Thursday, 10 March 2016

Why is nuclear power so expensive?

Nuclear power is stuck in the past by rules and red tape. I don’t just mean nuclear regulations. Another reason technologies can’t advance is that anti-proliferators all but outlaw them.

  • Regulators obsessing over infinitesimally small radiation emissions which they claim are carcinogenic. When US built its nuclear fleet the AEC ran nuclear power with a dual mandate: to ensure safe nuclear plants were economically built. In respose to coal-industry lobbying, in 1974, the NRC took over regulation with a mission to "maximize safety". Even today, US regulators court radiophobes like Ian Fairlie. Tying up the nuclear industry in knots and spreading radiophobia seems to have been the NRC's main job. Since their formation, only 4 new nuclear plants have been licensed in USA.

    The notion that there's no safe dose of radiation is a hypothesis, pretending to be scientific theory. It's not backed by facts. More evidence contradicts the notion than supports it. In fact tiny amounts of radiation do not cause cancer and everyone has latent cancer cells on their body. A weak or suppressed immune system causes cancer.
  • The killer: Labour time. Nuclear power workers are relatively well-paid but spend an awful lot of time doing non-productive work. Bernard Cohen has a nice graph in his book. Here's a modified version of that chart. Notice a steep increase in labour costs from 1981 to 1983. Costs doubled.
  • Materials. NPP materials are specified to meet only the highest standards. Like military-grade materials, only squared; gold-plated materials, platinum-plated. New components must be custom-made, or made with very short production runs which can't take advantage of economies of scale.
  • The “cradle to grave” fuel cycle imposed on all Western countries by anti-proliferator rules. Companies like AREVA and Westinghouse make nuclear fuel and help ensure it can’t be diverted for A- or dirty bomb use. It’s a nice earner for them - cartel-wise. “Cradle to grave” means the responsible people are always in control of the fuel material, even after use. Another cosy agreement the mainstream nuclear industry made with government to cripple nuclear power by forcing everyone into the straight-jackets of cradle-to-grave, and conventional PWR uranium oxide pellet fuel.
  • Slowing advanced nuclear power down to a snail pace with rules and regulations over what materials can be used to make a reactor. The best materials can’t be used in molten salt reactors because they would take 15, or more, years to test and certify with the US regulatory agency. Nuke startups like Terrestrial Energy and ThorCon are reduced to inferior, but nuke-certified, stainless steel instead, if they want to see their designs in action before they die.
  • Lithium-7 is a good example. Li-7 is ideal for making molten salt reactors, MSR. These are, almost, a prerequisite for thorium reactors. Yet lithium is naturally a mixture of two isotopes: Li-7 and Li-6, in a ratio 12:1. Putting natural lithium in a reactor would result in the Li-6 making masses of tritium. It would waste a lot of neutrons too. No way would a regulator allow that. The isotopes must be separated. US Dept of Defence are not keen on you doing that. The old isotopic separation method used mercury. They won't allow you to do that today. You must develop a new isotopic separation technology, but if you tell anyone, the spooks will "have to kill you". Lithium-6 is considered a nuclear bomb proliferation risk because it can be used to make tritium (which is, officially, a H-bomb proliferation risk).
  • Likewise the Integral Fast Reactor was killed on very dubious anti-proliferation grounds. The myth that plutonium made in it was a bomb proliferation risk. IFR fuel recycling relied on a special development called pyroprocessing which IFR researcher(s) [e.g. Roger Blomquist] claim is only one seventh the cost of traditional, PUREX fuel recycling. Despite this massive cost advantage, we’ve seen no commercial development of pyroprocessing in over 20 years since it was prototyped in the EBR-II reactor.

Some of the above are just illustrative examples. Others are main causes. For the most part, private investors don't want to know. It's too expensive. We have regulated it out of existence, with many regulations based on myth and fear.

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