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MDU Closing Three Coal-Fired Plants

Also on the agenda at the Public Utilities Commission’s first meeting of 2020 is Montana-Dakota Utilities’ application for deferred accounting on $4.8 million in deferred costs (mostly accelerated depreciation) related to the closure of three coal-fired generating plants, Heskett 1 and 2 in Mandan, North Dakota, and Lewis & Clark in Sydney, Montana.

Wait—wasn’t Trump supposed to save coal?

Ha—as usual, Trump doesn’t understand business. MDU says it’s shutting down these three coal plants because natural gas is a heck of a lot cheaper:

This decision was based on the age of the coal plants, the availability of low-cost natural gas driving low-cost power on the MISO market, as well as rising fuel related costs and operating and maintenance expenses (O&M expenses) at each of the units.

…these generating units are no longer economically competitive in the MISO market and that to remain economically viable, unobtainable reductions in operating expenses would be required. For example, O&M expenses would need to be eliminated entirely for all three units while Heskett 1 and Heskett 2 would require an elimination of O&M expenses plus a reduction in fuel costs. Based on a comparison of actual fuel plus variable O&M expenses for calendar year 2018, Heskett 1, Heskett 2 and Lewis & Clark 1 are the highest cost units in Montana-Dakota’s generation portfolio with costs on a dollar per MWh generated basis 1.4 to over 2 times Montana-Dakota’s 2018 average MISO energy market purchase price of $25.85 per MWh [Montana-Dakota Utilities, Amended Application to the Public Utilities Commission for Authority for Deferred Accounting, Docket No. EL 19-040, 2019.11.08].

The Energy Information Administration says that the share of U.S. electricity generated by coal decreased from 40% in 2013 to 28% in 2018, while the share generated by natural gas increased from 26% to 34%. The EIA projects that this year, coal’s share will drop to 22% while natural gas’s share will rise to 39%. Hydro, wind, solar, and other renewable sources will rise to 19%.

US Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, December 2019
US Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, December 2019

Trump’s rollback of EPA regulations on coal-fired power isn’t keeping MDU from dropping these three coal plants. Even as Trump gives coal burners a break on their toxic-waste handling and tries to rig the market to make households pay more for renewable energy, companies stuck on coal are going bankrupt faster under Trump than they did under the President Trump incorrectly blamed for the demise of this nineteenth-century fuel. Voting for Trump may be easier than adapting to the 21st-century, but, like coal, it’s not a sustainable solution.


  1. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-01 12:09

    The good news is that we reduce carbon by shutting down coal plants. And it is cheaper to build the new gas plant than sustain the older coal plant. Paying less is good news.

    The bad news is that you get some of that carbon back when you replace the coal with natural gas. Then the carbon grows as the demand for natural gas increases. If the trendline for the total demand for natural gas continues, we will eventually emit more carbon than we do today…even though natural gas emits half the carbon that coal does.

    That would be a true Pyrrhic victory: We will have more renewables, but more carbon emissions than today.

  2. Porter Lansing 2020-01-01 12:51

    When is eventually, McTaggart? Seventy five years from now when new things will already be in operation? Be specific for once in your posting?

  3. leslie 2020-01-01 20:59

    Doc, it is just like impeachment. One step at a time. Now the gallows is built. Mitch just has to climb the steps and pull the lever, wetting his pants regardless.

    Yay, coal fired is going going gone! I am sure we will factor in nuclear where appropriate, but wind is the thing here in SD. I kno, somewhere under Miller geology is just right to bury waste! Gasp

  4. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-01 22:35


    I did that calculation a while back using EIA data, assuming we had zero coal and zero nuclear (pluses and minuses), powered everything with a mix of renewables and natural gas, and then allowed for like 2% growth in the power….assuming everything was being run by electricity.

    I think I also included getting us off of oil altogether (since we would need to displace fossil fuels in both industry and transportation)….that would be brand new electricity. And I do not recall if I included a rate for leaks of natural gas too.

    So I will try to re-do that with updated numbers and the desired baseline, and then go from there. I believe the answer is closer to a couple of decades as opposed to a lifetime for us to surpass our current carbon emissions in that way. That is just the mathematics of compound interest for carbon emissions.

    But there will be a timescale to get rid of coal…in other nations coal use is increasing…just not here.

  5. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-01 22:46


    There are many locations that would be suitable for waste storage, be that above ground or below ground. The questions are really for how long, and will the waste be retrievable in case we want to one day recycle it.

    And yes, there are some Democratic candidates who begrudgingly admit that we need to keep the zero carbon power from our existing nuclear….I think Warren is one of them, but she isn’t in favor of building new ones.

    I am in favor of reducing the waste as much as possible before anything is permanently isolated. That holds true for renewable wastes. But for now, the once-through cycle is holding fast for both nuclear and renewables.

  6. Porter Lansing 2020-01-02 09:51

    A couple decades, Bob? That’s an eternity in the reality of “new things”. From this morning’s LATimes.
    ~ Federal officials plan to approve a massive solar farm “with energy storage” in the desert outside Las Vegas, paving the way for a $1-billion project that will provide electricity to Nevada residents served by billionaire Warren Buffett’s NV Energy. The facility would generate more power than the largest solar farm currently operating in the United States, a 579-megawatt plant in Southern California.
    From the SFChronicle – Three years in, SF power program reaping cost, environmental benefits.
    One program has reduced greenhouse gases by hundreds of millions of pounds, the equivalent of removing 70,000 cars from the road for a year.

  7. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-02 10:32

    When you rely more on solar power, you also are relying more upon natural gas to produce energy when solar is not available. More solar does not mean less gas because even California is not self-sufficient on solar alone. If you have carbon capture, then that is not a problem. Uh-oh.

    Another problem is that there isn’t a variable demand being planned and paired with the generation of solar power at the moment. I guess you could stop using energy when the sun is not strong enough, but good luck getting through winter without burning wood (which emits carbon!).

    Sorry, they are not actually removing 70,000 vehicles from the road. Those vehicles are still powered by gas, not electricity. So more solar doesn’t do anything for that. Likewise shutting down a pipeline and generating more solar doesn’t help unless the cars run on electricity.

    I get that number of vehicle emissions is a standard that people like to hear, but the proper analogy regards the amount of coal emissions you are avoiding. But if you are replacing a nuclear plant with renewables plus gas, then aren’t you adding effective car emissions then? Oops!

    If you were really concerned about millions of years for nuclear waste, I wonder why you are not concerned about a couple of decades for catastrophic carbon emissions. In millions of years the carbon emissions at a given growth rate will be astronomical. O boy.

  8. jerry 2020-01-02 10:51

    Egypt just built a huge one and will build another close to it. 1,000 workers just to keep the panels clean! Economic development and saving the planet like Al Gore.

    “Al Gore has been working on this at his 400-acre farm in Carthage, Tennessee, where he also has a training program for climate activists and a carbon farming demonstration project.
    If farming practices are changed through the use of cover crops, low-tilling and tree-planting, Gore said, agriculture conglomerates and family farmers alike could theoretically make their farms more productive while fighting global warming. Those changes can also replenish nutrients to the world’s soil, of which 33% has already been depleted.”

    How about that? We missed the boat when the Supreme Court put in W. Bonus points:

    Iraq is gonna be sending us packing right soon like. All those trillions of dollars and lost and forever damaged lives…for nothing but sifting sand and empowering Iran and Russia.

  9. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-02 11:21

    Here is the calculation you wanted. Instead of estimating 2019 results (which have not been released yet), I will use 2018 results. I do have to estimate some things, and I note those below.

    The EIA reports that in 2018 we consumed a total of 101.193 quadrillion BTUs of energy. 81.194 quad BTU came from fossil fuels, 8.438 came from nuclear, and 11.409 came from renewables. Of the renewables, 5.106 came from “biomass” which includes wood, waste, and biofuel.

    Of the fossil fuels that we consume, 13.252 comes from coal, 31.086 comes from natural gas, and 36.882 comes from petroleum (which I will say is just gasoline). This calculation will replace coal and petroleum in our energy mix with renewables and gas, while keeping nuclear and biomass constant.

    There are different kinds of coal, so I picked lignite which is in the middle. That emits 215.4 pounds of CO2 per million BTU of coal consumed. From now on, I will call that one Coal Unit of CO2 emissions.

    Natural gas emits 0.543175 Coal Units, and gasoline emits 0.729805 Coal Units. Biomass is a mix of wood, waste, and biofuel, so I am guessing the total is between gas and coal at 175 pounds, so that is 0.812442 Coal Units.

    So if you tally up the Coal Units from our present energy consumption in the United States, we are emitting 61.20215 Coal Units. I assume that coal and petroleum would be completely replaced by electricity. Today, our electricity generation from natural gas is 3 times that of solar and wind combined. I will assume coal and gasoline are replaced by equal amounts of natural gas and solar/wind. Then all of our emissions would come from natural gas and biomass, and our new starting point would be 34.64925 Coal Units of CO2.

    (1 of 2)

  10. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-02 11:35

    If you assume a 2% growth rate in our consumption of energy, and the global consumption is related to our consumption, the math of compound interest tells you we get back to today’s carbon emissions in 28.73 years. If the globe outpaces us, we hit our current emissions sooner.

    This number has biomass wrapped up in it, so that is increasing at the same 2%.

    In 100 years, our total carbon emissions from such a plan would generate 251.021627 Coal Units of CO2, which is 4 times what we are emitting today.

    In 200 years, we get to 1818.5629 Coal Units, or 29.7 times what we are emitting today. So you see where this is going after a million years!!!

    So either you need carbon capture to work (including natural and man-made carbon capture), you need energy storage (which means a lot of mining and recycling that is not occurring now), or we do more nuclear (either off-the-shelf designs or new reactors).

    (2 of 2)

  11. jerry 2020-01-02 13:24

    Looks like the solution would be to cull the herd.

  12. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-02 13:45

    Culling the herd and/or restricting energy consumption are not going to be winning political messages. And I thought you wanted Trump to lose in the next election ;^).

    The better solution in my opinion is to do what is necessary to generate more clean energy, and deliver that energy whenever the consumer demands it. And then become the one-stop shop for global consumers of clean energy to boost economic growth.

  13. Porter Lansing 2020-01-02 13:48

    Jerry … My personal solution is to stop reading McTaggart’s biased analyses. There are so many mistakes, distorted hypotheses, and outright deceptions I can’t keep track by the time I’ve reached the end. I suppose, like the discussion of SD’s gov’t workers pay, the bottom line on McTaggart is … who’s listening and are they persuadable? For now, it’s counting the days until his classes start again.

  14. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-02 13:56


    You asked for the calculation….I delivered. Happy New Year!

  15. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-02 14:08

    The key factor in energy today is that natural gas is cheap. It is cheaper than continuing with coal, and it emits half the carbon that coal does.

    It is cheaper to burn natural gas than provide or develop the requisite battery technology. But as it will be paired with renewables, the carbon will grow. So if you are not anti-growth and want to remain anti-nuclear, you will need carbon capture to work whatever the costs are.

  16. Porter Lansing 2020-01-02 14:20

    Bob, et al. Let’s talk. When we look at the names on the two lists of commenters and their frequency, it’s nearly impossible to not see this. We’re the same people who’ve been here for years and we’re all here for the same reason. We like to talk. There are no new ideas. No new opinions and no new ears. Everyone here can draw their own conclusion from that underlying foundation. I like it here. So do most of us. But to think there are persuadables reading what we post is fantasy. It’s like a South Dakota bar. The same people sit on the same stools and listen to the same things day after day. But, at least the beer is cheap. Carry on, Professor. At least you get new students who haven’t heard it all before. ツ

  17. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-02 14:35


    I hope energy storage will work out, because that helps nuclear energy too. I hope carbon capture works, because we’ll need to power that without emitting new carbon, so there is a role for nuclear there too. I hope that recycling for renewables will occur, and that doing that in a carbon-free manner will be of interest.

    Usually I am a “majority of one” on this board #Thoreau, but we know how to do nuclear better than energy storage or carbon capture. So let’s get on with solving climate change while we work on them.

  18. jerry 2020-01-02 15:55

    Porter, I don’t pay attention to what doc says anymore than he does with me. Doc has a tremendous breathing issue, so that is what’s going on with him.

  19. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-02 16:09

    Yeah, I keep exhaling carbon dioxide. It is a real problem. I will try and do better.

  20. leslie 2020-01-02 19:25

    Doc: “we need to keep the zero carbon power from our existing nuclear….” What does this phrase mean?

  21. jerry 2020-01-02 22:21

    Natives have figured the way, South Dakota should follow the lead.

    “BLUE LAKE, Calif. — After months of wildfires, an essential question in a warming, windy California is this: How does the state keep the lights on? A tiny Native American tribe, settled here in the Mad River Valley, has an answer.

    Build your own utility.

    The Blue Lake Rancheria tribe has constructed a microgrid on its 100-acre reservation, a complex of solar panels, storage batteries and distribution lines that operates as part of the broader utility network or completely independent of it. It is a state-of-the-art system — and an indicator of what might be in California’s future.”

    The lights always stay on there. Booyah!

  22. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-03 13:01


    If we shut down a nuclear power plant, we do not generate carbon-free energy. It is replaced by a combination of gas and renewables….primarily gas.

    The net effect is that you now have more carbon emissions than you did before…..even though the amount of power may be the same.

    So those advocating for shutting down safe and operational nuclear power plants are not reducing carbon. If you replace a coal plant with gas and renewables, then there is an initial win. That continues until the power levels increase enough to surpass the carbon emissions from the coal plant. Then it is a carbon loss.

  23. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-03 13:06


    Is it part of the broader network or not? If it is, then they will have access to electricity generated by natural gas when solar + batteries are not enough.

    What they will do with the old solar panels and the batteries when they need to be replaced?

    Those two items are also a glimpse into California’s future.

  24. jerry 2020-01-03 13:20

    It can operate either way, on it’s own or with the grid. Autonomous if you will. We could do that here as well. We have the sun, the wind and the water to generate electricity for our own use and to sell to our neighbors. We are the Sunshine State.

  25. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-03 13:31

    It will certainly reduce what they need to pull from the grid. However pushing excess onto the grid is where the problems begin.

    If the solar + batteries + other uses are right-sized and the amount of gas burned overall is minimized, that is about the best you can do today.

  26. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-03 13:40

    Mothers for Nuclear make the case for not closing perfectly good nuclear plants. They are awesome! (both the ladies and the nuclear plants)

    “Instead of continuing to rely on the renewables-only bandwagon, we need to focus on building public support for nuclear energy. There is growing public awareness on the importance of using science to inform our decisions as a nation. The science is clear – nuclear is the safest way of generating reliable electricity. Of all of the ‘clean’ energy sources, nuclear occupies the smallest land footprint per unit of energy produced, and we have the technology right now. We cannot continue to delay action on climate until some future solution is produced.”

  27. Porter Lansing 2020-01-03 14:39

    We got mothers, too. “Fukushima’s mothers became radiation experts to protect their children after nuclear meltdown.”
    -Mothers in Fukushima set up a radiation testing lab because they didn’t trust government results. They are testing everything — rice, vacuum cleaner dust, seafood, moss and soil — for toxic levels of radiation.
    But these lab workers are not typical scientists.
    They are ordinary mums who have built an extraordinary clinic.

  28. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-03 14:45

    Not so fast my friend…

    “Of course, no one has died from any radiation released from the reactor, and no one ever will. There just wasn’t enough dose to anyone.”

    There were more problems associated with replacing the nuclear power with fossil fuels!!!

    You can find detectors to discover low levels of radiation. The question you should be asking is whether that level of radiation poses a health risk.

    “We have been trying for decades to advise the governments of the world, and their people, that fear-driven overreaction to radiation has more severe consequences than the radiation ever could. But the noise from non-scientists and ideologs keeps drowning out the science, so the public doesn’t know what to think.”

    Would be interesting if you got more of a dose flying to Japan than you would visiting the Fukushima site. You aren’t calling for the end of air travel, are you?

  29. Porter Lansing 2020-01-03 14:55

    Mothers in Fukushima set up a radiation testing lab because they didn’t trust government results. That means the results you’re touting, Bob. I also don’t trust them. Not in a country where 99% of people on trial are found guilty.

  30. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-03 15:06

    News flash….you are the government.

    If you don’t trust any results that do not align with your pre-conceived notions, then science won’t work. Somebody else should be able to go to the same locations with well-calibrated detectors and instrumentation and get similar results.

    It’s good that they take their own data, as long as they follow peer-reviewable guidelines and are transparent in what they are doing.

    Once again, the additional layer to science that you are missing is what you do with the data once you collect it. What does the data mean? For radiation in this case, you have to show that there are health effects that warrant certain actions or policies.

    But if the data is clear (for example, you are shown that increasing use of natural gas can lead to emitting more carbon in the future than we are today), and you do not act on it or support the requisite solutions….that is a problem for the promotion and growth of data-driven policies.

  31. Porter Lansing 2020-01-03 15:28

    News Flash!!! If you’re explaining, you’re losing.
    *Although I have friends in Tokyo, I’m not their government. They tell me about what the people of the infected prefecture deal with. I trust them.

  32. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-03 15:37

    Ironically, you say that there are certain things that are done better by the government than by individuals. So which is it?

  33. jerry 2020-01-03 16:25

    All things are done better by the government, because, we are the government. No irony or question about it.

  34. jerry 2020-01-05 17:40

    Solar power 24/7..Indeed!

    “f you want to understand the revolution taking place in renewable energy, come to a power station called Gemasolar in southern Spain.

    Here, in the dusty plains of Andalusia, they have worked out how to generate solar power 24 hours a day.

    Yes, you can read that sentence again. At Gemasolar they create electricity even when the Sun is not shining.

    They have rigged up more than 2,500 huge mirrors on hydraulic mounts that follow the Sun’s passage through the sky.”

    Oh my, while we are still playing marbles with rabbit poo, the rest of the world moves at light speed.

  35. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-05 18:47

    Yes, it certainly will help. It looks like they are using molten salt for the energy storage. And since they are not using photovoltaics, the footprint of critical elements will be different. I would not count on it for 100% of the energy (sorry), but I will take what it can deliver in the mix.

    The land footprint required can be an issue to deliver a certain amount of energy…and the size impacts waste management. I don’t see anything in the article about the recycling that will be necessary.

  36. jerry 2020-01-05 19:41

    The rest of the article speaks volumes and there is a portion of why Russia is so interested in keeping Chubby and the rest of the fossils in power. Without oil, Russia will be diminished to nothing but history…a lesson to the United States as well. When there is no need for huge army’s and navy’s protecting oil supplies, maybe we can fix the damn roads.

  37. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-05 19:59

    Well, instead of oil, the interests would be in lithium, cobalt, and the rare earths. Getting rid of oil will only trade one critical item for others.

    I agree with you that energy security is important, and that is why we need to do more of the mining and recycling of these things ourselves (for nuclear, renewables and energy storage).

  38. jerry 2020-01-06 09:30

    Getting rid of oil will mean that the new discoveries can be as simple as air…hey, isn’t that what scientists do? Discover stuff that is already here but enhance it? Get away from exotic difficult rare earth and just listen to Rare Earth.

  39. Porter Lansing 2020-01-06 09:38

    Exactly, Jerry. – McTag is like a plunger. Always bringing up old sh**! 😁

  40. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 10:26

    I’m sure both jerry and Porter have taken the initiative and are not using gasoline any more, and are not using any products that have been delivered by gasoline or diesel. They have also taken themselves off the grid so that no coal power can be distributed to them.

    Sorry, these materials like the rare earths are not freely available on the surface nor available in a seam like coal is. People have been looking for them and have only found sources available at low concentrations. The extraction for mining and recycling will be energy intensive, and that means using fossil fuels if you avoid nuclear.

    With regard to the rare earths, there is interest in alternatives. The problem is that they all generate a weaker magnetic field, and you need much more material to do even that.

    As a result the turbine is heavier with the available alternatives today. Which means it is more difficult to reach the wind velocities that generate more energy. So either you can put fewer turbines in the same footprint because of the larger base and/or the larger cost, or the ones you install cannot go as high. In either case, the capacity goes down.

    One way to fight lower capacity is to build even more of them….but several replacements and decommissioning will mean even more waste to deal with compared with today’s turbines (which we want to recycle or downcycle, but have not done so yet).

  41. Porter Lansing 2020-01-06 10:29

    Fascinating, Jerry. Negating all the carbon created when making steel. Hemp lumber will be even stronger and offset more carbon.
    *We can look forward to Professor Blah Blah’s negativity on the subject and respond with the humor and satirical response he so deserves. 😁
    ** See, there. He jumped in before I could even predict his long winded, weary negation.

  42. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 10:47

    Sorry, nuclear power plants are not nuclear weapons…apples and oranges.

    Nuclear weapons have an enrichment that surpasses 95%, whereas nuclear power plants typically have enrichments of U-235 on the order of 3-5%. It is the other 95-97% that inhibits your favorite runaway nuclear reaction.

    And one can go lower than 3-5%. Canadian reactors use naturally-occurring uranium which has 0.72% U-235, but they end up using heavy water instead of regular water.

    Any enrichment beyond 5% is unnecessary for safe nuclear power in today’s reactors.

    The government says that nuclear power is safer than other means of producing energy (not that you believe that government can do great things…). You would think sending lots of people on top of roofs to install solar panels or climbing tall turbines would be safer………….wouldn’t you?

    As long as you provide water to NRC-approved reactors, the power will simply oscillate up and down when you walk away. No exponential growth curve. Thus it is the access to water that is the primary issue for reactors today.

    So you can complain again and again Porter, or you can actually SOLVE A PROBLEM by building the reactors that get rid of that issue.

    Don’t worry, there will be plenty of renewables in our future energy mix….more than today…but we will not be able to do 100%.

  43. Troy 2020-01-06 11:00


    You asked for the math. McTaggert gave you the math. And you responded with “There are so many mistakes, distorted hypotheses, and outright deceptions I can’t keep track by the time I’ve reached the end.”

    Can you just point out one such mistake distortion or deception in what he provided? And then extrapolate how the mistake, distortion or deception affects the basic premise: Growth in population will actually increase the human global carbon footprint even with significant recalibration of energy sources.

    Just one which should be easy if there are so many.

  44. mike from iowa 2020-01-06 11:21

    Sorry, nuclear power plants are not nuclear weapons…apples and oranges.

    How soon we ignore Chernobyl.

    Model predictions with the greatest confidence values of the eventual total death toll in the decades ahead from Chernobyl releases vary, from 4,000 fatalities when solely assessing the three most contaminated former Soviet states, to about 9,000 to 16,000 fatalities when assessing the total continent of Europe.

    Chopped liver?

  45. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 11:58

    False. Chernobyl was not a nuclear weapon. It was not an NRC-approved reactor, and used graphite as a moderator instead of water. Such a reactor will never be approved by the NRC. It did not have the inherent safety feature that water provides (instead of oscillatory behavior, you get the exponential cosh and sinh type functions). Moreover, graphite can burn, and as we saw earlier, smoke is a great dispersal agent for radionuclides. Heat and steam pressure produced the explosion….

    The deaths that can be directly attributed to Chernobyl were those workers who were at the plant at the time of the explosion that received burns from the fires and very high radiation doses.

    After that, you are estimating effects based upon a model. The main nuclide of interest was I-131. The UN estimated the number of thyroid cancers to be 16,000, primarily due to radioactive iodine being ingested in the food supply (I-131 has a half-life of 8 days). If we assume that model is correct, and the death rate due to thyroid cancers is 1%, you would expect 160 deaths over an 80 year lifespan.

    It is true that all 16,000 will eventually die. But saying that is because of Chernobyl would not be true. According to the World Health Organization, the additional cancer deaths were expected to be 0.6% from that due to other causes.

    The fear of radiation stoked by anti-nuclear folks has always been the bigger problem in the panic that it creates. For example, take the pregnancies that were unnecessarily terminated in the aftermath just based on fear.

    We could have been building nuclear instead of coal plants since Chernobyl, and there is a death rate associated with the coal emissions as well. You might want to include that in the total deaths that have occurred as a result of the Chernobyl event.

    Today, people who didn’t leave Chernobyl still live there. The wildlife has flourished…particularly because most of the people left.

  46. mike from iowa 2020-01-06 12:03

    Yer picking nits. I never said it was or wasn’t approved by NRC and you. It is what it is. A devastating nukular bomb and I doubt any of us alive now will ever know the full extent of damage done.

  47. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 12:18

    A nuclear weapon generates a runaway fission reaction and a very high pressure wave that flattens the surrounding landscape for several miles. Chernobyl was not a nuclear bomb.

    Sorry. You can call it a nuclear power accident or incident or event. You can call it malpractice given the testing they were trying to do which led to the event, if not the initial approval of such a reactor design in the first place (which did not follow NRC practices).

  48. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 13:15

    If the USSR had just informed people that something had happened right away, (a.) they would have gotten a lot more help from outside, and (b.) the doses due to any ingestion of iodine-131 would have been avoided altogether… there would be nothing to model.

  49. Porter Lansing 2020-01-06 14:13

    The 444 nuclear power plants currently in existence provide about 11% of the world’s energy. Studies show that in order to meet current and future energy needs, the nuclear sector would have to scale up to around 14,500 plants. Increasing the nuclear power plants by triple would triple the chances that bomb making materials would end up in the hands of terrorists. Eliminating all nuclear power plants would signficantly decrease those chances.
    Furthermore, scaling up to 14,500 nuclear plants isn’t possible simply due to the limitation of feasible sites. Nuclear plants need to be located near a source of water for cooling, and there aren’t enough locations in the world that are safe from droughts, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other potential disasters that could trigger a nuclear accident. The increase in extreme weather events predicted by climate models only compounds this risk.

  50. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 15:10

    Reactors in the United States deal with earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, etc. Check.

    You can build the new power plants that do not require water cooling, that are walk away safe, that do not require as much input, that have all the security features you want, and then other features that you will like.

    At the end of the day we can build the best reactor for the given location. If you have good access to water, then water will be cheap and you can build a good water-cooled reactor.

    Otherwise, the gas-cooled reactors will be of interest. If you eliminate the water requirement, then drought is no longer a problem. Drought is a problem for the natural gas power plants that backup renewables today, because those are water-cooled! Doesn’t that mean that a grid with renewables that matches supply and demand is constrained by access to water?

    Small nuclear plants will be of interest to work well with renewables. What? Nuclear and renewables could work together to deliver all that energy? Wow! Wait a second…and energy storage could work with both??

    Do you know how big and heavy an actual fuel bundle is? Apparently not, because then you would not think it would be so easy to just walk in and have access to nuclear fuel. The fuel itself is self-protective to begin with due to the radioactivity.

    Then nuclear power plants have an abundance of cameras, radiation detectors and people on-site. Access is restricted. So good luck moving something around that weighs a couple of tons without anyone noticing.

    But let’s say you find a way. Then you have to separate the fuel out of its ceramic pellet. To make a weapon you need nothing but U-235 or Pu-239. Anything else mixed in there will cut off the chain reaction you want for a nuclear weapon.

    And how much land would be required to have the same power delivered by both wind and solar? How much new mining would occur there? What is the volume of the renewable waste that will be generated and not recycled as a result?

    Wind farms require up to 360 times the land area…and solar farms require 75 times the land area…that today’s water-cooled 1,000 MW nuclear plant requires. Thus having nuclear in the mix is advantageous. I do not think that the mix will be 100% nuclear, and it is not going to be 100% renewables.

  51. mike from iowa 2020-01-06 15:15

    Doc, I think you are gaslighting by making it appear nuke plants are benign, harmless little nobodies.

  52. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 15:42


    No, I am very strongly advocating for nuclear to be considered as a partner for our clean energy portfolio to an audience that usually doesn’t assign anything positive to nuclear at all.

    I agree with Porter that we will need to generate a lot more kilowatt-hours to displace fossil fuels from multiple sectors of our economy.

    In my opinion, the practical and pro-environmental approach reduces land use and generates the most clean energy possible. You can’t do that without having nuclear in the mix.

    You can do less nuclear if carbon capture worked and energy storage were feasible at large scales. Carbon capture does not work yet, and energy storage is not at the utility scale. Thus we should do more nuclear in the meantime until they mature. If they ever do work, then they can all compete with each other for our energy dollars.

    Simply building more renewables and backing them up with natural gas as we are today will eventually generate more total carbon due to various forms of growth (economic, population, increasing use of electronic devices, etc.). Continuing to do that and hoping that batteries or carbon capture will save the day will not solve the problem. We can build better reactors, but the off-the-shelf designs for nuclear will do fine if that is all we can agree on.

  53. Donald Pay 2020-01-06 15:58

    Dr. McT is selling, but no one is buying. Nuclear power is dead. Utilities have to be bribed into building them, and even then the cost overruns are so bad they more or less give up and stick the ratepayers with the bill without the electrons. If nuclear power still has a future, it is in the oligarchies and dictatorships. China and Russia are building nukes because they don’t have to deal with citizen protests, elections, and litigation. They just use government power to squash any disagreement. China is, though, having difficulty finding a place for nuclear waste storage and disposal. They had an uprising a year or two ago over that, and the government backed down, at least for a time. We’ll see how long the citizens can hold the line. I expect China’s nuclear waste to end up in the western part of the country where the Uigars are being “re-educated.”

    The other places going for nuclear power are the Middle East countries and the African states. Yes, none of them are democracies. The Middle East countries seem to be using nuclear power as a means to camouflage an intent to eventually develop nuclear weapon capability. Certainly, that’s the pattern Iran took. The African countries are being sold a bill of goods by the Russian and Chinese state-owned enterprises. So, no, nuclear power, even there has little backing, other than from the elites.

    As Dr. McT says, it takes a pretty heft bureaucracy and industrial complex to convert fuel rods into a working bomb. However, you can divert some fuel a little at a time, put it into a dirty bomb and contaminate a lot of folks and the environment.

  54. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 16:38

    No Donald, you are buying nuclear-generated electricity if you are in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and around Sioux Falls. You benefit from some of your electricity being made by nuclear instead of coal. You are welcome :^).

    We can have a nuclear cycle in which the waste is reduced, the radioactivity is reduced, and the heat resulting from said storage is reduced. We have chosen to pay instead for the once-through cycle and throw away fuel that could be recovered.

    The best way to eliminate nuclear fuel that remains in the waste is by consuming it in a nuclear reactor. That gets rid of the U-235 or Pu-239, and we get some beneficial clean energy at the same time. There is a cost for doing it, but if you are really interested in eliminating all of that, you have to consume it. Or you have to agree to find the underground space to isolate a much larger volume.

    So which do you prefer (and you must choose one in the real world): Storage of a whole lot more waste, or reprocessing and storage of less waste?

    There are a lot of useful critical elements for renewables and energy storage in what you call nuclear waste. The only place where some of these are produced from scratch is in a nuclear reactor!

    We do not have an option for a renewable life cycle in which the waste is reduced. That energy is more diffuse, so the waste takes up a larger volume. So where are we going to put all of that waste when the same solar or wind farm gets “repowered” several times before decommissioning? Or should we leave all of it at the surface exposed to the elements? Does that make the water cleaner?

    Renewables also have greater subsidies per kilowatt-hour generated. And we are on track to generate more of our kilowatt-hours from renewables.

    Sorry Donald, democratic nations are building new nuclear. India, South Korea, Bangladesh, Finland, France, Japan, and yes the USA are all building new nuclear.

    Several nations, including the USA, have boosted the capacity of existing plants, so I guess that is “new nuclear” as well.

  55. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 16:54

    I should add that one of the upcoming tweaks to nuclear power with existing plants are the new fuels. Today we take the fuel out before any issues can occur with the ceramic pellets (I think they are replaced like every 2-3 years instead of every 5-10 years). The new fuels will be able to stay in there longer so that we consume more of the “accident tolerant fuel”, which will result in less waste.

    These will also be better for use when we ramp power up and down to work more with renewables.

  56. Porter Lansing 2020-01-06 16:59

    Build a nuclear power plant that addresses all the problems listed here for the last year. Then we’ll watch it for the next fifty years and determine if your assertions are valid or just a semi-slick sales pitch. Opportunity addressed. Moving on. Now … about solar, wind, hydro, geothermal etc. Lets put funds and brains into those options exuding less risk.

  57. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 17:03

    Nuclear Energy….Porter is On It!

  58. Porter Lansing 2020-01-06 17:17

    What I’m on is that venture capital Ain’t On It. Convince your University to build it. Convince smart money to build it. Convince Dept. of Energy to build it. You haven’t convinced the majority on DFP that it should be built. But … keep trying. And … donate more to Cory’s tip jar. You’re getting a whole lot of free publicity.

  59. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-06 18:29

    The new ones that you will like better are in the process over at the Idaho National Laboratory.

    You won’t see any around here until the nuclear waste impasse is finally broken. But several designs should be available for consideration by utilities this decade.

    “Thanks to implementation of smart policies, modernization of the licensing process, and an increase in both private and federal investments, the number of advanced nuclear projects increased by 50% in the three-year span from 2015 to 2018.

    More than $1.3 billion in private capital from a variety of venture capital firms, companies like Fluor, and big-name funders like Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold, has been invested in advanced nuclear startups and projects by established companies.”

    Venture capital is on it.

  60. Porter Lansing 2020-01-06 19:53

    Idaho’s upwind. East of me would be better.

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