Mark Cooper, of the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment, apparently subscribes to the Al Gore theory that nuclear power plants come in only one size – extra large. In the above video clip titled The Economics of Nuclear Reactors from CleanSkies.com, dated July 17, 2009, he explains why he does not like the assumption that plant construction costs may come down with increased experience. Though I do not like much of what he says, his comments about the difficulty and risks of very large projects provide some valid reasons to think hard about ways to mitigate the diseconomies of scale.
If given the opportunity to have a conversation with Mr. Cooper, I would ask him if his opinions would change if project sizes were reduced, if manufactured plants entered the market as an option, and if he would be willing to put some numbers on his assertion that customers have only been able to justify their decision to purchase nuclear power plants by using “really stiff price” on carbon. I would challenge his assertion that a stiff price on carbon benefits wind just as much as it does nuclear as an option to replace reliable fossil fired generation.
His assertion that energy conservation will make new nuclear plant unnecessary does not make sense. His description of demand growth projections indicates that conservation will halt the increase in demand, but the question should be whether it is best to meet the remaining demand with electricity produced by new nuclear power plants or with electricity produced by continuing to burn fossil fuels in generating stations at our current rate of 1.2 BILLION tons of coal plus 6.7 TRILLION cubic feet of natural gas each year.
The recession driven reduction in predicted future peak demand between 2007 and 2009 may be only a temporary blip in the long term trend of increasing electrical power consumption. America’s population continues to increase and we continue to find new ways to use electricity to do work and make our lives richer. Fossil fuel consumption numbers for electricity production will steadily increase if we follow Mark Cooper’s advice now and decide that nuclear power is just too difficult to tackle. His described challenges are very real, but they should be addressed and solved rather than avoided.