15
Mar
11

Japan’s Nuclear Problems, then Energy Production

Nuclear energy is dangerous. I’m not going to downplay the dangers of harnessing a highly controlled fission bomb that is hovering just above criticality and requires water to be constantly flowing to keep it cool. I just have a few points that need to be made:

  1. The earthquake didn’t damage the Fukushima facility, it was the tsunami; such inundation was beyond the design specifications of these reactors, although should have been taken into account when it was built that close to the ocean in an earthquake prone region.
  2. The problem wasn’t that the reactor was damaged, but that the generators which provided the electricity to maintain reactor controls were damaged. This resulted in damage to the reactor while controls were offline. Such is the problem with the 30+ year old boiling water reactors; no passive or inherent safety systems.
  3. The most recent completed reactor (Fukushima I-3) went critical in 1979, the first was in 1970, the first and second reactors should have been in the decommissioning cycle already. All reactors built before 1980 should be being decommissioned in the next few years.

Do these points mean nuclear power is a bad idea? Of course not, power companies are so far behind the research and technology curves within their own field, I’m starting to think they really don’t want to maximize their profits and instead only want to limit day-to-day cost; is it a requirement to operate a major energy company (or most medium-large companies, in my experience) for one to be short-sighted? The three most cost effective greenhouse gas free sources of energy are, in order: hydroelectric, wind-inshore, geothermal, advanced nuclear. The cost per megawatt, of course, varies with region, in some cases, a nuclear reactor would be cheaper than a hydroelectric facility. Wind may be more expensive than geothermal or nuclear. It depends on the region, but all are universally cheaper than advanced coal facilities or conventional combustion turbines; why build them? Photovoltaics are useful for individuals with expendable income and the desire to decrease on-grid dependency, but cost several times that of wind, hydroelectric, or geothermal when calculating the cost per kW-h over the lifespan of the equipment. The future of energy SHOULD be in hydroelectric (well designed), geothermal, and nuclear (wind and solar have their own issues).

Natural gas is the most cost-efficient greenhouse gas producing source of energy with conventional coal without any CCS or any scrubbers (the nastiest and cheapest coal plants out there) still being more expensive than advanced natural gas systems.

In short, if an energy company is building a new plant that is not advanced natural gas, hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, or nuclear, they are being stupid fiscally.

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2 Responses to “Japan’s Nuclear Problems, then Energy Production”


  1. March 16, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Your analysis of the costs of various types of power pretty much agrees with my research. I also agree with your conclusion that power companies are looking to minimize day to day costs rather than maximize profits. I would only add that this is (IMO) largely due to corporate incentive structures which reward things like EBIT and quarterly profits.

  2. March 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    I tried to be as factually accurate as possible; thanks for the fact-checking. I still find it odd that “turning a profit” is more important than “will they be able to turn a profit TOMORROW?”

    Someone should be building natural gas power plants, wind turbine farms, and hydroelectric facilities like crazy so as to undercut nearly everyone else in the energy sector. If I had the finances to do so, I damn sure would be building tidal stream generators as fast as possible (in rivers and areas with strong oceanic and tidal currents. With the infrastructure for these in place, build (inshore, then float out) offshore and inshore wind farms (near rivers) in the same area (since the infrastructure cost is already mitigated). Likely areas: northwest California coastline, any river with a depth of over 30 meters and an average velocity of >3 m/s, etc.

    Then again, my background is in the sciences, I know nothing about business.


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