The nuclear scenario I describe here requires around 10,000 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2060, to replace most of our current fossil fuel use. (For further justification of this 10 TW target, read this TCASE post.) My next step is to look critically as some of the critical underpinning assumptions — uranium supply and build rates. Now, as was the case for the previous question (are uranium resources sufficient?), I’m not the first to try to provide an answer on possible build rates. So, before I add my say on the matter, I’ll quote from two other sources.
First up, we have Tom Blees from Prescription for the Planet (pg 200+)
So what kind of money and timelines are we talking about here? As to the latter, the idea of building hundreds of nuclear plants a year is something I haven’t seen even remotely suggested by anyone, though there are really no compelling reasons, given the political will, that it couldn’t be done. France has been good enough to give us a perfect demonstration.
Once the oil shocks of the early Seventies jolted the world into a new perspective, France more than any other nation took decisive action. Having precious few natural energy sources of its own, the nation embarked on an ambitious plan to convert their energy infrastructure to nuclear power, supplemented by what hydroelectric power they’d already developed. Within the space of about 25 years they succeeded, and today France’s fourth largest export is electricity.
About eighty percent of their electricity is provided by nuclear power, with nearly all the rest comprised of hydroelectric and other renewable sources. It is truly ironic—and more than a little ridiculous—that France is singled out for being so far behind on meeting the EU’s renewable energy target, a system that was put in place to encourage its member nations to reduce their GHG emissions. The fact that nearly all of France’s GHG emissions come from the transportation sector and that they produce far lower emissions from their electrical generation systems than any other EU nation just isn’t recognized under the renewable energy goal system. So if you happen to see France being castigated as a global warming slacker, take it with a large grain of salt. They are, in fact, helping their neighbors reduce their GHG emissions by selling them electricity from France’s nuclear and renewable energy power plants, all the while enjoying the clearest skies in the industrialized world.
France’s nuclear power buildup proceeded at the rate of up to six new power plants a year. As in most other countries, they tend to build them in clusters of three or four, with a total capacity per cluster of 3-4 gigawatts electrical (GWe). Currently the government-owned electrical utility, Electricité de France (EdF), operates 59 nuclear plants with a total capacity of over 63 GWe, exporting over 10% of their electricity every year (France is the world’s largest net electricity exporter). Their electricity cost is among the lowest in Europe at about 3 eurocents (or €ents, if you’ll allow me to coin a new symbol of sorts, since I know of no euro-native symbol akin to the U.S. ¢) per kilowatt-hour
Just how realistic is it to think we can build 100 nuclear plants per year? Remember that France built up to six per year during their conversion to nuclear, so let’s look at Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a guide to what a given country can financially bear for such a project, keeping in mind that France proceeded without the sense of urgency that the world today should certainly be ready to muster. There are six countries with higher GDPs than France, all of whom already possess the technology to build fast reactors: USA, China, Japan, India (they’re building one now), Germany, and the United Kingdom. Add Canada and Russia (which already has one running and is planning more), then tally up the GDP of these eight countries. At the rate of 6 plants per year with France’s GDP, these countries alone could afford to build about 117 IFRs per year, even without any greater urgency than the French brought to bear on their road to energy independence. And come on, you know that using “urgency” and “French” in the same sentence is pushing the envelope.
Then we have David Mackay from Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air (pg 171):
I heard that nuclear power can’t be built at a sufficient rate to make a useful contribution.
The difficulty of building nuclear power fast has been exaggerated with the help of a misleading presentation technique I call “the magic playing field.” In this technique, two things appear to be compared, but the basis of the comparison is switched halfway through. The Guardian’s environment editor, summarizing a report from the Oxford Research Group, wrote
“For nuclear power to make any significant contribution to a reduction in global carbon emissions in the next two generations, the industry would have to construct nearly 3000 new reactors – or about one a week for 60 years. A civil nuclear construction and supply programme on this scale is a pipe dream, and completely unfeasible. The highest historic rate is 3.4 new reactors a year.”
3000 sounds much bigger than 3.4, doesn’t it! In this application of the “magic playing field” technique, there is a switch not only of timescale but also of region. While the first figure (3000 new reactors over 60 years) is the number required for the whole planet, the second figure (3.4 new reactors per year) is the maximum rate of building by a single country (France)!
A more honest presentation would have kept the comparison on a per- planet basis. France has 59 of the world’s 429 operating nuclear reactors, so it’s plausible that the highest rate of reactor building for the whole planet was something like ten times France’s, that is, 34 new reactors per year. And the required rate (3000 new reactors over 60 years) is 50 new reactors per year. So the assertion that “civil nuclear construction on this scale is a pipe dream, and completely unfeasible” is poppycock. Yes, it’s a big construction rate, but it’s in the same ballpark as historical construction rates.
How reasonable is my assertion that the world’s maximum historical construction rate must have been about 34 new nuclear reactors per year? Let’s look at the data. [The figure] shows the power of the world’s nuclear fleet as a function of time, showing only the power stations still operational in 2007. The rate of new build was biggest in 1984, and had a value of (drum-roll please…) about 30 GW per year – about 30 1-GW reactors. So there!
See also: Plan C (PDF)
BNC take on the matter
Okay, so I think it’s clear from the above two extracts that the deployment of 50 new reactors a year, worldwide (i.e., 1 GWe per week) would be quite achievable, assuming any serious socio-political impediments were overcome, like they were in France in the 1970s — 1990s, and are today in places like China, South Korea and India. I crunched some further numbers to back up this assessment.
World GDP in 2009 is $US 58 trillion. Yet the top 30 nations encompass 87.4 % of this total (and 22 of those already have commercial nuclear power, with another 4-6 of them actively seeking it), or $US 50.7 trillion, so to simplify, let’s just consider these nations. In 2009, France ($US 2.68 trillion) represented 5.3 % of the Top 30 cumulative total. So if France could build at a rate of 3.4 GWe per year (6 reactors with average unit size of 500 to 600 MWe), the Top 30 could do it at 3.4/0.053 = 64 GW/yr. Back in 1980, however, France’s GDP per capita was $12K, versus $32K today, a 2.7-fold increase. If we applied that multiplier to the figures above, we get a possible build rate, on an equal-terms economic basis, of ~170 GWe per year.
To go from 380 GW in 2010 to 10,000 GW in 2060, however, would require an average of 190 GW to be built each year. Actually, as this table from the previous SNE2060 post shows, the maximum rate I calculate from the TR2 scenario is 386 GW per year, but that peak doesn’t occur until 2040, giving plenty of time to ‘tool up’ (the implied rate from my modelling in 2020 is 25 GW/yr, and in 2030 is 130 GW/yr).
So, another take. China’s electricity consumption grew by an average of 360 TWh over the last 5 years, or 40 GW of equivalent generation capacity, driven by a national GDP of $US 4.9 trillion. If this rate of build is scaled-up to the Top 30 (i.e., assume that all other nations built nothing), this would be like adding 410 GW of electricity generation capacity worldwide. Now, let’s say that in some hypothetical future, where the world’s economic powers urgently wanted to replace coal with low-carbon alternatives (including substituting oil with electricity-derived synfuels), and the goal was to emulate France. such that ~80% of their new build was nuclear power stations, then China’s current pace setting would allow for 410*0.8 = 330 GW of new nuclear capacity per year.
Bottom Line: Folks, the conclusions are that: (a) it’ll require a massive effort to build 10 TW of replacement nuclear (and renewable etc) capacity by 2060, but (b) it’s certainly doable, based on no more than the level of urgency currently shown by China today (with France as backup).
186 replies on “SNE 2060 – can we build nuclear power plants fast enough to meet the 2060 target?”
DV82XL, on 31 October 2010 at 1:19 PM — The rest of the plant not being scrapped is the partially used steam turbine(s) and genrator(s), some pipes and pumps I suppose. I have no way of estimating the conversion cost versus completely starting over.
We agree about the value of the site plus its electrical side equipment as that usually lasts much longer than boilers or rotating machinery.
As I wrote, unless I can be shown some proof that it is otherwise, I will assume that it is the same story as any other large industrial facility, in that the cost of modifying existing equipment, and getting it approved and licensed is going to be more expencive than buying new.
The only times I have ever seen a firm take the conversion route was when buying new capital equipment was just not possible, and I will have to be convinced that it is not the same in this case.
Your vision is a political duel between nuclear power and coal power. In my opinion a campaign based on that idea is futile. While people on this blog see coal power as somehow evil because it emits CO2 the general public could not care less unless their power bills rise.
If there is a duel between nuclear and coal power, it is an economic one more than a political one. I have been involved in launching new technologies with immense advantages over the technologies they would eventually replace. As long as the new technology was more costly than the old, progress was slow but as soon as the new proved to be cheaper, the transition occurred with breath taking speed.
Nuclear power must prevail in the long term owing to the immense reserves of fuel that are available but for success in the near term (the next 100 years) it will have to demonstrate significant cost advantages over coal.
@Gallopingcamel – First, and we have gone over this, there is no question that nuclear energy is less expensive if coal were held financially responsible for its environmental footprint, if only at the combustion end of the line. If every coal burner were forced to implement CCS, and vitrification of its ash stream , they would be out of business tomorrow.
That they are not held fully accountable is the result of of a lack of legislation making them so, and that is a political issue, not an economic one. Trying to take an end run around this with some grand new design of NNP is just not going to work.
Look. I have been in this fight for a very long time. I was active long before there was any talk of a nuclear renaissance – a time when one was regarded as slightly crazy even for considering nuclear energy as anything except undiluted evil. Thus those of us that were interested enough, and motivated enough, came to support nuclear energy for good solid technical reasons, and because we could think for ourselves.
Yet I learned that attempting to appeal to reason only convinced a very limited number of people, and they would have probably convinced themselves, had they bothered to look into the subject prior. Attempting logic and facts with the doctrinaire antinuclear zombies, provoked not anger from them, but only giggles, so incapable were they of independent thought. And those that were in nether of the above groups had been so thoroughly brainwashed with the precautionary principal, and nonproliferation propaganda that they were unreachable without a lot of effort.
Things have changed. The climate, has become the collective worry for the future, replacing thermonuclear Armageddon, and without much effort from our side, people are beginning to give nuclear energy a more nuanced look, more so than they have for decades. The antinuclear movement had become complacent and had not overhauled their arguments for years, and it shows.
So it looks like nuclear energy might have a second chance.Great. But now everyone that was out in the cold designing reactors, planning fuel cycles, and such thinks that they have a shot, and are cutting each others throats attempting to sell their vision of how nuclear energy should be developed. Meanwhile they are loosing sight of the fact that the war is far from being won, and our enemies are regrouping.
Right now it is a political duel between nuclear power and coal power – just look around the world – the countries with the most rabid (and effective) antinuclear movements are the ones with major coal sectors, (China excepted) this is not a coincidence. The coal industry is using their right to employ money-amplified free speech to persuade the world that nuclear energy is evil and that continued use of their product is mankind’s wisest course of action. This is where the fight is.
The problem is this is a big enough battle as it is, and we do not have the advantage of having a huge industry behind us. So what is our response? To balkanize ourselves into camps backing one new technology or another, losing the support of what little backing we had from the established industry, and diluting the effort to build new reactors which at this point is the only practical path open to us.
To do this we must win the hearts and minds of the masses, and you will not do that by floating technical arguments, and you won’t do that writing checks with your mouth that you expect your undeveloped designs to cash.
We have to be out there vilifying coal and salving the fears people have with nuclear, as it is now. The future will come, it will, but not until the groundwork has been laid, and nuclear power is brought in from the cold.
I ‘borrowed’ your comment and posted it here:
1. Do you suggest we should be trying to convince our politicians (in the western democracies) to incorporate the externalities of burning fossil fuels in the cost of electricity from fossil fuel power stations?
2. If so, how?, e.g.
a) By government imposed increase in the price of carbon (e.g. ETS or carbon tax)? or
b) By regulation (e.g. by requiring all fossil fuel power stations to sequester all their greenhouse gas, particulate, and toxic chemical emissions from the power station, from the mines and from transport of the fuel)?
c) How do we avoid the loss to society caused by raising the cost electricity?
3. Do you believe internalising externalities of fossil fuels in the western democracies reduce or increase world emissions? ( to see what I am getting at here, see here: https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/
@Peter Lang – I think you are making the problem more complex than it is. Politicians don’t need to be told how to deal with the issue. They need to understand that they have to see to it that coal is not permitted to pollute anymore or they will forfeit their jobs. It’s their purpose to to determine how this should be made come about.
To do this we must recruit support from the voters, such that a critical mass of them wanting this change to be made is created, thus making the threat to the politicians plausible.
It is just that simple. We don’t have access to a slush fund to buy political support in the various governments, so we are left to fall back on the ballot box as the only available tool to bring this change about. Remember that this was exactly what the antinuclear side did to create the issue to begin with.
Unfortunately, for most of us, we are going to have to hold our noses and make our appeal more basic, more visceral, than what we are used to. Within that context we must not try and dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’, or over explain ourselves. Indeed we are going to have to start using the rhetorical techniques that the other side uses if we want to make inroads into the collective minds of the public.
Think about it. Look at the quality of the arguments that have been used to convince a significant number of people to put their own children at risk, for Christ’s sake, by not vaccinating them. We shouldn’t have to teach the world a graduate level course in physics to convince them that nuclear energy is good.
They need to understand that they have to see to it that coal is not permitted to pollute anymore or they will forfeit their jobs. It’s their purpose to determine how this should be made come about..
I do not see it as this simple. My reason is because people with other agandas will twist this to suit their agenda (for example to support pricing carbon on electricity generation and to support ongoing and more handouts for renewable energy). The politicians will probably get the wrong message (from my perspective).
Stopping coal and getting nuclear is not my agenda. My agenda is:
1. don’t stuff up the economy
2. long term security of energy supply
3. health and environmental issues (including CO2)
4. Australian industry involvement in technologies that will be our future.
5. being a good, but rational, international citizen
I am firmly convinced that we should not impose a carbon price on electricity generation yet. Not until all impediments to nuclear have been removed and the G20 countries have agreed a mechanism to price carbon.
So I do not want to send the politicians a message that can be misinterpreted.
The economy is my first priority. Removing all impediments to low cost, clean electricity generation has to come before a price on carbon. I do not want my message to be misconstrued, which I believe it would be if I sent the message that my priority is to “kill coal”.
From my perspective it is far more important that our agenda is to get low-cost clean-electricity than to rush ahead with moe silly symbolic gestures, such as pricing carbon for electricity generation.
Well you go right ahead Peter, but if you don’t have a critical mass of voters behind you, the only thing you will get from the politicians is polite nods. I have explained the benefits of nuclear energy to the last three people to represent my riding, and all I got back was polite letters. Fat lot of good that did.
I have, as I said spent some time at this, and I have realized that my opponents have been successful because they keep their message simple and direct. If we want to beat them we must do the same because thirty years of taking the high road has got us nothing.
“I am firmly convinced that we should not impose a carbon price on electricity generation yet. Not until all impediments to nuclear have been removed and the G20 countries have agreed a mechanism to price carbon.”
This is akin to saying that Australia (the highest per capita greenhouse gas emitters in the world) should do absolutely nothing to curb our emissions until we legalise nuclear power. This could be 20 years away. Meanwhile, emissions from all sectors can increase unchecked, and only when we’ve got nuclear power can we even begin reducing emissions from other (non-energy) sectors by implementing a pricing mechanism.
We would also continue to be one of the G20 nations in the “do nothing about climate change” category. This only hinders the global effort to achieve any meaningful agreements on emissions reductions.
If the externalities of the fossil fuels industry were included, why would this not push the economics and momentum towards nuclear?
And what is the basis for stating that a carbon price would “stuff up the economy”?
I know a little of 2 in-depth engineering studies going on with single units of large plants in the Southwest United States.
One has been more open than the other.
They are using a conventional slow nutron nuclear boiler and rebuilding their three stage turbine by making it two intermediate pressure stages to accomodate the 550F steam.
They claim they could salvage half the value of the unit and the loss of generation capacity is acceptable.
The BN-800 is a going commercial product with a plant extablished to make the special solid fuel rods IFRs use and, in addition to the one about to go on-line in the Urals, two additional BN-800s have been sold to China to power the Sanming area grid.
The Chinese will get a different core design.
Jim, unfortunately the BN-800, although solid-fueled, will be running on oxide fuels, not the metal fuels used in the IFR. At least it is a pool design – they got that choice right.
This thread was initiated as a discussion on whether there would be time, in the next half century, to create a minimum of 10000GW of nuclear power (of one sort or the other). I believe that the emerging general conclusion from the corresponents here was that there would be no problem in so doing from a strictly technical or even economic perspective.
The problem is thus deemed to be a purely political one. Certainly, most Western politicians appear to hold the view that the aspiration to build even 10000GW of nuclear within a century is hopelessly optimistic. Even the Chinese, while expanding nuclear fast, are continuing to devote massive resources to coal and renewables. If the correspondents here are correct, it demonstrates a lack of imagination on the part of politicians and those who officially advise them on matters nuclear. Of course, one might equally argue that the tiny minority that participate in this thread are technically illiterate.
DV82 suggests that several election cycles will be needed before progress is made. I wonder whether he regards this as acceptable. It seems that a gradual switch to clean energy might help avoid the worst of the anticipated peak oil problems, but it will almost certainly be too late to mitigate the severer consequences of AGW. Galloping Camel is a global warming sceptic and makes his judgements accordingly.
DV82, where do you stand on the issue of AGW? You consider that non hydro renewables are useless toys, yet seem reconciled to a relatively slow nuclear roll out. I would have thought that an extreme sense of urgency would be more evident in someone who is convinced by the conclusions of the vast majority of climate scientists. Of course, you might reply that wishing for an urgent response will not necessarily make it happen. However, I refuse to believe that it is not possible to start to achieve one’s aims very quickly indeed. In fact, if we don’t, I take the view that we might as well not bother at all.
This is why we need a radical and transformational approach to nuclear roll out – not the BAU approach that DV8 and Peter Lang seem happy with. Politicians, in general, seem more inclined to take the threats from AGW much more seriously than their average voters, presumably because they have been briefed accordingly by their advisors. Most of them probably think they are taking all reasonable steps in mitigation. I would guess, therefore, that they are also being advised that this is the case. The advisors make their predictions on the extent of possible nuclear roll out based on the proposition that decisions will be left in the hands of existing private nuclear constructors and energy generators. I would argue that, having made such assumptions, the advisors are correct. What must happen, IMO, is for several nations to acknowledge that current measures are failing and that only a war time approach to threat avoidance can succeed. Ideally, this should be a fully international effort, but, to start, this seems unlikely.
Of course, the question of nuclear sustainability is likely to arise sooner rather than later if roll out is accelerated. Thus, I am not convinced that DV8 is correct to set the question of advanced nuclear reactors to one side at the moment. I see US energy policy, as enunciated by Holdren, and to which I referred upthread, to be deeply flawed, given his apparent acceptance that the severest consequences of AGW will ensue without timely mitigation. Placing reliance on encouraging a bit of this and a bit of that as means of solving the problem seems grossly inadequate.
David B. Benson –
Most of the energy in steam is in the saturated component. The superheat and reheat steam components have little energy in them.
There have been instances over the years where small gas fired superheaters and reheaters have been added for one reason or another.
I’d vote for a small gas unit rather than keeping a 230 foot high huge boiler fired up to those temperatures.
In australia, from what I’ve read here, it does appear that the state is the major obstacle to a nuke build.
it does not follow that you could get the kind of nuke build that douglas rightly thinks is necessary without it– whatever “without the state” would even mean.
the world needs a massive nuclear roll out quickly, if you share for example douglas’s urgency about energy and climate (which I do).
or a coordinated commitment to demonstration projects that can confirm which road is best–nukes vs. renewables–for the many nuke doubters out there.
maybe you can provide us examples of such massive coordinated efforts undertaken by what people still unaccountably call the free market.
@Douglas Wise – Please understand that I am not calling for a slow roll-out of nuclear power. I want it to happen as quickly as possible, but for that to occur, it has to start, and I am warning against attempts to use this need to promote a particular design, or social ideology. I believe it is simply too soon for these sorts of machinations, as the case for nuclear as the path to take is not strong enough, and all the pronuclear factions must still work together to promote the general idea. Thus for the short term, efforts should be directed just to get new builds underway to establish nuclear energy as a viable option.
GenIV designs will move into commercial launch, when they are ready, but they are not ready yet. However there are fully developed offerings from major manufactures that are, and these should be the ones to fill the first wave of new builds.
Consider that in the 1980s, 218 power reactors started up, an average of one every 17 days. These included 47 in USA, 42 in France and 18 in Japan. These were fairly large – average power was 920 MWe. So it is not hard to imagine a similar number being commissioned in a decade after about 2015. So we have the capacity to produce at a brisk rate, if we want to, and with existing designs. So it is a matter of political will, and little else. o
Once the ball is rolling development of GenIV will follow, in fact it will probably get new impetus, but the need to get started now, right now, means older designs must take the lead.
The situation in China is not so much that the government there lacks foresight, but that in practical terms, the Chinese must exploit every last avenue for generation that they can. As well the Chinese have no native uranium resources to speak of, and they have illegitimate concerns about placing themselves in a state of dependency on foreign supplies. But there again, it shows that despite a government committed to a nuclear future, they are not going to bet the farm on breeders, and thorium until those technologies prove themselves.
AGW is as good a reason as any to support nuclear power. I have said before, and I reiterate: my interests are primarily focused on nuclear energy, and I do not know enough about the subject to participate in the AGW debate. However clearly there isn’t a place on the planet where the evidence of the impacts of climate change isn’t mounting, and even if greenhouse gasses are not the only reason for this, it’s a good bet that allowing them to be produced and released in ever expanding quantities is not going to improve the situation.
As I said up thread, full out revolution requires more support, and more resources than the pronuclear movement has at its disposal. And a well written letter to your elected representative isn’t going to cut it. Nuclear must be sold to the public first, the politicians will follow. And we have to sell what we have in the cart, not promises, and certainly not to try and force them into deciding which new technology is the best.
DV: those are useful stats, those you cite for the 1980s.
of china, I assume you mean “legitimate” concerns?
One can assume ;)
I certainly agree with you when you talk about the danger of pro-nuclear advocates Balkanizing themselves. We already have factions supporting a wide range of “solutions” based on different reactor designs.
Then there are several different political approaches such as imposing additional costs on established technologies such as coal or removing the subsidies from wind, solar and photo-voltaic.
Certainly I don’t want to foment divisions within the ranks but whenever people talk about taxing carbon I get nervous. Here in Florida gasoline costs $0.71/liter and $0.08 of that goes to government in the form of taxes. The corresponding figures for the UK are $1.81/liter and $1.17. What do the Brits get for all that extra carbon tax? More government and less freedom!
I’m no fan of carbon taxes, carbon credits, or any other similar scheme because it only addresses a small part of the problem, and because it is clear that all of these are creatures of the fossil-fuel industry attempting to create a system of indulgences, and as such are counterproductive.
Jim Holm, on 31 October 2010 at 10:56 PM — Thank you.
Barry Brook –
Oops, I thought the Russian BN-800’s core was going to be equipped with a blanket and was going to be developed along the same lines as an IFR.
Much of this I drew from your February posting and a power point presentation by Prof. Valentin B. Ivanov.
Is a non-IFR BN-800 a deal-breaker for world acceptance of Coal Yard Nukes?
Is there anything on the fuel differences between the proposed BN-800s and IFRs that an electrical might understand?
Jim, no, it’s not a deal-breaker. The outlet temps are still what you need. As I understand it though, the first run of BN-800s will be converters or burners and won’t have a breeder blanket.
Oxide fuel works, but you can’t pyroprocess it, you can’t injection cast it, and it lacks some of the key inherent safety features of metal fuel (the ternary alloy of U-Pu-Zr). The reason oxide fuel is being used by the Russian, French, Japanese and Indians in their fast reactors is that this is what they know, and they never solved the early problems with metal fuels (e.g. fuel swelling leading to burst cladding) like Argonne West did (via a sodium bond). The Indians are looking to switch their PFBR to metal fuels within 5-10 years however, according to Baldev Raj, who is head of their metal fuels development programme (and also a member of SCGI).
The goal of 10,000 GWe seems excessive. US electric consumption is about 1 kWe per person. For 7 billion people in the whole world this would be about 7 GWe, at the current US rate of consumption. The Aim High talk shows how modest prosperity of about $7,500/capita GDP leads to sustainable birthrates. This is achieved with about 250 watts/capita. Let’s assume the prosperous nations embrace efficiency, reducing electric consumption, to average 500 watts/capita worldwide, or 3,500 GWe.
Aim High proposes to build one $200 million, 100 MWe LFTR per day in a Boeing-Aircraft-like assembly line. Reaching 3,500 (new) GWe would require 95 years.
The world stock of spent LWR fuel is about 340,000 tonnes, of which 1% is plutonium. Each 100 MWe LFTR would require about 100 kg of fissile material to start up, so we already have enough to last just about 95 years!
The design assumption for LFTR is a conversion ration of 1.0000, so commercial LFTRs will not breed excess U-233. We have enough fissile material already.
Note that the LMFBR requires an order of magnitude more fissile material than the thermal LFTR, so startup scenarios to reach 3,500 GWe are not clear (to me).
Hi Robert — I replied to you in detail via email. In short, we use about 2,300 GWe average electrical power worldwide today, and when future transport fuel replacement is accounted for (via electric vehicles and synfuels), the figure rises to about 8,200 GWe average required by about 2060, or about 6 TW of nuclear if you assume about a 75% penetration worldwide. I used a round 10,000 GWe in the above scenario as a stretch-goal, to test limits.
As for RGP and start charges for LFTR, I think, based on some recent dialogue with Charles, that your 1t/GW FI is too optimistic, even for a converter. I’ll blog more about this in a later SNE2060 post (this was the reason I was talking to CB about this — as part of the research for this series).
Hi Bob – Well talk is cheap, you’re Americans aren’t you? So get off your asses get cracking, and show us you still have the old Yankee can-do magic to tap into when the world is facing a crises.
Robert Hargraves, on 2 November 2010 at 12:03 PM — Wow, US$2 per Watt is a mighty low price! But suppose whole grids can be built for $6.70 per Watt generated. The GWP is about US$67 trillion per year so 1% is US$670 billion, about 10% of the US DoD budget. Using that 1% at my assumed (high) cost, we could built grids with a generation capacity of 100 billion Watts per year; for your lowball demand it is done in just 35 years.
But we will then want lots more. The extra energy supply is consumed in removing the excess CO2 to return concentrations to around 300 ppm CO2e.
Robert Hargraves –
Overpowered repowering of just the world’s 1,200 existing supersized coal plants would add an estimated additional 1,950 GW of nuclear thermal capacity to the existing 2,750 nuclear converted thermals (about 75% of all thermal electricity) for a total of 4,750 GW – in perhaps as little as 10 years.
This thermal electricity would be in addition to whatever hydro and renewables we have by 2060.
shows the Swiss at only 600 watts electricity per capita but at a total 5,000 watts of all kinds. If electric cars, etc., catch on that 600 number could jump.
Thank you for taking the trouble to reply to my post of 31st October.
I do not disagree with the need to kick start the “nuclear renaissance” with technolgy that we have available to us now and I fully accept that there may be no immediate rush to create commercial breeder or iso-breeder reactors (though I would like to see massively scaled up R&D very soon). However, I am concerned that current Gen 3 plants are not currently competitive with fossil fuel generators in terms of power costs. I accept that, over their lifetimes, they may become so as fossil fuels become more expensive due to falling ERoEI and greater scarcity. I also accept that carbon taxes could help nuclear by making conventional power more expensive. Nevertheless, I hear Peter Lang’s oft repeated message on the downsides of carbon taxes (at least until nuclear is placed on that part of the tilted playing field that renewables are now uniquely privileged to occupy). Not only do I hear his message, but I have some considerable sympathy for it. However, his apparent solution – which can be construed as making current Gen 3 less safe – drives me to despair, particularly as you seem to consider that politicians will have to be pushed by the public into forcing the nuclear pace.
May I call on your greater nuclear knowledge to address an alternative suggestion that might conceivably satisfy Peter’s wishes without alienating support for nuclear and which might even increase it? I am aware of the alluring claims of those who advocate nuclear designs which fall short of closing the fuel cycle, but which are nevertheless supposed to offer the following advantages:
1) Require very much less R&D time and expenditure than would closed cycle reactors and could be ready to deploy within a decade (less than your several election cycles).
2) Promise to be cheaper to build than current LWRs and to produce power as or more cheaply than that from non CCS coal.
3) Use nuclear fuel more efficiently than current designs.
4) Be inherently safer than current designs.
5) Be more proliferation proof than current designs.
6) Reduce the perceived waste problems associated with current designs.
7) Offer an evolutionary route to full breeder designs.
Have I been listening to snake oil salesmen or idealistic dreamers? You may guess that I am thinking of the Per Peterson/ Oak Ridge AHTR and the David LeBlanc DMSR. It seems that, if their claims are correct, we should be aiming to move away from existing reactors asap and move to these transitional ones, pending the development of breeders or iso-breeders.
My second question relates to the subject of lobbying and where best to aim it. Clearly, you seem to favour a bottom up approach. However, in my previous post, I was postulating that politicians appeared already to be more receptive to the dangers of AGW than the public at large. It is for this reason that I find their attempted solutions to be so disappointing. I think I am correct in suggesting that you ascribe this to the pernicious effects of the fossil fuel lobby groups and their veiled encouragement of renewables which they recognise as representing no threat. Don’t you think that there may be an alternative explanation to this conspiracy theory? I tend to think that government advisors and civil servants genuinely believe that nuclear power may be a minor component of a solution, but never a silver bullet. It must be obvious to them that renewables will not be competitive with nuclear , but they nevertheless take the view that all routes to clean energy must be followed as none alone will suffice. It is thus logical, from their perspective, to direct subsidies to the least viable technology while ignoring that which comes nearest to being competive with fossil fuels. I also tend to think that advisors in Western nations, including many “nuclear experts”, are giving undue weighting to the risks of weapons proliferation which, IMO, are pointless, given the existing spread of nuclear capable states and given the fact that they pale into insignificance relative to the risks associated with AGW (barring a full scale nuclear exchange and consequent nuclear winter). I would guess that most government advisors who are deemed to have nuclear expertise are not believers in nuclear being a silver bullet and most are not primarily driven by the urgency of the need to mitigate climate change. I suspect, therefore, that it is they and their political masters who are in most need of lobbying rather than the public at large, only because it should, in theory, be a quicker process. I would very much welcome your views on this hypothesis.
@Douglas Wise – First, it would be extremely naïve to assume that fossil-fuel interests, especially coal and natural gas do not see nuclear energy as a serious threat to their businesses, and that they have not lobbied hard against them. This being the case any effort to sway politicians by the pronuclear side is going to meet resistance from an opponent that is much better connected, and with much deeper pockets. It is clear, from looking at events in North America, who has won that fight here. At any rate even if politicians were, by some miracle, to shift their support to nuclear energy, there is still the problem of poor public support, which must be dealt with one way or the other, or the results will be the spectacle that we are being treated to in Germany. As well propaganda has convinced a lot of the public that wind and solar are viable solutions, ( a bald-faced lie if there ever was one) and that too must be overcome if nuclear is to gain wide acceptance.
Clearly too, based on events unfolding as we consider this, many countries are commitmenting, or are engaged in serious negotiations for their first nuclear power plants. All of them are going with current designs, offered by established builders with long track records. So much of what I am asserting is playing out as fact – countries looking to enter the nuclear power club are not rushing to embrace radical designs.
The argument that rationalizing the regulatory regime will be seen as making older designs less safe, is frankly pandering to the antinuclear side. Furthermore, the geek reflex to design around those objections will fail, simply because the other side will just move the goalposts as they have in the past. The current round of objections they have built their movement on are demonstrably false, and they are quite capable of imagining new ones when pressed. Points 2 through 6 on your list are examples of issues that are artificial, and their solution will only breed more of the same. Thus an educated public is the only defense we can mount.
I don’t think we can typify Per Peterson, David LeBlanc, et. al. as snake-oil salesman. Per and I have had several exchanges elsewhere, and I am convinced that he is sincere, and again I have no doubt that Gen IV will eventually take the lead – when it is ready. The point I have been trying to make is that these designs are not ready yet. Putting the deployment of nuclear power on hold waiting for them, I believe is a grave tactical mistake. I am basing my concern on my long experience in industry that tells me that there is still a great deal of work to be done from where even the most advanced of these designs are at the moment, to commercial launch. In the meantime Rome is still burning.
It is not an ether/or situation. Development of the next generation needs to continue, but not at the expense of delaying the adoption of current models of NPP.
it is possible to build reactors now, without further R&D provided you limit the reactor design to proven technology. it is possible to build function Molten Salt Reactors using MSRE proven technology. David LeBlanc and Kirk Sorensen, separately have decided to do that. The FUJI reactor is also based on the MSRE and the Mini-FuJI appears to be largely a replication of the MSRE. Reactors based on MSRE technology would cost less that LWRs and operate at a higher temperature, hence would be more efficient. This can be accomplished as fast as new MSRs can be assembled.
I know that Charles, you know that, and all of us that have bothered to spend any time studying the field knows it.
Unfortunately, just being right means dick all in the real world.
Right now contracts are being signed for Gen III units. Because they are a deliverable product. Those pushing GenIV are selling apples from an empty cart.
I don’t want to see nuclear power held back while we wait.
Are fast reactors such as Fermi I, which I did a little electrical on in 1959, and the BN-800, which I’m thinking about in 2010, considered to be precursors to Gen-IV efforts?
My understanding as of this moment is that to be an IFR Fast Reactor, the reactor facility must also contain an integral fuel recycling facility (IFR).
Thus making the BN-800, etc., just plain fast reactors.
Jim, to be an integral fast reactor, yes, you need on-site recycling. But you can have a sodium-cooled metal-fueled fast reactor with central processing if deemed preferable. Metal fuels, pool design, pyroprocessing, these are all key to the IFR conception. FFTF (Hanford) was converted to metal fuels but was a loop, BN-800 is a pool but uses oxide fuels. So they’re not IFRs, but could be considered, along with Fermi I etc., to be some of the many Gen IV precursors.
Douglas Wise 3 November 2010 at 9:12 PM said:
I know it drives you to despair (and a few others, too!).
From my perspective many people are pushing envelopes in many ways, and mine is one of them. Some people want to jump straight to Gen IV. That is not going to happen in Australia. Some believe renewables and energy efficiency can do the job. Some want to depopulate the world (but not their own family, of course). Some want us to all hop on our bikes. Others want us to stop eating meat. Others want to attach a whole host of other of their pet desires.
So I am pushing an envelope too. I recognise your concern about the political message. I understand the politics. I’ve been in this a long time too and involved in the politics at a policy advice level (during the 1990’s and little has changed).
The reasons I push the line that ‘nuclear is 10 to 100 times safer than coal and this is irrational’ are several.
1. It is raising the cost of nuclear. Nuclear should and could be far cheaper than coal. It will be in the future once we remove all the impediments and get to a level playing field. The sooner we get there the better for reasons we all understand here. So we should get on with nuclear now, and be prepared to subsidise it for a period to get it going for the long term benefits.
2. The current costs of nuclear are inflated because we’ve gone overboard on regulation and safety because of nuclear phobia.
3. Nuclear is much safer than coal but we’d prefer to have coal at any price because we are used to it and because of the nuclear phobia.
4. If it is important that we cut emissions massively, and if we agree nuclear is one of the most important technologies that will help us do that, then we need to focus on making NPPs that can be rolled out across the underdeveloped and developing countries, e.g. African countries. We need to change our requirements for get Gen IV from ‘super safe’ to ‘low cost’.
5. I do not accept that industrial accidents involving NPPs have worse consequences (leaving out the issue of the consequences of bad public policy and phobia associated with release from NPPs) than from chemical plants, nor from the routine operation of coal plants. I want to highlight this and get people to begin to focus on the real risks and what they are giving up by blocking nuclear.
6. The excessive regulations for NPPs is making them unnecessarily costly. So we cannot progress. As a result we stick with a technology that is 10 to 100 times less safe. How rational is that. I want to raise that issue and get people discussing it.
There are probably a lot more reasons that will spring to mind as soon as I press the “submit comment” button but here goes anyway.
Some of whatwe disagree about relates to the countries that are our main focus.
UK has decided to go nuclear again and is pushing ahead (I think). UK has a strong industrial base for such projects and had (once upon a time) amongst the world’s best nuclear energy program. It can get that back. UK is also a much larger economy than poor little us down here. So I support UK, USA, Canada, EU, Japan, China, Russia, Korea, India getting on with building demonstration Gen IVs as fast as you and they can afford to.
However, wee little us down here (where we got sent for alleged misbehavious), are not in the same position. We have a small economy, no experience with nuclear, and a pack of rat-bag anti-nukes who control everything. There is no way in the world we can develop Gen IV, and no way in the world we should be advocating we buy any as our first NPPs.
I suspect we also have a different focus on how to cut world emissions. I don’t believe anything Australia does is of any value whatsoever in cutting world emissions unless it is part of an international mechanism. In the meantime, we should do nothing to raise the cost of electricity because that will inevitably slow the rate that the world cuts emissions. It will also make us less able to tackle the challenges ahead.
So, for meI definitely do not want a carbon tax or ETS until the G20 have agreed an international carbon pricing mechanism and also we have removed the impediments that tilt the playing field against nuclear (I just though I’d mention that in case you haven’t seen me mention it before :) )
I like your last paragraph here. I think both you and DV82XL are correct.
So what could we do to hasten the education of the people we need to get to?
First, who are they?
1. the middle people. Those who are interested and open minded and just want facts so they can make up their mind
2. the media (OMG)
3. The government advisers (OMG 2)
4. The people in the high places in the electricity industry
6. environmental NGOs (e.g. Greenpeace, WWF, FOE and ACF) ACF is our best hope in Australia.
How could we make some progress?
We need a correct equivalent of the “Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan”. (David Mackay’s Plan C is partly along the lines of what we need but it is not costed nor resourced nor properly time phased),
Two major gas businesses funded the Zero Carbon Australia plan. We need someone like that to fund our corrected version.
I wonder if Barry could bring together a groups of sponsors?
That leads us to ask, who would gain out of replacing coal with nuclear in Australia? …. Blank stares, and no response :)
How can we get a sponsor?
Perhaps the UK could fund it … as a partial appology for centuries of mis-treatment. :) :)
Or perhaps we cpould ppol our skills and build a simple version of the ZCA plan (running out to 2050) our selves.
Peter Lang, on 4 November 2010 at 1:11 PM — ACF?
ACF = Australian Conservation Foundation
In most things they are reasonably pragmatic and because of this they have been able to reach reasonable agreements with government and bring their members to support policies that are a trade off.
About a year ago they were the first and I think the only environmental NGO to negotiate seriously with the Australian Government on the proposed ETS. They reached agreement with the government and the government reached agreement with many of the other major players (not me :) I might add). So they are pragmatic, can negotiate, and can bring their members with them If they could be convinced to move on their anti-nuclear policy, Australia’s adoption of a pro-nucleear energy stance would follow quickly. I suspect the Greens would change their policy quickly. Both major political parties would love this to happen I am sure. But Labor cannot move until a major environmental NGO, like ACF, is prepared to lead the way. That is my humble opinion.
By the way, on the top right of every BNC thread is a picture of the book “Why versus Why”. The authors are one Barry Brook (you may have heard of him somewhere) and Ian Lowe, who is head of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
The other problem people in ACF to get side-lined are Mark Diesendorf and …
Once again, thanks for your reply. If I may, I would like to respond because I think you appeared to be placing constructions on my comments that I was not making (or not intending to make).
You stated the following:
“Putting the deployment of nuclear power on hold waiting for them (gen 4 designs), I believe is a grave tactical mistake.”
I agree. However, your response infers that you consider that I am advocating such a delay, despite the opening sentence of my initial comment. To be clear, I was attempting to elicit a response from you on the merits of a three stage approach, the first being deployment of existing licensed designs and the third being the roll out of breeders and/or iso-breeders. In other words, do you see the logic behind the suggestions of Peterson and LeBlanc that intermediate or transitional designs could, with benefit, be interdigitated between existing and breeder designs. Should the claims be valid, the compelling advantages would be the ability to deploy transitional converter reactors more quickly and for less R&D expenditure than would be the case for breeders and the fact that they would produce power significantly more cheaply than can current designs. Unfortunately, you didn’t answer the questions I wanted – those relating to your opinion of the validity of said claims. Instead, you made the following (to me) perplexing comment:
“Points 2 through 6 on your list are examples of issues that are artificial”. To recap, these ,in order, were cheaper power, greater sustainability, inherent safety, greater proliferation proofing and less “waste”. In what possible way can you describe them as artificial?
I would have supposed that all would have warmed the general public to nuclear rather than offputting them – something that you deem necessary before a nuclear renaissance can lift off in the West. I believe that what you really think is that is that any talk of improved future technologies could be taken by antis as an excuse to argue for a block on the roll out of current ones. If my contention is correct, I still don’t think it would represent a significantly increased threat to the roll out of current designs because the antis are already fighting to their maximum ability to prevent it.
If the transitional technologies could really be ready for deployment within a decade, as their proponents claim, then it is the builders of conventional nuclear designs that have more to lose even than fossil fuel interests. How does that gel with your views on conspiracy theory? If you accept the reasoning, then you can’t expect them to be rushing to develop designs that make their existing, but not yet much deployed, ones obsolete. This means R&D funding is likely to be lacking unless it is to come from Governments or new actors on the scene with limited nuclear experience.
On reflection, I don’t think we differ that much except on urgency. My sense of urgency is, I think, much more acute than yours because I am terrified by the consequences of AGW for future generations of our own and other species. Most people have neither the time nor inclination to study AGW in depth. I only had the opportunity to do so when I retired in 2007 and sometimes wish I hadn’t. At that time, I was a reasonably happy sceptic.
Just as in-depth study of AGW is necessary to change the opinions of most sceptics, such is probably the case for those who currently hold deep rooted concerns over nuclear power. You refuse to be drawn on AGW because you haven’t had the time to study it in sufficient depth. Nevertheless, you are arguing that there will be no major nuclear resurgence in the West without first having a public that is well informed on matters nuclear. I think this will certainly take all of and more than the several election cycles you deem necessary to effect your desired educational programme. There is no time for this. The process has, somehow, to be short-circuited.
You made one other statement that rankled:
“The argument that rationalising the regulatory regime will be seen as making older designs less safe, is frankly pandering to the antinuclear side”.
You infer that I was making such an argument, but I wasn’t. I fully accept that regimes should be rationalised to reduce unnecessary costs. My past arguments with Peter Lang relate to the desirability or otherwise of reducing safety standards for nuclear plants (though I do agree that permitted radiation levels at the perimeters of NPPs are set ridiculously low vis a vis coal ash tips and hence would like to see the abandonment of reliance on LNT theory). I would submit that rationalisation of regulatory regimes does not in any way imply a reduction of safety and, I believe, you have said as much yourself (I am often guided by you). It is possible, of course, that it is merely such rationalisation that Peter, himself, is really calling for. However, it is his wording which emphasises safety reductions that I think is counterproductive to the nuclear cause.
Thank you for your several replies. As you probably realise, we are more or less in agreement over many issues and it only your calls for reduced nuclear safety that strike me as giving hostages to fortune.
You will gather that I have been trying to badger DV82XL into giving his views on the reliability of claims made by Per Peterson and David LeBlanc. If these claims are correct, you can have power that can easily compete with that from non CCS or carbon-taxed coal and it will be produced from reactors that operatate at atmospheric pressure and have several inherent safety features. Their regulation, therefore, should be less costly.
Again, supposing the claims to be correct, I think we’d both agree that we would have competitive nuclear and no need for carbon taxation. Renewables would also fade away on the withdrawal of subsidies. How long is DV82XL’s public education programme going to take before Australia becomes ready to adopt nuclear power? If you think it will take longer than a decade and if the proponents of the transitional technology are correct, you might as well not bother with existing NPP designs at all. However, these proponents will obviously not be correct if no-one funds the necessary R&D. The 10 year clock has to be wound before it can tick. Who’s going to take the punt to wind it? LeBlanc suggests only a few $billion is needed – not a lot more than the cost of a single 1GW plant of conventional design. I advocate Government or Joint Government funding, but you might prefer an alternative route. However, you can probably expect little help from existing NPP builders who will have an interest in sticking to their existing designs for as long as possible.
As to the education of “people we need to get to” , I would suggest a direct approach to “middle people” by what are deemed to be pro-nuclear lobbyists won’t change enough minds quickly enough. I would focus more on the media to do this for you. However, I think it is very important to bring home to people that affordable net energy in unrestricted amount is what creates so-called wealth and that genuine economic growth is impossible without it. I think that , if the media, economists and politicians could be brought to accept this conclusion, nuclear power would receive a huge boost. At present, I don’t think many of them do make a connection between the two. Thus, many can’t appreciate that more expensive and rationed energy will inevitably lead to economic collapse.
Douglas Wise – I was not suggesting you were advocating a delay in deployment of Gen III designs, but Per Peterson and David LeBlanc, seem to be implying it more often than not. It was their position, not yours that my remark was aimed at.
Are their claims valid? Not an easy question. Yes they are, in that there is not likely to be any attempt at subterfuge, however those advocating new technology tend to gloss over potential problems, or believe that there are easy solutions. Nor to they go out of their way to point out that unpleasant surprises are the norm when going from the drawing board to product. This doesn’t mean the idea is worthless, just that those that are too close to it are not always the best judge of how they are doing.
Addressing the points you made I was critical of in order:
2) Promise to be cheaper to build than current LWRs and to produce power as or more cheaply than that from non CCS coal.
In the face of potential runaway climate change, the costs relative to coal are meaningless.
3) Use nuclear fuel more efficiently than current designs.
There simply is no shortage of fuel such that this should influence the decision to build now with available products.
4) Be inherently safer than current designs.
Current NPP in the West are as safe as any nuclear plant needs be, except in the minds of the antinuclear militants, and those in the public they have convinced with lies. Trying to answer their objections in new designs will not satisfy them, and is likely only to bring out a new round of imagined defects and horror scenarios. Pandering to this in any way only gives the issue undeserved credibility.
5) Be more proliferation proof than current designs.
Given that current designs are not a proliferation risk to begin with, this is as artificial a problem as one can imagine.
6) Reduce the perceived waste problems associated with current designs.
I supposed “perceived” takes this one out of the realm of artificial, but again this is one of the easiest ‘problems’ for which our opponents can move the goal posts, as they have on several occasions. The American experience shows that even good solutions can be spun into something to be perceived as dangerous by skilled propagandists.
You wrote:If the transitional technologies could really be ready for deployment within a decade, as their proponents claim, then it is the builders of conventional nuclear designs that have more to lose even than fossil fuel interests. How does that gel with your views on conspiracy theory? If you accept the reasoning, then you can’t expect them to be rushing to develop designs that make their existing, but not yet much deployed, ones obsolete.
I have not avoided that problem, I have mentioned it in the past, and it is likely to have some truth to it. On the other hand, many of these GenIV designs are being developed by these very same companies. Further, I suspect that the first full-sized GenIV plants will be started ten years hence, however again that should not stop building current designs.
I agree Peter’s choice of wording is unhelpful when discussing relaxing the regulatory burden, and it will not play well with those that oppose nuclear power, but I was not trying to imply that you held that position on the matter. I was only using it to comment on the broader issue of trying to design around the antinuclear side’s objections.
It is a serious mistake to think that antinuclear activists are rational, and will respond positively to a reasoned approach. Their stock-in-trade is fear, fear ratcheted up to the point where logic breaks down completely.
Look, I agree that R&D funding has to increase to move Gen IV along at a quick pace. I also agree that they are far superior to Gen III designs. But put yourself in the position of an investor. Current designs can yield operating lives approaching a century. Someone like me is going to be part of the evaluation team, and they are going to report that much of the data on the materials used to make Gen IV reactors is incomplete, because there is no operating information to draw on, and there are lots of areas where this could be a issue. There will be others, in other specialties with similar concerns.
Do you think the investors are going to take a chance on an unproven design, or go with the one with a track-record? And that is exactly what we are seeing happen right now.
Peter Lang is to be congratulated for his recent efforts on “Skeptical Science”.
While I generally agree with him, I cringe when he makes arguments that relate to the safety of NPPs, such as this:
“2. The current costs of nuclear are inflated because we’ve gone overboard on regulation and safety because of nuclear phobia.”
Such arguments do serious harm to the NPP cause in the eyes of the general public. Radiation safety issues do have a significant effect on NPP construction costs but very little on operating costs. It reminds me of James Lovelock (the Gaia hypothesis) who says he is in favor of nuclear power and then shoots himself in the foot by declaring that “we should be prepared to tolerate higher levels of radioactivity in the environment”.
What does need to change is the regulatory process in the USA with its licensing minefield; the outright ban in Australia and similar irrationalities in several other countries.
My own view is that the issues of regulation are fairly complex and a degree of expert knowledge is required in order to come to meaningful conclusions. I really don’t think that the less regulation/more regulation dichotomy is very useful or even realistic.
Regulation can become a burden for lots of reasons – for example underfunding or the shortage of appropriately qualified people – other than simply that the regulations themselves are excessive or burdensome. Other reasons may be that the technology and engineering has moved on and the procedures and rules may not have caught up.
It is clear that regulation should be well executed and sufficiently funded. This is in everyone’s interests as public perception of the safety of nuclear power will undoubtedly be correlated with confidence in the regulator. You don’t need opinion surveys to tell you this.
The IAEA has lots of material available and I would think that it might be a good place to start in better understanding some of the issues. It is inconceivable that nuclear power could be introduced without a regulatory and safety environment that does not at least meet IAEA recommendations.
Peter Lang, on 4 November 2010 at 3:39 PM — Thank you again.
gallopingcamel, quokka, DV82XL, Douglas Wise, and all the others that are pleading with me to stop saying, and agitating, that:
nuclear is 10 to 100 times safer than coal. The extra safety requirements are increasing the cost of nuclear and making it uncompetitive, so we have to stick with coal instead. This is illogical. We need to reduce the cost of nuclear to get it to roll out faster. This cannot be done with Gen III (much) but it can and should in Gen IV. We need to change the focus of our requirements from ‘super safe’ to ‘least cost with an acceptable level of safety’. Acceptable level of safety is what we accept for other industries, such as the chemical industry.
I hear your plead for me to shut the f…k up on this. But I don’t agree with you.
I understand you see how it is perceived by the public. I do understand this. I’ve been where you are. Now I think I am miles ahead of you.
My reason for saying this is because I’ve seen 20 years of the pussy footing around. It gets us nowhere. I now believe we need to explain the facts.
The facts are that we’ve made nuclear too safe compared with other industries. It is not feasible to raise the safety of other industries to what we require for nuclear. So that means that nuclear is disadvantaged. That means we cannot have the benefits of its higher safety and lower emissions.
Another way to look at this is to point out that if nuclear had been available before coal and we were trying to introduce coal now to replace nuclear, we wouldn’t even consider it. When you think of it this way it points out just how ridiculous are the imposts we’ve imposed on nuclear.
I do not agree with you guys that it is best to hold these discussions in private between consenting parties. I believe the discussion needs to be had with the public. Some will get it others wont. But some will start to understand that they really have been taken for an enormous ride by the anti-nukes over the past 50 years.
I believe Gen IV should be made as low cost as is necessary to provide the same level of safety as a chemical plant. I am thinking of what is needed to roll out nuclear instead of coal for generating electricity in the developing world. They can’t afford to buy developed country levels of safety for anything – chemical plants or anything else. So why would anyone believe they should have Gen III’s. It is totally illogical.
We need to focus on least-cost not super-safe for Gen IV. We need to focus on the least cost available Gen II or Gen III until Gen IV is available because any Gen II or Gen III is more than safe enough. When implementing Gen II or Gen III (until Gen IV is available) the focus should be on removing as many of the imposts as possible so we can get the damned things at the lowest possible cost. We do not need to focus on safety. If they will provide lower cost electricity and free up fresh water by being on the coast near our major cities, then I am all for that. If it will be cheaper to put the first plants on brownfield sites, then I’m OK with that too.
I totally agree and I have never said anything that should be taken to mean I disagree with this statement.
All the other countries abide by the IAEA requirements and nuclear is a lot cheaper in some of those countries than in USA, Canada, UK, and European countries. I want to run with the low cost way of doing it, not the high cost way.
I also want to advocate to get the other big nuclear countries to stop agitating in the IAEA for ever higher safety regulations. I want these countries to start agitating to back off to a level that is consistent with the requirements on other industries. France is trying to ramp up the requirement to try to make its EPR monster competitive. That is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing if we want nuclear to be rolled out in the developing and underdeveloped countries (I am thinking of the poorest countries in Africa, for example). If they do not have the option of cheap nuclear they will use fossil fule generation.
Australia will have to abide by whatever the IAEA dictates. But we can take a minimalist approach and I thjink we should – for the benefit of the whole world!!!
Interesting take on ACF, Peter Lang.
I found an article Jim Green wrote on ACF years ago, basically accusing them of being sell-outs. It’s called ACF helps greenwash corporate polluters. This is what pragmatism amounts to in the eyes of FoE, apparently.
I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that ACF will change their stance on nuclear though. Not until it’s our main source of power and providing all the clean, cheap, trouble-free energy in world, anyway. I’ve just seen David Noonan speak to many times to believe otherwise..
WWF aren’t always ideologues either. E.g. read this. It’s not a great article, and I don’t agree with all he says, but to me it doesn’t scream “Zealout!”.
In particular, he (Greg Bourne, CEO of WWF Australia) states: “For every nuclear power station that they put in in China, is a coal power station not put in. On balance, I personally think that is a good thing. Others will think otherwise,”
I don’t think WWF will actually change their stance either, but I don’t think ACF is a more likely candidate.
This is an excellent post. I agree with all of it … except one little bit :)
Douglas Wise 4 November 2010 at 8:52 PM
The problem is that your list is just a belief until it is demonstrated. Anyone can make those sorts of claims. The solar and wind supporters have been making similar sorts of claims for at least 20 years. I don’t believe any of it until it is demonstrated. I am with DV82XL on this. I believe it will take decades for Gen IV to be come a viable commercial proposition. I feel we should stop wasting our time and resources focusing on the next generation and instead we should focus on hew to get Gen II or Gen III implemented now.
Douglas Wise@ 4 November 2010 at 9:34 PM
The change in public opinion, a sufficent mass of it, could occur quickly. I’d say within two years is possible if the PM and Labor came out strongly in favour. Even better if the Greens, and ACF came out strongly in favour. There would be a rapid acceptance ands sufficient support to get a line item in the budget with sufficent funding to get started. It would be possible, but very unlikely, to happen before our next election. I agree this is very unlikely, given our present minority government with Greens opposed. But, if we could get the ACF and or Greens to change their policy to pro-nuclear the log-jam would be removed. That is what needs to be tackled.
Certainly not Australia. Perhaps USA, UK, EU, Russia, China, India but it is not urgent. Lets focus on Gen II, Gen II and get that going first. Otherwise we’ll waste another 20 or 30 years being diverted all over the place. I 100% agree with DV82XL on this.
I agree, these groups are not like to change their polcy soon
So much for the objective analysis and trustyworthiness of the so called environmental NGOs.
Peter Lang, on 5 November 2010 at 12:04 PM — Maybe if you show the drought map in
Peter – I just can’t see selling nuclear power by saying that it is too safe, which is exactly how it will be spun by the opposition. Maybe in time people will accept a more relaxed attitude on safety, as indeed they seem to have with air travel, but it’s too soon for nuclear.
During the early period of rapid growth in air travel the public was so sensitive to safety issues that global air traffic would drop for months after a major accident. In the late Seventies that changed, and while no one got nonchalant about it, a major air crash stopped having any effect on the market for travel.
The current crop of airliners built in the last twenty years are by no means garbage, but the overbuilding and multiple redundancies typical of the early aircraft that were designed in the Sixties, is conspicuous in its absence, to me at least. Yet when you look at the number of in-flight failures the new equipment has, it is quite impressive reliability numbers they are putting up.
So while the technology in nuclear may be ready for less restrictive regulatory oversight, the public is not, and trying to force them into accepting it too soon will fail.
Peter Lang and quokka,
I really don’t want to fight with people who have it 90% right but you not aware of the effect of raising issues that only matter to people who are irrational when it comes to NPPs. Nothing can persuade these people, so when you appear to take them seriously by engaging them in a dialog, Joe Sixpack may take them seriously too.
Suppose you accuse someone of being crazy and that person produces a “Certificate of Sanity”. Would’nt you ask yourself why any sane person would need such a document?
Peter Lang said “Acceptable level of safety is what we accept for other industries, such as the chemical industry.”
By any measure the chemical industry has a much poorer safety record than nuclear power generation. Just compare Bhopal to the sum of all nuclear accidents.
Quokka, while I can’t speak about the “big picture” as DV8 can, I know that the radiation safety rules in North Carolina are defined up front, workable, backed up by adequate training and effective state oversight.
However, when I talk about a licensing minefield I refer to a process where the rules are changed half way though the game. Private investors cannot be expected to cope with such a situation. The effect on project costs is so great that it is close to impossible to get investors interested in NPPs in the USA.
The scene was set by the LILCO’s Shoreham plant that was closed in 1989. That fiasco created the chill on NPPs in the USA that exists today. While that took place over 20 years ago there are more recent examples such as the non-renewal of the Vermont Yankee license that will force that NPP to shut down in 2012.
Excellent points and really clearly presented. I understand what you are saying, and I have all along.
But we are talking past each other.
My position is this.
1. Nuclear in USA, Canada, UK and Europe is far too expensive to compete with new supercritical, air-cooled, black coal power plants in Australia.
2. New supercritical, air-cooled black coal in Australia would cost about $2,162/kW and nuclear $5,182/kW in Australia, according to ACIL Tasman, Table 35, page 58 here. http://www.aemo.com.au/planning/419-0035.pdf That is over twice the capital cost.
3. How do we bridge the gap? ( I do not agree with raising the price of electricity with carbon tax for the reasons I stated many times before).
4. The gap can be reduced somewhat because the $5,182/kW cost for nuclear was intentionally on the high side. It was derived from a fairly old figure produced by ANSTO. We have a better figure to work with now if we use the UAE contract price of about $3,800/kW (A$ = US$ at the moment). So let’s assume the first units in Australia could be contracted at $3,800/kW, … IF we establish a regulatory regime that exposes the investors to no more risk than the Korean consortium is exposed to in UAE!!
5. How can we achieve this goal of no higher investment risk in Australia than in UAE and close the gap further? We need to establish a regime that minimises the regulatory burden, reduces the investor risk premium. We need to minimise the unequal imposts that are stacked against nuclear. Here are some ways I believe we could do that:
a. The Government legislates that it will fund half the cost for the first 4 units and taper off its involvement to zero contribution over the next 10 units (say).
b. The government’s money will be lost first if there is a change in regulator environment or some other political shenanigan over the life of the plant (for example what has just happened to Vermont Yankee)
c. All market distortions that favour coal and gas will be removed and renewables will get the same deal as nuclear.
d. This will send a clear signal to the coal and gas industry that we don’t want any more and we do want clean energy. Then it will be the coal and gas industry which will see the rapidly increasing investor risk premium. This will stop any more being built. By the time we can get to the point of building nuclear fast enough we’ll start replacing coal, and later gas.
e. This will all have to be nuanced of course, because we will need more baseload capacity before the first nuclear plants are commissioned, so we’ll need more gas plants for a decade or so
f. To keep costs of nuclear as low as possible they will be built at the site that will provide lowest LCOE, brown-field using fresh water or on the coast which ever is less cost
g. We’ll need to go for the least horrendous regulatory environment that will comply with the IAEA requirements.
h. I believe the rising investor risk premium on coal and gas (and renewables because they are uneconomic) and the reducing risk premium on nuclear will mean there will be no new coal built and no more gas after about 2020 or 2025.
i. Keep USA, UK, EU and Canada out of the Southern Hemisphere!!!
Over to you. How do you suggest we close the gap to where nuclear is less than coal?
I am asking this question seriously, and I’d really like an answer without hedging. (This not meant to be rude and is directed to all those that want me to back off)
This is comment is intended to explain why I believe we are talking past each other (not just you DV82XL but everyone that is daring to disagree with me :) ).
Everyone has avoided this key question that I’ve asked very many times for the past year and a half. It is the fundamental question that needs to be addressed (in my very humble opinion!!)
Peter – I’m afraid that you are bracketing this problem too finely. You see in Canada the Federal and Provencal acting in concert have more or less decreed that the remaining 21 coal fired plants in this country will close, the last one no later than 2025.
Now in Ontario at least, the ones they are closing will be replaced by natural gas, and it my educated guess that this will be the case in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba. So I see the issue here and in the U.S., (where similar plans are afoot at least at the state level) as one of building a case against gas, rather than coal.
Frankly, one will never get nuclear down to anywhere near the turn-key cost of a gas turbine, thus they must be fought on secondary reasons such as CO2, and the potential environmental impact of ‘fracking’ shale gas.
Thank you for your responses. Peter, I am relieved that you are not advocating the construction and management of nuclear plants that fall below IAEA standards on safety. This may always have been your position, but it was not made manifestly clear – at least as far as I was concerned. Now I have understood your position better, I can more easily go along with it. Nevertheless, your statements on safety, which you acknowledge to be deliberately inflammatory or challenging, would not be significantly weakened by an introductory statement that acknowledges your adherence to IAEA standards.
In passing, might I be allowed a little gentle chiding. You ended your last comment with the bracketted words, “in my very humble opinion”. Normally, you highlight your occasional humourous jibes by adding “sarcasm alert” after them. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, that, on the present occasion, you left it up to readers to work out for themselves that you were being ironic.
Peter, you dismissed my hypothetical list of potential advantages of transitional technologies on the basis that they were beliefs that you don’t believe. I take this as a reasonable reply, certainly when used to bring attention back to the urgent need to roll out existing NPP technology. You are wanting proof rather than promise – fair enough. It is worth recalling, however, that DV82XL “suspects that the first full sized Gen IV plants will be started ten years hence”. It does, therefore, seem to be relevant to ask how long it will take to get the Australian public to accept nuclear. It could affect your choice of reactor design, but I agree that it would be unfortunate if the the unfulfilled promise of superior reactors in the future were to be used as an excuse to delay commissioning of current reactors.
I haven’t a clue how long it will take until the Australian public would embrace nuclear. I believe it could be very rapid with a strong leader. If the ACF or one of the other really influential environmental NGOs took a lead it could happen even faster.
By very rapid I mean in one 3 year term of government the public could change its position sufficiently to vote in a government that said it would implement nuclear power in Australia if voted back in. In could have happend in 2007.
Here is a scenario: the government says to the community we have these options and we will implement the nuclear option if re-elected. The options are:
1. do little more than we are doing now. The consequence is we will be penalised in trade and diplomacy and the costs will get greater with time. They would be lost opportunities that we cannot recover. The costs will be substantial.
2. we attempt to cut emissions with renewable energy and energy efficiency. We’ve been trying to do it that ways for 20 years. Realistically there is little chance that this can work, but we could keep trying. It is an enormously expensive option. Expect the budget deficit to increase to x, taxes to rise by y, energy costs to rise by z, cost of all goods and services to rise by zz, inflation and interest rates to increase by zzz, you get the picture.
3. phase in nuclear (along with gas and renewables at the optimum rate to minimise cost). This will be the least cost option. If we want to we can do this for almost no cost increase to budget or energy prices, but to take the low cost option will require strong public support for the measures we would need to take to implement that aproach.
By the way, Douglas, “In passing, might I be allowed a little gentle chiding”. You haven’t read all my posts, have you? I have mentioned on several occasions in previous comments that of course we would have to abide by the IAEA regulations. But so do the Chinese, Russians and Indians, and their plants are much cheaper than ours. The difference cannot be attributed to cheap labour, although that explains part of the difference.
I think we are getting to the nub of our disagreement.
I don’t believe we can or should, go nuclear if it is going to cost more than coal or gas.
I don’t believe LCOE of nuclear should be more than coal or gas.
That is the fundamental difference. I just don’t believe nuclear should be more than coal or gas.
I believe the reason it is is because of our regulatory and financial environment. That is what we need to point out to the puyblic. That is what we have to educate the public and politicians that they need to change.
I believe that once we decide to clear all the impediments to nuclear and make it clear to industry and investors that we will be facilitating the rollout of clean electricity from now on, and they will be properly compenssated for any back tracking, then the investor riisk premium will move from nuclear to coal and gas.
That will stop further development of them.
NSW, our largest state in terms of population and Gross State Product, is in the process of trying to sell its coal power stations right now. It is offering massive incentives, such as coal at nearly half price through to 2032, in order to try to sell the coal plants. But the value of the plants has dropped (from memory)from about $25 billion a few years ago to $10 billion now (perhaps less). That is a sign that the investors are not prepared to buy coal, and would be unlikely to invest in new ones. This is an indication of waht is happening with the investor risk premium.
The focus needs to be on the finances and costs. The environmental issues are appealing to a fringe group but not to the big players that have the influence on the decisions.
I am still trying to get the BNC contributors to come to grips that it is the money, the funding and the finance that counts in the end.
I believe we can have nuclear with LCOE less than coal and gas. But we need to identify what is preventing it and work on that.
Why should we be paying enormous subsidies for wind, solar, geothermal, CCS, but not for nuclear? What would happen if we had a genuine level playing field?
I simply don’t agree that we can push for nuclear if we are going to insist on rules that will make it more expensive, in the log run, than coal or gas.
I dont believe we have to. I don’t believe we should. And I don’t believe we should proceed while all the impediments to the least cost way to generate low emissions electricity are left in place.
Peter – Even the most enthusiastic of new technology nuclear power would pause before suggesting that an nuclear power plant could be brought on line more cheaply than a gas turbine power plant. Frankly I doubt that is ever going to happen, regardless of the regulatory climate, or any advantages acquired from mass production of the former.
I worry too that developments in molten carbonate fuel cell technology will drive the price per MWe of a gas power plant thus equipped, even lower than gas turbines.
Consequently I don’t think one can fight this purely on a cost bases without expanding the cost envelope outside the turn-key cost of the plant itself.
DV82XL 5th Nov 2.06am:
Thank you for taking the trouble to reply again. I found your comments informative. I contrasted your very reasonable doubts on the more optimistic claims for the technologies favoured by Peterson/LeBlanc with your suspicion that we’d be seeing the start of full-sized Gen IVs within a decade. I’m not sure whether I’d be over-interpreting what might be a deliberately nuanced reply by coming to the conclusion that you believe that the first Gen IV will not be one emerging from either the LeBlanc or Peterson stable. I suspect that I may be unable to draw you out further on this point, both because of your apparent reluctance to divert attention from the need to deploy current designs and because you feel that this is essentially a site devoted to promotion of the IFR such that it would be discourteous to discuss alternatives here. However, if I’m wrong on this, I’d really appreciate further thoughts from you.
Can I go back to your criticisms of my original list of points? I’d certainly like to defend some of them:
2) Your response to my claim of cheaper power from Gen 4s was answered with the comment that “in the face of potential runaway climate change, the costs relative to coal are meaningless.” I beg to differ for reasons that Peter Lang has often enunciated. Economic well being is dependent upon the availability of affordable and plentiful net energy. The developing world will transition to clean energy more quickly if its price is cheaper or, at least, competitive with that from fossil fuel. I agree that, at the stage of overt runaway climate change, your comment would be true, but, IMO, at that stage, we’d probably be too late to save ourselves. It seems to me that your argument is of the type favoured by solar and wind enthusiasts – costs don’t matter if energy is clean.
3) You discount the advantage of more efficient use of nuclear fuel by stating correctly that there is “no shortage of fuel such that this should influence the decision to build now with available products.” However, it would appear that the US and UK governments are not anticipating the introduction of new technologies for at least half a century. I suspect that Barry, for one, would argue that, were nuclear to be rolled out at sufficient scale to obtain required emissions reductions, we would be approaching a situation in which affordable nuclear fuel shortages would become manifest (poorer ores, extra mining, more enrichment, more “waste” to deal with etc).
4) On inherent safety in new designs, you reply that current designs are as safe as they need to be. Agreed. However, this is achieved at considerable extra engineering cost (high pressure containment etc). I suppose you could say that point 4 should be regarded as a subsection of point 2. However, it also seems to me that a somewhat different set of regulations will have to apply to new reactors working at atmospheric pressures and, in framing such regulations, there may be opportunities to rationalise rather than gold plate, hence saving money. Of course, I really don’t know what I’m talking about here and you do.
5) You dismiss the advantages of new reactors having the potential to be more proliferation proof on the grounds that current reactors do not pose a realistic proliferation risk. Agreed. You suggest that committed anti nuclear campaigners will never be satisfied, however much one attempts to meet their concerns because they are not rational. Again, agreed. However, there are plenty of nuclear scientists and pro civil nuclear power advocates who do remain concerned over proliferation and they can less easily be discounted as they advise governments. I’m thinking Pugwash, but an even more salient example would be John Holdren, an advisor to Obama. He clearly expressed his proliferation concerns while simultaneously advocating nuclear power the other day. Have you seen the video recording of his lecture that Charles Barton posted on his Nuclear Green Revolution website? It had a profound (and depressing) effect upon me, but was, nevertheless, highly instructive of establishment thinking.
You finished your response by posing an unresolved dilemma. You stated, first, that R&D funding for new nuclear technology has to increase. Next, you declared that any investor would be crazy to take a chance on an unproven design when they could go for one with a proven track record. I conclude that this makes the case rather well for the necessity of the role of governments in the provision of the funding needed.
Peter Lang has discussed the relative merits of private versus public control of power generation and seems to think that the West (barring France) has gone too far down the private route to reverse. In my view, State owned companies could exist side by side with private ones in the provision of power and compete equably, given the offices of a fair regulator. Half of all UK banks are mainly taxpayer owned, but they play by the same rules as those which managed to avoid bankrupting themselves and remained private. I would not be unhappy to see the State owning and producing power from, say, any Gen 4 reactors that it had paid to research, develop and build while simultaneously competing with private producers of nuclear or other sources of power. Ultimately, of course, the State might decide to sell out to the private sector once the technology had settled down and become established. There are certainly precedents for this.
I’m pretty sure the venality of the Australian polity outweighs both its antinuclear sentiment and its climate concerns.
For instance, Cloncurry has been planning a solar thermal power station with graphite storage, 10 MW for ~$30m or about $1 per kWh. The Toshiba 4s is a 10 MW nuclear reactor estimated to cost ~5-13 cents per kWh. If the Toshiba machine were available, would the Cloncurry ratepayers choose the csp plant or the nuclear plant?
I would bet they’d take the nuclear option, and lynch their councillors if they went for the solar plant. And the choice would play out the same way in every jurisdiction at every scale if the cost implications were made clear.
Peter Lang and DV82XL:
Peter, I have read most of your posts, sometimes with a degree of morbid anticipation and agree with a great deal of what you write, particularly on the importance of economics. However, I must have somehow missed those that related to IAEA regulations. i think we may all be guilty of anticipating what people are going to write rather than concentrating upon what has actually been written.
I am greatly looking forward to Peter’s response to DV82XL’s latest comment to the effect that nuclear will never be able to compete with gas, give his earlier statement that he would be against nuclear introduction unless or until it could provide power more cheaply than coal and gas. It seems that Peter is talking LCOE while DV82XL talked of plant costs. However, I think the latter would probably also suggest that LCOE from gas would be cheaper as well, despite fuel costs. It seems that gas is cheap and plentiful in the States. The argument may not apply for nations such as the UK. DV82XL’s comments make one think that CCS gas might be a good thing and a viable alternative to nuclear in the medium term. Any thoughts?
DV82XL, I once heard someone else with much more knowledge of the subject than I promote carbonate fuel cell technology for transport. That was a couple of years back and I haven’t heard anything since except in your latest communication. Could you elaborate a bit further?
Peter Lang –
There is a great amount of very low cost electricity growth potential along with the massive amount of CO2 mitigation in what I am proposing on my web site.
Australia has 22 supersized coal burning power plants.
They can be quickly converted to nuclear boilers by being repowered with the commercially available Russian BN-800 high temperature fast nuclear boiler.
A mass produced nuclear boiler should cost about twice what a 230 foot high supersized coal burning boiler costs.
From what I can gather, while earlier versions of “BN” fast reactors may may have been fiddly, they all have been running safely since 1973.
China recently bought two for their Sanmin grid, so this reactor must be acceptable to the IAEA.
Converting Australia’s 22 supersized coal power plants to nuclear boilers in the manner I am proposing would also almost double Australia’s available electricity.
The world has about 1,200 supersized coal burning power plants in perhaps 66 different countries. Supersized coal plants became common after supersized nuclear power plants were brought into disrepute by the antinuclear environmentalists.
This means they all are fairly new and well worlth the conversion investment when considering the relative costs of coal and nuclear heat.
Douglas Wise – OK I’ll answer those points in turn:
First, for the record, I believe that molten salt reactors are the best technology to move forward with. I have made no bones about this in the past elsewhere, and I thought I had made it clear here, already.
2) While arguing that the need inexpensive power outstrips the the potential to mitigate climate change may find a ear in governments and boardrooms, it strikes me as being very shortsighted. Furthermore, as I continue to believe that this battle must be fought from the bottom up, there seems to be some broad general appeal to this concern among the public. Certainly the general popularity of renewables with them is a result of that worry, and it would seem that many are willing to accept a modest price rise to deal with it. So from a PR point of view, this issue has legs, and thus can be leveraged.
3) Again, I do not anticipate a delay of fifty years for the rollout of Gen IV, and I take what I hear from Washington on nuclear matters with a grain of salt. There is no doubt, even in the absence of complicated conspiracy theories, that there is a great deal of tension in the U.S. Federal government between nuclear and fossil-fuel interests, thus one cannot trust that everything that comes from that quarter is exactly what it seems. Nevertheless, supplies of uranium, and current storage technology will last long enough to see in the next generation of designs.
4) In my opinion, it is not so much the standards per se that need to be relaxed, as much as the way they are applied need rationalization. Again drawing on my experience in aviation, some very rigid rules can be implemented without causing delays, or driving costs sky-high, the trick is how they are administered. The massive delays we see nuclear projects suffering are largely because of how the regulations are imposed, rather than the regulations themselves. The system that is currently in place in the U.S. and Canada is overly bureaucratic, involves too many people in the deviation approval loop, and is not driven by engineering logic. Thus the requirement is to rationalize the process, not deregulate the standards.
5) The damned proliferation question. I have written at length elsewhere that this is really a non-issue. The link between nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons is tenuous at best and exists mostly in the minds of the antinuclear movement, and some others that are using it to hide another agenda. To make a long story short, some want to control the market for reactors by supplying sealed units that would not require the purchasing nation to develop any local skills in nuclear engineering beyond that needed to operate the equipment.
Again the similarities to the state of affairs in aviation are apparent. Many nations operate aircraft, both commercial and military with very little indigenous engineering support, sending the equipment back for any major maintenance evolutions. One engine manufacturer (G.E.) makes no secret that they sell some of their units below cost with the expectation of establishing an on going revenue stream from servicing it. I believe this is what many working on small reactors want to see with their industry, and proliferation makes a handy hook to hang their hats on.
At any rate proliferation fears are largely an American political issue that more and more is failing to find resonance in the rest of the world. I wrote in these pages earlier this year a lead item showing that Obama’s nuclear summit, in which he expected to earn the Nobel Prize he had already been awarded, was an abject failure. A failure so profound that face had to be salvaged by the utterly unnecessary derating of medical/research reactors around the world, a tragic loss to the further development of advanced nuclear technologies, and as cowardly a sacrifice to political expediency as I have ever witnessed.
The Americans are still behaving as if they have the last word in these matters; telling South Korea they may not reprocess, and attempting to restrict Jordan’s development of their own uranium resources. It is apparent that many, especially in the G20, are beginning to find this attitude tiresome, as witnessed by their rejection of U.S. plans for an international nuclear fuel bank.
Frankly I have my doubts just how far U.S. influence in this area goes anymore.
Determining LCOE for gas is problematic. Certainly now, it is much lower than nuclear, particularly within the 20yr time-frame of the average utility bond, however the the gas industry has shown a predatory attitude to pricing once the have captured a large enough segment of the market. Many Canadians and Americans in the Northern States, found this out the hard way as we rushed to convert to gas from oil heating during the first energy crises. The gas companies and the governments were quick to offer rebates for converting, but after gas made significant penetration into that market, the price of a cubic meter of methane went through the roof.
Thus I am no supporter of gas CCS or not, but it would be foolish to think that gas is not a player, and that they can put up some very impressive numbers.
As for Molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs) they are not ready for prime-time yet, but they are coming up from behind smartly for service in fixed applications, and in my opinion they are a dark horse that might push the cost issue so far in favor of gas, on the generation side at least, that nuclear will never be able to match it. That is yet another reason why the secondary costs must be leveraged in this fight.
What DV8 actually said was:
“Frankly, one will never get nuclear down to anywhere near the turn-key cost of a gas turbine………..”
He is talking about up front costs which are likely to remain higher than for gas no matter how clever folks like LeBlanc may be.
On the other side of the equation is the fuel cost which is close to zero for nuclear compared to a few cents per kVAh for coal/gas.
You have a “high class problem” in Australia given that you have abundant, cheap coal. It will be very difficult to wean yourselves off that in the near term.
Your doubts about the “polity” in Australia may be well founded but your country was ranked #3 in the “2001 Index of Economic Freedom”, published by the Heritage Foundation. You folks must be doing something right. Only Hong Kong and Singapore were ranked ahead of you.
Australia was one of only seven countries ranked as economically “FREE”. The USA, the UK and Germany were classed as “MOSTLY FREE”. France was classed as “MODERATELY FREE”.
Thanks again. Very helpful. Seems that regulation or a high carbon price might be needed to get emissions down and that hoping for nuclear to be the cheapest option such that these measures become unnecessary is wishful thinking. I find this disappointing as, I am sure, will Peter Lang. I am particularly concerned at the implications insofar as India and China and other rapidly developing States are concerned. One can envisage all sorts of undesirable consequences such as missed emissions targets, trade wars etc.
I believe that the need is for legislation, not regulation. Nuclear has to be deployed as a matter of legislative fiat, because it is the right thing to do. This will happen when there is sufficient public support, just as it has for renewables, which have been shoved down the throats of the utilities by force of law.
Thus in my opinion, only a public campaign, prosecuted vigorously, and simply, is the only route available to the pronuclear community. to make nuclear energy the leading source of energy into the future.
Accepted. I misused the term, regulation. I was thinking in terms of government dictation, which, on reflection, should be termed legislation.
You are misunderstanding what I’ve been saying (or meaning to say). I am saying (meaning to say) that the LCOE of nuclear can and should be less than coal (for reasons I’ve pointed out before). I can understand why I have confused my message because I’ve often only mentioned the capital cost. This is short hand. I realise the capital cost is only a component of LCOE. Capital cost is a larger proportion of the LCOE of nuclear than of gas and coal. This means we do not have to get the capital cost of nuclear down to the same as coal for the LCOE to be competitive. But we do have to close the gap.
My question to you is: How? I’ve proposed ways and you disagree with me. So how do you say we should do it? I believe I am correct and you haven’t done anything to change my mind. In fact, I get the impression most people want to avoid the issue – it is too hard. It means confronting some deeply held beliefs (for example, about the requirements)
I realise it will take time to get to the point where the LCOE of nuclear is cheaper than coal in an pure market in Australia. But I believe it can and will.
I believe nuclear would be much cheaper now than it is if it had not been delayed and had excessive requirements placed on it. Because of these mistakes society has made we will have to subsidise nuclear for a while until we restore what should be. It will take time, removal of many impediments, some public funding (to correct past policy errors), and clear signals from government that will reduce the investor risk premium on nuclear and increase it on fossil fuel generation.
I expect the direct subsidies from the public purse to the NPPs to be in the order of $20 billion over 20 years with peak public contribution occurring between about 2015 to 2025. This is a negligible contribution from the public purse. To put it in context the current government has committed to spend $43 billion (about $26 billion from the public purse) over 8 years to nationalise Australia’s broadband, internet and communications. (wait for the howls of protest from some contributors here …)
Basis of my estimate:
1. Assume we can contract the first four NPPs for the same price as the UAE has. I think this is reasonable because I expect the cost of these plants will decrease over time and this will offset the likely Australian desire to gold plate everything. So the cost will be $20.4 billion for 5400MW ($3,800/kW).
2. New coal would cost about $2100/kW
3. Coal has higher operating and fuel costs. (I am not dealing with gas at the moment because it has much higher LCOE than coal. So I am dealing with nuclear compared with coal on the basis of LCOE)
4. So let’s guess and say nuclear would need to be about $2400/kW to have an LCOE competitive with coal given the current situation of favourable treatment of coal, gas and renewables in Australia.
5. $3,800/kW – $2400/kW = $1400/kW. That is, roughly, the public subsidy we’d need to pay for the first four units for them to provide electricity at an LCOE competitive with new coal .
6. 5400MW x $1400/kW = $7.5 billion for the first 4 units.
7. The next 10 units will be subsidised at a decreasing rate between $1400/kW and $0/kW, say average $700/kW. 10 units = 13.5GW @$0.7b/GW = $9.45 billion.
8. Total subsidy for the first 14 units (19GW) = $17 billion. Round up to $20 billion over 20 years.
9. We also need to level the playing field to reduce all the favourable subsidies and regulations and tax breaks for coal, gas and renewables. That is important because that is what will send the clear signal to investors that the investment climate has changed from favouring fossil fuels to favouring low emissions electricity generation.
10. If we do this, we will not need carbon prices. This is a better way because it will assist to make nuclear competitive in the developing countries.
I say nonsense to that statement. How can that possible be true. Think about it for a while. Many argue for that but it is nonsensical. It is not true, fair competition so inevitable the investors get burnt, they know they will so they have to charge a much higher premium to cover for the inevitable loss of value of their investment. There is no point taking this up on this thread, it will go nowhere and disrupt the thread. Argue it on an economists’ web site.
Thank you for your comment. You say (in part):
I am very sceptical of such statments. They sound just like the statements the solar thermal advocates have been making for well over 20 years. I’ll believe it when I see it, and when I see many years of operating data. I’d be much happier to simply go with a unit that has 40+ years of operating experience (e.g. CANDU6, French LWR’s, Korean CANDUs and LWRs). I could not support Australia testing out new nucleart ideas or new technology given we have no experience or skills in this area whatsoever.
gallopingcamel, yes, I saw that. No one here is going to want to slip backwards on that ranking.
By the way, I didn’t mean to be judgemental or condescending when I used the word ‘venal’. Think of it more as an observation in field biology, and I include myself in that mass.
Peter Lang – “I believe I am correct and you haven’t done anything to change my mind.”
Well there you go. Then we needn’t waste each other’s time on this debate from this point forward.
I do not know the mood of the public in Australia. I do know public opinion here in North America, and even if nuclear power stations could be built for free, and the output was ‘too cheap to meter’ it would not change anyone’s mind to pronuclear if they held antinuclear views.
So in the case of your country you may very well be right, but a lower LCOE for nuclear would not make a speck of difference here.
So you think “a lower LCOE for nuclear would not make a speck of difference”, eh?
Well I guess we disagree pretty fundamentally.
You say: “even if nuclear power stations could be built for free, and the output was ‘too cheap to meter’ it would not change anyone’s mind to pronuclear if they held antinuclear views”
That is true for a minority. But not for the majority. If nuclear was offered as a way to keep electricity costs down and provide emissions free electricity it would be supported by sufficient here, not by all but by a majority. Come vooting time, the majority are ruled by the hip pocket nerve.
As I said, if that is the case in Australia, then that is the path you must follow. It is just not true in North America. Since we are obviously in vastly different polities in this regard, we cannot be of much use to each other and are wasting our time in sterile debate.
I am not trying to blow you off or insult you – I hope there are other areas where we can exchange ideas – but this one we should regard as closed without resolution due to different circumstances.
I am wondering what charm school you attended. Given your disparagement of the performance of the public sector, I think it must have been state run.
I had no sooner returned to the site, having completed the knitting assignment you set me following your previous contemptuous dismissal of myself and my views, than I am, again, accused of writing nonsense.
I am quite happy that you should disagree with me and others, but is it really necessary for you to abuse any who do so? I come here to learn and my views are changed or refined by what I read in threads, comments and cites. It is clear that you see yourself more as an instructor than student. Your opinions remain immutable in the face of challenge. They are constantly repeated but rarely are the challenges to them ever met. You could have led the Charge of the Light Brigade with great distinction, but you should really consider whether a change of style might not enhance your chances of imposing your views on others.
I am somewhat embarrassed to have to agree with a lot (but not all) of what you write, despite my growing irritation with you as a specimen of humanity.
You seem to start most of your comments with some personal invective or smart advice. Can I suggest you keep your thoughts to yourself. I can’t be bothered reading the remainder of your posts when you start them off as you so often do.
During a sleepless period last night, I was thinking about several of your responses to me upthread and it brought into focus my lack of knowledge on the process by which new nuclear designs get to be licensed. I believe you are a materials scientist with no little experience in this or related fields. I wonder whether you can explain a few things to me:
It seems relatively easy to sit down and think of all the disasters that may befall a nuclear plant and the worst consequences thereof at the theoretical level. One can then dream up appropriate containment and redundant safety devices that one hopes would function in the event of failure of first line devices. However, at the practical level, it all seems very different.
1) You stated that new plants will be expected to last for 60 years and possibly up to a century.
2) Your preference is for molten salt technology.
3) You wouldn’t be surprised and would, indeed, anticipate the first full-sized Gen IV plant to be started within a decade.
I deduce from the above, quite possibly incorrectly, that you would expect the first Gen IV plant to use molten salt coolant. Now my question:
The containment materials used in the MRSE showed signs of corrosion, but it was claimed that the two types of surface damage could be prevented by changing the steel alloy and adjusting the (? pH or something) of the fluid. I don’t know whether these claims were tested and, if so, for how long. I guess that, if they were, it wouldn’t have been for more than a few thousand hours – trivial relative to the half million hours or so of anticipated plant life. How can you license a plant that uses materials that haven’t been tested for their ability to last the plant lifetime or which can’t readily be replaced? Is licensing conditional? If so, it won’t do much for investor confidence. Alternatively, are there accelerated “weathering ” techniques” of the type used for materials testing in other industries? Does graphite lining provide sufficient protection to the steel such that its possible corrosion effect is deemed of less consequence?
You will no doubt realise the fog my mind is in by the way I’ve framed my questions. Nevertheless, i hope you get the gist and can help.
It would be wrong to claim that I start most of my comments with personal invective. Such introductions have been reserved exclusively for you and represent tit for tat. Perhaps I am becoming more thin skinned in my senescence and it is probably silly of me to react to your abusive comments. Your counter reactions might suggest that, against all other indications, you, too, might be less hidebound than I had supposed.
Would you like to try again? I am more than willing to debate in a civilised manner if I am treated accordingly.
Douglas Wise – You must understand that I spent more than half my career in various management roles only peripherally related to metallurgy per se, although ones for which I was selected because I had a background in applied science.
Thus as far as knowing how type approval works, I am very familiar with the process, and at any rate it is quite transparent in both Canada and the United States as far as nuclear reactors go.
Current Gen III technology does produce plants with useful lifespans approaching a century. What I was pointing out is that Gen III is known for this and that has a certain appeal to some investors. Facilities of this nature are ideal for instruments like perpetual debt which is very attractive for things like pension funds.
This does not necessarily mean that Gen IV will be designed that way, in fact I suspect that they will likely have useful lifespans more in line with gas turbine plants 25 to 30 years, if the trend to small modular reactors materializes.
I really hate to see nuclear power supporters bickering over what technology is the best for Gen IV. I would hope that most will make it to a demonstration plant phase. I think that two or three candidates will be the designs that carry us forward. MSRs I foresee coming later to this party than the first Gen IV offerings, and then as relatively large plants. So there is no conflict in supporting MSRs in the long term, but believing small/modular designs of Gen IV will roll out within a decade.
Certainly material-wise there are more questions than answers for many Gen IV ideas that can only be examined with a working reactor, that has been run for an extended period of time. As well in my opinion there has been too little work done in advanced ceramics, which I personally believe will be key for MSR components, if the reactor is expected to have a long running life.
How material issues effect approval and regulation is very simple; the first units are restricted to a certain number of hours, that are extended in increments based on inspections. This is standard practice in many technical domains.
Of course things such as bath chemistry, and pot linings are areas of active research in the MSR world, however hot test facilities are not readily available to prove some of this work, something that will have to be addressed.
Very helpful. l was not attempting to bicker over any preferred Gen IV technology and I agree that it would be highly desirable to take several of the most promising designs to the demonstration stage. I admit that, in a muddled sort of layman’s way, I have recently been trying to come to grips with the pros and cons of some of the different proposed new designs. Perhaps it would be more sensible to forget such thoughts and leave them to the more technically competent.
I think the main lesson that I’m learning is that the necessary R&D for new nuclear designs should ideally be provided by the state, or, better still, a consortium of states such that benefits and costs of failures could be shared. I further conclude that the funding be made available very quickly, given the considerable time that it will probably take to resolve licensing issues.
I had been hoping that the risk reward ratio for a punt on a transitional design for which much of the R&D had already been undertaken (such that further investment would be constrained) would be favourable and had a good chance of producing a reactor that could outcompete current ones, particularly with respect to LCOE. Everything I have learnt from you suggests that the risks with even transitional technolgy would be much higher than I had hoped or previously anticipated. I now more fully appreciate your strategy of rolling out current designs as fast as possible while simultaneously urging accelerated and increased R&D for a variety of new ones. For that, thank you. It has settled my mind (at least for the time being!)
It is good to see Douglas Wise and Peter Lang settling down. I was starting to think this excellent thread was about to collapse into a childish exchange of insults.
During the depression the US govt built hydroelectric infrastructure (TVA, dams in the west). Why doesn’t our govt, like France, do a massive build out of nuclear power plants? It would create long term jobs, move to energy independence, and reduce CO2 emissions.The money would be much better-spent on nuclear power than on ineffective stimulus and bank bailouts. Let the too-big-to-fail fail and reorganize. Our govt’s focus is in the wrong place.
[…] if we really wanted to we could build nuclear plants safely much more quickly. By some estimates we would need to build about 50 reactors worldwide a year over the next 60 years to have a […]