Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Bill Gates promises to add his own billions if Congress does nuclear power push (geekwire.com)
566 points by jkuria 22 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 335 comments



I'm pro-nuclear fission (full disclosure, I work on fusion related research, but I don't care about who wins more than I want society to win), but I think talking to any random person in the public who are already skeptical about fusion, to them fission has not had a great track record. Make as many arguments you want to make about fukushima facing a natural disaster, w/e, and how the field has advanced since three-mile island and chernobyl, but the fact remains the public is skeptical regarding fission for good reason: history has not been kind to the kind of disasters fission reactors have wrought.

If you want to convince the public you're going to do it right this time without creating mini fallout zones, you have to do a good damn job of that instead of just wagging your finger at people and calling them dumb. They aren't dumb, they just know rightly that engineers can't foresee the everything in the future and are understandably skeptical.


I'm one of those fission sceptics. The main problems I have with fission isn't technological issues, it's human issues.

E.g. in Fukushima, people were forced to move back into their homes, without giving them an option to get compensated instead. Furthermore, engineers pointed out that there were issues with the way Fukushima was built but their concerns were discarded. Human issue again. Fission plants should be built with the greatest care possible and be designed for major natural disasters.

As for advancements in the field: they might have happened but many reactors are still kept running even though their design is outdated. The greatest advances in drawers don't help if you still have ticking time bombs and one of them go off. Another human issue.

Or the entire thing with dumping waste into the oceans, like on the coasts of Somalia, harming the health in the region and destroying the jobs of the fishermen. Another human problem.

Engineers, in general, are very smart people. They can foresee a great deal of things. But they need to be listened to, and it's too easy to operate a nuclear plant without listening to safety concerns of engineers.

What we've got right now is people harming the health of locals and discarding concerns by engineers, and lying to locals and politicians about this, claiming that the engineers didn't have any concerns. Which is a big problem, and a very human one. And if there's a catastrophy, the government bails them out (what about a mandatory 100 billion coverage insurance for nuclear plants??), and treats locals like shit again. No thanks.


What we've got right now is on the order of a million people dying prematurely every year because of the human issue of people worrying too much about concentrated risk (nuclear) and not understanding the diffuse risk (coal).

Sure, we can improve fission in various ways, but this sort of skepticism is way riskier in the aggregate as it translates into public policy.


Indeed, coal is even worse than nuclear. So let's have neither but renewables instead :). Compared to europe, the USA is a big country and it is also further in the south which means more sun for solar collectors.


Hang on, are you absolutely sure that renewables are less damaging than nuclear? The footprint for nuclear is tiny, it might be competitive.

Fukashima was a level 7 nuclear distaster, so that is as bad as it gets. The actual damage done is objectivly not that bad compared to a lot of things we have accepted in the past with only increased safety regulation (like dam failures). 2 lvl 7 accidents in 35 years; and design standards generally go up in civilised countries. The footprint of nuclear is so tiny that might be competitive with renewables, accounting for the fact that the reacion to nuclear disasters is paranoid but the response to environmental damage by renewables is basically to ignore it. Renewables need materials, which are mined, and need to be installed, which creates hazards, and use land/airspace, which is costly. I believe some highly questionable rare earths are used too where the environmental impacts are not usually accounted for because it happens in China.

Purely in non-human terms, the land clearing for a solar plant is definitely worse than a nuclear disaster, because a level 7 nuclear disaster is net-positive for biodiversity ("suggest biodiversity around the massive radioactivity release has increased" [0]). Ie, humans are worse than a nuclear disaster if they happen to want space for their own use.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_the_Chernobyl_disas...


The mortality per TWh has nuclear winning by a long shot.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-d...


To be clear: Winning in your comment is LEAST deaths per TWH.

> Renewables need materials, which are mined

So, what about mining fissile materials? How clean is that, particularly with regard to tailings and wastewater?

Are there any studies out there without a bias on this? I mean, it's okay to be biased against coal, any non-metallurgical uses really put the "fossil" in fossil fuels.

But I know there are all sorts of weird edge cases. Like we're going to want to continue to collect and burn hydrocarbons that we collect from landfills, since the methane is so much more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. We should continue to burn that. Hydropower will continue to be a happy side-effect of flood control.


> So, what about mining fissile materials?

I worked with Rio Tinto (mining corporation) for some time, and happened to know a few people in management positions at the Ranger Uranium Mine. I can assure you it was one of the most environmentally conscious operations the group was managing, and super-senior management seemed to take the whole thing very seriously. It was a source of much frustration, because as a company we had a good grasp of what acceptable mining practice looks like and Ranger was beyond the standard of reasonable. I dunno, what can you do? Follow the Environmental Management Plan.

Anyway, any comparison is a bit academic, because we can exhaustively list everything that has ever gone wrong in the nuclear industry but the renewables are too diverse for there to be a fair comparison. Which is why I suspect the environmental damage done by renewables is being glossed over.


Ranger may well be run to the highest standards...now. However it was not always the case [0].

I used to work for Western Mining Corp (early 90s), and am familiar with how 'patchy' adherence to environmental principles can be across a large organisation. I'm not implying malfeasance (or any other explicit cause).

A few other instances where Rio's failed to hold itself (or its subsidiaries) to the highest standards: Lassing, Austria [1]; Panguna, PNG [2].

[0] http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=926

[1] http://www.industriall-union.org/archive/icem/austrian-mine-...

[2] https://www.smh.com.au/world/billiondollar-mess-a-major-disa...


This is what I love about HN, instant access to experts in the field, so we don't have to argue our assumptions.

I guess it's unsurprising that uranium operations run a lot cleaner than fossil fuel extraction, given the politics involved.

I'm not against fission power itself, but being in California makes me kind of a NIMBY on the issue. All you need is somewhere with water and without active fault lines, and nope, not seeing a good spot. The evacuation plans for San Onofre involved moving one to eight million people, or about eight million ways something could go wrong.


"I'm not against fission power itself, but being in California makes me kind of a NIMBY on the issue. All you need is somewhere with water and without active fault lines, and nope, not seeing a good spot."

The TerraPower design, and many other of the next-gen designs, don't require water cooling. That greatly expands siting options.

You could have the plants out in the desert, or on other less desirable real estate.

"The evacuation plans for San Onofre involved moving one to eight million people, or about eight million ways something could go wrong."

I'm originally from the area, and was sad to hear of San Onofre closing. However, its siting was terrible.

Given California's stance on climate issues, it should be the world's largest promoter of next-gen nuclear power.

Several very interesting designs are being pursued, I'm hopeful the government will eventually adopt a better policy stance. Bill Gates looks to be helping a lot there!


Possibly hopeful, but the energy market in California is kind of a mess right now between the Community Choice Energy collectives, PG&E declaring bankruptcy, and SoCal Edison being snafu as usual. You need a lot of capital for nuclear, and with a fractured market, I don't know how it comes together. The only CCA with enough credit rating to attempt it is Marin Clean Energy, and I'm not trusting an area with that high of an anti-vaxxer population to consider nuclear rationally.

In other ways, the Democratic coalition in California is so big that they can afford to annoy one end of the base. But at the same time, pro-nuclear is not a natural stance for an administration trying to balance environment and housing development.

My perspective is as as a former meteorologist and climate scientist, and currently involved in the Democratic party. We're in such an oil town that the high school colors are black and gold, the birthplace of Unocal -- but people are so anti-oil here now that we'd love to make a switch. You know, as long as gas prices at the pump don't increase.

I've talked to enough people that I think the politics is doable but hard, but the capital man, I dunno. Maybe that comes from Bill Gates.


Uranium vs fossil fuel exploitation is also a density & economics issue. Since the energy density of uranium is several orders of magnitude higher than for any fossil fuel, one can afford to be much more pedantic about uranium mining without wrecking the economics.


> The footprint for nuclear is tiny, it might be competitive.

Parent noted distinction between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. I'm assuming here you're talking about nuclear fission exclusively.

In any case, how sure are you that the footprint for nuclear is tiny?

As I understand it the construction / commissioning costs are enormous - more than a coal or gas plant (eg. a breathtaking volume of concrete). The costs of acquiring fissionable material seem to often be overlooked, but mining (currently) requires fossil fuels.

That's before you get to decommissioning costs (which may not be within the 'footprint' category) or waste management.

The UK's recent experience [1] trying to get one nuclear fission plant up and running provides an abject lesson.

[1] https://jeremyleggett.net/2018/08/22/why-the-uk-nuclear-rena...


> As I understand it the construction / commissioning costs are enormous - more than a coal or gas plant (eg. a breathtaking volume of concrete).

The construction costs are high predominantly as a result of inefficient (or in this case purposely obstructive) legal requirements. The government has literally been known to change the requirements a new reactor must be built under after the portion of the reactor subject to those requirements has already been built. This predictably leads to cost overruns, but it is also an artificial problem.

> The costs of acquiring fissionable material seem to often be overlooked, but mining (currently) requires fossil fuels.

It's overlooked because it's tiny. The energy produced through fission from one pound of uranium is the same as from burning 2.7 million pounds of coal. In other words, the weight of coal vs. uranium to operate a coal fired power plant for an hour would run a nuclear reactor for more than 300 years.

Moreover, the fuel rods we already have sitting around at existing reactor sites that we don't know what to do with? Can be used as fuel in newer generation reactors. Plus all we have from decommissioned nuclear weapons that we also need to get rid of.

Everyone currently alive will die of old age before we have to mine any more uranium for newer generation reactors.

> That's before you get to decommissioning costs (which may not be within the 'footprint' category) or waste management.

Decommissioning costs are a thing invented to make nuclear seem more expensive by counting it in one place but not the other. Do you know how much it costs to clean up the superfund sites left at the mining operations for coal and the raw materials that go into solar panels?

And long-term waste management is only a thing for legacy reactors. The newer reactors use their "waste" as fuel, solving both problems.


> The construction costs are high predominantly as a result of inefficient (or in this case purposely obstructive) legal requirements.

This seems unlikely given a) several western governments are dead keen on nuclear renaissance, b) the high construction costs are historically, and in recent times, seen in each country dabbling with new nuclear fission plants, and c) the absence of claims from construction companies and investors in new nuclear fission plants about this alleged obstacle.

(Aside - Jeremy Legget's site has some great resources for cost and scheduling blowouts. He's partisan, but I've found no reason to doubt his sources or conclusions.)

> The energy produced through fission from one pound of uranium is the same as from burning 2.7 million pounds of coal.

I wasn't suggesting a disparity in source fuel volumes - I'm aware of how both burning stuff and fission works.

My point was that obtaining clean high quality fissionable material is non-trivial (if it weren't the case we'd probably all be dead).

I'm unconvinced that existing fuel rods can be used to power newer model fission reactors -- unless you're talking about MSR's, which I thought went out of favour last century, and we don't really have any 'modern' plants built (yet). Again, I refer to some of Leggett's work analysing some of the new UK plant constructions - way over cost and time expectations, and likely about to be abandoned by investors.

> Decommissioning costs are a thing invented to make nuclear seem more expensive by counting it in one place but not the other.

I don't understand. Are you suggesting it shouldn't be counted, or the comparison costs to renewables is being misstated?

Comparing it to coal mines is disingenuous, unless you think I'm pushing coal (I am not).

Comparing it to mines for 'raw material that go into solar panels' is more interesting, but I highly factoring that in would shift the balance sheet in favour of fission.

> And long-term waste management is only a thing for legacy reactors. The newer reactors use their "waste" as fuel, solving both problems.

If you're talking thorium and MSR's here, it's not strictly true, is it? Apart from the absence of any existing viable reactors, thorium reactors need, and produce, rare isotopes of uranium, with longer half lifes than say 235 or 238.

I'm at the edge of my knowledge here, to be sure, but ultimately the ramp-up times to build MSR's, the sheer volume required to replace the existing fission reactors, the experiences around the world of cost / schedule blow-outs, the trend for wind, solar thermal, storage, and and even solar PVC -- all seem to indicate fission isn't really a sensible option now.


Actually renewables are rather famous for not being very safe at all. Turns out that mounting heavy glass plates on rooftops ... can end with a very quick trip to ground with a heavy (and if broken: sharp) glass plate right behind you. Example [1].

Wind turbines need a lot of mechanical components mounted 50 meters (up to 150) off the ground. Needless to say, these components aren't what anyone would call roomy. One component is a big gearbox, or as the technicians call it a "meatgrinder" [2].

TLDR: Nuclear: 0.1 deaths/PWh (US) 90/PWh (global). Wind: 150 deaths/PWh Solar: 440 deaths/PWh [3]

Note that Coal and Oil numbers exclude health impact of the intoxication that is highly visible in places like India and China, but really also plays in many US cities. Even if they're not quite at the point where the sky turns brown and acutely toxic.

Only Hydro power is even remotely competitive with nuclear power in deaths.

(global for nuclear means believing the numbers claiming Chernobyl caused more deaths than 2 US nuclear bombs, or you could more reasonably interpret it as including all deaths due to nuclear weapons. You can freely add in all deaths due to radiation research (low 3 digits), it won't affect the numbers)

In a way it's funny. Solar has already killed more people than nuclear (realistic Chernobyl numbers), including the 2 bombs. And will pass the threshold of adding all numbers together just after this decade ends. Somehow that's never mentioned.

So taking the most pessimistic numbers, Nuclear is 60% safer than Wind turbines, and a staggering 500% safer than solar power. If taking the optimistic numbers for nuclear ... it's absolutely ridiculous.

[1] https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20171019/corona/corona-50th... [2] https://www.healthandsafetyatwork.com/content/siemens-techni... [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents


Even while you dont include deaths involved in construction and ongoing security required by nuclear plants, those deaths-per-Wh-so-far figures do not represent risk, which is much more complicated. Its not possible to fully insure nuclear plants - because no company can take on board liability for disasters which nuclear is demonstrably capable of but fortunately have avoided to date, with considerable expense on safety measures.

It should be obvious when you think about it; if "it'll never happen" (because it can't or hasn't happened) is true, then insurance actuaries could establish that and there would be no problem with insuring the "safest source of power", but governments have to wave the responsibility for full liability instead. There is a real probabilistic risk of great and persistent tragedies from nuclear plants, the more there are the greater that risk.

Fortunately wind, solar and storage are cheaper already than nuclear [1] and their prices are continuing to drop fast. There may be a good case for improving safeguards on these industries too - it should not be as expensive as trying to fully safeguard nuclear has been.

[1] https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-...


> because no company can take on board liability for disasters which nuclear is demonstrably capable of but fortunately have avoided to date

Recognising that this is a minor portion of a larger post - there are a lot of industrial companies that couldn't possibly cover the damage if something goes badly wrong (eg, explosives supplier flattens a major port, 3rd world mining accident, electrical utility causes wildfire, most mid-sized building companies if a skyscraper collapses, etc). Even many insurance companies won't pay out if a flood or fire hits a city, because they can't afford to cover large-scale disasters. Contamination in drinking water is also a pretty big risk. At that level of probability, the only way of dealing with these threats is government. No other organisation else has the manpower or resourcing to deal with rare catastrophes.

It is a fact that liability for a nuclear catastrophe would overwhelm a companies ability to pay. However, we do a lot of things that are more risky and more costly at that level of probability. The fact that there is risk is a very real consideration. That fact we can't insure it is not - there are too many things where, if a rare event happens, the liability cannot be shouldered by a corporation.

Fukushima cleanup, one of the worst disasters we've seen in 30 years, seems to have cost about $15 billion damages + $60 in compensation [0][1] vs $250 billion due to the actual disaster that caused the nuclear plant to fold (the tsunami). And this is as an unexpected, low probability, cost. If a corporation can't handle this, it is tiny bikkies to a government to cover the $15 billion in actual cleanup. And the probability of the government needing to act is tiny to start with. The risks here are so small we don't even talk about them outside the context of nuclear power.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_disaster_cleanup#Cos... [1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/03/10/after-fiv...


> there are a lot of industrial companies that couldn't possibly cover the damage if something goes badly wrong (eg, explosives supplier flattens a major port, 3rd world mining accident, electrical utility causes wildfire, most mid-sized building companies if a skyscraper collapses, etc)

Of course this is why in developed countries they are required to buy insurance. Insurance companies exist which can take on extremely large liabilities for industry, the point is that Nuclear has never been able to afford the size of premiums which would make the full risk of its liabilities profitable to cover.

Fukushima was by no stretch an example of the worst nuclear event liable to occur. A bad accident or attack on any one of the worlds hundreds of nuclear plants CAN seriously irradiate many thousands, even millions of people in some locations, poison water tables and make land unlivable for decades - continuing harm to many creatures even if people are able to avoid it.

After each disaster like Chernobyl or Fukushima we don't just have a new "rate of deaths so far" line to work with, that average line is a one dimensional extremely simplistic measurement. Scientists and engineers who have taken it and as a valid summary of hazard should really know better.


> if "it'll never happen" (because it can't or hasn't happened) is true, then insurance actuaries could establish that and there would be no problem with insuring

Calculating an actuarial probability was never the problem. You can't know the lower bound on the probability of something that has never actually happened, but you can calculate an upper bound based on the period of time it hasn't happened, which is all you really need. They can calculate what the premiums should be.

The issue is that you're asking them to carry a hundred billion dollars in insurance, but insurance companies have capitalization requirements. AIG's market cap is less than seventy five billion. They can't write an individual policy they don't have the resources to pay out on in the event of a claim, regardless of the probability that it actually happens.

So the problem isn't the risk calculation, it's the amount of insurance you want them to carry. The solution is to find someone who could actually pay out a claim that large in the unlikely event that it comes to that, which could only be the government, so that's what they did.


The annual revenue alone of the worlds ten largest insurance companies is about 20 thousand billion USD [1]. This sector is prepared to cover larger risks than most governments - for a somewhat competitive profitable amount.

> Calculating an actuarial probability was never the problem.

Of course is wasn't - revealing and paying the resultant premiums is the problem, which is why governments make alternative arrangements for nuclear.

[1] - https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/largest-insurance-compan...


> The annual revenue alone of the worlds ten largest insurance companies is about 20 thousand billion USD [1]. This sector is prepared to cover larger risks than most governments - for a somewhat competitive profitable amount.

I think you mean two thousand billion. Which is problematic since there are more than twenty nuclear power stations in the US (each of which would need to be insured), even if that wasn't revenue.

Insurance companies are competitive. If they take in a hundred billion dollars, they pay out more than ninety in claims the same year. They can't pay a claim using the money they're already using to pay other types of claims.

> Of course is wasn't - revealing and paying the resultant premiums is the problem, which is why governments make alternative arrangements for nuclear.

The resultant premiums wouldn't be that bad if it was only the risk of a nuclear disaster they had to account for.

But a smart insurance company is going to take into account that US courts have a way of connecting sympathetic victims to deep-pocketed or well-insured corporations, even when there is only a tangential relationship with them, when it's the only way to save a devastated community. For example, if Fukushima had happened in the US, there is a decent chance that courts would have tried to tack a lot of the cost of the damage from the tsunami on the plant operators. Or for another example, PG&E and the recent wildfires in California.

That's a different kind of risk, but it's one an insurance company that doesn't want to go bankrupt has to account for, and it's also the one that makes buying that amount of insurance prohibitively expensive in the private market.


Sorry right I did overcount that. But that is still 2 trillion USD - revenue per year. It establishes the scale of this sectors financial clout. Insurers payed out $135 billion USB in North America last year for natural disasters, and business is continuing as usual. Nuclear plants liability are capped in north america at 13 billion USD the nuclear industry is simply exempt from arranging full cover - unlike other industries. Its not really viable to contend the arrangements are not exceptional and are beyond the capabilities and interest of modern financial arrangements.

This statement > "which is problematic since there are more than twenty nuclear power stations in the US" shows a misunderstanding about the insurance business. It is not necessary to have assets to cover worst case events everywhere simultaneously. I expect you do understand that but have not given this subject your best attention.


> Insurers payed out $135 billion USB in North America last year for natural disasters, and business is continuing as usual.

Because they expected to. If you take in $145B in premiums and pay out $135B in claims, everything is fine. If one year they took in $145B in premiums and paid out $235B in claims, where does the rest of the money come from?

In theory they could collect the premiums and accumulate them over time so that by the time there is a claim there is the money to pay it, but that allows you to pay a single claim of that size in year 50, what is covering it in year one?

> Nuclear plants liability are capped in north america at 13 billion USD the nuclear industry is simply exempt from arranging full cover - unlike other industries.

What other industries? I don't see oil and coal companies each having to be insured against claims for billions in damages from climate change. PG&E isn't covering the full liability from the camp fire, they're filing for bankruptcy.

> This statement > "which is problematic since there are more than twenty nuclear power stations in the US" shows a misunderstanding about the insurance business. It is not necessary to have assets to cover worst case events everywhere simultaneously. I expect you do understand that but have not given this subject your best attention.

That's assuming you can consider them all to be independent. The problem with very low probability events like this is that if they do happen the cause is often another very low probability event. You get something like the Yellowstone Supervolcano or a coordinated terrorist attack and all the claims come at the same time.

Or even at the same time as other types of claims -- you get damage to a nuclear plant or three from a ten thousand year storm or an 8.5 magnitude earthquake and now you're paying that claim on top of the disaster claims from what caused it. Insurance companies want to pool risk, not assume 100% of the damages from a massive disaster with a single dependent cause.


All industries need to arrange cover for accidents (this should not be news in an argument about industrial insurance and liabilities). Some companies are big enough to hold their own funds, for example Shell has payed out $20 billion in settlements for the Deepwater horizon accident. That is more than the $13 billion dollar fund arranged to spend in the event of nuclear accidents in the whole of the US.

The idea of holding oil companies liable for climate change has a ring to it, but insurance wont cover it because there is no legal precedent. There is legal precedent to claiming damages on industrial accidents and nuclear industry accidents. If one nuclear plant fails badly for any number of reasons and fallout is blown towards a city or across valuable farmland, the claims could easily exceed 13 billion USD.


> All industries need to arrange cover for accidents (this should not be news in an argument about industrial insurance and liabilities).

Rarely in the amount of the theoretical maximum amount of damage they could possibly do. In practice when a company has more liability than insurance coverage, they end up in bankruptcy and it's the insurance policies of the victims that end up paying out, or some kind of government assistance. This is especially true for very rare and very large claims, because nobody really carries that much insurance.

For example, Boeing no doubt has insurance, but their worst case failure mode is something like the hypothesized worst-case scenarios for the Y2K or Y2038 bug where some integer rolls over and every plane they've ever made crashes into the ground at the same time. There is no way they have enough insurance to cover that -- it would be a trillion dollars. But neither do we expect them to, because it's very unlikely even though it could theoretically actually happen.

The same kind of thing could happen to a major auto company, or really any company that runs the same software on a million different pieces of industrial hardware. A company could sell a million pacemakers and have them all fail at once, or elevators, or emergency dispatch equipment. None of them are insured for that amount of liability.

The oil companies are rare in the sense of having extremely deep pockets, enough to cover a major claim like that on their own, but they're about the only instance of that. And even they would be completely bankrupt if the courts ever start allowing claims against them for the damage from climate change.


Thank you. Whenever I see someone compare nuclear deaths to solar deaths (lot of solar death are falling off a roof), I slap my forehead when they suggest full speed ahead with nuclear (despite it being too expensive, uninsurable without government backing, and no waste disposal plans) instead of...making it harder to fall off of roofs when installing rooftop solar.


We allow cities close to the ocean even though the Japanese tsunami damages cost more than ten times as much as the nuclear accident it caused. We allow cities on fault lines as well, even though earth quakes could kill hundreds of thousands of people.

What does ”uninsurable” mean? If nuclear power plants are uninsurable Silicon Valley is uninsurable.


Uninsurable means a nuclear generator cannot obtain commercial liability insurance due to black swan events that could incur hundreds of billions of dollars in liability.

Silicon Valley is insurance because the liability exposure is substantially less.


By refusing to support an alternative solution, you are supporting the status quo.

It is easy to bring up problem after problem with alternatives. It is not easy to show why the status quo is somehow better, because it is not.

A death is a death. Someone dieing because they fell off a roof is equally as bad as dieing due to radiation.


> By refusing to support an alternative solution, you are supporting the status quo.

I do support an alternative solution: making rooftop installs safer, and more utility scale ground mount solar. Both are infinitely more tractable as problems than properly managed nuclear power. The US is already on track to install more utility scale solar this year (~150GW) than total existing nuclear generating capacity, even accounting for capacity factor. One year!


‘toomuchtodo is supporting an alternate solution: taking measures to reduce the rate at which solar installers fall of of roofs.


I would disagree. Thousands of that can only be done by humans are by many measures better than a single dangerous plant that produces the same economic output in a more concentrated fashion.


I think people rightly fear a type of damage they can't see. Radiation is scary because you could get a dose of it and not even know it, or have no idea how bad it is. People are taking the devil they know.


> I think people rightly fear a type of damage they can't see. Radiation is scary because you could get a dose of it and not even know it, or have no idea how bad it is. People are taking the devil they know.

By this logic people should be deathly afraid of coal and what it puts into the air.


No. Coal danger is always marginal and diffuse if you can’t detect the pollution with your senses. Not so with radiation.


If you're exposed to enough radiation for the effects not to be "marginal and diffuse" then you can detect it with your senses. High dose radiation will literally burn you.

People misunderstand the risk. The amount of radiation you need to be exposed to for a 50% chance of getting cancer would be a fatal dose from radiation poisoning. The way people end up with cancer isn't by one person getting a large dose, it's by a million people each getting a small dose, so that they each have a one in ten thousand chance of getting cancer and then a hundred of them do.

Which is exactly the same thing that happens with coal -- not least because coal is radioactive and burning it puts the radioactive materials into the air.

Except that coal does it as a consequence of normal operation rather than only in the event of a catastrophic failure.


I'm not so sure about that. Gamma radiation is one thing, getting a bunch of alpha and beta emitters more or less permanently stuck in your body, is another.


> I'm not so sure about that. Gamma radiation is one thing, getting a bunch of alpha and beta emitters more or less permanently stuck in your body, is another.

About the only practical way to do that is to eat them, at which point you're in the same category as any other adulterated food. How is caesium any scarier than prions or mercury or various pesticides or a thousand different chemical carcinogens?


Or getting fallout raining on you? Or eating stuff that's been growing in fallout rain. Or eating meat from livestock grazing on polluted areas. I don't know, but I thought Chernobyl was pretty damn scary when it happened. Iodine supplemented in table salt as a prophylactic. Pretty grim stuff when you think about it and lived in the Cold War. It scared me.


Yeah that's fortunately increasingly an option we can take, but the world would sure suck less if we weren't dealing with the compounded effects of 50-70 years of the sort of nuclear skepticism expressed in your comment upthread.

But still, even if we're going to aggressively build out renewables there's still room for a lot more nuclear in the energy mix. There's use-cases for it where solar, wind etc. isn't a substitute, e.g. shipping[1].

1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/feb/13/climatec...


We have had 30+ years of skepticism in coal power, which made near enough to approximately fuck all difference (until perhaps very recently). I would suggest the historical stagnation of nuclear has sfa to do with activism and quite a lot to do with the astronomical costs of building, mining and operation.

Also just a thought re. your eg. on shipping.. I read a random blog a while back that suggested that a couple of large cargo ships go missing every week (sinking or piracy mostly). Not a thing I would like to see with nuclear reactors and material on board.

http://actuarialeye.com/2014/03/30/how-many-ships-disappear-...


Isn’t that what the tesla semi electric truck and airbus e-fan x electric plane projects aim to help mitigate though: the reliance on gas for shipping/transportation?

Just because some use cases are not practical for renewables now doesn’t mean they won’t be in the near future.


Are you willing to live next door to a nuclear plant? People don't experience coal related problems unless they live in areas that are heavily polluted. Sure it impacts them and everyone else but it's perceived less harmful.


I'd rather live "next to" nuclear than coal. (Neither of these are built abutting residential neighborhoods, so "next to" is a bit of a fallacy.)


There is an idle plant near San Diego they've been wanting to open for a long time but the residents in surrounding areas fight it tooth and nail. For a changebof scenery, residents in Nagasaki are fighting an ongoing battle (losing but trying) to shut down the plant in the area. I have yet to hear of other cases but so far it seems people living in the vicinity of nuclear plants are not happy.


Ok, so what you are saying is that you would prefer to live next to a dirty coal power plant that is much more likely to cause you to get cancer or other horrible health effects?


I would say that's a false equivalency because coal operators (until recently) were profitable enterprises whereas nuclear lobbyists are generally concerned not just with public tolerance but public funding.


Coal is/was only profitable because externalities are not priced in.

Everyone knows the externalities of nuclear power and it gets priced in to any discussion of new plants in 2019. The fear (about meltdowns) and concern (about waste) typically outsizes the actual risk substantially.

But most people don't seem to realize that coal far more produces aerosolized radioactive waste, other carcinogens, and as a result, cancer, per watt, than nuclear. Even if you assume every single nuclear plant melts down. Burnt coal is just absymal for public health, but it doesn't get the scary branding that nuclear power does.


It’s at the southern tip of Orange County, not that far from both San Diego and Los Angeles, and there are millions of people nearby. It has been closed for about 7 years, and the claimed risks/fears seem plausible.

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


I can see Seabrook Station from here, and there are houses within a mile of the reactor. The popular beach towns of Seabrook and Hampton beach are within two miles. AFAIK, neither my neighbors nor the tourists give it much thought.


> Are you willing to live next door to a nuclear plant?

Most of the people in my friend group actually live next to one. Zero issues, and it's an old communist party-built one.


Where I'd you don't mind me asking?


Temelin, Czech Republic


Krško?


Krško is a Westinghouse design. I've spent quite some time in the area, and nobody really worried about the power plant. The smell of the cellulose plant in the city center on the other hand, ...


I currently work in data science for an Australian power company. Renewables are the reason why we had electricity spot prices of A$14500/mwh three days in a row, rolling blackouts and the grid being nationalized for several hours.

Because of the unregulated attachment of intermittent power sources South Australia has no base load generation any more, this is coal or nuclear stations. Victoria had an incident with one coal plant shutting down on Tesday which was the first $14500 spot price hike. Then because of weather and plant maintenance the same thing happened for two more days in a row with the power regulator stepping in when the rolling blackouts started on Friday telling everyone to run everything at full blast.

A renewable only grid will cost an order of magnitude more to run than one based on coal or nuclear, if not more.

The above is hugely simplified for obvious reasons and only my opinion and not that of my employer.


First of all, a high spot price is not in itself a problem as long as the high price lasts only for a short time and effectively brings needed capacity online. Where you have a serious problem is when spot prices spike, no one responds and load-shedding starts. I appreciate that SA has actually got to the point of load-shedding several times now, which is indicative of a severe problem.

However, saying that renewables are the cause of this is the same as saying that nuclear is the cause of Chernobyl. Nuclear plants don't inherently melt down if they are properly designed and operated and renewables don't inherently cause load-shedding if they are integrated to a properly planned and operated bulk power system.

What is occurring in SA is a power system planning and market design failure that is not inherent to any one technology.

It seems the system operator has been relying on reliability services provided by large synchronous generators without actually pricing and creating a market for those services, which has caused them to disappear with coal retirements and leave the power system in a chronically insecure state. In order for the market to ensure both day-ahead generation adequacy and as well as real-time operating reserve margin for unit contingencies, generators need to be able to get paid for providing those services, at a level that makes it economical to invest in new assets or maintain existing ones.

This is a policy problem, not a technical one.

FWIW I work for the company that owned the now decommissioned Hazelwood coal plant in Victoria, but I'm not involved with that plant at all.


> However, saying that renewables are the cause of this is the same as saying that nuclear is the cause of Chernobyl. Nuclear plants don't inherently melt down if they are properly designed and operated and renewables don't inherently cause load-shedding if they are integrated to a properly planned and operated bulk power system.

Isn't this just juggling semantics? Nuclear is very much a necessary condition for nuclear meltdown. Removing nuclear power is a foolproof option to avoid nuclear meltdown.

Likewise displacing dispatchable generation with renewables enables the conditions where we can get these super high spot prices. To guarantee supply during peak load you need a lot of redundant dispatchable generation sitting around gathering dust until the $14500 day. On that day it needs to pay for itself, hence $14500 per megawatt hour.

EDIT: Oh wait, I'm a dummy who didn't read your post correctly. I agree with your comments about the market needing to correctly price reliability of supply. In WA we have a capacity market for this reason.


There are a lot of economic scenarios for a 'peaker' plant that don't necessarily involve it having to recover its full capital cost in just a few days of operation. Often these are plants that have been retired from the energy market due to high operating costs, but can still start up and run for a few hours well below the $1000/MWh level because the owner has already recovered their cap-ex over many years of operation. They may have other revenue streams that cover their operating costs, like black-start services, and operating reserve is just the cherry on top.


This works well for the current 30 minute market. At 5 minutes there are no non-battery plants, other than hydro, which can start up fast enough to provide power to the market.


True for cold start, but gas plants can ramp in the 5 minute window if they are already running. But the market conditions would have to such that it makes economic sense for them to be in that operating condition.


Right and it takes them five minutes to ramp down, and the price market window will be 5 minutes. Which means they will have to bet on the price being high the next windiw too. Which means higher prices sustained longer because gas units won't be quick enough any more.


If they're ramping as part of a system reliability service, then should be doing it under automatic generation control, not betting on the energy market, and they would have committed a certain amount of up and down regulation some hours in advance. The cost question is whether it makes sense for them to bid for that reliability service to begin with.

Which goes back to my argument that this is to a large extent about market design and not technology.


>First of all, a high spot price is not in itself a problem as long as the high price lasts only for a short time and effectively brings needed capacity online. Where you have a serious problem is when spot prices spike, no one responds and load-shedding starts. I appreciate that SA has actually got to the point of load-shedding several times now, which is indicative of a severe problem.

As you should well know being in the business the spot price has a hard cap of $14500. You should also know that spot prices were maxed out from 3pm to 8pm in Vic and SA on Thursday and would have been maxed out for the whole of Friday if not for AEMO stepping in and effectively nationalizing the electricity market.

Anyone with a spreadsheet and publicly available data can see that the SA shedding events have expanded to Vic for the first time this year. Further anyone who even looks at the ages of the coal plants providing base load generation will realize it will get worse on from here.

For the rest of your points: this is absolutely a technological problem. Physics and maths, contrary to what our old prime minister used to say, are respected in Australia. Electricity generated by heavy spinning things takes a long time to ramp up and down and needs a different grid to that used by renewables and batteries. Batteries are about 5 orders of magnitude too expensive to be used as the backbone of the energy network. So the only things renewables do today from the pov of the network is add spikiness both the production and demand side of the market, making both the market and the grid more unstable, more expensive and worse for everyone who isn't a speculator.

In short: with current technology you can have a stable network or a renewable one, you can have both if you're willing to pay at least 10 times more for electricity.

Or we can build nuclear power plants and solve all our problems for the next 50 years.


I agree that a 100% renewable grid is not economical at this time. Nor is 90%, nor 80%. The question is where the threshold lies for the maximum amount of renewable generation we can accommodate while maintaining reliability and delivering power at an economical price for consumers.

That number is going to vary in different grid systems based on the size of the balancing area, the strength and resiliency of the transmission system and amount of storage available. Balancing areas with large amounts of hydro-storage will be able to accommodate more renewables, as will those that connect 10s of thousands of MW or more.

This isn't about physics and math. It's about SA being a very small grid where contingencies (both transmission and unit trip) dominate reliability planning. There are grids operating with the same level of renewable penetration as SA or more that have never experienced load shedding.

SA could accommodate perhaps one large nuclear power plant. And then the entire system design would be dictated by unit tripping contingencies. The cost of planning the system to prevent load-shedding when a 500+ MW unit trips at that plant would be massive. Nuclear is not a panacea for system security.

Please don't generalize the problems of a very unique and small system to the rest of the world. SA has unique challenges as a vast and sparsely populated region that don't exist in Europe, Asia or even most of North America. ERCOT has run with 40% wind penetration on a 44 GW system, and they've done it cheaper than anyone can build nuclear today.


> It seems the system operator has been relying on reliability services provided by large synchronous generators without actually pricing and creating a market for those services, which has caused them to disappear with coal retirements and leave the power system in a chronically insecure state. In order for the market to ensure both day-ahead generation adequacy and as well as real-time operating reserve margin for unit contingencies, generators need to be able to get paid for providing those services, at a level that makes it economical to invest in new assets or maintain existing ones.

Aren't these frequency response services the same provided by Tesla's battery system at the Hornsdale Power Reserve? If so, those reliability services are paid for by the South Australian government. Additionally, the Hornsdale Power Reserve responds to frequency sags within milliseconds, whereas legacy thermal needs upwards of 15-20 minutes to raise the frequency or voltage back up.

> First, let’s recap on some of the important points. The Tesla big battery was built without subsidy, in a period of just 4.5 months from design to full operations, and at a cost of $91 million. If the figures available to date are any guide, it is making plenty of money ($24 million in revenue this year) and may deliver a payback to its owners of less than four years.

> Even better, it is delivering an even bigger market benefit for consumers ($40-$50 million in its first year) by lowering costs, particularly in the frequency control market, but also in wholesale price. Add in the value of grid security, and the avoidance of blackouts, and the savings are considerable.

> Tesla makes its money through a $4 million a year contract (for 10 years) with the South Australia government, and sets aside 90MW and 10MWh to provide grid security, mostly by intervening when major events happen.

So we build more batteries.

https://reneweconomy.com.au/deep-dive-into-first-year-of-tes...

https://www.windpowermonthly.com/article/1520406/hornsdale-b...


It's more than just frequency response, though. After reading some of the event reports from South Australia, some of them are caused by a simple lack of generation adequacy (demand exceeded capacity for a sustained period due to generation unplanned outages) and others by transmission contingencies (cascading failure caused by a transmission line going out of service). These aren't problems that batteries solve per se but yes, the future definitely has more batteries in it.


> However, saying that renewables are the cause of this is the same as saying that nuclear is the cause of Chernobyl.

Are you suggesting SA renewables suffered an unplanned failure this summer? I havn't heard anything about that and I expect that they have been functioning as expected and that you are mistaken. Do you have a source?


What I'm saying that is the loss of system security events that have occurred in Australia this summer are not inherent to the operation of the grid with high renewable penetration, but rather a failure of the system operator to plan adequately for foreseeable system conditions and contingencies, just like Chernobyl was not an inevitable occurrence linked to the underlying technology. So using the SA load-shedding events to say "renewables can't work at large scale" is similar to citing Chernobyl as a reason not to build new nuclear plants.

However, there was a very well documented failure of LVRT performance on wind turbines during the 2016 SA blackout.

https://www.nerc.com/pa/rrm/ea/Lessons%20Learned%20Document%...


Just get good forecasts then energymeteo.com


Some people die every year from wind and hydropower [1]. If we measure lives lost per unit of energy, nuclear power is orders of magnitude better than wind or hydropower.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-d...


So far..


That is never the option.

You choice is either to switch to nuclear or continue using coal.

Arguing for solutions that are never going to happen, is equivalent to arguing in favor of the status quo (and the status quo is horrible).


Yes, the real solution is solar energy combined with a world Power grid.


I'd love to see a future with all renewables. But nuclear seems like a good hedge bet, or even just an interim.


Do solar farms and windmills harm birds? How many birds are killed each year compared to how many die from nuclear? The flippant “lets do renewables” ignores that plastering the landscape with windmills and solar panels has some significant effects on wildlife that would exponentially increase with more widespread deployment. How many birds have died in France as a result of nuclear power?

Perhaps the answer is to not put nuclear plants in seismic areas and instead improve storage and transmission technology so that nuclear can be used more. Putting a reactor on a fault line, in a tsunami zone isn’t necessarily a beat practice, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Solar farms and windmills are ugly and environmentally harmful.


Cats kill magnitudes more..


Yes, fossil fuels are an ongoing disaster, one that in the form of global warming has a capacity to possibly make the planet unlivable. But all the disasters of fossil fuels are invisible and thus provoke little reaction in the public - and moreover, fossil fuels have vast vested interests protecting them.

We need to come up with an alternative to this. Nuclear in the ideal could be that. But nuclear's track record is murky, nuclear's cost is murky. For all I know, solar and wind are X times less effective than nuclear though as mentioned real world costs versus theoretical costs are still problem. I mean, consider raw solar now is the cheapest energy source but maybe solar plus reverse hydro would be some proportion more expensive.

Thus if we're creating an alternative to fossil fuels, solar and wind seems like a clear real world win.

An nuclear requires huge upfront money because it requires huge upfront energy investment. This risk of nuclear isn't just disaster, it's that this huge investment fails to pay as calculated and this is a risk that's materialized in the past.


It would be ideal if we could replace fossil fueled power plants with solar and wind, but it is not currently technically possible and as they provide different forms of services. Fossil fueled power plants generate power based on demand. Solar and wind generate power based on weather.

With current technology we really only have two distinct options. We can use solar and wind when the weather allows for it and then burn coal, gas and oil when it doesn't. The global warming impact is the combined result averaged over the year, and the energy cost is similar to the combined price.

The other option is nuclear which has the huge upfront cost and nuclear waste, but with minimal global warming.

In the future we could get more alternatives. Different form of batteries (like reverse hydro) would allow solar and wind to be separated from on-demand fossil fueled power plants, and dynamic energy market could change demand based on supply so that a lower base generation from nuclear and regular hydro would work in combination with wind and solar.


The other option is nuclear which has the huge upfront cost and nuclear waste, but with minimal global warming.

I don't see why the various battery types aren't practical today. Unlike nuclear, there's no huge political resistance and once solar and wind are online, investment in energy storage becomes online energy fairly quickly. Moreover, the huge energy include huge uncertainties, uncertainties whether the plant will shutdown early, especially.

Remember, the huge upfront costs of nuclear includes energy expenditure and as you're pointing out, expending more energy means more global warming until we have fully replaced fossil fuel.

Long ago, solar and wind advocates were derided for contrasting hypothetical ideals with current realities. Nuclear proponents now seem much closer to doing that.


Most nuclear renewable energy competitors are cheaper than nuclear.

Sure, nuclear provides baseload energy in a way its cheaper competitors cannot, but as long as you have more than 20-30% fossil fuel the baseload is not really a concern anywhere.

It seems foolish to divert money intended to reduce polluting sources of energy into the more expensive nuclear alternative, until the share of coal and natural gas is low enough that more stable sources of energy are neeeded.


It's a question of path dependency. A least-cost grid with 80% less GHG emissions than current will likely be, depending on the location, lots of wind and solar, improved transmission, a little bit of batteries and demand response, and then NG backup.

For a deep decarbonized grid (95%+ less emissions), the least-cost will OTOH likely involve a rather high fraction of nuclear, plus a somewhat smaller fraction of the aforementioned wind, solar, transmission, demand response, batteries on top.

Dealing with climate change requires a deep decarbonized grid. So while most grids can take a lot more wind and solar than currently, if we overbuild those sources we can get locked into higher emissions long-term.


All non-nuclear renewable energy competitors require us to derive ~40-60% of our energy generation from burning natural gas, that generates GHGs. This natural gas comes from either fracking, or Russia.

Climate change is an exsistential threat to our way of life.

> Sure, nuclear provides baseload energy in a way its cheaper competitors cannot, but as long as you have more than 20-30% fossil fuel the baseload is not really a concern anywhere.

Yes, it is a concern. We need to hit net zero emissions in the next five years, or net negative emissions, with massive carbon sequestration, in the next 15. How exactly are we going to do that between shipping, air travel, AND fossil-fuel baseload power?


As an engineer I do feel that just because a risk is diffuse, doesn't make it better. I.e. if coal kills more people, it's objectively worse.

But I'm not sure if you can say that definitively. Peoples feeling of the "badness" of an outcome matters. And you also have to consider that dying a bit earlier might not be as bad as some of the immediate consequences a nuclear disaster can have to people of all ages.

I'd be all for building more nuclear, but I feel like it's just unrealistic to expect a sudden revival of nuclear. I think it's likely more productive to focus more R&D and investment on solar/wind and storage.

Solar/wind+storage also has some really nice benefits like being more decentralised and does not depend on a steady source of fuel. This has big benefits for developing nations as they don't need to build out big centralised grids.

Accelerating solar/wind+storage could have a bigger impact on the developing areas in e.g. Africa, as if their choice is between coal and nuclear, they may be more likely to go for coal as it's just much simpler for a nation that's not as advanced.


> The greatest advances in drawers don't help if you still have ticking time bombs

The greatest advances in drawers don't help if you stop building new nuclear plants. The choice today is not about whether to build more outdated plants; it's about whether to build new modern plants.


I'm not sure whether this much nuance is possible in politics. There isn't just a choice between building new plants or not building them, but there is also one between the outdated plants online vs bringing them offline, and if there is a new push to nuclear, I's very possible that the plants will get an "upgrade" and declared safe to use while in reality they just got a new coat of paint or something equivalently effective.

Just look at coal: The coal lobby is also constantly talking about how many jobs they are bringing and so on while in reality they bring only very few jobs and those that exist are being reduced due to automation.


What you're saying is very hard to accept, which is not to say it's wrong. We have access to an absurd amount of power, and it's safe if we do it right, but we're not currently mature enough to reliably do it right, so we should refrain.

Or more specifically, and even harder to accept: We know perfectly well how to do it right, but the danger of someone selling out public safety is high enough that we should refrain from advocating for an entire field of progress, at least presently.


I struggle to buy the idea that people are irrationally overestimating the costs of nuclear when the industry has needed a legally mandated cap to its liabilities to operate.

The existence of the cap indicates that the industry itself believes that the costs of a black swan event in the nuclear industry could be ridiculously high.


Imagine if we could have a reactor running in a very remote area, accessible by robots. No people would work in the area, only remotely controlled robots would be present. People would come into work in a remote office and have high-bandwidth internet access to the cameras installed on the robots. All the installations would be created with "robot-first" interfaces.


Robots have not proven very successful in nuclear disasters IIRC. Radiation hardening for the computers is an issue, as are manipulators and other things.

Moreover, in a disaster situation like Fukushima, power loss would be an issue. Fukushima was fine in the immediate aftermath (24 hours?) of the disaster until the on-site batteries ran out and backup generators couldn’t start due to damage from flooding. A fully robotic installation would face similar and greater problems after a SCRAM.

It’s an interesting sci-fi idea that might be possible in a hundred years, once we master simpler robots like vacuums and folding laundry!


IIRC the highly radioactive part of a nuclear power plant is already robot-only. It's pretty cool technology. But technology isn't the problem.


It doesn't matter where the issue come if it's still an issue.


It always boils down to greed, power and image. "What's that, we need to do a major upgrade? Cuts I to profits, no can do!"

Ask those in charge how close to a plant they are willing to live. I bet most won't live anywhere near. The thought of waking up in a radiated area in the middle of the night as a meltdown occurs is not exactly comforting to anyone. Private entities will always run a risk assessment to calculate whether it's more profitable to turn a blind eye. Most of the time the punishment is a fee that amounts to a slap on the wrist and its back to business as usual. Time heals indeed. Narrative changes. The public is distracted with some flashy personality. People forget and stop caring until it repeats all over again.


> Cuts I to profits, no can do!

Capitalists, funny to say, are actually highly protective of their capital. If you have an asset worth billions of dollars no rational manager would take a risk on it; the maintenance generally gets done. Billion dollar assets generally don't get associated with reckless people.

That sort of short-termism no-maintenance approach is more likely a symptom of the political risk of running a reactor. Maybe they want to invest in an upgrade, but there is a reasonable chance that politicians will shut you down (eg, as happened in Germany). In that sort of environment, because the asset is at risk, the rational course of action switches from maintenance to exploitation.

And I'd bet the plan managers would live locally, you'd be silly not to. They don't expect their plant to melt down, or they wouldn't be willing to be the plant manager. Nobody would be involved if they didn't expect the plant to function, they'd shut it down.


Too simplistic. There are plenty of examples of short term thinking from professional managers acting on behalf of owners. Trashing a corporate reputation by trading on it charging a premium price while cutting costs and quality is really common. Managers cash out ridiculous share grants right away when they go, not 10 years after they resign it are fired. There are other factors driving behaviour but that incentive works just as you'd expect.


Although that is true, reputation is an intangible asset. There is not really an engineering discipline related to maintaining and asset-managing a reputation (not to anywhere near the same level of rigor as managing, eg, a skyscraper).

You might be underestimating how many high-value assets we are surrounded by that are well maintained and extremely reliable. They tend to blend into the background because there are so many.

Obviously mistakes happen, but the central point here shouldn't be controversial: a rational and greedy agent maintains their assets. Otherwise they sorta get booted out of of the club of people who own assets, because their competition would have similar realised returns and a fully functional asset (if maintenance is possible it is usually a more economic option than building from scratch). If the government is going to obsolete your asset by force, then the agent's decisions will change, but the agent isn't exactly in control of their situation if the government is stepping in.


> the public is skeptical regarding fission for good reason: history has not been kind to the kind of disasters fission reactors have wrought.

It's not just that! I was pro-fission until someone educated me how horribly irresponsible we've been about our nuclear waste disposal. And how dangerous it is.

Deep waste storage has been deadlocked in government since the 80s so waste is just hanging out by each reactor. If this funding and nuclear push doesn't include just finishing Yucca mountain, then imo it's a bad idea.

It looks like some progress was made recently but given that it took 40 years to vet yucca mountain I hate the idea of more nuclear power concurrent with a restarted site selection process.

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/looking-trash-can-nuc...


According to the article, Bill Gates’ company is using a technology called TWR which is different from the fission reactors you mention.

According to Wikipedia, “TWRs could theoretically run, self-sustained, for decades without refueling or removing spent fuel.”

Agreed that the failure to finish and activate Yucca Mountain is ridiculous. Alternatively, we could be using that spent fuel in other reactors as I believe France does. Either way the current policy is irresponsible although it’s due to politics not technology.


ah yes, those theoretical reactors are so much better than real ones.


Like the theoretical super-cheap batteries needed to make renewables actually practical as a comprehensive replacement for fossil fuel energy?


I'll admit the battery story has a way to go yet - I'm not relying totally on batteries yet. But battery farms are already playing a role around here.


The answer to the nuclear waste "problem" is that it doesn't matter.

If we took all of our nuclear waste, and put it directly into our food supply, this would be a better situation than what we are in now.

This is because of just how horrible coal is. Coal kills millions of people. Would taking our nuclear waste and feeding it to children cause millions of deaths? I think that's unlikely. Which means that it isn't as bad as coal.

Opposing alternatives is the same exact thing as supporting the status quo. Unless the alternative also kills millions of people, then it is better than what we have now.


A couple+ years ago I had a one+ hour (casual) conversation with someone (important) who does fusion research (in the Princeton, NJ area). I'll spare us all the details, but his take was simple: fusion is within reach but we need more money.

Nearly everything I've read since leads me to believe he was honest and accurate. Mind you, I was just a guy with a cocktail in one hand and a shameless will to ask questions in the other. China seems to be making strides, yes.

Perhaps, being a fusion insider, you have some updates on the State of Fusion?


How kind has history been to the "safe" renewables?

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


>public who are already skeptical about fusion, to them fission has not had a great track record.

Branding problem. Hell if "clean coal" can start to get inroads then something like "Direct Helium Solar" or something can be used as re-branded nuclear fusion.


Isn’t there also a cost argument here? Both time to ROI and decommissioning costs are enormous?

Or have things changed?


I'm pro nuclear in principle (it sure beats fossils), but I do get the feeling that the era we are in is not right for such big monolithic infrastructure projects. The costs tend to balloon and the private companies behind them have difficulties in delivering and meeting the stringent quality standards that nuclear requires (for good reasons). See for example the utter failure that has been Olkiluoto 3[1] or the recent bankruptcy of Westinghouse[2]

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

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13987046


It’s puzzling how 50 years later, with much better technology, we can’t build plants on the scale of what was built in the 60s.

The US navy uses nuclear reactors for their aircraft carriers and they don’t seem to have the same problems getting them built and installed that commercial power operators do now. I wonder what makes the difference, I tried googling but couldn’t find a good comparison. Perhaps it is just not commercially viable but works on a military scale budget?


To succeed with large project you generally have to develop competence in-house first to know what you are doing. Today it is quite unpopular, at least in western countries, for the government to do that. When things become more accessible, it doesn't necessarily mean they become simpler. In fact there is often added complexity. It isn't just nuclear power plants, but all kinds of infrastructure.


It feels like we couldn't build the goddamn interstate system today, and you can't tell me that's due to a lack of pavement-laying competence.


Laying pavement itself is likely a very small part of building an interstate system, in terms of success. Though, I am sure there are e.g. cities that can barely do that. I mean, whenever I see a video from the US the streets always seems broken, at least in cities. Large projects today seems to fail even before any actually manual work is done.


Well nuclear powerplants were literally a byproduct of nuclear weapons research. America needed a lot of plutonium. The nuclear industry was of vital interest to national defence.

Also those old powerplants were not built with safety in mind. In my country they literally dumped nuclear waste into the sea. Back in the sixties they were cutting corners, something we couldn't do today (I hope).


[deleted]


Military equipment is constructed by private civilian companies, by normal civilian employees, not by members of armed services.

See for example

https://fluormarinepropulsion.com/

https://www.bechtel.com/services/defense-nuclear-security/us...

https://www.bwxt.com/what-we-do/naval-nuclear-propulsion

Welcome to the military-industrial complex


The public opinion isn’t skeptical of nuclear. They assume nuclear is some white hole of cancer that’s going to kill them and everyone around the plant or uses its power. It kills people, makes them turn green, and grow a third eye/flippers. It’s prejudice.


It's also a prejudice not shared by people who live near reactors, who tend to be better informed and have much more positive opinions.


The US government already recognized the importance of nuclear innovation (since we lost that lead in the last 50 years)

On January 24, 2019, President Trump Signs Pro-Nuclear Legislation: make regulations move more quickly with respect to new nuclear reactors and to establish a better and faster licensing structure for advanced nuclear reactors

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2019/01/24/president...


> the fact remains the public is skeptical regarding fission for good reason: history has not been kind to the kind of disasters fission reactors have wrought

It's a problem even if you assume the public and the public's view is a bit more sophisticated. If we are precise, the problem was not the disasters the reactors wrought, it's the problem people - operators, corporations, regulators, etc. - wrought with careless operation of reactors and stupid ways of handling fuel processing and waste.

So, if you're that slightly more sophisticated member of the public, you ask the question: are we doing any better today in terms of nuclear regulatory apparatus, governance, and general corporate responsibility? It might actually be a bit better now than forty years ago, but we all know where public sentiment is today. Industry and regulators will very understandably need to do some work to earn everyone's trust. It's not about the reactors, it's about the people operating them.

> They aren't dumb, they just know rightly that engineers can't foresee the everything in the future and are understandably skeptical.

That's exactly right.


Considering that fossil fuels damage both humans and the environment orders of magnitude worse than fission, to what do you attribute the public's non-negative attitude towards it?


For one thing, a near-total lack of appreciation of the damage done by fossil fuels.


Interesting, I think, that Fukushima was built at a location that had experienced two huge tsunamis within living memory at the time.

Wonder what kind of hand-waving dismissals and assurances were used to sell that project.


> Make as many arguments you want to make about fukushima facing a natural disaster,

That's no excuse! In the end I don't care if the fission guys misestimated the natural disaster risk or whether they simply discarded it as "not in our threat model".

> and how the field has advanced since three-mile island and chernobyl,

But the old plants are still there!

And, tying it together with the first point: back then the fission guys promised it was safe and no catastrophe could happen.

Then the catastrophe happened.

Okay, but this time we have cool new technology, and we know so much more, and nothing bad can happen.

And then it happened.

Now we're just back in the cycle. Why should we believe you?

It's possible that it's now perfectly safe. But the fission guys lost all credibility when they again and again oversold what they really know, plan for and guarantee.


We may have advanced the technologies since Chernobyl but we haven't even come close to dealing with that yet. We just built a multi billion dollar dome for that will possibly last 100 years, provided we keep up with the active measures to extend the life of it. That region will be fucked up for over 10,000 years. How long will Fukushima need the ice wall?

I have yet to hear about a comprehensive plan or set of designs that is meltdown proof and doesn’t have a waste problem. It’s a conceptually simple way to make a lot of cleanish energy, and it works now and it works on cloudy days but there are still giant externalities that just haven’t been solved. We can’t even out the waste in deep underground mines in the desert, we haven’t had the political will to do that.


Three serious problems with nuclear, globally:

- too slow. Break ground now and you'll be producing energy by 2030.

- political instability. Hands up who supports the switch of Iran and Saudi Arabia to nuclear? It would reduce a lot of carbon emissions. Let's not overlook Ukraine either: https://www.neimagazine.com/features/featurenuclear-plants-i...

- budget instability: Wylfa has stopped https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/hitachi-job... and Hinckley Point C is hanging on by an expensive thread. It is also at risk of inconvenience from Brexit, given that the UK is leaving Euratom and is likely to experience "no deal" chaos for personnell and equipment from EDF.

Is the US really able to build nuclear plants with the occasional total budget shutdown for 3 months?


? In light of Ukraine there are way bigger concerns than distance from conflict zone to nearest Nuclear power station. Ukraine voluntarily gave up one of the worlds largest nuclear arsenals in exchange for what now everyone can see worthless security promises from the remaining nuclear powers. This will be last time any country gives up Nuclear weapons and I bet it will result in way more countries getting into the game eventually.


Senior US advisors 'rarely if ever admit this' lesson, but it was also demonstrated when Libya gave up its nukes: https://theintercept.com/2017/07/29/dan-coats-north-korea-nu...


Libya never had nukes to give up.


Quote from the article:

>The lessons that we learned out of Libya giving up its nukes … is, unfortunately: If you had nukes, never give them up. If you don’t have them, get them.”

This quotr misled me. What I found from another source is that they had a nuclear weapons program according to another source 'likely to develop a nuke in 3-7 years'


Yeah, there is a huge difference between nukes, which have a deterrent capacity, and a nuke program, which is pretty much an anti-deterrent, especially when it comes to US action.


That seems to be the opposite point which the article is making since Libya and Gadaffi were attacked an utter anyways.


It was already pretty clear after bombing of Lybia and the murder of Gaddafi.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wii/Libya_and_weapons_of_mass_des...


There is a great problems with Zaporojye Nuclear. It on "planned" repairs for years. Some blocks work several days a week.


> budget instability

California recently voted to shut down the last remaining nuclear power facility in California, Diablo Canyon: https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-diablo-canyon-nuclear...

but I don't think it has anything to do with budgets and more to do with the public's perception of safety of fission and officials not wanting to have a meltdown event happen while they're in office.


Right next to my university! A bunch of the buildings were marked as rad shelters.


Budget instability isn't precisely what is stopping anyone from building a nuclear power reactor, it's that when all costs are accounted for it is simply not cost competitive anymore, and certainly not in 10 years when it's actually going live and there have been a bunch more iterations of solar and other alternative energy source growth.


This. The market has voted. Nuclear can't compete. Now fusion may someday be another matter (pun intended).


> too slow. Break ground now and you'll be producing energy by 2030

Rosatom will sell you a floating power station for $300 million [0], you can tow it into place and connect it up. The regulatory approval will probably take you longer than getting it here.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_floating_nuclear_power...


Along with "too slow," I wonder if there is also "doesn't pay for itself fast enough." It's hard enough to predict what electricity will cost in 2030, let alone over the life of a plant.

Mass-produced energy technology (solar and wind) would seem to have the edge?


>Is the US really able to build nuclear plants with the occasional total budget shutdown for 3 months?

When did the US Govt Shutdown for 3 months (90 days)? Source please.


It's unfortunate that this is being downvoted, when the core of the parent's point is that three month total budget shutdowns are occasionally happening (the fact is, that is entirely untrue).


Fake news :)


Considering we just ended the longest one ever that lasted 3 weeks.. maybe they meant 3 weeks.


I support Iran’s right to have nuclear power as well as nuclear isotopes for medical use.


Also mining for radioactive materials takes a huge toll on the environment. Also, how are they going to get rid of radioactive waste? There doesn't seem to be a good solution to this at all.


Mining for rare earth elements also takes a huge toll on the environment and kills thousands of people.

There are many reasonable ways to deal with radioactive waste. And even if there weren't, so what? If we stay on the current trajectory regarding fossil fuels, we're all screwed within a generation or two, nuclear waste is the least of my worries.


Ya, USA can’t m get a handle on its aging infrastructure how will it be 30 years down the line when the holding tanks and cleanup plans are given same treatment . Throw in a random government shutdown too


That US infrastructure is widely crumbling - such that the US somehow can't get a handle on it - is a myth. The US requires targeted infrastructure investment, it is not suffering a broad based problem.

https://www.mercatus.org/publications/infrastructure-US-crum...


> Is the US really able to build nuclear plants with the occasional total budget shutdown for 3 months?

When has there ever been a three month budget-based shutdown, much less occasional? You're inventing a premise that has never happened as a supporting argument and then furthering pretending it happens from time to time. That argument is entirely void.


Ya know, I feel like renewables are the future, but we’re kinda running out of runway here. I think a nuclear + renewables strategy is a great way to get us past fossil fuels quickly. Once we’re over fossil fuels we can tackle replacing nuclear with something better.


Aside from urgency, it's also likely that wind, solar and hydro, even if deployed maximally, might not be able to meet the total peak demand every where. Renewable are obviously superior but for that gaps, we will need fission anyway.

Fission plants have a finite lifespan anyway so if fusion or space laser or whatever appear, openings will be appearing constantly.


It might just be right that if renewables can't meet current demand, prices go that bit higher to keep usage in line. It's not a given that we must consume as much as we do (or more) forever given the finite nature of the planet and everything.


That really hurts the crowd that lives paycheck to paycheck. Price goes up: someone goes without.


Not as much as it'll hurt the crowd living in locations that are likely to be totally wiped off the map in the event that we fail to mitigate the issue which is still likely.

But independent of this, I'm pro wealth-redistribution at any rate so really I see the solution to the paycheck to paycheck problem in terms of that. Massive investment in switching to green energy should also help by creating good jobs, as well.

The largest bulk of excess emissions doesn't appear to come from individual habits so much as structural industrial practices - things like producing things far overseas and shipping them by oil tanker, electricity production still being heavily reliant on coal, commutes being effectively mandated for many workers as their work doesn't pay them enough to live close to their job - or their job being doable remotely but corporate policy preventing workers from taking advantage of that (to both the benefit of their free time and health as well as the environment). So it seems unfair that working people should be punished for something they have limited power over.


What is electricity prices went up with usage? So you get X kWh per month for one price, then after that it's 1.5x the rate. You could just do this on residential rates only so businesses aren't affected.


Uber surge pricing on a basic living utility? No thanks. Same issue as with fuel - the wealthy people who are often the most wasteful with resources (driving Hummers and V8/10 SUVs and cars, private jets, etc.) are the ones who would be affected the least because the price wouldn't impact their habits. Meanwhile, a middle/low-class family would be paying 1.5x the rate to keep the lights on home.


Price based on monthly total use is the opposite of surge pricing.

If those wealthy people are happy to pay a 5x or 10x rate, you can use it to install tons of renewables (with batteries). That's not something to complain about.

> Meanwhile, a middle/low-class family would be paying 1.5x the rate to keep the lights on home.

If it's not low, middle, or upper class, who do you imagine is paying the 1x rate?


why remove the incentive for businesses to optimize their energy usage? They have as much if not more external costs as a residential home.


If anything it is most important to apply this to businesses. Most consumer choice related emissions, as it's often framed, is taken through the proxy of a business that hasn't optimised their energy output to this extent. This is all the more relevant when you consider that consumers often don't have visibility over the practices of the business that they're interacting with, and particularly that of the supply chain further down the line. Like are all these lit up signs really necessary for any businesses to function, do you think? Or are they just trying to stay visible in a sea of neon?


Exactly. How about offices that keep the lights on or half-dimmed all night, as well as the computers running? Businesses are often the most wasteful.


That's a good way to encourage the middle class to conserve. Subsidies are needed for the poor.


But why not redistribute money, and let people choose what to spend it on, rather than having a separate system to distribute each individual resource?


Perhaps not meeting peak energy demands and instituting "selective blackouts" for a few hours each day is the break we need from technology's intrusive reach


Nuclear power is way slower than current generation renewables.


The energy storage problem isn’t solved for current generation renewables as far as I know.

Laying out a ton of solar panels everywhere is great but if we have rolling blackouts when it’s too cloudy for a while people will be very upset.


Given that Costa Rica, Uruguay, Iceland, Norway, Paraguay, and Tajikistan already run on 100% renewables (and Tokelau runs on 100% solar + batteries): I would judge this to be extremely solved.


I believe this is incorrect, at least according to this source I found: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.FEC.RNEW.ZS?year_hig...

You may be mistaking energy production with energy consumption. However, I'm not entirely sure what qualifies as "energy" in the list that I found. If we mean only electricity, then I believe some of these countries are still less than 100% run on renewables.


Your data is from 2015.

There are plenty of sources illustrating that things have changed in that time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguay#Green_energy_supply


Providing evidence that is speculative for one country is a far cry from the evidence needed to support a definitive statement about several countries, particularly when I provided a source that strongly suggests something to the contrary. I doubt every country on that list completely halted the use of non-renewables in the last 3-4 years given that use was in the double digits in many cases.


At home, some of my excess power is syphoned off to neighbours, but I'm also using an amazing energy storage technology called batteries. Our government has just announced a number of new large-scale battery farms, as already deployed in neighbouring states.


I hear people say this sort of thing all the time, "All we need is bigger batteries", but I think the thing folks don't realize is really how small even the worlds biggest batteries are when faced with the actual amount of electricity we use.

One of the worlds biggest batteries (currently under construction nearby LA) stores the huge-sounding amount of 400MWh of energy. What isn't clear to folks who don't do the math is that battery is really only big enough to help out with peak load periods. The peak consumption of LA has reached as high as 6,393 MW (about double their average peak). At that rate, that battery -- literally one of the biggest ones in the whole world -- will last just 3.8 minutes.


This is like extrapolating from the first pilot nuclear reactors to the potential of what they could become: it's just hugely fallacious.

Only small pilots have been deployed because batteries are just getting cost competitive now for the first time, and utilities are super slow to pick up new technology. They're not used to living in a world where there is new technology, but they are slowly waking up.

It's going to be like digital versus film cameras. Once the critical cost threshold is crosses, they will scale like crazy. And batteries are trivial to scale to huge or small sizes. We could start putting them in all substations and massively increase reliability of the grid in addition to switching to 100% renewables. It's just a matter of cost, we know how to engineer and build them. With nuclear, it's a matter of cost, and we know how to engineer, but we don't know how to build or scale.


what I took from what you just said is that batteries would already work fine for periods of peak load, i.e. they work when they are needed.


I’ve read gravity hydro storage is one of most effective per unit cost but that has significant constraints and potential environmental impacts. But in a region with a lot of waterways hydro is an awesome tool to provide renewable on-demand energy and store excess


I've heard saltwater batteries make sense for this, they just need a lot of space.


You ignore the time it takes to get a nuclear power plant online. Let alone all the permissions for it.

Know what would work today? Reducing our energy consumption.


Reducing our energy consumption and building alternatives to fossil fuels are not mutually exclusive. Let’s do both.


Also western nations have been doing this for the last 30 years. The house you live in today has appliances that are 3x or more efficient then it did 30 years ago. It's better insulated, it's more recyclable etc.

It also doesn't make a damn bit of difference of base load power comes from coal.


couldnt be morong.

nuclear is very slow to deploy and limited in capacity. the industry suffers from significant latency and tight bottlenecks.

the 2018 world nuclear outlook, a dubiously bullish and optimistic predictor of industry trends, shows that the most ambitious likelihoods for capacity growth will struggle to match total global demand growth - and that's assuming most plants up for (or past) retirement get license extensions. Nuclear is just too slow to make a meaningful dent in carbon-fueled power, and that's even before we consider cost.

renewables are our future, but also my present. My home produces more power than i need; half the houses in my street have their own solar panels; the shopping centre and church down the road are plastered in them. And although the local power company is 99% gas, they're buiding a medium-scale solar farm down the hiway; nearby small towns are fully solar already; and the next-largest city is building a battery farm to enable them to be more than 50% renewable within 10 years.


Small modular reactors in the US are already in the licensing/regulatory phase.[0] They are portable and have reasonable prospects of providing baseload where renewables/batteries can't. Many have very safe failure modes also, not requiring power/pumping. It's going to a niche future for nuclear though.

Cost-wise renewables are already winning in many parts of Earth and viable efficient storage has become the main problem.

Batteries are great for quick on-demand grid balancing, but are environmentally damaging and lose large amounts of capacity within half a decade.

Supercapacitors hold great promise, but like fusion always seem 20 years away. On a $/Ah scale they are useless today, but don't suffer from any of the flaws of batteries apart from weight/volume issues.

Gravity storage [1] seems the most promising, pumped hydro isn't that efficient and very site-dependant, rail or crane weight systems seem to outperform and hopefully they gain some traction

[0] https://www.nuscalepower.com/technology/technology-overview

[1] https://www.aresnorthamerica.com/grid-scale-energy-storage

[1] https://energyvault.ch/


At this point it's fairly obvious that the continued use of fossil fuels will lead us to danger than fission. Perhaps we're trading one devil for another, but the devil we know is not sustainable. We'' just have to figure out how to deal with the fission devil until we get fusion. Hopefully, fusion isn't too far off.


> Perhaps we're trading one devil for another, but the devil we know is not sustainable

Trading the devil you know for the one you don't is wisely considered a bad idea


That certainly depends on how devilish are the one you know and a random one.

Any advice on that level of generality is useless and better trashed.


The whole point is, you don't know how devilish the random one is. As bad as global warming will be, we know the risks and we can prepare for them. Whether we'll actually do that is another matter..


Getting concrete now, specifically about nuclear power, we know exactly how bad it can be. We have a very large amount of certainty about how the worst case looks like, we know very well how to prepare for some of it, and we know very well what to do to avoid the rest of it. We know those to a much higher certainty than we know the consequences of global warming. It's not a blind choice.

The only thing we don't know well is how much improvement current technology brings. We have an idea, but there are probably flaws on our estimative.

I don't think nuclear will help, mostly because it's too late. But basing decisions on ignorance is crazy.


Basing decisions on known ignorance is not crazy. In fact, I'd call it appropriate humility. It's just that the smart decision is more likely to be a "not yet / need more information" than a flat no.

Basing decisions on limited understandings is also not crazy. I've heard the rough US Army guideline is to act when you have 70% of the information. If you wait too long, there's often no right answer.

Anyway, my whole point is probably one level meta from what you're talking about. I find many disagreements turn out to be simply two different simultaneous discussions.


See, this is why we shouldn't have banned trans fats. Sure they were killing people, and sure we knew it, but the devil you know...


The substitute for trans fats was returning to butter and other natural fats, which we originally left because we thought they were so bad for us that products like margarine must certainly be better!

Thanks for making my point.


Sorry, butter is still widely (unfairly) considered evil. We replaced trans fats with rapeseed oil, soybean oil, and palm oil, which are hardly the foods our grandparents ate.


Note: I didn't say we don't know the fusion devil. We do. Just perhaps not as well as the fossil fuel devil.


Coal kills more than nuclear. Modern nuclear is safer and reliable.

It's similar to the fear of planes vs the actual safety statistics of planes.


Never mind coal, nuclear is safer than even wind and solar - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents#Fatalities

The problem, as you point out, is that people are generally very bad at understanding risk.


Future mortality seems not to be considered but I am afraid this is important. Numbers will be difficult to obtain, you know, clairvoyance is not easy.

But at least we know that we need to maintain nuclear waste for a long time. Or we create deep subterranean disposal sites, and this will be dangerous work.

Coal is probably even a lot worse because of climate change effects.

Renewables seem to fare better for future mortality.


I do agree that the overall risk includes more factors than just past direct/indirect deaths, you are right. However, I would argue that simply furthers the cause for nuclear.

Firstly, renewables are great and we should of course be investing heavily. However, until we have the what is still non-existing storage tecgnology, we need a base load of either nuclear or fossil fuels. Insisting on a nuclear-free energy supply right now unfortunately means insisting on fossil fuels as a base load for the foreseeable future.

Given the greatest risk to humanity's survival is climate change, failing to secure a low-carbon energy supply is a risk that far outweighs any of the risk of using nuclear alongside renewables.

We can already see the results of foregoing nuclear - energy in now nuclear-free Germany is seven times as carbon-intensive as nuclear-heavy France[1].

[1] http://energyforhumanity.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Euro...


I thought one of the advantage with Bill Gates solution is that their reactor uses those Nuclear Waste as fuel rather than creating more out of it.


The problem is people like you redefining what risk means, then saying the people who define it properly don't understand it. The problem is people with small minds or an agenda on their small mind, redefining what is important to others, and calling them stupid. By your false definition, the risk of me getting hit by a car when crossing a street is less than the risk of me getting killed by the smog cars make. While quantitatively true for a statistical population, it is qualitatively false. And people's opinions are qualitative - they're based on a definable reason, not just explainable symptoms. Guess what: black people are 15% of the population but commit 50% of the violent crime, according to FBI statistics. Quantitatively. Does not mean that statistic applies to a single random person on the street and he can be arrested because he's likely to commit a crime. That's your logic applied to risk of getting stabbed.

Here's the risk as society that doesn't pretend to be purposefully dense defines it: when something goes wrong, how bad it is. Take all the coal plant disasters, and compare them to all the nuclear disasters. Now let's take a future disaster, the reason for which you don't know and cannot account for with "new design" which will be called "old and faulty design" in a few decades. During that disaster, looking at past disasters, do you want that destroyed power plant to be coal or nuclear?

Coal has no risk. Coal has a well defined, predictable, and understood small and slow detriment. You define that as risk. The world defines that as the opposite of risk.

Lived in Kiev for a year an a half, took a bus trip to Chernobyl.. Guess what they got in that huge area where no one lives (actually there is a crazy old lady who lives there, still in her house). Did you guess it? Yeah, fresh tree stumps.

That radioactive wood is cut down by shady companies for free, and shipped to europe and other parts of Ukraine. Out of it you get houses and furniture. Did you account for risk of sitting on a radioactive couch in a radioactive house when you claimed you fully understood "risk?" Ah, that's because to understand the risk of something you first need to understand what the English word means.


And metal too. I remember, it was on the news a couple of times when radioactive metallic pipes were stopped on the Russia-Ukraine border.

http://www.guillaume-herbaut.com/en/the-black-gold-of-cherno...


I think people are always going to be more scared of violent, headline-making deaths than slow, boring deaths


Slow and boring like cancer?


It’s not that the technology is good or bad. It’s that the industry has lost all its credibility by promising too-good-to-be-true technology for decades, and then delivering mediocre results in many cases, and catastrophic results in others. With taxpayers left holding the bag.

So I would propose, to hedge against the perennial optimism of industry apologists who will never have to back up their claims, have the investors who bet on this also fund an escrow account to the tune of 10x or so of the construction and other initial costs, to make up for gaps in their wildly positive projections. These funds could be invested and returned to the original sources if the project turns out to remain safe and financially worthwhile after x number of years. Not enough money to fund 10x? Then don’t do the project until there is.


As much as I'd love to see us as a civilization control the atom, I'm not seeing the financial case for why we should be focusing on nuclear right now.

NuScale said their tech was targeting $90/MWh, and trying to get a first plant running by 2023[1]. That's a non-starter for most modern utility RFPs even today.

Xcel Energy is seeing bids as low as $18/MWh for wind, $29/MWh for solar, and $36/MWh for solar+storage[2]. So maybe nuclear can fit into the realm of the 10% of edge cases where renewables+storage aren't effective, but I'm not seeing any financial scenario where nuclear comes close to providing the middle 80% of generation capacity. It's just too damn expensive.

Unless Bill Gates is proposing we can cut nuclear prices by 80%, I'm worried this is a huge distraction from us deploying renewables + storage + flexible load, which is currently extremely cheap and getting cheaper.

[1]: https://analysis.nuclearenergyinsider.com/small-modular-reac...

[2]: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/record-low-sola...


Pretty crazy that one person has the power to unilaterally commit a billion and credibly promise another billion in funding.

Sure doesn't sound like a lot in the context of ~trillion market cap companies...but this is a billion un-encumbrered. No lawyers...just one person deciding this is happening.


The kicker is that he will only do that if they use his company, as explained in the article.

While I agree that nuclear energy is basically required at this point in order to ween humans off of lighting crap they get out of the ground on fire, bill's antics may not be the best option (can his company deliver? others have already done so.. so why not them instead? it will require more than $2bn... so tax dollars required.)


Yep.

We should be taxing the ultra rich more, and then the public instead of the ultra rich would be the one being able to decide what to do with this money.


With today's weakening of regulatory standards, I don't know how safe new fission plants could be. The guy in charge of it all (self-admittedly) doesn't really understand nuclear energy, and would be prone to misunderstanding the science presented by industry leaders, possibly to the detriment of safety.

I know, that's a whole pile of variables; but variables should be reduced when it comes to nuclear energy, IMO.

That said, I greatly favor nuclear over, you know, burning stuff, and I'd like to see it succeed alongside renewables.


Fission produces toxic waste. Thats just the fact. It takes thousands of years to become safe to handle. The idea that "we'll just bury it in the desert" is the same kind of short-term thinking that got us into our current ecological predicament.


So does burning coal, and that shit gets everywhere.

Nuclear waste is well contained and can be secured for hundreds of years easily: https://www.npr.org/2011/02/02/133399514/into-eternity-nucle...


Not that secure. just watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwY2E0hjGuU


Also, it works now.


I think this is a good idea but, on the flipside of that coin, would it be too little, too late? Honest question: Would it even, conceivably, be ready in the next 10 years?

Coal isn't without it's drawbacks[0], no matter how much it's praised but the fallout[1] (no pun intended) from nuclear disasters has much longer and farther-reaching implications, which we have no way to really recover from - still to this day.

As others have pointed out, the disasters have caused a bit of uneasiness with the public and it's understandable, when the general consensus in modern-day society is, "It's not my problem, so I don't care."

If we treated it as a "human problem" and not "x" society's problem, we'd probably get a lot further; of course, this assumes that people believe the environment is in serious danger but, alas, there are people who do not. (Did these same people exist during the CFC/Ozone-hole problem?)

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly...

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#The_Exclusi...



Just curious if someone can build nuclear station without Congress. Can Bill Gates buy a ship or island with nuclear station somewhere and “power Microsoft servers” from it?


Depending on the technology, that would most likely fell close to non-proliferation treaty and other international arrangements, so the government and possibly IAEA would have rights to control and visit. I know for instance that radioactive materials used for X-ray are under specific surveillance (it was discussed because of Brexit: the UK imports those from Germany).

In practice, anyone who knows about those technologies is active in the academic and industrial community. There are a lot of regulation that you can’t understand without professional lobbyists, and most of them are former civil servants.

I would compare it to Space exploration: a private actor like SpaceX of BlueOrigin is welcome on principle but has to pay a significant fee for controls. Whether you see that as needed security expertise or fealty is a matter of interpretation.


No, nuclear related products are incredibly regulated and monitored heavily to stop state actors and terrorists.


Why complicate things when we already have a non-polluting eternal source of fuel in the sky, AND the technology to harvest it, AND it's actually economical and uncontroversial, AND the available energy is orders-of-magnitude more than needed today?

Hmmm. PG&E wouldn't have to worry about 100,000 miles of transmission lines if power-generation could be decentralized. Oh, wait, it can be! And without paying for 10,000 years of security.

Of course it won't make anyone rich or powerful, and it's decentralized, and those are bad things. Apparently.


Are you forgetting about the change where all new homes in CA have to have solar panels? We already are moving towards mass adoption of solar, that doesn't stop us from exploring other options that work in less sunny places, at night, etc. Solar won't work everywhere.


That's awesome.

I really respect it when people are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Kudos to Gates.


Nuclear energy sounds great to me except for the disposal of nuclear waste. I cannot seem to find any convincing references that we can do it safely over the long-term. Can someone help me with that?


This folk on Reddit had a great response to that. A bit too long to paste here so I’ll leave the link: https://pay.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/7v76v4/what_is_s...


In Stewart Brand’s book “Whole Earth Discipline” he says that a person’s entire lifetime worth of nuclear waste would fit in a can of soda.

And from my understanding, that spent fuel can be reused after a certain amount of time.

Yucca Mountain is a good solution if they can ever figure out the local politics.


No you're right, it's an unsolved problem right now.


As a temporary measure, why don't we use renewables with a fallback to fossil fuels? During the day, solar could meet demand and at night, we use coal/gas/whatever.


I think there's a lot of inefficiency in only operating coal plants during some times of day. That was one of the major complaints that utilities in California used for crediting users with residential solar for their power generation. It wasn't actually worth the market rate to the utility if they had to run the plant anyways. I don't have any independent data on this, unfortunately.

There are interesting initiatives around the country to curb peaks in usage, however. For example, my parents are signed up for a service where they collect bill credits as they minimize power usage during a pre-announced hour of the week which exceeds normal capacity and would require dirtier and more expensive power plants to operate.

https://www.ohmconnect.com/


Every once in a while the idea to build a nuclear powerplant comes up. Then the accountants start working out how much it will cost, everyone understand that you need to multiply that number by a factor of 2, and wisely nothing happens.

Most countries actually don't even have the expertise to manage a nuclear industry anymore.


Where's the actual data on safety to people of nuclear vs coal vs wind/rain/sun?


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

Every row in the table has a citation at end.


The table is extremely misleading by not estimating risks for the next 100,000 years.


That's true. If we estimated the risks for the next 100,000 years then these numbers would change immensely.

A hundred years of burning coal has damaged our atmosphere a little bit; doing the same for another hundred thousand years would be absurdly catastrophic to our ecosystem, killing and displacing billions.

You'd also need to look carefully at hydro as well, as thousand-year-old mega-dams begin to randomly fail.

Nuclear risk will probably be lower as the shockingly naive Soviet-era and 1960s-era designed reactors are all replaced with new designs built with immensely improved understanding of nuclear physics, materials design, computer augmentation, and local climatic risks.


You’re on the money, and it’s the result of things like coal and dams facing inherent technical challenges to safety and externalities, versus nuclear which primarily faces political challenges. Keeping waste rods on-site is stupid and dangerous, but it’s a consequence of people and their politicians incessant NIMBYism.


Well, the WHO estimates of total casualties of Chernobyl were consistently and significantly downgraded every decade after the disaster as more data of the actual effects came in, so it seems like we are currently vastly overestimating the risk.

It now happens to be that the indirect, psychosocial effects of the evacuation and economic losses due to the plant closure caused way more total health problems than the radiation. We now see similar trends at Fukushima.

And no, that doesn't mean that radiation isn't dangerous, people definitely died from radiation in Chernobyl (not in Fukushima), particularly the personnel and rescue workers.

However, the danger of low-level radiation seems to be vastly overstated. The Linear Non-Threshold Model (LNT)[1] for radiation damage seems to simply be wrong, which is not surprising as it was never based on data in the first place.

That of course also affects how we should think about nuclear waste, as the idea that we have to isolate it 100% from contact with the biosphere is predicated on the LNT.

And as someone pointed out, if we actually crash back down to a Bronze-Age society, nuclear waste will be the smallest of our problems, whereas if we remain an advanced industrial society, we will be able to deal with it, better each year.

However, the bigger point about nuclear waste is that there is just so incredibly little of it. With BFR, we can probably start chugging the worst bits of it into the sun if we don't want to re-process.

In fact coal plants actually produce more radiation:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coal-ash-is-more-...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linear_no-threshold_model#Cont...


[flagged]


Nice series of strawman and ad-hominem.


I thought about that. It is a bit ad-hominemy but the argument stands. This is a longer version without the ad hominem. No proposed electricity solution with a 100,000 year risk assessment exists. All infrastructure related to power distribution and generation such as dams or existing transmission gear, the fundamental constructs of power consumption would be open to question from the plastic insulation on wires to the energy cost of digging cobalt to the ecological damage of dam construction and mining.

If a 100,000 year cost is applied to things the reductionist result is to promote a reduced societal load which demands de-population and inevitably less enemy eating and since society is not on a path to either it's probably legislated or enforced. It's the Indian emergency and forced sterilization.


You're going to respond to the dumb post but not the people that gave sound arguments in favor of the chart's direction?


This 2017 article doesn't include renewables in their energy source comparison, but does include nuclear and coal. The conclusion is pretty clear even if it's not what everyone wants to hear: coal has been responsible for thousands more deaths than nuclear.

https://ourworldindata.org/what-is-the-safest-form-of-energy


We already have enough land to power the entire US with solar.

The future is renewables not pushing the can down the road with Nuclear, ignoring all of its negative externalities.

Bill Gates doesn’t need government to build solar either.


Can the united states procure enough gallium, cadmium, selenium, indium, and whatever else to build enough solar panels ?


Yes. Panels based on crystalline silicon have 95% market share and require none of those elements.


A Tom Lehrer fan, I see


silicon?


land has never been even close to the shortage for any kind of electricity generation.


All the more reason we should be replacing the whole grid with it.


Bill Gates has shamelessly uses his philanthropy to further his own interests, similar to how he abused Microsoft's monopoly power in the 90s.


If you want to call advancing causes that are objectively beneficial for society "furthering his own interests," then sure.


Would building a reactor underground not be safer?


It would be safer, as the pathways of radionuclides into the biosphere would be more torturous. It would also be significantly more expensive, as underground construction is big money. Many new reactors put the core below grade, though. It's better for tornadoes, but worse for floods.


If you take an existing design and plop it underground while ignoring cost, maybe.

For getting the most safety per dollar, probably not.


Good. This is literally the only possible way humanity could arrest or at least survive climate change.


isnt his approach to use the nuclear waste of fission in a new reactor?


What if bill gates or his wife ran for potus against Trump 2020? who wouldn't vote for him?

More

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

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

Search: