GOP wants 100 new nukes by 2030 while “Areva has acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as 6 billion euros, or $8 billion, double the price offered to the Finns.”

In Finland, around the globe, and in every state, the nuclear industry makes people sing the same old song:  “What do you get when you buy a nuke? You get a lot of delays and rate increases”¦.

This year, authorities permitted Florida Power & Light to start charging millions of customers several dollars a month to finance four new reactors. Customers of Georgia Power, a subsidiary of the Southern Co., will pay on average $1.30 a month more in 2011, rising to $9.10 by 2017, to help pay for two reactors expected to go online in 2016 or later.

As an aside, if Public Utility Commissions allowed on-bill financing of energy efficiency, which is under half the cost of any new power generation — and 5 times cheaper than new nukes — we could stop electricity demand growth in this country for two decades while lowering consumer electric bills by tens of billions of dollars a year (see “Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution, Part 1: The biggest low-carbon resource by far” and “Part 3: The only cheap power left“).

Back to the delays and high cost of new nukes.  It isn’t just this country (see “Turkey’s only bidder for first nuclear plant offers a price of 21 cents per kilowatt-hour“), and, of course, Finland — see my February post, “Nuclear meltdown in Finland” and today’s remarkable New York Times story (excerpted above):

In Finland, Nuclear Renaissance Runs Into Trouble

As the Obama administration tries to steer America toward cleaner sources of energy, it would do well to consider the cautionary tale of this new-generation nuclear reactor site.

The massive power plant under construction on muddy terrain on this Finnish island was supposed to be the showpiece of a nuclear renaissance. The most powerful reactor ever built, its modular design was supposed to make it faster and cheaper to build. And it was supposed to be safer, too.

But things have not gone as planned.

After four years of construction and thousands of defects and deficiencies, the reactor’s 3 billion euro price tag, about $4.2 billion, has climbed at least 50 percent. And while the reactor was originally meant to be completed this summer, Areva, the French company building it, and the utility that ordered it, are no longer willing to make certain predictions on when it will go online.

What’s laughable is that the Republican Party, in a weekly radio address last month (video and transcript here), has now made nuclear power a centerpiece of their “clean energy” strategy, with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) absurdly claiming:

When Republicans say, build 100 new nuclear power plants during the next twenty years, Democrats say, no place to put the used nuclear fuel….  We say, keep prices down.

And he did that with a straight face!

When conservatives say build 100 new nukes in 20 years, I don’t even consider the waste issue among the first three things I’d bring up in responding to an idea guaranteed to raise everyone’s rates 25% or more, sacrifice safety for speed of construction — with taxpayers on the hook to cover the cost of any major nuclear disaster — and require taxpayers to take on nearly a trillion dollars of risk (see “Exclusive analysis, Part 1: The staggering cost of new nuclear power” and “How did $50B high-risk, job-killing nuclear loans get in the stimulus? Fraudulent budget gimmickry“).

As the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jon Wellinghoff, said recently of new coal and nuclear plants, “We may not need any, ever.” We simply have too many superior lower cost clean energy alternatives.

And that’s why the NYT energy and environmental blog poses the question today: Is the Nuclear ‘Renaissance’ Fizzling?

Nuclear power may be making a comeback, but long-standing problems with the technology still could lead to canceled orders and renewed public opposition.

One problem is what to do with the highly dangerous waste produced by reactors. Currently waste is stored above ground in pools of water or in vast dry casks, but neither of those methods is regarded as adequate over the long-term.

The other problem is timing.  We need to reverse our greenhouse gas emissions trend immediately, whereas nukes — notwithstanding GOP fantasies — are not a near-term strategy.

And even if stars do come into alignment for nuclear, it still could take some time for it to play a significant role in lowering greenhouse gas levels, according to Paul L. Joskow, a professor or economics and management at M.I.T. and the president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic organization supporting science and technology.

Mr. Joskow co-authored an influential report on the future of nuclear power in 2003.

“If nuclear is going to be a large wedge in the overall portfolio of technologies cutting greenhouse gases, then it’s going to be a post-2025 wedge,” Mr. Joskow said in a telephone interview last week. “In the near term, we are going to be using more energy efficiency measures, renewable sources and even cleaner burning natural gas to meet our climate goals,” he said.

And Joskow, for those who follow the energy issue closely, is not progressive and historically has not been an advocate for efficiency — and yet even he understands nukes are at best a medium-term strategy.

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24 Responses to GOP wants 100 new nukes by 2030 while “Areva has acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as 6 billion euros, or $8 billion, double the price offered to the Finns.”

  1. Bullwinkle says:

    Why do conservatives support this ‘Nuke Tax’?

  2. “34% of Finns would approve the construction of a sixth nuclear reactor in Finland, according to a 2008 survey. 53% of respondents said they would oppose the building of another reactor.”

  3. James Newberry says:

    Atomic fission is the credit default swaps of energy service. It is fraudulent, anti-democratic and may be unconstitutional, in my opinion. Hundreds of finance connected lobbyists are circling Congress and the White House to influence the great carbon pricing bonanza as marginal economic advantage. The failed nuclear experiment has been dead in the US for decades. Lets make sure we don’t get ripped off yet again.

    Further, the fraudulent idea that atomic fission is “clean” is a threat to national security, environmental justice and American ideals, in my opinion. Instead, lets use the sun’s nuclear power manifested in the ecosphere’s natural energy flows, what many of us have known for decades as clean energy. It seems as though Congress and the Administration are extremely confused.

  4. Ken says:

    How much generation capacity will those two nukes have, and how much renewable (e.g. wind power) generation would the same investment buy? Also, why do Georgia Power ratepayers accept the rate hike?

    [I don’t think energy efficiency should be viewed as an “alternative” to nuclear or renewable energy because efficiency is typically negative-cost and does not entail cost tradeoffs, so it should be pursued irrespective of what generation sources are used. Moreover, efficiency alone will not get close to the target 83% GHG reduction by 2050.]

  5. PeterW says:

    Hi Joe, Ontario has substantially increased its windpower and has announced some great incentives for solar. The province and the federal government are involved in various conservation programs. Ontario is also trying to shutdown all it coal fired generators by 2014. So there’s some good news.

    But, the government is about to announce who will win the right to build two new nuclear reactors just east of Toronto. The last price I heard (it keeps going up) was $26 billion CDN ($11.86 billion U.S. each at today’s exchange.)

    Ontario has a long history with nukes. 50% of our electrical power is from nukes. They’re always built over budget, and behind schedule. The maintenance has cost the province billions over the years. The new ones are suppose to be operational by 2018. I’m not holding my breath.

    I should also note that every electricity bill in Ontario has a debt retirement charge, to pay off the debt incurred from building our previous nukes.

    Imagine what the province could do with $26 billion if they really thought about it.

  6. FokusLop says:

    Good article, Thanks. my name Philip.

  7. Seth says:

    Why not 4th generation nuclear? Not happening soon enough? Something more fundamentally wrong with it?

    Or Toshiba Micro Nuclear ;)

  8. Bob Wright says:

    AREVA screwed up. Did all the folks who managed France’s nuke construction 20 years ago retire?

    As counterpoint, check out how Toshiba/Westinghouse/Shaw is breaking ground and starting construction of dozens, eventually hundreds, of modular, standardized, GenIII AP1000 reactors in China and the US, and organizing a supply chain all over the world. They are talking about $1b/reactor as production ramps up.

    If things work out as planned, FPL and other AP1000 owners will have lots of carbon allowances for sale. It would be a great complimentary program to Waxman-Markey.

  9. paulm says:

    Has clivilization peaked with peak oil?

    We can even build nuclear power plants and maintain GPS satellite any more.

  10. Neil Howes says:

    For all the talk China has only completed two reactors in the last 5 years and will only have another 8 completed before 2013,(approx 8,000MW) including 4 AP1000, with a total of only twelve( 1 dozen) that have started construction.
    Meanwhile just last year, China built 6,000MW(2GW average) wind capacity, and has plans to build 100,000 MW by 2020, and has 100,000MW hydro either just completed or under construction. I don’t even want to think how many coal fired power plants will be constructed.

  11. Pat Richards says:

    What I can’t figure out is why anyone in the mainstream media still listens to or cares about what the GOP says on these issues. They are obviously totally out of it.

  12. Gaston says:

    Like Seth above, I’m curious to hear what you think about Gen IV nuclear power, in particular Integral Fast Reactors (good summary on them here: I’m not sure if you mean to lump IFR in with your criticisms of Gen III nuclear power or not and while IFR sounds really good, I don’t know enough to evaluate them properly so I’d be really interested to hear your views (and that of others).

  13. Bob Wright says:


    Can’t disagree. The real reason for Chinese nukes is they can’t mine and transport the coal fast enough. China’s coal fired plant building could negate most of the carbon savings achieved elsewhere in the world. But as build numbers and confidence increase and costs go down, the AP1000 could be a real winner. Thanks for the figures on China windpower.

  14. Brewster says:

    Gaston, I’ve been fascinated by IFRs for some time – they sound great, but I really can’t find much on the construction costs, and that scares me…

    If they COULD be made at anything like a reasonable cost, they seem to be a good answer for at least part of our eneregy needs…

  15. Seth says:

    The reason I ask about Gen IV nuclear is that it seems to be one of the few options that might actually be able to economically displace coal. We are unlikely to be able to regulate our way to the kind of carbon reduction we need, so alternatives that could actually motive adoption the old-fashioned way — through selfishness — are important.

    But perhaps Gen IV isn’t as good as advertised. I’m interested in learning more about it.

  16. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Gaston and Brewster-

    This sounds like someone has just renamed the liquid metal fast breeder reactors, cooled by liquid sodium, and has changed the name to Integral Fast Reactors.

    The websites you guys link to look like Astroturf to me, too.

    I used to think these things were really cool, until I learned that sodium burns in air, particularly if exposed to water, and that the primary cooling loop is sodium and the tertiary cooling loop is steam or water.

    Another thing I seem to remember is that in the event of an accident, operators would have literally seconds to react.

    I’ve always thought it unfortunate that the nuclear industry doesn’t seem to understand that their design criteria should be so slanted toward safety that a nuclear accident becomes effectively impossible. That is the path toward commercial viability, I think.

    My information on liquid cooled fast breeder reactors is decades old. I hope that the technology has advanced, but I doubt it.

    I think that the French approach to gas cooled reactors is much better than the American approach to water cooled reactors. I think that American approaches are tainted by concerns about efficiency and commercial viability, when what really matters to the public is safety, safety, safety.

    It is possible to make inherently safe reactors – Freeman Dyson and General Atomic were involved in such an effort to make a teaching or demo reactor that had inherent, rather than engineered safety, many years ago. Gas cooled reactors equipped with a phase change and neutron absorbing material, that would flood the reactor core in case of an overheating event, might be one way to create a gas cooled reactor with inherent safety.

    If we are going to choose an nuclear option, we need inherent safety, not engineered safety.

    My understanding of liquid fueled fast breeders is that they are far from inherent safety, rely on engineered safety to prevent accidents, and use highly reactive liquid sodium (contaminated with radioactivity) as a primary coolant.

    Is the earth climate system in such danger that we have to choose this as an option?

    Maybe so.

    But nuclear reactors are carbon neutral at best, and somewhat carbon positive in practice, because of the need to mine and refine uranium, mostly.

    Admittedly, fast breeders would manufacture their own fuel, so this is a potential solution to global warming.

    What we need is carbon negative energy, IMO. We need to seize the coal fired power plants, and convert them to oxyfuel combustion, biocarbon fuel, a HiPPS topping cycle, and deep injection of the resulting pure stream of CO2.

  17. Neil Howes says:

    Nuclear power may be a long term energy solution, but it would take a decade to ramp up to completing 10GW new capacity per year( the maximum in mid 1970’s and mid 1980’s).
    Thus by 2030 the US may be able to build 100 new reactors, just enough to replace those present 100 that will need to be retired. Significant additions could be made from 2030 to 2050, but that’s about 20 years too late to shut down coal fired power.
    Both new solar and especially wind energy can be expanded and completed in a few years, enabling coal power to be retired as older coal-fired plants need replacing.
    Costs of nuclear, wind or solar energy are not really the issue, they all have to be built at maximum rates possible if we are to really reduce CO2 emissions.

  18. Gaston says:

    Hi Leland,

    While I want to make it clear I’m hardly expert about IFR, my understanding is that they are not as bad as you suggest.

    The site I linked to is not astroturf but belongs to Barry Brook, a reputable Australian climate scientist who is urging our govt to move faster on the issue. He was originally opposed to all nuclear power until learning about advances in the IFR tech.

    Regards some of your criticisms, they’re usually answered in the following ways: apparently liquid sodium as a coolant is also used in other industries and is a well-established and safe technology. The IFR reactors (including a test one built in USA in the 90s) are designed to be passively safe — that means everyone just walks away and does nothing, and it shuts itself down. Finally, IFRs can burn nuclear weapon fissile materials and the dirty waste from PWR (pressurised water reactors, = Gen III) and themselves produce waste with half-lives in the years and decades range and which is very hard to weaponise. It’s said that the current nuclear waste dumps and nuclear weapons have enough fuel to run many of these things for many years (so uranium mining is unnecessary). If you read through the links I provided you’ll find all of this discussed though I guess I’ve got no absolute guarantee of their accuracy, except that Barry Brook and some other scientists I know of have been persuaded.

    It’s possible that I’m sounding like I’m a big supporter of these but I’m still trying to learn about them. They sound great but there must be problems with them — I guess one obvious one is that while test facilities were built in the 90s (and seemed to run really well) actual operating IFRs haven’t ever been built so maybe it will take decades to develop designs and build them? But I’m interested to hear cogent criticisms of them.

  19. Robert Merkel says:

    If they’re so uneconomic compared to renewables, why spend so much time opposing them?

    [JR: I don’t oppose nuclear power. I oppose the American taxpayer being forced to take the entire financial risk for every new nuclear power plant and being forced to insure the entire meltdown risk for every new nuclear power plant.

    The GOP never specifies exactly what they would do to show 100 nukes down the throats of the American public in 20 years, making it hard to attack their plans other than on general grounds. The public deserves to make an informed decision.]

  20. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Gaston-

    I does appear that I was hasty, in lumping the Integral Fast Reactor concept in with the liquid fueled fast breeders. They do appear to have addressed a lot of the traditional concerns concerning inherent rather than engineered safety.

    I still can’t get past the liquid sodium coolant, though. It’s very hard for me to see how they can claim inherent safety when the liquid sodium coolant can cause hydrogen fires and explosions if exposed to cooling water, even if they have added an intermediate cooling loop.

    Can’t they get rid of the cooling water all together? Wouldn’t a gas turbine, as in a gas powered reactor work just as well, perhaps combined with a gas working fluid bottoming cycle?

  21. Barry Brook says:

    Leland — how do you imagine the sodium coolant would come into contact with cooling water? The only possible place in which contact with water could take place is in the heat exchange room, and that would be protected by an inert argon atmosphere.

  22. Neil Howes says:

    I agree with you about sodium coolant, but the energy density of fast reactors favours liquid metal coolants, but the metal can be lead/bismuth.
    Having a gas turbine cycle with heleium, nitrogen or argon gas could avoid sodium coming into contact with water.
    The real problem I see with any new reactor design is the time it will take to get it ito mass production, the number of reactors planned or under construction are just not enough to make a big difference to CO2 emissions in next 20 years.

  23. Bill Woods says:

    Alternately, if you want to avoid the IFR’s liquid sodium coolant, there’s the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR), aka the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). See, e.g.,

  24. MikeN says:

    When the alternative is the destruction of the planet, why are you guys against nukes so much? You should be encouraging this for the Chinese especially, and pushing for many more here. It is easier to get a coal plant taken offline, if replacement energy is available at low cost. Most of the cost of nuclear is from building the plant, and this cost is higher the longer you take to build it, because labor is the majority of the construction cost. So to reduce greenhouse emissions, you should push for nuclear plants to be built, and to be built faster. Delays in permtting and new regulation essentially quadrupled the price of production from the 70s to the 80s.