When Chernobyl blew up, it was obviously a stupid Soviet design, with stupid operating personnel. But now we've got new reactors, they are safe! Nothing could ever happen!
Then Fukushima blew up. That was obviously okay, because it was a Tsunami in conjunction with a few other improbable acts, and we obviously can't expect the nuclear industry to plan for that!
So we're now in the next round. Again, we're totally safe. We've got passive reactors. Really disruptive (g) tech!
I'm sorry, I said it before and I said it again: proponents of nuclear energy have either been lying to us every single time over the last decades, or they can't really manage nuclear energy.
I don't care which one it is, and I don't care whether they believe nuclear energy is safe now. They have been playing with catastrophes of a magnitude we can't really comprehend, and the best they manage to do is "it could have been even worse" and "we promise this was the last time".
As far as I'm concerned, I'm all for making sure it was the last time.
Chernobyl's RBMK design is so dangerous that I'd call it borderline criminal - the experiments done in the night of the accident were the apex of recklessness, and the government's response was.... well, Sovietic.
Of course no matter how well you design it, people will fuck up and use it the wrong way and ignore maintenances and safety margins. And this only accounts extreme stupidity and dysfunctional management - it does not even consider deliberate attempts to blow the damn thing up (actually the Chernobyl tests could be considered that, but i mean an absolute nightmare scenario like a takeover by technically competent terrorists)
Which is why you need to take all these chances into account, add a level 9 tsunami, a comet, a once in 100000 years quake, Godzilla, a zombie apocalypse, Stuxnet, wanacry, the second coming of Christ, the Rapture, North Korea, Dr Strangelove and a dangerously bored Trump, and you engineer everything to be still impossible to blow up.
Which is what we have actually been doing. They're not getting built because certifying a new design is horribly expensive, and the anti-nuclear opposition would limit their deployment, making them anti economical, but no, we haven't stopped improving them.
Unfortunately we still run the old ones, which, like a car built in the 60s, would be so much less safe to not even be legal nowadays, but you need to take into account that they're on the road.
China is deploying some new ones, and that might cause them to be adopted in the western world (I hope).
We badly need something to bridge the gap between now and when renewables+batteries can completely fulfill demand, because meanwhile fossile fuel plants get deployed instead, and we are really fucking up the planet with those.
Here's an old comment backing this up with sources: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13349940
> China is deploying some new ones, and that might cause them to be adopted in the western world (I hope).
If the Chinese end up leading the way to a fission-powered future, it will be a great thing for the world. Don't forget the safety features!
Good thing that companies in the US never do anything that's borderline criminal.
We know that using fossil fuels will kill a few people every day, eventually adding up to a large number, as well as causing widespread, low-grade damage to the environment. On the other hand, nuclear has the potential to kill a moderate number of people at once if something goes horribly wrong, and cause severe damage to the environment of a small area.
It seems to me that a preference for more deaths and environmental damage overall because they happen a little at a time instead of in a catastrophic event is not rational.
Many people are afraid of terrorism and plane crashes and sex crimes, but are still driving to work in a car.
That said, this kind of risk response might be an evolutionary adaption. Better have a threat that slowly kills individual members of the tribe (allows escape or replacement of losses) than something that is outside your control to respond to and wipes the whole tribe.
You mention Chernobyl and Fukushima - but those only stand out because the effects were concentrated in time and space (happened all at once and afflicted specific geographical regions).
The deleterious health effects of coal, oil, and natural gas are more diffuse. They don't make such good news stories and there's really no way to build an interested narrative around them. The effects evolve over time, the geographic impact is not as concentrated, and importantly there is a much stronger probabilistic element - the human brain has a hard time processing this, but it has an easy time processing nuclear dangers.
Also, Chernobyl and Fukushima never "blew up". There are myths that many still believe today that a nuclear power plant can explode like a nuclear bomb (it can't). You seem to be attempting to stroke that fear with your wording whereas what you really mean is "melted down" or "failed".
Regardless, each generation of nuclear power plant is safer than the last. Some of the newest designs require reactions to be explicitly maintained and when that stops or fails it stops the reaction. What you seem to be suggesting is that, because there were past failures that have caused damage to surrounding areas and people, that we should never try to make further progress.
A failed nuclear power plant can indeed explode like a nuclear bomb and it is generally believed that explosion #2 (there were two major explosions) at chernobyl was the result of a criticality and analogous to "the explosion of a fizzled nuclear weapon.":
"The force of the second explosion, and the ratio of xenon radioisotopes released during the event, indicate that the second explosion could have been a nuclear power transient; the result of the melting core material, in the absence of its cladding, water coolant and moderator, undergoing runaway prompt criticality similar to the explosion of a fizzled nuclear weapon. This nuclear excursion released 40 billion joules of energy, the equivalent of about ten tons of TNT. The analysis indicates that the nuclear excursion was limited to a small portion of the core."
Consider: in a meltdown, which you refer to, the fissile material could accumulate in arbitrary dimensions, many of which could achieve criticality. At that time it becomes a (very crude) atomic weapon. If that criticality is not interrupted it will indeed explode.
Your statement seems to oppose itself. Fizzled would not be like a nuclear bomb so I don't quite understand what you're trying to refer to here. There is a reason the paper uses the word "fizzled". A nuclear power plant does not contain the necessary materials or force to create a nuclear fission explosion.
Remember, the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 13,000t to 18,000t TNT but the explosion at Chernobyl released some radiation and exploded with 10t TNT.
There are a few orders of magnitude between "fizzled nuclear weapon" and a "nuclear bomb".
In magnitude, certainly - but the process (explosion resulting from criticality) is the same.
Your notion that nuclear plant accidents do not cause explosions (they have) and that those explosions cannot be similar to atomic bombs (they can be) is incorrect.
I am not categorically opposed to nuclear power. I just think it's worth getting these things right - especially when the well known details of the highest profile nuclear accident are in opposition to your claim(s).
No, this is not true. The uranium isn't enriched enough to do this in a nuclear power plant. Check out your own citation above it's a great read.
> Your notion that nuclear plant accidents do not cause explosions (they have)
I never stated this. In fact we talked about the explosions at chernobyl above in this comment chain.
> that those explosions cannot be similar to atomic bombs (they can be) is incorrect.
The explosions were not similar in that they were not explosions using uncontrolled fission material to cause a reaction in enriched uranium.
They were similar in that an explosion occurred that tossed up lots of fission material, similar to what a nuclear weapon would do when exploded but uranium did not itself explode.
> especially when the well known details of the highest profile nuclear accident are in opposition to your claim(s).
The two well known disasters, chernobyl and fukushima, were very, very old power plants. Fukushima, as far as I can tell, was not fully updated to any of the standard designs in the past 2-3 decades (only retrofitting here and there).
Given that I'm not sure what you are referring to or how those two accidents are in opposition to any of my claims.
Did you even read the article? Statistics show you that nuclear is safer. Coal/oil/etc actually kill about 1000× more people than nuclear per TWh generated.
The last part has been proven untrue time and again. Every single time nuclear proponents said "that cannot happen" and after it happened they found a new fallback position "okay, that could happen, but it cannot ever get worse".
Not to mention these are 50yo plants, and new ones are just better (whether or not you believe the tests/physics behind that).
It is disingenuous to claim nuclear plant safety is getting worse.
The US Navy has operated hundreds of reactors for decades 24/7.
But this is irrelevant. I'm just saying that you do a comparison, you need to take into consideration risks, too. Otherwise buying any kind of insurance looks pretty irrational.
Some of the areas within 30 km exclusion zone still have levels of radiation too high for people to live there, and will remain high for hundreds of years.
It matters what the worst-case outcome is. I don't downplay it with some statistic about how rare it would be.
Nuclear power is always sold on the best case or average case calculation. Because the worst case is probably so bad that it dominates the whole calculation.
We really don't know what to do about it other than bury it and leave it for a few tens to hundreds of generations in the future to deal with with the hope that they will know what to do.
So it's the safest option. But only for now. We might just be dooming our descendants to deal with the mess and they might be in a worse state than we are now.
Hell Thorium-based reactors could theoretically generate the same energy while being much safer and producing orders of magnitude less waste. But as of yet support for actually building one has been tepid at best.
The issue is nuclear energy is so risky that only nation-states are willing to underwrite the creation of plants. As a result regulations on plant design tend to be extremely conservative, so innovation is brought to a crawl. On top of that the origins of nuclear energy is weapons research, the waste was the original objective. So the most proven model of reactor is the one that produces the most waste. Put the two together and we're left with the simplest, least efficient design: light-water reactors.
Nuclear can be viable, but the government will have to grow some balls and take some extra risk. We could really use another Musk or Bezos to take on Nuclear Power the same way the former two are taking on space.
The lack of production thorium reactors, over half a century since the first experimental reactor was built, suggests to me that there are serious complications that thorium proponents are missing out on. On paper, it seems ideal. So why has nobody built one? Don't wave silly treehugger regulations at me, because it's not just the US and Europe - Russia and China, with rather less concern for safety and rather less regulatory process than us, aren't building them either. Even India, with a third of the world's thorium, is just now in the process of bringing on their first thorium reactor.
The problem isn't "grow some balls". The problem is taking an honest look at the situation and ditching the wishful thinking.
A Thorium or Uranium based liquid fuel molten salt reactor is incredibly save and highly viable for civilian power generation.
> The lack of production thorium reactors, over half a century since the first experimental reactor was built, suggests to me that there are serious complications that thorium proponents are missing out on.
You massively underestimate the political and economical problems of these things. There are many different types of reactors and other ideas that have never managed to get to market.
Until very shorty it was basically impossible to develop one in the US. The Department of Energy would not grant anything, not even use of labs to anybody who wanted to research it. Much of the research itself was basically lost for a long time.
> Don't wave silly treehugger regulations at me, because it's not just the US and Europe - Russia and China, with rather less concern for safety and rather less regulatory process than us, aren't building them either.
China is massively investing molten salt reactors, including liquid fuel thorium. They plans are pretty big.
Also, there are simple not that many people who do this kind of stuff. The early research was done in the US and most other piggyback of that and have continued to make marginal improvements.
> Even India, with a third of the world's thorium, is just now in the process of bringing on their first thorium reactor.
India has tried earlier but failed. The reason was that they did not have the advanced science, not some fundamental problem. The went in another direction because they felt it was easier. The same problem did not apply to the US.
There are materials that can handle it, but they are expensive and IIRC they still need to be replaced regularly. Imagine having to replace most of the plumbing in a reactor every decade or whatever number of years.
The engineering challenges don't stop there, but that was the one that made me go, "Oh, ok, I get why they aren't being taken seriously yet." Our materials science just isn't advanced enough yet.
On the plus side, China may be pursuing them more seriously: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_prit...
We could do like we do with coal, and just release the radioactivity into the atmosphere. That industry disposes of a lot of radioactive material that way.
To me, nuclear power is not good or bad (it just is), but I have a very low level of confidence that humans can manage it over the long term. Power companies don't seem to be willing to spend the money needed to encapsulate waste for thousands of years. That would basically mean revisiting all the waste that is currently stored and freeze it in glass or whatever. If the industry did that for all existing waste and proved their expertise in that area, then I think more people would entertain the notion of more reactors.
The "Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982" charged utilities a 0.1 cent/kwh fee for disposal of nuclear waste, and the DOE was supposed to take receipt of that waste. There is $31 billion in reserve for waste disposal...
Another myth. Of course we do: breeder reactors.
Hint: why is nuclear waste dangerous? because there is still loads of energy in it.
Breeders aren't the solution, they have waste products too, and those waste products are also radioactive.
I'd be totally for "Yucca Mountain OHV park"
It's likely that planned reactors would work, but they are also likely to be really expensive.
I though it was because of γ-radiation and long half lives? Are those properties unique to matter with high energy potential?
Radioactive material decays as particles are emitted. If it has a long half-life, that pretty much means that the energy is being released rather slowly. In other words, just don't go poking at it and you'll be fine.
On the othe hand, stuff with a short half-life means that atoms are decaying rapidly. Particles are being knocked off with great rapidity. That stuff is much more dangerous, in the now. It is transferring energy, in a harmful form, quickly.
A long half-life means don't go poking at it for a while. A short half-life means you probably should consider containing it really well. We store both safely because we know people like to poke stuff, and it is harmful. It's just that the scary long half-lives only tell part of the story and many people seem to think those are the more problematic.
Disclaimer, I'm a mathematician, not a physicist. However, I've taken a whole lot of physics courses. Someone can probably explain this better than I.
From what I remember, the energy released by γ-radiation is quite low. I'm still not convinced that just because something emits γ-radiation, short or long half life, it has an inherently meaningful energy potential. α- and β-radiation: sure. But γ? It's harmful to humans for very different reasons than fissile material is a useful energy source, isn't it?
Or am I completely misremembering this all?
(Pure fission and Teller-Ulam bombs are about releasing said energy as fast and as completely as possible)
i'm sure that its safe to dump small amounts of radioactive material into the oceans, but if you start to build more reactors and dispose of all the waste into the ocean, the dilution will soon cease to be enough to offset a global ... disaster.
Since the containers would be very dense, they'd embed deep into the sediment, many thousands of feet underwater. Over geologic time, subduction would draw them deeper and deeper, eventually into the Earth's mantle.
Problem solved, if permanent disposal is truly the goal.
Someone correct me if I'm wrong.
A lot of the generated waste is not the used up fuel itself, but contaminated construction materials etc. So lower radiation, but still not something you have to bury somewhere. In the region I live in an old nuclear plant gets deconstructed for over two decades now because its tricky to seperate uncontaminated from contanimated material. The whole deconstruction costs an estimated €5 billion by the way.
But in the industrial meaning nuclear waste also includes various stuff that can not (or could not at the time) be economically separated from the waste althought it is either not dangerous at all or useful as nuclear fuel. And also stuff that is simply radioactive and has nothing to do with nuclear reactors per se.
Not in the sense that people are being irrational, but in the sense that we don't have a good framework for dealing with liabilities -- like nuclear waste -- for extremely long periods of time. We could probably store it pretty well if anybody was motivated in paying the direct and indirect costs of doing so properly.
(Earth orbits the sun at 30 km/s . That means you need -30 km/s of ∆v to kill the energy we're born with. The escape velocity for our solar system from Earth's orbit, meanwhile, is about 42 km/s . So you just need 12 km/s of ∆v to skip town.)
 sqrt((2 * 6.7E-11 * 2E30) / (150 * 10^6)) given G~6.7E11 [a], mass of the sun is about 2E30 kg [b] and the Earth orbiting the Sun from about 150 million km [b]; for escape velocity [c]
Once you're out in the Oort cloud on the way out, you can't exactly deploy a solar sail to get another push (unless you make it impractically large).
It's much cheaper to fling things out of the Solar System than into the Sun.
Thrust available to a spacecraft using a solar sail is a function of distance to the sun. The sail is a fixed cost, but it may be presumed to degrade over time. It has no propellant that costs additional money to launch.
If you go in, the ever decreasing efficiency of the sail is offset by the greater available energy from the solar wind, and you may still be able to complete the mission (more slowly) with a damaged sail. Your available thrust increases with every kilometer closer to the sun.
If you go out, the decreasing efficiency of the sail compounds with the lesser total energy available to the sail, and if the sail is damaged, you may never reach escape velocity at all. You will never have more thrust than the instant the sail deploys.
1) Energy investment is primarily driven by cost, not perceived/actual safety. Safety regulations do affect cost, but not enough to significantly change investment (at least in the US, with the current conditions).
2) Base load power and intermittent (e.g. solar/wind) power are not the same thing, and are not comparable. The concept that "solar and wind will save us all" by themselves is fundamentally incorrect, and actually they make things worse in many ways.
Nuclear fear mongering has resulted in high levels of regulations around nuclear power, but even without that natural gas has an edge in $/kWh. There just hasn't been demand to build nuclear. On top of that, nuclear needs to run 24/7 to amortize high capital costs. With solar/wind, there is high variability in grid supply, so nuclear is significantly less cost effective, and is getting phased out in favor of low-capex plants (i.e. natural gas).
Barring some energy storage miracle, we'll eventually end up with ~35% renewables, 15% hydro, 50% natural gas in the US, with HVDC interconnect. No nuclear, no coal.
(source: I work in a Climate and Energy R&D group)
Sure, this comes up a lot in these discussions. We don't need to rely 100% on any one type of plant, and we don't even have to eliminate coal plants completely. In the end, we're going to have to use a variety of options to fight climate change, and some of the major ones (like increased efficiency) aren't even going to deal with energy production.
Before, we had low variability in demand, so things like nuclear, hydro, and geothermal ("clean" methods of producing base load power) had a chance to compete.
Now, we have high variability in demand, so all of those solutions are out (though hydro is a special case), unless externalities like future-cost of CO2 is priced into production cost via taxes or cap&trade.
Wind/Solar + Storage is too expensive, so the market will shift to wind/solar + natural gas. We'll end up burning possibly more fossil fuel, or roughly the same.
>Barring some energy storage miracle, we'll eventually end up with ~35% renewables, 15% hydro, 50% natural gas in the US, with HVDC interconnect. No nuclear, no coal.
Does this scenario look any more promising with a massive government project to build HVDC? That reduces the intermittent aspect of solar/wind (weather comes in band and sun and wind are somewhat anti-correlated, more true over larger distance). Could we push that renewable percentage up higher and use gas more for peaking?
Without HVDC, renewables will probably peak lower (15%) than the 35% I mentioned.
HVDC and UHVDC is getting fairly cost effective now, so I don't think we'll need huge government subsidies to see adoption there, and it can be driven by utilities.
You can amortized wind really well with interconnect (unlike solar, which is strictly diurnal), so we'll see a trend back to wind in the renewable space.
However, I don't think we'll get beyond 50% renewable/hydro. Wind is built in areas where it is cost effective, which are the areas already taken. As you get HVDC, that area expands slightly, but I don't see us getting to 300GW of average wind capacity.
I've been told by people trying to build these things that there are some pretty terrible incentives discouraging HVDC.
States without access to good wind sites may still oppose HVDC because they would prefer to build either different power sources or less efficient windmills in their own state to capture the tax revenue (or to use federal subsidies that might go unused), so they prefer not to be able to buy power form a farther away state.
And even the reverse can be true. Localities with extremely cheap energy prices can sometimes oppose a HVDC market expansion because if local sources were able to sell to more consumers it would raise their local prices (the market changed over time or was estimated incorrectly, etc).
The problem is that solar and wind requires backup generation, usually CCGT natural gas.
This is ok until you scale higher and higher. You end up having CCGT only producing 20-40% of the time (to fill in for wind and solar blips). This massively increases the capex of CCGT plants, as you're only producing rarely. This would get more and more extreme with more solar+wind penetration.
Another massive problem is solar+wind overproduction, which is really hard to solve and is starting to really hit the German, UK and California grids. On very sunny AND windy days you get massive energy overproduction. You then have to either:
a) Turn off solar+wind remotely (often very expensive to retrofit to existing installations as the Germans found out)
b) Pay other (natgas, coal, nuclear, etc) operators to shut down, which can be very expensive
c) Hope that negative electricity prices make more demand. This is unlikely to happen as industrial users can't switch on extra production quick enough to respond to this.
This is made worse by feed in tariffs being paid at any energy price, incentivizing solar+wind to continue generating even if electricity price is negative (say it is -€0.05kWh spot, but your FIT is €0.20/kWh, you are still going to produce as you will net 0.15euro per kWh.
The two 'solutions' which are often mentioned are battery storage and HVDC long distance transmission.
Battery storage is still horrendously expensive on a kWh basis. It may come down, but this is an enormous problem. I am personally not sure there is enough lithium left that is easily extracted to make this viable at the scale (billions of kWh) required.
HVDC connections I also am suspicious of - if it's sunny and windy in Germany, it is likely to also be the same 1000km away more or less.
Even in your entirely hypothetical example you say they're having to pay natgas and coal to stop production.
Is it just me or is that really weird?
I mean turning off coal and gas is kind of the point, isn't it?
If you could turn gas and coal up and down in a few minutes, then perhaps you would have a point. But coal can take 6-24hrs and natgas 1-4hrs. It won't suddenly stop when you have a massive gust of wind.
More realistic excuses I've heard are long term contracts, potentially with minimum run times for fossil plants. Which are therefore the actual problem at the moment.
If we're talking about problems that show up when wind/solar becomes an order of magnitude more prevalent than it is now, why would you care about the cost of retrofitting anything?
The lion's share of the costs are upfront and the break even period is measured in decades. What is the energy landscape going to look like in 30 years? That's a question that you need to be able to answer with high confidence if you want to correctly price bonds that will be used to construct a nuclear power plant to be paid off from the revenue of the plant. If the potential bond buyers can't answer that question with high confidence then they don't know what interest rate is appropriate for the bonds and they probably won't want to buy them.
Grid-scale storage is one possibility, but more work needs to be done to make it viable. For technologies that exist today, nuclear looks the best for base load capacity.
While natural gas is better than coal, it's still not good from an emissions perspective compares to nuclear.
Nuclear power has extreme tail risk that is hard to quantify based on the few examples of it happening. For the thee major events we can reference how do we know we didn't simply get lucky?
With fukushima for example, "Japan's prime minister at the time of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami has revealed that the country came within a “paper-thin margin” of a nuclear disaster requiring the evacuation of 50 million people." 
Clearly the lack of deaths directly attributable to nuclear accidents does not accurately capture the risks.
So what exactly is the risk of a catastrophic event that has thankfully never happened but could? Its not clear but rather than rolling dice with those risks we can actually make better systems without those unquantifiable risks in the first place. That takes us to the tradeoff calculus.
Just in the realm of nuclear power there are far better approaches we should be investing in as opposed to traditional plants such as LFTR  which does not have proliferation, waste or meltdown risk.
Picking on coal is a little unfair at this time because coal is being supplanted by much cleaner natural gas purely on market forces and solar and wind are growing dramatically. Of course there are issues with these as well, scaling issues and their own kind of impacts but they do not harbor the same kind of unquantifiable massive tail risk of traditional nuclear.
1. Nuclear is really safe. The best.
2. Someone brings up an incident that actually happened.
3. Apologists excuse the incidents that happened because
a. It wasnt designed right
b. It was due to corruption
c. It was bad planning.
We live in the real world here.
You dont prove nuclear is safe by excusing every accident
and actually using the disaster to prove how safe it is.
Generally an "incident that actually happened" in which no one was actually, you know, killed.
Unless of course all that wildlife is getting crazy amounts of cancer that I don't know about and I am wrong.
How do you warn next generation after 10 000 years, that some particular site is dangerous/radiaoctive? How do we keep something safe for 100 000 years? Is our Earth look same after 20 000 years, 50 000 years, 70 000 years? Will there be new volcano or shift of tectonic plates? Ice age? How do you keep such waste safe?
Even as of today, there is no final storage solution for spent nuclear fuel. There is one know being built in Finland, and it is just for waste produces in Finland. BTW, there is very nice movie about it: Into Eternity. You should look it!
Consider Fukushima. In some ways Japan got lucky, it was entirely possible that an additional reactor on the site could have melted down and the holding pond could have breached. Because of this they were having to consider evacuating areas on the outskirts of Tokyo. Obviously, if that had happened we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
I don't claim that we have considered the risks appropriately, have a sensible nuclear policy, or are considering nuclear correctly wrt climate change. But to claim nuclear is the safest because direct deaths to date are lower is not the full story.
Fukushima? I'd say ignoring the known geological situation and dangers (no excuse for that IMHO) and the design of the backup cooling system that fails on a flood is also not unlucky.
It's compromises to save cost and ignore dangers both times.
We also have rotting reactors here in Europe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tihange_Nuclear_Power_Station
The point is that the error bars around nuclear power operation are so large that perceptions of risk are not the same as for conventional power.
Its interesting to think about the role of luck for Chernobyl. A grossly unsafe design combined with a bunch of incompetents performing live tests with multiple safety systems disabled, not much luck there. Was there luck in consequences of what followed? Possibly.
1. What about wind and solar?
2. The death/unit energy misses out the fact that we spend a lot more to keep nuclear safe because we are worried about it. If we spent a fraction of the same amount on other energy, we might get similar safety results.
this seems extremely hard to quantify.
I'd like you to consider if nuclear material is useful for something apart from generating energy. It may be useful for other things we don't even know right now, and in the future we may have consumed all the resources.
It's not a too dangerous place, when the people who set these up are professionals who are following a security guideline.
I see lots of people working on their roof, so, at least for me, this is a nonsense argument to discredit solar energy.
Yes, building power plants is dangerous too. The question is, how do they compare?
Wikipedia has some stats: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents#Fatalities
Rooftop solar is vastly better than anything fossil fuels, but worse than nuclear, wind, and first-world hydropower.
Ah, they didn't include renewables. Colour me surprised.
* The grid itself would need a dramatic rework. It needs renovation for renewables in the first place, but introducing a hydro base load solution increases pressures on existing infrastructure.
* You need enough solar / wind volume to justify a sizable centralized investment in such a power solution. But broad wind/solar causes problems involving peak grid load well before you even start building these things, along with the aforementioned grid updates, make a real chicken and egg problem.
Hydro storage facilities are also vulnerable to extreme climate, take a long time to build (especially in countries where bureaucracy makes building anything take 10x longer than it should) and aren't expandable.
But they would work, easily, to solve the power storage problem. Hail potential energy!
Everybody is scared to death of Sharks, yet sharks killed only 1 person in the US last year. Cows killed 20, 75% of which were deliberate attacks, but almost no one is afraid of a Cow.
Meanwhile 17,775 people died in traffic accidents, yet people jump in cars like it's routine. You're literally 17,000% more likely to die in your own car than you are by a shark, but again, brains don't understand that.
People understanding of stats is fine. They understand that the pre-requisite to being attacked by a shark is super-extremely low. That does not make sharks safe. I'll put my hand on the hood of a car any day instead of on a shark.
Your reasoning about Fukushima shows the same kind of problem: it's because of all the urgent actions after the accident that there's not been more consequences. Your argument would show that a house on fire is not dangerous because after people were evacuated, no one died of burning. It's the evacualtion of of a fire that saves life, it's not the lack of danger of a blazing inferno.
 "The image of cows as placid, gentle creatures is a city slicker’s fantasy, judging from an article published on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that about 20 people a year are killed by cows in the United States." --
 "A total of 21 deaths met the case definition for 2003--2008 (Table 1). Four fatalities occurred in 2003, two in 2004, six in 2005, and three each year during 2006--2008." -- https://www.cdc.gov/mmWR/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5829a2.htm
And not to mention, the much wider used coal plants and natural gas plants kill way more people in a lot less theatrical ways, largely through disease of the lungs and skin. Again though watching someone die of black lung isn't nearly as interesting as watching someone die of radiation sickness, so we don't hear about it.
Where are you getting these numbers? Particularly the cow one (deliberate killings only).
> yet people jump in cars like it's routine.
It is routine. Time spent driving is much, much, much higher than time spent swimming near sharks. So...
My brain understands that if I refused to go skydiving, then I can not die from a skydiving accident. Which is about as likely as going for a swim instead of a drive to get to work.
British cows are apparently similarly deadly: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/cows-official...
Whoa, now I'm very concerned about snails.
Also, closer to 30k+ traffic fatalities (last reported year is 2015, so far it seems)
Still can't find cow numbers.
People don't handle statistics well, but statistics are also easily manipulated and therefore potentially completely unreliable (Mark Twain quote here). It's not quite as simple as "people need to listen to the statistics".
Also, people go to the beach way less often than they go near roads. If most people only go to the beach 1 day a year and go on roads every day, then it's more like "you're 50x more likely to die by car than by shark". That's a far cry from 17000x.
That said, I've always thought that stat could be abused to push car safety - "Imagine you're attacked by a shark - now, cars are like that but TIMES FIFTY! Drive safe, look both ways, etc".
Of course nuclear energy has one of the highest Wh outputs, no-one is disputing that. However, what does that have to do with the risk of use? That seems like a measure very skewed to make arguments in favour of nuclear power.
I might as well argue that car drivers are safer than pedestrians because the average deaths/horse power is vastly lower.
Also, why did they leave away hydro, water and wind power in those "deaths per x" charts?
This is a bad analogy. A good analogy would be: if you had to travel 1000 miles, it would be safer to do it by car than on foot because car is safer per mile travelled.
Erm, wtf? The world's energy requirements are a more-or-less fixed number of tWh, no? Like, if 1 nuclear reactor produces as much energy as 10000 wind turbines, comparing the deaths that would be caused by 1 reactor to the deaths that would be caused by 10000 turbines seems like the obviously correct comparison to make.
People are overwhelmingly bad at risk assessment, which is why one can be anti-nuclear and afraid of terrorist attacks (both lower risk), while happily driving to work at a coal mine (both higher risk).
You car analogy is on the other hand completely wrong: the death/HP is a meaningless indicator. How about deaths per mile travelled? Check out the values at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micromort which has a section for traveling (named Additional)
Wikipedia's stats on energy production fatalities have wind being pretty decent, at 150 deaths per PWh (rooftop solar is 440, US hydro is 5, US nuclear is 0.01, and fossil fuels are in the thousands), but if the number is negligible it's only because wind power itself is negligible: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents#Fatalities
* Square miles of uninhabitable land produced/tWh
* Fishing industries destroyed/tWh
* Agricultural land destroyed/tWh
* Peoples displaced/tWh
* Lethal toxic waste produced/tWh
* Clean up cost/tWh
This is of course excluding coal, which I'm 92% sure makes even hydroelectric (let alone nuclear) look like a peaceful meadow full of fairies and butterflies by comparison.
If you replace nuclear with renewable (or the other way around) you'll have to produce the same amount of power, all other things being equal.
e.g. if I built n times more wind turbines to match the energy output of nuclear energy then, according to this measure, I would also get n times the number of wind-power-related deaths.
I see no basis for that assumption, especially as nuclear energy has known risks that e.g. wind power doesn't.
But why do the risks matter? One would expect that two turbines or nuclear power plants would kill twice as many people, on average…
Anyway, although it is a serious issue, to this day no cities had to be evacuated permanently because of air pollution.
Regretfully, nuclear energy has an aura of doom, and investment in nuclear power plants wrongfully reek of hubris.
Even if it isn't a renewable source, fission power is one of our best allies in tackling CO2 emissions. At least it may buy us some time before fusion power and the dissemination of renewables.
- They talk about ideal power plants, but not actual power plants. Are they assuming that when the world switches to nuclear, that every country will build these ideal types of plants and maintain them well?
- Pro-nuclear arguments don't talk about inevitable wars. When nuclear power plants are scattered across the world in countries that will eventually become unstable, the potential outcomes look different. We are living through an amazing time for peace in many countries, but it isn't a given that things will remain peaceful like this.
- Radiation has a cultural effect as well, and those plants and storage facilities make likely targets, since radiation disasters tend to cause people to panic.
- After there is no more power from given plants or fuel, there is less incentive to take care of the waste and cleanup.
I'm not entirely against nuclear power, but I think that it's more complicated of an issue than most nuclear proponents claim.
Energy efficiency and use reduction are two other areas to consider. If it's possible to change behavior and opinions around nuclear energy then it should be possible to change behavior and opinions about efficiency.
The two plants under construction, Summer and Vogtle, have been plagued by construction difficulties and cost overruns. The Summer plant was just finally cancelled today. It seems that the Vogtle plant is going to follow the same route.
The management competence and institutional knowledge needed to build these large, insanely expensive projects seems to have disappeared. The time for nuclear in the US is done. Other options are cheaper, faster, and more responsive. And that's ignoring the political aspect of it all.
And whose fault is that? Not the fault of nuclear-power supporters and advocates! Nuclear didn't die, it was killed.
Westinghouse Electric Company's bankruptcy and lies to Toshiba  weren't caused by nuclear's opponents. That's all on the heads of Westinghouse's management. And if management was competent, perhaps Summer would have been closer to being on budget.
It's not as though the AP1000 is impossible to build, other countries are doing it just fine. It's just impossible for US contractors to pull through, apparently. That's not the fault of nuclear's detractors.
It sounds like the best course of action is to bring in foreign firms to construct reactors in the US; but that'll probably have to wait for the 2020 election... if it happens at all, that is.
If it takes 10 years to plan and build a new reactor, I simply can't see the point of trying it in 2020. Sizing our solar and wind resources to cover our needs during seasonal lows, building HVDC, and adding storage at 2030 prices seems like a far smarter move economically.
Unless there are improvements that halve the cost of nuclear, and make it so that it's only a $1B gamble instead of a $10B gamble, I simply can't see why anybody would put up capital. There are lots of government backed loans on these things, but even then it's going to be a hard sell to investors. Everybody has been burned by these projects.
That's weird, huh? I'm all for a rational assessment of risk, but shouldn't they be on the list?
Actually, I've seen such comparisons, and solar and wind do pretty well. They don't kill anyone from air pollution and global warming, but manufacturing and maintenance isn't risk-free. When you install things on roofs, sometimes people fall off.
Most solar installation these days however are utility scale deployments in empty fields. It's pretty low risk, plus the same pollution and AGW benefits that nuclear benefits from.
As an aside, I wonder if anyone has done the math on storing high-level nuclear waste on the Moon, now that a fully reusable SpaceX Falcon Heavy is almost here. That might be cheaper than the financial and political costs of places like Yucca Mountain.
You can't count all of those injuries against solar itself, though, as roofing injuries will happen regardless, and putting up solar panels greatly extends the life of a roof, so the amortized total injury to installers doesn't go up as much.
RE: Grandparent - the production of solar panels isn't as "green" as you may think. See: IEEE.
RE: Wind - The standard horizontal-axis blade design (i.e. what Siemens and other major commercial institutions offer) have ecological impacts on wildlife.
 Forgive the US centric analysis.
 I.e., cell-tower deaths are notorious for these sorts of violations -- both due to the endemic sub-sub-sub-contracting strategy that Verizon, et al, uses to distance themselves from the bad PR and litigation, as well as the employee these jobs tend to attract (risk takers/adrenaline junkies) who, even if given the proper gear will neglect to use it often due to machismo. Following full protocol, the injury risk decreases quite notably.
 http://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/solar-energy-isnt-... Rare earth metals, processing with hydrofluoric acid, all the usual suspects one would expect. And this isn't a Koch-brothers funded gas/oil funded piece of propaganda. For goodness sakes, this is the IEEE -- about as pro-green (while keeping the science legitimate) as you can get.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_wind_p... - Just playing devils advocate here, offshore wind is basically the closest to a panacea IMO. There are events where 100% of the Dutch utility grid is powered entirely by their offshore wind. Their trains are 100% 'green' too
However this article did not of that - it just pretended that they did not exist. I believe the publisher of this article has an ulterior motive, something related to supporting the nuclear industry. So in oder to make its point it needed to leave it out. The title of this article is not just 'misleading' it is completely and deliberately dishonest.
Unfortunately a few years later they had to issue a correction, because older (more experienced) engineered stepped in and showed them where the mistakes in their work were, and they couldn't eliminate nearly as much HLW as they thought with existing technology.
In other words, a closed nuclear fuel cycle doesn't exist. We could be better than we are currently with investments in molten salt and fast reactors, but I don't think we know how to get to zero HLW using fission.
Considering that HLW lasts for a million years, that's imposing too high a cost on too many of our descendants, IMO.
My personal belief is that solar and wind are the best way to go for now, and if we ever get zero-HLW fission or aneutronic fusion working, cool.
However, that their whimsical concept didn't live up to its hype is no reason to claim that the closed nuclear fuel cycle doesn't exist. Breeding more fuel than you consume in an advanced reactor was proven in the Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 near Arco Idaho in the early 1950s. The physical concept of breeding and closing the cycle is well-proven and 100% proven possible. No one debates this.
People do debate how much it costs vs. the status quo of just mining uranium. Uranium is cheaper than recycling spent fuel, so we mine uranium. It's that simple. If we decided uranium was running low and drove prices up, reprocessing waste would become more economical and more people would do it.
Of course it cuts both ways. A better headline would have been "Nuclear: sure it's dirty but are you really trying to tell us coal is safer".
It really is time that we start looking at cutting back mindless generation and consumption of energy and that mostly means a big shift in lifestyle for North American and European consumers.
Either that or else you can all explain to your children and grandchildren (whom you love very much and would do anything for etc.) that you decided that living an hour's drive or more from work and commuting in every day while eating fresh dragonfruit and shrimp flown from the other side of the world was just fine.
Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. Time to start actually working on the first of those.
That leaves the problem of the mining and manufacture, which is still centralized. This problem can be solved with GM organisms. We engineer fungi and bacteria to grow on roofs and generate electricity. They'd use CO2 in the growing process too. We can grow batteries in a similar way. Bacteria, yeast and viruses can do anything. They're the ultimate nanotech, we just need to learn how to program them.
"Contrary to popular belief, nuclear weapons are the safest modern weapon"
Arguments that nuclear power are safe need to prove that while assuming the worst-case scenario, since the probability of such a scenario is a-priori unknown despite what much of this comment section seems to be claiming.
Solar is knowingly much safer because it is much easier to reason about.
As they develop and improve their reactor technology their plan is to export safer, more efficient fission reactors to the rest of the world.
I cannot find the source right now, but a talk given by non-proliferation experts outlined how accounting for fissile material in a reactor is about 99% accurate. But even 1% of nuclear fuel, on a nuclear-powered-world scale, is equivalent to hundreds of SQs per year, assuming current genration and next-generation reactor technologies.
A nuclear conflict, even if regional (only a few dozen discharges) can potentially have dire, world-wide consequences. The article should have at least touched on those.
> Here we limit our comparison to the dominant energy sources—brown coal, coal, oil, gas, biomass and nuclear energy; in 2014 these sources accounted for about 96% of global energy production. While the negative health impacts of modern renewable energy technologies are so far thought to be small, they have been less fully explored.
For anyone still being in disbelief of nuclear being made obsolete:
Why has not a single (!) private insurer been willing to fully insure a nuclear facility without government backing?! The reason is simple: the risk is too high, even for insurance companies worth billions.
TLDR: nuclear has, as yet, not worked using private financing.
Maybe there is some reactor design which can fix this but the reactors which are currently being build are not those designs. Also they are build for 60+ years. A lot can happen in 60 years.
Discussing an energy source just by pointing about future developments is not the answer. The EPR reactors in Finland and France are several times over budget and took much longer than planed to build. In the time you could have build wind turbines and solar cells all over the country with an equivalent or higher amount of power output. And according to the current statistics every added kilowatt would have been cheaper than the last one.
Also you might now say, but solar and wind are not always available. But at the same time you think that all problems with nuclear can be overcome but not the storage of electricity?
IMO Natural Gas/BioGas powered turbine generators are better option to augment wind and solar power generation. The GE LM6000  gas turbine (based on a 747 GE CF6 engine) can produce 40MW+ of electricity. They could even recycle a surplus CF6 engine to reduce manufacturing resources required.
Discussions of nuclear power somehow ignore the fact that, like any other technology, current reactor designs are not the final iteration. They can be improved upon.
Look the Chinese Pebble Bed reactor: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600757/china-could-have-a...
If everyone aside from the Chinese ignore nuclear power, then the Chinese may be the ones making a fortune selling their advanced reactor designs to everyone else.
The externalities of the production and disposal of solar panels cannot be ignored in this kind of assessment.
>The production of energy can be attributed to both mortality (deaths) and morbidity (severe illness) cases as a consequence of each stage of the energy production process:
A lot of people here may know what mortality and morbidity mean straight off, but I want to share this article as much as possible, and it does a great job reaching out to laymen. I also like how it starts right off with "more energy is good, here's a link demonstrating why, let's move on."
The issue I have with Nuclear is that we have not managed to fix the waste issue, and nobody seems to want to talk about it.
I'm not a huge fan of "salting the earth" for 10,000 years.
And when you say "it's safe", you're inherently ignoring that you basically have this toxic waste that is too costly to shoot into space and too dangerous to keep anywhere on earth for 10,000 years where it wont eventually harm the ecosystem.
"Here we limit our comparison to the dominant energy sources—brown coal, coal, oil, gas, biomass and nuclear energy;"