Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Nuclear Option: CNBC

The Nuclear OptionYour must-see TV tonight (assuming watching Warren Sapp and Susan Lucci cut the rug doesn't float your boat): CNBC premieres its 60-minute special,"The Nuclear Option," at 9:00 ET. From the programming notes,

Power consumption in the United States has never been greater. Currently the country gets 20% of its electricity from nuclear energy. But with the price of oil soaring and increased opposition to coal fired plants, many wonder if America should be more like France, where 80% of the power is nuclear. Americans haven’t built a new nuclear plant in thirty years. Now the country sits on the verge of a nuclear revolution.

CNBC's Melissa Francis explores the issue, which according to a recent CNBC poll has the nation divided. She takes viewers on a rare tour inside of a nuclear power plant, to France where nuclear energy is working, and to what may be the future home of the first new nuclear power plant in the United States in over 30 years.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have already set the DVR to grab this one in HD. It should be interesting view for a change.

gunter said...

No surprises expected on this CNBC--wholly owned by GE--60 minute commercial for new nukes.

Are they replaying any of Ronald Reagan's old GE commercials?

Anonymous said...

At least CNBC was upfront and posted at about 17 minutes in that they are GE owned. I'm still not liking the tone though.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so I just finished watching the segment on CNBC. It was talking a lot about the need for nuclear power and power plants as well as storage and recycling of spent fuel rod. The one topic that was not touched at all is the site clean-up needed after a plant has been shut down at the end of its life. The only place I heard of this being done is with one of the early experimental reactors in Germany - in Bavaria to be more specific. They went as far as using acid to "scrub" the steel before recycling it.

Anonymous said...

There are a number of sites that have been decommissioned and cleaned up. From large (Maine Yankee) to small (the naval prototype in Windsor, Connecticut). It is a big deal but it isn't that big a deal. At least these sites aren't simply abandoned to rust like the steel mills and coal mines in PA and WVa.

Anonymous said...

What I liked about this show was that, for once, the people who know what they're talking about are not portrayed as book-smart but hopelessly naive. Also, the delusional nature of the anti's argument was plain to see. This contrasts with the normal approach, where the anti's are portrayed as the street-smart sane ones, the underdogs struggling to keep us safe from the evil capitalists.

Zachary said...

CNBC did everything right. They presented the pros and the cons, the supporters and the opposition and their reaction to eachother. They presented the problems and the proposed solutions. They could have put more opposition in the film and more reliable sounding anti-nukes, but you can't ask for everything. - THEN they ran "CNBC's parent company GE manufactures parts for nuclear power plants" at the begining and end and finished with the video of waste disposal at sea. They finally do something fair, then they turn around and make it all seem to sarcastic that it turns into another anti-nuke doc.

D. Kosloff said...

Gunter,

Why would you put such a blatant and easily checked lie in writing? Nuance, man, nuance. That is the modern technique.

At least two rabid anti-nukes were prominently featured and neither was asked any followup questions to expose the shallowness of their false claims.

Matthew66 said...

As a blatantly partisan pro-nuke I'm going to say that I thought it was a reasonably balanced presentation, although I'm sure Gunter disagrees with me. What I find strange is that the allegedly media savvy organization Greenpeace put up the spokesman that they did, the guy looked like an out of touch hippy from the late sixties or early seventies. If Greenpeace is going to have any credibility with the majority of Americans (or any other country for that matter) they need to present well. I don't mean that their spokesman should have a crew cut and wear a suit, but that pony tail has got to go - it screams of someone living in the past.

Unfortunately for Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists, their basic argument is "It is self evident that nuclear power is evil, excpensive and wasteful". That argument might work in the prologue to the US Constitution, but in the presence of empirical evidence that refutes it, it doesn't work in the modern energy debate.

Matthew66 said...

Doh! Make that the Declaration of Independence. Forgive me, I'm a new immigrant who's yet to take his civics course.

Gwes said...

The CNBC-GE connection was good for a positive spin, much better than the typical media terrorization of nuclear power. It was great to see the Greenpeace guy finally grew a brain and is pro-nuclear. I am just wondering, when the US is going to get tired of being outclassed by the french when it comes to energy. Closing the fuel cycle is a no-brainer, if you have a brain to understand what that means to begin with. I will never understand why the US government is so terrified of proliferation INSIDE the US. It would appear as if our real problem is proliferation in places like N. Korea and Iran (and don't be surprised when Syria is next). By the way, where did they dig up that idiot from the Concerned Scientists. I think his 'scientist' credencials should be removed for trying to discuss points in which he has no hard facts to prove. Maybe he went to some science funny school where feelings are more important than findings. At the end of the day, the common person doesn't understand negative reactivity feedback and never will and when you try to explain it, you sound like a nerd. The common people don't trust nerds and their big science words. Let the NIMBYs keep peeing in the ocean with low power density options and brace yourself for rolling blackouts and the ultimate demise of US dominance (take some chinese lessons maybe).

Brian Mays said...

Gwes: Who are you referring to? Lyman? (the "idiot from the Concerned Scientists")

He's been with the UCS for a few years. Before that, he drifted with a few other anti-nuclear/environmental groups.

He's one of those guys that ends up getting a PhD in theoretical physics but can't cut it in either academia or industry and so ends up taking the hired-speaker/activist career path. As you have noticed, it's not a demanding profession intellectually (a perfect job for the mediocre), but I suppose that it pays the bills.

Unlike another well-known "physicist," Amory Lovins, at least this guy actually has a degree that he did the coursework for, so he deserves more respect that Mr. Lovins, I suppose. But Lovins is apparently a better speaker.

Anonymous said...

It isn't the college degree that matters BS, MS or Piled Higher and Deeper.

It's the man or woman who matters. There are many without formal degrees who far exceed Mr. Lovins or Mr. Lyman.

Remember - a thermometer has degrees and you know where that can be stuck!

Rod Adams said...

I disagree with the anonymous person who believes that degrees have no value.

If nothing else, they can indicate the ability to follow through and complete a task.

The degree awarding school, the grades earned while studying, and the specific degree can also tell a lot about a person's knowledge level and ability to perform in challenging roles.

One more thing that is extremely important about degrees is as an indicator of trustworthiness of the person. If a person goes through life using an inflated resume indicating receipt of an unearned degree, the revelation of that fact can - rightfully - destroy the person's credibility.

In other words, I have the utmost respect for high achieving drop outs who have always told the truth about their school performance, but I have no trust at all for a character who claims to be a "chief scientist" educated at Harvard and Oxford who has never completed a single degree.

I also have no trust for a certain ex president who claimed to have been a nuclear engineer whose only training in that subject was an incomplete at the schoolhouse phase of the navy's nuclear power training pipeline in 1953 - more than a year before the Nautilus went to sea on nuclear power.

Anonymous said...

Rod, this is the Anon to whom you wrote your comments. I agree with you about Jimmy Carter. However, I still say that it's the person, not the degree that matters. I am a non-degreed person who has worked in commercial nuclear power for 30 years. I have at various stages been a training instructor for not just technicians in craft fields, but degreed engineers in the Engineering Support Program (the INPO ESP curriculum). Some engineers come into class with a lot of knowledge. And some are idiots who don't belong in nuclear power. The difference between the good ones and the bad ones isn't their degree or lack of degree, but their willingness to learn new things and to follow the procedure and do the right thing. There are many good degreed engineers at commercial nuclear power plants just as there are many good non-degreed ones (hopefully I can be counted among the good non-degreed numbers). I didn't really mean to denigrate the hard work that honest people put inot getting a college degree, but rather to emphasize that the measure of a man or woman isn't a piece of sheep skin, but his or her personal integrity and willingness to follow direction.

Think about it: when you were on the sub as an engineering officer, could you take apart an RPS or NIS channel, put it back together and calibrate it with the efficiency that your non-degreed ROs could? Could you do the switchgear breaker testing and repairs that your EOs could do? Could you take apart a lube oil purifier and put it back together the way your MOs could? Invariably the people who really KNEW the systems on your sub were the non-degreed ROs, EOs and MOs who worked on them every day, not the EOOWs with their college degrees and Naval Academy noses stuck in the air.

Rod Adams said...

@anon:

I hope I did not give the impression that my USNA educated nose was in the air. There is absolutely no disagreement from me with regard to the capabilities of the technically trained people that I depended on every day during my various ship assignments (EO, MPA/CRA, COMMO and Eng).

Even though it has been almost 20 years since I left my last boat, I can visualize nearly every sailor with whom I served. On good days, when my memory banks are functioning well, I could probably name more than half of them with both first and last names.

One of the things I remember most about them was how much they enjoyed showing me and my fellow degreed officers how their systems worked. They knew their stuff and were proud of what they did to keep us all safe and powerful.

While I ran across a few degreed Junior Officers who met your description, I generally found that the educational background those JO's had earned provided some general indications of strengths and weaknesses.

Vaguely stated, but impressive sounding credentials do not move me, but a detailed review of a resume can provide a reasonably good measure of capability for those who have "been there and done that".

Your practical and technical training experience, for example, is far more impressive than a PhD in theoretical physics if the topic under discussion is power production. Of course, it is hard for journalists - who are paid to be a mile wide and an inch deep on any particular topic - to understand the distinction.

D. Kosloff said...

Rod,

My experience, although older than yours, is consistent with yours.

D. Kosloff
Class of 69

gunter said...

OK, I concede it was only a 50 minute info-mercial for nuclear power. Both Jim Riccio and Dr. Ed Lyman were quite succinct and on point in their comments.

Otherwise, there were so many factual errors and unchecked misinformation in the rest of this GE info-mercial it barely made it worth watching. I was disappointed that they didnt run an old clip of Ronald Reagan extolling wonders of the GE MARK I.

First of all, nuclear power does not generate 20% of the USA's "energy." Mistake or misinformation?

The NRC chairman's comment that an deliberate aircraft strike would "bounce off" containment, were it not so serious, would have otherwise been laughable. Commissioner Klein knows perfectly well that the control is not in containment. The spent fuel pools? The switch yards? The turbine halls? No. Argonne reports that aircraft impact on any of these systems, structures and components can cascade into core damage.

That said, every public NRC document on this security concern contradicts this "bounce" misinformation---even NRC's Office of Public Affairs repudiated earlier remarks following the 9/11 attacks. The current NRC rulemaking for developing new reactor construction criteria for aircraft impact hazards analyssis does not "require" containment to be impenetrable.

Then there was the French cream puff piece----astonishingly misinformed or deliberately misinforming. I'll have to watch it again on Sunday.

But,for example, where the producers portray that 96% of French nuclear waste is "recycled"... how much
U234 and U236 is in that uranium?
How useable is that "recycled" fuel? The best they can do with the contaminated uranium is store it or send it to Russia. They are not "recycling" it.

There is ample footage of recent massive French demonstrations at the Flamanville site against nuclear power and Zogby opinion polls showing significant French majority oppositiion. CNBC offered no balance in this blatant promotion.

And last but not least, Patrick Moore... what can I say?
He has been tied to the same consultants who tried to put smiley faces on Bhopal and the Exxon Valdez. What ever environmental credential he may have had once upon a time has long been discredited by his direct associations and greenwashing positions.

Kirk Sorensen said...

Poor Gunter, they insulted him by making a nuclear video and not letting him be the anti-nuclear "voice".

gunter said...

Insulted? Not by a long shot.
Greenpeace and Union of Concerned Scientists did a very good job for as much time as they were alloted.

Kirk, you're better off sticking to the issues than consistently stooping to take the low road.

One of the most glaring omissions from "The Nuclear Option" was cost.

The only figure they cited was $5.5billion for a French EPR. They had to dust off that figure from some time ago. Again mistake or misinformation?

They obviously didn't bother to get any of the most recent financial estimates, even from US utilities.

If you look at the S&P commentary from October 15, 2008 "Construction Cost are Soaring for New Nuclear Reactors" its now as high as $8000/kw and climbing from a Moody's commentary in May 2008 of $7000/kw which was up from October 2007 at $6000/kw.

That would put the cost of a 1600 MW EPR at $12. 8 billion.

Standard & Poor's has identified the EPR as "most at risk" for capitol cost and cost uncertainty.

Seems worth mentioning if you were interested in giving the details on this particular option.

Rod Adams said...

@Gunter

The costs that you mention are not construction costs, but project costs. There is an important difference - a project cost includes the effects of financing and inflation.

I agree that those costs need to be included and understood, but I think that many people, you included, think that you need to take those large, scary numbers as the construction costs and then add more financing and inflation charges.

What has also been lost in the shuffle of the past few weeks is that the commodity price inflation that has been driving some of those estimates ever higher has been broken by economic crisis. Concrete, steel, zinc, copper, etc. all looked like they were on an ever increasing trajectory when the world economy was booming, but once activity slows down, the laws of supply and demand take effect.

The only real answer to any question about cost for any energy system is "it depends". Anyone who puts numbers on it without large error bands is engaging in fortune telling.

My analysis of the cost is that nuclear can and will be extremely competitive with all other available choices since I understand the inputs associated with the costs of those choices. Feel free to disagree, but I do economic analysis of complex projects with big numbers for a living.

Arvid said...

I have recently been looking at some local windpower projects, to see if one should maybe invest in them.

What I found out is that cost inflation has taken a toll not only on the nuclear industry.

The turnkey cost per annual kWh produced was 50 % higher for these turbines (in the 2-3 MW range) than for the EPR in Olkiluoto - that is, 50 % more expensive after you add the 50 % cost overrun to the Olkiluoto bill!

This does not take into account that the nukes will run practically for free for another 40 years after the windmills are scrapped. Granted, this doesn't matter very much in a net present value analysis, but is sure does in the real world.

Not to mention the fact that small windpower projects without massive finacial backers are unlikely to get access to the kind of cheap capital nuclear projects will have (either government loan guarantees or debt issued by massively well capitalised utilites, often so called national champions).

This will make the cost gap even larger, even if it's because of a rather unfair reason.

Rod,

What do you work with nowadays, project finance or something?

Anonymous said...

Gunter decries as misinformation minor errors like saying 20% of "energy" vs. "electricity", while ignoring huge, outright lies being offered by his allies.

They said that a Western reactor could release as much as Chernobyl, and that tens of thousands of short term (i.e, acute exposure) deaths may result. This has been decisively disproven by Chernobyl.

Despite a much larger release, and no prompt public evacuation, there were absolutely no acute exposure deaths among the public, even in the town right next to the plant. Not only that, but they haven't found any statistical evidence of long term effects (elevated cancer rates) either, with the possible exception of thyroid cancer, which may cause ~100 eventual deaths.

As for a plane attack on a Western reactor, my interpretation of all Gunter's comments is that, and extremely lucky hit on some key auxiliary equipment would have a tiny chance of causing...... another TMI!! That is, some core damage, perhaps a ruined plant, but no deaths or environmental impact.

The truth is that probability of a significant release from a plane attack is extremely small, but may not be zero. One thing is clear. There is ZERO chance of any such attack causing more deaths than US coal plants do every single year. If Gunter cared about public health risks, he'd be focusing on getting coal plants closed or cleaned up, and not trying to block the main alternative source.

Jim Hopf

Anonymous said...

Rod, not only does your analysis show nuclear to be competative, even at the recent cost estimates, but FPL's own analysis shows the same thing, and the Florida PUC agreed with them. In the Florida case, one option, conventional coal w/o sequestration, was taken off the table. Analysis showed that nuclear was cheaper than all other options, including renewables and gas.

As for conventional coal, everyone has always understood that this is the one option that nuclear cannot compete with on price alone, if all environmental costs are ignored. In any carbon-constrained system, nuclear will come out on top for baseload generation.

Personally, I think we're wasting our breath arguing about nuclear's economics. How does this affect policy? If nuclear plants are too expensive, they simply won't be built. What is Gunter afraid of? And why do most "environmentalists" insist on laws that require the use of renewables, if they really think that they are competative (e.g., with nuclear)?

The only real potential point concerns subsidies (i.e., that nuclear plants will be built, but only because the govt. subsidized them to a far greater degree than other sources). This, however, is known to be a myth, with fossil fuels recieving greater overall subsidies, and renewables recieving vastly larger subsidies on a per kW-hr basis.

Consider the "outrageous" $112 billion in loan guarantees that the industry is seeking. A loan guarantee is nowhere near the same as an outright subsidy/gift of the same amount. It lowers costs by a small fraction of the loan amount (and there is a good chance it will cost the govt. nothing).

It should also be mentioned that all other non-fossil sources are equally eligible for the loan guarantees that nuclear is applying for. All such projects, be it renewables, gassified coal (even w/o sequestration), or whatever, have always been getting loan guarantees. The loan guarantee program does not represent any favoritism or advantage for nuclear.

Anyway, compare these loan guarantees to the $150 billion in direct subsidies for renewables that Obama is proposing. The current Lieberman Warner bill also promises hundreds of billions in subsidies to renewables and coal sequestration, with nothing for nuclear!

Talk about a slanted playing field! Nuclear will likely succeed economically, not because it has been favored (by subsidy), but despite the fact that it has been heavily discriminated against.

Jim Hopf

gunter said...

Rod,

In the parlance they are called "all-in" costs and as cited, by every indication I've seen, are the critical numbers. Continuing to ignore them is what historically killed investment in reactor construction to date. What's the saying, "those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." We don't have the luxury of screwing this up, again.

Of course, if you can get a big hand into someone's pocket through CWIP you can just shake em down at the company's leisure no matter cost. For awhile. Again, historically speaking, that sort of financial bullying gets politically unpopular at some point.

If you read the aforementioned Standard and Poor's commentary you find that nuclear power is uniquely prone to a trainwreck involving unprecedented run-up in key commodity costs.

Anonymous said...

I can't resist giving one specific example of the types of subsidies that renewables get, compared to nuclear.

In a recent article I heard about how state and federal subsidies are now covering about half the cost of solar PV in CA. I also heard that the cost is (still!!) ~$8 per peak watt of capapcity. (A solar advocate once told me in ~1992 that the cost would be $1/watt by 2000.) The article went on to say that, due to these subsidies, they expected to build 28 GW of (peak) solar capacity by 2016.

Let's do some math. 28 GW of peak capacity, with the govt. subsidizing about half the cost (i.e., $4/watt). The result is interesting. The total subsidy would be $112 billion dollars. Thus, the direct subsidy would be exactly equal to the loan guarantee amount being sought for the nukes (i.e., a vastly larger subsidy for solar).

Not only that, this much larger subsidy results in a much smaller amount of clean energy. Given a capacity factor of ~25%, this equates to ~8-9 GW of nuclear capacity. The nuclear loan guarantees, on the other hand, will facilitate ~30 GW of nuclear capacity.

Thus, for solar we have a much larger subsidy yielding only a third as much clean energy. The final conclusion is that the amount of clean energy produced per amount of subsidy is over an order of magnitude larger for the nuclear loan guarantees.

Jim Hopf

Rod Adams said...

@Gunter - I would love to read the full S&P analysis from October 15, 2008 that you mentioned, but so far, the only source that I can find on the web for that report has a list price of $500.00 for a document that is less than 6,000 words.

That is a pretty steep price per word, and I am pretty sure that it will not include the details of the models used. Based on the vast amount of mined, processed, and transported material required to capture diffuse energy from sources like the wind and the sun, I cannot understand why S&P believes that commodity prices will have a greater effect on nuclear than on other emission-free energy sources. Even nuclear's combustion related competition requires material related inputs for tankers, railcars, pipelines, bulldozers and drilling equipment.

I fully agree with you that people who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it. My understanding of the lessons learned during the first nuclear construction age is not that commodity price inflation was a major cause, but that the time value of money is a huge deal that must be understood and managed.

The "all-in" cost of many of the plants built during that era was sometimes 5-8 times as much as the initial estimate, but in those same cases the finance charges were as much as 3/4 of the total bill.

I clearly remember the financial conditions of the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s when many of those plants were being constructed and delayed by dramatic shifts in regulations, intervenor actions, design errors, construction defects, and project mismanagement.

Those were formative years for me. My struggles with getting started in adult life with interest rates that varied between 25% and 10% for short and long term loans made choices very important.

Those conditions do not exist today, though there is always the possibility that they could return. What the industry learned from that experience is to do a lot of homework in advance and make sure that once you start spending huge sums of money in earnest that you can complete the project in a reasonable period of time.

They have also worked hard to get the Construction Work In Progress authority to reduce their exposure - and that of their customers - to the whims of Wall Street financiers.

Pay as you go is a much safer and smarter way to finance a big project. That is one of the reasons that I saved up for a big down payment on my first home and why my wife and I ensured that we never spent money that we did not have.

One thing that makes me very optimistic about the next nuclear construction era is that the people that inhabit the industry are far more likely to engage in "lessons learned" discussions and analysis than are the people who are professional anti-nuclear activists.

Not only that, but the people in the industry tend to have been successful students in difficult and challenging subjects where getting the right answer is the true measure of capability. Unfortunately, they also tend to be people who spent less time learning how to communicate the importance of their answers, but they are finally learning the importance of that softer skill.

Anonymous said...

"The nuclear loan guarantees, on the other hand, will facilitate ~30 GW of nuclear capacity."

By the industry's own reckoning, the current amount available for loan guarantees could only cover a few new nuclear units at most. Not nearly all those who applied.