Nuclear Energy: Expensive, Dangerous, Not Cost-Effective

Sat, 2008-08-16 05:35Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

Nuclear Energy: Expensive, Dangerous, Not Cost-Effective

Amory Lovins and Imran Sheikh have penned a new report on nuclear energy as a fossil fuel option, concluding that  nuclear is still dangerous and complicated, not particularly reliable, creates a pollution problem that lasts for many millennia and is therefore a waste of money that could be spent more productively on renewable energy.

Perhaps most devastating to the free market fans, Lovins and Sheikh note that “nuclear power plants are unfinanceable in the private capital market because of their excessive costs and financial risks and the high uncertainty of both.”

“During the nuclear revival now allegedly underway, no new nuclear project on earth has been financed by private risk capital, chosen by an open decision process, nor bid into the world’s innumerable power markets and auctions. No old nuclear plant has been resold at a value consistent with a market case for building a new one.”

The hat tip here goes to Steve Milloy, Junk Scientist extraordinaire and unreconstructed PR guy, who pointed to the Lovins' paper in a hyperventilating screed on the Fox News wire. Thanks Steve.  

Comments

I can’t remember where I saw it, perhaps on Grist or Climate Progress, but the author was talking about how Republicans in the US Congress were preventing renewable energy legislation from being passed, and how many pundits were making the argument that it was time for renewable energy to stand on its own two feet, and stop relying on government money.

So this writer went back and detailed how nuclear energy* - back in the day - had received an outrageous sum of money from the US government. The difference between the two industries was more than a factor of 10, if memory serves.

_________________

* Again, in the course of my day job, we noted that discretionary spending at the Department of Energy in the US that nuclear and biofuels get far more money than wind, solar, or geothermal. And we all know how oil companies get billions, too.

Nuclear provides steady, reliable power, day or night, sunny or cloudy. Baseload power is an absolute must in power production, and unless posters here are advocating keeping all coal power plants online, nuclear power plants are an attractive option.

addressed in the article. Quote it directly if you have an issue with it.

“Perhaps most devastating to the free market fans, Lovins and Sheikh note that ‘nuclear power plants are unfinanceable in the private capital market because of their excessive costs and financial risks and the high uncertainty of both.’”

I’d say that this would not have any devastating effect on actual ‘Free Market Fans’ (like me!), only Nuclear Power FanBois. Indeed, this failure of centralized monopolized utility wet-dream, seems to be a vindication of the power of the free market in the face of government tinkering.

I stand corrected.

Maybe Amory Lovins is wrong. Could that not be possible? How about a posting that makes the case FOR nuclear power for balance?

Reasonable criticism about the title.

As to the prospect of us posting a pro-nuclear article “for balance” - well, if you have such an article at hand, please let me know and I’ll be happy to oblige.

But putting forth contradictory viewpoints just for the sake of imagined “balance” is, in isolation, a goofy idea. Do we need to start thinking of reasons why the continuing death rate among teenage drivers is (on the other hand) a good thing? For balance?

I thought the idea of testing ideas like this was to come to a well-informed new conclusion, not to tie yourself up in sophistry. 

Richard,

You present a one-sided attack on nuclear energy consistently. (And one-sided support of wind and solar power as well.) The point you make about not wanting to create a phony “balance” is fine when dealing with matters of scientific consensus. But there is hardly a scientific consensus against nuclear power. Nor is there a scientific consensus on the efficacy of wind or solar power.

There is a new book that advocates nuclear energy and hydrogen. It’s called “Smelling Land: The Hydrogen Defence Against Climate Catastrophe” by David Sanborn Scott. He is a Canadian, a scientist, and an engineer. He was interviewed at length recently on the CBC radio program “Ideas”. He has been interviewed on TVOntatio’s “The Agenda”. His website discussing the book is www.smellingland.com. I recommend you check it out.

Why don’t we hear about people like David Sanborn Scott on desmog?

It’s pretty unlikely Littlemore is ever going to encourage “balance” on any subject. The guy is an employee of the PR company that runs this web site: James Hoggan and Associates Public Relations Inc.

What Littlemore and his colleagues write is almost entirely one-sided, generally quite dishonest, and usually doesn’t rise much above the level of shrill North Korean-style state propaganda. On the other hand, promoting any sort of rational debate would be a disservice to their clients, and run counter to their mission as PR bag men.

If you want balance, you’re definitely in the wrong place.

The phrase “generally quite dishonest” is not specific enough for me.

Could you:

a) offer an example of something I have written that is not true (with supporting references);

b) make your claim slightly more clearly, and add your name, address and phone number for the convenience of my lawyer (I could use the money); or

c) stick to the truth yourself in future posts.

Richard,

I’ve e-mailed the contact information for my legal representatives to James Hoggan & Associates PR Inc. Feel free to have your lawyers contact mine. And carry out your blustering threats.

You’re all hat and no cattle.

Or should I call you AllHat?

I regret not receiving your message at Hoggan. My email, again, is rlittlemore@hoggan.com

I regret that you also failed to read my comment, which was that you should clarify your slander and stand accountable or tuck it up your saddle and do the taciturn cowboy thing with a little grace.  Even if you actually HAD sent me your name and your lawyer’s coordinates, you have yet to say anything of substance over which we could properly quibble.

So, you wrote: “What Littlemore and his colleagues write is almost entirely one-sided, generally quite dishonest, and usually doesn’t rise much above the level of shrill North Korean-style state propaganda.”

“One-sided” is debatable at best. “Shrill North Korean-style state propaganda” is merely over-the-top. But “generally quite dishonest” is a libel. I am asking that you give an example. State it clearly. Attach a phone number. And we can all be impressed by your herd. 

The kind of balance I’m talking about relates to opinions on different technologies. I think Richard presents the science fairly and accurately. I strongly support what he is doing with this blog and commend him for his efforts to expose the PR machine that threatens our future. My criticisms are meant to be constructive. And I hope Richard understands that.

As you may know, notwithstanding the post that got all this started, I have been the sort-of-ambivalent-sort-of-pro-nuclear member of the DeSmog team (as opposed to, say, Ross Gelbspan) and, again, I’ll be happy to post any new info that updates that debate.

There wasn’t anything immediately useful on the D Sanborn Scott site - at least, lots about hydrogen, little about nuclear. I will look for the book and/or try to listen to the Ideas series (parts of which I heard at the time, but all of which spoke, again, to hydrogen, not specifically to nuclear). And actually, the one thing that Sanborn Scott said about nuclear vs renewables on the site was full-on silly. He disagreed that wind and solar are “free.” Or at least, he said that nuclear fuel, fossil fuel and coal are all equally “free” - there for the taking - there is only the expense of harvesting each of the different resources. Free? Really? Tell it to the Saudi’s. Or to Peabody coal. Or to the Alberta government. When somebody figures out how to charge for wind or sunshine, I’ll accept his position. In the meantime, he needs another pitch.

That said, it seems to me, to credit your position, that it should be easier to deal with nuclear waste (very dangerous but very small) than with “fossil fuel waste” (benign in small amounts, but, woefully, no longer present in small amounts). Besides, barring terrorist intervention (and unlike CO2) spent nuclear fuel will stay where you put it.

But Lovins makes many points that, despite the NEI link noted above, have yet to be refuted.

I’m not buying the weird logic at NEI. The writer argues, for example, that if we pulled nuclear out of production, we would immediately increase the percentage of electricity coming from fossil fuels. Well, no we wouldn’t, if as Lovins suggests we divert the investment to renewables. Similarly, the poster argues that “negawatts” - increased energy efficiency, will increase demand. In certain circumstances (i.e., when a Hummer driver buys a smaller car and then drives a lot more) that could be true. But again, Lovins would probably recommend that the Hummer driver to get a smaller vehicle AND drive less. And if the Hummer driver refuses, that’s not an argument for nuclear. It’s an argument for a bigger carbon tax.

I don’t know if it’s time to send the jury out for a verdict, but favouring renewables over nuclear in the short term.

When David Scott calls coal, oil, and uranium in the ground “free” he is looking at it from the perspective of the whole of humanity. And from that perspective I think he is correct. The Earth doesn’t charge us to mine it. So to humanity as a whole it IS free.

If by “free” you only want to consider the costs to the people who buy it rather than the benefits to those who sell it then, yes, it’s not free to the buyer. But that becomes a calculation of the distribution of economic benefits between groups rather than looking at the economic value of the energy source to humanity as a whole. There is a valid place for that calculation, but here David Scott was simply making the point that wind power and solar power are not “free” as some people think because there is a major cost involved in harvesting it.

I think you would be mistaken to use this point to discredit his views.

… from economic calculations purifies the math, but doesn’t reveal a helpful result. By this logic, my house is “free” to anyone who wants it. It’s already there for the taking. But convention suggests that people should respect it as mine (given good behavior and continued solvency at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada).

Admittedly, there is harvest cost for wind and sun and a different harvest cost for coal and oil. AND there is a royalty for the latter two - which rises according to scarcity. If DSScott continues to ignore this, he doesn’t need me to discredit his views; he pretty much has it covered.

I would be very surprised if Scott’s argument hinges on his idea that all fuels are technically “free”. Obviously, as you say, in the real world there are winners and losers when a commodity is owned by one party and sold to another and that can make a difference even though the net cost to humanity is zero. The cost of oil to Ontario for example may not be entirely compensated for by the equivalent enrichment of Alberta.

Let’s be fair and read the book first. I am going to do so. I listened to his interviews and didn’t hear him use any arguments about “free” fuels no matter which defintion of the word free you want to use–free to humanity as a whole, or free to everyone.

And let’s note that the only mined fuel Scott advocates using is uranium and perhaps thorium, whose cost to buy is such a tiny component of the cost of producing electricity by a nuclear reactor that it can almost be ignored. He advocates leaving oil and coal and natural gas in the ground. So even with his definition that the above fuels are “free” it doesn’t change his conclusions since he doesn’t advocate using those fuels anyway. He is already arguing against the fossil fuels he regards as “free”. So Alberta and Saudi Arabia do not have a friend in David Scott.

Why does the title of this post say “Nuclear Energy: Expensive, Dangerous, Not Cost-Effective” instead of “Amory Lovins says that nuclear energy is ….”? Is it the policy of this blog to uncritically echo any attack on nuclear power? Wouldn’t that be ironic for a site that trys to expose PR?

I’m still waiting to see “Wind Power: Expensive, Dangerous, Not Cost-Effective”. Why hasn’t that shown up yet?

the article at all?

I get the strong impression that you did nothing of the sort.

Lets get some real points out here:

_____

RENEWABLES

1. Wind/Solar/Geo/Hydro gets a Production Tax Credit (PTC).
This PTC accounts for 87% of the federal finance support that Renewables get.
greyfalcon.net/energyresearch3.png

2. This PTC for Renewables was blocked year 2000, 2002, 2004, and for the first three months of 2008.
blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2008/01/28/renewing-renewable-tax-breaks
gao.gov/new.items/d08102.pdf

3. For 2009, the Renewable PTC was blocked 8 times so far by Republican Senators (Like John McCain)
mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_10199155
thinkprogress.org/2008/08/15/mccain-energy-aspen/

4. The PTC generally only gets approved for 1 year at a time, sometimes 2. And has to get reapproved all over again the next year. (Usually within weeks of the last possible moment to vote on it)

_____

NUCLEAR

1. Nuclear gets a pretty beefy amount of subsidies annually. Solar and Geothermal hardly get anything by comparison.
greyfalcon.net/subs.png

2. PTC secured for 8 years
snl.com/interactivex/article.aspx?CdId=A-73782

3. Federal Loan Program 3x larger than the entire rest of the electric power industry combined
greyfalcon.net/nuclearloans.png

4. A 2 billion dollar cost overrun fund for the first six plants.
snl.com/interactivex/article.aspx?CdId=A-73782

5. More than half of the DOE’s energy related R&D fund (for the past decade, and the past half century)
And it’s still begging for more.
greyfalcon.net/energyresearch.png
citizen.org/cmep/energy_enviro_nuclear/nuclear_power_plants/articles.cfm?ID=13449
inl.gov/featurestories/2008-02-05.shtml

6. Hasn’t payed a thin dime to deal with high level waste since 1998 due to lawsuits that Yucca Mountain isn’t open yet. Even though new cost estimates have found Yucca mountain costs over 3x what they previously thought.
nytimes.com/2008/02/17/us/17nuke.html
grist.org/news/2008/08/05/yucca/index.html

7. Profits budgeted for the plant decommissioning have Zero income tax.
citizen.org/cmep/energy_enviro_nuclear/nuclear_power_plants/nukewaste/fuelcycle/decom/articles.cfm?ID=8240

8. And I’m pretty sure some Federal Power Purchase Agreements, favorable transmission, and debt recovery/waiving in there too.
greyfalcon.net/parenti
nirs.org/factsheets/quickeconfact208.pdf

9. Both in the McCain-Lieberman and Lieberman-Warner Cap and Trade bills, McCain insisted on gigantic Half-Trillion dollar handouts the the Nuclear power industry. (It should also be noted, the McCain-Lieberman bill was a rather pathetically weak climate bill. And that McCain might even be backing out of supporting Cap&Trade entirely)
gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/6/16/223415/517
gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/6/16/124515/466/

(This of course doesn’t include the annual 9 billion for Nuclear security, 2 billion for administrative, and who knows how much for dealing with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and loose nukes in the Former USSR. $Trillions?)

____

After all that,

Nuclear power can’t get a single dime of PRIVATE capital financing for new power plants.
(Slow return rate, High loan default risk, and Large investment increment, exactly what open competative markets hate.)
goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-5785236/Nuclear-power-a-hedge-against.html
manhattan-institute.org/html/eper_01.htm
nirs.org/factsheets/wallstreet.pdf

And it still costs orders of magnitude more than Baseload SolarThermal, and Baseload GeoThermal.
$6000-8000/kW for Nuclear
$2000-4000/kW for Baseload GeoThermal/SolarThermal
energycentral.com/centers/energybiz/ebi_detail.cfm?id=525
nirs.org/images/fplturkeypointcostchart.jpg
gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/11/12/13338/791#comment3
greyfalcon.net/solarthermal2
greyfalcon.net/energy2.png
greyfalcon.net/geothermal2

It should be no wonder that asside from the US, nearly all other nations in the world run their Nuclear programs as fullblown Federal Monopolies.
(France, UK, Russia, China, Sweden, South Korea, India, Germany, Iran to name a few.)

Nuclear power just can’t survive in a competative open market.

Nearly everything in their paper is cherry-picked to fit their pre-conceived notions. You can read a thorough debunking of Lovins’ and Sheik’s paper right here: http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2008/07/amory-lovins-and-his-nuclear-illusion.html

Given the frequency of pipeline disasters, fiery crashes by oil-fuelled vehicles, etc., oil and gas interests like to insinuate that nuclear energy has not been a large-scale lifesaver by substituting for them. Lovins acknowledges taking oil company money for many years, putatively for advising them to turn their lights off at night, but one should suspect the value of this service is much less than the compensation he has received because it is not what they really hired him for.

Just heard you stammering on the Roy Green Show. Your insane concern for the Bangladeshis was so silly as to make you out to be global bleeding heart clown.

But I don’t think you are a bleeding heart at all. I think you are an opportunist of the lowest order. This is just biz with you and because it fits your leftist control freak agenda for the world, why not take the money and spew the Bull S**t eh?

Communism failed to take down the capitalist west, but you, Mo Strong, Gore, Suzuki and the other disgusting elites think you have stumbled on the right set of phony issues that will force us to pay up and shut up while freedom is lost and state control thickens.

Everything you stand for is dishonest. You must either have no brain or no conscience. I would guess both but add a heaping spoonful of hypocrisy to boot.

Suzuki and his west coast home(s) on the public tit.

Al Gore and his 100 million dollar save the planet empire gained with nothing but lies.

Mo Strong with arrest warrants out if he ever leaves China and tries to come to Canada or the USA.

All the debates mean nothing, time will prove how wrong you are … although I don’t think you are about climate, you are about political ideology. You don’t like Capitalism and you think bad weather will get rid of it for you.

Is this meant to be satire?

for this. I was confoosed for a bit from this response.

fwiw. I think the challenge of climate change is too big for any Big Government Program™ to conquer. But a very free market minimally directed by regulations designed to incorporate externalities would be just what the doctor ordered so-to-speak. Just reading through the Nuclear power article, I can clearly see we are a long way from such vision.

Those who do not want communistic solutions to dominate the solutions discussion, had best be Politely offering practical counter proposals. <—hint

James Hansen circulated his thoughts on nuclear power recently, when he discussed a design touted by Tom Blees in his book “Prescription for the Planet” which Hansen says “I highly recommend”.  (the book that is).  The Hansen open email is available in full here: 

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20080804_TripReport.pdf

Some quotes: 

“I have always been agnostic on nuclear power.  I like to hope that, if our next President gives high priority to a low-loss national grid, renewables will be able to take over most of the power generation load”… 

Hansen retains an open mind on nuclear however.  Tom Blees is touting a new design he calls 4th generation, dubbed the IFR or integrated fast reactor, developed by the Argonne National Laboratory.  Hansen stating his understanding of what Blees says:  “the IFR can burn the nuclear waste of current thermal reactors.  So we have a supply of fuel that is better than free - we have been struggling with what to do with that waste for years.  We have enough fuel for IFR reactors to last several centuries without further uranium mining.  So the argument that nuclear power uses a lot of fossil fuels during uranium mining becomes moot.”

Hansen sums up:  “Bottom line:  I can’t seem to agree fully with either the anti-nukes or Blees.  Some of the anti-nukes are friends, concerned about climate change, and clearly good people.  Yet I suspect that their ‘success’ (in blocking nuclear R&D) is actually making things more dangerous for all of us and for the planet.  It seems that, instead of knee-jerk reaction against anything nuclear, we need hard-headed evaluation of how to get rid of long-lived nuclear waste and minimize dangers of proliferation and nuclear accidents.  Fourth generation nuclear power seems to have the potential to solve the waste problem and minimize the others.”

If Amory Lovins is correct and nuclear is a no brainer non solution why did the Study Panel of the InterAcademy Council co-chaired by the Obama appointee Stephen Chu say this about nuclear power in a Conclusion:  “nuclear power can continue to make a significant contribution to the world’s energy portfolio in the future, but only if major concerns related to capital cost, safety, and weapons proliferation are addressed”, and this, in a Recommendation? 

“Undertake a transparent and objective re-examination of the issues surrounding nuclear power and their potential solutions.  The results of such a re-examination should be used to educate the public and policymakers”

The InterAcademy Council is a creation of the world’s Science Academies, with the Presidents of the US, China, India, Japan, UK, science academies as board members, among many others.  The idea that their summary of the state of present knowledge can be dismissed as propaganda by people like Lovins is preposterous.  Campaigners want everyone to listen to the scientists when it suits them, i.e. we should all take climate change seriously and do something about it, but when it comes time to listen to the rest of what the scientists are telling us, i.e. that nuclear, and carbon capture may well prove to be vital and necessary parts of the solution to climate which scientists say presents such a grave threat to the existence of civilization that the threats posed by nuclear power may pale into insignificance upon re-examination, activists and campaigners suddenly want us all to ignore what the scientists have to say. 

This is a fundamental problem with the anti carbon capture debate Al Gore is mounting backed by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, and DeSmogblog among others, as well as the nuclear debate, i.e. the campaigners are only comfortable with part of what the scientists say.

 

I am working on a new site nuclearpowerdanger.com I have created some radioactive plume maps based solely on wind. Working on more specific map methodology.

http://www.nuclearpowerdanger.com/plume-maps/sitemap-nuclear-power-plant-plumes-25mi.php

These are existing plumes of radiation caused by “normal” releases.

My methodology is outlined here

http://www.nuclearpowerdanger.com/plume-maps/methodology.php Jorn

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