Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I believe the politicization of nuclear energy (the resulting lack of investment & innovation) will go down as one of the major blunders in human history.

We'd be in a far, far better situation with greenhouse gasses if we (as a human race) had continued to invest in nuclear energy. There would have been mishaps along the way, but at a much smaller scale than we're experiencing now with deaths from air pollution and looming risk of a warming planet.

We'd have much, much safer systems with modern reactor designs.




Nuclear energy was politicized from day minus one. It was developed out of government driven military technology. In day zero nuclear energy was set up by politicians: goals, strategies, financing, deployment, risk handling, etc. Everything was coming from energy politics. Investments were directed and the market&regulations for nuclear were set up. Government largely financed it and insures it.

The large scale, the monopolistic businesses and the government centric energy politics made it ideal for corruption. Remember, Fukushima was claimed to be fully save after inspections, just before the accident happened, which destroyed several reactors.

The investment into nuclear energy was a political decision. Every further investment into nuclear is a political decision. The 'small modern reactors' are mostly funded by government and the users are mostly military. The military is already mostly the only user of small reactors: nuclear powered ships and submarines.

Now we see other players which favor other energy politics (like the current US President who favors fossil fuels like coal, because his voters want jobs in the coal industry).

The point is: energy is always politics.


>It was developed out of government driven military technology

That's not a justification. The internet was also developed out of DARPA. Most of silicon valley exists because of cold war electronics warfare research, etc.


Civilian nuclear plants where designed, built, and operated to reduce the costs of nuclear weapons. This resulted in huge subsides, but also a lot of export controls. You can't say that about the internet.

PS: A lot of past regulations seem dumb today, but power was not the primary goal which shaped a lot of policy.


"Civilian nuclear plants where designed, built, and operated to reduce the costs of nuclear weapons."

Nope. They were, in fact, designed in a manner that made it very difficult/inefficient to use them to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Reactors designed to produce weapons-grade material operate in a completely different regime. In particular, you need to refuel them on a short continuous cycle, lest the desired plutonium be burned up in the normal operation of the reactor. Power reactors, by contrast, were designed to burn up much more of the fuel, and be refueled all at once.


In terms of manufacture, I agree. Further, Pu-239 has a half-life of 24,100 years so we don't currently need anything in the way of production. So, yes direct production was mostly from dedicated reactors.

However, the lack of reprocessing beyond simple plutonium exaction increased the demand for uranium ore. This lowered prices and because waste was not reprocessed early stockpiles where created, even if they where not in fact used. So, the impact would have been minimal except the lack of innovative R&D calcified the industry around this approach.

Further, there was an actual attempt to extract plutonium from civilian reactors: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Valley_Demonstration_Proj... was really a legacy of this failure as it only produced 4,373 lb of plutonium vs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanford_Site which produced most of the US's plutonium for nuclear weapons. Which is why I feel this is a little more nuanced than your suggesting.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sellafield#Calder_Hall_nuclear...

Early commercial nuclear reactors, here the British Calder Hall Power Station, were producing plutionium and electricity.


That was more or less a prototype. No one uses power reactors to produce plutonium. It just isn't done.


The UK had 26 of these Magnox reactors for electricity production. These nuclear reactors were coming out of military technology and some of them were built and operated for dual use: Plutonium production and energy production.

The UK now sits on around 140 tons of plutonium from fuel reprocessing...


The UK has about 200 warheads.

The US has almost 7,000.

The US has never used commercial power reactors to produce plutonium, because they simply aren't well-suited for the purpose.


>never used commercial power reactors to produce plutonium

That's not true. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Valley_Demonstration_Proj...


That was essentially a demonstration plant. Note that it only ran for six years, only produced 1,926 kg of plutonium over its entire lifespan, and was shut down because producing plutonium from spent fuel from commercial power reactors proved to be uneconomic.

2000 kg of plutonium is a rounding error, given that well over 1 million kg of plutonium have been produced since WWII.


I think it is true (in the USA) but rather meaningless. I don't think we want commercial entities producing plutonium unsupervised by the military.


How did west valley produce power? Your link is unclear.


No, it simply reprocessed spent nuclear fuel. It was not economically useful to do so, but we only really learned that by trying.



The second paragraph concludes the reactor was built for nuclear weapons development, I don't see how it can be considered "another example."


It's another example of a reactor designed to produce electricity and plutionium. North Korea a;so operated a smaller 5 MWe reactor creating electricity for a town and plutonium for their weapons program.


It's a reactor designed to produce large amounts of plutonium. Any reactor produces some amount of energy, nuclear reactions are famous for their energy creation.


> It's a reactor designed to produce large amounts of plutonium.

It's a dual-use reactor: plutonium and electricity production (200 MWe).

> Any reactor produces some amount of energy

But not electricity. For that a power plant has also turbines, generators, etc., ...

The US for example had no electricity production in the early reactors for Plutonium production.

But the US Hanford N produced both Plutonium and electricity for the commercial grid for 21 years...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-Reactor


>But not electricity. For that a power plant has also turbines, generators, etc., ...

Yes,but if you don't do that, you're just wasting energy. The US realized that, which is why they added electricity generation to the N Reactor. Both were still designed to create plutonium, and would not be built without the aim of nuclear weapons.

It's like saying we grow the same corn for the edible part and for biomass. While technically true, the edible part is driving the production.


>Civilian nuclear plants where designed, built, and operated to reduce the costs of nuclear weapons.

ARPANET was designed, built, and operated to enable the exchange of information in the face of nuclear annihilation of cities.

The big famous radio dish on top of the hill behind Stanford and the signals research that went into it was placed there to look for anti-ICBM radar signals bouncing off of the moon from Russia.

We are standing on a mountain of tech based on research driven by the cold war. Nuclear energy is no different.


My favorite bit is, the first customer & funding grant of the transistor was for a particular application that needed something far more resilient to vibration, temperature, etc than vacuum tubes - ICBM's.


It's a bit different when you use it for terrorbombing not one, but two cities - to make sure the design works.

I guess you could argue that GPS has killed as many children now, by way of guided missiles and missiles fired by drones - but there's still a gulf between unleashing terror on a divine scale as a part of a publicity stunt and geopolitical maneuvering, to making warfare incrementally more efficient.


Given Hiroshima and Nagasaki likely saved at least a million Japanese lives, your point is unclear.


That is assuming Hiroshima and Nagasaki sped up the process of surrender (and probably assuming that most of that million of lives would have been lost to firebombing civilian targets). I don't think the point is unclear - but it could very well be wrong.

I don't think alternate-history fables is much of a defense for war crimes, however.

You might hold that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was done to speed up Japan's surrender, and/or that they did speed up Japan's surrender by a meaningful amount. Further, you might argue that somehow two bombs was meaningfully better than one for this purpose.

From historical record, I'd say it's more likely Japan would've surrendered quickly either way - and that the motivation was more on establishing the USA as a superpower for the post-war era.

Either way, I think it's hard to argue that dropping of nuclear bombs on cities was done "for the sake of their people". After all, no-one was forcing the US to continue the war in the Pacific - or to capture Japan. The US could have sought a cease-fire and withdrawn to Hawaii or similar earlier borders. If the goal was to "save lives".


Well most of the internet and internet companies continue to exist because of military tech, and military strategy. It turns out the internet is a wonderful tool for psy-ops, and social influence, a la Arab Springs. Even Tor, and decentralization technologies are/were military tools.


Come on, network communication and nuclear energy are different planets. I kinda agree that without national plants things might have been better, but these kinds of efforts and risks cannot exist outside of govt for a while.

It will take some guys to figure out MSR designs if possible, and then they'll be small and safe enough to access the private market.


Agree, but he has a point. First application of the internet wasn't mass destruction.


Indeed.

I suggest people check out part six of Adam Curtis' Pandora's Box, that cover this.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora's_Box_%28TV_series%29#...

On top of all of this we had a generation that was hammered about the dangers of a nuclear war, including the potential poisoning of the environment around a blast by fallout.

And at the core of all this we have the issue that radiation is a silent killer. We can't smell it, we can't see it, we can't feel it. This amps up the fear element greatly.


"And at the core of all this we have the issue that radiation is a silent killer. We can't smell it, we can't see it, we can't feel it. This amps up the fear element greatly."

As well it should. Dangerous things that you cannot detect with any of your human senses are rightly to be feared.

This behavior is well-preserved in humans for a reason.


Gas you use to cook with doesn't smell either. They add stuff to it so u can smell it. It is just as silently deadly without these additives.


They add stuff to it because it's very important to be able to detect when it is present.


What do you plan on adding to radioactively-contaminated materials so that people can see, or hear, or smell, or taste it?


Thats borderline ludditeism. We can't detect CO or even CO2, should that stop us from using fire?


"Thats borderline ludditeism. We can't detect CO or even CO2, should that stop us from using fire?"

I said that fear was justified - not that we should or should not use those things.

Similarly we should indeed be afraid of CO for those very same reasons. I know I certainly have a healthy respect for, and fear of, CO.


CO detectors are in pretty widespread use.


Humans can detect CO2. An elevated level of CO2 makes you feel out of breath. Reducing O2 has no impact other than you pass out.

If you use fire, the "invisible" risks are oxygen deprivation or monoxide poisoning. You will be quite aware that something is wrong when there is too much CO2.


The most pressing problem facing humanity today is "using fire" - that is, CO2 generation from fossil fuel.


That has nothing to do with the nonsense that we should avoid using something powerful or dangerous simply because our human senses are not equipped to detect it. You are literally surrounded by toxicity in modern materials, power transmission, and machinery. 110 volts is enough to arc and create ozone. Basements can accumulate radon. Cooking can release toxic gasses. These are not reasons alone to avoid modern conveniences.


Yet the Japanese use/used the crap out of nuclear. You'd think they of all people would want nothing to do with it. At the end of the day it's all about dollars.


The Japanese people do largely want nothing to do with nuclear energy. Opposition to it still triggers some of their largest scale protests in a country that does everything to shy away from this kind of unrest.

But the political reality is that Japan is a client state of the US empire and the base of its operations in SE Asia. It's not functionally a democracy. The people who made money off of it were the alliance of conservative politicians and organized crime, backed by the CIA, who brought it to the country in the first place.

http://www.japansubculture.com/how-the-cia-helped-put-the-ya...


You forgot their experience with Godzilla too.


Fukushima was safe, by all standards. This was not related to corruption. It was simply not designed for the rarity of a magnitude 9 earthquake and the scale of the tsunami that followed. Your house in a five hundred year floodplain is not unsafe for lacking stilts. Safety costs money, this wasn't corruption.


http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-...

> In the last century there have been eight tsunamis in the region with maximum amplitudes at origin above 10 metres (some much more), these having arisen from earthquakes of magnitude 7.7 to 8.4, on average one every 12 years. Those in 1983 and in 1993 were the most recent affecting Japan, with maximum heights at origin of 14.5 metres and 31 metres respectively, both induced by magnitude 7.7 earthquakes. The June 1896 earthquake of estimated magnitude 8.3 produced a tsunami with run-up height of 38 metres in Tohoku region, killing more than 27,000 people.

This risk needs to be addressed. That many people were killed by a tsunami is a catastrophe. But one would also like to have a stable energy system that does not go down like that and creates a huge problem (financial, technological, human, ...) for several decades.

The japanese nuclear industry is famous for their corruption. Reactors were claimed save, which in a single event were totally wrecked. We are not talking about a single problem, but multiple problems (failing electricity backups, failing outside electricity, exploding buildings, ...), design mistakes (fuel is difficult to reach) and problems generated by running these reactors (like the amount of spent fuel on-site which needs lots of electricity for cooling).


> The japanese nuclear industry is famous for their corruption.

Not just the Japanese nuclear industry, Tihange 2/Doel 3 Nuclear Power Stations are sitting right in the middle of Western Europe and they are another catastrophe waiting to happen.

These reactors pressure vessels have serious issues with micro-cracks in their steel and at this point, it's not certain their structural integrity can actually be guaranteed [0]. The solution? Just "regulate" that in the case of emergency cooling the cooling water needs to be pre-heated, so the temperature shock doesn't break the pressure vessel.

Whatever could go wrong with that approach? I guess nobody can imagine a scenario in which the reactor would need massive cooling but the surrounding infrastructure is destroyed and the water can't be pre-heated, what happens then?

Nobody knows and I'd be really surprised if anybody, in a position of responsibility, has even thought that far about this whole mess. It rather feels like they are operating on the principle of "Let's just hope this never happens instead of planning for what we gonna do when it happens and set resources aside".

[0] http://www.fanc.fgov.be/nl/page/doel-3-tihange-2-flaw-indica...


New inspection tools showed micro fissures. The power plant was stopped as a precaution. Then further investigations showed that these have always been there and are not evolving. It was safe all along, that was a false alarm. The power plant is then restarted. Still extra security measures are set, just in case.

To me this just shows that the security is taken seriously. Why is the public opinion so scared about such an exemplary event?


> Then further investigations showed that these have always been there and are not evolving. It was safe all along, that was a false alarm. The power plant is then restarted.

Sorry but that's plain and simply wrong, you are vastly misrepresenting the situation and chain of events.

These micro-fractures are not part of the design and they are evolving [0], documentation of the manufacturing can't be found and it's assumed the manufacturer made them vanish on purpose to hide the fact that cheaper materials had been used to build, leading to the fractures.

These reactors have been controversial for years, they've been taken offline and online many times to look for new fractures and they keep finding new ones, fractures which shouldn't even be there in the first place.

It's amazing how you try to turn this into an "everything is safe, there's no reason to be worried, it was always broken!" even tho everything about this screams "you better be worried" and the neighboring German states (and the Dutch) are already hoarding Iodine tablets [1].

Even the Belgians themselves handed them out to their population, tho they used ISIS as a scapegoat at that time [2]

We are talking about the pressure vessel here, not some unimportant plumping part on some auxiliary system, and they just keep on watching as more fractures build up in there. Where do you think this is gonna lead? The warning signs can't get any worse than this considering these reactors are also running past their original life time.

[0] http://www.powerengineeringint.com/articles/2017/06/new-crac...

[1] http://www.dw.com/en/north-rhine-westphalia-prepares-for-bel...

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/28/all-belgian-resid...


Your own post confirms my assertion that the magnitude 9 earthquake was an exceedingly rare event and did not necessarily need to be designed for. It had been at least one hundred years since the last earthquake of that magnitude. Same for a >10 meter tsunami.

Large scale disasters almost always present as a conglomerate of smaller problems; multiple failures during 100-500 year disasters once again do not indicate poor safety standards and/or corruption.

Safety design is expensive, and there is always a balance between cost and risk, in literally everything that we as humans do, individually and collectively. Hindsight alone is not enough to bill this reactor as unsafe. There are thousands of BWRs operating globally without incident, and they have been for decades. It is ignorant to presume that they are all time bombs.

Edit: I'd like to kindly remind the community that down votes are not for communicating disagreement.


How can you say it was safe with a straight face when it clearly wasn't? That's like saying your car is fine when it's smashed upside-down in a ditch on the side of the highway.

If some standards claimed it was safe, then those standards were simply wrong. By other standards (including, most importantly, reality), it definitely wasn't safe.


>That's like saying your car is fine when it's smashed upside-down in a ditch on the side of the highway.

I'd argue it's more like saying your car is safe when it's smashed upside-down in a ditch on the side of the highway.

It is safe. The safest minivan is fantastically safe. Then it smashes into a semi truck at 80 mph and everyone dies. It was still a safe car, when compared to other cars.


Indeed, some people would therefore conclude we'd all be better off focusing on ways to get around that don't involve driving...


That's a perfectly valid and logical conclusion, and indeed there are many big companies you've heard of (including Waymo, Tesla, Uber, and many conventional auto manufacturers) who are working on precisely that.

Nuclear can similarly be phased out like human-driven vehicles will be.


"Nuclear can similarly be phased out like human-driven vehicles will be."

You have it exactly backwards. Manually operated nuclear plants will evolve into fully automated, completely safe designs. A very similar approach to self-driving cars.


Lets take your car that is smashed, upside-down in a ditch.

When you bought the car, did you think it was safe? Did it pass the government tests, even ones you think might be a bit ridiculous? Were you under the impression it was designed to withstand being upside-down in a ditch?

In all reality, the car was safe when it was new. It simply wasn't designed to withstand such an accident because such a thing is pretty rare in everyday vehicles, although it happens. Some vehicles have such safety precautions, but only when the situation seems to warrant it (a Jeep, for example).

The nuclear plant was the same. It was safe when it was built, only it wasn't designed to handle that magnitude of earthquake because that strength is rare, especially for that area. This is despite designing it to withstand stronger than ever recorded earthquakes. Sure, afterwards the plant was unsafe, but so are many cars after accidents.


> In all reality, the car was safe when it was new. It simply wasn't designed to withstand such an accident because such a thing is pretty rare in everyday vehicles, although it happens.

Except that cars now days do undergo rollover tests and are required to support 3x their weight when upside down.

> Were you under the impression it was designed to withstand being upside-down in a ditch?

I just read that some experts believe the standard should be increased to 4x. My previous assumption about my safety was a bit off, I am safe, but I could be safer.

Sadly enough, the increased rollover standards have created huge A pillars that impede visibility. Citation: http://wardsauto.com/news-analysis/new-pillars-enhance-safet...

So in this case, illogical worry about rollovers causes an actual measurable increase in pedestrian accidents.

Kinda like our worries about nuclear safety ended up causing even more radioactive pollution from burning coal.


What this car comparison is missing is that people accept cars getting crushed into flat metal sheets.

Agree or not, as a society we have accepted that traffic accident is a problem we don't want to pay the price to solve.

A "safe" car is just a mildly safer death trap.

In comparison, people haven't accepted that reactors would go shit and somewhat kill hundreds of people and trash whole regions for hundreds of years.

That's a risk that developpers have included in their plans to some point, but that the general public has not fundamentaly accepted.


You have your facts wrong.

Fukushima didn't kill even ten people, let alone hundreds. The region got so small radiation dose it is already basically harmless ... Decontamination efforts will make it pass even irrational radiation safety levels within 10-20 years. "hundreds" of years is therefore stupid hyperbole.

Public has not accepted nuclear risks because it is ridiculously misinformed. Don't spread pointless fearmongering, please.


> Fukushima didn't kill even ten people, let alone hundreds.

By official counts, 34 killed directly in the evacuation, 573 total, including indirectly, due to the disaster,and estimates are even with the evacuation, additional long-term cancer deaths due to the release could be in the 100+ range as well.


Why design robots to work in the wrecked reactors, when there are people without this irrational fear of radiation?


Well, I guess it's because I would consider my car extremely safe, with something stupid like 12 airbags, active brake assist, active collision prevention, it will even call for help automatically after an accident, without any input from me. Yet obviously it's not safe if it gets hit by a truck going 80mph, and it's not an impossible scenario. If they made fukishima stronger to withstand larger tsunamis, it could still be destroyed by an even larger one. It was "safe" within certain parameters. We can argue that those parameters were wrong, but that's a different discussion.


Well, would be sufficiently safe. Just not in Fukushima.

It was hit by an earthquake. Reactor performed SCRAM correctly. Plant was ok.

Tsunami hit. Fuel tanks were washed away. This should never have been an issue. If you are in a zone that's prone to tsunamis, you don't locate essential infrastructure where it can be hit by tsunamis.

Everything went downhill from there. Including their inability to hook up generators brought by trucks due to some electrical incompatibility.

Now, if only this nuclear scaremongers would go away, then we would be able to upgrade those shambling power plants with modern technology.


> Now, if only this nuclear scaremongers would go away, then we would be able to upgrade those shambling power plants with modern technology.

That's really where you want to put the blame? Don't you think that's a bit dishonest? Nobody is stopping the operators of plants from modernizing plants, nobody except the realities of economics.

Don't kid yourself: If they can keep on running reactors with the least possible effort they will do so because everything related to nuclear involves massive investment costs.

If you had the choice between spending several billion of dollars on modernizing a plant, which you've already amortized, or NOT spending several billion dollars while still making massive profits from the plant, which of these two is the more likely thing to happen? Greed always wins out.

It's not like plant operators want to modernize their plants and are being stopped by protests, nobody is stopping them from modernizing except for their own economic bottom line.


Billions of dollars to modernize plants? Where are you pulling that number from?

This is what parent meant - scaremongering (and resulting ridiculous hyperbole) destroys progress.


And how do you argue about the Diablo "safety" then? It's 6m above sea level, near a major fault line, in fact the only fault in the ring of fire which didn't go off yet in the last decade, and it's critical near to a major technical hub which will be destroyed for hundreds of years if the fault goes off, on land or at sea.

There's no safety, only luck and irrationality.


Your standard of safety does not sound appropriate for nuclear reactors. And, the decision not to spend the money to make Fukushima safer may well have been a craven, if not corrupt, one. TEPCO has been pretty sleazy ever since the accident.


> sleazy ever since the accident.

Do you mean "even"?


So is it really economically at that point? Is developing, prototyping and building a next gen reactor worth the money? Do we even know how much it would take to account for other 1-in-100 year risks? Is it worth it over better solar/wind? Even this: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-31/alphabet-...

I think the answers are clearly, no, no, no, and fuck no. We should be spending money on better solar, wind, having a distributed energy grid, and fusion. Not on a technology that is equivalent to diesel at this point, and something that will kill us.


This is a debate we have all the time, here in France, where we chose nuclear energy as main source of energy for several decades. Nowadays, everybody but lobbyists (because for those reasons, nuclear industry is strong, here) seems to agree renewable is the way to go (but we're far to be able to replace nuclear with renewable), mainly because:

* we don't know what to do with nuclear wastes, and we start to have a lot

* every now and then, you have to dismantle old nuclear plants, and it appears the cost is totally exuberant


Why do you need renewable when there is practically unlimited nuclear fuel available.

> * we don't know what to do with nuclear wastes, and we start to have a lot

Nuclear waste is nuclear fuel. Different types of reactors can use that 'waste' and produce energy. Some reactor types produce far less, easier to deal with 'waste'. Much of that waste again can be used for different application.

The Nuclear waste issue is one of the most successful fear mongering campaigns ever.

The necessary science is done, early version of the technology were developed and are proven to work.

The problem is that no more work is put in developing and improving nuclear power but renewable energy gets money for research and subsidies like crazy. Coal also gets subsidies in many places.

> * every now and then, you have to dismantle old nuclear plants, and it appears the cost is totally exuberant

This is again manly a problem because of the lack of improvement over time. Different types of reacts would make this far easier. Sadly however we are still using the type of reactors designed for submarines.



> renewable is the way to go

Everybody agrees with that. The question is whether we choose nuclear or coal during the transition to 100% renewable (if it ever happens).

> we don't know what to do with nuclear wastes, and we start to have a lot

> you have to dismantle old nuclear plants, and it appears the cost is totally exuberant

I don't know if it's that bad. But again, is this worse than coal?


Why do you need a transitional solution? Why not Manhattan-Project the heck out of a purely renewable replacement? Coal is, for a variety of reasons, a terrible stopgap. And nuclear buildout is too slow and expensive.

For the cost of building significant new nuclear, we could build the new storage mechanisms, and all the solar/wind needed. Faster.


Also here in the Netherlands something similar happened. A company with nuclear waste went bankrupt and it became a expensive problem.


That's a hard question. I certainly would not support replacing our nuclear plants with coal plants, I would prefer everyone stay with their current system and we go as fast as possible to replace them with something worth it : trying to replace a bad source with an other bad one, but a bit better, costs time, money and human resources.

But the article kind of make me raise an eyebrow when they say that for highly radioactive wastes, we just have to find deep burial sites that will know no geological activity for one million year. Certainly doesn't sound as easy as implied, especially if all earth starts using nuclear power as main energy source.

That being said, I remember reading a few months ago about a breakthrough in Germany in nuclear field, where no rare material (like plutonium) was needed, and wastes were greatly reduced. This could be a global way (and then, we may not even need renewable).


Nuclear is renewable.


>I believe the politicization of nuclear energy (the resulting lack of investment & innovation) will go down as one of the major blunders in human history.

It's more or less ensured that we won't be in any shape to record histories sooner rather than later.


What do you mean "politicization"? Please saw the movie the China syndrome and then 3 mile island happened. Then people were very afraid. These were real possibilities. Does anyone want to live near a nuclear power plant? Do you? I sure as hell would not. How can you twist fear of a disaster in "politicization"?

You are also looking thru the lens of our current situation. Very little was being discussed about the risks of global warming and greenhouse gasses back in the heyday of nuclear power, i.e. the 1970's. The last nuclear power plant in the US was built in the 1970s, which was when the last major accident that happened in the US (3 mile Island). That's not even considering Chernobyl.


It was a conscious decision of a particular US military official (an admiral, IIRC) to use 235U / Pu based process in atomic power generation projects, specifically to be able to generate Pu in large quantities should a need arise.

If Th-based processes were chosen, that cannot easily generate Pu, nuclear proliferation won't be such a hazard. It would have far-reaching political consequences. E.g. USA is strictly against the Iran's nuclear program specifically because it might help produce bomb-grade fissile material.

235U-based processes are also pretty inefficient: about 1% of the nuclear material is burned when the (very active) fuel needs another cycle of refinement. Known Th-bases processes produce somehow less-active waste, and can burn more of the fuel before refinement is necessary.

A number of new, quite a bit safer, nuclear projects aimed to burn 235U and the current stockpiles of nuclear waste exist. But due to the fear-mongering, and likely due to relatively low coal and oil prices, they have little chance to be implemented, at least, in a reasonably short term.

No, I won't mind living near a well-maintained nuclear plant. In fact, I lived ~90km from one for 20+ years. I would be much less happy to live next to a major coal-burning plant, since it produces rather noticeable levels of radioactive contamination during normal operation [1].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste#Coal


> Please saw the movie the China syndrome and then 3 mile island happened.

Yeah, I'm surprised by how little attention this gets. A significant accident occurred that wasn't supposed to, and subsequent investigations showed that there were significant lapses, including from regulators. People can't be experts in nuclear plant design, construct, regulation, inspections, etc., so they need to be able to rely on the authorities in charge. When that trust is betrayed, it naturally has consequences. You can't just say to people, "Well, yeah, last time we told you to trust us we were completely wrong, but this time will be different!"

When problems happen that aren't supposed to happen, people are naturally going to be overly cautious and skeptical of future assurances. That's not an entirely unreasonable reaction.


It is a unreasonable reaction because the amount of damage compared to the reaction was totally out of proportion.

Compare it to the damage of coal and it would not even show statistically.


Yes I do want to live next to a nuclear power plant. I miss my last house where I did, but I now work in a different state: it would be several hours every day of driving to live next to one.

Nuclear power plants are good neighbors: quiet and they pay a lot of taxes. Most of my neighbors when asked where the nuclear plant was pointed to the smokestacks on the coal power plant miles away.


> Do you?

Actually, yes! Statistically it's safer than living next to a coal-fired plant.


I don't want to live next to a nuclear power plant, but I would be fine with living near a dozen of them.

You see, that higher number implies a greater infrastructural and economic investment. Further, the sole large power plant in an area is automatically a military target, whereas if the same capacity were split across many facilities it becomes impractical to attack or control them all.

I'd love to see each municipality in the US above a certain population own and operate its own small reactor, using it to power the municipal utilities. But I do have a bit of a problem with a federal agency operating the only nuclear reactor in a 100-mile radius. It just ends up managed differently, becoming a political power center in addition to an electrical power center.


> You see, that higher number implies a greater infrastructural and economic investment.

A higher number of reactors also means more chances that one of them fails because reactors that don't exist can't fail but those that do most certainly can.

As such the security gains, from infrastructure synergies, would have to be massive to actually be able to offset that.


The reactor that does not exist fails by releasing radioactive fly ash from the coal plant that was never shut down, because nothing was ever built to replace it. Don't discount substitution effects. Your argument would not put safety belts in cars, because the belt that was never installed cannot strangle or entrap its passenger.

Also, do you know of any reasons why the 1000th instance of a design might be less prone to failure than the 1st, or 10th?

Can you think of any reasons why a car door handle might be more reliable (for the same cost) as dirigible door handles? There are many thousands of car door handles in use daily, such that all common failure modes have been seen, and then addressed in later manufactured models. The handle that fails can make the next handle made better able to avoid that specific failure mode.

You want things to fail just a little bit, but not enough to hurt anyone or cost too much money. If something fails, that means it isn't over-engineered for its intended purpose. And the failure point may then be examined to make the next design better, and improve upon existing maintenance strategies.


> The reactor that does not exist fails by releasing radioactive fly ash from the coal plant that was never shut down, because nothing was ever built to replace it. Don't discount substitution effects. Your argument would not put safety belts in cars, because the belt that was never installed cannot strangle or entrap its passenger.

That's a non-sequitur, there are alternatives besides coal just like there are more solutions to the problem than merely increasing energy production.

> Can you think of any reasons why a car door handle might be more reliable (for the same cost) as dirigible door handles?

A car handle is only one piece of a bigger machine, one could argue it's actually rather unimportant because if your car handle fails your car still drives, as such I'm not sure that's actually a good example.

How many iterations did we have on cars, as a whole system, so far? Over a century of designing cars and how close are we to a car that never fails? Which should be a way easier task than trying to make nuclear reactor safe, we had more time for it and even way more need for it, yet we are still nowhere close to having our "perfect cars", as such I just don't see how "perfect nuclear" is anywhere in our reach.


so what is the alternative in the meantime? Everyone breathing coal particles and many people dying of lung cancer before their time? How is the current energy production safe by anY standards? did you even read the article ?


Natural gas, wind, solar, hydro where available.


Hydro is mostly used up in the developed world, it will never go far.

Wind and solar can not even cover all the required growth, specially not outside of the developed world.

Natural gas is a good option, specially to replace coal.

Modern nuclear plants however would be even better.


apart from gas none of the sources you mentioned are short term solutions.


>Does anyone want to live near a nuclear power plant? Do you? I sure as hell would not.

Using logic instead of emotion, yes I would. Hopefully the electricity costs would be cheaper.


Based on nearby real estate prices, people don't mind living near nuclear power plants. There are $500K houses with a lovely view of Seabrook Station.


Compared to a coal plant, yes.


We would be in a better place with respect to greenhouse gasses. But we're also subject to long term disposal of waste products and high risk of pollution of groundwater, and other water sources. Some of those risks will be risks for thousands of years.

The typical answers from nuclear proponents never cover what to do with the waste product.


Nuclear waste is nuclear fuel.

Also new reactor types have solved all these problems. They can create very little waste that only has to be stored a far shorter time.

The problem is that anti-nuclear people have created a environment where no more research happens and old technology just limps along.

The science is clear, the needed technology is understood, we just need somebody to build it. There are startups who try, but its very difficult.


You send it to Yucca mountain or you treat it for reuse like they do in France.


What was the opening date for Yucca mountain again?


Depends on how much of the original work is still usable, I'd guess ten years after funding it.


> will go down as one of the major blunders in human history.

I agree, inability to properly advance nuclear energy will will be regarded as a big blunder in the future. The great irony that Greenpeace, which supposedly wants to save environment, dealt so much damage to it, by protesting nuclear energy.


I bet Fukushima was pretty damn safe, maybe one of the best nuclear power plants designed. The best designs cannot account for everything. There is always a risk of an accident, and you need consider not just accidental but intentional mishaps (dirty bombs).

Very low risk of something happening is not the same is the damaged caused if that risk becomes a reality.


The best designs can remove hole categories of errors. Different reactor types can be passively save and carry virtually zero risk catastrophic failure.


Fukushima was a boiling water reactor, which is not a good design. A good design would be passively safe, which more or less means that you can turn off the plant and walk away without a disaster occurring.


Were the safer designs available in 1971?


Yes they were. Liquid Fuel Molten Salt reactors had been build and tested. The researches were ready to start building production scale units next.


Yes. Pressurized water reactors are very old, they were developed around the same time as boiling water reactors, in the 50s.

Their superior safety has been known for a long time as well, which is why all 58 French reactors active today are PWRs (and most of those in the US are as well).

That being said, it is still probably a bad idea to put a power plant in a place which is known to be exposed to tsunami...


Pressurised water reactors still rely on active security. Molten salt for instance allows passive designs.


> That being said, it is still probably a bad idea to put a power plant in a place which is known to be exposed to tsunami...

...Especially in the country which originated the word tsunami


I believe we had molten salt prototypes already at that time. If that design were favoured, instead of pressurised water, I bet it would have been pretty damn safe.

I believe they achieved relatively high standards despite the lack of funds anyway. (By the way, molten salt is coming back, but mostly lack the funding necessary to prototype bigger reactors.)


"Good" design is ill defined. The fact that a design is riskier than an alternative does not immediately make it worse. Especially when safety can be engineered to arbitrary standards with enough money.


> Especially when safety can be engineered to arbitrary standards with enough money.

There is not 'enough money'. If a reactor shows cracks in the steel in critical places, preventing this upfront might not be technologically possible and afterwards repairing might also be so expensive, that it economically makes no sense.

The big problem: if there is a technical problem, it is politically a very tough decision to close it, because of the costs involved (loss of profits from selling electricity, costs of decommissioning, costs of replacement, ...). Thus a more or less clear need to shutdown the reactor because of technical unfitness will conflict with financial interests and the scale of the money involved makes it worse.


I live pretty close to the San Onofre Nuclear station. They made some upgrades planned for 20 years of operation in 2010, and ended up shutting down the reactor due to premature wear in 2012, and are now planning to decommission the station. I'd be more worried about the financial concerns as an excuse to continue operating an unsafe station if I wasn't seeing the opposite happening in my own back yard right now.


The fact that a reactor may be failing after decades of use does not make it a poor design.

One optimizes for longevity during design, as well as other factors which cost money. It may have, for example, been cheaper to construct, with a strict lifetime after which it would be taken down."Good design" is almost always subjective.

That politics drive nuclear operators to maintain plants past their lifetimes does not indicate poor engineering.


> I bet Fukushima was pretty damn safe, maybe one of the best nuclear power plants designed.

While it was an okay plant, they'd actually been warned about the emergency cooling system as early as 1967. Also, they ignored a 2008 study saying that their plant was vulnerable to tsunamis. The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission found that all the causes of the accident were foreseeable prior to 2011.

> The best designs cannot account for everything.

The common factor in nuclear accidents so far has been operator error, and it's true the best designs cannot completely account for that.


Seriously, there's zero reason that we don't have small portable safe nuclear reactors to power neighbourhoods and large oceangoing vessels by now. Since ocean freight liners and oil tankers produce a large portion if not the largest portion of the current air pollution, it just makes sense to get them completely off of diesel and bunker fuel and equip them with small nuclear reactions, something like a LFTR would be perfect... had we spent the last 40-50 years researching them.

Thankfully, at least China has picked up the slack with LFTR research and hope to have something going within the next 5-10 years. Maybe then the rest of the world will wake up.


The problem with nuclear goes back to the beginning. The original reason for nuclear research, and even the first reactors, was to breed bomb material. Nuclear power was an extension of "atoms for peace" which was originally political cover to continue weapons programs.

Some commercial reactors are secretly used for this purpose even today.

Nuclear may have a bright future but it's extremely difficult to cleave energy from the state interest in weapons. And I'm not just talking about the US, this is an issue with nuclear power worldwide.

The biggest blunder was using nuclear technology for bombs first. I'm afraid the word is forever tainted by history.


I don't understand why this would have any effect on domestic nuclear power production in the nations that already have nuclear weapons. Probably the most important question: why don't the US and China get more of their domestic power from Nuclear?

Also, I need to some source for the claims that Atoms for Peace was meant as a cover to transfer nuclear technology. I believe the program was created as a way to provide civilian nuclear generation capabilities to friendly nations, in return for a guarantee that nations would not use the technology for making nuclear weapons (India was probably the most famous "rogue": they used the know-how from the research reactors to build an actual nuclear weapon).


TRIGA type research reactors, probably the most popular model, are specifically designed to be "pulse reactors" that can produce rapid power spikes of 20,000+MW. I don't see how you could argue that the main purpose isn't simulating nuclear detonations.

Same with Sandia Z Pinch machine and NIF. It's all dual purpose tech to simulate bombs since actual testing isn't done anymore.

You won't find anyone that says it outright but the government interest in pulsed power is awful suspect.


Do you have a source for your claims?


I believe the focus on CO2 will go down as a pretty big blunder. As for nuclear, it seems pretty expensive when you account for the total lifecycle of the plants (see sibling comment from France).


The recalcitrant problem of nuclear waste storage is now a permanent part of human history going forward even if not one single nuke plant is ever onlined again. So the dangers of nukes are here to stay no matter what. Making a new nuke plant or not will not change this problem. One could even argue that if we continue developing nuke plants we'll get better at dealing with the waste. If we don't we'll get worse.

Having said that, it takes 30 years to online a new nuke plant. They have to be maintained over centuries. It's easier to make wind farms, geothermal and photovoltaics today, right now. We can't wait 30+ years for nukes to help our clean energy future happen.


Breeder reactors mostly fix the waste problem. Even without breeders, you should think hard about the tradeoff of having a fairly limited amount of solid stuff that you have to take care of for a very long time versus altering the climate of the whole planet and potentially messing up phytoplankton for a very long time, all while also causing all kinds of pollution.


Seems like a "grass is greener" case. The people of Fukushima Prefecture wish they could trade their nuke waste problem for a few dozen feet of sea level. I know I would if I were them.


Nuclear suffers from the same problems as many political issues. The greatest risks of nuclear energy is not "safety," but rather cost, insurance, and financing. As humans our brains are attuned to avoid worst case scenarios instead of fearing more likely, but less scary situations.

Both sides hear the talking points. The talking points target our most passionate and overriding fears, instead of real world concerns. This is because these false fears are more effective than real ones for changing minds.

Having run for office on a few occasions, the most important factor about winning seems to be having a good narrative-- one which seems consistent with voters' personal experiences.


I'm more afraid of having nuclear power plants now that we no longer have a thriving industry to support innovation and technological progress in the field. From my understanding, we stopped innovating in fission power plant design decades ago.


>we stopped innovating in fission power plant design decades ago.

No work on new better designed as continued, we just stopped building many of them:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_III_reactor https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor



We'd be in a far better GHG situation if we had poured all that r&d into renewables, would have gotten solar cost below fossil 20-30 years earlier and probably left fracking and tar sands hydrocarbons forever in the ground.


I suspect the opposite argument could easily be made (if going big into nuclear somehow caused human extinction, which is easy to envision).


One key problem... much of the world's population lives in nations socially incapable of supporting nuclear power, or with governments that cannot be trusted with significant quantities of nuclear materials due to proliferation, or both.

Advocacy of nuclear has a bad tendency to think of "the world" as the US, Europe, Japan, and China. Any solution that aggravates the haves/have-nots divide is going to cause problems.


Plenty of environmental groups would be pretty happy to curb emissions in "just" US, Europe, Japan, and China...


The problem with nuclear energy is that a nuclear power plant isn't very different in concept from a nuclear bomb. Getting the latter from the former is a serious concern. Having the former accidentally turn into a dirty nuke (not a lot of force, but lots of fallout), is scarily easy. Just see 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl.


It is very different. You can't just make an atom bomb out of what's available at a nuclear plant. They're entirely different concepts requiting diffrrent materials.

Chernobyl was an outdated design known to be dangerous at the time it was made, and something like the Chernobyl incident can't happen on anything newer. A study found statistically insignificant rises in cancer rates from the 3 Mile incident.

I recommend the book Atomic Accidents, it's very informative and I believe it went over specifically why a nuclear plant can't just explode like an atom bomb or even really help you make one.


I think it's worthwhile to differentiate between a critical mass fission/fusion bomb and a dirty bomb. A dirty bomb can be made from anything radioactive coupled with a conventional explosive, since the goal is just to spread the radioactive material as widely as possible. Fission/fusion bombs (what we typically would consider as "atomic bombs") are, as you said, way harder to pull off. The general public definitely likes to conflate the two.


It is both different, and not different.

No, your average nuclear plant doesn't have the makings of an atom bomb. But countries that are running nuclear power plants have an obvious incentive to create enrichment facilities for their nuclear power. These facilities are similar to those that enrich further for a nuclear bomb. Several countries have achieved nuclear bombs this way.

Furthermore nuclear plants do not all work the same way. There are advocates of thorium nuclear plants, because thorium is a much more abundant fuel source that should be able to operate more cleanly than uranium. However those plants generate uranium-233 which can be potentially separated through chemical processes in plants that are a lot easier to hide than centrifuges used for enrichment.

Both ways, nuclear power can be a step on the way to nuclear proliferation.


>Just see 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl.

The fact that you would reference TMI in reference to dirty bombs is extremely telling in that you have no idea what you're talking about. The average radiation exposure outside TMI compound was less that an airplane flight or x-ray. Bananas are literally more dangerous.


That is disputed. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident#Rel... for claims from critics that official accounts of the exposure were low by a factor of 100 to 1000.

Regardless of which version of the facts you consider more believable, the public was scared witless of the possibility that there was an exposure. As a result millions of people were left with the concern that they could get cancer decades down the road. This public fear is also the most important impact of a dirty nuclear bomb used as a terrorist weapon. Very few of people will get sick, and fewer still will die. But lots will be scared.


> That is disputed. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident#Rel.... for claims from critics that official accounts of the exposure were low by a factor of 100 to 1000.

> Regardless of which version of the facts you consider more believable,

Believable has nothing to do with it. An average dose of worst case 1000 times higher, 1.4 REM, doesn't even violate the US federal annual dose limits. Attempting to equivocate this with dirty bombs is either ignorant or a malicious, inflammatory lie to generate fear for an ulterior motive. If you're trying to insinuate some kind of cover-up, the did a pretty terrible job because no new reactors came online after TMI for like 50 years.


Perhaps someone dropped a banana. The average exposure was 8 millirem (equivalent to a chest X-ray), and the peak outside the facility was 100 millirem (average annual exposure).


"Just see 3 Mile Island"

Really? How many people were killed at 3 Mile Island when it allegedly "accidentally turned into a dirty nuke"?




Applications are open for YC Winter 2020

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

Search: