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The article is completely unprofessional. The tone itself is very one-sided - which is bad enough. However, the factual omissions are ridiculous.

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!




> 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

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.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/

https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/chernobyl.pdf


Those are very high numbers.

> 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...


>The more common numbers you see are under 50.

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.


If you look at the work that these guys had to do, particularly on the roof and under the reactor to prevent the core from leaking out, then the number 50 is hard to believe.

These two wikipedia pages are worth reading.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#Human_impac...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquidator_(Chernobyl)

You can see videos of the work that they had to do.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=bio+robot+chern...

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.


> There is simply not enough uranium for a full build out of 3rd generation nuclear

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:

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generat...

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

http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr08.pdf


It's ignored because it doesn't matter. Mineral reserves only count ore that can be extracted economically at current prices; at current prices we have sufficient uranium for well longer than it takes to find and extract more (so there is no economic incentive to look).

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.)


No, it does matter.

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.


Fuel is a minuscule percentage of the cost of building and operating a nuclear reactor.

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%.


The cost of everything else about a nuclear reactor is based in hugely understated fossil-fuel subsidised cost basis. That is going to inflate when you don't have those fossil fuels around, particularly for elements for which hydrocarbons are essential inputs or exceptionally difficult to substitute (coking coal for steel, much or all transport, chemical feedstocks, industrial process heating).

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.


> The cost of everything else about a nuclear reactor is based in hugely understated fossil-fuel subsidised cost basis.

I don't see how that makes nuclear worse than other methods of energy production


Fair point. I'm not entirely sure either.

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.


I definitely agree with you; the externalities of nuclear power are very often understated.


Do those calculations (108$/TWh) include the cost of safely getting rid of the waste and the insurance costs to cover the damage done by an accident? Let alone the costs of accidents.


For a reasonably balanced view of costs and risks of nuclear power, I'm inclined to look at the IPCC's study of renewable or carbon-neutral energy alternatives, SRREN. I don't have numbers off the top of my head, but believe that nuclear is at least within ballpark competitiveness based on present cost estimates (see my immediately prior comment on why cost estimates are likely not the best assessment tool to use).

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.

http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/report


Only thorium breeders seem feasible for commercial production. Plutonium breeders are terribly unsafe.


Do you have any link of any real development of any useful thorium reactor? If it has benefits, why isn't anybody getting rich developing it now? Even if the western politicians or corporations have any supposed agenda, why don't Russia and China develop or use them instead of scheduling the plutonium (Pu) reactors?


China have announced plans to research development of thorium reactors. The initial schedule put possible commercial deployment as not before ~2040. Some managerial rattling prompted more ambitious schedules, though so far as I can tell, that was based far more on wishful thinking (we want an energy solution sooner) than any significant technological breakthrough.

So, yes, even the can-do, optimistic Chinese see practical application of thorium / MSR designs as decades off.

Previously: https://www.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/1uy239/energy_...


No question they work. Lab reactors were run for years until funding ran out. There were 5 American startups designing Thorium reactors a few years back. I'm guessing regulation killed them.


People assume regulation is responsible for the death of nuclear programs all the time. More likely, it's technical feasibility or cost issues. Which gets back to the "Why isn't China doing this?" Building a lab reactor that implements a theoretical reaction chain, and building a production reactor that puts out terawatt-range power safely and cost-effectively for decades are two entirely different things. Lab reactors are the Hello World apps of nuclear power.


Here's somethign a little stale. Gate's company is looking into it:

http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2013/07/23/bill-gates...


I think we should definitely keep researching thorium. The theoretical aspects are very appealing and solve a lot of problems. My concern isn't that thorium can't work, or won't solve the problems it should solve, but rather that there's a LOT of handwaving and assumptions and finger-pointing from the pro-thorium crowd. If it was as easy, cheap, and safe as they claim, it'd be done already. Doesn't mean it can't be done, just that it isn't as easy or cheap as is claimed by its proponents.


That's exactly the argument I use when I hear "Thorium reactors will solve all our problems!" I don't think thorium will really work, or someone would be doing it by now. But at least it's theoretically safe, as opposed to traditional plutonium breeders, which are safety nightmares with the potential for true runaway.


Could you clarify the "huge problem of load-following" for nuclear power plants? My understanding is that it's mostly a licensing issue rather than a technical issue, and in practice hasn't had a big impact on CF[1]

[1] https://www.oecd-nea.org/nea-news/2011/29-2/nea-news-29-2-lo...

"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"


Load following is a technical issues--nukes are limited in the amount they can load-follow. But winds cannot load follow at all and solar can help some, but doesn't necessarily help cover peak daily load. For example, yesterday in California the system peak load was at 5:49 pm, but solar PV peak was at 9:44 am. data: http://content.caiso.com/green/renewrpt/20151102_DailyRenewa...

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).


Another possibility would be to add massive storage to the grid. Maybe it's pumped hydro or this kind of thing: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8646787. Or perhaps more realistically, if someday soon there are millions of electric vehicles connected to the grid at any given time, especially during current off-peak hours, that storage could be leveraged for load shaping.


Most wind turbines can be regulated very fast in negative direction, i.e. you can change the angle that the blades have to the wind to reduce the force. This is needed for the turbine to survive storms but it can also be (and is) also used to "help the grid".


There are also physical limitations with load following. In a fission reactor you're dealing with a steady state of influx of fission products (by the primary nuclear reaction) and the delayed decay of those products. In fact a large portion of the heat generated by a fission reactor comes from the delayed decay of the fission products. Furthermore some of the fission products are very efficient neutron catchers; notably Xe135 which is so efficient in catching neutrons, that its buildup in a reactor is called "xenon poisoning"; the accumulation of neutron catchers in a fission reaction is called "neutron poisoning".

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.


That's one advantage of molten salt reactors: the Xe135 bubbles right out, making load following a lot easier. The Transatomic white paper talks about this on page 44 (pdf): http://www.transatomicpower.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/t...


Load-following is both license and technical related in a chicken-and-egg-way. You need to incorporate load-following into your reactor design. More specifically: the speed with which a reactor can modulate its output while staying within nominal operational bounds is a design parameter. If licensing doesn't allow load-following, you're not going to give your reactor that feature.


Thing is to reduce the electrical output of a reactor, you can either reduce the thermal output, but then the entire reactor core needs to cool, or you have to reduce the efficiency of the electricity generation. In the first case we are talking about a timescale of days and in the second case you are burning fuel for nothing. So NPRs are not designed to do much of the second.


The real problem is that to get anything resembling economical use out of a nuclear plant, you need to output 100% almost all the time. New plants are too damn expensive to just let them sit there.


You assert that an article of this nature needs to be "professional", why is that ? It was written for the great mass of laypeople that (supposedly) holds the power over our nuclear future. It is intended to challenge the ongoing anti-nuclear narrative and re-educate. It achieves those aims admirably.

While your criticisms may be arguably valid for a different audience they are irrelevant here.


I didn't mean to downvote you but accidentally clicked on the button and can't go back.

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.


What qualifies as "irrationally" pro-nuclear seems to depend on what time horizon you are using, the same as whether or not it seems rational to dump money into NASA.


it is rational to dump money into NASA, ask Neil Degrasse Tyson for an explanation of the economic repercussion.


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.

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.


Equating nuclear (in all it's forms) and fracking is not particularly helpful. They're very different approaches, with radically different considerations, not to mention that some reactor designs can actually consume existing stockpiles of nuclear waste as fuel.

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.


The equivalence raised was to yazriel's point of any considerations of future energy generation methods really need to be taking into account the rapid growth of renewables, and not just rapid, but exponential. Which if your unfamiliar with can be rather unintuitive. For example the human genome project was scheduled/planned for something like 10 years, in the ninth year the project was only 50% complete, but the next year the genome was fully sequenced on schedule because the technology and methods for doing so were proceeding at an exponential pace.

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[0] that aren't renewable focused are a huge middle finger to our descendants, and it is immoral for us to do so.

https://duckduckgo.com/?q=solar+exponential

[0]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?


Why is it that solar is always sold based on what might be available in a few decades, while nuclear is judged as if 1950s technology was the only option?

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

http://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/solar-energy-isnt-...

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.


I concur, this read as some sort of PR propaganda push according to an agenda.

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.




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