Damning nuclear energy with faint praise – sponsored by Shell Oil Company
The Discovery Channel is teasing a show called Earth 2050: Powering the Future. One of the primary sponsors of the show is the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company.
Here is a brief teaser about future energy supplies from “renewable” sources of power. On the one hand, it was interesting to note that Discovery had classified nuclear energy as one of the renewables. On the other hand, it is also interesting to note how readily they dismiss its potential by implying that it may only double its market share in the next 40 years and by saying that it is “costly and controversial.”
Do you think that there are some vested interests at work here? Nuclear energy systems can be a manufactured product whose cost can be driven down through application of the same techniques that have been used to drive down the cost of many other manufactured products. Practitioners can learn how to do their jobs better, they will discover better materials, they will refine their tools and they should be able to capture economies from increasing the scale of their enterprise (not the scale of each individual product).
Each of those paths for improvement will drive costs out of the process. The nuclear industry did not take a cost conscious path of development during the first nuclear age, but some of us have studied hard to learn from that negative experience. We plan to do better this time around.
My current mission as a writer is to expose the source of the “controversy” that Shell and its colleagues in the fossil fuel business hope will discourage the rapid development of their only real competitor. Nuclear fission power is almost the only source of non-fossil fuel energy with a proven history of taking market share away from oil, natural gas and coal. (Large scale hydroelectric power also has a proven track record; perhaps that is one of the reasons that many renewable advocates dismiss its potential almost as frequently as they dismiss nuclear energy.)
On a related note, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission unanimously (finally) approved the final design certification rule for the Westinghouse AP1000, an advanced nuclear plant design that has incorporated a large number of lessons learned from the currently operating plants that reliably supply the energy equivalent of 12 million barrels of oil per day. For comparison, that is roughly equal to the contribution to the world’s oil market of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined.
There are already four AP1000 nuclear reactor units under construction in China and there are already lessons that have been learned by that experience that will be incorporated in the four units that should begin construction in earnest. The project developers have been doing all that they were allowed to do without the approval of their standard design, now the restraints can be gradually removed and the construction process put into full gear.
Wall Street Journal – (December 22, 2011) U.S. Clears Reactor Design: Approval of Toshiba’s AP1000 Sets Up Possible Nuclear-Power Revival
Power Engineering – (December 22, 2011) Gazprom ready to take part in 3-5 gas-fueled power plants in Bavaria
According to earlier reports, Germany is determined to close down all of its nuclear power plants, many of which are located in Bavaria.
As Miller said, new gas-fuelled power generating facilities will be built as nuclear power plants are closed down.
Wonder who is pushing for that nuclear shutdown? Has the general population, which will be paying the higher costs of from both building new facilities and buying more expensive, more polluting fuel, been snookered?
There were no caveat clauses given to wind or solar in that short clip unlike nuclear and hydro.
The missing caveats from wind and solar they conveniently omit are in no specific order:
1. dilute sources of energy
2. weather depended sources of energy, cannot fluctuate to meet demand
3. intensive material (concrete, steel, rare earths) use. Poor material / energy ratios.
4. intensive land use
5. killing of birds, especially raptors, and bats
6. no cost effective energy storage
7. massive energy storage requirements
8. difficult to scale
9. encroachment on sensitive environments – mountains, deserts, etc.
10. short product life cycles – 20 year replacement on average
11. high maintenance costs
12. costly new and improved grid technologies required or requested
13. little energy returned per investment
14. CO2 made during manufacture/deployment takes a long time to offset through use.
15. we still will remain largely fossil fuel dependent with these sources
16. are not easily adaptable to non-electrical uses such as steam generation, industrial process heat, desalination, synthetic fuel production
17. these challenges multiply with growth in population and demand.
18. are currently only sustained with high economic incentives, subject to corruption
19. are currently challenging for grid operators
20. not easily deployable in dense city environments – limited space, lots of renters
21. Poor capacity factors
Now, don’t get me wrong, solar and wind are ok for certain niche applications, but no nation is going to run their economy this way. To say that there is enough solar energy to power the planet many times over completely ignores the limitations and challenges of the technologies.
Bill Gates refers to these technologies as “energy farming”. I think a more accurate term would be “energy hunting and gathering”.
In the current state of affairs, yes, nuclear can be labeled “costly and controversial”. The controversy has been taught and it’s difficult to “un-teach” something no matter how bad or ridiculous that idea is. People still believe in astrology etc.
“Costly” is a solvable issue from both an engineering and regulation standpoint.
I wish these future shows they rehash on Discovery every few years would break the own script molds once in awhile and bring something original to the TV watching public. Many years ago there was an episode of Frontline on PBS called “Nuclear Reaction” which detailed how the Clinton administration killed off the Integral Fast Reactor. I’ve only seen old used VHS tapes of that episode for sale, too bad it’s not on youtube.
With regard to your last comment about the non availability of “Nuclear Reaction”, I heard an comment on the No Agenda podcast yesterday. Apparently, there are some people who refer to PBS as the Petroleum Broadcasting System because of the high concentration of sponsorships from multinational oil and gas companies like Chevron, BP, and ExxonMobil.
The script to that episode can be read here:
The VHS tape on Amazon:
I’m a PBS fan and while they are supported by a lot of grants from oil companies I see no reason why they wouldn’t take money from Areva or Entergy. If Areva’s money was refused then we’d have a big smoking gun.
I did not say that PBS would not take money from Areva or Entergy. I am simply pointing out that they receive a substantial enough portion of their budget from petroleum companies to ensure that those companies have some influence. Even without direct threats, most decision makers are schooled in the principle of “do not bite the hand that provides most of your food.”
Point well taken. If you do bite the hand that feeds, they slap you with a lawsuit as Chevron did when PBS did a piece about their problems in Ecuador:
Jason – there was also a version of the IFR story told on a PBS program called New Explorers. I have a copy of that one.
Then you have a collector’s item because that one has been completely removed of any online presence.
Hmmm. There is probably something that can be done to solve that situation.
I uploaded that video on to youtube over a year ago.
Check my profile for related videos.
While at a previous assignment, I had the privilege of working with radiochemists from Idaho National Lab who did analysis of the fuel from IFR. We were improving our nation’s technical nuclear forensics capability.
I always thought Shell was a good company. For as long as I can remember, Shell advertisements provided good tips on saving gas.
I do have a problem with parasites who find fault with the producing class. The spelling police think that they contribute something to the world. Last night I fell down laughing. I brought home some work for my wife to proof read. She is also a wiz at spotting a number that is wrong. Since I had self checked, she did not find anything wrong. However, her red pen bled all over the first page. ‘Hun, the NRC wrote that part!’
RTFQ! When I started, I was directed to make a complex design change that would cost several million and create additional testing over the life of the plant. The NRC asked a question. In the process of writing change, I had to collect the data which would also answer the NRC question. As it turns out, the original design covers 90% of the source terms with a 100% design margin for the criteria. With an expensive change, the best I can do is 98%. Reading the question, the NRC did not ask for a design change, it asked for a more detailed answer. It becomes a trade off for ALARA. Reducing accident dose, increase maintenance exposure for routing testing.
@Kit P – I also have a problem with parasites who collect fabulous wealth based on extracting resources that were accumulated through hundreds of millions of years worth of natural processes on our shared planet and selling them back to all of the rest of the owners of those resources for a vastly inflated price.
@Kit P – by the way, spelling and correct word selection is often just as valuable as accurate math, correct unit conversion and selecting the appropriate assumptions to use when solving a problem.
Large scale hydro is getting harder and harder to do as the land requirements are huge and there are no more low hanging fruits. Their efficiency has long been demonstrated.
China has a few more targets in mind, but Burmania and adjacent countries are fighting those new plans thru international means as China will cut the water inflow of rivers into other countries.
Hydroelectric power is efficient, but the havoc it causes to the environment may not be worth it if other alternatives are available. Flooding, replacing wildlife and people, the amount of carbon dioxide released from acres upon acres of trees killed, and the increased risk of earthquakes are all issues brought on by large dams. Though I know you (Rod) and I both consider ourselves pro-nuke environmentalists, many environmentalists agree that constructing large dams is by far the worst form of energy creation in terms of its environmental impact. I understand some areas need electricity at the expense of the environment, but if other options are available, I would seriously consider them over building more dams. And the previous comment posted is correct, there are so few areas left to be dammed up, especially in the US.
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