Charles Komanoff

 

Nuclear Power

Sept 2022: In Feb. 2022, I wrote to California Governor Gavin Newsom, urging him to defer the planned shutdown of the state’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, a Reagan-era two-unit complex overlooking the Pacific Ocean near San Luis Obispo. My letter may be viewed here and downloaded here.

My letter was sparked by a similarly-themed letter sent to Newsom three weeks earlier by a group of 79 scholars and academics headed by climate scientist-activist Jim Hansen and Obama energy secretary and Nobel laureate Steven Chu. But its origins lay in a more expository post I published in May 2020 in the NYC-based Gotham Gazette, Drones With Hacksaws: Climate Consequences of Shutting Indian Point Can’t Be Brushed Aside.

In that essay, I dismantled the assurances of reactor-shutdown advocates that bountiful infusions of efficient and renewable energy will take the place of the nuclear-powered Indian Point plant’s carbon-free electricity. The problem wasn’t simply the slow rate at which new green energy was being added, but that when green energy sources must replace a standing power source that itself replaces fossil fuels, their effective climate value is zero.

Nearly two years later, on April 4, 2022, The Nation magazine published my brief, The Case Against Closing Nuclear Power Plants. That piece, embellished with commentary and graphs, may be viewed on the Carbon Tax Center's website as a blog post, For Climate's Sake, Don't Shut U.S. Nukes. The Nation published a follow-on to that post, The Climate Movement In Its Own Way, on April 30, 2022. I've cross-posted that piece to the Carbon Tax Center's web site as well, under the same title. Click here.

In August 2022 I followed up my February letter to Newsom and my Nation article with a second letter to the governor, co-written with Armond Cohen, president of Clean Air Task Force, and Stewart Brand, the legendary thinker-educator-provocateur who created the Whole Earth Catalog in the late 1960s, edited it through the 1970s, and went on to create The WELL and the Long Now Foundation, among other organizations. This letter, like my earlier, solo letter, urged Gov. Newsom and California legislators to enact legislation authorizing the continued operation of Diablo Canyon beyond its planned 2024-2025 shutdowns.

In the late hours of Aug. 31, 2022, the California legislature passed omnibus climate legislation containing that authorization along with a host of other measures intended to reduce the state's carbon emissions, including regulations mandating zoning reforms to enable higher-density homes to be constructed in urban areas well-served by public transit, as reported by New York Times climate correspondent Brad Plumer on Sept. 1.

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In March 2109, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Three Mile Island reactor accident, which began on March 28, 1979, I posted the text of Doing Without Nuclear Power, my article on nuclear power's diminished prospects that the New York Review of Books ran as its cover feature shortly after. My article used the TMI meltdown as a springboard to herald emerging energy-efficiency and renewable-energy technologies that would undermine the nuclear industry, especially in light of spiraling reactor costs that I was documenting in my soon-to-be-published book, "Power Plant Cost Escalation" (see below). Readers will note the article's framing of nuclear power as a too-costly alternative to oil, a concern that dominated energy-policy discourse throughout the 1970s and especially in the wake of the Iranian revolution and the "second oil shock" during 1979.

My 1981 book, Power Plant Cost Escalation: Nuclear and Coal Capital Costs, Regulation and Economics (large pdf, 12 MB) was a tour de force that cut through the murk and morass of the 1970s debate over the economics of nuclear power in the U.S. and foretold the nuclear industry's financial meltdown in the 1980s and beyond.

"Power Plant Cost Escalation" explained the upheaval in the economics of nuclear and coal electrical generation that occurred in the 1970s, and predicted further changes from the post-Three Mile Island vantage point. It investigated increases in nuclear and coal capital (construction) costs on three levels: empirical, engineering, and etiological (underlying causal). One chapter, "Sources of Nuclear Regulatory Requirements," was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nuclear Safety, July-August 1981 issue. Another chapter, "Pollution Control Improvements in Coal Fired Electric Generating Plants: What They Accomplish, What They Cost," was published in the Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association in Sept. 1980.

Together, the dozen chapters encompassed and settled the 1970s-1980s debate over the economics -- and the future -- of nuclear power. You may download this pdf of the complete 325-page book. (Write to KEA if you would like to obtain an original hard copy.) Alternatively, download the summary version consisting of Chapters 1 (Introduction) and 2 (Summary).

Science magazine devoted a full-page story to the release of "Power Plant Cost Escalation" in its May 8, 1981 issue. The story, Study Says Coal Cheaper Than Nuclear, by reporter Colin Norman, efficiently distilled the book's key findings. It also quoted from the book's foreword by Harvard Business School energy analyst Irvin Bupp: "[Komanoff] has been able to move beyond the lavishly funded efforts of large institutions like the National Academy of Sciences in data collection and analysis."

Cost Escalation in France's Nuclear Reactors: A Statistical Examination (pdf, 12 pp)

Executive Summary of 1992 Komanoff Energy Associates report for Greenpeace, "Fiscal Fission"

Complete 1992 KEA report for Greenpeace, Fiscal Fission: The Economic Failure of Nuclear Power (pdf), a report on the historical costs of nuclear power in the United States, 98 pages. Foreword by Harvey Wasserman.

"10 Blows That Stopped Nuclear Power". My 1991 article deconstructing the collapse of the U.S. nuclear power industry circa 1973-1981. A breezy yet insightful look back at how the energy source that appeared destined to "bestride the world like a colossus" was brought low by national and worldwide grassroots opposition, a run of astoundingly bad luck (karma?), and its internal contradictions and liabilities.

Op-ed published in Wall St Journal in 1984, Nuclear Crews Stretch Work, Up Costs.

"A Tale of Nuclear Narcissism" -- my review of the book, "Light Water: How the Nuclear Dream Dissolved," by Harvard Business School analyst Irvin Bupp (who would later write the foreword to my book, "Power Plant Cost Escalation," as noted above.) "Light Water," I wrote, "plumbed the gulf between nuclear power's supposed promise and actual performance." Published in Feb. 1979, my review offered a glimpse at the fragile state of nuclear power on the eve of the Three Mile Island accident.

Spreadsheet comparing federal subsidies for wind power and nuclear power.

Last, this photo of the poster for the national anti-nuke rally at the U.S. Capitol on May 6, 1979, convened in the wake of the TMI meltdown, shows my name listed among the two dozen speakers including famed environmentalists David Brower and Barry Commoner and performers Dick Gregory, Graham Nash and Jane Fonda.