Texas Going Nuclear to Fight Climate Change?

nuclearThe threat of global warming has created an opening for many utilities – and even some clean energy supporters – to push for nuclear power as a solution. Texas, in particular, has attracted more interest in new reactors than any other state and could become the biggest building ground for nuclear power plants.

NRG Energy, Energy Future Holdings Corp., and other utilities have proposed eight reactors, which make up 25 percent of all the ones planned in the U.S. In addition to their enthusiasm for nukes – at a time when coal plants are being canceled around the country because of global warming concerns – Texas makes it easier than other states to put up a plant.

Although reactors can cost up to $6 billion each, Texas created three new measures this year to incentivize more nuclear, including reduced local property taxes and state guarantees for decommissioning and decontaminating nuclear plants when they are closed. Another law created a tax exemption for adding pollution-control devices, which legislators say can include nuclear plants. All that, plus federal tax credits and loan guarantees, has some utilities seeing green of a more controversial kind.

Environmentalists are ready to go to battle – with utilities and each other – over nuclear power. Most notable is probably Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace and now a nuclear power supporter. Others may be more inclined to support nuclear if the biggest problem – how to safely dispose of the waste – were solved. A spokeswoman for Al Gore told Bloomberg that while Gore isn’t “reflexively anti-nuclear,” he doesn’t think it can be a major part of the energy mix until the waste problem, nuclear proliferation, and the huge size of the reactors can be solved.

Still others are absolutely anti-nuclear, and expect that more people like them will come out of the woodwork when the news of these proposed reactors starts to spread. Global warming is just a convenient excuse to ramp up nuclear production and ignore its other issues, explained Ken Kramer, Texas director of the Sierra Club. But he’s optimistic about the coming fight in Texas: “Now that we have serious applications for nuclear power plants, you’re going to see fast-growing opposition.”

Reuters UK

  1. lynx

    saying nuclear energy is ‘green’ requires it’s backers to conveniently ignore the horrific environmental effects of uranium mining (but then again, most uranium mining in the US happens on native american land where indigenous people get to do all the dying from radiation sickness, so maybe they just count that as an added bonus. fuckers.) and the fact that the waste generated by nuclear power will be sticking around for literally millions of years. Even coal burning plants seem positively clean by comparison! Sure the sulfer and ash in the air gives children asthma and contribute to global warming, but at least it’s not radioactive! I mean, dear gods people, wtf are you thinking? Ironically, the big response from the nuclear industry to the “what do we do with the waste?” question has been, once again, to dump it on native americans. So Yucca mountain – which sits on un-ceeded native land and which the Federal Government legally had NO RIGHT to even consider, got to be turned into a nuclear waste dump.

    Nuclear is not green, not by any stretch. don’t buy the hype.

  2. lynx

    gah! ok… retraction on part of that… got so frustrated by this article I had to go check my facts and it turns out coal power plants also produce radioactive waste (http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste). which sucks, so that was a bad example. but it doesn’t negate my main point that nuclear power requires environmentally destructive strip-mining for uranium that spills radioactive waste everywhere and the fact that the waste generated from nuclear plants is also deadly poisonous. all it means is that coal plants are bad too. which we already knew.

    so… tidal power anyone? or nanosolar (http://www.nanosolar.com/) – style sheeting mandatory on the roofs of all new buildings? and if we changed our design methods our buildings wouldn’t consume so much power in the first place. long story short – there are a LOT of better ways to deal with our energy deficit then nuclear power.

  3. Brett

    There are far better options (http://www.greenenergychoice.com for starts), especially in Texas where the two largest wind farms in the world currently reside. I know first hand that several Texas energy providers offer renewable energy programs that derive their power from 100 percent pollution-free sources. Nuclear power is infamously harmful in it’s waste disposal practices, and again involves resources that are not of an endless supply.

  4. Joffan

    Good update lynx… let me push you a bit further…
    – the only uranium extraction in the US for the last fifteen years has been in-situ leach, which doesn’t really count as mining the way you mean it. Unlike coal.

    – fission products are less radioactive than uranium (itself only very mildly radioactive) about 500 years after removal from the reactor

    – this waste is perfectly OK where it is for the next fifty years at least; there’s so little of it. But Yucca mountain is the government’s idea, not the industry’s.

    And tidal, geothermal, wind; plus good building design; all great ideas, full support for them too. The thing that worries me is the projected upturn in coal use in about 2020, according to today’s EIA update (pdf)

  5. richard

    my father happens to be a nuclear engineer and has worked in texas we lived very close to the powerplant for many years. everyone who is getting upset should look up how exactly the reactors work and see how little of waste they produce. I bet 90% of you all didnt know all they do is make steam, just really efficiently. texas going nuclear is a good thing
    its too bad ignorance is so widespread

  6. sneerAndJeers

    this article repeats the same old nonsense that “environmentalists” support nuclear power when it is just not true. 500 environmental organizations recently signed a joint petition opposing nuclear power for the same reasons that they opposed it in the 1970’s. This nonsense that “some environmentalists” support nuclear is the same old game as “some scientists” deny global warming/ –


  7. Bill

    Nuclear power should be one of MANY technologies used to battle climate change and other environmental problems. I am a firm supporter of wind and solar power as well, but these can not provide the base load electricity we need using today’s technology, or any technology likely to be available in the next decade or two. Add a couple more decades for rollout of whatever new breakthroughs are coming, and you have a meaningful contribution around 2040. The USA built over 100 nuclear power plants in a similar period of time from the late 1960’s to mid 1990’s.

    It would be nice if we could all install our own solar rooftop and backyard wind turbine, and those who can, should. But what about those who live in cities? How will a multi-story apartment building in a crowded metropolitan area generate its own power? The short answer is that it will not. That’s why most of us need a shared electrical grid.

    Why can’t solar and wind do the job today? Stability of the aforementioned electrical grid. You have to keep supply and demand balanced on the grid, or you end up with a situation like the Northeast blackout a few years back. The fluctuations inherent in wind and solar generation (wind isn’t constant, and cloud cover will kill your solar generation) necessitate additional reserve power. The best wind facilities run at capacity factors of around 30% and generally have some form of fossil generation (usually gas turbines) nearby to pick up the slack the rest of the time. Natural gas = fossil fuel = combustion = greenhouse gases and other pollution. I’ll take neatly packaged, safely contained spent nuclear fuel over CO2, SOx, NOx, mercury, and fine particulates any day of the week.

  8. Matt

    The idea of a nuclear reactor has been floated around for sevearl years now in our community(Amarillo). We don’t have a problem with nuclear energy; however, we cannot (nor can the ogallala aquifer) support the water needs of any nuclear plant built around our area. Furthermore, we are provided with moderately cheap electricity (albeit, from coal), and [our electricity grid] can support growth for many more years.

    A nuclear power plant is needed downstate (ie DFW), but not in our area!

  9. Laurie

    Nuclear fuel is the 2nd cheapest form of energy next to hydro. The plants in this country operate at 92% capacity factor whereas coal and gas are about 50-60% annually. What does this mean? If we shutdown a nuclear reactor, the electricity will be replaced by idle gas or coal plants during the demand time. What does this mean? More CO2 in the atmosphere.

    I happen to think global warming is the most dangerous threat to mankind, not radioactive waste, especially if it’s safely stored in Yucca Mountain. There is definitely a media-bias and mob mentality approach to nuclear and one needs to research the scientific facts before jumping to conclusions. Wind, solar, hydro are all good alternatives but not yet economically feasible. Nuclear is the best balance between environmentalism (the ultimate form being minimal green house gas emissions, i say minimum because trucks are used to mine Uranium which use gas) and economics. You can’t switch from a fossil fuel-based economy to a completely “green” one without involving nuclear energy.

    The nuclear industry has had an excellent safety record in this country. With over 40 years of operating experience and with slightly less than 1/4 of all the world’s nuclear reactors, the number of deaths resulting from nuclear power in this country is … zero! And the NRC regulations become stricter while the plant designs become passively safer.

    Think of all those who die in coal mines, or those who die in the Middle East for oil, or all those who will die from climate change effects due to global warming and then come back and tell me you’re more worried about people dying from radiation.

    Sure use Chernobyl as an example, I’ll counter it: those Soviet generation I designs have no containment (which is required of all nuclear plants in the US, even passively safe ones which do not require a containment such as the PBMR). The Chernobyl reactor also had a positive temperature feedback coefficient, meaning the hotter the fuel gets, the more reactivity and thus energy is produced, causing a positive feedback effect that leads to melting and Zr-O reactions that blew up the plant. The NRC also requires a negative feedback coefficient so a Chernobyl repeat is physically impossible in the US. The closest thing that happened to that in this country was TMI, and our containment performed perfectly during the accident, the core melted but essentially no radiation was released. Huge steps have been taken to prevent anything remotely close to TMI from happening again such as integrated accident reporting within the entire nuclear fleet in the nation, better core measurement tools, and better training for operators. New reactors designs are designed to minimize accidents due to human error.

    TMI shut down the entire nuclear industry for decades and everyone involved in the nuclear industry knows that if another accident occurs, they will be out of jobs because people will be looking for excuses to get rid of nuclear power. No other industry faces as much scrutiny. As a result, nuclear engineering’s fundamental maxim is “safety first”. In reactor design, it takes precedence over economics.

    With regard to waste, i know it’s hard, but trust the engineers who are designing their storage deposits. They have spent billions of dollars researching and designing Yucca mountain over almost a decade to ensure that this is the best option for our countries nuclear waste. Of course there are no designs that are fool proof, this is impossible from a risk analysis standpoint. But just think about the low risks involved when using nuclear power and the high risks of not using it.

  10. obo

    Waste and mining are definitely big issues. But not confined to nuclear energy. Coal mining is not pretty either.

    The best medium term solution to nuclear waste is..leave it at the plant. As mentioned, the physical volume is small. Nuke plants already have high security, an ‘exclusion zone’ within that could be provided.

    The other point many people don’t understand is baseload vs peak power. Simplified, there has to be within any region a ‘base’ amount of supply unless people are happy with blackouts at peak useage. I’m all for wind and distrubuted solar (the next big thing IMO), and in time hopefully the decentralised power grid will make mega-plants of any nature obselete. But that’s a ways off. Right now a power company has to have a BIG baseload capacity, and coal is the cheapest. Replacing those plants with nukes and having as much swing demand supplied by renewables as possible is the best solution going right now IMO.

  11. Brent

    There are a number of issues to be addressed for all power technologies, whether they be nuclear, solar, wind, tidal, clean coal, or natural gas. As they say if we lower the water level in the lake, we can certainly find the rocks. Perhaps the biggest problem, is a piece meal energy policy, and technology opponents who can’t see the big picture.

    In Oregon, proposed tidal farms are opposed, because they might interfer with salmon, or whale migration. In the Mojave Desert, wind and solar farms are opposed, because they might be seen by hikers. Wind farms on Cape Cod were opposed by Senator Kennedy, because he could see them from the patio.

    The nation’s ecomonic life and our life styles depend on energy, so what is the plan to produce it.

  12. Chuck Drinnan

    No matter what choice we make for energy generation we have impacts on the environment. So in my mind the question is what form of energy generation has the least impact. To measure that impact we have to compare dissimilar impacts.

    Nuclear batteries (one is 1.5 meters in diameter by 2.5 meters in height -http://www.hyperionpowergeneration.com ) have a very small footprint. They are self contained and thus the nuclear component is considerably less that 2.8 cubic meters. The waste is also less than 2.8 cubic meters after 7 years of producing 25mw. The nuclear source comes from mining just as coal does for coal generation. However the difference is that nuclear batteries require a few cubic meters of source material compared to the massive amount of coal required to generate 25mw over 7 years. So the effect of mining is greatly reduced.

    Both nuclear and coal produce toxic wastes and the absorption of the nuclear wastes takes a long time. However, there is not much waste to absorb – a couple of cubic meters after seven years.

    While the focus on nuclear batteries is always on the nuclear component there are other components required. The nuclear battery produces steam which is then used to power a steam generation capability. This type of generation produces environmental impacts due to heat and water utilization. My understanding is that careful design and implementation minimizes these impacts but there is still some impact and the cost of generation is increased by the special requirements.

    There are several problems with wind and solar. The first is that the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine continuously and thus the energy generation is not continuous. The impact is that some other form of generation must be used to fill in the dead spots. That isn’t a problem with nuclear batteries.

    The second problem is that wind and solar take up large areas – not a problem for small capacity generation but a big problem for large capacity wind and solar farms. The small footprint of the nuclear batteries offers distinct advantages.

    The third problem comes from the fact that optimal wind and solar farm locations are away from residential consumers. This results in a requirement for transmission lines that have a host of problems in themselves. I suspect the first nuclear batteries will also be placed away from population areas so nuclear batteries have the same problem. However as this nuclear battery technology demonstrates a safety record and gains acceptance, these nuclear battery generation capabilities could be collocated with generation or substation equipment mitigating the need for transmission lines.

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