Twilight of nuclear power?

The Economist is characterizing it as “the dream that failed.” Is that too harsh a judgment?

03/15/2012


This week, which began with the first anniversary of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan and resulting nuclear plant melt-downs, The Economist is running a very interesting special section on nuclear power under the banner, “the dream that failed.” While it’s well worth reading in its entirety, the section suggests that nuke plants will continue to run (with exceptions such as Japan and Germany), but few new ones will be built (with exceptions such as China).

This decline will be related to cost and politics more than safety. Ultimately one of the things that will reduce its practicality is the fact that it is so huge and expensive. While it might be possible to build a wind turbine with an untried design, or even a coal-fired plant with an experimental super-duper-ultra-critical boiler, such an experimental approach is simply not practical for a nuke plant. There is so much money at stake, anything that gets built has to work and make back the cost. This makes technical innovation very slow. Current estimates suggest that a nuclear plant costs five- to 10-times the equivalent generating capacity using combined-cycle gas turbines. Who is going to build a new plant in the U.S. with that kind of cost? Can a utility justify $9,000 per kW for a new plant? Would you loan money to a utility so it could launch a nuke plant project?

Compared to the rest of the world, China is going crazy with new construction. But even at their break-neck pace, by 2020 less than 5% of domestic generation will be nuclear. Let’s hope the builders learned from the companies that built substandard schools that pancaked during the earthquakes in Sichuan. Countries that do not have fully transparent permitting and inspection mechanisms (which applies to Japan as we learned after the tsunami), aren’t the greatest candidates for expanding nuclear construction, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping China.

Ultimately the arguments come down to one point: nuclear power is good for reliable base-loaded generation free of global warming consequences. It is really the only technology that can make that statement, which makes it difficult to dismiss entirely. The possibilities of renewables are limited. When we reach the end of that approach, we will still have to look at fossil fuels or nuclear. It will take a hefty carbon tax on fossil fuels and cheaper nuclear plants to close the huge cost gap. All energy will be more expensive as a result, and maybe it should be.



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
The true cost of lubrication: Three keys to consider when evaluating oils; Plant Engineering Lubrication Guide; 11 ways to protect bearing assets; Is lubrication part of your KPIs?
Contract maintenance: 5 ways to keep things humming while keeping an eye on costs; Pneumatic systems; Energy monitoring; The sixth 'S' is safety
Transport your data: Supply chain information critical to operational excellence; High-voltage faults; Portable cooling; Safety automation isn't automatic
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Synchronizing industrial Ethernet networks; Selecting protocol conversion gateways; Integrating HMIs with PLCs and PACs
Why manufacturers need to see energy in a different light: Current approaches to energy management yield quick savings, but leave plant managers searching for ways of improving on those early gains.

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.