Part Two: Economics of Nuclear Power with Mycle Schneider


In April of 2015, Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen and the Fairewinds Crew headed to Quebec City for the World Uranium Symposium. Attended by more than 300 delegates from 20 countries that produce uranium for nuclear power and weapons, the symposium brought together experts who are calling on governments throughout the world to end all uranium mining.

In this presentation, Part Two: Economics of Nuclear Power, Mycle Schneider, an independent international energy and nuclear policy consultant and lead author of the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report, provides an economic analysis of the cost of nuclear power including data using charts and graphs.




The Economics of Nuclear by Caroline Phillips, Fairewinds Administrator

Here at Fairewinds Energy Education, we believe that this year, 2015, marks the tipping point for our energy future. For years, we have heard visionaries like Amory Lovins, Mycle Schneider, and Dr. Mark Cooper present real data and economic analyses that show a renewable energy-future is more feasible than the current paradigm of coal, oil, nuclear, and gas.  Now we see their projections come to fruition with inventions like Elon Musk’s Powerwall, a home or industrial-sized battery, that charges using electricity from solar panels. Paving the way towards a clean energy economy around the world, Musk’s storage invention reduces battery storage costs down to between 2 and 4 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Solar electric production costs about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Adding solar production and storage costs therefore costs 10 cents or less,  while the production cost from a new nuclear power plant lingers at 16 cents.

Amory Lovins has dedicated his 40 years of energy policy experience to the idea that our energy future does not have to look like our energy past. A preeminent environmental thinker and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory Lovins is the author of the 2011 book Reinventing Fire. Heralded by President Bill Clinton as, “A wise, detailed, and comprehensive blue print,” Reinventing Fire explores pre-existing market based solutions in transportation, building, industry, and electricity that don’t rely on energy from fossil fuels or nuclear and yet save industry trillions of dollars. A friend of Fairewinds, Lovins visited Vermont two years ago and he and Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen spoke on video about a global energy future without nuclear power by growing renewables and clean energy.

 Gundersen emphatically points out in his presentation on the economic analysis of nuclear power at the World Uranium Symposium that utilities and energy corporations are trying to keep us trapped in a 20th century paradigm of central station power. Suggesting policymakers and the energy industry support a locally distributed electric grid with small generators and battery storage, Gundersen, like Lovins, pushes for an energy future that does not mirror our energy past. With numerical data collected by Mycle Schneider, an independent international energy and nuclear policy consultant and another friend of Fairewinds, Gundersen details not only the economic benefits of a renewable energy future and also the real economic risks of a nuclear powered one.

 “Policymakers would not be making the decision to build nuclear if they viewed risk based on the real world statistics,” says Gundersen. Influenced by the companies that build nuclear reactors and its regulators, like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, policymakers are convinced that the chance is about one in a million of a nuclear reactor accident – per reactor year. Gundersen shows that with 400 nuclear reactors in the world – a million divided by 400, means a nuclear accident once every 2,500 years. And yet, Gundersen notes, we’ve had 5 in the last 35 years, for a historical accident frequency of once every seven years. When you look at the real world data, the economic cost and safety risk is too high.

 Mycle Schneider has provided nuclear energy consulting services to countless international institutions, governments and NGOs. In a video (LINK) Q+A with Fairewinds Energy Education, Schneider discussed and debunked the nuclear power fantasy of the French nuclear reactor fleet.  As Schneider presented the economic history and data assessment of nuclear power at the World Uranium Symposium using calculated, accurate graphed numbers, he made it abundantly clear the truth of former NRC commissioner Peter Bradford’s famous quote, “Trying to eliminate global warming by building nuclear power plants, is like trying to solve global hunger by serving caviar.”

 Finally, this month another leading visionary, Dr. Mark Cooper, released his report entitled, Power Shift: The Deployment Of A 21st Century Electricity Sector And The Nuclear War To Stop It. In his 2011 report, Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Economics, Dr. Cooper cites previous nuclear disasters such as the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island as “severely [multiplying] the cost of reactor construction."  A Yale graduate and Fulbright Fellow, Dr. Cooper holds a PhD from Yale University and is a senior research fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at the Vermont Law School. Along with his 2014 report, The Economic Failure Of Nuclear Power And The Development Of A Low Carbon Electricity Future: Why Small Modular Reactors Are Part Of The Problem, Not The Solution, Dr. Cooper’s position is clear, we are not witnessing a nuclear renaissance but rather a total collapse in expectations. 

unnamed-1.jpgNuclear News:

Vermont Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia is not happy with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for its decisions regarding Vermont Yankee's decommissioning trust fund, according to The Brattleboro Reformer.  The NRC has approved Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Nuclear’s request to make withdrawals from the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Trust Fund to manage spent nuclear fuel at Vermont Yankee even though those funds will not be used to decommission the nuclear plant.

"We are just finding that there is blatant inconsistency between what NRC is allowing to be taken out of (the decommissioning trust fund), and what the regulations say can be (taken out)," Recchia said. "It is for radiological decommissioning – tasks that advance radiological decommissioning. So, emergency planning, taxes, spent fuel management we just don't see how that is eligible."

Recchia added that his office and that of the Vermont Attorney General are seeking reform in the federal regulatory process. "What we're learning is that the NRC process is broken and needs to be fixed, and I fully expect Vermont to be leading that charge with other states," Recchia added.

Check out Fairewinds' Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Report submitted to the NRC here.

Utility customers are on the losing side once again in a South Carolina state decision to allow South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) to keep secret the details surrounding its most recent spike in electric rates. With rates going up by 26% during the past five years, SCE&G continues to monopolize power serving roughly one-third of the state’s population. This will be the seventh time SCE&G customers will be expected to pay higher bills while the justifications for the increases are kept secret. Financing costs for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Virgil C. Summer site in Fairfield is the most recent excuse for hiked up rates with details hidden from the public based on SCE&G’s claim of “trade secret” protection under the Freedom of Information Act.

This SCE&G claim has been approved by the Public Service Commission whose commitment to protecting consumers by ensuring that rate increases are prudent and justified is being called into question as rates steadily rise.

The Post and Courier points out that the 2007 South Carolina Base Load Review Act allows electric utilities to finance major capital expenditures through up-front rate increases that cause excessive bills for ratepayers.  Under this law, customers pay for new power plants long before those plants ever generate any actual power. This statute provides companies with a financial incentive to invest in much larger scale projects than they would normally be able to afford with very little monetary risk to the company as customers take on all the financial burden and risk.

Imagine soaring across the ocean on solar power!  This is not some pipe dream; instead, history was made this week when Solar Impulse, a Swiss long-range experimental solar-powered aircraft project, flew its solar plane across the Pacific Ocean. Completing the 4,000-mile journey from Japan to Hawaii without stops or fossil fuel, the Solar Impulse plane landed Friday morning at Kalaeloa Airport on the island of Oahu, the total flight took 117 hours and 52 seconds.

“This oceanic flight to Hawaii demonstrates that if technological solutions exist to fly a plane day and night without fuel, then there is potential for these same efficient technologies to be used in our daily lives, and to achieve energy savings to reduce CO2 emissions," Bertrand Piccard, co-founder of Solar Impulse said in a statement made Friday.

Using solar panels and battery storage, the Solar Impulse plane has the wingspan of a 747 and the weight of a family car. No other plane actually fills its fuel tank while it is flying, and no other plane has ever flown so long without use of fossil fuels, co-pilot and program initiator Bertrand Picard explained during a Solar Impulse live-feed interview. The balance between power generation from the panels on the solar wings, and using the charge from the batteries overnight is critical, according to writer Giles Parkinson who emphasizes that Solar Impulse is truly pushing the frontier for technology. In a true test of technology and human endurance, pilot André Borschberg never leaves his seat, which serves as a bed, yoga mat, and toilet as he flies. 

Union of Concerned Scientists Nuclear Safety Project Director Dave Lochbaum, took a critical look at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s claim of efforts to enhance public meetings. A consultant to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was hired to make suggestions based upon what other organizations do such as, transparent communication about decisions, opportunities for the public to provide direct input, and in general, “having an open process where all views are exchanged and considered.”

Despite the consultant’s professional advice on possible improvements, a group of twenty NRC staffers tasked with researching better public relations submitted a report on ways to enhance meetings the agency conducts with the public without reaching out to any members of the public – not a single one!

Mr. Lochbaum makes the point that the NRC would never look into how to enhance its meetings with the nuclear industry without soliciting input from stakeholders within the industry. Therefore, he poses this question, “Why then would the NRC examine how to enhance its meetings with the public without soliciting input from members of that targeted audience?” A rhetorical question, Lochbaum provides us with the answer, “The NRC does not value public input.”

 Back in 2010, Fairewinds President Maggie Gundersen captured the NRC’s disinterest in public input when they decided to hold a closed door, “Government to Government”, meeting in direct violation to Vermont state and federal laws regarding open meetings. In an article written for Green Mountain Daily and picked up by Times Argus, Maggie exposed the NRC’s email invitation sent to select stakeholders and high-ranking officials:

“Dear ,

You are cordially invited to attend a government-to-government meeting among the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); representatives of various Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts state agencies; and Federal and local government officials from the communities surrounding the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. At this meeting, NRC will discuss its independent inspection of Entergy's groundwater initiative program and the NRC's review, to date, of the activities related to the recent tritium leak at the Vermont Yankee site.

The NRC is providing this information in advance of the public release of its inspection report on this subject to better equip government stakeholders to answer questions they may receive from their constituents. The meeting will be limited to elected officials, or their staff, to best facilitate an open and courteous discussion and will not be open to the public or the media.”

Check out the full article and NRC invitation here.

Researchers warn that fires nearby the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history "pose a high risk of redistributing radioactivity." And now a new fire is raging only half a mile from Chernobyl. Ukraine’s Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources claims that the fire is still outside of Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, yet Ukraine's State Emergency Situations Service reports that the fire is within the Chernobyl exclusion zone sending very contradictory messages to people around the world about the concern for increased radiation exposure. This is the second fire to hit the Chernobyl area since late April, and scientists say that more wildfires are likely to occur because the area is experiencing intense drought conditions due to climate change.

India’s current government is working towards long-term policies for an unprecedented renewable energy future, despite a recently released report by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) claiming that importing Australian coal would be the answer to India’s growing need for energy. Recent trends and evidence in India strongly refute the IPA’s push for Australian coal and embraces solar as a key player in the government’s effort to provide all Indians with reliable electricity before the next elections in 2019, according to an Reneweconomy article written by Srinivas Krishnaswamy.

PERC stands for Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell solar cell technology.  Australia’s world leading University of New South Wales solar research team has developed a technique that ensures that solar rays that were once absorbed into the module, are instead reflected back to the rear of the solar cell, ensuring increased efficiency.

This newly created PERC technology developed at UNSW is easily applicable to global manufacturing operations and is expected to be used in more than half of all solar cell production by 2020. The global market is looking at a dramatic drop in the cost of solar technology as PERC becomes the new standard for manufacturing solar cells.

“Once you get down to [these] prices, very few technologies can compete,” said Professor Martin Green, head of the UNSW solar research team, who expects that the revolution will be quicker than most technological advances evoking a picture of the transformation from horse and buggies to automobiles.  

  • published this page in Newsletters 2015-07-09 15:13:07 -0400


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