Dependable Erection

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Republican John McCain would put the United States on course to build 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030 if elected president, the Arizona senator said on Wednesday.

McCain, his party's presumptive nominee in this fall's presidential election, is laying out his plan to make the country energy independent.

"If I am elected president, I will set this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America," he said.

Where do you imagine we can put them? Seriously, are there 100 sites that have the necessary requirements (proximity to large amounts of water, far from population centers, etc.) to build new nukes? Are there 45? And to build them at the pace of two a year for the next 22 years? At $10 billion each, that's $450 billion. They'll certainly cost more than that by 2030. And 45 new plants, even higher capacity ones, still only replace 20% or so of our current fossil fuel generating capacity.

I may be busy today, scouring the map looking for sites that will pass muster.

Labels: ,


  • Well, this map of extant reactor sites suggests to me that being far from a major population center isn't really that necessary.

    By Blogger Brian, at 11:37 AM  

  • Try getting a plant sited near a population center today.

    Nobody's broken ground on a nuke in what, 35 years? And population has about doubled in that time, right? When many of those plants were built, they weren't as near to population centers as they are now.

    By Blogger Barry, at 11:50 AM  

  • Fair enough. NIMBY is a bitch.

    As it is with many things, I think this is an area where Americans would benefit from a visit to France, to notice (among other things) that it isn't exactly a smoldering radioactive crater, and that the fish don't have three eyes.

    If everybody traded in their gas guzzlers for hybrids tomorrow, we'd still be belching an awful lot of CO2 into the air. Electric cars don't eliminate carbon emissions when over half your electricity comes from best, you are just displacing your emissions to wherever the power plant is. The energy still has to come from SOMEWHERE.

    Solar, wind, etc., are nice and all, and certainly getting more efficient, but nukes are pretty hard to beat in terms of bang for your buck. (So to speak.)

    If the $10 billion figure is more or less accurate, someone should point out to Sen. McCain that one plant = 1 month of occupying Iraq, and ask him which he thinks is more likely to move us towards energy independence faster.

    By Blogger Brian, at 12:54 PM  

  • I've had this discussion with several people online in the past. It's a complicated one. Here's the argument they make about cost, as i understand it.

    Nuclear technology has gotten much more sophisticated in the past 30 years since plants were being built in the US. Large plants used to have a 1 - 1.2 GW capacity. Now, 2.5 GW is feasible. They can be built much cheaper than in the past, and, since they're inherently safer (ie - less prone to accidents) much of the additional cost can be eliminated.

    My argument against that goes something like this. There's very little expertise in this country in building these power plants. So, we either have to import a bunch of engineers, or train a whole bunch of people in a hurry. Both are expensive, although probably not prohibitively so. However, if we cut those corners, what do we give up in terms of safety? Second, 45 nukes in a very short period of time is huge. What does that do to global demand for steel and concrete, which is already in short supply? Ask any highway engineer or skyscraper construction manager what's happened to their estimates over the past 24 - 36 months. The baseline for nuke plant construction was about $15 billion each back in the 70s and 80s. I think anyone who says that a new plant can be built for less than that, in today's dollars, is smoking crack. My gut feeling is that we're looking at more like a 2-3 trillion dollar investment to get 45 plants online in 20 years, rather than a half trillion dollars.

    But only time will tell, if in fact we make the commitment to build them.

    Now, here's the key factor, i think. You are absolutely right in that we'd still be dumping huge amounts of carbon in the air, even if everyone switched to hybrids. If we keep the personal vehicle model, we need to be running fuel cells or electric cars. My guess is that electric cars will happen first.

    Currently, our 100 or so nukes generate about 20% of our electricity. Adding 45 higher capacity nukes will bring that up to 45% or so, assuming that our current fossil fuel plants stay on line. So our capacity will also increase, but our emissions will not decrease. If we decommission an equivalent amount of fossil fuel generating capacity, yeah, we cut our emissions (which is the whole point of switching to nuke power, right?) but we don't increase our overall capacity. So, if capacity stays the same, where do we get all that extra electricity from to run our new electric cars?

    Call me a dreamer, but i have to think that, with a 2 trillion dollar budget, we'd be more likely to find a breakthrough in solar generating capacity, or fuel cell technology, than we will be to save ourselves by building all these nukes.

    the environmentalist argument for nukes is predicated, as i read it, on the idea that we are at the absolute tipping point in terms of how much carbon the atmosphere can carry. We need to stop adding any more carbon to the atmosphere immediately,if you read Lovelock, et al. Nukes are the only source of energy available that we can switch to that both saves the planet from runaway global warming, and maintains civilization as we know it.

    I don't see how building 45 nukes over 22 years does either of those to be honest. It doesn't displace enough fossil fuel burning to save the earth in the worst case scenario, and it doesn't provide enough alternative energy to switch enough of our economy over to nuke electricity to maintain current power uses if in fact we do have to sop burning fossil fuels (and ethanol, actually) completely.

    that's assuming you buy into the worst case scenario that Lovelock puts forth. If it turns out that we won't hit the tipping point for 50 - 100 years, i think it makes more sense to spend a couple of trillion dollars going for something truly life changing, rather than a bunch of nuclear power plants whose costs will be borne inequitably by those who happen to live near them, whose life span will be 40 - 50 years at best, and whose waste products we have absolutely no idea where to put.

    If Lovelock is right, though, i don't see how John McCain's proposal gets us through to the other side. The nukes are only a stopgap measure to buy enough time to develop another source of energy anyway. We'll still have to make that same investment down the road. We'll just have less money to do it with, since the profits from building these 45 new nuke plants will be privatized, and not plowed back into creating the new energy producing technologies we'll need.

    By Blogger Barry, at 1:24 PM  

  • There's very little expertise in this country in building these power plants.

    would disagree with you. So would Mr. Edison.

    What does that do to global demand for steel and concrete, which is already in short supply?

    The amount in a nuclear facility is small in comparison to any of the examples you mention. In any event, why would you complain about building fewer roads in comparison to reducing carbon output?

    The baseline for nuke plant construction was about $15 billion each back in the 70s and 80s.

    A lot of the cost overruns were caused by NIMBY induced delays. Cf. Shoreham.

    "It drew increasingly intense opposition after the 1979 Three Mile Island and the 1986 Chernobyl accidents, resulting in delays and cost increases before New York Governor Mario Cuomo pulled the plug in a state takeover of the plant. The state would ultimately take over LILCO also."

    Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant

    ...we need to be running fuel cells or electric cars. My guess is that electric cars will happen first.

    Good guess until we discover hydrogen mines to run those fuel cells. But the better choice is hybrids which we can do now and not wait for the invention of a miracle battery.

    So, if capacity stays the same, where do we get all that extra electricity from to run our new electric cars?

    The entire argument for electric cars is predicated on using "off-peak" charging. That is, charging the cars at night when demand is low. This is actually an argument against electric cars since, no matter the generating technology, you'd have to add capacity for people to charge cars during the day or prohibit them from charging during the day.

    we'd be more likely to find a breakthrough in solar generating capacity, or fuel cell technology, than we will be to save ourselves by building all these nukes.

    Do the math sometime on how much area we'd have to cover to meet a significant part of our energy needs with solar. And I still want to find that hydrogen mine to run the fuel cells. If you really wish to indulge in the wishful thinking of a hoped for future technology rather than building right now with a 50 year old technology, the money would be better spent on a fusion reactor.

    By Blogger An Engineer, at 3:02 PM  

  • Even granting that opposition to Shoreham was NIMBY (and as one who was involved in the opposition to Shoreham, i can state pretty unequivocally that it was not), much more of the overruns in Shoreham's cost (from $670 million when ground was broken, to $15 billion when it was finished) was due to the incompetence of LILCO, as well as the cost-plus provisions of NY utility law, which provided no incentives for LILCO to rein in costs, since they theoretically would have been allowed to bill their customers for every penny spent building the plant. That experience will drive a lot of NIMBYism in the future. Where do you propose siting 45 new plants to avoid that?


    The siting problem is at least as much a political problem as it is a technical problem. Unless you're willing to engage in police state tactics, and force plant sitings over local opposition, you're going to be extremely hard pressed to find locations for 45 new plants, let alone 100.

    And seriously, are you saying that a nuke the size of Shearon Harris doesn't use as much concrete and steel as a 40 story, one square block office building? I'll bet you $1,000 right now that, barring global financial collapse, any cost estimate for a nuke on the books today doubles in 5 years due to the rise in price of construction materials.

    And you haven't addressed the most important underlying question, which is the whole reason why nuclear power is an option in the first place. Are we within 20 years of reaching a tipping point in carbon carrying capacity of the atmosphere? If we are, can we switch to nuke power quickly enough to make a difference? I think the answer is pretty clearly no. If we're not, then all nuclear power does is provide another profit stream for basically the same set of players who have been running our world with their control of the fossil fuel industry for the past 100 or so years. It passes the problems of waste disposal onto future generations (much the same way that the bush administration has passed the problems of paying for the Iraq war onto our grandchildren) while continuously underestimating the costs of providing that power, and keeping the profits made from generating and distributing that power within a small circle of companies who have no interest in using those profits to benefit anyone other than themselves.

    To me, there's a very superficial argument that nuclear power supporters make in favor of plans like the one McCain is putting forth. Once you look under the hood, it's exactly the same arguments that you all made 35 years ago.

    By Blogger Barry, at 3:26 PM  

  • Finally, the 2008 version of McCain has proposed something I agree with.

    Fission is the most efficient and least environmentally damaging option currently available. Period. We can't afford to allow NIMBY paranoia to lock us into burning fossil fuels, nor can we just wait around for some magic fusion "silver bullet" that's always 50 years off.

    Fission is not going to solve all of our problems, but nobody said that it would - it's simply the only rational choice for new infrastructure. Coupled with conservation and continued research, it has to be part of a complete strategy for meeting both near term and long term energy needs. The US is playing catch-up in this regard, and we need to take a cue from more modern countries - such as Japan - where fission already accounts for 30% of their electricity generation (and rising).

    It's time to learn to stop worrying and love the atomic power.

    By Blogger Jeremy T, at 4:21 PM  

  • "We can't afford to allow NIMBY paranoia to lock us into burning fossil fuels, nor can we just wait around for some magic fusion "silver bullet" that's always 50 years off."

    I love it.

    Where in Durham County should we build a nuke?


    How about up near Treyburn? Lots of empty land in that part of the county.

    Oh, and have we talked about how much water a nuclear plant uses each day?

    By Blogger Barry, at 4:29 PM  

  • There don't need to be 45 new sites. Many of the new plants would be right beside existing nuke plants - 2 at Shearon Harris, one at Seneca/Clemson, SC, etc.

    I would also question the idea that there are not enough nuclear engineers in the US - much of the US Navy runs on nuclear power now.

    Additional generating capacity is going to be needed and built in the US due to increasing population, reliance on new electronic gadgets, and new uses such as plug-in vehicles.

    That capacity has to come from somewhere. Wind/solar are great options that need to be expanded greatly. Much greater emphasis needs to made on conservation improvements to existing homes and businesses. But more base generation will be needed, and it is either going to be nuke plants or coal plants. In my opinion, that choice is clear.

    There should never be another coal power plant built in the US because no source releases more carbon, plus there is the environmental degradation caused by coal mining.

    If not for anything else, more nuke plants are needed so that existing coal plants can be retired. There is too much at stake with global warming for the US to continue to rely on coal.

    By Blogger Todd, at 6:02 PM  

  • I don't think it's correct to assume that just because a site currently houses a nuclear power plant, that it is automatically an appropriate site for an additional reactor.

    What's Shearon Harris' current water consumption? Anyone know?

    By Blogger Barry, at 7:05 PM  

  • What's Shearon Harris' current water consumption?

    Given that there were originally plans to put 4 there, I suspect there's plenty of extra capacity. Here's the site. I see plenty of room and lots of water. Most of the concrete is used in the cooling tower and the containment. That's the tiny little dome shaped structure. Here's the site at Southport. Same story. Note the absence of the cooling tower.

    I suppose we can get the bill of materials and find out, but the cost of raw materials can't be any more than a large building of some other kind. Well worth it. I'd bet the actual materials cost is not the driver. The real cost overruns were due to the constant design changes that were forced on the plants during construction.

    Q: How much carbon is now in the air as a result of Shoreham not being built?

    The plants are either safe or unsafe. As such, unless you are willing to put them out in the middle of the desert somewhere, siting "near" or "not near" to a population center is irrelevant except to the amount of hysteria the NIMBY can whip up.

    As pointed out above, the French decided to become energy independent by building nukes. They're not that much affected by the variations in oil prices.

    By Blogger An Engineer, at 8:22 PM  

  • They're not that much affected by the variations in oil prices.

    Well, that and the fact that 65% of the increase in the price of oil the past 2 years is due to the collapse of the dollar v the euro.

    the point is that you are still refusing to answer the question: are we at or near the tipping point in terms of the atmosphere's carbon carrying ability? Because having a 10 or 20 year window to reduce our carbon footprint to near zero is the only reason that possibly justifies the massive undertaking that switching our carbon economy to nuclear will be. You act as though building 45 new nuclear plants is a trivial undertaking.

    it's not.

    you say that NIMBYism is the cause of the cost overruns that the nuke industry experienced, particularly LILCO at Shoreham, in the 1970s.


    Shoreham was sited and approved for construction in the 1960s, well before any but the most minimal opposition existed. Most LIers were quite content to see the plant built and operated. Up until the late 70s, when the costs had increased form the original below $100 million, to nearly a billion, and the operating date had been pushed back from 1974 to 1979. It was only after LILCO demonstrated to the population of Long Island that they had no idea how to build a nuke that public sentiment moved to believe that, if they couldn't build one, how could they be trusted to operate one. Three Mile Island didn't help LILCO either. But to state that opponents of the plant caused the delays and cost overruns is to completely misread history.

    Todd - i don't know why you insist on seeing coal/nuclear as either/or propositions. The electrical generating industry certainly doesn't. They'll be happy to build both coal and nuke plants all year long. It's time to break out of that mode of thinking.

    I agree that the situation is approaching critical, and we need to make major changes in the way our society powers itself. Switching to a fission economy is at best a short term (30-50 year) fix that generates (no pun intended) serious problems that we can punt to our grandkids. It's stale thinking. I don't have the answers, but i guarantee you that the United States in the mid 21st century, if we follow John McCain's proposal, is going to suck. A lot.

    The good news, for me anyway, is that i'll be long gone by then.

    By Blogger Barry, at 10:10 PM  

  • News & Observer, March 11, 2008:

    Building two nuclear reactors in Florida would cost Progress Energy $17 billion, which would increase the bills of the company's customers in that state by an average of 3 percent to 4 percent a year for 10 years.

    The cost estimates, to be filed with Florida regulators today, are an early indication of Progress' potential nuclear costs in North Carolina. The utility, based in Raleigh, is considering two new reactors at its Shearon Harris site in Wake County.

    The reactors proposed in Florida -- the Westinghouse AP1000 -- are the same models that Progress is planning at Shearon Harris.

    The costs of building multibillion-dollar power plants are paid by utility customers through their monthly bills over several decades. Such costs have been shrouded in speculation as utilities, vendors and manufacturers sought to promote a resurgence in nuclear power while avoiding the negative repercussions of sticker shock.

    Today's filing before the Florida Public Service Commission will be the subject of hearings in that state this year about the need for nuclear plants. It's one of the nation's first cost estimates for new reactors and is consistent with a recent appraisal from Florida Power & Light for two Westinghouse units.

    Progress officials promote nuclear energy as the cheapest option for meeting growing energy demand. Several years ago, the company was projecting a cost of $2 billion to $3 billion per reactor, but since then the cost of labor and materials has skyrocketed amid increasing global demand for energy.


    That's a 300% - 400% increase in a couple of years. What do you think those plants are going to end up costing 5 years down the road?

    But wait, there's more:

    N&O, September 20, 2007:
    Progress Energy would propose nearly doubling the size of a Wake County recreational lake as it moves ahead with plans to seek a federal license for new Shearon Harris nuclear reactors.

    Harris Lake, created in the 1980s as the main cooling source for the Shearon Harris nuclear plant, would have to be raised about 20 feet to hold sufficient water to cool additional reactors. If Progress decides to build new reactors at the site, the first reactor would start operating in 2018, at the earliest.

    . . .

    The scale of the project demonstrates the complexity of harnessing nuclear energy, which requires prodigious amounts of water. Each reactor must be able to drink enough water to keep from overheating, a daily intake equivalent to the needs of a midsize city. About half the water that is taken in by a nuclear reactor is lost through evaporation, and the rest is released into the reservoir.

    The numbers i hear for Shearon Harris are currently around 30 million gallons per day in evaporative losses. Build two new plants there, and you're looking at close to 60 million gallons per day. Good luck guaranteeing that kind of supply after another couple of years of drought, huh?

    Maybe we can build a couple of reactors on Hilton Head Island? They've got lots of water over there.

    By Blogger Barry, at 10:59 PM  

  • Barry,

    You've got some decent points in here, specifically regarding costs and water usage, but this "tipping point" argument is fucking inane. So is the "they'll just keep building fossil plants too."

    On the first matter, if you believe global warming science at all (and I'm pretty sure you're not the head in the sand type), more carbon equals more warming equals more impact. Yes, there's likely a catstrophic tipping point after which we get to the mondo-bad effects, but even before then, continuing to increase our carbon in the atmosphere will very likely lead to unhealthy rapid climate change, leading to serious economic disruptions and population displacement. And carbon is only one-quarter of the quadruple environmental whammy that our fossil fuel workhorse, coal, entails. If you focus just on carbon, you forget about acid rain, airborne mercury, and the absolute worst in my opinion, mountaintop removal. The latter gets me so angry/depressed/heartbroken, I can barely even talk about it.

    As to the second, more nukes mean that as old fossil plants life cycle out, they don't have to be replaced by bigger, heavier duty fossil fuel plants, a la Cliffside. More electric generating capacity means greater capacity for electrified transport, be it light rail, heavy rail, or electric cars. And hydrogen is just a fancy way of storing electricity for later use.

    Jesus, I can't believe we even have to have this argument here. No, nukes aren't a panacea, and conservation is going to have to be the #1 priority in any sane energy policy, but trying to argue the positive impacts of nuke power (and I don't dismiss the many negative ones) with this kind of crap is worthy of Little Green Footballs.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 10:39 AM  

  • I think you're misreading me, Michael. I'm not arguing in favor of more fossil fuel generating plants.

    What i am saying is that replacing them with nukes is as big a mistake as building more coal plants.

    Lovelock makes the tipping point argument quite expressly."we can not continue drawing energy from fossil fuels and there is no chance that the renewables, wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy and in time. If we had 50 years or more we might make these our main sources. But we do not have 50 years; the Earth is already so disabled by the insidious poison of greenhouse gases that even if we stop all fossil fuel burning immediately, the consequences of what we have already done will last for 1,000 years."

    It boils down to, "if we don't stop putting carbon into the atmosphere in the next decade (or insert your preferred number of years here yourself), the earth's capacity to sustain life will be destroyed in the next 25 - 100 years." I don't buy that argument myself, but it's out there. And if it's correct, it's the only justification for building nukes.

    The points i'm making, though are that people like "an_engineer" who make the claim that switching to a nuke-centric electrical generating system is a trivial task essentially have their heads up their asses.

    There are political issues associated with locating nuclear plants. There are technical issues that will arise as we attempt to build 45 new plants in 20 years. There are economic issues of basic supply and demand for materials and labor that are already being felt, but are ignored by those who propose we make the switch.

    Two years ago, i had somebody tell me in a different forum, that building these 45 plants would cost, at most, 100 billion dollars, or about $2.25 billion each.

    Yet, 2 years later, with no opposition, and no construction having actually begun, Progress Energy is reporting that the two new reactors they want to build on land that is already being used for nuclear power generation will run up to 450% higher than that. Based solely on predicted shortages of steel, concrete, and skilled labor.

    My prediction is that when all is said and done, embarking on a significant switch to nuclear energy as described by John McCain's proposal, will run closer to 2 trillion dollars. That is a non-trivial amount of money. I believe that part of the discussion is constantly ignored by supporters of nuclear power, even among those who otherwise consider themselves friends of the environment.

    "Engineer's" reading of the history of the Shoreham nuclear plant is sheer fiction. I was there for most of it. There was no NIMBY on Long Island in 1964, when the plant was proposed. Nor through the early 70s as construction progressed. Most people supported it, or were indifferent. The village of Shoreham-Wading River was an enthusiastic supporter of the plant. But through the 70s, project delays and cost overruns caused by LILCO's mismanagement of the project helped to open people's minds to the fact that LILCO didn't know what they were doing. The accident at TMI solidified that pereception, and people made the next step - if LILCO couldn't build a nuke, how could they safely operate a nuke? Once that became the overwhelming public perception, which happened without any large anti-nuclear movement making trouble, the process became one of translating that majority sentiment into political will.

    You're part of a generation that missed the anti-nuclear movement. There hasn't been a new power plant proposed or constructed in your lifetime. It's not surprising that socially active and conscious people such as yourselves are not aware of the duplicity and incompetence of the nuclear power industry.

    I fully expect that, regardless of who wins the next election, that there will be a new generation of large scale nuclear power plants built in the next two decades. NC WARN has already abandoned plans, for example to oppose the two new reactors that PE is planning to build at Shearon Harris. I also fully expect that as these projects suffer from the same failings as their predecessors did in the 1960s and 70s, your generation will come to see why nuke plants aroused so much opposition back then, and why that opposition was ultimately correct.

    Here's a bet i'll make. The two reactors at Shearon Harris will not come in, when all is said and done, at less than $40 billion for the pair. Any takers?

    By Blogger Barry, at 11:07 AM  

  • I don't know anything about Shoreham, so I won't speak to it, and yes, maybe I'm not appreciating the track record of the nuclear industry.

    But to be frank, here is my gut level assessment of the anti-nuclear movement. It may be highly uninformed, but here it is: the anti-nuclear movement grew out of several sources, most notably the fear of the cold war and the natural negative associations we all had with anything nuclear while we still had to worry about the Soviets, along with a general fear of the unknown and the horror stories of radiation sickness out of Hiroshima. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl fed directly into those fears. I don't want to dismiss or minimize those fears -- I think they are perfectly valid and should be considered, but it's been my conviction for years that while the anti-nuclear movement was sexy and scary and easy to latch onto, it was missing the true environmental and public health catastrophe that was going on at the same time: coal.

    With nuclear plants, we have a small but very real chance of poisonous gas being released into the atmosphere. With coal, it is certain. With nuclear energy, we create a small amount of highly toxic waste that has to be disposed of. With coal, we create huge amounts of highly toxic waste that gets dumped into streams on a regular basis. With nuclear, there's the risk that those who work to produce it will have either their health or the health of any children severely impacted. Coal workers have been living that nightmare for 100 years. One nuclear accident in Russia cost the lives of people who heroically worked to contain the disaster. Coal miners die on a regular basis around the world and few people notice.

    When I was in fourth grade, the area around Sandy Mush, NC was selected as one of three sites for a nuclear waste repository. (an aside: 90% of the waste came from weapons production -- about 7% from energy). We all went to meetings and things, to try to prevent the horrible thought that the beauty of the mountains would be lost. Now, with that in mind, if you've got a copy of Google Earth, open it up, and under Layers, expand "Global Awareness" and select "Appalachian Mountaintop Removal." I won't do it because it will make me want to cry.

    I don't like nuclear power -- it's unpleasant and has a lot of negative consequences. But until we shut down 75% of our current coal burning plants and don't replace them, I don't have any interest in shutting down nuclear plants, and am even happy to have them. Nuclear power gets the opposition because it has the possibility to kill you in a dramatic way, with the strange curse of radiation sickness, or better yet, vaporization by a nuclear explosion. Coal kills you in boring ways -- with black lung, with mercury stream pollution, with collapsing mines, and now, thankfully, in a sexy way, with greenhouse gases. Until we had greenhouse gases, who really wanted to protest that? Where was the fun in it?

    As for $40 billion a piece, I have no concept of cost scales here, so I won't take that bet. I'd have to read more on it. But as for materials, I'll just ask this -- does nuclear really require, per MWH produced, that much more concrete, more steel, and more water than coal plants?

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 5:07 PM  

  • I'm heading out in a few minutes, so i'll probably post a more detailed response later.

    Briefly, the anti-nuke movement, as a movement, peaked in 77-78, before either TMI or Chernobyl. Read up on Seabrook and the Clamshell Alliance. Other key anti-nuke groups were SHAD Alliance, centered on the Shoreham plants, and the Abalone Alliance, which focused on Diablo Canyon in California.

    Basically, market pressures following the TMI and Chernobyl accidents did in the nuclear power industry, not any social movements. Clamshell, for example, was basically a non-functional movement following the "co-opt" scenario in early 1978. Anyone who says that the anti-nuke movement was the key factor in creating a NIMBY wave is, as i suggested earlier, misreading history.

    But as for materials, I'll just ask this -- does nuclear really require, per MWH produced, that much more concrete, more steel, and more water than coal plants?

    Water certainly. You don't need to cool coal fired plants the way you do nuke plants. Concrete and steel? Probably. Containment vessels are huge, and made of ultra-reinforced concrete. But i'm not an engineer. I just go on what i read. And what i read is that plants that were floated 2 or 3 years ago at a cost of $2 billion each are now, as the rubber meets th road and real numbers have to be put up, estimated at $8-9 billion. The history of nuclear power plant construction suggests that even that number is low. In the case of Shearon Harris, for example, it certainly doesn't include the cost of raising the dam another 20-30 feet to provide enough cooling water for 3 on-site reactors.

    By Blogger Barry, at 5:39 PM  

  • If anyone (perhaps "an engineer"?) is willing to take Barry's bet, I would love to see it happen on Long Bets (, "a public arena for enjoyably competitive predictions, of interest to society, with philanthropic money at stake."

    By Blogger Jeff Stern, at 7:59 PM  

  • Barry -- thanks for the reply. I know that it was a quick reply, but I want to reiterate the core point I was making. I wasn't button-holing anti-nuke folks as NIMBY (though the response I helped with in fourth grade certainly was), but more pointing out that opposing nuclear energy in a vacuum has, over the past 40 years, been tantamount to advocating for coal, which has filled the void nuke plants would have helped with. I also know that market and insurance pressures are part of what helped kill any new nuke plants.

    And yes, I know most nuke opponents don't particularly like coal either, but that's not the point. If you only oppose nuclear plants, then based on simple demand, you've increased its marginal cost compared to coal. To anyone who wants me to do even the slightest thing to help oppose tons of new nuclear plants, I require a fairly hefty measure of actual action in the pro-conservation and anti-coal department. (Thankfully, NCWARN has finally caught on to this, which means I might some day sign one of their petitions.)

    Otherwise, you're just, by default, encouraging new coal development. And that is completely unacceptable.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 1:31 PM  

  • You don't need to cool coal fired plants the way you do nuke plants.

    How a Coal-fired Power Plant works

    Cooling water, now warm from the heat exchange in the condensers, is released from the plant.

    Burning coal is a source of heat. Nuclear fission is a source of heat. Downstream from those two heat sources they are nearly identical. Boiler, steam turbine, condenser. The condensers produce waste heat. Google "Rankin cycle" and try to become as educated in the matter as an engineering sophomore.

    You keep harping about the cost of a nuclear plant. As compared to what? Building nothing? Sorry, not an option.

    By Blogger An Engineer, at 4:53 PM  

  • By way of example: Hyco Lake (also known as Carolina Power Lake) was constructed in the early 60's by Carolina Power and Light Company (now Progress Energy) as a cooling reservoir for their [coal-fired] steam electric generating plant.

    This would be the lake that is sufficiently contaminated with selenium that it has an advisory against eating the fish.

    Wanna' bet that in the long run a nuke plant would have been cheaper and less environmentally damaging?

    I return to my prior question. What was the environmental and cost impact of all the coal that was burned to generate the electricity that was NOT generated by Shoreham?

    By Blogger An Engineer, at 5:15 PM  

  • Question: Lovelock states:
    If we had 50 years or more we might make these our main sources. But we do not have 50 years . . .

    Agree or disagree?

    By Blogger Barry, at 11:16 PM  

  • Question: What new electrical generating plants have been constructed on Long Island since 1975 to replace the electricity that might have been generated had Shoreham been brought online?

    By Blogger Barry, at 11:18 PM  

  • Question: What existing electrical generating facilities on Long Island would have been decommissioned had Shoreham been brought online?

    By Blogger Barry, at 11:19 PM  

  • Challenge: I am offering a wager that says Progress Energy cannot bring 2 new nuclear reactors online at Shearon Harris for less than $40 billion.

    Any takers?

    By Blogger Barry, at 11:21 PM  

  • I want to say that it appears you completely misunderstand me, engineer.

    I am not arguing for a minute that we need to build more coal or oil fired plants, or that coal or oil fired plants are safe, efficient, or non-destructive of the environment.

    What i am saying is that proposals from the nuclear industry to build 45 new plants, in 20 or so years, for $100 billion are complete and utter bullshit. The industry cannot build those plants in that time for that price.


    If you have any real desire to switch the US energy generating industry to a 40% or 50% nuclear powered industry, that's a discussion that is well worth having. But only when the proponents of such a move are willing to discuss honestly how difficult it's going to be to site these new plants, how much money it's going to cost, what kind of resources they're going to need, and how much time it's going to take to build them.

    You keep throwing up red herrings that avoid answering the hard questions. Just because option X is bad, doesn't make option Y desirable.

    If you agree with Lovelock that we have only 10 years to stop putting any CO2 into the atmosphere, then say so. I've asked you directly twice whether you agree with that statement or not. I'm still waiting for an answer.

    If you don't agree, then the next logical step is that we do have enough time, at a cost that i believe will be equal to that of building 45 new nukes, to try to make a technological breakthrough that makes solar generated electricity practical. There's also enough time to change the way we design our cities and suburbs, the way we move around within those cities and suburbs, the way we heat and cool the buildings in those cities and suburbs, etc.

    You keep saying coal is bad. So what? That's not the discussion i'm trying to have. I concede that point. I'm not arguing in favor of building more coal plants, although the same companies and politicians that favor building more nukes also favor building more coal plants. Just ask the folks at Duke Energy what their plans are for the next 20 years.

    The discussion i'm trying to have, which you keep ignoring, is that the promises i hear from proponents of nuclear energy are not fulfillable. You can't do what you say you can do. And when that becomes clear, what's your plan B?

    After you commit to building 45 new plants at a cost of $8 billion each (the most recent estimate from a company that's actually going to do the building), what's the plan when the cost goes up to $16 billion each in 2013? Or $24 billion each in 2016?

    There is no plan B.


    By Blogger Barry, at 11:43 PM  

  • No, Barry, you keep ignoring the point. This challenge you keep making is utter bullshit. What the hell is your obsession with $40 billion? How big will the reactors be? What's the cost of the alternative? Where did you pull $40 billion out of? And why do you keep repeating it? What the hell are you trying to say by it? I'm not answering because I have no idea what how $40 billion compares as a cost of a power plant, or on what basis we're comparing it, and my guess is you only have a slightly better idea than I do.

    Here's my point, and I'll try to be as succinct as possible: an article in the N&O today points out that 20 coal plants are under construction as we speak and 100 more are planned:

    That's completely unacceptable. Until you find a way to slow that down and fill that energy demand with something else, I want more nukes. It's that simple. I'll take a new nuke plant over a new coal plant any day of the week. Yes, nukes have problems, but they're not as bad as the problems with coal. Don't make it any more complicated than that.

    You say, "well, I don't want any more coal plants either..." That's duplicitous. Energy demand won't grow any faster just because we build nukes -- in fact, it might grow more slowly, because as you rightly point out, nuke energy is more expensive than coal (but still far cheaper that large-scale solar or geothermal and far more available, currently, than wind). Unless you're advocating electricity rationing, and you should say so if you are, we're talking about a relatively constant amount of generating capacity that needs to be built over the next several years. You tell me how we're going to fill that. If you can't manage any deeper understanding than telling me "no more nukes," or rather, "nukes have problems," while ignoring the consequences of that statement, you're not worth listening to on energy policy.

    Oh, and as far as Lovelock goes, three quick responses. a.) The problems with coal power extend far beyond greenhouse gases, as has been repeatedly noted in your comments. b.) Forcing this into a "tipping point" argument is inane. This is about weighing the negative consequences of a decision tree, not about deciding if we're about to go over a cliff. (Although there is a risk of that, I'm not saying I think it's about to happen.) c.) if you really want to press the matter, then yes, I agree, we can't wait 50 years before we start addressing greenhouse gases. Is that really hard to grasp? You sound like friggin' Kathryn Jean Lopez here.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 3:22 PM  

  • Michael - at $2 billion per reactor, 45 new plants is $90 billion. A significant sum, but still chump change in the big picture.

    At $20 billion, we're looking at $900 billion.

    That's real money.

    Now, let's backtrack.

    Lovelock says: "If we had 50 years or more we might make these (solar, wind, geothermal)our main sources . . ."

    I agree. With an "Apollo" program of major government investment and commitment, we could establish an alternative energy industry that bypasses both nukes and fossil fuels. I think you agree that in the long term, it's where our species needs to be for survival.

    $900 billion is a pretty good percentage of the investment we'd need to make for that program to be a success.

    "But we do not have 50 years . . .":

    That's the crux of the matter right there.

    Do we have 50 years before the amount of carbon in the atmosphere creates irreversible climate change leading to the demise of civilization?

    Here's my interpretation.

    If we don't have fifty years, i don't see building 45 new nuclear plants solves our problem. As "an_engineer" has pointed out, we will still have internal combustion engines powering most of our vehicles, and 45 new nukes, even at 2 GW each, only replace 30% - 40% of our existing fossil fueled generating capacity.

    We can reduce our national carbon footprint by, maybe, 35%, by building these 45 new nuclear reactors to generate electricity over the next 20 or so years. (Probably less. As i recall, about 40% - 45% of our carbon footprint comes from electrical generation. Cutting that in half yield a savings of 20% - 22%)

    If you buy Lovelock's theory, that's not enough. His theory says that we need to stop emitting carbon completely, now.

    If we have 50 years, what is the long-term benefit of nuclear energy? There is none. All of the benefits of nuclear power are short term. If we have the 50 years to save the planet, which i believe we do, then it seems clear to me that by spending the $900 billion which we might otherwise spend on these 45 nuclear plants, on a program of developing non-destructive energy sources, we secure our species survival for millenia, rather than punting our problems down the road for a generation or two.

    I think that immediately, a new US administration would call for a 3 - 5% annual increase in CAFE standards for the next 10 years, as well as offering employers and employees significant tax breaks for using public transportation or carpooling. If we could reduce the number of people commuting to work in single occupancy vehicles by 40% in 5 years, we reduce the amount of carbon we put into the air by 8 - 12% immediately, at no overall cost to our economy. Increasing fuel efficiency by 65% over 10 years cuts another 10% or more off our national carbon footprint. Hell, just having GM close down the Hummer line probably adds a mile per gallon to their overall fleet efficiency. So, that gets us a 20% or more reduction in carbon emissions over the next 10 years, at a fraction of the cost of building 4 dozen new nukes. And in less time. Tax credits and subsidies to municipalities that build or expand mass transit systems could easily get us to 25% or higher, in the same time, for a fraction of the cost of 45 new nukes.

    Call me a dreamer, but i believe that if the next President makes a JFK Apollo speech, dedicating the US to the task of developing affordable, non-polluting, and practical energy sources over the next 20 years, and puts the full financial resources of the American people behind that commitment, it can be done. 1 trillion bucks is probably about right for a program of that size.

    It won't happen if we buy into the vision of Duke Energy and Progress Energy and the rest of the big power companies, however. They are more than happy to use people like you to support their program of building more and bigger nukes, while at the same time they're getting government approval to build more and bigger "clean" coal plants. As far as the electricity generating industry is concerned, it's not a question of coal v nuclear. It's energy from sources they own, v energy from sources they don't own.

    As i've said, i'll probably not live long enough to see a difference in the world i live in. But if you want to contribute to implementing the vision of Duke Energy, go right ahead. There's not much i can do.

    I fully expect these nukes to be built. It's you and your kids who will pay the price for these decisions we make now, both in real dollars, and in the opportunity costs of creating something truly sustainable for the human species.

    By Blogger Barry, at 6:03 PM  

  • So, perhaps more in the spirit of betting, here's an alternative to the $40 billion game. I have no idea how accurate this site is, but based on what the numbers were 10 years ago and adjusting for inflation and shifts in the energy landscape, it seems highly believable.

    Nuclear energy is currently listed as costing between 11.1 and 14.5 cents per kilowatt hour. So here's where I'll wager: I'll bet you that at whatever time the new Shearon-Harris plants are built, that the marginal cost of the energy produced by the new plants is no more than $12 in today's dollars, adjusted for inflation. And, additionally, I'll be that at whatever time it's built, the cost of the electricity will be no more than %50 more than the cost of coal.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 8:56 PM  

  • The previous reply was posted before I saw your response.

    I'm repeating myself here, so maybe I should quit, but I feel too strongly about this.

    1.) There is much more wrong with coal than carbon.

    2.) Nuclear is a short term solution, not a long term one. Most power plants, even the most robustly built, last no more than 75 years. So building nukes now really has minimal impact on the future past 50 years.

    And most importantly...

    3.) We cannot afford to use coal for the next 50 years. The environmental and human cost is simply too great. This is the point you have yet to even marginally address. In the next 10-20 years, we don't get to pick between nukes or nothing. We get to pick between nukes and coal (no other energy source can fill the gap today. Today.) If I got to pick the mix of what new plants built over the next decade would be, it would be 100% nuclear.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 9:03 PM  

  • And just to be perfectly clear (after rereading the comments here and deciding I need to polute your comments section further), I don't remotely care what some fucknut named Lovelock thinks. The "tipping point" argument is irrelevant here, as far as I'm concerned. If you want to keep arguing with him, rather than the people actually comment here, send him an e-mail.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 9:12 PM  

  • I agree with much of what Michael is saying. The total threat of using coal (mountain-top removal, acid rain, water pollution, greenhouse gases, etc) to generate power is much greater than that of nuclear power. Any fight against building nuclear plants should take a back seat to fighting the development of more coal-fired plants, as well as shutting down the existing coal plants.

    As far as costs go, the expense of building new power plants - coal, nuclear, wind, whatever - is rising dramatically simply due to inflation in the costs of materials and construction arond the world. But the construction costs are not the only costs that should be considered.

    It is the other costs, unique to coal and other fossil fuels, that also need to be considered. Just because a cost doesn't hit ratepayers does not mean it does not matter. Duke Power will never bill me for their carbon emissions (unless the Congress becomes very enlightened). Duke Power cannot put a price on mountaintop removal, or acid rain, or the loss of vistas in the Smokies, and bill me for it. But that is still a cost that we will all pay.

    Renwable energy and conservation clearly need to be made priorties in our energy future. But stopping the construction of new coal plants, and closing the old ones, is also at a critical point - whether we have 20 or 50 or 100 years before reaching a 'tipping point'. Going nuclear is the only way to do that.

    By Blogger Todd, at 12:01 AM  

  • Interesting reading.

    How much CO2 does the uranium mining/enrichment process release? Just curious.

    Because it sounds like, from reading your remarks, that it's a benign, go the sand pit, pick up your uranium pellets, and carry them back to the reactor kind of process. I'm not sure that's the case.

    By Blogger Barry, at 7:54 AM  

  • All of that is absolutely true -- I don't discount for a minute the negative impacts and risks associated with uranium mining and nuclear reactors.

    But everything that's true for uranium mining that's outlined in that link, with the exception of radon, is also true for coal. Toxic tailings and mine water seepage are basically a problem for any deep earth mining operation. Interestingly, though, the impact is generally proportional to the amount of material removed from the ground. And here, yet again, nuclear is bad, and coal is much worse. One could probably fit enough uranium ore to power Shearon Harris for several months in a single train car. Not that I would, but I could probably fit the same fuel load once refined in the trunk of my Jetta. Coal, on the other hand, requires probably 50 times that volume of material to be removed from the mine, creating spoils, tailings, mine water seepage, and yes, no radon, but instead, you get mercury, selenium, cadmium, and all the big fun heavy metals.

    The uranium enrichment process, if my memory from high school chemistry serves, is a gravimetric diffusion process, which shouldn't be enormously CO2 intensive. And since we're in the wagering game again here, I'll wager that the pre-generation CO2 impact of coal is over 20x that of uranium, kilowatt to kilowatt.

    Once again, NOBODY here is saying that nuclear is a panacea or harmless. But our choice, TODAY, not in 50 years, or after some massive Apollo program that revolutionizes solar power, is between more nuclear, more coal, or power rationing. Power rationing would decimate our economy in a matter of months. That leaves us with more coal or more nuclear. Neither one is good, but one is much, much worse than the other.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 10:47 AM  

  • Since we're more than likely to build both the 100 or so coal plants that are in the planning/construction stages right now, and the 45 or nuke plants that are being talked about, we'll know the answers to this dilemma in another 50 years or so.

    As i've said, i expect to be long gone by then, but if there's an afterlife, perhaps one of you can tell me how it all worked out.

    I thought this Times article was an interesting read, both for what it says, and what it doesn't say.

    By Blogger Barry, at 12:38 PM  

  • How do you figure that we'll build both? Given that new power plants have to go through an extensive regulatory approval process, most of which involved demonstrating a need for new power, why would the new power plants be approved? And if there's a surplus of power, why would power companies decide to build more?

    If you're implying that there's some mechanism by which additional power plants leads to additional consumption, I'm afraid you're going to have to unpack that for me. Power companies don't particularly enjoy spending lots of money on a plant to have unsold generating capacity, so I don't think they would push regulators that hard. (The one exception is that power companies like building plants rather than investing in conservation measures, but that's another matter entirely, and unrelated to what kind of plant you build when you do decide to build one). Given that you've argued that nuclear power would raise the price of energy, I don't see how you can argue that additional supply would also simultaneously lower the cost of energy.

    To put it differently, I'm making the assumption that consumption will vary in the future, but that it will not be affected by generating capacity, unless power rationing is instituted. Do you disagree? And if not, how do you justify your "both will be built regardless" stance?

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 2:03 PM  

  • Memphis Commercial Appeal:
    Plum Point is part of a national and worldwide boom in coal-fired generating facilities. At least 27 coal units are under construction nationwide, with perhaps 150 more proposed, and frenetically growing countries such as China and India are adding generators at a dizzying pace.

    "Electrical demand continues to grow, and coal provides relatively low-cost electricity on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week basis," said Eric Crawford, assistant vice president of LS Power Development, the New Jersey-based firm that's helping build the Plum Point plant along with Houston-based Dynegy Inc.

    Approximately 22% of the coal plants proposed over the past decade have been built or are under construction. About a third have been canceled or put on hold. Of the remaining 60 or so, even if only a quarter of those are built, that will mean that the US will have added 50 coal fired plants between 2000 and whenever.

    That train has pretty much left the station, Michael.

    By Blogger Barry, at 2:33 PM  

  • Okay, you've completely lost me. What train has left what station?

    I'm not posturing here. Honestly, I have no idea what point you're trying to make.

    Are you still trying to say something about coal construction and nuke construction being independent? Is this responding to something I said or a new point entirely?

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 4:10 PM  

  • There are going to be a minimum of 50 new coal plants that come on line between 2005 and 2025. I think that's a done deal. The political and economic forces already arrayed to make that happen can't be stopped.

    I think that includes stopping as many of the 150 or so plants that were originally under discussion as possible.

    I could be wrong, but that's the way i see it.

    The issue is, for the most part, the people who build and finance the construction of large electrical generating facilities are equally comfortable with coal and nuclear. Yeah, there's a small group of people who make more money if we go with one or the other, but for the most part, the arguments against coal on environmental grounds don't hold much sway, since coal plants can usually be built faster and cheaper than nukes.

    That may change with the next administration. But i think those 35-50 plants (most likely the higher number) are part of the equation from now on.

    By Blogger Barry, at 4:30 PM  

  • Here's where i'm confused.

    We need(ed) more nuclear power plants because burning fossil fuels to generate electricity releases carbon into the atmosphere which is causing global warming.

    I follow that part. I don't even completely disagree. Only with the part that says more big nukes, rushed through without any real oversight, actually solves the problem without creating more problems. But that's not the point that confuses me.

    We can't burn fossil fuels to generate electricity.

    But we can't switch to electric cars, because we can't supply enough electricity to meet expected demand? so we keep our gasoline powered vehicles? doesn't tailpipe CO2 account for roughly the same amount of CO2 released on an annual basis as electrical generation?

    That's a serious question, by the way. What i've read suggests that the totals are not that dissimilar. Which means that you get the same benefit by reducing tailpipe emissions by 50% as you do by reducing emissions from electricity generation.

    Which reduction is cheaper and faster to achieve?

    Btw - the answer to your question remains none, since all of the former LILCO's plants are still in operation, and would have remained in operation had Shoreham gone on line back in 1976 (when it was originally due to be completed), or 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, or whichever date LILCO threw out there as a potential completion date. As i recall, the plant was probably fueled sometime in the late 80s, by which time i was way the hell off Long Island anyway. Since LILCO execs at the time knew there was no way they were ever going to get an operating license for the plant, this was merely an effort to invoke the "used and useful" clause of NY public utility law, and allow them to include the costs of the plant in their rate base. This last gasp attempt at survival for a company that had been so thoroughly mismanaged for decades, failed. Some godawfully complicated compromise was worked out with Governor Cuomo's office, though, whereby electric rates were raised by some cent or two per KWH for every ratepayer in the State of New York to allow for most of LILCOs bondholders to be repaid most of their money.

    This, by the way, is one reason why i am much less sanguine than some of my younger compatriots, who believe that all private enterprises are inherently more efficient and better run than all government enterprises. My experience says otherwise.

    All of the former LILCO's plants have been switched over to natural gas, as far as i can tell, for whatever that's worth.

    By Blogger Barry, at 1:24 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home