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Thu Jun 20, 2013, 11:10 AM

Supposed "Environmentalists" at Breakthrough Institute taken to woodshed

The real reason to fight nuclear power has nothing to do with health risks
By Chris Nelder | Quartz – Mon, Jun 17, 2013 8:09 AM EDT

Nuclear proponents are launching a full-court press for fresh investment in the technology. The release of the new film Pandora’s Promise, another editorial from ardent nuclear champions Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute, and Paul Blustein’s recent piece in Quartz, “Everything you thought you knew about the risks of nuclear energy is wrong,” are part of an effort to put a new shine on a technology that once offered, but failed to deliver, electricity “too cheap to meter.”

All of these actors are purportedly motivated to support nuclear power on climate grounds, emphasizing the technology’s extraordinarily small physical footprint, its ability to generate massive amounts of electricity, and its lack of carbon emissions (after the plants are built). And they are probably right that the risks of radiation have been historically overblown as “junk science” wormed its way into popular culture. But the anti-nuclear crowd (and I, too, used to count myself among them) is probably right for the wrong reasons.

Missing from the entire debate about nuclear is the most important fact of all: Nuclear is dying due to poor economics, and the debate is already over as far as the market is concerned.
Shellenberger and Nordhaus have backed up their arguments with junk accounting on nuclear energy’s costs. This is where the discussion must depart from mere boosterism and descend into the deep, dark world of energy economics—a subject that Blustein did not even address.


In its most recent analysis, “Cost of German Solar Is Four Times Finnish Nuclear”, BTI compares the retail cost of German solar, which includes significant feed-in tariff incentives, to the capital cost of building a new nuclear plant in Finland, as estimated by its developer, plus the EIA’s estimate for the fixed and variable costs of nuclear power. There are numerous glaring problems with this approach, but I’ll name just the obvious ones.
- It adds up the cost of all installed German solar PV from 2000-2011, a period in which the price of solar fell dramatically, and a fact that Shellenberger and Nordhaus even recognized. Thus it is weighted to the much higher costs of the past decade, rather than current costs, let alone the cost of PV in 2016 when the Finnish nuclear plant isexpected to enter service. An analysis based on the actual, unsubsidized cost of German solar PV in 2016 would find that it is below the cost of new nuclear power, not four times as expensive. Even the subsidized cost would be lower. As Craig Morris pointed out last week in Renewables International, the lowest solar PV feed-in tariff ($0.13/kWh) on Germany’s sliding scale is already below the cost of EDF’s proposed new nuclear plant in the UK ($0.15/kWh), and one year from now, Germany’s highest solar feed-in tariff will be too, at $0.13/kWh.
- It’s based on the post-incentive cost of German solar, not the cost of the technology. At $0.1125/kWh in the EIA’s LCOE analysis, the minimum cost of solar (which is well above recent US solar PPA contracts), without incentives, is below the anticipated cost of EDF’s nuclear plant in the UK.
- It uses the developer’s latest cost estimate for Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 reactor, which Shellenberger and Nordhaus note is seven years behind schedule and nearly three times over its initial budget. Developer cost estimates should always be viewed with skepticism; an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, cited in a 2009 analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that utility estimates for nuclear plant costs are usually around one-half the estimates of independent analysts and Wall Street. In my experience, the estimates of the latter group are usually close to the mark. Until the final costs are known, the estimates BTI cites for nuclear plants under construction in France and China are no more credible.
- The PPA costs cited above for current PV installations in Germany and the US are rock-solid, contractually guaranteed prices, with no externalities. BTI is citing squishy estimates for the “overnight capital cost” (without factoring in interest rates) for a nuclear plant that won’t even be completed until 2016. Which set of estimates would you consider more credible?

More at: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/real-reason-fight-nuclear-power-120923780.html

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Reply Supposed "Environmentalists" at Breakthrough Institute taken to woodshed (Original post)
kristopher Jun 2013 OP
Iterate Jun 2013 #1
kristopher Jun 2013 #2
Iterate Jun 2013 #3

Response to kristopher (Original post)

Fri Jun 21, 2013, 09:16 PM

1. That original Breakthrough piece had so many holes in it

that I'm surprised anyone responded to it, but this article punctured so many other myths it may have been worth the effort. Like so many other similar articles, the Breakthrough Institute was hiding misunderstanding and deception behind the culture and language barriers. But as long as they can talk about price, even if it's wrong in the details, they think they're going to win something.

At its root though, the entire argument over price is undercut because Germans have rejected the Faustian bargain over price and have maintained low consumption, about half the consumption per capita of the US. That not only makes a transition easier, it ends price manipulations of public sentiment.

Instead, they've demanded more local control, grid integration, and cooperation with renewables. This is something the nuclear industry would not, or could not do. This goes back to the 1980's and was ultimately more significant than the protests or headlines over safety, price, or security.

As Craig Morris has said, Germans tend to think like engineers, not economists.

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Response to Iterate (Reply #1)

Fri Jun 21, 2013, 10:14 PM

2. Here is an even better deconstruction of BI's approach


The genesis of BI's star witness on the German transition:

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Response to kristopher (Reply #2)

Sat Jun 22, 2013, 05:10 AM

3. Excellent. That article coverered most of my objections.

I'd add that German solar was never intended to cover xx% of daily demand through the year (OMG, it gets dark, what will we do?), it was intended to trim peak daily demand through the year and cover most of daytime demand from April to September. Trust me, Germans do understand lack of daylight.

To that end, it's about half built. I don't know how you price that, and evidently the existing markets don't quite know either, because it's changing the market structure to demand matching(or capacity markets or dispatchable capacity) rather than incentiveized supply consumption.

Also, I don't think that the BI directors really care about being accurate as long as they can control the narrative and keep Americans thinking like consumers (i.e. CO2? that's a powerplant problem, we need to buy new powerplants, Ford or Chevy?) rather than as citizens. It allows them to keep the focus away from more comprehensive, and threatening, questions.

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