Alex Matthiessen, President of Riverkeeper, has written a letter to the editor of the New York Times with his suggestions for replacing the 2045 Megawatts of emission free electricity produced by the Indian Point nuclear power station. Because letters to the editor sections of commercial newspapers often are not reliably archived an available for future reference, I will quote that entire letter here so that future researchers will be able to find out exactly what commodity the president of Riverkeeper was selling on April 11, 2010 as a replacement for using about 40 tons of commercial nuclear fuel every 18 months.
Alternatives to Indian Point
Published: April 11, 2010
To the Editor:
“Showdown at Indian Point” (editorial, April 6) hit the nail on the head in calling on Entergy to start obeying environmental laws and stop abusing the Hudson River.
But in citing Entergy’s highly inflated figure of 30 percent, you overstate Indian Point’s contribution to the Westchester and New York City energy supply. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the plant actually contributes 12.5 percent of the area’s electricity during peak demand periods (July and August), which, in terms of energy reliability, is the only number that is relevant.
Moreover, Indian Point’s 2,000 megawatts can easily be replaced. A highly efficient combined cycle gas-fired plant at the Indian Point site would take care of 1,000 megawatts. The other 1,000 megawatts could come from any number of sources, including demand-side management, energy efficiency, new transmission lines, wind power and the repowering of existing dirty plants — all of which bring the added benefit of improved air quality in the region.
Indian Point, located within 50 miles of 20 million people, or nearly 7 percent of the United States population, has one of the worst operations records of any nuclear plant in the country. It’s time to retire this once useful, now menacing plant and make New York a model for a clean energy future.
Tarrytown, N.Y., April 6, 2010
For a moment, I will step aside from the implications of this sales pitch to provide some additional information about the electricity contribution of Indian Point Nuclear Power Station. In 2008 the two unit plant produced 17.4 million megawatt hours of electricity and zero tons of CO2. (Remember, this plant is already complete, so any CO2 expenditures associated with steel and concrete production are moot. The construction process associated CO2 was put into the atmosphere about 40 years ago.) The fuel for this amount of electricity would cost about $82 million.
Over the period from 2006-2008, the two unit power station produced 51 million megawatt-hours of electricity. (Source of Indian Point production data is a spreadsheet published by the Nuclear Energy Institute titled US Nuclear Operating Plant Basic Information.)
Using “highly efficient” (heat rate = 6600 BTU/kw-hr) combined cycle natural gas power plants as the source of replacement power, producing 17.4 million megawatt-hours of electricity each year would require burning 111 Billion cubic feet of natural gas and would release 8.2 Million tons of CO2 (469 tons per GW-hr per University of Wisconsin study of CO2 production rates). At an average cost of $5 per thousand cubic feet, that gas would cost $557 Million.
Stated another way, Mr. Matthiessen is recommending that the electricity consumers in the area serviced by Indian Point should start spending an additional $557 million EVERY YEAR to purchase one of the major products sold by ExxonMobil, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, BP and dozens of other oil/gas companies. Since that product is governed by the laws of supply and demand, and the supply of natural gas into the northeast portion of the United States is already stressed at times, the average price of gas for all consumers in that area will rise an unpredictable amount. I wonder if he or his organization will get a commission on those additional fossil fuel sales; if not, they should work harder on their bargaining pitch.
Instead of warming the waters of the Hudson River, the replacement power plants will be dumping at least 8.2 million tons of CO2, plus a few other noxious gases, into the atmosphere of the entire Earth. I am not really clear on where Mr. Matthiessen recommends dumping the waste heat from the “highly efficient” replacement power plants. They will still be governed by the laws of thermodynamics that require a heat sink for a minimum of 40% of the heat energy released from the burning fuel.
Simple cycle gas turbines put most of their waste heat directly into the atmosphere, but combined cycle plants have an associated steam plant that still needs a water cooled condenser. If the replacement plants are held to the same standards that the opposition wants to apply to Indian Point, there will need to be a number of cooling towers built to prevent emitting waste heat into the Hudson River.
Note: I have ignored all of Mr. Matthiessen’s other suggestions for replacement power because they could all be implemented whether or not Indian Point remains operating. The continued operation of that plant should not slow conservation efforts that would allow a reduced rate of fossil fuel combustion and a reduced rate of CO2 production. Indian Point’s continued operation should not stop anyone from building wind or solar capacity, though economics and physics considerations certainly discourage those types of investment in the area served by the power station.
I do not see how any of the suggested replacement power sources can possibly provide Mr. Mattiessen’s assertion of an “added benefit of improved air quality in the region” when compared to the power coming from the emission-free nuclear power plant that is already there.
Note: If you like the idea of spending more money for natural gas, Riverkeepers would like you to donate to their cause so that they can continue fighting to shut down Indian Point. Most readers of Atomic Insights will know that I am deeply skeptical about the actions of establishment fossil fuel industry and suspect that at least some of the donations raised will be coming from extremely wealthy people who fully understand that shutting down Indian Point will force New Yorkers to purchase larger and more profitable quantities the methane gas that they extract, transport or finance.
Westfair Online (April 8, 2010) – Nuclear Reaction. Highly recommended report covering all sides of the discussion with good quotes from reasonable people who understand the potential impact of taking 2045 MWe off of the New York power grid. Some people quoted also recognize the potential harm to the environment from a required action to build two 17 story tall cooling towers with the physical footprint of Yankee Stadium on the banks of the Hudson River and would prefer a more reasonable solution for protecting larvae and fish eggs.