Home > Environment > The nuclear option: AP1000 or bust?

The nuclear option: AP1000 or bust?

January 3rd, 2012

I’m going to relax my prohibition on discussion of nuclear energy, and offer a couple of points to start things off. I expect everything to go in circles as usual, but there’s plenty of room on the comments page, after all.

First, I have a piece coming out soon in the National Interest, arguing that 2011 marked a watershed in the development of energy sources to replace fossil fuels, with nuclear power finally ceasing to be a relevant option, and solar PV finally becoming a serious contender. I’ll add a link when it appears.

I’m sure not everyone will agree, so I’ll also offer a subsidiary claim which, if accepted, would at least simplify the debate. The claim is that the only nuclear technology with a serious chance of substantially reducing CO2 emissions before 2030 is the Westinghouse AP-1000.

To clarify my reasoning, I’ll begin with a definition. I’m going to define “substantial reduction” to require at least 100GW of operational installed power. If that exclusively displaced coal, it would save around 600-700 million tonnes of CO2 a year, a bit more than Australia’s current emissions, or about 2 per cent of the total. That seems like vey modest goal.

Next, I assert that achieving that outcome will require at least 20GW of capacity to be operational or very close by 2020. Otherwise there simply won’t be any chance to achieve the economies of scale needed to make nuclear economically viable, and the operational experience required to convince decision-makers to invest the necessary capital.

That in turn means that the decision to build the power stations has to be taken very soon. Even in China, where construction schedules are much faster than elsewhere (with implications for safety standards that have been seen in other sectors), a power plant takes a minimum of five years from the first concrete pour, and planning and site preparation takes two or three.

My final point is that any option that can’t make a real difference before 2030 should not play a major in current policy discussions. Obviously we need substantial reductions in emissions well before then, and that should be the primary focus.

The case in favor of the AP-1000 as the only feasible nuclear option is based on two simple facts.

(i) The US NRC has just approved it for the only four plants currently under construction in the US
(ii) China has adopted it as the main design for its program.

The argument that there are no other serious contenders remaining can be approached in two ways. First, by considering the options. These can be divided into three groups
(i) Currently existing competitors, such as CANDU, Areva and so on. None of these have any real chance of achieving the necessary scale, either now or in the future. The only possible competitor is the CPR-1000, a Chinese adaptation of a French design, which is at least a generation behind the AP-1000

(ii) Small modular reactors, still being touted despite having gone nowhere. The most promising version, the ‘pebble-bed’ design being developed in South Africa, was abandoned a couple of years ago. The only contender that has any serious chance of being operational by 2020 is a cut down version of the AP1000. Apart from that, there are a bunch of designs with no prospect of being built, even as demonstration projects, much before 2030.

(iii) Breeder reactors, like small modular reactors, only with a much longer track record of consistent failure. The only actually existing technology, sodium-cooled fast reactors, has been tried in quite a few countries, but has invariably failed. There are a handful of efforts still continuing, but none on a scale large enough to make a difference by 2030. Then there are a bunch of conceptual designs, with no firm plans for construction, even of prototypes.

So, if the AP-1000 is the only real contender, how good are its prospects? Not very good, in my view. The claim that modern designs will produce big cost reductions is so far, just a claim. Even a substantial deployment in China is unlikely to allay safety concerns, given China’s poor track record in this respect. So, a lot depends on the US projects being completed on time and on (or under) budget. Maybe this will happen and maybe not. Even if the AP1000 is as successful as possible, nuclear is still a backstop option at this point. Our primary hopes have to be placed on some combination of energy efficiency, renewables and lower energy consumption.

A final point about the Australian debate. Given the most optimistic possible projections, the AP1000 design might have achieved a couple of hundred reactor years of successful operation by the late 2020s. That would be a good time for Australia to start looking at the technology. The idea that nuclear power is a relevant option for Australia any time soon is just silly.

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  1. Sam
    January 4th, 2012 at 20:42 | #1

    @quokka
    I’ll certainly read the report, thanks. As I said before, I don’t agree that it matters that mined costs is currently a small fraction of overall cost. If the supply of any material vital to a process is non-increasable, it will become the rate-limiting factor as it diminishes. Price inflexibility just causes more price volatility.

  2. Ikonoclast
    January 4th, 2012 at 20:56 | #2

    @quokka

    I can tell you right now with confidence from previous research that the MIT conclusions would be predicated on highly dubious, unaudited and indeed outright specious estimates of world uranium reserves which take all national claims at face value. These national estimates range from the reasonably dependable to the most outrageously and flagrantly inflated estimates imaginable. Often a large slice of claimed reserves comes under the heading “Yet to be discovered”.

  3. quokka
    January 4th, 2012 at 21:01 | #3

    @Ikonoclast

    Surely you can do a bit better than “In my opinion” without offering any sort of authoritative evidence or reference.

  4. quokka
    January 4th, 2012 at 22:07 | #4

    Lots of wild claims about breeder reactors that have been thrown about here.

    1. They have been commercial failures.

    There has only ever been one breeder reactor with the designation “commercial”. That was Superphenix in France. It indeed had many problems, but was ultimately closed down by political decision when it had achieved reasonably reliable operation. Hard to draw firm conclusions about the outcome if it had been allowed to run it’s course. A sample size of one is inconclusive and there remains significant uncertainty about future costs.

    As a counter example the Russian BN-600 has run reliably since 1980 and is one of the most reliable reactors in the Russian fleet. It’s newer and larger sibling – the BN-800 – is now under construction and is designated as commercial.

    In total there have been 10 experimental FBRs, the earliest dating back to 1951, 7 demonstration FBRs and 1 commercial FBR.

    2. Costs.

    FBRs are different from LWRs so one off construction and demonstration plants are almost certainly going to cost more. In favour of FBRs is low pressure operation with far lower requirements for the reactor vessel. Also in favor of FBRs such as PRISM is a greater degree of passive safety than LWRs can achieve with potential savings in safety systems. Also in favour of such designs as PRISM is factory construction. Until such time as there are a number of FBRs built to the same design, the economics of FBRs retains considerable uncertainty – just like things such as EGS geothermal. Uncertain does not necessarily equal too expensive.

    3. FBRs have been abandoned.

    Not even a bit true. Several nations have ongoing FBR programs including France (ASTRID), Russia, India, China and Sth Korea.

    4. Time Frames.

    The GE-Hitachi PRISM is not a “conceptual design”. It is a complete design based on many years of work and considerable expenditure at Argonne National Lab. Construction could commence almost “immediately” (ie within a few years). Molten salt thorium reactors are indeed further away. This is no reason at all for not aggressively pursuing their development. Unless somebody wants to make the extravagant claim that all fossil fuel generation will be replaced by renewables by 2030, there will still be a yawning gap between what is needed and what has happened. It is entirely possible, perhaps likely, that by 2030, the amount of fossil fuel generation will be no less than today.

  5. silkworm
    January 4th, 2012 at 22:30 | #5

    However aluminium smelters operate on dark nights and don’t want to pay more than about 3c per kwh.

    Smelters operate at night only because of the cheaper cost of off-peak electricity. There is no practical reason why they can’t run during the day. In fact, it would be better for the workers’ health if they operated during the day. This points to potential savings in public health costs.

  6. quokka
    January 4th, 2012 at 22:58 | #6

    @silkworm

    I think you will find that aluminium smelting is a continuous process that must run 24/7. I believe that power outages are very bad news that can damage plant.

    There are many examples of continuous process engineering. Fertilizer production (eg ammonia,urea) is another, though the energy is typically supplied by burning natgas.

    The whole issue of “movable demand” warrants careful scrutiny. The UK Climate Change Committee found that the only significant sources of movable demand by 2030 are likely to be transport and heating. It is not unreasonable to extrapolate this to countries with similar climates. What is important to recognize is that large expenditure and effort will be required to convert from gas to heat pump or resistive heating. Renewable heat, EVs and PHEVs are undoubtedly important, but there is considerable risk in making overly optimistic assumptions about rate of deployment and consequent influence on the feasibility of a grid with large amounts of intermittent generation.

  7. Sam
    January 4th, 2012 at 23:11 | #7

    @silkworm
    This isn’t true unfortunately. The molten salt bath has to be supplied with current continuously. If the current stops, a solid crust forms This wrecks the container.

  8. January 5th, 2012 at 03:52 | #8

    @Ikonoclast

    The energy cost of separating uranium from seawater (at a concentration of 3 parts per billion!) is much greater than the energy that can be recouped by splitting that uranium in a reactor.

    Marine uranium extraction has already been demonstrated to be much cheaper than the present market price of petroleum. It cannot beat land-based uranium extraction, and as the latter becomes cheaper, it may never be able to do so, but it beats oil and gas by a mile.

    http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/ST/NE/NEFW/documents/RawMaterials/TM_Vienna2009/presentations/22_Tamada_Japan.pdf

    For there to be any genuine doubt of the amidoxime method’s energy positivity, the price would have to much exceed the present price of oil, not fall far short of it as in fact it does.

  9. Ikonoclast
    January 5th, 2012 at 04:55 | #9

    @quokka

    I have done so (provided the evidence) in past blogs on JQs site. I don’t see why I should trawl back through the nuclear sandpit blogs to find the links to papers I posted then when you could do the same. This is particularly so as I recall you were around blogging at that time just like Fran Barlow. If you failed to read or assimilate the papers and data at the time or have conveniently forgotten them since, you will just do so again. I am not wasting a lot more time trying to argue with evidence-impervious nuclear power advocates.

  10. John Quiggin
    January 5th, 2012 at 05:16 | #10

    “How long would it take to scale up production of Boeing or Airbus commercial aircraft? It’s inherently no more difficult to make SMRs in factories than aircraft. ”

    A good comparison. Airbus entered the industry in 1970 as a consortium of existing firms, with a capacity of about 100 planes a year, which remained pretty much static until the late 1980s. Since then, it’s raised output by a factor of four over twenty years. My demonstration that SMRs were too little, too late allowed for a doubling of scale every five years, or a factor of sixteen over 20 years.

    And of course, Airbus in 1990 had a history stretching back decades making a product that has been technologically mature since the introduction of the jumbo jet in the 1960s – the SMR firms are mostly startups, proposing a product that has never actually been built.

  11. rdb
    January 5th, 2012 at 07:44 | #11

    Tom Murphy’s Do the Math blog’s recent Nuclear Options “tutorial introduction and big-picture take” may interest.

  12. Ikonoclast
    January 5th, 2012 at 08:26 | #12

    @G.R.L. Cowan

    Sigh, I will post these links to reputable scientific papers again, more for those who missed the last debate than those who saw the links to evidence last time and did not read them, did not absorb them and/or conveniently forgot them (usually in the space of five minutes).

    Report on the objective situation re uranium reserves:

    http://www.energywatchgroup.com/fileadmin/global/pdf/EWG_Report_Uranium_3-12-2006ms.pdf

    I will do one link per post for fear of the anti-spam engine.

  13. Ikonoclast
    January 5th, 2012 at 08:34 | #13

    This article sinks fast breeder reactors comprehensively. Take note, fast breeder advocates. Thus Peak Uranium theory still holds. Game, set and match.

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_2779_138/ai_n53905175/

  14. Fran Barlow
    January 5th, 2012 at 08:35 | #14

    @Ikonoclast

    We need substantial mitigation right NOW. Actually, we probably needed it to start about a decade ago.

    On this I agree. Actually, in Australia, we probably needed it to occur before the 1960s coal plants started being upgraded in the 1980s. The economic assumptions that go with those presume a 40-year plant life. We are on the lip of major new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, and renewables are not close to being reasy to step up and do what the next generation of coal and gas promise. I imagine that it’s much the same both in the other major emitting countries and in those LDCs seeking major industrial development. It seems very clear that in the next decade here, absent nuclear power, what we will get if a lot more fossil fuel investment that we won’t be able to retire in a hurry, even if, magically, renewables dropped radically in installed cost and even more importantly, improved radically in availability. Yet both power usage per person and the number of persons on the planet are both certain to rise sharply. No realistic EUA or energy efficiency plan is going to force down total demand realtive to today.

    Luckily, some places — Korea, Russia, China, Canada, US and UK are continuing nuclear development — which will hopefully lead to continuing real decline in prices and therefore more plants and a lower relative CO2 footprint.

    It makes sense to go with what is demonstrably working now, renewables deployment (albeit the main problem is an under-deployment which is well below what is possible) than to plump for a fix that is a low probability for deployment ever and certainty to be of the order of 60 years too late even if deployed.

    Renewables are not “demonstrably working now” if one defines that as “forcing retirement and deferral of fossil capacity”. At most, some niche markets are being served. Given the political cycles within which most regimes work, and the economic cycles within which infrastructure investment is carried out and the seemingly intractable challenges associated with intermittent and low energy-density sources, it seems recklessly optimistic to rely on early large-scale deployment of renewables.

  15. Ikonoclast
    January 5th, 2012 at 08:37 | #15

    More blasts from the past;

    Ok, Ive found the definitive refutation of the “uranium is plentiful” argument.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24414/

    Go the bottom of this linked article and find the links for the four chapters of Micheal Dittmar’s report. Once you follow these links you can then look at the PDFs by clicking one more link for each.

  16. Ikonoclast
    January 5th, 2012 at 08:48 | #16

    Darn, I can’t find the link again to that wonderful scientific paper which debunked “uranium from the sea” hopes. I do seem to recall that it calculated, among other things, that the collection and transport apparatus would have to be larger than the world’s current entire fishing fleet both in terms of nets (the net-mesh equivalent used by uranium collection) and in terms of boats and ships and that the net (no pun intended) EROEI would be a negative ratio (an energy sink).

  17. January 5th, 2012 at 09:55 | #17

    This whole issue of scalability of nuclear power, and the wildly divergent claims about it and the potential for new types of reactors, drives me crazy.

    Nothing would please me more than some form of international scientific/engineering commission being set up with the specific goal of giving (relatively) independent advice on the best way to rapidly expand nuclear power taking into account passive safety (as top priority after Fukushima), cost, fuel supply, and waste disposal.

    I suppose the problem will be you end up with a massively complex matrix of possible solutions, as the Defence Department seems to do with every major weapons procurement program, and the “best” solution is never obvious. Still, it seems you can hardly rely on any one country or company coming up with a good answer, as you have the hopeless muddle of regulatory differences and political impasses on matters like dealing with waste.

    That’s what I am hankering for, I suppose: some credible independent scientific/engineering advice that said something like: if you are serious about the rapid need for cleaner energy using nuclear, here’s a few options, and you can stop listening to some of the arguments which we demonstrate here as being fatuous. Politicians and public – it’s now up to you to make it happen.

  18. January 5th, 2012 at 10:30 | #18

    If anyone thinks renewables are not demonstrably working now, you are not paying enough attention. South Australia gets 20% of its electricity from wind. It went from getting less than 1% of its electricity from wind to 20% in seven years. I will also mention that point of use solar PV is much cheaper than new nuclear. Note that point of use PV competes with the retail price of electricity while nuclear competes with the wholesale price. Also, solar PV is load following. That is, it better matches demand than nuclear power making the average value of electricity produced considerably higher.

    Also, given the current cost of new nuclear, grid connected solar PV in Australia is cheaper than nuclear.

    This is before the cost of insurance is included, which is quite high for nuclear power. The insurance cost alone for nuclear power appears to be higher than the cost of grid connected solar PV in Australia.

    Nuclear power plants will simply not be built in Australia because of the cost. It is not possible to make money from building them here. If they were built, competition from other sources of electricity will result in them losing very large amounts of money.

  19. Hermit
    January 5th, 2012 at 12:26 | #19

    @Ronald Brak
    SA’s current 1100 MW of nameplate windpower seems commendable. I haven’t checked AEMO figures yet but I suggest it produced well under 100 MW during the hot spell a few days ago. Some 3% of Adelaide homes have a kw or so of PV but I suggest 80% of homes have 2 kw or more of air conditioning.

    The thing that makes possible 20% windpower penetration is the fact that SA also gets 44% of its electrical energy from gas. Torrens Island power station is Australia’s biggest natural gas user. However the two gas pipelines to the Cooper and Otway basins will dry up after 10-15 years according to some data. If that happens there goes not only the windpower but the gas fired baseload. LNG tankers could bring gas around the coastline from WA but it would be at world prices, probably double the current price of piped gas.

    I’ve heard that SA has other major energy resources, not geothermal.

  20. TerjeP
    January 5th, 2012 at 12:40 | #20

    If anyone thinks renewables are not demonstrably working now, you are not paying enough attention.

    Think global and the same could be said for nuclear. 15% of global production. Vastly more than wind and solar. Much safer and cheaper also. At a minimum we should avoid closing nuclear plants where appropriate.

    Having said that there is so much political risk in nuclear investment (in the west at least) that scaling up new capacity will be hard yards. Production capacity for reactor vessels for AP1000 reactors and other LWR designs remains a constraint. Of course we have a reasonable idea the sort of reckless critics that ferment these political risks.

    The presumption in JQ’s article is that nuclear needs to scale up now. Maybe but it also needs some serious innovation to tackle costs. Not because it can’t beat wind and solar on cost but because as yet it can’t beat coal.

  21. Robert Merkel
    January 5th, 2012 at 13:57 | #21

    @John Quiggin

    A good comparison. Airbus entered the industry in 1970 as a consortium of existing firms, with a capacity of about 100 planes a year, which remained pretty much static until the late 1980s. Since then, it’s raised output by a factor of four over twenty years. My demonstration that SMRs were too little, too late allowed for a doubling of scale every five years, or a factor of sixteen over 20 years.

    That’s completely arbitrary.

    The Model T Ford went from 20,000 units annually in 1910 (first full year of production) to a peak of over 2 million a year in 1923 – or, if you’d prefer, a factor of nearly 10 in a decade given production was around 240,000 in 1913.

    Wartime led to even more breakneck expansion in industrial production capability – total aircraft production in the United States went from just over 2,000 in 1939 to 98,000 (much larger and more sophisticated) aircraft in 1944. While that was going on, the US churned out 2,700 Liberty ships, amongst other things.

    In more modern times, you could also look at the exponential growth in production of mobile phones, LCD monitors, and Chinese e-bikes (from 40,000 a year in 1998 to 10,000,000 annually in 2005).

    Not saying that it will happen with SMRs, but I find the assertion that it can’t happen unconvincing.

  22. John Quiggin
    January 5th, 2012 at 14:17 | #22

    @Robert Merkel
    It wasn’t my comparison – I just used the one suggested by a commenter. But a brand-new nuclear power station is much more comparable to a jumbo jet than to any of the other examples you mention.

    And even the other examples you give don’t have anything like the necessary multiplication. The time scale suggests that they’ll be producing at a rate of a handful of units a year by 2020, maybe 100 MW/year. Multiply by 100, as in the case of the Model-T and you’re at 10GW per year by 2035.

    I’m not claiming that a rapid ramp-up would be utterly impossible, given, say, a decision to put the economy on a war footing with the sole objective of producing SMRs. Just that it is so unlikely that it’s not worth considering in a serious discussion.

  23. January 5th, 2012 at 14:27 | #23

    TerjeP, let’s look at nuclear plants under construction in the developed world:

    France – Flamanville unit 3: 1.6 gigawatts. Started December 2007. Current estimated completion date 2016. Cost 6 billion Euros.

    Finland – Olkiluoto unit 3: 1.6 gigwatts, Construction started 2004. Estimate completion 2014. Cost over 5.3 billion Euros.

    USA – Watts Bar unit 2 Tennessee, the only reactor currently under constrution in the US: 1.2 gigawatts. Constrution started before 1973, expected to come online 2012-2013. Cost unclear – Over $2.5 billion US on top of an unknown amount spent in the past, but the EIA, part of the US Department of Energy, estimates a cost of $5,400 US per kw for 2011 for new nuclear in the US.

    In South Australia new wind costs about $7,000 per average kw produced and has minimal operating costs, as opposed to about 3.5 cents US for nuclear per kilowatt-hour. So no, nuclear is not much cheaper than wind. It’s not cheaper than wind at all. And this is before insurance costs which are extremely high for nuclear. Point of use solar PV is becoming competitive with coal and gas in Australia, so that’s cheaper than nuclear too.

    And if the figures I’ve given for the cost of nuclear power are all wrong, and new reactors are so safe that insurance costs are minimal, then where are all the new reactors? Why are hardly any being built? Are people just dumb? And if people are that dumb, should we really allow nuclear reactors to be built and maintained by dumb people?

  24. CM
    January 5th, 2012 at 17:34 | #24

    Just a quick note to say thanks to the ppl who addressed bits of my question from way earlier in the thread.

    Cheers,

    CM

  25. quokka
    January 5th, 2012 at 20:37 | #25

    As George Monbiot pointed out, the objective is not to deploy renewables or to deploy nuclear. The objective wrt to electricity supply is to decabonize it. Even if the cost of point of use PV reaches parity with grid supplied electricity in some parts of the world, this implies absolutely nothing about the merits or otherwise of nuclear power for supplying the grid. The overwhelming majority of electricity demand is and will continue to be for the foreseeable future met from the grid. Target the emissions coming from this source or abandon any ambitions to avert dangerous climate change.

    Using arguments about the cost of point use solar as compared the cost of grid supplied nuclear is specious bordering on the fundamentally dishonest. The net effect is to generate confusing about the tasks before us.

    As as aside, PV is not load following. There is some correlation with demand – stronger in some parts of the world than others. Load following means what it says – the ability to increase or reduce power output on demand – regardless of weather.

    In the IEA the “2010 Projected Costs of Generating Electricity” lowest and highest estimates for new nuclear capacity are:

    $0.0290/kWh (Sth Korea – OPR1400 – 5% discount rate) to $0.1365/kWh (Switzerland – PWR – 10% discount rate)

    The estimates for the Flamanville EPR are $0.0564/kWh (5% discount rate) to $0.0924/kWh (10% discount rate) based on an overnight cost of $3,860/kW. Due to delays and recently reported overnight cost of EUR 6 billion would increase those LCOE figures by about 20%. This is still competitive with on-shore wind in Europe.

    SCANA corporation in it’s 2011 Analyst Day Presentation provided an estimated LCOE of $0.076/kWh for the VC Summer AP1000 under construction in the US.

    The UK Climate Change Committee provided an estimate of 6-10p/kWh for nuclear in 2011, declining to 4.5-9.0p/kWh in 2040. The respective figure for on shore wind are 8.0-9.5p/kWh in 2011 and 6.5-8.0p/kWh in 2040.

    These estimates are broadly consistent and simply do not support the hand-waving claims that “nuclear is too expensive”.

    Of course LCOE is not the whole story about costs. The UK is certain to introduce some capacity mechanism in it’s electricity market reforms and this will favour reliable generators such as nuclear over intermittent ones. There are costs in backing up intermittent generation and somebody is going to have to pay them.

  26. quokka
    January 5th, 2012 at 21:00 | #26

    @Ikonoclast

    A blast from the past indeed and well out of date. The 2010 IEA “Red Book” reported that known uranium reserves increased by 15% from 2007-2009 alone. It is virtually certain that more exploration will produce substantially further reserves. The amount of money put into uranium exploration has been and continues to be tiny compared to fossil fuels.

    Every reference you provide is to work from known anti-nuclear individuals or groups. Their position is – no nuclear at any cost.

  27. January 5th, 2012 at 21:27 | #27

    Quokka, I compared the cost of point of use solar to the cost of nucear power, but you wrote. “Using arguments about the cost of point use solar as compared the cost of grid supplied nuclear is specious bordering on the fundamentally dishonest.” So am I automatically being dishonest for comparing the two? Does the simple act of comparing the two make me dishonest? Is this some kind of philosophy? Or is it theology? I simply do not understand how you reach that conclusion. This is so confusing I am having flashbacks to Sunday school.

    And Quokka, an overnight cost of 6 billion Euros for Flammanville is still more expensive than wind power. Or at least it is here in South Australia. You gotta remember to add in the operating cost. Those nuclear plants got bills to pay that apparently come to a marginal cost of something like 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

  28. quokka
    January 5th, 2012 at 21:43 | #28

    Prof Q seems to imply that any nuclear power plant design that might be considered for Australia should have an operational record of a “couple of hundred” reactor years. This seems to me a criteria designed to reach the conclusion rather than one founded on world wide practice. Has this ever been applied anywhere?

    LWRs are now very well understood engineering and technology and such a requirement seems much too conservative. First of a kind projects are always at risk of cost over runs, but where are the grounds for believing that there is a risk of outright project failure in the sense of substantially not meeting design requirements? Is there is good reason in principle that for example the GE-Hitachi ESBWR be dismissed out of hand? All indications are that it should be as capable and safe as the AP1000 and the supplier certainly has a very long nuclear track record.

  29. quokka
    January 6th, 2012 at 00:54 | #29

    @Ronald Brak

    Wind power is not free of operations and maintenance costs. Figures reported by the IEA have a wide range. For example from the US $0.008/kWh, from Germany $0.037/kWh and from China as $0.015-0.027/kWh. These are for on-shore wind.

    You have far from demonstrated your claim that wind in SA has a lower LCOE than the French EPR. The two European EPRs under construction are the most expensive NPPs in the world and and it is no secret that these projects could have been better executed. They should be seen as the something like the upper bound on new nuclear cost.

  30. January 6th, 2012 at 02:30 | #30

    Quokka, because of what you wrote earlier about me being spacious bordering on the thunderously dishonest for comparing the cost of point of use solar PV to nuclear generated electricty when I was comparing the cost of point of use solar PV to nuclear generated electricity, I now regard you as a crazy person and so I don’t really want to get involved in a discussion with you. I have a mirror for when I want to do things like that. But you can go ahead and demonstrate to me that nuclear is cheaper than wind in South Australia if you like. I’ll be reading even though I’ll try to avoid responding directly to you.

  31. John Quiggin
    January 6th, 2012 at 04:41 | #31

    “First of a kind projects are always at risk of cost over runs”

    In fact, there’s no risk about it in the case of nuclear First Of A Kind projects. They’ve always had cost overruns, sometimes huge ones. Even the Switkowski committee recommended against Australia going with a FOAK project.

    Remember, we woud be starting from scratch in terms of a regulatory framework, the professionals need to run the plant and provide the external regulation, interactions with the company building the plant and so on. To do this with a design that is itself untried is asking for trouble.

    The fact that you’re willing to advocate such an approach suggests you’ve let commitment to the cause overcome critical thinking.

  32. Ikonoclast
    January 6th, 2012 at 07:48 | #32

    @quokka

    Did you bother to read the papers I linked or did you dismiss them out of hand because they don’t provide the answer you want to believe? They comprehensively debunk the IEA Redbook and its assessment methods. The papers I linked to are scientific papers and the methods used are scientific and empirically based in the precise sense of those terms. The IEA Redbook is a business-managerialist document not a scientific document. The method that the IEA Redbook follows is the standard business-managerialist method. I wonder Quokka if you understand the profound difference between a scientific assessment and a business-managerialist assessment?

    A thorough scientific assessment of this nature uses known and verified data and makes calculated extrapolations on a basis consistent with mathematical probability theory. A business-managerialist assessment (like the politicised assessment to which it is a close cousin) starts with the desired answer ball-park in mind. It then jigs and re-jigs the “data” and the pseudo-formulas it uses until it arrives at the desired answer. It might couch all this in a pseudo-scientific format but it is anything but a scientific document.

    This might sound like an exaggeration or parody of business-managerialist report methods but it is indeed an accurate and consistent picture of what goes on in about 99% of such reports. If you are not aware that this is the case, then there is a large gap in your real world education.

  33. John Quiggin
    January 6th, 2012 at 08:19 | #33

    Regardless of its motivation, the IEA has a lousy track record in forecasting. I don’t see any reason to place any weight on their estimates

    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/energy-smart/green-energy-costs-out-of-date-20110525-1f4ig.html

  34. quokka
    January 6th, 2012 at 14:10 | #34

    @John Quiggin

    It is not true that FOAK nuclear projects have always had time and cost overruns. Sizewell B. the first and only light water NPP in the UK came in on time and on budget. It was and is radically different from the UKs existing fleet of Magnox and AGRs. But it was established technology in other countries. “Sizewell B (SXB) won the prestigious British Construction Industry Award in 1994 in the civil engineering category and also the Supreme Award selected from all the competition categories.”

    Source: Royal Academy of Engineering – Engineering the Future: Nuclear Lessons Learned

    This is a very interesting document to aid understanding of these issues, what has gone wrong and what has gone right in recent or current nuclear builds and how lessons can, should and will be learned.

    Just one counter example is sufficient to refute “common knowledge” such as “all FOAK nuclear projects overrun” and demonstrate the need for detailed knowledge and analysis.

    I’m not advocating that Australia (or anywhere else) should or shouldn’t do an FOAK nuclear project. Rather I suggest that should we come to such a point all credible proposals be evaluated on their merits. Among such criteria, I would imagine, would be the degree of financial responsibility to be assumed by the vendor for project overruns. I would also assume that more weight might be applied to this metric for proposals for designs without significant track record.

    Don’t know why this demonstrates abandonment of critical thinking.

  35. quokka
    January 6th, 2012 at 16:48 | #35

    @John Quiggin

    Lets compare costs in IEA Projected Costs of Generating Electricity 2010 to Melb U via SMH

    Melb U:

    Wind: $130/MWh
    PV: $300/MWh

    IEA (median costs):

    Wind (Nth America): $62 – 92/MWh at 5% and 10% discount rates respectively
    Wind (Europe): $110-150/MWh
    Wind (Asia Pac): $75-115/MWh

    PV (US): $215-333/MWh

    I don’t see anything in the SMH report to suggest that IEA has it fundamentally wrong. There actually seems to be reasonable agreement.

  36. John Quiggin
    January 6th, 2012 at 17:03 | #36

    “But it was established technology in other countries.”

    My point exactly. Australia, as a beginner should confine itself to technology that is already established overseas, rather than going for a world FOAK. If you want to give a relevant counterexample, point to a world FOAK nuclear plant, in a country with no previous nuclear experience, that came in under budget and worked as well or better than projected.

  37. quokka
    January 6th, 2012 at 18:30 | #37

    @Ikonoclast

    If you are referring to the Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith paper that purports to show a negative EROEI for uranium extraction from seawater, then look elsewhere. This paper relies on studies from the 1970s that assume pumping of huge amounts of sea water. Hardly surprising that there would be large energy expenditure! The Japanese experiment referenced above relies only on natural water flow from currents and tides. The laws of physics remain intact, and extraction of uranium from seawater remains a possibility even for a once through fuel cycle. The MIT report came to this conclusion – needs more study but certainly not ruled out.

    I take it that we can assume that the EROEI argument against uranium from seawater is debunked and we do not have to engage in this whack-a-mole game again sometime in the future?

  38. Ken Fabian
    January 7th, 2012 at 16:33 | #38

    The choice of the Right in fossil fuel rich and dependent nations like the US and Australia to deny science based reality stole the opportunity 2 decades ago for nuclear to be the dominant solution for bringing down emissions. Most pro-nukers still think it’s the fault of Greenies – because that’s who the Right continue to try and blame in order to divert attention from their own unwillingness to back nuclear. Even the truth about climate change was never enough to bring the Right to dump fossil fuels for nuclear. In the process they allowed solar a big opportunity to advance, sure in the knowledge that solar would never be able to rise to the challenge whilst nuclear was the real threat.

    The Right should get credit for their key role in giving renewables the big break they needed!

    In places like the USA and Australia nuclear will get no serious political backing until and unless climate denial collapses; the same lot that stabbed nuclear in the back will be knocking on nuclear’s door like there was never a bad moment between them. The pro-nukers, so desperate for any kind of support and blind to just how deep a betrayal climate denial was for nuclear, will welcome the renewed attention and still think it was those greenies that stole their big opportunity.

    Meanwhile so many methods of doing solar work well enough that it hasn’t even reached the point of a clear and obvious ‘best’ technology and that well of innovation is far from dry; they can hopefully take advantage of the start that the combination of Right abandoning nuclear and Left backing renewables has given it.

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