Peter Lang: What could have been – if nuclear power deployment had not been disrupted

If the pre-1967 declining cost and deployment rates of nuclear power had not been disrupted the world could have had cheap, reliable, secure, sustainable, comparatively safe electricity supply by now (Lang, 2017).

The benefits for the global economy and human wellbeing could have been substantial: clean, safe, reliable power supply, 4.2 to 9.5 million deaths and 69 to 174 Gt CO2 emissions avoided, and nuclear providing up to 66% of the world’s power at around 10% of its current cost.

From 1954 to 1967 the cost of nuclear power plants was decreasing by around 25% per doubling of global nuclear power capacity (based on construction start dates). Then progress was disrupted. Thereafter, costs increased rapidly, by 22% to 94% per capacity doubling (except in South Korea).

Figure 1: Overnight construction cost (in 2010 US $/kW) plotted against cumulative global capacity (GW), based on construction start dates, of nuclear power reactors for seven countries, including regression lines for US before and after 32 GW cumulative global capacity.” Source: Lang, (2017)

If the pre-1967 rates had continued the cost of nuclear power could now be around 10% of what it is (see Table 1, and Appendix B Note XII, and V).

In 1976, about 9 years after the start of the escalating costs, the global deployment rate of construction starts stalled (red bars in figure below).

Figure 2: Annual global capacity of construction starts and commercial operation starts, 1954–2015.” Source: Lang, (2017).

If the pre-disruption deployment rate had continued, nuclear power could have been supplying around 30% to 66% of the world’s electricity in 2015 (Figure 7). By substituting for fossil fuels, nuclear power could have avoided 4.2 to 9.5 million deaths and 69 to 174 Gt CO2 emissions between 1985 and 2015 (Table 4).

If the cost reduction rates had continued there would be no need for government interventions in markets to incentivise some, and penalise other, technologies. There would be no need for subsidies and incentives for selected technologies, and no need for renewable energy targets.

It’s time for the developed countries to lead the world to get serious about nuclear power.  Some of nuclear power’s advantages are, it:

  1. is the safest way to generate electricity and always has been since the first power reactor began supplying power to the grid in 1954 (Appendix B, Note VIII)
  2. is sustainable – nuclear fuel is effectively unlimited
  3. provides reliable, dispatchable electricity
  4. provides countries with a high level of energy security – many years of fuel supply can be stored in a small space at low cost so countries are not vulnerable to disruption of fuel supply during periods of trade or military conflicts
  5. is highly flexible in small modular reactors – consider the flexibility of nuclear powered submarines and ships, as has been demonstrated over the past 60 years; also see Irwin (2017) submission to the Australian Energy Security Board on SMR technologies
  6. potential for large cost reductions over time, if the impediments to progress are removed – e.g. 25% reduction per doubling of cumulative global capacity of construction starts.

Other economic benefits and policy implications are presented in Sections 3.5 and 3.6.

A likely-root cause of the disruption, and the cost escalations and stalled deployment rate since about 1967, was and still is the activities of the anti-nuclear power protest movement (Appendix B, Note IX ).

To achieve the substantial benefits available by transitioning to nuclear power requires a recognition of the disruption and its consequences, identification of its causes, and amelioration of the impediments that are slowing progress.

References:

Peter A. Lang. Nuclear Power Learning and Deployment Rates; Disruption and Global Benefits Forgone. Energies 2017, 10, 2169. http://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/10/12/2169/htm

Tony Irwin, 2017. The Contribution of Nuclear to a Reliable, Affordable and Low Emissions Energy Future for Australia. SMR Nuclear Technology, Submission to the Australian Energy Security Board. http://www.smrnuclear.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/SMRNT-ESB-Submission-Nov-2017v1.pdf

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26 Responses to Peter Lang: What could have been – if nuclear power deployment had not been disrupted

  1. cohenite

    Peter Lang has been great in the debate about alarmism and energy and yet imbeciles like flannery are house-hold names but Lang isn’t.

  2. Bazinga

    Why the sharp increase?

  3. Muddy

    cohenite
    #3203157, posted on November 6, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Peter Lang has been great in the debate about alarmism and energy and yet imbeciles like flannery are house-hold names but Lang isn’t.

    Doesn’t that tell us that we have been using the right tactics in the wrong fight?
    Step #1 – Stop doing what isn’t working!

  4. It all sounds well and good for 1st World nations, but what about those 3rd World shit holes?
    I don’t think I’d want Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Congo et al to have nuclear power. Those corrupt dick heads wouldn’t bother with proper maintenance and nuclear accidents would be a certainty.

    NOTHING WRONG WITH CHEAP COAL and there is plenty of it.
    And this…..

    69 to 174 Gt CO2 emissions avoided

    Why would you avoid releasing plant food. Much needed plant food at that considering we came close to losing it all at the end of the last Ice Age when the level of CO2 in the atmosphere came dangerously close to being too low to sustain life?

    Demonising CO2 has to be history’s worst science abuse. Asinine fuckwits.

  5. I_am_not_a_robot

    The coincidence of the Three Mile Island accident and release of The China Syndrome in 1979 had much to do with popular unease.

  6. RobK

    In the seventies, the argument for solar energy was often put as; if solar had the development funding and support that nuclear had, it maybe a commercial success (this in the days of oil supply panic).
    By now solar has had massive support and we are still a long way off dispatchable economic success, given that regulatory and cross subsidies are still in order for its continued use.
    I agree with the thrust of the post, all be it that it is a projection. The more wide spread a technology is, the more likely we will see innovation. Solar has had its day in the sun and needs to stand on its Own feet.
    Thereis a lot of innovative nuclear technology to be given a run for the sake of energy security and economic prosperity.

  7. 2dogs

    ScoMo should call a plebiscite on adopting nuclear power.

    He can sit on the fence while it is underway; just say he will accept the people’s verdict.

    Anyone attacking him over simply calling it will just be seen as anti-democratic.

    Let the Nats do the hard yards of making the case for Nuclear.

  8. Beachcomber

    ……… 69 to 174 Gt CO2 emissions avoided, ……..

    That is not a “benefit”! It is keeping atmospheric CO2 at starvation level for plants; suppressing natural vegetation and limiting food production through horticulture and field crops. We need to burn more coal!

  9. JD

    Rule Britannia 🙂
    I like the approach that Moltex takes. They push the “Green Angle”. Yes, by all means bring on the 50% renewables and see that nuclear is non-carbon emitting. If you can’t beat them, join them. Cool, Clean, New-Clear for cheaper than the price of coal. How good is that?

    For the Engineers on this site, a really clear presentation below. For those who need the warm, cuddly messages, go to their website and click on their short presentations. BTW, they are implementing one at New Brunswick in Canuckistan.

  10. JD

    Maybe, we should get Malcolm involved. That may get us support from the ABC, which will lead to ScoMo saying yes. There is no way deplorables are going to get a look in. Smart, savvy, suave MT may yet save Australia 🙂

  11. C.L.

    This is an impressive and astounding thesis.

    … costs increased rapidly, by 22% to 94% per capacity doubling (except in South Korea).

    Could the anti-nuclear movement’s activities account for so massive a cost surge?
    The oil and economic crises of the early 70s must have driven construction costs through the roof.

    I can’t see any time when Australia would accept reason and go nuclear, unfortunately.

  12. JC

    Peter,

    Long time, no see here. It’s really great to see you back.

  13. Peter Lang

    cohenite, JC and all the other comments, thank you for your comments.

  14. Peter Lang

    C.L. you asked:

    Could the anti-nuclear movement’s activities account for so massive a cost surge?
    The oil and economic crises of the early 70s must have driven construction costs through the roof.

    To properly identify the causes would require a sophisticated root-cause analysis. That is not within the scope of the paper. Below is a simple root-cause analysis.

    Root-cause and causative factors of nuclear power cost escalation since late-1960s

    What was the root cause(s) and causative factors of the disruption of nuclear power learning rates and cost escalation thereafter?

    Root-cause:

    1. The anti-nuclear power protest movement’s scaremongering (see Daubert and Moran, 1985, ‘Origins, Goals, and Tactics of the U.S. Anti-Nuclear Protest Movement’ https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/notes/2005/N2192.pdf )

    2. Failure of policy analysts, politicians, regulatory bodies, industry bodies (e.g. WHO, IEA, OECD, NEA, IAEA, DOE, EIA, and equivalents in other countries) to recognise the root-cause and counteract the risk perception factors by educating the public that nuclear power, although not totally risk free, is actually the safest way to generate electricity. (This is a relevant short post: ‘The REAL Reason Some People Hate Nuclear’: https://bravenewclimate.com/2014/02/02/the-real-reason-some-people-hate-nuclear-energy/ )

    Some causative factors:

    3. acceptance of the anti-nuclear propaganda by media and public

    4. increasing concerns and fear of nuclear power – accidents, nuclear weapons proliferation, nuclear waste, decommissioning, and health impacts of radiation and radioactivity

    5. politicians have to react to the publics fears with legislation and regulation

    6. regulatory bodies are set up to apply the laws and regulations.

    7. anti-nuclear bodies and concerned citizens use the laws and regulations to disrupt projects and operating power plants.

    8. regulatory bodies become overly zealous because of concern about the likely public and media outrage if any accidents occur

    9. response to accidents is not appropriate for the actual health consequences and risks, and is not comparable with the risks and consequences of the actual health consequences of other technologies

    10. construction time and costs increase

    11. utilities and vendors respond by increasing the size and complexity of nuclear power plants

    12. financial and commercial risk for utilities and investors increases

    13. orders are cancelled, and rate of new orders slow

    14. learning rate turns negative

    15. deployment rate stalls

    16. Rate of development slows

    At the top I suggested two root-causes. It was probably impossible to prevent the first; the second suggested root-cause is perhaps what should, in retrospect, have been tackled at the time, and throughout the five decades since the disruption, to counteract the first of the suggested root-causes.

    I’d welcome constructive contributions and rational discussion on the root-cause, especially from those with expertise in root-cause analysis.

  15. Peter Lang

    The root cause is “the evil at the bottom” that sets in motion the entire cause-and-effect chain causing the problem(s).

    http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/root-cause-analysis/overview/overview.html

    The “5-Whys” Analysis” — A simple problem-solving technique that helps users get to the root of the problem quickly. It was made popular in the 1970’s by the Toyota Production System. This strategy involves looking at a problem and asking “why” and “what caused this problem”. Often the answer to the first “why” prompts a second “why” and so on—providing the basis for the “5-why” analysis.

    https://des.wa.gov/services/risk-management/about-risk-management/enterprise-risk-management/root-cause-analysis

    “Determine the Root Cause: 5 Whys” https://www.isixsigma.com/tools-templates/cause-effect/determine-root-cause-5-whys/

  16. C.L.

    Thanks, Peter. An incredible chain reaction. It adds up!

  17. What could be achieved with widespread nuclear power generation in terms of industry, irrigation, cheap domestic supply and even 1st generation spaceflight would be remarkable.

    We’ve literally cut our living standards by decades of progress.

  18. JC

    We’ve literally cut our living standards by decades of progress.

    It’s almost tear jerking how shocking it’s turned out. The loss is enormous.

  19. dover_beach

    and nuclear providing up to 66% of the world’s power at around 10% of its current cost.

    What an enormous loss to human flourishing.

  20. JD

    For what it is worth. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are pursuing Nuclear Power. Good discussion on why the UAE chose to goto Gen 3+ instead of SMR. And interesting take on looking at LWR as old technology and SMR as the way forward. The are interesting takes on added safety regulation vs risk management. Again, the focus is on Climate Change! Well, I don’t think we are going to win that argument, so Climate Change it is and nuclear to the rescue. Interesting talk, which proves the point that we have our collective heads in the sand while others are pursuing nuclear albeit, for the wrong reasons. (Maybe the nuclear industry is getting market savvy).

  21. Rafe Champion

    This is the story told by the late Australian mining engineer John Grover about the worldwide anti-nuclear power campaign orchestrated by assorted communist organizations and fronts including the teachers unions and church groups in Australia.

  22. jupes

    I’d welcome constructive contributions and rational discussion on the root-cause, especially from those with expertise in root-cause analysis.

    Sorry Peter, this is the 21st century. We don’t do rational here.

  23. Peter Lang

    , Rafe Champion,’

    Thank you. A very interesting summary.

    If you have time to read it, you might find the Rand Corporation report by Daubert and Moran very interesting.

    Daubert, V.; Moran, S.E. Origins, Goals, and Tactics of the U.S. Anti-Nuclear Protest Movement; Rand Corporation: Santa Monica, CA, USA, 1985. https://www.rand.org/pubs/notes/N2192.html

  24. JC

    Don Jr was on The View. He apparently destroyed the harridans on the show. Can’t find a link, but it’s supposed to be very entertaining.

  25. Demonising CO2 has to be history’s worst science abuse. Asinine fuckwits.

    +∞

    Nukes (especially small modular) are ideal in many circumstances.
    Tough to make electricity, modern coal plants emit not much more than CO2 and water.
    Water is difficult to demonize.

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