Republican Energy Policy

Last week, with little fanfare, the US house Republicans divulged their energy policy and the central feature of that policy would be the construction of 100 nuclear power plants around the country. I have 3 questions about that plan; 1-How much does it cost to build a nuclear power station, 2-Where are we going to deposit and store the nuclear waste and 3-Where are we going to build these plants (not in my backyard)?
Lately, the Republicans have been screaming about all the spending going on in the country, even though they are responsible for 90% of it, and it seems odd to me that they would favor such an expensive proposition. We had a nuclear power station built on Long Island, NY, Shoreham, that was completed about 25 years ago and never put on line for political and safety reasons. The final cost came in at about 5 billion dollars and Long Islanders are still paying for the big white elephant. If a nuclear plant cost 5 billion dollars 25 years ago then what would it cost to build one today. Heck, I read somewhere that the final cost of the "big dig" came in at over 14 billion dollars. I can only imagine that 5 billion dollars 25 years ago can mean 15 billion dollars today, at least. Multiply that by 100 plants and you have a very large cost to consider.
What are we going to do with all of the nuclear waste from these plants? With emphasis on terrorism these days since 9/11, what will it cost to keep these new plants and any future depositories safe?
Finally can you imagine the battle it will be to find the sites and license 100 plants? The legal costs involved would be staggering.

Secondly, the Republican energy plan calls for more drilling for oil domestically, including Alaska. Has anybody told them that the USA only has about 3% of the world's oil reserves?

Lastly they call for more use of natural gas and solar and wind power, which I think should be at the top of the list. Solar and wind is free and renewable and there is no problem with fuel waste and carbon emissions.

The Republican energy plan is a real bummer, just like their budget that called for the elimination of Medicare for those under the age of 55 and drastically reduced Social Security benefits.

xrayspx's picture

I'll start off saying that I would have no problems with a plant immediately in my backyard. I am in favor of "municipal" pebble-bed reactors, for instance, which would consist of a reactor about the size of 3 or 4 refrigerators.

Those are the cheap and quick to deploy kind of reactors.

Commercial reactors have a few problems beside cost. The main issue is that they take up to a decade to build, you can't just stamp them out. In fact, there is only one company in the world that makes the reactor vessels themselves,Japan Steel Works. You can get a multi-part reactor vessel, but the way to do it is in one piece, and these guys are the only game in town. As you might imagine, they're not quick to make.

You can deploy wind like crazy, just stamping out turbines and blades as fast as you can, and they're relatively cheap. The plain states are looking at a real economy built on this from Texas to Illinois.

So, your big 3 questions:

1:) About $10bn.

2:) Yucca Mountain, in all probability. In a perfect world, we would be reprocessing in breeder reactors until the material was largely inert, and what isn't inert has a half-life of ~50 years. The problem with reprocessing reactors is that another word for that is "enrichment"; ie some of your interim stage material is weapons-grade plutonium, which you then keep reprocessing, etc. But at some point you have weapons grade material, which has been judged "bad".

3:) As I noted above, one of my favorites would be the municipal pebble bed reactor. They're safe, relatively cheap, modular. I'd put one in my basement. One plan I've heard is for a town to use one of these for power generation and also to deliver hot water to their residents as a by-product. So every home wouldn't have to have their own ineffecient (relative to a nuclear reactor) hot water heater. I believe they still use waste steam from an academic reactor to deliver heat for dormitories. I can't find a cite for that, but I know two people who went there.

Wind is becoming really exciting, when you drive through PA, there are new turbines sprouting up all over Coal Country. Wind turbines are rated around 2.5MW each, compared to a nuclear plant at say 1200-1700MW. However, it's much cheaper to build and deploy 500 wind turbines than it is to build one nuclear plant. You actually need closer to 1100 turbines, since I think most estimates are that you'll get about 30% of peak performance out of them.

There are exciting things happening with both technologies. I am disappointed that we need a Yucca mountain, and think we really should be reprocessing any material we can. You still have to worry about containment vessels, control rods, rubber gloves, barrels etc that are contaminated, but we shouldn't be throwing out perfectly good fuel.

Wind gets more efficient by the year, so it should be an exciting decade coming up.

Your response was very interesting and informative Xray, thanks!

"...The Republican energy plan is a real bummer..."

The U.S. uses more energy each and every year.

While I agree that SUVs in particular have driven through a Congress-created loophole, you're not going to get people out of SUVs without drilling for oil, stretching the gasoline supply with ethanol-mix or restricting Americans' right in choice of automobile.

More than 50% of the readers here are driving an SUV or an SUV-derivative.

The Democrats' only plan (besides the blocking of domestic oil-drilling) is to infuse Unions with OPM and then force Americans to buy their sub-SUV-sized and their still-defective worker Agenda to produce those products.

(Using Other People's Money).



xrayspx's picture

You're actually proposing smaller cars through legislation? I think Glenn Beck's head might actually explode on live TV, which would definitely be something to watch :-)

I'm thinking nuclear is good, but so expensive to build. 100 plants might be a tiny bit overkill, since it would cost like easily a trillion $ and take a minimum of 10 years to build each plant soup-to-nuts.

So maybe, by the year 2020, we might see a couple new plants come online, by which time we'll have seen 10 more years of innovation in solar and wind efficiency.

It's a tough call to make.