At the EnergyCollective climate analyst Jesse Jenkins asks for dialog
Over at the EnergyCollective (TEC) climate analyst Jesse Jenkins is working on the existential nature of green political correctness v. using nuclear energy to meet baseload demand. In an act akin to nailing a proclamation to the cathedral door, Jenkins asks nine questions and requests that nuclear bloggers, who he also cites in the questions as sources, to answer them.
First of all this is somewhat disingenuous since Jesse's anti-nuclear views are well known from his blog posts and featured participation in TEC webinars. Second, some of us have been down this road before with other anti-nuclear analysts.
For instance, TEC blogger “Big Gav,” who does not post under his real name, practices a “hit-and-run” mode of blogging in which he posts anti-nuclear nonsense and then ignores comments that point out the holes in his arguments.
For nuclear bloggers the question becomes this - are you playing a losing game a 'whack-a-mole' with the latest round of anti-nuclear rhetoric or this is a chance for genuine dialog?
Assuming that Jesse is genuinely interested in a new round of answers, even though all of them have been posted here or on TEC before, I'll offer some brief replies. Jesse's questions are preceded by his initials and my answers are set off in a different font.
JJ What are the biggest three obstacles to the construction and operation of new nuclear power plants in the United States? (If you care to venture a recommendation, in what ways can public policy help mitigate or overcome these barriers)
The big three are cost/financing, manufacturing supply chain, and access to nuclear engineers and skilled trades experienced in proving nuclear quality work. There are some things government must do, and one of them is to accept responsibility for risks that are too great to bear by the private sector, e.g., financing a nuclear power plant. Also, the U.S. needs to train a whole new generation of nuclear engineers and skilled trades who can deliver a nuclear power plant on time and within budget.
JJ New nuclear-fired power plants have been built in the past decade and are operating in Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, India and elsewhere. What is the difference between the market or policy environment in these nations and the United States that paves the way for new nuclear plant deployment in these nations while slowing/blocking the industry’s development in the U.S.?
The U.S. is stuck on the idea that nuclear power plants are the responsibility of the private sector whereas in all these other countries, the government is the primary player. Anti-nuclear groups love to sing the "market mantra" because they know few utilities have the market capitalization to bet the company on one. It becomes an effective stopper to new plant development.
JJ The Energy Policy Act of 2005 established new policy support for nuclear power development, including loan guarantees covering up to 80% of eligible project costs for new nuclear projects and several additional incentives for the first six power plants/6 GW of new nuclear plants, including a production tax credit, up to $2 billion in cost-overrun support and guarantees against cost overruns due to delays in the permitting process. These policies have been insufficient to spur the construction of new nuclear power plants in the U.S. Why?
The government has had nearly five years, three energy secretaries, two presidents, and two directors of the DOE loan guarantee program for new nuclear power plants, and has yet to get one of the loan guarantees out the door. That's why.
JJ Nuclear industry advocates have been chiefly focused on securing new loan guarantees, including a push for up to $100 billion in loan guarantees (as in the new Alexander-Webb bill). Why would more loan guarantees succeed where the policies (including loan guarantees) in the Energy Policy Act of 2009 have failed?
It doesn't matter how much you have authorized in loan guarantees. If you don't award any, nothing happens.
JJ Are their specific challenges to the construction of the first few power plants of any particular, and if so, how do these challenges differ from the deployment of these designs at scale?
Yes. First-of-a-kind (FOAK) nuclear power plants inevitably create useful lessons learned that result in costs savings for future plants. That's why Areva's efforts in Finland and France are being closely followed by the rest of the nuclear industry.
JJ Assuming the industry starts growing, what new challenges emerge for nuclear power deployment at large scales (10s of GW per year)?
Getting the power to market via transmission and distribution infrastructure becomes an issue because of NIMBY opposition to power lines. It takes twice as long to get the approvals for the right-of-way as it does to build the lines.
JJ Can new nuclear power plant designs (e.g. small/modular reactors, Gen III+ or Gen IV designs, etc.) mitigate challenges to new nuclear power adoption, and if so, in what specific ways?
Yes, those that use LWR fuel and designs will have a relatively easier time with licensing and their lower price per unit and per KwHr will make them attractive to mid-size utilities that can't afford the 1,000 MW units. All of the nuclear bloggers on TEC have covered the small reactor issues extensively on TEC.
JJ What barriers to nuclear power deployment cannot be solved by policy and why? What factors are most likely to overcome these barriers (or are they intractable)?
Green political correctness run amok, like a recent LA Times editorial, becomes an article of religous faith and no amount of engineering reason or scientific truth will be able to make a dent in it.
Anyway, there you have it. Jesse could also point his browser to the web pages of the Nuclear Energy Institute(NEI), which has a wealth of information to help him answer his questions.
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