Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Where in the World To Put Nuclear Energy

David-Crane---NRG-(color) David Crane, president and chief executive of NRG Energy, has an op-ed up at the Washington Post in which he leaves aside current energy politics and proposes a closer look not only at technologies that are viable now but also where they are most viable geographically.

This last bit strikes us as original if perhaps a touch too definite – after all, he’s right that solar panels and turbines work best in certain parts of the country, but nuclear energy and electric cars aren’t  bound by geography. Here are his bullet points:

  • The West gets the sun.
  • The Midwest gets the wind.
  • The South gets nuclear.
  • The Northeast gets the electric car.
  • Pursue "clean coal" as a national priority.

This method gets a lot of good information on the page in an organized way – we have to conclude Crane really likes organization – his sock drawer must be a marvel - so we’ll take it. Here’s his paragraph on nuclear:

Democratic policymakers have focused like lasers on wind, solar and efficiency. They need to recognize that the South, still one of the nation's most economically dynamic growth areas, lacks suitable wind and solar resources. The geology of much of the Southeast is not well-suited to sequestering the carbon emissions that must be captured by truly "clean coal." On the other hand, the populace of the South (and that includes Texas) is generally comfortable with nuclear power, and its incumbent utilities are deeply experienced in nuclear operations. Nuclear energy should be the "renewable of the South."

He knows whereof he speaks, so okay. These are quick hits for discussion purposes, not a fully fleshed out plan. Crane has a straightforward approach and inclusive view of energy. And for a daily newspaper, it keeps its explanations simple but not insultingly reductive. Good piece.

Himself.

19 comments:

perdajz said...

Feed wind to the birthplace of nuclear power, and the home of Exelon?

Lasalle Station 1 & 2, to give just one example, operate at 100% full power for hundreds of days in a row, never mind the weather. I don't think Chicago needs to be fed by wind turbines hundreds of miles away.

SteveK9 said...

When people in CA realize how much space wind and solar will take, their popularity will decline drastically.

Brian Mays said...

Anyone want to bet on where the most economic growth is going to occur in the coming decades?

DocForesight said...

Sen. Feinstein has already voted "Nyet" on placing a solar farm in the desert north of LA, to which Gov. Ahnold reacted strongly.

Bottom line for me: solar and wind will remain local/distributed sources of power due to their inherent diffuse nature. "Boutique" power for those who can afford it.

Rod Adams said...

David Crane might want to take a run at getting back at his unwelcome suitor. There is a currently idle nuclear plant smack in the middle of the midwest power market that Exelon currently dominates. Exelon owns the plant, but it was built with ratepayer money during the ComEd era.

The plant - Zion - needs some new steam generators and a renewed license, but it should be a lot cheaper than building a new plant from scratch. It is also well positioned to sell 2200 MW of electrical power into a lucrative market.

If Exelon does not want to refurbish it, perhaps they can be "convinced" by local and state governments to sell the plant to someone willing to make the investment and compete in the market place.

Anonymous said...

Rod, Rod, Rod...

Zion has been permanently shut down for more than 10 years. It's in SAFSTOR. It has a posession-only license for the spent fuel, period. It can't be "refurbished," it would have to go through the entire operating license process from the beginning.

Please do just a little research next time.

Anonymous said...

Zion is done, and Crane makes no sense. His company has been in bankruptcy twice. He resisted Exelon, and they will be worse off in the end. I would put zero money in NRG. They are too risky and very uniformed.

Joffan said...

Anon @ 7:44

Browns Ferry was shut down for longer than 10 years , and successfully restarted in 06. Your objections to reopening Zion NPP are merely bureaucratic in nature; there is no real engineering reason that it could not be restarted, making a large and rapid contribution to reducing coal use.

Anonymous said...

Joffan;

Please re-read my 7:44 --

Zion has no operating license, period -- that's not a bureaucratic issue, that's a legal bar that's pretty tough to clear. Browns Ferry 1 retained its license and TVA continued to maintain it while the other two units ran, so your comparison is invalid.

Joffan said...

Anon: please re-read your own post. A legal bar is a bureaucratic issue, unless and until a real engineering objection is raised.

Got one of those?

Rod Adams said...

Anonymous - First of all - I admit that I am not an expert in licensing issues. I have done a little research on this particular issue, but I am ready to be schooled if I did not get it right.

As I understand it, Watts Bar II is an example that has some analogies to Zion in that TVA gave up its construction license and sold off some of the installed equipment for scratch and is now in the process of reactivating it.

I will grant that restoring Zion to a fully licensed condition would be a trail blazing event, but at least twice in the past ten years, Exelon itself has seriously considered that option and determined that it was "not cost effective."

There is certainly a possibility that Exelon's analysis of Zion's refurbishment/relicensing business case was correct for any owner. There is also a distinct possibility that "not cost effective" was only true for a company that owns a large portion of the existing generation in the area and likes to have the electricity price set by burning natural gas whenever possible. Adding 2200 MW of low marginal cost nuclear electrical generation to the area would reduce the number of hours per year when that condition holds true.

The below quote is worth thinking about - it comes from an IAEA publication titled "Consideration of early closure or continued operation of a nuclear power plant."

Similarly, if a decision to close and decommission a plant were taken based on an inaccurate assessment of poor steam generator condition or inaccurate assessment of the nature of work required to assure fitness for continued service, then a major financial penalty may be incurred to the owners and other stakeholders as a plant is removed from service unnecessarily. Such situation has occurred in the early shutdown of Zion NPP in USA during the mid-1990s. Steam generators replacement costs have coupled with a period of low demand growth, existing excess generating capacity and low incoming revenues. Under such conditions it was decided that the replacement option was not a viable one and a decision made to shut the plant down. By the mid 2000s demand and revenue conditions changed and the average cost of electricity markedly increased. It is not clear at this point if the early
decision can be reversed given the cost and difficulty of re-licensing a shut down plant.

another anon said...

Yes Joffan, there are multiple engineering issues involved. Here's one: Once a licensee has submitted the decommissioning request, they are relieved of many responsibilities. Including the requirements to maintain the safety equipment associated with operating the reactor (for example the safety injection equipment, but not the systems related to the spent fuel itself - which is no longer in the reactor proper). As a consequence, the idea that the plant could be re-licensed is a non-starter, without also ripping out & replacing all of the un-maintained, un-calibrated, and therefore un-usable equipment. That's just one issue. Read through 10CFR parts parts 50.75, 50.82, 51.53, and 51.95, you will see that the decommissioning rules are truly a 'trap door' that the licensee can pass thru - never to return. Unless you consider all of the regulations so much bureacracy, and advocate anyone (or any corporation) should be allowed to operate any reactor in any manner they choose.

Anonymous said...

Has a license ever been reinstated for a shutdown plant? What would it take to relicense? Surely some things wouldn't have to be redone, like site characterization, seismic and the like. Has any of the plant infrastructure been irreparably breached, like punching a hole in the pressure vessel (e.g., Shoreham)? Seems a shame if you have an asset that can be reworked to come back up at reasonable cost and effort, it should at least be looked at. Is there anything either in the regulations or in the record that would preclude such an effort? Just asking.

another anon said...

As far as I know, no plant that has filed for permanent cessation of operations per 10CFR50.82 has ever reversed course. I think the main point is that such a reversal would not involve the plant being "re-licensed" rather it is being "licensed" as a new plant. A plant like Zion that was originally licensed many years age (in the 1970's ??) would likely require many design changes and additional analyses to comply with the current regulations, SRPs, and ad-hoc NRC mandates. The case for Brown's Ferry or Watts Bar "restart" is completely different.

Anonymous said...

@ Joffan;

Feel free to write your own definitions, but obtaining an operating license where none exists does not equal an "arbitrary and routine" procedure.

As for engineering issues, how about having to essentially rewrite the entire safety analysis to meet all the updates regulations? No grandfathering of the prior licensing basis is possible in this scenario.

All I'm asking is that people be just a little realistic when they imagine what might be.

Anonymous said...

All I am asking is has anyone really done an objective, unbiased assessment of the effort and cost involved in refurbishing the shutdown plant versus new build? Yes, I understand the challenges and the nature of the problem. It just seems to me if you already have infrastructure in place, you could save yourself some time, money, and headaches by re-using them instead of starting from scratch, if for no other reasons than that you already own the land and have invested once before in characterizing and qualifying the site for a nuclear unit, poured the concrete, put the footers in, built the containment, constructed the support structures, etc. Yes, you may have to refurbish or replace equipment and re-qualify it for use, but is it easier to do that than buying new? It may not be. All I'm saying is someone should really take an objective, unbiased look at the proposition, without starting from a prejudiced viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

Much of this doom & gloom talk about the impossibility of re-starting Zion is pure nonsense. I am a former SRO from Zion, and also former NRC person that participated in the licensing of 18reactors. The cost to replace Zion's 2200 MWe today with a new coal or nuclear plant is about $7 to $10 billion. So a re-licensing fee of $25 million is peanuts. Moreover, one can do a lot of testing, inspections, re-analysis, and refurbishments before they start to bump into the $7 billion replacement cost. Look at some extremes: Replace the reactor vessel? Maybe $50 to $100 million. Replace the steam generators? Maybe $100 to 200 million. The BOP is fine and has been maintained. Now stop and consider that Zion's site has been fully characterized for seismicity, hydrology, meteorology, environmental impacts, etc. and it passed. Consider that the transmission lines and rights of access already exist to the site. Roads exist. The structures are sound and proven. Environmental impacts are proven not speculative. Consider that 85% of the local public love the plant. Consider the taxes that Zion paid to the community and jobs and business that it generated when operating. Consider that the ractor is smack dab situated between two massive load centers of Chicago and Milwaukee. This is precisely why the company has not decommissioned the unit. They are not stupid. AND this same reasoning is why virtually EVERY other existing reactor owner in the USA has applied for a 20 year license renewal or plans to renew. Existing nuclear plants are cash cows. Nothing touches them. Not even pulverized coal plants or renewables. Zion will restart.
-- JJ

Anonymous said...

Poster JJ confirms what I have been saying. A lot of things at Zion are already in place. They've got the land, already characterized and previously approved as a viable plant site. That alone saves you a lot. They've got a containment and other plant infrastructure. They've got a lot of support and transmission infrastructure already in place. It's hard for me to believe that all of that has decayed past use in the relatively short time the plant has been idled. These things are built to last. Yes, they will have to go through the re-licensing and restart. There may be things that have to be replaced, refurbished, and/or re-calibrated. But you've already got those things in place. Re-using those seems more economical than starting from scratch, buying/building all new things.

Anonymous said...

Exelon publicly stated that Zion could be restarted at a cost of $1.5 billion to $2 billion ( see article entitled "White Tornado Headed for Zion" Crain's Chicago 12/07 at the following website (cut and paste into browser): http://74.125.47.132/search?q=cache:f8IKzr4ojukJ:www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi
-bin/article.pl%3Farticle_id%3D28921+%22michael+bond%22+%22commonwealth+edis
on%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=15&gl=us ), but concluded then that it was not "cost effective" for it to do so at that time. No further explanation from them at the time. Note Rod Adamas comment that if Exelon injected 2200 megs of new capacity into their market that likely would drive down the price of power and capacity for Exelon's other nuclear generating facilities in the area (because market price for power is based on last and highest meg bid to meet demand -- which is very high if natural gas-fired but low if nuke or coal-fired). So Exelon has had a high incentive to withhold this cheap power from the market to keep prices for its other generation very high -- witness the massive profits Exelon has made on sale from existing nukes and the incredibly high price of power and capacity in the PJM market (to which Exelon is connected) over the past several years. One approach worth objectively evaluating: restart Zion for a one-time $2 billion, thereby increase electricity capacity and supply in market to displace high priced gas-fired electric supply , thereby reduces market prices for electricity and gas in area, and overall savings to customers could be billions of dollars. And by the way the 2200 megs would be carbon free, at a tenth of the cost overall of solar and wind ventures and with 100 times greater reliability. So, an objective unbiased assessment should be done by a third party (perhaps government), Exelon should be asked to explain why they have not restarted the plant and investigated regarding whether they are intentionally withholding capacity -- from a plant the people of Illinois have already paid for out of prior rates) to keep prices high for their other generating units and for consumers.

People can speculate about the cost to reatart Zion, but Exelon itself puts it at $2 billion or less. Compared to a new plant at say $10 billion this would be some of the cheapest power in the country, and all carbon free. Seems Exelon has some explainig to do to Illinois consumers, who already paid for this plant in prior rates.