Technical job opportunities at American nuclear power plants

I remain baffled about why so many people who consider themselves to be political liberals fight the use of nuclear energy. It is not only an emission-free, reliable, low cost power source with a demonstrated record of safety, it is also a source of some excellent, career employment at wages that allow people to raise families and do better than just “get by.” Many nuclear plants and nuclear equipment suppliers are union shops.

Here is a short clip from Oswego County, New York, talking about the new training program being started at the local community college.

If you are a liberal with an almost automatic dislike of nuclear energy because of the way that all your friends and relatives have spoken about nuclear power your whole life, I would love for you to develop a questioning, authority-challenging attitude about the topic. Ask your friends who are opposed to nuclear energy why they feel that way, but pay attention to their answers. Look up the real facts using the critical reading and searching skills that you have developed over the years.

One of the major movements happening right now to challenge the establishment is “Occupy Wall Street” – often abbreviated as OWS. That movement has arisen out of a real frustration with the way that greedy gamblers have taken over the “house” of the American financial industry and stacked the deck in their own favor.

If you sympathize with the OWS movement, you might want to read an article that I published here on Atomic Insights more than two years ago titled “Wall Street Does Not Like Nuclear Power” – That’s Great, Because I Do Not Like Wall Street!

Here is an adaptation of my recent contribution to an email list populated by a diverse group of opinionated people whose only common interest is a claim to favor the use of nuclear energy. (Quite frankly, there are some people on the list who appear to secretly favor continued efforts to slow its development as much as possible.)

From: Dave
I wonder sometimes if the japan utilities work with the antis. Just say’n…

Sent from Comcast mobile


From: Rod Adams

I’ve often wondered exactly the same thing about US based utilities and vendors. Jack’s CEO sure gets quoted a lot by folks like Romm, Lovins and even Wasserman. When was the last time you watched a GE ad for their rather sophisticated and passively safe ESBWR?

Speaking of ads, I watched one more of those deceptive “100 year supply” natural gas ads last night. This one was from Conoco-Phillips and was set in a college lecture hall. It looked like the lecture had just ended and some bright students were surrounding the professor at his podium. They were gushing about the good news they had heard about our 100 year supply of clean, safe energy “right under our feet.”

I call those ads deceptive because the rather optimistic evaluation of US gas supply from the Potential Gas Committee at the end of 2010 indicated a total resource base – including proven, probable, potential and speculative reservoirs that were TECHNICALLY accessible (with no evaluation of economics) – was 2170 trillion cubic feet.

We are already using 23 trillion cubic feet per year, yet the gas industry thinks they have sufficient supplies to begin also supplying vehicles (T. Boone Pickens), to fill in where coal plants are decommissioned, to back up massive new renewable installations, to fill in where nuclear plants are decommissioned, and even to begin exporting US sourced gas in the form of LNG.

2170/23 = 94 years. That does not even “round up” to 100 years BEFORE the marketing efforts kick in and increase the annual consumption rate. When is anyone going to take the action of challenging those ads with the FTC? Do you recall how Greenpeace and other groups successfully challenged the NEI’s clean energy ads about nuclear in 1999?

In that case the FTC made the following statement in its finding:

“because the discharge of hot water from cooling systems is known to harm the environment, and given the unresolved issues surrounding disposal of radioactive waste, we think that NEI has failed to substantiate its general environmental benefit claim.”

I wonder how the FTC would rule about the natural gas industry’s continued use of the word “clean” about its product in the face of continued CO2 emissions from burning gas, water contamination associated with the industrial activity required to use hydraulic fracturing, and discharges of hot water from cooling systems used for combined cycle gas turbine power plants.

Our efforts to share pronuclear information are not being helped by corporate America or by the financial institutions that back up almost immoral efforts to deceive Americans about the limitations of fossil fuel. They must think we are all innumerate television addicts.

For the record, I am seriously considering employing my camping skills in certain big city downtown areas once my vacation clock gets reset. (I spent too much of this year’s allotment in efforts to spread calm, certainty and reassurance in the face of corporate-sponsored media hype trying to instill nuclear fears after Fukushima.)

About Rod Adams

45 Responses to “Technical job opportunities at American nuclear power plants”

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  1. George Carty says:

    I think the liberals’ turn against nuclear energy has something to do with union men giving way to hippies when it came to leading the movement…

  2. Jeff S says:

    Rod,

    I’ve been thinking about this recently, and the thing is, I think the gas industry has already “won”.

    Here’s what I mean: As you point out, there’s a less than 100 year supply of gas known. Even if we start an aggressive build out of nuclear plants right away (say next year), we also have about 100 nuclear plants set to probably reach their end-of-life in the next 20-30 years.

    An aggressive build out of nuclear, right now, will only maintain the status quo. To really make a *dent* in power production, nuclear will need a sustained effort of building (and I am even assuming that if we really push on building, there will be growth over time in the number of plants which we can build each year, so it will accelerate over time), it’ll take something like 50-80 years.

    So, before Nuclear could become a serious ‘threat’ to natural gas producers, they’ll have already produced and sold just about all the known gas.

    In other words, the gas industry pretty much has a guaranteed market for their product for 50 years, and that’s likely the amount of time, more or less, that our current gas supply will last anyhow (assuming continued growth in consumption, which I think will happen even *if* we ambitiously build nuclear).

    • George says:

      When it comes to gas, what really matters is flow rates and EROEI, not the size of the resource. Two-thrids of our reserves are conventional, and conventional gas has been running out since it peaked in 1973. Since 1990, we have tripled drilling, and production rose only 21%! And it is still lower than in 1973! Don’t believe the hundred year hype. According to David Hughes, Canada’s top geologist, “there may be 100 years of methane, but it may take 800 years to produce.” Shale gas will only be 3% of Canada’s extraction rate by next year, and the U.S. can’t do much better. Shale wells have a barely positive EROEI and decline 63 to 85 percent in the first year, making high flow rates impossible. Coal isn’t faring any better. All coal producing states are past peak except Wyoming and Montana, which have much lower energy density lignite and subbituminous coal. The U.S. peaked in producible energy from coal in 1998, and according to Tad Patzek the world is at peak coal now, this year, 2011!

      It boggles the mind that liberals usually oppose nuclear. There is no factor more determinant of the well being of a population than their access to energy and ability to afford it. Nuclear could have been used to lift the poor out of poverty around the world. Were we a rational society, nuclear would have belonged to the democrats. Instead, helping the poor was relegated to the extreme right wing fringes of the republican party, and democrats got us hooked on a fossil fuels fiesta, with “greens” like Amory Bloch Lovins hyping coal and gas as a “bridge” to “renewables” and promoting efficiency, which didn’t even keep up with demand growth. More like a bridge to nowwhere, just massive population growth and overcrowding and recession and joblessness as these fuels run short.

  3. The reason Rod may be baffled is because he doesn’t seem to understand the public’s perception of words. Rods says, “It is not only an emission-free, reliable, low cost power source with a demonstrated record of safety….”

    To Rod, “emission-free” only refers to chemicals (that’s what he’s stated in an earlier comment). To the public, emissions can include radioactivity, noise, heat, and many other things.

    Likewise, “reliable” and “low cost” have meanings to Rod which may not fit the public’s meanings. For example, to Rod “low cost” might be the cost per kW-hr, but the public may be including other factors like costs to the environment from emissions that Rod doesn’t even recognize as emissions.

    So Rod is baffled by the liberals (and likely anyone else) and likewise the liberals/public is baffled by Rod.

    Here’s a short table of words that can mean one thing to science-oriented folks and mean something else to the public:

    http://blogs.agu.org/mountainbeltway/2011/10/17/words-matter/

    • Wayne SW says:

      “To the public, emissions can include radioactivity, noise, heat, and many other things.”

      I guess I don’t see how nuclear comes up short on any of these. Radioactivity? Essentially none, a tiny fraction of the natural background even if you camp out at the plant boundary. Noise? Every nuclear plant I’ve ever been to is amazing quiet, especially when compared to a similar-sized coal plant, with its noise, smoke, dust, coal pulverizers, conveyors, and miles-long sludge ponds. Heat? Well, yes, like any thermal power plant. But not necessarily bad. My family lived for years near the Oyster Creek nuclear station. The discharge canal was the best place to catch fish and crabs, year-round. The geese and swans would flock there in winter as it was often the only open water for miles around. One very harsh winter it saved a lot of the bird life in that area because of this.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Bob

      I think I have a good understanding of the way that people have been taught to perceive the meaning of certain words. I am also fairly knowledgeable about ways to change the way that words are used and understood.

      The science of lexicon development is one of my hobby study areas.

      In my book – and in the language that I think people should be taught to understand – emission free should be applied to any power system clean enough to run inside a submarine. Any energy system that cannot run indoors should not qualify for the use of the word “clean”.

      Any power source whose fuel can be used up within the lifetime of people who are already alive should not qualify for the use of the word “abundant” in reference to its supply.

    • SteveK9 says:

      Bob,

      Rod gave you an answer already, but to come to his defense a bit, I would say you can’t have been reading this blog for very long. You are putting words in Rod’s mouth that I don’t think are at all justified from my reading of what he has written over the past few years.

      • Yes I have come to the blog recently.

        If Rod’s standard has to do with “clean enough to run inside a submarine”, that’s a very unique and very narrow standard.

        This is why he is baffled when people don’t get it.

        It also suggests that he equally supports diesel engines and electric batteries, unless he wants to further narrow his definition.

        To Wayne SW, rationalizing certain emissions is different than emission free. Not drinking alcohol is different from a Bud Lite.

        Here is a link to today’s NRC event reports. Hey, look…at TVA they had ammonia in excess of OSHA limits. I guessed they just imagined that, because according to Rod there are no emissions:

        http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/en.html

        • David Andersen says:

          While Rods statement “clean enough to run inside a submarine”, may sound unique qnd narrow, the point is that there are no emissions significant enough to operate in a closed atmosphere, implying larger PWRs also have emissions of small significance.
          Your comment on the ammonia leak at Watts Bar is just useless nit picking to try to prove your point.
          You should know better about your comment on operating deisels underwater, but in case you don’t, the diesels use outside air drawn in through the snorkel and are exhaused directly outside of the submarine.
          The batteries only are only good for a few hours, and also require ventilation while charging.
          The point is that compared to any other thermal pland nuclear has far fewer emissions.

        • Will Davis says:

          @Bob Applebaum — nice try. Ammonia gets used in lots of places; there can be an ammonia spill at any industrial facility that uses the substance. If all the industrial locations in the US had to report such things daily to a central agency you would not have enough time in the day to read all of them. So, actually, there still aren’t any emissions from nuclear plants like there are from fossil fuel combustion.

    • Curtis says:

      Bob I think that you actually have your Public/Scientist Engineer definitions backwards.

      I’m willing to bet that if you ask the majority of people on the street what they think of when you say emissions, a staggeringly large amount will reply with CO2, while almost none will reply with Heat. Ask an Engineer or a Scientist, and they are more likely to present you with a list of everything that could be vented.

      CO2 has been the Hot Topic for the environmental media for some time now. Society as a whole has been very well indoctrinated into associating the two words. Emissions = CO2 to the public thank to a very well played media campaign.

      Radiation on the other hand… is the result of a disaster in the public mind.

      Honestly I think Rods take on what the public views emissions as is spot on. Emissions are what come out of a tail pipe in your car, and that’s always simply put as CO2 by the public.

      • Curtis -

        I have found it depends on the larger context…not just walking up to someone and asking them what they think.

        To the extent we have the context that Rod has setup…not understanding why liberals fight nuclear power…I offered my comments.

        Rod wrote (in regards to liberals):

        “Look up the real facts using the critical reading and searching skills that you have developed over the years”

        Therefore, the real facts are that nuclear is not emission free. Perhaps Rod should use his reading and searching skills and look up a definiton of “emission” and “free” so he understands liberals. Here is “emission” from M-W dictionary:

        1a : an act or instance of emitting : emanation b archaic : publication c : a putting into circulation
        2a : something sent forth by emitting: as (1) : electromagnetic radiation from an antenna or a celestial body (2) usually plural : substances discharged into the air (as by a smokestack or an automobile engine)

        • @ BA: You’re squirming. Everyone knows what Rod meant, including you. A deisel sub requires countinuous interaction with the atmosphere during operation, and emits chemical waste that whole time. Batteries are a temporary storage system which must be charges by the deisel engine. The waste of a nuclear sub is transferred to a containment facility at the end of its service life (I believe the standard practice these days is to load the sub with enough fuel to last its whole operational life). This sort of performance is far superior to any chemical energy system, and all your spin cannot obscure that.

        • Curtis says:

          Bob Says: “Therefore, the real facts are that nuclear is not emission free.”

          Using your facts, Emission free is impossible. No reaction of any kind can take place with out some sort of emission of some sort.

          Now your just grasping at straws. Every sane (and most insane) people agree that when discussing emissions from a Power Plant or a car or almost any current use of the word emission, we are talking about the Harmful Emissions released, Uncontrolled, during normal operations of said thing. CO2 up a smoke stack into the air is uncontrolled. Fuel Rods encased in near indestructible, and constantly monitored concrete sarcophagus are very much controlled.

          In this conversation, a well run Nuke Plant, when compared to it’s main competition (Gas and Coal) is pretty darn near emission free.

  4. Navy trained nuclear operators has been one of the major strengths of the US nuclear industry for now many decades. The nation has greatly benefitted from both the patriotic service and following civilian sector employment of navy-nukes.

    I was as a result somewhat taken aback when I recently read that DOE is paying to retrain navy-nukes leaving service to be renewable energy supporting SMART-GRID operators so as to better fit into the supplementary solar and wind energy paradigm that DOE currently favors.
    http://energy.gov/articles/navy-veteran-back-work-smart-grid

    • Wayne SW says:

      So, how smart is the Smart Grid when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing? My guess is, not very smart, they’ll be running gas turbines and cluttering up the biosphere with emissions. Either that or roll you into a blackout. Real smart, that.

      • SteveK9 says:

        ‘Smart Grid’ now has the same usage as ‘nano’ or ‘green’, etc. It is an incantation meant to convince you that something good is happening, without really explaining much.

      • George Carty says:

        Surely, there’s a killer case against the Smart Grid idea, which can be summed up in one word:

        STUXNET

    • Jerry says:

      The smart grid falls into the same category as electric cars: These aren’t bad technologies, the trouble is that they have been hijacked by the green energy promoters as “their” solution that can only work with massive subsidies for solar and wind power.

      Without timed metering someone who primarily uses electricity during peak hours pays the same as someone who uses it during the night. The true costs are “socialised” between the two, so the daytime person is saving money, the nighttime user is ripped off. The smart grid and smart meters would grease and free up the market for electricity, give more choices, more options for pricing. In a truly free market, someone who doesn’t want a time-of-use tariff should be able to sign up for one, even with a smart meter installed. And people who don’t want a smart meter should be able to find a utility that uses traditional meters.

    • David Andersen says:

      It looks like they are training people for the position of System Operator. These jobs already exist and have for a long time. Smart Grid seems to be an automated system that can balance less reliable generation(read wind and solar)to demand.
      The article hit the problem Navy Nukes and also power plant operators have all the time, that of translating their skills to language non-nukes understand. I know this from first hand experiance,having applied for such positions several times.

  5. @ David Andersen

    (Sorry to others for whom this is a repeat)

    What an absurd thing to state…emissions are what is released from a given enclosed area or volume.

    A nuclear submarine emits radioactive material. It doesn’t effect the guy in the sub much.

    Those emissions still exist. Just because Rod ignores those emissions because he has released them from the submarine and he doesn’t get exposed to them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    It’s just an absurdly unique and narrow definition of emission free.

    If I put some food and a bunk in a coal plant control room and live there for months, can I say the plant is emission free?

    Most liberals would find that an absurd claim.

    • David Andersen says:

      What radioactive material is being released exactly? Airborne? Liquid?
      How about if you enclose the coal plant in an air tight container? I would guess the operator would be dead in munuites, thats the analogy you need to compare a submarine nuclear plant to a fossil fuel burning power plant.

      • A nuclear submarine discharges airborne and liquid radioactivity. Some people see waste generation as a form of emission, some don’t. Nuclear submarines generate radioactive waste.

        Comparing a submarine nuclear plant to a land-based fossil fuel burning plant is a bad comparison when talking to liberals about the pro’s and con’s of domestic energy sources. They aren’t in submarines.

        You could put the coal plant in an air tight container and kill everyone. You could also put a submarine in an airtight and it will kill everyone. It will just take longer.

        • Jeff S says:

          I would argue that it makes most sense, when discussing emissions, to talk about containment. Spent nuclear fuel is contained. Smoke from a smoke stack is most definitely not. As long as the waste remains “in custody”, I don’t think it counts as an emission.

          By this definition, captured fly ash in a waste pond at a coal plant is not an emission. If the pond breaches and pollutes local land, it becomes an emission. Carbon dioxide from a natural gas plant is an emission (because it goes into the environment and can move freely).

          When the containment buildings at Fukushima exploded, and released a little bit of radioactive material, that was an accidental emission, but an emission still. When emergency cooling water was being pumped through the reactors and dumped into the nearby ocean with some radioactive material, that was an emission.

          I don’t speak from a technical standpoint, but just from what I think to be the “common” understanding of the word emission that I believe most of the public holds (that’s how I’ve always understood the term).

        • Cal Abel says:

          @Bob
          The analogy of us being on a submarine is après pose. Our plant is a very large submarine, closed atmosphere that is rejuvenated. It is a very bad day on a submarine when the reactor is offline. I remember several when with no reactor and e wind blowing just so having all of those noxious diesel exhaust vapors come back in to he boat.

          I want to give you a concept of scale. Nuclear power is hard to understand without it. Yes nuclear power plants produce waste. It decays to background in 300 years. Which coincidentally is on the order of longevity of many atmospheric pollutants like CO2. The amount of waste you average American would produce if all energy they consumed in their lifetime came from nuclear power would be 4 tablespoons. Thus you average American would saddle the next 7 generations of countrymen with 4 tablespoons.

          Our reactors on board a ship have roughly the weight of a handful of large men. Those cores contain enough fuel to propell an 10,000 ton warship for the lifetime of the hull. I have spent upwards of 4 months submerged continuously with no need to intake air. The only way for that to be possible is with nuclear power.

  6. @Jeff S.

    I agree that your interpretation is the common one and it’s also correct technically and it’s mine.

    The wastes associated with most processes (like coal) are disposed of in the same region that it was generated.

    However, nuclear waste is only disposed of at a few sites around the country. Some of those people have a sense that containment has been lost. They feel they have been forced to accept the risk associated with other people’s waste. Even though the wastes are well controlled and contained.

  7. David Phillips says:

    I think, Bob, you are getting to the very point that Rod is making. If people feel they are being forced to accept waste – when it is not true, when they feel that the waste is not contained – when it is contained they can benefit from study and examination of the facts. Gwyneth Cravens did just this and came to a reasonable conclusion. Rod is challenging others to do the same.

  8. I’m not saying that the people think the waste is not contained (ie, in a container). They realize it’s contained when it’s accepted at the disposal site. They are concerned with what happens later.

    From a technical perspective, the source of pollution is called the source or the emitter. The receptor is the population which receives the pollution. So those people who accept radioactive waste from somewhere else in the country are like receptors. It’s emission-like, though no one is saying it’s the same thing.

    And we can’t say disposal sites have been emission free. They haven’t. There have been offsite releases, though the health risks have been relatively trivial.

    “Emission free” is the antithesis of “seething radiation” propagandized by the anti-nukes.
    ===============

    Anyway….for anyone interested…at 7 p.m. Central on PBS in my area is the show Nature. The topic is “Radioactive Wolves” around Chernobyl. It might be on in your area.

  9. Amory Bloch Lovins says:

    Nuclear power continues to die of an incurable attack of market forces. A huge and capable propaganda campaign by the industry and its political allies is spinning an illusion of a renaissance that deceives credulous journalists but not hard-nosed investors.

    The U.S. first got 19 percent of its electricity from nuclear power in 1988 [it] has fluctuated around that share ever since (peaking at 20.6 percent in 2001), and had a 19.4 percent share in 2006, officially projected to fall to roughly 15 percent in 2030.

    Without those nuclear plants, current U.S. CO2 emissions would have been higher if coal plants had been bought instead, or lower if cheaper, low- or no-carbon resources – efficiency, cogeneration, and renewables – had been bought instead.

    New nuclear plants are bought (sparsely) only by central planners, not in free markets. America’s, China’s, India’s, and Finland’s powerful nuclear lobbies cling to life in noncompetitive intensive-care units. My bias is to trust capitalists in New York more than bureaucrats in Beijing; if yours is different, I can understand how you might reach different conclusions.

    Not a single new nuclear project on earth has received a penny of private risk capital: they’re unfinanceable in the private capital market. The industry is therefore making strenuous efforts to get a $50 billion DOE blank check, and to shift to ratepayers, taxpayers, and unsophisticated officials of small public utilities (remember WPPSS?) the risks that private investors shun.

    The new Finnish reactor was authorized by an odd political process based on a cooked and limited-access study, then financed from captive customers’ long-term power-purchase contracts via heavily subsidized and allegedly illegal deals with French and German subnational parastatals. Once the industry’s poster child, the plant is two years late (the more they build it, the behinder they get) and hideously over budget. The builders are reportedly trying to renegotiate their ruinous fixed-price contract.

    The U.S. has had no new nuclear orders since 1978 (NRG’s Texas proposal isn’t an order—just a license application to establish subsidy priority), and every plant ordered since 1973 has been cancelled, despite decades of a cozy industry-designed regulatory system that bars effective public scrutiny and participation.

    S&P found that new 2005 U.S. subsidies roughly equal to the next six units’ capital costs (on top of big prior subsidies) won’t materially improve builders’ credit ratings, because most of the risks that concerned the capital markets remain. This unprecedented bailout experiment will probably have the same effect as defibrillating a corpse: it will jump, but it won’t revive.

    China has a world-leading nuclear goal of 40 GW by 2020 (enough to offset a tenth of global retirements meanwhile), but by 2006 had already installed a world-leading 49 GW of distributed renewables—seven times its 2005 nuclear capacity, increasing by sevenfold more GW per year. India gets 3 percent of its electricity from nuclear, but has far more wind power, ranking #3 in world wind expansion. No wonder: wind kWh are two to three-fold cheaper.

    Here’s how I view the competitive landscape for electrical services. Only two careful nuclear cost studies rest on empirical data: the 2003 MIT study found nuclear can’t compete with coal or gas; the 2007 Keystone study found nuclear costs 8 to 45 percent higher still. My analysis compares nuclear power (at the lower MIT costs) with the empirical costs of “micropower” and “negawatts,” which are far cheaper and hence are walloping all central plants in the global marketplace. (Details are in my December 2005 Nuclear Engineering International article “Mighty Mice” (RMI Publ. #E05-15), its backup #E05-14, my Royal Academy of Engineering lecture #E06-04, and our micropower database #E05-04, all at http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid257.php.)

    “Micropower” is The Economist’s term for cogeneration (two-thirds gas-fired and very efficient, saving over half the carbon), plus renewable generators, minus big hydro (greater than 10 MW). Worldwide in 2005, micropower:

    - generated one-sixth of all electricity and one-third of all new electricity;
    - generated from one-sixth to more than one-half of all electricity in 13 industrial countries;
    - added 4 times as much electrical output and 11 times as much capacity as nuclear added.

    Worldwide in 2006, micropower generated more electricity than nuclear power; nuclear power brought online 1.49 GW, less than photovoltaics did (1.74 GW) and a tenth what wind power did (15 GW). Nuclear lost 0.5 net GW (retirements exceeded additions) while micropower added roughly 34 GW. Distributed renewables got $56 billion of private investment while nuclear got zero.

    Negawatts (saved electricity) rival micropower in annual capacity effect. Both together probably now provide more than half the world’s new electrical services; central stations – nuclear, fossil-fueled, and big hydro – have less than 50 percent market share. The revolution already happened – sorry if you missed it.

    What part of this picture does anyone who takes markets seriously not understand? The small, fast options are triumphing in the global marketplace, because investors prefer their lower costs and risks. Their potential is enormous – for wind power alone, 35 times that of world electricity use – and they need less back-up than intermittent big thermal stations need now.

    Furthermore, efficiency has reduced energy use per household in places like Vermont that pay attention and invest properly. California has held per-capita electricity use flat for 30 years – saving 65 peak GW and more than $100 billion of power-system investment – while per-capita real income rose 79 percent, and is now accelerating those savings. But even these exemplars have barely scratched the surface. Fully applying modern efficiency’s potential would save half of U.S. oil and gas use at a sixth and an eighth of their respective prices (www.oilendgame.com), and three-fourths of electricity at an eighth of its price (www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/Energy/E05-16_EnergyEndUseEff.pdf, http://www.rmi.org/stanford, http://www.esource.com [Technology Atlas series]). I’m a practitioner, not a theoretician, and these findings are empirical: my team has lately redesigned more than $30 billion worth of corporate facilities in 29 sectors for superefficiency, generally at lower capital cost.

    We see electricity demand ratcheting downward over the medium and long term. The long-term prospects for selling more electricity are dismal….We will never get, we suspect, to a high enough price to justify building centralized thermal power plants again. That era is over.

    My 1976 Foreign Affairs article, which used a 50-year time horizon, accurately predicted the heretical “soft path” graph was 4 percent below actual U.S. energy consumption in 2000, without – or 1 percent above, with – normalization to actual GDP growth. U.S. electric intensity is trending downwards (falling by at least 2 percent in 6 of the past 10 years) although 48 states rewarded utilities for selling more electricity and penalized them for cutting customers’ bills. That perverse incentive is now reversing. This plus cost and climate pressures and revolutionary techniques will, I believe, ultimately make electricity demand stabilize and then decline in most states as it has in some. Most electricity is now wasted, and ultimately, economics wins. New central plants are uneconomic and getting more so.

    U.S. electricity consumption growth averaged 2.82 percent per year in 1984-2000, 1.2 percent per year in 2000-05, and 0.1 percent in 2006. Electric intensity fell by at least 2 percent in six of the past ten years. Cost and climate pressures and revolutionary efficiency techniques will ultimately make electricity demand stabilize and then decline in most states as it has begun to do in some. Most electricity is now wasted, and eventually economics wins. New central plants are uncompetitive and getting more so.

    More and bigger power plants and power lines are a key cause of more and bigger blackouts; roughly 98 to 99 percent of U.S. power failures and glitches originate in the grid, not from inadequate supply. CCGT power plants are cheaper and more reliable than the grid, so affordable and reliable power should now be generated at or near the customers. My Economist Book of the Year, Small Is Profitable (www.smallisprofitable.org), documents how the same decentralization that has swept telephony and computing can make electricity roughly 10 times more valuable by capturing 207 “distributed benefits”: e.g., less financial risk from small fast units than big slow ones, and lucrative fuel-price hedging from renewables.

    USEIA reports U.S. electricity sales averaged 1.15 percent per year of growth from 2000-06, [and] 0.1 percent in 2006. But if they did grow quickly, the cheapest and fastest remedies would be efficient use and demand response, then micropower.

    Industrial countries should set a good example of least-cost energy investment, and help spread best not worst buys. More nuclear plants would worsen global warming by displacing 2 to 10 times less coal per dollar, more slowly, than negawatts and micropower (see “Mighty Mice”). I favor internalizing carbon costs (incumbents too must bid for allowances), but correct prices are less important than ability to respond to price, via “barrier-busting” (Climate: Making Sense and Making Money, http://www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/Climate/C97-13_ClimateMSMM.pdf).

    The U.S. can hardly criticize China: America heavily promotes and subsidizes coal and coal-fired power stations, hasn’t (as China did until 2001) cut its energy intensity over 5 percent per year for a quarter-century, and doesn’t (as China has) make energy efficiency its top strategic priority. Like Thomas Friedman, I expect China will become a leader in energy efficiency (as it already is in renewables) and in climate protection, because otherwise it can’t afford to develop.

    Cutting global energy intensity not by the usually assumed 1 percent per year but by 2 percent per year would stabilize carbon emissions; 3 percent per year would stabilize climate (if it’s not already irreversibly damaged). But smart companies routinely and very profitably cut their carbon intensity or even their absolute carbon emissions 6 to 9 percent per year. I don’t see why 3 percent per year is hard, nor why it should be costly, since essentially everyone who buys energy efficiency makes money. Efficiency costs less than energy, so climate protection is not costly but profitable.

    We can solve the climate, oil, and proliferation problems at a profit – led by business – if we simply let all ways to save or produce energy compete fairly, at honest prices, regardless of their type, technology, location, size, or ownership. Norway already gets 100% of its electric power from distributed renewables, including wind. This is economics, plain and simple. Who’s not in favor of that? Are you? If so, you can join me in looking forward to a nuclear-free future and a richer, fairer, cooler, safer world.

    • Steve Aplin says:

      “A huge and capable propaganda campaign by the industry and its political allies is spinning an illusion of a renaissance that deceives credulous journalists but not hard-nosed investors.”

      You’re talking about the nuclear industry?? The real “huge and capable propaganda campaign” is on display on every major television network, and it is selling YOUR preferred fuels, Amory — natural gas and other petroleum products.

      And I love your hard-nosed investors. You are right, most Wall Streeters are absolutely not investing in nuclear. That would require discipline and patience. Instead, when they’re not lunging at get-rich-quick instruments like credit-default swaps or mortgage derivatives, they’re pouncing on government-guaranteed winners like Solyndra, Evergreen Solar, SpectraWatt, and BP Solar. All those companies went bankrupt; all were touted by “hard-nosed” investors.

    • Amory – I would also like to repeat Rod’s thanks for stopping by Atomic Insights and offering your views. Atomic Insights is a (tough but fair) pro-nuke crowd, and while views associated with you and the Rocky Mountain institute get discussed here, it is much better to discuss them with you.
      I hope you will return to our discussions at Atomic Insights and offer your thoughts directly on energy.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        I would like to echo Robert’s sentiment. I’m glad to see you’re stopping by here at least on occasion, Amory.

    • brian wang says:

      I have written an article that rebuts several aspects of what Amory Lovins has written. Link to my article is linked from my name on this comment

      Amory Claim 1. Nuclear power continues to die of an incurable attack of market forces.

      Amory Lovins was claiming that nuclear power would die back in 1976

      Since 1980, nuclear power generation has increased by over 400%. So Amory Lovins is wrong about nuclear energy being a collapsing industry.

      Claim 2 : New nuclear plants are bought (sparsely) only by central planners, not in free markets. America’s, China’s, India’s, and Finland’s powerful nuclear lobbies cling to life in noncompetitive intensive-care units. My bias is to trust capitalists in New York more than bureaucrats in Beijing; if yours is different, I can understand how you might reach different conclusions.

      Claim 3 : China has a world-leading nuclear goal of 40 GW by 2020 (enough to offset a tenth of global retirements meanwhile), but by 2006 had already installed a world-leading 49 GW of distributed renewables—seven times its 2005 nuclear capacity, increasing by sevenfold more GW per year. India gets 3 percent of its electricity from nuclear, but has far more wind power, ranking #3 in world wind expansion.

      So centrally planned wind power is good but centrally planned nuclear is bad.

      Also, the 49 GW of renewables generates the equivalent of about 12 GW of nuclear power because the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow.

      All of the geothermal, solar and wind power generation in the OECD (mainly democratic countries) is one fifth the nuclear power in those countries for the first 7 months of this year.

      Claim 4: California has held per-capita electricity use flat for 30 years

      Yet the energy intensive industries are being outsourced overseas to China. Over the past 30 years, California has imported far more products (which require energy to make) and most of that is coming from China. China was using 80% coal power to make those cheaper products.

      Claim 5: My [Amory Lovins] 1976 Foreign Affairs article, which used a 50-year time horizon, accurately predicted the heretical “soft path” graph was 4 percent below actual U.S. energy consumption in 2000

      I reviewed Amory Lovins 1976 prediction

      Amory predicted that oil and natural gas usage would be almost eliminated by 2011. He indicated that oil and natural gas usage in United States would be about 5% now. He also indicated that nuclear power would be eliminated in the 1990s.

      The main difference between Amory Lovins of 1976 and the Amory Lovins of today is that 1976 Amory was against natural gas but now Amory is for natural gas in the form of relabeled micropower.

      Amory argued in 1976 and argues today that less per capita energy usage is better

      South Korea grew its electricity generation by 4000% from 1971 to 2006

      Mexico grew its electricity generation by 700% from 1971 to 2006

      In 1971, Mexico was 5 times richer than South Korea on a per capita basis. Now Mexico is half as rich per capita as South Korea.

      South Korea grew its electricity by 6 times faster and became ten times richer on a relative basis versus Mexico.

      Energy focused websites like theOildrum make the case that energy is critical to economic growth.

      The United States is 2 to 3 times poorer today than it would have been if it had doubled or tripled the construction of energy production.

      The United States will be poorer in the future if it follows Amory Lovins plan of energy poverty.

    • Jerry says:

      Two things about the alleged electricity consumption downward trend:
      1. Why are countries building wind power and solar installations? If increased demand for electricity is not the reason, then obviously it is to replace decomissioned old plants and to become more sustainable. Nuclear power can be promoted and increased even without more electricity demand.
      2. If we are heading to European electricity rates, electric cars are not viable, and cars will be forever be fossil fuelled and homes heated by oil&gas. However, if we manage to maintain a low price and lower it even further by promoting cheap energy sources, then electric cars and electric heating have great potential. Once they take off, we can use every kilowatt we can get. We are importing $35 billion worth of oil every month – to replace this with electricity is a HUGE task that only massive new construction of hard technologies can tackle.

    • i see no point in responding further to Amory Lovins, who desirves the nickname “Artful Dodger.” Lovins is not interested in dialogue, and he is willing to concede arguments by refraining from defending his views. He is not interested in winning arguments, nor is he interested to finding truth. He is interested in publicity, and in trading on his reputation.

  10. Rod Adams says:

    @Amory

    Thanks for stopping by and offering such a lengthy summary of your personal thoughts on the economic prospects for nuclear energy.

    I have personally invested about 2,000,000 private capital “dimes” into nuclear energy, so I have to take issue with your following assertion:

    “Not a single new nuclear project on earth has received a penny of private risk capital: they’re unfinanceable in the private capital market. “

    You and I have discussed this matter face to face on at least two previous occasions, yet you continue spouting the untruth. I can testify that my current employer has invested about a BILLION “dimes” into the B&W mPower(TM) reactor project that I am working on and we have a pretty experienced and credible partner in our effort – Bechtel.

    Earlier this week, Fluor announced an investment of 300,000,000 private capital “dimes” into NuScale, a startup in Oregon with a refined light water reactor product that comes in significantly smaller unit sizes than the traditional plants.

    As I said a couple of years ago, and will repeat today, I think it is a ringing endorsement of the disruptive nature of nuclear energy that the “Wall Street” financial establishment is not interested in helping our technology to succeed.

    http://atomicinsights.com/2009/03/wall-street-does-not-like-nuclear-power-thats-great-because-i-do-not-like-wall-street.html

  11. Once again Amory Lovins, the best friend of the CO2 emitting coal and natural gas industries, emerges from his Rocky Mountain castle to do battle with the nuclear dragon. Curiously the nuclear power industry refuses to die despite Lovins longstanding claims that is is at deaths door.

    I note that a new nuclear power plant is nearing completion less than 75 miles from my home in Knoxville, TN, while another SMR is planned to be built less than 20 miles from my home before the end of this decade.

    I have noted on my blog Nuclear Green that Lovins has repeatedly avoided criticism of his nuclear market failure claims. Rather than offering long promised answers of his critics, Lovins again trots out his old, discredited claims. Amory, if you want the slightest shred of credibility you need to give your promised answer to David Bradish and Robert Bryce.
    http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/2009/08/amory-lovins-discredited-lovins-refuses.html

  12. I begin to state where Amory Lovins goes wrong on almost every detail of his essay posted in response to this blog entry. And i won’t. But I will take issue. As one of those “Occupiers” of Wall Street, both in NY and in San Francisco, I can say your faith in “Wall Street”, the people who brought us this financial mess; that has caused untold suffering on the part of the American people; that has literally stolen our patrimony though $8 trillion dollars of give away bailouts means you are with the “1% against the 99%”. Shame on you Amory.

    Yes, the large centralized planning for energy in: Germany, France, China, the US (with MOSTLY private capital I might add), Sweden, Finland, Belgium, India and Russia to name countless more have built nuclear energy because they understood the *social* necessity for reliable pollution free energy. It has paid back multiple times more in either revenue and/or reliable *cheap* electricity.

    Your a-historical view that “only Wall Street” shows a very ignorant view of the economic development *of the world*. No large civil engineering project has EVER been developed with out some form of ownership/capital investment/oversight/loans/etc from The State. Ever.

    China: it’s 86GWs, Amory, not 40GW they are still planning to build out to. Probably 200 GWs by 2030. that’s 19 years away. Hardly the early demise of nuclear energy. They are also the biggest builders of wind and solar energy: also a product of the “large centralized economies”. Good for them. Like many countries they are using “multiple wedges” to address their need for more energy and develepment. I have no problem with this. Wake up…countries around the world are doing this, not only China, but EVERY single one is using state planning to some degree to help speed this up AND finance it.

    In the US today, the ONLY reason anyone is into solar and wind, and why the Wall Street speculators and parasites (IMO) are casting a positive outlook on renewables is because of the massive subsidies on the one hand (for solar) and the legal *mandates* on the other that a certain amount of renewable energy has to be part of every utility’s energy portfolio (wind). This remains 100% of the reasons that any *private* capital flows to wind and solar: it’s subsidized at the front end or the back end.

    Peace,
    David

    • Brian Mays says:

      They are also the biggest builders of wind and solar energy: also a product of the “large centralized economies”.

      In 2008, over 97% of China’s “renewable” electricity came from hydroelectric plants, such as the Three Gorges Dam (which only contributed over 13% of this electricity, over five times the total for all “distributed renewables” that Amory mentions combined). These are large state-sponsored projects that would never be built by the folks on Wall Street.

      As usual, Amory’s trying to pull off his three-card monte scam. Watch out for the slight of hand.

      • Brian, of course this is the case. They are, however, still the biggest investors in solar and wind. Mostly as proof-of-concept so they can market the stuff in the West and be the builders of the hardware.

        The slight of hand are ‘capacity’ numbers as if 47GWs of wind some how is more than 30GWs of wind, which of course it is not. Amory should know better playing child’s games with adults.

  13. One more thing. If there was a legal mandate that at least 30% of every utility’s energy portfolio had to be nuclear, or that in the legally mandated renewables coming from state legislatures around the country had to include nuclear, Wall Street would be having multiple orgasms over the potential profits to be earned. This is why the whole “Wall Street” paradigm is FAKE from top to bottom because those like you and Harvey Wasserman, another Wall Street booster, simply have no understanding of the economics of either energy in a semi-market economy OR an understanding of WHY Wall Street likes renewables or any commodity being highly subsidized.

  14. John Englert says:

    Everyone has pretty much responded to the main points posted by the “Sage of Snowmass” so I’ll just top it off by saying I can’t take anyone seriously who uses the term “megawatts.” Now it’s time to feed my children some negafood and get them to bed so my wife and I can sit and watch some negaTV.

  15. Kevin C. Hurt says:

    World population will continue to grow and with it, the desire for clean water, clean air, creature comforts and the eternal desire to better one’s lot in life through business, industry, education and high technology – all made possible through more energy production. To suggest that we all go back to negawatts and less power speaks of gradual population die off with pre-death agony and misery to future generations.

    I earned a degree in the early 1980′s in electrical power technology and studied energy matters on my home computer and scientific jourmals – I do not claim to be an expert by any means, but I have enough background to know you have to plan for a bigger boat that runs on “Dense fuel sources that are scalable and will last for millions of years” and not just patch a leaky boat that is getting smaller and smaller.

    If you want to limit growth an do the greedy thing
    of charging more for less – just bail water and ration the supplies. If you want a better world
    for you and your children then build the bigger boat and use conservation where it makes the most sense.

    My favorite website is Jim Holm’s (coal-2-Nuclear) comprehensive energy plan which enhances our presenrt technology with “High Density Nuclear
    energy” from both uranium and thorium. Solar, wind, microgenerators all have their place as well as “sensible” conservation. Cut out the obvious fat but not the muscle – low flow toilets is one obvious extreme (a large percentage of our waste is politically neglected maintenance on water and power distribution infrastructure). Get the goverment out of our bathrooms !!

    Kevin Hurt

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