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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Michael Shellenberger: Nuclear Industry Must Change — Or Die

You can read the Environmental Progress article with that title here. In that article Shellenberger uses Boeing and Airbus as analogies for the nuclear industry (an idea spawned by the following tweets):

See Footnote 1 for more of the Twitter thread discussing this analogy.

I suggested in that Twitter thread that America may need to buy nuclear from someone who can build it cost competitively (South Korea). There are only two companies on the planet that build the vast majority of large airliners. Why can't the same be true for nuclear power stations?

I used airliners for an analogy because I work in the industry, but I could have used any number of other industries, like ship building, which South Korea has also been dominating for some time.

In an attempt to put the Toshiba Westinghouse bankruptcy into perspective, I made mention of over 100 bankruptcies in the solar industry:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Road Trip–Thoughts on the Satsop and Other Unfinished Nuclear Power Stations

A version of this article was originally published in 2014.

Cooling Towers

While on a trip to do some bird watching, I saw two cooling towers off in the distance shrouded in mist. I realized that they belonged to the unfinished Satsop nuclear power station and decided to have a closer look. I took the above photo of one of the towers. Click here with your left mouse button to see a higher resolution image and then left click once again on that image to see it at an even higher resolution. Note the stairs zigzagging along the side to get a sense of scale.

Many people associate this type of large cooling tower with nuclear power plants, I’m guessing, because they make dramatic copy. But this type of cooling tower can, in theory, be used with any thermal power plant regardless of energy source: solar, coal, biomass, natural gas, oil etc. From the Wikipedia article on cooling towers:
"These designs are popularly associated with nuclear power plants. However, this association is misleading, as the same kind of cooling towers are often used at large coal-fired power plants as well."

Six cooling towers at the Didcot Power Station (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The Didcot power station pictured above burns a combination of coal, natural gas, and oil. Note the use of six hyperboloid cooling towers. Cooling towers are used to condense the steam exiting the steam turbines back into liquid water to be converted into steam again and sent back through the turbines. This greatly reduces the amount of water lost as steam.

A 2015 article titled "Shh! Secrets of the Cooling Towers" in the All Things Nuclear antinuclear energy blog (which deliberately conflates nuclear energy with nuclear power) of the Union of Concerned Scientists Lawyers admitted:

It is odd that cooling towers that are widely used at all types of power plants and that have no safety function have become iconic nuclear plant symbols.

Antinuclear UCS Publications Featuring Cooling Towers on Covers

Yes, odd indeed. It would appear that the "experts" at the UCS writing these antinuclear articles (subsequently converting them into official looking PDFs) were unaware that cooling towers are not unique to nuclear power stations. 

How do they work? Essentially the rising steam

Friday, February 10, 2017

Globally, new nuclear power stations are becoming one of the lowest cost sources of energy

Figure 1: Global LCOE from IEA Projected Costs of Generating Electricity, 2015 Edition

I was skeptical when I first saw the nuclear data (encompassing 11 new nuclear power stations). Being a joint venture between the IEA and the NEI, I wanted to check for pronuclear bias. And of course, any projection into the future is suspect but this one only went out to 2020, which is just three years away. So, I went looking for verification. I crosschecked the above values for the energy sources listed with those found by other sources, such as the EIA (not to be confused with the IEA) and found that they were reasonably consistent.

I then crosschecked the LCOE values for other countries from different sources and found them to also be similar in value.

Turns out that the cost to build nuclear power varies greatly from country to country. But when you look at the global range, average, and median LCOE (levelized cost of energy) for the new nuclear power stations built in the last five or so years, they're amazingly competitive. Hydro and coal are still shown to be the cheapest source at the 7% discount rate shown in Figure 1, but because hydro can't, and in my opinion, shouldn't, scale up appreciably in the last remaining river ecosystems in the last biodiverse regions of the planet, I'm hoping its low cost does not lead to more of it. The study assumed a $30/tonne carbon penalty which makes coal look more expensive than it actually is ...because there is no global $30/tonne carbon penalty. The study also provided results for 3%, 5%, and 10% discount rates. 

Case in point; a South Korean company will bring on line a 1,400 MW reactor, Barakah 1, (the first of the four being built in series for the United Arab Emirates) this year after starting construction in July of 2012. All four are ahead of schedule for completion by 2020, which is an average of one nuclear reactor every two years. Two years is the same time frame used by Lazards to calculate the LCOE (levelized cost of energy) for wind and solar. The LCOE for these Korean reactors being built in the UAE is in the lower portion of the nuclear range in Figure 1.

One of the main costs of nuclear is the interest being paid on loans while it is being built (number of years without any income to start paying off debt). All else being equal, the faster you can build one, the cheaper it is. South Korea is proof that nuclear power stations can be built very rapidly and cost effectively once a company has acquired the necessary level of  engineering and manufacturing expertise (along with its suppliers).

From an article in The Economist regarding the Barakah nuclear power station: