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Earth Power The Almighty Buck

Nuclear Energy Now More Expensive Than Solar 635

js_sebastian writes "According to an article on the New York Times, a historical cross-over has occurred because of the declining costs of solar vs. the increasing costs of nuclear energy: solar, hardly the cheapest of renewable technologies, is now cheaper than nuclear, at around 16 cents per kilowatt hour. Furthermore, the NY Times reports that financial markets will not finance the construction of nuclear power plants unless the risk of default (which is historically as high as 50 percent for the nuclear industry) is externalized to someone else through federal loan guarantees or ratepayer funding. The bottom line seems to be that nuclear is simply not competitive, and the push from the US government to subsidize it seems to be forcing the wrong choice on the market."
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Nuclear Energy Now More Expensive Than Solar

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  • by Calinous ( 985536 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:35AM (#33066442)

    But in cold and rainy climates, especially when electricity is used when it's cold outside (as opposed to when it's hot outside), nuclear can be much better than solar.

  • by grimJester ( 890090 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:59AM (#33066558)
    I'm as pro-green energy as anyone, but the chart here [thephoenixsun.com] looks completely absurd. Nuclear has quadrupled in price in a few years? Even ignoring the trend lines, how on earth does nuclear go from 8c/kWh to 22 from 2005 to 2010? A jump like that can't be assumed to be a trend, surely.

    The good news, assuming the data points can be trusted to be somewhat realistic, is that solar _is_ getting competitive and has changed significantly in a very short time.
  • Re:I wonder.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rufty_tufty ( 888596 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @06:26AM (#33066678) Homepage

    It's dead easy to kill fusion:
    Explain to the Luddites about neutrinos. A fusion plant produces massive quantities of them that are free to radiate into the environment and no attempt is made to shield them. Not only that but there have been studies that show that neutrinos can transmute matter and therefore are a possible cause of cancer. No studies have been conducted about the effects of neutrinos on young children's development and so far all subjects exposed to neutrinos have later died or showed effects of cell degradation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2010 @06:27AM (#33066686)
    Uranium mines are shutting down world wide.
  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Thursday July 29, 2010 @06:48AM (#33066760) Journal
    The spot price for uranium peaked at just under US$140/lb in 2007 and since then has dropped well below US$100/lb. Fuel is chump change compared to capital costs, insurance, decommissioning, waste disposal, etc.
  • by micheas ( 231635 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @06:54AM (#33066788) Homepage Journal

    Care to support this with a citation? The only news I read about nuclear is how to get rid of waste and at the same time stop teRRists from getting it.

    I don't have a citation handy, but as I understand the situation, the rich uranium deposits are very low, resulting in the mining of lower grade deposits, Thus the cost of extracting uranium is going up, on a semi permanent basis.

    That said, Uranium is a fairly small cost of a reactor, and reactors on the Mississippi river shut down when there is a concern over water, not uranium.

    The other myth is that carbon dioxide is the major green house gas. Water vapor is the major green house gas (about 80% of the green house effect that makes earth livable is from water vapor.) This is relevant because Nuclear power plants, like coal fired power plants, are big steam engines, many of which release large quantities of steam into the atmosphere.

    Power plants like Diablo Canyon in Southern California get around the issue of needing large quantities of water by being feed by the ocean, but the new power plants on the Mississippi river seem to be causing other power plants to run short of water, so more power plants on the Mississippi probably will not result in much of an increase in electricity produced.

    I don't know which issue the grand parent poster was referring to, but in summary, the economics of an isolated nuclear power plant looks pretty good, but when you put them in the real world ... well as the saying goes, the difference between practice and theory is small, in theory.

  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:16AM (#33066898) Journal

    We are still pissing ourselves laughing at it's price..........
    There is no way it is going to be sold unsubsidised for 16c per kwHr

    And of course, prices on new technology never go down.

  • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:18AM (#33066914)

    coal plants are the same- they require cooling and cause water vapour to be released.
    Solar thermal, ditto, it needs a lot of water to run.
    Pretty much any power plant which uses steam turbines has that drawback.

    uranium isn't going to run out any time soon.

    Water is the big greenhouse gas but the amount humans cause to be released vs natural evaporation from the oceans is trivial, methane, CO2 and other well known greenhouse gasses on the other hand are vastly more potent and we release a lot of them.

  • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:20AM (#33066922)

    the difference of course is that the cost of uranium is a trivial factor when it comes to nuclear power.
    The plants are expensive, the fuel could double, triple etc in price and it would barely be noticed next to the cost of the plant.

  • by vigmeister ( 1112659 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:25AM (#33066960)

    The other myth is that carbon dioxide is the major green house gas. Water vapor is the major green house gas (about 80% of the green house effect that makes earth livable is from water vapor.) This is relevant because Nuclear power plants, like coal fired power plants, are big steam engines, many of which release large quantities of steam into the atmosphere.

    Power plants like Diablo Canyon in Southern California get around the issue of needing large quantities of water by being feed by the ocean, but the new power plants on the Mississippi river seem to be causing other power plants to run short of water, so more power plants on the Mississippi probably will not result in much of an increase in electricity produced.

    I am not well up on the details of reactor design, but if they convert water to steam, run it through a turbine and then release it into the air, that is actually a plus in my book.

    Steam essentially is simply water + energy. You can get creative with what you do to extract that energy.heat engines can vary in efficiency, but who cares? It was 'waste energy' anyway.


  • Re:I wonder.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:27AM (#33066980)

    I strongly doubt that... There are trillions of neutrinos flying through your head every second. Also, given that they fly though the entire planet without much care, and indeed the core of the sun, I doubt they will have much affect on your DNA. There is no attempt at shielding because it is pointless.

  • by FriendlyLurker ( 50431 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:28AM (#33066986)
    Yes, let's learn from the French: The French Nuclear Lesson [energypriorities.com] If you don't like that review, there are plenty of others that demonstrate over and over [google.com] Nuclear is not "competitive" (let's say viable competitive it will never be) unless your willing to increase taxes (or inflate your currency) to subsidize construction, operation and waste disposal to the hilt. That or you could always do what the Italians and some other countries have done, and just quietly dump it into the sea [google.com]. Quotes:

    "Like the U.S., France does not have a permanent solution for disposal. The cost of temporary waste storage -- hundreds of billions of euros -- is being passed along to French taxpayers and ratepayers by the state and its subsidized plant operators."

    "The only other hope for nuclear would be to subsidize it, and subsidies must increase taxes, deepen the budget deficit, or both. That's not new in America: The fossil fuels industry receives more subsidies than all other forms of energy combined."

  • Re:Nights (Score:3, Interesting)

    by quanminoan ( 812306 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:49AM (#33067110)

    "And don't forget that these superconducting grids will be dangerous as hell, if you're pushing enough current through a cable to power north america and any part of the cooling system fails the resistance goes from zero to anything non-zero and your superconducting cable explodes extremely violently.

    I'd agree these superconducting cables have issues, but exploding really isn't one of them. Most modern superconducting magnetic coils and cables are designed around quenching and have copper dump loads built into the cables. The real killer for power is the energy required to keep the cables cool...

    IMHO, the solution to solar would be affordable large scale energy *storage* (magnetic energy storage, large vacuum composite flywheels, etc.).

  • Re:I wonder.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rufty_tufty ( 888596 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @08:13AM (#33067312) Homepage

    Nope I meant neutrinos, I know full well the sun produces trillions of them, I know that they are harmless.
    I also know that CERN is harmless because cosmic radiation produces far higher energy collisions in the atmosphere every second, but some people still fear it.
    I know that my local nuke plant produces gamma radiation that you cannot 100% shield against, yet people object to them because they "emit deadly radiation".
    I carry a tritium keyring that has a half life and lights up my pocket with it's radioactive decay.
    I use a mobile phone and don't worry about the fact that you can't prove that it doesn't do me harm.

    So what I was trying to do was parody those who would pray on the fact that you can't prove a negative and other bits of lack of joined up thinking to sell their particular political cause. Still you can't please everyone...

  • by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @08:18AM (#33067342) Homepage

    We've had proof-of-concept plants that show breeders, particularly the [wikipedia.org] IFR [wikipedia.org] to be pretty efficient and safe. The last US attempt was canceled by Clinton and his cronies [wikipedia.org].

    You may find this article [nationalcenter.org] to be informative.

  • by micheas ( 231635 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @08:55AM (#33067694) Homepage Journal

    I was very surprised to find out how much water seems to be lost in nuclear power plants, on paper you are right, one would think that it would almost all get recycled. Either economics or changing environmental regulations seems to cause evaporative cooling to be used. (this is for rivers that you cannot put over heated water back into them due to environmental regulations.)

    If you read the commentary about super critical coal powered plants at http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/cooling_power_plants_inf121.html [world-nuclear.org] you will see something odd about the water usage projections for super critical coal plants.

    Super critical coal plants and Nuclear plants on the Mississippi use about 30% more water than one would expect and it seems that this is being lost to evaporation in some manner that is not clearly explained and is just a best guess. Is this a secondary cooling system to comply with environmental regulations? I don't know but it seems like coal and nuclear power plants on the Mississippi are losing a lot of water to evaporation. I like you am not really sure why, because as you say, you basically run a closed system with a cooling system that should make the water loss just that of the evaporative effects of the water being a few degrees warmer.

  • by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @09:20AM (#33067912)

    Meanwhile, in the little town where I lived in Southern Oregon a few years ago, a Natural Gas 500MW power plant cost something like $80-100 million to build.

    If you can build and operate ten 100 megawatt solar plants for the cost of building, operating and decommissioning one 1 gigawatt nuke plant (and insuring it for liability, and dealing with its waste), why not go with solar?

    Maybe not all of us want to see every square inch of desert covered in solar panels. Compare the surface area used to generate 1Gigawatt at a Nuke vs Solar...

  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dtfusion ( 658871 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @09:35AM (#33068114)
    How do all of these storage solutions scale? EG Pumped storage for all of Chicago would require putting an area comparable to Chicago's underwater (600 km^2). Pumped storage has an capacity of a few Watts per m^2 depending on the depth change available (typically a few meters). Chicago uses energy at an average rate of 20 GW so you need an area on the order of 10^10 m^2 or a square area that is 100km on a side. BTW In Illinois about half the power comes from nuclear, the other half from coal.
  • Batteries? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @10:09AM (#33068548)
    So, you've never heard of pumped storage [wikipedia.org], or any other forms of grid energy storage [wikipedia.org], eh?
  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShadowRangerRIT ( 1301549 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @10:18AM (#33068648)

    To be fair, France benefits from a much more centralized population. The U.S. can't just build enormous nuke plants and send power by wire across the country without serious losses on the line. France is small enough that it can send power to a larger number of people with shorter lines, and moreover, they benefit from economies of scale, because they aren't just powering France, they're selling the power to neighboring countries (presumably at a profit).

    They also engage in fuel reprocessing, which the U.S. does not, and that makes a huge difference in the economic factors. The U.S. policy is due to a fear of plutonium being stolen from reprocessing facilities for use by terrorists or rogue states, combined with a need to "set an example" to other countries; if we reprocess fuel, then they'll claim they should be allowed to as well, but reprocessing fuel is an easy way to produce bomb grade fissionable material. I don't know if I agree with the U.S. policy (wasting tons upon tons of usable reactor fuel to set an example seems pointless when no one follows the example, and you end up with political quagmires like what to do with all the waste), but the costs in the U.S. are definitely higher.

  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:3, Interesting)

    by js_sebastian ( 946118 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @10:29AM (#33068818)

    I agree. I question the mode of cost calculation in the article.

    Here is a reference point. 82% of France's electricity comes from nuclear power plants. The price of power for industrial customers is about 0.06 USD/kWh. This includes huge personnel and pension costs (powerful unions) and sloppy financial management (politically appointed execs). So it means that actual production and delivery costs are below this price point. Since EDF, the French electricity semi-public firm, is a monopoly, there is little incentive to be more cost-effective. And yet, even so, they achieve a cost of 6 cents per kWh.

    Right. But I bet most of the plants were built by the French government (read military) in their effort to become a nuclear power, and EDF does not pay huge interest costs on the gigantic loans that would have been needed to build them, nor does it pay for waste disposal. Nuclear energy has been hugely subsidized throughout its history because of its military applications, and now the plan seems to be to start hugely subsidizing it for "ecological" reasons.

  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @01:54PM (#33072604) Homepage Journal

    That's only 16 years if your total output from panels is consistently greater than your demand even at peak load and you drain your batteries fully every night. If your demand wavers significantly, you might be drawing power off the batteries some of the time during the day, and thus could be using more than one charge cycle per day. If you don't discharge fully at night, you could be using fewer than one charge cycle per day. So that's a good estimate, but how good depends highly on the installation details.

  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @02:00PM (#33072740) Homepage Journal

    Oh, and I also forgot to mention that those numbers are probably under ideal circumstances. Temperature, charge rate, etc. can have a big impact on the actual life expectancy. Constant trickle charging is probably the hardest thing you can do to a battery, so unless your charge system is smart enough to handle the "battery full" condition reasonably and dump excess power into a dummy load or whatever, you might get significantly less than 6k charge cycles.

  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @03:25PM (#33074334) Homepage

    One of the neat things about solar thermal plants is that you get a "peaking plant" at little extra cost. California's SEGS does this. Basically, you run a natural gas line to the plant, and when you need more power than the sun can provide, you fire up the natural gas burner which heats the water as though it had been heated by the sun. Everything else continues normally through the turbines; they don't care where the heat in the water came from.

  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DarkVader ( 121278 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:07PM (#33075136)

    I agree. Where the government is the utility, things are already better than where private industry has been allowed to make their mess.

    I'd be in favor of nationalizing all the electric utilities.

  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AnotherBlackHat ( 265897 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:37PM (#33075584) Homepage

    Once you go from photovoltaic to solar thermal, you have to add the capacity to store heat in your heat reservoir and extract it. That increases costs significantly...

    Does it? I'd think heat storage could be as simple as a lined hole in the ground.
    Digging a hole the size of a 10 story building (which is about what you'd need for a 100 megawatt steam plant) and lining it with concrete isn't free, but no where near the cost of everything else you need. I'd estimate less than a 10% increase in cost. And that's without imagining "high-tech" solutions like molten salt.

  • Re:Coal (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 0xABADC0DA ( 867955 ) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:43PM (#33075706)

    If I have to pay for the negative externalities of the process ... then my process is only competitive for gold prices above $1050 per gram. However, if I can get away with just dumping the toxic water somewhere for free, then at $50 per gram of gold my process is highly competitive

    There is another angle to this. If you can improve your solar efficiency by 0.1% but it will cost you $10 million to modify the factory then you need to recoup that $10 million from sales that would otherwise go to competitors or not be made. If you aren't selling much then you have less ability to improve the product.

    So the reason we should be investing a lot on solar in the form of subsidies is to grow the market, which will improve the technology as a side effect. The difference between solar and a lot of other green fuels is that there can be large improvements in the efficiency. Even if solar is not the cost effective choice now, we should still invest in it so that it will be.

  • The Yucca mountain facility is not a waste containment center, it's a radiation containment facility that holds the items through their decomposition period.

    While I believe it to be a monumentally expensive endeavor and positively way too "modern marvel"''ish, I figured I'd clear that up since the whole water running thing came into play.

    I fail to see how that in any way invalidates what I said.

    Our power distribution currently is a power distribution system alone and has nothing to do with how the energy is made. It's a delivery system, alone. ...

    Ecologically the creation method is healthier, but solar is never to be discounted since it's inevitably ecologically free energy.

    Until the sun sets, which is when a lot of demand happens, and suddenly solar isn't producing any more. This is fine for coal/natural gas/nuclear plants and even (in most cases) hydroelectric plants, as we just turn the dial up on them and get more electricity out of them. We can't do that with solar or wind power, as we don't have any control over how much they produce at any given time. Hence my comment about storage--depending on solar/wind will require massive investment in energy storage and require a major reworking of how we handle demand on the network. So, yes, it does matter where the power comes from.

    Also, unless I missed some really amazing developments, solar does require materials with which to actually build the panels, some of which are not nice. Saying it's ecologically free isn't quite the truth. Better? Sure, but poisons and fossil fuels are still used in their production.

  • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@[ ... m ['bar' in gap]> on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:48PM (#33076642) Journal
    They all scale just fine - as a matter of fact, inertial storage is being looked at to help do load balancing at the local level irrespective of how the power is being generated.

    Pumped storage can be situated hundreds of miles away to take advantage of local geography.

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