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My post from yesterday raised questions about the economics of nuclear power plants. So, as is my custom, I spent five minutes on Wikipedia absorbing as many misconceptions about this topic as I could.

The first important concept to understand is that solar and wind power can never replace more than 20 percent of the world's total energy needs because they are not reliable sources for any given hour of the day. We still need baseline energy production.

And then you have the problem of getting the energy from where it is produced to where you need it. That means Nebraskans won't be powering their microwaves from ocean wave energy any time soon.

The economics of nuclear power plants aren't as easy to calculate as you might assume. One of the bigger unknowns is what technological breakthroughs we'll see in the next twenty years. In other words, is the most economical way to build the next nuclear power plant to wait 20 years before you start, thus benefitting from new technology?

And who can predict technological breakthroughs in renewable energy? If someone comes up with an absurdly cheap way to store electricity, or to transmit it thousands of miles without much loss, then solar and wind have more potential than anyone imagined. And if the scientists figure out how to inexpensively turn just about any fast-growing organic matter into oil through chemistry, that's a game changer.

And what are the costs for the fossil fuel alternatives? What price do you assign to the human contribution to global warming, and the occasional war over oil?

The U.S. nuclear power debate usually gets characterized as a wrestling match between irrational scaredy cats and clear-headed rationalists, refereed by a comically incompetent government. The only thing I know for sure is that no one can understand the economics of a 40-year investment.
 
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Jun 1, 2009
Being a 13 year old, I too would want to do this to people who deserve it. Sometimes you just have to deal with it at my age.
 
 
May 20, 2009
It is not as unlikely as you think, Recently, a BBC report described a system whereby High Voltage DC lines could carry power all over Europe and North Africa generated via Solar (in the Sahara) and Wind/Waves in the Northern Latitudes like Scotland. Along with the ability to effectively 'store' energy in the same system using superconducting lines, it suggested that little 'backup' was necessary. Europe-wide use requires no real cover for surges in demand overall (many time zones etc.) and the combination of Sun and Sea was enough for a continuous supply.

Personally, given the Politics and inability of our system to plan for such an integrated grid (until the last possible moment at least), I would feel better if we built loads of nuclear backup; initial Carbon costs accepted, used it for 50 years or so to guarantee our required way of life while minimising dependence on oil. In the meantime, during 50 years of research and investment, we would have a full understanding of whether Fusion of one kind or another will work and maybe even have the above integrated system to take over.

The one-off cost of cleaning up/storing/destruction of the nuclear waste is easily worth the benefit. the probable extra cost of nuclear is also worth the stability less oil use would bring. I think we have passed peak easy-oil somewhat so the price is gonna be horrible 10 years from now.

The French have already done this for years and years without incident. Coal and Oil kills thousands now (and possibly millions eventually) and Oil is too precious to piss away burning it in any case.

Perhaps Carbon sequestering technology would make coal usable as fuel or an oil replacement by then too meaning we could use the fossil fuel resource without the Carbon cost. It is gonna be much harder or impossible to get the Carbon from the atmosphere even if we absolutely have to; better to have the technology at generation, matured and usable if we need it.
 
 
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May 17, 2009


The U.S. right now generates about 50% of its electric power from coal and only about 15% from nuclear reactors. If the “hydrogen economy” ever took off, we’d need even more electricity since manufacturing hydrogen fuel generally requires massive amounts of electricity. Obama and others insist there will be cuts made that will make up for it. Regardless, let us hope that the short term loans we're making will help to bring back the U.S. economy. Read more click http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2009/04/09/america-high-doubleedged-cash-advances/





 
 
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May 17, 2009


The U.S. right now generates about 50% of its electric power from coal and only about 15% from nuclear reactors. If the “hydrogen economy” ever took off, we’d need even more electricity since manufacturing hydrogen fuel generally requires massive amounts of electricity. Obama and others insist there will be cuts made that will make up for it. Regardless, let us hope that the short term loans we're making will help to bring back the <a rev="vote for" title="America is high on double-edged cash advances" href="http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2009/04/09/america-high-doubleedged-cash-advances/">U.S. economy</a>.





 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
NaturalBornKieler said:" At some point in time, be it 10 or 50 or 500 years from now, all fossil energy and all uranium will be exhausted. That means that this point we MUST cover 100% of our energy needs with renewable energy. The earlier we start to get this done the better, either by reducing energy demand or by improving renewable energy technology of any sort, but putting any more effort into a lost cause like nuclear energy sounds silly to me."

First of all, we'll never run out of any of those fuels in the next 50 years. Not even fossil fuels. We may hit peak production of oil, but fossil fuels will continue to power us for centuries as will nuclear materials. Why does it matter how early we develop renewable energy? So that we have unused oil and coal laying around? That doesn't really serve any purpose. And it's based on the CURRENT needs of the people and the possibilities of the economy (here I mean "the economy" in a grander, non controllable sense; no, we cannot change our economy to make 100% solar or wind production possible). That's like going back to the days of the horse and buggy and saying, "Hey! People are going to be living on the moon in 300 years, so you better get started on it now."

I'm sorry, but we'll cross all bridges when we come to them. Actually, most the facts about making nuclear energy work effectively are already out there. That is a definite leg up above wind and solar. The only problem is that there are far too many people who want to dramatically overstate the risks and understate the benefits of nuclear power. To really understand the issue, you have to have a phd in physics or something (I don't even know the education necessary!), but when you compare nuclear power to other forms of energy (remember, coal mines put more radioactive uranium particles into the air than nuclear plants do) it just makes sense.

Should we understate the costs and risks? Hell, no. We need people to question and probe the entire way to make things safe. And I think that we should try out the new reactors a little at a time first to see if they are as effective as they say. Maybe we should try the small, commercial reactors for local use first too. Also, we should test out the newer reprocessing methods too. Only when these technologies are proven to be 100% effective should we move forward to make it our prime energy source.

Like nuclear energy, wind and solar still require a lot of R&D. Nuclear is actually more of a proven, cost effective technology. Like nuclear plants, we should be building solar cells and windmills, but we need to keep it small until the technology becomes effective. Think of it this way; yes, we need to start experimenting with infrastructure, which requires the artificial creation of a market for wind and solar to get the ball rolling. But we pump too many government subsidies into making an unprofitable activity appear profitable, and there are huge wind and solar markets that are completely superfluous. Part of that market is necessary for experimentation, but the rest of those resources are a waste. Every dollar that goes towards superfluous windmills is a dollar less that goes towards the research necessary to actually develop working windmills that don't require a government subsidy. What if we took 60% of our current windmill and solar cell subsidies, and pumped them into making the technology work? Would we develop profitable windmills 5 years earlier? Maybe 10?

Same goes for nuclear. We shouldn't go 100% nuclear, but we could break some ground and start doing high level research. In the meantime, we might go 30% nuclear. As well as shoot for 30% "green."
 
 
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May 15, 2009
"The only thing I know for sure is that no one can understand the economics of a 40-year investment."

Except the French government - EdF is building nuclear power stations in the UK. The really interesting thing is they're assuming a 60 year payback period on their investment. What private company does that?

 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
The problem with the wait 20 years solution is that if no one is spending money on nuclear then no breakthroughs will be made, so regardless of the imaginary future solution, you have to be spending money now for it to exist at all.
 
 
May 15, 2009
Solar power isn't reliable on the ground. But in space, it could be. We don't quite have the technology to harness it in space and carry it down here, but it can theoretically be done, and will probably be a major source of energy eventually.
 
 
May 15, 2009
Regarding the cost of nuclear energy, how about insurance? Are there any insurance companies willing to cover the accident risk coming with nuclear energy, and to do this for the tens of thousands of years the nuclear waste has to be kept under control? What are the insurance rates for this? AFAIK, today all nuclear plants run without such a kind of insurance, the risk is covered by the nation, if at all.
 
 
May 15, 2009
At some point in time, be it 10 or 50 or 500 years from now, all fossil energy and all uranium will be exhausted. That means that this point we MUST cover 100% of our energy needs with renewable energy. The earlier we start to get this done the better, either by reducing energy demand or by improving renewable energy technology of any sort, but putting any more effort into a lost cause like nuclear energy sounds silly to me.
 
 
May 15, 2009
Seems to me like a good plan might be to use large hot areas to make hydrogen creation facilities. Put the Sahara or Arizona or wherever to work using its solar energy to crack water for hydrogen which can then be used as a portable energy source.
 
 
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May 14, 2009
Try this free on-line book for an extremely well done analysis of how to meet national/global energy needs if we truly want to stop emitting CO2. http://www.withouthotair.com/ This is uses real math (!) and no BS to show what could possibly work and what can only be a drop in the bucket. The punch line is that North America could meet its energy needs w/o emitting CO2 with either Nuclear power or massive solar power in the deserts - nothing else can add up to meet the demand.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 14, 2009
"The only thing I know for sure is that no one can understand the economics of a 40-year investment."

True, but I think we can have a pretty good idea of the implications of no investment over that same 40-year period.

My 14-year-old son is really interested in algae. He is pretty sure he wants to study marine science and botany - and work on energy issues.

What does that have to do with anything? Well, the kid is homeschooled. Our public schools teach "discovery" math. That means that instead of getting down to business and teaching geometry, they waste precious time making the kids "discover" the principles on their own. Not even the Greeks did that. What they discovered, they taught. Our science programs are as bad or worse. The local colleges are telling the K-12's that their graduates are not prepared for college-level math and science - but their complaints are falling on deaf ears.

Kids in Seattle are far more likely to discover a talent for drama or art in school than a passion for math or science. Those who are naturally good at math often get penalized because they are graded on how well they explain their answer - not how effectively they derive it.

Again - what does this have to do with our long-term alternative energy strategy? If we are counting on home-grown technology solutions, we need to stop !$%*!$%* around with demonstrably poor approaches to math and science education. In that 40-year time frame, today's discovery math students are (at best) tomorrow's managers outsourcing work they don't fully understand to knowledge workers in India and Taiwan.

If the alternative energy solution is ultimately a technological problem waiting to be solved, we should be investing now in the next generation of problem solvers. We are squandering a vast amount of human potential as I type.
 
 
May 14, 2009
NOT IN YOUR BACKYARD? Think again.

Scott, this is your lucky day.

As a Canadian, I am very familiar with Canada's tried and true CANDU Reactor -- but what I didn't know, until I noticed an ad in our local paper today, is that CANDU have come out with a consumer version of their nuclear reactor. This could be the perfect energy solution for your new house.

I was not able to capture the graphics, of course, but here is the text of the CANDU advertisement. Let me know if you are interested in learning more. They have a local rep in Vancouver and I can ask him to give you a call.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

INTRODUCING ... The Advanced BACKYARD CANDU Reactor!

The Advanced BACKYARD CANDU Reactor (ABCR) is a Generation IV design and is a further development of existing CANDU reactors designed by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. It is a tonic-water-cooled reactor that incorporates features of both Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) and Advanced Pressurized Water Reactors (APWR) technologies. It uses a similar design concept to our popular Steam Generating Cappuccino Reactor (SGHWR) model.

The ABCR uses lightly enriched and frosted uranium flakes (LEFUF) as fuel, tonic water coolant, and a separate toilet water overflow moderator. The reactivity regulating and safety devices are located within the low pressure moderator, for ease of access by the homeowner. The ABCR also incorporates characteristics of the CANDU design, including on-power refueling with the CANFLEX fuel; a long prompt neutron lifetime; small reactivity holdup; two fast, totally independent, dedicated safety shutdown systems; and an emergency core cooling system, complete with universal remote control. The compact reactor core design reduces core size by half for the same power output over the older design, allowing it to fit nicely into the typical suburban backyard.

The frosted uranium flake fuel bundle is a variant of the 43-element CANFLEX design (CANFLEX-ACR). The use of LEU fuel with a neutron absorbing centre element allows the reduction of coolant void reactivity coefficient to a nominally small, negative value. It also results in higher burnup operation than traditional CANDU designs.

The current size for the ABCR is approximately 1200MWe. That a lot of punch in a small package.

Safety Systems -- Rest Assured.

The Advanced BACKYARD CANDU Reactor includes a variety of safety systems, most of which are evolutionary derivatives of the systems utilized on the CANDU 6 reactor design. Each ABCR requires both SDS1 & SDS2 to be online and fully operational before they will operate at any power level.

Your Advanced BACKYARD CANDU Reactor unit is designed to rapidly and automatically terminate reactor operation on the first sign of trouble.

Neutron-absorbing rods (control rods that introduce negative reactivity) are stored inside of isolated channels located directly under the child proof lid of the reactor vessel (Calandria) and are controlled via a triple-channel logic circuit. When any 2 of the 3 circuit paths are activated (due to sensing the need for emergency reactor trip), the direct current-controlled clutches that keep each control-rod in the storage position are de-energized. The result is that each control-rod is inserted into the Calandria, and 90% of gross reactor heat output is reduced within 2 seconds. That's fast!

And, as if that was was not enough peace of mind, rest assured that your new Advanced BACKYARD CANDU Reactor is also designed to rapidly and automatically terminate reactor operation in another way.

Gadolinium nitrate (GdNO3), a neutron absorbing liquid that introduces negative reactivity, is stored inside of channels that feed into horizontal nozzle assembly thingies. Each nozzle assembly thingie contains high-speed electronically-controlled valves, all of which are controlled via a triple-channel logic circuit. When any 2 of the 3 circuit paths are activated (again, due to somehow sensing the need for emergency reactor trip), each of these valves are opened and liquid GdNO3 is injected through the nozzle assembly thingies into the Calandria tonic-water moderator. The result is that 90% of gross reactor heat output is reduced within 2 seconds. That's fast!

Reserve Water System (RWS): The RWS consists of a series of high quality vinyl hoses that attach directly to any household toilet and is designed to provide an emergency source of water for use in cooling an ABCR that has suffered a Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA). As well, the RWS can be utilized to also provide emergency water (may require additional flushing) to the steam generators, moderator system, shield cooling system or the heat transport system of any ABCR.

Operational Cost

The ABCR has a planned lifetime capacity factor of greater than 93%. This is achieved by a 3 year planned outage frequency, with a 21-day planned outage duration and 1.5% per year forced outage. Quadrant separation allows flexibility for on-line maintenance and outage management. A high degree of safety system testing automation also reduces cost.

And the best part? This little baby will pay for itself in less than 4,000 years!


"CANDU -- The "Can Do" Backyard Nuclear Reactor People"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Webster
 
 
May 14, 2009
I've named that point! The point at which technology development stops in anticipation of better technology! I call it "The Timothy Point." I wrote about it in a blog post last year: <a href="http://without-warning.blogspot.com/2008/03/my-legacy.html">My Legacy</a>
 
 
May 14, 2009
The actual cost to generate electricity with nuclear is almost as cheap as hydroelectric, the problem is the HUGE initial investment in the infrastructure. And we have plenty of fuel, but it's rotting in pools because we don't recycle it, or sitting in the ground here in Utah because we don't mine it. What noone that is touting 'alternatives' seems to understand is that our economy is built on cheap energy. If energy stops being cheap we will quickly become a 2nd rate country while other countries that don't have the ridiculous hangups about building large generation plants will become the world powers. Start learning Mandarin.
 
 
May 14, 2009
It is only true in the immediate sense that solar could only supply 20%. Solar cells that have already been invented (but are a number of years from full production) would give enough power to supply our entire needs. The only problem then becomes storing it for when the sun is not out, which if we put our minds to it is an easy problem to solve. I personally think hydrogen cells are the way to go as they are as close to zero impact as any technology we have today, although we may possibly think of something better in the future.

Nuclear power is a long way from infinite and is the ultimate in non-renewable. The world could conceivably produce more oil/gas/coal in the future, but it will never produce more uranium.

The sun is the only effectively infinite source of energy (when it runs out there will be no-one left on earth to care) so if we have to put our energy into getting a new source of energy why not put our efforts into this one? Just because today's technology is not a complete panacea is not reason to abandon it for another short term technology, especially one that is so expensive and produces such virulent waste.
 
 
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May 14, 2009
dlex700:
We already do that! It's called Megatons to Megawatts. Check it:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megatons_to_Megawatts_Program
 
 
May 14, 2009
On a tangent: One of the other elements that rarely comes up in these discussions is not only the lead time it takes to design and build a new plant, but the time that it takes to properly train and certify the engineers, technicians, and others who work within the walls of the plant. Companies like the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators (INPO) does some truly rigorous work in this space. Worth checking out!
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 14, 2009
Scott,
You sounded like you were building up nuclear power, than you immediately tore it down with a spurious argument. Yes, nuclear would be a multi decade investment, but so would wind and solar. We already have nuclear power plants that are more cost effective than the green alternatives, and if we built new high-tech reactors, we could achieve known levels of energy production. Wind, solar, tidal, etc are all technologies that we know won't be cost effective for decades, and even once they do, they still might not be able to compete with fossil fuels or nuclear.

And no, we do not only have 30 years of nuclear fuel available. That figure is assuming that we don't mine or enrich any more. If we did, we would have at least a century or two before nuclear fuel became scarce.

To me, the future probably looks like this:

Nuclear 35% of energy production.

New "green" technology:25%

Traditional renewables (hydroelectric, thermal): 20%

Clean and unclean fossil fuels: 20%

Plus, we'll use energy more efficiently in the future, so we may see our carbon footprint shrink dramatically. The figures that I mentioned are based on assumptions of the technology available in the next 2 or 3 decades. I'm sure that by 2050, we'll have even better technology to work with.
 
 
 
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