The LA Times today published an inaccurate and sloppy editorial stating: "McCain's energy plan misleads the public and ignores the risks of nuclear energy." Nearly every claim in this opinion piece on nuclear energy is either grossly exaggerated or wrong. The editorial also makes several qualitative statements unsupported by facts to play into the fears of its readers. Here are a few:
McCain claims that nuclear power is clean, safe and cheap, but it is none of the above. Nuclear waste remains hazardous for millenniums, and this country still hasn't developed a practical way to store it.No "practical" way to store the used fuel, huh? I guess the LA Times hasn't heard of Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Congress designated YM, which is in the middle of a desert 100 miles from the nearest city, to store the nuclear industry's used fuel. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just begun reviewing the application submitted by the Department of Energy to build the repository.
Yes, used fuel is hazardous for millennia. But being hazardous doesn't mean used fuel will actually harm anyone. After nuclear fuel has been fissioned in a reactor, it cools in a spent fuel pool for at least five years before being moved into dry casks. Both spent fuel pools and dry casks keep nuclear workers and the public safe from the used fuel. Here's a video showing the strength of dry casks.
Also, here's the nuclear industry's plan for managing its used fuel (pdf):
1. interim storageSo instead of having to isolate the used fuel for several thousand years, we will only have to isolate certain byproducts [after reprocessing] for several hundred years.
2. research, development and demonstration to close the nuclear fuel cycle, and
3. development of a permanent disposal facility that is suitable for the final waste form.
On to more bogus claims from the LA Times:
The risk of meltdowns or other serious accidents remains highRisk is in the eye of the beholder. According to page three of this EPRI document (pdf), "industry CDF [core damage frequency - basically the beginning of what is commonly known as a meltdown] has dropped by nearly 40% since 2000 and by nearly a factor of five since 1992." This means that US nuclear plants have improved their safety nearly five-fold since 1992.
The last time a "meltdown" happened in the US was 30 years ago. So if I read that nuclear plants have dramatically increased their safety in the past 15 years, plus no meltdowns have occurred over the past 30 years, I would believe that the risk of meltdowns or other serious accidents is low based on these facts. Yet, the LA Times makes the opposite claim based on nothing.
Back to the LA Times:
the cost of building new plants, even though it's subsidized by the federal government, is prohibitive.The cost to build a new plant is high, but it's not prohibitive. A recent NEI White Paper states:
Analysis by generating companies, the academic community, and financial experts shows that even at capital costs in the $4,000/kWe to $6,000/kWe range, the electricity generated from nuclear power can be competitive with other new sources of baseload power, including coal and natural gas. These results are absent any restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions. With regional or national programs that put a significant price on carbon emissions, nuclear power becomes even more competitive.Continuing on from the LA Times:
McCain can be forgiven for ignoring or downplaying such issues; they're mostly technical challenges that could someday be resolved. He can't be forgiven for pretending that his goal of building 45 plants in 22 years is practical, nor that it would make any difference if it were.From 1970 - 1979, 58 nuclear plants came online in the US. From 1980-1989, 47 nuclear plants came online. In a 20 year time frame, 105 nuclear plants came online in the US. How is it impractical to build 45 plants in 22 years when 105 plants in 20 years have already been built before? It sounds like the LA Times has very little faith that American workers can rise to meet this challenge.
The difference 45 new nuclear plants would make is substantial. The average new plant size is about 1,400 megawatts so 45 new plants would equal about 63,000 MW of new capacity. Right now, the 100,000 MW of operating US nuclear plants avoid nearly 700 million metric tons of CO2 each year.
If we built the 63,000 MW of new nuclear capacity, they would avoid an additional 440 million metric tons of CO2 each year - nearly twice as much CO2 as produced from jet fuel in the US.
The economic benefits from new nuclear plants are also substantial. One new nuclear plant would:
- employ 1,400 to 1,800 people during construction (with peak employment as high as 2,400)
- employ 400 to 700 people long-term, at salaries typically substantially higher than the average salaries in the local area
- produce approximately $430 million annually in expenditures for goods, services and labor, and through subsequent spending because of the presence of the plant and its employees
- provide annual state and local tax revenue of more than $20 million, benefiting schools, roads and other state and local infrastructure, and
- provide annual federal tax payments of approximately $75 million.
The great majority of the 104 nuclear power plants in the United States are nearing the end of their useful lives; by McCain's 2030 deadline, roughly half may have to be decommissioned.Umm, no. So far, 48 nuclear reactors have received license renewals to operate for a total of 60 years. Applications for seventeen units are currently under review and 30 have submitted their intentions to renew in the coming years. Only nine units have not announced their intentions to renew yet. It is reasonable to expect that nearly all (if not all) nuclear reactors in the US will operate for 60 years. If this happens, only 4,500 MW of nuclear capacity out of 100,000 MW would retire by 2030, not half. Back to the LA Times:
Because of the regulatory and community hurdles that must be overcome to build a plant, experts think it would take more than a decade from planning to completion for any new project.The first few plants may take a decade to come online. The industry, however, is standardizing its designs and processes meaning we'll become more and more efficient at building new plants. We expect over time to license nuclear plants in 2-3 years (instead of the current four years). We also expect to construct plants in 4-5 years. This makes the duration to license, construct and then start-up a new plant a total of 6-8 years.
Remember, even though it takes quite a few years to build a new nuclear plant, it will be expected to operate for 60 years if not 80 or 100 years.
More from the LA Times:
Add to that the fact that even though investors have applied for 10 licenses for new plants since September 2007, no U.S. utility has dared to build one since the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979.Actually, utilities stopped ordering new plants in 1978 (see page 273, pdf), way before the accident at TMI. Utilities, however, still kept building - fifty-one nuclear plants came online after TMI. Last claim from the LA Times:
But misleading the public about nuclear energy will not serve the country, or his campaign, well.Misleading? If the LA Times would actually research something, maybe they would find that building 45 new nuclear plants IS practical, will provide great benefits to the country, and with support from the next Presidential Administration (whether it be Obama or McCain), most likely will happen by 2030 ... if not before. That would be good for the country, and with the emissions avoided by nuclear generation, good for the world.