Saturday, September 24, 2016

Improved Solar Cell with Doubled Efficiency

It seems the breakthroughs just keep coming on the energy front, with this week's announcement "Columbia Chemists Find Key to Manufacturing More Efficient Solar Cells".  Columbia Professor of Chemistry Xiaoyang Zhu and his team developed a solar cell using Hybrid Organic Inorganic Perovskites (HOIPs). Their results were reported in the prestigious journal Science.  see link

The HOIP cell has 22 percent efficiency, but scientists see much higher possibilities with this material.  Efficiencies in the mid-40 percent range are expected. 

The material also has a lower cost of production compared to silicon wafers. 

This, too, is one to watch. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

CO2 Capture That Produces Electricity

Cornell Researchers Develop Process for CO2 Capture That Produces Electricity

Paper:  “The O2-assisted Al/CO2 electrochemical cell: A system for CO2 capture/conversion and electric power generation”, published in Science Advances.  Science Advances  20 Jul 2016: Vol. 2, no. 7, e1600968,  DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600968  
see link to the paper. 

Cornell University Prof. Lynden Archer, chemical and biomolecular engineering, the James A. Friend Family Distinguished Professor of Engineering, and Wajdi Al Sadat, graduate student, have created a cell which can use carbon dioxide and aluminum to produce electricity via electrochemical reactions.

The warmist-alarmists continue to claim that carbon dioxide capture and removal from the atmosphere is vital to preventing runaway global warming and a host of civilization-ending catastrophes.  They conveniently ignore the facts of zero warming occurring in the past 18 years, even with their manipulated temperature measurements.  

But, enterprising engineers work on processes to capture carbon dioxide, CO2.  Some processes require energy input to create the chemical reactants, such as sodium hydroxide that is used in the Skyonic company's patented SkyMine process.   This development by Archer and Al Sadat actually produces electricity while capturing CO2.  

The paper's abstract:


Economical and efficient carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration technologies are a requirement for successful implementation of global action plans to reduce carbon emissions and to mitigate climate change. These technologies are also essential for longer-term use of fossil fuels while reducing the associated carbon footprint. We demonstrate an O2-assisted Al/CO2 electrochemical cell as a new approach to sequester CO2 emissions and, at the same time, to generate substantial amounts of electrical energy. We report on the fundamental principles that guide operations of these cells using multiple intrusive electrochemical and physical analytical methods, including chronopotentiometry, cyclic voltammetry, direct analysis in real-time mass spectrometry, energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and coupled thermogravimetric analysis–Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. On this basis, we demonstrate that an electrochemical cell that uses metallic aluminum as anode and a carbon dioxide/oxygen gas mixture as the active material in the cathode provides a path toward electrochemical generation of a valuable (C2) species and electrical energy. Specifically, we show that the cell first reduces O2 at the cathode to form superoxide intermediates. Chemical reaction of the superoxide with CO2 sequesters the CO2 in the form of aluminum oxalate, Al2(C2O4)3, as the dominant product. On the basis of an analysis of the overall CO2 footprint, which considers emissions associated with the production of the aluminum anode and the CO2 captured/abated by the Al/CO2-O2 electrochemical cell, we conclude that the proposed process offers an important strategy for net reduction of CO2 emissions."

This is one to watch. 

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

copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hinkley Point C Nuclear Plant Approved - For Now

UK has given approval to build the controversial, and very costly, twin-reactor nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C in the southwest of England. 

The plant is reported to cost $24 billion US, which will quickly escalate to more than $32 billion.  That brings the cost per kW to $10,000, and this in an era with very low interest rates for financing costs, and very low inflation for escalation. 

Proponents are claiming the plant will last for 60 years, but there is reason to doubt it will ever run at all.  The thick steel in the reactor heads has questionable toughness and may not be approved by regulators. 

 Stay tuned, sports fans.  The fiasco at Hinkley Point C is just beginning.   This blog will chronicle the sad, sorry saga.    Those will include, without doubt, cost over-runs, delays in construction, squabbling between designer, owner, builder, and regulators. 

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

copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Driessen on Renewable Energy as Racism

Subtitle:  No Racism In Renewable Wind and Solar Power

Every week or so, I receive another article from Paul Driessen, Senior Policy Analyst for CFACT (Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow), and this week’s article has so many things wrong I take keyboard under fingers to respond.   Driessen exhorts recipients in his prelude to each article to post his article, quote from it, and forward it. 

This week’s article concludes, falsely, that renewable energy policies and increased renewable energy use are racist because they have, or will have, serious negative economic impacts on black people, who Driessen describes as poor people.   His statements are in quoted italics below, my responses in normal font. 

"Few if any developing nations will reduce their oil, natural gas or coal use anytime soon. That would be economic and political suicide."

This statement is about the Paris Agreement on climate change (see link), under which various nations strive to reduce their man-made carbon dioxide emissions to (they say) reduce global warming.    

What Driessen fails to grasp is that energy production and use world-wide is already undergoing a massive and permanent structural change.   This has precedent.   As but one example, oil use for power generation dropped dramatically in the late 1970s and 1980s after the oil price shocks and the Arab oil embargo.   Oil-burning power plants were replaced in many countries by nuclear power plants.  The US, Japan, France, and many other countries built nuclear and shut down the oil-fired plants.  

Developing nations, the subject of Driessen's article, almost always have severe limits on capital, the money needed for infrastructure and for on-going expenses.  Some of those on-going expenses include fuel for transportation, such as gasoline for cars and diesel for trucks, but also fuel for power generating plants.   With limited funds, it is crucial that developing nations obtain the best results for the money they do have.   That means smaller, more efficient cars.  It also means building the most cost-effective power plants.  

Driessen then says, 

"Meanwhile, the United States is shutting down its coal-fueled units. Under Obama’s treaty, the USA will be required to go even further, slashing its carbon dioxide emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. That will unleash energy, economic and environmental impacts far beyond what the Administration’s endless, baseless climate decrees are already imposing."

In this statement, it is false to call the Paris Agreement a treaty.  It is not, under US law.  A treaty must be ratified by the US Senate.   The Paris Agreement is a non-binding agreement among nations to try to do various things.   

It is true that the US is shutting down coal-fired power plants, however, the shutdowns are occurring because US pollution laws are finally imposed on such plants.   For decades, many coal-burning power plants in the US were exempted from air pollution regulations under the Clean Air Act.  No more.  Now, they must comply or shut down.   The plant owners are choosing to shut down.  (see link and this link to articles on SLB)

The power grids remain stable as coal-fired plants are closed, primarily because natural gas-fired plants are being built.  However, wind power and solar power are also being built in record numbers in the US.   These developments have important ramifications for developing nations.    

Burning natural gas for power produces far less carbon dioxide that does burning coal, for the same amount of electricity produced.  The ratio is approximately 2-to-1.  Having wind power and solar power in production, as their respective natural energy sources blow or shine, further reduces carbon dioxide emissions.  

The simple and orderly change-over from coal burning to natural gas with renewables will easily reduce carbon dioxide emissions by much more than 28 percent that Driessen mentions.   

The important point, though, is that electric power prices will not increase, indeed, they remain stable or decrease as coal-burning plants are closed. 

"Wind turbines, photovoltaic solar arrays and their interminable transmission lines already blanket millions of acres of farmland and wildlife habitats. They kill millions of birds and bats (but are exempt from endangered species laws), to provide expensive, subsidized, unreliable electricity. Expanding wind, solar and biofuel programs to reach the 28% CO2 reduction target would increase these impacts exponentially."

Here, Driessen shows his bias against wind power and solar PV plants.   This is the common cry of the anti-renewable crowd, the death of birds.  The fact is that many more millions of birds are killed each year by artificial structures than do wind turbines.  Solar PV plants do not kill any birds nor bats, to the best of my knowledge and research.   Yet, anti-renewable advocates refuse to admit what US Fish and Game experts report: renewable power plants have had zero impact on species populations.  

Driessen also seems unhappy over power transmission lines being added as renewable power plants are built.  One has to be happy that his mind-set did not prevail back when electricity was being expanded across the country, many decades ago.  

He then rants about expensive, subsidized, unreliable electricity.    Perhaps Driessen would like to point out any electricity rates that are outrageously priced in Iowa, Kansas, Texas, or even California that can be attributed to wind power or solar power.   The answer is, he cannot because there are no high prices due to renewables.    What is indisputable is that solar power and wind power allow utilities to run more efficient power plants, not the horribly expensive peaker power plants with simple cycle gas turbines.  

As to subsidized electricity from wind and solar, this is no different from almost every form of power generation in the US.  Subsidies, and in some cases almost full subsidies, exist for nuclear, coal, hydroelectric, and geothermal power production.   One must wonder why Driessen does not object to subsidies for those forms of power generation. 

The last claim is that electricity is unreliable when it is from renewable sources.   Again, Driessen cannot point to any grid in the US that has reliability issues due to wind power or solar power.   They simply do not exist.  Grid operators are well-aware of the wind conditions and sunshine conditions, and operate load-following power plants quite effectively to compensate for any changes in wind and sunshine. 

"This racism is the sneaky, subtle, green variety: of government policies that inflict their worst impacts on the poorest among us, huge numbers of them minorities."  

Here, Driessen equates renewable energy production and the policies that encourage it to racism.   That is despicable, playing the race card.  There are plenty of issues in which race is a valid issue, but this is not one of them.   For one thing, where utility prices are increased, and where any poor people are impacted, government in the US has subsidy programs for the poor, based on demonstrated need.   

For another, when coal runs out, as it certainly will at present consumption rates within 20 years in the US, there must be power plants installed and running to keep the lights on.  The alternative, to blindly keep burning coal until one day there is no more and the power grids fail, is simply not tenable.  There won't be just poor people impacted, everyone will be impacted.  

"In the Real World, soaring energy prices mean poor families cannot afford adequate heating and air conditioning, cannot save or afford proper nutrition, and must rely on schools, hospitals and businesses whose energy costs are also climbing – bringing higher prices, reduced services and lost jobs."

Here, Driessen finally gets something right, but it is not renewable energy that should be the target of his ire.   That same sentence, almost verbatim, is what I wrote about nuclear power plants, if they become a major supplier of world electricity.  see link to my article "Preposterous Power Pricing if Nuclear Power Proponents Prevail"

Renewable power from wind, and from solar, have negligible impacts on electricity prices in the US, even at penetrations of 30 percent as shown in Iowa.   The impacts on prices will be even smaller in the very near future, as low-cost grid-scale storage batteries are installed to allow utilities to stop running those horribly expensive simple-cycle peaker power plants mentioned just above. 


I agree with Driessen on one thing, and that is there is zero global warming due to carbon dioxide and no reason to curb fuel consumption to stop global warming.  That is a false issue.   

The real issue, though, is running out of coal world-wide in a couple of decades in the US, and within 50 years worldwide.  Coal provides 40 to 50 percent of all electric power worldwide, and that must be replaced long before the coal runs out.  Nuclear cannot do the job, and there is not enough hydroelectric power nor geothermal resources to replace coal.  The only viable option is natural gas with wind power and solar power where the wind and sunshine resources are sufficient.  

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

copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

US Accelerates Offshore Wind Power Development

Subtitle:  Government accelerates offshore wind development in United States.
Offshore wind power is a very much-needed energy source. It is Clean, renewable, affordable, reliable, and domestic. It Meets all four legal critieria for grid-electricity: safe, reliable, affordable, clean enough to meet all environmental regulations.
“Today at the Wind Technology Testing Center in Boston, Massachusetts, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Deputy Assistant to President Obama for Energy and Climate Change Dan Utech to announce a new strategic plan to accelerate the development of offshore wind energy in the United States. The National Offshore Wind Strategy: Facilitating the Development of the Offshore Wind Industry in the United States provides a snapshot of the current state of the industry, refinements in resource assessment and cost reduction trajectories, and a roadmap for how the agencies can support the industry’s future growth and success. Four technical reports that helped to inform the National Offshore Wind Strategy were also released today, one of which provides a detailed assessment of the resource potential for offshore wind off U.S. coasts and is featured on the EERE blog.”
Link to the National Offshore Wind Strategy report is at this link.
Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Nuclear Radiation Illness in Japan after Fukushima Dai-Ichi Meltdowns

Subtitle:  Are Children Cancer-Free With Nuclear Plants Shut Down?

A couple of years ago, June 2014, I wrote article 19 of the Truth About Nuclear Power series, titled "Nuclear Radiation Injures People and Other Living Things."  see link.   One of the references in article 19 is the study on cancer incidence in the population surrounding
California's Rancho Seco nuclear power plant that was shut down in June of 1989.  The rate of cancers dropped significantly in the years following the plant's shutdown.   see link to Mangano and Sherman study: 

Biomedicine International, 2013, 4: 12-25, "Long-term Local Cancer Reductions Following Nuclear Plant Shutdown," authors Joseph J. Mangano, Janette D. Sherman, Radiation and Public Health Project, New York, NY, USA

It is time that similar studies be conducted near reactors that have been shut down, not only in the US but in other countries.  Japan, for example, has multiple reactors not operating for more than 5 years after the Fukushima Dai-Ichi meltdowns in March, 2011.    Germany shut down 8 reactors after the Japanese disaster. 

It is time to see what the modern data shows us, whether the people of Sacramento, California are alone in enjoying better health and fewer cancer diagnoses, or millions of people around the world are also enjoying better lives.    Sufficient time has passed, the data is there if we but find it, analyze it, and report it.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

California Worst Drought Ever - Myth or Fact

Subtitle: Current Drought is Short and Not Severe Compared to Past

Update 9/5/2016:  Added the NOAA precipitation chart showing droughts. -- end update

One of the cornerstones of the present mantra in California government circles is that man-made global warming has created the current drought conditions.   In fact, language in some California laws and bills that may become law include such statements.  An example is given below.

The following quote is from a bill in the California legislature, SB 1161, from Section 2 paragraph 10.  The bill has the following over-the-top title, "California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act of 2016."  (this is nothing, really, as California about a decade ago passed a real whopper, the "California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.")

"(10) Climate change has been tied by scientists to the severity and intensity of the historically unprecedented and costly drought that California has been experiencing since 2011 that has resulted in communities running out of water, agricultural water cutbacks, and unprecedented groundwater use that has caused subsidence and a loss of storage capacity in the state’s critical aquifers."   (emphasis added)

It is unclear if the Legislature, in this case the California Senate, knows what they are talking about in terms of climate change, man-made global warming, and drought.   For example, the underlined section above mentions three things:

1  historically unprecedented drought
2  costly drought
3  that has existed since 2011. 

These claims are examined against the evidence, below. 

Figure 1, source:  USGS 
The link for Figure 1 is available here.   Figure 1 has a red bar added to indicate the runoff for water year 2016, still in progress until September 30, 2016.    

Point 1 - Historically Unprecedented Drought

It is a trick of statistics to use a running average (the gold line in Figure 1) that drops near the end as this does in 2014-2015.  As can be seen in the 1977 year, and also in 1923, the running average climbs back up when subsequent years are included.   

Another point that is evident from Figure 1 is that the drought from 1917 through 1933 was much longer in duration and much more severe than that of the past 4 years. 

Also, the eight years from 1986 through 1994 had only 2 years with more than 5 inches of runoff, compared to the current drought of 4 years. 

Figure 2 - California Precipitation 1919 - 1998, source NOAA
Also, from Figure 2 above, multi-year droughts are shown in red ovals for the 1930s, late 1940s, and late 1980s.  Another important point from NOAA's data is the long-term trend of precipitation is quite positive, at +5.6 inches per century over the period shown. 

I show this with the deliberate purpose of copying what climate scientists do when they want to deceive the public.  The data in Figure 2 starts in a drought and ends in a wet period, which forces the linear trend to be positive.   If one uses the entire record from 1890 to 2016, a slight negative trend is obtained.  

Thus, it can be seen that the first point is false, this drought since 2011 is certainly not an historically unprecedented drought.  In fact, this drought may already be over. 

Point 2 - Costly Drought

This current short-term and not very severe drought is costly only because the California population has grown over the years, and more importantly, the state water managers and policy makers have failed to provide adequate water storage.  This is much like a family of four, Mom and Dad plus two small children, sitting down at the table to eat a roast chicken.  There is plenty to go around.  But, when friends and neighbors are also seated around the table, one roast chicken is simply not enough.   I wrote on this earlier on SLB, the Us Four and No More article  see link.   The evidence is quite clear that California long-term goals are to limit population growth, and have population decline.  Limiting water availability is a sure way to accomplish that.

Meanwhile, there are substantial costs to those that run out of water and must pay dearly for imported water, sometimes by truck. 

Point 3 - Drought Has Existed Since 2011

As above, Figure 1 shows the current drought is minor and short compared to earlier droughts.  

Man-made Climate Change As Cause of Drought

The evidence is quite clear that any increase in CO2 in the atmosphere from man's consumption of fossil fuels could not have had any impact on the severe drought in the 1920s.   It is false to claim that today's minor drought is due to man-made CO2.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved. 

Aliso Canyon and Duck Curve Demand in SoCal

Subtitle:  California is very fortunate with a mild Summer thus far

An interesting article from 29 August, 2016 in the Ventura (CA) Star newspaper, on the issue of natural gas shortage and its impact on electricity production in California.  SLB has had several articles on this, links here.  

The journalist, Tom Elias, takes the position that the entire threat of blackouts was false, and states it was "a lie" and "a bunch of hooey."

The Star article is "Blackout threats exposed as power stays on"  see link 

Mr. Elias is wrong.  

I left a short comment on his article, shown below:

"Daily consumption of natural gas is not the proper metric. Peak demand for fuel to gas-fired power plants occurs on an hourly, and sometimes shorter basis. 

The important concern is the ability to rapidly ramp up the natural gas-fired plants in the late afternoon, typically between 5 and 7 pm. 

A case on point is from Saturday, September 3, 2016 when CAISO reports the total production, excluding wind and solar, increased almost 3,300 MW in the one-hour period 18:00 to 19:00 hours (6 to 7 pm).   [Update 5 Sept 2016:  yesterday, 4 Sept 2016, the duck curve ramping rate reached 3,700 MW in the same 6 to 7 pm hour.  graphics shown below. -- end update]

For those who want to understand more on this issue, search for "duck curve" and CAISO. Plenty has been written."   -- end of Sowell comment 

A bit more discussion is probably in order. 

There are at least two ways that a shortage of natural gas can occur in the region: sustained high demand for electricity such as in a heat wave that lasts for days, and a rapid increase in demand such as occurs daily when solar power production declines in the late afternoon. 

A combination of late afternoon, imported power curtailed for any reason, hydroelectric power not available (perhaps due to the ongoing drought), a high pressure system stalls over the state causing wind to decline or even stop, or an unplanned outage of high-efficiency combined-cycle gas turbine plants, will cause the hourly natural gas demand to surge. 

Thus far, September 4 of 2016, the state has had very good fortune in all those categories just mentioned.   No severe and prolonged heat waves happened.   We have a bit of water in the lakes so some hydropower is available.  

Nearby is a chart from CAISO, with my additions to illustrate the point. The green line, known as the "duck's belly and neck" is the total load less wind and solar power.  The portion circled in red shows the greatest change in that load, over a one-hour period.  To my knowledge, that 3.3 GW increase in one hour on 3 Sept 2016 is the highest to date on the CAISO grid.  

The rate of change in the late afternoon, or ramping rate, is one of the chief concerns of planners and state agencies.   As more and more solar power is added to the grid, that ramping rate will also increase.  

And for the nuclear cheerleaders, I note here that adding nuclear power to the grid will not alleviate this problem.  

So, Mr. Elias is wrong.  We do need natural gas storage, if not from Aliso Canyon then from other sources.  We have been very fortunate thus far in California.   The weather has been unusually cool and mild so far this summer.  However, September is the month that usually has the highest temperatures and we can expect at least one prolonged heat wave. 

Update 5 Sept 2016:  more recent duck curve ramping rates.   Sunday, 4 Sept 2016 shows 3,700 MW ramping rate from 18:00 to 19:00 hours.  See areas outlined in red below. -- end update

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

US Nuclear Reactors Shutdown - Years Operating Lifetime

This post is a simple table of the US nuclear reactors that have been shut down thus far, sorted by the number of years operated, from shortest life to longest.   Updated, added a graph showing age at retirement. - 8/7/2017

There is a mistaken belief, and many false statements by nuclear cheerleaders that nuclear reactors last for 60 years.  The fact is that very, very few make it to their design life of 40 years.   Data is from US NRC website. 

     Reactor Name      State      Years    Operated
1 Three Mile Island 2 PA                       0.93
2 Pathfinder SD                       1.19
3 Shoreham NY                       2.99
4 Saxton PA                       5.00
5 GE Valecitos CA                       6.27
6 Fermi 1 MI                       6.32
7 Peach Bottom 1 PA                       7.76
8 Indian Point-1 NY                     12.12
9 N.S. Savannah VA                     12.47
10 Fort St. Vrain CO                     12.71
11 Humboldt Bay 3 CA                     13.21
12 Rancho Seco 1 CA                     14.65
13 Trojan OR                     16.88
14 Dresden 1 IL                     18.49
15 La Crosse WI                     19.01
16 Zion 2 IL                     24.02
17 Zion 1 IL                     24.68
18 Maine Yankee ME                     24.73
19 San Onofre 1 CA                     25.38
20 Millstone 1 CT                     27.59
21 Yankee-Rowe MA                     27.77
22 San Onofre 2 CA                     29.00
23 Haddam Neck CT                     29.33
24 San Onofre 3 CA                     30.00
25 Big Rock Point MI                     34.72

   26      Fort Calhoun                     NE                  43.17

   27       Crystal River 3                   FL                   32.5

   28       Vermont Yankee                  VT                  42.1

Figure 1.   US Reactors Shown by Age at Retirement
1 is Three Mile Island 2  - source: Data from NRC  - graph by R. Sowell
omits Savannah, a ship

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2016-2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved 

A Few Excellent Reasons To Oppose Nuclear Power Plants

Subtitle: Why I Oppose Nuclear Power for Commercial Electricity Generation

I was asked on another blog today, why I have "anti-nuclear motivation."

Good question. I’ll try to give a good answer.  (this is necessarily brief, as there are far more reasons for opposing nuclear power plants).
Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant
after Melt Down and Explosion in 2011

I was excited many years ago when I took my first university-level class in nuclear chemistry and engineering. I had read about the almost unlimited potential of the power of the atom, and that atom-splitting would soon provide the entire world with electricity too cheap to meter. Sounds great! I’m entirely on board with bringing cheap and abundant electricity to everyone everywhere, for all the benefits that has. Lighting, heating, air conditioning, food freezing and refrigeration, performing hard work by machines and allowing people to do more intellectual or leisure activities, better transportation, the list is long here.

But I was only 18, a freshman in university. The course covered what was known in 1972: fission by uranium, by thorium, and fusion. There were boiling water reactors and pressurized water reactors, molten salt reactors, and a few others. We actually had a fusion prototype reactor of Tokamak design at the university. It was a grand machine, and my class had the guided tour.  see link for info on Texas Tokamak.

Then I graduated, moved into the industrial world and my career in chemical engineering, and the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown happened. see link   I read all I could find about that, and it was chilling to a chemical engineer. I watched with growing dismay as plant after plant required delays and modifications to give them at least a chance of avoiding a meltdown due to bad design like Three Mile Island had. What was even worse, the nuclear designers and spokespeople had lied, assuring the public for decades that they knew what they were doing.  They said that atomic power was safe in their nuclear plants. The evidence showed exactly the opposite. Who you going to believe, them or your lying eyes?

Then I saw the unfolding construction fiasco at South Texas Nuclear Plant, only about 70 miles from my home in Houston, Texas. The plant is on the Gulf of Mexico near Baytown. A contractor with zero experience building nuclear plants, Brown and Root, was awarded the contract. That contract award was politically motivated, as Brown and Root was headquartered in Houston. BR had major civil construction experience at that time in ports, bridges, buildings, and such but no nuclear plants. It was a complete fiasco. The plant’s owners fired BR and replaced them with an experienced nuclear contractor, EBASCO.

Figure 1 - US Nuclear Plant Capacity Factors
The South Texas nuclear plant was finished many years late (13 years start-to-finish) and almost 6 times the original cost estimate. It cost $5.5 billion and was estimated at $0.97 billion. To my dismay, this became typical of nuclear power plant projects. What further aggravated me was the large increase in electricity prices that building nuclear plants created. That was exactly the opposite of what was supposed to happen; there was no such thing as too cheap to meter power from a nuclear plant.

To make matters even worse, the nuclear plants in those days ran only about half-capacity, which anyone can verify by looking on appropriate web sites. A chart of nuclear plant capacity factors for US plants from 1980 to present is in Figure 1. Source is Nuclear Energy Institute.  

Low capacity factors meant the money to build the plants was essentially wasted. Customers were paying far too much for power they were not receiving.

A bit later, I had a guided tour of the Perry Nuclear Plant on the shore of Lake Erie, just east of Cleveland, Ohio. An engineering society was invited to see the plant just before the initial fuel was installed. We saw everything from top to bottom, with detailed explanations by the engineering manager. Another economic fiasco, costing $6 billion for a single-reactor plant in 1987. In today’s dollars, that would be approximately $25 to 30 billion for a 1,230 MWe plant. A complete fiasco.

As I said above, I’m a big proponent of electricity that is as cheap as possible and available to everyone, but that must be safe, reliable, and not environmentally damaging.

Then Chernobyl exploded. see link   So much for safe and environmentally not damaging. It irks me that only the nuclear power industry can get away with “The Solution to Pollution is Dilution,” but none of the other industries can dare do that. Others must prevent releases or capture their pollutants for proper disposal, no matter what the cost. Even the Chernobyl radiation cloud was pronounced Safe, No Danger, it is all diluted to safe levels before anyone was harmed.

Then Fukushima melted down in three reactors, (that’s five if anyone is counting), and containment buildings exploded. see link   The causes there were simple but inconceivable design decisions. Tsunami walls designed for the average tsunami height, not the largest known. Emergency generators placed in basements and subject to flooding.

Then there is the secrecy, information hiding, and flat-out lying by the nuclear industry.

I pulled together almost everything I know about nuclear plants and commercial power generation and began writing my 30 articles for The Truth About Nuclear Power on my blog. That series now has more than 22,000 views and has received very positive comments. see links just above. 

It also dismays me to see so many people disregard all the screwups, near meltdowns, radiation releases, of existing nuclear plants and say that future designs will be cheaper, safer, and more efficient.

I know quite a bit about process design and operations, having spent a working lifetime in that field. The optimism on future nuclear plants is badly misplaced. I wrote about this in TANP series. The modern nuclear plants run at low temperature compared to typical fossil-fuel power plants, so they must circulate much more steam to produce the same power output. That is a thermodynamics issue and cannot ever be overcome.

More steam circulating requires larger pipes and equipment, an increase in cost. Nuclear plant designers know this, and have created ever-larger plants to attempt to achieve economy of scale. Except they don’t. As SONGS demonstrated only too clearly, there is a limit at around 550 MWe for a steam generator in a nuclear plant. Even the French know this, and install 4 steam generators at 400 MWe each in their EPR that produces 1600 MWe. see link to article on economy of scale in nuclear plants. 

To me, nuclear plants have had their day and sunset is near. World-wide, the technology captured approximately 10 percent of all electricity produced. Most of that market was by replacing oil-fired generation after the 1970s oil price shocks (e.g. USA, France, and Japan). Nuclear proved right off that it could not replace coal power, and certainly not natural gas power. One must stop and ponder that reality, if nuclear power was really so great, so cheap, so safe, then why did it only replace oil-fired generation and sits at 10 percent of world generating capacity? Clearly, nuclear is not the way to go.

The current crop of nuclear plant builds is even worse, if that is possible. The French-designed EPRs in Finland and France are way over budget and years behind schedule; yet those are supposed to be the best available technology in the entire world. The proposed EPR twin-reactor plant at UK Hinkley Point C is advertised as approximately $9000 per kWe, and if it ever gets built will be at least 20 percent more. The power from the plant is, or will be, heavily subsidized.

Then there are the subsidies. Nuclear proponents almost never, ever mention the subsidies, so I make a point of doing so. see link Nuclear plants are just about the most heavily subsidized of any industry one can name. Plant owners have almost zero incentive to operate safely, because the government limits their liability to a few hundred million dollars, then graciously picks up the cost for any additional costs. see link 

One more thing, and that is the cancers and other illnesses brought on by nuclear power plants. I wrote on this, citing the Mangano and Dr. Sherman study after California’s Ranch Seco nuclear plant shut down. Nuclear plants are killing people, creating needless instances of horrible cancers in children especially. see link 

For all those reasons, I am opposed to nuclear power for commercial electricity generation.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved