Pandora’s Promise and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – What we missed

Author blurb: Paul Lorenzini earned his PhD in Nuclear Engineering from Oregon State University and later earned a JD. He had a distinguished career in the electric utility business and was the Chief Executive Officer for NuScale Power for its first five years. He is now retired and sharing some of his thoughts about energy issues.


By Paul Lorenzini

Perhaps the most persistent criticism of “Pandora’s Promise”, the recently released documentary on nuclear power by producer-director Robert Stone, was its failure to give screen time to a credible anti-nuclear spokesperson. We got a glimpse of what we missed following the film’s recent opening at the Jacob Burns Film Center in New York, where Andrew Revkin of the New York Times arranged and moderated a debate between Stone and Robert F. Kennedy jr. On substance, we didn’t miss much. Yet it spoke volumes about the character of the nuclear power controversy itself.

Having shaken the foundations of established environmental dogma when it was released earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, “Pandora’s Promise” features five well respected environmentalists who have changed their minds about nuclear power. They tell their story and explain how and why they changed their position. While it is clearly pro-nuclear, “Pandora’s Promise” is not an attempt to make the case by providing a documentary on nuclear power per se. Rather it does so by looking at the issues through the eyes of these environmentalists, operating on the premise that the intellectually curious will want to see just how they processed Fukushima, the waste issue, proliferation, radiation fears and so forth. That’s the whole point.

Yet it is fair to say one does get curious about how someone like Kennedy will respond as one watches the documentary unfold, so the debate served a useful purpose.

Kennedy is identified by Revkin as “the Pace University law professor and environmental firebrand”, a claim validated by his performance. As expected, Kennedy opens his attack with a broadside: the documentary is “an elaborate hoax”, “dishonest”, and “almost every fact that is presented as fact is either untrue or misleading”. He then proceeds to offer a bromide filled with dishonesty and facts that are presented as facts that are either untrue or misleading.

He begins with a statement no one believes: “I am for nuclear power if we can make it economic and safe” – he is clearly not open to proof of either.
On safety, he starts with an old canard, the Price Anderson Act. “In this country, “ he says, “a nuclear power plant cannot get insurance … people on Wall Street have said you are too risky to insure.” This means, he implies, we are not protected from nuclear accidents: “… so every homeowner’s insurance policy has a provision which says this policy does not protect you against radiation damage to you or your property against radiation from a nuclear accident.”

Originally passed in 1957, the Price Anderson Act does give owners and manufacturers a limit on their liability in the event of a nuclear plant accident. But it also requires owners of nuclear plants to purchase insurance – which they can and do – and it requires these owners to add to that by participating in a $12 billion pool to assure that anyone affected by a problem at the plant receives financial protection. The existence of the pool is the reason nuclear accidents are excluded from normal homeowners policies – they are already covered.

And it works. The only time it was ever really called upon was after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, when funds were immediately made available to people who were evacuated. The total paid by these insurance pools from the beginning of time has been $71 million. Yes, coverage exists, you can buy it, and it is grossly misleading to claim you are not protected: you are. Urging its repeal today, as Kennedy does, might be worth debating points, but it would only remove a massive piece of protection for consumers.

Kennedy then turns to economics. Cherry-picking the world’s most expensive nuclear plant, the first-of-a-kind Finnish plant at Olkiluoto, he makes anecdotal economic comparisons between nuclear power, solar and wind. There are 69 nuclear plants under construction world-wide — all of them coming in well below the costs of the plant in Finland, the largest number being in China. Why would China pursue an uneconomic resource? But leave that aside.

The real test is what has happened to prices where renewables have been subsidized and mandated by legislation. We have three clear cases to consider: California, Spain and Germany.

In California, wedded to a renewables-only energy policy since the 1970’s, prices have soared while industries have been fleeing the state. Industrial electricity rates are 50% higher than the national average while all of the nine surrounding western states are lower than the national average. The pattern is similar for commercial and residential rates.

In Spain, renewables have been fueled by subsidies funded with government deficits. The deficit was $7.3 billion in 2012 alone, with recent downgrades from financial institutions as the accumulated deficit grows. The subsidies have become so costly they have been halted.

Germany is perhaps the most salient example. After passing the National Energy Plan in 2000, calling for an all-out commitment to renewables and a phase-out of their nuclear plants, wind and solar have grown, dramatically fueled by generous subsidies, legislated mandates and preferences on the grid. So have prices. According to the International Energy Agency, “Electricity prices in Germany, especially for household consumers, are among the highest in Europe.” Between 2007 and 2011 constant prices increased by 40%. Only Denmark is higher.

To recover the higher costs of wind and solar projects, investors receive a guarantee that the electricity they produce will be purchased at a fixed price for a period of several years. Last year alone, owners of wind and solar farms were paid EUR 14 billion ($18 billion), with an estimate that an additional EUR 100 billion will be paid by 2022 for facilities that have already been installed. These subsidies are recovered through a surcharge on household electric bills, 14% of bills last year. The environmental minister recently estimated the overall cost of the program, to include massive transmission system upgrades, will approach EUR 1 trillion. It’s not complicated – as Der Spiegel reported “contrary to earlier forecasts, solar and wind farms are a long way from being able to produce energy at prices possible in coal-fired and nuclear plants.”

Flying in the face of these remarkable facts, Kennedy then whines about the lack of subsidies in the U.S.. “On a level field,” Kennedy claims, “we would beat nuclear power hands down.” Then later, “We aren’t getting government support – if we got a tiny fraction of what they got …” transitioning mid-sentence to another topic, but clearly implying federal subsidies are the only thing standing in the way of renewable development. But renewables are getting subsidies that dwarf anything being given to nuclear power today. According to the U.S Energy Information Administration, in FY 2010, the total subsidies to nuclear power through direct expenditures and tax incentives were $2.5 billion. The comparable figure for renewables was $14.7 billion. Of the tax preferences granted, according to the CBO, 4% went to nuclear and 68% went to renewables.

On substance, Stone finally retorts “I will not put documented untruths in my documentary.” Yet there is more to this debate than the substance.

What is on display here is an ideological hatred of all things nuclear. The thread running through Kennedy’s rant is that only anti-nuclear advocates can be believed – on anything. Nuclear proponents are simply bad people who can’t be trusted. There is no room for two legitimate sides to this controversy. The producers and players in the documentary, he charges, were dishonest and basically lied. Plus, they are not even true environmentalists. In the end, the person who complained regularly during the debate about being marginalized spent most of his time marginalizing the documentary.

In one sense, it’s the ultimate cheap shot — any fair-minded person can see these are genuine people who have been dedicated to environmental causes for years and who came to their decisions at a very personal level. We may not agree, but let’s at least respect their authenticity.

Nevertheless it is part of the overall pattern, demonstrating how distorting the ideological lens can be. It is especially apparent in the discussion of radiation risks. Virtually every nuclear power issue runs through the core issue of radiation – just what risks does it pose? The documentary addresses this in the most factual way possible – it takes a radiation detector around the world to show just what natural radiation we receive wherever we are and just how widely varying the levels of exposure are. We find people walking the street unconcerned in Rio de Janeiro at higher levels than Japanese living near Fukushima who, because of fear, will not let their children play outdoors. Higher levels were shown in several places, not the least of which was a pristine location in the mountains of New Hampshire.

Perhaps the most contentious issue related to the consequences of the accident at Chernobyl. The documentary bases its conclusions on a study conducted by eight United Nations agencies and the three most affected governments in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine, supported by roughly 100 public health experts from around the world. Kennedy argues they can’t be believed because they are biased. Stone rightly defends it as the most comprehensive study available and accuses Kennedy of doing what climate -change deniers do – cherry-picking studies from groups and individuals who have an ideological bias to dispute what the mainstream scientific community is saying.

It is a critical issue for Kennedy and anti-nuclear advocates because it neutralizes their central issue – fear of radiation – so by whatever means, it must be disputed. Make people afraid. The unfortunate reality is, by clinging to and exploiting the issue of fear, they have caused more human misery than any release of radiation from these accidents ever did. That was true at Three Mile Island, at Chernobyl and now at Fukushima.

But the larger concern, the one that motivated Stone in the first place, is the ideological hatred of nuclear power which has caused us to lose focus on the real goals – decarbonizing our energy portfolio by moving off fossil fuels, and making energy available to impoverished people throughout the world. “We need everything” Stone says – yes wind, yes solar, but also nuclear, if we are to achieve these purposes. “Is the goal simply more wind and more solar”, he asks, or is it to achieve these goals? Coal, the resource that dwarfs all others both on the question of health effects and carbon emission, is accelerating throughout the world (see here as well). How will we reverse this?

Kennedy’s anemic response is that he is fighting coal also. But is he? The reality is the policies he and the anti-nuclear community are pursing are resulting in more coal, more carbon and more health consequences, not less. There is anti-nuclear rapture that California’s San Onofre nuclear plant was just shut down, taking roughly 2200 MW of capacity off line. It is being replaced in part by restarting retired fossil facilities. When Japan shut down its nuclear plants after Fukushima, coal consumption went up. In Germany, they are shutting down there nuclear plants but building new coal plants. In each of these cases, the clear priority is not global warming, it’s shutting down nuclear power at any cost. That trumps everything else.

We must ask why? At one point during the debate, moderator Andrew Revkin calls attention to a recent study by Paul Slovic, The Feeling of Risk. One of the world’s most renowned experts on this subject, he argues that feelings about risk are strongly influenced by the feelings we have that come before we assess the risk. Ideology can predetermine our views of these risks.

One cannot watch this debate and not be impressed by Kennedy’s passion and conviction. At one point he puts his head in his hands evidencing his frustration. I was left wondering what ideology fuels such passion and such willingness to hang on to so many positions that simply fail on close examination – what causes one to care more about stopping nuclear power than stopping coal? What accounts for the callous willingness to promote irrational fear of radiation, knowing full well the human toll it is taking?

One reviewer summed it up as “baby boomer environmentalists whose fear of anything nuclear grows from deep historic roots and whose self identities are too tightly bound to the expected tribal opposition to nuclear power.” Perhaps.

We are torn today between two views of our energy future and the only thing that separates them is whether or not nuclear power should be included. Nuclear power is critical because of the contribution it can make. Stone’s plea is that this documentary will permit a more rational discussion of these very important questions. Let’s hope it does.


PS from Rod Adams I think Paul is too generous by ascribing Kennedy’s reaction to “passion and conviction”. I cannot get past the fact that he makes luncheon speeches to fossil fuel trade organizations like the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in which he essentially asks them for money to support his causes (and his investments). His pitch is that his large, taxpayer subsidized wind and solar installations are actually just gas installations that will consume more of their product.

I think that Kennedy, like many people that claim to be concerned about the environment, is more concerned about the impact that increasing nuclear energy output would have on his personal wealth and power.

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68 Responses to “Pandora’s Promise and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – What we missed”

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  1. David Owen says:

    Watching Kennedy gasp is just painful. I can’t say he is in this purely for the money but his fear of Science is very palpable. His ideological investment in Solar can surpass monetary gains. I believe people have various metrics they use to judge the validity of their ideas. Kennedy postures grandiosely when discussing the scale of Solar. He wants to be the Sun God.

    • Kim L Johnson says:

      David,
      Might you be in Minnesota (where I am)?

      Even if no, if you (e otros) are interest in the pure “liquid-phase” reactor technology that’ll make nuke E. long-term sustainable *e* cheaper than Coal,
      Check out:
      TinyURL.com/kLjPlusProfile

      -Kim L Johnson

  2. Daniel says:

    Maybe former NRC commissionner Peter Bradford should read this. Or maybe not. Facts do not matter for some people.

    What is it with Peter Bradford? Fear of facts ? Science? Financial incentives ? Breathing CO2?

  3. Eric_G says:

    I’m beginning to think these guys spent many Saturdays at the matinee seeing “first hand” the effects of radiation on animals, mutants and Bruce Banner. We all have irrational fears that were formed in childhood that are used by commerical intrests for financial gain. Add to that all the saber rattling in the 1980s and no wonder there’s so much FUD amoungst the older generation enviormentalist.

    When I was a child, everyone, from media to clergy to school teachers, told me I’d likely die in a nuclear war with the Russians. Sting wrote stupid songs about the Russians. Billy Joel did a “groundbreaking” tour of the Soviet Union to try to “improve relations.” We were told (and still are told) that the primary output of 1960s and 70s era nuclear power plants was plutonium for missles and the electricity was a by-product. And don’t get me started on Homer Simpson.

    At some point it becomes self-sustaining and no amount of marketing or education will change people’s preception of nuclear power. I still find it amazing that a detector finds a tritium leak that is just above background and it is major news, while ignoring the facts that 1) it is possible to decect such miniscule amounts, far below any dangerous level and 2) it was detected (and repaired) long before it became a major leak and a real problem.

    BTW, next time someone debates John Kennedy Jr, ask why, if he’s so afraid of radiation, he spends so much time in the sun without a shirt on?
    http://markdsikes.com/2011/12/14/american-prince-john-jr/

    • Bryan Lethcoe says:

      Eric,
      For the record, you have the wrong Kennedy. JFK Jr. is RFK Jr.’s deceased cousin. I am not going to Google for pictures of RFK Jr. with his shirt off…

    • James Greenidge says:

      re: “At some point it becomes self-sustaining and no amount of marketing or education will change people’s preception of nuclear power.”

      I respectfully and greatly disagree. It can be done. Could’ve been yesterday. All that is needed is the WILL/GUTS to do it. When you sit back and let your opposition have a free hand running the game you deserve to lose. While a noble project, Pandora was a cotton-candy mallet on the antis in that it didn’t take down their FUD one by one wholesale. It’s insane nukes are behind the 8-ball what all the positives nuclear energy has over fossil but we keep pulling punches. Don’t hit the antis by what they say but by what they’re protecting. Pandora shows poverty kids when they should’ve shown kids on respirators at respiratory wards from pollution. Pandora could’ve shown the charred neighborhoods and burn center kids from gas and oil accidents against the wildlife and flowers blowing in the fields outside Fukushima. Pandora could’ve hawked that there’re whole towns rendered uninhabitable because coal’s been burning under them for decades and contrasted it with TMI’s neighborhood. Show how antis are trying to stimy nuclear produced fresh water and power in Africa with crazy “alternate” ideas like shipping icebergs up the Congo and show the horrific bad water conditions those regions are enduring now. Fighting FUD with edgy nuggets like this isn’t rocket science. Harsh? Crude? Brutal? Yes. You don’t waltz with an enemy sworn to shut you down by the meanest misinformation and despicable scare tactics and nightmares. Nuclear energy is going to continue to lose until they flush out the PR and media offices of every nuclear facility and replace them all with this great young crop of gung-ho nuclear engineers and techs who have superb web and media grass-roots keen, and have the sense not to muddy the waters of confused public perception by strutting out every pet specie of nuclear power in the wings out there but get on the same current common powerplant-type page. We’ve seen their creative work on the web. No more kid gloves PC ads. Let them loose on the media and antis. It can be done, but you gotta have the WILL and the GUTS.

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

      • Daniel says:

        Some wicked idéas James. Good thinking outside the box

      • Paul W Primavera says:

        James Green is correct. Murderers need to be shown for who and what they are, and the examples James cites are those of murderers. Green power, black death.

      • George Carty says:

        You could also bring up the Aberfan disaster in Wales, where 144 children died as their school was buried in coal waste…

      • Bas says:

        @James
        …they should’ve shown kids on respirators….from pollution… …Brutal? Yes.
        Your proposals are a great help for renewable, as those will associate nuclear with evil at emotional levels of the audience.

        So it makes USA emotionally ready to follow Italy with the next wave.
        Especially since most of USA is more favorable for solar power than Italy as it is more south (higher / more intense sun), it is also more economic.
        Note that Deutsch bank concluded that the costs of solar in southern Italy reached grid parity already.

        Furthermore as almost all air pollution (especially in cities) is caused by cars/planes/etc, that may help to raise tax on petrol towards $40/gallon.
        So car drivers & planes are no longer subsidized by people that use more human friendly transportation means such as bikes (or use telecommunications).

        I prefer that each form of energy consumption pays all costs/damage it creates.
        Especially oppose the (invisible) subsidies given to highly polluting forms such as car/plane fuel and NPP’s.

        • James Greenidge says:

          Bas, the ONLY and SOLE reason I’m responding to you here is because your brand of anti-nuke B.S. is killing — yes KILLING — tens millions of people in the here and now yearly, not in any paper magazine stats or whimsical projected figures or speculative Doomsday scenarios but in REAL LIFE by denying people power that’s here and now and PROVEN so. I’ve kin in Africa whose countries have had greens flying in like pious Cassandras telling them not to go nuke to furnish power and water and they fly out whistling that they’ve done God’s work. Thank God a few aren’t listening there and the Russians are happy to oblige them. I am tired SICK of anti-nuclear caterwauling about the perils and pitfalls of nuclear when the REAL world has shown that nukes have been anything but evil incarnate in both normal op or worst accidents. If you want to bitch holy about how bad and dangerous or ugly nuclear energy is then go on ahead and keep vomiting on yourself, but keep your damn hang-ups out of the way of others giving a quality living standard for mega million lives and livelihoods just because you want to save them and world from never-never nuclear nightmares with phoney-baloney “renewable” pies in the sky that haven’t saved lives and environment SQUAT like nuclear already already has in REAL LIFE, not in stats and slanted figures. If your likes wants to save the world from evil Nuclearman then go draw yourselves in a comic book.

          FINIS

          James Greenidge
          Queens NY

      • Dan Ulseth says:

        James, kudos for your robust thoughts, observations and ideas. As with the disinformation surrounding the judicious use of DDT to combat malaria, the FUD foisted on the ignorant public must be met with a full-throated and unapologetic defense. In both instances, Western elites live comfortably while literally millions of poor in developing countries struggle with the most basic of conveniences. If that arrogance doesn’t turn your stomach, I don’t know what will. While there is a place for “alternative” (read: intermittent, unreliable, diffuse) electricity generation, it really is only justifiable in rural, remote or off-grid locations where the distance from the nearest power plant precludes stringing a power line to the end users due to cost.

        Keep up the well-reasoned and passionate debate with those with ears who will hear.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Eric_G

      Maybe you can help me understand the psychology of people that would become fearful based on stories like the Incredible Hulk.

      I’ll admit that I used to read comic books about superheroes. I even have recently purchased several movies like The Avengers.

      My reaction was never one of fear; I wanted to have superpowers. I wanted to be able to leap tall buildings and crush invading armies with my bare hands. As a kid, I thought it was cool and magical that radiation and nuclear energy offered that possibility.

      Then I learned how TRULY magical it was that fission fuel weighing not much more than my own body weight could drive a 9,000 ton submarine for 14 years without new fuel – and still have 40-50% of the fuel left over for recycling.

      You can get started all you want about Homer Simpson; I’ve never been interested in poorly drawn comics and never enjoyed shows about fools or dweebs.

  4. David Walters says:

    A great essay.

  5. Kevin says:

    The Price-Anderson Act:

    Became law on September 2, 1957, was designed to ensure that adequate funds would be available to satisfy liability claims of members of the public for personal injury and property damage in the event of a nuclear accident involving a commercial nuclear power plant. This act predates the existence of the NRC and only covers liability insurance.

    10 CFR § 50.54 Conditions of licenses (w):

    Each power reactor licensee shall take reasonable steps to obtain insurance available at reasonable costs and on reasonable terms from private sources to stabilize and decontaminate the reactor and the reactor station site if needed. Minimum coverage limit for each reactor station site is either $1.06 billion or whatever amount of insurance is generally available from private sources, whichever is less.

    To summarize, there are two types of insurance required by the federal government, liability insurance in case you get sued, and property insurance to pay for the cleanup. ANI sells the liability policies (http://www.amnucins.com/) and NEIL sells the property policies (http://www.nmlneil.com/).

    Although both of these take advantage of a retrospective premium adjustment clause, to say that the government subsidizes either of these is an outright lie. The liability claims on a nuclear accident would have to exceed $12,000,000,000 before congress could step in and authorize disaster relief. To say that this situation is unprobable is an understatment. To say that nuclear plants are not insured, or cannot get insurance, is also an outright lie. The companies that provide such insurance, as listed above, also purchase re-insurance from some of the worlds largest and most profitable re-insurers, due to the fact that nuclear plants present a good risk to said insurers. It sounds as if Mr. Kennedy has no interest in actually presenting any factual information, or advocating for the environment. He is a bought and paid for professional politician with no credibility and no integrity.

    Perhaps a follow up documentary detailing the history of how politicians have sabotaged nuclear, should be in the works. It could start with the Jimmy Carter administration ban of reprocessing nuclear fuel in the US based on the testing of a low-yield plutonium fission weapon which was reportedly made from reactor grade materials, but was in fact constructed from fuel out of a MAGNOX reactor, which was purpose built to produce weapons grade plutonium! It would then transition into other cases of blantant fraud and abuse such as the appointing of an anti-nuclear physicist with no nuclear engineering knowledge into a position of power with the countries main regulator for the sole purpose of acting as a puppet for the anti-nuclear puppet master in congress…

    • Bas says:

      @Kevin
      ….would have to exceed $12,000,000,000 before congress could step in….
      That 12billion is only a tiny fraction (1% – 10%) of what is needed in case of a real accident. Check Fukushima & Cehrnobyl.
      So NPP’s get a huge liability subsidy (invisible until disaster strikes).

      Similar regarding nuclear waste (NPP’s pay only a tiny fraction of the future cost).

      These two, together with other subsidies, account for >$100/MWh.
      So nuclear (real cost prices ~$140/MWh) is indeed more expensive than Wind on land (now ~$80/MWh) and Solar (in Germany, where distribution & installation of Chinese PV is more efficient, the unsubsidized price is already ~$100/MWh for big installations).

      Solar will take over due to the price fall of ~7%/year for the next >10 years.

      Note that in 2012 China and India generated more power from wind than from nuclear plants, while in China solar electricity generation grew by 400 percent in one year.

      • Russ Finley says:

        You may find this Breakthrough Institute article about the Olkiluoto plant of interest: Cost of German Solar Is Four Times Finnish Nuclear.

        From the Energy Trends Insider review:

        Unlike Chernobyl, or the other accident, Three Mile Island, Fukushima wasn’t an accident. It was damaged infrastructure. Google the term “images Japan quake” and click on the image link to see endless photos of the carnage that had nothing to do with the damaged reactors. The damaged power plant was one of thousands of infrastructure casualties from a quake that was literally 1000 times more powerful than the one that flattened Haiti except, unlike the natural gas plant that burned to the ground, the dam that failed, collapsed bridges, and on and on, it didn’t kill anyone, which, sadly, really rubs the anti-nuclear crowd the wrong way.

        • David says:

          Russ,

          That is a great link! Thanks for the heads up.

        • Bas says:

          @Russ
          Your site has a strange way to calculate solar costs, and
          takes a wild figure for the NPP. Even not taking into account that 16billion for one NPP is exceptionally expensive =>high cost price.

          The NPP will go into production in 2016. Hence the expected cost price tariffs at that time and the operating period afterwards should be compared.

          Germany
          The feed-in tariff for solar is now ~11cent/KWh. Decreased last year ~20%.
          But lets assume the long term cost decrease of ~7%/year.
          So the Solar cost price will be ~9cent in 2016 and ~4,5cent/kWh in 2026.

          Finland
          The cost price of Olkiluoto unit 3 is widely estimated to be >10cent/KWh despite the huge subsidies granted in Finland (liability, waste disposal cost).
          If you calculate those too, the cost price will be in the range of ~15centt/KWh.

          That cost price will rise during the years (staff & operating costs), while the cost price of solar is widely expected to go down further, as high yield PV (~30% in stead of the present ~16%) will become cheap.

          Fukushima no NPP accident?
          The Fukushima NPP’s (still leaking radio-active material into the ocean and a danger if a new quake occurs, despite the efforts of ~25,000 workers) caused a damage >$200billion despite the luck that 97% of the winds went towards the ocean.

          In April 2013 still 130,000 people are evacuated, despite the fact that Japanese government raised the max. allowed radiation level towards 20mSv/year which implies that ~0.2%/year will die premature (after the latency period of ~20-50 years; just as with smoking).

          Especially young people & pregnant women do not return as Chernobyl showed that the chance on still birth, congenital malformations, Down, etc. of babies is raised by 60% per mSv extra nuclear radiation (with 10mSv/year that implies a ~5 times bigger chance)…

          To my opinion this is a real nuclear accident, with an “unexpected” cause as all those accidents do.
          Well not really unexpected as people warned about that.
          But warnings, just as the one that a 200ton plane will destroy an older NPP and a Fukushima scenario will follow, are greatly ignored…

        • Jim Baerg says:

          Just to play solar advocate:
          If I was making a list of dumbest places to try to use solar, Europe north of the Alps would come just below the polar regions.

          What if in some place like Egypt Iraq or the SW US, was to use nuclear for baseload & put in a lot of solar panels to cover the daytime peak in demand? Can anyone point to an analysis of how well that would work?

      • David says:

        @Blas,

        Would you like to show more of your math on this? How are you estimating the $100 / MWh? Would you like to defend those numbers?

        By the way, while you are estimating could you use chronic radiation levels that are common background levels around the world? Say, like the levels in Denver CO?

        Seems to me that if reasonable levels are used the cost of remediation will go down.

        • Bas says:

          @David
          My cost estimation:

          This 2007 thorough cost study estimates the costs of advanced nuclear at ~$100/MWh. At that time NPP’s construction costs were estimated substantial lower. So the costs are more.

          Notes:
          – Under the influence of USA utilities in the EU became commercial enterprises. So the commercial costs from the report should be used.
          – The figures in the study for renewable should be revised as prices for wind and solar went down substantially since 2007.

          – Russ came with the Olkiluoto NPP. That has huge time and cost overruns.
          An example: A fully separated emergency Instrumentation and Control (IC) System was negotiated into the contract. But the builder did not implement that. Probably assuming the regulator would agree in the end when found out afterward.

          The utilities CEO called recently for the builder to strive for completion of the NPP. Not strange since 3 years ago the completion date was also 3 years ahead…
          Taking into account the history, construction costs of €12billion seems a good (optimistic) estimation.

          • Bas says:

            @David
            Low level radiation:
            I do not know much about the levels in Denver and the circumstances there.

            But remember that regarding premature death, many other factors play a role too, such as clean air.
            In the EU it is accepted that people in many city centers live few years shorter because of the micro-particles exhausted by the traffic. So new regulations.
            Cities try to exclude as much traffic (and all older cars) as possible. etc.

            Regarding the damaging effect of low level nuclear radiation:
            Regulations in Bayern (Germany) required that all still birth, malformations, Down, etc. had to be administered at districts level.
            The Chernobyl (1000miles away) radio-active cloud generated rainfall in some districts and not in adjacent districts, delivering big differences in radio-activity levels between adjacent districts .

            So to find out whether that low level radio-activity (Cs) had an effect, became a matter of checking the population administrations of the districts, and register the level of radio-activity (fall-out) in each district.
            That was done by the official German radiation institute.

            That study delivered very robust results, as:
            – there was no sample; whole population was included in the study;
            – the results were extremely significant.

            The study shows that extra radiation levels of 0.5mSv/year already generated substantial damage for the unborn.

            This is in line with other studies in Sweden & Finland.
            Medical studies found that children (at age up to 12years) had more chance on cancer if their mother got an X-ray covering the uterus during pregnancy.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Bas

            That is the 8th time you have posted that link. That’s enough (perhaps too much) repetition of the same misleading information from the same source.

            It is not confirmed by any reputable organization with the responsibility for protecting the public from the health effects of low level radiation.

        • Bas says:

          @David
          Two corrections/additions of my 2 posts:

          … construction costs of €12billion …
          That should be us$ and not €.
          It may become € but at this moment that would be a pessimistic estimation.

          Furthermore; salary costs, etc are in Finland probably somewhat higher. So operating costs will also be higher than the US 2007 cost study estimates.

          …low level radiation; German study results being sound…
          While not in my linked publication, the authors did also check for other factors. Differences between districts concerning income, education, life-style, etc.
          None delivered anything (got an E-mail from the institute).
          Knowing the region myself quite well (rather homogeneous), I would have been surprised if they had found something.

          Among others, the famous LSS study delivered the info that 100mSv delivers ~1% chance on premature death (mainly cancer, heart) after 25-60years. Check LSS report no. 14.
          This again is in line with medical studies;
          – medical radiation staff got more often cancer;
          – Young patients that got many X-ray’s or one CT got more often cancer.

          • David says:

            @ Blas,

            “Low level radiation:
            I do not know much about the levels in Denver and the circumstances there.”

            Please learn before you post again.

            Also, you are quoting the most expensive reactor on the planet and that IS the one that is 4 times less expensive than German solar. Hum, how about using the costs for Chinese reactors? Not first of a kind, using reasonable regulations, and a proven design.

            Fail fail fail.

      • Kevin says:

        Could someone please provide cost estimates for both Chernobyl and Fukushima that can confirm that these accidents will each separately cost in excess of $1.2 Trillion. According to the response to my original post $12 Billion is only 1% of the cost of cleanup at either of these. This should be easier for Chernobyl since that accident has had longer to progress in the clean up efforts. Thanks in advance.

        P.S. please use something at least partially credible and please cite multiple sources, none of which can be from a greenpeace or any other environmental extremist website.

      • Kevin says:

        TMI also counts as a real nuclear accident, and according to forbes (http://www.forbes.com/2011/03/16/japan-disaster-nuclear-opinions-roubini-economics.html) cost about $975 million to fix and clean up. Chernobyl had no outer containment and was a RBMK design. These two facts alone make it an incomparable scenario. Fukushima is a Mark 1 GE Boiling Water Reactor which does have an outer containment and is therefore a more fair comparison. The big difference here is that the safety culture and regulation is far superior here in the US compared to Japan. I won’t comment on clean up estimates at Fukushima as these seem to be largely a work in progress at this point.

        • ddpalmer says:

          There is also the unreasonable new limits set by Japan for the clean up at Fukushima. Even using the pre accident levels in Japan would reduce the Fukushima clean up considerably.

  6. Kevin says:

    For more information on the reprocessing ban and grades of plutonium which could produce a weapon, see the following:

    http://depletedcranium.com/why-you-cant-build-a-bomb-from-spent-fuel/

  7. Brian Mays says:

    I hope that Dr. Lorenzini will continue to contribute to this blog.

  8. donb says:

    Rod-

    The hyperlink in the penultimate paragraph is broken.

    • Rod Adams says:

      If you mean the one with the word “reviewer” as the anchor, it worked fine for me, opening up a Scientific American blog post by David Ropeik.

  9. Sean McKinnon says:

    I cannot fathom how an otherwise intelligent and educated man can either be so ignorant of the facts (and law considering the law degree) or choose to outright lie? Does he REALLY beleive the lies about Price-Anderson that he tells or does he feel the greater good outweighs his lies?

    If your position relies on lies to succeed then it is really NOT in the greater good!

  10. gmax137 says:

    This:
    One reviewer summed it up as “baby boomer environmentalists whose fear of anything nuclear grows from deep historic roots and whose self identities are too tightly bound to the expected tribal opposition to nuclear power.”

    The link “reviewer” gives me 404 page not found (running firefox)

    Too bad about the link, that’s a great quote and I think it’s very true. The good news is, the boomers (and yes, that’s m… m… my g.. ge… generation) are becoming less important and the kids these days don’t have the prejudices so many boomers suffer from. So, I am hopeful for the long term.

  11. northcoast says:

    Could we somehow ban the use of the oxymoron, “untrue fact?” If it isn’t true, it can’t be a fact, and as Senator Moynihan pointed out, we don’t get to have our own facts.

  12. EL says:

    Germany is perhaps the most salient example. After passing the National Energy Plan in 2000, calling for an all-out commitment to renewables and a phase-out of their nuclear plants, wind and solar have grown, dramatically fueled by generous subsidies, legislated mandates and preferences on the grid. So have prices.

    Salient indeed. Power prices for industry have dropped 18%.

    Wholesale prices for electricity have also dropped, and are at a six-year low. Nuclear can’t compete. Surcharge for renewables are on a regression schedule, and current high rates are not indefinite over the long run (but provide for advanced capital recovery for developers). High initial costs need to be averaged over operating lifetime of equipment to get cost of energy. Most consumers in Germany are aware that they are paying high rates (and much of this is a subsidized rate, not cost of energy rate, to facilitate rapid scaling of renewables to meet national energy policy objectives).

    EEG was passed in Germany in 2000. Specific nuclear phase plan was approved in 2011, and by a vote of 513 to 79 in Bundestag. Policy still has majority popular support among Germans, and Merkel is expected to win a third term with energy issues as a major feature of the election.

    • SB says:

      A fall in market prices is precisely what would be expected by an increase in renewable capacity – with zero variable production costs, priority on the grid and guaranteed high returns, wind and solar are bound to suppress wholesale prices. Often, the price of electricity goes negative. Similarly, high levels of subsidised renewables would be expected to increase net exports (even as imports increased) as the excess energy has to be sold across the border at a low rate. These changes are not evidence that wind and solar are cost effective: on the contrary, they are major problems for the future of the German electricity system, and will need to be addressed.

      Large industrial companies are frequently exempt from paying the subsidies, and often operate their own generation capacity, either taking advantage of the additional revenue provided by levies on consumers or running polluting coal plants to generate the affordable, reliable power they need. At the same time, the low peak power prices make gas generation uneconomical, so the plants best suited to backing up intermittent generation are pushed off the market, leaving inefficient, dirty coal plants to pick up the slack. If this system is to work, there are going to have to be even more subsidies: subsidies for peaking capacity, subsidies for grid improvements, subsidies for storage. Instead of creating a glorious free-market utopia, the German system has destroyed the price mechanism of the wholesale market, destroyed the link between supply and demand for capacity and artificially provided vast subsidies to heavy industry and power generators – all paid for by the poor old consumer. And let’s not mention the terminally broken EU carbon market…

      The system as it stands is ineffective, fiscally regressive and unsustainable. Maybe at some point the cost of new renewables will be competitive with conventional sources, but the price already paid will already have been tremendously damaging. More likely, system effects and the diminishing quality of remaining sites will keep prices high even as equivalent capacity costs fall. It didn’t need to be done like this, but it’s been a right mess. Sooner or later, the German population is going to realise it’s been screwed.

      • George Carty says:

        Could the fact that German electricity prices for households are much higher than for industry be considered to be a disguised subsidy to exporters, and thus in contravention of the WTO’s rules?

        It would certainly explain why Germany has been able to run trade surpluses comparable to those of China, despite not being a low-wage developing economy…

      • EL says:

        These changes are not evidence that wind and solar are cost effective: on the contrary, they are major problems for the future of the German electricity system, and will need to be addressed.

        @SB

        Yes and no. German energy grid remains one of the most reliable in Europe. These are future challenges, not current, and yes reforms are coming. None of this is a surprise or is unanticipated. Grid expansion, capacity payments, energy storage, demand response, efficiency and conservation, and more.

        Saying something is in need of being addressed is not saying much. There is always something in need of being addressed. And moreso for a energy system undergoing such rapid transformation and reform. It may be bad news for nuclear, on this much we agree, but I don’t necessarily see it as bad news for German business, job creation, global competitiveness, consumers, the environment, public policy, meeting well publicized carbon targets, system performance and reliability, consumer values and expectations, etc. Is there a silverbullet or magic energy resource that meets all conditions and demands, no. And nuclear has it’s fair share. Germany has decided to do the best it can with what it has, and many many strategic long term choices (sooner rather than later). This is no different than some (others are coming along on the same). We’ll revisit the question and see how it looks in 5, 10, or 15 years. For now, the biggest hurdle is all the crying and complaining of legacy operators who, yes, are locked into a specific approach (a very long term business cycle) and can’t even begin to envision change. You say the German population needs to be woken up. I think many would argue that this has already happened.

        • SB says:

          I’d argue that nuclear can get pretty close to being that ‘silver bullet’, as the example of France demonstrates. Over 25 years, they were able to shift to an almost completely carbon-free electricity system, at the same time as greatly increasing overall electricity production and delivering consistently low prices. I’m sure it’s possible to cover a fairly high proportion of electricity demand with renewables if significant investment is made in demand management, efficiency and storage. The problem is that what we really need is for people to be using more electricity, not less. By generating abundant, cheap electricity, France was able to electrify a significant proportion of heating as well as covering existing demand and the doubling of GDP. It’s much harder to electrify (and hence decarbonise) the economy if you’re also driving prices up and putting restrictions on consumption.

          • Bas says:

            @SB
            … France demonstrates. Over 25 years …shift to an almost completely carbon-free electricity system … delivering consistently low prices …
            Those low prices in France are highly subsidized.
            French nuclear power is almost entirely owned and driven by French government. The degree of government subsidy is difficult to ascertain because of no transparencies in finances.

            The burden (government & tax payers) is such that the share of nuclear went down ~10% during the past years.
            Government recently set new targets: the share of nuclear should go below 50%; renewable to be stimulated.

            So it seems that even in France renewable gains market share at the cost of nuclear.
            Let’s hope ITER will become a success!

      • Twominds says:

        In reaction to SB’s post:
        This article in Dissent: green energy bust in Germany goes into more detail on exactly this subject. One of the better and more comprehensive pieces about this that I’ve read yet.

        • EL says:

          It reads like boilerplate to me (and represents pretty well the reactionary opposition of vested interests to reforms that are well underway in Germany). Rebuttal from Osha Davidson agrees.

          • Twominds says:

            And Boisvert rebuts that nicely in his answer.

            I get an error message from the site now, otherwise I’d give you the link to it. But you can find it easily of course.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            Osha and I go way back on the issue of energy supplies. He
            continues to be reliably opposed to the beneficial use of nuclear energy because it pushes his favorite power sources off into the margins. (I tried to open the link to read this example, but apparently I “do not have permission to view” the article.)

      • Bas says:

        …Large industrial companies … often operate their own generation capacity …
        running polluting coal plants …

        Interesting.
        Can you give links that show which companies? Production?

        Especially interesting since I made an educated guess that concluded that German CO2 production for electricity was in 2012 lower than in 2010.
        Despite the closure of 8 NPP’s (producing ~9% of the consumption) in 2011.
        Major factors; increase of renewable, more efficient new coal/lignite plants, lower electricity consumption.

        I neglected private owned coal plants as I was not aware.

    • Bas says:

      @EL
      I looked at the Bloomberg publication you linked in you post (thanks!).
      It says German wholesale prices ~50% of the time <€30/MWh. Often negative electricity prices. Perspective that that will happen more often.

      Why do NPP's not install a waterpool in which they can dump their surplus electricity?
      That seems better than selling it against negative prices which they have to do now as they cannot regulate their power down far/fast enough.
      Seems to me that such a dump is rather easy / cheap to make?

      And it will take quite a while (until ~2018) before the new power line to Norway is open, which allows for more surplus electricity to be stored in Norway's lakes.

  13. David Owen says:

    Kennedy states that once the solar plants are up operational they “last forever.” And he has the nerve to call Pandora’s Box a Hoax!

  14. Brian Mays says:

    Rod – As I write this, several of the links at the bottom of the article don’t work. It appears that the “http” colon slash slash were left off of the beginning of the URL’s that the hyperlinks were supposed to reference, making them relative links and pointing to nonexistent places under the atomicinsights.com website.

  15. Russ Finley says:

    The 4,400 word Energy Trends Insider review of the film (along with 35 footnotes) can be found here at the Pandora’s Promise website or here: “Pandora’s Promise”–The Truth About Nuclear Energy.

  16. Russ Finley says:

    Excellent article, Paul.

    You may find this Breakthrough Institute article about the Olkiluoto plant of interest: Cost of German Solar Is Four Times Finnish Nuclear

    I can empathize with Kennedy. Imagine being taught your entire life that evolution is a hoax and then one day, a movie comes out suggesting that creationism is the hoax. There isn’t a creationist in the world who would accept it, let alone write a positive review of the film. Kennedy is acting like a very normal human being …and that is not a compliment.

    • Paul Lorenzini says:

      Thanks Russ — I’m aware of the BTI article, as well as the response to it from Mark Lynas.

      • Russ Finley says:

        Do you have a link to his response? I found this article:

        http://www.marklynas.org/2013/06/is-solar-really-four-times-the-cost-of-nuclear-no-but/#more-1256

        …suggesting wind and solar will only be about 30% more expensive than nuclear based on British strike prices.

        • Paul Lorenzini says:

          That’s the article I was referring to — the headline starts with the question: “IOs solar four times more expensive than nuclear?”, which I took to be a reference to the BTI claim. IU reread the article and it’s not real clear that’s what he’s doing, but it’s the inference I made.

          • Ben Heard says:

            Paul,

            Having covered those articles myself, I feel Lynas’s article adds another useful contribution to understanding this issue, which varies from place to place and depends whether one looks back (as did BTI) or forward from now (as did Lynas). I did not find it held much to diminish the work by BTI, just added other important information to the picture

        • Bas says:

          Looking to these strike prices, I think renewable investments in UK will deliver far more return than those in Germany.
          Especially after the next few years, as cost price of wind and especially solar goes down faster than these strike prices!

          And there is a good chance they will not go down much, as politically government cannot afford strike prices for renewable that are lower than the strike price for their new nuclear plant! Rumors that those will be ~93 GBP/MWh, and (most important) guaranteed the same for 25years!

          So investment in wind/solar in UK will become a very high return investment!

        • Jeff Walther says:

          Lynas’s article’s methodology completely ignores the costs of back-up power and long distance transmission lines. It is a poor job of comparison and utterly fails as a rebuttal.

        • Jeff Walther says:

          Lynas’s article’s methodology takes no account of the cost of back-up supply for unreliables, nor for the cost of long-distance transmission. It is a very poor effort. I expect better of him for some reason.

          • Bas says:

            @Jeff
            Agree, Lynas methodology is rather simple. Some improvements:
            1. The GB draft feed-in tariffs for solar in 2019 are ridiculous high. May be politically motivated in order to find support for the feed-in tariff for the new NPP.
            So those tariffs will be corrected greatly and little can be concluded from those.

            The German tariffs are cost-price + 6% profit and based on experience. Furthermore, there is little differences as both countries are in the EU.

            2. Lynas should have considered the 25years in the operating period of UK’s new NPP during which it gets a guaranteed price, being ~£92=$138/MWh (Lynas). Assume that period will start in 2021 and end 2046.

            German feed-in tariff for large solar now €104=$136/MWh guaranteed for 20years only. The last 10 years those went down with ~15%/year.
            They will continue downwards with at least 7%/year (av. speed last 30years).

            So at start of the NPP (2021) the solar price will be ~$84/MWh* (~40% lower than those of the NPP). Half-way (2033) the NPP guaranteed price period, solar will cost ~$36/MWh* (~75% lower).
            * Price raised 10% to correct for less sun in UK.

            This last price is below the operating costs of NPP’s.
            So at that time the NPP cannot compete, even if its interest on capital and depreciation are set to zero (solar panels have virtual zero operating costs).

            The marginal P&L of the NPP’s in Germany, are the first signs of its future. Without further subsidies this UK NPP will close after the 25years price guarantee period.

            So in addition to the huge liability subsidies, at least half of all costs of this NPP will be paid by UK tax-payers or as a surcharge on the electricity price.

            Notes
            – As solar will be so much cheaper, there is enough room to pay for infra and storage.

            – All experts predict that the price decrease of solar will continue.
            I find the strongest argument that labs have already shown PV panels with >44% yield while the present PV panels in the market have ~16%.
            It is only a matter of production scaling.

  17. Rich Lentz says:

    Why is it that the subsidies given to airlines and the liability limit protections they are also given are never mentioned when discussing Price Anderson? They had the exact same problem when they started commercial transportation. There was a valid reason that insurance companies did not want to insure NPPs in the 50′s – 70′s – there was no history upon which to base an actuarial determination of the cost, especially when the resulting accident could be considered to be Hiroshima like. If you don’t know the risk you can’t determine the cost for providing the protection.

    Copying the Air Force, the nuclear industry began using “fault tree analysis.” Since there were no NPP accidents they based the early studies upon the failure rate of similar components/equipment in other industries, the resulting accident and the probability of those failures/accidents. E.g., a feed water pump does not know if it is in a nuclear power plant or a coal fired power plant – the failure mechanisms and rate are the same and the resulting accident predictable based upon its application. From this, the NRC developed WASH-1400. That same fault tree analysis has also made nuclear power even safer.

    I was the “resident expert” on WASH – 1400, and responsible for risk determination studies for engineering changes and license changes at several NPPs. About 40 years ago I wrote a paper on the problems of insuring NPPs in the conventional way and why they went this way, but the data/information is there for those that look. Should be much easier now that there is Google and Yahoo. Google Wash-1400, and “fault tree analysis” and some of the fundamental ideas and techniques they discuss. I have forgotten to much to even get up to speed on it again.

  18. Ben Heard says:

    Paul,

    Thanks very much for taking the time to do this.

    I am not that familiar with Kennedy (I’m an Aussie). I watched this debate video in open-mouthed amazement.

    This is indeed a generous wrap up, and hopefully the more powerful for being so gracious. Certainly, to go point by point on Kennedy’s effort, it is hard to be anything less than outraged.

    To whit:
    - His criticism of individuals whose work he does not know
    - A complete and utter misunderstanding of how a breeder reactor works
    - Insisting that all breeder reactor programs failed, only to then roll back to “half of them” about two seconds after challenge

    That’s just what stood out most, I watched a few weeks ago. I think Stone showed the patience of a saint to deal with the situation as he did, but in the end I am sure it worked in his favour. No one remotely in the undecided camp could have watched this without being very unimpressed with Kennedy.

    Could they???