Pick Your Poison

One of our readers, R, keeps me up to date on happenings in the nuclear industry, and it sounds like shale gas is putting another nail in the coffin:

“Markets have to address these issues or you will see a fallout of perfectly well-run units such as Vermont Yankee, and potentially others,” says Bill Mohl, who heads Entergy’s merchant nuclear operations in Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Vermont. “You can’t stack the market with state regulations and environmental policies and expect competitive fuel sources to effectively compete.”

Mohl’s contentions: The abundance of shale gas has resulted in sustained low natural gas and wholesale energy prices while market designs especially in the Northeast have resulted in artificially low energy prices. That’s a vague reference, in part, to wind energy that is subsidized and that does not provide electricity around the clock.

R on occasion sends me links to NRC write ups of events that occur in nuclear plants, and though we can certainly disagree on the amount of oversight necessary for nuclear operations, Federal law grants the NRC incredible power over a nuclear plant. One example is that operators who have an off-duty DUI have to be reported to the NRC. Contrast that with the free-for-all in the fracking world, where the chemicals used in fracking water are treated as trade secrets even though they may be full of cancer-causing chemicals:

At the federal level, natural gas developers have long been allowed to keep the mixture of chemicals they use in fracking fluid a secret from the general public, protecting it as “proprietary information.” The industry is exempt from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory—the program that ensures that communities are given information about what companies are releasing. In 2005 the industry successfully lobbied for an exemption from EPA regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act as well, in what is often referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole.” The Obama EPA has pressed drillers to voluntarily provide more information about fracking fluids, but the industry has largely rebuffed those appeals.

In a few years when the cancer clusters from the polluted fracking groundwater start to show up, these drilling operators will be long gone, and Uncle Sugar will be footing the bill. To paraphrase a famous sage, given the choice between nuclear energy and gas from fracking, I’d rather have a known known than an unknown unknown.

87 replies
  1. 1
    jayboat says:

    Well, that ruined my day.

    Thanks, Obama!

  2. 2
    Belafon says:

    Eventually, some fracking company will drill close enough to a nuclear plant that the human caused earthquake will crack the cooling system. This will cause all nuclear reactors to close and fracking will come to our rescue.

  3. 3
    Cermet says:

    First off, nuclear cannot compete with oil, or coal or gas due to the complex and totally stupid design of all Amerikan plants. The Candu reactor is far cheaper partly because it really cannot melt down nordoes that design the use extremely expensive enriched uranium that dumb ass Amerikan plants require.

    That said, the DUI issue being raised is a joke – not because they must report it (VERY good idea; someone who has a drinking problem is a risk at such a complex plant) but private citizens who have a private pilots licence must also report a DUI or face federal jail time (even if they were let off by the civil courts!) So, that the nuclear industry must report makes far more sense than that private requirement.

    Since nuclear never was economic compared to fossil fuel, if we want nuclear, it can easily be had using the old method – government guarantee’s and licence the Candu reactor design so the plants cost only a fraction of what normal Amerikan plants cost and the operational fuel is also a small fraction of cost.

  4. 4
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am with you on this one. Nuclear waste can be contained. Whether it will or not is a separate issue. Fracking fluid, once unleashed in the underground environment, can not be contained. As one who lives on a well, I am very happy to live far away from any shale.

  5. 5
    Baud says:

    given the choice between nuclear energy and gas from fracking,

    Is that a choice? Is gas used to generate electricity? I thought most electricity came from coal.

  6. 6
    jonas says:

    @Baud

    : Is gas used to generate electricity?

    Yes, lots of it. It’s basically putting all other forms of generation, esp. coal (and nuclear now, accd. to the article) out of business.

  7. 7
    Xboxershorts says:

    Most every single supplier of natural gas has ignored the infrastructure used to deliver that gas to it’s customer’s for decades now. As a result, every single city in North America is leaking billions of cubic feet of natural gas per year into the atmosphere.

    And methane has 20-30 times the heat trapping characteristics of CO2.

    We have been fools and reckless with our energy policy for too long. Wasteful arrogance that both hurts the consumer and is contributing to the coming apocalypse.

  8. 8
    Baud says:

    @jonas:

    Thanks.

  9. 9
    jayboat says:

    Back in the MID-80’s, I subcontracted for an architectural/exhibit design firm that had a contract for CONTROL ROOM redesign in a nuke plant that shall remain nameless. While one reactor was shut down, we did one CONTROL ROOM, then vice versa.

    the idea was upgraded ergonomics on everything- we literally tore the place apart and replaced panels, gauges, everything.
    as was explained to me during the hiring process: “We want to give it a ‘Star Wars’ look.’

    the DUI thing IS a joke… half the phuckers I worked around were junkies. every operator, mostly local good ol boys- spit tobacco into little styro coffee cups. hick mentality everywhere.

    I have many more observations from that project. The one hot chick in an ocean of sausage. Whole body scans in a contraption straight out of a Terry Gilliam movie.

    keerist… I could go on for a while.

  10. 10
    WereBear says:

    Mr WereBear has an intriguing theory that the chemicals are in fact completely unnecessary; but it is a great way to get rid of them and skirt any EPA laws, isn’t it?

  11. 11
    jayboat says:

    The security theater requirement to get to the work site (did I mention it was the CONTROL ROOM?) added a good 45 mins to the workday. Every day.

  12. 12
    beltane says:

    Vermont Yankee being a well-run unit is news to me. I’d hate to see what Entergy considers to be a poorly run unit.

  13. 13
    raven says:

    @jayboat: I knew a lot of guys that worked on the construction of a nuke in central Illinois and it was a wild ass scene.

  14. 14
    Punchy says:

    @WereBear: I too have thought this. If the ingredients of the fluid cannot be publicly known, what keeps a fracking company from disposing of another company’s dimethyl mercury, or selenium, or any other extremely expensive-to-dispose-of carcinogen? After all, once it’s in the water, it aint traceable.

  15. 15
    Howard Beale IV says:

    What we need is a law that says that if any corporation wishes to develop a field for energy development the executives and board of directors must physically live within a five mile radius of the development no less than 75% of the time.

    Hey, if you yahoo’s say its safe, then you should have zero problems living within the radius of the development-amirite?

  16. 16
    beltane says:

    @Howard Beale IV: That sounds about right and should be applied to any form of energy development.

  17. 17
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    Not to go all pedantic, but we have:

    known knowns – We know that small local township wastewater plants are not equipped to treat fracking waste, we know a lot of the frackers are disposing of it illegally, and we know that the PA legislature has rolled over for them

    known unknowns – We know there are hazardous chemicals in the fracking fluid but we don’t know exactly what chemicals we’re dealing with, we know that the concrete and steel well casings will fail sometime in the next 100 or 200 years, we don’t know when or where the fracking fluid will migrate to.

    unknown unknowns – we don’t know how the chemicals will transform in the environment, where they will end up, or what effects they will cause. Among other things.

    @WereBear: Mr. WereBear has a conspiritorial mind far more advanced than my own. High five!

  18. 18
    gene108 says:

    @Baud:

    Is that a choice? Is gas used to generate electricity? I thought most el

    Because of all the fracking, natural gas prices have dropped significantly over the last few years, which now makes it a cheaper alternative to coal to burn for producing electricity. Fracking is basically going to kill the coal industry, because it will make natural gas prices low enough to undercut coal.

    On a side note, I think expanding nuclear power would help lower greenhouse gas emissions and be a good alternative, until something better comes along.

    If we could ramp up nuclear power and build out infrastructure to support electric vehicles, we’d whack the hell out of the USA’s contribution to global warming, since most of our CO2 output comes from cars and charging electric cars with coal burning plants isn’t doing as much to cut C02 emissions as it would if we used nuclear power.

    This is honestly something we have the capacity to do, if we had the desire. The technology is exists and the impact on everyday life would be minimal for most people; though the impact on the petroleum industry would be significant.

  19. 19
    beltane says:

    What really gets me are the people in my neck of the woods who chain themselves to trees protesting wind farm development. Since most, or none, of these people live like old-order Amish, I’m guessing they’re OK with someone else’s well being poisoned just as long as their pretty, pretty view isn’t obstructed.

  20. 20
    Xboxershorts says:

    @Punchy:

    I too have thought this. If the ingredients of the fluid cannot be publicly known, what keeps a fracking company from disposing of another company’s dimethyl mercury, or selenium, or any other extremely expensive-to-dispose-of carcinogen? After all, once it’s in the water, it aint traceable.

    There’s a community in Western, PA, 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, known as “The Wooodlands”. It was built atop an old gas and oil field with numerous abandoned wells and also several abandoned mines.

    REX Energy won permits to drill into the Marcellus Shale there in 2010.

    Every single pet has died, all the birds have left. Every single resident got sick.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/bu.....1208190127

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcUyuFjx0IU

    We’ve been massively lied to about the unconventional shale drilling process and our regulatory agencies have turned a criminal blind eye on the already ugly legacy of extraction industries.

  21. 21
    WereBear says:

    @Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason: Mr. WereBear has a conspiritorial mind far more advanced than my own. High five!

    He used to work in DC. Seen the best in action!

  22. 22
    JoyfulA says:

    @Xboxershorts: Pennsylvania under Corbett has essentially denied regulation of any sort. Only the state supreme court has choked rules like disallowing local zoning and lateral drilling under homes without permission. Plus our state taxes on drilling are way lower than Texas’.

    The state ought to know better. We’ve been through this before with coal. The mining companies made a fortune, while importing workers because the citizenry largely wouldn’t do the dangerous work for ever-decreasing bad wages. Then the coal companies left town and left a huge polluted mess that took 50 years of taxpayer money to clean up (mostly; Centralia is still burning underground).

    The Democratic State Committee voted in favor of a drilling moratorium. So far, no candidate for governor has stated agreement.

    Yes, I’m mad, and I don’t live anywhere near any drilling.

  23. 23
    ruemara says:

    We’re rather doomed, aren’t we?

  24. 24
    ruemara says:

    We’re rather doomed, aren’t we?

  25. 25
    Andy says:

    A fairly high-level manager with a huge energy+etc conglomerate once replied, when asked about fracking, “When have we ever put something in the ground and not regretted it later?”

  26. 26
  27. 27
    bualos says:

    @Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason: According to Halliburton data, substantially ALL of the casings will fail by 200 years, near half within 60 years, about a quarter in 25, and 1 in 20 will fail essentially right away.

  28. 28
    Mudge says:

    No mix of chemicals that is released to the environment should ever be allowed to be proprietary. Period.

  29. 29
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @WereBear: I bet that not only is that indeed the case, but that the chemicals being injected are the processed by-parts of naturally occurring chemicals that in their original states are relatively harmless.

  30. 30
    C.V. Danes says:

    The “abundance of shale gas” is merely an illusion that is going to dissipate within the next five years. Fracking is unsustainable.

  31. 31
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @ruemara: Ah-yep.

    Time to Face The Fire.

    They’ll take your money, then take your health. They’ll line their pockets with unequal wealth.

    These men are under the Power of Gold. We Won’t be safe until we shut them down cold.

  32. 32
    C.V. Danes says:

    @gene108:

    On a side note, I think expanding nuclear power would help lower greenhouse gas emissions and be a good alternative, until something better comes along.

    Fukushima has killed any talk of rebuilding nuclear power in this country. I don’t know what we’re going to do when all the base load nuclear generating capacity starts to come off line in the next twenty years, but it won’t be replaced with nuclear power.

  33. 33
    The Dangerman says:

    On a brighter note (quite literally; if you’re driving to Vegas from SoCal, you won’t miss it), the largest solar plant in the world officially opened last week:

    http://www.reuters.com/article.....0A20140215

    Of course, Fox started caring about birds:

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014.....da-desert/

    WSJ, too:

    http://online.wsj.com/news/art.....0641329484

    Bottom line, I don’t know that Solar Thermal will be a great success (I’m a photovoltaics guy) but I think this can be nothing but a step in the right direction.

  34. 34
    Poopyman says:

    @C.V. Danes: This. Even if it were 20 years instead of 5, it’s a short-term, high-profit extraction that destroys the environment and a replacement needs to be in place NOW.

  35. 35
    C.V. Danes says:

    @WereBear:

    Mr WereBear has an intriguing theory that the chemicals are in fact completely unnecessary; but it is a great way to get rid of them and skirt any EPA laws, isn’t it?

    Yup. Just like the same people who make highly reliable and secure ATM machines just can’t seem to make a secure voting machine. Oh, and the code behind the voting machines is a “trade secret” too.

  36. 36
    Belafon says:

    @The Dangerman: I’m curious if they care about the squirrels and other animals we kill by driving. Actual, no I’m not.

  37. 37
    The Dangerman says:

    @Belafon:

    I’m curious if they care about the squirrels and other animals we kill by driving.

    Or the fish killed by that spill in West Virginia.

  38. 38
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @C.V. Danes: Those firms who played in both the ATM and voting machine industries quickly divested the voting machine businesses. And most of the current crop of ATM’s are still running Windows XP, prior to that they were running OS/2 Warp (which, in today’s world, might actually be more secure.)

  39. 39
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Poopyman:

    Even if it were 20 years instead of 5, it’s a short-term, high-profit extraction that destroys the environment and a replacement needs to be in place NOW.

    Unfortunately. I don’t think it can be replaced. We’ve already harvested all of the cheap, easily extractable energy that our society and capital markets require to sustain them. We’ve nowhere else to go but down.

    And as far as the environment is concerned, jobs and money will always take priority, something that will become evident once Obama authorizes the Keystone pipeline. The State Department assumed that the tar oil will be extracted anyway, and they were correct in that assessment.

  40. 40
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @C.V. Danes: Sad thing is that we’ve had 40+ years of new technology/materials that would make nuclear even safer, more reliable and more efficient.

  41. 41
    sparrow says:

    @C.V. Danes: There could easily be jobs and money in alternative energy. Wind turbines require maintenance, Solar cells on homes too. Plenty of room in industry to create ever-more efficient appliances, etc. People are so damned short-sighted.

  42. 42
    Poopyman says:

    @C.V. Danes: I meant a non-extraction replacement energy source. Solar on every roof would be a good start, but unfortunately the extraction industry has owned enough state houses that extraction is likely to remain the prime source for the foreseeable future.I would be fine with @Cermet’s: nuclear source as well.

  43. 43
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Howard Beale IV:

    Sad thing is that we’ve had 40+ years of new technology/materials that would make nuclear even safer, more reliable and more efficient.

    Indeed. And they’re floating quite safely in the propulsion plants of our nuclear submarines and carriers. The commercial industry has been at a standstill, but the Navy has been making steady progress.

  44. 44
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Poopyman:

    I meant a non-extraction replacement energy source. Solar on every roof would be a good start,

    You’ll get no argument from me on that, as well as a “Manhattan Project” to reduce our energy needs to get within the limits of what renewable sources can provide. If history is a guide, though, we’ll only pursue that path once we’ve exhausted all other means.

  45. 45
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Howard Beale IV: Some ATMs, depending on manufacturer, run Windows XP Embedded, a different OS built on XP fundamentals but with a lot of stuff cut out because it’s not needed for the sorts of jobs it’s selected to do (no browser support for example unless it’s added as a separate module). I don’t think anyone has ever reported a real criminal hack on an ATM network, in part because they’re never connected to the internet as such, they run on separate wires and switches. The hacks that have been performed were physical attacks on individual units based on insider knowledge rather than weaknesses in the OS as such. The good news is that XP Embedded has extended support from MicroSoft after the April 2014 deadline for regular XP.

  46. 46
    C.V. Danes says:

    @sparrow:

    There could easily be jobs and money in alternative energy.

    There’s about 1500+ high-paying jobs at a typical Nuclear power plant. There’s about 300 at a gas-powered plant. There’s maybe 30 or so at a typical wind farm. The energy industry has been bleeding jobs for quite some time now.

    Plenty of room in industry to create ever-more efficient appliances, etc. People are so damned short-sighted.

    Indeed. However, I think global warming is going to be actively focusing our attention sooner than many people think. It’s going to take most of our resources just to keep our current generating capacity on line once superstorms, uncontrollable forest fires, freak floods, months of 90+ degree temperatures, etc., become a routine occurrence.

  47. 47
    Xboxershorts says:

    @C.V. Danes:

    Indeed. And they’re floating quite safely in the propulsion plants of our nuclear submarines and carriers. The commercial industry has been at a standstill, but the Navy has been making steady progress.

    To be fair, the requirements to provide power to a submarine or even an Aircraft carrier are quite different from that of providing power to 500,000 homes. These are much smaller reactors than what was installed at 3 Mile Island or Fukushima.

    I think one of the most important recen breakthroughs is not going to be in Nuclear, but materials sciences, such as a recent development in Solar Panel photo voltaic cells that eliminates the need for costly and rare Rare Earth elements.

    I honestly believe this will help push solar into the mainstream.

  48. 48
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @Robert Sneddon: A USB port exposure is a vector that can cause all sorts of mischief, as the late Barnaby Jack showed.

  49. 49
    Gene108 says:

    @C.V. Danes:

    I know. I think people are happier with hoping for a magic unicorn that farts electricity,* or are more willing to suffer a death by a thousand cuts** than embrace nuclear.

    * Renewable energy will not be able to solve all our energy needs.

    ** Fossil fuel extraction has been chipping away at our environment for a couple of centuries.

  50. 50
    srv says:

    @The Dangerman: Bird and desert tortoise killer.

    http://www.mojavedesertblog.co.....ct-to.html

    Blogger has long made the point that instead of tearing up desert habitat with corporate welfare projects, the same money could produce the same energy via tax subsidies to roof-top PV projects.

  51. 51
    TheHalfrican says:

    Man, I love the logic of Nuclear Power too! It worked in SimCity 2000 until you got fusion, and it should be that way IRL dammit!

    That said……….Chernobyl sarcophagus………………and that huge fancy new one they’re building only buys them another 100 years………..yeah.

  52. 52
    TheHalfrican says:

    Man, I love the logic of Nuclear Power too! It worked in SimCity 2000 until you got fusion, and it should be that way IRL dammit!

    That said……….Chernobyl sarcophagus………………and that huge fancy new one they’re building only buys them another 100 years………..yeah.

  53. 53
    TheHalfrican says:

    Man, I love the logic of Nuclear Power too! It worked in SimCity 2000 until you got fusion, and it should be that way IRL dammit!

    That said……….Chernobyl sarcophagus………………and that huge fancy new one they’re building only buys them another 100 years………..yeah.

  54. 54
    catclub says:

    @Cermet: I have to believe there is something more to ignoring the CANDU reactor.

    I can understand the US saying that NOT INVENTED HERE is a good enough reason to reject it, but that does not explain all the other countries – like France and China, doing so. Tis a puzzle.

    It sounds more like the super-carburetor that the Big Auto companies kept from the public. They might, but Japan would have no problem with improving fuel efficiency.

  55. 55
    The Dangerman says:

    @Xboxershorts:

    I think one of the most important recen breakthroughs is not going to be in Nuclear, but materials sciences, such as a recent development in Solar Panel photo voltaic cells that eliminates the need for costly and rare Rare Earth elements.

    Insert UCLA 8 Clap here:

    http://cleantechnica.com/2013/.....fficiency/

  56. 56
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Xboxershorts:

    These are much smaller reactors than what was installed at 3 Mile Island or Fukushima.

    On submarine plant, true. The reactors on aircraft carriers are quite large, though, even though they are optimized for a different purpose, as you said. However, the science is there, and proven reliable and safe.

    I honestly believe this will help push solar into the mainstream.

    I agree that it is pushed more mainstream. Regrettably, what seems to be becoming mainstream is the less efficient solar-electric form, rather than more efficient solar-thermal. But I guess any solar is a step in the right direction :-)

  57. 57
    catclub says:

    @C.V. Danes: “There’s about 1500+ high-paying jobs at a typical Nuclear power plant. There’s about 300 at a gas-powered plant. There’s maybe 30 or so at a typical wind farm.”

    But doesn’t it take about 100 wind farms to equal the power output of one Nuclear plant?

  58. 58
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @C.V. Danes: Actually no. The nuclear power industry has made large steps in technology and engineering over the past fifty years, it’s just that most folks have never noticed because they’ve not been looking. Materials, mathematical modelling in design, control systems, disaster recovery, efficiency, operating techniques, manufacturing costs etc. have all been improved since the second-generation designs of the 1970s were built. In some cases the improvements have been added to existing plants where feasible; a lot of the existing US nuclear fleet has been uprated with the same reactor cores producing more power than they were originally designed for and for longer uptimes year on year. Modern reactors being built today, including the new AP1000 starts in America (two new reactors in Georgia, Vogtle 3 and 4, two in South Carolina, V. C. Summer 2 and 3 all poured first concrete in 2013) are vastly improved over the older designs. Even the Watts Bar 2 reactor being completed in Tennessee, although an older design, will get a digital control system and all the refinements of decades of development installed before it is finished.

    As for military reactors they are built on a cost-no-object basis whereas civilian power reactors have to generate electricity for 5 cents/kWh over a period twice the lifespan of a nuclear aircraft carrier and at full power rating for about 90% of each year unlike the subs and carrier powerplants that spend a lot of their time idle or shut down completely while they are tied up in dock or undergoing refits. Apples and oranges, really.

  59. 59
    raven says:

    @Robert Sneddon: It’s so cool when people who actually know what they are talking about, you know, talk!

  60. 60
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @catclub: CANDUs are expensive to build, I think they’re at the upper limit of price for commercial reactors at about $15-20,000/kW of capacity whereas modern PWRs like the Areva EPR design should come in at less than $8,000/kW once they get the manufacturing bugs out — the Chinese EPRs nearing completion in Taishan are supposedly coming in on time and budget, the French prototype at Flammanville is double that cost, the Finnish one the same.

    CANDUs are not intrinsically safe since they have a large carbon moderator, theoretically with a negative void coefficient so a fire won’t cause a disaster, and they are a real proliferation risk similar to the RMBK-4 that blew up so spectacularly in Chernobyl. The fact they run on unenriched uranium is not particularly a cost benefit operationally, same with heavy-water reactors (also a proliferation risk).

  61. 61
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Howard Beale IV: The USB key hack requires physical access to the hardware and doesn’t depend on exploiting flaws in the OS that runs the ATM itself. It was an inside job, an engineer or coder who worked on those machines developed that hack and some time soon they’re going to get tracked down. Look for the middle-level engineer who left the company six months ago currently living the millionaire life on the Riviera or similar.

  62. 62
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    As for military reactors they are built on a cost-no-object basis whereas civilian power reactors have to generate electricity for 5 cents/kWh over a period twice the lifespan of a nuclear aircraft carrier and at full power rating for about 90% of each year unlike the subs and carrier powerplants that spend a lot of their time idle or shut down completely while they are tied up in dock or undergoing refits. Apples and oranges, really.

    I spent over ten years in the Navy as a reactor operator, plus a number of years in nuclear education after the Navy, but I am not disagreeing with you. In many respects, both from an industry standpoint, and operationally, there are a number of differences between Navy reactors and civilian ones that make direct comparison difficult. For example, unlike their civilian counterparts, the Navy reactors are designed to go from being tied up next to the dock to full power (and back again) very quickly, with the extra focus on transient analysis and safety that requires. Civilian reactors are designed to be quickly refueled so that they can get back to full power generation with a minimum amount of disruption, unlike Navy reactors which are designed to be refueled every 20 years or so, but only because they spend most of their time operating at something less than 50% power. It would be cost prohibitive to have to refuel Navy reactors every couple of years.

    That being said, having spent time in both industries, I think the biggest difference, and one that technology is not equipped to solve, is in philosophy. As you stated, civilian plants are in the business of making money. Navy plants are not. In terms of risk analysis and safety, Navy plants do not have to worry about profit margin and greedy shareholders. Thus, while reactor designs have improved, the profit motive has not. Does that mean that the Fukushima plant, for example, would have survived if operated to Navy standards with regard to profit motive? Who knows. But it certainly would not be the seemingly unstoppable train wreck that is even now.

    My problem is not with the safety of reactor designs or being able to operate them safely. My problem is that any design is only so safe when it has to butt heads with greedy corporate execs and, unlike any other power plant type out there, the potential for disaster with nuclear power is far greater. After all, how many cities have had to be permanently evacuated because a natural gas plant melted down?

  63. 63
    The Pale Scot says:

    This is a really hysterical line:

    “You can’t stack the market with state regulations and environmental policies and expect competitive fuel sources to effectively compete.”

    Does he mean like the Price–Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act?, which caps liability and provides for direct payments from the feds for anything over the cap.

    God! Can’t have that!

    When all externalities are inputed (pollution, carbon, epic radiation disasters), solar is the cheapest. The problem is energy storage and lossless transmission, not production. The USA could redirect fossil fuel subsidies to solving these problems.

    But;
    The issue facing the investment community is that the technology is moving ahead so swiftly that nobody is willing to pour money into the next betamax. Accelerated depreciation schedules would help, except the TBTF banks have the system rigged and would undoubtably manipulate it as they done in aluminum markets:

    Dealing with our energy problems is going to require an industrial policy; which isn’t going to happen as things currently stand. If we need to build nuclear reactors to fill the gap created by lack of storage or transmission capability, there needs to be standardization. Currently there are 36(?) different 3rd Generation reactor designs submitted for approval, no models of these designs have been built to see if they operate as advertised, one design should be standardized and let the Navy run them.

    Profit motive and criticality do not go together, if the free market is the be all and end all, let nuclear power go get sufficient liability insurance on the open market, the fact is there is no possible way for the power producer to have enough skin in the game to ensure that safety will be the paramount concern.

  64. 64
    C.V. Danes says:

    @catclub:

    But doesn’t it take about 100 wind farms to equal the power output of one Nuclear plant?

    Something like that, even if you could find land suitable for running all those wind farms that would be needed to replace all the nuclear power plants.

  65. 65
    revrick says:

    The big problem with nuclear is the waste, because some of the radioactive products have half-lives as long as human beings (Cro Magnons) have been on earth. How will we warn future humans to stay out of the places we’ve stored it for thousands of generations to come?

    Chernobyl and Fukushma add another layer of complication, because they assume that an industrial civilization will be around for God knows how long to keep encasing the damn stuff. Not bloody likely!

  66. 66
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Externalities. The best friend of the profit monger.

  67. 67
    C.V. Danes says:

    @The Pale Scot:

    When all externalities are inputed (pollution, carbon, epic radiation disasters), solar is the cheapest. The problem is energy storage and lossless transmission, not production. The USA could redirect fossil fuel subsidies to solving these problems.

    Actually, and aggressive program of distributed rooftop solar power, both electric and thermal, and an aggressive policy of lifestyle changes would probably solve almost all of these problems.

    Dealing with our energy problems is going to require an industrial policy; which isn’t going to happen as things currently stand.

    I think it is even bigger than that. Dealing with our energy problems is going to require different policies as to how we operate as a society.

    Profit motive and criticality do not go together, if the free market is the be all and end all, let nuclear power go get sufficient liability insurance on the open market…

    The same with the gas and oil industries, which are also heavily subsidized.

  68. 68
    Ruckus says:

    @ruemara:
    That was worth repeating!

  69. 69
    The Pale Scot says:

    @C.V. Danes: I agree, I just wanted to keep it simple.

  70. 70
    The Pale Scot says:

    @C.V. Danes:

    and an aggressive policy of lifestyle changes would probably solve almost all of these problems.

    It more like social change needed, no more third shifts until night time production scales up for instance.

  71. 71
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @C.V. Danes: I don’t know why US commentators continue to compare shipboard military reactors and their operations to civilian power reactors — expert military personnel versus slipshod civilians and greedy shareholders is the common theme. This isn’t the case, really. Nuclear reactors operated in the US and most other countries aren’t in the control of the board of directors or the shareholders, it’s regulated by the local version of the NRC who do not consider shareholder return as part of their remit. Any changes of operational procedure must be examined and be signed off by the NRC before they can be implemented.

    In the US one of the (civilian) NRC inspectors on duty 24/7 at every nuclear power plant can red-tag the site at a moment’s notice for any sort of infraction and shareholders be damned. On the other hand we recently found out that US ICBM launch crews have been routinely faking tests and cheating for years, but they’re military personnel so one must thank them for their service.

    As for operational requirements the design of civilian reactors (other than the Soviet dual-use RMBK-4 design which was identified as a disaster-in-waiting the day Western nuclear engineers first saw it) is vastly safer than military shipboard units — for one thing they use much less enriched fuel. The new R-R reactors going into the British Astute submersible light cruisers use 90%-plus bomb-grade U235 so they won’t have to refuel during the expected thirty-year lifespan of the vessel. Civilian reactors are also built much more strongly than the military designs as mass and volume are not constraints — the reactor vessel alone for an EPR is a tenth of the all-up weight of a 688 Los-Angeles submarine and that’s before it gets encased in several thousand tonnes of heavily reinforced concrete. Then again a single EPR will produce nearly as much electrical power as all of the nuclear carriers put together, assuming they were all operational a the same time (which never happens).

    The Fukushima disaster killed no-one from radiation effects and the Onagawa nuclear plant which was even closer to the epicenter of the earthquake came through the ground movements and tsunami with no ill effects, indeed there are plans to bring it back online in the future. The abilities of the operational staff in charge at Fukushima Daiichi did not make make a real difference other than to vastly limit the damage the inevitable explosions caused by properly cooling the reactors for as long as the power to do so remained available to them. Having military personnel in charge wouldn’t have made any difference to the end result any more than they made a difference in the K-29 submarine incident.

  72. 72
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Chernobyl and Fukushima may have occurred under vastly different circumstances, but I believe the results are the same.

    People tend to forget that the reason Chernobyl was selected for the testing that triggered the casualty was that, up to that point, it had one of the safest operating records of any plant in the Soviet Union. What the Chernobyl casualty proved was that no reactor design can survive a staff of operators determined to destroy it. If the operators would have stayed within the plant’s design operating limits, the casualty would not have happened. The poor design of the plant did not cause the causality. The operators did. The design of the plant merely made the outcome much worse.

    What the Fukushima casualty proved was that a plant can only be designed so safe. When mother nature and questionable operating decisions conspire, no engineering design can be considered fail-proof.

    Thus, the question is not “is nuclear power safe” but “what’s the worse that can happen,” because, occasionally, the worst will happen The worst that can happen with a wind farm is that a tower falls over. The worst that can happen with a coal or natural gas plant is that the plant burns to the ground. The worst that can happen at a nuclear power plant is that we have to evacuate hundreds of square miles of often densely populated territory for thousands of years. Pick your poison.

    Nuclear power plants are safe and clean until they are not, and then they are very unsafe and very unclean. I am not advocating that we continue to build natural gas and coal plants, because the dangers of global warming are vastly larger. But there is no such thing as a fail-proof reactor design, merely fail-resistant.

  73. 73
    The Pale Scot says:

    @Robert Sneddon: I don’t have time to be in-depth; I wasn’t comparing naval reactors to commercial, obviously the requirements were different. There is in my opinion, a big difference between com. operator management and Naval discipline.

    As for profit, what is the reason for the lack of fire suppression protocols being instituted;

    Such as, NRC Waives Enforcement of Fire Rules at Nuclear Plants

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is routinely waiving fire rule violations at nearly half the nation’s 104 commercial reactors, even though fire presents one of the chief hazards at nuclear plants.

    if not for maintaining profitability?

    Indeed, even the reactor at Brown’s Ferry where the fire that led to the new standards happened hasn’t been refitted.

    As I said, when your industry can buy sufficient liability insurance on the free market then I’ll accept your lamentations of irrational persecution.

  74. 74
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @C.V. Danes:

    Actually, and aggressive program of distributed rooftop solar power, both electric and thermal, and an aggressive policy of lifestyle changes would probably solve almost all of these problems.

    What? And decentralize the power distribution in this country and thus cut into profit for electricity companies?

    Are you out of your mind? What are you, some sort of Swedish communist or something?

    Never mind that it makes long term sense to do something like that, short term profit is endangered! We can’t have THAT!

  75. 75
    The Pale Scot says:

    PS: Besides liability you need to provide the funds for proper disposal of the waste stream out of the nuke revenue stream. Someone will allow it to stored in their area for a ridiculous amount of money.

  76. 76
    C.V. Danes says:

    @The Pale Scot:

    As I said, when your industry can buy sufficient liability insurance on the free market then I’ll accept your lamentations of irrational persecution.

    I think the subtext is that the actuarial insurance rate calculations would be far higher than what the nuclear industry could afford without subsidization by the government. The same, too, if the costs of global warming were added to the cost of natural gas and coal. People would be paying far higher energy rates than they are now.

    In my 50 years or so traveling on this globe, I’ve come to the cynical conclusion that people are far more motivated by their wallets than by any consideration they may have for their (or their children’s) future. If you want people to change, then you need to hit them in their wallets. They are not going to change their lifestyles as long as the costs are absorbed elsewhere.

  77. 77
    tybee says:

    If you want people to change, then you need to hit them in their wallets. They are not going to change their lifestyles as long as the costs are absorbed elsewhere.

    bingo.

  78. 78
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    What? And decentralize the power distribution in this country and thus cut into profit for electricity companies?

    Who said that the power companies would not still be involved? Let them be responsible for “renting” rooftop space while maintaining the solar cells and power conversion units, while people pay into the grid during the day, and take it back out, as needed, in the evenings. You will still need an industry to coordinate and maintain all of that, in the same way you have an industry that serves to maintain all the residential HVAC installations :-)

  79. 79
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @C.V. Danes: What industry would be left in that case? You assume an infinite supply of 5c/kWh grid-based electricity would be available at night without the financial support of selling electricity during the day. More likely that night-time electricity would cost 50c/kWh to cover the costs of maintaining the grid and power distribution system and operating hundreds of GW of night-time-only generating capacity (polluting gas and coal-fired most likely since nuclear is scary).

    By the way, who’s handing out all these free roofs to fit rooftop solar power onto? I, like millions of my fellow less-well-off city-dwellers live in a (rented) block of flats. If the residents of these flats all clubbed together and paved the roof above us entirely with solar panels then we’d get, at noon on the best day of the year, maybe 4kW of solar electricity to share between the thirty or so residents under that roof, not counting the shop on the ground floor. On the worst day of the year, midwinter, the sun rises at 9 a.m. and sets around 3 p.m. and it’s usually overcast anyway while the sun only gets about 18 degrees above the horizon. Luckily for us we’ve got two nuclear reactors about 50km east of here which keep the lights on, carbon-free for 5c/kWh gross on the good days and the bad.

    Residential solar power requires a residence, preferably freestanding in its own grounds unshaded by other buildings. It’s a rich person’s toy (and by “rich” I mean someone who owns a property where they can fit residential solar power even if it’s mortgaged up to the hilt). Every time I see someone extolling the benefits of such and denigrating the grid generators I hear “fuck poor people”.

  80. 80
    Rob in CT says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    That’s a bit harsh, but it’s a decent point.

    I have a PV array on my roof. I have a 2500 square foot house on over 5 acres of land. Most people do not.

  81. 81
    Xboxershorts says:

    On a related note, Gov Kasich of Ohio was caught lying about and then covering up his administration’s efforts, coordinated with industry reps, to propagandize the extraction process of Shale Gas.

    He could be in trouble over this.

    https://content.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2014/02/kasich-administration-caught-fracking-conspiracy-cover

  82. 82
    The Pale Scot says:

    @Robert Sneddon: All I and M. Danes are saying is that external costs of power production need to be inputed into the equation. If you redirect the effects of carbon, particulate and sulfur pollution costs into the price of energy production then you can make good decisions about the production mix. The external costs of fossil, nuclear and fracking especially is being born by society at large instead of the buyers of that energy. You can hand wave about the social benefits of this but but I would prefer to let the free market set the conditions instead of corporate socialism. If there were fees incurred for water pollution, carbon, particulate and sulfur emissions the true costs of production would be evident. That situation would generate interest in lossless transmission and energy storage. Molten metal batteries could be a solution to storage. Presently it takes 100 BTUs generated to deliver 2 BTUs to lightbulb, the rest goes up the stack as heat or gets lost in the lines. solve those problems and you don’t have to generate the Megawatts currently generated.

    Saying that a specific type of energy production is affordable simply because the costs of asthma, lost water supplies, extreme weather etc isn’t included isn’t rational.

    And this should be done for national security if for no other reason. Centralized energy production is our Achille’s heel. Recreating the energy system isn’t going to happen overnite, but the sooner we start the better we’ll be able to deal with disruptions down the road. All the other posters are saying that the impediment is that de-centralization cuts off the big profit taking by corporations. But it isn’t the energy producers that are the big problem, it’s the financial community. Float bonds for a new power plant and millions are skimmed off the top. Providing financing for a countrywide network of small projects requires too much micro-management, they’re not interested.

    Ex. Deutsche Bank created a 400 million dollar investment fund specifically for American projects. because of lack of interest on Wall Street they redirected it to China, (If I find the prospectus I’ll give a link.

  83. 83
    The Pale Scot says:

    And someone is going to own the production sources, currently it’s corporate shareholders, what’s wrong with property owners getting a stake. Unless you’re advocating a huge redistribution of wealth. Nationalize the energy Co so that the “poor” get a dividend?

  84. 84
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @The Pale Scot: If you want the real environmental costs of gas and coal to be expressed in the bills people pay then get them to bend over and cough. Basically we, that is the human race in general need to stop digging up and pumping sequestered carbon from under the ground and burning it in the planetary atmosphere for energy NOW. Fifty years ago would have been a good start, if we had stopped ten years ago we might have survived. There is no dollar cost you can attach to coal, gas and oil burning that makes it worth doing, period. The problem is that those seams of coal, oil and gas are like thick layers of dollar bills, it would be crazy to leave them just, you know, sitting there wouldn’t it?

    With nuclear power all the dollar costs are in the bill you receive for the electricity it generates. All of them, from fuel production through operation, payment for construction of the nuclear plant, insurance for accidents, funding for final disposal of the waste and eventual decommissioning of the plant at end-of-life, no sequestered carbon emissions as CO2 during operation and it still only costs about 5 cents/kWh as long as you take the long view (reactor life in the 40 to 60 year region to pay off the loans to build it in the first place, a century for the latest units being constructed now).

    Decentralised energy production means no energy for poor and disadvantaged people other than maybe burning trash in barrels to keep warm (assuming they can find barrels and trash to burn). See the TVA for an example where Big Government centralised energy production brought the benefits of the 20th century to an area which was socially still in the 18th century at the time in part due to a lack of readily available energy to power factories, homes, schools, well pumps and all the other things we think of as civilisation.

    How would you implement small decentralised production in Manhattan, for example? Depopulate the place, move a few million people out into the fields around Albany perhaps, maybe then you could make it happen but that’s starting to look a bit like Year Zero in Cambodia or The Great Leap Forward in Maoist China. Sure if you personally own a few acres in Oregon you could do it, get a windmill kit from Sears, some solar panels from Amazon, storage batteries from Yuasa, spare parts delivered by Fedex and UPS when you need them and be a rugged individualist living “off the grid” as long as the money holds out.

    There’s a reason folks move to the Big City when they can, and it’s not for the decentralised energy production opportunities.

  85. 85
    The Pale Scot says:

    A) The Price–Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act caps total liability of a reactor at 350 million, the re-insurance of those policies are subsidized, Total liability is capped at 12 billion to paid collectively by all other reactor owners, like that would happen. 12 billion would cover 5 blocks of midtown Manhattan. Nuclear does NOT cover the cost of the liability insurance needed. But keep fucking that chicken dude.

    B) Decommissioning, The funds set up to pay for Decom at individual plants are not required to provide the total cost of the decommissioning, I wonder who’d get stuck with that bill? Note that these funds are not protected in case bankruptcy of the producer. So if there was a catastrophic accident, the corp goes bankrupt and any Decom funds set aside from other plants are available for distribution. Also, 18 reactors have been identified by the NRC has having shortfalls in their Decom funding. The financial types will do everything they can to redirect those funds to another purpose. From an investment point of view, I would view most US reactors decommissioning as an unfunded liability.

    C) You know that NYC has major power plants right in Manhattan?, that by most standards, it would be considered a local provider. Great place for a gas turbine. Density makes central generation obvious, it’s running the suburbs that are the problem.

    D) Stringing up 100’s of miles of transmission lines to support a rural grid is inefficient. There are huge gains to be had in transmission and storage efficiency that would require less total output.

    Of course nobody is suggesting that we shut down the grid tomorrow. The numbers show that the nuclear energy is a dead end. How? You can’t insure it against disaster. You won’t be able to insure the disposal site even if/when one is finally created. There is no ceiling on potential costs. Conversely the only ceiling on solar is the sun’s output. Already windows, roof tiles, paints, walls with glass fibers collection have been built and been tested, it’s not even first generation.

    As I said before, “let nuclear power go get sufficient liability insurance on the open market, the fact is there is no possible way for the power producer to have enough skin in the game to ensure that safety will be the paramount concern.” the total holdings of a corp is feather compared to paying off half a state for loss of property. the numbers don’t add up without huge subsidies from the gov.

    I’m done.

  86. 86
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @The Pale Scot: Why did the federal government have to cough up 50 billion bucks for the underinsured residents and businesses of New Jersey and New York after Sandy hit? Surely the folks who took the damage should have covered their own liabilities, yes? No? It’s not like it’s not happened before, with Katrina and a bunch of other big-name storms or the big earthquake in La Prieta. So it is with nuclear power, they keep the lights on, pay insurance premiums to cover billions of dollars of expenses in the very unlikely case there are problems and the government acts as agent of last resort, formalised by the Price-Anderson act. You will note that the Price-Anderson indemnity has never been triggered, ever. Meanwhile the rivers of West By God Virginia are full of chemicals and coal waste and somehow nobody’s to blame, everybody’s bankrupt and the government will have to clean up the mess. Same with the town of West in Texas, no insurance totally covers what happened there when that absolutely non-nuclear and wildly-underinsured chemical plant blew up. Etc. etc.

    Decommissioning — the US government enforces a levy on all electricity generated by nuclear power, I think it’s about 0.25cents/kWh, that goes into an individual plant’s decommissioning fund. They usually aim to have enough in the fund to take the plant apart to greenfield status after thirty years or so but most reactors will run for forty years, maybe more leaving money in the kitty. You may be confusing decommissioning with catastrophic accidents which are different but even in the case of the Three Mile Island reactor that went blooey they’ve spent less than a billion dollars on it, covered by insurance, and they plan to start dismantling it in the next decade or so.

    A typical decommissioning process costs about 300-500 million bucks over a period of ten to twenty years, or much longer depending on the procedure chosen. British reactors, for example, are being decommissioned under the Safstor process — shut down the reactor, remove the fuel, demolish the ancillary buildings and leave the reactor to “cool down” for sixty to eighty years. After that it’s a conventional demolition job as there is practically no radioactive material left due to the convenient fact of radioactive decay. Costs about the same over a longer period and the escrow money sits in the bank garnering interest all the way.

    NYC has gas-fired power plants? Great! Where do they get the gas from? How far is it transported to run them? What do they do with the CO2 they emit? If we’re talking decentralised power then that means everything is sourced locally and the waste CO2 dealt with locally too, right? No? Or is this a case of generate locally, pollute globally?

    The coal and gas-burning power generating business doesn’t have skin in the CO2 game. They don’t care because the effects of what they do are overridden by the money they make now, in the next quarter-year figures. Gas is cheap, mind-bogglingly cheap right now and coal only slightly less so — gas-generated electricity is coming in at about 3 cents/kWh producing about 3 million tonnes of CO2 per GW/year. That’s forced down the price of coal to about $35 per tonne shipped in from Australia and its electricity cost is about 5 cents/kWh and 7 million tonnes of CO2 per GW/year. Nuclear, paying for everything from mining through processing and disposal of waste and decommissioning comes in at about the same coat as coal with 0 tonnes of CO2 per GW/year. But it’s SCARY.

  87. 87
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    Fracking fluids have two different types of components – one to make the fluid more viscous (to suspend the sand or carbide grains they use to prop the cracks open after they relieve the pressure). The second is surfactants to make the surface tension lower so the fracking fluid will spread easier in the cracks. But the fracking fluids will mobilize the stuff in the formation (that’s the point, after all).

    Seismic incidents are linked more with deep-welling of the wastewater generated than with the actual fracking. Drillers/wildcatters do the fracking cycles slowly to get more penetration into the rock. But they inject the wastewater quickly.

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