Nuclear Exceptionalism

With little fanfare it was just announced that the Watts Bar II reactor in Tennessee is going to be $2 billion over budget and at least 3 years late.  This follows the long and reliable pattern of delays and blown budgets for reactor construction projects, especially in the US.  Also now all the 3rd generation reactors being built in western Europe (Finland and France) are seriously late and cost overrun. [i have been corrected by my outlaw co-dad JanH, this reactors is three years later than it's most recent completion estimate of 2012, actually this reactor was started in the 1970s and is by all rights over 25 years late in completion.]

We have been assured by senior TVA senior management that when the project is completed the power will be cost effective.  Nuclear power is the most expensive form of power in widespread use today.  It wont be cost effective and they know it.

From Amory Lovins powerful critique “Forget Nuclear”

When the project was initiated TVA said that the plan was “aggressive but doable”.  This is how nuclear projects are always pitched, so that when you fail to make these projections the managers can come back with excuses and get more money.  After the first few billion are thrown in, it is very hard to stop these projects, because the utility does not want to loose the sunk costs.

TVA says there are two regulatory unknowns that could either slow things down further or increase costs. New precautions may be required following the disaster in Fukushima, Japan. And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it won’t license new reactors until there’s a long-term plan for the spent fuel.   Both of which could cause expensive delays, despite NRCs promises to the contrary.

If you were to ask someone who constructs natural gas facilities how long they would keep their job if they were 100% overrun and years late, you would not get a quick answer, because they would have to stop laughing first.  A huge deal was made out of Solyndra Inc bankruptcy and then defaulting on a $528 million.  Just the overruns for this reactor will be more than 4 times this amount and no one at TVA will even get fired.

In the US, it is looking increasingly like nuclear power cant be built unless there are favorable federal government loan guarantees, a regulated (aka not free) market and ratepayers who can be billed for the project  years before it produces any power (often called NCR for nuclear cost recovery).  The good news is that in Florida seems to be changing its mind about NCR, lawmakers from both major parties who originally supported nuclear projects are now attacking them.  One of the largest non-profit organizations in the US, AARP, just filed a friend of the court brief opposing NCR in Florida.

And the new reactor construction which is going on in Georgia is over budget, they are just hiding it for now.

So hold on to your hats here for a moment and lets review.

  • Nuclear power cant exist in the US without the Federal government insuring it against accidents.  No other industry has this type of protection.
  • Nuclear power cant exist in the US unless the responsibility for its highly toxic waste is handled by the government.  There is no solution in sight for this problem currently, since Yucca Mountain has been closed.
  • Nuclear power cant exist if market forces are at play.  No reactors are built with private money.
  • Nuclear power plants are natural targets for terrorist and other attacks.
  • Nuclear power plants are weapons proliferation risks.
  • Nuclear power is not an effective climate solution (see the videos below).
  • The rest of the world is turning away from nuclear power.
So why do we build reactors?  Because if you throw enough many at anything, some criminals will come out and play with you.

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About paxus calta

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found on Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

8 responses to “Nuclear Exceptionalism”

  1. Jan Haverkamp says :

    I keep being surprised about these announcements. What do they mean “3 years delayed”. Groundwork started in 1972 / 1973… Watts Bar II is the US’s Cernavoda 3,4 project – a second generation reactor being flogged to life in a time that we know second generation safety features are not sufficient…

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