Exclusive analysis, Part 1: The staggering cost of new nuclear power

A new study puts the generation costs for power from new nuclear plants at from 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour — triple current U.S. electricity rates!

This staggering price is far higher than the cost of a variety of carbon-free renewable power sources available today — and ten times the cost of energy efficiency (see “Is 450 ppm possible? Part 5: Old coal’s out, can’t wait for new nukes, so what do we do NOW?“).

nuke-costs.jpgThe new study, Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power, is one of the most detailed cost analyses publically available on the current generation of nuclear power plants being considered in this country. It is by a leading expert in power plant costs, Craig A. Severance. A practicing CPA, Severance is co-author of The Economics of Nuclear and Coal Power (Praeger 1976), and former Assistant to the Chairman and to Commerce Counsel, Iowa State Commerce Commission.

This important new analysis is being published by Climate Progress because it fills a critical gap in the current debate over nuclear power — transparency. Severance explains:

All assumptions, and methods of calculation are clearly stated. The piece is a deliberate effort to demystify the entire process, so that anyone reading it (including non-technical readers) can develop a clear understanding of how total generation costs per kWh come together.

As stunning as this new, detailed cost estimate is, it should not come as a total surprise. I detailed the escalating capital costs of nuclear power in my May 2008 report, “The Self-Limiting Future of Nuclear Power.” And in a story last week on nuclear power’s supposed comeback, Time magazine notes that nuclear plants’ capital costs are “out of control,” concluding:

Most efficiency improvements have been priced at 1¢ to 3¢ per kilowatt-hour, while new nuclear energy is on track to cost 15¢ to 20¢ per kilowatt-hour. And no nuclear plant has ever been completed on budget.

Time buried that in the penultimate paragraph of the story!

Yet even Time‘s rough estimate is too low, as Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power quantifies in detail. Here is the Executive Summary:

It has been an entire generation since nuclear power was seriously considered as an energy option in the U.S. It seems to have been forgotten that the reason U.S. utilities stopped ordering nuclear power plants was their conclusion that nuclear power’s business risks and costs proved excessive.

With global warming concerns now taking traditional coal plants off the table, U.S. utilities are risk averse to rely solely on natural gas for new generation. Many U.S. utilities are diversifying through a combination of aggressive load reduction incentives to customers, better grid management, and a mixture of renewable energy sources supplying zero-fuel-cost kWh’s, backed by the KW capacity of natural gas turbines where needed. Some U.S. utilities, primarily in the South, often have less aggressive load reduction programs, and view their region as deficient in renewable energy resources. These utilities are now exploring new nuclear power.

Estimates for new nuclear power place these facilities among the costliest private projects ever undertaken. Utilities promoting new nuclear power assert it is their least costly option. However, independent studies have concluded new nuclear power is not economically competitive.

Given this discrepancy, nuclear’s history of cost overruns, and the fact new generation designs have never been constructed any where, there is a major business risk nuclear power will be more costly than projected. Recent construction cost estimates imply capital costs/kWh (not counting operation or fuel costs) from 17-22 cents/kWh when the nuclear facilities come on-line. Another major business risk is nuclear’s history of construction delays. Delays would run costs higher, risking funding shortfalls. The strain on cash flow is expected to degrade credit ratings.

Generation costs/kWh for new nuclear (including fuel & O&M but not distribution to customers) are likely to be from 25 – 30 cents/kWh. This high cost may destroy the very demand the plant was built to serve. High electric rates may seriously impact utility customers and make nuclear utilities’ service areas noncompetitive with other regions of the U.S. which are developing lower-cost electricity.

I am not saying here that nuclear power will play no role in the fight to stay below 450 ppm of atmospheric CO2 concentrations and avoid catastrophic climate outcomes. Indeed, I have been including a full wedge of nuclear in my 12 to 14 wedges “solution” to global warming here. It may, however, be time to reconsider that, since it is increasingly clear achieving even one wedge of nuclear will be a very time-consuming and expensive proposition, probably costing $6 to $8 trillion and sharply driving up electricity prices.

Given the myriad low-carbon, much-lower-cost alternatives to nuclear power available today — such as efficiency, wind, solar thermal baseload, solar PV, geothermal, and recycled energy (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions“) — the burden is on the nuclear industry to provide its own detailed, public cost estimates that it is prepared to stand behind in public utility commission hearings.

What is unique about this new analysis is its transparency: “all assumptions, and methods of calculation are clearly stated.” As Severance explains:

In contrast to this transparency, many nuclear promoters have adopted a “Black Box” approach. It has unfortunately been the case over the last couple of years that some utilities have begun to claim that even rudimentary basics of their nuclear cost estimates must be hidden from the public as “trade secrets”. For instance, in the South Carolina Electric & Gas proposal to build two reactors now under consideration by the South Carolina PSC, there is literally a large “box” obscuring the bulk of the calculations in the SC E&G Exhibit which presents the utility’s projection of construction and financing costs for the proposed two-unit facility. In a different case, Duke Energy claimed that it does not even have to disclose its new cost estimates for a proposed nuclear facility in Cherokee County, S.C.. In the Duke case, C. Dukes Scott, South Carolina’s consumer advocate, who represents the public in utility rate cases, noted, “If the cost wasn’t confidential in February,” Scott said, “how is it confidential in April?”

Even when no effort to conceal information is apparent, the very terminology used when projections are presented can be confusing or misleading. For instance, in 2007 when a number of new nuclear proposals began to advance, it was common for “Overnight Cost” estimates to be quoted. For a project (such as solar or wind) whose construction period may be as short as several months, the difference between an “overnight” cost and the full cost to complete the project may not be significant. However, for a nuclear project that may typically take a decade to complete, cost escalations that occur during this long construction period, plus the financing costs during construction, may easily double the total cost of a project compared to its “overnight” cost. When the full picture is presented, some may perceive the total cost estimate has mysteriously doubled. However, it simply should have been stated clearly to begin with that major escalation and financing costs cannot be avoided when it takes a long time to complete a project. Failure to do so is tantamount to selling someone a house with “teaser” initial mortgage payments and failing to make clear that the mortgage payments will later reset to a much higher level.

Another mysterious “black box” presentation method is to fold the overall costs of the new facility into the general rate base of the utility, without ever mentioning what the generation costs per kWh of the nuclear unit will be. Instead, it is often only presented how total costs per kWh for all ratepayers will increase — which includes kWh’s generated by existing generation units. (For instance, if a nuclear unit is to supply 20% of the kWh’s for the utility when it comes on line, any cost increase per kWh appears to only be 1/5 as large because the additional costs are also spread over the 80% of kWh’s generated by other facilities, even though those other facilities did not cause the rate increase.) While it is important to know the impact on final overall retail electric rates, it is also important to know the generation costs per kWh from the nuclear facility. If this step is “skipped” in public presentations, the nuclear units (or any new generation power source that is more expensive than existing units) can appear far cheaper than their real impact.

The Paper takes the approach that it is best to lay out in detail “how you got that number” at each step of the way. All parties can then proceed to have discussions based upon real numbers rather than mysterious “Black Box” secrets.

So feel free to criticize the analysis, but anyone offering different all-in cost estimates for power from new nuclear plants should detail their own assumptions and calculation. And simply pointing to the operating costs of existing paid-off nuclear plants doesn’t count as detailed analysis — my home would be very cheap to live in if I didn’t have a mortgage.

Also, it’s fine to call for aggressively developing 4th generation nuclear plants (as James Hansen does) — I’m all for such R&D — but that won’t help us meet 2020 climate targets, and probably won’t help us significantly meet 2030 targets. In any case, it is impossible to accurately project the real world all-in costs of noncommercial technologies that are still largely sitting on the drawing board.

The full study is here.

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113 Responses to Exclusive analysis, Part 1: The staggering cost of new nuclear power

  1. Wes Rolley says:

    Thankfully, this study made the light of day while everything is still in flux as far as new legislation goes. It is obviously time to pull the plug on Federal subsidies for nuclear, oil, natural gas and coal. Make all of the costs transparent, including the hit total medical costs that we all are going to have to bear.

    This is very useful and I have already been sending it to the nuclear hawks I know and challenging their Libertarian souls to act.

    Wes Rolley CoChair EcoAction Committee, Green Party US

  2. Kaj Luukko says:

    I don’t know where this kind of information has come. Nuclear power all over the world is used to generate base load because it is low cost energy. Why would new nuclear power be this expensive? I totally agree with James Lovelock in this issue. And I classify this kind of studies as bullshit.

    The truth is that there is not one and only form of energy which will solve the problem. We need all the non-fossil, also nuclear.

    You are right; nuclear power can not be built quickly. Building of it should never have been stopped. Who is to blame for this? Yes, people who wanted to save the world. So they caused larger CO2 emissions instead.

  3. darth says:

    The only thing Luukko missed in the previous post was the old complaint that the eviromental regs are what make nukes so expensive. If those kooky environmentalists would just stop filing lawsuits and let the nuclear powers be, everything would be fine.

    Yeah right, and this was originally sold as the power that is ‘too cheap to meter’.

    How about specific numbers and sources for them Luukko?

  4. Richard says:

    I am curious how some of the newer designs fit into this. Some, such as Pebble Bed Reactors, are small, modular, have enhanced safety details that overcome problems with current designs and may offer a substantially reduced cost. In addition, these plants have properties that may make desalination efforts feasible using excess heat.

    While the behemoths that used to be built need to be retired, is there a place for something like the Pebble Bed Reactor that is being built in South Africa?

  5. Kaj Luukko says:

    You obviously missed the point or I failed to explain it.

    There is no need to discuss about this. We will see when the new power plant under construction is completed in my country. It will become the biggest in the world with an output of 1600 MW. It is easily calculated how many tons of CO2 it will eliminate during its 60 years lifetime.

    This blog is among the best and I read it daily. Its clear that we have the same concerns about the climate and that is most important, I think. But obviously we have a slightly different vision about the solutions.

    I know I may sound like a climate skeptic when talking about nuclear power but I’m not.

  6. Could it be that strong demand is driving high price?

  7. Kevin Lahey says:

    Going to have to agree with darth on this one.

    I remember in the 70s when every discussion of Nuclear Power said that it was cheaper than every other kind. Of course, living here in Illinois, everytime that a new plant was finished they said they had to raise the rates to pay for it. Our electricity was some of the highest in the country.

    I kept an eye out and if you read the papers at the time it was easy to find articles about studies that showed that every state that had high electricity rates had high numbers of nuclear plants. The states that had low rates were the ones with no nuclear plants.

    Of course, it was also easy to find articles that still claimed that nuclear was by far the cheapest. I never once found anyone who even ATTEMPTED to explain why the electricity rates were so high if it was so much cheaper.

    I often had a hard time trusting the nuke industry. They seemed to spend a lot more time covering their ass then building a safe, efficient industry. But if nuclear was the only way out of the Global Warming mess then I’d say go for it. But no, it isn’t the only way.

    If I’m wrong then simply build a plant, lower electricity rates, and then stay in business for a year. If you can do that then I’d say build and build and provided subsidies and do what ever is needed to get a hundred plants built. 200. 300!

    But the nuclear industry isn’t going to do that. In fact they aren’t going to try. They know as well as I do that it costs to much. But they’ll kept talking about how cheap it is and how it is our only way to forward… if only someone would give then $10 or $20 or $40 billion.

  8. Bill says:

    I read the study, and it appears to rely on obsolete data and studies to repeat the same tired arguments. First, it only looks at old nuclear technology, saying since no one has built a newer technology plant, how do we know what it will cost?
    Absurd. Engineers and builders can tell you what it will cost, within a range, and once you start construction you can lock in a price. We do know, however, that from a design perspective, 4th generation nuclear facilities will cost substantially less, as we are no longer relying on LWR technology. We also know they won’t produce a waste issue, since they are designed to recycle their own waste, and, indeed, will solve our existing waste issue, as it would be used as fuel. Once we make the shift to thorium from uranium we won’t even face non-proliferation risks.
    What we should do is declare a moratorium on existing 2 gen facilities, such as what Areva wants to build here in the US. Areva prefers old technology because they have built their business around it (both front end and back end). Instead, let’s go ahead and build new 4 gen facilities, with both Fast Reactor technology and Thorium. Let those two compete for market share.
    You will then find nuclear to be far more cost competitive, and far better for the environment. And, yes, we can do it before 2020. In ten years we can have them up and running. All we need is some leadership.

  9. crf says:

    “Nuclear power all over the world is used to generate base load because it is low cost energy.”

    Did you read Severance’s report, Kay Lukko? It says exactly what I have believed for a long time. Nuclear isn’t built because, in the real world, it is expensive compared to other sources of power, and so it is hard to finance. It may be expensive even if one costs in carbon savings (something that hasn’t yet been tested in the real world). The report identifies, historically, the nuclear power industry’s real, quantifiable costs, and mentions some harder to quantify ones.

    It is a comical idea, expressed by Kay Luukko and by many others on the internet (often conspiracy-minded greenish pseudo-libertarians), that environmentalists have such a huge influence in energy policy amongst politicians and financiers that they’re the reason we’ve largely stopped building Nuclear. The reason there are many coal plants is largely because there is no carbon tax (or equivalent), coal is cheap, and engineering coal plants is inexpensive and well-understood. So our capitalist system finances them. In others words, the reason is the most obvious one, money. It is not because some environmentalists made a decision that Nuclear was worse than Coal – Global Warming be damned – and then secretly wrote the nation’s energy policy to reflect this view, increasing coal use at the expense of nuclear. What a lark! What a great fairy tale!

    Some large portion of the Nuclear Power that we actually have has not come about by winning a financial cost competition with other sources of energy. As mentioned in the report, governments are willing to pay for nuclear by large direct subsidies, in order to maintain a supply of energy free from the vagaries of the oil market, or indirect subsidies to civilian nuclear power by initially over-paying for knowledge and materials for military reactors for bomb-making. The nuclear industry was also subsidised by programs like “atoms for peace”, in which nuclear knowledge was use to purchase political influence in western-allied countries (which isn’t costed-out in dollars).

    Canada never had clear bomb-making ambitions, and it has massively indebted itself to pay for nuclear power, by subsidising its power directly, and subsidising construction and research, and, in ways that are not solely costed out in dollars, tolerating bungling mismanagement and risky over-reaching in the industry’s technical capabilities.

    The latter is the biggest problem with civilian nuclear power in the United States, in my opinion (it’s a management problem, not a pure financial-cost one, but it leads, inevitably, to increased financial costs). It goes beyond the clear examples of privitisation of profits and socialisation of risks mentioned in Severance’s report.

    One criticism I have with trying to financially cost-out nuclear is that the cost of carbon emissions from competing sources of power are often ignored (and hard to quantify at any rate). And besides that, I don’t think money-costs should be considered the best, let alone the sole, measure of whether an enormous policy choice, such as dramatically increasing nuclear’s share of power, should be taken, even though such analysis is still useful, since we have to keep our eyes open to all costs. For example, Severance report quotes one reason given for unforseen cost increases: “lack of skilled workers, supply bottlenecks for imported heavy components, significant increases in key commodity prices.” Those reasons for cost increases are hard to quantify in financial terms, and even if they were quantified, post-case, for a single project, the analysis might not scale forward to the case of, say, building 80 new plants.

  10. Tom C. says:

    Thanks to Mr. Severance for his new report which strips back the costs of new nuclear reactor projects.

    In December, during the hearing on the South Carolina Electric & Gas application for rate payers to start footing the bill far in advance of construction of two new reactors, company officials reused to go on record with a maximum kwh cost or maximum overall reactor cost. The company also testified that it hasn’t conducted a “demand-side management” analysis but will do so in the future. In places like South Carolina where “construction work in progress” exists, the sky will be the limit on costs of these nuclear projects. If the risk were not shifted to rate payers the company would never go for nukes and would have to look at least-cost DSM options like efficiency and conservation.

    As for breeder reactors, the reprocessing scam and thorium reactors, let them proceed without redistribution of tax payer wealth to the private companies which stand to gain. Are backers of these projects ready to affirm that you disavow government subsidies? Areva, which has thrived on French socialist handouts for its reprocessing program, could never go it alone. I will affirm that we here in South Carolina will fight to stop the DOE’s Savannah River Site from being the spent fuel dumping site for a reprocessing program that will create an environmental mess and transfers billions to special interests.

  11. This is clearly a biased study and after reading it twice, I’m having a tough time understanding some of the reasons for Mr. Severance’s calculations. Not only that, the results differ drastically from at least one of the studies he references.

    I understand how he gets capital costs of $10,553/kW for a new nuclear plant. All he did was take FPL’s overnight costs ($4,070/kW) and then apply a few overly-conservative financial assumptions to calculate that number. Okay fine. What I don’t get is how this calculates to 22 cents per kWh as supposedly explained on page 18. For instance, what’s this “capital recovery factor” that’s used on page 18 and why isn’t it explained elsewhere in the report? Also, when comparing Mr. Severance’s results to the Lazard study he cites earlier, how come the results for nuclear are drastically different?

    Here’s the Lazard study Mr. Severance references:
    The Lazard study assumes a range of “total capital” costs for nuclear of $5,750-$7,550/kW (page 12, this is equal to Severance’s “All in estimated construction cost”). Lazard calculates nuclear’s “total capital” costs to range from 9.1 – 11.9 cents per kWh (pages 8 and 9). Yet somehow at only $2,500/kW more, Severance gets a number of 22 cents/kWh for a levelized capital cost, nearly twice Lazard’s number. Either some cherry-picking is going on here or someone made a calculation error and I doubt it was Lazard.

    Joe, you claim that Mr. Severance’s study “fills a critical gap” in the debate over nuclear power because it’s transparent. Yet the study provides no more transparency than FPL’s study or some of the studies Severance references. All of yours and Mr. Severance’s base assumptions come from nuclear industry studies. So I don’t get how this study is any more transparent. Also, where did you get the four paragraphs you quote in your blog about this “Black Box” approach? It’s nowhere mentioned in Severance’s study.

    Here’s one of the flawed parts of Severance’s study. Page 10 claims that “Important studies have concluded that several already existing technologies have significantly lower cost per kWh than new nuclear power – including technologies fully compatible with a carbon reduced future, such as wind power, biomass, land fill gas, and natural gas combined cycle.” The only study Severance mentions is the Lazard study. What’s unique about the Lazard study is they showed that if you take away the tax incentives from renewables, they’re just as expensive as nuclear, see page 5 of Lazard. So I’d say Severance’s study is a bit disingenuous to claim renewables are cheaper when government subsidies are factored in…don’t you think?

  12. I would be interested in what others think about the conclusions about nuclear power at:

    The author says that even with breeder reactors, the fuel for nuclear reactors is not sustainable.

  13. David

    “So I’d say Severance’s study is a bit disingenuous to claim renewables are cheaper when government subsidies are factored in…don’t you think?”

    Want to talk subsidies?

    Nuclear has received about $100 billion in subsidies in the U.S. over the years.

    The fossil fuel industry gets $49 billion a year, $39 billion of that for the oil industry.

    By comparison the tax credits for renewables voted against 8 times last year by Republicans, is $17 billion for all the renewables combined. But they won’t touch the oil subsidies.

    According to a study- Koplow’s 2007 report to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development:

    “Estimating U.S. oil and gas subsidies is very challenging. Subsidies rarely involve cash payments. Instead scores of U.S. government agencies and departments create hundreds of programmes to support the U.S. energy sector. And there is no requirement for the federal government to keep track of all this.”

    “Energy subsidies are often simply hidden from public scrutiny. It’s only recently been revealed that 40 companies granted leases between 1996 and 2000 for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico do not have to pay royalties for the publicly-owned resource. This is worth nearly a billion dollars a year in lost revenue to the federal government, according to a 2008 study by Friends of the Earth (FOE), a U.S. environmental NGO, and may ultimately total 50 billion dollars.”

    “Subsidy programms from 1918 are still in place. “I’m not aware of any oil and gas subsidy that has ever been phased out,”

    “In a time of skyrocketing oil prices and profits, why did the George W. Bush administration in 2005 authorise an additional 32.9 billion dollars in new subsidies over a five-year period?”

    “This massive government intervention distorts energy markets, making it very difficult for alternative energy sources to compete without similarly massive subsidies. ‘And it promotes America’s addiction to oil,’ Larsen added.”

  14. Richard, do you have a source for nuclear’s $100B in subsidies from “over the years”? The link you provided didn’t even mention nuclear. If you do have a source for the $100B I bet most of the dollars went to research and development. The dollars towards R&D have little effect in reducing the price of power from a nuclear plant compared to say a production tax credit for renewables.

    Don’t get the impression that I’m complaining about subsidies for renewables though, hardly. All I’m saying is that if you want to do a fair analysis on costs, that little aspect needs to be mentioned. Severance’s study fails to do so.

  15. Red Craig says:

    The paper suffers from the same problems all papers do that are written solely to reach a predetermined conclusion.

    The author bases all his nuclear-cost calculations on worst-case assumptions. Some nuclear plants have seen cost over-runs because of litigation from political groups, but others have been built on schedule and within budget. But the writer assumes that all future plants will face the same political attacks. The world would be better served if people were given accurate information instead of anti-nuclear propaganda like this article.

    To illustrate the author’s separation from reality, consider this quotation from his article: “Energy storage and load management offer additional solutions to reduce, shift and better manage loads. Pumped-water and compressed-air energy storage as well as utility-scale batteries are now being implemented.” A more false statement could hardly be imagined. Not only are there no large-scale energy storage systems being implemented, not only are none to be implemented in the foreseeable future, there is no imaginable system on the distant horizon. For more on this point, please look at Solar Energy, Wind Power, Intermittency, and Storage.

    The author believes that reducing electricity demand will solve the problem. Not so. The most effective thing that can be done to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is converting fossil-fuel applications to electricity — battery-powered cars, electrified rail transport, heat pumps in place of furnaces, etc. etc. Electricity demand will definitely rise, not fall.

    Typical of such anti-nuclear polemics, this article references a study by Cambridge Energy Research Associates that calculated the construction cost of obsolete reactor designs using obsolete manufacturing and construction methods at current prices. The CERA study ignores actual data of contemporary designs available from countries that are building nuclear plants. This data shows the CERA study to be wildly wrong.

    As would be expected, the author nowhere considers the costs of alternatives to nuclear energy, which have risen in parallel with nuclear costs for the very same reasons. He also leaves out the pertinent fact that most wind turbines, which are the only renewable energy source close to competing with nuclear, are imported from Asia, where workers’ pay and safety standards are much lower. The heavy subsidies wind projects get now benefit foreigners much more than they do Americans. Since the US is running an unsupportable trade deficit, it’s not clear at all how this can proceed.

    All the author has achieved is proving that by carefully selecting material that serves his purpose and ignoring inconvenient facts he can succeed in confusing his readers.

  16. Bob Wright says:

    Something to keep an eye on: China has two, maybe 4, Westinghouse GenIII AP1000 nukes underway. They plan on as many as 100 – some on steroids at 1700+ MW by 2025. Lets see how Westinghousehouse and China get this done, organizing suppliers all over the world for their modular reactors. Price could go as low as $1b/reactor? Of course, environmentalists have a little more trouble expressing their concerns in China.

    Pretty soon they will be well along the learning curve, and if you can get a reactor shell out of Japan Steel (take a number and call back in a couple years), your nuke could be ready to go as fast as you can do the cooling tower. Lots of high fives in Monroeville, PA!

  17. Kaj Luukko says:

    I am not an economist but I do not understand why the lot of energy consuming industry (paper and steel) wants to build nuclear power if it is expensive? Here in Finland were plans to build the fifth plant already in the early 90s, but the parliament said no. And finally now, almost 20 years later, it is under construction. During the time new coal, gas and peat power plants were built. And more electricity was imported from Russia.

    How much do you pay for electricity as a private citizen? I pay about 10 euro-cents per kWh. Approximately 26% of the electricity comes from nuclear. Availability of our nuclear plants are very high, about 94…97 %. Nuclear power IS generating the base-load, because it is the cheapest. Coal comes AFTER nuke, this is a fact.

    Price of nuclear energy includes also waste-processing costs so there are no hided costs.

    So this is an example from the real life! I don’t understand why to make this more complicated that it is. Who is cheating here? And why?

  18. miggs says:

    Yes, nukes are pricey — very pricey. And there are far better options on that front, like cogeneration. I’m associated with Recycled Energy Development, which does cogeneration. That means putting small power plants on site at manufacturing facilities, etc., and achieving high efficiency by “recycling” waste heat into more power and steam. Government estimates say energy recycling technologies would cut U.S. greenhouse gases by 20% — as much as if we took every car off the road. Meanwhile, we’d save some $70 billion a year (which is probably a conservative estimate). We need to stop talking about nukes and start looking more at expanding cogen.

  19. Craig Severance says:

    The author of the Study, Craig Severance, replies:

    I am already encouraged that the Study is beginning to have the effect hoped for – that is, we are beginning to have a discussion about real facts and numbers, not bald-faced assertions. There is no need for any ideological wars – I think all of those who join this discussion are convinced we need to move to lower-carbon solutions as quickly as possible.. Also, none of us expect the population will en masse go “off the grid” and move back to the land. We will need a reliable electrical grid. With those issues out of the way, we are simply discussing what are the most cost-effective ways to achieve carbon reductions, while protecting the electric utility industry from making disastrous mistakes that could position itself for insolvency and the need for government bailout.

    When we get to the end of a government budget hearing, or more personally, to the end of a month, we all experience reality – cost is NOT irrelevant. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has argued persuasively that every new nuclear plant will actually worsen climate change, compared with devoting the same money and time to more effective options. (Nuclear Illusion, Amory B. Lovins and Imran Sheikh). Those who say we should “Do it All” for energy don’t pretend we can fund every highway project (including Bridges to Nowhere), send every kid to graduate school, fight every war, etc. (For a satirical discussion of this point, see my Denver Post Guest Commentary at: )

    Some specific points deserve a response:

    • Kaj Luukko makes the point that nuclear power is used all over the world as a “baseload” power plant. In utility operational practice, a “baseload” plant is the one that is not cycled down because cycling it down does not save marginal costs of operation. For instance, it is common to minimize the use of power plants with high fuel costs (e.g. oil, and natural gas single-cycle peaking plants) because shutting those plants down when not needed can save significant marginal costs. Nuclear plants have not been designed to load-cycle, and it would not make sense to do so if their fuel costs remain lower than other choices. This does not mean, however, that the overall costs/kWh of the nuclear plants are cheap. A baseload plant is still operated as a baseload plant, even if it has the most expensive overall cost per kWh. (“You made your bed, now lay in it” applies.)
    • Richard and others ask about how all this applies to newer – (Generation 4+) designs. The Paper does not discuss those future designs now in R&D. We are talking about the reactors now being permitted through the NRC for construction over the next decade, which are a new generation design but are still not modular, pebble-bed, thorium, etc.. However, the overall principles of how you would run costs through to an overall cost/kWh would still apply to future designs, and to any other new power plant such as solar, wind, or geothermal.
    • Kaj Luukko discusses the Finnish reactor under construction. I discuss this in the Paper, and interestingly the very article which Kaj references notes regarding the Olkiuoto reactor under construction “the project is over two years behind schedule and at least 50% over budget, the loss for the provider being estimated at €1.5 billion. It remains unclear who will cover the additional cost.” This is precisely a case in point.
    • Richard Pauli asks” could it be that strong demand is driving high price?” This is precisely the case, as discussed in the Paper. There is strong worldwide demand, driven by the exploding economies of China and India, for the people, commodities, manufacturing capacities, et. al. necessary to build all kinds of new power plants, as reflected in the Power Capital Costs Index referenced in the Paper. Refer to Joe’s article “Power Plant Costs Double Since 2000 – Efficiency Anyone?” cited at the bottom of the article. ( Incidentally, the PCCI did not drop like a rock like other indices the past year.)
    • Bill argues that the Study “appears to rely on obsolete data” and is referring only to “old nuclear technology”. Bill – did you even read the Study? While the Study does go through the (quite relevant) history of this industry, its new cost estimates are derived from Dockets for new generation reactors. For instance, the Overnight Cost Estimates used were taken directly from Florida P&L’s docket for the proposed Turkey Point 6&7 reactors, which are two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, a new generation design which it is correctly stated, has never been built anywhere in the world. Bill states “once you start construction, you can lock in a price”. Perhaps SC E&G needed Bill as their negotiator for their Engineering & Procurement Contract – no U.S. nuclear vendor is going to risk suffering the kinds of losses from “turnkey” (fixed price) clauses that Areva is now suffering at Olkiuoto.
    • David Bradish raises some very specific questions. 1) The conversion of the “All-In” cost to construct of $10,553/KW, into $/kWh, is laid out on Page 18 of the study. If you examine the footnotes on that page, you will see that the Capital Recovery Factor is a regulatory concept, equivalent in concept to a “Mortgage Payment Calculator” that results in a (nominal dollars) level amount per year, just like your home mortgage fixed P&I payment. This regulatory method is actually more conservative than the alternative “depreciation expense, plus Cost of Capital applied to un-depreciated remaining balance” method, because the latter method tends to show a higher amount in the early years. 2) David apparently did not see my caution (Footnote 51, p. 24) that the Lazard study was a “2007 dollars levelized cost” methodology comparing different technologies. It thus compares well within itself across technologies, but not at all to estimates in nominal dollars. Since the “2007 levelized dollars” are a past year’s dollars (and actually, even more different than that since they are life cycle costs), they tend to seem to be estimating a much lower cost than what customers will actually have to pay when the plant opens. The cost projection for first full year of operation presented in my study is clearly stated as nominal dollars, and I clearly state it is not directly comparable to Lazard’s numbers. Ratepayers will pay nominal dollars. 3) David also notes that I used FP&L’s docket for a starting point of “Overnight Cost”. I did this because FP&L’s Docket is actually far more transparent in stating its assumptions than the utilities I cited when discussing the “Black Box.” 4) The “Black Box” quote came from correspondence between myself and Joe Romm, not from the text of the study. 5.) Finally, David argues about the competitiveness of renewables being dependent on their tax credits. This has been well discussed by others (nuclear & fossil fuels have inherent subsidies) but in Lazard’s analysis it is also clear wind and geothermal, with no tax incentives, are in the same or lower cost range than Lazard projected for nuclear. Solar needs extra help for awhile.
    • Red Craig states that the study assumes “worst case” scenarios and mentions “litigation”. The cost assumptions in the study clearly state that absolutely no delays from the construction schedules presented by utilities now proposing new nuclear plants were assumed. Clearly, if delays did occur, these would increase costs – but such a “worst case” scenario is specifically not developed. (In fact, I contemplated including a third case with less optimistic assumptions, but it was so bad I settled on using assumptions strictly drawn from previous sources such as the MIT study, CERA, FP&L, etc.) Red seems to think the cost studies are using old data from prior generation nukes. However, if you plot the CERA PCCI cost escalations against studies which are all concerned with new generation reactors such as the MIT study ($2000/KW in 2002 dollars) and the cost estimates developed by utilities promoting nuclear power in 2007 (over $4000/KW in 2007 dollars), the PCCI escalation is almost identical to the change from 2002 to 2007, in these independent cost estimates – for new generation reactors. Finally, Red wants us to buy American. Good idea. Where exactly does Red think the reactor vessels are coming from, as well as the uranium?

  20. Bob Wright says:

    Uncle Sam could get Bethlehem Forge a nice great big reactor vessel mold for Christmas!

  21. Mark Walker says:

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    From:, as posted December 3, 2008 3:04 PM

    EPR history repeating: costs up 20 per cent at Flamanville

    You might be forgiven for thinking it was EPR week on Nuclear Reaction. This is the third article about Areva’s ill-fated ‘state of the art’ European Pressurized Reactor this week. And it’s only Wednesday.

    To tell the truth though, with the torrent of tales of disaster coming out of the much troubled EPR construction sites in Finland and France, pretty much every week is EPR week. In fact, the stories come so thick and fast we’re struggling to keep our forthcoming EPR briefing paper up to date.

    Today’s news is that EDF, partners in the EPR construction at Flamanville in France, are to announce today that the cost of power generated by the reactor will be 20 per cent more expensive than planned. That’s 55 euros a megawatt hour instead of the 46 euros promised in May 2006 when the project began meaning the project will cost a total of €4 billion, up from the original €3.3 billion.

    And with the reactor’s completion slipping a year to 2013, it looks like the history of the EPR construction in Olkiluoto, Finland is repeating itself in Flamanville.

  22. Alex J says:

    Thanks for the clarifications, Craig.

    I for one am hoping that under the new administration, most energy subsidy/incentive programs (including for corn ethanol beyond 10% blending) will be scrapped. Then, a scientific panel should advise as to prioritization. Over the years, there seems to have been too much corporate influence, and we need a re-assessment.

  23. Bill Woods says:

    Since Craig Severance is reading this, perhaps he’d explain
    A) Why does money borrowed at 6% wind up costing 15%?
    B) What figure is he using for the time to construct a plant? It seems to be ~10 years, but that would include the years spent in planning and permitting, during which expenses are maybe as much as $100 million.
    C) Why does he use a capacity factor of 80%, when nowadays 90% or better is the norm?
    D) “To proceed with a nuclear plant, one must assume that after decades of failure, all the technical and political problems in the way of nuclear waste disposal will be quickly resolved.” Uh, why? We’ve been making shift with various ‘temporary’ solutions for decades. Why can’t we continue to totter along until Sen. Reid goes to his reward?

  24. Ed says:

    I read the full report. I am unable to fully reconcile the outcome with the economic analysis (and subsequent references) included in the OECD’s recent Nuclear Energy Outlook. A few specific remarks:

    In Severance’s analyses, why are plant lifetimes limited to 40 years? Many US reactors, with near 40 years of service behind them, are being licensed for another 20 years.

    What are the impacts of advanced fuel designs (extended burnup, use of MOX fuel, etc.)?

    Why no mention of first of a kind (FOAK) vs. n-th of a kind costs included with discussion of the new reactor in Finland?

    Why no mention of decreasing nuclear facility construction schedules in developed countries with increasing construction experience (notably Japan)?

    One final clarification: I believe no ‘next generation’ plants are being considered in the USA. True next generation (Gen IV) plants are deemed to be ‘revolutionary’ designs (high temperature, molten salt, liquid metal, fast reactors, etc.). I believe Severance is getting confused with the more ‘evolutionary’ Gen III+ such as the ABWR, AP-1000 and EPR designs currently being proposed in the US. A key attribute of the Gen IV designs is considerably lower capital costs. Gen III+ plants are also working to cut these costs through a variety of modern construction techniques (that have been demonstrated to be effective for recent n-th plant construction projects – principally in Asia).

  25. Bob Wright says:

    Argonne Lab is working on novel recycling processes with an aim of reducing waste by 90% and substantially improving the yield of the initial uranium. It won’t be ready for a while, but might extend uranium supplies until the fast reactors are ready to deploy.

    The Russians want to be big in fuel recycling, but they can let things get dirty.

  26. In the expanding global depression, we will have spare electric power.

    The top story of the year is that global crude oil production peaked in 2008.

    The media, governments, world leaders, and public should focus on this issue.

    Global crude oil production had been rising briskly until 2004, then plateaued for four years. Because oil producers were extracting at maximum effort to profit from high oil prices, this plateau is a clear indication of Peak Oil.

    Then in July and August of 2008 while oil prices were still very high, global crude oil production fell nearly one million barrels per day, clear evidence of Peak Oil (See Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly,” December 2008, page 1)

    Peak Oil is now.

    Credit for accurate Peak Oil predictions (within a few years) goes to the following (projected year for peak given in parentheses):

    * Association for the Study of Peak Oil (2007)

    * Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly” (2008)

    * Tony Eriksen, Oil stock analyst and Samuel Foucher, oil analyst (2008)

    * Matthew Simmons, Energy investment banker, (2007)

    * T. Boone Pickens, Oil and gas investor (2007)

    * U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2005)

    * Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton professor and retired shell geologist (2005)

    * Sam Sam Bakhtiari, Retired Iranian National Oil Company geologist (2005)

    * Chris Skrebowski, Editor of “Petroleum Review” (2010)

    * Sadad Al Husseini, former head of production and exploration, Saudi Aramco (2008)

    * Energy Watch Group in Germany (2006)

    Oil production will now begin to decline terminally.

    Within a year or two, it is likely that oil prices will skyrocket as supply falls below demand. OPEC cuts could exacerbate the gap between supply and demand and drive prices even higher.

    Independent studies indicate that global crude oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

    Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. There is no plan nor capital for a so-called electric economy. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: “Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:”

    “By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame.”

    With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won’t be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated building systems.

    It is time to focus on Peak Oil preparation and surviving Peak Oil.

  27. I wonder what kind of geothermal power plants we could have if
    geothermal would receive similar subsidies as nuclear power plants. It
    seems odd that we were able to bring man to moon and back almost
    50 years ago and today we do not seem to have technology to drill holes
    into the ground.

  28. Craig, thanks for a response. A few things are still bugging me about the methodology of the study. First, your study claims that the alternatives are cheaper than nuclear yet you didn’t do any calculations showing what their costs would be in nominal dollars. The study comes up with a huge cost number for nuclear and basically says that the alternatives are cheaper without any numbers. Joe demands transparency from the nuclear industry, yet there’s no transparency in the study about the costs for the alternatives.

    Second, the “capital recovery factor” of .1457 you use is the most debatable in my opinion. Most power plants, including nuclear plants, are set up to pay off their plants in 20 years, not 40. If we assume a CRF period of 20 years, then the CRF is .155 (just barely above your factor). This translates into a cost of 24 cents/kWh for capital costs for the first 20 years and then zero cents/kWh for capital costs for the remainder of the plant’s life. This appears to be the reason why the costs of a nuclear plant are significantly overstated in your study and is why it’s more than twice the amount of the levelized capital costs compared to Lazard. No utility would ever go for paying off a plant in 40 years when it costs half in 20 years.

  29. DM from Toronto says:

    Here in Ontario, Canada, we made the mistake of following the nuclear route in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The nuclear plants were built, but only after enormous cost over-runs. Some of these nuclear generating facilities have already come to the end of their useful life and have been rebuilt, while others will be rebuilt in the next few years. The original captial cost of these facilities built a generation ago should have already been paid off by now (matching the cost to the useful life of the generating facilities). Instead, even after about 30 years Ontario ratepayers are stuck with debt costs that run into the 10’s of billions of dollars. This debt is simply being pushed onto the shoulders of future ratepayers. Now, in Ontario the government wants to create a new generation of nuclear power plants while the debt for the old ones has still not been paid. Sadly, the same experience has happened around the world. I do not need a Ph.D. in accounting or economics to figure this one out. Nuclear power is a weapon of financial mass destruction.

  30. Craig Severance says:

    The author of the Study, Craig Severance, responds to comments 23-27:

    Bill Woods asked several very specific questions which give a great opportunity to go through some of the machinations of the calculations:

    • The cost of money is a weighted average return for both borrowed money and equity investors. (You can see this laid out at the bottom of Appendix A & B.) The debt is relatively cheap, but the expensive part of this is getting the money to equity investors, because the project must first earn enough to afford to pay corporate level income taxes on profit, then distribute the after-corporate-tax return to the equity investors. The equity investors also demand a higher return.
    • Debt/Equity Ratio is therefore an important assumption since paying a return on equity is so much more expensive. Many public utilities try to maintain a 45% debt/55% equity ratio to keep their bond ratings high. MIT’s nuclear study assumed a 50%/50% split of debt/equity for financing nuclear projects. In my study, I have gone further down the cost curve by assuming 55% debt/45% equity, so this assumed ratio is a cheaper cost of capital overall, than might normally be the expected.
    • For the 55% debt in my study, I assumed 6.25% effective interest which is actually over two full percentage points less than recent Baa bond markets and 1.75% less than the 8% debt cost assumed by MIT for nuclear – however I did not wish to assume the current dysfunctional credit markets will continue ( or necessarily assume an immediate downgrade to Baa). (You can see, however, that costs could be much worse.) The debt “weight” is .55 times .0625 = .0344.
    • For the 45% equity financing assumed in my study, I used MIT’s assumption that equity investors in nuclear projects will demand a return on equity (prior to taxes at the investor level) of 15%, which includes MIT’s assumed 3% “risk premium” for a nuclear utility. However, before you can give investors 15% the corporation must first have paid approx. 39% (Fed & State) corporation income taxes on this profit stream, meaning that the 15% is only 61% of what you had to pay from the project. If you divide 15% by 61% you “gross up” to the required payout to investors from the project (for the equity portion) equaling to 24.59%. The “weight” of this portion is therefore .45 times .2459 = .1106
    • Adding the weights of both the debt portion and the equity portion results in a total “Weighted Average Cost of Capital” of .0344 + .1106 = 14.50%. This is considerably less than MIT’s assumed weighted avg. Cost of Capital of 16.1% for nuclear.
    • Timeline to construct plant – The scenario presents a two-unit complex (considered more cost-effective) and the % of construction in each year are shown in columns on the left side of the Appendix A or B. Bill Woods is correct that not much occurs for the first 4 years (pre-contract exploratory, and pre-construction e.g. permitting work) and the bulk of the construction for each facility takes place in last 5-6 years. The overall timeline matches utility dockets now underway and does not assume any delay. Incidentally, you do not gain anything by “prepaying” work, to be physically installed later, unless you believe that cost escalations are actually going to be even higher than your weighted avg. Cost of Capital.
    • MIT’s study used capacity factors of 75% and 85% for its cases. I also used the 85% number for my “Low Cost” scenario, and the midpoint (80%) as “Most Likely.” I noted that I know recent avg. capacity factors with old generation reactors are just recently reaching the 90’s, however this took decades of “tinkering & training” to reach this result. You can see a history of capacity factors for U.S. nuclear power plants at: Please review this NRC table before you come to any conclusion of what to expect as a lifetime average capacity factor, for a new generation of designs never before field-operated.
    • Why not just leave the spent fuel rods in temporary storage at power plants like we always have? Do I really need to respond to that? Incidentally – whether or not we build any more nuclear power plants, we still need to find a permanent scientifically based solution to nuclear waste. Continuing to ignore the need to find a safe solution to the disposal of one of civilization’s most toxic substances is inexcusable.

    Ed raised the question about plant lifetimes of 40 years vs. an additional 60 years. My analysis is first and foremost a concern for the financial well-being of the utilities and their ratepayers. If the first 40 years (or even 20 -25 years, at an even higher initial cost per Kwh as suggested by David Bradish) are at a cost far in excess of what the utility can collect in revenues to support the plant, will the utility still be solvent? That is the financial perspective, which I address. I care about the electric utility industry and its financial health. If you wanted to open a movie house, and it cost so much to build the new theater that you would have to charge $50 a ticket, it makes little difference that your mortgage might be paid off after 25 years and then you can lower your prices – you won’t get past your opening night.

    The economists’ perspective (as expressed in levelized life cycle cost studies) is that once you get that far in the future and bring it back into present dollars, those far-distant years make little difference in decision-making. For instance, in the MIT study the difference between assuming a 40 year life and a 25 year life cycle resulted in only a 4.3% difference in overall levelized costs/kWh using the MIT levelized cost methodology.

    Several people again asked about future designs now in R&D – those are not the subject of this study. When and if they do reach a commercialization stage they will need to develop their own cost estimates and we can cost out those projects and see how they compare. Of course, by that time several competing technologies will also have made significant advances.

    David Bradish suggested we also analyze the renewable energy options using the same nominal dollar cost methodologies. I heartily agree – that assignment however is simply beyond the scope of this paper.. (That is one reason I discussed an existing analysis that compared the various technologies across the board, the Lazard Study.) I welcome others to apply the rate-payer perspective I present, to examine proposed wind, solar, and geothermal projects.

  31. Red Craig says:

    Craig, thanks for taking the trouble to respond to my comments. My complaint about your worst-case scenarios is that they ignore projects that came in on budget and assume that all future projects will be as overbudget as the worst ones. The fact is, the world will have to build massive amounts of new electrical capacity in order to replace fossil-fired plants. The capacity won’t be all or mostly solar and wind because the construction requirements for them are so large the world doesn’t have the resources. There also is the insurmountable problem of intermittency. The consequence is that many nuclear plants will be built and once the learning curve flattens out they will come in cheap and fast.

    Comparing cost estimates from different sources is fuzzy at best, since each estimate assumes different parameters. That said, it’s clear that costs have risen rapidly in recent years owing to the economic growth underway in Asia. What your study does is pretend that those same cost increases don’t apply to alternatives, when in fact they do. Truth be told, electricity from all sources will be much more expensive than we’re used to getting from plants and hydro dams built decades ago.

    I think the reactor vessels will come from new foundries built in the US once the market justifies the investment. They will provide good jobs, just like the jobs that go into manufacturing and installing the equipment. The uranium will come from stockpiles of depleted uranium that can be consumed in advanced reactors along with spent fuel.

    You may really believe that your effect is “to have a discussion about real facts and numbers, not bald-faced assertions.” But you need to understand that True Believers seize on articles like this as so much red meat. Its effect isn’t to clarify issues but only to confuse them. Changing the world’s electricity sources is a daunting challenge and the confusion this article generates can only delay progress. If you want a discussion about real facts and numbers, then you need to put up accurate numbers, not just flaunt any studies you come across that reinforce your preconceptions.

    In your last comment, you claimed that comparing alternatives was outside the scope of your paper. That is a shameful handwashing of your own misdeed. Here is what you concluded in the paper:

    “Generation costs/kWh for new nuclear
    (including fuel & O&M but not distribution to customers)
    are likely to be from 25 – 30 cents/kWh. This
    high cost may destroy the very demand the
    plant was built to serve. High electric rates may
    seriously impact utility customers and make
    nuclear utilities’ service areas noncompetitive
    with other regions of the U.S. which are
    developing lower-cost electricity.”

    What lower-cost electricity? You tell us that comparisons are outside the scope, but it’s at the heart of the conclusion. You perpetuate the fallacy among anti-nukes that windmills and solar panels are cheaper.

    This isn’t the time for playing for applause from the dingbats. People are dying by the thousands every month from pollution while the world’s habitability moves ever closer to collapse. What the world needs is for people to put their political causes aside and deal with these issues honestly.

  32. If this step is “skipped” in public presentations, the nuclear units (or any new generation power source that is more expensive than existing units) can appear far cheaper than their real impact.

    And by the same token, with conservation at 1-3 cents/kWh, the averaging masks the greater affordability of options that are *less* expensive than existing units.

  33. Factory built nuclear power plants: You get a set price from the factory. Zero over-runs except from protesters and frivolous lawsuits.

    The following was downloaded from
    “Why Nuclear?
    Each location on the planet offers its own unique set of energy needs and challenges. No one type of technology can provide the most appropriate solution everywhere. That’s why in order to accommodate everyone on our planet, mankind must utilize a mix of clean energy technologies that includes wind, solar, geothermal, and nuclear.

    None of the options available today are as perfect as we would like them to be. Geothermal has its obvious site limitations, but so do wind and solar. In addition to requiring large tracts of land for “wind farms” and solar panels, the drawback of these technologies is that neither can offer consistent, reliable baseload electricity. When the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow these types of plants do not deliver electricity.

    Regardless of the weather, nuclear-based power plants can produce base load electricity 24/7 with no greenhouse-gas emissions.

    And while researchers are constantly seeking ways to make nuclear even more safe and efficient than it is now, nuclear is not a “new” alternative to fossil fuel-based energy. It is the safest, most reliable, and least harmful way to generate electricity. The 104 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S. provide over 20% of the country’s electricity. For some nations, this percentage is much more; in France 78% of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear.” [NO THEY ARE NOT SUBSIDIZED!]

    “Now with Hyperion, communities and their infrastructures, emergency operations, military bases and even industrial operations, that, because of land limitations or other concerns, could never hope for reliable nuclear power, can enjoy its benefits. Hyperion Power Modules (HPMs) are small enough to be transported by truck or ship, and are setup and operable quickly – in much less time than the 10+ years it takes to build a traditional nuclear power plant! Whether the location is a small island, a remote mining site, or a hospital campus that needs independent backup power, everyone can enjoy safe, clean, reliable, affordable power.”


    Note that local construction people can dig the hole in the ground that a Hyperion reactor needs and do all of the hookup work and so on. The Hyperion factory makes a module and brings the module on a truck and places the module in the hole. Local people do the rest, including operating the reactor and guarding the site to keep anybody from digging up the module. There are jobs to be had at the factory and at the sites. The factory replaces the fuel module every 5 years or so, and recycles the fuel.

  34. Why geothermal power is not possible in most locations:

    At sufficiently high pressure, solid cold steel will flow like water. The same is true of solid rock and any other material. As you drill into the earth, the pressure increases with depth. The steel pipe well casing at sufficient pressure changes from a large diameter thin walled pipe to a small diameter thick walled pipe due to the external pressure of the “solid” rock. Since the pressure is equal all the way around and points toward the center of the pipe, the pipe retains a circular cross section. Under more pressure, the pipe becomes a solid rod. The deeper you drill, the greater this effect becomes. The solid rock flows inward, clamping your drill bit more and more as you drill deeper. For this reason, there is a limit to the depth of any hole in the ground. The maximum depth hole turns out to be too shallow to extract geothermal energy in most locations.

    I hope you will agree that drilling into liquid magma would be a foolish idea. Yes, there are many people who live in Naples, Italy, right beside Vesuvius. They live there in spite of the fates of the people of ancient Pompeii and Herculanium nearby. Sorry, but I am not that foolish.

    Geothermal energy can be extracted ONLY where there is a hot, but solidified, “Pluton” of rock near the surface of the earth. The pluton is former magma that did not erupt as a volcano, but came most of the way to the surface and stopped. Since the magma pluton arrived at its location near the surface of the earth, a long time, by comparison to a human lifetime, has passed so that the magma has had time to cool enough to be very solid. The pluton must still be plenty hot enough to boil water. The pluton must also be sufficiently large to hold enough heat energy to keep boiling water for a long time. These conditions are met in a few places. In those few places, geothermal energy extraction is possible.

  35. What the coal companies know that most people don’t:

    As long as you keep messing around with wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, the coal industry is safe. There is no way wind, solar, geothermal and wave power can replace coal, and they know it. Hydrogen fusion could, if it worked. Hydrogen fusion has been “hopeful” for half a century so far. I don’t expect that to change any time soon.

    If you quit being afraid of nuclear, the coal industry is doomed. Every time you argue in favor of wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, or against nuclear, King Coal is happy. ONLY nuclear power can put coal out of business. Nuclear power HAS put coal out of business in France. France uses 30 year old American technology. So here is the deal: Keep being afraid of all things nuclear and die either when [not if] civilization collapses or when H2S comes out of the ocean and Homo “Sapiens” goes extinct. OR: Get over your paranoia and kick the coal habit and live. Which do you choose? I put quotation marks around “Sapiens” because it is not clear that most of us have enough brains to avoid extinction when it is clearly predicted and the safe path has been pointed out. Nuclear is the safe path.

    PS: Nuclear is the cheapest and safest source of electricity. Nuclear life cycle CO2 output is the lowest per kilowatt hour because it takes a huge number of windmills or solar collectors or wave machines or whatever to produce the same power as a nuclear power plant. All of those windmills or whatever have manufacturing processes that make CO2. Hydro power requires an enormous amount of concrete. The first step in making concrete is heating limestone to drive off the CO2. That is one of the sources of CO2 from hydro power. The price for electricity for the various sources of power include the total life cycle costs. The cost to build the reactor is not much different from the cost to build a coal fired power plant and the money comes from the same source. See the next post of mine. Whoever would pay for the reactor is the same person who would pay for the coal burner. LOOK at the price for the electricity. It is the total life cycle cost. Nuclear is the cheapest and the only full time replacement for coal. Nuclear power would be much cheaper than it is if nuclear were allowed to be as unsafe as the other sources of power. Nuclear power plants are self-insured. Tax money is NOT involved and would not be mentioned if it were not for the civil disturbances caused by coal company shills, alias protesters. The nuclear industry needs and deserves protection from people who are obviously either mentally ill or very misinformed. When tax money is mentioned with respect to nuclear power, the money is the extra money that is wasted because of pointless protests.

    I DO NOT work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I am a retired Department of the Army scientist and engineer. I have never worked for the nuclear power industry.

    There is NO SUCH THING as nuclear waste because nuclear fuel is recyclable. There is fuel that is being wasted for political reasons and because the coal industry has driven you paranoid. The coal industry’s reason for doing so is the $100 Billion per year cash flow they receive as long as you remain afraid of nuclear. If you remain afraid of nuclear and prevent the conversion from coal to nuclear, we all die. The cure is for you to go to start acting like the French people with respect to nuclear power.

    [JR: You keep posting these unsourced assertions that I have debunked many times. BTW, we have almost twice as many nukes as the French!]

  36. Here are some of the references you wanted:

    Book: “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Finally a truthful book about nuclear power. Gwyneth Cravens is a former anti-nuclear activist.

    Book: “Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy”, by B. Comby
    English edition, 2001, 345 pp. (soft cover), 38 Euros
    TNR Editions, 266 avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris, France;
    ISBN 2-914190-02-6
    order from:
    Read a review of this book by the American Health Physics Society at:

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory:
    Coal contains so much uranium and thorium that more energy goes up the stack than into the wires.
    Spent fuel is so valuable that Israel steals it.

    Conference report:
    by Alex Gabbard
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    Oak Ridge, TN
    Selections from the 19th Annual Conference
    March 14,15,16, 1996
    Nashville, Tennessee
    Published by the
    Edited by Jack D. Arters, Ed.D.
    Conference Director

    Nuclear reactor FACTORY advertisement:

  37. Shawn Burns says:

    After taking 30 years off from constructing a nuclear power plant in the U.S. the error bounds on generation costs for new nuclear construction are substantial. Uncertainties in the availability of labor, commodity prices, and manufacturing capacity will only be narrowed after new plants have been constructed. As others have pointed out, you can drive the result pretty much in any direction you want to over a broad territory depending on the assumptions you are willing to make on such things as capital recovery and capacity factors. Also, neglecting the costs associated with substantial grid improvements needed to handle the intermittency associated with renewables seems a bit disingenuous as well.

    The implication that the nuclear industry is somehow involved in a conspiracy to hide costs seems a bit odd to me. These are profit oriented companies in a competitive sector of the economy. Choosing an alternative that is 3x more expensive than another would seem an excellent way to get swallowed whole by your competitors. I would suggest that there are many smart, highly motivated industry analysts that have done similar cost calculations and come to different conclusions. An important consideration is that the industry bottom line depends on the results of their calculations. Perhaps this sin’t the case for this analysis.

    Finally, I would love to see an end to comparisons back to the 70s and 80s in these discussions. The economic conditions that existed at that time are totally absent today and had little to do with the technology. To wit: a dramatic decrease in the growth of electricity demand from 6-7% annually to 1-2% annually as a result of the OPEC oil embargo; double digit financing costs; a two step licensing process and stifling regulatory uncertainty that substantially increased the time period before companies could make a return on their investment. Today the industry is more mature and cautious and regulatory reforms promise greater predictability. No doubt there will be issues to contend with but it is unlikely we are at risk of another train wreck.

  38. Craig Severance says:

    Craig Severance, the author of the Study, comments on nth-production and the benefits of mass production:

    Some have raised the question of when will we ever get to economies of mass production. The concept has been expressed as finally reaching the “nth” number produced, so that costs decrease rapidly instead of moving relentlessly upward.

    If Henry Ford were part of this discussion, he would tell you the value for “n” is likely not to be 45, or 100, or even 500. Mass production means very large numbers of units.

    I have been informed the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has begun to respond vociferously to my study, and apparently is telling the press the crux of the matter is there are too many subsidies for renewables. That is like Rolls Royce complaining they can’t sell enough of their product, because there are tax credits for hybrids.

    Has anyone thought about why it is that energy efficiency blows away all comers as a cost-effective option? The products we buy to achieve energy efficiency improvements are typically small, inexpensive, low-tech, and produced in very large numbers — caulk, weatherstripping, insulation packets, compact flourescents, better windows and doors, low-flow showerheads, etc. Even the “pricier” items like high-efficiency appliances and geothermal heat pumps are all mass produced and are still far cheaper to implement than any supply options.

    When I first installed compact flourescent light bulbs in every fixture in my house, it cost me $25 a bulb, and it was still a bargain. Now, as the numbers of these bulbs manufactured has reached mass efficiency levels, I can go to Walmart and pick up packets of (far better) bulbs for less than $2 each.

    On the supply side, we see the same truth with regard to the cost/KW of gas turbines and wind turbines vs. coal or nuclear facilities. The gas turbines and wind turbines are more of a manufactured, standardized product, and they are small enough individual units that sufficient numbers of units are being produced to see mass efficiencies.

    The cost/unit of wind turbines has dropped dramatically over the last several decades, yet even they are now seeing price increases as perhaps they may have reached something of a plateau in their mass production curve. A wind turbine, however, is a behemoth compared to the unit size of solar panels. We see that with millions of individual units of solar panels now planned to literally “roll” (i.e. thin-film) off production lines within the next decade, the PV industry is still projecting amazing decreases in the cost/KW of their product. Henry Ford would be proud.

    If this discussion thread has produced anything of a consensus, it seems to be that mass production is a key to economy, and the nuclear proponents who have participated in this discussion are wishing to leap over the Gen III+ reactors now proposed, and pin their hopes on smaller, modular, Gen IV+ reactors now in R&D. Now, if only every factory and small town had a “Nuclear Engineers R Us” outlet to supply the staffing for these facilities. Don’t forget — low-tech is also a key part of the cost equation, ESPECIALLY when the units are small since you no longer can justify high-tech staffing when their cost is spread over fewer KW.

    The climate crisis is real and we need to ramp up quickly and cost-effectively to implement technologies to solve it. Quick, cost-effective, and large numbers — sounds like mass production, to me.

  39. “I have been informed the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has begun to respond vociferously to my study, and apparently is telling the press the crux of the matter is there are too many subsidies for renewables.”

    I’m from NEI and the only thing we’ve responded to about your study was one press inquiry from Platts. Was that the “vociferous” response you were referring to? What we told Platts was the same thing I already said in a previous comment. That is, if you want to compare costs of nuclear to the alternatives, it is disingenuous to include the subsidies they all receive. The study needs to make a fair comparison or at least note that subsidies are included in the costs for alternatives. Otherwise it’s just distortion. We have no problem if renewables receive subsidies contrary to what you may have heard or believe.

    Moving on. Did you have any comments on the study’s faulty capital recovery factor assumption I brought up yesterday? If we change that one assumption to the real way utilities pay off their plants, it pretty much invalidates the study’s claim that nuclear plants cost 25-30 cents/kWh.

    “If this discussion thread has produced anything of a consensus, it seems to be that mass production is a key to economy, and the nuclear proponents who have participated in this discussion are wishing to leap over the Gen III+ reactors now proposed, and pin their hopes on smaller, modular, Gen IV+ reactors now in R&D.”

    Not really. If that were the case, the NRC wouldn’t be reviewing 17 applications from utilities looking to build 26 reactors ranging in size from 1,110 – 1,600 MW.

  40. Steve Kerekes says:

    I’m fascinated by Mr. Severance’s assertion that he is “first and foremost” concerned for the financial well-being of the utilities and their ratepayers. If so, why does he then limit the focus of his analysis strictly to nuclear power plants and do no more, in his response to the post of my Nuclear Energy Institute colleague David Bradish, than invite others to examine other technologies? While reports on a given topic certainly can be written in a vacuum, executive decisions about the most suitable and economical future energy projects cannot be made in one.

    That then begs the question (in this exercise of transparency), was this analysis commissioned by any particular person or entity, or are the many hours of research and writing devoted to this undertaking (limited in scope though it is) Mr. Severance’s contribution to the public good?

    [JR: The latter — this is his contribution to the public good. More germanely, it remains unrebutted. You can find detailed discussions of the costs of other new generation on this blog and elsewhere. Try here, for instance.]

  41. Red Craig says:

    Unrebutted? Really? Critics here showed that the author’s assumptions were at best unsupported and at worst wrong. In defending himself, the author even contradicted the paper’s conclusion.

    Although the paper had essentially no value, the comments here have been highly educational. Thanks go to Mr. Bradish for his analytical insights and to Asteroid Miner for putting the subject in context.

  42. Russ Bailey says:

    İ was in Portland, OR when PGE was building the Trojan reactor (60’s?) and the eco bunch were crying the power would be too expensive.

    İ was back there in the late 80’s when it was being decommissioned and people were crying that it was removing some of the cheapest power from the grid.

    Fact is that any new power is expensive compared to a 25 year old plant.

  43. Linda Lawrence says:

    The Heritage Foundation has a good response on its blog.

    While it shows that a number of points can be misleading, it does agree in the sense that change is necessary:

    “The value of the CAP study is to demonstrate why a nuclear renaissance may never unfold unless something is done to ensure that the conditions set forth by the study never come to pass. “

  44. Gus says:

    Are we sure Barack didn’t write this piece of garbage. The green freaks will do anything to stop nuclear power in this country. Why are so many other countries successful with nuclear power and we can’t seem to get out of our own way.

  45. kancho says:

    Really!? Just like the graphics in here –

  46. Arcs_n_Sparks says:

    Kevin Lahey Says:
    “Of course, living here in Illinois, every time that a new plant was finished they said they had to raise the rates to pay for it. Our electricity was some of the highest in the country.

    I kept an eye out and if you read the papers at the time it was easy to find articles about studies that showed that every state that had high electricity rates had high numbers of nuclear plants. The states that had low rates were the ones with no nuclear plants.”

    Let’s see… Illinois is 29th in the nation regarding electricity rates with about 50% nuclear, while my state (California) is 10th in the nation in electricity costs with 20% from nuclear.

  47. Bob Wallace says:

    Coming late to this, and trying t think like a prospective investor….

    If I dismiss the author’s calculations and assume a “very, very best scenario” – new nuclear to be about twice same price as new wind. (OK, I’m really pushing it, but bear with me.)

    Now, I’ve got to put my money up front and wait a decade, possibly a lot more before I begin to enjoy a return on my investment.

    During that decade my money is totally at risk and the largest (to me) major danger that a less expensive method of electricity production is developed.

    Wind continues to drop in price. It’s averaging $0.075 kWh with $0.045 at best sites with best technology. (And innovations are developing that could lower the price.)

    Solar (PV) seems on the brink of $0.10 kWh. As does thermal solar (with storage?).

    Drill-down hot rock geothermal is guesstimated at $0.10 kWh. (And, no, Asteroid – we don’t drill into the magma. Just to the hot rock level as do guys mining diamonds.

    We’ve got CAES and “drill-down/pump-up” hydro storage being constructed which gives us hope for

  48. Kit P says:

    Rather than applying the short term logic of greedy California investor, Bob Wallace may want to consider the options as seen from responsible utilities and PUC who have to make decisions that will affect consumers for 40-60 years. Since Bush has been president, renewable energy projects have been coming on line at a record pace. If these new renewable energy sources of energy can match the record of the 104 operating nukes, they will be a good deal for consumers.

    The same companies that are working to build new nukes also build coal, gas, and renewable energy. These companies know what the costs and risk are. In the past, some utilities that did not have the skills to build nuke plants tried and failed. Some of the same companies tried and failed to build renewable energy projects too.

    While we should continue to build renewable energy project as fast as we can because maybe they will provide better value this time around, nuke are now a proven mature generating source that provides 20% of the lowest cost electricity in the US.

  49. Bob Wallace says:

    What relevance does “nuke are now a proven mature generating source that provides 20% of the lowest cost electricity in the US” have to the discussion?

    It’s like saying that we should build a lot more big hydro projects since those we built over 50 years ago are cranking out cheap power. The issue is about new power and its real cost.

    Dismiss the logic of the ” short term logic of greedy California investor” if you will, but in doing so recognize that you are ignoring financial realities. If an investment doesn’t pencil out for investors from all states and countries there will be no private money to create the product.

    Without investors the only way anything will get built is by using public money. That’s getting harder to do now that big corporations are not politically powerful as they once were.

    And do remember that when we speak of “utility corporation” money we are often speaking of private funds.

  50. Bill Woods says:

    Bob Wallace: “Now, I’ve got to put my money up front and wait a decade, possibly a lot more before I begin to enjoy a return on my investment.”
    “During that decade my money is totally at risk and the largest (to me) major danger that a less expensive method of electricity production is developed.”

    No, the construction period is only 4–6 years. So you’re not putting up your money for a decade — or if you are it’s not “totally at risk”, it’s stashed in some investment until the big bills start coming in.

    I didn’t pick up on it the first time, but Severance’s figures are in 2018 dollars, which he assumes are inflated 35% from 2007 dollars.

    China has just started construction on two CPR-1000 reactors scheduled to begin operation in five years. “China National Nuclear Corporation … said the total cost of the project would be 26 billion yuan ($3.8 billion), which equates to $1760 per kWe, slightly more than the $1565 recently quoted for the six-reactor Yangjiang plant.”
    That’s China, but Progress Energy has just signed a contract to buy two AP1000s for $7.65 billion — $3500/kW. That’s not the full ‘overnight cost’, but it suggests Severance is being unduly optimistic about the dim prospects for nuclear.

    As for alternatives, raw wind can be cheap; wind made reliable by natural gas back-up, not so much. Solar thermal looks like a good source for peaking power. Compressed air is another way of stretching natural gas.

  51. Bob Wallace says:

    Some money goes in during year one, larger amounts after the ground is broken. So the bigger part waits for six years rather than ten before any returns start to appear.

    That said, invested dollars are going to take a long time to return to the investor and it’s going to be even a lot longer yet before gains begin to be realized.

    Since we’re talking about a very expensive way to produce electricity in a world where enormous energy is being spent finding cheaper ways to do the same job the overall risk of owning a white elephant would create a major pucker situation for most savvy investors.

    Look at the risk. We know how to make electricity for closer to a nickel using wind. And thin film solar is expected to be even cheaper within a few years.

    If we can store electricity for another nickel (which seems to be a reasonable number for CAES and pump-up hydro) then new nuclear has to beat $0.10 kWh before anyone is going to make any money with nukes.

    Back Severance’s numbers back to 2009. He’s projecting $0.19 – 0.23 per kWh, some higher than what the nuclear industry projected a while back, but not a whole lot higher. In fact, one might assume that the industry number is aggressively “rounded down” as those things tend to be. Or that Severance’s numbers reflect how prices have increased in the intervening years.

    Even using the industry number of $0.15 nuclear is a non-starter. If one is investing wisely.

    That’s not to say that some governments won’t spend their money foolishly. If you’ve got a command economy as does China and also have a lot of cash lying around, you can ignore the lost investment return and demand that the consumer pay whatever rate you set.

    (Why does the right wing love nuclear when it can only be constructed by big, heavy-handed, tax-enriched government which they say they hate?)

  52. Red Craig says:

    Bob, you skated past a central issue by blithely remarking, “If we can store electricity for another nickel (which seems to be a reasonable number for CAES and pump-up hydro).”

    Do you have a reference for this? Those numbers don’t seem realistic to me at all. Furthermore, there aren’t enough caves in the world to provide a small part of the storage that would be required. Nor are there places for enough pumped storage. For more on this, please look at Solar Energy, Wind Power, Intermittency, and Storage.

  53. Kojiro Vance says:

    I’ll wade into the debate. I construct large energy projects for a living, though not nuke. There are several things in the study that I disagree with.

    Mr. Severance quotes the CERA Power Capital Cost Index to show how rapidly costs have escalated. Prices peaked in Q2 2008. I have a cost estimate for a multi-billion $ energy project from April. The engineering/constructor who did the study told me that if they restimated the same job today they could cut 15-20% off. There was hyperinflation in concrete, steel, copper, and other construction commodities driven by the worldwide economic expansion. Now that things have cooled off, we are already seeing reductions in the prices of large industrial items. We should see a return to the more normal 3-5% inflation numbers. We saw the same thing happen following the 1982 recession and the 1999 Asian currency crisis.

    The argument seems to be that we should invest in renewable power because it is cheaper. But aren’t wind turbine towers made of steel and require concrete foundations? Don’t turbines and smart grids require welders, electricians, construction workers, and other trades – the same as nuclear? If there is inflation in nuclear and in the energy and process industries, there will also be inflation in the renewable sectors.

    Severance compares nuclear power costs in some hyper-inflated future to renewable costs in the past!

    Several posters throw out the mythical wind comparison. They conveniently forget that the average availability of wind power is only 27%. Some of the imported chinese turbines have availablities of only 20%. What do you do for power the rest of the day? When one factors in gas combined or simple cycle to handle the intermittance problem, then the costs to produce power are much higher.

    The same is true for solar. The average insolation for the US is 4-5 hours per day.

    I am puzzled by the 14.5% weighted cost of capital applied to nuclear power. Does Severance and others apply this number to alternatives? Why not?

    I run a spreadsheet monthly that looks at the cost of home solar. Assuming $6 per watt installed for a home system and a 5% rate of return I get an equivalent power price of about 20 cents/kWh. If I plug in 14.5% the price jumps to 56 cents/kWh. So by your own argument we shouldn’t build PV solar either because it is too expensive.

  54. Kojiro Vance says:

    Wallace says we should just wait for thin-film solar. So why don’t pro-nuclear get to argue for 4th generation nuclear?

    It is also clear to me that building large nuclear power plants under the regulated utility model in the US is the wrong way to go. Utilities that were guaranteed a rate of return don’t have nearly the incentive to control costs that private developers would have. Once you get the PUC to agree to build a nuke the ratepayers are stuck with the cost of it, whether it operates or not. As costs escalate there is little incentive for the PUC to pull the plug. Everything spent looks like sunk costs, since the ratepayers are stuck with the bill either way little cost increases here and there don’t change the incremental cost of power that much.

    The approval process is totally broken. Without outside interference we can build a new nuke in about 4 years. But if we are constantly subject to court challenges, work interruptions, etc. then it becomes expensive. Argue vigorously during the approval process, but once the NRC issues the license, make it illegal to sue or protest the construction and operation.

    NRC should approve pre-approve standard reactor designs. Modularize and standardize as much of the plant as possible. Order and fabricate multiple standard units to reduce equipment costs. There are ways to do build things much cheaper – unfortunately climateprogress and others have already decided that nuclear is not the answer they just use studies like this to justify their preconceptions.

  55. Bob Wallace says:

    Vance – this thread has probably drifted off into history, so I’ll just make a couple quick points.

    First, you need to understand that somewhere in the US the wind is always blowing. Research tells us that if we link multiple wind farms 35% of their power is always available.

    I did not suggest we wait for thin film. You misread. However, it looks like thin film has broken the $0.10 kWh price level.

    Reality: Wind takes steel, concrete, and labor. Best site, best technology is producing $0.045 kWh electricity and average across farms is $0.075. That price reflects all the steel, concrete, labor, etc. That’s what new nuclear is up against.

  56. The intermittency of renewables is unavoidable. The key is to use them intelligently in a network, mixing types and geographical locations. After all, that’s how conventional power plants are organised – a mix of baseload, intermittent and peaking technologies, located where fuel and cooling water supplies are most convenient.

    Solar Thermal electricity plants are being built with heat storage to allow power generation to continue into hours of darkness, or to allow peaking demand to be met that is higher than the solar collector peak capacity. Plants opening in Spain now have a capacity factor of 40%, up from a more typical 20%, as a result of storage, and the design principle allows for higher levels of capacity factor in countries with better insolation.

    Solar thermal is therefore a valid alternative to both baseload nuclear and coal, and to peaking gas-fired conventional plants. A network of solar thermal, wind, geothermal and marine renewables at a utility scale, plus energy efficiency with building micro-renewables can match current and future demand profiles for electrical power, with next to zero carbon emissions and no nuclear waste and proliferation headaches for future generations to worry about.

    see for recent report on use of solar thermal in the Sahara desert.

  57. Rod Adams says:

    Very interesting discussion with some high quality give and take. As someone who has been performing cost analysis on nuclear power projects since 1993, when I founded Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. I have a few basic disagreements with Mr. Severance’s conclusions, though given his assumptions his computations appear correct.

    It warms my heart to see that there are more and more people realizing that “economy of unit volume” plays a role in the ultimate cost of almost any product. When you build one of a kind machines or small volumes of almost anything, you can end up with results like $600 hammers, $1 million automobiles, and billion dollar football stadiums. It is a fundamental truth of economics that there is a learning curve associated doing something more than once and there is an economy associated with lower overhead for planning, designing and tooling once and reusing those designs, procedures and tools many times.

    Mr. Severance is mistaken when he makes the following claim: “If Henry Ford were part of this discussion, he would tell you the value for “n” is likely not to be 45, or 100, or even 500. Mass production means very large numbers of units.”

    I spent some time as the GM of a small manufacturing company that made a wide variety of plastic products ranging in size from tongue depressors to large hatches for luxury boats. Our unit volumes for individual manufacturing runs ranged from 10 to several million. Over a three year period I did continuous cost analysis of every one of the parts we made (we had to be pretty careful since our main competitors were in China and paying their workers $20 per week). I recognized that there were no exceptions to the rule of increasing economy from increasing unit volumes until we got to the point where we were outrunning our warehouse, shipping ability and factory storage capacity.

    Even with just pairs of plants constructed in a logical fashion on a single site, there will be some cost reduction for the second plant and some reduction in overhead since some costs will always be shared between the two plants.

    However, I have been advocating the construction of smaller nuclear plants since before I founded my company. When I speak of smaller, I am talking about plants that are more along the lines of the plants I learned on as a submarine engineer officer or even smaller. Our first unit will probably be a 10 MWe plant built using technology that has operated in several different power plants starting as early as the 1960s. It is currently operating in China at Tsingua University on the same scale that interests us. It is not “unproven” as Mr. Severance claims.

    Under current regulatory rules, we do not hope to compete against the very large scale projects if they are run by people with good project management skills and aggressive cost controls especially for our early units. It will admittedly take us some time to achieve the economies of volume that would make that possible. I like to tell people that we want to compete against large diesel engines or combustion gas turbines in markets where those are the only available options for reliable power. I am sure enough of our eventual success to have sunk a large portion of my lifetime savings into the project and to have invested many years of pretty valuable time into working out as many of the details in advance as possible.

    Rather than arguing about the cost computational methods, I will simply agree that the published costs of new nuclear power plants in the United States and Western Europe can sound really scary and that the historical record of construction does not provide a great basis for hope.

    However, the OPERATIONAL record for those “very expensive” nuclear plants tells me that building new nukes is a great and very timely investment. The reason that they operate at a 90+% capacity factor is because the marginal cost of operation is darned close to zero. According to Global Energy Decisions, the 2007 production cost for the average nuclear plant was 1.76 cents per kilowatt hour while the average production cost of coal, the next cheapest alternative was 2.47 cents per kilowatt hour. I hope there is no one on this blog who believes that the current price of coal contains much, if any, of the true COSTS of the ongoing environmental destruction that burning it entails.

    Essentially all of the nuclear plants operating today have at least 20 years of operation left and they are essentially all paid off. They are thus throwing off massive quantities of free cash flow for their owners, employees and stock holders. In regulated territories, they are paying massive dividends for the ratepayers that paid the upfront costs in the form of lower electrical power costs and cleaner air.

    Mr. Bob Wallace made a very interesting comment:

    “It’s like saying that we should build a lot more big hydro projects since those we built over 50 years ago are cranking out cheap power. The issue is about new power and its real cost.”

    If we had a huge inventory of free running rivers with suitable unpopulated valleys, we might very well be making that kind of investment, especially considering our current economic situation. There is a good reason why several of those big dam projects were built in the 1930s and why there are many people who are grateful that they exist today as a low cost, low emission, reliable electrical power source. Unfortunately, we do not have such an inventory of rivers and valleys and there are many places in the country that never did. (My home state of Florida lacked a key component of water power; the highest point in the state is just three or four hundred feet above sea level so there was no place for the water to fall.)

    What we do have is an enormous reservoir of fissile and fertile materials that can produce reliable heat for human consumption without producing greenhouse gases for many centuries, perhaps even many millennia. It is very possible to waste that resource or to spent an almost unlimited amount of money per unit heat output. (Shoreham haunts potential investors far more than TMI does.) It seems to me that the best thing that can come from the work of people like Joe Romm and Craig Severance is a competitive response that results in a determined effort to PROVE them wrong.

    How about it fellow nukes – are you up for the battle that can only be won by actual plant construction and operation?

  58. Red Craig says:

    Mr. Wallace, I’m disappointed that you didn’t furnish references for some of your earlier contentions. Instead, you merely gave us more contentions. In particular, your contention that “First, you need to understand that somewhere in the US the wind is always blowing. Research tells us that if we link multiple wind farms 35% of their power is always available” needs some support. Some studies have shown that 33% is available most of the time, but not all the time. The conclusion is that wind farms have to be oversized by a factor of three, which triples the environmental and economic cost, just to attain ordinary online availability. But it’s worse than that. Winds are low all over North American during the summer. There is no place with a surplus of wind energy to sell to other places. As it happens, the summer months are the months of highest electrical demand. For more on this point, please look at Solar Energy, Wind Power, Intermittency, and Storage.

    Mr. Palmgrave, I looked at the paper, “Desert Power: The Economics of Solar Thermal Electricity for Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.” It’s a good example of the muddle anti-nukes are in.

    Here’s the key sentence about energy storage: “Little information is available on the technical and economic parameters of solar thermal storage, whereby excess heat generated during the day is used to run a plant’s power block at night.” Undaunted, they proceed anyway, using someone else’s computer studies.

    What they calculate is that solar-thermal electricity in the Sahara (surely the world’s best place for solar-thermal) would cost 15.8-16.7 cents/KWH, compared to 8.4 cents for supercritical coal in Europe. Oddly, they calculate that stored solar-thermal would be cheaper than direct solar-thermal. I didn’t see an explanation for this. Either way, the paper does not support your conclusion that “Solar thermal is therefore a valid alternative to both baseload nuclear and coal, and to peaking gas-fired conventional plants.” Indeed, the paper’s results show the opposite.

  59. Roger Sowell says:

    Ron Adams, re small nuclear power plants.

    As an attorney in the energy field, I am required to make the following disclaimer: nothing written by me herein constitutes legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship, nor should what is written be acted upon by any person reading this. Any person desiring legal advice should contact an attorney.

    I applaud your efforts to devise and market a power-generating plant. I happen to agree with much of what you wrote above, especially that there is some economy to be gained from even a few repetitions. However, it does take many thousands of repetitions, or units, to achieve sufficiently low production costs for some items to be competitive.

    There are some things I would bring to your attention since you have chosen nuclear fission as the power source. Nuclear power plants have inherent dangers and legal issues not found in other power plants, due to the radioactive materials.

    As just one example, should anything go wrong with a nuclear plant such that persons or property are exposed to radioactivity that causes harm, many people and entities can be held liable under a theory of strict liability for ultrahazardous activities. Radioactivity is one of a handful of activities that fall under the ultrahazardous strict liability doctrine, which usually includes explosives, transport and handling of certain chemicals, and wild animals. This was the legal doctrine used in the famous Karen Silkwood case, which involved her contamination by plutonium.

    The designer of such a nuclear power plant could be found liable, along with the constructor, the operator, and the entity who maintains the plant.

    Issues must be addressed such as security from external threats, and screening of employees and contractors from internal sabotage. Training and supervising employees must be addressed. Storing spent fuel must be addressed. Transporting fresh fuel and spent fuel must be addressed.

    In a scenario in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small nuclear-powered generating plants are in operation, the above issues are magnified and made much more complex.

    These issues are still present, but reduced by having only a few large-scale power plants. As just one example, it was reported recently that a nuclear power plant in France allowed radioactive liquids to escape into the environment. Even if no one is injured, the clean up costs can be staggering.

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  60. Roger Sowell says:

    Sorry, Mr. Adams, I misspelled your name, it should say Rod Adams.

  61. Rod Adams says:

    @Roger – No worries on the name. I can point to dozens of instances where people have written to me as either Rob or Ron; it happens all the time.

    With regard to the legal liabilities, I understand the rules and have determined to my own satisfaction that the plants that we intend to build will be large enough and profitable enough to cover the costs you cite in the markets where we intend to operate. I spent the first 12 years of my professional career deeply involved in the training, operations, maintenance and supervision of nuclear power plants. I have a large number of friends and colleagues who have done the same.

    One of the real advantages that the US has in the nuclear power field is that we have been training at least 3000 people per year in the rigorous standards required to become trusted operators. Within the US there are not just 105 commercial plants, but also a closely similar number of propulsion plants on naval vessels. In fifty years, we have developed a pretty substantial body of experienced operators and security personnel, certainly enough to form the training corps for a new generation of operators.

    Finally, I encourage people to visit the Radiation, Science, and Health web page to learn more about the real health effects of low level radiation.

    Just out of curiosity, can you help me understand why flying fuel laden commercial aircraft did not become classified as an ultrahazardous activity after 911? Compared to the documented effects from the worst accident ever involving radioactive materials, the death toll in New York was significantly greater.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast
    Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.

  62. Roger Sowell says:

    Rod Adams, re airplanes after 9-11, probably for the same reason that driving a car is not an ultrahazardous activity. Even though far more people die each year from automobile crashes than in airplanes.

    You can walk up to a car, even lean against it, or sit in it, even take it apart and replace broken components without acquiring a lethal dose of anything. Same is true of an airplane. There are documented cases of a worker becoming fully covered in oil, or gasoline, or diesel fuel with no ill health effects after washing off.

    That is just not the case with radioactivity, or certain chemicals such as nerve gases. And I would not recommend going into a neighbor’s yard to play with their pet tiger.

    I am glad to read that you are aware of the potential liability. Others may not be as comfortable with those pocket nuclear power plants as are you.

    Will you publish a list of all your proposed plant sites so the public can make informed decisions regarding when and how to protest them?

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  63. Red Craig says:

    Mr. Sowell:

    Please reference the documents that show workers have been covered in petroleum chemicals with no ill health effects. My next door neighbor is on full disability because of exposure to those compounds.

    While you’re at it, please reference a case of a worker or any member of the public who has suffered ill health effects from an American nuclear power plant.

  64. Roger Sowell says:

    Red Craig, just wander across Texas, or Louisiana, or Oklahoma, and visit for a spell with some of the older oil workers. Or with those who cleaned out oil tanks in the 50’s and 60’s. That was pretty dirty work.

    The issue is not whether a member of the public has suffered any ill health effects from a nuclear power plant. The medical evidence is very clear — irrefutable, actually — that human exposure to radiation is toxic.

    If that were not the case, then why do the workers in nuclear plants wear radiation badges that show cumulative exposure? Why is there a lead shield for a doctor to step behind when using radiation therapy? If it is so safe, why doesn’t the doctor just stay in there and hold the patient’s hand?

    Why do radiation oncologists use multiple paths for radiation to travel through human tissue when treating cancers with radiation? Why not just shoot the radiation at the cancerous region through the same path each time?

    I would love to have a case in court where my opponent’s expert witness testifies that exposure to nuclear radiation has no ill effects on humans.

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  65. Kojiro Vance says:

    Wallace – yes it took me some time to find this thread again.

    I am not anti-wind. We should be doing that – and nuclear, and advanced coal.

    Improving the intermittancy problem from 27% to 35% doesn’t give me much comfort. What am I supposed to do for power the other 16 hours of the day?

    I live in ERCOT. Last March we had a power outage because of the intermittancy problem. The wind simply stopped blowing over a large portion of Texas. It isn’t clear that a “smart grid” would have solved this problem.

  66. JimHopf says:

    “Calculated” costs for nuclear and various renewable sources are all over the map. I can point to several studies which state that renewable sources are far more expensive than nuclear. Can I pinpoint or prove specific flaws with this study (or the others, for that matter)? The answer is, I don’t have to. Why do we even need all these pointless “studies” (most of which are biased and agenda driven) when we can just leave the economics issues for the market to sort out? The relative economics of each energy source actually has no relevence to the development of the best energy policy.

    The biggest current (electricity) market failure, which needs to be corrected, is the fact that fossil fuel plants are allowed to pollute the environment (causing global warming and causing ~25,000 deaths every single year), without even paying anything for the priveledge. That is, these enormous indirect (external) costs are not reflected in the price charged. Neither nuclear power or renewables have significant external costs, compared to fossil fuels. The best policy is to tax or limit CO2 emissions, air pollution, and energy (gas & oil) imports from unstable regions like the Middle East, and then let the market decide how to proceed. If there are any subsidies, they should be at least roughly equal between competing sources.

    If we assume that non-sequestered coal is out, due to CO2 limits, and that taxes or limits on LNG imports (as well as declining production) limit the amount of gas that could be used for power generation (especially baseload), then it boils down to a competition between sequestered coal, nuclear, and renewables. The best approach is to just let the market sort it out. That is, let utilities build what they want. Note that all of the above sources receive loan guarantees, production tax credits and govt. research funding. (Renewables actually recieve the largest subsidies, by far, on a per kW-hr basis.) If nuclear costs are anything like what these studies say, then they won’t be built, so why are they wasting their breath?

    One reason is that anti-nukes are trying to prevent nuclear from having a chance to compete with renewables, in a fair and open competition. While a lot of lip service is paid to the notion of letting the market choose the optimum, lowest-cost approach for providing clean, non-emitting electricity (e.g., cap-and-trade systems, etc..), there is large tendency in govt. for a different approach to be used. The way this other approach works is that each “side” produces studies and tries to convince the govt. that their favored source(s) are the best way to go. Then, the govt. decides, by fiat, that those energy sources will be chosen and pursued. The perfect example of such a (misguided) policy is the renewable portfolio standard (or RPS).

    The notion of an RPS is flawed, and unfair, in so many ways I’m not going even going to go into it. I will just ask the following. If people really think that nuclear is so much more expensive than nuclear (based on studies like this one, or whatever else), then why are they so afraid of open and fair competition? Why are RPS policies necessary? Why do they support such policies, instead of policies that just require reductions in pollution, gas/oil imports and air pollution, and leave it up to the market to decide?

    Until renewables supporters renounce their support for policies like RPS, I’m simply not listening to any “studies” that claim nuclear is more expensive than renewables. If those studies were really true (and these people really believed them), then they wouldn’t support such (RPS) policies, as they wouldn’t be necessary. They would not be trying so hard to convince people to oppose nuclear, since the plants clearly would not be built. No one would try.

    Suffice it to say that, like other posters above, I do not buy into the notion of a utility conspiring to persue a much more expensive generation option, for some unfathomable reason. Whose studies do I trust? Those which come from the entities whose money is actually on the line (i.e., utilities).

    The ONE thing we must do in setting good energy policy is to make sure that various sources can compete fairly, and that the market decides the specific approach for meeting our objectives. We must not have the govt., or anyone else, pick the winning technologies. We must specify desired results, or performance requirements (i.e., reduced or eliminated air pollution, CO2 emissions and energy imports), but not specify the means of achieving those results.

    Almost all the nuclear supporters I know are willing to have such a fair and open competition. That is, they like policies like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, and nothing else. If we were to establish policies that allow for such an open and fair competition, I would be happy to abide by the result. In my experience, it is renewables supporters (and anti-nukes) who are trying to avoid such a competition (to a much greater degree). They all seem to want nothing less than policies which demand the use of renewables. One must ask why this is.

  67. JimHopf says:

    Some specific comments:

    The above (and related) articles have stated that wind power is much cheaper than nuclear. Once again, many studies say otherwise. This is especially true in the Southeast, where most of the nukes are being built, and where the wind resource is very poor. Not only can (intermittent) wind not provide baseload power (which makes it not a substitute for nuclear anyway), but many utility studies show that wind is even more expensive purely on a per kW-hr basis.

    Many have invoked the FPL utility study as an example of “exorbitant” nuclear costs. In general, they compare predictions of future (2016-2018) nuclear power costs (which account for inflation) to present-day renewables costs. The actual FPL study showed overnight capital costs of ~$3500/kW for nuclear. Under most financial models I’ve seen, this translates into a total nuclear electricity cost of ~9 cents, in 2008 dollars, not ~15 cents, let alone over 20 cents. The main possible explanation for the “industry estimate” of 15 cents/kW-hr is that it is in ~2017 dollars. Over this period, inflation will be significant (possibly almost 50%).

    The FPL study, which the Florida PUC concurred with, also showed that nuclear was the cheapest of all generation options, given that unsequestered coal was taken out of the picture. Wind was not even second (gas was). You see, the utility studies accounted for things like inflation and interest costs for all the other sources as well as nuclear. For wind, things like fossil fuel backup and huge transmission costs must also be accounted for (something I’m pretty sure Mr. Wallace’s cost estimates above do not do). According to must studies I’ve seen, wind power AT BEST provides intermittent kW-hrs for about the same cost that nuclear provides steady, baseload kW-hrs.

    And once again, whose studies do I trust? I trust utility studies like FPLs. It’s their money at stake. To suggest that they would deliberately choose a more expensive option is ridiculous. This is especially true given that the PUC agrees.

    I see a big future for wind in the Great Plains and the Northwest. In the Southeast, not so much. I also see a great future for solar thermal in the desert Southwest. But these sources will not be as significant in other regions of the country. Also, wind’s intermittentcy will limit it to ~20% of generation at most. Another problem with wind is that a large amount of wind use would lead to us depending on plants fired by (soon to be Middle Eastern) gas for a large amount of our electricity (as such plants are the only ones that can back wind up). The point is that renewables will not be able to do it all by themselves. If we really want to move away from fossil fuels, a significant amount of nuclear will be required.

  68. Red Craig says:

    Mr. Sowell, I would expect a lawyer to respect the difference between a potential harm and actual harm. I asked you to reference your claim that submersion in petroleum is harmless and you didn’t provide it, which I attribute to its nonexistence. I asked you to reference your claim that radiation from nuclear-energy waste harms people and got the same result.

    Many things have potential for harm. For example, the electrical outlets in your house have four times the voltage it takes to kill you. But they are not a threat because you take reasonable precautions, such as not sticking sharp metal objects into them.

    The same is true of nuclear energy waste. People handle them with reasonable precautions and the waste materials have never harmed anyone.

    There are, in fact, many substances that don’t just have potential for harm, but cause harm every day. For example, coal pollution kills thousands of Americans every month. I hope you’re aware of that startling fact, but if not I can furnish a reference. It is absurd, but consistent with anti-nuclear ideology, to accept ongoing tragedy and militate against fictional hazards.

  69. Roger Sowell says:

    Red Craig, you raise some good points. I do not make the law, I just argue the existing law for my clients.

    Repeating the disclaimer from above, nothing written below is legal advice, nor is it intended to be legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. Any person who requires legal advice should contact an attorney.

    I can assure you I understand the legal difference between actual harm and potential harm. In some jurisdictions, a plaintiff can seek and recover damages for potential harm, such as merely being exposed to a toxic substance even though symptoms of the injury have not been demonstrated.

    My concern is for radiation as an ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activity. That has a legal definition that involves a multi-step test, again, with slight variations in different jurisdictions. One such definition is this:

    Restatement of Torts Second, section 520, provides:

    “In determining whether an activity is abnormally dangerous, the
    following factors are to be considered:

    (a) existence of a high degree of risk of some harm to the
    person, land or chattels of others;

    (b) likelihood that the harm that results from it will be great;

    (c) inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable

    (d) extent to which the activity is not a matter of common

    (e) inappropriateness of the activity to the place where it is
    carried on; and

    (f) extent to which its value to the community is outweighed
    by its dangerous attributes.”

    There is a lot more to it than just this, also different states allow different interpretations and defenses through their established case law.

    An interesting development, and recent, is that ultra-fine particles such as nano-particles have been shown to cause illness in humans. The particles are too fine to be seen, and, depending on their density, may not settle to the ground but float in the atmosphere for long periods. It is an open question whether these nano-particles will be classified as ultrahazardous.

    Back to the oil issue, at one time oil refining was ultrahazardous, but refining companies challenged and won in the courts. Oil refining is no longer an ultrahazardous activity.

    I live in California. Your point about coal pollution, while not very specific, is very true here. Power can no longer be produced by coal in this state. This state passes many laws to curb the quantities of substances in the air and water based on medical harm from exposure to them. This includes SOx, NOx, lead, cement dust, diesel exhaust particulates, VOCs, other dust from common dirt, and many others.

    I gather from your statements that you are a nuclear proponent, and I respect your position. I strongly oppose nuclear power plants and do all in my power to stop their proliferation. The toxic wastes including plutonium and other elements are being stockpiled by our generation, to be dealt with by future generations. This is completely irresponsible in my view.

    Future generations will not thank us. Just imagine how we would respond if ancient civilizations had left a lethal substance that we could not see, nor smell, nor hear. The only way we found out about it was when archaeologists grew ill and died.

    As an engineer and an attorney, I know we can do better, and I believe we must do better. We have the technology today to provide all the energy our societies could ever want or need, without toxic and ultrahazardous nuclear power. We know how to clean up coal and remove its mercury and low-level radiation. We can harness the solar, wind, wave, flowing water, and geothermal energy, and do it in a manner that is safe and reliable. There are other energy technologies under development that I cannot discuss.

    So, given that nuclear power is much more expensive, highly toxic, and has ultrahazardous liability, why again are nuclear proponents in favor of this?

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  70. Rod Adams says:

    @Roger Sowell

    The future generations issue is one where my view is 180 out from yours. Instead of seeing stored used fuel as a toxic hazard, I know that it is a valuable resource that will be part of the energy and specialized materials resource base for many future generations.

    Under our current – rather primitive – once through commercial nuclear fuel cycle, the used rods still contain about 95-97% of their initial potential energy. There are already known ways to recover a major portion of that energy, and there are also known and proven ways to design cores that use a far greater portion of the energy on the first pass, without any recycling.

    I certainly do not know very many people in future generations, but if history is any guide, there is every likelihood that some of them will be smarter about how to use nuclear materials than any of us are today. Without any vanity, I can claim that there are many people in the nuclear business today that know far more about that topic than did any of the first generation of nuclear specialists, some of whom are still alive today.

    Our advantage is that we have learned from them, through their books, articles, and talks and at the same time we have added knowledge that they had no opportunity to access while they were working. One of my lines of business is an approximately weekly podcast and one of the features of that show is that I try to interview as many of the nuclear pioneers as I can find. I spent three shows last year talking to Ray Haroldsen, a guy who was part of the technical team that first supplied power to a city (Arco, Idaho) from a nuclear reactor.

    Ray was also on the technical team that purposely pushed a small test reactor called BORAX to the breaking point and exploded it at the Idaho Reactor Testing Station. You can go to those shows and listen to him tell you in his own words what it was like to pick up the pieces of the reactor and bring them in for analysis. That test was conducted more than 50 years ago, but the interviews with the still spry Ray took place only 18 months ago.

    I also talk regularly with Ted Rockwell, a man who has been in and around the nuclear business since the very beginning; he was a degreed engineer during the Manhattan Project and served as Rickover’s technical director during the design and construction of pioneering plants like the Nautilus and Shippingport. In fact, we just exchanged email yesterday.

    Some of my nuclear associates have been operating a volunteer organization called Radiation, Science and Health for a number of years, gathering detailed studies about the health effects of radiation conducted all over the world over many decades. You should browse through them sometime.

    I am no lawyer, but I have some knowledge of how laws get established and challenged. As the oil industry did with refining so can aggressive and informed nuclear advocates.

    BTW – what kind of engineer are you? If we clean up coal and remove its mercury, what do we do about ash spills, mountain top removal mining, and limits on rail transportation infrastructure?

    Full disclosure – I am not an engineer; my undergraduate degree is in English and my graduate degree is in Systems Technology. However, I studied operational engineering in the navy nuclear power program for a dozen years and served as the Engineer Officer on a submarine from 1987-1990.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    Host and Producer, The Atomic Show
    Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.

  71. Kit P says:

    “I would expect a lawyer to respect …”

    Tell me you are kidding Red? The only thing I expect lawyer to do is respect their billing rate. Roger Sowell is not very good with facts but he is good with misrepresenting facts.

    So what is the record of the US electricity generating industry. Last year none of our customers were harmed. That is a 100% safety record. The industrial safety record is excellent too. Safety is measure by how well you mitigate risk, not the potential risk. This a requirement of OSHA, EPA, and NRC. We do know that countries like USSR have less regard for safety. Nevertheless, I would suggest that Russia now has standards similar to the west.

    “For example, coal pollution kills thousands of Americans every month.”

    Red that is simple not true. If you go back and look at your sources you will find that it is produced by the likes of Roger Sowell.

    This has been the record of the US electricity generating industry for the last 30 years. I am also not aware of anyone in the US naval nuclear program that has been harmed by radiation. If Roger Sowell can provide different facts, please let me know.

    Roger Sowell does not understand the difference between a poison and risk factors for cancer.

    “Karen Silkwood case, which involved her contamination by plutonium.”

    Whenever, the intervenor industry gets in a corner they fear monger with mercury and plutonium.

    Plutonium is both toxic and has a risk factor for cancer. It is interesting to note nicotine is more toxic and has a higher risk factor for cancer than plutonium. Living in California, Roger Sowell may not be aware but they sell nicotine dispenser to children. I have seen school kids smoking in many states but I know that Roger Sowell can not find any cases of plutonium contamination of children.

    Karen Silkwood was not harmed by plutonium. The sudden deceleration while driving proved fatal.

    “Power can no longer be produced by coal in this state.”

    Again this is not true. Because of the Roger Sowell’s intervenor industry it is not practical to make electricity with coal in California. It is much more practical to make electrician with coal in other states for California consumers.

    “The toxic wastes including plutonium and other elements are being stockpiled by our generation, to be dealt with by future generations.”

    In point of fact the volume of toxic waste are about the same for wind and solar per kwh. This amount is small. For the record, my generation is dealing with spent fuel. Current the geological repository is in the permitting process at the NRC. You may want to write your representatives supporting Yucca Mountain.

  72. Roger Sowell says:

    Mr. Adams,

    First, my undergraduate degree is a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. My background is published on my website at

    Second, even if we were to stipulate to your points regarding re-use and recycling spent nuclear fuel, there are other important issues. Your argument pre-supposes that there is a means of conveying knowledge to future generations. That may not happen. Also, your argument pre-supposes that future generations are at least as smart as or smarter than current and previous ones. That also may not happen.

    History has shown that civilizations rise and fall. Even leaving written records is no guarantee that the future generations can understand the past. Egyptian hieroglyphics are a case on point; if not for the lucky discovery of the Rosetta stone, it is doubtful we would be able to read their writings. The Roman empire was over-run by groups that cared little for their technology, their civilization, their writings.

    And in this world we live in, in January 2009 as I write this, there are literally thousands of nuclear warheads in multiple nations, missiles with very long range of thousands of miles, and some distinct groups of people who have publicly vowed to wipe out the western civilizations. It is very likely that at least some of those bent on destroying the west will obtain nuclear weapons; it is only a matter of time. Other nations that already have nuclear weapons could also have a regime change that leads to nuclear destruction.

    There are other scenarios that lead to the future generations not being able to understand our technology, such as disease, famine, volcanic cataclysm, asteroid strike, the list goes on. It would not take much for nuclear wastes to contaminate water, and at that point things get very bad very quickly.

    Some make the argument that spent nuclear fuel can be safely reprocessed into useful fuel, yet that same reprocessing can isolate plutonium that can be made into weapons.

    You raise the issue of collateral environmental damage from coal, those being ash spills, mountain top removal mining, and limits on rail transportation infrastructure. Coal ash can be better handled, no doubt. Mining methods can be improved, also. Rail infrastructure is not the only means of transporting coal, as coal slurry pipelines are viable.

    By the way, there is a pro-nuclear article in today’s Houston Chronicle, online at The comments on their site on that article are likely to be interesting. My handle for comments on that site is *refineryguy*.

    As an engineer with more than two decades experience in more than 75 refineries, chemical plants, and petrochemical plants, plus the associated power generation facilities, in more than a dozen countries, I know just how easy it is for things to go wrong.

    I know that with the current generation, we can do better than toxic nuclear power. It is embarrassing for me to observe the continued construction of nuclear power plants. We owe something much better to future generations.

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  73. Red Craig says:

    Kit P, here is the results summary for the Abt study, the most comprehensive study done on coal-pollution mortality. There’s a link there for the full report, which is very long and very technical. It certainly is true that thousands of Americans die every month. Extrapolating to the rest of the world, hundreds of thousands die every year.

    Mr. Sowell, none of the items in your long list qualifies nuclear energy as an ultrahazard. Despite your desperation in wanting it to be one, it just isn’t.

    Future generations won’t care about nuclear-energy waste. They will care very much that we used up all the fossil-fuel reserves, poisoned the soil and the oceans, and even altered the climate. Coal pollution is the main source of lead in the oceans, along with arsenic, cadmium and mercury. Now, the oceans are so poisoned that people are advised to limit their consumption of fish. When whales beach themselves and die, their carcasses have to be treated as toxic waste. Spent fuel encapsulated in stainless steel, or vitrified residual waste, buried thousands of feet inside a desert mountain will be the very least of people’s concerns.

    I think this predilection for militant opposition to fictitious hazards and insouciance about ongoing catastrophic damage is a principal feature of antinuclearism.

  74. Roger Sowell says:

    Mr. Adams,

    I have no desperation of any sort. Never have. And, it is not me wishing that radiation is ultrahazardous that makes it so. Learned judges and countless experts in courts in many countries, and for many decades, made it so. Not me. I am just an attorney, and do not have that kind of power.

    Fictitious hazards, you say. Hmmm…which ones? I wrote “disease, famine, volcanic cataclysm, asteroid strike…” Which of these are fictitious? Are you a student of history? I did not even include others on the list, earthquake, terrorist attack, sabotage, internal breakdown from improper maintenance of aging facilities. Please indicate which of these are fictitious.

    You characterize my views as “insouciance to ongoing catastrophic damage”, yet my view is pragmatic and rationally consequential. We must have a different definition of “catastrophic damage.”

    One of the keys, perhaps you missed earlier, is the magnitude of the harm resulting from the ultrahazardous activity. Radiation kills, it alters genetics, it sickens people, it produces defective babies. These are indisputable facts. Ask any Japanese whose families are still affected by nuclear bombs from 1945. More recently, have a look at victims from Chernobyl.

    And, in my view, it is irresponsible to bury toxic nuclear wastes in any mountain. No container is safe, no container is leak-proof, and we know that the toxicity endures for many thousands of years. Out of sight, out of mind is not rational nor responsible.

    The chemical dumps from earlier decades left a toxic mess for our generation to clean up. People are still suffering the ill effects of toxic chemical dump sites.

    As an engineer, I know we can do better. We should do better. Poisoning future generations with toxic nuclear waste is not acting responsibly. Nor is providing raw material for nuclear bombs. Nor is providing raw material for dirty bombs. Nor is transporting the toxic nuclear waste across country by rail or truck. Neither form of transportation is safe.

    Given all those negatives, the high price of nuclear power, toxic radioactive wastes that endure for thousands of years, and an irresponsible, possibly irremedial, burden on future generations, why again are you pro-nuclear?

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  75. Rod Adams says:

    @Roger Sowell – I appreciate the opportunity to discuss ideas with you in a civilized manner. It is a pleasure to engage in conversation with someone with your experience and knowledge. It is particularly enlightening to learn a bit more about your background and professional experience in the coal, oil and gas industry. As you stated:

    “As an engineer with more than two decades experience in more than 75 refineries, chemical plants, and petrochemical plants, plus the associated power generation facilities, in more than a dozen countries, I know just how easy it is for things to go wrong.

    I know that with the current generation, we can do better than toxic nuclear power. It is embarrassing for me to observe the continued construction of nuclear power plants. We owe something much better to future generations.”

    If I was a chemical engineer whose specialties involved refinery operations, and if I had no real understanding of nuclear power, its safety record and the kinds of people that are employed in the business, I might feel the same way that you do. After all, my bread would be buttered by the establishment competitors to nuclear power – the fossil fuel industry – and my entire collection of professional colleagues would have come from that same industry. If my resume matched yours, my own lack of personal experience in reactor plants would keep me from really understanding what I was talking about.

    I have read that Houston Chronicle article and was amused by the choice of at least one of the opposing voices. In the body of the article, Peter Hartley was described as “an energy expert at Rice University” and was quoted as follows: “Add in capital costs, Rice’s Hartley said, and nuclear energy becomes more expensive than coal or natural gas.”

    What amused me was when I quickly determined that Hartley was an economics professor sitting in the George and Cynthia Mitchell Family Chair in Sustainable Development and academic director of the Shell Center for Sustainability (SCS). George Mitchell made his money when he sold Mitchell Energy & Development to Devon Energy and we all know that Shell is one of the founding members of the multinational club of major oil companies formerly known as the Seven Sisters.

    Many of my nuclear colleagues are less competitively oriented than I am; they take people at their word and believe that the main opposition to nuclear power comes from people who declare their anti-nuclear position and proclaim themselves to be “environmentalists”. I beg to differ – the logical opposition to nuclear comes from people who want to protect their market share and to continue selling coal, oil and natural gas. That is true even when the people are less open about their opposition than you are and damn the technology with faint praise.

    I am rather amazed at your pessimism with regard to knowledge capture and knowledge sharing. After all, we are conversing on one of the greatest knowledge dispersion inventions ever created. At least on my end, I feel like I have fingertip access to a large portion of the English language knowledge base through the use of tools like Google web and Google book searches.

    Feel free to continue your opposition to nuclear power. We live in a free country; I am very proud of that fact. I have served that country for more than 30 years in uniform and my daughter and son-in-law are both continuing the family tradition. Both are smarter than I am; I know that is not exactly a representative sample, but it is also not unusual among the people I hang out with.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast
    Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.

  76. Roger Sowell says:

    Mr. Adams,

    You wrote *If my resume matched yours, my own lack of personal experience in reactor plants would keep me from really understanding what I was talking about.*

    I understand more than you give me credit for in the nuclear power industry. Perhaps you are unaware of the range of courses that chemical engineers take. I have experience in the legal side of the power projects. I have been in one nuclear power plant, also.

    But even if I did not, but worked entirely on information received, my stance does not change. Nuclear plants produce plutonium. They are one of the most expensive forms of power generation on the planet. Their fuel costs are escalating, and producing that fuel is harmful to the environment.

    And as to credentials of a professor at Rice University, what possible difference does that make? I worked for or consulted to oil companies for decades, yet I am a strong proponent of renewable energy technologies. If a person has a point to make, and it is factual and logically supported, why would anyone care where he works?

    One comment on the means of information transfer: this internet is very fragile. A fiber-optic cable was accidentally cut across the Mediterranean a little while back, and millions were without access. Also, the nuclear magnetic pulse from a nuclear bomb will wipe out computers and electronic storage media.

    I also thank you for the civil discussion. I wish you the best in all your endeavors. And, my thanks to you and your family members for your military service.

    The market place will sort things out. The courts will also have a say in many things.

    As we said often in the 1960’s, One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Whole Day.

    Other matters require my attention now, so I will sign off.

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  77. ondrejch says:

    Roger – It is revealing how you dare to talk about topics you clearly do not have much knowledge about by the way you talk about Internet “fragility”. It is the funding feature of Internet to maintain connectivity even if a line is cut, by re-routing the traffic through other available means (please learn about BGP routing for details). A wise person understand, what he does not know, and refrains from such topic.

    Also mentioning nuclear weapons in nuclear energy for electricity discussion, is a clear sign of magic thinking, instead of rational analysis, as far as the energy discussion goes.

  78. JimHopf says:

    Given that Roger may be gone, I’ll address my comments to people in general.

    Asking why one would support nuclear is a silly question. It is the main alternative to fossil fuels, especially for large-scale, baseload power generation. Fossil power plants cause ~25,000 deaths in the US alone (hundreds of thousands worldwide) every single year, under normal operation. They are also the leading single cause of global warming, with fossil power plants being responsible for roughly one third of US emissions. Western nuclear power plants, on the other hand, has not killed a single member of the public, and have had no measurable impact on public health, over their entire several decade operating history. Even a worst-case nuclear power plant accident, or attack scenario, would cause would have an impact that is a tiny fraction of the ANNUAL impact of fossil fuels. Nuclear power also has a negligible impact on global warming.

    Scientific studies that quantify the public health and environmental impacts/risks of various energy sources all conclude that nuclear’s impacts are similar to those of renewables, and are a tiny fraction of those related to fossil fuels (one study is given at

    Given nuclear’s essentially perfect safety record and minimal environmental impact, over several decades of operation, I’m at a loss on how someone could refer to it as an “ultrahazardous” industry. I also don’t understand how someone could say that “we can do better”. Better than perfect?

    Mr. Sowell even seems to think that nuclear is the worst, even compared to coal, oil, and gas. None of these sources, even with any foreseeable advances in technology will never even approach nuclear in terms of environmental performance. All of them involve environmental impacts and public health and safety risks that are known to be orders of magnitude larger than nuclear, and this is not about to change.

    As far as the waste is concerned, many other waste streams, including those from the coal industry and the petrochemical industries Mr. Sowell worked in, represent a far greater risk than any posed by nuclear wastes, even over the very long term. The wastes from such industries are several orders of magnitude more voluminous, are much more dispersible and harder to contain (i.e., liquids and sludges versus a ceramic solid), and are buried with infinitely less care.

    It’s just that the nuclear industry is the only one that is required to demonstrate negligible impact, or risk, from its waste materials for as long as they remain hazardous. No other industry is held to anywhere near such a standard. It’s not that the streams from other industries aren’t hazardous over the very long term. It’s just that all other industries simply get a pass. They’re not even asked the question. For all other industries and waste streams, the philosophy is “do the best you can”, as opposed to an unbending requirement of essentially perfect performance. It is not even clear that solar cells, which contain several toxic elements (e.g., arsenic) represent a smaller long-term waste problem than nuclear waste.

    The real truth is that there is almost no chance that the waste will be there (in Yucca or wherever), for more than a few hundred years. By that time, we will definitely have the technology to process and eliminate the waste. And there is no chance of leakage within a few hundred years. Thus, it is essentially clear that nuclear waste will never have any negative impact on the environment. Whatever we end up doing with the waste, it is clear that the solution will be held to an impeccible standard, and that no significant long term impact will be allowed. This much is clear. Nuclear power plant wastes have not caused any health or environmental harm for ~40 years now. It’s clear that it will not have any impact for the forseeable future.

    As for the notion of forgetting about the waste, or some future, lower-tech civilization uncoering it is a ridiculous example of grasping at straws to find some type of problem. If technology continues to advance, this tiny problem will pose no challenge to people living a thousand or more years from now. Can anybody honestly picture the people living in ~1000 AD doing anything, or burying anything, that would be capable of causing us (modern society) any real problems? And if there is some cataclysm that results in a lower tech level than today’s, a tiny volume of buried waste (which is much less tosic by then) would be the very least of their problems. Seriously, are silly hypothetical “problems” such as these being held up as comperable to the problems of fossil fuels, i.e., global warming and losing tens to hundreds of thousands of lives every year?

    One final observation is how the fretting over impact or burden on future generations is selectively applied, to nuclear power only. For starters, the waste streams from coal, gas, and oil use all represent larger long-term risks and environmental impacts than nuclear waste. But even more important is the fact that our generation is burning through our planet’s precious, finite reserves of hydrocarbons (oil and gas), in large part due to wasteful uses like baseload power generation, when alternative like coal and nuclear, which use ample and otherwise useless fuels, are available (as well as renewables). For this reason, we will run out of these resources over the course of decades, as opposed to saving these resources, for use in higher-value applications, for several centuries. This will result in a burden on future generations that is infinitely larger than any tiny (to non-existant) burden from a tiny volume of waste sitting in a repository somewhere. And yet, nobody even talks about this. It is likely that the nuclear industry will even pay our grandchildren to process, use, and eliminate the nuclear waste stream. No other industry does anything like this.

  79. JimHopf says:

    Concerning radiation,

    Based on his posts, Mr. Sowell also seems to think that the nuclear power and weapons industries are the only source of this “ultrahazardous” radiation, and that the world is otherwise “clean”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The world is a sea of naturally occurring radiation. All objects have some level of radioactivity, including our own bodies. The amount of radiation the public is exposed to from nuclear power operations is a negligible fraction of what they recieve all the time from natural sources.

    Natural background levels of radiation vary widely, by a factor of several. And yet, no studies have ever shown any correlation between the level of natural background radiation and the incidence of cancer or any other disease. No studies have measured any health impacts from exposures within the range of natural background. In fact, no clear evidence of health effects occurs for exposure levels under 10 Rem (10,000 mrem) per year.

    In the entire history of non-Soviet nuclear power, no members of the public have recieved more than a tiny fraction of the natural background level of radiation from plant operations, or even accidents, such as TMI. Given that no health effects are seen from natural exposures that are orders of magnitude larger than any from the plants, it is clear that nuclear power has had no health impact. Even the worst-case accident event that could occur at a US nuclear plant would not expose any member of the public to the levels for which clear health impacts are seen.

    This brings me to a related point concerning the law, and liability. My understanding is that the clear precedent from case law, based on cases actually involving radiation exposure claims (as well as toxic agent exposures in general) is that in order to get any damages, you have to be sick (e.g., cancer) and it has to be at least 50% likely that your illness was due to the agent in question. A person who recieved enough radiation to get radiation sickness (i.e., an “acute exposure”) would have a claim. For cancer, however, even the (overly-conservative) linear-no-threshhold theory states that one cancer death occurs per 2500 man-Rem. Thus, for a 50% chance of cancer, one would have had to receive an exposure of ~1250 Rem, which is more than the acute dose anyway.

    Even at Chernobyl, no members of the public got anywhere near an acute exposure, or 1250 Rem, despite a release that is much larger than any modern reactor is capable of, and despite a complete lack of evacuation of emergency response. Thus, it is clear that no members of the public will recieve anywhere near that amount of radiation in any US plant accident. Thus, the 50% criterion will never be met. All the scary death figures one hears for nuclear accidents are based on hypothetical, tiny cancer risks (~1% or less) that occur over large numbers of people.

    Based on all this, if the industry decided to fight such claims, it is unlikely that they would have to pay out much, if anything at all. The only possibly successful claims would involve thyroid cancer. But it should be noted that these effects are relatively small. Even for Chernobyl, upper-bound estimates of eventual thyroid cancer deaths is on the order of 100. Effects from any modern plant accident will be far smaller, given differences in plant design and the much better emergency response. Thus, thyroid-related liability will not be a major factor.

  80. Roger Sowell says:

    ondrejch– Perhaps Bloomberg should also refrain from speaking about topics on which they know not?

    “Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) — Internet and telephone communications between the Middle East and Europe were disrupted after three undersea cables connecting Italy and Egypt in the Mediterranean Sea were damaged.

    The failures cut the flow of “data of various kinds” between Europe and the Middle East, and there’s no timeframe for when communications will be restored, said Sanjeev Gaur, director of assurance at Reliance Globalcom Ltd. in India. France Telecom SA, which plans to send a maintenance boat to fix the problem, said the situation should be back to normal by Dec. 31.

    Three cable systems carrying more than 75 percent of traffic between the Middle East, Europe and America were damaged, according to the U.K.’s Interoute Plc, which operates a fiber- optic data network connecting 92 cities. The cables run from Alexandria in northern Egypt to Sicily in southern Italy. In January, an anchor severed the cables outside Alexandria after bad weather conditions forced ships to moor off the coast.”

    I do not make things up. This re-routing you speak of is a bit like eliminating one freeway in rush hour, and diverting all the vehicles to other freeways. Sure, it works in a very slow way, but many internet users were completely out of communication.

    JimHopf: you are entirely welcome to attempt to remove nuclear radiation from the list of ultrahazardous activities. As I stated above, oil refineries were successful at that. Good luck.

    It is clear that you are convinced that nuclear power is safe, but my colleagues and I are equally convinced that the entire industry must be shut down. You do not have the right to poison with toxic radioactivity the environment in which our children and grandchildren and their descendents must live.

    Even leaving aside for the moment our disagreement over toxic radioactivity and its dangers to people, why do you want one of the most expensive forms of electric power on the planet? Do you want to reduce the cost of each plant, perhaps by eliminating the containment vessel? How would that affect your safety record then?

    And we are not running out of oil. Or natural gas. And even if we did eventually run out, we can convert coal to anything that oil produces.

    Will check back in next weekend. This is fun.

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  81. Kit P says:

    Red, you sound like a reasonable person, so thank you for the link to the bogus report. Red does not know the difference between real people and virtual people.

    I have a boat that is directly down wind from a coal plant that without particulate control. Air quality is perfect. Since I am a sailor, I watch the wind carefully. There is no possible wind pattern that can cause the wind to go past my boat and then change directions to arrive at my house. Not only that the computer model has people being killed in Clarkston, Washington and Boise, Idaho from the same coal plant.

    I do know that bad air quality can result is serious health risk. The air quality was so bad one day that it looked like dusk in the middle of the afternoon and a friend’s child had to be taken to the emergency room. The cause of the air pollution was not the coal plant but the massive wild fire.

    So Red, if it takes a virtual leap of logic in a virtual world; I would suggest no real people are dying. I have a read a real hazard analysis for all US coal plants looking at the source of pollution, the pathways, and receptors. No customers of US generating facilities are being hurt. Perfect is a very good safety record.

    Being good at safety gets you invested to do hazard analysis at non generating facilities. This morning I reviewed the record of facility I did many years ago. Someone slipped in the snow but there were numerous reports of unsafe working conditions. A trip hazard that gets fixed before somebody trips, a sharp edge that gets fixed before someone gets cut.

    The point I am making Red is that pollution and radiation can be controlled and measured. A systematic approach to safety leads to discussions of near misses to minor accidents rather than investigating fatal accidents.

  82. Red Craig says:

    Kit P, you’re proposing quite a radical new idea, that coal pollution has never caused death. Ever. The Abt study is the most comprehensive done to date, and is consistent with all the studies done before.

    Given the originality of your thesis, you really need to do more than just say it ain’t so, which is all your post does. Do you have data? Can you show where the analyses done before are wrong? Where is this “real hazard analysis for all US coal plants”? We’d all like to see it.

  83. Kit P says:

    Red, you are accusing the electricity industry of mass murder. It is incumbent on Red who has not provided a reference (links to tables do not count). Repeating the same lie over and over is not the same studies.

    I never said never. Once upon a time we heated our houses with coal and the coal generating plant was down town with no pollution controls. Cars did not have seat belts. There was no polio vaccine. Almost every adults smoked 2 packs a day.

    Also when I was in grade school they did not teach hazard analysis.

    Red you do not say where you live. The air quality is good where I live and 90% of my electricity is generated with coal. Try as I might I can not find those dirty coal plants. Now I can sure find lots of places with bad air quality and lots of cars. You can start with cities in California.

    So Red, get your study. Look at it again for where you live. The EPA web site AIRNOW will give you real time data on air quality.

    Cleaning up our air is not an new idea. It stems from the CAA. Then there is the CWA, CERCLA, RCRA, OSHA, and do not forget the Environmental Policy Act that leads to many more TLA like EIS, ROD so that Red can provide uniformed public comment.

    So after decades of progress, tell Red that no one is being killed from coal emission and his reaction is tell me it is not so.

    There is no statistically difference risk between nuke and fossil fuel other than transportation for the general population. So Red, try not to race trains carrying coal to the crossing. Also do not camp over natural gas pipelines.

  84. ondrejch says:

    Roger – as a matter of fact, it is coal industry which poisons our environment by uncontainable diluted radioactive wastes – :
    “the energy content of nuclear fuel released in coal combustion is more than that of the coal consumed”

    Spills, explosions, tanker leaks etc., are all too common in the fossil fuel industry. Recently couple coal toxic waste containment ponds raptured recently, adding to the environmental damage of fossil fuels.

    This damage was extensively studied by EU agency eXterne (LCA in different countries by rigorous methodology) and the summary of relative externalities in eurocents/kWh are here:
    Clearly the nuclear has about the lowest external costs.

    Nuclear is one of the cheapest sources of power, recent Czech NPP Temelin produces power for 4.5 cents/kWh (incl. capital, decommissioning and spent fuel management costs), the second cheapest among CEZ plants the after Dukovany NPP (3 cents/kWh). The “price” argument does not hold water, esp. from someone who shills for the most price volatile energy resources – oil & natgas:

    You are not “equally” convinced, your notion is plain wrong. There is no victim associated with the partially spent fuel from electricity producing nuclear power plants, this SNF is safely stored within the power plants site, consuming less space than the parking lot for the management of the plant. The victims associated with fossil fuels burning are well known, and we read about them in newspapers all the time. I guess that you as an insider know about all the people killed by gas explosions, oil refinery fires, coal cave ins etc., much better than I do. According to EPA, US coal kills about 24 000 Americans/year form particulates alone. Total victims of carbon fuel combustion are estimated by WHO to be over million people a year. It is not nuclear energy who needs good luck to manage related toxic wastes with demonstrated safety.

    Risk analysis shows that coal has about 2400 deaths per TW year (~2000 in pollution, 450 in accidents), natgas and oil about 3-400, wind 600-1500, and nuclear (including Chernobyl) about 10 deaths/TW year. Good luck?

    None of the above includes effects of global climate change –
    Even if the IEA is right about the oil/natgas reserves, we have too much of these fossil resources to radically alter the climate by its combustion.

    The problem with people like you is demonstrated in your reply concerning Internet – you have no idea how things actually work, and you form your opinions from news stories, instead from understanding of how stuff works. Yes, in a specific case, which is contrary to all design rules and/or regulations (which is what news stories talk about disproportionately more often), you may be right. In a general case, which is what we are after, you are plain wrong.

  85. ondrejch says:

    Kit – it is not Red who accuses coal industry from mass murder, it is a Clean Air Task Force under Bush’s EPA. Please read here –

    quote: “• Fine particle pollution from U.S. power plants
    cuts short the lives of nearly 24,000 people each
    year, including 2800 from lung cancer.”

  86. Dr. J. Singmaster says:

    Nuclear power is derived from releasing trapped buried energy into the earth’s closed biosphere. Thus adding more heat eventually to increase global warming. With too much carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere to help keep that extra energy in the atmosphere we go nowhere except hotter with nuclear energy be it fission or fusion.
    Windmills recycle some of the extra energy already making the weather worse so they should be the top priority for new energy programs. In the past 18 months, six different reports have been made about catalyst to split water to get hydrogen using sunlight. Unfortunately the National Renewable Energy Lab seems to be wasting our money trying to get biofuels, somehow unconcerned about food and possibly water shortage problems or about having a sudden plague in a monocrop energy planting that wipes out 50% or more as occurred with Irish potato famine.
    Yes the cost of nuclear power is underestimated especially since it will add more energy to global warming thereby adding to its effects and costs.
    Dr. James Singmaster

  87. Finrod says:

    @ Dr. J. Singmaster:

    “Nuclear power is derived from releasing trapped buried energy into the earth’s closed biosphere. Thus adding more heat eventually to increase global warming. With too much carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere to help keep that extra energy in the atmosphere we go nowhere except hotter with nuclear energy be it fission or fusion.”

    You’re misunderstanding the scale of energy flows here. Humans control about 15 TW of power on Earth. Earth’s insolation, the total power of solar radiation hitting the upper atmosphere, is around 175,000 TW. Our direct contribution to global warming from all sources of power is insignificant compared to the vast flows of power through the atmosphere, biosphere aand ocean. The problem of global warming is a problem of atmospheric chemistry, not of power generation in and of itself. The sooner we can phase out CO2 emmissions the better, and nuclear power is the quickest way to do that.

  88. Kit P says:

    Ondrejch, I have read the report. Like I said the report is bogus. It is a transparent but carefully crafted lie. “This report was made possible with funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts.”

    Ondrejch where do you live. Do you have air quality that is dangerous because of burning coal? It is not hard to figure out that making electricity is not hurting anyone. It is simply absurd to suggesting using coal is a risk factor in lung cancer. The two significantly risk factors for lung cancer is first getting old and second smoking. In the virtual world you multiply a large number of people by a bogus number to get a bogus number. The same is true with radiation exposure. If you could put 25 million folks at the fence line of a nuke plant, they could get a certain exposure without violating regulations. However, that doe not mean anyone is actually getting the exposure.

    It is a corruption to science to imply that conservative insignificant risk factors are the same as real harm.

  89. ondrejch says:

    Kit – it is not important that Pew helped with funding, it is important that the study used standard rigorous methodology common in epidemiological studies, and was an EPA solicited & approved study.

    Health effects of particulates, sulfur & nitrogen oxide, and heavy metal pollutants (arsenic, mercury, uranium, ..) spewed from coal burning plants are well known:
    To get an idea how are such epidemiological studies performed, see for instance

    Risk factors associated with some concentration of the pollutants can be (and are) established in much the same way as risk factors associated with smoking and aging (or living in poverty, living single etc.). See here:

    Risk analysis based epidemiology is pretty much standard health science, if you still dismiss it s a nonsense I suggest visiting a public library.

    I lived in a place which was covered in smog, particulates and other pollutants. Between ~ 20 – 15 years ago, the air quality improved by ~80% (that is 80% reduction in major pollutants such as SO2, NOx, PM, mercury, …) and the live expectancy rose by 10 years, and is still rising.

    Nuclear energy is the only non-polluting, economical, and scalable source of stable energy, that is the only one which can replace the horribly polluting coal combustion one. Natgas and oil are not that better, plus they come with high price volatility due to large contribution of fuel price.

  90. Kit P says:

    “..and was an EPA solicited & approved study.”

    No actually! I do not think ondrejch understands what a carefully crafted lie is. A carefully crafted lie is one that words statement in such a way that a person without a background in hazard analysis and not reading carefully would draw the wrong conclusion. Clearly, ondrejch demonstrates this point.

    I am trained in hazard analysis and environmental engineering. Having read studies that showed that no US coal plant caused a significant heath risk factor, I was skeptical when first reading ondrejch’s report many year ago. It did not take long for me to figure out it was bogus study.

    At the time there was a organized anti-coal smear campaign. For example, a mercury warning was issue fro eating fish from Washington State’s water. The source of the mercury was legacy issues with paper mills and smelters. The level of mercury was decreasing and frankly I do not think there were enough fish in the two lakes to cause even one mother to be to exceed threshold limits for mercury.

    “ … and the live expectancy rose by 10 years, and is still rising.”

    What do you think ondrejch, could better health care and lower consumption of booze and smokes be the more likely cause of improved health?

    SMOG! I have deduced that ondrejch lives in California and has never lived near a coal plant.

    “Nuclear energy is the only non-polluting, economical, and scalable source of stable energy, that is the only one which can replace the horribly polluting coal combustion one.”

    I would welcome biomass, nukes or coal plants meeting modern emission standards where I live but this is because I understand the regulatory standards that must be met.

  91. ondrejch says:

    Actually I do not live in California, but that is besides the point. Perhaps you could link the studies showing that emissions from coal combustion do not present a (significant) health risk, which would be a revolutionary finding in epidemiology indeed.

    I linked several resources, governmental and scientific, clearly showing that such risk is non-zero, and can be enumerated using standard methodology. Your claims otherwise need much more justification that the hand waving and “i’ve seen a study” kind of claims presented so far.

  92. Kit P says:

    There is a step missing in ondrejch’s logic. Yes, there is a hazard. Yes, some people are exposed to those hazards. No, the source of the hazard is not US coal fired electricity generating stations.

    While ondrejch thinks he has provided links non-zero risk, he has not. Furthermore, ondrejch has moved the goal post. First he is claims coal generation is about killing people, now it non-zero risk. What I claimed was insignificant risk.

    “I suggest visiting a public library.”

    Sorry ondrejch the report I read was in a technical library of a major US university while working on my masters in environmental engineering before I ever used the internet. My task was to give a presentation on standard rigorous methodology. I thought it would be fun to bash coal because I was very anti-coal as was my audience. This particular mythology sums all the risk factors for each plant with the standard being insignificant risk. That is an engineering equivalent of zero. From an engineering point of view, all the pollution controls added since did nothing to reduce the heath risk because it was already too small to measure. It has served to make electricity more expensive.

    Here is the interesting twist. Clinton/Gore were anti coal and nuke. As a result, natural gas got expensive. In the meantime China and India went on a coal building making world coal prices increase.

    The reason nuke plants are being considered in the US and elsewhere is pure economics. If ondrejch lives in the US, I can tell what him what the better choice is between coal and nukes both economically and environmentally.

  93. Roger Sowell says:

    ondrejch said on January 13th, 2009 at 1:08 am; Czech nuclear power costs only 3 cents/kwh, another only 4.5 cents/kwh. I am sure these are fully-costed, unsubsidized costs.

    In that case, Czech engineers and financiers are the best in the world. By far. Congratulations! Please, have them build 2,000 more such nuclear plants right away in Czech Republic, and sell the power across the world. No one can compete with that price. I will watch with great interest your progress in that endeavour.

    Interesting, that you criticize me as knowing nothing, for citing an isolated news article as a source. Yet, you do the same, citing news sources, in your statistics on deaths caused by fossil-fuel industries.

    Did you account for the toxic and other pollution from uranium mining? Did you account for the premature deaths from workers in the uranium enrichment and fuel industry? Have you accounted for the future generations’ premature and horrible, agonizing deaths from reprocessing our toxic spent nuclear fuel?

    Did you account for all the radioactive wastes that enter the air and water, including nuclear-powered submarines that sunk? How many people and animals are poisoned by that radioactivity?

    Did you account for the lives killed and others horribly burned from the nuclear bombs that will be made from the plutonium?

    And yes, I truly wish you good luck in your quest to have nuclear radiation reclassified in the courts as not ultrahazardous. Then, you can build those Czech nuclear power plants without the expensive containment domes and without many of the operational safeguards. That should reduce the price of electricity to around 1 or 2 cents per kwh.

    While we are at it, are you in favor of eliminating chlorine? Surely you must be, as it is a toxic gas and annually makes many people ill from exposure. How about ammonia? Same issue, people become very sick. How about pesticides, e.g. Methyl-iso-cyanate, the chemical that made thousands die or ill in Bhopal?

    Why do you not mention the known health risks of tobacco smoke, and chewed tobacco, and health risks of imbibing alcohol? Should we ban all those things, too?

    And why are cars not on your list? As we all know, more people are killed in cars each year than by many other activities. It is far safer to walk, after all.

    So, good luck with your mission. Take your statistics into a court of law, make your testimony, and convince the judge or jury that nuclear radiation is safe and must be removed from the ultrahazardous activities list. Then, after you win in the lower court, prepare for the appeal to a higher court because it will certainly be appealed. Then, if you win there, prepare for the highest court to hear the next appeal. Congratulations! You just won! In one country.

    Now, repeat in all the other countries, roughly 190 of them so far. As I said, good luck with that.

    And as for nuclear not producing CO2 whereas fossil-fueled power plants do produce CO2, you apparently believe that CO2 in the atmosphere is a bad thing, right? And, that CO2 causes global warming, right? Things like sea level is rising that will flood islands and low places, sea ice is melting so polar bears drown, and all that Al Gore gloom and doom.

    Then, please explain why sea level has stabilized since 2006, yet CO2 has increased steadily. Next, please explain how total ice on Greenland and Antarctica are increasing.

    Next, please explain how England could have zero temperature increase as measured by the Central England site, from 1750 to 1900, during the Industrial Revolution. England and the rest of the industrialized world burned coal almost exclusively during that 150 year period, and CO2 in the atmosphere most assuredly increased dramatically. Only no one was measuring the CO2 content of air in those days, so we do not have direct measurements.

    Sea levels can be found at

    CO2 in the atmosphere can be found at

    I will check back next weekend.

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  94. Mike Short says:

    Craig Severance- you made a grave error in your math/logic that led you to the wrong conclusion.

    You cited the cost/kWh for the first year of operation, as if the plant wouldn’t run after that. You must divide the capital costs (the cost of building the plant) by the LIFETIME generating capacity of the plant – i.e. divide your $0.22/kWh by 40 years – the lifetime of the plant. You only divided by ONE YEAR’S worth of electricity.

    You will then arrive at $0.07-$0.08 / kWh, which is the correct number.

    Here’s the correct math: Let’s say a plant costs $5 billion to build (a high estimate). It has two units, which generate 1,000MW electric each, so the plant puts 2 million kW. That means that in one year it puts out 8,760hrs/yr * 2,000,000kWh. However in its LIFETIME it will put out 40yr * 8,760hr/yr * 2,000,000kWh = 700 billion kWh.

    $5 billion divided by 700 billion kWh gives you $0.007/kWh for your capital costs. Remember – you only pay for capital costs once! Add this capital cost to your other numbers (which are correct enough) and you get $0.07-$0.08/kWh.


    [JR: Nice try, but not accurate. Craig already assumes a 40-year lifetime.]

  95. Mike Short says:

    JR – I agree with you that the author already assumes a 40 year lifetime. His mistake was in calculating the capital costs per kWh for only the first year of operation, and citing that as the lifetime cost per kWh for the plant.

    On page 35, the author writes the following equation for his ‘most likely’ case:

    CAPITAL COST/KWH = $10,553/KW x .1457 Cap. Recovery /(8760 hrs/yr x 80% C.F.) = $0.22/KWH

    By only including 8760hrs/yr, the author made the following mistakes:

    1) He calculated the cost/kWh for only the first year of operation. He should have divided his cost by his expected 40yr lifetime.
    2) The equation does not work dimensionally. The units for the final result end up being [1/kW] / [hrs/yr]. Dividing by the lifetime of the plant (40yrs) fixes this error in the units of the equation, as well as the end result).

    I should also admit that I made an oversimplification in my previous post – I did not account for interest on the loan that would be taken out for capital costs. Assuming my hypothetical plant cost $5 billion to make as before, and it was financed with a 20yr loan at 11% interest (a typical scenario), the total capital cost with interest would end up being about 2.5 times the initial investment, or $12.5 billion to be paid out by the plant in the end. Even so, that would put my capital cost calculation at $0.0177/kWh, still far short of the author’s claim.

  96. Roger Sowell says:

    Severance is correct in his calculations.

    Today, an article on a proposed nuclear plant in Turkey had this to say about the power price to customers:

    “Jan 24, 2009

    Two French companies had purchased bid specifications for the tender to construct Turkey’s first nuclear reactor in Mersin’s Akkuyu district.

    The bid from the only submitter in the tender, the Russian-Turkish JSC Atomstroyexport-INTER RAO UES JSC-Park Teknik consortium was opened on Jan. 19 and the offer price for electricity from the nuclear power plant to be sold to the Turkish state was 21.16 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).”

    Roger E. Sowell

  97. Mike Short says:

    Mr. Sowell,

    Citing a single bid from a plant in Turkey does not make Mr. Severance’s calculations correct.

    If a 2,000MW plant runs for 40 years (2,000,000 kWh for 350,400 hours), and the capital cost is $0.22/kWh, then that makes the capital cost of the plant $154 billion! In reality it is less than 10% of this counting interest.

    If you carefully check the units in his calculation you will find that he forgot to divide by the number of years in the lifetime of the plant.

    If you wish to investigate further, I recommend you read MIT’s study titled “The Future of Nuclear Power,” which Mr. Severance referenced in his paper. It is available online at Specifically look at Chapter 5 – Economics, starting on page 47.

  98. Roger Sowell says:

    Mike Short: Ok. You win. Please, first do this experiment.

    Go to a bank, any bank, your choice. Or, go to any group of financiers or venture capitalists, anybody with the big bucks to lend $17 billion over an 8 year period before any revenue appears. Tell them you found the flaw in Severance’s numbers, and that Roger Sowell is completely wrong, too.

    Then, present to the banker or financiers a business plan for building a new nuclear plant, size 2200 MW, two reactors, 2008 technology or Generation III.

    Tell the bank or financier you have customers for all the power for 40 years, and you have a conditional contract to sell that power for 1/10 of Severance’s cost, say $0.03 per kwh. Tell them your sales contract is valid on the condition that you obtain financing from the bank.

    Let us know how it turns out.

    (hint: you might consider the time value of money…it is really important)

    Roger E. Sowell

  99. ForkyLee says:

    Back to Severance’s Paper:

    I ignore the economics. Coal industry economic reports say one thing, T. Boone’s reports say something else (he’s selling NG), we have decades of petroleum industry reports that say other things. Google “cost of electricity generation by fuel type” and start your own collection. The mix of subsidies, discount rates, and RPSs alone make it nearly incalculable. And Severance may have his dollars exactly correct.

    Go straight to the bottom of his report for the real baloney. He says cost of electricity will lessen demand. According to every energy expert in the world, demand will rise no matter what. Elsewhere he cites the need for new infrastructure to transmit wind & Solar generated energy. He fails to mention current estimates for transmission infrastructure is $1M/mile. Elsewhere he says we should use Combined Cycle Gas and Wind Turbines. (No such thing exists.)

    The intellectual dishonesty displayed by these erroneous assertions in an allegedly honest economic outlook shows it for what it is; Another pseudo-science screed against the nuclear energy. If you needed any other proof, in this thread he cites Amory Lovins, the great granddaddy of all pseudo-scientists out there bashing nuclear energy with no concern for facts.

    Thankfully, this country finally looks like it is going to get past letting superstition and opinion get in the way of scientific reality.

  100. Roger Sowell says:


    Each of those three assertions you named at 5:11 p.m. is absolutely true.

    Electricity demand increasing or decreasing depends on the viewpoint. When the price rises enough, consumers will either conserve, or generate the power for themselves. Industries in Louisiana, California, Texas, and elsewhere did exactly that when public utilities raised their power prices. The industries installed cogeneration to make their own power. That decreased demand to the public utility. This is a basic fact of economics. Industries continually evaluate their make-or-buy decisions, and when it is cheaper to make it themselves, they will. And they do. Still do, as shown by the oil refineries purchasing stand-alone cogeneration power plants.

    Another way to reduce utility power demand is to replace inefficient users such as air conditioners with more efficient systems. High power prices make those replacement decisions more attractive economically. High power prices also make home solar PV systems more attractive.

    Windmills and solar in remote areas of course will require new transmission infrastructure. The cost is a variable that has always depended on many factors, including terrain, distance, and load. By the way, all power plants require some transmission infrastructure. When new plants are built, whether coal, gas-fired, nuclear, or hydroelectric, how else is the power transmitted to users? The Hoover Dam at Lake Mead has a colossal transmission system over hundreds of miles of desert leading into Los Angeles, just to name one.

    Brazil has a huge hydroelectric project in the Amazon river headwaters, with transmission lines running many hundreds of miles to the users. China’s Three Gorges Dam also has huge transmission lines.

    Combined cycle gas turbines with wind turbines is what T. Boone Pickens has in mind: wind turbines generating power into the grid, and a gas-fired combined cycle cogeneration (CCC) power plant also delivering power into the grid. The CCC increases generation when the wind turbine reduces, and vice versa.

    Nothing at all inconsistent or inaccurate in those statements. Just plain engineering facts and economics.

    We do not bash nuclear energy with fantasy, but on the facts. It is too expensive, it is too toxic, and it is too awkward–it does not follow the load, so even in the best circumstances would never be more than 50 percent of the power generated. How do you propose we generate the other 50 percent?

    As I wrote to Mike Short above, if you believe that Severance’s results of $0.25 to $0.30 per kwh are wrong, go to a bank and get them to finance your nuclear project with a sales price of $0.03 per kwh. Please, let us know how that turns out.

    Roger E. Sowell

  101. Russ Bailey says:

    Please tell me who operates a gas turbine of the most efficient point.

    The GE turbines İ have worked with become very inefficient very quickly when turned down from the ‘sweet spot’. T. Boone Pickens, not being a fool, is working on some other scenario İ am sure.

    İ see many articles about using waste heat – even very low grade (below 200 deg C). One point is that combined cycle is nothing new for gas turbines and two using waste heat below the acid dewpoint is next to impossible.

  102. ForkyLee says:


    You are wrong about demand. It will go up. Conserved electricity has always been used in other ways. There are NO credible sources who claim that electricity demand will go down. They ALL say demand will go up as it always has. Across the globe, across all socio-economic categories, electricity demand will go up. To insist otherwise displays a complete ignorance of all facts, trends, and forecasts. (But please keep doing it – this reinforces my point about intellectual dishonesty.)

    The enormous cost of transmission infrastructure is exactly my point in saying wind and solar are not the answer. New nuclear built on the grid does not need new transmission (beyond the updating the existing infrastructure needs regardless of supply).

    Mr. Pickens may well have combined wind and gas turbines in mind. My point was that they don’t exist yet. So it is irresponsible and unrealistic to propose them as a substitute for existing (nuclear) technologies.

    My overarching point is well proven by your response: That the anti-nuke crowd are intellectually dishonest about nuclear power. Your non-responses to my post are a perfect example.

    Keep on keepin’ on, Rog’O. You and your ilk are fast becoming the evolution nay-sayers of the energy debate. How does it feel to be in the same anti-science club as W and Cheney?

  103. Roger Sowell says:

    ForkyLee: They don’t exist, eh? Referring to wind turbines and natural gas fired generation. LOL. Please, have a look at West Texas…then drive on over to California…LOL that was a good one! These have existed and run quite well for decades. Decades…

    And nukes do not need power transmission lines! LOL x 2!!! Please, drive by Palo Verde Nuclear Plant in Arizona. Then tell me that there are no transmission lines!

    Power demand depends on the point of view, as I wrote above. Did you read? When the power price escalates, as it will if your beloved nukes are built, then the users will generate on their own. As we have done, and will continue to do. If you do not believe this, then you really should take a look at what is happening around you. Have a look at this link, for just one source:

    I write the energyguys’ musings blog.

    As to anti-science club, LOL x 3!!! You are on a roll, sir! How would you respond to my claim that oil and gas saved the planet from choking to death in a toxic smog cloud caused by coal-burning? Oil and gas (President Bush and Vice President Cheney’s background) are the savior of the world. That is undeniable, irrefutable. See the air quality in London before oil and gas were widely available.

    I invite you to check out the writings on energyguysmusings blog. You can read my views on science and a few other things.

    Also, how did your meeting go with the bankers, as you seek funding for a nuclear plant that sells power for $0.03 per kwh?

    Roger E. Sowell
    Marina del Rey, California

  104. ForkyLee says:

    Mr. Sowell,

    I was referring to the reference by Mr. Severance to CCGWT (Combined Cycle Gas and Wind Turbines). This is an emergant technology that neither Mr. Pickens nor anyone else is using yet. Mr. Severance says so and he is correct. Combined Cycle Gas Turbines have indeed been used for decades – but it is not what Mr. Severance referred to. You use the straw man version of the ignoratio elenchi fallacy here – you are right in what you say but it does not respond to what I said.

    I did not say Nuclear plants don’t need transmission lines. I said they can be built where transmission lines already exist – as opposed to wind farms that will need many miles of NEW transmission lines. Again, you arguing against something I did not say.

    Power demand does not depend on point of view – it is the amount of watts needed. I suppose you could argue about dynamic demand mechanisms, peak demand equations, etc but you might as well argue about what the definition of “is” is. It is beside the point of this particular argument. Total electrical demand in this country and on the planet in general has, is, and by all estimates will continue to rise.

    Mr. Severance says if it costs too much, people will use it less. While that might be true in individual cases, and certainly it is reasonable to assume that most people will be more conservative in its use, it does not follow that total electricity demand will fall as he states and you defend. An aggregate increase in generation will be required. Mr. Severance’s report says otherwise and my statement that he is wrong about this agrees with all US and international forecasts extant.

    This is the crux of my assertion that anti-nukers are intellectually dishonest. They (you) bend the facts and the argument to your own ends.

    Your bank loan argument is another version of the classic ignoratio elenchi fallacy. Whether or not a bank will lend money for a particular enterprise is not evidence that the enterprise is unprofitable. Several commercial initiatives (Adams Atomic Engines, Hyperion, Nu-Scale, etc) are succeeding in both building markets and investment stategies in nuclear. I applaud them all.

    By the way, Mr. Severance’ report only argues against the model of traditional large nuclear plants (however irrationally). The aforementioned companies are building a new paradigm that is completely outside of Mr. Severance’s arguments.

    Mr. Severance is previously published and his position is clear. He’s against nuclear energy. Fine. But he misstates opinion as fact and manufactures one-sided arguments to support his forgone conclusion that is not supported by facts.

    Laugh away, Mr. Sowell. But science IS going to be the new driver in Energy (finally!) and neither fallacious economic models nor knee-jerk anti-nuke sentiment will be able to stop the clean, safe, inexpensive production of electricity with nuclear fission.


  105. Roger Sowell says:


    Repeating myself, but the Combined Cycle plants fired by natural gas, with wind turbines providing power into the same grid, DO exist. Your refusal to accept an existence proof is puzzling, to put it nicely.

    As to power transmission lines, do you assume that an incremental nuclear plant can just send the power along the existing lines? Surely you understand that transmission lines have limits, just like freeways? More transmission lines will be required. And, I don’t recall anyone whining when the Palo Verde plant was installed and transmission lines were run across hundreds of miles of desert into California.

    Your accusation that I am intellectually dishonest will come as a surprise to the hundreds of people with whom I work and associate. I work with serious players who invest hundreds of billions of dollars over long time horizons. Any proposal that is advanced for serious consideration must pass their laugh test. Hence, my deep understanding of the economics and financing options and evaluation of alternatives. We do not use fallacious economic models, rather, we use detailed economic and financing methods accepted under various industry protocols.

    As to the alternative nuclear projects you cite, if they are not seeking bank funding, their investment returns must be even higher. Private investors almost always require a better return than does a bank. Therefore, the alternative projects you tout will have even less chance of success attracting investment capital.

    You and I disagree on the future of nuclear fission power. I am on record stating they will not be built in the U.S. due to cost issues, and lawsuits to delay their implementation. Only where governments subsidize their costs, and hide their true cost of operation will those plants be built. France is a good example. China is building some, too, under the same paradigm.

    Clean power from nukes? Nope, not even close! Uranium mining ruins the environment and water. Uranium processing into fuel uses toxic materials and further contaminates the environment. Spent fuel rods release heat into the environment for decades. Reprocessing spent fuel is hazardous beyond words. Nuclear plants themselves release far more than 70 percent of their heat into the environment and not as electricity.

    Safe power from nukes? Accidents happen regularly. Toxic, radioactive waste is placed into the environment. Search for radioactive water spills. Also, please consider this quote from Japan’s nuclear website: “… during the formulation of the Long-Term Program, a criticality accident occurred at the JCO Tokai Plant in Ibaraki Prefecture…”

    Inexpensive power from nukes? Who are you trying to kid? How, exactly, is power produced at $0.25 to $0.30 per kwh inexpensive? That does not pass the laugh test.

    It is clear that your mind is made up, and no rational, factual arguments will change that. So be it. I continue to watch with great interest the progress of new nuclear power plants around the world, and place them into categories of non-USA, and in the USA. In sports terms, the score is 44 – 0. Data from IAEA.

    I truly do not understand people like you, who want to foist off on the largely un-informed public toxic, unsafe, and outrageously expensive nuclear power. Does not the burden of poor people bother you? Or people on fixed incomes such as the retired? Does increasing the cost of their electricity not bother your conscience? Do you realize that every dollar they spend on electric power is a dollar they do not have to spend on food or medicine or heating fuel or clothes or shelter?

    Good day to you, Sir!

    Roger E. Sowell, Esq., BS Chemical Engineering

  106. Ken Newman says:

    Anyone going to the “Managing Outage and New build Risk” conference in Orlando next week (

  107. ForkyLee says:

    Mr. Sowell,

    I guess we can both agree that the other is obviously working from a different foregone conclusion. I won’t bother pointing out the logical flaws in your arguments again. It is obvious your mind is made up. I can only hope that future policy and public opinion is more defined by science and true costs than the prejudicial dogma and outright falshoods that you continue to spout.

    Say Hi to Hanoi Jane for me at your next meeting.


  108. Red Craig

    “Compared to the documented effects from the worst accident ever involving radioactive materials, the death toll in New York was significantly greater.”

    “While you’re at it, please reference a case of a worker or any member of the public who has suffered ill health effects from an American nuclear power plant.”

    I think this is a lame argument for nuclear. The potential harm from nuclear is almost unthinkable. Nuclear energy leads to nuclear weapons. Obviously, it’s the big nuclear catastophy that scares the hell out of people.

    I’ve yet to have anyone explain to me how building nuclear power plants on a large scale all over the world is not going to make for a more dangerous planet. What’s going on right now with Iran comes to mind.


    You question whether wind is cheap enough. It’s already proven, it’s being built like gangbusters, increasing by 8.3 GW in 2008 and growing jobs by 70% to 85,000. Wind capacity is now 25 GW. A capacity factor of 35% gives you 8.75 GW 24/7 equivalent, or about 8 or 9 nuclear reactors worth of power. Completed in one year, with 4 GW completed in the last three months of 2008.

    There’s no question if it’s cheap enough. Not so with nuclear or clean coal.

    Why are you against renewable getting subsidies and dismiss that nuclear has been heavily subsidized for half a century? That’s a level playing field?

    Wind will be built where it is cost effective not in some state where it won’t be because of lack of wind. Why are you comparing nuclear to wind in an unwindy location?

  109. Correction:

    It was the 8 GW completed in one year, not 25 GW

  110. Roger Sowell says:

    Another nail in the nuclear plant coffin. Per the NRC, all new nuclear plants in the U.S. must now have increased costs to make the plants survive an impact from a large commercial aircraft.

    Echoing my earlier comments, if nuclear plants were not ultrahazardous, why must they be built to withstand such an unlikely event? Why not the same precautions for oil refineries, coal-fired power plants, steel mills, and chemical plants?

    This new requirement will likely add 5 to 10 cents per kwh to the costs as published by Severance, and a longer construction time. Thus, power from nuclear plants will now cost $0.30 to $0.40 per kwh.

  111. Kevin says:

    From the study:


    I think most of us would disagree with these assumptions. Many reactors will operate longer than 40 years and a gov’t backed loan would be far less. To get to .20 kw-hr for cost, the number comes to repaying the value of the nuke plant in 7 years.

    The fundamental mistake of this study is assuming the worse case/high side scenario.

    How about a similar study for wind and solar based on actual end user USD kw-hr. I bet it’s more. My guess is wind and solar are >.30 kw-hr.

    [JR: Most of you should do your own detailed analysis and get a single nuclear utility to stand behind them in a rate case. In fact, the Author has explained why those assumptions are reasonable.]

  112. Steve Beers says:

    I think safety and cost are inversely related — if you build a plant without a containment building or backup cooling systems, it will be cheaper. If you have flawless operators, then no accident, right? Worked for the Soviet Union at Chernobyl, right? France, etc are all heavily government subsidized.

    The swell of costs occurring in the 1970s and 80s was the result of regulators realizing that if standards didn’t quickly get more rigorous, one more accident like Three Mile Island would put them permanently out of a job — b/c the industry then was under existential threat.

    If you stand next to an irradiated spent fuel bundle, you will die of acute radiation poisoning in less than 20 minutes. You can come back 1,000 years later and still die.

    Therefore, masses of concrete and lead are necessary to shield from all post-reactor phases of the nuclear cycle, before it’s finally buried in a hole in the ground. (however, on the front end with the mine tailings, there is effectively no containment of the waste) Why someone thinks carbon capture & sequestration would be less feasible than storage of nuke waste for 500,000 years is beyond me.

    The relatively small verified body count from nuclear is an artifact of two things:

    1. such casualties from cancer as have occurred are being denied, just as in the cases of tobacco and lead. With long latency periods and not enough epidemiological studies, we have to use indirect inferences from A-Bomb survivors and uncertain dosimetry. If you don’t count the casualties, you can continue to claim “safe” nuclear power.

    2. the industry has really only recently passed from ‘infant’ to ‘adolescent’ status. To quickly grow from 100 GW/yr in the USA to 2,000 as advocated to tackle climate change, will greatly multiply both chronic and accidental radioactive exposures.

  113. Theo Schmidt says:

    I have just come across this fascinating discussion with a minimum of name-calling, which seems to have stopped about 3 months ago. I’m wondering if Craig Severence or somebody else could respond to the posting of Mike Short of 21st January.

    Personally I’m convinced that persuing the nuclear course is a waste of time no matter what the price is *now*, because it will increase, whereas the price of using renewables is decreasing. Renewables are not per se good – I guess ethanol from corn or oil from rape seed is one of the worst things to do on a large scale, whereas using algae or grass waste is better.

    I’m a “photovoltaics-guy” myself, love powering everything from toys to large boats – including my own house and computer infrastructure – with solar power. It’s just so cool: stick a panel in the sun and it runs! So what if it costs a lot! People are prepared to spend a hundred or so times more on something they think is cool than the cheapest alternative, just think about his when you order or buy a bottle of water or wine instead of drinking tap water or local tea. Of course PV has environmental costs reflected in the high price and needs a lot of storage capability and/or other power sources, so it’s not all good. But some of the risks – like falling from the roof when mounting your panels – are preferable to the statistical increases in cancer from small amounts of radition caused by nuclear fuel processing. I wonder if such external costs can be included in the price calculations.