Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bill Hannahan: So where is the fundamental limitation

Introductory Comment: Joe Romm has been barking for his Lovinsesque nuclear limitations Party line all over the Internet. He posted reruns of the Salon "Bomb" on Climate Progress and Gristmill. David Roberts gave a responding bark of delight. But Bill Hannahan is nobodies fool, and he added his own "Fisking" of Romm's arguments in response to Romm's post of on Gristmill.

Bill does first rate work, and his latest comments on Romm deserve a wider hearing. Hence with his permissions I am cross posting them:

So where is the fundamental limitation?
By Bill Hannahan

To say that it is impossible to build nuclear power plants in large numbers is like saying that it is impossible to send a human to the moon; it ignores the fact that it has already been demonstrated.
" Yet nuclear power's own myriad limitations will constrain its growth, especially in the near term. These include:

Prohibitively high, and escalating, capital costs ....

So what would be the cost of electricity from new nuclear plants today? Jim Harding, who was on the Keystone Center panel, was responsible for its economic analysis, and previously served as director of power planning and forecasting for Seattle City Light, emailed us in early May that his own "reasonable estimate for levelized cost range ... is 12-17 cents per kWh lifetime, and 1.7x times that number [20 to 29 cents per kWh] in first year of commercial operation."

At these rates a 1.5GW plant with a 0.9 capacity factor, would earn $3.4 billion in the first year, and $2 billion per year after that.

Operation and maintenance cost are about 2¢ per kWh, ...

and should be less for next generation plants because they're greatly simplified, with fewer pumps, valves, and less piping. To be conservative lets assume that O&M cost doubles. The O&M cost would be $237million per year.

Even at the highest cost estimates the plant would pay for itself within 10 years, and then produce very cheap reliable electricity for another 50 years.

Show us a cost estimate for a 1.5 GW solar or wind array with reliable dispatchable power and a 0.90 capacity factor. Now show us a cost estimate for an array east of the Mississippi river with the same specifications. How many such arrays are in operation now? Where can we review their actual performance, construction cost, O&M cost, reliability, emissions, capacity factor, life expectancy and cost per kWh?

Show us a cost and reliability estimate of the required grid for moving the energy from where wind and solar sources are best to where most people live.

" Production bottlenecks in key components needed to build plants...

Twenty years ago the United States had 400 major suppliers for the nuclear industry. Today there are about 80. Only two companies in the whole world can make heavy forgings for pressure vessels, steam generators, and pressurizers. "

Before the first round of construction that were zero suppliers. There's no reason we cannot build another supply chain. Inherently safe plant designs do not require as much safety related equipment as older plants.

" Very long construction times "

We can dramatically reduce construction time and cost by mass producing floating nuclear power plants.

" Concerns about uranium supplies and importation issues "

This is a red herring; the uranium supply is effectively unlimited. ...

" Unresolved problems with the availability and security of waste storage "

Nuclear waste is largely a political and educational problem. The most rational solution for nuclear waste is deep seabed burial, but almost anything will work if carefully implemented.

" Large-scale water use Amid shortages

"few realize that electricity generation accounts for nearly half of all water withdrawals in the nation." At the same time, "existing nuclear power stations used and consumed significantly more water per megawatt hour than electricity generation powered by fossil fuels," "

This is another red herring, and even mentioning it completely destroys the author's credibility. The author talks about water withdrawals, but fails to mention that almost all of that water is returned to the source, in sharp contrast to agricultural withdrawals, in which none of the water in returned. The average reader does not understand the difference between water withdrawal and water consumption. The author deliberately takes advantage of the readers limitation to mislead them. This is totally unethical. ...

Floating nuclear power plants will use the ocean as a heat sink, and can produce huge volumes of fresh water. The authors vaunted solar thermal plants located in the desert will have a lower thermodynamic efficiency than nuclear plants and will require more fresh water per kWh than the nuclear plant. That water will have to be diverted from other uses, or made from sea water, using energy, and transported into the desert using energy.

The release of huge quantities of water vapor in the desert may result in increased cloud formation and reduced plant output. The author does not mention these very real water problems with his proposed solution.

" High electricity prices from new plants...

Nuclear power is therefore unlikely to play a dominant -- greater than 10 percent --

The author's conclusions are based on the assumption that there are other technologies that can produce reliable, predictable, controllable, baseload power at an affordable cost. So why aren't we tearing down coal fired power plants and replacing them with this new technology? Why are countries all over the world building more coal plants?

Denmark has been pushing wind extremely hard since 1979, yet they get most of their electricity from fossil fuel and have the most expensive electricity in the world. Residential electricity in Denmark cost 1.92 DKK/kWh in 2007, 40 cents / kWh. In the U.S. it was about 9 cents / kWh. ...

Wind power in the state of California, was down to 4% on peak for several days during the 2006 heat wave. ...

The entire U.S. wind output was down 20% below average during the heat wave while the demand was 20% above average. Nuclear power was 10% above average because outages are scheduled for spring and fall when demand is low. ...

We should increase R&D to $90 billion per year (only 2.25 cents/kWh) and push every technology as hard as possible. That would include building at least one full scale commercial size plant of every promising technology. Actual performance data would give companies and individuals confidence to make large scale investments rapidly in new and proven technology.

This would accelerate the introduction of practical solutions and is much more sensible than providing feed in tariffs to mass produce expensive immature impractical technology that raises cost enormously while remaining largely dependent on fossil fuel, as Denmark and Germany have proven.

This proposal maximizes the probability that we will develop better technology than fission, which makes it the most anti nuclear recommendation that is practical.
Reducing U.S. emissions is not important. Developing a low cost replacement for fossil fuel that the entire world can afford should be our goal. Wasting money on mass production of impractical expensive systems is counterproductive.

Research and development should not be considered a subsidy. It is an investment in the future, like medical research. Our R&D investment over the last 30 years was barely a token amount; which is a major factor contributing to our energy problem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Charles, many thanks for pointing us to that page.

Ah! Bill Hannahan really took the nukophobes to the woodsheed at Gristmill. Really impressive. It's so good I actually bookmarked the page at Grist for later references and I think I'm going to keep a local copy on my hard-drive just in case Grist deletes it.

Wonderful job!


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