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Category — Nuclear power

Nuclear Power: Our High Costs Benefits! (Bastiat, call your office)

“It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.

- Frédéric Bastiat (1850)

Making the news last week was a new “economic impact” study funded by a trade association representing the nuclear industry. The study purports to show that the nuclear industry in North and South Carolina generates $25 billion dollars annually and supports 29,000 jobs. The study funded by the industry group Carolinas Nuclear Cluster would like to believe that such activity is a per se good, the marketplace notwithstanding.

So much for economics, which stresses that ends are greater than means and that good activities should be done at least cost. [Read more →]

December 4, 2013   3 Comments

Vogtle Nuclear Project: More Overruns, More Delay (Georgia Power reconfirms the perils of government-subsidized energy)

Late last month, Georgia Power (Southern Company) filed its eighth semi-annual report on the construction progress of its 2,240-MW two-unit Vogtle nuclear plant to the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC).

The already bad news got still worse–not surprising for a project that is all but financially insulated from its own failure. As I previously wrote at MasterResource:

With a pending $8.6 billion federal loan guarantee, a cap on liability, production tax credits and pre-collection of profits this makes Georgia Power the nation’s biggest welfare queen.

Georgia Power’s latest report to state regulators indulges in self-praise, shifts blame for growing problems, and employs misleading analysis. The Company asks the GPSC to approve an additional $737 million in cost and add 15 months to the project’s schedule. Since Georgia Power has 45.7% ownership, the entire $14 billion project has additional cost of over $1.6 billion. [Read more →]

March 28, 2013   2 Comments

Politics and the Nation’s Next Nuclear Plant (Georgia Power’s boondoggle under construction)

“Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle is seen as the first example in the country’s ‘Nuclear Renaissance’. The technology indeed employs new simpler, safer, and more efficient designs than the last round of nuclear plants. However, there is nothing new about the crony politics and financial shenanigans surrounding the project.”

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of the mighty Southern Company, is pressing ahead with development of a two-unit, 2,240 Megawatt (MW) nuclear plant, Plant Vogtle. With a pending $8.6 billion federal loan guarantee, a cap on liability, production tax credits and pre-collection of profits this makes Georgia Power the nation’s biggest welfare queen.

And the predictable bad news is already coming in. Recent news reports state that Vogtle may be nearly $1 billion above budget. Bad for electricity users and taxpayers; good for utility stockholders given that the extra rate base receives a guaranteed rate of return.

All these financial goodies didn’t come from performance in the marketplace but from well-planned lobbying at the state and federal levels. Tracing the actions and rationalizations that went into getting this project off the ground and into construction is illustrative, although disheartening. [Read more →]

May 23, 2012   19 Comments

Tucker’s Terrestrialism and the Technology of Modernity

“The release of energy from splitting a uranium atom turns out to be 2 million times greater than breaking the carbon-hydrogen bond in coal, oil or wood. Compared to all the forms of energy ever employed by humanity, nuclear power is off the scale. Wind has less than 1/10th the energy density of wood, wood half the density of coal, and coal half the density of octane. Altogether they differ by a factor of about 50. Nuclear has 2 million times the energy density of gasoline. It is hard to fathom this in light of our previous experience. Yet our energy future largely depends on grasping the significance of this differential. “

- William Tucker, excerpted from his lecture, Understanding E=MC2

William Tucker has powerfully explained how the future of technologically advanced civilizations depends upon a sophisticated ability to convert the highest energy densities into increasingly denser power performance, and in the process compacting the time and space necessary to do productive work.

In fact, Tucker wrote an excellent book about this, Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Energy Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey. In light of the excerpt from that book recently posted at Master Resource, I thought readers of this forum might find my review from two years ago (see below) of interest, particularly if they have not yet read Tucker’s book.

The Primacy of Energy Density

Rockefeller University’s Jesse Ausubel has demonstrated that the trend in energy usage continues along a decarbonizing trajectory. Improvements in technology combined with a communal desire to live longer and more healthfully have spurred this phenomenon. Given a choice, who wants to live in a town where thousands of chimneys cast off carbon by-products like sulfuric smoke and soot? Civilization will continue decarbonizing apace, whether this aligns with climate change alarmism, or not. [Read more →]

January 24, 2012   3 Comments

Solar Cheaper than Grid Nuclear? Think Again!

Several months ago, a study by the anti-nuclear group North Carolina Waste Awareness Network (NC WARN) gained worldwide exposure by concluding that solar power is cheaper today than  nuclear power.

The New York Times ran an article highlighting the findings, but the article was so criticized that the newspaper’s editors responded with what amounted to an apology.

NC WARN’s startling, untenable conclusion is the subject of this post, which is based on a longer paper.

The group’s central graph (Figure 1), which took the media hook, line, and sinker, shows a steep decreasing cost curve for solar over time coupled with a pronounced increasing cost curve for nuclear.


Figure 1. Generation costs from solar and nuclear power according to Blackburn and Cunningham (2010).

But nuclear power is less, not more, expensive than solar power. It is also reliable, or in industry terms, dispatchable, which adds value that is not reflected in simple cost comparisons.

Flawed Methodology

NC WARN estimates the cost of nuclear power by increasing the estimates from one single piece of literature (Cooper 2009). (We will discuss this later.) With regard to the costs of solar power, they employ the following formula: [Read more →]

October 20, 2010   14 Comments

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part V: Lessons]

Part 1 of this series explored the historical context of the U.S. nuclear waste storage policy. Part II and Part III looked at the failed Salt Vault and Yucca Mountain projects, respectively. Part IV reviewed the legal and political fallout from the Yucca Mountain failure.  In this final post, we review the past failed attempts to reprocess nuclear fuel in the U.S. and examine the global state-of-the-art reprocessing plants now operating or under construction.

Reprocessing and Recycling in the U.S.

The reprocessing of nuclear fuel first began in the U.S. in January 1943. The Bismuth Phosphate Precipitation Process was used for recovering macroscopic quantities of plutonium. The REDuction-OXidation (REDOX) process was the first successful solvent extraction process to recover both uranium and plutonium; it was further refined into the Plutonium and URanium EXtraction (PUREX) process, which has become the most common and fully commercialized liquid-liquid extraction process for the treatment of spent nuclear fuel (SNF).

In order to support a self-sufficient commercial nuclear power industry in the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, circa 1946 to 1974)—the predecessor regulatory agency to the NRC (1974 to present) and the Department of Energy (circa 1977 to present)—encouraged the transfer of nuclear fuel reprocessing from the federal government to private industry. The three privately owned reprocessing plants constructed were the Western New York Nuclear Service Center (West Valley, N.Y.), Midwest Fuel Recovery Plant (Morris, Ill.), and the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant (Barnwell, S.C.). [Read more →]

July 13, 2010   2 Comments

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part IV: Picking Up the Pieces]

Part I of this series reviewed the historical context of the U.S. nuclear waste storage policy. Part II and Part III historically reviewed the ill-fated Salt Vault and Yucca Mountain projects, respectively.  This post reviews the legal and political fallout from the Yucca Mountain failure, and Part V tomorrow will explore failed attempts to reprocess nuclear fuel in the U.S. and examine the global state-of-the-art reprocessing plants now operating or under construction.

Ratepayers Pay to (Not) Play

1. View of the above-ground support structures and north and south portals at the now-defunct Yucca Mountain repository. Source: Department of Energy/Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (DOE/OCRWM)

The nuclear industry is unique among energy producers in its contractual commitment to cover the full costs for managing its waste. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) of 1982 directed utilities to levy fees on electricity generated by nuclear power and to pay those fees into a federal Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF) that was to be used to develop and operate a national repository. In return for the payment of fees, the NWPA directed the federal government to accept ownership and begin disposing of the spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and other high-level waste (HLW) no later than January 31, 1998. Those fees included the cost of transporting SNF to the repository.

Since 1983, consumers of electricity from nuclear power plants have paid approximately $32 billion into the NWF. Consumers in Alabama and Georgia, for example, have sent more than $1 billion to the NWF and continue to contribute over $44 million a year. The current balance in the NWF exceeds approximately $22 billion, and consumers nationwide are contributing about an additional $750 million a year. The difference between total collections and the current balance is roughly equal to the approximately $9 billion already spent on preparing the Yucca Mountain site to date. [Read more →]

July 12, 2010   1 Comment

The U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part III: Yucca Mountain]

Part I explored the historical context of the U.S. nuclear waste storage policy, while Part II reviewed the 1960s Salt Vault project.

This post looks at the legislative history of the ill-fated Yucca Mountain repository and the formation of a committee to explore alternative storage sites (again). In Part IV, we will look at some of the legal and political repercussions of Yucca Mountain’s failure.  Finally, in Part V, we explore failed attempts to reprocess nuclear fuel in the U.S. and examine the global state-of-the-art reprocessing plants now operating or under construction.

The Retrievable Surface Storage Facility

The AEC announced plans (circa May/June 1972) to construct an engineered, at-grade Retrievable Surface Storage Facility (RSSF) to be used until a permanent geological repository would be available. The plan was to locate the RSSF at an AEC or federal site in the western U.S. However, the environmental impact statement (EIS) issued by the AEC in support of the RSSF concept drew intense criticism from the public and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Both criticized the plan because of the possibility that economic factors could later dictate using the facility as a permanent repository, contrary to the planned interim use of the RSSF. In this instance, it was unacceptable to proceed with an interim storage system unless there were unambiguous assurances that a permanent repository would be developed.

In 1975, Dr. Robert Seamans—in one of his first acts as administrator of the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA)—withdrew the EIS associated with the RSSF and decided that a permanent waste repository should be given budget priority. ERDA was created to assume the responsibilities of the then-dissolved AEC that were not covered by the newly formed NRC. [Read more →]

July 10, 2010   4 Comments

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part II: Project Salt Vault]

Part I in this series reviewed the history of nuclear waste storage policy in the United States. This post reviews Project Salt Vault, an early attempt to solve the dilemma of storing spent nuclear fuel.   Part III will cover the history of Yucca Mountain.

Project Salt Vault

The primary objective of Project Salt Vault was to demonstrate the safety and feasibility of handling and storing high level nuclear waste (HLW) solids from power reactors in salt formations. The engineering and scientific objectives were to:

· Demonstrate waste-handling equipment and techniques required to handle packages containing HLW solids from the point of production to the disposal location.

· Determine the stability of salt formations under the combined effects of heat and radiation (approximately 4,000,000 curies of radioactive material, yielding up to 109 rads).

· Collect information on creep and plastic flow of salt needed for the design of an actual disposal facility.

· Monitor the site for radiolytic chemical reactions, if such should occur.

The demonstration site selected was the inactive Lyons, Kansas mine of the Carey Salt Co. The 1,020-foot deep salt mine had operated from 1890 to 1948 and had been kept open for possible future use. Preparations for the demonstration began in 1963, and the first radioactive material was placed in the mine in November 1965. The tests involved the emplacement of actual irradiated fuel assemblies from the Engineering Test Reactor (ETR) in Idaho. The ETR assemblies were chosen because of their availability on a dependable schedule and their relatively high radioactivity levels. [Read more →]

July 9, 2010   9 Comments

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part I: Historical Context]

In addition to building nuclear power plants, a robust nuclear energy infrastructure requires a means to store and recycle spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and other high level nuclear waste (HLW) products.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and Amendments of 1987 established a national policy and schedule for developing geologic repositories for the disposal of SNF and HLW. Those deadlines have come and gone; the cancellation of Yucca Mountain was only the latest failed attempt to make this policy a reality.

Nuclear fuel reprocessing traces its roots to work started in 1943 but the development work was suspended in the mid-1970s after several failed projects. The task of finding a new long-term storage location has now been assigned to yet another committee and SNF reprocessing remains in limbo in the U.S. while other nations are building modern reprocessing facilities.

Are developing a coherent nuclear fuel policy and following through on the plan impossible tasks?

In Part I of this series, we examine the historical context of the U.S. nuclear waste storage policy. In Parts II and III, we will look at the history of the ill-fated Salt Vault and Yucca Mountain projects.  Part IV will look at the legal and political fallout from the Yucca Mountain failure, and Part V will explore failed attempts to reprocess nuclear fuel in the U.S. and examine the global state-of-the-art reprocessing plants now operating or under construction.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) two-paragraph March 3 press release describing its motion to withdraw its pending license application for Yucca Mountain was an indecent obituary for the disposal site’s brief 23-year life and $8 billion cost. The relatively short history of nuclear power in the U.S. reminds us that the Yucca Mountain project may have been doomed from the start. A number of permanent nuclear waste storage site projects have been cancelled over the past 45 years, although Yucca Mountain was exponentially the most expensive failure. History also tells us that political considerations will always trump technology when it comes to siting a nuclear waste repository. [Read more →]

July 8, 2010   3 Comments