1000, EPR) 5 times less. Value $20/MWh

– The waste liability limitation subsidies
The costs of storing the waste safe is transferrred to government after 100yrs? (different per country)
Value roughly $4/MWh

– The increased rates that new nuclear get. For Hinkley (2%inflation): At start in 2023 $176/MWh, in 2040 (halfway guarantee period) $242/MWh.
Expected whole sale price in 2023 <$80/MWh. Futures show lower prices.
For Vogtle increase (despite ratepayers paying most of the investment and already now) not clear yet.

So when you add these (and the smaller subsidies), then the total subsidy is ~3 times more than the turnover that the NPP will generate. A value of ~$250/MWh.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

Old, empty gas fields could be used for storage.
But we and Germany also have cavities from old salt mines (~600m deep).

Germany also has major cavities in the south, were they store ~4months of Russian gas (may be more since tensions are rising).

Agree that power-to-gas still needs upscaling. Major pilots at 8MW level now.
The process also has room for further improvements.
But we have ~20years time before we need it.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

You forget the subsidies Vogtle get (rate-payers giving most of the investment to Georgia Power, etc). Those are much higher.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

We agree about solar. Especially since it has the potency to produce for <2cnt/KWh in the future.

But I do not understand why you exclude wind?
Wind in the plains produces already for <3cnt/KWh, and it is a nice addition to solar.

How come you still think that MSR will be cheaper than PWR/LWR while having read the long list of difficulties and unsolved problems I stated in the comments at the TAP MSR proposal at TEC?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

The grid is a natural monopoly.
But electricity generation, storage and trade clearly not.

Also shown by the situation here in NL, Germany, etc where thousands of generators (utilities, factories with CHP’s, Wind, Solar, etc) and storage facilities (pumped storage, now upcoming batteries) compete at the markets (A’dam, Leipzig, etc) to buy/sell electricity at the best possible price.

Which has shown to lead to low prices and much more efficiency than would be possible in a monopoly situation. To the benefit of the consumer!

ralpph allen's picture
ralpph allen on Feb 6, 2015
  Any time you quote the Brooking institute as you source of information then I automatically assume they are pushing the industry agenda.   They tend to push 1/2 truths and out and out distortions designed to distort and push their agenda.  You had better get another source of information since every think out of their mouths is to push an agenda for the wealthy industrialists.   Those guys are bought and paid for opinions built to suit the existing power.  If they existed in the early 20th century we would still be using horses and buggy whips. If you are associated with the Brookings institute then I will automatically assume that you are not telling the whole story.
The problems associated with MSR  are engineering problems that can be overcome.  The MSR is a better design that the LWR reactors for ships since they are lighter and easily controlled unlike the LWR.  As a  mater of fact large cargo ships would be ideal uses of small MSR technology. 
No melt downs
300 year 1/2 life waste
can burn existing LWR waste
Use thorium
Proliferation resistant
etc etc

The Chinese are on a fast track for a MSR prototype by the end of this decade and full production models 3 years after that while disinformation experts paid for by the oil/coal/existing reactor builders will make sure no funding is spent on MSR development. 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

I cannot remember I quoted the Brooking institute?
Neither that I took info from them for my list of issues regarding MSR.

Actually I started my study regarding MSR with a symphatic feeling as people wrote that it is much safer and cheaper than PWR/LWR. I had only two unsolved problems when I started:

– Why did the industry not continue when ORNL stopped with their MSR Experiment. Why did the industry not even finance a continuation? Especially since continuation was not expensive.

– Why do the Chinese take so much effort (>500 man) and time (>10years) to develop the reactor further into a commercial design (while they got all info from ORNL)?
Why do they intent to start with only a 2MWth test reactor, while the ORNL reactor was already 8MWth?

Both indicated that MSR may not be as cheap as suggested.
Reading about MSR, I gradually found the problems that I listed in the comments at the TAP MSR proposal at TEC.
A few of those problems regarding TAP reactor; stability (hot spots in the liquid), radiation (more leaking tritium & neutrons), repairability (radio-active tubes/pumps at 700°C) & availability, etc.

In the end I had to conclude that MSR probably won’t be cheaper than PWR/LWR.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Feb 6, 2015

The price of power is among the highest in Europe and is the direct result of heavy-handed actions by the government pursuing a near religious agenda (catastrophic climate change). To claim that constitutes a “free market” is utter nonsense.


Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Feb 6, 2015


If caring about future generations — my children — is a “religious agenda” in the eyes of people like you, so be it. I have nothing but contempt for the amoral people who stand in the way of action.



Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Feb 6, 2015

It is a religious agenda because it relies on faith that cannot be proved by science.

I also note religious fanatics force their beliefs on folks and persecute “non-believers”. Shall we re-institute the “Spanish Inquisition” on the amoral “deniers”?

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Feb 6, 2015


Faith is ignoring evidence, which is what the deniers do. 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

The consumer price of power (and also car fuel, etc) is so high because we have high taxes here. The idea is that a high price stimulates economic use, so better for environment, etc.

If no energy tax, our government will increase other taxes as they need the money anyway.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 6, 2015

Your analogy is akin to the flat earthers and denying proven science is just totally absurd – I agree with Hops. Hence the reason to stop burning hydrocarbons, and to prolong them for other uses. If you would learn science, you would understand WHY CO2 is an infrared absorber. Consider also that 280ppm was just fine at preventing snow ball Earth, thus a continued acceleration towards 500 or 800ppm is the same as taking the entire biosphere down with your actions.

Answer this one  ?, when was the last time  this planet had over 600ppm? Was the continents in the same spots? Was the air the same?  I don’t think so and thus it just isn’tnice to fool mother nature.

ralpph allen's picture
ralpph allen on Feb 6, 2015

WHAT !!!!!


The link you have provided twice now is written by the Brookings institute.  Don’t you read where your information comes from? 

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Feb 6, 2015

The consumer price of power (and also car fuel, etc) is so high because we have high taxes here. “

…taxes which pay directly into solar and wind price support and thus solar and wind are largely the reason the residential price of electricity is so high, as you well know.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Feb 6, 2015

Your statement is at odds with economics and common sense. Make something more expensive to stimulate economic activity??????? Only in the minds of the left completely divorced from reality.

How about your government stop spending so much money.Novel concept for Europeans, I suppose.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Feb 6, 2015

The medium term future of the US power market seems to be natural gas, extended with token amounts of wind and solar and some lingering nuclear capacity. China will likely surpass the US in nuclear capacity within 10 years and then race on from there.

China is picking up where the US stopped in the late 70-ies, researching all tracks simultaneously and pushing costs down. The rest of the world will likely start buying Chinese designs and components in increasing volumes pretty soon. Far better than if nobody had provided the world this opportunity, but sad that it will be a walk over win for China. Sad that more than three decades have been squandered by simple inability to allow a superior technology to keep ramping and developing. But that phenomenon is not exclusive to nuclear power and energy – it’s an overall problem.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Feb 6, 2015

It is not proven science but rather conjecture. Your whole theory stems from climate models predicting catastrophic global warming. Oddly, the predicted temperature increases have not occurred for well over 15 years. Quite clearly, the models are not accurate and the climate is much more complicated than originally presupposed.

With the models clearly being off base and Armageddon not occurring, the whole “green’ movement has degenerated into ‘man causing the climate to warm”. Petty trivial condition and hardly a cause for panic.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

The energy tax is an income for government and it stimulate more economic use of energy.
Of course, it is not to stimulate economic activity. Neither does the 21% V.A.T., the 16% to 52% (more if you earn more) Income tax, etc…

Here government (incl. public) spending takes ~45%-60% of GDP (as in other W-European countries). So compared to USA much more. However we get also more back from government.
Such as better social security, education, old age care, well-cared-for public space, bicycle paths everywhere, etc. etc.

All in all this implies that:
– our av. life expectancy is ~2years longer;
– we are more healthy (we spend ~11% of GDP for health care, USA 16% of its higher GDP);
– we are much happier according to studies and UN (not referred in the link I state here);
– you have bigger cars, fridges, etc.

I feel we have a better balance in NL comparing the results. I know you feel different.
It’s typical a matter of culture. And we live in different cultures.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

Mark, Just study our budgets. NL has no Energiewende or so. We didn’t meet the EU CO2 targets at all, and won’t meet them.

Still we have similar high energy taxes.
The money goes into the National Treasury for general spending by government.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 7, 2015

“… written by the Brookings institute.”

The article is written by Josh Freed of Third Way,
and published by the Brookings Institution.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 7, 2015

I found some history on the CO2 count, don’t know much about the site. It seems to goes past todays level at about 3.5 million years ago but the more reliable ice core data only goes back .8 million.

We shouldn’t be altering the air. I don’t believe that all the scientist are ingaged in some sort of giagantic conspiracy (besides, i know a little science myself). Millions of years ago, the continents were in different places, different ocean currents and so on. So, an increase in the most abundant (and long lived) GHG could cause too much warming. In fact the hottest years on record were mostly all in the most recent years in that record, which not surprisingly, corresponds to extra GHG.

Realize that the ocean mass will slowly suck up heat but must take longer to reveal the change (except, as proven in the Arctic). I believe this big planet would have to take decades to actually reveal the true nature of the consequence of accelerating excess CO2. If we were merely still coming out of a little ice age, wouldn’t the warming be less pronounced towards the present?

Today’s life likes yesterday’s CO2 levels and does NOT need to be the guinea pig for a bunch of humans burning up all the hydrocarbons because we are too lazy to move on to better, and already proven, sources.


Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Feb 7, 2015

Robert –

We shouldn’t be altering the air.”

I’d agree we shouldn’t be changing the air too much.  Changing it some is inevitable for the living.  And as you point out the air’s composition some changed before modern humans arrived.  So the relevant question is, how much is too much?

ralpph allen's picture
ralpph allen on Feb 7, 2015

KELL the eternal sucker says  “Oddly, the predicted temperature increases have not occurred for well over 15 years.””

  Well well care to tell us religious nuts where you got that piece of information from?  Let me guess some obscure web site the is funded by the oil industry.  My evidence for warming comes from NOAA and organizations like NASA.   I know those NASA boys think they are sooo smart they all think they are a bunch of rocket scientist.  But on the other hand you have Rush Limbaugh, college flunk out and pied piper for the village idiots telling you it is all a big lie. But the fool does not have common sense enough to verify their source of information.  

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 7, 2015

“…electrical power is a fundamental monopoly

That is certainly true of all of the facilities which have high capital cost but long-life and low operating cost (not just the distribution and transmission grid, but also solar, hydro, and nuclear plants).  Just consider what would happen if a new competitor setup across the street from the emcumbent power company: duplication of expensive equipment, doubling total system cost to be born by society.

On the other hand, the case of fossil gas and oil fired plants is different due to low capital cost and high fuel cost.  If a new plant opens which is 10% more efficient that the old plant, fuel costs are lower and pollution goes down.  So here competition helps.  

Free markets are good for fossil fuel, but we need to move away from both in our electrical system.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 7, 2015

Sad that more than three decades have been squandered…”

Not just sad, it’s an economic injustice for future generations who will bear the burden of our foolishness.  With current technology, nuclear technology has high up-front cost, and very long plant life.  This means that the whole system is very affordable if each generation builds their fare share of nuclear plants, while continuing to enjoy the benefits of those built by previous generations.  Our generation in the west has built very few nuclear plants, and in some abhorent cases destroyed the efforts of the previous generation. 

sad that it will be a walk over win for China

They will certainly have much lower sustainable energy cost than the western world, at least for the next century.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Feb 7, 2015

But are folks actually better off? Are their opportunities limited? Seems to me therein lies a fundamental question.

The elites in government (or royalty) dictating to the masses who must serve the elites. Looks like the historical European pattern.

Alternate approach: the government works for the people and the smaller the government, the better. More of a historical US perspective.

The current US regime is quite clearly following the European model and is immensely unpopular in most of the country. On the bright side, we in the US have the ability to throw the bums out but and do from time-to- time.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Feb 7, 2015

Your comments regarding TAP MSR center around safety, and start with a false premise that nuclear power is more dangerous than air travel. In fact, air travel killed 1189 people in 2014, while nuclear power killed zero.

Much of the cost of nuclear power is related to making it so safe that it kills less than zero people. And most people can see the illogic in that.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 7, 2015

I figure if 280 ppm was good enough to prevent snowball earth in this geological time period, then 2x that amount would cause warming – not double, because of the saturation effect, but still to some, perhaps unacceptable degree, thus the reason to master all non fossil sources to their full extent. Hydrocarbons need to be saved for future use, anyways.


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