…Restoring Nuclear Power in US...
The two reasons why nuclear power is dying in the United States are:
- High Initial Cost
As shown in an earlier article, Excess Generating Capacity, existing nuclear power plants can provide electricity competitively.
But, can new nuclear power plants also be competitive? That’s a key issue.
Environmentalists and politicians have been promoting fear of nuclear power for decades.
Chancellor Merkel of Germany ordered the closing of all nuclear power plants in Germany after the Fukushima accident. As a result, the last three nuclear power plants in Germany will be closed by the end of this year.
Environmentalists, such as Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have spread fear among Americans by highlighting each accident with misleading information. Moreover, the media has regurgitated these horror stories.
As recently as December of last year, Emory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, had an article published in Bloomberg Law:
Why Nuclear Power Is Bad for Your Wallet and the Climate.
High Initial Cost
The cost of building a new nuclear power plant of the current design in the US is at least $6,000 per KW. Meanwhile, the two units under construction at Vogtle, Georgia, could easily cost $8,000 per KW when completed.
The two units in South Carolina were canceled when it became clear their costs would exceed $6,000 per KW.
For comparison, a Natural Gas Combined Cycle power plant costs $1,000 per KW.
The Wall Street Journal recently published a two-page article:
By publishing the article, WSJ editors have confirmed they endorse the apocalyptic climate narrative and the need for net-zero carbon policies.
The article’s premise is that nuclear power can help eliminate CO2 emissions and reduce the threat of CO2-induced climate change.
However, the article’s last paragraph invokes fear by saying:
“Nuclear power comes with risks. So does a warming planet.”
The WSJ article also plays on fear by reviving the Fukushima and Chernobyl accidents. It belittled proof that a nuclear meltdown could happen without creating a nuclear disaster.
It ignores that the Chernobyl reactor was inherently unsafe because of its design. The WSJ article fails to distinguish between the inherently unsafe Chernobyl design and the reactors built in the US, which are predominantly boiling or pressurized water reactors, i.e., BWR and PWR reactors.
On a positive note, the WSJ article highlights some of the new designs that could lead to a revival of nuclear power in the US.
The WSJ article denigrates nuclear power because of its high cost and merely suggests that governments should continue investing in research.
Such a tepid solution is not the way to revive nuclear power. The WSJ article’s solution of more research merely kicks the can down the road.
A Real Solution
Research is valuable when reaching for a breakthrough, such as could be the case with micro nuclear power plants. See https://bit.ly/37NjCRg
Supporters of nuclear power believe these three designs are ready to be built now.
- NuScale Power
- GE-Hitachi BWRX
NuScale has received its initial approval from the NRC.
Bill Gates backs Terra Power.
GE-Hitachi believes the BWRX-300 design will cost less than $3,000 per KW.
(There may be a few more designs ready to be built now, e.g., the high-temperature gas reactor and ThorCon, and if they are ready they could be included in the group.)
A construction cost of $3,000 per KW for a nuclear power plant appears to result in the generation of competitively priced electricity, especially given the long life and other attributes of nuclear power, e.g., over a 90% capacity factor where the power is available 24/7.
The most direct way to determine whether these designs can be built for $3,000 per KW is for the government to pay for constructing one of each design, up to $3,000 per KW. The private company would be responsible for any cost above this amount.
With the size of the power plant kept to around 350 MW, the government’s exposure would be limited. Moreover, limiting the size is reasonable since most of these designs are for small modular reactors.
This approach would accomplish several objectives.
- It would establish the feasibility of these designs.
- It would prove whether an SMR, factory-built design, actually reduces costs.
- It would inevitably determine the best design for use in the United States.
- It would determine whether any design is well suited for use in developing countries, such as in Africa.
- It would jumpstart a new cycle of nuclear power plant construction.
- It would allow the public to see that these designs are safe.
A private company would not request this government support unless it were certain its design could be built for $3,000 per KW because the private company would have to pay for any cost overrun.
The NRC must approve any design before it can be built, and NuScale appears to be the furthest along in this respect.
In addition, NuScale has an agreement with the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) to construct its design at the Idaho National Laboratory. The Department of Energy (DOE) has approved a $1.4 billion multi-year cost-sharing award to UAMPS for development and construction of the NuScale plant. A singe NuScale module is rated 77 MW and 6 are proposed for the Idaho site. Whether intended or not, the government support is equivalent to around $3,000 per KW.
NuScale has an opportunity to demonstrate that its design can be built at an acceptable cost and disprove those who are warning it is too risky to build a new nuclear power plant. Criticism by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis is typical of such objections.
This proposal for government support is not ideal, because it requires government intervention in the free market.
But, it may be the only way to prove that nuclear power can be built at a reasonable cost because:
- RTO/ISOs, that manage the electric grid in two-thirds of the country, are not going to enter into open ended power purchase agreements for building new nuclear power plants to ensure the plants can recover their costs. Nuclear cannot compete successfully in RTO/ISO rigged auctions where wind and solar always win.
- Regulators in the third of the country not controlled by RTO/ISOs aren’t likely to provide open ended rate relief given the recent cost overruns in Georgia and South Carolina.
Without a genuine attempt to build new nuclear power plants, every commercial nuclear power plant in the US will shut down within 40 years.
The end could come sooner because there are up to 71 plants where the owners have not yet indicated whether they will request the NRC to grant a second renewal to their operating license. Without this approval, these nuclear power plants must shut down.
This bleak outlook for nuclear power is recorded in the report:
A dramatic and action-oriented approach is needed for the United States to save its nuclear power industry.
Having the government pay for the predicted construction cost of $3,000 per KW provides real benefits. It could also put an end to the seemingly endless $600 and $500 million research grants for these designs.
Establishing a clear government policy, preferably through legislation, that provides funding of $3,000 per KW for the construction of the first plant of each new design could prove that nuclear power is economically viable and jumpstart a new nuclear revival.
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