Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Archive for the ‘Nuclear’ Category


Posted by Rich Sweeney on October 16, 2008

McCain last night:

We can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by building 45 new nuclear plants, power plants, right away. We can store and we can reprocess.

Sen. Obama will tell you, in the — as the extreme environmentalists do, it has to be safe.

Look, we’ve sailed Navy ships around the world for 60 years with nuclear power plants on them. We can store and reprocess spent nuclear fuel, Sen. Obama, no problem.

Posted in Government Policy, Nuclear | 1 Comment »

Nuclear power

Posted by Daniel Hall on May 2, 2008

The CBO just issued a new study on nuclear power in America. Via the CBO Director’s blog here are a couple highlights:

Carbon dioxide charges of about $45 per metric ton would probably make nuclear generation competitive with conventional fossil fuel technologies as a source of new capacity and could lead utilities to build new nuclear plants that would eventually replace existing coal power plants. At charges below that threshold, conventional gas technology would probably be a more economic source of baseload capacity than coal technology. Below about $5 per metric ton, conventional coal technology would probably be the lowest cost source of new capacity.

A carbon price of $45 per ton of CO2 is very likely higher than the U.S. could (politically) implement in the near future. Current emissions prices in the EU are around $35/ton right now.  If the U.S. passed a bill with similar stringency to Lieberman-Warner — a big political ‘if’ — then the EIA says the 2020 price would be around $30/ton, while the EPA analysis suggests higher, $40-50/ton.  If I was guessing I would say it is much more likely that any politically acceptable bill will result in prices of $10-30/ton in the near term.

But I think this is actually the most interesting point about nuclear power right now:

Uncertainties about future construction costs or natural gas prices could deter investment in nuclear power. In particular, if construction costs for new nuclear power plants proved to be as high as the average cost of nuclear plants built in the 1970s and 1980s (adjusted for inflation), or if natural gas prices fell back to the levels seen in the 1990s, then new nuclear capacity would not be competitive…

And this is very possibly the state of the world we are in.  Check this recent post from the EU Energy Policy blog.  Power plant construction costs have more than doubled since 2000, with much of the rise in the last two years and much of it very related to nuclear construction costs.  China particularly is consuming so much cement and steel that global prices for construction commodities are going through the roof.

A couple years ago I was relatively sanguine about the prospects for nuclear power but I am much more skeptical now.  I think the big problems are:

1. In the short run the price of global commodities and NIMBYism mean that it is both very expensive and very difficult to build new plants.

2. In the long run bad news about climate change could make nuclear look much more attractive but here proliferation worries me.  The long run is all about China and India and other not-so-stable parts of the world.  Fine, you can nuke up the U.S. or Europe completely (a la France) but this doesn’t make a huge difference because those places aren’t the future of the emissions anyway.  To really make a dent in the emissions trajectory you are talking about a huge number of plants in parts of the world where there are major religious and ethnic tensions (Jammu and Kashmir, western China) or where governments are authoritarian or (perhaps worse) incompetent.

Essentially I think the U.S. and Europe should be thinking now about which energy technologies they’d like to export 20 years down the road.  In this regard I’d rather us do a bunch of carbon capture and storage research than try to reinvigorate the nuclear industry.

Here is the MIT study on nuclear power, recommended.

Posted in Electricity, Energy Technology, Nuclear | 9 Comments »

Deregulation works – evidence from the “nucular” power industry

Posted by Rich Sweeney on February 6, 2008

EnergyBiz has an interesting piece today on the recent efficiency improvements of the nuclear power industry in the US. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The average capacity factor of nuclear plants around 1990 was a dismal 70 percent, according to statistics collected by the Nuclear Energy Institute…. the 1992 energy act ushered in the era of deregulation… today, the average for all 104 plants is about 90 percent, with some plants running closer to 95 percent.
  • The number of workers-per-megawatt fell from 1.2 at the end of the 1980s to around 0.7 today
  • Operating costs per kilowatt-hour in 2006 were 1.68 cents for nuclear versus 2.2 cents for coal, according to NEI.

The article suggests that these developments are largely the result of managerial improvements post-deregulation, as opposed to any major technological innovations. This story should come as no surprise. As I wrote before, there is academic evidence that electricity deregulation results in demonstrable efficiency improvements.

H/T Dallas.

Posted in Deregulation, Nuclear | 1 Comment »

Celebrate clean coal, come on!

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on November 16, 2007

I’d just like to point out that last night’s Democratic debate was sponsored by the coal industry. That might help explain this exchange:

WOLF BLITZER: All right, Senator, until there’s some new technological breakthrough, as you would hope and all of us would hope, where do you send the [nuclear] waste?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, right now, it is on-site in many situations. And that is not the optimal situation, Wolf. But don’t keep on assuming that we can’t do something. I mean, this is about the third time where you said, assuming we can’t do it, what’s our option?

BLITZER: Well, until we can…

OBAMA: But — but — but I’m running for president because I think we can do it. I reject the notion that we can’t meet our energy challenges.

BLITZER: All right.

OBAMA: We can, if we’ve got bold leadership in the White House that is saying we are going to do something about climate change, we are going to develop renewable energy sources. That’s what I intend to do as president.


OBAMA: And we shouldn’t, you know, be pessimistic about the future of America.

Nuclear is dangerous? Renewables are an audacious pipe dream? In such dire times, to whom can the American people possibly turn?

Taking off my foil hat for a second, I’d say the “highlight” of the evening was a clean coal commercial set to “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. I’m considering advocating an immediate $500/ton carbon tax just so I never have to see that ad again.

Posted in 2008 Elections, Coal/ CCS, Nuclear | 1 Comment »