Despite the wishes of many, pollution externalities are not priced in, and while that is the case and fracking continues to bring up cheap gas, the rule of natgas will continue.
But nuclear's immense capex is a problem nonetheless. While reactor designs purport to be off-the-shelf, the each plant itself is a one-off. There's no institutional memory and hardly any re-use of expertise, there's no economies of scale -- just all the hallmarks of difficult megaprojects. Sound familiar?
This is why research into 'small modular reactors' is promising. Plenty of political barriers remain, but removing some institutional barriers and easing some of the economic ones would improve nuclear energy's prospects.
But, due to nuclear expansion faltering we build too few of these plants, and thus all of them become essentially first-of-a-kind, which tends to mean a lot of (very expensive!) delays.
I also think SMR's are very promising, trying to break the cycle of ever-increasing costs of big plants through mass production (and passive safety) rather than just making them as big as possible. Think airliner factory rather than one-off megaprojects.
SMRs will require changes to operational regulation if they are to compete.
The focus now should be on massive investments into R&D and smaller scale developments
Coal Ash more radioactive: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coal-ash-is-more-...
NRG Thorium Reactor tests: https://www.technologyreview.com/the-download/608712/a-thori...
I've been arguing this for so long, and gave up about 5 years ago. I can't think of a more scalable way than fission to combat carbon, yet it won't happen for so many reasons.
* There are too many solar and wind success stories to point to. "Why can't NYC be like Scotland with wind power?!" You start to list the reasons and the response is "we can accomplish it if we put our minds to it!". It's an endless cycle of optimistic non-problem-solving.
* No politician will back nuclear. If there's an accident, they'll be run out of town. Not worth the risk.
* Along the same lines, there is zero interest in technology research/investment. This became obvious when they shut down reprocessing in the 70s and IFR was shut down in the 90s. And the reprocessing ban was by a President who happened to be a nuclear engineer! If he won't do it, who will?
* The scare-mongering in the media over accidents is impossible to overcome. There's no way to have a rational discussion when all someone has to do is point to the endless exclusion zone documentaries to win their argument.
* And then much of the blame needs to be shared by the nuclear engineers. They had decades to make nuclear safer before TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima (1942 -> 1970s, 80s, 2010s). And yet, here we are, with the same light water reactors that Rickover speced out in the 50s! Yes, I get that has something to do with building restrictions since TMI... so how about before that?
And then much of the blame needs to be shared by the nuclear engineers. They had decades to make nuclear safer before TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima (1942 -> 1970s, 80s, 2010s). And yet, here we are, with the same light water reactors that Rickover speced out in the 50s! Yes, I get that has something to do with building restrictions since TMI... so how about before that?
It has to do with fuck all investment, a dead regulatory environment, and inability to test new designs at scale. For all the other reasons you mentioned the investment isn’t there. I’d add that the waste issue is seen by most of the public as technically insurmountable, whereas in fact it’s technically simple, but politically insurmountable. At this point you’d need it to be the platform issue for a popular president, along with a truly huge education initiative and a lot of arm-twisting in the senate. It would cost a fortune, but less than the inevitable disaster were hurtling toward without nuclear.
Unfortunately even on a site like HN, optimism about renewables and new tech combines with ignorance of nuclear power; how can we expect better from the average American?
Downplaying it doesn't help either.
In France the medias and politicians repeated again and again that the radioactive cloud didn't cross the border. Not only lying for such a thing is disgusting, but it's also moronic to think people would believe it.
Decades later, now have a decent overview of the increase of thyroid cancer near the border in the years after the incident. I have a friend that had his life shattered because of it.
I'm pro nuclear, but every time there is that much on the line, those in charge stop respecting the people, so of course it's going to create strong opposition.
How do you want to establish any kind of trust in the technology if when there is a catastrophy, you make sure to betray the victims ?
Everytime there is a problem, the authorities pretend everything is under control. Not it's not. If it had been, we woudln't have had the accident in the first place.
Honesty would be to have very mediatic continuous monitoring of the situtations for the next 10 years. The president should state every year an honest status on the matter. We all know fukushima is still leaking in the ocean radioactive materials: following the impact of it should be not only transparent, but vocal, and honest.
Nobody respect kids hidding after they fucked up, saying "no I didn't do it".
Nuclear is more of a political problem that a technical one, and we, humans, suck at those.
Really, because it’s widely employed around the world. If you have some evidence that it’s “cost prohibitive” though I’d love to see it. Evidence mind you, not flat declarations devoid of substance.
Additionally, it's hard to predict and account for that one-in-a-million catastrophe that creates a nuclear wasteland. The sample size is too small.
Many decades and thousands of reactors on land and naval applications with only a few notable disasters beg to differ. I’m also curious where this “wasteland” comment is coming from. The worst nuclear disaster, one singular in its extremity, has led to something far from a wasteland, although quite a few people had to be relocated.
Either way, trading in the known mass casualtiesin the millions per annum, and environmental catastrophe of burning hydrocarbons, for scaremongering “what if’s” so profoundly out of touch with reality as yours is the falsest of dilemmas. The total death toll from everything nuclear, including weapons can’t match a year of deaths and illness from burning coal. Never mind mining coal, drilling for oil and transporting it and the associated sociopolitical disaster of the Middle East, the environmental harm of fracking, and the sheer stupidity of not addressing climate change now.
One example is the new-generation Électricité de France EPR design, where the first unit scheduled to be completed, at Flamanville, is way late and over budget. France has almost 100% nuclear power and has both a good safety and cost record historically, so the seeming lack of success of this project has dismayed many people: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-edf-flamanville/edfs-flam...
It's not quite as positive a political environment overall, but Westinghouse also had strong local and state-level support for its new unit in Georgia (the U.S. state), but ended up going bankrupt after cost overruns: https://www.ajc.com/business/power-seeks-best-path-forward-p...
Obviously cost overruns at two plants is a very small sample size, so it could be due to non-fundamental features, like severe mismanagement. But given that there aren't that many large-scale projects going on, the two biggest Western ones both running into major trouble has really hurt prospects for more funding/support. If even one of these had been a clear success, the outlook would be much better.
I believe the phrase you are looking is "wildlife sanctuary". By far the biggest effect that nuclear disasters have on the environment is their function as a human repellent.
How about: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36160368?
For the cost to be prohibitive, it only really needs to be dearer than an alternative that's at least as good. That alternative is now wind: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41220948.
Renewables must be supported by a reliable base-load supply, which effectively means you need to choose between either nuclear or fossil fuels.
2. My understanding is that, sure, you can't have a grid that runs purely on wind, but you can go a lot higher than we currently do without much trouble. The issue with massive new nuclear is that outages can take a sizeable percentage of your generation off-grid unexpectedly at a moment's notice (Hinkley will I believe represent 7% of UK grid capacity), which in a sense is a worse intermittency problem than you get with renewables (which tend to ramp up and down more smoothly and broadly in line with weather forecasts). Also, battery storage can help.
Newer designs are fundamentally stable and fail in an inherently safe manner. Much, much less surrounding infrastructure and a greatly reduced need for system level fixes to problems since the catastrophic issues have been designed out.
It will take some time to turn the ship, but it is our best chance for producing 24 hour scalable power that is also carbon safe. Just search "modern nuclear reactor design" and start honestly reading the literature with an open mind.
A couple of random articles (plenty more available):
Plenty of great information out there for anyone interested in letting go of their preconceived ideas and exploring the amazing work that is happening now.
By the time they're proven, renewables will have expanded to global dominance and likely run down their experience curves to cost points that even Gen IV nuclear will find very hard to beat.
New nuclear designs are a hedge against renewables suddenly stopping getting cheaper. An insurance policy, but hopefully one that won't be needed.
A couple years ago I got to sit in a meeting between people from over a dozen of these companies, and a former head of the NRC. The reactor people said their biggest problem was that the NRC requires the design to be nearly complete before they'll even look at it. It takes several hundred million dollars to get to that point, then the NRC gives a simple yes or no. If no then you're done, if yes then you've still got nothing but paper. It's a very difficult environment for investors.
They said if the NRC at least went with a more phased approach it would help a lot. The NRC person was unsympathetic, said it wasn't the NRC's job to help promote or develop nuclear power, and was uninterested in climate change.
Fortunately Canada's regulators are more rational. Terrestrial Energy has spoken highly of them, has gotten through the hardest part of their process, and expects to get a molten salt reactor to market within a decade. Moltex has moved to Canada as well, and possibly others.
But it's unfortunate that the U.S. is so difficult, since with facilities like Oak Ridge it could help a lot.
Up until the 1990s it was generally accepted that the greatest risk to humanity was not the slow problems of global warning but the near-instant destruction of an exchange of the thousands of ICBM-delivered nuclear warheads possessed by the two-and-a-half superpowers. These weapons depended on a supply of plutonium. Therefore many of the earlier reactors (eg Windscale/Sellafield) were built in a tremendous hurry to ensure enough plutonium.
Conversely, on the other side, environmentalists focused on cutting off the supply of plutonium to weapons. Recall that Greenpeace got started campaigning against nuclear bomb testing. This attracted hostility from governments, up to and including the French DGSE sinking the Rainbow Warrior and murdering the photographer who was on board. This has affected the subsequent debate because there is no trust.
The nuclear trust issue affects which countries are allowed to have nuclear reactors (see Iran, Iraq).
In the 2000s the big question was terrorism: would nuclear plants be vulnerable to attack, including crashed planes, and how could they be secured? Meanwhile a trillion dollars was spent on a largely pointless war, proving which kinds of threats are taken seriously and which aren't.
The bigger problem is proliferation. All nuclear power plants produce plutonium from fuel stocks, which goes straight to the waste. Plutonium can be chemically separated from the nuclear waste, which is not quite easy, but much much easier than isotope separation. Thankfully, a single neutron capture transforms Pu-239 to Pu-240, which is unusable in nuclear weapons (if it wasn't the case, human civilization would have ended decades ago), and it is (or was) nearly impossible to separate these two isotopes. To obtain relative pure Pu-239, fuel assemblies or special U-238 rods need to be extracted early in the campaign, which is observable (unless a reactor is specifically designed for that). Unfortunately, modern laser isotope separation methods (spin chemistry, magnetic isotope effects) make it possible to separate Pu-239 from Pu-240. Most of the details are classified, but secrets can work only for a limited time.
- Politicians won't back nuclear because of the risk of accident, thus giving legitimacy to the risk and the public's fears.
- There hasn't been adequate research and advancement in the nuclear industry (and other threads mention the lack of applied design research). So previous scientists and industrials have already determined it's too hard/expensive/difficult. Global warming may change that equation, but it won't make up for lost research.
- So people see the exclusion zones and shouldn't be afraid? We currently have 2 molten reactors with no long term solution found. At what point does the fear become irrational?
- Same point as above: lack of advancement, bad designs, and human mistakes, how can any of these be fixed to allay fears and be operational in time?
- Another comment mentions how storage of waste is a question of will, yet we have pools of it all over, and the underground solution doesn't seem reliable either.
All I hear is that nuclear is the perfect solution if it were perfect and people weren't irrational.
Here's a qustion to help cut through the Gordon knot: at what point is it scientifically rational to accept/shun nuclear?
A politician might believe our nation will need more power plants within the next 20 years. But they're incentivised to do the thing that, relatively, will be best for their near-term re-election prospects.
And just think of all the things that are better for their re-election prospects than a nuclear power plant in their constituency:
* A nuclear power plant in someone else's constituency. Play chicken with keeping the lights on and maybe someone else will swerve!
* Running an existing coal or gas power plant for longer
* A solar or wind power installation. Or better yet, one in someone else's back yard.
* Demand reduction like subsidised LED lightbulbs.
* Vague technology promises, like electric car batteries stabilising the grid.
* Finding of creating some organisation to take the blame once the brownouts and bill increases start.
* Just plain doing nothing and retiring before the bill comes due.
Why risk your job today supporting a nuclear plant, when you can kick the can down the road and keep yourself employed for another 20 years, maybe more?
Politicians are subject to those incentives, and it's hardly realistic to expect them to place the nation's interests above their own. Frankly it's a wonder any infrastructure gets built at all.
But my main point is realpolitik, or like you say "the way our political system operates." We have a political system that has evolved to handle issues in what we think is the least bad way (worst system except for all the others). Is nuclear in its blind spot, or would untested science-ocracy lead to worse outcomes?
And one of those reasons is political, independent of finance. I agree other reasons are financial.
The reason I think there are political reasons independent of the financial is because I've seen politicians oppose waste incinerators and windfarms in the face of local opposition, even though they were entirely privately financed.
For every community in the US where you can find voters too afraid of radiation to permit reactors, I can find one where voters' first thought about new nukes is enthusiasm over the increased employment and property tax base. But that's a two-edged sword. It's also the local community that is going to be stuck paying off huge costs if the projects go over budget. The recent projects in South Carolina and Georgia went hugely over budget. The SC project has been halted. If the Georgia project finishes it's still going to be one of the most expensive energy projects in US history.
So it would be hard to pitch another AP1000 project in the US today, but mostly because the first ones had every sort of problem that the builders promised to avoid. Less than a decade ago there were a dozen places in the US that had tentative plans to follow up with AP1000 reactors of their own, if the initial projects performed to spec. They've evaporated because the initial projects were years behind schedule and billions over budget. If you want to have a serious conversation about building new reactors in the US, start with the potential host communities that aren't afraid of radiation but are afraid of multi-billion-dollar project overruns. What do you think it would take to build a new reactor at VC Summer now, given the painful recent experience with the AP1000?
No, that’s not the case. Politicians won’t back it because of their perceived risk based on their own ignorance. Or, even if they aren’t ignorant, they are focused more on staying in office rather than helping humanity so they don’t take up any projects that the ignorant public might pitchfork about. Neither of these “give legitimacy” to incorrect risk analysis.
A politician being afraid of flying does not give legitimacy to flying fears either. Risk isn’t measured by popularity.
AOC will gain far more popularity from her completely unrealistic green new deal than she ever would proposing something that would actually help based on nuclear. Politicians propose what’s popular, not what’s moral, ethical, or scientifically sound.
>Here's a qustion to help cut through the Gordon knot: at what point is it scientifically rational to accept/shun nuclear?
When peoples’ fears are based on a real understanding/evidence and not their own ignorant imaginations.
> real understanding/evidence
Well, where are they? I originally replied to trimbo's comment because he seemed to be pro-nuclear and scientific, but then all his arguments seemed to acknowledge that well, nuclear wasn't up to the task. So where are the rational arguments that nuclear can be a solution?
So the rational arguments are everywhere. The problem is that people want to clutch onto their irrational fear and believe in eithe the fantasy of non existent climate change or the fantasy of solar/wind storage becoming feasible in 10 years or less.
In other words, as a technical solution there isn’t anything nearly as good. There are no rational arguments against that. It’s arguing with anti-vaxers at this point.
As an actual solution, well how do we deal with the anti-vaxer problem? The same could be applied there.
I used to support nuclear, but this argument against it has become too strong.
When you take into account he amount of energy that has been produced by nuclear power since the 50s, I'd say we have a pretty good record when it comes to overall safety.
The biggest problem with Chernobyl was the reactor design, which had a positive void coefficient, which outside of something like CANDU reactors is considered insane today. It’s true that their experiment with simulated blackout was the proximal cause, but the fact that increased steam production led to higher power output was the big factor that made it such a huge disaster.
Prompt critical is prompt.
Sadly I think nuclear energy needs a branding motive. Something that pushes everybody to make it clear, fast, precise and shiny. To instill trust in the eyes of people (that would require 10 years to educate on the physics)
2) Countries like South Korea manage to build nuclear plants in around 4 years or so. The secret is that they have standardized on a design, and are building it again and again. There is hope that SMR's will make it easier to produce plants on time and budget, but those are still some years off.
3) Compare how the carbon emissions from electricity production in Germany has changed since they started their "Energiewende" project where they are phasing out nuclear and are deploying a lot of solar and wind. For comparison, look at e.g. the nuclear buildout in France (mostly from the late 1970'ies to the early 1990'ies).
Barakah 1, built in the UAE by South Korea, was originally supposed to take 5 years, operating in 2017. It has been delayed a couple of times. Bad news from December 2018:
"Cracks found in containment building of UAE nuclear power plant built by S. Korean companies"
It may still start in 2019. We'll see. But we're already at nearly 7 years.
Also, "countries like South Korea" is a club consisting of South Korea and nobody else. Other countries touted for their continued embrace of nuclear power, like Russia, China, and France, don't build reactors that quickly. If you want information right from the source, use the IAEA's Power Reactor Information System and look at the time between construction start and first grid connection for commercially operating reactors.
Their newest commercially operating reactor Civaux 2 took 8 years between construction start and grid connection. They have another, Flamanville 3, that will be newer when/if completed, but it has been under construction for 11 years.
Latest commercially operating reactor Leningrad 2-1 took 9 years.
Newest commercial reactor Hayiang-2 took 8 years.
What matters is that new nuclear reactors have come in grossly over budget. Who is going to buy a reactor when the vendor's promises about cost are demonstrably untrustworthy?
In contrast, new utility scale solar and wind installs typically come in within 10% of estimate.
I would not be so pessimistic (or optimistic, depending on one's stance on this issue).
One does not have to look far in our current political landscape or in the history books to find plenty of examples of politicians doing stupid, unpopular, or even criminal things, that one could argue they should have avoided like the plague before they even started.
When or if those things fail, if the politicians get caught, or if there's some public outcry, it rarely lasts. The news media has a very limited attention span, and when the story is no longer in the media people tend to forget about it. Not only do most people tend to have a poor memory of political events and poor knowledge of history, but protest movements also rarely last long. Many "disgraced" politicians have managed to make a comeback in politics, and be rather popular, if that's what they chose to do.
The government-corporate partnership is also a revolving door where actors frequently move to highly desirable positions from one to the other. It's quite common for politicians to leave politics and get hired in lucrative positions in the companies they regulated, assigned contracts to, or passed legislation on, and for industry execs or lobbyists to get jobs in politics, after which they go back lucrative jobs in the company they left. Companies have many other ways of rewarding politicians who are on their side.
There's every likelihood that politicians who assigned multi-billion-dollar contracts to corporations will be very well taken care of, even in the event of some sort of political firestorm over their decision. Though politicians tend to also be quite adept at covering their asses and pushing the buck to someone else. "I wasn't told". "I didn't know." "I wasn't the one making the decisions." You can't open the papers these days without seeing those words come out of some politician's mouth.
There are few real consequences except in the case of truly egregious crimes, and even then they tend to be not so bad for white-collar crimes. Not to mention that the politicians tend to have top notch legal teams to keep them out of jail -- that's when they're deemed to not be acting in an official capacity, when they effectively can't be sued at all... and good luck suing the federal government.
Of course, in the case of a truly major nuclear disaster, such lawsuits may actually be successful. But if the risk of such a disaster with modern designs really is so low, then these politicians have nothing to worry about, do they?
Jimmy Carter was not a nuclear engineer. He began a program to become a nuclear officer but quit before the Seawolf (his anticipated assignment) even began construction. Carter was, however, assigned to assist in the cleanup of a partial meltdown incident in 1952.
I think it's a techno-optimism blindspot to prefer the "make more" solution to these things.
We waste enormous amounts of energy to non-essential things.
Not just electricity production. Consider the electric cars craze. It's obviously just going to result in more emissions unless oil extraction ramps down at the same rate.
Solutions involving adaptation to lower consumption are met with protests like "then we would have to change our way of life", and for some reason that's perceived as a good argument.
Solar and wind infrastructure is now mass-produced and competition is driving costs down. It's unclear what forms of energy storage will win, but I would expect it to be competitive as well.
Solar, wind, and storage are already cheaper than nuclear. So why build nuclear?
Personally I find it hard to believe that we can live on renewabls until a european country goes 1 year completely on renewables (I guess Germany is probably the best candidate for that since they are going all-in).
Traditional nuclear power plants are base load plants, but any development in new nuclear plants should focus on designs that are better at load following, in order to complement rather than compete with renewables.
If we want to have any chance of meeting our climate goals then it seems like nuclear, optionally paired with renewables, is our only option.
And the trick with those is that its not a zero sum. Even if solar would be viable somewhere less optimal panels are still going to go where solar is cheapest first. And then you are looking at the costs of transporting that power gradually towards areas of reduced renewables efficiency and/or storing it.
To put it even more generally, if the state of Maine were willing to build a fission plant but not buy solar, wind, hydro, etc LET THEM BUILD IT. You can manufacture all the solar panels and windmills you can while also building nuclear plants. The priority has to be shutting down all oil and gas plants as soon as possible by any means available.
Timoth3y in another thread explains it extensively: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19168057
Nobody refuses to invest in nuclear because of the negligible meltdown risk.
Aside from the Tesla battery in Oz (which is more about stabilization rather than primary supply) I don't know of any large-scale battery storage systems.
I get the feeling that we are ignoring the scaling part here (We Just have to scale-up). Since the battery systems would need to be big enough to cover dips in renewable output in a worst case scenario (brown-outs / black-outs are not going to be popular).
Is there any info on how many / how big / how long to manufacture these batteries and renewables would have to be to cover an example country?
This doesn’t include tens of thousands of EVs sold each month, which is rapidly increasing the aggregate amount of distributed energy storage available to the grid.
Unless you meant a cubic mile of batteries, in which case that’s completely unrealistic to manufacture.
France: 44 Billion would be saved by investing in rewables instead of nuclear
Private operators in the US have said new plants are unlikely due to the economics of nuclear:
The last few completed plants in the US (that didn't get canceled) were 20-30 years in the making - and typically over budget and schedule by more than 2x. With some of the cancelled projects over budget by 3-4x.
Even China, which embarked on building it's own fleet of nuclear plants, and has all sorts of regulatory advantages found that construction was slow and overbudget:
The so-called "cost savings" in France are due to unrealistically optimistic assumptions about renewables, not any issues with nuclear.
The issues in the US are entirely legal and political: nuclear power plant projects get tied up by interminable lawsuits based on NIMBYism and ignorance, and the US political policies on fuel reprocessing have turned what should have been an easily solved problem into a quagmire.
I suspect the "problems" in China are more due to their cavalier attitude towards coal than anything else; they don't mind firing up a lot of new coal plants and having lots of people suffer respiratory disease and death as a result, if that's cheaper than nuclear.
These are not NIMBY or political issues, but rather stem from the fact that there's been a long pause in building new NPPs in the west. All the senior people involved with earlier designs are long since retired and even the juniors that were around might have moved on. And also some of the technology choices used in old designs are not even available anymore, so there's new families of tech to prove to the regulators, digital automation being one of these to my understanding.
When you design a nuclear plant, you need to do a really careful risk analysis. That's why they are so safe.
But as time progresses, and actual designs meet reality and Murphy's law kicks it, it turns out some of the assumptions are factually incorrect. More elaborate safety requirements are needed to compensate, increasing cost.
You can't build a car the way you could 50 years ago, and the same is true for nuclear plants.
Uneconomical compared to the massive disruption that climate change will bring to our civilization? Are we fighting to save our future or not?
Discarding a proven technology that will massively reduce our carbon emission for an unproven "We still have problems to solve around wide-scale baseload" seems to be ass-backwards to me and pinning more on hope than common sense.
A high carbon tax would make nuclear more competitive against fossil fuels, but not solar and wind.
I guess that opinion comes down to whether you think Climate Change is an existential threat to our civilisation or not.
If you are of the opinion that it is then costs be damned and build everything: Renewables, Storage, Nuclear.
If we end up with more power than we need then we can shutdown excess or funnel that into powering carbon capture technologies if we ever get there.
If you are not of the opinion then current economics, as you have described, rule the day.
Not necessarily. I don't think climate change is an existential threat to our civilization; human civilization has already dealt with problems much bigger than the average temperature going up by a couple of degrees and sea level rising a couple of feet. (Personally, I think the biggest existential threat to human civilization comes from humans with false beliefs and too much political power.)
And yet, I think nuclear energy should be a no-brainer. (I have no problem with renewables or storage either; I just don't think they can provide enough reliable base load power by themselves.) Why? Because we need to stop buying foreign oil for national security reasons. Which is not an economic reason--economically speaking, oil is still pretty cheap--but I still think it's a good one.
With respect, I think you may be underselling the effects! The chaotic knock-on of species loss; water pressures causing human migration; a loss of half of the ice on the third pole (the Himalayas) that provides water to over a billion people; acidification of the oceans. We could go on but the point I'd like to hammer home is this isn't anything at all like the previous crises in our brief 60k year sojourn: the anthropocene is an apocalyptic event that will wipe out half of the species on earth (probably).
We do not know that this is true. Alarmists claim it, but they have no evidence to back it up. For example, we don't know what the ice in the Himalayas was like, say, 6000 years ago. We do know that as glaciers are retreating now, they are uncovering evidence of human habitation in many mountain areas, which is evidence that there have been previous warm periods where there was no ice there as well. That is evidence against the claim you are making. But you don't hear about that from alarmists.
It seems that telling out grandchildren "Sorry you inherited a ruined climate, but we didn't want to spend the money at the time to avoid it" is a rational decision. (And hey, maybe some people think it is; but I can't)
1) They don't believe in anthropocentric climate change (probably deflecting by taking this stance)
2) They don't believe the economic destructive power of climate change. Be that by disbelief, thinking it is over stated, or just not being good at thinking about the future (which a lot of humans aren't. We're terrible at it)
But then we have the second issue, which is that we don't want the alternatives to be significantly more expensive than the status quo, and we may want to take some steps to ensure that.
If you tax carbon and so people switch to renewables and batteries and figure out how to make it scale efficiently, everything is fine. If not, people would then turn to nuclear because it would still be less than paying the carbon tax.
But if we wait to start building nuclear plants until after we've already established whether or not renewables can handle the entire grid, and then it turns out they can't, that could be problematic, because then you've waited too long.
It's a hedge. If we fix the nuclear regulations to remove the most egregious of the cost-wasting portions and start building nuclear plants now, and then we don't need them because renewables fully succeed, energy will cost modestly more than it would have. Or the investors in nuclear would lose money in that case. Whereas if we don't, and then we do need them, energy would cost dramatically more than it would have because of the shortfall. And as a result people would be inclined to pay the carbon tax, or repeal it, and then we get catastrophic climate change.
When "need it and not have it" is literally the end of the world, better to have it and not need it. That seems like a worthwhile hedge.
What we don't know yet is exactly what particular technologies we're going to end up with, especially for the last few percentage points. Probably a mix depending on location.
The reason for we don't know it is that wind and solar costs have been falling exponentially for many years now, while short-term storage is only now heating up and long-term storage not yet really started (well, except hydro).
We know tech that can be used, we know an upper bound on the cost (not prohibitively expensive), but anyone trying to look 10-20 years out in such a rapidly developing cut-throat market are basically just guessing.
10 years ago I was thinking we'd probably have to pay somewhat more for energy, perhaps up to 50%-100%. But in 2014 the Danish energy oversight body (Energistyrelsen) did a complicated analysis that said around 5% more in Denmark. And it didn't take more than a couple of years for their projected 2030 cost of offshore wind turbines to be reached by the market, more than a decade before anticipated.
So I'm beginning to think energy is probably going to be cheaper, perhaps a lot cheaper.
This is all inherently speculation. If you assume the current cost trends continue, maybe everything is fine. But what happens if you scale production by a factor of fifty or more? Do raw materials prices for things like lithium or rare earth metals go up due to demand? Do average operating costs rise once the most cost effective installation sites are already occupied and the low hanging fruit has been picked in general? Are we analyzing numbers from existing installations that have selection bias in favor of factors that the remaining sites don't have, e.g. lower vs. higher population density?
Doing a long-term analysis on something with this level of complexity inherently has large error bars. Even if "everything will be alright" is a likely result, we still need to address the non-negligible probability that it isn't.
Spending 15 billion on a reactor just isn't economically sound business.
You can build huge (or tiny! it's super scalable) fleets of renewable energy sources pretty economically, with a ~0% chance of making surrounding areas uninhabitable for 20 years if there's a failure.
Yeah sure a truckload of uranium goes a long way but building the plants is really hard even when you look past the regulatory issues.
I also think your overstating the risk involved in nuclear power. Even fukushima was pretty tame, and unlike Japan the USA has lots of relatively uninhabited real estate we can put the plants on.
Cost is one factor. Location is another. Reliability another. Risk another. Nuclear is a system of tradeoffs that is very hopeful for fighting emissions.
Of course this is all moot since even if the USA and Europe went to zero emissions, we won't make a dent in climate change. The developing world must be addressed with at least as much urgency as the West must be addressed.
On the contrary, two solutions already exist.
Batteries are expensive, but (IIRC) still cheaper than nuclear, though more expensive than fossil fuels.
And the losses of planet-scale grids are small compared to the cost-advantage that solar has. You could literally power your home at night from the sun hitting the other side of the planet. (That said, I have no idea what the Installation or maintenance or political costs are, only the efficiency).
You're comparing apples and widgets. The losses of planet-scale grids are way too large to make it even feasible to power your home at night from the other side of the planet: not enough power would be left by the time it got to you. The cost is irrelevant.
3.7% loss = (100-3.7)/100 multiplier per 1000km = 0.963
Half world circumstance = 20,000km -> 0.963^20 = ~0.47 multiplier
“””New US Solar Record — 2.155 Cents Per kWh””” - https://cleantechnica.com/2018/06/14/new-us-solar-record-2-1...
-> 2.155 cents per 0.47 kWh = 4.5 cents per kWh from the opposite point of the planet, assuming the worst case studied in the first link on the entire route.
It could be 80% losses (0.2 kWh receives for every 1 kWh produced) and still be effective both from ‘cost’ and ‘maximum possible power output’ perspectives.
Ignoring that major oversight, transmission lines aren’t free and they require upkeep so building/maintaining them across the ocean needs to be factored into your costs.
It’s like claiming it’s cheaper to have sushi flown in from Japan everyday if you just ignore the air freight cost.
And I literally acknowledged that I was excluding the cost, financial and political, of building and maintaining the lines in my first post on this thread.
I ignored those costs because my argument is, and always was, that solutions already exist. That the line losses — large as they are for a worldwide grid — are not a fundamental problem. It’s not like we can’t build pylons or have yet to invent a way to join wires together after they come out of a factory.
And we already have a lot of national scale grids, how hard is to join the existing ones together? Sure, it’s a bit close when comparing 2.155 cents per kWh * 20% line efficiency (which is worse than even my updated estimate!) to fossil, but that’s also your midnight cost, when you use least.
>And we already have a lot of national scale grids, how hard is to join the existing ones together?
Very. We haven’t even managed to get the US on a national grid. To connect continents is just fantasy at this point. Do you realize the undertaking it would be to get 700kv line to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, etc?
But as far as I know there is no proven large-scale storage system, which is a criticla part of renewables. The other commenter mentioned building batteries and then it is just a matter of scale which seems like an over-simplification to me but I cannot find much useful info on it.
Personally I would love a 100% renewable setup but I would not bet the future of our civilization on it when nuclear is another option.
I should be more specific in that to me "scalable" is a solution that can be deployed anywhere without require specific regional properties. Maybe you think this is unneeded and that a lot of region specific solutions can cover the storage requirements.
However another posted did point out that 1 mile by 1 mile of batteries is apparently enough to store US energy requirements.
Pumped hydro requires the geography, building new capacity tends to flood large areas and release huge amounts of greenhouse gases initially.
Simply lifting weights on cranes or rail tracks is looking more efficient and can be adapted anywhere. It will probably win out in many cases.
The energy density of that kind of scheme is a joke. Thought experiment: a fully charged Tesla, how often could it climb a hill the size of that crane if it skips recuperation on the downhill leg? That's how much lower the energy density of a crane storage would be. Pumped storage works (where the geography allows it) because water is by far the cheapest and the most easily transported ballast and geographic height differences dwarf almost every human made structure.
If you want something that scales everywhere, look no further than compressed air. It's usually ignored because of the big thermal losses, but if you have a direct application for coolant they are not that bad and even without, it serves as an almost trivial lower bound to the storage problem. We can calculate how much intermittent energy production we would need with compressed air to serve a power demand profile and everything else is just a possible improvement.
Unless you are talking about portable applications it's all about round trip efficiency and cost, I'm not sure if you are getting confused about terms here or talking about an entirely different subject.
Compressed air efficiency isn't great. Using it for cooling lowers the efficiency even more.
Crane and rail gravity storage are pushing 80-90% round trip efficiency.
Previous HN discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17789456
These haven't been actively developed in the past because we don't have much need for massive storage and they also take something on the order of a couple of years to plan, develop, and execute. You need the demand to be there before the storage is built, but the demand won't exist until the storage is built. Fun problems. Because of this batteries are a more practical immediate solution. They can be deployed anywhere, at practically any scale, with negligible time requirements. And similarly for manufacturing. Since they aren't 'geo locked' their market flexibility is much greater.
PV efficiency, spacing factors, panel replacement cycles, storage requirements, the fact that we're looking at total energy use and not just electricity, first-world rather than third-world per-capita use rates (presuming we're not going to freeze the entire world at its present state of energy consumption), and projected population growth.
You can still provide most or all the hypothetical demand from the Sahara, but you're well above 1% land use. I've sketched this out elsewhere previously, don't have numbers handy.
Beware optimistic estimates.
However, I completely agree on the real issue being one of longterm consumption. I would say this is something that's regularly ignored. The developing world starting to consume developed world electricity/capita alongside increasing world population is easily going to increase energy consumption by some orders of magnitude in the foreseeable future.
This poses unique challenges few are considering. For instance nuclear also runs into problems here with resource availability. The technology is already rather cost prohibitive and for future energy needs if it became a primary source you'd absolutely need to move to breeder reactors alongside saltwater uranium extraction which would both push the prices up significantly higher than even present. High energy demands alongside high energy prices might make the production owners/shareholders happy, but not much of anybody else.
In any case sooner or later we'll end up relying on solar simply because nothing else can compete on gross energy availability. The sun's a fusion reactor that could fit about 1.3 million Earths inside of it. That enables practically unlimited power out there just waiting to be harnessed one way or the other.
A key is to think of this in terms of matching supply and demand rather than simply as storage. We've adapted over the course of a century or so to a regime of dispatchable supply energy, with little use of dispatchable demand. There's also been little consideration of major behavioural, social, economic, and land-use changes which will be prompted by changes to the energy regime. Much the same way as major impacts of internal combustion engines on land-use, construction, transport, and trade were almost wholly unanticipated, most discussion today is framed in terms of "how do we sustain present behaviours and activities under a novel energy regime" (if not quite so explicitly).
The short answer is: you don't.
Automobiles, rail, air transport, and powered shipping gave rise to suburban sprawl, transcontinental trade networks, same-day globe-spanning travel and light cargo, and transoceanic shipping centres, along with tremendous centralisation of activities in zones of maximum productivity (often, yes, through massive externalised costs). Little of those impacts was foreseen in the popular or academic literature of a century (or even half-century) ago.
There's much of economics that's badly broken, but a part that's useful is the notion that behaviours do change tremendously in the face of changes to real and expressed costs. The Jevons Paradox cuts both ways: increased efficiency increases total use, whilst increased costs will decrease total use of some resource or factor. (Increasing efficiency is equivalent to saying "decreasing cost".)
Addressing energy specifically:
Expect to see far more dispatchable load, effectively, "making hay whilst the sun shines". High-load, but bufferable uses such as thermal heating (water, space, thermal storage), electrically-driven refinement (aluminium smelting, electric arc furnaces), reverse osmosis desalination, and the like, can if not "store electricity", then cache useful activity whilst supplies are abundant. Smaller industrial, commercial, residential, and possibly transport loads may also see time-shifting on a similar basis.
For direct storage, pumped hydro, compressed air energy storage (CAES), grid-scale batteries (an area with frustratingly slow development, though some promise, especially with cheap-and-abundant if not highly-efficient electrolytes), are presently proven. There are a number of schemes which don't work particularly well -- flywheel storage doesn't seem useful for much besides replicating today's "spinning reserve", nor do supercapacitors look as if they'll offer much beyond grid-scale power conditioning.
Two areas which offer tremendous promise and fairly high probability of success are grid-scale thermal energy storage with regeneration and electrically-based fuel synthesis appear at least on a back-of-the-envelope basis to provide national-scale grid-level storage capacity good for weeks (thermal) to millennia (fuel synthesis). The round-trip efficiencies are not great, but the simplicity, safety, and in the case of fuel synthesis, exceedingly long-duration storage, transportability, and utility of the derived medium are huge advantages.
Thermal energy electrical storage is mostly used now in solar thermal generation plants, but could be utilised in other forms. Large insulated tanks of molten salt driving traditional steam turbine generation could offer weeks worth of grid storage for the US in a total storage capacity roughly of the magnitude of extant oil transport storage facilities in Oklahoma.
Synthetic fuel generation, first suggested for nuclear power at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the 1960s and researched for over 50 years at Brookhaven, M.I.T., and the US Naval Research Laboratory, has yet to be proven at national scale, but the basic chemistry works, it's similar to coal-to-oil processes used by South Africa and Germany since World War II, produces direct analogues to current fossil fuels (methane through bunker oil) but is carbon-neutral as the carbon itself is sourced from current biosphere reserves, principally seawater.
Otherwise: expect to see tremendous differences in how energy is used, in construction based around heating and cooling loads, lighting, transport, and other processes.
Right now grid-scale batteries are uneconomical and pumped hydro is only feasible in specific locations (not to mention its ecological impact) so the 'storage' backing renewable installations takes the form of big tanks of methane next to gas turbines. Even when conditions are good and it's not being burned, that methane has a tendency to leak and wipe out a fair proportion of the face-value greenhouse emission savings from swapping to renewables in the first place.
Regarding long-term storage: Exactly. Tanks or caverns filled with methane generated from a renewable source is one possible solution. Of course, you need to have a firm grip on leaks.
Denmark is definitely the poster child of wind energy (and intermittent renewables in general), but it benefits enormously from utilizing the existing pumped hydro storage of Sweden and Norway, which is an option the vast majority of countries don't have. The economics would look at lot worse if they were having the build out batteries to provide that storage capacity instead of taking advantage of what's already there.
Just saying 'you need to have a firm grip on leaks' is trivializing a significant engineering problem. Existing natural gas plants have a 1-9% leak rate, and given than leaking fuel is a complete waste of money we can safely assume that doing better than that is non-trivial. Given that in the case of carbon-neutral 'synthetic' methane you have the possibility of leaks at the manufacturing plant as well as in transmission/storage, it's reasonable to expect a figure closer to the higher end of that spectrum, which makes lifetime emissions from Wind/Solar sources significantly worse than Nuclear on a per-GWh basis.
See table 1 here:
The renewable costs are already badly outdated but AFAICT the relative prices of coal and gas plants are still about right.
Why, no matter what resources you allocate financially, if you have X dollars, you can do more and sooner with X building renewable sources than if you split it between renewables and nuclear.
I think there is enough debate in this thread to illustrate why that is not a universal position.
This comment explains it better: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19169073
Renewables will be intermittent, which means as they build out they will often crash the price of electrical power. Nuclear cannot do well in that environment, since it cannot dispatch economically. Its costs are largely fixed, and it depends on selling power at a good price averaged over the large fraction of time it needs to be operating. But renewables slash the price it can get much of the time, even if they cannot cover everything.
If nuclear is reduced to covering (say) 20% of the time cheap renewables are not available, it's a dead technology. Something else, like using hydrogen produced from renewables during their high output times, will be used instead.
I do understand how tempting are renewables, low risk, low entry cost..
No. You are providing the usual pro-nuke excuse, one that has become threadbare and sad as it's been repeated over the years. At this point, it's just ridiculous.
I can't read French so I can't comment on this report. I'm not saying it is wrong or your conclusions are wrong. But I would say that there's an unfortunate thing happening and it is that bad information and research is being done. In fact we don't have to go far back in HN history to find this post
All I'm saying is that you have to be wary of these things (and a lot of people are upset about this, because that's not what science should be. It also gives cannon fodder to global warming deniers...)
But to comment on France specifically, they are basically the only European country making good climate decisions
Sweden has a great advantage of a lot of natural hydro sources. But something to pay attention to in these countries is how their electricity is generated over the course of a day. You may also want to look at how different countries have fared over time (not including China because you can't make fair comparisons with it).
> The last few completed plants in the US (that didn't get canceled) were 20-30 years in the making - and typically over budget and schedule by more than 2x. With some of the cancelled projects over budget by 3-4x.
This is honestly a HUGE problem. And I think everyone pro nuclear agrees with you. There's a lot of reasons why. It isn't just, as others have mentioned, the NRC requiring essentially complete designs. But there are a lot of things that could be fixed by policy changes.
You do also have to consider the cost of human life. Safety is a great concern with energy:
But here's an interesting perspective (I don't think any sane person is arguing for 100% nuclear, or even 50%, but the perspective is interesting).
But I think there is one argument that stands out with nuclear. It is the question of how we transition to "all renewable" or "renewable + fusion". We don't have the technology to handle the storage capacity of solar and wind for periods when there are no solar or wind. I mean we hear a lot about Germany's renewable feats, but look back at that world bank data and you'll notice that between 2009-2014 the trend is flat. So while I think we should sink a lot of R&D money into battery technology (and sequestration), you also need to have a contingency plan. While nuclear is expensive, it is clearly less expensive than what happens if we don't reduce our carbon footprint. The thing is just that we don't have time anymore. We can argue all we want, but with existing technology, the only option is nuclear. And we need to act NOW, not tomorrow. NOW. (now is even too late)
Still I really wish people could differentiate the risks behind a PWR, BWR, Liquid Metal cooled, the AP-2000 design, and a thorium cycle. They're all kind of lumped together unfortunately.
India is slower yet. Their newest reactor Kudankulum-2 took 14 years to build:
Could the US build a reactor in 14 years like India does? I think so, even with my currently-low opinion of the industry's ability to plan. But I also don't see how to guarantee institutional support that lasts 14 years. Neither utilities nor politicians have the tools or incentives to support something that takes that long to gestate.
It's misleading to refer to a 'magic government solution' as though the nuclear industry is expecting the government to invent a magic wand that will disappear spent fuel with a flourish of the hand.
And FFS, something like 15000 people were killed by the Tsunami, while 0 have died due to radiation released by the plant. Yet we continue to obsess about the nuclear accident. WTF?
-- First of all, complaints about the capex of nuclear make little sense if you are trying to argue for wind/solar; as the only reason you could plausibly make a case that solar/wind enjoy a comparable marginal levelized cost as fossil fuels is assuming that the cost of capital is insanely low thus making the large upfront capital expenditures on solar/wind infrastructure look like a better tradeoff than the cheaper upfront cost of fossil fuel and higher ongoing maintenance/fuel to run a fossil fuel plant.
If you are making that assumption for wind/solar it stands to reason you can make the same assumptions for nuclear as well. Of course, in the "real world" only super rich countries can afford to make those tradeoffs in the first place and given that nuclear usually requires access to cheap capital (i.e. government loans) it stands to reason wind/solar have the same problems; and to use an example I will return to later Germany has considerable subsidies for wind/solar compared to fossil fuels as expected.
-- Secondly, no utility uses the marginal cost of producing electricity for a power source that is inherently variable. The economic costs of failing to produce enough power for a regional or national utility outweigh any hypothetical marginal advantage for wind/solar. Essentially every wind/solar power source has to have a reliable backup source that can step in to ensure the utility can meet the demand for electricity. In most cases this just means you build cheap combined cycle gas plants. If you are a rich country like germany you can afford to overbuild your power generation capacity.
Countries like germany also have the advantage of being able to purchase energy from neighboring countries to make up shortfalls in demand. The german energy program relies on the availability of french nuclear power for precisely this reason. Of course, some days you can trumpet that some gigantic % of total production is supplied by wind/solar but this is mostly irrelevant from the financial perspective of the utility.
-- Finally, energy storage for wind/solar simply doesn't make sense with current technology. To take one example, Hydropower can already be expensive; now add in the cost of producing enough renewable energy to power all the original power produced by hydro cycle AND the cost of machinery to somehow replicate the operation of gravity. Basically you are looking at 2.5 to 3x the cost of your original investment to make your variable energy source reliable. Current lithium battery technology is totally unworkable at scale as another alternative.
To top it off I think the levelized cost figures often trumpted on this site for wind/solar are off anyway. Basically, unless you get a bunch of subsidies from the government it almost never makes sense unfortunately.
I'm having a hard time making sense of this claim. You compare the costs of wind/solar to nuclear basically by capex only, why does the cost of capital even matters? Why what relation do fossil fuels beating them on under developed countries change how one compares to the other?
The president of Exelon, a US corporation that operates 23 nuclear powerplants, has stated that effective CO2 taxes would have to be $300/ton or higher for new nuclear powerplants to compete with natural gas in the US. And yet, wind and solar are increasingly competing with and winning against gas here.
I disagree with the notion that we'd be producing 'relatively unimportant amounts of energy' when we're talking about the only geography-independent near-zero-carbon energy source with the proven capability to provide base load power for an advanced economy, unless you think anthropogenic climate disruption is no big deal.
“Subsidies to wind and solar are backfiring, both economically and environmentally,” says Michael Shellenberger, head of the pro-nuclear advocacy group Environmental Progress. “That money should be shifted to nuclear.”
The most generous renewable subsidy offered across the USA  is the wind Production Tax Credit, which offers wind projects $23 in tax credits per megawatt-hour that they generate over the first 10 years of operation . There is only 1 American reactor new enough that it would qualify if the same terms were offered to nuclear projects: Watts Bar II, which was completed in 2016 after a 30 year construction hiatus.
There are 4 partially completed AP1000 reactors that would also now qualify for wind-like tax incentives if they had met their planned construction schedules. Unfortunately, all 4 are horrendously behind schedule and over budget. Two have been canceled. These project failures drove the bankruptcy of Westinghouse in 2017.
New nuclear power has had its own federal production tax credit since 2005, though on terms less generous than those offered to wind:
I would guess that it's less generous because in 2005 nuclear power was considered to be relatively mature, affordable technology already; wind was riskier and needed more incentives to develop to maturity. 14 years later, wind projects look like the predictable option for investors and nuclear projects are the crazy gamble. So I wouldn't be opposed to offering reactor builders the same incentives offered to builders of wind and solar farms, but I don't think that will move the needle much. The problem isn't that new reactors need more revenue per MWh. It's that they have trouble delivering any MWh. You can offer $50 per MWh and it doesn't help if the project can't deliver a single megawatt and is years delayed, billions over budget.
Why are all the AP1000s late and over budget? Why did schedules slip so badly? They were originally supposed to be built within 5 years in the US. In fact, they are taking 8 years or more. Even the AP1000s built in China ended up taking nearly 9 years. It wasn't obstructionist tactics from anti-nuclear activists or lawyers. It wasn't shifting regulatory requirements. It was the nuclear industry itself.
Here are the Post and Courier stories tagged “Westinghouse.” These are all about the failed VC Summer AP1000 project in South Carolina.
Some damning headlines:
S.C. utilities knew of big problems 6 months into nuclear project but didn’t tell customers
Insight that would’ve alerted problems with nuclear project scrubbed from audit two years ago
Whistleblower says he was demoted after finding problems in S.C. nuclear project, report says
Confidential Westinghouse report details early faults with nuclear projects
Letter shows S.C. utilities knew Westinghouse’s reactor designs would lead to increased costs and schedule delays
The American nuclear industry is going to take a decade to recover from these self-inflicted wounds, if it ever does. Maybe (I hope) small modular reactors can avoid the runaway schedule and cost problems that plagued the AP1000 and the EPR.
I've been reading calls to prioritize building reactors over renewable projects for at least 15 years now. They even made a lot of sense back then. The pitch: if we can just get the irrationally fearful public out of the way, nuclear projects can displace fossils faster and cheaper than renewables. These American AP1000s were supposed to convince fence-sitting environmentalists and ratepayers alike that it was time for an American nuclear renaissance. Reactors would be as all-seasons reliable as coal and generate a MWh cheaper than any solar farm. Instead they've been complete fiscal disasters that to date have generated less electricity than a single rooftop solar system.
People who are still pitching the "cheaper and more predictable than renewables" line about nuclear projects should be dismissed as chat-bots stuck in a loop. They're not integrating new information and reconsidering past stances.
 I don't know details of all 50 states' renewable incentive policies, and some of them are structured in ways that make it difficult to assign a straightforward dollars-per-MWh value.
Take a recent article . Now, they talk about getting "one chest X-ray every week", and apparently a chest Xray is about as radiation as 10 days of background radiation . We're talking about a bit more than doubling a completely safe background rate to a figure that we have no evidence is of practically different, and that the experts claim is safe. I'm not going to look in to it, but I bet that the 'international limit' they talk about wasn't even derived scientifically, they probably just multiplied average background rate by some constant.
This is almost literally the same as taking the anti-vaccination crowd seriously. People who seem to be anti-chest-xray are being treated like credible sources of information! How can we expect sane policy in that sort of environment.
On the other hand, actual nuclear waste is protected fantastically well, and it's not that difficult to store. We always had plans for ultra-long-term storage too, no? Deep underground in salt deposits so it would be protected against earthquakes and underground rivers.
As with most things nuclear-related, the real problem is NIMBY. If a country as large and sparsely populated as the U.S. can't agree on a place to bury nuclear waste, there doesn't seem to be much hope for others like France and Japan.
Meanwhile, "According to a recent model study the total anthropogenic mercury released into the ocean is estimated to be around 80,000 to 45,000 metric tons" . We have spewed so much mercury that people are advised to eat less tuna because they have too much mercury.
And mercury is not radioactive. In other words, 24,000 years later, there will be 100% of the same mercury there is now! (Granted, some of them might have been removed from the ecosystem and deposited deep underground... I mean, just like how plutonium is stored right now.)
True, but it is still question of the half-life (i.e. plutonium)
> Obsessing over what could happen if somebody digs it up after 10000 years is not anchored in reality.
It is a reasonable concern, because we have never before in our history produced such toxic waste that lives so long. I don't know about you, but I do hope that Homo sapiens will survive next 10k years.
> True, but it is still question of the half-life (i.e. plutonium)
To expand my statement, yes, spent fuel is a mix of different isotopes, some stable, and others unstable with different half-lives. The point being, if something is super-radioactive, then by definition it has a short half-life. And conversely, if something has a long half-live, it's per definition not as radioactive has something with a short half-life.
Thus, after 10k years, what is left is not that radioactive (to be more specific, after 10k years with a once-through cycle, spent fuel will have a radio-toxicity about 20 times that of natural uranium ore. Now, I'm not suggesting you should grind it into dust and sprinkle on your cheerios in the morning. But it's not any kind of civilization-ending toxicity either.
The idea that a future civilization will have the know-how to mine stuff 1 km underground, but somehow they have no clue about chemical or radio-toxicity just seems so absurd to me.
> It is a reasonable concern, because we have never before in our history produced such toxic waste that lives so long.
Citation needed. My guess would be that we have produced an unfortunately large amount of toxic waste, but the vast vast majority of that is not radioactive, and will thus never decay. Dig it up a million years from now, and it will be as toxic as it is today. The incredible energy density of nuclear fuel means that, in the end, the amount of nuclear waste is very small.
> I don't know about you, but I do hope that Homo sapiens will survive next 10k years.
I hope so too. In my mind, however, climate change, biodiversity loss, topsoil loss etc. rate far far higher as risk factors than a comparatively small amount of nuclear waste. In fact, by not deploying nuclear due to risks associated with nuclear waste, we significantly reduce our chances of dealing effectively with climate change, a much higher risk.
Even if there's an all-out nuclear war or runaway global warming, I think it's overwhelmingly likely that a sizable population will remain to safeguard our scientific knowledge. Instead of stone age, we'll probably end up with the situation in Alita: Battle Angel. In that case, I would be more worried about rogue groups digging up dangerous stuff on purpose than about anybody 20K years in the future.
Besides, we can read Egyptian hieroglyphs pretty well, and the Egyptians weren't even trying to create a writing system to last millennia. Armed with a much better understanding of linguistics and anthropology, I'm sure we can do a better job with our warnings signs.
Disclaimer - I have no idea of the numbers involved so aware this may be a ridiculously trivial issue
There's a lot of fissionable material remaining in the "spent" fuel that can be recovered, enriched, and thrown back into a reactor. The more cycles you put it through, the less waste you'll end up with. But the same process can also be used to make bombs, so we force everyone to keep the spent fuel in a bunker or something.