Are more nuclear power plants a good idea?

One the one hand, they produce no greenhouse gases.

They are expensive. I have read that electricity generated from a nuclear plant costs roughly twice as much that generated by wind power (okay the source is the Utne Reader, but it is the best I got).

Beyond the dollar costs you have the risks and costs inherent with spent fuel storage (for many thousands of years) and security from possible redirection to terrorists for use as a dirty bomb.

Huge benefits could be obtained by efficiency improvements alone

Then there are the losses in our aging transmission grid and so on. Much of the GHG free gains could be made in these venues alone.

Finally the time that it would take to bring enough nuclear plants on-line to make a difference is glacial compared to the need.

I conclude that nuclear is not the choice of the future, global warming or no global warming.

But wind power simply can’t produce enough.

Those are politically imposed costs, not real ones. “Dirty bombs” are a trivial threat, mainly created to whip up fears about terrorism. And nuclear waste isn’t really so dangerous that it needs to be stored for thousands of years; the really dangerous stuff loses it’s radioactivity much faster. Worrying about millennial storage is only “necessary” because we are so paranoid about anything called “nuclear”. We don’t even try to contain the waste from coal power plants, and that is radioactive ( uranium and thorium in the coal ).

True, but efficiency won’t do you any good if there isn’t enough electricity to be efficient with.

That’s true of any solution; how long do you think it would take to update our entire electrical distribution network for efficiency’s sake, as you suggested ? The simple fact is, we’ve screwed ourselves, and any solution to that screwing is going to take a long time.

It’s the only alternative we have that can produce the energy we need without making things worse.

I disagree completely.

  • Nuclear is competitive in price with current energy sources. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be used. France gets 70% of its power from nuclear, and right now I believe its overall energy costs are lower than the European average due to the increase in the price of oil.

  • It takes 2-4 years to build a nuclear power plant. That’s not a long time. Not much longer than the construction time of any other large power plant.

  • Whether wind can be had for less expense is irrelevant, because wind power will always be a marginal player in the overall energy infrastructure. In any event, it’s not true. Wind has gotten pretty cheap, but it’s on the same order of magnitude of nuclear and other energy sources.

  • other nuclear risks are far more manageable than the risks from CO2 plants if you believe global warming is real.

  • there is simply no other energy source positioned to provide significant power for the next several decades.

Der Trihs Wind can’t produce enough? Really?

Besides, why does anyone presume that we need that much more energy production capacity than what we have? We need to use what we have better, to be sure. Refitting coal plants as they come due for regularly scheduled maintenance is an easy thing. Co-firing biomass with the coal will happen as soon as cap and trade gets implemented. Renewables and energy management/shifting can provide any additional energy wwe need. Carbon reduction/capture at the sources can further reduce substantially. Sam source please for your belief comparison of wind to nuclear visavis cost (without subsidies of course) … not just well France is doing it. And source for your 2-3 years to build claim too please as I’ve read that it takes over ten years and that we have a tremendous shortage of qualified nuclear engineers to boot.

You shouldn’t throw it out there if you don’t think it’s a valid cite. I would love to see a cost breakdown over the full life time of a power plant to see what the differences are. My guess…nuclear is initially more expensive but that the costs level off at some point, with over all nuclear being more expensive, but not significantly, assuming no ridiculous levels of blockage as we get here in the US. Certainly France seems to do quite nicely with it’s own nuclear program.

As Der Trihs it doesn’t currently scale to meet our needs, despite your cite. Let me put it this way…if wind COULD bring us ‘seven tiems the world’s electricity demand and five times the world energy demand’ (interesting that there is a typo there btw), then why isn’t it being used more extensively? Especially if it’s cheaper, as you say?

There are risks to any technology. Since solar/wind/geothermal doesn’t scale up to meet the current or projected energy needs then you need to weigh risks in an apples to apples fashion. Compare nuclear to coal fired or oil fired plants (mostly coal) and look at the real world risks vs the benefits. From a purely economic perspective and disregarding things like real world death rates for mining/harvesting of coal or impact on the environment, coal is the clear winner. Not only is it abundant and relatively easy to access but it’s cheap and it scales up to meet both our current and projected needs. The only current technology we have that can compete on the scalable terms is nuclear…and it’s more expensive. And has those associated LOCAL risks. So…you need to weigh the costs/risks to benefits.

I think nuclear is clearly the ONLY choice we have to replace the majority of coal fired plants if we are determined to reduce our CO2 footprint. Wind/solar/geothermal and hydroelectric certainly have their place too…but their place is probably in the (WAG) 20-30% of our electrical needs range. The heavy lifting is going to need to be done by nuclear…or we will stay with coal fired plants and have to figure out how to have them produce all that energy without all the CO2.

I disagree completely with your conclusion. You are basing your conclusion on the assumption that something like wind will be able to scale up to meet our needs, without any real world evidence that this can or will be the case. Again…if wind CAN scale up to meet our energy needs both in quantity AND price then why isn’t it being massively implemented? Even the Euro’s aren’t tossing out their coal fired plants in job lots to replace them with wind farms…and they ARE signators to Kyoto and have specific CO2 goals to meet (i.e. they have incentive to replace CO2 producing plants with cleaner wind plants…and being part of the EU they have the economic ability to do so if it’s viable). Why aren’t they doing so? Why is China building a huge amount of NEW coal fired plants if wind is viable, so cheap and scalable? Why is France still so heavily reliant on nuclear if it isn’t viable?

They ‘presume’ that because it is reality. Energy needs world wide are exploding. Everyone needs more and more energy every year. It is unrealistic to think that we are suddenly going to simply stagnate and use only the capacity that we currently have here in the US or in Europe…let alone in places like China or India. Energy is what drives our modern civilization, it’s what drives our economy and it drives every aspect of our lives…and it is doubtful to me that short of stagnation or regression of our civilization will we ever need less of it. YMMV.


The French gov’t heavily subsidizes nuclear power generation though, without that I don’t think it would successfully compete against fossil fuels.

The French government heavily subsidizes nearly everything. :slight_smile: But good point. I don’t know how competitive their nuclear program would be without that. As I said in the post above, if we are looking at this from a purely economic perspective without worrying about CO2 emissions or other factors than coal is the clear winner. Once we start looking at those other factors though I think nuclear becomes more viable.

In fact, I can’t think of anything else that can realistically scale up to replace coal.


This can never be said enough. With minimal processing and wait time, the “waste” from a nuclear plant can be stored safely in the middle of nowhere until we need it. White Sands has lots of room. We don’t want to get rid of the stuff forever…who knows what use we’ll find for it in a decade or three? Just stick it in the middle of the desert and stop worrying about it.

Edit : nm

I see the OP’s in Chicago. If he wants an example of a clean efficient nuclear power system, he need only drive due east through Indiana and lower Michigan and cross the Canadian border at Detroit/Windsor. He’ll be in CANDU country, where Ontarians get half their power from nuclear. He might even be able to tour one of the facilities, though he’ll have to book well in advance.

That’s a very misleading statistic. You can add up all kinds of worldwide energy sources and come up with huge numbers. Just for yucks, go look up how much energy is generated by worldwide ocean currents or tides. Or the sum total of the world’s geothermal energy. Trully massive amounts of energy are out there.

The big question is how much of it is available in usable form. For wind to be cost-effective, it has to be harnessed in a place where there are constant steady high velocity winds. For offshore wind power, it has to be located in areas of reasonably shallow water in areas where there is no shipping traffic and reasonable proximity to the power grid. There just aren’t that many places like this, and when people have tried to build wind power plants in suitable areas, they’ve met stiff opposition from the NIMBY crowd. Such a crowd, including the Kennedys, managed to scuttle a perfectly viable wind power station off the coast of Nantucket.

Most analysts who look at viable sources of wind power have concluded that wind won’t realistically provide more than a few percentage points of our power needs, ever. The numbers I recall are in the 3-5% range. That would cover about one year’s growth in energy consumption, then we’d be back to making as much power from non-wind resources as we are today.

This hand-waving about efficiency gains needs to have some hard numbers behind it. What are the costs of making the energy infrastructure more efficient? Do you have any idea? How much power is out there to be reclaimed? How much more efficient can we make the consumption infrastructure?

The answer is not as much as you’d think. The low-hanging fruit has long been picked. What’s left is the expensive stuff. There’s no question that improving efficiency today will raise our energy costs - otherwise we’d already have done it.

CFL bulbs and 35 mpg cars can help a bit, as can Energy Star appliances and more efficient computers and other small gains. But in the end, even if we manage to make a 10% or 20% improvement in our energy consumption, all that will do is kick the problem down the road a few years.

In the meantime, you need to understand that oil is a fungible resource that trades on a world market, and therefore there is a bad feedback loop in place that will punish efficiency. Specifically, if we could manage to make our energy consumption 50% lower, that would drive down the price of oil and reward those who still burn it inefficiently. And if our efficiency raises our cost of doing busines, it will have the effect of driving businesses into countries with less energy efficiency and dirtier technology - exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.

The energy situation is extremely difficult, and there are no simple solutions. Certainly there are no fixes to be had in any meaningful sense from conservation and wind/solar power.

This is why many environmentalists have actually changed their tune and are now supporting nuclear power. Once you take off the rose colored glasses and look at the problem in the cold light of reason, it really doesn’t look like there are any alternatives. Waiting for fusion or for wind/solar to take over, or demanding that the world stop using energy is sacrificing the good for the sake of the perfect. You’re not going to get what you want, so the options are to accept nuclear or accept that we’re going to continue burning fossil fuel.

How can you just toss off that statement? Do you have some numbers to back it up? How much will the ‘easy thing’ cost? What are you talking about, anyway? Carbon sequestration?

Says who? Do you have a cite that shows the cost breakdown for this? Who’s planning to do it?

From this cite, Wind Energy is said to cost between 5 and 10 cents per kW/h. From this cite, nuclear shows up at around 3 cents per kW/h. Costs vary for both technologies, of course. Some claim that wind is slightly cheaper than nuclear when used in highly efficient locations. There’s no way wind power is cheaper if you have to produce so much of it that you have to locate wind turbines in non-optimal locations.

I cited the time to build a nuclear reactor in a discussion a little while ago. Various plants average from 3-5 years to build, depending on the technology. The reason U.S. plants have taken much longer is because construction is constantly halted by an endless stream of lawsuits and regulatory demands foisted on the industry by anti-nuclear activists. This drives up costs and delays, then the anti-nuke people use those high costs as ‘proof’ that nuclear is non-competitive.

Nuclear power makes more sense in North America because the US and Canada have a butt-load of unused land. We have a tremendous resource in physical space that can be used to isolate both the power plant and the spent fuel. The technology is already proven and reliable. Solar panels are not cost effective yet but it’s coming. Wind generation is great unless you try to park one of the whirling monstrosities within eyesight of a legacy Senator. Don’t know why somebody hasn’t figured out how to combine cell phone and microwave towers with a propeller but what do I know. Why have 1 eyesore when you can have 2.

Just spitballing here, but microwave towers are covered with precisely-aligned parabolic dishes, lined up with the dishes on other towers, to form the network. Putting a big spinny propeller on top would make the tower vibrate, gradually misaligning the dishes, wouldn’t it?

My WAG is…no. The towers themselves are going to get some sway just from wind…I seriously doubt that a well tuned wind generator is going to distort the tower any more than it would anyway.

I would say it is the cost that would be prohibitive, to attemp to rhetrofit all that functionality into a tower not designed for it. But I don’t think vibration and mis-allignment would be a factor.

JMHO…I’m not a cell/microwave engineer and most of my experience is in the 802.11 field as far as wireless goes.


The cost of nuclear power never really levels off. Nuclear power plants are absurdly expensive to maintain, just from a technical standpoint; if you ever get the chance to visit one, you really must. The complexity of the thing is staggering, the manpower needed to run one immense, and it consumes resources almsot constantly. Nuclear energy IS expensive, more expensive than fossil fuels… now.

Having said that, I support building more plants because while it may be more expensive now, in the long term its price is more or less certain, and will eventually cost less - including directs, indirects and externalities - than fossil fuels. We’re going to start running out of oil, but there’s enough uranium around to last for centuries and centuries.

As it stands today,l in the long term it would seem the most logical source of more energy is uranium. Obviously it is possible that at some point in the future, practical means will be invented to harness the energy of either the sun (solar, wind) or moon (tidal power.) That seems a long way off, though, so I say, fire up the nukes.

The other thing is that people have this idea that nuclear power plants are fundamentally unsafe to operate, and that’s not the case. Chernobyl was a badly designed and constructed plant that got out of control because the engineers were undertrained. Nothing happened at Three Mile Island because the safeties worked. The final government damage report concluded that the total excess cancer deaths from radiation released from Three Mile island is one. One death! A single coal plant releases more radiation from thorium and uranium in the coal into the air than Three Mile Island ever has. And I’ll bet very few people in this thread can even name the third-biggest nuclear power accident in world history.*

It’s true that the US does have a dearth of qualified nuclear power engineers. It’s because we haven’t built a new plant in decades and no one bothers to train them. If you can get a plant online in 2-4 years, you can probably train enough new engineers to run the place in that time. Or if you’re not comfortable doing that, go to France and hire some qualified ones.

And yes, wind is cheap where it’s efficient. It’ll get even cheaper as the producers of windmills expand their operations; the cost of windpower is inflated right now by the fact that demand for green power outstrips the supply of windmills. But it’s not efficient everywhere, and the things are an eyesore. Wind power will always be a player in the energy market, but it’ll never be the major one because there’s simply not enough places to put the windmills that don’t mess with bird migration, shipping lanes, or else don’t have constant enough wind.

Solar’s just not going to be cheap enough barring a major breakthrough in technology. And I don’t think there’s a good way to predict that.

*The third-largest civilian nuclear power accident was the Windscale fire in Britain in the 50s. No deaths. They lost the milk production of a couple counties for a month. No big deal.

Locking in an alignment wouldn’t be much of an engineering feat.

What we’re really talking about are independent industries. It would be like mixing the phone company with cable…

They’re working on thin-film solar cells and also a process that can be painted on. I would expect something in a decade or so. I’d rather spend money on a power plant for my roof then just a bunch of landfill shingles.

Of course who build these things. Halliburton ,KBR etc. Nuclear plants are legendary for cost overruns. Seabrook budgeted at 2 bill cost 5. The manufacturers are in a constant war with regulators. and try to bleed taxpayers for more and more money.
The plant manufactures are getting bills pushed to limit their liabilities before they start building again. This is a story fron Scotland which has nuclear power. They claim due to the high cost of producing plants ,they have a drive to keep them in service too long. It talks of piping cracks and problems that keep shutting them down. Many in Scotland are urging non nuclear replacement.

I hope that last bit is a joke, cuz my phone company offers TV over DSL, and my cable company offers local phone service over cable.