Australia’s ‘Clean Energy Future’ – Why Nuclear Power Plants Should Be An Option

Posted on Mon 12/05/2011 by

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Over the weekend just passed, the Australian Labor Government passed a motion at their Annual Conference that they should move in Parliament to amend the legislation regarding the sale of Uranium to India.

The Minister For Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, said that the sale of Australian Uranium to India was imperative if that Country was to cut back on its emissions of Carbon Dioxide, and that the Uranium can be used for Nuclear Power Plants.

Hey!

Wait a minute. If it’s so important that OUR Uranium is sold to India so they can cut back on their emissions, why is it not just as important, (or even more important) that we use our own Uranium to cut back on CO2 emissions here in our Country.

In fact, something like this should be at the forefront of the minds of this Government if they are to proceed forwards with their plan for what they euphemistically call ‘The Clean Energy Future’, detailed in the raft of 19 separate Bills of Legislation recently passed here, not one of which even has the slightest mention of Nuclear Power.

Why is Nuclear electrical power generation such an important thing here in Australia, if we are to move away from the largest source of those CO2 emissions, Coal Fired power generation?

Let’s then look at why Nuclear power should be an option for that future, and why it should not be put off to a later date, when it is less ‘politically sensitive’.

For the purpose of this exercise, I will be using what should be considered as the most important point of the whole debate. That is not the cost, but the actual power supplied, and in this analysis, I will compare the power supplied by just one typical large scale Nuclear Power Plant with the three renewable alternatives, currently the only options on the table, if we are to move away from coal fired power.

While cost is an important factor, by far the most important factor should be the actual power delivered, and to emphasise that, let’s use an analogy here.

As I have said so many times, the favoured renewable power sources deliver their power on a limited time basis. As a comparison, would you buy a new car if it was only going to work one time in three (at best) went you turned the ignition on? Frankly, would you spend your own money on anything that was only going to work one time in three?

This is same situation when it comes to renewable power, only with Hundreds of Millions and even Billions of Dollars being spent.

First, look very carefully at this chart, and I will explain it in some depth.

The figures I have used here for Capacity Factor (CF) for the Renewables shown are based around the current World Averages for those three major renewables. In each case, the theoretical percentage CF for those renewables is a little higher, but the figures for actual CF give a more realistic outcome.

Here I am using as a reference the total Nameplate Capacity for the one Nuclear Plant, 2000MW, and then using that as the same total Nameplate Capacity for all the plants in this comparison.

That 2000MW is for one large scale Nuclear Power Plant, which will have two reactors, each one driving a turbine which then drives one large generator, for a total Capacity of that 2000MW.

This comparison, using Nameplate Capacity is the one most commonly used, because it gives the impression that if this one total is the same, then these types of plant must deliver the same amount of power, something that is patently false, as this analysis will show so starkly.

For the purposes of actual power delivery, I will use the same industry formula for all plants, and that is as follows:

NP X 24 X 365.25 X CF (and then divide that by 1000) Where NP is Nameplate Capacity, 24 hours in a day, 365.25 days in a year (leap year included) and CF is the plant’s Capacity Factor. I have divided by 1000 to convert to GigaWattHours (GWH)

NUCLEAR GENERATION.

Here I have used the current CF for all the nuclear power plants currently in operation in the U.S. That CF is now at 92.5% which is around the current Worldwide level, as these plants are quite efficient. Incidentally, while no new Nuclear Plants have been constructed in the US for more than 30 years, barring one, that U.S. CF has consistently risen year by year from the level it was that 30 years ago.

These Nuclear power plants have a typical life expectancy of 50 years, but this can be further extended out to 60, and even to 75 years.

You will be told that these plants are horrendously expensive at the construction end of the plant, and when those costing figures are mentioned, they are used, subliminally almost, in an effort to put doubt in people’s minds that while they are so good at doing what they do, providing huge amounts of electrical power on a constant basis, that cost is one of the biggest factors against their even being considered in the first place.

As you can see from the chart, at that CF of 92.5%, a plant of this size can produce for consumption 16,200GWH in one year, and with a life span of just the base 50 years, this plant will then produce 810,000GWH during its life.

WIND GENERATION.

Using the same 2000MW Nameplate Capacity, this means more than one large scale plant will need to be constructed. While there are larger nacelles in use that can generate up to 5MW and some even more, the most commonly used size nacelle produces 3.3MW.

So, to make this total of 2000MW, you would need 606 of these towers. A typical large scale wind plant would have as many as 150 of these towers, some more, some less, but 150 is around the average for a large scale plant. So, now we need four wind plants just to make up the same Nameplate Capacity. That means four lots of preliminary works for all the approvals leading up to construction. The cost now comes into play as each of these plants would cost in the vicinity of $1.5 Billion each, hence now that base cost factor is up around $6 Billion.

However, that cost is basically incidental when you now look at how much power is actually delivered.

That CF I have used here is the current Worldwide average for Wind Plants. In the information package prior to the original construction for a Wind Plant, that information will state a theoretical CF of 38%, provided you know how to work that out, because none of these plants explain that, except in a manner that makes it difficult for the layman to work out, usually done in the form of ‘houses supplied’ with this power. In very few cases has any plant actually achieved that theoretical 38% CF.

That 25% CF means that a wind plant can only deliver its power for barely 6 hours a day, on average.

So, you can see that even though the Nameplate Capacity is the same, the power delivered over a full year is barely more than a quarter of the power delivered by the Nuclear plant.

Wind plants only have a life expectancy of 25 years, at best, and this is only half the base lifetime of a Nuclear plant, so the power delivered over the life of this equivalent Wind plant is barely 13.6% of the Nuclear plant.

From that you now see you will need 4 times as many plants as originally constructed just to equal the yearly power delivery of the one Nuclear Plant, or 2,400 towers.

For the same lifetime power you will now need 4,460 towers.

Costing these Wind plants from that, then, for a yearly equivalence, that means 16 of these plants at $1.5Billion each or $24 Billion, and for a lifetime equivalence, you would need 30 of them, costing $45 Billion, which now brings the huge initial cost of the Nuclear plant into sharp relief by comparison.

However, all that is academic really, because you will still only have power delivery for just on 6 hours a day.

PHOTOVOLTAIC SOLAR POWER.

To achieve that 2000MW equivalent Nameplate Capacity, we can use a direct comparison here in Australia with the proposed Solar PV plant at Moree. This plant has a Nameplate Capacity of 150MW, so to equal that 2000MW. We will need to construct 13 of them, hence 13 preliminary work ups prior to construction, and if Moree costs $950 Million, the total now comes in at $12.4 Billion.

That CF I use here is again the current World average for delivery of power and comes in at an average of around three and a half hours a day. The theoretical maximum power delivery is higher than this, but again, nowhere on Planet Earth has this theoretical maximum power been delivered.

For yearly power delivery, that one nuclear plant will deliver six times as much power, and also having a life expectancy, at best of 25 years, the Nuclear plant will deliver 12.5 times the power over that 50 year time period.

So for a yearly equivalence you will now need to construct 78 of these plants at a total cost $74 Billion and for a lifetime equivalence, 163 of them costing $155 Billion. Again, compare that with what you are told is the huge initial cost of the Nuclear power plant.

Again, it’s still academic, because you still only get power for less than 4 hours a day on average.

CONCENTRATING SOLAR POWER.

This form of power is still barely out of infancy, even after a number of years in operation.

The largest plant on Earth can produce 250MW at its maximum capacity, but if they divert the molten compound so the plant can produce power for periods approaching a full day, then that total comes down to barely 50MW. Even then, they can barely manage power for 15 hours a day at best. In Spain, one tiny plant of only 14MW Nameplate Capacity actually has achieved power generation for one full 24 hour period, at the peak of Mid Summer, on a cloudless day. Even then, that tiny plant still only has a yearly CF of 60%.

For the purpose of this calculation, I can only base the data on actual current figures. For that purpose I am using here the full 250MW generation by purely solar means, and that CF currently stands at barely 40%, in the main from around 9 AM until 8 PM in the Summer Months and from 10.30 AM until 6.30PM in the Winter Months.

If for this purpose I was to use the heat diversion process, that would considerably lower the total power to 50MW and would only raise the CF to 60%. That Heat diversion capability also considerably raises the initial cost of the Plant.

The largest scale Concentrating Solar plant currently in operation has a Nameplate Capacity of 250MW, and it’s construction cost was $1.6 Billion, a figure that blew out three times, having started at $950 Million.

So here, to make that same Nameplate Capacity, we will need 8 of these plants, (and also 8 lots of planning procedures and approval and financing) so that total construction coat comes in at $13 Billion.

For this example quoted, then for the yearly equivalent, (with the Nuclear Plant producing 2.3 times the power) you will need to construct 19 of these plants, hence $30 Billion, and for a lifetime equivalent, you will need 39 of them, hence $62 Billion.

Again, this also is academic, as you still only get power for, on average, just under 10 hours a day.

CONCLUSIONS.

While cost may seem an important factor here, what is now obvious is that the sole factor is actual delivery of power for consumption, and as can be so obviously seen, none of the favoured renewables can come even close to the power delivery of the one Nuclear power plant.

When 60 to 65% of every Watt of power being consumed in Australia is required for the full 24 hours of EVERY day, it now becomes plain to see that there is only one form of power generation that can actually achieve this, Nuclear power, if, as we are told, we need to move away from coal fired power generation.

That is why Nuclear Power is an option that needs to be placed squarely on the table if we are to move away from using coal to generate electrical power.

As to the lifetime cost per unit of electricity, well, you do the Maths on how much it would cost.

Keep firmly in your mind that all costs need to be recovered over the life of the plant.

If Nuclear power produces considerably more power for consumption and does this for twice as long, then that lowers the cost of the power produced, and lowers it to a level that just cannot be competed with, no matter how much these renewables are subsidised with Government money, both at the construction phase, and also in the delivery of power, those subsidies (artificially) lowering the unit cost of electricity to make it seem competitive with other forms of power generation.

What should also be considered here is the time involved from the first mention of any power plant, until the point in time when the plant actually starts to deliver its power. That time can range between five and ten years. Here I have used one Nuclear power plant, and for every comparison, even at that incorrect Nameplate Capacity equivalence, those renewables range from 4 huge Wind Plants, 13 PV Solar and 8 Concentrating Solar, plants, just to equal the initial Nameplate Capacity alone, so with those renewables, you are feasibly looking at considerably more time than even that base line time consideration.

If Australia is to approve the sale of our Uranium to India, I would think it was considerably more important to be discussing not that, but how soon we can start using our own Uranium for ourselves.

If it is so important for India to lower its emissions, then why is not just as important for Australia to go down this same route to lower our own emissions of CO2.

If the current Labor Government is not considering this, then they are not really serious when it comes to lowering emissions here in Australia.

When you compare Nuclear power with any of the renewables, well, there just is no comparison.

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