Friday, November 28, 2014

OPEC Maintains Output - Prices Decline

In an earlier post, see link, the disarray in the world energy markets was discussed in view of OPEC's upcoming meeting in November, 2014.  

That meeting is now over, and OPEC chose to maintain oil output.  The effect will be for world crude oil prices to continue their fall.  Today's stock prices fell for major energy companies.   

Much has already been written about the likely effects of the lower oil prices.   Transportation costs for many will decrease as the crude oil prices work their way through the refining and marketing systems.  Consumers will have more disposable income, and will likely spend that rather than save. Some, though, will pay down debt.  

Oil-based chemicals and derivatives will also see price reductions, which will also benefit consumers.  

The long-term impact on nuclear power plants, both new and existing, will be to make them more and more un-economic.  Natural gas price, in many countries, is tied at least loosely to the price of oil.  Falling oil prices mean falling natural gas price, and a nuclear plant will have ever more difficulty competing with the power price from the natural gas-fired plants.  This is especially true of the combined-cycle gas turbine plants with the highest efficiencies.  see link  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2014 Roger Sowell

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts At 75000 Pageviews

Today the pageview counter at SLB turned over 75,000 pageviews, another milestone of sorts.   These views are from a bit more than 39,000 unique visitors from 143 countries. As always, it is amazing to see such numbers.  

Lately, the pace of pageviews has sharply increased.  That is most likely due to the 30-part series on Truth About Nuclear Power, TANP beginning in March and concluding in August.  Cumulatively, the TANP articles have almost 9,000 views to date, with the Summary article (part 30) and US Nuclear Plants are Heavily Subsidized (part 13) sharing the most views with just over 1,200 views each.   Nuclear plants typically are lauded by the industry and supporters as being cheap, safe, long-lasting, and reliable.  TANP articles shows the truth, that none of those claims are accurate.   New technologies under development are also touted by supporters (small reactors, fusion, thorium, and high temperature gas reactors), and these are shown in TANP to be hopelessly uneconomic or unsafe, or both.  see link to Article One of TANP. Links to all 30 articles are provided there. 

As my readers know very well, my views on man-made climate change are that the science does not support an alarmist view.  see link  That is based on a critical examination of the available data.  What is disappointing is that so many skeptics of climate alarmism are also nuclear power supporters.  How nice it would be if they applied the same scrutiny of climate data to the nuclear plant data.  It appears to me that the nuclear power supporters are being led by smooth-talking dis-informers.  An article on this appeared here:  see link

Also, another series is underway, this one on wind energy.  see link  There is much mis-information spread by the anti-wind group.  Truth About Wind Energy will dispel those myths and show why and how wind energy presently is providing valuable energy, and will in a few years be supplying reliable, low-cost, low environmental impact energy via grid-scale storage.  See link for additional SLB articles on wind energy. 

A few articles discussed coal as an energy source, (see link) concluding that coal is being used up much faster than in the past.  The grim consequence of this is that an economic and reliable replacement for forty percent of the world's electricity production must be found, tested, and proven long before the coal runs out.   The best candidates for coal replacement are renewable energy with grid-scale storage.  Candidates in this area include solar thermal, and offshore wind with submersible pumped storage.  Ocean current energy needs no storage, nor does energy from river mouth osmosis.  

A trio of legal-oriented articles from SLB were republished on other blogs, those being Are Climate Skeptics Legally Liable for Criminal Negligence (see link), Climate Science, Free Speech and Legal Liability (see link), and Prosecuting Those Who Force a Scientist to Resign (see link).  

It was also very interesting to rebut the false claims of the US President in his recent commencement speech to UC-Irvine (2014).  The President spoke on the urgency to combat dangerous man-made climate change.  see link   There is no man-made climate change, and therefore there is no urgency to combat it. 

Finally, it is is gratifying that several groups continue to request me to speak to them on various topics.   In the past three years, I have made formal speeches to Southern California Section of AIChE, to the student chapter of AIChE at University of California at Irvine, and the student chapter of AIChE at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles).    I am very pleased that UCLA students have asked me to present a four-part series of lectures on approaches to the national student design competition.   See link for a list of recent speeches. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nuclear Until Renewables Can Shoulder The Load - A Bad Idea

Subtitle:  Yet Another Lame Excuse To Prolong Nuclear Plant Lives

An article in Forbes (see link) is rather long-winded but finally gets to the point in the final paragraphs: 

"If we retire (carbon-free) nuclear plants prematurely, there is only one resource that can fill their place today. Gas-fired power plants (i.e. carbon-emitting) – with 40-year legacies – will step in to replace them. And those commitments, once made, cannot be easily undone."

Forbes correctly points out that solar and wind-powered energy technologies are improving rapidly, both technically and economically.  Therefore, Forbes argues, it is worth keeping the uneconomic, money-losing nuclear plants (see link) running for the additional years or even decades that are required to allow the "carbon-free" (their words) technologies to replace the nuclear plants.   To their credit, Forbes includes not only the power generation from wind and solar, but also grid-scale energy storage to allow on-demand, reliable power.  

Apparently, it is abhorrent to build gas-burning power plants, simply because they emit carbon dioxide from their stacks.   However, one must devoutly believe in the carbon-dioxide-emitted-by-man-is-overheating-the-planet nonsense to reach that conclusion.  Never mind that the climate alarmists have been proven wrong at every turn. 

What ridiculous analogies come to mind?  Should horses pulling buggies (and heavy wagons for commerce) have been subsidized, allowed to continue running by government decree, until electric cars became available and economic?  Should pocket pagers (remember those?) have been subsidized and required to be manufactured because flip-phones using cellular technology would someday be replaced by smart phones?  

Plus, what of the outrageous amounts of water for cooling that nuclear plants require?  It is known that a modern, gas-fired combined cycle plant, CCGT, uses one-fourth the cooling water of a nuclear plant.  Should those in water-scarce areas suffer for years, or decades, while the nuclear plant evaporates the fresh water?  Note, this is not a hypothetical:  the South Texas Nuclear Project (STNP) near Corpus Christi, Texas, does exactly that.  Texas has suffered through a prolonged and serious drought, with the primary storage reservoir, Lake Travis, sending water down the Colorado River to the plant while consumers along the river must not touch the water.   see link.   STNP has a small artificial pond to augment the river water, but that pond depends on seasonal rainfall.  Lately, the rain has not happened.  

Other nuclear plants in the arid areas have the same issue:  the cooling water is evaporated into the sky, where it could be used for human consumption.  

Forbes cites a nuclear industry group, apparently newly-formed, that is desperately trying to pitch nuclear plants as "good" because they are "carbon-free."  The group is Nuclear Matters.  This newest, lamest excuse can be added to the other excuses the industry makes for not shutting down the money-losing nuclear plants, one of which is "nuclear plants create jobs," still another is "nuclear plant closures will have a serious negative effect on the economy."  

The bottom line is this, as shown in a recent SLB article on the proposed and newly-approved UK nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, (see link), renewable energy plus grid-scale storage must beat US$ 12,000 per kW installed to beat the economics of a new, grid-scale nuclear power plant.  With large offshore wind turbines coupled to submerged spherical pumped-storage hydroelectric systems, the $12,000 critical threshold should be fairly easy to achieve or better.   Even more, the nuclear plants cannot follow the grid load, and if they did, their economics are much worse.  Meanwhile, the submerged pumped storage systems can easily follow the grid load.   

In conclusion, there is no need to keep the money-losing nuclear plants running.  The US should take full and immediate advantage of the strong offshore wind resources and work out the inevitable kinks in the submerged pumped storage systems. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved

Sunday, October 12, 2014

UK Hinkley Point Nuclear Plant Heavily Subsidized

Subsidies for nuclear power plants are not just in the US.   This week, several sources report that UK's proposed Hinkley Point C plant, a 3,200 MWe nuclear plant, received a blessing from the EU Commission to obtain public funding - a form of subsidy.  See link for a BBC report.   (for more on US subsidies for its nuclear power plants, of which there are at least six different subsidies, see this link and this link). 

The Hinkley Point C plant will have two reactors, each 1,600 MWe, of the EPR reactor design that is currently such a fiasco in Finland at Olkiluoto. (see link)   To their credit, the BBC article admits the Hinkley Point C will require 10 years to first operation.  However, the plant life is also stated as 60 years, which is wildly optimistic. 

The subsidy for Hinkley Point C apparently takes the form of a high sales price for power at the transaction bar - the plant boundary.  The plant owner is guaranteed the equivalent of US 15 cents per kWh, approximately double the present rate for wholesale power in the UK.  

What is interesting is the quoted price to build the plant, at £24.5 billion (the equivalent of US$ 39.2 billion).   This equates to MORE than $10,000 per kW, at $12,250.   Again, this is precisely what SLB has maintained all along - a new nuclear power plant costs far more than the $4,000 some advocates maintain.  Instead, it will cost at least $10,000 per kW, and more likely $12,000 per kW.   Here we see at least a small beginning of honesty from the nuclear establishment.  

However, given the long, dismal history of nuclear plant schedule delays and cost overruns, it is to be expected that the Hinkley Point C twin reactor plant will take far longer than 10 years to startup, and will cost far more than US$ 39 billion.  It will likely require 15 years or longer, and $48 billion or even more.  

The poor people of the UK will foot the bill, as they have few choices but to buy the power.  However, with the higher and higher prices that will inevitably occur, it may be possible for some of the grid customers to unplug themselves from the grid.  There may be better, cheaper ways to produce their own electricity.  For an analysis of such ways, see this link.   In the year 2023 or perhaps later, 2030 as a more realistic startup date, the options for unplugging from the grid and self-generation will likely be more numerous and more appealing than what we have today.  

It will be a long, long time before Hinkley Point C begins producing power and its true impact will be felt.  One can only hope the resourceful people of the UK will rise to the occasion and replace as much power as possible to self-generate and save money.  

In another moment of rare candor, UK officials tried to justify the new nuclear plant by stating that there are few options available for providing reliable power.  They state that coal is nearly exhausted and would be unreliable if imported, natural gas also is in short supply and in danger of being cut off by selling nations (meaning Russia), and wind is too unreliable.  Solar in the UK area is not at all economically attractive, owing to the high latitude and cloudy weather.  (The UK, after all, is of the same approximate latitude as Hudson Bay in Canada)   

What, then, is left but nuclear?    One answer, of course, is offshore wind coupled to ocean-based storage systems that supply power on demand, quite reliably. (see link) By 2030, one expects that the offshore wind with storage to be well-proven and very attractive.    All the offshore wind projects must do to compete is beat US$12,250 per kW.  The energy is free, and many of the other very high costs of running a nuclear plant simply do not exist for wind-energy. 

Update - 10/13/2014:  UK wind resources offshore are quite good.  see link   -- end update. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Grand Game - Oil in Disarray

Subtitle: Precision Directional Drilling Causes Oil Price Decrease

It has been a while (four years) since I last wrote on the Grand Game, where renewable energy, nuclear power, oil, coal, and natural gas all compete for shares of the world's energy needs.  Previous articles on the Grand Game may be found here (see link).   This week has seen a flurry of articles on the weakness of OPEC, and the looming oil price collapse.   (see link for one of many such articles)

The reasons for the impending oil price reduction, or collapse as it may turn out, are fundamental economics of supply and demand.  Demand is stable or slightly falling, while world supply is increasing as US domestic oil production due to precision directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing brings more oil to the surface.   On a side note: hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" as the media terms it, is not the key.  It does little good to fracture an oil-bearing formation if the oil well is vertical and pierces only a small part of the oil-bearing rock.  The key to the recent increased oil production is precision directional drilling, in which the oil well travels horizontally through the oil-bearing rock.   

Meanwhile, new cars are achieving ever-increasing miles-per-gallon ratings.  In the commercial aviation field, more and more ultra-efficient aircraft are flying, including Airbus' A380 and the Boeing 787.   However, the biggest influence is the increased oil production in the US.  

World oil price hit a low point this week, with the benchmark crude reaching $90 per barrel, representing approximately 10 percent decrease from recent prices.   It will be very interesting to see if OPEC members can reach some agreement on reduced production levels in an effort to increase or maintain price.  Or, perhaps the member countries will splinter and engage in a production war, each trying to sell as much as possible while prices plummet. 

On an editorial note, the price of oil has many ramifications.   The primary impact is on the cost of delivered goods since most goods move to their destination by petroleum-powered transport.  The transport usually takes the form of diesel-powered trucks and trains.  Also, ships and barges burn fuel oil.   Consumers who drive cars also enjoy reduced prices at the gasoline pump, leaving more disposable income in their wallets.   Industries do not burn much oil in modern times, and very little electricity is produced from oil so there is not much benefit for them.   

One of the major benefits is the price of natural gas, which in some instances is tied to the price of oil.  For example, Russia recently contracted to supply China with great quantities of natural gas, with the price of the gas being tied to the price of oil.    Since natural gas is used for electric power production, lower oil prices will have some impact on electricity prices. 

Long-term, OPEC has warned that low oil prices will create an oil shortage.  OPEC insists that few, if any, investments will be made into new production unless the price is obtainable to justify the spending.  

OPEC will meet again in November, 2014.   The results of that meeting should be interesting. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved

Monday, September 29, 2014

Russia and Energy Stranglehold on Europe

Subtitle: Still Dumb to Drill Baby Drill in US

An article by Paul Driessen, senior policy analyst at CFACT, appears at  (see link), in which he makes several points directed at how EU nations and the US should change energy policies to reduce the Russians' grip over those EU countries.   

(side note:  I met Paul Driessen briefly at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change, July 7-9, 2014, in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I cannot say I know the man well; it was just a very brief hello and exchange of cards.)

Some of what Mr. Driessen wrote in his Stranglehold article makes sense, and I agree with those points.   Other points are wrong, in my view.  

He is correct that Russia sells a great deal of natural gas to EU nations, and that Russia sometimes cuts off the gas flow.   He is also correct that EU nations could, and probably should, take steps to reduce reliance on Russian gas.  

His recommended steps are to import more gas from the US and other countries, and produce gas in their own countries.   What Mr. Driessen does not mention is that the US economy is enjoying a boom in engineering, process plant construction, and production of materials produced in those plants.  The economy, as bad as it is, would be much, much worse without the present supplies and low prices of feedstocks for those process plants - feedstocks that derive from production of natural gas.   Exporting natural gas to EU countries or elsewhere would increase the price of our domestic gas, and the light hydrocarbons that feed those chemical processing plants.    Therefore, it is not in the US' best interest to export natural gas to EU. 

I agree that other countries could, and should, produce their own reserves of natural gas.  The key process is precision directional drilling, not just hydraulic fracturing.   (see link for my article on France, natural gas, and the French nuclear industry). 

Next, Mr. Driessen argues that the US should increase drilling and production of oil from Federal lands.  This is an error, as I have written on and made speeches about (see link).  In my 2011 speech at Tulane Law School, New Orleans, Louisiana, I made the point that the US must conserve its oil resources against a future when other countries once again stop their oil exports to us, and we are in a prolonged and possibly world war.  All US presidents know that one of the reasons the Allies won World War II was the oil from the US.   This is indisputable, and is described in great detail in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Prize by Daniel Yergin.    As I said in my speech at Tulane, 

". . . we must take the long view and not be short-sighted. It is critical that the US be prepared for that day when we will desperately need our domestic oil. That day when our foreign supplies are cut off yet again, and this time we are in a prolonged world war, similar to World War II. To meet that day, we must have oil in our own lands. Every president since Truman has known this to be true, and therefore have made so much of the USA offshore off-limits to drilling. The West Coast, East Coast, and eastern Gulf of Mexico are off-limits to drilling. Much of the on-shore lands are also off-limits, including the ANWR. We know the oil is there. We don’t need that oil right now. Preserving that oil for the future is critical, and that is why Drill, Baby, Drill is Dumb, Baby, Dumb."

Finally, Mr. Driessen opines that "the world is not going find safe, efficient, affordable, environment-friendly alternatives to oil, natural gas and coal in the next decade or so."   Yet, the renewable energy industries have already delivered wind and solar power that is producing valuable electric power.  The renewable energy field has ongoing reductions in production costs, as more efficient machines are made in both wind and solar arenas, better wind resources are tapped, economy of scale is applied, and grid-scale storage systems are deployed.   High prices for natural gas make the economics of renewable systems even better, therefore EU nations can look more and more to renewables.   The future will include not only wind and solar, but ocean currents will provide vast amounts of inexhaustible power with no need for storage.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved

Sunday, September 14, 2014

California Peaking in Power Demand in 2014

Subtitle:  Grid Is Peaking a Bit Late This Year

Watching the California grid operator, CAISO (California Independent System Operator) is part of keeping tabs on climate change.  After all, if the warmist-alarmists are correct, the climate is getting warmer due to increasing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions.  The warmists are completely wrong, of course.  

This post is timely since there has been a fairly cool summer thus far in California, with the grid not being pushed much.  Today, however, the temperatures reached 106 F at 2:00 pm in downtown Los Angeles as measured at the campus of University of Southern California.  Weather forecasts are for more of the same for the next two days.  The normal temperature for this part of September is 83-84 F, with record temperatures 100 to 103 F set in 2012 and 1909.   The cause of the high temperatures is merely a stationary high pressure system.  Additional CO2 in the earth's atmosphere has nothing to do with it.  

The power grid peaked today at 41,540 MW per the CAISO website.  Their forecast for tomorrow is about 10 percent higher at 44,842 MW.   The weekend is almost always lower in demand than a weekday.  

For perspective, below are the peak demands for the past few years, again from CAISO:  (format from left to right in Year, MW demand, Month and Day, time of peak in hours and minutes; 16:00 is 4:00 pm)

1998 44,659 August 12 14:30
1999 45,884 July 12 16:52
2000 43,784 August 16 15:17
2001 41,419 August 7 16:17
2002 42,441 July 10 15:01
2003 42,689 July 17 15:22
2004 45,597 September 8 16:00
2005 45,431 July 20 15:22
2006 50,270 July 24 14:44
2007 48,615 August 31 15:27
2008 46,897 June 20 16:21
2009 46,042 September 3 16:17
2010 47,350 August 25 16:20
2011 45,545 September 7 16:30
2012 46,846 August 13 15:53
2013 45,097 June 28 16:54
2014 45,090 September 15 17:00  (estimated, to be confirmed)

The latest such peak day was September 8, in 2004.  If tomorrow (Monday) or Tuesday are the peak days, this will be the latest such peak for the past 17 years.  

The grid may be pushed a bit, since the San Onofre nuclear power plants are permanently offline since 2012 due to the radiation release caused by defective steam generators, but also from the lack of hydroelectric power during the ongoing drought.    The renewable generation in California includes solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and biogas.  Solar and wind are variable while the other three are very stable.   In the current heat wave, very little wind is blowing; the average for today (Sunday September 14) was approximately 1000 MW.   

The power to the grid, therefore, must either be provided by natural gas-fired power plants, the one remaining nuclear plant at Diablo Canyon, or imported if possible.  The state may also request load reductions from major users to ease the load.  

CAISO information on grid demand and supplies, including renewables, can be found at this link.

Update: 9/15/14, CAISO demand peaked at 45,090 MW today at approximately 17:00 hours.   This is the highest of the year, thus far.  Approximately 7,000 MW of this was provided by renewable energy: 4500 solar, 1000 wind, 900 geothermal, and the balance from small hydro, bio-mass and bio-gas.   - end update. 

Update:  9/17/14, the grid peak demand was lower today, at 43,757 MW at around 16:00 hours.  This reduced demand coincided with an increase in wind across the state, and wind-generated power.  The wind brings with it a cooling effect, reducing air conditioning loads.  The wind also produced approximately 2,800 MW of power.  Yet another benefit of wind-energy: cooling the atmosphere and thus reducing the load on the grid as it did today.  All the gas-fired plants were able to ease up a bit.   

The heat wave has ended, and cooler weather with lower grid demands will exist until sometime next summer.  -- end update

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (C) 2014 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Monday, September 1, 2014

Finland Nuclear Plant Delayed Yet Again

Subtitle: Four Year Construction Time More Than Tripled

The 1,600 MWe nuclear power plant under construction in Olkiluoto, Finland, is now delayed so much that first power production is not expected until sometime in 2018.  That is 9 years later than the original schedule, with a 13 year project construction time.  See link to the Finnish utility's website, TVO, and the announcement.  

This is yet more evidence that the nuclear power industry cannot deliver what they promise: the plant is not only years and years behind schedule, it is billions of Euros over budget.  

This plant has been the subject of previous SLB articles, see here, here, here, and here

This plant is designed for 1,600 MWe output, in an attempt to attain lower costs from economy of scale.  Larger plants can have lower production costs, and in many industries these economies are achieved.   But, with nuclear power plants, this does not seem to be the case.  Any economy of scale is surely obliterated by the increased financing costs on construction loans over a 13 year (2018-2005) construction period, plus escalations from inflation for materials, services, and labor.   These concepts are explored in some detail in Part Six of Truth About Nuclear Power (see link). 

The truth about the Finland reactor is that four more years are required, at least are now estimated as required, before startup.  Four years is a long time, and many more mistakes and problems can occur.  The plant may very well not see first production in 2018, but will likely be delayed much more.  

The reality is that, even after 50 years or more of design, development, actual experience, fine-tuning, and making best efforts around the world, nuclear power (as of 2011 per EIA statistics, see TANP part 11) provides only 11.7 percent of all power world-wide.   The only technologies smaller than nuclear’s share are oil (4.8 percent) and a catch-all category (4.5 percent) that includes wind, solar, geothermal, and various other renewable power.   One would expect that nuclear, if it were truly a superior technology economically and safe, would have easily surpassed coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric power (41, 22, and 16 percent approximately, respectively).

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell  -- All rights reserved

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Molten Salt Reactor Not Good To Go

Subtitle: Extolling Virtues and Ignoring Faults is Deceptive 

A laughable post appeared today at WattsUpWithThat, titled "A Universally Acceptable and Economical Energy Source?"    The article describes, in over-the-top glowing terms, a molten salt nuclear reactor to produce commercial power.    Apparently the author, and those who commented on the post, have not read my article 28 on TANP from July 20, 2014 in which the multiple drawbacks of a MSR (molten salt reactor) are provided.   Nothing has changed since July, however, nuclear cheerleaders continue to sell, sell, sell the gullible, the ill-informed, their desperate message of Nuclear Is Cheap!  Nuclear Is Safe!    Nothing could be farther from the truth.     Link here to my earlier article on MSR. 

To recap the many drawbacks:

MSR will have much more expensive materials of construction for the reactor, steam generator, molten salt pumps, and associated piping and valves, compared to the PWR design.   There will be no cost savings, but likely a cost increase.  That alone puts MSR out of the running for future power production.  

The safety issue is also not resolved, as pressurized water leaking from the steam generator into the hot, radioactive molten salt will explosively turn to steam and cause incredible damage.  The chances are great that the radioactive molten salt would be explosively discharged out of the reactor system and create more than havoc.  Finally, controlling the reaction and power output, finding materials that last safely for 3 or 4 decades, and consuming vast quantities of cooling water are all serious problems.  

The greatest problem, though, is likely the scale-up by a factor of 250 to 1, from the tiny project at ORNL to a full-scale commercial plant with 1500 MWth output.   Perhaps these technical problems can be overcome, but why would anyone bother to try, knowing in advance that the MSR plant will be uneconomic due to huge construction costs and operating costs, plus will explode and rain radioactive molten salt when (not if) the steam generator tubes leak.    There are serious reasons the US has not pursued development of the thorium MSR process. 

The WUWT article actually states some laugh-out-loud aspects of the "new" design.  First, the "new" design supposedly uses zero cooling water.   At the same time, the author claims higher efficiency.  Any decent process engineer will tell the author that waste heat must be dissipated to some heat sink, either cooling water or ambient air.  Cooling water is the usual choice because it is usually colder than air but more importantly, the capital cost of a water-cooled heat exchanger is far less than a comparable air-cooled heat exchanger.   A water-cooled exchanger is also far more compact, has fewer operating problems, and is not subject to serious control issues that air-cooled exchangers have.  

Next, the author claims the near-zero, or low pressure, for the molten salt as a safety feature.  As shown above, and in the TANP article 28, materials leak when tubes corrode, and the leak is from high-pressure into the low-pressure molten salt. 

Finally, the author claims a 500 MWe plant will cost only $2 billion and require only 36 months to construct.   That is approximately 1,500 MWth output.  That is indeed laughable, to have such a very low cost.  But then, nuclear advocates are very prone to hawking low-balled construction cost estimates, then blaming anyone but themselves for cost over-runs.  We see this time and again.   

The final point, and one that shall always be the deal-killer:  if the MSR reactor system was any good at all, why has it not already been developed, designed, tested, constructed, operated at larger and larger scales, and completely dominated the commercial power industry?   The answer is, of course, that MSR has insurmountable engineering issues, which are well-known to those in the industry.  

A version of the MSR is being built, we are told, in China.  Perhaps economics does not matter to them.  Perhaps operating problems also do not matter to them.  Perhaps the state-run media will refuse to report on the plant explosions and other serious upsets that will inevitably occur.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell  -- All rights reserved  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Time-Shifting Building Cooling

Subtitle:  How To Cut Power Bills and Still Cool The Building

It has long been known that one can save on the power bill by using cheap power at night to chill water, or freeze the water into ice, then using the cold created thereby the next day to provide air conditioning.  University of Southern California, USC, has done this for some years.  Today, an article is published showing how Goldman Sachs is doing the same for its large skyscraper in Wall Street.  see link  

The beauty of the system is it can also be a way to cut power prices even more - especially when very expensive power prices exist due to brand-new nuclear power plants.  Instead of using electricity at night, one would purchase natural gas to run thermal chillers, store the chilled water or ice, then run only low-powered fans and pumps to chill the building the next day.   Customers in Georgia and South Carolina will soon be looking into this with great interest as the very, very expensive new nuclear plants are built on their grids. 

Removing a large load from the grid - especially at night - forces nuclear plants to reduce rate at night.  The utility then must request a rate increase to pay for the nuclear plant, since fewer kWh are produced.  This makes it even more attractive for its customers to either stop buying power, generate their own power, or as this article shows, purchase cheap natural gas at night in order to not run expensive air conditioners the next day.  

As shown earlier in The Truth About Nuclear Power, part 7, as nuclear power percentage increases on a grid, more and more customers will opt out of the grid by reducing their purchases, self-generating, or by other means.  see link  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- All rights reserved

Monday, August 18, 2014

French Nuclear Reactors Too Old - Cannot Cut It

An excellent article from EurActive,com, dated 8/18/2014, showing the weakness of aging nuclear power plants not just in France, but other countries in Europe.  As the nuclear plants grow older, their time off-line for maintenance and inspection increases.  see link

Yet another reason nuclear plants do not last 60 years, as some advocates claim.  Still another reason nuclear plants have higher costs per kWh produced: their output falls off as they age, and capital costs and fixed operating costs must be spread out over fewer and fewer kWh sold.    From the article:

" EDF's average load factor for its French nuclear fleet [was] 73 percent in 2013, which is also down from its highest level of 77.6 percent in 2005, the company's 2013 results show."  (load factor is the ratio of the actual output to the nameplate capacity)

The nuclear plants also become less and less reliable as they age, requiring 100 percent backup ready and running to take over the load when the plants are shut down.   Sound familiar?  This is the constant whining from the nuclear advocates about "unreliable" wind and solar power.   Yet, with a nuclear plant, the grid experiences approximately 1000 MW of power loss instantly when the nuke stops.  

At the present, 50 percent of the nuclear plants in Belgium are off-line for maintenance.  The power must be provided from other plants - essentially 100 percent backup for those plants.  

The Truth About Nuclear Power series (30 articles in total) address many of the same issues in Part 10, 11, 15, and 16  (see links below)

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell.  All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Speech on Fertilizer Explosion in West - Texas 2013

I am happy to accept a speaking engagement for the Southern California section of AIChE, (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) for their September, 2014 monthly meeting.   My topic will be the safety issues that led to the fatal explosion in West, Texas, of an ammonia-based fertilizer distribution company, and the legal issues that ensued. 

The little town is a bit south of Dallas.  The event started with a fire, followed a few minutes later by a tremendous explosion.  Several people lost their lives in the explosion.  A number of structures were destroyed or damaged.  The explosion registered on earthquake seismometers as 2.1 intensity.  

More on the speech will be added after the meeting.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

(c)  Copyright 2014 by Roger Sowell   All rights reserved. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Truth About Wind Energy - Part One

Subtitle:  Wind Energy for Long Term Power

Following the success of a 30-article series on The Truth About Nuclear Power  see link, this article begins a similar series on Truth About Wind Energy, TAWE.    Arguments rage about wind power, with detractors making wild claims about high electric power costs, grid instabilities, unfair subsidies from government, death to flying birds and mammals, unsightly turbines blighting views, and others.   Supporters show that wind has enormous potential to replace almost every other form of grid power, that grids operate stably and will be even better in the future, subsidies are found in other forms of power generation - especially nuclear power, there is an urgency to develop renewable power and global warming has nothing to do with it, and many other points that favor wind power. 

This series of articles, planned to be approximately one dozen, takes the many arguments and looks at each one factually, with sound engineering, economics, legal aspects, and policy objectives.

This first article is a work in-progress, and will likely be modified from time to time.   As with TANP articles, each article in the series will be linked at the bottom as it is published.

A first effort at topics for TAWE include:  Is wind economic? Costs to install wind turbines? Annual output, capacity factor? What about subsidies? Technology types for turbines? Onshore vs Offshore potential? Impact on existing grids? Backup power supplies required? Experience shows us what?    Emissions from backup plants?   Impact on birds, bats? Safety – is anyone injured? Brief history of wind power? Longterm outlook for energy supplies?  Time-shifting energy via storage and discharge?   A concluding chapter. 

Update: 8/4/2014 - Is wind economic?

The calculation for wind energy economics is very simple, in that the cost/benefit analysis is fairly easy to perform.  As with most cost/benefit analyses, we begin with the benefits.  It makes no sense to calculate the costs of a system if there are no benefits, so we must determine first if there are any benefits. 

Benefits are found from average output in kW multiplied by average hours per year of generation, multiplied by the average price per kWh for power sales.  

1)  $ = kW x hrs/y x $/kWh

Power from wind is given by the equation (2)

2)  kW = 1/2 / 1000 x Eff x density x Area x Velocity ^3

Where W = Watts power produced
Eff   =  percent of available wind energy extracted by the turbine
density = air density, a constant usually at 1.225 kg/cubic meter
Area = swept area of the wind turbine blades, square meters
Velocity = wind speed in meters per second

For a sample calculation, 
Eff = 0.4
Area = 5,026 sq meters (from a rotor 80 meters diameter)
Velocity = 16 meters per second (equivalent to 36 miles per hour)

Then kW = 0.5 /1000 x 0.4 x 1.225 x 5,026 x 16 ^3 
kW = 5,044

For a location where wind blows an average of 7 hours per day, then hours per year is 

3) hrs/y = 7 x 365  = 2555

If the average sales price is $0.075 per kWh, then

$ benefits per year = 5,044 x 2,555 x 0.075  = $967,000 (rounded to thousands)

We can then proceed to the cost side of the analysis, having established that a 5 MW wind turbine at that location would produce revenue of almost $1,000,000 per year. 

For an investor, seeking a minimum return on his money of 10 percent before taxes, a simple method of screening a project is to determine the number of years required to payback the investment.   Using 10 year payback period, then the investment can be:

4) Inv = 10 * 1,000,000 = $10,000,000 

A check on the investment per kW of turbine output shows 

5)  $/kW = 10,000,000 / 5,000  = 2,000 (approximately)

This result, $2,000 per kW, compares favorably to that published by California Energy Commission for onshore wind projects with 2009 installation, where the cost was $1,990 per kW.    It should be noted that wind turbine costs have declined considerably since then (only 5 years ago at this writing), with some sources indicating 30 percent decline.   (end update 8/4/14)

The above provides the basic equations for computing wind power output, however, the turbine efficiency and wind speed are critical for individual project performance.   In the US, there are actually few locations, if any, that have wind speed of 16 m/s (36 miles per hour) for 7 hours each day.  Wind speed maps of the US are available; these show a typical range from zero to 10 m/s.   Wind speed is also classified into 7 classes, 1 - 7, with good wind being in class 3 and 4, and excellent wind in class 5.  These classes are for wind speed of 6.4 to 7.5 m/s for class 3 to 4, and from 7.5 to 8.0 m/s for class 5.   In places offshore on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, wind averages 9 to 10 m/s.   The great wind corridor from the Canadian border to central Texas, and extending from the Rocky Mountains east approximately 450 miles, has annual average wind speeds of approximately 9 m/s.  

Using a value for class 7 wind, 9 m/s in the above equations, gives 894 kW, a factor of 5.6 times less than 5,044.    

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

As always on SLB, comments are welcome however they must be on-topic, non-commercial, and respectful.  All comments are moderated by Roger Sowell.  Comments may not appear right away. 

Copyright 2014, Roger E. Sowell

The Truth About Nuclear Power – Part 30

Subtitle: Conclusion on Nuclear Power Not Economic Nor Safe

This is the 30th and final chapter in the Truth About Nuclear Power series, (see links at end of article) at least for now.  The TANP series was motivated by many conversations and digital exchanges via emails and online blogs over several years, in which most nuclear advocates advanced various statements about the advantages of nuclear power.  Knowing that those statements were false, I answered many of the false statements.  

For those who have read some of or the entire TANP series, this concluding article will serve as a review and provide (hopefully) further insight into the actual world of nuclear power.  The article is in three parts: 1) the rosy claims of nuclear advocates, 2) questions raised by those rosy claims, and responses to the questions raised, and 3) an answer for why nations continue to build nuclear plants despite the serious and numerous disadvantages.  

Part I of this article discusses nuclear advocates’ six primary claims, those being that nuclear power is 1) cheap,  only 2 or 3 cents per kWh,  2) reliable, and 3) extremely safe; they insist that 4) the plants run for 60 years before needing replacement, and 5) cost only $2.5 to $4 billion per 1,000 MW plant.  They also insist 6) the plants are built in only 4 years from groundbreaking to startup.   None of that squares with what I know about nuclear plants.

Part II of this article addresses a series of questions about nuclear power, the answers to which led to many of the previous articles on TANP.  The general form of the questions is, If what nuclear advocates say is really true, then Why (insert the question) is this also true?  These questions are shown below:

1 Why has nuclear power achieved only 11 percent of world power production, after more than 5 decades of competition?
2  Why do small islands have zero nuclear power plants, but burn expensive oil or diesel resulting in power prices of 25 to 35 cents per kWh?
3 Why do nuclear utilities never, ever, ask for a rate decrease when they build a nuclear plant?
4  Why did France install nuclear plants to provide 85 percent of the country’s power, and no other country in the world followed their lead?
5  Why does France have higher electricity prices than does the US, even with France heavily subsidizing their electricity industry?
6  Why does nuclear power in the US require heavy subsidies from government – and almost total indemnity from costs of a massive radiation disaster?
7  Why are nuclear plants shutting down in the US, with owners saying they are losing money?
8  Why are there so many near-misses on meltdowns in US plants, every 3 weeks? 
9  Why were there three serious meltdowns worldwide in just a bit more than 30 years? (Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island)
10  Why are new reactor technologies being researched and developed?

Part III of this article poses, then answers, the additional question of Why do countries around the world continue to build nuclear power plants, in spite of all the obvious, documented, irrefutable disadvantages of nuclear power?

I    Rosy Claims of Nuclear Advocates

Nuclear advocates assert six primary claims, those being that nuclear power is 1) cheap,  only 2 or 3 cents per kWh,  2) reliable, 3) extremely safe; they insist that 4) the plants run for 60 years before needing replacement, and 5) cost only $2.5 to $4 billion per 1,000 MW plant.  They also insist 6) the plants are built in only 4 years from groundbreaking to startup.   None of that squares with what I know about nuclear plants.

The reality is quite different.  Taking their assertions in turn, nuclear power is cheap only if one counts the fuel costs but ignores all the capital costs, operations and maintenance, insurance, taxes, and other costs of owning and running a plant.   There is a fundamental fact that energy from nuclear fission is quite large, given the amount of uranium that is split into smaller atoms.   However, no one prices a product simply on the fuel costs – for example, renting a moving van typically has a fixed cost per day plus a cost for miles driven, plus costs of insurance, plus the renter must pay for fuel used.   As another example, renting a home or apartment typically includes a fixed cost per month for use of the home, plus costs for utilities including electricity, natural gas, water, trash removal, communications (phone service and internet service), and insurance.  It is misleading and deceptive for nuclear advocates to claim that nuclear power is cheap, based solely on fuel costs.

Next, nuclear plants are claimed to be reliable.  At times, they are reliable – but only when they are running.  TANP Part 16 shows that in the US, nuclear plants were shut down on an emergency basis approximately once every 3 weeks over a four-year period.   Those incidents were serious, so much so that the NRC sent an investigative team to those plants.   There were actually far more unplanned shutdowns, each of which shows the plants are not as reliable as advocates claim.   The NRC, for safety reasons, requires nuclear plants to shut down for many reasons until the safety issue is resolved.   The plants also experience routine equipment failures, both on the nuclear and non-nuclear sides of the plant.    When the nuclear plant trips off-line, the other power plants on the local grid must make up the loss of power, or the electrical demand must be reduced.   A very recent example of loss of nuclear power is the total and permanent shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in Southern California in 2012.   The plant was shut down without warning due to a serious radioactive steam leak into the atmosphere.  This was discussed in TANP Part 23.   The twin reactors were producing approximately 2100 MW into the grid.  All that power had to be replaced quite suddenly.

Next, nuclear plants are claimed to be extremely safe.  Several articles on TANP address the safety issues, including Part 16 mentioned just above, showing the plants shut down approximately every 3 weeks in the US to prevent a serious malfunction.   The three major meltdowns, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima Dai-Ichi were discussed in one article each on TANP.  Evacuation plans required at each plant are discussed in Part 26.   The fundamentally unsafe nature of nuclear plants, and the incredibly high risk and consequent damages from a major incident are discussed in several articles, including Part 5, and 6.   Medical risks to populations are discussed in Part 19.  Reprocessing spent fuel and the safety issues associated are discussed in Part 18.   An example is described in Part 16, where  the short-lived Rancho Seco nuclear plant near Sacramento, California, was shut down permanently after only 18 years of operation (1971 - 1989) due to an incredible number of leaks, radiation emissions, fires, mechanical breakdowns, and other safety issues.

Next, nuclear plants are claimed to run for 60 years before replacement.  This assertion is simply not true; the Rancho Seco plant mentioned just above lasted only 18 years, while the two reactors at SONGS plant lasted just under 30 years.   The Three Mile Island Reactor 2 melted down after only one year of operation.  Per the NRC, at this time the oldest US operating reactors are 44 years old.   Of the 28 shutdown nuclear reactors in the US, none made it to 60 years before shutdown. 

Next, nuclear plants are claimed to cost only $2.5 to $4 billion per 1,000 MWe output.  This is again a similar misstatement, in that it incorporates only the theoretical cost, the “overnight” cost and does not include the realities of a multi-year construction period, cost escalations due to inflation on materials and labor, and the interest on construction loan.  As shown in Part 3, 6, and 9, the actual cost to construct a modern nuclear power plant is approximately $10 billion for a 1,000 MWe output. 

Finally, advocates claim that nuclear plants are built in only 4 years from groundbreaking to startup.  The reality is that almost every nuclear power plant requires far more than 4 years, with many requiring 10 years or longer to build.  Even today, a new reactor in Finland and a similar one in France are years behind schedule, the Vogtle plant in  Georgia (US) is also years behind schedule.  The South Texas plant was several years behind schedule when it started operating.   Watts Bar unit 1 required 23 years from start to completion. 

II A Series of Questions

Ten questions came to mind in response to the nuclear advocates’ position on nuclear power, which are discussed in turn below.  From above, the general form of each question is, If what nuclear advocates say is really true, then Why (insert the question) is this also true?  These questions are shown and discussed below.

1 Why has nuclear power achieved only 11 percent of world power production, after more than 5 decades of competition?

The reality is that, even after 50 years or more of design, development, actual experience, fine-tuning, and making best efforts around the world, nuclear power (as of 2011 per EIA statistics, see TANP part 11) provides only 11.7 percent of all power world-wide.   The only technologies smaller than nuclear’s share are oil (4.8 percent) and a catch-all category (4.5 percent) that includes wind, solar, geothermal, and various other renewable power.   One would expect that nuclear, if it were truly a superior technology economically and safe, would have easily surpassed coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric power (41, 22, and 16 percent approximately, respectively).  Nuclear power, in the US and in the early 70’s, was seen as a cheap way to replace oil-fired power plants that were suddenly losing money after world oil prices increased in the Oil Embargo.  Until that time, oil provided about 20 percent of US power.  Nuclear plants replaced that oil-based power almost on a one-for-one basis.  However, when nuclear plants had to compete with lower-cost technologies, coal and natural gas, they could not. 

Why do small islands have zero nuclear power plants, but burn expensive oil or diesel resulting in power prices of 25 to 35 cents per kWh?

This is discussed at length in TANP part 12.   It is quite instructive that islands around the world, particularly those 15 islands with populations that support a power demand of approximately 1000 MW, have zero nuclear power plants.  If nuclear power was truly as cheap as the advocates claim, then why are islanders burning fuel oil and diesel in generators to produce power that costs them 25 to 35 cents per kWh (or more)?  Surely, the islanders are not stupid.  The simple fact is that islanders are quite smart, and are using the best technology available to provide power at the lowest cost consistent with reliability and safety.   Nuclear advocates seethe over this point, and sneeringly reply that England must not be an island, then, nor Taiwan, nor Japan (several islands actually), since they all have nuclear power plants.  However, the point is that small islands, those with populations of approximately 1 million, have expensive power but zero nuclear plants. 

3 Why do nuclear utilities never, ever, ask for a rate decrease when they build a nuclear plant?

If nuclear power truly was as low-cost as the advocates claim, why then do utilities always request a rate increase when building a nuclear plant?   In all my research over many decades, I have yet to find a single utility that asked for a rate decrease after building a nuclear plant.  Indeed, today in Georgia (US), the utility had to request the legislature and Governor to change the law so that the utility could charge existing customers more money in order to build the Vogtle nuclear plant.   The utilities have gone from asking for money after the plant is built, to asking for money during construction.    At times, utilities have asked for so much money in the rate increase that lawsuits were required to settle how much of the cost to build nuclear could be obtained from the customers, and how much the utility had to absorb.   

The natural consequences of building nuclear plants is higher and higher power prices.  Grim consequences of this are discussed at length in TANP part 2. 

Why did France install nuclear plants to provide 85 percent of the country’s power, but no other country in the world followed their lead?

This fact, France having 85 percent nuclear power on their grid, is frequently thrown out by nuclear advocates to show that nuclear power is the best power choice, and that other countries would do well to follow France’s lead.  The reality is quite different.  This is discussed at length in TANP part 11.   France has few fossil fuel resources (at least up until now when natural gas is widely available but un-tapped via hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling).  Power before 1974 was provided by oil-burning power plants, using imported oil.  The OPEC oil embargo raised oil prices so much that France chose to build nuclear plants rather than import oil.  This is a theme that will be considered in greater detail in Part III of this concluding article.   

Why does France have higher electricity prices than does the US, even with France heavily subsidizing their electricity industry?

As shown in part 11, France had to subsidize its power industry, and must to this day sell excess power at night to other countries (primarily Italy) to avoid reducing the nuclear plants’ output each night and increasing again each day.   Only with the Italians’ cooperation is this possible.   France has also been found in violation of illegally subsidizing its power prices.   Finally, even with vast subsidies, France charges its customers between 50 percent and 100 percent more (essentially double) for electric power compared to prices in the US.  This is hardly a roadmap for anyone else to follow.  Indeed, no other country follows France in building so great a share of nuclear power on its grid.   After 40 years from the Oil Embargo, if it were a good idea, surely some other country would have done so. 

Why does nuclear power in the US require heavy subsidies from government – and almost total indemnity from costs of a massive radiation disaster?

As shown in great detail in part 13 and 25, US nuclear power plants enjoy massive subsidies.  In fact, no nuclear plant would be built without the subsidies.  Forms of subsidy include construction loan guarantees, liability relief from property and human injuries due to radiation disasters, relief from some construction lawsuits, a form of a carbon tax that shuts down their coal-based competition, and as mentioned earlier, legislation to force rate-payers to pay for nuclear power plant construction before the plants are completed.    In fact, the Price-Anderson Act provides that nuclear plant owners carry insurance for $300 million in damages, and each operating plant must contribute to anything above $300 million.  The federal government pays anything above a stated amount, presently about $10 billion.  In effect, the nuclear power plant owners have almost zero liability due to insurance and government indemnity.   This cannot be conducive to a safe operating regime – if there are zero consequences, why try to operate safely?

Why are nuclear plants shutting down in the US, with owners saying they are losing money?

As shown in TANP part 1, almost a dozen US nuclear power plants have either announced their intention to shut down, or are losing money while operating.  Nuclear utilities are pleading with lawmakers to pass laws to provide government subsidies to the nuclear plants.   This is due to the fact that nuclear power is not the most economic choice for power generation.  In fact, it is a losing proposition.  Nuclear power plants almost always run at 100 percent output or close to that, meaning they do not reduce output at night when demand for power is lowest.  Their cash operating costs, for items such as labor, fuel, and consumables like water and chemicals, are higher than the price the grid operator will pay them.   The fact that they do not reduce output at night forces them to compete with themselves, putting an unwanted and un-needed product into the market, driving down the prices.  Exelon, the owner of more US reactors (23) than any other company, has publicly sought government intervention to prop up its sales prices – in an effort to “save jobs.” 

Why are there so many near-misses on meltdowns in US plants, every 3 weeks? 

The nuclear industry, and nuclear advocates, try to avoid discussing the serious and frequent near-misses in the US nuclear reactor fleet.  However, the information is publicly available and is compiled and published annually.  The results for the four years 2010-2013, inclusive, are discussed in part 16.  There were 70 serious incidents in the four years, for an average of approximately one every 3 weeks.  There were many more incidents but these 70 resulted in an investigative team sent to the plant by the NRC.    Nuclear power plants are a tragedy waiting to happen.   From design issues that are only now discovered (many 40 years after startup), to replacement parts that do not work smoothly with the other plant systems, to untrained operators, to normal equipment failures responded to badly, to unanticipated combination of system failures, the list of causal events goes on and on. 

The most serious incident, in my view, occurred at the Byron Station, Unit 2, in January, 2012, in Illinois.  A complete loss of cooling water at Unit 2 was temporarily replaced with water from Unit 1. Had this been a single-reactor plant, with no operating reactor close at hand, the loss of cooling could have resulted in a partial or full core meltdown, exactly what happened at Fukushima, Japan, and at Three Mile Island.  This is completely unacceptable.

Nuclear advocates, though, argue that the safety systems are adequate since no meltdowns occurred recently.  However, the sheer number of serious incidents shows that eventually, another catastrophe will occur.  The US has been lucky, but that luck is likely running out as the plants grow older and more mishaps occur.

Why were there three serious meltdowns worldwide in just a bit more than 30 years? (Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island)

This question is about the most serious disasters thus far.  Each is well-known, and has been in the world news.  Each meltdown has its own article in TANP, Three Mile Island is article 21, Chernobyl is article 20, and Fukushima is article 22.   In spite of the claims to safety, Three Mile Island resulted in a core meltdown that almost broke through the reactor walls.  That would most assuredly resulted in a hydrogen explosion and containment building destruction – with radiation spread over a wide area near the northern US East Coast.  Only pure dumb luck prompted an operator to re-start a water pump that had been deliberately shut down earlier.   That additional water began cooling the melting core.   Chernobyl’s explosion was the result of a badly planned and executed test with the reactor far from acceptable conditions.   The Fukushima multiple reactor meltdowns and containment building explosions were due to total loss of all grid power for days and days, following an earthquake that slightly exceeded design conditions plus a tsunami that far exceeded design conditions.   Each time a major incident occurs such as those three, the industry shrugs it off with sayings such as
“that was a coincidence,” or “that can never happen again” or something similar.   Yet, the stark fact is that in just over 30 years, there have been 3 major meltdowns, (five if Fukushima’s 3 reactors are counted separately), with 4 exploded containment buildings. 

10  Why are new reactor technologies being researched and developed?

This ties in with the earlier questions on nuclear economics, and to an extent, reactor safety.  If present nuclear technology was truly cheap, and truly safe, there would be no need to explore alternatives.  Yet, several countries are developing technologies including small modular reactors (SMR), fusion, thorium molten salt reactors, and high temperature gas reactors.  Each of these has an article on TANP, (8, 27, 28, and 29 respectively).   The conclusion for each technology is that the economics are even worse than present large-scale PWR (pressurized water reactor) designs, and each has serious safety issues.   The SMR companies in the US have recently curtailed their activities due to lack of investment and lack of customers.  The market-place has voted with its pocketbook, and the vote was “no sale.”   Fusion is proceeding in research but has so many drawbacks it is almost a tragedy.  They plan to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, isolate deuterium from normal hydrogen, freeze the deuterium, make spherical pellets of the deuterium, then load the sphere into a special chamber where high-powered lasers blast simultaneously on the sphere’s surface to induce a fusion reaction at the sphere’s core.    If it were not published by a US national lab, this would be the stuff of comic books and a mad scientist.   Thorium in a molten salt has so many technical and safety issues it will likely never be approved by a regulatory agency.  The same is true with HTGR, where uranium is enclosed in 2.5-inch spheres that are to be injected via a lock-hopper into a hot nuclear reactor at 1000 psi and more than 1000 degrees F. 

III Why Countries Continue to Build Nuclear Power Plants

Many more nuclear plants are under construction, or planned, in spite of all the obvious, documented, irrefutable disadvantages of nuclear power.   Most are not in the US, instead they are in many other countries including China, India, Finland, France, and others.   It is helpful to examine the alternatives for generating power in various countries.

First, the US has perhaps the lowest cost of natural gas of any major economy due to extensive directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing of gas-bearing strata deep underground.  Most other countries pay a price for natural gas that is on parity with the fuel-equivalent value of oil.  In today’s dollars, oil is approximately $100 per barrel, the equivalent of $17 per million Btu.   Natural gas in the US is presently $3 to $4 per million Btu, while in other countries it is $15 to $17 per million Btu.   A recent and major supply contract from Russia to China has the price of gas tied to the price of oil; as oil price increases, so does natural gas.  

Even with a high-efficiency natural gas power plant that uses combined cycle technology, the fuel component of power is approximately one-half the price of the natural gas.  Therefore, with gas at $17 per million Btu, power must be sold for at least $90 per MWh (9 cents US per kWh).   Capital costs and other operating, maintenance and miscellaneous costs add another $20 to $30, with the resulting price to the grid of $110 to $120 per MWh.  This price is what a nuclear plant must compete with, in non-US countries. 

Indeed, it is instructive that recent projects for nuclear power plants have a sales price for power of almost exactly as shown above.  India, for example, obtained a price of $100 per MWh in negotiations with France-based Areva where Areva wanted $160 per MWh.    That same project has a sweetheart interest rate of 4.8 percent from France to India for the construction loan.   Russia also sweetens nuclear plant deals with below-bank financing.  

Countries also are not pleased with natural gas imports, especially when the gas supplier has a tendency to shut off the gas supplies.  Russia has done this to its gas customers.   Perhaps it is better, the thinking goes, to have nuclear plants provide the power and not risk having the gas shut off in a cold winter.

It is also a consideration that balance of trade, the high cost of importing vast quantities of oil or natural gas, can have an effect on a national economy.  That is the reason France has advanced for switching to nuclear in the 1970s. 

Finally, it may be that different countries evaluate the safety risk and conclude that nuclear plants are sufficiently safe, given proper design and when located away from earthquake zones and tsunami areas. 


Finally, it has been shown throughout the TANP series that nuclear power is not economic – many citations are documented.  Nuclear power is not safe either – again many citations are documented.  Despite this, many countries are building nuclear plants and plan to build even more.   Their reasons to build nuclear may satisfy them, but it is very interesting to note why nuclear cannot compete in the US: the price of natural gas is too low.   Many other countries, France included, also have vast resources of natural gas locked away in shale deposits that can be developed (as is the US) using directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing.  Producing such gas reserves domestically would reduce the price of natural gas, perhaps far below the oil-based pricing currently prevailing. 

As Germany reacted to the Fukushima disaster, declaring nuclear power a menace that will be shut down as soon as possible, other countries will very likely take the same decision.  While not wishing any ill effects on anyone anywhere, only one more major disaster such as Fukushima meltdowns and radiation release, would tip the scales in balance of no more nuclear power. 

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The Truth About Nuclear Power emphasizes the economic and safety aspects by showing that (one) modern nuclear power plants are uneconomic to operate compared to natural gas and wind energy, (two) they produce preposterous pricing if they are the sole power source for a grid, (three) they cost far too much to construct, (four) use far more water for cooling, 4 times as much, than better alternatives, (five) nuclear fuel makes them difficult to shut down and requires very costly safeguards, (six) they are built to huge scale of 1,000 to 1,600 MWe or greater to attempt to reduce costs via economy of scale, (seven) an all-nuclear grid will lose customers to self-generation, (eight) smaller and modular nuclear plants have no benefits due to reverse economy of scale, (nine) large-scale plants have very long construction schedules even without lawsuits that delay construction, (ten) nuclear plants do not reach 50 or 60 years life because they require costly upgrades after 20 to 30 years that do not always perform as designed, (eleven) France has 85 percent of its electricity produced via nuclear power but it is subsidized, is still almost twice as expensive as prices in the US, and is only viable due to exporting power at night rather than throttling back the plants during low demand, (twelve) nuclear plants cannot provide cheap power on small islands, (thirteen) US nuclear plants are heavily subsidized but still cannot compete, (fourteen), projects are cancelled due to unfavorable economics, reactor vendors are desperate for sales, nuclear advocates tout low operating costs and ignore capital costs, nuclear utilities never ask for a rate decrease when building a new nuclear plant, and high nuclear costs are buried in a large customer base, (fifteen) safety regulations are routinely relaxed to allow the plants to continue operating without spending the funds to bring them into compliance, (sixteen) many, many near-misses occur each year in nuclear power, approximately one every 3 weeks, (seventeen) safety issues with short term, and long-term, storage of spent fuel, (eighteen)  safety hazards of spent fuel reprocessing, (nineteen) health effects on people and other living things, (twenty) nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, (twenty-one) nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island, (twenty-two)  nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima, (twenty-three) near-disaster at San Onofre, (twenty-four) the looming disaster at St. Lucie, (twenty-five)  the inherently unsafe characteristics of nuclear power plants required government shielding from liability, or subsidy, for the costs of a nuclear accident via the Price-Anderson Act, and (twenty-six) the serious public impacts of large-scale population evacuation and relocation after a major incident, or "extraordinary nuclear occurrence" in the language used by the Price-Anderson Act.  Additional articles will include (twenty-seven) the future of nuclear fusion, (twenty-eight) future of thorium reactors, (twenty-nine) future of high-temperature gas nuclear reactors, and (thirty), a concluding chapter with a world-wide economic analysis of nuclear reactors and why countries build them.  Links to each article in TANP series are included at the end of this article.

Part Twenty Three - San Onofre Shutdown Saga
Part Twenty Four - St Lucie Ominous Tube Wear
Part Twenty Seven - Power From Nuclear Fusion
Part Thirty - this article 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California