Skip to comments.McCain's French kiss
Posted on 05/20/2008 3:23:58 PM PDT by Delacon
The Republican nominee backed nuclear this week, but the U.S. shouldn't try to imitate the French disaster
By Lawrence Solomon
"If France can produce 80% of its electricity with nuclear power, why cant we?, asks U.S. presidential candidate John McCain. Nuclear power is a cornerstone of Senator McCains plan to combat climate change, which he is unveiling this week.
McCain thinks he is asking a simple rhetorical question. As it turns out, he is not. His question is technical, with an answer that will surprise him and most Americans. Nuclear reactors cannot possibly meet 80% of Americas power needs or those of any country whose power market dominates its region because of limitations in nuclear technology. McCain needs to find another miracle energy solution, or abandon his vow to drastically cut back carbon dioxide emissions.
Unlike other forms of power generation, nuclear reactors are designed to run flat-out, 24/7 they cant crank up their output at times of high demand or ease up when demand slows. This limitation generally consigns nuclear power to meeting a power systems minimum power needs the amount of power needed in the dead of night, when most industry and most people are asleep, and the value of power is low. At other times of the day and night, when power demands rise and the price of power is high, society calls on the more flexible forms of generation coal, gas, oil and hydro-electricity among them to meet its additional higher-value needs.
If a country produces more nuclear power than it needs in the dead of night, it must export that low-value, off-peak power. This is what France does. It sells its nuclear surplus to its European Union neighbours, a market of 700 million people. That large market more than 10 times Frances population is able to soak up most of Frances surplus off-peak power.
The U.S. is not surrounded, as is France, by far more populous neighbours. Just the opposite: The U.S. dominates the North American market. If 80% of U.S. needs were met by nuclear reactors, as Senator McCain desires, Americas off-peak surplus would have no market, even if the power were given away. Countries highly reliant on nuclear power, in effect, are in turn reliant on having large non-nuclear-reliant countries as neighbours. If Frances neighbours had power systems dominated by nuclear power, they too would be trying to export off-peak power and France would have no one to whom it could offload its surplus power. In fact, even with the mammoth EU market to tap into, France must shut down some of its reactors some weekends because no one can use its surplus. In effect, France cant even give the stuff away.
Not only does France export vast quantities of its low-value power (it is the EUs biggest exporter by far), France meanwhile must import high-value peak power from its neighbours. This arrangement is so financially ruinous that France in 2006 decided to resurrect its obsolete oil-fired power stations, one of which dates back to 1968.
Frances nuclear program sprung not from business needs but from foreign policy goals. Immediately after the Second World War, Frances President, Charles de Gaulle, decided to develop nuclear weapons, to make France independent of either the U.S. or the USSR. This foreign policy goal spawned a commercial nuclear industry, but a small one Frances nuclear plants could not compete with other forms of generation, and produced but 8% of Frances power until 1973.
Then came the OPEC oil crisis and panic. Sensing that French sovereignty was at stake, the country decided to replace oil with electricity and to generate that electricity with nuclear. By 1974, three mammoth nuclear plants were begun and by 1977, another five. Without regulatory hurdles to clear and with cut-rate financing and a host of other subsidies from Euratom, the EUs nuclear subsidy agency, Frances power system was soon transformed. By 1979, Frances frenzied building program had nuclear power meeting 20% of Frances power generation. By 1983 the figure was about 50% and by 1990 about 75% and growing.
Despite the subsidies, the overbuilding effectively bankrupted Electricite de France (EdF), the French power company. To dispose of its overcapacity and stay afloat, EdF feverishly exported its surplus power to its neighbours, even laying a cable under the English Channel to become a major supplier to the UK. At great expense, French homes were converted to inefficient electric home heating. And EdF offered cut-rate power to keep and attract energy-intensive industries Pechiney, the aluminum supplier, obtained power at half of EdFs cost of production, and soon EdF was providing similar terms to Exxon Chemicals and Allied Signal.
These measures helped but not enough in 1989, EdF ran a loss of four billion French francs, a sum its president termed catastrophic. The company had a 800-billion-franc debt, old reactors that faced expensive decommissioning, and unresolved waste disposal costs. To keep lower-cost competitors out of the country, France also reneged on an EU-wide agreement to open borders up to electricity competition.
Frances nuclear program, in short, is an economic disaster, and a political one too 61% of the French public favours a phase-out of nuclear energy.
Is France a more secure, advanced and innovative country than we are?, McCain also asked. I need no answer to that rhetorical question. I know my country well enough to know otherwise.
But McCain does not know France well enough to know why nuclear powers negative record over there says nothing positive about what it can do for people over here, on this side of the Atlantic.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and author of The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud. E-mail: LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com. Fourth in a series.
The US would only need 40% capacity, and would have to use the new ‘clean nuke’ technology.
This sounds odd to me...i was on nuclear subs...i’m pretty sure you can adjust the output of a reactor by the rods.
His points are actually somewhat dimwitted.
Simply build enough nuclear power plants to meet daytime requirements.
When the nighttime load is less... bleed off the electricity or divert the steam away from the turbines. It’s not as efficient as only generating electricity when the electricity is needed, but it’s not the impossibility the author claims.
It looks like France just used the wrong mix of nuke power. I think it would be a good idea to use nuclear power if planned correctly. France, like most liberals, made a decision based off passion instead of good logical, sound planning.
On the plus side maybe it's a good argument for electric cars. A few million batteries can soak up a lot of juice while recharging overnight.
My goodness. This article makes us look like a bunch of back woods hacks. Of course we can solve the power demand problem like many communities do now with alternate energy sources and high peak production. We are the Unites States by God, not France!!
The liberals wants clean energy, but then they discredit most kinds of clean energy. The liberals hate nuclear energy and they want to make McCain’s plan look bad because they don’t want nuclear power, even though it is one of the few viable alternatives to fossil based sources of energy.
I’m not convinced.
First, so what if you have to waste a little bit of power or occassionally shut down a reactor. It’s still better than funding Islamic terrorists.
Second, our country is so large, and we could be talking about so many reactors, that occasional shutdowns should be manageable. If you got 4 reactors and you have to shut one down, it’s a problem. If you’ve got 50 and you have to shut one down, not so much.
Third, I’m sure if we put our minds to it, we could find a way to use that excess power productively.
Fourth, I don’t buy that France having to import power during peak times is financially ruinous to them. It’s not like a free market doesn’t exist. Notice that France isn’t rushing to reopen old power plants, they are merely considering it.
This article just doesn’t pass the smell test.
“This sounds odd to me...i was on nuclear subs...im pretty sure you can adjust the output of a reactor by the rods.”
Well you were on ssns but I don’t think the rods are used to regulate power output to a sub. Anyone want to chime in?
That is not a negative result. It is a positive one.
The real wet blanket is the reality that hits when people realize that we can’t build a single oil refinery let alone hundreds of nuke plants.
So there is no benefit to manufactures getting cut rate electrical power?
I find that hard to believe.
It is interesting though that those who would have us not invest in nuclear power are not using the usual enviromental
canards, perhaps because people don’t buy them any more.
The C-Span 2 presentation by
the author of "The Deniers",
Lawrence Solomon, is still
available for viewing on line.
It would probably not be out of line to suggest that nuclear power could play a larger role in the U.S. than it is at present.
IMO, there is an awful lot of misdirection in this article. Number one, we don’t have to sell the power to a foreign nation. We could have plenty of nuclear plants inside the U.S. providing primary power needs to immediate vicinities AND secondary power to remote vicinities. It wouldn’t have to supply all the power needs either.
I’m thinking you don’t care if we replace 100% with nuclear if that isn’t workable. I’ll bet you’d just like to see as much produced with nuclear that is reasonably possible, so we could cut 25, 45, perhaps even 60% of the energy needs, helping us to end our dependence on foreign oil.
I’ve noticed something very strange going on. Every single energy proposal that doesn’t address oil as the main source, is resoundly trashed here.
I have yet to see one thing that anyone proposed that received any respect. Why is that?
I’m not buying that oil is the only reasonable energy source.
>> Unlike other forms of power generation, nuclear reactors are designed to run flat-out, 24/7 they cant crank up their output at times of high demand or ease up when demand slows.
This is bull.
And we couldn’t sell our excess output to the Mexicans and Canadians because....?
Also, as we increase the use of electrical vehicle, hydrogen cell vehicles, etc., those “off peak” hours are going to see more demand, are they not?
Or... maybe... farmers can install giant grow lights in their fields and run them full blast at night to soak up that excess electricity and speed up the production of all the ethanol were going to need for food to fuel program.
You’re just not thinking outside the reactor containment vessel. ;-]
Not to mention that even if we had to GIVE AWAY all our off peak power, we would still, STILL be ahead of the game by not being owned by the oil producing states, and those neighbors to whom we gave away our power might just improve
their standards of living in the process.
Yes, it boils down to France is not equal to the US in geography and population, therefore, what works there may or may not work here, and that Juan should take that into consideration.
Some hellish imagery in my mind now from the article’s title.
This guy is an idiot. Nuclear power can be accelerated and decelarated it just takes more time. We aren’t talking about a Ferarri here we are talking about something that can generate the output of a 1000 Ferarris. You use peaking plants for instantaneous unexpected changes.
Enlighten us, please.
I don't know why that would be the case. Why would we build nuclear plants that produce too much power when we could build the amount that just produces a certain portion of our power and that can run wide open so that no excess need be sold off. France just put too much of its power generation in a non-flexible energy source. If it had only build enough for 50% of its power, it probably would not have a problem.
Okay, I have 25 years in the commercial nuclear industry. I’ve been out of it for 4 years (long story).
You can vary the output of commercial reactors. It’s not that hard. It’s just not preferred because of the enormous investment the utilities have in their nuclear plants. General Electric plants are perfect for providing the swing load. They can vary their load by 50% much easier than Westinghouse plants.
Hydroelectric is the best peak time source, but this author, who's work on denegrating
manGore caused Globull Warming is quite good!!!
Youre just not thinking outside the reactor containment vessel. ;-]
That's a really lame argument. If we were willing to go full out nuclear, one could envision pricing power at extreme low rates during the low use hours causing industry to crank up their demand at those times. If there is still excess power then it could be consumed by desalinization plants or some other costly, power hungry process.
The fact that France pursued nuclear power with an overly state-driven and inefficient model does not mean that there are not more efficient and cost-effective ways to utilize nuclear power in meeting the energy needs of the USA.
If 80% nuclear power generation is too much for a country’s electricity grid to absorb 24/7 that does not mean that some lesser % such as 30, 40, 50, or 60 might not be very beneficial.
Also, if/when electric cars and hybrids are becoming cost-effective and widely used, there could well be other uses for that nighttime power (charging batteries, making hydrogen, etc.).
This article is interesting but rather one-sided and backward-looking at a flawed example that is 30 years old (admittedly it is the one used by McCain but that does not mean we must slavishly follow the French model on nuclear power).
The same kind of terrorists who support Obama did this:
Never apologize for them.
Never appease them.
If you adjust the power output by the rods, you get some weird power fluctuations because of the xenon and samarium. The commercial PWRs use boric acid concentration in the reactor coolant to make power changes.
Parts of it are contained in the above messages, so to put the ideas together:
Build nuke plants for the 40% load that exists during night time hours.
Just think of how much power that would amount to!!! Unreal.
Then offer industry cut rates, real low ball cut rates providing they use the power at night.
As more industries come on line, add the required Nuke plants to supply them. That would make available more nuke power for the peak periods.
Then use the coal fired plants to meet peak loads.
I don't know that this will save oil, as I am not sure how much oil is used in the generation of power. It was my impression that most are either coal or gas with gas being used mostly because it is assumed to be cleaner.
We could use all the excess power to charge up batteries of electromagnetic rail guns guarding our borders. We could hit ships hundreds of miles off shore with them.
I agree that conservatives seem to be all pro oil and discount any other kind of power. However, fossil fuels have been the low-cost energy source for years. It was not feasible to have other types of energy, including nuclear energy, because it cost a lot more. Why would someone want to pay more for energy when they could get it for less money? That simple reason is what made fossil fuels king and the only feasible option. However, the rising cost of fossil fuels is changing this fact. Nuclear energy and other sources of energy are now starting to become feasible now that fossil fuels are going up in price.
I have a question. Isn't France and their "neighbors" in 'more or less' the same time zones?
That said, wouldn't most of their 'customers' being 'buying' the abundance of 'surplus power' at off peak hours also?
What the heck would those 'customers' be doing with all that 'off peak surplus' which they wouldn't be needing in the first place?
Bingo! We have a winner here folks. The winning answer. It is actually very obvious from reading the article. If 80% nuclear energy is too much power during portions of the day, don't build 80% nuclear power. If we used the amount just needed for night and ran it 24 hours a day, the rest of the peak time could be filled in with more flexible sources of energy and we still come out a with the right mix and don't need to sell off anything.
I defer to you...i just know that when we were off of shore power....the rx was not running full tilt all the time.
Power consumption is always changing moment by moment. If you ever get the chance, try to get a tour of your local electric utility’s control center. For Progress Energy in North Carolina, it’s the Skaale Center on Hillsborough St. in Raleigh.
Check out EDF.PA on Yahoo Finance.
If this is a financial disaster, then someone is going to have to explain what success means.
Sure, it was subsidized, but so are many US businesses in some way.
Plus, it would be a huge task just to get to 40% electric/nuke. Still would not have to worry about daily cycle excess.
There are many, many techniques for storing excess energy during non-peak hours. Nuclear may not be the best solution in all cases, but the fact it has to run “full out” doesn’t necessarily preclude its greater use. That’s why energy decisions should be made by experts in the energy industry as well as the free market and not by political hacks or media pundits.
The delays, unnecessary regulations run amok, no wonder it was more expensive.
There are also costs that transcend monetary, and we're paying those costs today.
“Power consumption is always changing moment by moment.”
I know that, but that does not change what I said about having the right mix of nuclear power and more flexible power which will not cause any wasted nuclear power.
I’m going to agree with the others. The writer is talking beyond his competency.
His main point is that, since nuclear plants don’t lend themselves to being peakers, that they are not the answer. This is his sleight of hand. We’re not looking for “the” answer, we’re looking for answers, of which nuclear power can be a key part of the answer.
This is a sleight of hand that is used to undercut any and every action we try to take; since its not “the” ultimate and definitive answer, we ought not do it. Is ANWR going to solve all of our energy needs? No? Then we’re kidding ourselves to drill there at all. Is drilling off California going to solve all our needs? No? Then best not drill at all. Is a new wind farm going to solve all our needs? No?
You can see how the game is played. The end result is always paralysis.
If nukes don’t make great peakers, that should stop us from building about a hundred of them to take up the base load. That will take a while, and the question of “surplus” nuclear energy isn’t going to be an issue for quite a few years.
And when we get to the day that surplus nuclear power is a “problem”, isn’t that what we want? How else are we supposed to power those electric cars we’re supposed to want? And when would they be charging? At night?
At night. Exactly. Build enough nukes to cover daytime requirements, and at night while we all sleep, we’ll all charge our cars. Nat gas plants will be our peakers, just as they are now. Its not a problem.
My answer to questions like this, nuke versus wind versus bio versus natgas versus coal is let a thousand blossoms bloom. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. But nuke is another basket we have hardly begun to use.
Excellent post. I agree with all of it. I wish I had wrote it myself.
Meant to say "that shouldn't stop us"
Hell EGD, no problem at all. How about the "costly, power hungry" political hacks in Congress? You know it is simply not possible to produce more power than this pack of hyenas can suck up...