Nuclear’s Demise Continues: Another Huge Project Cancelled

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Billions in cost overruns. Years behind schedule. Westinghouse bankruptcy didn’t help.

By Leonard Hyman and Bill Tilles,

On July 31, SCANA Corp., a South Carolina utility and its construction partner, Santee Cooper, the state power authority, announced separately, their decisions to cancel the twin unit V.C. Summer nuclear project in Jenkinsville, SC.

In terms of chronology, Santee Cooper’s board of directors met on July 31 to review the revised estimates for the completion for the now ill-fated nuclear project. (Santee Cooper owns 45% of the project and SCANA the rest.) According to local press reports, Santee Cooper’s board was informed that it would require an additional $11.4 billion to complete the nuclear project for a total project cost of $25 billion, which would bring the project’s cost estimate up 75% from the original estimate when the project was initiated, and the completion date for in service would be delayed by five years. As a result, the Santee Cooper board voted unanimously to cancel the nuclear project.

Finding that its partner in this vast nuclear construction project was backing out, SCANA’s board of directors was faced with one of three decisions:

  1. Go it alone and complete the project as sole owner,
  2. Complete unit 2 and cancel unit 3 and construct a gas-fired plant to make up for the loss in generating capability, or
  3. Follow its partner’s lead and cancel the entire project. The board chose the third option.

This decision follows an announcement by Toshiba, owner of bankrupt Westinghouse, which was building the plants, that it would make a final payment to Santee Cooper and SCANA of $2 billion to cover its guarantees on the project, an amount significantly below the $11.4 billion required to complete the project.

Westinghouse had originally guaranteed a fixed price for V.C. Summer (as well as for Southern Company’s Vogtle nuclear project in Georgia). Both projects used Westinghouse’s AP 1000 reactor design. The fixed price guarantees for both projects, which seemed like an aggressive move back in 2007, led to Westinghouse’s bankruptcy filing. So count the problems at Summer as fallout from the Westinghouse bankruptcy. Guarantees only have value if the guarantor has the assets to meet the obligations.

In the press release, SCANA reaffirmed earnings guidance and a long term earnings growth rate of 2-4%. The press release made no mention of dividend policy. The nuclear project represents one quarter of SCANA’s assets. Roughly 18% of the electric bill and two thirds of earnings are accounted for by consumer payments on capital invested in Summer.

The focus now shifts to SCANA’s balance sheet with respect to write-offs for this now abandoned project and the appropriate “sharing” of costs between ratepayers and shareholders. We expect that the bond rating agencies will soon have something to say on this.

The announcement may place enormous pressure on Southern Company, which plans its own cost review of the Vogtle nuclear project for next month.

Finally, we continue to believe that the problem with new nuclear (small modular units excepted) power plants is not that they generate electricity with nuclear fission. The difficulty is economic. The nuclear units are expensive, base load generating units in a world where production of electricity is becoming less expensive and increasingly decentralized. Base load power plants (and especially nuclear ones) are, in general, must-run, inflexible price takers. Going forward, there will be less need for those facilities regardless of how they are fueled.

Furthermore, the builder of a nuclear plant must bet an enormous sum on the need for electricity a decade hence, when the plant is completed. Given the uncertainty in power demand and prices, that is a gamble uncompensated in the regulatory process. Southern Company, it’s your move now. By Leonard Hyman and Bill Tilles,

Behind the hype, shale drillers have entered a vicious circle. Read…  Are More Bankruptcies Next for US Shale Oil Drillers?

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  55 comments for “Nuclear’s Demise Continues: Another Huge Project Cancelled

  1. Aug 3, 2017 at 11:08 am

    In April of 2015 the Energy Reality Project put out numbers that for the nation to go to a mix, 50/50, of wind and solar would cost $29 trillion with a footprint the size of Indiana or just using the SW, concentrated solar would cost $18 trillion and a footprint the size of W. Virginia.. Their solution was the AP-1000 costing $3 trillion on a few sq. miles of land. They never figured in bankruptcy.. The solution is not these giant investor owned wind or solar farms but in individual or neighborhood owned projects. That could be a reality but it won’t happen as long as wealthy elites control our power needs and have the means to ram through legislation making it difficult to impossible for the homeowner to become their own power source. . The key to real freedom is cheap homeowner owned power and baring that, because not all homes would be capable of being producers, then genuine people owned public power using renewables.. If that ever happens we would see actual deflation that for the first time would be a benefit to regular folks.. The power elites, not so much..

    • TJ Martin
      Aug 3, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      I agree with most of what you say albeit with a minor correction ;

      The only viable key to real energy freedom is the very key no one is willing to use . That being …


      As in ;

      Less energy usage and dependency – smaller more efficient homes – shorter commutes or using public transportation – less electronic devices invading our homes – less conspicuous consumption – less lights left on solely for marketing/advertising purposes in city/urban areas – a heel of a lot less Server Farm / hotels using as much electricity per facility as a small city – etc – et all – Less Less Less .. Period !

      Every and any other answer being nothing more than Smoke & Mirrors – Con Jobs – Alice’s Rabbit Hole – Delusional Pie in the Sky thinking – or Red Herrings – more often than not solely in the name of the almighty dollar/pound/euro… consequences be damned

      • Kent
        Aug 3, 2017 at 4:19 pm

        +1. I’ve reduced my personal (and family) energy consumption by 50% over the last 5 years. With an actual improvement in the standard of living. I’ll take off another 50% in the next 5. At that point, a household solar/battery system will be inexpensive enough to be worthwhile.

      • alex in san jose
        Aug 3, 2017 at 4:22 pm

        TJ – I’m sure not a nuclear surgeon but I can’t be convinced nuclear has ever produced net positive power. Yeah, the plants run tickety-boo when everything’s right but factoring in obtaining and purifying the fuel, the water use for cooling, all the myriad of energy inputs to get that nice clean nuclear power, I’m not just sure it’s ever broken even.

        LESS is indeed the idea. I have a bike. I walk. I take public transpo. I have absolutely no qualms about renting a car, or even a large truck, if I need to but for the past 5+ years I haven’t had to.

        It’s simple! Just become a cheap-ass bastard.

        I’m looking at producing something, out of wood mostly, to sell. I’ve been raring to just join TechShop to use all of their nice power tools. but … I’m a cheap-ass bastard and will hack out at least the first several using good old hand-powered tools. And if it looks like it will go well, *then* join TechShop, but I’ll upgrade first to just getting a bike trailer to haul finished parts with, and people will think, “Oh, look at that “green” entrepreneur!” but nope, just bein’ a cheap-ass bastard here.

        • Rob JM
          Aug 4, 2017 at 1:10 am

          France generates allmost all it base load with nuclear. Nothing dogey about it. Think of it as energy stored from a solar supernova. Hydrocarbon fuels are just stored sunlight after all!

      • Old Engineer
        Aug 3, 2017 at 4:33 pm

        The increased efficiency standards on homes and appliances, especially on heat pumps (reverse cycle air conditioners used for cooling and heating in the south), and a dramatic conversion by many people to gas on demand hot water heaters has reduced the need for electricity dramatically here in north Alabama despite population growth and growth in new home sizes over the last 10 years. The TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority, the supplier of bulk electricity to most systems in this area) recently cancelled (again) a nuclear power plant it has been trying to build for 30 years. This was after it built a high efficiency gas plant which it sold off with a commitment to buy the output to get the cash to build the nuke.
        Huntsville Utilities has struggled with declining revenues, despite very large customer growth and a dramatic growth in home size. A large (and increasing) cost of salaries and pensions is squeezing them, not electricity costs. They are using more and contractors which reduces the people paying into the pension plan so that problem is getting worse. They recently proposed an inverse charge system where people who used less would pay dramatically more. It was. nixed, for now, but I am sure it will come back.
        But, all of this reduction in generation requirement is with almost no renewable energy generation (other than TVA’s hydroelectric production, which hasn’t grown much in 50 years). It has come solely through efficiency and conversion to natural gas on demand hot water heaters.

      • Maximus Minimus
        Aug 3, 2017 at 6:21 pm

        If only the “greens” could abandon their globe trotting, big house lifestyle, everybody else would surely follow. Have you ever met a true green as opposed to a much more common a-la-carte greens?

      • Raymond C. Rogers
        Aug 3, 2017 at 11:59 pm

        Oh you mean like Al Gore’s home?

      • Aug 4, 2017 at 2:39 pm

        There you go!

    • Gregg Armstrong
      Aug 4, 2017 at 7:53 am

      The United States uses approximately 18.9 million barrels of oil per day (~20 gallons gasoline, ~11 gallons diesel fuel/home heating oil, ~4 gallons jet fuel, and miscellaneous other products). The energy contained in a barrel of oil is 6.1 G Joules (HIgher Heating Value) or 5.4 GJ (Lower HV).

      Using the higher heating value for a barrel of oil:

      18.9E6 barrels per day X 6.1E9 Joules/barrel (HHV) =
      1.15E17 Joules/day / (3600s/hr) = 3.2E12 (J/s)-hours/day =
      3.2E12 W-hrs/day = 3.2E3 GW-hrs/day

      That’s the energy consumed at the customers point of usage! It DOES NOT include power plant energy conversion efficiency from whatever energy source, transmission line losses, up/down voltage conversion losses, etc.!

      That’s equivalent to ~3,200 1 GW power plants at the customer’s point of usage!

      Using the lower heating value:

      18.9E6 barrels per day X 5.4E9 Joules/barrel (LHV) =
      1.02E17 Joules/day / (3600s/hr) = 2.84E12 (J/s)-hours/day =
      2.84E12 W-hrs/day = 2.84E3 GW-hrs/day

      That’s the energy consumed at the customers point of usage! It DOES NOT include power plant energy conversion efficiency from whatever energy source, transmission line losses, up/down voltage conversion losses, etc.!

      That’s equivalent to ~2,840 1 GW power plants at the customer’s point of usage!

      Better start building lots of electricity generating capacity if you really think that electricity can replace oil especially in the transportation sector (forget about electrifying air transportation).

  2. Roger Beesley
    Aug 3, 2017 at 11:22 am

    “Nuclear’s Demise Continues”. No, not by a long shot, there are nuclear projects in progress all over the world. What it does illustrate is that it is becoming difficult to get anything done in the United States.

    • TJ Martin
      Aug 3, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      ” there are nuclear projects in progress all over the world ”

      No Mr Beesley actually there are not .

      And … if you’d bother read the article … not to mention the hundreds of articles pertaining to nuclear energy over the past twenty years what this illustrates is the reality that nuclear is excessively ( and prohibitively ) expensive – profitability once completed is questionable at best – that the infrastructure for nuclear despite having been around for decades is still dangerously ‘ Not Ready for Primetime ‘ – Along with the fact that the building of new nuclear plants across the entire planet have been on the decline since Chernobyl decreasing even further since the Fukushima disaster who’s consequences are still being felt to this day with many projects having been or in the process of being … canceled

      The simple fact is … the only ones still trying to promote nuclear are those in a position ( contractors , hard and software manufactures , goods and materials providers etc and the shareholders thereof ) to profit from the building of nuclear facilities . Not the power companies etc .

      And let me tell you .. having lived in VT under the constant cloud of Vermont Yankee and its hundreds of ‘ near misses ‘ which we in VT heard about on almost a monthly basis despite the news not traveling beyond the confines of VT I for one will never chose to live within 500 miles of a nuclear plant ever again .. nor should anyone else .

      Thats what this and 90% of all articles across the globe as well as across the aisles illustrates when it comes to the complex and convoluted with more consequences than benefits subject of nuclear energy .

      or …

      To put it in simplistic and idiomatic terms … as with every other form of energy .. when it comes to nuclear … THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH … period !

      As for things being more difficult here in the US ? That is a laughable comment verging on urban myth rapidly losing traction by the day .. especially to those of us Yanks that have lived in other countries for any period of time . More difficult my lily white posterior !

      • Roger Beesley
        Aug 3, 2017 at 3:31 pm

        There are currently 440 nuclear reactors worldwide supplying approximately 11% of the world’s electricity. There are 60 new sites under construction today. There are new designs being developed including SMRs for distributed generation, these designs are completely safe.
        You may wish to visit Pickering, Ontario, a few miles east of Toronto, where there are 8 nuclear reactors, and housing, schools, etc. built right up to the gates, I lived there for years without the slightest concern. The fact is that if we are to reduce our consumption of carbon fuels we will have to go nuclear, that is of course if we wish to avoid regressing to the living conditions of the 1700s.
        How many years was the XL pipeline in permitting? And still far from construction even though it follows existing pipeline routes,
        and presents no danger to the general population.

        • Aug 3, 2017 at 7:22 pm

          My in-laws have lived in a northern suburb of Tokyo for decades without, as you say, “the slightest concern.” Until March 11, 2011.

        • Bill Tilles
          Aug 4, 2017 at 5:13 am

          Mr Beesley you’re right re worldwide nuclear construction. Westinghouse/Toshiba with their AP1000 and France’s EDF with its even larger EPR reactor design have both experienced huge cost overruns and delays. However the South Koreans, Chinese and Russians continue to pursue new nuclear both domestically and for export.
          However, several quibbles. First, the SMRs you refer to are relatively passive (they can shut down safely in the event of complete loss of power) not “completely safe”, whatever that means. Second, the NuScale SMR project here in the US contemplates 4 side by side 150 mw reactors for a 600 mw total, about half the size of a conventional base load piwer plant. This is only “distributed” generation if you’re a an aluminum smelter or a large steel mill working three shifts.

        • TJ Martin
          Aug 4, 2017 at 10:02 am

          Actually Mr Beesley your numbers when it comes to new reactors under construction are somewhat off … information from less than reliable sources

          As for permitting . What a thought . Taking environmental concerns , cost vs benefits , land ownership issues etc under consideration before undertaking a ludicrous project that is not needed and will provide no long term benefits in light of the short term jobs on offer / current oil glut / low oil prices what so ever to those of us ( tax payers ) that will be underwriting it . Golly gee .. what a horrible restrictive country we live in . Thinking before we act .

          As for the no danger to the general population myth ? Try telling that to the residents of Three Mile Island , Chernobyl etc .. not to mention the locals living around many if not most of our ( US ) reactors facing monthly if not weekly near misses .

          @Wolf – A reminder as to your in-laws .. by nature as well as by culture the Japanese hardly ever question the actions of their government … never mind express concerns . A fact that you should know as well if not better than I do . And how do I know that you may ask ? In the 70’s my roommate at university was a Matsushita ( Panasonic ) who indoctrinated me in the ways of the Japanese * … to the level that when a hiatus was needed from my vocation/avocation at the height of the Japanese economy I took a shot detour as a prominent consultant and advisor to US businesses with the cultural etc aspects of dealing with the Japanese

          * And yes Wolf .. Sun Tzu’s ” The Art of War ” holds a prominent place on my bookshelf as well as my psyche .. as it should yours . hint hint .

        • Aug 4, 2017 at 10:22 am

          Sun Tzu is on my shelves of dead trees gathering dust :-)

          BTW, Sun Tzu was Chinese, not Japanese.

      • Nicko2
        Aug 3, 2017 at 6:11 pm

        20 under construction in China, another dozen scatter around Asia and Middle East. Nuclear has a future, just not in the USA apparently.

      • r cohn
        Aug 3, 2017 at 8:00 pm

        According to the below link there are currently 440 nuclear power plants in the world with over 60 plants under construction .
        Interestingly France which depends on nuclear for ~ %75 of its power expects to close down 17 nuclear plants by 2025.

        • France
          Aug 4, 2017 at 2:58 am

          France also seems to be set on aggressively moving away from diesel and petroleum fuels. I’m curious to see if electric/solar/wind/geothermal will really be able to fill the gaps.
          I do not understand the science involved, but I am skeptical that in the short run societies can simultaneously abandon nuclear and oil, considering that both have high net energy gains.

      • roddy6667
        Aug 4, 2017 at 5:19 am

        China has 20 plants under construction. Fukushima was a disaster because it is built in a very active earthquake zone and in a known tsunami zone. These problems are easy to avoid.
        Nuclear is not looking at a demise.

    • Krallmann Georg
      Aug 3, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Well, here in mainland Europe, we also are quitting nuclear. Germany will shut down the nuclear power plants and in Switzerland the new “energy strategy” has been approved by the voters. Even the French are contemplating shutting down the older power plants.

      On paper, the state subsidized solar and wind power stuff looks great. With the help of the current power plants, outages can be avoided for the next 10 – 20 years. However, by then even the most “enlightened” politician will learn that there is no alternative to nuclear power. It really is naive to say today “lets get rid of nuclear because new technologies will emerge”.

      What both, politicians and voters, forget is that it takes some 15 years at least to build a new nuclear power plant.

      This means cold showers for the next generation. Fortunately, it won’t be my problem anymore. Yet, it tells us a lot about the intelligence of young “tech savvy” people (who are the most ardent nuclear power “enemies”).

      Sooner or later, it will be accepted that nuclear power not only is the best but also the safest (and cleanest) alternative.

      And “new technologies”: Let’s forget about that. When was the last “new technology” invented? Cannot even remember. Or can a new iPhone socket be considered as new technology?

      Brave new world.

      • Maximus Minimus
        Aug 3, 2017 at 6:38 pm

        Agree. A small crisis will be a big revelation for “progressives” in more than one respect.

        • Aug 3, 2017 at 11:05 pm

          Would you call Fukushima a small crisis? Red states like Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas are getting a significant percentage of their power from wind as is Calif. This has nothing to do with being “progressive” but actual economics..

      • Hiho
        Aug 4, 2017 at 2:10 am

        Safest? By no means.

        True that it is highly unlikely to have an accident, but once you have it, it is devastating. What is the cost of fukushima?

        The truth is that nuclear energy is not profitable and never will be, in spite of trillions of dollars, rubles, pounds, francs, yens and euros having been dropped there with nothing to show for it.

        in comparison, solar and wind power are catching up, with a ridiculous amount of money invested (compared to nuclear power).

        The future is not nuclear.

        By the way, who is going to pay for the storage of nuclear waste? (It is only a few hundres years), have these costs been incorporated on the total cost of a nuclear kwh? Do you know what things are hidden behind the uranium mining and refining process? What is the cost of fukushima?

        • DV
          Aug 4, 2017 at 8:39 am

          Why is Japan then putting its nuclear reacors back on line. It is because burning LNG is much more costlier. And Japan is very good at solar and wind, but it is simly not enough.

          well in the US there are large swathes of darren land, where you can do a lot of things with a lot of damage that few would notice – frack gas, mine coal, install wind or solar farms. In terms of land availability the US is probably best suited for renewables. In some places it makes a lot of economic sense, while in others it does not. Most countries simply do not have enough land for that. But because solar and wind are intermittent sources, you need a lot of back-up (that is excess capacity). Whether it is storage like batteries or gas-fired plants that sit idle most of the time. That is another “hidden” cost of renewables – you have to be build essentially parallel infrastructure to support renewables if they go above 40% of the total.

        • Aug 4, 2017 at 10:11 am

          The future of nuclear power in Japan is VERY uncertain. Currently only 4 reactors (out of 54) are operating. There is huge opposition to bringing plants back on line. Renewables and energy conservation have taken off big time. They’re unlike to ever build another nuclear power plant. The discussion today is about how many of the shut-down reactors to bring back online, if any.

          Here’s a good article on this issue:

          Also, the import price of LNG paid by Japan has collapsed by over 50% over the past five years. There is a global LNG glut, and that makes the economics of bringing back those old nukes even more iffy.

        • Bryan
          Aug 7, 2017 at 3:55 pm

          Interestingly enough the US government has already collected plenty to “pay for the cost of nuclear waste” through the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982-

          From 1982 to 2014, All nuclear generating utilities had to pay into this fund which ” received $750 million in fee revenues each year and had an unspent balance of $31 billion as of 2014, with $1.3 billion per year of income from interest. However (according to the Draft Report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future), actions by both Congress and the Executive Branch have made the money in the fund effectively inaccessible to serving its original purpose.”

          Who paid for it? Ratepayers- so when you complain about high prices for nuclear, realize that the cost has been factored in already, but marvel at the efficiency of our government inaction.

          Instead of putting all the waste in one centrally monitored location, maintained by the government and protected by the military, it’s way better to sit around talking about it and let over 100 commercial utilities with private security companies maintain it in steel containers, and pass the costs onto the ratepayers a second time while the government deliberates based on political wind rather than scientific conclusions (all the while collecting even more interest on that $31 billion dollars) Perhaps one can just ask to US government to you know, use the money that they have to do exactly what they said they would do.

      • DV
        Aug 4, 2017 at 6:13 am

        Right to the point. Europe’s energy policy has been inconsistent at best. They first went nuclear, then decided that they should use “clean” gas; then when gas prices spiked, they switched to “dirty” coal and now they are quitting nuclear (not all of them, UK still want to go ahead with it Hinkley Point project and Finland and Hungary still go ahead with their projects based on Russian design) and switching to “renewables”? subsudizing a lot of excess capacity build. Super-efficient gas plants built just a few years ago are being shut down and the Swiss hydro power is priced out of the market! But German consumers get the highest rates in the world. And in heating they are switching from gas to electricity. This is really crazy. The renewable will need to be subsidized all the way as before all of them are deployed the early one will need to be “redeveloped”.

        As to the US, it is plain simple. The US nuclear industry has just fallen behind to the point that it has no viable technology either in fuel, or in reactor design. New reactors have not been built in the US for decades, the US companies (as European ones) simply lost all expertise. So if 3 gen Russian design reactor costs about 3.5-4 billion to build, the Western design (Areva, e.g.) is twice as expensive. Hinkley Point estimated cost is 25 billion for 2 reactors – and not dollars, but pounds.

        When the Western politicians finally realize that nuclear is essential, it is going to be too late. The rest of the world will be hundreds of years ahead. After all, you can invest in energy efficiency and alike, but the progress of the mandkind has always been measured in the increases in per capita consumption of energy. This time around you do not have smoking stacks, but what you have is power-hungry data centers (estimated to account for 1/3 of the total power consumption in the developed countries), ACs, projected millions of electric cars, and so much touted 3D printing that requires a lot of energy to run along with a few other things like electrified publi transport…

        The current excess in capacity of illusive…

      • B Tilles
        Aug 4, 2017 at 2:00 pm

        New technologies? How about the internet?

  3. Aug 3, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Do you think it’s coincidence that Westinghouse which designed the Fukushima reactors declared bankruptcy?

    • Bryan
      Aug 3, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      Considering that the Reactors at Fukushima were designed by General Electric in the 1960’s, NOT Westinghouse, then yes.

    • Bill Tilles
      Aug 4, 2017 at 5:20 am

      The Fukushima Daichi reactors were General Electric BWRs. 1960’s vintage except for the smaller unit one and the larger, newer unit 6. Although Westinghouse’s parent, Toshiba, was a subcontractor on the original project (but this was before they actually owned Westinghouse).

  4. Thor's Hammer
    Aug 3, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Light Water Reactors (AKA nuclear power plants) were never designed to produce electricity “too cheap to meter.” The idea of using a highly concentrated and radioactive energy source to boil water which must be maintained at extreme pressures to avoid flashing off as a hydrogen explosion is an engineering nightmare beyond belief. The fact that there have been so few Fukushimas is actually a credit to the redundancy that the industry had to incorporate into the designs in order for them to function at all.

    The purpose of conventional nuclear power is actually three fold:
    1- Create the maxim construction cost per plant and hence maximize design fees and kickbacks.
    2- Create a continual revenue stream for the life of the plant by holding a monopoly in the production of zirconium clad fuel rods.
    3- Provide bomb making materials and political cover for the War Industry.

    In order for the current nuclear industry to succeed it had to prevent the development of alternatives like the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor that are inherently much safer and more economical to build. Politics trumps engineering every time.

    The author seems to believe that the need for base load electricity is becoming an artifact of the ancient days before everybody had a smart phone. After all, natural gas produced by fracking an exponentially growing number of less and less productive wells is “more flexible in response to uncertain demand.” Or perhaps he thinks that everyone will have a lithium ion Powerwall and a Tesla in their garage and no longer be connected to the grid? Great idea if lithium and capital were infinite—.

    • alex in san jose
      Aug 3, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      I’m all about teh fusion power, baby! Big ol’ fusion reactor running relatively safely 93 million miles away, sure once in a while it spits a flare at us but that’s about the worst that can happen, not poisoning the whole Pacific Ocean or half of Europe.

    • Maximus Minimus
      Aug 3, 2017 at 11:40 pm

      Just my line of thinking: there is no easy solution to overpopulation and overconsumption in a finite planet. The only options left are bad or worse.

    • George McDuffee
      Aug 9, 2017 at 5:11 pm

      Very good suggestion to consider LFTR/MSTR [liquid fluoride thorium reactor / molten salt thorium reactor] technology.

      This technology can “dispose” of the so-called spent fuel rods [which still have >99.5% of their nuclear energy remaining] by using these as fuel, so can be legitimatly funded using the 31 or so billion dollars in the nuclear waste disposal fund.

      Both the PRC and India are going all in to develop LFTR/MSTR as they have considerable domestic thorium but limited uranium.

      One of the most compelling reasons for developing a rail transportable LFTR is to reactivate the many idle municipal power plants. The LFTR has a much higher operating temperature [c. 700c] so can directly replace most fossil fueled boilers. The power generating turbines and cooling towers are already in existence. Local power generation significantly reduces the need for power grid capacity.

      In 2012 I wrote a somewhat lengthy screed to my legislators on LFTR/MSTR which you may find of interest. FWIW: I did not receive any replies.


  5. Bookdoc
    Aug 3, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    Maybe we ought to let the US Navy design our nuclear systems. They’ve been running nuclear for years utilizing trained 18-24 year olds to run them (my daughter was one of them). They have worked just fine.

    • Robert
      Aug 3, 2017 at 3:59 pm

      A good suggestion. And find out why France, which derives 40% of their energy from nukes, manages to stay out of the news. The issue in Japan was not so much the design as much as the lack of wisdom locating plants in an earthquake-prone area, and siting cooling facilities right where the attendant tsunamis would wipe them out. Germany, I believe (which is abandoning nuclear despite solar’s having proven uneconomical due to its latitude), led the way in developing nuclear fuels which would not melt down or generate explosive hydrogen with a loss of coolant, and other safer types of fuel cells are in constant development. And when the alternative is pea-soup choking smog, asthma and mercury poisoning, as in China, the idea of clear skies and a little fresh air is a stimulant to safer nuclear development

      • Bill Tilles
        Aug 4, 2017 at 5:58 am

        Hi Robert. Regrettably France’s nuclear programme has not been able to stay out of the news. EDF’s new reactor design, the EPR, has been experiencing considerable cost overruns, in service delays as well (as reactor vessel fabrication issues at Areva) at Flamanville and Olkiluoto.

    • Kent
      Aug 3, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      Good point. The fundamental problem with nuke plants is that you cannot guarantee a plant won’t explode/melt down at some point. Which is why they are so expensive: the need for mass amounts of redundancy.

      The navy, I believe, does well because the people working in the subs/air-craft carriers know that they are absolutely going to die if they don’t do their jobs perfectly every day. It’s a sobering thought.

      I think the French also do a decent job because their nuclear facilities are managed with a great deal of discipline by the federal government. And France is not subject to seismic events. In the USA, having privately-owned, for profit corporations managing nuclear plants is insane. Their is never a guarantee the CEO isn’t willing to sacrifice the local town for his own income potential.

      • Rob JM
        Aug 4, 2017 at 1:35 am

        Which is why liquid molten salt thorium reactors are so exciting as they are inherently safe as the reaction chamber only contains just enough fuel to sustain the fission reaction and the reaction slows down if it overheats. Then they also produce 100 times less waste. Cant be used for nuclear weapons either. Still some engineering issues to overcome with the fuel separation process and the joys or running highly corrosive HF solvent.

    • Bryan
      Aug 3, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      The Navy itself doesn’t design nuclear reactors, they have contractors, such as Bettis Atomic Power Laboratories and Knolls Atomic Power Laboratories which design them.

      Incidentally, Bettis Labs was owned and operated by Westinghouse from it’s creation in 1949 until 1998. In that time it designed the worlds first Nuclear Submarine Reactors, first Aircraft carriers reactors, all the nuclear cruiser’s reactors, and the majority of designs for the next several generations of submarine and surface reactors for several decades.

      In fact, if your daughter served on a Nimitz class nuclear carrier, she operated an A4W Reactor, the “W” being for Westinghouse.

      It’s not the design of the AP1000 that’s dragged this project on

    • Thor's Hammer
      Aug 3, 2017 at 5:33 pm

      Bookdoc, I agree the Navy nuclear reactors “work just fine” most of the time. Compared to civilian nuclear power they generate a minuscule amount of energy. And on a system-wide accident/output basis I suspect the Navy has a worse record than civilian nuclear power.

      Of course the Navy should be able to cover all eventualities considering the trillion dollar a year subsidy that the Dept. of War receives for the Air
      Force, Army, Marines and Navy to fight over.

      None of which changes the fact that light water reactors are a Rube Goldberg nightmare cobbled together for all the wrong reasons. “Let’s store our spent fuel rods (that still have 95% of the original radioactivity) in swimming pools on top of the reactor so it will be easier to change them out.” “And put our back-up generators where they will statistically be flooded every 100 years rather than further up the hill.” “Hydrogen explosion during melt-down?” “Everybody knows that Westinghouse reactors don’t melt down—“

  6. raxadian
    Aug 3, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Since building a nuclear plant takes a decade minimun and that’s when the contruction actually starts, it was a very tempting scam to do, don’t you think?

    Texas should be the wind power state already, why it is not?

    • Aug 3, 2017 at 11:53 pm

      Texas gets over 22% of their electric needs, 36 mwh, as of April this year.

      • raxadian
        Aug 4, 2017 at 12:57 am

        The wind power in texas could be easily doubled if most homeowners installed wind turbines.

      • Bill Tilles
        Aug 4, 2017 at 5:31 am

        Slight Quibble: According to the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas it was 23% in Q1 2017 up from 18% in 2015.

  7. Richard
    Aug 3, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    There are 56 nuclear reactors under construction outside the US, mostly in Asia. Base Load units ARE needed since load never goes to zero even late at night, and you need something to cover when renewables and run of river hydro (usually used for peaking) aren’t available. Storage (other than hydro pumped storage) currently not feasible, and not likely going to be for a long time (decades). Do you really think trying to move transport to electricity (calculate the energy required) is feasible without a huge increase in reliable generation and transmission capability?

    • Bill Tilles
      Aug 4, 2017 at 5:47 am

      Hi Richard. You’re right of course. Power demand never goes to zero even at night. But the cost to operate a large base load electrical generating unit is often negative (i.e. they lose money) during periods of slack demand because they lack the flexibility to shut down in response.
      But you do raise an interesting point regarding a battery powered transportation system. Connect all those batteries together and you have a small, distributed power plant or a microgrid.

  8. billyboy
    Aug 4, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Fission Nuclear energy is obviously very dangerous. ( Fukushima, Chernobyl, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania} It is also the most expensive of ALL sources of energy. If a mistake is made in oil ( Deepwater Horizon), or coal (cave-ins, very rare these day), solar (fried birds in the desert), and wind turbines (again, more birds), these can be fixed. However, with Nuclear, you are talking decades of uninhabited large areas of land and a lot of uncertainty of the long term damage in the case of many forms of cancer.

    That idiot that brags of France 50 reactors. ALL of them need to be fixed or replaced. They are ancient. Also, there is a genuine concern in France about a terrorist attack in one of these reactors.

    Wake up!

  9. George McDuffee
    Aug 9, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Wolf Richter
    Aug 4, 2017 at 10:22 am
    Sun Tzu is on my shelves of dead trees gathering dust :-)

    BTW, Sun Tzu was Chinese, not Japanese.
    Indeed. Try

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