Here are a few examples:
the area used for wind turbines is large, but it is usually re-usable for agriculture, or increasingly off shore
official nuclear death are low - but there is a lot of dispute on the "long tail" of long term deaths from the big nuclear disasters of Ukraine and Japan
they (correctly) mention the environmental cost of materials for renewable energy, but ignore the similar pollution of Uranium mining and enrichment
4th generation nuclear reactor are still not even past the design stage. How can anyone even put a price tag on these ?
3rd generation nuclear reactor are more expensive than claimed in the article. The real prices of real reactors in the real world in the past decade are x3 the expected costs.
There is simply not enough uranium for a full build out of 3rd generation nuclear. 4th generation will be required, and it is still in the r&d stage
There is no mention of the huge problem of load-following when using nuclear plants. You cant just assume 90% CF and then ignore this.
Most importantly, IMHO, they completely ignore the learning curve for solar & wind. This is a proven trend, over last decades, appears to be set to continue, and completely changes the discussion.
And on and on....
My own views are pro-nuclear AND pro-renewable. But this requires a scientific and accurate discussion!
Fukushima happened too soon, and it will be a long time before the results of that disaster on the healthy of the surrounding people can be properly analysed.
Chernobyl on the other hand has been studied extensively and considering the scale of the disaster the toll on human life, including increase in cancer rates is lower than expected at the time of the accident.
In particular the Chernobyl Forum's 2005 report found that the increased incidence of thyroid cancer in children had caused 5000 additional cases due to the release of radioactive iodine from Chernobyl.
These are seen as the only additional deaths due to radiation exposure other than the estimated 2000 caused due to directed exposure to clean up workers at the site itself.
You can find an summary of the finding on the World Health organisations website, as well as read the report directly.
> estimated 2000 caused due to directed exposure to clean up workers at the site itself
The more common numbers you see are under 50.
This Slate article goes over the uncertainty: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/explainer/2...
This is a very high number.
The official Soviet total death toll was 2 until risen to 31 in 1986 and repeated.
The point is you'll find all kind of number ranging from 2 to a million death due to chernobyl and number of death is not even a valid metric to measure the human impact of the chernobyl "accident".
One of my family member is a farmer living a few thousand kilometer away from Chernobyl, he was working outside on the days where the contaminated cloud didn't reach him according to the government, but still he developed a chronic red blood cell sickness shortly after.
Then again death count of past nuclear accident is a terrible way to assess the impact of nuclear energy, it is a good way to show that humans are bad at dealing with nuclear plants and that nuclear plant are run with not enough regard for security and regulation, not decommissioning due and overdue plants because money and greatly underestimating such costs.
These two wikipedia pages are worth reading.
You can see videos of the work that they had to do.
Also the linear no threshold model is quite questionable when you consider how dosages are measured in an emergency situation, and that different isotopes attack different parts of the body in non uniform fashion. i.e. Skin contact versus ingestion or inhalation.
This is really important and is often avoided to be discussed: even if the 10% of all world's energy needs are covered by the nuclear energy at this moment, we know we're using some 70 Ktons of uranium per year. Then to use only nuclear energy we'd need 700 Ktons per year. Currently identified uranium resources total 5.5 Mtons, which would last for less than 8 years of such use. Even if those aren't the exact numbers, that are the orders of magnitude.
That's why the breeder reactors would be needed as a "solution," and at the moment they are still experimental, especially regarding the fulfillment of their major promises.
The current state of FNRs:
The two only "commercial" plants currently planned are in Russia (from mid-2020s, U+Pu nitride fuel) and China (from 2028, U-Pu-Zr fuel).
Some problems with the breeders are mentioned in
If usage increased greatly and there was some prospect of greatly increased prices lots (hundreds of times current reserves) of marginal ores become available.
This doesn't hurt the economics of uranium fission for power because fuel prices aren't a significant cost. (this is why it's so hard to make breeders economical -- the main benefit is waste disposal and it's hard to compete with a hole in the ground on price.)
Price isn't some abstract thing. It's based on cost, and that which you've got to give up to get something. The entire price system of modern civilisation is predicated on a "cost" of energy that's merely an access cost -- how much it takes to prise it from the ground. Not a replacement cost.
So our price system is predicated on widely and directly utilisable energy sources that offer 30:1 to 100:1 return on cost -- or Energy Return on Invested Energy (EROEI). That's actually down from the 100:1 to 400:1 values earlier oil and coal deposits offered. And too: I can burn coal in a stove in my house, and power or heat systems with oil ranging from fingertip size to 80 MW+ ship engines. We can argue about nuclear energy's abundance or practicality, but there's no arguing over its implementation scale: it's complex, large, and cannot directly power hand-tools, remote-controlled or piloted aircraft, and is only just barely viable for marine propulsion in noncommercial uses (the commercial shipping experiments for nuclear were failures).
Nuclear also presents risks at some different scales than we're usually given to discuss. Though arguably fossil fuel's CO2 problem is a similar example ... but that's not exactly going swimmingly at a global or even national political level.
And even if nuclear does address those issues, it still doesn't give you a portable, safe, convenient liquid fuel, which is what most quotidian applications want for. You can make your own liquid hydrocarbons, but that is expensive, raises the energy cost about 80x above what it is today (you return ~50% of your investment instead of multiplying it 40-fold), and hasn't been demonstrated at the scales we've become accustomed to.
The cost of uranium is currently about $90/kg. Citing a previous poster, around 70 MT of uranium is used every year, which comes to about 6.3 G$, which comes to about 2.61 $/TWh. As per the NEI, the cost of nuclear energy is 108 $/TWh. At current prices, uranium accounts for 2.4% of the cost of producing nuclear energy.
Keeping the same profit margins under an increase of one order of magnitude of the price of uranium would mean increasing the price of nuclear energy by roughly 20%.
But that's less a concern to me than the technological stack and global risk associated with massive (15,000+ reactors) deployment of nuclear technology. Present major incident rate has been about 1 per 100 years of plant operation. How much are we going to cut that down to? 1 per 1,000 years? 1 pere 10,000 years?
Because that's one or more major nuclear accidents per year at a 15,000+ plant scale.
Even getting the rate down to a few per century adds up over sufficient time, and I presume you're in this for the long haul.
Who manages plants and waste processing during major economic disruptions or times of total war between nuclear powered states (which would be, let me check, um, all of them).
The systemic risk side kinda bugs me a bit.
I don't see how that makes nuclear worse than other methods of energy production
The most immediate implication is that it simply invalidates a great deal of present future-cost/future-value analysis, by noting that the entire present price and cost regime is severely faulty. It may well be that money is the wrong unit of economic analysis. There are a number of people who've suggested that currency should be considered to be backed in energy (though that's not the same as saying money is energy -- a crucial but nuanced distinction) -- Arthur C. Clarke, Kim Stanley Robinson, and F. Buckminster Fuller among them. I've traced the concept back to H.G. Wells (of whom Clarke was a fan).
Which would suggest that an energy flows model of an economy is of interest, and that for the nuclear instance, you'd want to sort that out based on total available nuclear energy, conversions for provisioning synthesised hydrocarbons (or other fuels, though CH chains are awfully appealing), and how much net free energy (for other activities) you're left with. Plus factors for risk and such.
That could be compared with the models for renewables-based alternatives.
A key benefit to most renewables schemes is that they pose relatively few widespread catastrophic systemic risks. Grid stability seem the main issue if we're still talking electrical systems (and the advantages of electricity are such that we almost certainly are). But solar and wind plants don't suddenly go into catastrophic meltdown, and the tech stack for each is relatively small.
(Hydro power can see regional catastrophic failure, see the Banqiao Dam disaster, 170k killed. But a lot of things had to go wrong, most of which aren't significantly different from what can befall a nuclear site, and the long-term consequences are fairly benign: the region is now home to 7+ million people, 40 years on.)
But, answering your question in part: it seems to me that a combined measure of net free energy, and systemic risk is probably a better assessment criteria than some putative present "cost" analysis based on a flawed pricing system.
IPCC assimilates data from a large range of sources and viewpoints. It's about as close to a concensus view as you'll find. And considerably more sober than the parent article here.
So, yes, even the can-do, optimistic Chinese see practical application of thorium / MSR designs as decades off.
"Most of the currently operating Generation II nuclear reactors were designed to have strong manoeuvring capabilities. Nuclear power plants in France and Germany operate in load-following mode."
"The economic consequences of load-following are mainly related to the reduction of the load factor... In France, the
impact of load-following on the average unit capacity factor is sometimes estimated at about 1.2%."
"Licensing of load-following is specific to each country. In France and in Germany, for instance,load-following is considered early in the licensing process, and no further authorisation needs to be obtained by the utility to operate in manoeuvring regime. In other countries, load-following restrictions apply: for example in the United States, automatic load-following is not authorised"
Nukes aren't great for load following, but they can load follow some--which is better than wind and solar. To really load follow, you need hydro or nat gas turbines (though nat gas combined cycle can load follow).
What this comes down to is, when you ramp down a fission reactor, there's some internal inertia in its internal workings, that will actively prevent it for some time from being able to ramped up in a safely manner. The quicker the shutdown, the larger the amount of neutron poisoning and the longer you have to wait before ramping it up again. This leaves you with a nice second order differential equation coupling the power output modulation factor with the period of that power modulation.
The period of the power modulation is 24h, following the daily load swings, so for a given reactor that gives you only so much load following capacity to stay within safe margins.
While your criticisms may be arguably valid for a different audience they are irrelevant here.
However, I do disagree with your point. I'm pro-nuclear to the degree that it's economical, and found the article to be somewhat insipid due to grandparent's reasons.
Just as there are plenty of people that are irrationally anti-nuclear, being irrationally pro-nuclear is no better at all.
By 'learning curve,' I guess you mean the rapidly increasing efficiency curves these technologies are on, and in the case of solar(maybe wind as well, not sure) exponentially so.
I certainly agree with you, this is the most important factor in any discussion of current and future energy generation, and carries great weight for why we should all be highly skeptical and indeed hostile towards any thing like future developments of highly destructive energy projects like fracking, or potentially highly destructive like nuclear.
Things like fracking and nuclear carry huge unaccounted for costs that are totally absent from the bottom lines of the companies developing them. It is absolutely absurd and criminal that fracking companies in particular are allowed to run roughshod over our shared environmental heritage creating negative effects that may last for generations. And it is all the more tragic when one looks at the development curve of renewables and applies a little foresight.
Fracking's huge costs in the form of negative externalities are quite apparent to anyone wanting to look for them today, but nuclear fits quite well into this line of thinking as well. Why would we want to burden our grandchildren with the hassle of nuclear waste?
If we don't clean up our act, it's hard to see how future generations aren't going to look back on us as party guests that showed up on this planet, made a huge mess, poured rum in the aquarium and killed the fish, and left without cleaning it all up.
It may sound a little pollyanna-ish, but as you say, the evidence bears it out, if everybody can just chill for a minute or two and maybe look for ways to make their current energy use more efficient, we're on the cusp of having more than enough energy supplied from sources that are harmonious with our environment rather than destructive of it.
I'm as big a critic of fracking as you're going to find, but being overly emotional and applying the fallacy of equivocation isn't helping anything here - and might be hurting if the appropriate application of modern nuclear technology can actually solve many of our issues (or at least help). For that we do need solid analysis which does take into account the "huge costs in the form of negative externalities" - which is bound to come from outside the pro-nuclear industry.
So the basic point is, if the available evidence is saying that it is quite likely that renewables will be covering the large majority of our energy needs rather soon then taking any undue risks, or generating energy in ways that involve long lasting undesirable effects are really the epitome of the kind of short term thinking that has gotten us into the environmental mess we are in, and is really a huge middle finger to our descendants, and that's not very nice.
Really, it could even be argued that as long our observations are telling us what they are now about the future of renewables that any present day expenditures on energy development that aren't renewable focused are a huge middle finger to our descendants, and it is immoral for us to do so.
for day to day living for the majority of the planet, there is obviously worthwhile research for space travel and the like.
--- --- --- ---
some reactor designs can actually consume existing stockpiles of nuclear waste as fuel.
Are these in production?
What sort of waste/byproduct do they produce?
How is it different from conventional nuclear waste?
Is it totally inert?
* might be hurting if the appropriate application of modern nuclear technology can actually solve many of our issues*
What issues are you referring to?
The fact that much of our current energy production methods are detrimental to the planet as a whole(including us)?
Are you aware that if solar PV continues the growth curve its been on for the past ~20 years, for the next ~10 years, then the amount of solar PV produced energy in 10 years will be equal to the amount of all human produced energy today?
Complaining about the supposed problem of nuclear "waste" (really, unused fuel) is the equivalent of someone today complaining that computers were too large to be useful outside of a few labs. Who would want a "computer" when only a handful of labs would be able to afford the high maintenance costs (replacing vacuum tubes is expensive).
> Are these in production?
No, due to the roadblocks put up by anti-nuclear activists and governments that prefer reactors that generate certain isotopes of plutonium.
> What sort of waste/byproduct do they produce?
The entire point of a breeder reactor is to burn through most of the fuel. We currently only use about 3% of the fuel we put in the reactor. Any breeder should only leave a few % of problematic fission-product waste.
This gets even better when you consider that some of that "waste" is actually useful for various purposes. However, even in the case of the old wasteful-1950s-tech reactor, the amount of waste involved is so trivial, it's hard to compare even to "renewable" technology like solar. (making PV cells has it's own waste/pollution problems
Also, another bonus of using the decay chains of thorium's fission products is that the worst isotopes produced only last on the hundred-year scale, not thousands of years.
> How is it different from conventional nuclear waste?
You're talking a handful of grams per-person-per-year, see above.
The question you should really be asking instead is why every other form of power generation isn't held to the same standards.
> Is it totally inert?
It's far more inert than anything you will find dumped into a coal tailings pond, and I'd rather be near a tiny amount of nuclear power waste than the chemicals used to make PV cells.
> Are you aware that if solar...
Are you aware that most of these "larger" (lol) solar installations are de facto running on natural gas? I'm all for using a variety of technologies, and solar certainly should be an important part of energy generation. Unfortunately, until we find a way to store power quickly and efficiently at the TWh-scale, these unreliable technologies are not viable for base load power.
it fails to take into account what actually happens with costs running several times the initial estimates, overdue decommission with no money to pay for it.
Look at Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, a first of its kind third gen nuclear plant: building start in late 2005 for 3 billions euros with a starting operational date in 2009.
delayed to 2011, then 2012, 2013 and 2014. now it is 2018 with a cost a little under 9 billions.
Then we also have past example of 4th gen reactor, superphenix in France, initial cost under a billion euros, actual building cost and maintenance around 12 billions + 2.5 billions for decommission. building started in 1982, operational in 1984 with an actual load under 10% until a first incident forces to stop it for 2 years, restarts and manage a 11% load early 1989 until another incident forces to purge 400 tons of liquid sodium and stop the plant again, then it restart again in 1994 with a load of 0.1% of the nominal capacity than a change of mission from producing electricity to experimental lab then same year another incident which stops it again for half a year, after a one year hiatus it is restarted and gets its best year of production over 30% load in 1996 and then is stopped for decennial maintenance and decision is made to cut the loss and stop it definitively.
These are not "run numbers" but real world examples of dealing with experimental nuclear plants, which is something else than mass deployment over a whole country as primary source of energy.
Putting unreasonable expectations on nuclear plants as this article does is a recipe for major disaster and public disappointment, this is not helping the nuclear energy production nor the energy issue itself.
This is not a production-ready technology, though. I believe there are lingering problems with corrosion. And the claim that the MSR doesn't require secondary water cooling is odd: what's the turbine working fluid heat dump supposed to be?
I really object to phrasing energy policy as either/or. Build out renewables, now, because that's ready. Let's give the MSR a fair go at getting to production-ready, see if the problems can be worked out.
Let's not build a nuclear plant whose output is subsidized to twice the normal wholesale cost: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22772441
It's like rocket design where you go "just put a bunch of explosives in a tube and go into space, this shouldn't be too expensive or difficult..."
I suspect that he would have taken one look at handling radioactive corrosive liquid at 600C and asked to go back to the nice safe rocket lab with only a few explosions.
As for water, the working fluid of the heat exchanger and generator can be water, though Helium or CO2 would make more sense.
Additionally, renewables are absolutely not ready to take over base load power generation. They are an incredibly flawed system in their current form, and incredibly expensive (in multiple ways). They can be improved but it'll be a long, long way before we can rely on solar and wind as the core (rather than periphery) of our power generation infrastructure.
I was told by faculty with joint appointments in matsci and nuclear engineering that it is a major issue and that while they've developed some alloys that look reasonable in the recent past it's still academic research unproven in scale up.
Holding molten salts is really hard... they corrode the heck out of even high end commodity stainless steels (this I know from professional work). Protective coatings help for sure, but they crack over time, especially with any thermal cycling. Inconel and similar alloys maybe, but it's really not straightforward to block grain boundary corrosion! Add to that neutron embrittlement...
I've not kept super up to date, but it's hard to imagine that these alloys went from academically unproven to industrially certified in the last seven years.
Specifically you should read the findings of the MSRE (Molten Salt Reactor Experiment) at ORNL.
Wikipedia has a relatively laymans explanation of the state of the Hastelloy-N when the experiment concluded.
It's worth mentioning Hastelloy-N isn't that expensive all things considered. It would probably come out to a small percentage of the reactors total cost factoring in R&D expenditure etc.
+ Ethylene-oxide gas + moisture + heat -> plying rough trade on supposedly compatible materials.
Not my problem but a customer I worked with had a gamma ray sterilization unit. There were some limit switches which they needed to replace after ten years. Replacements, same part number, manufacture swore up and down they were identical, would crack after three to six months.
At least two startups are going that route. ThorCon's design is a plant with reactor cores as replaceable "cans," each lasting four years in production plus four years of cool-down before shipping to a reprocessing facility. Terrestrial Energy has sealed 7-year units.
China’s thorium project was launched as a high priority by princeling Jiang Mianheng, son of former leader Jiang Zemin. He estimates that China has enough thorium to power its electricity needs for “20,000 years”.
The project began with a start-up budget of $350m and the recruitment of 140 PhD scientists at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics. It then had plans to reach 750 staff by 2015, but this already looks far too conservative.
Paradoxically, though, given thorium’s history, it is the difficulty of weaponising thorium which many see (as it were) as its killer app in civil power stations. One or two 233U bombs were tested in the Nevada desert during the 1950s and, perhaps ominously, another was detonated by India in the late 1990s. But if the American experience is anything to go by, such bombs are temperamental and susceptible to premature detonation because the intense gamma radiation 233U produces fries the triggering circuitry and makes handling the weapons hazardous. The American effort was abandoned after the Nevada tests.
I think the main idea behind thorium safety is that the radioactive material can be removed without shutting down the plant, which is not possible with Uranium rods.
Santa Susana was a sodium-cooled reactor, but a "molten salt reactor" uses salt. It's chemically inert and doesn't require pressurization.
The history of large exotic reactor designs is poor. Sodium-cooled reactors have sodium fires. Helium-cooled reactors have helium leaks (The Ft. St. Vrain story is sad; good idea, but some badly designed components in the radioactive section.) Pebble bed reactors jam. (A small one in Germany is jammed, shut down, and can't be decommissioned.) Molten salt reactors require an on-site chemical plant which processes the radioactive molten salt. Chemical plants for radioactive materials are a huge headache and have the potential to leak. With pressurized water reactors, you only have to handle water, not radioactive fluorine salts.
All designs where the radioactive portion of the system has much complexity have had major problems. Fixing anything in the radioactive part is extremely difficult. But the reactor has to run for decades to be profitable.
(Also, http://www.theretheyretheir.com/. Not usually a grammar Nazi, but that's pretty hard to read)
Sure, solving renewable energy is a really valuable thing to do, but it's still only solving 1/3 of the problem.
Well, here in the Netherlands, the majority of the trains will soon (2018) be powered by 100% wind energy. 50% since this year.
So it's categorically (and I would think obviously) incorrect to say "you can't use electricity for transport".
Heating is another question entirely. You have more of a point there -- it's hard to find an alternative to natural gas for heating.
It's actually a comparatively easy problem to solve. Have a large boiler, heat that with electricity while you have an abundance of energy and keep it moderately well insulated. Drawing the heat off that is simple.
Storing electricity for usage as electricity is the primary problem.
Ivanpah has the capability of producing about 400 MW. It produces no energy at night, and doesn't max out the rest of the time. It rests on 4,000 acres of land. 
The Palo Verde nuclear plant can produce 3,939 MW from three reactors (currently operating at 3,875 MW). It's located on 4,000 acres of land. It can actually generate 3,875 MW, and can do it all day long if necessary. Most nuclear plants don't run at max capacity often, but it's irrelevant given the extreme difference, reduce it by 75% and it stomps Ivanpah. 
Then throw in the cost of covering, say, a square mile of land with solar panels versus the cost of building and operating a nuclear plant, even the ridiculous fantasy numbers of the OP. Solar looks pretty good.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa monster in Japan, with seven reactors, was capable of producing nearly 8,000 MW on just ~1,000 acres. Or upwards of 50 to 80 times what the best utility solar installations today can produce at max output on the same amount of land.
The Solar Star installation could end up being the best solar comparison right now (completed in June). At max capacity, it might narrow the ratio such that the Japanese plant is capable of producing 50 to 60 times the power on the same land.
579mwh ~= .6gwh, on 3200 acres. Assuming a larger 4000 acre site and some efficiency gains on this immature tech, a gigawatt seems reachable.
If a solar plant could hit 50% of the energy efficiency on the same land (and the poor-performing Ivanpah plant reveals that it's possible), that raises a question of why we need the cost and complexity of nuclear.
btw. i'm against nuclear and non renewable energy, however I think its hard to actually replace ever "bad" energy in the next 10-20 years. we will need a longer time for that. especially since building renewable energy plants fast isn't good for our environment either.
The highest capacity US nuclear power plant can out-produce the best utility scale solar installation by 10 fold, with both at max capacity, on an equal amount of land.
nothing to do with today. just a "what would happen on a perfect day". peak vs peak.
also peak of a nuclear power plant could be raised by human and solar panel peak is barely measurable, since there are a hugh amount of factors that could change it.
Solar is also mature by your lame definition of just being around for a long time. In fact, solar has been around longer than nuclear in that regard so it must be more mature then. /s
Some people I've spoken to view this as on par with not supporting the All Blacks. To top this off, they typically have an irrational fear of nuclear power steaming from pop culture such as The Simpsons.
It's New Zealand's dirty little secret that we're no where near the "100% pure" ad campaigns we're running. Half our rivers are polluted beyond repair. We have less forest coverage than Japan. We flooded vast tracts of land for our dams. And we're still dependent on non renewables for our electricity.
There is an ebook  extolling the virtues of Edo society, and while I think you have to take it with a grain of salt (it paints a very rosy picture), it is very interesting.
I noticed another book  which looks like it would be an interesting read, but I haven't done so yet.
One of these days I'd like to learn more about current forestry practices in Japan. I live in Shizuoka prefecture and I see some areas cleared occasionally for tea fields. Also, some of the cedar stands are threatened by invasion from bamboo and you can sometimes see them trying to clear the bamboo and replant cedar. But firewood is currently so cheap that you can often get it for free in my area, which worries me slightly.
Japan has forest coverage of 67%, which is very respectable. New Zealand has 31.87%. Next 3 countries after New Zealand are Germany, Canada and United States.
The great thing about wind and solar is that you don't have to build a whole farm. You can start small and keep adding as you come across more capital.
In any case I don't see why one needs to make it a dichotomy. The entities who invest in alternative energy are probably not the same ones who could invest in a nuclear power plant because of the above mentioned startup costs.
It's not clear to me whether fission will come back any time soon but wind and solar will keep gaining in market share.
The economics are pushing towards renewables but I feel that nuclear makes more sense for our society in the near-term (we need to get away from coal and other fossil fuels).
The reservoir can provide about 13 GW·h of stored gravitational potential energy (convertible to electricity at about 80% efficiency), or about 2% of China's daily electricity consumption. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianhuangping_Pumped_Storage_P...
Construction cost: $900 million USD maintenance costs are also minimal.
PS: ~14 GWh for 1 billion ~= 14 MWh for 1 million = ~14 kwh for 1000$. http://www.teslamotors.com/powerwall = 7 kWh for 3k or 2.3kwh per 1,000$ and much shorter lifetime.
With tesla solution the problem is going to be limited amount of lithium. There is maybe enough lithium to get a powerwall to every household in U.S. and EU. But rest of the world is fucked.
Granted, this would be a significant retrofit, but it's significantly cheaper than starting from scratch. And, assuming the net daily change is ~0 it's not going you don't lose existing power generation capacity or add significant environmental impact.
Also, you don't need very many. China can shift ~2% of it's daily power needs with just one location. Get into the 10-15% range and your done.
Currently though, complaining about storage has a cart before the horse aspect. Since for the immediate future photo voltaic plants are competing with gas fired peaking plants not nuclear or coal fired base load plants. (If you ever wonder why the Koch brothers really don't like Solar plants it's because solar cuts into the market for natural gas)
The Banqiao Reservoir dam failure alone killed over 170,000 people and made over 11 million homeless.
I worry far more about the hundreds of millions of people living downstream of the Three Gorges Dam than I do about people living near fission plants.
On net Dams have saved far more than 170,000 lives in china alone. Flood control is more or less a necessity in the modern world adding energy generation on top of that is a minimal risk. ex: From 1998 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1998_China_floods loss of 4150 people, and 180 million people were affected.
PS: Direct deaths where ~26,000 people. The 145,000 died during subsequent epidemics and famine which where blamed on the dam, but that was a convenient excuse and far from the root cause.
Even with lot's of flood control floods still kill some people. But, dams prevent many floods, reduce severity, and generally give significant warning time when there not going to be enough. So, most deaths are from small rivers that feed major ones instead of major rivers overflowing.
Without them, things would be far worse.
People saw Chernobyl and said "none of that in my backyard" and successfully managed to write rules so onerous that they're effectively a ban.
Unfortunately, any plans they had for a solar power revolution in the 70s died when the technology turned out to be outrageously expensive and impractical, and we've been stuck burning coal waiting for the technology to catch up. 40 years of filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses because of one spectacular failure halfway around the world and one scare in our own country.
Another irony is the fact that all of our current reactors are old designs and less safe than new ones would be if we were allowed to build them.
Of course all of the political pressure has also killed our waste management plan as well, so everybody has to make due with less safe ad-hoc setups on every site.
Example. One of the problems that have occurred is that the regulations change during construction. You spend a billion dollars on construction and then the regulations change and you have to start over. The simple change that the construction rules a plant is evaluated under are the ones in effect when construction began would solve half the problem in itself.
Compared to fossil fuels, which has been successfully lobbied to be under-regulated, you'll stark differences. If fossil had to even approach the same safety/environmental rigour of nuclear, fossil fuel market share would drop quickly.
This ignores various risk cases associated with building a plant that drive the return on capital further up.
Source: used to value these types of investments professionally.
What I found on UPower indicated that it's a nuclear thermal battery, I love that technology but they aren't legal and wont be because of widespread concerns about terrorism and radioactive contamination.
Also, my educational background is in engineering and I have worked on determining whether it's financially feasible to build power plants for a living. I would really love it if you could provide some evidence for your arguments.
That's leaving aside the questions of insurance, local and federal regulatory approval, and waste disposal / decommissioning costs.
EDIT: What's that Bezos quote? "Your margin is my opportunity?" Same for renewables. Your delays are my opportunity.
Solar and wind aren't immune to this either. You don't want to generally build things say 10MW at a time - that would require 100 rounds of planning, regulator approval, engineering design and the like for a big utlity scale solar and wind plant. You generally do it in big chunks too. And there have been big holdups especially in getting grid interconnect.
IE What SolarCity is doing with their SolarBonds and the solar panel factory they bought in upstate NY.
I'm not aware of any.
I could have also pointed at Google's Sunroof project as an example of a large company betting that solar can compete:
I couldn't guess what energy producing and distribution technologies will be most prevalent in 100 years.
Advancements could just as easily be made relating to fission reactors, so I don't think it's fair to say that large power companies shouldn't invest in more reactors. But, I agree there is probably risk in investing in them.
It's not clear from that what the other operators are doing, but there seems to be some work put into replacing smaller turbines with larger ones that are less disruptive to birds.
Funnily enough, these old wind turbines are worth good money in pure raw materials. Expect near 100% recycling for them.
"The entire planet’s electrical consumption is right around 5 terawatt-hours."
5TWh per what? Per second? Per hour (then why not 5TW?)? Per year? Cumulative over all of human history?
Write it out and algebraically cancel the units and you'l understand that you don't understand, and then maybe you will.
As a rule, in future, try to understand before mocking, its a better way to live, take it from me...
In particular, Terawatt-hours can be converted to Joules. To say that humanity's energy usage is X Joules is meaningless without specifying the time period that that energy is used over. For example, it means very different things to say that humanity uses 5 TWh per day than to say that humanity uses 5 TWh per year (versus 5 TWh since the dawn of recorded history!).
"[NERD NOTE: A terawatt is a trillion watts. The entire planet’s electrical consumption is right around 5 terawatt-hours. One TWh (terawatt-hour) is a constant flow of a trillion watts of electricity for a period of one hour.]"
The argument others are making (which I think is correct) is that it is meaningless to say "The entire planet’s electrical consumption is right around 5 terawatt-hours" without specifying a time frame over which that consumption occurs.
The original article has an error as pointed out by the parent. Insert ironic mocking statement here.
> In the foreseeable future (up to the next 20 years), the only
realistic prospect for deploying thorium fuels on a commercial
basis would be in existing and new build LWRs (e.g., AP1000
and EPR) or PHWRs (e.g., Candu reactors). Thorium fuel
concepts which require first the construction of new reactor
types (such as High Temperature Reactor (HTR), fast reactors
and Accelerator Driven Systems (ADS)) are regarded as viable
only in the much longer term (of the order of 40+ years
minimum) as this is the length of time before these reactors are
expected to be designed, built and reach commercial maturity.
Wikipedia has them costing about the same https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source#...
Plus solar etc. are dropping in price in each year in a way that nuclear isn't. I suspect someone's numbers are a bit off.
"Because the future cost of safe storage is uncertain, we refrained from including any numbers."
Of course I'm joking. They just didn't mention it.
Another important aspect of solar is that its performance is a moving target. Because solar cells are improving over time, comparisons against them need to be kept updated, or else the underlying assumptions of the comparison are invalid.
why is centralized power an issue? It was only recently that power generation became decentralized (through renewables such as wind and solar)
Nuclear energy has lots of problems, and I personally think this article is not worth this place on HN, but waste is not really one of them, especially compared to the scale of chemical wastes from fossil fuels.
Also: what better place to temporarily store nuclear waste in the exact same place where it is produced where safety and security measures are already in place?
Or does it increase the possible damage, but the security is high enough that the expected damage is lower than storing it elsewhere?
This term is thrown around a lot, and while solid fuel melting in a traditional reactor is a serious event, a lot of people seem to think that "meltdown" is some kind of terrible or damaging event. The reason people in the nuclear industry panic over a possible meltdown has little to do with safety; up until that point you could - in theory - still reasonably believe that the reactor could be fixed and (eventually) restarted. After a meltdown, you have to assume the core is trashed and is now a financial liability instead of your main source of revenue.
Meltdowns are a terrible event financially. The actual melting of the fuel involves the passive-safety, which are usually designed to drain that fuel into (multiple) areas where it can cool down without criticality risk.
All of this is still discussing very old features. This is like worrying about today's computers because vacuum tubes are fragile and need to be replaced when they burn out. Modern reactor design is very different, because we learned form the problems that happened in the original designs, just like any other technology. Unfortunately, propaganda based on radiophobia has been a serious roadblock. Ironically, this means we're stuck using older designs that should have been replaced decades ago with modern reactors that emphasis passive safety.
If you're interested in a brief overview of these problems (and why some of us believe thorium breeder reactors are the answer for many of these problems), I recommend watching "Th". Just remember it's an overview, and they skip over some of the details to keep it short.
 a feature that was missing at Chernobyl, which is one of many reasons that accident affected such a large area
MSR and other fission reactor types can utilize 100% of the fissionable material put into them, so this sort of leftover "waste" is not such a problem.
Nuke advocates always practice magical thinking. Wave away safety concerns. Write off intractable waste disposal issues as "just bury it". The reality is that nuclear as it stands today is a relic of the Cold War. Solar, wind and gas are the future.
It's not used for an active reactor, but rather to dissolve cold fuel and extract more usable uranium.
Liquid fuel reactors don't use phosphoric acid, they use uranium tetrafluoride (a salt) or water.
However, since people don't easily believe water's a very effective radiation shielding (even if there's an xkcd of it https://what-if.xkcd.com/29/) and that heavier than water metals kind of tend to stay put at the bottom of the ocean, other means of disposal might be more realistic. Recycling in breeder reactors, digging huge holes to the ground, buildings which last longer than pyramids etc.
Of course, how one defines "safely" is tricky. Perfect safety is impossible, of course. One can't guarantee that our hole will stand to the heat death of the universe - but just ensuring that the disposal will cause less harm to earth and its living beings than any other energy production method is fairly easy to do. Even windmills kill some people, animals and fauna during normal operation, so if we set "less murderous than windmills" as an acceptable safety standard, we could settle for the ocean disposal, for example.
Result, 20 years later: The waste did not dilute, the radiation in the channel is damaging the local animals.
It's not like things are completely problem free, but that's kind of unreasonable expectation for any industrial or commercial project.
E.g. advertising breeders as a solution for the nuclear waste problem is a bit tricky, since we already have centuries worth of waste to dispose of, plants will only be operated for some decades etc. We would need to increase humanity's electric consumption to tenfold or more to justify enough breeders to dispose all current nuclear waste in reasonable time.
Also the cost to get there is quite high and there's no reason to think radioactivity would stay there.
Most human activities tend to displace natural ecosystems. Waste dumps (nor windmills) are no exception. The question is, is the damage lesser than greater than in proposed alternatives?
Though I do not understand why did they choose to dump the waste to the channel? If I would dispose the waste by sinking, I would use a kilometers deep trench to minimize risks for reacquirement and environmental damage. Do they plan to dig up the waste sometime in the future?
If you want safe nuclear power, including demolishing the reactors safely, safely getting rid of all the materials, nine nines safety, etc, then it won’t be profitable.
If you want for-profit nuclear power, then either the government has to subsidize it, or it has to be unsafe.
Usually, it’s both unsafe (companies save money everywhere, including stuff like not securing the generator cough Fukushima cough) and barely profitable.
The hard part right now is deciding on suitable ground for the tombs. Doing seismic measurements, analyzing the rock formations and especially forming the policies for burial (e.g. do we reserve the option to dig the stuff back up for use in breeders?) can take decades, but it's hardly an expensive part of the process.
The disposal isn't really an acute problem that needs to be solved today. It's not that dangerous to store the junk at warehouses while we use hundred years if necessary to research best viable options.
Nuclear power is expensive, but only if you compare it to burning hydrocarbons and hydroelectric power generation. It's still decades ahead of photovoltaic and wind turbines.
> but it's hardly an expensive part of the process.
> Das Gesetz zur Beschleunigung der Rückholung radioaktiver Abfälle und der Stilllegung der Schachtanlage Asse II („Lex Asse“) wurde am 28. Februar 2013 durch den Bundestag beschlossen. Die Kosten werden auf vier bis sechs Milliarden Euro geschätzt. Sie sollen nicht durch die Betreiber, sondern durch den Bund getragen werden.
> The "Nuclear Waste Retrieval Speed Up and Asse II mine closing law" was passed on February 28, 2013. The costs are expected to be between four and six billion Euro. They will be paid not by the owner, but by the federal government.
Germany built one. Turns out it wasn’t that safe. Now we have to dig up all the waste again, and put it back underground into a different mine. And this mine was our only hope, actually, because it was the only semi-stable unused salt mine left in Germany.
Now the government passed a tax "Brennelementsteuer" (Nuclear Fuel Tax) that means the owners of nuclear power plants have to pay parts, approx up to 20% of the costs for demolishing the plants, and still 0% of getting rid of the waste, this money will be gotten as a tax for using nuclear fuel.
And, with this tax, nuclear energy is now, even despite getting similar subsidies as renewables, more expensive than wind. Several large energy companies already sold their nuclear plants and switched over to wind; even the few plants in Germany that were still running after Fukushima are now not profitable anymore.
Somehow everybody freaks out about nuclear waste and says stuff like "But after 20,000 years it will still retain half of its radiation!"
Well, our industrial waste also contain mercury and other heavy metals. We usually just bury them. Somehow nobody freaks out and says "But after 20,000 years it will still retain ALL of its toxicity!"
I can't fathom why.
It's like any other fuel -- the faster it burns, the shorter it lives. And vice versa.
"Long half-life" = "not very radioactive" by definition.
"Half-life of infinity" must sound really scary to these people, but that's the same as saying that it's not radiactive at all.
The ocean contains 4.5 billion tonnes of uranium already. 4.5. BILLION. TONNES. Dispersed in water.
I haven't noticed any continents dying off because of this, have you?
Without radioactivity, there would be no continent to die in the first place.
You claimed that "a few tons" of uranium or plutonium, dispersed, could "kill the population of a continent".
Sorry, that's nonsense.
Have you heard of arithmetic? Try doing some. Start by figuring out how many tonnes of air there are over North America, then figure out what concentration of plutonium would result from dispersing a "few tonnes" in that volume of air.
Hint: Not nearly enough to kill everyone on the continent. Likely not even enough to make the cancer rate go up by any measurable amount.
Here, I'll even help you out a little. North America covers about 25 million square kilometers, or 25 trillion square meters, and there are roughly 10,000 kg of air over every square meter at standard air pressure, so we're looking at about 2.5x10^17 kg of air, or 2.5x10^14 metric tonnes of air. Plug in whatever number you like for a "few" tonnes of radioactive material and figure out what concentration will result.
In fact, if you ground up the Fukushima reactor whole, to a fine powder, and dispersed it over the entire ocean, it wouldn't make one bit of significant difference with respect to the concentration of radionuclides.
Heck, the Soviets used to dump their scrapped sub reactors into the Arctic Ocean whole. There are dozens of them up there, probably (I don't have a hard number on this). It hasn't killed any oceans or continents yet.
Would I go scuba diving near one of the dump sites? Hell no! Am I going to lose any sleep over the prospect of them killing the entire ocean? Likewise hell, no!
It would be like building a new coal plant in the US today. You simply can't compete with wind, solar, and natural gas (which is still superior to coal, and I don't mind it being a stranded asset for whomever invested in it as solar and wind ramp up).
Properly built and managed distribution networks, along with utility scale battery storage.
> And China builds nuclear plants a lot faster and cheaper than we do, and no known accidents.
Yet. China still gets more power from wind than nuclear, and they're building out wind generation capacity far faster than nuclear: http://www.earth-policy.org/data_highlights/2015/highlights5...
> Maybe we can learn something from them.
Indeed. When you're an authoritarian regime, you can operate more fluidly "at scale" (fuck you, I do what I want).
> Plus the whole 90% of a nuclear plant's cost is servicing the debt.
And yet, someone has to pony up those billions of dollars. A kickstarter perhaps?
> Once completed the operational costs are a rounding error.
And when you fail hard, it costs billions of dollars to cleanup: http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/environmental-heal...
I'll take solar and wind, thanks.
Using Fukushima as an argument against nuclear is such a silly thing to do, and the decades long freeze on any sort of real progress in meaningfully upgraded or new commercial reactors makes this sort of thing a self fulfilling prophecy.
How many industries have catastrophic failures? How many people have been killed by hydro-electric dams? How much financial damage?
We've created a climate where a completely viable power option that is better than what we have now has had innovation massively stifled due to politics and fearmongering, which has in turn made it more difficult for nuclear plants to be a safe option, which then allows for even more politics and fear mongering.
Fukushima? Yes, it was a catastrophic failure. But it was hit by a 9.0 earthquake and then a tsunami. It was scheduled to be shut down two weeks from the earthquake. It was a 4 decade old plant that was being shut down due to it's age hit by some of the worst possible natural disasters, and even then some better design choices, such as a higher seawall, or not storing the backup generators underground would have prevented it. The condenser units also hadn't been inspected or had maintenance performed on them since basically the reactor's opening. Everything that happened with Fukushima could have been prevented even with it's old technology despite being batter with one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. And this is with 4 decade old technology. With a more favorable political climate, how many advances in safety and efficiency could have been made over those decades?
Humans are greedy, generally corrupt, and bad at maintenance when things are going well. To really trust nuclear, we need better humans, since the accidents can be so catastrophic.
PS: If you build more wind than you need it does get slightly more expensive, but the wasted peaks are a fairly low percentage of energy generation so there not that important. ie. If you build 5% more wind than you need the cost only increases by 5% but you need to time shift far less power. Considering how much cheaper wind is than Nuclear you can have a lot of extra capacity factor.
Not necessarily, not if you include the environmental costs. Natural gas may be considered "superior", if you don't mind the damaging effects of hydraulic fracturing over the environment. Water contamination is no small deal.
So, let's look at how we can safely store coal/oil waste. We can't, it goes straight in the air, or in the sea. So in this sense, I'd argue even simply dumping our nuclear waste in the Mariana Trench would be safer.
Reprocessing or transmutation are alternatives to handle nuclear waste but they have in common that they're more expensive and even less acceptable to society.
Consider the scale of waste generated as well. All the waste used to power a life of electrical usage creates was the size of a pea.
Source on this?
Best I could find shows that 3 cubic meters of waste is generated per year for a "typical 1000 MWe light water reactor" after reprocessing and all (which isn't always done). 
With 99 plants in the US (not counting the plants with multiple reactors) that leads to 297m^3 of waste.
With a population of 318 million, that's about 9.3x10-7, or approximately 4-5 peas per year or 367 peas over the course of a lifetime.
EDIT: Forgot that we only get about 20% of our power from nuclear energy, so it's actually closer to 1835 peas.
In Germany, several of the energy companies completley distanced themselves from the waste they produce. I was at a conference once, where one of the heads of EnKK (a dauthger of EnBW) said after beeing asked what he things his responsibilities for the waste are:
"Well you know, you don't care what happens to your waste at home. Look to the law, we are not responsible."
I think this is one of the biggest reasons why nuclear power has run its course. I might be feasable for contries like the US, Russia or China to find a spot where to store their nuclear waste, but in densly populated areas in Europe? No way.
Just look at the catastrophy that is the Asse: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asse_II_mine
Tl;dr: As long as there is no secure way to store nuclear waste for a thousand years, nuclear has no future.
From a personal perspective I think I'm using less electricity than ever. I only have CFL/LED bulbs, flat screen TV's use less power than old tubes, every appliance I own is tons more efficient than the stuff just a generation ago, etc. Heck, even my powerful desktop PC uses a lot less power than before.
 Why is there a ban, you ask? Because the first nuclear plant they built, in the 1970s, had such catastrophic cost overruns that the entire state swore, "never again".
He cites figures when they will be favorable for nuclear or impressive for the point he's making, and leaves them out when they would undermine it. He cherry picks American nuclear experience in the examples above because we have so far avoided truly terrible disaster here with regards to nuclear energy. (Three Mile Island wasn't good but it wasn't Chernobyl or Fukushima.)
He also cites figures for the amount of space needed for solar and wind to replace all current forms of power without sources. Never mind the fact that actually replacing all of our power with renewables is something that will take a century or more, nobody's talking about completely replacing our entire power generation system in the next few decades with renewables or nuclear.
The real question is not "what can replace our whole system today." because the answer to that is nothing. The real question is, as we expand and replace generators that are being decommissioned, what should they be replaced with?
The concerns there people have about nuclear are not about whether it's more cost effective than renewables (if all we cared about was cost we'd keep burning coal, we know we can't do that), or whether it's safer to build, but what is the long term effect and what are the long term dangers. The long term dangers of a solar farm are basically nothing. You cannot get a Fukushima like disaster out of a solar plant.
The pro-nuclear side will tell you "Oh the new reactors are totally safe, you could never have a problem like that." But they've always said that about nuclear plants. "Oh this new design is safe." Then a disaster happens and they say "Oh well that was the old design, the new design is safe."
Nuclear power has a big image problem: people overestimate the expected risk of very rare but high damage events and horribly underestimate common, low-intensity risks. If you scale deaths per TWh, nuclear is by far the safest form of energy--solar is about 5 times as deadly.
And while Fukushima may have had a "low" number of fatalities (so far), the mortality statistics don't even begin to paint a full picture of the negative impact of these disasters.
Nuclear power has an "image problem" for a reason; when a disaster happens it's a truly major disaster.
> If you scale deaths per TWh, nuclear is by far the safest form of energy--solar is about 5 times as deadly.
This is totally ridiculous and arbitrary, and only true because so many average people fall off of their roof while installing solar panels.
Deaths per TWh is not ridiculous and arbitrary. It's comparing energy sources by how much death they will cause for the amount of energy they produce. Any other comparison would be unfair.
The problem with wind and solar is that they produce so little energy, you need to build a lot of infrastructure to match the energy you'd get from even a single coal plant, let alone a nuclear plant (note that nuclear power plants produce very high amounts of power for the space they take up). You can't ignore the fact that more people are going to die from construction accidents with solar power, even if you assume that the construction accident rate is the same (in deaths per man-hour) for both nuclear and solar plant operation.
This is a really absurd statement and shows a failure to understand how radiation affects the body. You're missing two key things in that statement; amount of radiation and exposure time. A lot of radiation is deadly over a short amount of time, and a lower amount can be deadly (or at least detrimental) over a longer period of time.
It is said that there is no "safe" level of radiation, radiation is never good. It's just that under certain levels it's unlikely to be dangerous in a human lifetime. But that's the thing, it's unlikely, it still can be.
While you can now walk around the area around Fukushima for ad day and not die, there's a reason nobody's allowed to live there. Because if you did for many years, then you would suffer ill effects. And children and pregnant women in that area would be especially prone to problems.
> Deaths per TWh is not ridiculous and arbitrary. It's comparing energy sources by how much death they will cause for the amount of energy they produce. Any other comparison would be unfair.
It is ridiculous and arbitrary because it's ONLY counting deaths, and only against one specific metric. It doesn't contextualize those deaths, first of all (dying because you chose to try to install a solar panel on your roof when you're not an experienced roofer and dying because the nuclear plant outside of town had a meltdown are two very different things.)
It also doesn't count the fact that thousands of people lost their homes and businesses and had their lives totally upended by Fukushima. There's impacts of nuclear that solar and wind don't have that are not captured by simply looking at deaths per TWh.
I would also add that until now we have been lucky because nuclear accidents happened in areas with a relatively low population density. Japan has high coastal population density but at Fukushima, half the exclusion zone is on the sea with no one living there.
Now imagine a similar nuclear accident in Belgium or Netherlands requiring a 80 km exclusion zone. That would be a substantial part of the country impacted. For example, check the location of : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tihange_Nuclear_Power_Station
Also fatalities hardly tell the whole story. Far more people have had their lives totally upended by Fukushima than have died from it, and then there's all the people born with defects from Chernobyl, or left unable to reproduce, and we have yet to see the long term effects of Fukushima.
Pro-nuclear folks tend to focus on a couple of things; cost and mortality under "normal" circumstances. Because those two things look great. But if you start talking about the full impact that nuclear power has had on it world, the picture becomes far less rosy.
Nuclear power has actually a fantastic track record with regards to mortality and statistical risk. The main problem is it suffers from the "Airplane effect" -- the few failures take over the media an the population's imagination, even if the overall safety is great. We can and we should scale both wind/solar and nuclear power, right now, not in a century.
>> Centuries of development aren't necessary to achieve it, it's mostly political will.
While political will is important, it is not enough. It highly depends on geographical properties of the country. For example Iceland produces 85% of its energy from geothermal and hydropower sources and Brazil produces 83% of its electricity from hydropower. Both rely on naturally occurring phenomenons, not all countries are lucky enough to have them.