The pendulum swings back toward nuclear power

Article By Charles Stein

I spent more years than I would care to admit writing about the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. The Seabrook story was exhausting, but it taught me a valuable lesson: When it comes to energy, especially the price of energy, the future is very hard to see.

Seabrook was conceived in the late 1960s, a time of great optimism about nuclear power. Nuclear plants, the utilities promised, would produce electricity that was ”too cheap to meter.” When oil prices shot up in the 1970s, eventually reaching the unheard of price of $30 a barrel, Seabrook had another selling point: it would reduce New England’s dependence on costly foreign oil.

Things turned out differently. Like many of the nuclear plants in that era, Seabrook ran into engineering and political problems. Construction advanced at a snail’s pace. Every year, the plant’s estimated cost got higher and its completion date got pushed further into the future. When Seabrook finally went on line in 1990, its price tag had reached $6 billion.

The owners had to eat some of that money, because regulators refused to pass the costs along to consumers. Changes in the price of oil made Seabrook’s economics even worse. By 1990 oil was selling for less than $23 a barrel and the price fell even lower in the years that followed.

The verdict was clear: Nuclear power was a financial disaster; oil was a bargain.

Fast-forward to today. In case you hadn’t noticed, the price of oil has gone up a lot — to about $64 a barrel. The price of natural gas — the most popular fuel source in New England’s power plants — has gone up even more sharply. Utilities that venture out to buy electricity in the spot market are paying three times as much for power as they did a year ago. Consumers could pay about 20 percent more for electricity this winter, largely because of higher oil and gas prices.

And those ”white elephant” nuclear plants like Seabrook? It turns out they are sitting in the catbird seat. Their steep initial costs have been written off over time. Their cost of fuel is minuscule, according to Steven Taub, an executive at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting firm. Even with all other costs thrown in, nuclear plants today produce power at less than half the cost of plants that burn natural gas or oil.

Like the Saudi Arabians, the owners of nuclear plants have plenty of cheap power that they can sell at high prices in deregulated energy markets, earning big profits in the process. Many of the plants, Seabrook included, were purchased by new owners in recent years who paid relatively little for the assets. In 2002, FPL Energy, a Florida company, bought a controlling interest in Seabrook for $836 million. ”In today’s market, many of those plants are worth significantly more,” Taub said.

The verdict is clear: Nuclear power is a bargain; oil and gas are a financial disaster.

There are plenty of specialists around who are firmly convinced that high oil and gas prices are here to stay. Richard Lester suggests we should be wary about such pronouncements. “Smart people don’t get this right,” said Lester, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of nuclear science and engineering. In 2003, Lester and some colleagues wrote a report on the future of nuclear power. They assumed natural gas prices — the main competition — would stay in a range of $3 to $6 per million BTUs. Last week natural gas was selling for more than $12 per million BTUs.

The solution here is obvious: We need to be diversified. Investors spread their bets around because they don’t know which stocks will do well and which will do poorly. We need to do the same with sources of energy because, in truth, we don’t have a clue what will happen to their prices in the future. The cheap may become expensive and the expensive cheap.

When it comes to the energy future, a little humility goes a long way.

— Right on the head.

Global Warming Dilemma : Coal or Nuclear?

A very sensible article which analyzes the different sources of energy currently available and the options that are feasible to meet the growing energy needs. If you are an environmentalist at heart, you should read it and understand the current situation.

An excerpt from the article.

As usual, environmentalists are assuring everyone it can be done with renewables like wind, solar, and other alternative energies.
But there is no myth more damaging in diverting the nation’s attention from its energy problems. The universe has been pretty well explored by now there aren’t any alternative energies sitting around waiting to be discovered. We know all about solar radiation, about the winds that are driven by its heat (in conjunction with the earth’s rotation), about rivers and streams and how they can be harnessed to produce electricity. We also know about the chemical energy that is stored in the electrons at the periphery of the atom and can be tapped by burning organic compounds. And we know about the much more powerful energies that lie at the nucleus of the atom.

Well said my man ! The author nailed it right on the head. When will the people realize that it is already late and we need to start making changes today, if we desire to bring the Earth back from its brink of disaster. Wake up people. Wake up.

Solar power, Hydro-electricity and Wind power are not very dependable sources of energy and for any country, developed or developing, with a hunger for lots of electricity and power, there is no other feasible way than to tap into Nuclear Power which promises safe, clean and almost limitless power.

Go Nuclear. Save earth.

PS : If you liked the above article, then you might also like another article i linked to recently which is on the same lines with more arguments. Read it.

Indo-French joint work on Nuclear Power

Read an article on “France agrees to cooperate with India on nuclear power technology“.

I see that our PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh has made nuclear energy one of his prime priorities. Check out an excerpt from the article.

Keeping global energy requirements in mind and the necessity to combat global warming, India and France recognize the need to strengthen energy security and promote the development of stable, sustainable, efficient and affordable energy sources in order to meet their growing energy requirements. Both sides also recognize that nuclear energy provides a safe, environmental friendly and sustainable source of energy and the need to further develop international co-operation in promoting the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

France acknowledges the need for full international civilian nuclear co-operation with India and will work towards this objective by working with other countries and the NSG and by deepening bilateral co-operation.

France appreciated India’s strong commitment to preventing WMD proliferation and the ongoing steps it is taking in this regard. In this context, both countries will also work towards conclusion of a bilateral nuclear co-operation agreement.

After the recent trip to Washington in July, this new collaboration is definitely going to take India, up a notch in terms of nuclear power. The potential opening of nuclear power business between India and US has allowed other Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) members like France to start active negotiations with India on supplying nuclear technology, and perhaps fuel as well. I would not be surprised if the next stop for Dr. Singh is Moscow. While I think that these are positive developments, I remain skeptical about how much the cooperation from both these nations is going to be extended keeping in mind the security aspect of the whole thing.

Well, only time will tell us the future scope of these collaborations. Let us see.

Nuclear Now !

A very indepth and thorough article which analyzes the current state of energy production and its detrimental effects on the environment. Then the article looks back into some of the unfortunate accidents that have happened in the past wrt nuclear power. Moving on from there, the author discusses the current state of affairs, the government’s effort to move in the right direction, the current state of research and development in nuclear industry and why, ‘Nuclear Now’ is going to be the only way out in a feasible manner.

Overall, it is a long, interesting article, with some very good arguments, statistics and comparisons that are down-right realistic. I recommend that anyone who is pro-nuclear and everyone who’s not, take a moment to read this to understand why it is necessary and an absolute priority to act on it right now.

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T-15 days

Exactly 15 more days left. I am feeling my guts churning out weird sounds and in queer ways. I am really scared about my qualifier exam. I guess, i am scared and excited, both at the same time. I don’t remember the last time i was this anxious to write an exam. Definitely not in REC or any of the other sem exams here. hmm. Maybe the IIT qualifiers after high school did come close. Anyway, this one is going to be different, i am sure and can’t wait to hit it head on.

Now officially, This is WAR.

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India to produce 40,000 MW nuclear power in 10 yrs

I read this just now on the online edition of Deccan Herald. Below is the whole detailed article (just in case if they remove the article).

India to produce 40,000 MW nuclear power in 10 yrs

Terming India’s nuclear energy agreement with the United States as a major success, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the country could generate 40,000 MW nuclear power in the next ten years following removal of constraints in the atomic energy programme.

“In my visit to the United States, we have managed to reduce some of the constraints which have been hampering the growth of our nuclear energy programme and in the next 10 years, in addition to the 1,50,000 MW of capacity being added in the thermal and hydro sectors, another 40,000 MW could be generated through nuclear energy,” he said.

The Prime Minister was speaking after unfurling the national flag at the Red Fort on the Independence Day here.

While stressing the importance of improving and creating more infrastructure for the country’s economic development, Dr Singh said shortage of electricity was a major inconvenience and there was need to ensure rapid power generaton.

Apart from the ambitious plan to boost power generation, the government has also drawn up an elaborate plan to modernise Railways, “so that our Railways become one of the best in the world,” he said.

Mr Singh said a dedicated freight corridor was being developed between Delhi-Kolkata and Delhi-Mumbai with an investment of over Rs 25,000 crore. Besides, the development of the national highways was progressing at a rapid pace. The work on an additional 30,000 km of highways has begun and soon six-laning of the Golden Quadrilateral will start, said the Prime Minister.

There has also been tremendous progress in civil aviation, and world class airports were being constructed in many cities. Besides ports are being modernised and many new ones are under construction, he said.

The Prime Minister stressed the need for balanced regional development while creating more infrstructure.

“In this new phase of development, we are acutely aware that all regions of the country should develop at the same pace. It is unacceptable for us to see any region of the country left behind other regions in this quest for development,” he said, adding that “we will also focus on the development of our border areas. We will ensure that these regions are provided basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity and telephone connectivity in the next three to four years.”

— My 2 cents on the article. This is great news owing to the fact that India is becoming better and more modernized in many of the aspects that i had a grudge on !

For example, after seeing the roads over here in US, i had always wished that such roads and road-sense were common place in India. Now, the Golden Quadrilateral seems to be one step in that direction. The next step would be to enforce strict laws with speed limits, better road signs and to educate people about driving more responsibly. Probably stricter rules with get us there but it might take quite some time to enforce with all the corruption that goes on. Also, the improvement of the infrastructure in the coastal regions is a good move after all the damage that the recent Tsunami and the floods have caused. We need to be better prepared to face such brutalities of nature because she ain’t getting softer and we are still slowly killing it, as i write.

Lastly, as the title states, the most critical and important information in the article is the improvement in the energy production. I did read that the Dr. Manmohan Singh’s talks with President Bush did go on well but was not entirely sure about the results. It is clearer from the article that US will be supporting India further in terms of technology and to help build more reactors to support the country’s energy needs. Personally, i couldn’t be more happier ! More the reactors, better the oppurtunities for research and more available jobs. Yeah i know. I am a self centered selfish bastard 😉

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Abdul Kalam – He is the man !

John Ellis, another theoretical physicist, whose blog i came across at Quantum Diaries, writes about his experience with our beloved President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam !

Well there is not much in the post but this following excerpt from the post conveys my point !

This week we had contacts with high-level representatives of a couple of non-member countries that are participating strongly in the LHC programme. Last Wednesday CERN was visited by the President of India, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. Born into a modest fishing family, he studied science, then became a rocket engineer and the father of the Indian missile and satellite programmes. He met Indian teams working at CERN to test LHC magnets and on Grid software, as well as the usual CERN bigwigs. He is the first head of state I have met who knows about the Standard Model of elementary particles !

I loved that last line … Believe me, you have no idea how great that feeling can be … If you are a coder, try explaining the intricacies of your code and design to your manager. And if he does understand you perfectly well, then you will know what i am talking about 😉

On a sidenote, I have always admired Dr. Kalam for his initiative in making India a better and technologically (well specifically in military science !) competent country in the recent past. I have read about some of his contributions to the Indian nuclear industry and heard real life narration of some of the tests that he spearheaded at Pokhran which decisively gave India the respect it deserved. He is the czar of Indian technology and science and has worked on the Space, Missile and Nuclear aspects of technology. Bloody cool huh ?! And now, in his new role as the president of India, he sure as hell is striving hard to improve the quality of education in India to make it a better and learned country. Someday soon, his dreams of making India into a technological superpower will be realized … Three cheers to that !!!

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Yet another energy creator

Read an article today “Chemist Tries to Solve World’s Energy Woes” at Livescience. Chemist Dr. Daniel Nocera at MIT is trying to use the bountiful energy in sunlight to split water into its basic components, hydrogen and oxygen.

Well the research is still underway and is probably far from being complete but there could be some potential here. If it works, is practical and feasible, then in the future, we might be able to use something like this. Although i very seriously doubt the use of sunlight as a perpetual energy source for such a reaction, i would love to be proved wrong.

Here is an excerpt from the article where Dr. Nocera talks about future energy needs.

Nocera cites a calculation by Caltech chemist Nathan Lewis that power demands in 2050 will be so great that just to keep carbon dioxide emissions at twice preindustrial levels, a nuclear plant would have to be built every two days. There’s not enough room on the planet’s surface for other widely touted solutions such as wind and biomass to have much impact.

I seriously do not know on why people are so skeptical about the use of nuclear energy for producing power. It is much much safer and foolproof than it used to be; We can get almost limitless and perpetual energy if we produce fuel rods in Breeder reactors; It is environmentally friendly and clean. History has taught us a bad lesson about reactors but isn’t it time to move forward and think about how not to repeat the history by making advanced safety measures to avoid any kind of catastrophe. And safety is one of the important aspects that we are being taught. The end result is not just about producing power but to produce clean, safe power. And we are getting there …

I for one, strongly believe that reactors are the cleanest answer available to us to meet all the energy needs of the future. It is vital to realize this fact and start building reactors and reduce the usage of fossil fuels as much as possible before we end up imposing doom on ourselves soon. But oh well since economics and politics are involved in this earth saving venture, i know that we will wait until the situation that Norcera portrays in the excerpt is reached …