Nuclear: Cost of Source Mining

This post will compare the spot prices of the mineral resources that go into different energy sources, and compare them to the price of uranium, U3O8. The sources that will be looked at are coal, natural gas, oil, and rare earth metals, which are used in renewables like solar energy. Since prices change depending on market conditions, it should be implied that the price indicated is an approximation of what the source fuels cost.

The price of natural uranium, U3O8, is $25.50 per pound, according to Ux Consulting Company. The ten year price ranging from $19 per pound to $139 per pound. The price of coal is $52.05 per short ton. The ten year price ranging from $50 per short ton to about $125 per short ton. The price of natural gas is $3.30 per million BTU. The ten year price for natural gas has ranged from $2.00 per million BTU to $12.00 per million BTU. Indium and tellurium are both rare earth elements that are frequently used in solar panels. Indium costs about $720.00 per kilogram, and tellurium costs about $51.34 per kilogram.

However, these units are all different from each other, and need to be converted to a comparable unit, which will be in heat content measured in BTUs. According to the Energy Information Administration, a short ton of coal produced about 20.16 million BTUs. According to the World Nuclear Associate, one pound of natural uranium in a light water reactor can produce 214,961 million BTUs. Since solar power is a renewable source, it is difficult to figure out how much heat content 1 kilogram of tellurium or indium will provide via energy generated. Not only is the source renewable, but it is also incredibly variable, as it depends how much sun is shining, what kind of solar array is being used, and what kind of maintenance is performed on the arrays.

With the numbers provided, the heat content provided per dollar spent on a fuel source can be calculated. For every dollar spent on coal, about 387,320 BTUs are produced. For every dollar spent on natural gas, about 303,030 BTUs are produced. For every dollar spent on uranium, about 8,429,843,137 BTUs are produced. It is worth noting that this is not the full price of generating this heat content, but just the price spent on fuel only. However, when considering fuel prices, nuclear energy is without a doubt the cheapest source.

Current Energy Production and Consumption in Colorado

Colorado is a leader in the United States for energy production. The state ranks 7th in total energy production with 3,042 trillion BTUs produced in 2014. Of this energy production, a large majority of this production comes from oil, which the state produced 9,200 thousand barrels in November of 2016, and natural gas, which the state produced a total of 1,704,836 million cubic feet of in 2015. There is no nuclear energy produced in Colorado.

For total electricity generation, Colorado ranks 27th with 4,332 thousand megawatt-hours generated in November of 2016. By source, the large majority of this electricity is produced by coal at over 2,500 thousand megawatt hours generated in November of 2016, meaning coal provides Colorado with over half of its electricity production. This is followed by nonhydroelectric renewables, which produced 985 megawatt hours, and natural gas fired generation, which produced 722 megawatt hours.

Colorado’s electricity prices rank 25th highest in the country at an average retail price of $0.1216 per kilowatt-hour.

For consumption, Colorado is not as significant compared to other states as they are with production. Colorado ranks at 34th most energy consumed with 276 million BTUs consumed per capita. According to the US census, the Colorado population was roughly 5,349,648 in 2014. In total this puts Colorado consumption at a total of 1.476 quadrillion BTUs.

Breaking this consumption down by source, the most significant sources of consumption are natural gas and coal. In 2014, natural gas accounted for 497.2 trillion BTUs consumed. Coal accounted for 350.5 trillion BTUs consumed. Gasoline for motors, such as cars, trucks, etc., accounted for 250.3 trillion BTUs consumed. All renewables, biomass, hydroelectric, solar, wind, etc., put together account for 131.4 trillion BTUs. Nuclear energy accounts for none of the energy consumed in Colorado. By sector, the most significant sectors of consumption are industrial and transportation, which account for 29% and 28% respectively. Residential accounts for 24%, and commercial accounts for 19%.

History of Nuclear Energy in Colorado

Colorado’s history with nuclear energy is limited. Only one nuclear reactor has been built in the state, and it has since closed down. The plant was located east of I-25 near Plateville, and was named the Fort Saint Vrain Plant. It was built, owned, and operated, in a limited capacity, by the Public Service Company of Colorado, which now goes by the name Xcel Energy.

The Public Service Company acquired a license to build their high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor in 1973, and invested $240 million to build it. The plant began operating in 1979, and remained in operation for 10 years. Until it was transformed in 1989, it only operated, on average, at about 14.6% it capacity. In 1989, the Public Service Company transformed it into a natural gas electric generator for an additional $340 million, and spent $25 million to build a spent fuel storage. This fuel storage is still on site and is under the discretion of the United States Department of Energy.

Though there have been no other nuclear energy reactors in Colorado, the state has a significant history with uranium mining, which is a primary source of fuel for nuclear energy. The state’s history with uranium mining dates back to the early 1900s, when radium and vanadium experienced a huge production boom, which are accessory minerals to uranium.

During the 1940s due to the emergence of nuclear weapons, uranium was specifically targeted in Colorado in mass, which continued through the 90s due to a potential nuclear energy increase in the United States. One of the most significant producers of uranium in Colorado is the Uravan Mining District in Montrose County which contributed over 850 tons of Uranium to the Manhattan Project. From 1947 to 1970, the Uravan district mined and produced around 24 million pounds of uranium ore. Along with the Uravan Mining District, Colorado has hosted the Schwartzwalder Mine in Boulder, which produced 17 million pounds of uranium ore; the Thornburg mine, which produced 1.25 million pounds of uranium ore; the Cyprus Hill mine at Hansen Creek, which produced 25 million pounds of low grade uranium ore; and many other smaller operations.

According to the Colorado Energy Office, there has been no uranium mining in the state of Colorado since 2009. However, there are still 18 active uranium mining sites permitted, 12 on temporary cessation, and 1 pending approval in the state as of 2014. Though these active mines are permitted, none are actually operating.

Dungeons and Dragons and Central Planning

Table top games like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and Traveler are all great ways to stimulate your imagination, bond with friends, and practice your problem solving skills whether you are a game master or a player. The first time I was a player I was surprised by the freedom given to you in the game.

If you are unfamiliar with these kinds of games, just imagine a videogame like Skyrim or World of Warcraft, except there are no limits. In videogames you can run into plastic walls, can’t talk to certain non-player characters, can’t use certain items, etc, but in a tabletop game it is all in your imagination. You tell friends what you are doing, whatever that may be, and the game master describes how the environment or non-player characters react to those actions while other players decide for themselves how they will react to those same actions. As someone who has played role playing videogames, like Guild Wars, and strategy games, like Age of Empires, for my entire life, I was honestly delighted by the liberty you had as a player in a table top game. Of course the only reason this is possible is because a human can make cleverer responses to actions than a program can, especially when dealing in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction.

However, when I prepared for my first time being a game master I had a ‘conflict’ with some of my political ideas. Was I being a central planner for this world to the players? I was directing the “economy” around them and how all social interactions occurred with the players. However, I think you go further than being just a central planner when you are a game master. You aren’t just the mechanics of how players get money and how much any item costs, but you are also the trees, the bees, the deer, and the beer. You are literally all the universe that isn’t directly the players themselves. In this way, you are the god of this imagined universe (but the god of gods since there are gods that exist within most of these universes).

At this point, it should be noted that there is a significant difference between being a game master and being a central planner, which make it significantly easier to be a game master. When being a game master, you don’t have to deal with scarcity of any kind. It is an imagined world. There is no lack of cows, food, sand, water, swords, monsters, or anything else that might appear. I only have to think about it, say it, and it exists. The only thing I have to keep in mind is not creating an extreme rate of inflation for gold or experience among the players or else the numbers become unkind to work with and confusing to the players.

Without there being scarcity to worry about as a game master, directing this world as a planner must be an easy task. It is like writing a story or a book. Just imagine something entertaining or exciting and we will have smooth sailing. Except… Not really. Actually any interesting game for the players is the opposite of smooth sailing. It is frustrating, confusing, and everything is unexpected even as a game master, and it is all because of those pesky human players. They are too volatile of a variable. As players sit at the table, they create a narrative for their characters that have their own desires, motivations, fears, and beliefs. How am I suppose to plan around that?

I planned an entire quest going down the path to the burning Castle of Prince Ralley the Mighty, but then the elf rogue played by my friend decides they feel something calling to them in the forest and runs off the path into a mysterious forest I had only considered for 5 minutes before the session. What if the other players’ characters don’t want to follow him into the forest? What if one decides to attack the other? What if none of them are interested in the burning castle? Human players are a pesky variable that you can never predict.

So in this way, even when I don’t have to deal with scarcity in this world, I still struggle to plan for the players because I am not the players. I don’t have all the knowledge, motivations, and thoughts as the players, so I will never be able to perfectly plan for them. And sometimes, that lack of planning can show for a really crappy sessions, but most of the time I would like to think I am clever enough to rebound.

Regardless, I think tabletop games teach a valuable lesson on humans as a chaotic variable. The main take away for me being that humans are too complicated to plan around. Ludwig von Mises describes this problem to a great extent in his treatise Human Action, but to put it down to small excerpt from the piece:

“Since nobody is in a position to substitute his own value judgments for those of the acting individual, it is vain to pass judgment on other people’s aims and volitions. No man is qualified to declare what would make another man happier or less discontented.” –Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics

The Importance of Energy

Energy is vital to the prosperity of communities and society as a whole. There were 253 million registered passenger cars and trucks on the roads in the United States in 2014. In 2016, there were estimated to be over 207 million smartphone users in the United States, which is estimated to above 257 million by the year 2020. In 2009, there were over 100 million air conditioners in US homes. All these commodities take energy, and in the case of air conditioners and cars, a significant amount of energy. In 2013 the United States consumed 12,988 kWh per person. According to the US Census, in 2013 there were about 317,200,000 people living in the United States. This means the United States consumed about 4,119,793,600 MWh of electricity in 2013 alone.

With these numbers in mind, it would not be a stretch to say that the United States’ standard of living rests heavily on its access to energy. Dr. Charles Hall, a researcher in systems ecology and biophysical economics, goes as far as saying that the “American Dream” was created due to the United States’ access to energy, most notably pointing to the use of the spindletop, an oil drilling tool, in 1901 as one of the most important economic events in the United States.

When it comes down to it, our access to energy is inseparably tied to our energy policy. This highlights the importance of sound energy policy in the United States, as well as the state of Colorado. In order to sustain a high standard of living, energy policy must be conducive to greater and greater access to energy.