OT: Have we become that stupid ..

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Close, but no cigar. The original point was to regulate the profits of critical industries. That model had been in place for decades and indeed, it was proven to work. The public utilities were and to some extent, still are regulated. They made the guaranteed profit, they expanded, they maintained the infrastructure. They prospered and the public was served.

The reasons we have not built nuclear plants has more to do with the environment (or the environmentalists if you choose) than anything else you are trying to support in your argument. Nuclear plants were and still are very profitable for the operators. So are hydro plants. We aren't hurting for electrical energy so there is no push for new facilities.

Wait - the oil industry has not been regulated, so how can you argue that they have not built a new refinery in decades because their profits have been interfered with?

Man, you throw out irrelevant or inappropriate stuff like chaff in the wind. Love Canal happened long before there was even much knowledge about most of the hazards. Not to excuse it, or to suggest there was no knowledge, but that was such a different time/place/circumstance that there isn't even a hint of relevance.

A wise guy retort would probably suggest something about reading comprehension. This is such a red herring that it does not even merit address.

Go study the price of fuel in the countries you reference. Look at the tax structures in those countries. An educated opinion serves an argument far better than a rhetorical cry.

On this point we're almost in total agreement. The exception being that I would go along with a degree of govt involvement in the form of regulation like we saw in the public utility sector for decades.
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Mike Marlow wrote: ...

That is only marginally true...ask the Californians w/ their rolling brownouts during hot weather with only a small fraction of the available capacity off for some reason. (And not during the Enron manipulation, either).
The overall national rolling reserve is approaching critical levels just as the refinery capacity has been for years until it has now reached critical proportions.
And the transmission network is also at capacity in some areas that makes grid-sharing not feasible to offshift local shortfalls.
As an aside, a major slowup of the expansion in wind power here where there is plenty of raw material is the lack of sufficient transmission capacity in those places to get it to the places that need it. And, unfortunately, the energy density isn't sufficient w/ wind to justify at present the high costs of new transmission lines.
...

That's been indirect, but you're correct that the more direct restrictions have been from the same folks who have also stymied nuclear. ...
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Mike Marlow wrote:

By what moral right does the group/mob/tribe have the privilege of telling the legitimate owner of an asset (say, an oil business) how to run it, how much money to make, and so forth so long as they do so without fraud?

No it did not. I spent over a decade in regulated industries. All regulation did for the most part was to create a lot of incompetent, lazy businesses that never had to sing for their supper. Note the sharp decline in prices for telecommunications and air travel as examples of what happens when the On The Job Retired have to actually perform under market conditions.

Right - a bunch of badly informed/politically motivated earth-worshippers managed to terrify the rest of the public about the so-called dangers of nuclear and no further plants were built

I fundamentally disagree that "we aren't hurting ...". Let's do a thought experiment. Suppose we built a bunch of small regional power generators using, say, the Pebble Bed technology the Chinese are currently pushing (in a huge way). This would have the eventual effect of making electricity so cheap that it would be logically "free" (i.e., So cheap the price wouldn't matter much.) Think about the effect this would have:
1) We could build all-electric commuter cars for the short drives that are the majority of our driving. These would be "refueled" via complementary outlets at every mall, store, and office.
2) There would be a precipitous decline in hydrocarbon fuel consumption. The new environmental issue would be reduced to the disposal of the spent rechargable battries.
3) We could tell the Arab tribalists to Go Scratch, because the oil we did continue using would be a small enough amount (I suspect) that we could serve our own oil needs.
4) We could shut down the inarguably polluting coal power generation plants.
All of these benefits accrue only if we can make electricity "so cheap it almost doesn't matter". THAT's why we should be building nuclear in a huge way - in small, self-contained systems like Pebble Beds that are cheaper to build, inherently safer than today's designs, have a simpler waste disposal model, and are far easier to secure/bury/hide/guard.

They haven't been regulated? I dunno what state you live in, but IIRC most of the states have "gouging" laws intended to insure that Larry The Loser can buy gas for his 1962 Buick Electra without regard to market conditions. Moreover, it's not just Federal regulation that created the environment that discouraged infrastructure development. The single biggest impediment to building Nukes, Refineries, and the like, beyond the keeing of the enviros is the "Not In My Back Yard" syndrome. IIRC, there is a completed nuclear plant somewhere in MA that has never produced a microwatt of power because the local geniuses don't want it turned out (I say they should get electricty off the grid last or not at all). It has been municipal morons that have kept these projects from moving forward via *local* regulation.

Oh baloney. Chemistry as a discipline has been around a long time. As I recall, there was sufficient knowledge of at least some of the hazards, that when the leaching was discovered there was an attempt to go after the original polluters legally. The Regulators sit around writing rules and pay no attention to real threat. We've all seen instances where it is cheaper to pay the regulatory fines than clean up the mess or source of pollution. Is this any suprise? Once you take government out of its intended role (to keep us free) and turn it into a social institution, no good thing proceeds from this.
Real polluters ought to be held liable without exception. In the case of corporations, there has happily been an increasing movement to hold the officers of polluting companies personally liable. The real problem is getting the environmentalist high-priests out of the way so we can figure out what constitutes "real pollution" (as opposed to their fantasy socialist version of it).

It's not a red herring. Here's a thought experiment. You control a Big Bad Evil Oil Company. You're making a killing at $3+ per gallon for gasoline, but you also know this will not last forever. You'd like to build another refinery but there are a "few" impediments:
1) You have to make nice with the EPA - a clueless and largely useless regulatory body.
2) Nobody wants you to build in their neighborhood - but they all want your gas.
3) The various green theologists have convinced a depressing number of the Sheeple that "natural" is good and "manmade" is bad. You have to stroke these idiots if you're going to make any headway.
4) Refineries cost a lot of money, take a long time to build, and are capital intensive operations. However, the tax laws mitigate against doing this kind of thing. You and your investor shareholders get to take all the risk. If you lose money, the downside loses you can show (at least on a personal basis) is limited to a net of $3000 per year. But, the government has unlimited access to loot your upside profits. if you have shareholders, they get punished by being taxed on the profits made even though the money they invested was originally taxed.
5) People think you personally make too much money because most of your compensation is derived from stock options to incent you to grow the company.
6) People think your Big Bad Evil Oil Company is "too profitable" and "not serving the public good". (Witness the post that started this subthread).
7) The Sheeple think you are Public Service Organization and that you owe everyone in society the result of your hard work and sweat just because they say so.
8) You're already working 14 hour days.
Now ... you're The Man. What would you do?

I never stipulated what the causes were, I was making a factual statement. This is not an "educated opinion" it is observable fact. My point was that this *fact* mitigates most of the whining about "high gas prices."

You cannot be half-pregnant. The minute you have government involvement in private sector matters (beyond the appropriate judicial involvement to thwart fraud/force/threat) you get a mess. You want more/better energy delivery in this country - get the regulators Federal and Local out of the way. Write some environmental *laws* (not regulations) with some teeth to go after people who take shortcuts, and get out of the way...

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Tim Daneliuk wrote: ...

...
No matter how many you build, they will never be cheap enough to be considered "free". Somewhat less expensive than current generation LWRs, <maybe>, but "free"--no way. Somewhere the construction and operational costs as well as the fuel cycle have to be recovered. I don't think there's any way it could possibly be done for less than perhaps 2/3-rds the cost of current generation facilities irregardless of scale, and I think that estimate optimistic.
I recall when I started school as NE that was the current mantra of the old AEC--"too cheap to meter". Didn't happen then, won't happen now or in the future. It is simply not possible to create an infrastructure of such magnitude at no cost.
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Duane Bozarth wrote:

The maintenance costs over decades need to be remembered, too, as does the simple fact that low cost energy always seems to encourage waste, or at least very careless use, which drives up needs rapidly. When an infrastructure is built, it must be maintained, something that a great many people today seem to forget. In many areas, the Interstate system is in pretty rough shape. Much of it has been in place for nearly 40 years, in heavy use for more than two and a half decades, and has gotten relatively small amounts of maintenance...and upgrading has not always been done in a timely manner, nor in the directions actually required as traffic loads increased.
Just one example. Physical plants do deteriorate, and they do cost money to repair, even if properly maintained.
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Charlie Self wrote:

I think I covered that w/ "operational costs", Charley... :)
What you're actually driving at I would classify more as a replacement cost as the lifetime of existing plants was 40 years and most are at or approaching that rapidly. There are some that have been granted renewals, at least one that I know of where the costs associated w/ providing sufficient engineering and documentation and known retrofits was considered excessive so the application was abandoned. I think the old Rancho Seco plant should be considered for restart myself although it may have been abandoned in place w/ no maintenance to the point it would also be totally impractical. But, it has only a few years operational history and is 800 MWe potential just sitting there... :(

OTOH, low energy costs drive economic development which "raises all boats", so to speak so there's a benefit as well. Stable supply and prices would be the ideal.
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Charlie Self wrote:

This is an entirely fair and reasonable point. It's why I originally said "cheap enough to not matter" and not "free". Take an example from the telephone company. I pay a flat $50/mo for unlimited local and domestic phone service. It's not "free", but it is so cheap, I don't care if someone comes over and spends 4 hours on a long distance call to their friends.
New (actually not so new) nuclear technologies hold this promise. If you've not read about pebble bed reactors, I heartily encourage you to do so. For example, see:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.09/china.html
This kind of stuff holds immense promise on the *generation* and waste disposal side of the equation. The much larger problem is the *distribution* side - the "grid". The grid grew irrationally, has not been well maintained, did not transition well from a regulated environment to a free market, and is IMHO a ticking time bomb. But here too, pebble beds offer hope. By building lots and lots of *small local* generation sites (something done in other nations and long advocated by people like Freeman Dyson, a Nobel lauriate physicist), we can begin to make "the grid" a more local and scalable phenomenon. Who needs a national grid when every state in the country can have a small, safe, clean nuke, that's easy to secure, can be locally funded and maintained, and has a minimal waste disposal problem? It's not a perfect solution, but it's certainly better than today's trajectory (no new nukes, lots of coal, Arab oil, and all the rest).
The larger point is that so long as we listen to the irrational environmentalists (as opposed to the thoughtful ones), as long as we keep trying to hark back to the days of quasi-socialist regulation, so long as we play the Not In My Back Yard game, we are effectively fiddling while Rome burns. These technologies are going to take several decades to be implemented and debugged. If we don't start now, we are NEVER going to catch up and China and the rest of the emerging undeveloped world are going to eclipse the West as the dominant economic and world power. We don't need more government programs to do this. We need to let markets do their work AND allow the people/companies who take the risks to benefit from their bets without exgregious taxation, unreasonable regulation, and social stigma. So long as an institution produces wealth without resorting to fraud, force, or threat, in my view they can never be "too profitable" nor ought we to hold them to the "serving the larger society" nonsense. I want a world where we don't have to say Mother May I to the Arabic penninsula or end up begging energy from the Chinese. This can only happen with free markets and the legal protection of the profits made thereby.
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Tim Daneliuk wrote:

...
Since the rate isn't dependent on use, of course you don't care about any additional usage...it's a non-issue.

I've been reading about pebble bed reactors for some 30 years or more (BSNE '68).
I still don't believe there's a chance in h-e-double toothpicks that one can build and operate 1000 MWe generation in less than something on the order of the same cost as present. You may get some reduction owing to scale and some owing to design, but you'll lose even more than you gain on scale simply in number.
I'm waiting and watching to be shown wrong, but I sincerely doubt it to be possible to make the kinds of changes that would support the cost structure you seem to envision.
As I told Charlie, "cheap" isn't necessarily the answer--plentiful and stable cost is the ideal.
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Duane Bozarth wrote:

But what if you could build, say a 100MW generation plant relatively cheaply? Our approach thus far has been "build great big plants that cost $5-6B and then serve a large portion of the grid". I think the hope with pbs is that you can build lots of little ones because building small is generally easier/cheaper/faster etc.

It's been years since I worked in nuke power generation so I have no relevant current commentary. If you read the Wired article I cited, though, they claim the promise is that you can scale by clustering small generation facilities together. Maybe it's not the answer, I think it's too early to tell, but doing nothing as we are now is certain to fail.
If you're right, and our current nuke model is the only one that Plays In Peoria, then all the more reason to get on it immediately. The timeline from concept to watts out in a new nuke facility is, what, a decade?
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Tim Daneliuk wrote:

...
I didn't say a 1000 MWe <plant>, I said 1000 MWe of <generation>. You may build a smaller unit for somewhat less, granted, but it takes 10 100MWe units to make the 1000MWe and the balance of plant is the same for all. A <major> portion of the cost of existing plants was overblown and mostly <very inefficient> licensing requirements and strategies for implementing the requirements. The key imo is more in the regulatory side as opposed to the actual plant itself.
...

I didn't say that, either. I agree there well may be better designs for commercial nuclear power than the LWR and that these need to be pursued. There are modifications proposed for LWRs as well that enhance safety and reduce cost.
The key is still regulation. As noted before the big run-up in cost was the cost of the money and the delays not the actual basic plant costs. If these aren't controlled nothing else will help much, either.
I had one basic problem w/ your first claim and that was using the "too cheap to matter" mantra. That isn't going to happen no matter what anybody claims.
I agree completely we need to be proceding w/ nuclear generation to replace aging current units and to retire particularly oil and gas fired units and to provide new generation. That a large fraction of these may well be smaller, localized plants is quite possible and has some advantages but the claim that these will be <greatly> less cost in terms of on-the-grid MW is simply wishful thinking on the part of the proponents imo. I look at it as I noted previously as the same sort of promotional rhetoric the old AEC used in the 50s and early 60s.
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Duane Bozarth wrote:
<SNIP>

This sounds all too familiar. I spent a year running a software group that wrote custom software to track the cyclic inspection of various nuke plant components (especially snubbers). What I observed was an industry just *choking* on bureaucracy. The worst of it was *inside* the plants where people wouldn't/couldn't keep track of their inspection data in a manner auditable by the NRC.
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Whatever the reason, in our lifetime, communications has, for most parts of the developed world, become virtually free. At least, marginal cost approaches 'free'. Think of the venue in which this discussion is taking place. Got a marginal cost per minute? What about voice? Does your cell phone charge you extra for domestic long distance? What did that look like 30 years ago, in the then-current cost context?

Once you pay the fixed cost of distribution/maintenance/customer service, there are possibilities yet to imagine. Won't happen this year, though.
But we should start thinking and experimenting and looking at the potential, shouldn't we?
Patriarch
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Patriarch wrote: ...

There's a fundamental difference between communication technology and power generation. The former has benefitted imensely from the "electronics revolution" whereas to date and for the foreseeable future, there is no such orders-of-magnitude breakthrough for generation.
...

No, and won't happen next 20 years, either in generation. The subject under discussion is essentially whether 10-100 MWe reactors of any design can be brought on grid for something so much less than the cost of a single 1000 MWe unit that the resulting power would be so cheap as to be essentially free. I don't think it possible w/ any technology currently at hand or in the foreseeable future (as in 20 years or so). That does assume that the licensing fiascos of the past are resolved so that a new generation of LWRs, say, isn't penalized so grossly as they were previously.

Oh, of course....I never argued a thing against the basic technology--I just think Tim and the folks touting the PBRs are delusional in terms of the actual costs to get actual power on the grid.
I'd be glad to be shown I'm wrong w/ plants on line, but I don't expect it. ("Free" power, that is, I fully expect some PBRs will be built).
I'll make a note that the most "nearly free" source of significant generation is wind. The problem is, of course that while free, the fuel source is pretty diffuse and the locations are for the most part not very well situated relative the locations of high demand.
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<snip>
I'm encouraged by the advances in photovoltaic generation and the silicon curve. Not for eveywhere, and not for mass-scale replication, but for the right application, promising. In California, the payback period is promising, without too much tax fiddling, or so it seems.
With regard to wind - My grandparents had a windmill since the 50's to pump water. In the 70's, they put in a windmill generator, and essentially had a zero-price electric bill for 10-12 years. But they were on the Mendocino Coast of California, and the wind was pretty reliable there.
Simple answers are often wrong, but if we can get enough folks talking, and thinking of alternatives, and recognizing the tradeoffs and risks, we might be smart enough to solve some problems. The old ways seem to be causing a problem or two, don't they?
Patriarch
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Patriarch wrote:

...
Niche, yes indeed. Increasing niche, undoubtedly.

We had "windcharger" from the time Grandad moved out here or very shortly thereafter (1915 era)--32 V DC system w/ storage batteries. Adequate for house lights some appliances, not good for more. Advances of course make those obsolete and still is again, niche individual partial solution. Doubt feasible to do for enough to run the farm altho I've not tried a recalculation w/ current technology.

Well, there's going to have to be some alternatives for sure. Of course, nearly abandoning one very practical alternative for central generation was stupid.
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Patriarch (in Xns96C5B88E1954Bpatriarchatcomcastdo@216.196.97.136) said:
| I'm encouraged by the advances in photovoltaic generation and the | silicon curve. Not for eveywhere, and not for mass-scale | replication, but for the right application, promising. In | California, the payback period is promising, without too much tax | fiddling, or so it seems. | | With regard to wind - My grandparents had a windmill since the 50's | to pump water. In the 70's, they put in a windmill generator, and | essentially had a zero-price electric bill for 10-12 years. But | they were on the Mendocino Coast of California, and the wind was | pretty reliable there. | | Simple answers are often wrong, but if we can get enough folks | talking, and thinking of alternatives, and recognizing the | tradeoffs and risks, we might be smart enough to solve some | problems. The old ways seem to be causing a problem or two, don't | they?
Hmm. To quote one of the smarter folks: "As simple as possible; but not simpler."
It would appear that we need to come to grips with the notion that we may need to make use of multiple technologies. I've been focused on solar heating and have had many people balk at the notion that they should use solar heating in /conjunction/ with their conventional heating system. The hard fact is that most conventional structures are just too lossy for solar heat alone. It's possible, however, to reduce the load on the conventional system substantially. That reduction shows up for the user in smaller heating bills and for everyone else as lower fuel costs than there'd be without the reduced demand.
The same kind of kind of approach is applies to wind and photovoltaic power generation. Employment of these technologies produces a savings for the owner in the form of reduced electric bills (or lower cost of generation) and for everyone else as lower electricity cost than there'd be without this reduced demand.
We need to begin unloading the grid and rethinking transport _now_, using the technologies and solutions we have. The solutions we have today will evolve and improve as we go; but if we decide not to do anything until all of that evolution and improvement has been completed, we'll be playing the most dangerous game of brinksmanship ever.
One of our biggest problems is that people who have the power to control /anything/ cling to "the way things are", with the fear that if anything changes, they'll lose their ability to shape events as they choose. Changing the energy paradigm will take a lot of courage and effort - precisely because, as you say, "the way things are" isn't working as well as our needs require.
-- Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html
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How could one argue with that? ;-)

A most reasonable position.

Technological change has almost always incremental, but almost never smooth. Maybe social change is similar - I'm not really a qualified observer.

One of the more difficult lessons for modern technological man on the road from smart to wise is that control is an illusion. We cannot control, but rather only influence and react. A lesson those with closer ties to agriculture than technology learn early in their experience.

Patriarch
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Patriarch wrote:

...
And as technology becomes practical (in the view of the user who must accept it in for it to become widespread) and economically competitive, that change will begin to occur. Until then, it will remain on the fringe.

But one thing is that the perception of these "people who have the power to control" don't...the end control is the consumer, economics and the technology's benefit. Recall the transition to the automobile from horses. It was not a "top-down" driven decision to get the manure off the streets although that was recognized as a major problem in large cities that was the actual driving force behend the paradigm shift. I don't think the next transition will be, either.
IOW, when you get the "better mousetrap" convenient enough, cheap enough and implementation painless enough and benefit obvious enough, then and only then the changeover will occur automagically.
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<snip>

You mean like cell phones? ;-)
Patriarch
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Patriarch wrote:

Yep....except, of course, for us grumpy old guys... :)
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