Today’s post is a sort of de facto double guest blog.
After Bloomberg all but sounded the death knell for new nuclear power projects in the Czech Republic and across Europe last week, some staunch defenders of the nuclear faith emerged.
Bloomberg had quoted energy experts saying that capital costs, risks and lengthy delays would scupper the two proposed new reactors at Temelin in the Czech Republic, and would likely do the same for a pair of reactors in the UK and at several other proposed sites in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
The story cited declining energy prices and the low cost of carbon credits, among other factors.
“The future of nuclear energy in Europe looks very dim indeed,” said one of the experts, Mycle Schneider, an independent consultant on energy and nuclear power based in Paris. “Nuclear is too capital intensive, too time-consuming and simply too risky.”
Nuclear new builds would die, despite government mandates to decrease reliance on CO2-emitting fossil fuels. As the Bloomberg story noted, “While the Czech government says it wants new reactors to replace coal plants and reduce dependence on Russian gas, consensus is proving difficult to find.”
REPORTS OF DEMISE GREATLY EXAGGERATED
No sooner did Bloomberg run the story than the rebuttals started popping up in the comments section.
Here are two of them, word for word. The first comes from Alex Cannara, the Bay Area radiation expert and thorium supporter. I particularly like his point about nuclear’s low lifecycle CO2 emissions compared to renewables like wind (a point essentially backed up by the chart above presented by Nobel prize winning Stanford University physicist Burton Richter at an EDF “Science Day” in Sausalito, Calif. earlier this month):
Hope they didn’t pay this ‘consultant’ much for: “Nuclear is too capital intensive, too time-consuming and simply too risky.”
Germany thinks it’s ok to emit tens of mega-tons more of CO2 because they like coal & ligniite better than nuclear? Remind us how many Germans have died from nuclear-power radiation. What about Americans? English? French? Oh yes, all zero.
Whoever wrote the advice above seems ok with the deaths and disease from combustion, mining, etc. — all things needed for windmills, by the way.
So when we see German coal & gas burning costing ~180 years of human life per TW-hour, we should say that’s ok, despite German nuclear costing less than 1/6 those years of life? Really?
Remember, making 1 large Siemens windmill requires processing about 2000 tons of materials via fossil fuels — steel needs coal and iron ore, etc. Concrete needs kilned limestone & mined/crushed aggregate., etc. So the emissioins burden of wind is higher than nuclear. And we’re not even talking about the vast tracts of land/sea taken for wind. Nor are we talking about species threats, maintenance emissions, worker dangers, and even maritime dangers for offshore windmills.
And here we thought the Germans the smartest — must have been some PR, or the beer.
LIFTING THE LOAD
Soon after Cannara piped up, thorium advocate Timothy Maloney from the Thorium Energy Alliance weighed in, after another commenter had suggested “pumped hydro” and its “85 percent” efficiency as a sustainable form of generating electricity. Note Maloney’s encouragement of a LFTR reactor (pronounced “lifter”), which is a thorium-fueled molten salt reactor:
Pumped Storage Hydro is efficient, but not quite 85%. The NREL’s Renewable Electricity Futures Study, Vol 1, p.181, cites 80%.
The problem with PSH is that it doesn’t carry us for a very long time. The NREL study, p. 106, note 21 estimates only 8 hours maximum.
Hydro is the least expensive current generation method, but it’s not baseload. Hoover Dam works 100% of the time, for now, but most dams do not. Worldwide, the capacity factor for all hydro installations is only 44%. James Conca, Forbes , June 15, 2012, The Naked Cost of Energy.
Hydro’s total life-cycle cost is about 3 cents per kWh. We in the Thorium Energy Alliance think we can beat that handily with Liquid-Fuel Thorium Reactors – LFTR.
Our total life-cycle plant construction cost is about one-half cent per kWh (50 years plant longevity at 100% capacity factor). The fuel itself (thorium) is so inexpensive it’s essentially zero cost. Add 1 cent per kWh for plant Operation & Maintenance, the standard estimate, and we come in at about 1.5 cents per kWh.
About half the cost of Hydro.
The game is not yet over in Europe. In fact with superior alternatives like thorium, molten salt and others waiting in the wings, nuclear should continue to have a vital role. China and India are making such a play, Europe would look foolish not to.