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Nuclear lobby’s wishful thinking about Small Modular (SMR) and Generation IV reactors

text-relevantNor should the industry look for help from the trendy new kids on the block: small modular reactors (SMRs) and Generation IV technologies. The report predicts that electricity costs from SMRs will typically be 50-100% higher than for current large reactors, although it holds out some hope that large volume production of SMRs could help reduce costs–if that large volume production is comprised of “a sufficiently large number of identical SMR designs…built and replicated in factory assembly workshops.” Not very likely unless the industry accepts a socialist approach to reactor manufacturing, which is even less likely than that the approach would lead to any significant cost savings.

As for Generation IV reactors, the report at its most optimistic can only say, “In terms of generation costs, generation IV technologies aim to be at least as competitive as generation III technologies….though the additional complexity of these designs, the need to develop a specific supply chain for these reactors and the development of the associated fuel cycles will make this a challenging task.”

So, at best the Generation IV reactors are aiming to be as competitive as the current–and economically failing–Generation III reactors. And even realizing that inadequate goal will be “challenging.” The report might as well have recommended to Generation IV developers not to bother……..

renew-world-1

Nuclear advocates fight back with wishful thinking. Green World, Michael Mariotte September 3, 2015 It must be rough to be a nuclear power advocate these days: clean renewable energy is cleaning nuclear’s clock in the marketplace; energy efficiency programs are working and causing electricity demand to remain stable and even fall in some regions; despite decades of industry effort radioactive waste remains an intractable problem; and Fukushima’s fallout–both literal and metaphoric–continues to cast a pall over the industry’s future.

Where new reactors are being built, they are–predictably–behind schedule and over-budget; while even many existing reactors, although their capital costs were paid off years ago, can’t compete and face potential shutdown because of the very aspect of nuclear power that was supposed to be its economic advantage: low operating and maintenance costs that are proving instead to be too high to manage.

Not surprisingly, the nuclear industry is fighting back. After all, what other choice does it have? But two major new reports released this week by established nuclear advocates indicate that the only ammunition left in their arsenal is wishful thinking.

The first is a new study jointly produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and its sister organization in the OECD, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA): Projected Costs of Generating Electricity. It’s an update of a study last produced in 2010 and despite the headlines being pushed by the industry, which claim nuclear power is economically competitive with other generating technologies, it doesn’t actually say that at all. But perhaps that’s to be expected by an organization now headed by former NRC Commissioner William Magwood and devoted to the promotion of nuclear power.

As Jan Haverkamp of Greenpeace International explains,

You can see the NEA’s bias very clearly in slide 11 (part of the public presentation on the report’s release),  where the title is: “Nuclear: an attractive low-carbon technology in the absence of cost overruns and with low financing costs”… which shows clearly where the problem is. To call this “attractive” but then sidelining two of the inherent financial issues with the resource is tendentious to say the least. Apart from not including costs like those for clean-up after severe accidents, an insecure cost idea of waste management, and a preferential liability capping scheme with government back-up.

Exactly. If you assume there are no economic problems with nuclear power, then it looks just great. The problem is that in real life, nuclear power’s financing costs are not low–they are extremely high because nuclear reactors are considered, for good reason, by investors to be very risky undertakings. One reason they are risky, and thus incur high financing costs, is that they are notorious for their cost overruns.

As if to slap its Paris-based companion the NEA in its face with cold reality, yesterday Electricite de France underscored new nuclear power’s fundamental economic problems,announcing that the EPR reactor it is building in Flamanville, France, is another year behind schedule and its cost is now projected at triple its original 2007 estimate………

As for that 60-year lifespan, while most U.S. reactors already have received license extensions allowing their 60-year operation, that is not the case globally (nor is it at all clear that a piece of paper allowing operation will be sufficient on either an economic or safety basis to enable operation). And a new report from a company called Globaldata projects that, partly because of continuing concern over Fukushima, the number of reactors expected to seek license extensions globally will drop substantially over the next several years. In fact, “The total capacity of plants starting plant life extension (Plex) programs globally will decrease more than sixfold over the next decade, it [Globaldata] reported,” dropping from an “estimated 18.1 Gigawatts in 2015 to 2.9GW by 2025.”

Of course, the shorter a reactor’s lifetime, the higher its lifetime cost of electricity will be.

Nor should the industry look for help from the trendy new kids on the block: small modular reactors (SMRs) and Generation IV technologies. The report predicts that electricity costs from SMRs will typically be 50-100% higher than for current large reactors, although it holds out some hope that large volume production of SMRs could help reduce costs–if that large volume production is comprised of “a sufficiently large number of identical SMR designs…built and replicated in factory assembly workshops.” Not very likely unless the industry accepts a socialist approach to reactor manufacturing, which is even less likely than that the approach would lead to any significant cost savings.

As for Generation IV reactors, the report at its most optimistic can only say, “In terms of generation costs, generation IV technologies aim to be at least as competitive as generation III technologies….though the additional complexity of these designs, the need to develop a specific supply chain for these reactors and the development of the associated fuel cycles will make this a challenging task.”

So, at best the Generation IV reactors are aiming to be as competitive as the current–and economically failing–Generation III reactors. And even realizing that inadequate goal will be “challenging.” The report might as well have recommended to Generation IV developers not to bother……..

if there is a real takeaway from the report, it is from the headline on the IEA’s website rather than any nuclear publication: Joint IEA-NEA report details plunge in costs of producing electricity from renewables.

Yes, while the nuclear industry has been attempting to frame the report as good news for nuclear power, the real findings of the report are in the no-longer-surprising yet still stunning drop in renewables costs. ………

Third Way, argues that shutting nuclear reactors will scuttle the carbon emissions reduction goals of the Clean Power Plan.

But, like the IEA/NEA report, there are a few problems with their assumptions. Indeed, the assumptions appear to have been made not based on a sense of reality, but on what might attract some scary-sounding newspaper headlines………

Both of these reports are based on wishful thinking by nuclear advocates–in the sense that they clearly wish things were different for their preferred industry. Third Way’s report is essentially dishonest–conjuring up unrealistic scenarios in order to try to scare up some pro-nuclear headlines–but because of that is unlikely to prove very effective or meaningful.

As Greenpeace’s Jan Haverkamp points out, however, the IEA/NEA appears to have a different endgame in mind: “This study clearly targets at the Paris COP and tries to instill the idea that nuclear needs to get subsidies in the form of credit guarantees and price guarantees and then that will be the silver bullet.”

And that brings us back to that more familiar refrain from the nuclear industry: give us more ratepayer bailouts and more taxpayer subsidies and everything will be just fine. The problem for the industry is that fewer and fewer people are singing that song. And it’s more wishful thinking on their part that that stale chorus will ever be popular again. http://safeenergy.org/2015/09/03/nuclear-advocates-fight-back-with-wishful-thinking/

September 5, 2015 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, spinbuster, technology

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