Economics

The Truth About Nuclear Power

Separating economic myth from economic fact

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Editor's Note: Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy appears weekly on Bloomberg TV to separate economic fact from economic myth.

Myth 1: Nuclear power is a cheap alternative to fossil fuels.

Fact 1: It isn't.

As Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute wrote in Reason magazine in 2009, "Nuclear energy is to the Right what solar energy is to the Left: Religious devotion in practice, a wonderful technology in theory, but an economic white elephant in fact (some crossovers on both sides notwithstanding). When the day comes that the electricity from solar or nuclear power plants is worth more than the costs associated with generating it, I will be as happy as the next Greenpeace member (in the case of the former) or MIT graduate (in the case of the latter) to support either technology."

Until that time comes, producing nuclear energy remains a very costly business.

The chart above uses data from a 2009 interdisciplinary study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to compare the costs of generating a kilowatt hour of electricity using nuclear, coal, and gas power. Looking at this data, the cost differential is clear—nuclear-powered energy costs 14 percent more than gas to produce a unit of electricity, and it costs 30 percent more than coal. Furthermore, according to Gilbert Metcaf's recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper on energy, this increased cost of nuclear energy includes a baked-in taxpayer subsidy of nearly 50 percent of nuclear power's operating costs.

While the nuclear industry in the United States has seen continued improvements in operating performance over time, it remains uncompetitive with coal and natural gas on the basis of price. This cost differential is primarily the result of high capital costs and long construction times. Indeed, building a nuclear power plant in the United States has cost, on average, three times as was originally estimated.

The United States Energy Information Administration estimates that these cost trends will continue for the near future.

This chart compares the projected costs of generating electricity in the year 2016 using various sources. As you can see, nuclear power remains more expensive than other conventional forms of power.

As Taylor notes, this is why nuclear power has only flourished in countries where the government has intervened on its behalf.

Myth 2: Risk is the main problem with nuclear power.

Fact 2: Cost is the main problem, not risk.

Radiation is terrifying to most people. And like most things, the less you actually know about it, the more frightening it can be.

Safety is certainly a critical issue, as the tragedy in Japan makes clear. However, so far the death toll from the current nuclear crisis in Japan is zero.

The chart above uses data compiled from various sources to compare the deaths per terawatt of energy produced. Deaths resulting from the production of nuclear power are over 4000 times less than the rate of death resulting from the production of energy from coal.

Writing in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Bernard Cohen, a physics professor at the University of Pittsburgh, puts the risk from nuclear power into context, comparing the relative risk of nuclear power to other activities. He used a one-in-a-million chance of increased risk of premature death as a standard. His calculations indicate that if one lived at the boundary of a nuclear power plant for five years, there would be an increased risk of premature death from nuclear radiation of one in a million. That risk would decline significantly as one moved further away from the plant.

Put differently, Cohen found that the risk of living next to a nuclear power plant is comparable to the risk incurred from riding 10 miles on a bicycle, riding 300 miles in an automobile, or riding 1,000 miles in an airplane.

In fact, Steven Chu, President Barack Obama's energy secretary, has made it clear he doesn't think nuclear power is dangerous per se. When asked to compare coal and nuclear energy in 2009, Chu responded: "I'd rather be living near a nuclear power plant."

That being said, what happened in Japan reminds us that while nuclear doesn't kill people on a yearly basis, it has the potential to be very lethal under certain circumstances. However, the idea of risk-free world is unrealistic because unanticipated vulnerabilities are inevitable in any complex system. Future technologies may reduce the chance of some terrible disaster but it won't ever eliminate it completely. Like all other sources of energy, nuclear power entails some risk.

Myth 3: The spread of nuclear power has stalled in the U.S. due to a hostile regulatory environment.

Fact 3: Nuclear power has stalled because it is simply not profitable.

Many Americans argue that government regulations are the real reason why nuclear power is so expensive. As evidence, they point out that in France, where there is more opportunity to build nuclear power plants, nuclear power is safe and affordable.

It is true that France gets about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. It is also true that the country has avoided a large-scale disaster due to the many safety regulations it has imposed, most of which are similar to regulations enacted in the U.S.

However, producing nuclear energy in France is not any cheaper than it is here. The chart above shows, in U.S. dollars, the parity between the costs of generating nuclear power in the United States (which has a relatively strict regulatory regime) and France (which has a relatively loose one). 

The chart presents a range of estimates of the costs of nuclear reactors in the two countries gathered by Mark Cooper, a senior research fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at the Vermont Law School. As Cooper found, the ranges overlap: France's estimated cost of a kilowatt of power is between $4,500 and $5,000; the United States' estimated cost for this unit of power is between $4,000 and $6,000.

From the start of commercial nuclear reactor construction in the mid-1960s through the 1980s, capital costs (dollars per kilowatt of capacity) for building nuclear reactors rose dramatically. Although unit costs for technology usually decrease with volume of production because of scale factors and technological learning, nuclear power has gone in the opposite direction. This exception to the rule is usually attributed to the idiosyncrasies of the nuclear regulatory environment as public opposition grew, laws were tightened, and construction times increased.

As a result, no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States in 29 years. Nuclear has proven to be a poor investment, producing far more expensive electricity than originally promised.

Myth 4: Nuclear power is the key to energy independence.

Fact 4: More nuclear doesn't mean less oil.

On last Sunday's Meet the Press, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) cited America's need to get off of foreign oil as a strong reason for pursuing nuclear power.

Setting aside the misguided goal of so-called energy independence, Schumer is still wrong. Oil is primarily used in vehicles and in industrial production. Nuclear power is primarily used for electricity.

As the chart below illustrates, data from the United States Energy Information Administration shows that the vast majority of our electricity comes from non-oil sources.

Interestingly, according Michael Levi, a senior fellow and director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations, it wasn't always the case. "During the heyday of nuclear power, the early 1970s (45 plants broke ground between 1970 and 1975)," Levi writes, "oil was a big electricity source, and boosting nuclear power was a real way to squeeze petroleum out of the economy. Alas, we've already replaced pretty much all the petroleum in the power sector; the opportunity to substitute oil with nuclear power is gone."

Perhaps more importantly, less than 1 percent of the oil used in the United States today goes to generate electricity while 70 percent is consumed by the transportation sector, with roughly 30 percent of oil being used by the residential and industrial sectors.

The bottom line is that more nuclear power would mean less coal, less natural gas, less hydroelectric power, and less wind energy. But more nuclear won't mean less oil.

Am I against nuclear power? It certainly looks like nuclear can never be a sustainable source of energy because it is just too expensive. And while it is a safe source of energy overall, there are tremendous risks in those instances where something goes disastrously wrong. The probability of such a dire scenario may be low, but the need to build-in protections against it will always raise the cost of producing nuclear power.

But more importantly, what I am against is the government deciding that nuclear power must be encouraged and then subsidizing the industry. On that point, I leave the last word to Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey.

"The main problem with energy supply systems is that for the last 100 years, governments have insisted on meddling with them, using subsidies, setting rates, and picking technologies," Bailey observes. "Consequently, entrepreneurs, consumers, and especially policymakers have no idea which power supply technologies actually provide the best balance between cost-effectiveness and safety. In any case, let's hope that the current nuclear disaster will not substantially add to the terrible woes the Japanese must bear as a result of nature's fickle cruelty."

Contributing Editor Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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  1. TOO SOON!

  2. Myth 1: Nuclear power is a cheap alternative to fossil fuels.

    Fact 1: It isn’t.

    Only because of multiple layers of government intervention.

    1. It’s hard to say. We need to reverse the trend and allow all investors to build whatever they want but at the same time absorb all costs if anything happens, unlike the BP fiasco.

      1. Explain how a power plant that requires tens of thousand of tons of fuel input per year can possibly produce power at a lower price than a power plant that needs a few tons of fuel twice a decade, absent government interventions.

        1. I was thinking along these lines. In theory, a nuclear plant shouldn’t be that expensive. The process is relatively simple, right? It’s really more about ensuring safety and, even more so, about complying with various regulations.

        2. OK, here’s two possible ways:

          1. The “10,000-ton” fuel is much cheaper per ton than the “few tons” fuel.
          2. Insurance for the “few tons” plant is extremely expensive.

          1. 1. It isn’t – fuel costs in the nuclear fuel cycle are incredibly small – around 10% of the electricity cost (including costs like enrichment & disposal). Capital costs are what dominate nuclear’s energy cost.

            2. Insurance is expensive – but capital costs are even more expensive. Some of this is in the fact that the clock is ticking for a long time on a nuclear build – meaning racking up interest. And some of this is in the multiple safety systems that are required for nuclear systems that aren’t required for fossil systems (I suppose one could loosely call that “insurance.”)

            It also doesn’t help that the standards for safety are much, much higher for nuclear than fossil – coal pretty much gets away with dumping poison (including higher levels of radiation than a nuclear plant) in the air for free, while even a small radiation leak at a nuclear plant is considered a public catastrophe.

            1. Some of this is in the fact that the clock is ticking for a long time on a nuclear build – meaning racking up interest.

              And the reason nuclear plants take a long time to build is largely because the permitting process allows anti-nuke groups to cause construction delays.

          2. 1) How is that possible, both are mined. Uranium is certainly much scarcer than coal, but sufficient to cost 10,000 times as much?

            Of course that’s a theoretical question because the reality is that the marginal cost of nuclear power is orders of magnitude lower than coal, it’s only the capital costs that make the average cost higher.

            2)Do coal mining companies and power plants powered by them bare the full cost of their activity?

            1. Re: JoshINHB,

              1) How is that possible, both are mined. Uranium is certainly much scarcer than coal, but sufficient to cost 10,000 times as much?

              The extraction costs for uranium are much higher than coal, the latter being literaly just scooped out of the Earth. You also have refinement costs as you cannot use uranium straight from the mine.

              2)Do coal mining companies and power plants powered by them bare the full cost of their activity?

              There’s a factor that one has to consider when it comes to nuclear vs coal. Even though coal burning releases a great quantity of radioactive material into the atmosphere, the dispersion rate is much higher than for nuclear if a major problem happens in a nuclear plant, precisely because the radioactive material is much more concentrated in a nuclear plant than in a pile of coal.

              I am all for nuclear energy, but only if it makes economic sense. Right now, fossil fuels are cheap and plentiful and seems like that will not change for a long time. The advantages of nuclear energy will become more obvious as fossil fuels become harder (i.e. more expensive) to obtain.

              Forget about solar or wind – those two technologies are still terribly inefficient, uneconomical and unreliable.

              1. “There’s a factor that one has to consider when it comes to nuclear vs coal. Even though coal burning releases a great quantity of radioactive material into the atmosphere, the dispersion rate is much higher than for nuclear if a major problem happens in a nuclear plant, precisely because the radioactive material is much more concentrated in a nuclear plant than in a pile of coal.”

                Basically you’re saying the human and environmental health effects are fine as long as they’re dispersed evenly across the entire world, not just one area?
                A study conducted at Carnegie Mellon showed the true cost per kWH of u.s. coal plants last year, and in pittsburgh some of the plants were nearly $.50 per kWH and the majority were around $.25. I wish I could show you the study but i don’t believe its been released due to some industry pressure.

                1. Re: Doc S.

                  Basically you’re saying the human and environmental health effects are fine as long as they’re dispersed evenly across the entire world, not just one area?

                  If they’re dispersed, the probability that these wastes represent a hazard decreases exponentially, Doc.

                  A study conducted at Carnegie Mellon showed the true cost per kWH of u.s. coal plants last year, and in pittsburgh some of the plants were nearly $.50 per kWH and the majority were around $.25. I wish I could show you the study but i don’t believe its been released due to some industry pressure.

                  If the study makes the mistake of “pricing” non-market “costs,” then I can suggest the people who conducted the study are merely guessing.

                  1. Re: Old mex

                    “If they’re dispersed, the probability that these wastes represent a hazard decreases exponentially, Doc”

                    That refers to the short term probability, in long term due to consistant exposure, bioaccumulation, and regular accumulation the risk is just as prevelant. The old environmental engineering adage is “the solution to polution is dillution” however I would disagree and argue that “the solution to pollution is altering the process to eliminate its production in the first place”

                    As for your second point- They included the market costs of the associated increase in medical costs of the residents in the areas surrounding the plants. I’m sure they used things such as statistically significant increases in respiratory illness occourences – you typically aren’t allowed to just guess in research of that magnitude.

                    1. Re: Doc S.,

                      That refers to the short term probability, in long term due to consistant exposure, bioaccumulation, and regular accumulation the risk is just as prevelant.

                      Maybe, but impossible to discern between the long term risk of radioactive fallout from coal burning and other sources, like phosphorous intake (for starters), cosmic rays, radon, forest fires, etc.

                      This is why and given the high dispersion ratio of so-called “pollutants” (particles), I think the risk is a) pretty low and b) cannot be measured with enough accuracy to hide under your bed for it.

                      […]I would disagree and argue that “the solution to pollution is altering the process to eliminate its production in the first place”

                      Well, I would agree with you except that eliminating all risk may be more costly than the expected benefits. People do learn to live with certain tradeoffs if the benefits are higher. Pollution may shorten your life by a year or so, but your standard of living and life expectancy can actually INCREASE just by the pedestrian act of KEEPING YOUR FOOD REFRIGERATED, then the worry regarding coal burning does not look that serious at all.

                      They included the market costs of the associated increase in medical costs of the residents in the areas surrounding the plants.

                      There’s NO way to pinpoint the origin of the medical maladies. I would take such assumptions with a grain of salt.

                      I’m sure they used things such as statistically significant increases in respiratory illness occourences – you typically aren’t allowed to just guess in research of that magnitude.

                      Well, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. A statistic does not imply a cost.

              2. I agree that we should allow the market to decide if it is feasible and ideally not subsidize it.

                Veronique’s article does not talk about new designs which could actually be cheaper, less insurance cost, longer lifespan,less waste disposal costs, etc. Does not get around the point made above that coal can freely pollute and release radioactive elements every day while even a minute release of radiation from a nuke plant gets 3 inch headlines.

                Dr. Greg Chopin argues that rather than burying the waste, we can recycle the uranium out of it about 30 times to use it all up and would not have to mine uranium for about 100 years which is actually the most dangerous part of it. Apparently some of the isotopes that build up absorb neutrons and “poison” the reactor but at that point only about 3% of the U-235 has fissioned.

                However, to be fair we should compare it to “clean” coal which the graph shows is more expensive than nuclear. And if it is a choice between subsidizing things that will be much more expensive and inefficient than nuclear such as wind, solar, or “clean” coal then I would rather subsidize 3rd or 4th generation nuclear plants that are even safer than the safe ones we have now. If it replaces coal, it saves lives. That may be worth subsidizing if anything is.

              3. @ Old Mexican

                The extraction costs for uranium are much higher than coal, the latter being literaly just scooped out of the Earth. You also have refinement costs as you cannot use uranium straight from the mine.

                Fair enough, Uranium fuel is “refined” in a way that coal and or are not.

                Still, the operating cost for nuclear power plants are substantially lower than the operating costs for fossil fuel plants.

                Even though coal burning releases a great quantity of radioactive material into the atmosphere, the dispersion rate is much higher than for nuclear if a major problem happens in a nuclear plant, precisely because the radioactive material is much more concentrated in a nuclear plant than in a pile of coal.

                I have seen studies, which I don’t have the time now to dig up, that show coal pollution causes the deaths in the high hundreds per year, while there has only been a single nuclear plant that caused any deaths.

                There has been a great deal of fear mongering by the media over the years with regards to nuclear. The track record, to date, is that it is much, much safer than fossil fuels.

              4. “Forget about solar or wind – those two technologies are still terribly inefficient, uneconomical and unreliable.”

                Actually one of the charts they showed in the video indicated that wind was cheaper than nuclear. Of course, I’m sure the cost of nuclear factors in all the regulations and what not.

                Fossil fuels were still the cheapest though and solar is extremely expensive compared to the rest.

              5. “Forget about solar or wind – those two technologies are still terribly inefficient, uneconomical and unreliable.”

                Yes, but how does it make you feel? Aren’t you happy and joyful that you can use the the natural powers (let’s call them “Earth, Wind and Fire”) to live?
                Remember: We don’t want facts getting in the way of our fantasies.

                1. oh crap. This is in reply to Old Mexican, by the way

            2. U-235, the primary isotope needed for nuclear fuel, consists of less than 1% of the overall natural occurrence. That’s a lot of refinement.

              The situation is exactly the reverse for thorium-232, which is virtually 100% of natural supplies.

              1. Re: Rob McMillin,

                The situation is exactly the reverse for thorium-232, which is virtually 100% of natural supplies.

                Thorium looks like the ideal nuclear-reactor fuel: Superabundant (compared to enriched unarium), less expensive to extract and use. It does have a few disadvantages, though.

                1. Kirk Sorensen, one of the main advocates for the liquid fluoride thorium salt reactor, strikes me as being a bit of a cheerleader — the claims to safety of the device mainly rest on the dangerousness of the radiation thrown off by fission byproducts (some of them are strong gamma emitters), and the fact that the salt nature of the device means a runaway reaction essentially can’t occur because expansion of the salt will push U-233 atoms away from each other.

                  To me, the main problem is that nobody has demonstrated the thing is commercially viable. Also, it needs starter U-233, of which the supply is 100% controlled by the government (and which, IIRC, there is an active threat to destroy all of it).

                2. Thorium is just not less expensive to extract it’s basically free as a byproduct of rare earth mining. In rare earth mining it’s considered WASTE!

                3. Not when it is dissolved into molten flouride. Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors (LTFRs) eliminate nearly all of thorium’s problems.

        3. Not to quibble with your overall point, but it’s more like “tens of thousands of tons of fuel input per day” for big fossil units.

        4. Simple. Two part answer.

          1) The relative abundance and cost to access the fuel supply. Few things are valued by weight alone. Otherwise we would not find value in the saying ‘worth it’s weight in gold’ and we would elect the biggest people to govern us.

          2) The relative costs of technology required to unlock the energy within the fuel. If exploiting nuclear fuels were easy, cavemen would have burned it. Or at least, someone would have smelted iron during the 19th century by exploiting uranium.

    2. I believe she specifically addresses that point in the article.

      1. Ridiculously poorly, see below.

    3. What we need for nuclear to work is mass produced nuclear reactors. As long as each plant is a huge and unique engineering projects costing billions, the capital and regulatory costs are going to be high. What is needed is several very safe designs which are pre-approved and ready to be quickly installed wherever they are needed. Technology meeting those criteria has been used on naval vessels for a long time, but for various reasons civilian nukes always have to be massive clusterfucks to build.

      1. What we need for nuclear to work is mass produced nuclear reactors.

        You rang?

        Will Hyperion be a “manufactured” product?

        The Hyperion design takes advantage of the economy of mass-production instead of the economy of scale (as is done presently with traditional reactors). HPG estimates that approximately 4,000 of the first module design will be needed to meet initial demand.

      2. “What we need for nuclear to work is mass produced nuclear reactors.”

        100 Mw LFTR’s can be built assembly line style just like jumbo jets.

  3. The cost comparison between U.S. and France nuclear power is meaningless unless you produce a similar comparison for coal power cost. Also, oil being 1% in power generation doesn’t mean only that part of oil can be replaced by other means of power generation. More hydrogen and electric cars will replace oil usage there, too.

    1. I’ve always had problems with this argument as well. Oil could well be supplanted by electric cars. I think the tacit idea is that adopting nuclear today won’t do anything to change oil usage. There are still huge barriers to the production of efficient electric vehicles and no one is even close to producing mass producible hydrogen fuel cell technologies.

    2. Exactly! People always conveniently forget that more hybrid or fully electric cars which would replace oil use when they use the argument that only 40% of our energy use is electricity. It could become 60%.

      And I agree that we need to mass produce a cheap, safe reactor design or two to bring down costs.

      Japan has done this for small reactors and when we replace all these 30-40 year old reactors, maybe someone will be able to provide a cheap one.

      If our country eventually (whether we like it or not) starts phasing out coal due to CO2 release, then nuclear is a good choice, even if subsidized, since we know it is not likely that our country will magically stop subsidizing things.

  4. Myth 3: The spread of nuclear power has stalled in the U.S. due to a hostile regulatory environment.

    Fact 3: Nuclear power has stalled because it is simply not profitable.

  5. When I see “The Truth About “, I just think “A Gross And Distorting Oversimplification Of…” before proceeding to the article. This one did not disappoint.

  6. Myth 3: The spread of nuclear power has stalled in the U.S. due to a hostile regulatory environment.

    Fact 3: Nuclear power has stalled because it is simply not profitable.

    This exception to the rule is usually attributed to the idiosyncrasies of the nuclear regulatory environment as public opposition grew, laws were tightened, and construction times increased.

    It’s shocking to see a reason columnist use the effects of regulation to argue that regulation does not increase costs.

    I usually only see this kind of analysis on HuffPo or Kos.

    1. Agreed, Josh. Ms. de Rugy’s articles are usually much better than this.

      1. Yeah, I caught that right off the bat too.

        Also, as was mentioned, how does she not discuss electric cars at all when claiming oil use wouldn’t go down?

        I also thought it was obvious that you would need to compare clean coal cost to nuclear given the current environment as was also mentioned.

        This article made a pretty poor argument against nuclear.

    2. You raise a good point, and I would be interested in how much a kWh costs using nuclear as opposed to coal outside of govt regulations. Of course you would have to assume that the nuclear plant is operating in a safe manner, so you would have to choose some benchmark for deciding how much a safe plant takes to operate.

      The MIT study used in the article does actually point out that construction delays and increased sunk costs due to regulation are a reason for the high cost of nuclear, but also to the comparatively low operating costs of existing coal plants and the price of commodities.

      Basically, even if you remove all regulation a nuclear plant would have to be built with a certain amount of safety redundancy(or face big lawsuits), that are a lot more expensive than chucking coal in an already existing oven and boiling water.

      1. Of course you would have to assume that the nuclear plant is operating in a safe manner, so you would have to choose some benchmark for deciding how much a safe plant takes to operate.

        How about the same level of safety as coal?

        Right now we expect absolute safety from nuclear power, while shrugging our shoulders at the hundreds of people per year killed by coal power.

        Basically, even if you remove all regulation a nuclear plant would have to be built with a certain amount of safety redundancy(or face big lawsuits), that are a lot more expensive than chucking coal in an already existing oven and boiling water.

        The real comparison should be between new coal power plants and new nuclear plants. Without all of the regulatory bullshit nuclear might be twice as expensive to construct because of additional safety features, then again it might not be even that much more. Especially if you add in the infrastructure costs needed to continuously bring fuel to a traditional power plant.

        1. Also, without changing the regulations halfway through construction. If you built a new nuclear plant today, without changing the regulations, it would still be cheaper than the ones built in the 70s, because it wouldn’t have to go through 3 redesigns halfway through construction.

        2. How about the same level of safety as coal?

          Ideally. But insurance companies might have a different idea of what constitutes a “safe” plant, and would probably use some govt guidelines or something stricter unless the public’s(potential jurors) unfounded fears of nuclear power were to disappear.

          The real comparison should be between new coal power plants and new nuclear plants.

          Again, ideally yes. But investors are going to be looking at how long a plant would recoup costs, especially figuring that it would be competing against established coal plants with established infrastructure.

          ——–
          This is why economics is such a fucked science, anyone here could make assumptions that wouldn’t really be wrong to give an analysis to support a claim. Even if two claims were contradictory.

      2. I know from experience that cost/MWh of fossil:nuclear generation is about 3.8:1. This includes all costs of operating each type of facility, exclusive of capital improvements.

        1. This is for the most efficient scrubbed coal fired units out there…the ratio goes up for smaller, less efficient units, and up again for gas fired units. Not real sure about oil fired units.

          1. What do you think was assumed in the study that gives such a dramatic difference? Initial costs?

            1. That’s what I haven’t figured out yet. I should read the entire study. I just know that at my previous employer, the generally accepted cost of building a new nuke was estimated at about 25% more than a fossil unit, but that the total production cost of electricity was about 1:4 nuke to fossil.

              I’ll have to read the whole MIT study to see what’s up here. The link Veronique provides above is only to a 2009 update of a 2003 study. The overnight costs listed in the linked brief are lower than our company estimated, but our numbers may have been taking finance costs into account at our internal WACC.

              My operating costs knowledge is based on having worked on budgeting for our largest fossil fueled plant and speaking with senior management folks who had held the top positions at both our biggest nukes and biggest fossil plants. Also, the knowledge that the nukes clear the day-ahead market with no effort at all, while many fossil (including coal) units have to bid in at higher costs to make money and often reserve a substantial amount of capacity for the real-time markets.

              1. Did the study contain a contingency for Price-Anderson being overturned, db? Interesting results though. If the initial capex is not that much more than coal, and the operating costs that much lower, then why have essentially no new nuclear plants been started in this country since the 80s?

                Moreover, when do you think it likely that commercial nuclear fuel will switch over from lightly-enriched uranium to either Mox or mostly plutonium? I didn’t think there was that much U-235 floating around, particularly if you think that there will be a large expansion in nuclear power worldwide. I thought that for most commercial fuel cycles, the plutonium that resulted from reprocessing was very unsuitable for bomb work, due to the excess Pu-240; accordingly, the non-proliferation reason for rejecting reprocessing is pretty much a red herring.

                Though I feel dangerously close to Chony’s position, I agree with the idea that fossil fuels’ externalities are not fully priced into the market. That said, I haven’t heard of a coal or nat gas plant disaster that required the purchase of all land within 10 miles or so of the plant, as seems likely will be the case with Fukushima Daiichi. I mean, would you want to have to try to sell your land if it was next to the plant and you couldn’t claim to a buyer that it was absolutely free of long half-life radioactivity?

                I can’t see how the Japanese are going to dodge having to create a Times Beach-style solution to the radioactivity problem. Of course, they could just deny/minimize the scale of the leaks and rely on a tame press and neutered tort regime to do the rest…

                1. Did the study contain a contingency for Price-Anderson being overturned, db?

                  That I don’t know. But good question.

                  Interesting results though. If the initial capex is not that much more than coal, and the operating costs that much lower, then why have essentially no new nuclear plants been started in this country since the 80s?

                  Keep in mind that
                  1. We’re still talking multiple billions of dollars for even medium sized coal fired plants these days, and while “25% more” doesn’t sound like that much, it really is when you’re talking about the difference between financing $6 billion vs $7.5 billion.

                  2. Essentially no new large fossil plants have been built in that time frame either. Back in the ’70s there were many 800-MW+ units built; now, there aren’t too many plants on the drawing board larger than 600 MW or so.

                  1. Also there are enough improvements available to large fossil units to improve capacity that some companies are focusing on that. My previous employer specifically undertook to improve asset performance through incremental capital improvements to existing plants (like upgrades to more efficient turbine rotors and investments that allowed units to be uprated), adding hundreds of MW of generating capacity at a small fraction of the cost of designing, permitting, and building a new plant of equivalent size.

                    1. Thanks for the responses.

                      Someone is going to have to build some more power generation, somewhere. Doubt we can get Bailey’s 12 TW by conservation/green energy alone.

              2. I was thinking that to supply our energy needs at present the current plants would be sufficient, whereas if you were to supply all of our needs with nuclear there would be a huge initial cost. Which would make nuclear seem dramatically more expensive.

                Just speculating, as I just skimmed the study and don’t have the time or inclination to give it a proper go through.

  7. Nuclear power can help with the oil situation. If you have cheap nuclear power (Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors) you can use it to produce hydrogen from water. You then combine that hydrogen with carbon you get from atmospheric CO2 and produce hydrocarbon fuels, i.e. methane, gasoline.

    1. Re: IceTrey,

      You then combine that hydrogen with carbon you get from atmospheric CO2 and produce hydrocarbon fuels, i.e. methane, gasoline.

      That would be quite expensive, for two reasons: 1) The dispersion of atmospheric CO2 and b) The three-tier production system you are describing (1.- Nuclear->Electricity, Electricity->Hydrogen; Hydrogen+CO2->methane or gasoline.)

      It would be much cheaper to use the Thorium reactors to just supply electricity to houses and golf carts, as you would eliminate two (2) intermediate processes which require capital investment and operation costs.

      1. Also, it doesn’t really help with the whole greenhouse gas problem. Perhaps we shouldn’t be thinking along the lines of “Hey, here’s nuclear, a nice green technology. Let’s use it to make hydrocarbons to burn.” Like it or not, environmental considerations are becoming extremely important for any large-scale energy technology.

        1. The problem with thinking about using anything other than oil for transportation is that the physics usually makes it impractical. You either need to store the energy in some kind of battery or somehow get it as you go. The problem with the former is that there are energy density limitations associated with current forms of batteries.

          The latter is actually an interesting question. I live near San Francisco and know that that city has an all-electric bus system. There are big overhead power lines running through certain areas of downtown where the buses connect to the lines like big bumper cars. But they also run in areas where there are no power lines. Presumably they use the electricity to charge some (relatively small capacity) energy storage devices, then run off these between charges. Does anyone know how such a power distribution system works? I would imagine that the electricity would have to be stepped down to a low voltage and that Joule heating losses in the wires would be substantial.

          1. Does anyone know how such a power distribution system works?

            Recent power developments

        2. If the hydrocarbons are made using atmospheric CO2 then they are carbon neutral, at least.

          1. Or the CO2 could be supplied from any of the various processes where CO2 is a byproduct.

      2. Along those lines… producing more electricity that is used by electric cars would in effect lower oil consumption. I could see that happening… IF someone were to produce an electric car that people actually wanted.

        1. Tesla Motors seems to be doing pretty well. They apparently make electric cars that perform well and can actually go over 200 miles on a charge. The price needs to come down some still.

      3. I said CHEAP nuclear power.

      4. Yes, CO2 is at 350 parts per million in air, not very concentrated at all.

  8. IMO, pretty good article.

    The capital costs are never going to go away. No one is EVER going to let people build nuclear plans without a ton of safety features. And even if all regulations disapeared tomorrow, I doubt anyone would actually want to build one without all those features.

    If the thorium reactors can produce power cheaper and safer, then yes let’s go that way (I’m actually invested in a company going that direction).

    But let’s not pretend that those the safety costs will ever disapear.

    1. The cost increases aren’t so much do to the safety regulations themselves, but due to the fact that the regulations we changed while the plants were under construction, forcing costly redesigns and construction delays.

      If you could build a nuclear plant from the start without any regulatory changes or permitting delays halfway through the construction process it would be substantially cheaper.

      1. In addition LFTR’s would be built assembly line style like a 747. Since they work at atmospheric pressures the containment is much simpler and cheaper.

      2. And that there are additional regulations and demands and delays and lawsuits/injunctions and all those associated costs for 50 different states and even at the local level in addition to federal oversight.

        If you can’t get rid of some of these costs then it will remain more expensive.

        1. Yes, but is it fair for nuclear plants to be subjected to different permitting processes that allow greater opportunities for opponents to stall and delay construction?

          Nuclear plants generally face many more public hearings before and during construction than coal or natural gas plants, which makes them much more vulnerable to opposition groups.

          Shouldn’t the permitting process be essentially identical? Why are nuclear plants singled out for extra special public scrutiny?

          1. No, it’s not fair.

    2. You’re confusing the simple engineering requirements for safety, with the bullshit redundant red tape that HAS NOTHING TO DO with the safe operation of a nuclear electricity generator. Things like multiple layers of “environmental” studies, nimby meetings, lawsuits, and plant procedures that don’t actually pertain to the things that we should be worried about going wrong but are in place specifically to make operating a plant more expensive.

      1. Hey, red tap can make things safer….when used to mark off a dangerous area for example.

        1. Yeah, but that tape is usually yellow, and says “caution”.

  9. Coal is cheap because the costs are externalized (climate change,SO2,heavy metals, failing tailings ponds). Nuclear is expensive because costs are actually included in the price of electricity. Take a look at the expected cost of clean(er) coal in the article, when you have to not pollute, coal is more expensive.

    1. Yep. de Rugy seems to ignore the fact that dirty technologies are not going to stick around very long. Whether by legislative (or even executive, in the form of the EPA) action or the preferences of millions of consumers, the “green-ness” of a technology will come to play a greater and greater role in its value. This favors nuclear over coal.

      1. I certainly would not argue that the complete coal costs are not reflected in the price of coal.

        The solution though is to have coal reflect those costs, not subsidize nuclear (I don’t know if you were advocating that or not, but thought I would mention it).

        I’ve long supported a net zero carbon tax.

        1. Absolutely correct. Don’t subsidize, just make the industries and the user’s pay the real cost of the service.

    2. yesssssssssssssss!!! let the knowledge flow!

  10. Nuclear power is a cheap alternative to fossil fuels.

    If it ever was, it certainly won’t be after this.

    1. Why’s that? Did prices of oil rise massively in response to Deepwater Horizon?

  11. When are we going to impose the no-fly zone in Syria?!

  12. Apart from the article’s self-contradiction about costs and regulatory environment, there is another factor that matters.

    Right now, the enormous transportation sector uses oil for fuel. If transportation can go to electricity, then oil can be replaced by electric power generation, which includes nuclear power generation.

    Currently-available electric vehicles are a joke, but it is possible that could change within, say, 5 years, with battery technology.

    1. or by implementing more electric based high speed trains!

      1. Made out of Reardon metal!

    2. “Currently-available electric vehicles are a joke, but it is possible that could change within, say, 5 years, with battery technology.”

      New battery tech has been 5 years off for the last 20 years or so.

      1. Except that there are cars on the road right now with the new battery tech, and battery tech continues to get cheaper.

        The volt costs 40k right now, but within 10 years, I imagnie it will be down to 20-25k.

        Technology advancements slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) drive costs down

        1. There is no Moore’s Law analogue for battery chemistry.

          That said, we will eventually be forced to abandon the internal combustion engine, just because it’s so damned inefficient. We’re going to be stuck with electric cars — or maybe do without — whether we like it or not.

          1. About 40% efficient? Or is that too high. Are there many things that are over 50% efficient?

            1. The most efficient combined cycle gas turbine plants barely touch 60%. No thermal cycle will ever exceed the Carnot efficiency, given by e= 1 – (Tc/Th) Where Tc and Th are the cold sink and hot sink temperatures, respectively. At current material temperature limits, 65% is about the best possible conversion efficiency, when taking generator inefficiencies into account.

          2. eh, gas will never go above a certain price because once oil hits like $150 a barrel it becomes worth it to refine the endless amounts of shale oil that’s available in Canada and America

            1. And, as I keep mentioning, Fischer-Tropsch coal to petroleum starts to get economical around that range. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_fuel With the amount of monkeying that’s been done to the USD the last 5 years, I’m not sure how to compare the prices per barrel mentioned in the studies with current crude commodities prices.

              1. Fischer-Tropsch synthesis is always just around the bend. The problem ultimately is one of receding horizons; the energy wasted in converting something else (such as coal or natural gas) is very substantial. I notice that Exxon killed off their natural gas to diesel synfuels plant in Qatar, which has enormous reserves of stranded natural gas. (On the other hand, I see they appear to have restarted and are in business again, to the tune of 140,000 bbl/day.)

                1. The figure I’d always heard—not being in the industry—bandied about was $150-165/bbl crude oil, circa mid 1990s USD value. If prices went and stayed above that, it’d be worthwhile to build the ginormous number of plants needed to satisfy the West’s addiction to crude oil. So, rhetoric, a la the Oil Drum, etc…about oil going to $200 a barrel and beyond, with the usual lurid scenes from The Road Warrior never made much sense to me.

                  I agree that it looks hideously wasteful. The last time I asked about it here, I thought you might be able to interconnect a nuke plant with the F-T plant, use the process steam, that sort of thing. Evidently co-generation like that won’t work.

                  But if we need to build it, we will. Just like if we really need to get into space and start building Solar Powersats, we will, by an Orion if nothing else. Until then, I don’t see a way around nuclear. Although the previous huge estimate for methane hydrate reserves have been scaled back dramatically, as increased marine EAP adds to our knowledge of deepwater marine geology, I still think they’re going to make some future Anthony Lucas or Edwin Drake an enormous amount of money. Problem is going to be getting them economically out of the clathrate, of course. And even those diminished reserves I thought were still large enough to cause a AGW problem if fully consumed. That would be a few generations down the road’s problem though

                  1. Methane hydrates are a non-starter for the same reason that solar is a non-starter: too diffuse. Also, they’re too much like mining in an environment hostile to that activity (deep seas).

                    Thorium fission is the way to go, if we can make it reasonably cheaply. The long-term supplies are present, we haven’t seriously started to look for the stuff and already it’s an order of magnitude more abundant that U-235.

  13. Fact 2 shows why Fact 1 is an innaccurate portrayl of costs. Fact 1 doesn’t include the true costs of producing the energy and leaves out associated externalities, among others, human health impacts (as shown in fact 2 showing the amounts of deaths per tWH.) Including those externalities would drastically change the cost per kWH by fuel type.
    Nuclear isn’t the entire solution for our U.S. energy demands, but looking into the future it needs to be a big part of the portfolio.

    Thank you for at least helping dispell all the nonsense hysteria about the danger of the energy.

    1. Nuclear is the solution. It just has to be the right kind of nuclear, Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors!

  14. You contradict yourself in point 3, first claiming that the regulatory environment isn’t responsible for the high costs, then later stating:
    “Although unit costs for technology usually decrease with volume of production because of scale factors and technological learning, nuclear power has gone in the opposite direction. This exception to the rule is usually attributed to the idiosyncrasies of the nuclear regulatory environment as public opposition grew, laws were tightened, and construction times increased.”

    Here is Bernard Cohen on the regulatory ratcheting of the 1970s:

    http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter9.html

    As new regulations were issued, designs had to be modified to incorporate them. We refer to effects of these regulatory changes made during the course of construction as “regulatory turbulence,” and the reason for that name will soon become evident.

    As anyone who has tried to make major alterations in the design of his house while it was under construction can testify, making these changes is a very time-consuming and expensive practice, much more expensive than if they had been incorporated in the original design. In nuclear power plant construction, there were situations where the walls of a building were already in place when new regulations appeared requiring substantial amounts of new equipment to be included inside them. In some cases this proved to be nearly impossible, and in most cases it required a great deal of extra expense for engineering and repositioning of equipment, piping, and cables that had already been installed. In some cases it even required chipping out concrete that had already been poured, which is an extremely expensive proposition.

    A major source of cost escalation in some plants was delays caused by opposition from well-organized “intervenor” groups that took advantage of hearings and legal strategies to delay construction. The Shoreham plant on Long Island was delayed6 for 3 years by intervenors who turned the hearings for a construction permit into a circus. The intervenors included a total imposter claiming to be an expert with a Ph.D. and an M.D. There were endless days of reading aloud from newspaper and magazine articles, interminable “cross examination” with no relevance to the issuance of a construction permit, and an imaginative variety of other devices to delay the proceedings and attract media attention.

    But again with Seabrook, the most expensive delay came after the plant was completed and ready to operate. It is located in such a way that the 5-mile radius zone requiring emergency planning extends into the state of Massachusetts. Governor Dukakis of Massachusetts, in deference to those opposed to the plant, refused to cooperate in the planning exercises. After about 3 years of delay, which added a billion dollars to the cost, in early 1990 the NRC ruled that the plant could operate without that cooperation. Governor Dukakis is appealing that decision, but the plant is now operating.

    In summary, there is a long list of reasons why the costs of these nuclear plants were higher than those estimated at the time the projects were initiated. Nearly all of these reasons, other than unexpectedly high-inflation rates, were closely linked to regulatory ratcheting and the turbulence it created.

    I encourage you to read the link.

    1. Great link, Hazel. Thanks.

  15. How Treehuggers Think:

    1. Coal is dirty.

    2. Nuclear is dangerous.

    3. Let’s give Petrobras (Brazil) two billion so they do deep drilling over there while we ban it over here.

    4. Wind farms entire with birds flight paths and the views of rich Democrats.

    5. Dams are bad for wildlife.

    FDA declares war on movie popcorn.
    http://libertarians4freedom.bl…..pcorn.html

    1. Hey! I’ve hugged a tree or two in my day and I definitely don’t think like that. And no one cares about your blog.

      1. Sure Zeb, I’m sure you were naked back then.

        As for “nobody caring about my blog,” what are you? A Market Research Analyst?

    2. 1) Coal is dirty – agree with that

      2) nuclear is dangerous – everything is dangerous if it’s done incorrectly, but I’m a huge proponent of nuclear

      3)lets give petrobras… I’d much rather give it to them than to middle eastern companies that we rely so heavily upon. They’re a much more stable country and a net exporter of energy with significant natural advantages.

      4- wind farms- I’m all for them and as long as you don’t take too much energy out of the system (I.e. natural wind flow patterns which wouldn’t really be impacted unless 50% of our energy came from wind) and put them in smart areas, build baby build

      5. Dams are bad for wildlife- agreed but proper planning can avoid it, and small scale hydro is always an option.

      There you go, thats my view as a “tree hugger”

      1. middle eastern countries* not companies.

      2. So you see? Your solution is no solution! You just hate all the things that give us energy.

        Besides, WHY is the government investing in Brazil? We have oil in America, let’s drill that oil! If Brazil wants to drill their oil, let them get a loan in the PRIVATE SECTOR.

        Jesus, and people don’t think i’m a libertarian.

        FDA declares war on movie popcorn.
        http://libertarians4freedom.bl…..pcorn.html

        1. Wait what???? You clearly have reasing comprehension issues.
          My solution was a solution incorporating all of the technologies – I said im a proponent off everything except coal, and that it just needs to be done correctly.
          People might not think you’re a “libertarian” but you get the point across fairly well that you’re awful at reading.

          1. reading* I guess almost as bad as my issues with typing today.

          2. You did not say that your solution was incorporating all of the technologies. You simply criticized all of them and you agreed with subsidizing Petrobras.

            My reading comprehension is perfectly fine, but, if you didn’t express yourself clearly the first time, I can understand that. You’re human after all.

            1. but I’m a huge proponent of nuclear

              That’s about as straightforward as you can get.

              1. Thank you for pointing that out, I didn’t really know how to be any more straightforward than that

                I LOVEZ TEH NUKES is about the only thing more I could say

    3. So how do libertarians think?

      My guess is:

      “Stop taking my money and using it to decide which energy source is the best when the market can do a far better job at deciding?”

      Anyone else?

    4. How Treehuggers Think George Soros makes money

  16. Yeah, but how much of that money stays in the US economy in good paying jobs, versus going to people who want to repress democracy and blow us up.

  17. What DeRugy misses in her “Projected $/Megawatt-hour in 2016” graph on the first page is that the link she supplies shows a more subtle problem: renewables have a far wider spread of minimum and maximum cost. This, really, is a consequence of siting. While Table 1 at the EIA page she links to claims relatively low numbers for solar photovoltaic grid connection costs ($4/MWh, one of the higher costs among those listed but only double the cost of conventional hydro), that strikes me as powerfully flawed. All the grand schemes I am aware of to convert to the US to run on solar power ? as this SciAm piece ? involve putting a whole mess of photovoltaic in the Four Corners states. That is because that is where the best siting for solar is. Transmission, therefore, will prove much, much more expensive than they are letting on. Connection costs now are low only because solar is principally installed in places that have good insolation. That will change over time.

    De Rugy falls for another canard of the renewables crowd by failing to take into account storage costs. Solar and wind simply cannot be used for baseload generation, and their costs skyrocket once storage is taken into consideration.

    So with regards to subsidy, nuclear is more sinned against than sinning (though I agree that we should minimize subsidy as much as possible).

    Further, she assumes only U-235- or MOX-fired nuclear power will be the future, and that fossil fuels will remain as cheap as they are (relatively speaking) now. I do not see how any of these will obtain. There is an odd mental block with libertarians about the finite nature of resources when it comes to things like oil and coal, but not when it comes to government expenditure.

  18. Holy shit is bike riding really that dangerous?

    1. No. Most numbers I’ve seen put the fatalities per mile of riding a bike around 2.5 times that of travel by automobile.

      If you aren’t a child, a drunk or an idiot, riding a bike is a pretty safe way to get around.

  19. Veronique, eat something and keep it down. No fingers down the throat!

    1. Max|3.25.11 @ 2:26PM|#|

      Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!

    2. The pet yorkie barks.

      What is it, boy? You say Timmy fell in a well? Oh, I see: you want to go and do your banalities outside?

  20. How again is Nuclear at 8 cents a Kwh not cheap?

    Agreed it is not cheaper then Gas or Coal….but considering that most poeple pay over double the cost I fail to see how that 1 or 2 pennys would make that big of difference.

    The simple fact is most of the money poeple spend on electricity goes to transportation (power line construction and maintenance)of it not to the production of it.

    1. While i agree with your logice, people would bring up the point that you’re talking billions of dollars extra over the lifetime of the plant when u consider the amount of kwh generated.

      1. This is interesting:

        http://www.nei.org/resourcesan…..ics/costs/

        Fuel costs make up 28 percent of the overall production costs of nuclear power plants. Fuel costs for coal, natural gas and oil, however, make up about 80 percent of the production costs.

        So the actual fuel is not what giving nuclear its high 8 cent price but other factors like construction, maintenance, waste disposal, insurance, labor and regulations.

        In the grand scheme I would think those types of costs would be easier to control and shrink then the kinds of costs oil and coal have.

        Just looking at those numbers alone and predicting the future I would have to say Nuclear has a better future then Oil or coal.

        1. And of course there’s a lot less volatility in the price.

  21. Maybe the stupid frog cunt could work on her English. What a disgusting accent she has. Either learn to talk like an American or go back to fucking France!

    1. Max|3.25.11 @ 2:26PM|#|

      Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!

    2. Re: Max,

      Maybe the stupid frog cunt could work on her English.

      The pet yorkie barks.

      1. Arf. Nip. Yip. Snap.

    3. 47] Veronica
      98] The fucking French
      65] Amphibians
      66] Pussy

  22. Look…there is no way you can compare OLD nuclear powerplant tech with new. There have been MANY advances since the last nuke in the US was built decades ago. There have been plenty of companies standing in line to build them, but every STUPID enviro-weenie pinko-commie anti-capitalist-vegetarian-fruit-and-nut tree-huggin’-progressive whale-fixated smelly-beatnik loser (did I cover everyone) protests at every turn and at every attempt to get a permit. I’ll let you build one in my back yard for free…how ’bout that?

  23. “Can LFTR power be cheaper than coal power?

    Burning coal for power is the largest source of atmospheric CO2, which drives global warming. We seek alternatives such as burying CO2 or substituting wind, solar, and nuclear power. A source of energy cheaper than coal would dissuade nations from burning coal while affording them a ready supply of electric power.

    Can a LFTR produce energy cheaper than is currently achievable by burning coal? Our target cost for energy cheaper than from coal is $0.03/kWh at a capital cost of $2/watt of generating capacity. Coal costs $40 per ton, contributing $0.02/kWh to electrical energy costs. Thorium is plentiful and inexpensive; one ton worth $300,000 can power a 1,000 megawatt LFTR for a year. Fuel costs for thorium would be only $0.00004/kWh.

    The 2009 update of MIT’s Future of Nuclear Power shows that the capital cost of new coal plants is $2.30/watt, compared to LWRs at $4/watt. The median of five cost studies of large molten salt reactors from 1962 to 2002 is $1.98/watt, in 2009 dollars. Costs for scaled-down 100 MW reactors can be similarly low for a number of reasons, six of which we summarize briefly”

    “Mass production. Commercialization of technology lowers costs as the number of units produced increases due to improvements in labor efficiency, materials, manufacturing technology, and quality. Doubling the number of units produced reduces cost by a percentage termed the learning ratio, which is often about 20%. In The Economic Future of Nuclear Power, University of Chicago economists estimate it at 10% for nuclear power reactors. Reactors of 100 MW size could be factory-produced daily in the way that Boeing Aircraft produces one airplane per day. At a learning ratio of 10%, costs drop 65% in three years.”

    http://energyfromthorium.com/page/3/

    1. Re: IceTrey,

      Burning coal for power is the largest source of atmospheric CO2, which drives global warming.

      Don’t sell nuclear energy as a way to curb Global Warming, IT. We need the globe to be warm, otherwise this place would be like Mars.

      1. Umm well by that account… We need this place cool too otherwise this place would be like mercury…

  24. Her email is: vderugy@gmu.edu

    If you thought this was as poorly researched as I did, drop her a note.

  25. Nuclear energy is to the Right what solar energy is to the Left

    Showing your hand right out of the gate? Tisk tisk.

  26. So what’s next for Veronique? Economic myths and economic realities of Liz Taylor’s ex-husbands? Try getting out of having to come up with your own conclusion by quoting Ron Bailey on that one!

  27. To most above: Thank you for some thought-provoking letters!

  28. what we need is some fuckin mad scientist type shit for the future

    just mix rainey nickel and lithium hydride and you gotst extra power

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blacklight_Power

    muwahahahahahaha MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!

    1. Do you even know what Rainey(sic) nickel is?

      1. in case you didn’t catch it, I’m half-joking about these two things. I understand they could very well be bubkis

        but yeah the article says rainey nickel which I looked up a while ago apparently is a common catalyst

    2. Blacklight Power = first-order fraudsters.

  29. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Plowshare

    Why can’t we build harbors with nukes?

    It’s one of the best worst ideas ever.

    1. It’s one of the best worst ideas ever.

      That would have been awesome!!!

      To bad they didn’t go through with it. Oregon really needs a glowing ocean front harbor. California could have done with two or three as well.

    2. Project Chariot, which would have used several hydrogen bombs to create an artificial harbor at Cape Thompson, Alaska. It was never carried out due to concerns for the native populations and the fact that there was little potential use for the harbor to justify its risk and expense

      Those pussies didn’t know shit about stimulus.

  30. Edwin: “Let’s power the world with UFOs!”

    1. more evidence of libertarians being aspberger case retards who are too socially inept to catch a joke

  31. You know, I wonder if the anti-nuke fever, which will be reinforced mightily by the problems in Japan, will extend to fusion power when we get it. Regardless of how safe fusion will likely be.

    1. Liar. You already know the answer.

      1. God, I hope not.

    2. which will be reinforced mightily by the problems in Japan

      My guess is that the Japan nuke thing will be like the Gulf Spill.

      After everything is said and done the damage will be minimal and the effect among polls will be that the media had overblown the fears.

      Also the fusion industry one would hope would be smart enough to call it “hydrogen power” or simply “fusion” and leave the words “nuclear” “atom” and “reactor” out of descriptions of it.

      1. I should note that Fuel Cells actually were called Fusion power by industry proponents a few years ago.

        Fuel cells have gone nowhere fast but the idea did not seem to be hurt by associating it with the fusion power.

  32. for now (i.e. with current tech):

    carbon chain > fissile material

    not shocking and in fact simple really

  33. I can’t speak to the economics, but one of the interesting things about modern nuclear power in the US is that few really understand how it works day to day, and I include in that bin most scientists and journalists who are commenting to the media on the topic. It’s kind of treated as a black box from which occasionally spews toxic goo. While not necessarily leading to incorrect assumptions, this is perhaps not the best way to look at any of our potential energy supplies if we are to make better decisions about them in the future. Hundreds of nuclear workers are busy every day at every reactor. What are they doing?

    I’ve worked in the US nuclear industry for 25 years. My novel “Rad Decision” culminates in an event very similar to the Japanese tragedy. (Same reactor type, same initial problem ? a station blackout with scram.) The book is an excellent source of perspective for the lay person ? as I’ve been hearing from readers. The novel is free online at the moment at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com . (No adverts, nobody makes money off this site.) Reader reviews are in the homepage comments.

    Unfortunately, my media presence consists of this little-known book and website, so I’m not an acknowledged “expert”. I just do the nuclear stuff for a living. And I think I have explained it well in a non-yawn-producing manner. But it’s a bit of a tree falling in a forest???

    I believe there isn’t a perfect energy solution ? just options ? each with their good and bad points. And we’ll make better choices about our future if we first understand our energy present.

  34. Please cite the source for the purported high deaths from coal power. Of course, all industries should strive for a completely safe working environment. However, fatalities from mining, transporting, and utilizing coal are relatively low compared with the value of the electric energy produced from coal. Dozens of industries have greater fatalities.

    As far as purported fatailties to general populations, presumably from air emissions, there is no hard data in the public record that supports that conclusion. The literature is replete with breathless “meta-analyses” (analyses of analyses to the nth degree, you get the picture) performed by activists and policy proponents. These analysts trumpet all the deaths caused by coal. The details of their analyses are usually kept under wraps, and must therefore be considered suspect.

    One example is the essay “It Could Happen Here” By FRANK N. VON HIPPEL, a nuclear physicist-turned political scientist, in the March 23, 2011 New York Times. Mr. von Hippel is an unabashed apologist for nuclear power, even to the point of opposing reprocessing of nuclear waste. How about sending him over to clean out the spent fuel ponds at Fukushima? He’s more qualified (and probably more deserving) than the unfortunate laborers who are doing it now.

    Coal boilers contribute a trivially small proportion of the sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate, mercury, manganese, and other air pollutants, especially when natural sources are considered.

    Fossil fuel risks are scalable. That is they are distributed over a wide population and have a low per-capita cost. The cost is readily and accurately estimated, including the cost of known externalities. These costs are orders-of-magnitude less than the opposite costs of lack of affordable electric energy.

    By contrast, nuclear power is a “Black Swan” technology. It has a “long tail” of risk of very low-probability but disastrously high risk, to random, localized populations. Conventional Bayesian risk analysis is unable to properly price such “long-tail” risks, because there is insufficient experience in recorded history.

  35. “When the day comes that the electricity from solar or nuclear power plants is worth more than the costs associated with generating it, I will be as happy as the next Greenpeace member (in the case of the former) or MIT graduate (in the case of the latter) to support either technology.”

    Until that time comes, producing nuclear energy remains a very costly business.”

    As long as you are going to use false accounting, that day will never come. Either you count all externalities, or you stick your head in the sand and choke on a pile of lies.

  36. “Greenpeace member (in the case of the former) or MIT graduate (in the case of the latter)”

    Neglecting the union part of the Venn diagram, or are there no the MIT grads who are Greenpeace members.

  37. I believe I’ve heard that over 20,000 deaths a year in the states are attributed to coal pollution. I imagine the economic cost of that is pretty significant. Even if it were more expensive to run nukes with externalities factored in I’d go with them considering the 14 years lost on average to the people killed by coal pollution according to my casual googling.

  38. Congratulations for a very enlighting paper!
    When estimating the cost of the nuclear power and the state subsidies, have you included the cost of insurance agains accident, which is presently given for free by the State (beyond, maybe, 10 billion USD which might be provided for under international conventions…), whereas the damages are several 100 billion USD ?…
    Thanks in advance

  39. I imagine the economic cost of that is pretty significant. Even if it were more expensive to run nukes with externalities factored in I’d go with them considering the 14 years lost on average to the people killed by coal pollution according to my casual googling

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  41. Although I agree with much of this article, I do disagree with the assessment of the French regulatory authorities as “loose”. For disclosure, I am a nuclear safety engineer with 15 years of experience currently on assignment in France, and I was somewhat surprised that the French regulatory bodies can be as stringent as the NRC, and sometimes even more conservative. Personally, I believe the construction cost differentials to be partially due to standardized plant designs and other factors, rather than a loosey-goosey regulatory body.

    As I always point out in these types of “this versus that” for energy production, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Burning coal is filthy, emits far more CO2 than is prudent, and also emits far more day-to-day radioactivity than a nuclear plant (which few people realize). Nuclear fission reactors have enormous upfront costs and the waste products (although relatively small in volume) are quite nasty. Hydropower has environmental effects of its own by wrecking river habitat. Solar and wind are extremely expensive, and do not represent viable base load options in much of the USA. Natural gas plants are inexpensive to build, but fuel costs are high and variable (almost the opposite of a nuclear plant), and you are still producing CO2 via combustion.

    So if somebody in the media, the government, or elsewhere says that the problem can be “solved by simply switching to [xxx] source of electricity”, then they are being naive or disambiguous at best, and deliberately lying at worst. Silver bullets do not exist (except in politician’s and lobbyist’s minds), and we need to grow up as a country and face that fact.

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  44. Perhaps the author could go to the website

    http://energyfromthorium.com/essay3rs/

    and write an article of how the NRC has for four decades been derelict in their duty by certifying an inherently problematic reactor design and ignoring the only reactor design that makes any sense. On the surface, it looks like the NRC has been working in the interest of GE and Westinghouse. The liquid flouride thorium reactor (LFTR) isn’t just better than a light water reactor (LWR), there is no conceivable defense for advocating a light water reactor in light of a LFTR.

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