On April 8, 2011, Alan Nogee, Director of Climate & Energy Strategy and Policy for the UCS posted the following on Twitter.
Cato’s Jerry Taylor takes #nuclear power 2 the free market woodshed. Ouch! Forbes.
He repeated that tweet with a better link and called Taylor’s opinion piece a “must read”. The article that Alan was recommending is titled Nuclear Power In The Dock: Nuclear power quite simply doesn’t make economic sense. Here is a representative quote from that Alan Nogee-recommended article (I almost wrote “UCS-recommended”, but then remembered that Alan tweets for himself, not for his organization.)
First, nuclear energy is not even remotely competitive in power markets with gas-fired or coal-fired electricity now or in the foreseeable future. Even the more optimistic projections of new nuclear power plant costs–such as those forwarded by MIT–find that nuclear’s production costs over the lifetime of a new facility are about 30% above those for coal or natural gas-fired generators. So while we can only speculate about new plant construction costs (we haven’t tried building one for more than 30 years) and estimates vary a great deal, all parties agree on one thing: Nuclear is substantially more expensive than conventional alternatives at present.
That’s particularly the case when one figures in the revolution in natural gas extraction, which has significantly lowered the cost of gas-fired power.
Alan works for an organization that has devoted several decades to adding as many layers and as much cost as possible onto nuclear energy plants. He often advocates for subsidies and mandates that attempt to force wind and solar energy systems into the market despite proven unreliability and excessive costs. It seems to be the height of hypocrisy for praise of an opinion piece touting the cheapness of coal and natural gas compared to nuclear to come from a man who often advocates for even more expensive energy sources whose only advantage is something that nuclear plants do with far greater reliability – produce power without producing CO2.
I decided to challenge Alan. Here was my first response tweet:
@alannogee Taylor is a known natural gas advocate. We’ve gone around & around re: nuclear several times – one ex: http://bit.ly/9DtzIq
Nogee came back with the following:
@Atomicrod I’ve known Taylor 4 years. Disagree on many issues. He’s right on this one tho. Facts speak 4 themselves 2 those willing 2 hear.
That gave me the opportunity to show that I had actually read the article and not just the headline. Taylor might be saying that nuclear was “too expensive” but he is comparing that to coal and natural gas. Expensive is a relative word – it has no meaning in isolation without an understanding of the comparison basis.
@alannogee The fact in Taylor’s article is that he believes fracked natural gas & coal are better bargains than nuclear. You agree?
@Atomicrod Gas yes, coal no. But looking primarily 2 expand efficiency & RE. Thoro analysis in R Blueprint, only gas even cheaper now.
The claim of cheaper gas “now” offered another opening. I am no fan of hydraulic fracturing and not a believer in the myth that 2074 trillion cubic feet of proven, probable, possible and speculative resources in the United States as of the end of 2008 is a game changer. We use 23 trillion cubic feet per year already. Even if we are able to extract and transport every last puff of the known gas in every single reservoir, it would only last for about 88 more years. That would only be true if the marketers do not succeed in their current effort to grow their market share. Here is my brief comeback to Alan.
@alannogee So, UCS has no problem with hydraulic fracturing? “Cheap” partially results from the Clean Water Act exemption & unreg dumping
He took offense.
@Atomicrod Ridiculous. So U support absolutely everything nuclear industry & NRC does? Oh, wait….
@alannogee No. Like #nuclear due to emission-free (subs), energy dense fuel. Clean, cheap, natural are marketing words from oil&gas ind.
It got a bit more entertaining:
@Atomicrod As w/so many things, gr8est strngth is also gr8est weakness. Nuclear energy density is Y costs so much 2 control & contain it.
I continued thrusting, enjoying the discussion and hoping that people were watching.
@alannogee #Nuclear costs driven by capital expenses engineering & multiple barriers that save lives. Gas costs lowered by cutting corners
Alan is most likely not an engineer. Here is his response.
@Atomicrod But capital, engineering & barriers driven by energy density.
Energy density allows smaller machinery and smaller infrastructure to do the same job, especially when the entire fuel cycle is considered. A compact and low capital cost gas turbine placed in New England is not worth much unless there is a lengthy pipeline infrastructure that continuously delivers gas from the well to the turbine. If the deliveries stop, so does the turbine – in a very short period of time. Coal and oil are a bit better – plant owners can store up to a few months supply that is accessible as long as the coal piles do not freeze.
Here was the final post in the series before moving on to other topics.
@alannogee #nuclear capital, engineering & barriers driven by quest for perfection – coming close. Coal, oil, gas standard is far lower.
Nuclear energy is economically competitive, even with a far higher standard of performance. It is emission free and has amassed an amazing safety record. The facts are pretty clear, it is the opinions that can get really muddy, often based on financial rewards that can be obtained by slowing the introduction of a very competitive and very clean power source.