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Twisting the knife

by Jerome a Paris Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 10:50:39 AM EST

German nuclear phase-out will hit emission target

Germany’s plan to phase out nuclear energy will make it miss its CO2 emission targets, raise electricity prices, cause more blackouts and "dramatically" increase Berlin’s dependence on imported Russian gas, an independent study [by Deutsche Bank] has warned.

“Shutting down nuclear is inconceivable as a serious policy,” Mark Lewis, energy analyst and author of the report, said. “It will mean missing your carbon emission targets and lead to gas-powered plants replacing today’s nuclear plants.”


With nuclear providing 25 per cent of Germany’s electricity - and taking into account rising electricity demand and the fossil-fuel plants that are scheduled for replacement - DB calculates that 42 Gigawatt of new plants will need to be built by 2022.

Since lignite and coal-powered plants are highly polluting, most of these would have to be gas-powered. Based on these assumptions, CO2 emissions by the power sector will rise by 16 in the decade from 2010 while Russian gas imports will increase from today’s 35 per cent of the total to 50 per cent.

Aaah... rising electricity demand. We cannot touch that one, can we?

And wind? Not even mentioned. That's so ... yesterday.

An alternative policy, Mr Lewis said, would be to extend the life of nuclear power stations from 32 to 60 years. A special tax on the profits from these plants could be reinvested into research on “capture and storage” technology that makes coal-powered plants clean.

Yummy. More coal. Because renewable energy or savings will not be cheaper than real carbon capture. That cannot be.

But still. Despite his narrow horizon, Mr Lewis has a point.

It's not really polite to say it but, I told you so.

In the Netherlands they have decided that the single reactor should, instead of being prematurely shut down, send half of its profits to energy research.

Alas that the evil/stupid Swedish greens did not think of that! They managed to shut down two excellent 600 MW reactors, something that costed society about 2 billion euros. <head explodes>

As a comparison, the annual state energy research budget is 80 million euros <head explodes again>, though the greens, social democrats and communists managed to cut that by half <third capital explosion> for a year until the new centre-right government restored it.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 11:57:06 AM EST
Good thing nuclear power stations don't blow up as often as your head! ;)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:10:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If they did I would be the greatest anti-nuke around. :)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:27:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You would probably not be around...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:59:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not sure what years you are refering to re: the annual state energy research budget.

I am quite sure that money for energy research grew in general during the Soc.Dem governments (1994-2006) as energy departments at universities has - in my experience - been growing during this time.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:27:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's the money I am talking about, about 700 million kronor. It was raised a bit, maybe even more than inflation. But in the last year of socialist rule, the budget was cut by half. Bang!

I guess they thought that 2006 was a year when oil prices and climate change warranted extra little energy research money.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:34:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How in the heck did the Left get so anti-technology?

I don't like the current nuclear plants, for diverse reasons, but cutting research money when we know we're facing an energy crises is irresponsible AND dumb.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:56:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
to extend the life of nuclear power stations from 32 to 60 years

What are the technical constraints on doubling power-station life, and the implications for security?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:15:20 PM EST
Durability of alloys in key parts of the vessel, subjected to neutron bombardment (fuel rods don't last more than a few years and rotate, so it's less a problem for them).

Durability of inspection/refueling vessel hatches which are de-soldered/re-soldered in a PWR (and were designed of a number of such weldings).

Other parts (pumps, turbines, etc...) are less directly subjected to radiation and upgraded during the lifetime of the plant anyway.

If the vessel becomes cracked or corroded, it is conceivable to manufacture a replacement part to the initial specification in shape and alloy. But the cost is high because extensive verifications will be needed to demonstrate it matches the original. A US plant with boron corrosion in the upper part of the vessel (where the control rods inserted) was nonetheless repaired that way a few years ago (a 10m steel bell was made to replace the upper half of the vessel). I don't know if that was made because it was really economical, or because it was less approval hassle to restart a plant with still a lot of capital amortization to go...

So essentially, if there is a decent control body overseeing security and maintenance, it is not really an issue. But the total cost may be more than upgrading to a new plant earlier (of course, life extension is always less if you factor in a full clean decommissionning of the old plant, which may be "provisioned" in the accounts but that remains virtual and makes interests until you spend it for no short term return)


by Pierre on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:28:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you provide some idea of what life extension costs? Decommissioning is supposed to cost about as much as construction of the plant.

Also, what state does life extension of a nuclear plant typically leave the plant in? The reactor vessel is supposed to be the irreplaceable bottleneck, what about the containment building itself?

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 06:01:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have absolutely no idea what life extension will entail. I guess it depends on plant type: how well the parts will age beyond what they were tested for is unknown and it's sort of a lottery for operators.

EDF has increased plant life from 30 to 40 years (and applied for 50), but the first plants of the current breed will only reach 30 in a couple of years. So the cost has only been speculated by experts and future will tell. Immediate effect is a gain, because capital is amortized over a longer period and decommissionning provisions can be built slower. But this could turn out to be no more than short term accounting tricks.

AFAIK, all life extension plans leave the vessel and the containment building unchanged, just let the vessel go older and undergo more cycles of refueling (which is very much like a surgery). If bulky vessel parts have to be changed, it may entail breaching and rebuilding the containment building in some installations (looking at the EPR building schematics for instance, it is quite obvious, but the EPR has a designed-in lifetime already in the 50's so I guess engineers have grown more confident in materials, after all PWR designs have been around for 50 years now).


by Pierre on Tue Jan 23rd, 2007 at 04:36:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Good maintenance, and better technology and skills, the TMI accident (which jump-started the entire science of man-machine interaction) and the subsequent global (minus Soviet Union) safety experience feedback programs mean the stations are much safer today than they were when they were brand new, by orders of magnitude really. And it will stay that way until they are shut down because it becomes to expensive to maintain the stringent safety levels.

By the way, most stations were originally constructed with a 40 year life in mind. The German 32 years is an entirely political number. Today 60 years is the accepted conventional wisdom for light water reactors, but I wouldn't really be surprised if the newer units (meaning those built in the 80's and later) will run for 70 years.

The British gas reactors are a sad exception, they are all likely to close within a decade and a half due to extensive cracking in their graphite moderators. Good thing for Paris that they abandoned their domestic gas reactor program and instead chose a technology developed by the US Navy.  

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:30:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Like Pierre says above, there are issues, but none that can't be dealt with. Even the reactor vessel itself can be replaced, something that has been done on a few older plants.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:34:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yay!! The <del>ecologists</del> luddites win!

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:21:25 PM EST
Dang, how do you do strikethroughs here...?

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:21:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Management won't let us strike-through.

The feature has been locked-out.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:49:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Strikethrough can't be done here unless you use:

span style="text-decoration:line-through"

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 01:52:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, Jérôme, have you seen this:

OPA amicale d'Areva sur le fabricant allemand d'éoliennes REpower

Le français Areva, un des leaders mondiaux du nucléaire civil, a lancé ce matin une offre publique amicale sur les actions qu'il ne détient pas déjà dans REpower Systems, fabricant d'éoliennes allemand... REpower, un des principaux acteurs de l'industrie éolienne, emploie 740 personnes et prévoit 450 millions d'€ de ventes en 2006. Anne Lauvergeon, présidente du directoire d'Areva, indique : "Cette offre reflète l'objectif à long terme d'Areva de renforcer sa position de leader sur les technologies de production sans CO2."

Areva friendly takover bid on the German windmill manufacturer REpower

French company Areva, one of the world leaders in civil nucular energy powerplants, has launched this morning a friendly takeover bid on the shares it doesn't already own in REpower Systems, German windmill manufacturer... REpower, one of the key players in the windmill industry  employs 740 persons and forecasts sales up to € 450 millions in 2006. Anne Lauvergeon, Areva's chairman of the board, points out: "This offer reflects the long term Areva's objective to reinforce its position as a leader in CO2-free production technologies."

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 12:46:28 PM EST
I've seen it. I cannot comment much. we're working on projects with their turbines and it will certainly have an impact.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 04:56:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuclear power plants are just updated versions of 19th Century technology. I call them giant tea kettles.

What's really different about boiling water to power a 19th Century steam engine and boiling water (or another liquid) to power a turbine?

With vast quantities of highly energenic particles flying around the only component of nuclear reactions that is captured is the heat. Research into things like MHD (magneto-hydrodynamics) seems to have ceased about 30 years ago. All that is being proposed at this point is changing the shape of the tea pot.

What does it take to get people thinking outside the box?

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 02:09:11 PM EST
What's wrong with boiling water?

The tea kettles work, and they work great. You can even use the waste heat to heat homes. If someone invents something better and cheaper I'll be the first on the bandwagon.

But in spite of 30 years of trying to find alternatives, we are pretty much at the same place as we started, except that wind power has moved from exotic niche to a viable source of competitive power and that the things the alternatives were supposed to replace also have become a lot better.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 02:21:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wind power isn't even a viable source of competitive power. It's a niche application only. It serves to provide "green" power and nothing more. That's because wind power isn't reliable enough to serve as the basis for electric production.
by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 05:43:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Everything does not need to be 24/7 baseload. Wind power is a great way to reduce gas use and save water in hydro dams. Which is why it is being built in Texas.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 06:19:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Exactly what I said. 1) niche application. 2) "green" power. In what way do you think you are disagreeing with me?

Incidentally, nuclear power is an excellent way to reduce gas use and save water in hydro dams. It's so good that hydroelectric dams don't even need to be built!

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 06:32:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, twenty percent is niche power, essentially meaningless. Presumably so is nuclear power in Germany, so who cares if it gets shut down - it produces so little that it doesn't matter. (twenty percent, twenty five percent, same difference)
by MarekNYC on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 06:41:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Twenty percent, are you thinking of Denmark? Denmark is in a quite special niche because it has access to the vast Scandinavian hydro power resources (which are used both for base and peak load) and this means those windmills are actually water saving machines.

In Germany I guess they work as gas savers.  

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 06:55:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was a reply to the statement by RichardK that windpower is useless because it can't be used for more than twenty percent of power used due to variability problems (though IIRC someone blogged a study here that said you could get it much higher with major changes to the grid)
by MarekNYC on Tue Jan 23rd, 2007 at 12:40:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In other words, through massive subsidies.

And while your comment may have been a response to my statement, it was in no way a reply to it. To be a reply, it would have to address my statement in some meaningful manner.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 08:21:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually simulations show that the grid becomes unstable as soon as roughly 10% of the power comes from unpredictable sources.  The problem is the complex behaviour of non-linear networks; they always have unpredictable instabilities.

If wind is supposed to supply more than these 10%, then almost every wind farm has to be coupled to a very fast acting load levelling system.  That will probably be flywheel or electromagnetic storage, but whatever it is, it will be neither cheap nor readily available.

by ustenzel on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 05:39:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why don't you have the same problem with 10% of the demand being unpredictable?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 05:46:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Haven't investigated in detail, but the following springs to mind:

  • Who says you don't?  Since large consumers of electricity are never turned on without prior notice and smaller consumers average out, there may not be that much unpredictable demand.

  • A stable grid requires load balancing between producers, but you do not need to load balance consumers.  Load balancing is done by keeping all parts of the grid in phase, and most consumers have no influence on that while producers do.

  • Loads with bad load factor do influence the phase relation on the grid.  Industrial consumers have large synchronous motors doing nothing but keeping current and voltage in phase.  There's a reason for that, and part of it might be grid stability.

  • If a load misbehaves, you can always rescue the grid by locally shedding the offending load (which is even automatic to some extent because the voltage will drop).  If a wind farm goes offline, you have to shed load or start some generators somewhere else.  Propagation speed is finite, so the distance between the failed source and its replacement introduces the possibility of a feedback loop.  

Understanding the behavior of a complex network is anything but easy (and no, it won't get easier with "distributed" generation).  If you want to get a feeling for it, I suggest you take a look at how electronic circuits using operational amplifiers are designed so they don't oscillate.  It always involves compromises.  It's the same for the electric grid, only with hundreds  of significant components instead of half a dozen.
by ustenzel on Thu Jan 25th, 2007 at 07:21:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, nuclear is not good at all at replacing gas or hydro, except when they are baseload. This is because nuclear must always be running 24/7 to be competitive.

How do you deal with peak load? You don't do it with nuclear but with hydro and gas. And if the wind is blowing during peak load times you will use less gas or water.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 06:52:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuclear in France doesn't need to run at full capacity 24/7. If you've got nuclear power for base load and gas for spinning reserve, not for peaks, then wind power is uneconomical.

Wind power can't be used for spinning reserve. It costs too fucking much. Trying to use it as such quadruples its price, which is already high to begin with, while saving only 30% on gas.

In any case, we need gas turbines if only as incinerators of medical waste. We need two things: nuclear and gas. Everything else is optional.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 07:51:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
nuclear must always be running 24/7 to be competitive.

That's a misconception.  Nuclear means a huge initial investment and very cheap fuel.  If load declines and you can switch off a power plant, which one do you switch off first?  Of course the one that uses the expensive and/or scarce fuel, which means natural gas and hydro power.  That's the reason why nukes are running 24/7 even though they needn't.

Back to the question of competitiveness:  Nuclear power is essentially all fixed costs.  If running at 90% capacity, nuclear electricity is produced at 3ct/kWh.  Assume you have to throttle the plant, get a load factor of only 30% out of it and assume it doesn't wear down any slower because of the throttling.  You're at 9ct/kWh now, still well below the prices for electricity based on wind, solar and natural gas.  Pretty competitive, I'd say.  Only coal is cheaper.

A stable grid can probably most effectively be built from nuclear power plants combined with pumped storage.  In fact, that pretty much describes the electric grid of Switzerland or France.

by ustenzel on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 05:48:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With vast quantities of highly energenic particles flying around

This phenomenon is more commonly described as heat.  If you could find a way to talk the particles into flying all in the same direction, then all that energy could be harnessed and you would be famous and rich.  Good luck.

But anyway, comparing the steam engines of old to modern steam turbines is disingenious.  At upper temperatures of maybe 350°C, the Clausius-Rankine-Cycle is exactly what the doctor prescribed.  Now if development hadn't all but ceased 20 years ago, we could have reactors with upper temperatures in excess of 750°C and would long have switched to Brayton-Cycle gas turbines.  sigh  That's what you get for listening to people with insufficient education in the physical sciences...

by ustenzel on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 05:34:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
> Aaah... rising electricity demand. We cannot touch that one, can we?

> And wind? Not even mentioned. That's so ... yesterday.

Come off it, Jerome. You know better than that so stop pretending.

Wind energy (the only kind of "renewable" that is in any way significant) is expensive and would be geometrically increasing in cost past 20% of German production. Since wind already makes up 10% of capacity, do you seriously expect Germans to want to pay for making it 35% just to fulfill some green nut's masturbation fantasies?

As for rising electricity demand, you're damned right that I would rather not touch that! Conservation is another of those green nuts' masturbation fantasies. How exactly do you make housing and bridges without concrete or railroads without steel and aluminum? Once you answer that one, then you will be able to yammer on about conservation.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 05:40:40 PM EST
Wind energy is not expensive, as I should very well know, considering that I am financing the sector.

This recent table fits with my experience of all-inclusive production costs in various countries, with various regulatory regimes (including some where wind has to pay "balancing costs", i.e. pay for its intermittence and unpredictability):

Wind is currently cheaper than gas-fired power, and would be cheaper than coal-fired if its externalities were taken into account. Using the French example, the most favorable for nuclear, I'd agree that it is slightly more expensive than nuclear, but we're still talking about the same ball park.

All network operators agree that the cost of incorporating intermittent wind power into the network is essentially nil until it reaches 20% of production, a goal we should thus strive for without delay, irrespective of what we think about how the other 80% should be produced. This is proven in the regulatory framework of the UK, where balancing costs are quite expensive, and where utilities are happy to give PPAs to wind power plants whereby they take a small remuneration for dealing with that balancing issue via smart management of their portfolio of assets.

Network operators - and not just the hydro-rich ones in Scandinavia) also say that moderate investments in the network would allow wind to reach 30-40% of production.

As for electricity demand, I fail to understand your point. Conservation is not the same as "not using electricity". Are you saying that there is no way we could have the same goods or services by using less electricity? That we will never ever improve the energy efficiency of lamps, appliances, or industrial processes? Oddly enough, industry, which has a real (monetary) motivation to do so, manages to reduce its energy use year in and year out, without any apparent impact on thei ability to manufacture aluminium, steel and the rest.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 23rd, 2007 at 03:47:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Germany currently pays 90€/MWh for wind power.  What's that in US-$?  Somewhere around $110-$120?  That doesn't even fit into your pretty diagrams.

BTW, I'd like to see the source.  "Emerging Energy Research" sounds like an advocacy organisation and all estimates I've ever heard of are lower, around $30/MWh for nuclear and $25/MWh for dirty coal.

by ustenzel on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 06:04:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And wind? Not even mentioned.

If you insist, I'll mention wind.  Roughly 4% of Germany's electricity comes from wind, too little to be mentioned by people looking at the big picture, which consists of coal/lignite, nuclear power, natural gas and big hydro, in that order.  

In 2005 a whopping 1.8GW of new wind capacity was installed.  At the impressive capacity factor of 16%, and that's the average over all installed turbines, including those in very wind rich places and off-shore, that's the equivalent of 300MW of conventional power or roughly half the power needed to replace the one nuclear plant that was shut down in 2005.

Meanwhile in other news: 6GW of lignite capacity are being built.  Not that there is such a thing as "clean coal", but these won't even try to sequester CO2 (a stupid idea anyway what with the infinite halflife and all).

rising electricity demand. We cannot touch that one, can we?

Conservation is to power as starvation is to food.  You can pretend that we can conserve ourselves out of the crisis once electricity demand really starts to decline, but until then, shutting down perfectly good, safe, emission free, low waste power plants is the most stupid thing our incompetent Volksvertreters have ever thought of.

by ustenzel on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 05:22:52 PM EST

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