Nuclear Prices Itself Out of the Market

November 8, 2013

I watched part of CNN’s presentation of a pro-nuclear power film last night, coupled with some debates before and after. What was positive about the debate was  the underlying assumption – a given- was that climate change was an ultimate, over – arching threat, and de-carbonizing the globe was an essential goal.  That’s an important step forward.
On the negative side, the argument that got the most time was, whether we should worry about a nuclear accident or being exposed to low level radiation. These arguments generally tend not to go anywhere because they devolve into “my stats” versus”your stats”.
The reason that nuclear power has not made much headway in the last 30 years, is because it’s proven, in the eyes of the investment community, to be a bad risk – economically. No one will put money into it without massive subsidies and loan guarantees.  We are watching that process play out, for instance, and the Vogtle plant, currently under construction in Georgia – where, with the familiar pattern of cost overruns, and construction snafus, it seems possible that taxpayers will be taking yet another bath, courtesy of the nuclear industry.
And there’s this from Europe.

Reneweconomy:

The extent to which nuclear is being priced out of electricity markets has finally been revealed by the pricing mechanism unveiled by the British government in the deal to subsidise the Hinkley C nuclear.

The UK government will pay £92.5 for each megawatt hour produced from hinkley ($A154/MWh), around double the prevailing market price. This is after the UK supplied a loan guarantee for 65 per cent of the estimated $24 billion capital cost. The “strike price” – a fancy name for a feed in tariff – also has an escalator to take into account the impact of inflation, so the cost will rise in coming years.

So how does this compare with rival clean energy technologies? Pretty badly as it turns out.

This graph above, published by Craig Morris in Renewable Energy World reveals that the rates that will be offered for new nuclear from 2023 in the UK are far above what solar and wind currently cost. And, as Morris points out, the rates for solar and wind will go down by then, not up! Even offshore wind is getting £95/MWh from 2018 in the UK, but only for 15 years and without any loan guarantees.

This second graph below is even more interesting. It takes into account all the expensive PV that was installed with really high feed in tariffs at the start of Germany’s energy transition before the price of solar fell dramatically. From 2023, when the Hinkley reactor is due to be switched on, nuclear at this price still fairs poorly, and as the cost of those tariffs continue to decline, the cost of nuclear will continue to rise. It’s probably as good an illustration as any as to why Germany are not interested in new nuclear power station, and few countries are.

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63 Responses to “Nuclear Prices Itself Out of the Market”

  1. MorinMoss Says:

    Let’s not forget that electricity, while very important, is only 1 part of the problem.
    Equally daunting challenges remain w.r.t. transportation, construction, industry & agriculture.

    Solving only 1 of these is NOT enough.


    • All your propaganda from the same source? Not a good way to have balance.
      That has been the problem with nuclear all along . Not a good way to proceed after decades of unmet promises and major failures. I keep thinking Hindenburg. What if hydrogen airship proponents did what nuclear fans do now?


      • I am the CA Policy lead for energyfromthorium.com great reference there as well.

        International Org

        http://www.itheo.org/

        The Thorium Problem…thorium is preventing our domestic production of green energy materials… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyqYP6f66Mw

        Thorium TED Talk Eric Sorenson former NASA Lunar Power Energy

        China is on a crash program with over 180 PhDs on the Thorium MSR

        60 years after the AEC recommended to then President Kennedy the Th-MSR be developed to avoid nuclear waste and Fukushima type accidents the world has come full circle and the US is unfortunately not being aggressive enough with the MSR development. Weinberg who had the co patent on the LWR specifically developed the MSR for SAFETY and Waste issues, he was fired for his safety focus….

        • daryan12 Says:

          Why when I hear anyone advocate Thorium am I tempted to yell “Hallelujah”

          Furthermore, why the single minded obsession with LFTR’s. You are aware that Thorium as a fuel has been tested in HGTR’s and CANDU reactors? If I was an advocate of Thorium I’d be lobbying for these and let an unproven concept like the LFTR wait until the science was proven…or is it just cos these two tech’s don’t fit in with you’re “too cheap to meter nuclear” fantasy?


    • Strange. The first pdf says:
      “In reality, virtually all nuclear technologies, with enough effort and knowledge, can be modified to produce weapons-grade material.”
      “High costs of nuclear cannot simply be blamed on public irrationality.”
      “Generation III+ designs deliver improved safety and better economics, but they remain large, capital-intensive, and dependent on water coolant and engineered safety systems.”
      “Many advanced nuclear designs rely on new types of materials that are undergoing this strident strength and durability testing.”
      “at today’s pace of innovation, the nuclear industry and nu- clear regulators do not anticipate commercialization of Gen IV reactors for many years.”

      Where is the good news for nuclear? If that’s the great panacea, this paper aint saying so. Quite the opposite. Notice how the paper differs markedly from the over the top enthusiasm and false assertions of the nuclear cheerleaders. Example, proliferation does not change markedly with reactor type. Also, high cost of nuclear is not due to public sentiment. Also, advanced reactors require as yet untested and unproven materials and will not be seen for years. The biggest problem is not pressure, its the extreme radiation environment that makes materials brittle. The exotic environment requires exotic materials. That could be a big cost driver.

  2. MorinMoss Says:

    Here’s more (nuclear) fuel to add to the fire – the Comanche Peak plant is abandoning plans for a build of 2 new reactors.

    Why? It’s not because of wind, solar, geothermal or hydro.

    It’s (mostly) because of cheap natural gas.

    http://www.dallasnews.com/business/energy/20131108-expansion-of-comanche-peak-nuclear-power-plant-suspended.ece

    “Currently, it’s just not competitive with gas. Nuclear’s capital costs are so high you can’t win on it,” said Ross Baldick, an engineering professor at the University of Texas who studies electricity markets.


  3. There is an equally important underlying issue that continues to act as a brake on any attempts to build new nuclear power plants in a number of Western countries. The nuclear power industries in those countries have zero public credibility, because they were co-opted by governments during the Cold War to become part of the arms race. As a result, they were taught how to obfuscate, bullshit and lie for decades. They have never owned up to this, so, like the tobacco companies. they will continue to have next to no credibility and trust with the wider public.


    • If you care about CO2, we must look to the Good Reactor designed by ORNL by the designer of the current LWRs. Weinberg wanted a safer, cleaner & weapons free form of civilian energy and in fact the AEC in 1962 reported to President Kennedy that the Molten Salt Reactor was the way forward. Because it wasn’t useful for bombs and the navy had its power plant, the MSR was shelved.

      The Good Reactor, can’t blow up, melt down and is walk away safe. 6600 tons of Thorium =5B tons coal + 31B barrels oil + 3Tm gas + 75k tons uranium LWR used yearly! We don’t need to mine Thorium as it is discarded in Rare Earth Element mining for source materials for solar panels and windmill magnets. To equal one nuclear plant you need 300,000 acres of bird blending wind mills that need 75% backup power. They even may add more CO2 than they save in producing the cement, steel, magnets, shipping, servicing and of course the backup CO2 systems running at highly variable rates.

      Finally the MSR reduces waste by 10,000 times in size and can burn the unspent fuel in nuclear waste…reducing volume by magnitudes and storage times from300k years to decades


  4. France is now moving to make Thorium MSRs its future reactor. As MSR can be very compact as they need no pressure dome ( they are low pressure and use no water) they don’t need water cooling to prevent melt down as they are molten salt, don’t need back up cooling, 100-170 atmosphere pipes or emergency back up generators they are much less expensive to build.

    For the one $1B a day spent worldwide on climate change and green energy; the world can build daily 600MW of MSR of emission free energy that is 1,000,000 times denser than fossil fuels at $.03kwh

    • daryan12 Says:

      Yes and if you believe the propaganda, LFTR’s will heal the sick, walk on water and turn it into wine

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the research of wacky radical ideas. What I object to is the making of unsubstantiated and outrageous claims that distract from more practical solutions.

      Horsting claims LWR’s were favoured over LFTR’s because “Because it wasn’t useful for bombs”. And where is all the plutonium from the America’s civilian nuclear reactors? Oh, wait, its still locked up in the fuel rods, which were not reprocessed.

      The real reason why LWR’s were favoured over LFTR’s is because that LWR’s are made from cheap and easily forged or cast steel, using water as a coolant (an incompressible fluid, cheap and easily available) while LFTR’s involve mucking around with exotic nickel alloys and what one can best refer to as “nuclear lava”.

      LFTR fans have a nasty habit of engaging in the hyperbole, a fact proved via Horstings outlandish claims regarding France. He states “France is now moving to make Thorium MSRs its future reactor”. And where is his evidence?

      The reality is the French do have a small research project looking at Thorium, but in solid fuelled reactors, using neutron bombardment systems, not a LFTR. The idea of an MSR was briefly mentioned in a French report on Thorium a year or so ago, but no funding has since been attached to this (indeed the existing Thorium project hangings in the balance in terms of funding).

      But in the feverish imagination of the LFTR cargo cult this brief mention has been blown into the French abandoning their extensive LWR program (despite the recent £14 billion contract for Hinckley point C) in favour of their “precious”.


      • Daryan,

        Solid fuels and water are the problem with LWRs, to get useful thermal, solid fuel only allow 1-3% of the fuel to burn until it is useless for a reaction! thus 10,000 times the waste is created. MSRs burn 99% of the fuel. The MSR ran for 20,000 hours at ORNL, they even shut it down on weekend by draining the core.into its safety dump tanks.

        Water is a problem because it boils at low temps and has to be put under high pressures 70-150’atmospheres, and if the pipes break you have a massive steam explosion and if things get really bad like Fukushima, the heat cracks the water and you get a hydrogen explosion.

        I would much rather have one very safe reactor than 300,000 acres of wind farm that needs 75% fossil fuel backup generation.

        • daryan12 Says:

          Again, lets separate facts from fantasy

          1) ORNL’s MSRE never generated a single watt of electricity in its entire life.

          2) It also suffered from a number of technical issues ranging from the distortion of its graphite core, the thermal fatigue failure of a drain valve, intergranular cracking and creep related deformation of its containment vessel. These issues were the primary reason why most nuclear scientists, then and now, consider it too daunting an engineering challenge to ever be a practical (or economic) energy source.

          3) The MSRE never ran on thorium, it did briefly run on fuel mix that included some U-233, that had been separated outside the reactor. Hence whether it can actually operate as proposed (i.e. with Thorium) is purely speculative.
          Furthermore we already HAVE reactors capable of running off of Thorium. The HTGR, VHTR & pebble bed reactors (Gas-cooled) as well as CANDU’s have all been operated using Thorium, since the 1980’s. If a need to run a Thorium reactor emerged, it would seem logical to restart these programs than waste time with some blue sky option which we can’t be sure will work.

          4) The MSRE did not include the crucial CPP system. This is what gives a LFTR’s its supposed ability to prove a completed closed fuel cycle. However whether such a system works or not is purely theoretical, nobody has ever done any serious experiments to prove this either way. And unfortunately the lesson of science history is that when we go from such theory to practice (Cold Fusion, hot Fusion since we’re talking about it, Fast reactors, OTEC, etc.) the results usually prove to be somewhat impractical and uneconomic.

          So again, once you peel away the LFTR propaganda, there ain’t a lot left. And personally I’d rather have wind farms than a lot of possibly maybe’s & cargo cult fantasy.

        • daryan12 Says:

          Oh, and in reference to you’re comments regarding LWR’s. The other advantage of Gas-cooled reactors (aside from an ability to use Thorium and high thermal efficiency, plus good fuel use rates) is very high levels of safety. the only difference with a LFTR is were talking about a reactor technology that actually works!

          So again if you want safer nuclear, would it not be a better idea to back Gas-cooled reactors for the time being, over MSR’s.

          Its this single mined obsession with MSR’s and nothing else that has me worried that LFTR’s fans attachment to the them is not entirely rational.

          • daryan12 Says:

            Horsting,

            As per normal when you back a LFTR fan into a corner with the facts they resort to the tried and tested tactic – make stuff up, post a link and hope nobody actually reads it! The link makes no reference to any actual experiments that have performed “20,000 hours of running with a thermal blanket” while the reactor runs on Thorium.

            Like I said there were attempts to use the MSRE to run on a fuel mix including U-233, but it never ran on Thorium directly.

            …but again, Pebble bed reactors have run on Thorium…why if you’re so keen on Thorium are you ignoring this fact?

            Again one is forced to conclude its because you have an attraction to the LFTR that exceeds the rational.


  5. […] other forms of renewables, such as PV and wind power come with the same problems of nuclear (although cheaper), they are not an ideal match replacement for natural gas and switching to them as an alternative […]


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