« Back to Home Page

Magic Beans for 100 Nuclear Power Plants

Jeff Siegel | Thursday June 18th, 2009 | 18 Comments


At some point you just have to ask yourself, what is it that these politicians are getting to push nuclear energy so hard?
Last week, House Republicans called for a hundred new nuclear power plants to be built in the next two decades. They say that this is part of the legislation they’re backing because it’s better than what the Democrats are offering.

Now I’m not saying the Democrats have submitted some amazingly stellar plan. There are certainly some issues there too. Most of which can be traced to the myth of clean coal and Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s attachment to nuclear. But 100 new nuclear power plants in 20 years? Really?!!!
Let’s put this in perspective, shall we?
These guys are basically talking about building an average of five new nuclear power plants a year, for the next 20 years. I guess they missed the memo on how long it takes to actually build one.
There are all kinds of numbers floating around on this. Some nuclear advocates will tell you it’ll only take you a couple of years. Some anti-nuclear types will tell you it could take up to 25 years. Both are likely highly exaggerated. So for our purposes we’ll look to Florida Power & Light (FPL), which currently has two nuclear power plants in operation, and in April, 2008, received final approval from the Florida Public Service Commission for two additional nuclear facilities (Turkey Point Units 6 & 7) at its existing Turkey Point complex.

According to FPL
, from beginning to end, the siting, licensing and construction of Turkey Point Unit 6 could be completed in 2018 – or in about 9 years. The estimated completion year for Turkey Point Unit 7 is 2020.
And we’re supposed to believe we can throw up 5 new ones every year – starting now? Even if you support integrating more nuclear into our domestic energy infrastructure, you’d have to be out of your mind – or getting paid a hell of a lot of money by the nuclear industry – to believe that we’re going to build 100 new nuclear power plants in 20 years.
But let’s just assume for a moment, they could pull it off. I don’t know, maybe they found some magic beans and this became doable. What happens to those 100 nuclear power plants when they need to be decommissioned?
According to a new Associated Press investigation, the companies that own nearly half of the nation’s nuclear reactors today, have not set aside enough money to dismantle them. Apparently, the investment funds that were supposed to pay for shutting these things down have lost $4.4 billion in a brutal market meltdown. As a result, some may end up sitting idle for decades. For the sake of national security and environmental sustainability, this is not a good thing.
So far, 19 nuclear power plant owners have won approval to idle their reactors for as long as 60 years. They’re hoping that this will allow enough time for their investments to recover from this past year’s economic implosion, thereby providing the necessary funding to dismantle the plants at a later time.
Interesting how all these folks who tell us that nuclear is safe don’t seem to be in a rush to preface that claim with, “as long as we don’t lose any of the money we’ll need to properly dismantle the power plants when it’s time.” My friends, letting nuclear power plants sit for six decades while they try to scrape up enough coin to dismantle them is not safe! That alone should make any lawmaker question the safety of integrating more nuclear. And it should make us question the motives of those who ignore this little piece of very important information.
And don’t even get me started on the amount of money we’re talking about here either. We’re all well aware of the cost prohibitive nature of nuclear. But it could actually be even worse than expected. The Associated Press investigation noted that estimates for dismantling costs have climbed by about $4.6 billion over the past two years due to rising labor and energy costs. That’s billion…with a “B.”
Now in all fairness, when these power plants get mothballed, the radioactive fuel is removed from the reactor and is stored in dry casks on the power plant’s property. But some are concerned that in 60 years, these utilities may not even exist. What happens then? I’d put my money on them just walking away, leaving the taxpayers to pick up the tab. And of course, that’s exactly what we need to do – pay more taxes on unsustainable power generation. Clearly all the subsidies we’ve been shelling out for oil hasn’t been enough to fire us up!


Categorized: Renewable Energy|

Newsletter Signup
  • Paul Stevens

    Most of the 100 nuclear plants now operating in the US were built between the years 1959 and 1979. So yes, it is possible to build 100 nuclear plants in 20 years. It’s been done, with far less knowledge and worse technology, without all of the understanding that has been learned over the years. And it was done in the face of obstructionist and frivolous lawsuits and hearings staged by anti-nuclear organizations. It would be far easier now, when there are really only three designs to consider. The new plants would be much more modularized. More like assembly line construction. and with more support from the population.

    • jim walker

      Correction: The last order for a nuclear reactor that was actually completed and connected to the grid in the US was placed in 1973 and began operation 23 years later in 1996 as TVA’s Watts Bar 1 in Tennessee.

      A total of 115 reactors were cancelled between 1972 and 1984, costing the utilities more than $20 billion. By 1992, a total of 121 reactors hade been cancelled.

      (Source: Insurmountable Risks, Brice Smith, IEER Press, 2006. Page 10)

      Seems as if it’s easier to cancel orders than fill them.

  • Joe

    And what about the cost and environmental issues, Paul? Even if you could build those in 20 years, who cares? Let’s move out of the stone age and focus our efforts on renewables!

  • unimpressed

    What do you mean- “who cares?”
    Nice- beat up on the one other person that actually read your article.
    “Can’t be done” That’s the misleading whole point of your article- that according to you it can’t be done.
    Consider me this- there is NO way we get renewables up to any significant MAJORITY of electrical supply in 20 years also.

  • http://gwperplexed.niof.org/thecase.htm RobCra

    As far as cost and environmental issues go, every objective comparison done has shown that wind energy has costs and effects equal to those of nuclear, with the added disadvantage of only part-time availability. Costs and effects of solar energy are several times higher. For example, see the ExternE study. It certainly is true that the first plant built will be expensive, as the first of anything is. As manufacturing and construction proceeds, the costs will go down. We know they will because it has always been that way.

    As the AP article makes clear, the nuclear companies did put away enough capital to pay for decommissioning, but their investments have seen the same devaluations as everyone else’s. If the stock markets don’t recover, too many nuclear plants will be the very least of our concerns.

    You don’t gain credibility with this article. According to you, anyone who looks at the facts and comes down on the other side has to be getting bribes. If you wish to be taken seriously, you need to take a harder look at the issue and not simply seek to justify your preconceptions.

  • http://gwperplexed.niof.org/thecase.htm RobCra

    Correction: the ExternE study is located here.

  • carletes

    I’m a little confused. How is a concrete structure, sitting in the middle of nowhere, with no fuel, a safety concern?
    Renewables.. i.e. windmills, solar panels etc. Do you think anyone is even considering their decommissioning? At least the Nuclear industry invested money to be prepared.

  • http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/ Charles Barton

    Triply-brainless might be a better tag for this blogger. I have over the last two years repeatedly compared the cost of nuclear power with the cost of reliable renewable power – reliable meaning that the lights will actually come on when you turn the switch. Even given far more favorable cost assumptions for renewable than for nuclear, the cost of nuclear generated electricity turns out to be lower than the cost of reliable renewable generated electricity,
    Why? The answer is simple. The sun does not shine at night, and the wind does not always blow. The cost of providing electricity when the sun is not shining ad the wind not blowing wiill make renewables more expensive. Renewables advocates seldom are trying to hid how much making renewables reliable will cost by bad mouthing the cost of nuclear. t
    his is just so stupid and so, so, so dishonest.

  • http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/ Charles Barton

    Triply-brainless might be a better tag for this blogger. I have over the last two years repeatedly compared the cost of nuclear power with the cost of reliable renewable power – reliable meaning that the lights will actually come on when you turn the switch. Even given far more favorable cost assumptions for renewable than for nuclear, the cost of nuclear generated electricity turns out to be lower than the cost of reliable renewable generated electricity,
    Why? The answer is simple. The sun does not shine at night, and the wind does not always blow. The cost of providing electricity when the sun is not shining ad the wind not blowing wiill make renewables more expensive. Renewables advocates seldom are trying to hid how much making renewables reliable will cost by bad mouthing the cost of nuclear. t
    his is just so stupid and so, so, so dishonest.

  • Neil

    Its time we starting moving forward with more nuclear plants.

    The US generates more electricty from nuclear plants than France. Yes France has a greater mix but this is not a science experiment for the US.

    No one has ever been killed in a nuclear plant accident in the US – including Three Mile Island. How many deaths a year are attributed to mining and burning coal?

    The electrification of the transportation industry finally breaks the bond between energy generation and energy consumption. How we generate electricity is completely our own choice unlike who we pay for oil/gas. Forget Exxon’s profits, Saudi made $700B from the US last year.

    Its going to be a long process but it starts with Congressional leadership (both parties). Let’s open the door on identifying sites, fast tracking permits and clearing red tape. We could potentially break ground on 100 plants in 5 years with a decade long construction phase. These would come on-line just as a significant number of PHEV and EV’s hit the road. Time for some long term planning.

  • jason

    I find it amazing that so many nuclear people are chiming in here at Triple Pundit. Isn’t this about the triple bottom line? How does nuclear take ecological performance into consideration? You guys can sit here and talk about nuclear being carbon-free, but you always seem to disregard or play down the waste issue. And uranium mining isn’t an environmental winner. I understand mining has to be done to get materials to build any power plant. Nuclear, wind, solar, coal, whatever. But at least with renewables, you don’t need to keep mining for fuel. I may be in the minority here, but I think this guy’s opinion on nuclear is spot on!
    And as far as that comment about “bad mouthing” the cost of nuclear. The last time I checked, nuclear was the most capital-intensive form of power generation. Plus, the costs continue for waste disposal and decommissioning. Solar runs while the sun is out, wind runs while the wind is blowing, geothermal runs all the time, and energy efficiency measures can help reduce load. Tie all this together and we have a decent contribution from cleaner forms of energy. But you decided not to mention that, didn’t you. How convenient.

  • http://gwperplexed.niof.org/thecase.htm RobCra

    Jason, thanks for taking the trouble to comment. There are so many aspects to this subject we always have to hit one or two points to hold the comments to finite length. Your points are valid and deserve answers and I’ll answer to the best of my limited ability.
    There are a lot of people talking pro-nuclear, including serious environmentalists. That is a recent development, I think owing to the new attention given to nuclear’s importance in dealing with global warming. The recyclability of wind-energy and solar-energy materials is an advantage. The greater amount of materials required offsets that advantage.
    Please check your source on capital intensity of various energy sources. Of the sources I’ve seen, the only ones who argue that nuclear is more capital-intensive are political groups promoting a particular viewpoint and depend on misinformation or at least distortion of facts. Typically, such sources quote a price for rated power capacity and ignore the reality that part-time energy sources only produce a fraction of their rated capacity.
    Generally, most people agree with your conclusion that energy efficiency and renewable energy sources are major parts of the solution. Clear-headed analysis shows, however, that they will not give us the reductions in fossil-fuel consumption needed to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. The conversation we’re having now is exactly what is needed so we can get past this quandary and start taking effective action. For some information supporting the point that nuclear is necessary, please look at The Case for Nuclear Energy.

  • http://www.business-ethics-pledge.org Shel Horowitz

    It’s shocking to see how many nuclear defenders have commented. Back in 1979, I wrote my first book about why nuclear power was a terrible idea, and I remain convinced that it is a terrible path. Decommissioning is only one of dozens of serious problems. Waste disposal, enormous consequences in event of accident, poor safety record to date, net power loss, susceptibility to terrorist attacks all along the fuel cycle (not just the heavily protected plants themselves), centralization of police-state force to protect them, thermal pollution, radiation leakage…just to name a few.
    To those who say nonpolluting renewables are just as if not more expensive… 1. Take a look at the work of people like Amory Lovins, who demonstrates over and over again that when you take a whole-systems approach to locally-grown solar and wind power, economies show up that conventional design and engineering miss completely–like the abiity to eliminate a furnace. 2. Count the true costs of nuclear, without all the subsidies and hiding costs by moving them into other budget streams, and the picture is different.
    I put solar hot water on the roof of my 260-year-old farmhouse in cloudy Massachusetts and the system paid for itself in about five years. I admit that the pv system we put in a couple of years later has not performed as well, but I suspect some poor siting choices have much to do with that.
    But even so, solar is widely applicable, environmentally inoffensive, and, coupled with an aggressive program of conservation, could remove the “need” for many nuclear and coal plants. The days of centralized power generation and remote transmission to user sites are probably coming to a close; far too much energy is wasted in transmission.
    On the conservation side, I happen to have written a short, inexpensive e-book called Painless Green: 111 Tips to Help the Environment, Lower Your Carbon Footprint, Cut Your Budget, and Improve Your Quality of Life – With No Negative Impact on Your Lifestyle: http://painlessgreenbook.com/ – this is stuff you can put into practice immediately, and most of the tips cost nothing or almost nothing.

  • http://gwperplexed.niof.org/thecase.htm RobCra

    Shel, your comment is a good example of the misinformation we nuclear defenders have to overcome. First, your objections are all imaginary; none of the mishaps you describe have happened in the US or in any country except the Soviet Union, a country unique in its abject failure at everything.
    Please look for better information sources than Amory Lovins, a college dropout who calls himself a scientist even though he has no qualifications as one. No doubt, his misrepresentations are the reason for your misconceptions on this important subject. I invite you to look at the true cost of renewables, including high energy inputs and toxic waste. Your position that solar is widely applicable and environmentally inoffensive reflects a stubborn refusal to be objective.
    No one doubts that renewable energy can reduce the use of fossil fuels, just as you say. But the world won’t rely on part-time energy sources and if nuclear isn’t developed in a major way the world will continue to use fossil fuels at a rate that will destroy the world’s habitability in less than a century.

  • http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/ Charles Barton

    Myth Number 1: Nuclear is more expensive than renewables:

  • thomas lewis

    comments from everyone well taken..my openion ;nuck generation is efficient yes,BUT,what about iys waste?after dismantle & clean up add that cost back into the equasion of costs per kwh..mothballing old nuck. plants for any period of time will only put off the inevitable higher cost to be devided among the consumers & how many other states will ban the disposal of hazardious waste in the time lapse?like agent orange in viet nam “it wont hurt our troops”,what will we find in the future?the source i see that gets less R&D money thrown its way is hydro ,the oceans currents are never ending they cover 70% of the planet ,doesnt care if the sun doesnt shine or the wind doesnt blow,& leaves a clean footprint..hydro power was used in the age of the greeks & romans ..a producer of electricity?the lowest cost of generation & maintanance the world has ever had …documented for the last 100 years of all generation means..why dont we look at this means ?no fat cats in DC getting anything out of it…GET REAL …it works!!!!

  • Paul Ketchum

    It is my understanding that every power rod that has ever been delivered to a US power plant is still on site at that plant, be it operational or not.
    This fact leads me to believe this whole waste concern appears to be spin generated by the oil & coal industries (mostly coal). These storage facilities are secure & will continue to be so for years to come. The storage is part of the cost of the plant so this “true cost” you refer to is already factored in. You fail to mention anywhere in your article the real possibility of the eventual recycling of these rods. That technology exist & could be used, sans the fears of moving the rods from power plant to the recycle facility & back. The future no doubt will bring about a workaround for this problem.
    Crying wolf, if the wolf is in the back yard is appropriate, doing so when it is the next state is not.

  • AnthonyKock

    Two words: Chernobyl ; Fukushima. All you people that try and drop the triple bottom line on this subject need to realize that in the long run, there is only one bottom line and that is the stability of Earth’s atmosphere, ozone, and environment. Everyone needs to just stop throwing numbers of dollars up on the bored trying to make a good financial point. Please someone tell me, What good is an economic system if we are not able to survive on OUR ONLY HOME. We have no where else to go, We have one ticket with no refunds. What good is money if there is no humans to spend it? The biggest misconception about environmental views is the effects WE have on the environment. There is very little we can do to the environment. It would take an extreme amount of man power to destroy Earth. But you know how much it would take to destroy us? The only reason why we can survive is because conditions on Earth have fallen in a very narrow range. One small tweek and BAM, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE people understand that The Earth does not need us, But we very very much need Earth. Stop with this urban development race. STOP with worrying so much about the petty economic system. We need to preserve the conditions that have allowed human to survive.