Sunday, March 8, 2009

Nuclear Power Plants Again

[This from an entry on Anthony Watts', on March 8.  I respond initially to one hareynolds, who declaims at length about the glories of the oil industry, then closes with this gem:   ]

". . . Every single petroleum engineer I have met in the last 30 years favors nuclear power. Every single one. Period."

[We must not know the same petroleum engineers, so, I respond to hareynolds thusly:   ]

I was with you all the way up until the last, where nuclear power was endorsed. Sorry, that power source is too expensive, and creates a lasting legacy of toxics.

See This Link and  [to my earlier posts on nuclear power plant costs]

See This Link 

Any U.S. utility that builds a new nuclear power plant will undergo the death spiral in power rates: Build a nuke, increase the power rates, customers go off-line by building cogen, PUC allows another rate hike to increase revenue to utility, more customers go off-line as their cogen projects become attractive. The ones hurt the most in the nuclear death spiral are the poor, and elderly on fixed incomes who cannot afford to install their own cogen power.

The oil and gas industry is partly to blame for their bad reputation by not doing more to educate and counter the mass media’s reports.

The people may learn, someday, when the lights go out and it gets cold. Or, when the lights go out and the A/C does not work.


[Next, tallbloke steps in with this comment:  ]


Roger Sowell (16:11:12)

The people may learn, someday, when the lights go out and it gets cold. Or, when the lights go out and the A/C does not work.

How did the Inuit manage during the little ice age, or didn’t they notice it?
I take it that ‘cogen’ means installing alternative means which backfeed onto the grid. I firmly believe that local generation is efficient until it’s transmitted over long distances. Reliability is the issue. Efficiently combusting local waste with minimal emissions is the answer to part of the equation.


[My response to tallbloke, thusly:   ]

Cogen has several meanings, but as I am using it, this means generating power and heat for one’s own use. There are several designs on the market, one is a natural-gas powered piston engine that turns a generator, then the exhaust is used to produce hot water for domestic use. Other designs burn natural gas in micro-turbines for power generation, and recover heat from the exhaust.

Industrial-strength versions also produce steam. There is also a tri-gen technology that produces power, hot water, and chilled water.

Some cogen systems will generate excess power that is sold back to the utility. A side benefit is no new power transmission lines are required because the power is used either on-site, or returned via existing power lines.

I got into a debate over this with a dis-believer on another site last year, and posted this (see below) to my blog. The presenter referred to, Mr. Tommy John, has some rather serious credentials, and was an invited speaker to an engineering society to which I belong.

See: This Link

Re the Inuit, I am told that until about 100 years ago they used no external energy such as gas, oil, or electricity. I suspect they adapted and coped quite well during the Little Ice Age, but that is not my area. There may be some native Alaskans on WUWT that may know.


[And Mike Bryant steps in:  ]

Mike Bryant 

Hard to believe that the French are smarter than we are…


[My two regular readers will know that I could not let that hanging curve ball pass, so I take a swing thusly:   ]

I had to research this a few months ago, and found that 1) French nuclear reactors are owned by the government, and their true costs are never revealed. 2) They are heavily subsidized by the government, 3) Their nuclear reactors generate far more power than is required at night, so they export power to neighboring countries. Nukes apparently have a very poor turn-down ability, and cannot easily follow the load, 4) spent nuclear fuel is stored on-site in pools just like in the U.S.

So, if the U.S. were to build enough nukes to provide 80 percent of our power demand, it would require heavy federal subsidies to maintain customer prices at 10 to 12 cents per kwh (subsidize 20 to 30 cents), plus we would then export power to neighboring countries each night, uh…that would be Mexico, and Canada. Not sure they want our power on those conditions.

The first new plant with the French design (Areva), called a Mod III, is under construction in Finland, and it has serious cost over-runs and 3 years of construction delay.

What this effectively means is, that even if the U.S. government bans all lawsuits against nuclear power plants, and gives carte-blanche to utilities to build all they want, we will never have more than about 30 percent of our power supplied by nukes. We currently obtain about 20 percent via nuclear. Those who say we must shut down coal-fired plants and replace them with nuclear, know not of what they speak, because that would require 70 percent generation by nuclear.


[Next, hareynolds steps in again, and apparently does not know my background, nor has he read the above comment about France having to export a lot of powr at night, this gets pretty funny:   ]

Roger, didn’t say nuclear was as easy as say NATURAL GAS, in the near term, but that PETROLEUM ENGINEERS (the folks who actually make-up Evil Big Oil; anybody actually met one??? I have. Oops, I guess I ARE one) favor a nuclear solution. Not necessarily the CURRENT nuclear solution (whatever that is, we haven’t started one in 30 years, so I’m not quite sure). For sake of argument, say an updated version of a French lightwater reactor (Westinghouse design, do I remember that correctly?)

The thinking, from an engineering perspective, is that (a) biofuels won’t work as they are predicated on a preexisting CHEAP fossil fuel transpotation system and coal-fired electricity. (b) Wind won’t work without MASSIVE subsidies, and then only 30% of the time, AND NOT even that if we get a little icy. (c) Solar, like wind, isn’t nearly dense enough. All the “alternatives” are cute, and I like the diversification and the possibility of offshoot technology, but they are small scale solutions only.

For an elementary discussion of the thermo of power systems (really “power density”) see Design News middle of last year.

(Anybody notice now the LEFT, once proponents of massive economies of scale (Aswan High Dam, Three Gorges, TVA, Bonneville Authority, ALL USSR heavy industry) has now reverted to Tiny Scale (ala Mao Tse Tung's Great Leao Forward and the Backyard smelters; always wanted one of those). It's as if we have gotten scared of large things we can't understand; rather than work harder on the understanding part, we seem to throw the baby out with the bathwater)

Simply from an ENGINEERING PERSPECTIVE, nuclear is the very best option across the board.

Frankly, it’s also the safest (another thing that nobody wants to hear, and the government doesn’t broadcast), even long term. Coal and oil and gas extraction are much safer now, but ONE mine or rig disaster has a way of killing more folks than ALL the nuclear accidents in the west (excluding the USSR) for the last 50 years.
Of course, irrational fears of bicoastal types are worth more politically than the lives of coal miners from West Virginia and oilfield workers from Louisiana.

(N.B. IF AGW were indeed real, the one and only logical source of power would indeed be Nuclear. Some greens actually are espousing that course, now, too, although for the wrong reasons to my way of thinking) 

And of course, Mike is correct that the French have had NO major accidents and produce a high percentage of their electricity (what 80%??) from nukes. HOWEVER, they have the great advantage that they had NO CHOICE (”A death sentence is a wonderous way to focus a man’s attention” -S. Johnson, by Boswell) so they replicated, over and over, a standard proven design, and they pay attention to what they’re doing. It CAN be done. It’s just that we’re, well, to borrow from Atty. Gen’l (”say what, brother?”) Holder, we’re just cowards.


[And, my response to hareynolds on the nuclear issue: ]

You might want to click on my name, then read my bio; and see if I have ever met a petroleum engineer.

From what you wrote above, you have parts of it right.

We can discuss this nuclear issue at length on my blog -

Or, if it is ok with Anthony and the moderators, we can kick this around here. I will be linking often to my blog. Either way is fine with me!


[Now, hareynolds again, responding to yet another commenter re CNG and windpower:   ]

I respect T. Boone for stuff he did in the early days (Mesa Petroleum was a North Sea pioneer with their Beatrice platform, named after T. Boone’s wife; gutsy move naming a grotty old oil platform after your wife) but lately everybody here understands that T.Boone is just trying to suck a little harder on the Public Teat than everybody else. Considering the competition, that;s saying something.

Unfortunately, the public persona of the oil business lies somewhere between JR Ewing (and NO, Dallas is NOT larger than Houston) and T.Boone. It’s no wonder we’re dissed.

This country ought to know and revere guys like Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon. While GM and GE and AIG and every d-darned bank in the country were self-immolating, Exxon has been slowly, steadily improving every year. I think they are the best company in the world (return on capital employed 34%), but everybody else (none of whom have never set foot on a drilling rig, let alone actually SEEN crude oil) seems to think they are criminals.

AS for CNG, you are right that it isn’t the perfect fuel, as it’s bulky and low-”octane” and early tanks had a habit of coming apart (read: kaboom)if you spilled battery acid on them (but who doesn’t?). But it is a GREAT urban fuel and CLEAN CLEAN; heck, forklifts run on LP gas INSIDE.

T. Boone IS right about the Nat Gas part of his plan (of course, he’s had the same plan for 30 years, but never before had the “energy crisis” as an interview enabler. Ooops, where did I put that darned energy crisis?? It was here somewhere, I sware. )

The windpower part is pure pork (esp the “please pay for transmission lines to my windmills”), but in Texas we wouldn’t respect him if he wasn’t AUDACIOUSLY trying to stuff public money into his trousers by the fistful. c.f. Mssrs Brown and Root. All the better to mock and pillory. Even if he fails this time, we know he’ll be back, heck he’s only like 75, isn’t he?


[Next, hareynolds responds to my nuclear entry above:   ]

Good post. All absolutely true AFAIK.
I whole heartedly agree that nukes are complicated, expensive, dangerous if mismanaged, etc. etc.

I think it’s especially telling that the new gen French reactor in Finland is horribly over budget, but I see that as evidence of the decline of French engineering (Peugeot much?) in the last 40 years, and especially abandonment of the guiding principles that made their program work in the first place.

Like the Brazilian oil business, the early French program concentrated on simple robust design, and repetitive builds to speed-up the learning curve.
They’ve thrown that away and are believing their own press about how smart they are.

I agree that 80% nukes is too high for a country with the opportunity for a rich mix of alternatives hooked to the grid(s). But if we don’t start building NOW (assuming say min 8 years start to finish) nuke’s share of US power will get down to about 5% before it starts to recover.

Actually that sounds like I want the government to BUILD nukes I just want a level playing field for ALL electrical generation methods so the market can assess the risks without having to weigh wacky sovereign risks (like pulling the plug on Shoreham and South Texas withut reason) and give us the most efficient power possible/


[And finally, my response re Rex Tillerson, CNG and windmills:  ]

So true about Rex Tillerson. I had a few classes with him many years ago in undergrad. It is no surprise to me, nor anyone else who knows him, that he rose to the highest position in the biggest oil company in the world.

But about the wind-power and CNG, aka the Pickens Plan, it works quite well here in California. It will not work as well elsewhere, no doubt, especially where the wind turbines are subject to icing over. Icing over is not a problem in California, at least thus far! But the fact is, in California we have thousands of CNG powered vehicles, from cars to buses, and thousands of windmills generating power every day. This has existed for many years.

T. Boone sells the natural gas and compressor stations out here, and made a fortune.


Roger E. Sowell, Esq.   Link to legal website is here

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