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September 18, 2006



The Union of Concerned Scientists are supposed to be, uh, scientists, right? Why can't they make proper correlation between cause and effect? As you pointed out, only one shutdown since 97, and none since 02. Here's my hypothesis of why: when were all these plants built? When would they be due for refueling or substantial maintenance to extend their lifetime? Were these "unscheduled" oopses, or were these scheduled and planned outtages to do lifetime extensions or other deliberate maintenance?


"more safer" I'm telling your grammer school teacher on you!

Still it seems like a lot of 1 year+ shutdowns in the 1980s& early 1990s. You can argue that these were one off events (except for the 10 plants that were shut down twice), but that doesn't change the fact that investors must weigh the risks of historical cost over-runs and prolonged shutdowns.

PowerPointSamuri asks "when were all these plants built?"

I imagine that nearly all of the plants were built between 1963-1983.

"Were these "unscheduled" oopses, or were these scheduled"

Just what exactly is a scheduled oopsie?

Harvey D.

1963 to 2006 = 43 years. What is considered the normal expected/designed operational life of Nuke reactors without major overhaul or complete shut down?

Can they be economically built to last longer?

Even hydro-electric plants need major overhaul after 40/50 years.

Paul Dietz

IIRC, there were a fair number of steam generator replacements in PWRs a couple of decades ago. The design issues that led to premature failures were understood and design changes made. New reactors should not have this problem.

The capacity factor of nuclear reactors has steadily increased in recent years. You'd expect this as gotchas are slowly worked out with experience.

Eric McErlain

NEI posted a look at the UCS report over at our Blog.

I talked with our Vice President of Regulatory Affairs yesterday, and I think he said it best that when he pointed out that the UCS report said this was a "problem that shows no signs of stopping," yet industry-wide capacity factors for nuclear power plants have averaged about 90 percent since 2000.


Picture's worth a thousand words, eh? The other issue not mentioned is that any new plants to be built would be significantly different from those operating in the '80s, so a fair comparison (or any comparison at all, really) cannot be made.

Still, this is not even the biggest recent eye-roller from the UCS. That prize goes to the press push they made accusing the Bush administration of politicizing science. Pot. Kettle. Black. The media coverage of that event seemed to prove the accusation that Americans don't get irony.


Well that maybe Jim UCC and NYT are generally critical of nuclear power. Does that mean they are biased? Not necessarily.

But bias aside, what is the average "capacity factor" for nukes given these revelations.

That "capacity factor" of wind at 30% is usually the main criticism of renewables. so how often is the average nuclear plant in the uS online?

What is the real world "capacity factor" for nukes?

60%? If so, then wind at 30% minus any fuel costs ever and about half the cost per watt of generating capacity is pretty good.

Maybe we wind advocates could start bragging about that 30%, instead of apologizing for it? Hehey.

Come on you nuclear boosters look over that data and come up with a figure, if you dare!

I think it was the problematically located (very near an earthquake fault)Diablo Canyon facility that had to have a reactor installed with a new steam generator assembley by cutting a huge hole in the concrete and steel containment.

How long did that take? Projected cost a billion dollars!

Paul Dietz

Maybe we wind advocates could start bragging about that 30%, instead of apologizing for it? Hehey.

The capacity factor comparison should also reflect the difference between planned and unplanned outages. Most of the downtime for nuclear plants is planned. Would that wind plants could say the same!

Eric McErlain

According to the Energy Information Administration, the industry-wide capacity factor for American nuclear reactors is 90%, which ought to tell you all you need to know about the import of this report.


disdaniel: My exact words there were "unscheduled oopses" or scheduled or planned outtages. The difference is important in a lot of systems.

With your car, an unscheduled oops is when your radiator hose blows when you are in the middle of nowhere, vs. a scheduled outtage would be when you take it in to get the oil changed.

My understanding is that some of these outtages were due to the fact that they had been running for 40 years and needed to have work done to extend their lifetime.


uhh I knew that eric, that they claim 90%. My question. does this report alter that figure?

I believe coal is 80%?

Wind is not exactly as unpredictable as an accident in a complicated nuclear power system. with wind power over large areas, very tall wind machines that tap higher level wind, storage, and smoothing out demand with off peak high energy industrial use, like foundries running only in off peak, wind could be more predictable than nuclear plant emergencies.

Paul Dietz

Wind is not exactly as unpredictable as an accident in a complicated nuclear power system.

Indeed. The wind fails much more often, and in a way that is correlated across large geographical areas.


I don't know about that Paul. I think taller wind machines in very windy areas like offshore and the plains would even out those wind shortages. A computer model needs to be done on that.

Wave and water power serves as another steadying source.

And this new superconducting cable is encouraging. Loop it around in a circle and it stores a lot of power.

The utility here, Wisconsin Public Service, already has superconducting energy storage. By helping smooth peak loads from paper mills it saves a huge amount of fuel and emmissions.

Storage is really coming along, including battery technology for electric cars. 100s of millions of electric cars could store a lot of energy!

Nuclear's reliability just is not one of it's strong points as is always claimed. Complex systems malfunction withouit warning. And industry self (no) reguklation leaves a lot of vulnerabilities due to bottommline considerations that overwhelm maintenance and inspection for corporate nuclear plant operators.

Leaks are being found in nuclear plants and fuel and waste facilities now that have been leaking for decades. Either covered up and/or overlooked. The industry/government internecine regulator/operators have made a toxic mess of a huge portion of US groundwater and river systems.

And the increased cancer and other health risks are well documented. When will revelations like this close down a plant? It's an unpredictable factor.

Paul Dietz

think taller wind machines in very windy areas like offshore and the plains would even out those wind shortages.

The problem is that winds over large areas are affected by large scale weather patterns. They are not statistically independent, as random failures of components at nuclear plants would be. This increases the cost of compensating for the outages, since large dips in production become more likely.

Paul Dietz

Oh, one other thing:

And the increased cancer and other health risks are well documented.

If you believe that commercial nuclear plants in the US have produced documented increases in cancer risks in the general public, you've just lost all credibility. Detection of the cancer from even natural background radiation is statistically very difficult or impossible; the increment in exposure of the public from nuclear plants is only a small fraction of the natural background radiation, so its would be far more difficult to show. Remember, the sample size required goes up as the inverse square of the expected rate.


Statistically independent? Similar leaks at similar plants over and over again. There is a clear pattern there. But the folks who fund maintenance and pay off regulators to look the other way do not care, they coverup leakage.

I think Sprol has all the necessary health risk links. They have covered one leaking nuclear facility and it's health effects after another.

The larger the weather pattern the greater the predictability. And with so many different sources of renewable energy and energy storage solutions looking very bright indeed, the inconsistency of renewables is less and less an issue of reality.

And more and more just a propaganda talking point for diehard nuclear and fossil fuel boosters.

This kind of exageration won't hold up long in the face of real world solutions like superconducting magnetic energy storage, plugin electric car grid connected storage, and increasingly diverse sources of renewable power in terms of type and location.

Distributed generation and storage using internet based supply and demand management can smooth out renewable power's peaks and valleys.


amazingdrx, it is very foolish to make this an "either/or" argument. We're going to need a suite of tools to achieve energy independance and turn us away from climate change. You cannot dismiss nuclear power plants, and you certainly can't advocate pulling the plug on them and replacing them with renewables. There is plenty of room for both, especially since we want to displace coal plants or oil based plants first.

Despite your FUD on leaks, nuclear plants are extremely safe and reliable, especially when you factor in the fact that we don't import the fuel, and the byproducts don't drive climate change. I challenge you to produce substantive proof, not some BS generalities about leaks and the resulting health effects that amount to nothing more than fear-mongering. The few tritium discharges I've read about are insignificant compared to the radiation exposure you are exposed to by background radiation, or for that matter radon from your basement.

But by all means, lets shut down all the nuclear plants and watch the industry throw up a bunch of coal plants instead while you wish for renewables. Even if the industry and the people were clamoring for renewables, and the desire is building, how fast can they make and install new wind turbines and PV panels? How fast can renewables go from 9% to replacing the 70% of the power generated by fossil fuels and the 21% generated by nuclear? Seems to me the priority should be that 70% figure, especially if you live by the coast.


By the way, the Atomic Show podcast (Rod Adams, same guy as the Atomic Insights blog) has a good show this week that addresses this http://atomic.thepodcastnetwork.com/2006/09/21/the-atomic-show-030-nuclear-energy-status-and-outlook/

The show talks about a conference with retired Navy Admiral Bowden, and has this presentation (warning, 8MB) http://www.nps.edu/cebrowski/bowman.html It directly talks about nuclear's performance compared to other energy sources in terms of reliability, capacity, and CO2 emissions.

As we discussed earlier, it looks like the numbers the NY Times and Union of Concerned Scientists were using were a little disingenuous and misleading. Nuclear reliability is over 90% and it looks like the numbers they were using included PLANNED shut-downs (in which case you would make arrangements to handle the load in advance). Nuclear capacity has actually INCREASED, despite a couple of plants closing due to increased efficiency over time and increased up-time.


Germany is shutting down their nukes and going to wind and solar sam. What do they know that we don't?

You can get the sprol info on leaks and cancer deaths yourself. I've already linked to them here. No need to be repititious.

Have you read atomic rod's idea for nuclear powered buses and cars? It's a good wake up call counterpoint to his unsupportable claims about nuclear power.

The bottomline on nuclear power is that past corruption and incompetence in it's construction, regulation, and operation have raised NIMBY objections that produce unending lawsuits that make it just too expensive and the biuld out too slow too have any effect on global climate change.

Wind, water, and solar using distributed generation and storage are a lot cheaper, cleaner, and safer.

Rod Adams


Could you please post a link to my idea for "nuclear powered buses and cars"? I would love to read that to see what my thoughts were.

I have talked about my desire to build reactors small enough to fit into basements, but the technical limitations are much easier when weight is not as constrained as it is for vehicles. I have also mentioned that it just might be possible to design a reactor that is light enough to power an over the road truck economically.

However, that is a huge stretch given the fact that even long distance trucks engines operate at capacity factors of about 25% or less when you realize that cruising at highway speed requires less than half of the horsepower needed for acceleration and up-hill climbing.

What I would really like to see is more work on nuclear power for long haul aircraft. The amount of jet fuel burned in high altitude flight poses a significant cost burden on the world, both in economic and environmental terms.

You see, it does not matter to me if you imply that such talk makes me sound a bit nutty. I have direct, personal experience with close proximity to nuclear powered engines and have a pretty good understanding of what it takes to make them safe and reliable. I also recognize that no energy is "free" (even if it comes from a small company in Ireland that has issued a challenge to the world to prove them wrong). There are challenges and hazards that must be understood and accommodated. It is my professional opinion that nuclear is safer than all of its competitors.

It takes work to make useful energy and it requires people who care enough about themselves and the others around them to do it as safely as possible. The idea that nuclear plant operators can prosper by carelessly avoiding maintenance or by cutting corners in construction and design is ABSURD. A shutdown plant - especially if the shutdown is not planned - is PURE COST, there is no revenue being generated.

The nuclear industry has worked very hard to learn how to keep their plants up and running. It is advantageous to them and to the rest of us. The plants are operated by some of the most careful and conservative people I have ever met. Of course there were learning events in the past - this technology is still pretty new, but the trends are in the right direction.

Some people in this thread have displayed an amazing capacity for ignoring facts. Here are the numbers as easily found on the web for US nuclear plant capacity factor:
2000 - 88.1
2001 - 89.4
2002 - 90.3
2003 - 87.9
2004 - 90.1
2005 - 89.6
An industry that can operate for an AVERAGE capacity factor of near 90% for several years running must have some pretty darned reliable machines at their disposal. BTW, the very best plants have operated for as long as 18 months without ever coming off of 100% of their maximum rated power. (Eventually even a nuclear plant needs some fuel and planned maintenance.)

BTW - someone asked about coal capacity factors. Here are the capacity factors of various electrical power sources (listed in order of contribution) in the US in 2005 according to the NEI, which cites the Energy Information Agency and Global Energy Decisions. The numbers on the left are the portions of the US electricity supply.

49.9% - Coal - 72.6
19.4% - Nuclear - 89.6
18.6% - Gas (two separate CFs listed) Gas combined cycle - 37.7
Gas steam plant - 15.6
06.9% - Hydro - 29.3
03.0% - Oil - 29.8
02.7% - Wind (plus others) - 26.8
(There are other sources included in the 2.7% like biomass and municipal solid waste but no CF given)

Rod Adams
Editor, Atomic Insights
President, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.


I love the Germans and spent three great years there, but be careful in your analysis before jumping on board with some of their ideas. Although I hope it will get better, their economy has plunged relatively over the last few decades, and they have some work ahead of them in reviving their economy. I think that Russia also gave them a harsh wakeup call last winter that they should heed.

I love windpower and you aren't going to bait me into saying anything else. The only thing I will say is that we need to have a diversity of power sources integrated together--even the author of the Renewable Energy Handbook says that is so for off-grid homes. Also hydro only works in some places, and solar isn't the greatest idea in Germany.

Our first priority in the US should be to kill off the oil powered plants (to free us from dependance on foreign sources), then coal (to stop environmental and climate problems). You don't do that by pulling the plug on nuclear any time soon.

Just how quickly do you suppose you can build the wind capacity needed for this country? How much energy does it take to build a solar panel and where does that energy come from?

In my perfect world, there would be solar PV panels and water heaters on every house in certain solar zones, and all of our electricity would come from advanced nuclear reactors, existing hydro, and wind. But I also urge you to look at a national wind chart or the solar charts out there to get a realistic look at what those sources can do in any given part of the country. Some places are better than others. This is also somewhat true for nuclear (for the cooling) to get the most out of it.

I'll leave you with the thesis I started out with: this is not an either/or proposition. We need renewables AND nuclear.


Before I start (and due to all these personal comments flying around above) I'll give some personal background.

I am a (Green) Chemist - working on a number of projects related to biorefineries, renewable resources and clean technologies - including catalysis, novel reactor design and alternative process chemistry. My personal interest is for chemicals and fuels although I've worked on fine and pharmaceutical chemicals in the past.

The information in The Times is highly subjective and doesn't - AS IT SHOULD balance all sides of the arguement. - Its a leading article! Poor SCIENTIFIC WRITING.

Has anyone correlated this data to the actual points in the reactor lifecycles i.e. put the actual shutdown reports into "bands".

e.g. In one band -

1. Those in within their shakedowns
2. Those having completed their shakedowns and - being upto midway through their lifecycle
3. Past midway through their lifecycle
4. Those due for decommission or within the last 5 years of their lifecycle

Otherwise I find the information incomplete. It needs to be separated out in order to give a TRUER PICTURE of whats actually happening.


If we are to beat the nuclear lobby - one must BE FAIR to both sides!

The problem with the Biomass lobby - is that they haven't been as powerful as the nukes.

However, with Clinton / Gore / T Blair and others on the case - this may change before long?


What I was trying to say is - and as I was taught in SECONDARY SCHOOL here in the UK...

Is that STATISTICS can be "MASSAGED" into displaying ANYTHING...

q.v. the humanities and social sciences!!!

Therefore - one must be careful to look at the units being quoted and consider the entire system.

Udo Stenzel

PowerPointSamurai says:

Germany is shutting down their nukes and going to wind and solar sam. What do they know that we don't?

I live in Germany. The truth is: 19 nuclear reactors supply about 30% of our electricity. Our politicians decided to shut down all nuclear plants, and the time frame is 30 years. Only two have actually been shut down.

What do we know that you don't? We know how to buy nuclear electricity from France, that's what. Other than that, we also know how to burn lignite. And we know how to listen to eco-wackos who actually believe the measly 4% of renewables could be scaled into something that makes a difference. (And they do, chiefly to the electricity cost, which is rising due to subsidies for wind and solar power on a scale that is simply unimaginable.)


Udo Stenzel said:
"I live in Germany. The truth is: 19 nuclear reactors supply about 30% of our electricity. Our politicians decided to shut down all nuclear plants, and the time frame is 30 years. Only two have actually been shut down.

What do we know that you don't? We know how to buy nuclear electricity from France, that's what. Other than that, we also know how to burn lignite. And we know how to listen to eco-wackos who actually believe the measly 4% of renewables could be scaled into something that makes a difference. (And they do, chiefly to the electricity cost, which is rising due to subsidies for wind and solar power on a scale that is simply unimaginable.)"

Udo, I agree with some of your points and not with others.

I agree 4% is measly. I also think 50% of the electrical supply FROM ALL RENEWABLES IS POSSIBLE CERTAINLY. 25% via Biomass alone is possible? Check the NREL report on "Billion ton annual supply".

I also think you need to ponder the works of your ancestral-countrymen...

Fisher & Tropsh

& Diesel...

Germany has a proud tradition of pioneering new organic chemistry...

and I'm sure - NO, I KNOW! this is going to continue with the "biorefinery".

I hope reading their works - shakes away some of your skepticism?

Also - some of the problems you describe (rising electricity prices) have somewhat something to do with rising natural gas prices in Europe...

From... Russia limiting supplies to the Ukraine (and inadvertantly - the EU and western Europe generally)...

I live in the UK - I think we're down to 6 nuclear sites here by the way...

But we're also considering increasing our (road) biofuels usage by 2020 to 7% (rather than the EU target of 5%)

My own opinion - technology and supply limitations are going to lead the way...

Technology - when we can make VALUE ADDED CHEMICALS in parallel to fuels... (Linked to MY RESEARCH WORK) ...

Mark C R (in the UK).


And incase any of you thought 7% "thats ****! whats the point?"

My friends remember the term "economies of scale" ...

7% of 100000000 is STILL A LARGE NUMBER!!!!

Also - in science - anything above 5% IS MEANINGFUL!!!!

Just so you know.

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