Sacramento’s Costly Mistake

Fast Fission #13 – MP3 File I recently invited listeners of my podcasts and readers of my blog to leave voice mail using the “call me” button at http://thisweekinnuclear.com .  Thank you Patrick Park from California who called in with a question about the Rancho Seco nuclear plant that was shut down by voters about 20 years ago.  Patrick wanted my opinion regarding whether or not the plant was safe and if electricity rates would be lower today if the plant was still in operation.  He also mentioned the difficulty California is having keeping the lights on during peak electrical demands (like hot summer days). Audio File That’s a great question!  Sacramento Municipal Utility District (or SMUD) was the owner of the Rancho Seco nuclear plant.  Fortunately there is a lot of information on the SMUD web site.  By looking at the utility’s current energy mix and by comparing the relative costs and environmental impacts, it is fairly easy to hypothesize what would be happening if the plant were running today. The current energy mix at SMUD is 60% natural gas, 20% hydro, 8% biomass, 8% wind, 1% coal, and the remaining 3% is geothermal, solar, and small hydro.  If Rancho Seco was in operation today, it would displace all of the coal and a large portion of the natural gas SMUD burns now.    If the plant was running today it is safe to predict Energy rates would be lower because the nuclear energy would off-set a large portion of the high cost natural gas they presently burn. Greenhouse gas emissions would be lower because nuclear energy would eliminate all the coal they burn, and a big piece of the natural gas. By now the plant would be paid off and with a license extension it would be running for another 20 years.  This would help keep energy costs low for another two decades.  The plant was a 913 MW Babcock & Wilcox pressurized water reactor.  It entered commercial operation in 1974.  While anti-nuclear activists will disagree, the plant was safe and there was nothing inherently bad about that design.  In fact, there are very well run B&W plants in service today.  For example, the Arkansas Nuclear One, Unit 1 is a 846 MW reactor that also came online in 1974.  ANO Unit 1 has a very high capacity factor, has a top performance rating by the Institute if Nuclear Power Operations and is recognized around the industry as a consistently good performing nuclear plant. Whether or not shutting down Rancho Seco was a good idea depends on your point of view.  If you sell coal or natural gas...

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US Taxpayers Paying $Millions for Renewable Energy Overseas (Fast Fission Podcast #9)

Get the MP3 Here It’s 9:00 at night and I’m on an Amtrak train heading north out of Washington DC where I attended an awe inspiring inaugural Thorium Energy Alliance Conference.  What a great event!  I learned a lot about thorium as an energy source and about the various kinds of reactors that might take advantage of thorium’s unique properties: its amazing energy density, proliferation resistance, safety, and suitability for low cost reactors that could be assembly line produced and deployed around the world.   So I’m sitting on the train scanning the news coming across Twitter when a story from the NY Times almost made me scream out loud!  I am NOT KIDDING!  If I was at home not in a train car full of sleeping passengers I’d be screaming at my Blackberry in frustration! Here’s the deal: the United Nations recently formed a new agency called the International Renewable Energy Agency whose goal is to encourage deployment of renewable energy around the world, and foster sharing of technology between developed and undeveloped nations.  Essentially, it is an international trade association promoting mostly wind and solar energy.  So you might say, “No big deal, let them do their thing!” right?  Wrong!  The United States signed on to the group in July and, under UN rules, is now required to foot the bill for 22% of the new agency’s operating expenses!  That means that the US taxpayers are on the hook to pay $4 million per year now, and the annual amount will grow to $11 million per year within the next few years!   Let’s get this straight – we’re paying between $4 and $11 million the worst economic recession in decades to fund deploying unreliable intermittent energy sources that can’t operate without ongoing massive government subsidies.    Developing nations don’t need high cost intermittent energy; they are desperate for reliable base load energy.  So OK, $11 million is not that much money in the grand scheme of things, but in my mind it is throwing money down a rat hole.  If these nations can’t afford to buy the wind turbines, how are they ever going to afford to subsidize their operation and maintain them?  Either we’ll continue to subsidize them for years to come, or the turbines will go idle.  The other thing that really got me going was a statement by the new agency’s boss, Helene Pelosse, a French official. When asked if IRENA, as the new agency is known, would hold a pro-nuclear policy she replied, “IRENA will not deal with nuclear energy, simply because it is not renewable. Nuclear and renewable energy have nothing to do with each other.”  Ms. Pelosse obviously does not keep up with the times!  If she...

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