This diary tests your knowledge of current technology.
There is no magic involved. Nothing we can't buy right now. This option also has a near-zero carbon footprint.
The main alternative is importing oil at $84-a-42-gallon-barrel. Double that price for gasoline at the pump. But we don't have to.
Thing is, people seem not to understand how energy policy hits them in the wallet.
Really, there is no mystery. Let me start with a brief explanation why reducing our import cost is important.
Balance of Payments
The two principal divisions on the Balance of Payments bookkeeping are the current account and the capital account. The current account shows the net amount a country is earning if it is in surplus, or spending if it is in deficit.
We are running deficits -- rolling with the last two decades -- at $113 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010.
This deficit has to be financed in international capital markets, similar to financing the Federal debt.
The single largest component of this I/X deficit is imported petroleum. Total crude oil imports averaged 9,069,000 barrels per day in January, 2011, from U.S. Energy Information Administration, Dept. of Energy.
9,000,000 times $85 times 365 = $ 280-billion import cost a year
If that doesn't impress you right off, look at it as $2.8-trillion a decade -- doing nothing but going up. A trillion here, a trillion there... it adds up.
Reducing or eliminating this financial hemorrhage is certainly doable. We can do it dirty with coal. We can do it clean. Cleaner is also cheaper when you figure everything.
Here is what the Chinese are doing.
That is a Westinghouse AP1000. 3d Gen power plant.
This is a pressurized water reactor. The passive safety system is designed for 72 hours minimum. China has four AP1000s in construction with site plans for another forty. The AP1000 has a maximum core damage frequency of 2.41 × 10−7 per plant per year from engineering analysis. This is about a thousand times better than the 1970s designs seen at Fukushima.
One basic project, here, is to see what it takes to run electric cars.
-- U.S. electricity production = 4,000 million megawatt-hours
-- Nuclear power = 20% = 800 million megawatt-hours
Consider the arithmetic of the load on these power plants going over to electric cars:
-- One electric vehicle consumes about 15 kilowatt-hours per day. Times 365 days that multiplies to 5.4 megawatt-hours per year.
-- Powering 1,000,000 electric cars sounds great. This adds 5.4 million megawatt-hours/year as a drain on the total power system.
-- Powering 10,000,000 electric cars adds 54 million megawatts-hours/year to the power demand.
-- Powering 100,000,000 electric cars adds 540 million megawatt-hours/year to demand.
A battery powered electric car converts kilowatt-hours from the power grid into mechanical energy at an efficiency of over 80%.
Electrics are efficient. Gas engines, not in the same class.
-- 32.91 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy equals the energy in one gallon of gas.
-- The market cost consumers pay for kilowatt-hours is about $ 0.10 which means you pay $3.29 to drive 96 miles in a one-gallon-equivalent-charged Tesla.
-- That makes it a $3.46 electric bill to drive a Tesla 100 miles.
Driving 100 miles in an average gasoline car uses up 5 gallons of gas. Make that $20.
For consumers the end cost is $3.46 vs. $20 for the one 100 mile trip.
Annually the difference is $415 vs. 2,400. Make that 17% of the cost of gas.
At port of entry, impacting the country's balance of payments, the difference for importing the basic fuel materials is even sharper.
-- Processed uranium UO2 fuel for a year of driving a car costs $50.
-- The crude oil used to refine a year of gasoline costs $1,200.
Uranium imports at $50 vs. crude oil at $1,200. UO2 processed fuel costs 4% of the oil for the same distance driven.
Plainly, running a power plant and maintaining a massive electrical distribution system are costly propositions. The $50 fuel cost is bumped back up to $415.20. This is no where near what it takes to import, refine, and deliver gasoline.
The uranium power plants are also less expensive overall than coal plants. This is true even in China, where labor costs are a tenth what they are in America.
The catastrophe at Fukushima put a severe test to a 1970's design for nuclear power plants.
That 50-foot tsunami was right at the limit of what the engineers had anticipated. Then in the week after March 11th, emergency efforts had to include dumping 7.5-ton slugs of water on fuel rods from helicopters. This was quite a mess.
At the end, however, there were two deaths from drowning. Japanese television has interviewed workers from the plant and their families along with the usual talking-head experts. In the main, precautions held up. The most severe issue, today, is cesium concentration in rain run-off areas.
Radioactive water has moved out into the Pacific. Tests of seafood are mainly negative for radiation. That's going to be watched carefully..
Damage from the earthquakes didn't affect the plant in unexpected ways. Cracks appeared in the concrete. The design had been tested at an 8. Basically, that part of it held up.
Japan -- outside the evacuation zone -- is back under 300 nanoGrays/hour for maximum aerial radiation. That reading from SPEEDI is directly south of Fukushima Prefecture in Ibaraki. Average rad dose in Ibaraki is under 200 nanoGrays/hour.
Tokyo is back to normal readings, about the same as Kyoto on the far west coast. 79 nGy/hr.
Replacing coal plants with nukes is also feasible. This is the only feasible route to prevent major climate change within this century.
We can save close to $300-billion a year off the balance of payments deficit -- directly from going with modern nukes.
Solar, wind, and geothermal cannot deliver the gigawatts of power that we see coming into the demand pool. Each of these AP1000 systems delivers more than a gigawatt.
America has 104 nuclear plants. We need to plan for another 100 to 200 plants to meet demand and possibly reduce our carbon footprint moving forward. These plants are even better than the old ones for cooling -- they take much smaller cooling towers.
Risks ? Sure thing. But nothing that cannot be managed. On the whole the power companies are sensible and honest. With standardized equipment and tight operating standards, this is a technology that is not particularly difficult to apply safely.
Nuclear power as an industry is far more trustworthy than Big Oil or Big Coal. In large part because uranium is plentiful -- about the same as tin -- we are not going to see wars fought over it. We're also not going to hear Big Lie propaganda pushing it, such as the "Clean Coal" ad campaign. Coal kills about 30 miners a year in America over recent decades and far more overseas.
Once in a century a tsunami will hit a nuclear plant. Or a meteor will hit. Or a plane will crash. We have to plan for that. But the alternative right now is that we are sending trillions of dollars overseas for oil, plus trashing earth's atmosphere burning more and more coal.
Apart from nuclear power, represented by this AP1000 system, there is no large-scale power source that is cheap and environmentally clean and immediately doable for the existing power grid.
Why not ? Or what else ?