Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Nuclear energy in USA: why only 19%

Tags:
  1. Apr 1, 2015 #1
    Fukushima disaster aside, the USA has only 19% of its energy needs from nuclear plants: see here. Being a free energy, I wonder whether there are reasons, other than safety concerns, that prevents the US from depending more on nuclear energy?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2015 #2

    phinds

    User Avatar
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    Not sure how you get that it is "free energy" but it most certainly is not. The cost of building a safe nuclear reactor is HUGE and running/maintaining it is not trivial. They DO pay for themselves in the very long run, but the startup cost is very off-putting.

    The other reason is regulatory. I remember reading not too long ago that getting permission to build a nuclear power plant takes about 10 years, IF you can get it at all.
     
  4. Apr 1, 2015 #3
    I guess I meant that it is cheaper than other forms of energy, like oil or gas. But perhaps this depends on the exact price of these two.
     
  5. Apr 1, 2015 #4

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    No, it isn't (and never has been):

    http://www.brookings.edu/research/testimony/2012/04/~/media/Research/Images/0/123/0426_chart2.png [Broken]


    It once held promise to be cheap, but it has never been efficiently enough regulated to be cheap. A lot of that has to do with politics.

    So the basic answer to your question is that nuclear power is limited due to a combination of unfavorable economics and politics.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  6. Apr 2, 2015 #5

    wabbit

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    How are the social costs estimated here ? Not that they are irrelevant, but it would seem they must have huge error bars, no (*)? This might not affect the comparison that much though, in any case nuclear power isn't really cheap once you include building and safe disposal of various waste, and to see it broadly in line with other sources doesn't seem too surprising.

    On the other hand i am skeptical of the " new wind" position. At least where I live this is only viable because of heavy subsidies, and the most important factor in how much is built is the amount of subsidies (but then again I don't live in the US so different conditions).

    (*) or is that defined here as the amount of tax/subsidies imposed on a given industry?
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2015
  7. Apr 2, 2015 #6

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

  8. Apr 2, 2015 #7

    SteamKing

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Not only are the start up costs huge for a nuclear plant, but the operation of the reactors generates radioactive waste which must be stored long-term. There is no current central repository for the storage of this waste, primarily because no state or locality wants to host one.

    Like all man-made devices, reactors have a finite useful life, after which they must be shut down and dismantled, which is expensive and which creates more radioactive scrap material which cannot be re-cycled and must be stored long-term.
     
  9. Apr 2, 2015 #8

    wabbit

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

  10. Apr 2, 2015 #9

    Astronuc

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    The percentage of electricity generation that is nuclear dropped somewhat since we had the shutdown of San Onofre Units 2 and 3. Some older plants, e.g., Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee are shutdown due to economics.

    Startup costs for nuclear plants are quite high. O&M costs can be high as well, e.g., replacing steam generators that didn't last the life of the plant. Then there is the matter of spent fuel storage, which the government (DOE) was supposed to start taking in the 70s, then 80s, then . . . .

    In the 1970s, there were plans for over 200 nuclear plants, but then TMI-2 had an accident, and about 100 plants were cancelled. There were major construction problems at places like Zimmer, and Shoreham was completed, but only operated for several EFPD.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoreham_Nuclear_Power_Plant
     
  11. Apr 2, 2015 #10
    Thanks for the discussions. I was under the impression that nuclear power is the cheapest, now I think I got my facts straight. I expect that after Fukushima disaster, the use of nuclear power is going to be diminished...
     
  12. Apr 2, 2015 #11

    SteamKing

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    At one time, it was claimed that nuclear energy would produce electricity that was "too cheap to meter", but after a while, reality set in from the day to day problems arising from constructing, running, and eventually decommissioning numbers of nuclear plants.

    Although it takes teams of engineers and atomic scientists to design a nuke plant, the simple arithmetic of estimating whether a particular plant will generate a positive return on investment is probably the most difficult part of the project.
     
  13. Apr 2, 2015 #12

    phinds

    User Avatar
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    It already has, considerably. Japan and a couple of other countries have announced that they are going to eventually eliminate their nuclear power completely and in the US the regulatory hurtles have already made it pretty much a non-starter.
     
  14. Apr 2, 2015 #13

    Astronuc

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    From my experience, there are no regulatory hurdles. The process is pretty straightforward, one develops a design, and submits a PSAR to the NRC. The NRC reviews it, particularly if a utility shows interest in procuring a plant.

    http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0113/ML011340072.pdf

    And NUREG-0800, or the Standard Review Plan
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr0800/


    It's not a matter of simply creating a concept, but one has to do detail designs with drawing and plenty of engineering analysis. That is not a hurdle, but a necessity.
     
  15. Apr 2, 2015 #14

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Sounds simple enough. So how long does it take from the time a company decides they want to build one, until they are allowed to break ground?
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2015
  16. Apr 2, 2015 #15

    Astronuc

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    It could take a few years. One can see on the NRC site when suppliers meet with the NRC, and when they submit their Design Certification Documents (DCDs). Take a look at the AP1000s which are now under construction at Vogtle and Summer sites.

    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/new-nuc-plant-des-bg.html

    http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/design-cert.html

    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/isg/col-app-design-cert.html

    Nuclear plants are complex, as are aircraft and ships, but there are processes in place to introduce new concepts. Most new plants are Gen-3+, or SMRs, which are derivatives of existing technology (PWRs) with some innovations, e.g., natural convection. One needs to be able to demonstrate to the NRC that the plant and core performance is predictable, and that the plants can be properly cooled and controlled under normal operation, anticipated occurrences, or in the case of several postulated accidents, that the consequences, including exposure to plants personnel and off-site, will not be underpredicted or underestimated.
     
  17. Apr 2, 2015 #16

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    A few? Based on the timelines here, the process is expected to take 7-9 years for recently proposed plants (if one believes they won't be delayed by legal challenges and political wrangling...):
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-T-Z/USA--Nuclear-Power/

    To me, that's a problem.

    [edit] Much of the problem has nothing, per se, to do with nuclear power. It's the laws and legal system that allow NIMBYs to mount nearly unlimited legal challenges to big, high-profile projects. Cape Wind, for example, was first proposed in 2001. It was first approved for construction by the state of Mass in 2005 and has been held-up mostly by legal and political challenges (including federal wrangling over who has approval authority) ever since. 14 years -- and because of all that, the project is now likely to die.

    The longer it takes to execute a project, the worse the economics get.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2015
  18. Apr 3, 2015 #17

    Astronuc

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    There's two stages for a nuclear plant - one is the design and certification part that suppliers like Westinghouse, AREVA, GEH, and now SMR suppliers provide with the NRC certifying the design, then there is the siting and construction part in which a utility hires a A&E and a construction firm. The siting and permitting for a nuclear plant is usually where interveners challenge the plant.

    The time for review and approval depends on where one starts, e.g., a modified design or a brand new design, with new technologies, e.g., liquid metal, or gas cooled, or major changes to safety systems.
     
  19. Apr 4, 2015 #18

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Yes. Part of the problemw with the current state regarding the plant design is that there is no momentum from multiple plants being proposed/constructed simultaneously due to the decades-long gap between new plants. If multple (10-20) were under review/construction simultaneously, designs could be standardized and they could essentially always have an approved design ready to go, with little or no time required for design certification.

    Also - and I'm not sure if it is or isn't now - site permitting and reactor design certification should be done in parallel instead of sequentially.

    But yes, the major issue is the way legal challenges are allowed to drag-out the site approval process for decades. That needs to change.
     
  20. Apr 4, 2015 #19

    wabbit

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    On the other hand, NIMBY is a fair concern, and a project should not proceed if the people located nearby aren't compensated to their satisaction. This may be extra cost, but it is legitimate.
     
  21. Apr 4, 2015 #20

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I've rarely seen a NIMBY concern I've considered reasonable.
    You mean like with jobs and electricity? Not all NIMBYs are after money, most seem to me to be trying to kill projects. In general, I think the economic benefit itself from the project should be enough compensation, but there may be additional compensation warranted if a project reduces a previous utility of the space.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Nuclear energy in USA: why only 19%
  1. Nuclear Energy (Replies: 24)

  2. Nuclear energy (Replies: 8)

Loading...