Monday, August 11, 2008

Council on Foreign Relations Studies Nuclear Power Expansion

nuclear-power-expansionThe nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations surveys the economic and political landscape of nuclear energy in an article, Challenges for Nuclear Power Expansion, written by Toni Johnson.

Even with these challenges, some still believe climate change policy will soon make nuclear power more competitive. James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, said in a 2007 CFR symposium that when the life cycle cost of nuclear is accounted for, nuclear power "is still the best way to produce electricity with zero greenhouse gases from the actual operation"—even compared with energy sources such as wind. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in May 2008 that a carbon price of between $20 and $45 per ton, which many projections say is feasible, would make nuclear competitive with coal.

But other experts point to a climate change policy model (PDF) that indicates at least 700 gigawatts in additional capacity would be needed for nuclear power to make any measureable additional contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That could amount to over one thousand new reactors in the next forty years if the majority of reactors currently online need to be replaced.

Some experts believe that while daunting, it is possible to achieve that level of building even with the current lack of construction capacity. Ray Ganther of the French nuclear company Areva said in 2007 the industry managed to start building 150 nuclear reactors within a decade of inception. A 2007 report written by a number of nuclear experts concludes that to reach 700 gigawatts the industry would need to return to nuclear power's "most rapid period of growth" and sustain this rate of growth for the next fifty years (PDF).

1 comment:

GRLCowan said...

50 years seems like rather a long time to me.

If a nuclear plant produced liquid hydrocarbon rather than electricity, and had the same heat-to-product efficiency of 33 percent, a 1 GW(oil) plant would make 15,000 b/d. That's rather small by, for instance, marine oil production platform standards.

It is unreasonable to suppose that when ground is broken for a nuclear motor fuel plant 25 years hence, its owners will see fit to take the same very small steps into the motor fuel market as nuclear developers historically have had to take into the electricity market. Bites of 1 to 5 million barrels per day are the sort of bite they are going to want to take, if the fuel they are making is one that typically comes in barrels.