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Why We Need Innovative Nuclear Power (scientificamerican.com)
253 points by jkuria 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 340 comments





The Interchange did a great episode about Nuclear Power a while back [1].

They mentioned a few problems everyone knows about nuclear (NIMBY, financing, licensing, etc), but one of the unintuitive problems was the lack of institutional memory for construction. Westinghouse et.al. will design the core of the plant, but each plant is constructed by a series of contractors and subcontractors who many times, have never constructed anything this precise before. Jessica Lovering compared it to constructing cathedrals (in that each one was bespoke). This makes each one effectively as expensive as the last.

This is one of the many problems companies like TerraPower are trying to solve: Not just dropping up front cost (finance) or making it more stable (NIMBY), but also trying to build a living knowledge of how to build reactors repeatably.

Total tangent: My pet theory is that if it gets really bad, we'll just start building floating nuclear reactors and park them within transmission distance from cities. Ironically we have a ton of experience with floating nuclear reactors from maintaining a large nuclear-powered navy.

[1] https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/can-we-make-nuc...


The construction knowledge struggle is real. There are people overseas, particularly in some S. Korean and (yes) Japanese construction managers. The Gen-II LWRs they were building on time and on budget would be perfectly sufficient to stave off global warming. We could as a world decide to have those guys swoop in and re-teach us how it's done if we really decided to. Of course, the whole supply chain has to be ramped up, which is pretty non-trivial.

Hey, it looks like TerraPower at least has some people who share your pet theory [1].

[1] https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/978981314899...


Nice! Always happy when my crazy theories are backed up by engineers actually working the problem :).

Honestly, I think for the LWRs in the US, it's more of a financing and risk problem than anything. As I understand it, the two South Carolina LWRs failed mainly because the fracking boom created a glut in natural gas prices. Now no one is willing to make any bets on energy prices 20-years out [2]. Note that I'm not sure if these were Gen-II.

At least from a cost standpoint, building LWRs the way we used to is akin to Space Shuttle launches: Awesome idea 30 years ago, but they match the finance risk profiles of energy markets today.

Re: construction. Funny enough, there's actually a industry-wide skilled construction squeeze in the US right now [1]. After the '07 crash the number of new workers going into construction dropped precipitously. Now when we need skilled project managers there isn't enough to fill demand.

[1] https://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2018-06-15/t...

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/climate/nuclear-power-pro...


Space Shuttle launches, looked like an awesome idea 30 years ago but was really stupid already back then...

That supply chain ramp up is going to be more damage done, and at this point to stave off climate change every new plant would need to be primarily used for some sort of carbon capture technology

Naval reactors are very different. They dont, most of them, generate electricity. Thier steam pushes propellers. And they are also self-contained within ships. Getting the power from the reactor to shore is a huge task, the bigger task imho. Naval reactors are also smaller and not as efficient than a civilian reactors. They are biult for different priorities (low manning, variable power, long operation at very low power, decades between refits etc). And they have a failsafe not applicable to a civi reactor near a city: evacuate and sink it to the bottom.

> They dont, most of them, generate electricity.

wat? They most assuredly generate electric power. It's just that the bleed steam the sub needs for electric power is trivial compared to the motive power sent to the main reduction gear. They carry diesel generators for emergency use only.


Diesel? Won't that suck out all the air? Or poison everyone with CO?

Certainly they must be surfaced in order to run the diesel generators. See the "emergency use only" that was part of the sentence the previous poster wrote.

No comment on the other points but the reactors in the new Ford-class carriers generate electricity, not steam, which is part of the reason those carriers use electric catapult.

Ford’s propulsion is still steam but it generates a tremendous amount of electrical power for its other systems

I believe France’s boomers and the next gen SSBN the US is designing both have electric drive.

Isn’t this a bit of a “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball” question though? Electricity generation and direct steam propulsion both drive turbines, the principal of shipboard operation is well proven.

The bigger issue in my mind is that the nuclear powered ships spend a tremendous amount of time in port ( at least compared to the downtime of a land based power station) and then often just sail around bad weather rather than get hammered by it.


That is why i said most. The new trend is towards "all electric" drive. But even there, the power isnt being turnef into clean a/c for general use. The reactor, generator, and electric motor are all a tight unit designed to throttle together.

”the reactors in the new Ford-class carriers generate electricity, not steam”

All nuclear reactors generate steam. That steam then drives a turbine which generates the electricity.

The difference in the Ford class is that the steam turbine is bigger, powering most of the ship’s systems via an electrical bus rather than by piping steam around the ship. This approach reduces complexity and maintenance costs.


High temperature reactors use helium as the coolant can use the brayton cycle turbines instead of steam turbines. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brayton_cycle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Very-high-temperature_reactor


All reactors generate steam.

The steam is used to run generators and provide electricity, as well as run engines that drive screws (propellers are on airplanes).

Naval reactors are smaller than civilian reactors, but are far more efficient and use different fuel.

And "evacuate and sink" isn't an option in a multi billion dollar strategic asset.


> All reactors generate steam.

The Soviet Alfa-class used molten lead-bismuth coolant. (Which was run through a separate steam generator to generate steam, granted).

Though there's no principal reason why steam has to be the working fluid. Supercritical CO2, for instance, has many attractive properties.

> Naval reactors are smaller than civilian reactors, but are far more efficient

Hmm, define "efficient"? Efficient as in conversion of heat to mechanical power? Or use of uranium fuel? Or what?


Props as in...screws? Propeller shafts that drive...screws?

"Screws" is A naval term for a propeller. Technically a propeller could also be a paddle wheel, a jet-drive, or ducted propeller sometimes called a propulsor. Screws are also sometimes called "wheels" by fishers. Everyone has their own terms. Naval people use slang to differentiate themselves from laypersons. I'm in an airforce. We don't take colloquial language so seriously.

No, that's not why we use slang, and a propeller and a screw are actually different.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_submarine

Says that the reactor also powers other systems. And sometimes the motor is electric.

Makes sense. Why would you build a nuclear reactor and then only use the steam to power the motor?


Tiny generator compared to overall reactor power. Standard diesel engines also produce far more motive power than electrical capacity.


France did that in the 1980s. France has 58 power reactors, of four basic designs.

I think Russia just launched a floating 70 megawatt nuclear power plant quite recently

https://gizmodo.com/russias-floating-nuclear-power-plant-has...


I would not want to live near any russian nuclear reactor. Russia's handling of these is extremely poor. Just look at the fate of their nuclear-powered submarines.

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/05/27/russias-nav...


Are you hinting at Kursk? It did not even leak for the year it was laying on seabed.

Example: Germany paid more than 550 million Euro and provided expertise&people to help securing rotting nuclear reactors from Russian submarines:

https://de.rbth.com/wissen-und-technik/79917-russische-atom-...

If Germany invested that amount of money into Russia, you can bet that it was urgent.

Hopefully Russia has shown more care dealing with their Nuclear power plants...

https://www.dw.com/de/russland-entsorgung-von-atom-u-booten-...

http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/lager-fuer-alte-atom-u-bo...

All in all the West (!!!) provided many more billions for the safety of those approximately 120-180 (!) nuclear-powered submarines.

https://www.zeit.de/2013/07/Russisches-Polarmeer-Atom-U-Boot...

Pictures:

https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/DE/Downloads/A/abruestung-atom...

Russia also has submarines buried at the ground in the arctic sea. Like the K-27 in the early 80s.

https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/russia-updates...

Sunken objects:

> 17,000 containers of radioactive waste; 19 ships containing radioactive waste; 14 nuclear reactors, including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel; the K-27 nuclear submarine with its two reactors loaded with nuclear fuel and 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery.


It's more like what a diesel generator is to a power plant, but it's mobile (has to be towed but transportation is quite cheap). It should get the job done. Sadly only the BRICs (mostly Russia) have small modular reactors in operation or under construction, the rest of them range from conceptual designs to licensing stage. Of those, I liked NuScale's design.

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


Would seem to me that there should be a way, with smaller, standardized designs, to pre-fab most of the precision stuff and just assemble it on site. The things that are hard about older designs are the need for very strong, perfectly cast concrete for the high pressure containment vessel, and the high-pressure precision-welded plumbing for the reactor coolant.

The nonradioactive steam handling, turbines and electrical generators should be quite similar to what's used in conventional coal/natural gas plants.


>This makes each one effectively as expensive as the last.

And as dangerous.


Great point. Maybe time for a large dedicated body to cut costs and improve quality.

Yep, the report the podcast mentions (from the breakthrough institute) compares how similar industries (like pharma and spaceflight) manage regulation while still fostering innovation [1]. A lot of the differences are around nuanced things like having clear checkpoints for regulation and points of contact from the regulating bodies.

[1] https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/struggling-nucl...


I sincerely hope you realize oceans are functioning ecosystems and not conveniently located safe zones for nuclear disasters. This is the sort of cavalier attitude toward the nuclear waste and accident problem that permeates nearly every HN thread on this topic — and it comes up a lot.

While we need to be aware of environmental impacts, the same is true of how to mitigate them using existing processes. The French recycle their fuel. Eventually it's not usable in their traditional reactors. They ship the waste to a plant that creates glass logs. The material is then safely stored, as a solid, underground.

The US does a poor job of recycling due to the fact that it listened to the environmentalists and anti-terrorist groups in the 70s. Jimmy Carter was told that recycling was bad for the environment (won't someone think of the children if the train overturns), was not cost effective, and would lead to nuclear proliferation due to terrorists dropping from the sky and stealing the train to Mexico [2].

Now we can recycle, and we can reuse the fuel to breed new fuel sources. If we did this 30 years ago, even just the first half of the last clause, we would not be looking down the barrel of climate change.

1 - https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-france-plans-to-do-with-i...

2 - https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/10/01/why-doesnt-...

* Edit a typo thing of the children -> think of the children.


> (won't someone think of the children if the train overturns)

> proliferation due to terrorists dropping from the sky

This is exactly what I mean by a cavalier attitude towards these problems. It is dismissive, uses manipulative phrasing like the president "was told" that removes his agency, paints environmentalists as all powerful agents of manipulation, etc.

France is not a perfect example. Fukushima demonstrated the kind of disaster that can happen despite best efforts and good operating records, and there is much debate in France about the risks of relying on nuclear going forward.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_France


Well, except we would, because the cost of nuclear plants didn't go to zero and still suffers from NIMBY, especially after Three Mile Island.

Which is all a shame given how much better modern designs are.


We shouldn't ignore waste or accident problems of course but it's always important to compare them to the alternatives. Given the problem of ocean accidification it's hard to see how replacing fossil fuel plants with nuclear isn't a net ocean environmental win. And replacing a coal power plant in china with a nuclear a nuclear plant you know is going to have a Fukushima meltdown in 30 years is still better for people and the environment. Or 10 "clean coal" power plants in the US with 10 nuclear plants of which 1 will melt down.

Of course, it's far better for health and the environment if we can replace them with solar and batteries. But perspective on the dangers of nuclear compared to fossil fuels is important.


Add NIMO to the list of social blockage

Love this. Close to my heart - Nuclear power is key to making a clean, reliable, safe, and robusts electrical grid. Plus - this is the only realistic way _right now_ to phase out fossil fuels!

Great advancements to keep an eye on: https://www.energy.gov/ne/nuclear-reactor-technologies/small...

Specifically Molten Salt (Liquid Floride) Thorium Breeder reactors are my personal favorite technology I hope to see come around!

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

Great place to start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3rL08J7fDA

Great videos to follow: https://www.youtube.com/user/gordonmcdowell/featured


Right now? No, now is too late: if you have a technology that will take a decade to prove and another decade to buildout, we'll need to deploy a huge amount of renewables anyway to cover the gap. Fortunately the panels and turbines come off nice neat predictable working production lines.

I like referring back to http://blog.danieldavies.com/2006/05/nukes-and-nukemen-blair... on this: the industry has a real problem with undeliverable promises of cost and time, and it's not just the fault of environmentalists. The approval mentioned there ultimately led only to Hinkley Point C, which is still not finished and overrunning its costs.

Then there's the weapons history; Greenpeace's campaign originated against nuclear weapons testing, and the industry has always been intertwined with the military. That also limits which countries it can be used in. Remember when Iraq built a reactor and Israel blew it up?

Having said all that, https://www.leadcold.com/technology.html from elsewhere in this thread is the most promising thing I've seen in a long time. Molten lead is far saner than molten sodium and makes good radiation shielding. Nothing flashy required, just some good old fashioned special stainless steel metallurgy.


> Right now? No, now is too late

It's not too late. Or, well, yes, we should have started decarbonizing decades ago. But whatever we manage to do will make the effects of climate change less bad compared to doing nothing.

The scale of global decarbonization is simply mindbogglingly staggering, not only electricity but heat, transportation, etc. There's place for anything we can build, as fast as possible. Including nuclear.

> Having said all that, https://www.leadcold.com/technology.html from elsewhere in this thread is the most promising thing I've seen in a long time. Molten lead is far saner than molten sodium and makes good radiation shielding. Nothing flashy required, just some good old fashioned special stainless steel metallurgy.

I'm a fan of lead-cooled fast reactors. Though it seems to me the one major innovation leadcold has come up with is the aluminizised stainless steel to prevent corrosion; turns out that molten lead at 450C is pretty corrosive. Seems practical reactor design is more to do with nitty-gritty materials issues than fanciful reactor concepts themselves.


Isn't it pretty much impossible to make weapons from Thorium (and byproducts)?

Unfortunately, it's very possible. Separate out the Pa233 (can be done chemically), wait for it to decay, and you have pure U233 usable for a bomb. Particularly easy if you have a reactor allowing you to siphon out Pa233 while the thing is running, such as a molten salt reactor.

All in all, is this easier than going the traditional path of natural U + graphite piles to produce weapons grade Pu? Perhaps not, considering apparently all actual nuclear weapon states have gone the U-Pu way. But nothing to dismiss out of hand either.


It's certainly not the easy route, but on the other hand there's only one running Thorium reactor and it's some way from being production-ready. Again, we need to deploy something else to reduce CO2 in the meantime.

You absolutely can.

The reason that they didn't want to use it in WWII was because of a combination of politics and that one of the trans-uranics that is produced creates gamma rays that are easily traceable. Imagine having gamma ray imaging in a satellite and being able to see all of the nuclear silos clear as day because they have U233 bombs.


For years Greenpeace and other "eco" organizations were fighting nuclear energy and now we have what we have. I understand that using solar or wind sounds sweet and in some places on the Earth it might even make some sense if we learn some day how to efficiently store energy. But we need something that works regardless on the weather.

Nuclear energy does not comes for free, there are nuclear wastes, but the dangers and difficulties were greatly overblown in the course of anti-nuclear propaganda.

I believe we can find the way to reuse nuclear wastes - my guess is that nobody was doing serious research in this area since being "pro" nuclear was not fashionable (and it is still not in many places).


I used to be strongly opposed to nuclear energy, but I now see that as a mistake. I'm still no fan; nuclear has inherent dangers, and nuclear waste is a massive problem.

But global warming is a far bigger problem, which poses far larger threats to the world. We should do whatever it takes to cut back on CO2. We shouldn't be having any coal plants anymore. Everything is better than continuing to burn coal and oil, and that includes nuclear.

I don't see nuclear as a definitive energy source for the next thousand years, but I think we need it as a transitional energy source while we take coal offline and continue to invest in solar, wind, and energy storage.


> But global warming is a far bigger problem, which poses far larger threats to the world. We should do whatever it takes to cut back on CO2

It's not so simple: the ongoing environmental disaster is caused by many different sources of CO2 (e.g. concrete production), particulates, water usage and pollution, overfishing, animal farming, land pollution, ozone layer depletion.

First, almost all electrical energy ends up being released in the environment as heat.

Then, cheap energy only encourage faster production and consumption of goods, aka consumerism.

There's a very strong correlation between per-capita income, energy use and waste/pollution production throughout human societies and past centuries.

Very few environmental problems are solved by spending more energy.


There are many different environmental disasters, but many of them are already successfully being addressed. Acid rain is less, the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking, rivers are cleaner in many countries, the fish in my supermarkets are increasingly MSC or ASC. It shows that we can address these issues, and it works.

CO2 is the big one that we can't seem to get a grip on, because it's so strongly tied to energy production, and energy is tied to prosperity. Carbon emissions were reduced the most during severe economic downturns. But we don't want to save the environment by making everybody poor.

Recently, economic growth has become a bit more independent from energy use, thanks to improved insulation, LEDs and similar advances that help reduce energy use without reducing comfort. And that's important, because if you ask people to sacrifice comfort, prosperity and way of life to save the environment, they will resist.

I don't mean to be arguing for consumerism, but if you ignore this, you're going to make the struggle a lot harder. Success is easier if you make it easy for people to do the right thing.


>but the dangers and difficulties were greatly overblown in the course of anti-nuclear propaganda.

The nuclear waste generation is a _HUGE_ problem, the problem is so big that very few (if any) country really know how to solve it, look a the US for example as a really frightening example of an out of control waste problem, both from civil and military sources...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste#Long_term_ma...


The problem isn't big, it's only tricky. Countries deal with orders of magnitude more of even more toxic "regular" waste from chemical industry. Not to mention the (again, orders of magnitude more of) waste coming out of powerplant chimneys, that's out of mind because it quickly gets out of sight.

It's tricky because of a combination of factors like long half-lives and unusual suitability for some of the material to be reprocessed into a weapon (both fission devices for nation states and terror devices for small groups, the latter more thanks to public perception than any actual effectiveness). This creates a lot of political obstacles, as it's easier to pass responsibility to someone else than it is to double-down and implement methods to reprocess, transmute or reuse the waste.


Organic chemical waste decomposes relatively quickly. Few of them survive 1000 year, and those that do are ironically things we perceive as safe (PET bottles and bags).

Yes. But that's my point. Nuclear waste isn't a huge problem, because there isn't much of it compared to any other kind of waste. It's tricky, because it lives longer, it's harder to neuter, and well... it's radioactive.

Besides that, the nice thing about nuclear waste is that it's so easy to detect if something is contaminated. Anyone can locate radiation sources with a relatively cheap Geiger counter. We also have a pretty good understanding of it's harmful effects.

On the other hand, there are so many cases of contamination with persistent environmental toxins that aren't as easy to detect, or who's toxic effects are initially not understood. Just look the sad history of PCBs or at 3M's ongoing saga with PFOA and PFCs.


> Nuclear waste isn't a huge problem, because there isn't much of it

You just changed your argument. You originally said nuclear waste is less toxic than “‘regular’ waste from chemical industry,” not just that there was less of it.

Even a smaller amount of highly toxic waste that stays that way for thousands of years is a huge problem.


I’m trying to find a charitable way to interpret your criticism, and I haven’t been able to find one.

In every post in this thread, TeMPOraL has been making a consistent argument that nuclear produces orders of magnitude less waste than other not-routinely-treated-as-horrible industrial waste issues.

You appear to be making the argument that “because there isn’t much of it” is a new argument, but that appears to be the core of their argument everywhere.

Perhaps you were confusing who said what?


Either it's highly radioactive in which case it doesn't stay that way very long, or the opposite.

Anything that remains radioactive for thousands of years is not very radioactive by definition.


Heavy metals are technically even worse in that aspect as they never degrade. Arsenic and lead will be just as toxic millennia latter.

To add onto this there's an old gold mine in Canada that has literally over two hundred thousand tonnes of water soluble arsenic dust just lying about the bottom, and the remediation process for the area is going just fine. We are capable of storing dangerous materials without collapsing civilization, it just requires more work is all

Recycling arsenic and lead is largely a solved problem for the last four decades or so. Very different from spent fuel rods.

The amount of long-lived nuclear waste generated per human over a life time is about the size of an apple. That's (unrealistically) assuming 100% nuclear electricity generation and no further progress in reducing the waste amount. It's a problem but compared to our greenhouse problems it's not _HUGE_.

Size is not the problem. Toxicity over centuries is the problem. Apples are a poor reference because it’s safe to be near them and they decompose within a year.

An apple has a volume of ~100ml. A standard 20ft container has a volume of 33.2m^3 and would hold 332,000 people's worth of radioactive waste. 7-billion people's worth of radioactive waste would take a little over 21,000 containers. The largest container ships hold up to 20,000 containers. We could power the world with nuclear power only have to deal with a little more than a full container ship of waste. I'm sure if there was political will we'd have no problem finding a safe place for it. I suspect just sinking it over an ocean trench would be less bad for the environment than the status quo.

It's mind boggling that we can generate all this energy by splitting atoms but we're still burning things and putting up windmills like it's the 1500s.


No its not. The civilian nuclear waste issue is vastly overblown compared to the actual danger.

Its almost impossible to solve because people think about it the wrong way, we need a change of understanding.

Just like Oil before it was useful, we need to think of nuclear waste as a resource. It is mostly fuel and a combination of other potentially useful stuff.

We need to be a nuclear society not a chemical society who wants to 'shut away' all the 'waste'.


checkout fast breeder reactors. This is why I am so excited about them specifically: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jul/30/fast-bre...

Well in the UK had committed in the 80's maybe.

And if the UK didn't do silly thing like selling profitable nuke companies to Japan (source senior guy at Sellafield) - and allow you junior collation partners to kill of a key project to placate the green wing of the libdems.

BTW I worked on research for fast breeders in my first job in fact one of the few times I went into our labs was to wrap a dummy fuel pin for two-phase flow tests.


It's nuclear itself. It's extremely expensive and currently only viable with massive centralized structures. Even commercial small scale nuclear will not work without government funding. The usual user is the military, which is currently the only user of small scale nuclear plants -> ships and submarines.

Nuclear dies not because of 'eco' organizations, but because we've put zillions into it and now the nuclear landscape we got speaks for itself.


Hinkley C is cheaper than the proposed seven barrage £80 per MW vs £150 estimated for the barage.

Hinkley C is costing £92.50 per MWh in 2012 pounds, rising with inflation.

The Severn barage will be more, but it is a “first of type” demonstrator design and it is hoped that costs would be lower for future, larger projects.


Remind me again how many Severn estuaries we have in the UK.

Sorry, “thinko” there. I meant to refer to the proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, which is promoted as a “pathfinder” project for other, larger lagoons.

The Severn barrage is, of course, much larger in scope and there isn’t any near-term proposals to develop it.


The two things interact.

Because of the 'eco' and other organisation successful 'anti-nuke' organisation any improvement or discussion is made extremely difficult. I would say its one of the most successful 'campaigns' the 'eco' people have ever pulled.

You ask normal people, who don't have a clue about nuclear energy if they support it and 'normal' people will simply say 'no' and the reason is some vague 'dangerous and waste'. Exactly what the messaging from these organisations was for 50 years.

In some states, like Australia for example the minister is expressly forbidden by law to even consider a nuclear solution to a environmental or energy problem.

In Austria Greenpeace activists surrounded newly build nuclear plant and forced is shutdown (it was replaced by coal but Greenpeace of course doesn't care).

In Germany massive anti-war and green movement went strongly anti nuclear and progressively increased pressure against nukes and in a politically opportune moment they managed to shut down the whole industry.

In Switzerland we passed a law not even allowing research on nuclear reactors mostly for the same nonsense reasons.

You can go back to the original Sierra Club Anti-Nukes, they quite literally had an express strategy to sell one thing 'danger/waste' and they specifically did this to increase regulation in order to make it unprofitable. That is directly stated in their communication. This has been their strategy for 50 years and it has worked on the population and on governments around the world, people are simply misinformed.

Of course they could not do it alone, but while they are loud the Oil/Coal lobby is massively against nuclear energy and always has been. You can find that even 40 years ago they cross financed anti-nuclear 'eco' people.

The problem with the current landscape is that because of regulation in most countries is basically impossible to bring a new nuclear plant to market. Lots of government money dumped in a few (mostly government) project does not mean that nuclear as a technology is the problem.


> Because of the 'eco' and other organisation successful 'anti-nuke' organisation any improvement or discussion is made extremely difficult. I would say its one of the most successful 'campaigns' the 'eco' people have ever pulled.

Nuclear has been sponsored with zillions of government money and lots of pro-nuclear propaganda.

We had a discussion about this for two decades. We observed more zillions put into nuclear with ever less return.

Germany invested for example into a Thorium-based high-temperature pebble-bed reactor.

Guess what? The promised reliability was not there. Even more, the thing was not commercially viable - so the INDUSTRY closed it, not green eco groups.

The current public opinion is not the result of green eco fanatics, but because the the nuclear political/industrial/military complex could not demonstrate its commercial viability and because nuclear is fundamentally opposed to a free, decentralized and open society.

We've seen the breeder concepts. A disaster. Seen the fate of the breeder in Japan? It was damaged during construction, sitting around for a long time - not because of eco fanatics - because neither government or industry were willing to put more money and work into it. After some time they decided to revive that old reactor - which then had even more problems. Now it will be dismantled.

http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2018/04/30-year_plan_approv...

Don't tell me eco-fanatics were responsible for this failure.

Germany invested into its own breeder. Which is now an amusement park in Kalkar. Another failed project which cost zillions of tax payer money.

Germany than had a demonstrator for a nuclear storage site (Asse II). Industry and government were handling it. Water leaks into it. It is unstable. Etc. It now costs zillions to fix that.

The result of 'build reactors first and care about storage later' is that nuclear material piles up near reactors. Which was one of the reasons for the cost of the Fukushima event: the spent-fuel pools were full and were located high up in the buildings. You probably have see the desperate attempts to cool these pools from the outside which contributed to the damage of the buildings.

We had a stream of these failures. Each time the industry and government came with new proposals. More money poured into it and more failures. Technical failures. Economical failures. And gradually the acceptance for new projects was going down - even among the proponents.

Siemens then invested zillions into the development of the French next generation reactor. That reactor turned out to be another problematic project and Siemens (a former proponent of nuclear technology) pulled out of that - because it cost them lots of money. The construction problems of these reactors are real (faulty steel, complex software, ...) and not green eco inventions. These reactors are built in France and Finland in nuclear friendly surroundings - yet they have massive cost increases and time delays... for a current update see here:

https://www.ft.com/content/dda39a0c-256e-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d5...

The problems costs the industry hundreds of millions and we are not talking about eco propaganda, but real technical problems and delays.

Claiming that the failure of the nuclear industry is because of green propaganda, forgets a stream of expensive and failed nuclear projects. In the end the government and industry were not able to demonstrate their capability to handle this complex system - it was fully exposed in Japan, where the reactors are still mostly shutdown - despite massive needs for their electricity. Building them and in this way in an area of high seismic activity was simply a failure. Before Fukushima its reactors were inspected and rated save. After Fukushima multiple failures were contributing to the problems - each single one were unthinkable before: full meltdowns, complete loss of outside energy, tsunami flooding the building, failing emergency electricity, failing electricity to cool spend fuel pools, hydrogen explosions in the building, etc. etc. This thing is a total collapse of any promised safety of these. Now don't tell me that this was an old design - it was claimed safe just weeks before the collapse. Thus undermines any trust into the industry and government - not green eco propaganda. This cleanup will cost several hundred billion dollar and will be extremely hard work for three or four decades.


> Nuclear has been sponsored with zillions of government money and lots of pro-nuclear propaganda.

Civilian Nuclear industry was always pretty tiny compared to the competition.

Funny how all this propaganda was useless as people (including smart people) believe lots of nonsense about nuclear that stems from lies made up by Greenpeace types.

I literally talked to a highly educated people who believe utter scientifically false stuff about nuclear because these lies have been embedded so deeply in our culture.

I consider it one of the most effective propaganda campaigns ever. I wish the nuclear industry was half as good as Greenpeace at promoting their ideas.

> We had a discussion about this for two decades. We observed more zillions put into nuclear with ever less return.

Except of course that it is the largest low CO2 energy source and has saved the world from billions of tons of CO2. Counties like France have been at CO2 levels that would basically solve global warming (or as close as you are gone get without replacing transportation fuel) but the rest of the nations did not follow.

You seem to assume that I said that every single failure of any nuclear plant ever is the responsibility of the eco people. That is not what I'm saying. The nuclear industry and governments have made tons of bad design choices, in nuclear and lots of other things.

The drama made over nuclear power, nuclear waste and so on has thrown a huge wrench into everything nulcear. Its incredibly hard to cite a project. Its incredibly hard to get political support for a project. Its incredibly hard to build a research reactor. Its incredibly hard to even get a licence for anything or specially materials. Its basically impossible to develop a new reactor type. These issue go from research to operation on every level the environment is terrible for nuclear.

The West started out making new reactors all the time and the reactors built back then were incredible cost competitive and up to that point nuclear had a speed of adoption unseen by any technology ever. This progress was essentially stop and grind to a halt because

> it was fully exposed in Japan, where the reactors are still mostly shutdown

Guess what, if you shut down fully function reactors for political reason its not the nuclear industries fault. Japan does not have a great industry but the idea that after Fukushima all nuclear plants had to be shut of was an idiotic political move that killed many more people then it saved (as it saved a grand total of 0 people).

> Before Fukushima its reactors were inspected and rated save.

The US Regulatory agency told Japan that these reactors were exposed but for political reasons Japan wanted to build on the coast.

> Building them and in this way in an area of high seismic activity was simply a failure.

False. The reactor didn't care about the seismic activity it had no issue what so ever.

In fact had the reactor itself not been shut down, it could have delivered the energy for its own cooling system.

> Thus undermines any trust into the industry and government - not green eco propaganda

Yeah lets play the lets focus on isolated examples. The nuclear industry global has the least amount of deaths per energy produced. And it has the lest amount of resource use and the least amount of pollution.

Basically 0 people died from civilian nuclear in the Western nations, a couple 100 that have long term lower life expectancy. However we build more gas plants, coal plants, wind turbines and so on.


> Civilian Nuclear industry was always pretty tiny compared to the competition

There is lots of civilian nuclear industry. But they all depend on government money, regulation, funding, insurance, ... And they prefer to have monopolies - like in France.

> I wish the nuclear industry was half as good as Greenpeace at promoting their ideas.

I think you are mistaken. The failure of the nuclear industry is self made. Entirely.

> Counties like France have been at CO2 levels that would basically solve global warming (or as close as you are gone get without replacing transportation fuel) but the rest of the nations did not follow.

Luckily - we would have a world full of nuclear reactors and large amounts of material nobody knows to handle. Plus the nuclear technology would be a wonderful entry for nuclear weapons.

> The West started out making new reactors all the time and the reactors built back then were incredible cost competitive and up to that point nuclear had a speed of adoption unseen by any technology ever.

We got many out-dated reactors with very little safety, no storage and lots of nuclear waste in return.

> if you shut down fully function reactors for political reason

If. But it was not the case. There was a large earth quake. The nuclear industry was exposed as a fraud with nuclear installation in areas with high seismic risks.

> The US Regulatory agency told Japan that these reactors were exposed but for political reasons Japan wanted to build on the coast.

See. The nuclear industry is not in a vacuum. In old nuclear installations there is so much money involved, that there is a high corruption risk.

If you don't deal with these types of risks, then the best technological solutions can and will FAIL. Technology is always embedded in a society and since billions of revenue streams are involved, we can't expect that safety first will prevail. Instead greed and corruption is much stronger. Or the will to have a nuclear industry to have technology transfer for weapon production. In many countries the weapon technology was first. Like in the UK, where the first power plants were modified designs used to create weapon material.

And in the case of Fukushima we are talking about Japan - a technological advanced nation. We are not even talking about the shitty nuclear industry in, say, Russia.

> alse. The reactor didn't care about the seismic activity it had no issue what so ever.

Of course they do. Every reactor NEEDS a full inspection after a major earth quake. Claiming that nothing happened WITHOUT inspection is impossible. Power plants are built to certain levels of expected events. If new information about events and their risks is available existing installations need to be approved again...

> In fact had the reactor itself not been shut down, it could have delivered the energy for its own cooling system.

If? It did. If it hadn't failed it would still be running. But it failed. Badly. Multiple ways.

> The nuclear industry global has the least amount of deaths per energy produced.

I try to explain again: the clean-up of Fukushima will cost probably half a trillion dollar.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/clearing-the-radi...

> Basically 0 people died from civilian nuclear in the Western nations

It's just that a single incident caused a many year long shutdown of basically all nuclear reactors in Japan. Many of them will never be restarted again. The economic loss is unbelievably large.


Nuclear is not a solution to the upcoming energy problem of developing countries. We don't want them to develop those capabilities. And the US government will likely bomb the shit out of those who try and cannot be stopped with softer means (aka their centrifuges breaking and scientists having accidents).

Switching to green energy isn't just a technical challenge as it is often reduced to here. There are many aspects, including social and geopolitical ones. We cannot just wave those away and discuss about (the certainly cool) tech.

Its ridiculous to say we want to solve our own energy problem with nuclear while forbidding Iran, North Korea & co to do so as well. Do you expect them to R&D solar+wind+storage by themselves?


This certainly seems like the largest downside to me. Politics in the US has played up "energy independence" for decades, and from a security standpoint that makes perfect sense. So what should all of the third world do, exactly?

I believe we can find the way to reuse nuclear wastes

Nuclear waste can be fed in to a breeder reactor and continue to generate useful energy. The key is understanding why nuclear waste is dangerous in the first place: because it still contains lots of energy!


> if we learn some day how to efficiently store energy

But we do. Redox batteries basically solve the problem of storage and scale very well [1], it's just the question of commercialization now (which is ongoing)

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery


We know exactly how to reuse nuclear waste. Carter changed the rule to disallow it because of proliferation concerns. Other countries don't have the issues we created for ourselves.

But proliferation is a legitimate concern, no?

When your country already has nukes, why not reprocess?

Because it makes it easier for terrorists to obtain nuclear materials when they're deployed in civilian power plants as opposed to military facilities. That's one of the main concerns regarding proliferation.

Exactly. It doesn't accomplish anything other than making it difficult to deal with our own nuclear waste.

The anti nuclear movement is not the main reason we didn't make progress. Capitalism is. The existing reactors still work, so why retire them even though they already exceeded their designed life span? Why invest billions into research and testing of newer, safer designs when the existing ones are "good enough"? Why try to reduce the amount and hazardousness of the waste when you can unload a lot of the cost and responsibility to politics and the tax payer?

HN has this idealistic image of nuclear power where everything is handled by passionate responsible scientists, when in practice those plants are run by corporations trying to cut costs wherever possible. Better and more modern designs wouldn't change anything about that.


Aggressive anti-nuclear sentiment killed new construction due to HUGE costs to comply with regulation and HUGE costs for finances - more than half of the _entire cost of the plat_ in some cases. Yes - capitalism gave rise to the stop in production - The cost and risks were too high. Why? The anti-nuclear movement .

The costs of regulation, while perhaps not ideally efficient, are a real cost of nuclear power. They are the mechanism by which risks to the common environment are controlled.

Currently, and increasingly in the future, there is this huge “externality” in the full costs of burning fossil fuels, which is not being connected to the use.

Basic economic theory argues that externalities need to be handled by “non-market” means. Which essentially means regulation.

For whatever reason, the particulars of nuclear power enable enough political will to make a serious attempt at regulation aimed at minimizing (horrific) externalities.

The problem of human induced climate change presents a scary political reality, in which the political structures required to apportion the “true” cost of fossil fuel use might be not be possible. Or possible in a way where the cure is worse than the disease.

If these costs were indeed born by users, the competitive position of nuclear power might be improved.

However, this is not a sufficient argument to relax regulatory requirements for nuclear power.


> The cost and risks were too high. Why? The anti-nuclear movement .

Also the hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds that it costs to clean up nuclear disasters. But sure, good to know that nuclear power would be profitable if only corporations didn’t have to comply with all those pesky safety regulations.


Is your statement here that regulations surrounding nuclear should be eased?

A Swedish company innovating in the nuclear space: https://www.leadcold.com

I'm torn however, on one side its a reasonable proposal that will yield waste far far less dangerous, on the other side, it distracts from investing in renewables.

The waste produces by every reactor current in production or planed is a huge problem that is greatly underestimated by the general population.

Sweden have for 30 years tried to figure out a way of storing the waste and still not have a finalized plan, and we have one of the best places to store it, stable bedrock with very little seismic activity....

Read more here about the plans for the Swedish storage: http://www.skb.com


I am in favour of nuclear and I am very sad that nuclear progress has stopped during so many years. But, I completely agree with you. Trying to revive nuclear is a fight of the past that distract from investing in long term solutions. IMHO, the long term source of energy is solar.

A mix makes sense. Why use only one solution? Just PV? there are so many more ways we can take advantage and maximize our resource use. A blended solution gives us much better ways to optimize our inputs and outputs.

wind is very quickly limited. hydroelectricity is already almost at its max. fossil is ecologically catastrophic. We do not know yet how to recover from past pollution. Nuclear is the cleaner, but accidents are unavoidable.

checkout fast breeder reactors. This is why I am so excited about them specifically: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jul/30/fast-bre....

Leadcold is a fast breeder.

Keep an eye on http://deepisolation.com as well for innovation with new disposal technology.

"But I could already see major limitations looming ahead: the huge amounts of land needed, the lack of scalable ways to match their inconstant power to society’s unremitting thirst for energy."

I sometimes wonder if authors of these pro-nuclear articles are paid to astroturf for the nuclear power industry or if they are just unaware of what solar is capable of.

The "huge amounts of land" claim is incorrect (https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/09/22/we-could-power...) and in reality much of solar power could be deployed on urban hardscapes.

The second claim seems to ignore the possibility of batteries and other large scale energy storage, never mind that solar would be complemented by other renewable energy sources.

The other problem with the nuclear industry (ignoring all the much talked about safety and waste storage issues) is that it ends up being a centralized power source. Living in a solar unfriendly state with the most profitable energy utility in the country (no rate review in 30+ years) I do not want to see any more centralization and the corresponding corruption. Yeah, I know centralization doesn't imply corruption and abuse of power, but it sure makes it easier.


The article you cited said we need 43,000 square miles of solar to power the earth costing 5 trillion dollars, I consider that to be a huge amount of land and money. That would be half the area of Minnesota the state I live in devoted entirely to solar panels. Sure it wouldn't all be in one place but that is still a significant amount of land world wide that have to change land uses.

Also isn't that article also assuming that all of the solar panels would be in the Sahara desert? Where solar power is extremely efficient. If we spread these solar panels across the world we would need significantly more because they would located in places much less suitable for solar power.


Yet the UK, not exactly blessed with excess sun, has already reached a point of generating more by renewables than fossil. With little noticeable impact on anyone anywhere aside from a few windmills in hilly spots, or visible a mile or so off some areas of coastline, and a fair bit of roof mount solar.

If that is all the space required to power the planet I find cause for much hope. I doubt there would be much impact on anyone once you distribute across all the countries. How much area is available globally that is currently empty roof? Car parks as others have noted. What of offshore, covering reservoirs, road and rail side verges and medians, wind, wave and nuclear. How much scrub and desert that provides little for us or the local flora and fauna?

Unless Minnesota plans on actually powering the world it doesn't seem a reasonable comparison or objection.


"Yet the UK, not exactly blessed with excess sun, has already reached a point of generating more by renewables than fossil."

Natural Gas is still the biggest source of electricity generation in the UK, by some margin. But it is declining, slowly.

By the early 2020s, it's likely that wind turbines will have overtaken nuclear as the #2 source.

UK electricity generation mix: https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/data-portal/electricity-generation-...


I think they must be including nuclear in renewables (32.97% non-renewables w/o nuclear, 21.69% renwables w/o nuclear, 36.79% renewables w/ nuclear).

Correct. Nuclear + renewables as against fossil.

According to http://electricitymap.org UK has most installed and used capacity in gas power plants.

Well a much publicised yearly report commissioned by Drax (UK's largest coal and biomass station) this week from Imperial College and sourced from Nat Grid thought otherwise.

https://www.drax.com/press_release/capacity-renewables-overt...

Who's most up to date or accurate? Given the steady drop of fossil capacity, perhaps electricitymap that seems to be volunteer run simply hasn't caught up yet?

There's over a 5GW difference in amount of installed wind power between that site and the "over 20GW" claimed in the Imperial report. Solar varies by a similar percentage.

There have been other reports on the same lines throughout this year of the dropping off of fossil and rise of renewables, for both generation and capacity. Even with the distraction of fracking and changes to feed in tariffs.


That's the maximum net generating capacity, but you can't just turn it on, it generates what it generates based on the wind/sun. If you want to see a live breakdown of power generation to the UK grid it's here http://gridwatch.co.uk/

> Yet the UK, not exactly blessed with excess sun, has already reached a point of generating more by renewables than fossil

Sorry, but more of what precisely?

Not all kinds of energy, surely?


Nuclear + wind, solar and hydro has now achieved parity (and just surpassed) coal, oil and gas for electricity generation. Both in capacity and actual generation achieved. We have a way to go to match Orkney, but electric is progressing nicely down the route to fully renewable, even with the Tory changes of subsidies.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-06/britain-n...


Are you counting nuclear as renewable then? Not totally off-base since uranium in seawater replenishes at a rate higher than we could ever extract it at world scale for a few billion years.

Nuclear comes out pretty well on CO2. I figure it has to be part of the mix as we move away from fossil, even if we eventually just use it to buy 40 years and ultimately move entirely to non-nuclear renewables.

Aha. That explains it.

I assume wind and solar are < 1% of that "renewable" total.


No need to assume (especially with such a low number).

http://gridwatch.co.uk/ has nuclear, solar and wind at 18%, 6% and 15%. Wind reached 37% this year, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/wind-power-r...


May I recommend euanmearns.com as a reliable claim-debunking source? Also manicore.com some of the contents is in English.

Considering the US alone uses about 4K SQMI for parking, that really doesn’t seem like too much.

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/arts/design/taking-parkin...


10x the total parking spaces seems pretty damn huge to me, I've seen some big carparks.

In addition, carparks in the US could be argued to be an ecological and sociological disaster.

If you could somehow have cars without carparks (maybe the car folds up, I dunno), it would be one the biggest quality-of-life improvements in my lifetime. Probably about on par with the smartphone for me personally, probably a bigger improvement for people who are very poor.


Self-driving cars will alleviate this problem, since the cars will just rent their time out (like Uber/Lyft today) and after they drop you off at your destination they zip off to pick up the next human. Even if you choose to own your own car, the car itself could go back home during the day while you're at work.

Though if owned self driving cars are used we have to choose between keeping parking spaces and increased traffic congestion. If there is no parking space, the car will have to arrive at work when you are leaving (which is usually the same time as everyone else) meaning two extra rush hour journeys each day.

That's already the current situation. Generally all traffic congestion is into a city area in the morning and outwards from a city center in the evening. There isn't typically congestion in both directions. Either way, between that and being able to get work done in your car (so you could leave earlier). I don't think it's too bad.

That is only true because lanes are built for the rush. When I've seen reversing direction lanes (in for the morning rush, out for the afternoon), the opposite direction now has congestion because of all the people working different shifts who can't take that lane.

I agree, to the extent that car-parks take up valuable space in cities. I assume that solar would not have that same problem.

The article was talking about the need for WORLD energy production, whereas I was comparing it to the amount of land used for parking in the US alone. If you spread that much land use among the entire world it isn’t that crazy.

Moreover re: the other comments about parking being an ecological disaster, I agree, but that’s more because of the car-dependency that parking comes with than the pavement itself. Pavement is ALSO a problem, particularly re: surface water permeability and flooding. But most solar and wind installations don’t require the same vast expanses of impermeable surface.

Lastly, remember that wind, at least, can and is often installed off-shore, so when you consider the surface of the ocean as a viable place to distribute some of this land use its even less concerning - at least relative to the continued burning of fossil fuels and associated greenhouse gas emissions.


If some other type of energy generation system used as much land as solar there is no way environmentalists would have ever supported it (rightfully so, I would say). I think solar was just not practical until very recently to actually be used at grid scale. So in the past saying one should stop burning coal and use solar was just a way of saying stop using power altogether and do some kind of back-to-the-land thing.

Efficiency has always been the smartest and cheapest approach, using lots of tech we already understand. It's always worth mentioning, especially as it's a multiplier of other greener sources.

Force all the malls and shopping centers to have solar roofed parking lots? Yes please.

"The article you cited said we need 43,000 square miles of solar to power the earth costing 5 trillion dollars"

Neither of those numbers seem out of reach to me.

I assume a large amount of solar can be placed on existing rooftops or other pieces of the (already) built environment.

I also note with interest that the most recent Iraq war cost somewhere between 2 and 3 trillion dollars and that bill was mostly footed by a single country which was hardly impoverished as a result.

I do question the externalities and pollution and embedded carbon costs of 43k SQMI of solar panels, however - I think that's the logistical issue that's most pressing.


>I do question the externalities and pollution and embedded carbon costs of 43k SQMI of solar panels, however - I think that's the logistical issue that's most pressing.

YES! especially considering the life cycle of PV - it is short!

Here is some great stats to consider: https://youtu.be/V2KNqluP8M0?t=454 (alarmist tone + admittedly biased toowards nuclear - for a reason - the numbers are sound)


In the same way you're conflating fission with fusion (I'll support funding for the latter, but not the former) when you advocate 'nuclear', you're also conflating PV with with solar thermal under the very broad heading of 'solar'.

My expectation is that most large solar plants will not be PV.


Good point. But do subsidies, research funds, and general sentiment support that? I primarily see investment in PV - not solar thermal. Got a preference I can look at suggesting you are correct?

No idea about subsidies, research, and gen-pop attitudes around the two.

Solar thermal has a couple of advantages - peak supply extends through into peak demand (around sunset), because it's basically its own storage system - efficiency is around 70% (compared to PVC which is ~ 15%, and is expected to rise very gently - as you noted in another thread). The lack of sensitivity to technology improvements makes it more attractive to investors, which is convenient as it's obviously a larger capex per installation. (I suspect R&D for pvc is higher per, say, unit of technology - though this isn't a big concern in terms of capex per user.)

Either way, most nation states have electricity grids that lend themselves to larger power generation installations, than a totally distributed system (where someone else looks after short term storage and baseload) - plus larger installations (solar thermal) work well in regions where there are disparate climates within the reach of long-haul power cables. (Definitely the case in AU for most major metropolitan areas - there are solar-thermal-favourable sites within a few hundred kilometres of the larger population centres.)

I've just done a pvc vs cst - and the latter's numbers really make a mockery of the anti-solar apologists' estimates on surface area required to provision estimated power requirements.


Also there would be national security concerns. You can't just put all solar panels in Sahara because some local African dictator or strong man can just decide to sabotage or just simply turn off the electricity as a power play. Each country would have to have these panels installed on its own territory to be able to have any sovereignty and not be easily blackmailed. You can't put all your eggs in one basket, especially if the basket is an area of Earth where there is very little law and order and constant revolutions, uprisings, terrorism and general political instability.

You can't just put all solar panels in Sahara because of so many more important reasons, mainly energy transportation. Power lines will never be that efficient, and battery storage would be prohibitively expensive (and I am not even sure there would be enough rare metals on earth to build that many batteries).

We worked hand in hand with middle east dictators for centuries now, to get their oil. Oil is interesting because it is cheap to transport (pipelines).


Also counts against nuclear reactors: do you really want to give the same strongmen and dictators the first step towards nuclear weapons?

Well, I mean we shouldn't export nuclear tech to really unstable third world countries. That's obviously a bad idea. But I see no problem in building nuclear plants within borders of western stable democracies. I was replying to a suggestion that it would be trivial to generate all of the world electricity by covering Sahara with solar panels. Was just pointing out how silly that sort of thinking is.

So how do you the third world obtaining power?

Perhaps you're not in California, but, in California, I can definitely find more rooftop area for solar than I need. Like, a lot more.

43k sq mi comes to about 15 sq meters per person, worldwide. It's big, but it's not unimaginable.

The habitable land area of Earth is about 40M sq. mi. So we're talking on the order of .1% for solar power. It's not insignificant, but I hardly think it qualifies as "huge".

You could stick a lot of on inhabitable land too.

I think you meant "uninhabitable", but either way, it works.

Words... speak... hard.

Alas, not a lot of insolation in Antarctica or Siberia.

This company sees the intermittent nature of renewables as a the primary problem, but that's thinking left over from the last century, a century where you couldn't make the demand responsive to the supply. That's going to change; the biggest amounts of home load will be heating/cooling of air for the home and water heating. Both of these will be demand responsive. And as cars electrify, that's another huge amount of load that will be responsive. The only thing left is the business model to pay consumers to charge/heat/cool at the right time. We don't even need that many additional batteries because thermal storage is cheap, and an electric car will store 2-3 days of electricity usage, and most people come nowhere close to needing a full 60 kWh of electric driving every day. Those that do will use it, but those that can be more responsive to when they charge will get paid for it.

In the 20th century storage was super expensive, and large precise construction was inexpensive; that's being flipped. In five years, solar plus enough lithium ion storage (or other tech) will be cheaper than the cheapest nuclear. In 10-15, winter levels of sunlight + storage will be cheaper than the cheapest nuclear. They're trying to address the problems of toady, in 20 years. If their development pipeline is 20 years out, they need to anticipate the problems 20 years out, rather than skating to where the puck is now.

The problem has changed; there will be niche needs for nuclear power, I'm sure, but unless they can drive down current nuclear costs to be cheaper than wind or solar, there's going to be little need for nuclear at all.


> That's going to change; the biggest amounts of home load will be heating/cooling of air for the home and water heating. Both of these will be demand responsive.

You can use time of day pricing to get people to do their laundry at a better time. You can't use it to get people to heat their homes during the day instead of at night. Once people are no longer burning oil for heat, there is going to be a winter month where the average nighttime temperature in the northern half of the country is -4 degrees and that is going to drive high non-responsive demand for electricity at night.

In theory you can install enough batteries for this and charge them with solar during the day, but what happens when it's cloudy during the day and cold at night for a straight month?


Heat storage is trivial and much cheaper than batteries on a house hold scale. Hot water tank as used for showers can also be used for central heating systems which use water to pipe heat. i.e. hot water is generated whenever power is cheap and piped to where it is needed when it is needed in the building.

Non of this has real engineering issues, nor even refit issues. Some economic impact sure but nothing blocking.

Like all real world power systems, we have drastically more production capacity than average demand. This would not change in a nuclear system as average grid demand is about 50% of max demand.


Heat storage allows you to efficiently move energy consumption from 9PM to 3PM. It doesn't allow you to move it from a cold month to a temperate one.

> It doesn't allow you to move it from a cold month to a temperate one.

Sure it does. Just have to store it in something else:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground-coupled_heat_exchanger


That sounds expensive and at scale likely to have a lot of weird unpredictable environmental effects. What happens when you heat the ground and the water in it evaporates? What happens when you cool the ground and the water in it freezes? What happens to indigenous vegetation if you're messing with the ratio of air temperature to ground temperature all year?

> What happens when you heat the ground and the water in it evaporates? What happens when you cool the ground and the water in it freezes? What happens to indigenous vegetation if you're messing with the ratio of air temperature to ground temperature all year?

Ground source geothermal has been deployed for decades without negative environmental effects.

The ground a few meters down (where ground source loops are placed) is a huge thermal mass, whose seasonal temp varies little, and space heating/cooling of buildings is not a significant enough force to overcome its inertia.

It is alao deep enough to have little effect on the air to ground temp ratio.

The biggest factor in that ratio is the variance it weather itself.

The ground source loops is highly localized near the building.

Putting up the building and the road to it was probably more damaging to indigenous vegetation than anything the heat pump would do.


Add wind, wave and hydro to the mix, including pumped hydro for storage and demand response. Start installing ground and water source heat pump community heating that's powered from wind and solar during times of excess. Combined with adequate insulation it becomes remarkably easy to heat and power even in northern climes almost for free. Allow the local electric co to smart-manage the home and EV batteries as part of the grid, subject to personal constraints of when you need 100% EV battery etc.

Some places are already there with excess power from renewables every year. We just need the will to scale up.


Hydro works great where you have an appropriate location for it, but most of the appropriate locations already have it. It doesn't scale.

Insulation is great for new construction but cost prohibitive for existing structures -- the new codes require 2x6 construction instead of 2x4 to leave more room for insulation, but you can hardly change that for a hundred million existing structures that aren't going anywhere.

Wind and wave aren't diversification because waves are caused by wind, so a still night is still for both.

Community heating from wind and solar doesn't provide any efficiency improvement without a cold sink that many areas won't have -- or something that generates waste heat, like nuclear. (Using waste heat from a steam turbine as the cold sink for a heat pump for community heating would be extremely efficient.)

Energy storage and time-based pricing is great for handling the high demand low sunlight period in the early evening. You still need something for baseload.


> Wind and wave aren't diversification because waves are caused by wind, so a still night is still for both.

There's also option of tidal energy plants, which pull power straight from the Earth-Moon-Sun system, but AFAIU this only works if you have a large enough body of water available.

I agree with your overall point. We need something for baseload Playing nuclear against renewables is ridiculous. We need both.


It's all doable. Quite easily and without bankrupting everyone.

Heating from ground and water source heat provides a thoroughly well documented 4 to 6 fold increase in efficiency and still works even when the sea or ground is only at a small differential and the absolute temperature is single digits above freezing. You don't need a handy nuclear plant or gobs of geo-thermal like Iceland.

You power the pump and heat exchangers from spare renewable capacity, the heat comes from the ground, sea or river. It works well enough in the Nordic countries and N Scotland (Orkney) to be fairly popular. Of course they benefit from going a bit deeper with ground source which further encourages community over individual installations, but sea works surprisingly well even at those latitudes.

Fully becalmed is pretty rare for much of the planet even when onshore is still. There is often wind a little offshore and the waves can result from winds pretty far offshore. Not forgetting tidal and pressure contributions. Sure, some areas will be less suited to wave or tidal than others, just as the UK is far better served by wind than solar. Though solar is still effective enough to be worth installing. Install the right mix for local geography and climate, balance with the national or regional grid. You're right that pumped hydro is particularly constrained by suitable geography, but there's plenty of spots it could be added to the grid still, just not in Florida, Kansas or The Netherlands. :)

Insulation isn't so hard either if you promote insulation for existing structures or apply judicious subsidy. New build should, of course, be better and we're a long way from achieving the insulation standards of Nordic countries. UK for instance had a decade of promoting and requiring the energy companies to provide subsidised installation of roof and wall insulation. It was remarkably popular, and pretty damn effective. Not all buildings were suitable of course, but start with the easier ones to get an 80% fix, then worry about the difficult sites and edge cases for the next steps.


> We just need the will to scale up.

When you ignore all problems of scale and cost then you don't actually solve the problem.

Facts are that it has been proven that you can (and quite cheaply) produce energy for a modern industrial nation with nuclear power.

And we know that no country, however much investment in all these 'hip' technologies you are talking about, has managed to even come close to powering the whole country with these technologies. And in those that have pushed on these its the opposite of cheap.

Centralized production has won out because the waste majority of the time it is a far better idea.

And as somebody has lived in a low energy house in northern Europe its neither cheap nor easy to have all these systems and any 'solution' that assumes we can do that for all houses is doomed to fail.


Nuclear hasn't compared at all well on cost. The planned new build in the Lake District has finally failed after a succession of business failures and others pulling out of the consortium starting with Westinghouse's failure. It was announced just this week that Toshiba had decided to liquidate what was left of the project.

Hinkley C is going ahead, and currently estimated to cost almost double wind and solar per MWh at current prices Building isn't expected to start until next year and generation some time in the mid 2020s. Wind and solar costs are still falling steadily. Not what I would call "quite cheaply". The French govt (majority owner of EDF) looks to be getting the best of that particular deal.

But I don't claim we can instantly switch to fully decentralised renewables. Nuclear is a sensible part of a withdrawal from fossil, if nothing else to buy us an extra few decades and baseload, as I've commented elsewhere. Whilst it performs poorly on cost it does well on CO2 so has a place. By the same token we couldn't go entirely nuclear without dramatically over-specifying grid capacity as nuclear doesn't respond well to transient peak demand. We'd still need a good chunk of diesel, battery or pumped hydro for shorter term reserves, and more intense demand management.

Centralised production works when it's a multi GW coal plant next to the colliery, or gas near the pipeline etc. As we adopt an increasing amount of renewables the grid becomes necessarily more localised as weather and climate will differ between regions and the grid is served by thousands of generation sources instead of a few dozen. Simple economics are driving that transition not whether they are 'hip' or not.

As for claiming a low energy house isn't cheap, well that makes no sense considering the size of bill reductions.


You are looking at a very limited sample size only in the western world.

You need scale in nuclear just as with anything else. Whenever people build lots of nuclear plants the cost go down and the build becomes much faster.

You can easily go to South Korea or China and have them build you a massive capacity of nuclear in the next 10 years.

> By the same token we couldn't go entirely nuclear without dramatically over-specifying grid capacity as nuclear doesn't respond well to transient peak demand.

That is a actually not really correct if you build modern plants. Even modern Gen3+ do a OK job, and if you have lots of them, together the can actually do a pretty good job. Furthermore there is a fair amount of innovation in fuels that improve load following capacity.

If you go to GenIV they are great at following load. Not to mention that in a GenIV you already have a hot salt loop that you can use as a heat battery (uses basically the same heat storage as a solar plants do) for peaking if that what the grid needs.

Look at the design of Moltex Energy for example. The see that because of renewable the value of JIT based power delivery is gone go way up they build a GenIV nuclear plant that will be 1GW but the have a huge salt loop and 3GW of turbines in order to peak if there is no sun or wind.

That is of course an extreme case that is rather unneeded if you have an all nuclear grid.

> Centralised production works when it's a multi GW coal plant next to the colliery, or gas near the pipeline etc. As we adopt an increasing amount of renewables the grid becomes necessarily more localised as weather and climate will differ between regions and the grid is served by thousands of generation sources instead of a few dozen. Simple economics are driving that transition not whether they are 'hip' or not.

But that is the whole point. Why should you have more renewables at all? Its a total anti goal, low carbon is the goal not renewable.

If we had picked nuclear then this would be a non issue, its only an issue because of renewables in the first place.

And if you have some ideological 'anti centralisation' thing then GenIV nuclear offers lots of options. In fact one of the main research areas is nuclear for communities cut of from the grid, like military or research outpost. You can get reactors that you can put on a truck and they run for 10-20 years, after that you simply pick it up and drop another one.

However the reality is that most humans live in cities and centralization into large plants makes sense if you have the market.

> As for claiming a low energy house isn't cheap, well that makes no sense considering the size of bill reductions.

Yeah but that requires that the majority of houses in the world have to be rebuilt. And its not really worth it most of the time, at best it is worth it after like 30 years.


Will any of these work in the third world in a way that's geopolitically acceptable? The US frowns at small third world countries having access to nuclear reactors.

Post-industrialization "third world" countries like South Korea and Brazil already have nuclear power. Pre-industrialization third world countries have trivial carbon footprints. By the time they're politically stable enough to build a functioning power grid with enough demand to justify a nuclear plant, it's generally no longer a problem for them to have one.

Also, what does that have anything to do with using them in first world countries?


Small nations don't have to run them. In some places you just have Russia, China, US, South Korea run them.

What? In the northern parts of of the US at least virtually nobody heats buildings with electric power. It’s gas or oil, which are not affected by the problems of maintaining capacity on the electric grid.

Yeah but the whole point of the exercise is to replace fossil fuels.

it seems inconceivable that large areas of cold climates will convert to electric heat in the near future, it doesn’t make sense to add the need for vast amounts of new electric capacity which will reach peak demand at night.

The road to zero carbon emissions passes through reducing carbon emissions by converting existing demand for electricity to renewables.


If we don't replace carbon for home heating and transportation the fight is already lost. By 2050 we need to get ride of it for all uses.

So saying 'well, lets solve the easy part of the problem with renewables but lets ignore are the hard problems' is not a acceptable.

If you want to actually propose a solution you need solve all these problems in the next 30 years.

If as you say electricity expansion is 'inconceivable' then we have already lost anyway. Because we will need more electricity for electric cars at least.

It only seems inconceivable because we consider it difficult to expand electricity generation without building coal or gas plants. Looking at historical examples you can see that you can have very rapid expansion with nuclear is not 'inconceivable at all'.

France is case and point, it already uses electric heating in many places. And they did this with 60s technologies in the 70 and 80. But somehow it is now impossible. How does that make any sense at all?


an electric car will store 2-3 days of electricity usage

What percentage of people have their car at their house during the time the sun is providing most of its power?

On a weekday, most people drive them to work for the day.


We are really far from solving the storage issue. And no nuclear is far from being cheaper than solar + lithium (except maybe in very specific area such as Chili with high sunlight and high cost of nuclear). There are not enough Lithium on Earth anyway to answer large scale energy storing.

Using vehicle battery is a naive way to think about it. Your car battery cycle is not appropriate (and will surely not be) to house consumption: as a result you will just crash your battery life expectancy.

The only advancement for large scale is fly wheel storage. But the record is only 40 MWh for a duration of 4 hours. Waw. Not even close.

The point of the nuclear is namely to think that 4th generation nuclear power plant are a way to reduce nuclear fossils cost to zero. Zero because many countries recycled their nuclear waste (if France is using 4th generation, they will not need to buy uranium before 10000 years). And Russia succeeded to make work a 650 MW 4th generation power plant.

Governments have paid large subsidies (140 billions in 15 years in France) for renewable energy. But in most cases, it resulted in a few percent of energy consumption - and it will not be much more in next years. If we want to solve global warming today, thats just not a working solution.

The only solution is to enhance nuclear powering.


> The only advancement for large scale is fly wheel storage. But the record is only 40 MWh for a duration of 4 hours. Waw. Not even close.

Flow batteries have already reached 60 MWh storage, and their capacity scales linearly with the volume of electrolytes, so it's effectively unlimited, unlike flywheels, which can only get so massive before their mechanical systems would fail.

They also have extremely fast response times, and unlike Lithium Ion batteries, are capable of charging to 100% and total depletion to 0% without damage to the battery.

Therefore they are already being deployed in grid-scale renewable energy applications to smooth out supply and demand.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanadium_redox_battery#Largest...

The only thing they don't do well at is energy density, but for grid storage applications, that's not an issue.


Have you seen the "move a mountain" idea?

Basically pump water underneath a large mass of earth to lift it up. Then let the water pump back out to retrieve the energy. Main issue is the seals that would need replaced.


There is mechanical and thermal storage. Molten salt storage has been used several times in recent designs but it isn’t popular.

For mechanical storage, pumping water could be more viable than fly wheels.


I'm always amazed by how 100% sure 'renewables' people are that progress in renewables is absolutely 100% assumed but progress in nulcear technology is somehow almost impossible.

Nuclear is now trying to solve the problem 20 years away. If we had a mass producible MSR we have practically unlimited fuel and we can mas produce the power plant.

Lets remember that nuclear is still the largest source of carbon free energy and by many calculations, the amount invested solar/wind/batteries in renewables could already have solved the carbon issue (Germany being the example).

Furthermore we actually have prove that the nuclear solution works. France went to almost 0 carbon energy 30-40 years ago. While Germany and its fight for renewables is the biggest polluter in Europe and after absurd amounts of investments in renewables they have only just replaced nuclear, added lots of infrastructure investment and by their own plans it will take many, many more years of massive state investment to even have chance to run Germany on renewables.

If Germany had done a France/South Korea style program they could be carbon free now already (or at the least well on its way) and in 20 years. And that is with 1970 tech, not even considering GenIV.


Let's assume that progress picks up after many many many years of stagnant research.

What are the directions that can improve construction costs for nuclear? The reason that they went to massive huge scales in the first place was cost, because giant steam turbines work better on bigger scales.

Lets assume that the thermal energy could be taken completely free, without any cost to get it. This is the best case possible situation of improvements in advancing nuclear technology.

In that scenario, thermal energy still needs to be converted to electricity. And then we're in the situation of geothermal, or solar thermal, and we're in a situation where we are at one of the most optimized engineering areas that's ever been explored, and where our skills have plateaued. I'm not even sure if massively improved costs on materials will improve that area much.

Natural gas is winning among thermally-related tech because of combined cycle technology, where you get energy through two different ways. I don't see how thermal plants alone can compete with the cost trajectory of solar and wind.

I mean, I could be wrong, I'm not "100% sure" as you strawman me. But the chances that nuclear can 1) make the thermal generation part super cheap, and 2) make the thermal to electric conversion cheaper, or 3) come out of left field with some sort of direct energy conversion or whatever, are just such loooooong bets that when someone makes them I'm guessing they're just being a contrarian, or just haven't paid attention to the field in a long long time. I'd not sure which camp to put Myhrvold in, since he invested a while back it could be either or neither or just one.


> 1) make the thermal generation part super cheap

Even with Gen3 if you effectively construct and build it can be quite a bit cheaper. As places like South Korea show at the moment.

However when you go to advanced nuclear, you gain massive benefits because the scale is just so much smaller. That means the core itself, but even more importantly, the technology around the core, such as turbines, can be moved outside of the nuclear island. Meaning far less civil engineering and that the turbine island can be identical to those build for gas or CSP.

We know that the construction and financing of that construction is the main point of cost today.

The second gain in cost also comes from scale, but of the reactor core itself. A nuclear reactor is not far more complex or bigger as many other things we mass produce already, planes, cars, rocket engines and so on. Mass production can bring down the cost of individual reactor cores as it did for everything else.

> 2) make the thermal to electric conversion cheaper

Using the same technology as a Gas power station, Combined-Cycle Gas Turbine. You can do that with advanced nuclear because of high operating temperatures.

Beating gas in the US where it is absurdly cheap will probably not be possible if CO2 is not prized. But it can beat coal and everything else in most places of the world.

If you want to really want to go to zero carbon by 2050, we need to mass produce nuclear reactors like we do planes. You don't need massive changes to the grid. No need for massive expansion in cross regional grids. You don't need highly complex extra regional power management schemes. You don't need an incredibly complex system interaction between highly intermittent energy sources and peckers working together.

These reactors can be built close to where the users actually and more importantly you can build them where currently coal and gas power plants are located. Meaning you can reuse existing infrastructure far more effectively then trying to replace these coal plants with wind and solar resources.

Not to mention that nuclear is far more long lived, all these solar and wind farms have to be completely replaced twice or three times over while nuclear plants can live for 60-100 years.


One thing I'd like to see is how much night time demand based on simple arbitrage. And how much of that demand will disappear if the rate structure makes night time power expensive.

>>> The "huge amounts of land" claim is incorrect

Matter of definition. Based on facts it is huge in my opinion.

>>> The second claim seems to ignore the possibility of batteries and other large scale energy storage, never mind that solar would be complemented by other renewable energy sources.

No, it just matches reality. As of today we can not store huge amount of energy this is why you need to charge your phone every day. If battery capacity and energy density was developing the same speed as CPU power we would charge our phones once a year. The best option we have today is called pumped storage hydroelectricity, which is a really invasive way of storing energy and reduces the efficiency greatly. Unless we found a radically different, better way of storing energy solar power can be used only in smaller scale (like Tesla Solar Roof style) and nuclear power is still one of the cleanest and best option for mass production of eneregy.

Disclaimer I have graduated in energy engineering


arguing the pros and cons of alternatives absent the timeline is false framing. the question is not what can solar and batteries do some day, the question is what can we do to drive emissions to zero by ~2050. solar and batteries alone cannot do that.

Sure. Solar and batteries alone cannot do that.

But solar, batteries, wind, thermal, hydro, gas etc all connected via continent wide digital grids definitely can. And it's the option that nicely avoids the NIMBY problem you get with nuclear.


There's a pretty big NIMBY problem with HV transmission lines in the USA as well, of which many thousands of km are needed for the energy system you're dreaming of.

Also many of those sources have seasonal variations that the grid doesn't solve. The sun goes down at 4:30pm in many parts of the USA in winter, at the time when heating energy peaks. It's easy to underestimate how much energy is needed to heat the midwest in winter.

China has a related problem but people are dying from the coal emissions. Their solution? Scaled-up TRIGA reactors (typically used for research) that provide district heating, not electricity. Brilliant! [1]

[1] http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/CNNC-completes-de...


Indeed. There are countries already at 100% zero carbon for electrical generation through the use of solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal:

https://www.electricitymap.org/?wind=false&solar=false&page=...

There is no reason we cannot rapidly expand on this with additional solar and wind, as well as batteries as the cost drops.


Notably, check out Ontario (96% low carbon, 36% renewable) and France (91% low carbon, 13% renewable!?)

But how!? The answer is nuclear power plants.

Don't forget also that electricity is roughly 40% of energy usage for most people, the rest being heating and transportation. Those are very fossil dominated so even though you see green here, there's a huge huge way to go.


> But how!? The answer is nuclear power plants.

Legacy nuclear bridging the gap is an acceptable solution. As I've mentioned elsewhere in this thread, nuclear simply takes too long to build and is too costly (when compared to renewables as low as 2 cents/kwh and deployment times measured in months, not years or up to a decade). China is installing 40-50GW of solar per year; the world in aggregate installs about 100GW annually. The largest nuclear power plant in the US (Palo Verde in Arizona) has a nameplate capacity just shy of 4GW; assuming you need 16GW of solar to replace such a generator due to 25% capacity factor, that is an install time of just around a year).

> Don't forget also that electricity is roughly 40% of energy usage for most people, the rest being heating and transportation. Those are very fossil dominated so even though you see green here, there's a huge huge way to go.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory did a study about a decade ago [1] that ~73% of light vehicles could move over to the electrical grid with existing generation capacity. EVs are a perfect match for intermittent renewables generation, as they can charge when the sun is shining during the day, or charge at night when the wind is blowing. I concede heating has a long way to go with air source heat pumps, insulation, and other energy saving measures.

"This initial paper estimates the regional percentages of the energy requirements for the U.S. LDV stock that could be supported by the existing infrastructure, based on the 12 modified North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) regions, as of 2002, and taking into account congestion in regional transmission and distribution systems. For the United States as a whole, 84% of U.S. cars, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) could be supported by the existing infrastructure, although the local percentages vary by region. Using the light duty vehicle fleet (LDV) classification, that includes cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans, the technical potential is 73%. This has a gasoline displacement potential of 6.5 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, or 52% of the nation’s oil imports.

Existing nuclear plants should be kept operational as long as feasible (from a safety perspective), but the writing is on the wall.

[1] https://www.ferc.gov/about/com-mem/5-24-07-technical-analy-w...


The way to have legacy nuclear power plants in 2050 is to build them in 2020.

Right. Find someone willing to give you the $1-4 billion dollars to do it (per generation facility). No one will because you can't prove it'll be financially viable for the next 20-50 years.

Duke Energy collected almost $368 million from ratepayers in South Carolina [1] to pay for a nuclear power plant, and then gave up on it, with no recourse for ratepayers. It spent another $1 billion on the failed construction of a nuclear plant in Florida (north of Tampa). If I'm a ratepayer, I'm going to burn you at the stake (metaphorically) if you try to force me to pay for another boondoggle.

If you want to save the planet, buy every solar panel you can get your hands on and install it as soon as you can, especially if you live near a coal plant; it'll drive the plant into insolvency, no nuclear power required.

[1] https://www.tampabay.com/news/business/energy/trigaux-abando...


That is why financing of reactors is outrageous - more than 50% of the TOTAL cost of some reactors!

But there is a solution: SMRs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_modular_reactor


Point me to where I can buy one.



I have no opinion about any of that. That's a discussion you should probably have with Nathan Myhrvold, not me.

The coal plant will just bill you double thf amojnt when there is no wind/sun.

Examples of renewable in Spain and Germany have shown that you still need an alternative source of energy - you just reduce its usage.

Nuclear, on the other hand, provide the opportunity to eliminate coal/gas.


> The coal plant will just bill you double thf amojnt when there is no wind/sun.

Which prompts users to install battery storage (which, in the US, is eligible for a 30% federal tax credit, not to mention state and local incentives in some cases).

If the coal plant can bill you double, so can the nuclear power plant. You can't charge me for the sun on my roof, nor the energy I store in my Powerwall.


The nuke plant can charge you double... except if you can import power. At that point, the problem nuclear runs into is that coal/gas is more adapted to fluctuating demand.

So nuclear has to face excess production from wind/solar exported by e.g. Germany at times, and can't make up for it when wind/sun is offline, because the germans then adapt with gas. That is kind of a bad situation if you optimize for co2.

Also power walls are not a scalable solution. The raw ressource just isn't there for it to happen.


update on that reference is less optimistic:

https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy18osti/71500.pdf


People have been under-predicting what solar and batteries can do for decades... just look at the actual cost and production curves vs predictions. Also, don't forget wind and other storage.

Yes! There's wind! And pumping water up a mountain as storage.

I'm a fan of LFTR reactors and similar new designs, but the writing is on the wall for nuclear power. Alternative energy shot by it. I still think we should invest in Thorium reactors at the state level, but solar/wind energy has won.


Countries in Europe have saturated their hydro potential, and aside for a few exceptions, it's far from giving enough storage.

Examples like Iceland and Norway are nice, but most countries can not use them. On the other hand, e.g. France and Sweden have driven their co2 emissions down without such natural advantages.


While Nathan Myhrvold doesn't need to be paid (he's a near billionaire), I do wonder what one has to pay Scientific American for the opinion space advocating their own company.

It would seem a little more objective to have an independent scientist write pieces like this.


This article isn't about objectivity. It's an opinion piece by someone with an entirely transparent agenda.

It would seem a little more objective to have an independent scientist write pieces like this.

Any scientist who knows enough to write an informed piece is going to have an opinion, whether they are hiding it or not.


The parent never asserted that independent scientists won't have an opinion.

If you want "more objective" you are asking for less opinionated.

A calculation I saw a couple of decades ago showed that the entire energy being used by the world then could be powered by a solar array 200 miles on a side.

I think that figure is on the right order, then break that 40,000 sq. mi. into 100 pieces ... and each is 20 miles on a side. Compare that to the amount of sunlit desert in the world. Simple, obvious, self-explanatory.

Of course, the fuel cost of solar is zero. The energy can be created anywhere there's sunlight. Consumed locally. And there's no waste. A threatening vision for the power brokers. They may say anything to have their way.


> I do not want to see any more centralization and the corresponding corruption.

Agreed - That is why Small Modular reactors are exciting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_modular_reactor


Why not both?

An industry like solar whose main boast seems to be that it creates more jobs than fossil fuels -- while producing less than a tenth of the energy -- is not shovel-ready as a replacement right now, today, when we need it. If you require an order of magnitude more workers per watt, you're not ready to scale. By contrast, as far as I can tell, nuclear requires fewer than fossil fuels.

Back during the Great Leap Forward, Mao got really into this idea of the people generating energy & doing metallurgy & manufacturing locally. Hipsters would approve. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a leap backwards.

edit: my math was wrong; solar is actually worse than I said. Solar costs over 100 times more workers per watt than fossil fuels.

https://www.energy.gov/downloads/us-energy-and-employment-re...

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=us_energy_home


Isn't Myrvohld the same guy that runs Intellectual Ventures? This guy's like Bond-villian level bearish on humanity.

Anyway, as someone who lived on a nuclear vessel and responded to Fukushima and has degrees in physics and medicine, I'm honestly fine with nuclear power, but renewables, by having lower energy density, are just way more managable. The workforce problems being a major part of it. I have solar on my house. I'm not putting a reactor on my house, ever. I always go back to this: I'll grant that more people will die falling from roofs while installing solar, than will ever die in all nuclear events, including Chernobyl, Hiroshima and Nagisaki. Still, solar and wind are the better options. Energy density matters. Not to high. Not to low. Juuust right.




It is fun to see that Germany abandoning its nuclear power due to "green" protests, but in fact increasing the coal burning rate. Problem of political populism - it is probably what will destroy humanity one day.

Germany is ending nuclear power because there is no consensus on how and where to store nuclear waste. People tend to forget that the waste is dangerous for thousands of years to come and Germany doesn't have deserts to put it in. Putting it in the ground is a bad idea, as you can see if you just search the internet for "Asse nuclear".

Putting it in the ground is a very very good idea: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onkalo_spent_nuclear_fuel_repo...

Just because the Germans can't do it properly, doesn't mean it's impossible.

And a BBC World Service podcast about Onkalo for your perusal: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cswvxg


You seem to have no clue how small Germany is. So no. It's not because we don't know how to get rid of it. We have neither the space nor the geological properties that makes this easy.

Also this disposal site is still in construction and a research group in 2012 already has cast doubt on the corrosion proofness. Nothing has been proven yet. This is not an easy problem.


There's actually not that much of it. In fact, over the past 4 decades, the entire industry has produced about 62 500 metric tons of waste. You could probably put all of that in the space of a football field.

Except that some of it has to be kept apart so it does not go critical, some has to be put in special containers...

I didn't mean dumping it all in a heap together, but putting it in e.g. high-density polyethylene should do the trick. It has the density of 930 to 970kg/m^3. Very good tensile strength and longevity.

There's more than enough space and geologically stable locations to put this stuff. Politically speaking and in terms of getting nuclear back in the game, I wouldn't worry too much about waste with the modern solutions within storage.


Use it as reactor fuel. The "waste" which is radioactive for thousands of years is fissile and the fission byproducts are not radioactive for that long.

Germany is forbidden by international law from having the processing facilities that could re-enrich the spent fuel to reuse it.

Ironic, since Germany is maybe the only country I would trust with such facilities. From a pure not-fucking-it-up perspective. (Ahem... cough Sellafield...)

Well, look at the Asse II, Germany has a long tradition of fucking uo everything nuclear.

The french actually are allowed to do it, and have the facilities, and don't have nearly as many issues.


I would not count on it, since in France everything nuclear is state controlled and largely state owned. Independent control is not on the level as in Germany.

Ouch. Apparently €140 million of federal money is spent a year for the Asse clean-up, and they haven't even begun retrieving the 140k barrels yet?

use it as is in Molten Salt Reactors. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor

Because its better to spew all of the toxic exhaust generated by coal burning plants into the atmosphere? At least with nuclear you know where your waste is and you can control it.

> People tend to forget that the waste is dangerous for thousands of years to come

Why people always talk about that like it's the worst thing that ever happened? There's also dangerous chemical storage facilities and these products most of the time don't even degrade over time (so even longer than thousands of years), they are also stored in worse condition than nuclear waste. Despite all of that, I don't see any environmental group talking about it.


Environmental groups talk a lot about chemical waste.

> these products most of the time don't even degrade over time (so even longer than thousands of years)

Just see fate of the German storage site Asse II:

https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asse-atomlager-101.html

That's a very costly problem: it will cost billions to fix it.


Export to the sahara?

Maybe nuclear waste should be deliberately stored near population centers, helpfully incentivizing the populace to maintain the safety and integrity of long term storage.

Where the wind blows the dust to europe every month? Sounds safe if anything should happen...

Yes. I've said this before and I'll say it again -- the environment is too important to be left to the environmentalists.

Germany abandoned nuclear after we all could see the risks of nuclear in Fukushima. And I think it’s preferable to have a government that does what its people want or can convince them of alternatives.

Respectfully, they overreacted. Fukushima killed effectively no-one from radiation, though fear of radiation did definitely kill people (as they evacuated). Meanwhile air pollution from fossil fuel is killing hundreds of thousands per year from air pollution. Now factor in potential impacts from climate change... fear of nuclear for safety purposes is real but doesn't stand up to the actuary test. And the fact is that this fear translates into extra regulations and safety systems that cost a lot so it's not just "but nuclear is expensive". A better solution is like TerraPower is taking, just design inherently safer reactors that don't need the safety systems.

Because the wind blew to the sea instead of mainland japan.

Hi, so, I was actually deployed to Japan and discussed the wind predictions with the modelers at Lawrence Livermore who ran the simulations and I saw the isotope sampling data collected from the planes flying through the atmosphere over Fukushima. Getting a re-entrant flow for enough time get any meaningful amount of radiation over any populated area was never going to happen. Like, ever. Like, they seemed really apologetic for having ever run the simulations, but the question national leadership posed was "how long would you need re-entrant flow to get significant exposure?" So they had to sustain an irrational model until they got a time. And based on that we spent a huge chunk of Operation Tomadochi's $90M on keeping sealift resources on standby off the coast in case of a Vietnam-style evacuation.

The risk of tsunamis in Germany is high?

Rivers can spontaneously flood, too. And German nuclear plants happen to be located on such rivers. And many of them are first generation LWRs with significant safety issues. The town neighboring one of the reactors producing energy for Hamburg has for some unknown reason the world's highest rate of child leukemia.

Are you comparing a river flood to a tsunami seriously?

Yes, because for this purpose they're both equivalent: they both have the potential to disable the emergency generators.

The reactor Krümmel actually had incidents in the past where the emergency generators failed, and where the connection to the grud failed. Just by sheer luck never at the same time.


got as source with statistics to back that claim?


From that:

>Euroclus study In contrast to the above-mentioned studies, which focus on the Elbmarsch geographical area, the EUROCLUS study attempted to find matches between the 240 leukemia clusters identified in the study.

The evaluation of the study showed that environmental factors such as proximity to nuclear power plants, military airfields or other facilities often causing pollutants do not correlate with the occurrence of leukemia cases, but that demographic factors are the most significant characteristics in which they were studied Clusters match.


I am not a statistician - but 14 total instances in all studies? This seems like a study group too small to analyze with meaningful significance - the expected variance is very large with such a small sample.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1892150/

And not to downplay at all - but 14 cases being the total possible over a ~30 year time-frame seems like a mute issue compared to any other life threatening issues.


That's not a good argument.

We might give up on tall buildings too as they got demolished in earthquakes...


The irony is that tall buildings do significantly better in earthquakes because they are built to a higher standard of safety.

Depending on how solar turns out in the future, it might be possible to argue that Germany saved humanity by supporting it. I guess we'll see.

> increasing the coal burning rate

it doesn't.

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/sites/default/files/styles/l...

As you can see renewable energy has been massively expanded. 2018 was another record year. Solar had this year an increase of 20% in the first half year.


> in fact increasing the coal burning rate

Also despite green protests.

https://hambacherforst.org/


..and I see tons of progressives in Korea praising Germany for abandoning nuclear. They say, "See? It's not hard! Germany did it!"

Groan.


Do you have any sources for the coal burning rate?

Germany's rate of coal burning went up after Fukushima and the accelerated nuclear retirements, but it is now back below the rate of 2010. See chart "Gross power production in Germany 1990-2017, by source":

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/germanys-energy-c...

There will probably be another (hopefully temporary) increase in coal consumption following the shuttering of the remaining German reactors in 2022.

It's fair to say that Germany has surrendered several years of progress on CO2 cuts with its move away from nuclear power. It's not accurate to say that Germany is burning more coal now than before Fukushima, or is currently increasing its rate of coal burning.


The energy needs didn't magically reduced with nuclear reactors getting phased out. Whatever is not compensated by increase in domestic burning must be bought abroad, which means all Germany did is essentially export their emissions elsewhere.

Germany has continued to increase renewable generation. If you look at the "German power export balance" chart in the same source, net German exports in 2017 were the highest they've ever been despite less coal consumption. The growth has been mostly from renewables, and secondarily from gas. German renewable generation in 2017 was 100 TWh above 2010.

There is also a lot of pressure in Germany to end brown coal based production in the same way that nuclear was shut down. Brown coal is Germany's dirty little secret: it's the most polluting form of energy production. It also involves strip mining huge parts of landscape, which is not popular with the locals.

Either way, a result has been that the electricity prices are currently quite high here. Many people are reacting by deploying solar on their roofs. However, the pressure on electricity producers to deliver clean power is yielding results. It is likely that


not just coal but gas also, while simultaneously becoming more reliant on Russia to supply that gas. So not just environmental but also political consequences.

I'm starting to think that these green protesters in germany are just Russians pushing an energy agenda that benefits Russia.

Russia is pushing hard their nuclear projects. Dozens of reactors in build.

Mostly around Eastern Europe though. When it comes to Germany, Russia is mainly pushing Nord Stream 2 so it can pump gas directly to Germany without reliance on Ukraine. It's beneficial for Russia to further increase Germany's reliance on natural gas from them. Shutting down nuclear reactors plays into their hands.

Russia would be more than happy to sell reactors to Germany. Even better would for them Germany investing into their nuclear industry and providing technology. Germany, can help and would gladly do so, dismantling the russian nuclear industry - but that's a very dangerous job, since their nuclear industry is in a really bad shape.

I think it’s about priorities. Selling gas to Germany for $$$ without middleman taking a cut and being able to shut down pipes is priority 1. German investment in Russian nuclear industry is secondary. I think Russia has more domain knowledge in this area than Germany anyways (France would be a better country being able to offer expertise, Germany just doesn’t have the strong history in this area compared to Russia, France, US, Japan). The only thing Germans can provide is cash, Russians have very strong experience with nuclear energy and they can do the tech implementation part. It’s just they have trouble paying bills.

Germany has provided lots of expertise to secure Russian nuclear reactors from submarines and power plants.

> Germany just doesn’t have the strong history in this area compared to Russia, France, US, Japan

Germany had provided lots of expertise to Russia over the years. Especially in dealing with old and dismantled reactors. Russia did just dump them...

> It’s just they have trouble paying bills.

Russia had lots of money and they invested it into modernizing their nuclear weapons and their nuclear-powered submarines. Safety of existing or closed nuclear installations was of no concern.

OTOH Russia's Rosatom was interested to build nuclear powerplants together with Siemens in the early 2000s...

https://www.siemens.com/press/en/pressrelease/?press=/en/pre...

Siemens earlier built reactors together with Rosatom... in 2011 Siemens was quitting this business.


Never attribute to malice...

Just generally don't talk behind the back of and about people you don't know the first thing about.

Sorry if I was unclear. I mean to say, I don't want to jump to the conclusion that Die Grünen are some kind of astroturf for Gazprom. More likely they're expressing genuine opinions and care about saving the world, and I simply disagree with their assessment of tradeoffs.

I'm also unclear on how I'm talking behind anyone's back on an open forum in a language readable by a majority of Germans.


Well, I added to what you responded to that other person, who talked about "these green protesters in germany". These sweeping explanations of what is going on in Germany by non-Germans are hilariously bad 99% of the time, I'm used to that, but here I just think "tell that to them, not to yourself by proxy of telling us". Look them in the eye and tell them that.

And you know, screw Fukushima (which made even China, those crazy hippies, pause for a bit, but hey)... I remember Chernoybyl, and yeah nothing bad happened (to us), but it was real scary in those weeks, when it rained. I remember these stickers... "Unsere Kinder sollen lachen, nicht strahlen" ("our kids should laugh [have a beaming smile etc.], not emit radiation"). The nerve to throw all that, and all these people into one big bucket... I'm at a loss of words that are allowed on HN, to be quite frank.

Oh, and when vaguely important things like human extinction come up on HN, most of the comments are along the lines of how it's all really depressing or best to not have kids, or "AI" this or that. But these ignorant people who don't have the full picture and don't get everything exactly right when they protest between barely getting by on two jobs, they're surely the problem. Jesus Christ.

I know I'm ranting, and please don't take it too personally, but I totally stand by what I'm ranting about. I just don't have good place where to put it, it's off-topic in all of the hundreds of discussions it would apply to, and of course it's nothing to do with HN per se.

> When once you were in the grip of the Party, what you felt or did not feel, what you did or refrained from doing, made literally no difference. Whatever happened you vanished, and neither you nor your actions were ever heard of again. You were lifted clean out of the stream of history. And yet to the people of only two generations ago this would not have seemed all-important, because they were not attempting to alter history. They were governed by private loyalties which they did not question. What mattered were individual relationships, and a completely helpless gesture, an embrace, a tear, a word spoken to a dying man, could have value in itself. The proles, it suddenly occurred to him, had remained in this condition. They were not loyal to a party or a country or an idea, they were loyal to one another. For the first time in his life he did not despise the proles or think of them merely as an inert force which would one day spring to life and regenerate the world. The proles had stayed human. They had not become hardened inside. They had held on to the primitive emotions which he himself had to re-learn by conscious effort. And in thinking this he remembered, without apparent relevance, how a few weeks ago he had seen a severed hand lying on the pavement and had kicked it into the gutter as though it had been a cabbage-stalk.

-- George-Orwell, "Nineteen-Eightyfour"

How many miles is everybody here flying per year on average? I mean, that's just for starters. What about those insanely cheap short holiday flights? How will nuclear energy help there? At some point, you will have to step on toes, maybe make sacrifices, nuclear energy or not. Even if you had perfectly clean, infinite energy, we would have to make uncomfortable changes either, and rethink some things, certainly consumerism as a way to compensate for being unfree. But that's hard stuff, that might require principles, courage, drawing lines and then holding your ground -- painting "green protesters" with a broad brush, that's easy.

Solving problems is fun, being told to stop causing them, that's gross.

> I simply disagree with their assessment of tradeoffs.

And you attributed it to "stupidity", without even having the courtesy to fully type it out.

The assessment of tradeoffs by whom, exactly? Who spoke, to whom is it a response? To nobody in particular, just a very vague cherry-picked aggregate, just like the initial comment by the other poster.


Oh they have always been involved like wise with CND back in the 50's - the though CND did go off book and started demanding the USSR get rid of its nukes.
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