Sunday, February 06, 2005

If France can do it...

I received some solid criticisms of my last post. So continuing on the subject of nuclear energy – I’m going to refine / alter my ideas. Further comments appreciated

From James:
Not to be contrarian, but how does the cost of building a new nuclear infrastructure compare to the cost of building a new, viable, green infrastructure of any kind? Nuclear reactors are technologically viable now. Wind farms in the Midwest and tidal turbines on the coasts are not.

From Big Gav:
I'm not entirely sure about your cost estimates (…) What about the French and Japanese experiences - they lead the world in nuclear energy use, so surely they would provide some helpful indicators?

A couple of things. I agree that more detail on the cost of these reactors is critically important. And this is made complicated by the heavy subsidies received by the industry. I think bringing in the international costs is on point; I haven’t found reference to any US plant in the last thirty years that has been built for less than a billion in today’s dollars, which is a significant amount. Many were considerably higher.

I don’t think we have the industrial capacity in the United States to build more than twenty new nuclear plants per a ten year period in any case. There are immense resources in engineering, construction material and trained and educated nuclear engineers that are required. This assertion on my part requires some extra background and legwork (Update - There have been periods where we have built more than 2 plants per year, but not sustained, and not during high energy cost eras), but I think it is a pretty reasonable extrapolation from the current worldwide dispersal of nuclear plant constructions in time and space. Currently there is a worldwide shortage in concrete, for example, and uranium demand outstrips supply by half again.

To James specific point about green infrastructure, a fair statement, but the worst of it is that so far, I haven’t seen any alternative to present day energy that is viable as a large scale energy source. We don’t have anything on the drawing board. So there is nothing to be built.

From James:
Most sensibly, we should reduce consumption as well as invest in new, green energy technology. However, we might also strategically use nuclear power to help wean the worst consumers (probably autos) from oil in the meantime - not as a replacement, but a stepping stone.

From Big Gav:
Also, we can expect to see a lot of renewable, distributed generation getting added to the grids as well - wind, solar, micro-hydro, tidal, bagas and other alternative sources (for example, we're planning some plants which burn waste sugar cane - I think they generate about 60Mw each, which is a nice addition to the supply with negligible fuel costs).

I don’t disagree with any of that. And, I think we will surely build some new nuclear facilities, and a pebble bed reactor is a damn sight better than some of the antiquated pressure cooker contraptions we have running in the United States at present.

There is one additional component here. The time constraint. We’re not doing this exercise here to save the world from global warming, although, the world does need saving. The best numbers out there put the date for Peak Oil around 2010, with the range being, this year, through 2015. I personally am betting on the ASPO numbers, which say 2007 for the peak.

Right now, there are no new nuclear plants being constructed in the United States (that I know of), although there are plenty of rumblings in the industry that they are gearing up to start. I saw 2010 mentioned in the Wired article as a possible start date.

Nuclear plants take years to build. 3 to 7 years, looking at recent US history. So it becomes a race to replace disappearing energy with new energy. ASPO says that by the year 2020 we’ll be down 5Gb of oil, 10Gb by 2030. That doesn’t take into account natural gas, which has peaked in the lower forty-eight, and is hugely expensive to transport overseas. Can we really build the necessary replacement nuclear reactors when the cost of commodities is skyrocketing? During a period when society in general will be in chaos? I’d be shocked if we averaged more than one reactor built per year between now and 2030. Two would be incredible.

And that won’t fill the energy gap. To solve the problems in front of us, we need not just nuclear reactors, but a full court press, from the top of the government down, on everything from energy alternatives, to micro-farming, to anti-car propaganda, to you fill in the blanks.

What is the big plan in the United States?
300 billion spent on perpetual war in Iraq?
Which gets us a stake in ruination.


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