Nuclear Power Plants: Subsidized economic time bombs

Continued from Part 1.

dukeenergynuclear2011

May 15, 2012 Recent financial schemes show new nuclear energy anything but cheap

 The Charlotte Observer reports Duke Energy, a Charlotte-based utility, wants lawmakers to allow it to recoup nuclear pre-construction costs faster.  Duke Energy wants to adjust electric rates annually to recover those proposed nuclear plant…

Global nuclear share continues its long-term decline, as plans for new plants are being abandoned left and right, and countries are announcing full exits – but licenses being granted for multiple reactors at one site continues unabated.

One might say a nuclear power plant is an economic atomic bomb, which enables real atomic bombs. All of which is state subsidized and indemnified from numerous liabilities of public harm *(see Price-Anderson Act ).  We’ve known for a while that the cost of new nuclear power plants have been soaring (Nuclear power: The price is not right), but nuclear energy has been noncompetitive for a few years now.

Think Progress article by Joe Romm showed nuclear power cost for new nuclear power plants is over $10,000+ per Kilowatt, even before taking into account for the lessons learned and costs incurred from the Fukushima disaster, those prices are just stunning in relation to pretty much anything else, even solar PV’s (which is much more expensive than wind) are significantly less than 1/2 that price per KW.

If government meltdown insurance, fissile material dangers, and disposal costs are added, nuclear is nonsensical, which is why they need so many public touts and behind the scenes lobbyists.

Many people seem to assume that nuclear plants run continuously 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When you look at annual production from the 6 Fukushima reactors over the past 40 years, you see huge variations in electricity production in GWh on an annual basis, with the standard deviation ranging from 25% to 50% of the average annual production.

When I look at solar electricity production on an annual basis in many states I see standard deviations on an annual basis of about 10%(Mass. USA). Thanks to the internet, now anyone can observe this data online.

One could make the case that solar is quite a bit more predictable at producing electricity on an annual basis than nuclear, it’s also much cheaper as well.

Cheap, safe nuclear is one of the great oxymorons in the Atomic Age. In February 2011 the Union of Concerned Scientists had an interesting and very comprehensive paper written cataloging all the subsidies that nuclear power receives and calculating their value in a number of ways including $ per kWh.

The report  found that in many instances the subsidies have been and will continue to be larger than the average cost of wholesale electricity.

Recently, chief executive of German electric utilities giant RWE admitted that investing billions in new nuclear power stations would have forced a credit-rating downgrade on the company.

This after Forbes ran an article featuring *a former Exelon executive who also declared new nuclear construction not a financially sound investment.

E.ON, another large energy company blamed its abandonment of nuclear projects on a lack of “financial firepower”.  Tony Cocker, CEO of E.ON UK. “Nuclear is an extremely long-term investment.”

RWE and E.ON subsequently cancelled their joint plan to build new reactors in March, while nuclear giant EDF has delayed work at its site at Hinkley and EDF’s nuclear partner Centrica says the case for nuclear investment is “unproven”.

United Kingdom Energy Minister Charles Hendry said at least £100bn was needed to build replacements for the many old coal, gas and nuclear plants that will close in the next few years.

The Olkiluoto plant in Finland has suffered a never-ending series of delays and cost overruns, safety and build quality failures. It has been a disaster. Over double the budget and double the supposed build time – and the costs and delays keep mounting while legal battles rage. The sister plant in Flamanville in France has been no better.

In fact, the cost of new constructing a nuclear power plant have continued to escalate in the United States, France, and other countries since 2000:

 

The Toronto Star reported that Areva’s Ontario$26 billion bid was based on the construction of two 1,200-megawatt Advanced Candu Reactors, working out to $10,800 per kilowatt of power capacity….  The bid from France’s Areva NP also blew past expectations, sources said.

Areva’s bid came in at $23.6 billion, with two 1,600-megawatt reactors costing $7.8 billion and the rest of the plant costing $15.8 billion.

It works out to $7,375 per kilowatt, and was based on a similar cost estimate Areva had submitted for a plant proposed in Maryland”.

Stevens said Areva’s lower price makes sense because the French company wasn’t prepared to take on as much risk as the government had hoped.

This made Areva’s bid non-compliant in the end. Crown-owned AECL, however, complied with Ontario’s risk-sharing requirement but was instructed by the federal government to price this risk into its bid.

“Which is why it came out so high,” said Stevens.

Economist Marc Cooper came to very similar conclusion in a paper published last year: POLICY CHALLENGES OF NUCLEAR REACTOR CONSTRUCTION, COST ESCALATION AND CROWDING OUT ALTERNATIVES: LESSONS FROM THE U.S. AND FRANCE FOR THE EFFORT TO REVIVE THE U.S. INDUSTRY WITH LOAN GUARANTEES AND TAX SUBSIDIES 

Interestingly enough, the one situation for which Cooper found positive learning was when multiple plants were built on the same site, a weakness now called into question by the Fukushima disaster.

Westinghouse and Toshiba are of course arguing that the AP1000 design (undoubtedly a superior design to the European EPR) is the future and can be economic. The only problem is that not many energy companies seem convinced, even with massive US subsidies. That should tell us everything anyone needs to know about it.

Even if they do start construction, as with Vogtle, there is no guarantee the build will be completed. New nuclear builds are abandoned with monotonous regularity.

Some critics tell us to never mind the costs, and say we must invest in nuclear energy this to cut carbon emissions. So, getting the retaliation in first, I just want to remind them that nuclear produces just small fraction of our energy; a huge cost to cut small fraction of carbon emissions is hard to justify, compared with saving that same small fraction through efficiency.

Nuclear doesn’t make sense in terms of economics or energy – uranium’s on the way out.

We must remember it is not so much nuclear energy’s “current economic reality”, it’s constant economic nightmare that perpetually haunts it. Nuclear power projects have never been able to compete in an open market. They could not compete against fossils in the 80s and 90s, now they cannot compete against renewables. Only when governments massively subsidize them do nukes get built.

When disaster strikes, the public is cajoled and coddled with reassuring statements that it could “never happen here”, “not with ours”.  Yet, I have yet to find a majority in any room that can identify 25 reactors of similar design from various countries without having incorrectly guessed on one or more.  Even more in my arguments favor, when disaster struck in Japan, did they not request US studies on BWR reactors of the like?

 

The uncertainty leads to a multitude of unrealistic over assurances from officials, experts, and even the press, I’ve been darkly intrigued by the sadly desperate line added to every article regarding the Fukushima meltdowns – “Not threatening to Human Health.” It seems the public is repeatedly advised “do as I say, not as I do”.

Among the plethora of samples available, I’ve been collecting a few; thought I would share:

“There is no question of a Chernobyl situation or of anything like the same threat to human health and safety,” Rafael Arutyunyan, deputy head of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Nuclear Energy Development Security, told Russian NTV News. “An accident like Chernobyl cannot happen again—this is a reactor of a different generation. Even in the worst-case scenario of a total coolant failure, the radiation released will be hundreds of times less than from Chernobyl.” Thedailybeast – Why Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown Is No Chernobyl Mar 13, 2011

 

Satellite photos taken Monday show steam rising from the damaged unit 3 building. The amount of radioactivity carried by the plume is unknown, but small increases in radiation — not enough to impact human health — were reported Tuesday in Tokyo, about 150 miles to the southwest of the stricken facility. The Washington Post – New fire reported at nuclear plant as Japan races to avert catastrophe March 14th, 2011

 

Roughly nine hours after the explosion, radiation levels just outside the plant — at dangerous levels in the morning — had fallen to 496 micro sieverts per hour, a concentration “much higher than the normal level … but one that causes no harm to human health,” government spokesman Yukio Edano said. At 9 a.m. (8 p.m. Monday in Washington), the radiation level at the plant had been 11,930 micro sieverts per hour, several times the amount a human should receive in one year. The Washington Post – New fire reported at nuclear plant as Japan races to avert catastrophe March 14th, 2011

 

Higher-than-normal radiation levels were detected in Tokyo, roughly 150 miles from Fukushima. Kanagawa, a prefecture south of Tokyo, recorded radiation at nine times the usual level. In Ibaraki, roughly 70 miles from Tokyo, levels were briefly 100 times the normal measure, according to the Kyodo news agency.

In each case, officials said that exposure to those levels of radiation would not pose an immediate danger to human health. The Washington Post – New fire reported at nuclear plant as Japan races to avert catastrophe March 14th, 2011

 

A diplomat who has access to radiation tracking by the U.N.’s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization told The Associated Press in Vienna that initial readings show tiny amounts of radiation have reached California. But it’s not dangerous in any way — “about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the organization does not make its findings public. FL Times Diplomat says minuscule fallout reaches Calif.
March 18th, 2011

 

Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deployed extra radiation detectors throughout the country to allay public concerns. On Thursday, President Barack Obama said “harmful levels” of radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant are not expected to reach the U.S. FL Times Diplomat says minuscule fallout reaches Calif.  March 18th, 2011

 

“The plutonium – used in the fuel mix in the No 3 reactor – is not at levels that threaten human health, officials said.” BBC News – Japan to scrap stricken nuclear reactors 30 March 2011

 

“The Japanese Cabinet Secretary, Yukio Edano, said: “Even if these foods are temporarily eaten, there is no health hazard.” BBC News – Tokyo water ‘unfit for babies’ due to high radiation 23 March 2011

 

“Three plutonium isotopes — Pu-238, -239 and -240 — were found in soil at five different points inside the plant grounds, Tokyo Electric reported. The element can be a serious health hazard if inhaled or ingested, but external exposure poses little health risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” Damaged reactor may be leaking radioactive water, Japan says – CNN.com By the CNN Wire Staff March 28, 2011

 

“Mr. Edano also noted that radiation above the acceptable limit had been found in beef from Fukushima prefecture, and he said the government was repeating the tests to confirm them. In any case, he said, “the radiation is not of a level sufficient to be harmful to human health if someone eats it once or twice.”” Radiation Levels Rise Again at Nuclear Plant – NYTimes.com

 

“Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda maintained that contamination of the sea to be caused by the disposal will pose no major health risk, while apologizing for raising concerns among the public, especially fishermen.” Removal of 60,000 tons of radioactive water eyed at Fukushima plant – The Mainichi Daily News

Even under best technical conditions, nuclear energy will always be even more crippled by stupid nuclear policy, but still the foundational concept remains, ‘Be nuclear built “expensive” or “cheap”, it will always be done the wrong way!’ Still countries are encouraged to build it here, or build it there, there is no thought of limitation in the expert’s guidebook, but building it everywhere is bad. Building it in the USSR proved to be bad. Building in an Earthquake and Tsunami zone proved to be bad.

Maybe one of the more frightening things, which is not prominent in most conversations today is that the Chinese are building the next generation of nuclear. But that won’t prove to be bad, right?

 

Recently more and more of the public have been finding their voices, and it has pushed the pro-nuclear rhetoric to new heights post-Fukushima.  I now wait for George Monbiot to declare that nuclear energy is not only safe, that it is also staggeringly cheap, despite what the disinformationists say.

Such prominent figures and experts claim that we have the technology to store deadly radioactive waste for a quarter of a million years, and therefore should build more nukes, but also claim solar energy is inefficient because we do not have the technology to store solar electricity overnight! Making sense to anyone else? 

If the world gets any more surreal it might not be so radical to imagine Joe Rogan and George Monibot could face off in a nuclear debate, like a modern day David and Goliath.

We are learning some very sound lessons from this disaster. One is that one can’t believe what they hear or think much of the time, particularly when it comes from an “official” source like government, as public relations people are hired almost exclusively to blunt criticism and scrutiny.

Secondly, we are ultimately responsible for this state of affairs because we allow ourselves to be hoodwinked. We MUST resist indoctrination, propaganda and just plain lies from all sides, not just government. The problems in society are mere projections with the problems of the nature of man, and the actions taken on behalf of profit are made because people are who they are.  We can expect no better until people become better.

 

Has no one else noticed the complete lack of a public message from the Obama administration on what steps the US public should be taking to protect themselves from potential fallout?   Specifically, those in Guam and Hawaii as well as the Aleutians, Alaska, and certain parts west coast of the US. The lack of an immediate public message, regardless of the level of radiation currently emanating from plant, is alarming.

The experts report that the Japanese people are safe, because the radioactive materials were blown out to sea, the Americans are told that they are safe because the radioactive materials were displaced into the Pacific Ocean, and that anything that could’ve possibly made it that far would’ve upon nearing land magically skyrocketed up and away from danger of deposition, exposure, or inhalation.  Radioactive materials with half-lives that never reach mathematical zero do not simply disappear, they are going to land somewhere.

Without even calling into question the nature of how displaced heavier than air elements and particles move across flat surfaces, (once appropriately described as “like molasses across a table”, and can still be witnessed in watching large transoceanic vessels solitarily chugging towards foreign port), even without wondering what the rates of deposition were, one still has to wonder about the amounts of displacement onto the tsunami debris which was methodically moving across the Pacific.

And these ionized materials would not collect on the surface of debris or other materials that it came into contact with?  Would these materials just “wash off”?  Its’ hard to believe so considering the difficulty found in decontaminating radioactive hotspots in Japan, there they have found the truth, it takes a lot of work.

These materials were not just deposited on a handful of times, but would have been exposed to nearly continual deposition according to studies conducted by NOAA and other oceanographic groups.

Yet we were blessed to find that a ship had made it across the ocean intact, which would’ve lead to bountiful research on what else we may still not be aware of about the approaching field of debris.

We simply have little experience tracking trans-oceanic currents, and this ship even without the sentimental element, would’ve provided a great service to science.  Yet we sank it inexplicably with our pea shooters, and no one has really explained why in a way that answers more questions than it produces.

This situation prevails worldwide. Reporters in contrast are not experts, and experts share no interest with the public, and both can be snowed for years without realizing it — if they even care.

In summation, if it were possible to generate electricity from proclamations that low-cost, ultra-reliable nuclear power is just around the corner, we would indeed have been enjoying an energy source too cheap to meter for the last half-century.

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  1. This is such a RIP OFF!

    The Folks in the Deep South are enslaved to the Nuclear Fascists* and the rest of the USA is on the hook for any accidents from any of these nuclear turkeys since the Price Waterhouse limits the Industry Liability to about 12 Billion Dollars…

    How much is South Carolina or LA-San Diego worth?

    More here:

    NRC: Fact Sheet on Nuclear Insurance and Disaster Relief
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/funds-fs.html

    In short, if there is more that $12 Billion in damages, we are SOL!
    This is only a tiny fraction of what it will cost in Fukushima,
    … Which is about a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster!

    Where would the US Government get the REST,
    … Social Security and or Medicare?

    This question needs answering ASAP,
    … From both Congress and the Nuclear Industry!

    CALL your Leaders and ask them where this money would from!

    Then ALL Americans can determine if Nuclear is worth the RISK!

  2. Sorry for the missing definition:
    *Nuclear Fascism
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=nuclear+fascism

    And thats for the well written article…

  3. What could possible go wrong?

    THE NPP’s RISK GAME:

    ~ Tornado strike?
    ~ Earthquake?
    ~ Human error?
    ~ Tsunami?
    ~ Power outage?
    ~ Pipe break?
    ~ Test gone wrong?
    ~ Old fuel issues?
    ~ Terrorist attack?
    ~ Hurricane?
    ~ Plane crash?
    ~ Heavy rains/River floods?
    ~ Metal Fatigue?
    ~ Nuclear Ransom?
    ~ Solar Flair?
    ~ EMP?
    ~ Lightning?
    ~ Dam Failure?
    ~ Fire?
    ~ Operator suicide?
    ~ Jihadist?
    ~ CME?
    ~ Carrington Effect?
    ~ Cyber-warfare
    ~ Meteror
    ~ Aliens

    … Just to name a few possibilities how NPP’s can crap out.

  4. Here is yet another RIP OFF, the unknown cost to decommission:

    GAO ==>N.R.C. Skimps on Financial Oversight, Audit Says
    http://is.gd/k5sNpE
    snip
    For a study it plans to issue on Monday, the Government Accountability Office scrutinized 12 of the nation’s 104 power reactors and found that for 5 of them, the decommissioning cost calculated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was 76 percent or less of what the reactor’s owner thought would be needed.
    The most striking example was Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y., which could be forced to close by 2015 because of a licensing dispute . The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimated the cost of decommissioning the reactor at $474.2 million, just 57 percent of the “site-specific” estimate made by Entergy, the owner, which put the figure at $836.45 million.

    Guess who is on the HOOK for all this money…
    US, N☢T the Industry

    Think Too BIG TO Meltdown — N☢T

  5. Excellent analysis, Lucas. If all the ‘hidden’ and direct excess consumer costs were included, nukes would be even more fiscally outlandish.

  6. Great reporting!

    Remember how complicit the U.S. media was in downplaying the radiation from Japan?

    I’ve never seen so many synonyms of the word “small” (in describing the radiation).

    Here are just some of the synonyms the U.S. media used:

    wee, tiny, teeny-tiny, very low levels, minute levels, miniscule, very small, extremely small, within acceptable levels, barely measurable………… and my all-time favorite >>>

    “LIKE A BANANA”

    One article had the audacity to criticize anyone concerned about the radiation from Japan like this:

    “unless you are the most irrational worrier”

    Sadly, not one article in the main-stream media made the truthful statement that THERE IS NO SAFE DOSE OF RADIATION.

    Many of us are glad we were concerned; we’re glad we learned how dangerous nuclear energy is; we’re glad we educated ourselves on radiation mitigation; and we’re glad we found excellent sources like Enformable to keep us “enformed.”

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