Thursday, March 08, 2007

Nuclear thaw

Every time the question is raised as to how we are to meet our energy demands in the face of Global Warming threats, the nuclear industry has a ready answer. Go Nuclear.

Thanks to Don Eichelberger who alerted the GP Issues list about the fact that there is now a bill in the California State Assembly that will remove the current restrictions California has placed on new nuclear power generating facilities. AB 719 (full text) Sponsored by Orange County Republican Chuck DeVore and N. California Republican Doug LaMalfa, I would hope that this bill will not get passed.

However, the fact that it could even get this far should be a wake up call for all of us. LaMalfa appears to be a Junior Richard Pombo: same issues, same property rights mantra, same use of the environmental bogeyman to rail against, and that is scary.

Don's email gives a good, short reason why we should all contact our California State Legislators and tell them that this is not what we, the public wants. Maybe General Electric wants this, but we do not.

AB 719 is written using the "Zero Carbon Emissions" terminology, but, according to Don, does not recognize a number of issues with Nuclear.
Even if those claims were true, there is still the matter of the wastes. The bill claims that, in ten years, by the time a new nuke is operating, there will, of course, be a safe storage site. A presumptuous hope, given the history, so far. Meanwhile, economic supports for nuclear power would continue, at the expense of funding real solutions.
Then, remember that the costs of any nuclear solution is heavily subsidized by the US Government. We should be pushing our Representatives to removed these subsidies from the energy market and to force the nuclear industry, if it goes forward at all, to carry the full cost of all the associated problems that is brings us. If that were to happen, nuclear may turn out to be the most expensive of options.

AB 719 is one bill that we can not allow to pass.


Lisa said...

I saw Schweitzer, the governor of Montana, last night on Charlie Rose show and he was very interesting. No your typical politician. He has advanced degrees in soil management. He has a 20 yr. plan to get U.S. off foreign oil dependence. But I cringed when he said some nuclear power is okay.

Chuck DeVore said...

How can working class Californians afford low-CO2 power without nuclear being in the mix? Solar is too expensive. Wind is periodic. Nuclear needs to be fully discussed.

From a column written by Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace founder, in the Washington Post on Sunday, April 16, 2006 entitled, “Going Nuclear, A Green Makes the Case.”

"And I am not alone among seasoned environmental activists in changing my mind on this subject (nuclear power). British atmospheric scientist James Lovelock, father of the Gaia theory, believes that nuclear energy is the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change. Stewart Brand, founder of the "Whole Earth Catalog," says the environmental movement must embrace nuclear energy to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. On occasion, such opinions have been met with excommunication from the anti-nuclear priesthood: The late British Bishop Hugh Montefiore, founder and director of Friends of the Earth, was forced to resign from the group's board after he wrote a pro-nuclear article in a church newsletter."

Add to that the comments of the third highest ranking government official in America, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who said four weeks ago, “The technology has changed, and I bring a more open mind to that subject now… I have a different view on nuclear than I did 20 years ago… I would not … be an active opponent. I think it (nuclear power) has to be on the table.”

All the best,

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore
70th District

Lisa said...

from Wikipedia:
Moore has been criticized by environmentalists for many of his views. Some see him as a sell-out, having "abruptly turned his back on the environmental movement" and "being a mouthpiece for some of the very interests Greenpeace was founded to counter"[1]. His critics point out Moore's business relations with what they see as "polluters and clear-cutters" through his consultancy.[1]

Wes said...

Assemblyman, If you have taken the time to read the this particular posting, maybe you should take the time to read some of the others. To begin with, I would hope that you would sign on to the proposal from the Architecture 2030 group (members of AIA). If implemented, this proposal would get us back to pre-1990 energy use.

Then, since I have looked at your Assembly web site and read some of your OpEd, I know that you are very strong on reducing taxes. While you can not do much about federal taxes from the Assembly, perhaps you might tell your congressman (is it Issa?) that he needs to get rid of all tax incentives and tax payer funded protections for the nuclear industry. Make all sources of energy compete on an even basis with full costs for their impact, and nuclear will not look so good.

Finally, maybe you could personally go to the workers of the Navajo Nation whose health is suffering from the radioactive dust and polluted water of uranium operations and tell them that we appreciate the good job that they did and that the corporations who are building the new energy plants will take care of all of their problems.

Also, would you sponsor a uranium enrichment plant in Laguna Niguel? Or, are there enough NIMBY types in your district that this would be political suicide?

Even if nuclear becomes an option, your bill has only done a minor step in preparing for it. You are returning us to the wild west with the government paying the bad guys.

RobC said...

First, the point needs to be made that there are different kinds of environmentalists. Some put bumper stickers on their SUVs. Some subscribe to magazines and memorize argument points. Some get involved in activism. Some work with legislators and regulators to solve problems. So we should be careful when we generalize about what environmentalists do or don't do.

I think the anti-nuke environmentalists have come to realize, but don't care to admit, that their opposition to nuclear energy has had terrible consequences. For example, on this page, we see hand-wringing about uranium miners, even though the deaths and disabling diseases among coal miners have been many times as great. But more important has been the damage done to the environment in general and to public health in particular by burning coal to generate electicity, all of which would have been prevented by the use of nuclear energy. Now we even see that global warming is a consequence, and the danger of it was known 30 years ago.

So the reaction is to keep recycling the same, empty arguments against nuclear energy. It's the safest position a person a person can take. Wind power and solar energy can not possibly provide the electricity a modern country needs, since there is no way to store energy for when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. Every eight-year-old understands that. But by taking a position that will never be tested, opponents of nuclear energy will be able to say, whatever happens, that it would have been better if people had stayed with wind and solar. If we answer that it wouldn't have worked, they simply can answer back that, sure, it would have worked. So the important thing is to keep saying it now, even though it's obviously false.

My opinion is that there are, basically, only two kinds of environmentalists. One group is strictly ideological, reciting the same slogans and fictional factoids without any reference to reality. The other looks at the world the way it is. The reality is that nuclear energy has the best safety record and the best environmental record of any energy source available. I've put together a web page that brings together the most factual information I could find on global warming and the available remedies. It's at Global Warming: A Guide for the Perplexed

Wes, the 2030 Challenge doesn't have a plan; it just sets goals. There's nothing to implement.

Roger, Gone Green said...

Respectfully, I get all my electricity from non-carbon sources. I am 6th Grade teacher, so I'm not rich. My power is free, although my solar cells will cost me $40 per month for the duration of the 25 year warranty to pay off the installation. Not bad considering that my house appreciated because I put on solar.

The city of Pasadena offers 100% non-carbon electicity for anyone who wants it. Wind, solar, and small hydro. It costs about $10-15 month extra for an average household at the moment.

Nuclear is unneeded.

RobC said...

Roger, thanks for answering. It's always enlightening to hear from people with practical information.

Some neighbors nearby are on photovoltaic, but it's quite a bit darker here in Western Washington, so they have a bank of eight batteries and they live in dim light. They rely on propane for cooking and refrigeration, and use wood for heat except sometimes they use propane for freeze protection.

How do you deal with it? What kind of storage are you using?

Wes said...

I am jumping around a bit. For one, I can sit on my deck and look at the ridge line across the lake. There a number of homes on that ridge that are off grid. However, they were designed from the beginning to be amenable to this. That is what the Architecture 2030 is challenge is about. I will be pushing my local planning commission to adopt these goals for their use along with a building code / zoning change to protect the solar rights of those who do put in pv systems.

I too saw Montana Governor Brian Sweitzer on the Charlie Rose Show (rerun) today. He put it very succinctly. We were here during the Carter Administration and were talked out of doing anything. The problem is solvable if politics were not fascinated by shimmering visions of perpetual growth at any cost. It is a matter of political will, not technology.

Chuck DeVore said...

Regarding Roger, Gone Green who mentioned a $40 per month lease for solar for 25 years. $40 x 12 months x 25 years equals $12,000, about one-third the cost of a residential system that can actually power a house with a family, appliances, TVs, computers, etc. Factor in the cost of money and you’re looking at a sytem valued at about $6,000, before government subsidies. May I ask, how do you live? I’ve ran the calculations for my own family here in Southern California and even with a 33 percent subsidy, PV is still about five to nine times the cost of nuclear power – and, if you factor in end-to-end manufacting and maintenance costs, nuclear produces significantly less CO2 than PV or other forms of solar.

As for the previous comments about coal – that’s exactly why we need to take another look at nuclear. In addition to coal mining accidents, coal ash-fly contains about 1 part per million uranium, not to mention radioactive thorium. Coal slag is also more radioactive, as far as its impact on the environment, than stored nuclear plant waste.

I don’t see how we can run a modern economy and still have working class people afford energy AND make our CO2 numbers without nuclear. As Speaker Pelosi said last month, nuclear has to be on the table.

All the best,

Chuck DeVore
California State Assemblyman, 70th District

Anonymous said...

I'd like to thank the Assemblyman for sharing with us his thoughtful comments on nuclear power. I lived in his district back in the '90s, when someone else had the seat. I could even have met him (you?) at one of Joe Dunn or Larry Agran's campaign parties. I helped both of them get elected, walking precincts and the like. At the time I worked at AOL in Irvine and lived in Newport Beach, an easy walk from Fashion Island.

One difference between the electric grid and our transportation system is that the transportation system is much more transparent. If you know someone, you have a fairly good idea how much money they spend on transportion fuel. You know how long their commute is, you know what they drive, you have some idea how often and how far they fly. It's not like that for electric power. As the old saying goes "on the internet nobody knows you're a dog." On the one hand, nobody knows how fast you type. On the other hand, nobody knows how fuelish your computer is, or how big the monthly energy bill you pay is. I first thought about that during my AOL days, when I would occasionally get email from someone claiming their computer system was "100% run on solar!" The sad thing was, sitting there in Irvine, I was probably reading the message using 100% nuclear power from San Onofre.

I remember one Saturday during that period I showed up to help a volunteer group that was painting backstops green for the local Little League teams. I showed up in a T shirt from New Zealand that claimed to be "clean, green, and 100% NUCLEAR FREE" with a nice picture of a tree embroidered below the words. Somebody pointed out to me that since I had obviously washed it since I'd gotten it, and since the local power source was nuclear, the claim on the shirt was obviously false. I got green paint on it that day, and to this day those stains remind me that green does not always mean pure. The shirt will always be organic cotton, and the stains will always be from Orange County.

Also during that time I visited a house up in Humbolt County that had a pedal washing machine. All of the power to wash the clothes in that house came out of the legs of people living there. If our electric system was as transparent as our transportation system, the clothes on Jason Kirkpatrick and his housemates would have glowed much cleaner that clothes washed in Orange County.

Anonymous said...

I became active in the anti-nuclear movement in 1979 out of many concerns about power reactor safety, waste management, cost overruns on construction and management of nukes, impacts on the mostly indigenous populations who mine the ore and become dumping grounds for wastes, vulnerability to terrorist attack and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I have also held a moral opposition to nuclear because it demands a level of perfection in its execution that robs us of (or denies) human fallability.

Headway has ostensibly been made in one area- improved nukes may be safer from large, TMI or Chernobyl-style accidents. That remains to be seen.

As for the radioactive content and dirtiness of coal, one sin does not absolve another- I have long advocated doing without both. It will mostly come from conservation- Amory Lovins has estimated that, with full scale conservation efforts, the whole American system could operate on existing hydro, augmented by renewables. Some of this- and here's what really ticks off some- will depend on cutting back on American over-consmerism and mania for infinite growth and sense of entitlment.

I believe the bottom line is that "conservation" is a bad word in some circles. Economists fear recession. I think new economists are looking at what conservation sells, in terms of services and goods, and is finding there may be a revenue stream there, after all.

But the revenue stream is much bigger with nuclear, and manistream economists are more comfortable with terms like "producing" and "selling" than "saving" or "sustaining".

I firmly believe that nuclear could not operate without subsidies. Without Price-Anderson, for instance, I doubt nuclear would be considered viable.

I agree with Brittain's Tony Blair that nuclear should be made to stand or fall on its own legs.

No More Nuclear Susidies.

Wes said...

Anonymous wrote that he agreed with Blair..."I agree with Brittain's Tony Blair that nuclear should be made to stand or fall on its own legs.

No More Nuclear Susidies."

The only problem with that is that it does not go far enough. How about "no more Energy Subsidies."

Chuck DeVore said...

One of the main points leveled against my proposal is that nuclear power is heavily subsidized. OK, let’s explore that accusation. On the environmental site (see: they purport to add up all subsidies for the nuclear industry, including research (presumably, including for nuclear bombs), uranium reprocessing, waste storage, and liability limitations (in essence, a subsidy of insurance) and come up with an annual sum of $7.1 billion a year. I do not for a moment believe this accusation, but, for the sake of argument, let’s accept it.

$7.1 billion seems large until one understands that the U.S. generates about 3,881 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity every year at an average cost of about 7 cents per kWh. (See the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE] site at: Nuclear power’s portion of this in America is 19.7 percent, or, about $53.5 billion worth of electricity. A $7.1 billion subsidy, if true, is equal to about 13 percent of the value of nuclear power.

Now, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (see:, the average electricity production cost in 2005 for nuclear energy was 1.72 cents per kWh, for coal-fired plants 2.21 cents / kWh, for oil 8.09 cents / kWh, and for natural gas 7.51 cents / kWh. Nuclear power generates 19.7 percent of the power in America for a total of about 765 billion kWh of electricity every year. Applying the claimed $7.1 billion yearly subsidy, this equals about $0.0093 per kWh. Adding this “cost” to the NEI’s claimed kWh cost of 1.72 cents would result in a “true” cost of 2.65 cents per kWh. This is a little more than coal, but still less than a third of oil and a third of natural gas – three ways of generating power that produce a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) vs. nuclear power.

Given that coal produces about four times the amount of CO2 to generate electricity as does natural gas – and that nuclear power produces no direct CO2 emissions at all (and less indirect CO2 than even solar), one wonders why many in the environmental community continue to be against nuclear. Coal ash-fly contains about 2 parts per million of uranium as well as 1 part per million of radioactive thorium meaning that burning coal puts far more radiation into the environment than nuclear ever has. All this, plus coal mine deaths, lung problems and the like, add up to about 60,000 deaths a year, by some estimates.

Examining the claims of the proponents of clean alternative energy sources yields further interesting information. Dan Arvizu, a Ph.D. and Director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wrote in an article for Power Engineering International (see: that the costs for generating electricity from solar photovoltaic (PV) cells has declined by one-fifth of what it was in 1977. He doesn’t say it, but most of this cost reduction has come from the computer industry as PV cells use manufacturing techniques similar to that of computer chips. Dr. Arvizu cites today’s electric generation costs of PV systems as ranging from 15 to 32 cents per kWh. He calculates that this cost should be further reduced to 4 to 6 cents per kWh by 2025 (he essentially takes the same cost cutting curve for the next 20 years as was experienced in the last 20 years – not necessarily a sure thing). Note, that even in his best case estimate for PV by 2025, it will still cost between 1.5 and 2.3 times as much as nuclear power – and, with nuclear, you have the added benefit of still being able to turn on your lights on a mid-winter’s night. Of course, today’s cost comparison is illuminating, with PV solar coming in about 9 to 19 times more costly than nuclear power or about 6 to 12 times more costly than nuclear power’s fully “subsidized” cost according to the book “Take the Rich Off Welfare” as featured on the Third World Traveler website.

Dr. Arvizu next discusses wind-generated electricity, saying it costs about 4 to 6 cents per kWh today, about one-tenth of what it did in 1980. He thinks this can be reduced to 3.6 cents per kWh at low wind-speed sites by 2012 and to 5 cents per kWh for shallow water offshore sites by 2014. With accurate wind forecasting, Dr. Arvizu thinks that wind power can generate up to 20 percent of the grid’s needs (more reliance on wind than that, and we risk blackouts on a calm day). Note that Dr. Arvizu’s best case estimates for wind are still far more costly than for nuclear power.

Dr. Arvizu also discusses biopower, estimating its cost as between 8 to 12 cents per kWh. Of course, any biopower produces CO2 in the combustion process, a no-no in these global warming days. Geothermal comes in at 5 to 8 cents per kWh, about two to three times nuclear’s “subsidized” cost.

I hope this analysis will spark further thought on this matter.

All the best,

Chuck DeVore
State Assemblyman, 70th District

Roger, Gone Green said...

Several final points.

Nuclear is not needed.

It isn't that it's dangerous. (It is.) It just isn't needed. More coal isn't needed either.

With my solar I use regular light bulbs, central AC, have stereos and computers and microwaves. 90% of my electric came from the sun; about 70% this year, due to the insanely hot summer. I have no storage. I produce electricity and my meter runs backwards during the day (or I only draw a tiny fraction of my usage off the grid during the daytime), and I draw from the grid at night when consumption is way way down.

In essence, the grid is my storage.

Or to put it another way, I have shifted my heaviest load to the most off-peak hours, and cut my consumption by 70-90% overall. If most houses did that, not only would we need no new plants of ANY kind, we could decommission some coal plants. (You can do that with a coal plant -- just stop and do a little clean up.)

Also -- my deal is a purchase, so I own the cells, and the electricity is FREE after the warranty period. Can't beat that.

Finally, I cannot remotely believe that, per KWh produced, all of the inputs into a nuke produce less CO2 than building and installing my solar. Given the scale of nukes and the energy-intensive inputs, and the transportation and petro-based construction machines, it is inconceivable to me that a nuke could ever have less CO2 for its inputs.


P.S. Sometimes I like to remind people that Solar IS nuclear power. Fusion, in fact.

fabco said...

First of all, let me say, that I consider myself an environmentalist, and I am not a proponent of our current nuclear power industry that is based on uranium/plutonium as it's source. There are plenty of sound reasons not to ever build any more of them. Poliferation and waste being the two main reasons, but also because uranium itself is in short supply just like oil and barely 1% of it is utilized by current technology.

I love photovoltaics, and I think they have a huge place in our future. However, not everyone can reduce consumption by 70-90% especially in areas of the country where air conditioning is a requirement. But, what if a technology existed right now today, with the potential sustainablity to solve most of our energy problems, yet virtually nobody has heard of it? What if there was a radically different nuclear reactor design that solved most if not all of the problems inherent in todays existing designs? By using thorium instead of uranium, poliferation issues melt away. By using all of the fuel instead of only 1% as current designs do, it solves the waste storage problems. Plus, it can burn up our current waste, thereby eliminating the need for Yucca Mountain to find a place to store it.

Pie in the sky or too far into the future you say? What if that really wasn't the case, and it had already been designed built and test fired for almost a decade in the 1960's. What if the reasons research and development was stopped on it since then was because it did not produce weapons grade plutonium, or have poliferation issues, and back in the 60's people actually wanted the bomb grade material it did not produce? Dual military use drove early reactor designs, after all.

What if our nuclear industry giants like Westinghouse or GE were not currently interested in reviving it, because is only loaded with fuel at startup, and never needs any thereafter. Currently the nuclear industry does not make any profit from selling reactor designs, but rather from selling the customer the fuel, handling the waste, reprocessing, etc, and this design virtually wipes out what is now the only profitable end of their business.

What if the holder of the patent on the light water reactor, Dr. Weinburg, former director of Oak Ridge National Labratory, strongly believed that this technology was the direction we should be going? Yet the current Generation 4 DOE reactor development initiative dropped it's only funding for this technology, claiming it was "too far off" -a rationale that is pretty difficult to understand compared to what funding was kept, considering it was the only technology on their list that had already been successfully built and tested, and all the major technological issues had already been resolved by Oak Ridge National Labratory.

What if this design could be drug out of mothballs, and a modular commercial design could be produced from it in just a few short years, instead of decades?

Pretty much all the information on this subject can be found here:

Before making up your mind that nuclear power will never be in the cards, I strongly encourage everyone to take the time to look into the links found there and inform others about it. If after looking into it yourself, you find I am wrong on any point, or misrepresenting this in any way, please let me know. I am convinced that this is a nuclear technology that even an environmentalist could come to love, and it is a crime against our national interest that almost no research is even being done on it.

Liquid Flouride Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) Invented in the USA in 1954
Not yet commercialized, even after 2 successful MSRs were built & operated
Meltdown proof
Does not produce weapons grade plutonium
Has inherent nonproliferation features
Thousands of years of energy
Its wastes are simpler and less toxic than current nuclear wastes
Only hundreds of years of storage versus thousands for the current wastes
Can burn the existing wastes (spent fuel)!
Higher thermal efficiencies (operates at a "Red Heat"; ~700° C [1260° F])

Releases in 1982 from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium. The population gets 100 times more radiation from a coal plant than from a nuclear plant. So in 2004 by burning 4.6 billions tons of coal, we released 5980 tons of uranium into the air and 14720 tons of Thorium. This is like 80 truck size dirty nuclear bombs releasing 1 ton of radioactive material every day.

Currently, almost all new power generation on the utilities drawing boards specify coal as their fuel source. Wouldn't we all be a lot better off utilizing the thorium energy in the coal, than wasting it by burning the coal itself?

I applaud Mr. DeVore's efforts, but I think there should be something added to his legislation to encourage building a newer technology reactor, rather than merely encouraging more of the deeply flawed uranium designs to be built.

James Faubus
Godley, Texas