Will there be buyers for Queensland’s uranium

Dumping yet another election promise, Campbell Newman has just announced the end of restrictions on uranium mining in Queensland. Crikey asked for my opinion (their article is here, maybe paywalled). I said

The end of Queensland’s ban on uranium mining comes at a time when long-term prospects for uranium markets have never looked bleaker. The failure of the “nuclear renaissance” in the US means that at most 2-4 new plants will be built there this decade, while older plants will close as plans for upgrades and license extensions are put on hold. In Europe and Japan, not only will there be little or no new construction, but the phaseout of existing plants is being accelerated. China’s big expansion plans are still on hold after Fukushima, and the program as a whole is being scaled back in favor of renewables. In these circumstances, uranium exporters must accept lower prices, be less choosy about their customers, or both. As one of the few markets with significant growth potential, India is in a strong bargaining position. It’s not surprising that the Gillard government has been keen to overlook India’s contribution to nuclear proliferation and the limited progress that has been made in separating civilian and military programs and stockplies.

134 thoughts on “Will there be buyers for Queensland’s uranium

  1. India has 5300 MWe of nuclear under construction and 45,000 MWe of nuclear “planned or firmly proposed”. That is a significant market. We had better hope that this (or more) comes about or else it will be even more coal as India is inevitably going to rapidly expand electricity supply from the current situation of per capita supply little more than 25% of the world average.

    More generally the “megatons to megawatts” program is drawing to a close. In recent years it supplied half of the U235 for the US’s power reactor fleet by down blending surplus weapons grade HEU. There may even be a small shortfall in world uranium production at the end of this program. It has eliminated material for an estimated 20,000 nuclear weapons.

    Furthermore the postponement of Olympic Dam, probably makes other smaller projects more attractive.

  2. The end of the stockpile drawdown helped to raise uranium prices. But even if the most optimistic plans for China and India go ahead, the total output from nuclear is bound to decline over the next couple of decades. Japan and Germany alone are sufficient to ensure that, and the US is going the same way, though without any formal commitment.

    It’s fortunate that the cost of solar PV is plummeting and that of wind is falling, because these are now the only viable options for large-scale carbon-free energy – nuclear, geothermal and CCS have all failed to deliver. Combined with dispatchable gas, these two look like the future, at least for the next few decades.

    Of course, that means a very different kind of industry to the existing one, based on continuous operation coal and nuclear.

  3. @John Quiggin

    The IAEA’s low scenario is a 9% increase by 2030, which by their estimate factors in a 10 year delay in the growth of nuclear power due to the Fukushima accident. Their scenarios are derived from country by country analysis.

    Just what has nuclear failed to deliver? It’s not low emission electricity, because it still delivers a lot more than all non-hydro renewables put together. Quite frankly, lumping nuclear together with deep hot rock geothermal and CCS is ridiculous. Nuclear is proven to work and at scale.

    As for nat gas, the United States is not the whole world. Is India, for example, going to base electricity supply around gas, with just 0.57% of the world’s reserves?

  4. The whole situation would be laughable if it weren’t about such a serious issue. To hear Newman claiming he only did it, changed his mind, because Julia Gillard wants uranium mining at a federal level is so totally disingenuous it leaves me speechless. Never stand between a Premier and a bucket of $$$…even if it means there is a sickly yellow glow around it.

  5. Not wanting to derail or get sent to a nearby sandpit, but I can’t get past the problem of radioactive waste.

    There is no working solution. There are pie-in-the-sky ideas but nothing which is an answer.

    It’s like greenhouse gases but worse (perhaps). We know for a fact that the waste produced is very dangerous for all life on this tiny little planet, we have no plan for the waste and we keep blithely producing it.

    Years ago I spoke to a guy who had worked as something like an “Environmental Waste Consultant” for Chinese companies. I asked: “Really? I didn’t know China had policies for dealing with dangerous industrial waste.”

    He said: “Oh yes, ‘chuck it in the river’, ‘burn it’, ‘throw it over the fence’, ‘bury it’ – they have heaps of solutions.”

  6. Just ran across this, which casts a lot of doubt on the AAEA “low” projection of an increase for North America

  7. Whenever I see incorrect non-SI units (like MWe) bandied around, I generally presume the commenter is normally cutting and pasting far outside of their field.

  8. iain :
    Whenever I see incorrect non-SI units (like MWe) bandied around, I generally presume the commenter is normally cutting and pasting far outside of their field.

    Care to share your wisdom on MWe

  9. It’s fortunate that the cost of solar PV is plummeting and that of wind is falling, because these are now the only viable options for large-scale carbon-free energy – nuclear, geothermal and CCS have all failed to deliver.

    Failed to deliver? Every day nuclear power plants are delivering carbon free energy. Vastly more carbon free energy than we get from wind or solar facilities. Your statement seems I’ll conceived.

  10. @Megan
    There was some discussion at some point some time ago about countries which exported uranium being responsible for accepting the waste back and disposing of it in their own lands. It was to be a built-in part of the uranium trade contract. That would certainly place the onus back on over-enthusiastic Govts. The rate at which Newman’s LNP changes laws and cremoves environmemntal controls let’s just hope that it does take 4yrs or longer to get any mining projects up and producing. Then, if the voters in Qld see sense, it will be a different Party in power. The development of any environmentally safe power options in this state have been virtually wiped out.

  11. @iain

    As Sam says, MWe denotes electrical power and is in fact universally used to denote the sustained electrical output of thermal generating plants. For a nuclear power plant MWe is about one third of MWt or perhaps a whisker more for Gen III+. For coal typically a bit more than a third.

    We can also add MWp to the list of MW’s which is frequently used to denote the maximum power output of PV.

  12. Not wanting to derail or get sent to a nearby sandpit, but I can’t get past the problem of radioactive waste.

    Why not build a machine that converts nuclear waste into energy? There are several designs around the place. Many of them technically proven.

  13. The uranium industry would have to hope that any expansion will be based on old technology. It is claimed that India is looking seriously at the much safer thorium based approach. In addition, the nuclear advocates all talk about the next generation of nuclear power that would not only use a fraction of current uranium consumption per kWh but may also be able to extract power from the nuclear waste that has been produced to date.

  14. Ronald Brak :
    Quokka, how is nuclear power going to compete with solar in India?

    Quite well, I should think especially when the sun isn’t shining.

    The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, which is beginning commissioning consists of two Russian VVER-1000 1GWe reactors and associated plant. Lest it be thought these are cheapo unsafe products, the advanced safety features include passive heat removal system, double containment, core catcher, and hydrogen re-combiner. The latter was conspicuously absent from the Fukushima BWRs.

    There has been a cost overrun, partly due to the activities of anti-nukes. The cost for the two units has escalated to about $3.2 billion at current exchange rate. That’s $1.6 billion/GWe. The date for that cost figure is Aug 2012 and may be found by googling “ESTIMATED COST OF KUDANKULAM NUCLEAR PROJECT” and SHRI V. NARAYANASAMY (Indian Government Minister).

    The question is how can solar compete with that even on an LCOE basis without even mentioning India’s pressing need for more dispatchable capacity to prevent the kind of blackouts that recently occurred plunging a significant portion of the world’s population into darkness.

  15. Costs of solar have dropped sharply since 2008. But still useful to have nuclear power as competitive technology that does not release carbon emissions. The 3 mines policy was ludicrous as is the view that while we can export the stuff we cannot use it at home.

  16. I have been going over the LNP election material and I simply can’t find this no uranium mining promise anywhere. Can anyone here give me a reference?

  17. @John D

    It’s quite true that India has a fast breeder program with a view to utilizing Thorium. The demonstration 500 MWe plant at Kalpakkam has experienced some delays and is now expected to go online in 2013 or 2014. However, this unit will use a MOX fuel composed of a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides. It is intended to irradiate a Thorium blanket for the purposes of producing U-233 necessary for the initiation of a proper Thorium fuel cycle which may well be a decade or two or more away.

    For the immediate future, and then some, India will build light water and heavy water of both foreign and domestic design and will have to fuel them by importing uranium.

  18. @John Quiggin

    Without knowing the ins and out of electricity generation in the mid-west of the US, it’s a bit hard to get a handle on the significance of this. However, if there were a carbon tax the situation might be quite different, and it could well be some old fossil fuel burner getting shut down – a far more agreeable outcome.

    At the market price mentioned of about $50/MWh, it’s hard to see how any new capacity of any technology would be built without subsidy – not that it seems they need any.

  19. Quokka, Germany’s installation costs are aproaching $2 a watt for point of use solar. With India’s low labour costs and immense market they will definiately be able to beat that. So even $1.6 billion a gigawatt nuclear power won’t be able to compete with point of use solar as it competes with retail prices, not wholesale prices. Actually, nuclear might not be able to compete with $2 a watt grid only solar farms once insurance, waste disposal, and decomissioning costs are factored in. Just how to think about that is hard as nuclear plants will be built in a poor developing country but decomissioned in a rich developed one.

    Solar can’t produce electricity at night, but as we’ve seen in Germany and Australia it doesn’t take a lot of solar capacity to start pushing down electricty prices during the day and that is very bad for the economics of nuclear power as it’s a high capital cost, low fuel cost source of energy and reducing output during periods of low demand doesn’t do much to reduce costs. The situation is made worse by the fact that India has the cheapest wind power in the world which will also result in periods of low electricity prices.

    You say India needs more dispatchable power. This is true, but per average kilowatt of output, solar is much better at meeting demand than nuclear as it is load following, producing electricity during the day when demand is higher, while nuclear output is as constant as possible and is not dispatchable. Many Indians are installing point of use solar to help cope with an unreliable grid and save fuel costs on diesel generators.

    Now I can see that some people might argue for a kitchen sink approach to meeting electricity demand in India and include nuclear in the mix. But I wouldn’t. Not when I’m sure it won’t be very long before we see $1 a watt installed solar in India and further reductions in the cost of wind power.

  20. I agree that it’s a pity that a low emission source of electricity in the Wisconson reactor is going to be shut down, Quokka, and that it seems likely it could have been saved if the US had a half way reasonable carbon price.

  21. @quokka

    Just what has nuclear failed to deliver?

    Huh? This shows that you have not been listening.

    Everyone should be aware that nuclear has failed to deliver safe power plants, and safe waste disposal. The natural level of background radiation has doubled.

    So what happens if these trends continue. How many doublings can humanity accept, and when you reach this point how do you stop?

    These issues have been so well developed in the past that we must excoriate those who opretend they do not exist and persist in little more than a boring “dialogue of the deaf”.

    Unlike John, I see little hope in solar or wind unless there is a levelling-off in global population (or a decline).

    The only answer is a lower standard of living, or a more-selective standard of living.

  22. @Ronald Brak

    Solar is pushing down German electricity prices? Pull the other leg. The renewables surcharge that consumers pay in Germany is to nearly double next year to over five Euro cents per kWh. That is to support solar and wind that produce about 12% of Germany’s electricity. And the environmental disaster of agricultural biogas made from corn, where Germany “leads” the world.

    Yes merit order effect affects peak demand prices when the sun is shining. Among other things in this mess is that it knocks the wind out of economics of storage ie pumped hydro that would previously have turned a dollar (or Euro) by supplying peak demand.

    The free ride that intermittent generators have had in Europe is not going to continue. It cannot, and this common knowledge.

    Grid supplied electricity is not going away, not now and not in the foreseeable future. The mega cities of today and the even bigger ones of tomorrow are not going to be powered by PV panels on the top of high density housing. If one is seriously interested in decarbonization, ones attention must turn to the grid and not the point of use distraction. It’s by far and away the main game and energy planners in the developing countries whose priorities are other than a political crusade against nuclear power are completely aware of the overriding importance of the grid.

    Nuclear output is dispatchable – how do you think France operates. And if you want it, new nuclear is more dispatchable. The EPR can vary it’s output from 60% to 100% at 5% of rated maximum power per minute while maintaining constant temperature. The new smaller Areva reactor is even better at load following. It is only necessary to go through the tedium of having to repeatedly point this out, because like just anything about nuclear, some people just don’t want to know.

    As for the cost of PV, the current panel market is a mess, there are big inventories and excess capacity. Siemens today announced it is dumping PV. The share price of solar (and wind) ETFs is a bit of a shocker. Pop over to Yahoo finance and have a look at KWT for example. It makes the tech NASDAQ crash look mild. TEPCO may be faring better! The situation is not sustainable and there is going to be a shake out in the PV market. Lets see how prices are in a few years.

  23. @Chris Warren

    The level of background radiation has not doubled or anything like doubled.

    The biggest increase in background radiation levels world wide was during the peak of atmospheric weapons testing during the 1960s raising the level by about 5%. Most of that has now decayed away.

    In some parts of the world, average human radiation dose has almost doubled and that is almost entirely due to medical procedures.

    Go and check some facts.

  24. @Chris Warren

    These issues have been so well developed in the past that we must excoriate those who opretend they do not exist and persist in little more than a boring “dialogue of the deaf”.

    I am reminded of a from quote from a new article by Fred Pearce “Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions?”

    Many environmentalists are imbued with a sense of their own exceptionalism and original virtue.

    to which I might add “leading them to make up their own facts”.

  25. Nuclear power delivers substantial amounts of carbon free energy.
    Nuclear power has prove to be one of the safest forms of electricity.
    Nuclear power can be dispatched and nuclear power plants can be effective load followers.
    Nuclear waste is largely a resource that can be exploited for energy.

  26. May not be so-called “natural level” itself, because there is no natural process to naturally increase this exact item. This is the benchmark.

    The increase is 100% man made – the effect is that individuals (obviously in nuclear regimes – eg US) now receive twice the radiation they did before. It may be higher in the Ukraine and Fukushima.

    Arguing that the increase is “man-made” does not help nuclear pundits one little bit.

  27. As a bonus, the news story I linked destroys Newman’s alibi that it was Gillard’s deal with India that justified his breach of promise. It shows that before the election, Gillard had foreshadowed the policy change, and that Newman’s recommitment was made in response to Gillard.

  28. Okay, the sandpit comments are closed, so I’ll ask it here. Quokka, do you agree that if a nuclear reactor is run at 50% capacity the cost of electricity produced is almost doubled?

  29. It is quite astonishing to see the bizarre degree of excitement that the idea of nuclear power generates in its proponents. I think this excitement occurs largely in older men, say those over 50. This is a generation which grew up in the post WW2 era. The explosive, erupting power of the nuclear weapon was shown in many news clips of the era. A Freudian analyst would have a field day with the implications but I will remain tactfully silent.

    The news and magazines of the era were full of propaganda for the “peaceful atom” and its promise for the future of endless power “too cheap to meter”. Deep in the psyche of these over 50s men, other than those like me who have resisted the nuclear siren’s call, there is a non-rational belief in the endless safe power of nuclear fission and delusions of fusion. It is part of the US led cultural indoctrination of the 50s and 60s which many have failed to overcome.

  30. @Ronald Brak

    That is a complex question and it depends on what you mean by cost. If you mean LCOE the answer is yes, but that is far from the whole story and there is a directly related question of what happens to the LCOE of unreliable renewables when they have to run at less than their maximum possible load factor. The answer is much the same, though IEA sensitivity analysis shows the economics of renewables is even more vulnerable. The UK Climate Change Committee

    So how soon might renewables run into this problem? If solar capacity in Germany doubles, on the best days, at the best times it would satisfy nearly all demand. Something has to give. Would wind have to waste capacity? And this by the time PV generates no more than 10% of Germany’s electricity.

    If you are talking about the price of electricity then things get complicated and the characteristics of the market are very important. If there is a capacity market then there will be capacity payments to nuclear. The pending electricity market reforms in the UK will introduce some sort of capacity market as for some reason they would like to keep the lights on. Of course Greenpeace and co are screaming blue murder but it is inevitable. In what should shock some people these cranks are also campaigning against a floor carbon price.

    In the spot market for electricity, if the renewables have gone AWOL, then nuclear electricity may command a higher price offsetting a lower capacity factor to some extent. Serious modelling required.

    In any case in the UK, the only renewable that has an LCOE competitive with nuclear is on shore wind. Solar is not now and will not be anytime soon, and without some serious cost reductions, neither will be off shore wind.

    All this is getting a wee bit complicated, but do the anti-nukes really want to understand it? Not on your life. They’re decided they don’t like nuclear and peddle any old simplistic nonsense they consider will bolster their case in populist, repetitive fashion. In many cases, the preconceived opposition to nuclear is founded on nonsense, of which we have already seen one example here on this thread, but those examples are absolutely rife.

  31. A telling observation is that countries that are expanding nuclear have high GDP growth rates. I believe China and India are both now in the 5%-10% range for example. Conversely de-nuclearised Germany has ~0% growth. Japan (home of Kyoto) has a chronic trade deficit and increased emissions due to fossil fuel imports and now consumes a third of world LNG. The UK plans more nuclear power and it will be interesting to see if in a decade or so they pick themselves up to become stronger than Germany.

    The perceived gas glut in the US is likely to be short lived. Even in the absence of direct CO2 pricing many in the US caution against over reliance on gas; see recent articles in the Energy Bulletin. When US domestic gas climbs to world prices and the EPA makes life hard for coal burners their nuclear hiatus may pick up again.

  32. “A telling observation is that countries that are expanding nuclear have high GDP growth rates.”

    I think you have causality reversed here.

  33. The article linked @16 includes:

    “Transatomic’s plan is to build a prototype reactor in 5 years, commercialize the technology in 15 years, and have reactors come online by around 2030.”

    Unfortunately, there is no “machine”. Just a plan and an idea. This is exactly the type of thing I mean by pie-in-the-sky. I’d love to have a working safe solution for nuclear waste – but we don’t.

  34. Quokka, so do you agree that while nuclear reactors can be built that can rapidly vary output, which is useful for grid management, being able to quickly vary output does almost nothing to improve the economics of nuclear power? That it makes no economic sense to keep a reactor standing by idle so it can be ramped up to meet an increase in demand?

  35. @Megan

    This is OT, but there actually is a “machine”, it’s called the IFR and having an operational demonstration unit by the end of this decade is absolutely feasible. Billions have already been spent on the R&D by the US government and it is mostly already done. Go to BraveNewClimate and read the presentation to the current World Energy Forum 2012 in Dubai. Among others to endorse the presentation is James Hansen. This may open your eyes to the realistic possibilities.

    There is much, much more to be said on the issue of waste, but this is not the place to say it.

  36. @Ronald Brak

    I agree that any capital intensive electricity generation technology forced to operate at less than maximum achievable load factor due to policy, market or engineering reasons will be placed at a potential economic disadvantage. But the the exact situation is complex and very dependent on policy and market design.

    Who’s the odd man out – gas. Before we embark on a dash for gas, we should be damned sure that it has significant climate benefit. We are not. Doesn’t seem bother Greenpeace.

  37. @quokka

    I don’t regard BNC as a reliable source on anything. The site routinely publishes climate denialists like Peter Lang, and it was a source of spectacularly bad misinformation on Fukushima*. While James Hansen is an excellent climate scientist, I don’t think that gives him any particular credibility on issues of policy design (carbon tax vs permits, for example) or energy economics.

    * In fact, still is. Googling BNC+Fukushima produces this as the top hit
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/13/fukushima-simple-explanation/

  38. @John Quiggin

    Well go to another source on the IFR if you like. Get it from the horses mouth and read Till and Chang’s book. They were, after all, leading scientists in it’s development.

  39. Quokka, so you agree that in practice, per kilowatt-hour of output, solar more closely matches demand than nuclear, particularly in places like India and Australia?

  40. I think a circumspect look at the world’s future energy needs is called for. Some 7 bn people are currently consuming about 15 terawatts which is more than 2 kw per capita. The distribution is highly uneven with some using too much, others too little. However about 12W of that 15 TW comes from burning fossil fuels which will one day run out even if CO2 were not an immediate problem.

    Several Western countries are tearing themselves inside out trying to achieve 20% renewables, often with half of that already coming from last century hydro. Critics are already saying that 20% is too fickle, too costly and a growth killer. Now here comes the huge leap of faith… we want 80% of future energy to come from low carbon sources. Maybe that’s 80% of 20 TW for a fair and just world in the year 2050. Remember that the prime sites for dams and wind farms are mostly taken. Storage of solar energy at least doubles the realtime cost (have at it nitpickers).

    Vehicle propulsion will have to come via electricity even if it is a synthetic hydrocarbon in the case of aviation fuel. Ditto nitrogen fertilisers currently made from natural gas. Extreme weather will require more domestic heating and cooling while cities depend on desalination. If you think this can all be done with wind and solar then submit a plan to a credible forum with numerate participants. Mention upfront if we have to halve our energy use and it involves technology that hasn’t been show to work at scale yet. This exercise is hard if you’ve closed your mind to nukes.

  41. @quokka
    I wasn’t aware Lang had been banned – that’s good news. Unfortunately, his posts on renewable energy are still up on the site, and still seem to inform BNC thinking.

  42. @Hermit “Several Western countries are tearing themselves inside out trying to achieve 20% renewables”

    Australia’s “20 per cent” target for 2020 looks as if it will actually be 25 per cent (because the target is fixed in GWh, and demand is weaker than expected). While there are different views on whether it should be raised or lowered, I haven’t seen anyone suggest that we are “tearing ourselves inside out” to get there. The estimated cost is an increase of around 1c/KWh in the retail price of electricity.

    “Critics are already saying that 20% is too fickle …” The same critics (AIGN for example) have long been saying that climate change is a communist plot.

    Why bother with this nonsense? If the case for nuclear power depends on such obvious silliness, it must be unsustainably weak.

  43. quokka :
    @Ikonoclast
    Geez, you are bordering on the offensive.

    Perhaps I was bordering on it but I thought I did it in a humorous way. I am just amazed by the action that a nuclear thread brings. Just about everyone “goes ballistic” on the topic. There has to be a reason the topic is so fascinating and divisive for people. The reason don’t seem to be in the science or the logic and illogic of various cases people make for or against it. The reason also don’t seem to line up with its actual importance in our power mix (6% of all power use and about 13.5% of electricity production). The reason doesn’t seem to line up with the fact that fission materials are a finite resource too and that harnessing fusion power is still in the never-never. The reason doesn’t line up with the fact that renewables look better if you do the numbers properly.

    Without referring to my previous post’s theory, the general psychological reason for the fascination with and near-worship of nuclear power is that it demonstrates a form of power and domination which seems at once elemental, magical and alchemical. I also think some people like the idea of nuclear power the way they like V8 autos and military hardware. It’s a power fetish.

  44. @John Quiggin
    On checking ACIL Tasman’s report for Tru Energy they appear to agree with the figure of 1-2c per kwh for the RET
    http://www.truenergy.com.au/…/20120905-Achieving-20percent-RET-Fin...

    However I’ll change my language to ‘considerable consternation’ given the vehemence of several key players such as AGL, Tru Energy and Origin. Not saying these firms want the hassle of owning nukes, probably they really want the gas price artificially held down. Given that many believe that 20% is the comfort zone for windpower my point remains there is ‘considerable consternation’ about increasing it past 20% in a growing market. Getting to 80% low carbon under frugal demand by 2050 is going to be way out of the renewables comfort zone and perhaps impractical without nukes.

  45. That’s not a promise, it’s a refusal to make a promise. Fraser identified it as a refusal to make a promise and attacked Newman for it. He said in parliament:

    We have seen that again over the past 24 hours when the LNP leader, Mr Newman, refused to state a position on uranium. All we have heard is weasel words, as he slips and slides. I say to him, it is not kryptonite; it is only uranium. He does not have to melt at the thought of it. He can front up and put forward a view.

    Ref: http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/hansard/2011/2011_11_16_WEEKLY.pdf

  46. @2dogs
    If you insist on the distinction, Newman weaselled his way out of a weaselly pseudo-promise. But why are you making this point? Most political promises have a coded get-out clause of some kind. It doesn’t justify breaking them.

  47. John Q, regarding that closing NPP in Wisconsin, it would be fascinating to see what their power purchase agreement was/is.

    As someone who works in the field its incredible to think that these old written down plant possibly can’t be operated profitably. I would think that must make a good few more of them quite marginal with wind, solar and hydro anywhere nearby as well.

  48. Misleading the public ought to be considered the same as misleading parliament. It ought to be in the constitution.

  49. Ikonoclast Without referring to my previous post’s theory, the general psychological reason for the fascination with and near-worship of nuclear power is that it demonstrates a form of power and domination which seems at once elemental, magical and alchemical. I also think some people like the idea of nuclear power the way they like V8 autos and military hardware. It’s a power fetish.

    Perhaps it might be best to leave the naive armchair pseudo-pscyhology out of this otherwise informative and interesting discussion.

  50. Woops, don’t think I got my formatting tags right in my previous post. I’m not the most fluent at html unfortunately.

  51. @Ikonoclast

    You’ve got the fascination of environmentalists with the benefits of the nuclear power exactly reversed. It is the attraction of the very small – the binding energy of the nucleus. From this near quantum scale phenomena flow huge potential benefits. You only need a relatively small amount of stuff – a relatively small amount of materials, a relatively small amount of waste and a relatively small amount of land to generate lots of energy. In environmental matters, small is indeed beautiful as there is definitely a correlation between the amount of stuff used and environmental harm – even if considerable effort is made to do the right thing.

    CO2 is perhaps the ultimate example. It it generally pretty benign stuff, but the sheer volume of emissions is what causes the problem. Air pollution is again a problem of scale. Deforestation is a problem of scale. Ocean acidification is a problem of scale. Urban sprawl is a problem of scale and energy sprawl is a problem of scale. In all these cases on small scale, they have limited consequences. It’s the scale that matters.

    The Guardian, recently ran a story in the normally breathless fashion about how tidal power over 1,000 kms of the UK coastline could supply 11% of the UK’s electricity consumption. 1000 kms! The same amount of energy is produced by multi unit nuclear power plants on about 1km of coastline. Post Fukushima, regulators may insist on greater separation of multi-units, so call that three kms in the future. If you need some more energy in the future, grab another km of coast line for nuclear. Not so easy grabbing another few hundred more km with tidal. The disproportion of scale is stark. However you look at it, 1000kms of tidal power is bringing a level of industrialization on large scale to an environment that was not previously so afflicted.

    The disproportion is stark between any renewable technology and nuclear. About 500 sq km of on-shore wind is equal to a single EPR reactor.

    I have fundamental disagreement with “greens” who think humans are going to live in harmony with nature. Humans don’t do nature well. In fact they go to great effort not to do nature, because nature is uncomfortable and frequently brutal.

    The most we can hope for is that humans make a bigger effort to be “compact” allowing substantial space for natural ecosystems on the planet. Without that a great extinction event is completely inevitable.

    If nuclear power allows humans to be “compact” in energy, then why not grab that opportunity with both hands?

    As a footnote, the world economy could grow ten fold or more this century. The lowest growth scenario in IPCC SRES is more than five fold. What then? Will there be any coastline left that hasn’t been industrialized, how many sq kms under wind farms and on and on. I don’t like this vision one bit – this is my notion of dystopia.

  52. Oh, and don’t get me started on growing crops for biomass. It’s the worst of the worst. Just nuts.

  53. It is reported that there is money in kitty for decommissioning the Wisconsin NPP and it is fully funded. As far as I am aware this is true in general for US NPPs.

  54. @quokka

    There have barely been any decommissionings and all well over budget. There was an NRC report a few years ago telling off the NPP operators for STILL not having enough decommissioning funds.

    Part of the motivation of running the plants longer is to continue to build the needed decomissioning funds – all in shortfall – paid for by customers who will pay again for this economically failed technology.

  55. @quokka

    Your “nuclear is small” and 1000km straw men are a bit bizzare.

    Asbestos mining has a “small” footprint and Port Augusta, Hazelwood and Yoy Lang make up 1000km of coal power stations.

  56. @Pete Moran

    The NRC letter was to the operators of about a quarter of US reactors.

    Customers pay a levy of $0.001 – $0.002 /kWh that goes into decommissioning fund. Upping that a bit is not going to break the bank.

    Germany is to nearly double the levy that consumers pay on their electricity bill to supply renewables. It will be EUR 0.052 / kWh.

    Looks like that US nuclear customers paying at most $0.003 / kWh for decommissioning and spent fuel fund are doing pretty well. But lets be conservative and make it $0.005. It’s still less than a tenth of what Germans are paying for renewables. But it gets worse, because that German levy buys only 20% renewable electricity. Scaling that up, US nuclear customers are paying a technology specific levy for low emission electricity that is 2% of what Germans are paying. Hmmm…..

    But the real value of nuclear is the emissions saved. Here’s a challenge that will shock you. Find the total nuclear electricity ever generated, put a price on carbon – say the $23 carbon tax -, assume nuclear has displaced black coal. To be fair assume that emissions savings from older nuclear are not as good as today because of issues such as gas diffusion enrichment. Say nuclear has saved on average 700 g/Kwh. Do the sums. The figure will be enormous.

    It’s time claims of ” economically failed technology” were put under the microscope.

  57. Pete Moran :
    @quokka
    There have barely been any decommissionings and all well over budget. There was an NRC report a few years ago telling off the NPP operators for STILL not having enough decommissioning funds.
    Part of the motivation of running the plants longer is to continue to build the needed decomissioning funds – all in shortfall – paid for by customers who will pay again for this economically failed technology.

    Pete Moran :
    @quokka
    Your “nuclear is small” and 1000km straw men are a bit bizzare.

    @Pete Moran

    I don’t see why. It’s a perfectly valid comparison. If you’d like another UK example, the Severn Barrage has reared it head it the UK again. I expect it to get cut off because it’s too expensive but there is another consideration. Large areas of the Severn are covered by the Ramsar Convention. This treaty is intended to protect wetland habitat of migratory shore birds whose numbers are in severe decline worldwide. It is the only international treaty to protect a specific type of habitat.

    There are those who are perfectly happy to throw Ramsar under the bus, and yell “NIMBY” at those who think this is not such a great idea at all. The point is that such sites are even being considered at such an early stage of renewables when non-hydro renewables constitute such a tiny portion of world energy supply. What would happen at high deployment rates when we are really scratching around to find where the next kWh is to come from?

    As for Hazelwood and Yoy Lang, of course they don’t occupy 1000 km, but how much coal do they burn in a day and how much uranium does even a current LWR “burn” in a day on a once through fuel cycle? Advanced closed fuel nuclear would reduce even that relatively small amount by a very large percentage.

    It’s a bit opaque, but I presume that you are trying to make is the toxicity of asbestos. But the point about asbestos is that it was once completely uncontrolled. Nuclear materials have never been uncontrolled though there has certainly been some sloppy work in the past. Things have improved and will continue to improve. Has anybody at all ever been killed by, for example, spent nuclear fuel?

  58. quokka :
    @Pete Moran
    US nuclear customers are paying a technology specific levy for low emission electricity that is 2% of what Germans are paying. Hmmm…..

    US customers paying for decommissioning are effectively paying a sunk cost.

    German’s paying a renewable energy levy are effectively making an investment.

    quokka :
    @Pete Moran
    It’s time claims of ”economically failed technology” were put under the microscope.

    Sure it is, that’s why next-to-nothing is happening in new development practically outside of China and with reactors being switched off in Germany, their wholesale electricity prices have fallen lower than the French now for twelve straight months. Looks like renewables have the price argument covered.

  59. Hi Quokka. You didn’t get back to me if you agree that in practice the output of solar more closely matches demand than the output of solar, particularly in places like India and Australia.

  60. @Ronald Brak

    Your question is ill defined, but ever if it were better defined it carries with it an assumption that such a relationship is the overriding metric on which to base decisions. I consider it a “point scoring” approach.

    However if you wish to make some such point, then better define what you are doing, get the Australian electricity production data from AEMO (half hourly data for all power stations is available), get solar irradiance data from the BOM and go for it.

    As security of supply is a very important metric, you might also like to suggest notional electricity supplies – one PV with storage and one nuclear with storage. Assume a zero cost, “metal plate” grid. Requirement is to security of supply as good as today. How much storage in each case, and what would it all cost.

  61. Quokka, is that a yes, a no, or an I don’t know? I can make the question simpler if you like: Which better matches Indian demand, nuclear power or solar power?

  62. Sorry to appear pedantic – but let’s say the US raises $Xbillion from a levy for spent fuel.

    There still is no solution that makes nuclear waste “safe”.

  63. @Megan

    Spent fuel is “safe” because it is managed. In fact it has been shown to be safe by the absence of harm that it has done to humans or to other life. There are many toxic industrial chemicals and their management has been far less careful than that of nuclear materials and the consequence of that have in some situations been disastrous. Toxic chemicals are used in the manufacture of PV panels and have caused fatalities. That in itself is not a reason to shun PV, but it is a reason to up safety standards. And I hardly need mention the vast amounts of completely uncontrolled waste emitted by burning fossil fuels.

    The key characteristic of spent nuclear fuel is as I alluded to above, is that relatively speaking, there is not much of it. And it is this that makes it manageable.

    I agree that the procrastination of the US federal government in getting on with the business of using the $25+ billion in the spent fuel fund to set a proper long term waste management facility falls well short of discharging their responsibility. But that is a political problem not an engineering problem. Whether Yucca Mountain was the best option may be debatable, but it was a quite workable option. The US nuclear industry has for years been beating on the door of the federal government to get on with it.

    In the view of many people, the best option is to recycle spent nuclear fuel, greatly reducing the amount of long lived waste, and producing a waste stream that requires isolation for only a few hundred years rather than tens of thousands. This is what the Integral Fast Reactor does. And “anybody” can have one if they wish by approaching GE-Hitachi. The reactor is called the PRISM and combined with pyroprocessing technology for recycling spent fuel it is called the Advanced Recycling Center. This is definitely not pie in the sky. The R&D was done over decades and full scale engineering design is done. Those who believe that spent fuel poses a very long term hazard should logically fully support PRISM, because it destroys the long lived radionuclides – permanently.

  64. I should add that GE-Hitachi are offering the PRISM to the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority for disposal of the UK’s plutonium stockpile. The commercial terms reportedly include payment per kg of plutonium disposed of. That would seem to indicate a high degree of confidence in the design.

  65. @quokka

    All true … and one might add that in footprint terms, using once-used radioactive fuel residue is about as “low footprint” as producing power gets. No further mining is needed and in safety terms, the ultimate waste stream is in practical terms useless for weaponisation.

    Given that one of the issues raised by opponents of the inclusion of nuclear power plants in the energy mix is the existing stockpile of hazmat one might think a technology that didn’t add to hazmat stockpiles and made existing stockpiles less hazardous would be appealing, especially if it could generate low-footprint power.

    Australia would be an excellent place to develop and implement this technology, particularly as Australia is a supplier of uranium and really ought to be taking rsponsibility for its waste. Regrettably, the arrangement of our politics makes this implausible in the foreseeable future.

  66. @ Fran Barlow & @ Quokka

    Putting to one side that PRISM and GenIV are complete vapourware, and that (for example) Barry Brook and friends are presenting a paper/strategy to accelerate development so that a FOAK plant might be “gifted” to the UK in 2020, there remains a huge problem.

    The mass of once-through fuel represents an efficiency of about 1% which the PRISM/GenIV is supposed to correct yes? In terms of “solving” the problem of the current waste-load it is ineffectual as it will “consume” it so slowly at massive cost. In 100 years time, even a fleet of these things (at an absurd cost) will have hardly made a dent on the waste problem.

    I think the US DoE was right to stop wasting money on this program, hence GE/Hitachi have moved on to the UK to see if they can consume some taxpayer dollars there.

  67. @Pete Moran

    The mass of once-through fuel represents an efficiency of about 1% which the PRISM/GenIV is supposed to correct yes? In terms of “solving” the problem of the current waste-load it is ineffectual as it will “consume” it so slowly at massive cost. In 100 years time, even a fleet of these things (at an absurd cost) will have hardly made a dent on the waste problem.

    You’re missing the point.

    1. I don’t accept that the cost would be absurd. Once we’ve got some at commercial scale, there will be a better basis for claiming one way or another. If the cost makes it unfeasible, I’m OK with puttng the plans on ice. As things stand though, it’s unclear.

    2. If the cost of this technology produces energy at a cost comparable with other clean energy, and can do so for hundreds of years and at a comparable or better ecoservice footprint to our other least noxious technologies then I’m for doing it. If part of that is a slow drawdown of the pile of otherwise harmful waste, then that’s fabulous. Unless there is some other technology that could perform better at this job AND at producing energy at the same quality and cost, why wouldn’t that be good?

  68. As I said way up the thread, a solution to nuclear waste would be a great thing. But apart from ideas and plans nothing exists yet in practice.

    ‘Bloomberg’ reports another plan that COULD work, this time it’s laser beams:

    “The European Union will spend about 700 million euros ($900 million) to build the world’s most powerful lasers, technology that could destroy nuclear waste and provide new cancer treatments.”

    Once we have a real live operating and safe way to dispose of the waste then we can have the discussion about the wisdom of creating more of the stuff.

  69. @Pete Moran

    Till and Chang estimate the cost of the reactor portion of IFR as similar to current PWRs. There are some plus and minus’s on the cost front. The IFR runs at near atmospheric pressure so the reactor vessel has lower requirements, and the demands put on the containment structure are far less. There may be savings in safety systems because of the passive safety of the IFR (station blackout cannot cause core damage). There may be some increased costs due to the higher operating temperature with more expensive materials and fabrication techniques.

    Pyroprocessing is adapted from existing industrial processes and the use of metal rather than oxide or nitride fuel simplifies reprocessing and fabrication of IFR fuel. There are extra processes involved in recycling LWR fuel.

    An IFR generates electricity, so even at a cost a bit greater than PWR, it’s deployment could well be justified economically.

    Of course, we need to build some to find out for sure, but there does not seem an intrinsic reason why IFR should be substantially more expensive than current technologies.

  70. Of course, you could always combine solutions and see what happens!

    “Natural gas giant Chesapeake Energy has been given permission to drill for natural gas via hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” one mile away from the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, according to multiple reports.”

  71. @ Fran Barlow

    The cost of conventional nuclear is already prohibative, this more so and it really doesn’t address the waste issue terribly well at all, being so slow to process it.

    The US DoE giving up on this technology says a lot.

    @ Quokka

    There’s also an issue the Japanese discovered having driven a forklift over the reactor lid of their test-version. The sodium “coolant” flash ignites on air contact. Ever present human error and UNSINKABLE thinking are very commonly heard with regards GenIV.

    The Union of Concerned Scientists think its a pipedream distraction (both technically and economically) from solutions we could and should be getting on with right now.

    If we need a massive financial push to get near having a testable version for 2020 (rather than 2050) we’ve run out of time and diverted valuable monies.

  72. @quokka

    Spent fuel is “safe” because it is managed. In fact it has been shown to be safe by the absence of harm that it has done to humans or to other life.

    This is disinformation.

    It is also irrelevant as the issue with waste is NOT what it is today, but what threats it imposes on the future.

    There is no “safe” level for exposure to ionising radiation – just a level at which the effects are equal to natural the background level.

    In any case if spent fuel was safe-if-managed, why do we need a nuke dump in isolated territories such as on Aboriginal land. Choosing such sites indicates that the necessary management is not practicable in the long term.

    If waste is safe-if-managed, why not store it in the cavernous basement of Parliament House/

  73. @Chris Warren

    In any case if spent fuel was safe-if-managed, why do we need a nuke dump in isolated territories such as on Aboriginal land. Choosing such sites indicates that the necessary management is not practicable in the long term.

    Because large numbers of people believe FUD. People by and large don’t understand how radiation works and have it under the heading of “invisible and insidious killer”. (Tellingly, people still think they can get away with sunbathing and smoking. It’s amusing how they can compartmentalise).

    Putting it out of sight and out of mind a long way from everyone most city dwellers are bothered about and away from places media organisations are able to sustain reporters makes political sense.

    If waste is safe-if-managed, why not store it in the cavernous basement of Parliament House/

    I’d have no problem with that in principle.

  74. @Pete Moran

    The cost of conventional nuclear is already prohibative

    What is this – proof by repetition? Go to any authoritative source – EIA, IEA, UK CCC and DECC and the claim is unsupportable. The only non-hydro renewable that may be cheaper than new nuclear is onshore wind and even then cost is region and resource dependent. The cost of wind power in Germany where it achieves only about an 18% capacity factor must be higher than in the UK where they get about 26%. The US, I believe, achieves a little better.

    Already on this thread, I showed that claims about the “prohibitive” cost of Indian nuclear power had little basis and the levies on nuclear power generation in the US for decommissioning and spent fuel management to be small fraction of the renewables levy in Germany

    A few months ago, in an exchange with Prof Q, I showed that the cost of new offshore wind in the UK to be higher than the FOAK, over time and over budget, EPR at Olkiluoto in Finland.

    Sorry, but it is time to stand and deliver on claims of “prohibitive” nuclear costs.

  75. Quokka, you said that the Kudamkulam reactors cost $1,600 a kilowatt. At a 5% discount rate that gives a cost of about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour before the costs of insurance, waste disposal, and decomissioning are added on. At the same discount rate, $2 a watt solar produces electricity in India at about 8 cents a kilowatt-hour. As point of use solar competes at retail prices and not wholesale prices, this certainly makes it look as though point of use solar is cheaper than nuclear in India, especially when the costs of insurance etc. for nuclear are included.

    Of course, the appropriate discount rate to use might be different, and the marginal costs of nuclear may be particularly low in India. But I notice that phase III and IV of the Kudamkulam complex are projected to cost twice as much as the price you gave for the first two reactors. And I’m sure that before phase III and IV can be completed solar will be installed in India for $1 a watt.

    And of course point of use solar is cheaper than new nuclear in developed countries. In Australia it outcompetes coal and gas.

  76. Thank you Ronald Brak.

    Only the most absurdist nuclear proponents are continuing to claim the sector is economic.

    Even frightful Peter Lang has conceeded here

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/10/15/open-thread-19/#comment-138650

    and here

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/10/15/open-thread-19/#comment-138651

    Nuclear power (baseload by definition) in Australia would be 4-7x times the current NEM wholesale baseload price.

    In the UK, the current proponents of the first NPP in the UK since the 1970s are looking to have the government guarantee 100-140 pound sterling MWh returns which would be at least 4 times the current wholesale.

  77. @Ronald Brak

    Yes, India is going to get rid of that horrible old fashioned thing called the electricity grid and be powered wholly by point of use PV – or not.

    Nuclear is not competing with point of use PV – it is competing with baseload coal capacity. That’s the real world, not the imaginings of bloggers.

    Point of use PV is not going to stop expansion of coal capacity in India. The only realistic alternative to baseload coal is nuclear.

    Your attempt to prove that nuclear has “prohibitive” cost, doesn’t get past first base. I’ll go to authoritative sources, and you should too.

  78. Coincidentally, just read a story at “japantoday.com” under the headline: “TEPCO struggling to find somewhere to store contaminated water”.

    One of the comments was: “I’m sick of reading beat-ups like this”. Beat-ups???

    Here are some bits:

    “About 200,000 tons of radioactive water—enough to fill more than 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools—are being stored in hundreds of gigantic tanks built around the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co has already chopped down trees to make room for more tanks and predicts the volume of water will more than triple within three years.

    “It’s a pressing issue because our land is limited and we would eventually run out of storage space,” the water-treatment manager, Yuichi Okamura, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview this week.

    TEPCO is close to running a new treatment system that could make the water safe enough to release into the ocean. But in the meantime, its tanks are filling up—mostly because leaks in reactor facilities are allowing ground water pour in.

    Some of the water ran into the ocean, raising concerns about contamination of marine life and seafood. Waters within a 20-kilometer zone are still off-limits, and high levels of contamination have been found in seabed sediment and fish tested in the area.

    Goto, the nuclear engineer, believes it will take far longer than TEPCO’s goal of two years to repair all the holes in the reactors. The plant also would have to deal with contaminated water until all the melted fuel and other debris is removed from the reactor—a process that will easily take more than a decade. …”

    So here we have a real life example of radioactive nuclear waste causing real harm now. These ‘pie-in-the-sky’ plans to somehow treat and contain as much of the contaminated water as they can will take “decades”. Even then, all they will achieve is putting as much of the nuclear waste genie as possible back into temporary storage – like before – because we have no real life working solution for it.

    And even then, notice how the re-processing of the water COULD work.

    Pro-nukers: please get one of your magical ideas up and running at a practical real world scale ASAP. We’re all in the same boat and you can’t just sink your half and expect our half to remain float.

  79. @Fran Barlow

    As soon as nuclear pundits resort to bottom-of-the-barrel claims of FUD, you know they have no where else to go. This is exactly the same woefully ignorant as Barry Brooks mates all chorused during Fukushima.

    So what if we tag nukes as FUD – this just means we are avoiding a lot of little:

    Fukushimas Under Development (‘FUD’).

    Future Urban Disaster (‘FUD’).

    Barry Brooks’ (and others) FUD cries are false and are unbecoming even for nicotine and climate denial scientists. They are all false prophets and false Lords.

  80. Quokka, the question I asked was how will nuclear power compete with solar in India? Not, how will India power itself entirely with solar PV? This isn’t a game of Sim City where we start with no generating capacity. You see, it works like this, because of an unreliability of grid power, because it saves money on electricity bills, or because there is no electricity grid, people purchase point of use solar. Also, as India has or had the cheapest solar installation in the world state utilities may find it profitable to invest in grid only solar, such as in Gurjurat. As more solar is installed, and as the grid presumably spreads to areas currently powered by solar, the price of electricity is pushed down during the day. This is bad for the economics of n

  81. Somehow, managed to hit submit when my last comment was only half done. No matter, I’ll continue on:

    Solar power pushing down the price of electricity during the day is very bad for the economics of nuclear power and it doesn’t take a lot of solar capacity for this to occur, as we’ve seen here in Australia. Nuclear power produces electricity during the day, so solar competes with it. And of course, as we can see in Australia, solar power competes with coal and gas.

    Quokka, you appear to think that baseload power plants are necessary. You also told me to use authoritative sources. Well, I used you for my source on the cost of the Kudamkulam reactors, and for as for baseload generating capacity not being necessary, as my authoritative source I’ll use reality. South Australia recently spent several months without any baseload generating capacity operating and we did not miss it. We were able to shut down all baseload generating capacity because of wind and solar. (Did I mention India has the cheapest wind power in the world?) Solar competes with baseload power, as does wind, and can eliminate the need for it. As South Australia’s remaining coal power capacity is now seasonal load following, baseload power has been eliminated in that state.

  82. @Ronald Brak

    I see, you claim that the use of PV will favor coal over nuclear. Apparently it wasn’t working well enough in Germany (and it is disingenuious to claim that this has not always been the German Greens strategy) so they just shut the nuclear plants down anyway. Good work. The Guardian reports today that Europe has had a bumper year of coal consumption as also has the rest of the world. Coal consumption worldwide has risen monotonically on a yearly basis for more than a decade. Do coal or do nuclear.

    In any case, it’s all a bit irrelevant to India anyway where they will do coal and nuclear. The only question being how much coal and how much nuclear. India has about 1 GWp of utility PV installed with a target of 20 GWp by 2020. In a country of over a billion people, it’s pretty small beer.

  83. @ Quokka

    What you say about coal in Europe is false, especially Germany. Coal’s % share of electricity production in Germany has fallen every year since 2007. In real terms the quantity of coal consumption is stable.

    The EU recently released preliminary figures indicating EU countries were on track to meet their 2020 Kyoto commitments, and of course Germany (and others) plan to go beyond that. In other words, real reductions in absolute CO2, carbon intensity and emissions per person. No new expensive nuclear has been added to achieve this.

    With regards India, nuclear power (or any baseload for that matter) for the majority of Indians (mostly rural) is a cruel joke. It represents an enormous waste of scare financial resources building the necessary infrastucture to create the baseload mistake.

  84. Quokka, you seem confused. If you look back at what I wrote you’ll see that I did not promulgate the theory that PV favours coal over nuclear. Instead I pointed out that solar competes with both coal and nuclear and I mentioned that solar helped eliminate baseload generation in South Australia. And that was coal baseload generation, not nuclear.

    I’ll try to explain myself clearly in point form:

    1. The cost of installing small scale solar PV in Germany is approaching $2 a watt. India has much lower labour costs and so will be able to install solar at a considerably lower price than Germany.

    2. Point of use solar is already becoming popular in India as a way to save on diesel for generators that are used during what are often daily power cuts. India could end most power cuts by greatly raising electricity prices, but is unlikely to do this and if they did it would reduce the amount of money solar saves on diesel but increase the amount of money solar saves on electricity bills.

    3. About 300 million Indians have no access to grid electricity and solar is often their only source of electricity. There is a massive market for solar power in India which will drive low cost installation.

    4. As solar capacity increases it will drive down the cost of electricity during the day as it has in Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc. A 1% solar penetration is enough for this effect to be seen.

    5. As the price of electricity is driven down during the day, it will reduce the attractiveness of investing in powerplants that provide baseload power. These types of plants include nuclear plants.

    6. As a result, less nuclear plants will be built and there won’t be a large Indian market for Australian uranium.

    And I will mention that India has a large hydroelectric sector and hydroelectricity works very well in conjunction with wind and solar.

    In there anything you disagree with in the above points Quokka? For example, do you doubt that solar can be installed for $2 a watt or less in India? Or that solar lowers daytime electricity prices? Or that solar capacity is rapidly expanding in India? If you could challenge my thinking on specifics I would enjoy that.

  85. I bought a crappy solar/dynamo torch/radio from Aldi about three years ago.

    It can also run on batteries, but I have never put any in because the idea was to have a camping radio/emergency torch which didn’t need batteries.

    The old camping ‘trannie’ used about $5 of batteries every few months. I haven’t worked out what the power-point rechargeable batteries worked out at, but they cost a fair bit and obviously needed FF 240V to charge.

    The crappy solar radio cost about $30. It has only ever been charged from the sun (or very occasionally by winding the dynamo when the charge died late at night). By my rough reckoning we are already about $10 ahead and the thing is going strong.

    All it takes is a bit of planning so you leave the radio out in the sun for as long as possible.

  86. @Ronald Brak

    You seem to be under the delusion that India (or any other country) are going to persist with electricity market mechanisms that are guaranteed to ensure insecurity of supply. They will not. Capacity in an electricity market has economic value and there will without a shadow of a doubt be mechanisms that ensure payment for that. It’s not just about LCOE. Those mechanisms may be a capacity market or long term power purchase agreements or whatever, but it is absolutely guaranteed that there will be some such mechanisms. Watch what the UK does with it’s electricity market reforms.

    Security and stability of supply most definitely has an economic value and it will be priced.

  87. It is perfectly obvious to me that the “baseload myth” crowd have not comprehended the scale of the issues with intermittent renewables. Germany produces about 8% of it’s electricity from wind power. Already it is causing serious problems by dumping excess power from wind onto it’s central European neighbours and they are getting cranky about it, as it is threatening to cause blackouts:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-25/windmills-overload-east-europe-s-grid-risking-blackout-energy.html

    These problems will increase far faster than linearly with increasing intermittent generators. Solvable? Possibly, but at what cost and even more importantly, how long will it take. There is absolutely no question that it will slow the deployment of these technologies and an all renewable supply (other than with lots of hydro) is a pipe dream for the foreseeable future. It’s just not a realistic proposition. It would be well to consider the climate implications of that reality.

  88. @ Quokka

    The “renewables de-stablise the baseload grid!” lie is the Break Glass In Emergency “argument” of the fossil-nuke cabal.

    We even have a successful example in South Australia of high penetration wind power, up to 30% with plans to press on to 35%.

  89. Quokka, are you trying to say that solar in India will make their electricity supply less secure? A technology that people are installing precisely because electricity supply is not stable in India? How does solar make India’s electricity supply less secure? If Kumari Batachargee installs a solar PV system on her roof just how does that make India’s electricity supply less secure? Are you saying that solar power is not load following in India?

  90. Quokka, are you in Australia? I ask, because you write things that are directly contradicted by current Australian reality. You say that 8% wind penetration is a serious problem in Germany when South Australia gets about a third of its electricity from wind and solar. When the cost of intergrating wind power in South Australia is less than the reduction in electricity prices it has resulted in. When I am getting an 8.1% cut in my electricity bill starting next year here in South Australia thanks to wind and solar pushing electricity prices down. When South Australia’s electricity supply is now more secure and less likely to suffer summertime blackouts thanks to solar. And when South Australia’s hydroelectric capacity is a whopping big 1.9 megawatts. So I ask, just how does installing solar, an electricity source that is load following, make electricity supply less secure?

  91. @Ronald Brak

    PV is NOT load following – that is just absurd. SA is NOT Germany and SA is NOT India. Capacity factor of wind in SA is I believe. over 30%, in Germany just 18% and worldwide about 23%. PV in Germany has a capacity factor of what? About 11%. The lower the capacity factor the greater the problems. SA is a tiny market, relatively speaking, and with a tiny population density. Need I go?

  92. @Ronald Brak

    Not it is your argument that PV will make electricity generation less secure because a purported low LCOE will make it uneconomic to run reliable baseload plant of which the only realistic options are coal and nuclear. And I’m telling you that policy will not allow that situation to develop to an extent that it compromises security of supply because PV cannot deliver in that area.

    India has many problems with electricity supply, including shortage of baseload capacity, shortage of peaking capacity, grid deficiencies, widespread theft of electricity etc etc. India will move to improve matters and not rely on individuals to fire diesel generators or install PV when the lights go out. PV may well be a very useful tool to deal with higher daytime demand, but that does not mean that there will not be more coal and nuclear and it it pure fantasy to suggest otherwise. It is a classic case of people believing what they want to believe.

  93. So Quokka, are you saying that if solar power became very cheap, no one would build any generating capacity to supply electricity when the sun isn’t shining in India? That Indians would just sit in the dark saying, “If only solar power hadn’t become so cheap we would have electricity to watch Saathiya Saath Nibhana on TV, but because of solar’s low cost there is now no electricity after sundown.” That seems rather unlikely to me.

  94. Hitachi has bought the Horizon nuclear power sites in the UK. Looks like the UK will be getting some boiling water reactors, probably ABWRs. They are a large reactor. If the UK manages to get about 16 new large reactors built by the end of the 2020’s (which the Climate Change Committee described as “not challenging”), that combined with on and off shore wind may well see a genuinely low emission electricity supply by 2030. This is a very sensible policy, and one that I think will be closely watched internationally.

    I believe the full details of the electricity market reforms will be made public soon, including transparent nuclear costs.

  95. @ quokka

    “including transparent nuclear costs”

    That’s a joke right? EDF have been reported (Bloomberg) as asking for £100-140MWh. Now that Hitachi have arrived and the UK govt can likely play one off against the other they’re hoping to set the strike price at a rumoured £85MWh which will likely make the projects borderline. Even then £85MWh is ~175% of the current wholesale.

    That would already be dearer than wind, and will be dearer than est 2015 solar-PV (even in low CF UK).

    This is going to be massive failure by the denier Tories who have simultaneously worked to make renewable projects harder and gas access/use easier. Truely a superb example of the fossil-nuke cabal in action.

  96. @Pete Moran

    Those numbers were nothing other than pure speculation, and in fact categorically denied at the time by EDF.

    The UK Climate Change Committee’s “Renewable Energy Review”, drawing on multiple sources gave these figures:

    2011
    —–
    On-shore wind: 8.0-9.5 p/kWh
    Off-shore wind: 11.0-15.5 p/kWh
    PV: 31.5-46 p/kWh
    Nuclear: 6-10 p/kWh
    Unabated gas: 4-7.5 p/kWh

    2020:
    —–
    On-shore wind: 7.5-9.0 p/kWh
    Off-shore wind: 11.0-15.5 p/kWh
    PV: 17.5-33 p/kWh
    Nuclear: 5.5-10 p/kWh
    Unabated gas: 5-11 p/kWh

    2030:
    —–
    On-shore wind: 7.0-8.5 p/kWh
    Off-shore wind: 8.5-13.5 p/kWh
    PV: 11-25 p/kWh
    Nuclear: 5.0-10 p/kWh
    Unabated gas: 5-14 p/kWh

    It is not very honest to compare cost of new nuclear to current wholesale price of electricity without also comparing that of other technologies for new build.

    It is perfectly clear from the CCCs assessment that nuclear is likely to be competitively priced with only unabated gas being definitely cheaper – at this time.

    The CCCs figures are broadly in line with other authoritative sources, and endless repetition of memes about nuclear cost is not going to change that.

    We shall see shortly what the actual costs for Hinckley C are, and until such time, I place zero credence in politically motivated internet speculation.

  97. One hundred pounds per megawatt-hour would come to a wholesale price of 15.5 cents a kilowatt-hour. If they settle for 85 pounds per megawatt-hour that would come to about 13 cents a kilowatt-hour. That’s about what point of use solar now costs in Germany. How embarrassing! Looking at these figures it’s hard not to conclude that the nuclear industry is either unable to build a reactor that provides low cost electricity, or for some reason has decided not to.

  98. @Ronald Brak

    You are seriously claiming the CCCs figures demonstrate nuclear is “too expensive”? You have a bad dose of denial.

    As for point of use solar in Germany, get back to me when it generates as much low emission electricity as the nuclear capacity that has recklessly been shut down or is on death row.

    I an quite aware of the NREL LCOE calculator. Also on that page is a link to the transparent energy costs data base, go there and go to the LCOE tab. The numbers are similar to the CCCs. As are the IEA’s, the EIA’s DECC’s etc etc.

    It is quite plain to me that stopping nuclear power has a higher priority than avoiding dangerous climate change for some people. Time to be be honest, and stop the ridiculous claims about economics of nuclear power which are quite plainly shown to have little basis.

  99. @ Quokka

    “As for point of use solar in Germany, get back to me when it generates as much low emission electricity as the nuclear capacity….”

    Germany is on track to generate MORE electricity this year from PV than previously supplied by nuclear. The only argument you have is WHEN it is generated, not quantity.

    On that front, the Germans appear to be managing perfectly fine.

    “It is quite plain to me that stopping nuclear power has a higher priority than avoiding dangerous climate change for some people.”

    No, I don’t want to see money wasted on “too-cheap-to-meter” which is in an expensive terminal decline, distracting from community acceptable alternatives that have very broad support.

    (Sorry to jump in Ronald).

  100. @Ronald Brak

    Even using his own figures – the cost advantage for nuclear is not worth the risks.

    Sensible public policy would ensure that nuclear plants are banned.

    The reason there is so much frantic fervor for nukes is that a nuclear plant can monopolise energy production, and can be somewhat cheaper if long run impacts are excluded from consideration.

    So this should be the end of the line on this issue.

  101. Well yes, Chris, my arguement was that with the figures Quokka gave for the Kudamalam reactors nuclear will have a hard time competing with solar because solar will result in lower daytime electricity prices. Quokkas arguements against this so far appear to have been:

    1. Use an authorative source. This was after I had used figures he’s given.
    2. Solar will result in more coal use. This was after I had pointed out that solar competes with coal.
    3. Solar will decrease grid security. Apparently if solar is cheap Indians won’t bother to build any capacity to meet demand after the sun goes down. Personally I don’t think that this is the case.
    4. Baseload generating capacity is necessary but no explanation of why.
    5. Wind power apparently has something to do with solar not being competitive, but I’m afraid I don’t really understand his point.
    6. And finally I’m biased, which, since I used the figures he provided, suggests that Quokka is biased as well.

    So I can’t say that I’ve been convinced that solar won’t be competitive with nuclear in India. Some things that could convince me that the expansion of Indian nuclear will larger than I expect would be:

    1. Evidence that it is not possible to build cheap solar in India. But since India already has or had the cheapest installed solar in the world, this seems most unlikely.
    2. Lloydes of London or a similar reputable group agreeing to (partly) insure nuclear at a cost of around one cent a kilowatt-hour or less.
    3. Bill Gates or other wealthy individuals donating billions to build free Indian nuclear reactors.

  102. @Pete Moran

    Germany is on track to generate MORE electricity this year from PV than previously supplied by nuclear. The only argument you have is WHEN it is generated, not quantity.

    No it isn’t. You are just making stuff up. According to the IEA July Monthly Electricity Stats, the 2012 year to date figures were

    Nuclear: 51,975 GWh
    Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Other: 46,812 GWh

    And that with a large portion of nuclear capacity arbitrarily shut down. In 2010, nuclear generated 133,149 GWh.

    Wind generates at least twice as much electricity as PV in Germany.

    Your claim is wildly inaccurate.

  103. @ Quokka

    Yes, you are correct. I apologise. That was my poor translation from Fraunhofer Institute’s monthly reports (to Oct 2012).

    They say renewables (aided especially by continuing strong growth in PV installation) is on track to account for MORE gross electricity generation than the OPERATING nuclear capacity in 2012.

  104. Ronald Brak :
    Quokka, can you give us the names of some nuclear power plants built in developed countries in the last ten years and their cost?

    Why don’t you DYOR research for a change?

    Sth Korea is an OECD country. Their typical build time from first concrete to commercial operation is less than five years. IEA 2010 “Projected Cost of Generating Electricity” reported LCOE for OPR-1000 (Generation II design) as $32-48/kWh at 5% and 10% discount rates respectively. And for the APR-1400 (Generation III design) $29-42.

    How do they manage this? Building standardized designs backed by long term vision and policy.

  105. @Chris Warren

    Even using his own figures – the cost advantage for nuclear is not worth the risks.

    Thank you for stating an honest position. But consider why others are banging on about costs, rather than demonstrating a similar degree of honesty.

  106. So, doing my own research, I see that South Korean households now pay over 120 won per kilowatt-hour or about 11 cents Australian. I assume that South Korea will be able to install solar as cheaply as Germany and looking at South Korean capacity levels for solar and seeing that the cost of money to homeowners is about 5%, the cost of point of use solar in South Korea should be about 11 cents a kilowatt-hour. And I see it’s particularly useful as their peak demand is in the summer from 2 to 5 in the afternoon. So, it appears that point of use solar will be competitive in South Korea once they reach German installation costs. And as I’ve mentioned before, even a small amount of solar penetration pushes down electricity prices, which hurts the economics of baseload generating capacity.

  107. @Ronald Brak

    For the very last time – point of use solar is little more than a distraction from the main game which is to shut down coal. Why the obsession with it? Yes, there is a merit order effect with solar and no it does not drive the average cost of electricity. In Germany the renewables levy is about to increase to 5.2 euro cents/kWh – to support mostly solar and wind generating about 12% of Germany’s electricity. How can this possibly be construed as reducing electricity prices?

    The obsession with merit order effect of point of use solar seems to be indicative of a one trick pony. What else have you got? What happens when the suns not shining. It’s really desperate stuff.

    Sth Korea’s cabon intensity in electricity generation in 2009 was 489 gms C02/kWh – lower than Germany’s and will drop faster than Germany’s as their ambitious nuclear program comes to fruition. This is surely the point – not whether some consumers somewhere are getting cheaper peak power while paying more for average electricity costs.

  108. Ronald Brak :
    Quokka, nuclear power in Germany receives the wholesale price for electricity. It is the wholesale price that solar is pushing down.

    The retail renewables levy will now be more than the wholesale cost of electricity in Germany. How much more obvious can it be that whatever renewables are doing in Germany, it is not pushing the overall cost of electricity down – it is pushing it up. It may be arguable that is acceptable if the measures are effective in reducing emissions but that does need to be assessed by comparison with other options.

    It is plain that all this talk about merit order effect is extremely ill thought out. What happens when there is so much solar and wind on the grid that the market forces price to zero, or even negative as has occurred in the US due to tax credits effects. At northern latitudes, this is going to happen much sooner than may be thought. A solar capacity sufficient to supply 10% of Germany’s electricity would almost certainly do it. The economics of renewables are highly dependent on being paid for running at their maximum achievable load factor. This is the overbuild problem in action.

    I am always prepared to learn. In fact I enjoy it. However, it is perfectly obvious I have little to lean here as the discussion starts with an assumption that nuclear is evil, and the objective is to fire off as many debating points as possible, no matter how ill thought out and unsubstantiated. As an example, I am simply incredulous at the ridiculous spin on low nuclear LCOE costs for Sth Korea. They are low for new build of any technology. Get over it. Deal with the world as it is, not a reality morphed to suit ideology.

    There is a very worrying trend among some environmentalists and Green Parties to substitute ideology for science and repetition for rigor. Fred Pearce recently published a piece on this and although the stuff on DDT may be debatable , the rest is spot on. The reaction was self righteous and quite illuminating. There is also a frightening lack of humility, exhibited by the certitude of claims that nuclear is not necessary. Just how is this known with such certainty? Efforts to decarbonize energy supply have barely scratched the surface. There is simply no discernable effect on global emissions which just keep going up. But what little there has been is celebrated as some huge achievement because that’s what propaganda demands. Unfortunately the atmosphere don’t care.

    I was considering joining the Greens a couple years ago. They are a bitter disappointment though I remain on the left. I’m sure I’m not the only one coming to reach this conclusion.

  109. Quokka, you appear to be confused about the difference between wholesale and retail electricity prices and the role they play in influencing what type of generating capacity gets built. Wholesale prices are paid to generators to supply electricity to the grid. Retail prices are what customers pay. The retail price includes the wholesale price and distribution charges. As a result, retail prices are higher than wholesale prices.

    If the cost of solar electricity is higher than the wholesale price, but lower than the retail price then point of use solar capacity will be installed as it saves people money on their electricity bills. This point of use solar capacity reduces demand for grid electricity and so reduces the wholesale price as lower demand results in lower prices. Also, point of use solar supplies electricity to the grid at zero fuel cost, so it doesn’t matter how low the wholesale price gets, solar electricity will keep being supplied as long as it is available. In Australia, even if the wholesale price of electricity was zero it would still be cheaper to use point of use solar than grid electricity because of our high distribution costs.

    Baseload plants such as coal and nuclear are hit particularly hard by reduced wholesale electricity prices as they have low fuel costs and so don’t save much money by shutting down or reducing output on sunny days.

  110. The more nukes – the more intense the leakages.

    In America there were 38 leaks from underground piping between 2000 and 2009, according to an industry document presented at a tritium conference. Nearly two-thirds of the leaks were reported over the latest five years.

    Here are some examples:

    At the three-unit Browns Ferry complex in Alabama, a valve was mistakenly left open in a storage tank during modifications over the years. When the tank was filled in April 2010 about 1,000 gallons of tritium-laden water poured onto the ground at a concentration of 2 million picocuries per liter. In drinking water, that would be 100 times higher than the EPA health standard.

    At the LaSalle site west of Chicago, tritium-laden water was accidentally released from a storage tank in July 2010 at a concentration of 715,000 picocuries per liter — 36 times the EPA standard.

    The year before, 123,000 picocuries per liter were detected in a well near the turbine building at Peach Bottom west of Philadelphia — six times the drinking water standard.

    And in 2008, 7.5 million picocuries per liter leaked from underground piping at Quad Cities in western Illinois — 375 times the EPA limit.

    Earlier – Braidwood Nuclear Power Station in Braceville, Ill. Braidwood has leaked more than six million gallons of tritium-laden water in repeated leaks dating back to the 1990s — but not publicly reported until 2005.

    see: msnbc.msn.com/id/43475479/ns/us_news-environment/#.UJK431FOOT0

    So, assuming normal American commercial practice, the flow of tritium into the environment will only increase.

    And that is a good measure of the honesty of the nuclear lobby, repeated leaks not reported publicly until 2005.

    In this situation, only fools would support expansion of this rancid industry.

  111. I’ve just read that coal use in China in August was down 7% from the previous August. As in Australia, an important contributer to the decline in coal use has been the increase in solar and wind power capacity. This makes me think that China won’t be a large future market for Australian uranium either.

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