Tuesday, 3 June 2008

:: Nuclear energy, the sequel, ... the "Ishtar" of power generation. By Joseph Romm
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Nuclear power ........too expensive.......Joe RommUpdated at 6:50 PM
Jun. 02, 2008 | No nuclear power plants have been ordered in this country for three decades. Once touted as "too cheap to meter," nuclear power simply became "too costly to matter," as the Economist put it back in May 2001.

Why? In a word, cost. Many other technologies can deliver more low-carbon power at far less cost. As a 2003 MIT study, "The Future of Nuclear Energy," concluded: "The prospects for nuclear energy as an option are limited" by many "unresolved problems," of which "high relative cost" is only one. Others include environment, safety and health issues, nuclear proliferation concerns, and the challenge of long-term waste management.


Jigar Shah, chief strategy officer of SunEdison, explained to me that he could guarantee delivery to Florida of more kilowatt-hours of power with solar photovoltaics -- including energy storage so the power was not intermittent -- for less money than the nuke plants cost.

Many other forms of carbon-free power are already cheaper than nuclear today, including wind power, concentrated solar thermal power and, of course, the cheapest of all, energy efficiency. Over the past three decades, California efficiency programs have cut total electricity demand by about 40,000 gigawatt hours for an average 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. A May presentation of modeling results by the California Public Utilities Commission shows that it could more than double those savings by 2020.

If California's effort were reproduced nationwide, efficiency would deliver 130 gigawatts by 2020, which is more than enough energy savings to avoid the need to build any new power plants through 2020 (and beyond). And that means any new renewable plants built could displace existing fossil fuel plants and begin to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the utility sector.

A May report by the Bush Energy Department concluded that Americans could get 300 gigawatts of wind by 2030 at a cost of 6 to 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, including the cost of transmission to access existing power lines. And the cost of integrating the variable wind power into the U.S. grid would be under 0.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. (Wind turbines provide energy on average 35 percent of the time. Nukes average 90 percent availability. That means it takes 300 gigawatts of wind capacity to deliver as much electricity as about 120 gigawatts of nuclear.)

Finally we have the reemergence of concentrated solar thermal power (also known as concentrated solar power, or CSP). Utilities in the Southwest are already contracting for power at 14 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour. The modeling for the California Public Utilities Commission puts solar thermal at around 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. Because CSP has large cost-reduction opportunities from economies of scale and the manufacturing learning curve, the modeling foresees the possibility that CSP costs could drop an additional 20 percent by 2020. And those prices include six hours of storage capacity, which allows CSP to follow the electric load, and that is even better than nuclear power, which is constant around the clock.

All of these sources of electricity are considerably cheaper than the electricity that would be generated by new nuclear plants, which the commission estimates costs more than 15 cents per kilowatt-hour before transmission and delivery costs. This entire discussion doesn't even consider the issue of uranium supply, whose price has risen sharply in recent years. A big shift toward nuclear power would no doubt further increase prices. If, as many advocates want, we ultimately go toward reprocessing of spent fuel, that would add an additional 1.5 to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour to the cost of nuclear power.

Sen. McCain keeps saying, "If France can produce 80 percent of its electricity with nuclear power, why can't we?" Wrong question, Senator. The right question is: Why would we? Energy efficiency and renewables are the key to affordable, carbon-free electricity. They should be a focus of national energy and climate policy. Not nukes.

/more.......... http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/06/02/nuclear_po...

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