California has a 20-year-old ban on new nuclear power plants that will last until the feds figure out how to dispose of the waste (or the Legislature changes the law), but the California Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee, chaired by Sen. Christine Kehoe, decided to gather radioactive rosebuds while they may and held a hearing Monday in San Diego. Since no one likes to waste five hours sitting in a governmental hearing, here are a couple of fascinating figures distilled by a nuclear neophyte reporter.
• The cost of the most recently built nuclear plant in California, the Diablo Canyon plant near San Luis Obispo, was supposed to cost $300 million to build. It ended up at $5.5 billion.
• The supply chain for making parts to build a nuclear reactor is tighter now. Costs for copper, steel and other necessary raw materials have risen sharply in the last few years. Also, there is currently one plant in the world—in Japan—that manufactures certain critical parts. One.
• Since 2000, the price of a pound of uranium, the fuel for nuclear reactors, has risen from $7 to $85. By contrast, the price of sunlight has remained steady.
• Uranium mining is more toxic to its local environment than gold mining—and that's saying something.
• The Constellation Generation Group, which might start building new nuclear plants in the United States, foresees an 18-percent profit margin if it gets federal loan guarantees. The margin drops to 11-percent without them, which the company considers too low.
• After the plant is built, nuclear-generated electricity is very, very cheap.
• In the absence of a federally developed storage site, nuclear waste is kept in concrete bunkers at 39 nuclear facilities in the United States—including the plant at San Onofre.
• Just applying to build a nuclear plant can cost a company $50 million to $100 million.
• A speaker mentioned an L.A. Times calculation that said a solar array on a 100-mile-square chunk of Nevada desert could provide the electricity needs of the entire nation.