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I appreciate reading a criticism of nuclear power that is more developed than ‘oh my god radiation is scary’, but I am confused as to what exactly you are suggesting.

“…then it would save coal plants from putting about 400 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. 400 million is only 7% of 6 billion U.S. CO2 emissions.
However, much of this nuclear capacity would displace solar, energy efficiency technologies, natural gas, etc. These technologies produce far less CO2 than coal, so the displacement would be much lower.”

I don’t understand this point. In an operational sense, nuclear power, solar power, and wind power all produce the exact same amount carbon dioxide, so how would the displacement be any lower? Certainly nuclear power does require energy for construction and mining, but it still produces vastly more energy than it consumes. Not to mention solar power also requires an upfront energy cost from the mining of the silicon and heavy metals to the construction of the facility.

I’m not going to speak directly to your cost numbers because I agree that equal incentives should be given to nuclear/wind/solar/efficiency, and we should let the market sort out what is cost efficient. There is no doubt that non fossil fuel energy generation is more expensive.
I do think it’s unfair that you compare the 100 reactors effect to the country’s overall energy usage and not to the electricity usage. Nuclear power, in conjunction with wind, solar, and increased efficiency is our solution our energy and climate concerns from an electric generation standpoint. They are not the (direct) solution to our transportation fossil fuel addiction and shouldn’t be compared.

The fact of the matter is we have three serious long term energy problems to deal with:
*Climate Change
*Finite fossil fuel resources (for simplicity I’m considering nuclear energy + breeder reactors to be infinite)
*Economic stability from rapidly changing energy prices
Unfortunately, although solar/wind/efficiency will certainly play a large role in accomplishing this, they alone cannot supply the all of our energy needs. Something has to power us on cloudy windless days. So although it’s not perfect I honestly don’t see any other solution than nuclear energy and you neither propose one as well.

Russell Lowes

Author replies. . .

Hi Mark,

Your comments on nuclear energy and climate change appear to be fueled by the nuclear industry's propaganda campaign. There is a great deal of misinformation out there. The nuclear industry has seen to that. Misinformation has always been the backbone of the nuclear industry's public relations machine. It is related to the reason why nuclear energy still needs large amounts of public subsidy to survive, even after sixty years of extreme public financing.

An investigation in the business journal, Forbes, indicated that the subsidy for nuclear energy has been 1.63 cents per kilowatt-hour for nukes, compared with 0.26 cents for coal – a huge difference. While startup technologies like solar and energy efficiencies are put on the fast track to success by energy subsidies, there is no reason to subsidize a mature but underperforming industry like nuclear energy. [Forbes, “On My Mind – Hooked on Subsidies,” Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren, 11/26/07]

There is so much misinformation from the nuclear industry. As a blatant example, U.S. nuclear reactors have cost 3.2 times the initial estimate by the nuclear industry. While it is true that many large electrical projects have had overruns, coal plants have come in at about 1.5 times the initial cost projected. While a 50% cost overrun seems like a significant chunk, it is nowhere near a 220% cost overrun of nuclear reactors! [Energy Information Administration, “Monthly Energy Review,” August 1994]

Mark, for you to say that light water along with breeder reactors provide an infinite source of energy, you are stating that this as a fact. Economically sustainable energy from breeders has never occurred. In fact, the Energy Information Administration has never even listed the power from any breeder as a contributor to the energy mix for the U.S. No breeder has economically performed in the world. At this point, economically viable breeders are still a dream. In fact, economical nuclear energy from the current technology is still a dream.

As per your comments on greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear energy produces far more greenhouse gas than many of the economical options. It is essential to look at the total life cycle of each energy system. Here is a partial list of options that will produce far less GHG than nuclear energy:
– Wind power uses less energy to support its life cycle than nuclear power does;
– Concentrating Solar Power (CSP);
– Energy-efficient lighting;
– Improvement in standby technologies (like the standby power for your computer);
– Improvement in energy-efficient architectural design;
– Solar water heaters;
– Because, as Architecture 2030 points out, “Building operations (heating, cooling, ventilation, hot water, etc.) account for 43% of total annual US GHG emissions,” on site architectural design combined with on-site distributed generation needs to be implemented, turning all buildings to net-zero energy consumers/producers. They also point out that, “76% of all the electricity produced at power plants in the US goes to operate buildings.” See: [http://www.aia.org] and [http://www.architecture2030.org/current_situation/research/sea_level/replacing_coal.html];

– Even natural gas electrical generating stations will produce less GHG than nuclear energy, after uranium resources continue their decline in quality over the life of the reactors. [www.stormsmith.nl] See also, the posting below, “CO2 Emissions Will be Higher for Nuclear Power than for Coal.”

Mark, you say, “So although it’s not perfect I honestly don’t see any other solution than nuclear energy and you neither propose one as well.” I do not see one solution for energy and GHG issues – I see many. If you go three articles down from the current posting (Twelve Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy and Support a Green Energy Future), you will see that there are alternatives that will support solution of these problems. I list in footnote #1: Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy,” 2007, at http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree/

IEER gives one possible roadmap in the solutions to our energy and GHG problems. There are others who have postulated their solutions as well. Nuclear certainly could not be “the” solution, because of fuel supply problems for one, but even more, because of the costliness of this energy system. For an explanation of these costs, in the same article (Twelve Reasons. . .) In the first point on economics, just the capital payback on 1000 reactors would cost more than the entire amount we spend on all energy in the U.S. annually for 30 years. Nuclear energy is just too expensive to be “the” solution. In fact, it is too expensive to be “a” solution.

With the foul-smelling stuff the nuclear industry has thrown onto the information/misinformation heap, one has to dig deep for a correct picture of what is going on.

John Freedom

hi Russ,

Hello again!

Just got on SAE, and enjoyed reading your post re: John McCain's support for 40/100 more nuclear reactors.

Some feedback: you wrote,

"Then about two years ago, a utility put the cost at $2600. Then estimates started really climbing. Over the last two years, estimates have increased all the way to $10,000 per kilowatt, 5-7-fold what the projection was just a few years ago."

Is this estimate ($10K/kilowatt) coming from the utilities themselves? If so, and if the projections are now 5-7 times as much as they were 2 years ago, how could they be justified (even by the utilities and nuclear industry!) as being cost-effective?

You also wrote,

"All this nuclear plant capacity for $579 per citizen of the U.S. for 30 years, and we haven't even put on the costs of fuel, operation and maintenance, waste storage, environmental remediation from terrorist or other environmental breaches!"

Re: the above comment, it would be good to 1. add in the costs of 'fuel, operation, maintenance, .......etc', to give a fairer (and fuller) comparison ; and then to compare those costs with costs of building e.g. wind-generators...............

If you can demonstrate, using their own figures, that nuclear plants are (say) 3-4X as expensive as clean and renewable sources (e.g. solar or wind generating plants), besides having the issues of dealing with nuclear waste, potential nuclear terrorism, CO2 production, etc., then the issue becomes a no-brainer...............

Thanks for researching this, and putting these figures together!


Russell Lowes

The author responds. . .

Hi John,
You have asked some good questions, and make the comment that it should be a no-brainer if this information gets out there that nuclear power is for example 3-4X as expensive as renewables. Here are some responses.

First, you ask if the $10,000 per kilowatt cost estimate is from the industry. Yes, this latest estimate of $10K was from Seattle Power & Light. But they were just on the heals of Florida Power & Light projecting about $8,000 per KW. (See EnergyBizInsider, "Nuclear Cost Estimates," by Pam Radtke Russell, June 23, 2008.)

I know it hard to believe that the utilities and the nuclear industry itself has increased its cost estimates from $1,500-2,000 to $8,000-10,000 in a span of roughly two years, but there it is. Then to ask about how they could justify nuclear as being cost-effective. If they tell the truth, they cannot justify nuclear as being cost-effective. However, truth has never gotten in the way of the industry's claim to cheap nuclear power.

You also say it would be good to include the cost of fuel, operation and maintenance, etc., to give a fairer and fuller comparison. I am in the process of doing this, and will publish an article on this soon.

I wish it were so simple as just putting the information out there, in a concise, accurate and cohesive way. The nuclear industry was warned by a number of us in the 1970s that what they were doing was not economical. They fought back with propaganda, and tried to build as many reactors as they could.

Eventually they canceled dozens of reactors with many billions of dollars in defaults. The assembly of information is step one. There are many steps that brought us success in killing nuclear power in the 80s and 90s and there will be many steps yet again. I encourage all to get involved with the process.

We have a situation where there are more alternatives now. Nuclear energy is not only more than four times the cost of wind power, It is about ten times the cost of a rigorous energy efficiency program.

Thanks for the questions and comments. And thanks for giving me even more reason to get the comparative economics analysis out there.

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