25 Comments

  1. This is why nuclear energy will never make significant inroads in North America without the backing of a popular movement. There is no top-down solution because no amount of reason or logic can fight the sort of money that gas can throw around. What is needed is angry masses demanding nuclear energy, not now, yesterday, a movement that can put people on the ramparts like the German antinuclear militants recently showed they can. Short of that, there is very little hope.

    1. @DV82XL – my strategy is to expose the hypocrisy and to build alliances among energy consumers. Some energy users are almost as rich and powerful as energy producers are – and there are a lot more of us than there are of them.

  2. Aside from the outrageous pitch of natural gas as “clean, green, renewable”, it is a dangerous “putting all eggs in one basket” plan. Are we supposed to charge our future electric cars with electricity generated from the oilfields? Have we forgotten the OPEC crisis, which led Jimmy Carter to promote coal as a replacement of natural gas?

  3. One problematic thing is that the people in favor of renewables don’t see the connection to natural gas. There’s a talk radio show I have been trying to get on. It’s called Equal Time and supposedly they give “equal time” to unpopular viewpoints. For show about nuclear, they had three anti-nuclear groups on the air! I called the host: Interview Me and My Friends, if you are really giving Equal Time. I was having a nice conversation with the host (I used to work in renewables and basically favor them wherever they can be reasonably used.) Then I brought up the natural gas connection of Conservation Law Foundation and he just stiffened up and every remark he made after that was disparaging. He doesn’t want nuclear and he doesn’t want fossil and he wants electricity from renewables alone and that’s all fine with him.
    I don’t think I am getting on the show.

  4. If we were to go for what is best for *consumer* prosperity we would build nuclear for electricity, & build gas to liquids plants at the natural gas fields so we have reasonably cheap transportation fuels from natural gas.

    1. Absolutely. It’s not as if we need to “find ways to burn all that natural gas” while we’re still completely dependent on foreign oil. This is something that to his credit, Pickens is pointing out: http://www.pickensplan.com/oilimports/
      To use natural gas to make electricity is wasting a product we could use so much more effectively to offset gasoline and heating oil consumption.

    2. I’d like to also sign on to Jim Baerg’s suggestion: I’m not anti-gas – I just think that we should think carefully about how we decide to *use* gas. Gas is used for home/building heating by a lot of folks, and can be used, in a liquified form, as fuel for cars, trucks, airplanes, boats, etc.
      While, potentially, electricity from whatever source (solar, wind, tidal, hydro, nuclear, geothermal, coal, etc) can be used for heating, it does seem to me that for a lot of folk, burning natural gas in a furnace or water heater at the site where the heat is going to be used, is a pretty efficient use of gas (when you generate electricity from heat sources, you always pay a big efficiency penalty – which isn’t a real big deal with nuclear, but is for using electricity from any type of fossil fuel for generating heat).
      It’s been said that we shouldn’t use food-sourced biofuels for transportation, because it creates a competition between the poor man’s supper and the rich man’s automobile. I’d say that when it comes to heat and electricity, a very similar argument holds: it would be much better to generate electricity from nuclear, and use gas, where necessary, for heat and transportation (although, once you have nuclear electric, I do think it becomes much more reasonable to use electricity for heat – *particularly* if you use a geothermal heat-pump system which is highly efficient.
      I like the idea of LNG for transportation, because of all the reasons other people bring up: cleaner than oil, cheaper than oil, reduces our national dependence on foreign oil imports, but still has a lot of the transportability advantages of oil – you can put a small tank of LNG in a car, truck, boat, or plane, and get similar mileage as when using gasoline or diesel.
      If we use it for electric generation, it will drive up the price for both heating and transportation uses as well – that whole supply/demand thing, or we will be ramping up production to such high levels that we more quickly deplete the gas we can ‘cheaply’ extract.
      I know there are ways to get methane (which is, I guess, basically the same as Natural Gas?) from organic sources using bacteria or algae or something, but my understanding is that the processes, currently, unless there is some major technology breakthrough, are expensive enough that we should probably consider fossil-source natural gas to be a non-renewable resource?
      In any case, there’s sort-of no such thing as ‘too much energy’ (well, in certain circumstances, like an explosion, there’s certainly such a thing as too much energy, but generally speaking. . .), so if we can get lots of electricity from nuclear, and use the gas for other applications which nuclear is not well-suited to, that just seems like a win/win.

      1. @Jeff – my whole point in this post is to point out that there are some people who are acting with interests that are completely different from yours, mine and our neighbor down the street.
        You wrote:
        If we use it for electric generation, it will drive up the price for both heating and transportation uses as well. . .
        Let me rephrase that from the point of view of the gas pushers – aka the oil&gas executives and their marketers:
        If we can convince the electric utilities to buy more gas, it will drive up both sales volume and sales prices. Think of the bump in our total revenue, our stock price and our annual bonus payments. Yippee! Let’s do it!

        1. @Rod, I totally know you know this stuff already. I also totally agree that from a gas company execs standpoint, getting gas used for as many different applications, and selling it as fast as possible at the highest price possible, is obviously very much in their self interests. I’m just saying we, as a nation, as a society, need to look at resources like natural gas, and not allow them to be managed solely on the basis of making as much money as possible as fast as possible for gas companies. We need to look at it for what it is – a large, but ultimately finite resource which we need to maximize the utility/benefit of that resource for the entire nation, for as long as reasonably possible.
          I think on this forum, most of us would be in agreement that using Nat Gas for electricity is, from a ‘big picture, national interest’ standpoint, rather a waste of a great resource.

          1. @Jeff – perhaps you have not noticed, but “we” do not own much of those resources. We live in a capitalist, free market society where choices are not necessarily made collectively.
            The only reason I am an optimist about the future is that I am pretty sure that nuclear fission is strong enough to prevail if it can attract enough tough-minded advocates and businessmen who see its potential. The only similar technical story I can point to is the transistor/microprocessor. Its invention completely overturned the established way of doing things in some very unexpected ways and shifted the economic center of the world to new and exotic locales like Sand Hill Road.
            Fission has that kind of potential, but it is not automatic. It takes a lot of hard work and some clear thinking.

            1. I too think that nuclear energy, once it reaches a certain, err, “critical mass” if you’ll pardon the pun, will prevail on its own merits, and doesn’t need to be mandated by the government. I only think it needs to be, I dunno, shall we say “encouraged”, or, at least, not trampled upon while it’s growing.
              I wonder, I know that the U.S. has a fleet of nuclear reactors built during the 60’s-90’s. Most of those reactors should be reaching the point where the initial construction costs have been paid off, and they would be operating with fairly high profit margins? I remember reading something to that effect in Ted Rockwell’s “Nuclear Facts Report”. Anyhow, are there any companies which own several nuclear plants, which would serve as ‘poster children’ for a company which is making a lot of money off it’s nuclear plants, and further, which would have enough money from the existing nuclear plants that it would be well positioned to finance constructing multiple new plants, to supplement and eventually replace the old plants?
              I don’t know, but it would seem like the most obvious people to have both the motivation, operational experience, credibility, and ability to finance new nuclear construction would be a company (or companies) who are making billions in profits off their existing nuclear reactors.

  5. The Federal government simply needs to mandate that all utilities in the US must produce at least 50% of their electricity from carbon neutral resources (nuclear, hydroelectric, urban and rural biowaste, wind, solar, geothermal, etc.) by the year 2020 and 90% by the year 2030– with the penalty of heavy carbon taxes on those utilities that fail to comply. That should push the utilities rapidly towards nuclear and renewable energy, ending their love affair with natural gas.
    But as long as the major energy companies think the the US government is– not really serious– about moving away from fossil fuels, they will continue to flirt with greenhouse gas polluting fuels like natural gas.

    1. Marcel,
      Because we live in a representative republic, that’s most likely not going to happen in the USA. The truth is, a rapid (for the energy industry, where a plant once built is expected to operate for 40 or 60 years, 2 decades is rapid) transition to 90% non-carbon sources is just too economically painful. It would be practically economic suicide. We simply cannot afford such a dramatic, rapid transition.
      I, for one, am against cap-and-tax proposals, because it would plunge our economy off a cliff, at the top of which we are already precariously perched. I am *in favor* of the government doing things like loan guarantees and other programs to assist private utilities in financing the construction of new nuclear plants, because I believe nuclear has the economics, long term, to truly supplant coal and other fossils; if nuclear power is cheaper (per kWh) than coal or gas, then all else being equal, utilities *will* choose to build nuclear instead of gas plants. You don’t need to legally force people or companies to do something, which is clearly in their economic interests; so you don’t reduce carbon emissions by taxing coal and gas, you reduce carbon emissions by having a more competitive energy source which *doesn’t* produce carbon emissions.

      1. Well, it would be painful but we are at a historic cross roads now. Most of the old coal plants have reached the end of their effective life and need to be replaced. We could replace them with Nuclear now – especially small nuclear – for the same cost as building a new coal plant. Look at Duke Energy building a coal power plant in Southern Indiana – gasification coal for 3 billion for 650 MW. This is currently $4,615/ KWH and rising. The price for an MPower or NuScale has been priced at $4,500 KWH and their fuel is much less expensive!

  6. Actually Jeff the cost of coal pollution in is $120B per annum from early death and medical expense, and the US spends $800B per annum on fossils. With the cost of the $2500B in new factory produced nuclear dropping to under $1B/Gw in China, the rate of return on a public power investment in nuclear fossil fuel conversion approaches 40% per annum.
    As we convert to nukes, NG electricity and heating applications would immediately convert to nuclear electricity. The freed up gas would be available to make CNG, methanol, DME (propane), and synfuel transportion fuels as we transition to nuclear produced synfuels and electric vehicles.
    Call it the nuclear Picken’s plan.
    Obama by embracing this national nuke conversion using FDR’s TVA and Bonneville models would overnight end unemployment, end the global warming/peak oil menace, save the live sof tens of thousands of Americans every year and create the greatest construction boom in US history.
    He’d likely be reelected!!!!

    1. But what does $1B/gW in China become in the US? We can’t do anything in the US as cheaply as they can in China for number of reasons, not least of which is that we don’t employ nearly as much ‘virtual slave labor’ in the US as they do in China.
      Now, I’m not trying to downplay the idea that we can get the cost of nuclear down in the U.S. too – if we start to get the nuclear industry going again, 2010 will be looked back as the high-water mark in nuclear energy construction costs, I’m pretty sure. Right now, I think new plant construction is about as expensive as it could possibly get, for several reasons – I’ve been reading about why nuclear is so expensive, and the answers seem to be that, A) we build so few plants that we do not benefit from economies of scale, B) we construct the reactors mostly on site (though some components are made in factories, I think), so we are not getting as much cost reduction as we could if we used factory-made reactors, C) We are using designs with too much complexity in terms of part counts, numbers of welds, numbers of pipes, etc (although, from what I’ve read that is starting to change with some newer plant designs being constructed now, like the Areva EPR, and some of the other Gen III+ reactors, which reduce complexity), D) there’s too many regulatory requirements which greatly increase costs without significantly increasing actual safety, and E) it’s taking too long to build the plants, which increases the construction costs and interest/financing charges, due to too many lawsuits from anti-nuclear advocacy groups which tie up the projects for several years in court.
      So, the point of all that is, I do think we can get the price down, but I don’t think the $1B/gW that China achieves is necessarily indicative of what we can get it down to in the U.S.? If you have links to any studies or papers by someone with expertise in relevant fields, I’d love to know what we can get the price down to – I believe if we could just get the price of new nuclear plants down from $12B to like $6-8B, they’d be very competitive vis-a-vis coal and methane, wouldn’t they?

      1. The Japanese built the first two ABWRs in the Nineties for about $1.6B/GW, and they have higher labor costs than the USA and import virtually all the materials. So the idea that we can’t build plants for at least $2B/GW is unsupportable, in my opinion, especially once we settle on one or two standardized (and mass-produced) designs. By the way, I wouldn’t include the EPR as an example of simplification, but certainly I would include the AP1000 and ESBWR, the latter being due for final NRC certification in about a year according to the most recent developments). $6-8B/GW is still ridiculously high and due to a broken system, not to any inherent cost of nuclear power per se.

  7. At least the Gassies are aggressively funding a public information campaign. The atomic energy industry (such as it is) is doing

  8. I recall Mr. Flavin calling natural gas the “Prince of the Hydrocarbons” back in the 90s. The love affair with gas is nothing new. πŸ™‚

  9. Renewables are like the free printer at [name your favorite big box electronics store], it seems like a good deal until the ink cartridge runs out and the sticker shock sets in when you have to buy a new one. Like the ink cartridge, methane will be the expensive commodity that will be required to make solar and wind power work.

  10. The people who have been impacted by the environmental impacts of the hydrofracking fossil gas rush hate this stuff: http://un-naturalgas.org/weblog/category/why-are-we-still-using-this-stuff/
    Also high on the list of gas-haters are the people who live or work near high pressure lines who have experienced major leaks, explosions, or other mishaps: http://www.wfaa.com/news/Pipeline-Flying-Pig-crashes-through-Grand-Prairie-home-105387413.html
    I say the enemy of my enemy is my friend. If the antinukes and progassies can make an alliance, the antigassies and pronukes should do the same.
    Whenever another gas disaster raises its head we should not hesitate to point out on their websites how energy self-sufficiency can be sustained much more effectively and with far fewer environmental consequences using the uranium instead of the carbon atom.

  11. Mr Jeff
    Labor is only a small part of the cost of a nuke.
    The Chinese are already building factory nuke modules.
    Westinghouse and AECL both claim domestic modular construction in under 3 years at less than $1B/Gw.
    We can build better airplanes cheaper than the Chinese in the most highly regulated industry on earth. We should be able to compete on nukes after America

    1. @Seth – inefficient perhaps, but certainly not unsafe. The NRC is an effective regulator from a safety point of view. They demand high levels of performance that have actually helped to improve the safety and efficiency with which we operate the nuclear plants in the US.
      There is certainly room for improvement, especially in the new reactor licensing arena. However, you are dead wrong about whether or not our regulators do a good job on safety.

      1. Nuclear expert Professor Bernie Cohen would disagree as he states in his paper
        http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter9.html
        A nuclear power plant is a very complex system, and adding to its complexity involves a risk in its own right. If there are more pipes, there are more ways to have pipe breaks, which are one of the most dangerous failures in reactors. With more complexity in electrical wiring, the chance for a short circuit or for an error in hook-ups increases, and there is less chance for such an error to be discovered. On the other hand, each new safety measure is aimed at reducing a particular safety shortcoming and undoubtedly does achieve that limited objective. It is difficult to determine whether or not reducing a particular safety problem improves safety more than the added complexity reduces safety.
        More recently

      2. The NRC is short on experts and short on validated models of new designs. Back in 2006 I met an Air Force reservist who worked for the NRC as a civilian. We were both in a Defense Acquisition class and during one of our coffee breaks he attempted to recruit me. To make a long story short, he said they didn’t have anyone at the NRC who had been around when they were licensing new reactors.

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