Sunday, March 30, 2014

Are Climate Skeptics Legally Liable for Criminal Negligence

In the past month, several articles appeared calling for the jailing of those who provide financial support for research into climate science with an objective of proving that man-made climate change does not exist.  An overview is provided at WattsUpWithThat (see link).  Responses to the call for jailing are numerous.  The background on this is that three sides exist in the climate change argument: one, the warmists, those who fervently believe that man’s activities by
Attorney arguing his case
burning fossil fuels will drive up the Earth’s temperature and cause all manner of horrible happenings; two, the skeptics, those who understand that the science simply does not support the warmists’ view, that any increase in global temperature is related to natural cycles but not to man’s fossil fuel consumption; and three, lukewarmers, those whose views fall in between the warmists and the skeptics.   Disclosure: my own view after long and careful study and based on engineering, science, and mathematics, is that of a confirmed skeptic with a full understanding that carbon dioxide, CO2, does indeed absorb and emit thermal radiant energy.   My previous articles on SLB outline my views.  (see My Journey, Warmists are Wrong, Chemical Engineer Takes on Warming, Cold Winters, Climate Science is Not Settled, and others). The leading climate scientists whose views most close approximate my own include Dr. S. Fred Singer of University of Virginia, and Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT, who stated that “The claims that the earth has been warming, that there is a greenhouse effect, and that man’s activities have contributed to warming, are trivially true and essentially meaningless in terms of alarm.”

The basis for the jailing of skeptics is that many, perhaps millions, of human deaths will occur inevitably if drastic action is not taken immediately to prevent additional fossil fuel use.  By fossil fuel use, what is meant is the burning of coal and natural gas in power plants and process plants, plus burning petroleum products as transportation and heating fuel.   The supposed legal theory is that a person can be found criminally negligent if his (or her) actions cause serious harm or death to another.  In this particular case, the assertion is that those who promote research into climate change to show that no alarm is justified will cause the death of millions of people due to events such as ice caps melting, subsequent sealevel rise and coastal inundation, droughts, and heat waves.   It is criminal negligence, they assert, to try to prevent the alarm from being sounded when the consequences are so dire.

With that as background, it is necessary to examine the legal requirements of a criminal negligence case.   There are two possible crimes, first is Involuntary Manslaughter with criminal negligence as an element, the second is Voluntary Manslaughter.   Under existing California law, the following must be proven.

Involuntary Manslaughter

To prove that the defendant is guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter, the State must prove that:

1. The defendant committed a lawful act in an unlawful manner;
2. The defendant committed the act with criminal negligence; and
3. The defendant’s acts caused the death of another person.

Criminal negligence involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. A person acts with criminal negligence when:

1. He or she acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury; and
2. A reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk.
In other words, a person acts with criminal negligence when the way he or she acts is so different from the way an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation that his or her act amounts to disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of that act.

With the legal rules for Involuntary Manslaughter set forth, it is possible to examine the claim that it is criminal negligence to support research into climate change to show no reason for alarm exists.

First, was there a lawful act?  The answer must be yes, conducting research into climate change is lawful.

Next, was the research done in an unlawful manner, meaning with criminal negligence?  To prove criminal negligence, two things must be proven: the acts were performed in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury; and those acts caused the death of another person.

The act of conducting climate research from a skeptic view might be held to be performed recklessly and to create a risk of death or great bodily injury, but only if the research chose only data that confirmed the pre-conceived conclusion, or improper analyses were performed, or unwarranted conclusions were drawn from the data and analysis, or some combination of all the above.   It is notable that the peer-review process exists to eliminate, or at least minimize, such research techniques because they lead to bad science and poor policy decisions when those policy decisions are informed by the bad science.  The trial attorneys would identify and present evidence to show what the skeptic climate research used as data, the analysis techniques, and the conclusions.  It seems more likely that the skeptics have an excellent claim to performing good science, with the many hundreds of peer-reviewed publications that support the claim of no alarm is justified.   Indeed, the NIPCC reports show exactly such skeptical publications. 

Third and finally, the research must have caused the death of another person, but in this case, as discussed below in Voluntary Manslaughter, linking any human deaths to research into climate change is extremely unlikely.  Even though the concentration of carbon dioxide continues to increase in the atmosphere, severe weather events are declining in number and intensity.  

The crime of Involuntary Manslaughter, by criminal negligence, would very likely not be provable beyond a reasonable doubt.  First, there are no deaths that can be causally linked to such research, and second, the research has not been conducted in a reckless manner designed to create a risk of serious bodily harm or death.

Voluntary Manslaughter

In California, Voluntary Manslaughter has the following elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, for a conviction to be had.

1. The defendant intentionally committed an act that caused the death of another person;
2. The natural consequences of the act were dangerous to human life;
3. At the time he acted, he knew the act was dangerous to human life; and
4. He deliberately acted with conscious disregard for human life.


In California, an act or omission causes injury or death if the injury or death is the direct, natural, and probable consequence of the act or omission, and the injury or death would not have happened without the act or omission.  A natural and probable consequence is one that a reasonable person would know is likely to happen if nothing unusual intervenes.   In deciding whether a consequence is natural and probable, the jury is to consider all the circumstances established by the evidence.   There may be more than one cause of injury or death.   An act or omission causes injury or death only if it is a substantial factor in causing the injury or death.   A substantial factor is more than a trivial or remote factor.  However, it does not have to be the only factor that causes the injury or death.

See: California Pen. Code § 192(a); People v. Rios (2000) 23 Cal.4th 450, 463, 469 [97 Cal.Rptr.2d 512, 2 P.3d 1066].

 With the legal rules above set forth, it is possible to examine the claim that it is criminal negligence to support research into climate change to show no reason for alarm exists.

First, did defendant, who supported climate research to show no reason for alarm exists, intentionally commit an act that caused injury or death to another person?

It must be determined if there were any deaths.  If no deaths exist, then there is no need to examine any of the additional elements.  At this writing, first quarter of 2014, there appear to be no human deaths that are attributable to man-made climate change.   However, a World Health Organization study from 2009 concluded that 140,000 human deaths per year are attributable to increased warming since the 1970s.  The events that caused the deaths are rather vague, but it appears the WHO claims events such as floods, severe storms, and a 2003 heat wave in Europe. Yet, the same organization admits that measuring the health effects of climate change can only be very approximate.   WHO also states that there are benefits to human life from warming, as fewer deaths occur that can be attributed to cold weather. see link

Allowing for the WHO estimate to be true, that is, 140,000 deaths occurred each year from various weather events, the question to be answered is then, is there a causal link between the severe weather events and the almost trivial increase in global temperatures?   A jury would be presented with expert testimony on the subject, most likely that no credible scientist holds the view that there is any link between the trivial amount of warming and weather events.  In fact, almost every form of weather event can be shown to be either decreasing, such as tropical storms or hurricanes, or to be no worse today than those that occurred in the past.  Droughts, floods, heat waves, all have been much worse in the past compared to today. 

From the definition of Causation above, “an act or omission causes injury or death if the injury or death is the direct, natural, and probable consequence of the act or omission, and the injury or death would not have happened without the act or omission.”

Two questions then must be asked, first, were the 140,000 weather-related deaths the direct, natural, and probable consequence of research into climate change to show that no cause for alarm exists?  And, second, would the 140,000 weather-related deaths have happened without research into climate change to show that no cause for alarm exists?    

To answer the first question, on deaths being the direct, natural, and probable consequence of climate research, it must be established whether those who died did so because they had no idea that the weather events would be more severe, more intense, and more deadly.  If the only word issuing from the climate researchers was that there is no cause for alarm, that proposition might be true.  However, the alarmists from above have for many years clogged the media, the airways, and the internet blogs, with dire predictions of doom.   The fact is, and this would be introduced in a trial, that warmists claim almost a consensus exists that global warming is not only real, but man’s fossil fuel consumption is the cause.  That alleged consensus is found in print, in broadcasts, and electronically on the internet.  It is unlikely that a jury would concluded that any weather-related deaths were the result of skeptical climate research.   The fact that, for example, hurricanes have decreased in intensity and number over the past 40 years is not debatable, it is a fact.  Similarly for tornadoes, droughts, and heat waves.  see link and "Global Hurricane Frequency"

From the causation definition, the jury is to consider all the circumstances established by the evidence.   This means that the conclusions by the leading warmists, the IPCC, must be considered.  The IPCC admits that there is no conclusive evidence to link severe weather events with global warming.  Indeed, it would be hard to conclude otherwise, with the hard evidence that hurricanes are less frequent and less intense, and all the other severe weather simply not matching known events from earlier years.  The key evidence on this is the warmists’ admission that events that occurred before 1970 were not related at all to man’s fossil fuel consumption; instead, they were entirely of natural causes.  Thus, all heat waves such as the long and strong heat wave of the 1930s, all droughts including the severe drought of the 1950s, and the many strong hurricanes pre-1970 all were natural occurrences. 

It must be concluded, then, that element 1 from above is not true; it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  Even if defendant intentionally performed skeptical climate science research, that research could not have caused the death of another person. 

In a criminal trial, the accused is acquitted if any element is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, the defense attorney cannot know which, if any, of the elements will be found not proven to that standard, so he continues on to the other elements.  One never knows what a jury will decide until the verdict is read.

Moving then to the second element, the State must prove that the natural consequences of the act were dangerous to human life.  As above, the act is skeptical climate research.    What are the natural consequences of skeptical climate research?  As time has shown, skeptical climate research has produced many hundreds of peer-reviewed and published scholarly papers that show there is no cause for alarm due to man’s fossil fuel consumption.   Also, since there is no causal link between such research and human deaths, there can be no danger to human life.  The element, too, must fail in the State’s case.  (see link)  (and this link to hundreds of peer-reviewed skeptical papers)

The third element of Voluntary Manslaughter is: at the time he acted, he knew the act was dangerous to human life.  Again, the act is performing skeptical climate research.  The jury would be told that the results of the skeptical climate research is that there is no danger.  The reasons for that conclusion would be explained in great detail, with large and colorful graphs and visual displays to emphasize each point.  The defendant, who performed the skeptical climate research, would know quite the opposite: he would know that there was no danger to human life.  Element three then would also fail in the State’s case.

Finally, the fourth element is: he deliberately acted with conscious disregard for human life.  On this point, the State must prove that defendant performed his skeptical climate research knowing that human life would be at stake, and consciously disregarded that threat to life.  Quite the contrary exists, however.  Skeptical research has shown that there is no cause for alarm, for the reasons outlined above. 

The inevitable conclusion, then, would be a verdict of Not Guilty on a charge of voluntary manslaughter for those who perform skeptical climate research.  Each of the four required elements is found in the negative, that is, the State cannot prove the element exists beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is interesting, however, that those who seek an arrest and conviction for criminal negligence, or voluntary manslaughter, want the crime to be charged before the victims are dead.  The usual cry from the alarmists uses the future tense, as polar ice caps WILL melt, and sea levels WILL rise.  Or, more often, the conditional form is used, saying sea levels COULD rise by 20 feet in 100 years. 

There are some crimes where a conviction may be obtained without a death, such as attempted murder, but there is no crime in California of conspiracy to commit murder ( People v. Iniguez (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 75).  There is also a crime of attempted voluntary manslaughter, but it requires the fact of heat of passion that does not arise in the climate research context (People v. Van Ronk (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 818). 


The facts related to the conduct of climate research that results in a conclusion of no alarm is warranted do not yield a conviction on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, or criminal negligence as described above.   The facts show that, even if some people have died from violent weather events, those weather events are in no way connected with man-made global warming that results from the consumption of fossil fuels.  The clear evidence shows that hundreds of peer-reviewed scholarly papers have been published that show there is no reason for concern, indeed, the leading body of warmist scientists also conclude there is no link between global warming and severe weather.   For a criminal conviction, each element of a crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  Here, each element of the charge would be shown to be discredited, not proven at all.   The exception is that a lawful act, climate research, was committed, however, that act was performed in a lawful manner. 

Update 4/21/2014:  A companion piece on criminal and civil liability related to Free Speech may be found at this link.  -- end update

The above is written to provide an overview of a general area of the law, and is not intended, nor is it to be relied on, as legal advice for a particular set of facts.  Specific legal advice is available from Mr. Sowell and anyone who seeks such advice is encouraged to contact Mr. Sowell.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Top Ten Issues - River Mouth Osmosis

Subtitle: Renewable Energy from River Mouth Osmosis

I was recently (January, 2014) invited to speak to the student chapter of AIChE at UC-Irvine in California (American Institute of Chemical Engineers, at University of California at Irvine).  The students requested I speak to them on TopTen Issues in Chemical Engineering.  I was happy to speak to them, as usual.  I have spoken to that group three times in the past 12 months.  Previous speeches discussed Peak Oil and US Energy Policy, and Practical Chemical Engineering Tips.  While the speeches are great fun, the questions and answers portion is always my favorite.  Students have some of the best questions.
Nile River delta
credit: Chris Hadfield - NASA

One of the issues in the Top Ten speech is the subject of today’s article: Renewable Energy from River Mouth Osmosis, (RMO).   RMO is not a novel idea, having been discussed over many years.  The basic idea is to generate power from the fact that river water is fresh (contains very little salt) but the ocean into which it feeds is saline.  A suitable permeable barrier placed between fresh and salt water will allow the salt water to pull fresh water through the membrane.  Water will flow through the membrane even when the salt water is under pressure, if the pressure is not too great. 

In practice, one version of a RMO system would have all or a portion of the river enter a vertical shaft or pipe, with its lower end placed at a depth in the ocean.  The river water, pulled by gravity, flows through a conventional hydro power plant located near the bottom of the shaft, with a water turbine that spins a generator.  The water exiting the turbine would flow into a chamber that is vented to the atmosphere.  The water in the chamber then flows through osmosis membranes in the floor and walls of the chamber and into the ocean.   With careful design, the flow of water through the membranes will equal the flow of river water into the vertical shaft.   Essentially, the power generated is virtually free, produces zero pollutants, and is inexhaustible.   In a world where so much debate occurs over green power, renewable power, and carbon dioxide regulations, the RMO system receives little attention.

The items of interest to chemical engineers in a RMO system include conditioning the river water so that the osmosis membranes have a long life, and the design of the membranes.   River water is not usually very clean at the river’s mouth, having acquired silt, chemicals, and debris from upstream.  Osmosis membranes are rather finicky, and must have fairly clean water.  Filthy water causes the membranes to plug, which requires cleaning or replacement. 

Therefore, chemical engineers would be required to design screening systems to remove the larger debris, a system to prevent fish from being harmed, filtering systems to remove the silt and suspended solids, and ph adjustment to meet the membrane requirements.  The RMO membranes would have water flow in reverse direction compared to the traditional reverse osmosis membranes.  This will also require engineering to optimize the membrane. 

The reason this process, RMO power, made the Top Ten list is not so much for the chemical engineering challenges, but for the large impact the technology could have on future power production.  While the RMO process would not be feasible in some rivers, especially those that empty into shallow seas, the rivers where the right conditions exist are numerous.   There may be some rivers where the economics are not favorable, such as where treating the river water to remove impurities is too expensive compared to the value of the power produced. 

Work and research are proceeding on the RMO systems, as shown in this recent publication on membrane research.  

There are variants on the process, such as a water surface system where fresh water flows through the membrane into brackish or seawater.  The seawater volume increases, which increases the pressure.  The pressurized water then flows through a hydro turbine that spins a generator.  

Environmental concerns arise where the river enters an estuary.  It is not clear how much the ecosystem would be changed due to a RMO plant. 

For now, the RMO process shows some promise as a means to generate clean, renewable energy.  It is also worth noting that many population centers are located at the mouth of a river.  This reduces or eliminates the need to invest in long-distance transmission lines from remote power plants such as windturbines or solar plants.  Examples include New York City (Hudson River), New Orleans and surrounding area (Mississippi River), Cairo and Alexandria (Nile River), Buenos Aires (Rio Plata), and Shanghai (Yangtze River).  The world’s largest river by flow, the Amazon, has a very small city near its mouth (Belem, Brazil).  That could change if abundant and low-cost electric power were produced there. 

I expect to write more in future on the Top Ten Issues facing chemical engineers. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California 

 Update:  My list of the Top Ten Issues Facing Chemical Engineers includes:

Fresh, Clean Water from Wastewater

Process Plant Scale-Up

Large Complex Process Optimization

Coal Gasification / Liquefaction

Low-Cost Manufacturing  -  Drugs

Process Safety via Artificial Intelligence

Unlimited Renewable Energy  (RMO is but one form of this)

Nullify Atomic Weapons

Low-Grade Heat Upgrade

Improved Corrosion Prevention via Coatings  -- end update, 3-30-14 -  Roger

Update 2:  For those who want to read more about the process, a US utility patent 3,906,250  from 1975 has a good description. see link.    In this patent, the process is referred to as Pressure-Retarded Osmosis.   More than 50 subsequent patents are listed.  -- end update 2 - Roger

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Texas Sets Wind Energy Record

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT, said that at 8:48 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, 2014, wind farms connected to ERCOT’s transmission network generated a new high of
1.5 MW Turbine
photo: NREL
10,296 megawatts. The previous high was 9,689 megawatts.  ERCOT also said that at 3:14 a.m. Thursday, wind produced 38.4 percent of all the power on its grid, the highest share ever.  (link here)
With just over 12,000 MW installed capacity in Texas, the new peak in generation represents almost 86 percent of potential generation.  
Wind power is performing exactly as it is designed to do:  it produces power when the wind blows.  Critics scoff at wind power, saying it is unreliable and too costly because conventional generating plants must be built to carry the load when wind cannot.  That argument has no validity, because one cannot expect windturbines as presently designed and installed to serve as baseload or load-following generating systems.  At present, windturbines perform exactly as designed.  An analogy would be expecting a delivery truck to perform like a race car and win a Formula One race.  No rational people would ever expect a heavy delivery truck to win such a race.  The truck was designed for a completely different purpose.  How then, can windturbines be expected to provide baseload or load-following capability? 
Wind power will someday provide such power, but only when cost-effective, grid-scale energy storage is available.  Over time, wind energy economics will continue to decrease the cost to generate from wind, as economies of scale and economy from mass production continue to reduce costs.  Also, as more transmission lines are built, the economics of wind energy improve.  At some point very soon, the full production costs of wind energy (capital plus operating charges) will be low enough to begin justifying the high costs of grid-scale energy storage.  When the combined cost of wind energy generation plus grid-scale energy storage reach parity with conventional generation, the real boom in wind energy will begin.  
Grid-scale storage will allow power produced from windturbines to be stored as the power is generated, typically at night for on-shore systems.  Night power prices are usually low, so windturbine operators would prefer not to sell the power at night.  However, the next day, power prices increase.  The storage system will then release the stored power in a controlled manner, producing reliable, even load-following, power into the grid at high on-peak prices.  The drawback is that some energy is lost in the storage and release steps.   The overall economics will depend on the prices and energy losses.  

For now, the Texas windturbines are proving that wind energy is viable, wind energy works as designed. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

Read more here:

Read more here:

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Truth About Nuclear Power - Part Four

Subtitle: Nuclear plants use far more fresh water than other power plants

Nuclear power plants, as currently designed and built, consume prodigious amounts of water for cooling.  Compared to combined-cycle gas turbine plants (CCGT), nuclear plants use 4 times as much water for the same output of electricity.   Some plants use cooling towers, and others use once-through cooling where the water is pumped through the plant once, then sent off usually into a lake, river, or ocean.   
South Texas Nuclear Plant with Cooling Reservoir
source: Texas Water Development Board

For this article, the example of the South Texas Nuclear Project is used.  This power plant is a twin-reactor, pressurized water reactor design built near the mouth of the Colorado River in Texas, USA.  The photo nearby shows the location, just north of the small town of Matagorda, on the Gulf of Mexico.  The plant is roughly 50 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, and 100 miles southwest of Houston.   The photo shows the nuclear power plant in the middle foreground, the 7,000 acre cooling reservoir at center, and the Gulf of Mexico at the top.  The Colorado River can be seen, barely, at the left center. 

The plant, known as STNP, is designed to use approximately 50,000 acre-feet (AF) of river water per year for cooling.  The reservoir receives water pumped from the nearby Colorado River, plus any rain that happens to fall.  Rainfall is important in this case, as it averages 30 inches per year over the long term.  Recently the rainfall has been much less due to a prolonged drought.  However, in an average year, the rainfall provides approximately 17,000 AF per year for the plant.   That then, requires the river to provide 50,000 - 17,000 = 33,000 AF per year.  

The water requirements for various types of power plants are shown below, in AF/yr/1000 MW of electrical output.  These are based on the design where hot water that is discharged from the plant evaporates in the cooling reservoir to lose its heat.  

1.  Nuclear power.........................20,300 AF/y/1000 MW
2.  Gas powered steam plant......12,700
3.  CCGT plant................................5,070

From this, it can be seen that nuclear power requires 4 times as much water (20,300 / 5,070 = 4) compared to a modern CCGT plant.  In areas where fresh water is scarce, this is an important consideration when selecting power plant technology.  

Lake Travis and Mansfield Dam, TX
source: LCRA
For the STNP, the Colorado River water is impounded far upstream by Mansfield Dam and held in Lake Travis, a 1.1 million AF reservoir north of Austin, Texas.  Lake Travis is near historic low levels as this is written (March, 2014) due to an extended drought.  The lack of water could cause the STNP output to be reduced. 

For some perspective, had a CCGT design been used along with the 7,000 acre reservoir, the plant would be more than self-sufficient in water needs.   In fact, a much smaller reservoir could have been constructed, approximately one-third the surface area.  

Conclusion:   Nuclear power plants consume 4 time as much water for cooling compared to a modern CCGT power plant.  

Previous installments in The Truth About Nuclear Power can be found below:

Part One - Nuclear Power Plants Cannot Compete
Part Two - Preposterous Power Pricing if Nuclear Power Proponents Prevail
Part Three - Nuclear Power Plants Cost Far Too Much to Construct
Part Four  -  This article
Part Five - Cannot Simply Turn Off a Nuclear Power Plant
Part Six –  Nuclear Plants are Huge to Reduce Costs

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Truth About Nuclear Power - Part Three

Subtitle: Nuclear power plants cost far too much to construct.  

The instant cost plus inflation, escalation, and interest on loans adds up to more than $10,000 per kW. 
Vogtle Nuclear Plant and Construction Site
photo - Wiki Commons by Charles C. Watson Jr.

One reason that nuclear power plants are uneconomic is they cost far too much to construct for the amount of power that they produce.  If one were to build a new nuclear power plant in the USA today, the final cost would be more than $10,000 per kW.   Several references support this assertion, Severance (2009), MIT (2003), and California EnergyCommission (2010).  All of these three referenced sources use $4,000 per kW as the overnight cost.

Overnight cost is the cost to construct if the plant could be built all at one time, or “over night”.  Of course, a nuclear power plant cannot be built overnight, as they require years to construct.  The added years increase the cost by escalation of materials and labor, and by interest on construction loans.   

Severance calculates the escalation for materials and labor to be $3,400 per kW, and for interest on construction loans to be an additional $3,100 per kW (figures rounded).   The total then is $4,000 plus $3,400 plus $3,100 equals $10,500 per kW.  A new, twin-reactor plant that produces 2,000 MW net electricity would then cost $21 billion to construct.   However, as indicated in Part Two of this series, Severance and the others did not include funds to make the plant operate safely if a large commercial aircraft crashes into the plant.  Not only the reactor, but the spent fuel storage area and the cooling water system must remain operable, per new NRC regulations.  This brings the cost to construct to approximately $12,000 per kW. 

How does this estimate compare to recent experience in the US?  There are two reactors under construction in Georgia, at the Vogtle plant.  Two more reactors were cancelled in Texas due to the excessive cost estimate at the South Texas Nuclear Project, STNP.   The STNP expansion project would add two reactors to the existing two, and was cancelled after a cost estimate of $17 billion was conceded by the reactor vendors to be too low.  As a result, we will never know how much that plant would cost to construct. 

The Vogtle plant is advertised as costing “only” $14.3 billion for twin reactors at 1100 MW each using the Westinghouse AP-1000 design.  However, cost overruns already incurred have increased the cost to $15.5 billion.  It is notable that Georgia changed the state law to allow the utility to bill customers in advance for construction costs.  This was an attempt to not pay finance charges on the construction loans.  In essence, rate-payers pay more money for electricity they are already using, and the utility company spends that cash for the nuclear construction.  Without this creative financing, the Vogtle plant would be right in line with Severance’s number, $20 billion more or less.   

The Vogtle plant is also plagued by delays in the construction, which would add to the cost if traditional financing were used.   At present (1Q 2014), the reactors are two years behind schedule, with four years to go for the first reactor to start up.  Many problems can arise in the next four years, which will likely add to the cost and delays.  As Severance shows, each year of delay adds approximately $1.2 to $1.6 billion in interest costs to the final cost for a twin-reactor plant.    An interesting account of the Vogtle plant’s progress can be found at

[Update 6/24/2014: Vogtle facing more delays and cost increases  see link  -- end update]

In Finland, a single-reactor Areva nuclear plant is experiencing similar cost overruns and schedule delays. 

[Update 7/16/2014:  Finland's Areva EPL reactor plant is 7 years behind schedule and Billions of Euros over budget.  Per the article linked below:

“ "Areva was ready to do anything to win the Olkiluoto deal, including downplaying project management deficiencies. They had also previously delivered and commissioned nuclear reactors but they had never undertaken an entire project end-to-end, since the main French contractor had always been the EDF Group (Électricité de France), explained Les Échos editor in chief Pascal Pogam in an interview with Yle’s A-Studio current affairs program.
Based on accounts by parties such as the Olkiluoto owner-operator, the Finnish power consortium Teollisuuden Voima or TVO, Areva is said to have lied about the possibility of constructing a nuclear reactor within the agreed schedule."   see link  -- end update ]

It is asserted that other countries can and do build nuclear power plants for approximately $2000 per kW.  As an example, China claims to build AP-1000 reactors at $2,000 per kW, according to   One must pause at that; perhaps the lower labor rate in China is the reason, perhaps lower escalation for materials, and perhaps favorable (read: zero) cost for interest on construction.   However, the same website ( states that France’s current program has reactors that cost the US-equivalent of $5,000 per kW for overnight costs.  (Euro 3,700 per kW)


Truth Number 3:  Nuclear power plants cost far too much to construct, more than $10,000 per kW

Overview of The Truth About Nuclear Power series:

The series on Truth About Nuclear Power has several main themes:
          Nuclear power operating costs are too high, cannot compete
         Nuclear power costs too much to construct, require government assistance in loan guarantees or bill current ratepayers for construction funds (Georgia).
         Nuclear power is unsafe to operate, near-misses occur frequently, disasters happen too; they must run at steady, high output to reduce upsets; this increases revenue to spread out the very high fixed costs; older reactors are more uneconomic and less safe (San Onofre leaks in new heat exchanger is a prime example)
         Nuclear power is unsafe long-term for spent fuel storage
         Nuclear power consumes far too much precious water
         New designs to overcome these failures are unlikely to work, or to be economic if they can be made to work
a.       Thorium Reactors have serious developmental issues
b.      Modularized, smaller PWR (pressurized water reactor) reactors lose economy of scale advantages
c.       High temperature gas-turbine style reactors are far from developed
d.      Fusion at high temperature e.g. in magnetic bottle, is a pipe dream

         Nuclear death spiral on the demand for power is real and present, customers have a variety of ways to self-generate (distributed generation), and alternatives become attractive as power prices increase.  Nuclear power will increase power prices, the greater the percent nuclear, the more alternatives become attractive. 

      Part One  --  Nuclear Power Plants Cannot Compete.
Part Two  --  Preposterous Power Pricing in Nuclear Proponents Prevail
Part Three -- this article
Part Four  --  Nuclear Plants Use Far More Fresh Water
Part Five --   Cannot Simply Turn Off a Nuclear Power Plant

      Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
      Marina del Rey, California

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Truth About Nuclear Power - Part Two

Subtitle: Preposterous Power Pricing if Nuclear Power Proponents Prevail

This is number two in a series of articles on the truth about nuclear power.  A link will be provided to each article as it is published.  

Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, Texas
file photo from NRC

Nuclear power proponents assert that nuclear fission power is the only way forward, for various reasons.  They fear a rise in fossil fuel prices, shortages of fossil fuels, unstoppable global warming from burning fossil fuels, poisoning the atmosphere with fossil fuel combustion products such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, fine ash and soot, radioactive particles in coal soot, and mercury from burning coal, among other issues.  Their solution, then, is to ban all fossil fuel power plants and install instead nuclear fission power plants.  This article explores the logical result of an electricity grid powered exclusively by nuclear fission power plants as currently designed and constructed.   The end result is power prices that are many times higher than today, for example, residential price will be 5 times what it is today, while industrial power price will be more than 8 times what it is today.   The impact on all aspects of society from such power prices will be economic ruin.  

A modern electric utility grid.  

A utility grid must, by law, have installed capacity in excess of the highest expected demand.  Typically, the excess capacity amounts to a few percent, perhaps 5 percent.   A grid must also, by law, provide power that is safe and reliable.  Finally, a grid must provide power at a reasonable price to the customers.  The reasonable price allows the regulated utility to obtain a modest return on capital that was spent to build the assets that provide the power.  Typically, a utility has three primary asset groups: generation, transmission, and distribution.   A utility also typically has three primary customer groups: residential, commercial, and industrial.   In some states, a fourth requirement is included, that is, to provide power that achieves certain environmental goals.  California has all four requirements: safe, reliable, reasonable cost, and environmental goals. 

Current Power Pricing

Average power prices, per customer group, in December 2013 per EIA were:

11.7 (residential), 
10.0 (commercial), and 
  6.6  (industrial) cents per kWh per the EIA website.

All-Nuclear Grid Power Pricing

The levelized cost of power from a new, two-reactor nuclear fission power plant in the US is 30 cents per kWh, per Craig A. Severance’s 2009 paper, "Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power."   Severance’s costs were published before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, added its requirement that all new nuclear power plants must be designed to withstand the impact from a large commercial aircraft.  The areas that must remain in operation during and after such an impact include the reactor, cooling systems, and fuel storage area.   The new NRC requirement will increase the levelized cost to 33 cents per kWh.   

Severance's paper may be found at:

Severance’s costs were also based on running the nuclear power plants as baseload, at approximately 85 percent of nameplate capacity.  On an all-nuclear grid, however, the power plants must cycle up and down to meet the changing load.  There will be substantial capital investment to enable a nuclear power plant to change output quickly and follow the load.  One way to achieve load-following ability is to let the reactor and steam generator run at full capacity, but bypass some of the steam around the turbine to be cooled and condensed in the condenser.  However, a larger condenser, cooling pumps, and cooling tower must be built to achieve this.  Also, steam bypass lines, control valves, and a control system must be installed.    An additional 4 cents per kWh is added to the 33 cents previously computed to account for load-following ability, for a total of 37 cents per kWh.  

Next, generating plants on a grid do not run at 85 percent of capacity on average.  The average rate for power plants on a grid is approximately 60 percent.   Therefore, the 37 cents must be adjusted by multiplying by 85/60, yielding 52.4 cents per kWh.  

The final cost of electricity for the all-nuclear grid is then found by replacing the current cost of generation, approximately 5 cents per kWh, with 52.4 cents, then adding back in the costs of transmission and distribution.  

For each category of customer, the result is:

Residential  All-Nuclear price:  11.7 – 5 + 52.4 = 59.1 cents per kWh
Commercial All-Nuclear price:  10.0 – 5 + 52.4 = 57.4 cents per kWh
Industrial   All-Nuclear  price:    6.6  – 5 + 52.4 = 54.0 cents per kWh.

The ratio of prices for an all-nuclear grid compared to today is then:

Residential   59.1 / 11.7 = 5.1
Commercial  57.4 / 10.0 = 5.7
Industrial      54.0 / 6.6  =  8.2


The implications for such power price increases are staggering.  Consider a typical residential customer in the summer, with an electric bill of $180 for July (EIA data on monthly power).  The all-nuclear grid would increase his bill by a factor of 5, to $900 per month.   The poor, elderly and others on fixed incomes, and those who just barely manage from month to month would find such a power bill impossible to pay.   It gets worse.  

Commercial customers would find their bill increased by a factor of 5.7, and to remain in business, must increase their prices for goods and services sold.  This, in turn, increases the retail prices for everyone who is a consumer.   It gets worse. 

Industrial customers would find their bill increased by a factor of 8.2, and they must also increase their sales prices for their products.  Yet another layer of price increases will occur at the distributor and retail level.  The final customer would find prices even higher, with their paycheck seeming smaller by comparison.  

It is simply wrong to increase electric power prices that force low-income or fixed-income groups to choose between paying the electric bill and buying food, or paying the rent, or obtaining medical care.   An all-nuclear grid would force those groups to do exactly that.  

In addition, an all-nuclear grid would make the state, or even the entire nation, significantly less competitive in a world market.  Jobs would therefore be lost to competition overseas.  


No doubt, there will be those who find fault with the above analysis.  It will be improbable or impossible, they might say, for nuclear power plants to ever produce 100 percent of the power on a grid in the US.  They may be right, too.  There are, for example, many hydroelectric generating plants and it is unlikely that they will be eliminated any time soon.  

They might also argue that there are also some forms of renewable energy already on the grid and those will likely increase in output, not decrease.   That may be true, but the intermittent forms, solar and wind, require some backup system to produce power when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing.  To the extent that intermittent renewables are on the grid, the nuclear power price must increase because the capital costs to build nuclear plants must be captured by a smaller quantity of electricity generated by the nuclear plants.   If, for example, the entire US followed the example of California and requires 33 percent of all power sold to be from renewables, one can easily compute the impact on power prices.  Note that, in California, some renewable energy is fairly constant, those being geothermal, small hydroelectric, and gas from biological sources.  Not all states will have resources to produce geothermal and small hydroelectric power, though.  

Therefore, if wind and solar are the renewable energy sources, and 33 percent is the production from them, the nuclear plants must reduce their ouput from the 60 percent used above, to approximately 30 percent.  That, in effect, doubles the prices computed above for each customer category: 112, 110, and 106 cents per kWh for residential, commercial, and industrial.  


These facts, alone, are sufficient to justify never building another nuclear power plant in the US.   An all-nuclear grid would increase electric prices by 5 to 8 times current prices.  If substantial renewables are included in the generation mix, prices would increase by 10 to 16 times.   Economic ruin would result for any state, or the entire nation, if such a policy were adopted. 

The Truth About Nuclear Power series may be found at the following links:

Part One -- Nuclear Power Plants Cannot Compete 
Part Two -- this article
Part Three -- Nuclear Plants Cost Far Too Much to Construct
Part Four --  Nuclear Plants Use Far More Fresh Water
Part Five --  Cannot Simply Turn Off a Nuclear Power Plant

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California