Will “Pandora’s Promise” convince us that nuclear is the answer?

This Saturday night I’ll be seeing the new pro-nuclear movie Pandora’s Promise at Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco.  Afterwards, Climate One (part of the Commonwealth Club) will sponsor a conversation about the movie between me and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute (one of the environmentalists turned nuclear advocates who stars in the movie).  I’m hoping the movie isn’t a quasi-religious rant about how nuclear is cost competitive with fossil fuels (it isn’t…yet) and can easily eliminate all global greenhouse gas emissions (it can’t….yet).  What we need is a balanced conversation that recognizes how incredibly cheap fossil fuels are likely to remain and how difficult (and necessary) it is to get the developed and developing world to switch to alternatives.  Nuclear may turn out to be the alternative that can do that, and it should be part of the discussion, but without government intervention none of the alternatives beats fossil fuels (…yet).  Andrew Revkin had a piece on his NYT blog about the movie and it got written up in most major papers today.  Here are the LA Times and Washington Post reviews.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Will “Pandora’s Promise” convince us that nuclear is the answer?

  1. Karen Street says:

    If the discussion is posted online, please post URL.

  2. jmdesp says:

    They are many claims that without the incredible regulatory burden nuclear would definitively be competitive with fossils, including shale gas. Vogtle claims nuclear can generate power at about $1/mmBtu see http://www.power-eng.com/articles/2013/06/fanning-disappointed-in-does-modified-terms-for-vogtle-loan.html They by the way still didn’t take the loan guarantee and could end up not using it.

    And when talking about construction costs, recent modern IGCC coal plant aren’t anything like cheap at all, at $3.42 billions for a 582 MW unit : http://www.power-eng.com/articles/2013/04/mississippi-power-requests-600mn-for-kemper-county-igcc-plant.html
    This is definitively in the same ballpark as the per MW construction cost for Flamanville in France or Olkiluoto in Finland.

    It’s foremost all the regulatory cost that increase the bill to build and to run nuclear plant. Estimates are that the Kewaunee unit had around 135 millions of fixed costs before generating the first kWh, but a majority came from regulation, not from actual difficulties of operating the plant (for obvious reasons, most of the day to day operation of a nuclear plant is fully automated). Nuclear must pay the NRC to be regulated, a fixed cost that doesn’t depend on the size of the unit (so is very expensive for a smaller unit like Kewaunee). But in addition to the actual license cost, there’s the fact that a lot of money must be paid to maintain employee aware of every aspect of the license, on which improvements are also regularly done, so that’s another cost that you can not bypass if you stop generating. Kewaunee had around 600 employees not because this was really required, but because the NRC would impose multiple redundancies, constant non automated measurement and check, and that all the employees required for that would have to stay on site. According to the people involved, none of this really increases security.

    Another consequence of this regulation is that it’s basically impossible to mothball a nuclear plant in the US. If you do, either you continue to pay the license anyway, or you will need to restart the process from scratch if you decide to restart it. But the license delivery or renewal delays are counted in years, and not just 2 or 3, some have taken 6 years already. And getting a new license from scratch means with the up-to-date requirement, many of which probably did not exist when the plant was built, which means that some old units just are fully incompatible with them. As a result, restarting a shut-downed NPP has a cost that runs in the billions of dollar, and about the only one where this was done, Browns Ferry, might actually still have had the license since they was several reactors on the same site, and the others were not closed.

    We could do a follow-up to Pandora’s Promise about the costs, but until today, I very rarely saw environmentalists pretending costs were the main repellent for them when deciding which option to select, and it made sense for Pandora’s Promise to focus instead about the perceived risks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s