Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

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  • WEEKEND VIDEOS, April 17-18:
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  • The Return Of Big Solar
  • New Ways To Get At Geothermal

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009


    Generating Failure; How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming
    Travis Madsen, Tony Dutzik, Bernadette Del Chiaro and Rob Sargent, November 2009 (Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center)

    Expert evidence continues to accrue relegating nuclear energy to the category of “yesterday’s answer.” There is a move afoot in Congress to dramatically up spending for new nuclear energy projects. Bad idea. Look at the evidence. Don’t do it.

    Generating Failure; How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming concludes that it makes no sense for the federal government to fund new nuclear projects that are prohibitively expensive, would be a burden on the environment and introduce a series of potentially irresolvable contaminating hazards. Directing the subsidies and policy preferences to the New Energies will deliver more affordable emissions-free power sooner with no serious irresolvable environmental consequences and no radioactive problems left for future generations to resolve.

    A recently introduced Senate bill would spend $20 billion over the next 20 years for ~100 new nuclear reactors to double existing U.S. nuclear generation capacity. It would also put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for an additional $100 billion in loan guarantees aimed at the historically unreliable nuclear industry. The result, the “Generating Failure” report demonstrates, would be a hampered U.S. effort against global climate change.

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    For the same capital required to build 100 new nuclear reactors, the U.S. could cut twice the greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) by building New Energy (NE) and Energy Efficiency (EE). Given the GhG-cutting the U.S. needs to do, tying up $600 billion in up-front capital for 6, 8 or even 10 years in new nuclear reactors would be foolhardy.

    Per dollar of cost, EE and several New Energies are far more efficient at cutting GhGs than new nuclear, others soon will be – and the costs of the New Energies will fall farther while the costs for new nuclear reactors are expected to rise.

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    First important point: “Generating Failure” begins with a simple assumption about global climate change: The need for action is pressing. Action is urgently needed to cut GhGs. The sooner action is taken, the more choice and flexibility there will be in the kinds of workable action.

    The Science: A 1 trillion metric ton cut in GhGs offers a 75% chance of keeping average global temperature rise to 3.6 degrees F or less above the pre-industrial level. To do this, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says GhGs must be cut 25%-to-40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

    Where the easy solution is: The easiest big place to cut GhGs is at power plants. It is possible to cut U.S. power plant GhGs to a tight budget of 34 billion metric tons by 2050.

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    Next important point: It takes too long to build new nuclear reactors. By the time a new fleet of new reactors could come on line, the fight against global climate change would be nearly lost.

    Because: No new reactors are now under construction (despite blessings and benefits bestowed by the 2005 energy bill). No new nuclear energy could be available before (optimistically) 2016, probably 2018.

    Because: The newest technology is being built in Finland and is 3 years behind schedule due to quality control failures (not something easily overlooked in a plant that uses radioactive fuel).

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    Because: The U.S. nuclear industry is not up to speed. It lacks people, experience and manufacturing infrastructure.

    Because: If the U.S. nuclear fleet COULD be doubled by 2030,it would only cut emissions 12% and the U.S. would burn its 40-year budget of 34 billion metric tons of GhGs in 15 years.

    Third important point: New Energy (NE) and Energy Efficiency (EE) go to work cutting GhGs almost immediately.

    In states like California with advanced EE policies, emissions are already being cut 1%-to-2% per year. The wind industry is building the equal of 3 new nuclear plants every year, is just getting started and expects to provide as much of U.S. power in 2030 as nuclear despite inconsistent and sometimes disdainful policies.

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    For the same capital it would require to build 100 new nuclear reactors, the U.S. could cut twice the GhGs building NE and EE – though that would not be enough GhG-cutting to beat climate change.

    That brings up the fourth important point: Given the 40% of GhG-cutting the U.S. needs to do, tying money up in building new nuclear reactors is a terrible idea.

    Every new reactor ties up $600 billion in up-front capital ($250 billion to $1 trillion) for 6, 8 or even 10 years. That is money that cannot be invested in NE and EE. Power from a new reactor costs, over its lifetime, 12-to-20 cents per kilowatt-hour (or more).

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    In contrast, spending on EE pays back (several times over) in reduced utility bills. The cost of electricity per kilowatt-hour from new NE projects is less than or comparable to new nuclear – but while the cost of nuclear-generated electricity is going up, the cost of NE-generated electricity continues to come down.

    Per dollar of cost, EE and biomass with combined heat and power are 5 times more efficient at cutting GhGs than new nuclear. Combined heat and power is 3 times more efficient.

    By 2018, land-based wind will be twice as efficient and offshore wind will be 30% more efficient WITHOUT production tax credit subsidies.

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    Some studies show thin film solar photovoltaic (PV)-generated electricity to be presently comparable to nuclear. By 2018 (or sooner), solar PV will certainly be comparable in cost.

    Concluding important point: New nuclear power is not needed.

    Much is made of the variability of NE and the “base-load” value of nuclear power by those who do not understand how NE variability is managed by grid operators and by those who do not understand what a terrible waste nuclear power plants create because they can only run at 2 speeds: Maximum and off.

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    There are a lot of grid options, such as biomass, geothermal, stored NE and ramped up EE, that are available as full-time as nuclear. Other types of NE, like wind and PV solar, are 80%-to-90% predictable so that properly equipped grid operators can plan to use them without disruptions or complications.

    Over-reliance on base-load power like nuclear reactors is potentially more disruptive because outages are unplanned and quickly become uncontrollably massive. This results in huge extra costs in economic productivity and human loss.

    The inability to tune down a nuclear reactor’s output means its generation during off-peak periods is wasted.

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    (1) Global climate change is best addressed by GhG cuts and the most efficient and cost effective way to cut GhGs is through NE and EE.
    (2) Politicians should resist nuclear industry lobbying for more subsidies. Despite $140 billion in loan guarantees and liability protections in the last 50 years, the nuclear industry continues to flounder. The numbers for nuclear energy prove that further federal investment would be throwing good money after bad.
    (3) The nation’s GhGs must be cut at least 35%-to-40% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. To do this, political leaders must put a price on GhGs to make emitters pay for using the atmosphere.
    (4) The U.S. should, along with the international community, prepare to act to alleviate the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
    (5) There should be a national Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) requiring a 15% reduction in energy consumption by 2020 and a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) requiring regulated utilities to obtain 25% of their power from New Energy sources by 2025.
    (6) New appliance standards and building codes should aim to cut building energy use 50% by 2020 and get all new building to net zero energy use by 2030.
    (7) Spending should be directed not to new nuclear reactors but to new transmission and modern high voltage “smart” transmission that more effectively and efficiently carries and services NE and EE technologies.

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    - From the report’s introduction: …”The report focuses on the need for solutions that deliver rapid and substantial progress in reducing America’s emissions of global warming pollution within the next 10 to 20 years; cut pollution in a cost effective way compared to other strategies; and maintain reliable electricity service. By these measures, nuclear power simply isn’t up to the job. Putting aside the unresolved problem of how to safely dispose of nuclear waste, the environmental impacts of mining and processing uranium, the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, and the potential consequences of an accident or terrorist attack at a nuclear power plant, the nuclear industry simply cannot build new reactors fast enough to deliver the progress we need on a time scale that will make enough of a difference…”

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    - From the report’s introduction: “…[N]ew nuclear reactors are far more expensive than other forms of emission free electricity. Investing in a new generation of nuclear reactors would actually delay needed progress and divert critical investment dollars away from better solutions. Despite billions in government subsidies made available through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and a streamlined permitting process at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, no new nuclear reactors are yet under construction. Looking at the state of the industry in 2009, nuclear industry experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology warn that without more government action to support the technology, “nuclear power will diminish as a practical and timely option for” reducing the odds of catastrophic global warming…”

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    - From the report’s Executive Summary: “Far from being a solution to global warming, nuclear power will actually set America back in the race to reduce pollution. Nuclear power is too slow and too expensive to make enough of a difference in the next two decades. Moreover, nuclear power is not necessary to provide clean, carbon-free electricity for the long haul. The up-front capital investment required to build 100 new nuclear reactors could prevent twice as much pollution over the next 20 years if invested in energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy instead. Taking into account the ongoing costs of running the nuclear plants, a clean energy path would deliver as much as five times more progress for the money.”


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