Home > Environment > Nuclear math doesn’t add up

Nuclear math doesn’t add up

July 20th, 2016

Writing in the conservative US magazine National Review, Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute criticises the Democratic Party platform for omitting any mention of nuclear power, and accuses the Democrats of failing to “do the math”. Unfortunately, although he throws some numbers about, he doesn’t do any math to support his key conclusion

But even if we doubled the rate of growth for wind and solar — and came up with a perfect method of electricity storage (which of course, doesn’t exist) — those renewables aren’t going to replace nuclear energy any time soon

So, I’ll do the math for him.

Here’s the data Bryce supplies
* In 2015, America’s nuclear plants produced 839 terawatt-hours of electricity (this industry source says 798), compared to 253 for hydro, 193 for wind, and 39 for solar
* The current rate of growth is 7GW per year for wind, with output of 2.6 TWh/GW, and 5 GW per year of solar with output of 1.5 TWh/GW

That’s enough to check Bryce’s claim. The gap between nuclear and renewables is currently 552 TW/year. The current rate of addition of capacity for solar and wind combined amounts to additional generation 25.7 TW/h per year. Doubling that gives 51.4. So, assuming a doubling of the current installation rate, it would take 10.5 years for renewable generation (including hydro) to surpass nuclear. Excluding hydro it would take 15 years. So, if the goal of policy were to replace nuclear with renewables, the answer is that it could be achieved in the fairly near future.

Of course, replacing nuclear power is not the goal of climate policy. The objective is to replace coal and, as far as possible, gas as sources of electricity.

So,Bryce is right to say that ““widespread retirement of America’s nuclear power plants would make it extremely difficult if not impossible”. If we didn’t know that a rapid shutdown of nuclear power would be a big problem for a decarbonization policy, the examples of Germany and Japan make it pretty clear.

But Bryce is shifting the ground. he fact that The Democratic platform says nothing about nuclear power implies that they don’t have a policy for a rapid shutdown. In fact, the Obama Administration has consistently supported an “all of the above” policy including loan guarantees for nuclear power.

The problem is that new nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic, and even existing plants are finding it hard to cover their costs. Bryce doesn’t propose a solution, presumably because any solution would require government intervention on a scale so massive as to horrify the readers of National Review.

Still, it might be worth looking at the possibilities for an expansion of US nuclear power in the foreseeable future. Apart from a handful of plants under construction there’s no chance of any new ones in the 10-15 year time-frame we just derived. So, let’s look out a bit further to the early 2030s. On past experience would require starting construction by 2020, which means we can confine our attention to proposals that have already started the licensing process.

In the first flush of enthusiasm for the “nuclear renaissance” of the early 2000s, proposals were put forward to build around 30 new units, typically of 1 GW each. Four of those have gone ahead (over time and over budget as usual), and should be completed by 2020. At least ten have been abandoned, while the remainder are in limbo, being kept alive as options but without any actual prospect of occurring. That’s a maximum of around 15 GW, or around 100 TWh per year.

The new additions have already been offset by closures. Even with the most friendly policy environment possible, we’re bound to see more over the next 15 years, given that many plants are already well beyond their initially planned operating life.

So, even with an all-out effort to implement every currently proposed nuclear power plant, and to keep closures to a minimum, we might get a net addition of 50TWh a year. That’s the equivalent of two years of additional solar and wind at the current rate, which has been increasing steadily over time.

* For completeness, I should mention Small Modular Reactors, which are often seen as the nuclear hope of the future. The only project that’s currently active is that of Nuscale which aims to produce a demonstration plant by 2025. Even if SMRs prove economic (there is no reason to believe this), large scale deployment will be well into the 2030s.

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  1. Newtownian
  2. GrueBleen
    July 20th, 2016 at 16:56 | #2

    I don’t know how many more times you’re going to have to say all of that, ProfQ, and I don’t even want to count how many times you’ve said it already. Do you even keep count any longer ?

    But there is one thing that puzzles me, which is that quite operable and effective nuclear power units have been made on a continuous basis for decades: they’re fitted into submarines and aircraft carriers – and not only by the USA.

    What is it that makes it possible to reliably make these reliable units but somehow doesn’t translate into onshore electricity generators ? Couldn’t they just make a bunch of shipboard style nuclears and instead ship them out to form landed power stations ?

  3. totaram
    July 20th, 2016 at 17:49 | #3

    @GrueBleen
    When something is made for the military, cost is not the main concern. When you want to use these reactors for civilian use, their costs become relevant. Perhaps that is the problem?

  4. July 20th, 2016 at 18:24 | #4

    Wind power is intermittent, dependent upon the weather and season. So all wind power must be backed up by an equal amount of fossil fuel plant. For example, in UK wind capacity utilization is 28%. If we had 50GWe of wind we could expect 14GWe on average. A maximum of, say 45%, and a minimum of 1%. [Individual farms may peak at 60% but the whole peaks closer to 45%]. UK wind could be delivering anything between ½GW to 22½GW of electricity with an average of 14GW. How does John Quiggan expect the grid system of cope at the minimum and maximum times?

    The problem is that fossil fuel backup plant is not economic when it can only make an intermittent profit. Plant owners need to be able to predict revenues. Otherwise they are at the “mercy of the wind”. There are very good reasons why commerce stopped relying on wind power in the 19th century. Who will provide the fossil fuel backup plant required for a wind powered system? Certainly not renewable energy cowboys.

    SA Employers on verge of shutting down due to renewable energy: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/key-sa-employers-on-verge-of-shutting-down-as-power-prices-surge-during-storms/news-story/e397f45514f90115ad4da65a009feb44

    PS: Bryce addressed wind power intermittency in his book: Power Hungry, which John Quiggan is well advised to read.

  5. John Chapman
    July 20th, 2016 at 18:56 | #5

    JQ – Thanks Johnno. JC

  6. Rob
    July 20th, 2016 at 19:24 | #6

    That Adelaide Advertiser article is a mixture of half truths and plain BS.

    destroys it.

  7. Ikonoclast
    July 20th, 2016 at 20:08 | #7

    JQ, the people you are arguing against can’t do math. 😉

    The energy issue will solve itself now. The most economical and least destructive (in terms of negative externalities) will prevail. This will be renewable energy, mainly solar, wind and hydro.

    However, the climate change issue and waste issues will not solve themselves. Much more needs to be done on that front. This will include the need to evolve our economic system beyond capitalism which is a very crude, wasteful and damaging system viewed from social and environmental perspectives.

  8. July 20th, 2016 at 21:40 | #8

    I’m sad to see John Quiggin writing so irresponsibly, promoting intermittent renewable energies like solar and wind over nuclear power. If you think childish gesture politics will solve the world’s problems you are badly misinformed. Nor is there any waste issue to speak of with nuclear power. Per unit of electricity made, Australian coal already releases more radioactivity than nuclear plants ever will. The high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power is small in volume, contained, and the most active radionuclides decay to nothing within 300 years. What’s left over can be recycled to new fuel. This makes nuclear power the “greenest” energy we have. A fact not lost on the Sierra Club of the 1960s who also supported nuclear power as a more environmentally friendly energy source than hydroelectricity. I’m sad to see irresponsible lefties trashing the planet by promoting more environmentally harmful technologies like wind, solar, hydro and geothermal.

  9. July 20th, 2016 at 21:44 | #9

    Australian wind and solar are just an excuse to continue burning coal for electricity. Because wind and solar only supply intermittent electricity. The problems raised by intermittency will _never_ be economically addressed using energy storage. You will always be burning fossil fuel if you go the wind/solar route.

  10. GrueBleen
    July 20th, 2016 at 21:50 | #10

    @totaram

    Could be, mate, though of course cost is never entirely not a consideration.

    However, at least the actual nuclear units themselves seem to work robustly and reliably – at least I haven’t heard of any nuclear explosions on either US or Russian vessels … though I think at least one of the Russian ships did have some problems and may even have sunk.

    I thought maybe scaling might be a factor; it does take quite a bit of electricity to power a nuclear sub, and quite a bit more to power an aircraft carrier, but even more, I guess, to power even a moderately sized town. And then there’d be all the cooling water, radioactive waste etc.

    Couldn’t just distribute them around the suburbs of Melbourne, I guess. Probably have to set up a ‘farm’ somewhere a bit out of town and connect them to the grid, but I reckon that wouldn’t be too hard.

  11. Collin Street
    July 20th, 2016 at 22:17 | #11

    Wind power is intermittent, dependent upon the weather and season. So all wind power must be backed up by an equal amount of fossil fuel plant.

    Err, no.

    From vague memory, this material is covered in high school, probably in year 11. Non-correlated random variables, is a key-phrase that should lead you there.

  12. jrkrideau
    July 20th, 2016 at 22:24 | #12

    @Mark Pawelek
    Because wind and solar only supply intermittent electricity. The problems raised by intermittency will _never_ be economically addressed using energy storage.

    #http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/07/07/3789508/china-solar-energy-night/

    The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” – The president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903

    http://www.news.com.au/technology/gadgets/famous-predictions-that-were-spectacularly-wrong/story-fn6vihic-1226889769437

  13. Collin Street
    July 20th, 2016 at 22:40 | #13

    However, at least the actual nuclear units themselves seem to work robustly and reliably – at least I haven’t heard of any nuclear explosions on either US or Russian vessels … though I think at least one of the Russian ships did have some problems and may even have sunk.

    Sure. This is all tied up with socially-engineered safety systems that simply don’t scale to large civilian deployments.

    Our usual approach to risk management works like this: We track the rates of minor injury-causing incidents, identify the areas that are running close to the safety line, and flag and rectify hopefully before we get a major, not-exactly-tolerable, incident. This doesn’t work with nuclear, because even “minor” incidents can be pretty lethal; normal processes rely on there being ample space to thread the needle between “minor incident” and “dekadeath or better”, but nukes we really can’t do that.

    Small-scale systems can use a more holistic safety approach, direct observation and intervention, but this doesn’t scale. Military trains people to rigorously follow protocols, which helps circumvent this… but not everyone can work that way [I can’t], and most of the ones that can are already in positions where their abilities are needed. You can’t get the staff.

  14. Ken Fabian
    July 20th, 2016 at 23:19 | #14

    Forcing coal and gas into intermittency is exactly the direction we need to go; existing plant needs to fit itself into the role of backup to renewables, under arrangements that somehow reward them for maximising the time spent offline. Far from being cause for renewable penetration to be curtailed it can and should be the incentive required for kickstarting large scale investment in storage. It becomes an emergent defacto carbon price – a feature of open electricity markets in the presence of low cost intermittent energy. If that seems unfair on those operating fossil fuel plants – go suck lemons; passing on the full costs and consequences in the form of climate change onto our future in a climate responsibility avoidance scam is more unfair. As long as our electricity industry is assisted in it’s desire to not make those investments they won’t. Only when they are forced to do so they will do it.

    It would be better if this transition were done in an orderly, planned way, but so long as the industry incumbents duck and dodge and do so with government assistance it will be disorderly and disruptive. If that sounds like having to jump in the deep water before we’re sure we can swim it still looks better than the absolute certainty of irrevocable global climate disaster that delaying our commitment and keeping on as we are.

    Restricting renewable energy for being too cheap and too successful – and cutting it’s legs out from under it because it has would be the absolute worst outcome. Subsidies to kick the storage industry into high gear sound much more achievable than subsidies for nuclear.

  15. July 21st, 2016 at 00:33 | #15

    @Collin Street

    What gibberish was that Collin? : “From vague memory, this material is covered in high school, probably in year 11. Non-correlated random variables, is a key-phrase that should lead you there.”

    * What material?
    * “Non-correlated random variables” <- what's this? Add a bit of technobabble to make yourself sound clever?
    * You did something at high school but you can't remember!

    What did you study at high school which is relevant to maintaining a reliable 100% always on national electricity grid? I'm genuinely curious. I did nothing relating to it. Everything I know about electricity grid reliability I learnt since.

  16. James Wimberley
    July 21st, 2016 at 03:59 | #16

    @Mark Pawelek Gas peaker plants in the USA have capacity factors between 5% and 10% (source: EIA). Their owners know this when they build them. All electricity grids have massive amounts of capacity, much of which is unused at a typical time. This is a simple consequence of the cyclical nature of demand. As JQ has pointed out more times than you have apparently read qualified sources, 24/7 baseload generation plants are a bug not not a feature, as their inflexibility is a costly constraint on the supply system.

  17. John Quiggin
    July 21st, 2016 at 05:12 | #17

    As James Wimberley says, I’ve covered spurious arguments about baseload power many times. Use the search facility on the site.

  18. Ikonoclast
    July 21st, 2016 at 08:21 | #18

    Irony Alert On:

    Gee, if only we could weaponise solar power, then we could get for it the same massive subsidies that nuclear power has received.

    Irony Alert Off.

  19. Joris van Dorp
    July 21st, 2016 at 08:21 | #19

    You can use wind and solar to supply a part of your electricity, but the rest is for fossil fuels. Global energy demand is set to double. Even if renewables could provide 50%, fossil fuel and biomass will not be reduced.

    Baseload is no ‘myth’. A grid cannot be kept stable without dispatchable capacity equal at least to peak power demand.

    The IPCC includes nuclear in almost all of the scenarios which are consistent with 450 ppm.

    People who fight nuclear power (help raise political, cultural and technological barriers to its efficient implementation) put our common climate/energy future at risk.

  20. Ken Fabian
    July 21st, 2016 at 08:26 | #20

    It would be nice if we had a 100% reliable grid around here; every storm season we don’t. The goals of reliable and cheap are not the only ones. When they are re-purposed by opponents of climate action into the political attack points for preventing commitment to the necessary transition to low emissions they are misleading and counterproductive.

    There is no prospect of nuclear energy for Australia and with most of the political support for nuclear residing within the same LNP that is opposed to climate action that support, such as it is, cannot be mobilised effectively. Climate science deniers at mainstream level killed it’s prospects deader than anti-nukers from the fringe ever could. It’s far more convenient to them to allow anti-nuclear sentiment to go largely unopposed – just an occasional remark from a minister here and there to maintain the illusion – and credit the fringe with far more influence than it actually has; then governments can back away from something they don’t really want that much and blame shift as they do so. The shift to low emissions is stalled and is counted as a victory for the movers and shakers of a nation virtually floating on a deep bed of coal.

    Nuclear energy’s only functions in Australia now are as political blunt instruments for whacking at renewables and environmentalism and for providing a way for climate concerned conservatives to double-think their way to being unconcerned about their own inaction; they can tell themselves it’s all the greenies fault!

    We can’t know how the final result will be achieved or how much it will cost. From energy industry experts expressing absolute certainty solar could never provide enough power to be significant , they have shifted ground to being absolutely certain it is so significant it will damage the industry beyond repair, then shifted to being absolutely certain storage tech can never store enough to matter. The goal is a good one, an essential one; even if we don’t know how we’ll do it we need to commit to it and right now renewables are the only ones we have at hand.

  21. Florence nee Fed up
    July 21st, 2016 at 08:49 | #21

    @GrueBleen Why can’t these be back up by other renewals that aren’t intermittent such as thermal and tidal? Also it would be rare for the wind not to blow somewhere in the state. Same goes for the sun. We are a big country.

  22. John Goss
    July 21st, 2016 at 09:17 | #22

    The current campaign by News Ltd, the AFR and the Grattan Institute against intermittent renewables is of course a campaign to defend the profits of fossil fuel generators. But I think the current price problems in SA, although largely due to market manipulation, do illustrate why the RET is a second-best carbon pollution control mechanism. I would prefer a combination of a price on carbon and direct regulation instead of the RET. I know John probably can’t comment on this because of his position on the Climate Change Authority, and I know he has previously written on why he has come to love the RET, but I do think experience has shown the RET to have quite significant flaws.

  23. John Goss
    July 21st, 2016 at 09:21 | #23

    I’m not saying the RET is the only imperfection in our carbon pollution control mechanisms . There are also issues with the rules of the National Electricity market, and the rulings of the regulators in this space.

  24. GrueBleen
    July 21st, 2016 at 09:35 | #24

    @Florence nee Fed up

    Not at all sure what you’re referring to here, Flo, since I haven’t been writing contra so-called “intermittent” renewables at all.

    But I would make the observation that the discussion on renewables so far has been way out of date. Renewables, at least of the solar kind, aren’t nearly so “intermittent” as they once were. Just for a prime example, Portugal very recently managed 107 consecutive hours with electricity totally sourced from “intermittent” (and steady) renewables:

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/18/portugal-runs-for-four-days-straight-on-renewable-energy-alone

    And Spain has had solar thermal generators capable of 24 hour (and close to 24/7) operation for some time:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Spain#Solar_thermal_power_plants

    So please try to keep up with the state of play, folks, we can take the debate past Bryce ‘trutherism’, can’t we ?

    Oh, and incidentally, Australia, via the ANU has, or at least had, its own contribution to this (apart from Fresnel solar mirrors, that is) in terms of ammonia closed system solar energy:

    http://stg.anu.edu.au/research/storage/ammonia.php

  25. Ivor
    July 21st, 2016 at 09:39 | #25

    And there is another problem. Our nuclear capitalists have not made provision for billions of extra costs to decommission plants after 30-50 years or to replace them with much vaunted “new safer models”.

    It will cost 1.5 billion to decommission the Indian Point 2 and 3 plants in Vermont.

    This is $30 million per year for 50 years.

    See; Billions needed

    The nuclear industry is nothing but economic and inter-generational insanity.

  26. Ikonoclast
    July 21st, 2016 at 09:46 | #26

    Renewable power is winning on cost. That argument is over. The shame is that this win has come too late to save us from some degree of dangerous climate change. What degree remains to be seen. The renewables’ burgeoning win has come too late because of the delaying and obfuscation tactics of old, entrenched fossil capital and nuclear capital, each receiving massive subsidies and near complete immunity from paying for negative externalities. This sclerotic system (neoliberal capitalism) is adjusting far too slow to environmental, real-world requirements.

    Would any other system adjust faster? We do not know for sure. What we do know, from real world data already in, is that this system does not adjust nearly fast enough.

  27. derrida derider
    July 21st, 2016 at 16:45 | #27

    Lord it never ceases to amaze me how cocksuredness and ignorance are positive correlates. Mark P, go away and do some serious reading and thinking in economics and statistics (especially decision theory – the field our host made his academic name in) before you comment again.

    Ikonoclast, some us have been saying for a long time now that neoliberal capitalism – in the form of getting the price of carbon right – is far the most effective and feasible way of adapting fast enough. ‘Taint the economics of capitalism that has been in the way, but its actually existing politics.

  28. Tim Macknay
    July 21st, 2016 at 16:55 | #28

    In these uncertain times, it’s good to know that derp, at least, is alive and well. 🙂

  29. GrueBleen
    July 21st, 2016 at 17:38 | #29

    @derrida derider

    “…cocksuredness and ignorance are positive correlates…”

    I think it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s quite common in the species homo sapiens sapiens, I understand.

  30. John Goss
    July 21st, 2016 at 18:14 | #30

    I found this extract from the Wikipedia article on the Dunning-Kruger effect very interesting. I think I might try the lemon juice trick next time I try to rob a bank. (My bank robbing attempts so far have been unsuccessful, but try, try and try again).

    ‘The phenomenon was first experimentally observed in a series of experiments by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of the department of psychology at Cornell University in 1999. The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras. The authors noted that earlier studies suggested that ignorance of standards of performance lies behind a great deal of incorrect self-assessment of competence’.

  31. totaram
    July 21st, 2016 at 20:13 | #31

    @John Goss
    Hilarious! I didn’t see this before. Lemon Juice indeed!

  32. Dick Veldkamp
    July 21st, 2016 at 23:13 | #32

    Perhaps I am overlooking something, but to me it seems that the gap between nuclear and renewables is 839 – (253+193+39) = 354 TWh/year (not 552 TWh).

    This would require an additional:
    – 354/2.6 = 136 GW of wind (if only wind is used)
    – 354/1.5 = 236 GW of solar (if only solar is used)

    To put this into perspective, US total windpower is now 75 GW, solar 30 GW. If the growth rate is 10% per year, the required extra installations could be done in a mere 10 years.

    So Prof. Q’s conclusions stands.

  33. jrkrideau
    July 22nd, 2016 at 03:30 | #33

    @John Goss

    My bank robbing attempts so far have been unsuccessful

    Perhaps you should not only try the lemon juice but arrive during business hours?

    I heard of two aspiring young bank robbers who arrived 5 minutes after closing time at the local bank, decided to rob a convenience store instead, were rapidly pursued by the police so took hostage the girl friend of one of the robbers.

    So we went from a failure to tell time to 10 to 15 years in prison within about 15 minutes.

  34. James Wimberley
    July 22nd, 2016 at 03:53 | #34

    @John Goss
    He robbed two banks. So he got away with the first one. You have not disproved the lemon juice hypothesis, statistically.

  35. James Wimberley
    July 22nd, 2016 at 04:12 | #35

    @GrueBleen
    The actual investment choices of CSP developers shed light on the baseload myth. Gemasolar in Spain was built with a lot of storage to demonstrate the feasibility of running a plant of this type in 24/7 baseload mode, which it did. But SFIK no CSP plant since has been built with an equivalent amount of storage. It does not pay and is not operationally needed at present. Demand at 3 am is low, and since power from your famous baseload plants is practically given away to large users, there is little incentive today to economise (say by changing security lighting to LEDs or adding sensors); we can’t assume that it is some sort of technical minimum. AEMO’ s 100% renewable electricity scenario for Australia settled on 6 hours as the optimum amount of CSP storage, enough to cover the evening load to midnight.

  36. Dolf Johnson
    July 22nd, 2016 at 04:59 | #36

    Sorry, your maths don’t work out either. People do not buy kWhs, not really. They buy RELIABLE power. They demand that the utility provide power, when, where, and how much they want for as long as they want it. The UnREliables can’t do that. Hydro could, but there isn’t enough of it around to replace petro-carbon fueled sources. So, in order to be able to replace reliable nuclear, you must not only build enough unREliables but enough storage and then enough ADDITIONAL unREliables to counteract the innefficiencies of that storage.

    In the mean time, 15 years of building nuclear powercould replace not only all the unREliables, but effectively all the petro-carbon sources too!

  37. Collin Street
    July 22nd, 2016 at 06:57 | #37

    Sorry, your maths don’t work out either. People do not buy kWhs, not really. They buy RELIABLE power.

    You of course have market research demonstrating this, no, and are not merely projecting your personal preferences over the entire population or extracting “data” whole-cloth from your rectum?

    [you’ve made an empirical claim about people’s preferences and are arguing for a policy based on your empirical claim. You need to actually provide an empirical basis for your claim; the statements you are arguing against are empirically-based and to stand against them you need something of equal strength.]

  38. GrueBleen
    July 22nd, 2016 at 10:05 | #38

    @James Wimberley

    Yes, James, doubtless we’ll have to adjust and refine our technology as the usage grows. Your point is taken, but you’ll forgive me if I think that even now, a CSP that is operable just until midnight wouldn’t be entirely successful at powering New York, or even London. And in a decade or three, not even Sydney or Melbourne.

    But at the present my concern was just to get past this “intermittent” nonsense that true unbelievers love to throw around as though it’s an unanswerable knockout. It simply isn’t and anybody gratuitously throwing that into the conversation should be unceremoniously thrown out of the conversation.

    ‘Renewables’ can be stored either at the source or at the product. For instance, solar power can be stored as molten salt or as chemical manipulations (eg the closed system ammonia plant from ANU that I have a sentimental feeling for).

    But they can also be stored as ‘product’ – eg as electricity in batteries or, maybe, if nanotechnology improves, as giant capacitors. Or as chemical manipulations – eg electrolytic breakdown of water into hydrogen and oxygen (or, indeed, ammonia into hydrogen and nitrogen) which can later be combusted to drive turbines. Or summat.

    And even wlnd power can actually be stored ‘at source’ by getting the wind turbines to drive compressors which store large amounts of highly compressed gas that can later be released to drive turbines etc. And, incidentally, the same idea can be used for solar by utilising unused generated power during the day to store compressed air. Or to pump water up into a reservoir from which it can be used for artificial hydroelectric generation. Etc etc.

    Do stop me if you’ve heard enough.

  39. John Quiggin
    July 22nd, 2016 at 10:29 | #39

    @Dolf Johnson

    “When, where and how much you want” is not the same as “a fixed amount, 24 hours a day, regardless of how much you want”. You should do a search of the blog on the baseload fallacy.

  40. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 11:33 | #40

    @GrueBleen

    You are quite right. There are even more ways energy can be stored. Every solar hot water system stores heat energy in the hot water for use later. This is notwithstanding the fact that mains electrical backup or gas heater backup might be used on some nights under some usage patterns. Every passive design, climate controlled and well-insulated house can set up and store heat energy (or maintain an energy gradient) for “use” later.

    Of the industrial methods, molten salt heat storage is beginning to look very efficient although it depends on the kind of power generation it is coupled with. Distributed smart systems will play a huge role in managing power systems. Generation can be integrated and smoothed from many sites over a distributed geographical area. Consumption patterns can be matched closer to production patterns by pricing systems / automated systems. Storage can be integrated into this setup also. The intelligent distributed system will be able to decide, of all the ways to route energy , where it is most economic and useful to send it for use or storage. Straightforward cascading logic utilising demand parameters and pricing parameters will give the answers (within the characteristics of power networks optimised to function in this way). I am not saying the practical network design in detail is necessarily straightforward, or even cheap, but the systems analysis principles of using cascading logic to achieve these goals should be straightforward. Especially if we remember that such a fully integrated, smart distribution network is a natural monopoly as network which may well cater to mutiple micro, meso and macro producers.

  41. GrueBleen
    July 22nd, 2016 at 15:47 | #41

    @Ikonoclast

    To me, Ikono, the point is very simple: in all human endeavours there’s thresholds, and there is always a major threshold between “under development” and “in production” (as we old-fashioned ADPers might say). And ‘intermittency overcoming technology’ has well and truly crossed that threshold.

    Whereas, I might just agree with ProfQ that nuclear fission power has still got major thresholds to cross. But I sincerely hope it does cross them – or, against all the odds and the known physics, we can develop nuclear fusion power – because, being a cautious (and precautious) chap, I like insurance. And since climate will change with or without our prodding and/or our permission, then I have no idea what might happen to the frequency, persistence, area of coverage etc of the clouds and/or what might happen to wind patterns over the coming tens of millenia.

    Therefore, I really would like a useful electric generation technology that in no way depends upon the ‘cooperation’ of nature. Just like I’m sorta happy, despite the cost and the anti-climatic power source, that Victoria has a desalination plant. Then I won’t worry so much about Milankovitch Cycles.

  42. James Wimberley
    July 22nd, 2016 at 21:42 | #42

    @GrueBleen
    You miss my point on CSP storage. The investors who put their capital into CSP plants know that they can buy an arbitrary ratio of storage to peak generating rating, up to simulating a 24/7 must-run coal or nuclear plant. They choose not to do this, which shows that in their business judgement the need, as expressed through market prices, is not there today, given the amount of must-run and other despatchable capacity already in the grid. Ivanpah did not put any in at all, though fractional storage is more typical. It is not usually a good heuristic to assume that businessmen are unable to calculate their best interests.

  43. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 01:10 | #43

    @James Wimberley

    Well if you say so, James. I thought I’d got the idea that at currently applicable rates of usage over the ‘representative’ 24/7 period and at the current state and cost of 24/7 CSP that, in fact, 24/7 CSP is ‘uneconomical’. So far so good ?

    But then I went on to envisage, at least in my own mind, a time when large fossil fuel generators had all closed own – mainly in order to avoid ruining our one and only habitable planet – and that the 24/7 power supply would be a mix of Solar PV, solar thermal (eg CSP), wind and the lesser sources such as hydro, tidal, geothermal etc having taken over the complete electricity supply – especially since Australia doesn’t have, and is almost certain never to have, nuclear fission plants. Is this where you reckon I “missed [your] point” ?

    As to businessmen’s ability to “calculate their own best interests”, well no, I would never make the assumption that they can’t do so … but then, given the rate of business bankruptcies and failures, especially amongst startups, and especially amongst large-scale startups, I wouldn’t necessarily make the assumption that they can, either.

  44. July 23rd, 2016 at 02:15 | #44

    @Collin Street asked : You have market research demonstrating that people prefer reliable power to random power?

    Yes I do Collin. Here I am, a sample of one. I want electricity when I need it. It’s no good to me at 3:00 am in the morning.

    Take your solar and wind junk and do what you will with it, provided I don’t get any of it I’m happy for you to have all the intermittent power you can handle.

  45. Collin Street
    July 23rd, 2016 at 08:08 | #45

    > I want electricity when I need it.

    Sure, And you’re willing to pay for it, which means given that the actually-existing grid isn’t actually 100% reliable you’ve equipped yourself with reserve-power solutions the details of which you can provide.

    … no?

  46. Ken Fabian
    July 23rd, 2016 at 16:24 | #46

    It’s worth noting that the Robert Bryce that prompted Pr Quiggin’s article does not accept the science on climate. Which rather brings into question the reliability of his “professional” judgement.

    By failing to support the goal of a transition to low emissions he shows he is incapable of providing any truly compelling reason to greatly expand the use of nuclear power and especially for using it to replace fossil fuels, ie his arguments look like one part of a broader anti-environmentalist, anti-renewables agenda, one that will not admit the full and true costs of the supposedly cheap and 100% reliable, mostly fossil fuel based legacy electricity systems. His lauding of nuclear over renewables is not about nuclear for climate at all and is less a defence/promotion of nuclear than, when stripped to it’s essentials, a defence of fossil fuels.

    Renewables are the only low emissions pathway currently available in Australia – and the internally contradictory positions of Robert Bryce mirror closely the internally contradictory positions of Australia’s most prominent nuke spruikers – which only confirms how bereft of sincerity they are. So long as our nuclear advocacy refuses to distance itself from climate science denial and it’s goal of not fixing the climate problem it can’t even use that reason effectively to change anyone’s mind.

    Pro-renewables climate advocacy seems very unlikely to rescue nuclear from irrelevancy so long as the primary arguments are that it’s proponents are idiots.

  47. Ikonoclast
    July 23rd, 2016 at 17:23 | #47

    @Ken Fabian

    Well said.

  48. James Wimberley
    July 25th, 2016 at 20:24 | #48

    @GrueBleen
    The time to worry about your problem will be when renewables are 80% or so of overall electricity demand, the rest being met by gas peakers, and we want to get rid of those too. This is at best 15 years from now. We don’t know and can only very hazily estimate the costs at that time of the numerous competing technologies for clean despatchable supply. The right strategy for now clearly is to invest in R&D in a wide portfolio of these, and to deploy wind and solar gangbusters, as if there is a tomorrow. Utilities generally have a supply obligation, and are sufficiently skilled to buy the backup and storage they need meanwhile.

  49. July 25th, 2016 at 21:09 | #49

    Always on, 24-7-365, ultra safe, clean nuclear power with storage costing about an addition 10% extra is possible now. Base price for MSR will be ~ AUS $47 / MWh, add 10% for storage. Less than AUS $53 / MWh for 24-7-365 system. We can build this LMFB or MSR with additional molten salt storage now. All the technology was worked out ages ago. It can meet all electricity needs with variable demand sated. Outlined here for LMFB but equally applicable to MSR http://skylaneengineering.com/images/estorage.pdf

  50. Ikonoclast
    July 25th, 2016 at 21:39 | #50

    @Mark Pawelek

    If it can compete on cost and safety without subsidies then good luck to it. I just don’t happen to believe it can compete. If you believe it can compete when commercialised then go ahead and invest in the IPO when the time comes. Don’t try and convince us. Some of us might compete and stop you snapping up all the IPO stock you want.

  51. Joris van Dorp
    July 26th, 2016 at 00:30 | #51

    Some of the commenters here don’t seem to fully comprehend the status of civilian nuclear. Several insist that nuclear is not competitive or that it is linked to ‘capitalism’.

    Please have a look at the following recent presentation from the Chinese government, about it’s nuclear plans. It intends to ramp nuclear up to 1500+ GW before the end of the century, by which time it will have implemented a fully sustainable breeder fleet.

    It’s all fine and well to speculate among ourselves what our non-nuclear future will look like, but let’s make no mistake. The Chinese (and the Russians) are going to do what they know is best, and that includes a significant role for nuclear power. And we should be thankful, because the IPCC has already embraced a quadrupling of global nuclear power as probably necessary in order to sufficiently address the climate crisis. So even if we destroy our own civilian nuclear capability, we will always be able to order our nuclear plants from the Chinese and Russians (if we don’t piss them off).

    The thirteenth slide shows the main scenario for Chinese nuclear:
    https://www.iaea.org/NuclearPower/Downloadable/Meetings/2016/2016-05-16-05-20-NPES/3.1_China_49th_TWG-FR.pdf

  52. GrueBleen
    July 26th, 2016 at 02:36 | #52

    @Joris van Dorp

    Well actually we might buy our civilian reactors from France, especially after the France-China nuclear partnership signed in June 2015.

    I looked with interest at slide 29 of the China Institute of Atomic Energy slide presentation that you linked to and what I found under the heading “Three Phases of the TWR Program” was three key points”
    1. A new CP will be signed by China and US governments
    2 Joint venture will be founded in 2016
    3 The project proposal is under preparation
    which doesn’t exactly sound like the Chinese are going it alone. Besides, Phase 3 of the TWR-C – a commercially operative reactor – doesn’t complete until 2032 – and that’s based on the usual highly optimistic estimates of how quickly complex research and development tasks can be completed and practical problems overcome.

    In the meantime, as I have previously commented, Portugal has recently completed 107 continuous hours of electricity supply from non-nuclear ‘renewables’ only, and Spain has been operating a 24/7 capable solar thermal (molten salt) CSP generator for several years now.

    In short, I would say that ‘renewables’ are winning the race by a clear margin. They’re a lot cheaper to build, operate and decommission than nuclear, too.

  53. Joris van Dorp
    July 26th, 2016 at 04:01 | #53

    @Gruebleen Renewables are far more expensive than nuclear. The Chinese have reached 1.5 $B/GW already, after only building a few dozen NPPs. Most officials I talked to agree they could push the price of new nuclear down to 1 $B/GW. Nothing can compete with that, not even Chinese coal (in the long run).

    I love renewables, let’s get that out to avoid confusion. Solar and wind are now so cheap that they can be economically paired with natural gas plants. A huge achievement! But it doesn’t make sense to pair them with nuclear, so in the end they will fade away as nuclear solves our energy/climate problem.

    In the meantime we can use renewables to reduce our co2 emissions while our fossil fuel plants are running to the end of their economic life. That’s a useful role for renewables. But countries like Germany, Japan and the USA are still building new fossil plants! That’s a big mistake! Renewables should be used to reduce our fossil fuel consumption, not to provide a green fig leaf for new fossil capacity. We should not be building new fossil plants, only nuke plants. That will allow us to solve energy/climate in a timely manner.

  54. Ivor
    July 26th, 2016 at 08:18 | #54

    @Joris van Dorp

    Several insist that nuclear is not competitive or that it is linked to ‘capitalism’.

    Is it reasonable to say that “several insist that the earth rotates around the sun”? Hardly.

    The arguments are far more rooted in facts and analysis.

    Several sources have demonstrated that nuclear is not competitive and recognised that it is linked to capitalism.

    Nuclear is certainly linked to capitalism, just like coal or oil, or gas, or solar, or wind or tidal. All production in OECD is linked to capitalism. So what?

  55. GrueBleen
    July 26th, 2016 at 10:35 | #55

    @Joris van Dorp

    Well that’s certainly a delightful story you spin, Joris. If only we had world enough and time to implement it, all would be copacetic, wouldn’t it. But before claiming that “renewables are more expensive than nuclear” it would be really, really nice if you could provide some, you know, actually audited numbers to prove your case, and not just exaggerated claims by some unnamed “officials”.

    Having lived just a few years on this planet amongst this species, I find the words of “most officials” to be eminently unbelievable. Haven’t you ? Now if you could just post the actual words of even one internationally recognized “official” that just might help.

    In the meantime, while we’re waiting, you could perhaps look up the words of some Chinese “‘officials” as to why the Tibetan glaciers are melting quite a bit faster than was expected. Tempus fugit, mate.

  56. July 26th, 2016 at 13:39 | #56

    Australia’s newest coal power plant, the Kogan Creek Power Station, cost roughly $2,000 a kilowatt to build in today’s money. So Australia is not going to build nuclear power plants for $1,000 a kilowatt. If we could, then the cheapest way to build a coal power station would be to build a nuclear power first and then convert it to burn coal.

    Actually, since coal is out since it is bad for the environment, if anyone wants to build a large biomass plant I suggest getting one of these incredibly cheap $1,000 a kilowatt nuclear plants and then converting it to burn wood or agricultural waste.

  57. Ivor
    July 26th, 2016 at 14:28 | #57

    @Joris van Dorp

    Where is this from:

    The Chinese have reached 1.5 $B/GW already, after only building a few dozen NPPs.

  58. Joris van Dorp
    July 26th, 2016 at 17:26 | #58

    @Ivor.

    [..] The National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) issued a construction licence for units 3&4 in March 2009, and first concrete for unit 3 was poured soon afterwards. CGN will be responsible for the project construction and the operation of the first five years after commercial operation, with full participation of CPI. The cost of all four 1080 MWe CPR-1000 units in the first construction phase is put at CNY 50 billion (US$ 6.6 billion). China Nuclear Power Engineering Corporation (CNPEC), part of CGN, is managing the project. Shanghai Electric won a $260 million contract for equipment and Alstom providing the four low-speed Arabelle turbine-generator sets for $184 million. Localisation is above 70% for units 1&2 and over 80% for units 3&4. [..]

    (emphasis mine)
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/china-nuclear-power.aspx#ECSArticleLink6

    I think the people here need to do more research about exactly what’s going on with nuclear, especially in China and Russia. It could be me, but I sense a huge blind spot here and an unhealthy readiness to use old cliches and half-truths in place of arguments.

  59. John Quiggin
    July 26th, 2016 at 18:48 | #59

    China’s current nuclear plans call for 30 GW of additional nuclear to be installed by 2020 (a total of 58 GW), with another 30 GW to be under construction by then. That’s not trivial, but even if it’s achieved it won’t be any more than solar PV (2020 target of 150 GW, installing about 15 GW per year) even allowing for higher capacity factors and less than wind (250 GW by 2020, up to 400 by 2030). Moreover the trend has been for renewable goals to be scaled up and nuclear scaled back. So, even in China, which is by far the most promising case, nuclear is barely holding its own. That’s not consistent with an account in which nuclear is the cheapest option.

  60. Ivor
    July 27th, 2016 at 00:26 | #60

    @Joris van Dorp

    Thanks for that. As you probably realise, China constructing 4 CPR1000 units for 50 Billion Yuan does not mean that the cost outside China is US$1.5B per GW.

  61. Joris van Dorp
    July 27th, 2016 at 16:54 | #61

    China constructing 4 CPR1000 units for 50 Billion Yuan does not mean that the cost outside China is US$1.5B per GW.

    Why not?

    The initial wave of nuclear fleet-building in the West saw prices lower than US$0.75B per GW. Corrected for inflation that cost is fairly similar to what the Chinese are achieving today. So the Chinese nuclear costs are nothing special and can certainly be achieved again in the West. Rather, we should be able to improve on those costs because there has been a great advance in general manufacturing and construction technique which didn’t exist 40 years ago.

  62. July 28th, 2016 at 11:01 | #62

    Australia has been continuously building houses for over 200 years and thanks to the great advance in general manufacturing and construction techniques we’ve been able to get the cost per unit down to around $300,000.

  63. Tim Macknay
    July 28th, 2016 at 12:00 | #63

    In saying this I acknowledge that I might be regarded by some as rude, but is it a coincidence that part of Joris van Dorp’s name bears more than a passing resemblance to another word that begins in “d” and ends in “rp”? Just sayin…

  64. Ikonoclast
    July 28th, 2016 at 13:40 | #64

    @Tim Macknay

    Ah… I have pretty much given up pointing out issues like peak uranium, the expense and danger of breeder reactors and the fact that Russia currently has much (about 40%) of the world’s Uranium enrichment capacity. This is a hangover of nuclear weapons production.

    “The European Commission said in 2001 that at the current level of uranium consumption, known uranium resources would last 42 years. When added to military and secondary sources, the resources could be stretched to 72 years. Yet this rate of usage assumes that nuclear power continues to provide only a fraction of the world’s energy supply. If electric capacity were increased six-fold, then the 72-year supply would last just 12 years.” – Wikipedia.

    So, without a massive and successful breeder reactor program, fission power simply won’t help us much at all. And renewables are already cheaper and more scaleable than fission power with or without breeder reactors. Fission reactors are a crude, out of date solution for stationary power. Naval power plants will remain for sure.

    But nuclear power holds an alchemic fascination for people who don’t understand its grave limitations for safe, practical stationary power applications. Pro-nukesters essentially think it is magical and that nuclear engineering is easy.

  65. Joris van Dorp
    July 28th, 2016 at 17:22 | #65

    So, without a massive and successful breeder reactor program, fission power simply won’t help us much at all.

    Correct. which is why China and Russia have already embarked on a huge breeder program. China aims for 1500+ GW of breeders by the end of the century. See the link I already posted above.

    To solve climate change, we’ll need tens of thousands of breeders, thorium, uranium or both, so we better get cracking. We don’t need subsidies for that. all we need is support from the environmental movement.

    Renewables only work as a fossil fuel-saving add-on for a fossil fuel powered grid. They won’t and can’t eliminate fossil burning. Only nuclear can.

  66. Ivor
    July 28th, 2016 at 18:34 | #66

    @Joris van Dorp

    Why not?

    I am surprised you asked this.

    You cannot purchase Western labour equivalent to 50 Billion Yuan of Chinese labour at market exchange rates ie for US$1.5 billion (or whatever the current exchange rate is).

    Also in the West, to move capital into the nuclear sector – it has to receive the same EBITDA as alternative opportunities.

    Also in Australia, nuclear cannot compete against subsidised renewables. This should be our policy.

  67. Joris van Dorp
    July 28th, 2016 at 19:05 | #67

    You cannot purchase Western labour equivalent to 50 Billion Yuan of Chinese labour at market exchange rates ie for US$1.5 billion (or whatever the current exchange rate is).

    Chinese nuclear sector labour is similarly priced to Western nuclear labour. The main reason Chinese nuclear power costs are falling like a stone is because of the learning effect (= maturing supply chains). A similar learning effect was observed in the USA and France during the run-up of those country’s nuclear fleet building experience 40 years ago. There really is no mystery here and no need for speculation.

    By the way, US$1.5B/GW is almost exactly the same – corrected for inflation – as the design cost of Western built AP1000 and EPR reactors. Of course, a few dozen AP1000’s and/or EPR’s will need to be built before the full learning-effect and supply chain maturation benefits are achieved which make the design cost a reality, but the notion that only China can build nuclear power plants cheaply is baseless and illogical.

  68. Tim Macknay
    July 28th, 2016 at 19:20 | #68

    @Ikonoclast
    Yes, it’s hard to bother summoning the effort to make a serious argument for the umpteenth time, when you know the same assertions will simply be made over and over again, ad infinitum.

  69. July 28th, 2016 at 20:12 | #69

    It is now economically viable to extract uranium from sea water, just by leaving an absorbent in the water for a few weeks. The world’s seas contain 4.5 billion tonnes of uranium. Enough for thousands of years.

  70. July 28th, 2016 at 20:28 | #70

    @Ikonoclast:

    “I have pretty much given up pointing out issues like peak uranium”

    Peak uranium is not an issue, no wonder you gave up pointing it out.

    Why are you writing under an anonymous name? Are you ashamed your comments may negatively impact your reputation? If so, you should stick to facts, stop making things up, and quote a respected academic source rather than Wikipedia. The problem with anonymous authorship is it encourages irresponsible behavior. When people write anonymously they act as if the truth/falsity of their argument has no negative consequences to them. It doesn’t. In contrast, those of us who write without anonymity must back statements with our reputations. If we lie, we will be remembered for every lie written. In the long run, this is better as it forces one to give the most careful, evidentially backed argument, one can.

    You should stop using anonymity. You will gain in the long run. It will turn you into a better forum debater, because you will do better research to make sure you’re not shown up as a blaggard or fool.

  71. chrisl
    July 28th, 2016 at 21:31 | #71

    Interesting to see how he answers this. I predict he will ignore it completely.

  72. Ivor
    July 28th, 2016 at 22:31 | #72

    @Joris van Dorp

    Why do we get strange statements such as:

    Chinese nuclear sector labour is similarly priced to Western nuclear labour.

    The best Chinese average wage I could find was in urban Beijing @ 7,000 Yuan PerMnth [2015].

    This is around A$1,420.00

    See: http://www.clb.org.hk/sites/default/files/ave%20min%20wage.png

    Australian average monthly wages are much, much higher than this.

    In November 2015, Australian average earnings were A$1,500 perWeek. [ABS 6302.0]

    So were is there factual evidence that “Chinese nuclear sector labour is similarly priced to Western nuclear labour.” ??????

  73. Ivor
    July 28th, 2016 at 22:50 | #73

    Mark Pawelek :

    Why-o-why do we get these strange statements:

    It is now economically viable to extract uranium from sea water, just by leaving an absorbent in the water for a few weeks.

    Where is there evidence ???????

    According to Forbes Magazine 1 July 2016:

    This marine testing shows that these new fibers had the capacity to hold 6 grams of uranium per kilogram of adsorbent in only about 50 days in natural seawater. A nice video of U extraction from seawater can be seen on the University of Tennessee Knoxville website.

    And later this month, July 19 to 22, global experts in uranium extraction from seawater will convene at the University of Maryland-College Park for the First International Conference on Seawater Uranium Recovery.

    Stephen Kung, in DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, says that … these advances by PNNL and ORNL have reduced the cost by a factor of four in just five years. But it’s still over $200/lb of U3O8, twice as much as it needs to be to replace mining uranium ore.

    This is not “a few weeks” it is nearly two months. I would not call doubling the cost “economically viable” !!!

    In any case it can be outcompeted by subsidised renewables, which is where we should be heading.

  74. Ivor
    July 28th, 2016 at 22:51 | #74

    Mark Pawelek :

    Why-o-why do we get these strange statements:

    It is now economically viable to extract uranium from sea water, just by leaving an absorbent in the water for a few weeks.

    Where is there evidence ???????

    According to Forbes Magazine 1 July 2016:

    This marine testing shows that these new fibers had the capacity to hold 6 grams of uranium per kilogram of adsorbent in only about 50 days in natural seawater. A nice video of U extraction from seawater can be seen on the University of Tennessee Knoxville website.

    And later this month, July 19 to 22, global experts in uranium extraction from seawater will convene at the University of Maryland-College Park for the First International Conference on Seawater Uranium Recovery.

    Stephen Kung, in DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, says that … these advances by PNNL and ORNL have reduced the cost by a factor of four in just five years. But it’s still over $200/lb of U3O8, twice as much as it needs to be to replace mining uranium ore.

    This is not “a few weeks” it is nearly two months. I would not call doubling the cost “economically viable” !!!

    In any case it can be outcompeted by subsidised renewables, which is where we should be heading.

  75. Joris van Dorp
    July 28th, 2016 at 23:36 | #75

    Ivor :
    So were is there factual evidence that “Chinese nuclear sector labour is similarly priced to Western nuclear labour.” ??????

    Ah gawd, this really is the first time you’ve ever had a serious discussion about nuclear? It’s funny how the people who appear to be most confident in dissing and defaming nuclear power never seem to know the first thing about it. 🙂

    To get you up to speed, China has been luring nuclear sector workers from all over the world to expand it’s human capital. Salaries of people working in the nuclear industry are often higher than anywhere else in the world. Here’s an older article revealing what has been going on (while we in the West are sleeping).
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2012/07/16/commentary/world-commentary/nuclear-engineers-ditching-japan-for-a-bigger-paycheck/#.V5oJYVWLTDc

  76. July 29th, 2016 at 03:45 | #76

    @chrisl Interesting to find a load of snivelling cowards terrified to put their reputations on the line by using their real names.

  77. July 29th, 2016 at 04:03 | #77

    The point of my comment on sea water uranium extraction was to refute the myth of peak uranium. Uranium mining is still a far cheaper source than sea water. We will not be running out of uranium as the Malthus doom, doom echo chamber tell us; not for many tens of thousands of years. Before then we will have developed the thorium fuel cycle; probably within the next few decades. This will be in response to fears over global warming. Why thorium was not developed previously? (1) because we did not need it, and (2) because it will blow apart anti-proliferation arguments. Thorium is about 4 to 3½ times more abundant than uranium. 100% of thorium can be used so it does not need to be enriched. Only 0.7% of natural uranium is fissionable. So we have about 500 times more thorium available for use in fission reactors than uranium-235. We will not be running out of thorium for millions of years to come.

    Commiserations to all the Malthus fans here.

  78. Ivor
    July 29th, 2016 at 08:35 | #78

    @Mark Pawelek

    This is not good enough. You have used inaccurate spin without citing sources or any evidence. This is one of the key problems with nuke-obsessives. They do not recognise the realities and there is no better example than the inane denialism coming from Barry Brook’s crew at “Brave New Climate” during the Fukushima meltdowns.

    Not only that – they seem oblivious to the obvious link between nuke-power and nuke-weapons. This is now becoming clearer. According to the Indian newspaper “The Hindu” here

    There is little doubt that India will one day have a fleet of FBRs and large quantities of fissile material that can easily be redirected towards its weapons programme. This will limit how quickly India can grow its nuclear arsenal to match that of, say, China. Delhi has shown no inclination to do so until now, but the world community would surely prefer that as much as possible of India’s plutonium was locked under safeguards.

    This demonstrates there is a direct path from nuke-power to nuclear weapons if politicians waver.

    Having nuclear power plants spotted all through the worlds continents would be a disaster-in-waiting should regional wars break out. They would be a likely target.

    Notice too how our thorium folks never seem to admit that thorium reactors need uranium and produce radioactive waste. At most they just suggest that thorium reactors just produce less HLW than contemporary reactors.

    We do not need nukes as we can rely on subsidised renewables with all the benefits and long-term safety they provide.

  79. Ivor
    July 29th, 2016 at 08:35 | #79

    @Mark Pawelek

    This is not good enough. You have used inaccurate spin without citing sources or any evidence. This is one of the key problems with nuke-obsessives. They do not recognise the realities and there is no better example than the inane denialism coming from Barry Brook’s crew at “Brave New Climate” during the Fukushima meltdowns.

    Not only that – they seem oblivious to the obvious link between nuke-power and nuke-weapons. This is now becoming clearer. According to the Indian newspaper “The Hindu” here

    There is little doubt that India will one day have a fleet of FBRs and large quantities of fissile material that can easily be redirected towards its weapons programme. This will limit how quickly India can grow its nuclear arsenal to match that of, say, China. Delhi has shown no inclination to do so until now, but the world community would surely prefer that as much as possible of India’s plutonium was locked under safeguards.

    This demonstrates there is a direct path from nuke-power to nuclear weapons if politicians waver.

    Having nuclear power plants spotted all through the worlds continents would be a disaster-in-waiting should regional wars break out. They would be a likely target.

    Notice too how our thorium folks never seem to admit that thorium reactors need uranium and produce radioactive waste. At most they just suggest that thorium reactors just produce less HLW than contemporary reactors.

    We do not need nukes as we can rely on subsidised renewables with all the benefits and long-term safety they provide.

  80. Ikonoclast
    July 29th, 2016 at 08:53 | #80

    @Mark Pawelek

    To put a public reputation on the line, one has to have a public reputation. In each of our cases, our obscurity ensures there is no practical difference between a nom de plume and a real name. There is also no assurance that an apparently real name is actually a real name.

    Have you done any calculations on the weights and areas of absorbents required to be placed in the sea, then recovered and processed for uranium extraction in that 50 day cycle? Have you done any calculations on the size of the trawler-like shipping fleet necessary to run an operation on this scale? Have you done any calculations on the fuel needed to run that fleet? What are the EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) calculations for the entire operation?

  81. Ikonoclast
    July 29th, 2016 at 09:32 | #81

    @Ivor

    Renewables would need no subsidies if the current massive subsidies were withdrawn from fossil fuels and nuclear power. In addition, if the full costs of negative externalities were paid, then renewables would look even more attractive.

    Direct subsidies to fossil fuels are about $500 billion a year. The indirect subsidies of not charging for negative externalities bring the total cost to about $1.9 trillion a year or 2.5% of global GDP. Source: IMF.

    http://grist.org/climate-energy/imf-says-global-subsidies-to-fossil-fuels-amount-to-1-9-trillion-a-year-and-thats-probably-an-underestimate/

    And click on new report link to IMF report.

    Nuclear power also cannot survive without massive subsidies.

    Nuclear Power: Still Not Viable without Subsidies (2011) – Union of Concerned Scientists.

    “The most important subsidies to the (nuclear) industry do not involve cash payments. Rather, they shift construction-cost and operating risks from investors to taxpayers and ratepayers, burdening taxpayers with an array of risks ranging from cost overruns and defaults to accidents
    and nuclear waste management. This approach, which has remained remarkably consistent through-out the industry’s history, distorts market choices that would other-wise favor less risky investments.

    Although it may not involve direct cash payments, such favored treatment is nevertheless a subsidy, with a profound effect on the bottom line for the industry and taxpayers alike.
    Reactor owners, therefore, have never been economically respon-sible for the full costs and risks of their operations. Instead, the public faces the prospect of severe losses in the event of any number of potential adverse scenarios, while private investors reap the rewards if nuclear
    plants are economically successful. For all practical purposes, nuclear power’s economic gains are privatized, while its risks are socialized.”

  82. Ivor
    July 29th, 2016 at 10:43 | #82

    @Joris van Dorp

    This is not making much sense. The labour to build a nuclear station does not consist of nuclear engineers. Most people are aware that Chinese executives and professionals can obtain incomes similar to the West, but this DOES NOT change the average wage relativities I posted.

    If a nuke power station was built in Australia I would expect that the nuclear engineers engaged to manage the project would be paid a lot more than your “specialists working at liquefied natural gas plants” – whatever these are meant to mean.

    Have you ever seen a nuclear engineer fixing rebar or pouring concrete, cleaning the floors, or delivering orders?

    Again we are just getting smoke and mirrors from our nuke-addicts.

    Here is another example:

    China has been luring nuclear sector workers from all over the world to expand it’s human capital.

    What workers? What rates? Crane drivers, electricians, fitters and turners, form workers, transport workers, earth movers and excavators, clerks, or who?

  83. July 29th, 2016 at 11:45 | #83

    Mark Pawelek, did you lie or did you just make a mistake when you wrote, “It is now economically viable to extract uranium from sea water, just by leaving an absorbent in the water for a few weeks.”

  84. Ikonoclast
    July 29th, 2016 at 12:14 | #84

    Not that the innumerate and illogical will read this but here it is anyway.

    http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/newreactors/cooper-smrsaretheproblemnotthesolution.pdf

    In particular, it is worth looking at Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis both in the article and as an internet search term.

  85. July 29th, 2016 at 16:15 | #85

    @Ivor

    There is little doubt that India will one day have a fleet of FBRs and large quantities of fissile material that can easily be redirected towards its weapons programme.

    You don’t understand the physics, so you can’t really comment on what is and isn’t a proliferation risk. This newspaper quote is worthless because neither you, nor the journalists at the Hindu, know what you’re talking about. A state with the resources of India will use only the best weapons grade material to make bombs with. They will make that material in special purpose military reactors. There’s no saving using inferior grade plutonium, because it can blow up in your face (literally) if you try to. That you anti-nukes are ignorant of basic physics of why countries use only best quality plutonium to make bombs means I’d literally have to spend months teaching you science before you understood my points. In addition, you make no effort to understand any science and engineering issues. You seek out cherry-picked articles written by like-minded people such as yourself and declare that wisdom. The blind leading the deaf. Good luck with that philosophy.

  86. July 29th, 2016 at 16:44 | #86

    @Ronald Brak

    I did not lie. Suppose all uranium mining stopped tomorrow. It would then become economically viable to extract it from sea water. The cost of raw fuel is not a deal breaker. There are many factors involved in the cost of nuclear power and fuel is only a minor one. Also many factors involved in the cost of fuel: mining, extraction & purification, enrichment, and fuel fabrication. By “economically viable” I meant viable compared to other energy sources (such as wind, solar, …), not viable with respect to current uranium mining. In practice, it means that a country such as India, with no uranium resources to speak of, could make it’s own uranium from sea water should a uranium blockade be imposed on them. The extra cost of sea water uranium will hardly be felt. They will not do this because it is cheaper for them to buy it from Oz and elsewhere, as good marginalists, which I hope you all are, understand.

  87. July 29th, 2016 at 16:50 | #87

    @Ikonoclast

    Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis

    More cherry picked data which no one else agrees with but fanatical anti-nukes and renewable boosters such as yourselves. Nor is this Lazard’s, as such. It’s not their official policy. The report was written by some people who just happened to be at Lazard’s at the time. I’m sure all good energy analysts and traders working for Lazard’s will ignore this report, if they want to make a profit.

  88. Tim Macknay
    July 29th, 2016 at 17:15 | #88

    @Mark Pawelek

    I did not lie. Suppose all uranium mining stopped tomorrow. It would then become economically viable to extract it from sea water.

    According to the ordinary understanding of “economically viable”, your statement was clearly wrong. Why not just admit it? If you’d said that uranium extraction from seawater was “technically feasible”, you would have been on more solid ground, but that’s a different thing altogether.

    Your claim that uranium extraction from seawater is viable “compared to other energy sources (such as wind, solar…)” is plainly contradicted by the available facts (i.e. wind and solar energy capacity are expanding rapidly on a global scale but no-one, anywhere, is extracting uranium from seawater except on a purely experimental basis), which is pretty much the point of Prof Q’s post.

    By adding the qualifications to your claim, i.e. “if all uranium mining stopped tomorrow”; “should a uranium blockade be imposed upon them”, you are effectively saying that nobody would use this method unless they were desperate. That is pretty much the opposite of “economically viable”. Here’s a question: It’s technically feasible to produce liquid fuel from coal using the Fischer-Tropf process. However, the only instances in which this has been employed on a large scale were by Nazi Germany during the latter stages of World War II, when they were surrounded by Allied forces, and by Apartheid South Africa, when they were subject to international economic sanctions. Do you think producing liquid fuel from coal is “economically viable”?

  89. July 29th, 2016 at 17:33 | #89

    @Tim Macknay

    Economists like you have a different definition. Then again you all consider renewables to be economically viable and energy storage to be just around the next bend so please don’t trumpet your credentials with me.

    It’s economically viable compared to renewables. The cost will depend on how much it costs to make and process the absorbent. No industrial process currently exists to make it. One would need about 5550 tonnes of absorbent to make enough fuel to power a 1GWe PWR for a year. One would need to process about 15.2 tonnes of this absorbent each day, assuming a 7-day week. Should India find itself under a uranium blockade it be economically viable for them to make their own uranium this way rather than try to build your fantasy energy systems relying on grid scale storage.

    Grid scale energy storage required to make renewables carbon neutral will never be economically viable, nor environmentally responsible.

  90. Joris van Dorp
    July 29th, 2016 at 17:54 | #90

    Ikonoclast :

    Direct subsidies to fossil fuels are about $500 billion a year. The indirect subsidies of not charging for negative externalities bring the total cost to about $1.9 trillion a year or 2.5% of global GDP. Source: IMF.
    http://grist.org/climate-energy/imf-says-global-subsidies-to-fossil-fuels-amount-to-1-9-trillion-a-year-and-thats-probably-an-underestimate/
    And click on new report link to IMF report.

    Ah, I knew we would get the “IMF report”sooner or later. A particularly devious piece of propaganda, that. I’ll demonstrate:

    First off, the report is not by “the IMF”. On the title page, the IMF – in bold type – distances itself completely and clearly from the contents of the report. And it even warns readers to make sure that the report is not presented as being from the IMF (which you just did) That’s because the contents are speculative, preliminary, incomplete, misleading and not up to the standard of the IMF.

    Second, if you actually read the report, you’ll find out pretty quickly why the IMF doesn’t endorse it. For example, the authors include as a “subsidy for fossil fuels” the strangest cost items such as:

    – the cost of road repairs globally
    – the cost of traffic accidents globally
    – the cost of traffic congestion globally

    That’s how the authors obtain their fantastic numbers for “fossil fuel subsidies”! They are counting on the fact that journalists just read the summary! This is precisely the kind of diabolical propaganda which all of us need to combat, rather than promote! This propaganda actually kills people, and destroys the environment.

    Final point: that B$500 billion figure is indeed correct, but needs to be put in context:

    1. virtually all of that B$500 goes to fossil fuels, not to nuclear

    2. B$ 400 of that 500 merely represents the lost income in oil exporting countries who provide oil to their domestic population below the international oil price, but above the cost of production. This is not so much a subsidy, as it is oil exporting countries directly benefiting their own populations with oil at cost of production. It’s an accounting issue, not a subsidy.

    3. B$ 100 is the true subsidy, in the form of tax breaks and the cost of civil servants needed to administer the fossil fuel industry. All industries get these subsidies. These are what is called ‘efficient subsidies’.

    4. Not mentioned is the crucial fact that globally, the fossil fuel sector delivers B$800 in tax revenues and royalties to state treasuries. So this means that the treasuries provide about B$ 100 to subsidise fossil fuels, but they get back B$ 800 in tax revenues and royalties! So there is no net subsidy. There are huge net earning for the public treasury!

    5. I want to get rid of fossil fuels as much as everyone here. But the only way to do that is to be clear and honest about the facts, especially the financial facts. Otherwise we will fail! We have to be aware of the misunderstanding and propaganda. We have to combat it. Please, let’s all do this!

  91. Ivor
    July 29th, 2016 at 18:06 | #91

    @Mark Pawelek

    It’s no use shooting the messenger (and missing) and I have studied physics at undergraduate level.

    Again you provide no evidence – just pro-nuke trolling.

  92. July 29th, 2016 at 18:09 | #92

    @Tim Macknay

    Your claim that uranium extraction from seawater is viable “compared to other energy sources (such as wind, solar…)” is plainly contradicted…

    If you follow this sub-thread to its source, you’ll find that @Ikonoclast invoked “peak uranium” yesterday. The example of uranium from sea water (up to 4.5 billion tonnes of it) was invoked to refute peak uranium, which it does.

    _No_ CO2-free intermittent generation renewable energy system exists. Solar, wind, tidal all need fossil fuel support. As such none are “renewable” using the strictest definition. Given we’re all using strict definitions now, how do you propose to make Australia’s energy system CO2-free? Or do you not? Robert Bryce has CO2-free proposals. John Quiggin does not. So what gives him the right to criticise Bryce when Quiggin offers no alternative? Quiggin makes a fundamental error in his argument above. He used the term renewables and included wind, tide, solar under that banner as an implied CO2-free, grid scale system. They are not CO2-free because they depend upon fossil fuels. Hence they are not “renewable”. Quiggin proposed no CO2-free energy alternative.

  93. Ikonoclast
    July 29th, 2016 at 22:09 | #93

    @Joris van Dorp

    You must be talking about a different report to the one I linked to. There is no such message as the one you claim on the title page. Some working papers (not this one which appears to be a complete report) contain a message as follows;

    “IMF Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to
    elicit comments and to encourage debate. The views expressed in IMF Working Papers are
    those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board,
    or IMF management.”

    Even this message is not as strong as you imply. Now, on your actual points.

    1. ” ..virtually all of that B$500 goes to fossil fuels, not to nuclear.” Yes, I know, that’s exactly what I wrote: “Direct subsidies to fossil fuels are about $500 billion a year.”

    2. You can redefine subsidies if you wish (and it’s a very socialist thing of you to do) but;

    (a) there are standards in capitalist economic accounting, which this is about, and these are clear subsidies under those standards; and in any case
    (b) even in a socialist economy, or in a mixed economy with a statist sector, the supply of cheap petroleum involves opportunity costs. The social, environmental and alternative production opportunity costs still exist even under statist, welfarist or socialist allocation methods. This is because there is a real economy, as well as a financial or command ordering of the economy, and opportunity costs at base are real.

    3. Tax breaks are only one form of subsidy. “Every one gets them” is not an argument for them. I am not aware of any theory pointing to “efficient subsidies” in capitalist economics but maybe my knowledge is too limited. Point me to this theory if you can. I understand social subsidies but these are adopted for social ends not narrow economic efficiency as such.

    4. Any state owned enterprise or state taxed private enterprise can deliver revenues. Again, the subsidies to fossil fuels involve the opportunity cost of not doing something else which could also provide revenues and very likely ameliorate fossil fuel pollution (negative externalities) at the same time.

  94. Ikonoclast
    July 29th, 2016 at 22:36 | #94

    Mark Pawelek,

    Seawater uranium is not economically recoverable compared to all other current energy sources, be they fossil fuels or renewables. Tim Macknay has been trying to explain this to you. In any case it appears that the EROEI (energy return on energy invested) for seawater uranium would be lucky to be 1:1. That is there would be no energy profit in it. I’ll leave to you check the information.

    A full electrical economy could make, transport and install solar and wind gen components without fossil fuels. It would take a new form of infrastructure to make this work but it is all technically feasible.

    https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/CountriesWWS.pdf

    Of course, I don’t expect you to be convinced. I wonder about the raw materials resources needed for this build-out myself. However, I see a nuclear fission build-out, on the scale you envisage, as at least two orders of magnitude more improbable again.

  95. Ivor
    July 29th, 2016 at 22:52 | #95

    @Joris van Dorp

    No one has said:

    First off, the report is not by “the IMF”.

    It is clearly a IMF Report – copyright is asserted by the IMF and the publisher is IMF.

    The IMF report does not:

    distances itself completely and clearly from the contents of the report.

    and does not

    even warns readers to make sure that the report is not presented as being from the IMF

    There is only a standard scholarly boilerplate disclaimer which is common in academic papers such as working papers emanating from Universities or private research entities. It permits researchers to operate freely while using the facilities of different bodies.

    It casts no dispersion of the work of the authors or the accuracy of their analysis.

    The disclaimer is at: Report page ii

    You changed the words to suit your own nuclear fantasy.

  96. Tim Macknay
    July 29th, 2016 at 23:20 | #96

    @Mark Pawelek
    Mark, at this juncture I’d like to suggest that you take a deep breath, slow down, and try more carefully to read what other commenters are saying. You seem to be making some rather extraordinary assumptions and projections about the people you are engaging with. For example, when did I “trumpet my credentials”? I didn’t say, or even imply, anything about credentials at all. In fact, the only instance on the thread so far that might be construed as bringing credentials into it is when you accused another commenter (I think it was Ivor) of lacking a sufficient understanding of physics to to qualified to have an opinion.

    Now, back to the actual subject of our discussion. When I referred to the ordinary understanding of “economically viable” I was referring to just that – the ordinary understanding of it, not a technical economics definition. More or less, when we say something is “economically viable”, we mean it can be done at a profit, or to put it another way, that the economic benefits of doing it outweigh the economic costs.

    So, once the eyes have stopped swivelling and the flecks of spittle have been wiped away, a reasonable person, based on the information you have provided, would be likely to form the view that seawater uranium extraction has been technically demonstrated, but it is not yet known whether it can be done on a commercial scale. A reasonable person would arrive at this view because you yourself have pointed out that the technology necessary to do it at a commercial scale does not yet exist.

    Certainly it is possible that the technology will be developed in the future. But the fact remains that it is clearly not, at present, economically viable, and whether it will ever become so is unknown. However, in this respect the technology is no different from a wide range of electrical storage technologies that are also at an experimental stage.

    Which raises the question: why is it that you are so adamantly optimistic about uranium seawater extraction technology on the one hand, but so determinedly pessimistic about electric storage technology on the other, when the ultimate potential of both categories of technology is unknown? If you’ll pardon me for saying so, it doesn’t exactly seem like a rational analysis.

  97. Joris van Dorp
    July 30th, 2016 at 00:09 | #97

    Sorry guys, you’re right, I was talking about the updated version of the report Ikonoclast linked, namely this:
    https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2015/wp15105.pdf
    I discussed this report so many times that I neglected that there is also an older version, which is the version Ikonoclast linked, and which doesn’t have as strong a disclaimer from the IMF.

    (Perhaps that is why that old report is now being referenced again in current discussions about energy subsidies instead of the updated one, since people are starting to catch on that the IMF has become a lot more careful with endorsing this research in the newest version.)

    Anyway, like I said, I’ve discussed this report many times, and I’ve noticed we can boil down the whole fossil fuels subsidies controversy to three questions:

    Q1 “Are the cost of traffic congestion, traffic accidents, and road maintenance a subsidy for fossil fuels, like the IMF authors assume?”

    Q2 “Is the domestic sale of fossil fuel products in oil exporting countries at the cost of production but below international market prices a subsidy for fossil fuels, like the IMF authors assume?”

    Q3 “If the government funds 100$ of goods and services benefitting one producer A who then pays back 800$ of taxes to the government, and the government funds 10$ of goods and services to another producer B who pays no taxes, which of these producers is being subsidised by the government? A? B? Or both?

    Looking forward to your answers!

  98. Joris van Dorp
    July 30th, 2016 at 00:57 | #98

    Which raises the question: why is it that you are so adamantly optimistic about uranium seawater extraction technology on the one hand, but so determinedly pessimistic about electric storage technology on the other, when the ultimate potential of both categories of technology is unknown? If you’ll pardon me for saying so, it doesn’t exactly seem like a rational analysis.

    I’ll take this, if I may.

    At a U3O8 price of about US$25/pound the raw material cost of the uranium to produce electricity in a nuclear reactor is about US$0.001/kWh. If uranium is extracted from seawater, the price would be ten times more, so the raw material cost of nuclear electricity would be US$0.01 per kWh.

    In other words, shifting to ocean uranium extraction would raise the cost of nuclear power by less than 1 ct/kWh.

    I think that is what Mark Pawalek means when he says that uranium can be economically extracted from seawater. It’s not economical compared to surface mining, but crucially, switching from surface mining to ocean extraction does NOT make nuclear power uncompetitive. This means that uranium shortage will never occur. Uranium is an inexhaustible resource. Q.E.D.

    Moreover, breeder reactor technology such as the Russians and Chinese are building commercially today(!) makes 100 times better use of the raw uranium material, so in a breeder reactor, using uranium extracted from ocean water with today’s(!) technology would add only US$ 0.0001 to the price of the produced electricity: that’s one-hundreth of one dollar cent per kWh.

    So battery technology and uranium extraction are not both ‘unknown’. On the contrary, the potential of uranium from seawater is fully understood and ready to go, while cheap batteries don’t even exist in the imagination yet. Totally unknown.

  99. July 30th, 2016 at 01:17 | #99

    @Tim Macknay

    why is it that you are so adamantly optimistic about uranium seawater extraction technology

    I don’t consider it that wonderful. After we develop the thorium fuel cycle we will not even need seawater extraction. I brought it up to refute an earlier claim that peak uranium was only a few decades away.

    Given you’re obsessed about it I’ll consider the relationship (or lack of) between the price of uranium and the long-term future of nuclear power.

    1) Four years ago: Sea Uranium Extraction Nearly Economically Viable

    Improvements to the extraction technology have almost halved production costs from around 560 dollars (£355) per pound of uranium to 300 dollars (£190)

    recent advances lowered the cost even more.

    2) Breeder reactors. Were we to replace burner reactors such as PWR/BWR/CANDU with breeders, we’d only need a fraction of the uranium we currently use. We’ve been able to build breeder reactors for decades. For example PRISM. Worldwide we currently have about 430 GWe of nuclear power. Each 1GWe uses about 27 tonnes per year. A total of 11,610 tonnes. This is mostly low enriched uranium which needs about 9 times as much natural uranium to make it. So we currently need about 104,500 tonnes per year of uranium mined.

    Suppose instead we had 20 times as much breeder reactor power. That would be 8600 GWe and we’d be able to make all the world’s electricity carbon-free with it. 8600 GWe of breeder would require about 8600 tonnes of uranium (or thorium) per year. As you can see, nuclear power is economically viable for the whole world using a fraction of the uranium we currently use. It is also “economically viable” without uranium. We can use thorium instead. It is viable with uranium too. Whether reactors require a lot of uranium (burners), or very little (breeders). The price of uranium is almost irrelevant. If the price or uranium rises, that will just stimulate us to use breeders instead, which will actually allow us to use far more nuclear power because long-term breeder fuel supplies are no problem at all – even with uranium at $1000/lb breeders would still be economically viable. Breeders such PRISM can run using plutonium made from spent fuel, and depleted uranium. There is over 2 million tonnes of depleted uranium worldwide. A 1GWe breeder will burn 1 tonne per year. So breeder reactors have enough uranium stocks, already mined and extracted, to last hundreds of years. They can use thorium too.

    The price of uranium is only very loosely coupled to the long-term cost of nuclear power.

  100. Ikonoclast
    July 30th, 2016 at 08:40 | #100

    Joris van Dorp,

    This document, as an example, illustrates the difficulties in defining a “subsidy”.

    https://www.iisd.org/gsi/sites/default/files/primer.pdf

    Basic and obvious subsidies are clear enough to us when we see them but to comprehensively and exhaustively define the entire class of “subsidy” proves to be very difficult.

    You want to cloud the debate about subsides as you are clearly aware that nuclear power is the recipient of enormous subsidies and has been so historically as well as today.

    Seach for the report “NUCLEAR POWER: Still Not Viable without Subsidies”.

    In general, one could argue in the context of a market economy with a state sector (the model of “really existing capitalism” today), that a subsidy to an economic activity occurs when the producer of a good or service and/or the user of a good or service does not directly and fully pay the market determined price or what would be the market determined price without a subsidising program or initiative from state instrumentalities. In addition, this definition ought to include un-costed negative externalities borne by individuals, the community, society and even by the environment when the latter damage is ameliorated or remedied, in whole or in part, by state expenditure. In other words, a subsidy also occurs when a party is able to cause costs or damage to another in the course of economic activity without remedy being required. In this case, the state may be not be paying this subsidy, other economic and social actors may be paying it.

    Further, fulfilling requirements to pay standard tax obligations required in general of all companies and individuals engaged in economic activity does not in any way mean said tax payments can be regarded as “offsets” negating the existence and economic effect of subsidies.

    Now, if you have assimilated these points, we can deal with your smokescreen questions. In the document you link to (and I linked to a similar one) you have to pay attention to the definition of energy subsidies. Here is the consumer subsidy definition.

    “Consumer subsidies arise when the price paid by consumers is below a benchmark price. For
    pre-tax consumer subsidies the benchmark price is taken as the supply cost, whereas for post-
    tax consumer subsidies the benchmark price is the supply cost plus a Pigouvian tax for nternalizing environmental externalities and a consumption tax to contribute to revenue
    objectives.”

    The above is an eminently supportable definition within market economics.

    Here is the producer subsidy definition:

    “Producer subsidies exist when producers receive either direct or indirect support that increases profitability above what it otherwise would be (that is, the support is not passed forward in the form of lower consumer prices). This support can take many forms, including receiving a price for the output above the supply cost, paying a price for inputs below supply costs, receiving preferential tax treatment, or receiving a direct transfer from the budget.”

    The definition might also have added receiving cheap state backed loans, state backed insurance and guarantees although these are probably implicit in the notion of direct transfers, real or possible (if risk is realised) from the budget.

    The document states;

    “Externality cost estimates are available for petroleum products, natural gas, and coal (but not
    for electricity to avoid double-counting). These estimates are drawn from Parry and others
    (2014), in which they are explained in greater detail. They pertain to the cost of damages
    from CO2 emissions or global warming, local air pollution (damages relating to SO2, NOx, PM
    2.5, and VOCs), traffic congestion and accidents, and road damage. Estimates are available for 150 countries, and in other cases are estimated based on the average of countries in the same region and income level.”

    On page 8 of the document, the reasoning for including a Pigouvian taxation reckoning is included;

    “When the consumption of a good by a firm or household generates an external cost to society, then efficient pricing requires that consumers face a price that reflects this cost. In the absence of a well-functioning market for internalizing this cost in the consumer price, efficiency requires the imposition of a Pigouvian tax equal to the external cost generated by additional consumption. This issue is especially pertinent for energy consumption since the consumption of fossil fuels generates a range of external costs including:…”

    Then it mentions essentially particulate pollution, CO2 emissions and;

    “Broader externalities associated with the use of road fuels in vehicles, such as traffic congestion and accidents (most important) and road damage (less important). Although motorists may take into account (“internalize”) some of these costs in their driving decisions (for example, the average amount of congestion on the road, the risk of injuring themselves in single-vehicle collisions), they do not take into account other costs such as their own contribution to
    congestion and slower travel speeds, injury risks to pedestrians and cyclists and occupants of other vehicles, and the burden on third parties of property damage and medical costs (van Bentham 2015).”

    Now with third party comprehensive insurance (do all countries have that?) some of these costs may be user paid.

    To sum up, there is a comprehensive theory, explicit and implicit in this document, behind the assessment of subsidy costs. There are “whole of economic system” considerations and “whole of environmental system” considerations. This document links them in a consistent theory and provides support for its subsidy definitions. These costs and subsidies are non-obvious but they are indeed real. If you read the document in full you might come to understand the reasoning.

    Now what you wanted was (failure to provide) over-simplistic answers to your over-simplistic questions. Instead you have received a pointer to complex answers to what are complex questions. I hope you follow up, research it and think about it.

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