A question on the cost of nuclear power

by John Quiggin on June 6, 2004

If you take the problem of climate change at all seriously, it’s obviously necessary to consider what, if any, role nuclear (fission) energy should play in a response. I discussed this on my blog not long ago and concluded that “it may well be that, at least for an interim period, expansion of nuclear fission is the best way to go.” However, on the basis of my rather limited survey of the evidence, I suggested that, as a source of electricity, nuclear energy is about twice as expensive as coal or gas. If so, conservation is the first choice, and we should only move to alternative sources of electricity when the easy conservation options are exhausted.

By contrast, Mark Kleiman says that “Nukes, if run right, are fully competitive with coal, and a hell of a lot cleaner”, Brad DeLong says “He’s 100% completely correct”, and Matt Yglesias takes a similar view.

Kleiman cites the example of France, which I don’t find entirely convincing, since the French have always given substantial subsidies to nuclear energy. He argues that the US made a mess of nuclear energy for regulatory reasons, but doesn’t say anything about the British experience, which didn’t have the same problems and was still an economic disaster. I’ve looked briefly at Canada’s CANDU program, where experience appears to be mixed at best.

Can anyone point me to a reliable source of comparative information on this? Is there general agreement, or a partisan divide between pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear advocates ? I’d also be interested in comments on the general question raised in my opening sentence.



Brad DeLong 06.06.04 at 4:15 am

Let me retreat some and say “fully competitive” in a full social cost sense, not in a market cost sense…


tib 06.06.04 at 4:52 am

Nuclear power is appealing to a certain mind-set in the same way that the invasion of Iraq was to those of an idealistic political mind-set. Both ideas suffer from hubris, one with respect to what is possible politically, the other with respect to the reliability of human engineering.

Most professional engineers have an understanding of the limits of human designed and maintained systems. Murphy’s law is a constant presence. Less technical people, and less honest engineers, believe that systems can be designed to eliminate risk. The problem with nuclear power is that, given the fallibility of human engineering and management, inevitably the worst case scenario will occur, safety systems will fail in surprising ways, and the damage will be enormous.

So the question is not “can we engineer a safe nuclear power plant”, but rather “is the cost of an inevitable catastrophic failure of a nuclear power plant worth the savings versus other power sources.”

Policy makers are aware of the potential damage the failure of a nuclear plant would cause, and so they impose huge and expensive regulatory burdens in an attempt to reduce the risk. Those burdens, ineffective at preventing disaster but justifiable given the magnitude of the risk, make nuclear power economically inefficient.


Anno-nymous 06.06.04 at 5:35 am

Being one of the “less technical people,” I have to say that tib’s response sounds like a lot of bunk. Since he doesn’t actually make any technical arguments specific to nuclear power, and just says that any worst case scenario will occur, his logic seems to call into question everything ever done. Call me naive, but I think that reducing the economic cost of nuclear power is a challenge that is, hypothetically at least, solvable by engineers and technological progress.


David Sucher 06.06.04 at 6:03 am

Has anyone here ever heard that there is a problem of disposal of nuclear waste? It’s a true dilemma — not something made up by wild-eyed greens — and a problem with at this point NO solution. It’s the reason why nuclear power is simply NOT practical.


David Sucher 06.06.04 at 6:10 am

Questions about the “cost” of nuclear power are not germane — except if one correctly factors in waste disposal as a cost. And since there is no current feasible methods of disposal, the cost of nuclear power in some sense then becomes “infinite.” Or at least “indefinite.”

Btw, by my reckoning “storage” of nuclear waste — for upwards of ten thousand years — is NOT disposal.


Andrew Boucher 06.06.04 at 6:33 am

We’ll need to store the wastes ten thousand years.

In three thousand years we’ve had Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, and Hitler – among others, of course.

I’d prefer to take my chances with global warming, thank you.


IXLNXS 06.06.04 at 6:40 am

Free hydrogen from salt water and solar energy.

No, I’m not going to draw a blueprint for you.

And if it’s just electricity you want.

Magnetics with reverse polarization panels and capacitors and batteries array.

Again I am drawing no blue prints until I get paid.

Seems the knowledge is there. Worse yet it may have been bought up by energy compnaies who werne’t ready to convert yet. It wasn’t fiscally sound.


Andrew Boucher 06.06.04 at 6:40 am

Sorry, on mature reflection, the choice of my examples makes it sound like I’m worried about bad people using the wastes. Of course bad people will have plenty of other options.

The point I was trying (!) to make is that, if you think of human history, ten thousand years is a long, long time. We don’t know who we’re saddling with this problem.


John Quiggin 06.06.04 at 8:33 am

I’m certainly concerned about estimates of costs for various radioactive waste disposal methods, and the limitations of those methods. But I don’t think it’s the automatic clinching argument suggested by Andrew and David for a couple of reasons

First, there is already a large quantity of plutonium that we need to deal with somehow, and there will be more if nuclear disarmament proceeds further. I don’t think it’s helpful to assert that the cost of dealing with this is infinite. The question is how much the cost will be increased if the quantity of waste is made larger than it already is

Second, the fact that a problem might last 10 000 years is not, in itself, a definitive argument. It depends on the scale of the damage that might be caused. I’d like to see evidence on this.


Lance Boyle 06.06.04 at 9:27 am

It is forbidden, absolutely and most thoroughly forbidden to question the holiness of the demand for electrical power. The uses to which it is put are never to be examined as to their necessity, or their lack of necessity.
Use heroin, as an analog for argumentive purposes I mean.
Everyone’s arguing about synthetic opiates or morphine or demerol. No one’s talking about kicking the addiction.
Demand is so sacred it’s taboo to mention except as a constant need that has to be met.
Most electricity in America is being used to hypnotize people whose lives get significance the same way modern poultry do.


Scott Martens 06.06.04 at 11:06 am

The kind of information source you’re looking for doesn’t exist because, first, there is no such thing as a free market in energy anywhere in the world. There isn’t anything even close. Energy production is a very large scale undertaking which is so dependent on large scale infrastructure that no electricity production system exists that isn’t linked to the state at basically every level. Second, even if there was such a free market, there would be no agreement about the secondary costs of power production, particularly the health effects of pollution and environmental damage.

So, there will never be a simple unbiased account. Personally, I’m pro-nuclear. People are far more paranoid about low-level radiation than they have any reason to be, and EDF and CANDU reactors have an excellent safety record. There are costs associated with nuclear waste, but they are not uncontrollable costs.

There is more than a little truth to the claim that the Americans and the Soviets messed up nuclear power for everyone else. Because France is so committed to nuclear power, it has become a major power exporter. As neighbouring countries shut down dirty power plants, they find their own anti-nuclear lobbies blocking the construction of new nuclear plants. So, the end result is the purchase of French nuclear power. Ontario is also very nuclear nowadays, and I suspect the adjacent US states will start buying Ontairo power soon enough.

I saw a French news programme a while back talking about the proliferation of tram systems and other forms of electrically powered public transit in France, and the way the previous government was trying to encourage public transit use over automobile use. They had an EDF engineer on the programme who said, basically that if France wanted to reduce oil dependency, meet its Kyoto obligations and lower pollution, it was going to have to build these kinds of systems. But – and this was the important point ot him – sooner or later this means building new nuclear plants. There is no way to avoid that outcome.

I expect that to be the clincher for nuclear power in another 20 or 30 years. Fusion isn’t happening, and giant solar power plants in space aren’t happening either. Oil is not getting cheaper, and shifting people from cars to pubic transit means consuming less oil but more electricity. Kyoto looks like its going to happen, and no matter how you cut it, it means more shifting to CO2 free generation than reducing consumption. Conservation can put the decision off for a few years, maybe a generation, but eventually it’s going to mean nuclear power.


John Anderson 06.06.04 at 12:17 pm

tib – if “the worst case” scenario occurs at a modern (designed in the last twenty years) nuclear plant, the resulting radiation danger will be about that of the granite used for monuments in Washington. A Chernobyl (designed inadequately even for its time) is simply not possible, and even a terrorist attack with anything short of nukes will just necessitate building a wall around the site – at worst. Are you thinking Three Mile Island? I used to live about ten miles from it – there was hotter stuff in the press than at the Island.

David Sucher – disposal of nuclear “waste” is a poliical problem. The waste is about as radioactive as raw ore. But it sounds scary, mostly because the radioactivity will “last for thousands of years.” Hint: the longer the half-life, the less dangerous. Too, a lot could be recycled – except politically there would be screams because in the past recycling was largely concerned with recovery of weapons-grade isotopes, and if we do recovery for fuel others may do recovery for other purposes. That is partly why Iran has refused offers to build a “light water” reactor, insisting on an older “heavy water” design – more recoverable weapons materiel.


Ian 06.06.04 at 12:29 pm

Some one I used to work with who converted from nuclear physics to urban planning (!) reckoned that nuclear power stations were net consumers of energy – in other word it took more energy to build them than was ever produced. I have no idea how well founded that assertion was or which design he was talking about, but it is an interesting thought to say the least.

I know that the cost of one nuclear power station, if spent on energy conservation would be a better deal, saving more energy than would be generated by the power station. There have been lots of such calculations although I’m posting quickly and don’t have the time to track them down.

The point about the radioactivity of the waste material is interesting and one I hadn’t appreciated. I had alsways believed the waste was more radioactive because more concentrated – but my physics is 35 years old so what do I know? The waste however is much more accessible than the ore for terrorists.

A recent issue of New Scientist (again I can’t track it down) also suggested that the supply of uranium wasn’t enough to meet the demand if the whole world consumed power at the rate of the most profligate. Conservation of energy is still needed.


Maynard Handley 06.06.04 at 1:21 pm

I can’t believe what I am reading above.
What do you people all think the end-game in twenty years is going to be? That, as oil prices go bezerk citizens around the world are simply going to accept this and switch to a simpler life-style?
OF COURSE nuclear power in a big way is coming. A sane society (not much evidence yet that the US qualifies) will augment it with more efficiency, more aggressive use of wind power and so on, but when push comes to shove, nuclear is the only game in town for real heavy lifting. The only question is whether things will ramp up gradually and carefully, or whether construction will occur in a massive panic, too fast and not carefully enough.
Anyone who denies the freaking obvious is part of the solution, not part of the problem. The world didn’t convert to hippies growing their own food on communes in 1970, and it ain’t gonna do so in 2020; so claiming that’s the only acceptable solution makes you morally culpable for any disaster that might occur as a result of rushed panic-driven construction.


David Sucher 06.06.04 at 2:26 pm

Is there no limit to cynicism? Is there a serious suggestion here that the problem of nuclear waste disposal is a creation of politics? I’m aghast at such ignorance. But then again maybe the problem of earthquakes are also just “political.”


Robert Lyman 06.06.04 at 2:36 pm


In 20 years, as “oil prices go bezerk,” there are lots of non-nuclear options:

–Getting more oil out of existing wells (since a “dry” well isn’t dry, it’s just too expensive to get the oil that remains)

–Exploitation of oil wells and fields which are at present too expensive to bother (I’m thinking Canadian shale oil here, of which there is a LOT)

–Greater use of coal. Many countries have enough domestic coal to cover all of their energy needs for centuries to come. Certainly the US does.

–Greater use of hydroelectric, and the restoration of dams on minor rivers that have been breached in recent years.

There are doubtless others. But I don’t see nuclear as inevitable in the least. Most of our electricity doesn’t come from oil as it is anyway.

Also, Ian says that nuclear plants may be net consumers of energy. I’ve also heard that claim for solar panels–that they consume more power to make than they can produce themselves over their service life. I haven’t been able to confirm this because, oddly enough, I can’t find statistics on “power required to make one solar panel.” Anyone got reliable numbers?

Finally, I’d like to see a link to the New Scientist article. Uranium isn’t the only possible fuel (think thorium in breeder reactors), and surely they didn’t make the basic error of assuming that “proven reserves” equals “world supply”?

Finally, Ixlnxs, if you aren’t drawing blueprints, it’s because they can’t be drawn. Your suggestions would work for powering a single household (with huge surrounding acreage for solar panels) but cannot possible be scaled up to the gigawatt needs of a mondern industrial nation.


Jim Miller 06.06.04 at 2:42 pm

There is a simple rule of thumb for judging a person’s understanding of the risks of nuclear power. If they think that nuclear wastes are a serious danger to health, they do not understand the risks. (Some antinuclear people understand that point, but have cynically used the issue anyway.)

Here is a question for those who think that nuclear wastes are a great danger to health: How many deaths can be attributed to the nuclear wastes from the commercial generation of power? The correct answer is zero — after half a century of experience.

As for the “thousands of years” argument, it actually is an argument for nuclear power, not against it. Nuclear wastes, unlike lead and other heavy metals, decay over time and becomes harmless.

If we are worried about public health, we should spend our resources on protecting against real threats such as the poison gases (e. g. chlorine) or the high explosives (e. g. gasoline) routinely carried in tank cars. A spill of radioactive waste would do almost no damage, compared to the spils of many other substances transported routinely in every modern nation.

As for catastrophic failures of power plants, we have shown that they can be contained. Even better, there are modern designs in which such failures are literally impossible.

There is a real danger to nuclear power; spreading the technology does help nations create nuclear weapons. It is unfortunate that the antinuclear movement has deflected attention away from that real problem to nuclear wastes. And I repeat — some in that movement know that nuclear wastes are not a serious problem, but use the issue anyway.


Ian 06.06.04 at 3:32 pm

I have found these two articles in teh NS archive, but I don’t think they are what I am looking for. Until I can get at my paper copies I can’t do any more. I am relying on memory so I may have got it wrong.



rdb 06.06.04 at 3:42 pm

I thought that the modern ‘inherently safe’ designs remain at the experimental stage, that the German advanced gas cooled reactor had already had a significant leak (graphite spheres in helium?) and that the projected economies may rely on doing without a containment building and that such plants may need to be of a smaller capacity than current plants.


Mat 06.06.04 at 4:59 pm

Beside the waste and safety arguments, I think the most important argument, which is rarely discussed, is that nuclear power is simply not cheap whithout vast public subsidies.

I read once (and I was incidentally trying to locate this the other day) that in the UK, the money recently given by the Government to keep BNFL afloat was more than was allocated to the developpement of alternative energy in 30 years. If my recollection is correct, this puts in perspective claims that renewables are “costly and inefficient”.


Randy McDonald 06.06.04 at 5:20 pm

James Lovelock made the point that all of the radiation released by Chernobyl caused fewer casualties, in the end, than a good-sized coal-fuelled power plant spewing smoke and assorted toxins into the atmosphere for neighbours to inhale and be poisoned by.


anciano 06.06.04 at 6:18 pm

We’re hearing a lot about Reagan. He was a genial and friendly man. His obvious heir is Arnold Schwarzenegger, not either Bush. His philosophy of “be happy and let the free market work its magic” looked good in the 1980s, when there was no imminent energy problem. The Soviet Union was built on quicksand and could not prevail, any more than the Confederacy could prevail against the industrial and more populous North. The US had a short-term winning hand. Today the Asian countries have a winning hand, in spite of their lack of petroleum, and problems in China.

President Bush would distract us with a mission to Mars- the same amount of money in the same amount of time could get us off petroleum (conservation and Bio-diesel are good but not remotely enough, ethanol fuel is a crooked fraud, and hydrogen fuel cells unwise because hydrogen filling stations are a nice target for a one or two man terrorist team). Lacking its Afghan headquarters, Al-Qaeda can’t mount organized operations like the 9/11 attacks. Free-lance terrorists can mount small truck bomb attacks in almost any country- do we want concrete walls and military guards surrounding every hydrogen filling station? Other types of fuel cells seem much more desirable and would avoid the energy cost of the electrolysis of water. The energy cost of separating and packaging hydrogen is substantial.

We need better education, a living wage for all willing to work, and a 20-year energy plan. We must prepare now for the collapse of the House of Saud- Islamic fundamentalists can’t run a complex country, but I believe that they have a 50% chance of bringing down the House of Saud in the next 6 years. The dumbest thing we could do is land US troops in the kingdom when that happens. We can’t solve our energy problems in isolation from other issues. The American West faces years of severe droughts. Growth of our desert cities should be slowed. Decentralized energy production by fuel cells has much to offer. Nuclear power is top-down power. It requires subsidies, protection from terrorists, and disposal of dangerous wastes.

We can learn something from Reagan. Everybody wants to hear that their country is special. The US has a tremendous good side- the many immigrants from other countries and the American spontaneity and energy are wonderful. We can’t close our eyes to the bad side of US culture or expect the market to control that. The market and the corporations control Congress. Enron-type swindles lurk in the shadows. Anti-science is a powerful theme of American culture; it will cost us dearly- Asia lacks this hobble. Racism and blaming the poor for their fate are deeply embedded in the American culture and were part of Reagan’s bad side. Let’s stop saying, “are you for or against America?” and face up to the need for major and long-term reforms, and the good and bad sides of all politicians. Every political candidate has a bad side- who has demonstrated the executive ability to lead in long term projects?


Matt Austern 06.06.04 at 7:38 pm

I suspect that what you’re looking for, reliable and unbiased sources of cost comparison between nuclear and coal plants, doesn’t and can’t exist. The problem is that in both cases, the costs are dominated by social choices. At the moment, the cost of building a nuclear reactor in the US are effectively infinite. Or, to put it a bit more precisely, the costs are so high that we don’t know what they are: they’re high enough to have kept anyone from even trying to build a reactor in the US for a couple decades. The cost of building reactors in other countries is much lower. That’s not because steel and concrete and uranium and hydraulic systems are an order of magnitude cheaper there, it’s just because those countries have made different social choices.

There’s an even simpler way of putting it, in economic terms: both kinds of power generation have potentially large externalities. (I could list them, but anyone who spends five minutes thinking honestly about the subject can come up with at least a half dozen on each side.) We’ve chosen to internalize some of those externalities, but not systematically, and not the same way for the two.

So what do we even mean by cost? A cost comparison based on the haphazard way we’ve internalized externalities in one particular country at one particular moment? A cost comparison based on a 19th century robber barron utopia in which no externalities were internalized? One based in an ideal world that never existed in which all of them were? The last strikes me as the most reasonable from a logical point of view, but to get there we’d have to agree on the dollar value of all of the externalities, and we never will.


Brett Bellmore 06.06.04 at 9:31 pm

Another thing anyone who is going to seriously talk about this subject has to consider, is something called “hormesis”; The “linear” hypothesis, that the damaging effects of radiation continue right down to zero doses, has been known to be flat out wrong for some time now. The truth of the matter, though it’s a truth so incendiary that it’s politically impossible to base public policy on it, is that low doses of radiation are actually BENEFICIAL.

There is an optimal level of radiation exposure, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-20 rem per year, and practically nobody is getting that much.

Radiation leaks from nuclear power plants save lives.

Let me repeat that: Radiation leaks SAVE LIVES.

You can’t make good policy, if you’re determined to ignore facts that you don’t like.


Giles 06.06.04 at 9:54 pm

The infomation I’d like to know is how mcuh would world radiation go up if we dumped all the waste in the sea – would it go up significantly and would it cause more or less deaths than say car pollution.


Lance Boyle 06.06.04 at 11:21 pm

I watched an upper-middle class woman with a prosperous husband and a nice big house in a nice small town, and a very unhappy 18 month old child, burn through every single rationalization possible to avoid confronting the very obvious fact that her addiction to cocaine was destrying all the good things in her life.
She was beautiful, smart, funny, and skeletal.
They had a parrot in a cage, who went without water and food, and then was deluged and showered with it, his newspapers went unchanged, he was plucking his feathers out…
The one thing that needed to change wasn’t, everything else was changing for the worse.
It isn’t the drugs, it’s the selfishness and submission to the demands of the self.
We don’t need SUV’s. The people who sell them want us to think we do.
It’s no co-incidence that Enron was an “energy” company.


bob mcmanus 06.06.04 at 11:31 pm

The change in GOP rhetoric is fascinating.

Reagan Repub: Radiation ain’t all that dangerous
Bush Repub: Radiation is absolutely essential to your health, and those evil environmentalists are deliberately trying to hurt your kids.
Forget safety and waste storage. I am concerned about all the depreciation breaks a plant gets, the buying of the land the plant is built on by the government and then leasing it back for a dollar a year. Theses kind of buried deep in the contract subsidies that hide the actual current costs of nuclear.

The right are attracted to nuclear rather than alternative (you would think individual empowerment might be attractive) because the complexities of “big power” vs “small power” affords them better opportunities to steal.


Robert Lyman 06.07.04 at 2:00 am

We don’t need SUV’s. The people who sell them want us to think we do.

Evidently you’ve never been on a poorly-maintained dirt road in a Ford Escort. Or tried to stuff a big Ikea box into a Ford Escort. Or tried to to tow anything with a Ford Escort.

Maybe you don’t need an SUV, but if I want one for the above purposes (and I do), you can just butt out of my business.

The right are attracted to nuclear rather than alternative (you would think individual empowerment might be attractive) because the complexities of “big power” vs “small power” affords them better opportunities to steal.

Also, of course, there’s the fact that “big power,” whether nuclear, coal, hydro, or whatever, is more efficient and generages fewer externalities of all kinds than “small power.” There’s no law against running your house purely from a diesel generator, but that’s both more expensive and way more polluting than buying it off the grid.


anon 06.07.04 at 2:01 am


David Sucher 06.07.04 at 2:58 am

Ok, you nuke-lovers.

Please offer a plausible explanation as to why there is a perceived problem with nuclear power…something which has some hook to it. (An explanation such as “Environmentalists are just plain stupid” is not acceptable.)


John Quiggin 06.07.04 at 4:48 am

David, one big concern for me was the idea of the “plutonium economy” based on fast breeder reactors. This seems to be pretty much dead, which is a good thing, but probably implies a resource limit to the extent to which we can rely on nuclear power, even if we are convinced that that this is a good way to go (as noted in the post, I’m open-minded, but not convinced).


Phill 06.07.04 at 5:48 am

Having a degree from a Nuclear Physics lab I guess my opinion is likely to be considered suspect. But anyway.

First off, if Nuclear is to get anywhere they have to start off by appologising for a fifty year history of lies and deception. Without exception nuclear programs have been considerably more expensive and less safe than non-nuclear alternatives. You will not find reliable figures on the French nuclear program for the same reason that reliable figures only became available on the British program during privatization. Governments lie when core ideological commitments turn out to be duds.

The big problem has been that the ‘fail safe’ nuclear power plants are not. Light water power station designs are all derrived from the Fermi graphite pile design which was originally built to make plutonium. Despite repeated claims to the contrary all the original UK power stations were built with the primary purpose of making plutonium for bombs. The problem was that the later designs were all based on the earlier bomb making designs which are definitely not failsafe.

I support research into true failsafe designs, but not because I think it is time to give the nuclear industry a second chance. I think we should research these designs because we need an alternative to the existing nuclear industry that is not as complacent and deceptive. If we are not careful we will end up being suckered into allowing a new generation of Chernobyl/Three Mile island designs to be built.

Don’t believe the claims that Three Mile Island was not a major accident, or that Chernobyl could not have happened in the West. Both claims are utter lies told for the same reason Bush told fantasy tales about WMD and Iraqi links to Al Qaeda. The Chernobyl meltdown was due to a design defect of a type that could not be predicted using computer simulation at the time it was built. The computation power required were beyond western computers as well as Soviet ones. Three Mile Island really did come very close to killing tens of thousands. Placing a nuclear plant in such a place was pure negligence.

It is probably quite possible to run a nuclear plant safely. The problem is not technical, it is political. Unfortunately we have a crystal clear demonstration in Iraq that the political process in the US and the UK cannot be trusted. Recent news in the US Enron story shows us that there is a severe problem with energy regulation.

In this situation it is not unreasonable for people to object to new nuclear power stations. They are neither stupid nor ill-informed to do so. If the US nuclear lobby wants to get anywhere they need to abandon the GOP tactics of agenda denial, smearing their critics with false charges of irrational superstition. There may be a case for new nuclear stations but only after the nuclear industry starts to confess its past misdeeds.


dsquared 06.07.04 at 7:05 am

I was lucky enough to have many conversations with rather good physicists and engineers on this subject while I was growing up (the physicists and engineers were supplied by the fact that I grew up in the shadow of two of the UK largest nuclear power plants; the material for conversation was supplied by Sellafield across the way and the drifting clouds from Chernobyl which gave our lamb such a je-ne-sais-quoi quality called “unmarketability”). I more or less share Phill’s assessment above, but would add in the specific context of the UK that there is no way on earth that Wylfa or Trawsfynydd ever came anywhere near to washing their faces comercially, even with the Dinorwic pump storage station near them to smooth out demand.


marky 06.07.04 at 8:38 am

My information is not expert, and quite out of date, but this is a blog… :)
My father was an expert in corrosion science, and had at least one contact who was an expert in the nuclear industry ( in the 70s). I remember this man telling me that the problems of finding the proper plating (cladding?) for materials inside the reactor that would last a reasonable lenghth of time was not solved.


Greg Hunter 06.07.04 at 3:44 pm

It is funny reading. John asks a question and the responses imply there is obviously no legitimate source for the truth about Nuclear. I find the whole discussion fascinating, because it seems that any process that produces power for consumption is never dealt with in any honest manner. It is no government’s interest to admit that the production of power is a nasty business, no matter the source.

“There is no free lunch”

The interesting question that is being posed to the world, is what happens when the cheap stuff (easy to mine coal, uranium, oil) is gone?

The Henry Farrell boys believe the transendency of man and that it will all work out. “A chicken in every pot and an SUV in every driveway”. The ideas they profess lead to an increase in energy costs and a resulting loss in biodiversity. It appears this is not a problem, because these are “plants and animals” and do not warrant the same consideration as a SUV driving human. The argument to fall back on is the Volcanoes produced more pollution than man, while this is true; man was not around to the see the biological changes enacted by the Earth’s filter (plants, aquatic and terrestrial) to deal with the increase in pollution. Man in his wisdom, is creating the pollution and hacking down the filters. There is evidence that plant growth is accelerating in the jungle due to CO2 increases, but the plants are less efficient in CO2 uptake. “There is no free lunch”

Since my premise implies that the truth cannot be determined, then one must rely on empirical data. The data suggest that energy costs will increase, and as they do, the investment that has been made to shift to large centers of production in far flung places will cause great conflict as the energy costs to move the product eat up the profits that would be made if they were locally produced. The investment in education, transportation and world stability to deal with the new frontier has not been discussed or initiated. Therefore, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn from this impending energy crunch. WAR for resources or voluntary population reduction.

Population reduction can be accomplished by collusion between the great powers.

Lets play the future – Assume no war

Africa – AIDS will devastate with no issues.

China – AIDS again could wipe out the Agricultural Class, while high tech farming replaces labor.

India – Same as China.

Pakistan – Same as China

Middle East – The great powers will arrange to divide the cheap energy amongst themselves, while wiping out the Muslims.

Is it to late to pick a different path? Maybe the Luddites were on too something?


tps12 06.07.04 at 5:03 pm

Robert, unless hauling Ikea boxes around is something you do on a daily basis, your claims of “need” sound pretty fishy to me. Sure, it’s more convenient when you actually do need to move big boxes or tow something, but it’s an obvious fact that the vast majority of SUVs in the US are being used for single occupant transportation, a job Ford Escorts do just as well, and at the same time with less pollution and more safely.


Alex Fradera 06.07.04 at 7:12 pm

Forget the physicists and go talk to some oceanographers. The methyl hydrates on the ocean bed could provide us with limitless fuel, and the question is not whether but when. I met Richard Corfield a couple of weeks ago and he seems pretty confident that we’re talking about safe non-compromised fuel within thirty years.


Robert Lyman 06.08.04 at 3:36 am

TPS12: I didn’t say “need,” I said “want,” along with some explanations of why I want an SUV (Right now I have only an Escort).

In principle, I don’t need anything other than bread, protein shakes, multivitamins, water, and air. But I’ll kick like hell if you try to limit me to that.

Liberty has some value, you know.


Don 06.08.04 at 6:24 am

One gauge of the safety of any technology is the willingness of private insurers to cover the liability of the technology. The US nuclear industry externalizes their liability by having a federal subsidy(welfare?) via a cap on liablity for nuclear accidents. This is the only way that they can operate in the US.
A viable business model would welcome and include the costs of doing business including paying for their own insurance rather than externalizing it to each taxpayer.

A longtime friend actually builds nuclear reactors around the world as a boilermaker by trade. He recounted finding plans for the cooling system on a CANDU reactor in Argentina that were backwards. The engineers kept telling him that he was mistaken. He refused to follow the plans until the head engineer returned to the site from Canada. The head man agreed with my friend that the plans if followed would have drained the reactor of coolant causing a meltdown. So much for failsafe ddesign and implementation. People remain the problem and weak link in this questionable chain.


Don 06.08.04 at 6:24 am

One gauge of the safety of any technology is the willingness of private insurers to cover the liability of the technology. The US nuclear industry externalizes their liability by having a federal subsidy(welfare?) via a cap on liablity for nuclear accidents. This is the only way that they can operate in the US.
A viable business model would welcome and include the costs of doing business including paying for their own insurance rather than externalizing it to each taxpayer.

A longtime friend actually builds nuclear reactors around the world as a boilermaker by trade. He recounted finding plans for the cooling system on a CANDU reactor in Argentina that were backwards. The engineers kept telling him that he was mistaken. He refused to follow the plans until the head engineer returned to the site from Canada. The head man agreed with my friend that the plans if followed would have drained the reactor of coolant causing a meltdown. So much for failsafe ddesign and implementation. People remain the problem and weak link in this questionable chain.


Don 06.08.04 at 6:26 am

One gauge of the safety of any technology is the willingness of private insurers to cover the liability of the technology. The US nuclear industry externalizes their liability by having a federal subsidy(welfare?) via a cap on liablity for nuclear accidents. This is the only way that they can operate in the US.
A viable business model would welcome and include the costs of doing business including paying for their own insurance rather than externalizing it to each taxpayer.

A longtime friend actually builds nuclear reactors around the world as a boilermaker by trade. He recounted finding plans for the cooling system on a CANDU reactor in Argentina that were backwards. The engineers kept telling him that he was mistaken. He refused to follow the plans until the head engineer returned to the site from Canada. The head man agreed with my friend that the plans if followed would have drained the reactor of coolant causing a meltdown. So much for failsafe ddesign and implementation. People remain the problem and weak link in this questionable chain.


Michael Mouse 06.09.04 at 5:24 pm

The costs post-decommissioning are a major kicker (as well as the insurance as mentioned already). Sure, it’s not a vast quantity of money, but even at an optimistic discount rate the present value of a stream of payments that lasts 10,000 years is … large.


Kragen Sitaker 06.10.04 at 7:42 pm

At a 3% discount rate, which is not optimistic, the present value of an endless stream of yearly payments is 33 and one third times the yearly payment. But if that logic worked for ten thousand years, we’d all be servants of Phoenician investment bankers. (Thanks to Dave Long for that observation.)

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