The Cost of Nuclear

With all the attention on nuclear energy recently, I decided to do a some research and I ran across this great paper on the costs associated with nuclear power. I warn you it's rather long, so I'll give you a short run down on the facts.

Lets start with the basic capital costs, they estimate that a new nuclear facility will cost somewhere between $8 and $12 billion. Considering two thirds of the world's nuclear plants still being constructed are delayed, we can predict that the total cost will be closer to $12 billion. So nuclear power will most likely cost about 17 to 22 cents/kWh, compare that to wind power which costs around 4 to 9 cents/kWh.

Many renewable energies like wind and biofuels have a downward sloping cost curve. Nuclear though is the opposite, there are a number of costs that have to be factored in after the initial investment. High level waste disposal is probably the most obvious cost, at present the waste is stored outside of each reactor, it's estimated to cost around $300/kWh. The costs will likely increase if the Yucca Mountain Repository is used for waste storage. If you also count the risk factor of transporting the waste, the price again will increase. Basically the Dept. of Energy predicts that 1 shipment of deadly high-level radioactive waste will be required every 4 hours, 24-hours a day, 365 days a year for 38 years. Since these plants have a defined life time we also have to consider the decommissioning costs which would be around $700/kWh. So when you factor in both of these costs its an additional $2.2 billion in expenditures.

I'm far from an economist, but as a nation do we really want to fund an investment that is this costly? Can we afford to give government loans to build hundreds of new nuclear power plants? I might sound like a broken record, but we should be spending this money on the development of clean, safe, renewable energies. An $8 billion investment would buy almost 4,000 offshore wind turbines, or help transition our energy grid to support cleaner energies. There is a reason that a generation has passed since any nuclear reactors have been built, the Wall St. investors decided that the investment was too expensive and would not be worth the risk, it seems that over the last twenty years not much has changed.


Going green with the help of nuclear

I know I am on the outside looking in with regard to the issue of nuclear being a viable part of the process in the U.S. to go green with our energy production. You can see from my profile picture that I am not just a nuclear proponent but a huge wind proponent as well. That is a picture of just a few of the THOUSANDS of huge windmills that produce energy that are located on the Altamont Pass that divides the San Juquin Valley in California and the valley that includes the Bay Area. It is an amazing sight to see these huge wind generators turning row after row after row. They have had to go from the smaller windmills to the larger windmills partially because birds were being killed by the faster turning small mills. The newer, far larger mills are absolutely humongous !! And, the electricity they are adding back into the grid is significant although in many articles there that I read, the locals say the amount is disappointing vs. the cost of construction and land costs and repair. Wind power is important.

Back to nuclear. Currently, 20% of our electricity in the U.S. comes from nuclear power. There are pros and cons, of course, and normally when you see an article or blog post or hear a discussion about nuclear from an opponent, you hear the cons and you hear the pros from the proponents only. Many other countries also produce a significant amount of their power via nuclear. In Europe, however, they have scrapped the older, less efficient and more costly facilities in part because of some safety concerns.

I truly believe that nuclear should be part of the "mix" of energy sources as we transition green. The spent fuel currently is being looked at as a further source of energy in new technology to help reduce the "dirty" aspect of this source in addition to other ways of utilization and disposal.

Just wanted to put in my two cents. I realize I am in the minority here.

Minority report

It's all good, Foxy. There's no question nuclear will be part of the mix ... it's just a question of transition planning. The target I'd recommend is what I call "optimum minimum." That means building as little as possible as part of an interim plan in order to avoid the risk of undermining investments in more sustainable solutions. Unfortunately, America doesn't have much of a track record in effective planning. This is especially true when conservatives are in power. Planning is a dirty word in the Republican mind when it comes to government policy.

And I know the reason why

Republicans, or better put, conservatives (and you know we have them right in our own party that are in the boat with them) are now and have been in denial about the need for the U.S. to move into green sources of energy. Until relatively recently, I was on that ship myself, so I know. Check out how much the republicans did in their recent 8 years of control in that regard...nada, basically.

I too think that nuclear will be an important and integral part of that process (at least in a small way percentage-wise) in addition, hopefully, to a FAR bigger effort with solar and wind.

Degree of reliance

The question regarding nuclear is whether we will attempt to rachet up our degree of reliance on it for production of electricity.

There's no prospect that existing nuclear units will be shut down immediately, nor could they be without economic disruption. We're stuck with them. Whatever waste they produce during their lifetime will be the legacy with which our descendents will have to deal. After its decades of use, by the way, a decommissioned commercial reactor site is perhaps the ultimate in industrial "brownfields"--one that will not be used again in the forseeable future. I believe that indefinite on-site massive concrete "entombment" of the radioactive old structures may still be the most economically viable post-operation plan. This may help to explain why so many of us are so reluctant to support additional reactor sites.

The immediate drawback to increasing reliance on nuclear generation is more purely economic. The plants are not economically competitive for construction under any realistic market scenario. Where they are major players in national economies, it is only with either direct government ownership or massive government subsidy. The attraction to certain developing nations (like Iran) is based partly on their close ties to nuclear weapons capacity by masking the development of weapons-grade uranium enrichment facilities. In general, irreparable problems with the nuclear fuel cycle (from mining to "disposal") are and will remain the Achille's heel of this technology.

Sure, we can build 'em. And they will produce electricity in commercial quantities. But the costs are incredible, and not competitive with already commercially-viable renewable energy technologies. There is no good reason for us to perpetuate and expand our reliance on this most expensive method ever designed for boiling water.

Dan Besse

There is new technology being looked at

I have been through dozens of conversations and back-and-forth blog discussions on this nuclear issue. I respect what you are saying and your feelings on nuclear, of course, Dan. I have heard everything you have presented here a number of times and the points you have made are generally the points of mostly everyong that feels as you do.

To me, there is more to this picture than meets the eye. First, let me say that I am not advocating a large increase in nuclear power being generated in the U.S. I do, however, see it as part of the equation in our quest to go green. There is a lot of work being done that has not been disseminated because it is just beginning. But, it IS beginning and there IS work being done to correct many of the things about nuclear that have given it a bad name and that worries people and that has created such an enormous cost. The truth is, both wind and solar are also in its initial stages of becoming a viable replacement for the scourge of coal and oil etc. even though wind and solar have been around for quite a while. They have had some successes, just as nuclear has had, but they still face enormous challenges, just as nuclear does.

My point is, to me, if we are truly going to get clean energy in the U.S. (and the world, for that matter), we should not just look at the negatives of any of the alternatives to "dirty" energy and work toward progress (we ARE progressives, right :) with them.

This is really a subject for the younger generations to voice..

their feelings on this issue. I have never been a fan of nuclear since my 'damage control' training in the Navy in the early 1960s. And, from what I have read, there is still no way to neutralize the radiation once a meltdown has started. Getting back to the younger set. If they start a bunch of new sites now, they might be on line in five years, and like a new car, they usually work fine, at least for ten years. Then the corrosive affects start things needing repair, and a higher sense of maintenance will be needed. Having lived within about fifty miles of one built during the early sixties, there's always those little stories leaking out about lack of security, or 'sleeping at the switch'. And naturally, all that is denied, until Three-mile Island happened, and Chernobyl, which really showed how 'they' were powerless to predict what will happen. Chernobyl affected or killed thousands, and there never has been an official gov't report on any of these accidents. We might be thinking it's ok to build it in someone else's neighborhood, but this stuff can have lasting effects for hundreds of miles. There are many ways to do better with energy production, but it isn't going to happen when Exxon and BP are controlling the the research. Why aren't most of the power companies using propane or methane for generation? Maybe because the oil companies also control those supplies also. So, until we get people in the gov't who aren't for sale, we'll have to wait for the Europeans or Chinese to come up with answers. But to build nuclear power plants would be real desperation, and hopefully, we really rethink that issue.

Read the site please, denno

Did you read the site I presented? Look, you are making the same old, same old "look at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island" accidents" argument. I used to be anti-nuclear back in the '60's and 70's. And, for the same reasons you are citing here. Now? I believe it has a very valuable usefullness and so do many countries and scientists and environmentalists because times and technology has changed (no, not all, of course...but then we have much disagreement in that regard on wind and solar as well).

All I ask is that you open your mind a bit. It won't hurt much :)

Yes, I did try to absorb your article, which really...

is explaining how much more efficient the newer designs are. And believe me, if I was guaranteed that they could be shut down as surely as they explain, then I think it might be feasible. However, if because of a terrorist attack, or some failure due to aging parts, they couldn't get the rods into a shutdown position, then we are back to what we fear the most. And we're not talking about some rotor braking free from a generator! I don't think it's a matter of opening your mind to new ideas, but more a case of not being conned by corporation engineers and sales forces trying to drum up business. But, if you and your neighbors want it, then go for it! We're already having battles over chicken manure power generation up here in the foothills.

As the article posted by Foxtrot states, Surry county sort of...

has the same issues over the routes used to transport the poop, and there's not a final answer on what gases are thrown out to the environment after processing. I believe it was to be built in the Elkin area and I haven't kept up on the latest activities. I'm not sure of where I stand on this, since the science published hasn't been conclusive. I do remember that this same company has a plant operating in Wisconsin(?), and they used that as their example of a succcessful operation. I'm sure many of the poultry farms (or factories) wouldn't object, but it's the local population that has the problems.

I see how you are thinking, denno

I see that you are trying your best to actually dissuade yourself in this matter. I cannot offer up enough to persuade you to open up your mind, I think. It is all good. I understand that there are folks that stand on the other side of this issue from me and do whatever they can to make sure they stay that way. Not trying to trash ya here, honest. Just want you to consider what just soooo many other people consider when it comes to nuclear. Ever watch the Clark Howard show on HLN (CNN affiliate) or listen to him on the radio? He's one of the most notable economists and one of the greatest "common sense" minds in our country today. He could have written my previous post verbatum.

Nuclear is NOT something today that is to be feared and must be considered a viable part of the "mix" to replace our "dirty" energy today. No reason to argue that point with me further since you and I simply disagree on that issue.

This post is not about 'arguuing', but about all of us...

wanting to make our views known. I have learned much on blogs by considering alternate points of view that maybe I didn't consider. The issue is about nuclear power, and you and I have lived most of our lives with this developing science. As I said before, during my days in the Navy, I remember that branch of the military being pretty successful with nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines, which still carries over to this day. But, as far as being ready for my neighborhood, yeah, I'm still fearing the consequences. But don't take this as a disagreement, just a different viewpoint.

I understand, denno

You are right. I think we can agree to disagree amiably :).

This morning my wife got on BlueNC and read some of the posts I made here yesterday/last evening. Her most telling remark was: "you sure were a snippy little guy, weren't ya?" As I said in one of those post, I was in rare form. I get that way sometimes and most of the time when I do, I piss someone off. If I did that to you, I apologize, denno. I get wound up tighter than Dick's hatband, sometimes :)

Apologies not needed.....

I know we understand each other, just need to structure our words differently sometimes. I can tell your wife is a person of great wisdom!

She chose me, right? :)

My wife is a registered repub and we do not see eye-to-eye on many issues. She will not contribute on BlueNC (another act of great wisdom !) but loves to read the banter...especially mine. Most of the time she just shakes her head and goes about her business.

She likes James, though, because every now and then he puts me in my place and that just tickles the shit out of her.

Final Solution for Foxtrot?

My wife is a registered repub and we do not see eye-to-eye on many issues. She will not contribute on BlueNC (another act of great wisdom !) but loves to read the banter...especially mine. Most of the time she just shakes her head and goes about her business* Foxtrot

Have you consider Divore as a way out of your political mess?

Cute :)

I am sure you meant "divorce" as in Tammy Wynette's song: D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

Nah. She is a wonderful woman and politics is more fun than fun-damental differences in our relationship, Justice. But, thanks for wanting to help out :)

You know, when we dated, I did not even ask her political persuasion or beliefs. Guess it was not that important to me. Still isn't, to be honest.