It is Time to Nuke the Nuclear Option!

Nuclear Electricity Makes No Sense.

By Russell Lowes, 11/18/2014

The Obama administration is already doing all it can realistically do. Despite its “all-of-the-above” façade, it favors nuclear power. To start with, the Energy Department is essentially a nuclear department. Professor Moniz is [was] Secretary because of his nuclear ties. DOE’s national laboratories are basically nuclear labs. It organizes international nuclear R&D groupings to encourage worldwide commitment to nuclear power. The Obama administration has created an inter-departmental Team USA, including State and Commerce, specifically to encourage domestic nuclear industry by promoting nuclear exports. The White House dedicates a staffer to this task. Secretary Moniz emphasizes his commitment to “jumpstart” the U.S. nuclear power industry. DOE subsidizes new domestic nuclear plants through loan guarantees. The nuclear Navy provides government-trained operating personnel. And to facilitate the licensing of new plants, and extend licenses for existing ones, the administration’s appointments to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have ensured that it remains industry-friendly.

–Victor Galinsky, ex-NRC Commissioner, National Journal, February 2014

We keep hearing from certain people that nukes are essential to solve energy and global warming problems. They say that nuclear energy is carbon-free, or some say low-carbon. They are neither. They say that nuclear is low-cost. They say building another round of nuclear reactors is essential for the U.S. and the world. It is neither low-cost nor essential. To build more megawatts of nuclear energy would be a mega-distraction.

Such an emphasis would weaken our response and ability to stem future climate chaos. I will take on the mission here of showing how the horrendous costs of nuclear energy makes this source an unpractical one. It is especially unpractical now, during our quest to truly course-correct on climate change.

The bottom line is that electricity generated from new nuclear reactors is about 24 cents per kilowatt-hour. About this 24 cents per kilowatt-hour:

1)    This is double the electricity price for the U.S. on average .

2)    The cost of 24¢ for nuclear electricity is more than twice the 10¢ cost of solar electricity in Arizona, about twice the national average for solar.

3)    It is more than twice the cost of wind-generated and delivered electricity.

4)    Most important, nuclear electricity is 8 times the 3¢ national average cost of energy efficiency.

5)    It is about twice the cost of new coal and gas-generated electricity.

You might ask, well how do we know how expensive a reactor will be? We have nuclear plants scattered across the nation, so how much did these plants cost in the last round?

First, I have been using empirical analysis of the cost of nuclear energy since 1977. We used regression analysis in a book released in 1979. This book was instrumental in convincing investors to pull out of the Palo Verde Generating Station Units 4 & 5, America's largest nuclear plant, west of Phoenix. Our analysis projected the cost of the Palo Verde to be $6.1 billion in 1986 actual completion dollars. The managing utility company, Arizona Public Service Co. (APS), projected $2.8 billion at the same time, and they never waivering on its projection until construction was well under way. 

That down-graded plant of 3 reactors was finished for $5.9 billion. The APS projection was overrun in costs by 111%, while our projection was slightly over the final cost by less than 4%. Of all the reactor projections done across the land that we could find, ours was the most accurate nuclear reactor projection in the nation.

We used empirical approach to costing reactors, with regression and other modeling techniques. Apparently APS used the tried and true method of sales pitch estimation.

So how do we jump from then, when the final reactor at PVNGS was completed in 1986 to now? The method I use is four-fold.

1)    First, find out what the average cost of the last rush of reactors, which happened around 1987;

2)    Then apply general inflation to that cost to bring it up to today’s cost;

3)    Third, apply a projected inflation to the year that a new reactor might be completed; and

4)    Finally, weigh a series of factors that might increase or decrease this figure.

For step 1, a low/conservative estimate on reactor average cost for 1988 was $3100 per kilowatt of net plant size.

Putting that $3100 into 1987 dollars at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Standards inflation calculator yields $6105 per kilowatt of electrical capacity in 2013 dollars.

For Step 3, I project a common 4% inflation rate through 2022, the first year it is likely for the next small group of reactors in the U.S. to be completed. This yields a completion cost in 2022 of $8689/kWe.

For Step 4, I have come up with a survey of 27 reactor construction cost factors. This is the most varied and numerous list of items I have seen, so far, from all my reading on reactor costs. I estimate that the reactors of the early 2020s will cost about 20% more than the reactors finished in the last big wave of the mid-late 1980s.

In this 4th step, I have considered factors that would make nukes cheaper than in the real (inflation adjusted) dollars of the past, like labor cost declines in America. I have also taken into consideration factors that would increase the costs like certain material cost increases, and increases in plant robustness requiring more cement, copper, steel, etc.

After comparing the changing conditions since the time the last reactors were completed, I have come to what I consider a fairly accurate projection.  It probably won’t be as accurate as our PVNGS <4% accuracy level, but I am fairly sure it will be in the ball park.

After going through this process, the final figure I project for the next round of nukes built in 2022 is $9149/kilowatt of plant size. This is in sharp contrast to most sales pitches from utilities today, where they project more like $4000 per kWe. It would be good to remember that the average overrun was 220% in the last round. They sell these plants by unrealistically lowballing the construction cost.

What does that come out to in cost per kilowatt-hour? Just like with solar and wind, you can break this down to the kilowatt-hour of electrical capacity (kWe) level, and then apply production time (hours) to it to get kilowatt-hours of electricity delivered (kWhe). You can also multiply these kWe units to the typical sizes of the wind turbines, solar panels, or coal or nuclear plants.

Here are the calculations.

This is what it would cost roughly, to install 100 reactors in the U.S., a figure being brought up from time to time by members of Congress.

$9149/kWe

X 1,350,000 kWe plant size

= $12.351 billion

X 100 reactors occasionally proposed

= $1.2351 trillion total construction cost for 100 reactors

X 14% loan payback per year (capitalization rate)

= $172.9 billion per year for 30 years

X 30 years

= $5.187 trillion paid just for construction and loan and tax expenses, not counting fuel or operation & maintenance, nor transmission and distribution.

That $172.9 billion/year will cost the average person in the U.S. (assuming an average of 350 million people into the future):

$494/person/year for 30 years if we have a 350 million population, or

$988/taxpayer/year if we have 175 million taxpayers.

 

So, how do we get to cost per kilowatt-hour? For each kilowatt of plant capacity, you can calculate the cost to construct, the capital cost and then calculate the electricity the plant produces over a typical 40 years (before major costs of renovation add to the equation). Then simply divide the capitalization cost by the kWhe. Here we go (simply). . .

——————

Cost Portion of the Equation:

$9,149/kWe

X 14% capitalization rate =

$1,281 in capital cost/year

X 30 years

= $38,426 capital payback over 30 years for each kWe of size – This is just the total capital cost over 30 years.

——————

Electrical Output Portion of the Equation:

1 kWhe

X 8766 hours/year on average

X 85% average capacity factor (electrical performance) over the life of the reactor

X 40 years

= 298,044 kWhe over 40 years – THIS is the e output over 40 years. Note that the capital payback is 30 years and the plant runs for a projected 40 years (before major capital upgrade, if it runs longer).

——————

The Final Capital Cost/kWhe Calculation:

$38,426 Capital cost over 30 years per kilowatt of installed electrical capacity

/ 298,044 kWhe e output over 40 years

= 12.9¢ per kilowatt-hour of electricity.

——————-

There was a multi-disciplinary report put together by the nuclear industry, along with governmental and non-governmental entities called the Keystone Report.

This report projected fuel and operations and maintenance costs at:

4.3¢ per kWhe for fuel and O&M. That, plus. . .

+ 12.9¢ capitalization cost

= 17.2¢ production cost (pre transmission & distribution)

+ 7.0¢ per kWhe for transmission & distribution

= 24.2¢ per kilowatt-hour to your meter

—————–

What are the implications of such a high cost to your household, and to the larger society, the U.S. in this case?

I’ll leave that up to your imagination, as you ponder that solar is currently less than half the cost, while it continues its cost plunge, energy efficiency is about one eighth the cost and wind is also about half the cost. Getting back to Victor Galinsky’s quote from the beginning, the only way in which nuclear energy can compete in the market is in a skewed way, with the U.S. Government favoring it all the way along. That in fact is how nukes have gotten as far as they have. It’s time to nuke the nuclear option!

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Re-Think Nuclear

Presented as a one-page primer for the Sustainable Tucson Newsletter

By Russell Lowes, February 27, 2010

The real choice is not nuclear versus coal, but nukes & coal versus the reasonable alternatives. 

There is massive opposition to coal now, which comprises about 45% of U.S. electricity. You can see smoke from the stacks or read about its CO2 emissions.

Opposition to nuclear energy is also amassing. Nuclear also produces CO2 emissions, which are growing ever-greater. It emits invisible radioactivity, uses even more water, and is much pricier. Here are some of the problems with nuclear energy.

Safety Issues Persist: The world has 436 reactors. In order to have a significant contribution to world energy, 1000 reactors are projected. Even if future reactor accidents improve by a factor of 10, the chance of a reactor meltdown would be roughly one more Chernobyl-like “sacrifice zone” by 2050.

Terrorist Issues: Shortly after the 9/11 New York jetliner crashes, the NRC corrected itself saying that airliners could destroy U.S. reactors. There is an even greater threat at the adjacent spent fuel cooling pools, housed in non-hardened buildings which, if breached, could create a meltdown.

Poor Economics/Subsidies Required: Nuclear electricity would run about 25 cents per kilowatt-hour to your meter. Current Tucson electricity is about 11 cents. New coal would be about 16 cents, wind at 12, solar photovoltaic at 24, gas at 13. The best option, however, is reducing energy with better lighting, architecture, insulation, A/C efficiency, etc.  Energy efficiency averages about 3 cents. Numerous nuclear industry officials have said they will build no new reactors without taxpayer loan guarantees.

Two Ways to Worsen Global Warming: Investing 1 dollar in nuclear rather than energy efficiency, you forgo saving 8 times the electricity. In other words, you can invest 1 dollar in nuclear and get 4 kilowatt-hours – or you can invest in energy savings and get 33 KWH. Investing in nuclear energy will dominate energy dollars, setting back the real options.

Second, nukes produce about 110 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour. This is 11 times the CO2 of wind, double that of solar, and many times that of energy savings/efficiency. It gets worse if you include 1 million years of waste storage.

Water Consumption Is Highest: Water lost to the environment at Palo Verde is about 0.8 gallons per kilowatt-hour. Coal consumes 0.5 gallons. With solar PV, wind and energy savings, water use is negligible.

National Security Is Diminished: We import 80-92% of our U.S. nuclear fuel. Energy independence is set back with nuclear.

Waste Legacy: The U.S. courts have ruled that nuclear waste much be safeguarded for 1 million years, 25,000 times the 40-year operating life of a reactor.

Russell Lowes is Research Director for http://www.SafeEnergyAnalyst.org. He was the primary author of a book on the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, the largest U.S. nuclear plant upwind of Tucson about 125 miles. This book was used in a campaign to successfully stop two reactors at this now three-reactor complex. You can contact Russell Lowes for presentations or for questions at russlowes@gmail.com  Documentation to this article can be found at http://www.SafeEnergyAnalyst.org

With the New Energy Bills in Congress, the U.S. Government May be the Biggest Thing Between Us and a Renewable Future

By Russell Lowes, February 11, 2010

It shouldn’t be this way. The Government should be part of the solution – not a handicap. However, this is how the landscape has been settling and it is becoming apparent that with the influence of special interests, nuclear energy is going to get a huge amount of our tax dollars, while other, much cheaper energy strategies, are shorted. With so much potential for energy efficiency, this would give us time to make the transition to renewables.

With the new bills in Congress EE by state Graphic2 DOWNSIZED

Some people say that nuclear energy has become outdated. I would go so far as to say it was never in vogue, in a valid way. It has always cost too much. It has always taken too much water. It has always had too many environmental impacts. And, it has always had too many security risks. I could go on.

Nuclear energy is so expensive compared to the realistic options, like a blend of renewables and  energy-saving efficiencies, that we do not need any more nukes anywhere in the world. I cannot emphasize this enough.Yet, the current energy bills in Congress promote nuclear energy to the tune of a 150% expansion.(1)

To fully appreciate the wrongheadedness of this policy, it is important to understand the actual cost of nuclear power per kilowatt generated. Here are the details:

Construction costs: Nuclear plants cost a lot to build. A nuclear plant in the last round of nuclear reactor construction cost $3100 per kilowatt to install in 1988, running out the inflation with an online inflation calculator (like the Bureau of Labor Standards’ http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl) yields $5642 in 2008 real (adjusted for inflation) dollars.

Any nuclear plant that is being planned today will not be finished until 2022 or so, which if a 4% inflation is run out from the $5642, it comes to $9003 per kilowatt installed. This figure is probably low, as many plants that were canceled in the late 1980s were going to be much higher than the average $3100, but let us use this figure.

The next step in projecting nuclear costs includes projecting capital payback, meaning what the annual capital payback is over 30 years, the interest associated, plus fees and taxes. To make this simple for analysis, this is put in terms of a capitalized payback or levelized fixed charge rate of 14% per year for 30 years. So $9000/kilowatt of capacity times 14% equals $1260 to be paid per year for 30 years, for a total capital payback of $37,800 for each kilowatt of capacity, plus some fees for the last 10 years which I will ignore here.

The next step is to project the lifespan and the average percentage that the plant will deliver energy at (or capacity factor). I have looked the literature over extensively and believe the best estimates are 40 years and an 85% capacity factor. So take that 1 KW capacity times the 40 years times 8766 hours per year times 85% and you get the number of kilowatt-hours (KWH) that you are likely to get from that 1 KW of capacity, or 298,044 KWH. Divide this KWH figure into the capital cost of $37,800 and you get 12.7 cents per KWH for construction and related payback costs alone.

Operation and maintenance: Nuclear power plants are expensive to operate. After the initial outlay to build the plant, there is the additional cost of fuel,operation and maintenance, which an inter- disciplinary industry report called the Keystone study(2) found to be at 4.3 cents per KWH for the future. To take the capital cost of 12.7 cents per KWH and add the operating cost of 4.3, you get 17 cents per KWH.

Transmission and Distribution: Finally, you have to add in a transmission and distribution cost, which should be about 7-9 cents per KWH in the future, which bring us to about 25 cents per KWH. When you compare that that 25 cents per KWH cost of generating nuclear energy to the cost of saving energy, there is an over 8:1 ratio.(3) Surveys of our nation’s states that have energy efficiency programs show it costs $0.03 to save energy per kilowatt-hour saved. This is one eighth the cost of nuclear energy’s $0.25/KWH, not counting the long-term or other hidden costs of nuclear energy.

Energy efficiency includes all sorts of things, for example:

• Compact florescent lights (CFLs) replacing incandescent light bulbs;

• Improved refrigerator efficiency for households;

• Improved air conditioning efficiency for businesses and households;

• Reduction of raw materials to be manufactured to make the same products; and

• Improved architectural design.

A number of U.S. states have statewide programs that promote the use of energy efficiency. The success hasbeen most pronounced in California. See the accompanying U.S. map that tells you how much energy could be saved if each state simply went to California’s current level of energy efficiency.(4) Note that California is still dramatically improving. So for Arizona as an example, we will be able to save more than the 52% listed.

With such a stark reduction in energy consumption, many of our current electrical plants could have their useful lives stretched out, until renewables and other technologies come into play. That is why it is so outrageous that Congress is supporting an expansion of nuclear energy as a “solution” to our energy problem. First, after so many of your tax dollars have been spent by our government on nukes, it is outrageous that nuclear energy is still so expensive. Second, it is outrageous in a good way that energy efficiency is so cheap. Third, it is outrageous that since this price differential is so high that we would even be considering new nuclear – or coal – plants as an option any more.

(1) EPA Analysis of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, 6/23/09

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/economics/pdfs/HR2454_Analysis.pdf

(2) Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding, The Keystone Center, June 2007,

http://www.ne.doe.gov/pdfFiles/rpt_KeystoneReportNuclearPowerJointFactFinding_2007.pdf

(3)American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy,

http://www.aceee.org/press/u092pr.htm,

also Saving Energy Cost-Effectively: A National Review of the Cost of Energy SavedThrough Utility-Sector Energy Efficient Programs, Katherine Fiedrich, et al., Sept. 2009,

at http://aceee.org/pubs/u092.pdf?CFID=4417970&CFTOKEN=99602900

(4)New Rules Project, Energy Self-Reliant States, October 2009, p. 25.

http://www.newrules.org/sites/newrules.org/files/ESRS.pdf

Pro-Coal and Pro-Nuclear Congressional Energy Bills on Crash Course with Environment, U.S. Economy and the Public

By Russell Lowes, November 22, 2009
 
This may seem like blasphemy: the House Bill on energy known as The American Clean Energy Act is the most detrimental bill the House has passed since the Patriot Act. Like the Patriot Act, it is not what it says it is. It should never become law.

        It is not a clean energy bill.

        It is not a pro-solution climate bill.

        It is not a pro-American bill.

 

        It is an energy giveaway bill.

        It is a bill that deletes Clean Air Act authority for the Environmental Protection Agency over nearly 50 coal plants.

        It is a bill that sets up an unfair energy tax system called cap & trade tax (CTT).

        It is a bill that sets up CTT, that doubles as a financial derivative, which would be responsible for economic deterioration of U.S. economy, just like the CDOs and CDSs that helped cause the current economic downturn.

Further, the Senate bill versions are just as bad or worse.

At issue is a battle that has a huge bearing on the United States and world’s environment, economy and social order. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACESA, has passed the U.S. House and is now in a number of different forms before the Senate.  With the change in the administration and increased majorities in Congress, we had all hoped that the 111th Congress would act fast to implement a new climate bill to start controlling our pollution output like carbon dioxide.

The House Bill (HR 2454), however, is replete with problems, as are the Senate versions currently being drafted. While it is significant that a house of Congress has, for the first time, passed an energy & climate bill, it is also important that the bill that Congress ultimately enacts imposes a tax on energy in a way that will discourage excess energy use.  That is because energy use analysis indicates that price increases are the most effective way to curtail energy use, improve the way we use energy and decrease pollution.

THE PROBLEMS WITH ACESA

There are numerous problems with the 1428-page House Bill (HB)1, so I do not attempt to address all of them.  Rather, I will highlight three main areas that need to be corrected in a final bill if it is to be effective: 

 

ACESA implements cap & trade tax and financial derivative system instead of a simple carbon tax.

 

 

Emissions trading, also known as “cap & trade tax” is a way of controlling pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants.  Under “cap & trade tax” the government sets a limit, or “cap” on the total amount of a pollutant that can be emitted.  Companies or other groups are issued permits that give them the right to emit a certain percentage of that amount of pollutant (“credits” or “allowances”).  The total amount of credits or allowances cannot exceed the cap.  Companies that need to increase their emission allowance can buy credits from other companies who don’t need all of their credit because they pollute less.  This transfer is the “trade.”  Thus, companies have a financial incentive to reduce the amount of pollution they emit and a disincentive to exceed their set allowance. 

While cap & trade is a tax in that the U.S. Government will be collecting auction fees/taxes, it is also a financial derivative, in that the certificates issued through auction will derive their value from the sold “right” to pollute.

ACESA includes a cap & trade tax system where the certificates would be issued through an auction.  By requiring companies to buy their certificates, the government forces them to pay for the “right” to pollute.  When he was campaigning for the presidency, candidate Obama promised that under his cap and trade plan, 100% of the certificates would be auctioned—in other words, no one would get a free ride to pollute. 

 

Unfortunately, the house bill only requires 15% of the emissions certificates to be auctioned, or paid for, during the first year.  That figure will increase to only 70% by 2030.  Obviously, this reduced auction amount is a major disappointment to those of us who want to see polluters, not the public, bear the financial burden of their pollution.  

 

The reduced auction amount isn’t the only problem with the cap & trade provision in the bill. Although cap & trade systems can be effective they are also susceptible to abuse.  Opportunists are able to take advantage of the complexity of the mechanism to “game the system.”  To curb this potential problem, the House Bill sets up an oversight committee under the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to regulate hedge fund and other derivative-related aspects of cap & trade. However, it is only a cursory oversight arrangement and there is legitimate concern that it would not prevent market manipulation, which in turn could lead to a new economic bubble in this new speculative market and ultimately hurt the U.S. economy. Illicit cap & trade tax schemes have already been exposed in Europe.2

 

All of these problems with the cap & trade tax approach could be eliminated by implementing a simple carbon tax.3

 

ACESA Eliminates EPA Clean Air Act authority to regulate carbon dioxide.

 

The House Bill is also problematic because it proposes to strip EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.4  This authority was only recently recognized by the United States Supreme Court, and EPA is only now moving toward exercising it; however, the House Bill would reverse that progress. 

 

At least one analysis of the House Bill indicates that this proposed de-authorization of the EPA would mean that 47 coal plants will be able to be built without EPA regulation.  Clearly, that outcome is contrary to any meaningful goal to reduce carbon emissions. 

 

ACESA Funds coal and nuclear energy more heavily than increased efficiency and renewables.

 

Finally, the proposed funding under the bill for new technologies has misplaced priorities and incentives.  Under the House Bill, $60 billion would be allocated for “clean coal” carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. CCS is a technology that would capture the carbon coming out of the coal stack and then sequester it so that it does not get into the atmosphere.

 

There are a number of CCS different possibilities in the process of being developed, but none has been demonstrated on a commercial scale, and it is unlikely that CCS will be economically practical.  Yet, this is the largest chunk of money directly listed in the bill for any one technology. While energy efficiency and renewable energies get $90 billion by 2025, or $6 billion per year or so, that is only a fraction of the amount that coal and nuclear energy will get.

 

One of the Senate bills includes loan incentives that would give nuclear and coal CCS hundreds of billions of dollars in aid.  The decision to disproportionately encourage these two technologies with financial aid and incentives in a “clean energy” bill is simply baffling.  Keep in mind that nuclear has been shown to be an uneconomical technology, and that coal CCS, even if it works, will lead to much more coal mining. The truth is, there is no clean coal, nor would any reasonable person consider nuclear energy a “clean” fuel given its significant waste problem. 

 

Yet the bill’s definition of clean energy is so loose, under it coal CCS and nuclear energy will be considered “clean.”  And here’s the kicker–these two technologies, coal CCS and nuclear, are so expensive (in the range of 25-35 cents per kilowatt-hour for new units) that if we put our dollars into them, they will suck so many dollars away from energy efficiency and renewables (in the range of 2-25 cents per kilowatt-hour) that there would not be enough money to solve the climate solutions we desperately need.

 

In summary, here is what needs to happen to make these bills a positive force: 1) restructure cap & trade tax or, better yet, replace it with a simple carbon tax; 2) do not remove the Clean Air Act authority from the EPA; and 3) define clean as clean, and re-design this bill to fund the technologies that are truly clean.

 

You can call your senators and stress how irresponsible the cap & trade system is. If it passes the Senate, you can then call your Representatives and Senators to ask them to block the authorization of the reconciliation of these two terrible bills.

 

———————-

Note: An earlier version of this article appeared in the Sierra Club Rincon Group newsletter, under my new appointment as Energy Subcommittee Chair for this Group.

1Available at http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090701/hr2454_house.pdf

2Associated Press article in Arizona Daily Star (AP), Fight Against Global Warming Spawning New Type of Crime: Carbon-Permit Fraud, 8/22/09, p. A12, http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/news/305938.php

3See http://carbontax.org

4See analysis at http://www.psr.org/take-action/senate-letter-climate-legislation.html

Nuclear Energy is a Money Grab. . .

Electricity Consumption, California Vs. the U.S.

by Russell Lowes, updated 10/24/14

. . .From Renewables and Energy Efficiency to a Counter-Productive Industrial Web

Twelve Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy and Support a Green Energy Future

We have a complete set of energy solutions: solar cells, wind turbines, concentrating solar, ocean current and wave energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, and the list goes on.(1) As these technologies mature, we can quickly reduce nuclear, coal and gas use.

The most environmentally and economically destructive sources of electricity should be reduced now, as other technologies emerge. The phase-out of nuclear, coal and gas electrical energy will reduce global warming while freeing up monies for renewables,  efficiencies and energy storage.

This list focuses on the nuclear energy option. Nuclear energy is being heavily promoted with millions of dollars in public relations budgets by the nuclear industry. This compilation will expose the nuclear myths.

California and Germany are two examples of how to make the switch toward a safe and effective energy future. In California, the per capita energy has gone down through a myriad of efficiency techniques.(2) In Germany, solar production has gone up radically, through a savvy system of support, which is turning Germany, hardly known for sunny days, into the top solar country. (3) See the graph at the top of the article for the California example.(2)

 

Twelve Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy and to Support Renewables and Efficiencies.

1)     Nuclear Energy is Too Expensive. In 2002, industry estimates for building reactors were in the $1500-2000 per kilowatt range.(4) Estimates crept up to $4000 by 2007.(5) Then, the Moody’s ratings firm projected around $5000.(6) Even more recently, Florida Power and Light estimated between $5300 and $8200 per kilowatt.(7) This amount of capital would cause nuclear energy to cost far more than the alternatives.

The record of nuclear reactor costs in the 1980s, about $3100 in 1987, combined with general inflation would yield about $6496 in 2014 dollars.(8) The current round of U.S. reactors being built is likely to start up in 2022. In the 1970s and 80s the average overrun for nuclear construction was more than 220%.(9) This record of massive overruns compared to roughly 50% for coal plants.(10)

At $9000/KW, 1000 reactors would cost $9 trillion. The capital payback would be $1.26 trillion per year, exceeding the $1.1 trillion we spend on ALL energy in the U.S. annually. This would be an 114% increase in total energy cost, just to cover the capital expenditure of construction of a robust nuclear program. This does not include fuel costs, operation and maintenance, nor the occasional accident or early retirement of some of these reactors. With this much going into nuclear energy alone, the money available for solar and other real solutions would dry up.The capital markets would be dominated by a sliver of the American energy system.

2)    Expansion of Nuclear Energy Would Worsen Global Warming. Even if nuclear energy had the CO2 advantage the nuclear industry claims, building at least U.S. 1000 reactors would be required to significantly reduce global warming.(11) Over 20 years there would be one reactor completed weekly. The world has never seen anything near that kind of construction performance.(12)
Additionally, uranium resource depletion is occurring. Within about thirty years, the amount of energy required just to mine, mill and build reactors would exceed the CO2 levels of natural gas plants.(13) It would worsen thereafter, with possible reactor shut-downs, due to fuel availability problems.

3)    Nuclear Energy Represents a Long-Term Negative Net Energy. Nuclear plants already have a long-term negative net energy and CO2 level higher than fossil fuels, if you count the energy to manage the waste over the legally required one million years.

4)    The Most Stripping of our Public Lands through Mining Would Happen with Nuclear Energy. With ore quality diminishing, mining levels would skyrocket. To illustrate, when we have to resort to mining granite for uranium, the weight of ore would equal fifty times the weight of coal per kilowatt-hour.(14)

5)     High and Permanent Government Subsidy Is Required. Nuclear energy is too risky for investment without its insurance renewed by Congress (the Price-Anderson Act, 1957). The property cost of a major accident could top half a trillion dollars.(15) Additional medical costs are waived by the Act. The industry has said if it does not get the government to guarantee loans, it will not build any reactors.(16)

6)    Unacceptable Accident Potential Persists. Analysis has put the chance of at least three meltdowns at 50% if the world opts for the large number of 2500 nuclear reactors. The ecological and economical impact of one meltdown would dwarf the impact of Hurricane Katrina, with thousands of years of radiological damage.(17)

7)    National Security Is Compromised. After the September 11 attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said reactors could withstand impact of a 747. They have since retracted this statement.(18) This same terrorist network may target a nuclear reactor in the future. Additionally, every hot on-site reactor spent-fuel pool is a perfect terrorist target, with waste that would melt down from such an impact. These targets are not reasonably protected.

8)     Nuclear Energy Has the Most Water Usage. It has lower thermal efficiency compared to fossil-fuel, at 33%, compared to 40% for coal, and 45% for natural gas. Nuclear energy requires more water for cooling. The Palo Verde plant, 35 miles upwind of Phoenix, requires about 55% the water of a city with a half-million people, like Tucson, Arizona, or 120,000 acre feet of annual water use.(19)

9)    Too Much Radiation Is Produced. Governmental studies conclude that there is no additional safe level of radiation. Radiative gas is released into the air at the reactor site, routinely, increasing cancer risk.(20)

10)    Million-Year Waste Legacy Will Burden Society. The EPA had a 10,000 year waste management requirement, until the courts replaced it with a 1,000,000 year time line.(21) Just 5.3 kilograms of Plutonium-239, which has a half life of about 25 thousand years, is enough for a nuclear bomb.(21a)

11)    Civil Liberties Would Diminish. With an increase terrorist threat to a highly vulnerable and risky system in place, the pressure on governments to subdue civil liberties will always be there with nuclear energy.

12)    Finally, Other Options are Better. U.S. wind energy increased 140% over the last five years, with the capacity of sixty-one nuclear reactors added.(22) With Texas gaining the lead in 2006, one Texan said that Texas will never lose this lead to any other state in the nation. We need bold strides like this.

    Americans are far more resourceful than to think that we have to return to an over-subsidized outdated electricity option like nuclear energy. We need to use our limited energy dollars for real solutions that work! Support renewables and efficiencies instead of nuclear energy.

Russell J. Lowes, Research Director at SafeEnergyAnalyst.org is the primary author of a book on the nation’s largest nuclear plant upwind of Phoenix, “Energy Options for the Southwest, Part I, Nuclear and Coal Power,” released in 1979. The book played a principal part in the cancellation of two additional reactors at this plant.

Footnotes:
1) Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy,” 2007, at http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree/
2) “OnEarth” Newsletter, National Resources Defense Council, Spring 2006,  http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/06spr/ca1.asp#
3) Reiner Gaertner, “Germany Embraces the Sun,” Wired, September1, 2007, http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2001/07/45056?currentPage=1
4) For example, The Future of Nuclear Power, An Interdisciplinary MIT Study, 2003.
5) Tulsa World, “AEP Not Interested in Nuclear Plants,” 9/1/07.
6) SNLi, “Moody’s Sees High Risk in Building New Nuclear Generation Capacity,” 10/10/07.
7) Curtis Morgan, Miami Herald, “Turkey Point: FPL Asks Panel to Allow Two More Nuclear Reactors,” 1/31/08, http://www.miamiherald.com/
8) Brice Smith, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change, 2006, p. 8. http://www.ieer.org/reports/insurmountablerisks/
For inflation calculate, see http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl
9) Energy Information Administration, An Analysis of Nuclear Power Plant Construction Costs, DOE/EAI-0485, p. 18. Also, EIA, Monthly Energy Review, August 1994
10) Charles Komanoff, Power Plant Cost Escalation, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981, page 2. Note: a range of 33 to 68% for coal overruns, averages to about 50%.
11) Brice Smith book.
12) Ibid.
13) David Fleming, The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy, a Life Cycle In Trouble,” summary/Nuclear Energy In Brief, 2007, http://www.nirs.org/climate/background/leanguidetonuclearenergy.pdf
14) See reports at www.stormsmith.nl, updated periodically.
15) U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Sandia Labs, Impact of a Meltdown at Nuclear Plant, Consequences of Reactor Accident (CRAC-2) Report, 1982.
16) Dan Morse, Washington Post, “Money Matters in Reactor Project Debate; Financing, Rather Than Safety, Appears to Be Key Factor in Whether Plans Proceed,” 9/5/07, p. B-5.
17) Brice Smith report.
18) Bill Brubaker, Washington Post, “Nuclear Agency: Air Defenses Impractical,” 1/29/07.
19) Arizona Nuclear Power Project, “Use of Effluent Water at Palo Verde,” communication from ANPP to Maricopa Association of Governments, November 17, 1977. See also, http://www.aps.com/general_info/AboutAPS_18.html  See also, University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center, Water Resource Availability for the Tucson Metropolitan Area, 2006.  http://ag.arizona.edu/azwater/presentations/Megdal.az.water.resource.avail.for.tucson.pdf
20) National Academy of Sciences, Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation May Cause Harm, Press Release, 6/29/05. Also see: U.S. NRC Effluent Database for Nuclear Power Plants, 2004
http://www.reirs.com/effluent/EDB_rptLicenseeReleaseSummary.asp  (Some navigation required.)
21) Ascribe, The Public Interest Newswire, “Managing Nuclear Wastes for the Millennia,” 1/7/07.

21a) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium
22) American Wind Energy Association, “Wind Generation Records & Turbine Productivity,” http://www.awea.org/Issues/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=5806&RDtoken=22166&userID=

CO2 Emissions Will be Higher for Nuclear Power than for Coal

by Russell Lowes, March 9, 2008

It is Just a Matter of Time. . . and It is Just a Matter of Counting the Whole Nuclear Cycle

In one of the comments on my last blog, Tasha Nelson insists in a questioning way, “I would imagine nuclear power still emits far fewer greenhouse gases overall.” This is the conventional thinking. . . thinking that will hit a hard wall of thought revolution. Over the next decade or so, reassessment of economically mined uranium reserves will come into clearer focus.

By then there will be a small number of reactors being built around the globe, as the industry tries to keep pace with the number of reactors that are being retired, UNLESS the industry gets the full support of the U.S. and world governments, with additional massive subsidy, on the order of hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars.

If complete socialization for nuclear power happens, no one knows how many reactors will be built. If this happens, while we will have a socialistic system for nuclear energy, we will not be able to afford it for any other energy industry, such as solar. We would have a system where the cost of money would be hidden from sight, causing all sorts of irrational decisions to come into play. The general public would pay the cost of this irrationality in the long run.

In either event, the nuclear industry will be trying to play catch-up. Reactors have already started to drop off. Of the 439 reactors we currently have, globally, they will be retiring quicker than they are being built (without a massive global subsidization). In fact, a leveling off of the number of reactors worldwide is already starting. See the graph below:

Frogattnuclen1

But, back to the question at-hand:

In a nutshell, won’t nuclear energy generate less CO2 than coal and other sources? There has been some serious work on this issue. On the other hand, there has been some self-serving nuclear industry work on this issue. With much of the industry’s estimates, there is a circular logic where the reports cite each other, with information generated by the industry that is, at best, an optimistic interpretation of the data. In the realm of independent studies, the most detailed and documented work I have obtained is at http://www.stormsmith.nl

This work, done by two analysts named Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Phillip Smith, has been peer-reviewed. It is collaborated by other works. From what I can tell, it is only disagreed with to any significant degree by nuclear industry-affiliated entities. For example, there is the nuclear trade group, the World Nuclear Association, which ironically gives itself the byline, Clean Air Energy. Their study is very brief, and has nowhere near the quality level of documentation. The legitimate independent studies that review Storm and Smith only tend to agree on the major points, with less significant points of disagreements here and there.

Storm & Smith conclude:
– In the short term, nuclear power is much cleaner than all fossil fuels, if you don’t count the energy required over the next million years (the EPA required waste management period), However,
– In the long term, nuclear power will become dirtier and dirtier, emitting more and more  greenhouse gas emissions, as we quickly deplete our uranium reserves.
– The U.S. currently imports over 90% of its uranium, and only has 7% of the world’s diminishing reserves.
– Going down to lower-grade ores will deplete the short-term net energy gain of nuclear power, and at some point push this short-term gain into the negative realm, with greenhouse gas (GHG) production going through the roof. To give you a graphic illustration, uranium mining of granite would require about 50 times the weight of coal that is mined per kilowatt-hour produced.
– After about 70 years, the ore that can be economically mined (using short-term thinking) will run out – and this is on the basis of current capacity, not expanded levels of world nuclear capacity.

The above second point gets to the last point that Tasha made in her post. She asks, “Also-hasn’t there been an underinvestment in uranium mine development the past 20 years or so, leading to some of the shortfalls we are seeing now?” The answer to that depends on perspective. The industry has numerous mines that were supposed to be in operation by now. This includes the largest planned new mine, under preliminary development in Canada. It just flooded with water last year, putting off its opening for years. The easiest mining has already occurred. From one perspective, the industry is feeling the reduction of higher grade ores and cannot easily keep up with the demand.

When I first started writing on nuclear power and alternatives, back in the late 1970s, the typical quality of ore was higher than that mined today. Back then, it was common to mine ore that was 2500-3000 parts per million. Today the average is around 1500. To further compound the problems, back then, there was a lot of soft rock ore being mined. Soft rock is easier to mine than hard rock for the obvious reason that it is easier to crush. It takes less energy. Today, more and more hard rock is being mined. The twin problems are decreases in ore grade plus the harder-to-process rock.

Then, there is a third problem, and that is access to the ore itself. About 50% of the current mined uranium comes from below surface mining, going deeper and deeper. The lowest apples have been picked.

It is also true, as Tasha suggests, that there hasn’t been enough investment in mining. One question comes to mind: who is responsible for that? However, this question is irrelevant in a way. What is the current shortfall in mining? The current mining levels are at about 50 kilo-tonnes (kt) of ore per year. The current usage of ore by nuclear reactors is about 67 kt per year. Over recent years, the industry has augmented this shortage of production with ore reserves and other smaller sources like mixed oxide fuels and conversion of weapons stocks to commercial stocks, particularly from Russia. At the rate we are using up these stocks, if mining does not jump significantly, complete depletion of stocks will occur by 2015 at the latest. The price of uranium will skyrocket. So much for “cheap” nuclear fuel of days gone by.

There is a final thing to add to this. Nobody wants to hear this. It is avoided like the proverbial elephant in the room, avoided like the plague. The nature of nuclear waste is that it is transgenic. It is changing its own state through irradiation of all the ingredients of the waste. It is creating gases. It is creating liquids. It is also irradiating its container, changing the properties of whatever the container is made out of (with few exceptions).

What you might store as a near perfect rectangle today, could be quite a different shape in thousands of years. What this means is that it will off-gas, migrate, and as it is well known, go through periods of increased and decreased beta, gamma and alpha radiation over many centuries. Over many millennia. Someone is required by U.S. law to safeguard this waste for one million years. “Someone” is the word because no one knows who will be around for that long.

I will soon be writing a report on the cost of a million years of nuclear waste. To make a long story short, to guard that waste will clearly cost more energy input and create more greenhouse gases than any other current energy option under serious consideration.

In the long run, because of its waste, and because of its depletion of resources, nuclear energy creates more greenhouse gas than any other option. Remember these words in a few hundred thousand years, while you are just beginning to understand how to manage all this junk.

Short Nuclear Power Videos With Russell Lowes, Jack Cohen-Jappa and Steve Brittle

January, 2008

There is a good deal of controversy in the environmental movement regarding how to continue generating energy to maintain our economic well-being while cutting or eliminating the energy industry’s heavy carbon footprint (roughly 40% of carbon emissions are related to energy generation). There are some in the environmental movement, not to mention those in the nuclear industry, who point to nuclear power as a way to reduce carbon emission from the energy sector.

It is true that nuclear generation of electricity itself is not a significant source of carbon emissions, but there are serious economic feasibility, safety, and environmental issues, in addition to carbon emissions associated with the entire life-cycles of nuclear fuels and generation plants.

Southern Arizona is blessed with a number of experts on the industry and its environmental impacts. MyCommentary, records the viewpoints of local activists and concerned citizens. The project brings us the video commentaries of two local nuclear activists, Russell Lowes, and Jack Cohen-Joppa. I share those commentaries with you here:

Commentary by Mr. Cohen-Joppa

Commentary by Mr. Lowes

In addition, the local public affairs program, Political Perspectives with Cynthia Dickstein, covered the nuclear issue recently with Jack Cohen-Joppa and Russell Lowes as her guests. They were joined by Arizona environmental justice advocate Steve Brittle for a panel discussion that constitutes an excellent primer on this topic.

More after the click…

Continue reading “Short Nuclear Power Videos With Russell Lowes, Jack Cohen-Jappa and Steve Brittle”