I am getting increasingly frustrated by the cowering and covering attitude of the people in leadership positions within what is sometimes called “the nuclear industry.” Please understand that I am NOT talking about covering up in the sense of hiding bad information, I am talking about the kind of covering done in a boxing ring by someone who is afraid of throwing a few hard punches.
Ever since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami killed more than 20,000 people and wiped out a vast swath of infrastructure on east coast of Japan that just happened to include a few nuclear plants, the antinuclear attack dogs have been invigorated. They are seizing every opportunity to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about the only energy technology that can push fossil fuel out of any markets.
In response, the US nuclear industry decision makers continue to focus their meager advertising and public outreach resources inside the Washington DC beltway. They repeatedly refuse to recognize that they have no friends in the fossil fuel industry. Because they mistakenly believe that the fossil fuel industry is their ally, they refuse to honestly and vocally compare the quality and cost of nuclear generated electricity against the competition.
The natural gas industry should not be allowed to call itself “clean” without some rebuttal. Why be proud of producing half of the CO2 of coal when a nuclear plant produces NONE of the CO2, NONE of the SOx, NONE of the fine particulate, and NONE of NOx? The natural gas industry should also not be allowed to get away with calling their 95 year fuel supply (at current consumption rates) “abundant”, or their $4.50 per million BTU fuel source “cheap”. (Note: The “all in” cost of commercial nuclear fuel is about $0.60 cents per million BTU, including an allowance for disposal.)
Nuclear plants might be getting older every year (aren’t we all), and they might have some equipment repairs that need to be done, but anyone who has ever toured a nuclear plant will rapidly find out that the repairs are completed, that the plants are as lovingly cared for as a vintage automobile kept for show, and that the employees are skillful mechanics, pipefitters and electricians who are proud of the work that they do to keep that plant in top condition. In contrast, there are thousands of miles of only occasionally maintained buried pipelines that date back to the World War II effort to move fuel without having tankers sunk by German U-boats.
One more thing – the nuclear industry may not have an approved final resting place for its tiny volume of waste material, but the coal, oil and gas industry have found a place for theirs. They simply dump it – constantly and in incredibly large quantities – into our common atmosphere and into huge hills and ponds on the site of fossil fuel power plants.
Why doesn’t the nuclear industry leadership recognize the opportunity being provided by Cuomo’s recent admission that he wants to replace the output of the Indian Point Nuclear station with much more expensive and polluting natural gas, some of which will be produce by forcibly injecting a chemical concoction into the ground that is far more dangerous than the lightly tritiated water that occasionally seeps into the ground under nuclear power plants from cracks in low pressure piping?
I cannot generalize about nuclear industry actions outside the US, but my impression of the German nuclear industry leaders is that they have rolled over and told the government that as long as they are compensated, they will not fight the forced retirement orders too hard.
When I point out how the oil&gas industry is overselling its ability to sustainably supply low cost gas, with almost certain plans to profit when the price inevitably rises, I attract commenters who defend the gas industry. Surprisingly enough, many of those commenters tell me that they are employed in the nuclear energy industry.
Here is an example exchange that you can find in the Atomic Insights comment threads. Ed F is responding to the story titled Fracking – energy revolution or skillfully marketed mirage?
June 30, 2011 | 3:22 PM
Careful about biting on this story too hard. Although they work for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Chris Tucker and Jeff Eshelman (Energy in Depth) do a pretty good job pointing out how the author of the NYT articles, Ian Urbina, really cherry-picks his facts and sources. This is exactly what Jeff Donn, the author of the AP hatchet job on nuclear, did.
Here is how I responded.
Aside: I must admit something here. When I was the Engineer Officer on a submarine, I earned the nickname of “the after gyro”. That requires a little explanation – the power plant for a submarine is in the “after” part of the ship. Gyrocompasses are devices that spin very rapidly. In the lingo of submarine sailors, someone who visibly displays anger is someone who “spins up”. In other words – I sometimes get angry if there is a good reason. End Aside.
July 1, 2011 | 3:50 AM
I am not “biting” too hard on Urbina’s articles. You can do some searching on Atomic Insights to find that I have been beating the drum about the mirage of the hydrofracking induced gas bubble for several years.
The facts are that the industry is temporarily able to produce gas at a relatively low cost because it is not being required to clean up after itself. Any 10 year old can tell you that it is a lot easier (cheaper) to do any task if you can walk away without cleaning up.
That cheaply produced gas is being used to hypnotize short sighted, quarterly earnings focused executives into putting nuclear building plans on hold so that the oil&gas industry can capture market share in the electrical power generation industry.
They like selling gas to power producers because they are price insensitive customers. If gas companies sell to fertilizer manufacturers and the price gets too high, the fertilizer manufacturer has a couple of choices not open to electricity suppliers. They can simply shut their doors for a while and wait for prices to come down. They can move production to a place with lower raw material costs.
The big story is that even a massive fracking campaign cannot last very long. The TOTAL of proven, probable, possible and speculative natural gas resources in the US was found to be about 2170 trillion cubic feet as of the end of 2010 by the industry-sponsored Potential Gas Committee. http://www.potentialgas.org/
We use 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas every year ALREADY. Even if we do not increase our consumption, the very last puff will be gone within the possible life expectancy of my already extant granddaughter. Americans are being sold a bill of goods, sponsored by the multinational oil&gas companies and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
The nuclear industry leaders are wimps that need to get some gumption and fight back.
I am pretty certain that the multinational oil&gas industry that is investing a tiny portion of its capital into US shale gas production can do the simple math of dividing 2170 trillion cubic feet by 23 trillion cubic feet per year to realize that the supply would be completely gone in less than 95 years and that the easy parts of that resource base will be gone far sooner than that. They KNOW that they have a ready and waiting alternative called Liquified Natural Gas that they can sell as long as they can effectively prevent the construction of new nuclear power plants and as long as they can force as many existing nuclear power plants as possible into early retirement.
The oil&gas industry has a marketing strategy that is nothing like a criminal conspiracy. That still does not mean that it is a plan that is good for American consumers or for any American business that is not the business of selling imported petroleum products – often sourced from dictatorships that officially discriminate against at least half of their population – to addicted consumers.
European Energy Review (June 27, 2011) Angela’s message to the energy sector
The Merkel government’s nuclear U-turn, argues EER’s editor Karel Beckman, is a game-changer for the energy sector. It shows that in today’s political climate public opinion counts more than anything else. This has profound implications for the industry: energy companies will have to come out of the corridors of power and start engaging the public directly.