1. Let’s be clear about Joe Romm. He is an investor in and cheerleader for renewable energy companies,and a colleague of former VP Al Gore who is a partner in a venture capital firm that invests in renewable energy technologies. Gore has widely praised Room’s columns and a book on climate change.




    Investors in solar and wind have long seen themselves as being in competition with nuclear energy for capital to build their infrastructure. They see the money needed for a 1000 MW plant, $6-7 billion at current prices, as pulling funding out of the available supply of capital and raising the cost of borrowing as a result.

    Al Gore’s venture capital firm needs pundits like Joe Romm to drive investors to put their money on the solar and wind companies funded by the firm. It’s a mutual back scratching relationship.

  2. Just to summarize the build-rate graphs: given similar levels of national commitment, nuclear power has been built at rates about three times faster than wind, and about ten times faster than solar.

    I also see that Joe continues the old anti-nuke habit of being unwilling (or unable) to divide. Nuclear plants are expensive because they cost $10 billion!!! … while failing to mention that the nuclear plant will provide about 10 times more energy during its lifetime than a solar farm or wind farm of the same nameplate capacity. Can you find a 1 GW windfarm or solar plant anywhere in the world built for $1 billion? I don’t think so.

    1. Also worth noting that said 1 GW nameplate capacity windfarm will output on average a real figure around 270 MW/h (if dry land) to 380 MW/h (if seaward) annualised.

      1. @Keith @NickR

        In some cases in can be even worse than you mention. It is not only about the amount of electricity produced, but when it is produced. Here in Michigan, the data shows that the wind tends to blow when it is cold, and at night. In the southern part of the state, where most of the population is, our demand peaks with heat, in other words a hot summer afternoon.

        This means that wind’s contribution to peak demand is not very good here. This is reflected in our local independent system operator, who only allows a 15% contribution for wind on a capacity basis. Back to your 1GW wind farm example, this farm would only be credited for 150MW of capacity on a capacity planning basis.

        For those who like contrast, solar is allowed to use 45% of its’ nameplate capacity for capacity planning purposes. Why? Because statistically it is more likely to be available on that very same hot summer afternoon.

  3. I’m not jesting, just an honest question to pros here since it’s how SpaceX is building rockets in-house at considerable savings: Can compact super-automated nuclear power plants ever be “3-D printed”?

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    1. Yes … just as soon as they come out with a UO2 printer cartridge.

      Of course, the cartridge will cost a fortune, but that’s how the printer companies get you.

    2. Theoretically anything can be 3-D printed, but some things (like pipe and wire) are so cheap to make the standard way, it’s not worth it. It’s also a lot more expensive if what you’re printing requires multiple materials. Gains are found where their is complexity of structure made with a single material.

      1. @Keith Pickering

        3D printing is exciting for those who think in terms of producing small sets of complex, single material products.

        In a former life, I ran a small injection molding company that provided me with a deep understanding of the line about plastics from The Graduate.

        Our products could come out of the continuously cycling machines every 15-90 seconds. The production molds had as many as 12 cavities at our rather primitive shop. I’ve seen others with molds that make 32-64 parts at a time.

        We had a small warehouse full of individual molds that could be installed on multi-purpose machines.

        I’ve watched some sophisticated 3D printers in production; it’s a much slower per unit process, though each machine can produce a different product each time it runs.

        1. There are hybrid schemes too, like 3-D printing the molds, then using standard techniques for mass production.

    3. Except for the tax payers. Per ton of payload delivered to the ISS, the Falcon9/Dragon is a lot more expensive than the Space Shuttle. And we still don’t know how much Elon subsidizes his launches with all of the tax payer money (hundreds of millions of dollars) he’s been given by the Federal government for all of his franchises.


  4. My history with Joe Romm began with an appreciation for Romm’s presentation for Romm’s defense Climate Science and The Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis. But his critic of Nuclear power put him firmly on the anti-science side as far as nuclear power is concerned. I must say t never bought into Romm’s anti-lWR arguments, but I also tried to do an end run around Romm’s arguments by offering the MSR as an example of of a nuclear technology which could meet all of romm’s objections including costs. Romm dismissed the MSR arguments on falacious grounds. He argued that MSRs could not become commercial within a generation, because the technology was not developed. Eight years later, Transatomic Power, Terrestrial Energy, and ThorCon are all on the rode to building commercial MSRs, with products expected to go on the market within ten years. Needless to say, Romm has never admitted that he was wrong.

    In the end, after I bluntly pointed out that my arguments had been based on science, which Romm had ignored when he dismissed them, Rom started censoring my comments. Later An internet discussion identified several other pronuclear bloggers who Romm also systematically censered. Romm along with So called “Environmentalist, David Roberts is an Amory Lovins, anti-nuclear lacky. All three offer factua;lly flawed arguments, that often rest on formal and informal errors in logic.

  5. Rod –
    Do you have a link to the actual data behind that “frequently used graph of initial capital costs?” Figures like that (log-log plots) can be very deceptive if you don’t know what you’re looking at. In particular, comparing rates of change during different portions of the curve is nearly impossible. I think that data would look very different on a more user-friendly (linear) plot.

    1. Gmax137, A liner plot with discussion for the escalation in US plant construction from ’67 to ’88 is here: http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter9.html
      Note the primary driver for escalation is labor costs, e.g. pre-76 labor costs were substantially less than those of materials, while by 1988 they were more than twice the materials cost.

      Note well: “While there is little difference in materials cost, we see from Fig. 1 that the difference in labor costs between M.E. and B.E. plants is spectacular. The comparison between these is broken down in Table 1. We see that about half of the labor costs are for professionals. It is in the area of professional labor, such as design, construction, and quality control engineers, that the difference between B.E. and M.E. projects is greatest. It is also for professional labor that the escalation has been largest β€” in 1978 it represented only 38% of total labor costs versus 52% in 1987. However, essentially all labor costs are about twice as high for M.E. as for B.E. projects. The reasons for these labor cost problems will be discussed later in this chapter in the section on “Regulatory Turbulence.””

      It ain’t rocket science; NRC actions post TMI2 drove the cost into a financial risk category buyers were no longer willing to take. And also there sat another data point staring Board Room decision makers in the face, Shoreham… finished, licensed, abandoned… because of “external forces” beyond the control of the Utility.

      The cost numbers are real. And yes, it defies what happens in other industries as experience is gained. But it is not because the cause is not understood, rather it is nothing is done about the cause. And now that same cause is threatening the current operating fleet.

        1. Gmax137, Don’t know what your actual plant construction experience is during that era, but one would about have to see this effect actually happen for it to soak in. A few participants here have, and let me tell you, it is ugly. Mr. Cohen does a great job crunching data and showing numbers, but nothing drives it home like seeing it happen in a “nearly finished” plant. For example, NRC held the Davis Besse license “hostage” over a new “rule”, High Energy Line Break (TMI2, later license didn’t have to do it). This required a totally new “Safety System” to protect the plant from the effects of mainly steam or feed water ruptures (“Leak before break” is apparently a text book myth concept?). At this time, our main steam and feed water systems were essentially built. Thus the new Safety System must be back-fit into the existing plant.

          All stop…first the Design Requirements, then engineering… civil, electrical, mechanical, structural, blah, blah. Then translate to drawings, and procure (with delivery dates), work plans, eventually to the trades to do the work. And there is stuff in the way, must be removed first (and reinstalled). I’m an operator, not construction guy, so probably missed stuff, but the point is the clock is ticking and the interest on the construction loan is growing.

          How do you get this done? Enter the Cohen data… you throw thousands of Engineer Professionals at it to design, oversee, verify, etc. Remember this plant is almost done, working from previous experience of AEs and past builds. It’s like a total re-do in this one area.

          Jump to 1980; the post-TMI2 “fixes” start down the pike…. and it starts again, on a lot of running plants. Some in competition for the same new “parts” (which are being developed).

          This back-fitting on these huge complicated projects just flat costs huge amounts of what Cohen calls “professional” labor in order to get them done when you are fighting a schedule. The original design “grew” over several years, and much experience, and mostly NOT during an actual construction crisis. These changes become a “crash course” to get done, because if the plant doesn’t run, it doesn’t make money. Cohen’s pure numbers don’t show this, but it is why the professional engineering costs ballooned out of proportion during this ’80s time fame.

          And it kinda answers the question about why the costs don’t come down as experience is gained in all aspects of these projects. The design is never “done”, even today, as the NRC arbitrarily just keeps expanding the Design Basis of these “never completed” plants. That is the piece that is missing when you try to compare it to experience in other industries.

          Off the subject… but what was the actual cost/benefit… is it even really measurable? (No thanks on PRA textbook stuff). Maybe it’s simple…. they drove the cost so high, the US will likely go without the benefit of nuke power.

        2. Gmax137. If you are familiar with “70s/’80s nuke plant construction, I apologize, if not Cohan’s numbers can look sterile, as it might be hard to imagine how something like professional labor costs can escalate so rapidly, over a 10-15 year time frame. I worked as an operator at a ’70s PWR build. These designs “evolved” over several years, as things were learned. And on the design end, at a moderate pace, using professional labor costs of the earlier time of development by several available A&E firms. A utility would buy, construction would proceed, the end would seem in sight, and then the unplanned surprise.

          In our case, about 1 year before scheduled license and fuel load (’77) the NRC “required” we install a completely new Safety System, called the Steam/Feed Rupture Control System, before we could get a license. The “requirement” was a new High Energy Line Break Rule. It required an automatic system to protect against Steam Line or Feed Water line breaks.
          Basically, 4 logic Channels of instrument cabinets added to the Control Room, process variable sensors for inputs to the cabinets, field wiring, hardware additions to the systems, etc. Plus additions to the plant Technical Specifications, Operating Procedures, Surveillance Tests, Training etc. We think we are a year from fuel load.

          How do you get it done with the least impact on your schedule (while you pay interest on the construction debt)? You throw hundreds of professional engineering types on the job. Remember at this time the affected systems (of the new Safety System) are already built. Briefly nothing can even start, until Design Requirements, Engineering, 100s of drawings, Procurement, Work Plans, QA, etc. It’s a huge amount of work, requiring a huge amount of money, before the craft ever touch anything in the field.

          Something as simple as adding a valve switch to a control room panel, eventually to the valve in the field, can become an engineering nightmare. You need “space”, what if the cable trays and conduits are full? Run new ones, maybe through 10 fire walls (protection required), with seismic requirements, etc. This is all real engineering work, and being done in crisis mode.

          Add five years to ’77… the TMI2 required back-fitting is coming down the pike, for everybody (get in line). It all starts over, but now it’s almost everybody operating and under construction. Begin to see the pattern, thousands of new professional labor is required. And that labor cost goes crazy.

          This is why that “saving cost with experience” comparison (to other industries) is a myth, that needs to be squelched. You are never building the same plant a second time with a new plant, the Design Basis (from what was already considered “safe” and licensed), is constantly being expanded by NRC to a more complex and inherently more expensive design. If you were building identical plants, the learning experience would no doubt show. But you never are, and also even when “finished” they are never DONE. Now it’s the Fukushima FLEX requirements (the list is long, last biggie was Security).

          If NRC lays a “due by” date on you, all the Utility long range capital improvement planning is out the window. There is only so much money, and so much time.

          Of course it always comes down to “is it worth it” (money spent for perceived safety improvements) for the actual benefit, and that depends on who you ask and what their motives are.

  6. I just wonder how much would be saved in nuke plants if they scrapped a lot of the customization. How many items are actually over specified? A few years back I did some commercial grade dedication paperwork. It astounded me how much more these companies paid for the same gadgets that were class 1E. I think the extra paper often did not guarantee better quality. Other industries that used the same gadgets also need high quality and the conventionally sold items work for them.

    The exception would be for safety related items. You want to be able to safely shut down.

  7. In Joe Romm, we have someone who has spent his whole life in government and foundation work. He is opposed to using nuclear power.

    In Rod Adams, we have someone who has operated a nuclear reactor, worked with plastic injection molding, run this own atomic engine company, etc. He supports the use of nuclear power.

    Being a (now retired) engineer who likes getting his hands dirty, I always put more trust in people who actually do or have “done the work.”

    It really bothers me to see people use political power and the power of their own ulterior motives to block our progression towards a cleaner future with a higher availability of energy.

    1. Your words express my feelings as well. We need more use of scientific principals (what worked, what failed in the real world — experiments) in government policy. Instead, whoever can grab an office, like a prize, stuffs it with their prejudice monger.

  8. Was there anyone else struck by the similarities in background between Joe Romm and Gregory Jaczko? Both Ph.D.-types in physics, both eschewed continuing their careers in their chosen field of study to go into government work and public policy with an obvious political bent, both anti-nuclear, even though neither had actually worked in the industry or had any formal training in the science. And both spend a lot of time in the public eye cultivating relationships in the media and making public pronouncements (i.e., a lot of words). Anecdotal, perhaps, but sometimes I have to wonder about ex-scholars who choose to leave their field of training and work at jobs that, at their basis, are government-supported.

    1. Anecdotal, perhaps, but sometimes I have to wonder about ex-scholars who choose to leave their field of training and work at jobs that, at their basis, are government-supported.

      Eh … I remember these types from my school days in physics. I recall the type quite well.

      They’re typically rather bright, but lazy, and they’re almost always consummate brown-nosers. Some of the faculty love that, others hate it, so these folks quickly learn who to latch on to as a sponsor and who to avoid. It becomes an instinct to them.

      I have a friend who knew Jaczko during his days as a graduate student at U. of Wisconsin. He was policy-bent and anti-nuclear even back then. He never really wanted to continue on into physics as a professional. In hindsight, it’s not all that surprising where he ended up.

      1. Interesting that you should have a similar experience to mine. Not as an undergraduate, because I was more or less the big fish in a small pond, but in grad school, where you either competed or died. There were those lazy types who did the bare minimum and got by through schmoozing and knowing who to say “yes” to. I always did more than the minimum and while that earned me some points, it also got me more work (which I did). The best advice I got then was to pick my advisor based on two things: someone who was doing something I was interested in, and also had the reputation of being the toughest in terms of demanding the best of hard work and effort. Did that and never regretted it. Romm and Jaczko may indeed be very smart, but I always wondered about the motivations of those who put in 4-5 years of graduate study but seem to use that not as a scholarly career builder, but as a ticket to political influence at high levels of government.

        1. Wayne – It’s good for you. It teaches you that hard work is the reward for hard work, and that makes you a better person because of it.

          Folks like Romm and Jaczko never learned these lessons.

    2. Both are also New Yorkers. Romm is from NYC suburbs; Jaczko grew up in Albany. It’s entirely possible that they chose to earn their physics PhDs in order to establish credibility for careers in antinuclear policy development.

      1. What I see is two wasted lives. Here you have two people who have the brains to obtain a Ph.D. in physics, but who did not use their knowledge to do constructive work.

        While there are many ways of making money (and both Romm and Jaczko certainly have done that), not all ways of making money also make a positive contribution to society.

      2. I was born in NYC and grew up half way between Indian Point NPP and Manhattan…and I turned out pro-nuclear!

        David Walters

          1. @David Walters

            Both Romm and Jaczko attended colleges that I would consider “Eastern Establishment” institutions. (MIT and Cornell respectively.)

            As I have tried to document on Atomic Insights, the prospect of moving from an economy enabled by energy from hydrocarbon combustion to one where a growing portion of the economy runs as a result of atomic fission is scary for Establishment types.

            Even if people are not involved in actual production, transportation, refining or sales of hydrocarbons, there are many in media, banking, and finance who stand to lose a lot if hydrocarbons lose their vital importance both politically and economically.

  9. Just a quick anecdotal note about growth rates for different technologies.

    Currently nuclear in the US is dealing with retirements as well as a minor amount of new construction. At the current time, it is fair to say the new plants are essentially replacement, or will help achieve nuclear’s attempt to maintain it’s share of the electricity pie. So nuclear is dealing with replacement and all new plants do not result in growth.

    In contrast, there is very little retirement of wind and solar, so their entire supply chains are channeled towards growth. Based on design lifetimes, this could change in about 10 to 15 years. The supply chains for wind and solar will then be partially, if not completely, redirected toward replacement. In other words, if the solar and wind supply chains do not increase their volume, going forward they will have to deal with the same issues that nuclear currently deals with, that is maintaining their share of electricity generation. It is possible the supply chains for these technologies can maintain existing market while still supporting some growth, but the likelihood is that once replacement begins, that growth will drop off significantly.

  10. @Rod In the popular figure you present how is inflation handled? Is it a real dollar graph? or actual costs? While inflation would not explain everything, 1972 to 1996 is a long time.

    1. The effect of inflation on US plant construction costs is shown and discussed in Fig 2, at the reference given at my Jan 10 11:04 comment. Interesting reading, and complicated.

  11. When I was deciding on a major, I was at U of Chicago, which has no engineering school but many Nobel winners in various branches of science. So my choices were biology, chemistry and physics. I thought biology had too much memorization, so I was left with chemistry and physics. I loved physics. Einstein! Fermi! Cool stuff!

    But I didn’t see how I could contribute to physics. Physics was all “breakthroughs” as I saw it. Could I come up with a breakthrough? Seemed unlikely.

    On the other hand, chemists seemed to “advance” the art one step at a time. I figured that if I worked hard, I could contribute as a chemist.

    I admit to having been in awe of people who chose physics.

    FWIW, I was also in awe of mathematicians and I married one. Most of the mathematicians seemed more fun loving than the physicists, especially in terms of lots of time involved with music. Looking back, I dated mathematicians and chemists and an economics major. I don’t think I ever dated a physics major. But I did admire them, a lot.

  12. Romm immediately loses all credibility when he cites MZ Jacobson’s WWS all-sector (not just electricity but also transportation) primary energy fantasy at the end of the vary same article in which he criticizes the comparatively modest electric sector fission-build projections of Hansen et al.

    Jacobson’s WWS vision involves a mix of ~50/50% wind & solar. Currently wind turbines — now the most economically viable “renewable” technology currently generating ~4% of US electricity — require a $23 per MW/hr production tax credit. “According to AWEA, in 2013, after the renewable energy tax credits were allowed to expire even briefly, installations of new wind farms fell 92 percent, causing a loss of 30,000 jobs across the industry that year.” (CS Monitor 7-29-2015). These government subsidies now cost taxpayers ~$3.5 billion/yr.

    All forms of solar thermal or PV electricity generation are now an order-of-magnitude more expensive than wind turbines. PV electricity also has a far larger “carbon footprint” than nuclear fission, comparable to natural gas in fact, especially when those solar cells are manufactured in China (PRC), the cheapest world manufacturers; those PRC solar cells are manufactured under a far more carbon intensive coal driven economy than the US.

    Jacobson recently published a 50 state 100% renewable roadmap energy plan by 2050:

    Romm & Jacobson should demonstrate their theories on just one state such as Hawaii where electricity prices are already the highest and electricity consumption the lowest in the US. In fact they should pick just one island — I suggest Kauai, far smaller than populous Oahu yet still large enough to require extensive baseload transmission and/or storage — to demonstrate their 100% WWS theory.

    As Hansen et al write “Some have argued that it is feasible to meet all of our energy needs with renewables. The 100% renewable scenarios downplay or ignore the intermittency issue by making unrealistic technical assumptions, and can contain high levels of biomass and hydroelectric power at the expense of true sustainability.” And they note “Large amounts of nuclear power would make it much easier for solar and wind to close the energy gap.” Specifically what they are calling for is “an all-of-the-above approach that includes increased investment in renewables combined with an accelerated deployment of new nuclear reactors.”

    Fission electricity generation has already displaced more carbon (60 GtCO2) than all other technologies combined (current annual world emissions: ~36 GtCO2). Current world electricity demand is ~3500 GW/hr annum with fission supplying ~10% and carbon intensive coal ~40%. By 2050 world energy demand driven by needs of developing nations could double. The developing economies of the PRC, India, & Indonesia are largely driven by coal; to displace this future coal demand ~80GW(e) of new fission energy per year would be required over the next 35 years. The world economy is now ~400 times larger, in real terms, than the economy of Sweden in the 1970s. It took Sweden less than 20 years to build ~10GW(e) of fission capacity, the modern worldwide equivalent would be 200GW(e) year. Well within the future roadmap projections of Hansen et al.

    Coal fallout routinely shortens the lives (kills) of a million people per annum according to research published by both the Lancet and Harvard School of Public health, far more than any conceivable nuclear accident, or series of nuclear accidents, even accepting unscientific LNT radio-carcinogenesis estimates. The mass of radionuclides in burned coal released to the biosphere far exceeds nuclear reactor discharges.

    1. I should emphasize the obvious needed correction in my 2nd to last paragraph above: average world electricity demand is ~3500 GW(e); total world annual electricity production (8766 hours per year) is approx. 30 million GW/hrs per year.

      It should also be noted that of the 2-3000GW(e) of fission driven electricity that would be required to displace coal by mid-21st century probably no more than 1000GW(e) should be generated by LWRs. 200k tons of annual uranium production would likely stress the extractive capacities of in-situ mining and require large open-cast ore bodies.

      Contrary to the opinion of Energy Sec. Ernest Moniz now is not too soon to develop thermal & fast breeder reactors in order to avoid late 21st century fissile bottlenecks.

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