Friday, July 24, 2009

Nuclear Plants on Islands - A Nutty Idea

Nuclear advocates (nuts, in my opinion) are always running on about how affordable nuclear power is, and how cheap it is to generate. They blather on about total production costs of 3 cents per kWh. One would expect that, if any of their claims were true, then the islands of the world with suitable populations to support demand from a nuclear power plant would have nothing but nuclear power plants. After all, the islands usually have very high electric power prices. Oahu, in the Hawaiian Island chain, has costs of around 26 cents per kWh.
A quick check of the nuclear power plants around the world, just more than 400, shows that none are built on an island. Not a one.
How about finding an island, say, one that has a demand during peak hours of 1,000 MW? That would be a perfect fit for a 1000 MW nuclear power plant. GE has them ready to sell, just place a phone call.
Then, ask the islanders why they have not built just one solitary nuclear power plant, as that is “obviously” (according to the nuclear nuts) the most economic source of power? Surely, it will be less costly than importing diesel fuel for diesel-generators, or importing LNG for natural-gas fired power plants. Or importing coal, if that is what they are using, or oil…
Does anyone know of such an island?
Here’s your chance, greenies and nuclear advocates. Show me the island. Let’s help these islanders obtain the “cheapest source of power there is.” After all, that is the prevailing wisdom from the pro-nuclear crowd!
Only a couple of rules, here. First, the islanders alone must pay for the nuclear-generated power. No subsidies allowed. Second, no selling any power to any other off-island customers. All power is to be consumed strictly on the island.
I can’t wait for this one.
[It turns out there are currently approximately 15 islands that meet the above criteria, with Oahu in the Hawaiian Island chains prominent among them. The entire list is, by estimated population (and hence power demand):
Island ……………….population, millions
Hong Kong……………….1.18
Xiamen Island…………….1.08
Sao Luis Island……………1.08
Trinidad…………………...1.03 (this island has abundant natural gas, so of course is not a candidate)
South Island (NZ)………1.008
Grand Canary……………...0.815
Reunion (France)………….0.793
Note that none of the listed islands has power provided by a nuclear power plant. This is rather curious, as it should be obvious to the nuclear proponents that these are ideal candidates for a solo, single-reactor nuclear power plant. After all, these unfortunate islanders are paying some of the highest prices for power in the world – Hawaii residents pay 26 cents per kwh in 2009, as just one example. Following France’s example, one could build a nuclear power plant on Oahu, and sell the power for 7 cents per kwh (all this according to the nuclear proponents, of course – not my view at all). The lucky residents of Oahu would see their utility bills drop by a factor of almost 4! (26 / 7 is roughly 3. 7)
It is curious, because I just do not read anywhere about nuclear power plants under construction on any of these islands, nor any plans to do so. Why is that, one must ask? Perhaps a nuclear proponent can correct this serious injustice, or just explain it to me.
For anyone reading this who, at this point, believes I am serious about building a nuclear power plant on an island, let me explain why that will not happen. First, an island’s power system follows a typical demand curve, with high demand during the day and low demand at night. The power plants must follow the demand curve, as at this time it is impractical (but not impossible) to store power in massive quantities for later use. Nuclear power plants just do not have the ability to follow the load. Second, as I have written many times, the power from a new nuclear plant is very expensive, at 30 to 40 cents per kwh. Islanders such as Oahuans, who pay 26 cents for power, would not find that an attractive deal. Third, many islanders are serious about their environment, and abhor nuclear fission in any form. I like islanders, and become one (at least as a visitor) as often as possible.


Ellie in Belfast said...

Hello again Roger, I see you have been busy in my absence and I have some reading to catch up on.

Ireland is a bit bigger than your candidatesm but has always been vehemently anti-nuclear - N & S has an interconnected system although the N-word comes up occasionally, esecially in the North. In N. Ireland (population 1.7M/peak load ~1700MW) we've got some serious concerns about future supply as large power stations near the end of their life and the South is also worrying about meeting its increasing demand. I don't think nuclear is an option - cost, risk etc. I was going to add NYMBYs, but as far as Ireland is concerned, the UK reactor at Selafield (NW coast of England) is in our back yard.

Here's a useful link if you are not already aware of it:

I hope summer, such as it is this year, is being kind.

Roger Sowell said...

Ellie, so good to hear from you again! I hope you enjoyed your vacation.

One can only hope that Ireland (a land of sensible people) never builds a nuclear power plant. It would be far better to renovate / replace existing gas-fired power plants, and import LNG.

The renewables for power generation may play a role, too, especially wind, wave, and ocean current. I suspect that solar power is not economic for Ireland. The island has great potential for pumped storage hydro (PSH) using the ocean as the lower reservoir, and artificial lakes as the upper. Variability in wind and wave power would be smoothed via the PSH.

Summer here (Marina del Rey, California) has been quite pleasant as usual. An interesting thing happened today, though, with high tide and large waves occurring at the same time. (The waves were not that big, around 4 to 8 feet). Thus far, I have not seen any reports of property flooding.

Roger Sowell said...

Some critics, nuclear nuts, deliberately mis-reading my post, claim that nuclear power plants DO exist on islands, and name England, Taiwan, and some Japanese major islands to support that proposition.

Of course, my challenge clearly excludes those large islands with multiple-millions of population. The challenge is for islands with power demand of 1000 MW at peak demand. That would obviously exclude the large islands.

But then, could it be that those nuclear nuts have inferior reading comprehension skills? Perhaps so, from being bombarded daily with pro-nuclear propaganda.

All in all, quite amusing.

Rod Adams said...


The normal rule of thumb for people who plan and operate electric power grids is that no one generator should supply more than 10% of the normal load on the grid.

With the choices made by the establishment nuclear power plant vendors to focus only on the biggest plants they know how to build - roughly 1200-1700 MWe, there are not yet any plants on the shelf that are appropriate for the island grids that you chose.

As you wrote. the PEAK demand on those islands is about 1000 MWe, which means that any large nuclear plant installed there would operate at a relatively low capacity factor and it would put the grid stability at risk - what would supply power during the normal shutdowns necessary every 18-24 months for routine maintenance and refueling?

All that said, I know for certain that Hyperion, NuScale and Toshiba are actively talking with grid owners on some of the world's more populous islands. Those companies are all making progress in their quest to build "right-sized" nuclear plants with power outputs ranging from 10 MWe to 45 MWe.

B&W's mPower - at 125 MWe may also be appropriate for islands with grids with normal demand in the 1000-2000 MWe range.

Roger Sowell said...

Mr. Adams, quite so, they may be talking. Talk is one thing.

Building a nuclear reactor on a a beautiful island that is likely dependent on tourism, and the adverse publicity from nuclear radiation leaks, will not produce much more than talk, in my opinion. Especially with a first-of-a-kind, untested, unproven, therefore experimental and dangerous nuclear power plant. The marketing mavens will have a field day with that.

I of course understand that even those fabled nuclear power plants with their awesome run-times and incredibly low power production costs must take a breather from time to time to refuel and repair. Perhaps those nuclear plants are not the be-all and end-all after all.

Plus, given that you said an individual power plant should not be greater than 10 percent of the total power, how then did that nuclear submarine you served on get by with just one reactor? No need to give away military secrets, as I know at least two methods of accomplishing that.

As I commented on your blog, the U.S. renewable power industry will receive a huge boost from the first new-generation nuclear power plant to be constructed in the U.S. The dramatic increase in power prices required to pay for the nuclear plant will make gas-fired distributed generation and renewables with energy storage systems much more attractive, as more and more customers click off the grid forever.

M. Simon said...

Radiation leaks are not necessary in a well designed nuke plant. When I was in the US Navy I effectively lived inside a nuke plant.

The Navy wanted us to know every detail of plant operation and radiation effects to protect our own personal safety.

BTW the operational costs of nuke plants at 3 cents a kwh is probably correct. It most likely leaves out the capital costs.

So what is the trouble with nukes? At the core (heh) I'd say bad management. The management is too political and insufficiently scientific.

Compare that with the US Navy. You can't command a nuke ship unless you are a qualified reactor operator. That eliminates whole classes of possible bad decisions.