83 Comments

  1. Exelon is also closing Oyster Creek. I think they are betting on constantly-low gas prices, as you said earlier.
    Nancy and I are trying to prudently prevent waste, at Zion and at Vermont Yankee. I wish both of us the best, but I am not sure of the outcome.

  2. I notice in the letter, that IL Senator Lauzen brings up the idea that Exelon is decomissioning the plant because they don’t want to glut the market with excess supply and drive prices for all their generation facilities down. I suppose that might be possible, but I don’t really understand fully how that strategy could make sense:
    Per the letter, the plant’s previous 20 or 25 years of operation completely paid off the capital costs. If the plant is paid for, other than (what I would think would be relatively small) restoration/recommissioning costs, then shouldn’t any electricity the plant sells be almost pure profit? At 2100 MWe output, even if it *did* drive down the average price somewhat, wouldn’t it be making truckloads of money? Wouldn’t it make *more* sense to shutdown some of Exelon’s more expensive coal/gas plants?
    Or sell it off for 6 or 8 Billion dollars (or however much it’s worth)?
    Can having a slightly higher per-kWh rate *really* be worth Billions of dollars to Exelon? Isn’t demand supposed to grow over the coming years, what with electric cars, etc? I would think that whatever price decrease they experienced short term would be offset by long-term growth in demand. Heck, having lower electric rates for awhile might encourage industry to (re)site manufacturing plants in Illinois, creating more demand, demand which, although it *can* move, is not easily reduced or moved. A temporary drop in the price might drive up demand, which might last through a moderate increase in price over time, back to the original level, and perhaps slightly higher.
    This just makes *no* sense to me, but, well, I’m not an Exelon insider, nor even a businessman.

    1. The cost to get the plant back in operational shape would not be small. The steam generators would need replacement, and it is questionable whether they have kept up the Quality Assurance on all of the safety related equipment. I would rather see Exelon go ahead with trying to get a COL for the new Clinton plant (an Early Site Permit has already been issued) and/or to go ahead with the Texas Victoria County plan.
      http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/esp/clinton.html

      1. @Pete51 – You may be right, but Exelon has not released any kind of estimate at all on the costs. Steam generator replacements are not “cheap” but more than 50 of the 68 Westinghouse designed and built nuclear plants in the country have had their steam generators replaced. The cost is reasonably well known and WAY below the cost of building a new facility.
        Restoring QA is also not “easy” but TVA has shown that it can be done at a cost that is far cheaper than new build on a site that has no infrastructure.
        Just getting a COL will take at least 42 months, even on a site with an ESP. At the end of that time, the company would be allowed to START building a new plant. Restoring an formerly existing license on a facility that still exists SHOULD be able to be done far more quickly and for less investment.
        Besides – if Exelon does not think it has the capital clout and managerial talent pool required to accomplish all three tasks, why wouldn’t it attempt to sell Zion to raise some additional capital instead of spending down the decommissioning fund as quickly as possible?

    2. The price of electricity is set by the highest cost producer in the market that day, regardless of the amount of electricity that producer sells. As a result, if a peaker plant running natural gas is run on a day when peak power is needed then the price of electricity is set by that expensive electricity. However, if a large nuclear plant is running there is little need for a peaker plant. In fact, they will set the marginal rate most of the time since there is so much abundant electricity. For example, a 2 GW nuke is selling electricity for the day and their marginal cost is about 2 cents, and they are selling for 6 cents a KWH. Electric demand goes up past the load requirements for about 3 hours in the middle of the day and a gas turbine plant kicks in whose marginal cost is about 8 cents a KWH and who needs to sell for 9 or 10 cents to make a profit. The whole output of the nuke then gets paid for that day at the 10 cent level, even though their cost is only 2 cents and even though the gas plant only contributed maybe 1% of the day’s electricity. Now, if I have excess nuclear capacity on the grid, that small gas fired plant never kicks in. I have so much capacity that I can’t sell all of it so some of it is thrown away as waste heat or I sell it to a manufacturer for 3 or 4 cents a kwh to clear my costs. In this way, the extra capacity of Zion will drive down prices in the whole region – which is great for consumers – factories, offices, homes, but hurts the bottom line of dominion.

      1. That sounds like a completely dysfunctional market to me. How did we end up with such a state of affairs? I’d always assumed that (with the end of regulation about 10 years back or so) rates were set by long-term contracts between the ‘retail’ utilities, and the ‘wholesale’ generating companies?
        That is, more or less, I as a consumer have a ‘locked in’ rate with the utility I buy power from. Now, it might go up sometimes, but it doesn’t constantly fluctuate on a day-to-day basis, as far as I know. Since the utility wants to make money on that rate, it would seem like they would bid out power for like 3 or six months at a time, maybe even a year or two out, to lock in a guaranteed rate (at least for baseload), then for peaking power, they would be paying premium rates, but only on an as-needed basis. If I were a utility, I sure the hell wouldn’t want to start paying my ‘baseload’ generators that same very high rates that I’m paying the peaking plant – that means that to get a few extra percent more power, my costs up to 2X – 3X for that day.
        How did we end up with such a state of affairs? Was this something the industry decided on it’s own, or is this some dumb government regulation that forces this situation?

        1. @ Jeff,
          first sorry for the double post, the internet went quirky as I was posting and I am sure I hit the post button twice trying to figure out what happened.
          I am not sure how we got into this state of affairs but I have read several defenses of this model saying that it produces the best prices for the consumer. It is run by the Chicago board of trade to the best of my knowledge. I am not really an expert in this – or a trader – but because I was working with investors to put up a small power plant in the midwest I have been researching rates and structures for the past few months.
          The other bidding model – Company 1 has electricity to sell and bids to sell it to you at X. Company 2 trys to guess what you will bid and wanting to underbid bids to sell it to you at Y a lower price than X. The argument against this model is that Company 1 and 2 could end up colluding through tacit agreement (like gasoline stations do now) and through informal observation reach an “agreement” to sell no less than say 10 cents / KWH. Knowing that the other also will not sell for less. They will also try to “game” the system by withholding some of the production of their plant hopping to produce a shortage situation where they can rebid.
          So the current model tries to address this tendency toward an artificial shortage through a dispatch method. The lowest marginal cost electricity is dispatched first (Hydro, then Nuclear, then coal, then biomass, then natural gas, finally wind and solar). This encourages the volume producers to sell all their product and not try to “game” the system and produce artificial shortages. (I would note that you cannot dispatch Wind, natural gas backups “fill in” for wind dispatch).
          So the argument about Zion is that Exelon is trying a massive “gaming” of the system by taking off line a massive amount of capacity. At least it appears that way. The point of an open market is that if others see a high profit margin they will be encouraged to enter the market thus reducing the overall costs. The problem of entry is that at less than 10 cents / kwh it is difficult to pay the financing costs of a new plant – regardless of the size. So Exelon is doing a balancing act trying to keep rates fairly high but not so high that it encourages others to enter the market.

    3. The price of electricity is set by the highest cost producer in the market that day, regardless of the amount of electricity that producer sells. As a result, if a peaker plant running natural gas is run on a day when peak power is needed then the price of electricity is set by that expensive electricity. However, if a large nuclear plant is running there is little need for a peaker plant. In fact, they will set the marginal rate most of the time since there is so much abundant electricity. For example, a 2 GW nuke is selling electricity for the day and their marginal cost is about 2 cents, and they are selling for 6 cents a KWH. Electric demand goes up past the load requirements for about 3 hours in the middle of the day and a gas turbine plant kicks in whose marginal cost is about 8 cents a KWH and who needs to sell for 9 or 10 cents to make a profit. The whole output of the nuke then gets paid for that day at the 10 cent level, even though their cost is only 2 cents and even though the gas plant only contributed maybe 1% of the day’s electricity. Now, if I have excess nuclear capacity on the grid, that small gas fired plant never kicks in. I have so much capacity that I can’t sell all of it so some of it is thrown away as waste heat or I sell it to a manufacturer for 3 or 4 cents a kwh to clear my costs. In this way, the extra capacity of Zion will drive down prices in the whole region – which is great for consumers – factories, offices, homes, but hurts the bottom line of dominion.

  3. It is a capitalist society we live in. What the market will bear drives the market. Apparently, the almost smart rate payers, can bear the cost It is a fantastic shell game in which debt is the pea. Now we are being told the debt (pea) is being given to the the rest of the world to carry. It is not a matter of informing the public nuclear is more reasonable. It is a matter of taking them off junk debt.
    If my observations are correct, several of the worlds super powers are arranging a revolution against “shared debt” policy forced upon them by the US. There is a new day coming and the cost may be learning to speak Chinese or Russian and follow their lead. Well, at least other governments have an agenda other than our disfunctional shell game that is missing the pea (Point).

    1. I understand the frustration over debt. I like the use of nuclear power because it is really local. The cost of construction is local, and the cost of operation is local. Debt is paid off to investors or to banks (or in the case of loan guarantees to the Federal Government), so most of the money stays in the USA.
      I especially like the small nukes because the capital cost can be handled by a normal utility or a stock corporation set up as a independent power producer.

  4. It’s stories like this, were nuclear plant operators are trying to shut good plants, or bail out of them for one reason or another, that puts the lie to the monolithic “nuclear industry” bogeyman that the antinuclear side always trots out. The nuclear industry, such as it is, is mostly made up of companies with their fingers in several areas, not all of them nuclear related, and sometimes in competitive tension with each other.

  5. Hi Rod. I was “guest” above. Don’t know why my name didn’t show up. Without my name and without knowing I blog at Yes Vermont Yankee, my note about “Nancy and I” seems a bit weird.

    1. I’m glad to see it doesn’t just happen to me *grin*. I think what happens is, you either clear your browser cookies, or you’re using a different browser (e.g. Firefox instead of IE or Safari), or different computer to post from than you usually do, then when you post, you forget to login. At least, that’s usually how I end up with ‘guest’ posts – I think that I’m already logged in, but forgot that I switched browsers or cleared cookies.

  6. Cheap power leads to more industry, leads to more demand from industry, leads to higher electricity prices, leads to better dividends for Exelon’s shareholders in the long run. Why has Exelon decided to back out of this market with short run planning decisions like this?

    1. @ chrisw,
      I am not sure your sequence holds. Cheap power might lead to more industry, if electricity is a significant part of the cost of production for that industry. More industry would signal a need for more electricity producers bringing in more independent power producers who would keep the price lower, thus lower dividends for Exelon. In this case, by removing 2 Gigawatt’s worth of electricity from the market they are fairly sure for a tight supply for the next 10 years at least. By that time the current leadership will likely be replaced and a whole new set of decisions called for.
      CEO’s are – today – held to stock price and dividends as a measure of their success. Remember that the owners are the stockholders. Previously, there was not such a tight accountability and CEO’s tended to make longer term decisions that would eventually benefit the business as a whole. Today there are more mutual funds than stocks, and they are all looking for returns in the 10% to 20% range (the new normal). As a result CEO’s are under great pressure to make decisions that constantly keep the stock dividends high and the value increasing.

      1. Thanks David, deeper thinking than I attempted and points to inevitable flaws in CEO/stockholder greed based reasoning that government and/or the next recession will demonstrate. Capital growth in a stock is a fine thing too!

  7. I have a couple of small corrections to propose. They don’t affect the general content of the discussion, but we might as well be accurate. In his reply to Pete51, Rod Adams referred to “the 68 Westinghouse designed and built nuclear plants in this country”. There are, by my count, 48 Westinghouse PWRs in service, with the other 21 by two other vendors, Combustion Engineering (14 of them) and Babcock & Wilcox (7), for a total of 69 PWRs, not 68.

  8. Sorry, I posted that persnickety correction but didn’t identify myself: E. Michael Blake.

  9. I’m also an Illinois resident, and I’m happy to see the Zion plant shut down. It’s a relic of cost-overruns, taxpayer subsidies, plant shut-downs, cooling tower accidents, tritium releases, labor problems, weaknesses in safety management, and unsetting reports. The NRC has them on a watch list for troubled plants for years, and I don’t want to pay out of pocket for more of the same, and mining wastes piling up far afield endangering future land, water, and other vital resources (and local residents). We have steel mills in the midwest ready to churn out equipment for less carbon emitting and polluting alternatives (when compared to nuclear front end), and putting people back to work. It costs $10 million/year to babysit this defunct plant, and billions to dispose of the wastes. Wall Street has decided this is a no-brainer, it’s time the lone holdout in Illinois comes to her senses and agrees to the same.
    We “burn” a great deal of MOX fuels in Illinois, and I believe this is a good thing, but I want to see NO new mining for uranium in the American West, on Indian Reservations, in Saskatchewan, the Canadian North, or elsewhere (where there is much exploration, some new mines proposed, and lots of local opposition and even moratoria by local governments). There’s a few good mines out there, but it’s mostly low grade ore left, and we’re already powering our existing plants and covering a deficit of supply with MOX fuels. It’s simply too dirty to continue doing the same with declining ore grades. Tell me how to effectively remediate a mine site, improve energy intensity for low grade ores, or minimize contamination of land and groundwater sources from in-situ leaching techniques, and I may feel differently. Illinois needs to raise it’s price for energy, tap into efficiency and conservation, and move on to the next best thing.

      1. I was told nearly all of the fuel used in Illinois is from Megatons to Megawatts program (LEU or LEU/MOX mixed) and is decommissioned weapons stock from Russia and former Soviet republics. It’s one of the reasons Obama is an advocate for nuclear and worked so strongly for renewal of START Treaty. Are you telling me the industry claims are inaccurate?
        http://www.america-russia.net/eng/security/228348013

        1. @EL – about half of all of the commercial nuclear fuel used in the US for the past 17 years has come from Megatons to Megawatts. However, none of that material is MOX. It is LEU made from blending down enriched U from former Soviet weapons. The MOX facility that will produce fuel from decommissioned Pu weapons is still under construction in South Carolina.
          None of the reactors in the US is currently burning MOX, though one Duke Energy plant has done some testing. (Actually, that is not really true – every commercial nuclear plant that starts off burning LEU eventually burns MOX as some of the U-238 gets converted to Pu and fissioned. About 30% of the total energy from a typical LEU fuel bundle at the end of its residence time in the core is Pu.)

    1. @ EL,
      I disagree with your priorities. I don’t understand the need to move on to the “next best thing” and the need to stop uranium mining. You seem to be at least verbally familiar with in-situ mining techniques. Uranium can be “mined” this way from tailing and from underground. This is very clean and very safe. Nuclear power is already the “next best thing.”
      What are your goals? Clean air, water and soil? Nuclear is the very best option with the least effect from mining and the least generated waste. Nuclear waste is also very traceable. We know where it goes and what it does when it gets there. There are several good options for dealing with it and only political decisions have stopped us from using Yucca, WIPP, reprocessing technologies and various types of breeder reactors.
      If your goals are to get off fossil fuels the only option with enough power is nuclear.
      Again, what are your goals?

      1. Hi David and others.
        I follow these issues closely, although nuclear requires a lot of very specialized knowledge (which I think is part of it’s weakness from a public acceptability standpoint). I’m an anthropologist, and do research with indigenous communities in Canada. I also travel in areas where uranium mines are predominant or proposed (you can find my blog in my profile). Nunavut (currently suffering through it’s third uranium frenzy) had a moratorium on uranium exploration and new mines passed by popular referendum in the early 80s. This was repealed in last two years without the consent of residents

        1. @EL – I do not follow the fuel cycle issues quite the same way that you do, but I know enough about the topic to have been a contributing columnist to a trade publication called Fuel Cycle Week. Your estimates of the uranium resource around the world are not even close to being correct. Part of the problem is that you cite a paper by Sovacool whose work is significantly based on the following three references from a man who has no formal training or experience in geology or mining:
          Storm van Leeuwen, J.W., 2006. Nuclear Power and Global Warming, Brussels,
          October 19, 2006.
          Storm van Leeuwen, J.W., Smith, P., 2005. Nuclear Power: The Energy Balance
          (Netherlands), available at /http://www.stormsmith.nl
          S. Storm van Leeuwen, J.W., Smith, P., 2007. Nuclear Power: The Energy Balance

            1. @EL – can you tell me anything about the claimed “peer review” received by StormSmith?
              For others who are reading this thread and actually want to learn something about the “study”, its authors and their methods of misinformation, please visit the below link and follow some of the links interspersed in the document you will find there.
              http://nuclearinfo.net/Nuclearpower/SSRebuttalResp
              Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, the only living member of the “team” that produced StormSmith has no documented academic degrees or publications that validate his claims to be an expert on the subject of extracting uranium from the earth’s crust. (Note – resume inflation is a frequently used technique by the folks that are well organized to oppose nuclear energy. It makes a mockery of the whole process of study, writing papers, getting those papers graded and judged, taking tests, standing in front of oral boards, etc. that helps to keep the rif-raff from getting jobs that they are not qualified to handle. Of course, there is nothing to stop anyone these days from sitting in their spare bedroom in their PJs and claiming to be an expert on any topic around. (grin))
              Storm Van Leeuwen’s “study” is a survey of carefully selected works by others that discards any industry sourced information as “biased” and that gives a greater weight to any source that produces higher numbers associated with the energy inputs to mining, milling, enriching, etc. It ignores such established technical improvements as centrifuges to replace gaseous diffusion, which is perhaps one of the greatest big steps forward in energy efficiency in any industry anywhere in the past 50 years. That single leap reduces the electricity needed per SWU by about 95%. (George Besse II, for example will use about 55 MWe to perform the same task that required about 2700 MWe for George Besse I.)
              For the record, I have a Bachelor of Science (with distinction) from the US Naval Academy in English. I have a Master of Science (with distinction) in Systems Technology from the US Naval Postgraduate School. I have a diploma from the Naval War College (with highest honors) in national policy and strategy. I also completed the Navy Nuclear Power training pipeline (with cumulative grades in the top 10% in my class), qualified as an Engineering Officer of the Watch (hundreds of watches), as an Engineer Officer (served for 40 months), and as a Commanding Officer (never served). That training does not confer any initials or titles, but it does require a process that is well known, understood and respected by people who are responsible for safe operation of nuclear power plants. I hold one patent on a method of controlling the power output from a closed cycle gas turbine.
              I am certainly not the most qualified person who discusses nuclear energy – even in the small sample of people who contribute to this site. However, I have not just declared that I am an expert and published work funded by people with an agenda and called it “peer reviewed” either. I do not have an echo chamber of people who cite and recite my work to make it seem like there are dozens of supporting works coming to the same conclusion.
              I do, occasionally, sit in my spare bedroom in my PJs and publish my opinions for the world to read if they want to. πŸ™‚

              1. The Sovacool study is a peer reviewed source. It’s a summary paper of the field (not drawing on it’s own research), and reviews 103 lifecycle studies of greenhouse gas emissions and energy conversion in the nuclear fuel cycle. The paper can be reviewed and rebutted on an independent basis, reproducing results from other studies (or referencing studies that were not included), which is the proper basis for science. I also provided several other peer reviewed sources based on independent net energy assessments for nuclear (and the EIA) providing similar results that don’t draw on StormSmith.
                You are obviously far more convinced by “industry sourced” information than me. I’ve looked at some of these sources in the Sevior and Flitney response, and they are primarily promotional materials from Vattenfall (an energy utility in Sweden), BHP, and Rio Tinto. Here is an example they cite:
                http://www.altonsa.co.za/rossing/reports/Rossing%20Stakeholder%20Report%202004.pdf
                I don’t know how to reproduce these numbers in independent research (and the results are only on a year by year basis, not a full lifecycle assessment). If Sevior and Flitney really feel they have a point, they need to publish a paper using numbers that can be independently verified. It is a little bit of a mystery to me why nobody has done this? The range for carbon emissions in Sovacool (summary of available research) is 5-200 g CO2e/kWh for nuclear. Wind is around 10 and solar 13 (also a range). Why doesn’t someone publish a world class, peer reviewed, and industry updated paper that makes a “best case scenario” for the industry on how we can best meet carbon reduction goals using most efficient conversion and enrichment techniques for nuclear, and taking into account long term view of uranium mining capacity?
                I think the ball is in your court (or those of other industry proponents)! We have net energy and lifecycle assessments in the literature (and there is a great deal of agreement among them). If there is data to the contrary, it needs to be produced and in a way that others can scrutinize and independently verify.
                And just to correct the record

                1. @EL – I think you misread my sentence. I said that Storm Van Leeuwen had no academic degrees or publications that “validate his claims to be an expert on the subject of extracting uranium from the earth’s crust.” What does the Physical Chemistry curriculum at the Technical University Eindhoven cover with regard to that particular specialty? Would he be able to obtain a job in the mining industry using the knowledge gained in that course of study? Would a company that wanted to improve its operations and sustainability hire him to provide suggestions that they actually implemented and would those suggestions provide measurable improvements? Have his papers been reviewed by independent certifying bodies like the legally required studies conducted by Vattenfall? The information that Vattenfall produced is not “promotional”; it is a detailed and demanding look at its operations. Including misleading information in that document would subject the company to some serious legal and financial consequences.
                  The fact that Van Leeuwen is a “senior scientist” at a consultancy and a Center for Energy Conservation and Sustainable Technology means about as much to me as the fact that Amory Lovins (a man without a single earned degree in any subject) is a “senior scientist” at the Rocky Mountain Institute or that Robert Alvarez is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies.

                  1. Some what the same way an anthropology post grad can claim expertise on the nuclear fuel cycle, eh Ed?

                    1. @DV82XL – I suppose that Ed would be justified in pointing out that I was an English major, so I should not claim any expertise in nuclear energy. This really is a tricky subject, but somehow we have to recognize that there is legitimate training, professional experience and real expertise in some cases and in some cases there are people who claim expertise without any real basis.
                      Can some of you who actually publish peer reviewed science or engineering papers help me to explain why a “summary paper of the field (not drawing on it’s own research), and reviews 103 lifecycle studies of greenhouse gas emissions and energy conversion in the nuclear fuel cycle” can very easily produce numbers that do not match reality?
                      My beef with Sovacool and Storm-Smith is that they use a confusing methodology to estimate the energy consumption for an activity that is ongoing today, instead of just measuring it. The Rossing mine is producing about 3,000 tons of uranium every year from very low ore concentrations. If their numbers were close to accurate, some very strange things would have to be happening – like a single mine in Namibia would have to be consuming about 30% more energy than the entire country does.

                  2. I have to think there is one qualified scientist or industry specialist who has done a net energy analysis in a peer reviewed journal challenging the Sovacool, StormSmith, or other results? Wind and Solar engineers and researchers have been busy showing and demonstrating the same (and hence the high benchmark that must be met). At a minimum, updating the figures for nuclear for more efficient processes need to be done (particularly for fuel re-processing). Given the huge stakes for getting it right or wrong, I think it’s incumbent that numbers be produced on this basis. JRC (Joint Commission in Europe), referenced above, agrees to the same. “An additional aspect is the relationship between energy investment and net energy gain that may become unfavourable as deeper resources and more refractive uranium mineralisation will have to be exploited. The report outlines the data needs for a more quantitative and long-term strategic assessment of the availability of uranium as fuel in nuclear energy systems.”
                    http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/111111111/6182

                    1. There is this one:
                      http://gabe.web.psi.ch/pdfs/Critical%20note%20GHG%20PSI.pdf
                      On the other hand none of the Storm-Smith studies were ever published in reputable, peer reviewed journals, so the issue is somewhat moot.
                      I have no intention of turning this into an appeal to authority pissing contest. The point I wanted to make was this: You are not the first person to table these arguments in a pronuclear thread. Those of us who have been engaged in this issue in all sorts of forums, (for decades now, in some cases) have seen your type come and go with depressing frequency. What you don’t know is that your arguments demonstrate a very shallow understanding of the whole field of nuclear energy, and are the product of a very typical, superficial, one-sided study of the industry. It is also typical of those who begin with a set of preconceived notions, or driven by other agendas.
                      Now, I am a Canadian. I know the issues surrounding the development of resources on Treaty lands , and the history of such activities in this country. I also know that these issues would attend any development of that nature, uranium or not, because the First Nations have been shafted so badly in the past that they are understandably wary. I also know that these worries are especially acute in the North because of the fragility of the environment, and legitimate concerns that the area may not support traditional economies, once the resource is exhausted. However these issues have nothing to do with the sustainability of nuclear energy in the long run.
                      As well it is clear that you are a reasonably educated individual. From the mouth-breathers, and nut-bags that we have had to deal with, we all know that there is a segment of those that lash out against nuclear energy that will never be capable of understanding the issue in any depth. They are the natural prey of the doctrinaire antinuclear groups, and the fossil-fuel backed ‘renewable energy’ supporters, and are hopeless. People like you however, have no excuse. You owe it to yourself to look into this subject with the sort of intellectual tools you have at your disposal, and with an open, but critical mind, and learn the whole story. It is not such complex technology that it cannot be understood in more than sufficient detail by anyone with a basic grounding, and the will to do so. You will find that in doing so that many of the issues, including uranium supplies, that have been attached to nuclear energy by its detractors simply have no basis in fact, or were once true, but are no longer.
                      There are several links in the sidebar of Rod’s blog under the heading of reference materials that can give you a start, but in the end, you need to do your own broad research, as most of us here have done, to apprise yourself of the facts necessary to see the whole picture. Sniping over played-out topics like Storm-Smith, is a waste of your time, and ours, because we have been over this topic in much more detail, and so often, that it is unlikely that you can bring anything new to the discussion from where you now stand.
                      I am sure any of us would be willing to answer any other questions you have on the topic of nuclear energy, but only if you are prepared to ask them in the spirit of open inquiry, not as antinuclear challenges.

                    2. Thank you for that response, I am here for exactly the reasons you describe (to inform myself about the issues). I care about climate change, energy independence, economic sustainability for local communities, cost-effectiveness/competitiveness for carbon abatement, and the environment. And it’s a thrill to me that you come at this from a Canadian perspective, and are familiar with the issues of the North (and the long standing and very extensive involvement of indigenous communities in the uranium mining industry). I share your frustration in dealing with advocates of various sorts, environmental zealots, energy specialists and the like

                    3. Well I tried.
                      Ed, if you are convinced that the nuclear fuel cycle is unsustainable you are doing so from a position of ignorance.
                      I live in Montreal. Every summer we welcome a large number of visitors from other parts of North America to our city. One of the recurring interactions that locals have with these people, is having tourists insist that they can communicate in French. It is a conceit that rarely survives their first attempt at having a conversation. After listening to someone butchering a simple question, most most of us respond in English, and you would be surprised at how many take that as a insult. Well guess what? You don’t speak French, and I am not here to be your instructor. I will answer your question in a way I know you will understand, and go about my business. You want to be pointed to a program that offers practice in speaking French, I my tell you where to look, but please stop wasting my time when we share a more effective mode of communication.
                      The same thing applies to many that enter pronuclear forums asserting things like the nuclear fuel cycle is unsustainable, we can’t deal with the waste, the risk of an accident is too high, or any other example of the tired shibboleths that are the stock in trade of the antinuclear side. The fact that you are bringing them up, and taking a stand, clearly indicates that you have not researched the field in sufficient depth. This is crystal-clear to all of us that have gone through the process, and you are not going to make any headway in this debate holding up arguments that have been considered and rejected, over, and over in the past. Contending that you are here to stimulate debate is rather bombastic, given the obvious lack of background to manifest in this area. You really need to look into the broad subject of nuclear energy on your own, and in depth, before you can comment on it intelligently.
                      Now you can take this as a insult, but the fact remains that in these matters you are not our peer: don’t expect your opinions to carry much weight with us.

                    4. Uranium is a mineral in wide abundance, but requires high energy intensity to mine and refine in low concentrations. We currently mine 5% of what we consume in the US, and only have a trade agreement with Canada in times of emergency. I don’t view this as particularly energy independent, or sustainable (from the vantage point of improving upon carbon emissions from coal or gas fired generation).
                      I don’t understand why you aren’t more forthcoming with these “secret” (find them for yourself) numbers. Everything I read suggests a range between 8-60 g CO2e/kWh. These are not as attractive as wind, solar, or hydro, and everyone agrees get worse with declining ore grades. The PSI paper you provided is clear about the same. Without a sufficient response, I have to conclude the available research is correct (and I have missed nothing)? The following paper (updated from previous research) is the most current and best analysis I can find on the topic. The second is a summary and re-assessment of StormSmith.
                      http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2006.06.022
                      http://www.esat.kuleuven.be/electa/publications/fulltexts/pub_1906.pdf
                      If you want to call drawing on available research showing broad consensus ignorant, flawed, stubborn, wrong or any of the other statements I find below

                    5. @Ed – See the fact that you claim that there is broad consensus is itself a good indication that you have been very selective in reviewing available research. Furthermore because your understanding of nuclear technology is incomplete, you cannot properly interpret what you do read.
                      In case I didn’t make it clear with the example I gave of people thinking they can speak French, let me put it more directly: I don’t want to have a discussion with you on this topic if you cannot be bothered to acquire the necessary background, and I don’t feel like going over this material for the umpteenth time given that the subject has been debated ad nauseam in nuclear circles for years now.
                      Your ignorance does not place a lien on my time, especially since you have chosen to approach us as badly prepared as you are.

                    6. It’s not my ignorance. I’ve done an extensive search for available research on lifecycle emissions for nuclear on jstore, ebsco, web of science, lexis-nexis, and academic search primier. These are the predominant electronic databases that index most (if not all) of the world’s scientific publications and journals. These return a handful of sources for nuclear (which all appear to have a broad consensus), and hundreds for solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. It appears there are very few people doing this kind of net energy accounting for nuclear, and it leaves me with the question why? I thought I would come here and ask (as a way to educate myself further on the issues).

                    7. There is nothing worse than dealing with someone that thinks they know a subject but does not. You have selectively looked for research that supports your stand. You have not equipped yourself with the necessary background, nor have you broadened your research beyond those areas that deal directly with the area you are interested in. What you don’t seem to realize is how transparent your biases in this matter are, and it is simply wrong to say that EROEI analysis has not been done for nuclear energy and to assert that wind and solar are superior is ludicrous.
                      I have told you my position on this: I am not going to go through this exercise every time someone shows up in a forum like this with a chip on their shoulder. The resources to learn the facts are available, as I told you, on the sidebar of Rod’s blog. I don’t feel like taking by the hand to show you because you are capable of looking yourself. This is not a debate, no matter how much you think it is. Most everyone here has been through this exercise on several occasions and in great depth, and the topic is settled. You are not going to convince us otherwise by offering up old, thoroughly discredited work, or selective evidence from the journals. We have seen it all before.
                      Nor do you enhance your credibility by statements you made up-thread about MOX fuel, and several other gaffs that indicate just how superficial your understanding is on this topic.
                      That’s it. I am not going to repeat myself endlessly, good day.
                      And BTW, there is nothing new about fast neutron reactors burning spent fuel from standard reactors. The Chinese are several decades behind the rest of the world looking at this idea. They might just make it work, which would be something, but revolutionary it is not.

                    8. Your language example brings to mind a quote from Tyutchev, a Russian poet from the 19th Century in the vein of Pushkin and Lermontov. Ever difficult to explain, the very idea of Russia inspires romantic attachment and defies effort of easy categorization (and dare I say scientific description):
                      Umom Rossiyu ne ponyat’,
                      Arshinom obshchim ne izmerit’;
                      U nei osobennaya stat’–
                      V Rossiyu mozhno tol’ko verit’.
                      (Russian cannot be understood by the mind,
                      She cannot be measured by ordinary measure;
                      She has her own particular stance–
                      All you can do is believe in her.)

                    9. “It appears there are very few people doing this kind of net energy accounting for nuclear, and it leaves me with the question why?”
                      That’s because this kind of “net energy accounting” is mostly worthless, since the results depend so heavily on the assumptions used in the calculation. In other words, it is so easy to “game” the system that, realistically, such studies can only be used as propaganda to reinforce biases or to fool the ignorant. They cannot be relied on to provide any kind of objective measure, even for comparison purposes.
                      Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that the two guys from the National Photovoltaic EH&S Research Center find in their paper that “lifetime GHG emissions from solar- and nuclear-fuel cycles in the United States are comparable,” since that makes solar look good.
                      What good does it do to draw on “available research showing broad consensus,” when this “consensus” is so vague that all it can say is that the emissions are greater than 7 and less than 338 g CO2/kWh? That’s a variation of almost two orders of magnitude!
                      While you are capable of providing links to papers, you seem to be ill-equipped to evaluate their worth. For example, consider the Beerten et al. paper. It examines and compares several studies with a wide range of conclusions. That’s all nice and interesting as an academic exercise of comparative literature, but for the results to be useful in the real world an obvious question is do the assumptions used for the calculation make sense?
                      In Table 2, we see that the hypothetical plants used in the calculation are assumed to have a capacity factor of 82-85.4% and an operating lifetime of 29-40 years. Considering that the average capacity factor of the entire fleet of 104 nuclear reactors in the US is consistently over 90%, and 60 of these reactors have already had their licenses extended by the NRC to operate for 60 years, these assumptions are very unrealistic indeed. Thus, the results presented in this paper do not reflect the current state of nuclear power in the US and so are pretty much worthless.
                      Sometimes the assumptions are buried in the detail. For example, many of these “cost accounting” papers rely on published cost data that is over 30 years old (and out of date). How can anyone get anything meaningful from that?!

                    10. @EL – the below is a link to a blog post and press release announcing the availability of a peer reviewed study about various energy sources and their life cycle emissions. It is not a challenge paper to Storm-Smith, but it is a well documented paper by qualified scientists on the same topic that comes to very different conclusions about the energy intensity and lifecycle emissions from nuclear energy.
                      http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/11/28/nuclear-is-the-least-cost-low-carbon-baseload-power-source/
                      If you email me with a request, I can share the PDF of the paper. Alternatively, you can email Dr. Brook directly using the information available at the link.

        2. “I’m an anthropologist, and do research with indigenous communities in Canada. I also travel in areas where uranium mines are predominant or proposed (you can find my blog in my profile).”
          I’ll do you one better, Mr. Anthropologist. I actually live in (not just visit) an area where a rather large uranium mine is proposed, so this is definitely an issue that is in my proverbial “backyard.”
          Frankly, I’m in favor of the mine.
          This past fall, The New Yorker ran a story uranium mining in Colorado. If you can find a copy, I highly recommend it, since it is an interesting read. The piece recounts the story of the boom-and-bust cycle of uranium mining in southwest Colorado during the Cold War era and before.
          The author of the piece, Peter Hessler, found that, among residents of the area — former miners and their family members who were there and remember the uranium mining days — support for a new proposed uranium mill (America’s first new mill in almost thirty years) has been overwhelmingly positive. He was somewhat surprised to discover how well-informed these people were, both about the science behind nuclear power and the risks involved in uranium mining. This was in stark contrast to his interviews with representatives of the environmental organizations have filed lawsuits to block the new mill, who often made claims that the author discovered to be anywhere from misleading to patently false or scientifically ignorant.
          Thus, I’m somewhat amused when you come here to lecture us with these same kinds of false, scientifically ignorant claims. Please excuse my frankness, but no, I don’t trust you or your “calculations.” I am not an anthropologist; I do calculations for a living. So if you want any credibility at all, you’ll need to show your work or go home. You’ve already demonstrated that you don’t know what MOX fuel is and that your knowledge of the nuclear front end is, sadly, abysmal. Thus, I seriously doubt that your knowledge of energy issues extends beyond some silly nonsense that you have read on an “anti-nuke” website.

          1. @Brian – I think I passed through your area on my way too and from Florida last week. Coles Hill is nearly in my backyard as well. I, too, am strongly in favor of that mine and still cannot understand why a state that hosts 147 active coal mines has a law against mining for uranium. (Actually, I am not at all confused by that seeming contradiction. I am pretty sure that the reason that mining for uranium is illegal is that the folks that mine for coal do all they can to discourage competition.)

          2. This is Coles Hill, right? Sounds like you have a tough road ahead of you. City Council of Virginia Beach voting to oppose the mine (200 miles away) because they have concern with contamination of drinking water supplies at Lake Gaston, high levels of lead in test walls (uranium exploration ruled out but not investigated), Halifax Town Council passing no trespass laws (Chemical and Radioactive Bodily Trespass ordinance), and Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors forbidding mining and milling in areas near industrial park. And no scoping or socioeconomic studies have been completed yet. I understand you are a proponent of industry, it doesn’t surprise me you are in favor of the mine.
            If local residents are involved in decision making for the mine (at a genuine level)

            1. Yes, EL, because we all know that the City Council of Virginia Beach, the Halifax Town Council, and the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors are filled of the most preeminent scientists, so of course, the mine must be unsafe!
              Do you know anything at all about Southside Virginia? This is a region that has had tobacco taken away from them. It’s a region that has had the textile industry taken away from them. Now, it just might have uranium mining taken away from them because of jerks who think like you — all so that the stuff can be mined instead in parts of the former Soviet Union, where nobody in the US environmental movement gives a damn about the lives and health of the people who live there. It’s a brilliant example of energy colonialism at work.
              Once again, sorry to be so blunt, but jerks like you really make me sick. Like you said, “No scoping or socioeconomic studies have been completed yet.” So why don’t you shut the hell up until such studies have been done, instead of shooting your mouth off about what politicians, who are hoping to get their fingers in the pie, are using to improve their chances at the bargaining table.
              Or perhaps you’re too naive to understand how these things work.

              1. Are these comments moderated?
                I hope you don’t expect to make any headway against opponents in your area (environmentalist or otherwise) by name calling, throwing tantrums, and stopping your feet until you get your way? You basically called elected officials in your area, who represent the interests of constituents, ignorant fools, and me a jerk. You need them, and people like me, to advocate for these things and make the best possible case for the industry. Did you get it off your chest, can we talk about nuclear energy and environmental impacts now?

                  1. I need to revise my last. After perusing Ed’s site and meeting him by watching his video about a trip on the Elk and Thelon Rivers in the northwest territories, I am sure he is most definitely not a “jerk” about many important issues. He recognizes beauty and has a good appreciation of the joys of activities like fishing, canoeing, and sightseeing.
                    However, he is also the kind of person who can patiently wait for three days for the wind to stop blowing so that he can continue on his journey safely. Some of us impatient types recognize just how hard it is for most parts of society to wait for favorable weather before we continue on our journey’s, continue producing food, continue factory production, continue delivering products that people want or need to buy, and continue routing living. Some of us, wanting a good meal before bed so that we can wake up refreshed, would rather shop at the nearest grocery store or pull something out of the freezer than dip a line in the water on the off chance that a fish might decide to take a nibble. In the streams and lakes near where most of us live, there would not be much left if we all fished for our dinners – even if we never allowed any pollution to enter those bodies of water.

                    1. Thanks for that … I feel the same way about this site, long descriptions and passionate people. And now you have a better sense why this region (Nunavut, NWT) and it’s lands and resources are so special to me.
                      But I do have a bind with my understanding and convictions … they often lead to greater hydro development and pose a significant risk to rivers, local livelihoods, and widespread environmental effects (mercury, stream erosion, impacts to heritage and tourism economies, and much more). Everything in my mind depends on us managing demand, and working to reduce consumption through efficiency and conservation (the cheapest and most effective carbon abatement strategy of them all). If we prove unable to do this, at any substantial level, we definitely need nuclear and it’s a race to the bottom as profits and cheap energy becomes the measure of any and all decisions.

                    2. @EL – just curious. Did you calculate the energy consumption associated with making your DVD about your trip on the Elk and Thelon rivers? If so, did you include the two round trips that your pilot made, the energy used to launch and maintain the satellites that enabled your phone, the nylon used in manufacturing your tent, the energy embedded in the materials in your boat, the energy consumed by making the rest of your electronics and tools, etc.?
                      Given the fact that there are nearly 7 billion people on the planet today, each with what most of us consider to be a right to be alive, how do you propose to allow even a small fraction of them to live the kind of life that you lead without figuring out ways of producing far more energy than we have today without consuming materials at the rate necessary to produce that energy with the current mix of options?
                      By claiming that conservation is the cheapest and most effective strategy, you should think about the end game. How much room do we really have to reduce total energy consumption if we honestly care about our fellow man and seek to elevate them from a life without any controllable light, without clean drinking water, without safe food (refrigeration), and without any means of travel other than their own two (often bare) feet?
                      Yes, there is profit to be made by selling energy, but in a world of shrinking hydrocarbon resources and concerted action to restrict access to fission, I see incredible profit opportunities for the oligarchs who control access to those remaining hydrocarbons. I would far prefer to keep profits modest by increasing the supply of energy because I have found that the rules of supply and demand are pretty universal.
                      If there is demand, but restricted supply, the price can go up far above where it should be. If there is plenty of supply to meet any and all demand, the price will remain modest and might even fall. Low energy prices will help protect remote areas because low energy prices discourage companies from wanting to work in the most difficult and hard to reach territories because the cost of operation is not justified by the potential selling price.

                    3. @EL – the fact that the wind and sun have some energy that can be captured has been known to humans for as long as there have been humans. Geothermal energy use is not that much younger in places where it was readily available in the form of hot springs, etc.
                      However, most humans who really pay close attention to energy and what it can do to make their lives better also recognized very early on that depending on the weather could be a frustrating experience. During your own journey, you were essentially marooned for three days due to an unfavorable wind. I have been in a similar situation on the open ocean with just the opposite kind of wind – not enough to push the sailboat on which I was traveling.
                      The difference between your position and mine is that though I celebrate the beauties of the world and think it is great that people like you have the freedom of travel to go and visit some of those places, I am pretty firmly rooted in the notion that most people will find good uses for as much energy as we can possibly produce. Since I have lived with a reactor that was never more than a few hundred feet away – and sometimes less than 10 feet away – I am pretty comfortable with the technology that allows us to create energy by destroying just a tiny bit of mass. E=MC^2 and C is a very large number.
                      Since I operated that reactor with a team of about 35 people, most under the age of 30 and with high school diplomas plus technical training, I do not see that nuclear energy is such a complicated technology to master. Mastery is challenging, but achievable. In contrast, there is nothing any human can do to master the sun or the wind. They shine or blow on a schedule that is not controllable.
                      If you fail to understand just why many of us here are so supportive of nuclear energy development, I may have to change my opinion of you as someone who has a strong desire to learn. Instead, I will start thinking about you as a Bernard Marx kind of romantic. (Ref: Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World)

                    4. Since people decided to spend so much time on this thread, and provide their input, I thought I would just pass along what I thought was most relevant (to me). I found two very helpful perspectives offered in this thread. I look at these issues from the perspective of political feasibility and where different interest groups can find common ground. And nuclear is definitely an interest group as we work to try and develop better energy options for the future.
                      What do I think are the relevant factors from a consensus and strategic point of view. 1) I was surprised to find so much discussion of natural gas on this blog and in this thread. I am encouraged to find common ground among renewable energy proponents and nuclear proponents on environmental concerns of fracking (especially how it is done today with so little regulation) and the more attractive options (from several perspectives) of many renewables and nuclear on a cost basis, environmental basis, and even from the vantage point of emissions when compared to natural gas.
                      And 2) climate change and emissions don’t seem to be on the mind of many nuclear proponents

                  2. Rod – I apologize for my offensive tone. Unfortunately, I was pressed for time, or I would have phrased my comment much as DV82XL phrased his. Indeed, DV82XL said much of what I would have said if more time had been available to me to write a longer comment.
                    That said, there have been several comments since mine, and it has now become clear that this [expletive deleted] person is not at all interested in anything other than parroting a steady stream of flawed thinking and debunked studies. Therefore, I share DV82XL’s frustration, and DV82XL’s latest comment does a pretty good job of summarizing my thoughts on the worth of this person’s contributions to an intelligent discussion of these matters.
                    By the way, I’m sure that many of the folks that you have demonized on this blog also recognize beauty, enjoy fishing, canoeing, and sightseeing, and love puppies and butterflies, and so on and so on. That’s not the point. That doesn’t make them correct any more than it makes this particular person correct.
                    Nobody has claimed that this person is evil. He’s just wrong, and has proved to be very stubbornly so. Several attempts to steer him in the right direction, so that he can learn something, have failed.
                    At some point, a person leaves the realm of the uninformed and becomes a [offensive categorization deleted]. I hope you understand.

                    1. @Brian – I FULLY understand your position and frustration and humbly appreciate your apology.
                      I am not certain I would categorize my attacks on certain people as demonization. I would put those attacks into the category of exposing people who are already demons, not creating demons out of otherwise okay people. Perhaps I misinterpret my own actions. πŸ™‚
                      I’ll also try to do better, but it is sure hard – as you know – not to get mad at people when they stubbornly refuse to recognize that fission is incredibly useful and may just be one of the most important tools that will allow human growth and prosperity for the next thousand or more years. (I am sure the earth would survive without it, I am even sure that some number of humans can live without it. I am just not sure that human technological society has any chance of increasing its prosperity without intelligent use of fission.)

            2. @EL – Perhaps you should take a tour of Virginia Beach and its surrounding area. I am sure that you will be impressed by the pristine nature of the jet base at Oceana, the many strip malls full of automobiles, the 10 lane highways, the former landfill called Mount Trashmore, the half dozen or so shipyards, what is probably the largest naval base in the world, the international airport, one of the busiest shipping harbors on the east coast etc. I am sure that none of those facilities have any impact at all on the cleanliness of the air and water.
              What frustrates nuclear advocates about working with people like you is that the standards that you apply to our technology are so incredibly different than the ones applied to all other human endeavors that it logically appears to us that NOTHING we do can satisfy you. That implies that your basic desire is to make us and our material just disappear. What you do not seem to understand is that the uranium at Coles Hill exists already. So does the minor amount of uranium and its daughter products that can be found almost anywhere in the world and in the world’s oceans. Humans evolved on a plant that has lots of “dirty” stuff in the crust. Some of that stuff is quite useful, so we dig it out, refine it and use it. As time goes on, we learn more and more about how to do that in ways that reduces unplanned impacts.
              The thing that fascinates and inspires me – and perhaps many other nuclear advocates – is that the valuable material that we seek is so tightly packed with energy that we do not need to extract much to make a huge difference. In a previous comment, you listed a bunch of “issues” with certain uranium mines around the world. Do you realize just how few uranium mines there are compared to all of the coal, precious metals, iron, copper, phosphate, rare earth, gravel, etc. mines there are? That is because we only need about 65,000 tons of uranium every year compared to the 6 billion or so tons of coal and many millions of tons of some of the other materials that I listed. Do you think we don’t need to move overburden to get at those materials or need to mill and chemically process the rocks to extract the desired elements and compounds while leaving the rest of the stuff behind somewhere?
              We would need a lot less uranium if we decidedd to recycle instead of using lightly and then storing, but that is an entirely different issue. We would use several times as much if we had a vibrant nuclear industry that was growing its market share every year by taking customers from coal, oil and natural gas because it is a superior means of producing heat. That is okay – there is plenty of stuff available that can be mined in safe and effective ways. With a growing industry that is not subjected to constant attack, we would also have the required resources to keep cleaning up and improving and not leaving boom/bust messes behind.
              Brian and others disagree with me, but I cannot help but suspect that anyone who accepts the mining required to produce wind turbines, natural gas, oil, coal, and solar panels but refuses to accept uranium mining is carrying the water for the established energy industry against the only competitor that can beat all other sources on almost every measure of effectiveness. Unless you are seriously one of those misguided people who believe that the North American continent should return to a time when the total population was about 10 million people who hunted and gathered for their daily bread – and often failed in that endeavor due to many factors beyond their control – your continued effort to halt nuclear development must be supported by our competition.
              That is okay, just quit trying to capture the moral high ground and admit that you are fighting nuclear so you can sell something else. Then we can play on a more level playing field.

              1. I’m equally opposed to pollution from coal, and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Although I believe the environmental risks of fraking can be reduced with better regulation. Solar and wind have far less material requirements than nuclear, mainly because their energy source is abundant and easy to obtain. Nobody is hiding these numbers, they are easy to find and compare. If you’re close to a low emitting source like hydro, or even a nuclear plant (with current low front end emissions), you can also use an electric arc furnace in a steel mill to fabricate wind turbine parts from recycled steel. Like nuclear, there are also anticipated future benefits to be gained with longer life spans, better efficiency, and materials manufactured to scale. Here’s the first source I found in a quick search (among many):
                http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2005.03.002
                Matrin Pehnt, 2005, “Dynamic life cycle assessment (LCA) of renewable energy technology,” Renewable Energy 31(1):55-71.

                1. @EL – FYI – when you add up coal combustion, uranium fission and natural gas combustion in the United States, you can account for just about 90% of the electricity production. If you attack all of them with equal opposition, you are essentially asking 9 out of 10 of your neighbors to do without one of the most important commodities in an industrial society.
                  With regard to your assertion about material requirements, you have ignored the importance of two factors – concentration and capacity factor. Wind and sun are widely available all over the world – the problem is that they are spread out quite thinly. That means that you need very large collection systems to capture a relatively small amount of energy. The very large collection systems are also sitting idle or at low output most of the time. (They also do not last all that long because by their very nature they have to be fully exposed to the vagaries of the weather and cannot operate in controlled chemistry environments.)
                  Barry Brook, a professor in Australia has published quite a bit of information about the material input comparisons of various types of energy production systems.
                  http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/10/18/tcase4/
                  He recently published a paper on the topic that I can share with you via a PDF, but it is not published in a readily accessible location. My email address is rod(underscore)adams(at symbol)atomicinsights.com
                  The bottom line is that modern nuclear reactors are quite gentle with regard to their material inputs per unit of output compared to all other forms of energy production – somewhere around 1/3 of a very good wind turbine.

              2. “Brian and others disagree with me, but I cannot help but suspect that anyone who accepts the mining required to produce wind turbines, natural gas, oil, coal, and solar panels but refuses to accept uranium mining is carrying the water for the established energy industry against the only competitor that can beat all other sources on almost every measure of effectiveness.”
                Rod – Are you referring to me? I ask because I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I don’t disagree with that.

                1. @Brian – I guess the area of disagreement is that I assert that the water carrying has been well funded by the established energy industry who knows exactly what services they are buying by their investment. I could be wrong, but I think we have had some lengthy discussions with you taking the position that the established energy industry is not purposely sabotaging its competition.

    2. @EL – I must disagree with your implication that opposition from native Americans or First Nations shows that the process is fundamentally something to be avoided.
      One of the reasons for my skepticism is something that I hope an anthropologist can understand better than some of the technologists that frequent this site, since your field of study must necessarily focus on human behavior and perhaps even human motivation.
      Though native American tribes like the Navajo talk about their opposition to uranium mining in terms of reverence for the earth, the very same tribe does not appear to have any real issue with mining that same earth for coal. In fact, a large fraction of the Navajo’s tribal income comes from coal mining and from allowing coal fired power plant operation on tribal land. At least one of the major power plants operating on Navajo land was most likely sited there, not because it was close to resources like coal or cooling water, but because the permitting process was significantly relaxed compared to what it would have been on land that was not inside a reservation.
      http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2005/06/uranium-ban-versus-coal-encouragement.html
      In other words, as is the case for many stated opinions of human beings, the motivations underlying why the Navajo Nation officially opposes uranium mining and nuclear energy stem from a rather complex set of interests. Allowing uranium mining on land that is still contains some of the most abundant sources of the material in the world might have a negative impact on their coal mining and coal burning income in the short term – and that is the time frame that most humans seem to think about the most.
      There are tribal members who disagree with the official stance – often they are people who have actually engaged in the activity of mining for uranium and recognize that it has both negative and positive aspects.

      1. The Navajo are also heavily involved in solar and wind on their Reservation. Any Native American Tribe is in a very complicated situation with regards to economic development (and the local needs are many and great). Primarily, they don’t own their land (it is held in trust by the federal government). This means they cannot raise funds for economic development by using their land as capital, and they have to seek Federal Government approval for many local decisions. So typically, they have attempted to attract investment by offering unique regulatory arrangements (that are more attractive to business than prevailing State or Federal regulations). Gambling is one instance where such a regulatory advantage was explored and draws on the semi-sovereign authority of Tribes over certain rule making (law making) jurisdiction on “their” lands. They have tried to get their economies going despite these hurdles of fund raising, ownership of tribal lands, and having to filter decisions through a Federal bureaucracy that has been established solely to deal with Indian affairs. Because the local needs are so great, and the available options so few, you have many people believing coal, uranium, and other industries as the least worst possible options for making some headway on difficult economic development issues. And they continue to pay a premium on these decisions in terms of adverse impacts and environmental damage for years to come (although they do provide important jobs and revenues where circumstances are very difficult and less than ideal).

  10. @ El,
    I have been listening / reading from the sidelines to the conversation. I find the conversations on Rod’s blog to be some of the highest quality of any on the internet. Thank you for your contribution to these and the observations you just shared. Just for transparency I do not work for any power company or utility. I am not a part of any industry, though for a short time I did do fuel research for a biomass to electricity plant.
    I just received a news article from the Financial Times saying that the price of food world wide is at a higher level than even in 2008. I am highly conscious of the connection between the cost of energy and the cost of everything else, especially food. Since I have many friends in Asia I am sensitive to the effect of these costs on their lives.
    When I lived in Asia for many years the high cost of electricity, and the obvious grinding poverty of the people around me led me to spend my spare time researching various energy production methods. I was not really aware of Nuclear when I started but delved into wind, solar, wave, hydro, and biomass fairly extensively. I spent time calculating the costs, and the amounts of energy produced. The overwhelming costs and practical problems involved in each of these kept me frustrated. I had great financial, personal and social reasons for wanting them to work

    1. “Debates over CO2 tend to draw people in strongly because most have enough science background to understand the debate well and argue it well.”
      That’s for sure, which is why the debate so often devolves into appeals to authority and other flawed logic.
      “But, people involved in the Nuclear power industry recognize what they have. They realized there are multiple reasons for using Nuclear power, not just CO2. This technology solves many problems at the same time and so has a unifying effect.”
      This is particularly true for people who have supported nuclear power for decades, long before the public was aware of “global warming” and the putative dangers of carbon dioxide. All we can say is, “Welcome to the party, pal!”
      That’s why it amazes me that some folks seem to have the need to show up to forums such as this and proselytize to anyone who isn’t vocal enough about the coming “global warming crisis.” I can’t help but wonder, since what I’m advocating will do more to alleviate this crisis than anything else out there.
      At what point does the disease become more important than the cure, and why would anyone with any sense at all think that way? It’s even worse when people show up with a handful of myths, misconceptions, flawed studies, and outright lies. I try to do what I can to clear some things up, but it is frustrating, especially when pitting facts and honest appraisals against appeals to “authority.”
      P.S. David – Well stated.

      1. “At what point does the disease become more important than the cure, and why would anyone with any sense at all think that way?”
        The endless debate over climate change has become so polarized, and so sterile, at this point, that I actively avoid using it when advocating nuclear power. There are so many other valid reasons for the quick adoption of this technology, that we can afford to let AGW pass, and still make an air-tight case.
        Personally, based on some of the exchanges on CO2 and the climate that I have seen, I would not typify it as a subject that is widely understood. Certainly I cannot weight the evidence and the counter-evidence, such that I can participate in these discussions with any confidence. That is not to say I doubt that global warming is a valid phenomena, only that I do not understand the physics such that I can contribute a considered opinion on the subject. Based on much of what I have seen in debate I am not alone in my lack of knowledge, only my realization of my shortcomings in this regard.

        1. @ DV82XL,
          I agree, the CO2 discussion is past reason. I am sure I really do not understand it either but I have gained respect for scientists on both sides who are debating the physics of it. However, I am convinced that we are not in a 5 year immediate crisis and we have time to make a shift and that shifting to Nuclear and chemically manufacturing transportation fuel using high temp reactors is the real long term (1000 year +) sustainable solution. Frankly, AWG or not, I would like some of the fossil fuels to be around for my great grand children. I am concerned that a growing world population will exhaust them quickly as living standards rise. I guess I have been convinced by Rod about the linking of Fossil fuel interests with wind and solar and now consider them to be a rent seeking scam.
          @ Brian,
          At what point does the disease become more important than the cure, and why would anyone with any sense at all think that way? I think this is evidence that the discussion has moved into a sort of “religious” belief where it is more important to get agreement than solutions.
          But, SMR’s are a win win win – well except for the existing large players πŸ™‚ These have the same potential that term life insurance did in the mid 80’s. At that time whole life – expensive and small coverage – life insurance was what was normally sold. Some of the insurance companies realized there was a huge pile of cash to be made converting people from whole life to term. Today, you can buy term almost anywhere and the rates are super competitive. When we get SMR high temp reactors, nuclear batteries, and modular LWR on line, competition for energy will be a reality. There is a huge pile of cash waiting for a new player to move in and take over. I hope the EPA CO2 regs get slowed down some because we are almost ready, but not yet. If the regs get imposed as quickly as is currently planned, we will end up with a vast amount of Natural Gas turbines replacing the old coal plants (like the small 12MW job in my town). Give us 3 more years or so and we have 3 or 4 companies ready to sell real replacements. (NuScale, Hyperion, MPower).

    2. Thanks David. I actually agree with you on most of your points. Our energy system (in the West) is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, and this skews the numbers for any particular power source (wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, and other). This can be managed, I agree, and we will see a great many technological improvements in the near and long term, and this will help us transition in a more thoughtful and practical manner to achieve common goals of cost-effectiveness, reliability, minimizing environmental impacts, more economic growth and jobs, global competitiveness, sustainability and independence, better safety and global security, and more. There are many conditions that contribute to global poverty, food shortages, and other economic circumstances that keep countries poor and in economic and social turmoil, and high costs and energy availability are one of them (but certainly not the only contributing cause). There are other factors such as high debt, corrupt and dysfunctional government institutions, low educational standards, high health care needs, civil strife and conflict over finite land and natural resources, political boundaries that reflect the colonial past and not the independent future (see recent news on Sudan this week), a global media that doesn’t “tell the story” of the developing world (bringing crucial attention, capital, accountability, and reform to many locations on the map), and much more. Our challenges are great, and the approach we take to meeting them and making a difference (whether it’s done through local grassroots or in international organizations) have to be multiple and diverse.
      You are correct in pointing out that I take the approach of “all of the above” and “keeping all the options open.” I think any serious consideration of nuclear has to follow from the same. And it’s a little strange to me that proponents make the case that nuclear is some sort of energy panacea (that resources are not limited, capital expenses are not high, safety and waste concerns are not an issue, nuclear can meet much of our energy need including load following, and that manufacturing processes can be scaled elsewhere without the available local technical or manufacturing capacity). These are real constraints. In fact, I would argue that nuclear needs renewables and other low carbon sources of energy (the sun shines brightest during times of peak demand) at least as much as renewables need back up power from natural gas or nuclear. I don’t think this is a radical or unreasonable claim. If this is the case, then, why all the hubbub and hyperbole about nuclear as the best energy source for reasonable people (suggested below), or the best of all possible options for alleviating global poverty and providing affordable and reliable energy at home and abroad (as suggested in your reply). You say the numbers don’t add up for wind, solar, biogas, and other energy options. Well, I would add they don’t have to (which is your argument about lifecycle emissions). Different solutions for different places, and energy decisions that support each other and work together (tailored to local needs, populations, energy and manufacturing infrastructure, resource availability, and diverse public and political cultures). Nuclear isn’t going to work (“very well”) in northern Maine or Wisconsin, for example, where the transmission infrastructure is limited and the population density doesn’t support such a concentrated and baseload focused energy source. Batteries, hydro, wind, coal, solar, wood, energy imports, natural gas, and biogas from farms may be a better approach (and one that enhances resilience of local businesses and provides local diversification and local jobs in rural economy). So why can’t proponents of nuclear, wind and solar, fossil fuels, hydro, and everyone else talk to each other and come to a common understanding. I think it’s because of the fierce competition over scarce funds and government support (whether it’s subsidies, regulations, or infrastructure support). I think we need to have more “all of the above” thinking, and not less. If nuclear can’t meet all of our needs (because it is not load following), then certainly we can find common ground on something

      1. @EL -“If solar and wind can’t be scaled to run industry or provide reliable busload power, as you suggest, I will have to stridently disagree with you on this point” That’s not good enough. Again on this issue we have been over this many times and done the numbers. We have looked carefully at the calculations of those who claim that wind and solar can provide baseload, and found them wanting, due to being based on overly optimistic premises.
        The worst of these is the assertion that power can be sent without difficulty great distances. Some modelers have gotten so fascinated with abstract power transmission networks that they

        1. The problem with FAQs is they get out of date too fast. And the more experience we have with renewables (i.e., practical experience and not academic exercises), the better we get at managing these issues. I’m not trying to fool anybody, or be selective with sources. Old debates, perhaps, all I know is that many studies look at 20-30% penetration of wind and solar, and don’t see this as a problem:
          http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/25397/?a=f
          With newer approaches, better regulations (cooperation between utilities), demand side management, fault systems for voltage control, storage technologies (such as 100 MW compressed air storage facility in McIntosh Alabama), and a better grid

          1. If you think still that renewables (other than traditional hydro) can make a 20-30% contribution, you are being selective with sources, and everyone here can see this.
            Intermittency and the non-dispatchable nature of wind and solar energy raises the costs of load regulation, incremental operating reserve, and (at high penetration levels) requires an increase in the already existing energy demand management such as load shedding, or greater system interconnects.Transmission networks must be re-rigged to cope with outages of generation rapid changes in electrical production. At low levels of wind penetration, fluctuations in load and allowance for failure of generating units requires reserve capacity to regulate for variability of wind generation. Wind power must be backed up by other power stations during low wind periods. Systems with large wind capacity components need more spinning reserve (plants operating at less than full load) To cope with 20-30% of this sort of generation would require a massive upgrade of the power network at every level: transmission, reactive support and voltage control service, frequency discipline, network switching, and generation control. The massive expense of a system overhaul of that magnitude is never the attention it deserves in these assertions that this sort of renewable penetration is possible.
            You just can’t blow off these factors by saying this can be solved by newer approaches, and I would like to know where there needs to be cooperation between utilities, because that sounds like someone talking out of their hat. There is no lack of cooperation between utilities, and you haven’t the faintest clue how the wholesale electrical market works.
            Your lack of grounding in this topic at all levels, and in all aspects is just not good enough to make the sort of statements that you are posting here. They are nothing but undifferentiated propaganda, and it is very clear you do not understand what you are writing. You also have no grasp of basic physics if you buy into any compress air storage ‘solution’ the thermodynamics NEVER work out for these and the end-over-end efficiency of these things is pathetic. They have a small role to play in very specific situations, where the losses are tolerable, but they are no solution to the storage problem.
            It is tiresome, given the amount of time and effort that many of us have put into understanding the subject of nuclear energy, and the power system in general, when someone shows up with very little knowledge and a stack of preconceived notions that they have gathered from non-technical sources, enjoining us to keep our minds open. It is you sir, that has not broadened your research in these topics, not us. It is you that has taken a close minded approach to this matter, by assuming that nuclear is only a partial solution.

            1. “If you think still that renewables (other than traditional hydro) can make a 20-30% contribution, you are being selective with sources, and everyone here can see this (DV82XL).”
              The source provided by Rod is very good on this account. It’s hard to argue with NERC, the organization developing compliance standards and education, training, and certification of industry personnel in bulk power systems and US grid operation. “As the electric industry seeks to reliably integrate large amounts of variable generation into the bulk power system, considerable effort will be needed to accommodate and effectively manage these unique operating and planning characteristics” (ii). Their recommendations include locating variable resources across a large geographical region, advanced control technology, variable generation modeling, better forecasting and communications, and additional planning around transmission (which have to be done for nuclear too, or any power source). They cite a DOE study that suggests wind to 20% does not need additional storage capacity. Large gains for solar are anticipated too.
              Two other sources important in this regard:
              NERC Long-Term Reliability Assessment (2008)

              1. Your are also being selective in what you read into these reports. I see an industry trying to cope with a supply of power they don’t really want, and is looking at a huge expense and massive changes to cover it. Of course you didn’t understand what much of what was written, particularly the parts that imply the need for backup (which would be supplies from gas) because, again you are not familiar enough with the whole picture, and you are seeing what you want to see.
                But at least you have shown your colors as a wind/solar supporter, so you can drop the crap about coming here to learn about nuclear; you are here to pitch for renewables.

                1. @DV82XL. So you disagree with the claim of DOE that high penetrations of wind (up to 20%) can can be added to grid without additional storage capacity, or negative impacts on reliability or electricity rates? You have a tendency to slip rebuttals that are entirely unsubstantiated. On what basis do you offer this claim? There has to be “some” agreement on the facts or on the numerous reports offered by grid management professionals (such as those at NERC), we certainly don’t disagree in absolute terms on “nearly everything” in our respective fields.
                  You are correct. I’m a critic of uranium mining (base on prior history of industry and the negative impacts on aboriginal lands), I have not kept this a secret from members of this forum. But I am open to looking at our many energy challenges from a variety of perspectives and opportunities: cost-effectiveness, reliability, carbon mitigation, scalable solutions in developed and developing world, minimizing environmental impacts, benefits to jobs and economic growth, global competitiveness, sustainability, energy independence, safety and global security, and more.

                  1. Because I have looked into this matter in depth, I know that this claim is more along the lines of ‘more than 20% wind max, and the grid breaks’, spun for political reasons to sound more positive. Again I don’t really care what you think, or believe, what I have been telling you is that in this forum your arguments are not going to go very far because they are based on a incomplete understanding, and in many cases are out of date. If your goal here is to convince us of anything, you are falling flat on your face.
                    You are not the first to come to a pronuclear conversation claiming to want to learn, but instead seems to be looking for a platform to air their views. These people seem to think that they are owed an explanation – they are not. I have long ago realized that those spouting green propaganda ether come around quickly when they look into the matter in more detail, or they are fundamentally hopeless, and will continue to push their agenda, constantly demanding we defend our position. Well guess what? You have changed no one’s mind on these matters here with your laundry-list of stale arguments, and I suspect that like me, the bulk of us don’t give a damn what you leave here believing or not.
                    In other words, the onus is on you to produce new and compelling arguments to support your position, it is not up to us to defend ours to you. The fact that you have done nothing but regurgitate the same tired rubbish we have looked at and dismissed in the past, shows that you haven’t even researched your own side of the debate very well.

          2. @EL – The “practical experience” with renewables that I have is that they are not dependable power sources. You have the same experience – please remember how you had to wait for THREE DAYS during your journey because the wind was blowing in an unfavorable direction. I have had a similar experience – I was stuck on the open ocean for several days (more than once) without going anywhere because the wind – which some say “always blows off-shore” – simply did not exist. One of the times that happened, when the wind came back it completely destroyed the light air sails that we had up because it went from 0 to 45 knots in a matter of minutes.
            Yes, there are ways to better predict the weather, but there are no ways known to man to CONTROL the weather. We cannot schedule wind turbine outages or peak productivity.
            Solar is slightly better, but please turn to page 28 of the North American Reliability Council’s report titled Accommodating High Levels of Variable Generation to see a relatively typical graph of a solar PV system output on a “partly cloudy day” in late March with 10 second sampling time. Then just imagine what the graph might look like on a Wisconsin winter day (I’ve been to Wisconsin in the winter – there are weeks when the sun does not shine at all). The graph would be even more depressing if it was plotted against a fairly typical demand curve, which includes significant demand well past the time covered by the displayed curves – you know the time when the graph is a boring negative number because there is no sun shining but the system still has some power consumption.
            You also asked “At what levels, have you concluded, can nuclear be included in an energy mix on a reliable and cost effective basis?” The easy answer is to look at places like France and Lithuania where nuclear has reached of 80-100% of the electrical power grid, offering opportunities to capture more and more of the energy market through electrification of locomotives, city transportation systems, and home heating (efficient heat pumps).
            My personal answer is to think back to the relatively small, but highly reliable grid that I once operated where nuclear provided not just 100% of our electrical power, but 100% of our motive power as well. This quest of mine did not spring out of acceptance of anyone’s papers, it came from direct, personal, extended experience with a reliable, relatively compact power system that used a tiny amount of material to drive a large and capable ship around the ocean for several decades.
            Nuclear energy, as practiced today under the rules and restrictions written by the established energy industry, is quite expensive to get started. It is not even all that cheap to keep running because the rules and restrictions add many layers of added cost. Some of us kind of like those added costs because they mean that nuclear energy is a pretty decent job generator; it requires far more human generated paperwork than really necessary. The established energy industry also likes all of the additional costs that have been imposed because, like the strings that tied down Gulliver, they keep a sleeping giant from dominating a cosy arrangement.
            The established energy industry is constantly moving toward a situation where every BTU they sell costs them more to find and deliver; they cannot allow a far more abundant and easy to deliver fuel source capture more of their market. They have no problem with expensive and unreliable BTUs from weather dependent sources – those are no competition at all and might even increase sales due to those spinning reserves that DV82XL describes.

            1. @Rod Adams – I imagine we can go back and forth on the French nuclear example. As it relates to lowering dependence on oil imports (its original intent), it has been a failure. With respects to financial costs, they have been very high. And being chained to a non renewable resource, I am most concerned about this, it has resulted in many impacts in places such as Nunavut and Africa where Areva is a strong player. You are correct, they did meet a 80% generation mix (with many adverse effects on emissions, shedding power, cooling water shortages, high cost to ratepayers, imports during times of peak demand, and local contamination concerns). I’m not sure we should attempt to repeat this example (you and others clearly disagree).
              If they had stuck to baseload (rather than load-following), perhaps they could have minimized many of these adverse effects (from perspective of high costs, energy independence, conservation and efficiency efforts, fuel development, and flexibility in power source supply). Indeed, France is currently looking to move to 20% renewables by 2020 (it currently stands at 6.7%).

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