Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Are Nuclear Costs Unreasonable?

We are in the middle of an energy paradigm shift about.

Old assumptions are no longer true and even the outlines of the new world is not clear to most people. They were however, clear to a few far sighted people long ago. Both M. King Hubbard and Alvin Weinberg (see numerous posts in Nuclear Green) foresaw the transition form fossil fuels to nuclear energy over a generation ago. We can call this the nuclear energy paradigm.

A second post fossil fuel paradigm has been offered the renewable energy paradigm The Gore Plan and the Google Clean Energy 2030 Plan might be considered as poorly thought out examples of the renewables paradigm. My argument is that when the renewable paradigm is well thought out it falls apart.

The recent objection to Nuclear power is its cost. The overnight cost of nuclear power was around $2000 Per kW in 2002. It has been estimated that the cost will have risen to $4000 this year, and that it will rise to as much as $8000 by the middle of the next decade. Some authorities suggest that the cost of Nuclear power will rise even higher with the figure of $12 Billion per GW being offered. In time that figure is plausible. The cause of this rapid cost escalation is the Asian construction bomb. The rapidly expanding economies of India and China demand construction commodities and finished parts for energy plants. This demand has doubled the cost of building new power generation facilities and is expected to continue the rapid inflation of new power plant production for the foreseeable future.

The materials inflation is expected to impact the price of renewable power generating facilities even more than it will impact the cost of new nuclear pants. One of the flaws about the renewables paradigm is that it is rather vague about the source of base electrical generating capacity. Base capacity is those electrical plants that are producing power all of the time. I have recently argued that renewables generated base electricity required by a fully implemented renewables paradigm would be very expensive, perhaps as much as $25,000 per kWh in the middle of the next decade. This would be two to three times as expensive as nuclear generated base power.

Other factors come into play. For example the cost of both fossil fuel fired power electrical generating facilities is rising, and fuel costs are rising as well. Last winter the price of Appalachia coal peaked at $300 a ton on the spot market. Asian demand for coal fired electrical energy is pushing the price of coal as well as the price of other commodities. The price of natural has risen. New gas supplies have been tapped, but they are expensive to recover. And of course the cost of building replacement coal and gas fire power plants also has to be considered. Although some advocate the clean coal paradigm, in fact, at least 57% of the useful energy produced in a coal fired CO2 sequestering power plant, and possibly as much as 75% of it, will be used to power the sequestering and other gas cleaning operations. Thus a heavy fuel cost would be added on to the very expensive cost sequestration related equipment.

In 2007 the Tennessee Valley Authority put a reactor back into service after having been mothballed for two decades. The Browns Ferry Unit 1reactor had been refurbished at the cost of $2 billion dollars. During the first year the Browns Ferry Unit 1 reactor was in operation, it saved TVA $800 million. That was the ammount that TVA would have had to pay, Thus the Browns Ferry reactor will pay for its rebuilding in 2 1/2 years. It will pay for its rebuilding and interest in a little more than 3 years. Encouraged by such how quickly the Browns Ferry reactor is paying for its rebuilding, TVA has decided to complete an old partly completed reactor, Watts Bar Unit 2. In addition TVA has two other partially built reactors, Bellefonte 1 and 2, that it is now considering completing. In addition TVA is planning two new more reactors at the same spot.

If we look at the cost of new coal fired generating facilities and add on top of those costs the cost of fuel, then even the $8 billion nuclear plant no longer seems so expensive. Compared to the new renewable bade electrical generating facilities, the cost of nuclear facilities is quite a bargain. This does not mean i am entirely satisfied with the present form of nuclear power, i am not. i am satisfied that the new Generation III+ reactors are very safe, and that they will produce electrical power for a very long time, perhaps as long as 100 years. I am not satisfied that the Uranium fuel cycle, with once through fuel technology is the best possible approach. I am not satisfied that once fuel leaves a Light Water Reactor it becomes waste. I am not satisfied that light water reactors are the lowest possible cost nuclear power generating reactors, clearly they are not. I am not satisfied that proposed storage solutions to the problems of nuclear waste are a resonable approach, and I am not satiasfied that no nuclear solution to the probl;em of load following or peak power reserve has been offered for the nuclear market.

At the moment the Light Water Reactor is the best technology on the market for post-carbon fuel electrical generation. But the shift to the nuclear paradigm will not be completed with Light Water Reactor technology. Because we have no other choice, we must begin to replace coal fired power plants with Light Water Reactors. We must begin to do this quickly, and with considerable numbers. This would be the case even if we were not concerned with global warming. The triple concerns of glonal warming, peak oil, and demand forced inflation of coal, makes it urgent that the shift to nuclear power be made quickly.

We out also to move quickly to improve the nuclear option. To decrease the cost of new nuclear facilities, to make them even safer. To solve once and for all the problem of nuclear waste, and to create new energy from spent reactor fuel, and useless nuclear weapons that only represent a danger to civilization.

The shift to the nuclear energy paradigm will talk place. There are very serious flaws in the renewable paradigm even if Al Gore and Google like it. We would be entering an early stage of the nuclear paradigm during the next few years. The final form of the nuclear paradigm is beginning to take shape in the minds of a few dreamers.

In honer of the 10,000th post on Energy from Thorium.

1 comment:

Marcel F. Williams said...

Looks like the federal government is the only one making any aggressive moves in the nuclear industry in the US. Personally, I wouldn't mind the federal government investing up to 45% of the capital for new nuclear reactors--- if they were built on existing nuclear sites.

Alvin Weinberg proposed an existing-site policy way back in 1979 in Science Magazine as the best way to expand nuclear power in the US. He and is co-authors argued that by simply increasing the number of nuclear reactors at existing nuclear sites already in operation, the US could increase its nuclear capacity up to 343 Gwe, that's more than triple current nuclear capacity and would allow us to power nearly 70% of our electricity through nuclear power-- from nuclear sites that already exist.

Marcel F. Williams


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