Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Commentary by AEHI's Don Gillespie

Don Gillispie, President and CEO of Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., wrote an opinion piece at ArbiterOnline which is Boise State's Independent Student Newspaper:

Nuclear power, on the other hand, needs little area to produce massive amounts of energy and does it with 90 percent reliability, zero greenhouse gasses, very little waste (all of it low-level and recyclable) and all for about three cents per kilowatt hour. The American nuclear industry's stellar safety record over 50 years is one of the reasons why, according to a recent poll, 70 percent of Americans and an increasing number of mainstream environmentalists are supporting it.

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Oddly, some people claim the recent decision by MidAmerican to end plans for a nuclear plant in Payette County really means the entire industry is doomed. Warren Buffet ultimately made the decision and who are mere mortals to question his business savvy?

While nuclear plants are quite profitable when operating, the overwhelming commitment to build one is not for the skittish or those wanting immediate investment rewards. I think Buffet, a newcomer to the nuclear energy field, realized he was in for a long haul and left to look for easier profits. I know I am right because there more than 21 other companies eagerly building plants.

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Also, it's duplicitous for nuclear opponents - a few of whom hold official positions - to do all they can to drive up the cost of nuclear plants, then turn around and claim nuclear power is too expensive. It's also duplicitous for them to label nuclear energy developers as greedy merchants, then claim their plants can never be profitable. Which is it?
More here.

3 comments:

gunter said...

This commentary has a few obvious shortcomings;

1)in accessing the area footprint of a nuclear power plant it disregards such things as environmental impacts from uranium mining (i.e. down stream and down wind impacts from uranium mine tailings) or the 10-mile emergency planning zone and the 50-mile ingestion pathway zone or the fact that the current repository concept for high level radioactive waste will result in ground water contamination;

2) 90% capacity factor is relative to how the unit is progressing along the bathtub curve;

3) the claim that there is "very little waste" is in complete denial of both the high-level radioactive waste situtation and that as of July 2008 all but South Carolina,Connecticut and New Jersey do not have a low-level radioactive waste disposal site;

4) "recyclable" nuclear waste (i.e.reprocessing) as evidenced by both the UK and French programs is an economic and environmental disaster;

5) said poll was conducted by Ms. Bisconti, formerly with NEI public affairs, with its foregone conclusions;

6)"21 companies eagerly building nuclear power plants" certainly not in the USA. Making application to NRC and commencing construction are two distinctly different processes, each with their own set of risks and there is no construction underway;

7) the claim that it is nuclear opponents who are "driving up the cost of nuclear plants" is completely disassociated from reality. It may come to pass that opposition will play a role in the future, but the current 300 to 400% increase in projected cost over the past two years from NEI's projected $1500 to $2000/kw to FPL recent filing of between $5600/kw to $8100/kw before the Florida PSC is a predictable outcome stemming from the captial intensive nature of the beast.

Luke said...

Gunter;

When the mining of uranium is considered, along with the final repository for radioactive waste, then yes, the "footprint" of nuclear energy is larger than just the power plant itself.

But if we're going to deal in whole-of-life-cycle analysis, then you need to consider the whole life cycles of the alternatives, too - the whole-of-life-cycle footprint of nuclear energy is certainly far superior to coal and fossil fuels, and it is comparable to the environmental footprint of solar photovoltaics and wind turbines.

I agree that Yucca Mountain has perhaps not been implemented in the smoothest and most rigorous fashion thus far - I tend to prefer to look to the work of SKB in Sweden as the example of world's best practice in geological HLW disposal.

But anyway, if Yucca Mountain does result in groundwater contamination, what level of radioactivity will be found in the groundwater, and what dose will result to members of the public? It's important to quantify these things.

The capacity factor of US nuclear units - averaged across all nuclear units in the US, some of which certainly are aging a little - is around 90%, and often in excess of that.

I agree that the "all of it low-level" claim is a little strange.

We know that, at present, nuclear reprocessing is not economically competitive with mining new uranium out of the ground.

But, personally, I'd rather go for the slightly more expensive option of reprocessing, if it meant dramatically reducing uranium mining, essentially eliminating it entirely, and therefore dramatically reducing the "footprint", whole-of-life-cycle GHG emissions, and environmental impact associated indirectly with nuclear power, in the form of uranium mining.

In addition, as the price of mined uranium continues to rise in line with increasing demand, reprocessing will become economically competitive - especially if the very pessimistic predictions of some persons in the anti-nuclear-energy movement with regards to uranium resources and extraction cost have any semblance of truth or accuracy associated with them at all.

Obviously, NRC licensing and application is a pre-requisite for actual new build in the US - although there is no concrete being poured right now, the paperwork is part of the process of new build.

Anonymous said...

"I'd rather go for the slightly more expensive option of reprocessing, if it meant dramatically reducing uranium mining, essentially eliminating it entirely"

Source citation, please? I've been researching nuclear power for over 30 years, and have never seen a claim that reprocessing can COMPLETELY eliminate mining of new uranium with an expanding base of reactors to feed.