Gore, Grove, Pickens – All Have Energy Plans, All Mistakingly Marginalize Nuclear Power Potential
It has been a big week for energy plans. We have one proposed by a former politician and current alternative energy venture capitalist, one proposed by a former oil man who is lobbying for a Production Tax Credit (PTC) extension, and one from a former microprocessor supplier who was once an embarrassed sole supplier with insufficient capacity to meet customer demands. All of the plans envision a need for more abundant and reliable electrical power, but all of the plans marginalize the potential for growth in nuclear fission power.
I am not rich, not powerful and not a public figure. I have not spent my career drilling oil and gas wells, raiding companies, running for office, or building an industry dominating chip supplier. Instead, I have been struggling for more than 15 years to try to share a vision for a cleaner, safer, more prosperous world made possible by moving away from carbon based fuels that put most of us into dependence on people that simply do not like or respect us.
At the risk of being accused of vanity for trying to play with the big boys, I would like to add my 1.76 cents worth to all of the proposed plans. Take the ideas proposed by Gore, Pickens, and Grove to shift dependence from carbon based fuels to electrical power and add a couple more specific actions:
- Empower nuclear regulators with enough resources to work their way through current traffic jams of license applications.
- Revise rules to enable and encourage smaller, simpler plants instead of the current “one size fits all”.
- Stabilize the carbon cost structure so that nuclear power development planners can include the competitive benefits in their business case presentations for investors.
- Take a hard look at the plants operating on aircraft carriers, ice breakers and submarines to determine if, like modern jet engines developed initially for military use, they can be commercialized without sacrificing military advantages.
- Enable the world’s nuclear regulatory license organizations to share documentation, training and processes so that a plant licensed by one qualified regulatory body can be more easily licensed by all of them.
While serving as a nuclear submarine engineer officer, I had the opportunity to develop expert knowledge about an energy source that provided almost magical capabilities. How many of you would like to have a power plant that allowed you to be completely divorced from the grid, with a small volume fuel supply that lasted for a decade and a half? How cool would it be to be able to operate that system in a sealed space, knowing that you were not spewing any pollutants at all?
We – trained and educated engineers, technicians, and operators – know how to produce massive quantities of weather independent power without burning any carbon based fuels at all. We know where to find the fuel, how to run training programs, how to build the components and how to safely store the used materials. We know how reliable the plants can be, how safe they are and how little waste they produce. We can compute to three decimal places the cost to operate the existing plants.
Note: The 1.76 cents mentioned above is the 2007 average cost of operating a nuclear plant in the US. That cost includes labor, material & supplies, contractor services, licensing fees, and miscellaneous costs such as employee expenses and regulatory fees. It also includes fuel related costs like purchasing of uranium, conversion, enrichment, and fabrication services along with storage and shipment costs, and inventory (including interest) charges less any expected salvage value. (Source: Nuclear Energy Institute Resources and Stats).
What you read about ever increasing costs for nuclear power is limited to projected costs for future systems – future cost estimates are always subject to a lot of guesswork. That is especially true for systems whose construction start time is still four years – six years away.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why some people do not like fission power.
- It has successfully taken market share from coal, oil and gas in electrical power production.
- It has the potential to push oil out of heating and ship propulsion and gas out of heating and electrical power.
- It can push coal out of its last remaining market – why spend billions to figure out how to separate and sequester CO2 when you can simply prevent its production?
- It can reduce the threat of fuel interruptions as a political or economic bargaining chip since plants can run for at least 18 months without new fuel.
- It can reduce support for spending large quantities of taxpayer dollars to subsidize less effective and less green energy sources on the pretense that they provide energy security or reduced emissions – it is hard to go below zero.
- It can reduce the need to spend money supporting scientists to research silver bullet energy sources like nuclear fusion.
“Greentech” venture capitalists like Gore and oil and gas men like Pickens will continue to try to marginalize nuclear power and spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about its capabilities. That is their job, but it is our job as citizens to ask hard questions, to seek facts, to recognize vested interests, and to make long term choices that will provide us with a better, more prosperous and more egalitarian world.
The choice to ignore the best tool in the box to address climate change, energy costs, and inequality of opportunity makes me believe that Gore, Pickens and Grove simply do not fully understand the technical nature of the challenges that we are facing. They are expressing some good thoughts on the causes and extent of the ills that face us, but their solutions simply cannot work without more effective medicine.
The wealth concentrating flow of money from the pockets of billions of European, Asian, African, Australian and American (north and south) consumers and into the pockets of a few thousand oil and gas oligarchs in Houston, Caracas, Riyadh, Lagos, Moscow, Abu Dhabi and others simply cannot be allowed to continue.
T. Boone Pickens Says Peak Oil Reached, Plans World’s Largest Wind Farm
Offshore Drilling and a 10 Year Plan
Solving Energy Crisis Demands a Sustained Effort
Energy Outlook: Changing Our Energy Diet
Disclosure: Rod Adams is the founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc., the publisher of Atomic Insights, and the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. He is also a active duty officer in the US Navy who is speaking as a private citizen in no official capacity.