Archive for the 'Nuclear energy' category

New Nuclear More Expensive Than Solar/Wind – So What?

As Cleantechnica just reported, Prognos AG has released a new study commissioned by Agora Energiewende comparing the costs of new nuclear with those of a system based on solar and wind.

I learned that right now the renewable option costs only about half of new nuclear. That cost advantage of renewable energy is expected to increase, since prices for solar and wind will go down in the future, while the study conservatively sets them as constant. I also learned that for both options additional gas capacity is necessary. In the case of the renewable option it is needed for backup. In the case of nuclear it is needed for peak power.

The study did not discuss the alternative of having solar and wind for providing peak power to new nuclear.

Anyway, so the renewable option is much cheaper. So what?

For Germany, this doesn’t make any difference. There won’t be any new nuclear in the first place. And the existing nuclear power capacity is not discussed in this study, which is concerned only with new nuclear.

World wide it doesn’t make much difference either. It was already clear that new nuclear is too expensive to play more than a marginal role in dealing with climate change, if relative cost is the decisive factor.





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German Federal Administrative Law Court on Nuclear Shutdown

Hans Bienfait recently asked in a comment for my opinion on the decision of the German Federal Administrative Law Court on the nuclear shutdown in 2011. He cited this article at World Nuclear News.

The original decision is here (in German). It deals mainly with the question if the plaintiffs had enough opportunity to explain their point of view before the decision in question. That they did not have that opportunity was one reason the lower court said the decision was unlawful.

The Federal Court affirmed that opinion of the lower court.

What does that mean?

It does not mean that the shutdown of the nuclear plant in question (Biblis) is illegal even now. In the meantime the German legislator has decided with a large majority that this plant should be shut down from 8 August 2011 on.

Therefore, RWE (the plaintiff) may be entitled to some form of compensation. But they will never again be able to actually produce electricity with that plant.

There are different opinions about the merits of nuclear energy. I am neutral on that question, having abandoned a previous pro-nuclear position.

Even if you are opposed to nuclear energy, I think it makes sense that someone running a nuclear reactor like the plaintiff RWE in this case gets the normal procedural protections of administrative law (e.g. the right to voice their point of view before a decision). And I think it is a good thing that German companies don’t put up with illegal behavior by regulators. Guarantees of fair procedure in administrative law are only worth as much as the readiness of such companies to fight for their rights.

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Solar Costs Known, Nuclear Costs Unknown

Eduard Porter makes the case for nuclear energy as a countermeasure to global warming in the New York Times. I learned of that article by reading the thorough debunking of the cost assumptions for nuclear by Charles Komaneff here. Thanks in turn to this tweet by Chris Nelder for that link.

As Komaneff points out in detail, the cost of nuclear projects are hard to understand exactly. That’s because it takes a long time to build a nuclear power plant. Lots of things can and do go wrong in that long process. Recent experiences with projects Vogtle and Olkiluoto, Finland show that cost estimates with nuclear tend to be unreliable. And in most cases, costs go up later.

In contrast, we know exactly what one kWh of solar electricity from a large project in Germany costs right now, including a profit for the investor.

It costs 9.74 cents Euro for anything starting operation this month. That will go down to 9.47 cents next January.

And since you only need weeks to months to build a solar park, everyone involved in such a project can rely on those very exact costs. They won’t change much while building it.

We also know that solar will continue getting cheaper all the time. Prices have dropped already by a factor of 200 in the last forty years, while oil has gone up by a factor of 5o, for a change of a factor of 10,000 in only forty years.

Porter uses the cost estimates for 2018 by the American “Energy Information Administration” (not “Agency”, as Porter mistakenly writes). They give “14.43 cents (US)” as costs for solar in 2018.

Hey, wait a moment. We got less than that already in Germany right now, a country with the solar resources of Alaska. Let’s just say I think this is another great example of predictions for solar prices being way off base, and way too high.

Porter also writes:

Japan is unlikely to be the only country to miss its targets. In response to the Fukushima disaster, Germany shut down eight nuclear reactors and said it would close the remaining nine by 2022.

Actually, Germany has met its targets. Germany promised a 21 percent reduction compared to 1990 for 2012 in the Kyoto protocol, and it has achieved 25.5 percent. Meanwhile, the United States didn’t even have a target, having failed to ratify Kyoto.

He also writes:

Everybody is promising to fill the gap with renewables. So far, however, coal and natural gas have won out. CO2 emissions in Germany actually increased 1 percent last year, even as they declined in the United States and most of Western Europe.

For debunking this claim, I can just refer to what Komaneff wrote:

Indeed, from 2010 to 2012, a two-year period encompassing the March, 2011 Fukushima catastrophe and Germany’s subsequent decision to turn off 29% of its nuclear power production (reducing reactor output from 140.6 terrawatt-hours in 2010 to 99.5 TWh in 2012), Germany actually held constant its use of fossil fuels to make electricity.

How did German society make up for the 41.1 TWh drop in reactors’ electricity generation? Numerically, it was simple:

  • German solar-photovoltaic generation grew from 11.7 TWh to 28.0 TWh (a rise of 16.3 TWh).
  • Wind generation grew from 37.8 TWh to 46.0 TWh (a rise of 8.2 TWh).
  • Total consumption of electricity fell by 16.4 TWh (from 610.9 TWh to 594.5 TWh), despite GDP growth.

(Figures are based on data from Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie, Statistisches Bundesamt, Arbeitsgruppe Erneuerbare Energien-Statistik (AGEE-Stat).)

It is of course true that it would be easier and faster to get rid of fossil fuel with nuclear still in the mix. But the idea of Germany failing in the reduction goals because of shutting down nuclear has been false for the Kyoto goals.

The next target has been 40 percent until 2020 since 2007 (with no nuclear energy contribution assumed). That goal is still in place right now, and new goals for 2030, 2040, and 2050 have joined it (55, 70, and 80 to 95 percent respectively).

Of course we don’t know yet if those goals will be achieved. But we know the price of solar right now, already lower now than Eduard Porter thinks it will be in 2018.


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Solar Deployment Faster than Nuclear: Jim Hansen Open Letter

Nov 04 2013 Published by under Nuclear energy

Climate scientist Jim Hansen has written another open letter in support of nuclear energy as a solution to global warming. Thanks to this tweet by Barry Brook for the link.

If you want nuclear as part of the solution, you necessarily need to explain why renewable energy won’t be able to do the job alone. This particular open letter says:

Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.

We’ll have to wait a couple of decades to see if solar and wind are able to provide for 100 percent of energy. Contrary to what Jim Hansen (not an expert on energy systems) thinks, I expect that this will happen. But we already know one thing for sure.

Solar and wind have scaled up enough already to make nuclear lose in the market place. Even with nuclear enjoying the benefit of insufficient levels of insurance (leaving the remaining risk for the taxpayer), it just doesn’t make economic sense any more to build new nuclear plants.

And if you decide to build a new nuclear plant today, it won’t be able to deliver energy until ten years later, and will then have to compete for a couple of decades against wind and solar at the much more reduced prices these technologies will have then.

In contrast, you can build a large solar project in a couple of weeks or months. I am not sure why that is “not fast enough”, but it is sure faster than nuclear by a factor of over ten.

More here: Jim Hansen and the Easter Bunny


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Nuclear Stocks Way Down

I recall that I have done a “List of Global Warming Stocks” a couple of weeks ago, with a view of investing my own money (I am expecting some cash from an inheritance in the next couple of months).

There is no nuclear power company on that list. And maybe that’s a good idea.

Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt just published an article called “Nuclear Power’s Renaissance in Reverse“, where they report minus 85% in the last five years for the EDF stock price, and minus 88% for AREVA.

I wonder if all those pro-nuclear folks opposing renewable energy are putting their money where their mouths are and invest in EDF and AREVA stock. At present decimated prices, this should be a wonderful opportunity if you believe in a nuclear future.

In contrast, Yingli Green (the World’s largest solar panel maker) is up over 50% since I recommended the stock a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately I was not able to actually buy it at the time.

On the other hand, while it is nice to see my recommendation would have turned out well in the short term, that is just a coincidence. And it is irrelevant for me in the first place. I plan to buy these stocks and hold them for a decade. I don’t care about their short term fluctuations. And my main reason for buying some stock in a solar panel maker like Yingli would not be to expect a profit from that investment, but the desire to help with my money to do something against global warming.

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Nuclear Accident Liability and Insurance in the EU

The EU Commission has just launched a consultation on the topic. Anyone can participate. The consultation is open until October 22. Thanks to this tweet by Alice Stollmeyer for the link.

I learned from that consultation document that nuclear provides for two thirds of low carbon electricity in the EU (probably mainly because of the high French nuclear share).

They also have a table looking at the amount of insurance the various Member States require. These amounts are not the same everywhere. The smallest amount is EUR 43.9 million in Croatia (Member State since July of this year), and the biggest is EUR 2.5 billion in Germany.

Even EUR 2.5 billion is not quite sufficient. Therefore, the Commission has proposed discussing these questions, with a view to adapting legislation, last fall. This public consultation is the first step in that process.

If the result of that is to require unlimited insurance coverage for nuclear accidents, that would be the end of nuclear energy in the EU right there. As Munich Re Board Member Torsten Jeworrek remarked last October when this question popped up first, the insurance industry would be unable to offer unlimited coverage. They can only provide coverage up to certain limits, though these could be set considerably higher than in the past.

That in turn means that as far as there is a gap between the amount of damage payments actually needed after a severe accident and the minimum insurance coverage mentioned above, the taxpayer will need to cover those damages. This has the effect of making nuclear energy look cheaper than it actually is.

It will be interesting to see if there is any EU legislation on this question.

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Nuclear Decline in Germany Not Compensated 100 Percent by Renewable

One of the recent pro-nuclear talking points is the fact that there is still coal burned in the German electricity sector. For example, this tweet by Steve Aplin, retweeted by the enemy of renewable energy Rod Adams:

Why is Germany burning more coal after closing nukes? Because coal = real electricity. Wind can’t provide it.

I am not familiar with the term “real electricity”. It must be something having meaning in the fantasy world of Steve Aplin and Rod Adams, but I don’t understand what that is supposed to mean.

Anyway, the tweet in question points to a recent article on development of electricity from coal in Germany at Bloomberg, titled “Merkel’s GreenShift Backfires as German Pollution Jumps“.

Pro-nuclear voices love it when Germany’s CO2 emissions go up since they can point to that as an argument for their desire to play with plutonium.

In contrast, I strongly dislike this development. Let’s look at the facts (not given at the necessary level of detail in that particular article). If you want to know about short term developments on the German electricity market, you need to look at the Fraunhofer reports.

From those we learn that lignite was up 2.0 TWh for the first six months of the year, and coal was up 4.0 TWh. In contrast gas was down 4.6 TWh and wind 2.4 TWh. And the export surplus remains high at about 11 TWh.

So we have a movement mostly from gas to coal, and partly from wind to coal, which amounts to about half of the export surplus.

The decline of nuclear energy as a consequence of shutting down some plants after the Fukushima accident was in the order of 40 TWh (from 140.6 TWh in 2010 to 99 TWh in 2012).

That’s one order of magnitude more than the increase in coal use.

Anyone claiming that coal is replacing nuclear in Germany either doesn’t know these numbers, or is lying deliberately.

In the real world, the 40 TWh decrease in nuclear was compensated (last year’s numbers) by a 32 TWh increase in renewable electricity and a 16.9 TWh drop in electricity consumption.

Since fossil fuel still has a high share in the German electricity market, it would have been only fair to expect that renewable would get only the part of the 40 TWh new market caused by the nuclear decline (that’s NUCLEAR DECLINE) that corresponds to their market share, or about 10 TWh.

The fact that they have punched way over their weight, getting around 80% of that new market, tells us something about renewable energy in Germany. And it’s not that they are losing to fossil fuel.

To go back to my headline, no, renewable has not compensated 100 percent for the nuclear decline in Germany. There was something left for energy efficiency.

There may have even been something left for fossil fuel. Around 2 TWh for the first half of this year, mostly caused by  less wind. That’s less than half a percent of German production. Rounding error territory.


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World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013

Jul 12 2013 Published by under Fossil Nukes, Nuclear energy

The latest edition has been released yesterday.

Here are a couple of facts from that report.

By early 2009, 31 applications for new reactors were pending in the United States. Only four started actually building, none of that with private capital. Operating reactors are being closed as uneconomic for the first time in fifteen years (Foreword).

Nuclear is in decline. Capacity peaked at 375 GW in 2010 (down to 364 GW in 2012, counting 42 reactors in Japan currently not operating). Generation has peaked in 2006 at 2,660 TWh and was down to 2,346 TWh in 2012. As a share of World electricity, nuclear peaked at 17 percent in 1993 and has declined ever since, to around 10 percent last year.

Since there are no major new building programs, the average reactor age is 28 years, with over 190 unites already operating for more than thirty years.

Average construction time for the 34 units that have started operations in the last decade was 9.3 years.

In 2012, three reactors started up while six were shut down. In the first half of 2013, one reactor started up, and four were shut down. Again, that excludes 42 reactors currently not running in Japan.

The share value of the world’s largest nuclear operator, French state utility EDF, went down by 85 percent over the past five years, while the share price of the world’s largest nuclear builder, French state company AREVA, dropped by up to 88 percent (all of the above facts cited from the “Executive Summary”).

Nuclear load factors in Japan have plunged to 3.7% in Japan in 2012 (page 13).

In the last decade, there were 31 new reactors and 51 shutdowns (page 16). The decade between 2020 and 2030 would need 205 new units to just keep the existing capacity (page 23). That is close to seven times the record for the past decade.

Only 31 countries, or 16 percent of the Members of the United Nations, are operating nuclear reactors (page 18).
They cite one analyst with this opinion on “Small Modular Reactors”:

As a matter of physics, reactors don’t scale down well; that’s why they’re big. If you try to overcome this handicap by capturing economies of mass production, you quickly run up against a fatal competitor called Small Modular Renewables (and efficiency techniques). Those do scale down very well; they currently outcompete new reactors by severalfold; and they’re already decades ahead of SMRs in exploiting their mass-production economies (they’re attracting a quartertrillion dollars of private investment per year), and will be another decade ahead by the time an SMR could be demonstrated. So SMRs might have been worth considering a half-century ago, but today they’re far too late. End of story.

Renewable energy wins by close to an order of magnitude in the amount of yearly investments. Nuclear has been unable to break even $40 billion for any of the last ten years. In contrast, the last number for renewable (not including large hydro) for 2012 was $268 billion (pages 73 and 74, pay special attention to figure 18).

In 2012, 32 GW of solar and 45 GW of wind have been added to the grid, with a net addition of 1.2 nuclear (page 75).

Nuclear production is down 50 TWh compared to 2000 in 2012, and solar is up 50 TWh, making up exactly what nuclear has lost. Meanwhile, wind is 500 TWh up (Figure 20).

That’s it for the facts. Now a couple of comments.

Clearly nuclear is in decline. Counting on it for your global warming strategy is “dangerous and delusional”, to give that compliment right back to Mark Lynas, who somehow thinks that renewable won’t be able to do the job alone.

The remaining 10 percent of electricity (not energy) nuclear provides is nice to have as a low carbon source. But it’s not ever such a big deal. We’re talking about 80 percent renewable in Germany until 2050, mandated by law. There won’t be any market left for nuclear in a couple of decades anyway. We certainly don’t need it to get fossil fuel under control.

If anything, with the exponential growth rather ahead of most schedules we are seeing for renewable energy, 100 percent renewable will probably be realized much faster than 2050. I certainly recommend speeding things up.

One of the conditions for doing that is to stop listening to people who want to slow down renewables because their business model for nuclear energy depends on keeping renewable energy down. Keeping the above facts about the nuclear decline will help with that task.


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Discussing Mark Lynas’ “Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power”

Jul 11 2013 Published by under Book Review, Nuclear energy

Mark Lynas just released an “Amazon short” title called Nuclear 2.0.

The book description at Amazon has this to say:

Lynas shows that with wind and solar still at only about 1 percent of global primary energy, asking renewables to deliver all the world’s power is “dangerously delusional”.

That got me interested. Maybe he’s talking about my “dangerous delusions”. I happen to think that it is the other way round. It is a delusion to hope for the nuclear bailout. Renewable energy will have to do the job alone.

It also claims in its first sentence, rather arrogantly:

Everything you thought you knew about nuclear power is wrong.

How does Lynas even know what his readers think? And how is claiming everything disagreeing with his views is wrong anything else as extremely annoying arrogance?

The first clear error came a couple of pages in. Lynas writes:

“I had entirely overlooked the world’s most abundant source of low-carbon power.”

That is not nuclear. It’s hydro. According to the 2012 edition of the IEA Key World Energy Statistics, nuclear generated  2756 TWh in 2010, while hydro generated 3516. Of course, nuclear is down as a consequence of the Fukushima accident, clocking in at only 2346 in 2012.

That makes nuclear the most abundant source of low-carbon power generation reductions. I expect plenty of more reductions from this source.

He then claims:

nuclear power provides 15 percent of global electricity

Nope. Even in 2010, the percentage was at 12.9, and it has of course declined substantially after that, again according to the IEA report cited above.

Not a good start, considering this claim:

using the very latest factual data

Next, a whopping mistake that makes me want to stop reading right there:

our task is to generate thousands of terawatts of power per year.

Newsflash: Power generation per year is measured in TWh, not terawatts. And “thousands” doesn’t cut it either. How can Mark Lynas, a reasonably competent journalist, make such a simple mistake?

And right then, he writes something I agree with completely:

Most importantly, the pro-renewables and pro-nuclear tribes will have to join forces if we are to confront the vested interests which threaten to keep this planet on its current trajectory towards disaster.

I have my doubts, though, if calling the other side “delusional” and “dangerous” will contribute to such a goal.

I also completely agree with the analysis that fossil fuel has given humanity, on average, a much better life since the industrial revolution. If one could choose the ideal age to live in, right now would be a rather good choice. Still receiving the many benefits of burning fossil fuel at a rate of 5.3 million over its reproduction, but still not feeling the more unfortunate effects of global warming.

Lynas then writes a couple of pages on how solar and wind will never be enough to achieve anything, citing numbers about the share of primary energy supply (which is a great way to make solar look bad and nuclear look good, with all the heat energy completely wasted in nuclear plants, but conveniently included in the primary energy balance).

If Lynas is right, there will be no solution for global warming. It’s as easy as that. Nuclear certainly won’t come to the rescue. It’s in decline, and will decline further.

But Lynas doesn’t understand the beauty of exponential growth. If solar growth world wide goes down to the lowest value recorded in the past twenty years (30 percent), then it will take solar supply only until 2030 to top world electricity demand, as Eduard Heindl kindly explains in this recent post (in German).

Lynas is opposed to building new hydro, because of “fragile riverine ecosystems”. Newsflash: those will be destroyed anyway if global warming proceeds unchecked. China has installed 230 GW of hydro in 2012 and will increase that to 290 GW until 2015. That compares to World nuclear capacity around 380 GW in 2010. Would Lynas rather get rid of all that low-carbon Chinese hydro capacity to protect some “fragile ecosystem” or other? I certainly don’t think the World could afford this kind of luxury.

Remarkably, nothing Lynas writes about the German “Energiewende” is wrong. Of course, shutting down nuclear capacity will, all things equal, lead to more CO2 emissions. The new renewable capacity must make up for the missing nuclear energy before it can displace coal. That’s just common sense.

But it is also common sense that calling for nuclear in Germany is a fringe minority loser position. If your global warming strategy requires nuclear power in Germany, get used to a warmer planet.

Lynas acknowledges that nuclear has a cost problem. He fails to mention though the part of the problem that comes from a stronger renewable penetration. That means that nuclear power plants can’t be expected to run around the clock any more, and it also means that the days of high peak noon power prices are gone for good.

Around the end I find out that the title “Nuclear 2.0″ means limiting global warming to 2.0 degrees by using nuclear power (which is not what one would assume from reading the title on its face).

The main thesis of the book is that everybody opposed to fossil fuel should work together in an “all of the above” strategy, though strangely one that excludes the real largest source of low carbon power (hydro). That used to be my position, until I found out that most pro-nuclear people are trying to slow down renewable energy, since they (correctly) perceive that their dreams of playing with plutonium won’t get anywhere with viable alternatives in place, and with renewable eating their lunch and dinner in the marketplace.

The “all of the above” idea is nice, but it won’t work in practice. We are in another Great War of Currents, and people need to chose their sides. Someone advocating “all of the above” like Lynas will probably alienate everybody in sight.


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I Wish David Roberts Was Wrong

Jun 14 2013 Published by under Fossil Nukes, Nuclear energy

He just posted an article titled “Some thoughts on Pandora’s Promise and the nuclear debate”.

I find myself agreeing with most of his points. I share these views of his article:

  • Radiation risks of nuclear are much less serious than risks from global warming or from coal.
  • People should dump coal before nuclear.
  • Nuclear energy is an expensive way of decarbonizing getting more expensive all the time.

I would like to add:

  • Nuclear has peaked long ago and is in decline.
  • Many supporters of nuclear energy damage their case by attacking renewable energy.

For these reasons I think it is highly irresponsible to count on nuclear for the climate bailout.

I wish I was wrong. It would be nice to wake up one morning to a World where nuclear is not in decline, not opposed by everyone in sight, and to quote Roberts “you have a reactor in your backyard that consumes nuclear waste from past reactors and emits nothing but fresh air, clean water, and the scent of jasmine.”

Don’t count on that happening. And don’t try to stand in the way while renewable actually does the job while preaching about that brave new nuclear future.

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