Monday, 14 October 2013

Nuclear thought experiment

UPDATE: Neil Craig in the comments points out that somebody did this thought experiment years ago and came to the same conclusion. The Russkies are already building floating nukes. Cost £160 million for 70 MW electricity, amortise over 40 years = £9/MWHr.
From FT Blogs:

As the smoke of briefings from the government PR machine clears, the shape of the deal to secure the development of the new nuclear station at Hinkley Point in Somerset is becoming clearer. As mere consumers we are not allowed to know the full facts – that privilege is given, it seems, only to the companies involved and the French and Chinese governments. But we can piece the story together.

The deal sets a price of £90-92 per MWhr – twice the current wholesale price for 35 years – regardless of any technical advances which might offer lower prices from other sources.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that nuclear power is the cheapest form of reliable electricity generation, but as we know, a large part of that £90-£92/MW cost is ransom payments to land owners, be they to the lucky owners of a site which happens to have permission to build a new nuke or bribes to the local NIMBYs and feudalists - often masquerading as greenies.

So for comparison, how much does nuclear power cost if you don't have to pay anything for the land? What if they build nuclear generators on floating platforms a bit like with offshore windmills connected to the mainline with big fat cables, how much do they cost..?

From Wiki:

Marine-type reactors differ from land-based commercial electric power reactors in several respects.

While land-based reactors in nuclear power plants produce thousands of megawatts of power, a typical marine propulsion reactor produces no more than a few hundred megawatts.

And from the BBC:

The BBC has been given exclusive behind-the-scenes access as the Royal Navy built its latest nuclear-powered Astute submarines. The submarines, which cost more than £1bn, take years to design and build, with the first of class taking 14 years to complete.

OK, we could halve that £1 billion per sub cost if the reactor were just on a waterproof platform, it doesn't need the full functionality of a nuclear submarine or the extra cost of the weapons system etc, so that's maybe £500 million for "a few hundred megawatts" capacity.

i) "A few hundred megawatts" x 18 hours per day x 365 days a year = 2 million MWHr.

ii) The annualised cost of that is £20 million (£500 million over 25 years useful life).

iii) £20 million divided by 2 million MWhr = £10/MWHr.

iv) That's a ninety per cent cost reduction right there.

v) We can afford expensive undersea cables for windmills and for the various cables under the North Sea, so let's ignore that bit.

vi) Another bit of good news is that if the shit hits the fan and the thing goes critical, we just unplug it, tow it as far as away as we can get and sink it beneath the ocean before it blows up, that'd be a fraction as bad as the nuclear bomb tests we were doing in the Pacific until the 1990s.



Nick Drew said...

lateral thinking is Good !

for stability you could build a catamaran-thing with several submarines for hulls, which is how 'semi-submersible' oil platforms are built (see also here) - it's even a conventional thing to do!

(see, I'm really joining in the spirit of the thing ...)

by far the most important thing to consider before you get started is that the 'price' of a electricity from a nuke is a function of how many years you're prepared to guarantee payments for: think annuity or mortgage - the only reason it's "£90-92" is because that's deemed to be acceptable (God knows why) and if the 'acceptable' answer was only £85 you'd just need to extend the guarantee even more years

it's fair to say the safety + bomb-proofing standards we impose on these buggers is really quite exacting these days, and you might fairly ask whether the sub / semi-sub is in quite the same safety league (you may also not care)

truth is, no-one really knows how EDF manage to justify their costs, but we've lost possession of our governmental marbles such a long time ago, no-one seems to care any more

there will no doubt be engineers happening along who will offer you more and better insights (Mr RWendland who drops by C@W would be good value)

anyhow - I like the cut of your (submarine) jib!

JimS said...

Well for a start you are about 15 times out on your rating of a PWR2 reactor so that would make it £150/MWh on your figures.

TheFatBigot said...

Oh dear, your obsessional hatred of those who own land really is getting out of hand. Quite surprising really considering that you made a tidy packet from land speculation.

Look, the plan is to build these things on land. That requires the land to be bought from the current owner. What do you expect the current owner to do? Is he to say "you are saving shivering old ladies from premature death, I will gladly give you my land for less than you are prepared to pay for it"? Of course the land owners are going to get the best price they can, just as you did when you sold your investment properties. There's nothing wrong with that.

The operators of the power stations will get the best price they can for the build (ie the lowest they can negotiate) and the best price they can for the electricity they generate (ie the highest they can negotiate). Fair enough, that's what everyone in business does. There's nothing wrong with that.

Everyone at every stage of the process will seek the highest price if selling and the lowest price if buying. Land owners are no different from anyone else in this regard.

Mark Wadsworth said...

ND, ta.

JS, according to this, they go up to about 200 MWt, so that would adjust my figure to £15/MWHr.

TFB, you don't seem to understand the concept of "holding people to ransom", that is the bit I don't like.

But as you seem very comfortable with suchexortion and you are happy to overpay for your electricity and overpay for just about everything else as well, then there is not much point trying to have a sensible discussion.

Nick Drew said...

as it happens I'm not sure the land is much of an issue here

they almost always go for brownfield sites alongside existing nukes

for the very obvious reasons that

(a) they already own it
(b) they already have the requisite grid connections, cooling water, utilities, security etc etc
(c) the locals, if not actually employed there, are broadly resigned** to having nukes on their doorsteps (and the new ones will be safer than the ones they are shutting down)

**there are of course local 'anti' groups, but with all due respect to them, not really as fierce as outright NIMBYs would be around a greenfield site

Bayard said...

I have to say that I agree with TFB here. The "holding to ransom" element is thae fact that there are very few organisations with the capacity to build nuclear power stations, and they have formed a cartel. Of course the government could build its own, but there is no reason to suppose that they would be even more expensive. The problem here, as in Germany, is that there isn't any real competition any more in the energy industry, if there ever was.

Mark Wadsworth said...

ND, if you look at the Hitachi-Horizon deal and dig down a bit, you see that they paid £700 million for such a "brownfield site".

i.e. the land/the planning permission costs as much as the actual reactor.

B, without wanting to get all nationalistic, we build those nuclear submarines ourselves here in the UK under strict UK-only security with UK expertise and workers, we don't need to hand money to foreigners.

JimS said...

Mark, from your reference "British Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) of 15,900 dwt submerged have a single PWR2 reactor with two steam turbines driving a single pump jet of 20.5 MW. New versions of this with "Core H" will require no refuelling over the life of the vessel*. "
Now bear in mind that most of the time the subs aren't going anywhere it is unlikely that the PWR2 will be producing anything like 20MW 'through life'. Something like 1MW for 'hotel' purposes sounds more likely, perhaps double that to include a few full-power runs.
Without doubt there are more powerful units that the PWR2 but then I expect they cost more too.

Lola said...

In any event, under a proper LVT system the land cost / rent would be recovered from the generators owner. Wouldn't it?

Y'know what. I think of myself as a sort of conservative libertarian. That is, I want maximum liberty and personal responsibility, but I value lots of the institutions we have developed over time (not the bank of England or the Financial Catastrophe Authority, obviously. But things like the Common Law) and I know they have to be funded by tax. The more you think about LVT the better it gets.

Mark Wadsworth said...

JS, read the article properly.

The MW rating of each sub's nuke is considerably larger than power output "at the propellor" because each MW has to be converted to steam first, which drives turbines, which generate electricity, some of which goes via transmission to the propellors and some which goes into powering other systems and some which is just lost along the way.

L, yes of course.

Actually, nuclear sites are liable to Business Rates anyway, which takes some of the sting out of it. But spending half your "investment" on land/planning seems like a shit way to fund reactors.

neil craig said...

The Russians are building such though they are only 70MW though a 1 GW plant should not be anything like 14 times as expensive as this because it is
only a small part that has to be bigger.

Perhaps more directly useful is that the Westinghouse AP1000 was originaled costed at about £800 mill, 16% of what we are told we will be paying. Also that European reactors being built in China are 1/3rd the cost of the same built in Europe.

However you slice it it looks like between 66% & 95% of nuclear cost is state parasitism not engineering.

Bear in mind that nuclear's safety record is far better than coal, windmills or anything else.

That is what we are paying for.

Bayard said...

"if you look at the Hitachi-Horizon deal and dig down a bit, you see that they paid £700 million for such a "brownfield site".

Would not that price represent the future money that could be made from building and operating the power stations, in the same way as your hero property developers valued their site in your earlier post? Thus it is directly affected by the amount that Ofgen is prepared to let the generators charge. Obviously planning and NIMBYs have some affect also in that sites for new nukes are now limited to sites of old nukes.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, yes of course, that's exactly how it is calculated.

Graeme said...

I have sometimes wondered whether the Polaris/Trident stuff (eco-maniacal protests along with SWP aka Sir Paul Nurse selling papers) was really all about having a back-up power generation scenario for those of us who had to live through Scargillism and Gormleyism and Bucktonism. Your post clarifies it.

Gavin Kerr said...

Nuclear power only makes sense to those who are incapable of thinking at all long-term ie beyond the next 100 years or so. Imagine hundreds or thousands of these 'sub stations' all over the world for hundreds and thousands of years, which is what will happen if we put all our money and energy into nuclear. You have to have a pretty limited imagination to think that something wont go seriously wrong at some point in that sort of scenario. Why not put that sort of money into finding a decent way to store and transport electricity (which you would think would be fairly straightforward, compared with landing on the moon and building nuclear powers stations), then build some decent solar and wind plants (which you would think should also be fairly straightforward) and then put these in the deserts and the oceans?

neil craig said...

Gavin coal kills 150,000 a year. Nuclear killed 2 about 2 years ago in one accident. Difficult to say the latter is the more dangerous.

Actually I think there is a very good chance that in 100 we will have access to an unlimited amount of VERY cheap power that you don't mention.

Solar power satellites - once we have a spacegoing civilisation they become cheap to build and last forever. And yes I agree we should put some money into space development, indeed it is a hobbyhorse of mine.

neil craig said...

Sorry that should have been 20 years ago. The Fukushima nuclear "disaster" killed nobody though the tsunami (less mentioned by the media) killed 21,000.

Mark Wadsworth said...

G, I doubt it, although the R&D into small scale waterborne nukes could pay off in unexpected ways in future.

GK: "Imagine hundreds or thousands of these 'sub stations' all over the world for hundreds and thousands of years"

They are very small, so the space that they would use up is minuscule. Certainly a tiny fraction of the amount of space take up by an offshore wind farm for the same MW output (a thousandth? a millionth?)

And like I said, worst case you can tow them the middle of the ocean and pull the plug :-)

And if solar or storage and so on were such a brilliant and profitable deal, why are no businesses doing it of their own volition?

The technologies are all well established by now (they just need to be improved and refined).

NC, ta for extra info, good points as ever.

Kj said...

Also, behold the Great Thorium.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Kj, sounds good to me.