Skip to main content

The Nuclear Option in Scientific American

In the September print edition of Scientific American, John Deutch and Ernie Moniz are proposing a three-fold increase in global nuclear capacity in an effort to stem carbon emissions. Though the article is not yet available online, Graham Collins of the magazine's blog is providing a preview.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,


David Bradish said…
That's great. And these are the authors of the MIT study which all the nuclear opponents use to show nuclear is uneconomical.
Daniel said…
Have you folks already looked at this report from The Independent in Britain? 70 billion pounds to decommission nukes. Zoinks!

I actually found the link at The Cost of Energy.

P.S. Has Lisa ingested her 0.2 grams of plutonium today? I had my 0.2 grams of caffine :)
Randal Leavitt said…
After you have decommissioned all the nuclear reactors in the world, you can start on all the dams, bridges, roads, cities. Yup, tearing it all down will be expensive. So we should not build it in the first place, right? Let's just all live in caves and eat bugs.

I have to admit I got a little bored with the discussion at your site because it seemed you already made up your mind on nuclear based on propaganda and not facts. A minimum amount of research for someone that says they are an engineer would have quelled your speculation about plutonium isotopes--just go to this EPA page. So no, I wasn't distinquishing between "weapons grade" and other forms of plutonium. And I also made it clear that I was talkinng about pure, crystalline caffeine, not something you find in a diet Coke.

I apologize if I seem a bit snippy. In the past few days I've had to listen to career antinuclear activisits spew more misinformation in an attempt to mislead the public and the media. And while I'm glad that we were able to present our side, your post reminds me that intelligent people STILL don't have the facts about nuclear because of the years of propaganda from the other side. I just get frustrated.

Daniel said…
Hi Lisa SS,

Sorry you are feeling down. That EPA website was neat...thanks for the link, I'll noodle around some more a bit later.

They have a handy table that lists plutonium as a gamma emitter...

I'm sure you have the facts right and this is some kind of error, but please don't blame me if the sources you send me to offer conflicting info on radioactive isotopes.

You did say pure caffine. I did not know that pure caffine is different (& crystalline) from the kind found in drinks...appologies.

And yes, color me skeptical about nuclear for two reasons: uncertainty about validity of cost claims of new generation nukes, and waste.

The industry might do some good to get a neutral party (and I mean clearly neutral) to review ALL the costs (cradle to grave + subsidies) of nuclear facilities in multiple countries over decades of actual operation and publish the results. That would be a great starting point for further discussion.
David Bradish said…

Here's a link to our website on costs.

If you scroll to the bottom you can find a table on lifecycle costs throughout the world on each generating technology. There is a source at the bottom of the table which is the International Energy Agency. You can click on the link for the actual report.

I don't know how much more neutral you can get on costs other then the IEA. Check it out and let me know if you have questions.
Daniel said…
Thanks David, that is an informative page. It seems to just cover the US.

I think they need to add a zero to their estimated cost of decommisioning a plant. At a minimum it will cost as much to take apart a plant as it did to build. (I freely admit my credentials are nil as an estimator.) It is just my observation that it always costs more to clean up pollution, often many times more than it cost to pollute in the first place. And that is what running a nuke plant pollutes/irradiates the structure/facility.
robert merkel said…
Daniel, one point you may or may not appreciate is that the current British reactor fleet is a completely different reactor design to those used in the USA.

A more realistic data point for the US would be looking at the reactors that have already been decommissioned there; for instance the Maine Yankee plant. As I understand it, decommissioning of that plant is largely complete (the only issue is that until Yucca Mountain is built there's no permanent place for the spent fuel, so it's still sitting there in casks), and it cost around $500 million.

One thing that can clearly be learned from the British experience is that designing reactors without putting thought into how you're going to decommission them at the end of their useful lives is not a good idea.
Matthew66 said…
I would also point out that the GBP 70 billion is to decommission dual purpose military and civilian sites - the Magnox reactors were, like the Soviet RBMK reactors, designed to produce not only electricity but material for the UK's atomic weapons program. Further, successive governments in the UK made the deliberate decision to postpone funding of decommissioning so that the dividends from the state owned electricity utilities could be used for other purposes - such as education, health and defence. The consequence of this is a large bill for decommissioning and waste management. The same policy was taken towards civil service and National Insurance pensions - which consitute significantly greater obligations on the public purse.

If, like the US, UK utilities had been required to set aside decommissioning funds, this problem wouldn't exist. The US has a similar problem in respect to waste management, because the levy on nuclear electricity for waste management is effectively a tax - Congress has to appropriate any funds out of the "trust fund", which means that it can effectively use the money for whatever it likes as long as it still recognizes the amount in the "trust fund" as an outstanding obligation.

To summarize, my statements about plutonium isotopes came from your claim that "just getting near the stuff" will kill you. I said it has to be ingested in significant quantities. The EPA page says "External exposure to plutonium poses very little health risk, since plutonium isotopes emit alpha radiation, and almost no beta or gamma radiation."

You emit betas, too, but I wouldn't say that standing near you would kill least not by radiation exposure ;)

David Bradish said…
Daniel, if you scroll to the bottom as noted you will see "Lifecycle Costs (world figures)".

After 28 nuclear reactors have shutdown in the U.S. and are in some form of being decommissioned or completely done I'd say we know what the costs are to take it apart.
Brian Mays said…
Hmm ... is 0.2 grams of caffeine able to produce over 4000 kilowatt-hours of energy (as much energy as in almost half a ton of oil)? I find plutonium to be much more useful.
Daniel said…
David B,

Only 5 of the plants on that list said Decon completed (completion date not provided).
While 28 may have stopped operating, I'd still like more data points on decommissioning (+ those pages had nothing about costs--that I could see).

The "Lifecycle Costs (world figures)" table has so many assumptions built into it, that it is difficult to evaluate let alone take numbers to compare with anything else.
David Bradish said…

I take it you didn't read the report by the IEA. Beginning on page 82, you will find all the assumptions made for each generating technology. The link for the study is right below the lifecycle costs table.

The decom link was not about costs. It was only about the number of reactors being decommissioned.

I do have another link for you which is our fact sheet on the Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants. It should give you plenty of info on the costs, the structure and the criteria involved to take nuke plants apart.

If you want to continue discussion on these topics I highly recommend you read the information we send you. Otherwise we can't have an intelligent debate.
Daniel said…

The IEA report you so kindly directed me to costs almost $100. If you want to send me the report, I promise to read it, but please don't scold me for not buying and reading a $100 report, because you say that page 82 has an interesting cost study.

The Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants report that you reference above does list costs. It cites two commercial scale plants that have been decommissioned: An 850MW plant that operated for about two days (cost $185M), and one 330 MW plant that operated for 16 years (cost $189M).

I appreciate both data points. Future decommissionings appear to have a fund with $220M per plant set aside to pay the $320M estimated per plant decommissioning cost.

Apparently the cost of disposing of low level radioactive waste tripled during the time those two above plants were decommissioned. Accounting for 30% of Decon costs...I wonder what will happen to disposal costs when dozens of plants are trying to get rid of waste at the same time? (You know the other 100 nuke plants.)
David Bradish said…

Yes, it is an expensive report. The entire report is specifically on costs not just one page. Assumptions of the costs start on page 82.

You asked the industry "to get a neutral party (and I mean clearly neutral) to review ALL the costs (cradle to grave + subsidies) of nuclear facilities in multiple countries over decades of actual operation and publish the results."

I can guarantee this is the best study out there which describes the information you are looking for which is as neutral as possible.

Excuse my frustration but you were judging the report before you even looked it up.

If you know of other sources of cost information I would be happy to look at it with you and discuss.

As for your last question on decommissioning, I do not know the answer. You pose a good question which we could only estimate. Cheers.

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.

Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…