Published on April 15th, 2014 | by Shrink That Footprint


Electricity Source With Lowest Carbon Intensity Is… (Chart)

April 15th, 2014 by  

Originally published on Shrink That Footprint.
By Lindsay Wilson

Carbon Intensity of Electricity

The new French Prime Minister Manuel Valls recently reiterated President Hollande’s plan to cut French dependence on atomic power to half of all output by 2025, down from almost 75% currently. The plan is to curtail nuclear and ramp up renewables. In his speech he noted that:

The climate is probably the area where regulation is most needed… It’s a major challenge for the planet and we will respond with a real low-carbon strategy.

I’m not sure if the context of this quote has gone missing in translation, but I’m guessing that switching from nuclear to renewables is not how France intends to cut its emissions by 40% by 2030. I’m sure it isn’t, because that simply isn’t a mitigation strategy.

In the map above we can see that France already has very low carbon electricity, just 79 g CO2/kWh in terms of carbon dioxide emitted at plants. This figure is so low precisely because they have so much nuclear. In fact their carbon productivity of 0.15 kg CO2/$ makes most countries look like climate laggards (the US is 0.4 for example, and China is 2.1).

Reading this story made me wonder how well people understand the carbon intensity of electricity generation. So here is a quick primer, based on an excellent IPCC meta-study of the issue, looking at full lifecycle emissions of electricity production.

carbon intensity of electricity

It’s basically pretty simple. Fossil fuels are high carbon sources of electricity while other generation sources are low carbon.

Coal is the most carbon intensive, followed by oil and then natural gas. Solar PV and geothermal are slightly more carbon intensive than other non-fossil sources, but still very low carbon compared to any fossil fuel. If you dig into the study, you can see the range of data points across different studies for each technology.

So what is the ‘greenest source of electricity’?

If you are looking just at carbon, then hydro is a decent bet, closely followed by ocean power, wind, and nuclear. If we could actually make it work, biomass with carbon capture and storage (CCS) would be quite something, preferably using the waste from some fast rotation food staple. In the IPCC meta-study, biomass with CCS has estimates from -1,368 to -598 g CO2eq/kWh. Sadly, this option looks like it is a very long way from being commercially scalable.

So which do you think is the greenest source of power? Does your definition of green extend beyond just carbon?

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  • Bob_Wallace

    We don’t have good enough. What we, and the rest of the world, are doing is storing our most hazardous waste in temporary containers and encapsulating in glass which only kicks the problem down the road.

    Yucca, the people living there do not want it in their land. The people living around Yucca don’t want it transported through their area. And even if Yucca could be shown to be safe storage for the dangerous life of the material that site would be quickly filled. We have identified no second Yucca Mountain site.

    I made no further argument.

    Please don’t insult our intelligence by comparing used nuclear fuel to household cleansers. If you’re going to be dishonest then just go away.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Solar manufacturing causes some carbon to be released simply because some of our grid power and most of our mining and transportation is done with fossil fuels.

    As we clean our grid and move transportation to electricity and clean fuels the lifetime CO2 footprint of solar will drop. (It doesn’t have far to drop, now.)

    Concrete also gets used in hydro and wind as well as nuclear. We need to find less carbon emitting ways to produce concrete.

    It seems that you are trying to talk about CO2 release during operation. That’s only one source of carbon emissions. When a lifetime footprint is performed all of the carbon is counted.

    • Brian Donovan

      No, Solar power didn’t cause ANY of that CO2, the folks providing the gird power and transportation did. This whole assign blame for current CO2 emitter to folks building CO2 non-emitters is a fossils deception,.
      Agreed on concrete, I have even seen some carbon negative concrete.
      Solar whole lifetime, Solar NEVER produces CO2, only other companies tech does. It’s a trick. Does solar emit radiation? I guess it does if it uses coal or nuclear according to the myth you have bought into. But it doesn’t. Simple fact.
      To be fair, that means nuclear does not produce co2 either, but it does kill millions with radiation, and is incredible expensive, and we have no solution to the million year waste problems.
      Fossil fuels do produce CO2, inherently to their use. They are responsible for ALL the produced CO2, not solar, not wind, not even nuclear. Stop falling for the pr: it’s a total mind f.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Brian, there are common standards used for determining lifetime carbon footprint. Since there is some fossil fuel input to the manufacture and shipping of solar panels they have a small, but positive carbon footprint.

        You’re confusing CO2 output during production with lifetime carbon footprint. They are two different things.

        And stop the allcaps shouting. Dazzle us with your keen wit.

  • naim001

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  • CaptD

    Fukushima will now generate an enormous amount of carbon intensity that cannot be overlooked in any comparison which lists nuclear. Until each nuclear reactor is fully decommissioned, which takes decades, its carbon footprint is UNKNOWN.

    It is no longer appropriate for the nuclear industry to cherry pick numbers to make itself look fiscally and/or environmentally viable!


    Because the global nuclear industry has the money it needs to fund all the peer reviewed studies it wants, they all end up saying whatever they want them to, or they simply will not publish them…

    We also know that about three years ago today, all the Japanese nuclear Experts (along with most other nuclear Experts in the World) that said that “modern” nuclear power plants were safe and had so many safety features that they would not meltdown because they were so well designed, were proven terribly wrong by Fukushima’s triple meltdowns and that it will take decades if not about 100 years to deal with its on-going pollution of the Pacific Ocean, that is, if nothing BIG goes BAD before then.

    Also in all fairness, mankind will have to employ NEW types of equipment that have never ever been built, in order to deal with the new problems Fukushima has created. Also, until fully decommissioned, the Japanese will continue to contaminate massive amounts of sea water with radioactivity daily, that will all end up in the Pacific Ocean unless the UN sanctions the Japanese with penalties which should be used to finance Solar (of all flavors) R&D and it’s installation in developing Countries, if they will agree to not use nuclear. This will enable mankind to begin the transition to Solar while at the same time reduce the need for our Earth’s limited resources.

    I also be the first to point out that the Coal Industry has many health problems associated with it, which the Nuclear industry is all too eager to point out; but the SAME THING COULD BE SAID ABOUT THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY; since it also mines radioactive Uranium ore which is then processed into highly radioactive fuel rods of several different types. Once this radioactive fuel is used in a reactor, it then produces huge amounts of additional radioactive waste that will have as yet unknown effects on mankind over the enormous timespan that it will take to render all of it harmless! Because this radioactive timespan dwarfs anything currently affecting mankind, it is completely unscientific to say today, what the harmful effect of our using nuclear power plants in the twentieth and twenty-first century will be generations from now!

    For example, should highly radioactive “dirty” material from Fukushima be used in a terrorist weapon at some point in the future, its affect on man must be placed directly upon the nuclear industry that created it, because without building the nuclear power plants it would have never existed to cause harm to man’s health. This is yet another potential “future” health problem that cannot be discounted since there is so much radioactive waste material unaccounted for at Fukushima and many other locations globally!

    It is no longer fair for the nuclear industries spokespersons, the IAEA and/or Regulators like the NRC to try to limit Energy discussions to only the positive points that favor using nuclear while at the same time shrugging off all other negative points as not being relevant!

    Excerpts from :

  • Ronald Brakels

    I looked up how much French households pay for electricity during the day. About 21 cents a kilowatt-hour. This means that with a 5% discount rate, German installation costs, and a Nice location (see what I did there?) point of use solar can provide electricity at well below half the retail price of electricity, making it extremely competitive. And as I mentioned somewhere else in this thread, solar would be particularly useful given France’s summertime electricity supply problems.

    • CaptD

      Ron – Nicely done geographically speaking…

      France would be smart to rush solar rooftop installation ASAP before they squander any more money on nuclear safety upgrades for aging reactors that should have been idled years ago!

      • Ronald Brakels

        The upgrades for their existing plants is probably a done deal what with institutional inertia and all, but yes, it certainly would have made sense to simply shut down their worst reactors and replace them with nenewable capacity. Particularly when including a realistic cost of insurance for these older plants. Since solar meets peak demand in France 900 MW of PV should be about sufficient to replace one of their 34 older 900 MW reactors.

        • CaptD

          Ron – It is always great to see your comments. Don’t stop!

          Since the French Gov’t. is also a major owner of their nuclear Industry, they are really between the nuclear rock and the hard decision place, since doing nothing different will only get them in trouble later when things are even more expensive to deal with.

          Like pouring ever more money into an old clunker because you don’t want to upgrade to a newer vehicle that you know will cost much less to operate; all the while holding your breath hoping that nothing BAD happens ever time you use the clunker!

  • Will E

    what about solar produced with solar energy and wind energy.
    Elon Musk plans his Tesla battery factory with Wind and Solar energy.
    Footprint decommission nuclear plant Sellafield UK 100 billion US dollars and not done.
    google Sellafield

  • Evan Robinson

    I made a chart a few years ago ( that addresses the intersection of EROI and carbon density. Hope someone finds it useful.

  • Thomas

    Crystal River Florida they want to build two new reactors that will be operational for 40 years or so. The cost of the new power station would be 25 to 30 billion dollars to construct and then the power company or state must insure the plant, dispose of the waste and also operate the plant install new fuel rods and decommission to plant the total cost of the operation over it’s life cycle I estimated(rough guess) would be 80 billion dollars and the nuclear waste still is a major problem to dispose of. Excluding the waste problem the per kilowatt cost of the plant would be around 25 to 30 cents not the advertised 5 cents per kilowatt which is only to operate and produce the electricity once the facility is built. Florida power wants to put a $60.00 surcharge on residential customers monthly to help build the plant and this does not include the monthly electricity use by the household nor the other mentioned costs like disposal, insurance, decommissioning,etc.

    • MarkRavingMad

      Considering The Crystal River Facility cost about $400 million (with an M) to build in 1977, I’m going to have to call B.S. on those numbers without a credible source to back them up.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “Since Progress filed its application for the new plant in 2008 demand for electricity has been growing very slowly, and natural gas prices are now very low. The utility now estimates that the reactors will cost between $17 billion and $22 billion, not counting financing charges and cost overruns”

        You can follow the links….

        Financing can easily double the overnight cost. That would make them $34 to $44 billion. Cost overruns for the reactors we built back in the previous century were running 2x to 3x more than estimates.

        $80 billion might be high but $400 million is way, way low.

        • MarkRavingMad

          well, I stand corrected (to a degree). Excellent work with the sources my friend.

          However, $17B-$22B is not $25B-$30B. There is also absolutely no precedent to assume Lifetime Costs of a Nuclear facility (including decommissioning) to exceed 1.3x facility construction costs, let alone 2.5-3x.

          Also, at 2.2GW it would be a truely enourmous power station. I won’t pretend that $20B isn’t steep, but it’s a very big facility.

          Finally, I ask, why, if solar and wind were as immediately viable as you calim, would Duke energy bother trying to build this plant? Nuclear plants are lightning rods for public backlash. Since The main reason most utilities are looking to decarbonize is the threat of a future carbon tax or penalty. and we assume that despite the lo cost of NG right now, they want to go carbon free for this reason, I ask, why spend all the money, and fight the public backlash, if Solar and wind are really as big a no-brainer as you say?

          • Bob_Wallace

            “However, $17B-$22B is not $25B-$30B”

            $17-$22B is the overnight cost. What it would cost were the plant build in a single day.

            Take that $17-$22B and put it in a spreadsheet with a reasonable interest rate and an 8 – 12 year construction timeline.

            Heck, I’ll do it for you. 6%. In 8 years the $17 to $22B becomes $26 to $33B. In 12 years it grows to $32 to $42B.

            (6% financing is only available if taxpayers accept the risk of non-completion.)

            And, remember, cost overruns have yet to be figured in.

            The nuclear industry can claim that they now have a handle on cost and timeline overruns but Vogtle and Summer are reportedly over budget and behind schedule. And work just started.

            I can’t explain Duke’s decision. I do know that Duke abandoned other reactor plans and started investing in renewables a few years back.

          • CaptD

            For the Utilities that run them nuclear power plants are a cash cow that guarantees them an income stream for about 100 years when building, running and decommissioning are all included! Note:That this does not include all the rate increases and BIG replacement projects needed along the way, that will add many billions more to what the Utility generates (pun intended) for themselves and their shareholders!

            Knowing what we know now about “just” rooftop solar, it is a good bet that in 30 to 40 years if these nuclear power plants ever get built, they will become a huge expensive boondoggle that the people of Flordia cannot afford!

        • MarkRavingMad

          also, $400 million was for the original Crystal River facility, built back in 77′, so yeah I’ll own that one. my bad.

        • MarkRavingMad

          Also, it looks like Duke energy has decided that because of the public backlash against the idea, they’ll likely be going with a NG facility instead…So instead of a plant producing 16g-eq CO2 per kWh, we’re getting one producing 469g-eq CO2 per kWhr…and there are people who are happy about this…who call them selves environmentalists…ooookaaaaay

          • Bob_Wallace

            NG is nasty. But it’s dispatchable.

            That means that as we install wind and solar we will cut back the hours of operation for NG.

            That does not happen with nuclear plants because they take so long to stop and start. Besides, cut the operational hours for nuclear very much and the plant goes bankrupt. Those upfront costs are killers.

          • MarkRavingMad

            France runs most of their Nuclear reactors as dispatch-able with a 35% output variance. the Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors set to be built at Crystal River were designed to meet that standard as well. We probably wouldn’t have used that feature, because we have so much peaking infrastructure, but we could have.

            Otherwise, yes, NG can be dispatchable…but this NG probably wont be. dispatchable NG generally comes in the form of gas turbines, but those are expensive and wasteful. That’s why peaking power from these plants can run as high as $0.25/kWhr. If you’re replacing a nuclear plant, odds are good you’re going to build an NG plant to fill the same niche, which means, boiling water.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Do you grasp what load-following with nuclear would do to the cost of electricity?

            BTW, reactors can’t truly load follow. They can ramp up and down over a period of time. They don’t have the ability to respond to demand changes in seconds or even minutes.

          • MarkRavingMad

            Appearantly not that much. ask France. as noted, they regularly vary output plus or minus 35%.

            While this is not true load following, very little on the grid is. Peaking plants don’t actually “load follow” in the same way an airplane engine does. They throttle to meet the general need. moment to moment variations are simple not enough, given the massive scale of the grid, to change the voltage drop across the circuit by more than a minute percentage point, which pretty much everything on the grid is standardized to be able to handle. Electrical Engineering 201: Intro To Circuits. I can recommend a text book, if you’d like.

          • Bob_Wallace

            France is running plants they built years ago.

            Let me explain the cost of load-following with nuclear for you.

            Cost of electricity = (fixed capex/finex payments + fixed O&M + variable O&M) / amount of electricity produced.

            I’m going to ignore variable O&M because it is a small piece of the pie.
            A new reactor would likely need to sell its power for >12 cents (recent CitiGroup analysis). Let’s use 12c.

            Running 100% of the time possible (ignoring scheduled ~10% downtime) costs/production = 12c

            Cut production by 50% during off-peak hours (load follow the clock) means only 75% as much electricity is produced.

            Costs / 0.75 production = 16c/kWh. That is 16 cents per kWh for all the electricity produced for the entire year.

          • Nuclear requires several weeks every year down for maintenance and over a month every 18 months for refueling. Wind has about 1-2% breakdown per year, and if they are built over an area, they almost never fully stop producing.

          • MarkRavingMad

            not since the 80’s. nuclear plant uptime is over 92% in the U.S. which beats out every other form of grid scale energy, Winds and solar are the worst with about ~30% uptime

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, that is not true.

            The Nuclear Energy Institute says so.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The “uptime” for solar is about 19% for the lower 48.

            The “uptime” for wind is about 85%.

            You’re confusing wind’s CF with the percentage of hours the wind blows.

          • No way

            The only good natural gas plant is the one that is never built. Even more so with the horror of fracking being used to get the gas. With a combination of nuclear and renewables then you would be able to use eventual hydro, biomass and waste burning to regulate it.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry. Nuclear is a much greater danger to humans than is fracking.

    • CaptD

      Thomas – It is amazing to me that the nuclear industry always wants to sideline the radioactive waste issue until sometime in the far distant future so that they don’t have to deal with it…

      Also, unmentioned is IF there are no over runs and/or IF nothing goes BAD before they are fully decommissioned…

      Those are two BIG IF’s that make building new nuclear no longer cost effect, unless someone is getting paid to push the plan for the Utilities who hope to profit from them…

  • james

    hi, this is a really good article

  • Börje Widerberg

    Please note that this is CO2 emission for electricity production, not consumption.. If You look att emission per kWh consumed the picture Changes in favour of the electricity sources suitable for local production.

    • MarkRavingMad

      now THAT is a good point.

    • Uzza

      It will not make much of a difference. The general number used for grid losses is 7%. So you can dive the CO2 numbers for any source delivering through the grid by 0.93 to (unless it’s already included) get the numbers with losses included.
      The only real energy source suitable for local electricity production is solar PV. As seen by the graph above all other sources, except geothermal (by a very small margin though), are still cleaner than solar PV.

  • Ronald Brakels

    France’s nuclear fleet is aging and they will soon start retiring a large number of reactors. So if they want to maintain their electricity supply they will have no choice other than to build new capacity and building new nuclear plants is much more expensive than building renewables. And so they will reduce the amount of nuclear power they use while at the same time reducing CO2 emissions from other sources. Nothing particularly mysterious about it.

    • WilliamGrogan

      And tell me Ronald, or should that be Polyanna, what happens daily when the wind doesn’t blow or blows too hard and the Nuclear Plants are shut down? Where will the electricity come from.?

      • Ronald Brakels

        Well, they’re going to find out in time. Unless of course you have some magic entropy away you can throw on their old nuclear plants to spruce them up. Feel free to ask the French what they’re going to do. After all, it’s their plan. Here’s a sentence you might find helpful, “Excusez-moi, peuple de France. Où allez-vous obtenir votre électricité à partir sans l’énergie nucléaire?”

        • WilliamGrogan

          So, no answer then!!

          • Ronald Brakels

            I can tell you what we do in Australia if you like, Grogan.

        • WilliamGrogan

          After reading half the first link I stopped. It’s full of lies and distortions. Once someone starts lying and exaggerating then they are discredited. The article tries to use statistics in a way that would shame a statistician. You would want to be seriously biased to fall for the arguments in that first link.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “After reading half the first link I stopped. It’s full of lies and
            distortions. Once someone starts lying and exaggerating then they are
            discredited. The article tries to use statistics in a way that would
            shame a statistician. You would want to be seriously biased to fall for
            the arguments in that first link.”

          • WilliamGrogan

            ..very useful contribution.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “..very useful contribution.”

    • I just read somewhere that this is exactly what they are planning to do – transition to renewables to replace nuclear plants as they age out.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Yep, France had a rapid buildout of nuclear power after 1974 and those 70’s reactors are getting old. One plan is to retire 24 of them over the next 16 years but it remains to be seen what will be done. Wind and solar would be the cheapest options for new capacity at the moment and as France has high residential electricity prices with people on a variable tariff paying about 21 US cents for electricity during the day, this will make rooftop solar attractive to many French people. Solar will be particularly useful in France, not just because it’s sunnier than its northern neighbours, but because it matches demand better than nuclear and provides the most electricity during hot summer days when their current inland nuclear capacity is often constrained by cooling issues.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    Solar panels can be manufactured using renewable (solar) electricity. If this is done, then solar has zero carbon foot-print.

    Hydroelectric power has probably somewhat larger carbon foot-print than what was prested here, because it floods large areas of forests. And forests can store up to 500 tons carbon per hectare. If the reservoir of Three Gorges Dam is about 300 km², then the carbon footprint due to deforestation is 15 megatons. This is equivalent one year carbon footprint of about three million people. So the carbon footprint due to deforestation is certainly not negligible although it is smaller than for coal power. For smaller dams, carbon footprint is relatively larger.

    Here is a good but longish article on the perils of hydroelectric power:

    China’s Three Gorges Dam: An Environmental Catastrophe?

    • driveby

      “Solar panels can be manufactured using renewable (solar) electricity. If this is done, then solar has zero carbon foot-print.”
      That is true for any renewable energy harvesting device, as soon as the energy producing it comes from 100% renewables, _but_ we are not there yet.

      To me it’s kinda impressive that nuclear, although depending on large scale mining and refining etc., comes out so “green”.

      Nonetheless, I hope for 100% renewables as soon as possible as well.

      • Jouni Valkonen

        actually we are quite close. Norway has 100 % renewable electricity and it is also very large silicon producer. Purifying ultrapure silicon is the most energy intensive phase on solar panel manufacturing.

      • Bob_Wallace

        We are there, have been there for a while, with wind and solar.

        We have enough wind generation and solar generation on line to produce more electricity than is used annually to manufacture wind turbines and solar panels.

        We bootstrapped our way with fossil fuels, but we’re now creating more electricity than we’re using.

        • CaptD

          And now the challenge will be to get all those still making profits from old legacy generation to shift ASAP, before we pollute our planet any more, just so they can continue to profit from their polluting generation!

    • Uzza

      Solar panels can be manufactured using renewable (solar) electricity. If this is done, then solar has zero carbon foot-print.

      This is true for any zero-carbon source. For example, the energy generated by nuclear power plants can be used to, besides electricity, create carbon-neutral fuels which could be used in the machinery used to mine the fuel and raw materials needed to build nuclear plants. This would also make nuclear zero-carbon.

      • That’s just it – nuclear is not zero carbon. You have to count everything, from mine to safe waste storage.

        What do we do with the nuclear waste?

        Land based wind is least expensive than any other electricity source. Nuclear is the most expensive.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Coal is likely more expensive than nuclear. Must include all the external costs.

          Both are too expensive to consider.

        • Uzza

          You’re entirely missing the point, which is that any power source that does not release any GHG emissions during operation can be used to power it’s entire life-cycle, and thus become truly zero carbon.

          • You are missing the point that *any* waste is a problem. We simply cannot have any waste – because where do we put it?

          • Uzza

            The point that the original commenter made was not no waste, but that solar power could be truly zero-carbon by powering it’s own life-cycle, which I showed is true for any power source that doesn’t release GHG during operation.

            So no, I not not miss the point.

          • Waste means more and more waste over time. How do you build more dry casks in the future for the ever increasing pile of nuclear waste?

            Nuclear is not going to be part of a sensible, sustainable energy system.

      • Jouni Valkonen

        Problem is that this would make nuclear EVEN MORE expensive. Nuclear is already ridiculously expensive electricity source and it is getting even more expensive as we learn more potential safety failures.

        • Uzza

          Doing it for any emission-free technology would make it more expensive as long as fossil fuels remains the cheapest source of energy.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            Wind and solar are already cheaper than fossil fuels in many locations. And they continue getting cheaper. Solar is getting about 10 % annually cheaper and wind power is getting about 5 % cheaper annually. Instead, fossil fuels are getting more expensive annually and also nuclear is getting more expensive as regulations gets more demanding and the wages are going up.

  • No way

    What sometimes get lost in the debate is the extreme difference between coal/oil/ natural gas and the rest.
    The other sources of energy have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the environment and being green but none of them are even remotely close to those three fossil fuels.
    Anytime coal is being burned or a coal plant is being built for any reason a small part of me dies a bit. We should know better by now, especially in the western countries where money, technology and knowledge aren’t really a problem, but the will and actions are.

    • Agreed. This is what stood out for me, especially the natural gas bit. So much hype around natural gas being cleaner, but really, look at that chart. … And also look at this:

      • Bob_Wallace

        That chart assume a 100% coal -> NG conversion. That is not how we use NG.
        The CF for NG plants is around 25%. NG plants spend about 75% of the time sitting idle.

        NG is a temporary stand in for storage and the ‘belt and suspenders’ for utility companies who must attempt to keep the power on 24/365.

        • CaptD

          Bob – I believe that it is far, far better to use NG to support the Utilities needs than to use Nuclear because of its RISK and ever increasing radioactive waste.

    • NorskeDiv

      If anything it is exactly “will” which is the problem! People’s “will” is for wind and solar to be practical and so Germany and now other countries are focusing on that to the exclusion of other solutions.

      Rather than picking and choosing which form of low CO2 electricity we prefer and then throwing gobs of money at it, the reward should be to producers who provide low CO2 electricity from any source, whether it be nuclear, wind, solar or biomass. Also more focus needs to be placed on the reliable production of power, rather than sheer number of KWH… at least until we have a cheap, efficient, energy storage solution.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Germany actually uses a lot of biofuel for electricity.

        I agree. Go for the cheapest and get the most bang for our bucks. Of course that leaves nuclear off the table.

        (You do realize that anything more than a modest amount of nuclear on the grid means that storage is needed, don’t you?)

  • I question the carbon footprint of nuclear. From uranium mining, transport, enrichment, processing – to cool down period that is 2-4X longer than production – and then centuries and indeed millennium after millennium after millennium of secure and safe storage.

    And that’s just the uranium. Building a nuclear plant takes an awful lot of concrete, and a lot of steel and copper and electronics. It has to be maintained and it uses a lot of water – and then it needs to be decommissioned.

    Nuclear power is just about the dumbest way we can use to boil water.

    Also with renewables, the next generation of panels and turbines etc. will be made with energy from the earlier generation. So the carbon divides in half for each generation.

    • Matt

      Putting a fence around a site an paying guards for 10k years does not add to the CO2, except replacing the fence every 20-40 years oh and all the power to run security. But I also question if it is true life cycle CO2.

      • Building new dry casks every 100 years or so uses a lot of carbon. Those things are huge. Those armed guards have to travel to and from for 1,000’s and 1,000’s of years.

        If the stuff leaks, it has to be cleaned up. It poisons water supplies. It sickens people – again for 1,000’s of years.

        And we think that it will be okay to keep on producing more and more nuclear waste?

        I’ve got news for you: *any* waste means that it will *not* work. Nature has no waste, and we are part of nature.

        • Investigator

          Where has leaks from dry casks poisoned out water supplies or sickened anybody, or a better question, where has any dry casks leaked at all?

          What is the basis for “any waste means that it will not work?”

          Do you, or have you ever driven a gasoline powered car? What do you think comes out the tail pipe?

          As to nuclear waste, the amount is infinitesimal compared to coal. At San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, 45 years worth of spent fuel is contained in one building holding 2 pools, and a concrete pad which is far from full, about the size of a football field. See here for some real storage problems:

    • Byron Meinerth

      Dumbest way to boil water? What about using coal, oil, or natural gas to boil water? We currently do that quite a bit.

      You mention millennium after millennium for safe storage and then later mention the next generation of panels and turbines. If you’re going to mention the next generation of those, then we should talk about the next generation of nuclear plants, which will have much less waste and shorter half-lifes.

      I’m aware of how much room for growth there is with renewables. Nevertheless, living in East Asia, I get a little frustrated when people say, “put solar on the roof and drive an electric car, and we’ll all be good.” When people live in dense apartments and heavy industry is still a major component of the country’s economy, this is simply not an option right now. 25 years from now perhaps it will be different.

      • Coal is also pretty dumb, I’ll grant you.

        But, if something uses a fuel and/or it produces waste – it won’t work long term. And we should not use it.

      • CaptD

        Tell that to the Japanese as they struggle with Fukushima’s Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster…

        Shifting to renewables is the ONLY answer and the longer Governments put it off, the more expensive it will be as the world compete with each other for limited resources…

    • No way

      You can question it all you like, it doesn’t make it less true. How about you look at some actual studies first?
      It’s not like the concrete and raw materiel being mined to build renewable energy sources comes from rainbows and butterflies

      And there will be no storage for millennium after millennium, that is just crazy talk. It would be very irresponsible to not use current and future technology to use the energy still left in the “waste” to reduce the storage time and maybe even eliminate it.

      • What are we going to do with the nuclear waste we have already produced? The half life of plutonium is about 24,000 years, and it will take several Hundred Thousand Years for it to drop to levels that are remotely safe. That’s just physics.

        Nuclear power plants take fuel and they produce waste. They take *far* more* concrete than any other power source. Land based wind turbines cost less than any other energy source. They do not use any fuel and they do not produce any waste, they do not pollute and they produce no poisons or radioactivity.

        We can easily produce all the energy we need from renewable sources.

        • CaptD

          Wind is good, but when ocean water current and/or tidal generation come online then it will be a game changer since it will provide 24/7 energy in very large quantities.

          Very Soon:
          The Tide Is High · Lockheed Martin:

          and in the future perhaps even this:

          Global Sustainable Electricity, Fresh Water, and Deep-Ocean Mining from Marshall Hydrothermal

          • Yes, there are at least 3 companies that already build wave power systems, and there are tidal systems online, as well.

            Wind over a large enough area actually is *very* consistent; especially offshore. Wind slows down gradually and is fairly predictable, so managers can react with biogas and/or storage systems; like pumped hydro.

        • Investigator

          And they don’t work all the time either. See here:

          The scale of the “intermittency” problem for renewables – and the problem it presents for policymakers and energy consumers – was outlined in Die Welt, which reported that Germany’s wind and solar power production effectively stopped in early December.

          “More than 23,000 wind turbines stood still,” it said. “One million photovoltaic systems stopped work completely.

          “For a whole week, coal, nuclear and gas power plants had to generate an estimated 95 per cent of Germany’s electricity supply.”

          The doldrums are the flip side to the triumphant statements from renewable energy companies when production figures spike in times of favourable weather.

          Do you think nuclear takes more concrete than a dam that produces an equivalent power output?
          As to receiving all our power from renewables, we’ve been hearing that pipe dream since the 1970’s–make it a reality before ending nuclear.

    • Steve Grinwis

      The amount of uranium used compared to the amount of energy produced is pretty small. That’s like… nuclear power’s whole schtick.

      I think the big ticket item would be the concrete. Nearly 1000 lbs of CO2 emitted per cubic meter. That’s a fantastic amount….

      • Uranium needs to be mined, transported, refined, enriched – for several years – and it then is milled and assembled into rods that use exotic materials like boron.

        The rods get used for between 3 and 6 years, and then they have to sit in cooling tanks for 10-12+ years – with water being pumped all that time.

        The dry casks weigh 100’s of tons, and they last maybe 100 years.

        Your point about concrete is important. Please remember, the entire nuclear power plant has to be taken apart piece by piece – this takes decades.

        The plant takes about as long to build and then to decommission – as its useful productive life. This is significantly more energy overhead than a wind turbine or solar panel or wave energy system. This is probably not part of the carbon number in this study.

    • MarkRavingMad

      You don’t seem to understand the scale at play here. A kilogram of uranium, in a once-through fuel cycle contains tens of thousands of barrels of oil worth of energy. this simply over shaddows every other factor you mentioned. the sheet energy density of uranium, even when used as inefficiently as possible,make the math favorable.

      One must remember that as elegant as renewables are, all machines have finite lifetimes. so if mining is your concern, the metric you want is lifetime-Watt-hours-produced per kg-mined.

      Since renewables only produce, on average 30% of their rated capacity, then you need a 3GW solar farm (plus batteries) to match a 1GW nuclear plant. That’s a lot of hardware that needs to be built. There you come out to significantly more steel and concrete than a nuclear plant (Wind turbine foundations are a lot deeper than most people seem to think). A nuclear plant, with fuel, involves significantly less matter for construction per lifetime watt-hour produced than any other source save possible hydro. Sure it uses fuel, but that fuel is so dense, it doesn’t really matter.

      Fow, funny thing, lets say that any new reactor built will be an IFR, or inertial fast reactor. by using this breeder tech, now we have closed the fuel cycle. we effectively convert mass to energy in the Einstein sense (not precisely, but close enough for laymens terms). In that case, current waste reserves exist sufficient to fuel these reactors, without another kg of uranium mined from the earth, to fuel society at current levels for as long as the earth maintains it’s current relationship to the sun.

      In other words, Nuclear is, in purely mathematical terms, more sustainable than renewables.

      • MarkRavingMAd

        corrections (gotta love typing on a phone) Fow=now, IFR stands for Integral fast reactor, not Intertial fast reactor, and I’m sure plenty that autocorrect decided to have fun with

      • Bob_Wallace

        Energy density is a bogus issue.

        The important metric is cost of electricity and nuclear is simply too expensive. That is why nuclear stalled out more than two decades ago and is now fading away.

        • MarkRavingMad

          That is simply untrue. cost Per Watt-hour Delivered over the lifetime of the asset, nuclear beats out pretty much everything but hydro, coal, and NG. this is a well documented fact. Read the DOE numbers if you don’t believe me.

          And when did it “stall out” exactly? i mean it Stalled in the US, but that almost perfectly coincided with an explosion of nuclear power in Europe.

          • Bob_Wallace

            That isn’t how utilties invest in new generation/PPAs. They look at what power will cost now and for the next 20 years.

            BTW, nuclear long term is not as cheap as solar long term.

            I’ll give you a couple of pictures that show when nuclear stalled out on a world-wide basis. First, number of reactors and then market share.

            Number of reactors pretty much plateaued in 1989. Market share peaked in the mid-1990s and has fallen significantly since.

            The last nuclear explosion in Europe was at Chernobyl.

          • MarkRavingMad

            Nice one, but the reactor melted down, the explosion was from combustion of trapped gas, and while caused by a nuclear reactor, to be sure, was not in technical terms a “Nuclear explosion”…but that’s just semantics.

            I disagree that this isn’t how utilities price assets. this is exactly how utilities price assets. projected price at design output – projected operating costs – amortization of construction and deconstruction = cashflow. there is obviously more to it than that, but that is the math that not just justifies nuclear plants, but any plant with upfront costs amortized over many years of operation.

            To say that France’s rapid de-carbonization of their electrical infrastructure, which is, basically the only proven model of the kind of decarbonization that we need, at a rate comparable to the rate we need, does not qualify as an explosion of nuclear power in Europe is simply willful ignorance of fact.

            I’m not debating whether growth of nuclear power plateaued. That much is obvious to anyone. and therefore, assuming growth of market, the market share would go down. However, The point here is that if one’s goal is limiting carbon emissions, Nuclear is just as capable as solar and wind (as is illistrated in the article we’re commenting on) and is, in terms of cost per watt-hour produced over asset lifetime, is cost competitive with fossil fuels (as is evident by any perusal of DOE studies on the topic). As such, I think nuclear power is a valuable tool we simply cannot afford to disregard.

            Finally, without a credible source, I’m going to have to challenge your vague assertion that solar power proves cheaper than nuclear over the long term. What long term are you refering to? historically this hasn’t been true, but historically solar has been in it’s infancy. However, if you are allowed to extrapolate solar technology in your projections, then I therefore can leverage breeder reactors, SMRs, IFR’s, LFTRs, and any number of nuclear technologies on the horizon.

            Don’t get me wrong, I believe, Dry-cycle cooled nuclear power, and Solar PV are probably about the two greatest synergistic technologies in the history of man, and support renewables and nuclear concurrently in order to meet our decarbonization needs. However, historically (Germany, Japan, Vermont, and numerous others) when nuclear plants come down, carbon footprint goes up.

          • Bob_Wallace

            France brought 56 reactors on line in 15 years. I’m not sure how many years needed to be added to the front end for the initial construction.

            56 reactors would equal about 10% of US electricity production. We need to get fossil fuels off our grids faster than 10% per two decades.

            France chose nuclear because it was the technology that worked for them back then. Now the world is different. We’ve realized that we have no real solution for the massive amount of radioactive waste the nuclear industry creates and the price of renewable energy has plummeted.

            It’s not at all unreasonable to think that we could replace a 3% share of fossil fuels per year with wind and solar. We replaced more that 1% last year and we’re just getting started. In 20 years we could get all the coal and almost all the natural gas off our grids.

            There is absolutely no way that we could build 300+ new reactors in the US in the next 20 years. Plus the cost of electricity would severely damage our economy.

            We have solar panels that are now 40 years old and still producing 80+% of their original output. (We don’t know how long panels will last. We’ve found no “solar cliff”.)

            Solar has reached 6 cents per kWh in the SW (no subsidies) and is on track to fall much lower. Nationwide 5 cents/kWh for the first 20 years and then 12 cents for the first 20, 2c for the next 20 would be 7c lifetime. 12c for the first 20, 2c for another 40 would be 5+c lifetime.

          • MarkRavingMad

            Obviously the United States would need to move faster than france did in direct terms. It’s relative to the size of the electrical grid being changed over. France went from almost entirely fossil fueled to 75% nuclear in those two decades. if the US or China did the same, it would be the single greatest thing to ever happen to carbon emission reduction.

            And, no, we did not add 1% solar in the last year, as currently, annual power production in the U.S. remains <1% solar. so the situation you describe, (like most of it) is mathematically impossible. Not to mention that Electricity only makes up about 20% of total energy use. so if you want to REALLY decarbonize, then you need about 5x more RE than your math currently accounts for. therefore at the growth rate you proposed (3% of electricity production becomes RE per year), and assuming power consumption does not grow AT ALL, then it would take 150 years to de-carbonize.

            You simply can't afford to not use Nuclear and RE together.

            Additionally, What is this nuclear waste you continue refering to? is it the 93% of a spent fuel rod that can be reprocessed into MOX fuel (as the french do) or the 7%by mass of reaction products which (ignoring the value of the medical and industrial isotopes produced, can be spun around into an IFR, LFTR, or virtually any other breeder, essentially ad infinitum? simply put if you get to project solar performance based on technology currently in the pipeline, so can I. Or there is oceanic sedimentary disposal, or deep borehole, or diffusion, or any number of perfectly viable disposal techniques that have been demonstrated safe, and viable.

            You keep saying nuclear is more expensive per watt-hour than than solar and wind. That is just, categorically, not true. Solar at 6 cent per kWhr is not a consistent output, but a record. Capacity factors of 30% persist as a mater of natural fact, leaving solar well behind any conventional source in terms of actual price per KW-hr of consistent, or dispatchable delivery

            The irrefutable fact is that You need a 3GW solar farm and a battery of at least 18GW-hr to deliver the same service to customers as a 1GW nuclear installation. Solar can not yet (maybe in the next decade or two but certainly not today) compete on the grid so long as it requires that degree of overbuild.

            We need nuclear, There is broad acceptance in the scientific community that we can't decarbonize fast enough without it. From that perspective, anti-nuclear environmentalists are no better than climate deniers: They are reinforcing the current state of carbon emissions. the only difference is that climate deniers are at least aware of what they're doing. Anti-nuclear environmentalists genuinely believe that by insisting on an unrealistic vision, they aren't serving the status quo.

            If you lobby against the nuclear industry, take comfort knowing you're in the excellent company of Shell, BP, and Exxon Mobil.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Obviously the US can’t move that fast and install 200 reactors in 20 years. We don’t have the trained and experienced engineers, construction experts and technicians to do that. We can’t find 200 willing sites.

            We can convert a 3% share of 2014 fossil fuels to renewables per year.

            I did not say that we added 1% of solar in 2013. I said we replaced 1% with renewables. Wind went from a 3.46% share to a 4.51% share, >1%.

            “You simply can’t afford to not use Nuclear and RE together.”

            That defies logic.

            We know that wind and solar can be built much faster and produces electricity at a lower cost. We know that there is no shortage of trained and experienced construction workers and engineers who can install wind turbines and solar arrays.

            Using nuclear and renewables together will simply slow our transition away from fossil fuels and drive up the cost of electricity.

          • MarkRavingMad

            We do Not know that we can build solar and wind faster than we can build nuclear. where are you getting this?

            Right now we ARE building solar and wind faster than we’re building nuclear, but we’re also building significantly more fossil fueled assets than we built either RE or nuclear so, your argument that “we’re currently building more of X, so obviously it’s better than Y” doesn’t hold when taken into a wider context. The fact is right now that growth in Renewables isn’t even keeping up with the growth in the energy market, let alone beginning to displace current assets.

            Also, wind went up >1% in installed output capacity, not Power delivered. That is a critical distinction. Still, 3% of fossil fuels (for all uses, not just electricity) is a quantity of generating capacity equivalent to 15% of today’s electricity production (because, as noted, electricity only accounts for about 20% of total energy usage), so RE Growth would have to be about 15x what it is today to actually meet your 3% fossil fuel displacement target…again, assuming no growth.

            (Also, if you factor in the ~30% average RE capacity factor, you would need to be installing about 45x the amount of RE capacity installed in the last year, to meet your annual 3% fossil fuel displacement target).

            Even if our exponential RE growth curve continued it’s current exponential growth, it would still take 80 years to de-carbonize the U.S. You could NEVER do it in the 20 you seem inisitant that nuclear would have to be able to do it in. However, if we build 4 nuclear plants a year, (not That tall an order. China’s doing it) we could de-carbonize in 50.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Large wind farms are built in less than two years. Sometimes parts of the farm come on line much earlier while the rest of the farm is being constructed.

            Rooftop solar is hours/days. Solar farms take months.

            There’s no shortage of people who can pour concrete ballast, bolt racks together. string wire.

            “Also, wind went up >1% in installed output capacity, not Power delivered”
            No. That is percentage of all electricity produced in the United States. Produced. Not capacity.

            You are trying to distract by widening the discussion from electricity to energy?

            “Even if our exponential RE growth curve continued it’s current exponential growth, it would still take 80 years to de-carbonize the U.S”

            You might want to check the growth rate for wind and solar and withdraw that claim.

          • NorskeDiv

            “That is percentage of all electricity produced in the United States Produced…. You might want to check the growth rate for wind and solar and withdraw that claim.”

            As they say, “cool story bro.”


            I don’t know where you are getting your figures, but about about 3.48% of electricity generated came from wind in 2012. In 2013 it was 4.12% last year. Likely whoever produced the figure you are relying on incorrectly extrapolated installed capacity and assumed the new capacity installed in 2013 would have the same capacity factor as that installed in 2012.

            By the way, 2011 wind production was 2.93% of total production, so growth as a percent of electricity produced slowed down for wind. It will slow down even more in 2014, unfortunately, the areas with high wind need huge investments in grid capacity, and grid operators are simply not interested in making investments that will only be used 20% of the time. IF turbine builders figure out how to store power within the wind farm this problem will be solved!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Number up until 2013 came from the EIA Electricity Power Annual
            The 2013 production total I was using came from an EIA early release. The number at that time was 182,993 milliong kWh.

            Checking the January Electric Power Monthly that number has been revised to 167,665
            million kWh.
            That brings wind down to 4.13% of 2013 electricity, so only a 0.67% increase. Thanks for updating me.

            The increase in wind for 2014 will probably be lower due to the subsidies games played in Congress.

            All that aside, it is almost certainly within our ability to convert a 3% 2014 share of fossil fuels to renewables per year. We’re just getting started with solar and offshore wind.

            Transmission for wind is being built. Some still in the planning stage. Some being built.

          • NorskeDiv

            Very well stated, Mark.

            I also point to simple results based analysis. France on the above map is a dark shade of green and Germany is a light shade of red. So the French enjoy lower electricity rates than Germany and pollute less. We have a winner!

            You are also giving the anti-nuclear crowd too much credit, it saddens me to say this, but many of them are well aware their actions serve fossil fuel interests. T. Boone Pickens plan, which we are for all practical purposes now implementing, specifically favored wind power over nuclear because it guaranteed an market for his natural gas investments. The fact current technology wind and solar tie us to natural gas like a ball and chain is not an accident, it is intentional.

          • Bob_Wallace

            That’s bull. Surely you know it is.

          • NorskeDiv

            “That’s bull. Surely you know it is.”

            Do you deny the existence of T. Boone Pickins, or perhaps you simply “do not recall”

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sure. I know that T. Boone had planned on building a wind farm, had even ordered the turbines, but the transmission line he was counting on didn’t get routed in his direction. Those turbines were installed at other wind farms.

            ” it guaranteed an market for his natural gas investments”

            That’s the bull. There’s no shortage of market for NG. Adding wind to the grid would, in fact, lower the use of NG.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “I also point to simple results based analysis. France on the above map is a dark shade of green and Germany is a light shade of red. So the French enjoy lower electricity rates than Germany and pollute less. We have a winner!”

            And how old are those nuclear plants?

            And how much are they going to cost to decommission?

            And how much would it cost to replace them?

          • NorskeDiv

            The decommissioning costs of French nuclear plants have already been set aside by EDF, just as they are for US nuclear plants. This one of the reasons legislators are clamoring to shut down Indian Point, once it is shut down it unlocks a $392 million dollar decommissioning fund, every cent of this was paid by the plant owners! This is of course a profit bonanza for contractors which have a close relationship to state legislators. They then profit again on the construction of the natural gas replacement plants!

            The cost of replacement is low, because they have no need to be replaced. Instead components are upgraded and improved as needed, the cost of this is already reflected in electricity bills. Even if they need to be replaced and it costs $8 billion per reactor, it would still be a smaller investment than Germany is making in renewable power and the upgraded grid required for them.

            As a libertarian, I hope you’d agree that the focus should be on reducing CO2 emissions the most efficient way possible, and not picking winners and losers because we like this or that solution better.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “As a libertarian, I hope you’d agree that the focus should be on reducing CO2 emissions the most efficient way possible, and not picking winners and losers because we like this or that solution better.”

            That’s completely stupid.

            Efficiency is a poor substitute for effectiveness.

            The goal is to reduce CO2 emissions the fastest way possible.

            That way is destroying nuclear.

            As long as nukes are considered a viable option, renewables with always be crippled by the resources being burnt on the atomic alter instead of being used effectively.

          • CaptD

            A Real Lib – Well said and none of US can forget to mention what happens if nuclear goes BAD, since Fukushima proved that Nature can destroy any Nuclear reactor before it is fully decommissioned!

          • Investigator

            And how many people died at Fukushima–ZILCH! Let’s look at renewable disasters: or how about other dam disasters for this renewable energy source:


            Do we still build dams? 17 dams have failed since the first US commercial nuclear plant, each resulting in more deaths than all nuclear plants combined in all of history–54 or so deaths, all at Chernobyl. Quite an extraordinary record of safety.

          • CaptD


            Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment was published by the New York Academy of Sciences.


            It is authored by three noted scientists:

            Russian biologist Dr. Alexey Yablokov, former environmental advisor to the Russian president;

            Dr. Alexey Nesterenko, a biologist and ecologist in Belarus; and

            Dr.Vassili Nesterenko, a physicist and at the time of the accident director of the Institute of Nuclear Energy of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

            Its editor is Dr. Janette Sherman, a physician and toxicologist long involved in studying the health impacts of radioactivity.

            The book is solidly based — on health data, radiological surveys and scientific reports — some 5,000 in all.

            It concludes that based on records now available, some 985,000 people died, mainly of cancer, as a result of the Chernobyl accident. That is between when the accident occurred in 1986 and 2004. More deaths, it projects, will follow.

            ===> It is widely know that all information relating to Fukushima deaths are being with held by the Japanese Government as is most information about Fukushima health issues; so I advise that we wait a decade or two because by then the true effects of Fukushima will be far easier to assess.

            Here is a good example of how the Japanese Gov’t. is trying to cover for its Nuclear Industry:

            The Fukushima Generation: New Data on Birth Defects in Post-Meltdown Japan



          • Investigator

            Did you bother to view the chart above or are facts something to be discarded when they don’t comport with your philosophy?
            Are you also acknowledging that renewables can’t compete on a level playing field?

          • A Real Libertarian

            What chart are you specifically talking about?

            It depends what you mean by “level playing field”.

            If “level playing field” means everyone gets relatively similar subsidies, then yes, renewables can easily compete and win.

            If “level playing field” means that renewables get no subsidies, but have massive taxes placed on them retroactively for the benefit of the incumbents, and some are flat-out illegal, meanwhile the incumbents suck down billions in government money, then, yes renewables can easily compete and win.

            Just because you call that a “level playing field” doesn’t make it so:



          • CaptD

            NorskeDiv – Your claim that France has all the money they need to decommission is not valid!
            See my comment at the top!

          • CaptD

            Bob – Great numbers as usual but I think in all fairness we need to start saying that counting on nuclear to be PROBLEM-FREE until it is fully decommissioned is no longer a given, since Fukushima has proven that Nature can destroy any land based reactor.

            Therefore should even one US nuclear power plant go BAD, then all cost estimates for the entire US nuclear industry are no longer valid! This is especially true if the accident happens out west or even in the mid-west since unlike a reactor accident on the east coast, there would be many affected downwind from it, instead of all the radioactive pollution being blown toward Europe for the Europeans to deal with…

          • Bob_Wallace

            This is the sleeping giant that most people ignore.

            If a reactor has a Chernobyl or Fukushima type event in the US all reactors will be closed. People will be in the streets insisting that it happen. Americans are a bit less “polite” than the Japanese tend to be.

            A Three Mile Island event might be adequate to end nuclear in the US.

            The loss of a reactor in France, the UK or another part of Europe where the blame can’t be given to the Soviets would likely produce the same result.

            Someone/a company considering investing in nuclear needs to understand that a screw up by another company hundreds, thousands of miles away could wipe out your investment in minutes.

          • CaptD

            Bob – That is exactly what the US nuclear industry fears most, yet they fight every safety improvement tooth and nail, which makes their claims of putting safety ahead of profits a nuclear myth that will eventually come back to haunt them just like it did to to the Japanese.

          • Investigator

            “Fighting every safety improvement?”
            Horse manure! You don’t know what you’re talking about.

          • CaptD

            Now France is getting stuck with the bill to decommission all those aging reactors and guess what, they don’t have enough money to do it, so they have started adding a new decommissioning fee onto their current energy rates!

            Even with the new fess, French industry will not be competitive, since Germany is far ahead of France in converting to Solar of all flavors!

            Left unsaid is what happens if one or more of those aging reactors goes BAD, France cannot afford a trillion dollar Fukushima type disaster, not can all those living downwind from France!

          • Investigator

            And Germany is building coal plants like gangbusters–great, coal instead of nuclear. Thanks anti-nukes for your kooky ideas and the increase in GHGs those ideas produce.

          • A Real Libertarian

            And Germany is building coal plants like gangbusters–great, coal instead of nuclear. Thanks anti-nukes for your kooky ideas and the increase in GHGs those ideas produce.




          • Bob_Wallace

            Investigator, I could be wrong, but after reading through some of your posts it looks to me as if you came here not to engage in reasoned discussion, but to be disruptive.

            We have a rule against that.

            Now, if I’m doing you a disservice, I apologize, but it feels like the blog is best served by dropping the hammer.

          • Investigator

            Mark, absolutely SPOT ON!

          • Investigator

            So Bob, just what percentage of US or global power comes from solar power? If solar is so cheap, why aren’t the “greedy” energy companies signing on? See this:
            January 12, 2014 LA Times article:

            Of the 365 federal solar applications since 2009, just 20 plants are on track to be built. Only three large-scale solar facilities have gone online, two in California and one in Nevada. The first auction of public land for solar developers, an event once highly anticipated by federal planners, failed to draw a single bid last fall.

            Some power from the three new operating plants has hit the grid, but as of 2012, solar’s contribution to the total national power supply was less than one-half of 1%.

            An article from Union Watch, A project of the CA Policy Center

            These innovative proposed solar thermal projects were once celebrated as the future of electricity generation. In August 2007, BrightSource Energy submitted the first application for a solar thermal power plant – the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. At that time, the California Energy Commission was expecting dozens of applications for such power plants that could produce a total of as much as 24,000 megawatts of electricity. Visionaries saw California as the future “Saudi Arabia of solar.” (See Green Energy: Solar’s Big Boom – San Jose Mercury-News – September 26, 2007.) The Energy Commission subsequently received applications for 16 thermal solar power plants, listed below.

            I am all for solar, but before you take away our nuclear power, ensure by methods other than ‘good intentions’ we have enough solar power, power that will be there rain or shine, day or night AND for wind generation, when the wind isn’t blowing.

          • CaptD

            Investigator – You have posted old news

            World’s Largest Solar Plant Could Power 230,000 Homes


            Located on 2,400 acres of land between Yuma and Phoenix, AZ, Agua Caliente is now operational as the world’s largest PV solar facility in the world. The 290-megawatt (MW) project uses solar energy to avoid the annual emission of about 324,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—equivalent to taking nearly 70,000 cars off the road.

            Under a 25-year power purchase agreement, NRG and MidAmerican sell solar power to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. At peak capacity, the plant will generate enough energy to power 230,000 homes.


    • EngineerPoet

      I question the carbon footprint of nuclear.

      The lowest-carbon grids are in countries which use hydropower and nuclear.  Climate scientist James Hansen notes nuclear Sweden, not “green” Denmark, as a role model.

      From uranium mining, transport, enrichment, processing – to cool down period that is 2-4X longer than production – and then centuries and indeed millennium after millennium after millennium of secure and safe storage.

      You need to stop getting your education from RMI/FoE/UCS propaganda.  The amount of material involved is minuscule, much of the energy involved is electric (enrichment is by centrifuge), and we’re probably not going to sit on that stuff for even another 30 years before feeding it to one type or another of new reactor as fuel.  See for an example.

      The toxic byproducts of PV cell production include chemical elements that are poisonous forever.  We can’t eliminate them from the environment because they have to be where the sun falls.  What do you propose we do about THEM?

      Building a nuclear plant takes an awful lot of concrete, and a lot of steel and copper and electronics.

      A small fraction of the steel and concrete needed for wind farms with the same output, and the nuclear plant doesn’t need 1:1 backup for when the wind dies.  That also takes steel and concrete, and fuel to burn.

      Also with renewables, the next generation of panels and turbines etc. will be made with energy from the earlier generation.

      This is wishful thinking.  There is no solar-cell plant powered by solar cells, no wind-turbine manufacturer powered by a wind farm.

    • Uzza

      When the main enrichment technology was gaseous diffusion, it was the main driver of CO2 emissions for the nuclear life-cycle, since a large part of the electricity to run them was coming from fossil fuels. As more and more diffusion plants shut down, and centrifuge plants take over, the CO2 emissions have been drastically going down thanks to it’s dramatically lower electricity requirements.

      With the SILEX laser enrichment process requiring even less electricity, it might get to a point where the fuel procurement of the life-cycle is just a small fraction of overall life-cycle emissions.

      If we look at breeder technology though, fuel would be inconsequential. Both cost and CO2 wise.

      And that’s just the uranium. Building a nuclear plant takes an awful lot of concrete, and a lot of steel and copper and electronics

      Actually, both wind and solar require substantially more concrete and steel than nuclear reactors, for the same amount of electricity generated:

      • Bob_Wallace

        Solar requires zero concrete. Ever see anyone pour concrete on their roof to hold down solar panels? And the steel use for racking is pretty minimal.

        • A lot of the racks are aluminum. Which is recyclable.

          Water based wind turbines require almost no concrete, and land based turbines use a tiny amount of concrete.

          The concrete in a nuclear plant has to be broken down at the end of the plant’s life. I can’t see that wind takes anywhere near as much concrete or steel as nuclear.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The concrete in a nuclear plant can be broken down after it’s cooled down. 60 years of rotting in place, isn’t that the rule?

          • Investigator

            Cooled down, what are you talking about? 60 years, where did that figure come from?

          • Uzza

            While off-shore wind turbines don’t need much concrete, they will use more steel because of the foundation that extends down and into the ocean floor.

            If you read the link I provided, you’d see that on-shore wind require on the scale of ~40 times more steel and ~80 times more concrete than nuclear for the same amount of electricity generated.

            If you say the concrete in a nuclear plant has to be broken down, then I can mention that you’d also need to do that with the concrete foundations for on-shore wind turbines, unless you like large chunks of concrete spread out all over from decommissioned wind turbines.

          • Many water based turbines float with anchor cables, so some concrete.

            Another challenge to nuclear (and coal, too) is the cooling towers don’t work if the air temps get too high. And earthquakes and storms and power outages and water supplies have to be *guaranteed* to not cause any problems. Fail safe is critical.

          • Uzza

            Cooling towers have no problem working in higher temperature. The only problem is that a higher temperature results in a smaller temperature gradient, resulting in lower thermodynamic efficiency, and ultimately less electricity delivered to the grid.

            You are most likely thinking of plants that use bodies of water as the ultimate heat sink, which have been forced off-line because of high temperatures.

            I have to strongly point out that this is not a technical or safety limitation, but purely regulatory, which prevents any thermal plant from discharging cooling water above a certain temperature back to the bodies of water they pulled it from. This is in place to safeguard aquatic life from potential damage which might be caused by water reaching too high temperatures. A solar thermal plant would have the same limitations.

          • Several nuclear power plants have had to be shut down due to high temperatures, in the past couple of years.

            Global warming affects nuclear power plants.

          • Uzza

            When did I say it didn’t affect them?

            I was making the observation that this a problem for any kind of thermodynamic power generation cycle, which includes nuclear, coal, gas, solar thermal etc.

          • Investigator

            Guaranteed? Has Palo Verde, outside Phoenix, ever shut down because the air temperature was too high? Solar power plants don’t work too well at night, and that occurs, every night! They also don’t work too well when the day is overcast, thankfully less frequent than every night. And why did the Sierra Club sue Calico Solar, preventing them from building a solar power plant near Calico CA?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Why wouldn’t the concrete footings be broken down? It makes good road base.

          • CaptD

            Uzza – You fail to include all the decommissioning costs since they are unknown until any specific reactor is fully decommissioned! This is important because only nuclear has the potential to cause a trillion dollar environmental disaster which would make using any nuclear unacceptable!

          • Uzza

            Decommissioning costs have absolutely no relevance to the amount of resources used during construction.

          • CaptD

            Uzza – Not True!

            That nuclear sleight of hand trick is not acceptable!

            All costs need to be factored into the entire environmental “price” to mankind, not just shifted to sometime in the future…

          • Uzza

            What sleight of hand?

            Can you explain exactly how there is any relationship at all between decommissioning and the amount of resources and materials needed to construct a reactor?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Lifetime carbon footprint includes dismantling and disposing.

          • Uzza

            Lifetime carbon footprint includes dismantling and disposing.

            Of course it’s included, otherwise it wouldn’t be accurate. But I have never questioned that.

            My comment that CaptD responded to was explaining that the amount of raw materials needed to build a reactor is vastly lower per kWh generated than the example of on-shore wind.

            This was in response to Neil Blanchard questioning that the carbon footprint of nuclear could not be as low as 16 g/kWh, because, amongst other things, it “takes an awful lot of concrete, and a lot of steel and copper and electronics” according to him, and which as I just explained is actually very small compared to on-shore wind.

          • CaptD

            Uzza – The carbon footprint of a nuclear reactor includes:

            ☢ Mining & Manufacturing of all the Uranium ore it ever uses

            ☢ Building, protecting and decommissioning the physical facility

            ☢ Manufacturing and/or storing the spent fuel rods “forever”

            ☢ All replacement steam generators and other required components that would be “consumed” during its entire lifespan

            ☢ All environmental mitigations required to restore the entire site to the condition it was before construction the plant(s).

            And that is if every thing goes as planned otherwise it would also include all BIG costs to cleanup from any leak or Fukushima-type disaster.

        • Uzza

          Rooftop solar doesn’t no. But what does require concrete is utility-scale solar power plants, as the reference used in the linked article shows (p88).

          • Bob_Wallace

            That’s thermal. Not PV.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Or no concrete…

            “”Spanning a joint surface area of 89 acres, and generating up to 18.2MW combined, two solar farms in Les Mées, France, are part of a broader push in the region that will see panels covering 200 hectares and producing around 100MW by the end of 2011.

            The Les Mées solar farm project is the largest yet created by renewable energy firm Enfinity, and it is not just notable for its size. The project was also implemented without the use of concrete foundations, and was specifically designed to still allow grazing by sheep – solar double-cropping taken to the extreme.”


            Plus Pecorino Sardo, Fiore Sardo, Ossau Iraty and so many other gifts from the ewes….

          • MarkRavingMad

            Honestly, if we’re arguing over the relative amounts of concrete we’ve missed the point. The issue isn’t that nuclear scored 2 points higher than this or 5 points lower than that. Those emissions are pretty negligible relative to the amount of power generated. The point is that Nuclear is not, as we’re often lead to believe, a significantly higher or lower source of lifetime carbon emissions equivalent than renewables. That particular argument, has been laid to rest here. if someone wants to argue against nuclear, they have plenty of arguments to choose from, but that one is no longer valid.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I agree. The lifetime carbon footprint for wind, solar and nuclear are all so much lower than fossil fuels that any are acceptable alternatives based on only that one metric.

        • Investigator

          What do you do with all those panels when forced to replace them, or you simply want to upgrade to the next and better efficient panels? If you folks were as critical about the energy sources you desire as you are with nuclear, you would be in a much better position to compare the relative merits. If renewables was/is the panacea you claim it is, then why hasn’t this 1970’s pipe dream come about? Yes, we should explore solar and wind and tidal etc., but don’t be gullible; live in the real world, not one of fantasy.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, golly, gee whiz.

            Since those panels are going to degrade 0.2% to 1% per year, 40 years down the road we can decide how valuable is the real estate they’re sitting on. It probably won’t make sense to replace the ones that are still at 92% of original output. Perhaps replacing the ones that are down to 60% might be replaced. (The old ones get installed in a place where real estate is cheaper or recycled).

            If you were paying attention then you know that we are now entering the age of renewable energy. Wind and solar taking off like a cat with a scalded butt.

            That’s the real world, bucco. Tune in.

    • CaptD

      Faved and I’m now a follower!
      Left unsaid is what happens if Nuclear goes BAD… see my comment at the top!

    • Investigator

      Do you question the carbon footprint of nuclear because of a predisposition against it or do you have some other data that informs your statement?
      Building a dam requires a lot of concrete too, and it is listed as the lowest.
      Why is nuclear the dumbest way to boil water? What is a better way? Check here for solar: or or

      Common sense would have us come up with a better solution to nuclear before advocating its demise AND don’t put all your eggs in one basket. See Germany:

      The scale of the “intermittency” problem for renewables – and the problem it presents for policymakers and energy consumers – was outlined in Die Welt, which reported that Germany’s wind and solar power production effectively stopped in early December.

      “More than 23,000 wind turbines stood still,” it said. “One million photovoltaic systems stopped work completely.

      “For a whole week, coal, nuclear and gas power plants had to generate an estimated 95 per cent of Germany’s electricity supply.”

      The doldrums are the flip side to the triumphant statements from renewable energy companies when production figures spike in times of favourable weather.

      • Nuclear is not sustainable, no matter how much carbon it consumes – because of the long term waste problem.

        Solar heat and geothermal and methane digesters from sewage and farm waste are all better ways to boil water. The Sahara and the Middle East could be producing solar heat energy for most of Europe and lots of Africa, etc. Nevada alone could power ~1/3 of the lower 48 from solar heat energy. South Dakota alone could power ~1/2 the lower 48 with wind power.

        Fossil fuel and nuclear power plants are also intermittent. Germany is *not* a sunny place at all. It’s latitude is similar to the middle of Canada. Germany is about as sunny as Alaska or the least sunny part of the lower 48 up in the very northwest corner of Washington state. I don’t know how windy it is, but there are large areas of the US on land and off shore that are incredibly windy, all the time.

        But solar PV works even on cloudy days. Germany may need to diversify more – they have one pumped hydro station and some biogas stations. They could have other storage systems and they could have more geographic diversity for both solar and wind.

    • Matt

      Simply denying the data that you don’t like is the same tactic used by climate change deniers.

      The dangers of Nuclear power have been dramatically overblown, and over hyped in the media, which cause many to fear what is actually much less dangerous than some household chemicals under your sink (this is not an exaggeration). Most people don’t even realize that we are all exposed to natural causes of radiation daily (radon, sunlight, and so on…), and the additional radiation exposure due to nuclear power generation is negligible, even for those that WORK at a nuclear power plant. (Not saying we shouldn’t handle it with care.)

      Even in the Fukushima disaster which got much media attention….no one died. And the projected future deaths due to increased radiation exposure to the population around Fukushima is estimated between 0-100. Even at 100 (which is bad obviously) it’s still paltry compared to other sources of power generation. Particulates from Coal are estimated to kill several thousand people each year, year after year after year…not just when there is a disaster. (7500 deaths per year in the US – so probably something like 150,000 deaths per year world wide, give or take a little) – just google it it’s the first thing I clicked on.

      So, for people to say that Nuclear is the “dumbest” way to heat water is in my opinion shear ignorance. It’s the leftist version of climate change deniers.

      Lastly, let’s say the number in the article is off, say even by a huge amount like a factor of 10, nuclear related CO2 would still be tiny.

      • Bob_Wallace

        How about we change it to “Using nuclear reactions to boil water for electricity is a really dumb technology”? Dumb because it brings an additional hazard into our lives and a hazard that will continue to endanger humans for hundreds and thousands of years.

        It’s also dumb because it’s so damned expensive.

        Additionally dumb because in the time it takes to bring a reactor on line we could have used the money to bring a lot more wind/solar online and could make create a drop in CO2 emissions.

        Nuclear = dumb + dumb + dumb.

        • Matt

          Bob, I have no idea what you are talking about and I’m guessing neither do you. According to the EIA Nuclear is the second cheapest form of power generation after Hydro-electric. Wind/solar are the most expensive.

          Secondly, the primary power source Nuclear would be replacing (if it were allowed to) is Coal.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Matt, let’s put some real world numbers on the table. If you are getting yours from the EIA’s 2020 predictions then you’ve been taken in by an agency which, for some unknown reason, is printing garbage.

            Now, let’s start with an acknolegement that the EIA is a branch of the Department of Energy. The real world numbers I am about to give you are from the DOE. The are actual cost numbers.

            Present cost of wind, solar and nuclear

            Wind = $0.0235/kWh average 2014 PPA (subsidized).

            DOE “2014 Wind Technologies Market Report”


            Solar = $0.05/kWh PPAs (subsidized) being signed in the US Southwest. Working backwards through a LCOE calculation extrapolates a cost of about $0.02 higher for the less sunny Northeast.

            Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory entitled “Utility-Scale Solar 2013: An Empirical Analysis of Project Cost, Performance, and Pricing Trends in the United States”


            PPA prices for wind and solar are lowered about 1.5 cents by PTC (Production Tax Credits). Both wind and solar are eligible for 2.3 cent/kWh tax credits for each kWh produced during their first ten years of operation. Half of 2.3 is 1.15, but getting ones money early has value. That means that the non-subsidized costs of wind are a bit under 4 cents and solar is running 6.5 to 8.5 cents/kWh.


            An analysis of the Vogtle reactor costs by Citigroup in early 2014 found the LCOE for electricity from those reactors will cost 11 cents per kWh (subsidized). That is assuming no further cost/timeline overruns.

            They also stated that reactors built after the Vogtle units would likely produce more expensive electricity as they would not be able to receive the low financing rates as Vogtle has obtained.


            Following the Citigroup study it was announced that the Vogtle reactors would be delayed at least an 30 additional months. The cost of this delay will cost $2 million per day.. That additional cost will push the final cost well over 13 cents per kWh.


            According to a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, the cost of utility-scale solar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents. In comparison, natural gas comes at 6.1 cents a kilowatt-hour on the low end and coal at 6.6 cents. Without subsidies, the firm’s analysis shows, solar costs about 7.2 cents a kilowatt-hour at the low end, with wind at 3.7 cents.


          • Bob_Wallace

            Now let’s fill out the nuclear picture a bit more –

            A few years ago there were three requests for ‘turnkey’ bids for new reactors. A turnkey bid sets the actual amount the buyer would have to pay. No ‘bid low, deliver high’ contracts allowed.

            In 2009 Ontario, Canada asked for bids for two new reactors. The only complying bid worked out to 18 to 20 cents/kwh.

            About the same time San Antonio, TX received a turnkey bid which would have meant 16 cents per kWh.

            Turkey received a bid for new electricity at 21 cents per kWh.




            In 2014 Citigroup ran the numbers to date for the Vogtle reactors under construction. Based on expenses to date and expected completion date Citigroup set the expected price of electricity at 11 cents per kWh.


            Citigroup also said that future reactors probably couldn’t meet Vogtle’s price due to the very inexpensive financing that Vogtle received.

            Since then there have been additional completion delays which should take the price to 13 cents per kWh or a bit higher.

            The proposed Hinkley Point reactors in the UK are contracted at 15 cents per kWh. That amount will rise with inflation over the 35 year contract life.

            Recently new nuclear has been priced out for the North Anna site (North Anna 3). “The cost estimate for its proposed North Anna 3 unit in Virginia now exceeds $19 billion, or about 19 cents per kilowatt-hour”


            All those nuclear prices above are subsidized prices. Without government subsidies the 13 to 20 cent per kWh costs would be even higher.

            Remember, unsubsidized wind is now under 4 cents, utility scale solar is around 6 cents and expected to fall to about 3 cents before a new reactor could be built.

            And, do remember, were there a cheaper way to produce electricity with nuclear technology some company would have stepped in and underbid one or more of the projects listed above. In each case these were submitted bids. Someone else, if they had the ability to generate electricity with nuclear for less money could have presented a bid and forced the higher bids off the table.

          • Matt

            Bob, you are quoting subsidized numbers – which are meaningless to what the technology actually costs. Society must pay the total cost, regardless of where the money comes from.

            You pointed out yourself that those are the best case numbers, meaning they are normally more expensive than that. If you are going to lecture me on the price of solar/wind at least be honest with the average numbers, not idealistic, subsidized, best case scenarios.

            Last – we are in violent agreement on solar/wind and now in (2015) it makes sense to start building them on a mass scale. My point is that we could’ve gotten rid of coal power decades ago if environmentalists didn’t suffer from Nirvana fallacy. IMO coal has done more damage to the environment then Nuclear could’ve ever done for the same amount of power generation.

            (and this is all beside the point that solar/wind while great – suffer from unreliable sources so you always need a reliable backup)

          • Bob_Wallace

            Look, Matt, I really do not appreciate you telling me that I’m doing things which I am clearly not doing.

            I gave you subsidized and unsubsidized costs for wind and solar. The nuclear numbers are subsidized.

            I gave you the links to the DOE publications where the wind and solar numbers can be found. They are not best case numbers, they are 2014 national averages.

            You are displaying a great ignorance about the cost and time to build for nuclear. You ignore the difficulty in siting nuclear. New nuclear cannot be built in much of the US and almost all of Europe. In those places where citizens are educated and have reasonable control over their government’s decisions nuclear is dead.

            You are totally correct that nuclear has caused less damage than coal per GWh produced. But saying that something is less bad than terrible is not saying that it is good. This is not a “Shall we cut off your right arm or your left arm?” situation. We have a ‘cut off no arm’ option.

            Backup. Are you unaware that nuclear needs backup and needs spinning backup, which wind and solar do not need? Large thermal plants can and do go offline without warning and that means that the grid needs replacement power “instantly” in order to keep from going into a blackout. Wind and solar are highly predictable which means that backup can be turned off for hours and days at a time.

          • Bob_Wallace

            And here’s something for you to read concerning those EIA numbers you probably found on Wikipedia…


          • Bob_Wallace

            “My point is that we could’ve gotten rid of coal power decades ago if environmentalists didn’t suffer from Nirvana fallacy.”

            No, Matt. Environmentalists did not kill nuclear in the US. The cost of nuclear killed nuclear in the US. Nuclear was dead before Three Mile Island melted down in 1979. (first graph)

            Rather than showing a positive learning curve with prices dropping as we learned how to more efficiently build nuclear reactors, nuclear experience rising prices going from expensive to really expensive. (second graph)

      • We have NO SOLUTION for storage of nuclear waste.

        Nuclear is just about the most complicated and technically difficult way to BOIL WATER.

        Let’s use the sun to do that.

        No waste, no risk, no dirty bombs, no security, no radiation.

        • Matt

          The storage solution is a political one, not an engineering.technical one. We know perfectly well, and have proposed many very good options, that have been shown to be ridiculously safe compared to other chemicals we use on a daily basis, or have under our sink. People simply freak out when they hear the world “nuclear”.

          The storage problem is political, not technical.

          • Bob_Wallace

            There is no acceptable storage solution. If there was we would be using it.

            One popular solution pushed by nuclear advocates it to bury radioactive waste in someone else’s backyard.

            But those people don’t want it. They didn’t create it, they didn’t benefit from the making of it. It’s not acceptable to force your mess off onto others.

            As for “under our sink”, didn’t your mommy tell you not to tell lies?

          • So, are volunteering to have nuclear waste next to your house? How about transporting it to a storage site? What about security and containment for 10’s of thousands of years? Who pays to keep it safe all that time?

            Political solution is reality based.

          • Matt

            Well, actually thousands (maybe millions) of American’s have nuclear waste next to their house right now in sites all across the country buried in nothing more than a pool of water. Each of these must be protected individually. So, yes I think it would be both safer, cheaper, and more secure to consolidate it to a geologically sound, purpose built facility.

          • Huh? What are you talking about?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Matt is talking about all the used fuel rods we now have sitting in pools waiting for them to cool off enough so we can put them in temporary storage casks and hand the problem off to our grandchildren’s children.

            And Matt thinks that we should greatly increase the amount of hazardous nuclear waste we produce.

          • Right, well – that is exactly the problem. We forged ahead and produced all this nuclear waste when we have no actual solution. Dry casks only last so long, and transporting the stuff is not feasible.

            Who pays for all this? The companies that profited from it?

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