Economics

No to Nukes

Nuclear power isn't cost-effective, no matter how you do the math.

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When Barack Obama was just a baby, nuclear energy was touted as the technology that would finally provide pollution-free, limitless electricity for all. In its famous 1962 Port Huron Statement, the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society gushed about how "our monster cities…might now be humanized" thanks to nuclear power. Like so many predictions about the future, that one rather dramatically missed the mark. 

Surprising as it may seem, the United States still generates around 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants. This despite the fact that no new facilities have been built since the notorious Three Mile Island accident of 1979, which released small amounts of radioactive gases and iodine into the environment after a partial meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Public opinion has remained steadfast against the technology ever since. In February The Economist reported that 64 percent of Americans opposed building new reactors. Disputes over waste disposal have never been resolved, and the Fukushima reactor meltdown in March 2011 cast further doubt on the idea that nuclear power will ever be a long-term clean-energy solution in the United States. 

All of this has not stopped the Obama administration from betting on nukes. Even though the president prefers talking up more fashionable (and less economically viable) technologies such as wind and solar, in February his Nuclear Regulatory Commission quietly approved construction of what would be the first two new nuclear reactors in two generations. In 2010 Secretary of Energy Steven Chu touted the White House's commitment to "restarting the American nuclear industry and creating thousands of new jobs and export opportunities in the process." 

But jump-starting nuclear power is not just bad politics. It's awful economics. 

The nuclear energy industry in the United States is powered by corporate welfare on plutonium. What is in theory a wonderful technology is in practice an economic white elephant. The data accumulated during the last 30 years suggest strongly that nuclear plants will never be able to cover their operating costs, let alone recoup the billions it costs to build them.

A 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study led by physicist Ernest J. Moniz and engineer Mujid S. Kazimi showed that nuclear energy costs 14 percent more than gas and 30 percent more than coal. And that's after taking into account a baked-in taxpayer subsidy that artificially lowers nuclear plants' operating costs.

A 2010 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that nuclear power will remain more expensive to produce than other conventional sources of electricity in 2016 (see chart). Based on this analysis, nuclear power is also more expensive than wind power, although cheaper than solar and clean coal.

While the nuclear industry in the United States has seen continued improvement in operating performance over time, it remains uncompetitive with coal and natural gas on price. This cost differential is primarily driven by high capital costs and long construction times, often more than 10 years. 

According to the Congressional Budget Office, nuclear power plants, on average, wind up costing three times more to build than original estimates suggest. Inflation, especially in the more nuclear-powered 1970s, played some role in the problem of ballooning costs. But when a project takes more than a decade to complete, labor and capital costs can grow in unexpected ways as well.

 Historically, nuclear energy has flourished only in countries, such as France and Japan, where governments have stepped in with heavy subsidies. Yet dating back to at least the Reagan years, many conservatives have argued that if it weren't for the regulatory costs and other barriers imposed by the federal government, nuclear energy would be competitive in the United States as well. While these conservatives rarely have a kind word for a nation of cheese-eating surrender monkeys, they don't hesitate to point to France—which gets about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and has never suffered a large-scale disaster—as demonstrable proof that nuclear power can be affordable and safe if companies are given the opportunity to build plants. 

But producing nuclear energy in France is not magically cheaper than elsewhere. French citizens are forced to pay inflated costs to support grand government schemes, such as the decision made 30 years ago to go nuclear at any cost after the first oil shock in 1974. 

In a 2010 paper published by the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School economist Mark Cooper found that the overall cost of generating nuclear power in France is similar to that in the United States. The price range for the two countries (after adjusting for purchasing power) overlap, despite the fact that the U.S. has a relatively strict regulatory regime and France has a relatively loose one: France's estimated cost for a kilowatt of power is between $4,500 and $5,000; the estimated cost in the U.S. is between $4,000 and $6,000. Those figures remain stubbornly high, despite decades of efforts to get them down to manageable levels.

The main reason no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States in 30 years is that they have proven to be poor investments, producing far more expensive electricity than originally promised. Giving the thumbs up to start work now on two new nuclear plants is an act of desperation by a president who has realized he is running out of other options. 

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

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  1. While these conservatives rarely have a kind word for a nation of cheese-eating surrender monkeys…

    There’s something awesome about de Rugy uttering this line.

    At least we have nuclear power in our back pockets for when the fossil fuels run out, which apparently will be any day now.

  2. And Ms. de Rugy doesn’t even touch on the insurance subsidy.

    But but NEAD MOAR NUKES says the GOP.

    1. When it comes to cost-effective electricity generation in the U.S., nothing even comes close to touching coal. But the nutbag moonbats hate coal as much as they hate oil.

      1. Environmental harm is a cost. You can’t magically wish it away anymore than you can other more concrete costs.

        1. But everything carries risk of environmental harm. You morons were for hydro nuclear natural gas solar wind before you were against it.

          Just admit that you hate poor people and want them to live like it’s 1168 again.

          1. Poverty is romantic.

            1. Do your part, then, Tony, and kill yourself. For the good of mankind.

              1. sarcasmic != T o n y

                1. A bag of ferret shit != Tony.

                  1. As a side note, “!=” is an operator meaning “not”. Saying “A bag of ferret shit != Tony.” is the smae as saying “Tony is not a bag of Ferret Shit”. You were looking for the “==” or “===” which means “is” or “strictly is” for the latter.

                    1. Way to buzzkill, niobi.

                    2. Sorry, I just din’t want people to think you were saying “Tony ISN’T a sack of ferret shit”…Just wanted to make sure the reasonoids knew you were calling him a large sack of Mustelidae shit… Enjoy the new operators!

                    3. FIFY, this is where your supposed to _thank_ nio

                    4. Sorry, guys. It just brought me down, is all.

                    5. I guess it depends on context. I’ll agree that != means NOT EQUAL TO, but as far aas the == or ===. A single equal would assign Tony to A bag of ferret shit, two would be a check for equality and I can’t think of any language that supports three equal signs.

                    6. @UvalDuvalCuckoo

                      In a weakly typed language, you can have oddities like false, null, 0, an empty string, and an empty list all being considered equal (and sometimes interchangeable–JavaScript is known for some WTF moments when you mix lists and arithmetic).

                      To account for this, such languages typically have an operator that means “is equal to and is of the same type”. In PHP and JavaScript, if not other languages, this operator is ===, and conversely, !== means “is not equal to or is not of the same type”.

                    7. Nice.

                  2. Paul “Alfred E.” Krugman == Tony.

          2. What a thoughtful contribution. How much CO2 do windmills put into the atmosphere again?

            1. How many Kennedy family members blocked offshore windmills in Hyannisport?

            2. he he….I saw T Boone Pickens on tv yesterday. He said he has lost over 150 million on windmills. Good for him.
              Now he is whining about legislatively forcing all large trucks in the US to be powered by natural gas. He claims the free market will take 10 years to bring that about, but legislatively we could force it in 3 years.

              Of course he plans to be the one supplying the gas.

              News flash to Pickens and tiny; If it is a good idea the free market will pick it up and run with it. If it is a bad idea legislation is needed.

            3. So you like nuclear power then, right?

              1. Pickens turned into a pussy. He can’t die in a fire soon enough.

              2. I can’t wait to buy a nuke-powered Corvette.

            4. You pollute when you breathe Tony.

              Please stop polluting.

            5. How much CO2 do windmills put into the atmosphere again?

              More than a coal-fired plant does to produce the wattage a windmill will over its entire operational lifetime.

              Where do you think the energy comes from to build those things and mine/produce the materials they’re built from? Not other windmills, that’s for damn sure.

              1. Where do you think the energy comes from to build those things and mine/produce the materials they’re built from? Not other windmills, that’s for damn sure.

                I’ve asked the question many times and have never seen any evidence that Windmills can be manufactured, produced, installed and maintained entirely on wind power.

            6. “What a thoughtful contribution. How much CO2 do windmills put into the atmosphere again?”

              Several metric fucktons. What do you think all that cement used to build the foiundations is doing, or the truck moving materials?

              1. Oh and then we can add in the emissions of the coal/oil/gas fired plant that is running on standby all the time to make up supply shortfalls that occur when the wind isn’t blowing hard enough or is blowing too hard.

              2. Several metric fucktons. What do you think all that cement used to build the foiundations is doing, or the truck moving materials?

                Tony does not understand the seen and the unseen. He only understands the seen.
                When windmills operate they do not expel CO2, therefore no CO2 is put into the environment. That is what is seen. The unseen, the CO2 emitted during the manufacture and transportation is unseen, and therefor didn’t happen.

                He also believes that breaking windows stimulates the economy.

              3. is ‘fuck’ more than kilo but less than mega?

              4. Is that an SI unit?

            7. What a thoughtful contribution. How much CO2 do windmills put into the atmosphere again?

              Let’s calculate that.

              Let’s see, first we need vast tracts of open land to place them on (environmental cost). Then we have to build the things–

              But here’s a really great website on the cost of windmills. Read it Tony. Lots of links to the government, like NOAA and the DOE.

              http://docs.wind-watch.org/dod…..sfail.html

              In the Appalachian mountains extending through West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania, extensive areas are cleared for wind turbine placement. As more mountain ridges are cleared, the negative impacts become cumulative. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined in its report, “WIND POWER: Impacts on Wildlife and Government Responsibilities for Regulating Development and Protecting Wildlife”, at the request of Representative Mollohan and Representative Rahall, that “no one is considering the impacts of wind power on a regional or ‘ecosystem’ scale” and that state and local officials have no guidelines for considering the negative environmental impacts caused by wind turbine facilities” (www.gao.gov/new.items/d05906.pdf).

            8. Nevermind that everyone completely destroyed your asinine argument, but I seem to recall some sqwaking from the enviro’s over the fact that windmill farms were killing birds by the hundreds and endangering different species. Oh and something about them being an eyesore off the east coast liberal havens.

              Face it, everytime someone tries to produce something that could possibly be a solution, you morons come up with a new reason to hate that thing. You aren’t for helping the environment anymore than you are for helping poor people.

              1. over the fact that windmill farms were killing birds by the hundreds and endangering different species. Oh and something about them being an eyesore off the east coast liberal havens.

                The interesting thing about this, is the liberals pushing these farms know that a high percentage of environmental impact claims* are horeseshit designed to stall construction projects, so they wave them off.

                *environmental impact claims where if you build a thing in the woods, it “could disrupt wildlife habitat or behavior in a detrimental way, too small to measure, but you have to prove that it doesn’t”

            9. I dunno, what’s involved in manufacturing them?

            10. Tony, how much CO2 does a nuclear plant put into the atmosphere?

              Now compare the CO2 “into the atmosphere” resulting from the CONSTRUCTION of each one…

              just to be somewhere near “fair.”
              🙂

          3. You seem to mistake environmental risk with environmental harm. Coal power harms the environment. We can count (roughly) the medical bills it causes. What part of that involves risk? It’s certain, when you release PM10 particles into the atmosphere they propagate according to well-known physics, people breath them, and it causes COPD.

        2. Environmental harm is a cost. You can’t magically wish it away anymore than you can other more concrete costs.
          Yes, everything costs something, so why don’t you just kill yourself, T o n y, instead of polluting our lovely planet with your left-wing horse s#!t. Sorry, but most externalities don’t require government intervention.

      2. Fracking has been dramatically driving down the cost of natural gas.

        1. Yeah, but fracking also causes genital warts on kindergarteners, and it will make the sum move closer to the earth, and there will eventually be a hangnail epidemic affecting billions of Americans if we allow fracking to continue!

          1. true story — was at a family wedding in Western PA. bunch of union guys coming off their shift working on the Marcellus Shale project were drinking in the hotel bar. i asked to nobody in particular “what’s that smell” (turns out it from the fracking process) “money” was the response from the bar.

      3. “…cost-effective electricity….”

        Cost effective anything……this is what lefty nutbag moonbats hate.

        1. Efficiency is a destroyer of jobs!

    2. The insurance subsidy argument is BS.

      Only a statist would mandate a company have insurance to begin with.

      1. WTF are you talking about? You think that private investors would line up behind a nuke company without the liability backing of the Federal government?

        Get real. Nuke plants are functionally uninsurable, and thus non-viable, in a Free Market. They’re existence is 100% reliant on government backing of limited liability.

        1. You think that private investors would line up behind a nuke company without the liability backing of the Federal government?

          Yes. The limit on losses is their investment, so know greater risk than investing in Solyandra (sp?) or Pets.com.

          1. So what happens when there’s a nuke disaster that exceeds the limit on their coverage?

            1. What happens to anybody when their liability to another exceeds their ability to pay?

              1. Bankruptcy, and the claimants don’t get paid.

                A situation where this is likely to occur is not properly called “insurable”.

                1. Didnt see it was insurable. Just saying I dont see a need to mandate the insurance.

                  1. So you’re saying someone can build a nuclear reactor next door to my house and have no means of paying damages to me if it melts down or spews radioactive waste all over my property rendering it uninhabitable for 400 years.

                    Sometimes you have to screw the dogma and live in the real world.

                    1. So you’re saying someone can build a nuclear reactor next door to my house and have no means of paying damages to me if it melts down or spews radioactive waste all over my property rendering it uninhabitable for 400 years.

                      Yes. And same for every other business.

                      In my state, auto liability insurance minimum is 25/50/10 (25k per person, 50k per accident, 10k in property damage).

                      10k. They mandate I have 10k. So, if I wreck your ferrari and Im broke, you are getting $10000 from my insurance company.

                      How the fuck is this any different?

                      Maybe if you live next to a nuke plant and/or drive a ferrari, you should fucking insure yourself?

                    2. Really, my question for you is, why should nuclear power be treated any differently than any other business?

                    3. Other businesses don’t have the potential to turn huge tracts of land they don’t own into barren wastelands overnight.

                    4. Investors and Lenders would insist on Insurance just as they do when you buy a house.

                      If they can’t get insurance, then no nuclear. If no one wants to invest, no nuclear.

                      Get rid of the regulations and see if anyone builds nuclear. According to Veronica they won’t. There are technologies out there such as fuel recycling that could lower costs if allowed. Apparently you can recycle the nuclear fuel about 30 times since it gets “neutron poisoned” due to fission and stops working but is actually only 3% spent. According to Greg Chopin’s talk I saw a few years back.

                    5. A Ferrari wreck isn’t “uninsurable”. You can get insurance with higher limits to take care of Ferrari drivers.

                      So, if I wreck your ferrari and Im broke, you are getting $10000 from my insurance company.

                      Plus garnishment of your wages for the rest of your life until you pay the difference. If I want to go through the hassle.

                    6. You’re still losing this argument. If it’s wrong for the government to coerce one person into purchasing insurance, it’s wrong for it to coerce every other person as well. If nuclear power actually was uninsurable, and investors demanded insurance protections (which they would), there wouldn’t be any nuclear power plants built. No need for a government mandate anymore than there is for a coal fired plant next to your home, or a wind farm next to your home, or a brothel next to your home, or a landscaping company next to your home. If you can prove negligence, you can get the same garnishment of your wages for the rest of your life until you pay the difference from a nuclear power executive as you can from the Ford Fiesta driver who smashed your Ferrari. Of course, you might have some trouble collecting since the guy would also likely be in jail.

                    7. “If it’s wrong for the government to coerce one person into purchasing insurance…”

                      Social security. Payments in, supposed to be invested (which apparently means “stolen” to congress) to insure you against the possibility — not certainty — that you will need income because you are unemployed due to that disease process we all know and love, telomere shortening.

                      It’s a gamble: you may, or may not reach such an age and/or condition. But they can make you pay it. And they do.

                      While SS may be, in fact, unconstitutional, it also sets a fine precedent for the cluetards in SCOTUS along the “can the government make you pay for insurance”, and they will most likely let ACA go accordingly. And of course there’s the other side of that coin, where the government can make you pay for wars, parties in Las Vegas, drone assassinations, water-boarding, the crafting of ex post facto implementing, 4th-amendment violating, and otherwise straight up unconstitutional laws, monuments and gun-running programs to Mexico.

                      There’s zero doubt the government, as presently implemented, can make you pay for anything it likes. All SCOTUS has to do is make that observation, and we’re done with the whole subject. It’s too much to hope for that they’ll go “hey, no way.” Not when corporate interests (and therefore, stocks and donations and bribes and etc.) are at stake.

                      So *you* lose the argument. Because you can’t argue with an insane gorilla.

      2. Don’t buy it. Libertarian or not, I think it’s fairly acceptable to require that, when someone is undertaking a venture with the capacity to cause damages far in excess of what they’re capable of paying, that they acquire the means to protect themselves for liability. Same logic as for autos.

        It’s not that unlibertarian — it’s just preemptively protecting life and property.

    3. You talking about new-cue-ler power plants?

  3. This cost differential is primarily driven by high capital costs and long construction times, often more than 10 years.

    And those aren’t caused by overlapping misguided regulations and frivolous lawsuits.

    Nope, not at all.

    1. She actually deals with that issue in TFA.

      …the overall cost of generating nuclear power in France is similar to that in the United States.

      the U.S. has a relatively strict regulatory regime and France has a relatively loose one…

      1. Just because the French suck at building something doesn’t mean Americans won’t be able to improve the design.

        And while France may have a “loose regulatory scheme” regarding the licensing requirements to build nuclear plants, their overall business regime is pretty fantastically crappy.

        It may well be true that nukes are now and will forever be unaffordable / less price efficient than coal or gas fired electrical plants. But I’m not certain that this particular example adequately demonstrates that.

    2. Exactly, sure it will take a while to build something as large as a Nuke Plant, but eliminate the ridiculous regulations and nimby/luddite lawsuits designed more to stop the whole project than to actually defend something and you will have doubled both the time and the cost to build the plant. Now throw in frivilous litgation at every turn once the plant is actually operational and you are adding significant deadweight cost to each KWH generated.

      Finally if you are going to add in the subsidies provided to Nuke power how about all those indirect subsidies provided to Coal, things like the Army Corps of Engineers maintaining Locks on the Ohio River primarily so Coal can be shipped down it, the huge subsidy rail companies get just to stay in business, without which the coal would sit in West Virginia. Sure the Coal plants pay the price for their fuel to be shipped in, but that price is heavily subsidized by the Feds in almost all cases.

      Finally there is the ultimate issue. While the fears of the Warmers and Malthusians are as always overblown to pretend that digging up and burning coal or any other fossil fuel does not produce externalities which are never covered in the cost of the energy the generate is just digging your head in the sand and even a Fukushima level event once every 30 years makes Nuclear the safest least ecologically damaging (yes, even including wind and Solar) in existance today.

      1. When I worked as a nuclear engineer, the Green Peace people would carry signs that said “Did you know you have X critical nuclear reactors running off-shore?” A “critical” nuclear reactor only means that you have the same number of neutrons being consumed/lost as produced. It’s actually the most stable state of a reactor, as it isn’t in transition. But “critical” sounds like it’s running over max capacity, and so is likely to scare the populace. It’s all about The Fear.

        1. Too bad you didn’t have any super-critical nuke plants. Now that would be fun. I hear if you dump super-critical fissile material into a beryllium sphere is dramatically helps the situation.

          1. All plants are super-critical while ramping up in power production.

            You need k above 1 to increase power. Once you get to the power level you are going to operate at, you lower k to exactly one, to hold it critical.

            1. Damn your nuclear logic and always making sense!

              1. Remember all those Swiss nuclear accidents in the early 90s? You’re welcome.

          2. Four words you never want to hear in a plant control room: “is that gauge right?”

            1. Or “Homer’s running the show.”

      2. Dont forget the radiation released from coal plants.

        Plant-emitted radiation carried by coal-derived fly ash delivers 100 times more radiation to the surrounding environment than does the normal operation of a similarly productive nuclear plant.

        1. That last paragraph is a quote.

  4. I’m disappointed that Veronique didn’t include the smaller reactors like Hyperion’s nuke battery in her study. I’m wondering if the smaller size and lower cost of operation would change the math at all.

    1. I’m wondering why she didn’t include di-lithium crystal production in her calculations.

      1. Hurr. Idk maybe because its not real?

        1. Scotty would like a word with you down in Engineering.

        2. Yeah, that’s probably why. YOU WIN THIS ROUND.

        3. Next you’re going to say there’s no such thing as transparent aluminum.

          1. “How do we know this isn’t the man who invented it?”

          2. Except of course there is…

            http://blog.makezine.com/2012/…..-aluminum/

        4. “I’m wondering why she didn’t include di-lithium crystal production in her calculations.”

          ” Idk maybe because its not real?”

          Actually, Dr. James Dye at Michigan State University has prepared and analysed di-lithium crystals. They do not have any known power generating capacity, unfortunately.

          1. That’d be because he isn’t using them to control a matter/antimatter reaction.

            If he had paid any attention to Star Trek technobabbly he would have known that the crystals themselves were not the source of the power in and of themselves but rather the control medium for the antimatter reaction.

      2. Because they’ve been givin’ all she’s got Cap’n – they can no take morra this kind o’ stress!

        1. Hey which episode of Star Trek TOS was it that Scotty saved the Enterprise from almost certain doom by performing repairs and/or improvements to the engines at the last minute?

          1. All the ones except where Kirk’s sermons converted either primitive societies or beings who had evolved past the need for physical bodies to do the right thing, ie, whatever was best for Kirk.

            1. Don’t forget judo chops and boinking absurdly sexy green alien wimminz!

            2. That and the movie where *Spock* performed critical engine maintenance at the last minute because Scotty was too much of a pussy to bite the bullet himself.

              Doesn’t he know situations like that are why the ChEng is allowed to drink onboard?

    2. smaller reactors like Hyperion’s nuke battery

      Sons O biatchhh!!! I have a nuke battery and didn’t even know it. I gots to find that bad boy so I can make something nuke powered… I’m thinkin my wireless router. If only I could make that puppy go nukulur, then maybe comcast would work more than 20% of the time.

  5. This overlooks a lot of the advances in nuclear power production in the past 3 decades. Since the ‘Megan’s Law’ of 1979 that stopped any research or improvement in nuclear power production in the US (I know other countries have put a modicum of improvement, but physics is one of the few things we still do better than everyone else put together). So you’re looking at data from plants that had the hell regulated out of them and were designed forty years ago.

    Thorium reactors have barely been researched, not to mention all the other improvements that would have come had we not stopped cold turkey.

    We’ve been burning coal for thousands of years, but a coal power plant designed in the ’90s and built in the ’00s is a far cry (and a hell of a lot more profitable) than one designed 4-5 decades ago.

    Obviously the gov’t shouldn’t be doing the investment, but to say that it’s not profitable is somewhat disingenuous.

    1. Obviously the gov’t shouldn’t be doing the investment,

      I disagree. I think it’s fine for state governments to invest in whatever they think will give their state a competitive edge over living in the other 49 states. I’d personally vote for no subsidies, but meh.

      I’m ok with the idea of individual states voting to subsidize (ironically, through relaxed regulation) the constructions of alternative energy sources. As long as I’m still allowed to move out of the state to evade the taxes.

      1. But power is one of those things where there’s absolutely NO need for government investment. In the absence of rent-seeking and over burdensome bureaucracy and regulation, companies would be falling all over themselves to build plants.

        Problem is that they make it so tough and expensive that ONLY the government can fund and push through the paperwork to start anything. Self licking ice cream cone.

        1. But power is one of those things where there’s absolutely NO need for government investment.

          I wholeheartedly agree, on the federal level. But, if a state is finding that it must purchase its power from a neighboring state (think NYC), it may make sense for the state to decide that it’d rather not pay NJ for its power consumption. I’m not quite willing to say that citizens can’t decide for themselves that it may make sense for them to subsidize their own energy usage.

          It’s purely a 10th amendment argument that I’m making. I do disagree with subsidies, especially at the federal level, and I’d oppose any proposed subsidies, but I don’t want to tell people they can’t piss their money into the wind.

          1. “if a state is finding that it must purchase its power from a neighboring state…”

            then it should probably GET THE HELL OUT OF MY WAY!!!!!!!

            Sorry, I lost it there. I meant remove the restrictions that prevent its own citizens from producing the power they need.

          2. The arguments against are the same, regardless of the fact that states have, in theory, broader power to do such things.

      2. Moving out of a state is not evading taxes. If the state isn’t giving you a good return on your tax investment, find one that can do better.

      3. “I think it’s fine for state governments to invest in whatever they think will give their state a competitive edge over living in the other 49 states.”

        that’s showing a lot more faith in state governments than I would have.
        Especially since the current data shows that state’s are pretty bad at figuring out what makes them more desirable than another.
        Their usual “investment” tactics involve huge taxpayer subsidies to business that either fail in short order or were already making so much money that they didn’t need the subsidy in the first place. Often with little to no way of holding their “investments” accountable. That’s on top of generally increasing taxes whenver there’s a shortfall in the state budget.

  6. I think it’s hard to decry nuclear power based solely on the cost of jumping through federal hoops. A lot of the time investment is due to these same hoops, which like the article states, time = money.

  7. Veronique should say that subsidized, highly regulated nuclear power is “bad economics.” I for one would like to see a real assessment of what nuclear fuel prices would look like without subsidies. Saying that nuclear power is a bad idea is flat wrong when you only consider nuclear power as it exists tiday.

    1. tiday

      That is all. :p

      1. You misspelled “thppbbbpt.”

    2. I doubt de Rugy is interested in that analysis, given a) She has come to her conclusion without the benefit of such analysis, b) She doesn’t seem all that interested in carrying forward her subsidy analysis to other fossil sources, and c) She pretty much was already dancing on nuclear’s grave right after Fukushima.

      de Rugy has a clear bias against nuclear, and this strikes me as simply lining up facts to support a forgone conclusion.

    3. I agree. In terms of what’s realistic, she’s probably right – with the regulatory framework we have today, it will never be profitable to use nuclear power. When it comes to regulation and subsidies, there’s sort of a businessman’s tradeoff going on. The subsidies make up for the increased regulation. But it means that if you discount one, you need to discount the other. I was a nuclear engineer for a couple years, and there’s so much more involved in operating than is typical in, say, a co-gen plant, due to documentation and administrative costs, never mind construction. I think a lot of her info comes from 1980’s data, which should always be taken with a grain of salt.

      1. I used to work at a supercritical steam coal fired plant with total capacity (3 units) of about 2500 MW. Our total staffing was about 500 on site.

        A nuke plant owned and operated by my employer just downriver, total capacity about 1800 MW (2 units) had over 1100 on site employees. Most were involved in regulatory compliance. The nukes had a cost (with subsidies) of $5-$6 per MWh. Our coal fired facility operated at about $23/MWh. I wish I could know what the nukes’ cost would have been with unsubsidized fuel.

        1. Those are interesting numbers. I’ve never actually worked in a civilian nuclear power plant, but from the reports I’ve read, I’m not convinced it’s possible to accurately compare operating costs. I know they expense fuel, but that usually doesn’t take into account fuel or equipment disposal. Then there’s the regulatory compliance, which ordinarily would look like fixed overhead, but can be fairly dependent on capacity and operations. And when you’re mandated to sink so much into the initial construction, a lot of those typical maintenance costs go away. Basically, everything seems skewed so that the actual operating costs are as low as they can be, while everything else is pricier.

          But power production’s a hellish job, hey? I don’t know anyone that worked it for more than a few years before getting out. I’ve got a buddy who does the 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off oil rig thing, and that sounds worse, but power gets pretty nasty, especially when it’s humid.

          1. When I visited a nuclear plant a few years back, they told us that just about anything more complicated than changin a lightbulb has its very own official procedure. I dare you to do anything economically when you have to fill out paperwork to change a section of pipe.

            1. A $2 bolt you could buy at Ace Hardware ended up costing over $200 once it had been through all the necessary inspections. A procedure to check gauge operation on a secondary test system was over five pages long. Some of that was due to the usual government inefficiency, but much of it was from the misunderstood risks of nuclear power. There are so many costs involved with compliance.

    4. Being, God Forbid, realistic, I’d have to say the “Subsidized, highly regulated” part is pretty much a given. There’s not going to be any other kind of power generated in this country, unless the Ryan Revolution gets a really big army and takes the country by force.

      1. The Ryan Revolution? You mean the status quo minus 2%? That what you call a revolution?

  8. It’s very hard to disentangle government’s heavy hand from the actual economics of nuclear power. While we don’t want radiation-leaking plants, there must be methods that are both safe (meaning safe even from unlikely catastrophic events) and reasonably economical. Even if they don’t run as cheap as oil/gas, if they could be close, that might make it worth while.

    1. Yeah, pretty much what I was getting at in my comment.

      1. And db’s. It’s the triumvirate of complaints about government intrusion in the field.

        1. We rule as one, semibenevolently.

          1. With the emphasis on semi, in its trailer-truck sense.

            1. I always thought you were Norman Osborn, Pro’L Dib.

              1. What is that, some sort of Canadian thing?

                1. Maximum Overdrive AND a Marvel comix reference all in one shot, Pro’L Dib. you really are slipping in your old age. Dementia?

                  1. I have no idea what you’re talking about, as I do not receive Canadian television.

            2. Our heraldic symbol, a semi rig hauling a fat tank of gas bristling with tridents. With a monocle/top hat hood ornament.

              1. Don’t forget the reclining lady silhouettes.

    2. If coal had to limit their radiation release to nuke-plant levels, Im pretty sure nukes would be cheaper.

      1. I know nukes would be cheaper because their wouldn’t be any coal plants if that was the case.

  9. “France’s estimated cost for a kilowatt of power is between $4,500 and $5,000; the estimated cost in the U.S. is between $4,000 and $6,000.”

    I don’t understand this line. Are you talking about the capability to generate a kilowatt of power continuously? As in, total plant capacity costs that much for every kilowatt it’s capable of producing?

    1. I believe it refers to the total investment to bring on line that capacity.

      1. That can’t be right. It must be talking bandwidth, not total. As in, a 3GW plant costs between $12T and $18T in lifetime costs. Which is fine. If it has a 25 year lifespan that is a breakeven cost of about $0.02/kWh running at capacity for the lifespan.

        1. By comparison, I paid $0.14/kWh for energy provided primarily by a 250 MW LNG plant. I think it is quite competitive.

        2. MIT’s 2007 Future of Nuclear study estimated the “overnight” cost (cost of the unit / capacity) for nuclear at $4,000, (conventional) coal at $2,300, and NG at $850.

          However, this is an assessment of capital cost alone. Cost of fuel:

          Nuclear: 0.67 $/mmBTU
          Coal: 2.60 $/mmBTU
          Gas: 7.00 $/mmBTU

          Basically: Nuclear and natural gas have opposite economics. Gas is cheap to build, expensive to run. Nuclear is expensive to build, cheap to run. Which explains why generally speaking, up until the shale gas boom, natural gas was generally for “peak” demand only and not considered a viable baseload source – namely because the marginal cost of production is expensive, while deploying it for “peak” load makes sense (i.e., since additional capacity is cheap).

        3. Sorry, I worded that badly.

          I meant the total cost of making that capacity possible from start to finins (ie planning and design, construction, cost of financing etc). Planning and design and construction, of course, include permitting and other regulation meeting costs which may be jacking up the cost as well.

          I was trying to be brief but in doing so failed to be accurate. Dr Steve says better what I was trying to get at below.

          1. “finins” sb “finish”

    2. I assumed the calculation is based off the total energy production from all sources, but you raise a valid question. I imagine a quick google search would reveal whether she was considering solely nuclear energy costs, though I doubt it’d reveal the costs with subsidies and costs over time adjusting for inflation.

    3. This is a common metric for comparing the total cost of electric capacity of an electric unit. Basically, it’s a sum of the projected capital costs (with interest), fuel, etc. over a fixed time period, divided by the total energy produced.

      Another, similar metric is “overnight” cost – that is, assume the plant could be built “overnight” (ergo, no interest charges). Then one simply divides capital cost total electric capacity. This allows an apples to apples comparison of generation cost.

  10. Here’s something left out of De Rugy’s calculations – the marginal cost of electricity. Again, if nuclear is such a bad bet, why is it exactly that utilities would put up another dime in maintenance costs to keep reactors running? Answer: because upon ammortization, operating a reactor is a lot like owning a mint.

    Most of nuclear’s cost is held up in capital cost, with OM and fuel comprising about 10% of the total cost of electricity.

    Further, if we’re going to talk about nuclear power subsidies, what of the implicit subsidies granted to the coal and fossil industries? (Subsidy #1: they don’t have to pay for their own waste disposal – because they can simply dump it out into the atmosphere).

    Finally, approving the builds of new reactors has nothing to do with a “desperate political ploy” by Obama, as de Rugy contends. Southern Nuclear company applied for and received a license to build from the NRC. Fortunately for the rest of us, these licenses are evaluated solely on the basis of safety and not the myopic projections of a single biased economist who seems to know very little about the energy issues she is quite comfortable pontificating on. If investors want to put up their money to build new nuclear, this is how the licensing process should work.

    1. Personally, I have to wonder if de Rugy would be singing the same tune even if the capital cost economics of nuclear became more favorable. My guess – absolutely, given that this is the same person who couldn’t resist dancing on the grave of nuclear right after Fukushima. de Rugy clearly has an axe to grind with respect to nuclear and her biases are standing out like a searchlight.

      Meanwhile, this is the kind of silliness that has made me stop taking de Rugy seriously on economics matters – and I say this as someone who rather used to enjoy her work. But frankly, the shoddiness of this piece raises serious concerns about the robustness of her other work.

      Object to nuclear all you want, but don’t dress it up in half-baked economic analysis which you don’t carry forward to your other, “preferred” energy sources.

      1. But frankly, the shoddiness of this piece raises serious concerns about the robustness of her other work.

        That’s kind of veering into ad hominem territory. She’s not just opining in the other work, she’s citing sources, so it should be judged on its own.

      2. I concur. deRugy is being so purposefully dishonest I now skip anything with her name on it much like I skipped anything with Dave Weigel’s name on it.

    2. You’re not allowed to analyze fossil fuel subsidies on Reason. That’s environnazicommunism.

      1. What fossil fuel subsidies exist? Please note the definition of the word “subsidy”. Also, if you don’t do any better than CO2, then we have nothing else to discuss.

        Just fair warning that I am taking your allegations seriously.

        1. Let’s start with mercury and lead and work our way from there. Or from the much, much lower safety standards required from both fossil extraction and energy producing units compared to nuclear. Or the lack of any comparative requirements to pre-fund plant decommissioning.

          There’s a long list to discuss. But the main thrust here is getting a free pass on certain regulatory requirements while kneecapping the competition does constitute a “subsidy” of the implicit kind.

          1. I agree that mercury and lead are huge problems with coal. As is the level of radiation that robc mentions above.

            Coal advocates, rightly IMO, point to the successess at containing to output of sulfur and nitrogen compounds but, wrongly IMO, brush aside complaints about mercury, lead and radiation. I’m sure these are harder to remove from flue gasses but nevertheless they are concerns which should be up for discussion.

            On the other hand the greeny’s concentration on carbon emissions, which I see as an issue which is far from established, diverts attention from real concerns like mercury, lead and radiation.

        2. Are you the new Gary Gunnels or something? I suggest you take a chill pill before you embarrass yourself further 🙂

        3. 1. Massive military-industrial complex spending, heavily focused on oil exports
          2. Interstate highways systems, which require eminent domain, cause pollution not included in their price (runoff), and are not even paid for by gas taxes/user fees
          3. Air pollution, cost to health and property not included in price
          4. Mining safety and pollution, not included in price
          5. Foreign aid to despots/tyrants who provide crucial exports
          6. Global warming, cost not included in price

          Consider what the cost of a gallon of gas would be if you had to pay for 2/3rds of the War in Iraq with it. Or if the US quit propping up Saudi Arabia. And so on.

          1. 1. there’s something to this, but that applies to basically anything that has something to do with global commerce

            2. This would also hold true for any type of vehicle running on any fuel

            3,4,6 – fossil fuels are taxed heavily at extraction – they all have royalties and special excise taxes based on the jurisdiction – these taxes occur just because countries can and so they do it, but its very possible these things more than cover whatever environmental costs there are – but that’s a matter of empirical work that’s only a guesstimate

            But basically all you see to be saying is fossil fuels pollute – so you failed the challenge asked of you to name actual subsides.

            1. And I’d add that there are already a shitload of legal restriction globally on oil production and inefficiency state run firms that restrict supply more than would occur in a competitive market. Even if you mixed some kind of carbon tax with an actual otherwise free market in oil production, it is not clear which direction the price would go. It’s quite possible it would go down.

          2. JP
            Yeah, I’ve tried making those points about the middle east military spending before when these cost of nuke power articles come up, but the responses are always well we shouldn’t do that then. We shouldn’t but we do so you should be including that in the price of oil when comparing to Nukes I agree. Of course the Military is the largest consumer of oil in this country by far anyways so it’s kind of the cat chasin’ the tail.

    3. Dr. Steve is correct – Once a nuclear plant is fully depreciated, it is a money machine.

      Compared to other types of generators, the fuel is almost free while the building costs a fortune. When that facility is paid off – it is like printing cash.

      1. I wonder if the building costs are as bad for the truck portable systems, that do scale up a bit
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A…..er_Program

        something like this, or a Gen4 1.5MW system, google ‘1.5mw nuclear power plant’ can be used to support a mill and the mill town. Here the building costs are far less. What you do after 20 years is swap out the entire system for a fresh fuel set, the old unit is refurbished and used elsewhere. The benefit is obvious in that instead of the multi-GW systems here the electric grid will become more distributed and that actually makes it more robust.

        1. PS without the fuckton of money spent on the enviro impact BS and the huge ass concrete dome, you go to money printing machine in far less time.

          1. Without the huge ass concrete dome, you have Chernobyl minus the retarded engineers.

            1. The containment on the quasi portable reactors is better than the sheet mettle at Chernobyl. Also, Chernobyl core was not passively stable the Gen III systems and their follow on are ALL passively stable. This means that you do not get a runaway reaction. FYI T.M.I. was a Gen I system that required active stabilization.

  11. WTF? This runs completely counter to EVERY cost analysis of nuclear power I’ve read over the past forty years.

    So either every nuclear power study of the past four decades has been propaganda, or this article is.

    There goes the respect I had for Veronique.

    1. I am never adverse to an ‘everything you know is wrong’ opinion, but Ms. De Rugy needs a lot, and a I mean a lot, more numbers and graphs demonstrating that regulations somehow don’t matter.

    2. There goes the respect I had for Veronique.

      I’m leaning the same way for the same reasons.

      Veronique – please clarify kthnxbai

    3. Maybe Shikha Dalmia stole her password.

      1. Heh. But no, Shikha would have figured out some way to tie in immigration policy.

      2. “Maybe Shikha Dalmia stole her password.”

        OUCH! 🙂

  12. She mentions Japan, other than nuclear power, how is Japan going to supply its energy needs ?

    1. WIND FARMZ! FOR TEH CHILDRUN!

      1. Well if they could figure out how to turn tentacle porn into electricity they would be set, for several centuries.

        1. You, your typing lasers, and your good internet connection can all go screw yourselves.

          1. Lighting fast is not term I usually hear to describe a goverment network.

            1. I’m in West Africa, so relative to mine, it’s freaking faster than Bart Allen when he pulled Superboy prime into the speed force.

      2. If there was some way to build a machine powered by tentacle rape.

    2. ” Japan, other than nuclear power, how is Japan going to supply its energy needs ?”

      Japan is surrounded by an ocean. Perhaps they could develope the technology which converts wave power into electrical power. I remember reading about an instalation off South-West England trying to harness such power.

      1. Wave energy is a non starter, there simply is not enough energy in it and what there is can realistically only be captured in relatively rare locations.

        That said I do believe most of the best locations for OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energey Conversion) are off the coast of Japan so they could use that for at least part of their energy needs.

  13. I am just waiting for Mr. Fusion to become available so that I may install it on my DeLorean. That should have been a couple of years ago… oh and where’s my damn hover board?

  14. “All of this has not stopped the Obama administration from betting on nukes.”

    How have they been betting on nukes. This is about the most anti-nuke administration since Carter. They’ve actively shut down the Yucca project and has only grudgingly continued the loan guarantee program from the Bush years. Sure, Chu says they support nukes- they have to as a political matter, but they’re hardly nuke boosters.

  15. So called “green initiatives” are about as efficient and cost effective as a Rube Goldberg illustration.

  16. Generating energy is bad. Libertarians everywhere should band together to outlaw sugar.

  17. Nuclear plants are uninsurable on a private market. They cannot exist at all without favorable government treatment in various forms. That libertarians pimp for nuclear is one of the big mysteries of the time I’ve spent here. I’m for nuclear, but I realize that it must be government subsidized in order to exist at all.

    1. What *shouldn’t* be government-subsidized, in your mind?

      1. Don’t talk to it. It feeds on your attention.

        1. It’ll just dig into the bag of tricks and say I’m not qualified to have an opinion because I never attended The Right Colleges.

      2. Oil and coal.

    2. “Nuclear plants are uninsurable on a private market.”

      Tony, you’re an idiot. In an idealized free market, nuclear would absolutely be insurable, because all of it’s competitors would also have massively increased liability costs. Hydroelectric would have to insure against dam breaks, oil and coal would have to pay environmental damages, and wind and solar would pay damages resulting from all of the blackouts and brownouts from their unreliable service. If nuclear is a good idea (as you claim) then it’s a good idea in a free market.

  18. Nuclear power would not be an economically feasible source of energy production in a laissez-faire market. While I disagree with Tony that it would be “uninsurable” (as everything is insurable at a price), the liability cost would surely be prohibitive, and in the event a company attempted to start a nuclear plant without insurance, the owners and stockholders would deservedly be sued into poverty at the slightest error. A market that doesn’t socialize liability won’t need a regulatory state, and the market will naturally gravitate towards minimal risk industries to attract investment and minimize insurance costs.

    1. as everything is insurable at a price

      Nope. You need someone with enough assets to cover every imaginable claim.

      1. No you don’t. Big companies with big risks buy layered policies that sometimes include almost every insurance company in a particular market.

    2. Nuclear power would not be an economically feasible source of energy production in a laissez-faire market.

      No evidence for that.

      the liability cost would surely be prohibitive

      no evidence for that. That is, by the way, the definition of “uninsurable”.

      In other words, you’re repeating the left-libertarian anti-nuke talking points without providing any evidence for your POV.

      Thanks for that.

      1. What evidence would you accept for either of those statements, Randian?

        If you refuse to accept any possible evidence for the contradiction of YOUR claims, then you are proffering an unfalsifiable claim.

        And of course your typical jerkfacedness is ironic because you’re not offering any evidence either.

        1. I didn’t offer a statement in need of evidence. A simple assertion that nuclear energy will not be sustained in a free market is not an argument.

          1. If it’s profitable it WILL be sustained in a free market (assuming it’s not less profitable than every other source of power AND those other sources meet the demand).

            We’ll never know.

          2. So you’re just picking at what someone else says while adding nothing of your own. You really took to the AOG like a bug in a rug.

            1. So you’re just picking at what someone else says while adding nothing of your own.

              Please link to the rule stating that one cannot offer criticism simply for the sake of being critical.

              1. Hahaha, Tulpa criticizing someone for this…

                1. What are you talking about. I bring so much to the table that it noticeably sags at my end.

                  1. You are a legend in your own mind, Tulpa.

            2. Randian’s correct. While De Rugy may actually be correct, simply stating that Nuclear would be too expensive in a free market is not an argument.

              For instance:

              According to the Congressional Budget Office, nuclear power plants, on average, wind up costing three times more to build than original estimates suggest.

              While this is true, it’s often been the cost of government meddling that’s been the major factor in these cost overruns.

              I’m perfectly willing to accept that in a super-free market scenario that Nuclear might be too expensive, and also mught be too unsafe without all the government meddling. But there’s not a lot of evidence for the claim aside from the claim itself.

              1. There’s little empirical evidence either way (since we have never had a free market during the nuclear era), so we have to attempt to reason with what we do know.

                1. We’ve never had a free market.*

                  The qualifier is unnecessary.

            3. Insurance is largely based on risk and this is based on history.

              So after 50 years of very safe operation, rates would be lower than they would have been initially and like all insurance they would go up and down as the statistics changed, after Chernobyl and the recent Japanese incident. SInce Chernobyl was a totally different design, it would have had less effect on rates. In a free market, insurance works extremely well. Even with moderate gov’t interference in auto, it still works well.

              Medical does not but there are many reasons for this, most due to gov’t policy. Flood is federal and has problems. States that interfere more in property such as LA, have more problems.

      2. Hold on, let me go get my conclusive proof from all the laissez faire markets that have ever existed, especially those since the creation of nuclear power. Oh wait – there haven’t been any.

        Still by economic theory if you remove the concepts of legal limited liability and bankruptcy, business owners would suddenly become very averse to the concept that outside torts against their businesses could destroy their personal wealth. The nature of nuclear power brings extensive risks and damages property values in the entire surrounding area and beyond, which is why it naturally triggers lawsuits every time one is built.

        The only reason nuclear power ever got any traction in the first place was due to government research, massive subsidization and limited liability, none of which would be available in a free market.

        And by the way, I’m not anti-nuke in concept. Just in execution. They have already made the investment as such that I agree it is profitable and worth continuing to use provided it is safe. And I’d support any technology advancements to make nuclear power safe enough to make the insurance not cost-prohibitive.

        1. As has been proven to you over and over and over and over and over, limited liability can exist outside government mandate.

        2. remove the concepts of … bankruptcy

          Debtors prisons FTW!!! I guess Australia and Georgia need another round of immigrants or something.

          You are an idiot.

          1. I don’t know how many times we need to discuss this. I’ve answered this every time it comes up. If someone took out a loan in bad faith, they deserve to go to jail for fraud. I would expect a free market to gravitate towards loan insurance for those who take out a loan in good faith but for whom life changes make repayment impossible.

            1. So you would jail someone who took out a loan in good faith but didnt buy insurance?

              Or, are you suggesting that the lender should buy the insurance? In which case, I agree, but that means that you should buy the insurance to protect yourself against the local nuke plant.

              1. Whether the lender or debtor buys the insurance is up to the parties involved, as are the penalties for failure to purchase insurance and failure to repay the loans.

                The difference is that a resident in the proximity of a nuke plant does not inherently have a contractual relationship with the nuke plant. If the nuke plant wants to contract their limited liability with each resident, I’m fine with that. I’m all for any form of privatizing liability and against any form of socializing it.

            2. I would expect a free market to gravitate towards loan insurance for those who take out a loan in good faith but for whom life changes make repayment impossible.

              We already have that, it’s called “high interest rates”.

              Free markets would probably tend toward some form of indentured servitude type thing, so long as that wasn’t forbidden by law (in which case it wouldn’t really be a free market).

              1. High insurance rates are a way for the lenders to balance out non-repayments and bankruptcies, but a society without legal bankruptcy would deter people from taking out loans they can’t afford in the first place. If they know they can’t afford it and they sign a contract, they have committed fraud, no matter how much society has tried to pretend they aren’t.

                1. If they know they can’t afford it and they sign a contract, they have committed fraud

                  You hit upon the key element…mens rea. I think those cases are much rarer than you do, apparently. And proving mens rea is even less likely than that.

                2. Also, if we want to get rid of bankruptcy and make loans more free market, then we get go with the Lysander Spooner suggestion: All debts are cancelable by the borrower at any time. Period. No recourse for the lender. Ever.

                  If collateral wasnt built into the contract, you are SOL. It was a risk you took at the time, price the interest accordingly. Of course, if you walked out on a loan, try getting another one…ever. Unlike in Spooner’s time, credit bureaus now exist.

                  1. Why do you hate the modern Western economic system?

                    If every loan required collateral of equal value, that would slow lending to a snail’s pace. Welcome to 1300 AD.

                    1. Require collateral? Who said anything about that?

                      Currently credit cards, for example, give loans without collateral and are at risk of bankruptcies wiping out the debt. The difference with Spooner’s suggestion is that there is no formal government bankruptcy proceeding. You just declare it void and wipe it. And your credit gets destroyed (there would be no mandated seven years and off the books) and no one loans you money, at least not without collateral this time.

                      Also, as the recent housing crisis has shown, even in non-recourse states, banks are more than willing to loan amounts larger than the value of the collateral.

                    2. Not sure there would be much money lent at all in the Spooner scenario. That’s a pretty huge risk of default.

                    3. Not sure there would be much money lent at all in the Spooner scenario. That’s a pretty huge risk of default.

                      Why?

                      If the risk of default rises, so does the interest rate. The higher interest rate then creates a correspondingly greater incentive to save and lend.

                  2. Robc,
                    I’d argue Spooner’s theory is fine – if cancellability is in the terms of the contract between debtor and lender. If there was no legally binding contract, there was nothing to void so yes, that should be cancellable and not fraud.

                    I’d still say loan insurance would be the most efficient way to protect against repayment failures in good faith, but that’s up to the lender and debtor. In a system without bankruptcy, I’d assume this sort of thing would be much better clarified.

        3. “I’d support any technology advancements to make nuclear power safe enough to make the insurance not cost-prohibitive.”

          Some of the newer plant designs are probably insurable. And had the government not, as Tony likes to see, put caps on their liability, that technology would have been developed years ago.

    3. Quiz question: How much have insurers had to actually pay out for nuclear accidents in the U.S.? How much has the federal government had to shell out? (Answer to the latter: $0).

      1. So far.

        My health insurance company has never had to pay a claim on me either. Doesn’t mean that they never will.

        1. Maybe, if you get decapitated by a bus or kidnapped and eaten by the LRA then they’ll never pay a dime on you.

          Sucker.

        2. Over what time period does it become evident that risk ( where risk = probability * consequence) has been wildly overestimated? 50 years? 100?

          Further, the nuclear industry itself has to self-insure before the federal government kicks in; i.e., each plant has to carry $375 million in insurance, with each licensee kicking in an additional amount up to $111.9 million, giving a total insurance pool of $11.6 billion.

          http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/…..ds-fs.html

          All of that is private-sector. Exactly how much should they be expected to insure?

          1. For rare but horrific disasters, a long time. We haven’t had a major asteroid impact for 65-70 million years, that doesn’t mean the risk is nil.

            1. I bet it is insurable though.

              1. I’m certain there is someone who will give you a piece of paper claiming to insure you against damages in case of an asteroid impact in return for $10,000 a month.

                That doesn’t mean it’s insurable. When the asteroid impact happens, there won’t be any way of enforcing that contract and even if there was the person would just declare bankruptcy and you wouldn’t get paid.

                1. Depends on the extent of damage.

                  If a small meteor destroys my car, I can find a court to enforce it.

                  And I bet the insurance would be much cheaper than 10k per month.

            2. There’s a theory that North America got smacked hard by a comet 13,000 years ago. It’s likely false, but that doesn’t mean something prehistorical like that may not have happened. That’s just a continent-wide cataclysm, not worldwide, so the evidence isn’t as easy to find, even if more recent.

              1. Hmm. The Native Americans would have been well-established here at that time, no? I’d expect to see something in their history.

                1. It’s been largely discredited (by science, that is), but when the theory was in vogue, there was some supporting evidence in native histories. Problem is, of course, that there wasn’t a written record, so all we have are distorted traditions.

        3. You understand how insurance works, right? What happens with your auto insurance if you don’t have accidents or drive a very safe car? What happens if you have a lot of accidents or if a model of car gets stolen often or crashes often?

      2. That’s fairly irrelevant to my point because I’m talking theoretically about what happens when costs of a nuclear meltdown exceed the value of the business itself. The fact that we’ve never had a Fukushima or Chernobyl-esque disaster is fortunate, but doesn’t answer the question of whether owners would find the liability insurance costs prohibitive in a theoretical free market.

        Currently, those costs are socialized, meaning taxpayers and victims get to bear the burden of a private companies’ risk after the stockholders cash out whatever equity is leftover.

        1. See my above point then. We’d have to get to $11.6 billion before this contingency ever happened due to risk pooling mandated by Price-Anderson (i.e., the industry must cross-insure as a whole, in addition to individual liability). So how much those costs are “socialized” would be greatly in dispute.

          1. Laws and regulatory conditions that have existed in a liability-socialist regulatory state aren’t really relevant to the legal conditions of a free market. In a free market, there is no State blockping you from building El Cheapo Nuclear Reactor but the threat of either third party tort or the prohibitive cost of insurance would have probably meant the industry never even got off the drawing board.

        2. Chernobyl was state-run, so that’s kind of irrelevant. I mean, state-run programs are expected to be disasters.

          Fukushima is a disaster, and a partly political one as well. Basically, the operators paid off the government regulators to let the plant operate longer than it should have because the government is always broke and will whore itself out.

          The inevitability of regulatory capture is the moral hazard of regulation in the first place. Coal just happens to have a regulatory-capture advantage in the US that it doesn’t have in Japan.

        3. Uh. Again. I think you misunderstand how “catastrophic” these things were. First of all, everyone NOT a Soviet designed their reactors to prevent Chernobyl style disasters. Second of all for all the “radiation horror!!1!” Fukushima style, the actual cost (and consequence) of the nuclear cleanup (due, BTW to an “act of god”, so probably not covered by insurance anyhow) is dwarfed by the cost of the tsunami that caused it. Fuel rods != perfectly machined spheres of plutonium compressed in femtoseconds by chemical charges.

          1. Hate to argue Tony’s point, but perhaps more Chernobyl-quality reactors weren’t built because they were banned or heavily regulated? Perhaps they should have blocked the construction of the Fukushima coastline reactor due to the obvious tsunami threat? And BTW, earthquakes and tsunamis are insurable natural functions, not “acts of God.”

            In a regulatory state, certain harms are avoided by government dictate, but since the corrupt government is running the show, subsidies, loopholes and liability reassignment will always imbalance the market towards favored corporations and industries.

            Conservatives and many libertarians seem to believe that regulation is evil, yet limited liability and bankruptcy are sacrosanct because they maximize profits and protect investors from the true costs of doing business. Because of this, the left-wing is correct to fear the massive environmental destruction and violation of individual and property rights from a capitalist system, since that is likely what would result by removing all regulations and artificially limiting both liability and torts that harm businesses and their investors.

            A laissez-faire system would be very different as all risk would be privatized, torts would be limitless and liability insurance would naturally prohibit the riskiest industries.

            1. Industries can and do come up with their own safety standards and regulations. Insurers, investors, and lenders can insist on things like this. All free market. The electrical standards and Underwriters laboratory came about without gov’t decree.

            2. Tort law currently allows for both compensatory and punitive damages with no limitation. That’s not what “limited liability” means. You and JoshSN seriously need to take a class in introductory business law.

    4. the owners and stockholders would deservedly be sued into poverty at the slightest error.

      Bullshit, they would be sued up to the assets of the company and no more. Sued into bankruptcy, but shareholders wouldnt be affected beyond that.

      1. Note I said “laissez-faire market.” You’re talking about a liability-socialist market like we have today.

        1. Limited liability is creatable within a “laissez-faire” market, as has been proven to you over and over and over and over and over and over and over again and again.

          But that said, I dont think the existence of bankruptcy is separate from laizzez-faire.

          1. No it can’t. A court should find a business’s internal contractual division of liability and net worth irrelevant to payouts owed to harmed third parties.

            If you divide the business in a manner to obfuscate liability by placing 100% of the liability risk on a penniless braindead vegetable on life support named Tony, while granting 100% of the profits to robc, a court can still determine that you are a technical owner once they realize Tony is an assetless pawn and levy the excess cost of the penalty on you.

            If you want to pointlessly sue Tony for his contractual percentage of the liability after the fact, that’s your prerogative.

            1. robc is just loaning Tony money at a high interest rate, Im not getting the profits back, Im getting interest payments.

              1. So you loan Tony $1 million dollars to vegetatively build a company and charge him a 1000000% interest rate on the loan. Until the company is profitable you expect no “repayments.” After it is profitable he vegetatively starts paying you everything the company makes.

                What would stop any jury from finding a loan with essentially impossible repayment terms is equivalent to technical ownership and thus liability in this case? Especially when you are the one actually facilitating the business and hiring its agents? I agree lenders are usually not owners of the business but owners of the assets lent – but in certain cases, I see no problem with legal reassignment of ownership of the business to a managing lender who lent to an assetless (and vegetative) debtor.

            2. A court should find a business’s internal contractual division of liability and net worth irrelevant to payouts owed to harmed third parties.

              It’s worth mentioning that’s exactly what happens under current law when the corporate veil is (routinely) pierced due to bad faith or fraudulent ownership structures like the above, so it wouldn’t really make any practical difference.

              Your harmed third party would most likely also be suing the tortious party civilly, in which case all of his personal assets would be subject to full compensatory and, potentially, punitive liability. You can be sued into personal poverty for tortious actions under current law. Seriously. Take a class.

              In a laissez-faire market, I could go find 10 people, convince each of them to contribute $100,000, give each of us a 10% stake, hang out my shingle with a million dollars of capitalization, and write a limited liability clause into every contract with every lender and onto every bill of sale to every customer and accomplish exactly the same thing as forming a modern corporation, LLC, or LLP. The practical difference would be negligible.

              1. Here’s a handy example of how limited liability actually works if you’re interested:

                http://www.connecticutbusiness…..liability/

  19. A 2010 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that nuclear power will remain more expensive to produce than other conventional sources of electricity in 2016 (see chart). Based on this analysis, nuclear power is also more expensive than wind power, although cheaper than solar and clean coal.

    I have to admit I’m interested in nuclear as a substitute for gasoline in electric cars from a greenhouse gas perspective, and I’d be interested to see how nuclear stacks up against gasoline, when we factor in the cost of subsidies to the oil industry and the cost the taxpayers bear in terms of providing security.

    …something akin to this ol’ study:

    http://cta.ornl.gov/cta/Public…..00_152.pdf

    I’d love to see some newer figures on this–a lot’s changed since then, making securing oil distribution more expensive than it used to be.

    1. I have to admit I’m interested in nuclear as a substitute for gasoline in electric cars from a greenhouse gas perspective,

      You might as well tell us that you are interested in nuclear power because you hear it produces unicorns. Any concern over greenhouse gases is nothing but absolute nonsense.

      1. Oh, well if you say so, John, then it must be true!

  20. My understanding was that the most expensive part anything nuclear was the enrichment process. But we don’t really know since that cost is hidden by government.

    1. Not really…

      http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf28.html

      Enrichment accounts for almost half of the cost of nuclear fuel and about 5% of the total cost of the electricity generated.

      Nuclear fuel is a relatively small fraction of the cost of nuclear. The biggest cost driver is capital cost, and specifically, cost of money (i.e., borrowing costs while the plant is being constructed).

      1. Isn’t it even more efficient with breeder reactors? And don’t we not use those because of totally unfounded worries over proliferation?

        1. Even with breeders have to refine/re-enrich/de-enrich the fuel.

          Its not going to be exactly right.

          Honestly, breeders make more sense in a country that doenst have a handy source of Uranium…like France. And even then, Im not sure it makes financial sense. But they wanted to protect themselves from foreign influences as much as possible.

        2. unfounded worries over proliferation

          Unfounded? But…but…look at how many countries have nukes because they stole material from France! Unfounded, my ass.

          Oh wait….

  21. How bad have these nuclear disasters really been? The UNSCEAR report estimates a total of only 43 deaths from Chernobyl. The Fukushima plant withstood the huge earthquake just fine. If the tsunami hadn’t washed away the generators for their pumps, they’d be sitting pretty.

    1. Those were immediate deaths, as the UNSCEAR reports factor in all types of cancers and immediate radiation poisoning, not limiting the study to thyroid cancers specifically. That said, in both 2006 2006, PDF, only 14 pages, and the latest UNSCEAR report summary here, along with PDF from 2008, 179 pages shows that cancer rates of both solid and connective (blood sarcomas) were not appreciably raised over that period of time. However, thyroid cancers have been rising over that period of time with deaths bing mitigated by early TX intervention. What saved most of these people in Russk, Minsk, Belarus, and UKR was the fact that they evacuated as many people as possible during those disasters.

      Suffice to say, more than 43 over 20+ years, but nowhere near the disaster claimed by many interest groups.

      1. If Chernobyl had been in a country where private property existed, the dislocation and property damages would have been enormous. No one lives there to this day.

        1. That is true to a point, Tulpa. Though keep in mind what I was addressing Canman’s question about deaths and the medical fallout (no pun intended) of the disasters. Your point of property damage is legit and really wasn’t addressed in the UNSCEAR, or if it was, I didn’t read or scan over it. My concern was moreso the health aspects here.

          In Chernobyl proper, no, people don’t live there. However, the area of UKR to where I am moving, is pretty far from the area where the fallout occured.

          Chernobyl disaster placed Ukraine on the global map of man-made catastrophes. However, the risk of radioactive contamination is insignificant today outside the zone immediately around the blast site. Donetsk is located far away from Chernobyl, so no special precautions are necessary.

          More on the preventive health measures suggested in Donetsk.

        2. No one lives there to this day.

          That’s more due to the fear of radiation than due to the radiation itself. The wildlife isn’t having much of a problem with it.

          1. Wildlife doesn’t have the capacity to worry about early death by cancer or birth defects.

            The growth in some wildlife populations probably has a lot more to do with the removal of Earth’s number one badass predator/competitor (humans) than the safety of radioactive contamination.

    2. Comparing the horrid design and idiotic experiment going on at Chernobyl to anything in Japan or the West is irrelevant.

      Chernobyl did not have any kind of containment dome that everyone in the west associates with nuclear power plants. The experiment they ran went so wrong that red-hot graphite blocks and overheated material from the fuel channels were ejected out of the building – and because there wasn’t any containment – landed on the roofs of other buildings and in the parking lot.

  22. The only reason nuclear power is expensive is the politics. It would probably still be more expensive than coal, but that’s up to private investors to worry about.

    Get rid of all subsidies, apply regulations uniformly, and then let power companies decide what plants to build.

    1. Disposing of the wastes would be prohibitively expensive in a free market system. Not intractable, but not cheap.

      1. Not really. Glassification and burial isnt that expensive.

      2. Turn the waste into nuclear weapons and sell them to the highest bidder!

        Go capitalism!

      3. Maybe harvest the waste for DIPS* reactors?

        *Dynamic Isotope Power System

  23. Such a blanket statement as implied in the title is ridiculous. Maybe the current implementation of nuclear is not cost effective, but that doesn’t mean some other method would be. Molten salt reactors for instance.

    1. Thormium, for example. Less radioactive, more plentiful, can’t have a meltdown (from what I’ve read, IANANE), and largely available in the Americas.

  24. So when France went nuclear “at any cost”, I suppose that included the lower price they now pay for electricity than their neighbors. Just saying.

  25. The nuclear energy industry in the United States is powered by corporate welfare on plutonium.

    Are the new nuke plants using plutonium?

    Somehow I doubt this.

    1. A major fraction of the usable Uranium that goes into current reactors is converted to Plutonium within the fuel and that Plutonium fissions and makes heat just like the Uranium. We wouldn’t call that “using” Pu because it’s just what nature does. We turn on a nuclear reaction and we don’t get to chose completely what it produces. In many operating plants in the US, however, we are using old weapons Pu which was fashioned to special U-Pu fuel. It’s not likely that new reactors will use that mixed fuel right away, but eventually it’s very likely that they will. We have lots of operational experience with this type of fuel and designers have plans ready to (carefully) switch the type of fuel in any new reactor we build.

  26. Surely the fact that the US put so much research money into fast breeders while shutting down molten-salt ought to be factored into the economic equation?

  27. While the nuclear industry in the United States has seen continued improvement in operating performance over time, it remains uncompetitive with coal and natural gas on price.

    When you don’t factor in the cost of gresshouse gas emissions.

    This cost differential is primarily driven by high capital costs and long construction times, often more than 10 years.

    Hmm. That wouldn’t have anything to do with the regulatory harassment that nuclear plants have to endure, would it?

    1. While the nuclear industry in the United States has seen continued improvement in operating performance over time, it remains uncompetitive with coal and natural gas on price.

      The other question we should be asking ourselves about that is how uncompetitive nuclear would be if nuclear power entered the market for powering automobiles.

      If nuclear power is already providing 20% of the nation’s electricity, how much more revenue would it be generating for itself if it were, likewise, powering 20% of American autos 20 or more years from now?

      20% of the gasoline industry in the United States is a HUGE chunk of change that would be coming in–and wouldn’t require much in the way of an upfront investment by the utilities.

      The distribution infrastructure is already pretty much in place. KB Homes offers charging stations built into your new home as an option–like granite counter-tops.

      If demand for nuclear energy grows at its historic low pace, then I imagine it will remain uncompetitive. If, on the other hand, nuclear is able to work its way into the automobile energy market, then there will be significant efficiencies that come with that scale.

  28. “Giving the thumbs up to start work now on two new nuclear plants is an act of desperation by a president who has realized he is running out of other options.”

    If people want to fork over the cost to construct a nuclear power plant, what’s it to you? Or to the president for that matter?

  29. This article makes a whole lot more sense when you consider that Nuclear is just as much of a threat to big oil and coal as renewable technology.

    Who gives money to Reason? Big oil and coal. Koch industries.

    1. Core! Pour! Raaaaaaaaaaaay! Shuuuuuuuuuuns!

      1. Koch bad, Soros good.

        Who gives you Milk Bones after you type these screeds, Derider?

    2. Is this a manditory drink?

  30. But nukes are cool man!

    http://www.Dot-Anon.tk

  31. [Civilian] nuclear power has never caused a single [known or proven] fatality [in the United States].

  32. The price of nuclear energy is distorted by regulation and government interference with innovation. The price of energy from fossil fuels is distorted by subsidies. I think what the relative cost of these and other options in an efficient market would be is an open question.

  33. Author – please do your research on Thorium-fueled reactors before you write another article like this. Readers – you should research them also.

    I concur with almost all the author’s assertions/conclusions with respect to Uranium, but Thorium eliminates most of the
    problems the author mentions.

  34. “France’s estimated cost for a kilowatt of power is between $4,500 and $5,000; the estimated cost in the U.S. is between $4,000 and $6,000.”

    The demand cost for running the equivalent of ten 100W lights is $6k?

    Someone’s got their units mixed up.

  35. All of this has not stopped the Obama administration from betting on nukes. Even though the president prefers talking up more fashionable (and less economically viable) technologies such as wind and solar, in February his Nuclear Regulatory Commission quietly approved construction of what would be the first two new nuclear reactors in two generations. In 2010 Secretary http://www.maillotfr.com/maill…..c-3_9.html of Energy Steven Chu touted the White House’s commitment to “restarting the American nuclear industry and creating thousands of new jobs and export opportunities in the process.”

  36. I recall from the ’70s that nuclear power only became uneconomical when green groups began deliberately imposing the extra costs by filing meritless lawsuits. An article like this one, which doesn’t even try to separate those imposed costs from costs for which nuclear technology itself is really to blame, contributes nothing to the debate, and I’m disappointed in both Reason and the author for letting it go out that way.

  37. Instinctively I knew nuclear was not viable. Since I am native I strongly object where they want to dispose of the waste slag. Air turbines are inefficient and a total eyesore. Charley Munger one of the smartist people around and the founder of Costco recently said that ethanol was the dumbest thing our govt. has ever done. I 2nd that statement.

  38. This despite the fact that no new facilities have been built since the notorious Three Mile Island accident of 1979, which released small amounts of radioactive gases and iodine into the environment after a partial meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Public opinion has remained steadfast against the technology ever since. In February The Economist reported that 64 percent of Americans opposed building new reactors. Disputes over waste disposal have never been resolved, and the Fukushima reactor meltdown in March 2011 cast further doubt on the idea that nuclear power will ever be a long-term clean-energy solution in the United States.

  39. The current reactor fleet is full of dinosaurs. You should look into the radical advancements that are being made in nuclear technology.

    Terra Power is, IMO, advacing the most radical technology in the field of nukes. Their Traveling Wave Reactor is a compact reactor that can power an entire major metro for 60 years, at full load capacity, on one 8-ton charge of uranium.

    The best part is, they can run on the nuclear waste of older reactors, and deplete its radioactivity. The TRW is THE power source of the future.

  40. Although, God knows, Dr. de Rugy and I have our differences, I have a sneaky suspicion on this one she may be right.

    I’m a physical chemist and think the basic technology of nuclear power can be made safe. IMHO, the safety problems we’ve seen at Three Mile Island (about 90 miles upwind of me), and Fukushima, have been regulatory ones, not technical.

    I wonder, however, if new and standardized designs could significantly reduce both design and operating costs. Have those factors been considered? There’s no doubt she’s right; nukes get ALOT of subsidies, both direct and indirect through lax regulation. For example, having the same agency be responsible for promotion AND safety (as the NRC once was and Japan’s agency still is), is a recipe for disaster.

    If the industry has the courage to face the market, let it forswear its feeding at the trough. See what happens. So, in this case, I say well done, Dr. de Rugy!

  41. Also the Price-Anderson act limits the liability on the plants because even Loyd’s of London refused to insure them.

  42. Know Nukes! Alvin Weinberg developed a safe molten salt reactor (MSR) as director at ORNL in the 1960s. He advocated this MSR design over the light water reactor (LWR) that the US is using today. He knew that the LWR had some potentially disastrous failure modes. He should know, the LWR was his patent. MSR can burn the spent uranium form LWR and thorium. We have enough thorium in the US for 1000 years. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4 Study this link.

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  44. The Economist reported that 64 percent of Americans opposed building new reactors

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  46. I recall from the ’70s that nuclear power only became uneconomical when green groups began deliberately imposing the extra costs by filing meritless lawsuits. An article like this one, which doesn’t even try to separate those imposed costs from costs for which nuclear technology itself is really to blame, contributes nothing to the debate, and I’m disappointed in both Reason and the author for letting it go out that way.
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  47. amounts of radioactive gases and iodine into the environment after a partial meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Dauphin Count

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    y, Pennsylvania. Public opinion has remained steadfast against the technology ever since. In February The Economist reported that 64 percent of Americans opposed building new reactors. Disputes over waste disposal have never been resolved, and the Fukushima reactor meltdown in March 2011 cast further doubt on the idea that nuclear power will ever be a long-term clean-energy solution in the United States.

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