Andris Piebalgs: Nuclear and the EU's Energy Policy

This week Andris Piebalgs talks Nuclear in his blog. Without taboos, Andris lays down the advantages of Nuclear energy that have put it at the core of the Commission's New Energy Policy for Europe.

Nuclear energy has been discussed many times at TOD, mostly from a technical perspective, on its practicality and long-term sustainability. This time we look at Nuclear Energy policy, from the perspective of an Executive that has made a clear option towards this energy source.

Source: NewScientistTech (click to enlarge)

Crossposted at the European Tribune

Concerns with CO2 emissions are still the main driver behind the EU's Energy Policy, but from the several texts reproduced henceforth, it is becoming clearer a certain sense of urgency towards energy security from the stakeholders.

In his blog, Andris starts by asserting that Nuclear has special a role to fulfill, that other energy sources and/or policies are not able to meet at the moment:

In this context, energy efficiency, renewables and sustainable biofuels have all a very important and growing contribution to make for a sustainable energy policy, as we have seen in previous entries of this blog. However, for the production of base-load energy at competitive prices, nuclear energy is currently the main low-carbon source in many EU Member States.

But there is more to Nuclear energy that makes it so attractive to policy makers at the moment:

Let’s start with some facts. Taken together, the EU is the largest nuclear electricity generator in the world, has a mature nuclear industry spanning the entire fuel cycle with its own technological base and highly skilled workforce. Currently, nuclear energy provides more than a third of EU electricity. It has proven to be a stable, reliable source, relatively shielded from price fluctuations when compared to the oil and gas markets. Conventional nuclear energy is essentially free from CO2 emissions and on the face of it, fulfils an important requirement of all three pillars of the EU energy policy, which are competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability. Continued use of nuclear energy therefore would increase our energy independence and supply security as well as contribute to the limitation of CO2 emissions.
[emphasis added]

As a consequence of the current Energy Policy approved by the Council in March of 2007 the Commission set up the European Nuclear Energy Forum in order to provide a debate among stakeholders in a way transparent to the EU citizens.

The idea is simply to have the politic stakeholders, regulators, industry stakeholders and scientists dialoguing together and at the same time projecting a friendlier image of Nuclear Fission in Europe, where safety is ahead of all concerns.

The Czech and Slovak Prime Ministers agreed on jointly host the Forum, which was set to be held alternatively in Bratislava and Prague. The first meeting took place in late November in Bratislava and the next will be held in Prague later this month. Andris promises to take with his luggage the proposals left by commentators at his blog.

After looking into some of the texts produced during the first meeting of the Forum, some passages seem worth reproducing here. Barroso was in China at that time and sent a letter that Andris, as the senior representative of the Commission, read during the opening session. Some important points were made:

In this context I really believe that there is a need for a full and frank debate about nuclear energy. It is not the EU's role, or indeed the role of the Commission, to decide for Member States whether they use nuclear energy or not.

But it is - in my view - not surprising that we are witnessing a renewed interest of nuclear energy at global level. Nuclear energy can have a role to play in meeting our growing concerns about security of supply and CO2 emission reductions. In the EU, around one third of the electricity currently comes from nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy also protects our economy against price volatility of energy prices, as nuclear power is less vulnerable to fuel price changes than some other energy sources. With the current record oil prices, this element is becoming increasingly important.

At the same time, I believe that in the context of the revival of nuclear energy, we need to develop further in Europe the most advanced framework for nuclear energy, meeting the highest standards of safety, security and non proliferation. The EU should also continue their efforts to ensure that such high standards are observed internationally, in the context of increased cooperation with the IAEA.

Although not the main driver, “price volatility” is gaining relevance. When Andris took on the speech with his own words he left it clear that there are serious problems. These appear to be some of the most anxious declarations on Oil ever produced by the Energy Commissioner:

I am concerned about the current escalation of the oil prices and its consequences for our economies. The energy package adopted by Heads of State and Government in March this year already highlighted the multi-dimensional challenges we are facing. But the exponential price increase of crude oil has even accelerated the need for swift and structural action. Therefore we increasingly need a totally open debate on all potential sources of energy, including nuclear energy, to reflect on our energy mix.


Together with and complementarily to the work of the High Level Group, improving nuclear safety must be an overwhelming principle of your dialogue here as well. The highest level of safety, but also of security and non-proliferation, is the absolute condition for the use and development of nuclear energy.


However I would like to stress that the highest possible level of safety is only a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient. Public acceptance is the second important pillar.

Building trust and increasing confidence in the use of nuclear energy are vital elements for public acceptance in democratic societies. Increased transparency and participation is in the interest of all, whatever their position on nuclear. This is at the core of the debates to which you will participate. Gaining trust and confidence, involving the citizens in the decision-making process, tackling all issues in a transparent way are not easy tasks. But they are issues on which you as decision makers or as influential observers have to focus your efforts on. It means demonstrating to people that the risks of nuclear energy are dealt with in a satisfactory manner, that the concerns of the population are taken seriously, and that you are all willing to help those who are not confident yet to get the necessary and balanced information which may gradually reassure them.

In a more elaborate way, Andris explains the importance of Nuclear energy in facing the challenges ahead for the EU. And once more the negative public image is presented as an obstacle left to overcome that could hinder the process.

On the first meeting's website you can find a plethora of texts from different people with different backgrounds. It is worth while to spend sometime studying them if you have the slightest interest in this matter.

Finally the conclusive document of this first meeting:

Main priorities for the Working Groups of the European Nucelar Energy Forum

“Opportunities of nuclear energy”

  1. To establish a Nuclear Energy Roadmap to improve the nuclear legal framework, including greater harmonization of licensing procedures.
  2. To analyse in more detail, in comparison with other energy sources, the competitiveness of nuclear energy in a European low carbon and global security context. To examine ways to translate some competitive advantages of nuclear energy in the final price of domestic and business consumers.
  3. To explore innovative models regarding regional approaches and financing possibilities in the field of nuclear energy.
  4. To examine the ways and means to maintain the industrial capacity while improving the industrial environment.

“Risks of nuclear energy”

  1. To support a greater harmonization of safety requirements at EU level for nuclear installations in the EU (notable through the High Level Group).
  2. To encourage Members States and industry to swiftly implement adequate nuclear waste disposal facilities, in particular deep geological repositories for high level waste.
  3. To call for sufficient funding for decommissioning and waste management through adequate methods.
  4. To develop innovative approaches and exchange best practices to ensure adequate training, both qualitatively and quantitatively, for nuclear engineers and technicians, including radioprotection (e.g. Possible European post-graduate degrees), and to strengthen the safety culture.
  5. To support the reinforcement of non-proliferation in the international context through a stronger European position and the strengthening of nuclear security.

“Information and transparency”

  1. To examine ways and means to better inform the public in the objective and factual terms all aspects of nuclear energy (e.g. in the context of new build, encourage common approaches between regulators).
  2. To analyse the most effective approaches to build up trust and confidence in the available information, by increasing transparency and giving access to all non-sensitive information.
  3. To provide information in clear language on the existing solutions for waste management.
  4. To exchange and develop best practices at European level between all actors (Member States, municipalities, industry, etc.).

I left on Andris' blog an idea for a European special budget for energy development. With an income tax of 0,1% to 0,2% on each EU citizen, a value in the order of 4 to 8 Giga €uros (4 to 8 short billion €uros) could be raised every year. That money could get a lot people and a lot of resources working together to develop the EU's energy future. Nuclear seems to be the discipline that could benefit the most from such programme, due to the extra infrastructure and waste disposal requirements.

Without starting another endless and quite often inconclusive technical debate, I would like this time to get comments on Nuclear Energy policy. What is the Commission doing right? What is it doing wrong? What alternative policies can be pursued?

And don't forget to pay a visit to Andris' blog and leave some ideas for the second meeting of the Forum.

Previous coverage of Andris Piebalgs blog:

Andris Piebalgs' priority number one

Andris Piebalgs : getting a sense of proportion

Andris Piebalgs on Bio Fuels

Piebalgs on European Energy Security

Andris Piebalgs' Blog

Luís de Sousa

This chart does't include Romania and Bulgaria .Romania has two CANDU reactors operating at Cernavoda with two more in construction and Bulgaria has the Kozloduy power station with 4 aging Chernobal type reactors and a new power station in construction at Belene with two reactors .

It's nice to see that the EU is finally waking up. Without incredible advances in energy storage technology, wind & solar will never be able to provide more than 10-20% of electric generation. They are also many times more expensive than competing technologies.

Hopefully it still isn't too late to avoid a climate collapse. If only the wisdom of James Lovelock was followed sooner.

For those new to this debate, it is likely that fast reactor technology will solve sustainability and waste issues:

The image is from 2003, it does not include the 1.6 GW reactor under construction in Finland either.

Likewise UK is down to 19 reactors in commission, I think, with the Oldbury Magnox station due to close later this year bringing this down to 17.

Guys, if any of you know of a more recent piece of media on this, please post it here. Thanks.

The Australian Uranium Association and the World Nuclear Association briefing papers. They are both obviously pro-nuclear, but the factual information, particularly on individual countries, appears to be comprehensive and up to date:

My post from a few months back has the latest information for the UK nuclear power stations: Nuclear Britain

I'm not familiar with the situation in Romania but Bulgaria currently has one nuclear power plant with 6 reactors and only the newest two (VVER-1000) are in use. The 4 older reactors - (VVER-440) have already been shut down. The new power plant in Belene has contracts for design, construction and installation signed for 2 1000MW reactors but it's not yet under construction. All reactors are VVER type and none are RBMK (the type used in Chernobyl) ie they are water-moderated instead of graphite-moderated design.

You are totally wrong about Kozloduy. It does NOT have the graphite RBMK reactors, it has the light water pressurized VVER-1000 reactors with a heavy re-enforced concrete containment structure, unlike Chernobyl. Maybe we should just call all nuclear reactors "Three-Mile-Island-Chernobyl" reactors. Who cares about the facts, right...

It's sad to see the same lies repeated over and over again.

"Bulgaria has the Kozloduy power station with 4 aging Chernobal type reactors"

Kozloduy power station has 6 reactors not 4. However only two of them are in operation - the two VVER-1000 reactors, similar to the ones Russia just completed in Tainwan NPP in China. The other 4 are of model VVER-440, and were stopped from operation under EU pressure by 2006. The VVER-440 type has been successfully operated for more than 3 decades now in NPPs in Finland (Lovvitse), Check Republic, Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria.

None of the reactors, including the stopped ones is of the "Chernobyl type", which is RBMK. RBMK is the only reactor type in the world, which does not feature a containment vessel - a fact which made the Chernobyl disaster possible. Comparing it with the VVERs is tedious to say the least.

Many feel the private sector makes the best decisions on investment, a free market economy vs a planned economy.

Investment over and above what the private sector is willing to risk, as is being proposed here, should merit additional scrutiny. Why will the free market fail in this area?

With no government intervention, one can easily imagine electric rates climbing, followed by additional conservation, as well as increased private investment in renewables such as wind and solar.

There are many good reasons to move away from coal and other fossil fuels, to reduce the risk of future price swings as well as climate change risks, so a program to accelerate the adoption of alternatives makes sense.

However, nuclear has seen many tens of billions of subsidy already. Why not catch wind and solar up to the total amount of subsidies that nuclear has already received before giving additional subsidies to nuclear?

Indeed, if the politicians limited their involvement to defining an energy market which would provide stable supply plus a margin for growth the utilities themselves could focus on the specific technical aspects of providing cheap power. Subsidies for specific technologies are simply a waste of money and can actually inhibit better solutions to the problem when it doesn't come from the source you thought was the obvious answer.

It's a bit like gardening. Sometimes the weeds aren't weeds.

We are seeing it with the massive rail subsidies which exist across europe as well. Technically superior replacement systems are inhibited by the government support for the incumbent systems.

Still, I don't expect people to learn from their mistakes.

What gets politicians deeply involved in nuclear technology selection is that same old problem: the tendency of private enterprise to socialize the risk, privatize the profit.
The risk in a wind turbine technology is quite low so you don't see any wind energy companies going to government for liability protection. The nuclear industry, however, has got risk protection from the US congress explicitly and in the EU it is there at least implicitly as the EU governments realize they will have to fix whatever screws up.
So ultimately, the politicians know they will have to fix any screw ups and that gives them a deep and abiding interest in all facets of the industry, including technology selection.

However, nuclear has seen many tens of billions of subsidy already. Why not catch wind and solar up to the total amount of subsidies that nuclear has already received before giving additional subsidies to nuclear?

Wind and solar already get obscene subsidies per kWh delivered; what more can you ask for?

Subsidies for nuclear power are a pittance in comparison to the unreasonable costs being leveraged on it. In the US the difference between the best experience and worst experience cost for equivalent reactors was at one point a factor 4. What accounts for the difference is that some reactors were held up for many years while paying labour to sit around, being forced to incorporate new features into the design during construction, accruing debt due to interest on a huge loan and being held up by legal hearings; while some reactors were not.

Nuclear power is held to an exceptional safety standard that no other power source has to endure. Fossil fuels in particular literally get away with murder.

If you agree to provide a stable regulatory environment and increase safety and environmental standards for all other power sources to bring them in line with nuclear power(in terms of deaths/TWh) I'd be happy to see the subsidies go away entirely.

I don't believe either solar or wind present much safety or environmental risk, but I'm sure no one would mind if they were held to the same standards as nuclear.

As far as the "obsene subsidies per kWh" wind and solar receive, why not level the playing field and give the same per kWh subsidy to all non-fossil fuel power generation (with no other subsidies)?

Even though the past subsidies for nuclear still dwarf anything solar or wind has received, a level playing field with a equal per-kWh subsidy would allow the private sector to allocate investment with minimal market distortions. I suspect nuclear would not see much investment under such a scenario however.

That's the funniest thing I've heard on TOD for ages!
I mean no disrespect, I just genuinely find that a rib-tickler!
Given that level playing field, solar PV would not exist, and wind might be in grave difficulties for anything but small amounts of power.

The profits of the French nuclear program would be immense - they already produce some of the cheapest power in Europe.

In principle though, I agree with your comments - you will never entirely remove the sticky hand of government, but the subsidy system is absurd.

New technologies should be financed by risk capital during their development, even if it is provided by the government, not supports at so much per kwh on the grounds that at some point it will get cheaper with mass production.

The biggest waste is in the Tokamac fusion research program, which is wholly impractical and will never produce economic power - other approaches are far superior.

There are two ways to view the subsidy question, in terms of allowing the differing technologies to compete on a level playing field.

One is to consider all past subsidies.

Assuming aggregate subsidies for nuclear total $90B in current dollars, $4B for solar and $6B for wind, it would take some serious R&D spending and production subsidies before the three can be compared on equal footing. One could also make the comparison between nuclear per kWh costs in 1970, or whenever it was that nuclear had received an R&D investment equal to what wind or solar have received now.

Given that present-day solar startups feel they will be able to compete with coal/nuclear/natural gas shortly and have only spent a fraction of $1B each, it would not be surprising that further R&D investments substantially higher would bring its costs below that of nuclear, and the same holds for wind power.

The other is ignore correcting past subsidy imbalances, and only look forward with equal subsidies for power generated.

Under this scenario, with say a $0.04/kWh generated subsidy, there would be no private sector investment in nuclear.

In the US, wind receieves a subsidy half that size and is growing exponentially, so doubling the subsidy would only increase the deployment rate.

Nuclear only works in the most socialistic of environments.

Your figures are cherry-picked in several respects.

Firstly, most of the subsidies for nuclear power are for the military and weapons programs, and had little to do with the peaceful generation of power, as are clean up costs.
In fact, programs such as the molten salt thorium rector were discontinued, partly because it is no good at producing material for nuclear weapons and partly because no money would have been made on processing fuel for them.

Your comments on wind are also wide of the mark, as at present wind power produces a very small percentage of power in the US.
At higher levels of penetration the grid would need beefing up substantially, and back-up, usually based on fossil fuels would be needed.

Your costings in fact take no account of that.

In contrast in practise and not as a matter of theory nuclear energy provides the vast majority of electricity for France, and at much lower than average European rates - that difference will only increase with the rising prices of gas.

A tax on carbon emissions would hit wind heavily, since in practise that is what is used for back-up.

The solution you are proposing is in practice only proven for a small percentage of generating capacity, usually by countries fortunate enough to have hydro back-up, and even then it is at high cost.

The wind resources of the States are excellent, far better than in Europe, but proposals to run the country on it are not in the realms of reality.

When the historic subsidies are off by a factor of twenty, what can you say?

By the time solar has seen additional investments of ~$85B, it is hard to say what the per kWh cost will be. Since a number of solar firms think they will be competitive with fossil fuel based power sources in two to three years, after a further $80B in R&D it could even be "too cheap to meter".

At that time, a fair comparison with today's nuclear costs will be possible.

Presumably you would be happy if the $85bn went exclusively into funding a space based system to build a missile defence system ,as that is about as relevant to domestic power production as most of the $85 bn was to civil nuclear power.

Even if you took that grossly inflated figure and distributed it across the number of Terawatts of electricity produce by nuclear power, you would still have a much lower figure than you would get by distributing the research dollars and subsidies across solar's power production.

For the record, I strongly support solar power and think it will have a very big part to play in providing energy, when used in sensible places, ie where it is sunny, and used appropriately, ie for peaking power at the moment, not baseload power.

That is why attempts to contrast solar and nuclear power and say that you could go all solar ignore present engineering and economics, especially for northern areas like Europe.

You are comparing your fantasy solution with a practical way of generating Europe's power.

Solar energy may improve vastly, but to put this forward as a 'proposal' at the present time is a disconnect with reality, particularly for northern Europe with its very poor isolation for several months in winter.

To be fair, we ought to stick to what we can engineer, not what you think may be possible at some time in the future, if we only throw enough money at it.

When making decisions about the future there always exist a very real set of alternatives.

The original post proposed:

"With an income tax of 0,1% to 0,2% on each EU citizen, a value in the order of 4 to 8 Giga €uros (4 to 8 short billion €uros) could be raised every year. That money could get a lot people and a lot of resources working together to develop the EU's energy future."

The question is, should taxpayer money be used to subsidize nuclear power, should it be used for solar and wind, or should the free market be left to work it out on its own.

The question of prior R&D spending is relevant because it gives one an idea of where a technology is on the investment/cost curve.

The more money invested in a given technology, the lower the costs.

Solar and wind are still way behind nuclear in total R&D investment, and one could argue have much more potential for lower costs in the future as the R&D spending catches up.

Your other posts make it abundantly clear that you know nothing whatsoever about the issues you pontificate on, as you are even unaware that both nuclear and renewables costs vary from country to country.

Since the subject of this thread is submissions to the European commission we will make sure that the relevant authorities are informed that an American on a blog doesn't like nuclear power, and has even taken the trouble to do a two minute google to confirm his prejudices! :-)

I guess if you don't want to discuss the issues, that response is as good as any.

As I pointed out below, I stated that new nuclear plant construction is going to have similar costs, not that renewable costs do not vary by location. Reread the posts.

I know you're worried that I'm going to influence European nuclear subsidy policies with my ill-informed posts, but I really think you should relax a bit. Isn't it the middle of the night there anyway?

Past subsidies is no indicator for future performace.

And the results do not scale with the spending, see for instance "war on cancer" in the 70:s or when Sweden in the 80:s poured billions into renewables after a referendum to phase out nuclear power. Both medicine and renewable energy were advanced by the efforts but the results were not in scale to the efforts.

Subsidizing power sources for historical fairness is economical lunacy. RnD money should be distributed according to future potential plus a wide margin for academic freedom and new innovations.

And when you implement the solutions please do it with a free market approach since we can not afford suboptimal solutions when we get resource bottlenecks.

I disagree that "past subsidies is no indicator for future performance".

Prior R&D spending is relevant because it gives one an idea of where a technology is on the investment/cost curve. The more money invested in a given technology, the lower the costs. Solar and wind are still way behind nuclear in total R&D investment, and one could argue have much more potential for lower costs in the future as the R&D spending catches up.

I agree there would be no point in "subsidizing power sources for historical fairness". I was only pointing it out for its relevance to the point above.

Any time you are discussing billions in new taxes to be injected somehow into the market, you've left the realm of the free market.

However, done properly, such action could accelerate the adoption of new, superior technologies. The question is how to apply the funds with the best odds of picking good solutions, without trying to "pick winners".

Historically, organizations with the most political influence get most of the funds. Obviously it would be nice to improve the present system.

One idea would be to create a set of large venture capital funds with the tax money. Citizens would have shares in the funds, and could vote on which fund directors to operate the fund. The directors would explain the investing stragegy they planned to use. Citizens would then receive profits based on how well their funds did. They could choose funds that were more short term focused, or ones that focused on a specific technology they believed in.

Are there urgent energy issues or aren't there ?

If not then perhaps there should be some movement for energy class equality (energy source class warfare). We must historically equalize funding for all energy source classes. And historically reparations for insufficient funding for underdeveloped energy classes. But why not also parse the energy sources by type within the energy classes. Equalize Thorium and molten salt reactors against the pressure water and boiler water reactors. Equalize the types of fusion reactors (laser ignition versus tokomaks, IEC/bussard fusion versus tokomaks). Equalize solar thing film CIGS versus silicon PV panels. Equalize Concentrated solar (various types) Parabolic trough versus dish versus power tower versus the new balloon and SUNRGI approach.

It is not like we have any urgent problems like running low on fossil fuels or just having expensive fossil fuels to worry about.

Obviously we need to focus on what will work best now with the new money that will put to work on energy infrastructure. Whatever "unfairness" or "unequal" subsidization occured then "too damn bad".

Here is my view of energy externalities

All I care about are the real costs, but I include the rest because of these kinds of debates. Air pollution is a ongoing and continuing real cost of fossil fuels.

I am intellectually fine with an equalized $0.04/kWh [or whatever level] generated subsidy, if combined with a carbon tax related to the cost of air pollution.

Solar power would nearly disappear if such a rule were adopted. Perhaps some of the new concentrated solar power (Coolearth and sunrgi would continue)

Of course it is all hypothetical (and pointless) because there will not be such a universally enacted policy.

Political realities are also realities.
If solar and wind are the 89 pound weaklings in getting subsidies (except for places that like feed-in tariffs) then so be it. They should try to ally themselves with nuclear companies and get some mutually beneficial policies (like new cap and trade to hinder coal). The coal industry is a mighty adversary with a lot of money to work the system. This is why it is idiotic for pro-renewable people to pick too many enemies. It is not practical. Or in current cases it looks like many pro-renewable people have chosen to ally with coal against nuclear. Even though nuclear is cleaner for the environment.

The map has it wrong: Finland has one reactor under construction (due for commission in 2011) and yet another new reactor under talks, see

Yes, if you look really closely at the bottom right of the picture just outside the frame, you'll see that the map is from 2003. Which is also given away by the countries shown as part of the EU - there are a few more now.

At the moment individual EU countries certify reactors, and much time and effort is expended on this.

The UK is currently under pressure to find the experienced personnel to certify the reactor designs they are considering, and the delays in certification are also very costly.

The EU could contribute by centralising the certification process, and agreeing communal certification.

The Areva design, for instance, has already passed certification in both France and Finland, and it seems unlikely that the UK duplicating this work will do anything other than increase costs.

All EU countries which intend to build more reactors should work to common standards, avoiding duplication of effort.

This would be an appropriate function of the EU, and the sort of thing it was set up for.

I think this would be a very usefull thing to do. A proper European Nuclear Energy Agency could be in charge of this and other protocols of safe operation. A sort of Europen watchdog.

Dave, if you have the time, please go and drop this idea at Andris' blog.

Done! - With my typing speed I write once and post twice, or it delays things more than multiple certification of reactors! :-)

The comment I left on Andris' blog:

Dear Andris,

Are you aware that the EU and the world as a whole are in the early stages of a full-blown energy crisis? The old and the poor will soon start to freeze to death across Europe in winter time and our food distribution networks may become disrupted by fuel shortages and rolling blackouts.

Many countries in Europe will require nuclear energy to provide stable base load power in the years ahead – quite simply to stay alive. This is the over riding argument in favour of nuclear power and confusing the issue with CO2 emissions opens the door to environmental lobbyists who will, as they have already done in some comments above, point out that nuclear is not CO2 free and that there are justifiable concerns about waste storage.

You cannot run a European energy policy by public poll. You must realise that the public is by in large wholly ignorant of energy issues. Unfortunately it seems that this is also true of many of our policy makers and politicians.

Let me pick up on some of the points you make:

as an essential step on the road to our ultimate goal: to reach a shared vision on reducing global emissions by at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.

You are aware that you and the Commission will not have to raise a finger to reach this target? Declining oil, natural gas and coal supplies will do this task for you. Your job is to ensure that we Europeans have adequate supplies of energy in place to substitute for rapidly declining fossil fuel (ff) resources.

Conventional nuclear energy is essentially free from CO2 emissions.

This quite simply is untrue. But I would not let that stop you promoting nuclear energy.

three pillars of the EU energy policy, which are competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability

I think these are reasonable goals to follow. But you are aware that there is virtually zero uranium mined within the EU today. It all has to be imported. Nuclear is the one primary energy source where we have to import all of the fuel. The biggest producers in the world are Australia, Kazakhstan, Canada and Namibia. 2 OECD and 2 non-OECD countries. How secure do you view these supplies? Oil is required to mine the U and water is required to process the ore. How secure are future supplies of both? The BHP Billiton operated Olympic dam mine in Australia provides a good case study.

And have you heard that Cigar Lake in Canada – the biggest new U mine for decades got flooded before it opened.
I’d also be interested in your views on global U resources. This report by The Energy watch Group in Germany highlights possible resource shortages mid-century.

Of course there is the possibility of new discoveries and many discuss the options of breeder reactors, thorium reactors and seawater as a source of uranium. It is high time we had an authoritative report from the EU addressing all these issues.

The Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, strives to inform the public, promote its welfare and protect its safety and security. Transparency must become synonymous with the notion of a nuclear future.

I gather that the nuclear industry within the OECD has an exemplary safety record. And so on safety issues you need to tread carefully since when a record is already excellent meddling can but make it worse. That is not to say you should be complacent.

The real issue here is one of public education. The public have a genuine fear of nuclear energy born out of the Chernobyl disaster where most believe thousands died. It is unlikely that the public will be able to weigh the personal risks of freezing or starving to death against the remote risk of being affected by a nuclear power station incident. It is the responsibility of our leaders (elected and non-elected) to weigh these risks and act on behalf of the public accordingly.

We have opened a discussion thread on The Oil Drum Europe for those who want a spontaneous debate on this issue.

For the record I am also very much in favor of a wide range of renewable energy sources, especially hydro, wind and direct solar (but as you already know I am utterly opposed to bio-fuels.) But the only way we have any chance of filling the energy gap left by declining FF is to have a mix of all of these combined with a draconian program of energy efficiency.

Best wishes,

Euan Mearns BSc PhD
Editor The Oil Drum Europe

AP is a politician and his job is to be an image maker at least as much as a decision maker.

He must find a way to sell the politically unpopular ideas, such as nuclear power, and this is mostly what he is doing. Personally I think EC is much more concerned by energy security than by GHG emissions. If the public ever faces blackouts, it is the current crop of politicians that will be voted out, future generations can't vote.

Luckily EUs ingenious FF resources are limited, and the options to replace them are just a few. Even the most brain dead european beurocrats are starting to get it that renewables alone can't do it, and that time is running out fast.

That is part of the reason for my proposal earlier in the thread.
To any Eurocrat, the idea of running a licensing authority will appeal, and would in itself help create a constituency for nuclear power, whilst the exclusion of those like the German's who say that they intend to end nuclear power would increase pressure on them to reappraise their unrealistic position.

Dear Euan,

your claim

You are aware that you and the Commission will not have to raise a finger to reach this target? Declining oil, natural gas and coal supplies will do this task for you. Your job is to ensure that we Europeans have adequate supplies of energy in place to substitute for rapidly declining fossil fuel (ff) resources.

is very likely to be wrong. Total carbon in fossil fuel resources is several times more than what we can afford to emit. Even with the peaking of all fossil fuel sources (e.g. as projected by the Energy Watch Group), the CO2 'pulse' will still be too high. Hansen et al. are even claiming that we need to reduce this planet's atmospheric CO2 concentration, not just slow down its increase.

Because I am pretty fed up with the notion that 'peak fossil' will save us from climate change, I just did a quick calculation based on peaking scenarios by the EWG for oil and coal, and Laherrere for natural gas.

It's very much simplified and just a rough eyeballing of the graphs, but at least it differentiates hard and soft/lignite coal.
It assumes an oil peak about now with a 3% decline, a coal peak in 2025 with decline as given by the EWG and a nat gas peak in about 2030 with a 2% decline.

Fossil-fuel-caused carbon emissions for 1990 are also eyballed from these graphs.

Carbon contents for the varying fossil fuels are googled and used with an optimistically low value of the given ranges.

It turns out that, according to this crude model, total FF carbon emissions are

7.5 GtC in 1990,
9.8 GtC in 2025 and
8.0 GtC in 2050.

So, even given the EWG's pessimistic forecasts, 2050 will still see FF carbon emissions that are 6% higher than in 1990, and surely not 50% lower!!!

And here comes the bummer: This is for FF's contribution to climate change only. There are other large contributions from land use change and cattle. So even if we managed to somehow reduce FF carbon emissions by the magic 50%, this alone wouldn't save us.

Summary: Quantitative evidence lets me assume that peak FF will not save us from climate change, alas.

Any interest of anyone in a full-blown keypost here detailing the analysis?



I'd like to open by saying I do not know many details on the Nuclear Energy Policy -so in that respect I probably represent 'the man in the street' in my views.

What I do feel is that there is real pressure to provide solutions going forward and in that respect a real need to provide a consolidated and holistic energy picture/future.

I sometime feel that by nibbling stealth taxes and adjusting the price signal on petrol someone somewhere is pulling the strings without being able to fully tell us what a pickle we are in.

Someone at European Head Of State level needs to blow the lid on the upcoming energy predicament and get this energy transition moving at a faster pace

If we are to transition to Electricity as a replacement for transport oil -rail and more personal all-electric and PHEVs for example- we probably do need a lot more electrical generating capacity, a strong European distribution grid and a solid baseload capability.

In the meantime I think the main policy that the European Commision can progress -and probably not such an expensive one- is to continue to educate the public on the importance of energy to our way of life and the benefits and potential pitfalls of each option in an open and frank way.

Nick [London, UK].

I wrote a lecture , back in the early 90's on the subject of nuclear accidents. In my preliminary research I discovered that ALL of the worlds serious nuclear accidents had occurred for reasons not considered in the Reactor Safety Analysis - usually they were due to a combination of technical issues and human error. As far as I know most of the world's reactors still have technical control issues that are not solved. This is true of CANDU's (which I think are very safe to operate)(see the Annual Reports of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Board), and it is certainly true of the two Canadian reactors at Chalk River (intended for medical isotope production) which were canceled this week because of the failure of the engineers (over a period of a number of years) to determine the cause of a positive reactivity when they tried to shut the reactor down.
I am not against nuclear power - like James Lovelock I believe it has an important place in our electricity manufacturing program, but it has to be used with great care, under strict safety and operating regulations, using operators who have been extensively trained in operating the reactors and who have a deep understanding of the the reactors technical operating characteristics and mechanical and electrical systems.

One of the fundamental axioms in economics is that in an "efficient" transaction there will be no money left on the table. That is, that the sellers will charge as much as they can.

We have already seen this happening with wind power, as the price of building wind farms has risen dramatically over the past few years. I know that Jerome will point out the many causes for this, but the fact is that, eventually, wind will end up only slightly cheaper than other technologies. Why should a firm charge 80% of the going rate for conventionally generated power when it would still be a good deal at 95%?

One can have state controlled, or regulated entities, and prevent this from happening, but the trend has been away from this for decades. If this is going to be reversed it will take more political will then is currently in evidence.

What I'm leading up to is that nuclear will never be a "bargain". Costs all along the supply chain from ore to fuel rods, to disposal, to facilities will all rise, just because they can. So, whatever other reasons there may be for increasing reliance on nuclear cheaper electricity won't be one of them.

If things work exactly as you have said, why did natural gas remain a lot cheaper than other resources for many years?
Even if you are correct in the thrust of your argument, then some sources will be cheap relative to others at least.

You are also assuming no competition between the various suppliers of equipment, which may indeed be true for some years as we have to build very rapidly both renewables and nuclear plants, but over the longer term there is little reason that competition should not occur.

To take one example, it is difficult to see how uranium prices would continue to inflate if more efficient reactors are built, and in particular if we move to molten salt reactors processing the fuel will drop dramatically in price.
The industry is not monolithic enough to display filly the characteristics you suggest.

In many areas of the world, although to a lesser extent in northerly Europe, solar power will increasingly represent a top price limit for power, as it is rapidly decreasing in cost.

There are few areas where real competition exists any more. Most large industries rapidly converge to a shared monopoly or oligopoly model and price competition is replaced by price management.

Concentration also makes it hard for smaller businesses to enter a market, they need not only the capital to build their firm, but a way to get their product selected in the face of the promotional power of the big players.

Prices for nominally interchangeable commodities can converge, that's why there are some multi-fuel power plants now, but usually there is market stickiness which allows for price differentials to continue. If I want to switch from, say, heating my home by oil to gas I have to invest in an expensive conversion. The payback for this (if any) will be spread over many years while the capital costs are all up front. So I may stay with the less efficient and more expensive choice.

Energy markets are all manipulated in one way or another so depending upon "free market" competition is unlikely to work.

I'd agree that too naive a trust in the powers of the market is inadvisable, and also that prices are likely to be sticky, basically due to the coming high demand for any available energy source.

That is not to say though that none of the improvements in costs for different energy sources will not feed through to consumers - but they may have a long wait.

Two measures which might reduce costs in two industries off the top of my head are the use of bumps on wind-turbine blades which increase efficiency, and the use of annular fuel in the nuclear industry.

I know that Jerome will point out the many causes for this, but the fact is that, eventually, wind will end up only slightly cheaper than other technologies. Why should a firm charge 80% of the going rate for conventionally generated power when it would still be a good deal at 95%?

That's a good point, but there's the other side of the coin:  the more cheap-to-produce power is available, the less expensive-to-produce power will be used.  The highest-cost producers leave the bidding first, and the clearing price falls.

Wind farms and annular fuel can boost our production of relatively cheap electricity.  The wind farms and nukes will be wildly profitable when demand is high enough that the gas-fired powerplants have to start up, but the more wind and nuclear we have the less often this will be.

I am not a fan of nuclear power for what might be called environmental reasons. However, for the demands at hand, it does make sense. France has focused on nuclear power for decades, and their experience with this has generally been positive. Fuel availability is an issue, and the long-term uranium supply (sans breeder reactors) is still iffy despite lower U3O8 prices recently. However, one advantage of uranium fuel is that it is easy to store. I believe France mandates a 3-year fuel supply at all times.

In general, it makes sense to me to just use less electricity. Some posters on TOD report that they have been living a basically modern lifestyle (refrigerators, computers, electric lights, electric well pumps, etc.) on 1 kWh per day, which is about 1/30th of present US average household usage.

I still claim that the post-FF electric system is already built. If coal etc. provides 50% of all electric power, then what happens of all coal availability stopped tomorrow? Then people would use 50% less electricity, the price of electricity would be higher, and non-FF sources would provide 100% of the supply. Just look at Juneau.

Look at Juneau... after losing cheap hydroelectricity:

"utility rates could quintuple..."

"Diesel generators were already running Wednesday morning and are expected to continue to supply most of Juneau's power needs..."

When did diesel get to be non-FF? Who can afford quintuple rates?

Also, for those who think they're not using electricity, remember that everything you buy has also used electricity. Two-thirds of electricity use is non-domestic.

Any advantages of nuclear have to be weighed against the many problems this source of energy poses. In numerous years, including 1990, 2003 and 2005, nuclear power faced problems in Europe due to water supplies for waste heat. In 2005 alone this caused an ecological disaster in one of France's largest rivers, the Rhône, and problems across Europe. Plants are bound to shut down this summer again or, at very least, have to run at lower capacity. The Southeast of the U.S. may face similar problems. Nuclear is not the answer; it's not even an answer.


"In France -- which is the quintessential nuclear country -- 40 percent of all the water consumed every year goes to cooling the nuclear reactors. And when it comes back it's heated and it dehydrates the lakes and streams and furthers climate change drought. During the heat wave of 2003, there wasn't enough water to cool the reactors, so they had to slow them down," he said.


"Water is the nuclear industry's Achilles heel," Jim Warren, executive director of N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network

The Huffington Post

For all the arguments made by the opponents of nuclear power -- that it is uneconomical, unsafe, a potential boon to terrorists, poses waste-disposal issues, and all the rest -- nuclear's biggest threat may come from the one problem it is purported to address: climate change.

Lame, tired talking points of the anti-nuclear luddites. Europe is riddled with canals and rivers and there is no news on them drying up so water is not a problem, poor choice of location is. So called waste is actually a fuel for fast neutron breeder reactors. If nuclear reactors are such a terrorist magnet how come all of the military bases with nuclear warheads aren't? When has there ever been a terrorist incident at a nuclear station around the world?

The solution to terrorism is emphatically not to do away with gas pipelines, nuclear plants, dams, sky scrapers, air planes, trains, container ships, chemical factories, stores, subways or anything else that can be attacked or used in an attack. If you ever tried to do so you would hurt yourself more than any terrorists ever could.

Dissident writes:

"Europe is riddled with canals and rivers and there is no news on them drying up so water is not a problem"

How short-sighted. You must be ignorant of the water crisis in Spain which has forced Catalonia's Barcelona to start shipping in drinking water in recent weeks. Also, it turns out people want to swim in all those rivers that are now piss warm even July thanks to reactors (and some fish want to live in them too). Turns out the Med is getting a little too warm because of heat waste from various sources as well and people can't swim because of jelly fish plagues. Presumeably that's okay if air-con in summer is more important to you.

Poor swimmers. I guess we should switch off the electricity let's say of Barcelona so that we don't disturb their God given right to swim wherever they want. Goodness

Plentiful cooling water in hot summers is a potential issue. I remember reading at the time that part of the problem in 2003 in France, where the majority of nuclear plants are inland, was very low levels of water in rivers which reduced the amount which could be extracted, and not just the regulatory issues concerning the temperature of the returned cooling water. I have not been able to confirm that this was the case, and I wonder if anyone can provide any more information on this? If, as has been forecast, Europe is due more hot summers then amounts of water available for cooling could be a limit on safe operation in the future.

I should have read further down the comments, as this is partially answered in other comments

Would you care to confirm to this forum that you are even more opposed to solar thermal power generation?

This suffers from water availability issues in spades, as it uses about the same quantities as nuclear power, but because it needs to be sited in relatively cloud-free regions is in areas which are essentially desert and have high water-stress.

Nuclear reactors, in contrast, can be sited where there are good supplies of water, or even by the sea and use sea-water.

It is true that insufficient attention was paid to water issues when France built it's first wave of reactors, but the conclusion drawn from this that nuclear technology should therefore be abandoned is ludicrous.

You can also use dry cooling, albeit at considerable financial and efficiency costs, which is fortunate for solar thermal power, and also for the ability of renewables to contribute significantly to energy use, as of the renewables solar thermal in suitable regions is currently the most hopeful.

Since your solution in the event of any engineering issues at all is to immediately abandon the technology, presumably you would have abandoned ships as they have been known to sink, and likewise planes as some of them crashed.

This is also apropos to many of the reactions to Chernobyl, where many critics of nuclear power do not seem to have noticed that reactors are no longer built to that design, but for a start have whacking great containment vessels around them, just like in Three mile island, where it did it's job and prevented significant or deadly releases.

Solar thermal isn't the topic - nuclear power is. The idea of using sea water is no blanket solution for the water problem. What are the effects of releasing millions of litres of warm water into a sea like the Med? They are not trifling. But you seem to feel concerns such as these are simply 'engineering issues' whereas I see these problems as just part of the huge ecological liabilities posed by nuclear. The issue with water is just one point which is too often ignored.

I understand the advantages nuclear power offers and am willing to be convinced of the nonhazardous nature of the technology, but proponents like yourself pretend as if the above were the juvenile concerns of the uninformed. As it happens, a majority of people in Germany, where I live, share these warranted and founded concerns. Nothing is done to ally them; indeed they are rejected collectively. And so, in turn, I reject nuclear per se based on the assumption that if the industry cannot tackle a relatively 'simple' matter of water management and deal with openly and accordingly, what chance is there that more critical matters such a nuclear waste storage will be.

So you won't answer a simple question?
It is all very well being against this and that, but unless you are happy to see everyone running out of power, it is necessary to be for something too.
Your strictures rule out the two most promising approaches to providing base load power.

Every power source has some risks and some costs, which need realistic assessment not alarmist responses.

To condemn an industry as unworkable because it did not deal 100% effectively with difficulties which were not prioritised is not sensible.

As for Germany and it's stance on power production, perhaps note should be taken that they have been entirely ineffectual in reducing CO2 emissions:
The man behind the nuclear power shift - Times Online

If you haven't got hydro power currently the way of reducing emissions which works is nuclear power - France's emissions are far lower than Germany's per capita.

Therefore Germany seems to be part of the problem rather than the solution, and are currently considering building more coal-fired power stations.

I do accept and appreciate some good work in the field of conservation that Germany has lead in, but that does not affect the scale of the problem, nor without realistic solutions to generating electricity will it be sufficient - instead it is contributing to an illusory view of energy provision.

Europe is not in the fortunate position of some sunnier climes where solar is going to make a massive contribution, so effectively you are rejecting about the only practical way of reducing emissions and providing power to prevent an economic crash and great suffering.

All the theoretical considerations aside, France has been providing the majority of it's electricity from nuclear energy for many years, even if it may have occasionally have had adverse effects on fish in the Rhone.

Germany is effectively been marginalising itself in the energy debate in Europe, and should as I suggest responsibility for licensing of nuclear power be given to a central authority, it is difficult to see that Germany will be given a voice in the setting of those standards, or indeed why it should be.

I made a comment above about cooling water availability and the French inland reactors. Do you know of any steps being taken to ensure there is enough cooling water in future hot summers?

Do you know of any steps being taken to ensure there is enough cooling water in future hot summers?

Building more nuclear power stations, so that future hot summers won't be so hot.

How shall the car gain nuclear cachet?

The concern about water supplies is a very valid question, although it should be noted that the problem is greater for coal plants, as the fuel is heavy and so you don't want to transport it too far, so it influences location.

It is much easier to optimise the location of a nuclear plant to where water is more readily available.

Although I have searched, I have not so far found references to specific French measures in response to the shortages during the 2005 drought.

Measures they could take might include larger emergency reservoirs. Longer term as France comes to consider the siting of replacement reactors, the model they use to predict how often drought is likely to impact power provision is going to have been modified.

Consideration in some areas may also be given to the use of dry cooling, which impacts power output and costs, but is a well-understood technology.

Any thermal engine operating with the same thermodynamic efficiency and the same power output discharges waste heat at the same rate - it doesn't matter one iota what the heat source is. That heat source could be geothermal, solar thermal, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, coal, oil, wood or peat... it does not matter!

The laws of thermodynamics are in no way biased against or biased in favour of a nuclear fission heat source. The entire argument about waste heat is a complete non-argument.

True, and trichters argument is entirely ill-founded.
However, although they all have waste heat some dispose of it in different ways.
Wind power I believe relies on air flow to carry away excess heat.
Solar PV does the same, and that is a reason why I am personally more in favour of this as an energy source in hot desert areas than solar thermal, even though it is harder to store energy.

Your examples do nothing to support the idea that the water and heat issues are irrelevant, in fact they support them. PV doesn't have to 'scram' in ANY kind of a drought. Winds 'waste heat' is exceptionally diffused by the nature of that technology, and doesn't create a distinct habitat challenge due to this heating. Which if any of the renewables could be thrust into an emergency state if the water supply were to fail? CSP, at worst, would just shut down, defocus the collectors.. sit cold.. no cooling pools to keep under guard, no Strontium90 or Tritium leaking into the Troutbeds..

The achilles' heels in this technology are too many.. it's not just some 'engineering quibble' that we can design or spend our way out of.


Bob, I certainly did not attempt to dismiss concerns about water supply as irrelevant, and elsewhere in this thread make the same points you do about the better usage of these resources by solar PV and wind.

I think you are over-drawing the issue by referring to the state of emergency created by lack of water flow though, as in the recent harsh drought in France emergency supplies were entirely adequate to prevent any approach to this.

Since Europe has lousy wind resources and in the north solar resources and we desperately need low-carbon energy, or probably any energy at all once the oil crunch hits, it seems to me weird to discard such a massive resource on the grounds that it is imperfect.

To me, it feels like we are hanging off of a cliff and one of the other people who is trapped there persists in batting the rescue rope away on the grounds that it isn't their colour.

If you think that nuclear engineering presents difficulties, try drawing up REALISTIC ways of supplying all our energy from the economic and engineering point of view ways of getting our energy from renewables in northern Europe, and without airy waves of the hand to say 'oh, technology will get us over that, if we only throw enough money at it'

The challenges from nuclear power are far, far smaller, and it has the considerable advantage that it is already proven to be capable of providing most of the electricity for a whole society, unlike renewables hydropower apart.

The solution presented by many is to discard what we know will work and go to a system which is entirely untested and whose costs are unknown.

There is nothing sensible about that, as far as I can see.

Regarding the actual water issue you raise, no doubt the drought of 2005 will have led to an alteration to the models, the provision of more emergency supplies and the greater consideration of coastal sites or dry cooling.

Ahh, the flippant wave off. It's a 'non-argument'..

EXCEPT.. The pretty, euclidean Laws of thermodynamics don't give you the difficult details on the ground. Nuclear Power Plants are by nature HUGE heat engines, and so their waste heat output is as enormous as their Power Ratings, which is far less flexible than other systems, like a multi-collector CSP facility.

As NP plants in the US have gotten approvals to upgrade their ratings, they have also gotten waivers to increase their waste-heat allowances, affecting river and lake ecosystems.

"According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, every unit of electricity produced using nuclear power also creates about two units of waste heat which are usually released into water and can alter the balance of the water body’s ecosystem. Each day, Indian Point withdraws 2.5 billion gallons of water from the Hudson (nearly twice the amount of drinking water consumed daily by all of New York City) and releases it back into the river at up to 110° F – a 34 degree increase of the River’s normal temperature."


With some sense of perspective, the waste heat effects on an ecosystem are a tad bit smaller than the effect of say, a hydroelectric dam or a pumped storage system that would be necissary for dispatchable power from intermittent sources such as solar or wind.

Not that I'm opposed to those either, but the perspective here is lacking.

The only 2005 ecological disaster for the Rhone that I can find reference to is a long-term leakage/dumping of PCBs from an industrial waste processing plant. Nothing to do with nuclear power.

The Huffington piece presents an interesting logical inversion: "climate change threatens nuclear power, therefore nuclear power is bad." Bizarre. One or two weeks of reduced power at nuclear stations, in some years, does not mean that they are not valuable.

Okay you win, thermal pollution is not an issue because nuclear power is valuable.

I'm glad you agree that nuclear power's value in combating climate change outweighs the restrictions that it works within on local ecology temperature control.

... thermal pollution is not an issue because nuclear power is valuable.

Thermal pollution is not an issue because the world is too big for it to be an issue. Someday it will become one, but that will take many decades.

The Mediterranean sea, according to Wikipedia, has 2.5 million km^2 of surface area and therefore receives insolation on the order of 700000 gigawatts. Nuclear plants that raise this to, so to speak, "7000x0 gigawatts" are indeed a trifle.

In general, the issues persons dependent on government funding raise, in justifying their distaste for nuclear energy, are not their real reason, which is the loss to their paymaster of fossil fuel revenue.

How shall motoring gain nuclear cachet?

This just shows mostly a ignorance as to the the overall picture. Nuclear power plants in France in 2003 *on rivers* has this problem of lowerer capacity due to lower vacuum levels on their turbines due to the warmer, and lower river water levels.

Those NPPs built on the ocean had ZERO problems as there were not temperature or level issues.

Secondly, it should be noted that the *same conditions* that caused the high heat wave in Europe those days also caused ZERO WIND PRODUCTION for the entire period as these sorts of heat waves are usually in tandum with zero or low wind days.

Clearly the building of new NPPs should be thought out in terms of location and engineering: 1. on oceans shores and 2. inland with either larger reservoirs for heat sink capability and in conjuction with cooling towers.

I seriously doubt that half of all water consumed in France is for power plants. If it was, then the water situation for the lower rivers are irrelevant since cooling towers need quanty, not quality of water: if they are river cooled via once through condensers, then there is NO water consumption, if they are cooling tower cooled, then there is a large consumption but it is not dependent on river levels.

David Walters

Water is an easily solvable problem for nuclear: Build nukes near coast lines.

For existing nukes use power from coast line nukes to pump water inland to the inland nukes.

The reversal of the long-lasting, politically motivated distaste towards nuclear power in EU is remarkable. The next step is a common framework - safety standards, waste management, non-proliferation. That should be pretty straightforward as most of the pieces are there - what has always been missing is the political will to do it.

However, by watching the speed this happens, I expect all of this to be too little and too late. With the exception of France, the rest of the EU members are too loaded with NIMBYsm and conservatism. For example we are still to see the reversal of the ill-thought nuclear phase-out Germany plans for. In the end it will happen, but not before Germany is too far behind the curve. So, despite the relatively good headstart, I expect EU to finish last on the nuclear race - the leading players will be USA, Japan, Russia and increasingly China. This race is going to last for our lifetime and will lead us away from FFs irrespective of the doomers' daydreams.

The new EU members are not strong on NIMBYism I believe.
The balance pro-nuclear is pretty solid, and getting better.
I would have a different list of the leaders in nuclear energy, and would go Japan, Russia, China and India, with Europe some way behind and the US last, both because of strong opposition to nuclear power and because it's other resources such as wind, solar and biomass are very good indeed.

It is a public secret that a major part of the reasons why EU was expanded with less developed countries is to export dirty, low-value added or politically unpopular productions to them. Globalisation, european style.

This may not be such a bad thing after all, as in the case of nuclear the resistance is based on unjustified public perceptions and will promote investments and economic benefits in the new member states. It's no surprise that virtually all of them are considering or building new nuclear; I have heard proposals even for Albania (which is not in EU but close) for exports of electricity to nuclear hostile Italy.

There is no European supergrid yet, which explains why countries at the end of the "pipeline" (UK) are so quick in switching to reverse when they feel that blackouts are knocking on the door.

IMO US will be the leader, because of past experience and more advanced technological base. And in the end the usual american practicality will allow them to streamline nukes much faster, while europeans are still fiddling in debates. At least that's how it usually happens.

The US is not the leader in fast breeder technology and reprocessing.

That's true, but it's because they never took on them seriously. Political obstacles stopped this developments in their infancy here... What will happen in the end (IMO) is that US companies will simply buy the know-how and streamline it in US and abroad. Japan already did similar thing buying the documentation from the BN-600 reactor.

Long-term I am especially excited about the PBMR design. The ability to deploy quickly a mass produced, modular design reactor fits perfectly the business model here. Of course the Chinese can beat us to this too.

Actually in my view this question doesn't really matter. My overriding concern is climate change - we can live without gasoline, but I don't know if we can live without stable climate. Whoever is the leader in implementing the solution is irrelevant for me; just bring it on and fast.

Its also because fast breeders are a dead end and reprocessing solid fuel costs more than its worth.

Economically yes - the costs of reprocessing is not going to be likely to be worth it, even if U prices double or triple (and I don't think this would happen in the foreseeable future, at least not sustainably).

Politically and socially, no. The ability to separate out Pu and the rest of the actinudes and reduce the volume of the waste by two orders of magnitude would be invaluable. If they show in TV how all a plant outputs for an year can comfortably fit in a cars trunk, all this crap about the "nukular" waste will end, hopefully.

As for breeders I'm not sure why you think it's dead end, the technology has been demonstrated and successfully operated for many years now. Essentially all nuclear powers have the strategic goal of closing the fuel cycle as further as possible, so reprocessing will happen in the end, it's a certainty. Then if we already have reprocessing, breeders become easier to implement, and even necessary as "fast burners" and in the longer term we can have those too.

Anything could happen though, it may even be fusion will be available before all of that.

Politically and socially, no. The ability to separate out Pu and the rest of the actinudes and reduce the volume of the waste by two orders of magnitude would be invaluable. If they show in TV how all a plant outputs for an year can comfortably fit in a cars trunk, all this crap about the "nukular" waste will end, hopefully.

Not a chance. Right now all the output for a plant will fit inside a big concrete cask that just sits on the parking lot and people still fret about it. With hauling waste all over the country to special reprocessing plants isn't going to reassure any of the plebs.

As for breeders I'm not sure why you think it's dead end, the technology has been demonstrated and successfully operated for many years now.

Because they solve a problem that we'll never have: A shortage of plutonium. Thermal fluid fuel breeders certainly offer tremendous hope for a closed fuel cycle, but fast neutron breeders offer nothing but increased capital cost, a more expensive fuel cycle, and more dangerous reactor operation.

The only thing fast neutron breeders are really good at is neutron multiplication and fissioning transuranics. This is pretty desirable if you want A. A start charge for a liquid fluoride thorium breeder, or B. A whole lot of weapons grade plutonium. Either stay with light water reactors or move to fluid fuel breeders.

I would be careful about revolutionary proposals like a fluid fuel. There is a very strong reason why currently fuel is manufactured in robust fuel assemblies - it it to contain the radioactive material in any event possible. As you can imagine, even the most insignificant leak of radioactive fuel somewhere somehow, would be presented as an environmental catastrophe.

As for reprocessing related transportation - the crap here is flying low below the cooling device. The public doesn't seem to get impressed by whatever is being transported to wherever that much... what Joe Public wants is not to be transported to or from his backyard, so that he doesn't have to worry about something he doesn't understand. The terror tactics of organisations like Greenpeace has long shifted away from the transportation - no matter how much they try to scare the public that "nuke waste is being transported from A to B", everyone sees that nothing extraordinary happens, and in 2 days the whole deal is forgotten - this erodes their credibility in the long run. It's much easier to scare the public with something which stays in their backyard and could do ... fill in here whatever your imagination can produce.


I would be careful about revolutionary proposals like a fluid fuel. There is a very strong reason why currently fuel is manufactured in robust fuel assemblies - it it to contain the radioactive material in any event possible. As you can imagine, even the most insignificant leak of radioactive fuel somewhere somehow, would be presented as an environmental catastrophe.

I would be very careful before I made such statements. Safety issues with liquid salt fuels were throughly researched at ORNL in the 1950's. I know because my father did the research. Liquid Fluoride fuels are highly stable. One of the fundamental advantages of Liquid fluoride reactors is that radio active gases like Xenon can be continuously stripped from the fuel stream thus preventing a large release of radioactive gas in the event of accident. Most of the radio isotopes found in a Liquid Fluoride Reactor are locked in place by very strong chemical bonds. If the liquid salts leak, they almost immediately freeze, thus preventing the further movements of radio-isotopes. Even if terrorists try to blow up a Liquid Fluoride Reactor or crash a aircraft into it, there would be only very local dispersal of radioactive materials on the grounds of the power plant.


There is virtually no transportation issue with Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, Most of the fuel is is not fissionable when it enters the reactor. It is burned in the reactor, and at most only about 1 ton a year gets used. Most of the fission products are not radioactive when they leave the reactor. The by products include a number of metals and minerals that are valuable in industry. One estimate states that the nuclear byproducts from a There is virtually no transportation issue with Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor would be worth $5 million a year. Hence instead of a problem with nuclear waste, you have the benefit of nuclear alchemy.

The so called waste from light water reactors can be burned to a cinder in Liquid Salt Reactors.

The nuclear industry is conservative and there are very good reasons why... even if you are right it will take decades until such reactor is developed and deployed, while FBRs are already far ahead of the curve.

I'm not an expert but this part got me wondering: "Most of the radio isotopes found in a Liquid Fluoride Reactor are locked in place by very strong chemical bonds."

I didn't like the "most" and the "chemical bonds" parts. If isotopes are held in chemical compounds, how does this prevent them from escaping into the environment, in the case for example power excursion? Or improper handling of spent nuclear fuel? By the safety standards the nuclear industry is held accountable effectively no emission at all are acceptable - just look at the fuss about several millirems that got leaked during the Japan earthquake and recently in Spain.

LevinK, you ought to bone up on Fluoride salt chemistry and physics before you pose as an expert. You are on very thin ground. But I never meet a critic of nuclear power who did not consider himself an expert who knew at least as much about the subject as Alvin Weinberg. Since you are such an expert, explain to me what would be "spent fuel" in a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor and why you would regard it as spent.

Excuse me? Where did I pose as an expert?

I am simply asking questions from what little I know and what my quick scan research produced. Use me to practice your arguments how are you going to convince the layman public if you wish. I admit I had to do a more research before getting involved into the FBR vs LFTR debate, but I had some time constraints here... and I'm sorry that you took it as a claim that I'm an expert. OTOH high ground expert arrogance won't win you guys much support, I guarantee you.

BTW if you read a little bit more carefully you would notice that I am hardly "critic" of nuclear power, quite the opposite.

I didn't like the "most" and the "chemical bonds" parts. If isotopes are held in chemical compounds, how does this prevent them from escaping into the environment, in the case for example power excursion? Or improper handling of spent nuclear fuel? By the safety standards the nuclear industry is held accountable effectively no emission at all are acceptable - just look at the fuss about several millirems that got leaked during the Japan earthquake and recently in Spain.

The isotopes that aren't soluble are trapped via plate out and are solid or captured via offgas systems from helium sparging and are held there. The core material is an ionically bonded salt, and these salts aren't water soluble or mobile.

In the event of a power excursion (not that such a thing can happen in a fluid fuel thermal reactor because of the high delayed neutron component, doppler broadening, very strong negative temperature coefficient and void coefficient) a freeze plug in the bottom melts and the fuel drains into dump tanks. In the event of a leak the salt freezes and is cleaned up and dumped back into the reactor after the leak is fixed. Since the fuel is continually sparged, there's very little in the way of volitiles present in the fuel at any time. Unlike solid fuel, where its under pressure because of all the crap that accumulates.

Since your question got lost in the indignation, I'll point to some of the more likely possibilities and the experts can expand or correct as necessary.

I didn't like the "most" and the "chemical bonds" parts.

"Most" is a required caveat, because some of the fission products are noble gases.

If isotopes are held in chemical compounds, how does this prevent them from escaping into the environment, in the case for example power excursion?

Aside from power excursions being prevented by reactor physics, the minuscule vapor pressure of the salts prevents easy dispersal.  After all, that's the only thing preventing UO2 from escaping.

Or improper handling of spent nuclear fuel?

If you ball-mill your spent fuel and mix it into fireworks you're going to have a problem.  I can't think of an answer to this which gets close to likely modes of "improper handling" without going to the absurd.

IMO US will be the leader, because of past experience and more advanced technological base. And in the end the usual American practicality will allow them to streamline nukes much faster, while Europeans are still fiddling in debates.

I completely agreed. Once the population widely understands that we are peaking in fossil fuels and that nuclear is really the only way to replace the majority of energy that we now use, our practicality will take over. It will be much easier for us to marshal the $20-30 trillion to build our 1,500 reactors in the next 50 years. Since it is the only viable solution, it will happen no matter what the opponents try to do to stop it.

They are starting from pretty far back. French expertise is much more current, and they should be able to step up a build for other European countries as soon as they realise they need it.
In both France and Sheffield preparations are under way to ready production of very large castings.
Japan too has a recent build experience, and has funded designs such as the Toshiba nuclear battery and the Fuji molten salt reactor which could be mass produced. They also currently produce around 40% of their power by nuclear means.
The Us, in contrast, has built no new reactors for years and has allowed much of it's expertise to dissipate.
Currently it is estimated by the US Government that it would take a decade to build 8 reactors, so it will take them a while to ramp up, and each individual state need to approve.
The technical base is much stronger in Europe and Japan, and a large build could be undertaken much more rapidly.

I think we Americans are better equiped than the EU for large scale mobilization because we have more unified business, financial, educational and political systems. We just need to get past the denial that we can drill our way to a solution. Once we realize that not just our comfort but our survival is at stake, we will make the right decision.

I certainly hope that the US successfully adapts, but you also have to take into account that the infrastructure in much of Europe is in far better shape than in the US, and urban density is much higher and public transport much better, so that a relatively low energy economy is far easier.
In such an economy the missallocation of capital represented by the dispersed suburbs alone is a serious difficulty.
However, other energy resources such as wind and solar are far better in the States, as are coal resources if needs be.
Perhaps as Churchill said, Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing - when all the alternatives are exhausted! ;-)

Your figure translates to 20bln.per reactor, think you maybe off by one zero. Currently Japan is building reactors at about $2-3000/kW, or 3-4bln. for a 1400MW reactor. Allowing for some cost overruns in US (especially at the start) and inflation, let's put it to $5bln. a piece.

1500 x 5 = $7.5 trillion

But 1500 x 1.4 = 2100GW, I think you are kind of high on this one too. All US electricity consumption is 450GW, on average; let's say electrifying the transportation and demand growth triple that to 1350GW, you are still off by almost factor of 2. Overall for 4-5 trillion we could be done with it... what's that - a 1% of the GDP through 2050? And actually costs will drop with time, so I expect the bill to be even lower.

What drives me mad is that the solutions are known and are at hand, but we are still staying here and endlessly debating the same points. If we indeed fall into doomer scenarios, I would at least know what is it to blame - debates.

All US electricity consumption is 450GW, on average; let's say electrifying the transportation and demand growth triple that to 1350GW

IMHO it would be quite a bit less than that.  Based on calculation from fuel consumption and combustion-engine efficiency, ground transport would be in the region of 180 GW.  This would shrink as electric cars and rail start taking over.  Electric heating etc. would require a substantial amount more, but it would be more peak than average.

Interesting discussions from the Forum, thanks for the links.

One presentation inspired me to go to find the recent (pdf) Eurobarometer report on attitudes to nuclear power. I've skimmed through it and it looks interesting also.

When proposing massive taxpayer subsidies, as is being done here, the burden of proof is with those doing the proposing.

If nuclear is so profitable, why aren't all new reactors funded out of the profits from existing ones?

With recent efficiency improvements in refrigeration, lighting, computing, etc, combined with continuing costs reductions in renewable energy, it is unclear that additional nuclear generation capability will be needed.

Two links:

A short essay discussing McCain's hypocrisy regarding energy subsidies:

Nuclear Power in the US: Still Not Viable Without Subsidy

You do realise that this thread is about European policy towards nuclear energy?
And it is specifically asking for proposals to present to the European commission?
Although I have no problems in arguing that nuclear also deserves a substantial place in the power generation of the US, this hardly seems the place for the discussion.
Whether or not nuclear power is viable without subsidy in the US is hardly here or there, as the US has far better wind and solar resources than Europe, with average wind speeds in many places several miles per hour better than in almost all of Europe and wind's usefulness increasing very fast indeed as average wind speeds and capacity increases, whilst for solar power even Ottawa is south of Paris.

In a global economy, the costs aren't that different US vs Europe.

Although solar and wind might be not as advantageous in Europe, the risk is the same. The risk is that taxpayers spend billions on new reactors, only to find that the rapidly developing wind and solar technologies have outpaced them on cost in the years before they even come online.

In a global economy, the costs aren't that different US vs Europe.

You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

Solar and wind power are both determined not only by the level of technology but by the resource availability.
The thing about renewables is that they are location and time specific, and what is good at one time and place is a non-starter elsewhere.

Nuclear plants cost about the same amount no matter which country they are built in. It is likely that the same firms will be construction in many cases.

The risk to the taxpayers is that they will be stuck with an expensive set of nuclear plants while the costs of the alternative have made them uneconomic.

Like it or not, the recent surge in solar and wind investment is showing just how quickly those costs can come down.

If you wish to take part in debates, perhaps you would take the trouble to inform yourself of the basics of the issues, rather than 'taking a two minute google' to confirm your prejudices.
After erroneously claiming that renewables costs were the same in different countries, when they are demonstrably different in even different regions of particular countries, you are now making an easily falsifiable claim about nuclear costs.
A 'two minute google' would inform you that costs in fact vary enormously from country to country.

You also seem to have some difficulty in comprehending what is clearly written,as I have already stated that I support renewables where they can be appropriately and cost effectively deployed.

In fact, for reasonable people there is no conflict between renewables and nuclear, as they complement each other nicely.

Your fantasising that renewables are currently in the position to provide all the power for a technological civilisation does not make that an engineering reality, nor would any sensible person blithely assume that all the breakthroughs needed to make it so will happen.

I've never claimed that renewables have the same costs regardless of location, only that new nuclear plant construction will have similar costs. Go reread the posts.

"If nuclear is so profitable, why aren't all new reactors funded out of the profits from existing ones?"

What a stupid comment. If something wasn't profitable a company wouldn't invest in it at the first place. It is a choice of the company where it would find the money from, and in capitalistic economy this is almost always accomplished with loans.

Maybe a better question is:

If it is so "profitable", why are government subsidies needed at all?

All available evidence suggests it neither needs, nor has been receiving, subsidies. Thus, in any country that is technically capable of building a turboprop airliner, there are nuclear power stations -- except where government forbids them.

Maybe I missed a counterexample.

How shall motoring gain nuclear cachet?

If you follow the second link from my original post, you'll see a detailed examination of nuclear power subsidies. The information is out there, it only took three minutes with google to turn that up.

While it focuses on US plants because more information is public, it has this to say about Finland, France, and China:

Full costs often difficult or impossible to estimate.

–Finland: financing assumptions –no income taxes, 100% debt at a cost of 5%. Allegations of low cost financing from banks, export credit agencies with government participation. (Bradford, 2005).

–France: large government ownership and involvement with all stages of the market for decades; little transparency.

–China: Nuclear development a state monopoly; government main source of debt and equity; guaranteed sales contract.

PDF version:

Replace 'nuclear' with 'hydroelectric power' and you'll largely get the same result. Yet no one questions the viability of hydroelectric power. One might assume that its pure nuclear exceptionalism.

The battle for Climate change is not about one nuclear plant less or more. If it isn't build in Europe, it will be build somewhere else. The same counts for coal fired plants.

The only way to escape climate change is that the developed world builds up a industry of clean energy generation. This should be finished in 2020 when we can start to decommission the fossil generated energy.

Nuclear is very bad, because it can't be properly exported, due to security reasons. It doesn't contribute to the build of this new industry.

So, we can build some nuke plants, but it would totally foolish to give large subsidies to nuclear energy research. If they claim to be cheaper, they should pay for their own research. Tax the nuclear energy generation for paying the research for breeder reactors. If that is not possible, well, how come? I thought it was cheap.

Also, they are talking about revival of the nuclear industry. But the industy is almost dead. The new plants can hardly replace exisiting plants. Reactor production is 4 a year, that is 4 GW a year. Wind turbine production is 20 GW a year, you should divide by 3, but still you are about 50% higher than nuclear. Solar PV will surpass nuclear in a few years, if you look to planned number of nuke plants and PV growth numbers.

Nukes can compete on price, but renewables will outperform on speed.

Although it is not what most people think, but free market in energy highly favors renewables.

In free market speed has much higher value than price. Furthermore, the energy source with the highest price will set the price. So, the cheap nuclear energy, will not lower the price. In a communistic society, price differences can averaged. This favors nuclear.

So, the free market is very very bad for nuclear. A good joke.

By the way, the nuke plants take a lot of water, because of the lower temperature. The same counts for solar thermal with parabolic trough or Fresnel reflectors. It does not count for solar power tower. The disadvantage of a dry cooler is less with higher temperatures.

By the way, the nuke plants take a lot of water, because of the lower temperature.

True for PWR, but technologies like HTGR, PBMR and perhaps the molten-salt reactor run hot enough to get higher thermal efficiency and need less cooling.  If I understand the MSR correctly, the 650-800°C secondary-loop temperatures would allow use of an open-cycle gas turbine as the power stage and require no cooling water at all.


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