Author Topic: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry  (Read 1331 times)

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Offline nwdiver

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Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« on: February 14, 2017, 04:58:58 AM »
Prior to Fukushima there were rumblings of a nuclear renaissance.  While a resurgence of nuclear power was always against the odds the disaster in Japan ended what little hope nuclear had left.  However irrational the global reaction was it killed much of the enthusiasm that was pushing renewed interest in nuclear power.  The trouble with nuclear power actually has very little to do with safety.  Nuclear Power is incredibly safe... but that safety comes at a cost.  The 4GW of nuclear currently under construction in the US are an economic disaster.  Years behind schedule and Billions over budget.  The financial damage to Toshiba, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-toshiba-accounting-idUSKBN15T033 the parent company of Westinghouse which is building the AP1000 nuclear plants is so severe that it's likely no further AP1000 plants will be attempted.  The AP1000 was once seen as the savior of nuclear power.  The design that will finally make nuclear power cost effective... it's painfully obvious this is very unlikely to ever happen.

Supporters of nuclear energy need to accept the reality that NEW nuclear power is simply too expensive to be relevant.  Sure, keep existing nuclear plants online as long as possible.  They were expensive to build but cheap to operate and they do safely produce clean power.  But the idea that building new nuclear for ~$7/w as Solar and Wind rapidly approach $1/w is absurd.  Nuclear is safe, clean and unfortunately incredibly expensive.

Offline murraybiscuit

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2017, 07:31:31 AM »
My understanding is that nuclear doesn't compete with solar and wind, it competes with hydrocarbons. What happens when the wind stops and there's no sunshine? You do understand the concept of base load, right?
« Last Edit: February 14, 2017, 08:32:51 AM by murraybiscuit »

Online Mr. Beagle

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2017, 07:47:20 AM »
Like the Pharm industry, nuclear has a cost structure that is very high fixed cost to get going and very low variable cost to keep going.

In these cases, there is no best or single answer as to "true cost." In the short term it is huge and in the long term it is small.

It also suffers from human problems in assessing risk.  Coal has a constant death rate of miners and largely-unseen but demonstrable death rate from pollution.

Nuclear, on the other hand, has a very low death rate except at the catastrophic end of the scale like Fukushima. Humans have a hard time rationally sorting these two types of risk.
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Online Andrew Clunn

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2017, 10:12:37 AM »
That's why whenever I hear somebody talk about the dangers of nuclear energy / war, I do the rational thing and use it as a reminder to check my smoke detector batteries.
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Online Ah.hell

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2017, 10:25:00 AM »
Yep, nuclear is a terrible idea when compared to solar and wind, too bad coal and natural gas supply a third of US electricity currently and as noted, what happens at night and when the wind dies?

Coal kills far more people and produces far more pollution than Nuclear.  Sure, strictly talking about the cost of production means coals is cheaper than nuclear but we the externalities are not included in the price. 


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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2017, 10:33:19 AM »
Yep, nuclear is a terrible idea when compared to solar and wind, too bad coal and natural gas supply a third of US electricity currently and as noted, what happens at night and when the wind dies?

Coal kills far more people and produces far more pollution than Nuclear.  Sure, strictly talking about the cost of production means coals is cheaper than nuclear but we the externalities are not included in the price.

This gets to why nuclear is doomed though.  The motivation for fossil fuels is economic.  The motivation for wind and solar is environmental.  Nuclear has high up front costs that can't even be counted on to be evened out in the long term without regulatory certainty.  Meanwhile the environmental groups are opposed to nuclear for irrational reasons that put that stability in question.

The future SHOULD be solar + nuclear (with other regional power sources where applicable).  But it's instead going to be solar + natural gas because we can't face this honestly.  I mean it's still better than coal, but the political viability of nuclear is not there right now.
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Offline estockly

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2017, 11:41:40 AM »
Nuclear waste is a huge problem that is unmanageable in today's social and political climate.


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Offline xenu

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2017, 01:38:21 PM »
Nuclear waste is a huge problem that is unmanageable in today's social and political climate.


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That's my biggest concern about nuclear power. The waste will be with us for all practical purposes forever.
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Online Mr. Beagle

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2017, 02:09:54 PM »
Nuclear waste is a huge problem that is unmanageable in today's social and political climate.


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That's my biggest concern about nuclear power. The waste will be with us for all practical purposes forever.
As opposed to West Virginia with many square miles of permanent wasteland?
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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2017, 02:12:10 PM »
Nuclear waste is a huge problem that is unmanageable in today's social and political climate.


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That's my biggest concern about nuclear power. The waste will be with us for all practical purposes forever.
As opposed to West Virginia with many square miles of permanent wasteland?

I think those are both examples of temporary things, with different but very long durations.
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Online Mr. Beagle

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2017, 02:43:10 PM »
I am always fascinated with how local residents excuse their own home area when it is turned into an environmental wasteland. I ran into this in the mining areas of Michigan's Upper Peninsula while living there. Conservatives get very defensive about the destruction around themselves.

Besides West Virginia, I have seen this in southern Louisiana as well, with the combination of chemical industry and natural water degradation. This board could likely cite other examples. 
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Offline nwdiver

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #11 on: February 14, 2017, 06:10:42 PM »
My understanding is that nuclear doesn't compete with solar and wind, it competes with hydrocarbons. What happens when the wind stops and there's no sunshine? You do understand the concept of base load, right?

The concept of 'base load' is largely a myth.  As long as the power is available when it's needed the grid can be sustained.  Supply and Demand are BOTH becoming more variable.  Even as we are more and more at the whim of the sun and wind for our supply we are gaining more control over demand.  ~50% of my electricity consumption is for my car.  That consumption can easily be shifted to anywhere in a 4 day window depending on the availability of supply.  You can view grid 2.0 stability as having 3 critical pillars.  Generation, Demand Response and Storage.  Wind and Solar will provide a greater and greater percentage of our ENERGY.  POWER can be supplemented by Demand Response, Storage and Gas Turbines when the first two aren't sufficient.  As Storage scales Gas will be used less and less.  Gas Turbines are incredibly cheap to build at ~$1/w and very dynamic.  The exact opposite of a nuclear plant.

If you trend out where our grid is progressing the economic landscape is going to get much more difficult for nuclear power.  Solar could be supplying 100% of grid power in California from 10am to 2pm on many days by 2020.  This trend will slowing creep across the country as PV prices continue to fall.  Generators that cost $1/w to build and are cheap to idle are still viable as renewables curtail other generation.  A nuclear power plant that generates 1GWh per year costs nearly the same to maintain as one that generates 1TWh per year.  They NEED to be online at full capacity to remain economically viable.  This will be increasingly impossible as wind and solar expand.

The sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow... but if the sun is shining or the wind is blowing solar and wind power are the most cost effective options.  For everything else there's demand response and storage.  We do need a 'bridge fuel' but Nuclear Power is the least cost effective option by far.  Grid 2.0 needs load following plants.  Nuclear Power cannot be operated cost effectively as a load following plant.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2017, 06:21:20 PM by nwdiver »

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #12 on: February 14, 2017, 06:41:31 PM »
When I was young, "they" were touting "Atoms for Peace" and promising that with nuclear power, electricity would be free. You'd pay for the wires to come into your home, and the electricity would be "too cheap to meter."

The reality turned out very different. Nuclear power ended up being very expensive, and they built the plants (both power plants and plants to produce weapons-grade fissile materials) with no plans for how to decommission them at the end of their life when they would be highly radioactive, or where to store the radioactive waste.

Coal is worse, but nuclear was sold to the American people with lies, poor design, and bad planning. Steve may well be right that we need nuclear and that new designs are much better. I am inclined to believe that when he speaks, he knows what he's talking about. But the nuclear industry has only itself to blame for the highly negative public opinion.
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Offline estockly

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #13 on: February 14, 2017, 07:19:27 PM »
When I was young, "they" were touting "Atoms for Peace" and promising that with nuclear power, electricity would be free. You'd pay for the wires to come into your home, and the electricity would be "too cheap to meter."

The reality turned out very different. Nuclear power ended up being very expensive, and they built the plants (both power plants and plants to produce weapons-grade fissile materials) with no plans for how to decommission them at the end of their life when they would be highly radioactive, or where to store the radioactive waste.

Coal is worse, but nuclear was sold to the American people with lies, poor design, and bad planning. Steve may well be right that we need nuclear and that new designs are much better. I am inclined to believe that when he speaks, he knows what he's talking about. But the nuclear industry has only itself to blame for the highly negative public opinion.

The new reactors are less prone to a "China Syndrome" type accident, where the radioactive rods collapse into a critical mass in case of a meltdown. They are also simpler, their cooling systems less prone to leaking radioactive gasses or water. And they are more reliable. But, the new reactors still generate a a lot of waste.

We generate and have to store tons and tons of waste.

Following the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan it was the nuclear waste stored on-site that caused most of the issues. Waste storage and maintenance issues of issues don't go away with the new plants, and no one in our democracy wants the radio active waste transported to and stored in their back yards.

Coal is only worse in the very short term. Nuclear waste is forever.
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Offline nwdiver

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Re: Economic Collapse of the nuclear industry
« Reply #14 on: February 14, 2017, 07:31:35 PM »
Steve may well be right that we need nuclear and that new designs are much better. I am inclined to believe that when he speaks, he knows what he's talking about. But the nuclear industry has only itself to blame for the highly negative public opinion.

As far as I know the economics of nuclear power have never been discussed on SGU.  Steve has impressive credentials but I don't believe they include expert knowledge of power generation distribution and sales.

I'm not much of an expert on those either but I am in a unique position of being both a solar panel installer on the side as well as being currently employed in the nuclear industry.  Over the last five years I've watched with amazement as the cost of solar and storage have become cheaper than I had optimistically predicted.  I'm helping a friend install a 26kW PV system that will cost ~$0.70/w.  That's <$0.02/kWh over 20 years.  Costs are still falling.  At the same time the construction of new plants at Vogtle and Summer seen massive cost overruns and threatened the solvency of their builder.  This isn't a one-off event.  It's rare to find a nuclear plant built since 1980 that wasn't massively over budget and behind schedule.

The main economic problem with nuclear is that compared to the capital and O&M cost, fuel is a rounding error.  A nuclear power plant is massively expensive to build and maintain.  They must be kept online to stay viable.  As wind and solar grow they will force the curtailment of other generators.  A nuclear power plant that can't be operated with a high capacity factor isn't worth keeping.

It's true that solar and wind alone can't support the grid.  It's also true that storage still needs decades to scale to a level that fossil fuels can be fully displaced from the grid.  But a $1 invested in solar, wind, storage and demand response is far more effective than a $1 invested in new nuclear.  We will need load following gas plants for decades to come... even if we were able to build more nuclear.

[/quote]

The new reactors are less prone to a "China Syndrome" type accident, where the radioactive rods collapse into a critical mass in case of a meltdown. They are also simpler, their cooling systems less prone to leaking radioactive gasses or water. And they are more reliable. But, the new reactors still generate a a lot of waste.

We generate and have to store tons and tons of waste.

Following the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan it was the nuclear waste stored on-site that caused most of the issues. Waste storage and maintenance issues of issues don't go away with the new plants, and no one in our democracy wants the radio active waste transported to and stored in their back yards.

Coal is only worse in the very short term. Nuclear waste is forever.
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IMO safety isn't the issue.  It's cost.  New reactors are safe and have fewer parts but the cost has still gone up.

It's important to make the distinction between short term storage and long term storage.  It was the fuel pools in Japan that created the problem.  Long term waste storage is very secure and as far as I'm aware there has never been an issue.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2017, 07:34:42 PM by nwdiver »

 

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