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Renewable Fraud


Richard Stevens, Senior Instructor (Nuclear), North Anna Nuclear Training Center

Supposedly, renewable energy is a clean way to produce electricity. Supposedly, renewable energy will make the United States less dependent on imported fossil fuels. It sounds wonderful. In actual fact though, these statements are complete lies. In most circumstances, renewable energy is the filthiest way to generate electricity that there is. Renewable energy is the biggest con job ever perpetuated on the American public.

The most popular form of renewable energy by far is wind generation. Supposedly, wind generation is competitive with other forms of power generation. However, wind generation does not really substitute for other power sources at all. This is due to its miserably low capacity factor. According to information supplied by the Energy Information Administration, the capacity factor of wind generated electricity in the state of California during 1999 was 23.7% and 26.0% in 2000. It seems totally appropriate to use these figures from California as being typical of wind generation in general, since California has the largest installed wind generated capacity of any state, and has operated its wind generation facilities for many years. Indeed, one could justly claim that California pioneered large-scale electricity generation from wind.

Now, it is true that some wind generators, at ideal windy sites, have capacity factors as high as 40%. However, if presidential candidate John Kerry's proposal were adopted to require 20% of U. S. electricity to be generated by renewable resources, then so many less than ideal sites would need to be pressed into service, that to achieve an average capacity factor of 26% by wind generation would be a remarkable achievement.

The problem with these low capacity factors is that some other form of electrical energy generation must usually supply the missing generation, and in the United States that supply is most likely to come from a fossil fuel fired power plant. That was certainly the case in California during the California electricity crisis. Due to the Western drought, California had to replace inexpensive hydroelectric generation with expensive fossil fuel generation because renewable energy could not cover the shortfall. However, it is not generally realized that California's investment in wind generation actually made the California electricity crisis far worse than it needed to be.

Electrical production from wind generation is highly variable. It varies with the cube of the speed of the wind. Indeed, below a certain wind speed, called the cut-in speed, the wind generator does not produce any electricity at all. Typically, the cut-in speed is approximately 10 mph. Consequently, wind generators spend a great deal of time producing no power. In addition, they only produce their rated capacity when the wind speed is well above the average speed of the wind at the site. This is why their overall capacity factors are so low. For this reason, other electrical generators must extensively cycle their power output to compensate for the variation in the output of the wind generation.

Operating a fossil fuel fired power plant in the cyclic mode, instead of operating at a constant power, has two very detrimental effects. First of all, cycling makes the power plant much less efficient. It must consume more fossil fuel to produce the same electrical output. Second, cycling produces thermal stresses that over time will cause material failures that will force the power plant to shut down to make repairs.

The failures produced by cycling is one of the reasons that has influenced most power plant operators to choose a power plant design that is relatively inefficient when they need to operate the plant in the cyclic mode. A simple combustion turbine is typically 40% efficient. A combined cycle power plant that includes a combustion turbine, a heat recovery steam generator, and a steam turbine, is typically 58% efficient. However, the combustion turbine is less likely to fail due to the thermal stresses induced by cycling.

The other major reason that a power plant operator would choose the inefficient combustion turbine over the efficient combined cycle is that the combustion turbine costs less to install. The power plant operator must operate his combined cycle generator longer than the combustion turbine to recover his investment. If he is forced to shut down or reduce power to make room on the electrical grid for a wind generator, he may never recover his investment.

Consequently, there are very compelling technical and financial reasons to choose a simple combustion turbine that is only 40% efficient if the power plant is forced to cycle because of the operation of a wind generator on the same electrical grid. Using the 26.0% wind capacity factor from California in 2000, one can calculate the amount of fossil fuel required to operate a combustion turbine for 74.0% of the time in order to replace the missing power from the wind generator, and compare it to the amount of fossil fuel required to operate a 58% efficient combined cycle power plant 100% of the time. The more efficient combined cycle can now be used since it does not have to vary its output to accommodate the wind generator. The result is that the combination of wind generator and combustion turbine uses 7.2% more fossil fuel than the combined cycle. That's right. The introduction of the wind generator causes more fossil fuel to be burned not less. That means more pollution, not less. That means more carbon dioxide emitted into the Earth's atmosphere, not less. That means more dependence on imported fossil fuels, not less. That means that wind generation is a fraud. That means that renewable energy is a fraud. That means that the taxpayers of the United States, who are currently subsidizing wind generation to the tune of 18$ per megawatt hour of generation, are being ripped off. That means that John Kerry's proposal is totally detrimental. It is an extremely expensive means to create more pollution and burn more fossil fuel.

The detrimental effect of wind generation can be even worse, if the threat of being forced to vary their output causes additional power producers to select simple combustion turbines, instead of the more efficient combined cycles. This certainly was the case in California during the 1990s. Not a single large-scale combined cycle power plant was constructed in California in the decade before its electricity crisis. What this means is, that during its electricity crisis, California consumed huge amounts of natural gas in order to supply its consumers with electricity. Since the price of natural gas was outrageously high at the time, the inefficiency of its gas fired power plants cost California consumers billions of dollars. California would have been much better off if it had never built any wind generators, and invested its money in combined cycle generators.

To make matters even worse, California failed to install the required pollution control equipment on many of its fossil fuel fired power plants before it sold them to independent operators during the restructuring of its electricity market. The only way that these plants could operate, beyond a very limited number of hours, was to pay very expensive environmental fines. However, these plants were required to operate in order to avoid electrical blackouts, and the ratepayers ended up paying these fines. This also cost California ratepayers billions of dollars. California would have been better off if it had taken the money it had invested in wind generation, and invested it in pollution control equipment of its fossil fuel fired power plants.

The experience of California clearly shows that investment in wind generation is a very foolish investment. The money would be much better spent on improving power plant efficiency, or on advanced pollution controls. However, the most foolish thing that California did to its electricity supply was to shut down two nuclear power plants, Rancho Seco and San Onofre Unit 1. The average capacity factor of the nuclear power plants in the United States in 2002 was 92%, and the average has been consistently close to 90% in recent years. Note that the capacity factors of nuclear power plants are much greater than for wind generation. If these two nuclear power plants would have been available during the California electricity crisis, and if their capacity factors were at least 90%, then California ratepayers would have saved at least three billion dollars. Also, nuclear power plants emit virtually no air pollution, so California's air would have been cleaner, since unlike wind generation, nuclear power's high capacity factor means that it needs significantly less support from fossil fuel fired power plants. However, what would make the decision to close the Rancho Seco plant so extraordinarily foolish is that the city of Sacramento, which owned Rancho Seco, spent over four hundred million dollars in today’s dollars to make improvements to Rancho Seco just before it decided to decommission the plant. That’s right. The city of Sacramento threw away over four hundred million dollars in order not to have the capacity of a reliable and clean electrical power source available. As events were to show, that was a most unfortunate decision.

Of course, the usual argument against operating nuclear power plants is that they produce "deadly" nuclear waste. In actual fact, waste from nuclear power plants in the United States has never killed any member of the general public. The nuclear waste is isolated from the environment and the probability is extremely low that it will ever escape. The fact that is consistently overlooked by anti-nuclear advocates is that the uranium fuel that the nuclear power plants use is dangerously radioactive in its own right, and using the uranium in nuclear reactors removes this radioactive danger from the environment.

The main radioactive danger of uranium is that it is at the start of a radioactive decay chain that includes radioactive nuclides that are extremely dangerous. Radium-226 is one of uranium's radioactive daughters. It is a well-known carcinogen. It is interesting to compare radium-226 with plutonium-239, which is almost always cited by anti-nuclear activists as being such a dangerous component of spent reactor fuel. Radium-226 is at least one million times more dangerous than plutonium-239. This is due to the fact that the most likely pathway into the human body of either nuclide is via the alimentary canal, and that plutoniun-239 is likely to be excreted long before it decays. However, radium is chemically similar to calcium and a major fraction of it is retained within the body. Consequently, it is much more likely that the radium will release its cancer causing alpha particle where it will do the most harm.

Radium decays to radon gas whose health dangers have been widely reported. Radon-222 decays to polonium-218. Polonium-218 decays to lead-214. Lead-214 decays to bismuth-214. Bismuth-214 decays to polonium-214. Polunium-214 decays to lead-210. Lead-210 decays to polonium-210. Every one of these nuclides is radioactive. Every one of these nuclides can release a cancer causing radioactive dose to human cells. Polonium is typically referred to as being 250 billion times more toxic that hydrocyanic acid. Hydrocyanic acid is one of the most lethal chemical poisons. Obviously, polonium is so toxic that it would only be common sense to keep it away from human beings. However, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration stand idly by while massive amounts of uranium and all of its radioactive daughters are introduced into human beings.

Phosphate is used in massive amounts as a fertilizer and an animal feed supplement. Unfortunately, all commercial phosphate deposits are contaminated with uranium and its radioactive daughters. Consequently, agricultural practices are introducing naturally occurring radioactivity into virtually the entire population of the United States.

The radioactive dose to smokers caused by natural radioactivity is well documented. The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star reported in its July 14, 2002 issue that a smoker, smoking 30 cigarettes a day, receives a dose of 16,000 millirems a year. A worker in a nuclear power plant is limited by federal regulation to less than 5000 millirems a year and very few workers ever get close to the dose limit. Consequently, smokers are receiving very large cancer causing doses from natural radioactivity. The theory is that radium in the soil decays to radon gas, which drifts upward underneath the canopy of tobacco leaves. When the radon decays, its radioactive daughters stick to the waxy tobacco leaves. Much of the radium in soil comes from the application of contaminated phosphate fertilizer.

To illustrate just how much greater this naturally occurring radioactive dose is than any dose expected from the operation of nuclear power plants, a smoker in a Las Vegas casino will get a greater radioactive dose in two days, than a resident of Las Vegas will get in a lifetime from the operation of the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste depository. Approximately 150,000 smoking related cancer deaths occur each year in the United States. Removing uranium and its radioactive daughters from phosphate fertilizer and animal feed supplements would certainly reduce this number of deaths. Some writers have speculated that 90% of all smoking related cancers are due to the radioactivity in the tobacco smoke. If removing uranium and its radioactive daughters from phosphates prevented only one-third of these cancers, that would save 50,000 lives a year. That seems to be a very worthwhile goal and it could be done. Indeed, on a limited scale in the recent past it was done. From 1950 to 2000, some phosphate producers did remove uranium and its radioactive daughters from their products to supply uranium to power nuclear reactors and to provide uranium for nuclear weapons. However, after Three Mile Island, the demand for uranium plunged and uranium prices fell. Phosphate producers could no longer make a profit extracting uranium from phosphate ore so they left it in their products.

If phosphate producers were encouraged to remove the uranium and its daughters from their products, not only would that save some smokers' lives, but also the uranium could be used to fuel nuclear reactors. This would require a substantial expansion of the use of nuclear power to make this economical. However, such an expansion could save tens of thousands of additional lives by preventing millions of tons of pollution from fossil fuel fired power plants. Nuclear reactors, due to their high capacity factors, can actually replace fossil fuel fired power plants, unlike renewable energy, which actually requires greater dependence on fossil fuels.

However, the greatest benefit of removing uranium and its radioactive daughters from phosphate containing products could very well be the reduction of radioactivity from food. Radium is very similar chemically to calcium. Any plant that absorbs calcium from the soil will also absorb radium. Animals and humans will then absorb the radium for their bones, teeth, and brains. Lead is also chemically similar to calcium. Consequently, uranium’s radioactive lead daughters will also be concentrated in animals and humans. However, the Environmental Protection Agency thoroughly discounts the danger from radioactivity in food. I think that the EPA has seriously underestimated the danger.

Since 1980, the breast cancer rate in American women has more than doubled. There is every reason to believe that this is due to an environmental cause. However, the Environmental Protection Agency has not been able to identify the cause. Perhaps, the agency has overlooked the obvious. The skyrocketing increase in breast cancers correlates very well with the increasing use of phosphates in fertilizer and in animal feed. Also, it was during this time period that some phosphate producers stopped removing uranium and its radioactive daughters from their products. The higher rate of breast cancer in American women when compared to the rest of the world could be explained by the fact that phosphates are more extensively used in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

If radioactivity in food is a serious threat, then it is responsible not only for the increase in breast cancer but also the increase in many other cancer rates. There are approximately 400,000 non-smoking related cancer deaths each year in the United States. If removing the radioactivity from phosphate products prevented just one-fourth of these deaths, that would save approximately 100,000 lives a year.

There are only two attitudes preventing the United States from adopting a pro-nuclear electricity production strategy. One is anti-nuclear hysteria. Anti-nuclear hysteria has exaggerated the fear of nuclear power to outlandish proportions while completely ignoring the threat of natural radioactivity. The adoption of nuclear power could substantially lower that threat by promoting the removal of naturally occurring radioactivity from phosphate containing products. The other attitude preventing the adoption of a pro-nuclear stance is renewable energy. However, renewable energy is a complete fraud that actually harms the environment and leads to the consumption of more fossil fuel than if “renewable” energy had never been invented.

Readers Comments

Date Comment
Rodney Adams

Interesting article. There is an old saying - "One man's cost is another man's revenue."

When energy intensive industries and consumers pay high costs for natural gas, oil and electricity, there is very naturally a group of natural gas suppliers, oil companies and independent power generators that are quite happily banking large revenue increases.

Your detailed description of the relationship between windmills and natural gas consumption may explain why there are so many natural gas and oil companies with interests in windmill companies and especially with wind industry trade associations and lobby groups.

They get a large return on their investment, not by the revenues directly generated from producing power with the wind, but by protecting and even enhancing the revenues produced by selling gas.

Those same companies work very hard to discourage nuclear plant developments and often take the path of completely dismissing them as potential competitors.

The difference is that nuclear plants operating at a reasonable 75-95% capacity factor represents a real loss of market share and a direct loss of revenue to the fossil industry.

Right now, even after a 35 year hiatus in ordering nuclear plants, they produce the equivalent of about 3.5 million barrels of oil per day inside the US and more than 12 million barrels per day world wide.

Imagine what the price of oil would be if we had continued to build the plants!

Rod Adams

Christopher Powers

I found your article ill informed. In fact, very much so. Your facts about wind seem carefully chosen to prove your point and you do so, but only by either intentionally ignoring or missing other information that would show your conclusions to be incorrect. But, beyond that, I'm not sure I understand why you think of renewables as the enemy of nuclear. I've worked on both sides of the house and support both. Both have pluses and minuses. Both are going to be important for the world in the long run. Your dismissal of wind, and by extrapolation all renewables, reminds me a bit of those who dismissed the horseless carriage, the television and the Beatles as short-term fads. If you'd like more information on what is really happening with wind and other renewables and wish to take the time to learn, I'll be happy to set something up.

Chris Powers U. S. Department of Energy

Graham Cowan
Gas turbines and wind turbines as a system are as good as less efficient gas turbines? Interesting if true.

Texas natural gas consumers paid US$1.7 billion in tax in, if I recall correctly, 2002. I guess natgas for electricity generation is not taxed, but the demand for it drives up the price and increases the take anyway. Is there any federal taxation of natgas? (Just how much of a conflict of interest should Chris Powers be acknowledging here?)

--- Graham Cowan
How individual mobility gains nuclear cachet (MS Word format)
. Link if you want it to happen

Rodney Adams

The first half of your article was great. However, it seems in the second half that you fully support the theory of Linear, No Threshold (LNT) damage due to radiation exposure.

Have you ever reviewed some of the large volume of literature that questions this theory based on numerous detailed studies?

I highly recommend a few visits to Radiation, Science and Health

Please read some of the information about the demonstrated effects of low levels of radiation exposure and consider publishing a revision to your published material that points to radiation as a significant source of human health risk.

Thank you.

Rod Adams

Rodney Adams
Chris Powers: Can you be a little more specific in your comments on the initial article. Exactly which facts or calculations are you disputing?

Wind is definitely no competitor for nuclear power, but the public FALSE perception that wind, solar or other renewables will be our salvation from fossil fuels is definitely a deterrent to nuclear developments.

At best renewables are diffuse, unreliable, often dirty, generally expensive (unless HEAVILY subsidized) and have yet to made any significant inroads into actual fossil fuel consumption. This despite the fact that all official "renewable" sources of energy have been known to humans for hundreds to thousands of years.

Rod Adams

Richard Stevens
Mr. Adams Thank you for placing your comments about the Linear No Threshold Model on the website. I am most eager to respond. I hate and despise the Linear No Threshold Model. My model is based on the fact that DNA has a backbone of phosphate sugars and that adenosine triphosphate builds up in a cell shortly before it reproduces. It is logical that a cell is most vulnerable to a cancer causing mutation if it is struck by radiation shortly before, or as it is dividing. My concern is that the phosphate anion may be accompanied by a radioactive cation such as polonium-210. Consequently, the phosphate anion acts like a Trojan Horse that delivers the radioactive cation to the vicinity of the reproducing cell when radiation is most likely to cause a cancer causing mutation. The radioactive cation may move away before it decays, or it may strike the cell at its most vulnerable moment. If the model is correct, then radioactivity associated with phosphates could be a million times more carcinogenic than deep dose equivalent radiation. I am extremely interested in member comments on my model. You may not like the model, but at least you must admit that it is distinctly non-linear.
Rodney Adams
Mr. Stevens: Is your model based on some kind of measured information, or does it simply spring out as a complete story with no backing.

For example - what is the concentration of Po-210 in phosphate? Where does the phosphate in DNA come from - is there any proof that indicates that it is absorbed from food that has been fertilized by commercial fertilizers?

Is there even any proof that cancer is caused by a radiation induced cell mutation, or is that simply an assumption?

Again, I refer you to the rather large body of scientific studies about the measured effects of low level radiation exposure. The Linear No Threshold model is a vast OVERESTIMATION of the measured effects, not an underestimate as you seem to believe.

Rod Adams

Joseph Yeung
The problem with combining wind and fossil power needs to be solved by adding energy storage mechanisms to the wind power grid to stabilize its power output, so the rest of the grid can operate at a constant, lower level.

Geoffrey Young
Joseph Yeung's comment is directly on target, but it does not go quite far enough. A diversity of generation sources distributed throughout the system, a small amount of energy storage, improved price response on the demand side, and a smarter grid can solve the problems Richard Stevens brought up. Nuclear power is not the solution to anything because it is vastly expensive. Society could use the same amount of capital to achieve several times as much impact via improved end-use efficiency. In sum, Chris Powers' opening comment is correct: the article is ill-informed. It typifies the nuclear industry's never-ending campaign to get the public to subsidize a technology that has failed in the marketplace.

Scott Greenbaum
Using California wind capacity factor as an example of poor efficiency in combination with fossil fuel power plants shows a lack of knowledge about the California wind resource. I agree the capacity factor is around 25% but the weather patterns have a peak capacity factor over 90% from 1PM to 7 PM. This does eliminate the need for peaking combustion turbines. All the other fossil fuel equipment can be based loaded baseloaded. When it is hot in California the wind is available at the wind turbines. Utopia.

Please do some research before writing and article that promotes one technology over another.

The problem of installing peaking capacity is more a problem of the users habits. If people turned their A/C down at home when they are at work then the peak needs would be less. This happened during the last California crisis and it disappeared over night.

Jackson Brown
It appears that some very pertinent nuclear plant factors were not mentioned those being the initial capital cost of these plants along with the very expensive upkeep and modification costs (Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant has had significant construction forces on the site ever since construction began). Also important is the net energy cycle of a nuclear plant (including enrichment) and the continuing cost of waste storage (some half lives of 1,000 years).

Jack Ellis
You're obviously trying to make two points here. Unfortunately, I don't think you made convincing arguments in either case.

In fact, utility planners and independent power producers have historically favored base load plants over peaking units and then found themselves having to modify those machines at considerable expense to accommodate cycling operation. It is a trend that long predates the large-scale introduction of wind machines. Commonwealth Edison has to curtail the operation of its nuclear plants every spring and fall for precisely this reason, and they neither produce nor purchase renewable energy. Moreover, nearly all of the thermal power plants that exist in California today were originally designed as base load machines.

You lament the shutdown of San Onofre 1 and Rancho Seco. San Onofre 1 was shut down by its operator, Southern California Edison, after an economic review indicated it would be far too expensive to make necessary upgrades based on then current prices for natural gas. In the case of Rancho Seco, I would agree that the plant could have been sold to an experienced fleet operator and kept operating, but S. David Freeman, general manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, correctly realized that small utilities lacked the managerial and financial resources to operate nuclear plants. At that time, I'd hazard a guess that none of the larger nuclear fleet operators was contemplating a merchant nuclear plant business.

You are correct that no member of the general public has been killed by nuclear waste. The public's bias against nuclear power is completely irrational. But the nuclear industry has several black marks against it that stand out indelibly in the public's mind. It will likely take several more decades before rational thinking and clear, fact-based, carefully constructed messages from the industry and political leaders begins to displace junk science.

George Kamburoff
This is not a reasoned argument, it is a political tirade. He conveniently sidesteps the huge government subsidies for nukes from mining to refining, to fabrication, to storage of the nuclear toxins essentially forever.

If nuclear waste is so good for society, why isn't this guy storing it at home?

We have given these people fifty years and a gigantic slice of the national treasury to develop electricity "too cheap to meter", and only wound up in a nuclear Faustian Bargain. If we had spent 2% of the money wasted on this dream-turned-nightmare on efficiency and alternative/renewable technologies instead, we wouldn't have to be invading the Middle East for oil.

Richard Stevens
Mr. Greenbaum: You make a very pertinent point. If wind generation were limited to those situations where there is a strong correlation between wind generator output and power demand, then wind generation can be beneficial. My concern is that a 20% Renewable Portfolio Standard will force wind generation to be adopted where no such correlation exists. If the wind generator can act as a natural peaking unit, then it does not force other generators to cycle and consequently, it does not lower overall grid efficiency. However, be aware that such a correlation exists in Denmark, and the Danes exceeded the limits of the correlation by building too many wind generators. However, one of your statements really puzzles me. If, as you say, the wind generators in California have a capacity factor greater than 90% between 1PM and 7PM, then they must produce virtually no power for the remaining 18 hours of the day. That is an extremely unusual distribution of wind speeds.

Dave Bradley
This is more of a drunken Homer Simpson tirade against an electrical generation method that is becoming an eventual nail in the coffin that nukes have worked so hard to get themselves into. But at least Homer has a sense of humor, and other socially redeeming features.

At the present time, wind power is only a small fraction of the total electrical supply in the country as a whole. Even in California, Texas and Minnesota, the percentage supplied by wind turbines is still only a small faction of what is possible. Given the low wind share of these markets, wind turbines tend to displace the most expensive electricity made, which is natural gas and oil derived, especially from the peaking units, which also tend to be the least efficient and most expensive to operate. Given the current natural gas price of more than $ 6/MBtu Henry Hub price, the delivered prices tend to be around $ 7.3 and up in most parts of this country. And most combined cycle plants (especially in the warmer summer) tend to operate at a 50 % efficiency, not the theoretical 58 %. This make the fuel price of this electricity more than 5 cents/kW-hr.

A modern wind turbine in windy areas tends to operate at between 30 % to 40 % of the rated capacity, and produces some power between 80 to 90 % of the time. Much of the production corresponds to the periods of greatest demand (not counting weekends, since wind speed is not a function of weekday or weekend). So this electricity is even more valuable than "baselad" electricity, since producers tend to have higher production costs for this peak power. Then there is the very dependable concept of pumped hydroelectric storage, such as at Ludington, Michigan, or even Niagara Falls, which is a very effective way to deal with peak power demands.

The only problems wind turbines have is the high interest rates that have to be endured to pay for these capital and job-creating systems. If 20 and 30 year mortgage rates, or municipal bond rates could be used to finance these, production cost in windy areas (such as 7.5 meters/second or higher average wind speeds at hub height) are near 3 to 3.5 cents/kW-hr for modern wind turbines. Compare that to the fuel costs for natural gas or oil. And this is before any subsidies are thrown in, such as rapid depreciation and Production Tax Credits. In some large scale projects, such as the large scale one in Kansas, production costs after the credits and depreciation are less than 1.5 cent/kW-hr, for this facility that averages 45 % capacity on a year round basis. And if these wind farms are geographically dispersed over a 400 mile radius, the production rate would tend to average out closer to the average electrical demand pattern, since when wind is not blowing in one part of the midwest, it's windy in another part of the midwest.

No wonder this humorless version of Homer Simpson ( or is it really the insidious voice of Mr. Burns ?) wants to diss wind power. He's looking at a future that does not need such an exotic and potentially massively lethal way to boil water.

Todd McKissick
It seems to me that a point I would like to make has been sadly missed in all this discussion. If we look at the requirements of generation and the sources together, I see that we can't look at any one source by itself. A wind generator by it's lonesome is useless. Just ask anyone who thinks they can power their cabin with one without batteries, generator or a grid tie. Same with solar. Some of the other renewables have better chances but still have their downfalls. I'm not going to get into details, but if we considered multiple sources as one source, the capacities would be greatly enhanced. e.g. Solar combined with wind in some areas would nearly do it alone. The problem is that we can't count on "nearly". I believe that we are barking up the wrong tree with Hydrogen storage except in the auto industry where portability is prime. The answer is heat storage. If we stored heat from solar, we could use that to generate the electrons when we need to make up the difference. Let's put up a solar tower that has a wind turbine on top. Stirling engines and/or steam turbines can be used to balance the load from the stored heat when the wind isn't blowing. Solar heat can also be used to produce hydrogen in some new processes that are yet unproven. Unfortunately, the steam turbines will still have somewhat the same problem of not liking to be cycled. They can be baseloaded while the Stirlings make up the peaking loads. This has the added benefit of using the lower temp heat and leaving the heat storage tank with a lower minimum operating temp. Numerous double tank setups can be used, but ultimately, the heat to run both steam and Stirlings will always be surpassed giving them full capacity at all times. If that heat does drop too low, then biomass burners can be turned on to build up a new heat supply. The way I see it, this will allow us to get a large amount of cheap wind electricity directly, use the same plot of ground to gather the most heat and store it cheaply, use the same plot of land AGAIN to grow your favorite biomass organic product and supply an electrical supply to the customer at whatever peak patterns they want. These could be made a bit smaller so that ever 50th farmer would have a 20 acre plot dedicated to it making him a nice chunk of lease money.

The cost, as I see it, would be cheaper than a nuclear plant. It would have virtually no associated dangers, be cheaper to maintain, require no external fuels to operate and satisfy the environmentalists. The problem is that to get this type of project underway, financing becomes the largest hurdle. I can personally attest to venture partners as well as every government agency known to man want no part of it. Any comments on why THAT is?

Richard Stevens
Mr. Bradley: This is a direct quote from the European Wind Energy Association," The 28,440 MW installed in the EU-15 by the end of 2003 will, in an average wind year, produce 60 TWh of electricity". This works out to be a capacity factor of 24%. This is considerably lower than the 30 to 40% you mentioned in your comment as being representative of wind power. I think that your comment about pumped storage units is very relevant. If you could arrange it so that every wind generating power plant had a dedicated pumped storage unit, and arrange that the wind generator pay for its pumped storage unit, I will completely withdraw all my objections to wind power. However, I noticed that you did not include the cost of a pumped storage unit in your cost analysis. Also, you did not include a cost analysis for your 400 mile in radius network of power lines. However, if the wind generators are required to have dedicated pumped storage units, they would not need such an extensive network. Also, if there is a strong correlation between wind generation and peak demand, so that the wind generator could act as a natural peaking unit, it would not need the pumped storage unit. You see, Mr. Bradley, I don't object to wind power as much as I object to wind power dumping extra cost and pollution on the rest of the grid.

John K. Sutherland
Richard, the tenor of your article is combative enough to make even me chuckle in expectation of some serious attacks, which are occurring. I shall follow them with pleasure.

Richard Adams has a major and valid criticism about your LNT belief, and you requested some more information.

I can steer you to the work of Myron Pollycove and others in radiobiology. In general they point out that there are about 240,000 cell mutations per day in each of the body’s 1E14 cells. All of these are caused by events unrelated to radiation within the body, such as enzymes, viruses, temperature, bacteria, etc., and some of which are repaired by the work of at least 40 identified enzymes. Most, however, are not repaired. If not repaired, then the cell either accepts the damage (unlikely, or we would all be dead at a very early age), or commits suicide (apoptosis) when it discovers that it cannot replicate accurately. In comparison a radiation dose of 1 millisievert might cause 1 or two similar breaks per cell in the body. Just based upon simple statistics, the likelihood of one of these breaks leading on to serious consequences based upon an 80 year average life expectancy before one might die of cancer with a likelihood of about 25% is about 1 chance in 1E23. For the likelihood that a radiation induced break from even 10 mSv of total dose might lead to such a cancer is about one chance in 31.4 billion. Obviously the ‘one hit, one cancer’ belief is typical radiation phobia and fearmongering. In reality, the facts show that radiation is an exceedingly weak carcinogen.

Geoffrey Young: your adherence and loyalty to the Rocky Mountain Institute propaganda and the long discredited Keeping and Kats biases and theories is getting to be a joke.

Joseph Yeung: Storage mechanisms. Please identify some, and then quantify the reasonable contribution from any that can begin to meet all but a minuscule fraction of need, and then I will begin to root for your ideas.

Jackson Brown: You cannot use the comedy of court-delaying tactics in the US to tar and feather ALL nuclear power facilities. France operates it’s plants cost effectively, as does most of the rest of the world. I find it interesting that the US nuclear plants that have changed hands and are now operated without all the baggage of the early years, are making money at a wondrous pace for their new owners. Of course, the early comedy of putting ones head in the noose of regulatory delays and environmental court challenges, will not be replayed. When it gets sorted out rationally, and we are tormented by even higher gas and oil prices, or even shortages, we will realize that we should have continued with building nuclear plants 20 years ago, and would not now be in this irrational situation.

George Kamburoff: ‘Faustian Bargain’. Where did you dredge up that particular gem? Your language is redolent of the Rocky Mountain Institute, Caldicott and Nader, while closing your eyes and holding your nose about the fact that the biggest energy subsidies are for renewables, especially wind. Your comments about nuclear waste indicate that you not only know little about it, but are also keen to jump on the bandwagon of throwing snide and glib comments out to impress small minds.

Patrick Kelly
I suggest an examination of the facts will show that renewable energy is indeed a necessary power source. Although it may sometimes need to be backed up by cheapest sources to meet demand needs. When balancing the power costs for backing up renewable resources lowest cost approaches may mean using outdated and less efficient systems. These systems will create more pollution. In analyzing the effect of this pollution the location of the power sources must be factored in to determine the level of control technology. Renewable resources in most instances are in remote locations and remote power sources that are older offer the cheapest ways to back up renewable resources. This scenario is being played out in many locations across the country. Old is paid for, so use it, unless market conditions prevail. In many location nodal markets will cause shifts in transmission and distribution. Any comparison on subsidies for renewable energy sources should also take into consideration fossil fuel and nuclear industry subsidies. Such as military, health and environmental impacts! Many programs exist to showcase the importance of renewable energy and help the industry develop to become a mainstream power generation source. These programs have been successful and continue to expand the role of renewable energy sources. As time progresses we look forward to capturing more niche markets, including peak demand and baseload generation sites that are onshore and offshore. The constraints of the old infrastructure are being broken down. Remember one important fact, renewable energy sources are continuously coming down in price as competition in the marketplace continues. The programs wish success to the renewable energy industry and continue to help the prices to come down and competition to take hold. The programs to develop renewable energy resources look forward to the competition as renewable energy (wind, solar PV, biofuels, etc.) costs tumble and technology improvements continue. No matter which state we occupy the opportunities for economically cost effective niche markets in renewable energy exists. Have a Great Day! Pat Kelly US EPA -REGION 6 DALLAS, TX.

Edward Settle
Wow, Richard, you really hit the nail right near the head, didn't you!! Can you believe there are still some people out there that try moving their boats across the water with sails?? Of course, they have to keep their fossil-fueled engine running the whole time they're sailing just to make sure they can get back to shore. And geothermal energy? Some so-called "entrepreneurs" actually think steam can be taken from the ground to produce electricity by expansion through a steam turbine. What a fraud hydropower is - sure enough you build a dam and start generating power, then what happens? A drought! So you have to keep the fossil fuel plants running full time just in case we don't get rain. Or how about the farmer's remote well pumps that are operating on solar or wind energy? We could install a distribution line to each one of those things for an average payback of about 307 years (excluding cost of capital and O&M). And for goodness sake, the way wind fluctuates, how can one ever hold the grid steady at a constant load if you can only predict supply an hour or two in advance to about 5% accuracy. (it's a good thing the population knows how to coordinate electrical demand or we'd really have a mess on our hands).

The truth is, Richard, that all sources of energy should make up our generating mix. As a conservative Republican, I argue with the likes of the Sierra Club that we really should be good stewards of all of our resources (nuclear, coal, gas, wind, solar, etc.). But it's important to remember that a good idea doesn't care where it came from. Just because Sierra Club or RMI support renewable energy, doesn't mean conservative, pro-coal and pro-nuclear Republicans have to oppose it. Recognize its true value and work with it.

I have a difficult time believing that someone with your education could actually write something like this without taking the time to investigate the subject more thoroughly. In fact, I debated dignifying your article with a response, but it in the end I couldn't resist. If you can find your calculator and will take the time, with some fairly simple mathematics you can transform the fuel and power generating data provided by the EIA into a form which demonstrates that renewable energy does not cause greater harm to the environment nor does it require more fossil fuel than if renewable energy had not been "invented" (an interesting concept in and of itself). Wishing you fair winds and a following sea ... Edward Settle

George Fleming
On energy subsidies, see

According to this report, over the last fifty years nuclear power has received 96% of federal energy subsidies. This does not include the money spent on military uses of nuclear energy. For an earlier Energy Pulse discussion of this subject, see "US Renewable Energy Markets: Exciting Times Ahead." (5/27/03, Shrikanth Jagannathan)

Len Gould
An "interesting" presentation (unnecessarily provocative?) of some obvious problems with wind and solar renewable energy. My two cents include:

1) EON (generation corp) in Germany, summer heat wave 2002, 1.2GW of wind turbines produced an average of 1.3% of nameplate KW capacity for the period of the heat wave, making them almost useless. I could hunt up the exact reference again (an industry magazine) if needed.

2) Would be interested to see some honest and readable consolidated $/KWhr subsidy comparisons between thermal, turbine, nuclear over some of the time periods discussed. Everything I've found so far completely debunks the "nuclear heavily subsidized" myth. (e.g. read proposed "energy bill"), US govt. historical stats. If anything, the payments toward spent fuel storage and decommissioning are an added tax which none of it's competition are hit with, though they should be.

3) Some nearly religious posts from govt. agency members sadly lacking in factual argument. Makes one wonder on their utility.

Len Gould
And Mr. Fleming: Titling a document "Research Report" is not the only requirement to make it research. I would need some very clear documentation of sources and bases of estimates before I'd grant ANY credibility to that "Renewable Energy Policy Project" data. A first read points out to me immediately several serious flaws, which only reinforces my suspicion of bias if not outright intentional misleading.

George Fleming
Mr. Gould, I apologize for neglecting to indicate that the thirty-one footnotes to the study, which explain the authors' methodology and identify the numerous books, periodicals, reports, and other documentation that they consulted, can be found at the end of the study. I can think of no explanation for this unorthodox style.

Would you be able to find the time to mention one or two of those serious flaws? Until then, I will assume that John K. Sutherland's remark above ("...the biggest energy subsidies are for renewables, especially wind.") is false.

According to the study, for the first fifteen years of their development, nuclear power received thirty-three times more in subsidies than wind power, per kWh of generation. For the first twenty-five years, nuclear got 16 times as much as wind.

In response to Richard Stevens, I quote Steve Roelstad of Xcel Energy in Colorado, from an article in the June 2004 Windpower Monthly. Xcel plans to have 500 MW of wind energy on line by 2006: "I'm sensing a paradigm shift from wind needing spinning reserve to a position where wind is an important part of our portfolio."

Rodney Adams
George Flemming - thank you for pointing to the Renewable Energy Policy Project report. I found it very enlightening.

In my opinion, one of the most important statements from the executive summary is the following: "When cumulative subsidies and electricity generation for all years are accounted for (that is, through 1999), subsidies to the development of commercial, fission-related nuclear power results in a subsidy cost of 1.2 cents/kWh. This compares with a subsidy cost of 51 cents/kWh for solar and 4 cents/kWh for wind. As these numbers suggest, greater generation from nuclear power swamps the greater absolute subsidies to the technology."

Since nuclear power has continued to produce vast quantities of electricity during the 4 years since 1999 and there have been few continuing subsidies, I would guess that the total subsidy cost per unit of produced power continues to drop for nuclear.

For financial decision makers, the key question is not how much one has to spend, but what is the ratio between the investment and the return - also known as ROI. It sure looks like even the Renewable Energy Policy Project has a difficult time avoiding the fact that nuclear power has demonstrated a pretty fair return on investment.

Rod Adams

George Fleming
Rodney, I thank Ken Regelson for informing us of this study (see his comments in the Energy Pulse article "The Gas Turbine Diatribe" by Joel Gordes). The last sentence of the paragraph you quoted reads:

“Again, it seems that larger [compared to wind power] early investment in nuclear power paid off in subsequent years.”

In other words, as the study shows, nuclear power has been far more heavily subsidized than wind power. This was still true in 1999, the latest year of the study. From pp. 11-12:

“Although significantly lower than in previous years, direct budgetary funding for nuclear power in 1999 still easily surpassed subsidies to wind, solar, and hydro.”

The figures quoted, for direct and off-budget subsidies combined, are $685 million for nuclear and $38.4 million for wind.

What has been the result? Figure 3 shows that the levelized cost per kWh of nuclear power has been steadily increasing, to 10 cents in 1995. For wind, the cost decreased from 86 cents in 1970 to 6 cents in 1995. That is, in less than half the development time (commercial nuclear power development began in 1948), wind power became cheaper than nuclear power, even if the 1.8 cent/kWh production tax credit for wind is removed.

This differential has certainly become more favorable for wind in the four years since the study was published. In some markets, wind power is now cheaper than natural gas. With this record, and for a development period equal to that of nuclear power, the cost in subsidies for wind would be far less than the 1.2 cents/kWh reported in the study.

Richard Stevens was trying to get some idea of the true cost of wind power, which is a different matter. I will settle this question by saying that wind is the cheapest of all, no matter how the cost is calculated. I know you will be with me on this.

To change the subject a little, we could at least double the output of electrical power from existing hydroelectric dams. See the conclusion on page 40 of the recent study:

If this technology were extended to dams that are not generating electricity now, the increase in electrical output would be far greater yet. Note that no new dams would be needed.

If we put this technology to use, continued to develop renewable energy, and started to get serious about energy conservation, we would not need to build any new fossil or nuclear plants for many years. By that time, we should have progressed to the point where we would not need them at all. Provided that global warming, the end of cheap oil, and terrorists with nuclear weapons and dirty bombs don’t get us first.

AS Karanth
It is nice to read this article , written more ProNuclear and it defeats finally the purpose with which it was meant to be , to prove RENEWABLE is Fraud all over the world. It is specially so because amongst the people have claimed so far wind power has been successful and needs to be encouraged can never get convinced. And this movement of RE shall continue even under such arguments put forth with or without the Government's subsidy or support(Taxpayers money !). I wish all other forms of energy also need to be examined how much of indirect support is there but not really accounted like PTC. The article 's exposure to general public will also bring up the awareness to developers of wind power to make it more and more efficient and become totally self dependent and also the improvements in technology to take further betterment of economics. I am sure there shall be more research & development of prediction of the availability of the quantity of power ahead of time to beat the argument that the fossil fuel plant have to be run otherwise inefficient and also more pollution is forced. I also appreciate the interest this article has brought to bring out so many for and against comments, finally. Thanks. A.S.Karanth , India

Len Gould
Mr. Fleming: I really need go no further than to quote your own post

"According to this report, over the last fifty years nuclear power has received 96% of federal energy subsidies."

The only possible way this statement could be anywhere near factual is to be selective in the data. "Research" which is begun with a pre-determined desired outcome [surprise] often produces the desired outcome. Arbitrarily assigning several billions per year for "accident insurance" coverage when no payments are ever actually made is one example. Ignoring the depletion allowance writeoffs for fossil (which should actually be taxed more heavily for making profits from a commons resource) is another. Even a proportion of military expenditures to support foreign imports.

However, perhaps it is more your post which is deliberately misleading than that diatribe from Marshall Goldberg.

You stated: "According to this report, over the last fifty years nuclear power has received 96% of federal energy subsidies. "

Which I presume you were attempting to paraphrase his statement: "Wind, solar and nuclear power received approximately $150 billion in cumulative Federal subsidies over roughly fifty years, some 95% of which supported nuclear power."

Those are two obviously different statements, yours being baldly incorrect at a cursory glance, theirs being simply a statement of meaningless information intended to mislead. Of course nuclear has received more subsidies than wind and solar, and you should be thankful for that every time you turn on a light switch and the power flows.

James Hopf
I'll start by getting away from the recent tangent concerning nuclear subsidies, and get back to the article's point about the effects of wind power on gas use and pollution, etc....

It all comes down to the profile of wind generation, vs. the profile of demand. If it's true that if wind's profile had a positive correlation with demand, than many of the author's points would be invalid. Indeed, with good correlation, simple turbines are what the wind power would tend to displace. However, this is not what I've been generally taught. I'll keep an open mind about this, but I was surprised by Mr. Greenbaum's statement about wind's positive correlation with demand. Perhaps this is true in California, but not in other parts of the country, I don't know. I'd been told that wind output is actually negatively correlated with demand (i.e., it puts out more power in times of low demand).

One cannot swiftly dismiss the author's point, as it is true that a combination of wind power and simple turbines as back up is no better than a combined-cycle plant running at 100%, with respect to both gas use and pollution. The whole question is whether that combination (wind farms plus simple turbines) would replace CCGTs. Once again, it all boils down to the generation and demand profiles, along with economic factors. It is all quite complicated, and it is hard to make simple statements and predictions on these issues. I'll say this much. It IS true that wind is appropriately considered as a fuel saver (only). It can not really be considered capacity, in the standard utility sense, in that you can't rely on it. You will have to have sufficient capacity to meet peak demand, assuming that the wind is not blowing, period.

For this reason, it is difficult to economically justify building more wind (rated) capacity than the overall capacity that is generated by gas in your portfolio. Having your wind generation, plus your coal and nuclear generation, exceed demand is a bad situation, since the fuel cost that your wind generation is saving is very low indeed. This economic "fratricide" situation is highly undesirable. (The windfarm is not amortizing any of its capital costs in that situation.) The situation is somewhat better if hydro is present, as you could let the reservoirs fill or empty, depending on whether the wind is blowing. This may increase the percentage that can be generated by wind, in hydro-heavy areas like the Pacific Northwest. Setting the hydro exception aside, the amount of demand (capacity) that is met by gas generally functions as a ceiling on the amount of wind capacity that can effectively by installed, due to the issues discussed above.

It is true that energy storage could increase the percentage of power that wind could effectively deliver, but I don't believe any economical means of large-scale energy storage has yet been devised (except for the symbiotic relationship with hydro that I discussed above). Much of the enthusiasm behind the hydrogen economy is due to the fact that wind could be used to generate H2 which could then be stored, thus allowing wind to get around its intermittantcy problem and thus allowing it to make a larger overall contribution.

While the wind generation and power demand profile issues are complicated, and vary by region, it is clear that a combination of wind turbines and gas plants could always be proposed as a baseload power plant. The gas plants do what is necessary to maintain rated capacity (i.e., they generate whatever power the windfarm doesn't). Now, the question is whether you would use a simple turbine or a combined cycle plant for the gas component. The "good" news is that at today's gas prices, I think they would still choose to use CCGT plants as the backup.

CCGT's capital cost ~$600/kW. whereas simple turbines are more like $200/kW. This difference in capital cost amounts to, at most, ~1 cent/kW-hr in the power price that needs to be charged (to amortize the capital), assuming baseload operation. At a gas cost of $6/MBTU, the CCGT plant's fuel cost would be ~4 cents/kW-hr, whereas the simple turbine would be ~6 cents/kW-hr. Thus, for baseload operation, the CCGT clearly has an advantage. Now, if you're operating the unit a faction of the time, the capital amortization costs roughly scale inversely with the capacity factor. As this simple example shows, the simple turbine would not be preferred until the capacity factor is under 50%. Both the author and his critics agree that the capacity factor for the windfarm is less than 50%. Thus, at current gas prices, CCGT units would be chosen as the backups for windfarms, even though they are running only part of the time. Indeed, the author's lower wind capacity factors makes the case for choosing CCGTs even stronger. I think CCGT's are responsive enough to handle the fluctuations.

Thus, CCGT's are more likely to be used as backup in a wind-heavy scenario. This is especial

James Hopf

Thus, CCGT's are more likely to be used as backup in a wind-heavy scenario. This is especially true given that we currently have ~100 GW of CCGT capacity that is not even being used, due to over-build. As these existing CCGT units' operating cost is cheaper than that of simple turbines, there is no reason why simple turbines should ever be used, no matter how occasional the need (i.e., simple turbines should not be used today, even in times of absolute peak demand).

For these reasons, I doubt the author's contention that wind power will result in an increase in the use of simple turbines. Instead, the effect of the wind will be to reduce gas use, and the resulting pollution, by ~30% ( or whatever wind's capacity factor is). Indeed, a large amount of wind may cause us to choose gas over coal, to some extent, for new generation, due to the fact that some of this generation will only operate ~2/3 of the time (when the wind is not blowing), giving CCGT plants (with their lower capital costs) an advantage. While this will result in even more reduction in pollution (quite a bit more), it will have several negative effects. If increased use of wind results in choosing gas over coal (or nuclear), it will result in higher overall power costs, a reduction in our energy security (due to a large increase in imported gas), and will hasten the day when our gas resources run out.

Thus, whereas I don't believe that wind power will result in more pollution, it's possible that it will increase gas use, if it results in us choosing gas instead nuclear or coal for the remaining power generation. Since it is only "worth it" to displace gas or oil use with wind, a given wind power generation percentage virtually demands that an even larger percentage (roughly twice as much) be generated by gas (due to the ~1/3 capacity factor).

As Mr. Gould points out in his response to another current EP article, many "environmentalists" are actually advocating shutting down baseload (coal and nuclear) plants and replacing them with gas, simply because gas can respond better to the fluctuating loads created by wind. Given the cost of gas (which will only go up), and the fact that we are running out of it in both Europe and North America (and will soon have to import most of it from Russia and the Middle East), this proposal is INSANE!!! Relying on gas for ~2/3 of new generation is insane, due to the high cost of gas and the energy security concerns, as well as the fact that gas is a precious, dwindling resource that should be saved for more important uses. Closing existing nuclear or coal plants is even more insane, since their going forward costs are only ~2 cents/kW-hr or less, which is vastly lower than a new wind/gas plant (this, in addition to the energy security and resource use considerations).

The intermittantcy issue is a serious one that can not be overlooked. For the above reasons, even most advocates of wind power only believe that it may be able to make up ~15% of overall generation. I agree with Mr. Powers. I support both nuclear and renewable energy. Both will have a role to play in the future, and neither is able to do the job alone. The only thing I'm against is conventional (as opposed to clean) coal plants, as all studies show that their external costs are vastly larger than any other source. It's use should be minimized, although I accept some, albiet reduced, role for clean coal technology. In order to reduce coal use as much as possible, ALL alternatives need to be fully supported, and developed to the maximum practical extent.

Despite what was said in this (unfortunate) article, most of us nuclear proponents are also very supportive of renewables. The only limit (or qualification) of that support is that we do not believe that renewables alone can handle all future power needs. Most of us support nuclear because we are well aware of the horrible effects of fossil fuels, coal in particular. We believe that we will be able to reduce fossil fuel (or coal) use to a much greater degree if we include nuclear in the mix of alternatives, as opposed to insisting on only conservation or renewables (and perhaps gas). Global warming is one example. If we truly wish to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, we will need to fully support ALL non-fossil sources, including nuclear. We can't afford to play favorites, or let the "perfect" get in the way of the "much better".

It's a shame that we can't get past the nuclear VERSUS renewables argument. How about BOTH. Because, we're going to need both!! It's fossil fuels that are the problem, both environmentally, and with respect to energy security. And, with respect to all the arguments about subsidies, etc.., we need to not think about the past (indeed, the distant past), and start thinking about the future. The discussions about the past are neither helpful or relevant.

James Hopf
Looking at the issue from another angle:

The author's main point specifically concerned the use of a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), with a goal of ~20%. His point was that it could possibly increase pollution and/or gas use.

My first reaction to this is that this whole issue could be addressed much better through the use of a more elegant policy instrument, namely pollution taxes. An alternative (though less "perfect") alternative is a cap-and-trade system. If we had such a policy in place, we wouldn't need to be having this argument. It would be left to industry to figure out what approach would most reduce pollution. Under this system, where they are taxed on overall emissions, they would have every incentive to take the approach that minimizes emissions, and believe me, they will be able to accurately (and honestly) figure out what is best for their bottom line. That's the most beautiful part of all about this (pollution tax) system. Nobody has any incentives to be dishonest about anything.

Under this approach, if the author is right, and windfarms actually increase pollution, as well as gas use, then they will not build any windfarms. However, on the other hand, if windfarms actually DO reduce pollution, they will figure it out, and they will indeed build them. The great part is that we do not have to argue about this, or figure it out, in order to decide upon the correct policy. The correct policy is simple, elegant, and obvious. You are taxed on the pollution you emit, based upon SCIENTIFIC analyses that determine the negative effects (public health, economic, environmental, etc...) of each ton of that pollutant. Economic effects like the costs of gas, versus other fuels (like coal and uranium) are also automatically accounted for. We could even add a tax on foreign fuels to reflect foreign energy dependence concerns, thus automatically accounting for these issues. It would then all come out in the economic wash, with utilities just doing whatever's best for their bottom line, under those rules.

A cap-and-trade system would work in a similar fashion, although not quite as well. One of the author's main points is that the RPS may not be the best approach, and may involve pernicious effects and unintended consequences. This is a point on which I intend to agree. I believe that pollution taxes and/or cap-and-trade systems are ALWAYS the superior approach to attain any objective, such as pollution reduction, and that there are few intellectual arguments that can justify the use of the RPS instead. It basically involves picking winners, and using a rigid command and control approach to deciding the best path forward, instead of utilizing the forces of the free market to determine the most efficient and economic means to attain any given objective.

Consider the following. There are six ways to reduce air pollution:

1) Install more pollution controls 2) Replace old, dirty, inefficient fossil plants with new, clean, efficient fossil plants 3) Conserve energy 4) Fuel switch (from coal to gas) 5) Increase nuclear generation (to replace fossil) 6) Increase renewable generation (to replace fossil)

Note that five of these six options (all but #1) also serve to reduce CO2 emissions.

Here's the main problem. An RPS encourages one, and ONLY one, of the above options. The other two policies, pollution taxes or cap-and-trade, encourage ALL of the above approaches. Not only that, but they rely on the free market to decide what mixture of the above approaches yields the maximum pollution (or CO2) reduction for the lowest cost.

Pollution taxes, or cap-and-trade, at least, are the best approaches to use, for CO2 reduction, as well as for all pollution reduction policies. To hell with the RPS!! Heaven forbid that an energy source be judged on its actual merits, as opposed to its political popularity! And one more thing, who gets to decide which energy sources get to be categorized as "renewable" (i.e., which sources get to wear that "blessed" label)? And no, this is not obvious. Right now we read about humorous arguments over whether various sources should be called renewable, with some actually (and tragically) arguing that dirty sources like trash and waste coal piles should qualify as renewable sources.

It all gets very political, very quick, of course. How sources are treated and categorized will become a matter of political payoff, and scoring political points (with environmental groups, or economic interests, etc...) as opposed to doing what will best accomplish our REAL objectives (i.e., reduced pollution, CO2 emissions, and foreign energy use, etc...). This is just the thing that we need to avoid, and the more elegant policies (tax or cap-and-trade) automatically do so. You simply define a real, tangible, and meaningful goal (i.e., what you are REALLY after, such as, I want to discourage or reduce the emissions of pollutant "X", or, I want

James Hopf
continued....: ....You simply define a real, tangible, and meaningful goal (i.e., what you are REALLY after, such as, I want to discourage or reduce the emissions of pollutant "X", or, I want to reduce foreign energy dependence...). Then you simply turn these policies loose to find the most practical and economic means to achieve those well defined and meaningful objectives.

Seriously, the more I look at it, the more I'm convinced of what the RPS is really all about. It is about having policy be based on a purely political calculation, as opposed to a scientific or economic calculation. In large numbers of states, I'm seeing RPS's being put into place, while at the same time I'm seeing conventional coal plants being built, instead of clean coal plants, or gas or nuclear plants. Retrofits of existing plants with the latest pollution controls is not being required either. These options are rejected as being "too expensive", while the RPS requires the use of even more expensive energy options. The bottom line is that these other methods would have resulted more pollution reduction for less cost.

It seems that the real objective was to hand "each side" their pound of political red meat, as opposed to minimizing pollution. The RPS was red meat for the environmental groups, whereas allowing the use of conventional (dirty) coal plants for most new capacity was what the utilities wanted. Thus, what you have is continued use, and construction, of dirty, conventional coal plants (the lowest economic cost, environment be damned option) with a few windmills sprinkled around for political window dressing. How sad. How utterly sad. The real "economy" here is the political economics of what's most likely to get you re-elected.

James Hopf
And finally, on nuclear costs and subsidies:

In answer to some people's posts, ALL waste management and plant decommissioning costs are fully included in the ~1.75 cent/kW-hr nuclear operating costs. This includes all steps required to meet the (ridiculous) demands of negligible public exposures, over all time. And no, the govt. provides absolutely no help, and no subsidies, with respect to any of this. Meanwhile fossil fuels like coal are allowed to routinely emit millions of tons of pollutants, cause ~24,000 premature deaths every year, and be the single leading cause of CO2 emissions, etc.....

Concerning nuclear subsidies, a lot of the things being quoted (from RMI, etc..) are misleading or completely wrong. First of all it's in the distant past. Note that they always quote from 1948, or something like that. The fact is, while nuclear DID receive substantial help in its developmental years, the subsidies, and govt. research funding, has drastically dropped, and the level of support has been negligible for the last 20 years or so. The anti's will conveniently never mention this. One has to ask about the relevance, to the current discussion, of subsidies that went away over 20 year's ago.

One must ask them, "what, exactly, do you want?" They would likely say that they want nuclear subsidies to go away, or at least be much smaller than renewables subsidies. Well, we can clearly respond, "we've already done that!, you're wish has already been granted!" Right now (and for the last 10-20 years) nuclear power receives no direct operating subsidies, and nuclear research funding is a much smaller than that given to conservation, fossil fuels, or renewables. What more could they want? For some time, nuclear has been the ONLY energy source that receives virtually no govt. help. As Mr. Gould points out, the new energy bill is absolutely no exception to this. As the bill stands right now, both fossil and renewable sources receive large amounts of goodies, while nuclear receives nothing of any real value.

Another point that needs to be made concerns the statements made about nuclear program funding in the 90's versus other sources. The issue, and problem, here concerns the titles used for various govt. agencies and programs. There is a large title in the budget that is euphemistically titled "Nuclear Energy" (or perhaps "Nuclear Energy R&D"). Examination of this budget title shows that the vast majority of the funding goes to nuclear WEAPONS site cleanup activities. This has absolutely nothing to do with commercial nuclear power. It is criminal how the DOE is organized, and how they would use titles like that. Is it literally one of their objectives to give (false) ammunition to enemies of the nuclear power industry? If I were president, the first thing I would do, the very first afternoon I was in office, would be draft an executive order to move all nuclear weapons related activities (including all cleanup activities) from the DOE to the DOD where it freaking belongs!! At an absolute minimum, a section of the budget that mainly includes weapons site cleanup activities would not be titled "Nuclear Energy R&D". What utter BS! My God, who comes up with this stuff!!

Getting to the point. I KNOW that the $600+ million figure quoted by Mr. Fleming is based on the entire budget for the "Nuclear Energy R&D" title. I've checked the budgets myself. The fact is that govt. research funding for projects of any real benefit to commercial nuclear power, direct or indirect, have gotten less than $100 million for the last several years. This is up from virtually zero in the 1990s. In the late 90's Clinton actually zeroed out all commercial nuclear power research. He specifically stated this in a State of the Union address (do you remember it??). Recent projects include the advanced nuclear plant programs, along with the advanced fuel cycle initiative (which actually is of little use to the industry anyway, for the foreseeable future).

To summarize, nuclear has gotten less than $100 million in govt. research funding for the last 20 years or so. Also, this research funding is the ONLY support nuclear has gotten. Nuclear has not received any subsidies that reduce operation costs, directly or indirectly. By contrast, fossil fuels and conservation programs received ~$600 million in govt. research funding this year, and renewable energy received ~$350 million. On top of this, these sources receive huge direct operating subsidies. Wind gets the 1.8 cent/kW-hr production tax credit. Solar gets a similar federal credit, with state programs covering half the cost of a PV system, which translates into an over 10 cent credit!! Fossil fuels are subsidized in too many ways to count or describe. Not only are all aspects of fossil mining and production subsidized, but their external (pollution) costs, which run as high as 7 cents/kW-hr (for coal) are completely ignored and forgiven. Under a

James Hopf

....Under a pollution tax system, such as I advocate, fossil fuels would do a hell of a lot worse, believe me! Pipelines are also subsidized, and of course we can't forget the huge military necessary to protect our oil (and soon gas) supplies!

As I said before, things that happened 20 years or more ago are irrelevant to this discussion. It is about current and future policy. The fact is that nuclear has been, by far, the least subsidized energy source for quite some time. You want renewables to receive far more support than nuclear from now on? Already done!! That is current policy. And hey, if you want to increase renewables research even more, you'll get no argument from me. I would argue that the PTC is enough however, and indeed should be eventually phased out. Indeed, if I'm to believe Mr. Bradley's cost figures, the PTC shouldn't be needed even now. If that were the case, I wonder, why is everything at a standstill now that the PTC is in limbo?

One final point, the 10 cent/kW-hr cost figure for nuclear is clearly BS. I'm sure that what this is based on is the levelized cost of power from the "most recent" nuclear plants that came on line during that period, i.e., the late '90s. After all, these are the "most recent" examples for nuclear, and therefore the most accurate measure of its cost, right? Wrong!! What breathtaking intellectual dishonesty!! All of the plants were ordered at about the same time. Thus, the plants that finally came on line in the '90s are the stragglers, i.e., the ones most delayed by various issues, including the various legal antics of the anti-nukes. For these reasons, these are the 2 or 3 plants that have the very highest overall costs. The costs of most of the other ~100 plants are vastly lower!

Despite the (tragic) delays and issues for the first generation of nuclear construction, the average overall costs for nuclear electricity in the US is more like 6 cents. And even here, I have to ask, what is this "levelized" cost based on? What payback period? These plants are paid off now, mostly, and the rest of their 60-year lives will be pure gravy, with a total power cost of only 1.75 cents/kW-hr or less. Thus, nuclear plants are more expensive up front, and result in higher power costs for awhile, but they result in lower costs (and more stability in costs) farther down the road. Of note is the fact that Commonwealth Edison's rates (~80% nuclear) have fallen below the national average, after being above the average for many years after construction of the plants. Their rates will fall even further below the national average over the remaining ~40 years of these plants lives, and as gas prices continue to increase.

Also, several plants have been constructed recently overseas (in the Far East), on budget and on schedule, at costs which translate into ~5 cents/kW-hr (under any reasonable financing terms or interest rate). Today, plants are designed down to the last detail before construction, and in most cases we have actual experience with a specific, detailed design. We are much better at accurately estimating the cost. With the new advanced plants that will be built in the future, detailed and sophisticated estimates of construction costs predict an overall power cost that is closer to 4 cents/kW-hr, which is already cheaper than gas (at $6/MBTU) and is even competitive with conventional coal. Excessive perceptions of financial risk on Wall St., are all that is keeping the industry back.

The fact of the matter is, in today's more deregulated market, if nuclear plants are not economical, they won't be built, period. It's not as though they receive any govt. help...... Thus, why are we wasting our breath on this "issue". The issue is dead.

George Fleming
Mr. Hopf summarily rejects the conclusions of the REPP study. I will see if I can get a response from the authors. On subsidies, a short but interesting paper (2003) on the Price-Anderson Act is available at

On the cost of power, Mr. Hopf’s estimate of 6 cents/kWh for nuclear power is about right, according to the study (2003) at , which indicates a cost of 6.7 cents (LWR). It says that, in deregulated markets, nuclear power is not now cost competitive with coal or natural gas CCGT.

The authors of this study make several conclusions: nuclear power should not be dismissed if global warming is to be taken seriously, but a radically different nuclear R&D program is needed; much work remains to be done to reduce cost, improve safety, stop proliferation and provide safe methods of waste disposal; only the once-through cycle has a chance of becoming cost competitive; if the R&D program outlined in the study were followed, it would probably take at least ten years to put nuclear power on a competitive footing. Without the requirement to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear power may never become competitive. However, there is no question that drastic reductions in carbon emissions must be achieved within the next ten years.

Concerning safety, we must not forget what happened at the Davis-Besse plant two years ago. The owners and operators were extremely careless. Their first priority was profit, not safety. They ignored the clear evidence, and the repeated warnings of a plant engineer, that boric acid was eating a hole in the reactor vessel. The NRC was also asleep at the switch. After the magnitude of the problem was finally recognized, and a monumental disaster narrowly averted, a few heads rolled and we were assured that safety training and procedures were improved.

Were these reforms enough, even if they were fully implemented? The paper on Price-Anderson provides valuable information on this question. On that evidence and common sense, I doubt that it would be possible to realize the safety regime proposed in the MIT study. It would rely, as it must, on fallible and unreliable human beings. Furthermore, part of the safety requirement is effective plant security. We do not have it yet, not by a long shot. Nuclear plants are regularly invaded by teams of government agents who are sent out to test the defenses, even when the plant operators know they are coming.

I doubt that the MIT anti-proliferation plan could be realized either. It would depend on a responsible, effective international police agency, but how is it to be formed and invested with the necessary coercive power? If I remember correctly, the best agency we have been able to form so far, the IAEA, completely missed the Pakistani, Iranian and Libyan nuclear weapons programs, and probably that of the North Koreans also. The United States, possessing the greatest military power that ever existed, can’t even manage to control Iraq (not that we should), let alone the world. The Europeans can’t agree on how to cooperate among themselves, let alone with us. North Korea has the bomb and there is nothing we can do about it. Well, I must limit my comments, but I think you will understand my point.

To summarize, it appears to me that not even a blue-ribbon MIT panel can figure out how to make the dream of nuclear power come true. For the final nail in the coffin, we have the following study published late last year (Mr. Hopf, please sit down and pour yourself a shot of your favorite potion before you read it):

In this remarkable study, the authors have made a convincing analysis of a surprising problem with nuclear power. I think I can already hear the sound of gaskets blowing. The most important message that the study delivers is this:

“Since we know now that the fossil fuel reserves may only be used sparingly because of the danger of global warming, it is essential that the public realize that the future of our civilization depends critically on reducing the use of energy drastically and rapidly. There is really no alternative.”

Richard Stevens
Mr. Hopf: Thank you for such a thorough response to my article. May I refer you to the May 2004 edition of Platts POWER magazine. The article "Combined Cycle Users' Group begins a new tradition in Baltimore" describes the problems CCGTs are having with cycling. The operators of these CCGTs are certainly to be congratulated for developing strategies to cope with these problems, but all of these strategies create additional costs or cause opportunities to capture revenue to be missed. It is my contention that if they are forced to do additional cycling to accommodate wind generators, they will be forced out of business. Already, two virtually brand new CCGTs, one in Texas and one in Mississippi, have been mothballed. Many other proposed projects have been canceled. However, I must admit that I was wrong in assuming that the CCGTs will be replaced by simple combustion turbines. It now appears that many of them will be replaced by coal plants. From the same issue of Platts POWER magazine, "About 100 different coal projects representing approximately 70,000 MW of new capacity are in some phase of development from concept to construction." If present trends continue any possible environmental benefit of wind energy will be more than canceled out by a new expansion of coal plants.

Len Gould
Mr Fleming: It appear to me it is you who are dreaming. What possible relationship can you conjure up between nuclear power development in the US and nuclear weapons development in North Korea, Palestine or any other place? Are you promising us that "if only the US stops building power generating plants, then no other country will develop nuclear weapons?". I will leave the balance of that response unsaid, being quite unflattering.

Anit-nukes need to wake up on the issue of non-proliferation. It's too late, people. With absolutely no regard to any action of the US beyond direct military intervention real or threatened, the rest of the world is going to carry on doing whatever it chooses regarding nuclear weapons and power. I'm not saying that is a good thing, but it is reality. We are not in a situation as in 1946 where one could dream of controlling the dissemination of the knowledge, technology etc. That debate is dead. Has been for decades. Stuff it.

Whatever number of nuclear power reactors the US chooses to employ in its generation mix will have simply zero effect on the international nuclear weapons situation. Period. Zilch. Nada. No further discussion.

George Fleming
Mr. Gould, you have stated my proliferation point exactly. It is no longer possible for any entity, no matter how powerful, to exert worldwide control of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. However, the MIT study says that we must create such an entity, if we are going to be responsible about nuclear power.

If you have read the OPRIT study, you will understand that nuclear power is not a solution to global warming. There is simply no longer any valid argument in favor of nuclear power. It fails on cost and safety, it can't reduce carbon emissions, and we can't prevent it from putting nuclear weapons into the hands of people who are likely to use them.

Our energy problem is far worse than most of us think it is. To start turning this situation around, I propose that we ration gasoline. Not by price, however. That would not be fair. Gasoline is a matter of life and death to us in our present predicament. It is like liberty. Everyone must receive an equal ration, so long as they have earned it. The cost would be two years of national service. No national service, no gas, and no voting either. Let people drive what they want, but they must do it on a gallon a day to start with. This amount would be reduced as world oil supplies are depleted. For our electrical power, we ought to convert the automobile plants into wind turbine plants and solar panel plants. On trash day, we ought to make everyone explain to his neighbors why he is throwing out that perfectly good chest of drawers. "It didn't match your new paint scheme, Mr. Jones? I sentence you to twenty lashes, and put that chest of drawers back in the house." Someday soon we will be forced to understand the necessity of such measures.

Richard Stevens
Dr. Sutherland: I want to thank you and Mr. Adams for all your comments, and especially your information about radioactivity in food. I found them extremely informative.

John K. Sutherland
Mr Flemming, I found your general comments to be selectively unscientific and irrational, especially your last. If you truly believe that society must cut back on its energy use, then I wonder what you, personally are doing about it yourself, or do your observations apply – in the usual environmentalist fashion - only to everyone else. ‘Do as I say, and ignore what I do.’ You obviously, like the rest of us, live a relatively pampered lifestyle that I doubt you would easily see torn from you and your children. And I am interested in how you will get countries like India or China, never mind our own, to adopt a reduced-energy lifestyle while they are in the throes of trying to catch up to us, as well as to survive. Coercive - politically correct' reduction of energy use, is a short cut to social oblivion and environmental disaster.

The least environmental damage occurs when society advances far enough to be able to afford to address the significant environmental problems – which are NOT the ones that are usually trumpeted with such vigor. Such advances occur – as they have anytime in the last 200 years - only in those societies which are able to exploit energy to the most full: the more energy the more social advancement and improved health and life expectancy, the more efficient the use of energy, and the less the overall environmental impact. Eventually we may be able to reduce our energy use, but we had better do it for all of the right technological reasons, and not because some hair-shirt zealot says that we must.

In addition, how you can honestly suggest that the adoption of nuclear power is NOT conducive to a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, beggars belief. You sound like a mouthpiece for the Rocky Mountain Institute or the Sierra Club among others. Assume for just a few moments that society is increasingly electrical (as it now is in our part of the world) and that we had evolved to an almost totally nuclear society, and displaced most coal, oil, natural gas and gasoline, in favor of electrical heat, electric or hydrogen cars, or whatever. Unless you engage in Orwellian doublespeak, how does that change NOT reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

I read the various reports you suggested might inform us, and found the one from REPP to be what I would expect – self serving and very selective of what they would like anyone to believe. What I have always found to be most telling, is that those who cannot promote or defend their own particular product on its merits, usually engage in knocking the alternatives in every way possible, even to the extent of using half-truths or worse, and very careful selection of information for public consumption.

Despite the qualifications and backgrounds of the writers on the oprit site, I found their information and assumptions highly selective and frustratingly ill-quantified, as well as ill informed considering their backgrounds. My second article on this site showed that the accessible uranium and thorium resources on this planet are useable for many millions of years using existing and well-understood chemical and nuclear technology. I found it strange that your ‘qualified’ authors do not understand these subjects better. Again, my comment applies that whose who are able to do so, usually promote what is possible, and those who are NOT able, just knock the alternatives as hard as they can, rather than presenting a perspective view of them all and discovering the one (or several) that is better than the others.

I found the Cato article to be a similar questionably-biased piece of work. Usually I see much better quality from Cato, and I hate to knock renewables (excluding hydro) any more than I already have, and do (too dilute, too intermittent, too expensive, too unreliable: all true), but I can refer our readers to policy articles 280 and 422 on the Cato site which provide some most pertinent and accurate information on renewables.

Your significantly blinkered arguments about nuclear safety indicate that in common with the rest of your arguments, you ignore what you do not like and select what you do. If that bias were driven by rational science and a truly deeper knowledge, it would be understandable. Unfortunately, it isn't.

I refer you to the figures provided by the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, and that I have quoted in the past in response to others like yourself who wage highly selective emotional onslaughts because they cannot, or will not, understand relative risks. Data from the Paul-Scherrer Institute in Switzerland for 1969 to 1996, showing relative human fatalities from 4290 energy-related accidents in commercial facilities, indicate that for each terra-watt-year of energy use (the world uses about 13 TW of primary energy each year at this time), the following

John K. Sutherland
Continuation: Data from the Paul-Scherrer Institute in Switzerland for 1969 to 1996, showing relative human fatalities from 4290 energy-related accidents in commercial facilities, indicate that for each terra-watt-year of energy use (the world uses about 13 TW of primary energy each year at this time), the following relative numbers of fatalities are indicated:

Nuclear Power 8 Natural Gas 85 Coal 342 Oil 418 Hydro 884 LPG 3280

Please tell me what you cannot understand about these very simple relative risk numbers from a well-respected source.

Len Gould
Reference Stormy van Lewyn et al:

"In this remarkable study" indeed. There is a very clear path to proof that this stuff is pure bunk, as follows.

1) Operators of nuclear power plants are in the business of selling net energy out.

2) If the energy input to the fuel enrichment of PWR's and BWR's were anywhere near significant to the net out of the cycle, then that would give the CANDU6 HPWR an enormous economic advantage in the international marketplace for reactors, since IT DOESN't USE ENRICHED FUEL, simply natural uranium directly as mined.

3) Since there is no evidence of this factor being anywhere near significant to purchase decisions of e.g. China, Korea, Albania etc. or in considerations for future styles of reactors anywhere else, it can be assumed that the FUEL ENRICHMENT ENERGY INPUTS MUST NOT BE SIGNIFICANT TO THE NET ENERGY OUTPUT.

(Note: In fact, the CANDU group is presently designing a new reactor to employ slightly enriched uranium simply in order to reduce the size of the calandria for economix reasons)

The argument's bunk is out.

James Hopf
George Fleming wrote:

GF: "Mr. Hopf summarily rejects the conclusions of the REPP study."

Well, not entirely (or necessarily). I'm just trying to say (and clarify) that most (90%) of the govt. funding under the "Nuclear Energy R&D" budget titles is actually related to the weapons sites, and their cleanup, or other unrelated areas like fusion and high-energy physics. I am relatively confident that these (anti-nuclear) studies ignored that fact when the came up with their "subsidy" numbers. I'm also pointing out that most of these subsidies occurred in the late '40s through the '60s. (Note that the 1948 date is conveniently chosen for these analyses.)

I acknowledge the fact that nuclear received a lot of support during its early development. However, I think our discussions here are primarily about present and future policy, (or at least they should be). At present, the only govt. support nuclear receives is the Generation IV advanced reactor program, the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, and the Nuclear Power 2010 program. These are the only programs that are of any real benefit to the industry. These programs amount to ~$100 million per year, whereas the fossil and conservation department gets $600 million, and renewables get $320 million.

The only other thing that could possibly be called a subsidy is Price-Anderson, and even the studies often quoted by anti-nukes show that this "subsidy" only corresponds to ~0.04-0.4 cents/kW-hr. This is tiny compared to the external costs of fossil fuels (associated with pollution and its effects) which are over 5 cents/kW-hr for coal, for example.

GF: "On the cost of power, Mr. Hopf’s estimate of 6 cents/kWh for nuclear power is about right, according to the study (2003) at , which indicates a cost of 6.7 cents (LWR). It says that, in deregulated markets, nuclear power is not now cost competitive with coal or natural gas CCGT."

Well, be careful, this isn't quite right. The 6 cent figure I quoted is the overall average cost (including capital) for the last generation of nuclear plants, including all the delays and cost overruns and all. The 6.7 cent figure quoted by the MIT study is their estimate for future plants. And note that the statement on gas appears to be dated. At the current price of gas ($6/MBTU, plus more for distribution to the plant site), the overall cost of CCGT power is pretty close to the 6.7 cent figure. In the future, I don't see gas going down. In fact, I only see it going up.

Concerning the 6.7 cent/kW-hr figure, it is based on a very conservative capital cost estimate of $2,200/kW, along with extremely harsh financing terms (i.e., a very short demanded payback time, and an excessively high required rate of return). These financial terms can dramatically affect the resulting "power price", even for plants with the same real costs (i.e., overnight capital cost and operating costs). If you did something simple like assume that one could get a long-term loan for some high (but still reasonable) interest rate of say 10%, the resulting calculated cost would be much lower than this, and nuclear would already be close to coal, and be far ahead of gas.

Also note that the only reason why coal and gas are currently cheaper is that their external costs (i.e., pollution) are completely forgiven. Nuclear's external costs are minimal, as is shown by all studies (e.g., the European Commission's Extern-E study). Nuclear basically is not allowed to pollute, or have any external costs. The public has zero tolerance for nuclear external costs. As I said above, the REAL cost of coal is higher by over 5 cents, more than enough to make it wholly uncompetative with nuclear. One final note, under ANY system where we are trying to reduce CO2 emissions, the tax on CO2 will have to be such that non-emitting sources are cheaper than coal (and gas to a lesser extent). Under any such regime, nuclear will become cheaper than coal (since it will have to be).

The nuclear industry is adamant that the capital cost figures assumed for new plants in the MIT study are far too high. The industry believes that it will be able to achieve $1,300-1,500/kW for the first few plants, and $1,000-1,200/kW for downstream plants. This would make nuclear even cheaper than coal, even without any of the much harsher environmental requirements that are sure to come out in the future. The industry has literal experience overseas (in the Far East) building plants, on budget and on schedule, for costs of ~$1,500/kW or less, which translates into ~5 cents/kW-hr. The new, advanced designs are thought to be even cheaper, and would result in a power cost of ~4 cents/kW-hr. I've heard from the author's of the MIT report personally (at conferences, etc..). They acknowledge that the $2,200 figure is conservative, and have stated that they used it because "Wall St. insisted that the conservative figure be used". They also a

James Hopf

.....They also agreed that the estimates for significantly lower capital costs (for the new designs) are very "plausible", but they need to be demonstrated.

Also note that the MIT study's official policy recommendation is that the first ~6000 MW of new nuclear capacity be given a 1.8 cent/kW-hr production tax credit to get the ball rolling. Once the first few plants are built, and the costs and schedules are demonstrated, the perceived financial risk will be greatly reduced, further plants will be able to get funding on much more favorable terms, and the PTC will no longer be needed.

GF: " would probably take at least ten years to put nuclear power on a competitive footing. Without the requirement to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear power may never become competitive. However, there is no question that drastic reductions in carbon emissions must be achieved within the next ten years."

Nuclear is competitive with other sources of energy RIGHT NOW, if their external costs are considered. The only reason fossil fuels are currently cheaper is that they are getting a free ride on the massive amounts of pollution they emit. And this is true even if CO2 emissions (global warming) is not considered. A recent study showed that coal plant emissions, in the US alone, cause 24,000 premature deaths every single year!! Can you believe that! This is far worse than having a Chernobyl event every singe year. And yet this is tolerated. Can you even imagine if nuclear were to......

Thus, nuclear does not need a carbon emissions reduction requirement to be competitive, it only needs ANY type of accounting for external costs, and pollution in general. The only thing it can't compete with right now is dirty, conventional coal. It can already compete with gas on raw cost (w/o external costs added), and "clean coal" plants are just as expensive as nuclear. Conversely, however, if we ever DO have CO2 emissions limits, fossil fuels will be completely blown away, and nuclear's future as the dominant baseload generator will be assured.

I'll say this though. There will NOT be any significant nuclear additions in the next 10 years, given the path that the industry is currently on (their plans, etc...). Under the Nuclear Power 2010 program, they are planning on starting construction on 2 to 4 new plants, which may be on line as early as 2014. Thus, it's true that nuclear will not be able create a "drastic reduction in CO2 emissions" in the next 10 years. Alas, NOTHING will. In fact, we're going the wrong way. There are ~100 new coal plants on order, since renewables can only do so much (only a little, actually), and gas has gotten significantly more expensive than coal. Most new capacity in the next 10 years will be pure carbon. Great huh?

GF: "After the magnitude of the problem was finally recognized, and a monumental disaster narrowly averted...." (concerning Davis Besse)

Well no, I definitely would not call it a "monumental" disaster, and it was not narrowly averted. NRC just came out with an analysis which showed that even the stainless steel vessel cladding alone would have been enough to withstand the pressure, and would have lasted at least the 10-13 more months until the next scheduled outage. Also, if the cladding ruptured, and the water/steam vented out, we would have had an event about as serious as TMI, if that. TMI being an event that killed ne one. This is just one more "horror" story about a nuclear plant event that killed, well, ne one. The real facts remain the same. The US nuclear power industry has never emitted any significant amount of pollution, has never had any measurable public health effect, and has never killed a member of the public, over its entire 40-year history. This, in contrast to 24,000 deaths every year, under routine operation, for coal. GF: " would probably take at least ten years to put nuclear power on a competitive footing. Without the requirement to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear power may never become competitive. However, there is no question that drastic reductions in carbon emissions must be achieved within the next ten years."

Nuclear is competitive with other sources of energy RIGHT NOW, if their external costs are considered. The only reason fossil fuels are currently cheaper is that they are getting a free ride on the massive amounts of pollution they emit. And this is true even if CO2 emissions (global warming) is not considered. A recent study showed that coal plant emissions, in the US alone, cause 24,000 premature deaths every single year!! Can you believe that! This is far worse than having a Chernobyl event every singe year. And yet this is tolerated. Can you even imagine if nuclear were to......

Thus, nuclear does not need a carbon emissions reduction requirement to be competitive, it only needs ANY type of accounting for external costs, and pollution in general. The only thing it can't

James Hopf

(Sorry for the screw up last post, please ignore the last 2.5 paragraphs, after the GF:'....)

I'll try it one comment at a time......

GF: It would rely, as it must, on fallible and unreliable human beings. Furthermore, part of the safety requirement is effective plant security. We do not have it yet, not by a long shot."

Nuclear's "acceptability" does NOT rely on infallible equipment or human beings. The risks do not have to be zero in order for it to be acceptable. They just have to be as low, or lower, than other sources of energy. I get very frustrated with this zero risk notion. As is shown by the statistics given above (comparisons to coal, etc...) it is already clear than nuclear's overall risks are already orders of magnitude lower than those of fossil fuels. ALL scientific studies on the matter (such as the EC's Extern-E study) agree on this. This negligible risk has already been demonstrated by Western nuclear power, with its spotless safety record, over a very long history. We don't need any more proof.

Concerning security, it should be noted that nuclear power plants are the only civilian sites that are even required to have such drills, even though there are many other types of sites (e.g., chemical plants and LNG terminals) that are far more vulnerable (both physically and in terms of security arrangements) and which also have a far greater potential consequences. Yes, that's right. EPA states that there are ~100 or more chemical facilities that could kill as many as a million people in the event of a successful attack, and their physical protection (such as the nuclear plant containment, etc...) is much weaker than nuclear plants. And we're talking immediate, clear deaths, not hypothetical deaths associated with tiny cancer rate increases from low-level radiation exposures, etc... The nuclear industry has done more than any other in terms of security, and are our more protected civilian sites. When you estimate and sum up all of our sources of terrorism risk in this country (by multiplying consequences times the probability of a successful attack), you find that nuclear power plants do not contribute significantly to our overall vulnerability.

James Hopf
And yet another......:

GF: "I doubt that the MIT anti-proliferation plan could be realized either.........but I think you will understand my point."

No, I don't understand your point. None of the issues you discussed have anything to do with commercial nuclear power in developed countries like the US, or the number of those plants. I'm with Len on this one. Adding more once-through fuel cycle nuclear plants in the US has absolutely no impact at all on the proliferation issue (i.e., the speed at which rogue nations obtain nuclear weapons, etc...).

None of the examples you discussed had anything to do with US (or European) nuclear power. None of these programs were the source of the fissile material for any cases of proliferation. This is because stealing spent fuel from a developed nation, and processing it for the plutonium, is the single most difficult (and silly) means of obtaining fissile material that anyone has ever dreamed of. Spent fuel is less valuable than the uranium ore in the ground in these countries, all things considered. All of these countries smuggled the technology to enrich uranium, and used it to enrich their own uranium ore. Either that, or they built their own reactors. These avenues are the ones that lead to proliferation. An outright nuclear bazaar in Russia, N. Korea, or Pakistan are another significant risk. The fact is that the world lacks the political will to do anything even when a country like Iran is obviously developing nuclear weapons right under our nose. THAT is the problem (not civilian nuclear plants in developed countries). Until we develop some backbone, proliferation is inevitable. It is anyway. This is just a fact of life, frankly.

The authors of the MIT studied estimated that 20% of the new nuclear capacity in their high-nuclear-growth scenarios would be in new countries that do not currently have nuclear plants. Believe it or not, I'm flexible, and willing to negotiate on this point. I'm willing to settle for the 80% growth in the current nuclear countries. I would be willing to entertain a policy of no nuclear power for nations that do not currently have it (with a few large-nation exceptions such as Australia, or any European country, etc....). I also support the recent proposed policy of having no fuel cycle facilities in nations that do not already have them. And of course getting all the high-enriched uranium out of all those research reactors is the highest priority. These steps are sufficient to eliminate the overwhelming majority of proliferation risk. Once again, having more or less reactors in nations that already have them, especially if they are once-through, has absolutely no impact on proliferation risk.

GF: To summarize, it appears to me that not even a blue-ribbon MIT panel can figure out how to make the dream of nuclear power come true."

That's not true. All we need is for fossil fuels (especially coal) to be held accountable for their external costs (pollution), OR we need to codify a goal/requirements that we reduce CO2 emissions. Either one of these policies would make nuclear the baseload power source of choice in the future.

James Hopf
Concerning uranium supplies and energy input/output:

This reminds me of another gloom-and-doom link that was posted by a person on the John Kerry website. This site said that as early as 2030, the energy required to mine our remaining coal reserves would be twice the energy content of the extracted coal (thus utterly ending coal as a viable energy source). Thus, you may have HEARD that we had a ~250-year supply of coal, but it was really all a fantasy.... Much as I hate coal, even I can't believe this, not even for a second. This same site went on do describe how all of the alternatives to oil will not be sufficient, and how the collapse of civilization is coming, etc... Yet even this site did not discuss this specific problem of uranium requiring more energy that it takes to mine it. It merely stuck to the more common concept of economically recoverable reserves.

Anyway, the arguments sound similar here. And yet, as with the coal case, nobody in the industry seems to be even mildly concerned, even though this is completely central to their livelihood.

I'll also note that even this study states that, given new high-grade reserves that are likely to be found, the nuclear industry could probably provide all of the world's power for "only" a few decades, assuming the once-through fuel cycle. I don't know about some of you, but this is all I ever had in mind for the total collective generation from fission anyway (certainly from once-through fission). The highest fraction of total power nuclear would ever attain is ~50%. Thus, we are already talking about well over 50 years. By the latter part of this century, I expect nuclear power to be trailing off, as it is replaced by fusion or renewables, and the like. Either that or a move to breeders.....

Let me start with the energy input for enrichment, since it is easy. Up until now, we supplied all our enrichment services with the old, grossly inefficient gas diffusion process. These plants required a ~500 MW power plant dedicated to their operations (at most ~1000 MW). Our nuclear fleet generates ~100 GW. Thus, even with the old technology, energy input from enrichment is less than 1% of the power output. Also, these plants will soon be replaced by gas centrifuge plants which consume only ~5% as much electricity. Thus, in the future, the power input term from enrichment will only be ~0.05% of power output by the nuclear plants.

Concerning the mining term, at least the cited study "admits" that the energy input terms are negligible for today's high-grade ores. In some ways this makes it harder to argue. I could reference several studies and analyses that make it clear that the mining and milling of uranium does not involve significant energy input (fossil or otherwise). These include calculations of net CO2 (and other emissions) from the entire nuclear fuel cycle (which would include all mining inputs), as well arguments about uranium costs, and how energy inputs could not be significant, given that the uranium ore costs only amount to ~0.1 cents/kW-hr, whereas the power costs almost 2 cents (~4 cents including capital). But alas, any such studies would be based on CURRENT energy inputs from (high-grade) uranium mining.

Instead, this study "admits" that everything is fine now, but assures us that disaster is just around the corner. This makes it much harder to present decisive evidence showing that their analysis is false. The analysis then uses pessimistic estimates of remaining high-grade ores, and largely neglects the amount of high-grade ore that remains to be discovered. Then it makes pessimistic assumptions about massively more energy being required for lower-grade ores, without giving a solid basis. It is not intuitive to me that energy use for extracting ores is such a strong function of uranium concentration. And of course, future technology advances in mining are ignored.

As I've stated elsewhere, whereas we've thoroughly scanned every nook and cranny of this planet for oil and gas, we have barely even begun to explore for uranium, since we have not needed to. After only a relatively small amount of effort, we found all the uranium we needed, most of our supply coming from a handful of mother-lode sites. The supplies were so ample that the price of uranium ore crashed to extremely low levels, especially after we decided to take the enriched uranium from decommissioned warheads and use it to provide half of all our nuclear fuel. At the price that existed over the last 10-20 years, absolutely no uranium exploration was performed, as even the existing mines could barely get by. When the price of uranium ore goes up significantly, we will see a significant exploration effort, and our known reserves of uranium ore (even higher-grade ore) will increase significantly, believe me. And since the cost of ore only corresponds to ~0.1 cents/kW-hr, nuclear power can afford a huge increase in ore cost. Don't put any

James Hopf

.......Don't put any credence at all in current "estimates" of total recoverable uranium reserves.

A reference I have on potential uranium resources (Deffyes and MacGregor) shows that the total uranium reserves increases by over a factor of 300 if you add sources with uranium concentrations as low as 10% of that present in today's high-grade ores. The same reference, along with 3 others, shows that at a price of $130/kg (vs. today's price of ~$40), the total recoverable uranium resource 3 to 20 times our current "recoverable" estimate of 5 million tons (which is enough to supply the current world usage for 50 years). Thus, at $130/kg, we have enough U to supply the world, at today's consumption levels for 150-1000 years.

Of course, if we wish to expand nuclear's share of total world primary energy from ~8% to say 30%, and also account for expected growth in overall energy demand, we would have to increase nuclear's output by a factor of 7-8. This would reduce the above lifespan to 20-130 years. Note, however, that an ore price of $130/kg would only add ~0.2-0.25 cents/kW-hr to the overall cost of nuclear electricity. If I extrapolate the data given in these references to a uranium ore cost of $450/kg, which is enough to increase the cost by 1.0 cents/kW-hr, I get a range of 160-6500 years, even at a rate of usage that is 7-8 times today's. And this still assumes the once-through fuel cycle.

The point of all this is that the total reserve amounts increase very rapidly with decreasing concentration. The Deffeyes formula states that reserves increase by a factor of 300 for every factor of ten reduction in concentration. Today's high-grade ores amount to a 50-year supply, at today's usage rate, even if we neglect future discoveries of ores of similar grade. (I am absolutely convinced that the undiscovered high-grade ores vastly exceed the currently discovered high-grade ores.) Even if we assume that all additional ores are lower-grade, we still do not have a problem. The most I ever envision nuclear providing (without breeding anyway) is ~50 years at an average usage rate of ~6 times today's. This results in a total uranium consumption of ~6 times our current estimate of known high-grade ores. Six is about 300 to the 0.3 power. According to the Deffeys formula, this corresponds to a reduction in uranium concentration of about a factor of 2, very roughly. Thus, ores with as low as ~1/2 the concentration of today's high-grade ores could provide all the uranium we need, according to these references anyway.

Even if we assume that energy use in mining is inversely proportional to the uranium concentration, this would only result in a factor of 2 in energy input. As we know (and George's study "admits") the current energy inputs are a very small fraction of generated power. Twice nothing is about nothing. We will never need to get down to the ore concentrations that the study says would be a problem.

Concerning these energy inputs in general, including the inputs for plant construction, the laws of economics apply here, and pretty much cover the situation. If the fuel cycle, and plant construction, required fossil fuels with a significant fraction of the energy that the plant will generate over its lifetime, then the plant would never be economic, period. Economics would clearly show that it is cheaper to simply burn those fossil fuels directly in a fossil plant. The cost of enriched uranium ore, to make nuclear fuel, is a tiny fraction of the cost of an equivalent amount of fossil fuel, and even this low uranium cost is mostly due to non-energy costs (i.e., labor, machinery, etc...). Thus, it is absolutely obvious that the energy inputs the fuel cycle are a tiny fraction of the energy output, on the order of 1% or less.

The same is true for plant construction. If the fossil fuel energy required to build a plant were a significant fraction of the total electric energy output by the plant, over its entire lifetime, then the cost of the plant would be a lot higher (tens of billions of dollars), even if you assumed that most of the plant capital cost was from energy costs (when in fact, energy is only a tiny fraction of the capital cost). The bottom line is that studies have been performed to look at this, and they all show that the total net CO2 output for nuclear is less than 1% that of coal. And that's all we need to say.

A brief comment on the study's "concerns" about energy usage required for the back end of the fuel cycle. How much energy would it take to simply plop the spent fuel in Yucca Mtn? Answer, almost nothing.

Two final comments. First, and once again, economics will automatically work all this out. And if we are concerned about global warming, we simply apply a tax to CO2 emissions, which would also apply to any fossil fuel use (and emissions) associated with uranium mining. If nuclear doesn't reduce CO2, it would not benefit from t

James Hopf

........If nuclear doesn't reduce CO2, it would not benefit from the policy. And if uranium can no longer be economically extracted, nuclear plants will not be built, period. No need to worry. Economics, and the industry, will be fully able to handle and account for this. Once again, nobody in the industry seems to be concerned.....

And finally, if this ever really does become an issue, we can just use breeders. The study's dismissal of breeders was lame. Yes, it's true that they will be somewhat more expensive (perhaps as much as 2 cents/kW-hr more, or about 6 cents/kW-hr). In an energy starved world, this will not be much of an issue. Heck, solar's still over 20 cents. The only reason why they are not used today (i.e., why they are a "failure") is that they can not quite compete with the panoply of really cheap energy options we have today. If and when the cheap options go away (including once-through nuclear), breeders will be available. They act as a barrier that will never let things get really bad (i.e., costs will never get much over 6 cents). Because breeders represent a nearly inexhaustible source, no matter how you look at it, and no matter whose numbers you use. The use of breeders completely eliminates all the arguments and issues raised in George's reference.

Richard Stevens
Mr Gould: May I please elaborate on your comment about the new CANDU design that uses enriched fuel? The design is called ACR-700. An excellent paper on its characteristics is "Design Characteristics of ACR-700" by J.W. Love, K.F. Hau, and T. Mahendralingam from the Twenty Third Annual Conference of the Candadian Nuclear Society. From page 8 of the paper," The innovations in the ACR-700 core physics result in substantial improvements in economics as well as significant enhancements in reactor controllability, licensability, and waste reduction. In the ACR-700 design, the fuel is designed to provide a full-core coolant-void reactivity of around -3 mk and a substantially negative power coefficient." This redesign makes the reactor compliant with 10 CFR 50 Appendix A General Design Criteria . The original CANDU reactors do not meet the design criteria and thus could not be licensed in the United States. Dominion Resources is considering placing an ACR-700 reactor at the North Anna Power Station.

Len Gould
Mr Stevens: If you would note in my post, I never proposed that the CANDU6 might be a competitor in the US. We all know that market will continue to impose rules to block foreign competition regardless of reason. It will be interesting to watch what new barrierwill be placed before the ACR.

And there are a huge amount of factors which combine to make any particular design comparably safe to another, many more than can be reviewed here. I would refer you to a text such as Ronald Allen Knief "Theory and Technology of commercial Nuclear Power" 2nd ed. among others, but the CANDU6 is broadly acknowledged as a very safe design, e.g. triple redundant automated controls which enormously reduce dependence on operator input.

I stated that other countries, e.g. South Korea and China, would find the CANDU6 to have an overwhelming economic advantage, a situation which is not evident. e.g. AECL has just finished building a group of CANDU6's in china (on schedule, under budget, considerably lower capital cost than your estimates), and now the Chinese are shopping for a new group of reactors. Latest word is that a US design is the front-runner, which indicates the minimal advantage of the less intense fuel preparation.

Len Gould
And on future fuel resource, I would recommend you not get overly concerned, as I think a large segment of the entire Canadian province of Saskatchewan (currently the only active uranium mine in NA is also in Sask) is underlain by huge phosphate deposits currently mined for fertilizer but, if a previous post was correct, also a potential source of uranium which could be separated out if anyone ever wanted it. And the entire huge territory north of there is essentially unexplored except for diamonds. Or ask Australia.


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