Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Doubling Down on Nuclear with the EIA

EIA Logo-1-sized The Washington Times, which acts in DC as a counterweight to the more liberal (and far more influential) Washington Post, writes today about a report (the full report in PDF) from the Energy Information Administration on the Waxman Markey climate change bill.

For the nuclear industry, its conclusions are pretty spectacular, especially since EIA’s reports are heavily referenced in Congress and help set energy policy. We’ve been reading through it – it’s pretty deep dish – but the bottom line is that nuclear energy – well, let’s let the Times tell you:

To satisfy House Democrats' low-cost solution to global warming, Americans would have to double their reliance on nuclear energy by 2030 - a target the nuclear industry says is unlikely and that many environmentalists and Democrats dislike.

Now, you might say, Hey, that second part isn’t so good. If we leave out environmentalists for the moment – so predictable, so useful to reporters - the point here is really that a branch of the DOE is producing this information, so it has considerable pull, even on Democrats.

The result could be a doubling down on the efficacy of renewables or it could be an acceleration in the acceptance of nuclear energy by more Democrats. We’ve seen surprising movement in this direction – this report puts some traction on the road.

Now, what about the plausibility of following the scenario in the report?

Mr. [Richard] Myers [vice president of policy for the Nuclear Energy Institute] said the EIA model's projections are not likely. It would mean 96 gigawatts of new capacity by 2030, while "what's doable" is more in the range of 65 gigawatts, or about 45 new plants, he said.

Still, he said, the model shows that taking options like nuclear off the table means other sources get overwhelmed, and costs rise.

"To the extent you cannot build nuclear at the rate the model suggests is needed ... you are dealing with a world in which electricity costs and natural gas costs are higher than they would otherwise be," he said.

So – a reasonable note of caution. (Luckily, I could ask Mr. Myers about this. He said that he told the Times that 45 additional plants could be in some stage prior to operation by 2030 - licensing, construction, etc – so understand his comment as being specific to 2030 only. Newpapers – huh!)

And there is this doubt, too:

[G]roups that supported the House bill said more important than a specific road map is to set the right goals and incentives.

"Rather than trying to project precisely the mix of technologies in the future, it's more important to get the policy right and let the market pick the technologies," said Thomas B. Cochran, director of NRDC's nuclear program.

Well, that seems reasonable enough. Industry isn’t all that crazy about mandates to start with and the electricity industry will be lousy with them if Waxman-Markey passes.

The Times’ writer Stephen Dinan sort of ginned up his story a bit to provide more conflict than is actually there – Congress is recessed, so no comment out of the usual suspects – having environmentalists weigh in on nuclear energy. But he’s right in what the report projects and we’ll be very interested in seeing what impact it has on the bill as it moves through the Senate.


bw said...

More detailed summary of the report

With aggressive uprates (especially getting annular fuel /dual cooled fuel certified) and operating extensions it would be easier to achieve the lower nuclear build targets.

The build targets could be achieved if the US were to adopt or import more of the chinese, South korean and Westinghouse technology and practices

just another anonymous said...

"The build targets could be achieved if the US were to adopt or import more of the chinese, South korean and Westinghouse technology and practices"

What does this mean? The So Korean technology is essentially Combustion Engineering design (now owned by W); the W design comes out of Pittsburgh... What part of the Chinese program are you onto here ??? Or do you mean the determination of the Chinese & South Koreans to actually build??

bw said...

Yes It is Westinghouse technology (now owned by Toshiba) but that technology (Gen 3.5) is being proven out with actual construction in South Korea and China.

The importing could come if the AP1000 module factories are built in China and then modules shipped over to the USA or if the Chinese Pebble Bed reactor (HTR-PM) which starts Sept 2009 and is to be done 2013 succeeds then factory mass production of that would have nearly complete units buildable in Chinese factories and shipped over to the USA.

China is building reactors for $1500/KW so 2-4 times cheaper than the USA.

2-20% conventional uprates.
20-50% uprates from the annular fuel. South Korea is working to implement the MIT/Westinghouse annular fuel work.

Aaron Rizzio said...

Why is Richard Myers (VP of policy for NEI) so conservative? He says "what's doable" is only 65 gigawatts by 2030? Between 1970 & 1990 did not the US economy, less than half the size it is today, put ~100GWe of fission online?

Ziggy Switkowski, Austrailia's ANSO Chairman just called for that country (with no history of fission generation and a law which now prohibits it) to go from 80% coal fired to 90% nuclear by 2050 requiring ~50GWe of NPP online by then.

David Bradish said...

Aaron, the 65 GW number comes from EPRI's PRISM analysis which looked at what each technology in the US could "technically and economically feasibly" meet by 2030. The new plants currently undergoing licensing won't begin operation till the end of the next decade or later. In the '70's and '80's, we had about 50 GW coming online each decade. So if we assume we're not really taking off in new plant construction until late 2010s and early 2020s, then a 65 GW projection seems reasonable. Who knows how much we could build after 2030? Hopefully more than ever...