Monday, April 27, 2009

Moving Forward in Limbo

060124_nuke_vmed_7a.widec If a cap and a price are imposed on carbon dioxide emissions, [nuclear] plants could be among the biggest economic winners in the vast economic shifts that would be created by greenhouse gas regulations.

That’s from the New York Times, borrowing a story from Climate Wire, which while noting the nuclear plants achieve the goal of carbon emission reduction rather well, runs though the tough sledding it faces.

For example, President Obama is overly ambiguous in his support:

"The president needs to show his cards on nuclear energy," said energy consultant Joseph Stanislaw, a Duke University professor. "He cannot keep this industry, which must make investments with a 50-year or longer horizon, in limbo for much longer."

We’re not absolutely sure this is the right way to put it – Congress weighs in, too, and we’ve seen an EPA report that basically shows that carbon emission reduction goals are unattainable without nuclear energy. The nibbling around the edges is happening from both ends.

There are also issues with plant costs, loan guarantees, used fuel storage, and proliferation concerns. We’ve talked about these issues enough that you can bat them away if cornered at a party, but issues they remain. Occasionally, the article stumbles a bit in order to keep things comprehensible:

A Lazard Ltd. study last year reported low and high price ranges for major electric power options. The high price for nuclear power came in at 12.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 13.5 cents for coal with carbon dioxide capture. The high price for wind energy was 15 cents, but that was reduced to 9 cents when the federal tax subsidy for renewable energy was factored in. A continuation of federal loan guarantees could bring nuclear power down to about 8 cents, the study said.

You’ll probably spot right away the problems here: 1. Carbon capture isn’t mature enough to really assign it a cost and some elements – the sequestration – hasn’t proved itself at all. 2. Wind is not a viable baseload energy source. (See David’s post below for more on this; no slight on wind energy, it’s just a question of how it can be used.) Nuclear energy’s combination of elements (so to speak) is what makes it attractive. (And really, the article does find ways to make this clear.)

A shift in the policy debate to climate change mitigation has helped the industry make its case. The availability of nuclear power reduces U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 680 million tons a year, says Paul Genoa, policy director for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the industry. "It's a big number -- roughly equivalent to all the CO2 emissions from our passenger [vehicle] fleet," Genoa says.

Oh, and there’s that, too. There’s nothing in the article you haven’t seen before, but it does lay out all the elements in such a clear way it’s well worth reading the whole thing.

North Carolina’s Shearon Harris plant. We certainly understand the desire to show that nature lives contentedly nearby plants – many plant workers take an intense interest in the surrounding flora and fauna -  but this utterly dominant cooling tower doesn’t really get the message across as well as it might.

14 comments:

Ioannes said...

Mark wrote,

"'The president needs to show his cards on nuclear energy. He cannot keep this industry, which must make investments with a 50-year or longer horizon, in limbo for much longer.' We’re not absolutely sure this is the right way to put it."

Actually, this is exactly the way to out the matter. The President has to be a leader. John McCain when running for the Presidency openly supported building 40 new nukes right away. Just about every energy speech Obama has made since getting elected mentions renewable energy and conservation, but little to nothing in favor of nuclear energy. Where his leadership is taking us is readily apparent.

Folks, you have gotten what you have voted for.

Marcel F. Williams said...

No one in the media is even asking Obama or the Obama administration about nuclear power. And while the Republicans are advocating more nuclear power plants, McCain seems to be the only Republican attacking the Obama administration for not aggressively promoting more nuclear power.

A majority of the American people want more nuclear power. If the Republicans want to become a majority party again then here is an issue where the party is in tune with-- the majority-- of the American population.

Republicans should be talking about this issue 24/7 advocating strong common sense legislation supporting more nuclear power generation in America.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, the GOP is going to be the savior of the nuclear power industry. How many new units did Bush and Cheney build in 8 years? And how many would McCain have been able to build, using only hot air?

Ioannes said...

Marcel is correct, "Republicans should be talking about this issue 24/7 advocating strong common sense legislation supporting more nuclear power generation in America."

Also, all the Democrats who support nuclear energy should be writing to the Whitehouse and their Congress people, "advocating strong common sense legislation supporting more nuclear power generation in America."

Nuclear energy is too important an issue to let it flounder just because President Obama may owe political favors to anti-nuclear factions, or is afraid to mention the "N" word lest that cause unpopularity (which according to Marcel wouldn't be the case).

Ioannes said...

To Anonymous,

The disinformation about the Repubs is uncalled for. During the Bush Administration GNEP was started, DOE was funded to help NSS suppliers begin work in advanced reactors, and TVA started a plant that had never been completed. There was a big impetus to get underway in building new nukes which takes a 10 to 20 year timeframe, longer than the 8 years of a Bush Presidency.

Now Obama is in office. We have an anti-nuke as FERC Chairman, and a physicist as DOE secretary whose first love is solar, not nuke, and who stated that Yucca is not an option. Furthermore, some big companies like GE-Hitachi have release engineers working on advanced reactor projects (ESBWR, ABWR) as DOE money dries up. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

Now correct: govt shouldn't rescue nuke power (whether Repubs or Dems are in charge). Furthermore, govt shouldn't fund clean coal or solar or wind. Govt should level the regulatory playing field and let the free market work. Solar and wind simply can't compete without subsidies because their capacity factor is 30 % at best. If coal had to sequester all its emissions as nukes do, then not a single coal plant would be operating today. A level regulatory playing field automatically favors new nukes. But that's not Obama's course. Rather, he speaks about funding solar and wind and mentions not a word about new nukes (unlike McCain who had the courage to say the "N" word).

I see a lot of hot hair from the Obama Administration. Maybe that hot air can turn windmill blades, but it won't bring about new nukes. Like or hate the Repubs as you chose - overall they were better for the nuke industry. I just wish the pro-nuke Dems over here could strangle some sense into the Administration about nuke power.

PS, And if Obama is going to fund solar and wind with a max capacity factor of 30% and brag about doing so, then why doesn't he do the same with nuclear which has a 92% capacity factor? I'm against govt funding, but if govt is going to do it anyways, then let's be fair about it.

:-(

Anonymous said...

How on earth did GNEP contribute to the nuclear renaissance? Did it have anything to do with decisions to move forward, or not move forward, with any new units? Not in the least. So how did Bush-Cheney support the industry? Still waiting on a coherent answer. Those fellas were all about oil and gas, because that's where they made their money.

Anonymous said...

I told you people this would happen. Obama is reverting to type, voting "present". Obama and the Dems are too beholden for votes to the radical environmentalist wing(nuts). For Obama, no decision is a decision.

Chad said...

loannes:

What plant did TVA start? Browns Ferry 1? That was a restart.

GE has laid people off because of problems with their design certification. That has nothing to do with Obama.

Although Reps do favor nuclear power, the Dems will likely do things that will ensure the growth of nuclear power such as a carbon cap and trade. As many Reps still don’t believe in man caused global warming or the other dangers of coal thus there support is weak at best.

I think it is best if both parties don’t use the N word. We have what we need to build the next round of plants. When these plants are built, and if they are built close to being on time and budget, there should be an explosion of new orders as long as non-clean coal is not allowed to grow. Bringing nuclear to the forefront of the conversation may lead to polarization of the issue and an overall negative effect.

JD said...

To anonymous: Energy Policy Act of 2005. From wikipedia:

Nuclear-specific provisions:

-Extends the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act through 2025;

-Authorizes cost-overrun support of up to $2 billion total for up to six new nuclear power plants;

-Authorizes a production tax credit of up to $125 million total per year, estimated at 1.8 US¢/kWh during the first eight years of operation for the first 6.000 MW of capacity, consistent with renewables;

-Authorizes $1.25 billion for the Department of Energy to build a nuclear reactor to generate both electricity and hydrogen;

loannes is correct, going from zero to commissioning a nuclear reactor takes longer than a presidential term limit allows, but the Bush administration started the ball rolling.

Ioannes said...

Chad,

You might be correct. But GE owns NBC and MSNBC which worked tooth and nail to get Obama elected - their left wing bias is readily apparent. And GE does a lot of wind turbine business as well as gas turbines. So if Obama makes lots of noises about wind energy, that makes Immelt's decision easy: cut back on ABWR and ESBWR, and go full bore with wind. After all, like any other compnay, GE is in it to make money. GE-NBC helped get Obama elected, and now Obama makes noises that benefit GE's wind turbine business.

But maybe my point of view is jaded. :-( It'd be nice if I am wrong - it really would be. :-(

JD said...

To Chad:

loannes was probably referring to Watts Bar Unit 2. TVA suspended construction in 1988, and resumed construction in 2007.

Anonymous said...

Someone needs to explain to me how the Bush-Cheney administration gets credit for TVA resurrecting Watts Bar-2 and the EPACT 2005 incentives. NRC (an independent agency) approved the former, and Congress introduced and passed the latter, with bipartisan support I should add.

perdajz said...

Props to Ioannes. His comments are right on the money.

Dems have made a big deal about how Obama's first 100 days hail a return to science and reason, but Bam's stance on nuclear power shows this is nonsense. Bam is doing the politically expedient thing, rather than have thing the nerve and intellectual integrity to promote nuclear power.

I'm excited to see Bam waste so much money and political capital on technological anachronisms like wind and solar power. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner nuclear power will win political favor as the only real path to a post fossil era.

Anonymous said...

GE has dropped the ball by under-resourcing their licensing effort for the ESBWR (remember that their initial license application was rejected by the NRC). This is completely the opposite of Areva and Westinghouse, which both made sure all of the resources needed were made available to support timely licensing. As a consequence, GE lost its customers, and without any likely sales, now they are releasing engineers. Looks about as well managed as General Motors.