I have a piece in the Guardian responding to the pro-nuclear film Pandora’s Promise. The core of my argument is that, in most countries, political resistance to nuclear power is no longer the primary problem – the big difficulty is with the economics. The key paras
he fact that the world has not turned to nuclear power as a solution to climate change is a matter of economics. In the absence of a substantial carbon price, nuclear energy can’t compete with coal and other fossil fuels. In the presence of a carbon price, it can’t compete with wind and solar photovoltaics. The only real hope is that, if coal-fired generation is reduced drastically enough, always-on nuclear power will be a more attractive alternative than variable sources like solar and wind power. However, much of the current demand for “baseload” power is an artifact of pricing systems designed for coal, and may disappear as prices become more cost-reflective.
To put the point more sharply, if we are convinced by the arguments of Pandora’s Promise, what would the makers of the film have us do? Stop protesting against nuclear power? Most of us did so decades ago. Abandon restrictions on uranium mining and export? The Australian government has done so already, with barely a peep of protest. The only remaining restrictions on exports to India relate to concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation, not nuclear energy, and seem likely to be dropped in any case. Give nuclear power a level playing field to compete against renewables? In the US at least, nuclear power is already treated more favourably than alternatives, leaving aside the massive subsidies already handed out in the 20th century. The same is true in many other countries that have sought, with limited success, to promote a nuclear renaissance.
Two of the leading environmentalists quoted as supporting nuclear power are Mark Lynas and George Monbiot. They have some interesting reactions to the recent announcement that EDF will build a nuclear reactor, Hinkley C, under a deal with the UK government. Monbiot sees it as a disaster, going for massively expensive Generation III technology when the alternative was to build an Integral Fast Reactor, a design with lots of theoretical advantages but one that has never been built (other breeder reactors have been expensive failures). Lynas, writing before the announcement has a more sanguine view of the cost. Lynas compares the “strike prices” offered by the UK government for various renewables, ranging from 100stg/MWh for onshore wind, to 305stg/MWh for experimental technologies like wave and tidal energy. Offshore wind (the only source without severe supply constraints in the UK context) comes in at 150 and large-scale solar at 125. These are guaranteed for 15 years from 2014. Hinkley has as strike price of 92.50, for 35 years from the estimated start date of 2023.
Depending on your assumptions about technical progress, that makes nuclear look like a reasonable option to place a bet on in the UK context. But the UK is a special case. On the nuclear side it has plenty of brownfield sites where a new reactor can be added, as well as a regulatory setup skilled workforce and so on. More importantly, the UK is densely populated, located at a high latitude (Edinburgh at 55N is on the same latitude as Moscow) and notoriously cloudy, due to the Gulfstream. Add to that a strong contingent of NIMBY denialists in the Tory Party and you’ve got a country with very limited prospects for solar PV or onshore wind.
Conversely, taking Lynas’ numbers and even ignoring the rapid technological progress in solar PV, it’s obvious that nuclear energy is never going to be a goer in Australia, where we have plenty of land, much more sunlight and no established nuclear infrastructure. The calculation will be different in different countries, but there won’t be many where nuclear comes out as the least-cost option, although it might be a good backstop in some cases.
107 thoughts on “Pandora Post-mortem”
@ZM The Guardian is not a reliable source on radiation risk. Period.
Just to restate the obvious, my article was not about health risks. Whatever the risks of nuclear, it’s clear that coal is far worse. That said, the health risks are real and not negligible. So, if nuclear fails against renewables on a first pass economic assessment, it’s unlikely to do better on a comprehensive analysis.
That last post came across as confrontational. My apologies. I will try to cut down and find some new topics.
Wrt claims that the UK is a special case, from a recent media report:
Luis Echavarri, director general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency, told the World Energy Congress that a survey by the intergovernmental organisation of industrialised nations found that 25 of its 34 member nations planned to build more nuclear power plants.
and also interesting comments from the CEO of Westinghouse:
Danny Roderick, chief executive of US-based nuclear technology and equipment provider Westinghouse Electric, said the company had eight units under construction and its order backlog suggested the figure would increase to more than 30 in five years.
“In the past six months, we have seen more interest in new plants globally than in the past three to four years,” he said.
At lot of those will be in China, but crystal ball gazing suggests that the UK and Czech Republic at least will be in the list.
Google: “Nuclear power popular despite Fukushima: OECD boss Luis Echavarri”
The reason the Brits chose the expensive and slow to build EPR design I think is because the governments of France and China are essentially underwriting it. I believe via middle men in practice Electricite de France operates all British nukes. The Westinghouse large AP 1400 reactor appears to have better passive safety features and assembles faster. No financing deal I suspect. However at some stage the Brits must do something with their large plutonium stockpile which most likely means a General Electric fourth generation reactor, not yet a reproducible design. When available that reactor would operate on a fee basis with no upfront cost to the Brits.
Abbott and his cohort of young fogeys probably see nothing wrong with coal. Therefore unlike Howard they are unlikely to endorse nuclear. However if I can read thoughts there may have been a lightbulb moment when the Philippines cyclone relief was increased from $0.45m to $10m. The thought being there might be something in this climate change business after all.
I agree there’s probably an implicit subsidy from the French government. But obviously, that means
(1) The true cost of the EPR is even greater than the agreed strike price
(2) The cost of the AP1000/1400 is greater than the strike price, though probably less than the unsubsidised cost of the EPR
And, since no one else has bitten, I’ll make the point that it would have been really silly for the UK government to take on the risk of building a full-size Gen IV reactor as a central element of its climate change response.
These range from concepts to partial designs. As far as I know, none has even been submitted for approval to the US NRC or its counterparts.
The most popular contender, the Integral Fast Reactor is based on a 50-year old prototype that generated 20 MW and shut down nearly 20 years ago. It would take at least a decade before a full-scale plant design could be completed and approved, let alone constructed.
@John Quiggin ” So, if nuclear fails against renewables on a first pass economic assessment, it’s unlikely to do better on a comprehensive analysis.”
I agree that nuclear is a wholy undesirable option, but health and environmental risks are very important to any analysis and i think more important than the economic case, because prices are relative human constructions put in place by coercive force, whereas physical damage is not relative except at the tiny quantum level, at least that is what i’ve heard.
Energy research, development and demonstration deployment IS a central element of climate change response. And one that is badly neglected.
Gen IV reactors are currently NOT an option for meeting UK low emission electricity requirements for projects starting in around the next decade or so. George Monbiot seems to have lost the plot on this in railing against Hinkley. The possible limited exception to this is the deployment of two GEH PRISM reactors at Sellafield (about 600 MWe total) for plutonium disposal. They would also generate grid electricity. This is still under consideration by the UK government. GEH is reportedly offering very attractive terms including some component of payment per kg of Pu disposed. This has all the appearances of a free lunch as the UK is going to pay for Pu disposal anyway no matter what method is used.
General Electric – Hitachi PRISM is a complete commercial engineering design based on the Argonne research. PRISM is the reactor component of IFR. Passively safe in the event of complete station blackout without operator intervention indefinitely. It has already been reviewed by the US NRC in a preliminary assessment. The NRC found no fundamental impediments to licencing. Licencing will be an issue but probably not an impossibly greater issue than Generic Design Assessment for any new reactor design.
GEH FAQ on PRISM for UK Plutonium disposal:
Try again gehitachiprism dot com/faqs/
The problem with climate change/energy policy is the lack of coordinated and effective communication, particularly at a social level, according to this article The comparison with tobacco use is pertinent, decades of gruesome details and images has been effective in changing public perception. ATM climate change is about to be thrown into the bin and it’s not because the deniers have been so effective, it’s because the promoters have been so ineffective.
@ John Quiggin
OK, I apologize for insinuating that you were responsible for the 500,000 Chernobyl deaths figure. I know editors can do things like that. But again, you can also see that the Pandora’s Promise people have a point when they complain that outlandishly high casualty figures are bandied about by greenish anti-nuclear outlets like the Guardian. When those things happen, even against the author’s will, it tacitly turns an economic critique of nuclear power into an alarmist disaster scenario.
Your figure of 30,000 as an upper bound for Chernobyl deaths is within the consensus range, though still arguably much too high, in my opinion, since those estimates are calculated conjectures rather than observed casualties. All such estimates concede that deaths on that scale over many decades are too few to discern empirically in elevated cancer and mortality rates; we just have to take them on faith. That’s why, as Quokka points out, some (though not all) establishment radiological bodies like UNSCEAR and ICRP reject such methodologies.
@ Ronald Brak on nuclear vs. solar costs.
Ronald, a couple of misstatements in your reckonings:
–Hinkley C’s price tage is set at 16 Billion pounds, not 18 billion pounds. That’s 5000 pounds per kilowatt. Those are “all-in costs” including financing costs, that is the interest accrued on capital tied up during construction, which is added to the principal that has to be paid back during operations.
–You say Wymeswold will last 36 years but the BBC says 25 years. No matter, let’s go with 36.
–Ronald, no, the cost of nuclear insurance is not 12.5 pence per kwh. No nuclear plant on earth pays anything like that; actual insurance costs are perhaps one percent of that. Anti-nuclear polemics, I mean “studies,” get to those figures with the usual “They could have a $10 trillion dollar accident! Insure against that!” nonsense, in complete disregard of the actual costs of nuclear accidents, even those inflated by panicky government overreaction.
**So let’s do the math using the public LCOE calculator at the US National Renewable electricity laboratory, which is easy and fun to use if people want to play along. http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/tech_lcoe.html
All figures in sterling.
(The tweet if you don’t want to wade through the calculation—yes, nuclear at 5 % discount comes in at 6.5 pence per kwh, with all expenses very much included. Solar comes in a shade higher at 6.8 pence per kwh, but that leaves out substantial costs.)
–So, for Wymeswold, lets use your figures of 1000 per kw capital costs, 5 % interest, 11.8 % capacity factor, 36-year amortization 1 % capital costs per kw fixed O and M, (which I take to be about 10.3 pounds per kw). And yes indeed, the LCOE comes out at 6.8 pence per kwh, as you reckoned.
–Now for Hinkley C. First I’ll calculate capital costs (which means zeroing out O and M and fuel costs in the calculator.) Capital costs are 5000 pounds per kw, at 5 % discount, 90 percent capacity factor amortized over 36 years. The calculator returns a total capital expense portion of the LCOE as 3.8 pence per kwh.
And for the non-capital costs of first-of-a-kind nuclear, from the UK Department of Energy and Energy and Climate Change 2013 estimates, per kwh: “pre-development costs” (?) of 0.6 pence; Fixed O and M (including insurance), 1.1p; variable O and M, 0.3p; fuel costs, 0.5p; decommisioning and waste disposal fund, 0.2p. Total non-capital costs of 2.7 pence
–Here’s the Result: For nuclear, adding the 3.8 pence capital costs to the 2.7p non-capital costs gives 6.5 pence per kwh, insurance decommissioning and waste costs included. That’s a shade under solar’s 6.8 pence per kwh.
–We could shake and call it even—except that you may have seriously underestimated solar costs.
For example, Wymewold is on an old RAF base—are they paying for the land it takes up, or did the government donate it?
–DECC’s estimates of solar’s fixed O and M costs are 2.4 to 2.7 pence per kwh, not the 1p per kwh we budgeted.
–Solar will likely not outlive its’ 36 year amortization period, while nuclear is rated to last 60 years and maybe more. So nuclear will spend decades after the mortgage is paid off generating at its low marginal costs; averaging that in will lower nuclear’s lifetime LCOE.
–Solar requires more transmission capacity than nuclear does. It also requires complete dispatchible backup for when the sun doesn’t shine. None of these system costs are budgeted in the LCOE.
–We haven’t accounted for the diminishing returns as intermittent penetration increases—more and more curtailment leads to plummeting capacity factors and soaring LCOEs. Solar doesn’t scale well, as the Germans are finding out.
–There’s the unbudgeted intangible aesthetic and environmental costs of solar gobbling up huge swathes of land.
–And there’s the fact that nuclear and solar electricity are not in fact commensurable and interchangeable. Nuclear electricity is rock-solid reliable, while solar is chaotically unreliable; nuclear should therefore command a hefty wholesale price premium over solar. But it’s actually cheaper.
@ John Quiggin and Hermit on some other reactor beside EPR.
Gentlemen, no, the UK could not legally build any other reactor besides the EPR, because none are licensed in the UK. The licensing process for all the others will be dragging on for many years, so if Britain wants to build now it has to be the EPR.
Also, there is no such thing as a “Westinghouse AP1400.” The Chinese are designing a 1400 GW reactor based on the Westinghouse AP1000, but that could not possibly be licensed by the UK for many years.
The Chinese company joined in the Hinkley deal because it has already almost finished its own EPRs, in half the time and half the cost as the Hinkley deal. They therefore know perfectly well that the Hinkley deal can be done on time and on budget. The Chinese would be happy to finance an AP1000 plant in Britain, because they have also almost finished their own very cheap, very fast AP1000 builds—but they can’t, because the AP1000 is not licensed in Britain. The EPR is the only game in town in Britain—by law. That’s a big reason why EDF could extort such a high price.
John, the EPR “an implicit subsidy from the French government”?!! What are you talking about?
Hmmm, Will Boisvert – you did not reply to my question to you earlier, are you the same Will Boisvert that write that article several years ago, and of the profile seeking business opportunities?
Because what I see as a contradiction between your earlier position and this position makes me wonder if you are writing from your own dearly held personal perspective or from the perspective of someone who may have offered you a business opportunity.
My apologies if you are not the same Will Boisvert as the other Will Boisverts, I would just like clarification, I do not mean to besmirch your name, if you are a different Will Boisvert.
I haven’t seen the film yet. I broadly agree with John Quiggin that cost is the issue but I’m more optimistic that innovative designs can deal with that.
As for waste one option being touted is that the waste be used as fuel in generation IV reactors where it can be vastly reduced in quantity and the final end product will be down to natural levels of radiation after a few hundred years. Such waste, given it’s relatively short life and tiny volume, is suitable for encasing in glass which will readily last more than a thousand years.
In fact the so called waste in the right reactor could provide US power needs for about a thousand years so given we are stuck with it anyway we may as well be getting something out of it if it’s affordable to do so. As such the notion that we should do nothing until this problem is fully solved doesn’t ring true for me.
Both the IFR and the LFTR reactors are technically proven and would be suitable (I prefer the LFTR). They have not been commercialised and there in lies the challenge.
Please lets get this right. LFTRs are NOT technically “proven” at this time. There is NO possibility of building a commercial molten salt reactor at this time let alone a full blown LFTR. The initial Chinese work is for laboratory scale (something like 2MW) solid fueled molten salt reactor. Fuel will be TRISO “pebbles” because it will be available from the high temperature gas cooled reactor project. Fuel is uranium.
PRISM has vastly more claim to be technically proven, because in fact it is.
Will Boisvert, thank you for responding to my comment. You raised a number of issues and I may address some of them at a later point, but for now I’d like to concentrate on just one issue, the cost of insuring nuclear power. But before I go into that, I’d like you to first do a quick back of the envelope estimate of the how much Japan’s nuclear power plants would have to pay per kilowatt-hour in order to completely cover the cost of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. I believe you’ll find it is considerably more than one or two hundredths of a pence. And please note that even if you are completely certain that costs are ‘inflated by panicky government overreaction’, that’s still a risk that needs to be insured against. And I’ll just repeat point number 10 from my previous comment because I think it is something that’s particularly important to keep in mind when it comes to nuclear power:
10. The costs of insurance do not go away if you ignore them.
One the subject of nuclear insurance, I have an amusing story. The Fukushima Dai Ichi reactor was insured for ‘tens of millions of euros’ with the German Nuclear Reactor Insurance Association. This is a bit short of the hundreds of billions of dollars that are required to cover the cost of the disaster, but at least it is better than nothing. However, the German Nuclear Reactor Insurance Association didn’t have to pay up on account of how the policy didn’t cover damage from earthquakes, tsunamis, or volcanos.
@Ronald Brak Was that insurance for the plant or public liability?
On the question of limited nuclear liability it could be pointed out we now have a comparable precedent in Australia. If any of the eventual 120 Mt of CO2 pumped below Barrow Island subsequently leaks (say as a result of an earthquake) then the WA and federal governments pay the bills. See the section on indemnity in
Many places in Australia have higher background radiation than all but a small part of the Fukushima evacuation zone. Google Geosciences Australia + radiometrics. A lot of people were freaked out unnecessarily by Japanese government’s overreaction. My guess is the new designs of reactors would have pulled through the tsunami and quake unscathed. Hopefully in future low risk will be combined with a measured reaction if anything goes amiss.
So while there is “insurance” the taxpayer picks up the tab – for both the policy premium and damage.
Rog, I’m afraid I don’t know the details of the policy.
@Ronald Brak Check my link above.
Sorry, Rog, I replied to your question before reading what you had posted further down.
quokka, “@ZM The Guardian is not a reliable source on radiation risk. Period.”
Sigh. Of course there would be not much harm caused by Chernobyl even though it will go on having effects for a very very long time into the future. And because interested parties are always honest in their analysis and conclusions. Like tobacco company men for instance – gentlemen and scholars all of them. Or Greg Hunt, a man who truly Ministers to the environment.
I will fetch a source for you to contemplate.
“7. Mortality after the Chernobyl Catastrophe”
Alexey V. Yablokov
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences . Nov2009, Vol. 1181 Issue 1, p192-216. 25p. 11 Charts, 24 Graphs.
“A detailed study reveals that 3.8–4.0% of all deaths in the contaminated territories of Ukraine and Russia from 1990 to 2004 were caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe. The lack of evidence of increased mortality in other affected countries is not proof of the absence of effects from the radioactive fallout. Since 1990, mortality among liquida- tors has exceeded the mortality rate in corresponding population groups. From 112,000 to 125,000 liquidators died before 2005—that is, some 15% of the 830,000 members of the Chernobyl cleanup teams. The calculations suggest that the Chernobyl catastro- phe has already killed several hundred thousand human beings in a population of several hundred million that was unfortunate enough to live in territories affected by the fallout. The number of Chernobyl victims will continue to grow over many future generations.”
“Thus the overall mortality for the period from April 1986 to the end of 2004 from the Chernobyl catastrophe was estimated at 985,000 additional deaths. This estimate of the number of additional deaths is similar to those of Gofman (1994a) and Bertell (2006). A projec- tion for a much longer period—for many future generations—is very difficult.”
There are many findings of increased ante- natal, childhood, and general mortality in the highly contaminated territories that are most probably associated with irradiation from the Chernobyl fallout. Significant increases in can- cer mortality were observed for all irradiated groups.
A detailed study reveals that some 4% of all deaths from 1990 to 2004 in the contaminated territories of Ukraine and Russia were caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe. The lack of ev- idence of increased mortality in other affected countries is not proof of the absence of adverse effects of radiation.
The calculations in this chapter suggest that the Chernobyl catastrophe has already killed several hundred thousand human beings in a population of several hundred million that was unfortunate enough to live in territories af- fected by the Chernobyl fallout. The number of Chernobyl victims will continue to grow in the next several generations.”
If you would beg to differ I would be happy to quote from the article more extensively?
The author of the above mentioned article also wrote a book on the subject, which was reviewed by Ian Fairlie (Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2010), Vol. 141, No. 1, pp. 97–104)
The conclusion to the review of the book is:
“Clearly, there is a continuing and profound differ- ence of views over Chernobyl’s health effects. Some readers will disagree with the discussion presented in this volume and will consider its authors to be too polemical in their views. On the other hand, others will concur with the book’s findings. The author’s view is that there is much valuable information here, notwithstanding western criticisms of eastern science’s protocols. This does not necessarily mean every detailed point in these summaries is accepted without question. For example, as shown above, more attention needs to be paid to the large recent decrease in average male life spans in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine in all areas not just contami- nated ones. Also greater efforts should be made in reconstructing doses (and resources be made avail- able for this), and in estimating individual and col- lective doses and discussing their implications for both eastern and western Europe.
Nevertheless, the publication of summaries of hundreds of research reports on the health and environmental consequences of Chernobyl originally published in Russian and Ukrainian is a welcome addition to the literature in English. The New York Academy of Sciences, which states that it ‘ . . . has a responsibility to provide an open forum for discus- sion of scientific questions’, is therefore to be con- gratulated for publishing this volume. The English translations will certainly permit more informed dia- logue to take place.
In the opinion of the reviewer, this volume makes it clear that international nuclear agencies and some national authorities remain in denial about the scale of the health disasters in their countries due to Chernobyl’s fallout. This is shown by their reluc- tance to acknowledge contamination and health out- comes data, their ascribing observed morbidity/ mortality increases to non-radiation causes, and their refusal to devote resources to rehabilitation and disaster management.”
Ian Fairlie’s website reads:
“I’m an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment living in London UK. I’ve studied radiation and radioactivity at least since the Chernobyl accident in 1986. I’ve a degree in radiation biology from Bart’s Hospital in London and my doctoral studies at Imperial College in London and (briefly) Princeton University in the US concerned the radiological hazards of nuclear fuel reprocessing. I formerly worked as a civil servant on the regulation of radiation risks from nuclear power stations. From 2000 to 2004, I was head of the Secretariat of the UK Government’s CERRIE Committee on internal radiation risks. Since retiring from Government service, I have been a consultant on radiation matters to the European Parliament, local and regional governments, environmental NGOs, and private individuals. My areas of interest are the radiation doses and risks arising from the radioactive releases at nuclear facilities.”
I’ll agree that a true LFTR is not technically proven but the core molten salt reactor side of things essentially is.
p.s. Although as indicated earlier technically proven is a far cry from commercially ready.
Those wishing to draw a definitive line over or around Chernobyl should remember that there is little epidemiological data then or now that can be safely relied on
Apparently there are 200 people still living full time in the exclusion zone along side the Chernobyl reactors.
Here is some recent indication of Chinese time lines from the Weinberg Foundation website:
So that’s 2035 for a “live” (ie commercially deployble) small modular solid fueled reactor. 20 years away.
Yes, indeed there will be some “interesting” engineering involved. The materials involved will be extremely radiologically “hot” – comparable to what you would find in a reactor core. There will be no time to allow them to “cool off” as with PRISM (IFR) solid fuel recycling. Also absent is the first layer of defence in dept of the fuel cladding in solid fuel that very effectively contains fission products. A spill in on-line recycling of hot salts from a liquid fueled MSR would likely be quite serious. All this is very challenging and has not been technologically proved.
So that’s sometime post 2040 for a commercially deployable large true molten fuel molten salt reactor.
Now, these timelines are not reasons not to get on with the R&D as we can have very high confidence that there will be plenty of CO2 emission to abate for the foreseeable future. And some serious R&D funding could very well give them a big hurry up. But it is perfectly obvious that this is decades behind the GE-H PRISM, which you can begin building right now (of course after appropriate approvals are sought and received). There is no equivalence.
I am not trying to “talk down” thorium. I’m just asking for some realism. Otherwise you end up in a fog of nonsense that just obscures what needs to be done.
Here’s the info I could find on the NRC site regarding PRISM.
The most recent step was a letter of intent in 2011, indicating the possibility of seeking approval for a prototype.
This 2012 review of possible future applications lists a number of possibilities for the next 5 years, not including PRISM. PRISM is listed as a possibility in the 10-year time frame.
Click to access ML12153A014.pdf
So, while PRISM is well ahead of molten salt, it’s a long way from being “ready to build”.
So, while PRISM is well ahead of molten salt, it’s a long way from being “ready to build”.
Just saying that nuclear is far away is rather biased — I don’t see any close timeline for cities the size of Beijing having even a moderate part of their energy being delivered from renewables, and just saying it could be done doesn’t seem a whole lot different to the people saying newer versions of nuclear could be done also.
We’re talking very different timeframes here. China is planning to install 12GW of solar PV next year (target was raised again this week) and increase steadily after that. Comparable amounts for wind. You can place your own values on “moderate”, but I suspect that you are relying on out-of-date assumptions here.
At this stage, the contribution of renewables and of Gen III nuclear looks to be around equal, though with a trend of upward revisions for renewables and downwards for nuclear. By comparison with these facts on the ground, Gen IV nuclear is far away.
I’m really thinking about how China is going to replace its current mess. If this isn’t done, we may as well forget about containing global warming — It’s great, for example, that they are the world leaders in renewables, and I can’t see why that’s not going to increase through the roof in the coming decades — it will, and their government massively subsidizes it which is why we get such cheap solar panels now. But so is every other type of power source available to them also.
For example, this graph: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Electricity_Production_in_China.svg, even if slightly correct shows that magnitude of the problem.
What you’re talking about is decades of dirty power that needs to be replaced, and somehow this includes base-load power for mega-cities. Maybe that can be done for huge cities, but I can’t see why that is any more likely than even relatively poorly designed nuclear (it’s not like they have the sort of constraints democracies have). I imagine they will rely on both (or indeed, every renewable source possible). The alternative to this is they just keep burning gas and coal and this is surely worse.
Will Boisvert assumes a 90 percent capacity factor for Hinkley C, so it’s baseload in the sense that John Q has pointed out is obsolescent. It will have no function as a despatchable backup for wind and solar. In fact EDF are going to be paid for any curtailment.
I draw your attention to John Toke’s argument (realfeed-intariffs.blogspot.com.es/2013/10/hinkley-c-to-be-paid-more-than-twice-as.html) that the deal is illegal state aid under EU law. The Brussels investigation means up to a year’s delay, after which it will be caught up in Cameron’s fraught “renegotiation” of EU membership. My take here: http://www.samefacts.com/2013/11/climate-change/pass-the-popkern/
It is certainly a big challenge (though understanding is not helped by a focus on spurious concepts like “baseload”). But it’s not impossible.
Roughly speaking, solar PV generates 2 000 hrs/year, so each GW installed implies 2 TWH/year, wind is about the same, nuclear typically 3-4 times as much. Observed growth in demand over the first decade of C20 was 200 TWh . To meet that demand with no additional fossil fuel, you might hope that energy efficiency efforts could offset 50TWh, with the rest being met by a combination of solar, wind and nuclear. 40 GW of renewables (80 TWh/year( and 10 GW of nuclear each year (also about 80) would get pretty close to that.
Of course, that’s just getting to peak coal in electricity. To reduce emissions from electricity, displace oil in transport and offset industrial use of coal, you’d need a lot more. But, we are still talking difficult, not impossible.
@ ZM: On documentation of my claims against Charles Perrow.
–On Perrows claim of 1400 Fukushima cancers, you can read Alex Rosen’s paper here, using the May 2011 French guesstimate of 200 msv first-year dose for 70,000 people as a basis for calculating 1400 cancer cases (just cases, not deaths) here. http://www.ippnw.de/commonFiles/pdfs/Atomenergie/FukushimaBackgroundPaper.pdf
You can read the 2013 WHO study estimating maximum radiation exposures at 12-25 msv during the first four months after the spew, for a few thousand people, here http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/78218/1/9789241505130_eng.pdf
Together they show that Rosen’s estimate is based on a sketchy, wildly offbase guestimate from early in the crisis. Perrow had access to the WHO study, so he should have known that, and therefore discarded Rosen’s obsolete and biased guesstimate.
–On the Kikk study:
You can read the Kikk follow-up study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696975/
Please note the following sentence in the abstract:
“Based on the available information about radiation emissions from German nuclear power plants, a direct relation to radiation seems implausible. Many factors may conceivably cause leukemia, possibly operating in combination, and these factors may be present to a greater extent in the vicinity of German nuclear power plants.”
Also note Table 5, showing that the excess leukemias in the 5 km radius over 23 years amount to 10 case, while the excess leukemia cases within the 30 km zone are zero and there is a deficit of 4 leukemia cases in the 70 km zone.
Perrow would have known all this had he read the Kikk followup, published in 2008. By not discussing the Kikk disclaimer of radiation linkage or the kikk data showing no leukemia excess whatever within the larger environs of nukes, he drastically misrepresented the Kikk findings.
–On the Mangano citation, I already gave you a link to a Scientific American study exposing a Mangano fraud.
@ ZM on the Yablokov study suggesting a million Chernobyl deaths.
ZM, the Yablokov study you quote has been roundly criticized and dismissed by the radiation science consensus, and even by the semi-responsible wing of the anti-nuclear movement. (Ian Fairlie likes it because he is an antinuclear activist. Note that Yablokov’s study grossly contradicts Fairlie’s own TORCH study, which estimates 30-60,000 Chernobyl deaths, but anti-nuclear activists are always happy to have their own alarmism one-upped.)
Here’s Lisbeth Gronlund of the anti-nuke Union of Concerned Scientists discounting the conclusions of Yablokov, because he rejects “Western scientific protocols.” http://allthingsnuclear.org/how-many-cancers-did-chernobyl-really-cause-updated/ You can also read a scathing review at Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2010) vol 1 issue 1 pp. 97-101 (sorry I don’t have a link for that.)
Many of Yablokov’s assembled studies are just anecdotal reports from doctors who think they are seeing increases in illnesses and deaths after Chernobyl. Larger-scale statistical studies that he reports tend not to properly control for confounding variables. They assume that any increase in death or illness after Chernobyl was caused by Chernobyl, without controlling for the effects of age, alcohol and tobacco use, demographic shifts, changes in medical monitoring—if doctors start looking harder for Chernobyl-related cancers they will find more cancers, even if there is no increase in underlying cancer rates—and other variables, in addition to the medical effects of the collapse of communism, with its socio-economic upheavals and profound changes in health-care systems. All of these factors can affect the health outcomes that are ascribed to Chernobyl, so they have to be carefully controlled. Yablokov doesn’t do this.
As an example, take this passage that you quoted:
Since 1990, mortality among liquida- tors has exceeded the mortality rate in corresponding population groups. From 112,000 to 125,000 liquidators died before 2005—that is, some 15% of the 830,000 members of the Chernobyl cleanup teams.
The key fact that’s trumpeted here, that 112-125,000 “liquidators” died between 1986 and 2005, sounds scary, but it is utterly meaningless. The statistic doesn’t mean that all of those people died from radiation, or that any of them died from radiation.
The liquidators were mainly blue-collar men, hence relatively poor and more likely to drink and smoke than the general population, especially if they were anxious because they thought the Chernobyl radiation would hurt them. Their average age in 1986 was in the mid-30s, so by 2005 they would have been on average in their mid-50s. So just from their demographics—middle-aged, male, blue-collar, poor, prone to excessive drinking and smoking—we would expect the liquidators to have a higher than average death rate, no Chernobyl radiation required.
But it’s not clear that the liquidators really do have an elevated death rate. If a population, including children, has a life expectancy of 80 years for example, we would expect that over any 19 year period more than 20 percent of that population will die. But Yablokov says only 15 percent of the liquidators died over a 19-year period, even though they were an unusual demographic heavily weighted towards unhealthy middle-aged males. In fact, it’s quite likely that the liquidator death rates are abnormally low, if you factor in age, socio-economics, smoking and drinking habits.
Yablokov says the mortality rate is higher than “corresponding population groups.” Maybe, but given his casual dismissal of epidemiological canons it’s unlikely that the comparison groups really were carefully matched to control for confounding variables.
This kind of thing is typical of Yablokov—dribbling out factoids that misleadingly insinuate that people are dying of radiation even though the stats prove absolutely nothing.
@ Ronald Brak, on the costs of Fukushima and the implications for nuclear insurance costs.
–“Even if you are completely certain that costs are ‘inflated by panicky government overreaction,’ that’s still a risk that needs to be insured against.”
No Ronald, the notion that the government should force nuclear plants to insure against the government’s own panicky overreaction is a bit of sophistry I won’t accept.
–Fukushima is a “disaster” with no observable public health consequences and no damage to property off the plant site. How much should that cost?
High-end consensus estimates are that the Fukushima spew might cause a thousand or so cancer fatalities around the world for all time—that’s the toll assuming no cleanup or evacuations, and far too small to measure in epidemiological studies. So how many billions of dollars is it right to spend on cleanup and compensation costs concerning that number of conjectural deaths that will never actually be measurable?
Most of the expenses are due not to any objective harm caused by the radiation, which is tiny to nil, but to a hysterical overreaction by the government to political panic driven by antinuclear alarmism. The billions being spent are not actually paying for much that’s necessary or even identifiable; it’s just political theater to convince people that the government feels their panic.
The bulk of the identifiable costs are from the disruption of the evacuation. But even if there had been no evacuations the uptick in cancer rates, if any, would have been too small to measure. The evacuations, and certainly the long-term relocations, were probably unnecessary and even counterproductive since hundreds of sick people died from the stress of relocation. Without the forced relocations, the costs would be very low.
Here are some other ways the costs are pointlessly inflated:
*The radiation cleanup standards are as low as 1 millisievert yearly exposure, which is one fifth of the 5 mSv per year excess radiation you get living in Denver, Colorado. Does it make sense to spend billions of dollars trying to lower exposures from the normal Denver level down to 1 mSv?
*Cleanup efforts will just slightly hurry along the natural cleanup processes of radioactive decay and weathering. Radiocesium clears quickly from the land because of both radioactive decay and the action of rainfall that percolates it down into the ground or washes it into the sea or river bottoms, where it no longer irradiates people. The Japanese government set a goal of lowering radiation levels by 50 percent in 2 years, while estimating that they would decrease by 40 percent on their own anyway, which means the cleanup effort will accomplish as much in 2 years as doing nothing would in 3 years. Why spend billions on that? In any case, radiation levels in the evacuation zone have already fallen by two thirds, largely without cleanup.
*That cleanup largely consists of gathering up mildly radioactive leaves, grass and dirt. Much of that material will be sequestered in leak-proof containment structures that cost billions. The material could instead by loaded on barges and dumped at sea for a small fraction of the cost, with no environmental damage and no meaningful increment to the already stupendous natural radioactivity of the sea. (Billions of tons of naturally radioactive dirt, grass and leaves wash into the Pacific every year.)
*There are economic losses from the closure of the local fishery, but that’s entirely unjustified because the average radioactivity of the seafood is below very conservative safety standards; the fishery should be reopened (and should never have been closed.) Likewise with losses on Fukushima farm products. Eating fish caught right offshore from the nuclear plant is probably healthier than eating an equivalent quantity of cheeseburgers.
*Costs of the plant site cleanup are anybody’s guess, but much that’s being done there is a patent waste of money. Huge amounts of slightly radioactive water are being stored that could be dumped straight into the ocean with no harm to man or fish. The number 5 and 6 reactors are undamaged and could be started up immediately, thus generating billions of dollars worth of electricity to defray other cleanup costs. (The undamaged reactors at TMI and Chernobyl remained in service after those accidents.) Only hysterical dudgeon requires their shutdown.
–Ronald, you brought up the subject of high insurance costs, so it’s up to you to demonstrate that those costs are real and not imaginary. Come up with a serious, justified estimate of the Fukushima accident costs. It should be not just a global sum, but an itemized breakdown of the particular efforts that the money is to be spent on. And it should justify those expenses; it should explain how much radiation exposure each item will actually abate, and how much health risk—how many deaths and cancers—will actually be prevented by the expenditure. And it should also put those expenses and risks in context: do we normally spend as much money preventing risks that are objectively as tiny as the risks the Fukushima cleanup is meant to abate?
Anti-nukes casually talk of hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars in accident costs—the figures always go up. What’s never offered is an itemized explanation of why we actually need to spend the money, what the risks are and how much harm is actually being alleviated by those gargantuan expenditures. No one does that, not even the government authorities who are spending the money or the alarmist think tanks who cook up estimates. That’s because there is no rational way to justify spending enormous amounts on a Fukushima cleanup—the risks are too small to measure, and therefore too small to worry about in any rational accounting.
I’m resorting to cut and paste, if that’s all right. Because Will Boisvert replies to my comments to others, but not to my comments with questions of him.
“Hmmm, Will Boisvert – you did not reply to my question to you earlier, are you the same Will Boisvert that write that article several years ago, and of the profile seeking business opportunities?
Because what I see as a contradiction between your earlier position and this position makes me wonder if you are writing from your own dearly held personal perspective or from the perspective of someone who may have offered you a business opportunity.
My apologies if you are not the same Will Boisvert as the other Will Boisverts, I would just like clarification, I do not mean to besmirch your name, if you are a different Will Boisvert.”
@ John Quiggin, on the productivity of Chinese wind and solar.
Your estimate that a gigawatt of PV can produce 2 terawatt-hours of electricity per year implies a capacity factor of 23 percent. That’s way too high. The figures I’ve seen for Chinese PV capacity factors are about 14 %, which works out to 1.23 TWh per year. Wind will also be hard-pressed to produce 2 TWh per year. Last year Chinese wind had a capacity factor of about 21 %, if you don’t count the installed turbines that lacked grid capacity; counting those it’s down to about 17 %. China will get much less electricity from its new wind and solar capacity than you’ve reckoned.
More quotes from a certain Will Boisvert
“But it would be a mistake to revive the cult of insiderism. All of Bush’s misdeeds are done in the glare of press coverage, with the informed consent of Congress. And they are in no way a departure from our national culture of heedless, oil-addicted crony capitalism. Bush comes from Texas; Texas doesn’t come from Bush. What we need is not secret information, but a revolution in consciousness that will, as in the ’60s, challenge the national consensus in far-reaching ways.”
“Perhaps. But maybe Detroit’s past is more up-to-date than its future. After all, the world will not return to Arcadia, nor advance to Information, nor ascend into Art; it will stick with Industry, with its promise of prosperity and consumerism and cars, and its crassness and drudgery and bitter conflicts over the spoils. As much as the creative classes might like to banish it, industry is flourishing as never before”
Will Boisvert, are you living in a magical world where insurers don’t look at what they may have to pay out before setting premiums? Because that’s not the way it works among muggles. Even if the entire cost of the Fukushima nuclear disaster was due to ‘government overreaction’ how are you going to convince insurers that such an overreaction will never happen again?
According to IEA “PVPS Report A Snapshot of Global PV 1992-2012”, global installed PV capacity at the end of 2012 was a little over 96 GWp. Reports suggest that in excess of 30 GWp will be installed worldwide in 2013 so lets call projected PV capacity at end of this year to be 130 GWp.
The IEA report projects 110 TWh to be produced from PV in 2013. That amounts to no more than 1 TWh per year per GW capacity even allowing for some new capacity not operating for the full year.
2 TWh/yr per GW appears unrealistically optimistic and about double the current figure.
@ James Wimberley, on nuclear baseload obsolescence and backup for wind and solar:
“Hinkley C [is] baseload in the sense that John Q has pointed out is obsolescent. It will have no function as a despatchable backup for wind and solar. In fact EDF are going to be paid for any curtailment”
–The notion that “baseload” is obsolescent is incoherent.
“Baseload” is just the ordinary minimum electricity demand—“load”—that a grid has to supply. Generators are said to be in baseload mode if they are left on all the time to help supply that minimum load; load-following and peaker plants are added when electricity demand rises transiently above the baseload. John Quiggin has the idea, correct me if I’m wrong, that smart metering can force demand as low as needs be to accommodate wildly varying wind and solar, but that won’t happen (thank God).
–Why should Hinkley C function as backup for wind and solar? Why can’t it just trundle along supplying 7 % of Britain’s electricity hour after hour, day in day out? Why should it have to curtail whenever a chaotic surge of wind and solar come along? Why not curtail wind and solar when their chaotic surges overload the grid?
The model for wind and solar presumes that every time we get a chaotic surge the dispatchibles have to power down to make way; without that preferred access to the grid, the lousy economics of wind and solar look grim indeed. That makes some sense when they are displacing fossil-fueled electricity, because we get carbon abatement. But it’s utterly pointless when they are displacing low-carbon nuclear or geo or hydro in spate.
In fact, wind and solar are only useful for decarbonization if we presuppose a fleet of fossil-fueled dispatchables for their surges to curtail.
We will need a fleet of dispatchables big enough to power the whole grid during those inevitable periods when wind and solar conk out together for days on end. But if that dispatchable fleet is low-carbon—hydro, geo and nuclear—then wind and solar are entirely superfluous, since we will already have enough low-carbon capacity to service the grid without them.
So the logic of a comprehensively decarbonized grid means that unreliable wind and solar have no useful place in it. They are redundant.
The distinction between and dispatchable and intermittent is the really important concept to grasp—and it implies that wind and solar are dead ends.
@ Ronald Brak, on nuclear insurance costs.
–“Even if the entire cost of the Fukushima nuclear disaster was due to ‘government overreaction’ how are you going to convince insurers that such an overreaction will never happen again?”
Ronald what are you arguing here? If your point is that it’s possible for crazy government overreactions to drive nuclear plants out of business with high insurance costs, I guess I have to agree.
Me, I think government policy should reflect the actual risks and harms from nuclear accidents, which are modest to nil. Under such policies nuclear insurance costs would be small.
–“Will Boisvert, are you living in a magical world where insurers don’t look at what they may have to pay out before setting premiums?”
Ronald, no, utilities can buy limited policies, that is, insuring themselves for $xxx damages and no more; it’s up to the utility to decide how much they want to insure for. The insurer then simply looks at the probability of an accident with a payout of $xxx and decides the premium, not worrying at all about the possibility of an $xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx accident.
If the utility is underinsured, then it just goes bankrupt.
Remember, from the standpoint of the nuclear utility, their maximum risk in an accident is simply bankruptcy, not $10 trillion or whatever the alarmist number du jour is. But all companies face the notional risk of bankruptcy. A utility could go bankrupt from a nuclear accident, or from a bad bet on natural gas futures. All the prospect of a nuclear accident does is add a tiny amount to the utility’s already existing bankruptcy risk; it does not and cannot add trillions of dollars of liability risk that has to be insured against.
There is some truly impressive derp in this thread.