Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nuclear Weapon Complacency

This got started on WUWT following a very nice commencement speech on the realities of energy supply, and how natural gas is a large part of the answer.   Some (as usual, there are always some) responded that nuclear power plants should be built to meet the world’s energy needs.   I responded as shown below, and some interesting commentary followed.  

What floored me was the complete disregard from one commenter on the danger of nuclear bombs.  He apparently believes that because none have been used since 1945 (he puts that at 70 years ago), then it is a non-problem.  I grew up in the 1950's and 60's, and have a different view of this.  Nuclear bombs are a reality, and a serious problem.  This problem grows worse each year, as more and more bombs are built, and more unstable countries acquire them.  


I reproduce this here, along with my additional comments as noted in brackets [ ~RES ].



@doc-navy, George E. Smith, and others pro-nuclear:

Nuclear power is not safe. It is not affordable. It is not reliable. It is not the answer to increasing energy demands.


The nuclear industry spokesmen have misled the public for decades. Recently, GE stated their Mod III reactor plants would only cost $1 billion for a 1000 MW plant. False. They cost $8 to $10 billion. This is well-documented.

They state that power from a nuclear plant is the cheapest of all sources. False. That statement includes the cost only from variable costs such as fuel. Yet on the same basis, hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal, and wave power are much cheaper. Nothing is cheaper than free. On a fully-costed basis, including capital charges, nuclear power must be sold for 30 to 40 cents per kwh. That does not look very cheap next to power from natural gas at 10 to 12 cents per kwh.

They state that France produces 80 percent of their power from nuclear, and sell it for 5 cents per kwh. True, but very misleading, as France subsidizes their nuclear power industry. France also must sell huge amounts of power to neighboring countries each night as their reactors “react” badly to sudden changes in power production.

No natural gas power plant’s waste materials ever were used to make a bomb. CO2, NOx, and H2O just do not make bombs. If nuclear power plants were so benign, why do so many countries have so much angst and heartburn over certain other countries building and running nuclear power plants (Iran, North Korea).

I could go on and on. Nuclear power is not the way to go. Our generation knows better. Our generation can do better. Future generations will not thank us for creating a legacy of toxic radioactive wastes for them to deal with.



[David Porter wrote:  ~RES]

“Roger, as a spectator here (lurker I believe is the term) you have made the point on several occasions that the French nuclear industry is subsidised. I would like to know where you get this information from because this is not my understanding. “

From EDF’s website “On April 8, 1946, the law nationalising 1450 French electricity and gas generation, transmission and distribution companies gave birth to the industrial and commercial public undertaking (EPIC) Electricit√© De France, an enterprise with an innovative corporate model: gender equality, single salary scale, internal training etc. Marcel Paul, the Communist minister of Industrial Production, was the main architect of this law.” From this can be seen that the French electric utility was state-owned. France built their nukes while in the state-owned mode.

The EDF website is here:

However, in 2004 EDF became public: “On July 1, 2004, 70% of the electricity market was opened up to competition. On November 19, EDF changed status and became a Public Limited Company. This new status created new opportunities for EDF by making it possible to create multi-energy offers combining the supply of gas and electricity.

In 2005, EDF signed a new public service contract with the French Government on October 24, and on November 21 the Initial Public Offering took EDF into the Stock Market, with 5 million private individuals taking the opportunity to buy shares. Between 2006 and 2010, EDF Group will be investing €40 billion in the context of the total opening up of the electricity market, which takes place on July 1, 2007.”

“In fact from what I have read the French nuclear industry is highly profitable and safe.”

At this time, with the nuclear power plants depreciated or nearly paid for by some mix of revenue from power sales, plus subsidies as a government-run entity, EDF can state that the power plants are profitable. With no cash payments to banks to repay loans, or bond payments to bondholders, their profit/loss statements merely indicate ongoing operating costs. On that basis, nuclear power plants (and the company that owns them) will appear profitable.

This is one result of the nationalization – then – privatization maneuver. Entities that would not be built in the private sector due to very high initial costs are built by the government, with no (or very lax) requirements to control costs. Then, these entities are sold to private investors at a fraction of what it would cost to construct them.

“At 1993 costs these reactors ( 59 of them) cost $1 billion/1000MW. Now you imply that this will now be 10 times this.”

I don’t imply it, I flatly state it as a fact. A detailed (and very accurate) cost study was published by Craig A. Severance, CPA, which shows the costs are as I stated, $10,000 per MW. I have some expertise in designing, estimating, and financing large projects (multi-billion dollars) and concur with Mr. Severance’s results. Also, several utility companies have submitted similar cost estimates to their regulating Public Utility Commissions.


and see

“These 59 reactors produce 430 billion KWhrs which they sell for around 7 cents/KW. So if they do subsidise and your fully costed figure of 30 to 40 cents is correct then using your low figure of 30 cents the subsidy would be 23 cents on 430 billion Kwhrs. This comes to a grand annual total of $99 billion and that is just so unrealistic.”

I doubt if France’s power plants were built at $10,000 per MW, as those are 2007 costs. It is more likely their plants cost between $2000 and $4000 per MW in then-current dollars. However, a modern, new nuclear plant will cost $10,000 per MW. Although the Chinese are claiming they are building nuclear plants for around half that price. I question their (the Chinese) numbers.

Next, leaving aside the irrefutable facts that nuclear bombs are made from nuclear plants’ spent fuel, and the spent fuel is a toxic, radioactive waste that endures for generations, why would anyone want to build electric power plants that must charge 30 to 40 cents for the power, when so many less-expensive alternatives abound?

[Here, Bill Befort makes the point that if a country has 90 percent of its power from nuclear plants, over a 30 year period, and sells the power cheaply for 7 cents per kwh, that proves that nuclear power is the best and lowest price option. – he is referring to France, of course. – RES]

[My response to Bill Befort:  ~RES]

Great idea! How about finding an island, say, one that has a demand during peak hours of 1,000 MW? That would be a perfect fit for a 1000 MW nuclear power plant. GE has them ready to sell, just place a phone call.

Then, ask the islanders why they have not built just one solitary nuclear power plant, as that is “obviously” the most economic source of power? Surely, it will be less costly than importing diesel fuel for diesel-generators, or importing LNG for natural-gas fired power plants. Or importing coal, if that is what they are using…

Does anyone know of such an island?

Here’s your chance, greenies and nuclear advocates. Show me the island. I am willing to learn. Let’s help these islanders obtain the “cheapest source of power there is.” After all, that is the prevailing wisdom from the pro-nuclear crowd!

Only a couple of rules, here. First, the islanders must pay for the nuclear-generated power. No subsidies allowed. Second, no selling any power to any other customers. All power is to be consumed strictly on the island.

I can’t wait for this one.

[It turns out there are currently approximately 15 islands that meet the above criteria, with Oahu in the Hawaiian Island chains prominent among them.   The entire list is, by estimated population (and hence power demand):

Island ……………….population, millions




Hong Kong……………….1.18


Xiamen Island…………….1.08

Sao Luis Island……………1.08


South Island (NZ)…………1.008




Grand Canary……………...0.815


Reunion (France)………….0.793       


Note that none of the listed islands has power provided by a nuclear power plant.  This is rather curious, as it should be obvious to the nuclear proponents that these are ideal candidates for a solo, single-reactor nuclear power plant.  After all, these unfortunate islanders are paying some of the highest prices for power in the world – Hawaii residents pay 26 cents per kwh in 2009, as just one example.  Following France’s example, one could build a nuclear power plant on Oahu, and sell the power for 7 cents per kwh (all this according to the nuclear proponents, of course – not my view at all).  The lucky residents of Oahu would see their utility bills drop by a factor of almost 4!  (26 / 7 is roughly 3. 7)

It is curious, because I just do not read anywhere about nuclear power plants under construction on any of these islands, nor any plans to do so.  Why is that, one must ask?  Perhaps a nuclear proponent can correct this serious injustice, or just explain it to me. 

For anyone reading this who, at this point, believes I am serious about building a nuclear power plant on an island, let me explain why that will not happen.  First, an island’s power system follows a typical demand curve, with high demand during the day and low demand at night.  The power plants must follow the demand curve, as at this time it is impractical (but not impossible) to store power in massive quantities for later use.  Nuclear power plants just do not have the ability to follow the load.   Second, as I have written many times, the power from a new nuclear plant is very expensive, at 30 to 40 cents per kwh.  Even Oahuans, who pay 26 cents for power, would not find that an attractive deal.  Third, many islanders are serious about their environment, and abhor nuclear fission in any form.  I like islanders, and become one (at least as a visitor) as often as possible.  ~RES]

[Next, this from David Porter again: ~RES]

“I have read your through your response several times but nowhere do I read that the French nuclear industry was subsidised. It seems to me that you have this opinion simply because it was a nationalised industry it must therefore be subsidised. My impression of nationalised utility industries is that they were labour intensive an incredibly inefficient.”

Let’s start with how a country operates a nationalized industry. I do not know what country you are from, or in presently, so I will use the United States as an example. There are very few nationalized industries in the U.S., but we can point to an equivalent, the interstate highway system. These highways were built using federal dollars, at taxpayer expense, then some fees were and still are collected from those who drive on them. More fees are collected in the form of gasoline taxes that are designed to pay for repairs and upkeep. (I leave aside for the moment the increasing ownership and involvement of the U.S. federal government under President Obama into banks, car companies, and who knows what next).

The construction of the interstate highways, in contrast to private toll-roads, was paid for by taxes without obtaining investors or bank loans. To the extent the federal government sold Treasury bills and went into debt, one could say these roads were financed, however there was no clear one-for-one loan for highway. One could therefore say, and be correct, that the state subsidized the building of the interstate highway system. Clearly, they were not built with private funds (except for some small tollroads).

Similarly, the French government (as shown above) built nuclear power plants when EDF was a part of the state. Whatever amount of taxpayer’s funds were spent, they were not built privately to my knowledge. Now, the French government has privatized EDF, as described earlier. When the government builds something for a lot of money, then sells that same something for a small amount, the new owners have a capital asset that was, indeed, subsidized by the government.

If you can find evidence to the contrary, perhaps the French government took out loans to fund the plants’ construction, and paid them back, or issued bonds for their construction, and paid the coupons and the face value upon maturity, then please, I would like to see this.

Or, if the French government sold the EDF assets for fair market value, then please, show me the evidence of such a sale and the resulting cash deposit into the French treasury.

” I think you are so anti nuclear you believe anything negative about this industry. Your comments and opinions on a recent “climate progress” blog debating the exaggerated costing of Craig Severance illustrate my point admirably.”

[I jump in here to explain that reference to “climate progress,” as I made some comments on that blog where Craig Severance’s paper may be found.  I had several lively exchanges, and made zero converts as to be expected.  None of the arguments raised against me hold any merit, but it was entertaining, at least for me. ~RES ]

[My reply to David Porter continues: ] I state my grounds for being opposed to nuclear power, and I try to carefully research the various claims pro and con by and about the industry. If you have read my blog post on Nuclear Nuts, then you should be aware of my grounds. To date, no-one has refuted any of my points. None.

As to the “exaggerated” costs stated by Mr. Severance, that is your opinion, and apparently, you are standing alone with that view. Serious players in major utility corporations have publicly corroborated those costs. By public statements, I refer to submissions to public utility commissions. If those costs were exaggerated, as you maintain, why would a utility company not just tell the PUC the real numbers, perhaps $1 billion for a 1000 MW new plant? Why are so many utility companies going with the Severance figures?

Next, you take issue with my statement about high power prices, but you duck that one and go into apocalyptic consequences of nuclear bombs. I clearly stated I would leave that aside, but I will answer this since you focus on this point.

I wrote: “Next, leaving aside the irrefutable facts that nuclear bombs are made from nuclear plants’ spent fuel, and the spent fuel is a toxic, radioactive waste that endures for generations, why would anyone want to build electric power plants that must charge 30 to 40 cents for the power, when so many less-expensive alternatives abound? “

[Porter responded:]“When was the first and last nuclear bombs dropped? Who and how many people have been killed, maimed, destroyed, liquidated, evaporated, due to nuclear power since 1946. If you don’t mind me saying so but you have a fear of nuclear power some 70 years after the two and only nuclear bomb were dropped that is irrational. If it is such a great threat why is it still only in the minds of people like you. You have mentioned many times that you have worked in the energy industry, including nuclear, and yet you continue to shower us with apocalyptic views, which would only make sense if we were in the 1950’s.”

I am dumbfounded at this. Nuclear bombs, the proliferation of them, and threat of nuclear war are not subjects to gloss over so lightly. Yes, only two such bombs (and they were very small ones by today’s standards) were ever used in a military or aggressive manner. And yes, they were used roughly 60 years ago (not 70). Since then, the number of nuclear warheads worldwide has grown rather alarmingly. While there have been some efforts to reduce the numbers, there are still a great many remaining.

If this were not such a great issue, why then did (and some still do) heads of state make nuclear arms treaties and disarmament such major items in their agendas?

Let me try to put this in some perspective for you. The horrific terrorist attacks on New York, and the Pentagon, on 9-11-2001 resulted in two skyscrapers destroyed, the Pentagon damaged, and approximately 3,000 lives lost. Yet, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs wiped out far, far more lives and caused far more property damage. Remember, those were very small explosions by today’s standards.

The disruption to not just the USA, but much of the world as a result was, to say the least, intense. One can only imagine what the resulting panic would be from a nuclear bomb explosion instead of airplanes smacking skyscrapers.

You may not know, or remember, what it was like to live in the U.S. and have nuclear air raid drills, or to watch the news and listen to the radio while President Kennedy navigated through the Cuban Missile Crisis. I know, and I remember only too well. I suspect that many European countries have and had similar anxieties knowing that various missile systems were and are deployed near them.

This is the problem with so many decades of relative peace, with respect to nuclear weapons. People (and I include you in this) diminish the importance and the threat and horror of these weapons. I believe that those groups that maintain the memory of the Jewish holocaust, and never let that memory die, have the right idea. Such a program should exist for the horrors of a nuclear weapon.

This is far too important to be dismissed lightly, as if this is all a big game. I have serious concerns about nuclear power plants, not only for their outrageous costs and subsequent high prices for power, but because those plants produce plutonium.

I pose the question directly to you: If this is no big deal, then why do so many countries devote so much time, money, and energy in dealing with nuclear power and associated programs in Iran, and North Korea?

You state that nuclear power is safe, and you are of course entitled to that view. You accuse me of being a fear monger. If you consider what I write fear mongering, you have that right. I leave it to others to judge. I, on the other hand, try very hard to stick to the facts, to the evidence, and valid arguments based on those facts and evidence.

As it turns out, the high price of nuclear power plant construction appears to have stopped the plants, for now, in the U.S. However, our government has pledged at least some money as loan guarantees, which is a form of subsidy.

My clients and I are working as hard as possible to bring reliable renewable power at a lower price than nuclear. When that day arrives, we can finally begin dismantling them, hopefully world-wide.

As the bumper stickers said in the 1960’s: One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Entire Day.


[Next, David Porter says this:  ~RES]

“I have heard all your arguments before so your this diatribe does not come as any great surprise. However I stick with my view that you are wrong on nuclear, for whatever reason.

I would certainly hate to have your imagination. It must frighten you to death. And by the way I live in the UK directly in the line of fire, sitting next to the Trident warheads on your US airforce bases. So please don’t give me any crap about how dangerous they are. For most of us they were there for our protection and since there has never been another bomb dropped you might say they were highly successful.

I will end on this:

“As the bumper stickers said in the 1960’s: One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Entire Day.”

That statement speaks volumes. You are just out and out anti nuclear and you sure as hell aint going to change your mind.”

[David Porter is absolutely correct, that I am anti-nuclear, and will likely never change my mind.  I have seen too many negative issues with nuclear power plants, and too many negative consequences, and know full well that other sources of power are far superior.  No arguments that I have ever heard or read, thus far, have altered my position.  The day that nuclear plants can stand alone and compete with natural gas for sales price of power (and they never will), and will not produce nuclear bomb material (and they never will), and not require massive decommissioning costs (and they never will), and not require time measured in generations to store and then process their spent fuel wastes (and they never will), when that day arrives, please let me know.  I will be happy to endorse nuclear power at that time. ~RES ]

And this, from David Porter:

“I think Bill [an earlier commenter]had it right. We had a rather large country do the experiment so there is no need to consider a small island. The country in question is doing fine. It hasn’t gone bust (which of course it should have done by your calculations) and continues to supply the UK with electricity at less than half the price of our domestic product. Incidentally we pay almost 20 cents for our electricity, something to with the Renewables Obligation Certificate (fancy title for subsidy).

Vive la France.”

[David Porter is either deliberately obtuse, or in massive denial.  It should be quite clear that France is selling cheap power only because their power plants were subsidized, and the capital costs are not reflected in their power price.  But, for a buyer of power such as David Porter, what would he care?  It was the French taxpayers who got screwed in this deal, not him! ~RES ]

 Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 


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