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If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste? (forbes.com)
172 points by vixen99 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 291 comments



The late David MacKay's book "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" is available free online:

http://www.withouthotair.com/

Here's the chapter about solar energy:

http://www.withouthotair.com/c6/page_38.shtml

Here's a 100 word synopsis he wrote for his talk to the House of Lords:

http://www.inference.org.uk/sustainable/book/SUMMARY

David MacKay also invented the Dasher text input system:

http://www.inference.org.uk/dasher/


Very good book but tech went lot further than David expected in many places (ie. solar power efficiency vs price).

This page tried to keep it updated:

https://www.carboncommentary.com/blog/2017/3/30/l6qcqgoedse1...


Amazingly, LCOE prices of utility size PVs have dropped another 30% - 40% just since this update alone.

And this is not some cherry picking. 2-3c/kwh in the US, India, Chile, Middle East, etc..


Thanks -- that's a pleasant surprise (both that technology has advanced further than he expected, and that people are keeping his book up to date)!


David MacKay has done some great work, but I feel I need to present some of the criticism he has received, for balance. In particular, there is a perception that he is biased towards nuclear energy (understating its drawbacks, while also being unnecessarily dismissive of renewables).

People can consider these articles for themselves:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/professor-david-mackay-br...

"Professor David MacKay: Britain ‘must go nuclear’ to control climate"

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/03/idea-of-...

"Idea of renewables powering UK is an 'appalling delusion' – David MacKay"

The latter, from 2016, includes the line:

"There is this appalling delusion that people have that we can take this thing that is currently producing 1% of our electricity and we can just scale it up..."

For reference, according to:

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/wind-solar-overtak...

"Renewables’ share of electricity generation shot up to 29 per cent, while nuclear sources accounted for around 21 per cent."


I think when he was writing, solar wasn't competitive, and neither really was wind. With that in mind nuclear had a place in zero carbon fuel mix, we should perhaps be thankful that other renewables have made such amazing strides.

He isn't around anymore to update his book, but I'm not sure it matters. For me anyway, it was the approach not the specifics that mattered.

Id rather be reading MacKay's 10 year old book for advice rather than those people who think banning straws is going to save the world.


straw man argument


I see what you did there ;)


The book was a great (and depressing) read 10 years ago.

Today, it is completely out of date on PV, wind. Fingers crossed for same progress on storage & EVs.

Throw in bio-fuels for aviation, and maybe hydrogen for marine and heavy transport, and civilization may yet survive /s


...Here's a _1000_ word synopsis he wrote ...

FTFY


Thank you. I found Dasher a long time ago (feels like a decade) but lost the link. Have been thinking about it often since. Finally, thanks to you I once again have it available


A question I'd like to see answered: are solar panels net energy producers? I.e. over their lifetime, do they generate more electricity than combined energy that went into manufacturing, transporting and deploying them, including the marginal energy costs of mining the necessary substances they're made of?

Because if not, then they're a net waste.

I'd like to see a similar analysis on emissions instead of raw energy too.

It's not that I think solar is bad; it's just I don't understand why discussions about energy and emissions never include end-to-end accounting of energy costs & emissions.

--

EDIT: Yes, I am lazy; in the Christmas fever I forgot about the term "EROI", though I still see it discussed too rarely. But yay, thanks people for jumping to conclusions and accusing me of motivated reasoning and/or sowing disinformation. -.-


5-6 years ago the energy needed to produce panels compared to their energy output reached parity. Now the energy needed to produce panels is 6-40 times less than a life time output of the panels. Today the energy input for producing and installing panels is less than the there energy output in most places. And with the efficiency gains in production of the panels and the efficiency gains of the panels electricity production every year the equation is getting better. As the world moves towards a energy mix with more renewables every year the solar power becomes cleaner. Where as most fossil fuels power production has stagnated and has little or no improvemets. With big oil and car companies spending money on politicians to not improve efficienies and decrease production.


With sustainable energy winning so clearly, it's getting more expensive to corrupt polititians though. I never thought China would be a great example for this.


And don't forget the improved energy mix that is feeding the manufacture of these panels. Within our lifetimes it may become possible to manufacture and install solar panels with mostly renewable energy.


This is the right question.

A few years ago I worked for a wind turbine company (Admittingly a crappy one) and I was one of two software engineers,

My first job was to analyse all of the data about 300 turbines were sending back home, and build a dashboard.

Well a few weeks later after checking all of the data, it turns out that the entire fleet of turbines actually consumed slightly more energy than they produced.

This was because of many manufacturing problems meant there were several frequencies that the turbine couldn’t spin at because it would generate a resonance and shatter or break something. So the system was frequently applying the break to stop the turbine destroying itself.

After several days of head scratching and double-checking and triple-checking the data, I went to the mechanical engineers and they finally sheepishly admitted they knew these things were net energy consumers rather than producers.

This doesn’t even take into account the energy budget of cost of production and distribution.

This isn’t the case for the big turbines you see out in the field, I’m really just reenforcing the parent comments point that total energy needs to be considered.


Why was applying a brake so energy intensive? Seems like it'd be practically free.


In general, turbines use energy to start up! They need to do this in order to overcome the very large inertia. Imagine a wind that lasts for 4 hours, but to harness that, you need to be spinning up for 1 hour, leaving you only 3 hours or useful energy. Instead, they spin up the blades to the optimum speed and can get payback for that initial spent energy.

Also, you still need energy to run the computer that monitors everything.

https://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Wind-Power/How-Much-...


After braking the turbine isn't generating the energy it needs to in order to be net positive.


For this to lead to a net negative, it has to be more than just a lost opportunity to make energy: either it is a significant energy consumer (i.e. not just a dissipater), or the turbines must be incapable of producing significant amounts of energy even when working correctly. There is something that has not been explained here.


That the turbines were incapable of producing significant amounts of energy even when working correctly, is not out of the really of reason.


How bad would it be to insert a comment about regenerative braking here?

But yeah, that sounds so bizarre. The Emperor's New clothes territory.


Regenerative braking is not an issue here. Wind turbines slow down the wind to generate electricity, so, in a sense, they are always doing regenerative braking when operating as intended. They would only be mechanically braked when this (and also blade feathering) is insufficient or inapplicable for some reason.


If this is common, then it's very bad news.


Its common for small (house mounted) turbines to not generate their embodied energy, which is why you don't really see them any more.

Edit: Reference https://www.resilience.org/stories/2010-09-16/real-world-tes...


It's not. His comment is about a specific company who made faulty products, not about wind turbines in general.


I've read stories like that, people rushing products to benefit from subventions. It backfires badly on renewables.


What the turbines use the energy for?


You are cherry-picking a bad example.


I specifically explained that my story was not applicable to the big turbines and then explained that my anecdote was a call for critical examination of data, it was not intended as a generalisation of the technology as a whole


Even if he is then it still shows that it's not as rosy as many likes to claim.


What's not as rosy as many claim? There is simply not enough data in the comment to draw conclusions about anything apart from a specific unnamed producer of faulty products...


It's pretty decided that Solar will never be able to produce even close to sufficient energy to serve as a baseline energy source.


Including all losses, to power everything in the world with solar it comes to around twice the area of Portugal with current tech.


That's utterly wrong. How could you come to that conclusion?


How can you come to another conclusion by all means. Convince me that solar can serve as a base powersource.


~20 terawatts = humans

~90,000 terawatts = sunlight hitting surface of earth


Yes now put in the missing part. What is the maximum effeciency we can hope for and what is the areal plus inventions that needs to be done, the cost and the environmental consequence of large solar farms etc etc. fusion has a much better chance of being a reality than solar or even solar and wind together. You are living in a fantasyworld.


Lets not look at the maximum we can hope for ever. Lets look instead at figures for what is commercially available now. So, say 27% maximum conversion.

Average insolation gives us ~6kWh over a square meter over a day, 27% of that gets us to 1.62kWh, divide by 24 to get the wattage, that's a 67.5 watts per square meter average before we get to storage or transmission.

HVDC has losses of ~3% per 1000km. Now lets look at round trip efficiency for storage. Typically you see a quoted figure of around 70% depending on technology type. So lets say a 65% loss (edit - this should read 65% efficiency, or alternatively a 35% loss) from storage and transmission.

We are now at ~44 watts per square meter, which gives us 456,000 square km from the 20 terawatt rating of humans. So ~5 Portugals, which is admittedly higher than my original figure of 2 Portugals, though you would presumably site your panels somewhere that gets better than average insolation, places like the Sahara, for example.

Also, for comparison, the Sahara desert is ~100 Portugals and the area currently used by humans for agriculture is ~550 Portugals.


And nuclear can do 1000w per m2 just to put things in perspective here and that's currently.

Now add to the problem of solar that it's unreliable, we haven't actually solved creating proper fuel cells and have no proper grid to distribute it through which is why ex. Denmark had to get their energy from the Germans this summer because Denmark who is based most on wind didn't get any wind and had to get from Germany who didn't actually use solar but instead coal. So you would need to actually solve that kind of problems too which we aren't even close to.

In other words. Whatever reality you or others imagine with solar or renewables you are far away from showing anything close to it being a realistic solution.

I am all for renewables but let's make it support a more fundamental and solid energy base like nuclear and then add solar on top instead proposing an inferior energy form when betters are out there.


>I am all for renewables

You have stated elsewhere that you think wind and solar are to do with communism. I am not sure exactly where you were going with that as an argument, but I really don't believe that you meant it in a 'yayy, communism' kind of a way.

ThomPete 22 days ago [flagged]

No I haven't said that at all.

I have said that the claim that wind and solar is the way forward is to do with the "communism has never been tried" argument.

Why do you need to lie about what I actually said.


That may have been what you meant, but it was not what you said.

pjc50 said: This is very much the "true communism has never been tried" argument, isn't it? Unless you know a way of building it without people?

Then you said: "No its not at all the same cause thats not what i mean. I mean that people are ignorant to the dangers not that its dangerous. Has nothing to do with communism, wind and solar on the other hand do."

The way this reads it is as though you have skipped the reference and have started talking about communism itself as opposed to the "true communism has never been tried" argument. Now this may have been unintentional on your part due to poor English, but if I have misunderstood it was not due to me trying to conflate your words in any way. You did the conflation for me.


[flagged]


Perhaps I can't parse English, or perhaps I am deliberately trying to misunderstand you. Couldn't possibly be that you are being a bit confusing in the first place, of course, as that would shift a little bit of blame to your court and we cannot possibly have that, now can we? Must be that I am being a bastard (which is fair assumption really, I can be a bit of a bastard).

With that all said however, the interpretation you are putting forward (which it would only be reasonable to take as the correct interpretation of your words, as it is you describing what you meant to say), still doesn't support the notion that you are "all for renewables", now does it?


Fusion has pretty much no chance of being a reality, in the sense of being economically competitive. And this has been known for more than 35 years.

http://www.askmar.com/Robert%20Bussard/The%20Trouble%20With%...

(See? That's how you give a reference to back up a claim.)


And yet the Chinese just succeded with an important step.

You are using something written in 1983 as your support enough said.


If someone's argument is that something is wrong and has been known to be wrong for a number of years and here is an article explaining why, you cannot really use the fact that the article being used as explanatory evidence has been around for the amount of years stated, as some kind of winning move against their argument.

You do know this, right?


Yup, I also know that we are actually seeing progress in that field because the Chinese are investing in it and which then obviously needs to be factored in like everything else.

The point was that fusion is as far of as 100% solar is. So again unless you show some actual proposals for how to get 100% solar to work realistically you are in no better position than the Fusion crowd is.


I'd be interested to know more about the Chinese research you are referencing. Could you point me to the research and explain how it overcomes those arguments of Lidsky? Is it using something other than Deuterium and Tritium, or has it found a way around the problems that Lidsky enumerated with the DT approach?


He's probably referring to this:

https://www.universetoday.com/140540/chinese-fusion-experime...

It's nothing very notable.


That thing is interesting for plasma physics though. It isn't really trying to be a fusion reactor, as far as I can tell from following the links past the article. Is more of a scaled down testbed. I have often wondered if the people working on tokomaks are more interested in the science you can do with them, than the potential for generating electricity, even if the people providing the money aren't entirely aware of this.


Its a step toward solving how to control the plasma. So yes its a pretty important step.


Better plasma control doesn't do much to Lidsky's argument though, if you have a look through it.


The Chinese succeeded at something that doesn't do anything to address the devastating, fundamental argument Lidsky gave back in the 1980s.

Lidksy's argument is as valid today as it was then.


They succeeded in one of the steps toward a solution.

How far is wind and solar with realistic fuel-cells?



In other words. Not far.

When you write "EWE plans to build the world´s largest battery" you know you are dealing with PR not with reality.


Lets see how well that theory goes up against recent history.

---

Tesla to build world's biggest battery

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/07/07/tesla-buil...

Tesla mega-battery in Australia activated

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-42190358

---

Hyundai Plans World’s Largest Grid Storage Battery In Korea

https://cleantechnica.com/2017/12/05/hyundai-plans-worlds-la...

Hyundai Electric completes world's largest ESS

http://komec.kr/eng/Board.asp?menucode=0503010000&mode=2&no=...

---

I don't think Korea Zinc or the people of Adelaide are storing their power using public relations. I think, in reality, they had a battery delivered.


Again not far. Fuel cells to be used that allow for storing solar reliably, by all means, provide the evidence of the fuel cell industry making this possible not wishful proprietary technologies


>provide the evidence of the fuel cell industry making this possible

Hang on, so, you want fuel cells but dismiss someone building the world's largest battery using redox flow technology?

I take it that you don't know that redox flow batteries are a type of reversible fuel cell? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery#Redox


I want fuel cells at scale that can work anywhere just like batteries, otherwise you dont have a useful solution to the already utopian all solar world you guys dream of.


That would be cheap redox flow batteries, like the EWE project I linked you to.

One thing, I take it you don't see lithium scaling. Why is that? There is enough of it.


[flagged]


You are welcome to find any peer reviewed paper that proposes that. If we are allowed to just hope for things then fusion would be a much better method.

Solar and wind is currently delivering around 1% of our energy needs, even with extreme improvements and investments to change that, which would be absurd it will not in any sensible way be able to deliver enough energy for our increasing needs.

So again show an actually proven rational proposal or we are just talking wishes like fusion and then sun def wouldnt be used as a base source.


[flagged]


The evidence is pretty simple.

We currently use 1% despite all the advances in solar. That makes 100% solar is not going to happen pretty settled when you factor in cost, materials, efficiency, reliability etc.

I don't have to prove anything. You are welcome to believe in solar but you won't find any realistic proposals out there. If that existed all you had to do was to show it to me. But you won't because it doesn't exist. In other words, pretty settled.

pfdietz 22 days ago [flagged]

LOL

Your claim is that because solar is only 1%, it can never be 100%?

There was a time nuclear was less than 1% of our generating capacity. Why didn't this logic apply then? Or, for that matter, why doesn't it apply to any other technology that passes through 1% market share on its way up from 0%?

You are simply ridiculous.


That's not my claim but it's part of it, there is a reason why it's only 1% and it's not because it doesn't have political support.

You still haven't actually put forward any realistic proposal for how a 100% solar grid system would work realistically providing us with stable and scalable energy and ability to solve the world increasing energy needs.

So you can call me what you want that doesn't change that fact.


Small turbines are rubbish. Always have been. Wind turbines are a swept area game. Everyone in the industry knows this.


It's uncited and anecdotal.


EROEI calculations are hard to do and even harder to compare accurately, because you have to decide what second and third order effects "count". Most reliable ones I've seen put the lifetime output at 5x to 10x the input. This is actually better than some of the unconventional oil extraction methods.


And those calculations are done assuming the PV modules are made in the same place they are installed, like, say, Germany. But there are places in the world where the solar resource is 2x better. In those places, the EROI would be even better.

This does lead to an interesting observation: in a solar-powered world, heavy industry is going to move away from places with less sunlight. Good for the low latitude countries, not so good for Europe.


Yes, right now they do have a carbon footprint but it is far lower than fossil fuels.

In the future - when production is done with green energy - that will get far lower.

https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/blogs/ho...

https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/opinion/mondaycop22-...


Not sure if your links answer the question. They mention "30x less carbon footprint than coal" not that they are not net waste all things considered. Which is a very different question.

And "carbon footprint" is not the only thing that matters either. If your process involves tons of heavy metals, that's a lot more relevant in soil pollution than carbon.


It's nothing even comparable to coal? Have you seen how much of that stuff is actually burned per kw/h? It's absolutely insane if you've seen it. Especially when you imagine the logistics involved (or in my case have been shown the logistics involved in only a very small case, which was already shocking for me).


Not sure why you are coming back on coal. Thats is not my point. My point is that the link does not give any support to whether or not solar panels are net waste energetically speaking. Its fairly obvious that they are probably much better than the worst fossil fuel, but that does not answer the original question raised.


Even if they had zero carbon footprint, they could still be a waste.

If making them uses more energy than they'll ever produce, you might be better off just using that enery to charge some batteries and then use the batteries in place of the solar cell.


Except batteries waste energy as well. You never get 100% of what you put in.

I am sure someone here knows the exact percentage but my personal experience with lead acid and solar panels leads me to the opinion storing then converting solar energy from DC to AC wastes 80% or so of the total produced

My workshop I am building will run on DC 12 volts and have 3k to 4k or so of solar panels and another 2kw of baby wind turbines because of what I learned dabbling with solar power.


That sounds really neat.

Did you DIY all the solar and wind installation? Any pointers to resources about that stuff that I'm not likely to find easily by googling?


All DIY

Lead Acid batteries are ok

Keep the charge high on the batteries, the higher you keep it the better. Down to 10 volts is hard on them.

Used forklift batteries are a good large battery

for wind which creates a high surge you want a battery regulator setup instead of the standard solar controller

http://hydrogenappliances.com/batteryregulator.html

I really think generating hydrogen under pressure with electrolysis would be a viable storage of non used electricity but I have yet to build that system


Ah no you are taking physics principle of energy can not be gained only transformed but discounting sun energy in your calculations which is another input. Solar panels were a waste in energy terms 10 years ago. Today that is no longer the case. https://phys.org/news/2016-12-solar-panels-repay-energy-debt...


Good and interesting question, and I would like to know too, but a couple of points here

- You probably meant to say this but, obviously, there has to be a usage time variable in the calculation somewhere. They will presumably have a lifespan where they can be deployed outdoors without replacement/maintenance, and perhaps this lifespan itself but certainly the average hours usage per day will then vary with climate. There might be tradeoffs in the design and materials used which increase durability but lower yield, but then affect energy required to produce, etc, etc. My point is that it's really quite complex and I'm quite sure there is no one answer, especially with the technology changing (improving) all the time.

- You have to walk before you can run. Even supposing there is a deficit today, the only way we get to a future where there is an energy surplus with solar tech is by deploying the not-good-enough-yet tech today and improving it through iteration to the point where it is good enough. Again, then whether it is worth pursuing or not depends a bit also on that (predicted) rate of improvement.



A lot of the people who mention EROI are basically conspiracy theorists, and the basic math they use makes no sense.

This website debunks some of the stuff that you'll find if you just blindly Google EROI:

http://bountifulenergy.blogspot.com

However, even the crazy people generally aren't claiming that solar panels are net negative.


It‘s called EROI and information is widely available.


> are solar panels net energy producers?

Yes (based on data from 2008). See at the bottom, under Mythconceptions: http://www.withouthotair.com/c6/page_41.shtml


Producers make profits by selling solar panels. Customers save money by buying solar panels.

Unlikely that this would be the case if solar panels were not net energy producers.


That's a very bad assumption. Producers and customers make money exploiting price differentials on the market; this is not strictly tied to whether or not a product is a net benefit on a global scale.

Hence I was asking about EROI calculation.


> Producers make profits by selling solar panels. Customers save money by buying solar panels. > Unlikely that this would be the case if solar panels were not net energy producers.

> That's a very bad assumption.

if you assume efficient and free markets, then this is a good assumption. If it takes more energy to create a panel than it's (average) lifetime energy output, consumers will find that it saves no cost, and thus would not buy them. Producers of panels will either have to work out how to reduce costs (or improve yield) to a rate which will net a return that the consumer considers worth investing in a purchase.

So by the fact that panels exist today, it _must_ necessarily already have passed the threshold.


Efficient and free markets is a wrong assumption. Those almost never exist in real life.

(And it's not just the fault of regulatory overreach; if a seller or a buyer are exploiting information asymmetry, the market isn't efficient by definition.)


Government subsidies? Works for sugar industry.


There are actually large tariffs on solar panels.

Supposedly it's to protect the nascent solar industry in the US. In reality they're there to help incumbent oil/gas/utility interests.

And nuclear - much like the registered lobbyist who wrote this article.


Your apparent inability to do a simple search makes me think you just want to send us on a wild goose chase proving everything from first principle, or alternatively to saw some FUD around solar technology.

I mean, what answer are you willing to accept? Here's one investing as much energy as your question:

Yes, solar power is net positive.


[flagged]


[flagged]


Talk about biased evaluation.

People in general don't know specifics of panels, this discussion has 30 comments right now meaning there is no mass of people who care about topic. And clearly, even those of us who bother to click and read or even comment can't be arsed to Google it.


Yeah, how dare he wanting to run a conversation about this topic!

Everyone should only ever talk about novel ideas or call each other out with a touch of name calling when they don't.


why not google it? The answer is widely available.

Or are you “just asking”?


> why not google it?

Two reasons:

- the quality of information available in HN discussions is usually much better than whatever you can find in the first couple of pages of Google search results. It's usually more up to date, and usually presented with less bias.

- setting aside the quality of search results, the time needed for a person without much knowledge about the topic to look through dozens of pages can be actually a full afternoon of work (which would be prohibitive on a day such as today); on the other hand, people who are familiar with the topic can provide an answer in a few minutes.

> Or are you “just asking”?

Please don't do this. I'm not a mod or anything, but I actually quite like the guidelines here - and the relevant point is near the top of guidelines:

> Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith.


When you consider the whole life cycle start to finish, nuclear power is the second safest in terms of deaths per terawatt-hour produced, only following hydroelectric power. That also includes every nuclear disaster ever.

Solar energy is great, we need more of it, and I think the long-term future of power includes a microwave transmission solar station at one of the Lagrange points.

However, when you look at the total externalities, nuclear is actually the safest and cleanest form of power that we could use in the medium term.

Except that everyone is afraid of it, and no one wants to spend the money.


True - however if you consider the true lifecycle from start to end (including construction costs, and decomissioning) nuclear is one of the most expensive power sources.

The costs for proper decomissioning of a nuclear plant and safe storage of the used materials are excluded in most analysis, as the time and cost horizon is so large.

On Solar Panels: there are some very interesting projects by large environmental service providers underway that use high pressure water or very high temperatures, to separate the glass from metal frame.

I think a similar hurdle are carbon fibres, you can't burn or shred them (carcinogenic micro fibres).

There are some interesting projects that try to clean and reuse the fibres through some kind of chemical baths..but most of the old e.g. wind turbines are just stored at a giant wind turbine graveyard right know.

It's a fascinating field!


From what I understand most of the real costs in terms hazardous disposal for nuclear is that nuclear plants are designed to be dirty. They are designed to create weapons fuel, which means lots more of highly radioactive byproducts that are unavoidable if you want these refined fissionable materials.

From what I’ve seen of modern designs that can’t be used for weapons programs, there’s significantly lower costs associated with disposal and decommissioning plants.


Do you have any references you coul point is to?


Hinkley point in the UK got a strike price of 2x what renewables would cost.


Globally, hydro is three times as risky as rooftop solar, there were ~171,000 dead from the Banquio Dam failure alone - http://www.nuceng.ca/refer/risk/risk.htm

Also, I keep seeing figures for rooftop solar and not solar in general, and the risk for rooftop solar is due to the risk of working on a roof. If solar was mandated in new build and major roof repair, wherever it made sense to install it, this risk can be greatly reduced as the largest risk is during putting the scaffolding up and taking it down again.


In Australia. I've never seen anyone scaffold their roof to retrofit solar.

Meanwhile, four people died as a result of a nationwide campaign to install roof insulation and that became a massive political controversy.

I don't doubt people die installing solar, but it's interesting that we never seem to hear about it.


The waste is radioactive for many human lifetimes however. That's the piece that seems highly irresponsible to me: assigning radioactive waste management to many future generations. IIRC, there are some reactors with waste which lasts less than a human lifetime, or generate waste which can be utilized or broken down with an additional reactor. I could get behind those. The solar waste problem is fixed with a recycling upcharge on purchase and some additional cost reduction on the technology. This is a tame problem compared to radioactive waste which will likely outlast the civilization which produced it, never mind the individuals.


Nuclear waste disposal is an extremely overblown challenge. There are already digs in place in Finland and the US with capacities to store centuries worth of nuclear waste, a mile underground.

The concern that some future civilization will manage to dig so deep, in an area with no natural resources, crack open some of the waste caskets, and then die because they fail to figure out it is poisonous is one of the most ridiculously far fetched concerns. Contrast that extremely remote possibility with the certainty of pumping toxic greenhouse gases directly into our atmosphere. I cannot fathom why one would believe the former is preferable to the latter, but some countries like Germany seem to have made that conclusion.


> There are already digs in place in Finland and the US with capacities to store centuries worth of nuclear waste, a mile underground.

And this is why nuclear waste disposal is _not_ an overblown challenge. Because even though there are already digs in place, almost all of the waste still sits right by in-use reactors. The US has been trying to fix this since the 80s, and afaik real progress has not been made since the bill to put it in Yucca mountain was killed in 2010. It might be a political challenge rather than a technical challenge, but it is an _extremely_ difficult political challenge that should be deeply considered when supporting nuclear energy. It is not really safe or cheap for it to stay above ground by reactors forever.


Yes, that's a good point. It is a significant challenge, but the challenge is overwhelmingly political rather than technical.


My impression from the article is that solar panels have similarly-severe byoroducts (maybe not specifically radioactive, but certainly not stuff I'd want seeping into my drinking water).

We're already fucking over future generations with a massive carbon footprint. Replacing all that with nuclear would be objectively less bad.


Yes, that is the impression the article is trying to give.

It's too bad the article has to lie in order to give that impression.


You say afraid as if it is a bad thing.

When you consider the timescale of nuclear power plants and how long nuclear power has existed, safety stats seem to have a pretty low sample size with a lot of uncharted territory.

That fear you mention is a very real and important one, because even if 99% of plants operate under strict safety, it only takes one failure to cause massive damage. Beyond lives and into land and resources, and additional risks of further ecological harm.

For me, when considering if nuclear power is worth it, I think that we have so many alternatives that will work well enough for a long-term horizon (let's say 200 years) that any sort of risks of charting that new territory in nuclear power and having that very large risk is not worth it currently.

That's not to say it won't be worth it in the future perhaps as climate change worsens or in a century with additional safety tools possibly fueled by additional scientific insight, but right now I think you're severely undermining that some (not all) fear of nuclear power comes from a very rational place.


i agree to a lot of your points. nuclear power has had few incidents, but those there have been have had far stretching consequences and have caused massive casualties spanning multiple generations let alone the permanent increase in background radiation which is slowly eating away at everything.

for me it's the ultimate of the bad / destructive ways to create energy and should be avoided (opinion.)

i'd say with those stats in mind hydroelectric and wind power are some of the winners, even though of course the equipment manufacturing and decomissioning of these isn't totally clean, they are a big step in the right direction of non-destructive cleanER energy source.


"When you consider the timescale of nuclear power plants and how long nuclear power has existed, safety stats seem to have a pretty low sample size with a lot of uncharted territory."

That's true of literally all of our modern sources of electricity aside from maybe coal and oil.


What are you talking about? The timescale of nuclear power is comparable to most other forms of electricity generation. We have reliable, long term statistics which show it to be insanely safe compared to all other forms of generation, and that's despite the fact that all these reactors are shithouse designs from the stone ages. We know how to build reactors that are orders of magnitude more safe, which is remarkable since nuclear is already the safest form of electricity.

As for using risk as an excuse to avoid it—nuclear power is orders of magnitude safer than air travel, but you don't see anyone deciding that we should continue to travel by boat.


> As for using risk as an excuse to avoid it—nuclear power is orders of magnitude safer than air travel, but you don't see anyone deciding that we should continue to travel by boat.

if you look at failure rate, there are only 450 nuclear power plants currently in existence as of 2016. To save time, let's do some napkin math and estimation with charitable rounding. Let's say there are 1000 in existence. So far we have seen at least one critical failure. For the sake of rounding, let's charitably round that to 1 failure. Let's say that of those 1000 power plants, the average time of existence is 40 years. That means that we have about 40000 years of nuclear power plant testing so far. And we've had 1 failure in that, so if we use years, we have 1 in 40000 years.

Even adjusting to days, we get 1 in 14.6 million.

Looking at air travel, the crash rate is about 1 in 4 million.

Now consider the consequences of that one catastrophic failure compared to the cost of a plane crash on average. You can't be serious when you say those are the same.

Even with incredibly charitable looks at nuclear power safety stats it's nowhere near your uncited "orders of magnitude" safer.

I think you really don't get the risk formula here. It's not about failure percentage, it's about the consequences of any failure at all, no matter how rare. An increase in nuclear power only increases the chances of any failure.

https://www.euronuclear.org/info/encyclopedia/n/nuclear-powe... https://www.cnn.com/2015/01/22/travel/flight-crash-app/index...


Lies, damned lies, statistics.

One flight serves 100-400 people for a few hours. One nuclear reactor serves N million people for N decades.

Everyone in a plane crash dies. What percentage of electricity users die in a typical nuclear disaster? 0.001%?


"That also includes every nuclear disaster ever."

Assuming there won't be any disasters worse than what has already occurred.

Presumably any new nuclear capacity would use safer designs, but still, the tail end single event worst case scenario is a lot scarier.


The P/R angle of it is the problem. It's just politically easier to sell something to the public that has a gradual and constant risk and death rate rather than something that bunches them.


Nuclear disasters are almost exclusively the result of astonishing human incompetence which is almost unheard of in any comparable industry. Airlines have shown that it is possible to manage big risks.

(Before you say Fukushima, remember the carnage and death was caused by an insanely catastrophic tsunami. Despite massive incompetence and disastrous consequences, it has resulted in a grand total of 1 death so far, with perhaps a few dozen over the lifetime of all people in the area. Not nothing, but it shows just how safe this stuff is when you extricate paranoia from the equation.)


I was thinking more along the lines of, solar flare coinciding with massive earthquake causes multiple simultaneous Chernobyl's type thing.


In that scenario I’d be more worried about the earthquake. Orders of magnitude more deadly.


I dunno, stack exchange says it could be an all life on earth's surface type thing.

https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/65198/what...


Yes, if you start with this hilariously implausible premise and cherry-pick the conclusion that suits your narrative. In reality the major disruption to electricity markets would be far more consequential to >99% of humans on this planet.

Choice quotes:

"Short answer not much would happen. There just is not enough of them and even in the worst case breakdown they don't release that much radiation."

"Even if every single reactor in the US 'failed' today, I doubt there would be significant radiation leakage ... without a 40 foot tsunami, I think this is more like Three Mile Island."

"The problem is that there is a great deal of exaggeration in the public's idea of radiation - the "Omigawd, it's radioactive! We're all gonna DIE!" effect."


When you consider the whole life cycle of nuclear, you have to take into account the next few hundred thousand years as the waste loses its radioactivity. Who knows how many natural disasters, and therefore deaths, will happen based on nuclear waste that is currently stored in insecure, leaky above-ground containers. If you consider deaths per year of risk, there's no way that nuclear energy is as safe as solar.


Something that's usually missed about nuclear waste is that the most radioactive wastes have the shortest half lives so burn themselves out quickly. The waste that lasts for thousands of years is far less radioactive. For example, in a uranium mine, you don't even care about the dose you get from uranium (~4 billion year half life), but you do care about the fission products with far shorter half lives. Your point stands though.


But some of these have medium half-lives have decay sequence through many materials with very short half-life. So even a small amount of decay from the medium-life material can then release a lot of radiation; enough that the original material is extremely dangerous.


"Who knows how many natural disasters, and therefore deaths, will happen based on nuclear waste that is currently stored in insecure, leaky above-ground containers."

Maybe we could, you know, not store radioactive waste above-ground?


> Who knows how many natural disasters, and therefore deaths, will happen based on nuclear waste that is currently stored in insecure, leaky above-ground containers.

I do.

The number is zero.

Any disasters that occur due to that are artificial disasters, not natural ones, even if a natural disaster is also part of the chain of causality.


Nuclear power is dead for economic reasons.

Yes, I know, engineers are somewhat insulted by the public's refusal to accept their risk modelling. That's why this has become somewhat of a cultural fight. It sometimes feels like there's a segment of armchair scientists, forever stuck in the science-fiction of the 50s, and not noticing that the real world has long since moved on, to something far better than their vision of a nuclear-powered vacuum cleaner for every happy wife.

Even if you somehow manage to change the perception (which is unlikely, considering you probably wouldn't even accept "perception" as anything real worthy of consideration), it doesn't matter: Actual scientists have long moved on and, with a lot of help of forward-thinking politicians, invested into wind, battery, and solar technology, making it cost-competitive with even coal today.



Nuclear power is dead because nuclear weapons and because we don't teach most kids basic physics. (I was taught the basics of nuclear physics in high school, but that was an elective, not a required course.) As a species we are programmed to fear the unknown.


>As a species we are programmed to fear the unknown.

Looking about the place, this seems unlikely.


Correct, we have done a remarkable job of educating ourselves to defy our genetic programming.


Ok, now explain cats.


Artificial selection.


We are now miles off the topic, but curiosity got the better of me (or did it?) so I thought I would check the research...

>"The domestication of cats took a different trajectory. Wildcats are improbable candidates for domestication (see Table 3). Like all felids, wildcats are obligate carnivores, meaning they have a limited metabolic ability to digest anything except proteins (33). Cats live a solitary existence and defend exclusive territories (making them more attached to places than to people). Furthermore, cats do not perform directed tasks and their actual utility is debatable, even as mousers (34). [In this latter role, terrier dogs and the ferret (a domesticated polecat) are more suitable.] Accordingly, there is little reason to believe an early agricultural community would have actively sought out and selected the wildcat as a house pet. Rather, the best inference is that wildcats exploiting human environments were simply tolerated by people and, over time and space, they gradually diverged from their “wild” relatives (35, 36). Thus, whereas adaptation in barnyard animals and dogs to human dominion was largely driven by artificial selection, the original domestic cat was a product of natural selection."

- From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication

https://www.pnas.org/content/106/Supplement_1/9971


I thought nuclear was many times safer than hydro, especially if you compare the fatalities from the Chernobyl disaster to the Banqiao dam.

Hopefully more countries start reprocessing spent nuclear fuel the way the French do, though this does raise proliferation concerns.


Why do so many people out there keep harping on nuclear? Are they willing to pay for it? No. They'll be the first ones complaining when their rates shoot through the roof.

Look, if you want nuclear power, then the government will need to finance it. Some of these other sources are at 1-2 cents a kWh, how is a private investor supposed to finance a nuclear power plant that competes with those rates? Even if there were no safety or environmental regulations at all, you still couldn't get there. I'm sorry, but there exists no private investor dumb enough to finance a power generation facility that expensive, that would reside that far down the dispatch stack. It just won't happen.


> Even if there were no safety or environmental regulations at all, you still couldn't get there

I am not so sure. I mean, if you really do not have to care about safety and waste, how expensive it can be to dig up uranium, centrifuge it for enrichment and mold it to a shape that heats stuff around it?


Ask the Indians and Pakistanis, it's not at all cheap. Certainly something that only a state would take on. It's just beyond the capacity of most private investment groups. It would really require government backing to make it happen.


SpaceX for nuclear fission is an unsettling thought.


I think people prefer less risky now. Now that faith is partially gone, living in fear of catastrophy is worse than lower energy production.


”they are not easy to recycle.” doesn’t mean they are impossible to recycle.

There already are companies working on it, since solar cell recycling will be a huge market. It likely won’t be possible to fully recycle solar cells, but what _can_ we recycle fully? At least, it will decrease the amount of left over stuff significantly (https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2017/10/the-opportunities-...)

One would hope most countries would introduce legislation requiring solar panel recycling. The EU already has that, because solar panels fall under theme waste directive (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/legis_en.htm)


I'm not sure why they need to be recycled. Aren't they mostly just silicon? Silicon is sand? Aren't there a lot of other things that are more productively recyclable?


Sand is silicon dioxide. Wafers are pure silicon. Semiconductor silicon contains small amounts of boron and phosphorous, aluminium metallisation; panels are soldered together (may contain lead).

Some cells contain cadmium: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadmium_telluride_photovoltaic... - but this is not the dominant technology.

Translated conclusion from the linked article in German: ""The easiest way to avoid environmental hazards caused by pollutants, at least in Europe, would be to include photovoltaic modules like other electrical and electronic products in the EU RoHS directive," the Stuttgart researchers suggest. "With the sole prohibition of lead soldering in the modules, 97 percent of the photovoltaic modules (with the exception of CdTe modules) would immediately be free from pollutants and environmental hazards would be avoided.""


That sounds like a really easy and important step. I wonder what the cost increase would be, and why they're not included in RoHS?


Hmm. I found https://sinovoltaics.com/learning-center/certifications/eu-r...

.. which makes a certain amount of sense, but also illustrates a key nonsense of ROHS. Certain products are inherently made out of hazardous substances - in this case, CdTe solar cells. So they get exempt. Just as you can't use lead in solder, but you can take your lead-free PCB and attach it to a comparatively huge lump of lead in the form of a lead-acid battery.


Well, lead-acid batteries are one of the most recycled products in the world, the entire lead of a lead-acid battery can be recycled, the lead we loose into the environment from them is largely due to the batteries breaking or being improperly disposed.


As the article notes a large portion of the material in a solar cell is glass that contains cadmium.

Edit: I see other people disagree with the author of the article that Cadmium use is widespread.


Have you read the article? The main problem seems to be heavy metals like lead and cadmium.

They don't need to be recycled per se, but those do need to be extracted. Heavy metals are notorious for contaminating ground and groundwater if left on landfills.


One should be using the correct terminology then. Sounds like disposal of used solar cells is not a huge problem, if the toxic components can be separated from the silicon and glass (which again is mostly silicon). Then its a matter of efficiency, whether it makes sense to recycle the silicon and glass or just grind and dump it.


I'm not sure that it's easy to separate out lead/cadmium from glass? I think I've heard that's also an issue with glass recycling in general. (certain though to break kitvhen/glassware also contain lead - and can't / shouldn't be recycled along with single use glass bottles).


It's becoming boring to read these "But is x really clean? Ha, got 'em" articles.

Surely your coal powerplant doesn't produce any toxic waste.


Let's be fair to the article author - he's advising that we get ahead of the externalities of mass solar by considering the read of end of life costs - this is effectively the same thing as when people include the cost and risks of spent fuel storage for nukes.

Also, the author's background and bias is for nuclear, not goal. Guy hates coal, he's not a climate change denier. He just doesn't think that wind and solar are an acceptable base for powering modern societies and systems.


He's masking what is squarely his opinion through a twisting of facts. That irks me. Several comments here have given solid rebuttals.


The alternative isn't coal, the alternative is nuclear.


Good thing nuclear plants don't produce any toxic waste either.


It's all about quantity. The quantity of radioactive waste a nuclear reactor produces is small. It also quickly becomes comparatively harmless.


I'm not a nuclear expert or anything but can you cite this? Isn't a big negative of nuclear exactly that the waste lasts for so long? What exactly does "relatively harmless" mean?


I'm too lazy to find a really good source, but here's a quick summary.

The spent fuel of a nuclear power plant is a mix of various isotopes, which will decay at different rates. Nuclear decay occurs when radiation is emitted from a nucleus. Thus the more dangerously radioactive stuff decays a lot quicker.

Idea is that something which is actively pumping out heat and deadly levels of radiation might become safe(-er) within a few months to years. Getting to the point of "you won't die if you spend an hour in the room with it" is still decades of waiting away, though. And the entire spent fuel mix would take thousands of years to get back to the radiation levels of the original ore we fed into the plant.

All that said, a fun-ish comparison I've seen is that coal ash contains fairly high levels of heavy metals like lead and cadmium, which genuinely never become "safe". We have something like 1,500 ash disposal sites in the US which are toxic hellscapes at risk of leaking into the surrounding areas.


« Thus the more dangerously radioactive stuff decays a lot quicker. »

If it decays very quickly, yes, it's less of a threat (except in case of a spill from the reactor, where people would get exposed to fresh material.) If it decays very slowly... well, the damage just might be spread out over time. I think a case could be made for that, at least...

But it's more complicated than that, anyway. Strontium, for instance, is a particular problem because it is similar to calcium, so people's bodies incorporate it into bones. Having it stick around in the body rather than flushing out makes it more dangerous than it would otherwise be. Similar for iodine, which is why nuclear meltdown preparedness programs involve having potassium iodide pills on hand—to try to saturate the body with non-radioactive iodine.

So the bioaccumulation potential must be considered as well, because what matters is how long people are in contact with radioisotopes.


Coal power plants also pump out a lot more radiation than a nuclear power plant because coal usually contains a fair bit of uranium.


Nuclear power plants don’t just produce “waste”, they produce uranium that’s mixed with various isotopes that don’t help sustain fission reactions. While all of this waste is “hot” the amount and makeup of the various waste product varies based on reactor design.

There are two things that can be done with the waste.

First, not all of the nuclear fuel is consumed. The fuel is spent when enough waste has built up to slow fission, which isn’t the same as the fuel being gone. You can re-refine spent rods to reclaim usable fuel and put it back into the reactor.

Second, the real dangerous waste isotopes are the cold ones which produce a little radiation but will do so for millennia. So you can shovel those into a subcritical reactor[0] and hurry the stuff along to non-radioactive metals like lead, all while making some electricity to boot.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subcritical_reactor


Who says it's just about quantity? Persistence and danger matter immensely, and some waste remains deadly for many thousands of years.

It sounds like management of toxic solar waste is merely labor-intensive.


Cadmium lasts forever


Good thing the vast majority of PV modules don't use cadmium.


I've been looking all over the comments for information about this... Can you elaborate?


90+% of PV modules sold are mono or poly crystalline silicon. There is no cadmium involved in that. There are CdTe thin film cells, but they have a small and declining share of the market.


Here is the full context of that copy and pasted response.

http://notrickszone.com/2018/05/23/new-study-solar-module-ow...


Both are alternatives. They serve different uses. It is likely we will need both nuclear and solar to finally get off coal.


Well right now, the alternative is mostly oil/gas, which is cleaner than coal. Nuclear would be nice, but doesn't seem very likely :(


It's better to ignore these kinds of threads and not post troll comments.


Answered (obliquely) in the article (which for some—presumably ideological, given the source—reasons tries to not acknowledge this fact): because environmental costs of disposal are a non-internalized externality which, if internalized, would promote recycling except in certain disaster cases where this became impractical, and eliminate most of the toxic waste.


It would be nice to distinguish between different panel chemistry: it's not news that CdTe or CIGS cells contain cadmium, but do crystalline ones?

Also, a sense of perspective; lots of roofs have either lead flashing (toxic heavy metal) or bitumen (carcinogen) on them already.


Moreover, the article also mentions Arsenic.

Arsenic is not used in production of PV cells today for exactly that reason, and also because it is much slower diffusing bulk dopant in comparison to Phosphorus.

The only reason Arenic was used in first generation of solar cells (eighties) is because of technology commonality with the microelectronics industry. Bulk manufactured cells never used Arsenic dopants.


No, plain silicon solar cells making 99% of the market do not contain cadmium.


Except when they are destroyed by a storm, etc., what makes a solar panel go bad? Is there a chemical reaction inside that consumes something (that could maybe be refilled) or is it just the fact that they are exposed to the elements (and so maybe they should be made stronger)?


https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2017/06/causes-solar-p...:

”According to NREL, modules can fail because of unavoidable elements like thermal cycling, damp heat, humidity freeze and UV exposure. Thermal cycling can cause solder bond failures and cracks in solar cells. Damp heat has been associated with delamination of encapsulants and corrosion of cells. Humidity freezing can cause junction box adhesion to fail. UV exposure contributes to discoloration and backsheet degradation.”


Seems like quite a few of these could be avoided by regular maintenance.


No, the biggest killer of PV cells is natural degradation

Photons and other energetic particles knock Silicon atoms out of lattice, and tear the junction layer.

There is no 100% efficient trick against that so far in any common semiconductor. Lithium dopant was once used in space PV cells. It almost halves the decay rate, but even that was not considered enough to warrant using it over simply having bigger area of less durable, but more efficient cells.


Electronic devices undergo decay like anything else. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Failure_of_electronic_componen... It's unavoidable.


> Author: Michael Shellenberger

That is already telling. A registered lobbyist...

The two claims he makes:

1. PV modules are made of Cadmium

Cadmium cells make less than 1% of the market, and they are a failed, dying technology. CdTe cells were made in hopes of making cells cheaper by not using a "microchip grade" silicon, but the people behind the startup making them were completely wrong about economics of the process — the truth is completely the opposite. It is silicon cells' process commonality with the rest of semiconductor industry that makes them so cheap.

Hey, but thanks to those joke dudes called "venture capitalists" for spinning them up.

2. PV modules are made of Arsenic

No, only first generation of cells made in electronic fabs were made with Arsenic as N dopant.

No commercial process ever used it. PV cells are N doped with Phosphorus exactly for the reason that it is non-toxic, and because Phosphorus is simply better as a bulk dopant. It is much faster diffusing, and requires lower temperatures for dopant activation.


Guy is a pro-nuclear activist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Shellenberger#Position...

Doesn’t mean he is a sellout, but certainly not neutral.


Both nuclear and solar are good energy sources with almost opposite characteristics.

Solar is good for small scale and it is highly variable. Nuclear works better on a large scale and is very stable. Is there a way to make them coexist in a way that doesn't need fossil fuel and where both technology are used to their advantage?


They actually don't coexist very well. That's because they are both inflexible, although in different ways, and the grid has a limited "inflexibility budget".

Nuclear depends on being able to sell power most of the time in order to make enough money to amortize its large capital and fixed operating costs. But solar chews this up, destroying the market a good chunk of the time (longer if some short term storage is added). Even if solar (or solar+wind) are not covering demand all the time, they will be able to crash the price often enough to destroy nuclear's business case.


So basically, unless you have enough spots for hydro, you need fossil fuel to cover renewables.

That's German policy. Lots of renewables backed by coal. No more investment into nuclear.

I know there are some countries that burn trash and plants quite successfully but I'm not sure it can be done world scale. There are some outliers like geothermal, tidal forces, battery storage but these are even smaller scale examples.


And neither a lobbyist unless that definition has lost all meaning.


Well, he has started several lobbying companies and been a lobbyist for a number of paying clients, so I think that the meaning of the word 'lobbyist' is still safe.


Can you name some of his current clients that have interest in making solar sound bad?


I only just found out about him. Was only looking him up because you said that anyone who did could see he wasn't a lobbyist. Found out he was a lobbyist. Can you tell me his current client list, since you know so much about him? Then I will go and check it. Twice.


I didn't say he wasn't a lobbyist I said he wasn't a lobbyist the way it was being used originally in this thread.

You are being disingenuous now. You can simply google Michael shellenberger and you won't get lobbyist as the first thing.

Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-7DIv3AU1o

If you are actually interested which I am sure you aren't actually.


I see Shellenberger is still claiming there that PV uses rare earth elements. What a baldfaced lie.


I'm actually a little repulsed that it took me so long to find your informed and concise rebuttal here.

So this piece is a hit piece filled with blatant misinformation, on an investment news website.


Why is this comment so far down the page? Is it factually wrong some way?


He is running for governor and a democrat btw. He used to be against nuclear until he actually did the effort of understanding the facts and came out for it. This made him persona-non-grata by the environmentalists.

So if you want to talk about lobbyism...

But thanks for proving the point. Claiming he is a lobbyist anymore than you are is exactly the kind of shaming tactics that are being used instead of arguments to silence people the majority don't wan't to hear..


> and a democrat btw

I like how Americans put politicians in one of two camps and make it an us vs. them thing instead of having coalitions of parties to come to a good conclusion for everyone.


I am a Dane living in the US. Denmark have 9 parties it's the same thing at the end of the day. The conclusions are no better just because 4 parties got them through.


I'm not a registered lobbyist.


registered or not is hardly the point.

Using it as an argument against him is absurd.


No, it’s quite reasonable given the long history of companies covertly funding FUD campaigns about competitors. Those don’t need to be complete fabrications like Steven Milloy’s “junk science”, either — it’s easy to give a negative impression by quoting the scariest cases rather than average or ignoring work which is already being done to address concerns. You can say “I’m just quoting experts” and still pick the most extreme voices in the field to highlight.

The way to avoid this is disclosure: say “I make money from a competitor” prominently so people can read the article with that bias in mind. This guy doesn’t acknowledge it at all in the article or his bio, which is not what you do if your goal is to have an honest discussion.


I would urge you to look him up. It is absurd regardless of the long history.

And if you want to claim that you also have to claim that on the other side, i.e. the environmentalists.

But with Shellenberger it's an especially absurd argument which you would know if you actually knew who he is and what he is fighting for and how.


If his history is so good it’d be better to briefly touch on it early on so it would be a positive rather than leaving the opportunity for people to wonder why it wasn’t disclosed. There’s no downside to being scrupulous about this and it can make a story more compelling when someone explains how their position evolved.


Because it's not important any more than knowing whether you or anyone else is member give that to the extent you can call him a lobbyist he is a lobbyist for his own mission.

He isn't working on the behalf of some industry he is working for a case.

He cowrote a paper with Brand from the long now foundation about nuclear.

Being a lobbyist isn't just one thing even though it always get's used like that and it doesn't mean you are working for some industry.


It’s always important to know about conflicts of interest. If his intentions are good, he should be especially keen on avoiding any risk of being seen as deceptive because that would hurt his stated goal and there’s no downside.


What about you start by being concrete and put forward any evidence of issues with his so called lobbyism. This attempt at weakening his argument by claiming he is somehow in bed with the wrong people instead of actually proving he somehow have husky alterier motives is absurd. I dont see people complain about all the scaremongering by environmental organizations.


Lobbyists are paid to present a preferred opinion, pretty much by definition. If someone is a registered lobbyist then their opinion should be held with great suspicion when it is anything to do with the subject that they lobby on.


Registered to present their own opinion. Your understanding of what lobbyism is is primitive to say the least.


> Registered to present their own opinion.

You don't have to register as a registered lobbyist in USA to present your own opinion. You have to register as a registered lobbyist to represent somebody's else opinion.


The vast majority of registered lobbyists in the USA are paid professionals, usually from the legal field. Several major law companies run large lobbyist for hire departments.

Now Michael Shellenberger may be one of the pro-bono lobbyists (admittedly I haven't yet found out either way), but this would put him in the minority of registered lobbyists in the USA.

I will note that he was at one point a paid lobbyist for Hugo Chavez. Was he presenting his own opinion then?


Using that argument is not absurd. You do not have to register as a lobbyist to lobby on behalf of yourself, but you do if you do so on behalf of somebody else, moreover do so for money (in USA, and many other countries.)


It is especially absurd in the case of Schellenberger. So yes it's absurd. Look him up.


Please point to the point where it makes the argument absurd.


I already did.

You try to use lobbyist to mean that he can't be trusted. That's absurd if you know who he is and how he works and what he works for.

He isn't a lobbyist in any meaningful way any more than you are in this thread or the environmental organizations or the IPCC or the oil companies etc.

If you think your argument can stand on its own you wouldn't need to put that in yet you did and that's absurd and provides no further context and doesn't add to the discussion.


He would not need to register as a registered lobbyist if he was not legally obliged to do so.

What so absurd in this point???


I already explained to you why it's absurd. If you don't understand that there isn't much to do about it, however I would urge you to look up Environmental Progress his group and to learn a little about him.

Again he is no more lobbyist than you or the environmental organisations that's why it's absurd to use it as part of an argument.


I looked him up. He used to be a paid lobbyist for Venezuela.


in 2004 when he was against nuclear. There are so much more about him that you haven't included.

You can start here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-7DIv3AU1o

It's pretty obvious that him being a registered lobbyist means absolutely nothing in this context. But again that's how this whole thing work. Shaming and fingers in ear.


You told me to look him up and that he wasn't a lobbyist. So I put his name and lobbyist into google and almost immediately found that he used to get paid by Venezuela as a lobbyist. I have no real idea who this guy is until you said to look him up. And somehow this is my fault?


I said that it was absurd to use that as an argument against him when you actually know what he DO not what he did in 2004 which isn't really interesting for what he is doing and writing about today.

So again. Show a concrete problem with him being a registered lobbyist otherwise it's just a cheap shot which is why you would have to go back to 2004 when he was against nuclear to find anything related.

You can simply google Michael Shellenberger and you will learn who he is today. You can check out this interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-7DIv3AU1o as that gives you a pretty good idea of his stance.


And, in any case

> None of the above. Rather, the quotes come from a senior Chinese solar official, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. solar industry, and research scientists with the German Stuttgart Institute for Photovoltaics.


There are few questions:

- photovoltaic cell degradation (which, beside external breakage, is the cause of recycling): so far it seems that cells degrade very slowly, 30 years and still 80% original power

- manufacturing: if everything is melted/glue/fused .. it's hard to recycle. Maybe that's not a physical necessity but just old practice

- silicon purification is said to be a energy hog, and uses lots of various Cl based acids. Some say these acids are handled properly nowadays (quite plausible). The energy side .. I wonder when we'll see a solar farm powering a PV cell plant. e^e

What about other PV substrate? are perovskite toxic ?


Compared to what? Extracting fossil fuels requires bringing toxins to surface and combusting them endlessly.


The problem is not only cleanness but also scale and sustainability: we need continuous power so if we go for solar panels we need to imaging a earth-wide electrical network with veeeeeery small losses.

IMVHO solar panel are interested in modern houses (well insulated) as thermal source to heat both sanitary water to head the house itself with a good ventilation system. Photovoltaic may be interested a small scale local backup for low power devices like emergency illumination, communications and perhaps as a companion to thermo-solar for small pumps to make water circulation and perhaps home ventilation. Nothing more.


Your opinion is poorly informed. In the future we will still need high-exergy energy sources. PV provides this; thermal tech doesn't.

Also, storage solutions for electricity exist, and these are not fringe/academic technology. For example, electrical vehicles exist today. Once everyone has an EV, that'll add ~50 kWh of storage capacity per EV to the grid.


How is that calculation done?

The storage capacity is needed at very specific times and is not generally available. I imagine most people will try to charge their cars at night.


Thinking li-ion battery as a solution for PV electricity storage means confuse marketing bullshit with technology. Today's EV battery in 5/6 years will be good to augment African's and Asian's waste cargo business. Nothing more.

You are right saying that we need and we will need more electricity, not because of EV BTW, but PV is NOT an answers being an inconstant and low efficiency power source.

And I speak not basing my assumption on someone else unverified publication but due a semi-direct experience (few friends of mine in the recent past transform their roofs for PV, myself having recently build my new house I choose solar thermal to heat the house via a MCV and for sanitary water production with a 1000l + 800l cumulus. I have few friends/relatives that bought few EV, including two with a Tesla model S and I see how satisfy they are(n't) and how they'r EV range decrease in a very short time.


What about physical energy storage? Flywheels, weights, water-dams, molten-salts, etc. When it's sunny, you store the electricity in one of these systems, then you can draw it out anytime you want.


Few solutions (like water-dams) prove to be really effective at a reasonably big scale, however cost balance do not justify PV... It's far more interesting wind power + water-dams or simply classic hydroelectric but again it's feasible only in certain orthographic areas so it doesn't really scale for the entire world... It's nice for Swiss, Austria, Norway, other all-mountains countries but not for Germany, Russia, Australia, vast part of the USA etc.

Essentially with renewable energy the sole viable option is a mix of solutions varying from place to place, scenario to scenario and while this can cover a lot can't meet our entire energy requirements so it's good to invest but still as a complement of other solutions.

That's why, beside bullshits, we try to suppress fossil energy production but keep nuclear (any country say "we will ditch it, in a far future) and keep researching on nuclear fusion.

In today's world people like to dream at any news but, unfortunately, most of those news are pure marketing and even genuine ideas hardly scale. For instance vast majority of people think that self-driving vehicles are already there and it's only a matter of time to see them at scale; the truth is that we can have autonomous driving only in simple scenarios like properly urbanized towns and highway but we can't self-drive in harsh conditions like when it snow, on unclear roads etc.

We advance a bit regularly, both on EV and self-drive, many country start to install "helpers" on roads like specific reflective rods around road intersections, radar-reflective asphalt (few aluminum debris in the asphalt mix) and side-protections etc, we slowly start to provide few recharging stations around, few country (like France for individual new homes garages) mandate for newer constructions a recharge point for any private parking etc but it's far from "being there" and for now it does not scale at all nor we know how to made it scale.

And the same is for energy, few country strongly push domestic PVs to a point they start ceasing to accept "exchange in place" of electricity because the grind can't receive nor properly use peak production and costs of exchange are higher than classic pyramidal distribution. Essentially we do not know how to actually create a "smart grid", there are many ideas on the table but none that prove to be complete and effective.

At a small, domestic, scale I recently built my new house and carefully evaluate all options I here about and in the end the sole real cost-effective, practical application of PV I found is a limited power production just to backup my home ventilation and pump thermic-solar water but nothing more. I can't use electric inconstant power, using it to heat water (the sole form of usable storage in a modern house) is LESS effective and far expensive than classic solar thermal vacuum panels, I can produce enough in summer to power air-conditioning at peak time but the overall cost of PV panels+inverter/microinverters due to their expected lifetime surpass electricity cost of the net (it's relatively cheap here in France and having a well insulated, and airtight and well oriented/designed house I do not need much power)...

At larger scale I know few "big" PV power plants both classic, (high) concentration photovoltaics etc but none of them are profitable without big incentives simply because classic panel efficiency and lifetime is too low to justify big investments, concentrated solutions are far better but they last very little time, power production degrade really quickly and maintenance costs climb at a very high rate. Other kind of solar power production like high-concentration to produce vapor and power a classic turbine do a better job but still have skyrocketing high maintenance costs and still inconstant power production...

Long-story short: for now we do not have any definitive electric storage viable solution except for very limited application. Researching on that topic is a super-important priority but we have to keep up other options. For one time it's not a political/commercial/reactionary move but a simple engineering reason.


Recycling the panels costs more than the value of the salvaged materials - but the alternative is expensive environmental damage and danger to people. Recycling is surely less expensive than the alternative.


There is a third option - safe stockpiling of the old panels until they become economical to harvest. They are pretty inert - just a concrete floor and a roof overhead could prevent it.


Isn't concentrated solar power (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_solar_power) an alternative way to harness solar energy and convert it into something usable? While not useful for installations like a home roof, I thought it made sense for generators and such.


The advantage of concentrated thermal solar is that it can provide pure base-load 24-7 with its thermal capacity. The disadvantages are the expense, glare, and on a smaller note that they ironically need fuel to start up and get the salt molten again - when it must be down for maintenance. Not technically zero carbon because of that - at least until it becomes viable to generate sufficient heat electrically with a grid.


It's largely not competitive with photovoltaics.


It seems to still be competitive in some regions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_solar_power#Costs

But, ya PV prices have fallen so much they're breaking people's expectations; and they work without direct sunlight.


All and every semiconductor manufacturing produces tons and tons of toxic waste.

If people are so inclined, they are free to surrender all modern conveniences.


No one says that semiconductors are clean.


“If people are so inclined, they are free to surrender all modern conveniences”

Not really an acceptable response.


That's not really the proper way to think about this.

Computers with electricity and access to cheap and plentiful energy are a baseline for everything else in modern society.

Solar has a bunch of advantages but the idea that it together with wind is going to be able to solve our energy needs is simply misguided and thus it has to undergo the same Cost/Benefit analysis as everything else does.


You do have to think about externalities that hurt the earth; it is often thought of as a political question what externalities to include in cost/benefit analysis. We do not care about things that do not affect our current beliefs (see climate change deniers, profit maximizers). Just because something is a baseline in your life does not mean it is exempt from a complete cost/benefit analysis.


You also have to think about externalities that improve human life and a bunch of other things.

So yes you have to make the cost benefit analysis. I have yet to see someone make a cost benefit analysis that would make solar and wind come out on top.


Back in the old days before the economics favored green energy the default assumption was that The Market Should Decide.

It seems now that the market is deciding that there is a flurry of media going "now hold on a minute"


What if photovoltaic technology just isn't actually ready for showtime? i.e. it may need more research, so there's a clear recycling plan for each unit.

We've seen this sort of thing before - being too quick to proclaim X is ready to take over the world, without thinking of the consequences first. See autonomous cars.


I once tried to have this conversation with people who were keen on clean solar power, I suggested the evidence supports nuclear energy as the cleanest option we have to date. Needless to say I was vilified and insulted. (The sun is nuclear anyway :) )


Cleanest if and only if nobody makes a mistake. Otherwise you end up with unfixable messes. And decommissioning is hardly a solved or cheap problem.



There might not be many mistakes if we weren't forced to use reactors designed in the 50s and built in the 60s when we barely understood nuclear chemistry, but rather modern designs using advanced nuclear chemistry and advanced materials and design improvements.

If nuclear power was equated to cars then arguing about nuclear safety using our current examples of failure would be like arguing about automobile safety risks using a Model A.


The largest sticking point for me with nuclear is the whole bigger is better mentality. I'm all for it if we're going with passively safe designs. In theory this could help the whole decentralized grid ideas along. I think it would go a long way to ease public fear if we actually built reactors that can't melt down under any circumstance.

I'm just scared of the big reactors. Nothing on this Earth is going to passively remove 1.5 GW of heat coming from something the volume of a hot water heater.

We also need to be recycling our waste like the other nations which use nuclear power, not just chuck what's still 90% useful material in a holding tank for eternity.


> The largest sticking point for me with nuclear is the whole bigger is better mentality.

Historically, bigger reactors (and bigger turbines etc.) have been one of the few things that have reduced the $/kWh.

Now, if you have followed developments in the nuclear sector, you are surely aware that SMR's (small modular reactor) are all the rage these days. There are certainly good engineering reasons behind them as well; more series production in factories with less built on-site, easier to provide passive safety due to smaller size, etc., but so far they have not been deployed in reality, so it remains to be seen whether they will be able to provide a lower $/kWh in reality. But certainly they are an interesting development, we'll see if they become a commercial success as well.

As for recycling, with current uranium prices being so low it doesn't make economic sense. But I can certainly see the appeal (breeder reactors are catnip for physicists).


People think about this completely upsides down IMO.

Nature is killing more people every year than have been killed by nuclear in all its time. The sun is killing more people than dies of nuclear (Melanomas and skin cancer) I could go on.

Nuclear isn't as dangerous as it's been claimed and with never reactors the actual security procedure is physical. On top of that investments into thorium and fusion could have gotten us much further.

It's not that bigger is better it's that bigger is safer from a number of perspectives.

Nuclear is by far the safest, greenest, most scalable, reliable energy source we know how to use and it's many times safer than the very mother nature everyone seems to want to save.

Nature doesn't give us a safe, friendly environment we then make unsafe it gives us a hostile and dangerous environment which we then make safe.

Funny how disagreement in this always gets met with downvotes rather than at least argument or reasoned disagreement.

Why is it so hard for people to disagree about this without it turning into a downvote competition?


https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1514492/20-years-on-...

https://www.guernicamag.com/the-fallout/

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

The problem with nuclear has always been trust, and repeated breaches of trust - often in regards to weapons proliferation, from which fission can never really be separated. See the ongoing efforts to prevent Iran's nuclear programme, for example.

It also has a nasty habit of cost overruns, because projects don't scale down. How overrun is Hinckley Point C now again?

Whereas solar cells scale down to the level of a few square milimeters on a watch or calculator. The great lesson of silicon valley - AWS and everything else - is that "big bang" projects always get beaten by things that can start tiny and scale incrementally.

We need to deploy solar and wind now. Maybe in the 25 year lifetime of a solar panel we can get a nuclear plant finished. Maybe fusion will work. Maybe someone will find a way to stop Thorium reactors dissolving their own plumbing.


> The problem with nuclear has always been trust, and repeated breaches of trust - often in regards to weapons proliferation, from which fission can never really be separated.

There are lots of countries with civilian nuclear power, but no weapons. And also, there are nuclear weapon states with no civilian nuclear power program in sight (e.g. North Korea). And AFAIK, no nuclear weapon state have done it by reprocessing civilian spent nuclear fuel. There are much easier and cheaper ways of doing it.

Now, it's theoretically possible to build a weapon from reactor grade Pu (i.e. by reprocessing spent civilian nuclear waste). And that's why we have international safeguards to prevent nuclear waste falling into the wrong hands. Nothing is foolproof of course, but it's a tradeoff. IMHO it's less bad than continuing to use fossil fuels.

In the end, acquiring nuclear weapons capability is a political decision. An existing civilian nuclear power capability doesn't make it noticeably easier. Heck, even a backwards isolated 3rd world country like NK is able to acquire weapons, suggesting that pretty much any state which really wants one can get it, if they want it bad enough that they are prepared to endure economic sanctions and becoming an international pariah state by doing it.


That's not a problem with nuclear that's a problem with people.

Cost overruns come from extreme security legislation and the fact that we haven't built enough so those are simply not proper arguments.

Add on top of that that solar will never, as in never ever be able to deliver cheap (at scale), clean, plentiful and consistent energy which is the minimum requirement for any type of energy any sane person would support.

Promoting something that is currently not providing more than 1% of the worlds energy being heavily favored politically and with plenty of subsidies and which will never support maybe more than 10% of the worlds energy needs which is being very generous sounds like something the world will look back at in a hundred years and think "What the hell were they thinking".


Blowing off real problems with breezy, unsupported denial is not helping your credibility. If your goal is effective advocacy you should be acting like a nuclear engineer, acknowledging the problems, and talking in detail about how they’re being addressed in-depth. I generally agree that we need nuclear power but that’s because I’ve read those articles rather than what you’re posting in this thread.


What is unsupported in what i have said?


Here’s an example: “The amount of nuclear waste that actually exist is microscopic”

It’d be wonderful if it’s true but you didn’t exactly cite sources or otherwise explain how a claim which has been not true to a degree which has factored into national politics is no longer true.


I don't have to cite anything. It was claimed there where a lot but not actually demonstrated. Why should I prove a negative?


Because your goal is to be an effective advocate?


> That's not a problem with nuclear that's a problem with people.

This is very much the "true communism has never been tried" argument, isn't it? Unless you know a way of building it without people?


No its not at all the same cause thats not what i mean. I mean that people are ignorant to the dangers not that its dangerous. Has nothing to do with communism, wind and solar on the other hand do.


>Has nothing to do with communism, wind and solar on the other hand do.

Showing your hand there.


No but you are.

Having no problem with misrepresenting what other say.

I was replying to this:

"This is very much the "true communism has never been tried" argument, isn't it? "

Which you very well know. So yeah thanks for showing your hand.


Well, if that is the level at which you would like to discuss this, I turned around and touched the ground already, so no backsies.


well the problem most often comes down to money. if we would operate the power plants within their calculated/fixed lifespan it would've been a better world. however due to the money inside the energy markets many plants will life way above their safety standards. it happens today and it would happen with future plants.

besides the waste is not recycable


Yes, the waste is actually recyclable and will become even more so in the future.

Anyone who is against nuclear simply hasn't looked at the facts. If you did and still came out against nuclear I would be pretty surprised and love to hear your arguments.


The fuel is potentially recyclable. The large amount of contaminated material making up a nuclear power plant isn't.


But that contaminated material is easily stored. You are spreading false information.


in the usa it is maybe easily to store it. but in germany it is a huge problem. asse II is probably already wrecked and nobody knows for sure if "konrad" can withstand the time.


It's NOT a huge problem in Germany again false information.


Nuclear reactors are not economically competitive. This is the main problem with nuclear, not waste, safety, proliferation, or mind control by Greenpeace.

Reprocessing doesn't reduce the cost of nuclear power, it increases it.


Yes it is competitive, i would challenge you to find any evidence thst solar and wind can provide energy enough for the worlds needs, otherwise you are just a victim of you own blind ideology.


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Very well. The person I was responding to was posting obviously false comments and ignoring correction, though, which seriously compromises the SNR of this forum.


The only flat earth nonsense here is people believing that solar or wind is actually realistically a solution to the worlds energy needs.


It works in certain places. Here in Iowa we get a third of our electricity from wind.


And in denmark they get more but its not reliable which means you have to support it with other more reliable sources such as coal. Which happens all the time.

Plus you use it for almost zero percent of your transportation.


Ours is pretty reliable, out here in the 'plains states'. It's blowing pretty much every day, most of the day.

And our 'support' source is nuclear, curiously.


It is actually recycled :) Maybe is we spent a bit more research on recovery it could be at 100%


Cleanest even when people make a mistake.

Nuclear has in all it's time killed less than coal does in a year, cars do in a year, nature does in a year. More people die from setting up solar or wind, the amount of animals that get killed by wind is in the millions I could go on.

The new nuclear power plants uses physics so there will be no meldown. Furhtermore more investing in Thorium and Fusion would be much much more beneficial and clean.

Alternative energies are linear solutions to exponential problems.


If we are insisting on end to end analysis of solar then we must do that with nuclear which means including not only the decommissioning but also the mining of the fuel.


Of course. And I don't think anybody is claiming uranium mining is a particularly benign industry. The point is that the energy density of uranium is so huge that you need an absolutely minuscule amount of it over the lifetime of a nuclear power plant.

And if we ever deploy breeder reactors and reprocessing at scale, we can further extract about two orders of magnitude more energy per kg of uranium ore. Heck, with the amount of depleted uranium lying around as tailings, spent reactor fuel, surplus military nuclear fuel, with breeders and reprocessing we could power the planet for a couple of centuries before needing to start digging up more.

We haven't deployed breeders and reprocessing because uranium is so cheap it doesn't make economic sense.


> The new nuclear power plants uses physics so there will be no meldown.

Oh it uses physics? Not code and algorithms? (For those out of the loop, it refers to this meme: https://old.reddit.com/r/ProgrammerHumor/comments/5ylndv/so_... )

Sorry to nitpick, I totally agree with what you're saying. But I am curious what this "physics" thing is that would magically prevent meltdowns.


Usually it means that the plant relies on natural processes like gravity or convection to cool down the reactor after it has been shutdown, rather than needing "active" measures like emergency generators providing electricity to run the water pumps etc.

E.g. the Fukushima reactors melted down because the tsunami destroyed the emergency generators (as well as blocking the roads so they couldn't get new generators on site in time). A newer design using, say, convection to get rid of the decay heat wouldn't have this problem.


I think that's referring to newer designs which fail-safe by using things like gravity so that the reaction automatically terminates in the event of failure.


I read that to mean "uses [a] physics", meaning a specific reaction chain, not physics the entire field. Kind of like talking about "battery chemistry" meaning Li-based, Pb-based, etc., does not mean "the field of chemistry".

Could it have been worded better? Sure.


Sadly there is a lot of ignorance and misinformation around nuclear, here is a link to a long life battery (clean?) https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/12/09/radioacti...


Given that you cannot cheerfully give it to your worst enemy, nuclear has massive problems as the global solution for power. People are saying on the one hand that nuclear is the solution, but on the other that certain countries aren't allowed near it because it is much too dangerous.


We don't know this yet. We need a few thousand years to see, what had happend to the nuclear waste in the meantime. (Leaked to ground water? Used by terrorist? Accidents in migration of waste? Unknown unknowns?)


There is very little nuclear waste as most can be resused in new reactors and will soon be 100% reusable.

The amount of nuclear waste that actually exist is microscopic and I think you would be surprised when you actually see how little exist compared to the claims about it.


The sun is a hydrogen nuclear fusion reactor, when we talk about nuclear energy those are uranium nuclear fission reactor. Those are very very different.


So do we develop fission/fusion for safer energy?


and your point is?


Solar has far more deaths per terawatt than nuclear too (fitters falling off roofs really jacks the figures up). People need to look at the big picture or the entire lifecycle. All things considered nuclear is the cleanest and safest form of power we know.


Not sure how accurate it is, but I found this: https://www.statista.com/statistics/494425/death-rate-worldw...

According to that page, it is 4x higher than nuclear. But it is also 10x less than natural gas, 100x less than oil, and 200x less than coal.




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