Nuclear Power Industry Dies a Slow Death

By Larry Kummer – From the Fabius Maximus website. With enhancements by Anthony Watts

Summary: After decades of promises about its potential, the window of opportunity is closing for nuclear power. Hated by the Left despite its carbon-free generation of electricity, their opposition plus decades of utilities’ screw-ups have weakened it. New energy tech — renewables and fracking — appears to be finishing it off.

For example, Rancho Seco Nuclear generating station:

The plant operated from April 1975 to June 1989 but had a lifetime capacity average of only 39%; it was closed by public vote on 7 June 1989 after multiple referenda that resulted from a long record of multiple annual shut-downs, cost over-runs, mismanagement, multiple accidents that included radioactive steam releases, re-starts after unresolved automatic shut-downs, and regular rate increases that included a 92% increase over one 3 year span.[5]

Operation of the recreational area was assumed by SMUD in 1992. In cooperation with the Nature Conservancy, SMUD dedicated in June 2006 the Howard Ranch Nature Trail, a seven-mile (11 km) long trail that follows riparian and marsh habitat along Rancho Seco Lake and the adjoining Howard Ranch that once belonged to the owner of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit.

All power generating equipment has been removed from the plant and the now-empty cooling towers remain a prominent part of the local landscape. Also scattered throughout the area around the plant are abandoned air raid sirens that at one time would have warned people of a radioactivity release from the station. Additions to SMUD’s Rancho Seco property have included massive solar installations and, more recently, the natural gas-fired Cosumnes Power Plant, brought online in 2006. – source: WikiPedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rancho_Seco_Nuclear_Generating_Station

 

The Rancho Seco Nuclear generating station near Sacramento, CA with solar panels in the foreground. Closed by public vote in 1989.Image: Wikipedia

The prediction of “too cheap to meter” electrical power

Articles about nuclear power often start with a myth, as does this oddly named article by Michael Rose at the HuffPo: “The top ten myths of nuclear power“: “Nuclear power was sold in the US as being “too cheap too meter.” The quote is accurate. The statement is false. Here is the famous quote.

Global warming increases the likelihood of super cold polar vortex conditions, according to a new study published in Nature.

According to the abstract;

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140902/ncomms5646/full/ncomms5646.html

“Successive cold winters of severely low temperatures in recent years have had critical social and economic impacts on the mid-latitude continents in the Northern Hemisphere. Although these cold winters are thought to be partly driven by dramatic losses of Arctic sea-ice, the mechanism that links sea-ice loss to cold winters remains a subject of debate. Here, by conducting observational analyses and model experiments, we show how Arctic sea-ice loss and cold winters in extra-polar regions are dynamically connected through the polar stratosphere. We find that decreased sea-ice cover during early winter months (November–December), especially over the Barents–Kara seas, enhances the upward propagation of planetary-scale waves with wavenumbers of 1 and 2, subsequently weakening the stratospheric polar vortex in mid-winter (January–February). The weakened polar vortex preferentially induces a negative phase of Arctic Oscillation at the surface, resulting in low temperatures in mid-latitudes.”

I guess the lesson is, next time the polar vortex strikes, we should resist the temptation to stay warm, and we should turn off the central heating, otherwise we might all freeze to death.

AUTHOR: Eric Worrall
AUTHOR EMAIL: eworrall1@gmail.com
AUTHOR URL: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140902/ncomms5646/full/ncomms5646.html
SUBJECT: WUWT story submission
IP: 124.187.4.195
Array
(
[Story Title] => Global Warming unleashes the Polar Vortex
[One line summary of story] => Weakens the Jetstream prison
[Story body (HTML tags supported)] => Global warming increases the likelihood of super cold polar vortex conditions, according to a new study published in Nature.

According to the abstract;

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140902/ncomms5646/full/ncomms5646.html

“Successive cold winters of severely low temperatures in recent years have had critical social and economic impacts on the mid-latitude continents in the Northern Hemisphere. Although these cold winters are thought to be partly driven by dramatic losses of Arctic sea-ice, the mechanism that links sea-ice loss to cold winters remains a subject of debate. Here, by conducting observational analyses and model experiments, we show how Arctic sea-ice loss and cold winters in extra-polar regions are dynamically connected through the polar stratosphere. We find that decreased sea-ice cover during early winter months (November–December), especially over the Barents–Kara seas, enhances the upward propagation of planetary-scale waves with wavenumbers of 1 and 2, subsequently weakening the stratospheric polar vortex in mid-winter (January–February). The weakened polar vortex preferentially induces a negative phase of Arctic Oscillation at the surface, resulting in low temperatures in mid-latitudes.”

I guess the lesson is, next time the polar vortex strikes, we should resist the temptation to stay warm, and we should turn off the central heating, otherwise we might all freeze to death.
[URL of story (if applicable)] => http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140902/ncomms5646/full/ncomms5646.html
[Your name as you wish it to display] => Eric Worrall
[Email] => eworrall1@gmail.com
[I have read and agreed to the submission guidelines] => Yes
)

” data-medium-file=”” data-large-file=”” class=”aligncenter wp-image-115633″ src=”https://fabiusmaximus.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Too-Cheap-to-Meter-300×240.jpg” alt=””Too Cheap to Meter” speech” scale=”0″ width=”450″ height=”359″>

“Transmutation of the elements – unlimited power, ability to investigate the working of living cells by tracer atoms, the secret of photosynthesis about to be uncovered – these and a host of other results all in 15 short years. It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter – will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history – will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds – and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age. This is the forecast for an age of peace.”

Lewis Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, in a speech at the Founder Day Dinner of the National Association of Science Writers, 16 September 1954.

His audience included some impressive people, including 5 Nobel Prize winners. At the head table with him. Strauss is sixth from left. Glenn Seaborg is first on left (1951 Nobel for Chemistry, chairman of the AEC from 1961 to 1971). Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1937 Nobel for Medicine) is third from the left. Irving Langmuir (1932 Nobel for Chemistry) is sixth from the right. Edward C. Kendall (1959 Nobel for Medicine) is fourth from the right.

The website of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission tells the story. Strauss’ optimism was not shared by many other experts at the time. This article gives more quotes by contemporary experts who were far more cautious about the future of nuclear power. Many of these look prescient today. There is no reason to consider Strauss’ statement the benchmark against which to compare the history of nuclear power.

Events have not followed Strauss’ prediction. But late does not mean wrong. Who knows what energy sources await us in the future.

Illustration from 1955 Progress Report, Atomic Power Development Associates, March 1956.

From the March 1956 Progress Report of Atomic Power Development Associates,.

Flash forward to 2017

“It is estimated that nuclear power will provide more than one-quarter of this country’s electrical production by 1985, and over half by the year 2000.”

— President Richard Nixon’s special message to Congress on 18 April 1973. Despite the claims, Nixon’s Project Independence did not propose building 1,000 nuclear power plants by 2000. Today nukes generates 20% of America’s electricity.

Nuclear power is dying in the United States. By now the causes are obvious. High among them are…

  • Incompetent government licensing. Until recently, in the US companies received construction permits based on incomplete plans. Then applied for an operating license, often leading to rebuilding and long delays.
  • Incompetent construction by firms with little experience on project so large and complex.
  • Too many accidents (in the US and around the world).
  • Every-changing government policy, often highly adverse.
  • Development of cheaper and more flexible energy sources.

Things looked dark in 2016 for nuclear power in America

“Most operating coal plants were built prior to 1980, and a significant portion of U.S. hydroelectric capacity is even older — the oldest hydro plant still operating was built in 1891. Most of the natural gas fleet and almost all wind and solar capacity has been built since 2000.” Most nukes were built in the 1970s. {EIA, February 2017.}

The US keeps shutting down nuclear power plants and replacing them with coal or gas.”
By Brad Plumer at VOX, November 2016.

“America’s largest source of zero-carbon power is in serious trouble …nuclear power, which still provides about 19% of the nation’s electricity. Since 2013, the United States has lost five nuclear power plants, retired before the end of their natural lifespan for economic reasons: Crystal River in Florida, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, San Onofre in California, Vermont Yankee, and, just at the end of October, Fort Calhoun in Nebraska. They’ve generally fallen victim to cheap natural gas, unfavorable market policies, and/or local opposition.

“That’s a huge chunk of emissions-free power — gone. Those five plants alone produced nearly as much electricity as all of America’s solar panels last year. That’s not a knock on solar at all; it just shows the scale of what’s being lost here. And, according to a new analysis by the Energy Information Administration, when those reactors get retired, utilities usually end up replacing the lost electricity by burning more coal or natural gas. We’re basically taking a step backward on climate change …

“The details behind each reactor closure differ. Crystal River needed billion-dollar repairs to its containment wall that didn’t make financial sense for its owner when electricity prices were so low due to cheap natural gas. San Onofre also needed costly repairs and probably could’ve survived if it had been allowed to operate at part-capacity, but regulatory delays made it unprofitable for the utility to keep the plant open.

“But the big picture is pretty simple. There are lots of reactors around the country that are already built and technically capable of providing carbon-free electricity for years to come, but are getting crushed by circumstance. Unless we decide to change energy policies so as to properly value nuclear’s carbon-free contribution (and see here for ideas on that score), those plants will keep vanishing, largely replaced by fossil fuels.

“So what does that future look like? A new report by Whitney Herndon and John Larsen of the Rhodium Group notes that 24 gigawatts of nuclear power are at risk of being retired between now and 2030 without major policy changes. That includes seven reactors currently scheduled to be shut down, like the two large units at California’s Diablo Canyon, as well as others that could face financial woes in the coming years.

“If all these plants close, the Rhodium Group estimates, about 75% of that lost power will likely be replaced by natural gas, and greenhouse-gas emissions will be higher than they otherwise would be.”

See this typically excellent backgrouder in the NYT: “The Murky Future of Nuclear Power in the United States” by Diane Cardwell, February 2017. It quickly proved far too optimistic.

Projection on Borssele Nuclear Power Station

Greenpeace projects an image based on Munch’s ‘The Scream’ onto the Borssele nuclear power station in the Netherlands, 27 March 2011. © Greenpeace/Bas Beentjes.

The news in 2017 has been even worse for nuclear power.

Cuomo Confirms Deal to Close Indian Point Nuclear Plant.”
By Patrick McGeehan in the NYT, January 2017.

“Mr. Cuomo announced on Monday that the state had reached an agreement with the plant’s operator, Entergy, to shut it down by April 2021. …In his State of the State address in Lower Manhattan, Mr. Cuomo characterized the deal as a hard bargain he had driven to rid the region of a ‘ticking time bomb’ less than 30 miles from Midtown. He said the state would bear no costs in the shutdown or decommissioning of the plant’s two operating nuclear reactors. ‘I have personally been trying to close it down for 15 years,’ said Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat. He added that the proposed closing ‘eliminates a major risk, provides welcome relief, and New Yorkers can sleep a little better.’ …

“Bill Mohl, the president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, said …said the company had spent $200 million over the past decade battling New York State over the renewal of licenses to operate the reactors. The state’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, and Riverkeeper, a nonprofit environmental group, joined the governor’s office in challenging the renewals and permits that Entergy needed to keep the Indian Point running.”

In another sign of the end of nuclear power, shutdown looms for Three Mile Island.”
By Michael Hiltzik at the LAT, May 2017.

“Exelon, announced Tuesday that it will permanently shut down the unit in September 2019. Exelon said a week ago that the plant hasn’t been profitable in five years. The company will take a charge of as much as $110 million this year related to the operation and planned shutdown. …nuclear power hasn’t received favorable treatment as a renewable energy source in the state’s energy policy as have solar, wind and hydro power. …Three Mile Island is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate through 2034, so the shutdown would come 15 years early.

“Still, the company had to acknowledge that nuclear power just isn’t competitive with other renewables or with natural gas generating plants. Three Mile Island was unable to sell its output into the regional electric grid in recent power auctions. “TMI remains economically challenged as a result of continued low wholesale power prices and the lack of federal or Pennsylvania energy policies that value zero-emissions nuclear energy,” Exelon says.

“That underscores a chronic malady of American nukes — they’re too hard to operate and simply not competitive. It’s that mismatch of cost that helps account for recent shutdown decisions such as the pending closure in California of Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and the 2013 abandonment of San Onofre by Southern California Edison after a botched upgrade.”

In July the project to build two reactors in South Carolina was abandoned. The NYT tells the story. Here’s the bottom line…

“Originally scheduled to come online by 2018, the V.C. Summer nuclear project in South Carolina had been plagued by disputes with regulators and numerous construction problems. This year, utility officials estimated that the reactors would not begin generating electricity before 2021 and could cost as much as $25 billion — more than twice the initial $11.5 billion estimate.”

Some good news for nukes: “Georgia gives Southern Co go-ahead to finish nuclear power project” — Approval to finish the 2 reactors at Plant Vogtle, years behind schedule and 35% over budget. These might be the last two built in the US for a long time.

Enthusiasm for nuclear power fading around the world

Enthusiasm for nuclear power is fading even in nations with more rational regulatory regimes and more competent construction and electric utility companies.

Industry Meltdown: Is the Era of Nuclear Power Coming to an End?
By Fred Pearce at Yale Environment 360, May 2017.

“From Europe to Japan to the U.S., nuclear power is in retreat, as plants are being shuttered, governments move toward renewables, and key companies face financial troubles. Even some of the industry’s biggest boosters believe nuclear is on the way out.”

“Is the nuclear power industry in its death throes? Even some nuclear enthusiasts believe so. With the exception of China, most nations are moving away from nuclear — existing power plants across the United States are being shut early; new reactor designs are falling foul of regulators, and public support remains in free fall. Now come the bankruptcies.

“In an astonishing hammer blow to a global industry in late March, Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse — the original developer of the workhorse of the global nuclear industry, the pressurized-water reactor (PWR), and for many decades the world’s largest provider of nuclear technology — filed for bankruptcy after hitting big problems with its latest reactor design, the AP1000. Largely as a result, its parent company, the Japanese nuclear engineering giant Toshiba, is also in dire financial straits and admits there is “substantial doubt” about its ability to continue as a going concern.

“Meanwhile, France’s state-owned Électricité de France (EDF), Europe’s biggest builder and operator of nuclear power plants, is deep in debt thanks to its own technical missteps and could become a victim of the economic and energy policies of incoming President Emmanuel Macron.

“Those three companies account for more than half of all nuclear power generation worldwide. Their ‘looming insolvency … has set off a chain reaction of events that threatens the existence of nuclear power in the West,’ says Michael Shellenberger, president of the pro-nuclear NGO, Environmental Progress. ‘The nuclear industry as we have known it is coming to an end,’ says Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute, a California eco-modernist think tank that advocates for nuclear power. …

“Meanwhile across the country, utilities are shutting existing plants from California to Wisconsin to Vermont, often long before the end of their design life, because they cannot compete with cheap fracked gas or, increasingly, with wind and solar power. Six power reactors have shut since 2012, and plans have been announced to close seven others. This is no short-term trend. While gas and renewables get cheaper, the price of nuclear power only rises. This is in large part to meet safety concerns linked to past reactor disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima and to post-9/11 security worries, and also a result of utilities factoring in the costs of decommissioning their aging reactors.

“Westinghouse’s downfall was partly caused by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission wanting, as Gregory Jaczko, its chairman from 2009 to 2012, put it, ‘to ensure [the AP1000 design] could withstand damage from an aircraft impact without significant release of radioactive materials.’ A 9/11 clause, in other words.

“The fallout from the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima plant following the 2011 tsunami has had an even more chilling effect than regulatory actions. …After the accident, Japan — which at the time relied on nuclear power for 30% of its electricity — shut all its 48 operational nuclear reactors for safety checks. Six years on, only five are back online. In many parts of the country, local politicians are refusing point-blank to allow resumption. …

“Fukushima also proved to be the tipping point in Germany’s long-running and bitter nuclear debate. The accident persuaded the conservative and previously pro-nuclear Chancellor Angela Merkel to call time. Within weeks of the accident, she set a deadline of 2022 for shutting down the country’s reactors, which at the time generated 22% of German electricity. The finality of Germany’s decision was confirmed when engineering giants such as Siemens announced their exit from the reactor-building business.

“France has long been Europe’s most enthusiastic nuclear nation. But it too is getting cold feet. In the wake of Fukushima, President Francois Hollande committed to cutting nuclear’s share of energy generation from 75% to 50% by 2025, with the gap to be filled by renewables. …The majority of France’s power reactors — mostly of Westinghouse PWR design, and built by EDF — were commissioned in the 1970s. Their average age is now well past 30 years. Their 40-year design lives could be extended if a safety review due next year finds in their favor. But large-scale construction to replace them seems increasingly unlikely. EDF’s latest power-plant design …has been beset by teething troubles. The prototype, being built at Flamanville in northern France, is six years behind schedule, and its cost has tripled to more than $10 billion. …

“Late last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations body, said Asia had become the “driver” of global nuclear development. …South Korea has 25 working reactors delivering power. China is constructing new reactors at the rate of eight a year. And both countries are increasingly eyeing the export opportunities created by the collapse of the old order in the U.S., France and Japan. …A beaten and bankrupt industry built on high-cost, bespoke construction could be ripe for annexation by companies that have learned to mass-produce reactors based on old Westinghouse PWR designs and that have replaced nuclear scientists with engineers and experimentation with replication. …

“But the invasion still may not come. Even in South Korea, nuclear companies are operating in the face of a political headwind, blowing from across the Sea of Japan. Wary of public concerns after Fukushima, South Korea’s newly elected president Moon Jae-in called during campaigning for a switch in the country’s energy mix from nuclear to renewables.”

 

Looking back at some who accurately predicted the future?

The Next Big Future website provides reminders to skeptically read exciting articles about new technology.

  1. Nuclear power will be added faster than wind power“, August 2008.
  2. Breeder Reactors, Uranium from Phosphate and Near Term Thorium usage“, September 2008

On the other hand, experts’ analysis are more reliable, as seen in the bottom line from “The Future of Nuclear Power“, an interdisciplinary MIT study published in June 2003.

“The nuclear option should be retained precisely because it is an important carbon-free source of power. …But the prospects for nuclear energy as an option are limited, the report finds, by four unresolved problems: high relative costs; perceived adverse safety, environmental, and health effects; potential security risks stemming from proliferation; and unresolved challenges in long-term management of nuclear wastes.”

Also see this presentation by a realistic voice during the last boom, by Paul L. Joskow (Professor of Economics, MIT): “The Economics of Investment in New Nuclear Power Plants in the US“, 12 April 2005, Twelve years later this looks brilliant.

  1. “Nuclear industry has a poor historical record on construction cost estimation, realization and time to build.
  2. Few recent plants built and limited information on recent actual construction cost experience.
  3. Nuclear industry has put forward very optimistic construction cost estimates but there is no experience to verify them.
  4. Nobody has ever {overestimated} the construction cost of a nuclear power plant at the pre-construction stage.”

Conclusions

Nuclear power looks like a dying technology for the foreseeable future. Cost overruns, accidents, incompetence — the nuclear industry died mostly from self-inflicted wounds.

CONTINUE READING –>

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2 thoughts on “Nuclear Power Industry Dies a Slow Death

  1. carbon free power? really?

    are you actually trying to (falsely) claim that no carbon energy is involved with the mining and enrichment of uranium?

    are you really trying to (falsely) claim the building and maintaining a nuclear power plant involves no carbon energy?

    and what about the decommissioning? will that be carbon free too?

    wow… just wow… 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just as Greens tend to describe Wind & Solar as ‘Carbon Free,’ Kummer describes Nuclear the same way. The meaning is As Electricity is Produced. Obviously, all energy sources will involve some production of CO2 (NOT Carbon) during site setup and decommissioning.

      Let’s be fair about it and compare like to like, rather than ignoring the warts on the face of our preferred energy sources. And, while I’m against subsidies for any energy source (tax deductions are NOT subsidies), I’d be agreeable to allowing anyone to risk his own money on his own favorite source of energy (I have an idea which would combine wind, solar, and fossil fuels).

      Liked by 1 person

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