Professional Anti-Nuclear Analysts Deny the Existence of a Nuclear Revival
This morning, my automatic alerts let me know that there was a new video clip that I should watch about the future of nuclear energy.
I think some of you might be interested in watching it as well. The video below is the afternoon edition of the Energy Report for December 16, 2009 from Clean Skies News. There is a segment in the show starting at 7:26 that casts doubts on the future of nuclear energy in the United States. The reporter mentioned that there were three “experts” who had done some research and held a press conference. During the report, I heard two familiar names, Mark Cooper and Steven Thomas.
To learn more about the background of the story, which I assumed was based on a Washington, DC press conference, I did a Google News search for “thomas cooper nuclear renaissance”; the search provided a single result. That link was to a site with the interestingly titled International Yacht Vacations and Charters which had faithfully reproduced a PRwire press release titled Experts: Three Latest Industry Setbacks Further Dim Nuclear ‘Renaissance,’ Taxpayer-Backed Loan Guarantees Can’t Fix Fundamental Problems With New Reactors.
The apparent motivation for the press conference and press release was the imminent announcement by the Department of Energy that it was ready to award the first loan guarantee for a new nuclear power plant under a congressionally directed law first established in August of 2005. (There is nothing like prompt bureaucratic action in response to direction from our elected representatives.)
The organized anti-nuclear (pro fossil fuel) opposition recognizes that the numerous imposed delays in the loan guarantee program are just about over. Several strong projects are ready to proceed at in Georgia, Maryland and Texas as soon as the Department of Energy makes its announcement of the selections. (In fact, the project in Georgia has a running start already.) As part of their effort to fight a rear guard delaying action that is aimed at adding cost and slowing market impact from new supplies of low marginal cost electricity, the anti-nuclear industry held a press conference with three of their stalwart “analysts” describing why we should believe them when they claim that there is no renaissance.
The three self-titled “experts” on the nuclear industry included Mark Cooper, author of “The Economics of Nuclear Reactors: Renaissance or Relapse?” (2009); Stephen Thomas, (a guy who has worked for several years to convince South Africans to stop developing the PBMR); and Dr. Arjun Makhijani, author of Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy (2007).
These professional anti-nuclear activists are entitled to their opinion, and they are working hard to turn their minority opinion into something as close to fact as possible, but my research indicates that they are simply wrong. The building process envisioned in 2005 has been slowed due to economic conditions, but there is little doubt that progress is happening, jobs are being created and reliable, emission-free power will start flowing. It is not going to be easy, but it is time to prove that Cooper, Thomas and Makhijani are deniers who cannot see the reality that is happening as they speak and write.
Sometime taking a stand like their’s is counterproductive. They are not going to get the masses worked up if they imply that the sector is already dead in the water. Frankly it looks to me like they are trying to reassure themselves that nothing is happening.
The whole movement is becoming impotent. Twenty years ago they would have had Vermont Yankee closed and being dismantled with the level of effort they have been making, and still it looks like the plant may dodge the bullet. They just ain’t what they used to be.
the green groups keep pushing the idea that nuclear “doesn’t work” and was only a failed experiment that costs zillions to decomission now etc…. All the while their own suggested “solutions” of wind turbines & solar are the real failed experiment and will become white elephants once the subsidies stop flowing. Out of this smokescreen of chaos, of discouraging what works and encouraging what doesn’t, will then come the “solution” of sudden, “surprising” oil and gas discoveries, that can “temporarily” supply us while we research to find a new clean energy source (which is never going to happen as long as nuclear is ignored).
Wind’s a scam and a good one too. Even the Sicilian mob is in on it.
Note that Sicily is “the birthplace of wind energy in Italy.” Is anyone surprised? There’s big money to be made conning the EU out of subsidy money.
Thanks for all the news collection and commentary work you are doing.
Clean Skys: foggy thinking.
Same old, same old.
Nothing to move me to take my web site down.
To add some more info to the news release that I ran across.
The press conference was held in part by The Hastings Group, PR Newswire and the Physicians for Social Responsibility.
So, two PR firms and a group that advocates nuclear power leads to nuclear weapons through their Safe Energy program are the primary sponsors of more anti-nuclear spin. Additionally this goes back to the infamous Vermont Law School through Mark Cooper as well as Peter Bradford who has an article in the latest Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decrying the nuclear renaissance. In other words, the usual cabal of people who make a living by promoting fear and misinformation about the nuclear industry.
This is just another attempt to create a smokescreen trying to divert attention from the direct subsidies to ?green? energy equipment timed to meet the Copenhagen conference.
My question as always at times like this revolves around the money. Where is the real money coming from to supports these groups? People donating $50-100 a year to support groups such as the PSR does not cover the lease for offices and support staff on Connecticut Ave in Washington DC.
So…did anyone notice the huge amount of analog recorders and indicators in the control room? I’m told nuclear was very reluctant to go to digital technology and this is reflected in the mass amount of Yokigowa recorders and multi-point indicators, probably run pneumatically on instrument air. Also hand-auto stations of the Baily control type.
Most modern control rooms have *everything* on screens, from controls to indications.
Just sort of interesting.
As always a VERY enlightening blog by Rod.
Did anyone else notice the reporter made an error by calling the AP1000, the “AP100”? This is not a big deal in itself necessarily, but I think it’s an indicator that a lot of these Clean Skies reporters are nothing more than talking heads hired to look good in front of the camera. They really have no in depth knowledge of the subject matter, yet they probably consider themselves to be well versed on energy matters just by virtue of their job. This “quick study” mentality plagues all energy issues, especially nuclear. In my view, if everyone had a more comprehensive understanding of nuclear and energy, then opposition to nuclear would be more rare. As it is now, there is a tendency to want to find things wrong with nuclear rather than solve the problems to make it better.
The two primary aims of nuclear power in the `40s and `50s were inexhaustible energy i.e. breeding, and economically competitive electricity, both of which have been demonstrated. What has not been demonstrated is a large-scale breeder reactor that’s cheap. The largest breeder, the French 1200MW Super-Phenix, was too expensive. Nearly all nuclear plants planned or proposed around the world are light water reactors that rely upon finite quantities of uranium which may peak within 10 years, just like oil & natural gas, and coal not long after. Super-Phenix has placed a cap on the cost of electricity for many future generations, if not for millennia… and this cap is surely less than twice current costs of electricity. Whether or not solar or fusion derived electricity shall match this, and eventually displace the breeder, remains to be seen. Indeed, the fast-breeder reactor may well be all that stands between what we identify as civilization and its alternatives. Will a future world of no less than 10,000 breeders be able to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium safely without cause of proliferation? Will battery technology improve enough to allow for electric cars? Will the public, fearful of reactor operator error, fight tooth and nail against the creation of a nuclear-powered world over the next couple of decades even as fossil fuels and uranium run short and economies continue to crumble? Only time will tell.
Uranium is one of the commonest elements in the earth’s crust. In the US many high-grade veins remain untapped, since virtually no mining is done here. Another source of reactor fuel: thorium. We have enough uranium and thorium to run thousands of reactors for thousands of years. Another source of fuel: mixed oxides from weapons stockpiles.
I am reading your book, “Our Choice”. I do not understand why you do not back up your claims about nuclear and other resources with citations from science-based, peer-reviewed sources.
I do not understand why you rely on Amory Lovins for your information about nuclear power. His facts, figures, and claims have been repeatedly debunked by actual experts rather than pretend ones. As David Bradish has amply demonstrated, Lovins distorts information to suit his zealous attack on nuclear power. This position has helped pave the way for the past thirty years for more and more fossil-fuel combustion–exactly the industry you say must give way to clean-energy providers.
I am also puzzled about why you do not mention in your new book or in your comments on the nuclear industry that US nuclear power provides over 70% of our greenhouse-gas-free electricity. Worldwide it is responsible for about half of GHG-free electricity. Without nuclear power we would be in a much more catastrophic climate situation than we are.
Lastly, I doubt that you are VP Al Gore because you would never take the time to read Rod Adams’ excellent, science-based blog, which is dedicated to clearing up exactly the misconceptions you express.
If that’s really Al Gore or someone else channeling his thoughts, then hopefully some readers on this blog may be able to educate you.
Solar will never be able to power our civilization, no matter how cheap or efficient it becomes. Fusion, if it ever comes to be, will most likely be a fission-fusion hybrid, but then what would be the point, in short, it’s not going to happen. I’ve bitten the bait enough for this one.
Al – you ever hear of a light water breeder reactor produced by simply replacing the core of a normal light water reactor with one that is more carefully designed for better fuel utilization?
How about the IFR, which demonstrated passive safety? What about the 4S, a small breeder that will last for 30 years without new fuel? How about the Traveling Wave Reactor, one that uses well understood principles to provide long life using what is now considered to be “spent” fuel as part of the fuel load. Ever hear of the DUPIC cycle that takes takes the “spent” fuel from Light Water Reactors and gets another cycle out of it in CANDU type heavy reactors without any chemical reprocessing?
There are so many ways to make better use of existing fuel sources and also so much uranium and thorium in the world as to render your scenario meaningless.
Sure, some one of a kind breeder programs have been really expensive for the amount of power that they produced. One of a kind concept cars are also very expensive for the amount of passenger miles that they deliver. The key to economic production is series PRODUCTION, not experimentation.
First, the end of uranium is nowhere near. There are vast quantities of lower grade uranium ore which can be extracted if the price goes up. The EROEI on uranium extracted from seawater is still positive. Second, we can add thorium into our fuel, and breed it into uranium – there’s much more thorium than uranium, and it’s all potential fuel. Third, reprocessing of existing fuel can be done, and the worthwhile remnants of uranium can be recovered, as well as the mixed oxides. Fourth, in-core neutronics can be altered to emphasize deep burns of fuel in reactors. Fast reactors will not be a necessity for perhaps several hundred years, though limited scale ones, like the LFTR, the Hyperion, and the 4S will be common well before then.
I doubt that the general public will fight against a nuclear powered world. The previous fight was caused by those who grew up in the era of atomic testing and the Cuban Missile Crisis coming of age and fallaciously connecting atomic bombs with nuclear power (kind of like saying “Napalm is evil and must be banned. Napalm is made of gasoline. Therefore gasoline is evil and must be banned too.”)
As for proliferation, we are all moral agents. We are responsible for the choices that we make or fail to make and for the world that these choices creates. If we do not want atomic bombs, then it is up to us to ensure that people choose not to acquire atomic bombs, while working to dismantle the excess ones we have, and in good time, all of them. Genies cannot be put back into bottles, but they only grant what wishes we ask them for. If we wish dark things, we get evil, while if we wish for a power to save the world, we get good things. The good or the evil that comes of our wishes is for us to bear, and is our product. There is nothing defective with uranium, no inherent evil in plutonium, no wickedness in thorium that makes it dangerous to man. It is men, not these elements, who are dangerous; it is men, not these elements, that are defective.
It is possible for men to do good with these elements too. Yes we can, as the Good Book says, beat swords into plowshares, taking atomic bombs, and using them to power cities rather than threatening and burning them. Yes we can, establish international control over enrichment and reprocessing, to ensure that the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology are shared by all mankind, while preventing the world’s most dangerous states from gaining access to weapons material. Yes we can, use nuclear power to make a better, more peaceful world where nuclear technology can flourish, and mankind with it.
And I have hope. Hope overcomes all obstacles, transcends all boundaries, surpasses all limitations, washes away all nightmares, the hope of a power to save the world from carbon meltdown. And I hope that America will feel that righteous wind upon our back, discard our nightmares, set our dreams high, and our goals higher, and get going to build our bright shining future.
@Al, i’m tired (VERY tired) of hearing the “peak uranium”, “peak energy”, “peak anything” theories, that can for the most part be traced back to the green groups and environmental gurus. For dummies: In a free market system it works like this: there is demand and supply. If supplies get short with unchanged demand, prices rise, and as prices rise, production is encouraged. That means that unless the demand slows due to higher prices (unlikely since nuclear power needs only little fuel), production will simply speed up to the point until demand is met. Should there really be such scarce supplies of uranium (and boy did the media hammer this one about oil for decades… we were supposed to run out of oil 10 years ago…), then with unchanged demand it means production can continue to rise (and NOT peak) until the last ounce of uranium on earth is exploited, and then drop abruptly to zero. A “production peak” is a scare right out of USSR style central planning, where central planners direct manpower and resources (for uranium exploration and mining) independent of supply and demand.
I have to disagree. Markets work reasonably well, but physical effort gets in the way of ever rising RATES of production. When you have exploited all of the easy to reach resources and have to start working harder to find and extract each unit of a resource than you did for the previous units, the rate of production for a given effort slows down. Sure, you can increase the resources invested as prices rise, but there are limits. It is pretty ridiculous to suggest that the rate of production will continue to increase until the very last unit is captured.
Peak oil means the peak in the rate of annual production. By many measures, we are there now on a global basis, and there are many countries – including the US – that reached and passed their local peaks decades ago.
On the other hand, peak uranium or peak thorium are both sometime in the distant millennia.
The point is we don’t have to worry about peaks in a free market system, only about prices. If someone warns that uranium prices are going to skyrocket in x years then that’s a legitimate concern, but peak production will happen exactly at the point where there is “peak demand”, no sooner. Peak oil claims that we will “run out of oil”, implying 1970ies style rationing, but in reality the prices will go up to a point where manufacturers and consumers will automatically switch to other substances/energy sources for their needs. If prices rise sufficiently, entrepreneurs will start producing synthetic replacements for oil (via other energy sources) and so on. Nobody of the “peak oil crowd” ever points out that there is nothing to worry about, unless the government is abandoning free market principles and centrally planning like a drunken bus driver that drives everybody over the cliff.
One more thing: I noticed the peak-oil promoting websites have recently shifted their strategy slightly: since oil doesn’t seem to run out, and on the other hand electric/plugin-hybrid cars are being introduced, their message of “cutting back our lifestyles” and having to shift to automobile-less, vegetarian “low energy” lifestyles, and the alleged need for depopulation, is in trouble. Smart as they are, they are now warning “peak energy” is coming, and basically claim that ALL resources that are used for energy production are running out, so “inevitably” the production will peak, and inevitably our cars and factories will run out of energy.
The talk about coming “peaks” is turning something that was no more than a “statistic” into a “plan” and that is the essence of communist central planning.
Supply and demand works only up to the point and it only works when there is no bureaucratic interference. Take nuclear power as an example:
There is need for electricity and nuclear industry could supply that demand, however, the bureaucratic interference is so huge it is impossible for business to operate in such hostile political climate, hence the demand can’t be met by clean nuclear power. For this reason fossil fuels are burned instead. It is no secret that fossil fuel industry creates anti nuclear political climate to make sure that nuclear power does not meet all electrical demand. Fossil fuel industry support anti nuclear activists because they play the cards in their favor.
You are wrong when you think there is no peak for anything. There is peak for many resources that will be irreplaceable, therefore, we will be forced to look for substitutes. Fortunately, nuclear fuel, thorium and uranium, does not face the peak anytime soon. Unique ability to breed nuclear fuel as you go without expending additional energy does not exist in any other energy scenario. Oil producers would wish they could breed oil into limitless supply! Oil can be made synthetic, however it needs some carbon feedstock, coal, natural gas, bitumen or biomass, and it needs massive amount of extremely reliable energy to drive the process. The only practical power for synthetic fuel production is nuclear power.
So, no matter how you look at things, it always boils down to nuclear power as our best chance to drive future civilization.
Old timer power engineers did realize this fact half a century ago, hence there was a genuine effort to build nuclear power capacity to supply power for all sort of industry, including synthetic fuel manufacture. Their effort was sabotaged by insane politics driven by anti nuclear activists. As a result, today we have Copenhagen madness and other insane political schemes trying to get out of the crap our self proclaimed anti nuclear environmentalists put us in.
I am one of those old timer power engineers and if the situation today would not be so serious I would have to laugh at the present day energy circus unfolding in front of us. A large portion of the new energy schemes, and the political support of it is so stupid that I have a hard time not to explode in laughter.
Nuclear spent fuel is not referred to as “spent fuel” in general public, it is referred to as “Dangerous Nuclear Waste” with no place to go.
Most people are so ignorant, not knowing it is actually extremely important fuel for powering the future. Anyone saying that spent fuel is nuclear waste have nothing but toxic waste in his/her skull instead of a brain.
When I ask young folks what they know about IFR, LFTR, CANDU, DUPIC, BWR, PWR, THORIUM and other nuclear technology, their usual reply is. Hey old dude what are you talking about! There is still many who do not know the Sun is actually driven by thermonuclear reaction. Only a few know about the possibility of nuclear fuel breeding from Thorium and Uranium. Even less people know that spent nuclear fuel is actually usable, hence they are easy target for anti nuclear propagandists, who usually do not know anything themselves, proclaiming that spent fuel is dangerous nuclear waste we don’t know what to do with.
There is a pathetic level of public education when it comes to energy and unless the public education with nuclear energy awareness become more widespread we are doomed back into dark ages.
Most journalists belong to nuclear illiterate category and most lack the ability to research the facts, due to completely ignorant bliss, before they trumpet out the lies, misinformation or outright propaganda.
Personally, I think nuclear power will win over other unworkable solutions. The awareness will come from India and China where nuclear power is going full steam ahead. Eventually, even those who are mentally challenged will realize that cheap power is needed for economic prosperity.
There is one encouraging phrase I hear today. Hey dude I wanna job!
It is troubling to tell young people, sorry buddy but without cheap energy and better political climate in which to operate the business we do not have the jobs you are seeking.
Eventually, those seeking good paying employment will connect the dots to realize that solar/wind power is not the power to drive energy intensive industry with.
Frank, I was not intending to promote oil over nuclear – nuclear is superior in terms of price/performance/environmental and it’s high time we diversify away from oil dependence. But the way I see the green campaigns, they don’t really care which one it is they oppose: they are *anti-energy* – this is crucial to understand. Even should nuclear fusion be perfected one day, as long as these green groups have control, they will find some ruse to oppose fusion aswell. They already oppose many attempts to mine uranium…
I’m not saying there is no peaks, but the peak is mostly not “inevitable” and does not come in the form of “empty shelves” or “out of gas” service stations, instead it comes in the form of price increases.
For example, there is no shortage of diamonds today, and no shortage of pearls either – they have simply gone up in price to the point until supply met demand. Additionally, like you correctly mentioned, government intervention is increasing so a free market is no longer there. Once that happens, a “peak” can happen even with demand being high. Oil production in the U.S. is just one example: there would be plenty of oil left to explore, but it was consciously put off limits by government, driven by “green” interests (behind it really OPEC). So yes, it has “peaked”, but it was not *inevitable*, instead it was intentionally orchestrated!
I’d have to say that a “free market” in oil didn’t exist, except for perhaps a short time in the very early days. Oil was dominated nearly from the start by Standard, then, after Standard got trust-busted, you instead had Standard’s spawn, who all operated the same way, under the same paradigm – though it wasn’t by collusion, it may have well of been – up to the Arab oil shock, when it became a shady cartel between OPEC and Standard’s spawn, then Standard’s spawn consolidated, sometimes with foreign companies, so we have Standard’s spawn (ever consolidating and combining, to bring back the glory days), OPEC (Standard’s first heir), and Russia (who aspires to be Standard’s second heir, after OPEC).
Rockefeller was the best drug dealer who ever lived. He figured out a successful formula: crush the competition within the sector using market power, ensure that any competition remains crushed by erecting stealth anti-competitive barriers to sector entry, ghettoize the non-sector competitors, collude and cartel with those you can’t crush or buy (such as OPEC and Russia), keep prices high enough to make a killing, but keep prices low enough to prevent any real effort to quit the oil habit.
The oil companies remember when the U.S. ditched oil power plants for nuclear ones – and they have long memories, unlike the rest of the capitalist world. You see, their profits were being attacked and undermined by OPEC when the electric power sector went into “drug treatment”, and so they weren’t playing their “A” game. Now that they’ve carteled with OPEC to divvy up the filthy lucre, they can devote their entire time to protecting their market share.
They never give up market share – potential customers – without a fight.
Potential customers should instead read “potential addicts”.
Stan, thanks for the info. I agree that fast reactors are likely to play an important role and the IFR design is a great way to get rid of spent fuel while helping run power plants.
While increasingly more new nuclear plants are being built, wouldn’t it seem logical for U mining to ramp up to meet increased demand? There’s a lot of quality ore just on the Colorado Plateau, and practically no mining in the US at this point. For a long time, prospecting stopped. The uranium people claim that more prospecting is going to yield more good stuff. I met one guy who used to be in the U business that bought up some mining claims during the slump and believes his grandchildren are going to get rich as a result.
U mining might ramp up to meet demand, when increased demand happens, but not before.
If the US (or, really, the world) made a choice to ramp up present nuclear, and commit to path that would lead to breeding, then miners could justify developing mines in accordance with the demand, and prices, such a nuclear plan would be expected to have.
As things stand, there are no firm plans to greatly increase the number of reactors in the world, or commit to IFR (for example). It’s hard to see private capital investing in mines before the world has a plan. That would be risky, as there is no clear future demand much beyond today’s. In fact, if the world doesn’t commit to IFR (or equivalent), then we have to conclude that, since inexpensively recoverable reserves of Uranium are limited, decision makers couldn’t allow a future increase the number of reactors much beyond the present number without endangering U supply within needed price points (this is because, under III+ technology, their inefficient use of Uranium means supplies must be below a certain price, which precludes most reserves).
All in all, it’s a shameful, depressing situation. The climate’s salvageable, but not for much longer, because decarbonisation is going to be long, hard, problem to solve, even with a real, workable, plan.
Chris – you have really tied yourself up into a logical knot. You seem to believe that uranium production will not expand because there is insufficient demand and that demand will not expand because there is insufficient uranium.
What is to keep free thinking people from recognizing the energy opportunities in an expansion of uranium fueled systems that can effectively compete and take market share from coal, oil and gas? Surely there is enough profit motive involved. Supplying reliable energy is the world’s largest and most lucrative business. There is plenty of readily available uranium to meet immediate needs; as the power systems multiply it will be evident that there is a growing demand. Uranium producers and fuel cycle processors can help – they have a reasonably high power demand of their own that could be met with uranium fueled machines instead of buying the competitor’s product.
Decarbonization will be difficult, expensive and perhaps impossible if inferior fuels are used. If people recognize the incredible opportunities for doing more with less – since uranium is 2-10 million times as energy dense as its hydrocarbon competition – the process can be a lot cheaper and easier than some might imagine.
For those thorium fans out there – I have not forgotten that you know about a fuel source that is just as concentrated and as much as 4 times as prevalent in the earth’s crust.
Sure there is some risk involved in investing in expanding nuclear energy, but there are enormous financial and environmental risks being taken to maintain our current fossil fuel production.
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