Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unstated costs of Nuclear Power

While most concern is about the high cost of constructing new nuclear power plants, the real dilemma is in the “hidden” costs of the back end…the  waste/decommissioning issues.
The industry has always and still falsely asserted that nuclear power is the cheapest way to generate electricity.  This premise is based on a real slight of hand in hiding and not accounting for the “true” and real costs associated with the kwhs produced AFTER the plant has run its life.
We are still being told that nukes produce electricity at 1.5 to 3 cents/kwh.  This may be true, and is referred to as O&M (operating and maintenance) costs.  This usually includes fuel costs, and the day to day running of the plant.  It DOES NOT include capital investment, financing, major retrofits, decommissioning, and waste management.  If we apply the SAME cost analysis, solar O&M costs are less than 1 cent/kwh…the fuel is free, and operating cost are really negligible.  In many cases, the capital investment in solar is cheaper than today’s nuclear, and those costs are coming down.
The high “cost” of solar is due to our bookkeeping methodology, which discriminates against solar because the sun only shine for about a third of the time versus a power plant that runs full time.  There is no differentiation on the value of the electricity.  (More on this later.)

Meanwhile, here is an interesting piece from today’s news. 
The La Crosse reactor was a small 50MW nuke, similar to the Humboldt Bay nuke, that was shut down in 1987.  The spent fuel has been stored in a wet pool for 25 years.  At Humboldt Bay, the cost of maintaining the pool when it was operative was about $1 million/yr.  The estimated cost of putting the La Crosse fuel into dry storage is $45m.  So, we have about $70m in waste management that did NOT appear on the customer’s energy bill.  Somebody is paying for that now…and the final bill is not in.  Security at Humboldt Bay today is around $12m/yr for the 5 dry casks, and this waste may stay on site for the next 20…50…??? years.   And we don’t know how/if/where/how much this spent fuel will be dealt with in the future.  Like Humboldt Bay, the decommissioned Trojan plant is costing the Northwest ratepayers some $10-15m/yr…an unidentified “tax” on their monthly bill, that will probably never go away…paying for the “cheap” electricity generated back in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s.
The NRC just approved Indian Point’s conversion to dry cask storage.
Interesting issue here is that the fuel will be placed in a transfer cask, transported out of the fuel building, and then re-transferred into the permanent cask.  This has to be done underwater because of shielding requirements, and involves multiple handling of the fuel…very expensive, but probably cheaper than installing a larger crane in the old radioactive building.  No cost estimate on this procedure has been given; BUT, it will be paid for by the consumers, some of whom may have benefited from the “cheap” nuclear electricity generated by that fuel in the past. 
All this is happening/going to happen at all of the 105 nuclear plants we have in the US.  Expensive?  Who pays?  Cheap, cost effective electricity?  And then of course, what will the cost of final disposition of all the spent fuel be…Yucca Mountain cost $14 billion before it was abandoned, and the estimate in 2002 was over $100 billion to deal with this stuff in the future.  I’m sure that cost has not come down as rapidly as the cost of Chinese solar.
So, we’re being hornswaggled…from the front and rear!  We most likely won’t be building anymore new nukes, so we just need to keep bending over! 
Fiscal conservatism…cost effectiveness…big money business at its finest.

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