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Nuclear Energy: Mark Bittman's Renewables Delusions

Nuclear and Renewables

Nuclear provided America with about 180 times more energy than solar last year, and is one of our cheapest, safest baseload sources of zero-carbon energy, and yet New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman insists that solar and other renewables are better positioned than nuclear to replace coal. This post debunks Bittman’s column. 

New nuclear plants are being built around the world including in the United States. Bittman incorrectly suggests that nuclear energy is going away. In fact, there are 69 nuclear power plants under construction around the world right now, dozens of which will come online in the next year. China has 28 plants under construction, Russia has 11, and there’s even a small handful in Europe. Japan is not only restarting some of their idled reactors, but also approving construction of new nuclear plants.

In the wake of Fukushima, no countries announced plans to cancel new nuclear reactors, and several countries (UAE, Turkey, Jordan) announced plans to begin construction on their very first nuclear power plants. The United States is indeed closing a few old plants — Vermont Yankee operated for four decades — but we also have four new larger nuclear reactors under construction.

Renewables require a massive expansion of the grid, not its demise. Bittman imagines that renewables are like personal computers displacing mainframes, essentially freeing us from the grid, but this is the opposite of what the NREL study he cites actually claims. NREL’s study relies on a huge expansion and upgrade of the electrical grid, not its dismantling. Renewable energy like wind and solar, by their intermittent nature, require more grid infrastructure not less.

In Germany, for instance, the government is currently spending $25 billion on 2300 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines, and when the sun doesn’t shine (which is often the case in Germany) the country relies on the interconnected European grid to import electricity from other countries (like nuclear-powered France).

Renewables, on the other hand, are far from ready to replace fossil fuels in any country. Germany, in fact, is building new coal plants.

Nuclear receives far less subsidies than renewables. Bittman attacks nuclear subsidies, but they are far smaller than renewables subsidies. Since 1950, nuclear power has received $3.60 in federal subsidies for every megawatt-hour of electricity it has produced, compared to $1.50 for coal, $5.70 for gas, $6 for hydro, and over $100 for solar and wind. Germany has committed over $130 billion to solar subsidies since 2000, yet only receives 5 percent of its annual electricity from solar.

Renewables are far more dependent on subsidies than nuclear. Meanwhile, renewables are completely dependent on federal and state subsidies. When the federal PTC for wind expires, new wind projects plummet. And these are not loans; these are direct payments, tax credits and grants ($10 billion from 2009-2014). Wind and solar may be competitive with coal in some areas, but that’s including these massive subsidies. Renewables also receive many implicit subsidies like renewable portfolio standards, priority access to the grid, net metering, etc.

Utilities pay billions to insure their nuclear plants. What about insurance? Utilities are required to buy the maximum amount of insurance available and pay into an additional fund of $12.6 billion in the event of an accident. And while federal loans for nuclear power plants are quite new (only one has been accepted), new nuclear power projects are under construction in South Carolina sans federal loans.

Nuclear scales seven times faster than renewables. Bittman claims renewables can scale quickly while nuclear is slow — the opposite is the case: nuclear can be scaled seven times faster than renewables. One recent analysis examined how quickly countries could add energy from various sources over an 11-year period in terms of how much additional energy was added per person (MWh/person/yr). Sweden, France, and Belgium’s nuclear build-out were the fastest, adding 5-7 MWh/person/yr. What of Germany’s push into renewables over the last decade? It added just 1 MWh/person/yr of wind and solar over the same amount of time.

The only country that has decarbonized at a fast enough rate to meet climate targets was France during its massive nuclear build-out. It went from zero percent nuclear to 80 percent in 30 years.

Sweden voted in 1980 to phase-out nuclear power by 2010, but this plan was cancelled over concerns of climate change and the realization that renewables were not a feasible option. And while coal use is shrinking in the United States, it is because of cheap natural gas, not a valuation of externalities. 

No energy technology is perfectly clean, and solar panel production creates toxic waste. Bittman imagines solar is clean but the mining of materials used in solar panels is extremely toxic, and the production of PV solar panels produces more SO2 than when coal is burned (per unit of energy created). About 80 percent of European solar panels are manufactured in China, whose environmental and occupational protections may not be up to Bittman’s standards. In 2011, massive protests erupted in China after an accident at a solar panel factory resulted in a toxic waste spill.

Advanced nuclear reactors are being developed around the world. There have been a variety of designs built and tested over the decades, from salt-cooled to gas-cooled, pebble-bed to liquid fueled. In 1986, the US EBR-II plant performed a demonstration of its advanced passive safety features, where power was shut off, cooling ceased, and the reactor was able to shut-down and cool itself without any human or mechanical intervention. A similar test was performed with a gas-cooled reactor in China in 2004. The Superphénix plant in France – another sodium-cooled fast reactor that operated from 1986-97 – was 1200 MW, larger than most commercial nuclear power plants today. None of the examples above are “coulds.”

Since they use fuel much more efficiently, advanced reactors would lessen the need for uranium mining. Some new reactors can use nuclear waste as fuel or decommissioned weapons material, meaning there is much less need for new uranium to be mined. And while uranium mining can indeed be dangerous, it’s not nearly as dangerous or environmentally harmful as coal mining.

Antinuclear activists are one of the greatest threats to action on the climate. Bittman likely has no sense of the scale that’s required to deal with climate change. Consider that if a single 500 MW nuclear reactor is taken off the grid, over 100,000 solar home installations and 750 wind turbines would need to be installed in order to generate enough power to fill the void. Bittman fears the new nuclear craze, but what’s crazy, and scary, is his insistence that we shut down the development of new, advanced nuclear plants that have proven to be able to displace coal. As former NASA climate scientist James Hansen said, “The danger is that the minority of vehement antinuclear ‘environmentalists’ could cause development of advanced safe nuclear power to be slowed.”

Photo Credit: Renewables Delusions/shutterstock

Jessica Lovering's picture

Thank Jessica for the Post!

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Discussions

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 5, 2013 9:02 pm GMT

Jan, wind does not replace carbon but instead guarantees it a place in our energy future.

Without reliable storage (accounting for complete generation) wind must rely on gas peaking plants to provide power when the wind is not blowing – about 70% of the time. Only gas turbines can provide rapid load balancing, which is necessary given wind’s varability.

Gas is significantly lower than coal in its CO2 output per unit of power generated, but the notion that wind is “carbon-free” is erroneous and misleading.

Reliable, carbon-free nuclear plants are built in France and China in 3-4 years instead of 12, so obviously we are doing something wrong which has nothing to do with nuclear technology.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Sep 5, 2013 9:52 pm GMT

I went to the Cal-Iso website like you said.

From what I can see, the renewables are a speck in the Ocean. I’d like actual data on them replacing anything.

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on Sep 5, 2013 9:37 pm GMT

Please correct me if I am wrong but it is my understanding that nuclear power is only less expensive than wind and solar power because the cost of decommissioning the plants and safely disposing of spent fuel is not taken into account.  In fact, as far as I understand, the waste from the original Manhatten project has not yet being disposed of.  In other words, no one has an idea of what it will cost to dispose of this waste or even how to do it.  If we were developing fourth generation nuclear power plants which can utilize this waste as a fuel and in doing so, greatly reduce its quantity and toxicity I would be much more relaxed about nuclear power.  Lastly, we don’t seem to have factored in the occasional Fukushima to the costing and the more nuclear power plants we have, the more likely they are.  Humans display huge levels of hubrus.  Can you imagine the stupidity of putting a nuclear power plant on the shore of a highly seismically active area with clear evidence of past very large tsunamis.  And then to top it off, putting the spent fuel rods up high and the emergency generators down low.  The mind boggles.

Marcus Pun's picture
Marcus Pun on Sep 8, 2013 9:36 pm GMT

 A lot of deaths from other radiation exposures have come years after initial exposure so while it is true that direct expoosure has not led to any deaths, there are both the initial exposures and the cumulative exposures that may impact health later.

As for regulation, one could argue that there may not be enough.  The closure in San Onofre was not caused by excessive regulation but by poor engineering and manufacturing of generator replacements for the $670 million upgrade in 2010, and the $500million dollar patch that apparently did not fix the vibration issues or the rapid erosion of piping.

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Sep 5, 2013 10:04 pm GMT

” Reliable, carbon-free nuclear plants are built in France and China in 3-4 years instead of 12, so obviously we are doing something wrong which has nothing to do with nuclear technology. ”

That may be true in China, but is not true anymore in France. They are hugely over budget and over planing in their 2 plants now being built (one in France and one in Finland).

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50308

In an interview with IPS, Pistner said that most power plants have to be running for at least 20 years to reach the operation period free of depreciation and impairments costs. Only after this period, a nuclear power plant starts yielding returns.
Actually, there is a new nuclear power plant that serves as a warning example of the risks involved in such a project: the nuclear power plant of Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, under construction since 2004.
Although the plant was supposed to have started delivering electricity in May 2009, its completion was postponed several times in the past two years. On Feb. 11, the Olkiluoto 3 project manager Jouni Silvennoinen announced in Helsinki that the plant’s start “may be pushed back further than June 2012, which is the current deadline confirmed by the equipment manufacturer.”
The manufacturer is the French state-owned company AREVA. The plant was ordered by the Finnish company TVO.
Olkiluoto 3 is also facing an explosion of construction costs. Initially, it was estimated that the plant’s construction would cost three billion euros (4.1) – but now the bills amount to well over 5.3 billion euros (7.2 billion dollars). How much the plant is actually going to cost remains unclear.
These costs must be added to the revenues losses TVO had budgeted as electricity sales, but which were never realised due to the non operation of the plant.
The delays in completion and the explosion of costs have led to litigation between the Finnish operator TVO and the manufacturer AREVA.

Leo Klisch's picture
Leo Klisch on Sep 5, 2013 10:20 pm GMT

Willem, what’s your take on why MidAmerica decided to purchase 1.9 billion more wind power in Iowa this year rather than the nuclear plant they were pursuing before that? I’m sure the PTC extension played a role. Buffet definitely has the resources to fund a nuke up front. I know that Google and Facebook were both looking for green power for their operations in Iowa. I don’t know if they didn’t consider nuclear and NG as green or what. I believe they worked it out so that rate payers would actually save millions over the next 10 years. I wonder what would have happened without the PTC, possibly about the same but maybe more CCNG and less wind.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Sep 5, 2013 10:22 pm GMT

You are wrong. An even-handed financial Pro Forma analysis of nuclear versus renewable will always show nuclear with lower production costs because the renewables have to match the same high capacity factor as the nuclear plant, but that is physically impossible. As such, you have to somehow cover the inability of renewabe power to meet baseload requirements by additional fossil or nuclear generation that must be included on the renewables side of the ledger.

A more proper comparison would be renewable versus peaking power plant generation, where capacity factors are relativey low. 

Attempting to contrast nuclear versus renewable invariably ends up being an “apples-versus-potatoes” type of comparison, as the two types of generation serve entirely different types of markets.

All that being said, however, the actual competition is the natural gas power plant, which handily crushes both nuclear and renewable in just about all marketplaces in the US.

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Sep 5, 2013 10:31 pm GMT

” If the purpose is to allow variable renewables to supply 50, 70, or 90% of the electricity demand, then we’re back to needing storage to supply like 60-90% of demand for 10-30 hours, depending on the quality of the renewable resources in question. ” EVEN BASELOAD NUCLEAR NEEDS BACKUP STORAGE :

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2010/05/taking-grid...

In the U.S., large-scale storage projects flourished in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s as utilities added 18 000 MW of pumped hydro facilities to support the rapid build out of the fleet of nuclear power plants across the nation. Nuclear plants run best at higher power ratings, so pumping water in these hydro plants presented ideal off-peak loads during nights and weekends when customer demands are lowest.

Leo Klisch's picture
Leo Klisch on Sep 5, 2013 10:32 pm GMT

Jessica,

 

what’s your take on why MidAmerica decided to purchase 1.9 billion more wind power in Iowa this year rather than the nuclear plant they were pursuing before that? I’m sure the PTC extension played a role. Buffet definitely has the resources to fund a nuke up front. I know that Google and Facebook were both looking for green power for their operations in Iowa. I don’t know if they didn’t consider nuclear and NG as green or what. I believe they worked it out so that rate payers would actually save millions over the next 10 years. I wonder what would have happened without the PTC, possibly about the same but maybe more CCNG and less wind.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 5, 2013 10:32 pm GMT

a v, Olkiluoto 3 is a one-of-a-kind EPR reactor that will probably not go online until 2016. The reactor is not representative of the industry:

“Modern nuclear power plants are planned for construction in four years or less (42 months for CANDU ACR-1000, 60 months from order to operation for an AP1000, 48 months from first concrete to operation for an EPR and 45 months for an ESBWR)[25] as opposed to over a decade for some previous plants.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics_of_nuclear_power_plants

(The challenges that Olkiluoto 3 has faced has not stopped the Finnish Parliament, which recognizes the value of nuclear to Finland’s power mix, from licensing Oliluoto 4 in 2009.)

Though Germany is exuberantly celebrating milestones in solar generation, their per capita carbon output is nearly double France’s (.0097 tons vs. .0057), largely because of France’s making development of nuclear power a priority decades ago.

 

Jessica Lovering's picture
Jessica Lovering on Sep 5, 2013 10:42 pm GMT

Dear William,

       Nuclear power plant owners actually pay their own way for both waste disposal AND decommissioning. The nuclear Waste Policy Act requires utilities too pay a per kWh fee on nuclear power produced into a federal Nuclear Waste Fund. And nuclear power plant owners are legally required by the Nplants set asidmounds for decommissioning. The NRC audits these decommissioning funds every 2-3 years.


Jessica Lovering
Policy Analyst | The Breakthrough Institute
Energy and Climate Program
http://thebreakthrough.org/
Office: (510) 550-8800 ext. 300
Twitter: @J_Lovering

 

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Sep 5, 2013 10:45 pm GMT

” a v, Olkiluoto 3 is a one-of-a-kind EPR reactor that will probably not go online until 2016. The reactor is not representative of the industry: “

 

Bollocks. This Areva EPR is the standard French latest generation nuke plant model. They are also trying to sell it to the Arabs and Indians and Chinese and everybody interested in the Areva sales pitch. Not much luck with it, given the great delays and exorbitant price extensions incurred in Finland. And I hear that the Canadians also have their own issues with their CANDU designs, back home ….

 

 

http://www.powergenworldwide.com/index/display/articledisplay/8561149016/articles/powergenworldwide/nuclear/retrofits-and-upgrades/2010/10/New-Brunswick-upgrade-delayed.html

Oct 15, 2010 – A refurbishment project at the Canadian Point Lepreau nuclear generating station has been delayed 3 years. NB Power, the owner of the power plant, said that work there would be complete by the fall of 2012, three years behind schedule. The project initially was supposed to be completed in September 2009.

The utility said the recent delay is because Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. recommended the removal and replacement of 380 calandria tubes. The new tubes were inserted in the reactor between December 2009 and April 2010, but dozens of the tubes flunked air tightness tests after being fused with special inserts designed to hold them in place.

 

 

http://www.powergenworldwide.com/index/display/articledisplay/7769405125/articles/powergenworldwide/nuclear/retrofits-and-upgrades/2010/11/Refurb-over-budget.html

Nov 4, 2010 – TransCanada said the retrofit of two mothballed reactors at one of Bruce Power’s nuclear power plants in Ontario Canada is C$2 billion (US$1.995 billion) over the original estimate.

The company said that refurbishing the two nuclear power units at the Bruce A plant has cost C$3.8 billion to date. The final cost is expected to be C$4.8 billion (US$4.788 billion). The project originally was estimated in 2005 to cost C$2.75 billion (US$2.743 billion).

The Ontario Power Authority said an agreement signed in 2009 makes TransCanada and its partners solely responsible for any costs in excess of C$3.4 billion (US$3.392 billion). Overruns up to $3.4 billion in total costs had been shared. The plant was mothballed in 1997 and the original target for the restart was the end of 2009. That was changed to 2011, with commercial operations expected in 2012.

TransCanada said its share of the total project cost is expected to be C$2.4 billion (US$2.394 billion). It owns Bruce Power in partnership with the OMERS pension fund and an employee group with a small minority stake. Bruce Power has a long-term lease of the nuclear facility.

 

Leo Klisch's picture
Leo Klisch on Sep 5, 2013 10:52 pm GMT

The low cost of CCNG could be the main reason that MidAmerica Energy decided against nuclear and just invested 1.9 billion more in Iowa wind this year. If they need wind backup they can cheaply and quickly add CCNG and use far less gas (if the price spikes)with wind than CCNG only. Even without the PTC they may have done the same except possibly more gas and less wind.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Sep 5, 2013 11:04 pm GMT

Actually, the nitwits in Iowa have a renewable energy mandate and that is why they are putting in wind turbines. Also, getting a big junk of money (~$20 MWh for wind generation) from the hapless US taxpayer also helps. Absent the dopey mandate, just put in combustion turbines when and if you need more power.

Considering that Iowa is infested with welfare queens (that would be corn farmers), not too surprising they are prone to schemes involving emptying everybody else’s wallets.

jan Freed's picture
jan Freed on Sep 5, 2013 11:15 pm GMT

I have read that RE has outpaced all other forms in the last few years, certainly nuclear.

Kenya expects to create 5 GW of wind in 5 years.  They did not choose nuclear. Your thoughts on why that might be?  How quickly are nukes on line?

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Sep 5, 2013 11:11 pm GMT

” Nuclear scales seven times faster than renewables. “

 

Duh, completely wrong. My home solar PV array was put up in 2 days, delivering 100% of my yearly electricity consumption, reducing my grid electricity bill to zero. Previous to that I received electrons from EcoPower cvba, who generated it from 100% renewable energy sources, in casu one windturbine put up in one week, and one run-of-river generator put up in one month, and one biogas genset put up in three months and one biodiesel genset put up in 2 month and one landfill gas genset put up in one week (skid unloading from the truck and connection to the methane pipe), and one biomass steam turbine near where I live.

” No energy technology is perfectly clean, and solar panel production creates toxic waste.”

My Bisol solar PV panels are produced in Slovenia in eastern Europe, not China. They used zero carbon energy to produce the panels, since the PV plant’s roof is covered with their own panels, thus generating zero GHG in the production process. They also are connected to a EU standards water treatment plant, that avoids releases of those wastes into the environment. The panels are on my home roof and will stay there for the next 30 years.  They are not radioactive, and can be recycled given that they consist of a metal frame, glass cover, silicon cells that can be remelted, and some waste plastic….

” Renewables are far more dependent on subsidies than nuclear. “

 

http://www.iea.org/files/energy_subsidies.pdf

http://www.grist.org/article/2010-06-07-iea-stunner-global-subsidies-dirty-energy-top-550-billion-year/

IEA stunner: global subsidies to dirty energy top $550 billion a year. The IEA estimates that energy consumption could be reduced by 850m tonnes equivalent of oil — or the combined current consumption of Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand — if the subsidies are phased out between now and 2020. The consumption cut would save the equivalent of the current carbon dioxide emissions of Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, and Spain. Fossil fuel subsidies average out to 2.1% of GDP of the 37 countries surveyed.

 

http://www.altenergystocks.com/archives/2011/04/a_unclear_future.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AlternativeEnergyStocks+%28AltEnergyStocks.com%29

 

A recent report of the U.S. Energy Information Administration sought to estimate the unsubsidized costs of energy production for 2016 in the United States from different sources, including capital costs, operation, maintenance and transmission, based on current prices and trends [6]. It found that, of those methods available, “Advanced Nuclear” would likely cost around $113.9/MWh. This is more than most many of the alternatives, including coal. Note that these are production costs, and do not take into account health and environmental costs, which may be significantly greater for some sources [7]. Of alternative energy sources, geothermal, which is viable around the Pacific Rim, comes in at $101.7/MWh, hydroelectric at $86.4/MWh, wind at $97.0/MWh, and biomass at $112.5; all of these are cost-competitive with nuclear today. Solar energy, which is the most abundant source on Earth, came in at $210.7/MWh (photovoltaic) and $311.8/MWh (thermal). However, these figures are coming down more rapidly than any other form of energy production. The cheapest available energy source is Advanced Combined Cycle Natural Gas at $63.1/MWh, at a whopping 45% cheaper than nuclear.

 

Of course, all of these figures have their uncertainties. Nuclear power costs are almost impossible to predict due to uncertainties in requirements for long-term storage of waste and the costs of incidents. The estimate for entombing the Fukushima power plant alone is $12bn, which is comparable to the entire Price-Anderson fund [10], the effective indemnity cap for major nuclear incidents in the United States. If the U.S. were to experience a single level 7 incident directly, the costs would not be met, and hence current nuclear policy artificially lowers the costs of nuclear. Fossil fuel industries have high environmental and health costs [7], which are difficult to account for. This is not to state that alternative energies are problem free, and there are cost-increasing factors. Wind is a highly variable form of energy production [8,9], requiring both a wide distribution of turbines [9] and development of pumped storage plants (a technique that is already in use worldwide) to smooth out supply. Solar is also variable, especially from night to day, and is not well suited to higher latitude, cooler regions. Geothermal only works near volcanic zones and can cause local subsidence and minor earth tremors. Taken on their own, none of the clean alternatives are an ideal solution to world energy problems, but our energy needs could easily be accommodated using a combination of solar (both power plants and rooftop installations), wind farms (widely distributed) and geothermal (near volcanic zones), together with large scale pumped hydro storage facilities to smooth out supply. All of these technologies exist already, and just need to be implemented on a broader scale.

 

In Texas, a local cotton farmer, Cliff Etheredge, led his community to establish the Roscoe Wind Farm, currently the largest wind farm in the United States. By spanning the 627 wind turbines across the edges of farmers fields over four counties and 100 000 acres, 400 land owners share in royalties of 781 MW of electricity production, equivalent of a modest sized nuclear power station, bringing in a needed boost to the local economy. If this project were to be extended across farmlands throughout the United States (over 2 billion acres), a simply extrapolation shows that it could provide more than the nation’s electricity needs (over 17 TW rated capacity).

 

 

Critics of alternative energy solutions point out that these industries rely on government subsidies and tax breaks in order to fuel their growth, but the same argument applies to nuclear power in the United States [13], and also to oil [14]. Given the falling costs [15] and rate of growth [16] of alternative energies, in the face of rising energy prices, such subsidies should become less relevant over the next few years, and in many cases are simply not required to match grid parity. Their purpose for the time being is to act as a stimulus for faster growth in the light of growing demands for clean and independent energy, rather than a means of facilitation.

 

 


Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Sep 5, 2013 11:31 pm GMT

” It is far too early to judge the success of Germany’s renewable energy transition.  The reason is that they have yet to successfully address the variability problem at high penetration.  In contrast, nuclear does not get difficult until the penetration reaches 70% (depending on the demand peaking), and France has shown that 80% is still affordable.”

 

In the US, the 20% NPP share required the build up of 18 000 MW of pumpe up hydro storage, because the NPP’s couldn’t shut down at night or on weekends, when there was no demand for their production.

As such, the variability problem is moot, since we simply need to foresee clean backup storage….

 

 

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2010/05/taking-grid-energy-storage-to-the-edge

 

 

In the U.S., large-scale storage projects flourished in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s as utilities added 18 000 MW of pumped hydro facilities to support the rapid build out of the fleet of nuclear power plants across the nation. Nuclear plants run best at higher power ratings, so pumping water in these hydro plants presented ideal off-peak loads during nights and weekends when customer demands are lowest.

 

 

http://www.solardaily.com/reports/New_German_subsidy_kick_starts_solar_energy_storage_market_999.html

Sep 05, 2013. The adoption of residential PV energy storage in Germany will accelerate in 2014 as a result of the new German Government subsidy and falling prices of the storage system. Similar storage subsidies are available in both Japan for Li-Ion based storage solutions in the residential sector, and in California where advanced energy storage systems can be subsidized up to 3 MW in size.

The energy storage market in Germany will be dominated by the residential sector, with 30 MW of installations already supported by the subsidy in 2013. Periodic decreases in FiT and continually increasing electricity prices, coupled with decreasing PV system prices, have now made it financially favourable for a home-owner to self-consume PV energy on-site rather than export it to the electricity grid and receive the FiT.

An energy storage solution enables the system owner to increase the level of self-consumption from around 30% without a solution to around 60% if adding batteries. Despite lowering the overall IRR of the system, adding storage provides the system owner with additional benefits such as back-up power, independency from utilities and energy security.

The subsidy equates to euro 600/kW, or a maximum of 30% of the eligible costs, for a battery-based energy storage system installed in a new PV system. The total annual budget available for the program in 2013 is just euro 25 million, of which euro 18.7 million has already been allocated.

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Sep 5, 2013 11:39 pm GMT

” Considering that Iowa is infested with welfare queens (that would be corn farmers), not too surprising they are prone to schemes involving emptying everybody else’s wallets “

 

They are $imply playing the U$ capitalist $y$tem to the hilt, u$ing every mean$ available to achieve their goal$…

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Sep 5, 2013 11:44 pm GMT

Being a 3rd world country, doubtful Kenya could afford nuclear. Also, as long as you are use to unreliable power (pretty much the calling card of a 3rd world country), put in wind. Otherwise, put in gas turbines, diesel engines and coal plants so the living standard of the folks can actually get much better.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Sep 5, 2013 11:47 pm GMT

No, they are playing the democratic partys system to the hilt. If they were capitalists, they would not be in the Federal pig trough.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Sep 6, 2013 12:52 am GMT

Well, we can make fertilizer (ammonia) from natural gas and coal. For that matter, we can make transportation fuels out of coal, with an assist by nuclear. As for green plants, they like higher CO2 levels. Hybrid vehicles (and eventually electric vehicles when we overcome the battery issues) can cover most transportation needs. Run the big semis on compressed natural gas/diesel. Solar power will get cheaper and cheaper and help cover peak loads. Machines will get more efficient. Nuclear power is going to be much cheaper.

I’m not too worried about the future, technology (or more accurately, clever folks) will find a way. The flies-in-the-ointment are the politicians, but we can vote those clowns out of office. No worries!

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Sep 6, 2013 12:55 am GMT

If the situation were truly “dire and urgent” we could easily replace all our coal plants with nuclear in less than 10 years.  The French did it (i.e., went from zero to 80% nuclear) in around 15 years, and there was no “emergency”.

Note that if the situation were truly “dire and urgent” we wouldn’t bother with the infinite safety/caution regardless of cost or time mindset that permeates the entire nuclear industry at this time.  A far cry from the Manhatten Project mentality, which accomplished enormous things in just a few years.  No years of licensing and alaysis, for each reactor design and each site.  We would just set up a modular reactor asssembly line and start pumping them out (carbon copies), at a rate of about one per day.

You say that we can put up renewables (e.g., wind) quickly.  That’s true while they remain a small percentage of overall generation.  As that percentage increases, intermittentcy issues start to exponentiate.  Given the lack of practical and economic large scale energy storage, getting most or all of our energy from renewables is not practical, no matter how much time we had for installation.

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Sep 6, 2013 1:11 am GMT

The barriers to nuclear waste disposal are completely political.  The problem has been technically solved for awhile.  NRC staff reviewed Yucca Mtn. and found that it meet all the (impeccible, unprecedented) requirements, i.e., that it demonstrated containment of the wastes for as long as they remain hazardous, a standard that no other waste stream has to even come close to meeting.  All of this is done at a cost of only 0.1 cents/kW-hr (due in part to the miniscule volume of nuclear waste – millions of times smaller than fossil waste streams).  If the repository program continues to be politically delayed, the 0.1 cent/kW-hr fee on nuclear generated power becomes even more sufficient, due to long-term compounding interest.  The long-term risks from nuclear waste disposal (even if we use current technology) will be far smaller than those associated with most of our other waste streams, notably those from fossil fuel generation.  Also, as Jessica points out, all decommissioning costs are fully paid for (at a cost of a fraction of a cent/kW-hr, over the life of the plant).

Fukushima caused no deaths and is projected to have no measurable public health impact.  And it is the first significant release of pollution in non-Soviet nuclear power’s enture history.  Worldwide fossil fueled power generation causes hundreds of thousands of deaths every year (i.e., ~1000 every day) and is the largest cause of global warming.  Fossil fueled power generation is also estimated to inflict more than $100 billion in economic costs, every year, in the US alone.  That is equal to the total estimated cost of the Fukushima event.  Dividing the (~$100 billion) econmomic cost of Fukushima by the amount of power generated by nuclear over the last few decades yields and “accident cost” of only ~0.1 cents/kW-hr.

Thus, the costs of waste, decommissioning and accidents to not add significantly to nuclear’s overall costs.  They are not nearly enough to make nuclear anywhere near as expensive as solar.  Wind’s costs are in the same ballpark as nuclear (they vary greatly for different regions).  However, wind’s intermittentcy limits the fraction of power that we can get from it.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Sep 6, 2013 1:11 am GMT

A little fact checking here:

Nuclear’s share of global generation (kwh) is decreasing.  Yes, there are a number of nuclear plants under construction in Russia, China and India.  There are 5 being built in the US.  Nuclear;s share of global generation declines over time.  It does not increase.  

New large nuclear plants require significant transmission enhancements in most US congested transmission networks.  No credible system planner who will tell you there is no need for massive, and I mean massive, transmission infrastructure to accommodate a GW or two of new generation (regardless of technology) anywhere in most of the US grids.

The jury is out on whether nuclear plant decommissioning is paid for.  It depends on the plant, although real data is now available indicating that it is much more costly than present fund target amounts.   Vermont Yankee, for example, has $500 million in its fund.  Recent experience decommissioning plants of that age and size indicate at least a billion is necessary.  Go ask Exelon how adequate the funds are.

Nuclear is second only to oil as the most subsidized form of energy on the planet. Can a wind farm limit is liability to one third the capital cost of the installation if it causes harm, leaving the remainder to the federal government?  Do solar manufacturers make free use of government facilities that cost the taxpayers billions? Over the last 25 years the biggest recipient of federal R&D funds was nuclear, followed by fossil. Renewables are a distant third.  Combine new nuclear PTC with CWIP in rate base and convert that to cents/kwh and then compare. But stop! Comparing the two makes no sense.  See next comment.

 

Until large scale economic energy storage becomes available, anyone who compares large nuclear plants- or any other form of central baseloaded generation – to renewables is advertising that they don’t understand how electricity delivery systems function.  When you can adequately aggregate intermittent generation through storage, then maybe a comparison could be made, as long as the incremental grid infrastructure is included in the equation.  The question, of course, is whether the central generation model is still viable in all regions.

 

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Sep 6, 2013 1:14 am GMT

And yet, even the the Finnish plant’s power will be less than half the cost of renewables (in Germany, anyway).  And unlike renewables, nuclear can provide almost all of a nation’s power (just ask France).

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Sep 6, 2013 1:34 am GMT

According to the EIA, nuclear and renewables will be the fastest growing sources in the near to mid future:

http://www.eia.gov/pressroom/presentations/sieminski_07252013.pdf

Decomissioning funds are regularly audited by the govt. and they continue to show that funds are adequate.  Accumulation of interest will provide sufficient funds.  Having the full amount available right now (or at the start of the job) is not necessary.  Of course, this is one more reason not to close plants prematurely!  In any event, this is a fraction of a cent/kW-hr issue.

As for subsidies, please, it’s the dollars per kW-hr, not overall dollars, that matters, especially with respect to direct construction or operating subsidies, as opposed to R&D.  My research showed that renewables’ R&D budgets have been larger than nuclear’s for ~20 years (ever since the Clinton administration).  Many people (unjustifiably) try to include fusion and weapons-related programs as part of nuclear power’s R&D.  Even the fuel cycle and advanced reactor stuff provides little actual benefit to the industry; it certainly doesn’t have any benefit on its costs.  And, unlike other sources, R&D was the only significant help nuclear ever gotten over the last several decades.  Only recently has nuclear gotten any direct subsidies, in the form of production tax credits that the Vogtle and Summer plants will use.  They are proceeding w/o any loan guarantees.

If one counts the fact that fossil fuels get to freely pollute the environment for free, while nuclear is required to spend exorbitant sums to reduce even the chance of polluting to near zero, fossil fuels’ subsidies are orders of magnitude larger than nuclear’s.  Renewables direct subsidies are far larger.  And finally, there are state renewable portfolio standards, requiring large amounts of renewable regardless of cost or practicality (or if the power is even needed), which are essentially an infinite subsidy.

Marcus Pun's picture
Marcus Pun on Sep 6, 2013 3:47 am GMT

Well Michael you’ve just condemned every single industry from the railroads which would not have had the expansion from 1860-1900 had it not been for land grants,  to the internet with not only the initial government research but the exemptions from use and sales taxes.

Every single industry in the US has enjoyed a pass at the trough, some a lot longer than others like oil. And it is apolitical You can rail against the Cemocratic Party all you want but if it wasn’t for them Las Vegas would not exist, the massive amounts of electricity needed to power the industrial effort during WW2 would not exist. Just love how the anti-government and anti-big government crowd excludes whole swathes of US economic history.

 

Marcus Pun's picture
Marcus Pun on Sep 6, 2013 3:45 am GMT

Conservation have a very large role.  Energy growth can be decoupled from economic growth. California has been proving it for 35 years. California uses half the carbon per dollar of GDP than the rest of the U.S. so it is best we start with conservation because there is a lot of low hanging fruit that can be taken care of within a couple of years. Introduction of LED lighting will have a significant impact on lowering California’s carbon footprint even more.  Installations of LED street lighting has been happening all over and it will not be long before night time base load demand drops even more.  Looking at the peak demand of CAL-ISO , California’s peak demand has been reduced from 50.3 GW in 2006 to 46.8 GW. in 2012, the equivalent of 2 large power plants. I don’t think we reached that 46.8GW level in 2013.  Note that the Real Total GDP between 2006 and today is essentially the same, California having dived into and then climbed out of most of the recession.

 

Marcus Pun's picture
Marcus Pun on Sep 6, 2013 4:10 am GMT

go to the Click here to view yesterday’s output.

on the website.  You’ll see that nightime is generally around 2.5GW and daytime peaks are up to 5GW in a grid that dirunally varies from 25GW to 44-46GW, so 10% of demand is not a dismissable drop in the ocean as you would like it to be.

If you want some hard numbers, you can look at the energy almanac for California although it is already out of date as renewable output has increased considerably, with solar doubling in less than a year from 1GW to over 2GW.

http://energyalmanac.ca.gov/electricity/total_system_power.html

Renewables not including large hydro in CA contributed 46,515 GWH in 2012 to a total usage of
301,966 GWH. That’s 15%. that does not even include the onsite production and usage of renewables in lieu of the grid.

The 1.5MW turbine in Fairfiled puts out 3.5GWH that goes directly to the Budweiser plant supplying it iwth up to 50% of it’s daily electrical needs. There’s a school district near Fresno with a solar install that will be saving about 1.2MWH each year on it’s electric bill. Such usage which is statewide decreases grid demand. Include that usage and my guess is the renewable contribution is a couple of GW higher.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Sep 6, 2013 5:17 am GMT

Other folks believe the supply is several hundred years. In any case, grand pronouncements of peak this or peak that invariably turn out to be wrong, as technology invariably pulls a rabbit out of the hat. Case in point “peak oil”

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Sep 6, 2013 5:56 am GMT

There are 54 reactors that have been decommissioned , are in decommissioning or are about to start the process.  The average cost is running about $1,635/kW.  The NRC target for funds is a more or less flat $300 plus million.  Vermont Yankee’s fund is $500 milliion short.  San Onofre at least $300 million.  Check out Zion, Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Rowe.  The latter came in at $3,500/kW.  The UK estimates that its decommissioning funds are going to be $100 billion short.  This is not hard ot find information.

According to data compiled by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the $154 billion spent on federal R&D from 1950-2010 was as follows: nuclear $74 billion; coal $36 billion; renewables $24 billion; oil $7 billion; natural gas $ 8 billion; geothermal $4 billion; and $2 billion hydro.  You might also take a look at “Renewable Energy R&D Funding History: A Comparison with Funding for Nuclear Energy, Fossil Energy, and Energy Efficiency R&D” from the Congressional Research Office.

Vogtle is still negotiating its loan guarantee.

As to fossil units “freely polluting” I doubt that there are any scrubbers on coal units that were installed “for free.” Or NOx controls for that matter.


Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Sep 6, 2013 7:18 am GMT

Discredit my self… I don’t think so (at least in this rather obvious fact that nuclear is ALMOST zero carbon).

Nuclear is the most power dense source, therefore, it is the LEAST carbon intensive source. Granted, mining for a LWR requires on the order of 200x what would really be needed for advanced molten salt reactors, however, that is still paltry, compared to, well, everything else, because nuclear is like 1,000,000x as energy dense than coal.

In the long run, ALL energy sources will have to be carbon free. At first, fossil fuels are required for transport of employees, mining, capacity build up, etc. But nuclear can power EV’s which will then lower the “low” in low carbon, can power ammonia based trucking and mining (if better than batteries), and can power the build up of CSP, the ONLY renewable that has the potential to power the world all by itself. MSR’s can also be used as a back up store of heat along with the CSP’s molten salt which would reduce natural gas back up requirements.

I believe that the excess CO2 problem is already known by all (who care) to be only part of a larger problem, that of dwindling fossil fuels and other resources (and how can we manage anything without energy). Hence the dire need to develop the least expensive, most abundant and (almost) safe low carbon energy source. Because there is no such thing as perfectly safe, either.

Minimalist outlooks are of meaning ONLY from an anti-nuclear standpoint. Otherwise, nuclear is SOOOOOO energy dense, no amount of ocean extraction or other environmentally acceptable mining techniques would be out of reach, in order to not only maintain current (global) levels of consumption, but to increase them almost exponentially in order to provide more power to those who don’t even have electricity (and to clean up the excess CO2 mess). For example, there is enough lithium to power dozens of totally electric planetary civilizations, if only we can extract just a few percent from the oceans.

I really don’t believe that we can afford to waste fossil fuels for “mere” combustion! They need to be saved for making roads, tires, etc. Once the nuclear age kicks in, these FF derived things could actually become cheaper. Eventually, there will be no need for roads and tires (not sure how, nanotech, perhaps), but for now, nuclear would greatly extend the time period for good ole roads and tires by displacing the need for combustion.

Fuel for molten salt reactors can also come from plain old DIRT,  to power humanity and all of our necessary REE mining requirements.

Coal mining is like a once through, wheras lithium (or better for battery)  mining is like a 1,000 through (and then recycled), sooo, there can not be any “mining for rare earths is a carbon intensive” argument here. Thorium (needed for LFTR based MSR’s) is a byproduct of REE ming as well, which is AWESOME!

Thus, as I see it, FEAR LIMITATION !

Here’s the way I see it…

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Sep 6, 2013 7:22 am GMT

Why would anyone want to bury (un)spent fuel? What we need to do is develop the molten salt reactor… problem solved!

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Sep 6, 2013 7:35 am GMT

Conservation and efficiency instills a sense of limitation, such that the dire need (and it really is a dire need!) becomes muddled by complacency. They are only needed when carbon intensive is used, or when global capacity is not met.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Sep 6, 2013 8:06 am GMT

Concerning the pace of nuclear development, I believe that it is not entirely based on the markets, and that there is justification to the “whining”. Case in point. After every advanced reactor is demontrated, funding is cut just before the long term proving stage (search LFTR and the IFR). Perhaps this is because of politics, and now, even fear brought on by silly environmental groups? Surely, the markets would be more favorable if such meltdown proof, inherently safe nuclear was brought to fruitition!

The past PROVES that great (and seemingly impossible) goals were met at a fast track pace. Now, however, “nothing” is possible anymore, and that excess regs and fear has made it that way. Speaking of fear…

F orever

E liminate

A dvanced

R eactors

Fear of nuclear would quite literally destroy the biosphere since no other source would generate the energy needed to power a growing planetary civilization AND the energy required to clean up the excess CO2 mess. I say, let’s just get on it and build a global fleet of mass produced LFTR’s despite the 5 or 10 year research lag!

fireofenergy

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on Sep 6, 2013 11:02 am GMT

Hi Jessica

That is good to hear but I’m not sure what they base the costing on.  So far, if I understand correctly, there is not yet any proven way of getting rid of spent fuel.  If we weren’t still wanting to make bomb material, the fourth generation nuclear power stations might be the solution. They don’t make any plutoneum.  They would use up the wastes left on the ground and leave a much smaller, less long lived waste.  Even if we eventually use underground storage, the wastes remain hot for tens of thousands of years – far longer than the duration of human societies.   Then we still have the problem of the rare but disastrous Fukushimas.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 1:11 pm GMT

“The assertation that renewables requires the most upgrade to a grid, again, makes little sense. I can hook solar or wind directly to my house’s electical system and use the grid less. Little else to say”

 

You have some learning to do about the basics of electrical supply.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 1:13 pm GMT

“I was a big nuclear fan for years–I had all the stats about baseline power from the NEI etc.–but when you really look at the cost and logistics, the arguments break down”

depends what youre comparing it to. The comprehensive costs of nuclear don’t compete with natural gas, but the comprehensive costs of nuclear are in fact better than wind and solar and the investment is longer-lived.

 

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 1:27 pm GMT

“How does this compare with Germany?  They looked at risks of nuclear waste/terrorism/accidents and are more than 20% wind/solar now.  Far less sun there, too”

Wind and solar in Germany account for ~12% of electricity production, not 20%. The German solar fleet has cost over $130 billion and produces the same amount of energy annually as a typical $8 billion reactor believe it or not. The heavy addition of wind and solar has made German utility rates among the highest in the world, and their emissions per unit of energy have also risen slightly in the past decade due to the phasing out of nuclear plants.

The addition of wind and solar also cause grid stability issues. To expand their base of wind and solar much further Germany will need to enact grid modifications which will have an additional cost.

You may hear the praise of what Germany is doing quite often in the media, but a little careful scrutiny from a standpoint of practicality reveals that the movement is a lot less ideal than the hype would lead you to believe:

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/04/17/czech-germany-grid-idUKL5N0D43L...

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/27/column-wynn-germany-renewable-...

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/27/column-wynn-germany-renewable-...

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 1:35 pm GMT

Nuclear does not require storage and there are several ways in which off-peak energy can be diverted away from the grid – desalination, hydrogen or other liquid fuel production, thermal salt storage, industrial heat supply – All of these storage methods/usage are more efficient and cost effective atpresent day than battery storage that PV and wind would utilize. Give me a call when PV + Li-ion systems become cost competetive with other energy options.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 1:49 pm GMT

Energy storage via batteries is not on the cusp of commercialization. It may fit some special niches but we won’t see heavy usage of batteries by utilities in the next decade.

A breakthrough in battery storage is possible, but its not a foregone conclusion.

 

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 1:57 pm GMT

No energy generation source is completely carbon free, but Nuclear among the lowest GHG emitters according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climat Change:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-cycle_greenhouse-gas_emissions_of_ener...

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 2:11 pm GMT

“They used zero carbon energy to produce the panels, since the PV plant’s roof is covered with their own panels, thus generating zero GHG in the production process”

Are you familiar with the Silicon wafering process? I am highly doubtful that any silicon cells are made completely by means of renewable electricity as the process is very heat and energy intensive.

” Nuclear scales seven times faster than renewables. “

Your rooftop system is irrelevant to ‘scale’. When we examine the transition of energy sources on a national scale renewables have thus far seen the most rapid growth in Germany, which is a 7 times slower transition than France’s adoption of nuclear.


Non-Hydro Renewables inarguably receive more global subsidy currently than Nuclear despite providing less energy. Most of the ‘dirty energy subsidies’ you refer to come from middle-eastern countries who pay oil companies to sell domestically rather than exporting all of their product for higher prices. These type of subsidies are not true subsidies, they exist only so local citizens can drive their cars:

http://theenergycollective.com/schalk-cloete/264701/energy-subsidies-and...

“400 land owners share in royalties of 781 MW of electricity production, equivalent of a modest sized nuclear power station”

No. Wind turbines have a capacity factor 1/3 of nuclear plants – it takes 3 MW of wind turbine capacity to create the same amount of annual energy as 1 MW of nuclear capacity.

 

 

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 2:14 pm GMT

Hi William.

There are proven ways to get rid of spent fuel – burn it for energy.

Google ‘fast neutron reactor’

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 2:25 pm GMT

I don’t condone Michael’s insults towards the groups above, but there was a distinct difference between the internet railroads vs wind and solar PV.

The interntet is the internet, it has led to unanticipated economic growth and social benefit and there was no other investment option for such an interactive computing network – it was the only show in town to invest in in that regard.

The same can be said for the railroad system.

Wind and solar on the other hand provide services – emissions reduction – that are more cost effectively met by other options when comprehensive costs are considered.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Sep 6, 2013 7:11 pm GMT

You need to understand capacity factor – How often is the energy source available to create energy at its rated capacity – a nuclear or fossil plant produces at a 90% capacity factor, wind produces at 30% (better or worse depending on wind resource) solar PV has a 20% capacity factor (depending on solar resource).

So Kenya’s 5 GW of wind turbines will create an equivalent amount of energy annually to 1.5 typical 1.2 GW reactors, or less energy than a typical nuclear plant (usually they have 2+ reactors). The energy from a nuclear plant is controllable and predictable, which is an enormous advantage. Nuclear plants can certainly be built within a timeframe of 5 years, in fact several of them could be built at the same time. Building several wind 5 GW wind farms at the same time however is not as realistic and the land footprint will be outrageous.

There is a stygma surrounding nuclear energy, that is why Kenya opted for wind. But there is no data that shows that wind and solar scale remotely as fast as nuclear, Kenya mostly chose wind for political reasons, not because they are making a sound economic or environmental decision.

1 nuclear reactor is usually 1 GW with 3x the capacity factor of the average wind farm. This means that 1 reactor creates an annual amount of energy equivalent to ~2800 2.5 MW wind turbines (each enormous in size). So although 1 reactor can take 3-5 years to come online (depending on where it is being built) it is still much faster than wind. Finding a site for that many turbines, building transmission infrastructure, and modifying the grid to compensate for such a large amount of variable energy is a much larger project than building the 1 reactor.

Most nuclear plants have 2 or more reactors.

 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Sep 6, 2013 5:19 pm GMT

I think you underestimate the influence of the real driver behind innovation – profit. As demand drives up the price of phosphates, technology innovation will become a more powerful force. What the innovations will consist of is very difficult to predict, but they will occur.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 6, 2013 7:37 pm GMT

Gerry, I have no idea where you’re getting your information, but much of it is simply false.

Nuclear’s share of global generation declines over time. It does not increase.

Global generation in nuclear increased every year for 35 years, 1971 until 2006. A categorical statement that it “does not increase” might only be excusable coming from someone who was born after 2006.

New large nuclear plants require significant transmission enhancements in most US congested transmission networks.

I agree with you here, the difference is of course what you get for that investment. Instead of a meager, finicky source which must be balanced with expensive equipment you get a robust, predictable power supply with 6x the capacity factor.

The jury is out on whether nuclear plant decommissioning is paid for.

I’ll also agree with you in principle here, noting only that cost assessments tend to be wildly exaggerated based on worst case scenarios – and because of national regulatory requirements are inflated in the U.S. For example, the French state auditor estimates in a report that all of the country’s 58 reactors could be decommissioned for €18.4 billion, or about $400 million / reactor.

Nuclear is second only to oil as the most subsidized form of energy on the planet

This sounds like the product of some creative construct, common in antinuclear arguments, which might include not only an inflated price for the construction crew’s boots but forecasts a price increase for the rubber of their soles. According to the largely-impartial U.S. Energy Information Administration:

As you can see, wind makes up 2% of U.S. energy generation (in 2010, about 4% now) yet commands an impressive 42% of subsidies, what most people would consider an atrocious waste of resources. Solar’s contribution is so pitiful it doesn’t register on the chart.

Which directly bears on your final point: that we can “adequately integrate intermittent generation through storage”; I argue: “Why bother?” There’s not enough to meet our needs now, much less forty years from now.

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Sep 6, 2013 6:04 pm GMT

And yet US coal plants still kill ~13,000 Americans every year and are the leading cause of global warming, and they get to do so for free.

Their efforts (scrubbers) are not nearly enough.  If coal was held to the same standards as nuclear, they would be required to completely contain all their wastes and toxins, including CO2.  And they would have to provide a high level of proof that the wastes would remained contained over the long term.  Given that that would be impractical, they should at least have to pay heavy pollution and CO2 taxes to reflect the negative impacts.  Such payments would more than double coal’s price.

I’d still like to see a breakdown of the so-called nuclear R&D.  How much of it is fusion.  How much is weapons related?  I’ve looked into this before, and never forgot how all the cleanup efforts at the weapons plants (e.g., Hanford) were placed under the budget title “Nuclear Energy R&D”.  Anti-nukes have been having a field day misusing that (dis)information.  It’s almost like people in govt. are deliberately trying to give nuclear opponents ammunition.  Why would they call it that?  Why is the weapons complex stuff even under DOE (as opposed to DOD)?

From the Carter administration onwards, nuclear power has gotten no more than a few hundred million dollars a year in R&D (and no direct operating subsidies).  That doesn’t add up to $74 billion.  Yes, it got more in the ’50s and ’60s, but why does such ancient history matter?  How is it relevant?  For over 20 years now, renewables have gotten more R&D money and vastly more direct subsidies.  This despite the fact that they generate far less power and have less ultimate potential, due to their intermittentcy.

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Sep 6, 2013 6:19 pm GMT

As for your $1,635/kW decommissioning figure, gosh, what was my company (EnergySolutions) thinking when it took on a fixed price contract to decommission the ~2,000 MW Zion plant for ~$1 billion.  That works out to ~$500/kW.

One possible basis for the inflated $1,635/kW figure is that the earliest decommissionings were more expensive due to lack of experience and expertise.  Also, most of the earliest decommissionings were for small plants, and there was a lack of economy of scale (i.e., the decom cost does not scale down linearly with plant size).

I’m going to assume that the US govt./NRC auditors know what they’re doing when they say that the funds are adequate (as opposed to believing your back of the envelope analysis).

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