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.


First Katrina. Now Rita

No these ain’t my girlfriends ! Well i wish but i am talking about the hurricanes which have rocked the coasts of US in the past few weeks. In another 72 hours, i am about to see a real hurricane passing through College Station, a hurricane which could totally engulf the whole state of Florida in its size. Hurricane Rita has been issued as a Category Five hurricane. It probably might become Category Two by the time it reaches here, but right now, she’s devastatingly beautiful and intense.

Watch this picture, of the eye of the Hurricane Rita.

Let me quote some specifics about a Category Five hurricane. Here you go.

Winds greater than 155 mph (greater than 135 kt or 249 km/hr). Barometric Pressure Below 920 mb (Below 27.17 in) Storm surge generally greater than 18 ft above normal. Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage. Low-lying escape routes are cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the center of the hurricane. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 ft above sea level and within 500 yards of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5-10 miles (8-16 km) of the shoreline may be required.

And that my friend, is intensity. That is nature’s sheer sneeze. Nature’s way of reacting to the cruelty being done to her by burning more and more fossil fuels, destroying the natural cycles, industrialization, population explosion, forest invasion, disrupting eco-balance and more things which we unknowingly affect her in different ways.

I wish we could realize the effects and reduce the usage of such methods. It probably is a futile effort to pursue anything right now at this stage because the earth would not even begin to react the change for another 50 years or so. But better late than never. Right !

Anyway, out of the context, the insane mind in me wishes that i could see such a hurricane in action at its full intensity. I might chicken out if i do see it but hey, how will i know that until i witness it ?!

You can track the advance of Hurricane Rita here. Also there is a nice animation showing the path of the hurricane.

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.


The Nine Billion Names Of God

One nice short story after a long time. You’ve gotta read this.

Here’s a excerpt from the story.

You ever wonder why Google doesn’t cache it’s own searches?

They program around it.

No. That’s what you think. That’s what everyone thinks. But it started back when Google was just a thesis project, back when it was just a drop in the data sea. No one thought to stop it back then. That web site you had, the one you forgot about. Almost everyone’s got one of those, right? But Google doesn’t forget. Google’s studied that thing so many times that it’s studied its own caches of you. What do you figure happens, when a site gets so big that it’s bigger than the internet?

It’s still a part of the internet, though.

No. Now, the internet is a part of Google.

Cool !


4D Cube

A very interesting, perspective invoking picture of a 4D cube. Well ironically, its name is still a Cube in 4D.

Here’s a 4-D visualization of the cube in a raytraced Povray version of the picture.

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Check out this site for more interesting trivia, facts and pictures related to math !

Sines And Cosines are history !

I am not drunk and babbling gibberish. This is news. One fundamental theory which aims to make the use of trigonometry easier and more accurate. Proposed by Dr Norman Wildberger, a professor at University of New South Wales, this theory replaces angles to which we are so much used to by now, with a concept called as ‘spread’.

Here’s an excerpt from an article about this theory.

Established by the ancient Greeks and Romans, trigonometry is used in surveying, navigation, engineering, construction and the sciences to calculate the relationships between the sides and vertices of triangles.

“Generations of students have struggled with classical trigonometry because the framework is wrong,” says Wildberger, whose book is titled Divine Proportions: Rational Trigonometry to Universal Geometry (Wild Egg books).

Dr Wildberger has replaced traditional ideas of angles and distance with new concepts called “spread” and “quadrance”.

These new concepts mean that trigonometric problems can be done with algebra,” says Wildberger, an associate professor of mathematics at UNSW.

He has also written a book called ‘The Divine Proportions : Rational Trigonometry to Universal Geometry‘ by N J Wildberger. There is a chapter available for preview.

On first look, the concepts are straightforward in a logical sense. But i do not see how it simplifies and eliminates the calculations that are presently being done with sines and cosines. Well that’s just me and i could be wrong ! Maybe this is a revolutionary theory that is going to change how we look at things in the future.

Premiere de Cocktail

The first cocktail ever made was in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago, using wine, beer, apple juice and honey. Patrick McGovern defined the mix as “grog”, an archaic drink in the United States is sold as the “Midas Touch”. McGovern, a University Professor at Pennsylvania, one of the most important authorities in chemistry applied in archaeology, presented the results of a research on the banks of the Tigris between Iran and Iraq. This was said at the first day of the international convention on the archaeological study of wine organised in Scansano (Grosseto), land of the Morellino, by the City of Wine National Association and the University of Siena. In his report, McGovern spoke of the history of the evolution of wine-making in the east and west, giving analyses that prove how in some terracotta containers found on the banks of the Tigris river there were traces of tartaric acid (obtained during grape fermentation), honey, apples and fermented barley (used in beer). ‘Grog’ was also used by Etruscans, as can be proved through some containers found in southern Tuscany. The convention highlighted that the sylvan grapes were present in Etruria 6,000 years ago, much before the Greeks’ wine culture. Basically the Etruscans knew wine, so its use could have been already known before the Greeks in the Mediterranean. (AGI) .


Wow, cool. Did anyone know that there is an archaeological study of wine ?? It is just amazing what people end up doing for a lifetime. And yeah, next time i’m in a bar, I’m going to try the Midas Touch. I think it is going to be one sweet drink !


Birthday and a heart breaking meal

On the eve of my birthday, with a sambar rice in hand, beer to go with it, destiny it seems, i had to see this particular post. How unfortunate and masochistically delicious.


Do i miss that Gulti food and full meals ? Hell yeah. If you ask me, nothing like it. Those who still have the chance, rejoice it for me too. You probably do not comprehend what you are missing !

Anyway, adios. I am one more year older today. Sob. Sob.