Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Who Is Grace Energy?

At 1 p.m. this afternoon, Grace Energy Initiative released a document titled “False Promises: Debunking Nuclear Industry Propaganda,” in which the group addresses 10 nuclear industry claims and why they are misleading.

I’ve read so many of these types of reports that each time I read a new one, for fun, I test myself to see who the source is for each claim.

On our blog, we’re about to the point where the issues have been addressed and refuted on almost all aspects of nuclear power. So why bother addressing this most recent report? Because it goes beyond the typical anti-nuclear claims and on to dirty tactics involving the Society of Environmental Journalists’ 16th Annual Conference beginning tomorrow, which Eric will get more into in more detail in a later post.

Let’s begin. The report says on page 10 that “nuclear power is the slowest and costliest way to reduce CO2 emissions when compared to efficiency, distributed generation and some renewable sources.” yet whenever I hear this claim, I never see any information available on how much renewables, distributed generation and efficiency it would take. Considering that nuclear reactors are some of the largest sources for generation (9.25 out of the top 20 plants in the U.S. are nuclear, and one quarter of the Crystal River plant in Florida is nuclear), I find it hard to believe that a lesser effort would be required of distributed generation, renewables and efficiency.

Furthermore, in 2005, 73 percent of U.S. emission-free electricity came from nuclear (PDF). We’re not saying nuclear power will do it all. We’re saying that if the world wants to reduce emissions, it can’t exclude one of the largest sources of emission-free power. Once again, the antis are setting up a false choice between nuclear and alternative energies.

But let’s get into this a little more. I’m sure some of the readers have heard of Princeton’s Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow’s concept of stabilization wedges (PDF), in which, in a 50-year period, if all seven wedges are achieved worldwide CO2 emissions would be stabilized. How much is required for some of the wedges?

A wedge from renewable electricity replacing coal-based power is available from a 50-fold expansion of wind by 2054 or a 700-fold expansion of PV relative to today. The expansion factor for geothermal energy is about 100.

A 50-fold expansion of wind amounts to deploying two million wind turbines (of the one-megawatt size that is currently typical). The land demands are considerable: A wedge of wind requires deployment on at least 30 million hectares (the area of the state of Wyoming or nearly the area of Germany).

For a renewable energy technology, land demands for PV are relatively low because the efficiency of conversion of sunlight to PV is relatively high: An entire wedge of PV electricity will require an estimated two million hectares (the area of New Jersey).

Similarly, building a wedge with new nuclear power requires tripling the current nuclear electricity production, assuming the new plants displace coal. This would mean building about 700 new 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants around the world.

And this is just contributing one wedge out of seven from each of these technologies. Quite a challenge for each. Nuclear can definitely build another 700 gigawatts in 50 years, as we already have built about 400 GW in roughly a 30-year period.

On pages 21 and 22, the report blasts NEI’s false advertising on clean-air energy and the impact of nuclear power plants on marine ecosystems. I guess Grace Energy is not aware of the ecological stewardship programs many utility companies contribute to the environment (PDF, beginning on page 10). The Grace report says:
In actuality, the NRC has documented nearly 200 “near misses” to serious reactor accidents in the U.S. since 1986.
If readers have been around long enough, they will remember that this came from Greenpeace’s report last spring, which we debunked.
Many reactors are built near large population centers, especially along the eastern U.S., which is more densely populated now than when plants were constructed. For example, Oyster Creek nuclear reactor in New Jersey has seen local population triple in size since the plant was built, making safe and timely evacuation a non-reality for today’s surrounding residents.
If people are so fearful of nuclear power, why would Oyster Creek’s local population triple in size? Maybe nuclear plants are not as bad as everyone is falsely led to believe. And I love the assumption that since population tripled, “a safe and timely evacuation is a non-reality.” I guess Grace is not aware that
every two years, each nuclear plant conducts a full-scale emergency exercise involving a confidential emergency scenario to be handled by on-site and off-site emergency response organizations, including plant employees, local law enforcement, fire departments, radiological monitoring teams, among others. The NRC evaluates performance of the on-site plan and FEMA the off-site plan. Necessary improvements are identified to be corrected. In alternate years, plants conduct training drills, frequently unannounced, involving such key factors as coordination, communications, assessment of emergency, medical, and fire brigade response, and radiation dose measurement.
Back to Grace:
While the nuclear industry likes to point out that nuclear power is cheaper than other forms of electricity generation, it counts only the price of operating the plants, not the full costs of building them. Operating costs of nuclear power plants are in fact low, but to argue these are the true costs of nuclear power is disingenuous, and like arguing that it’s cheap to drive a Rolls Royce, counting only gasoline price and leaving out the purchase price.
To my knowledge, we never say that nuclear’s operating costs are the “true costs.” Here’s information on our Web site that shows much more than just the operating costs.

Let me expand on the Rolls Royce analogy a bit. When you get a nuclear plant, you are getting quality like a Rolls Royce. It’s expensive to buy, but you expect it to perform exceptionally well, be very reliable and last all the way 'til it’s time to retire it. How well it operates is the key. If they couldn’t operate well, then most likely there would not be a renewed interest in building more nuclear plants (PDF).

There is quite a bit more we can get into when debunking these reports, but I’m going to turn direction onto Patrick Moore. Since he will be on a panel at the SEJ conference on Friday, Grace Energy has put forth effort in this report and in other ways to attack his intentions and credibility. All I have to say is, if they’re going to get personal, it’s a sign that they can’t debate the issues. Just stick to the facts, as people are consistently advised on this blog.

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4 comments:

robert merkel said...

The energy sector, while a very important part of the world economy, is only a reasonably small fraction of it.

The fact is that if the world collectively decides that building nuclear plants is a priority, building 700 of them in 50 years will be a much less onerous task than constructing the 4 billion automobiles we will build in that period, even making the ridiculous assumption that automobile production will not increase.

Matthew66 said...

There is a really good reason why the population around Oyster Creek power station has tripled. New Jersey has the some of the highest property taxes in the US, and in the towns and counties where there are nuclear power stations, those stations pay a large share of the property taxes, making the burden for home owners significantly lower. I am not sure that voters who support anti-nuke candidates are fully aware that if Oyster Creek (or any other station) were closed down, they would either have to reduce the services provided by local government, or take a significant hike in local taxes.

The economic contribution of nuclear power stations is a significant factor in local support of them, that and the fact that they operate safely without polluting the local environment.

Bill Casino said...

Grace is participating in a web cast with Patrick Moore, that wild and crazy Jim Riccio, and Peter Bradford Friday Morning at 11:15 A.M. I plan on taking an hour and checking this thing out. Patrick Moore is outnumbered 2 to 1, but he seems to be pretty sprightly in debate. It should be interesting. For more info, here's a good link:Is Nuclear Power the Solution to Climate Change & Future Energy Demand?

Ruth Sponsler said...

Matthew66 - That's a good point.

Also, property buyers are attracted by lakes. There is a situation in a fairly hilly part of the Southeast where nuclear is used at night to pump water into storage where it's used in a hydro facility for daytime demand.

The lakes attract property buyers and boaters.

Lakeside property with low taxes...I should have bought into that five years ago!