Monday, February 17, 2014

Can We Solve the Energy Problem Without Nuclear Power? … by gimleteye

As an environmentalist, I am in the awkward position of supporting nuclear power but not by FPL at Turkey Point.

I am convinced that climate change is so grave that all energy "hands" need to be on deck if there is any hope of averting massive economic disruptions and impacts to civilization. But I am equally persuaded -- by the experience of battling FPL on various fronts related to its nuclear power facilities -- that our regulatory and policy frameworks governing electric utilities and energy production are hopelessly mismatched to the challenge of providing low carbon energy solutions at the industrial scale that society demands.

The following paper was provided to EOM by Prof. Richard Lester, the head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Lester's paper, delivered on Feb. 15th, is informative and insightful, but does not venture into the morass of policy and regulatory reform. With a do-nothing Congress that has been effectively paralyzed by climate change deniers funded by fossil fuel industries and billionaires like the Koch Brothers, it is hard to see daylight on anything as complicated as energy supply.

We are, instead, hobbling along on a patchwork of state initiatives and federal encouragement of sustainable energy technologies -- like solar and wind -- that will never amount to more than a fraction of energy demand. I believe that this point of view is shared by the nation's top electric utility executives. I believe that FPL's top executives, for example, are forcing the issue of new permitting for Turkey Point; not because they believe the reactors will ever be built, but because shareholders -- themselves included -- are well compensated for following a regulatory path for old, out-dated nuclear technologies.

The gridlock in Washington on climate change must be, has to be causing consternation within some of the electric utility elite. Not every electric utility executive has to be welded to the fossil fuel model or the "early cost recovery" model like FPL's for new nuclear. Not every electric utility executive accepts solar and wind -- even when they cost billions -- are a
credible alternative for on-demand electricity supply.

Isn't there someone within the guarded ramparts of the electric utility industry ready to speak out honestly about climate change, its imminent threats, and the need for a new energy supply and policy framework to protect the nation?


Anonymous said...

In Vancouver they use the ocean.

Fred Flintstone said...

I say this whole electricity thing us useless and a scam. Candles are just fine and only wimps need air conditioning. Plus walking or riding a bike 10 miles to work will probably lower the incidence of diabetes.

Anonymous said...

Yes we can do it without nuclear. There is more than enough clean energy to supply our needs without it. Nuclear takes away much needed funds from real true clean energy that does not melt down and slows down any real switch to clean energy.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for nuclear too, but not with today's reactors and technology.
Thorium is the way forward and later if we ever get to master it, fission, like it's happening on the sun. Of course this assumes humanity survives the coming changes in any significant numbers. Otherwise it's back to bratwurst on a stick over a fire and vertical laundry (slapping over a stone on the river) and the solar dryer called laundry line :-).

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a similar dissertation of how agriculture will produce more and more in the future with out fossil fuel input. Have not seen anybody offering a plausible insight.

100panthers said...

We have drought conditions around the globe, thermoelectric power (boiling water) sucks 42% of all water used. USGS, Thermoelectric Water Use
So even if nukes were half as honky dory as Lester portrays, we don’t have the water!

SHOW ME THE MONEY! Renewables are much cheaper than nukes. We crossed that threshold years ago with solar falling by 40% since that crossing.

Really disappointing quality of work product by Lester.

“The second aspect is the ability of nuclear power programs to scale up quickly.”
The unguided overrun cost and time missile that is nuclear construction makes this a 'impossible to keep a straight face' joke.

“And here in the U.S., nuclear expansion in the 1980s outpaced renewables growth in the most recent decade by almost 4 to 1.”
This is a useless static, a straw man that illustrates uselessness of Lester’s analysis. Nukes in 1980s was heavily subsidized by Feds while Jimmy Carter’s solar renewables in natives were abandoned by Ronald Reagan. (This impending climate meltdown has GOP fingerprints all over it, for generations). The GOP, FPL type utilities, Big Oil, you name is still doing everything they can do to retard growth of renewables-so an unfair comparison.

Anonymous said...

I applaud this idea that we need nuclear power to deal with climate change/sea level rise. CNN had an excellent documentary on this some weeks ago. Solar and wind can't solve climate change. We need nuclear power -- done safely, with plenty environmental and regulatory protections -- in plants built in safe locations. As a friend said -- that means not near the ocean or in [earthquake prone] mountains.

Mr. Sunshine said...

FPL has been planning the Turkey Point expansion since 2002. It hasn't started construction yet. Progress Energy abandoned their heavily-subsidized nuclear ambitions which began around the same time as FPL. I think there's one project in the whole country that's actually moving forward and at least one (Vermont Yankee) being shut down.

In theory, nuclear is an option. In practice, it is a waste of resources.

The enormous subsidies expended on nuclear would be better put to use on renewable storage solutions, efficiency, distributed smart-grid, and continuing to bend the cost curve for solar (installed locally instead of massive energy farms).

Nuclear could be a longer term solution, but places like Miami don't have a lot of time left.

It was a terrible mistake to defund Thorium research in favor of breeder reactors (the former is smaller, nearly impossible to cause a melt-down, and leaves little long-term radioactive waste. The latter generates weapons grade plutonium).

Anyway, nuclear is for those that think we have the luxury of time and unlimited financial resources. I believe we have neither.