21st Century Nuclear Challenges: 1 Mass Deployment, A. Coal Replacement
The challenge to nuclear energy in the 21st century include:
1. Mass deployment reactors2. Offering sustainable energy from nuclear sources3. Offering energy at a low cost4. Offering safe energy5. Insuring that the byproducts of nuclear energy production do not cause harm to future generation6. Insuring that the large scale deployment of nuclear energy does not become contributing factor to the use of nuclear weapons in some future conflict
The problem posed by mass deployment of reactors is primarily one of shifting production technologies. Climate scientists warn us that that continued use of fossil fuels as energy sources, will lead to climate changes that will produce undesirable consequences. Yet even if the climate scientists are wrong about the climate effects of CO2 as a greenhouse gas, Coal fired power plants are waring out, and will have to be replaced all over the world during the next 40 years. Even if climate concerns could be dismissed as climate change skeptics claim, other strong motives exist for the replacement of coal fired power plants, by nuclear powered generation facilities. First, the cost of constructing new coal fired power plants increased rapidly during the next decade, and by the end of the decade no longer offered a competitive price advantage over the cost of conventional nuclear generation facilities. Secondly the cost of coal as a fuel, also rose significantly during the last decade. Price stability for the construction of new coal electrical generation facilities is unlikely, and the cost of coal will probably see further increases making further dramatic rises in the cost of coal generated electricity likely.
In addition the waste problem with coal is far more serious than the waste problem with nuclear power. Coal waste contains far more radioactive materials, and poses more serious management problems than nuclear waste. Coal waste contains massive amounts of radioactive materials, that are not subject to nearly as stringent. The coal waste problem is significant because efforts to remove pollutants from coal smoke, will lead to an increase the amount of toxic waste problem associated with coal fired electricity production.
Thus it is at the very least credible that nuclear power offers significant advantages over fossil fuels to justify the deployment of nuclear powered electrical generation facilities as replacements for old and worn out coal fired generators during the next 40 years. But beyond that arguments in favor of AGW skepticism lacks scientific validity. In response to a paper titled, "450 Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of "Man-Made" Global Warming," (Now titled 850 Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of "Man-Made" Global Warming (AGW) Alarmism) Roger Pielke, Jr., wrote,
My attention has just be called to a list of "450 Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of "Man-Made" Global Warming." A quick count shows that they have 21 papers on the list by me and/or my father. Assuming that these are Hypothesis 1 type bloggers they'd better change that to 429 papers, as their list doesn't represent what they think it does.
What is perhaps amazing is that "Andrew" the author of the 450 9or 850) paper and a number of Andrew's skeptical supporters had the presumption to argue with Roger Pielke, Jr about Andrew's inclusion of Pielke's papers in the list. Piekke responded to "Andrew's" argument by stating,
I always tell my students to define key terms when making an argument. I suggest taking a closer look at that first sentence. Using your logic, you'll find that my papers are also skeptical of the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.The Pielkes support the view that the determinants of global climate are complex, and for example Greenhouse gases are not the only vector by which people may influence climate. AGW skeptics offer many different positions, contradict each other at key points, and jave not worked through their differences. Many skeptics deny the powerful scientific arguments for the existence of greenhouse gases, and for their role in global climate, while others acknowledge the existence of Greenhouse gases, but argue that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is too small to effect global climate, while others argue that CO2 can force climate, but other feed back mechanisms triggered by the effects of CO2 increases, counteract ÇO2 related climate forcing. till other "skeptics" argue that while CO2 climate forcing is real, it is unlikely to have a significant effect of the global economy and thus can be ignored.
In the absence of a coherent "skeptical" position, the argument that AGW skepticism is science based appears weak. Finally even if one form of AGW skepticism is shown to be more science acceptable than conflicting versions of AGW skepticism, it is not at all clear that that view is so probable that the mainstream AGW view can be excluded with certainty. Most AGW skeptics appear to assert there views with claims to apodictic certainly, and thus until conflicts between various AGW skeptical positions can be resolved, the probability of AGW skepticism cannot be determined, and thus the likelihood that AGW skeptics are mistaken cannot be ignored.
Thus given the current state of the argument "AGW skeptics" have not presented a definitive case that the so called alarmists are undoubtedly mistake. Thus the AGW skeptics have not presented a case that no risk of AGW exists, and thus that the so called climate alarmists, the people who are concerned about the risk of AGW are beyond all doubt wrong .
The risk of AGW, even if regarded as not a certainty constitutes a sufficient reason for a switch from coal to nuclear power within a prudent time frame. Given other economic, social, and environmental motives discussed in this post, a powerful case can be made that a switch from coal to nuclear power is both prudent and justified. While this switch can be justified by referencing conventional nuclear power technology, I intend to show in later posts in this series that more advanced nuclear technology can offer a number of significant cost advantages over conventional nuclear technology.
About 50% of American electricity is generated by coal fired power plants. While nuclear power plants typically operate 24 hours a day, coal fired power plants typically operate 16 hours a day or so. Some coal fired power plants are shut down on weekend. Electrical demand typically rises during the day time, and stays high into the evening. Many coal fired plants operate on schedules that match day time consumer demands. A power plant that operates 16 hours a day is typically described as providing intermediate level load. 24 hour a day plants provide base load electricity. Nuclear power plants typically operate on a 24 hour a day schedule. But if nuclear power plants are deployed to replace coal fired power plants, we have a problem of economic match. Many estimates place the price of nuclear generated power at a cost that is higher than coal generated electricity. But the cost difference is not huge, and the price of coal is likely to increase substantially between now and 2050.
In addition, the capital cost of new nuclear plants has risen significantly during the last decade and they can be expected to rise even more as government regulations require new coal fired power plant designs to take responsibility for social costs. Thus the cost of design modifications that remove NOx, SOx, and fine particulates from coal smoke will significantly raise coal generated electrical costs and this does not include the cost of carbon sequestration. Markets which consider the risks of nuclear investments without considering the risks of alternative power investments are making large mistakes.
Further we need to consider the cost of renewable alternatives. It should be noted that the cost of wind generated electricity is estimated to be higher than the cost of nuclear generated electricity. But the big flaw in such a comparison is that wind may not blow when it is needed, and often doesn't. Thus wind without storage. The Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) estimates that only 8.7% of wind capacity can be counted on to fill electrical consumer demand. Thus the real cost of wind generated electricity may be much higher that conventional estimates report, because such estimates do not take into account the cost of providing electricity upon consumer demand.
The costs of solar thermal and solar photovoltaic electricity is significantly higher than nuclear, and PV neither solar thermal or solar PV generating systems can be currently considered as viable candidates for replacing coal generated electricity. Thus among the coal replacement options, only nuclear is a viable candidate. This is not to say tat nuclear power is the best choice but for the moment among the carbon free coal replacement choices, only nuclear power could perform the same grid functions as coal burning electrical plants.
We will need a further alternative, which is to consider the use of natural gas powered generation plants, as coal fired power generator replacements. i will examine two plans, a natural gas and wind plan, and a simple natural gas plan, in a future post.
Finally, we must examine whether a nuclear5replacement of a coal fired electrical generation facilities is possible before 2050. In 1974 the French Government reached the decision to supply the bulk of French electricity from nuclear sources. 54 reactors were completed between 1977 and 1992. The French completed a further 4 reactors between 1996 and 2000.
The cost of the first 54 reactors was reported to be 400 billion Francs or about 105 Billion 2009 dollars. Thus the French created a nuclear powered electrical system that provided between 70% and 80% of their electricity within 18 years of deciding to do so. The population of France at the time was under 60,000,000 or no more that 1/5th the current population of the United States. The United States would have to do no more than match the French nuclear effort between 1974 and 1992 in order to replace its coal fired power plants with nuclear power plants within a 20 year time span. Thus even if the replacement of coal fired power plants is accomplished by the use of conventional nuclear power plants, it can easily be accomplished 20 years before 2050.
The deployment of so many reactors so rapidly, would actually offer a considerable production advantage. Reactor manufacture can be modularized, with factories building parts that can easily be transported to the final construction site, and then assembled with labor savings machinery. The Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor was designed to be built with such a plan. It is designed to be constructed in three years, and thus AP-1000 unit construction will be, if anything, more rapid than French reactor construction between 1974 and 19992.
According to Westinghouse,
The AP1000 was designed to reduce capital costs and to be economically competitive with contemporary fossil-fueled plants. The amount of safety-grade equipment required is greatly reduced by using the passive safety system design. Consequently, less Seismic Category I building volume is required to house the safety equipment (approximately 45 percent less than a typical reactor). Modular construction design further reduces cost and shortens the construction schedule. Using advanced computer modeling capabilities, Westinghouse is able to optimize, choreograph and simulate the construction plan. The result is very high confidence in the construction schedule.
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A rapid build and other economies facilitated by large scale serial production would enable to produce AP-1000 reactors in the united States at a cosy that would be similar too or less than coal fired power plants, with NOx, SOx, and fine particulate controls, and certainly less than coal fired power plants with carbon capture and storage. The cost of these plants would also be less than renewable generating capacity that could produce similar amounts of electricity with similar consumer demand response characteristics.