Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The New Atomic Age We Need (nytimes.com)
258 points by markmassie on Nov 28, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 200 comments



> We already know that today’s energy sources cannot sustain a future we want to live in.

Is this really true? In Lazard's 2014 comparison of total cost per MWh, both wind and solar beat coal and nuclear [1]. Costs have fallen so much that it's becoming hard to justify continued subsidies [2].

[1] http://energyinnovation.org/2015/02/07/levelized-cost-of-ene...

[2] http://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/us-energy-secreta...


The problem is scale. Here is a really good analysis of renewable resources in the UK: http://www.withouthotair.com/

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.


This argument is one massive false assumption. Renewable energy sources are becoming cheaper and are already cheaper than coal and nuclear. Cheap means they will become pervasive and replace the majority of existing sources. There is technically no reason we couldn't do it [3], rather "the key roadblocks are: climate change denial, the fossil fuels lobby, political inaction, unsustainable energy consumption, outdated energy infrastructure, and financial constraints".

It's only a question of time until renewables will kill fossil fuels. If only we'd stop subsidising fossil fuels [2].

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.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_transition_in_Germany [2] http://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/fossil-fuels/in-2... [3] http://www.nature.com/scientificamerican/journal/v301/n5/ful...


It's not a report, it's an almost 400 page book. He doesn't compare random energies, instead he looks at what, under reasonably generous conditions, the daily power budget each energy source could provide per person. The very generous 20kWh/d of power per person is the key point. 6 m/sec is already high, with few places reaching such speeds consistently. And almost no one will reach double that, so you can look at an optimal 17 W/m^2 for wind. http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/winds/global_winds.html

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.


The UK relatively recently backed full cycle of Uranium fuel production in Kazakhstan. Tony Blair became personal advisor to Nazarbayev. And I ve heard, the UK is going to build new nuclear plants. Its supply is secured and the know how will be both French and USSR (Kazakhstan). Those interested can ask themselves, what Atomic Kitten was doing in Astana in 2010?


Are you suggesting that UK is going transport electricity from Kazakhstan back to the UK? presumably via Russia? If so, that seems like a really bad plan.


No, transporting U3O8 is enough. Upd: http://namrc.co.uk/intelligence/uk-new-build-plans/ 4 sites are already acquired for development on British grounds.


Oh sorry I misunderstood that you're talking about fuel production.

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.


This is nonsense the amount of uranium required is incredibly small compared to oil or coal. We are talking on the order of 1:100,000 or in the case of a proper breeder reactor even less.

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).


Uranium is fairly abundant AFAIK. Sourcing it is less of a problem than overcoming NIMBY.


Uranium available for enrichment is not fairly abundant. And U ore deposites are distributed far from fair. Like I said, China has no access to deposits, the UK secured for itself. Russia was effectively cut off Kazakh U resources, leaved with a _single_ mine in Chita region.


BS, solar is not great in the UK, but your comparing electric generation at 2009 efficiency levels with powering cars, heating using resistance heating etc. (Heat pumps break 100% nominal efficiency by extracting heat from outside air.) It's also perfectly reasonable for the UK to continue to import significant amounts of energy in one form or another and or increase efficiency levels.

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%.


> 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).


I don't think you need to be overly generous when they suggest the UK needs to be both 100% energy independent and 100% free from fossil fuels, and grow 100% of it's food locally, when the UK imports ~35% of it's electricity in 2013 and ~40% of it's food (1). Let alone fossil fuels. And if we can't meet those goals we need to do X.

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


I wasn't arguing for all his calculations, it's just that his evaluation of the theoretical limit of crystalline silicon cells is accurate. He is correct that it is unlikely that they will get much closer to the theoretical limit than 20% in real life situations.

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.


There are multiple well-attested routes around the Shockley-Quiesser limit most of which do not involve just silicon. One, which MacKay touches upon, is multi-junction systems. Another, which he does not (not being an expert in the field) is via so-called multiple-exciton generation systems. Contrary to most engineers' understanding, this phenomenon is pretty well explained from the point of a low-energy continuum QFT for the materials that most care about for implementation. The real game changer would be to mate these systems with topologically nontrivial materials with surface charge transport protection. Unfortunately with current fabrication capabilities, 70% of the conductivity is in the bulk, which does not possess the topological prohibition to one-particle (or one e-h pair) backscattering. (It would also be interesting to see if the known allowability of 2 particle backscattering applies to excitons in these systems)


Later on on page 44 he changes the assumptions based on 50% efficient farms growing plant matter for biomass. Even if you had 50% efficient panels and you covered 200m^2 per person with them (there are only about 900 m^2 per person that are not covered with farm land or roads), you'd only get about 32KW/person/day which is less than what the energy used for transportation alone (40kw/person/day).


200m^2 at 500w/m2 * 8 hours a day x 20% efficency = 160kwh. Which you could get in the UK using mid range solar cells right now. 50% would get you 400kwh.

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.


That analysis uses solar panels with 10% efficiency in its calculations...


10% efficiency is about right for low cost solar cells that have been out in open air for a while. 20% is about right for affordable single crystal cells, and the theoretical maximum efficiency for silicon is 33%.

Getting significantly better than 10% is very expensive. Getting beyond about 25% is currently well beyond feasible for large scale power generation.


Most new panels announced these days top 20% efficiency[1]. Output is guaranteed to 90% after 10 years, 80% after 20, real world often better[2].

[1] https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Is-SolarCitys-N...

[2] http://sroeco.com/solar/solar-efficiency-losses-over-time/


Note that this doesn't included the price of building the reactors (!). A little research will show what a big cost that is.


What's wrong with importing power?


Britain is in very good spot from renewable energy generation point of view. It has lots of wind, tidal and some solar energy too. Countries next to it have worse situation considering renewables and have just as high population density. Importing works if you accept producing electricity for Britain with nuclear power plants located in France or Belgium.


I love that book. It really opened my eyes to how big the energy problem is.


These cost comparisons don't take into account reliability. Power is almost useless if it's not reliable. A large part of your monthly bill goes towards reliablility and transport of power, not just the power itself.

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.


the obvious solution is batteries, which improve all sources of power generation including traditional ones by serving as support during peak times. in principle you only need <average energy used per house> stored per house during night time, which may be a much lower bar than it sounds. if the utilities serve a role later it may just be them acting as high-volume energy storage facilities, but even that might not really be necessary if individuals can make money by investing in extra batteries.

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.


Batteries aren't the only solution here. Any kind of efficient energy storage will work. For example LightSail Energy has been working on compressed air storage for several years now.


There is another interesting class of power storage called "pumped-storage hydroelectricity" [1] - for example - there is one in use in Missouri that actually burst in 2005 [2]. Li-ion batteries have a round-trip efficiency of 80-90% - pumped-storage has ~70-80%.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricit...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taum_Sauk_Hydroelectric_Power_...


I'm all for innovation in storage and think there might be a breakthrough at some point. But this goes to the heart of it. Right now a fully renewable grid that matches what we currently have is not financially viable. Not saying it won't become so at some point but it's a high hurdle. All things considered having close to 100% reliable electricity in every home in America for less than ~$100/month is hard to compete with.


That totally makes sense -- although renewable energy and energy storage have been making huge strides recently, let's assume that no further improvements will happen.


Not questioning whether innovation can and will occur. Question is whether the innovations to be developed can compete with what is the present reality which is ~10cents/kWh price that we currently pay for power.

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.


> cheap

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.

> Idealists

It's easy to be an idealist when your lifestyle already benefits from massive amounts of cheap energy. As Hans Rosling[1] 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.
  
[1] https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing...


Yes, it makes about as much sense as the assumption by many renewables advocates that nuclear technology can't improve.


I don't disagree with your fundamental premise, but "would require an equal amount of backup power" sounds like hyperbole. I haven't read any proposal for "100% replacement" that doesn't take into account energy storage solutions.

I think it's perfectly reasonable to question those solutions, but an equal amount of traditional power generation as backup seems excessive.


Case in point is a very cloudy day with no wind. Depending on where it is demand could be very high if it's cold out and heaters are running full blast. You will essentially need a full load supply to come from somewhere or you'll get rolling blackouts. Some regions can compensate with importing or hydro but otherwise you would have to power up the coal and gas. Batteries could maybe work in the future but again this would drastically increase the cost.


Flow batteries dramatically change the cost calculations for energy storage, and are here now.

Additionally, most areas are increasingly moving towards decentralised generation which changes the calculations too.


Scaling down power generation when demand is low is not something nuclear is good at. Battery or energy storage systems that could store excess power from the grid would help any sort of power generation technique become more efficient and reliable.

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.


As a species, we have been generating electricity by nuclear fission for 60 years, and in the process, have produced hundreds of thousands of tons of extraordinarily toxic waste. In all that time, no one has found a final resting place for it. Only one serious DGR has even begun construction— and that's Onkalo (Finland), set to begin receiving waste in 2020, should things go to plan.

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?


The more radioactive something is, the shorter the half-life. High-level nuclear waste from spent fuel rods has three components:

- 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.


> Scaling down power generation when demand is low is not something nuclear is good at.

Isn't that what control rods do?


They control the reaction within the reactor, and in newer reactors can be used to regulate load. France & Germany do have a load following system in place for their nuclear reactors. It's not a simple matter of turning off a reactor, as this is a large maintenance task. Various mechanisms and regulations have been developed to handle load following for a Nuclear plant. There are still negatives to doing this, such as reduced efficiency, additional operator training, and additional wear on control, fuel and the plant. Positives likely outweigh the negatives, but the reactor must be designed to do load following and regulations need to be in place to ensure it is done safely. It is another thing to consider when talking about the cost of nuclear.


I don't think you framed it correctly. What matters is always matching the consumption curve.

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. :)


That's why I think nuclear and solar are a good combination: nuclear baseload and solar for extra daytime demand. It won't match consumption perfectly, but it'll do better than either technology alone.


A large enough HVDC grid would almost totally eliminate the need for backup power. There's always wind or sun somewhere and HVDC transmission losses are <5% per 1,000mi. It's possible to build a grid where pumped and battery storage alone can smoothen out any fluctuations.


Then you'd need a global network for sun at night, which has correspondingly greater challenges in terms of coordination and "booting" it back up.


This! In my opinion Thiel does not think far enough and doesn't talk about the real question: Is fission even (economically) competitive? In my opinion (and from what I've read on this subject), it is not and won't be in the foreseeable future.

I will quote myself [1]:

>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?).

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10143081


> Is fission even (economically) competitive?

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.


This times one hundred. Nuclear in the West is far more expensive than places like China and Vietnam not because western plants are better or safer but because they face incredible legal and regulatory hurdles designed to appease people's irrational fears.


I call bullshit on that. Nuclear safety is not to be taken lightly. The reason we haven't had more disasters than we've currently had is precisely because people working in the field take this stuff deeply seriously. And they need to.

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.


We haven't really had any disasters, compared to the damage coal and oil do to our environment, and also compared to the semi-regular industrial accidents that happen in the coal/oil industry.

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?)


> Nuclear safety is not to be taken lightly.

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.


Shure, China is atm mostly using a more than 30 year old design bought from france and everyone knows safety is not their primary concern.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_China#Reactor...


Yes, that French design that has such a horrible safety record in France. Oh wait, it has an excellent record and France is still exporting power from those designs. And I don't think everyone knows that safety is not their primary concern. What other country shoots CEO's in the head when they put citizens at risk with poisoned products or environmental disasters?


Wie already know the flaws of this design, that's why there are newer safer designs like the epr are build or planned in the west. You can drive around in a 30 year old car without problem, but most people would prefer the safety standards oft today. And chinas track record in other parts of the energy business show that shooting that one CEO isn't that big of a help. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_coal_mining_accident...


The problem is probably the newer designs don't have as many successful rollouts. And when spending 10 years and billions, predictability is important. But after Googling around, I do see France has some non-trivial issues with Chinese safety issues.


> 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.

Do you have a source for this as the new EPR reactor in finland is aboud three times as expensive as planned?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olkiluoto_Nuclear_Power_Plant#...


> the new EPR reactor in finland

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?


Here in Germany we used a salt mine to dispose of our nuclear waste, which backfired, to say the least. [1]

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" [2]:

>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!"

[1]http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-weighs-o...

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Big_Piece_of_Garbage


I didn't see any evidence in that article that the waste was causing problems in the salt mine. Why is it considered safer to remove it?


It was deemed that it was going to cause problems in th elong term, that's why it was cdecided to remove the waste and store it somewhere else. You can't really plan ahead for the periods that long.


neither are base line power. Storage solutions, as in batteries, do not make me think that the hazards of such large scale deployments of lithium based solutions to be better than more advanced reactor designs we don't use for political reasons.


HMD vortex generator is so disruptive tech for existing energy market that Gritskevitch was offered to abandon his schematics for a lump sum in the late 90-ies. Fortunately his ideas met understanding of Al Gore and inventor now works in the US. But I hear no news about his US based dynamos. upd: Oleg died. This is great loss for humanity. His son has know how and is looking for 10M investment http://www.padrak.com/vesperman/HMD_Presentation.ppt


Hmm. I hate to play the skeptic, but this "HMD vortex generator" looks like a cold fusion device. It somehow fuses deuterium nuclei into alpha particles while their electrons fall out and are harvested. On top of that, the slideshow claims that the rupture of the hydrogen bonds in water generates electricity (!).

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.


Lazard link: https://www.lazard.com/media/1777/levelized_cost_of_energy_-...

They have a tendency to break links, so a community-oriented individual might feel inclined to save/cache the link ;)



I remember seeing a lecture in which someone examines all possible energy sources, going through a list of features that an energy source needs to be able to sustain a future we want to live in, but I can't remember what it was called, who it was by, or where it was from...


Upvoting this. I must add, we had not uncovered the solar yet, and we barely scratched the potential of HMD generators. Also thorium is quite abundant in Morocco.


The key problem in my mind is the failure of project management in building reactors.

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.


Nuclear plants are also central points of failures, the plant itself needn't even fail, just the electrical distribution from it and you lose 1~6GW.

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.


There's a great deal of engineering/economic appeal to factory made modular reactors, but the weak point is you'd need a cultural shift for people to not be freaked out about having lots of small reactors everywhere.


Also political shift is needed. Currently in Finland you need parliament permission for any new nuclear plant. If you are likely to get only one permission every 8 years, you have to go big to have any impact. Which seems to be the reason why Olkiluoto-3 got so big. Which seems to have contributed to the schedule fuck ups from day one.

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.


On the one hand yes, on the other hand you don't need prime estate locations (coastal and riverside) to cool down SMRs and they're way less noticeable than hectares of nuke plants, so to an extent your can put them everywhere yet not in anyone's backyard.


Cultural shifts are funcion of political will.


Absolutely, but don't discount the FUD. Much as people fear an airplane crash more than a car crash, the prospect of nuclear power is far more terrifying to most than just another coal plant. It's not enough that the coal plant is orders of magnitude more deadly, it's the perception. Even the image the NYT used will convey to many a disregard for life, pumping harmful radiation into our environment, rather than merely a large cooling tower releasing water vapor. Fear is a VERY big deal.

And once you get past fear and perception, there's NIMBYism.


I think the big fear of nuclear power is because we don't know how to handle catastrophic risks.

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.


> With coal power you will have a few dead mine workers.

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.)


Do you have sources for radioactivity in coal ash? It's not that I believe you (I do!) I would just like info to share with others.

Unrelated - I'm sorry I downvoted you - stupid tiny hit box on mobile. I meant to upvote.



There's this SciAm article, but the title is sensationalized and highly misleading; be sure to read the whole article, including the editor's note at the end.

> http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coal-ash-is-more-r...


Why is it that Fukushima isn't an argument _for_ nuclear power, considering the plant even closer to the epicenter came through with flying colors?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onagawa_Nuclear_Power_Plant


From the article :P

>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.


I think the fundamental thing is that it is not a rational fear--nuclear is associated with bombs that flatten cities and radiation is, to many people, a simply scary unknown that they can't touch, smell, or see, but which might kill them. (Many of the people I've met who were against nuclear power didn't really emotionally understand radiation as something you get some of every day anyways--it's a bogeyman that gives you either cancer or superpowers.)

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.


You can filter the output of coal plants and that does help a lot. In the US coal only kills 15 people per terawatt-hour compared to 150 in China. But a coal plant generating as much power as Fukushima did will still tend to kill about 20 people even with safer US style plants. If you add up all the coal power in the US that's about 20,000 deaths per year. More or less the same order of magnitude as the damage from Chernobyl. But of course that's normal and doesn't make the news.


> while being told that nuclear is 100% safe

When were you ever told that?

I've been hearing all my life how risky and scary nuclear power is.


Let's put it this way, most coal plants release so much nuclear waste that if you could capture the uranium and thorium released you could generate more power with it than the coal it came from.


is this meant to be performance art where you demonstrate how easy it is to appear to know something but really know less than nothing? literally your entire post is devoid of facts and reason.


> Nobody is going to put up billions of dollars unless there is some predictability in terms of cost and schedule.

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.


Yes and no.

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.


It is simply not possible. They know that, so they lie.


It is a shame that we went all in on uranium reactor technology (so we could make bombs) instead of further pursuing liquid fluoride thorium reactors, which are much safer.

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...


Where are we at with nuclear fusion? At this time, the only promising progress I know of is happening at Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks[1] where they are developing a truck-sized 100 MW [corrected from Mhz] power plant in an incremental, iterative fashion and claiming to have something operational by 2020.

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.

1. http://www.eweek.com/news/lockheed-martin-claims-sustainable...


ITER (located in France) will build a fusion device to produce net energy, in the next few years - 50MW input and 500 MW output. The project has about €13 Billion investment committed.

Perhaps we're on the edge of a new energy area.

https://www.iter.org/proj/inafewlines


but what does "in the next few years" really mean?

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.


Fusion will change everything if we can actually make it work for our general power generation needs. Unfortunately, it's one of those technologies that is always going to arrive "soon".

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.


All things considered, ITER is much more likely to lead to commercial fusion.


[deleted]


Even if all they do is solve some of the problems with magnetic bottles, which apparently is the primary focus of their current research, then that would be most helpful toward future implementations.

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.


If it works at all that would be a breakthrough of truly epic proportions. So I'd be more than fine with that.


While I agree with the basic argument that we are hurting ourselves with an irrational aversion to nuclear power, some of Thiel's arguments seem weak or overreaching. The worst, in my estimation, is this:

> 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.


A bit more than 50

>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

http://allthingsnuclear.org/lgronlund/how-many-cancers-did-c...?


These claims are from a well-known anti-nuclear organization (Union Of Concerned Scientists).


I wasn't aware, thanks for the info!


It is an apples to oranges comparison, but wouldn't the honest comparison would come out about the same?

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.


The problem with the coal vs. nuclear pollution impact is the liability structure. With a coal death, there is no easily identifiable responsible entity. With a nuclear accident, there would be a line around the courthouse: irradiated and condemned properties, cleanup costs, claimed deaths, etc. This cost translates to insurance and regulatory overhead.

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.


Currently only France, US, and Russia can build reactors for energy, but these are using U or Pu in different flavours. This fuel is hard to get. China can't afford that kind of fuel in quanities it will need. This is why China backs breakthrough research in Th fission, delivered by Norway. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the future.


We have 4x more Thorium on Earth than Uran, 1 gram Thorium gives 3x more energy than Uran and has a shorter halft-time, this means it produces less radioctive waste. The problem is, that a Th-plant can not be used to produce nuclear weapons. That shows that we have a political crisis and not an energy crisis. If Japan wouldn't be afraid to build his nuclear plants on the west-coast (protected from tsunamis but easy to get hit by a chinese rocket), Fokushima still would be a nice place to live.


Well, U is 10x more common element than Sn. Not just sny U isotope is good for fuel. But you are not quite right. Thorium fuels can breed fissile uranium-233 to be used in various kinds of nuclear reactors.


How does this compare to what Elon Musk says about solar power? In this presentation he shows that a reasonable amount of area could power the entire US (if we used roof tops etc for solar panels).

Is that not feasible?

https://youtu.be/yKORsrlN-2k?t=187


It's not feasible, no. The "reasonable area" is on the order of all the concrete in the world. You have to duplicate civilization but with precision electronic devices instead of stone.[1] Musk is, unfortunately, not thinking outside his prejudices on the subject of energy systems. In all fairness, this is very common. Discourse on energy systems in our culture is closer to religion than engineering.

[1] http://lumma.org/energy/EnergyLCA.html


Not if you live outside the sunbelt. Distribution of electricity is hardly free


US has lots of sunny areas with little people, agriculture or wildlife, but UK doesn't. Many European countries are dense and cloudy.

It can still help.


I'm surprised they don't invest in production just south in North Africa, it would be pretty trivial to lay cables across to Gibraltar. They would of course have to do it with a sense of economic fairness and fairly pay the countries in money and technology / education transfer.



It's quite unstable politically.

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.


As much as the causes at Chernobyl can be attributed to the poor quality of the systems installed and of incorrect safety procedures, it shows that bad things can indeed happen, simply saying that they were caused by incompetence doesn't prove nuclear power is safe. Likewise stating that "fewer than 50" died at Chernobyl, while possibly true (referring to the immediate area), is a severe understatement of the crisis. All european countries were forced to react, radioactive dust sent up into the air by the fires was carried across the continent and whole crops had to be destroyed. The low figure of consequential deaths is thanks to a large and costly effort to prevent further problems. Much like Fukushima. This article is reverse fear mongering and it is just as wrong, nuclear energy is without a doubt an incredible resource and the pros objectively outway the cons compared to fossil fuels, and the claim that the gap left open by insufficient adoption of renewable energy can be closed by nuclear in the meantime is a valid one, downplaying the dangers of nuclear however is not the correct way to move forward.


I think that recent initiative by YC under sam to invest in startups that may herald breakthroughs in sustainable fission is a great start. This should lead to a healthy competition which so far has been missing since it used to be a government only venture for a long time.


I'm not convinced that YC is the vehicle through which the next major breakthrough in the field of energy generation will be conceived.

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 :)


That equation changes when you move to a sustainable society.

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.

https://runvnc.github.io/tinyvillage


I love this idea of tiny houses and 1-person vehicles!

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!


Right, thanks for pointing that out. I have had similar thoughts about public transportation and apartments which is part of what lead to this idea.

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.


Coal plan produces more radioactivity than nuclear plant. There are radioactive elements in coal and they get released in smoke into atmosphere.


This old one again. As someone who's actually worked in the nuclear energy industry, it's a common but wrong refrain... diffusion of petrochem radioactivity is much less of a liability than the very real, concentrated dangers of radioisotopes, even factoring in all of the other many negatives of coal.


Negative externalities?

It would be great to concentrate all pollution from ocean, land and air into single place. And I do not mean CO2.


I'm in the middle of reading a great book on geoengineering, Oliver Morton's The Planet Remade. Engagingly written and comprehensive; I recommend it highly. From the introduction:

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.


I'd actually say that delivering one large power station per week is a fairly unambitious goal, and that if the will were there, globally, dozens of plants could be onlined per day.

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.


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.


Everything is a finite resource, the sun isn't going to last forever either.


The Economist just recently published an article on geoengineering. If you read between the lines it's actually very scary stuff.

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.'

http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21678963-man-ma...


This is why I can't stand talking to most enviros they claim on one hand that cc will end humanity and then claim geoengineering is too dangerous...


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).

That's extremely hard to believe. Does he show the math?


Let's se... According to [1], world electric power generation from coal in 2014 was 8726 TWh. The largest nuclear power plant in the US, Palo Verde, delivers on average 3.3 GW [2], or 365243.3 = 28908 GWh/year. So you would need 8726/28.9 = 302 nuclear power plants of that size to replace all coal plants. At a rate of one per week, it would take less than six years.

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.

[1] http://www.tsp-data-portal.org/Breakdown-of-Electricity-Gene...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palo_Verde_Nuclear_Generating_...


Interesting, thanks. What confused me is that we've all seen pie charts like the one at http://www.tsp-data-portal.org/Breakdown-of-Electricity-Gene... that show the relative "market share" of various energy sources with nuclear playing a significant but not dominant role. In this case it's 11% nuclear, 39% coal. It's easy but incorrect to assume that the number of plants of each type is proportional.

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.)


No, but I see on Wikipedia: In 2007 there were over 50,000 active coal plants worldwide and this number is expected to grow. [0] One nuke plant a week for 20 years would be 1000 plants. So the numbers don't seem unreasonable at all.

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.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil-fuel_power_station#Envi...


The math is rather easy, it is however questionable what you define as one of the largest nuclear power plants. Most power plants have multiple units, if you take the power per unit you more or less end up with 20 years.

Capacity of large nuclear power plant unit: ~1 GWe [1] Total world electricity consumption is 20,900 TWh/year [2], 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.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_power_stations [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_energy_consumption


According to Wikipedia ([1]), the world energy consumption is on the order of 20 TW. A typical Russian nuclear reactor outputs 1 GW ([2]). It gives us 20000 reactors to cover the current human needs. It seems that the math is correct.

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.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_consumption

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_reactors#Russi...


Nuclear Fission is not a plug and play solution either. Unlike other possible solutions like a breakthrough in mass energy storage, we know that fission could satisfy our needs. But it will still require some 30 years of investment to figure out the new breed of reactors and where to source the fuel from.


> Nuclear Fission is not a plug and play solution either.

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.


It can be if it's standardized as Taylor Wilson suggests... build uniform, low pressure, high temp molten salt reactors in a factory.


After reading this, I still have mixed feelings about nuclear. On the one hand, we have an overhang of old-tech nuclear power that is dangerously obsolete, poorly run, and insanely expensive to build, run, and clean up after.

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?


In 1949 the federal government built a test facility at Idaho National Laboratory to study and evaluate new nuclear reactor designs. We owe our nuclear power industry to the foresight of those New Dealers, and we need their openness to innovation again today.

Thiel is a self-described conservative libertarian.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Thiel#Political_activiti...


My grandfather died with multiple cancers plus pulmonary fibrosis caused by multiple exposures he received while working in DoE facilities in the early-mid 1950s. In those facilities there were basically no safety procedures. Safe nuclear power was not a goal; more nuclear weapons was the goal. It's no surprise that TFA exaggerates the "foresight" of the damned "New Dealers". They were just like Thiel is, looking to make bank off a public that's not always paying attention. He will feel no more guilt about it than I do for driving on public highways.


I'm sorry for your grandfather but what does that have to do with anything happening today? You think safety standards and understanding of risks are still the same today as in the 1950s?


Perhaps it's a small point, but I wished to counter TFA's false claim that "nuclear New Dealers" possessed any admirable sort of foresight. Do you think the publicly-stated level of safety standards is less exaggerated today than it was back then?


Why not simply outlaw nonrenewable energy sources over ten years or so? Problem solved.

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?


> simply

Browse the FEC website for contributions from oil & coal companies to 2016 candidates. That's why it won't be simple.


I am presupposing that you really want to get rid of fossil fuels. If the people making the decisions prefer to keep oil and coal in business for whatever reasons than the discussion is pretty pointless to begin with, no matter what alternative you are discussing.


This reminds me of the episode of Star Trek where Data asks Q how to solve a problem and Q answers, "Simple — change the gravitational constant of the universe."


Does somebody know if nuclear power will actually be an improvement for the environment (only considering temperature here)? Essentially you just release heat which is stored as mass.

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.


Not an expert but the temperature of the earth is the equilibrium temperature between the amount of energy received and the amount of energy emitted into space. Human energy consumption is four order of magnitude smaller than the energy received from the sun, so the anthropic effect is not really important. Greenhouse gases on the other hand have a significant effect because they prevent radiating a fraction of all the energy, no matter whether received from the sun our set free by human activity.


Thanks, makes complete sense now to me.


All energy sources carry the same essential thermodynamic burden. The difference is that nuclear doesn't also emit green house gases.


I highly doubt your first statement. Solar, for example, is no burden since if you do nothing it would land on earth anyway.

For fossil fuels you release chemically stored energy as heat. The same applies for nuclear power. Which is an additional thermodynamic burden...


That is true but human energy consumption is still insignificant compared to solar radiation - about a factor of 10,000 according to numbers I just looked up on Wikipedia - so even if we get everything from fossil sources that doesn't make a big dent in the energy balance.


Greenhouse gases matter. The heat generated by power plants etc is irrelevant.

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.


YC has two nuclear start ups: Helion and UPower. How are they doing? What is their path to prominence?


Any technology that requires political machinations to work is a non-starter.

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.


Coincidence that this article is released at the same time as the youtube/google petition campaign?


He does not mention bombs. I'm certainly no expert here, but I think I read in the book An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore a long time ago, that if you have the ability to build a nuclear power plant, then building a bomb is not very hard.

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.


Having nuclear reactors doesn't mean your country can build them. For most countries it would almost certainly be cheaper to just import them from whoever offers you the best deal. Countries with nuclear reactor export industries include China, Russia, France, and South Korea, so there's some decent competition here.


You are probably correct that it would be cheaper to purchase nuclear power plants from others, rather than developing yourself. I'm thinking though - maybe many countries would be reluctant to rely on foreigners for something this essential.


It's actually easier to build production reactors (for weapons) than power reactors.


I have a feeling Mr Thiel didn't cosider important facts.

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.


I like how Thiel writes his sentences about safety, to avoid saying anything wrong. I invite him to spend the rest of his life in Chernobyl or Fukushima.

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 ...


Hydro Dams cause immense catastrophe when they fail. They have killed far more people than Nuclear power. According to Wikipedia, the failure of a single Dam in China caused:

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.


The planet will survive well. We'll be screwed.


0 people have died in the US as a result nuclear power. Chernobyl failed because its operators turned off the emergency failsafe system in order to do a test of the reactor, which was also botched. Look up the Linear no-threshold model of radiation. There's no statistically significant evidence that radiation exposure of even 1000 millirem (average US dosage is 360 millrem, and 2/3rds of that is from natural radiation such as the sun and rocks) has negative health effects.

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.


0 people have died in the US as a result [sic] nuclear power.

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.


I am afraid that the real goal of at least 50% of climate change activists is not clean energy, but the disruption of current elite and wealth redistribution by taxation vs value creation. It is because of these 50% the realistic proposals like Peter's will not fly politically.


In my country, green organizations, including the local branch of WWF are nothing more than extortion artists. They rally young, impressionable people by spreading FUD. They block ski lift projects and drum the media on all sorts of nonsense and broker their power to influence current political agenda or for money (when they run out). Most were created by ex-intelligence slightly before or after The Wall fell. It's disgusting.


+500. WWF, SSNC, Green Peace they are all selling FUD for a price 'one p#ss for one green piece'.


You are probably right, although there is at least a grain of sense in it.

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.


Wait, what? Why do you think climate change is about wealth redistribution? Aren't you concerned at how much it will cost to protect all the cities on our coastlines if climate change is right? That's sure going to redistribute some wealth if we do nothing.


While the overall issue is not about redistribution in the traditional sense, the battle lines often are.

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.


Was it a "redistribution of wealth" when paint makers were told "hey, stop making paints with lead in them, people are getting hurt"?

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.


As to your first point: I agree with you, both redistribution of wealth and regulating companies can be very good (even necessary) things.

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.


Well, at the time the OP mentioned it, I had never heard of people choosing a position on climate change just because of who would get hurt by the process of addressing it. I still have never heard an example, and I've certainly never spoken to such a person.

I'm not disputing your experience. Some people are just contrary.


There are better ways to redistribute wealth. And I find your ">50%" statistic to be unreasonably exaggerated.


Fossil fuel companies have already priced in eventual recovery of their reserves, added it to their value and communicated this to the market (with what incomplete information they reveal). Fighting to keep it in the ground is already wealth distribution. It reminds one of the story where you ask a person if they'll sleep with you for a million bucks, why not 10,000, since you've already established what they are, now you're just haggling over the price.


Says the man taking a Straussian at face value.


Thiel skips the fact that Chernobyl is uninhabitable for thousands of years (save bloggers on motorcycles), all of the dispossessed persons and extra 40k+ cancer deaths. Plus Fukashima. Big PWR/BWR reactors will always be too inherently dangerous because of high pressures and too expensive to build, regulate and insure (in the US, without insurance and NRC approval, there is no project). And the risks of dual-purpose reactors and long-term storage for large amounts of waste.

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


Bro, I worked in Gomel for 4 years and spent 2 field seasons in 'Chernobyl radioactive wasteland'. Relax, life is ok there. Just do not eat local apple seeds in the 80+ Ci/sq km zone. Pulp for cider is OK.


Forgive my skepticism, but Mr. Thiel did not offer to live near a reactor. For someone with his obvious intelligence, his oversight could not have been accidental. Does he fear the radiation or the decline in property value?

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.


> Forgive my skepticism, but Mr. Thiel did not offer to live near a reactor.

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?


Actually the late USSR had a technology of small fully automatic single loaded reactors for long-term supply of electric power in middle-size cities. Fully sealed unit. After use (decades) - you just cover it with a lawn. But back then the USSR had enough fuel in production. Right now the know how in Russia is lost and nuclear fuel generation is very weak. Also HMD generator by Oleg Gritckevitch was very promising. The town in Armenia was fed by electricity generated by a small prototype in 1988.


You mean like the Toshiba 4S? Most countries have designs for awesome stuff (at least on paper), which is never implemented for various reasons.


Have a look on early woRking prototypes of self-driving version for circumpolar regions http://cont.ws/post/128573


Huh, that's really interesting. Truly land (and sea) mobile nuclear power plants - I wonder why they gave up on them?

Seems like an awesome idea for powering remote locations, for sure.

Maybe they were deemed unsafe for military operations?



Right now Russia builds in St. Petersburg the first small fully automatic floating nuclear power plant. Up to 70 MW output. Saves 200Kt of coal from burning for every year of its use.


What happened to it during the earthquake?


This http://www.google.co.uk/patents/US20040168716. Upd: Oleg died. His son has the know how. Armenian reactor was destroyed during the civil war. See also this http://www.padrak.com/vesperman/HMD_Presentation.ppt


For some reason this reminded me of Anton and Ivan Vanko. Hopefully Tony Stark will stop fomenting regional conflict and just let Ivan get to work. b^)


In this particular case Tony lured Ivan to US, swamped his efforts, Ivan being not familiar with fund raising and PR, hoped that brilliance of his invention will shine through any sh#t. It did not.


Er, this is a cold fusion claim, is it not?


nope, this is different completely. the Gritskevitch idea is to get electric current from magnetism of liquid toroid propelling without friction. This was built in the late USSR. Two proof of concepts in Vladivostok, and one fully operational >2MW HMD generator in Armenia. The PPT I found at padrak with google search contains actual contacts of the son of the inventor. Yes, it's the odd place, but it seems, American Association of Clean Energy is not existing yet, so cannot host such things. I cry, when such tech is marginalized. Unfortunately for us, PR genius rarely shares the engineering brain, Tesla was an exception.


yes. Go solar and wind. England can trade something for clean energy.


you mean 'financial services', right?


That would be Andrew Carnegie. Dale Carnegie I suppose is more like a confidence man than a robber baron.


I didn't know the author of _How to Win Friends and Influence People_ was a robber baron.


You are going to be downvoted.

Silicon Valley billionaire-nerd-emperors don't like to be informed about their absence of clothes.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: