I’ve talked recently on BNC about various recent energy plans. which seek to replace fossil fuels with low-carbon alternatives. On the whole, I’ve been left dissatisfied. For instance, there was the Scientific American article ‘A path to sustainable energy by 2030‘ (technology = renewables only, critiqued by me here) and the UK Royal Academy of Engineering study Generating the future: UK energy systems fit for 2050 (technology = renewables + nuclear, critiqued here). Neither pass muster, even when evaluated on general principles.
In this post, I’ll describe a third study. It provides a contrast to the other two, because it doesn’t start with the (preordained) premise that renewables and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage WILL together do the heavy lifting. Instead, it focuses on nuclear power deployment as the primary ‘decarbonisation silver bullet’ (although other techs do play a role — perhaps an overly generous one at that). This energy map was developed by the World Nuclear Association and is called the ‘Nuclear Century Outlook‘ (NCO).
The NCO projects out 90 years, to the year 2100 — I use the term ‘project’ loosely, as really, any forecast that stretches beyond about two decades will axiomatically fall into the ‘crystal ball gazing’ category. But that’s not meant to dismiss the value in such an exercise (or others that attempt to take the long-term view). I just want to make it clear that any such long-term projection represent a ‘storyline’ (sensu IPCC SRES) rather than a ‘prediction’.
The aim of the NCO is to conceptualize nuclear power’s potential worldwide growth in the 21st Century, based on country-by-country low/high build-out assessments. Nationally aggregated data are given in tabular form here, for 2030, 2060 and 2100. The figures in this table are updated as new information comes to hand (for instance China recently upgraded their 2030 forecast from 150 to 200 GWe, and India’s 2060 goal from 350 to 500 GWe). The low/high projections are considered boundaries of a possible domain, with “low reflecting the minimum nuclear capacity expected and the high assuming a full policy commitment to nuclear power“. The forecast includes nations that currently use nuclear power, those which have expressed intention to entering the market (e.g. UAE, Egypt, Poland, Turkey) and potential future entrants (including Australia and Italy). Here is the overall projection:
As you can see, the domain (in green) is wide (!), with the lower bound approaching 2 TWe by 2100, and the high bound being >11 TWe (that’s the equivalent of 11,000 reactors, worldwide, of the size of an AP1000). To quote:
This order-of-magnitude estimate of future Clean-Energy Need gains credence from an alternative calculation. Today the IEA judges that that nuclear power’s 370 GW represent 6.3% of world primary energy consumption. If so, world energy consumption corresponds to the output from 5,875 Nuclear GW. If total primary energy consumption doubles by 2050, 85% of energy must be supplied by clean technologies in order to attain a 70% GHG cut from 2000 levels. On that basis, Clean-Energy Need in 2050 would be 9,990 Nuclear GW.
Here’s how the projections line up with the NCO’s anticipated demand curve (which factors in population growth and some serious energy efficiency):
Bold stuff, no doubt. Here’s my brief take — we can explore the pros/cons of the forecast further in the comments section.
Important features of the NCO include its explicit recognition of the need to deal urgently with the climate problem (and associated issues of environmental degradation), and the imperatives of a relatively rapid replacement of transportation fuels, whilst meeting the changing needs of the developing world. Some problems include a lack of transparency about how the low/high scenarios were parameterised, and overall, a lack of ambition for some countries — and for the worldwide 2050 target — which stands in juxtaposition to the grand ‘vision’ goals (in short, 3.7 TWe by 2060 just ain’t gonna cut it fellas). At least they admit the problem of this ‘clean-energy gap’ in the period 2000 to 2080 (red area of the above chart) — it’s just a pity they don’t really seek a way to plug it.
One underlying problem with the NCO forecast — a problem that is common to all large-scale energy outlooks I’ve seen — is the lack of explicit detail about technology type/role and their relative contribution to overall system reliability. Like other plans like those cited at the top of this post, the NCO also sets aside the (ultimately crucial) question of cost — which makes it difficult to assess feasibility and likelihood. Now don’t get me wrong — I can understand their reticence to tackle this thorny problem. The ‘nuclear renaissance’ might well be gearing up big time, but hasn’t really produced the goods yet, and this makes ‘settled down costs’ tough to gauge, even for Gen III nuclear power, let alone Gen IV. But leaving economics out does beg the question of how realistic it is assess relative fractions of nuclear vs fossil-CCS and ‘new renewables’. Indeed, it might be that some technologies never even make it to the starting gate, let alone see major commercial deployment, if allowed to compete on a cost-levelised playing field. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind. On that point, I’m co-authoring a technical paper with Martin Nicholson (lead author) on this very topic at present, which we plan to submit to a peer-reviewed journal within a month or so.
What of the technological mix WITHIN the nuclear domain? For instance, what is the likely proportion of Gen II, Gen III and Gen IV technologies, and how will that mix of contributions change over time? Which of the current Gen III designs will see the major deployment in the 2010 to 2030 period? What would such a massive nuclear build-out mean for uranium demand? How might nuclear power growth rates be constrained (or otherwise) by the availability of fissile material? On these seemingly rather important points, the NCO is, alas, silent. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to make an informed guess as to the answers…
In an upcoming post I’ll try to do just that (for a teaser, read this and this), and will propose a plan that’s even bolder than the NCO high scenario. But, before I write more on this technology breakdown, I need to add one more post, on fissile inventories, to the IFR Facts & Discussion series. That’s next.
Okay, for now, I want to hear your view on the NCO storyline. Shoot.
460 replies on “Nuclear century outlook – crystal ball gazing by the WNA”
er, nuclear waste???
martin, what you think of as ‘nuclear waste’ is much better called ‘once-used nuclear fuel’. See here for a primer.
Well I find their upper bounds in particular somewhat overly optimistic, although I suppose that can be expected to some extent from a WNA document. However a concern that I have been writing about elsewhere, is not the potential limiting factor from a shortage of fuel, but with a shortage of skills, which at every level, are more difficult to develop on short timescales.
It is not just at the engineering level that we are about to face a crisis in skills, and with all due respect to my engineer colleagues, these others will be harder to replace. Worse, from a nuclear energy perspective, most of these are skills that cross several technology domains, and thus not only will there be competition for them within the nuclear industry, but with other high tech industries as well.
This simply can’t be swept under the table, nor can the West count on back-filling these trades and skills with imported labor. All ready two Chinese friends of mine, who risked everything to get out of Hong Kong before it was repatriated to China, ‘to give their kids a better chance in a free country, ‘ are watching their Western educated, Chinese speaking sons, leave to go back – to where the action is. Point being that we cannot depend on emigration to fix manpower shortsightedness as we have in the past.
This is going to have to be addressed, quickly before the generation that can train them goes into retirement (or dies) or not being able to build reactors is going to be just one of a series of industrial problems we will be facing.
Barry, it is hard to comment…or to know which to comment on: your analysis of the report or the report itself. I will choose the latter.
I think even projecting an unchanging increase in *load* is awfully optimistic. It’s based on HUGE assumptions about the stability of the worlds political economy. In this area I am NOT optimistic. However…
I think one can be MORE optimistic than the lower double digit nuclear share WNA projects. Why? Because the WNA, even though giving lip service to Generation IV, hasn’t EVERY internalized in a report the *potential* for LFTR and/or IFRs.
I’ve written extensively on the 100% “Thorium Economy”. I’m sure the method could be transferred to the IFR as well. If WNA were to think ‘outside the box’ not in projections of the LWR technology (“Gen IV PWRs”) toward breeders in a serious way (IFR or LFTR) then even their 100 years out projections might seem anemic.
BTW…it’s not crystal ball gazing beyond 20 years. If you look at the Indians, Koreans, Japanese and, of course, the Chinese, this is exactly what they have done. They generally project out 40 to 50 years VERY seriously. It’s way their national planning actually works, what guides their investment policies in terms of infrastructure and allows them to do what they do.
It’s a policy so-called “Western” countries (except Japan) have generally not done for quite a long time (the last serious US venture in this was the Interstate Highway System planned for in the early 1950s). The US had a “2000 by 2000” plan for nuclear, politics and economy intervened. But we should all look out to at least 2050.
It’s hard to see the high NP scenario getting off the ground. The current policy seems to be to hang on to coal as long as possible then switch to gas hoping the public will accept the price increases. The joker in the pack is liquid hydrocarbon fuel. Looming shortages could slow everything down and gas demand will be torn between stationary generation and transport. I don’t see electric cars being of much benefit to ‘spaced out’ Australia. I think WNA is off the mark with hydrogen fuel cells with hydrogenated carbon synfuel being more likely.
What I fear is that far from expanding the world middle class will actually shrink. Those literally left out in the cold will enact a heavy price so it will be impossible to secure anything like 11,000 large NPPs. So I’m torn between two views expressed in yesterdays’s media; James Lovelock says we’re doomed regardless and the Reserve Bank Governor says it’s gonna be OK.
In the current (political) climate, the WNA document sounds more
like a rallying call
for the troops than a plan. In Australia, its becoming clear that Rudd doesn’t
think he can win a climate election so is positioning on Health. Obama’s
nuclear loan guarantee announcement made it clear that he was being
driven primarily by national pride and fear of being left behind on a technology
than climate concerns. Is fixing the climate on top of anybody’s todo list?
Sorry but my mood is rather despondent today :(
Even given cost-leveled playing fields, how is any plan to be funded or financed?
In my opinion, that is where the needed energy revolution (among other problems) is being held back: hang-ups about economics. There is an extreme difficulty raising capital for multitudes of large worthy projects for some time now. Also, supposing they occur, worldwide energy plans are going to be so large that they would affect the economy as a whole hugely.
Small actors, making individual decisions, any one of which doesn’t greatly affect the whole, seems to be the economic model understood best (or is easiest to analyse and predict). Capital flows into markets that behave in this way. But that doesn’t describe very well a rapid wide-scale transformation of the energy economy.
You are sceptical about the practicality of reaching the nuclear upper bounds stated in the Report that Barry discussed. Meanwhile, Barry regards them as being insufficiently ambitious.
Your reasons for scepticism relate to lack of skilled personnel, but I think this lack only obtains if we continue with the economic/political model that presently exists. To get to the capacity desired will clearly require something different. Going on to a war footing is a term often used to describe what it would take to achieve the energy transition necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. The effort, furthermore, would need to be global. Admittedly, there is little indication to date that the world’s leaders are yet ready to take this step. However, were they to be so, would you still believe that the upper bounds couldn’t be breached? Alternatively, do you discount the AGW concerns of the likes of Barry as alarmist?
FWIW, my own view is that if we lack the ambition to make an all out maximum effort very soon, we might as well not bother at all because the civilisation as we know it will crash , rendering us powerless to make even the “realistic” progress that you seem to think possible. Given my respect for your technical knowledge, I, like Geoff Russell, find your current conclusions very depressing. I am left to hope that you are wrong.
This is why massive projects have to be done by the young – they’re generally successful at these things because they’re too stupid to know it can’t be done.
Less facetiously, the possibility of getting the planet on a war footing over this can only come from a groundswell of support from the masses. I hope that this will manifest itself in tme, but it’s not going to happen unless there are more of us pushing the idea on the streets. That is where I have always believed this fight will be won or lost, because it is painfully apparent, it won’t be coming from the top down.
Barry, A nuclear buildout can proceed at a far faster pace than almost anyone now believes. It is quite conceivable that 80% of American electricity could be produced by nuclear power by 2030, if a large LFTR factory were to come on line by 2020. This would be quite possible, were a mini-Manhattan Project crash development program undertaken by 2012.
A IFR buildout might be slower, because much larger start up charges would be required. In addition, IFR manufacture is likely to take more time and be more expensive, but surely the IFR would reach the same goal before 2040. The same stipulation, a mini-Manhatten project would probably also be required to produce a commercial IFR by 2020. It should be noted that the Indians plan to build as many as 160 GWe worth of fast reactors by 2050-60.
I believe that is possible too Charles, but I also think the chances of that happening under the conditions that currently exist, and over the objections of the fossil-fuel lobby, highly unlikely. barring a massive public demand, as I said above.
We can argue the logic until we are blue in the face (and in our case we have) but it will never move the powers-that-be to launch a program. Only until we can threaten the seats of enough elected representatives of government to the point where they are assured of political death for failing to support such an initiative will we be successful.
Until that happens we are howling at the Moon.
DV82XL, i expect that we may soon see a change as society is forcefully confronted with an existential choice, by a run of very hot years. Once the climate trend become more evident, expectations and behaviors will change.
I hope Charles, but I also remember we were telling ourselves that in the Sixties (between tokes) and I’m still waiting….
The reason we are “howling at the moon” is we want:
1. clean elnergy
2. low cost, and
3. near infinite safety.
We vcan have 1 and 2 but not with 3 as well.
So we need to work out our priorities.
I think 3 is ridiculous.
I also think we will continue to howl at the moon for as long as we avoid addressing the main factor (cost) that most people are concerneda about.
I agree with you about the need develop the skills. That is why I say this has to start by a federal budget line item to set up the faculties in each mainland university.
But, if we cant tackle the key problem – cost – we will be howling at the moon for a very long time.
We can tackle the cost, but there is little interest. The alternative of aising the price of carbon is going to be fraught with problems for ever.
I agree with Douglas Wise that going on a war footing will be necessary to get non polluting electrical generation up and running on an urgent time scale.
But let’s just leave the global scale out of it.You are never going to get agreement on virtually anything at the global level.It is more than enough to get what is required at the national level.
I am no supporter of either of the major parties but I am increasingly seeing Abbot as being the least worst option in the coming federal election.
It just maybe that he is enough of a Mad Monk to make the difficult decisions and take the road less travelled.
Almost anything would be better than the Ruddbot & clones.
Impediments to low cost nuclear:
1. anti nuclear policies in each state and federal government
2. Regulations and incentives favouring renewables, coal and gas
a. Mandatory Renewable Energy targets
b. Feed in tariffs
c. Direct subsidies
d. Grants to research establishments
e. Funding of CSIRO, CEEN ANU Solar and similar such renewable energy groups in most major universities
3. lack of education facilities for nuclear
4. lack of skills
5. Lack of clear support from our political leaders
6. Ridiculous safety requirements imposed on nuclear power, world wide.
a. We require a nuclear plant to withstand high earth quake loads and a direct impact of an aircraft
b. Yet we don’t require the same of a football stadium, or large public buildings, nor of the many highly dangerous chemical facilities that are cited throughout our cities
c. An air crat crashing into any of these or a major earthquake would do far more damage – immediate and long term – than a radiation release from an nuclear power station
d. But the population does not understand this
e. That is why we need education.
Spot on Podargus. I agree, Tony Abbott is our best option to possibly make some progress in getting the nuclear power bandwagon going. In one of my letters to him, I challenged him to get nuclear power generation in the Coalition policy platform. . In his reply, he noted that ” Energy sector assessments indicate that nuclear power is not an affordable option for Australia at this time given the numerous energy alternatives available to us thanks to our nation’s range of resources. That said, I am happy to see an honest debate on the future potential for nuclear power in Australia.” He’s a better bet than Rudd even though he seems to believe that the renewables, efficiencies, CCs etc are going to be our saviour. I replied that I was disappointed that he could go no further than saying he was happy to have a debate on nuclear power. I also contacted Isobel Redmond with the same challenge in the lead up to the recent state election. As you know, Rann survived and so nuclear will continue to get the thumbs down in SA. However, I shall keep at Redmond and by the time of the next election, I’m hoping that she and her party will have nuclear power in their policy platform and that the people, by then, will be ready to give it a go. I’ll be writing to all other premiers as well on the issue. I’m now half way through my 20 year campaign to get nuclear power in Australia. Could some of you others please get stuck into our politicians and urge them to get their heads out of the sand and understand that nuclear is the energy of the future and that with the biggest uranium reserves and the world’s best waste burial site [both in SA] on the planet that it’s incumbent on Australia to do better than just making yellowcake for the rest of the world to generate greenhouse free energy.
Well said Peter Lang. There’s a huge list of impediments for an Australian nuclear future, including cost. That has not stopped an additional 20 countries who are busy now building nuclear reactors however. That’ll make 53 countries with nuclear power in five years. They’re all going or increasing nuclear for two reasons, secure energy supply without greenhouse emissions. Let’s keep pointing this out to our politicians and the people. Eventually the penny will drop.
All the things you list are very pertinent, but in the end nothing is going to change except from the bottom up. The message needs to get out that nuclear is a viable option, and we don’t have to go around the hard way all the time ether.
I recall questions being raised over the Churchill River power projects, built by Hydro-Quebec in Labrador. When asked about the payback issues, a government of Quebec spokesman pointed out that as long a water ran through the scroll-case and the turbines spun, the project would pay for itself and any interest incurred eventually.
We can repackage this same message when we are fielding cost arguments about nuclear.
This is not to say the other factors you listed can be ignored, but we can push back a bit with our own rhetoric too.
Terry K I’ve just spoken to a dozen Safstrines visiting Tas. They all know that Cooper Basin gas and Leigh Creek coal are doubtful long term. They didn’t seem to know about 10% windpower c.f. in heat waves. They seem to think that tropical storms in Queensland will always put water back in the Murray. As for industry there will be electric Holdens, more diesel submarines (seaworthy this time) and immigration. For now they don’t want to think about the nuclear industry.
However I sense that SA public opinion could shift. In July seems likely Rann and Garrett will reward the true believers by effectively nixing the Olympic Dam expansion. As it happens I agree that the proposed Whyalla desal for OD is in the wrong place; it should be on the Bight. I note when the owners of Mucakaty NT visited ANSTO they seemed receptive to even high level waste storage, another loss to SA. If the proposal goes ahead to export uranium-copper concentrate to China some might see this as ‘value subtracting’. If Rann maintains his anti-nuclear stance I doubt he will get back next time.
I hear you. However …
To be very clear, we can take two routes to clean electricity:
1. the high cost route, or
2. the low cost route
1. The high cost route entails: raising the cost of carbon by government intervention. This assists CCS, and renewables. These technologies will be encouraged. There will be more of what has been going on for the past two decades – delay and avoidance. The often repeated line by people like Mark Diesendorf and David Mills: “Just give us more money and wind and solar power will be economic any day now” will be more frequent. The higher the price of carbon, the more will be the call “were nearly economic now, just gove us a bit more”. This can continue for decades. And while this is going on, there will no be a real determination to investigate and remove the impediments to nuclear.
2. The low cost route entails: Educating the public about the costs and benefits of nuclear, reducing the impediments to nuclear and removing the subsidies and regulations and polices that favour fossil fuels and renewable energy. We will also need to assist nuclear with loan guarantees until we get past the FOAK period. This is justified because
a) the high cost of nuclear is a result of actions imposed by societies decisions over a period of four decades, and
b) we’ve been doing exactly the same with fossil fuels and renewable energy for several decades – who realises for example that nuclear power in Germany subsidises coal mining, coal power stations and renewable energy? How ludicrous is that?
Peter Lang writes that the low cost route to clean electricity entails “removing the subsidies and regulations and polices that favour … renewable energy.” I find this appalling. Even if nuclear energy proves to be safe, can deal satisfactorily with its waste and security problems, and can do it at a reasonable cost – three big IFs – renewable energy will always be preferable. We should be encouraging R’n’D into this and other areas as a matter of principle, just as research into and development of nuclear energy has received enormous government assistance in the past (and will demand it in the future).
Goodness me Martin, nuclear waste is and has been handled safely and securely ever since it was first generated back in the 1950’s. It has NEVER killed anyone nor will it. The IAEA however wants to get it off the surface and safely underground. Years of research have shown that the Officer Basin in the SA desert is the best place on the planet to bury it. High grade nuclear materials including waste have been shipped across the oceans since the 1960’s with never an accident that leaked nuclear materials into the environment. On secutity problems, no one to my knowledge has ever fired a nuclear weapon at anybody else since 1945 when the US wiped out Hiroshima/Nagasaki. Interesting that the Japanese have got over that and now have 53 nuclear reactors producing power for their people. Martin, you are dead wrong in your claim of enormous subsidies for nuclear power. The big subsidies have and are being directed to the totally inadequate, dilute, discontinuous renewables which will NEVER meet base load needs. I’ve driven past wind farms on 10 occasions since November on my way to Adelaide. On only two occasions were the rotors working. NO WIND EQUALS NO POWER. When are our misguided governments going to wake up.
I understand your concerns at my post. It does not explain the background to my brief comment here. If you are interested in the background could you please take a look at these posts:
On what basis? Why would it be preferable, especially given that renewables can’t meet the standards needed for modern industrial societies at acceptable cost?
I’ve had a glass of wine, so can’t resist another reply to your comment.
In previous articles and posts on BNC I have argued the following:
1. There is no shortage of uranium. As we need more we will explore for more, our mining and exploration methods will improve. When the cost gets too high we will extract uranium from phosphate, fly ash, sea water and move to Gen IV power plants which will run for ever on the uranium we have minded for ever
2. There is no real problem with used nuclear fuel (waste to some). It is just public perception problem.
3. Nuclear is already 10 to 100 times safer than coal, and we accept coal at its current level of safety. So why are we demanding that nuclear be so much safer? This is irrational.
4. Electricity at least cost is our moral responsibility. Raising the cost of electrcity by government intervention is morally wrong.
5. Therefore, subsidising and mandating renewable energy in production is morally wrong. Renewable energy is only preferable if it is cheaper (on a life cycle basis of comparison).
6. Renewables have and still are receiving far higher levels of funding for R&D than nuclear on a per MWh electricity generated basis and on a Return on Investment basis. This is the only fair way to do the comparison. Furthermore, renewables are receiving massive subsidies for production and nuclear none. Solar PV is receiving massive subsidies for the initial investment and on top of this is receiving subsidies for the electricity generated that are 10 to 15 times the cost of electricity from a coal fired power station (nuclear should be cheaper if all impediments were removed).
Nuclear power can be produced cheaply or expensively as you suggest. The price is principally determined by up front costs (more so now that enrichment efficiency has been vastly improved). I think we can probably all agree with that.
So, if you want a discussion, let’s try to unpick those factors that determine upfront cost and determine their relative financial contributions:
I imagine that the time from taking the decision to build to the time of first power generation may have the major bearing on the issue insofar as interest charges and, probably, labour costs will increase as length of build time increases. To break down factors affecting build times, one must consider planning delays, FOAK issues with new designs, previous lack of standardised designs (a factor likely to disappear), inexperience/ mistakes by building contractors and changes of mind by regulators. A current factor will also be the 27% extra interest demanded by investors to compensate for the uncertainty surrounding nuclear relative to certain other investments. Finally, you highlight the “excessive safety ” cost.
My question, Peter, is what proportion of total up front costs do you attribute to overdesigned safety? This is not a rhetorical question – I really don’t know the answer. However, I suspect that an extra concrete box and earth mound might not figure greatly as a proportion. The public, egged on by the media, is increasingly risk averse. Their response to your desire for less safeguards is more likely to be increased demands for more safety at chemical plants rather than the other way round. Simultaneously, many would conclude from your comments that nuclear could never be competitive unless you stripped out so many safeguards as to make it dangerous. In other words, unless this really is the case, I would infer that your advocacy is hindering the acceptance of nuclear power (whether you are technically correct or not) over a possibly trivial issue.
At present, nuclear is probably more or less competitive with dirty coal in several countries which are not “skimping” on “perceived” safety issues. Modular construction of certain components in factories and the licensing of non site specific standardised designs are on their way and will bring down costs even more. Planning delays can be reduced by law (In the UK, planners, until recently, reckoned on an average delay of 8 years from application to start of build. It has now been reduced to one.) Furthermore, once a government declares an interest in nuclear build, it can either use its own money (I know it’s either the taxpayers or created out of thin air by using the printing presses and debauching the currency) and, in effect, nationalise the nuclear industry or it can give signals to private investors that they will be well looked after, thus “disappearing” the current 27% risk premium. To accelerate things even faster, I, personally, would fund construction from a temporarily-imposed hypothecated carbon tax but I know that that would be anathema to you.
Peter, you are constantly calling on others here to substantiate their comments with figures. You did a superlative job of demonstrating how this can be achieved in your various main posts from which I learnt a great deal. However, your comments subsequently have given no indication that you have other than a totally fixed view on how best things should be done – your way. If anyone has presented an alternative view or disagreed, you have responded by re-stating your original opinion without directly addressing your interrogator’s points. Until such time as you are accorded dictatorial powers, might I suggest that you try a new approach which might better serve your aims. A good start might be to come up with the figures that suggest that excessive safety is a major technical (as opposed to political) component of nuclear build costs. I admit, it’s beyond me to do so but i lack your qualifications.
If one is to start nationally to go on to “war footing” rather than internationally ( the latter would be better but, as you say, possibly not so readily achievable), would you accept that those taking positive action should protect themselves with tariffs on imports from non compliant states?
And Douglas … this is essentially the argument I have put to Peter.
We should insist that coal and every other source become as safe as nuclear power and have the same lifecycle stewardship as the world’s best nuclear power. That is a far better way to proceed, if one wants to advocate nuclear power, for it directly confronts the principal concern attending the technology raised by those opposing deployment.
Rather than implying standards should be cut, others should be raised sounds a lot better, is truthful, and puts nuclear’s main rivals on the defensive.
Renewables could also meet these safety standards without serious cost implications, but of course they will not be as low cost as nuclear per unit of output nor can they deliver despatchable power at industrial scale and on an industrial schedule at the same cost and for these reasons are not serious competitors.
The renewables crowd will not want to argue for coal and so they will be left arguing for higher cost CO2 and pollution abatement and lower targets.
I have read previously what you have written on the subject of safety to Peter. I think I would adopt a position half way between you.
My reasoning is based on our family’s experience in attempting to run a business in the UK and trying to deal with planners, building inspectors and health and safety officers. It’s surprising that manufacturing business exists at all in the UK, given the ever expanding dead hand of bureaucracy. As an example, although we are a smallish business, Health and Safety arrived unannounced and demanded we put in costly dust extraction equipment which our privately consulted specialist deemed unnecessary. The arrival of the officials was due to the fact that they were tipped off by a competitor. The competitor had been done by them and, quite reasonably, thought he’d be at a competitive disadvantage unless we were likewise burdened by additional costs. He kindly gave us the contact details of the dust extraction equipment company that had offered him the best deal. Fortunately, we can pass on the costs to our customers because our activities can’t realistically be moved offshore. Otherwise, more work for the Indians or Chinese and less here.
I think Health and Safety is a one way ratchet. I think Peter is being naive in wishing to go back on what’s already there for nuclear, particularly in the current political climate. Highlighting the fact that risks associated with other industries are greater than those of nuclear is a legitimate pro nuclear debating point but, not, in my view, a sufficient justification to add costs to other sectors by upping/ goldplating the safety demanded of them.
If you would like me to be really controversial, I’d suggest that the (non CO2) external costs of dirty coal are vastly exaggerated because of spuriously costed adverse impacts on human health. Well, people have to die of something and we’ve got too many people. It would be better concentrate on these finer points when we can afford to do so. Imposing extra costs on coal to be spent on safety (which both you and Peter want) would obviously put up costs but the extra money spent wouldn’t be available to spend on nuclear (which it would if it took the form of tax). Thus taxing coal would give more bangs for one’s buck than cleaning it up. Would you agree? i suggest we can’t afford the luxury of doing both simultaneously.
Goodness me Terry, Peter, Ewen et al,
You blokes seem to be experts in this field. I’m not, and am thus prepared to accept that my views lack credibility. But I’m the kind of bloke you need to convince if you are to succeed politically. So far you haven’t done that – although give me more time and the chance to study some of the recommended documents and you might convert me. At the moment I’m a sceptic. At the risk of generating howls of outrage, I’ve read books by, and am an admirer of, someone who’s no doubt persona non-grata on this page: Helen Caldicott.
In the meantime, do you have a professional relationship to the nuclear energy industry and therefore a conflict of interest? If so, this doesn’t necessarily invalidate your views, but it would make it harder for you to convince thegeneral public.
Terry writes: “nuclear waste is and has been handled safely and securely ever since it was first generated back in the 1950’s. It has NEVER killed anyone nor will it.” How can you be so sure it won’t kill anyone or cause cancers, birth defects etc? It might not have yet caused damage yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t at some point in the future. Safety, security etc depend on people, and people get careless and make mistakes.
Terry: “The IAEA however wants to get it off the surface and safely underground.” This implies that it’s NOT safe above ground. He goes on: “Years of research have shown that the Officer Basin in the SA desert is the best place on the planet to bury it.” Would you be happy if the best place on the planet to bury it was underneath your house? In other words, would you be prepared to put your life where your mouth is?
Peter: “Nuclear is already 10 to 100 times safer than coal, and we accept coal at its current level of safety. So why are we demanding that nuclear be so much safer? This is irrational.” Does this take into account the death sentences handed out to Chernobyl’s victims, continuing today? All it would take, surely, would be one more major disaster for nuclear to be reckoned to be far more dangerous than coal.
Barry writes: “This ‘spent fuel’ can be … secured for eventual storage in a deep geological respository (hint: bad idea) …” Seems the experts are not in agreement here.
Barry: “The (fission products) are encased in a highly durable, inert glass (or perhaps a synroc), and must be isolated for 300 to 500 years to allow for 10+ half-lives of Sr-90 and Cs-137.” That’s better than the tens of thousands of years, or more, needed for other ‘once-used nuclear fuel’, but it’s still a huge burden on future generations. It’s a moral issue. I accept, however, that if there’s no other way to ensure the survival of the species, and thus that future generations are born, then moral issues are irrelevant. But Peter believes they ARE relevant; he writes, post wine: “Electricity at least cost is our moral responsibility. Raising the cost of (electricity) by government intervention is morally wrong.” This ignores other factors, like damage to the environment. It would be morally wrong NOT to raise the cost of electricity if [a] electricity generation caused huge irreparable damage and [b] there was an alternative. In this case, it would be morally wrong NOT to subsidise and mandate renewable energy in production.
Peter: “Renewables have and still are receiving far higher levels of funding for R&D than nuclear on a per MWh electricity generated basis and on a Return on Investment basis. This is the only fair way to do the comparison.” Two points: [a] renewables have not yet produced a whole lot of MWhs, so of course the level of funding per MWh is high; [b] it beggars belief that if you add up all the funding for nuclear energy, world-wide, since the 50s, it has not been massively more than the funding for renewables.
Terry writes that I’m “dead wrong in (my) claim of enormous subsidies for nuclear power. The big subsidies have and are being directed to the totally inadequate, dilute, discontinuous renewables which will NEVER meet base load needs.” This is a big claim given that the research, for which Peter wants to remove “the subsidies and regulations and polices that favour … (it)”, has not been done. I’m aware of the base load problem with renewables, but I don’t see why they might not be solved at some time in the future. Just as Peter claims that “our mining and exploration methods will improve”, so too will our renewable technologies.
Ewen asks on what basis will renewable energy always be preferable? “Why would it be preferable, especially given that renewables can’t meet the standards needed for modern industrial societies at acceptable cost?” Here again the assumption is that sufficient progress will not be made in the renewables area. I believe that renewables are preferable precisely because they ARE renewable. We have, I believe, a moral duty to use up as few of our planet’s resources, and to do as little damage, as possible – even to leave it to future generations in a better state than it was in when we found it. If, given adequate research, renewable energy can enable us to do that, then we should go for it. In the meantime we should look at all alternatives, including nuclear, and make rational decisions based on factors such as efficiency, safety, security, waste storage (sorry: once-used nuclear fuel storage), expense, and environmental damage.
@martin – “Once more into the breach, dear friends…”
– Helen Caldicott is certainly welcome here, (if she hasn’t already been incognito) to defend her views. She doesn’t because she knows that nothing she has written or said publicly can stand up to any scrutiny, by knowledgeable people.
I can categorically state that I have never, at any time in my life had any relationship with the nuclear industry. You can click my name at the top of this posy for a short bio. if you wish.
A nuclear fuel rod is made up of two types of uranium: U-235, the fissionable isotope whose breakdown provides the energy; and U-238, which does not fission and serves basically as packing material. Uranium-235 makes up only 0.7% of the natural ore. In order to reach “reactor grade,” it must be “enriched” up to 3% — an extremely difficult industrial process. (To become bomb material, it must be enriched to 90%, another ballgame altogether.)
After being loaded in a nuclear reactor, the fuel rods sit for five years before being removed. At this point, about 12 ounces of U-235 will have been completely transformed into energy. But that’s enough to power San Francisco for five years. There are no chemical transformations in the process and no carbon-dioxide emissions.
When they emerge, the fuel rods are intensely radioactive — about twice the exposure you would get standing at ground zero at Hiroshima after the bomb went off. But because the amount of material is so small it can be handled remotely through well established industrial processes. The spent rods are first submerged in storage pools, where a few yards of water block the radioactivity. After a few years, they can be moved to lead-lined casks about the size of a gazebo, where they can sit for the better part of a century until the next step is decided.
So is this material “waste”? Absolutely not. Ninety-five percent of a spent fuel rod is plain old U-238, the nonfissionable variety that exists in granite tabletops, stone buildings and the coal burned in coal plants to generate electricity. Uranium-238 is 1% of the earth’s crust. It could be put right back in the ground where it came from.
Of the remaining 5% of a rod, one-fifth is fissionable U-235 — which can be recycled as fuel. Another one-fifth is plutonium, also recyclable as fuel. Much of the remaining three-fifths has important uses as medical and industrial isotopes.
What remains after all this material has been extracted from spent fuel rods are some isotopes for which no important uses have yet been found, but which can be stored for future retrieval. France, which completely reprocesses its recyclable material, stores all the unused remains — from 30 years of generating 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy — beneath the floor of a single room at La Hague. Once sequestered in a vitrified form, this material cannot harm anyone from radiation, nor can it be released into the environment.
Compared to other industrial wastes like mercury, and PCBs, nuclear ‘waste’ can mostly be recycled, and what cannot be can be made into a stable, inert form. I would personally prefer to have vitrified nuclear waste buried in my backyard, than the ashes from a coal plant, because the latter are full of heavy metals and nasty organic compounds that are very mobile in things like ground water.
Consequently we can take the necessary steps to keep these things from being a burden to future generations, although personally I think they are going to see these ‘dumps’ as gold mines.
Chernobyl killed about 56 people directly. As for secondary deaths, these simply have not manifested. Beyond a slight rise in one type of easily treatable cancer, the the huge number of radiation induced problems predicated have yet to surface.
Chernobyl’s victims are one of the most closely monitored group of exposed people, since the victims of the WWII A-bombs. In fact there is evidence that even the apparent increase in that one cancer is due to this scrutiny, in a region with poor heath care in general. Also it is often forgotten that the area around the nuclear plant was a well known industrial wasteland before the accident, and this makes factoring out other insults very difficult in any broad epidemiological study.
I also find it disingenuous to continue to invoke latency every time actual results fail to meet the dire predictions made previously. We were told shortly after the event, when the immediate death toll was found to be minimal, that the full impact would not be felt for twenty years. Twenty years later, the Cassandras are now saying it could be as much as sixty years before the damage appears, or maybe several generations in the future. At what point do we accept the fact that the impact of this accident has not been anywhere as serious as it was assumed it would be?
Finally, and this bears repeating; the event at the Chernobyl reactor was caused by an inherently poor design, shoddy construction coupled with a criminal lack of good judgement. There is simply no rational grounds for continuing to hold this event up as an example of the potential for an accident at any modern nuclear power plant. In fact if anything it demonstrates just how small the overall impact of a worse-case power excursion and critical loss of containment is even under the poor emergency response conditions that were in place at the time.
The most touted forms of so-called “alternative energy” and are largely (though not entirely) useless. Solar and wind power are both time-variable and low-density. Lacking good ways to time-shift and aggregate electricity, this means you can’t count on them to run factories and hospitals and computer server farms. Practically speaking, one cannot aggregate lots of very small flows of electricity into one big one. It’s not just total volume of energy production that matters, but the energy density available to high-volume consumers at a given place at and at a given time. This may sound like a dry technical point, but it has huge and nasty implications.
Wind energy is hopelessly flawed in a way that will probably never be overcome. It is completely fickle, rising and falling in cycles that have nothing to do with demand. Balancing supply and demand on an electric grid is an extremely delicate task. Unexpected power drops can cause brownouts while unexpected power surges can wipe out data and ruin equipment. Under these constraints, utilities view wind as more a liability than an asset. Ireland recently refused to take any more wind energy on its grid. In August Japanese utilities announced they too had had enough. Electrical engineers everywhere generally regard wind as little more than an expensive nuisance.
Most important, wind is doing nothing to reduce carbon emissions. Even when the wind is blowing full blast, utility companies must keep their coal and gas plants running in case it suddenly dies down. At best, windmills only produce one-third their rated capacity of electricity. In a recent study, Denmark found that only 9 percent of its 3,000 MW in wind energy was available when most needed on hot summer afternoons. Despite the claim of generating 25 percent of its electricity from wind energy, Denmark’s carbon emissions continue to rise and not a single fossil fuel plant has been shut down.
The cost of solar cells has not come down in the last decade as much as some optimists projected, and the high cost remains an impediment to widespread growth. Airborne dust and dirt can reduce output by as much as 15 percent – a significant loss for conservative utility planners. Heat – the unavoidable byproduct of sunny summer days – also reduces the efficiency of solar cells.
In practice, only relatively small amounts of energy are available from tides, and extracting it will have devastating effects on the ocean ecosystem. Good sites for tidal power are all in extraordinarily rich and ecologically fragile straits and estuaries that are critically important spawning grounds for marine life. Strong tides are what make these waters so productive: their turbulence stirs up nutrients vital for life.
Hydropower and geothermal are not going to support any larger share of what energy economists call base load — the day-in, day-out demand for high-density power from industrial operations, and everything else. There are not enough exploitable areas left, AND these are not environmentally neutral by any stretch of the imagination.
The industrial base load is the life blood of technological civilization; without it, we’d have a hideous global population crash, and then revert to pre-1750 conditions in which the economy is almost entirely subsistence farming and life is nasty, brutish, and short.
Statements to the effect that we don’t know what advances will be made in renewable and alternate energy, thus we should not write them off as potential solutions are only made by those that have little technical background. In most cases, all of the big potential gains in any technological domain, are made near the beginning of the development cycle, not at the point renewables are now. Furthermore, the energy sources these systems tap, are very low grade, thus arithmetic gains in output generally imply geometric growth in the size of the equipment to harvest the power.
There is also an implied hypocrisy, in asking use to accept that the technology you favour will develop exponentially, while assuming nuclear technology will not make any gains from where it is now. It would seem your touching faith in science and engineering is reserved only for those that work in your camp, the rest you dismiss apparently, as incompetents.
No-one can prove, or even establish a high likelihood, that Chernobyl did not, by exposing European populations to a little extra radiation, save 50,000 human lives.
If we who favour civil nuclear power were only after the most impressive number in our favour that cannot be disproved — if we were just pro-natural-gas casuists in mirror image — we might slyly build an assertion that such lifesaving had in fact happened into a question.
(How fire can be domesticated)
Goodness me Terry, Peter, Ewen et al,
You blokes seem to be experts in this field. I’m not, and am thus prepared to accept that my views lack credibility. But I’m the kind of bloke you need to convince if you are to succeed politically.
No, you are not the target audience we need to convince for political success. You and your hard-core anti-nuclear cohort are a small and increasingly marginalised minority whose chief value lies in remaining what you are so as to provide an easy target for criticism and ridicule in service to the pro-nuclear cause. Most of the anti-nuclear folk who were amenable to reason on the issue have already abandoned the cause, The fanatics who remain are no longer a concern in the larger demographic scheme of things. The direction of success for the young, fast-growing pro-nuclear movement is in the organisation and mobilisation of the larger passively pro-nuclear masses for political action.
That’s simply wrong all over the place, and incoherent as well.
If we indeed have “too many people” then what happens to any of them/us is absolutely irrelevant. The costs aren’t so much exaggerated as non-existent. Nothing matters at all, including CO2. All of public policy can go out the window.
That there are costs starts from the view that human life is worth something — a very great deal as most of us reckon.
I understand that this is a devil’s advocate position you are taking but I’m not sure where this goes.
Coal harvest, transport and combustion doesn’t merely kill people. It also makes them sick — debilitated progressively on first contact with one or more of the toxics, imposing misery, community costs for care, losses in productivity and an early death. It bears down with especial ferocity on the young and fit, who do most of the coal mining and their families, and the neighbours of the places it is burned and transported.
The costs are understated.
I’m on record as wanting full internalisation — which could take the form of a tax, but in practice I lean towards the cap and trade model, for reasons I’ve outlined previously. It ensures a least cost approach to internalisation and ensures phase out of CO2 and toxics. Some hybrid of taxes and a cap might of course be useful to cover all externalities. Peter, being a conservative, is against taxes and charges, claims these can’t be measured properly and he doesn’t trust the government — and so my counter-proposal is OK just make them do what nuclear does right now in terms of safety and let them pass on that cost.
That would not and should not be cheaper than cap and trade/taxes but it satisfies Peter’s angst about government and taxes while meeting the legitimate concern we should have about internalisation, which Peter claims to favour. We no longer have to guess. Of course, regulation doesn’t come cheap so it would be more expensive. Who knew that fundamentalism came with a price tag?
This is a mess.
I don’t at all dispute the first claim — responsible stewardship. I do dispute that renewables yet meet this standard. One day they might but until that day, the need to use up as few of the Earth’s scarce resources speaks for nuclear. Renewables, as Peter and Barry have easily shown in the TCASE series, use far more resources per unit of output or unit of mitigation than does nuclear.
Worse still, as a matter of practice, the attempt to rely on renewables will inevitably mean greater reliance on resources such as coal, gas and oil, since on demand energy supply is not politically negotiable and no country will pay the inordinate costs entailed to supply this with renewables only, or mainly. This side of some currently unimaginable developments in storage and/or efficiency of harvest and in cost reduction in delivery, your position would simply be cover for greenwashing coal and gas — until the pernicious consequences of this reckless course became unavoidable even for those inclined to defend the polluters rights.
Finrod, on 3 April 2010 at 3.47 Said:
“You and your hard-core anti-nuclear cohort are a small and increasingly marginalised minority whose chief value lies in remaining what you are so as to provide an easy target for criticism and ridicule in service to the pro-nuclear cause.”
I love it !
Martin, 10 years ago when I first suggested that SA has the best geological conditions on earth to dispose of high level nuclear waste, among other things, I said that I would be quite happy to have it buried at depth in my back yard. And I stand by that still. I notice Chernobyl got its usual run in this discussion. Here are the facts about the “Radiological consequences of the Chernobyl accident” as stated in the Report to the General Assembly of the UN by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the effects of Atomic Radiation 2000.
para 18. The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was the most serious accident involving radiation exposure. It caused the deaths within a few days or weeks of 30 workersand radfiation injuries to over a hundred others. It also brought about the immediate evacuation , in 1986 of about 116,000 people from areas surrounding the reactor and the permanent relocation, after 1986 of about 220,000 people from Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. It caused serious social and psychological disruption in the lives of those affected and vast economic losses over the entire region. Large areas of the three countries were contaminated, and deposition of released radionuclides was measurable in all countries of the northern hemisphere.
para 19. There have been about 1800 cases of thyroid cancer in children [this type of cancer is treatable but it is thought that about 10 kids died of the effects] who were exposed at the time of the accident and if the current trend continues, there may be more cases during the next decades. Apart from this increase, there is no evidence of a major health impact attributable to radiation exposure14 years after the accident. There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality or in non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure. The risk of leukemia, one of the main concerns owing to its short latency time does not appear to be elevated , not even among the recovery operation workers. Although those most highly exposed individuals are at an increased risk of radiation-associated effects, the great majority of the population are not likely to experience serious health consequences as a result of radiation from the Chernobyl Can we please put the Chernobyl bogey to rest. There have been more half-truths, indeed downright lies told about this incident than any other in our accident history.
Douglas and Ewen,
I will get back to you on your posts. We have discussed most of this many times before and we keep going over the same old ground. I need to get the answers together in a coherent reply.
Eewn, I accept that you position does represent a major belief in society. However, wwe all agree we need to make a radical change to our energy supply system. Therfore, I argue we need to make radically changes to the politics that have prevailed for the past 40+ years and are blocking progress. We need to challenge the widely held beliefs that you are articulating. We will not be able to implement the radical changes we need until we do get over this emotive but irrational beliefs about nuclear energy.
I’ll come back to both your posts later. I may post partial replies, bit by bit.
DV82XL, what an excellent post you made for Martin on 3 April 2010 at 1.55.
There just one minor point you made that I’d suggest could be better phrased in future:
I understand this figure is a mixture of ‘early deaths’ and ‘latent deaths’. My understanding is ‘early deaths’ are those that occurred within 30 days of the accident. ‘Latent deaths’ are those that occurred after this but are attributal to the accident.
World Health Organisation (WHO):
From memory, there were 31 early deaths (3 in the actual explosion and 28 from accute radiation sickness within 30 days), and 27 latent deaths so far.
From my perspective, although it is the worst nuclear accident ever, the total actual and projected fatalities pale into insignificance when compared with the fatalities due to coal fired power stations, and accidents such as Bopal (6000), hydro dam failures (22,000 in China, 2000 at Vaiont, Itally, and many others), gas pipe explosion (1000 in Siberia) oil rig explosions, and the 9/11 twin towers collapse disaster (2000+). My point is not to try to diminish Chernobyl, but to put the consequences in perspective.
If we demand such high safety for nuclear, why wouldn’t we first demand equally high safety for sports stadiums (protection against a plane crash), major public buildings, and our very dangerous chemical plants that are located throughout our cities.
The discussion about the safety of nuclear is very irrational in my opinion. Safety demands for nuclear are excessive, costly, and delaying the rate of roll out of clean electricity generation.
A couple of thoughts
1) Long term nuclear waste storage.
Those who claim this requires active rather than passive control must envision a Mad Max kind of society. We’ll no longer have centralised electricity generation but somehow enough energy to roam around in gangs. I think it’s either-or. We’ll either have a coherent connected society or we’ll live in huts with wood fires. Therefore the line that nuclear waste imperils future society requires an implausible scenario.
2) coal gets expensive on its own.
I don’t think this will happen for 20 years. If Garnaut’s suggested $20 levy per tonne of CO2 gets up it effectively adds about 2.4 X $20 = $48 to the cost of thermal black coal, current spot price about $90 ex Newcastle. A 50+% natural price increase seems unlikely anytime soon.
However the ‘psychic’ price of coal mining keeps escalating. For example the physical and aesthetic damage to the NSW Upper Hunter Valley as dusty coal trucks thunder past tranquil horse farms. As China and India demand more coal the public must increasingly ask whether there are less irksome alternatives to coal. I suspect this will come to a head within the next few years with some willingness to pay more for energy.
@Peter Lang –
I was working from memory too, as Terry said we have been over this topic ad nauseum, and I admit I’m getting sloppier in direct relation to the tedium I’m beginning to feel about this subject.
Peter said: “If we demand such high safety for nuclear, why wouldn’t we first demand equally high safety for sports stadiums (protection against a plane crash), major public buildings, and our very dangerous chemical plants that are located throughout our cities.”
Human beings perceive and calculate risk in a very non-linear fashion. This may have been OK till prehistoric times but in the modern world, our perception of risk means we are often unable to take the correct decisions when we need to evaluate relative danger. Our brains are not very good at probability and risk analysis, especially when it comes to rare and unfamiliar events. We tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar and common ones. Our brains are much better at processing the simple risks we’ve had to deal with throughout most of our species’ existence, and much poorer at evaluating the complex risks society forces us to face today.
People tend to base decisions more on vivid personalized detail rather than on information and data. Someone could tell you the accident rate of various types of vehicles at various times of the day and night on various types of roads. Using this information, you could make an informed decision about what is safe and what is not. However, when you switch on the television and witness the sorrow of those who’ve lost family members in an accident, your brain is going to fixate on that individual event and exaggerate the chances of a similar accident happening to you.
The fact is that if something is in the news, you shouldn’t worry about it. The very definition of news is ’something that hardly ever happens’. Just because TV news covers spectacular accidents but doesn’t cover individual heart attacks doesn’t mean that an individual’s chances of dying of the former are greater.
Over coming this perception of high risk, is one of the most important PR tasks we have in front of us, and one that we must constantly press forward with.
The way this question is worded seems that your mind is made up and locked in.
The answer to your question is: yes. The safety record of nuclear does take into account the fatalities to date and the projected future fatalities from Chernobyl. Not only that, but it takes into account a much higher rate of fatalities from the full nuclear fuel chain than have occurred to date. So even if the number of accidents increases in the future and the rate of fatalities from the nuclear fuel chain increases over what has occurred to date, nuclear will still be the safest electricity generation technology. The comparison must be done on a properly comparable basis such as the amount of electricity supplied (e.g per MWh).
For more you may want to look at Figure 2 in the first link I provided yesterday.
Ewen Laver, on 2 April 2010 at 21.07 Said:
Ewen, this is totally impossible. That means IMPOSSIBLE!!. We’ve been over this several times in posts on other threads. We can make incrimental changes to the safety of coal over time. However, if we demand carbon capture and storage we will greatly increase the risk of fatalities from the coal chain .
Please just think about the mass of materials that must be handled in the coal chain cycle and understand that there is no way in the world these can be contained and managed as they are in the nuclear fuel cycle. I’ve provided references in the past. I wonder if you have read them.
You have seriously misunderstood me!
I am not arguing to raise the safety of coal to that of nuclear. I am saying the current level of safety of coal is acceptable to the public as it is now. So why don’t we demand the same level of safety for nuclear rather than demand nuclear must be far safer. Gen IIs have proved to be 10 to 100 times safer than coal for 40+ years and we are still not satisfied. We want Gen III to be far safer, and Gen III+ to be even safer, and Gen IV to be ridiculously safe. It is totally irrational.
Safety costs money. The higher cost makes nuclear less competitive with coal. So the higher cost will reduce the rate that nuclear will be built, will reduce the rate it will develop and improve, will reduce the rate that costs come down. Therefore, the higher costs will reduce the rate that clean electricity will replace dirty electricity.
This seems so obvious to me , I can’t understand why it is not obvious to everyone. Hence, my apparent frustration from time to time. I apologise for displaying my frustration.
Another major point of frustration is I can’t understand why contributors here do not seem to recognise the enormous benefits and value of low cost electricity to mankind and societies – world wide. To me it is immoral to intentionally raise the cost of electricity, especially while avoiding dealing with what is preventing us having low cost clean electricity at an acceptable level of safety.
Peter quoted me:
I suspect that is right, but it’s the politics of energy that we are arguing now rather than the engineering questions. We want the coal producers lodly complaing that they can’t meet the safety standards of nuclear and giving detailed reasons why to people who don’t understand who much safer and more environmentally friendly nuclear power is than coal (or gas). That is the whole point. It would be political suicide for them and so they would then get behind a proper cap and trade or carbon tax system which would create the context for nuclear power to be taken up.
It’s so obvious I’m surprised you can’t see it. This is who one makes progress in politics.
Of course you don’t get this — possibly because of your conservative pro-big business ideological blinkers. Hence you respond to Doug saying:
This is the same public who thinks nuclear is incredibly dangerous and should never be contemplated and who think rooftop solar panels = clean energy. It’s only acceptable because people are grossly (and not at all accidently) misinformed with the result that they are doing themselves harm. If people understood how bad coal was, it would not be accepable. Consider the brouhaha over home insulation. Four people die because of the activities of shonky business people and houses with old wiring and a whole program has to be stopped and perhaps 500 million in remediation has to take place. What do you suppose people would say if they engaged with the reality of black lung disease and mercury poisoning and radiactive fly ash being released into the environment? It would not be acceptable.
Misleading. Electricity from coal has non-monetized costs in the imposition of illness and premature death on people, and damage to biodiversity and ecosystem services and amenity. There is no free lunch to be had by covering this up under the banner of “cheap electricity”. To me, it is unethical (your word “immoral” I don’t like because I’m not religious) to impose premature death and suffering on others including small children in order to allow wealthier others to have cheaper electricity to waste.
Again, your ideological blinkers aside, there’s no obvious reason why this point eludes you.
Peter Lang, Said: ” Another major point of frustration is I can’t understand why contributors here do not seem to recognise the enormous benefits and value of low cost electricity to mankind and societies – world wide. To me it is immoral to intentionally raise the cost of electricity, especially while avoiding dealing with what is preventing us having low cost clean electricity at an acceptable level of safety.”
Ewen Laver, Said: “To me, it is unethical (your word “immoral” I don’t like because I’m not religious) to impose premature death and suffering on others including small children in order to allow wealthier others to have cheaper electricity to waste.”
Well I’m not numbered among those, but to me its not so much immoral or unethical, as it is ridiculous. No modern country on this planet is going to follow any path that would clearly lead to national penury, nor is anyone going to fool enough people into believing in such a path for it ever to be seriously considered.
But again I reiterate that the West is no longer making those decisions for the rest of the world. The majorities that are running the show now are in China and India, and they are not going to see any value at all in some neo-Calvinist appeal on the moral superiority of doing without. They have done without, and now they want their slice, and will not give nonsense ideas like rasing the cost of energy a second look.
Martin, I’m not an expert but I’ve researched, as a layman, the whole nuclear power generating industry ever since turning from an anti to a pro nuclear position in 1981 while on teacher exchange in Canada. I’ve spent most of my time, apart from taking groups on tour through the Flinders Ranges on reading anything and everything I could lay my hands on the world nuclear industry. I have gathered a huge amount of information and have made several speeches [pro nuclear] to professional and other groups over the past five years. I start every one of my speeches by telling people that to the best of my understanding, I’m telling them the facts. So far I’ve reached 2000 people and I’m pleased to report that a majority are persuaded by my arguments. Many admit to having never having heard what I tell them. That’s hardly surprising since for most of the past 40 years, they’ve only ever heard the misinformation, half-truths and lies of the anti-nuclear brigade.Could I suggest that you borrow a copy of ” Power to save the world- the truth about nuclear energy ” by Gwyneth Cravens and published by Alfred Knopf and sons , New York 2007. She started as an anti-nuke but following ten years study of every aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle she has become a strong advocate of it. I”ll lend you my copy if you send me your postal address. And I’ll pay the postage. You WILL be converted, I promise you, as indeed any rational person would be.
Douglas Wise, @ 2 April 2010 at 20.55
Your three introductory paragraphs are a good summary of the position as I see it. Then you ask:
I know your question is not rhetorical. I don’t know the answer either. I suspect over design may increase the total cost by in the order of a factor of two or more.
Regarding the “extra concrete box and earth mound”, I see the extras as much more than this. Consider all the redundant systems, and complexity of control systems and safety systems, all tripping over each other. Think of the cost of the containment buildings that must withstand a direct hit by an aircraft and a maximum earthquake. Thinks of 40+ years of design work by thousands of engineers, submission to NRC, changed requirements, redesign, ever increasingly stringent new requirements, more design changes. All for what should be a simple heater making steam (perhaps a slight exaggeration). I expect the excessive safety requirements increase the cost of the nuclear plant by more than a factor of 2.
I also expect that the investment premium is at least 27%, probably more. The investment premium is a result of many factors. Not least of which is that the investors are investing in an infrastructure project with a design life of 60 to 80 years, yet the some argue that the government is entitled to devalue the investment because of a political decision. We see this now with the attitude that the government should close down the coal fired power stations without fair compensation to investors. If we want cheap nuclear, we need to ensure that the investors will be compensated if the politics change. For example, if there are major nuclear accidents overseas, and we decide to close down our nuclear power stations, then we must compensate the investors. The investors must be sure they will be compensated no matter how governments change their mind in the future. If we are not prepared to ensure the investors will be compensated fairly, then we can expect very high cost nuclear power. We should also accept the risk of accidents just as we do for other major accidents. If a plane crashes into a stadium full of sports fans, that risk is carried by the community, not the owner of the sports stadium. We do not, and cannot, require that the coal fired power stations carry the risk for all the damages they cause. So, to require that the nuclear power plant carries all the insurance risk for accidents, is just raising the cost of the electricity generation infrastructure.
My gut feeling is that we could have power from nuclear for about 25% of what it is under the existing safety requirements, and it would still be safer than coal. That’s just a gut feeling. It is based on these unrelated considerations:
1. Hanford B was built in 21 months from the breaking of ground to the reactor going critical. That was 65 years ago. That was the first ever large reactor. Furthermore, it was no dud. That reactor operated for 24 years, and during that time its power was increased by a factor of nine (from 250MWt to 2200MWt). If our engineers could achieve that success with a FOAK design, 65 years ago, they could do much better now if told “give us nuclear power at least cost with acceptable safety”. Hanford B was not a generating station, but the generating component can be built in parallel (I know I am simplifying here, but let’s stick with the big picture)
2. Nuclear powered submarines, aircraft carriers and ice breakers have been operating for some 50 years. They are reliable. I imagine they are relatively simple, much simpler than what is being demanded for civil nuclear power plants. Since we’ve been able to build and use these nuclear power plants for 50+ years for ships, we should be able to build low cost, reliable civil nuclear power plants.
3. Russia is building nuclear power plants to smelt aluminium which is to be sold on the world market. If Russia believes it can smelt aluminium and sell it at world competitive prices it means it expects to produce electricity at a cost equivalent to the cost of electricity from our Victorian brown coal fired power stations. That means Russian nuclear power stations could produce electricity at the same cost as our heavily subsidised cheapest coal fired power. That is very cheap power!!
4. Korea claims its new AP1400’s can generate power at US$29/MWh. That is less than electricity from Australia’s old, existing power stations. And that is using Gen III which have all the most extreme safety requirements that have been accruing over the past 40 years and are now mandated by the IAEA and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Most of those regulations are embedded in the AP1000 and AP1400 designs. http://www.smh.com.au/business/nuclear-not-the-cheapest-path-for-australia-oecd-20100326-r36f.html
5. DV82XL has mentioned capital cost figures for CANDU 6 of around $1300/kW to $2200/kW. Those are below the cost of new super critical black coal plant in Australia.($2239). The operating cost of nuclear is less than coal, so electricity cost from CANDU 6 nuclear at this capital cost would be less than new coal (assuming the investor risk premium was the same, and construction time was the same).
Gen II’s are already some 10 to 100 times safer than coal. So there is no reason to go to Gen III unless it produces electricity for less cost than Gen II (the cost of electricity includes all costs: waste management, decommissioning, mid-life refurbishment, etc.)
Even Gen II is far safer than is needed, based on the fact that coal is acceptably safe. So we do not need the enormously expensive requirements.
Finrod says that I’m part of a “hard-core anti-nuclear cohort”, a “small and increasingly marginalised minority whose chief value lies in remaining what you are so as to provide an easy target for criticism and ridicule in service to the pro-nuclear cause.” Pleased to be of service! However, I wrote: “give me more time and the chance to study some of the recommended documents and you might convert me. At the moment I’m a sceptic.” Thus despite DV82XL’s enthusiastic endorsement of Finrod’s claim (“I love it!”), my position is the same as his when he writes (in his blog): “I consider myself a scientific skeptic, a commonsense utilitarian, and a rational pragmatist.” It seems to me a bit rough to deride me as a “hard-core anti-nuclear cohort” and an “easy target for … ridicule” when I’m willing to be convinced. Peter writes: “The way this question is worded seems that your mind is made up and locked in.” Fair go! Even if this criticism were true, which I dispute, the same could be said about most comments on this site.
Surely the reason why nuclear energy is having a tough time getting established is political: the need to convince the general public, and thence politicians, that it’s the way to go. Ridiculing sceptics who are making a genuine attempt to understand the issues might be counter-productive.
I realise that some of you have dealt with these topics ad nauseam and that it must be tedious in the extreme to keep going over them for people like me. But that’s politics. It doesn’t matter whether or not the pro-nuclear energy camp wins the argument if it doesn’t put in the hard yards to convince voters.
As it happens, I’m pretty much convinced by Peter’s argument about relative safety rates of different ways to generate power, and by Peter’s and Terry’s posts about Chernobyl, and Peter’s points about “Safety costs money”. Nowhere have I said anything that justifies DV82XL’s claim that I dismiss those who work in nuclear energy as “incompetents”.
I will continue reading, sceptically, the arguments on this site. In the meantime, thank you to all those who have patiently explained their positions, and who have presented the physics and the evidence. Perhaps your efforts will pay off and I will become an advocate for nuclear energy.
P.S. Thanks, Terry, for your offer to lend me Gwyneth Cravens’s book, but I’m happy to buy my own copy.
Nice to hear from you again John. I’m hoping that Redmond will take her party by the scruff and drag them to an acceptance of nuclear power some time fairly soon. I’ve offered to speak to her people on how important it will be, socially, environmentally and economically were we in SA to start using our world’s biggest uranium deposits and world’s best nuclear waste disposal site[Officer Basin] for our own as well as the planet’s good. I know Business SA are on side and I get the feel that deep down, BHP Billiton are as well. I know retiring chairman Don Argus is. Are any of you bloggers interested in reading my latest speech ” Climate change, future energy and saving the Murray /Darling system” I’ve given it twice so far. You get three speeches for the price of one. The last group who heard it nominated me for PM. Fair dinkum!
“Finrod says that I’m part of a “hard-core anti-nuclear cohort”, a “small and increasingly marginalised minority whose chief value lies in remaining what you are so as to provide an easy target for criticism and ridicule in service to the pro-nuclear cause.” Pleased to be of service! However, I wrote: “give me more time and the chance to study some of the recommended documents and you might convert me. At the moment I’m a sceptic.”
You professed admiration for Helen Caldicott. That’s usually a bit of a giveaway. But if you are, as you claim, open to reasoned discourse on the issues surrounding nuclear power, then go right ahead.
@martin you said: “I’m aware of the base load problem with renewables, but I don’t see why they might not be solved at some time in the future.”
As long as one believes that the problems with renewables can be solved, and concurrently claim that nuclear is burdened with its own that preclude its widespread use, there is a implication that solutions can be found for the former, but not the latter.
This is a recurring error that has been made over by renewable supporters, don’t take it personally.
As for Finrod’s statement, please understand, that we do run into a large number of doctrinaire antinukes, not just here, but in many places, and Finrod and I have tag-teamed a few of them over the years, and I was just congratulating him for his bon mots, which I thought was very puissant and amusing, in and of itself.
An irrelevant tit bit. The Australian government has blown $3 billion dollars on insulation in houses. It is a disaster and much will have to be pulled out. The cost of avoiding a tonne of CO2 with this scheme is estimated to be $200/tonne CO2 avoided.
The $3 billion could have been much better invested in out first nuclear power plant. It would last 60 to 80 years and provide near emissions free electricity for all that time.
Terry K I’m interested in your thoughts on the Murray Darling since I’ve sailed or canoed different parts of it from top to bottom. Here’s a couple of ideas you might want to incorporate. First it’s crazy to rely on Cat 4 cyclones in the tropics to push enough water down the headwaters 2,000km away. Any water use regime should rely on ‘normal’ flows whatever they are.
Second any desal for Olympic Dam should comfortably supply that whole region. I believe the 100 ML/d pipeline from the Murray keeps inching towards the Bight due to local groundwater depletion. If OD wants 187 ML/d make the output spec an even 300 and reverse the flow in the network ie supplying Pt Augusta, Pt Lincoln etc as well as OD/Roxby from the desal. Oh yes OD also want 690 MW of electricity. If Ceduna ever gets into processing zircon and monazite they will want more water as well. Switching off the river pump at Morgan lets that water flow downstream. The word is that the near landlocked Whyalla desal will not be approved due to cuttlefish or whatever. Good…move it to the west coast and power it with a big nuke using flash, osmosis or a hybrid system. Happy cuttlefish, happy river irrigators.
Your politics are extremist left-wing. Not main stream. I believe these ideologies are extremely damaging to mankind. Bordering on evil.
This is an example from your post at 14:25:
I used the word “immoral” because the extremists, like yourself, use this term frequently to justify their irrational causes.
You talk about your desire to reduce the deaths caused by coal fired electricity in the developed countries but give no importance to the deaths caused by lack of electricity in the developing countries. The latter exceeds the former by many orders of magnitude. Can you not understand this?
Furthermore, raising the cost of electricity in the developed countries means slowing development and less electricity. That means less hospitals, less education, less doctors and nurses, less ambulances, less clinics, less road infrastructure to get people quickly to medical facilties and more costly pharmaceuticals. Can you not understand this?
I think your extremist political agenda is too far to the extremist left for us to be able to make headway. I’ll leave discussion with you to others.
In your own way, you affirm my point that your inability to see the obvious (and to understand why others don’t share your perspective) really does derive from the ideological blinkers I described above.
It is the case that the toll from coal is even greater in the developing countries than it is here. And no, I don’t propose raising the effective cost of electricity in any country. The cost is what it is, I merely say that the cost should be borne explcitly rtather than fall upon the heads of the socially disadvantaged. If you were not blinded by your primary desire to protect the elites, you’d be able to see this.
I’m no leftwinger by the way. I’m merely someone who believes in everyone playing nice. Damaging ecosystem services to save money so one can supply cheaply and make a profit is not playing nice and doesn’t make economic sense for anyone, except the elites.
As I said, I’m not religious but there’s a biblical saying about the beam in your eye that comes to mind.
@Martin re Chernobyl:
on trend, BNC appears growthist cornucopian out of Julian Simon via Björn Lomborg, notwithstanding AGW denialism on the part of the latter’s supporters.
Concerning Chernobyl, the line taken on BNC is that of Chernobyl Forum, the report of which was based on a mere 300 studies and which had what is referred to as “an agenda”.
Residual anti-communism in the West, i.e readiness to discount scientific studies undertaken by “communists” in funny, weird and stupid foreign languages such as Russian and the subsequent interests of malfeasant eastern European govts. after 1986 may be tending to suppress any epidemiological information casting Chernobyl in a bad light. Statistical error in studies by Greenpeace or IPPNW on this subject have been compounding the problem.
You might like to look at:
I mentioned this translated NY Academy of Sciences study by senior ex-Soviet managers Yablokov and Nesterenko some weeks ago on BNC. Resounding silence ensued.
I find it intriguing that BNCers find it necessary to keep downplaying Chernobyl. After all, its faulty RBMK design is quite different from that of the AP 1000 now being built in China. That is, the more BNC admitted Chernobyl mass death, the better Generation III, ie., the AP 1000 would look, or the EPR for that matter.
My provisional conclusion is that secretly, BNC posters do not believe that they can allay the Chernobyl-based fears that the public has by illustrating technical design differences. This in turn would seem to place a question mark against the efficacy of the policy option of “education and social engineering” advocated by BNC posters in various shapes or forms.
Peter Lang and Ewen Laver:
Thank you for your responses. Peter, sorry if I misunderstood your position with respect to the internalisation of coal costs. My memory may have deceived me but I thought, in the past, that you had argued in favour of internalisation (quoting ExternE as a basis for determining what the extra costs would be) but against a carbon tax. Like you, I consider the safety of coal is acceptable to the public as it is now. I think that DV82XL is spot on with his comments that relate to the situation in China and India. In fact, though I don’t know, I suspect that life expectancy might even be increasing in those countries.
I believe Ewen is sounding idealistic and giving the impression of wishing to remove all risks without evaluating the relative scales of those risks (non CO2 emissions versus CO2 emissions). However, in his recent comments, he appears to accept that coal’s non CO2 emissions costs cannot and won’t be internalised. Notwithstanding, he wishes to argue that they should be for political/PR reasons because he thinks that this will assist nuclear roll out and put the backs of coal producers to the wall. However, his policy might be counterproductive and encourage a rush to “clean” coal.
Ewen, when I commented that people had to die of something and there were too many people, I knew it was a somewhat flippant and trite remark but I couldn’t resist a wind up. I accept it was counterproductive. However, I would point out that, as a vet who has been involved in wildlife management, I regret that the global population of African wild dogs, for example, is only in the region of 5000 while that of humans is more than a million times greater. I note that some African nations are attempting to protect their elephants by shooting those who persecute them. I wonder how I’d react were I to be an African smallholder trying to support a family if an elephant wandered in and trashed my year’s food supply. No easy answers until we have fewer people. However, we have little option but to hope we get through the current bottleneck and that ,subsequently, demographic transition theory actually works and kicks in. I think this is getting OT so will revert to the main current issue.
Peter, you appeared to agree with my list of the factors that contribute to nuclear costs. I was attempting to invite you to assess the relative significance, in financial terms, of those teased out factors and, in particular, that of engineering in the excessive safety that you complain about. We both accept that we don’t have the technical knowledge to answer the questions. Can we ask others to help out (DV82XL, Charles Barton et al)? You did go on to guess that excessive safety was doubling the costs of nuclear electricity in the West. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree but you went on to list your reasons, once again conflating all the teased out factors that I was hoping to get separate proportions for. Thus, even your guess, was not as helpful as I had hoped. I will therefore repeat the question in a different manner. What are the engineering costs of redundant safety as a proportion of total costs that may be impacted by delays for planning, regulatory holdups, poor builders, interest charge penalties etc? I would suggest that, if the proportion is small, your campaign to have them removed is counterproductive. If, however, it is high, reassessment may be justified. Anyway, as new and inherently safer designs emerge, I believe the engineering costs of redundant safety are likely to fall anyway.
Finally, Peter, I would like you to address another issue. It relates to your concern for the interests of private investors in the nuclear industry. Given the need for a crash programme of nuclear build, might it not be sensible for the nuclear industry to be nationalised? Private investors could still be encouraged to purchase appropriate bonds and possibly get tax breaks for so doing. While bureaucrats/regulators tend to assume an adversarial stance to private enterprise and are allowed to bully by their political masters, they might curtail their negative tendencies if they could feel some pride and responsibility for an enterprise they felt directly part of and which wouldn’t be seen as an attempt to impart large profits to the “filthy rich”.
Oh – and one more finally for you, Peter. I want to try an analogy on you. Your business is doing quite well but you are anticipating cash flow problems ahead because of the need to replace aging equipment with something new and more efficient which, ultimately, should increase your profitability . You have a lavish lifestyle which you enjoy. You have a choice to consider. Do you go into debt by borrowing from the bank to get the new equipment and maintain your lifestyle the while? Alternatively, do you cut back temporarily in lifestyle standards and buy the equipment without going into debt, anticipating even better lifestyle in the long term? I suspect that you might opt for the latter. I would and that is why, in simple terms, I favour a temporary energy transition levy on carbon. You’ll no doubt tell me I’m wrong but can you, at least, understand the underlying reasoning for this point of view?
One more thought. In the UK , we have quite a few dirty coal plants that EU legislation requires that we shut down. In the view of the government, the energy gap thus created can only realistically be filled by commissioning new, cleaner coal plants from which it is hoped in the future, should the technology emerge, to capture and sequester the CO2.
I would prefer that we kept the dirty coal plants open for a few extra years until we had enough nuclear capacity to decommission them. What do you think?
Yes, I do agree with internalising externalities to the extent practicable for coal, all electricity generators and all industry. But that is not what you said in the statement I replied to.
Why internalise externalities to the extent practicable for coal? It will cost money which might otherwise be available for nuclear. Sooner or later, coal will be replaced – sooner rather than later if we don’t waste scarce resources on a side issue.
I don’t know the answer to this question. I don’t know how to get a reasonable answer from the way you are suggesting we approaching it. The alternative method, that I was aluding to with my list in the previous post, to get a rough estimate of what nuclear could cost without the impediments, is to effectively start with a new sheet and work out the cost for the most basic possible plant. For example, how much would it cost to take the nuclear reactor, generators (as many as necessar) and perhaps the flash distillation, from a warship and put it on land, connect it to the grid and run it. How much would that cost? That’s the mimimum cost. How much are the small research reactors? How much are the least cost Gen II plants?
You asked for a gut feeling on what proportion safety is costing. I said in my previous post, my gut feeling is at least a factor of 2. The items yuour ae listing are only a small part, as I mentioned in the previous post.
There is no sign of that. NRC is still adding new requirements. At the rate we are going nuclear plants will have to be able to withstand a comet impact. For your statement to be true, ther would need to ba a reversal of the trend of the last 50 years.
What I do believe will reverse the increasing cost is competition and the gains from increasing sales and implementations. To get that benefit we need to get started. To get started we need to focus on the things I’ve been mentioning on the previous posts.
This is definitely an option. I am open to this. This is the ground I would like to see the conservatives and Labor parties fight their election campaigns on. So both major parties agree we need clean electrcity at low cost, they both agree than nuclear is an essential and major component, they both agree it will need major government intervention to get it started and nurse it through the FOAK stage, but they disagree as to whether it should be public or proivate onwership. I am not convinced either way on this. There are arguments both ways.
I think this is naïve. If this was the case, why doesn’t it apply in any of the other government managed organisations, such as Sydney Harbour Ferries, NSW Rail, or Telecom before it was corporatised and then transferred to private ownership. Compare the service we get from the banks (transfer money immediately from your computer kwey board, but anything any where) with trying to deal with government departments. As I say, there are arguments both ways, and I’d be happy to see the election fought on whether the ownership should be public or private.
I am not sure what you are suggesting here. Are you suggesting treasury bonds or government infrastructure bonds? But I think this is not really worth concerning ourselves with.
What we need to address is how to remove the impediments to nuclear. I listed some in a previous post. I hope we can consider the list, expand it and suggest how we could remove the impediments.
Your hypothetical question in the last paragraph is hypothetical to deal with. There is no such thing as a temporary tax, especially for infrastructure with a 60 to 80 year life. And it is not just for the first NPP (10 to 15 years). We will be trnasferring from coal to clean electricty for 40+ years. And the developing countries for probably 80 years. Your temporary tax will last a century. There are many reason why raising the cost of electrcity is dead wrong in my opinion (other than including externalities as discussed before). Perhaps you’d like to go back to the previous list, pull it up, and we can go through the items, if you want to.
Although it would be ethically tidiest if ALL externalities were internalised for all industrial processes I do accept that as a matter of political reality, thios isn’t going to happen. Howver, that’s no reason not to create the kind of expectation in the community that allows us to put these characters onto the backfoot and extract a deal that effectively puts an end date on their business near the sunk cost recovery time, makes new plants unviable and funds nuclear in the interim. Given that regulation is expensive, we ought to get a good price at very close to the health costs.
This is a pipe dream (pun intended). It cannot happen and won’t. It’s simply not viable. You will have your preference for prolongation of dirty coal.
Personally, I’d prefer the government bit the bullet, ramped up nuclear ASAP and shut down the coal plants on the same timeline, if necessary compensating for stranded assets.
CC&S is at least as big a red herring to keep coal in the game as renewables are.
I don’t know what this means:
Perhaps we have a different understanding of what externalities means and what is meant by internalising these costs. I am using these terms as used in ExternE.
I was a little annoyed that firstly I felt you had misquoted me and then when I corrected this you seemed to have twisted what you’d said and what I’d corrected.
However, I think this is not central to what is important, so perhaps we should just leave it.
Some more on what one means when one talks of cheap electricity
I agree with your first bit. However, your response to the second is a cop out. I was not suggesting CCS coal was practical. I was referring to the policy of my government and asking about a simple choice (which you declined to make). As a nation, we are definitely going to build nuclear plants asap but won’t get them soon enough to prevent an energy supply gap if we go ahead with planned dirty coal plant closures. The government’s plan is to spend a lot of money on more modern coal plants with minimal non CO2 emissions, hoping eventually to be able to grab the CO2 out of them as well. I would prefer to save that money by keeping the dirty coal plants going until such time that nuclear could plug the gap. I think, overall, this would result in less CO2 emissions but more non CO2 emissions. That was the choice I was inviting your opinion on. Having your cake and eating it wasn’t on my agenda but you opted for it anyway!
Peter, I am trying to progress this debate and learn at the same time. If I have misreprented you, I apologise. I am confused by your position:
1) You argue against anything that will add to electricity costs.
2) You adjudge the public to find coal plants to be acceptable as they are.
3) You advocate internalising the externalised costs of coal where practicable.
Why isn’t your point 3) incompatible with 1)?
You think it possible that we misunderstand each other’s interpretation of internalising costs. My understanding is that this would involve demanding that coal plant operators reduce their non CO2 emissions to the extent practicable (although Ewen is now citing a paper that suggests that this means we’ll drink the pollutants rather than inhaling them!) In any event, this will put up the cost of coal electricity.
I would also like to suggest that the extra electricity price borne by the public will be greater than cost benefits they will receive through improved health. Even If I am wrong on this point, I would not expect that the savings to health authorities from cleaner coal would be used for clean energy transition. Were they to exist, they would be more likely to be lavished on other death denying aspirations by the health professionals. I am cynically choosing to ignore economically immeasurable health benefits because I have more pressing worries over the health consequences of AGW if we delay transition.
On the question of teasing out the relative proportions of the different factors contributing to excessive nuclear costs, it seems that we will need to rely on others to sort this out because neither of us has the requisite knowledge. I do agree that we are probably spending a lot more than necessary. However, I’m not convinced yet that much would be saved by reducing redundant pumps, valves, and containments. I do agree that escalating demands by regulators and consequential delays are not acceptable. What do you think about internationalising regulation? Tom Blees certainly favours this approach, but , as far as I can gather, he is not advocating winding back the safety ratchet, merely stopping its progression from ultra safe to insanely safe.
No discussions on the cost of nuclear power can avoid the fact costs have been distorted both upwards for nuclear and downwards for fossil-fuels by Rod Adams, on his blog Atomic Insights posted an excellent reply to someone named Arnold Sabastian commenting on the Nuclear Energy Facts Report
Rod wrote: “If it was “easy” to build new nuclear plants, why would anyone invest in new fossil fuel capital equipment? In fact, if it was easy to build new nuclear plants, how would the people who already owe hundreds of billions on capital equipment and mineral rights pay off their multi-decade loans?”
This brought to mind the situation in Ontario. The government of the Provence committed to eliminating the last of its coal-burners, and replacing them with ‘clean’ energy. This of course will mean natural gas, greenwashed with a few high profile renewable projects.
The Nanticoke Generating Station, located on the north shore of Lake Erie is the largest coal-fired power plant in North America, it is also the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution anywhere in North America. It is slated to be shut and decommissioned in the (progressively extended) future.
Bruce Power is a nuclear power plant operator in the Provence, well regarded for their management acumen. They floated an idea to replace the coal plant with a nuclear power station made up of several CANDU 9 units. They were PUBLICLY told by the Ontario Government NOT to apply to the CNSC for a permit to explore this possibility. The reason of course is that this would have had a deleterious impact on finding investors interested in new gas-fired plants.
Several months later an ‘estimate’ for a new ACR 1000 build in Ontario was released to the public, projecting costs that were breathtakingly high, and so far beyond any reasonable price, that the project (and that design) were buried forever.
This has gone on all over the World, in many jurisdictions, sometimes less obvious, sometimes more so, but nevertheless shows that the major issues when it come to costs are artificiality created to defend the value of fossil-fuel interests. Breaking that political Compact is going to require more than reasoned logic.
Wow! What a great discussion. FIRST: Martin, welcome. It’s good to have a *honest* anti-nuclear person here who is not intimidated by all the Ph. Ds, nuclear geeks, etc. I hope you stick around. I want you think about something Peter noted:
Peter Lang, Said: ” Another major point of frustration is I can’t understand why contributors here do not seem to recognise the enormous benefits and value of low cost electricity to mankind and societies – world wide. To me it is immoral to intentionally raise the cost of electricity, especially while avoiding dealing with what is preventing us having low cost clean electricity at an acceptable level of safety.”
This is a point of unity between free market libertarian types (as fringed as left-wing socialists I might add) and…left wing socialists like myself (see my web site).
Peter is 100% correct when he has argued that *cheap, abundant, reliable* electricity is a key to developing our planet in an environmentally friendly fashion, raising the worlds standard of living and otherwise advancing human culture (Peter, forgive my s t r e c h of your positions!)
Peter and I are opposites politically be we recognized facts, especially historical ones. We know that advancing toward this goal with fossil fuels is a *disaster*. We know that this goal IS worthwhile and that the world is heading toward trying to developing out of the morass of under development (3 billion people live on less than $5/day, 2 billion on less than $3/day, 2 billion people with NO electricity, etc etc) and that governments are simply *going* to do what they need to get out of this situation.
My view, I’m sure most of us here, Martin, believe that nuclear, specifically the Gen IV reactors, can help provide this “fission bullet”. Renewables, on the other hand, hold this back. The Chinese, for example, while investing in wind for the world market, are never going to run their extensive rail system on wind. Vietnam is not going to develop it’s bauxite/aluminum industry on solar.
More…and back to…China. Has anyone calculated the multiplier factor on this extremely heavy component industry? Not just in China, but in Japan, the UK and Korea as well. It’s quite huge and having, or will have, major ripples across the manufacturing network globally.
@DV82XL, on 4 April 2010 at 2.31
Thank you for this post. It is these insights I find particularly valuable, since I can never figure these things out myself, despite understanding the general idea that Rod Adams makes. Every time someone points these things out it blows my mind that there can be such high level shenanigans. Someone has to point these things out because the newspapers never do.
OTOH, putting on my anti-conspiracy theory thinking cap – presumably AECL (and anyone) could see the RFP dictated a very high price – why would AECL have bid on this if it was clearly designed to ensure an unacceptably high price? Rejection has cost them hasn’t it?
The biding process for that project which AECL wished to fulfil with an ACR-1000, was politicized from the outset, and designed to fail to produce a viable winner. That is why Westinghouse, AREVA and the other off-shore applicants withdrew their bids. AECL was unable to do so because it is a creature of government, and was ordered to continue. Clearly the Ontario Liberal Party had planed to hide behind what ever the final bid was to hold off growing the nuclear sector in that Provence.
AECL has the best project management record for on time, on budget delivery, and Canada’s supply chain has the best and deepest capacity of any jurisdiction. That’s due in part to the fact that AECL and its Team CANDU partners are the only nuclear vendors in the world who have been building reactors almost continuously for the past 30 years. A distinguished panel of experts appointed by the China National Nuclear Corporation concluded that CANDU is the ideal reactor design to further China’s nuclear power program. AECL is already in advanced discussions with potential customers in Argentina, and Jordan, and has booked more reactors for Romania and China.
But at the same time AECL has been so hobbled by every level of government every time it takes on a domestic project that it would be funny, if it wasn’t obviously criminal. Everyone wants the jobs and money from offshore CANDU builds, but don’t want NPPs challenging fossil-fuels at home. It’s pathetic I know, but that is just how it is.
No. You haven’t streteched my position. I agree with all you said there. And add: its very well put !!
I endorse your welcome to Martin too.
As I assess the situation from here in the Pacific Northwest, the cost of electricity is going to rise. Hydro is maxed out and the four (or so) coal burners in the region are going to have to (eventually) begin paying for carbon offsets. Up to 20% of the power could be wind, in effect extending the hydro capacity. Most of the other new capacity will be cambined cycle gas turbines, the gas largely from Alberta.
Despite excellent sites on the Hanford reservation, there are currently no plans to add to one operating NPP there.
The “where practicable” words are important. There is no point in internalising costs if the cost of doing so outweighs the benefits. (I agree with your point to Ewen on this) The benefits of low cost electrcity are immense. If we raise the cost of electricity we lose some of the benefits, as I mention in a previous post to Ewen. I suspect that at the moment, the balance is probably about right. That is, we have already regulated the coal fired power stations to remove most of their toxic emissions. I suspect if we try to internalise more of coals externalities, the downside may outweign the upside for society as a whole. I think the present balance has been reached in the developed countries and I suspect it is roughly right.
So what should we do now? To me it is clear. We must remove the impediments to low-cost, cleaner electricity. We have been forcing our governments for decades to pick losers (MRET, feed in tarrifs, subsidies, etc). We need to reverse this. We need to focus on fixing this problem, not gettin distracted by more wrong policies such as Carbon Tax and ETS. All these do is paper over the problems. They are a distraction. They will entrench the problems forever.
Let’s start off by getting serious about why we demand that relatively clean and safe, nuclear must be 10 to 100 times safer than coal!!!!!
I suggest we internalise the costs of CO2 by regulating emissions from a mix of generators as I proposed here: https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/. We must remove the impediments to nuclear as a first step, and bring low cost nuclear to Australia at a rate that can replace the coal fired power stations as they reach the end of their economic lives (many are overduedue for retirement now but are being maintained rather than replaced because of uncertainty and lack of the appropriate policies to all the clean option, nuclear, to be built).
Every way I look at this, I come to the conclusion we must tackle the fundamental problem of removing the policies that are causing the cost of nuclear to be far higher than it should be. Carbon taxes and ETS will bury the problem. It will never be addressed.
Let’s clarify areas of agreement and disagreement
1. All three of us would agree that an aggressive rollout of nuclear (even if that meant Gen2 plants) at the expense of coal and gas would be a very good thing.
2. None of us favours CC&S or other coal plants as viable/desirable
3. None of us favours raising safety of nuclear plants to levels above where they are intrinsic to the design or non-trivial in cost implications
1.Peter and you think that the externalities of coal are acceptable
2. To differing degrees and for different reasons we are willing to hand the coal fuel cycle people a subsidised pass on these. I favour aggressively withdrawing this. You favour doing it less aggressively and Peter is indifferent because for him, cheap electricity is a “moral” thing. Apparently it’s so moral that avoiding killing people is the greater evil.
For me, the questions are political.
We need to stop the merry go round and reframe the debate. Let’s invite the coal people to defend their business model explicitly.
Perhaps our slogan should be: but is it as good as nuclear?
Oops delete: “non” from “non-trivial” in the above for clarity …
Martin, 2 April 2010 at 22.57 Said
I just saw this comment and realised I did not respond.
You are correct about point a). And this is the point. Despite 50+ years of subsidies for R&D into renewable energy, and despite the fact that wind mills have been generating electricity for over a century and solar PV for half a century, renewables are still totallly uneconmic and provide next to no useful power. Wind in particular is more of a high cost nuicance than a benefit. Solar has some value in remote sites but is also a high cost nuisance when connected to the grid. The amount of public funding in R&D needs to be compared on the basis of the return on investment. That is, on the amount of useful electricity each has provided. As you point out in your point b), much more public money has been spent on nculear than on renewable energy. But divide that public money by the energy produced, you find that the research funds spent on renewables per unit of electrcity produced is far higher for renewables than for nuclear. So the return on the funds invested is far greater for nuclear than for renewables. There is no likelihood that this trend will change in the future. Wind solar and all the other renewables (except hydro) will never be a major contributor to electrcity generation for all the reasons pointed out on the various BNC threads and comments.
You misrepresented me (intentionally, I believe) when you said:
I have repeatedly said that the your policy of raising the cost of electricity will kill more people than low cost fossil fules. All you have to do is look at Gapminder charts to see that for your slef. I’ve pointed you to those repeatedly in the past. You can find out this otherways to.
Your repeated misrepresentation of my position, I find typical of those with your deep-green idelogical bent. Anything goes. I do not trust the objectives of the deep-green extremist activists. I find their policies naieve and extremely damaging. Dishonesty is not an issue for these people. The end justifies the means.
Your claims about the link between cheap electricity and human wellbeing have been shown up as misleading. This is particularly true in the developing world.
You are the one misrepresenting your position.
“The tariffs are precedent setting in North America not only for the number of different technologies listed, but also for the prices offered. Solar energy advocates will be particularly pleased. Ontario’s proposed tariffs, if implemented, will be the highest in North America. For rooftop solar they will be comparable to those offered in Germany and France.
Ontario is expecting a boom in rooftop solar installations as a result of the program. The province will pay CAN $0.80/kWh (US $0.69/kWh; €0.51/kWh) for electricity from small rooftop solar systems less than 10 kilowatts for a period of 20 years.”
“A consortium led by Samsung C&T Corporation and the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) will invest $7 billion to generate 2,500 megawatts of wind and solar power.”
It sounds like Ontario is doing what Germany was doing under Chancellor Gazprom.
This discussion is helping me clarify in my own mind what I see as the prioirites.
For me, the first priority is the ability to supply low cost electricity for all peoples on the planet.
We can do that best by developing least cost electricity in the developed countries. Therefore, artificially raising the cost of electricity through imposing Carbon Tax or ETS is the wrong policy. Such policies would burry, forever, the imposts of our irrational western beliefs (such as espoused by Ewen). And would cause higher cost electricity to be passed on to everyone. What right do we have to impose the costs (and in Ewens’ emotive terms, the death sentence) of our irrational ideologies on everyone.
We can have clean, low-cost electricity. But we need to confront the ideologies that have got us into this mess, not avoid confronting them. The policies that many of the deep green extremists espouse are immoral, unethical, evil and deadly (in their emotive language).
Lawrence, on 4 April 2010 at 11.39 Said:
Yes, Lawrence. And, as if this isn’t enough, these deep green-extremist activists want to bury these subsidies and entrench them forever by making governments impose a carbon tax and/or ETS. Oh shucks, let’s have both.
I expect one of the groups you trust for your information has said this. Many others who I would trust have said the opposite. It is absolutely clear to me from looking at the UN stats what is truth. You’d need to be extremely twisted to believe electrcity is not a main factor in lifting people out of poverty and giving them a better, healthier, longer and more fulfilling life.
Most of my friends don’t worry about this stuff. They are all much happier than me.
See I am convinced we are going to have an oil shortage within five years. It will be permanent, and economically devastating. We HAVE TO implement nuclear power now (actually decades ago). Yet everywhere I look I see it being derailed. I cannot understand how any rational person can think that renewables can work.
I mean look at this absolute garbage:
“The Consortium’s renewable energy projects will deliver an estimated 110 million megawatt-hours of emissions-free electricity over the 25-year lifetime of the project. That’s enough power to supply the electricity needs of all Ontario homes for nearly three years.”
Really words fail me. The ones that come to mind are unprintable.
DV82XL @ 4 April 2010 at 2.31,
Very interesting points.
And implementing a Carbon Tax or ETS will not help address the underlying issue. It will just help renewables, CCS and all these other irrational schemes. We need to confront the irrrationaility and ideologies that are supporting this nonsense, not avoid and bury the real issues.
So the project is for 2500MW.
Ok. Maths time.
110 million megawatt hours over 25 years.
110000000000 kwhrs over 25 years.
4400000000 kwhrs per year.
i.e. capacity factor of 20%.
Ontario has peak demand of about 25GW in summer. 7 billion is going to provide 1/2GW of intermittent power. Somehow this is going to power all of Ontario’s homes for 3 years out of 25.
What they hell does this mean?
Why would I spend 7 billion dollars for 1/2 a GW of intermittent power production?
It’s crazy and indefensible.
I’ve got that wrong. The Koreans are investing $7B, but that’s not the cost to Ontario of the project. I don’t know what the cost of the project is really. I do know that 500MW of unreliable power is not worth much.
I haven’t checked the maths, but what you are showing is the sort of monstrous fraud that is being perpetrated in many of the western countries. We’ve become too wealthy and therefore complacent. We can afford to waste our wealth on these crazy schemes that are generated by crazy irrational idealists. We have people with the time to spend promoting these irrational schemes and spinning them to media, politicians and the public. While these people, many of whom are on the public payroll and therfore have time on their hands to to propogate this nonsense, keep dreaming up these schemes and propogating them. They get into positions where they can influence governemnt policy, such as greenwashing the Canadian Atomic Control Board, or what ever its new green equivalent is.
I say again, these deep green extremist activistis are evil.
The news I quoted appears to say the cost of the renewable power is standard rates + the EDA with NPV of 437 million.
437 million / 110 million megawatt hours = 0.4 c/kWhr as the extra cost over standard rates for the power.
Doesn’t sound like much. I basically don’t believe it, but even if it’s correct I don’t see the benefit of paying anything extra for unreliable power.
Peter , Dmitry Orlov had a post about this – he called it boondoggles to the rescue.
For the record the old regulator was The Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada, the new one is The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Let me clarify my point . The money could be spent on nuclear power, which is much more reliable, cleaner and safer. We don’t know just when the power from this renewable project will come online – they are saying the first 500MW (actually an average of 100MW of unreliable power) will come online around 2015 (2012 plus 38 months), but the rest is contingent.
Lawrence, I share your frustration on the lack of nuclear in Australia especially but I’m encouraged that around the world there are currently 53 reactors under construction adding to the 435 currently generating power. We just have to keep at our politicians to wake up to the enormous possibilities for Australia when we finally go nuclear.
John Newlands I’m very happy to share with you my idea of how to save the Murray/Darling system. My experience of the Murray concerned a land use survey of part of the SA section done as part of a geography major done in 1958. There was water everywhere as it was just two years since the biggest flood ever recorded viz 1956. You are dead right John about the forlorn hope that big tropical cyclones will keep the supplies up. They won’t as they vary greatly in their intensity and the rainfall produced. That’s a big worry at the moment following the considerable rains in the catchment this last year. Irrigators and others might delude themselves into thinking that things are returning to “normal” rainfall regimes whatever they are. The owners of Cubby Station see themselves as having enough water for two year’s crops. That water should be released into the system and the phasing out of Cubby must continue as part of the major rationalization of the total irrigation effort in the system. This is what I’ve been advocating now for 10 years and the late Prof. Peter Cullen said just before he died that the total irrigation effort throughout the basin needed a 60% reduction. I agree with that figure, in fact it was a figure I suggested to him and James Lovelock during a meeting in the Adelaide Town Hall during the 2007 Festival of Ideas. I’ll be as brief as I can John. The Federal Government must take control of the entire system and if this needs a referendum then we just do it. Once in control, the Feds TELL the states to reduce their total irrigation affort by that 60 or thereabouts%. All of that saved water stays in the system to restore environmental flows, wetland rehabilitation and allow the Murray to flow out to the sea unaided. The 40% of remaining irrigation water allows for a sustainable level of agricultural production which will of course be less than before the rationalization occurred. But it will be sustainable and if as we all believe, future “normal” flows will be less than previously because of “climate change” and shifting climatic boundaries then that’s a good thing. The states have to organize fairly the exit from irrigation of those who leave the system buying their water entitlements generously and redeploying them in a major revegetation scheme of much of the lands which were previously cleared for agriculture. That keeps them in work and over coming decades, return the lands to something approaching the vegetation cover which existed before clearing. Instead of growing food crops etc, they grow native plants in their billions and gradually restore the seriously degraded farm lands. This is a radical, long term, expensive programme and so how are we going to pay for it. And this is where we initiate the development of the full nuclear fuel cycle. Australia agrees to take some/all of the world’s high level nuclear waste for burial in the Officer Basin in SA. According to Access Economics 1998 figures, one waste dump has the potential to generate 20,000 infrastructure development jobs, 2,500 operational jobs and $2.5 billion in taxes and royalties per year from user countries. This is the money we earmark for the irrigation buyout and the rehabilitation of our degraded farmlands etc. over coming decades. We solve a number of serious problems doing this. We get rid of the world’s nuclear waste, safely and securely, we bring the Murray/Darling system back to life and we create a whole lot of new/ different jobs for our people. John, this was the argument which I put on Phillip Adams Late Night Live in March 2003 ][for goodness sake] when debating Prof. John Veevers from Macquarie Uni on how we could save the Murray. Nuclear waste could provide the money to finance the salvation of the river system. Veevers said that we could make as much money by going into wholesale Heroin production. That’s true. Ask Phillip Adams.
After all of that John, we get busy doing all of the other necessary things over the same decades to develop the full nuclear fuel cycle as I outlined in my vision piece which I think you would have seen on a previous thread.It’s all part of my vision for SA and Australia and is what I had hoped to put to the masses at Rudd’s Best an Brightest talk fest. I wasn’t invited. I was going to mention the dreaded nuclear word. The current Chair of the Murray /Darling Basin Authority has said that we are not going to save the system with the piddling incremental improvements we are currently making. We need a radical plan for the whole basin and soon. I think we need something like I’ve suggested above.
More number crunching related to my comments.
110 million megawatt hours over 25 years.
110000000000 kwhrs over 25 years.
4400000000 kwhrs per year.
366666666.66666666666666666666667 kwhrs per month.
Average home uses 920 kWh/month.
so about 400,000 homes can be run on this energy.
Ontario population is about 10 million, if 4 people per home then 2.5 million homes.
400000/2500000 = 0.15669
or about one sixth of all homes. That’s actually higher than the number 3 out of 25 they say.
I think it’s misleading. Homes are not the economy. What counts is total usage. Ontario needs 25GW of power availability. How do you get that much power from renewables? At a 20 percent capacity factor (the best the Koreans can do in Ontario) you need 125GW of capacity, and that would still only provide an average of 25GW of unreliable capacity. I bet the capacity in this Korean/Ontarian project is not backed up. How much does 125GW of renewables cost? How long would it take to build?
At the AECL rate of 26 billion for 2GW the cost is $13/W so 25GW would cost 325 billion. 325/125=2.6. Can renewables be built for $2.6 per watt? And it still wouldn’t be as reliable as the nuclear power.
You are simply passing off shonky accounting as public policy and slandering those of us who want transparency as evil.
Could there be a clearer example of the dead end into which your pro-polluter fundamentalism leads people?
Can you imagine the cobweb of wires you would need to connect up 125GW of renewables? Can you imagine the mess that would have been after the 1998 ice storm?
Terry K I need to ponder your ideas on the MD basin. Where will the food be grown?
In other news in the Sunday paper I see those who want to stall carbon pricing might have got their wish..it’s not gonna happen this year at least. The departmental fixit team ACCRA are going to use their 154 staff and $57m budget on getting insulation right. I was hoping they might have at least explained what the solar energy multiplier was all about. Even if the Libs and Greens pass the ETS legislation next session of Parliament it seems it will go on hold for another year. I seem to recall it was one of Rudd’s two big promises way back in 2007. Personally I think stiff carbon pricing is necessary.
Another snippet is talk of a second underwater HVDC cable from Tas to the mainland though I doubt it could supply two way pumped storage at say $5 per watt capital cost. Also a proposed new 250 MW wind farm will have to be ‘eagle friendly’ to sell RECs, just as my neighbour’s micro hydro will have to be ‘platypus friendly’. It’s all sort of warm green and fuzzy.
Ewen what are you talking about? Could you link to it please?