Tuesday, July 8, 2008

10 Reasons Not to Listen to 10 Other Reasons

My Google nuclear news filter popped up a little gem entitled “10 Reasons Not to Invest in Nuclear” put out by the Center for American Progress, an entity bolstering “progressive ideas for a strong, just, and free American.”

I read through their points, and it’s the same old stuff, and as I always think—at least to myself—here is why they’re wrong:

1. Nuclear faces prohibitively high-and-escalating-capital costs.

It is true the cost to build a nuclear plant has gone up since we last built one, but that’s to be expected—it’s been a long time. They cite AEP’s CEO Michael Morris as saying he doesn’t see new nuke in the near term. What, then, does he see? Coal. The article they cite, here, also states that new nuclear would cost about $4000 per kilowatt; the same article says new coal—potentially with sequestration—would be $3500. Nuclear doesn’t sound so “prohibitive”, especially when one considers the 20-50% increased cost of sequestered coal power.

Besides, if nuclear were absolutely so costly, we wouldn’t be seeing license submissions and orders for reactors. Bottom line? Nuclear is economically viable.

2. Plant construction is limited by production bottlenecks.

Sure, we all know Japan Steel is the containment vessel master of the world. They go on to state,

“even if Japan Steel increases its capacity [up from 4/year], American power companies would be buying components in a global market at a time when China and India are increasing their nuclear capacity to meet growing energy needs.”

Aren’t China and India the fastest growing coal users in the world, too? That’s what I get out of the recent G8 discussions. Sure, there will be competition for nuclear supplies, but that’s no different than any other energy—we have to accept that sooner than later. And about the vessels—I already know of one U.S. company who has one in construction.

3. New nuclear plants probably won’t be designed by American companies.

In 30 years, the United States has lost much of its indigenous nuclear infrastructure—that is true. However, it’s not the case the nuclear companies are foreign; rather, they are international. So what if Constellation teamed with Areva in a joint multinational endeavor? Areva, though headquartered in France, has 5000 U.S. employees. If Areva designs are used here in the U.S., that will mean more—not fewer—jobs for our workforce.

4. Unresolved problems regarding the availability and security of waste storage.

What do they mean there is nowhere to store used fuel? It has to be somewhere right now – and it is, on site, all around the U.S. They bring up a point of truth—Yucca would be at about capacity with what we have right now. They’re wrong, though, to say recycling wouldn’t help. Few understand that roughly 95% of what comes out as used fuel is still uranium, some of which is still usable as fuel (hence used fuel, not waste!). Take out 95% of the used fuel content for use as new fuel, and you’re left with “5% of the problem”, as it were. And that’s not a reduction? I think it is.

They also suggest recycling would increase electricity costs. However, this could very well be an issue for government—which is required by law to deal with civilian waste. And in fact they are looking at it here, here, and here. (I like the last, particularly).

5. Nuclear faces concerns about uranium supplies and importation issues.

Our foreign dependence on energy is no new thing. However, our dependence on foreign nuclear fuel would be much reduced if we went to a closed fuel cycle, i.e. recycling.

6. Nuclear reactors require water use amid shortages

“Large areas of the United States already face water shortages, and the effects of global warming are expected to exacerbate this problem.”

Nuclear power is the enemy of global warming. I like this quote from a rudimentary thermodynamics book:

“If this power plant [for which we just calculated oodles of numbers] were coal-fired rather than a nuclear plant, the quantities we have calculated would be little different. We would have essentially the same amount of heat...and the temperature rise of the river would be about the same. But there are other considerations. To supply the heat...would require about 6 tons/min [of coal]. The sulfur content...would produce about 600 lb of sulfur dioxide per minute...[and]...would pollute the atmosphere continuously. Thus the coal-fired plant would cause both thermal pollution and air pollution."

The extra water use is marginal; the emission-reduction is paramount.

7. Safety concerns still plague nuclear power.

“After the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, the United States stopped granting licenses for new nuclear plants. The crises demonstrated that the nuclear industry is vulnerable to public concern.”

True, but rather mute given current public opinion; one poll shows 67% of American support new nuclear plants. (Five-to-one preferred a nuclear plant to a coal plant in their neighborhood)

8. Nuclear is already a mature technology—it will not get cheaper.

I don’t know anyone who has ever said any type of base load generation will get cheaper.

That said, the nuclear industry will benefit from any carbon emission mandates set by the government. Thus, nuclear will become comparatively cheaper as our nation commits to green.

9. Other clean energy technologies are cheaper, cleaner, and faster to build.

And other clean energies are not appropriate for round-the-clock base load generation.

I will state I do support research into other technologies, e.g. solar and wind, for I do believe they have their place. However, I did a calculation the other day. The results were something like this. In the next thirty years, our energy demands will grow. If we use just solar for that growth, we’d be covering the whole of Illinois in solar panels—not going to happen. Same sort of thing for wind. These sources simply are not the solution unless we plan to ramp back our energy consumption level to that of say 1950, and the statistics on American consumption don’t support that possibility at all!

10. Nuclear subsidies take money away from more effective alternative energy subsidies.

Look at 9. Why heavily subsidize technologies that simply cannot meet our needs?