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To Those Who Want To See Nuclear Power Play A Bigger Role In Climate Action

Nuclear-power-costsWho killed nuclear power? Hint: It’s not the people who actively supported placing a high and rising price on carbon pollution.

Four of the country’s top climate experts have distributed an open letter “To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power.” I have the greatest respect for James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley, and Ken Caldeira — and have written dozens of blog posts about their vital climate work.

But I think their letter is mis-addressed and also misses the key point about nuclear power — because it is so expensive, especially when done safely, the industry has no chance of revival absent a serious price on carbon.

While solar power and wind power continue to march down the experience curve to ever lower costs — solar panels have seen a staggering 99% drop in cost since 1977 — nuclear power has been heading in the opposite direction.

Nuclear power appears to have a negative learning curve:

Average and min/max reactor construction costs.

Average and min/max reactor construction costs per year of completion date for US and France versus cumulative capacity completed.

Amazingly, in the past few few years utilities have told state regulators that the cost of new nuclear plants is in the $5,500 to $8,100 per kilowatt range (see Nuclear power: The price is not right and Exclusive analysis: The staggering cost of new nuclear power).

The letter opens:

To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power:

As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are writing to urge you to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems. We appreciate your organization’s concern about global warming, and your advocacy of renewable energy. But continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.

If every major environmental group in this country stopped whatever objections to nuclear power they have been offering, I suspect the industry would be in pretty much the same exact shape it is now. And whatever modest short-term benefit it might have for the industry would pale in comparison to the enormous, long-term benefit to the industry a national climate bill and global climate treaty would bring about.

As a practical matter, environmental groups have had little impact on the collapse of nuclear power in America. The countries where nuclear has dead-ended are market-based economies where the nuclear industry has simply been unable to deliver a competitive product (see “Two Years After $500 Billion Fukushima Disaster, Nuclear Power Remains Staggeringly Expensive”). Indeed, despite having U.S. taxpayers swallow most of the risk for the high-cost of new nukes through the loan guarantee program and most of the risk of a major nuke disaster through the Price Anderson act, the industry has been unable to provide a competitive product.

Objectively, then, the groups who have been most successful in thwarting the much-hyped nuclear renaissance are those who blocked efforts to make nuclear power more cost-competitive. And the best, most market-based way to make nukes more cost competitive is to put a serious and rising price on carbon pollution that starts to reflect the harm it does to public health and a livable climate.

So those like Hansen, Emanuel, Wigley and Caldeira who want nuclear power to be a major contributor to solving the climate problem should be addressing themselves to those who are blocking serious climate action, not those who have been devoting vast resources to trying to put a price on carbon.

The letter continues:

We call on your organization to support the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems as a practical means of addressing the climate change problem. Global demand for energy is growing rapidly and must continue to grow to provide the needs of developing economies. At the same time, the need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions is becoming ever clearer. We can only increase energy supply while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions if new power plants turn away from using the atmosphere as a waste dump.

Here the letter conflates the issue of opposition to the current crop of nuclear power plants — which are simply uncompetitive quite separate from the very legitimate issues of safety, waste disposal, proliferation, and water consumption — with a supposed lack of support for next generation nuclear power plants (that will be magically cheaper, despite all trend data to the contrary).

I am entirely in favor of developing a next-generation of nuclear power plants — and most of the climate-concerned environmentalists I know are also. But a major effort to develop such reactors does not guarantee they will suddenly become economically competitive.

The letter continues:

Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.

I think it is quite safe to say that renewables will do more than “play roles” in a climate constrained world — they will play the major role.

It would be astounding if a technology that exists only in PowerPoint presentations — magical small, cost-effective, fail-safe nuclear reactors — could possibly be researched, developed, demonstrated, and then scaled up faster than a host of carbon-free technologies that are already commercial today. And remember, most of those technologies, like solar and wind, have actually demonstrated a positive learning curve, unlike nuclear reactors!

A 2007 Keystone report concluded that just one wedge of nuclear power “would require adding on average 14 plants each year for the next 50 years, all the while building an average of 7.4 plants to replace those that will be retired” — plus 10 Yucca Mountains to store the waste.

But we need at least 12 to 14 wedges to avert catastrophic climate change. So it’s pretty safe to say that most of those wedges will be non-nuclear — and most of those can begin aggressive deployment now.

I wish politicians and opinion makers had the same understanding of climate science as Hansen, Emanuel, Wigley, and Caldeira. If they did, carbon pollution would have a high price, and the marketplace would quickly figure out the most cost-effective way to slash pollution.

The post To Those Who Want To See Nuclear Power Play A Bigger Role In Climate Action appeared first on ThinkProgress.


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Steve K9's picture
Steve K9 on Nov 8, 2013

Nuclear in a technical sense is cheap, even maintaining adequate safety.  You can make something infinitely expensive if that is your goal … which most anti-nukes have worked tirelessly to achieve.  For example, you can have a quality system that requires 10 people to watch one guy screw in a bolt.  Humans are not good at assessing risk, coal plants have and continue to kill thousands every year.  Nuclear in the US has never killed a single person.

Unfortunately for those repeating the cliche ‘nuclear is too expensive’ the Chinese are going to prove that dead wrong very shortly.  And, of course there are advanced designs that will probably lower costs substantially (HTGR, Molten-salt, liquid-metal, etc.), if we develop them.  If we don’t, no worry, the Chinese will.

Steve K9's picture
Steve K9 on Nov 8, 2013

And not to disrepect the good folks at Southern and Scana, the 4 AP1000 reactors in Georgia and S. Carolina are also going to be completed at reasonable cost.  And, given the experience they are gaining (no AP1000 has been built yet … although the first will be completed at Sanmen, China in less than a year), if they get the opportunity to build more, the cost will come down substantially … it’s just the nature of engineering and large construction projects.

GE’s ESBWR design probably has the potential of being the cheapest of all the current designs (hence the ‘Economic Simplified’ part of the name).  But GE’s leadership seems to be happy to make money selling turbines for fracked methane plants at the moment.  And collecting government subsidies for windmills.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Nov 8, 2013

The increase in nuclear costs has nothing to do with a learning curve, but is rather the result of regulatory ratcheting. When you build a reactor in 1970 to standard X, and you build another reactor in 2000 to standard 4X, the later unit will cost more. That’s not a function of people getting dumber. It’s a function of political decisions.

Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Nov 8, 2013

Since “Nuclear in a technical sense is cheap, even maintaining adequate safety” I’m glad to hear they will have and self finance 100% private insurance coverage for the inevitable oops we didn’t think of that which will happen and not have taxpayers bailing out their problems.

Edmund Kelly's picture
Edmund Kelly on Nov 8, 2013

The evidence that nuclear power is getting more expensive is clearly building a more substantial case as time is passing. The same AP1000 design that is in theory being built for about $2.00/W in China is priced at $8:00/W in the US despite commonalities, supposed economies of scale, substantial loan guarantees and investor protections.

However, the author should be as realistic about wind and solar costs. It is true that they are on learning curves, thought the case is harder to support for wind than solar. Wind is running out of the best locations and the push for three times as expensive offshore wind will more than offset price declines from a slow learning curve. Wind still needs subsidies that pay more than 50% of costs to be viable in the US (witness the precipitous drop when the PTC was threatened). This does not factor in transmission and backup costs.

Solar has declined rapidly recently, but most of this is because of overcapacity in China that the government is propping up. The industry needs to restore profit margins by getting supply in line with demand. Realistic assesments would have panel prices rising or at best staying level at the current $0.75/W for several years. Again in the US for utility scale PV in sunny California, subsidies that pay for over 50% of costs are necessary to make projects economically feasable. The historical 20% learning rate will not have solar competitive in California for ten or more years. Again this does not factor in transmission or backup costs.

Too much of alternative energy is wishful thinking. No current choice is economically viable so the common reasoning is to pick one and argue it will get better if we support it wholeheartedly, and by implication reject the other alternatives. This makes for a polarized debate that goes nowhere.

Currently the US spends about $12B/y on green energy. With current politics its hard to see this amount growing. This amount of subsidy will support wind, solar and bio at slow growth rates if they get cheaper. In reality this is the amount of subsidy that balances the political realities. Realistically the subsidy level is more likely to fall, with the wind PTC on a yearly cliff and the solar ITC expiring in 2016.

Energy is too big a part of the economy with too many powerful entrenched interests for government to afford the subsidies or fight the battles necessary for any meaningful impact.

Economically viable clean energy that does not need subsidy is the only way to grow clean energy.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 9, 2013

Joe, the world built 47 new nuclear plants in 1983, a pace which could be rapidly outdone with today’s standardized designs. In short, nuclear is up to the task, and if Americans were as obliging as the French have been about supporting the industry the financing would take care of itself.

Yes, when activisits run up costs at the pace of $1 million/day, like they did at Shoreham for over a year, nuclear power (or more correclty, the American public’s irrational fears thereof) can be expensive.

I can’t really add anything that N Nadir hasn’t eloquently addressed already, except that I’m going to take your defense of the offense against nuclear as a positive sign. It’s coming, because regardless of how afraid the public is, science must carry the day. There’s too much at stake.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 9, 2013

Speaking of energy sources which are “Staggeringly Expensive”:

According to the US government EIA, power costs for new build plants is expected to be: geothermal is $0.089/kWh, hydro is $0.090/kWh, coal is $0.100/kWh and nuclear is $0.108/kWh.  They list a cost of wind of $0.087/kWh and $0.144/kWh for solar PV, but they note that these are “non-dispatchable” and the costs shown do not include the cost of new transmission, which has been estimated at an additional 20% in NREL wind studies.  If wind or PV included energy storage (which would be needed if we stopped using fossil fuel, hence is the better comparison with nuclear), the cost would be roughly that of solar thermal (which costs about the same, with or without storage) at $0.262/kWh

These costs are for the US, which has some of the best sun and wind resources in the world.  For example with CSP, the southwest US has resources which are roughly twice as good (i.e. half as costly) as Europe (except Spain), Japan, or China; and 50% better than that of India.

The levelized cost of nuclear power always includes decommissioning (returning the site to green-field status) and permanent waste storage (note that postponing permanent nuclear waste storage, as we have done in the US, makes it cost less and decreases the ultimate land use by allowing the waste to cool). 

Furthermore, note that these are “levelized costs”, which is to say that they “discount” future value.  Given that a nuclear power plant has triple the life of a wind plant, and double the life of solar, the fleet average cost (averaging new and old plants across the fleet) nuclear and hydro are by far the cheapest non-fossil energy sources. 

In the US, nuclear power currently costs more than power from domestic fracked natural gas, but that is the world-wide exception.  Important markets like China, India, Japan, and much of Europe are importers of fossil fuels like LNG.  In these markets nuclear is competitive in cost with imported fossil fuel, and is always built with primarily local labor, hence is very beneficial to their economies.  

China and India are currently building nuclear plants with technology imported from the US, Russia, and Europe, so they are matching our safety and environmental practices.  In constrast, their fossil fuel plants conform only to “developing nation” pollution rules, which is to say no rules.  

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Nov 9, 2013

Is there any point responding to an anti-nuclear dogmatist?


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 9, 2013

Yes, the Energy Collective does have contributors who stand on a soap box and recite the same old retoric.  But we all have biases that shape the way we interpret data.

The Energy Collective is a place where people can come to seek different points of view and learn new information about our energy system.  By providing science-based comments and providing context for data interpretation, commentors can greatly improve the quality of The Energy Collective and the reader experience.  In an increasingly polarized world, columns like this one provide an opportunity to reach across the aisle, and share ideas with people who otherwise might be inaccessible.

Mr. Edo's picture
Mr. Edo on Nov 10, 2013


(1)  Regarding this sentence quoted in the article: 


“Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires. “


Wind and Solar Energy scales up faster than nuclear energy ever will and with a fraction of the cost.


(2)  Germany is producing the energy-equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants with Solar Energy alone!


They are having the same success with Wind Energy!


(3)  With Renewable Energy there’s no dangerous waste like nuclear energy produces, and which must be stored for 20,000 generations and paid for by 20,000 generations of YOUR families.


(4)  The pro-nuclear crowd likes to conveniently omit that nuclear waste is the largest form of long-term debt that any country will nuclear energy will ever have.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 11, 2013

According to Wikipeida as of 2013 Sept, Germany only has about 35 GW of solar, but given the low capacity factor (around 10%), only yielded 3.2 GW average in 2012.  This is the equivalent of one medium nuclear power plant (e.g. a plant with two EPRs would produce 3 GW average, such as the new reactors the UK plan to build at Hinkley Point). 

Similarly, GWEC reports that as of the end of 2012, Germany has 31 GW of wind.  Wikipeidia gives production data from 2011 which shows an 18% capacity factor, suggesting an average output today of 5.7 GW, which would be equivalent to one large size nuclear plant (with 4 EPRs).

But let’s be very clear: variable renewables can be used with energy storage, or with fossil fuel backup.  Germany has essentially no solar or wind power with energy storage, instead they’ve relied on fossil (dirty and dangerous coal-fired) backup power.  In fact the USA and Spain are the leaders in solar power with energy storage (e.g. the US’s Solana solar 280 MW CSP and Spains Andasol 1, 2, and 3 which are 50 MW CSP plants).  Solar has been dropping in cost, but the growing need for energy storage (as experienced in Germany and California) is driving the cost way up.  Thus far, renewable energy with storage is not cost competitive with nuclear power for the vast majority of the world.

If Germans prefer to pay an army of people to watch their nuclear waste decay away to dirt, that’s their choice.  But the consensus of the science establishment is that if we bury it in a billion year old rock formation, it will stay put; and the nuclear waste disposal fee that is included with every kWh of nuclear power is expected to be adequate to pay for it.  Furthermore, interim storage in dry casks is extremely safe and cost effective, so there is no economic or technical advantage to burying it quickly.  Unlike the waste from Germany’s coal and PV industries (which will remain hazardous forever), the volume of waste produced by nuclear power is very small, concentrated, and easily managed.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 11, 2013

Mr. Edo, we should be lucky enough to have to worry about our families of 20,000 generations into the future. The threat of global warming is such that our ancestors will unlikely survive 20 generations.

We need a source of energy which will drastically reduce our fossil fuel consumption before irreversible tipping points are breached. Renewables don’t have a remote chance of meeting that need. For that reason, finessing these toys to elicit an extra megawatthour here or there is very much like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Nov 11, 2013

Uranium is part of Nature, radioactivity is part of the Earth and already exists inside the Earth, Puting it back inside the Earth is fine.

Obviously the fear of radioactive materiale is overdone since we should easily be able to find billion yr. old rock formations to bury current nuclear waste inside, while we work to refine MSRs with 300yr. till safe  waste.

I really dislike fear, and am disturbed by that some people in the environmental movement exploit fear of nuclear power for some fanciful ideals they might have.

Please re-read Nathan’s (and so many other people’s) post on Germany.

Edmund Kelly's picture
Edmund Kelly on Nov 11, 2013

The original post by Joe Romm that started this thread pointed out some of the accumulating data on the increasing cost of nuclear power with experience. As Nathan points out above, the data on wind and solar shows they are far from cost effectivness with many unresolved problems. It would seem that advocates for all fossil fuel free energy sources are promoting expensive and impractical energy. A lot of the debate goes into pointing out the defects of the competing CO2 free energy sources which seems somewhat counter productive.

Those who accept the high cost of all energy alternatives advocate carbon taxes to pay for this high cost. The advocates for carbon taxes don’t like to paint the picture this way as it highlights that it requires economic sacrifice. Small constituencies in wealthy countries for whome the sacrifice is a negligable to small inconvenience think this sacrifice is a good idea. For China and other developing nations the sacrifice means lower economic growth, possible political instability and continuing poverty. Twenty plus years of trying to get agreement on the economic sacrifice of carbon taxes have gone nowhere and realistic projections from the EIA, IEA, world bank and others do not see a significant change in this staus quo out to 2040 and beyond.

If there were a truely economically competitive source of clean energy, market forces combined with government prodding could start to overcome the entrenched forces of the fossil fuel status quo.  The mounting evidence so far is that no current CO2 free energy technology can or will ever meet this criterion. This is a hard pill to swallow. By advocating technologies that can only fail and treating the other competing technologies as enemies, all the air is sucked from the room and there is no room for new ideas to enter into the discourse.

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Nov 11, 2013

“Wind and Solar Energy scales up faster than nuclear energy ever will and with a fraction of the cost.”

This is very simply untrue. If Germany had put its more than 120 billion euros into nuclear instead of into solar, it would have had 30 GW nuclear and not 30 GW solar. However, solar has 10% capacity factor in Germany and Nuclear would have had 90%. Also, nuclear have at least 2 times the life span, for an 18 times advantage in delivered energy. Time is money, so nuclear scales faster in all time scales that are not completely trivial.

“Germany is producing the energy-equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants with Solar Energy alone!”

Not true either. They produce the equivalent of two reactors with solar power, i.e one plant.

“They are having the same success with Wind Energy!”

Rather, the failure with wind is the same. It is expensive, wreak havoc with the grid, doesn’t scale and is exceedingly expensive.

“must be stored for 20,000 generations and paid for by 20,000 generations of YOUR families.”

Nuclear waste is actually quite trivial since it is so compact, little and chemically inert. Once buried at a low cost, nobody needs to pay.

“The pro-nuclear crowd likes to conveniently omit that nuclear waste is the largest form of long-term debt “

Yes, we conveniently omit what is not correct. Again, the waste is quite trivially handled. It marginally expensive for the same reason nuclear is “expensive” overall: Over the top regulation.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Nov 11, 2013

It seems Mr Romm is on the brink of a great insight, but for some reason, it eludes him. He shows that nuclear power’s learning curve points in the wrong direction by plotting a great graph of it. But either he doesn’t ask himself why something that is almost a law of nature doesn’t apply to nuclear, or he goes no further than the trivial idea that it was somehow necessary to add those costs to make the technology “safe”.

In reality, the learning curve points in the wrong direction because of a long-term, methodical effort of opponents to nuclear power to add regulation, to add political risk, to add red tape, to lower limits of exposure to millions of times less than harmful levels and so on. One example among many is that senator Reid used poltical extortion to have Jazko chair the NRC with the mission to make nuclear more expensive in general and especially to kill Yucca Mountain.

But isn’t the added cost motivated, you ask? We do want safe nuclear, right? Actually, we should want overall energy related damage to be as low as possible. Coal kills many hundreds of thousands every year. Old reactors evacuate at most 160,000 every 26 years. Probably a lot less if we put some diesel generators on the roof to make them safer from flooding. Given this discrepancy, it is an enormous sub-optimization to kill nuclear power by forcing the learning curve in the wrong direction. Nuclear is simply worth its accidents, and we should employ smart, cost-effective means to limit accidents, not this extreme, over-the-top regulation we have today.

So, to conclude: No, we shouldn’t only lobby for carbon fees. First and foremost, we need to stop over-regulating nuclear. We need to stop treating nuclear as some kind of magical industry that can’t be allowed to fail, ever, because it isn’t. We need to stop putting hard-line anti-nuclear activists to oversee nuclear power. We need to replace the NRC by an agency with the mission to optimize/minimize overall energy-related damages. History books will judge us very harshly if we can’t act rationally in the face of millions of yearly coal related deaths and an impending global climate disaster.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 13, 2013

I don’t agree that non-fossil energy is doomed to fail (and not just because this would imply that modern humanity was doomed).  As I said, nuclear plants have very long lives, so their fleet average cost is competitive with fossil fuel.  We may eventually even have some long-lived renewable technologies that are also affordable.  The free market does not value anything that happens 20 years in the future, so the market will not drive us towards sustainable energy, but that does not mean that we can’t economically benefit from the change.

Romm likes to pretend that pricing trends will continue on their current trajectory.  As the financial companies like to say, “past performance is no guarantee of future results”.  We are good at designing light water reactors now; as we gain experience building them, the learning effect will be apparent.  The Gen IV reactors will similarly start expensive and fall in cost.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 13, 2013

The advanced machine automation of solar, wind and their storage may still not be able to “make itself” because of the LONG energy pay back time inherent in such lengthy, diffuse and intermittant efforts. LFTR (the best possible fission), CAN energy pay for itself in a jiffy but is burdened by the fear of humanity’s inability to handle radioactivity (and such vast latent power). and so, that leaves us with only one even better alternative…

Let’s just figure out fusion, it can only remain 30 years away for so long.

Edmund Kelly's picture
Edmund Kelly on Nov 13, 2013

I am not saying that non fossil energy is doomed to fail. I am saying that the non fossil energy from current nuclear, wind and solar are doomed to fail. My criterion is that they are failing and will continue to fail in reducing CO2 emissions. This is borne out by all credible projections by the EIA, IEA world bank and others. Optimists in all camps rationalize why these projections are wrong, but my assesment agrees with the objective observers.

My point is not that we should stop supporting current non fossil fuel alternatives. What we do need to do is to invest intelligently in new  non fossil technologies that might have the potential to succeed. While the debate centers on in fighting between the current alternatives, and a search for more taxes and subsidies to prop them up, a real debate on how to grow the pool of options cannot start. Like I said the air is pulled from the room.

A new approach to fund power plant development (rather than basic research) is needed. A model I like is SPACEX. This is essentially a government funded system level startup that is suceeding. Rather than the cost plus model of government contractors, this was essentially funded with fixed priced contracts for tangible results. 

A stepped funding model that offered initially small funding for tangible results, with more funding as viability is demonstrated would allow a range of new ideas to be tested cheaply. There are currently a handful of fusion energy and advanced sustainable safe nuclear companies that could benefit from investments in the $10M to $100M range. There are some crazy wind and solar alternatives that might succeed. Were they to demonstrate they were on a path to viability, larger funding for the few that make it would be forthcoming.  A yearly budget of $10B could fund dozens of new system level energy companies. The key would be to avoid long term subsidies for boondoggles. The $10B/y is just a swag. Less could easily accomplish a lot, and it all does not have to come from the US.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 18, 2013

Energy payback period for PV is 1 to 3 years. Mostly about 1.5 to 2 yrs. That is not a long energy payback period at all.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 18, 2013

True, that isn’t bad. What is is the extra time associated with their horrible capacity factors. Solar is great for off grid and solar lighting, etc. NOT for powering entire planetary systems… at least not until storage is machine produced for less than a tenth of the cost of lead acid batteries…

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 18, 2013

That is with the capacity factor. PV is already proving itself as a major on-grid resource (as oart of an overall energy mix). This year over 40 GW of PV will have been installed in just 1 year. Accounting for capacity factor, that is over 20 major power stations worth.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 18, 2013

Ok, so 20 gigawatts for just a few hours a day it’s still good, excellent for displacing fossil fuels during the Times when air conditioning is needed. However it still will not displace them entirely, til that cheap storage is made. Remember, developing countries will go for the cheapest source (and so should we). As for global, what is cheaper, 500’000 sq miles of solar and storage or nuclear. History shows that fission is, because way less mass is involved.

But we should not base the future of energy on the past, therefore, we should try to do both… that is develop VERY cheap mass produced storage Asap, and an inherently safe nuclear and let the cheapest one win out.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 18, 2013

What part of energy mix do you not get. It is also much more than “a few hours per day”. Remove all subsidies and I agree. (Note: on construction times and construction cost basis, I suspect you will be disappointed with how little the market will go with new nuclear, but good luck).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 18, 2013

I’m not against solar, infact, like it because it started me into the energy awareness thing. But we HAVE to scale up nuclear or we HAVE to make hundreds of thousands of square miles of solar, many additional multiples of wind turbines and of course, very cheap storage. We  HAVE to develop the cheapest most abundant source asap for developing nations to displace coal with (regardless of what the scientifically illiterate thinks).

Excess CO2 is what this debate is all about. Mere fractional renewable energy input (or mix) in only developed nations, will NOT save the biosphere unless it and its storage can be machine automated without profit.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Nov 18, 2013

Your fear of the land area requied by solar (or wind for that matter) is somewhat misplaced. On a life cycle and a fuel cycle basis, PV and wind use far less land area than coal, about the same as gas/oil, and just a bit more than nuclear. However, both PV and wind have an advantage in the ability to multiuse the land areas needed. Most wind farms continue farming or ranching operations among the turbines. Much of PV is on rooftops or over parking lots. In any case, over the entire fuel cycle, land area is not a big deal.

The economic and operational track record for nuclear would also show it is not a low cost option.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 18, 2013

There’s nothing to fear about any clean source. Proliferation concerns over an inherently melt down proof nuclear such as HTGR, LFTR, etc, are not justified because it’s easier to make a bomb from scratch than from civilian fission plants. And there are no other reasons to fear civilian nuclear as long as they are of the inherently stable designs. The wastes would probably actually amount to less than that required for building the renewables… but I would not go against either because of mere waste issues as long as it was contained properly. Remember, fission products from LFTR is only about 1 percent of that from the light water reactor.

The ONLY problem with nuclear is fear.

William Mullins's picture
William Mullins on Nov 19, 2013

While I’m firmly in favor of a Carbon Tax to get the slope of the dependency curve turned around, I would point out that a large part of the currently absorbitant cost on NP on the current generation model is inbedded in a scientifically false standard for radiological harm.

Until some vendor runs the numbers with permissable doses on the order of 10 Rem/month, 50 Rem/year, 500 Rem lifetime, and without a two tiered system for public and workers (i.e shift from ALARA to AHARS as described at we have no way of knowing what part of that cost premium is of the industry’s own making.

The entire economic basis for current estimates of protection needed are so deeply invested in a falsehood that it may well be politically impossible to accomplish the change, but I can’t see why that should keep someone like EPRI or INEL from running the different scenarios.

Joseph Romm's picture

Thank Joseph for the Post!

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