Archive for the ‘nuclear power’ Category

Why are nuclear plants so expensive? Safety’s only part of the story

November 21st, 2020
Image of two power plant cooling towers.

Enlarge (credit: US DOE)

Should any discussion of nuclear power go on for long enough, it becomes inevitable that someone will rant that the only reason they've become unaffordable is a proliferation of safety regulations. The argument is rarely (if ever) fleshed out—no specific regulation is ever identified as problematic, and there seems to be no consideration given to the fact that we might have learned something at, say, Fukushima that might merit addressing through regulations.

But there's now a paper out that provides some empirical evidence that safety changes have contributed to the cost of building new nuclear reactors. But the study also makes clear that they're only one of a number of factors, accounting for only a third of the soaring costs. The study also finds that, contrary to what those in the industry seem to expect, focusing on standardized designs doesn't really help matters, as costs continued to grow as more of a given reactor design was built.

More of the same

The analysis, done by a team of researchers at MIT, is remarkably comprehensive. For many nuclear plants, they have detailed construction records, broken out by which building different materials and labor went to, and how much each of them cost. There's also a detailed record of safety regulations and when they were instituted relative to construction. Finally, they've also brought in the patent applications filed by the companies who designed the reactors. The documents describe the motivations for design changes and the problems those changes were intended to solve.

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Posted in construction, Energy, nuclear power, science | Comments (0)

Evacuation of village near explosion of nuclear cruise-missile engine called off

August 14th, 2019
Evacuation of village near explosion of nuclear cruise-missile engine called off

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

In the wake of an apparent explosion of the nuclear-powered engine of an experimental cruise missile, the Russian government has reportedly evacuated residents of a nearby village. According to local media, residents of Nyonoska, the site of a Russian missile testing facility, were told to evacuate and that a "special" passenger train would move residents to a safe distance during some sort of military operation—possibly an effort to retrieve the nuclear reactor involved in the accident. But just hours before that evacuation was to take place, the Russian government cancelled the operation.

On August 13, Russian news outlet TV 29 reported that residents of Nyonoska were saying that they had been told they would be evacuated from 5am to 7am local time today, in what TV 29 jokingly referred to as "a new stage in the development of Arctic tourism." Authorities in Severodvinsk told Interfax that the movement of civilians was because of "planned activities" at the Nyonoska testing range. But that evening, acting head of Severodvinsk, Irina Sakharova, said that the activities were called off and that "everything is to be carried out in a regular, planned mode."

After the accident on August 8, radiation levels in the village were reported to be three times the normal background levels (to borrow a phrase, this is not great but not terrible). A similar spike was seen in the nearby city of Severodvinsk.

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Posted in Biz & IT, nuclear accident, nuclear jet engine, nuclear power, Nyonoska, Policy, Russian cruise missile | Comments (0)

Hypocritical Ohio law links nuke support to coal subsidies, cuts off renewables

July 24th, 2019
Image of a nuclear power plant.

Enlarge / One of Ohio's nuclear power plants. (credit: Ohio State Senate)

The incredibly low prices of new renewable and natural gas generators have made it difficult for some traditional generating plants to stay in business. That's mostly good news for the climate, as the majority of plants that are shuttering burn coal, the most polluting source of energy we use. But they've also hit nuclear power hard, which is bad news from the perspective of carbon emissions.

The risk of having to close nuclear plants has led their owners to ask the federal government for a bailout, a move that initially gained some traction but has since stalled out. With that effort ground to a halt, the state of Ohio has stepped in to pass a law that will see state ratepayers subsidize a nuclear plant operator. But the bill steps into spectacularly misguided territory by also subsidizing coal plants, cutting funding for efficiency programs, and lowering the state's renewable energy standards.

What to subsidize?

The law had been sent back and forth between the House and Senate and was the subject of heavy lobbying, so both its final form and its passage had been uncertain (a Senate draft reveals extensive revisions). In part, it places new charges on the bills of all Ohio ratepayers. One will provide a subsidy to First Energy, the company that had been asking the federal government for a bailout as it faces bankruptcy. The primary beneficiary of this subsidy will be First Energy's two aging nuclear plants, which have been struggling to turn a profit in the changed energy landscape.

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Posted in efficiency, Energy, nuclear power, renewable energy, science, wind power | Comments (0)