The Environment America Research & Policy Center of California has just published a report titled Generating Failure: How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming.
The Environment America Research & Policy Center of California is a non-profit outfit which has a mission statement which states
We are dedicated to protecting California’s air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision makers, and help Californians make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.All this sounds relentlessly high-minded, but as the old saying goes
the road to hell is paved with good intentions.Ignorance and incompetence can screw up the best of intentions. So how much do the report authors know? The report is written by Travis Madsen and Tony Dutzik Frontier Group, and Bernadette Del Chiaro and Ron Sargent of the Environment America Research & Policy Center.
Well it turns out that none of the report's authors has been educated or has worked in professions that would help them to understand the technological or economic issues involved. This by itself hardly demonstrates that they are wrong, but it does show that we should carefully review their arguments before we accept their conclusions.
In order to assess how well our authors did we turn their discussion of their methods, and there we find
We use lifecycle carbon dioxide emission rates per kWh for a variety of renewable technologies and new nuclear reactors from a 2008 report by Stanford scientist Mark Jacobson.Jacobson's assessment is flawed by the assumption that use of nuclear power will inevitably lead to a nuclear war every 30 years and that the CO2 emitted by cities torched by nuclear blasts should be included with nuclear CO2 emissions. While Jacobson's approach is imaginative, arguments in its favor are very weak. Any conclusions based on Jacobson's implausible assumptions must be taken with very large grains of salt.
If we disregard the Mark Jacobson's very dubious and controversial assertions about nuclear CO2 emissions, then we are left with an assertion that
A second source of supposed carbon savings would come from the use of
Nuclear Power Is More Costly than Other Forms of Emission-Free Electricity.Also
Vast amounts of clean energy are available – now – at far less cost.Where would this energy come from? According to "Generation Failure" those sources include
* Energy EfficiencyFirst we should note that they chose to aggregate energy efficiency, with CHPs and renewables and weigh their combined cost and CO2 savings against nuclear power. The report claims
* Combined Heat and Power generators
* The Sun and Wind
End Use Efficiency, based on estimates by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy of 4.6 cents per kWh total resource cost, inflated to 2018 dollars...The American Council's report concludes
These results serve to confirm that the costs of saved energy are far less than the costs of new conventional fossil fuels and alternative energy sources and remain consistent over time.A more fair minded approach might look at aggregation energy efficiency and nuclear as well, because presumably efforts to achieve energy efficiency would continue with a nuclear investment. Thus efficiency may be cost-effective in terms of carbon savings, but carbon-free energy still needs to be generated, and efficiency will still be cost effective whether teamed with either carbon free nuclear power or with other energy sources.
A second source of supposed carbon savings would come from the use of
Combined heat and power (CHP), derived from estimates for recovered heat industrial CHP, combined cycle industrial CHP, and building-scale CHP by the Rocky Mountain Institute,While Rocky Mountain Institute holds CHP would save CO2 emissions, CHPs, even with natural gas is not nearly effective as nuclear energy. This can be illustrated by a comparison between Denmark and France. While it is well known that Denmark uses wind power, what is less well known is that
Most electricity in Denmark is produced by large CHP plants that also supply heat to district heating systems and institutions in major cities. More than 50% of the space heating supply in Denmark comes from district heating systems. In 2000 combined heating and power facilities generated 60% of the electricity for domestic supply and approximately 75% of the heat supplied to district heating systems.Since 80% of French electricity is produced by nuclear plants, a comparison of the French and Danish CO2 emissions would give us a clue about the relative effectiveness of Danish use of Wind plus CHP verses the French use of nuclear power, In 2008 the emissions from Nuclear powered France ran about 6.2 tons per person. in contrast Danish CO2 emissions equaled 9.9 tons per person, over 50% more than France. Thus clearly nuclear power offers a significant advantage over the CHP approach in savings CO2 emissions. Other high nuclear nations like Sweden which produces 50% of its electricity with nuclear also show superior CO2 reductions.
The case for the use of biomass in not improved by the fact that Denmark uses a significant amount of biomass in the production of its electricity.
In 2000, biomass contributed 45.1% of the energy production from renewable sources; waste combustion 35.6%; wind 18.7%.
Thus policies requiring the burning of biomass and refuse to produce electricity and heat do not appear to significantly lower Danish CO2 output.
Thus we are left with Generation Failure's assertion that vast amounts of low cost carbon free energy are available and a far lower cost than nuclear. This assertion is based on a California Energy Commission Report. While that report is not available on line, a slightly earlier version of that report, published in late 2007 is.
That report states offers a levelized cost for advanced nuclear of from 91.12 to 118.25. This tracks closely with estimated 2016 nuclear levelized costs of 107 based on Energy Information Agency 2009 data. There are however discrepancies between the California estimate of levelized cost for wind, and the EIA's estimate. The California estimate for class 5 wind was between 61.38 and 84.24. The estimate for the levelized cost for wind in 2016 based on EIA data is 141.5. The apparent discrepancy is that most wind generating facilities have a lower capacity factor than the class 5 winds the California Energy Commission noted.
Other renewable resources which which the California Energy Commission in its 2007 report include various forms of solar, which it estimated to have levelized cost far higher than those of nuclear. In this respect the California report coincides with the EIA data.
Estimations of the future costs of energy producing facilities tends to be more than a little like predictions of the future weather. The further out one goes, the more inaccurate the guess is likely to be.
It would appear then that "Generation Failure" has failed to the quality of the California environment. Instead it give us a highly distorted picture of the carbon emissions of nuclear power as well as its relative cost. "Generation Failure" should be regarded yet another product of the anti-nuclear propaganda machine.