Is this really true? In Lazard's 2014 comparison of total cost per MWh, both wind and solar beat coal and nuclear . Costs have fallen so much that it's becoming hard to justify continued subsidies .
Conclusion: The UK doesn't receive enough sunlight or have enough wind/waves/tidal pools/land to grow food, power cars (of any kind) and meet other energy needs. The UK can never get all of their energy carbon free without nuclear or importing power. The US is in a better place because of solar in the Southwest but we still don't have the technology/infrastructure to transport all of that power.
It's only a question of time until renewables will kill fossil fuels. If only we'd stop subsidising fossil fuels .
The report you're quoting is itself highly questionable. Just as an example, wind speed averages are based on Cambridge, which isn't anywhere near the coast where wind turbines should live. Anything from a comprehensive report. Furthermore, he compares the energy to a random amount of energy (50% of energy consumed by cars). The report itself seems a little bit of warm air.
In chapter 25, he acknowledges that while the cost of photovoltaics will fall, he does not see it doing so in a timeline that will be useful in terms of getting everything deployed for a ~2050 deadline. Economically speaking, carpeting deserts with concentrating collectors will be the cheaper of the solar options. The book is careful about doing all the math, citing all its sources and carefully explaining the scenarios it models. It is a very good book[+].
But cost is not the only issue—even as prices fall, there is still the problem of land use area. Efficiencies aren't going to pass 30% (without going to much more expensive materials) and for mass production, we can halve that; cheap as panels may someday become, places with high pop densities (on top of seasonal variations/not being near the equator) are going to have trouble meeting their needs. Especially if they don't want to get rid of their curling irons, hair/clothes dryers, toasters and electric stove/kettles. But panels/turbines aren't the whole picture.
Already today, panels take up only a fraction of the cost of solar. You ideally, want an MPPT controller. You might need voltage regulators, you'll need a rack for the panel and batteries, an appropriately sized inverter, wiring and installation. Batteries—to save more money long term—you want to oversize them so you rarely hit a low depth of discharge. But more batteries means more panels. You also want enough batteries such that you can wait out ~4 days of low light (speaking from experience, on cloudy days you can go the entire day at ~13% typical amp output). Even those at the equator will only get ~6 good hours of sunlight (~8 hours for an appreciable amount), so even for the best case scenario, 12 hours of storage per person is not going to cut it. Solar is great but it's no panacea. And the math doesn't work out for chemical energy storage. Molten salt storage, compressed air look to be more logical at the grid level but even they won't be sufficient.
That said, Mr Theil is also incorrect to place Nuclear in opposition to renewables. Renewables will be in addition to Nuclear [-]. As well as looking into more DC appliances, more HVDC and working out circuit breakers for them, optimal manufacturing layouts such that 'waste output' can be redirected to where it is needed. More energy efficient devices, energy routing algorithms (and a global grid of superconducting HVDC while we're at it—seems far fetched but still at a much higher technological readiness level when compared to fusion), better city planning, climate control with geothermal heatpumps, more material reclamation and recycling, nuclear waste as fuel, carbon capture, extracting CO2 from the ocean for fuel and a cultural move away from an over consuming disposable society.
[+] I am biased in that I'd already known the author for one of the best free books on information theory and machine learning. Anyone interested in the link between learning, energy and thermodynamics should see this book as a starting point. http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/itprnn/book.pdf
[-] Ch. 24 of sewtha.pdf goes into numeric data backed detail on why most build out, waste, cost arguments against nuclear are weak. Personally, I think at best, we only have a couple hundred more years where we can all be justifiably irrationally paranoid over Nuclear. We should have DNA repair down by then.
But this highlights what I think is the main problem with the large scale nuclear energy vision, it would replace oil with Uranium as the root of geopolitical resource control wars.
Worse, this concern is making the usual mistake of only considering uranium. Thorium is a waste product from rare earth mining and is very abundant in the USA (and elsewhere). If we build thorium based reactors, fuel is practically unlimited and free (compared to the costs of running a reactor).
EX: We can manufacture 40+% efficient solar cells, sure there expensive, but saying the only thing possible is some lower efficiency level is clearly BS. [They use 10% as some sort of arbitrary limit on page 41.]
PS: Photovoltaic panels with
20% efficiency are already close to the theoretical limit (see this chapter’s
endnotes Current, world record for concentrated solar is 46%.
They are likely referring to the theoretical limit for crystalline silicon based cells (~30% IIRC). This is due to silicon's particular band gap. The record is held by multi-junction cells, which don't suffer from this limitation (which is part of their problem, as they use materials far more expensive than silicon).
1: In 2010, the UK produced 73% of ‘indigenous-type foods’, and is about 60% self-sufficient when exports and local consumption are set against production http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/food/uk-facts.html
Some GenIV nuclear reactor technologies have a somewhat clearer path to viability than multi-junction solar cells, which have not been able to beat traditional cells in a price-to-performance ratio. We don't even know if there exist materials and processes that can replicate the performance without the costs; see high temperature superconductivity for a technology that's been stuck at that stage for a while, even in the face of the helium shortage.
Further you can mix solar and wind farms as the wind farm does not take up much space.
Also, he uses mixed units when not realistic. A Tesila roadster for example gets 390 km from a 52kwh battery pack. Doing a direct petroleum has X energy so you need that much electricity is dum as cars have terrable efficency.
But, most importantly the UK already imports a lot of food and energy, making this a really silly comparison. Solar cells in Africa can more cheaply provide energy so that's a better place to put them.
Getting significantly better than 10% is very expensive. Getting beyond about 25% is currently well beyond feasible for large scale power generation.
A 100% wind or solar grid would require an equal amount of backup gas or coal power in order to provide reliability which essentially doubles these cost estimates. Even now most wind and solar is considered a novelty to most grid operators because you can't take it into account for long term planning. In some cases (like Denmark or Quebec) there exists ample alternatives available for when the wind stops blowing but most jurisdictions don't have this.
Considering how smart people in Silicon Valley are the level of ignorance around renewable energy and the'why don't we all use solar panels' mindset is crazy.
i think once solar crosses a certain cultural/economic threshold it will just take over everything. it's just way, way too good. there's no other power source that even compares to the potential it already has.
what's interesting is not whether it's going to take over everything, but what kind of economy/world you will have when electricity is orders of magnitude cheaper than it currently is.
All things considered that is pretty cheap and even a minor improvement on price won't change the sunk costs of current infrastructure. The service of getting electricity is pretty cheap around the country and any replacement will have to be substantially cheaper. 'Better' doesn't count for much here because its just electricity and without government mandates people generally don't really care where it comes from.
Idealists like to say that we 'should' be getting power from somewhere else or in a different way. These idealists tend to ignore the market reality that our current situation isn't that bad for almost everyone.
This is the big problem that a lot of these discussions tend to ignore. Not only does our market tend to always pick the cheapest options, the real challenge is the developing world that is going to massively increase their power needs in the next few decades. This well have significant benefits for the world in general if we can pull it off. Unfortunately, given the economic realities of these areas that means coal unless we can provide a cheaper option. Unless some breakthrough happens with storage, that means nuclear.
It's easy to be an idealist when your lifestyle already benefits from massive amounts of cheap energy. As Hans Rosling puts it,
When I lecture to environmentally concerned students, they tell me "No! Everybody
in the world cannot have cars and washing machines!" ... Then I ask my students,
"over the last two years, how many of you doesn't use a car," and some of them
proudly raise their hands and say, "I don't use a car". Then I put the really tough
question, "how many of you hand wash your jeans and your bedsheets, and no-one
raises their hand. Even the hardcore in the green movement use washing machines.
Until they have the same energy consumption per-person, they shouldn't give advice
to others on what to do and what not to do.
I think it's perfectly reasonable to question those solutions, but an equal amount of traditional power generation as backup seems excessive.
Additionally, most areas are increasingly moving towards decentralised generation which changes the calculations too.
There is a lot of hand waiving and fudging the numbers when it comes to the cost of nuclear. One-off proprietary designs, using proprietary fuel systems, using proprietary operational methodologies is not cost effective. Economies of scale are not in nuclear's favor, and even "at scale" you're looking at billions of dollars worth of investment before the first watt is produced. The need for large-scale waste transportation, storage and reprocessing is not a solved problem. The Nuclear Solves Everything™ thought process requires a lot of head-in-the-sand thinking.
All that spent fuel is just sitting on the surface at hundreds of sites worldwide, in pools, dependent on a power supply and ongoing maintenance to the pumps which circulate cooling waters. If those pumps malfunction, or the power supply ceases, the water will boil off, and the wastes will be released into the biosphere. If the US electrical grid ever fails, fossil fuels will have to be trucked to these sites, forever. As long as the grid never fails in the next, oh, few ten to hundred thousand years, we should be all good. How confident are we in the political and economic stability of the US, for millennia to come?
Is it not immensely immoral to be generating power this way, and handing the problem to our distant descendants to deal with? How are they supposed to pay these costs, when we were apparently unable to, despite enjoying the front end benefits of cheap power? Can you imagine if instead of building pyramids in the desert, the ancient Egyptians had left behind a monster that required ongoing babysitting even today, to prevent unleashing catastrophe on the planet?
- U-238: less radioactive than uranium ore, makes up most of the waste. Only a problem because of all the other stuff that's mixed in with it.
- Transuranics, mainly plutonium: radioactive for millennia. About 3% of the waste.
- Fission products: the broken-up atoms. The most troublesome are radioactive for decades. About 1% of the waste. Since they have fairly short half-lives, they're the most radioactive.
So it's the fission products which make lots of decay heat and have to be kept cool, but that heat production goes away fairly quickly. It's the transuranics that have to be stored for millennia, but they don't need cooling; since they have long half-lives they don't generate much heat.
However, the U-238 and transuranics could be used as a fuel in more advanced reactors, either fast reactors or molten salt reactors. So actually we only need to store that waste until the more advanced reactors become available.
In the article Thiel advocates pursuing new reactor types, including those that can eliminate long-term waste. If we do that, we'll end up with less long-term waste than we have right now.
Isn't that what control rods do?
Due to high capital costs, that's really expensive to do with nuclear plants (that's why people talk about baseload, i.e. constant output). So you'd have to solve the same problem in an all-nuclear world - maybe the magnitude would be different, but's essentially the same problem.
You could even say that the 'why don't we all use nuclear power plants' is a bit crazy. :)
I will quote myself :
>People always forget about indirect costs when talking about cheap nuclear energy (risk factors aside). Nobody has ever built a profitable nuclear power plant without substantial government subsidies (way higher than for all renewable energy sources). Operators need government help for security, fuel supply, waste handling and much more. There is no insurance company on earth which will cover a nuclear power plant without state guarantees (ask yourself: Wouldn't a profit oriented insurance company cover these risks, of these were really as low and controllable as people say here?).
Remember that he's talking about a new generation of reactor designs. Also remember that a key driver of the high cost of nuclear energy is lawsuits based on irrational overestimates of the risk of nuclear energy compared to other energy sources. Coal has killed orders of magnitude more people than nuclear, yet nobody ever brings a NIMBY lawsuit to prevent a coal plant from being built.
> Wouldn't a profit oriented insurance company cover these risks, of these were really as low and controllable as people say here?
The technical risks are not the risks the insurance companies are worried about.
What's killing nuclear isn't environmentalists, it's that this stuff is hard, really hard, and it's getting harder over time as more failure scenarios are known.
Three Mile Island - how many fatalities?
Fukushima - who died?
Chernobyl - there should be a Godwin's law about this.
Meanwhile, life expectancy is down, coal fired plants are quite literally poisoning our atmosphere, and oil explosions and accidents kill more people in a decade than nuclear power has over its existence (nuclear power, not nuclear weaponry. Though that's an interesting question - how many people were killed in fire bombings or by fuel-air weapons vs by nukes?)
Safety in general is not to be taken lightly. But we should assess the relative safety of different technologies fairly. We don't do that with nuclear; we hold it to standards far higher than the ones we enforce for other technologies, even though those other technologies have killed orders of magnitude more people. That is not rational.
> this stuff is hard, really hard, and it's getting harder over time as more failure scenarios are known.
This could be said of any technology. But again, we hold nuclear to far higher standards than we do other technologies that have failure scenarios which have already killed orders of magnitude more people.
Do you have a source for this as the new EPR reactor in finland is aboud three times as expensive as planned?
I was actually talking about nuclear energy in US; I'm not familiar with the legal regimes in other countries to know how much of an impact lawsuits have been. France, at least, has been getting the majority of their electricity from nuclear reactors for several decades now, so clearly it is possible to have a saner legal environment.
> is aboud three times as expensive as planned
How experienced is this construction company at building nuclear reactors?
How big the eventual costs (the article speaks of "at least €4 billion ($5.3 billion), but more likely somewhere between €5 billion and €10 billion") will be is uncertain, and I can't back this up by any real evidence, but my guess is that those who profited from the waste disposal might not be the ones paying for the clean-up.
This all makes me think of the Futurama episode "A Big Piece of Garbage" :
>The others quickly dismiss Leela's concerns that the new garbage ball will return and destroy a future generation. Professor Farnsworth replies that it will not be for hundreds of years, presumably by the year 4000, prompting Fry to say "That's the 20th Century spirit!"
The fact that it needs both a capacitor and a battery bank to be able to output electricity seems sketchy, too.
Edit: The homepage is full of UFO and conspiracy stuff. So, yeah, it very likely is a scam.
They have a tendency to break links, so a community-oriented individual might feel inclined to save/cache the link ;)
If they said it was going to take 2 years and 1 billion dollars and it stretched out to 3 years and $1.5 billion that is one thing.
Back in the 1970s it was more like 2 years stretches to 9 years and $15 billion and you could blame union workers who never did nuclear work before, the no nukes, high interest rates, etc.
The industry was supposed to come out with standardized reactor types like the EPR, and we have low interest rates, little active opposition to nuclear power, and projects like Olkiluoto-3 are still 9 years late.
Nobody is going to put up billions of dollars unless there is some predictability in terms of cost and schedule. The fear of Fukushima is just icing on that cake.
If they pan out, Small Modular Reactors (30MW~300MW range) seem like they could solve many of the issues with existing "large" nuke plants: the sealed core can be built on largeish assembly lines (similar to airliners in size) then floated, flown or driven to site, more units would mean more opportunities for automation and economies of scale instead the more pharaonic and necessarily more unique existing systems.
This would be further boosted by the inherent flexibility of SMR: they can be kept mobile (for emergencies, temporary setting, interim power, etc…) e.g. Rosatom's Akademik Lomonosov barge, which should have a total capacity of 300MWt/70MWe.
For example they had the concrete heating too much while curing when casting the floor. This was because the floor slab was lot bigger than engineers we're used to cast. Yes, they should have taken that into account. But the point is it's harder to take all things into account when you are going to unexplored territory.
And once you get past fear and perception, there's NIMBYism.
With coal power you will have a few dead mine workers. It's only mine workers that are affected and they have a definite risk in front of their eyes. You can rise the worker protection regulations for making this safer. You have the problem of air pollution through fine particles and sulfur. You can solve this with filters. The CO2 Problem isn't caused by one coal plant alone, so that problem is ignored.
With nuclear on the other hand you have a history of failures that were tried to be covered up, while being told that nuclear is 100% safe. The failures were unforeseen and led to a few catastrophes we weren't prepared to handle. We're more scared of the things we don't know than of the things we do know. And then the effects were very far reaching. The area around Chernobyl still isn't habitable today, more than half of the boars caught in Bavaria still aren't deemed safe for consumption because of radioactive contamination from Chernobyl. Fukushima and Chernobyl had a huge effect on the people living around them and both were in relatively low populated areas, so effects at a catastrophe in a nuclear power plant more near to a big city would be far greater.
I'm not saying that nuclear power is creating more damage than coal power, I just want to show why people fear nuclear power more.
Actually, most of the risk of coal power is soot in the air, causing respiratory problems. This has killed far more people than coal mining. But most people don't know that, as your comment illustrates. So part of the problem is that the risks of other power sources are not accurately represented.
(Also, btw, there is radioactivity in coal ash--more than in some types of nuclear waste.)
Unrelated - I'm sorry I downvoted you - stupid tiny hit box on mobile. I meant to upvote.
>Following the tsunami two to three hundred homeless residents of the town who lost their homes to the tsunami took refuge in the Onagawa nuclear plant's gymnasium, as the reactor complex was the only safe area in the vicinity to evacuate to, with the reactor operators supplying food and blankets to the needy.
Smoke/smog, in comparison, is something you can see and can expect to interact with daily if you're in a city. Despite the fact that it's much more dangerous, people don't perceive it as such.
When were you ever told that?
I've been hearing all my life how risky and scary nuclear power is.
The lack of predictability comes from lawsuits, not technical problems in construction. Plants that were completed and ready to go online on schedule were stopped at the last minute by lawsuits, and in many cases were never started up.
Definitely there have been places and times where people opposed to nuclear energy have filed lawsuits against nuclear power plant construction.
On the other hand many times the trouble is between the constructing company, the electric company and maybe regulators and it usually is in the form of a lawsuit because this is how you decide who owes who money in the end.
Kirk Sorensen at http://flibe-energy.com/ has some great talks about this. I highly recommend watching some of his content on youtube.
This is a good place to start: https://www.ted.com/talks/kirk_sorensen_thorium_an_alternati...
As regards solar and other "clean" alternatives, there exists vast potential for reducing daytime electric grid load by throwing a few panels on residential and office rooftops. Why don't more people do it? As the cost of panels plummets, the payoff time is decreasing and ROI over time is increasing.
A whole industry of solar panel leasing has sprung up, whereby residential home owners let an installer put in the panels for free, then pay a discounted electric rate. Not exactly like going off-grid, but it does have the same effect of reducing demand for coal/oil/gas generated power.
I'm envisioning future new home developments where every house comes with solar pre-installed. No decisions to make; the cost is baked in (so to speak) and you get a home that will incur minimal electric bills.
I don't see a government role in all of these initiatives, which are market driven. People want green energy these days; it's become a fad. Almost gone are the days when homeowners associations sue a member for putting "ugly" solar panels on his roof.
Perhaps we're on the edge of a new energy area.
As per their own site, by june 2016 they should at most decide a date for when the first plasma will be _scheduled_ to happen.
Also, there are probably still decades between a working ITER and commercial reactors.
I fully support investment in fusion research (and pure-research in general), but the reality is we can't wait for technologies that are still technically vaporware. Solar and wind are in the same situation. I expect we will be able to make much more efficient solar generation technologies and find a way to store power at the TWh scale. When we have reached those goals, we can re-evaluate, but right now waiting means choosing to use more coal/oil/gas.
> ... solar ... reducing demand for coal/oil/gas ...
Unfortunately, that's not always the case when solar ends up using a "natural gas backup" to solve the reliability problem.
As I understand it, another problem is how to inject energy beams through the bottle to keep the reaction going -- i.e., high powered laser.
Another issue is how to contain the neutrons which bombard the physical container, rendering it dangerously radioactive after a while. Maybe the bottle prevents this? I don't know enough about it.
By comparison, solar is so much simpler, though eventually we'll probably need both paradigms. It seems silly to power residential homes from a central location when they can get most of their own power from rooftop collectors, but we'll always need central power generation for some purposes such as solar-poor regions, as well as mobile applications like sea transport and eventually space transport.
> Critics often point to the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union as an even more terrifying warning against nuclear power, but that accident was a direct result of both a faulty design and the operators’ incompetence. Fewer than 50 people were reported to have died at Chernobyl; by contrast, the American Lung Association estimates that smoke from coal-fired power plants kills about 13,000 people every year.
So on one hand you take the failure of a single nuclear plant, and count the direct, local deaths from that. On the other hand you take the sum of all coal-fired plants, and count the number of global, indirect deaths from them. OF COURSE the latter number is going to be bigger. The comparison is dishonest.
>The risk projections suggest that by now Chernobyl may have caused about 1000 cases of thyroid cancer and 4000 cases of other cancers in Europe, representing about 0.01% of all incident cancers since the accident. Models predict that by 2065 about 16,000 cases of thyroid cancer and 25,000 cases of other cancers may be expected due to radiation from the accident
My memory is that nuclear emissions from a coal fired station are comparable to a nuclear station, and nuclear doesn't produce smoke. So nuclear should still come out 13,000 people/year ahead.
It just sucks that coal impact is so anonymized by all pumping into a shared atmosphere. Unless there can be a successful class action against the whole industry that won't change.
Is that not feasible?
It can still help.
Spain might be a better bet.
On the other hand, maybe one could just move people to Spain and avoid this whole electricity transportation mess.
YC companies that do relatively tiny hardware projects tend to fail at a rate much higher than their software siblings and the kind of investment required to get a next generation nuclear reactor from the drawingboard to a reality is not usually associated with start-up accelerators.
I know they're funding two start-ups in this domain but I don't believe this is a path that will work out. On the other hand, I've been wrong in the past on other predictions so feel free to ignore me :)
Much smaller residential plots in suburban/rural areas, cut out commuting by 60 plus percent by using Skype etc. Move to much smaller single passenger electric vehicles (300 pounds instead of 3000).
Switch to high-tech (or low tech) efficient ultra-local food production, like potato bags on every roof, a tilapia farm on every corner. Solar on every roof, transparent VAWT on every roof. Solar roadways. Ground-source heat pump and net zero airtight ventilated homes. Wide deployment of residential energy storage.
We can literally make society 5-10 times more efficient.
I'm currently living in an apartment and using public transportation, which of course is what many environmentalists are recommending. However, this is not a good solution because of the noise from neighbors. I'm currently tempted to move to a house and get a car, but of course, that is not good for the environment.
The tiny house and tiny car idea solves this!
They could be human powered or maybe self-driving transport pods, much more efficient than cars or buses. Also, airtight construction helps a lot with noise pollution from neighbors.
It would be great to concentrate all pollution from ocean, land and air into single place. And I do not mean CO2.
If the world had the capacity to deliver one of the largest nuclear power plants ever built once a week, week in and week out, it would take 20 years to replace the current stock of coal-fired plants (at present, the world builds about three or four nuclear power plants a year, and retires old ones almost as quickly).
Morton goes on to make the case for considering geoengineering, and for ramping up research on it. I don't know that I can do justice to the argument in a short summary, but one key point is the extent to which we're already doing it in an unplanned way. We all know about all the carbon dioxide we're putting in the air, along with other greenhouse gases -- nitrous oxide, for example -- but there's also the massive amount of reactive nitrogen we're creating, mostly for fertilizer. We all know about the massive local environmental effects of burning coal, but there's also some evidence that coal smoke has a cooling effect; changing from coal to nuclear may actually worsen warming in the short run.
I was favorably disposed toward geoengineering before I got the book, so I can't claim to have been won over, but there was an awful lot I didn't know about it -- for example, how the various approaches would affect different regions of the globe differently, and how those effects could be adjusted to some extent, though not optimized for everyone simultaneously.
Again, I highly recommend it.
That said, uranium is a finite resource, and even if we built all of these plants we'd be looking at peak uranium in the not too distant future.
Therefore, either we go for thorium, which is looking increasingly promising, or as you say we consider geoengineering.
Even if we stop burning fossil fuels, another problem remains, which is thermodynamics - the waste heat from our energy use has to go somewhere, and right now the only place it can go is into the earth, or into space - and we're not doing much of either, other than inadvertently. If we keep up current rates of energy growth, we'll cook ourselves before too long regardless of what source the power comes from.
Not remotely true. The amount of solar energy that falls on the Earth and is not immediately reflected is 120PW (petaWatts), or 120,000TW. The total amount of energy being used by humans is about 15TW. So the heat we're generating changes the Earth's energy balance by a little more than .01%. (Numbers from Morton's book.) Essentially all of that 120PW is also being radiated away as infrared from the night side of the Earth.
Some academics, notably Chomsky, openly talk about the extinction of our species as a plausible outcome of global warming. I asked him about geoengineering. He just said, 'it seems hazardous.'
That's extremely hard to believe. Does he show the math?
But! Palo Verde has three reactors. If you assume that he really meant "reactor" rather than "plant", and went with 1 GW as its output, it would take a little more than 19 years.
Wikipedia says there are about 50,000 coal plants online, as ScottBurson notes, but I know there aren't 50000*11/39 = 14000 nuclear plants in the world. Googling "number of nuclear power plants" returns an answer of 438 "reactors." Obviously the number of plants is somewhat smaller, and we don't know if the statistic includes military reactors on subs and carriers. Call it 400.
So what I've missed appears to be the fact that a typical nuclear plant must generate 14000/400 = 35x as much power as a typical coal plant. The largest plants of both types are in the gigawatt class, so most of those 50000 coal plants must be significantly smaller.
So, at some point, it must have been decided that most nuclear plants needed to be as powerful as the largest coal plants. Absent a change in policy, that clearly denies the nuclear industry the benefits of economies of scale... unless those economies are realized on a per-plant basis. (E.g., if it doesn't cost much more to build a 1 GW nuke plant than a 100 MW one, you might as well build the former.)
That's not necessarily an argument that we shouldn't build more nuclear power capacity; only that we can't expect it to be the entire solution to global warming this century.
Capacity of large nuclear power plant unit: ~1 GWe 
Total world electricity consumption is 20,900 TWh/year , of which 40% is generated by coal power plants.
A total power of ~1000 GWe, so you'll need 1000 nuclear power plants to replace all coal-fired plants by nuclear power plants.
At the same time, it does not prove that it's impossible to go mostly nuclear. It just shows the need for mass production of smaller reactors, so that we can make&install them by thousands a month across the globe.
That's actually the intent of SMRs. Small-ish reactor (30~300MWe) assembly plants, then ship them wherever they're needed/desired, and either bury them or keep them mobile depending on the purpose. When the fuel load is expended (10~30 years, similar to nuclear subs and ships) you just replace the whole reactor assembly, pop a new one in, and send the old one for recycling and disposal.
On the other hand, new-tech nuclear looks very attractive. The argument gets circular, because new-tech nuclear is speculative. Lots of old-tech nuclear should get shut before we get another Fukushima. So despite the theoretical ability to scale up faster, does nuclear really have an advantage over renewables?
Thiel is a self-described conservative libertarian.
EDIT: Would someone care to point out why that is not an valid option? Lack of technological viability? Lack of energy storage technology or capacity? Ideological resentment against a political over an economical driving force for the change?
Browse the FEC website for contributions from oil & coal companies to 2016 candidates. That's why it won't be simple.
A quick calculation shows that if you only consider heating up our atmosphere and assume an entire switch of all our energy consumption to nuclear energy you end up with a temperature rise of 0.1 deg C per year. I know it is a worst-case scenario - energy will be stored in land/water as well, dissipation etc. - but still.
Compared to fossil fuels, the plus side is you do not produce any greenhouse gases. However, I'm unsure which contributes more to global warming, could well be the former is negligible. Would love to hear an expert on this.
For fossil fuels you release chemically stored energy as heat. The same applies for nuclear power. Which is an additional thermodynamic burden...
Venus and Earth receive (very roughly) similar amounts of sunlight. They generate similar amounts of heat through radioactive decay in their core. The reason Venus is a hellhole and Earth is, well, Earth - greenhouse gasses.
Nuclear technology's achille's heel is waste disposal. Sure, there are technical aspects to it, but it's mostly a problem in the political realm.
The Feds were supposed provide a disposal mechanism, but there's apparently no political will to do that any longer. Instead, we have nuclear waste piling up all over the place at facilities that were never meant to store it. As soon as we have a natural disaster at one of these facilities, it will be like fukushima all over again. Such a shame.
I'm not terribly keen on living in a world where most of the countries in Africa, the Middle East etc. are able to build nuclear bombs.
Nuclear energy is highly deficient, building nuclear plants uses much more energy and concrete (bad for the environment) and you have to store nuclear waste.
I know Thiel is a long term thinker, but maybe Kaynes view is also important.
Personally nuclear energy is dangerous because when it goes wrong the result is really bad.
And the source of error is infinite, human, software, design, terrorists, war, civil plane, drone ...
26,000 dead from flooding,
145,000 dead from subsequent famine and epidemics,
11 million homeless
All forms of power generation have risks and tradeoffs. We should use the best available science to evaluate those risks - not emotion and fear. The future of our planet depends on it.
Also what do you even mean by "the source of error is infinite"? All of those sources of error apply to coal and gas plants, except that nuclear power plants are so much more tightly regulated and protected that these "sources of error" are far more likely to affect coal/gas plants than nuclear.
Check out this information where they crash an F-4 into 10 feet of concrete, reducing the F-4 to dust. Nuclear power reactor containment shields have more than 10 feet of concrete, and even so have procedures for automatic shutdown of the fission process that don't rely on electricity (eg gravity).
FUD such as this is a large part of why we do not have fission today.
I counter this statement of vast ignorance with a single example who represents many more: my grandfather. The EEOICPA seems to think that he and thousands of others died as a result of it. It's really interesting to juxtapose this smug indifference to cumulative millennia of life lost with the statistical straws grasped at in order to impute some deaths to coal power. It's almost as if no argument is too ridiculous to excavate from an orifice in the service of nuclear power.
A lot of environmental issues are also social issues. This is fairly obvious in subsidence farming communities where environmental damage is caused by and directly effects normal peoples lives. In developed economies it is just easier to ignore the human factors in environmental damage and focus on the technical aspects of this. The activists are right to consider the social factors, but are certainly ham fisted and rely on the wrong metaphors.
On the one hand you have capitalist-optimists like Thiel who basically focus on increasing energy output from non-carbon sources (which tends to mean: nuclear). The effect is to maintain the status quo (everyone can keep on using energy without worrying about depleting a public good).
On the other hand you have the left focusing mainly on limiting / reducing carbon emissions. That is - in my opinion - an inherently redistributive project: when you allocate carbon emission allowances, you're effectively allocating production allowances.
Edit: specifically, it's redistributive on a country level: poorer countries would quite like to have a big carbon budget to burn while their economies grow.
If it was, was that a bad thing? I would argue it was sure inconvenient for paint companies but a net gain to society. Perhaps some level of funding should be given to these companies as we take their rights away - and perhaps not, depending on how foreseeable and expensive their issues were - but the fact is, sometimes we as a society need to force them to make changes.
To my mind, it's not redistribution because the point is not to take their income away, the point is that it's time to stop. Yes, that will have an effect on their income. Not doing it will have a much higher dollar cost, and the company won't pay it directly but the country sure will.
Acting on climate change is one of those necessary things.
W.r.t the OP though: anecdotally the point sometimes does seem to be to take their income away - I've met many people who appear to have chosen their position on climate change because it happened to be the anti-establishment one.
I'm not disputing your experience. Some people are just contrary.
Taylor Wilson's TED talk on low pressure, molten salt, modular reactors built as standardized modules with a scram / recycle pool underneath and made in a factory is one of the best ways to go. Smaller, isolated, modular setups limit failure risk compared to a single reactor having a big, explosive meltdown. The other one is thermal generation using chip-like technology with tiny amounts of radiological material isolated in individual "wells" making it safer, more efficient and scalable for many types of battery and generation use-cases.
I think we can do fission safer, cheaper and smarter, responsibly, but repeating the same failures by taking the same risks without learning from the past is inherently dumb.
Disclaimer: nuclear energy consultancy alum
When a robber baron like Dale Carnegie wanted people to believe in his steel bridges, he staked his life and reputation and walked across the damned bridge.
Another major risk not mentioned by Mr. Thiel is a financial one, as it seems every nuclear project in the West at least has become a boondoggle. Even the project a few hours from my house - Plant Vogtle - where the state legislature generously transferred the financial risk to the taxpayers and customers - is behind schedule and over budget.
Until nuclear cheerleaders develop a taste for risk that will not be borne by others, maybe we should reduce consumption. If Las Vegas were to shut off 90% of its' outdoor lighting and fountain displays, would everyone there go blind and lose their enthusiasm to play slots? I doubt it. Just a thought.
Living next to a coal plant is even more dangerous than a nuclear plant, are you suggesting we should ban both plants based on these considerations?
Seems like an awesome idea for powering remote locations, for sure.
Maybe they were deemed unsafe for military operations?
Silicon Valley billionaire-nerd-emperors don't like to be informed about their absence of clothes.