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Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:16 PM

Nuclear Energy Making an Ultimate Comeback?

"The energy industry is changing all right, but it might not be headed in the direction you are expecting. Think our country will rely completely on renewable energy? Think again. Nuclear power may actually be making its greatest comeback yet.

Out of the 31 countries that have commercial nuclear power, the U.S. possesses the most nuclear capacity and generation, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. For the first time in 30 years, two new reactors have gained construction approval. In February 2012, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved Southern Company’s request to construct two new nuclear reactors at its Vogtle Plant in Georgia, to be operational by 2017.

As of the beginning of 2012, the NRC has applications for 28 new reactors. The review process is extremely detail-oriented and typically lasts between 30 and 60 months. Although construction usually takes about 6 years, the Energy Information Administration projects that 'the industry will add approximately 19.1 gigawatts (19,100 megawatts) of new nuclear capacity during the period 2012 to 2040, with 11.0 gigawatts coming from new reactors and 8.0 gigawatts coming from uprates of existing plants.'"


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Arrow 14 replies Author Time Post
Reply Nuclear Energy Making an Ultimate Comeback? (Original post)
wtmusic Feb 2013 OP
kristopher Feb 2013 #1
ProgressiveProfessor Feb 2013 #2
wtmusic Feb 2013 #4
Iterate Feb 2013 #7
kristopher Feb 2013 #9
PamW Feb 2013 #10
leveymg Feb 2013 #3
pscot Feb 2013 #5
PamW Feb 2013 #11
NickB79 Feb 2013 #6
wtmusic Feb 2013 #8
NickB79 Feb 2013 #12
wtmusic Feb 2013 #13
PamW Feb 2013 #14

Response to wtmusic (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:22 PM

1. New Centralized Nuclear Plants: Still an Investment Worth Making?

Last edited Fri Feb 1, 2013, 08:57 PM - Edit history (1)

...Even without Fukushima, the verdict on large centralized US nukes is probably in, for the following reasons:

1) They take too long: In the ten years it can take to build a nuclear plant, the world can change considerably (look at what has happened with natural gas prices and the costs of solar since some of these investments were first proposed). The energy world is changing very quickly, which poses a significant risk for thirty to forty year investments.

2) They are among the most expensive and capital-intensive investments in the world; they cost many billions of dollars, and they are too frequently prone to crippling multi-billion dollar cost overruns and delays. In May 2008, the US Congressional Budget Office found that the actual cost of building 75 of America’s earlier nuclear plants involved an average 207% overrun, soaring from $938 to $2,959 per kilowatt.

3) And once the investments commence, they are all-or-nothing. You can’t pull out without losing your entire investment. For those with longer memories, WPPS and Shoreham represent $2.25 bn (1983) and $6 bn (1989) wasted investments in which nothing was gained and ratepayers and bondholders lost a good deal.

Some recent investments in centralized nuclear plants in other countries highlight and echo these lessons....


Answer to OP:

See also:
Quarterbacks and New Nuclear Power Plants - Sunk Costs

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Response to wtmusic (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:26 PM

2. Given the economics, the decision to go ahead with those surprised me

Nuclear looks to have had its day based on costs alone. The transition off of it will take time, but that is to be expected when you are talking about a necessity (electric power). New ones are very surprising.

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Response to ProgressiveProfessor (Reply #2)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 01:54 PM

4. The costs are mostly due to site licensing

Type licensing, or licensing based on a model instead of a specific installation, can reduce construction costs by one-half. It's the procedure used in France and in new U.S. installations like that at Vogtle.

"France's nuclear power industry has been called 'a success story' that has put the nation 'ahead of the world' in terms of providing cheap, CO2-free energy. France has the lowest carbon dioxide production per unit of GDP in the world and it is the biggest exporter of electricity in the world, earning it nearly 3 billion euros a year in sales."


Site licensing gives activists more of a chance to run up costs like they did at Shoreham. By reading magazine articles at hearings and other delaying tactics they cost Long Island Light & Power $1 milion/day and ultimately closed it - after it was already built.

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Response to wtmusic (Reply #4)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 05:21 PM

7. France is #4 in electricity exports, behind Germany, Canada, and Paraguay.

Last edited Sat Feb 2, 2013, 09:21 AM - Edit history (1)

Rank Country Electricity - exports (million kWh)
1 Germany 54,130
2 Canada 51,110
3 Paraguay 45,130
4 France 44,910
5 Switzerland 33,530
6 Czech Republic 21,590
7 China 19,060
8 Austria 18,760
9 United States 18,110
10 Russia 17,700

Source: CIA World Factbook - Unless otherwise noted, information in this page is accurate as of January 1, 2012

I don't have the time right now to track down where Factbook got its data.

The wiki piece you quoted cites a source that includes the "fact" without attribution to another source that uses 2006 data. Moreover, it's my understanding(meaning I can't look it up right now) that France does not produce for the export market, but only sells hourly surplus. The truth of this is more interesting than the booster's claims, and if you look at the details of some daily sales, France will export to Germany which in turn exports to Poland and the Czech Republic.

French exports have been down for a few years. I suspect that may have more to do with the recent plan to shutdown store lighting at night than any concern over light pollution.


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Response to wtmusic (Reply #4)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 08:53 PM

9. Not that old chestnut again...

The cost escalation has little to nothing to do with protestors. It is directly attributable to complexity required by the inherent dangers of the technology.

Current examples include:
Flamanville in France - cost have skyrocketed from an initial projection of $4.4bn ready in 2012 to a current (and probably still low) estimate of $11.3bn maybe online by 2016.

Olkiluoto in nuclear friendly Finland - From $4.4bn with an inservice date of May 2006, to the current estimate of $11bn to be ready by 2015.

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Response to kristopher (Reply #9)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 01:50 AM

10. BALONEY!!!

Last edited Sat Feb 2, 2013, 03:38 PM - Edit history (1)

kristopher states:
The cost escalation has little to nothing to do with protestors. It is directly attributable to complexity required by the inherent dangers of the technology.

France and Finland are running into the same problem of costly delays in the political process.

If it were directly attributable to the complexity, then there would be design changes. Show us where the designs of the plants are changed. I can't prove a negative - there are no design changes.

The very earliest power plants that were built have to meet the very same safety requirements as any new plant; the NRC doesn't "grandfather in" older plants. They have to meet current safety requirements.

The very first plants that were built in the late '60s and early '70s are just as complex; and use the same technology. They came in at very reasonable prices. For example, as a child I watched the building of a nuclear power plant in my father's home town of South Haven, MI; the Palisades Plant:


The Palisades Power Plant is a nuclear power plant located on Lake Michigan, in Van Buren County's Covert Township, Michigan, on a 432-acre (175 ha) site 5 miles (8.0 km) south of South Haven, Michigan, USA. Palisades is owned and operated by Entergy. It was operated by the Nuclear Management Company and owned by CMS Energy Corporation prior to the sale completed on April 11, 2007. It was built at a cost of $149 million.

Of course, the $149 million price tag is in 1971 dollars; so you have to add 4 decades of inflation. But that doesn't bring the total to multiple billions of dollars.

Numerous studies by the National Academy of Science and Engineering, the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics, the American Nuclear Society, the Atomic Industrial Forum all show that the very early plants like Palisades were constructed in just a few years, and had essentially zero delays due to protests and court cases. The plants that ended up costing many billions were the ones like Diablo Canyon were the plant spent a decade sitting idle while the cases made their way through the courts.

The builders have to borrow the money to build the plants, and they can not charge the rate payers for any of the cost until the plant is actually in operation. So when there were delays, the builders couldn't make payments on their loans; so the money was just added to the principal, and the costs sky-rocket.

It is certainly possible to build a nuclear power plant for a reasonable cost; because it has been done. Take the $149 million in 1971 dollars and inflate it to current dollars and you should get a value for what a nuclear power plant can be built for in terms of today's dollars.

If these billion dollar costs were due to changes made to the plants in order to control a complex technology; then why does this escalation happen to all the plants, instead of just the first few.

If it were due to the complexity, it would mimic the costs that Boeing airliners cost. The very first 787 is the one that costs an arm and a leg. However, once Boeing gets the design finalized; it is able to produce identical copies of its first prototype for a reasonable cost. The second, third, fourth... Boeing 787s don't cost as much as Boeing 787 serial number 1.

If it is due to complexity; the costs should look like the cost structure for a complex technology like aviation.

However, that's not what it looks like for nuclear power plants. We basically have 2 models; PWRs and BWRs, instead of the 737, MD-90s, 747, 757, 767, 777, and now 787 that Boeing has.

We have working / safety approved models of both reactor types operating in the USA. So why would the cost of a new reactor now be any greater than the cost of old reactors adjusted for inflation? It would be like building some new 777s; they know how to build those without any more design changes.

In truth, it is NOT design changes, or any of the science and engineering of the nuclear plants; those are well in hand.

No - the problem nuclear power has is a political and not a technical problem.

The plants in the past have had costs spiral due to protests and lawsuits.

The coup de grace was seen in the Shoreham plant. The Shoreham plant was built and the NRC was ready to license; and its owner Long Island Lighting Co. (LILCO) went to the State of New York public utilities commission to get the rate that LILCO could charge its customers for Shoreham-made electricity.

Under the direction of then New York Governor Mario Cuomo, the father of the current New York Governor; LILCO was told that the rate it could charge for Shoreham's electricity was $0.00 per kw-hr.

LILCO could give away Shoreham's power; but could not charge for it. LILCO had borrowed the money to build Shoreham, and Shoreham had to be able to "earn its keep". The plant, like any power plant, had to earn back the money it took to build / operate the plant. Since LILCO couldn't charge for Shoreham's electricity; it had no way to pay back the loan. LILCO had to declare bankruptcy.

Therein lies the real hesitance for companies building nuclear power plants. CEOs of power companies realize that an election can put an unfriendly governor into power in the state in which the plant is built. That governor, or the Courts in lawsuits could put the company into receivership with an opposing decision.

Power company execs know that when they build a nuclear power plant, they are playing a game called "You bet your company".

It shouldn't be that way. Everything should be decided BEFORE the plant is built. If a plant is built, then the company should be allowed to operate it. No company can do business if they go to the government for permission for a project, the government agrees, and then the government gets to change its mind.

How would you like it if your local building department was that way. You have someone design your dream house, you get all the permits and permission to build the house from the local government. You build the house, then the city tells you, "You can't live there, we changed our mind, tear it down".

Well that's what nuclear power plant owners have to contend with, and we wonder why they are expensive?

If you look back at the history of nuclear power plants and their costs; and we examine the 2nd generation reactors; i.e. the ones that are still operating today; they break down into two groups. Those built before a certain event, like Palisades; were built and began operation at a fairly reasonable price, like Palisades $149 million. Those that were built / first operated after a certain '70s event had their costs spiral out of control. Those like Diablo Canyon, had their costs spiral into the billions of dollars.

So what was this event that marks the demarcation between nuclear power plants with reasonable prices, and those that had prices spiral out of control?

The event was the end of the Vietnam War.

During the Vietnam War, nuclear power plants enjoyed very little protest. However, after the end of the Vietnam War, there was a large cadre of "professional protesters" and with the end of the war, they didn't have anything to protest. So they turned to protesting nuclear power.

Nuclear power costs spiraled because nuclear power was the new target of the massive protest machine that was engendered by the Vietnam War.


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Response to wtmusic (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:32 PM

3. Just because a couple permits were approved doesn't mean these things will be built.

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Response to wtmusic (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:43 PM

5. A cat that tries to sit on a hot stove will never do it again

And it will never try to sit on a cold one either. I followed the Whoops debacle pretty closely, and wrote an undergrad paper on the problems of waste disposal at Hanford. The experience reallly turned me against nuclear power. But the new realities have forced me to think anew. Radiation may create a local disaster. Global carbon emissions are going to take us all down.

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Response to pscot (Reply #5)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 02:04 AM

11. Hanford waste disposal

The waste disposal problems at Hanford are more related to the fact that Hanford is a nuclear weapons production complex. Of course, you know that if you wrote a paper on it.

There was little if any interest in proper waste disposal in the US nuclear weapons program during the Cold War. The weapons program had its hands full attempting to match the weapons threat from the Soviet Union.

If you think the waste disposal problems at Hanford were bad; you should see what the Soviets did.

Ever hear of a place in Russia called Mayak, or Lake Karachay?

If you thought Chernobyl was bad; you should check out Mayak and Lake Karachay.

It used to be that if you stood on the shore of Lake Karachay, you'd get a fatal radiation dose in about an hour. I believe they've cleaned it up to a degree.


The radiation level in the region near where radioactive effluent is discharged into the lake was 600 röntgens per hour (approximately 6 Sieverts/hr) in 1990, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Natural Resources Defense Council, more than sufficient to give a lethal dose to a human within an hour.

There's no reason it has to be that way. The reason this came to be was due to the competition of the Cold War. The Soviets certainly weren't letting any environmental concerns stand in the way of making more / larger nuclear weapons than the USA.


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Response to wtmusic (Original post)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 04:05 PM

6. Adding 19 GW of new capacity by 2040

Much of the existing US nuclear fleet was built in the 1960's. Won't we be taking many GW of existing nuclear offline permanently as these plants reach the end of their lifespans? Will the new capacity offset these retirements, or will retirements offset the new capacity?

It sounds like we're running in place and claiming we're winning the marathon.

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #6)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 07:42 PM

8. IMO 19 GW of new capacity would imply

that existing capacity will be upgraded.

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Response to wtmusic (Reply #8)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 07:58 AM

12. Upgrading 60-80 yr old reactors?

I've been OK with nuclear in the past, but even I'd be hesitant to see a reactor built in the 1960's still operating in 2040.

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #12)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 11:17 AM

13. Replacing the reactors nt

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #12)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 03:25 PM

14. Why?


Could you articulate why you are uncomfortable with the older reactors?

Do you believe that these old reactors are "wearing out"?

Consider suspension bridges as an analogy. The Golden Gate Bridge celebrated its 75th birthday last year, and some of the steel in it is 80 years old. If the steel in those cables and towers are not up to holding the load; a lot of motorists and their cars are going to find themselves in the cold water of the Bay, IF and big IF, they survive the fall. Additionally, there will be additional stress / strain on the Golden Gate Bridge if we get another earthquake like Loma Prieta or one even closer where the bridge has to deal with the additional loads in an earthquake. Is anyone talking about junking the Golden Gate Bridge just because it's over 75 years old? Do people stay off the bridge fearing for their safety? NO. The bridge is well maintained. Although it is exposed to the elements, it is kept covered with a layer of paint, and that paint takes the damage from the elements. The steel is not exposed to atmospheric oxygen so it can rust. Therefore, the bridge is just as safe now as it was back in the late 1930s.

What do you think happens in a nuclear power plant that you once considered safe to no longer be safe after it has been in service for a number of years or decades?

The part of the system that takes the most "wear and tear" in the nuclear part of the plant is the fuel. However, the fuel only spends 3 years in a nuclear reactor before it is replaced. So every 3 years, the reactor has a brand new core; so that's not a problem. No core in a commercial power reactor is ever greater than 3 years old.

The pressure vessel is the next item. Reactor pressure vessel steel can become embrittled by exposure to neutrons. However, those reactor vessels are designed with enough margin that they can take many decades of neutron exposure without becoming unsafe. It's like the steel in the towers and cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. The reactor vessel is designed, like the bridge was; to last for many, many decades.

Some things like the control systems in nuclear power plants can and are updated to take advantage of current technology. Most of a nuclear power plant is not radioactive, so lots of the plant can be upgraded to more modern standards. The few parts that are radioactive, and would be difficult to replace, were made to operate safely for many more decades than the plant will ever be used for. Many people think that nuclear plants have a 40 year lifetime after which they will fall apart; just because their original license is for 40 years. It's like giving a 16 year old driver a license to drive for 12 years, and then telling him that since his license has expired, he is no longer qualified to drive, and the license won't be renewed. A 28 year old that has been driving for 12 years is not falling apart.

It's a myth that 40 year old nuclear power plants are falling apart; just as it would be if someone said that a 75 year old Golden Gate Bridge was falling apart just because it is almost twice as old as any nuclear power plant.


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