Thursday, February 28, 2008

Makhijani on DallasNews

Two days ago on DallasNews, Arjun Makhijani from the anti-nuclear group Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) gave his usual commentary that nuclear can't cut it but renewables can.

Having failed miserably to deliver on the 1950s promise that nuclear electricity would be "too cheap to meter," the industry now says it will save us from climate change.
Can't the antis come up with something better than to hold the industry to a claim made 50 years ago? Since the 1980s, it's been clear nuclear plants were not cheap. I'm sure if we dig hard enough we can find old claims made from all industries that never came to fruition. On to Comanche Peak:
And then there is the problem of cooling water. The two proposed reactors would consume about 40 million gallons of water per day. Even assuming that the water is available, Texas is risking a less reliable power system, given that droughts are estimated to become more extreme in a warming world.
I guess Mr. Makhijani is unaware the U.S. nuclear plants operated at a 98 percent capacity factor during the two hottest weeks of last summer.

Yes, water availability is an issue for nuclear plants in certain regions of the U.S. But water availability is an issue which affects 99 percent of this country's electricity generation (pdf). It's an energy issue, not just a nuclear issue. Moving on:
Luminant's two reactors are already discharging significant amounts of tritium-contaminated radioactive water into the Squaw Creek reservoir. New reactors would only add to those discharges.

Before proceeding with new reactor proposals, Luminant should at least investigate how it might reduce existing tritium discharges. Tritium is radioactive hydrogen, which displaces ordinary hydrogen in water to form tritiated water, which becomes radioactive as a result.

This is clearly a scare tactic. Why? Because he knows routine tritium releases from a nuclear plant are as radioactive as background radiation which is not harmful at all. And we know he knows this because he wrote a two paragraph explanation on tritium releases and then stopped short of saying it's a problem.

Energy production is a competitive business. But stating incorrect and misleading information to promote one's business/beliefs will not win anyone over. For previous posts on Makhijani and IEER's claims, click here.

Update: Be sure to check out two letters to the DallasNews on Makhijani's post as well.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

To complain that one admittedly socialist nuclear advocate thought that nuclear power may someday be too cheap to meter ignores metering costs.

At some cost for meters and meter reading, some price for electricity, and some limit on consumption (20 amp service say), it could be quite economic to not read meters.

Look at the trend to flat rate pricing for cell phone service - so called "anytime" rates. Today consumption per household is so high and the marginal costs are considerable relative to the cost to read a meter. The later are coming down, BTW, as solid state meters are introduced.

Joe Somsel

Anonymous said...

Lewis Strauss was not a socialist nuclear advocate. He was a staunch anti-communist. Strauss was principally responsible for J. Robert Oppenheimer getting his top secret clearances yanked because of Oppenheimer's past associations with communist sympathizers.

Luke said...

When did Lewis Strauss ever specify that he was talking about commercial power plants using pressurised light water fission reactors?

The fact is, nobody ever treats this "too cheap to meter" business seriously except the anti-nuclear-energy lobby.

Texas has greater wind energy potential than its present electricity generation from all sources; it is greater also than the output from all U.S. nuclear power plants combined. And it has barely captured a whisper of its potential.

And when the wind doesn't blow, Texas suffers brownouts.

http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN2749522920080228?feedType=RSS&feedName=domesticNews&rpc=22&sp=true

What quantity of tritium, at what concentration, is released from nuclear power plants, and what dose results to the population?

Makhijani doesn't specify this information.

David Bradish said...

Luke,

For information on tritium releases check out this link from the NRC. One data point in the link states that the unintended tritium releases at Braidwood were only 0.1 millirems. Background radiation is 360 mrem. There is quite a bit more information on NRC and EPA regulations that are worth exploring in the link.

Luke said...

Thanks, David.
It was kind of a rhetorical question :)

David Bradish said...

Kind of figured that.

I always thought this too cheap to meter line was an industry claim back from the '50s. But when researching Lewis Strauss based on yours and anons comments, this line was really spun by the antis. I'm going to have to write a blog post about it.

Thanks for that tidbit.

ondrejch said...

WRT the "too cheap to meter", there is a nice book Nuclear Fear by S.R.Weart, where he discussses that the "too cheap to meter" was a common line in Sci-Fi of the 1920's and the 1930's, which (no only) scientists used to advocate atomic power.

Anonymous said...

1. Some history: Lewsi Strauss made his "too cheap to meter" speech in the wake of President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" speech at the UN. It was to gain what AEC Commissioner Murray called "propaganda capital" for the US in the Cold War. The promotion nuclear energy was codified in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as an "inalienable right" -- which is now creating serious proliferation concerns, as witness North Korea and Iran. Moreover, many nuclear advocates still claim nuclear energy is very cheap -- less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, by omitting capital costs. One independent estimate, published in the Keystone Center Joint Fact Finding report, which included an NEI representative, was 8 to 11 cents per kWh. Wind energy is as economical or more so than this in very good locations, of which there are many in the U.S.

2. The tritium levels in Sqauw Creek Reservoir, Commanche Peak's cooling poing, in 2006, were about 60 times background level (12,000 picocuries per liter, compared to 200 for background).

3. Lack of water shut down the one of TVA's Brown's Ferry reactor last summer. The point is that as climate change becomes more severe, water problems are likely to intensify. It's not the history of nuclear power but it's future that I am talking about.

Arjun Makhijani

David Bradish said...

Arjun,

Thank you for commenting. Below are my rebuttals to your three points.

Moreover, many nuclear advocates still claim nuclear energy is very cheap -- less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, by omitting capital costs.

Yes, and we’re very clear we’re discussing production costs. Production costs are important to point out because it demonstrates how well the nuclear industry economically operates its plants.

One independent estimate, published in the Keystone Center Joint Fact Finding report, which included an NEI representative, was 8 to 11 cents per kWh. Wind energy is as economical or more so than this in very good locations, of which there are many in the U.S.

Could you provide a source for your wind claim? According to p. 11 of FP&L’s Prehearing Statement to its Petition to Determine Need for Turkey Point Nuclear Units 6 and 7 (bold is mine), “FPL’s economic analysis shows that Turkey Point 6 & 7 is the most economically competitive alternative for addressing FPL’s future capacity needs in the 2018 through 2020 time period. It is also the best alternative for promoting fuel diversity and lowering FPL’s CO2 system emissions beginning in 2018.” This is the same report that states nuclear's capital costs are $3,100 to $4,500 / kW.

The tritium levels in Sqauw Creek Reservoir, Commanche Peak's cooling poing, in 2006, were about 60 times background level (12,000 picocuries per liter, compared to 200 for background).

I was referring to background radiation levels, not background tritium levels. According to the NRC link I provided in the post, “EPA set a maximum contaminant level of 20,000 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) for tritium. This level is assumed to yield a dose of 4 mrem per year.” Four mrem is way below the 360 mrem level of background radiation.

Lack of water shut down the one of TVA's Brown's Ferry reactor last summer.

Yes, water availability could be an issue in the future. But hot summer temperatures are going to affect all sources of energy, even wind. If you look at monthly statistics from the EIA (pdf), wind generation during the summer is always at its lowest of the entire year.

You bring up the shutdown of one unit out of 104. I’ll point out again, during the two hottest weeks of last summer, the U.S. nuclear plants operated at a 98% capacity factor.

Anonymous said...

Based on the numbers I've seen, if you're in the middle of a heat wave, the very last thing you'd want to depend on to supply your much-needed electricity is wind power. I recall the discussion here of how the California wind generators were running capacity factors in the range of 0 to 5% when they were having their heat waves a few years ago. Meanwhile SONGS and Diablo Canyon were pumping out the megawatts, heat wave or not.

Ashutosh said...

Trust the anti-nuclear lobby to quote, of all people, Lewis Strauss on nuclear power.

bryfry said...

David Bradish wrote: "I always thought this too cheap to meter line was an industry claim back from the '50s. But when researching Lewis Strauss based on yours and anons comments, this line was really spun by the antis. I'm going to have to write a blog post about it."

Sorry, David. It looks like someone has already beaten you to it. Check it out.

David Bradish said...

Even better!