The Great Green Meltdown

How Economic Arguments Against Nuclear Highlight Environmentalist Delusions

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After the world's leading climate scientists called on environmentalists to support nuclear power two weeks ago, mainstream green groups went on CNN to declare atomic energy too expensive. The goal was to distance mainstream environmentalists from shrill antinuclear activists like Helen Caldicott (above left). But after decades of calling for higher energy prices through cap and trade or carbon pricing — as well as subsidies for expensive renewable energy — to prevent climate catastrophe, the economic arguments against the atom made by the NRDC's Ralph Cavanagh (above right) only further exposed the hypocrisy and delusion of the antinuclear environmentalism.

November 13, 2013 | Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Two weeks ago, four of the world’s most respected climate scientists took the extraordinary step of sending an open letter to their long-time friends and colleagues in the environmental movement, urging them to reverse their longstanding opposition to nuclear power. The scientists told AP and CNN they felt the need to make public their displeasure after years of trying and failing to reason privately with green leaders, who believe solar, wind, and efficiency are enough to power the planet.

The letter came at a time when mainstream environmental groups like Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and Center for American Progress (CAP) were at pains to differentiate themselves from shrill antinuclear activists, like Helen Caldicott and Greenpeace. In a debate over Pandora’s Promise, moderated by the New York Times’s Andrew Revkin, Bobby Kennedy Jr. chose not to repeat the claim he made a year earlier – that Chernobyl had killed a million people – a testament to the fact that the environmental debate about nuclear energy has fundamentally changed over the last 12 months.

Nuclear energy today is broadly recognized by scientists, scholars, and analysts as an environmentally positive technology with risks, such as they are, overwhelmingly outweighed by its environmental benefits. Such is the consensus on this question that mainstream environmental leaders no longer attempt to contest it.

And so, in response to the letter from climate scientists, and the airing of Pandora’s Promise on CNN, the NRDC and CAP led a chorus of green spokespersons claiming that their opposition to nuclear was based not on environmental but rather economic grounds.

“What’s weird is that the environmental movement is being held up as an obstacle,” green jobs advocate Van Jones told Wolf Blitzer. “Don’t blame us! Nuclear power is incredibly expensive.” NRDC's Dale Bryk told a CNN audience that the reason the United States wasn't building nuclear was because "the market is not choosing nuclear." Her colleagues, Ralph Cavanagh and Tom Cochran wrote at CNN.com, “No American utility today would consider building a new nuclear power plant without massive government support.”

But rather than obscure the dogmatism that underlies green opposition to nuclear energy, the economic arguments further revealed it. Having demanded policies to make energy more expensive, whether cap and trade or carbon taxes, greens now complain that nuclear energy is too expensive. Having spent decades advocating heavy subsidies for renewable energy, greens claim that we should turn away from nuclear energy because it requires subsidies. And having spent the last decade describing global warming as the greatest market failure in human history, greens tell us that, in fact, we should trust the market to decide what kind of energy system we should have.  

It was hard, at times, to tell whether the claims made about renewables in particular were purely cynical or just delusional. The Sierra Club's Brune claimed that declining US emissions over the last five years had been achieved thanks to wind and solar, a claim that has no plausible basis in fact. US emissions are down thanks to cheap gas, not renewables. Indeed, since the last US nuclear plant came on line in 1997, nuclear has avoided more emissions through simply increasing energy generation from existing nuclear plants than have been avoided by wind and solar power combined.

Brune, Bryk, and Jones all claimed that we don’t need nuclear because renewables are cheaper and solar costs have come down dramatically in recent years. But solar still reliably costs twice as much as nuclear according to the US Energy Information Agency, without accounting for the huge indirect costs rooftop solar shifts onto other ratepayers. A recent California PUC study estimated that by 2020, California's solar energy initiative would increase rates by a billion dollars annually for California energy consumers.

If green claims about renewables were pure sophistry, the claims about energy efficiency were simply out of touch. NRDC’s Bryk cheerily asserted that energy efficiency could obviate the need for vastly more energy consumption globally. But the reality is that more than a billion people around the world today lack access to modern energy at all. Billions more consume just a fraction of what developed world environmentalists consider their birthright, while smugly touting the benefits of conservation and efficiency. And the billion people who still depend upon wood and dung for energy have no electricity or gasoline to conserve. 


Even with redoubled efforts to reduce wasted energy in developed countries, the world is going to consume vastly more energy in the coming decades than it does today. This is the basic math of the global climate and energy situation, and is the reason that James Hansen and his colleagues, who have long been closely aligned with the environmental movement, felt the need to call out their erstwhile allies for practicing their own peculiar brand of climate denial.

For four decades, green ideology has talked clean energy but given us dirty coal. It is a posture that could perhaps have been excused in the 1970s, before anyone had really heard of global warming, and before the challenges of scaling renewables had become glaringly obvious. But today, that posture is inexcusable for anyone who is seriously concerned about climate change. 

When asked whether the growing number of people, including top climate scientists, coming out for nuclear, had caused NRDC to rethink its position, Ralph Cavanagh told CNN, “I've been in the NRDC since 1979. I have a pretty good idea of where the mainstream environmental groups are and have been. I have seen no movement.” He might be right. But if he is, then green groups have lost whatever credibility they once had to speak for the climate.


Comments

  • It is unfortunate that the environmental movement has chosen to resort to such disingenuous tactics. Their demand of absolute safety from nuclear power has directly resulted in the increased cost. The tactic of intervening over issue after issue, which forces the utility to pay for the NRC review, their analysis, any court costs, etc, etc. is an obvious attempt to make all nuclear energy facilities uneconomic.
    To then make the claim the “nuclear is unaffordable” is a mind-boggling display of hubris.

    By Margaret Harding on 2013 11 13

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    • That such a demand had made nuclear energy without risk. Human error, greed, corruption, market forces, unwise political interference are all a whole lot more dangerous when multiplied by Nukes than they are when multiplied by 100% renewables.

      And most nuclear energy projects get massive injections of capital and guarantees from government, govts underwrite them because no company will insure them, mostly they do not include for secure waste treatment and safe storage (hello Fukushima 400 tonnes of spent fuel rods in the attic)  yet it’s still more expensive than wind power and getting more expensive by the decade.

      Suggest you read the report by Citi — which is hardly a Climate Change and conservation think tank — on latest LCOE figures:

      http://www.google.com/url?q=http://about.bnef.com/presentations/bnef-university-breakthroughs-in-solar-power/&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFQjCNE9mv-r8g_R0XtkMTZiVSOG5tMnnw

      We have ten years (3 already up) to transition to renewable energy. Even if Nukes were given a govt green light to acquire your suburbs and build wherever and whenever with no legal challenge it still wouldn’t happen in time or for as little cost as wind and solar. And yes it has been modelled and it is 100% doable (although much cheaper to do for 95% and have 5% biowaste burning).

      By Alastair Leith on 2013 11 14

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      • Ooops wrong Link:
        https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1585739/Citi LCOE comparisons worldwide report 2013.pdf

        From the conclusions:
        “So why does any of this matter? Quite simply the sums of money at stake in terms of investment in energy over the coming decades are staggering, and getting a choice of fuel or technology ‘wrong’ could have dramatic
        consequences for both countries and companies, be they upstream oil & gas companies, utilities, industrial consumers, renewable developers of power generation equipment providers. Understanding the evolutionary forces at work and their interplay in a holistic manner will prove vital for anyone exposed to the energy markets.”

        From the difficulties on projecting LCOE for nuclear power:
        “While nuclear technology has evolved over time this is harder to plot, as well as considering the fact that there is scope for a paradigm shift should other methods of nuclear generation such as fusion ever be harnessed/become commercially viable. The capital cost of nuclear build has actually risen in recent decades in some developed markets, partly due to increased safety expenditure, and due to smaller construction programmes (i.e. lower economies of scale). Moreover the ‘fixed cost’ nature of nuclear generation in combination with its relatively high price (when back end liabilities are taken into account) also places the technology at a significant disadvantage; utilities are reluctant to enter into a very long term (20+ years of operation, and decades of aftercare provisioning) investment with almost no control over costs post commissioning, with the uncertainty and rates of change currently occurring in the energy mix. As an example, one need only look at the ongoing debate in the UK over the next generation of nuclear build, and the reluctance of most parties to commit.”

        On wind which will undercut COAL in the next decade on price even without carbon pricing (which should be mandatory in all nations developed or undeveloped):
        “For these reasons we do not consider wind as a peak shaving resource but rather as a substitute to baseload capacity such as coal and nuclear.”

        Here’s a write up by Giles Parkinson so you don’t have to read the 90pp report.
        http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/citi-sees-5-7-trillion-renewables-opportunity-with-no-added-grid-costs-86646

        So stop talking from your ideological hats and get real about nuclear energy. It’s just not all it’s cracked up to be for most countries since most countries have abundant renewable resources.

        By Alastair on 2013 11 14

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        • Alastair: Could you please fix your dropbox link to the Citi pdf? I should like to see it, as your Parkinson link does not in itself support your argument:

            The estimate is based on Citi’s assessment that most electricity markets could – on average – integrate 20 per cent of wind generation with little problem, and around 10 per cent of solar…

          I don’t think anyone argues that intermittents cannot be economically competitive up to something less than their non-dispatachable capacity factor, which is about 33% for onshore wind but of course varies and is not additive with solar. But chasing this chimera only confirms what others here have been saying: that most “green” environmentalists comprehend neither the seriousness not the magnitude of the ghg problem. Even the oft-quoted NREL-LBL-MIT Renewable Energy Futures 2012 report falls woefully short, and as I suggest below, is at least as powerful an argument for full-on commitment to nuclear power as it is to anything else.

          We need a full technology economic cost-benefit analysis of all possible energy technologies with goal of reaching an optimal combination that emits least carbon at minimal cost (yes there’s a conflict). REF 2012<em> repeatedly stresses it is <em>not such a study. Neither is Citi’s. In short, we need a National Energy Plan. One that adds up.

          By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 14

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          • Here is the city link. I’m not sure if it’s a public paper but I managed to DL it and now the same url is block. Will share until it’s brought to my attention that I shouldn’t be grin
            https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1585739/Citi LCOE comparisons worldwide report 2013.pdf
            Remember this is the same Citi that was just busted writing much of the language used in the US Energy Bill that the US Senators are up in arms about saying if they knew it was written by Citi (for their FF client interests) then they would have read it! So Citi clearly have a FF bias.

            Plans you say (and 33% is rubbish BTW we already have 100% wind for periods in South Australia and 30% yearly gross supply — and growing!). Australia, while admittedly going backwards with the election of a CC denialist and pro-Coal and CSG mining govt, has now produced no less than three plans for 100% renewables scenario.

            First was by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) in conjunction with University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Energy Institute (MEI) . (I’ve done pro-bono work with BZE since this plan came out) DL it here:
            http://bze.org.au/zero-carbon-australia/stationary-energy-plan

            Then there was UNSW plan
            http://www.science.unsw.edu.au/news/study-renewable-electricity-could-be-competitive

            Check out this article on renew economy about the 100% renewables compared to a “low-carbon” fossil fuels supply:
            http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/unsw-study-says-coal-has-no-economic-future-in-australia-12795

            And now the AEMO (the market operator that is as conservative as it gets in Australian energy debates because they have to keep the lights on 99.98% time) has produced two 100% renewable plans.
            Dr Jenny Riesz says this work is the most detailed and credible for its rigour in the world.
            http://www.climatechange.gov.au/reducing-carbon/aemo-report-100-renewable-electricity-scenarios

            Believe me I understand the seriousness of the problem, more so than anyone on this thread I’d venture to guess. IPCC is way conservative on their projections because of consensus requirements omitting much of the latest research. That’s hoe they failed completely to predict the rapid polar ice melt, they didn’t include any of the important positive feedbacks like melt water hydrology which is escalating the decline of land ice . I follow David Spratt’s blog on (Climate Code Red) for the latest science (in fairly layman’s terms).
            http://www.climatecodered.org

            By Alastair on 2013 11 15

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            • https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1585739/Citi LCOE comparisons worldwide report 2013.pdf
              This comments code is mangling the links

              By Alastair on 2013 11 15

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              • By Alastair on 2013 11 15

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                • Thank you for your links; I’ve downloaded the Citi report. I am somewhat familiar with the AEMO 100% renewables report (as of the April 2013 draft). I’ve summarized some criticisms here. I should clarify my “no argument that intermittents cannot be economically competitive up to something less than their non-dispatachable capacity factor, which is about 33% for onshore wind…” remark, which was not intended to imply intermittents cannot be economic above their capacity factor, only that they must perforce become less so the further above it they rise. (For those unfamiliar, capacity factor and dispatchability are briefly described in <a >Introduction to Electric Power</a>.)

                  But it really depends upon what the intermittent renewables are economically competing against.  In Australia, having forsworn nuclear, intermittents’ only real competition is from fossils. So its merely a matter of determining the cost and availability of hydro, biomass, and electric backup and storage, how much intermittent overbuild is required by those limited resources, and how much the whole lash-up is going to cost.

                  The United States is somewhat different: we’ve nearly twelve times the population density of Australia with corresponding limitations on biomass and hydro, which demand either higher overbuild of intermittents, or higher reliance on fossil generation, or both. It’s not an easy problem.

                  By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 15

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                  • To act perforce to save our climate, perforce to enjoin the gratitude of uncountable species?

                    Wind becomes more economic the more turbines are installed. It is not true that it becomes less economic “above it’s capacity factor”, you are confusing two things, capacity factor of an individual turbine and the capacity factor of a large number of turbines. Even within the same location individual turbines may have as low as 33% capacity factor (I don’t have the figures on hand for the low-range cut-off limits used by industry in Australia) yet the group of turbines stretching over 100s of square kilometres might have a significantly higher capacity. Then if the transmission lines are already close by to the transmission grid you can get even higher capacity factor for a lesser portion of the nameplate capacity across a State or a Nation.

                    This doesn’t make wind uneconomic. Quite the opposite, there’s a thing call a cost curve (LCOE) and for renewables it goes down over time and for fossil fuels and nuclear energy it’s going up over time. The more wind deployed the more it gets cheaper to deploy. In fact most utilities didn’t see wind coming and the ride down the cost curve is so incredible Scotland is proposing to be 100% renewable by 2020 from 19% last year!

                    That’s using a large existing hydro resource and wind plus a lot of new wind deployment (onshore and off-shore I believe). Many people (a bit like the commenters on this thread have scoffed but they are doing it).

                    Given that fossil fuels are way cheaper than Nuclear energy I have no idea why Australia “having forsworn nuclear” is any worse off than the USA for competition from that perspective. Your government has to underwrite all your nuclear energy and it’s largely been a smoke screen for atomic weapons manufacturing that has prioritised it in your energy mix historically. Where the USA does have a competitive advantage is population and the potential for funding of research. It’s deployment that brings the costs down way more so than research though and there you have a potential scale advantage too. Australia developed almost the entire technological platform that the Chinese solar industry uses at the UNSW — no government or private backer here would invest in scaling the technology so a Masters Student from China returned to his homeland with the IP almost given away. At least the Australia and the world gets benefit from cheap solar panels.

                    Your population density is similar to our populated areas. Most of the Australian continent is sparsely populated but our eastern seaboard and the tip of WA where Perth is have similar pop densities to USA more heavily populated States (maybe not NYC!).

                    By Alastair Leith on 2013 11 18

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                    • I agree that (wind + hydro) is an ideal combination—if you have enough hydro for your population. Which very roughly speaking, is why I brought up relative population density. For the size of our population, the U.S. is relatively poor in hydro, certainly not enough to balance the intermittency of our world-class wind I did not realise that not to be the case in Scotland, but if it is, more power to them.

                      I believe you may be confusing “capacity factor” with “capacity”, and perhaps confusing “economy of scale” with what happens to net capacity factor once an intermittent energy source penetrates market beyond its nominal capacity factor.

                      In simplest terms, CF = ((plant nameplate capacity in MW)*8760 h)/(MWh plant produces in one year)

                      Distributing wind farms about the country will reduce fluctuations to some degree, but not eliminate them entirely. And while distribution may increase capacity, capacity factor will remain essentially unchanged.

                      By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 18

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            • I’ve bookmarked Spratt’s blog In turn, may I suggest The Daily Climate? Thanks!

              By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 16

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            • You don’t know what capacity factor is. that wind is producing 100% of nameplate here and there is not the same as CF, which is the ratio annually of power produced to nameplate.  If wind produces 100% here and there for short periods when needed or not; it also produces nearly nothing when needed.

              By greg meyerson on 2013 11 22

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        • You think wind can cover baseload requirements, but you’re telling us to “get real”?  Bahaha, good one!

          By Ben Miller on 2013 11 16

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      • “We have ten years (3 already up) to transition to renewable energy.”

        You are kidding right?

        We have been hearing this “we have ten years” for the last 30 years and that is precisely why the luddite green community has lost all credibility.

        A few greens with IQ’s over 100 have figured out that nuclear solves two problems at once. 1) Nukes don’t emit greenhouse gases and 2) every kilowatt produced is a measure of fossil fuels not burned.

        We live on a Thorium planet. By the end of this century we will be using thorium everywhere. Then just concern yourself with Jevon’s Paradox.

        By John Galt III on 2013 11 14

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      • How about giving us a basis for why we have only 10 years (or 7) ? Apparently our civilization will end, or we will be inundated by seawater, or we will all turn into pumpkins? It would be good to know what to expect.

        By poorboy on 2013 11 15

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      • Do you really think that renewables could be manufactured any faster than nukes? 

        Greens confuse two issues: (1) the length of time it takes to install a power source, & (2) the rate at which the power source can be manufactured.

        When we talk about inexpensive nukes, which can be built quickly, we should not make the common mistake of the anti-nuclear cabal of defining nuclear power as large Light Water Reactors.  What we should talk about is Generation IV reactors.  Or, at least to start with build more High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactors similar to the prototype built by General Atomics (circa 1970) at Fort St. Vrain Colorado.

        By JRT256 on 2013 12 30

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  • I’m not certain this “nuclear is too expensive” argument even has legs. Although NREL’s “Renewable Energy Futures 2012” explicitly excluded new nuclear build from any of their scenarios, Its probably the best we’ve got and perhaps worth some back-of-the-envelope estimates for what one might come up with if they had.

    REF’s favored “low-demand” scenario allows generation increase of 7% by 2050. Their bau baseline projects retail power at $111/MWh at that time. Their “incremental technology improvements” scenarios project $157/MWh at 80% renewables and $162/MWh at 90%, with final emissions of 58 tCO2e/GWh in that case. Respective ratios of installed capacity to average demand are 2.2, 3.2, and 3.4.

    EIA’s lcoe for advanced nuclear in 2018 is $108/MWh, assuming 30-year capital amortization on plant estimated to last 80 years. Using this value and just replacing the coal and gas from REF’s baseline mix will not decrease 2050 retail energy cost much beneath the $111/MWh baseline. Nor will it increase needed capacity. And grid integration is about the same. As for emissions, REF estimated 10.6 tCO2e/GWh for nuclear, 4.6 for wind, and ignored hydro. I use 26 for hydro, ymmv. Simple drop-in replacement of fossils bumps nuclear’s contribution up to 80% of the generation mix. Nuclear’s emissions then dominate the final 11 tCO2e/GWh. One fifth the 90% renewables emissions at 2/3 the retail electric cost.

    But don’t expect nuclear’s carbon footprint to remain this high: Sweden’s Forsmark complex attains 3.1 today and if nuclear drops to 4 tCO2e/GWh, total emissions drop to 5.8 tCO2e/GWh, getting close to where the electric power sector will probably need to be.

    But with staggering sticker shock. Simply replacing 695 GW fossil capacity at $1/W (gas) and $3/W (coal) entirely with nuclear at $5.5/W will probably run $2.5 trillion more in capitalization over 35 years,  or $72 billion/yr. That’ s $240/y for each of 300 million people, or $22.50 for each tonne of avoided CO2. That we’d make up (at least) every penny on reduced fuel cost is of little consolation. But we might do better. Load following and peaking are awfully uneconomic use of nuclear. Load shifting and demand management are options. EPA estimates we’ve got 30GW untapped hydro. Not much in itself, but drive the plant factor down to 20% or so and it could make a difference. Likewise intermittents combined with carbon-captured co-fired coal+biomass might also provide efficient low-carbon peaking. And perhaps sequester some atmospheric CO2 as well. But we do need a plan.

    There’s room in the pool for everyone. We needn’t all squabble in the shallow end.

    By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 13

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    • I vote for less use of acronyms for clarity.

      Example, here’s the list for AGW in the acronym dictionary:

      AGW Anthropogenic Global Warming
      AGW Anti-Global Warming
      AGW Access Gateway
      AGW Art Gallery of Windsor (Ontario, Canada)
      AGW Accelerated Global Warming
      AGW All Going Well
      AGW Atmospheric Gravity Waves
      AGW Actual Gold Weight
      AGW A Girl’s World (online magazine)
      AGW Alt.Games.Warbirds (forum)
      AGW Application Gateway (telecom)
      AGW Actual Gross Weight
      AGW Automatic Girth Welder
      AGW Autonomous Guided Weapon
      AGW Acoustic Gravity Wave
      AGW Angelgeschäft Wehnemann (German angling equipment retailer)
      AGW Anganwadi Worker (India)
      AGW Allowable Gross Weight
      AGW Accident Generated Water
      AGW Andrée Gérard Wolff (French clothing retailer)
      AGW Agendus for Windows (software)
      AGW Art Gallery Worldwide

      By William P Gloege on 2013 11 17

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  • Environmentalist leaders don’t take AGW that seriously. They don’t see it as an existential threat. They have too many other concerns apart from AGW. Climate scientists need to do more to impress upon them the urgency of the situation and the fallacy of their faith in wind and solar.

    By Mark Pawelek on 2013 11 14

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    • Mark
      Right you are. There’s a strange lack of appreciation (or ignorance?) for the ultimate consequences of global warming.

      All people have to do is read projections of what will happen such as those in books of Hansen and Lovelock. Are such projections going unread, or what??

      By William P Gloege on 2013 11 18

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      • “All people have to do is read projections of what will happen such as those in books of Hansen and Lovelock. Are such projections going unread, or what??”

        They’re complete bullshit, that’s what.

        By craig on 2013 11 19

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      • To: William P Gloege

        1. Mark Lynas said that he was originally anti-nuclear because it was the default environmentalist position “you don’t question a movement when you’re part of it”. It was only after he’d done his own research that he changed his position to pro-nuclear. Before changing views, he’d already written books warning of the dangers of global warming.

        2. WHen I discuss energy policy with deep greens, it’s clear they want to limit energy use and have a ridiculously optimistic outlook for renewables. Every good book I’ve looked at on energy, which addresses global warming calls accepts nuclear power. If not its expansion then, at least, its retention.

        I think the primary difference between deep and pragmatic greens is that deep greens don’t accept people for what they are. The deep green desire to reduce energy use is their moral position. It’s their identity. Pragmatic greens accept that other people will want to use more energy. The pragmatic position is call for the least harmful energy, which we’ve identified as nuclear.

        I certainly know what the consequences of global warming will be.

        By Mark Pawelek on 2013 11 24

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      • Both Lovelock (and to a lesser extent Hansen) have pulled back from their catastrophic predictions.  Read about Lovelock here (bottom of web page under climate)- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lovelock

        By Doug Allen on 2014 01 22

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        • Doug, thanks for the response. I’m aware Lovelock pulled back. I just can’t understand why because his predictions are right on track, unlike the politically sensitive IPCC forecasts. I live in the heart of this California drought and let me tell you it is ominous. Some here say, “it always eventually rains” except now we have a whole new atmosphere with 400 parts per million CO2. Like stock brochures say, “Past performance is no guarantee of future performance.”

          By William Gloege on 2014 01 22

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  • Retail electricity in 80% nuclear France is half the price of that in non-nuclear Germany.  The problem is the time it takes to build a new nuclear plant. It will take 10 years to build Britain’s new Hinkley Point C reactor. Wall St will not finance projects taking longer than 4 - 5 years before they begin to pay back. This is the hurdle holding nuclear energy back. SMRs may solve that problem.

    By Mark Pawelek on 2013 11 14

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    • The Chinese appear to be able to build AP1000 reactors in much less than 10 years.  Actually, history shows that the Fort St. Vrain (Colorado) HTGR was built in about 4 years although, since it was a prototype, considerable time was spent testing it before it went into commercial operation.  Something that wouldn’t happen if more of them were being built.

      By JRT256 on 2013 12 30

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  • Why should we expect environmentalists to accept cold hard facts now? They’ve been living in a bubble of delusion for decades.

    By Duude on 2013 11 14

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  • Electricity production is 75% nuclear in France (not 80%).

    The real cost of electricity without taxes and levies, compared to the rate of nuclear electricity in some european countries.

    http://energeia.voila.net/electri/taux_nucle_prix.htm
    (see table : in euro)

    France : 74% nuclear and 9,7c€/kWh
    Belgium : 51% nuclear and 14,6 c€/kWh
    Germany : 28% nuclear and 13,7 c€/kWh (nuclear 2011)
    Denmark : 0% nuclear and 12,0 c€/kWh
    Portugal : 0% nuclear and 10,6 c€/kWh

    Hinkley Point nuclear : EDF has also been offered loan guarantees of £10 billion to reassure investors, meaning much of the actual risk sits with taxpayers rather than those providing the money

    By Caribou on 2013 11 14

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    • Absolbulutely! Without taxpayer citizens shouldering substantial risk Green Party citizens would absolutely guarantee HPC might (asymptotically) reach completion, but never turn on. What kind of fool to you take EDF?

      By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 14

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    • Caribou stated on 2013 11 14,

      Electricity production is 75% nuclear in France (not 80%).

      The real cost of electricity without taxes and levies, compared to the rate of nuclear electricity in some european countries.

      http://energeia.voila.net/electri/taux_nucle_prix.htm
      (see table : in euro)

      France : 74% nuclear and 9,7c€/kWh
      Belgium : 51% nuclear and 14,6 c€/kWh
      Germany : 28% nuclear and 13,7 c€/kWh (nuclear 2011)
      Denmark : 0% nuclear and 12,0 c€/kWh
      Portugal : 0% nuclear and 10,6 c€/kWh

      Hinkley Point nuclear : EDF has also been offered loan guarantees of £10 billion to reassure investors, meaning much of the actual risk sits with taxpayers rather than those providing the money

      There is some information available on Europe’s energy portal at:  http://www.energy.eu/ which has some different prices for electricity. They have different price structures for residential and commercial as given below for the five countries:

      All prices are given in Euros and Eurocents. The format is the original table, and then the residential and commercial prices for each county from the European web site. Please note that the effective date is given as May 2013.

      France : 74% nuclear and 9,7c€/kWh Residential: 12,466 Commercial 7,761
      Belgium : 51% nuclear and 14,6 c€/kWh Residential: 22,566 Commercial 9,719
      Germany : 28% nuclear and 13,7 c€/kWh (nuclear 2011) Residential: 26,527 Commercial 11,567
      Denmark : 0% nuclear and 12,0 c€/kWh Residential: 29,525 Commercial 9,434
      Portugal : 0% nuclear and 10,6 c€/kWh Residential: 20,361 Commercial 10,463

      I live in Texas and my last electric bill had the electricity priced at US 5,52 per kilowatt hour. Needless to say, that are a number of high energy consuming factories being built in Texas and other southern US locations, as the cost different is quite large for a factory.

      Please also note that Denmark has built a large number of windmills, but uses Norway and Sweden for energy storage in their hydroelectric facilities. They are not really making money off of electricity sales to other countries. It may be of interest to that Denmark experience with windmills on the ocean gives a life expectancy of 10 years or so, as the environment is harsh. Paying for the windmills is certainly impacting the cost of electricity for the homeowners in Denmark.

      Germany has has an extensive and expensive program to shut down it nuclear reactors. As a result of high energy prices for the homeowner, they are pushing some homeowners into energy poverty. Cutting back on the cost increases projected for the future is a political issue being addressed by the government. This involves changes in plans for subsidies for the renewables and plans to build more solar and windmills.  The base load problem is real, and they are building new coal fired power plants. Their CO2 emissions have gone up in the past year due to shutting done some nuclear power plants and using more coal. Another problem for Germany is energy distribution. The wind and wind mills are in the North Sea and the north of country. They have plans for three north - south energy transmission lines. However, there is lots of local opposition, and they are not currently being built. At present, there are wind mills in the North Sea which are not connected to the electrical grid. Connecting a field of wind mill electrical generators at sea is not cheap. Another interesting issue relates to the European grid. Germany is really annoying countries to the east of them by the variation in power on the grid which they all share. Managing the increases or decreases in power is not only a problem for Germany and its electrical power companies, but it is a problem for the countries to the east. Some of the countries have discussed putting in a switch to allow them to cut themselves off from the German grid to allow better management of their own power.

      By Bob Herderhorst on 2013 11 19

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  • Given the high cost of renewables, and the fact that paying more should be considered an acceptable tradeoff for generating cleaner energy, I am always surprised when green advocacy attacks nuclear power on the basis of cost.

    By Scott Arnold on 2013 11 14

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  • It is most disingenuous of them to say wind or solar is cheaper when you can’t compare them as equals on a functioning grid!!!! 

    Nuclear is reliable baseload that can even load-follow (Bruce Nuclear does this using steam bypass on their CANDU units, providing 2500MW of load-following capability on a 6300MW facility).  Wind has capacity factors < 30%, and solar < 20%.  In order to integrate these sources into a grid, one MUST either balance with a dispatchable source or have adequate amount of storage.  If the former option, then the highest possible grid penetration of wind is 20-30%, otherwise wind production could exceed 100% of the grid on a very wind day.  So, if the goal is to decarbonize by more than 20-30%, then we MUST talk storage.  So, the real cost to decarbonize via renewables is the cost of the wind turbines / solar panels + truly MASSIVE amount of storage.

    Renewable proponents ALWAYS forget to mention the cost of storage or the inherent limits to grid penetration, and the amount of potential carbon reduction, without storage.

    In summary, the cost of an intermittent MWH cannot be compared directly with a MWH of reliable power.  When other factors are taken into account, you either are limited to ~20% grid-carbon reduction or have to factor the truly huge costs of grid-scale storage. 

    It is high time to call-out this mendacity in the energy debate.

    By Steve Foster on 2013 11 14

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    • Careful there. Wind penetration can well exceed its nominal single-turbine capacity factor through overbuild, and without adequate storage: just dump power by feathering some vanes on good wind days. Not a problem. Of course, the effective (total plant) capacity factor goes down as you do so, and lcoe goes up. That is a problem. (But not my problem.)

      By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 16

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      • My main point stands: an intermittent and unreliable MWH cannot be compared directly with a reliable MWH.  A wind MWH as part of a reliable grid costs more than its LCOE because its intermittent nature must be balanced by additional means.  Its true cost must include cost to build a supergrid (if want geographical diversity on continental scales to compensate for local variability), grid-scale storage, or an even greater overbuild if to follow your prescription of feathering blades during high-wind conditions and throwing excess production away.  Feathering will prevent over-production, but it still won’t help the grid when the wind dies.  . 

        The default setting, of course, is to balance the grid with gas plants - which defeats the whole supposed purpose of the exercise (decarbonization).

        By Steve Foster on 2013 11 18

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        • And here I was thinking “the whole purpose of the exercise” was to deploy as much intermittent renewable generation.as possible and sell its power into “the grid” whether it was needed or not. Silly me…

          By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 18

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          • LOL!  So true. 

            I think the purpose of the exercise AS SOLD TO THE PUBLIC is to decarbonize.

            Alas, in reality we get renewable generation that must be taken whether needed or not, by fiat, balanced by gas plants.  Together these things lock-in demand for gas and guarantee returns to investors.

            Whether or not CO2 is reduced in any meaningful way is of little concern to the moneychangers and shareholders.  The important thing is that it LOOKS GREEN ENOUGH to work politically so they can make as much money as possible, CO2 results be damned.  Environmentalists that back this scam are accessories to fraud, IMHO.

            This is why people like Mr. Shellenberger are doing the environmental movement a favour by pointing out that the math doesn’t add up unless nuclear is on the table, and in a big way.

            By Steve Foster on 2013 11 18

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        • Buidling an extensive super grid isn’t necessarily going to allow wind to provide a steady output. High-pressure/calm wind zones can extend over large portions of entire continents on a routine basis.

          Google: Poyry - The challenges of intermittency in North West European power markets

          Read the ‘findings’ near the bottom of the report summary. The text makes it pretty clear that relying on wind as a large contingent of an energy portfolio would be very costly, and making wind provide a nominal output is pretty much completely unfeasible in the real world.

          By Benjamin Schams on 2013 11 19

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      • Buidling an extensive super grid isn’t necessarily going to allow wind to provide a steady output. High-pressure/calm wind zones can extend over large portions of entire continents on a routine basis.

        Google: Poyry - The challenges of intermittency in North West European power markets

        Read the ‘findings’ near the bottom of the report summary. The text makes it pretty clear that relying on wind as a large contingent of an energy portfolio would be very costly, and making wind provide a nominal output is pretty much completely unfeasible in the real world.

        By Benjamin Schams on 2013 11 19

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  • Of course part of the reason nuclear is so expensive is that it faces tremendous regulatory and public acceptance hurdles demanded by the same environmentalists that now say we can’t afford it.

    But really, do you expect logic or consistency from the greens? Environmentalism is the religion of the secular liberal elite and religion is not based on science or economics it is based on revelation. In a 100 years or so, when China is the dominant world power, there will be interesting papers written about how the west committed economic suicide. They will be written in Mandarin.

    By S.C. Schwarz on 2013 11 14

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  • Ten Reasons why Nuclear power is folly:
    1) Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    2) Chernobyl
    3) Long Island
    4) Fukushima
    5) Iran (ahem!)
    6) Nuclear waste (spent fuel rods still contain 95% of their radioactivity) Will you yanks bury it in your backyard??
    7) India and Pakistan
    8) Uranium mines: Jabiluka and Ranger, Roxby downs. 
    9) Non-proliferation Treaty: The USA might want to sign up to that one before forcing nuclear energy on the world
    10) Renewable energy in Australia is now competing against coal for $/MWh and the take up rate of solar panels has reduced the need for teh construction of new powerlines (much to chagrin of the electricity industry).

    When will you publish an article discussing A) Safe mining techniques, B) increased efficiency and safety in nuclear fuel rods C) Safe disposal of nuclear fuel (i.e. not just dumping them in a cement lined hole in the outback and then crossing your fingers for the next 00 000 years)?

    Otherwise i get the impression you are just shills for the Nuclear industry! Can you deny receiving any money from nuclear groups, miners, processors, plants etc etc??

    By Samuel K Dawson on 2013 11 14

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    • Sam,

      We do not get any money from any energy industry, and never will. You can find a list of our funding policy and a list of funders here:

      http://thebreakthrough.org/about/funders/

      Best wishes,

      Michael

      By Michael Shellenberger on 2013 11 14

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      • It seems to me that the ‘nuclear is too expensive’ argument by environmental groups is based on a false context.

        The sticker price of wind turbines is in fact cheaper than nukes (not considering the comprehensive cost of their grid integration) so on the surface it appears that they are correct.

        But of course the real context is removing significant amounts of carbon from the overall system as soon as possible, not just boosting wind’s total contribution up to 5% of domestic electricity.

        I believe more effort should be put into helping the public understand the economics of decarbonising with a large share of renewables vs a more balanced portfolio of renewables, nuclear, and CCS. I think there is a stark contrast in the feasibilities of these two approaches that can be well demonstrated by citing and investigating the very studies from renewable advocates such as Mark Jacobson etc.

        The BTI, Pandora’s Promise etc have done well to communicate to the public the demonstrated safety of nuclear plants and the failure of RE movements to affect global emissions. But I think there is still a need to demonstrate in a straightforward way exactly why scaling large shares of renewables globally would be so difficult technically and economically speaking, and why using a contingent of controllable generation assets such as nuclear or clean coal is so advantageous. 

        Van Jones, like much of the public, is probably lacking this understanding. 

        By Benjamin Schams on 2013 11 19

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        • Quite so, Ben. And to precisely that end I’ve posted a brief
          <a >
          comparison review</a> of six such studies: three renewables-only and three renewables+nuclear. (Two from Australlia, Two from the States, one from U.K, and finally a really fascinating global study of the sort you might be particularly interested in.  I’ve tried to make it short enough to avoid the glazed-eyes syndrome, but having done so have left vast empty tracts awaiting further development. Its a conversation that really needs to get started, say a quarter century ago.

          Thanks for your Poyry tip, I’ll look into it.

          By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 19

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    • You have a poor understanding of nuclear power if you think bombs can be used as an example of why reactors are problematic.  Bombs and reactors are two very different devices.

      You also don’t know much about the events you’ve mentioned, such as Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island (which you’ve incorrectly called “Long Island”; that plant was shut down before it could even be turned on thanks to public hysteria).  All of these events occurred because of ignorance-driven negligence, especially Chernobyl, where they basically shut down all failsafes and watched the fireworks.  It’s really a stretch to say it was an accident, with how they purposely took all the steps necessary to set off a meltdown.

      In any case, all your arguments fall silent against LFTRs.

      By Ben Miller on 2013 11 16

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  • This article and the vehement comments, pro or con, on US nuclear is provincial nonsense. It might have held value in 1970.  China now burns twice the amount of coal that the US burns, and the ratio will skyrocket in this decade.  She brings a new coal fired power plant on line every few days.  The only “feasible” options to stop her policies are to a.) conquer her in the name of environmentalism, b.) ask her three hundred million to remain in starvation for the good of the climate, or c.) have the Sierra Club stage a sit-in in Tienanmen Square and force a totalitarian government to change their survival technology.
    This 40 year painless ideological debate within the US has come to an end.  Those nations who use lots of carbon and uranium for energy will survive, the others will cease to exist.  This is America’s clear choice.  The “five year from now…” argument has raged for fifty years.  No thinking person believes it anymore.  If green energy was cost effective, it would have been a killer app a zillion times larger than DOS.  But Bill Gates spills more than Al Gore ever made.
    People had better grow up, or their children never will.

    By Mr. R. L. Hails Sr. P. E. on 2013 11 14

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    • There is another alternative: partner with the Chinese with the simple objective to roll out as much nuclear, the best nuclear, as quickly and as cheaply as possible without unreasonable compromise to safety.  We have the technology, they have the money and manufacturing base and the NEED.  They are choking on coal fumes.

      Why not pick a handful of technological options, each focusing on a specific design aspect (e.g. different neutron spectrum, different coolants, different fuel types and cycles, etc.), then have 5-10 joint R & D projects run in parallel with the goal of a fleet of commercial demonstrators within FIVE years, with tests completed by year 10.  Set a budget of $100 billion with cost share between governments with industry buy-in. Commercial roll-out will then follow a competitive model and let the best technology win after the risky demonstration / proving has been done.  Once commercial demonstration is successful, Chinese factories could crank out nuclear heat units (SMRs) like toasters and TVs after year 10.  We could decarbonize entire swaths of the world economy within a generation following such a path. 

      Two great world economies could cooperate to solve the TWO biggest problems facing the world: a) raising the standard of living of billions of the worlds poorest; and, b) doing (a) without destroying the environment by dumping billions and billions of tons of fossil-fuel waste directly into the atmosphere.

      By Steve Foster on 2013 11 14

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  • “NRDC’s Bryk cheerily asserted that energy efficiency could obviate the need for vastly more energy consumption globally.”

    (I imagine soon):
    NRDC’s Bryk announces a technological breakthrough that will solve the Global Warming Crisis - the Cheap, Efficient $hit Stove (CESS). Widespread application of the new technology will allow local communities to coordinate efforts… In other words, CESS pools.

    By Icepilot on 2013 11 15

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  • The real shame about the whole climate change sham is that trillions of dollars have been wasted world wide over this coven’s dream of controlling world energy supplies.

    Trillions that could actually be used for environmental, social, and economic improvement for people around the globe. Environmental projects such as reforestation, riparian reclamation,  agricultural and forestry easements and preservation, and clean water access and sanitation have all been grossly and disgustingly ignored by “environmentalists” solely so they could line their own pockets usher in a global command and control totalitarian government class elitist regime.

    Sooner or later Ted and Michael are going to have to face their denial down and recognize that there are people who care about the social, environment, and economic well being of people and then there are “progressives” who care about nothing except control and punishment for the massive who won’t simply obey their diktats on command.

    By CDA on 2013 11 15

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  • And on nuclear energy you lot should become aware of how much environmental damage (and cultural damage to the first nations people of Australia) uranium (yellow cake) mining is doing in Australia.

    One mine alone uses as much artesian water as out second largest capital city Melbourne (2.2 Million people). Then there is the “self-reporting” regime of breaches to their settling pond talks dams which breach into the Kakado World Heritage National Park. Except we never hear about it because they ave been found to breach their self reporting code every time we do this has happened in the past.

    Almost 100% of the promotion of Nuclear Power in Australia comes from people (and one academic in particular) associated with the mining industries. It’s concentrated wealth and power making that nuclear power is all about nothing else.

    By alastair on 2013 11 15

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    • Think how many dates you could grow in the desert if you were allowed to extract that much artesian water for free.

      I forgot to mention many naturally formed water pool oasis in the dessert know by Aboriginal people’s to have existed since Dreamtime are drying up due to the extraction of GigaLitres of artesian water every day.

      By Alastair on 2013 11 15

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  • All this palaver between environmentalists and climate people reminds me of the classic philosophical “Argument Games” about how many angels can actually stand on the head of a pin.

    They compete to craft and publish clever arguments, hoping for the knock out punch,  while the world heats and melts. Folks, we are in an emergency situation.

    I live in the shadow of a powerful nuclear reactor - Diablo Canyon. For around thirty years this successful facility has been pumping out cheap electrical power to millions of homes and businesses without any problems. I’m not afraid of this plant which I’ve toured. The operation is spectacular.

    Only nuclear can give us the volume of power we need. I say let’s stop talking and build and operate one of the newer nuclear technologies like a Thorium reactor. Build a small reactor like those functioning so well in Navy ships for sixty years.

    It’s time to stop the talk and get to work. Successful, safe, cheaper nuclear reactors on the ground pumping out lots of electrical power is the way to end this argument once and for all.

    By William P Gloege on 2013 11 16

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    • William: Southern Co has two Gen III+ Westinghouse AP1000 under construction at their Vogtle plant in Georgia. South Carolina Gas & Electric is working on a third at V.C. Summer plant.

      This is the best we can hope for. Our government got out of the electric power reactor R&D business in 1994, apparently it was determined commercial nuclear power was not needed. DoE does have a modest SMR competition underway where they seek to help fund construction of two demonstration modular reactors of commercial design. The first candidate has been selected, its mPower, a small PWR by Babcock & Wilcox. The selection process for the second has been extended, apparently DoE is hoping for more Gen IV entries. General Atomics has submitted their EM2 HTGR for consideration.

      Sounds like you really need to bookmark World Nuclear News, catch up with your bedtime reading wink

      By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 16

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      • Ed,
        Maybe the few projects going now is all you can hope for. My hopes are that we generate a lot more projects around newer, safer technologies like Thorium. I’m not about to throw in the towel based on past government decisions.

        By William P Gloege on 2013 11 17

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        • William,
          I would hope so as well. But nuclear by its nature requires government approval. The Clinton administration sent a very clear signal. The Dubya admin tried to muddy it up. The present administration ??? makes nice statements, has appointed some good—perhaps very good—Energy Secretaries, and continued national lab work and international collaboration on advanced reactor technologies and fuel cycles.  Admitting we’re playing junior partners to Russia and China on both is not something any administration wants to advertise.  Given its perceived</a> base, I’m not sure this (or perhaps any) administration wants to advertise it’s proceeding with fission power research at all. Let alone development.

          On the gripping hand, making a purely political appointment to chair the NRC appears at least to some as a subtle but effective ploy to further delay commercial nuclear deployment in favor of intermittents and their fossil requisites. 

          Fossils, <i>and this great biomass debacle that contributes nothing to energy security, devastates grassland and forest, and emits more short-term (century) CO2 than gas and perhaps coal as well. At a subsidy cost of some $6 billion a year (CBO or treasury, looking for reference), more than what SCG&E expects to pay for each of its new AP1000.

          Welcome to the new BAU. [/cynical rant]

          I’m not ready to throw in the towel either. Otherwise I wouldn’t be commenting here or written articles elsewhere. In writing this one I came across a compelling letter-to-congress asking major reform of biomass subsidies. Its signed by many groups, including NRDC, GP, and FoE. We can probably all agree on the biomass issue at least, so there is <i>some</a> hope.

          By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 17

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    • “The operation is spectacular”

      So was Fukushima until one day before 3 cores melted down. Don’t worry the waste is on it’s way to your West coast and all the fish you may eat in a decade will have lovely bio-concentrations of gamma.

      By Alastair Leith on 2013 11 18

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      • Alastair,
        “...So was Fukushima [spectacular] until one day before…”
        Actually not. The Fukushima plant design was heavily criticized by Japanese and International sources, but changes were not made for various reasons. Get a tour yourself in a good nuclear plant. You can ask all the “what if..” questions you can think of and get answers. With your interest in nuclear you’d find it highly interesting.

        By William Gloege on 2013 11 19

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  • There are so many factless pro Nuclear comments on this page I’m wondering if the BreakThough Institute isn’t a greenwash site funded by Nuclear industry. I know much of the work on nuclear mining/power in Australia comes from one or two academics funded by the mining industry who would like to Nuclear power embraced in Australia and mining expanded into more World Heritage listed environs.

    Can someone tell me about the origins and funding of Break Through Institute?

    ps
    The comments are frequently generating a timeout error and I’m getting sick of retyping when I forget to copy all before submitting comments.

    By Alastair Leith on 2013 11 18

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    • Projection?  I wonder if you are affiliated with one of those “green” groups funded by foundations bankrolled by Big Oil Oligarchs past and present? 

      For the record, I have nothing to do with “the industry”.  I am simply an engaged citizen who has a professional background in science and engineering.  I am concerned about the future we are going to leave to our kids and I want to see good decisions made.  So I apply my skills in physics, general sciences and mathematics to this task as a matter of personal interest. 

      Any objective analysis of the problem says energy density matters to sustainability and “environmental footprint” (nuclear wins millions-to-one over fossil on this score), the existing record of nuclear power is vastly better than fossil fuels (especially on a per MWH basis), and the true risk of low-level radiation is much, much less than what is generally believed and what is implied by regulation. 

      We have proof that nuclear HAS decarbonized grids on national scales within a generation (France).  It works, and there are plenty of technological options to make it better (speed to deploy, cost reduction, safety, etc.)  If one believes humanity would be better served by MORE energy (doubling or tripling global electricity use by 2050 for a start), and we have to do this without emissions, then nuclear is the ONLY viable solution that can be both zero emissions and sustainable (with closed fuel cycles), with smallest net environmental impact (e.g. 1 reactor = thousands of wind turbines over hundreds of sq. km + massive pumped hydro storage; 1 lb of nuclear fuel to be mined / disposed does the work of millions of pounds of fossil fuels that also have to be mined and then disposed into our atmosphere).

      By Steve Foster on 2013 11 18

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    • Hello Alastair,

      Here’s a fact-centered comparison of Wind vs. Nuclear

      Britain’s cancelled North Devon windfarm was to be a nominal 1200 MW for £4 bn, occupying 77 sq miles of the sea. Nominal capacity is never reached, actual wind generation would be about 300 MW. Hinkley Point C is 3200 MW for 12 bn. My maths has our most expensive nuclear power priced at less than half of our intermittent wind.

      By Mark Pawelek on 2013 11 28

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  • The fact of the matter is this:
    Nuclear is NOT safe. Rogue countries like Iran and N Korea will always ensure that nuclear power is used for the wrong purposes. Nuclear weapons and nuclear power, at this point in history, go hand in hand.

    Where does all the uranium come from? How long will it last? I once heard that there is only enough Uranium to power the world for 50years even if all coal-power plants were transformed to nuclear reactors overnight.
    So, if true, then at best, nuclear is only a stop-gap measure until something else comes along

    Where does all the waste go? How safe is the mining process?
    I live in Australia, our nation supplies most of the world’s uranium. the mining techniques have poor standards, pollute what little water we have, dispossess Aboriginal people and are undertaken in World Heritage Areas. Then there are the leaks, dust contamination and other problems with radioactive tailings

    The waste, dammit! I would rather live in a greenhouse world than one contaminated by radiation! At least i could keep my teeth then!
    There is no solution for the waste problem. We merely shift from one pollutant to another.

    Did i hear someone mention Thorium? Well, the same problems about supply exist. how much thorium is in the world? Can it power all industrialised nations AND meet the growing demands of the developing world?

    Ok let’s pretend there is enough, and we can power everything…how long will it take to build all the plants, and supply the fuel necessary to power even the USA? Decades probably…and given the obvious increasing impacts of climate change is there time enough for such a transition?

    The thing about renewable technologies is that they are here. NOW! Everyone can have a roof-top solar set-up. I do.

    And the elephant in the room…why do we need so much energy anyway? to power our indolence and our toys. we desire energy for frivolous activities. the only productive activity is the manufacture and sale of the toys we crave so desperately. The West is a culture of spoiled children craving more energy so they can accomplish less with their time.

    “oh…i better ‘like’ that comment, is there an app for that? No…i should try my other device…”

     

    By Samuel K Dawson on 2013 11 18

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    • This comment only addresses the availability of Thorium and thorium reactors.

      Mr. Samuel K. Dawson said in part:

      ” Did i hear someone mention Thorium? Well, the same problems about supply exist. how much thorium is in the world? Can it power all industrialised nations AND meet the growing demands of the developing world?”

      A one megawatt electrical generation plant powered by a Thorium nuclear reactor such as a LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor), would burn about one ton of Thorium in a year. In the 60s, a experimental LFTR was run in Tennessee for years and useful data was collected. The program was terminated due to US politics.

      Thorium is spread worldwide, and is about 3 or 4 times more common than Uranium, or about as common as lead on the earth. The official USGS estimate of commercially available Thorium deposits is about 1.9 million tons, and the international estimate is about 2.8 million tons.  Of this world wide amount, the US is credited with 400,000 or 440,000 tons.
      There is some interesting information in Wikipedia, indicating that there is a lot more Thorium readily available that what the USGS is counting.

      “The Lemhi Pass, along the Idaho-Montana border, has one of the world’s largest known high quality thorium deposits. Thorium Energy, Inc. has the mineral rights to approximately 1360 acres (5.5 sq km) of it and states that they have proven thorium oxide reserves of 600 thousand tons and probable reserves of an additional 1.8 million tons within their claim.[74]
      In event of a thorium fuel cycle, Conway granite with 56 (±6) parts per million thorium could provide a major low-grade resource; a 307 sq mile (795 sq km) “main mass” in New Hampshire is estimated to contain over three million metric tons per 100 feet (30 m) of depth (i.e. 1 kg thorium in eight cubic metres of rock), of which two-thirds is “readily leachable”.[75] Even common granite rock with 13 PPM thorium concentration (just twice the crustal average, along with 4 ppm uranium) contains potential nuclear energy equivalent to 50 times the entire rock’s mass in coal,[76] although there is no incentive to resort to such very low-grade deposits so long as much higher-grade deposits remain available and cheaper to extract.[77] Thorium has been produced in excess of demand from the refining of rare earth elements.[78]”

      One of the Thorium ores is Monazite, which is found with rare earth elements. Thus Thorium is a byproduct of mining for rare earth elements. Currently, it is really an unwanted problem as the Thorium from rare earth mining must be handled separately. Some Thorium ingots are buried in the desert in the US just as a place to get rid of them per EPA rules etc.

      Thus there is enough thorium on the earth to power all of the civilizations on the earth for many thousands of years.

      China and India are actively working on Thorium reactor programs.  There are people in the US who are working in the field, but there is no real government support as in China and India. Hopefully China and India will both build successful LFRTs and we will be able to license one or both for use in the US. Then of course, the real contest starts in getting the regulators to allow it to be built, and somehow controlling the anti nuclear and associated environmental communities so that it is built quickly and for a reasonable cost.  Nuclear reactors could be built much more cheaply if the regulators and the folks driving them would back off. France is a good example as their reactors are essentially US designs that were built much cheaper in France than the US as the regulators were controlled.

      By Bob Herderhorst on 2013 11 19

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      • Ben, could you please re-check your LFTR thorium burnup estimate? 360 MWd/t seems low by at least three orders of magnitude. 100% thorium burnup should yield about 900 GWd/t. As should 100% uranium burnup in an IFR.

        The difference being fast neutron uranium reactors have been built and are ready for commercial deployment. And as much as I admire the concept, LFTRs just aren’t. Contrary to common opinion, the ORNL molten-salt reactor experiment never used thorium directly. MSRE successfully tested fuels based on U-233, U235, and Pu-239, but the U-233 was obtained from thorium irradiated at Shippingport, not in the MSRE itself. This was the intent of this first experimental molten-salt reactor; Weinberg envisioned actual thorium conversion for follow-on experiments. Not a criticism so much as a reminder that advanced reactor development takes a long time. LFTR will eventually happen, but still faces a bit of a slog.

        By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 19

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    • You appear a bit confused about waste or spent fuel.  So, how much of it is there?  Nobody that worries about it ever seems to consider that.  In the US, we could take all of the spent fuel from reactors that is waiting to be reprocessed and put it in a couple of warehouses in the North end of NTS Area 11 in Nevada and nobody would have to worry about it.  It isn’t going to contaminate anything.

      The ultimate solution to the spent fuel is reprocessing to separate out the Uranium that is basically unchanged and Plutonium from the fission products which are the real waste.  The Uranium and Plutonium are placed in sealed containers and stored until they are used to fabricate more fuel while the fission products are mixed with a glass like substance and sealed in stainless steel barrels.  The stainless steel barrels would need to be placed in a secure storage location, but only for 1,000 years.  It should also be noted that some of the material in spent fuel is valuable.  Part of the fission products might be refined and sold rather than being vitrified and sequestered.

      By JRT256 on 2013 12 30

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  • I just remembered the good ol’ US of A, has developed a nuclear waste program. Depleted Uranium weapons, like those scintillating “Bunker Busters” used on Saddam 13 years ago.  Good to know when the Uranium in the US plants no longer provides “cheap baseload power” it can be used to blow the crap out of dissenting foreign powers so you can loot all of their fossil-fuels, or uranium, or whatever else takes your fancy.
    Yes, nuclear energy, fuel of today; weapons of the future.
    Thanks America!

    By Samuel K Dawson on 2013 11 18

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  • But nuclear *is* safe—statistically safer than any other energy source on a deaths+injuries / TWh basis. Beats wind by a factor of three, and is that high only if one assumes the LNT hypothesis is actually true. (See Radiation and Reason or The No-Safe-Level Myth, the latter with which you will certainly disagree.)

    N. Korea developed atomic weaponry in absence of commercial nuclear power generation. Iran‘s nuclear weapons program is quite independent from her commercial power program.

    If Australia has no use for her uranium and it costs too much to mine, by all means stop. The world has plenty of uranium; you needn’t feel obliged.

    Uranium an energy-dense resource. The United States alone has enough already mined&refined; uranium and other actinide metals, just in our “spent” nuclear fuel (which some erroneously term ‘waste”) and its DU fabrication by-product, to power this country for a millenium at present consumption rates if burnt in fast neutron reactors. Without mining an additional kilogram.

    Like uranium, its hard to estimate the global amount of extractable thorium as there’s been so little demand and what we do have is stockpiled as spoil from rare-earth mines. I’ve seen estimates that thorium could supply global energy needs at current population and European consumption rates for about 40 to 50 ka.  Not quite forever, but probably long enough to reduce population by factor of ten or twenty so the remainder may comfortably live off hydro and wind. (Or fusion. We will have fusion by then, right? Right???)

    India has a commercial thorium program, but mainly what we have now is uranium. Commercial FNR’s aren’t licensed yet. LWR and CANDU are, and are being built. And they can be built fast enough to do the job, it will require something a bit over the rate France attained in the 80’s and 90’s—in other words, national commitment.

    France was building an average 3.7 plants/year. U.S. generates 4,000 TWh/yr for average 456 GW, of which at present 19% is nuclear and 8% hydro. Replacing the other 73% over a 35-year interval will require 9.5 GW/yr or about 6 reactors/year at 1.5 GW/reactor. (Hinckley Point C will be 3.2 GW nameplate from two reactors.) The actual requirement will be less, as I fully expect renewables—mostly wind+hydro—to supply 20% and perhaps 30%, knocking new nuke build back to 4 to 5 large power reactors each year. That would be 20 to 25 under construction at a given time. At present we have 4—our first new nuclear construction in 30 years.

    To do it all with wind requires 10.5 GW reliable capacity addition each year. At 33% CF and 2 MW nameplate/turbine, that would be 15,750 turbines each year except turbines don’t last more than 10 - 20 years so your probably talking 20,000 / year and still not get the job done because they are intermittent, unreliable, and—contrary to popular opinion—the wind does not “always blow somewhere” and needs to be backed up with something that does. That, and you do run up against decreased economies of scale past market penetration somewhat less than capacity factor, requiring even more turbines, Yes demand management can help. As can electric storage and our limited amount of untapped hydro. But at the end of the day we would still be locking ourselves into perpetual dependence on fossils.

    Increased energy efficiency is necessary, but won’t help much (or any) without concommitent increase in price (Jevons’ Paradox). And it only helps in developed world. As Michael points out, demanding folks living on wood and dung to cut back and live more efficiently condemns them to starve to death in the dark.

    I am heartened you’ve made a personal commitment to rooftop solar. How much of your personal household energy does it supply? How much do you continue to draw from the grid? What (if any) is the subsidy? Do you get grid priority?

    By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 18

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    • We have a 1.5Kw system powering two dwellings.
      Still plugged into the grid with a 60c/KW/h rebate (we were lucky with that, it was a bit of a political football,. the standard rate is now down to as little as 8c/Kw/h which perversely allows power companies to benefit by buying cheap and freely produced energy and then sell it back to the user at 20-25c/Kw/h; Bastards!). our rebate will continue for a couple more years before we are bumped down to 8c rebate, at which point cutting ourselves off from the grid is a possibility.
      Currently it supplies 80% of our energy over winter and we produce an excess in summer…so kinda balances out.
      I don’t know what grid priority is.
      I’ll head out to the Uranium mine in Kakadu National Park, after lunch, and let them know the good news, that there’s plenty of Uranium globally. I’m sure they’ll stop immediately! (Unfortunately Australia likes to see itself as the World’s Quarry and we have such little secondary industry. The mining culture would still sell Uranium at a loss because of the ridiculous subsidies all the miners get, like Diesel fuel rebates).
      What concerns me about the mining process is the winds. Desert winds in Australia will blow dust from the inland as far as New Zealand. So long as the Tailings dams remain wet that’s not a problem, but if they were to dry out and the dust became mobilised, that would be a problem! Something similar happened in the 1960s when inland Nuclear testing contaminated milk across all the Eastern states, and South Australia too (I think). Having a grandfather with half a face from the 1950s testing at Maralinga has somewhat biased me towards Nuclear energy I will admit.
      But why so much energy???
      Light Pollution, in most cities you cannot see the stars. I don’t think anyone is advocating burning dung, but certainly we need to rethink our lifestyles in the West. Western lifestyles are not desirable nor something we should be trying to hold up as an example of prosperity to less developed nations.
      Part of environmentalism, at least where i am from, is about ‘getting back to nature’. Learning some lessons from eastern and indigenous cultures. Again, not about burning dung; but having greater respect for other organisms and the landscape (i.e. No mining). A fusion is needed between the West and other world philosophies, so that we can appreciate what we have; and stop craving more….but this comes back to the current economic paradigm based on limitless growth which is little better than astrology (I refer to Steve Keen http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/ ). Articles such as this “Green meltdown” are implicitly based on the the assumption of the validity of the current economic paradigm, which is really the problem.
      Do we really need that much more? Can everyone live like the yanks, not just energy but food,material goods and housing? Having as much cheap energy as we need implies that such lifestyles is possible, which i suppose is my major concern. Fine, build your nuke plants… But now everyone wants steak and pork for dinner every night of the week…
      Let’s live within our means for once!

      By Samuel K Dawson on 2013 11 19

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  • First off, Thanks to Michael and Ted for encouraging a discussion and re-examination of Nuclear Power. As someone who has lived 12 miles directly downwind (as the wind comes typically from the west along the Connecticut coast) from the the largest operating Nuclear Plant in New England (Millstone) I cannot be characterized as someone who says NIMBY. I also concerned with the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the predictions of climate change models - No one can argue with measurable facts. CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing significantly! Having said all that, the back and forth in this discourse is somewhat specious. Much of what the opponents of Nuclear Power are saying relates to 40 to 50 year old technology, 1st Generation Nuclear Reactors in the West - Light Water Reactors LWRs (ie. Millstone). What the discussion today should center on is Gen 3+ and Gen 4 Nuclear Reactors. Molten Salt Reactors MSRs and Small Modular Reactors SMRs. They are SO different from LWRs that if those supposedly opposed to Nuclear Power become familiar with the benefits that can accrue from their use, perhaps the conversation could be substantive. Right now everyone is just talking past one another.

    By Bryan Chesebrough on 2013 11 19

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    • Bryan, Absolutely right. There’s an attraction to the talking-debating game over the “do something” approach. It is tempting to demonstrate one’s clever use of acronyms in subjects related to nuclear power. There are those so enamored with the discussion game they seem to shun actual activity and projects on the ground.

      Let’s call it the division of the “Doers” vs the “Talkers.”

      The “Doers” are frustrated. They understand action must start NOW if we are to avoid a nasty world that may not be survivable. The action oriented should ban together and part with the Talkers. Let them talk while we promote and build reactors that use the new, much safer technology you describe.

      By William P Gloege on 2013 11 30

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About Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are leading global thinkers on energy, climate, security, human development, and politics. They are founders of the Breakthrough Institute and executive editors of Breakthrough Journal.

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