For those who are unfamiliar with van Leeuwen, he and his colleague Philip Smith have been falsely claiming nuclear power’s lifecycle emissions will be higher than a fossil-fueled power station within several decades as high-quality uranium ore grades diminish.
(…) As I said earlier, if you can’t trust the numbers that SLS publish, how in the world can you trust their conclusions.
For a look into our archives where we’ve checked their math and challenged their conclusions, click here.
This World Nuclear survey of cost data attempts to assemble an objective picture of comparative energy costs. The latest update I have referenced is 9 March 2011.
Another recent source is the 2011 UK report “The Renewable Energy Review” [PDF] by the Committee on Climate Change which is the primary body guiding UK GHG targets.
Caroline Lucas and George Monbiot debate nuclear power and renewable energy.
That Guardian photo exemplifies the Monbiot accommodative tactic.
I thought George let Lucas off much too easily. E.g., countering her “creating waste that will be radioactive for tens of thousands of years” with “Climate change is far more dangerous than any of the issues we’re talking about…” Lucas is obviously a skilled politico.
Doesn’t that concede the point that more nuclear power means more “highly dangerous radioactive scary waste?”
It appears that George Monbiot is using his pulpit effectively. As in the Caldicott debate, George is gently accommodating the less-offensive anti-nuclear claims to that he reserve his sound-byte seconds (words) to argue the more central points. Perhaps this isn’t the best tactic for an Oxbridge debate, but from the comments I’ve seen so far, the gentle accommodation seems to be well-received.
Another example of the Monbiot tactic is this 31 March Guardian essay – here’s an excerpt:
(…) OK, that’s the record-setting done. Now for the counter-attack. Here is a list of what I believe are the double-standards that some of us who have opposed nuclear power (I include myself in this) have used when arguing against it.
Double standard one: deaths and injuries
We rightly lament the horrible consequences of industrial exposure to radiation. Two workers at Fukushima have so far received radiation burns and 17 have been exposed to levels of radiation considered unsafe. This is and should be a cause for serious concern. It is also worth remembering that no one has yet received a dose of radiation that is known to be lethal as a result of the Fukushima disaster. But if we are concerned about industrial injuries, why do we say nothing about the deaths and injuries in the industry most likely to replace nuclear power?
I thought that George chose a reasonable “7″ points. Here are the rest:
Double standard two: the science
Double standard three: radioactive pollution
Double standard four: mining impact
Double standard five: costs
Double standard six: research
Double standard seven: timing
Barry Brook posted a comment with some interesting tidbits on EPR progress. I didn’t know about the Saudi deal.
AREVA were behind for a long while in the marketing of their EPR, but recently had a win by signing on the Saudis to an in-principle agreement to start building some EPRs to replace their natural gas power/desal plants. As you say quokka, this could be a big boost for getting their Gen III+ design, and others, moved up the priority list (as opposed to life extensions for Gen II Mk1 plants). China is also building 2 x EPR right now, so the result of that (build time, cost etc.) will certainly be something to watch. Yes, the EPR is expensive in terms of capex, but it also generates a LARGE amount of electricity (1.6 GWe), so the LCOE actually looks pretty good, especially for the nth-of-a-kind plant (remembering that Olkiluoto 3 was EPR unit #1). It’s all about how financing is worked out.
When an anti-nuclear activist says “No to nuclear power because it isn’t safe” I ask “compared to what?” Decisions about energy options always involve comparative risks and benefits. So to make informed choices the politicians need to be informed and able to evaluate relative risk/benefits. A staggering amount of research has been done to characterize the risks of nuclear, fossil fuels, bioenergy, hydro, wind and solar. From that research the conclusion I reach is that nuclear power is the safest available option to meet the energy demands of both developed and developing countries. Hydro can be similarly safe, but the hydro opportunities are largely already exploited, while we need to keep in mind that in the 1975 to 1985 period some of the biggest man-made energy-related disasters were caused by dam failures in China (The worst energy-related accident was the Banqiao/Shimantan dam failure in China in 1975 when some 30 000 people were killed) and India (Machhu II, India 2500 deaths and Hirakud, India 1000 deaths). Source: “Comparing Nuclear Accident Risks with Those from Other Energy Sources” (PDF).
In the following we will move from the severe accidents comparisons to the full life cycle long term health effects.
Diagram 2 (click for full size). Most of the health risk calculations in ExternE, presented as deaths per TWh (electricity). The diagram shows electricity production facilities in all EU states and in Norway
The graphic at left shows the Deaths/TWh in all EU states + Norway for fossil fuels, bioenergy, hydro, nuclear and wind. This is from the Swedish study “Economic Analysis of Various Options of Electricity Generation – Taking into Account Health and Environmental Effects” by Nils Starfelt and Carl-Erik Wikdahl. The authors started with the exhaustive EU ExternE-Pol studies, then expressed the health/environmental effects in the readily-understood metric of “deaths per TWh (terrawatt-hour)” of electrical generation.
If you examine the chart very carefully you should be able to detect the tiny Nuclear Power data points for Denmark and France.
Diagram 3 (click for full size). Mean values of health effects, presented as deaths/TWh, for the respective forms of electricity generation throughout the EU. These calculations are based on the same data as in Diagram 2.
Some of the more straightforward conclusions that can be drawn from the results shown in Diagrams 2 and 3 are:
1. Coal, lignite and oil result in considerably greater external costs and thus health effects than do the other forms f energy. This difference becomes even greater if the greenhouse effect is also included in the results: see Diagram 7.
2. The external costs of hydro power and nuclear power are about two orders of magnitude less than those from the above-mentioned fossil fuels.
3. Among the fossil fuels, natural gas has considerably less effect on the environment than do the other forms of energy.
4. The external costs of bioenergy, as shown in the ExternE results, lie close to those for fossil fuels, but it should be noted that, in most cases, the results are based on technology for which there is a considerable potential for improvement.
The authors use the ExternE database to model Sweden as an example case. From there they can reason about the impact of closing the Swedish nuclear reactor Barsebäck:
The risk of major effects, and the need for extensive evacuations in the event of an accident at Barsebäck, have dominated the debate in Sweden and Denmark. Using the results presented in this report, it can therefore be of interest to make a comparison between the health risks resulting from a nuclear power station accident and those from normal operating emissions from Danish coal-fired power production.
Closing the Barsebäck reactors will result in a loss of production in Sweden which, during a statistically average climate year, cannot be compensated for by energy savings or by increased production of nuclear power and/or water power in Sweden and Norway. For a number of years into the future, the only possibility is a greater import of electricity produced in coal-fired power plants, mainly in Denmark.
According to data given in ExternE, the increased pollution from operation of these coal-fired power stations, which would otherwise have not been operated if Barsebäck had not been shut down, will amount to about 200 deaths per year, of which most will occur in Denmark but a few also in Sweden.
This conclusion is obvious to students of energy policy, but is never-to-be-discussed in Greenpeace circles. Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and their ilk are directly responsible for stopping nuclear plant construction, and for the dramatic cost increases driven by activist delaying tactics, and thus the pollution and related deaths from fossil fuel generation that would have been eliminated by expanded nuclear power.
As we do not know exactly how many GW of nuclear capacity would have been constructed (instead of coal and gas), it is a counterfactual to calculate how many deaths we should credit to the accounts of the anti-nuclear activists. I am comfortable with my conclusion that their account has accumulated tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, and delayed by nearly half a century the development of mass-manufactured modular nuclear plants.
Lastly, for reference I’ll note the authors’ comment on new capacity costs — I’ve not had time to verify their figures:
The generating cost for new capacity in Sweden has been calculated to be in the range of 2.5 to 3.5 EUcents/kWh for hydro, nuclear and gas and about twice as much for bioenergy and wind. Taxes and subsidies are not included.
Sara Mansur and Devon Swezey offer a useful debunking of the Christopher Mims silly solar claims. In the real-world Germany’s move to retire their nuclear fleet is going to transfer all that load to dirty coal generation. And the huge investment Germany has already made in PV solar has cost them between three and ten times what new nuclear generation would cost them today. I think the factor is closer to 10x based on all the other comparative cost studies I have seen, in the context of Germany’s low insolation and hence very low solar capacity factor of 9.5%.
Grist environment writer Christopher Mims has written a widely read post comparing Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor complex to solar photovoltaic energy in Germany. The post, “Germany’s Solar Panels Produce More Power Than Japan’s Entire Fukushima Complex,” implies that solar PV may be an adequate substitute for aging nuclear reactors in both Germany and Japan.
But an analysis of the electricity generated by Germany’s solar PV industry and Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors finds that Germany’s entire solar PV capacity, installed at a cost of at least $86 billion, generated only half the amount of electricity generated by the Fukushima plants in 2010.
So typically, Steve Packard sees with clarity how ridiculous are the “zero net carbon” communities
(…) Waterford is hardly unique, however. Whether it’s Buchanan, New York, Seabrook, New Hampshire or Dresden Illinois, anyone living in a town that hosts a nuclear power reactor can rest assured that they are part of a carbon-negative community. Considering that a one gigawatt power reactor can displace upwards of a million tons of CO2 from coal power plants per year, it would be hard to be anything but carbon negative!
So dare I ask, while everyone’s getting all excited about a little town in Colorado that just might maybe perhaps have a shot at being carbon neutral in the near future, where’s the love for all the carbon neutral and negative nuclear towns in the US and abroad?
I wondered what the specific were that caused Constellation Energy to shelve their new Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant. DOE asked 11.6% up front for the loan guarantee fee. That is a shocker — I thought these fees were supposed to be around 1%. So did Constellation:
The fee is to compensate taxpayers for the risk of default. The company argues that because the plant’s model is being proven in Finland, France and China, and because it has a strong partner, Électricité de France, the fee should be 1 to 2 percent.
I guess this should not be a surprise coming from the Obama administration. They can talk the talk about expanding loan guarantees. But if this is what they have in mind, nobody will be accepting such a price.
Maybe I’m all wet, but I think the purpose of these loan guarantees is to protect the utility from project delays CAUSED BY FEDERAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS. This is what happened to every single new nuclear build in the 1980s. In one case a USD$ 5 billion investment in a perfectly working new plant (Shoreham built for Long Island Lighting Company) resulted in the plant never operating, sold to New York for $1 plus assumption of the debt.
Until the whole US governmental structure is tested and shown to be honest with successful grid connections for new nuclear plants — until then if I were a utility I wouldn’t touch a new nuke without the loan guarantee. No utility shareholder would vote to approve such a project, and certainly not a guarantee fee of nearly 12$ up front.
Meanwhile investors are making millions of easy money off of taxpayer-funded tax credits and no-fee loan guarantees for new wind and solar plants.
(…) Constellation was seeking a guarantee for 80 percent of the cost of the project. The government settled on a fee of $880 million, or 11.6 percent of the $7.6 billion loan, according to Constellation. In a letter to the Energy Department, the company called the figure “shockingly high” and said it would doom the project.
Other companies have looked at the economics of building new nuclear reactors and decided to wait. In September, Exelon, the largest nuclear operator in the United States, stepped back from a plan to build a twin-unit reactor plant in Texas and decided to simply seek approval for the site, which would save it some time if it decided later to build.
Rod Adams explained the whole DOE snafu in depth, and how the wind farmers get a free ride on the backs of the US taxpayers.
From the Matthew Wald NYT piece, here’s another interesting bit of data on a utility’s investment analysis on new nuclear power:
Exelon said it needs natural gas prices to reach about $8 per million B.T.U. — almost double today’s price — and a carbon fee of $25 a ton to make the project worthwhile economically. “We don’t have the right stimulus right now,” said Christopher M. Crane, president and chief operating officer, in a recent interview.
I wonder if this is just negotiating. Don’t we know that natural gas prices are going to rocket right on past $8 once the global economy recovers?
UPDATE: Steve Hedges has more details on the USgov machinations – excerpt:
Congress and the administration both recognize that the guarantees are vital to the financing of new nuclear projects, which Wall Street has been reluctant to back without government assurances. But when Congress set up the loan guarantee program as part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, it didn’t address the requirements of the 1990 Federal Credit Reform Act. While the Energy Policy Act directs DOE to foster the commercial deployment of innovative energy technologies that reduce carbon emissions, the Federal Credit Reform Act prohibits the federal government from losing money. The Office of Management and Budget has been left to interpret the two laws. And it has sided with the Credit Reform Act — to a fault. To comply with that act, OMB is putting deal-killing restrictions on the loan guarantees. Companies complain that OMB is using arbitrary and overly conservative assumptions to assess credit subsidy costs for each loan guarantee package.
The subsidy costs are like points on a mortgage; borrowers have to pay them up front. It goes something like this: DOE to nuclear company: “Good News. DOE has reviewed your loan application and we have approved a $10 billion loan guarantee for the low interest rate of 3 percent.” Then the bad news: “OMB says you will have to pay 10 points in a credit risk subsidy up front to get it. In other words, you can get the 3% loan, but you have to pay $1 billion up front, in cash. Bring your checkbook.”
The program has become so dysfunctional that the administration recently convened at least two meetings with DOE and OMB officials to find a way to break the logjam, according to a source with knowledge of the meetings. So far, no solution has surfaced. This conundrum has left companies shaking their heads, especially since there’s been no suggestion that the loan guarantees will eventually mean that the federal government is going to lose money.
In fact, nuclear project defaults are rare. A credit risk subsidy of 2 to 4 percent would be more realistic, according to an industry source. That was view expressed recently by Marvin Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Fertel said that the same administration that wants to lend the money is also making it difficult on the nuclear industry because of the way it calculates the credit subsidy costs of the loans, which the contractors must pay.
Certainly not Greenpeace.
A good commentary on the disconnect between the feel-good Greenpeace policies and the needs of the poor can be found in this speech by L.R. Wallis delivered during the annual meeting of the American Nuclear Society. Excerpt:
The main opposition to nuclear power is centered among the educated, well-nourished and financially secure middle and upper middle class. When was the last time you saw a hungry looking anti-nuclear protester – a poor man in a lesser developed country protesting against the establishment of a nuclear power program? Since it is not the poor speaking out against nuclear power, then how can the well fed of the world feel justified in opposing programs that can only help their fellow man?