Monday, June 02, 2008

Fisking Joseph Romm

In an article in Salon Joseph Romm attempts to convince us that he knows something.

So let's have fun taking him apart.
GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who has called for building hundreds of new nuclear plants in this country, recently announced he won't bother showing up to vote on his friend Joe Lieberman's climate bill because of insufficient subsidies (read "pork") for nuclear power.
John McCain and Joe Liebermann. He doesn't even take what they say with a grain of salt. When you consider the source, even without delving into whatever the facts may be, it's a pretty good bet that the truth is diametrically opposite of their positions. In other words, nukes don't need subsidies. Next.
Since new nuclear power now costs more than double what the MIT report assumed -- three times what the Economist called "too costly to matter" -- let me focus solely on the unresolved problem of cost. While safety, proliferation and waste issues get most of the publicity, nuclear plants have become so expensive that cost overwhelms the other problems.
Costs matter to utilities. If they didn't they would be continuing to build gas turbines regardless of the rising fuel cost. This doesn't pass the laugh test.

In the following passage:
Zakaria asks, "A number of analyses say that nuclear power isn't cost competitive, and that without government subsidies, there's no real market for it." Moore replies:

That's simply not true. Where the massive government subsidies are is in wind and solar ... I know that the cost of production of electricity among the 104 nuclear plants operating in the United States is 1.68 cents per kilowatt-hour. That's not including the capital costs, but the cost of production of electricity from nuclear is very low, and competitive with dirty coal. Gas costs three times as much as nuclear, at least. Wind costs five times as much, and solar costs 10 times as much.
Romm conveniently omits the rest of the quote in which Moore makes his point.
I know that France, which produces 80 percent of its electricity with nuclear, does not have high energy costs. Sweden, which produces 50 percent of its energy with nuclear and 50 percent with hydro, has very reasonable energy costs.
Romm displays the depth of his prejudice with this line:
Operation is also cheap, compared with nukes, which run on expensive uranium and must be monitored minute by minute so they don't melt down.
This is countered by the rising natural gas prices that have put nukes back on the table. Uranium may seem expensive until you consider the energy density of uranium. You can put 2 years of fuel on two tractor-trailer rigs. Think of how much coal or natural gas a fossil plant goes through in 2 years. In that 2 years only 1% of the weight and 1/5 of the fissile component of the fuel are actually consumed. The rest is available for recycling.

Romm doesn't know that the tricky part about power plants is keeping the reaction going at an acceptable rate, not keeping it from running away.

Romm complains about the costs of construction being so much higher now than in 2000. What was your house worth in 2000? Cost increases as compared to what? One must also consider that in order to get past the public perceptions inflamed by the likes of Romm the plant designs are going to be more expensive and beyond safe.

The construction of nuclear power plants is expensive but the performance of even the old non-standardized plants have been good enough that major utilities are putting money on the line today for new plants. The plants that are now being built using a standardized, pre-licensed design are running into some problems but these problems are business problems not design problems or technical problems. With each copy the kinks in the process are smoothed out more and more. In time the numbers are going to look better and better. In that same time, the numbers for fossil plants are going to be looking worse and worse, both in cost and actual environmental damage.


Charles Barton said...

Excellent post!

Unknown said...

Concerning subsidies, I beg to differ, according to Democracy Now, "The Senate is considering providing the nuclear industry with over $500 billion in subsidies for new nuclear power development. The subsidies are included in a much-touted bipartisan climate change bill. One aide to Senator Joseph Lieberman described the plan as “the most historic incentive for nuclear in the history of the United States.”