On April 28, 2011, Roland Kupers, a former Royal Dutch Shell executive and current visiting fellow at Oxford University, published an opinion piece titled The end of nuclear power that exposed his dislike of nuclear energy. Here is an example quote from that piece:
That dream always contained the seeds of a nightmare. While the risk that nuclear power could fuel nuclear proliferation seems to have receded as a cause of public angst, by many accounts we have simply been lucky so far: the larger the nuclear economy becomes, the higher the chances of a mistake. Even in the absence of proliferation risks, leaving dangerous trash for future generations is morally dubious. We would judge Alexander the Great differently if his conquests had left a toxic legacy that we were still living with today.
Most advocates of nuclear energy now endorse solar and wind, but in the same breath claim that renewables alone simply are not a practicable solution for the necessary reduction of carbon emissions. Every day brings another editorial arguing that nuclear energy is fundamental to a decarbonized power system. But is it really true that a renewable power system is impossible?
Of course a renewable power system is “possible”. That is what humans had before they discovered fire and began building cities. I do not want to go back to that primitive lifestyle and I do not want the massive population reduction that would be required to allow it.
I am pretty sure that Mr. Kupers knows enough about human nature to realize that no one else wants that end result either. An effort to slow nuclear fission development leaves just one choice – burning more fossil fuels. That is a profitable choice for his personal portfolio, which I am fairly confident would still contain a significant investment in the stock of his former employer.
One of the interesting parts of Kuper’s pieces is his assertion that nuclear power plant prices have increased ninefold since 1970. What he hopes that his readers will not think about is the fact that a barrel of oil could be purchased for less than $3 in 1970. Even when you adjust for inflation, I am pretty sure that todays price is a bit more than nine times higher.
Rarely is there such a clear example supporting my theory that the strength behind the antinuclear movement comes from established energy interests whose wealth and power is threatened by the prospect of competition from a clean, concentrated, abundant, and affordable source of power. It is really hard to compete on any objective measures against something that is 2 million times more energy dense, produces so few emissions that it can run inside a sealed building, and is able to be purchased for 57 cents per million BTU when your product costs $4 to $20 per million BTU.
However, most fossil fuel folks are pretty cagy about their fear of competition from nuclear and couch it in “damning with faint praise language” that talks about maintaining current nuclear supply, with the distant future potential of improved nuclear systems that do not compete against current sales.
Like Kupers, fossil fuel pushers often talk a good game about using wind, solar and biomass energy sources, so they sound like they are willing to work towards a cleaner, utopian future. However, wind and solar, despite many decades worth of extensive encouragement, aggressive research programs and direct subsidies have not been able to overcome fundamental disadvantages. They are still diffuse and weather dependent, meaning that they require large, expensive collection facilities that are idle much of the time. Because their power output is unreliable, they put a huge burden on the grid that negates the value of any power that they produce and they require other generators to run inefficiently so they can fill in the gaps.
As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told the Colorado Oil and Gas Association last summer, large wind and solar projects are really just natural gas projects with a good cover story and excellent marketing. (Actually, his words were a little different, but he did say that “wind plants and solar plants are gas plants”.)
Thanks to Robert for the link.
“One of the interesting parts of Kuper’s pieces is his assertion that nuclear power plant prices have increased ninefold since 1970”
I believe a Navy Ensign costs 9 times more now than in 1970 too.
The house my parents bought in Durango, CO cost $35,000 in 1974 and would go for over $400,000 now.
What was his point?
So what if nuclear technology is expensive. Anything worth doing probably isn’t going to be easy or cheap; if it were we would have done it centuries ago (like wind and solar).
Roland Kupers wrote:
While the risk that nuclear power could fuel nuclear proliferation seems to have receded as a cause of public angst, by many accounts we have simply been lucky so far: the larger the nuclear economy becomes, the higher the chances of a mistake.
There are hundreds of nuclear power plants in the world. Even with the nuclear accidents we have had, the fact is nuclear energy is still MUCH safer than the fossil fuel energy that provided a livelihood to Mr. Kupers. One doesn’t have hundreds of power plants in service, and have them safely provide energy by luck. They provide safe energy by design, and by the dedication of the people who work there. The safety record of nuclear energy is not luck, it is data from thousands of reactor-years of operating experience.
Proliferation is a red herring that the bulk of the public won’t follow any more, and boy does that piss-off the antinukes. They have never been able to establish a positive link between power and weapons in nuclear technology, and the argument seems to be getting stale.
Any of the policy folks who claim to be a nuclear weapon proliferation experts aren’t. The real experts don’t publish papers on the subject nor do they show up on CNN or MSNBC to discuss the topic.
The safest place for nuclear weapon fuel from disassembled weapons is inside a LWR.
Green Mountain Power, one of the two largest utilities (transmission and distribution) in Vermont won’t buy any electricity from Vermont Yankee. They have announced they don’t need Vermont Yankee (VY) for the future.
Though the name sounds very Vermont-y, Green Mountain Power is a wholly-owned subsidiary of GazMetro, a Canadian natural gas pipeline company. Potential profits from selling Canadian gas to Vermont (if they can arrange it) will be far higher than any profits they can make on a mark-up of selling Vermont Yankee power to Vermonters Their profits will be specially nice if someone builds a gas-fired plant to back up all the new green wind turbines.
Gaz Metro announced it was buying Green Mountain power at around the same time as the Vermont legislature passed Act 160,. This act said that VY cannot continue to run in this state without a vote in the legislature. 2006
It’s probably just coincidence, right?
While I have no doubt that GazMetro (a Québec company)wants to sell more NG to Vermont, know that this company seems to have a very special relationship with Hydro-Québec and there have been several actions by both companies that have ‘coincidentally’ benefited the other.
I say this because GazMetro not only owns Green Mountain Power outright, but has major positions in Vermont Transco LLC and Vermont Electric Power Company. Hydro-Québec was blocked in their attempt to buy Énergie NB Power, and I suspect that they some ‘understanding’ with GazMetro over the Vermont operations of the latter, trying to avoid being seen as empire building.
That seems to be a step or 2 beyond a smoking gun, Meredith.
I suspect that there are two winners. The first of course will be Green Mountain Power and Gaz Metro as you described. Whether power costs are low or high they still profit on the retail sale. The second will be Entergy by avoiding the need to supply below market power to Vermont. At this point the litigation resolution is all that matters for Vermont Yankee and Entergy no longer needs to market low cost power to Vermont.
Wow! We invaded a country on less evidence than that.That’s not a smoking gun; it’s a signed confession and the judge has tossed out the motion to suppress.
Let’s see from the fossil fuel viewpoint (disclaimer, I’m pro-nuclear and fan of LFTR). The nuclear lobby has been actively promoting or at least silent complicit of the global warming fad to demonise oil, gas and coal industries for decades (for example, most of IPCC’s French lead authors (9 over 12) of the IPCC’s scientific 2007 report are from the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique).
Nuclear people are intelligent and know numbers given their impressive record in mastering an incredible powerfull source of energy, I can’t imagine they really believe in the pseudo-science of catastrophic global warming. But there is ample evidence they have nonetheless extensively used the AGW agenda to orchestrate a nuclear renaissance.
So whatever the bogus pretexts of the other sides, don’t you think you protest too much against a just backlash ?
Jean – The petroleum industry has also been using concerns about greenhouse gas emissions as a major part of its marketing campaign. The “low carbon” nature of natural gas is one of its selling points and one of the primary reasons why consumers are supposed to be happy about efforts to replace low cost coal plants with higher cost plants burning natural gas.
Though I have not taken the time to become a climate scientist, I am concerned about the long term effects on the atmospheric chemical balance caused by continuous dumping of approximately 20 billion tons of stable gases every year. Though the earth is a big place, steadily emitting that much material every year has got to have some unpredictable effects. We share only one atmosphere on one known inhabitable planet; it seems kind of short sighted to experiment with it when we have a better alternative that does not produce any emissions.
Many petroleum folks are “pro-nuclear” as long as the proposed nuclear system is some kind of futuristic development that does not affect near term sales. That has been true now for at least 50 years. Check back on some of the older smoking gun articles on the Atomic Insights blog. Efforts against nuclear by the fossil fuel industry are not a recent development or a “backlash” against our impolitely bringing up the fact that our power source is clean enough to operate inside sealed buildings and submarines.
Face it, you hate competition and dislike the notion of clean, abundant energy sources that would reduce the sales volume and sales price of your primary source of income.
Jean Demesure is correct. Support nuclear energy simply because it’s the best way to generate electricity, NOT because of the religion of AGW and false goddess Gaia.
BTW, the Red Chinese will continue to use and expand nuclear energy. Being communist, they don’t care what the former Royal Dutch Shell Exec says or doesn’t say. I suspect other counties will follow suit. But as our President leads us into $14+ trillion in debt, we won’t have the money for a blankety-blank useless twirley-blade wind mill, let alone a 1000 MWe new nuke. Get ready for out of control inflation in the West as morals decline right along with the dollar. There is a direct relationship that no one here wants to recognize.
I am happy for any group to come up with a reason to support Nuclear power. If it meets their concerns and we can build synergy, we have a chance at a long term future and a lower chance of war, and a better human condition. I notice that many people seem to want to only invite those to join in supporting Nuclear when that person has agreed to their world view. Science / AntiScience; AGW / All warming is Natural; Capitalism / Statism; etc. Nuclear is simply a power source. And what I see is a greater divide is between those who want to restrict power use (for economic, political, philosophical, moral, or religious reasons) and those who want to increase power use (same as above). Many of us who follow these issues have come to support Nuclear power because we have discovered that it is safe, reliable, and economic. I say, let’s agree to disagree on the motives and focus on the wonderful solution in our hands. Energy independence and long term price stability is a conservative goal. Uplifting nations in poverty and providing abundant energy for those seeking it is a moral and religious goal. Making piles of cash from an energy source that requires so little fuel and is so safe is an economic goal. I could go on and on, but I guess, I agree with Rod, the base opposition here is not the greens but the blacks (oil that is, black gold, Texas tea… banjo starts to play…). Those on the AGW side don’t want to burn oil because they are convinced CO2 is dangerous. Those on the conservative side want the supply of energy to be abundant enough that energy costs are not a major portion of our economy.
Today, still, the primary word after Nuclear is not “expensive” but “scary.” But if we consistently show how we can make a transition, to a nuclear economy that gives us better lives, most people are going to be interested and supportive.
SMR’s are our best hope. We have a LOT of small coal plants to replace.
Rod – thanks as always for the post. I am appalled at this from Kupers:
What is CO2 by the megatonne? Could it be AGW and anthropogenic ocean acidification? Left for future generations? How about megatonnes of coal ash a year, representing concentrated toxics where surface water can leach them? Which pot is calling which kettle black?
There doesn’t seem to be anywhere to leave comments on the Kupers post page. Probably wise of them…
Mr. Kupers wrote:
Even in the absence of proliferation risks, leaving dangerous trash for future generations is morally dubious.
The difference between CO2 coming out of a fossil fuel plant and spent fuel coming out of today’s nuclear power plants is that this supposed ‘dagerous trash’ is really fuel for advanced reactors that we already know how to do. There is no equivalent legacy of energy being left by the fossil fuel industry.
The real ‘trash’ is fission products. After a few centuries they are no more dangerous than uranium ore scattered radomly about the planet. And there is even valuable materials in to be had both while this ‘trash’ is radioactive and after the radioactivity has decayed.
While there are many uses for CO2 as well, there is no shortage of the stuff.
@donb – I absolutely agree with you on the value of fission products and unburned uranium in the ‘spent fuel’ from existing reactors. My point was that Kupers wasn’t thinking too hard about the fossil fuel trash when he said that.
“Spent” nuclear fuel is actually even better than the points you mention. Dr. David Leblanc points out in his The Modified Geometry 2 Fluid Molten Salt Breeder post at Energy From Thorium that reactor-grade plutonium can provide the start charges for thorium reactors:
We can expand the reactor fleet quickly if we wish, from existing stocks and the additions generated each year. It sounds like a winner to me.
Rod Adams : “Face it, you hate competition and dislike the notion of clean, abundant energy sources that would reduce the sales volume and sales price of your primary source of income.”
I live in France, I’m a simple citizen (retired electronics engineer) who is paying gasoline $8 a gallon (1,5€/liter) now, so I see no reason I’d “hate competition” which would ease strain on fossil fuel supply and reduce my auto and heating bill.
And France is an example that demonstrate that your theory of an oil lobby conspiration to kill nuclear doesn’t hold much water. France has almost always had pro-nuclear governments that’s why 75% of our electricity or 33% of our energy is nuclear, so there is no reason nuclear wouldn’t thrive, no reason not to have RTG batteries (I want one at good price in my backyard, the same like in Cassini), no reason not to have our military or even merchant fleet powered by small nuclear reactors…
Yet, the distrust among the public is undisputable, maybe more than the distrust for the oil industry ! That’s why environmentalists have managed, among others noxious actions, to kill our breeder technology by closing down SuperPhenix (a decision made by environment minister Voynet, in a socialist-green-communist government coalition, ironically Voynet being the same ecologist leader who signed … the 1996 Protocol Tokyo in the name of France alongside with al Gore, notice the coherence of Greenies).
The awfull way nuclear is communicated strikes again with Fukushima where all the public can hear is, apart from the ignorant anti-nuclear “experts”, the outrageously alarmists of various regulatory, control and health agencies, never mentionning numbers in their context (for example that the peak radioactivity in Tokyo’s tapwater is 10, 20x less than most radioactive spas’ water, that you must eat “radioative” Fukushima spinach everyday for years before reaching the same radioactive dose than a simple nuclear medicine exam, etc…), never explaining that the Fukushima accident has caused ZERO death or injured, never saying that just Fukushima 1 has problems but 3 others nuclear plants have endured the same earthquake and tsunami and have shut down safely. The difference with the Japenese media in the way things nuclear are explained is striking.
So I think the nuclear people have themselves to blame first, maybe by letting the sensationnalist media go on overdrive without never seriously engaging them, maybe because their great industry, science & technlogy have been hijacked by the regulation & security people and the LNT junk science, maybe they don’t take seriously the environmentalists’ ideological war, don’t know, but I don’t buy much the fossil fuel lobbies conspiracy.
If you live in France you are lucky to have a government and public that supports nuclear power. In most of the rest of the world there is an irrational fear of it, fueled by lies and deception that is spread by environmental grops. Before the global warming scare, it wasn’t a problem, it simply meant we burn coal and get cheap power that way. Now things are different: environmental groups reject BOTH nuclear AND coal. The solution is to become “sustainable”, to reduce our standard of living, to switch off air conditioning in the summer, and heating in the winter. To stop using cars, to lose the ability to use old, “inefficient” appliances and be forced to buy new ones. Recently protests have appeared in Japan that want a complete phase-out of nuclear power, and their solution is once again… energy conservation…
Nuclear power is the last line of defence before we entirely lose our standard of living and sink into “energy poverty”. In the UK, where the policy up to a few years ago was to go 100% renewable, many families and seniors are considered to live under “energy povery”, meaning they require government assistance to pay their energy bills – this is the future if Greenpeace wins and we shut down all nuclear power.
France has the lowest electricity costs, the lowest GHG emissions per capita, is a net exporter of electricity and thus has a stable stream of outside revenue, yet there is “distrust” that is “undisputable” among the public? Why? It seems to me that you’re sitting pretty compared to your European neighbors, due in no small measure to your investment in nuclear energy. Italy is retreating from nuclear energy and they have among the highest costs of electricity on the continent. Germany is going to be in the same boat. Your country has a resource (reliable, low-cost energy) that will be increasingly valued in the future, one that will be envied by your neighbors. Keep your guard up and watch your back. Of all the countries in Europe, I would hope that France has learned this lesson.
Didn’t environmentalist opposition to coal predate the global warming scare though? I thought the first major campaigns against coal pointed out that it was killing forests via acid rain…
That’s true, but back then the demands of environmentalists weren’t as bold as today. Provably toxic substances such as sulfur dioxide could be dealt with by installing scrubbers in coal plants, and catalytic converters in cars. Now with CO2 being blamed, and nuclear still being blocked by them, they’ve boxed us in! Without any alternative left, they can attribute “emission guilt” to each and every kWh of energy we consume. In many places nuclear power is already phased out and government is busy forcing energy conservation on the people, installing Smart Meters with a Time Of Use tariff.
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