"Failing Nuclear Power Is Good For Coal"

Guest post by David Middleton

Failing NuclearFailing Nuclear2

Scana Corp. announced Monday it will stop construction on a nuclear power plant in South Carolina—one of two in development in the U.S. Project costs ballooned in recent years, and the decision should eventually save electricity customers $7 billion.

But the stoppage and others like it may cost everyone more in the long run. The move has implications that last hundreds of years—the residence time of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—as electricity generated from fossil fuels begin to replace aging or expensive nuclear reactors.


Low natural gas prices are undercutting even the relatively cheap costs of operating many online U.S. nuclear plants, making some of them too expensive to run.

Among those existing reactors, Three-Mile Island is the latest victim of the U.S. shale gas boom, and to some extent, reduced demand and increased renewables. It’s now expected to close in 2019. Four states that have shuttered nuclear facilities in recent years have turned to gas and coal to make up the difference.

More gas and coal, of course, means more emitted carbon dioxide. And that’s exactly what scientists say we need to reduce in order to slow climate change, or at the very least avoid global environmental catastrophe.

But renewable energies like solar and wind aren’t enough to replace fossil fuels, at least not yet. This is where nuclear comes in.


“Without an aggressive build-out of nuclear power, climate goals are still attainable, but at much greater expense,” according to Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which co-leads the Deep Decarbonization effort. “The rest of the options are still feasible, but less attractive,” he said. “We’d make a big mistake if we decide right now we don’t need it.”

Asked how to overcome the unfavorable economics that killed the South Carolina project and is shuttering active plants, Sachs suggested a rethinking of the entire nuclear research, development, and deployment pipeline. Newer technologies—some being pursued in other countries—may dramatically reduce costs, if they prove safe.

A magic wand solving the cost problems would still leave the problem of waste, and give policymakers a choice between nuclear waste—deadly but concentrated poison that lasts thousands of years—and fossil-fuel waste—invisible, diffuse carbon pollution that in sufficient amounts will transform the Earth for thousands of years.

Some climate skeptics may cite this as a Hobson’s choice, but experts warn that it’s not that simple, especially when considering the economic component.



This “climate skeptic” would just call it a HOOT!

A “Hobson’s choice” between the mythical pollution of CO2 and the easily disposed of waste from nuclear power plants… And as an added bonus, they toss in Jefferey Sachs babbling about magic wands…


About the Author: David Middleton has been a geophysicist/geologist in the evil oil & gas industry and a naturalized Texan since 1981.  He’s a member of the AAPG, SEG and HGS.  He likes oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power, doesn’t mind wind power and thinks solar power and PEV’s are almost as funny as Larry the Cable Guy.  Regarding climate change, he’s generally a luke-warmer, mostly agreeing with Anthony Watts, Roy Spencer, John Christy and Judith Curry.


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Given today’s technology eventually nuclear power will win . Whether it be from disappearance of fossil fuels or a forced weaning from them people are not willing to step back in time and forgo affordable and reliable energy.

Reminds me of the political fight between Tesla (AC) and Edison (DC). Commonly called “The Current Wars”.


The war was between Edison and Westinghouse. Tesla was just the guy in the middle pointing out the laws of physics.


It seems unlikely… outside of UK, China, India its not going anywhere… (nobody else is building any beyond what’s in construction, costs of shut down/clear ups are proving crippling for power firms).
France is moving off it… Korea cooling on the idea.

Paul Penrose

That is like looking at an old 1970’s car (and yes, there are still some on the road), noting how clumsy and inefficient it is, and declaring the automotive industry dead.


Making stuff up again, Skanky?
Have you apologised to Dr. Crockford for maliciously attempting to damage her scientific credentials yet?


Yes, he’s making things up again. Romania is doubling its nuclear fleet with closing on the financial details this fall. Argentina is adding 50% to its nuclear capacity with approval of construction for its third reactor. UAE has just started up its first of four reactors this year, all to be completed and in service by 2020. In keeping up with the Jones’s, Saudi Arabia has a station of four planned for startup in the next 5-8 years, same with Nigeria. But the furthest ahead with plans for first nuclear plants is probably Kenya. They’ve already put in place most of their regulatory apparatus with assistance from the IAEA. And he’s left out that Russia is still building and completing new reactors.


A truly helpful Hobbesian choice. Which Boogieman can be made scarier?


sorry forgot the [sarc]

Tom Halla

In South Carolina, the prime contractor, Westinghouse, went bankrupt. That and games from regulators have a great deal to do with why the project failed.

I Came I Saw I Left

That probably means the plant planned for Cherokee county in SC is dead, too.

John W. Garrett

Toshiba rues the day it bought Westinghouse. The last time I checked, Toshiba still had not produced any financial statements for 2016 and is being given a “free pass” by Japanese securities regulators fearful of the effect a Toshiba bankruptcy might have on the country.
As for me, I am a huge beneficiary of nuclear power and am eternally grateful for the two plants that were completed by my local utility prior to 1972. Those plants and coal are the reason I pay 9½¢/Kwh for my electricity. Naturally, the “Green Blob,” the art history majors, the English majors, the poets and the occupants of “The Swamp” are doing their utmost to ensure that my electricity rates double in the future.

I trained on A1W. And had a look at S1W.


Correct Tom, no mention in the article about Westinghouse. More proof that Bloomberg is not journalism, it is advocacy.


David, don’t we have enough coal and gas…to outlast the lifetime of new coal and gas plants?


From the article: “A magic wand solving the cost problems would still leave the problem of waste, and give policymakers a choice between nuclear waste—deadly but concentrated poison that lasts thousands of years—and fossil-fuel waste—invisible, diffuse carbon pollution that in sufficient amounts will transform the Earth for thousands of years.”
Well, then we don’t have a problem because CO2 is not a pollutant and did not transform the Earth when it was in the atmosphere in higher amounts in the past, so we should not expect it to transform Earth in the lower amounts we have today, and nuclear waste, as David says, is easily dealt with, given sufficient political will.
Greens and alarmists are crazy for not embrassing nuclear power plants. Nuclear power would solve all their CO2 problems and the waste in not hard to deal with, it can be buried sufficiently deeply and cheaply enough that burial is a viable option, and then there is always a subduction zone, seven miles deep, or we can use Harry Reid’s nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada. Lots of options. But no, the Greens and the alarmists want to bankrupt the developed nations by insisting on using windmills and solar panels instead.
Mass hysteria and delusion. That’s what we are seeing here.


In response to the second paragraph.
Actually, higher CO2 did transform Earth by making it greener and more fauna populated in tbe past and the increasing CO2 is transforming it again in our lifetime. If it were not for the Warmista and scaremongering that has demonized CO2 in the last few decades that have reduced our CO2 production the Earth would be even Greener today.

You are a funny guy Middleton. You post a link to a study that touts disposing of high level nuclear wastes in boreholes. How about we throw the stuff down the same holes in Oklahoma where they’re injecting wastewater from fracking? I’m sure the residents of Oklahoma would appreciate nuclear waste powered earthquakes !!!!

Paul Penrose

That’s probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen posted here. At least it will serve as a great example of the Strawman logical fallacy.


David. With the technology of Carbon Capture Utilization over 90% of the CO2 can be removed from the combusted coal exhaust and be transformed into useful-saleable products. Waste is not a waste if it has a purpose and Sidel Global has created purpose for combusted coal exhaust, so lets use it, create many full time jobs in a number of sectors, and put into the atmosphere less than a natural gas power plant.

Robert Austin

CCS is complete nonsense. It takes a substantial portion of the plant’s energy production to capture the CO2. And then the captured CO2 has to be permanently sequestered. The icing on the nonsense is that the CO2 emissions are on net, beneficial to humanity.

Bryan A

Frankly, I believe that the best CCS is Trees. They naturally respond to higher concentrations by growing faster and bigger. They give us back the much needed Oxygen. We need to leave Trees alone, stop removing them in the name of BioFuelishness, and build our houses with steel and concrete. They would then be far more resilient in major storm situations (Hurricanes and Tornados even the occasional Sharknado).

Will Nelson

Or, use [plantation fast growing] trees to build even more structures.
I think a precisely designed house to any given criteria made from steel or concrete should be no stronger than one made of wood. Although I would guess the cost to quite a bit of strength ratio is usually lowest (for wind) using concrete masonry for a house sized structure. If I knew I was in the path of a sharknado then hang the cost and build with cast-in-place concrete.

Bryan A

CCS is complete nonsense. The market for CO2 for petroleum recovery is very small compared to the total combustion-generated CO2.

Not really. See essay Clean Coal. The parasitic electrical load for Carbon capture and storage(CCS) is about 30%. The Boundary Dam process simply did not work properly; uptime is at best 66%. The Kemper process was bought from Mitsubishi; neither the Kemper lignite gassification nor the CCS has worked at all yet. As a result, Missippippi just ordered Southern’s Kemper to forget about coal gassification and CCS and run the functioning since two years CCGT on natural gas, period. That is on the order of a $4.5 billion writeoff on a $5.5 project with almost $1 billion in federal subsidies and loan guarantees.
The only viable large scale value in CCS would have been tertiary CO2 oil recovery, which was the plan for both Boundary Dam and Kemper. Most commercial CO2 for that and other uses comes from amine process scrubbing of CO2 from natural gas before it hits the main pipelines.

Another Doug

Waste is not a waste if it has a purpose and Sidel Global has created purpose for combusted coal exhaust

Googling…it looks like Sidel Global consists of a guy name Sid with a PowerPoint and a YouTube video.
Oh…just realized that apparently you are Sid. Have you actually installed a CC system and proven the economics?

Paul Penrose



“With the technology of Carbon Capture Utilization over 90% of the CO2 can be removed from the combusted coal exhaust and be transformed into useful-saleable products.”
Let’s take a look…
The CO2 market
Revenue generated from selling CO2 for reuse is likely to be moderate, and subject to future downward price pressure because of the strong potential supply surplus.
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Thomas Homer

from the article: ” … and fossil-fuel waste—invisible, diffuse carbon pollution that in sufficient amounts will transform the Earth for thousands of years.”
After reading that line twice, I notice they didn’t actually describe the CO2 related transformation of the Earth as bad.
Knowing that CO2 is the base of the food chain, the additional invisible diffuse CO2 will feed and sustain Carbon Based Life Forms. Though I’m not sure about the ‘thousands of years’ claim.

Been following this since the 2013 writing of essay Clean Coal. Westinghouse committed to build 4 AP1000s. Two in Georgia , Voglte 3 and 4, and two in South Carolina at Summer 2 and 3. Voglte 3&4 were Licensed in 2009 with construction starting 2010, before the full implications of shale gas fracking were clear. Original cost was $4800/kw with completion 2016-2017. Is now over budget by ~2x and 3 years late. But, has a better cost over run guarantee from Westinghouse than Summer, by about $1.5 billion (if that is worth anything) and is significantly further along in construction (sunk costs). The plug got pulled on Summer this week. Summer was licenced in 2012 and construction on unit 2 began in early 2013. Whether Southern will pull the plug on Voglte will be decided near year end. They are in evaluation mode now. Bigger company, less rate payer impact, greater sunk cost. Personally, I think Voglte might also stop. Equivalent CCGT capacity of 2200MW could be in place and operating before Voglte is finished at ~1/9 the capital cost, and without the complications of a bankrupt supplier whose parent Toshiba will also go bankrupt if it cannot sell its semiconductor business in Japan.


The impact has spilled over to the UK: Westinghouse/Toshiba now seem unable to build the proposed new Moorside reactor in UK… Koreans being invited in, but I am really unsure if they will bite.
The Moorside (and Wylfa) reactors proposed for UK might come in with reasonable costs in a reasonable time, unlikely the wretched white elephant which is Hinkley.

Bruce Cobb

So many bogeymen to choose from, so little time. It’s a wonder enviroloons and quasi-marxist liberals can get through the day. Which DebbieDowner fantasy will they choose? Must be hard, being them.

This isn’t a failure of nuclear power – it is a failure of American light water reactor nuclear
plant construction. Inparticular, the inability of the Chicago steel fabrication company contracted by Westinghouse to build their components. They were so bad, Westignhouse had to take over the company to attempt to improve their build quality.
South Carolina should have contracted with Russia’s Rosatom or China or even South Korean nuclear plant builders. They can build (guaranteed) for $4 to $5 billion, even larger than Westinghouse’s AP1000. The Chinese have their own copy of the AP1000 (the CAP1000 , C for Chinese, and another, larger version called the CAP1400 (1400 MW). There are literally dozens of contracts being fulfilled by the Chinese, Korean and Russian nuclear build companies.
America cannot compete in building light water reactors and shouldn’t even try. In any case, light water reactors are a doomed nuclear technology, about to be replaced by molten salt reactors, several of which are being designed by American companies , and received DOE grants to aid the development. They are NOT far away. One, an English company called Moltex Energy, has a design that takes advantage of current nuclear component parts and would likely be first to market. With estimated build costs 1/3rd that of a LWR and levelized energy costs cheaper than coal, gas or anyhting else (under $40 per MWhr) and intrinsically safe to the point of being boringly so, with load following capability, eliminating much of the need for fossil fueled mid and peak level generators, and capable of extracting twice as much energy from uranium as a LWR, the energy future seems destined to be a molten salt future. Some of these reactors can also burn Thorium, although there are objections to that strategy.


I think you’re right about LWRs. They served their purpose, but the recent history of our inability to build them should be indication that it’s time to move on. Regarding the ability of a foreign entity to build for cheaper in the U.S., I think you are, perhaps, not fully cognizant of all the reasons that these plants cost so much to build. When several billions of your budget is in concrete alone (for safety purposes), it’s hard to make an argument that someone else can build them cheaper. Now…I’m not sure what the specific cost breakdowns are for the AP1000, but the reality of the situation is that the regulatory environment and drive for over-engineering have priced these plants out of the market.

Tsk Tsk

Concrete costs haven’t gone up by a factor of 2-3. There’s something else going on here.


What went on was all that, that was mentioned, including that the work started in 2007 for VC Summer. The project started to go above budget even before the site was cleared. SCANA/Westinghouse were required to redo the design due to lawsuit from a coalition of green advocacy groups. NRC sided with them. In addition to steel problems there were problems with the cement. Some was due to the change in design and some was attributed to the supplier. One of the unknowns was how much was wasted by the original contractor and why wasn’t the plug pulled earlier. As someone who is supplied by SCE&G, the part of SCANA that actually is the owner operator of the VC Summer plant, these and other questions are being asked.
What has been proposed to the Public Service Commission (PSC) is that SCANA will use the money from Toshiba to mitigate rate hikes, but they want to amortize this for 60 years. Also, anything that is not tax deductible will be part of the rate structure which by law means that SCANA adds 10% to the cost as its revenue. This is spelled out in the proposal to the PSC to include costs of litigation for or against SCANA with any reasonable legal fees. In other words, SCE&G customers are expected to pay for the cleanup and 10%. If this is not insult enough, the cost to finish one unit would be $7 Billion, but they want $4.9 Billion to mothball the two. Then there is the issue that literally almost all the materials and equipment to finish have already been purchased and are on site. The PSC was told when bankruptcy discussions of Westinghouse started that abandoning the project was on the bottom of the list. The 42% partner in this Santee Cooper didn’t want to complete and SCANA is using this as the reason. The state assembly are meeting about this and are calling changing the law and seeing what can be done. Both the PSC and the legislature have expressed their objections to SCANA’s decision to abandon.

Imagine eventually blasting off into space to new colonies, on new planets, shortly before the sun, or the inevitable asteroid, consumes our beautiful planet.
Your son, or daughter, or perhaps your gender non specific child, turns to you, whilst watching Earth receding into the distance and ask’s “why are we leaving that beautiful planet before we used all the resources available to us?”
You shrug, and say, “I have no idea, but using it, we might have built enough space ships to get everyone off the planet”.
There’s Hobson’s choice. Use the resources available to us to deal with the inevitable, or don’t.

Beta Blocker

Truth be told, the VC Summer and Vogtle nuclear projects have both been on a pathway to failure from the earliest days of the projects, starting in 2012 at the beginning of construction.
For those of you who think that overregulation of the nuclear industry by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the fundamental cause of these nuclear project failures, you must acknowledge that the power utilities who were funding these projects claimed in 2012 that their planning estimates were sufficient to cover all of the cost & schedule burdens the NRC’s regulations impose.
Why did these two projects fail so miserably to stay on cost and schedule, going from the 2012 estimate of $12 billion to a 2017 estimate of $25 billion?
The basic reason is that all of the tough lessons that were learned from the previous nuclear project failures of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s were ignored:
(1) The power utilities who were funding these projects did not have their own in-house technical and project management expertise, the kind of expertise needed to make themselves knowledgeable customers for the nuclear construction services they were buying.
(2) The original prime contractors chosen by the power utilities in 2012 to manage their construction jobs did not have substantial previous experience in other kinds of large nuclear projects of the same or similar magnitude and complexity.
(3) The power utilities did not do an effective job of overseeing the work of the original prime and original sub-contractors; and they did not act quickly to deal with emerging issues and problems while there was still time to deal with them.
(4) The prime contractors who were originally managing the construction efforts did not do an effective job of overseeing the work of the sub-contractors. They did not act quickly to deal with emerging issues and problems while there was still time to deal with those issues and problems. Smaller problems were allowed to fester until they evolved over time into much larger, more difficult problems.
(5) The original prime contractors did not impose effective systems for contractor and sub-contractor design interface control; for configuration management of design documentation and associated systems and components; and for proper and up-to-date maintenance of inter-contractor cost and schedule information.
(6) The sub-contractors who performed the detailed construction and fabrication work did not do an effective job of in-house quality assurance, in-house quality control, and in-house configuration management & design control. They did not act quickly to deal with emerging issues and problems while there was still time to deal with those issues and problems. Smaller problems were allowed to fester until they evolved over time into much larger, much more difficult problems.
(7) The sub-contractors were not giving honest and accurate information to the prime contractors concerning the true status of their activities.
(8) The prime contractors ignored early and obvious signs that the sub-contractors were not performing to expectations, and they did not move swiftly — or even move at all in some cases — to deal with sub-contractor quality control issues and with sub-contractor cost & schedule performance problems.
(9) The prime contractors did not maintain a proper cost & schedule control system for the overall project as a whole. Many activities listed on their project schedules were mis-estimated for time, cost, scope, and complexity. Other project activities covering significant portions of the total work scope were missing altogether, making it impossible to accurately assess where the project’s cost and schedule performance currently stood, and where it was headed in the future.
(10) Federal and state oversight agencies were remiss in the early identification of emerging technical and management problems, and they were ineffective in pressing the power utilities and the prime contractors to deal with their project’s emerging issues and problems in a timely, proactive, and decisive way.
There you have it. The nuclear industry continues to be its own worst enemy. For those of us who have been in nuclear construction and operations since the mid-1970’s, the period 2012-2017 was a near exact repetition of what we saw in the period of 1979-1985.
The power utilities who were buying these nuclear plants had the responsibility and the public trust to manage their nuclear projects using a highly disciplined, well-coordinated approach, and they absolutely failed to deliver on that responsibility.

Retired Kit P

Good info!


Excellent analysis. This failure was essentially the same as what Areva has encountered at Flamanville and Olkiluoto: failure of basic project management.


“…nuclear waste—deadly but concentrated poison that lasts thousands of years…”
Reactor “waste” is mostly “spent” nuclear fuel (SNF). Which still has around 95% recoverable energy left, it’s “spent” because it has accumulated daughter products that absorb more neutrons than they produce, “poisoning” the chain reaction. Reprocess the fuel, and you’ve just increased your fuel supply by 19 fold.
The Molten Salt Reactor has a re-processor (it’s just a vacuum distillation column) built into the design, while a start up charge is needed, but they can be refueled from SNF. Build them in an existing facility, and the SNF never need be transported outside the facility.

Ernest Bush

If I was reading right elsewhere, it seems that all that greening around the earth has caused growth of atmospheric CO2 to level off for the time being at least. Also, plants would be unbelievably thick and lush all over the planet if the amount of atmospheric CO2 doubled. Greenhouses operate at 1200 plus/minus to reap the benefit of all that extra plant food.


More news to come…
Tab Swells to $25 Billion for Nuclear-Power Plant in Georgia
But utility Southern Co. is not ready to give up on the only nuclear facility under construction in the U.S.


Sigh…this one’s a tough pill to swallow, even though the plant was being built by a competitor. There are a lot of reasons why new LWRs are tough to complete in today’s market, and I’m not going to argue that we should be pouring good money after bad, but still, I really hate to see this happen.


Senator Collins introduces PERPETUAL tax credit for her windy friends
Joining Senators Collins and Carper are Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

D. J. Hawkins

There wasn’t much/any detail on the proposal. Is this a tax credit or subsidy? I’m not sure I would object in principle to an industry getting a permanent tax credit, as long as it doesn’t mean Uncle Sugar writes them a check for money they never had.

Tsk Tsk

No tax credits for anyone. It’s still a subsidy and you should have a problem with it.

Tsk Tsk

Susan Collins desperately needs to go.

Walter Sobchak

“nuclear waste—deadly but concentrated poison that lasts thousands of years”
No it isn’t. Fuel rods become unusable after they have been in a reactor for a while due to swelling. The used fuel rods still contain 95% of their original fuel content. They can be reprocessed into new fuel elements. The remaining radioactive fission products are a small amount that can be turned into solid glassy rocks. The storage of those rocks is a trivial problem.
If you are planning to dispose of used fuel elements without reprocessing, please don’t put them too far away. your grandchildren will want to dig them up as they are very valuable.


Here is a good write up of MSRs, the good and bad


I do like nuclear power and I’d happily see big investments to it and any new innovations in that area. However, I get uneasy when they try to sell their product with arguments about Climate Change. Nuclear is serious business where everything has to be done competently, honestly and correctly. And the Nuclear business has to be rock solidly right about everything they say.
Now, if they try to sell with Climate Voodoo bs arguments, it begs the question: What else are they lying about?


Throughput the western states we have a network of irrigation canals to water crops. This is flowing water that is not being utilized for hyroelectric generation. The same applies to nearly every big city waterworks where water is used 24/7/365. Places where a series of small generators can be used to create a lot electricity by using an already available source, because people are always using the water. Yes, at night the cities will use less than in the day time, but hundreds of commode flushes to constantly used industrial water use is keeping tbe water flowing. Thinking ourside the box of how sources are overlooked. On the independent household this doesn’t present practically because you don’t use enough water. On a scale where hundreds to thousands of people are using the water is a whole different story. Most city waterworks for waste treatment are outside the populated zones and piped to them. Engineering and technologies have advanced the efficiency of generators that small low flowing water turbines chained together could produce a lot of electricity.


Sounds like a good idea: small hydro is in wide use in the UK, as is heat and power generation at sewage plants – and in India they put solar panels over the irrigation channels. Uses less land and helps reduce evaporation.


I go placer gold prospecting – every chance I can get the time to be out a few days. I built a waterwheel to power a 12 volt automotive alternator and charge batteries to run my high-banker water pump. then at night I have lights and power for other things and my power cost are nearly nothing. I worked on farms most of my early life and know the power of the moving water in large to small canals that used to be everywhere before the urban sprawl took them out. So I envision how hundreds of miles of large canals across the country could be used to generate power from something that’s already there, designed with a constant drop for water to flow downgrade. These canals are about 10 to 15 feet across at the water level and 4 to 8 feet deep… that’s a lot of water flowing constantly. I’m giving away ideas I should capitalize on here…


The leftist hive mind can’t handle tradeoffs but only thinks in absolutes. It’s a psychological deficiency, the result of always living off other people’s tradeoffs. The fallacy of composition problem in that mindset is completely beyond their stunted development. No cure I’m afraid but the best palliative treatment is to place them on a strict dietary regimen of our tradeoffs, lest they regress completely.