Home > Economics - General > Tell ’em they’re dreaming

Tell ’em they’re dreaming

December 15th, 2014

The title of a piece in Inside Story on nuclear power in Australia. Readers won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t think it’s feasible in any relevant time frame (say, before 2040). I don’t expect nuclear devotees to be convinced by this (I can’t think of any evidence that would have this effect), but I’d be interested to see someone lay out a plausible timetable to get nuclear built here sooner than my suggested date.

To clarify this, feel free to assume a conversion of both major parties and the majority of the public to a pro-nuclear position, but not to assume away the time needed to generate a legislative and regulatory framework, take proper account of concerns about siting, licensing and so on.

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  1. December 15th, 2014 at 22:14 | #1

    It’s not clear whether you’re assessing these things in terms of all the issues including the political ones, or just in terms of the technical problems. If the latter, CANDU reactors are practical in a two to five year time scale, to name but one kind of reactor needing no new breakthroughs or rediscoveries (which Magnox reactors might need), depending on how much is bought in and how much gets sourced locally (which would improve long term sustainability of the industry). If the former, well, that’s an open question because of the imponderables; while current trends certainly don’t offer much prospect of making a nuclear industry generally acceptable soon, on the one hand we simply can’t project those trends reliably for even ten years (given the possibility of shifts within Australia unforeseeable in any detail) and on the other hand there could well be game changing outside events within the next generation. If, say, some sort of oil crisis hit in ten years’ time and caused a rude awakening, there could be operational nuclear reactors here less than ten years after that. And, of course, the ship of material breakthroughs might come in, say if modular, submersible, molten salt, thorium breeder reactors worked, which could be acceptable here as is and could be bought in and installed in short order (I don’t mean plan on it, but rather don’t rule it out if it does happen on the grounds that it wasn’t planned on; at the moment, my best long shot guess for such a thing would be a carbon monoxide fluidised sugar charcoal homogeneous suspension reactor – ideally modular and submersible).

  2. John Quiggin
    December 15th, 2014 at 23:03 | #2

    According to this story, the most recently approved CANDU design in China might be ready to start construction in five years, all going well.

    http://www.thestar.com/business/2014/11/06/new_candu_reactors_clear_hurdle_in_china.html

  3. Megan
    December 15th, 2014 at 23:05 | #3

    I’m against nuclear, as I’ve made clear previously.

    But apparently there’s something called the “OECD-NEA” (Nuclear Energy Agency), and they say:

    As nuclear power plants are complex construction projects, their construction periods are longer than other large power plants. It is typically expected to take 5 to 7 years to build a large nuclear unit (not including the time required for planning and licensing). Currently in countries such as South Korea and China, typical construction times range from 4 to 6 years, and in European countries construction may take between 6 and 8 years. In comparison, large coal plants can be built in about 4 years, while the construction time for natural gas fired plants is around 3 years.

    So the answer to the problem – “…plausible timetable to get nuclear built here…, (conditional upon Australia becoming a dictatorship in the next few months – entirely possible) is roughly 2019.

  4. December 15th, 2014 at 23:40 | #4

    John Quiggin :
    According to this story, the most recently approved CANDU design in China might be ready to start construction in five years, all going well.
    http://www.thestar.com/business/2014/11/06/new_candu_reactors_clear_hurdle_in_china.html

    I take it that you noticed that the linked article is not describing the prospect of an off the shelf Canadian reactor like the ones it acknowledges have already been built in China, but a new and special one posing new and as yet unsolved problems that is intended to handle partially burnt nuclear fuel from other reactors? As such, its prospects are not as relevant as the track record of earlier, established versions – such as the ones in China mentioned in that linked article, and the ones Canada built for itself from scratch at the very beginning of its nuclear industry.

  5. John Quiggin
    December 15th, 2014 at 23:57 | #5

    @Megan

    Obviously, this estimate fails the conditions I set out, but even a dictatorship still has do a lot of planning, choose contractors etc.

  6. Donald Oats
    December 16th, 2014 at 00:20 | #6

    …we still don’t have viable (safe, or safe-ish) ways of disposing of the waste, especially waste which can’t be recycled. Waste is everything from tailings, polluted water, irradiated equipment, anything which comes into contact with the radioactive materials, fuel rods, spent fuel rods, partially fused fuel rods (thanks, USSR), etc. From low-level radiation to hot waste, it all adds up and has to go somewhere to sit while it passes through several half-life times, which is different for different radioactive elements. It would be nice to have some decent solutions before embarking on a major nuclearisation programme. We humans have quite the habit of doing something, then later on going “Wait a minute…” I hate the thought of doing nuclear when we have barely bothered to scratch the surface with solar and wind, and can’t even be bothered agreeing to GHG emission reduction targets; however, if we must have nuclear, let it at least have the waste problem sorted out early on, not way down the track when the problem is hugely expensive. And can we also have realistic decommissioning plans at the front-end of the planning process for these projects? Just a thought.

  7. December 16th, 2014 at 00:50 | #7

    I’ll mention that all the seriously proposed designs for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) all make clear that the cost of electricity they produce will be higher than conventional reactor designs. Their advantage is supposed to be that their smaller size allows them to be built in specific locations where electricity prices are high. It wasn’t a good business plan and continuing decreases in the cost of renewables is making it worse.

  8. Megan
    December 16th, 2014 at 01:28 | #8

    @John Quiggin

    When I made my first comment, I didn’t see the last paragraph:

    To clarify this, feel free to assume a conversion of both major parties and the majority of the public to a pro-nuclear position, but not to assume away the time needed to generate a legislative and regulatory framework, take proper account of concerns about siting, licensing and so on.

    According to “Google Cache” you added that after I made my comment.

    Even so, that just removes my hypothetical requirement for a dictatorship and replaces it with a parallel reality duopoly and public opinion consensus. In that case the legislative/regulatory etc… stuff should take about five minutes.

    Listen to Parliament carefully on ABC (not the circus of question time but the ‘real’ thing) and you will frequently hear the duopoly ramming all sorts of awful legislation through.

  9. Will Boisvert
    December 16th, 2014 at 03:56 | #9

    I think Australia could get a large nuclear plant in 14 years, to judge by the example of United Arab Emirates.

    UAE first floated the idea of a nuclear plant in 2006. By 2009 they had selected a site, Barakah, and a vendor, the Korean Electric Power Company and its Gen III APR1400. The four-reactor, 5600 MW plant is currently under construction, with unit 1 60 percent complete, and all 4 units due online in 2020. So far the project is on schedule, and KEPCO has a good record of on-time and on-budget completion. The total project cost is $32 billion, $5700 per kilowatt. UAE hired a British nuclear regulator to set up their regulatory agency, and KEPCO is training an Emirati engineering and technical staff to run the plant.

    Australia could do the same. There’s probably no shortage of experienced British, American and Canadian nuclear engineers and regulators—and even construction tradesmen–who would be willing to spend a few years down under helping set up a nuclear power establishment and training programs, since there’s no language or culture gap to contend with. Siting shouldn’t be too hard. Australia is geologically quiescent, sparsely populated and big, so there should be many suitable ocean-front sites without many people nearby to object. NIMBY-ism could be a problem, but it’s a problem with wind, too; since you assume there’s a political consensus to build nuclear, that implies the consensus is strong enough to override local NIMBYism. If not, then Australia is going to have a hard time getting any major clean energy projects built.

    Fourteen years is a long time, but a plant the size of Barakah will produce 6 times as much low-carbon electricity as the entirety of Australia’s current solar generating capacity—and much more reliably. So it’s worth considering.

  10. rog
    December 16th, 2014 at 04:53 | #10

    @Will Boisvert

    Australia is geologically quiescent, sparsely populated and big, so there should be many suitable ocean-front sites without many people nearby to object.

    should such a site exist the next problem would be transporting this energy to populated centres ie the users.

  11. Moz of Yarramulla
    December 16th, 2014 at 06:14 | #11

    I trust you’ve seen this latest bit of bad faith and mummery? They’re doing the usual refusal to engage while complaining that “the other side” isn’t taking their proposal seriously.

    My summary is: the trouble with nuclear power is that we can quickly build designs we know aren’t safe, or we can start a research and development project that could well produce a safe design within 30-50 years. Either way they will produce waste that the human race is structurally not equipped to deal with – we just cannot make plans for even 1000 years time, let alone the lifecycle of nuclear waste.

  12. Matt
    December 16th, 2014 at 07:37 | #12

    John Quiggin :According to this story, the most recently approved CANDU design in China might be ready to start construction in five years, all going well.
    http://www.thestar.com/business/2014/11/06/new_candu_reactors_clear_hurdle_in_china.html

    I may have missed something, but what’s wrong with the current generation CANDU reactors? They appear to be still operating in Canada, with few incidents.

  13. Will Boisvert
    December 16th, 2014 at 07:51 | #13

    @ Rog,

    ” the next problem would be transporting this energy to populated centres ie the users.”

    Right, Rog–transmission lines.

  14. Ikonoclast
    December 16th, 2014 at 09:12 | #14

    Consistent with my early New Year’s Resolution I am not going to argue. The principle for my not arguing is that this is a case where empirical realities will determine the outcome independent of human argument and agency. Have a nice day everyone.

  15. jungney
    December 16th, 2014 at 09:48 | #15

    I’ll stick with Quiggin’s assumption of bipartisan enthusiasm for nukes but point out that there is now a very well rehearsed, organized and trained mob of citizens in NSW, Qld and Vic who would extend the construction time and blow out the costs of construction through blockading. My fave mob of blockaders at the Leard Forest protest, now approaching two years and hundreds of arrests, is uniformly anti-nuke. Then there’s the mobs at the Pilliga, Bentley, Gloucester, Dubbo, Camp Quoll … who would be of similar mind. On top of that there’s all the residents around any potential location.

    The issue isn’t so much about about money or safety or waste, although they play a role, as it is about trust in the capacity of the industry to get it right and, when things go wrong, to tell the truth.

  16. Moz of Yarramulla
    December 16th, 2014 at 09:52 | #16

    @jungney

    There are also a bunch of people who live around the high level waste storage site and reactors in Sydney who are well equipped to spread their fight to anyone who wants it. There’s a bunch of scary info and exhaustive documentation of problems from people who are no longer really rational after years of gaslighting by authority figures.

  17. December 16th, 2014 at 09:53 | #17

    The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has bid in utility scale solar power for 6 US cents a kilowatt-hour. Note this is utility scale solar and in Australia would provide electricity at a much higher cost than our rooftop solar, but it’s still an impressively low price and quite competitive with other new generating capacity.

  18. December 16th, 2014 at 10:29 | #18

    I’ll just mention that at about 10:50 am today the wholesale price of electricty in South Australia was 0.87 cents a kilowatt-hour. In Queensland it was 3 cents a kilowatt-hour.

  19. Hermit
    December 16th, 2014 at 10:56 | #19

    Coal it is then. I expect even with no GDP growth that Australia’s 2015 emissions will be greater than the past few years. The reasons are that some big hydro dams are just 20% full with not much rain in sight, the gas price shock when east Australian piped gas gets exported as LNG from about July and the lack of any serious emissions deterrents. Hydro and gas generation accounted for 27.8% of Australia’s electricity in 2013 with with wind and solar 4.4%, ref BREE Energy in Australia 2014 Table 8. The clear winner is coal which will inefficiently take over from gas much of the task of intermediate load balancing.

    You’d have to wonder with all this angst over Lima, RET and so on whether increasing emissions should be an admission of failure. Not so apparently, the magical thinking must continue.

  20. Ken Fabian
    December 16th, 2014 at 11:01 | #20

    Are we talking about nuclear to replace existing fossil fuel plant because emissions are a serious issue or are we talking about vanity nuclear projects, because we like nuclear? I still think that without a genuine understanding and commitment to fixing the climate problem our nuclear ‘friendly’ LNP would find reasons – popular anti-nuclear opposition being more an excuse than a reason – to delay anything except nuclear vanity projects. Jobs and Growth and saturated energy markets don’t stop being excuses for delay just because anti-nuclear opposition (exaggerated IMO; most Australians don’t care that much) might be put aside; an actual bipartisan commitment to fixing the climate problem is an absolute prerequisite to commitment to nuclear for climate.

  21. Jim
    December 16th, 2014 at 11:05 | #21

    Given current levels of oversupply in the NEM, the ability of alternative supplies to facilitate incremental growth, the rapid improvements in technology etc, I cannot see too many new large power plants being developed in Australia for several years anyway (unless for a specific industrial customer).

    So the question about a nuclear power plant’s relative attractiveness probably shouldn’t be asked for another 10-15 years anyway. By then I suspect the cost of renewables (including smaller scale distributed systems that reduce the need for more large transmission lines) will be so low, that nuclear won’t even get a look in until coal resources are running out.

    Bottom line is that, while nuclear might be technically feasible, I doubt it will actually happen before 2040. I think John might actually be a bit optimistic.

  22. Ikonoclast
    December 16th, 2014 at 11:07 | #22

    I will make one limited observation however. Can’t help myself can I? After all, an observation is not an argument.

    If Barry Brooke and his supporters were serious about conserving and saving the environment they would be advocating low impact solutions. The low impact solution would be to conserve energy and reduce consumerism. If such measures were undertaken, easily the entire output of one large nuclear power station could be saved in Australia. Lots of other damage would be prevented too from the reduced consumption of unnecessary consumerist junk (as opposed to continuing production of necessities and things of genuine health, welfare, educational and cultural value).

  23. Moz of Yarramulla
    December 16th, 2014 at 11:25 | #23

    @Ikonoclast

    Yes, but the very first step in their argument is “the current drop in electricity demand is just a blip and growth will resume really soon”.

  24. Hermit
    December 16th, 2014 at 11:36 | #24

    @Jim
    I’d interpret ‘coal resources running out’ as needing to replace coal fired power stations when they wear out. This has recently applied to Playford, Brix, Redbanks and possibly Anglesea… none of them behemoths like Eraring or Hazelwood. The big units are supposed to start needing replacement from 2025 but our mineable coal resources could last for centuries. Like asbestos we’ll have to leave coal in the ground even though it’s still cheap to extract. However a true opponent of coal would want the plants closed early.

    I think Australia should cut its teeth on a mini reactor like the NuScale on sale from 2023 or the Enhanced Candu 6, not cheap but perceived as safe. By then the gigawatt sized units might have speedier modular construction. See how desktop computers now have the CPU behind the monitor not a separate box. Build one or two and learn. If there is a breakthrough in renewable energy storage or CCS in the meantime little will have been lost.

  25. John Quiggin
    December 16th, 2014 at 11:56 | #25

    @Will Boisvert

    I think the 14-year timescale is about right, assuming Australia was a dictatorship like the UAE. As it is, even assuming majority support, you can’t simply impose a nuclear power plant on people, as I mentioned in the OP, nor can the requirement for a proper legislative framework be overriden by emirs. That would take another 10 years at least. And there’s a fair bit of cherrypicking going in.

    Most nuclear projects, even in China, are running over time and overbudget, most in developed countries badly so. The US, with an 18-year timescale for brownfield sites is typical – others are far worse.

  26. John Quiggin
    December 16th, 2014 at 11:57 | #26

    @Hermit

    If you want to argue on the basis of existing shares, the ratio of renewables to commercial nuclear in Australia is infinite. The question is which is likely to contribute more in the relevant timeframe.

  27. Hermit
    December 16th, 2014 at 12:11 | #27

    @John Quiggin
    Nuclear is the replacement for coal which is 63.9% of of our electricity. The substations and transmission towers are already built as are thermal cooling facilities.

    BREE also point out that transport represents about 40% of our primary energy demand. Currently that’s almost entirely supplied by oil or oil products of which we now import over 70%. Conceivably electric cars could go prime time though I don’t envisage battlers owning them. We could also use gas as a diesel substitute in trucks which means less for power stations or LNG export. My idea is to save gas for trucks and in theory run electric or hydrogen vehicles via a low carbon grid. Realistically we’ll just drive less.

  28. Moz of Yarramulla
    December 16th, 2014 at 12:13 | #28

    @John Quiggin

    In the USA the partially completed Watts Bar reactor #1 took from 2007-2015 to complete (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watts_Bar_Nuclear_Generating_Station), which is 8 years, and the end date is still in the future. I find it hard to beleive that time would be reduced if they had to start construction from scratch. They’re also currently at “started construction” on a bunch of reactors where permits were applied for in 2007. So “expedited” probably means 15 years as a best case in the USA from application to generation.

  29. Collin Street
    December 16th, 2014 at 12:26 | #29

    John Quiggin :
    @Megan
    Obviously, this estimate fails the conditions I set out, but even a dictatorship still has do a lot of planning, choose contractors etc.

    Dictatorships generally have terrible internal processes, AIUI; half the point of a bureaucracy is to tell the person at the top that their idea is terrible or unworkable, and the sorts of people who become dictators tend not to be the sorts of people who respond well to being told that sort of thing.

    [your politics is shaped by your personality]

  30. Nick
    December 16th, 2014 at 12:37 | #30

    @Will Boisvert

    A few things to add:

    1) If the UAE @ 14 years is the benchmark for the minimum possible time for a country to have a nuclear industry + power station up and running from scratch, a reasonable minimum time for Australia is at least 20-25 years. Our two countries are very different after all.

    2) 90% of the total solar capacity you mention, or 3.5-4GW, was installed in the last 4 years. So clearly it is possible for Australia to install an additional 20GW of solar in the next 20 years. Which would make for a total capacity of ~25GW.

    From Hermit’s Table 8 in the current BREE report, we can see that PV generated an average of 10.5 GWh/day in the 2012-2013 period, at a time when Australia had ~2GW of capacity.

    So, in 20 years time, there’s no valid reason we couldn’t be generating an average of ~130 GWh/day from PV solar.

    By comparison, your 5.6 GW nuclear power station, running at say 90% capacity, would be generating ~120 GWh/day.

    3) A nuclear power station would come at a much greater cost in Australia than the $32 billion the UAE is spending. We don’t do things cheaply here.

    eg. Israel builds the largest state of the art desal plants in the world for about $900 million a pop. Australia’s largest desal plant, in Wonthaggi, cost $4 billion, plus another $20 billion in contractual operating and maintenance costs over the next 30 years. It has less than half the ML/day capacity of Israel’s desal plants.

  31. December 16th, 2014 at 12:53 | #31

    It is now just past solar noon in South Australia and the current wholesale price of electricity is 1.9 cents a kilowatt-hour. In Queensland it is currently 3.1 cents a kilowatt-hour.

  32. Troy Prideaux
    December 16th, 2014 at 12:54 | #32

    @Nick
    Very good point(s)!

  33. December 16th, 2014 at 13:16 | #33

    Ooh! I see we very briefly had a negative price event in South Australia. This occurs when our wind generation plus exports plus sixty percent of the coal Northern Power Station exceeds the amount of grid electricity demand in the state. (It’s 60% of the Northern Power Station’s capacity because that’s as low as it can drop its output without shutting down.) The skies are clearing up and that would have contributed by increasing rooftop solar generation. The price dropped down to negative one cent a kilowatt-hour but only for 5 minutes and prices were only negative for 15 minutes total. But while it was brief our now commonly low daytime electricity prices and the occasional negative price event are very bad for the economics of coal power and of course very bad for the economics of any new baseload generation. It is now simply not economically feasible to build a new coal power plant in Australia and certainly not any baseload generating capacity that is more expensive tha coal. Not when new wind is cheaper than new coal and point of use solar outcompetes any utility scale generation.

  34. Tim Macknay
    December 16th, 2014 at 13:40 | #34

    I can’t comment on construction times, but in terms of the time required to develop the legislative and regulatory framework, an instructive example is the lifting of the ban on uranium mining in Australia. The WA Liberal govenrment announced that the ban would be lifted as soon as it was elected in September 2008. An internal govenrment review into the adequacy of the regulatory system for uranium mining was commenced in February 2009, and reported in August of that year. The internal review recommended the introduction of mandatory full cost recovery environmental bonds for uranium mining projects and the recruitment of new, suitably qualified staff to ensure adequate regulation. The legal formalities necessary for the environmental bonds were in place by 2010. Updated technical guidelines for radiation management were also published in 2010. legislative change was not required.

    However, by May 2012, only a small fraction of the required number of new staff had been recruited. The government also thought it prudent to commission an independent review of the adequacy of the regulatory framework (given the political controversies around uranium mining). The review panel was established in 2010 and reported in April 2012. It recommended that, if best practice was to be achieved, greater transparency in the regulatory system, and the adoption of a risk-based approach to environmental assessment be adopted. Not all the recommendations have been accepted by the government.

    Taking this process as an indication, it would take a minimum of two years for legal and policy documents to be prepared, and up to four years for the necessary resources for the regulatory system to be in place, assuming that the Government chooses not include independent oversight in the policy-making process.

    It should be noted that updating the WA mining regulatory framework to handle uranium mining was relatively straightforward, as the relevant government agencies already had significant experience in regulating radiation management at mine sites (in a non-uranium mining context). It was also a government priority, was relatively well-resourced, and occurred prior to the deterioration in the terms of trade which is currently prompting governments to cut budgets.

    The introduction of a regulatory framework for nuclear energy would be likely to require much more substantial new regulatory and guideline material.

  35. Tim Macknay
    December 16th, 2014 at 13:41 | #35

    That should be the lifting of the ban on uranium mining in Western Australia. Sorry.

  36. Will Boisvert
    December 16th, 2014 at 13:50 | #36

    @ John Quiggin 23,

    “even assuming majority support, you can’t simply impose a nuclear power plant on people, as I mentioned in the OP, nor can the requirement for a proper legislative framework be overriden by emirs. That would take another 10 years at least.”

    OK, but your op seemed to posit a strong bipartisan consensus favoring nuclear power. Under those circumstances, I can’t see offhand why it must take 10 years to pass enabling legislation, especially when there are so many well-tested legislative and regulatory frameworks among the thirty-odd countries with nuclear power for Australia to take as a model.

    And your article pointed out, quite rightly, that local opposition to wind farms has proven a serious obstacle (and not just in Australia). So NIMBYism is a problem that confronts all clean energy technologies (except rooftop solar, which everyone loves.) If we’re really serious about addressing climate change, then at some point democratic majorities are going to have to gird themselves to impose clean energy projects over the protests of local NIMBYs. Otherwise, systematic national energy policies just can’t be carried through.

    It’s a fair point to note that the politics of nuclear in many places are difficult, maybe even intractable. But I think that’s the lesson that this thought experiment highlights–that the stumbling blocks to nuclear power are more the result of politics than of logistics, costs and safety.

    –“Most nuclear projects, even in China, are running over time and overbudget, most in developed countries badly so.”

    You’re right that all the current Gen III+ builds (AP1000 and EPR) are very troubled, even in China. But only 6 of China’s 28 builds are Gen III+. The bulk of current Chinese projects are their workhorse Gen II+ CPR1000s, which they are cranking out quite reliably on five-year schedules at cheap prices.

    The difference is simply that the CPR1000 is a mature design that the Chinese have been building long enough to get proficient at it. (The same is true for South Korea’s APR1400.) The Gen III+ designs–at least the AP1000–could also follow that trajectory provided there are systematic national construction programs to nurture expertise and a supply chain (which China is planning as it phases out the CPR1000).

    Citing South Korea and China isn’t cherry-picking. It’s just noting that, as with renewables, the key to a successful nuclear program is crafting a smart industrial policy that nurtures the technology. That point really should be at the center of the discussion.

  37. Donald Oats
    December 16th, 2014 at 14:50 | #37

    If someone in the (most dystopian) government swung it for nuclear power, the massive subsidies which we would end up paying (as we do for coal) would no doubt come at the opportunity cost of subsidising/supporting other low/no GHG emission power sources. The positive support for solar has really boosted research into even better methods/technologies for solar energy production, and also into the large scale storage of energy (big batteries). Without supporting the growth of the commercial sector, good innovation and research would have happened in dribs and drabs: it needs critical mass to flourish.

    Taxin’ Tony has gone after the low GHG emission subset of the renewable energy sector, and has done so with a missionary’s zeal, savaging it like a rotweiler with an intruder’s leg. Given Treasurer Joe Hockey’s most recent budget update, it’s pretty clear that if they want nuclear power, they are more than capable of inventing some fictional financials which makes the case—at least in their dreams…

  38. Hermit
    December 16th, 2014 at 15:03 | #38

    @Ronald Brak
    SA is less renewable than Tasmania but seems to talk about it more. Next year both states are likely to import more brown coal power from Victoria SA because Moomba gas is going into export LNG Tas because of El Nino lite. SA will get hot days where the where the heat lingers after 6pm and PV wanes but air con use persists. Watch the spot power price go up noting it has hit $12.50 per kwh in the last year. Gas fired peaking power will be expensive if gas doubles in price as expected. When Holden up stumps in 2017 there won’t be a rush to create new industries based on cheap power.

    Since SA has the world’s biggest uranium deposit, is connected to brown coal dependent Victoria and needs new jobs I suggest they get into different phases of the nuclear fuel cycle. That is not just uranium mining but enrichment and power generation, some of which is sent to the east coast. Otherwise Adelaide will become a big retirement village for post WW2 pommie immigrants with most of the young people having left.

  39. rog
    December 16th, 2014 at 18:17 | #39

    @Will Boisvert Well I guess that if transmission lines is an acceptable answer to isolated nuclear plants the same would apply to solar/wind projects in similar circumstances.

    Back to the main question, where on our coast would it be acceptable to place a nuclear power station? I’m thinking NW of WA.

  40. December 16th, 2014 at 18:38 | #40

    I don’t suppose we could locate the nuclear reactor in Nauru and then run a transmission line across the Pacific? Nah, the infrastructure costs would be too high for a submarine cable of that length. Maybe we could park a Russian nuclear icebreaker off shore and use that to generate electricity? It’s not as if Russia will need it the way the ice is melting. Actually, Russia is building a 170 megawatt floating reactor to power its oil and gas extraction in the artic and they apparently plan to build more, so we could ask Russia for one of them. In fact, with recent fall in the price of oil to the low low price of only twice what it was in real terms just 10 years ago, they might be happy to sell us one. It won’t be cheap, but oddly enough it might be the best option if we’re actually crazy enough to blow the cash required to get a nuclear power reactor within Australian territory. But I have another solution that should be even cheaper. We find a reactor in another country that’s near a convenient aluminium smelter and import the aluminium it produces from nuclear power and use it to power aluminium air batteries. That’s sorta kinda like using nuclear power and it has the advantage of being dispatchable. And while it’s not cheap, it could end up being much cheaper than building a nuclear reactor given the greater value of the electricity produced and if Hinkley C is any guide.

  41. jungney
    December 16th, 2014 at 19:42 | #41

    @Ronald Brak
    I’m of the view that instead of one giant nuke hidden somewhere in the sand dunes we should have lots of smaller nukes delivering power to those who need it. Say, North Head and South Head for a start. Then Nelson Bay and all the way up to Ballina. Wouldn’t want to spoil Byron. And, oh I dunno, a big mofo outside Bateman’s Bay, for the hillbillies and the bureaucrats in the ACT.

  42. Ben
    December 16th, 2014 at 21:06 | #42

    @Ronald Brak
    At midday, the SA wholesale price went negative (-1 c/kWh).

  43. John Quiggin
    December 16th, 2014 at 22:26 | #43

    One point that’s come clearly out of this is that the attempt to plan a feasible timetable pushes you rapidly to Gen II or II+ designs dating back to the 1970s, rather than to the safer modern designs (Gen III and III+) let alone vaporware like PRISM and SMRs.

  44. John Quiggin
    December 16th, 2014 at 22:37 | #44

    @Tim Macknay

    That’s a pretty plausible comparator in the political sense that the LNP favored uranium mining and Labor, while formally opposed, was happy to drop the issue. And public activism on the issue has been limited – criticism of the proposed Kintyre mine was mostly about the kind of local impacts that any mine would have.

    So, the whole process went ahead without any real political problems. Still, six years on, mining hasn’t even started.

  45. December 16th, 2014 at 23:24 | #45

    John Quiggin :
    One point that’s come clearly out of this is that the attempt to plan a feasible timetable pushes you rapidly to Gen II or II+ designs dating back to the 1970s, rather than to the safer modern designs (Gen III and III+) let alone vaporware like PRISM and SMRs.

    Now hang on. That’s a false dichotomy. Some older designs were unsafe or were implemented unsafely, and, granted, safety is more often designed in these days – but then again some older designs were safe and some newer ones aren’t (though those are only likely to be adopted in countries with other priorities like Iran and North Korea). Among older types the Chernobyl one had built in vulnerabilities and the U.S. pressurised water ones had inherent vulnerabilities that had to be worked around (which sometimes failed) – but the CANDU type contained those pressure problems much better with its calandria approach (and was inherently safe because leaks went into low pressure regions that buffered them) and the Magnox type didn’t have those at all (though it had Wigner energy issues that weren’t known to the builders, and which were easy to avoid once they were discovered). Modern, dangerous designs include the aqueous homogeneous ones I strongly suspect some countries are contemplating because they offer a fast path to proliferation despite their frequent leaks from radiocorrosion.

    So the way to go is to pick an old, safe type – and not tar all old designs with the brush of being unsafe, particularly since (as with Chernobyl) the lack of safety was never because of being unable to achieve it but rather because of choosing those other priorities – usually to get a weapons capability as well as a power one (there is actually one homogeneous reactor approach that needs to be supplied with outside power to cool it as it needs operating temperatures far below ambient; that one is only useful for breeding fissile materials and the like and it isn’t even very efficient at that, with its main redeeming feature being a lower proneness to leaks).

  46. rog
    December 17th, 2014 at 05:46 | #46

    James Hansen et al argue that

    Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.

    They talk about the “real world” but in the real world that I know new nuclear is a concept, old is getting older and renewables can be done in a heartbeat.

  47. Hermit
    December 17th, 2014 at 07:30 | #47

    It seems a bit inconsistent to hold James Hansen in high regard on climate change but not on abatement. In his writings he comments on the difficulty of storing intermittent energy so it can perform the same role as dispatchable generation.

    As to the number of nukes required in Australia you’d think it would be about the same as the number of coal fired stations. There are clusters like NSW Hunter Valley and Vic Latrobe Valley. In individual output they range from about 250 MW to 3300 MW, some using cooling towers others immersion cooling by fresh or sea water. Plants on the coast could integrate desalination. Air cooling as at Qld’s Kogan Ck and Milmerran coal plants has about a 20% efficiency penalty.

  48. Ikonoclast
    December 17th, 2014 at 09:44 | #48

    This paper indicates that the effects of a rapid nuclear power build-up might not be very helpful to ameliorate GHG emissions in a timely fashion (to prevent exceeding 2 degrees C warming for example). This is because many GHG e associated with nuke power are front-loaded in the lifecycle. At the same time GHG e in mature production are not inconsiderable (think of the fuel mining, processing, tranport etc. Then there is decomissioning and waste storage which are sources of GHG e.

    http://www.academia.edu/1628854/Limitations_of_Nuclear_Power_as_a_Sustainable_Energy_Source

    Nuclear energy cannibalism is also a serious issue. As per Wikipedia;

    “Energy cannibalism refers to an effect where rapid growth of an entire energy producing industry creates a need for energy that uses (or cannibalizes) the energy of existing power plants. Thus during rapid growth the industry as a whole produces no energy because new energy is used to fuel the embodied energy of future power plants.

    n order for an “emission free” power plant to have a net negative impact on greenhouse gas emissions of the energy supply it must do two things:

    (a) produce enough emission-less electricity to offset the greenhouse gas emissions that it is responsible for
    (b) continue to produce electricity to offset emissions from existing or potential fossil fuel plants.

    This can become challenging in view of very rapid growth because the construction of additional power plants to enable the rapid growth rate create emissions that cannibalize the greenhouse gas emissions mitigation potential of all the power plants viewed as a group or ensemble.

    Applications to the nuclear industry

    In the article “Thermodynamic Limitations to Nuclear Energy Deployment as a Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Technology” the necessary growth rate, r, of the nuclear power industry was calculated to be 10.5%. This growth rate is very similar to the 10% limit due to energy payback example for the nuclear power industry in the United States calculated in the same article from a life cycle analysis for energy.

    These results indicate that any energy policies with the intention of driving down greenhouse gas emissions with deployment of additional nuclear reactors will not be effective unless the nuclear energy industry in the U.S. improves its efficiency.” – End of Wikipedia excerpts.

    It is indeed a fact that energy cannibalism will also affect the attempt at a renewable energy build-out. Taken as a whole, energy cannibalism (of any changeover build-out) could be a fundamental reason why we cannot now avoid dangerous global warming. But I don’t know as I have not yet (amateur-)researched this issue in relation to renewables.

    Note: I have only read the free excerpt of this paper quickly. I did not attempt to go beyond the paywall or the waywall. At first sight the paper looks academic and rigorous so if you care about empirical truth… might be worth a read.

    “Waywall” is my weak attempt at a new word. A waywall wants to direct you a certain way i.e. along a certain path of, for example, giving them your email address. There may or may not be a paywall somewhere along the waywall.

  49. Hermit
    December 17th, 2014 at 12:15 | #49

    Much has been said before about France’s achievement in a rapid nuclear build so it can be done with an affordable degree of sacrifice. While energy cannibalism might be a fair point at least fission is capable of replicating its embodied energy input. In contrast silicon used in PV starts with fusing sand and coke in an arc furnace most likely powered by coal fired electricity. Ditto rare earths used in wind turbine magnets, then there is cement, steel, aluminium, fibreglass and so on none of which AFAIK can be produced exclusively with wind and solar. The nuclear plants themselves should last for 60 years perhaps double that of wind and solar and in the West about 0.1c per kwh is set aside for decommissioning.

    Further energy savings may be achieved with the Australian invented SILEX laser enrichment process. Olympic Dam mine is to use less energy intensive mining and extraction methods. We could cut our emissions by large amounts in an affordable way if we really wanted to. Perhaps we don’t.

  50. Will Boisvert
    December 17th, 2014 at 12:18 | #50

    @ John Quiggin 43

    “the attempt to plan a feasible timetable pushes you rapidly to Gen II or II+ designs dating back to the 1970s, rather than to the safer modern designs (Gen III and III+) let alone vaporware like PRISM and SMRs.”

    Not quite. If you look back you’ll find that my suggested timetable referenced the Korean APR1400, which is a Gen III design. Japan also had good results building four Gen III ABWR reactors in the 1990s and 2000s, with the builds coming in on time and on budget.

    The point I was making about China’s Gen II+ is the simple one that reactors, Gen II and Gen III models alike, get cheaper and faster to build with state support and long production runs that build proficiency in the construction industry and supply chain. No mystery there, just smart industrial policy, the same as renewables have benefitted from. The Gen III+ builds, (AP!000 and EPR) are currently a mess, but if the AP1000 gets supportive industrial policy, as China is planning, it’s plausible that it’s cost and schedule will also shrink. Industrial policy is the key.

  51. Nick
    December 17th, 2014 at 13:02 | #51

    Will: If you look back you’ll find that my suggested timetable referenced the Korean APR1400, which is a Gen III design.

    While you mention it, how many APR1400s are currently in operation around the world?

  52. Nick
  53. Chris O’Neill
    December 17th, 2014 at 13:32 | #53

    nuclear power in Australia

    Of academic interest in Australia only. The coal-generators will be kept in operation for a long, long time, way beyond what used to be the “economic lifetime” of such generators. The “economic lifetime” of coal generators used to be based on the cost of financing new, replacement coal generators that used to be financeable with cheap capital. Such cheap capital for new coal generators is no longer available because of the higher perceived risk of such generation. Such previous standards for coal-generator economic life no longer apply. Now they may have a far longer economic life, so Australia’s CO2 emissions from such sources may extend far into the future without some added operating cost such as a Carbon price.

  54. Will Boisvert
    December 17th, 2014 at 15:15 | #54

    @ Nick p. 2 #1,

    –The first two APR1400s are due online next year in Korea.

    –You referenced an article about the nuclear waste “crisis” in South Korea. The article says SK has 9,000 tons of waste in cooling pools. That sounds like a lot, but it’s worth remembering that if they just put it in concrete dry casks the entirety of it would fit in a medium-sized parking lot. So it’s not clear why it’s a crisis. (The U. S. ‘s 70,000 tons of nuclear waste would fit in a football stadium at a depth of about 10 feet.) Press reports like to grab eyeballs with stories about nuclear crisis, but when you crunch the numbers you often find there’s nothing to it.

    –Speaking of crunching numbers, upthread you estimated that Australia had 2 GW of solar pv in 2012-13. Assuming that’s June-to-June fiscal, I rate the average capacity at about 2.49 GW for that period, based on the January 2013 figure. That makes a difference because, with 3,817 GWh generation for the period, it gives us a capacity factor of 17.5 percent.

    In turn, that means your proposed 20-year buildout of solar pv to 25 GW would produce on average 4.25 GW, somewhat less than a Barakah-sized nuclear plant’s 5 GW average power. So even if we followed your estimate of a 20-year timeline for bringing an Australian nuclear plant on line, it would still bring more capacity on line faster than a solar pv buildout at current rates. Of course, the solar would begin partial generation sooner, but the nukes would last longer and be more reliable. (And to be honest, I still don’t see why it would take 20 years; the only answer I’m seeing to that question here is “politics demands it.”)

    People don’t really register how feeble solar’s contribution to energy production has been, and how slow its actual rather than relative rate of increase. Anyway, nuclear has advantages that make it worth considering.

  55. December 17th, 2014 at 15:36 | #55

    At noon today feeble solar was supplying 22% of South Australia’s total electricity use and 8.5% of Queensland’s. And it did so at a lower cost than utility scale nuclear could even if the cost of nuclear power was zero cents a kilowatt-hour. Yesterday in South Australia, along with wind power, a coal plant, an inability to export more electricity to Victoria, and a little gas capacity operating as spinning reserve, solar power contributed to a negative price event in the middle of the day in South Australia. This is not good for the economics of coal power and it is certainly not good for any nuclear plants over enthusiastic people might build. And Australia’s rooftop solar capacity is still expanding.

  56. Doug
    December 17th, 2014 at 16:06 | #56

    Is industrial policy a code for implicit or explicit subsidies funded by government? If not what does it mean?

  57. Nick
    December 17th, 2014 at 16:14 | #57

    That sounds like a lot, but it’s worth remembering that if they just put it in concrete dry casks the entirety of it would fit in a medium-sized parking lot.

    Problem solved then. Except that those dry caskets only last 100 years. And, as the article says, it would cost $2.6 billion to do it.

    Including all the new reactors they have under construction and in planning, how many medium-sized parking lots will Korea have filled by 2115?

    How many billions of dollars will Korea have spent over that time constructing and filling them with radioactive waste?

    And how many billions of dollars will it cost to replace all those dry caskets once they’ve passed their use by date?

    Who picks up the tab for all of that?

  58. Nick
    December 17th, 2014 at 16:21 | #58

    Speaking of crunching numbers, upthread you estimated that Australia had 2 GW of solar pv in 2012-13. Assuming that’s June-to-June fiscal, I rate the average capacity at about 2.49 GW for that period, based on the January 2013 figure. That makes a difference because, with 3,817 GWh generation for the period, it gives us a capacity factor of 17.5 percent.

    I was using: http://pv-map.apvi.org.au/analyses

    Looking more closely I get a rough average of 2.44 GW for the period, so yep I was off by a fair bit. Thanks for the correction.

    I think you’re missing the point though: I was being very conservative with my estimates, whereas yours were relying on a best-case scenario.

    The rate of PV rollout in Australia during the 2012-2013 period wasn’t even nearly close to the maximum possible.

    Perhaps I should allow myself the same assumptions as the OP:

    – bipartisan support for increased rollout of PV in Australia (imagine that!!)

    – a government willing to commit the >$50 billion it would have hypothetically spent getting a nuclear power station up and running, subsidising PV installations instead

    And redo the sums.

  59. Nick
    December 17th, 2014 at 16:22 | #59

    The first two APR1400s are due online next year in Korea.

    According to Kepco, they were originally scheduled to be online September 2013. What happened?

  60. Donald Oats
    December 17th, 2014 at 17:46 | #60

    …and this current government has sent very strong political signals that it will not tolerate expansion of renewable energy generation. On the other hand, the very same government has sent incredibly strong political signals that it is determined to see increased expansion of coal for energy generation.

    You can bet that in a few years time, there will be people using this period’s data as demonstrating that renewables are uneconomic.

  61. jungney
    December 17th, 2014 at 19:44 | #61

    @Moz of Yarramulla
    Moz, OK, I’ve been watching for years. Thanks for the connection.

  62. jungney
    December 17th, 2014 at 19:51 | #62

    @Will Boisvert
    Wow.Your first paragraph is really crazy sh*t. Good ganja, huh?

  63. Will Boisvert
    December 17th, 2014 at 22:22 | #63

    @ Doug,

    “Is industrial policy a code for implicit or explicit subsidies funded by government? If not what does it mean?”

    That’s exactly what it means, no code about it. It could also include explicit state planning of new builds, promotion of standardized designs, and a coherent regulatory regime. Renewables need industrial policy and so does nuclear.

  64. Will Boisvert
    December 17th, 2014 at 22:24 | #64

    @ Nick,

    “Including all the new reactors they have under construction and in planning, how many medium-sized parking lots will Korea have filled by 2115?

    How many billions of dollars will Korea have spent over that time constructing and filling them with radioactive waste?

    And how many billions of dollars will it cost to replace all those dry caskets once they’ve passed their use by date?

    Who picks up the tab for all of that?”

    –I think dry cask storage will cost about 0.1 to 0.2 cents per kwh of nuclear power generation per year, which is what existing nuclear plants actually do pay for it.

    Back of the envelope:

    South Korea has accumulated 9,000 tons of waste over roughly 30 years. It has capacity of about 21 GW now, and is planning for 33 by 2035 or so. Let’s assume they keep that capacity in perpetuity. The US has accumulated 70,000 tons over 50 years with about 100 GW current capacity. I’m just going to guesstimate that by 2115 Korea will accumulate 90,000 tons, probably an overestimate.

    How much would it cost to store that waste over 100 years as a per-kwh charge? Well, to simplify the math I’ll overestimate by assuming that all 90,000 tons have to be dry-casked starting in 2015. That will cost $26 billion, per your source. Spread over 100 years that comes out to $260 million per year. A fleet of 33 GW will produce 260 terrawatt-hours per year, so the cost of storage comes out to 0.1 cents per kwh.

    But then in 2115 the system has to gird for another batch of 90,000 tons of waste to store, for a total of 180,000 tons. A fleet of 33 GW would then have to pay 0.2 cents per kwh for storage of all the waste through 2215.

    Obviously very rough; I’m ignoring discounting, and there are other costs of guard shacks and maintenance—but those should be pretty small. The costs should actually go down over time because the waste gets less radioactive and easier to handle. In 300 years the radiocesium and radio-strontium, will decay away to insignificance. In 1000 years the waste will be about as radioactive as high-grade uranium ore.

    So, I’m seeing dry cask costs maybe becoming a significant issue hundreds of years from now. At that point some more permanent solution could be found. Best would be to burn the waste in fast reactors or reprocess it for LWR fuel. Or build a permanent repository–bury it in a glorified mine shaft. The US Department of Energy estimated that waste could be stored permanently at Yucca Mountain, paid for in perpetuity with an endowment built up by a 0.1 cent per kwh fee on the reactors that produced it.

    Waste from civilian nuclear plants is not the apocalyptic blight people make it out to be. It’s a tractable problem.

  65. Will Boisvert
    December 17th, 2014 at 22:26 | #65

    @ Nick,

    ” I think you’re missing the point though: I was being very conservative with my estimates, whereas yours were relying on a best-case scenario.
    The rate of PV rollout in Australia during the 2012-2013 period wasn’t even nearly close to the maximum possible.

    Maybe, but then 5.6 GW of nuclear in 14 years is nowhere close to the maximum possible rate of nuclear construction. France built about 55 GW of nuclear in 20 years from the 1970s through the 1990s, decarbonizing 75 percent of the grid. Given supportive industrial policy, nuclear buildouts are very fast and very cheap.

  66. James Wimberley
    December 17th, 2014 at 23:14 | #66

    @Will Boisvert
    A question about NIMBYism. In the UK, there is a marked contrast between attitudes to wind development in Scotland and England. The simplest explanation is Margaret Thatcher’s nationalisation of business rates. This removed the normal financial incentive for English and Welsh local authorities to approve development, leaving amenity objections the main weight in the political scales. The reform did not affect Scotland, which kept locally-set business rates. Local planning authorities there balance the financial benefit from wind farms against amenity objections. The results are markedly different.

    I see from this that Australia has municipal rates, but these are not levied on a uniform base. In Queensland the base is unimproved land value, in South Australia and NSW the base is improved land value or annual rental value. Do these differences correlate with NIMBYism?

  67. Nick
    December 17th, 2014 at 23:53 | #67

    Will, thanks for the lengthy reply.

    So – the answer is roughly $26 billion * 2 = an extra $52 billion just to store the waste?

    Or: roughly $500 million a year.

    But – remember you pulled me up on this a while ago regarding the present cost of battery storage – you forgot to include any opportunity cost.

    Maybe a country doesn’t want to waste all that money on simply storing waste. Maybe they’d prefer not to go nuclear, and instead save it, Norway style, in some kind of pension or “future fund”?

    Do you want to have another ago at it, and add in the cumulative interest from an annual deposit of $260 million a year over the next 100 years?

    (We’ll treat the other $26 billion as a ‘balloon payment’, even though in reality those payments would drag on for decades into the second century as well)

  68. Nick
    December 17th, 2014 at 23:55 | #68

    “Maybe, but then 5.6 GW of nuclear in 14 years is nowhere close to the maximum possible rate of nuclear construction.”

    Of course not. But it is in Australia to get the thing off the ground. We’re not France in the 1970s, and we never will be. Neither are we the UAE. You seem to be having some trouble accepting that.

  69. rog
    December 18th, 2014 at 01:45 | #69

    @Will Boisvert

    Land values in New South Wales are determined under the Valuation of Land Act 1916. Land value is the value of your land only. Land value does not include the value of your home or other structures and improvements on your land.

  70. rog
    December 18th, 2014 at 01:46 | #70

    That should be to James Wimberley

  71. Ikonoclast
    December 18th, 2014 at 07:30 | #71

    @rog

    Test.

  72. Hermit
    December 18th, 2014 at 08:04 | #72

    Ronald Brak I like to check things and from this report
    http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/Planning/South-Australian-Advisory-Functions/South-Australian-Fuel-and-Technology-Report
    I find on Figure 2-2 that solar accounted for just 4% of SA electricity in 2013, noting that nationally peak PV installation was around 2010-2011.

    The report also talks of new coal resources and geothermal but both major geothermal projects (Geodynamics and Petratherm) have since been cancelled. A word search of the report found no instances of the term ‘nuclear’. Kinda weird to talk about new coal mines when SA has all that uranium. AEMO must have been told to stick to the script.

  73. BilB
    December 18th, 2014 at 08:38 | #73

    An indication of the shall8w thinking can be seen in this article from gizmag

    http://www.gizmag.com/shipping-pollution/11526/

    There is this glaring opportunity for the Nuclear industry to power the cornerstone of global trade, but amazingly the subject never comes up. At the end of the article the question is raised again. The only mention of Nuclear power for shipping was in a quote a few years ago from the CEO of Cosco when he suggested that his company was contemplating this option for the future. The price break for Nuclear occurs at around $500 per bunker oil tonne.

    But the glaring question must be that if Nuclear power is so spectacularly cheap and the equipment can on the doorstep in a few years, why are the largest container ships ever built stil being powered by fossil fuels??? Are shipping companies just really bad business people who cannot make obvious choices, or are there hidden parameters that make Nuclear a far less satisfactory solution?

  74. Will Boisvert
    December 18th, 2014 at 09:16 | #74

    @ James Wimberley,

    Yes, bribing the locals to accept clean energy projects is a good idea. We could do that with nuclear plants as well.

  75. Will Boisvert
    December 18th, 2014 at 09:18 | #75

    @ Nick, on dry cask storage costs and discounting.

    No, the cost isn’t $52 billion, it’s $78 billion over 200 years. Works out to an average of 0.15 cents per kwh of nuclear electricity, (initially 0.1, rising to 0.2 in the second century). That’s about 1-2 percent of retail electricity prices in the U.S. So in no conceivable sense is dry cask storage cost a crisis, or even a noticeable financial burden for centuries.

    As far as discounting, I confess my procedure was a bit murky, but I simplified the math by frontloading the century’s dry cask costs right at the beginning of the accounting period. In other words, I imagined, counterfactually, that the 90,000 tons of waste that would be accumulated by 2115 actually exists in 2015 and had to be stored then for a cost of $26 billion. That procedure probably exaggerates costs. In any case, dry cask costs under the scenario you outlined of a permanent nuclear establishment should be treated as operations and maintenance expenses, not as capital costs with interest charges.

    Remember, in reality we would only move a little waste to dry cask every year, to make room in the pools for fresh waste. So if we move 900 tons per year to dry cask (to accommodate 90,000 tons over a century), that would cost $260 million per year. But that money would not have to be borrowed; it could be fully funded on a pay-as-you-go basis at a rate of 0.1 cents per kwh (assuming a 33 GW fleet) charged to rate-payers. (Rising to 0.2 cents per kwh in century 2 when old waste must be recasked as well.) Costs and accumulation rates are low enough that the storage expense should be treated not as a capital expense with financing costs, as you have, but as an operations and maintenance expense that’s funded out of revenue. (Which is how it is treated now by nuclear utilities.)

    If you want, you could impute opportunity costs to O and M spending and then compound the interest for hundreds or thousands of years, but that’s kind of silly. What matters is the ongoing cost burden of waste storage on the economy, and that’s laughably small by any reckoning. If it becomes large, the government can terminate it by burying the waste at a modest cost (or, more constructively, using it as reactor fuel). If you’re worried about funding permanent disposal, you can have the reactors pay an additional 0.1 cent per kwh into an endowment to fund construction and expenses in perpetuity of a permanent waste repository. (American reactors did that for decades until Yucca Mountain was cancelled.)

    No matter how you do the math, nuclear waste is just not a significant financial problem.

  76. Will Boisvert
    December 18th, 2014 at 09:23 | #76

    Joke, folks–I mean, revenue-sharing with locals is a good idea for clean energy projects–shared burdens, shared benefits.

  77. Nick
    December 18th, 2014 at 09:36 | #77

    “that would cost $260 million per year. But that money would not have to be borrowed; it could be fully funded on a pay-as-you-go basis at a rate of 0.1 cents per kwh”

    I like the way you take a really big figure, and convert it into a smaller figure. It is *$260 million a year* that would not have to be spent otherwise. Not 0.1c/kWh a year.

    I mean, why not work it out per Wh? Then you could say $260 million is only equal to 0.0001c…

    Opportunity cost is highly relevant. A criticism often directed at PV panels is that they need to be replaced and upgraded every 25 years.

    A country willing to save *$260 million a year* instead of completely wasting it on storing nuclear waste, could easily afford to run a new renewable subsidy scheme every 25 years.

  78. Hermit
    December 18th, 2014 at 09:42 | #78

    With the medium level N-waste repository for Australia I think the proposed fee for the landowner was $12m per year. IIR that is largely hospital waste and ex-Lucas Heights material sent to France for vitrification yet to be returned. The Muckaty NT indigenous community rejected it so a private NT land owner near Katherine has offered a site as has Leonora Shire WA. I think when they see the money others will wish they had offered.

    A problem with nuclear ships may be some countries like NZ won’t let them dock. Recall the USS Carl Vinson (with a 194 MW reactor) was invaluable in providing desalinated water to the people of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

  79. Will Boisvert
    December 18th, 2014 at 10:55 | #79

    @ Nick,

    “A country willing to save *$260 million a year* instead of completely wasting it on storing nuclear waste, could easily afford to run a new renewable subsidy scheme every 25 years.”

    Hmm. That’s $6.5 billion every 25 years. Germany spends about $30 billion every single year on its renewables subsidies. So you won’t get much renewable energy subsidized by saving on nuclear waste storage. And 33 Gw of nuclear would produce 1.7 times as much clean electricity as the entirety of Germany’s current renewable electricity.

    Nick, I just think you’re barking up the wrong tree here. We’ve really established that waste storage is a tiny cost that has almost no impact on electricity prices. It costs just 0.1 to 0.2 cents per kwh. (I use that metric because per-kwh rates are what show up on electric bills, so it’s a familiar benchmark.) That’s just 1-2 percent of electricity prices. Construction is by far the major cost driver for nuclear power.

    Anti-nukes imagine that waste storage costs are vast, hidden, deferred and subsidized, but that is definitely not true. Waste storage costs are in fact very small and easily paid out of operating revenue. They will not cause an economic crisis.

  80. Nick
    December 18th, 2014 at 12:22 | #80

    Hmm. That’s $6.5 billion every 25 years.

    At 5% interest, as opposed to zero interest, it’s >$13 billion.

    Germany spends about $30 billion every single year on its renewables subsidies.

    I shouldn’t have mentioned ‘renewables’, as we’ve been sticking to PV vs nuclear comparisons only in this thread.

    Germany is a special case, of course, but let’s run with it. What was the total amount spent by the German government, out of public funds, on PV subsidies in 2013 (or any other year you care to name)?

    It costs just 0.1 to 0.2 cents per kwh. (I use that metric because per-kwh rates are what show up on electric bills, so it’s a familiar benchmark.)

    I use $260 million – or $2.6 billion – because that’s precisely how will it appear in South Korea’s budget expenditure when it finally make a decision what to do with all that waste.

    If you think electricity bills are relevant, feel free to provide one from anywhere in the world which itemises to the customer that nuclear waste surcharge per kwH you mention.

    Construction is by far the major cost driver for nuclear power.

    I never said it wasn’t. There’s not much argument that nuclear power plants aren’t exorbitantly expensive to engineer and construct, and only ever becoming more so.

    Anti-nukes imagine that waste storage costs are vast, hidden, deferred and subsidized, but that is definitely not true.

    Really? Why is then that so many countries have completely failed to deal with their waste problems to date? Why are South Korea looking at $2.6 billion problem 30 years down the track, instead of regularly and more sensibly and manageably dealing with their nuclear waste year by year? “Vast, hidden, deferred and subsidized” sounds pretty much spot onto me. Thankyou for the definition.

    Waste storage costs are in fact very small and easily paid out of operating revenue.

    And yet – quite evidently – they aren’t being paid out of operating revenue. Otherwise there would be no $2.6 billion problem.

    They will not cause an economic crisis.

    I don’t remember asserting it would cause an economic crisis. I asserted it was a waste of money.

  81. BilB
    December 18th, 2014 at 12:24 | #81

    That is one country that you have cited with a Nuclear issue, but the ban is on nuclear explosives not nuclear powered ships, now that I look at it. The confusion is that the US policy is not to declare if a ship is carrying nuclear explosives or not, so their ships are excluded for that reason, not whether they are nuclear powered or not.

  82. December 18th, 2014 at 12:49 | #82

    @Hermit
    Hermit, I really don’t think having the world’s largest uranium deposit in South Australia is going to save enough on transport costs to make nuclear power economical. In fact Australia wouldn’t even process its own nuclear fuel. The uranium would be sent to France, or Japan, or the US, or Russia, or somewhere, to be processed into fuel and then sent back. So really the transportation costs of Australian nuclear fuel is going to be high. But looking on the bright side, the cost of nuclear fuel transportation will be completely insignificant compared to say the cost of insuring nuclear power. And Australia will never process it’s own nucler fuel for two reasons, the first is the decline in nuclear power generation will be far advanced before Australia could build even a single nuclear power station and so there will be plenty of spare processing capacity overseas making it pointless for Australia to build its own. And secondly, Australia will never build a nuclear power station because it makes no economic sense. It’s solar noon in South Australia and the electricity spot price is 2.8 cents a kilowatt-hour. That’s about 2.3 US cents at current exchange rates. The highest it’s been all day is 4.1 Australian cents for about five minutes and it’s predicted to be below that for the rest of the day. That’s not enough to get a nuclear plant to pay for itself. Or a new coal plant either these days. And South Australia’s renewable capacity is still increasing which will put further downward presure on wholesale electricity prices. And while it would still be a little below at this point, it is close enough for me to comfortably say that South Australia now has about 600 megawatts of rooftop solar capacity. Nuclear power could not pay for itself in South Australia before the state started generating electricity equal to 40% of its consumption from wind and solar and it certainly can’t pay for itself now.

  83. Nick
    December 18th, 2014 at 13:01 | #83

    Also, Will, according to here, Kepco’s operating income before interest and tax in 2013 was $1.73 billion, and its net income was $54 million.

    So, surely you can see it doesn’t actually have enough money to just cough up $2.6 billion (and growing by $130 million every year they put it off) whenever it chooses. Hence, why there’s a problem.

  84. Doug
    December 18th, 2014 at 13:17 | #84

    The issue on nuclear power that has not been discussed is the security issues that arise – costs associated with security against terrorism attack and contingency planning. Renewable technologies seem to have an advantage here in that they are distributed and therefore more resilient and less vulnerable due to their wide distribution. Is there a way of costing this dimension?

  85. December 18th, 2014 at 13:46 | #85

    @Doug
    Doug, including the cost of insurance against such events should cover terrorism related costs. For nuclear power where no private insurance will cover such things since one disaster could easily wipe out an insurance company, commercial reactors could be required to have private cover for say 5% of the possible total cost of such attacks and disasters and then pay 19 times that amount to the government so the government could provide the rest of the insurance. If enough private ensurers can’t be found to cover 5% the percentage could be lowered, or it could be taken as a subtle hint.

    Of course routine security measures such as fences, security guards, dogs (regardless of number or heads/eyes), and inspections would probably come under normal operations and maintenance costs.

  86. December 18th, 2014 at 14:08 | #86

    And we just had another negative price event in South Australia in the daytime. It was only 10 minutes this time and it only went down to -1 cent a kilowatt-hour, but it must be tough for the Northern Power Station. Not only do they have to pay for the cost of the coal they are burning but they have to pay for the electricity they are producing. Two days in a row in the middle of summer, which is normally the prime money making time for power stations. Clearly we are in new territory here. And clearly building a new coal plant or a nuclear power plant in South Australia with these prices is completely nuts. Maybe next summer Northern Power Station will only run one unit instead of two. Or at least wait before switching the second one on since our most hideous heat waves are usually in January and February.

  87. Will Boisvert
    December 18th, 2014 at 14:27 | #87

    “Also, Will, according to here, Kepco’s operating income before interest and tax in 2013 was $1.73 billion, and its net income was $54 million.
    So, surely you can see it doesn’t actually have enough money to just cough up $2.6 billion (and growing by $130 million every year they put it off) whenever it chooses. Hence, why there’s a problem.”

    Nick, when Kepco starts filling dry casks–not all of them at once, mind you, just 900 tons per year–then they can raise the price of nuclear electricity by 0.1 cents per kwh to cover the cost of dry casking.

    Try to think things through, Nick.

  88. December 18th, 2014 at 15:09 | #88

    Nick, if you really have nothing better to do you could ask Will to name a developed country that actually has disposed of nuclear waste for 0.1 cents a kilowatt-hour and you could also ask him to describe what what happened to the 0.1 cents a kilowatt-hour that the United States collected to pay for nuclear waste disposal. In a way it’s really quite fascinating, although possibly only to the sort of people who enjoy train wrecks.

  89. BilB
    December 18th, 2014 at 15:14 | #89

    Hermit, Will Boisvert, Others,

    So what is the answer? With up to 4000 gigawatt of potential nuclear power plant capacity for shipping transportation, yes…43,000 ships, how is that there is not a single non military nuclear powered vessel in operation in the world?

    I’ll say it again, if Nuclear power is so cheap, Nuclear power plants are so stable safe and affordable, why are they not used in shipping where the production volume would guarantee economies of scale if that was in fact possible?

  90. rog
    December 18th, 2014 at 15:16 | #90

    These back of the envelope calc are fine, just small change I hear you say, until reality hits eg Fukushima. Now we are talking serious money.

  91. Hermit
    December 18th, 2014 at 15:21 | #91

    @Ronald Brak
    Not paying attention. I’ve already given you a link that says just 4% of SA electricity comes from solar. Think of it this way…
    -7 am central standard time most of 1.71m people want coffee and toast but the inverters have just switched on
    -midday heat is still bearable for those at home run the aircon a bit panels help but most people are in offices and shopping malls that do not have PV
    -6 pm get home cool the house drats the PV output is dropping as the sun heads west
    -8 pm muggy heat lingers on the inverter has switched off but still unbearable without aircon.

    This is why PV’s annual contribution to SA electricity is just 4%. Continuing to praise transient high solar output is like marvelling at a stopped clock giving the right time twice a day.. .it’s not doing the job it is supposed to.

  92. Ikonoclast
    December 18th, 2014 at 15:44 | #92

    @Hermit

    You are cherry-picking. The real position is this;

    “… the South Australia government has already exceeded its target of generating 33 per cent of the state’s electricity needs from renewables (over a full year), and has now set a 50 per cent target by 2025. In reality, it will likely reach that mark well before that, particularly if the Ceres wind farm and the Hornsdale wind farm are built.”

    One third of all electrical energy from renewables is very significant.

    And if you think the 4% from solar is pointless (I am just accepting your figure) then would you give me 4% of your annual income in perpetuity please? (But only if your annual income is positive.) I suspect that solar hot water adds more useful energy to the entire state too but not as electricity.

  93. Nick
    December 18th, 2014 at 16:00 | #93

    Nick, when Kepco starts filling dry casks–not all of them at once, mind you, just 900 tons per year–then they can raise the price of nuclear electricity by 0.1 cents per kwh to cover the cost of dry casking.

    Try to think things through, Nick.

    Since storing the waste on-site in casks isn’t conceivable or permissible for them, when Kepco eventually finds a location with no public opposition to building your medium car park sized CISF (South Korea has a population density of 500 people per square kilometre, twice that of the UK, fifteen times that of the US), will they construct it at the gentle easy rate of 900 tonnes a year too?

  94. Nick
    December 18th, 2014 at 16:01 | #94

    Ronald, if I’m ever commenting too much, you can rest assured it means I have many better things to do, and am doing my darnedest to put them off! 😉

  95. Hermit
    December 18th, 2014 at 16:08 | #95

    @BilB
    Ships use so-called bunker fuel which is more viscous than diesel and requires heating pads in the fuel lines to get it to flow. Oil refineries can adjust the heavy and light fractions but some heavy stuff is optimal so refiners can sell it cheap as 30-40c per litre. From memory the sequence is bitumen, bunker fuel, naptha, diesel, jet fuel, petrol, solvents and propane/LPG. Strangely some inter island ferries now use LNG liquefied natgas which merely has to evaporate to fuel the engines, the opposite of sticky bunker oil.

    Until bunker oil goes up in price marine diesels will have a huge running cost advantage over nuclear propulsion plus a simpler safety regime. To those who say Peak Oil is off the radar I question how a temporary 2% increase in oil output due to US fracking can cause a 40% drop in the world price. Expect a comparable back swing I reckon.

  96. Doug
    December 18th, 2014 at 16:08 | #96

    SA solar is 6.5%

  97. December 18th, 2014 at 16:30 | #97

    Ikonoclast, in the past rooftop solar provided 4% of South Australia’s electricity use. Now it provides about 6%. South Australia achieved this by cheating and installing more rooftop solar. But since there is some concern we can quickly check. By the end of the year South Australia will have about 590 megawatts of rooftop solar and we’re nearly there so I’m happy to use that figure. An optimal panel in Adelaide will produce about 4.9 kilowatt-hours per kilowatt of capacity. In actual practice rooftop solar averages around 77% of that. And while the bulk of the state’s PV is in Adelaide, that which is outside the area will tend to have a higher capacity factor, so using Adelaide’s insolation should be a slight under estimate. So that comes to about 812 gigawatt-hours a year. The 2012-13 grid electricity consumption for the state was 13,330 gigawatt-hours. Presuming that hasn’t changed much then rooftop solar is producing electricity equal to about 6.1% of grid electricity consumption or about 5.7% of total electricity consumption. Not quite as high as I’d hoped, but still about 6%.

  98. December 18th, 2014 at 16:31 | #98

    @Nick
    Nick, as odd as it may sound, I am actually familiar with that situation.

  99. BilB
    December 18th, 2014 at 17:15 | #99

    Hermit,

    Bunker fuel is measured by the tonne, not the litre. The economic break point for nuclear viability has been stated as being $500 per tonne bunker oil. Bunker fuel has been consistently above that point since 2009, more than long enough for Nuclear to become an economically attractive option, if it were attractive in any way.

    A tonne of bunker c is equivalent to 12,000 kwhrs which converts to 6,000 kwhrs usable energy from the massive diesel engines in ships. This engine uses 14,000 tonnes of fuel per hour to produce 80,000 kilowatts.

    It should be a no brainer. $7000 per hour for bunker fuel versus the cost of Nuclear energy at the oft quoted 2 cents per nuclear kilowatt hour being just $1600 per hour ($.02 times 80,000).

    So tell me again, Hermit/Will Boisvert/Barry Brookes/others, why are there not thousands of Nuclear powered bulk freighters, fuel tankers, or container ships plying the oceans of the planet?

    http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/03/the-largest-and-most-powerful-diesel.html

    Could it be that your “facts” are fictitious?

  100. BilB
    December 18th, 2014 at 17:26 | #100

    That should have been 14 tonnes per hour, but by accident the $7000 fuel price per hour is correct. Same question.

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