Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 18)

Posted on Tue 04/29/2008 by



Let’s pretend that the bean counters, and the lawyers, and the banks, and the NRC, and the people who live in the area, and the politicians in office at the time all give final approval for a nuclear power plant to be built, the major problem is the lead time between turning the first sod, and running up the reactor to produce electrical power. This takes considerably longer than for the gas turbine plants or even for coal fired plants. It is most usually in the realm of five and seven years. Oddly enough, the problem with that time span is not the time itself, but servicing the huge debt at the front end, with nothing coming in for so long, so now you can see the point on that front.

However, once the plant is up and running, the cost of the produced electricity is cheaper than for coal fired methods, and considerably cheaper than for the gas turbine method, because both of these have the ongoing costs for the fuel itself, the coal and the LNG, both of which are increasing, and in the case of the LNG, then the cost for that is increasing dramatically.
So, the cost of electricity produced by nuclear means is minimal after the plant is up and running, so what that means is the cost is in the main, related directly to the cost of the plant and the accumulated debt.
See how electricity is more than an environmental thing now.

So then how much does it cost to build one of these things?
Most of the nuclear plants in the US are of the large base load type.

I mean, why not?

Build one huge plant instead of numerous small ones. I mentioned in the last piece figures from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission saying that there are 104 nuclear power plants within the US. However, only 65 of these are the very large base load plants, averaging out at around 2000 MW total producing capacity. For the costing, I’ll work on a plant the size of one of these large ones, 2000 MW.
The formula is not really complicated even though it might look that way. One side tells us the cost is ‘X’ amount of dollars, and another side tells us the cost is far greater at ‘Y’ dollars, (you guess which side is which) so what I’ll do is split the difference, which sounds like an incredible over simplification, but then, both sides will say that won’t they.
The average cost is around $3000 per KW. One MW is 1000 KW. Plant size in this case 2000 MW. So, multiply those three together and you get $6 Billion. Sorta just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it. Now perhaps you can see the problem servicing that debt at the front end.

Right then, why should we even consider nuclear power plants over other methods. I’ll do some rough costings for each of the upcoming methods, and you’ll see just how much of an attractive option this method really becomes.

Once constructed and operating, there are no emissions whatsoever. (Remember France) Detractors will tell you of the carbon footprint during the construction of the plant, but would that not also equally apply with the construction of other plants. See how the argument is again reduced to a psychological reasoning process by detractors with their own agendas.

As to the fuel itself, small pellets of enriched uranium are inserted into the hollow rods, stacking them one on top of the other, the rods then placed into bundles and bundles are inserted into the reactor.

In this photograph, the pellets are the tiny little things in the hand. They have been ceramicised and this is how they are inserted into the thin rods, typically less than half an inch across. Between 150 and 264 rods are in a typical bundle which is about 13 feet in length. As many as 190 bundles may be inside a typical Pressurised water reactor, from the diagram in the last piece.

These are the tiny enriched uranium fuel pellets prior to insertion into the rods. They have been ceramicised. This is the nuclear fuel.As the fuel source is depleted, the rods are removed, stored within the container, replaced with new rods, and the process continues. Typically, one rod may only last six years before it needs to be replaced. The rod is kept onsite in the tank to cool, and this usually lasts for 5 years. Once cool enough to handle, the rods are removed. One of two things happens then. The rods can be removed to a storage facility. Even though they will remain radioactive for centuries, they will lose 99.9% of their radioactivity after 40 years. The used rods can also be reprocessed to recover the still enriched uranium for reuse. However, as part of the nuclear non proliferation treaty, reprocessing has ceased in the US and all the rods are now treated as nuclear waste, and stored.

(Say, just why is it that only the US has to stop reprocessing when the recovered fuel is still quite viable.)

People look upon the nuclear waste as the major problem.

Again, those with a different agenda will say that this stuff is highly dangerous for millions of years. That may be so, but surely the safety measures in place now have ensured that no incident of any sort, accident of any sort or disaster of any sort has occurred.
People regularly submit to x rays, catscans, petscans, MRI’s, treatment for cancers, nuclear medicine on large scale that we take for granted. There is background radiation in everyday life, and people are exposed to more background radiation every day than they would be around a nuclear power plant. Look at the guy holding those pellets above. Admitted he’s wearing a pretty hefty type of protective glove, and probably other protective gear as well, as is the guy holding the camera, but those guys are still okay. (Sarcastically speaking, ‘Here fella, I want you for a suicide mission. Just hold these highly radioactive enriched uranium pellets so we can get a good photograph of them.’)

Coal fired plants produce 100 times more radiation the nuclear power plants.
The waste is volatile yes, but handled correctly as it has been, and as it will be, then it can prove to be, and has already proved to be, a safe method of producing electrical power.
There are 65 large base load nuclear power plants producing electricity in the US currently.
Thousands of people work in these plants and have worked in them. They all have extended families, so tens of thousands of people are closely associated with actually being around highly radioactive Uranium.
Only one person who works in a nuclear plant glows in the dark, and that guy’s name is Homer Simpson, and then it’s only occasionally. Next episode he’s back eating doughnuts.
No. Nuclear power is safe.

The seven year lead time, and that enormously huge cost at the front end is the major problem that has to be confronted, but in a highly technological and wealthy country like the US, then electricity produced from Nuclear power should be an option more closely canvassed.