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Nuclear Pep Talk/Nuke Rant

Eric Wesoff: February 5, 2009, 10:58 PM
It’s Thursday in Palo Alto and that means there’s a cleantech talk being given at the Palo Alto Research Center.  Tonight’s talk was given by Dr. Rosa Yang, VP of Technology Innovation at EPRI. EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute, defines itself as an independent non-profit that does energy and environmental research.  But the deeper truth is that EPRI is funded by their members and their members are, to a great extent, the energy producers in the U.S. -- the utilities. Most American utilities are coal, natural gas and nuclear-based, and they will be slow to change their energy mix. Yang didn’t debate the reality of climate change and seemed to reluctantly accept its’ anthroprogenic source But judging by the tenor of her talk I imagine that the EPRI offices look a bit like the war room scene in Dr. Strangelove.  According to Dr. Strangelove, I mean Dr. Yang, nuclear is “near and dear to her heart.???  Her nuclear-powered heart. Dr. Yang’s talk was entitled “Options for Reducing C02 Emissions in the Electricity Sector,??? and it looks like nuclear is one of the clear options according to Yang. We interrupt this anti-nuke rant for some electricity stats from EPRI and EIA:
  • 2007 U.S. electricity usage was 3,800 TWh
  • U.S. electricity growth is estimated at 1.05 percent per year for the coming years, projected out to 2030
  • That translates to 26 percent growth by 2030 = same amount of electricity now used by California, Texas, Florida and Ohio
Here are some nuclear tidbits:
  • The U.S. currently has 104 nuclear reactors now in operation
  • No nukes have been built in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island incident in 1979
  • Nukes are the most capital intensive generation sources to construct at $5,100/kW -- compare that to expensive solar troughs at $4,600/kW.  Both these options are much more expensive than coal or natural gas.
Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) normalized to 2007 dollars
  • Solar thermal trough at $175/MWh
  • $64/MWh for Coal
  • $73/MWh for Nuclear which doesn't appear to include the cost to dispose of the nuclear waste
How can you entertain a LCOE figure that dose not include waste disposal?  How do you conveniently externalize that small item? "There is a renaissance in nuclear," said Dr. Yang.  There are 34 units in the planning stages ready to produce 45 GW between 2015 to 2022. And according to Yang: "Nuclear is on par with renewables??? in terms of life cycle C02 emissions analyses.  Nuclear has "low land use" and "the cost of the fuel is very low and fairly steady.??? This is a blog and it allows me to profer my opinion unbound by the ethical constraints of actual journalism.  I have a knee-jerk reaction to nuclear power because of Three Mile Island, Godzilla and The Incredible Shrinking Man. Until there is a reasonable solution to the disposal of spent nuclear fuels, until there is a solution to the security aspects of a nuclear plant, until the costs of a building a nuke plant are lowered -- we should not build new nuclear plants. Michael Kanellos reports on a nuclear resurgence in Sweden here.  Here's a piece on a nuclear startup funded by Intellectual Ventures.  And another Nuke startup, Hyperion, in a piece by Jeff St. John.

Sweden Looks to Scrap Ban and Build Nuclear Reactors

Michael Kanellos: February 5, 2009, 9:32 AM
Because it can't find adequate alternatives, Sweden's government has proposed a plan to get rid of a ban on new nuclear reactors and start building more of them. The ban would reverse a 1980 law that called for Sweden to close its twelve nuclear reactors. Two were actually closed but no new ones were built. The plan has to be approved by Parliament first. Global warming and carbon emissions are raising the profile of nuclear. Russia, the U.S. Finland, India, England and France all are building or considering new reactors. (France has long been an advocate.) In Ireland, policy makers have talked about ways of getting around that country's ban. It could build a transmission line to the continent and bring in nuclear-generated power that way. No word from Germany. So those "Nuclear, Nein Danke" stickers aren't collectors' items yet. Nuclear's two big drawing cards are that nuclear power plants don't generate carbon emissions -- that smoke you see rising out of them is steam -- and they can provide consistent baseline power. Solar and wind are intermittent. Solar in particular is also a tough call for countries like Sweden. Another added bonus: the waste heat inside of nuclear plants can be captured and exploited as heat, or be used to run desalination plants. The downside: safety risks, nuclear proliferation, nuclear waste and cost-overruns. Some studies have shown nuclear could be more costly than advocates claim. Although the field has long been dominated by giants like Toshiba, nuclear start-ups are forming. Intellectual Ventures, the think tank/intellectual property outfit co-founded by former Microsoft chief scientist Nathan Myhrvold, is prepping a company called TerraPower that will specialize in sealed reactors that run on depleted and/or natural uranium. Then there is also small nuclear specialist Hyperion Power Generation that spun out of the Los Alamos National Labs. It's going to be a big, ugly and ultimately serious debate.

Renewable Energy Standard Bill Introduced in House

Ucilia Wang: February 5, 2009, 8:28 AM
Two Congressmen have authored a bill that would require 25 percent of the electricity generated in the United States to come from renewable sources by 2025.

Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Todd Platts, R-Pa., introduced the American Renewable Energy Act on Wednesday. If passed, the legislation would take effect in 2012. Markey also introduced another bill that would require the nation to cut its power use by 15 percent by 2020. The reductions would result from setting new codes for buildings and appliances, and from utility-run or other programs that encourage conservation.

The lawmakers claim that the two bills together would create more than 500,000 jobs while saving people more than $180 billion in energy costs.

Passing the renewable energy standard would be good news for the solar industry. Mark Bachman at Pacific Crest Securities estimates that 5.9 gigawatt -- or $30 billion -- worth of solar cells would be needed between now and 2012 to meet the initial goals set by the standard. Another 55 gigawatts of cells, or $111 billion, would be required to meet the 25 percent mandate, he wrote in a research note.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has endorsed the renewable energy bill, saying it would increase renewable energy generation by 135 percent above what current federal and state policies would create.

The two lawmakers hope a new administration would make it possible to pass the two bills. They tried to get a renewable energy standard passed in 2007, but it didn’t receive enough support in the Senate, reported Grist.