May 03, 2011
Biggest Nuke Utility CEO Says New Nukes Too Costly

John Rowe, CEO of electric power utility Exelon, has gathered under Exelon ownership the largest fleet of nuclear reactors in the United States. As his last major deal before retirement he has even put together a merger of Exelon with Constellation Energy that will put even more nuclear power plants under the control of Exelon. Rowe spent several years supporting cap and trade carbon emissions regulations in order to shift more demand toward nuclear power. Yet now the low natural gas prices in recent years due to the development of methods to extract natural gas from shales has so lowered the price of natural gas that Rowe now favors natural gas over nuclear power for new electric power plants. Nukes still cost too much.

"Natural gas is cheaper and cleaner than any or all of the alternatives I know," said Rowe during a lunchtime address during CERAWeek. "It costs about $100 per megawatt hour to build nuclear -and that's with subsidies. Nuclear plants are about 40 per cent out of the money right now, probably by a factor of two."

Rowe went on to point out solar runs at about $200/MGW, carbon capture and storage isn't economic right now and offshore wind is even more expensive.

That's quite a departure from his previous position. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute a few days before the Japanese earthquake and Fukushima nuclear plant failures Rowe says natural gas is so much cheaper than its competitors that it a big nuclear build would need government subsidies to happen.

Chairman Upton has stated that renewable energy subsidies have cost the taxpayer $100 billion over the past ten years. Yet, even with this high level of government support, wind and solar are still not cost competitive.

Renewable energy is not the only technology to receive money from the government – coal, oil, gas and nuclear combined have received billions of dollars in government support.

Some in Congress talk about doubling or tripling the size of the existing nuclear fleet to face our energy challenges. Since these plants are not currently economic at today’s low natural gas prices, the government would have to spend $300-600 billion to get these plants built.

Fukushima (which has shifted public opinion against nuclear power) matters less to the future of nuclear power in the United States than total cost of nuclear versus natural gas for electric power generation. Cost is king.

Rowe opposes further extensions of US government loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants.

Congress should not expand the nuclear loan guarantee program beyond the current $18.5 billion already allocated and should not extend the PTC and ITC tax credits. And, I say this not just as a nuke, but also as a new owner of 735 MW of wind and the largest urban solar facility in the United States.

Wind and solar will become more economic, just not yet. Solar costs will continue to fall, and wind’s economics improve as more coal plants retire. Unlike solving the problems of social security or Medicare, where people must share pain, we can stop energy subsidies without losing the benefits of a clean energy future.

Rowe says absent government subsidies natural gas will win out and displace dirtier coal. Take away subsidies and we can get cheap and clean electric power.

Natural gas is Queen. It is domestically abundant and inexpensive and is the bridge to the future. Because of natural gas, there is no need for expensive mandates and subsidies. Natural gas allows us to compete with China and India.

The competitive landscape has shifted against new nukes - at least in America.

“Up until 2 or 3 years ago, I simply could see no alternative to a major nuclear resurgence at some time, but as we look at a world with relatively slow growth in demand for electricity, wind that actually works, solar that has gone from 40 cents per kilowatt-hour to 20 cents…you do begin to envision that there may be a more complex technology base out there that might be economically competitive with nuclear and socially thought to be preferable.”

Elsewhere (can't find a link now) Rowe has commented on the lower costs of building nukes in China. The big nuke build now underway in China might make economic sense due to lower nuke prices there. What I'm not clear on: What does industrial natural gas cost in China? More expensive than the US?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 May 03 11:49 PM  Energy Nuclear

Ronald Brak said at May 4, 2011 5:26 AM:

China has a lot of potential for natural gas development and is estimated to have more technically recoverable natural gas than the United States. While it's not quite as easy to transport as oil, natural gas can be shipped and piped around, so that will tend to even out world prices, although it will of course always be cheaper near the well head. (Or rather, near the natural gas processing plant.)

Ronald Brak said at May 4, 2011 5:36 AM:

Natural gas prices will be around the same in China as in the developed world, but China will has lower skilled labour costs which should make the relative cost nuclear power compared to gas lower in China than in the United States. This still may not be enough to make nuclear power competitive with gas and lower labour costs also help lower the price of wind and solar in relation to natural gas.

Earl the Pearl said at May 4, 2011 7:24 AM:

Thorium with gravity auto-off, anyone?

Nick G said at May 4, 2011 8:51 AM:

The sensible option is a carbon tax for fossil fuels in general, and an energy security tax for liquid fuel (with per capita rebates to recycle the money and make the whole thing not regressive).

Absent that, low-CO2 and domestic energy sources need subsidies in order for the economy to allocate resources properly.

Abelard Lindsey said at May 4, 2011 10:10 AM:

The shale gas that is so abundant in the U.S. is even more abundant in China.


The Chinese did pause and re-evaluate nuclear power following the problems at Fukushima. They have decided to push forward with the Gen IV LFTR nuclear technology that will be cost competitive with natural gas. The Japanese are also pursuing LFTR. Indeed, the main effect of Fukushima in East Asian has been to push the development of Gen IV technologies such as LFTR and other "deep-burn" nuclear power technologies which do not have the safety issues of conventional (1970's) nuclear power plants. The West appears to be tucking its tail between its legs.

Since gas is so cheap (and of abiogenic origin), it is likely that the nuclear power renaissance here in the U.S. has been pushed off for another 20 years (Fukushima has very little to do with this). The Asians will develop LFTR and will export them to the U.S. the same way they export semiconductors, flat-panels, and a host of other technology goodies starting around 2030.

Perhaps Tri-alpha or polywell will give us Boron-proton fusion by 2020 or Rossi's energy catalyzer will turn out for real. Otherwise, nuclear power will become another Asian industry like so many others.

Bruce said at May 4, 2011 11:10 AM:

The sensible option is no taxes on NG at all, as it is the cleanest fossil fuel. And then remove all subsidies for bird killing wind turbines that need filthy rare earth metals from China.

Those that object to no taxes on NG can voulntarily pay more for electicity. Just put a little check box on your bill:

Y_ N_ I am stupid and wish to have less money to spend on food.

"It would take two years to build a 1,000 MGW natural gas-fired plant for $1 billion, compared with three years for a coal plant at a cost of $3 billion and 10 years for nuclear power at a cost of $6 billion," said Hess.

Only the clinically insane (or deliberate saboteurs) would build anything other than an NG power plant.

Bruce said at May 4, 2011 12:58 PM:

It looks like cheap NG will be good for the plastics industry and the steel industry. Let the Chinese build as many overpriced wind turbines and nuclea power plants they want. And let the US build cheap NG power plants and rebuild industries that benefit from cheap NG.

Jobs and cheaper energy. What a good deal shale gas is!

Chris T said at May 4, 2011 2:23 PM:

Seriously Bruce, I support shale gas, but you really seem like you either work for a drilling company or have a stake in them.

AMac said at May 4, 2011 3:24 PM:

> What a good deal shale gas is!

Supply and demand.
Today, supply up, demand level, prices lower.
Tomorrow, supply steady and high, demand growing, prices high.
Day after tomorrow, supply steady and high, demand steady and high, prices near parity (BTU/$ basis) with oil.
If not, explain why?

Bruce said at May 4, 2011 3:52 PM:

Chris T - Shale Gas is world changer. Why not be happy about it?

"Imagine if we were to discover a new form of cheap, clean energy so abundant that it will provide our needs at least for the next two centuries, freeing us from the pervasive early 21st century neurosis of having to worry about “peak oil” or “conserving scarce resources”, causing a worldwide economic boom and with the added side-benefit of creating more fertiliser so that we can not only heat our homes more cheaply than ever before but also eat more cheaply than ever before."

AMac: "supply steady and high"???? No, supply huge and growing. All over the world.

Marcel F. Williams said at May 4, 2011 8:33 PM:

Natural gas still produces a substantial amount of greenhouse gases. So the economics for future natural gas had to also include sequestering the CO2 produced from natural gas power plants in addition to the safe underground storage of the CO2. When the next generation of small nuclear power plants come on line in the early 2020's, they will be a lot cheaper than any current energy systems due to the fact that they will be able to be centrally mass produced and will produce no CO2 that has to be sequestered or stored. Spent fuel, on the other hand, will be a valuable commodity that will probably be worth nearly $100 trillion dollars once the next generation of breeder technologies come on line in the next 20 or 30 years.

Bruce said at May 4, 2011 9:15 PM:

CO2 sequestering does not work. They leak.

Natural gas produces significantly less CO2 (not that I care, CO2 is good for agriculture)

Pounds of CO2 per billion BTU of energy:
Coal 208,000 pounds
Oil 164,000 pounds
Natural Gas 117,000 pounds

There will be no next generation of small nuclear power plants. That is a fantasy.

Wolf-Dog said at May 5, 2011 1:31 AM:

Jim Rogers says that the price of oil is destined to rise:

Thus it is a good idea for the US government to legislate that all trucks should be converted to natural gas. Even cars can be converted to natural gas. In Los Angeles the buses run natural gas already. Separately diesel fuel can be made from natural gas. Natural gas can save the US from foreign oil until other solutions are found later.

Separately, if all cars were electric in the US, this would require only a 10 % increase in the electric grid capacity. If we increase the electric grid capacity only by 1 % per year, then by 2020 the US would be ready for electric cars. This extra capacity can easily be provided by natural gas, which is plenty in the US. The US is the Saudi Arabia of natural gas and coal (coal can be gasified too.)

But what we need to do is to legislate so that all trains and trucks use natural gas or natural gas based diesel. This would already cut the foreign oil imports in half.

Engineer-Poet said at May 5, 2011 7:45 AM:
Since gas is so cheap (and of abiogenic origin)
Abiogenic?  It's only obtainable by fraccing shales that are full of organic goo (and in many cases were also the source rocks for the oil boom of the 19th-20th centuries).

The ability of people to flatly deny the reality that's in front of their eyes astounds me.
"How can you have such a big head, and such a tiny brain?"—Professor Chrome-Dome.

Bruce said at May 5, 2011 10:02 AM:

What I think is cool is that soon they might have microbes to eat coal and turn it into methane. This is the suspected source of methane hydrates.

"New scientific research has a pair of energy companies betting that the future of the U.S. natural gas industry lies in persuading microorganisms to treat old coal deposits like all-you-can eat buffets.

Coal, researchers have found, is full of microbes that consume the fossil fuel and break it down into methane gas. Two companies want to take advantage of this naturally occurring phenomenon on a large scale to create vast amounts of natural gas in energy-rich places like Wyoming."

th said at May 5, 2011 7:09 PM:

"Rowe grabbed the spotlight in March when he told a Washington audience that burning natural gas to produce electricity is a more realistic approach to cutting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions than building an expensive fleet of nuclear power plants. He called the U.S. onshore gas supply a "genuine elixir" for at least a decade, as gas prices remain near historic lows and power generators replace their oldest and dirtiest coal-fired plants."

The Rowe elixir "for at least a decade", Rowe has the foresight of a politician, last year it was carbon trading, 6 months ago it was nuclear, at this pace, gas will have a major problem by summer. The US has enough gas powered plants now, electricity generation is the largest user of gas in the US already, the US should keep it's mix the way it is now, a fully paid for nuclear plant, as rowe knows, is a very profitable and cheap form of power.

th said at May 5, 2011 7:19 PM:

This is what happens when the Fed stops giving away play money to the wall street banks as in no more QE crap, if we really had a news media the exposure of US monetary policy would lead to a revolt.

Bruce said at May 6, 2011 7:55 AM:

th, a nuclear plants take 5x as long to build and costs 6x as much as a natural gas 1000MW power plant.

5000MW NG for the price of 1000MW nuclear. Easy choice.

BioBob said at May 6, 2011 10:07 AM:

All you watermelon types are deluded. CO2 is a fertilizer and plants all want MORE, not less. CO2 induced Global Warming has already been totally debunked and yet you keep the blinders on. There is a word for that: STUPID. LOL

As previously indicated, COST is king, and so the cheapest energy is the best. Natural gas and coal will duke it out over the next 100 years and that's reality.

th said at May 6, 2011 4:49 PM:

"a nuclear plants take 5x as long to build and costs 6x as much as a natural gas 1000MW power plant.

5000MW NG for the price of 1000MW nuclear. Easy choice."

Yeah, yeah, we all know it's a done deal, gas is at least a 3 century solution to everyone's needs, the same mentality of Calpine, Mirant, and all those other merchant power outfits that went bankrupt listening to salesmen like pickens and mcclendon in the nineties, it's all beginning to look like the same old rush to get it in before it begins to look a little suspect. Nobody knows if all of these shale gas formations are going produce wells that go for 30 years, if they do fine, but to jump to that conclusion is stupid. These things aren't proven yet, how do they know they're all exactly the same as barnett, they don't, that's a gamble, it may work out, but one estimate of 860 trillion cubic feet isn't going to go 1 century, maybe only half of one. When gas prices went over $12/mcu/ft in the last decade, combined cycle utilization went down to 36% of capacity, in reality, that ain't that far away when you consider the plethora of solutions from the elixir being considered now, korea, japan, and others are signing up for LNG exports, cars, diesel, all industries are in, you name it, the elixir is now in motion, that means only one thing, nuclear and coal, not gas.

Bruce said at May 6, 2011 7:25 PM:

My bad. I meant 6000MW of Natural Gas for the price of 1000MW of nuclear,

The world had ample gas supplies before shale gas.

"In 1980 proven world natural gas reserves stood at about 2,500 TCF. Since 1980, global gas consumption has averaged about 75 TCF per year and used almost 2,000 TCF of gas. Rather than being almost out of gas, we currently have global, proven natural gas reserves of over 6,000 TCF."

Those numbers are pre-Shale gas.

Now, with shale gas, the world has 16,000tcf of technically recoverable reserves.

And methane hydrates are still to be tapped.

anonyq said at May 6, 2011 7:54 PM:

The electricity cost for a nuclear plant is the plant itself. In a natural gas plant it is the fuel that is the real cost

Bruce said at May 7, 2011 7:40 AM:

anonyq, processed Uranium is not free. And new mines haven't been opening up. They've been scavenging uranium from old nuclear weapons, but that will run out by 2015. It takes 10 years to bering a new uranium mine onstream.

But the other huge costs is the interest on the capital that has to sit there for 5-10 years before plants begin generating electricity.

You can build 5 NG 1000MW plants in the 10 years it takes 1000MW of nuclear to be built. And they will start making money long before nuclear does. At the moment interest rates are unsustainably low, but that won't last.

Engineer-Poet said at May 7, 2011 8:51 AM:

Bruce is talking out his butt again.  There are many uranium mines opening; Brian Wang at Next Big Future keeps a list of uranium production by source, which is setting new records every year.

The only thing making NG viable as base load is the spot-market based energy policy now in effect.  This is essentially a policy which puts all the risk on capital; price-takers like wind and nuclear are vulnerable to periods of low prices, while price-makers like NG have low fixed costs and can ride them out.  It doesn't matter that wind and nuclear have low overall costs, make the system far less vulnerable to fuel-market conditions, and have very low externalities; they get the short end of the stick because of the "de-regulated" system that favors speculators over consumers.

BioBob said at May 7, 2011 10:48 AM:

EP, it hardly matters if Bruce is wrong or right. Nuclear power as currently envisioned not only has huge capital costs, it has huge energy costs itself. Most calculations show that it takes a range of 10 to 20 years of full operation to recapture the energy invested in the constituent nuke components and construction process for a plant that has a life expectancy of perhaps 30 years. eg see These estimates rarely include estimates for nuclear waste disposal, or plant decommissioning.

You mention systems which skew the internals of a marketplace but fail to mention the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act that currently only requires the absurd $111.9 million maximum liability per plant. As shown by the Fukashima example, actual damages can easily exceed hundreds of billions or are so high as to be incalculable.

Until the industry stops trying to foist giant centralized plants on us and moves to smaller granularity, it is doomed to obsolescence.

Bruce said at May 7, 2011 12:21 PM:

"Perhaps the most worrying problem is the misconception that uranium is plentiful. The world's nuclear plants today eat through some 65,000 tons of uranium each year. Of this, the mining industry supplies about 40,000 tons. The rest comes from secondary sources such as civilian and military stockpiles, reprocessed fuel and re-enriched uranium. "But without access to the military stocks, the civilian western uranium stocks will be exhausted by 2013, concludes Dittmar.

It's not clear how the shortfall can be made up since nobody seems to know where the mining industry can look for more."

"The world is parched for uranium.
Current global uranium demand is about 180 million pounds a year, while mine output is only about 140 million pounds.
Many reactors are running at 50% capacity. Some have even been taken off-line.

In the United States, the bulk of the uranium used in reactors doesn’t even come from uranium mining. It comes from the approximately 20,000 decommissioned Russian nuclear warheads. The uranium from these nuclear weapons is enriched and sold to the U.S. as part of a 1987 disarmament agreement."

Maybe Engineer Proctologist would grace us for references to consumption of Uranium and production of Uranium.

Engineer-Poet said at May 7, 2011 7:32 PM:

Proctologist?  Projecting just a little, Brucie-boy?

Meanwhile in the real world, production of UO2 in 2010 reached 53,663 tonnes, up from 50,772 tonnes in 2009.  The world's uranium consumers anticipate no shortages despite the pending nuclear expansion; uranium for delivery in May 2016 is trading at only $66.00/lb of U3O8.  And let's not forget that the USA has over 700,000 tons of depleted UF6 in inventory.  This contains at least 470,000 tons of elemental uranium, sufficient to power the USA for several hundred years by itself given any fast-spectrum reactor technology.

None of this is at all difficult to find (e.g. "uranium futures" and "I'm feeling lucky").  The only explanation I have for Brucie's hilarious errors are that he needs the services of a proctologist to see the light again.

Randall Parker said at May 7, 2011 10:23 PM:


Michael Dittmar's nuclear series was also published on The Oil Drum and in the comments of one post a lot of people sliced and diced his argument on uranium reserves and, as I recall, pretty well demolished it. Also, as a follow-up, Brian Wang (who writes the Next Big Future blog) did a TOD post on how future uranium supplies are not going to be a problem. So Dittmar and Wang did some bets on uranium production. Check out how some of those bets turned out. E-P's production numbers above indicate that Brian won for 2010.

Nuclear's main problem at this point is cost. It costs more than coal and natural gas for electric power generation.

Randall Parker said at May 7, 2011 11:29 PM:


See this chart on world uranium production over 2000-2010, which includes numbers by country. Uranium production is rising, especially in Kazakhstan.

Bruce said at May 8, 2011 8:33 AM:

"Proctologist? Projecting just a little, Brucie-boy?"

You are the moron claiming you looked into my ass for arguments.

As for your numbers ... Uranium production is still well below demand, but because of the old Russian nukes, demand is met until 2013. Then it will be used up. And demand is down because plants are shutdown or running at 50% capacity.

Production: 53,663

Demand: 68,971


How is that SHORTFALL made up ... old Russian Nukes.

"A major downblending undertaking called the Megatons to Megawatts Program converts ex-Soviet weapons-grade HEU to fuel for U.S. commercial power reactors. From 1995 through mid-2005, 250 tonnes of high-enriched uranium (enough for 10,000 warheads) was recycled into low-enriched-uranium. The goal is to recycle 500 tonnes by 2013. The decommissioning programme of Russian nuclear warheads accounted for about 13% of total world requirement for enriched uranium leading up to 2008"

As for "The Oil Drum" ... I don't believe anything they say after finding out about the mysterious 100,000 cash startup money.

Randall Parker said at May 8, 2011 12:03 PM:


If I was making capital investment decisions for a large uranium mining company I would not over-build mining capacity while the Russians are selling warhead uranium. I'd time my production capacity expansion to coincide with a combination of when new nukes will go into production and when the Russians will stop selling warhead uranium.


You do not elevate the level of discourse by leading with insults.

Bruce said at May 8, 2011 2:08 PM:

Randall, since it can take 10 years to bring a new nuclear plant to the point of power production, its no surprise that "timing" is quite difficult.

Natural Gas is the better choice.

Engineer-Poet said at May 8, 2011 9:22 PM:

Bruce insults us by making claims which are stinkingly wrong, and he has to know are wrong.  That's how I know where he got them:  I can smell them from here.

Go back to the uranium futures.  Megatons to Megawatts ends in 2013, but the industry isn't concerned about supply even in 2016.  Companies are sinking $billions into new plants which will need at least 40 years of LEU.

Who do you think knows the business better:  Toshiba, the futures markets and the electric utilities, or a crank who calls himself Bruce on this blog?  He's making the same completely discredited claims Michael Dittmar did 2 years ago.  And he's also shown his true colors:  he says the solution is natural gas.  He's a mouthpiece for the gas industry.  Gas-industry lobbyists are trying to persuade states to close nuclear plants and substitute wind farms plus gas-fired turbines.  Bruce is probably one of them.  That's why I can smell the stink so clearly; astroturf doesn't clean the air the way the grassroots do.

It appears to take about a year to get the permits and set up an in-situ leach (ISL) mining operation in Australia; it may be quicker and cheaper elsewhere (e.g. Kazakhstan).  Building new centrifuge enrichment capacity needs about the same amount of lead time.  There is no problem with meeting the needs of either the existing nuclear fleet or any conceivable expansion in the next 20 years.  After 20 years, see uranium-thorium fuel for LWRs, DU-burning fast-spectrum reactors started on Pu from spent LWR fuel, and LFTR.

Randall Parker said at May 8, 2011 11:40 PM:


Really, someone can advocate a position without being paid to do it and I think it very unlikely he's a mouthpiece for the natural gas industry. A paid advocate would talk a better game for his position.

This is all besides the point anyway. John Rowe likes nukes and can't see a way to make them cost competitive in the next 10 years. That's very telling. We are going to get more natural gas and few new nukes until the shale gas production starts dropping.

Engineer-Poet said at May 9, 2011 5:05 AM:

If you add in the fuel-price risk for NG-fired turbines, what's their cost to the consumer?

Much of the cost of nuke plants in the USA is over-regulation.  The "applicant pays all costs, including the education of the regulators" system of the NRC is what's preventing a mass shift to factory-built modular molten-salt reactors at $1200/kWe.

Ronald Brak said at May 9, 2011 5:24 PM:

If US over-regulation is preventing the cost of nuclear power from dropping to $1,200/kWe, then reactors built in Mexico and Canada could supply the US with electricity, so the United States won't miss out on low cost nuclear power.

Engineer-Poet said at May 9, 2011 9:01 PM:

Canada (or at least Ontario) has an even worse regulatory environment than the USA.  As for Mexico, would you want to depend on the Zetas' hiring department to make your supply of nuclear power safe and reliable?

Ronald Brak said at May 10, 2011 1:49 AM:

If reactors can be built in Mexico for $1200/kWe, and they can't be built in the United States, then the profit opportunity in selling nuclear electricity to the US would be immense. A foreign nuclear consortium able to build reactors at that price in Mexico is going to have a vast incentive to ensure that the nuclear power provided is both safe as reliable. With regards to safety, nuclear reactors in Mexico should be safer than ones in US for US citizens on account of their being in Mexico. Also, I personally would have more faith in the safety of a new nuclear plant built in Mexico with international engineering expertise, than a random member of the older fleet of reactors in the US. And the Laguna Verde nuclear plant hasn't had any problems yet that I am aware of. As for reliability, the US is already a net importer of Mexican electricity, and any exporters of cheap nuclear electricity to the US would have a very strong vested interest in providing reliable power, otherwise they wouldn't get paid. The only downside would be the very real risk that the US would change regulations so that utilities could build $1,200/kWe factory built modular molten-salt reactors on US soil. That would be a real bummer for the Mexican and or Canadian nuclear bonanza.

anonyq said at May 10, 2011 10:29 AM:

Problem with nuclear power is that safe is 1 in a million years. You can cut a lot of cost by making it 1 in a 1000 year safe. The Zetas' would take that extra profit

Ronald Brak said at May 10, 2011 5:35 PM:

It's not a problem if the US doesn't buy electricity from reactors without sufficient passive safety. Of course it is possible that US utilities could take a cut of the profit in return for ignoring the reductions in safety. I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if such a heinous act could ever possibly occur in the United States. If it could happen it would be a good argument against building nukes in the US. Anyway, whoever develops $1,200/kWe factory built modular molten-salt reactors is going to be besieged with hundreds or thousands of orders as they will produce electricity at a cost lower than coal. The last thing they would want is a major nuclear accident resulting in cancellations of orders, so they would have a strong incentive to ensure that every one of their reactors, no matter what its location, was safe. The only way they wouldn't be fixated on safety would be in a bizarre situation where managers cared more about their yearly bonuses than the long term profitability or health of the company.

Bruce said at May 11, 2011 7:53 AM:

"At the current rate of uranium consumption with conventional reactors, the world supply of viable uranium, which is the most common nuclear fuel, will last for 80 years. Scaling consumption up to 15 TW, the viable uranium supply will last for less than 5 years. (Viable uranium is the uranium that exists in a high enough ore concentration so that extracting the ore is economically justified.)"

"The nuclear containment vessel is made of a variety of exotic rare metals that control and contain the nuclear reaction: hafnium as a neutron absorber, beryllium as a neutron reflector, zirconium for cladding, and niobium to alloy steel and make it last 40-60 years against neutron embrittlement. Extracting these metals raises issues involving cost, sustainability, and environmental impact. In addition, these metals have many competing industrial uses; for example, hafnium is used in microchips and beryllium by the semiconductor industry. If a nuclear reactor is built every day, the global supply of these exotic metals needed to build nuclear containment vessels would quickly run down and create a mineral resource crisis. "

Bruce said at May 11, 2011 8:01 AM:

E-Proctologist: "He's a mouthpiece for the gas industry."

I advocate the use of the cheapest/cleanest fuel in power plants that take only 2 years to build because I have a brain.

You advocate for the use of the most expensive power plants that take 10 years to build and have massive fuel problems and spent fuel disposal problems.

I could accuse you of being a nuclear industry shill, but I think you are just plain stupid.

As for CANDU reactors in Canada... the current government is thinking about shutting down Atomic Energy Canada because it has been a huge waste of money and is now responsible for 12% of the federal debt:

anonyq said at May 11, 2011 5:12 PM:

Gas isn't the cheapest fuel. It has less price risk because the electricity price is decided by the gas price

Engineer-Poet said at May 11, 2011 5:42 PM:

A power supply in Mexico adds exchange-rate risks to the equation.  Political risks, too; can you say "Mexican Spring"?  A new regime south of the border might insist on better prices for its power, or cut back production by shutting down plants for "safety inspections".  And if people don't want power lines running from Dakota wind farms to New York, you think they'll want power from Mexico?

MSRs are well-suited to newer power-conversion technologies like supercritical CO2 turbines.  Compared to steam turbines, sCO2 systems are minuscule; this means they have the potential to be built in factories and shipped to the site on trucks, fully tested and ready to go.  This in turn speeds construction, slashing the interest-rate costs and risks of the plant.

Could we have MSR schedules competitive with wind farms, going from ink on a contact to flipping the switch in 18 months?  I don't know, but I sure wouldn't rule it out.

Ronald Brak said at May 11, 2011 6:35 PM:

$1,200/kWe factory-built modular molten-salt reactors in north-west Mexico, depending on operating costs, could produce electricity for around 3 cents a kilowatt-hour and sell it in California for around 25 cents. That's enough profit margin to overcome a lot of obstacles and with NAFTA in place I'm guessing it would be quite difficult to stop the electricity coming across the border. Of course, in reality, it would only take one safely functioning $1,200/kWe factory-built modular molten-salt reactor in Mexico or Canada exporting electricity to the US to convice the US that they should have their own. In fact, such a reactor built anywhere in the world should suffice. $1,200/kWe reactors would in one stroke solve our biggest environmental problems and lower the price of electricity. It's such a win/win situation it's hard to see how it would be possible for the US to pass it up, especially considering that the US is internationly renowned for it's flexibility when it comes to turning a profit.

Larry said at May 12, 2011 11:22 PM:

What I think I know:

Thorium and breeders imply that uranium shortages are unlikely to limit nuclear power. Construction costs, on the other hand, although maybe not in China...
Climate change is baked in the cake, along with sea-level rise and acidifying oceans.
There is lots of natural gas out there. It's time to move away from coal. (I'm talking to you, China)
As usual with resource constraints, "peak oil" is not interesting. We bumped up against the limits of whale oil, too...
We're seeing real progress in solar both on cost and on efficiency. Still a long way to go.
Population growth has collapsed. We'll probably peak at around 10B. Unless we dramatically extend lifespans, we'll probably decline from there.
Batteries and the grid are the keys to electric cars. Long way to go.
Energy has a huge "installed base" problem. Big changes will be astonishingly expensive.
IEC and its cousins progress. Something like that will eventually produce cheap, infinite energy. Once they do, we're out of the woods on our other economic and environmental problems.

Engineer-Poet said at May 13, 2011 6:02 PM:

I'm not sure climate change is baked-in.  Some of the technologies enabled by cheap nuclear process heat have the potential to allow carbon-negative energy systems; going from some billions of tons added to a billion or so tons removed every year changes the direction of the curve.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©