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.