Donnernv's Nuclear Report
Donnernv wrote this post promoting nuclear power as an answer to the USA energy problems.
I had some questions which he has taken substantial time to answer, and which he has e-mailed to me. He will also e-mail it to you if you offer him your address with the word "report" in the title. Because he offered it freely, I will also forward it to you, if you e-mail me with the word "report" in the title also.
The first portion of his work concerned the failings of continuing the use of oil, primarily because he believes in peak oil, as do I. Frankly, in order to advocate for a change away from oil to any other resource, you need a reason. Whether your reason is peak oil, peak affordable oil, global warming, air pollution caused asthma or, heart disease, preserving our shores or open spaces, or national security doesn’t matter in your decision to move away from oil, but only in deciding which alternative to use.
Next he describes current energy uses and sources using Wikipedia for information.
He eliminates as solutions for transportation, coal, hydro, in vehicle nuclear and renewable and hydrogen fuel cells, leaving us with electricity or natural gas. To have not even considered bio fuels, which is not necessarily ethanol, is short sighted as significant progress is being made, including algae based fuel. However close it is though, it is not here yet, although I believe it is close enough to deserve mention. He considers that natural gas fueled vehicles are a waste of a precious resource with many other uses. I do not disagree with that perspective and I apply it to oil also. That leaves him with electric power as his best option, “whatever the source” of its generation.
He also points out that replacing oil imports with nuclear power would save us from exporting 438 billion dollars annually and save each of us $1430./year. While this is an excellent reason for weaning ourselves off imported oil the same results could be achieved from any comparably priced domestic energy source.
While I do not necessarily agree that electricity will be the best fuel for transportation, I do agree on the need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels for electricity. Clean coal is the fantasy which is not solved, renewables such as solar and wind, are here today. Donnernv offers us nuclear.
Donnernv as part of his argument for nuclear suggests that since we have to scale up renewable electricity generation by a factor of 13 to replace our current transportation related oil costs, makes it unattainable, and prefers to scale up nuclear by a factor of only 6. I would like to suggest that how far we have to scale up is not an issue. If it were cheaper to scale up renewables by 13 than nuclear by 6, cheaper is better. In my opinion due to the many other risks associated with nuclear a tie goes to renewables. I think Donnernv agrees with that sentiment.
According to Donnernv building the 624 nuclear plants we would need would cost 4-5 billion each for a total of 2.34 trillion dollars. Unfortunately he did not size these plants in terms of megawatts so it is difficult to compare costs. All that really needs to be done here is to compare costs of building nuclear electric generation vs. renewable energy and then decide if any savings from nuclear outweighs any risk from nuclear.
So let’s have at it.
Most comparisons of generating costs I could find were 2 or more years old and the data was even older. Since solar is being installed every day and 34 nuclear plants are being proposed I thought I would just find some current costs from todays power plant proposals. I investigated Florida Power and Light who are proposing building three photovoltaic solar plants that will generate 110 megawatts at a cost of 688 million dollars ( www.tampabay.com/news/environment/article644444.ece ). This gives us a cost of $6,254,454/ megawatt. Ouch. Florida Power and Light also estimated building a 2200 megawatt nuclear plant that will cost $12-18 billion dollars in 2007 (www.climateprogress.org/2008/06/13/nuclear-power-part-2-the-price-is-not-right/ ). Let’s use $15 billion and it gives us a cost of $6,818,181 / megawatt. Ouch. Please bear in mind that they reserve the right to increase the nuclear cost if necessary, the solar is a contract.
Florida Power and Light is also proposing a 1000 megawatt wind farm in North Dakota at a cost of 2 billion dollars ( www.wind-watch.org/news/2008/08/25/nd-gov-candidate-proposes-wind-power-goal/ ). This gives us a cost of $2,000,000 / megawatt.
Now at least for me, at this point, nuclear is a non-starter because it costs too much. I know concentrated solar plants are less expensive than photovoltaic and the generated heat can be stored for nighttime use and rainy days. FPL has applied to build a 250 megawatt concentrated solar plant for $1 billion dollars. This gives us a cost of $4,000,000/ megawatt.
Another expense issue for nuclear in Florida, is that Florida has passed regulations that allow every resident to be charged $9.00 / month until the plant is completed. So you pay for nuclear before you save on oil. Your State may be different. With renewable you are not asked to pay in advance because you get the power much more quickly.
So we learn that building nuclear power costs more than renewable. It costs you before you get any savings. It still has additional issues which Donnernv also addresses.
1) What are we going to do with waste fuel?
Donnernv spends a page describing reprocessing which works, to the point of reducing the volume of waste substantially and to the point where it needs to be separated from the environment for 500 years. www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf69.html which is a much better pro-nuclear source than Wikipedia. In mid 2006 (not more expensive 2008) Areva determined a 2500 ton/year reprocessing plant would cost $12 billion with total costs at $16 bil. By 2030 60,000 tonnes / year are estimated to be needed in North America, without Donnernv’s 650 plant bonanza. That cost is not included in Donnernv's estimates and is an essential part of his argument for waste disposal. So nuclear just got more expensive. Also please note that reducing the radioactivity 99.9% in 40 years does not make nuclear waste safe to put in the garbage pail, however reassuring a statistic that might sound. Reprocessing also cannot begin for 5-25 years after removal from a power plant. All other reprocessing is experimental. France’s vaunted reprocessed fuel is not being used because nuclear power plants that can use it cost 3 times as much to build as FPL’s plant. So it sits in storage for at least 500 years. Donnernv, thanks for your efforts in getting this started. Time constraints prevented me from answering sooner and I will also adress my questions as time allows.