Columnists declare nuclear to be uncompetitive

On Saturday, April 30, Leonard Hyman & William Tilles published an opinion column on headlined Lets (sic) Stop Pretending Nuclear Power Is Commercially Viable.

Aside: Leonard Hyman is an accomplished electricity industry analyst and historian. I have a dog-eared copy of his 1983 work titled America’s Electric Utilities: Past, Present and Future on my library bookshelf. That frequently referenced book about the power industry is now in its 8th edition. End Aside.

The main thrust of the article is that the UK’s Hinkley Point C project proves that nuclear energy is not commercially viable. After detailing the challenges associated with that enormous project to build two 1650 MWe EPRs in a country that has not built a new nuclear plant since the 1980s, they conclude their column with the following questionable opinion.

The real point of this story is that nuclear power is not commercially viable but has become a state-sponsored technology. There is nothing wrong with state supported technology. But we could save a lot of time and money by not pretending that it is something else.

One response to an inadequately supported opinion from a generally credible source is to challenge it. Here are my contributions to the discussion. They may be a bit out of context without the corresponding comments. The last two were recently submitted and have not, as of the time this is being posted, appeared in the original comment thread.

Rod Adams on May 01 2016

Condemning nuclear energy because of capital raising challenges at Hinkley C is about as valid as declaring oil to be obsolete and uncompetitive because Petrobras hasn’t been able to raise sufficient funds to pursue its enormous off-shore discoveries — yet.

The energy market is a rough and tumble place to do business, partly because selling prices vary widely over short time spans while projects often take a decade or two to plan and complete while requiring tens of billions in risk capital.

One solution is going smaller; many innovators in nuclear are exploring technology adaptations and business models that are new to the nuclear industry.

Though Hinckley C may deserve a negative final investment decision, it’s way too early to declare nuclear fission to be an uncompetitive loser.

Rod Adams on May 02 2016

I’ve given up trying to change minds of people like Bob Wallace. He has a mission and a mantra that he repeats all over the web.

(BTW, Bob, you have Entergy and Exelon mixed up. Exelon is the largest nuclear plant operator in the US. With its recent acquisition of Constellation Energy, it now owns and operates 22 nuclear units at 15 different sites. Entergy owns 10 units and has announced plans to close 2 of them already.)

There is no doubt that sub $2/MMBTU natural gas has hurt the economics of operating nuclear plants. So has the 38% increase (after inflation) in additional capital expenditures that have been imposed by regulatory changes in the past dozen years. Those changes were not improvements in safety or security; they were pushed by anti-nuclear activists taking advantage of unrelated crises.

The two major events adding to nuclear energy costs were jet fuel laden airplanes hitting tall commercial buildings or large military headquarters and plant damage (with no negative health effects from radiation) resulting from a multi-day power failure after an enormous tsunami wave in Japan.

Nuclear technology, however, is not down and out. There are thousands of very bright people working daily to take better advantage of the natural advantages of having an energy dense, emission-free, abundant fuel source.

Long term “waste” is a manufactured issue. Unfortunately, the government and the established industry have cooperated with nuclear energy competitors to blow it entirely out of proportion.

No one has ever been harmed by accidental exposure to reusable nuclear fuel or any other products of commercial nuclear energy production. The material is only dangerous if you get too close without shielding. After a 150 years or so, the only remaining danger would come from physically ingesting lightly-used fuel rods.

Future generations will thank us if we stop consuming so much of their natural gas, oil and coal resources and instead leave both those fuels AND the already large and growing reservoir of power represented by what we, with our rather primitive nuclear technology, call “waste.”

95% of the material’s original potential energy remains in used fuel assemblies. We’ve even found a few good ways to recycle and reuse it that have — so far — been blocked by a few oil & gas dependent governments.

The US is included in that group, but changes are afoot.

Rod Adams on May 02 2016

I was curious about one of Bob Wallace’s sources — Mycle Schneider — so I did what any internet user would do.

Here is a sample quote from the Book of Knowledge called Wikipedia:

“Mycle Schneider founded the “citizen’s science” group WISE-Paris in 1983 and directed it until 2003. Schneider has been described as an ‘Anti-Nuclear Activist’.”

He’s also “lead author of The World Nuclear Industry Status Reports” a well known series of reports that focuses on the negatives associated with nuclear without acknowledging its benefits, like massive, reliable amounts of emission-free electricity that are independent of both major oil and gas multinationals and oiligarchies (deliberate misspelling) like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Schneider is famous enough to rate his own wiki page. He is an often cited “expert”. His point of view, however, is about as biased as mine, but from the opposite direction.

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