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"Cheap" nuclear power a myth, suggests economist

San Onofre site to continue costing consumers millions per year

The long-touted economic benefits of using nuclear energy may turn out to have been a pipe dream for customers of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and other nuclear plants nationwide, according to newly released findings from economic analyst Mark Cooper of the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment.

Missing from calculations regarding the true cost of nuclear energy, Cooper says, are the dollars spent by consumers dealing with the long-term storage of radioactive waste generated by power plant reactors. According to his research, such overlooked expenses increase the cost of nuclear power by at least $10 and by as much as $20 per megawatt hour — the federal Energy Information Administration says that as of 2012, total nuclear costs were $25.48 to produce the equivalent amount of energy.

There are three ways the public pays for nuclear waste, Cooper said in comments submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on December 16.

"Utilities pay a fee to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a Nuclear Waste Fund that is intended to pay for the repository. This fee is collected from ratepayers," Cooper writes. Additionally, "the cost of temporary at-reactor storage is also being recovered by utilities from taxpayers in the form of penalties imposed on the federal government for the failure to execute its contractual commitment to take the spent fuel off reactor sites. This penalty is paid out of the U.S. Treasury."

Utilities also collect ongoing fees from ratepayers for decommissioning costs expected at the end of a plant's life — San Diego Gas & Electric customers have already kicked in nearly $1 billion toward that end of a total $3.6 billion set aside, roughly $500 million short of what's expected to be necessary to complete the task.

These costs, however, are likely dwarfed by the cost of indefinitely storing tons of nuclear waste at dozens of sites around the country. No permanent home for the waste — which continues to be generated at Diablo Canyon along California's central coast among a host of other sites — exists, nor is one in serious development. Until such time as a project like the proposed Yucca Mountain repository is built, spent fuel will sit onsite in dry storage casks or exposed fuel pools such as the ones used in Fukushima.

While there are inherent risks with such a model, there are also costs. The storage casks themselves, if spent fuel is eventually encapsulated in such a fashion, will have to be replaced every 50-100 years at a cost of $1.6 million per unit. Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates say the fuel rods could remain onsite along San Diego's northern coast for as long as 600 years. And despite the fact that San Onofre will eventually be decommissioned over the coming decades, as long as the fuel is onsite, there will need to be a staff to monitor and guard it, plus infrastructure at the facility will need to be maintained.

According to a Government Accountability Office study, a "best case" scenario over the next 100 years that assumes no accidents or other unexpected costs would result in an additional $100 billion cost to taxpayers as a result of having nowhere for the nuclear waste to go.

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The long-touted economic benefits of using nuclear energy may turn out to have been a pipe dream for customers of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and other nuclear plants nationwide, according to newly released findings from economic analyst Mark Cooper of the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment.

Missing from calculations regarding the true cost of nuclear energy, Cooper says, are the dollars spent by consumers dealing with the long-term storage of radioactive waste generated by power plant reactors. According to his research, such overlooked expenses increase the cost of nuclear power by at least $10 and by as much as $20 per megawatt hour — the federal Energy Information Administration says that as of 2012, total nuclear costs were $25.48 to produce the equivalent amount of energy.

There are three ways the public pays for nuclear waste, Cooper said in comments submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on December 16.

"Utilities pay a fee to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a Nuclear Waste Fund that is intended to pay for the repository. This fee is collected from ratepayers," Cooper writes. Additionally, "the cost of temporary at-reactor storage is also being recovered by utilities from taxpayers in the form of penalties imposed on the federal government for the failure to execute its contractual commitment to take the spent fuel off reactor sites. This penalty is paid out of the U.S. Treasury."

Utilities also collect ongoing fees from ratepayers for decommissioning costs expected at the end of a plant's life — San Diego Gas & Electric customers have already kicked in nearly $1 billion toward that end of a total $3.6 billion set aside, roughly $500 million short of what's expected to be necessary to complete the task.

These costs, however, are likely dwarfed by the cost of indefinitely storing tons of nuclear waste at dozens of sites around the country. No permanent home for the waste — which continues to be generated at Diablo Canyon along California's central coast among a host of other sites — exists, nor is one in serious development. Until such time as a project like the proposed Yucca Mountain repository is built, spent fuel will sit onsite in dry storage casks or exposed fuel pools such as the ones used in Fukushima.

While there are inherent risks with such a model, there are also costs. The storage casks themselves, if spent fuel is eventually encapsulated in such a fashion, will have to be replaced every 50-100 years at a cost of $1.6 million per unit. Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates say the fuel rods could remain onsite along San Diego's northern coast for as long as 600 years. And despite the fact that San Onofre will eventually be decommissioned over the coming decades, as long as the fuel is onsite, there will need to be a staff to monitor and guard it, plus infrastructure at the facility will need to be maintained.

According to a Government Accountability Office study, a "best case" scenario over the next 100 years that assumes no accidents or other unexpected costs would result in an additional $100 billion cost to taxpayers as a result of having nowhere for the nuclear waste to go.

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Comments
11

Nuclear power is dirt cheap when you consider there's no Middle East Oil involved, and, more importantly, there are virtually zero greenhouse has emissions. Convoluted logic to the contrary not withstanding.

Dec. 29, 2013

Tell that Nuclear Baloney (NB) to the Japanese who now are trying to deal with a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster at Fukushima!

SoCal is very lucky that San Onofre had only a nuclear "near miss" accident on 01/31/12 when one of the almost new replacement steam generators started leaking, thanks to SCE's in-house multi-Billion dollar engineering debacle!

Dec. 30, 2013

Here is just some of the latest articles on nuclear:

Why Are So Many Redditors Obsessed With Uncompetitive Nuclear Energy? Also includes a large number of wonderful factual links http://cleantechnica.com/2013/12/27/many-redditors-obsessed-uncompetitive-nuclear-energy/#JCcihBkpRluJSMHC.99

and

CU prof: Don’t buy the promise of nuclear energy http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-12106-cu-prof-donrst-buy-the-promise-of-nuclear-energy.html

+ * NEWS FLASH -- URGENT * STEAM SUDDENLY EMANATING FROM FUKUSHIMA REACTOR # 3 - WEST COAST OF NORTH AMERICA SHOULD BEGIN PREPARATIONS FOR POSSIBLE RADIATION CLOUD WITHIN 3 TO 5 DAYS http://www.turnerradionetwork.com/news/146-mjt + The Fuky Effect: The On-Again, Off-Again fissioning at Fukushima! + The qualifications of Toshihide Tsuda, Okayama University http://wp.me/pDwKM-3Wj

Dec. 30, 2013

To Dave I think the sub-title would have been much more factual if you changed it to read:

San Onofre site to continue costing consumers hundreds of millions per year

Unless the CPUC changes it Pro Utility stance, ratepayers can expect to continue to pay for SCE's in-house engineering debacle for decades to come!

As of now, we have paid or are still paying about:

  • $60 million per month for ongoing expenses and getting zero for it
  • $750 million for the replacement steam generators
  • $300 million for new turbines
  • $200 million for new reactor heads
  • $500 million of decommissioning shortfall
  • $1,500 million for 5+ decades of nuclear waste on-site storage

NOTE: This is only a partial listing although I believe I'm on the LOW side...

Dec. 30, 2013

Nobody died from radiation at Fukushima. But, burning of fossil fuels and climate change may well spell doom for our world as we know it. More nuclear power means less climate change, fewer wars in the Middle East, and fewer oil spills and environmental catastrophes. The new, modern reactors are safer on orders of magnitude than the old reactors. The nuclear scare tactics just don't hold water any longer. But climate change is real.

Dec. 30, 2013

RE: Nuclear is safe --That is exactly what they said about Japanese reactors before Fukushima turned into a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster nightmare!

You have no crystal ball and cannot predict what will happen in the next 40 to 80 years to any of the nuclear reactors or that using nuclear instead of Solar will prevent any wars; that is just so much nuclear industry wishful thinking!

The reality is that while nuclear generated energy is getting ever more expensive, the cost of Solar (of all flavors) is going downward and its efficiency is getting better yearly, if not more often!

This link includes a large number of wonderful factual links http://cleantechnica.com/2013/12/27/many-redditors-obsessed-uncompetitive-nuclear-energy/#JCcihBkpRluJSMHC.99

I suggest that you read them and learn some factual information!

Dec. 31, 2013

Radionuclides such as Iodine-131, Cesium-134/137, and Strontium-90 are real. People have died at Fukushima. People have and will die or become sick in the United States as they did with Chernobyl.

Toxicologist and epidemiologists understand that it is hard to prove that a given cancer is caused by a particular exposure. This was true of asbestos and tobacco and many other exposures. Industry wants the profits so they hire apologists and shills to mislead people.

Jan. 2, 2014

RE: "According to a Government Accountability Office study, a "best case" scenario that assumes no accidents or other unexpected costs would result in an additional $100 billion cost to taxpayers..."

1. Since when should the Government only consider the "best case" since our future depends upon these decisions? If we applied that same logic to military spending, then we would need no further nuke weapons since we would have no wars and could then eliminate most of our war fighting capacity which would reduce our military spending from about 60% of our entire US budget, which as we all know will not happen, so why should the same false logic apply to our nuclear reactor fleet?

2. That $100 Billion figure is also a phony number since Fukushima alone could easily cost the Japanese a Trillion Dollars of more, especially since they don't even have the situation under control and anything could happen over the next 40 to 100 years... If San Onofre's replacement steam generators both failed while in normal service we could have had a similar disaster to Fukushima, which would have impacted 8 million people and resulted in far more than a Trillion dollars in property loses alone!

Jan. 2, 2014

Nuclear power cannot be both safe and cheap. Infinite care must be taken at each stage of the mining, milling, processing, transporting, storing, protecting against natural and man-made catastrophes.

Without the Cold War, this form or energy would never have been used. Albert Einstein said that it was one hell of a way to boil water. He further stated that nuclear technology changed everything but man. Men want short-term profits and ignore long - term risks.

SONGS nearly blew up. Can we risk 10 million trapped people? No escape possible. Senator Boxer says they still won't produce the records. Ever wonder why? Profits are always placed over safety.

Try solar and wind and quit using a failed weapons - based technology that eventually gets into the environment and not only causes cancer and many other diseases,.but also.causes genetic diseases for 20 generations.

Jan. 2, 2014

I attend Nuclear Regulatory Meetings and provide written comments for the Federal Register. One problem is what to do with the waste. There are no solutions to storing the toxic waste that are economical or safe.

I join those who are against carbon energy. But that is no excuse to kill us all off with another huge mistake. Many pro-nuclear scientists were climate change skeptics until the nuclear industry realized that climate change was a talking point. I will not name names here.

Fukushima proves that corruption over comes regulation in every industry where you cannot prove your cancer was caused by their hot particle in your lung.

Jan. 2, 2014

A better headline (and story) would be "Cheap Renewables a Myth"

For those who think the world can be powered by wind and solar, turn off your lights for 16 hours each day and see how that works for you. Wind capacity is about 33% at best, solar even lower.

San Onofre was a tremendous energy resource for California - safe, reliable and inexpensive. Plus it employed a lot of people in jobs that California should have fought to keep.

The statements made on this thread show that people interested in this topic are extremely ignorant, making them easily dismissible. "SONGS nearly blew up." That is one of the stupidest statements ever made. And apparently if you post a bunch of links, that somehow proves your point. Someone must have skipped Middle School debating club.

Back in the day, these anti-nukes would have been the same people telling us not to sail out too far from shore or we would drop off the edge of the world.

Jan. 4, 2014

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