Just a quick update on where energy policy and development is at now, with the new administration’s blatant shift away from acknowledging and working towards solutions to the global issue of climate change. Ignoring climate change will not make it going away; and as model predictions of increasing climate extremes continue to come true, the economic, as well as environmental and social impacts, will continue to escalate until it can no longer be ignored. The basic reason for all this denial has always been the economic threat to the fossil fuel industry. However, today’s bottom line is that renewables are NOW the least cost technology for generating electricity, on par with natural gas, and well outpacing the increasing costs of coal and nuclear. This is already beginning to cut into the coal and oil’s once dominance in electricity generation and transportation. In this piece, I will focus on nuclear, the third component of “big” industry’s stranglehold on energy policy.
The nuclear renaissance is basically dead. Like a slain dinosaur, it just keeps thrashing its tail with hopes of new profits for the industry. The bottom line is cost. No new reactors have been ordered in over ten years, and several supposed advanced technology reactors are falling off the drawing boards in Florida and South Carolina. One of the last “hopeful” plans is a reactor in Virginia, now estimated at $19b!! The new small modular reactors are still years away from even scaled up models for testing and licensing. The fact is that by the time they do become available, their needs for all the infrastructure of uranium mining, enrichment, fabrication, steam generators, low and high level waste management and disposal, as well as the declining need for base load power, will make them unaffordable compared to renewables with storage and natural gas backup (1). The same hold true for thorium and even fusion. Nuclear technology is overkill…just to boil water…as Amory Lovins said “it’s like cutting butter with a chain saw!” Yes, in time we will build some of these advanced projects, but they will never approach the capacity, which renewables will supply in generating electricity.
The big problem today is what to do with the 95+ reactors currently in operation in the US, as they begin to reach the end of their useful life. The cost of maintaining them is increasing, making them basically uncompetitive in today’s market (2). The recent revelations of Toshiba-Westinghouse losses of $6-8 billion has rattled world markets, the problems with France’s Areva and EDF’s state of the art reactors in Finland and France, and the economic changes caused at Hinkley due to Brexit are all weighing heavily on the global nuclear industry. Again, this is all due to exorbitantly increasing costs, in the face of rapidly decreasing costs for renewables. California is again leading in the shift to a sustainable renewable future with its plan for shutting down its twin reactors at Diablo Canyon.
Meanwhile, no progress had been made in radioactive waste storage. The industry is now drooling at the huge upcoming market in decommissioning. A lot of companies, such as Energy Solution, are pushing into the waste storage arena, hoping for Congressional approval to create of a centralized, monitored spent fuel cask site probably in Texas or Utah. This is going to be a tough sell, since it was tried back in the early 90’s and failed for numerous environmental and safety reasons. The new push for Yucca Mountain will reveal the same technical problems identified earlier that make that site unsuitable. In a couple of months I will partake in a hearing looking into putting casks in the deep ocean bottom muds off the California coast. Absurd! As I’ve said before, there is no solution to high level waste storage other than keeping it on site at the various locations in well designed and built casks that can be monitored and upgraded over the millennium.
The news from Fukushima is overwhelming. The ice wall proved to be a $300m fiasco, and the fact that there was a complete meltdown creating radiation levels so severe that even robots can survive more than a few minutes suggests that this accident will never be cleaned up and will continue to pollute for tens of thousands of years (3). Sad!
On a positive note, Humboldt Bay is in the final phase of its $1.1b cleanup, and the last of the 4000 truckloads of contaminated soil should be off our highways by next March. Interesting that Highway 299 has been closed since last November…that was the cheapest and most direct route to the railhead in Redding. I’m waiting for an update.
Again, it is economics and not the environment, or safety, or the social/moral/ethical issues that is playing havoc with the nuclear industry. It is a dangerous and complex technology, which achieved its status only because of the tremendous profits, afforded to the powerful military/industrial complex. CEOs are still making money today, planning for reactors, which will never be built. And the public, in its apathetic ignorance, continues to pay for it.
Depending on who/what/where you get your information, the true facts have always been out in the open. It depends on what you read and believe. Two recent articles display this.
And from the right wing Daily Caller, some real optimism. Andrew has been so wrong so many times!
The bottom line is that nuclear will not play a new or substantial role in our energy future. Renewables, storage, efficiency, and a modern grid system are already making headway.
If you need more references to issues, which you cannot find yourself, please ask and I can refer you to my sources. Or check with Fox and BreitBart!