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22 Comments

  1. Sounds like a tough idea to execute. NRC has pretty significant financial requirements. And the plant would need power sales contracts.

    How would the employees set all these things up AND continue to perform their day jobs at the same time?

    1. @Cragman

      Ownership does not necessarily imply day to day business management. If the employees are interested, arrangements can be made. The financial requirements could be covered, especially if the local and state government want to protect their interests in keeping the plant and its payroll on their books.

      The US has a long history of electrical cooperatives as well as employee owned companies.

    2. Presumably it would work like most other cooperatives. The employees elect a board amongst their membership who would be responsible for plant governance. The board would then hire plant managers (who serve at the pleasure of the board) to handle the day to day management of the plant.

  2. I’d love to see the Tennessee Valley Authority expand beyond the South by purchasing the Kewaunee power plant. The cost shouldn’t be too high and the TVA could get the funds to purchase the plant by selling some of their fossil fuel facilities to private industry. Plus the TVA, as a government agency, needs to set a good example for other utilities by gradually selling off its greenhouse gas polluting fossil fuel power plants in order finance the building of more nuclear and renewable energy facilities.

    But instead of using the 556 MWe power plant for domestic electricity production, I’d use the electricity for the production of methanol through water electrolysis and the extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere. Such a small facility would be perfect because of the low capital investment. And there are all types of new technologies emerging for the efficient extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere. Some technologies even use waste heat to recover the absorbed CO2.

    The carbon neutral methanol could then be used to provide peak load electricity from a methanol-air electric power plant or a methanol – oxygen (from the electrolysis plant) electric power plant. The methanol could also be simply converted into gasoline using the Mobile Oil MTG process and sold on the market as clean carbon neutral gasoline or as a clean fuel additive (mixing gasoline from fossil fuels with gasoline from carbon neutral methanol).

    But its really time for the commercial nuclear industry to finally start expanding beyond pure domestic electricity production and into synthetic fuel production. Of course, this might be a direct threat to the greenhouse gas polluting natural gas industry. But so what:-)

    Marcel F. Williams

    1. instead of using the 556 MWe power plant for domestic electricity production, I’d use the electricity for the production of methanol through water electrolysis and the extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.

      The production cost of this fuel would be well above today’s pump price of gasoline on a BTU-equivalent basis.  Who’s going to pay for this?

      Hitching nuclear power to uneconomic schemes just makes it look silly and impractical.

      1. “The production cost of this fuel would be well above today’s pump price of gasoline on a BTU-equivalent basis. Who’s going to pay for this? Hitching nuclear power to uneconomic schemes just makes it look silly and impractical.”

        Staying on a course where only a marginal number of nuclear power plants actually get built in the US over the next few decades is not a good idea. Continuing to use fossil fuels that are raising global sea levels, acidifying the oceans, and keeping the US dependent on foreign sources of fuel is what’s “silly and impractical”.

        The Los Alamos National Laboratory estimated the operating cost for a nuclear methanol facility at only about $0.65 per gallon and about $1.40/gal for synthetic gasoline. The Navy estimates that synfuel from floating nuclear power plants (including capital cost) would cost $3 to $6 per gallon.

        Its the high capital cost of– new nuclear power plants– that significantly raises the cost of producing methanol and gasoline above the current prices of methanol and gasoline from fossil fuels.

        Of course, fossil fuels are heavily subsidized by the Federal government (much more than nuclear energy) and the extremely deleterious effects on the environment are not even factored into the price of fossils fuels nor the cost of protecting Persian Gulf petroleum resources which is estimated to cost the tax payers about $30 billion to $70 billion a year.

        But the high capital cost of nuclear power plants is due to the low demand for new nuclear power plants.

        The new generation of small nuclear reactors, however, should significantly increase unit production while reducing cost. But completely replacing fossils fuels with synthetic fuels from small nuclear power plants would probably require more than ten thousand reactors. Over a 30 year period, that would require the production of hundreds of small nuclear reactors annually. That kind of demand should dramatically reduce the capital cost.

        IMO, the most logical way to replace the environmentally and economically deleterious fossil fuel economy is to gradually– but completely– replace fossil fuels with nuclear electricity and nuclear synfuels over a 30 to 40 year period.

        Marcel F. Williams

        JOURNAL OF RENEWABLE AND SUSTAINABLE ENERGY 4, 033111 (2012)

        The feasibility and current estimated capital costs of producing jet fuel at sea using carbon dioxide and hydrogen

        Heather D. Willauer, Dennis R. Hardy, Kenneth R. Schultz, and Frederick W. Williams

        GREEN FREEDOM™

        A Concept for Producing Carbon-Neutral Synthetic Fuels and Chemicals

        F. Jeffrey Martin, William L. Kubic

        Los Alamos National Laboratory

        1. “The production cost of this fuel would be well above today’s pump price of gasoline on a BTU-equivalent basis. Who’s going to pay for this? Hitching nuclear power to uneconomic schemes just makes it look silly and impractical.”

          Staying on a course where only a marginal number of nuclear power plants actually get built in the US over the next few decades is not a good idea.

          This is what is known as a “non-sequitur”.  However true, it does not follow that Kewaunee would best be converted to producing synthetic motor fuel.  Converting 550 MW to gasoline at 25% efficiency would produce a mere 2300 barrels/day; US gasoline consumption is on the order of 9 MILLION bbl/d.  Anyone proposing to build another 4000 Kewaunees to make gasoline would be laughed out of the room, and deserves to be.

          the high capital cost of nuclear power plants is due to the low demand for new nuclear power plants.

          Not true; the capital cost of nuclear plants exploded during the construction boom of the 1970’s, leading quite directly to the end of that boom.  The problem was the capricious and abusive nature of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which could and did take actions which drove up costs with only lip service paid to its statutory mission of safety (and zero regard to the unsafe conditions perpetuated by the fossil fuel plants used instead of nuclear).

          completely replacing fossils fuels with synthetic fuels from small nuclear power plants would probably require more than ten thousand reactors.

          Using nuclear energy to synthesize liquid fuels for the same old internal combustion engines just perpetuates their inefficiency and pollution.  This is insane.

          I have calculated that the actual crankshaft power provided by liquid motor fuels in the USA is on the order of 180 GW, or a mere 1000 mPower reactors (164 AP-1000’s).  The bulk of this energy could be provided directly to vehicles, via batteries, overhead wires or capacitive coupling from electrodes embedded in asphalt pavement.  Providing some small portion via liquid fuels produced with off-peak power might make sense, but those fuels are always going to be costly and undesirable as a consequence.

          1. The nuclear industry has been dreaming about producing synfuels from nuclear power for decades.The purpose of converting an existing small nuclear power plant into a synthetic fuel plant– instead of allowing it simply to die, is to demonstrate that synthetic fuels can be produced from nuclear power.

            Its an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted, IMO.

            Large non standardized nuclear power units will never be as cheap and easy to build as small, standardized, and serially mass produced small reactors.

            And as I pointed out before, its going to require building over ten thousand small nuclear plants over several decades in order to replace fossil fuels. So its not going to happen overnight. And such nuclear reactors will probably be the new generation of small land and possibly ocean nuclear reactors that could start being produced in the 2020’s. The Russians will start deploying their small floating reactors before the end of the decade.

            The future automobiles that will be using synfuels 20 or 30 years from now are likely to be similar to the plug-in-hybrid cars that already exist. Such vehicles can tolerate the cost extremely high priced gasoline. Plug-in-hybrids will probably be the dominate means of private domestic transportation a decade or two from now, IMO.

            So 20 or 30 years from now, plug-in-hybrids could use cheap nuclear electricity plus more expensive nuclear gasoline or methanol to travel from point A to point B probably less expensively than we do today (thanks to the cheap nuclear electricity) but without polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases or importing foreign fuels.

            And cheap nuclear electricity should also mitigate the substantially higher price of nuclear produced methanol for electricity utilized for peak load power (replacing greenhouse gas polluting natural gas) or during events when a regional nuclear facility may have to be shut down for several hours or several days.

            Marcel F. Williams

          2. The nuclear industry has been dreaming about producing synfuels from nuclear power for decades.

            It does not follow that a smallish PWR is the way to make this dream come true.  The dream has usually involved schemes like thermochemical (not electrolytic) production of hydrogen, which requires temperatures far beyond the capabilities of a reactor cooled by water.  If you want to use electrolysis, you are probably better off trying to exploit excess wind power in neighboring Iowa.  You can demonstrate that with a plant a thousandth the size, too.

            The purpose of converting an existing small nuclear power plant into a synthetic fuel plant– instead of allowing it simply to die, is to demonstrate that synthetic fuels can be produced from nuclear power.

            There are much better ways to do it.  For instance, nuclear-heated water could be used for dilute acid hydrolysis of lignocellulose to sugars for fermentation.  Low-pressure steam tapped off the turbines would be perfect for driving column stills.  If you captured the CO2 from fermentation, the fuel could be carbon-negative.  The energy balance would be much better and you’d have electricity as a co-product.

            as I pointed out before, its going to require building over ten thousand small nuclear plants over several decades in order to replace fossil fuels. So its not going to happen overnight.

            If you throw up barriers in the form of expensive and lossy conversion steps to support legacy systems that should be re-worked or abandoned instead, it’s probably not going to happen at all.

            At likely synthesis efficiencies, it would require on the order of 10,000 mPower reactors just to supply 9 million bbl/d of gasoline.  This still leaves some 11 million bbl/d of other petroleum fuel demand unmet, plus the replacement for 30 quads of natural gas, plus another 30 quads to replace coal.  If you don’t get the feeling that this is a way to go nowhere fast, you’re not good with numbers.

            You’re right that the way forward starts with PHEVs.  What you don’t see is how much fuel demand this displaces, and how other inputs are preferable to CO2, water and electricity.

          3. Look at the cost of the first commercial NPP’s in the USA – $60 million Turn Key. Are any of the $2 Billion + plants any safer? are they 30 Times safer? I don’t thinks so. And, as the aim of the NRC was safety of the public, why have we gone well beyond the point of diminishing returns in terms of safety when NO member of the public has been harmed by any of the earliest plants built? [The public has been harmed by media hype and the anxiety caused by the resulting FUD though.]

  3. Thanks for the call-out, Rod.

    I’m a little confused though, as to how this would work. According to their management, the plant is losing money (~$50 million?) every year, at current market prices. Whoever it’s owned by (employees, etc..), it would still do so, right? How would they balance the books? Would the employees volunteer to take pay cuts for a few years, based on the promise of profit later?

    There may be a way to do this, but my view (expressed in my post) is that what’s really needed is to find a way to reduce operating costs, or a way to make it easier to mothball a nuke and then reopen it.

    1. Re: “… or a way to make it easier to mothball a nuke and then reopen it.”

      Yea, if it came down to the lady or the tiger, I’d rather mothball than scrap these plants for an acid rainy day.

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

  4. @Jim Hopf

    If you read my post carefully, you would have seen that I am proposing exactly that – reduced or deferred compensation in exchange for equity ownership. As mentioned, other operating cost reductions can come from cooperative relations with local governments.

    I’m not in favor of mothballing. That does nothing to further my priorities of good, stable jobs in a facility that produces a valuable product – emission free electricity.

  5. Rod Adams said
    “If the Kewaunee employees are interested, I would be willing to back up my words with a five figure check.”

    Rod Adams really is the lion of fission nuclear
    (but I hope he also consults his wonderful wife before putting up the family’s grocery money).

    1. @Robert Steinhaus

      My interest would not put “grocery money” at risk. It would come out of the portion of my savings that is already designated for moderate risk, high potential return investments. I may be a “lion” but I am also a reasonably successful investor with a host of strategies that work well for me.

  6. I wonder if the people who own Fort Calhoun would forget about that plant that needs a lot of parts and buy Kewaunee instead. While the electricity would be in the “wrong” area, could they not then buy electricity on the “open market” but have their money go to Kewaunee. I am not sure if I am wording this right but the idea that all electricity goes into one “pool” I think is what I am trying to get across. It sounds like Kewaunee is in better condition than Fort Calhoun is, it might be more economical to buy a facility that has no trouble and needs no repairs.

  7. This documents quite clearly explains what is happening currently with nuclear in several parts of the United States :
    http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-11/nuclear-industry-withers-in-u-s-as-wind-pummels-prices-energy.html

    It seems that the gas moguls plan of killing base load power generation using wind turbines is taking off quite nicely at least in the midwest. This strongly contrasts with Europe, where it instead almost completely failed, natural gas being expensive enough that their turbine are at a real bad position in the merit order and just get expelled from the market constantly, ending up not running enough during the year to cover fixed costs.

    There’s a few things that I wonder. Why is the nuclear production not all sold on long-term contracts ? In Europe when reading RWE reports, you can see that a good part of their power is sold two years in advance. Negative price is much less of a concern when that is the case.

    Also, the easiest solution I think would be to get coal plants mothballed, not nuclear one dismantled. As operating cost of coal are significantly higher, one would not expect to see the second one until every single coal plant has been dismantled.
    I fear the trouble is because of the regulating cost of the NRC, the break even point between coal and nuclear is much less clear and at least small nuclear units end up costing more to operate than coal ones. Also a coal plant can delay some costly repairs a few years, whilst that’s strictly impossible for a nuclear one.

  8. “At likely synthesis efficiencies, it would require on the order of 10,000 mPower reactors just to supply 9 million bbl/d of gasoline. This still leaves some 11 million bbl/d of other petroleum fuel demand unmet, plus the replacement for 30 quads of natural gas, plus another 30 quads to replace coal. If you don’t get the feeling that this is a way to go nowhere fast, you’re not good with numbers.”

    Building tens of thousands on nuclear power plants for electricity production and for synfuel production over the next few decades would have an enormous– positive– impact for the US economy, job creation, and for the environment. So building more nuclear power plants in order to get the job done is a good thing. Its not a negative!

    But I suspect that it will be the mass production of small terrestrial reactors in combination with the mass production of small ocean based reactors (for the production of synfuels) that will finally get the job done of moving America completely away from the fossil fuel economy.

    The domestic use of natural gas for heating and cooking can be replaced by the production of more nuclear electricity. The use of natural gas for the production of fertilizer can also be replaced by nuclear energy. In fact, the production of ammonia through the nuclear production of hydrogen and the extraction of nitrogen from the atmosphere is probably even more economically viable than synfuel production.

    Marcel F. Williams

    1. Building tens of thousands on nuclear power plants for electricity production and for synfuel production over the next few decades would have an enormous– positive– impact for the US economy, job creation, and for the environment.

      Building one tenth as many to accomplish the same goals would be better for job creation and the economy (less money and effort diverted from things people use directly), and also the environment (less material mined, shaped and transported).

      So building more nuclear power plants in order to get the job done is a good thing. Its not a negative!

      That’s the “broken windows” theory of economic activity, and it’s wrong.  If you change nuclear to oil drilling, it’s easy to see how wrong:  if you used ten times as many man-hours to get a barrel of oil you wouldn’t improve the economy, you’d make oil and everything that uses it unaffordable.

      Unless you can get thermochemical processes working at industrial scale, nuclear power will make electricity and electricity is best used directly.  The median daily commute is 22 miles, so a plug-in hybrid with a 10-mile battery (PHEV-10) charged twice a day could eliminate commuting fuel demand for nearly half the working population.  Using electricity to pre-heat, pre-cool and pre-defrost cars before trips could cut more fuel demand across the fleet, even for conventional drivetrains.  If you can do that with 200 GW of new reactors, you can apply the rest to other problems instead of creating new ones by trying to synthesize gasoline.

      Figure 400 GW(e) or thereabouts to de-carbonize most of current electric production, plus another 200 GW(e) to displace petroleum via battery vehicles.  At $4000/kW(e) the price tag would be $2.4 trillion, or about 7.5 years of just crude oil imports at $100/bbl.  If it also displaced the natural gas used for electric-only plants, 6.44 tcf/y @ $8/mcf = $51.5 billion/year would be saved, about $2 trillion over the initial 40-year licenses for the plants.

      the production of ammonia through the nuclear production of hydrogen and the extraction of nitrogen from the atmosphere is probably even more economically viable than synfuel production.

      The Stranded Wind project is working on direct electrolytic synthesis of ammonia from water and nitrogen.

  9. Keep in mind that there is a pre-funded decommissioning trust that will earn money as long as it is not spent, with the excess possibly going to consumers. Delayed decommissioning, because of continued utilization or otherwise, may result in return of more funds to consumers becasue of increased earnings on the funds, and also the technology options for decommissioning and disposal may become cheaper in the future. See citizens’ pending lawsuit for protection of Zion nuclear decommsissioning trust fund in federal court in Chicago.

  10. Interesting blog! If this is happening to Kewaunee, Point Beach can’t be far behind. This may draw more interest in finding a solution if all three plants were addressed in a packaged regional re-industrialization plan.

    One solution may be to find a high power consuming industry like electric steel mill furnaces that could operate at full power off peak and then reduce way back during peak hours. This would leave more power available at peak load. Peak power usually fetches twice the market price than off peak power. This may help the financial side of this problem. The only problem is finding the money for both the steel mill and the nuclear plants.

    T

  11. Jim Hopf stated that the plant is losing 50 million a year. So you need to find 50 million. A few years back the ill fated NMC was trying to make Kewaunee and Point Beach into a three unit site. They are only about 3 miles apart or so. It wasn’t a bad idea, but the entrenched cultures of both plants kind of put the kibosh to it. Well, Kewaunee is definitely hurting. Could this idea be revived? Could combining common needs such as training, specialized maintenance, outage support, etc. save both plants money? Well,…..common sense says,….yeh. This could be a chunk of that 50 million.

    I wonder how hard they tried to market this plant to Nextera who owns Point Beach. I wonder if anyone has tried to form a consortium to keep this plant open. There is no reason the plant has to be owned by a single entity. A lot of power plants have multiple owners. I think this one would be ripe for a unique public / private partnership. A “big boy” could buy the lion’s share and run it. The difference could be made up by selling shares. People would know that they won’t make money for a few years until electric growth comes up and natural gas prices go up. They’d have to ignore the short term thinking of the Wall Street gangsters.

    A partnership could allow partial employee ownership. What better motivation could there be for a well run plant than to have employees have a piece of it?

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