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On No Longer Even Slightly Skeptical, No Longer Patient About Action to Effectively Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

@Michael - so, you think we should place our future and the future of our children into the hands of ExxonMobil, the leaders of the UAE, Shell, Anadarko, Chesapeake Energy, T. Boone Pickens, and the rest of the natural gas industry hoping that they will not allow the market to respond to supply and demand, causing huge price spikes?

You think we should also keep dumping our waste products into the atmosphere to be washed off into the water and land masses and filtered out by human and animal lungs - in the case of some fossil pollutants - or to accumulate in the atmosphere for centuries only to cause changes in the earth's climate that might make many of our current cities dangerous places to live?

Sorry, I think that investing in new nuclear plants that have a very good potential for supplying clean, affordable, abundant, electricity heat and motive power for 60, 80 or even 100 years into the future is a better way to plan. Those loan guarantees will not end up costing the government any money - with the possible exception of reducing its income from taxing fossil fuels. Since they give so many breaks to the oil and gas companies already, governments should figure out a way to recover that lost income via taxes on the income generated by selling fission based electricity and heat.

@Gerry - please. You are comparing ancient, already paid off coal fired stations to new nuclear and you ignore all of the capital costs required to install fuel delivery infrastructure to new gas plants and the price volatility that has always existed in the gas market. I am a reasonably experienced technologist and financial analyst. I know what it takes to build a new, safe nuclear plant and what it takes to build a new "clean" coal plant. The amount of equipment required substantially favors the nuclear plant because its heat source NATURALLY does not require crushers, conveyors, baghouses, scrubbers, slurry ponds, amine CO2 absorption, compressors, pipelines, drilled deep wells, and massive underground rock formations. 

Nuclear plants can run for 18, 24, 120, or 396 months without new fuel. (The last number is from our current VA class submarines.) They store all of their generated waste inside the plant and do not release it to the environment. 

I will also challenge your assertion that $5000/kw leads to 13 cents per kilowatt hour in capital recovery costs. Please provide your assumptions.

Here are mine - 
Debt - 80%
Equity - 20%
loan period - 15 years
interest - 6%
return on equity - 15%
Capacity factor - 85%

My capital payment model using those assumptions returns a price per kilowatt-hour of 6.3 cents. (Note: after 15 years, the plant is fully paid off, leading to some pretty amazing returns on investment for the owner for the remainder of the plant life - 40, 60, 80 or 100 years.)
February 19, 2010    View Comment    

On Wall Street Journal - Small Reactors Power Nuclear Industry

@Jesse - interesting question. Though the specifics would be difficult to answer in a short comment, there are several items to consider in addition to the sheer numbers of reactors.

You have to take into account the specific accident probabilities, the actual consequences of the accident, and the source term of the reactors that might be involved.

My analysis is that though large reactors can be made safe, it is easier to cool a small reactor, the size of the source term is proportionally smaller, and it is easier to take some actions like burying the entire facility that reduce the possibility that any accident at the plant will ever affect any member of the general public.

Safety in small reactors is simpler and less expensive per unit energy generated - at least that is what I have found in about 19 years worth of research and quantification.
February 18, 2010    View Comment    

On No Longer Even Slightly Skeptical, No Longer Patient About Action to Effectively Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

@Gerry - unless you put numbers next to your list of items to consider, I cannot take your comments seriously. Engineers, accountants and financial specialists only deal in quantitative judgements - mere lists of factors are simply not useful for decision making.

All of the items that you mention have been studied in great detail and are included as part of the external costs assigned to nuclear in the ExternE study.

http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2009/08/assessment-of-external-costs-and.html

They are also part of the study conducted by MIT called The Future of Nuclear Power.

I am "impressed" that there are 750 MW of solar thermal under construction. Do you care to share how much storage they have? What will they do when there are a couple of days of clouds? How close are they to existing large transmission lines?

We have 104 nuclear plants operating in the United States supplying approximately 800 Billion kilowatt hours per year with an AVERAGE capacity factor of greater than 90%. Essentially all of those plants are paid off and still have at least 20 years of life remaining. The average production cost in 2008 - including all of the costs that you mention with the exception of the capital cost of the plant - was just 1.86 cents per kilowatt hour. That is pretty favorable when compared to the average cost of "cheap", abundant coal at 2.75 cents per kilowatt hour and "cheap, clean" natural gas at 8.05 cents per kilowatt hour.
February 18, 2010    View Comment    

On GE and Washington: Too cozy?

Just in case Peter does not get around to my request for posting GE's US employee count, I did some quick searching on the company web site. I found annual report data back to 1998 which provided numbers for US employees back to 1994. Here is the graph. 

I would love it if someone could help me find the number for the end of FY 2009 so I can complete the graph. I sure hope that it backs up the claim of 16,000 jobs "created or saved".


February 6, 2010    View Comment    

On GE and Washington: Too cozy?

Claudia - I tend to agree with you. GE's lobbying/marketing push to mandate purchases of CFL's made in China was perhaps the last straw for me.

There was a time when GE was a manufacturing leader that created the kinds of products that Peter described. I remember a company that designed and build a machine called an S8G that was pretty darned impressive.

Then, sometime under the regime of a guy named Welch, the company departed from its US manufacturing roots and decided that it was a lot more profitable to use its name as currency for obtaining cheap money and lending it out to others. That business takes so much less effort and requires so many pesky employees (sarcasm).

Of course, there is some substantial risk involved in that model when the money being borrowed is short term and the money being lent out - at higher rates - is long term, but that risk can be mitigated through a strong political effort that ensures that the risk is actually born by the taxpayers.

Bottom line for me - GE is a "has been" that is run by a bunch of money focused people. It is no longer run by leaders who recognize value from building excellent products that serve human and national needs. I wonder if Peter O'Toole would mind posting the US employee count for the company over the past 25 years before touting jobs that have been "saved or created".
February 6, 2010    View Comment    

On Nuclear Energy Is Cheap and Disruptive; Controlling the Initial Cost of Nuclear Power Plants is a Solvable Problem

@Wilmot - just a point of clarification. My statement is that nuclear costs are "controllable" not that they are "controlled". There is a subtle but important difference. A controllable variable still requires effort and attention to keep it under control.

Your brainstorming idea is certainly one path that may work. It is the path being undertaken by NuScale, Hyperion, and mPower, among others (like <a href="http://www.atomicengines.com">Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.</a>)

The idea of building a lot of $50-$300 million plants with plenty of opportunities for learning curve improvements on the way to producing the same power output as a single $10 billion investment is quite alluring. 
February 6, 2010    View Comment    

On Nuclear Energy Is Cheap and Disruptive; Controlling the Initial Cost of Nuclear Power Plants is a Solvable Problem

@Wilmot - I guess I would have to start my response by asking the question - "respected by whom?" I am referring to your adjective describing Climate Progress.

Actually, I suppose you are not incorrect in using that adjective; Joe Romm and his team are respected by some. However, the reality is that many of his backers - like John Podesta are unabashed natural gas promoters who stand to gain financial rewards if nuclear growth is effectively discouraged and pushed out into the future.

The only real costs that I can point to with regard to nuclear energy are the production costs that I quoted in my post. All other costs and schedules that you read about are predictions for the future or are negotiating positions by organizations with a strong incentive for predicting costs that turn out to be just enough less than the costs of power from competitive sources to win sufficient sales at a high price to get the industry established again.

My post is aimed at the talented and stubborn engineers, financial managers, investors and project managers who can learn to understand the inherent physical advantages of concentrated, emission free energy and recognize the opportunities that it presents to them to really make a difference in the world. 

This is not about predictions or arguing with people like Romm - a guy who earned a degree in physics but has spent his career as a policy maven aiming at encouraging the development of energy sources that are anything but nuclear, with the especial aim of making his employers lots of money from selling natural gas. 

A statement of opinion like "nuclear power is simply more expensive than other "low carbon" alternatives" should expose the motives and belief system of the author. Fission is not a "low carbon" power source - it is a NO carbon power source whose only "carbon footprint" is due to assumptions about the power sources used in the supply chain of the initial raw material. Even with some very conservative assumptions, reliable studies have shown that the amount of carbon per unit energy produced during a nuclear plant life cycle is about the same as is produced by a wind turbine - 10-30 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour. For natural gas, even with the most efficient power conversion systems, the value is more like 350 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hr, more than an order of magnitude greater.

My aim here is to encourage the practical minded doers that have made our world a much better place to live than it would have been without their technological contributions. We actually do know how to build things, operate them, maintain them and keep costs reasonably well controlled.

February 6, 2010    View Comment    

On Is a Federal Grant Really Income?

Charles - I almost agree with you. However, since every rate payer is also a tax payer who has to pay their share of the subsidies, I am certain that it is not "impossible to judge" if onshore wind is less expensive than nuclear.

The facts are in; nuclear generation is not only more reliable, it is cheaper. The average all in production cost for nuclear is only 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour. Wind gets that much just from the PTC. The fuel may be "free" but the cost of maintaining and operating 30-40 story tall towers with enormous generators and blades exposed to the weather costs more than 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour of actually produced electricity.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
February 5, 2010    View Comment    

On Nuclear power support

@Lou who wrote:

"Why expand nuclear loan guarantees–which weren’t even capitalized on last year–when the budget is already, as everyone and their mother knows, strapped for cash?"

Perhaps if you take a hard look at the budget you will answer your own question. Take a look at page 179 of the President's Budget Submission data tables. In the line marked "Guaranteed loan accounts" you will see the following numbers - in billions:

2010  (-42)
2011 (-34)
2012 (-22)
2013 (-10)
2014 (-4)

Let me translate. For fiscal years 2010 (now) through 2014, the government expects to collect $112 Billion in fees from various loan guarantee programs - that is what the negative signs mean. 

I have no idea how much of those are from the nuclear loan guarantees and how much is from other programs where the government guarantees the loans and collects fees, but this program is a cash generator, not a cash expense at least in the near term when lots of other parts of the budget are bleeding cash today. This certainly will not make a huge difference, but those are some reasonably large numbers even on a federal budget level comparison.

February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On President Obama Answers Question From a Young Person By Explaining at Least One Reason to Invest in Nuclear Energy

@T Haynes - I guess you just beat me to it. Sometimes having to work for a living can get in the way of responses on blogs. (grin)

You do bring up an excellent point - one of the systems that many people who are opposed to nuclear energy bring up as a potential replacement in the "baseload" market is a solar thermal system with storage.

Besides their rather inaccurate description of the thermal storage system as being like a thermos bottle (it is more like a wide open thermos bottle if you are actually producing power when the sun is low on the horizon or not visible at all) the proponents of solar thermal forget about two site selection criteria of their proposed technology that tend to move in opposite directions.

To capture the largest quantity of energy during daylight hours, you want to find a dry, sunny place. To have the highest efficiency for your thermal energy conversion system (heat engine) you need a heat sink, preferably a large body of water - the cooler the better - or an evaporative cooling tower. 

Hmmm. How many hot, dry land areas are conveniently located near large bodies of cool water?
February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On When a coal state goes nuclear

John Whitehead wrote:

"My pride about coal? It is a cheap energy source that powers the homes of millions. A bunch of my friends grew up and went to college on coal money, etc. There are benefits and costs to the stuff. "

Interesting. Here is my version:

"My pride about nuclear fission? It is a cheaper energy source than coal that powers the homes and businesses of millions, even though there are people alive today who were adults when the basic phenomenon was discovered. I grew up and went to school partially on nuclear money - my dad was not involved in nuclear energy himself, but the company that employed him, Florida Power and Light, owned built and operated four nuclear reactors. My children also grew up and went to school on nuclear money; I have served as the Engineer Officer of a nuclear powered submarine and still get a tidy bonus every year because of my nuclear training. 

My granddaughter is now starting the process of growing up on nuclear money; her dad is also a nuclear trained submarine officer who recently completed his qualifications as an engineer officer.

I recognize that there are costs and benefits, but the benefits heavily outweigh the costs. By the way, I did not get involved in nuclear technology because it happened to be the local business where I did not have any choice in the matter. I have always done pretty well in school, earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in subjects other than nuclear energy, and have plenty of other choices on how to make a living.

One more thing - not only is fission cheaper than coal, but it is clean enough to run inside a sealed submarine."

For those who wonder what to do with used fuel after 50, 100, or 150 years - if it has not already been recycled into new fuel and other valuable materials, simply keep inspecting the containers being used. If they show signs of wear or corrosion, fix them or replace them. The material gets easier to handle every day as the radiation decays away.

If you have ever studied economics, you can figure out that costs that are far into the future can be discounted heavily in today's dollars. 
February 1, 2010    View Comment    

On GE and Washington: Too cozy?

Marc - excellent piece full of great information about a company that has been good at collecting government support for over 100 years. Though it is hard to list all of the businesses where GE is dependent upon good government relations, no one should forget about a large business where the government is the primary customer; GE is a very large defense contractor that sells a lot of jet engines, electrical systems, and other components. 

For a number of years, GE has been embroiled in an effort to obtain funding for the development of a second supplier for engines for the Joint Strike Fighter. The primary contractor is Pratt-Whitney, but a GE/Rolls Royce partnership has been pressing their design as an alternative.

One of the keys to GE successes over the years has been projects where the government pays for the technology development while GE retains the Intellectual Property rights and repeated sells that technology both to the government and to commercial customers. 

It is kind of funny how many GE employees think they are working for a competitive commercial company when they are really wards of the state.

Disclosure: I own a small quantity of GE stock purchased when it seemed like no one else wanted it.
February 1, 2010    View Comment