Skip to comments.No to Nukes: Nuclear power isnít cost-effective, no matter how you do the math.
Posted on 06/27/2012 9:04:38 PM PDT by neverdem
When Barack Obama was just a baby, nuclear energy was touted as the technology that would finally provide pollution-free, limitless electricity for all. In its famous 1962 Port Huron Statement, the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society gushed about how our monster cities might now be humanized thanks to nuclear power. Like so many predictions about the future, that one rather dramatically missed the mark.
Surprising as it may seem, the United States still generates around 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants. This despite the fact that no new facilities have been built since the notorious Three Mile Island accident of 1979, which released small amounts of radioactive gases and iodine into the environment after a partial meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Public opinion has remained steadfast against the technology ever since. In February The Economist reported that 64 percent of Americans opposed building new reactors. Disputes over waste disposal have never been resolved, and the Fukushima reactor meltdown in March 2011 cast further doubt on the idea that nuclear power will ever be a long-term clean-energy solution in the United States.
All of this has not stopped the Obama administration from betting on nukes. Even though the president prefers talking up more fashionable (and less economically viable) technologies such as wind and solar, in February his Nuclear Regulatory Commission quietly approved construction of what would be the first two new nuclear reactors in two generations. In 2010 Secretary of Energy Steven Chu touted the White Houses commitment to restarting the American nuclear industry and creating thousands of new jobs and export opportunities in the process.
But jump-starting nuclear power is not just bad politics. Its awful economics.
The nuclear energy industry in the United States is powered by corporate welfare on plutonium. What is in theory a wonderful technology is in practice an economic white elephant. The data accumulated during the last 30 years suggest strongly that nuclear plants will never be able to cover their operating costs, let alone recoup the billions it costs to build them.
A 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study led by physicist Ernest J. Moniz and engineer Mujid S. Kazimi showed that nuclear energy costs 14 percent more than gas and 30 percent more than coal. And thats after taking into account a baked-in taxpayer subsidy that artificially lowers nuclear plants operating costs.
A 2010 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that nuclear power will remain more expensive to produce than other conventional sources of electricity in 2016 (see chart). Based on this analysis, nuclear power is also more expensive than wind power, although cheaper than solar and clean coal.
While the nuclear industry in the United States has seen continued improvement in operating performance over time, it remains uncompetitive with coal and natural gas on price. This cost differential is primarily driven by high capital costs and long construction times, often more than 10 years.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, nuclear power plants, on average, wind up costing three times more to build than original estimates suggest. Inflation, especially in the more nuclear-powered 1970s, played some role in the problem of ballooning costs. But when a project takes more than a decade to complete, labor and capital costs can grow in unexpected ways as well.
Historically, nuclear energy has flourished only in countries, such as France and Japan, where governments have stepped in with heavy subsidies. Yet dating back to at least the Reagan years, many conservatives have argued that if it werent for the regulatory costs and other barriers imposed by the federal government, nuclear energy would be competitive in the United States as well. While these conservatives rarely have a kind word for a nation of cheese-eating surrender monkeys, they dont hesitate to point to Francewhich gets about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and has never suffered a large-scale disasteras demonstrable proof that nuclear power can be affordable and safe if companies are given the opportunity to build plants.
But producing nuclear energy in France is not magically cheaper than elsewhere. French citizens are forced to pay inflated costs to support grand government schemes, such as the decision made 30 years ago to go nuclear at any cost after the first oil shock in 1974.
In a 2010 paper published by the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School economist Mark Cooper found that the overall cost of generating nuclear power in France is similar to that in the United States. The price range for the two countries (after adjusting for purchasing power) overlap, despite the fact that the U.S. has a relatively strict regulatory regime and France has a relatively loose one: Frances estimated cost for a kilowatt of power is between $4,500 and $5,000; the estimated cost in the U.S. is between $4,000 and $6,000. Those figures remain stubbornly high, despite decades of efforts to get them down to manageable levels.
The main reason no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States in 30 years is that they have proven to be poor investments, producing far more expensive electricity than originally promised. Giving the thumbs up to start work now on two new nuclear plants is an act of desperation by a president who has realized he is running out of other options.
Contributing Editor Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
And reprocess nuclear waste like the French and Japanese too, IIRC.
And always has been. We have enough coal and gas to make us energy independent for a long time. Nuclear requires a tremendous amount of government involvement and financial backing.
That statement is perfectly true.
However, the root cause is that over-regulation by government is the reason for the expense.
Fuel is cheap, equipment is cheap, complying with gooberment regulations is the expensive part.
The future of nuclear power is LENR.
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Coal is going the way of nukes, with government involvment. As is gas.
They just want you dead.
They throw up specious arguments about cost effectivness without addressing that the government is responsible for the added costs.
It's here with coal. You just lived through it.
Wait until they do it with gas.
Reprocessing fuel here in the United States ended thanks to Jimmy Carter. Since then spent fuel rods have been accumulating in fuel pools. The technology is there, it is in use in other countries. The French technology was used on the West Valley Demonstration Project - I worked on that one. The barrier is political. No nukes! No nukes! Else more Chernobyl’s, mushroom clouds (luddites running in circles)
Given that we recently had a 5+ earthquake near Mineral, Virginia, and a nearby nuclear plant, I am not sorry that there are at least some government regulations. I’ll bet the Japanese wish there had been more.
How much Luddism was Carter involved with anyway . . . ? The man really does seem to have a mean streak and an animus against the USA.
The author seems to have little understanding of the efficiency of breeder reactor technology.
Exactly. If every track athlete in the country is forced to strap an anvil on his back during competition, it's pretty silly to make the observation that American track athletes are too slow to compete internationally any more, "...no matter how you do the math."
This writer is ignorant. The rest of the world has advanced their nuclear power industry through innovation and modernization (including creative reprocessing techniques).
France gets 80% of its power from nuclear.
Well this is very sad news to us all on the energy front ..... however .... I heard from the Obama Administration's "Energy Czar" that they are also looking into "Twinkle Stardust" as well as "Rainbow Energy" breakthroughs that are showing promise!
AND In addition, I am also told that if these do not pan out as energy replacements .... I am told by my infallible sources in the Obama Energy Department that they have, on stand by, the infallible and dynamic renewable resource of "Unicorn Farts" to help us through this crisis.
So, as far as I am concerned .... there is no reason to worry and. .. no cause for allarm ..... Hey .... we are all in good hands :-)
Moronic. No amount of regulation will make buildings safe from an ocean of water moving on top of it. Acts of God will always top anything mankind is likely to put together. The point is to build it safe enough for most foreseeable incidents. Over-regulation is exactly what is destroying numerous sectors of our economy. It's unneeded, is not helpful, and does nothing but help destroy freedom and national wealth.
Considering that 25,000 some odd were killed by the tsunami and earthquake, and that several nuclear workers got enough exposure to match eating one more banana in a year, I don’t think the Japanese think they need more regulations for nukes. Of course if you were selling regulated tsunamis, you would get some agreement.
The point is to build it safe enough for most foreseeable incidents.
***So was the post-earthquake tsunami on Fukushima foreseeable? If so, why didn’t they foresee it. If not, why not, because such events seem to happen often enough in nature to generate plenty of data. For instance:
Chapter 4. Tsunami Probability
File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
the cumulative number of tsunamis since the start of the 20th century indicates that the rate of reported events gradually becomes constant soon after the pivotal ...
Thanks for the links!
Yikes, I find myself disagreeing with Veronique de Rugy!!! This might be a first. She admits that the market for energy is hopelessly perverted in both the United States and France, yet makes the pronouncement that nucular (!) is a white elephant. Without a freer market, I’m not sure how one can make a statement like that. Not to mention, our lack of a new plant in the last 30+ years might skew things a bit for an apples to apples comparison.
Oh, and even if the French happen to actually get something partially right by accident, they are still “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”.
If I were the governor of a state I would fund a Liquid Thorium reactor and tell the feds to stay the hell out of my way.
[ This writer is ignorant. The rest of the world has advanced their nuclear power industry through innovation and modernization (including creative reprocessing techniques).
France gets 80% of its power from nuclear. ]
Just as France has thrives using the old crusty water boiling reactors, china will thrive with Thorium and we will sit here like idiots with multiple boiling reactor designs and pish poshing Thorium until we become a 2nd rate England in decline.
Hubby and #3 son are very interested in LENR!
The fuel is not that cheap; it’s getting more expensive due to market forces.
Considering that (effectively) the government (i.e., us) insures the nuclear industry from company-ending accidents, and that “accidents” are going to take more than a call to Servicemaster to clean up, we have a great interest in regulating them.
This doesn’t mean I’m against nuclear power. I’ve been in favor of it since it was going to be so cheap you wouldn’t even have a meter on your house. A lot of mistakes were made; if we “reboot” the industry, I wish they would settle on:
1. A “standard” , repeatable, modular design
2. Alternative fuel cycles (including thorium, we have lots, so does India, and they are going into this full-boat)
Fusion power, hot and cold, has been mentioned; this has been 20 years away for the last 50 years. It’s still worth perusing, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
Which are never affected by gooberment regulations.... Do I need to add the sarcasm tag?
It would be more expensive than gold, but you don't need nearly as much fuel as we have gold buried in the ground. In vaults.
You left out breeder reactors in fuel costs.
If you want to generate a SHITLOAD! of cheap energy, then nuclear is the only way to go, along with hydroelectric power. The nimby and banana crowds need to STFU. We need to build more nuke plants, mine more uranium where we can find it, an reprocess our spent fuel to boost our efficiency, not to mention exploiting new technologies like thorium reactors, and nuclear fuel recycling plants. Commercial plants need to run their enrichment levels higher to go farther between refueling cycles, and wring every KW out of every split atom as the state of the art will allow.
Pretty much covers it.
They had plenty of regulations. They just ignored them or bought off the government regulators. That is how the Yakuza got involved with Nuclear Power in Japan. They helped get around the regulations. Humans are just too corrupt to handle nuclear power safely.
Now the Japanese government has restarted its first reactors and they are located over a newly active fault.
Re: “breeder reactor technology”
Even more painful...
The $100 billion we’ve spent developing fusion reactors which will NEVER be built on a commercial scale.
Just guessing that like me, you donmeaker, have seen “scholarly” position papers like the this from people with exotic names, like Amory, before. One doesn't need to know much about nuclear power or technology to recognize the activist at work.
Of course nuclear plants cost more. It took 15 years from granting of a first phase site license to generate any power from Seabrook in New Hampshire. During those fifteen years (more or less - probably more), New Hampshire taxpayers and private investors were servicing the debt on the loan. The original utility became insolvent and another consortium picked up the loans, which cost New Hampshire residents as they now pay another utility to purchase the electricity they once owned part of. For fifteen years lawyers, working for the US Govt. for Natural Resources Defense Council's legal corporation, and for the utility owners, were being very well paid. Nothing significant was changed by the lawsuits. Seabrook, right on the Atlantic Ocean, has run at around 95% of capacity for almost forty years, and significantly increased the fish population in the bay near the reactor (which already had great fishing, was and is a great place to go for dinner).
The author, clearly not an environmentalist, doesn't mention that no commercial reactor has ever contributed to “greenhouse” gases, or air pollution. She didn't note, as you did, that there has never been so safe an energy technology, or that no one was hurt at Three Mile Island or Fukushima. Thousands were killed in one hydro damn failure, over a thousand when a liquid natural gas shipping facility blew up in Louisiana, and thousands have died falling off of roofs as they tried to fix the leaks caused by plumbing penetrating their residential roofs, or fix their own solar collectors, whether electric or for pre-heating water. Even if nuclear weren't as economically attractive as coal, a small premium for not having to dispose of one train cars of slag for each 1000 Megawatt plant each day, would be well woth it. Ask those who live in Bejing how they feel about living in a soot cloud for hundreds of days each year.
She also ignores the enormous number of reactors, three of which are already on line, planned for construction in China, which has mostly coal, and terrible problems with air pollution. The plan, announced ith 2007, was for 125 new reactors by 2025 (it may have been earlier, but the target will have been dependent upon the economy, which is very much tied to efficient manufacturing). The first three plants are at full power, and were a variant of the original Westinghouse Nuclear design, since sold to Toshiba. The US couldn't manufacture a pressure vessel today, but could buy one from China or Japan, and perhaps Russia.
John Holdren, our presidential science adviser and well known contributor to Ramparts, the premier Marxist journal of the 70s and 80s, and his acolyte, Amory Lovins, both beholden to E.F. Shumacher, and to “Population Bomb” Ehrlich, could have written the article. Perhaps they collaborated? Holdren taught at UC Berkeley before Therea Kerry brought him to the throne-room at Harvard's Kennedy School. Holdren brought the glib Lovins to help him execute the Obama plan.
Don't bother with the numbers. It used to be sport to show how propaganda is constructed and from what nonsense numbers are cited so that the naive will assume there is substance. After all, there probably are citations. When the perfect safety record and complete lack of air pollution of commercial nuclear technology is ignored, anyone should realize that the time spent taking apart the faulty economic analysis is time wasted. It's like pointing at the reduction in deep water drilling in the Caribbean and claiming oil is subsidized or there would have been more, and claiming that we are therefore running out of it. A nuclear plants pays for its construction cost in a few years (pick a number, say 10 cents/kilowatt hour. What is the gross revenue generated by a million kilowatt plant over 8760 hours?) Government regulators will always find cause to skim more money from the operation. And like all natural resources, Uranium is less expensive now than it was thirty years ago, and there is more of it.
Every University has its activists. Berkeley had Holdren, who brought Lovins on board for a year or two, and John Gofman, who was a darling of the antinuclear activists, though his scientific hypotheses about nuclear health effects were palpable nonesense. The antinuclear activists were also the antiwar activists and the women's rights activists and the pro-abortion actives .... they were professional activists. But Berkeley had Edward Teller and Bruce Aimes and one of the real specialist in thin film solar technology, Marshall Merriam. Holdren never did any science while Merriam and Teller and Aimes were all wonderful scientists. Too bad for George Mason, which also has Walter Williams, who would make a wonderful treasury secretary.
I am told by my infallible sources in the Obama Energy Department that they have, on stand by, the infallible and dynamic renewable resource of "Unicorn Farts" to help us through this crisis.The great thing about Unicorn Farts is they seem to be completely free of methane.
“Given that we recently had a 5+ earthquake near Mineral, Virginia, and a nearby nuclear plant, I am not sorry that there are at least some government regulations. Ill bet the Japanese wish there had been more.”
I tend to agree with you. The only worse than having the government continually nag the nuke industry is to leave them alone and let them decide how many meltdowns a year is an acceptable “attrition rate”, as they would call it. I’ve met these operators, the guys in upper management, and that is EXACTLY how they think.
It’s really no different than when the government stopped regulating banks, the same types of people went wild and made loans like crazy that they ALL KNEW would never get paid back per their terms. There are simply some areas of life where unbridled capitalism doesn’t work - not many, but some.
Restarting the nuclear power generating industry is the only thing the Obama administration has done right in almost 4 years. There are many things about nuclear power that most don’t know. If you are more than 300 feet from a nuclear reaction, it won’t affect you. That is the length of the longest wave. For it to affect you, something else has to be introduced, such as radioactive atoms being Transported by wind or water toward you. Nuclear power is not that dangerous. If it were, ships would not have reactors on board.
If the greenies want us to all drive those plug in cars that are only good for a max of a 30 mile commute, then they better step out of the way as we build more nuclear plants.
I hope to warm my Chicago home with one of Rossi's reactors. Are they available at WalMart yet?
I missed that, you have a link?
Fighting the lawsuits and overregulation alone is probably 40% of the cost of nuke power.
Give me a ping when someone indicts Jon Corzine on a charge of stealing 1.6 gigabucks.
I’m pretty sure there is a law against stealing 1.6 gigabucks.
So am I.
But if it’s not enforced, it’s just ink on paper - not “regulation”.
Like I said, give me a ping when the government does anything to deter people from stealing 1.6 gigabucks.
I won’t be holding my breath.
Also, several county officials of Jefferson County, AL went to prison for accepting bribes in the catastrophically-botched financing of their new sewer system.
None of the bankers who paid the bribes went to prison.
Is it no longer illegal to bribe government officials? Or is it just that laws prohibiting bribery of government officials are no longer enforced ... if you’re a banker?