Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nuclear Power Has Never Turned A Profit

I read with an open mind an article blasting solar thermal and solar energy. It complained about cost, profit and concluded that green technology cost jobs. Someone from a Tea Party site was trying to resurrect the old jobs versus the environment argument. The article linked here had some glaring ommisions. Here is my response:

...the glaring fact that nuclear, oil, coal and timber are all heavily subsidized by tax payers for half a century now - didn't merit a mention. Nuclear power has never turned a profit even with zero percent interest and loan guarantees from the tax payers through OUR government. That's why they (nuclear power plants)haven't been built.

Nuclear waste - well I guess we just ignore that and it will go away.

The fact of the matter is that we have to try everything including conservation, retrofitting for high efficiency, updating the power grid for better monitoring and efficiency and create new market models where we consume less.

You cry about cleaning off the (solar)lens is labor intensive - hello that equals job creation.

When they rolled the model T's off the assembly line did they envision the cars we have on the road today or the next generation vehicles? When the Wright Brothers launched their plane at Kitty Hawk did they envision orbiting space stations powered by the sun and solar sails? When they built the first computer occupying full warehouse sized rooms - did they envision you could have one in your phone?

It has to be done, it has to be figured out and reading some of these reviewer comments - it looks like a lot of people are calling you out for propaganda and old data.

The funny part is whether that is true or not doesn't even really matter. Because your solution seems to be - don't try to invent, don't fund research, shrug your shoulders, quit, and stick your head in the sand. But staying with the current technology, consumption and waste as is (the status quo) is totally unacceptable.

I'll tell you another thing - the tax payers do not want to fund an Exxon Mobil that doesn't pay taxes - they rake in enormous subsidies based on lobbying not merit.

The tax payers do not want to fund nuclear disasters waiting to happen, the tax payers do not want to fund mountain top removal and the despoiling of our water and food supply. But the tax payers do want to fund research and development for clean energy and the clean up of our environment, and the advancement of medical procedures, technologies and the cure from our environmentally generated cancers. We want not only clean energy but clean food free from pesticides and herbicides that have been linked to diseases such as Parkinson's and the run off contaminating our food and fisheries.

We know (the tax payers) that we have to live sustainably upon this Earth and that attitudes like yours won't move the ball forward one inch and that the status quo is not only no longer acceptable it's no longer doable.

Paul Burke
Author-Journey Home

Get involved make a difference - here


Jerry Critter said...

Also, if nuclear power is so safe, why is it that the government (that is us, you know!) is the only one who will provide insurance? The insurance companies won't touch it with a 10-foot pole.

Red Craig said...

The point of your article is not just obviously false, but silly. Nuclear energy produces the cheapest electricity except for hydro. The link you've provided, which one supposes supports the claim, is dead. In any case, a radical political website like Common Dreams shouldn't be relied upon for credible information.

Jerry Critter's comment deserves a response because it's a common misunderstanding promoted by anti-nuclear political groups. Actually, insurance companies do insure nuclear power plants on top of the self-insurance pool supported by the plant owners. In fact, nuclear plants are the best-insured businesses in the US. In the event that an accident occurred that exceeded these combined coverages, the federal government will make up the difference under existing US law. Whether or not government insurance should apply is a matter of philosophy and different people will come down on different sides. I believe is should apply because the government supervises every detail of the plants: design, construction, and operation. But if that were an important objection then the law could be changed.

Jerry Critter said...

The fact that the US government (actually, us the taxpayer!) must make up the difference is exactly my point. The potential liability from a nuclear disaster is so large that only the government can cover it. What other industry has a government guarantee? Without this guarantee, there would be no nuclear industry.

Red Craig said...

Jerry Critter, your point has to be taken seriously. I think it's going too far to say that somehow government insurance proves nuclear reactors are unsafe. Rather, it is an artifact of Congress's decision some 50 years ago to take ownership of nuclear energy, franchising private companies to build reactors under government requirements.

Try this analogy: if McDonald's franchises a restaurant and the restaurant meets all of McDonald's' requirements and someone dies of e-coli poisoning, then McDonald's can expect to face liability. Since McDonald's has deeper pockets than any franchisee has, it could count on being named in the lawsuit and if the franchisee goes out of business McDonald's would be on the hook for the total amount.

Suppose McDonald's shed its liability by turning all the restaurants loose to set their own safety standards. The result would be that customers would lose whatever safety benefit comes from McDonald's' supervision.

A better approach for McDonald's would be to write the rules so that each restaurant had to meet McDonald's' standards and also had to carry some level of liability coverage. McDonald's would only be liable for losses above the restaurant's coverage.

That's the way insurance works for nuclear plants. The law sets high insurance requirements for the plants and is on the hook only for damages above those limits.

As a practical matter, if the government supervises nuclear energy then it can expect to involved in paying for any damages that result from an accident. The law clarifies just what its responsibilities are.

I believe government supervision is responsible for the perfect safety record nuclear plants have in the US. No other energy form can point to a record of no deaths or injuries among members of the public. Even the Three Mile accident, which destroyed the reactor, had no effect on the public.

Besides, nuclear energy is the only low-carbon energy source that can provide full-time electricity. To give it up would condemn the world to disastrous climate change because when people can't get energy from clean sources they will take it from fossil fuels.

Jerry Critter said...

Just a couple of quick points. McDonald's is a private company and its liabilities are not covered by the government even though the operate under government regulations. Secondly most, if not all companies, operate under various levels of government regulation (some would say control) without the government having to pick up liabilities over and above their own insurance and ability to pay.

Certainly wind and solar generated electrical power can be provided full time as long as you allow for storage of excess electricity, like in batteries, for time when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.

Red Craig said...

Jerry Critter, If I read your comment correctly, you contend that Congress erred 50 years ago. The proposition that nuclear energy never would have developed without government sponsorship would be hard to defend. The energy potential is so great that it never would have been ignored. Without government sponsorship it's much more likely that companies would have produced small units based on their own designs. Then government regulations would be aimed at catching up with manufacturing practice, much like the government does with automobiles.

Certainly the government regulates many businesses. The difference with nuclear is that Congress put the government inside the process rather than looking in from outside. That's why the government is in the position of franchiser. If you prefer to switch over so the government regulates instead of supervises and gives up its liability, you'll get my support. Smaller, cheaper, and less-regulated reactors would have many advantages.

People keep saying that intermittent, unpredictable energy source can provide full-time electricity with storage, but they never show arithmetic to justify the claim. In fact, the claim is false. For proof, please see The Case for Nuclear Energy, Appendix A and Appendix B.

Misinformation about the storage possibilities of part-time energy sources has been one of the most serious obstacles to solving the problem of global warming. Too many people operate on the false premise that fictitious solutions can solve it.

Paul Burke said...

Fixed the link but the same link is also in the title - instead of being so dismissive maybe you should have hunted around more -

Hyperbole like "silly" and "radical" is idle name calling and doesn't even indicate what is so silly - nuclear waste is that silly, that dirty energy has lobbied itself to enormous tax payer subsidies is that silly - that money should be used to advance the research and development of clean energy solutions.

Is being energy independent silly?

An apologist for nuclear power doesn't win any arguments especially when the utility companies themselves benefits of zero interest unsecured guaranteed loans actually sue Uncle Sam over the nuclear waste - I guess that's silly too and a productive use of our tax dollars defending a law suit from an industry we prop up 100%.

If they ever did figure out how to dispose of nuclear waste instead of just letting it pile up then maybe it would be more viable.

Bottom line the industry has never been profitable thus no new nuclear power plants have been built.

What's so "radical" about Common Dreams - this is from their web site:

"Every human being on this planet - regardless of race, gender or status - shares in the common dreams of peace and security, equal opportunity, and meaningful participation in our society."

Whoa - that's some "radical" thinking right there. Fairer and more equitable societies are more peaceful.

Is there something about sustainability you don't understand - ? Now that would be silly.

The only solution the status quo is putting forth is "please don't alter our cash cow business models" -

That's hardly visionary, it smacks of protectionism, is the complete opposite of a "free" market system (which is a fantasy in reality anyway) and is no way to solve problems.

You have to get creative and we should have been doing this since the 70's oil embargo but what did Regan do - took down the solar panels on the White House - way to lead Ronnie way to lead....and Bush - started a resource war in another country - that money should have gone right into clean energy research and development.

But then Texas who was running the Country wouldn't have gotten as rich.

Red Craig said...

Paul, lest I forget to mention it, I'm enjoying this dialog. I don't claim any of this is easy, but there's a lot of misinformation about energy in general and nuclear energy in particular floating around. It's unfortunate that the politics is a stronger component than the science, but that's often how democracy works so it goes with the territory.

You've raise many points. I don't claim to be an authority but I have studied these subjects to the best of my limited ability so I'll answer accordingly.

I'm not sure how much searching I could do on Common Dreams' website. I didn't see any reference to the article on the splash page. Chiding me because I didn't find an invisible article is unfair at best. I inferred that CD is radical because all the links go to left-wing political organizations, for example,

* Alliance for Climate
* Amnesty International
* Apollo Alliance
* CodePink
* Greenpeace
* Human Rights Watch
* Netroots Nation
* Organic Consumers
* Planned Parenthood

It calls itself progressive, which is newspeak for radical liberal -- liberals shy away from calling themselves liberals anymore, maybe because they get tired of fights with TEA partiers. Anyway, the founder campaigned for Barry Commoner's presidential run; if that doesn't qualify as radical I'm not sure what does. But our conversation isn't about CD.

Here's why the statement that nuclear plants have never made a profit is silly: Nuclear electricity is cheaper than any of the fossil sources, as anyone can see on DOE's website. Utilities routinely make profits, and certainly their profits have to be higher on nuclear plants than on the other kinds. Contending that they are losing is silly. In fact, the referenced article makes no such claim, nor does the article it's based on. Misrepresenting the contents of references is no way to gain credibility.

The waste lawsuit is an interesting case. The US government forbade utilities to process their own spent fuel and promised to deal with it. Then the government ran into a buzz-saw of oppositon from richly-paid political groups who depend on the spreading of misinformation and on high-profile activism for their incomes, and failed in its responsibilities. In your mind, this somehow invalidates nuclear energy. In fact, the US could have been treating the spent fuel from the beginning, just as other countries are doing now. The problem isn't nuclear technology, but misguided political groups.

Here's a question for you: For all the hand-wringing over spent fuel, how many people have been harmed by it? Here's another: How will whoever's in charge persuade people to turn away from fossil fuels if the only energy sources available don't work when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing?

Thanks for your thoughts on this important subject.

Jerry Critter said...

"If you prefer to switch over so the government regulates instead of supervises and gives up its liability, you'll get my support. Smaller, cheaper, and less-regulated reactors would have many advantages."

If it is the government's fault that we have not developed smaller, cheaper, and less-regulated reactors, why haven't other countries developed these reactors?

Red Craig said...

Jerry, good question!

In fact, what's happening is that companies doing international work are developing them. Pebble-bed modular reactors are being sold, as are reactors by Hyperion. Nu-Scale is offering another. TerraPower is a new startup, a long way from production. B&W is marketing a new small reactor. Those have been announced; no doubt we'll see more coming from other countries (China?). India is looking at some options with thorium.

I'm not good at predicting, but it makes sense that there will be a mix of big ones and little ones because of different applications. And, not to forget, there certainly will be renewable energy as well, because it can succeed if it's allowed to work within its own parameters.

Paul Burke said...

These are not "radical" non-profits...ACLU
* Alliance for Climate
* Amnesty International
* Apollo Alliance
* CodePink
* Greenpeace
* Human Rights Watch
* Netroots Nation
* Organic Consumers
* Planned Parenthood

Holy cow the ACLU backed the Citizens United Decision. amnesty International fights against torture and political imprisonment - they are more in keeping with the tenants of Jesus and are a bunch of Quakers. These people are not radical unless you consider secular humanist - radicals.

We may be onto something here - seriously if you come at it from the point of view that self determination is a radical principle (planned parenthood) - you really do not get Liberals.

These groups may be radical to your religious beliefs but then again a lot of people think religion is all unprovable myth. And believing in something unprovable is extremely radical.

FAIR - they are a fact based accountability group that calls out the media for sloppy fact checking, egregious political spin and accountability on sources, and the money behind those sources.

They are as American as apple pie.

GreenPeace - radical - you have got to be kidding - non-violent activism to draw attention to uncovered stories by the corporate media - again founded by Quakers.

And Organic consumers - seriously - they sound really threatening.

The Black Panthers were a radical group and the Michigan Militias - gun carriers who want to topple the system - that's radical.

Now lets define Liberal - Mr. Webster if you will - please

# broad: showing or characterized by broad-mindedness; "a broad political stance"; "generous and broad sympathies"; "a liberal newspaper"; "tolerant ...
# having political or social views favoring reform and progress
# tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition
# a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties
# big: given or giving freely; "was a big tipper"; "the bounteous goodness of God"; "bountiful compliments";

As far as I'm concerned liberal is a beautiful word and we should all strive to be broad minded.

Really those radical groups you listed are unarmed, non-violent and looking out for the middle class.

That's hardly radical but a shame that mis-information has positioned them as such in some peoples minds.

Paul Burke said...

Absolutely sticking to my stance that nuclear power is unprofitable or it wouldn't need huge, massive, unsecured, government zero interest tax payer funded loans. After all that anybody can turn a profit.

That money and the money from the Iraq war should have been directed into research and development for solar wind and geothermal development.

The world is a wash in energy. Physics teaches use that it never goes away it's just converted.
There is no such thing as an energy shortage - we just have very ancient pre-historic ways of converting it. A.K.A. "Fire" we haven't evolved much past the cave man in that regards.

Calling it hand-wringing does not absolve anyone from the responsibility of nuclear waste - that no one has ever been hurt by nuclear waste is a specious argument - that's like - I've never been in a car accident - so I shouldn't wear a seat belt.

Thanks for swinging by the blog and spicing things up - I actually think these exchanges are useful and gives honest, open minded (there's that liberal trait again) people something else to think about.

There's a lot of assumptions on both sides and I appreciate your tone.

However a liberal is more apt to consider all points of view than a conservative just by the very nature of the definition.

and for FAIR and Balanced Accuracy - here is the definition of Conservative - que Mr. Webster:

# resistant to change
# having social or political views favoring conservatism
# cautious: avoiding excess; "a conservative estimate"
# a person who is reluctant to accept changes and new ideas
# button-down: unimaginatively conventional; "a colorful character in the buttoned-down, dull-grey world of business"- Newsweek
# a member of a Conservative Party
# bourgeois: conforming to the standards and conventions of the middle class; "a bourgeois mentality"

And now for a final kickoff - anybody see the new polls out about "Tea Partiers" about how much money they all have? apparently they all average about 50K a year - no wonder they have time off to go wave guns.

And apparently they have confused or purposefully co-opted the actual Boston Tea Party Event from its original meaning.

A revolt and disgust over how big Transnational Corporations (The East India Company) was getting all kinds of tax breaks that the small mom and pop domestics had to pay.

It was about corporate favoritisim.

I'll end with a quote by Robert Zimmerman

We always did feel the same,: We just saw it from a different point of view...

oh and don't worry about my credibility - its rock solid.

Red Craig said...

Yeah, I guess we've pretty well run this string out. I'm sure you'll get the last word, but here are a couple more shots before I go.

Had you started out with the charge that nuclear energy faces some serious financial hurdles you wouldn't have looked so silly. The first nuclear plants will be eye-popping expensive. The cost comes from having to revive an industry that lay dormant for some decades. Equipment manufacturers have to tool up and workers have to be trained. Once those costs are paid, subsequent plants will be cheaper. We know that because it always works that way. But my argument for nuclear energy isn't that it's cheap, but that it's necessary. People won't accept intermittent, unpredictable electricity supplies and continuing to use fossil fuels is self-destructive, perhaps even suicidal.

I've never argued that spent fuel can be treated carelessly because it's never caused harm. It isn't just that you haven't been harmed by it, but that no one has. Shutting off a necessary energy source from fear of something that's never happened is foolish, especially in light of the many real damages we do to the environment routinely. More to the point, closing off nuclear energy forces the world to burn more coal. I'm going to assume here that you are aware of the terrible harm coal burning is doing to the environment now.

I suppose people at both fringes think they are the souls of reasonableness. TEA partiers think President Obama is a communist; Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood, and the other groups on CD's list are in despair over his Hooverian paralysis. Thanks for explaining conservatism to me. The list could be condensed into two definitions: conservatives either bear the label "conservative" or are reluctant to accept changes and new ideas. A lot of liberals with heavier mental firepower than I have (I wouldn't care to speculate about what you have) have looked seriously at nuclear energy and decided in its favor. Hugh Montefiore, James Lovelock, Stewart Brand, and Gwyneth Cravens come to mind. Even though my humble arguments didn't weaken your anti-nuclear resolve, perhaps if you took the trouble to read their information it would broaden your understanding of the dilemma we face.