SACE 100 New Nukes Response

Senator Alexander’s recently unveiled “Blueprint for 100 Nuclear Power Plants in 20 years” will neither reduce energy costs nor provide clean energy. The “Blueprint” is part of the GOP’s four-step plan to provide “low-cost clean energy” that completely ignores energy conservation and efficiency. (Even though FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghof recently stated we may not need any more ever.) In unveiling this plan, Senator Alexander said, “Nuclear power is the obvious first step to a policy of clean and low-cost energy.” The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy firmly disagrees. The first step should be reducing our energy consumption in this country and efficiently using the energy that we do consume, not spending trillions of American’s hard-earned dollars on risky new nuclear reactors that will pad the pockets of the nuclear industry even more.

This blog post is intended to provide people with some information to counter these bad plans and understand the actual facts. We refer to it as the 4 “W’s”: Wall Street, waste, water and weapons.  A webinar version of this information was presented by our staff back in February.

Wall Street
Politicians like Senator Alexander are caught up in the nuclear enthusiasm generated by unrealistic cost predictions from the nuclear industry, which have quadrupled in recent years. The nuclear power industry failed the first time around because of the poor economics and Wall Street said no more.  The reality is that new nuclear reactors are very expensive and costs keep going up. Caren Byrd, an executive director of the global utility and power group at Morgan Stanley in New York continues to express concern about the costs of new nuclear plants. She was originally quoted in a New York Times article in May 2009 saying, “The warning lights now are flashing more brightly than just a year ago about the cost of new nuclear.”

Utilities are doing everything they can to shift all of the risks onto ratepayers and U.S. taxpayers.  Why?  Because the utilities can’t afford to do it any other way.  The proponents for new nuclear reactors are essentially proponents for more taxpayer-funded bailouts for irresponsible corporations that continue to make bad energy decisions. Listen to the excellent SACE-hosted webinar held in July by Michele Boyd at Physicians for Social Responsibility on subsidies to nuclear power in current federal energy and climate legislation.

A recent report, “The Economics of Nuclear Power,” by Dr. Mark Cooper, an economist currently at the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment, should sober up this misplaced enthusiasm. Dr. Cooper found that it would cost $1.9 trillion to $4.1 trillion more over the life of 100 new nuclear reactors than it would to generate the same electricity from a combination of more energy efficiency and renewables.

Dr. Cooper’s report outlines how the current rises in predicted costs parallel the same increases experienced during America’s initial nuclear buildup, which eventually led to costs that were seven times higher than those first predicted.

Waste (with a little French thrown in)
Building more new nuclear reactors is dangerous. More reactors results in creating even more highly radioactive nuclear waste. Of the more than 100 operating reactors in the U.S. over the years, there is still no place to safely store the waste. That’s after fifty years of trying to find a solution.

Senator Alexander said, “There is no need to destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment.” Creating massive stockpiles of radioactive nuclear waste capable of contaminating our lands and waterways for hundreds of thousands of years is not saving the environment for our children’s children and their children’s children. And though Senator Alexander champions reprocessing of radioactive waste by misleadingly calling it “recycling,” that is a road we can ill-afford in terms of the high cost, the tremendous amount of waste it produces, and the wrong message it sends to the world – remember Iran and North Korea’s nuclear aspirations?

Senator Alexander cites France’s dependence on nuclear reactors as a success story despite their track record of radioactive spills, idling reactors and inability to build a new reactor on time or on budget. French owned AREVA refuses to predict when it will complete a new nuclear plant in Finland, which is already 60% over budget and years off schedule. An identical reactor under construction in France is also over budget and behind schedule. Is this really what we want to repeat 100 times in America?

Are Senator Alexander and some in Congress really advocating to socialize our electricity system here in the U.S. as it is in France? As much as nuclear proponents would like to tout all things nuclear in France, the real story is not something to brag about.  An article, “France’s Nuclear Fix,” by Dr. Arjun Makhijani at the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research tells it plainly.   The French reliance on nuclear power looks something like this: massive amounts of nuclear waste with no place to go, stockpiles of plutonium longed-for by terrorists, higher electricity costs for ratepayers and extensive radioactive contamination from reprocessing off the Normandy Coast that has angered France’s neighbors, and a vulnerable and unreliable electric system when droughts occur. Beyond Nuclear has some quick facts to refer to.

Nuclear reactors, both old and new, require vast amounts of water to operate and are in fact the most water-intensive energy supply option according to the Department of Energy.  The 2007 drought shut down one of TVA’s Browns Ferry reactors and many reactors in good old France had to power back in 2003 when an extensive heat wave raged through Europe. As climate change has the potential to exacerbate these situations, nuclear reactors may become even more unreliable rendering themselves perhaps obsolete. A fact sheet from the Union of Concerned Scientists explains the problem. That’s a risky prospect when you’re talking about more than $7 billion per reactor these days.

And last but not least, we are in the midst of ongoing turmoil across the world with nations such as North Korea and Iran hoping to become nuclear powerhouses with many others hoping to follow suit.  The link between nuclear weapons and nuclear power is inextricable. As a global leader we have to be responsible in promoting safe solutions to global warming that can be utilized by every nation, not a select few. Pursuing one hundred new nuclear reactors here in the U.S. will send the worst possible message and could result in an even more unreasonable burden for our children to bear.

A Better, Safer Direction
So what to support instead? We need to fully embrace renewable energy and energy efficiency and conservation. Unlike nuclear reactors, solar and wind are truly clean – they are emission free when they’re producing electricity, no carbon, no deadly nuclear waste that remains highly radioactive longer than human civilizations have even existed. And don’t forget that clean renewable energy creates jobs, lots of jobs, and lots of jobs right here in the United States of America. Energy efficiency is far, far cheaper than building new nuclear reactors and helps reduce carbon emissions immediately, all while saving consumers and businesses money.  And this can be done right here in the Southeast.  Yes We Can: Southern Solutions for a National Renewable Energy Standard spells out how each southeastern state can play an important role in transforming America’s energy system to one that reduces carbon emissions, employs our citizens and improves the environment.

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Thank you for the very thorough response. Excellent job.

Comment by Bob Smith on August 5, 2009 3:27 pm

Thank you for your interest.

Comment by Sara Barczak on August 5, 2009 4:11 pm

[...] CleanEnergy Footprints » Archive » SACE 100 New Nukes ResponseA recent report, “The Economics of Nuclear Power,” by Dr. Mark Cooper, an economist currently at the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment, should sober up this misplaced enthusiasm. … [...]

Pingback by Energy-Law » Jimmy David Vigil, attorney at law : North Denver Tribune on August 7, 2009 9:41 am

We need to communicate the true reality of nuclear energy verses renewables and efficient to the ratepayers who’s money is being wasted on this nuclear folly.

We must articulate, in the simplest terms to the average consumer, the feasibility and advantages of decisiviely moving toward a decentralized energy infrastructure in America.

Take for example nuclear power verses solar water heating in Florida.

Progress Energy has manipulated the state government to allow it to bill Florida ratepayer in advance for the construction of a new 2.2 GigaWatt nuclear power facility in Levy county for the “ESTIMATED” cost of about $28 billion dollars. This plant will increase Florida’s base load capacity by about 4%, cost ratepayers thousands of dollars each to build, and result in a 50% increase in the cost of electricity for them.

Now almost every ratepayer in Florida has a water heater and collectively those water heaters use approximately 10% of the electricity consumed in Florida each day. Solar water heating could eliminate that demand on the electric power grid for a fraction of the cost it will take to increase the grid capacity to meet growth that will occur if we continue on, business as usual.

If consumers where given the clear choice between spending $5000 dollars of their money on building a new nuclear power plant that will increase their electric bill by 50% or investing $3500 dollars into building a statewide decentralized energy infrastructure that would DEcrease their electric consumption 20% and eliminate the need for that nuclear power plant, what do you think they would choose?

Ratepayers need to be given that choice, it’s their money and they don’t appreciate or understand how it is being spent by others and what some of the real alternatives could be. It won’t happen easily because the decision to persue a decentralized energy infrastructure where every home has a solar water heater and micro power system big enough to supply 1 kWD per household will represent a huge transfer of wealth from a small minority of power brokers to all the people of Florida. But this approach is better for the ratepayers, better for the economy, and better for the environment.

The development of a decentralized energy infrastructure will not eliminate the need for our current centralized electric distibution system but could eliminate the need for it to grow and even require it to contract. This is going to cost some people with a lot of power a lot of money. The current business model of investor owned utilities is in direct contradiction to the goal of reducing carbon emmissions and global warming. Reducing carbon emmission with alternative energy is not a technical problem, we’ve had the renewable techology to do it for 100 years.

Nuclear is not the solution! But it is certainly the most profitable approach for the electric energy industry. Just because it has low CO2 emmissions does not make Nuclear “Green” however the power industry sure has done a good job making it seem that way.

We need to make it a national goal to displace conventional energy consumption with renewable energy technology at the point of use where it is most effective and cost efficient. Not this splattering of centralized solar power stations that do almost nothing except greenwash consumers into thinking something meaningful is being done. We need a mechanism to capitalize the building of a bottom up renewable energy solution using ratepayers money to serve ratepayer interests because consumers have niether the will nor the resources to do it individually for themselves.

General Electric could make more money producing 250 million solar powered refrigerators in the next 10 years instead of 100 AP1000 nuclear reactors and everyone would be a lot better off if they did.

Has anyone tried to convince them of this?

The only real technical solution to attain meaningful carbon emmission reductions will have to be done from the bottom up because it simply won’t work from the top down!

Centralized solar energy plants don’t work that well and are much more expensive than building energy infrastructure at the point source of energy use, directly in the home and small business. And the bottom up approach puts a lot more people to work because it is far more labor intensive.

Thank you SACE for all your efforts in the right direction.

That’s my energy rant for the today, I need to get back to work!

Comment by Carter Quillen on August 17, 2009 9:43 am

I live in Florida and have a natural gas water heater and heating system for my house. Nat gas is really popular here for this purpose, and my gas bill is really low. It is a fact that nat gas is more efficient than electricity.

What I don’t understand is, why isn’t Nat gas getting more attention as part of the clean energy solution? Nat gas burns very clean, we have an enormous supply of it in this country, and we have an infrastructure already in place that we could build upon.

Comparing Nat gas to biofuels or ethanol, the biofuels and ethanol need to be manufactured, which means more energy is consumed to produce them; and aren’t biofuels made up of the same carbon-based lifeforms as Oil and Nat gas? Where is the savings by using biofuels and ethanol?

In my opinion, Nat gas is good, domestic oil in moderation is good, distributed solar and wind are good, Nuclear is bad, ethanol bad, biodiesel in moderation is good, geothermal is good, electric cars – hmmm… nah. We have so much we could do here right now, and we could tell OPEC to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.


Comment by mglenn on August 19, 2009 9:57 am

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