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MIT Energy Initiative study reports on the future of nuclear energy (news.mit.edu)
49 points by extarial on Sept 4, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 29 comments

There's nothing here about liability for nuclear accidents. Under the Price-Anderson Act, private insurance covers up to $450 million per plant. Collective self-insurance provides another $13 billion overall. And the US government may cover anything over that, pending congressional action.

Without that government-mandated system, and "guarantee", there would have been no commercial development in the US. Also, it's notable that this system covers both accidents and decommissioning.

I'd be a lot more comfortable with further nuclear development if worn-out plants had actually been decommissioned, and not just mothballed. And if there were a coherent plan for waste disposal.

From what I understand, in the US, there is a coherent plan for nuclear waste disposal in Nevada. It's just politics that is stopping it.

OK, no coherent plan that's being implemented. And you can say "just politics", but what that means is that people don't trust the plan. I mean, consider the history of the Nevada Test Site. There's a "fool me once etc" vibe about this.

It's still just politics. If you've got nuclear waste not having a plan is the worst option. There's never going to be a perfect place to store waste because you have to store it for such a long period of time. The French encase the waste in glass and then put the glass blocks in granite.

I was just reading that the U.S. has a ban on recycling nuclear waste (proliferation concerns) while France and the U.K. and a few other nations commercialized recycling (Russia and others recycle for the military).

So apparently the politics behind Nevada is a bit more scewed.

Note that recycling appears to be a rather intensive process returning material that could be used for power production but is also not of superior quality.

Ultimately it will be "the people" (via the government) that end up paying for the proper decommissioning of a project anyway; so it makes sense for that cost to be paid in to a resource pool at that level where at least if the funds are raided "we did it to our selves".

The Hinckley Point plant in the UK will pay for its own decommissioning - and has to put money aside as it operates to fund it, so a later bankruptcy wouldn't affect the liability. Of course, it if was decommissioned after only a short period of operation, that wouldn't work.

Except the next generations can't time-travel snatch the current population:

Technically it can put aside money while it operates: this either makes it somewhat scarce now to the benefit of current capital holders, or this encourages injection of fresh money by the central banks.

Then if in a few generations away something goes wrong and the stash of money is released it devalues money by buying up labor manhours (thus making manhours scarcer for all the holders of capital in the future).

I don't get why the government (general public) ought to pay for decommissioning. Bankruptcy doesn't erase environmental liability (as with student loans). And consider Bernard Madoff, for example. Prosecutors did a decent job of clawing back funds from Madoff, his wife, and some arguably complicit "investors".

Because if they don’t, no such plants would ever get built. So the real question is do we want these plants or not?

Of course no is a perfectly viable answer, but so is yes.

Lots of other stuff gets built without such policies.

So why not nuclear plants that are safe enough to be viable without them?

The cost of decommissioning a plant is high, and spread out over a long period. It would be too easy for the capitalists to take the money and run, and the societal costs too high to leave it in their hands.

Maybe they'd be able to recover funds in court, that's an expensive lengthy process that doesn't address immediate concerns. And it further encourages the owners into more unsafe actions to try and hide any misdeeds.

Well yeah. But if governments will get stuck paying for decommissioning, they should just own the plants, and pay operators some fair management fee. It's just not fair to let firms profit, and then walk away.

Which would mean the government and tax payers paying the full up front investment and operating costs. The purpose of bringing in firms is to attract investment and give them an incentive to apply their technology and expertise. If you don’t want any of those things then sure, do it as a fully public sector project, but if you do then you have to at least offer the possibility of a profit.


>>> For example, the authors recommend that policymakers should avoid premature closures of existing plants, which undermine efforts to reduce emissions and increase the cost of achieving emission reduction targets

are they actual "premature" closures ? In my country, they do everything they can to extend the life of the nuclear reactors waaaaaaaay past their expiration (150% of the planned life --- which looks like almost criminal; but I can't judge; I am not a nuclear expert)

Are you referring to the ailing Belgian reactors? The ones with the cracks, the mysterious sabotage and the endless string of non-critical malfunctions? The ones that are currently offline until the end of the year for maintenance?

I am.

Some quotes:

"Global electricity consumption is on track to grow 45 percent by 2040, and the team’s analysis shows that the exclusion of nuclear from low-carbon scenarios could cause the average cost of electricity to escalate dramatically."

Yet, the reason why nuclear is dying in the Western world is cost. Which is actually admitted in

"The researchers find that changes in reactor construction are needed to usher in an era of safer, more cost-effective reactors, including proven construction management practices that can keep nuclear projects on time and on budget."

So we need to do to changes to arrive at something that's economical? But the nuclear industry has been trying to do this for years and failed.

Maybe it's just me, but I think a prudent conclusion is that fission is dying because it's really, really difficult to build something a team of engineers who are experts in the field consider safe enough to prevent disasters. Greenpeace et al. has no say in safety designs for reactors as far as I can tell, that's a red herring.

Some people think that serial production of smaller reactors are key. But then why didn't the industry have this epiphany many years ago? Instead they're building larger and larger plants. I remain sceptical.

> Yet, the reason why nuclear is dying in the Western world is cost.

You'll get no argument from me that if the government needs to give cash handouts then the plant shouldn't go ahead.

That being said, we need to distinguish between the cost of building a plant that is:

* Safer than what we are currently using (which I'd see as inherent)

* Compliant with government regulations (which I think are often unreasonable and unnecessary)

There is pretty convincing circumstantial evidence that nuclear power is safer than fossil fuels (eg, less risk in the mining process, less deaths per watt [1]). There is also evidence that governments response to nuclear accidents is, if not hysterical, disorganised and overzealous [2].

Now the marginal cost of small increases in safety, once you are under as much scrutiny as the nuclear industry, is huge. I've worked in safe industry and the costs were already high. If we'd been held to the same standards as a nuclear plant we would have gone out of business in a few years.

Nuclear operations are facing a real risk of being held liable for hypothetical deaths of unknown individuals based on highly uncertain modeling and theory. They have big up-front costs, and are vulnerable to all sorts of political attacks. We haven't really shaken the tree to figure out how cost-effectivly these things can be run with modern control systems and design software.

[1] http://i.imgur.com/EkYYLRh.png - not really a source, I remember reading this in a fairly well known NYTimes article though. [2] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/22/science/when-radiation-is...

Atleast here in Finland the political hurdle is so tall that when the green ligth is finally given, they basically have to build the biggest reactor possible.

And Russia is starting reactor-on-a-barge thing. Hard to believe.


Please don't break the site guidelines in comments here.


What do you think happened in Fukushima and why does it warrant calling these professors "idiots" without further explanation?

I didn’t expect nuclear energy advocates here.

Some of us studied Nuclear Engineering at University.

Why not? I would have assumed the majority here would be pro-nuclear, since HN is fairly educated.

There are many different views here. Reasoned discussion is welcome.

You're surprised that not everyone agrees with you?

No, im surprised no one agrees. But if i zoom out a bit and look at our current world im not surprised at all.

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