Tag Archive for: electricity

Nuclear Is A Renewable Energy: Wind and Solar lobbyists are fighting this reality!

As a physicist, I believe that one of the reasons that intelligent energy policies have not gained sufficient traction is that we are allowing those with political agendas (vs independent scientists) to define some key energy terms.

[One thing I know from golf, is that a match is usually won or lost at the first tee — where the terms and conditions are agreed on.]

Outside of “fiscal responsibility” and “all of the above” the most significant misused concept that we have unwittingly gone along with is the term “renewable” energy.

Giving some critical thought to this moniker is no academic matter, as what is defined as “renewable” determines what sources of electricity are eligible for massive handouts and other preferential treatments.

In other words, what is legally defined as a “renewable” will have profound technical, economic, and environmental consequences on the United States.

The renewable energy lobby is extremely aggressive on all aspects of legality, and has made sure that only politically favored energy sources are awarded these perks (e.g., see here). Note that in that definition, “renewable” energy is not defined by what it does (or does not) do, but rather by a list of politically acceptable sources!

To my knowledge, there is no “official” definition of this bandied-about term. When asked, the meanings proffered vary quite a bit, but the key difference between a renewable and non-renewable energy source is usually the rate of replenishment.

Consider this typical definition: “Renewable is an energy resource that is replaced in a reasonable amount of time (our lifetime, our children’s lifetime)…”

Such a word as “reasonable” is subjective — not scientific. Who determines what is a reasonable amount of time, and what is it: 20 years? 100 years? 500 years?

The reason the definition of renewable is focused on time, derives from the concern that we may exhaust some electrical energy sources, relatively soon.

But how much is enough to have? For instance, if we have 100 years of some fuel, would the replenishment rate really be that important?

Clearly, within the next 100 years of use, there will be some profound changes made regarding the efficiency and applications of said fuel’s implementation — in ways we have little understanding of today.

At the time there were well-reasoned expectations in 1950 about what would happen in the year 2000. The message is that almost ALL of the best guesses were wrong. A good example is that today we use LESS renewable energy than we did in 1950!

In the same vein, prior technology predictions by experts (like Einstein) have also proven to be significantly off the mark. Who among us will stand to say that we have a better understanding of technology than Einstein?

In that light, let’s look at the case for nuclear being “renewable.”

First, we should answer how much longer will our nuclear fuel supply last. Consider:

a) This says: “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2008 jointly produced a report saying that uranium resources are adequate to meet nuclear energy needs for at least the next 100 years at present consumption levels. More efficient fast reactors could extend that period to more than 2,500 years.”

It is absurd to say that a 2500-year supply doesn’t qualify this as renewable.

b) In addition, there are several proven alternatives to uranium as a source. One example is Thorium (which is much more plentiful than uranium).

[Read this 2023 study about “The Sustainability of Mineral Resources.” Note that it states “no tools are currently available to allow a comprehensive evaluation of mineral raw material abundance“.]

c) Bernard Cohen (Professor Emeritus of Physics at Pittsburgh University) has stated that breeder reactors have enough raw material energy sources to last us over a Billion years. That’s Billion with a “B”.

When considering these sample facts, an important thing to keep in mind is this quote from some scientists at an excellent University of Michigan site: “Only 50 years ago, nuclear energy was an exotic, futuristic technology, the subject of experimentation and far-fetched ideas.”

Hard as it might seem to believe, most of this nuclear development has occurred in just the tiny space of 50± years — so having any fuel supply that lasts 100± years could cover an enormous amount of new development.

Second, some definitions of “Renewable” include a reference to “power derived from natural sources”. Of course, that is amusingly non-descriptive since essentially all sources of electrical power are based on natural materials, and that includes nuclear.

To read more about this I’d strongly recommend Bill Tucker’s excellent book Terrestrial Energy, or a more condensed discussion he wrote.

A third factor sometimes appearing in the definition of “Renewable” is a reference to a power source’s ability to reduce CO2 (i.e., to be a “clean” source). That same University of Michigan site (above) has this very informative graph about how (worldwide) we have been able to reduce CO2 since 1973.

Now, for the sake of comparison, let’s quickly look at the flip side of this question, at the poster child for renewables: wind energy.

The indisputable fact is that an indispensable part of wind power electricity production is the requirement of LARGE amounts of rare-earth metals. Each wind turbine is reported to have several thousands of pounds of rare-earth materials (typically 2000± pounds per MW. An average-size wind turbine today is something like 5 MW.)

This study concluded that all rare-earth materials might be gone in 20± years! And several more reports warn us of the very limited supplies of these materials, like this.

I could go on, but just considering this information, which is the true renewable: wind energy or nuclear power?

©2024. John Droz, Jr. All rights reserved.


Here are other materials from this scientist that you might find interesting:

My Substack Commentaries for 2023 (arranged by topic)

Check out the chronological Archives of my entire Critical Thinking substack.

WiseEnergy.orgdiscusses the Science (or lack thereof) behind our energy options.

C19Science.infocovers the lack of genuine Science behind our COVID-19 policies.

Election-Integrity.infomultiple major reports on the election integrity issue.

Media Balance Newsletter: a free, twice-a-month newsletter that covers what the mainstream media does not do, on issues from COVID to climate, elections to education, renewables to religion, etc. Here are the Newsletter’s 2023 Archives. Please send me an email to get your free copy. When emailing me, please make sure to include your full name and the state where you live. (Of course, you can cancel the Media Balance Newsletter at any time – but why would you?

The case for nuclear power

Despite its lethal past, nuclear energy is the clean and cost-effective power source we need.


In the fall 2022 issue of the technology-and-society journal The New Atlantis, authors Thomas and Nate Hochman examine the pros and cons of building new nuclear power plants in the United States.  The case of nuclear power is fraught with political issues that are inextricably tied up with technical issues, but the Hochmans do a good job of laying out the problems facing nuclear power and some possible solutions.

If nuclear power had not been invented until 2010, say, it would probably be welcomed as the keystone in our society’s answer to climate change.  Imagine a source of the most fungible type of energy — electricity — that takes teaspoons of nuclear fuel compared to carloads or pipelines full of fossil fuels, emits zero greenhouse gases, and when properly engineered runs more reliably than wind, solar, hydro, or sometimes even natural gas, as the misadventure of Texas’s Great Freeze of February 2021 showed.  What’s to oppose?  Well, a lot, as the Hochmans admit.

Deadly history

It is perhaps unfortunate that the first major use of nuclear technology was in the closing days of World War II, when the US became the only nation so far to employ nuclear weapons in wartime, killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese with bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The long shadow of nuclear war has cast a darkness over the technology of nuclear power ever since, despite optimistic but misguided attempts to promote peaceful uses in the 1950s.

The Hochmans describe the golden era of US nuclear power plant construction, which ran roughly from 1967 to 1987, as a period in which the two major US manufacturers — General Electric and Westinghouse — offered “turn-key” plants that were priced competitively with coal-fired units.  The utilities snapped them up, and the vast majority of existing plants were built in those two decades.

The turn-key pricing turned out to be a big mistake, however.  Manufacturers expected the cost per plant to decline as economies of scale kicked in, but for a variety of reasons both technical and regulatory, the hoped-for economies never materialised.  The particular pressurised-water technology that was used was adapted from early nuclear submarines, and in retrospect may not have been the best choice for domestic power plants.  By the time the companies realised their mistake and switched to cost-plus contracts, they had lost a billion dollars, and utilities became much less enthusiastic when they had to pay the true costs of building the plants.

In the meantime, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed in 1970, making it much harder to obtain permits to build complicated things like nuclear plants.  In the pre-Act days, permitting a plant sometimes took less than a year, but once NEPA passed, such speediness (and the resulting economies of fast construction) was a thing of the past.

Then came the Three-Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 and the Chernobyl plant fire and disaster in 1986, further blackening the reputation of nuclear power in the public mind.  Add to that the not-in-my-back-yard problems faced by attempts to find permanent storage locations for nuclear waste, and by 1990 the US nuclear industry was in a kind of coma from which it has not yet recovered.

The Hochmans point to France as a counterexample of a nation that made a conscious decision to go primarily nuclear for its electric power, and even today about 70% of France’s power is nuclear.  But even France is having problems maintaining their aging plants, and French nuclear promoters face the same sorts of political headwinds that prevail in the US.

Viable option

Now that climate change is an urgent priority for millions of people and dozens of governments, the strictly technical appeal of nuclear power is still valid. It really does make zero greenhouse gases in operation, and when properly engineered, it can be the most reliable form of power, providing the essential base-load capacity that is needed to stabilise grids that will draw an increasing amount of energy from highly intermittent solar and wind sources in the future. Eventually, energy-storage technology may make it possible to store enough energy to smooth out the fluctuations of renewables, but we simply don’t have that now, and it may not come for years or decades.

In the meantime, there are plans on drawing boards for so-called “modular” plants.  If every single automobile was a custom design from the ground up, including a from-scratch engine and body, only the likes of Elon Musk could afford to drive.  But that was how nuclear plants were made back in the day:  each design was customised to the particular site and customer specifications.

If manufacturers had the prospects of sales and freedom to develop a modular one-size-fits-all design, they could turn the process into something similar to the way mobile homes are made today:  in factories, and then shipped out in pieces to be simply assembled on site.  And newer designs favouring gravity feeds over powered pumps can be made much safer so that if anything goes wrong, the operators simply walk away and the plant safely shuts itself down.

Standing in the way of these innovations are (1) the prevailing negative political winds against nuclear power, enforced with more emotion than logic by environmental groups and major political parties, and (2) the need to change regulations to allow such technical innovations, which currently are all but blocked by existing laws and rules.

In the Hochmans’ best-case scenario, the US begins importing modular plants from countries where an existing base of nuclear know-how allows efficient manufacturing, which these days means places like China.  Even if the US nuclear industry turned on full-speed today, it would take a decade or more to recover the expertise base that was lost a generation ago when the industry collapsed.  Regulations and regulatory agencies would change from merely obstructing progress to reasoned cooperation with nuclear-plant manufacturing and installation.  And we would derive an increasing proportion of our energy from a source that has always made a lot of technical sense.

On the other hand, things may just go on as they are now, with old plants closing and no new ones to take their place. That would be bad for a number of reasons, but reason hasn’t been the only consideration in the history of nuclear energy up to now.

This article has been republished from the author’s blog, Engineering Ethics, with permission.

AUTHOR

Karl D. Stephan

Karl D. Stephan received the B. S. in Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1976. Following a year of graduate study at Cornell, he received the Master of Engineering degree in 1977… More by Karl D. Stephan

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Electricity from New Wind Three Times More Costly than Existing Coal

WASHINGTON – The Institute for Energy Research released a first-of-its-kind study calculating the levelized cost of electricity from existing generation sources. Our study shows that on average, electricity from new wind resources is nearly four times more expensive than from existing nuclear and nearly three times more expensive than from existing coal. These are dramatic increases in the cost of generating electricity. This means that the premature closures of existing plants will unavoidably increase electricity rates for American families.

Almost all measures of the cost of electricity only assess building new plants–until now. Using data from the Energy Information Administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we offer useful comparison between existing plants and new plants.

America’s electricity generation landscape is rapidly changing. Federal and state policies threaten to shutter more than 111 GW of existing coal and nuclear generation, while large amounts of renewables, such as wind, are forced on the grid. To understand the impacts of these policies, it is critical to understand the cost difference between existing and new sources of generation.

The following chart shows the sharp contrast in the cost of electricity from existing sources vs. new sources:

LCOE press png

Click here to view the full study.

This study was conducted by Tom Stacy, a former member of the ASME Energy Policy Committee, and George Taylor, PhD, the director of Palmetto Energy Research. The source of the calculations used in this study is a compilation of data reported by the generators themselves to FERC and EIA.