Monday, April 16, 2007

Tom Friedman on the "Power of Green"

In a piece in yesterday's edition of the New York Times Magazine, Thomas Friedman shows how he's broken the code on the implications of new nuclear build:

I recently visited the infamous Three Mile Island nuclear plant with Christopher Crane, president of Exelon Nuclear, which owns the facility. He said that if Exelon wanted to start a nuclear plant today, the licensing, design, planning and building requirements are so extensive it would not open until 2015 at the earliest. But even if Exelon got all the approvals, it could not start building “because the cost of capital for a nuclear plant today is prohibitive.”

That’s because the interest rate that any commercial bank would charge on a loan for a nuclear facility would be so high — because of all the risks of lawsuits or cost overruns — that it would be impossible for Exelon to proceed. A standard nuclear plant today costs about $3 billion per unit. The only way to stimulate more nuclear power innovation, Crane said, would be federal loan guarantees that would lower the cost of capital for anyone willing to build a new nuclear plant.

The 2005 energy bill created such loan guarantees, but the details still have not been worked out. “We would need a robust loan guarantee program to jump-start the nuclear industry,” Crane said — an industry that has basically been frozen since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. With cheaper money, added Crane, CO2-free nuclear power could be “very competitive” with CO2-emitting pulverized coal.

Think about the implications. Three Mile Island had two reactors, TMI-2, which shut down because of the 1979 accident, and TMI-1, which is still operating today, providing clean electricity with virtually no CO2 emissions for 800,000 homes. Had the TMI-2 accident not happened, it too would have been providing clean electricity for 800,000 homes for the last 28 years. Instead, that energy came from CO2-emitting coal, which, by the way, still generates 50 percent of America’s electricity.
The piece is called The Power of Green, and it's well worth your time.

2 comments:

Kirk Sorensen said...

It could not start building “because the cost of capital for a nuclear plant today is prohibitive.” That’s because the interest rate that any commercial bank would charge on a loan for a nuclear facility would be so high — because of all the risks of lawsuits or cost overruns — that it would be impossible for Exelon to proceed. A standard nuclear plant today costs about $3 billion per unit. The only way to stimulate more nuclear power innovation, Crane said, would be federal loan guarantees that would lower the cost of capital for anyone willing to build a new nuclear plant.

I'm not so sure about this...Mr. Friedman may be right about conventional light-water reactors, but as I've been saying for as long as anyone might listen: light-water reactors may be nuclear, but nuclear is not light-water reactors.

Capital costs are too high--is the answer to keep trying to build plants with high capital costs using government loan guarantees? This guy seems to think so.

Or you could actually go after the root problem and use nuclear technologies that offer much lower capital costs. Less steel, concrete, and uranium. Mobility so that opposition at a site doesn't derail construction. Inherent safety rather than probabilistic safety. A closed fuel cycle in the reactor rather than the externalities of waste disposal. Air cooling instead of water cooling so the reactor can be used in places without water supplies.

Can these things be done? Sure they can, but not with light-water reactors. New technological approaches need to be pursued.

Don Kosloff said...

I wonder when Tom Friedman will visit the infamous Willow Island or the infamous Buffalo Hollow.