Re: fleet week: just-in-time nuclear electricity?

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From: Gordon Mohr (
Date: Tue Jan 23 2001 - 16:43:27 PST

Matt Jensen writes:
> Here's an analysis of the power a MIKE-class Soviet submarine produces:
> "Jane's suggests a tentative figure of 60,000 shaft horsepower so,
> on this basis, the reactor output would be calculated as follows
> (and working backward from the shaft power to the reactor output):
> shaft horsepower 60,000 shp = 45.0MW
> this figure must be increased to allow for losses in the
> reduction gearing and steam raising system:
> say mechanical efficiency @ 90% => 49.8MW
> say Rankine steam cycle @ 30% => 166.2MWt(loss of power to waste heat)
> reactor services @ 15% => 191.1MWt(some power drawn to
> reactor cooling etc) => 206.1MWt split between two reactors.
> Thus we have a power rating of, say, 103MWt for each of the two reactors
> on board. For comparison, this is about 1/40th the thermal output of the
> land side Sizewell B PWR nuclear power station." [1]

Neat, good find! (I had tried to find similar analysis but couldn't.)

> So it could help power a town, although it wouldn't be quite like an
> entire power plant.

Hmm; if US subs and/or carriers have better reactors, or if several
could be employed, that might be enough to stave off rolling blackouts
for the next 2 years while new land plants are constructed.

> Of course, for small but fast-growing hot spots, like San Jose's server
> farms, a nuclear sub might be brought in on an emergency basis. If so, it
> should be seen as a failing of the Valley's libertarian climate, and not
> of Berkeley's liberal one.

That's not quite fair.

No libertarian approach has yet been tried. The California electricity
monopolies grew fat and dumb from decades of regulated-utility status.
The only thing they became good at over the years was inflating their
cost structure, to increase the magnitude of their regulator-set margins,
and manipulating the political system with massive donations.

The incumbent electricity providers didn't want true deregulation, but
once that process started, they twisted it to their own aims, against
new entrants. Further, being idiots unaccustomed to competing in market
rather than political arenas, the incumbent completely miscalculated
the future development of the wholesale and retail markets. (They
divested themselves of the 'scary' competitive generation businesses,
preferring to stay close to the regulated-rate consumer market,
thinking the same old guaranteed margins could be won.) Finally,
regulators prohibited the use of a market mechanism for reducing
risk -- long-term purchase contracts.

There's nothing remotely laissez-faire about this situation, and while
it's always hard to transition from regulation to competition, the
failures in California are not failures of real businesses or markets
or the profit motive, but failures of a politically minded group of
monopolists and bureaucrats.

If we don't try to solve this "crisis" with edicts, regulations,
and bailouts, lots of new approaches could blossom. (I'm beginning
to think that the existing utilities should be allowed to go
bankrupt, and broken up by the bankruptcy proceedings into "baby
E's".) New approaches don't even necessarily require new plants.
Why don't we have load-based pricing, to create an economic
incentive to conserve (or use local batteries/generation)
during peak times? Why don't we have wired or wireless networked
power-meters, giving real-time feedback about edge load and costs?
Why can't the blackouts roll from house to house, depending on
need for power based on willingness to pay market rates, rather
than from neighborhood to neighborhood?

Hell, just having some Viridian Meters[a], possibly connected to the
internet, without any other price incentive mechanisms, would probably
drive down peak usage a lot.

- Gordon

> [1] [Src:
> (Only in Google cache, not at original URL anymore.)
> Report Ref No. LA RL186B, 12th April 1989
> Commissioned by Greenpeace International
> Large and Associates, London]


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