Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
100% renewables doesn’t equal zero-carbon energy, and the difference is growing (stanford.edu)
183 points by atombender 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 270 comments



We need 70x more nuclear power than we have today, just replacing electricity with zero carbon power only fixes some of the problem, still have all the fossil fuel powered machines to replace.

If everyone in the world reduced the energy usage to 2kW (which if you switched to electric motors rather than fossil fuel would be quite easy) we'd need to build 3000 nuclear power stations per year for 10 years, to cover 50% of our total energy needs. Better start yesterday.


>We need 70x more nuclear power than we have today

A nuclear fission world will never happen due to the economics of it.

Fission plants are hugely expensive, and take a decade or more to construct. Investors would prefer to bring 100MW a year online every year than wait 10 years for 1GW to come online and hope the power produced is still competitive.

Then after the plant has lived its useful life, it cannot simply be demolished like a gas plant or wind turbine. It takes specialists a good few years and more money to decommission the plant.


> A nuclear fission world will never happen due to the economics of it.

I'm not sure why this keeps being said. France's prices for electricity are cheaper than Germany. In fact they are cheaper than most European countries [0]. Nuclear does have a lot of upfront costs, but they are cheap to run once built. But the construction price will never drop if we stop building. Doing so has already made prices go up.

What really matters is 1) can the company that made the plant make a profit? 2) If we need to subsidize to make 1=yes then is that price cheaper than the cost of not doing it (cost by economic damage done by increased CO2 during that period).

But the irony of this is that your argument is very similar to that which many have made about solar.

I expect the same thing will happen when fusion becomes a thing. In reality it is all about the S curve.

[0] https://1-stromvergleich.com/electricity-prices-europe/


Questions I really have never gotten an answer I find satisfactory with regards to nuclear. What's the long term storage costs for spent fuel rods? Is this factored into the price? Is post plant cleanup factored into generation costs (we're paying for a nuclear plant closing nearby in our electric bills now on top of generation costs)? Can we possibly reuse those spent fuel rods for something else useful? Can we prevent disasters like Fukishima? Can we prevent every single disaster?

Thorium reactors aren't currently economically viable. Molten salt reactors come with their own downsides but are safer from what I understand, but honestly can't say for sure. Fusion reactors would be base case scenario as far as I understand but aren't currently viable.

We already had one problem by not thinking about long term negatives, I don't want to replace one problem for another, far bigger, far longer term problem. Nuclear problems tend to last longer than carbon problems, disasters like Chernobyl will cost money for literally generations even with it's new cap as it will be constantly needing to be replaced. Solar has it's own problems with messy pollution on creation, wind seems cleanest long term, storage for renewables will probably end up being some type of multi-lake hydro as the "battery" in places where it's viable. Maybe underground aquifers where evaporation is an issue?

I'm all for nuclear in places that already have radiation issues, i.e. space, moon. But I really want to avoid contamination of the only planet we can currently live in as a species.


I'll do my best to answer. I've worked on rad shielding, but that is a different side. If acidburnNSA (a reactor scientist) shows up, ask him, he frequents nuclear posts. These will be basic answers so I hope they help and I'll expand on them if you want to follow up, but there's a lot to cover just in the first paragraph.

> What's the long term storage costs for spent fuel rods?

Not too much. Frankly because the quantity is low. This is one of the things people don't realize, while the waste is highly contaminated there's REALLY small quantities. We're talking about less than a coke can of waste per person per year. (that's not per reactor, that's ALL reactors) It is expensive though. The cost of nuclear is from construction and decommissioning. Operating costs are extremely low.

> Is this factored into the price?

Yes (mostly)

> Is post plant cleanup factored into generation costs (we're paying for a nuclear plant closing nearby in our electric bills now on top of generation costs)?

Yes (mostly)

Mostly means that it is supposed to be factored in. But those are of course estimates. I'll also be honest that sometimes people cheat.

> Can we possibly reuse those spent fuel rods for something else useful?

They already are. 17% of France's electricity is from recycled nuclear. That's not 17% of France's nuclear energy, that's 17% of TOTAL energy. Additionally most of these materials are used for a lot of other things. A lot goes to medical.

> Can we prevent disasters like Fukishima?

Yes, actually Fukushima is a great example of how to prevent disasters like Fukushima. The reactors that didn't fail had their backup generators on higher ground. There were also better safety factors and I'm over simplifying things, but the reactors that failed had sub par safety factors. We've had much better designed reactors for awhile, but that's a longer conversation and extremely convoluted (you'll commonly see it expressed simpler, but nothing is simple).

> Can we prevent every single disaster?

No. Such a notion is really unrealistic. I'd rephrase it as "Can we reduce danger to an acceptable risk?" Which I'd say the answer is yes. I'd even say we've been there for awhile. Nuclear fission is, next to hydro, the safest form of electricity we have, even when you include predictions of future deaths from past events (Chernobyl and Fukushima).

> (an implied one) Can we reduce environmental damage from meltdown events?

Yes! Actually this is super interesting. Chernobyl has turned into a really big nature preserve. Wildlife is thriving there. It is interesting to also look at radiation maps of Japan [0]. For context to this map, all measurements are in nSv (1e-9Sv). 1Sv within a year equates to a 5.5% increase in chance of cancer over your lifetime. But 20mSv is the max allowed dosage to a radiation worker. You'll notice that the vast majority of places is WELL below the 20mSv mark. Max value I found was 8,528nSv/hr (82528nSv/hr1e-9(Sv/nSv)24(hrs)*365(days) = 74.7mSv/yr). The point of this last part isn't to say something like "oh well humans can live here hur dur dur", but rather to illustrate why Fukushima is turning into a nature preserve. But I do also want to acknowledge that many people did lose their homes and have been permanently displaced. Again, I believe that we should be honest.

> Thorium reactors...

This is a convoluted subject. I'll leave it for another post. There's (a lot of) potential but we definitely need to do more research and testing.

> Fusion reactors...

Are a completely different beast. They don't have the same radiation concerns. Their waste product is mostly Helium (a resource we are in short supply of). While fission and fusion are both nuclear based there are more differences than similarities (including power output, by orders of magnitude). Think like the difference between nuclear and coal. Both heat water to turn turbines (this is how almost all electricity is generated actually), but they're very different in most aspects.

> We already had one problem by not thinking about long term negatives...

Honestly this is why I'm PRO nuclear. Sure it has negatives, and I'm not going to try to deny them. If we're considering human lives then consider that coal kills an order of magnitude more Americans per year than have ever died from Chernobyl (several orders when you consider the world). We also have to consider the places that have become uninhabitable because of mining and other things that humans have done. Everything has negatives, I think we're just more aware of nuclear's (fission's). It is about the exchange of good and bad and if we net more good than bad. It is also about comparing to our other options. (If we're in a negative sum game we are trying to get the least negative, but we're still getting negative utility) I won't dive into this because it seems you're aware of this. It is honestly complicated and a difficult subject. It takes a lot of research. But there's a saying "When it comes to nuclear, those that know the most fear the least." There's a reason that the majority of climate researchers are pro nuclear, there's a reason the UN Climate Committee endorses nuclear.

> I really want to avoid contamination of the only planet we can currently live in as a species.

I'm with you there. 110%. We're hundreds of years from being able to live somewhere else. We must do everything we can to protect THIS planet.

Again, I'm happy for a follow up and I will do my best to answer.

[0] https://jciv.iidj.net/map/


> Chernobyl has turned into a really big nature preserve. Wildlife is thriving there.

To give this more perspective:

For the last several years, I have spent many months each year in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Most of that time is not in Pripyat, or at the extant plants being decommissioned, it's in the nature areas throughout the zone.

My observations: birds are rare. I've seen an eagle once, and some other smaller birds occasionally. In Pripyat, I've never seen a bird. Insects are also rare - I once saw a swarm of flies inside a building at the Duga Radar facility, but never any bees, cockroaches, or other insects. Not even mosquitoes. I've seen moose, once. Horses several times (Mongolian horses been introduced to the area post-disaster). There are foxes, but they're often the same foxes I see time and time again. Dogs are probably the most common animal, I would estimate I've seen 30 - 50 different dogs, always hanging around where humans are. The catfish in the cooling pond canals are enormous, and plentiful.

Although parts of the Exclusion Zone are exceptionally green, such as Pripyat itself, much of the zone has a feeling of unhealthiness. Infamous areas such as the Red Forest remain too high in radiation to spend any amount of time in. The areas around the cooling ponds (which are large enough to appear like lakes) look like what you imagine an environmental catastrophe would look like - grey and barren.

I see more wildlife in any major city - and would be reluctant (and that's an understatement) to call wildlife "thriving".

Aside:

As you point out, human lives lost were relatively few. However, this place will be an ongoing disaster for many thousands of years to come. There will be ongoing huge expenses (the most recently installed containment structure will only last another century). Reactor four needs to be contained for thousands of years, and the other reactors will require another sixty years to be decommissioned.

And after all that, the main danger, deep inside the debris of reactor four, will remain an enormous danger to the planet for any foreseeable future.

In general, the radiation levels throughout the Exclusion Zone are low, comparable to many cities. I have many scheduled visits upcoming, the next being in August.

BTW, I'm not taking a stance here on pro or anti-nuclear, just trying to add some context from someone who has seen this place, up close, many times.


Wikipedia claims that biodiversity in the exclusion zone is pretty good.[1] Are you part of a science team observing wildlife, or what brings you to the area so frequently?

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


I'm involved with tourism in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.


Thank you for your comment. I haven't been to the area but have just read. Similar to what the other user commented. I don't want to call you a liar but I definitely see some differences in point of view (between your comment and other things I've read). But since you spend much time there maybe you can expand on some of the nuances that one might not be aware of when just reading reports.


Perhaps the "good news" reports get more attention? You can find reports that agree with my observations. There's not a consensus on this - perhaps due to lack of evidence.

My comments are based upon observations of several years of visiting, and speaking with scores of people that work/live in the Exclusion Zone. Anecdotally, large Animal sightings of things like Moose are rare enough that even people who have visited hundreds of times, over decades, will stop, get very excited, take photos, and then chat about the last time it happened.

Edit: this report agrees with what I have found (in real life)

https://academic.oup.com/jhered/article/105/5/704/2961808

"All major taxonomic groups investigated (i.e., birds, bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, dragonflies, spiders, mammals) displayed reduced population sizes in highly radioactive parts of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone."


> Anecdotally, large Animal sightings of things like Moose are rare enough that even people who have visited hundreds of times, over decades, will stop, get very excited, take photos, and then chat about the last time it happened.

Isn't this what should be expected? Even in ordinary wilderness like Maine or Canada where moose are indigenous, you could spend a year in the woods and never see one.


I spend a lot of time outdoors and while I partially agree with you it was the comment about birds and insects that piqued my interest and suggested that maybe what I read wasn't all there was. Because while larger animals may hide, insects and birds don't.


Thank you for taking the time to write this up. I really want to be pro nuclear because it's already on the planet and it's the best solution for space travel that I can think of, I'm just really concerned like you correctly surmised about the major disasters. Like you pointed out it always seems to be human error or something that should have been avoided. To be completely fair most of the reasons I've got concerns about nuclear are the same concerns I have about fossil fuels, when things go bad, they go really, really bad and a lot of that seems to depend of the type of reactors we've built. Something that softened me a lot on nuclear was watching a movie on a nuclear test facility where they discussed testing different types of reactors. I have realized that there even were different types. Thanks so much for the info.


Thank you for the response.

To address your concern you have to think about accumulation. I addressed this in some of the other comments but I'll try to tie it all in here.

When considering cleanup, there are only two events (that I'm aware of) that weren't covered by insurance: Chernobyl and Fukushima (3 mile was substantially under the maximal payout from insurance). Another user commented how they found data suggesting that the cleanup for Fukushima was 200bn. When I looked for cleanup for the total disaster (including tsunami damage) it was more than double that. When looking at natural disasters even just looking at the damage to the US in just the last year we easily went over that 200bn in cost. It is a damned if we do, damned if we don't problem. But something to look at is that even including these disasters, there have been fewer human lives lost per kWhr than (almost) any other energy source, which includes solar and wind (took me for surprise when I found out, and I already knew it was really safe. Hydro is super safe though). Climate aside, it is extremely safe. Something also to note is that much of the irradiated areas from Fukushima are now livable and more space is becoming so every year (really most places you can safely live in, but we have pretty strict standards for public rad limits. Most places there you would be under nuclear worker upper limits, which is below detectable increase in cancer rates). It isn't this "these areas are unlivable for thousands of years" scenarios that you hear. People live in areas where we had the stupid idea of dropping bombs. The difference with nuclear is that cost of damage is both temporarily and physically local, so it is much more obvious than more abstract concepts like pollution (or the 200k that die a year in the US by coal ash).

I actually think about the energy problem as a negative sum game. Hopefully one day we'll get to a positive sum game where we can make the planet better, but right now it is about doing the least damage (until we learn to terraform in a major way). When you put it in this perspective you realize that all options end up having a net negative utility, but that doesn't mean we should just give up. We need to do the best that we can till we can play a different game (a positive sum one. And we will get there). But until then we have to remember that we're humans and bad at understanding risks. So we have to use the right tools, and when looking at the evidence I think the vast majority of those that do agree.

Like I said, I want to be honest. Nuclear isn't going to save the world, I'm not sure fusion is going to either. But we have to play the game and do the least damage we can until we can play a positive sum game. Until then, no matter what we do, we do some form of damage.

There's also a few common misnomers that I want to address. People point out France reducing their nuclear load, from >80% to 50% in 2025. I honestly see this as something we should emulate. Nuclear is there for load balancing. Load balancing (see Duck Curve) is the reason we still use coal for our grid. It is all about a well diversified energy portfolio and meeting the specific criteria of where you need to provide power to. The other thing is people say that it is nuclear vs solar or nuclear vs renewables. This is laudable. We want renewables. We encourage them. It is nuclear vs fossil fuels or (the closest argument I can make) nuclear vs betting on new batteries being developed in time (which to mean "in time" means a few decades ago).

I'll leave you with a saying that is often repeated: "When it comes to nuclear, those that know the most fear the least." And I ask anyone that has concerns to not just talk to random strangers on the internet, but ask nuclear physicists why they do what they do.

And as for space travel, I did some work in that area. I'm not actually convinced that fission is the answer. If anything, maybe a stop gap, but a potentially dangerous one at that (rockets still frequently explode).

And again, I'm MORE than happy to address concerns, at least ones that I know the answers to. I speak out not because I am pro-nuclear, but pro-Earth. Frankly the reason we need nuclear is because we needed to be investing in renewables and battery tech substantially more decades ago. Until then, we can't take high risk gambles without a backup in place.


"Hydro is super safe though"

Until it isn't:

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

The worst powerplant disaster ever was a hydro facility. 171,000 dead.

Though full resolution is more on the scale of 1-10 years, not 10,000 to 1 million.


It seems you missed the whole characterization of nothing is 100% safe. At some point there has to be an acceptable loss. Or rather, we have to try to do the least damage. But yes, people will die. But because we have electricity, more people will live.


You're rather premature in assigning me motives.

I'd been unaware of Banqiao until a few years ago. Its scale overwhelms me. And yet the chain of institutional, engineering, and circumstancial events triggering it offer a huge set of cautionary lessons to nuclear advocates. I recommend reading the history closely.

Today, and for another 300 years, Fukushima and Chernobyl have effectively no inhabitants.

Zhumadian city, inundated by the Banqiao disaster, is home to over 7 million souls.

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

Once dam breaks cease being raging floods, life resumes, for those not fully extinguished, in a matter of weeks or years. Not centuries.

And the factors in assessing, avoiding, mitigating, alerting, and responding to risks are all remarkably similar to those of nuclear installations, save the very long-tail disasters.

The US has seen few major dam failures, though several have ocurred. Johnstown (1889) saw by far the most deaths, 2,200 (it spurred creation of the Red Cross and massive reforms to liability law), but see also the St. Francis (431 souls) and Teton (11) failures, and near misses or ongoing risks at Oroville, Isabella, Glen Canyon, among others.

Elsewhere, there are the cases of Vajont (2000+), Machchu (5500+), and others.

Again, the failures largely accrued from institutional hubris, engineering insufficience, lack of domain knowledge (often deliberate ignorance or denial), poor overall management, lack of disaster preparation, drilling, or readiness, communications breakdown (see Banqiao's comms loss), and inadequate resonse in light of imminent or present threat.

None of these are domain-specific to hydraulic civil engineering or absent from nuclear engineering projects.


Hinckley Point C in the UK has a contract for £92.50MWH [1]. Given that some other operators have pulled out suggests that isn't overly high, but as wind is currently getting priced in the mid £50s then yes it is expensive. Further, nuclear isn't a particularly good match for renewables because it isn't as dispatchable as other options.

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/hinkley-nuc...


> Further, nuclear isn't a particularly good match for renewables because it isn't as dispatchable as other options.

I do want to remind you: no one that is pro-nuclear is anti-renewable. I'd say that if they are pro-nuclear they are very likely pro-renewable. The thing though is that you're drastically over simplifying the energy problem. Battery technology just isn't there yet (they just have nowhere near the energy density, even the most advanced batteries are dwarfed by the energy density of basic fossil fuels[0]). Until then we have to face the duck curve. So what are our choices? Natural gas, coal, nuclear. Take your pick. We need energy sources that can be throttled up and down and can produce continual amounts of energy. Renewable just can't do this without batteries, and batteries aren't there. So it isn't that we don't want renewables, it is that we have picked nuclear vs fossil fuels.

[0] https://www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Energ...


Hey, I wouldn't put myself in the Anti nuclear camp. Its just the costs, they're high and increasing.

My point about nuclear not being dispatchable is that if wind is going to be the cheap backbone, then any expensive generation has to find a niche that works around that. Nuclear doesn't have that niche.

I seem to be taking a longer view than you, maybe in the 20 - 30 year time frame you're right. But in that sort of time frame is it even worth trying to start building a new nuclear power station? Where after all the politicking you've spent 10 years before you've even broken ground.


> Its just the costs, they're high and increasing.

This is only because of economies of scale (China is building many nuclear reactors and they seem to be fine).

Also no one ever factors storage / higher grid costs / backup generation into costs of renewables. When people use such double standard no wonder nuclear seems uneconomic!

> I seem to be taking a longer view than you, maybe in the 20 - 30 year time frame you're right. But in that sort of time frame is it even worth trying to start building a new nuclear power station?

EDIT: I misread your point, but I will leave this here as it seems to me important point anyway

In this time frame there is not even a _talk_ about having renewables backed by storage / carbon neutral backup generation (because that would be lol expensive with current tech). So you're proposing majority generation being fossils fuels? I thought climate change was important or something.

We _might_ get there with battery tech, but

1) nuclear will benefit from load balancing grid scale storage as well

2) in the meantime we will burn fossil fuels, alright?


"This is only because of economies of scale"

It probably is part, but not all of the problem, people want safe reactors, that isn't cheap.

To answer your point 2. There isn't going to be a nuclear plant to step in anyway, they're such long term projects. If you plonk down a nuclear power station now, fine. But in 20 - 30 years you're going to have new nuclear power stations in a landscape that is hopefully already dominated by solar and wind, and nuclear just doesn't fit around renewables (which are cheaper when the winds blowing/suns shining) well enough to succeed.

Your point 1 is potentially good for nuclear, if it raises the usage factor. Nuclear's economics are based on running 24/7 but you can't do that with renewables.


>To answer your point 2. There isn't going to be a nuclear plant to step in anyway,

To this same point, what is? We don't live in a world of magic. We can't just plop down magical battery systems that don't even exist. Those are also 10-20 years out, from being invented, let alone built. Your argument is moot unless you provide an alternative that can be built right now. If you actually have one, I'm sure every pro-nuclear person would support it. Because our alliance isn't with nuclear, it is with the Earth.


> has to find a niche that works around that. Nuclear doesn't have that

>> Until then we have to face the duck curve. So what are our choices? Natural gas, coal, nuclear. Take your pick.

I'm not sure if you read that part, so I am quoting myself. I'm getting to the fact that renewables aren't constant energy producers (major part of my post. Pretty much the only part actually).

> seem to be taking a longer view than you, maybe in the 20 - 30 year time frame you're right.

I mean... my whole point is about combating climate change. I'm definitely thinking much longer than 20-30 years.

> But in that sort of time frame is it even worth trying to start building a new nuclear power station?

> I seem to be taking a longer view than you,

These comments seem to be in contention. I'll let you resolve it before I respond any more.


Re long term, I mean I'm thinking of how I can see the grid ideally looking, not in the transitional phase we are in now. Sure if we plonked down a nuclear reactor now, that would be good, absenting cost, but it isn't going to be ready now, or in 10 years, so we need to be looking at what the grid will be looking like, and I hope by that point the grid will be well on the way being green so this power station will be competing against wind and solar, not coal and gas.

Re renewables not being constant. That's my point, and nuclear isn't flexible enough to take advantage. You can make the case for £100mwh batteries because they can step in instantly, nuclear can't, and also, when the winds blowing that's always going to be cheaper, so the massive fixed costs of nuclear get amortized over less and less MWHs.


I think you're not understanding battery tech then. While fossil fuels suck, they just have massive energy densities. Even the most advanced research batteries don't even come close to the energy density of the least efficient fossil fuels (this is why we use fossil fuels in the first place).

> Re renewables not being constant. That's my point, and nuclear isn't flexible enough to take advantage.

I am utterly confused by this comment.You can vary the output from a nuclear reactor. To over simplify it: rods go in, gets less hot, less power; rods go out, gets more hot, more power. You can load balance. This can be done all day, all season, and in any climate (this latter part is actually extremely important and the whole reason why we need diversified energy portfolios). Solar only powers during the day. Wind only powers when it is windy (most wind is morning and evening when there are shifting temperatures).

I am ALL for renewables. But we just have to be real. Batteries aren't there yet and we don't expect them to be there for a few decades. We needed to stop climate change a decade ago. While we should continue investing in new technologies, we have to also start fixing the problem NOW. If it takes 10 years to build something, well then you better start yesterday. But we can't wait 10 years for a new innovation (that might not even come) and then start building (all the while burning fossil fuels in the mean time).

That's the trade off. Wait and burn fossil fuels, or do what we can to get off them now and build better stuff as new technology is created. I for one would like to act NOW.


To me the trade of is build a wind farm in a couple of years to replace that coal fired power station, or build a nuclear power station in a couple of decades to replace it.

From a cost perspective wind is cheaper, it's in place years earlier, both those thing then lead to over sizing it for when the winds weak, but then you've got masses of cheap electricity when the wind blows, lets make hydrogen, or some other inefficient but good enough electric storage medium. By now that nuclear power station is probably built, but it can't compete against wind when the winds blowing, and it still has to compete against the hydrogen power plant when it's not.

We've seen countless times how 'good enough' wins in tech. I'm saying wind and some (however crappy) storage medium is good enough. Yes its JavaScript rather than Smalltalk or Lisp, yes essays could be written about how X is better, but it works, and if it doesn't there are a dozen lower cost, lower risk, quicker things to try than building a nuclear power station.


> To me the trade of is build a wind farm in a couple of years to replace that coal fired power station, or build a nuclear power station in a couple of decades to replace it.

Then I understand the confusion. Let me explain. Wind's output isn't constant over the course of a day. Even worse, wind is not constant over the course of a year. (The same goes for solar)

So what do you do when outputs are low and demand is high? (A common occurrence) You use a fuel. Those are batteries, fossil, or nuclear. Those are the choices (hydrogen isn't there yet, nor is it actually 0 emissions since in production they use CH4 not H2O). Batteries do not have enough capacity to get us through moderate stretches of low activity, which is why we haven't gotten rid of fossil fuels. We need to be able to store energy. I don't know how many times I have to say this, but it isn't nuclear vs wind (I LOVE wind! I WANT more wind!). It is the fueled sources we are arguing about. And we can't pretend that we don't need fuel (unless we're willing to relocate massive amounts of people and entire nations).

The best batteries come nowhere near the storage capacity of the worst fossil fuels (all are dwarfed by nuclear).

This debate isn't about "best" vs "good enough" it is "not enough" vs "enough". We can't do it with just renewables alone. We need fuel. And it isn't all about the costs you see. A lot is the costs you don't see, which is why we're so desperate right now (we needed to fix climate change a decade ago, we can't wait another decade or two for batteries to catch up).

So in principle I agree with everything your saying. But the difference is that the facts just don't agree with your perception.


Hydrogen can be made from H2O, and abundant cheap electricity, which you would get from over building renewables to cover the lulls, because it is variable.

You say we can't wait a decade or 2. To return to Hinckley Point C, it was announced in 2010, a nuclear licence was granted in 2012. Construction is due to begin this year, it is planned to start actually generating somewhere between 2025 and 2027. Do we have time for that? That's 15 years minimum, how many wind turbines could you build in that time? You could build both, but then the turbines risk cannibalising the market for nuclear before its even built, and then you're betting that none of the energy storage technologies are going to pan out. Yes hydrogen is a long shot, and lithium batteries probably won't be cheaper, or compressed air, or bio fuels, or CO2 to methane, and cars probably won't end up getting used for smart storage, and the smart grid probably won't take off. But saying none of them will work? And then look at the price curve for wind and solar, what will they cost in 15 years time?

If we had the nuclear power stations now, fine, but they aren't here now, they're 15 years away. In 15 years we can build a lot of solar and wind thats getting cheaper and cheaper and we can try a lot of energy storage mechanisms too.

And investors are going to be thinking the same, so they won't want to front the money, so it's up to government, but that adds bureaucracy, time, cost and somewhere in there a recession or a government that can't justify spending billions for jam tomorrow, so funds get cut, etc, etc, etc.

I entered this thread saying cost was the issue. Even if we ignore that, the political battles over such a long time frame are massive. Over and above the battles to make the case for fighting climate change. 'Greens' aren't even united on the issue, let alone a nation, over a generation.

So to me the unproven storage bet is the better bet.


> Hydrogen can be made from H2O, and abundant cheap electricity, which you would get from over building renewables to cover the lulls, because it is variable.

"Can" and "are" are very different things though. You've been continually talking about price and the economics being above most other factors. The reason methane is used is economic. Those that tell you that hydrogen is being done with water are selling snake oil. But even using methane it is still expensive, difficult, and dangerous (no one wants to be riding in a vehicle with tens of thousands of PSI under their feet).

To your other point, I agree. It sucks. I'm not going to act like we can just make nuclear plants appear. Building any major infrastructure takes a long time.

> So to me the unproven storage bet is the better bet.

My position is only slightly different. I'm also betting on the unproven storage. But we can't have a high risk portfolio. We should definitely invest in risky avenues, but we also need to invest in blue chips.

The argument here is "We don't have good enough batteries and we don't know when we get them. Let's fund them more. But also in the mean time let's use current technology to make sure that we have some fallback. Because having no fallback is going to leave us in a worse position."

This is a negative sum game. We don't come out positive in either scenario (at least not till we can do real terraforming). We've pushed the buck down the road for too long. Now the game is risk minimization and reduction.

We have very similar positions. We have the same goal. You talk about how we're not unified, well I only see that because it is easier to focus on the differences in positions. But it really looks to me that we have more similarities than difference. So if you want unity, then let's recognize that.


Renewable hydrogen to cover the last 10-20% would be much cheaper than using nuclear to cover that last 10-20%. We are not using renewable hydrogen now because CO2 emissions have not be sufficiently penalized, but if that happened new nuclear would still not have a place at the table.


There's no way to make enough batteries for 100% renewable grid, everyone on the planet would need an electric car sized battery, which means you'd need 10000 gigafactories iirc.

Which is why I suggested 50% nuclear, 50% renewable. That's still about 100x more renewable than we have today


It's not just batteries. It's batteries, and transmission, and pumped hydro, and dispatchable demand, and overproduction w. hydrogen to soak up the excess, and burning hydrogen in turbines for very rare long lulls.

The cost optimized system will exploit most or all of these, and have no place for expensive baseload sources. Nuclear with its current cost structure and cheap renewables simply don't fit well together.


"everyone on the planet would need an electric car sized battery"

This is basically what we're aiming for (in the west at least) anyway, with EVs?

Are you saying we don't have the materials to do it? Or we don't have the factory capacity for it?

Batteries can be made from a variety of materials, and we supply near enough 1 car per person in the west, so batteries should be doable?

Id hope some combination of said car batteries, continent spanning grids, smart appliances would get us most of the way there.

The biggest flaw with this model is what happens on cloudy, still weeks? I guess some kind of waste to energy, wood, and bio gas, hydrogen power station would be less expensive than a nuclear reactor.


I can't speak for the person you're responding to, but

> Are you saying we don't have the materials to do it?

Yes. At least without substantially expanding mining operations.

> Or we don't have the factory capacity for it?

We're NOWHERE near that kind of production level.

> The biggest flaw with this model is what happens on cloudy, still weeks? I guess some kind of waste to energy, wood, and bio gas, hydrogen power station would be less expensive than a nuclear reactor.

Not if we price in carbon emissions.

I also have to mention that there are plenty of places that people live where it is almost always cloudy and almost never windy (at the same time). I will keep saying this: we need diversified energy portfolios. The key though, is we don't want any of those sources producing emissions, or to at least minimize them as much as possible (we're playing a negative sum game here)


"Not if we price in carbon emissions"

All those things can be carbon neutral, except waste to energy.

Obviously though yes, those places with no wind, sun or other resources. Nuclear will have a place.


> Obviously though yes, those places with no wind, sun or other resources. Nuclear will have a place.

And the unfortunate part is that those places hold a fair amount of the world's population. We're not asking for nuclear in places that are sunny and windy. We don't need it there. We're asking for it in places that aren't.


95% of the world's population lives below 50 N/S latitude.


Suppose we want to get rid of all carbon sources, and minimize the amount of energy storage required due to the high cost.

Is it possible to minimize storage with nuclear? Yes, in theory, you spec the fixed generation amount for the peak demand and then have excess supply the rest of the time. Inefficient, but it works. This is clearly not the optimal mix however.

Is it possible to minimize storage with solar? No. It doesn't generate at night, that requires an enormous amount of energy storage to overcome, pure solar is a fail.

Is it possible to minimize storage with wind? Yes, but you have to match the peak demand with the minimum wind output. That's going to explode costs even worse than pure nuclear. Combining wind with storage to smooth out the load might be better, but by the time that's cost effective, so would using a smaller amount of storage to smooth the day/night load for nuclear and reduce the amount of generating capacity you need there too. Also, wind is not the cheapest generating technology to begin with (solar is cheaper).

So what happens if we combine them?

Solar plus wind is better, but still problematic. Wind generates at night, except when it doesn't. On a still night you could have to survive the whole night almost entirely on stored energy, but if you need almost as much storage capacity as for pure solar then you might as well make use of it every night and take advantage of the cheaper generation from solar than wind.

Wind + nuclear doesn't seem especially interesting either. The problem with wind in general is that its output varies randomly and doesn't track demand whatsoever, so you end up needing a large amount of storage proportional to the amount of wind generation you have. And wind isn't that cheap and storage is really expensive.

But solar + nuclear is excellent. The demand for electricity is higher during the day, which is when solar generates. Solar doesn't generate at night, but nuclear does. So you spec enough nuclear generation for the minimum nighttime load and use solar to both handle the higher daytime load and charge up the much smaller amount of energy storage you need to handle just the baseload-to-peak load differential in the few hours between when solar stops generating and people go to sleep, instead of the whole demand for the whole night.

You can also then price electricity higher during the night, which makes perfect sense when the solar that generates only during the day is the cheapest generation technology, and then nuclear pays for itself by beating solar+storage on cost for twelve hours a day while allowing you to cut your required solar generating capacity more than in half for the other twelve hours.


> Is it possible to minimize storage with solar? No. It doesn't generate at night, that requires an enormous amount of energy storage to overcome, pure solar is a fail.

A grid dominated by solar means power at night will cost 2-3 times day time rates. And demand for it will drop sharply.


Demand only drops if it becomes more expensive than it is already. If the difference is that solar during the day becomes super cheap then you don't get a reduction in demand during the night, you get more demand during the day.

That doesn't reduce the amount of nighttime generation capacity you need at all, unless people can shift demand from nighttime to daytime, which they largely can't. Most of the things that run at night either have to run 24 hours or have to run at night because you need light when it's dark and heat when it's cold.


Worse so, if demand for electricity drops at night that doesn't mean that people are going to go to sleep. That means they are going to use cheaper alternatives to make light. That has bigger consequences in emissions.


My worry would be people continuing to use carbon sources to generate more heat than light. With LED lights as efficient as they are, nobody is going to replace them with lanterns. The real trouble is if people don't replace their existing oil and gas furnaces with electric heat pumps, because that's something we need to happen but also has the disadvantage of requiring an initial capital expenditure. Adding higher nighttime electrical costs on top of that would not be helpful.


> but also has the disadvantage of requiring an initial capital expenditure.

It's a good augment their for electric companies to be the ones finance residential heat pumps and be able to count the installation as an asset.

> Adding higher nighttime electrical costs on top of that would not be helpful.

Higher nighttime costs would be definitely an issue with residential heat pumps.


That's plausible? (technically)

I'm speaking from the UK where demand peaks are morning and evening and we don't have sun, so wind is the good match.

The problem is you're proposing a grid structure that I don't think is politically achievable. Solar is cheaper, so why not cover 100% during the day, wind is cheaper, that starts covering the night time, then suddenly your nuclear is uneconomic. And while you're spending the decades getting that power station built you're also having to explain why you aren't building out solar and wind to cover demand.


> Solar is cheaper, so why not cover 100% during the day

Because you still need something to cover the night, but if the thing that covers the night also generates during the day with minimal incremental cost, there is no cost benefit in unnecessarily duplicating that capacity again.

> wind is cheaper, that starts covering the night time

Except when it doesn't, and that's the problem. You have a huge wind farm that generates 50GW when the wind is blowing but only 5GW when it's still, and you have 25GW of minimum load at all times. On the night when you average 5GW generation for twelve hours, where does the other 240GWh of power come from? Your options are "build a peak 250GW wind farm instead so it never generates less than 25GW" (completely hopeless) and "build 240GWh of energy storage" (ouch) which then prices wind out because it's cheaper to use the batteries you need for a still night on every night and charge them with solar instead, and cheaper still to build 25GW in nuclear capacity.

> And while you're spending the decades getting that power station built you're also having to explain why you aren't building out solar and wind to cover demand

Because you are building them too. We can do two things at the same time.


Under your plan you'd build a 25MW nuclear power plant which covers the night, and along with 25MW of solar covers the 50MW daytime demand, correct?

the problem is solar is cheaper, so its profitable for someone to build 50MW of solar. so Nuclear covers night, now at twice the price. But wind is cheaper, so build 25MW of wind, maybe 50% of the time the wind doesn't blow, so nuclear only covers that, so it's now twice as expensive again. Now batteries are cheaper, so what's the role for that nuclear plant now? Would you invest in nuclear in that potential situation?

"Because you are building them too. We can do two things at the same time"

If it takes you 5 years to build the 25MW of solar, but the nuclear takes 15 years, theres a 10 year gap between solar build out finishing and nuclear being ready to take over from that coal plant. What do you do? 10 years of burning coal? or continue building solar so your covering as much demand as you can? But then why retire all that solar when the nuclear plant comes online?


> the problem is solar is cheaper, so its profitable for someone to build 50MW of solar.

That's not how that works. The unit cost of generation is inconsequential compared to the fixed cost, so you don't stop generating at any point and you just take the market price whatever it is.

Suppose nuclear needs to average $10/MWh to meet costs but solar can do $8/MWh during the day. Then as long as nuclear can get $12/MWh at night, it can match solar on price during the day and still cover costs. And solar + storage can't beat $12/MWh at night while the storage costs much more than $4/MWh. So then it's unprofitable to build the other 25MW in solar capacity because it would only get undercut on price during the day by nuclear which can make up the difference at night.

And it's the same thing for wind or anything else. Once you have 25GW of nuclear generation, nobody is ever going to be able to undercut it on marginal cost -- they'll never stop generating power and selling it for the market price, even if it would cause the plant operators to yield negative overall returns, because selling for an unprofitable market price is still less of a loss than getting nothing. And since everyone knows that ahead of time they don't bother to build a bunch of unprofitable wind turbines and that doesn't happen to begin with.

> If it takes you 5 years to build the 25MW of solar, but the nuclear takes 15 years, theres a 10 year gap between solar build out finishing and nuclear being ready to take over from that coal plant. What do you do? 10 years of burning coal? or continue building solar so your covering as much demand as you can? But then why retire all that solar when the nuclear plant comes online?

There is no hope of replacing the entire grid with solar in five years time. The production capacity for that doesn't exist, and would be unprofitable to create because once you've replaced the entire grid with solar all those new panel factories you just paid to build would go idle.

What actually happens is that you add solar as fast as you can and it's still not enough, and you add nuclear at the same time and if we're lucky then together they're enough.


> I'm not sure why this keeps being said.

Because there is a "real cost" to running a nuclear plant that can be arbitrarily inflated. If you factor in stuff like "one major disaster every twenty years" or "waste storage for 10,000 years", of course the calculation is different than if you assume "no disasters" and "we'll deal with it later".

It also very much depends on the regulatory environment that these reactors are built in. Perhaps forty years ago it would've been possible to build reactors economically in the US, but after Chernobyl/Fukushima any new reactor would likely face far more intense scrutiny.


If France ever experiences a baf nuclear event, that nuclear power won't feel very cheap.


What is the point of this comment? It is very loaded. Are you talking about fear? Because all evidence shows that nuclear is the safest next to hydro power (yes, even more than solar). Like I just don't know how to interpret your point.


I guess the point was that externalities like those risks (however small) are not part of the price customers pay. Instead those are footed by the taxpayer when something happens. That likely distorts the real cost of hydro-electric and coal as well.


That's what insurance is for [0][1]. Pay attention to the numbers. The second link is more detailed.

[0] https://www.iii.org/article/insurance-coverage-nuclear-accid...

[1] https://www.naic.org/cipr_topics/topic_nuclear_liability_ins...


So a nuclear accident in the US is only insured up to ~$13 billion?

The numbers I can find on the cost of the Fukushima Daiichi accident are higher than that (and I wonder how reliable they are):

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/08/opinion/playing-pass-the-...

Japan’s leaders hope to restore for human habitation more than 100 cities, towns and villages scattered over hundreds of square miles. The government has allocated more than $15 billion for this work.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/31/possible...

In December, the government said the estimated cost of decommissioning the plant and decontaminating the surrounding area, as well as paying compensation and storing radioactive waste, had risen to 21.5 trillion yen ($187bn), nearly double an estimate released in 2013.

(Interestingly, Wikipedia claims that the insurance policies that applied to Fukushima Daiichi specifically excluded accidents caused by earthquake/tsumani.)

Of course, with insufficient insurance coverage, when faced with a major accident the company owning the plant will just declare bankruptcy and leave the tax payer to pay for the mess.

So we have another case of "privatize the profits, socialize the losses", which IMHO is one of the biggest problems with nuclear energy, and is effectively a subsidy that keeps the price artificially low.


> So a nuclear accident in the US is only insured up to ~$13 billion?

Yes, and we've never come anywhere near paying that out. So I'd call that not just a win, but a highly profitable business.

> Of course, with insufficient insurance coverage, when faced with a major accident the company owning the plant will just declare bankruptcy and leave the tax payer to pay for the mess.

>So we have another case of "privatize the profits, socialize the losses", which IMHO is one of the biggest problems with nuclear energy, and is effectively a subsidy that keeps the price artificially low.

Except this isn't what's happening. Because we have privatized the losses. Hence the insurance. But we have also always socialized the losses from natural disasters, frankly because natural disasters affect a society and not a singular organization.

> In December, the government said the estimated cost of decommissioning the plant and decontaminating the surrounding area, as well as paying compensation and storing radioactive waste, had risen to 21.5 trillion yen ($187bn), nearly double an estimate released in 2013.

> (Interestingly, Wikipedia claims that the insurance policies that applied to Fukushima Daiichi specifically excluded accidents caused by earthquake/tsumani.)

So it looks like the whole earthquake event was over $400bn (real dollars)[0]. So that's almost half. (And we're referencing Wikipedia, so we're not diving into the numbers too far). Side note: this makes that event more expensive than Chernobyl.

But here's something to consider. Look again at that table and look at what is happening in recent years. In 2017 the US spent over $200bn on natural disasters that are directly linked to climate change. These events are just becoming more common and only a small part of the cost that we are paying for increasing the planet's temperature. Over the last decade we've (the US) paid for several Fukushimas. These are all being paid by the taxpayers too.

Yes, nuclear accidents are costly (they are also extremely rare and getting more rare) but are they more costly than what happens if we don't use them? In either case we're taking a gamble, there's just no other way to put it. But which horse are you going to put your money on?

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


> Instead those are footed by the taxpayer when something happens.

Higher electricity bill from renewables is also footed by the taxpayer, see Germany.


Your link is about residential prices, not about the cost to build the reactors.

There are two key questions: 1) what was the subsidy level for construction of the French generation of reactors, and 2) can we do this again?

That second question is of course the most important one, and the answer seems to be a resounding and hard no, at least if the French are constructing it, based on their recent attempts.

South Korea is also cited as another country that may have figured out how to build reactors cheaply. However recent news is that it was all cartels and corruption and there's likely massive amounts of fraud.

That leaves what, Canada and Russia? Canada I kind of trust, and Russia not at all. CANDUs were pretty great, but we can't exactly order more of them now.

It seems that the age of the Rankine cycle's efficiency is coming to an end, at least in terms of cost effectiveness. Even natural gas uses a combined cycle to compete these days, as new tech finally usurps what has been the champion for over a century.


Canada gave up on CANDU. The ACR got no buyers, and the remnants of AECL were sold for a mere $15M.


> A nuclear fission world will never happen due to the economics of it.

'Economics of it' means different things to different people, but I'm just looking through the wiki page for electricity costs [0]. I'd bet when a lot of older people talked about solar being too expensive they set their expectations based on prices in the 80s [1]. Or they mean that renewables are horrible value technically for the money spent because they have highly cyclical output vs. consistent controllable output of a thermal plant. The economics of nuclear aren't the best, but they also aren't that bad.

Government policy routinely changes the price of things by 10-30%. We can cope with that easily, and that brings a fully nuclear world well into the realm of the possible.

Investors aren't scared of the high upfront cost of nuclear. They are scared by the risk of spending the high upfront cost of nuclear then having the rug pulled out from under them by hostile government policy. If there was no risk of government interference and a supportive policy environment (eg, blanket ban on competition from fossil fuels) investors would be more than happy to invest. They are looking to park their money somewhere.

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

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Price_history_of_silicon_...


> Investors aren't scared of the high upfront cost of nuclear. They are scared by the risk of spending the high upfront cost of nuclear then having the rug pulled out from under them by hostile government policy.

You peddle this line every time the subject of nuclear (fission) power comes up.

My usual response is to point to all the countries that have administrations that are pro fission nuclear -- the UK being the most magnificent example -- and observe that the relentless scheduling delays, cost blowouts, and logistical problems, combined with the equally relentless growth of deployment (and reduction in cost) of renewables in that isle.

In any case, no one's interest in jumping onto the fission nuclear bandwagon around the world can't entirely be down to some policy wobbling going on within the USA.


I change my peddling sometimes when people come up with a good counterargument.

I've been hearing stories saying that climate change represents a likely civilisation level threat for something like 20 years. Nuclear represents a very rare maybe city level threat. We don't really know if it is a city level threat, but we evacuate because it isn't very common so it isn't worth finding out.

For most of that 20 years, nuclear has been a more economic option than renewables; and safer and probably cleaner to boot on average. Nuclear has been a technically better option and only a bit more expensive (less than double usual practice). I don't think it is an economic issue, I think it is an irrational public opposition issue. The economics aren't helping, but if it was strictly a scientific/environmental question we'd be seeing protestors saying 'split atoms, not icebergs'.

The UK having poor project management is evidence, but it isn't a strong counter. That happens to pretty much every large project. And wobbly policy in the US isn't what would scare investors, it would be wobbly policy in Germany. The energiewende pummeled nuclear; it wasn't up-front cost because the plants were already built.


Good points.

However, my point remains that if it's so abundantly clear that nuclear fission is an economically, manageable, palatable option, it'd have a significant uptake around the world.

Fission power plants may represent, as you say, a rare city-level threat -- but that threat increases linearly as number of plants goes up. And while I agree there's a degree of irrationality involved in terms of risk assessment, it's non-trivial to talk people around from that position. If you're comparing the health risks to coal / gas, nuclear wins on pure numbers. But if you're arguing against solar PVC, solar thermal, wind, hydro, tidal, etc it's a much harder sell.

As to the UK having poor project management -- this may well be true, but it's somewhat aside. Ultimately no one else is ramping up nuclear fission plants, and everyone believes they have (or can easily purchase) good project management skills.

But even ten years ago the construction of the forerunners of the proposed UK plants -- managed by the French Areva corp -- were way behind schedule and over budget. I'm referring to the embarrassing Finland / TVO experiences.

Jeremy Leggett -- an undeniably partisan, UK based analyst -- ten years ago was expressing dire concerns [1] about the UK's direction here. The subsequent decade have been kind to his predictions.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/nov/10/nuclea...


Yeah, nuclear can be expensive when you're building only couple of them per decade & continent. Look at China.

On the other hand, what is the actual cost of renewable energy with storage / backup / grid upgrades accounted for?

Nobody ever brings up _those_ numbers when claiming how nuclear is uneconomical. Maybe because those would be sky high today, and only might become manageable in the future. But hey, nuclear reactors are expensive!


So all we need to do to fix the nuclear industry is make the public rational. And also, fix pathological project management issues. I don't think either of those things are going to happen. Nuclear power may be technically better, but that is not enough.

Also, economics has an influence on these two issues you identify. If something is cheap then it is more likely that government will override the views of the public. This happens all the time on projects that make economic sense to the politicians. Also, very large projects are harder to commoditize. If a company can get thousands of orders for something it is easier to scale than if they get one or two orders. Project management is harder when every project is singular.


And yet, France converted their grid to 80% nuclear in twenty years. Maybe we should do whatever they did.


And yet five years ago the French government committed to dropping their nuclear power generation from 75% to 50% by 2025.

Last year this was revised out by ten years -- same target, though, but aiming for 50%.

So one country briefly had three quarters of their power coming from nuclear, and this country's typically held up as the poster child of nuclear fission, and they're moving away from it.


50% nuclear is enough to achieve 100% clean energy today. It wasn't enough 50 years ago when renewables were expensive. Basically it has to provide base load power which is supplemented with renewables and peaker plants.


Exactly! This is what we want to do with nuclear. Pro-nuclear isn't anti-renewable (we want diversified energy portfolios, not a single source. That'd be ridiculous). It is about load balancing. If we can load balance with renewables and cheaper than nuclear options, then let's do it. Let's just not load balance with fossil fuels.


The US is 20% nuclear, maybe we should do whatever we did.

Congrats to solar, btw, for finally breaking into the single digit percentages.


Ironically, the environmental movement in the US intentionally sabotages clean, cheap nuclear power.

France does fine on both counts. They standardized on a now-antique reactor design, and just kept stamping it out and backporting safety and process improvements to existing plants.

I suspect China has / will have a similar track record, but with newer designs.


Because clean is only if you don't include the waste and you never have a disaster. Literally the only way nuclear is clean is in the best possible case scenario, which happens for the most part because of the training and safety that are in place in most countries, but when it doesn't it's bad and impacts huge chunks of the planet. We have had nearly 100 accidents, most occurring in the United States according to Wikipedia. That's not a small number of accidents considering how long nuclear power has been around, it's more than one a year with the majority within the last 40. Most aren't major events, but I'm not sure how minor you can really claim a nuclear event to be. This isn't too say the fossil fuel alternatives are better, but nuclear boosters aren't really doing themselves any favors by glossing over the negatives.


> Because clean is only if you don't include the waste and you never have a disaster

It is clean after accounting for those things. At a guess you haven't grappled with exactly how tiny the volumes of waste are compared to the scale of what is achieved.

100 accidents is a very small number. You haven't linked your source so I don't know what the standard or timeframe is, but it is a safe bet that whatever an accident is that 100 number is irrelevant.

> I'm not sure how minor you can really claim a nuclear event to be

Very minor. I recall an incident at a remote (uranium mining) minesite reporting to the regulator because a vat had broken open. Very concerning to the mine management - biggest incident they'd had in years. It would be like getting worried because a gold mine's cyanide tank had split open - a big problem if you might have been standing under the tank. Not a concern to HN posters.

> nuclear boosters aren't really doing themselves any favors by glossing over the negatives.

I agree, my problem is people keep talking about the negatives and then bringing out these statistics that say that nuclear is at worst about the same as the alternatives. The negatives are that the cost of a meltdown is highly concentrated in time and space, and people might have to move to a different city if it happens near them. At the minute scale of risk that is dealing with I just don't think that is very concerning. Especially since there are persistent rumours that we've improved our design capabilities since 1980 (we have computers now!) and that the new generations of reactor technology can't fail in the way the old ones did.


Your response is fair as far as the waste to power output. I really don't have an idea. Thanks for putting it into perspective.

The information came from literally Wikipedia, which bring honest claimed equipment fails in the same area as meltdowns. I want attempting to be facetious in saying I don't know if you can claim a nuclear event to be facetious, I'd have to agree that claiming an equipment failure in the same category as a release of nuclear material into the atmosphere doesn't seem fair.


If we're building 70x more than today, are there any economies of scale?

Problem is we can't wait for research into better designs, have to act yesterday


That entirely depends on your time frame. If you're willing to wait 70 years then sure there will be economies of scale to be exploited. If you want to do it in 20 then you will have to build more highly specialized factories that produce the custom parts needed by nuclear plants. After that the factories will be useless for the next 50 years after which you need them again because the 50 year old plants are about to be decommissioned and replaced with never plants.


There is also realpolitik reason why it would not happen. widespread fission reactors means more countries have access to nuclear weapons.


This is a very common misnomer. Mainly because weapons require so much more enriched uranium. Enrichment plants have to be much bigger. A size difference you can usually tell just from satellite imagery.


Nuclear weapons can be built with plutonium, not enriched uranium. And plutonium from power reactors can be used, although it's not ideal.


There's an order of magnitude difference between enrichment levels for reactors and for nuclear weapons. It's like saying that any nation with orbital rockets can throw asteroids at you.


> still have all the fossil fuel powered machines to replace.

not necessarily, if we can synthesize new fossil fuel from atmospheric carbon, as at least one new company is now trying to do at scale.


Either the machines are replaced by ones that run on electricity, or the fuel is synthesized from CO2 by a process that uses electricity (like the process of the Prometheus startup). Either way, more electricity will be needed.


the idea is that the energy used is from renewable sources, so you get carbon-neutral fossil fuels.


Yeah, the issue is we already need to build huge amounts of renewable/nuclear to replace existing. Trying to also add on carbon -> fuel 'sequestering' just massively increases the amount of energy production required.


One of the 'features' of nuclear power is that it the marginal cost of running the plant at full capacity is low compared to running it in line with demand. That's why the UK have large interconnects with France.

If instead they could turn the excess power production into fuel then I'm sure that'd be a nice side effect.

Solar power has the peak load problem too, though I'm not sure how economically these systems could be built to run a fraction of the time.


It may be a reasonable use after we get a lot of excess peak production but for now the more efficient storage (pumped hydro or battery) is probably the better use of our power. Someone with a better source on the numbers could definitely do the math for which removes more carbon; replacing replacing a nighttime power plant (coal/NG) or replacing some of the fuel supply. I can't imagine the CO_2 -> Fuel process is particularly efficient.


We need to be carbon negative not carbon neutral.


God I hope that works


Do you mean growing crops to make into fuel?


You seem to be ignoring the fact that nuclear power does produce a lot of green house gases "passively". Just to mine it and transport it to other countries. Than most importantly there is refining which also produces a lot of green house gases.

Not that other renewable energy do not produce any green house gases.

Also regardless of how much waste is produced, there is still waste which will live on probably longer than the human specie.


>You seem to be ignoring the fact that nuclear power does produce a lot of green house gases "passively".

> Not that other renewable energy do not produce any green house gases.

I mean... it is about comparisons, right? Here's just a handful of reports showing lifetime emissions of energy sources. Spoiler alert, nuclear is better than PV, but not better than wind and hydro. But that's besides the point, because you can't load balance with PV, wind, or hydro. So you can't completely replace coal with renewables.

https://www.world-nuclear.org/uploadedFiles/org/WNA/Publicat...

(page 539 (29/88)) https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5...

https://www.geni.org/globalenergy/library/technical-articles...

https://www.carbonbrief.org/solar-wind-nuclear-amazingly-low...


Yes, current nuclear technology will not play a big part in preventing climate change because:

It’s not infinitely powerful: It only contributes 5% to the world’s energy supply[159] and even in China, where regulation is lax and public opposition to nuclear is not as big an issue for policy-makers, few reactors are currently being built (_six_ in the last 18 months).

It carries safety risks.[160] While advanced nuclear power in some advanced economies might actually reduce nuclear proliferation risk by using up nuclear material, in other countries, nuclear power might increase proliferation risks.[161]

It will not be used in many emerging economies.[162] Consider that only 1–5 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are currently plan to have commercial nuclear power and these countries are at least 10 years away from starting construction on nuclear plants.[163]

Continued reliance on outdated nuclear technology might not have the same crucial global technology spillovers as investments in other clean energy (including advanced nuclear). Since the best path towards global decarbonization is through global technology spillover into emerging economies, the actors that have the best emissions score may, surprisingly, not be the most effective actors at reducing the global rate of emissions in the future.

We need more energy R&D to make nuclear better new small modular nuclear reactor designs.

All citations here: https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy/


On the other hand, France seems to have gotten it right:

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


France is phasing out 35% of their nuclear power in the next few years. With one exception[1], there are no new nuclear power plants in planning to replace any of the existing fleet, which will all have to be retired soon.

[1] Flamanville, which is 400% over budget and behind schedule by 11 years.


France made a policy decision to reduce Nuclear from 75% of 50%, largely a populist response to Fukushima, and the perception that Nuclear is dangerous, not green, etc.. It was a political decision, not practical. We'll see if they actually are able to meet that goal, but most signs point to no. Regardless, my point is France, a G7 nation got to 75% nuclear. Fear is the main reason other countries can't.


France started sufficiently early. I don't think we have the production capacities to switch over completely to nuclear power over the next twenty years (worldwide!). Building reactors takes a lot of time and is quite expensive.


Then we better start with it soon, right?

Also we should start subsidizing batteries (and their research) more.

How else do you propose to eliminate CO2 from electricity production?


I think right now renewable energy with storage and improved grids provides a better carbon reduction per dollar than nuclear. There is also a pretty big potential for saving energy, for example for AC. We need to be at net zero in ten to fifteen years. Building reactors takes a pretty long time. I don't think we even have enough qualified personnel to build the huge number of reactors we'd need to replace fossil power plants. Solar and wind seems like it needs less expertise, but I'm not an expert on this topic.


Well, this nicely shows problems with this debate in a nutshell.

1) nuclear is covered in FUD:

> I don't think we even have enough qualified personnel to build the huge number of reactors

2) renewables "just work" without any issues ... Well at least everyone claims so:

> I think right now renewable energy with storage and improved grids provides a better carbon reduction per dollar than nuclear.

Can you provide a SINGLE example of any country on Earth with ability to store enough electricity to run the country for just ONE hour?

One minute?

And what would / did that cost? Can we actually scale it (pumped storage works nicely in ideal cases, but those are rare)?

The amount of handwaving around renewables is incredible ...


In which a community dominated by nerds and physicists pretend to understand the longstanding and largely irrefutable arguments against nuclear because nerds and physicists understand nukes and don't have a clue about

- public health & epidemiology (c.f. 1999 report on deformities throughout Eastern Europe post-chernobyl)

- ecosystemology (c.f. radiation from Fukushima showing up in seafood on US Pacific coasts)

- politics (c.f. the fully-captured regulator DOE in US with a rotating door into GE et al)

Yay let's talk about all the next-gen reactor designs that have never seen the light of day, and ignore Indian Point waiting for a terrorist attack just north of NYC.

Yay let's decry anti-nuke as "hysteria" and ignore all the contaminated sites we haven't cleaned up (c.f. Hanford WA).

Please proceed.


I just want to make sure I'm characterizing your comment right.

You're saying that because we're nerds and physicists we can't understand public health, epidemiology, ecosystemology, politics, or (what you alluded to) caring about others? Did I get the gist?

Because I'm confused. Who do you think creates the models for public health? Who do you think does ecosystemology, biology, climate studies, and the rest? I'll admit that you got me on politics, but the other parts are kinda laughable.

We are pro-nuclear BECAUSE we care about public health. We just have read the numbers and have seen them say that this energy source does the least damage (while filling in gaps that before only fossil fuels could fill). We, unfortunately, can't save everyone, but we're doing our damnedest to save as many as we can. The same goes for the wild life and well being of the planet. We can't send everyone back to the dark ages, so we'll do our best to find ways that minimize the damage, and where possible reverse it or even make things better than we found them (but that is almost impossible, though we're getting closer to being able to do it). I write this comment BECAUSE I care about the world and the people living on it. That is why we fight.

And I need to stress that no one that is advocating nuclear is saying that are whole grid should be nuclear. We want diversified portfolios. We support France's goals of reduction and increase in renewables. We see that as an ideal model which should be emulated.

Yay let's talk about how nerds are heartless and just don't care about people.

Yay let's decry the third world and all those affected by the worsening effects of climate change, just because we have the money to deal with the harsh realities of climate change.

But yeah, call us heartless. Call us naive. Tell us about how our only cry is about hysteria. I hope you have showed everyone just how much you care. We see it. But we do not see action. So you have told us how much we don't care. Now show us how much YOU do. Not by decree, but by what can be done to address these problems you accuse us of not caring about.

Please proceed.


These problems are real but are orders of magnitude less important than climate change. Nuclear has plenty of issues, but currently it's the only possible realistic solution for zero-carbon energy given the timeframe. It's irrational to compare local issues like waste storage with the global one at hand.

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


Or we can produce and consume less ?


This is near-impossible without killing a lot of people. Humans generally don't just give up their comforts en masse for some distant benefits. This is a fixed property of humans, and the source of most world problems.


Seems to me like humans do lots of things for distant benefits: they die for ideals, work their whole lives to give their children a better future, save for retirement, produce research on subjects that will only achieve tangible outcomes in the distant future, etc


> they die for ideals

Sometimes. This is not something generally expected of people, and newsworthy when it happens. Not all ideals are also selfless - some, like loyalty to one's God in expectation of an afterlife, is directly selfish.

> work their whole lives to give their children a better future

A combination of biological imperative and social pressure older than civilization; also pretty selfish.

> save for retirement

Most people can't really do that, especially not when living paycheck-to-paycheck. That's why retirement funds tend to be done in opt-out and usually socialized fashion.

> produce research on subjects that will only achieve tangible outcomes in the distant future

Even ignoring the status seekers, pure intellectual curiosity gives short-term emotional rewards. I doubt most researchers would be able to sustain their efforts if they didn't feel at least some immediate intellectual reward that outweighed their lowered (or sometimes non-existent) salaries.

My point isn't that individuals aren't capable of putting long-term benefits in front of their short-term interests. My point is that they aren't capable of doing it at scale, in a coordinated fashion. A lot of this boils down to coordination problems - when personal sacrifice has low marginal utility (i.e. you need to get a lot of people on-board to materialize the benefits) and high immediate cost, few people will choose the sacrifice, and even if a small group coordinates on this, the first person to defect will destroy it all.


And still, a politician who says that airplane ticket and meat prices should rise to levels unaffordable by the bottom 95% won't get elected. It's too unpopular. Despite quite many people in non-western countries not flying in airplanes and only eating meat on rare occasions.


None of those are distant benefits.

The person who dies for “ideals” are mostly driven by false claims[0] about the nature of the afterlife.

Improving your child’s outcomes is a biologically preset desire.

Saving for retirement is still ultimately in one’s immediate self interest.

Producing theoretical research has the immediate benefit of recognition in their fields and the possibility of a “lottery win” outcome.

Saving for retirement is


Oops, don't know how I managed to submit that without finishing it. Oh well, I'll throw in my footnote anyway:

[0] More precisely, claims they can't know to be true. (And are also almost certainly false.)


Eh, a sufficiently high carbon tax would probably reduce demand for carbon intensive goods without killing too many people.


Carbon tax isn't meant to reduce production & consumption, it's meant to shift it towards things with smaller carbon footprint.


Isn't the problem that we're already scheduled to be killing a lot of people due to inaction? We need to find a path that maximises the chances for the remaining survivors.


Yes. My point is that there's no way of quickly getting to "produce and consume less" without dropping a lot of bodies, so that path isn't helpful.


Increases in energy efficiency do not cause deaths.


I think TeMPOraL's point is that if you take away luxuries like airplane flights, cars, meat rich diets from the masses, you will cause massive riots involving human casualties.

Not sure I fully agree with the premise that such measures are needed though. You can also increase efficiencies by e.g. requiring the industry to build more durable products or e.g. increasing spending in artificial meat research as well as high speed trains or hyperloops. People would still eat meat, would still travel the world, but now without causing as much of a carbon footprint.


Yeah, my point is either that or genocide; people won't voluntarily cut down on consumption, both because of strong desire to maintain quality of life and because a lot of that consumption actually is life-preserving. Think proper nourishment, sanitation, life-sustaining medicine.

I agree with your proposed alternatives - I was responding to parent's idea that we should "cut consumption and production".


It did drop in the us over the past decade though (for various reasons). I think it is possible, but would require something drastic changing about the way people work/live. If more people worked remotely, better infrastructure for a local lifestyle, etc, etc. The US average is like 12 kW per person, the world average is I think about 3. Surely it is possible without conflict, just requires the magic combination of better and more efficient. I keep thinking recently how it has changed from everyone watching one big tv and fighting over the channel, vs watching whatever you want on your mobile device. It is worse and better at the same time and probably more energy efficient and has become the norm. Makes me wonder what is the equivalent for transport, etc?


The problem is that action to restrict things is taken today and all regular people will get for it are promises of a better future. And some of them are simply empty promises, eg hyperloop.


To offset increased emissions from India and China over the next few decades, we don’t just need “energy efficiency.” We need to go net negative in CO2 output.


I think learning to give up unnecessary comforts is going to be an important part of the development of the human species. If we are every going to mature and learn to be stewards of this earth instead of stripping it for short term gain, we're going to have to change our outlooks.

So I believe mass change must be a necessity no matter how hard it is. If we don't change, we're not going to solve this problem.


Personally, I don't think individuals can learn this. To me, it seems that human psychology is essentially fixed. The changes need to be cultural - you need human civilization to learn this. But culture, I believe, is mostly a function of techno-economical landscape, with some small flavouring added from path dependence (i.e. history). Think of culture as water flowing into and settling in a valley, which shape is defined by available technology. It gravitates towards a particular configuration matching the landscape, and you can't make it flow differently by just asking. The way we learn, I believe, is through technologies we develop (possibly also through "social technologies" like forms of governance, though I'm not sure whether those can stand on their own, or are also a function of "hard"-technological landscape).


Culture is continuously created/reinforced by individuals. Technology has nothing to do with it really. All cultural change starts with individuals who then pass it on to others through their energy & effort, or by raising their children to be like them.


Nah, culture doesn't get far in a fixed technological landscape. People pass on new folk songs and dresses, but you don't get a Reformation without printing press. You don't break out of feudalism without firearms. You don't get a sexual revolution without countless of other technologies and economical transformations that enabled lots of people to live in dense population centers, above sustenance levels and with enough free time. You won't get long-term stewardship of Earth without technologies that enable us to meet our needs without destroying it.


How can technology have nothing to do with culture?

Culture inherently includes technology.


The problem of population growth and higher overall populations in emerging economies adopting more energy intensive lifestyles remains. These economies and their citizens are likely to use an enormous amount of cheap energy to grow their economies: Global energy demand is forecasted to rise by 30% as of 2040[119] because energy demand and thus per capita carbon footprints increase in proportion to income[120], mainly due to increases in China and India.

Policy-makers should reorient their focus to develop policies that contribute to the global public good through cheap, clean energy technology.[123] With access to cheaper clean energy and more energy efficient technology (e.g. smart grids), countries can grow their economies without emitting as much carbon and also help us decarbonize our economies.

citations here: https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy/


It can be argued that people really want things like happiness or security. If they can get this more directly, they can leapfrog some of the materialism. Of course for the ultra poor things like medicine are rational materialism. But there is diminishing rational value for example in dwelling size.

For example there is nothing inherent in status symbols that they need to be environmentally harmful. We can change our values.


Only if we stop producing so many people. (Good luck with that.)


That's been happening almost everywhere for the last half century. Plenty of places are below replacement population growth.


And yet we get another billion people every 15 years.


That is mostly Africa nowadays. The average age there is 19.3.


Not all people are equal in the carbon equation. Per capita consumption mattes.


We can also try to get the people we do produce to consume less…


Yes, it's not either-or, but both-and. On its own, consuming and producing less probably isn't enough.


Yeah, let's go back to the stone age. Problem solved.


After all, there is no middle ground between living in caves and dying of getting gored by a mammoth at the age of 14, and having say, billions of people drive 20 miles a day, as they commute to work, in an opposite direction of other commuters, alone in their three-tonne vehicles powered by dead dinosaurs.

No middle ground whatsoever.


There is a middle ground, you just can't get there by asking nicely. Humans aren't capable of this level of coordination.

You can reach this middle ground by e.g. building more nuclear plants, introducing emission taxes, subsidizing electric cars to speed up their adoption and other top-down measures that realign the markets with desired social goals.


There is actually. The US today has a CO2 emission per capita that's twice the CO2 emission per capita of Germany (not really a good example too). You'd also note that electric cars are also probably not a great solution because their total footprint is still around 15 to 30% of the footprint of a gasoline car (https://www.theicct.org/publications/EV-battery-manufacturin...) and we can't really afford that.


I don't understand what we can't afford. Electric vehicles already have to be charged with carbon neutral electricity to reduce their emissions so it is not exactly a huge leap to expect that the electricity used to manufacture them is also carbon neutral.


Pretty much. Life for the average person before the industrial revolution was terrible. It only became decent after the industrial revolution and even that took time. It was built on fossil fuels and consumption.

The only way you can reduce consumption is by increasing efficiency. Limiting people in the long term is not going to work unless you create an authoritarian government.


>The only way you can reduce consumption is by increasing efficiency.

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


My point was that increases in efficiency is the only thing people will accept. Everything else will cause people to not accept it, berceuse their quality of life suffers as a result.


Also fossil-fuel chemical reagents used for all sorts of material production.

And the big one, artificial fertilizer, which uses natural gas because the electrical equivalent to pull what we need from the air is astronomical.


Nothing "pulled from air" in ammonia production is expensive. The energy intensive part is making hydrogen, and then pressurizing the nitrogen and hydrogen.

Currently, hydrogen is produced from natural gas, but renewable hydrogen from electrolysis would be fine. And at the rate the cost of solar is declining renewable hydrogen is going to be competitive soon (nuclear hydrogen, not so much.) And if renewables are over-installed to deal with intermittency there will be a lot of excess power intermittently available. The key technology here would be mediocre efficiency, but low capital cost, membraneless electrolyzers.


70x more nuclear power requires 70x more nuclear fuel too (or even if we doubled efficiency, that's still 35x more nuclear fuel).

And nuclear fuel does not exactly grow on trees...


We can use spent fuel to make more. It's just too expensive now because we still have a lot of natural sources, so this will fix itself by supply & demand process.

And fuel costs are really tiny fraction of nuclear energy cost so this won't even affect nuclear costs much.


there are many problems with that, first of being that at 70x current nuclear power we're going to reach peak uranium in 2 to 5 years.

second is that nuclear power require massive cooling. even if (if!) the coolant don't contaminate the water that cools it down you are going to dump massive heat directly into water and rivers and oceans with significant increase in local alga bloom and measurable increase in global water temperature

and of course you get the waste problem.


> first of being that at 70x current nuclear power we're going to reach peak uranium in 2 to 5 years.

Can you show your math?


https://web.archive.org/web/20090320104608if_/http://www.neu...

optimistic prediction at current usage pin peak uranium around 270yr without breeding.

now add 70x more reactor and that's that.

if we ever get to thorium breeders we get a chance of sustaining society for 120years, so 3-5 generation down the road.. and every year of 70x nuclear without breeders we lose a fifth of that.


This ignores many factors. Why are you assuming we won't reprocess fuel like France does? The CANDU reactors can already use Thorium. Why are you assuming we wouldn't have breeder reactors? If we ever actually ran the risk of running out of uranium, the price would rise and it would become viable to extract uranium from sea water - there is at least 4 billion tons of uranium in sea water.

If we derived all of our electricity from nuclear reactors, we would have enough fuel for at least tens of thousands of years (probably millions of years, but who knows how high electricity consumption will grow over the next few thousand years...) At any rate, by the time we would run out of uranium we likely would have mastered nuclear fusion.


lovely. presented with data the reaction is a fuckton "but what if"

well guess what the onus of proof is on you.


>... presented with data

Let's see... You take a report 16 years old and then you cherry pick the 270 number by ignoring all the other factors that wold be relevant if the world decided to get all of its energy from nuclear energy.

According to your link, you ignored reprocessing and using breeder reactors Relying on breeder reactors adds over another 8,000 years to the expected lifetime.

That 8,000 year number is conservative for several reasons:

Over time, we get more efficient use of nuclear fuel:

>...Over the years 1980 to 2008 the electricity generated by nuclear power increased 3.6-fold while uranium used increased by a factor of only 2.5.

We've continued to more sources of uranium in recent years:

>...The world's known uranium resources increased by at least one-quarter in the last decade due to increased mineral exploration

http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fue...

The report simply makes a mention of thorium as an unconventional resource, but doesn't include it in the calculation.

>...Today uranium is the only fuel supplied for nuclear reactors. However, thorium can also be utilised as a fuel for CANDU reactors or in reactors specially designed for this purpose. Neutron efficient reactors, such as CANDU, are capable of operating on a thorium fuel cycle, once they are started using a fissile material such as U-235 or Pu-239.

>...Thorium is reported to be about three times as abundant in the Earth's crust as uranium.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fue...

With breeder reactors, it becomes economical to get uranium from sea water:

>...Such arguments ignore the fact that usual estimates of the world’s uranium resources refer to quantities available at the current market price of about $40 per pound. At that price, uranium supply contributes about 0.2 cents/kW h to the cost of electricity from light-water reactors. However, if used in breeder reactors, the cost/kW h is reduced by more than a factor of 100, so one can afford to use much more expensive uranium. For example, uranium costing $1000/lb would contribute only 0.03 cents/kW-h to the cost of electricity and would thus represent less than 1 % of the total cost. At that price, the fuel cost would be equivalent to that of gasoline priced at a half cent per gallon. How much uranium is available at a price of $1000 per pound? There are large supplies available at far below that cost in the Conway granite of New England and the Chattanooga Shales of Tennessee, but for the longer-range viewpoint we concentrate here on uranium from the oceans. It now seems quite certain that uranium can be extracted from the ocean at well below $1000 per pound (best estimates are that current technology can produce it at $200–400 per pound) and there is even some optimism that it can 1 become competitive at current market prices ($40/lb). It is clear, then, that uranium from seawater must be considered as a completely acceptable fuel for breeder reactors, contributing less than 1% to the cost of electricity. In terms of fuel cost per million BTU, even at $400/lb the uranium cost is only 1.1 cents, whereas coal costs $1.25, OPEC oil costs $5.70, and natural gas costs $3–4. ... All of the world’s present electrical usage, 650 GWe, could therefore be supplied by the uranium in seawater for (4.6×10 /650) = 7 million years.

http://large.stanford.edu/publications/coal/references/docs/...

Just in the last couple of years there have been advances in getting uranium from seawater which would lower the cost:

>...New technological breakthroughs from DOE’s Pacific Northwest (PNNL) and Oak Ridge (ORNL) national laboratories have made removing uranium from seawater within economic reach and the only question is - when will the source of uranium for our nuclear power plants change from mined ore to seawater extraction? ... Stephen Kung, in DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, says that “Finding alternatives to uranium ore mining is a necessary step in planning for the future of nuclear energy.” And these advances by PNNL and ORNL have reduced the cost by a factor of four in just five years. But it’s still over $200/lb of U3O8, twice as much as it needs to be to replace mining uranium ore.

Obviously no one is going to pay double (or more) just to get uranium from seawater, but if the price of uranium start to get expensive due to shortages, we can get uranium from seawater with relatively little impact on the price of electricity.

>...the reaction is a fuckton "but what if"

You need to re-read what I wrote. I did not write a bunch of "What if" hypotheticals. I pointed out you missed a huge number of factors that would influence the result. It would be as if someone claimed we couldn't supply the world's power through solar/wind because of the increased need for rare earths and they didn't include the impact of recycling or opening up mining operations in other parts of the word that are currently uneconomical. I would call them out on that just like I did here.


> you ignored reprocessing

dude, can you read 4 sentences or your limit is around two/three? because in the fourth I did consider reprocessing.

> sea water

which only exist in lab test scale and done massively would demolish ecosystems whole, because it's done by dropping huge capture sheets for months long

all of these are about as far from implementation as fusion, and you won't see holding me breath for that. in the meanwhile, we'd be out of uranium and then what are we going to use to bridge the gap?

that's why the 'just build 70x more nuclear plant' is untenable as a whole

but you just cherry picked what was convenient and didn't even brought anything interesting to the discussion, just lab stage prototypes and nothing to get us from here to there, which is the critical part of this thing whole.

same reasoning as the first guy I responded to:

> build 70x more plants > eat up all convenient uranium > ???? > profit!

well guess what, that ??? is what I was addressing. the technology is not yet there. how far is it? we don't even know that yet, that's the amount of information from your links.

and in the between?


>dude, can you read 4 sentences...

Ad Hominem.

We are done here.


Hey man I appreciated you response to my question. I'm frankly very impressed you had the data to back up your assertions.


Sounds like that might tide us over until fusion. We probably should've invested more into fusion.


we don't have working breeder tho


Current nuclear designs can also burn MOX, modified PHWRs can even burn Thorium as India has shown.


No reactor "burns" thorium. Reactors can breed 233U from thorium, but the chain reaction is in 233U. Breeding of 233U is marginal, btw.


> peak uranium in 2 to 5 years.

Is that with or without recycling/reprocessing?


120 ye with recycling


Interesting comment on nuclear by Mike O’Sullivan, Senior Vice President, Development, NextEra Energy Resources https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SXxJWUv-x4&t=77m59s


Renewables are a somewhat less insane and less impossible plan.


One issue I have with nuclear is the potential for widespread environmental damage if there is a technical problem either in the power plant or in the subsequent containment systems (which so far have not been well managed).

I suppose some of the new-tech nuclear offers environmental benefits compared to other technologies - I'm not very familiar with those options.

But if the proposed technology could risk destroying huge parts of the environment, that does make me seriously question it. Others have said the unit economics of nuclear are so poor that a solar field the size of the power plants containment area would produce more energy faster and at a lower price, but I don't know how true that is.

I guess my point is - I've been giving a lot more consideration to the environmental negatives of nuclear lately.


Reactors of Gen III and beyond have significantly different safety characteristics. And solar (inherently) is unable to produce continuous 24x7 energy. Those together should be enough to warrant a fresh look at nuclear.

The main practical issues with modern nuclear are up front investment and timelines, and overall economics. Those could be addressed via regulations and subsidies, but more of the general population would need to support the idea before it becomes safe politically to consider.


It's sad to read in the comments the overwhelming disbelief in the possibility of consumption reduction. I believe (want to believe) that most of us wouldn't actually mind to reduce our own consumption (even drastically), but we assume that "other" people won't. I might be naive but I tend to believe that actually most other people are less different from us than we think. So, let's start a discussion with our friends and relatives. Bring the subject up at the next dinner party.


As I'm posting a lot of such disbelieving comments, let me address it here: it's not about consumption reduction in general - it's about enough people voluntarily reducing consumption enough to matter. We should each try their best at it, but I don't believe you can count on it when planning climate policy.

The best way to trigger a bottom-up consumption reduction would be massively brainwashing people. But I can't see the usual brainwashers (media, advertisers) interested in doing it, nor do I see why would they all want to do that, on a systems level. The incentives are not there.

Then there's a matter of effect size. As the climate saying goes, "a lot of people helping a little helps a little". How far are you willing to voluntarily reduce your quality of life? Are you willing to change your job just so that you could stop using your car? Because current predictions indicate that it's the least it would take, from everyone. Most people don't engage in enough spurious consumption to have a lot to cut back before it starts significantly degrading their quality of life, and possibly becoming a health issue. I do my best to reduce my carbon footprint; I even work remotely these days. But I also have several people depending on me, so you can bet that ensuring I'm physically and mentally capable of doing my job is one of my top priorities, and I'm not going to cut consumption down to the point it degrades my ability to support my family. Most people I know ultimately face the same situation - they could cut down on some trivialities of no consequence, but beyond that, it quickly becomes a matter of survival.

The situation is even worse if you consider the developing nations, who are slated to have the biggest carbon footprint in the near future. Asking them to cut down on consumption is asking them to go back to living in extreme poverty. Not going to happen.

So sure, let's talk to our friends and relatives some more. But we need systemic solutions, and we need more alternatives with smaller carbon footprint.


I agree with everything you say. But let me offer a slight critique of "As I'm posting a lot of such disbelieving comments". Please consider that HN is also a media outlet. And while mainstream media wouldn't engage in consumption reduction brainwashing, you can offer a counter voice and do your own brainwashing. And HN crowd is the right audience. I believe a fair share of us belongs to the top 10% that emits half of carbon globally (https://www-cdn.oxfam.org/s3fs-public/file_attachments/mb-ex...).

The absolute emissions reduction from individual lifestyle adjustments is not that important in itself. But it should create a cultural space required for the current and future politicians to take action. Politicians don't lead, they follow. We live in a democracy after all. But hopefully it apparently takes only 3.5% of the population to take an active stance on something to cause a change (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=YJSehRlU34w).

I want to be part of that 3.5%. And I will keep brainwashing (eh, I mean inspiring) people around me.


I always try to argue honestly and use HN discussions as a way to pick up even more sources and information to get better understanding of climate and energy security issues, but yeah, I am aware that there's plenty of people reading these comments and I may be convincing some. If so, and to the extent people are convinced by information and not accidental rhetoric, I'm happy I could contribute. I do want to see meaningful climate change happen and I want to do what I can to help it. Since I'm not yet involved in it in professional capacity, HN discussions is one of the few things I can do.

(We also have MEP elections today; I'm currently agonizing on who to vote. It so happens that the people with sanest (IMO) climate and energy policy goals are also the people I disagree with on other topics. I feel I'll go with the climate though - it's really a critical issue.)

The "brainwashing" part was a bit tongue-in-cheek - a better word would be "influencing" or "convincing", or maybe even "inspiring". But I like to take opportunities to remind people that all of those are, to an extent, the same things, and that we have an industry full of professionals whose job is to do that regardless of the content of the message they're delivering.

EDIT: Keeping with the spirit of your comment, I know there are some regulars here working in cleantech and energy sector. I won't name any names, you know who you are - but remember, your input in these topics is very appreciated and important!


The systemic solution is to continue and increase development and build of wind and solar which will continue almost without limit onto the oceans, assisted by autonomous equipment.. and build fuel synthesis and electric storage. Energy will be abundant within a few decades.

And plant forests, ecologically improved agriculture and use wood and sustainable biophilic materials where possible (all large wind turbine blades are currently almost entirely made of balsawood)

Also, a global alliance against military aggression, space industry for asteroid mining, lagrange point sun shielding if necessary. Promotion of therapeutic professions, reduction in accounting labor and financial wizardy to be replaced by modern informational and analytic technologies. Promotion of aspirations other than car driving and land ownership. Secure living spaces for everyone who seeks them and commits to respecting them. Quality of life guided by things which are actually known to improve quality of life, like education, recreation, arts, community spaces, rather than the psychologically marketed consumables which currently divert economies and fantasies ...

A bright future is very complicated and challenging to envisage, but no moreso really than any particular gloomy one :)


A carbon tax that pays out via something like a basic income, should incentivize low-carbon consumption, without being regressive.


A drastic reduction in consumption has some severe impacts on your quality of life. Would you really actively choose to make your child's life much worse?


Here is one example. Eliminate travel sports. Reduces gas consumption and arguably makes you and your child's life better.


My wider family use 10x the energy that I do, possibly higher. I am okay with a bicycle but my relatives see no alternative to petrol/diesel cars. An electric car is a joke and not something to aspire to according to them. They also have indoor lighting on when the glowy thing is in the sky. This indoor light colour temperature makes me feel it is dark so I dislike it, turn the lights off and they think it is dark. Discussing these things leads to confrontation.

After being told that electric cars were silly and impractical I had a thought experiment. We had just been using electricity for making cups of tea, plus there was that lighting, which was a practical use of electricity.

So what if I decided to go fully carbon wasteful and not use electricity but burn petrol for everything? Kerosine lamps, a petrol powered generator, LPG in the kitchen, to be fully off grid but in the most oil burning way possible. Have the place reek of bunker oil, make the back garden as nice as an oil refinery.

This isn't going to happen to win a point in the family, but people are deeply wedded to their planet trashing ways. There is no point arguing with them.

I got into super lean energy use thanks to a shared flat which had meters that needed topping up with hard currency, a trip to a convenience store a mile away being the only option.

If you only have $10 of energy before the lights go out you think about whether you want to boil wash and tumble dry your clothes a bit differently and opt for the 'mini 30' wash and drying rack instead. You don't have hot water every day, except with the kettle that boils just the one/two cups needed. All phantom power losses get seen to. You keep what matters - a light bulb and a laptop - and dispense with the rest.

If you live in this austerity mode it becomes a lot harder to go back to the standard way of living where electricity and other energy is continually on. Thermostats are good with heating timers, but, they themselves take electricity. Nobody turns the whole thing off. The advice is to turn it down a couple of degrees, not turn it completely off and wear a jumper + hoodie instead.

Socially it can be difficult to fit in if you prefer austerity energy use. In a workplace you can't just turn off the lights to enjoy natural daylight. Everyone else wants some horrid flickery lighting not the good stuff. Then, if you need to sweep something up, you can't just use a broom or dustpan, you have to get the hoover out.

Which brings me on to another point, there is no way for some people to do things the low power way as they have removed the infrastructure. In my relatives refurbished kitchen they have a dishwasher but no bowl or draining board to go with the sink. So you can't just wash up a few plates with the one bowl of water rinsing the soap off with room temperature water to let the crockery drip dry. The water from the hot tap is scolding hot and it just goes down the plug hole if you use it. This is the new normal and people insist that having a dishwasher on for a few hours a day is more efficient. Contesting this is fruitless.

Hence my thought experiment to have a house where everything is max wasteful and max polluting.


Well, if we switch to more electric vehicles consumption will only increase since we'll be replacing gasoline with electricity.


Climate change isnt just energy production, anyway. I highly recommend the book Drawdown. The sector that they recommend as the highest impact intervention is actually refrigerants.


They are ranked a bit confusingly by the metric of 'potential future impact' divided by 'cost'. Refrigerants could have a huge impact if they are not controlled and/or improved, but they need not be very costly to control and improve. They don't yet present the scale of problem that carbon emissions present. The IPCC after decades of studying and advising on the matter is pretty well clear on that.


You're right. Super-pollutants like methane, tropospheric ozone, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbon have up to 2,000 times the warming potential of carbon over a 100 year time scale.[264], [265] Advanced economies can investigate good mitigation strategies and pay emerging economies to phase them out as soon as possible.

However, the overall funding gap is likely much lower (perhaps in the hundreds of millions) than for clean energy R&D (which is in the tens of billions) and so diminishing returns will set in earlier. Thus, while investing in this is quite cost-effective, there is an upper bound on the benefits (low benefit-costs).

citations here: https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy/


Here is the IPCCs detail of ghg gas emissions [1]

The gross global warming effect of pollutants that you are mentioning is low compared to CO2. Methane emissions amount to around 16% of CO2(e) emissions, and NOx emissions amount to around half of methanes. Refrigerants and others about 2% so far, though they could get worse if not better controlled (which seems to be drawdowns case).

The IPCC highlights CO2 because it is the main problem which has to be dealt with.

[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SPM.02_rev1-...


I do like that the impact is in "equivalent CO2 tons" allowing comparison across more than emissions. Yes, scaling by cost is questionable but allows simple policy comparisons.


Drawdown seems very interesting overall, but their ranked list is confusing with the top 'solution' being about refrigerants, which amount to no more than a couple of percent gross CO2e emissions. Thats not what most people would expect from a top ranked solution, and potentially detracts from IPCCs seriously worked out advice - that we need to deal most with CO2.


i love the fact that they posted their jupyter notebooks on github ie, https://github.com/jdechalendar/why100renewable-suppl/blob/m...

but there's nothing there to _read_ other than code - it may as well have been a txt file. i'm not trying to be mean to the author, i'm just pointing out that notebooks are a good fit for a style of literate programming and if you aren't into writing the narrative, then why use a notebook?


Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.


Ease of running and portability?


A modern shebang


1) sharing their research

2) great for creators resume


It's crazy that we've know how to create carbon negative energy for a hundred years now but no one seems to be aware. We were running cars off of wood-gas during WW2. By gasifying unused woody biomass (wood chips, corn husks, walnut shells, pellets made from essentially trash, etc.) you can run an internal combustion, steam, Stirling or turbine engine and produce char ash (biochar a.k.a terra preta) which can be buried in the soil to enrich it, and also lock away the carbon for hundreds to thousands of years (depending on who you ask). This is carbon negative energy. Next time you go for a walk, look at all of the tree branches and burnable fuel all over. Think of all of the forests that went up in flames in Norther California. All fuel that could have been put to use. Plants are great solar accumulators. We should be putting them to work collecting energy and CO2.


Biofuels do exists, but afaik they were a net negative so far. You can't simply grow so many plants, and you also need plants to eat, not just burn.


I'm not talking about biofuels, I'm talking about Syngas, a.k.a producer's gas or wood gas. Gasification is the process to create these fuels, using pyrolysis (heat) to break down organic material into tar gases and carbon (charcoal). Then using the hot charcoal to reduce the tar gases into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The process is used for so called "clean" coal plants, but can be utilized on any organic material. All Power Labs and a few other companies are making small scale (20kW - 150kW) power plants, but mostly it's just used for running logging mills (off sawdust and end cuts) as it's a good source of heat and power.

Note: one only utilizes the unused portions of the plant with gasification, so it doesn't affect the supply of edible plant components. If anything it causes the cost to go down, as your utilizing the waste components (corn cobs, walnut shells, etc.) to produce the power and heat to run your farm, or selling it to neighbors. Gasification also helps with removing the methane that would normally be made when these materials are composted. Methane is a much greater greenhouse gas than CO2.


Yeah I don't believe it is so simple, otherwise, why wouldn't people use it en masse?

You assume the non-edible parts of farmed plants would be sufficient to provide all the energy we need. That seems unlikely to be the case.

Why would it be different than Biofuel, which ended up costing rainforset for planting plants that could be turned into fuel?


If you want to do something about climate change—I've just launched crowdfunding campaign to raise $2 million dollar for effective climate policy.

It's for the Clean Energy Innovation program at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)—a top-ranked US think tank. The program is led by Professor David Hart and Dr. Colin Cunliff whose policy research focuses on the effectiveness of higher and smarter clean energy R&D spending and communicating this to policy-makers.

We have done hundreds of hours of research to figure out most effective way to donate to combat climate change and believe this is best place to donate. Why?

You can read our in-depth analysis at https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy/, but briefly:

Advanced economies like the US and EU are prioritizing reducing their own emissions. But by 2040, 75% of all emissions will come from emerging economies such as China and India. Only if advanced economies’ climate policies reduce emissions in all countries will we prevent dangerous climate change. The best policies to do this are those that stimulate innovation and clean energy technology cheaper in all countries. We compared 10 climate policies that stimulate innovation (e.g. carbon taxes, deployment subsidies, cutting fossil fuel subsidies) and found that increasing government budgets for public clean energy research and development (R&D) is the most effective—even more effective than carbon taxes.

Public clean energy R&D is neglected: only $22 billion is spent per year globally compared to $140 billion spent on clean energy deployment subsidies and trillions spent on energy. Many advanced economies (e.g. U.S., EU) could unilaterally increase this substantially without international coordination—which makes this much more politically tractable than carbon taxes. Better yet, advanced economies can coordinate spending parts of their GDP on clean energy R&D. Many countries have already done so by signing an international ‘Mission Innovation’ agreement, but are not on track to fulfill their pledges. Donating to this campaign might lead countries to get back on track and increase clean energy R&D budgets.

This would make low-carbon energy cheaper, carbon taxes more politically acceptable, and prevent dangerous climate change.


How much more research can you do, realistically? If we want any chance at meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement we (the whole world) need to be at net zero emissions in at most twenty years (assuming a linear reduction starting now!). That doesn't seem to be enough time to go from research to market. We already have the technology we need. More research might make it cheaper, or it might not. But more money for deploying the technology we have has an immediate effect.

By the way, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the emissions from the developing world are coming from consumption that happens in the rich countries. A carbon tax that is also applied to imports would be a pretty good incentive for countries like China to push harder for carbon neutrality (not that they're currently not pushing harder than most of the western countries).


We think it's very effective to spend more. Consider that, globally, only $22 billion in public funds are spent on clean energy R&D annually—this is only 0.02% of World GDP. For comparison, world energy expenditure was 6% of the World's GDP. This means we spend about 300 times as much on energy than on making energy better.

Why is there so little investment in clean energy innovation?

Generally, basic R&D is under-supplied at both the private and public level. There are several theoretical reasons for this:

On a global level, basic clean energy R&D is under-supplied by both governments and the private sector. Why? Because it suffers from the free-rider problem, as all basic R&D and public goods do. Countries and firms can just let others do the basic research and then reap the benefits because knowledge is hard to protect internationally. Private R&D cannot be protected perfectly because patents expire or industry know-how diffuses to other firms and not all rents from investments can be captured. This results in a socially suboptimal investment.

In other words, additional public investment through basic R&D funding and subsidies increase social surplus, because private capital can only capture a fraction of the social surplus pie. Generally, venture capital and the market neglect capital-intensive, high-risk, high-return, long time-horizon investments.

Clean energy R&D, in particular, is under-supplied because externalities of carbon are not priced adequately, leading to insufficient commercial applications for clean energy R&D.

So, advanced economies should be spending much more on clean energy R&D. This view is shared by a number of academics, international organizations, and members of the private sector, including:

1. Daron Acemoglu, the most cited economic scholar in the recent decade, who argues that optimal climate change policy requires both carbon pricing and subsidies for clean energy research. Clean energy research should be heavily front-loaded to carbon taxation, which can be phased in gradually to minimize switching costs for industry.[19] This argument is not about how high carbon taxes should be in absolute terms or when exactly they should come. It merely suggests that we need to prioritize clean energy R&D, because it would not make much sense to create better clean energy technology later this century. In short, there is good reason to prioritize clean energy R&D.

2. The International Energy Agency notes that public R&D on energy technologies grew at an average rate of only 2% per year in the last 5 years.[20] For that reason, they argue that more spending on public and private clean energy R&D would be productive and is needed.[21]

3. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition,[22] a private sector coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates, has started a venture to invest in breakthrough energy projects. According to recent analyses, public energy R&D can productively absorb large amounts of additional funding[23] and should increase 5-fold to be socially optimal. The US R&D budgets should even increase 10-fold.[24]

A 2018 meta-analysis summarized the results of several studies[25] that all asked several experts by how much clean energy prices if clean energy R&D were to increase. The meta-analysis concludes:

"[...] experts largely believe that increased public RD&D investments will result in reductions in future technology costs by 2030, although possibly with diminishing marginal returns. [....] for all technologies, experts see the possibility of breakthroughs that would make the technology cost competitive, envisioning sustained annual rates of cost reduction on the order of 10 percent per year. Moreover, such breakthroughs appear more likely under higher RD&D."[26]

The results from these experts surveys: moving from low to medium or high R&D investment scenarios might decrease clean energy costs by several percent.

You can find all citations and the full report here: https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy


Thanks for the references! I'll have a look and update my opinion.


Let me know if you have any other questions!


> Why is there so little investment in clean energy innovation?

Because the expected value of ROI is not strong.


Of course, that's ultimately it. I was just attempting to explain why this is and why there is a market failure. Because carbon externalities are not fully internalized.


The problem though is inherent in clean energy forms given that most of them are not really going to provide us with anything even close go the energy density and dual use as especially oil(ex plastic) but also to some extent coal an nuclear.

I have been trying to find things to invest in in this area and its not really positive what Ive realized. We made most of the big discoveries and breakthroughs with fossil fuels and nuclear and there just isnt that many other opportunities out there to do anything with the density of ex coal which makes it hard to compete with since both ex sun and wind would need backup of either coal or nuclear which at the moments isnt factored into the price of sun and wind.

Fuell cells is also far far away for now which leaves fusion but that require ex magnetic force that can contain plasma.

In other words at the end of the day if we want to continue to live modern lives with all its benefits, if we want other countries to improve their lives too, its time to be honest and realize that fossil fuels and nuclear is going to be our primary source of energy for a long long time.

I would love to be proven wrong and would invest right away but i fear we will have to accept whatever the climate will throw at us and adopt as we have for thousands of years.


Nuclear is clean energy, so more nuclear and less fossil fuel is already a win. Investments are needed here, though I can't say whether they're good from investor's POV.


> Nuclear is clean energy

Except the biggest problems with nuclear has to do with extremely hazardous materials.


This is quite literally a non-problem. Next-gen plants will happily burn this waste, but even without them, I don't think you realize how little of that waste is generated per gigawatt hour - on the order of 150 grams. It's dangerous, sure (just like a lot of other chemical waste we produce on industrial scale), but we know how to store it well, and there's so little of it. If you reprocess the waste (take out the parts that can be used again as fuel), you end up with a nasty chemical sludge with half-life on the order of only 40 years, which is not that much. Storing that waste over centuries is a difficult problem, but is a really nice problem to have compared to making the planet uninhabitable and/or shutting down civilization.


I agree that is a mostly solved problem.

It still seems weird to call nuclear "clean", when the thing you have to obsess over is not leaking one of the deadliest materials in existence.

But I suppose you could argue it's cleaner than everything else (when considering manufacturing).


There's plenty to worry about not leaking in solar too; nothing high-tech is truly clean, especially if you consider manufacturing.

Anyways, despite being near-synonymous with "renewable", I always understood "clean" in "clean energy" to mean "doesn't pollute the atmosphere". Nuclear doesn't pollute the atmosphere, so it qualifies. Even if you extend it to "doesn't pollute the environment", nuclear generally doesn't, as the little waste that's produced is stored as a part of the process - as opposed to waste products of traditional fossil fuel plants. Some new reactor designs allow you to further burn the waste, making it almost truly non-polluting in the general sense.

In all honesty, like many pro-nuclear people, I do emphasize calling nuclear "clean energy" on purpose, precisely to counter people like 'ThomPete upthread who lump together nuclear with fossil fuels. While still having some (and admittedly dangerous if mishandled) waste, in terms of cleanness, nuclear is really much much closer to solar & wind than it is to coal and gas - it is an ecological source, and grouping it together with fossil sources makes people dismiss one of the more effective ways at generating power in climate-protecting way.


> and grouping it together with fossil sources makes people dismiss one of the more effective ways at generating power in climate-protecting way.

To play devil's advocate, there's a good reason to group nuclear together with fossil fuel sources: both are thermal power plants, they only differ in the source of the heat. In terms of power generation, nuclear is much closer to coal and gas than it is to solar and wind.


That's fair, but if you want to go this way, you'll end up grouping them together with wind, hydro and concentrated solar, as they're all based on spinning coils around magnets (or the other way around). While this categorization may be useful for some specialized engineering discussions, it's useless when talking about environmental issues. When talking climate, we care about pollution and emissions - both of which put nuclear in the same group as renewables.

(The one potential environmental aspect where "thermal plants" as a category is useful is that thermal plants need a heat sink to operate, which usually means a river or a pond. On the scale of climate issues, however, this is a negligible point that I haven't even seen brought up once by anyone.)


No, the biggest problem with nuclear is that it isn't economically competitive.


Yeah but nuclear isnt politically in vogue


Money can move politics. Also, while large plants are definitely not popular right now, small reactors just might. There's been some work done in miniaturizing nuclear reactors; it may be worth looking into.


Nuclear reactors are already miniaturized. That's what we use on nuclear powered ships and subs. They're also safer than utility scale. SMRs can be mass produced under strict QA, transported and assembled on site and offer important safety guarantees.

https://www.nuscalepower.com/benefits


> I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the emissions from the developing world are coming from consumption that happens in the rich countries.

That's exactly what's happening. Just look at the US China trade "imbalance".


The point is not to shift responsibility away from advanced economies. They have been responsible for more emissions historically and the carbon footprints of their citizens are much higher.[112] The typical per capita carbon footprint in an emerging economy is only one tonne per year, compared to up to 30 tonnes per year in advanced economies such as the U.S. and Luxembourg[113]. And yes, maybe this disparity is even worse due to the fact that advanced economies are consuming energy-intensive goods that are imported from emerging economies[114]). ]

But the problem of population growth and higher overall populations in emerging economies adopting more energy intensive lifestyles remains. These economies and their citizens are likely to use an enormous amount of cheap energy to grow their economies: Global energy demand is forecasted to rise by 30% as of 2040[119] because energy demand and thus per capita carbon footprints increase in proportion to income.

Also, xarbon tariffs (or border carbon adjustments) might prevent some, but not all,[152] carbon leakage and reduce emissions but are very difficult to calculate and lower trade flows and welfare, especially in emerging economies.[153]

citations here: https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy


"per capita carbon footprints increase in proportion to income." If this statement is unconditionally true, no one will be willing make the necessary sacrifices to prevent climate change.

If the rich show that they are willing to make some sacrifices and reduce their footprint significantly, then the poor will be more willing to participate in the fight against climate change.


> Advanced economies like the US and EU are prioritizing reducing their own emissions.

I'm not sure we're living in the same US. The USA I live in is one of the few countries not agreeing to climate change, with a subset of its population not even believing it is real.

I'm glad you are doing policy work - it is important. But I'm not ready to declare the problem solved in our own backyards quite yet.


Yes, countries are not doing enough to reduce their own emission either, but this is precisely the reason why clean energy R&D is such a good climate policy. Making clean energy cheaper also makes decarbonizing more politically palatable for advanced economies. Especially the US is worried about economic competitiveness.

One economic model suggests that "if a carbon tax imposes a dollar of cost on the economy, induced innovation will end up reducing that cost to around 70 cents".[72] Given that political acceptability is mainly a function of cost, making clean energy cheaper might make carbon taxes more likely.

The current US administration was considering significant cuts to its energy R&D budget and has not advanced Mission Innovation.

But recently it appears as if a unique window of opportunity has opened up for policy research on the effectiveness of higher and smarter clean energy R&D spending. The Mission Innovation secretariat is now led by the EU and Canada. And it also now appears as if there will be a slight increase to the US energy R&D budget. It might increase further in 2020, because there is a chance of a change in US leadership after the 2020 elections, which might affect clean energy policy.

citations here: https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy/


Show me anything with even remote promise of delivering like coal, oil and nuclear And you will find a swarm of willing investors. The problem is that energy isnt like technology, its about fundamental physics, something we spent almost 200 years exploring. There isnt just some magical solution out there that can compete with fossil fuels unfortunately.


> Show me anything with even remote promise of delivering like coal, oil and nuclear...

Are you mixing in nuclear with coal and oil and calling it a fossil fuel?

Besides, the efficiency of fossil fuels isn't the issue. Their impact on humanity and the planet is the problem we're trying to solve.


No i understand the difference:)


Engineering, unlike fundamental physics, involves worrying about the competitiveness of what you're trying to do, compared to the other ways of solving the problem.

Freeman Dyson pointed out that in engineering, unlike science, competing ways of approaching a problem rarely coexist. The better (including economically better) solutions drive the others to extinction.

Nuclear right now is on the losing end of this competition. Levelized cost of power from new nuclear power plants is not competitive, and it's not competitive by a wide margin. Nuclear is dead tech walking and, absent some a near-miracle that changes this, will go the way of the zeppelin, the reciprocating steam engine, and the vacuum tube. It could persist in niche markets, but for general use it will be dead.


Levelized cost of nuclear IS competitive compared to wind and sun as nuclear has everything factored in including decomission which sun and wind doesn't.

Sun and wind need backup systems either coal, oil or nuclear once you factor those in and factor in that coal will be more expensive because it only has to run as a backup then you realize that wind and solar is not even close to being relevant. That's not factored in.

Sun and wind currently is about 1% of the entire energy market projected to be 4% in 2040.


The levelized cost of nuclear is the same as solar and wind only when you're looking at the operating and decommissioning costs of fully depreciated existing nuclear plants. The levelized cost of NEW nuclear plants, including amortizing the construction and financing cost, is about 4x that of solar or wind.

New nuclear is grotesquely uneconomical, and unless a cost miracle happens it's dead technology walking.


> The problem is that energy isnt like technology, its about fundamental physics

Do you realize that technically, this sentence doesn't make sense ?


It does. I am talking about technology in its broadest interpretation. Fundamental physics is a very different market than the on established on top of microchips.


Wow, and I thought that I was being too obvious here !


You are.


>We compared 10 climate policies that stimulate innovation (e.g. carbon taxes, deployment subsidies, cutting fossil fuel subsidies) and found that increasing government budgets for public clean energy research and development (R&D) is the most effective—even more effective than carbon taxes.

This causality seems tenuous. I'm confused how an enlarged budget for Renewable Energy R&D necessitates a reduction in emissions? There'a lot of jumps being made there.

On the other hand, a carbon tax is straight forward: a tax is applied on carbon, and it creates a "price signal", where fossil fuels products become more expensive relative to those based on cleaner tech. This fundamental price signal--with the price on carbon increasing year over year--incentives investment into renewable energy and clean tech. The market runs full speed towards a clean transition.

How would "carbon taxes become more politically acceptable"? The arrow of causality is in the wrong direction: it is the carbon tax that MAKES clean energy R&D the obvious thing to do.

And finally, there are tons of studies that have explored what a clean energy mix would look like. Here's Stanford professor Mark Jacobson's: https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/Coun...


The causal model is that clean energy R&D causes better low carbon technology/energy, which is what most experts agree with. The reduced price increases demand and adoption, which in turns lowers emissions.

How R&D makes carbon taxes more acceptable: One economic model suggests that "if a carbon tax imposes a dollar of cost on the economy, induced innovation will end up reducing that cost to around 70 cents".[72] Given that political acceptability is mainly a function of cost, making clean energy cheaper might make carbon taxes more likely.

We need carbon taxes - there's no question about that. I used to think they're the best policy on the margin, but they do have drawbacks- one being political tractability, and now I've think increasing clean energy R&D is more effective and should be prioritized.


I mean, I'm never giving money to an internet stranger for research, no offense.

BUT if you want to have a meaningful impact, maybe you can verify if us internet folks can buy carbon credits (to stimulate innovation and offset our own footprint)?

I'm deeply concerned about how thorough the auditing and accounting and accuracy of carbon-credits is and would encourage passionate people like yourself to answer these questions.


Carbon emissions and climate change were solved decades ago in France with nuclear power. We can adopt the French model and export it worldwide.


France had a nationalized energy supply and distribution when it build its nuclear power plants. This was an important factor for their success.

Try exporting the nationalization of the energy supply to the U.S..

By the way, they are still driving gasoline cars in France. Obviously, they didn't 'solve' carbon emissions.


Actually, more and more municipalities are buying back their grids and making them public. It’s a slow movement but more places see that’s its better to put their utilities in public hands. There are some 30 some odd small cities and counties in the voting process as of earlier this year. I read an article about it... can’t remember where. I think a mix in the chain is really good. Some parts private, some public. The problem is management. Where private does excel better than public is foresight as long as the numbers justify it. Gov doesn’t like admitting problems until they happen. Private will circumvent a problem if the catastrophe is more expensive than the fix. Usually, not always. But no one celebrates a plane landing, except for the passengers. We all just talk about the crashes.


PG&E seems to contradict the idea that private sector will try to avoid expensive catastrophes


They’re the poster child situation why municipalities “should” convert to public grid. I quote should just because I don’t have a big dog in the fight, but I do somewhat agree. There’s a lot of interesting stories on the subject that should be researched.


France imports electricity in summer when the rivers are too warm for nuclear power and in winter they also start to have problems (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-election-power-ana...).


"France passed an ambitious energy law in 2015 with a target of cutting the share of nuclear in its electricity mix to 50 percent by 2025 from 75 percent currently, while investing in renewables and efficiency to curb consumption and heat loss."

Didn't know that.


Oh yes, such a "great" model :

- Overly complex fuel chain that actually makes the waste issue worse.

- Inability to keep the know-how for more than a few decades and corruption resulting in the loss of ability to build new reactors without big flaws (note that Japan seems to have the same issue).

- Inability of planning ahead for even a few decades resulting in new reactors not being built fast enough to compensate for the planned retirement of old reactors, with the most likely consequence : keeping old reactors running until one of them melts down.

- Inability to set up long term waste storage.


France has not solved climate change, because French emissions are very small in global terms.

Continued reliance on outdated nuclear technology might not have the same crucial global technology spillovers as investments in other clean energy (including advanced nuclear). Since the best path towards global decarbonization is through global technology spillover into emerging economies, the actors that have the best emissions score may, surprisingly, not be the most effective actors at reducing the global rate of emissions in the future.

This has some counterintuitive implications. Consider that Germany has higher carbon emissions than France even though it has invested more heavily in solar than its neighbor, which uses much more nuclear. Should advanced economies like Germany leave their nuclear plants running? Perhaps, but it will not make a very large dent in global emissions because 75% of all future emissions will come from emerging economies, which will not adopt the kind of (non-advanced) nuclear power currently in use in Germany & France.

Nuclear only contributes 5% to the world’s energy supply[159] and even in China, where regulation is lax and public opposition to nuclear is not as big an issue for policy-makers, few reactors are currently being built (_six_ in the last 18 months).

While advanced nuclear power in some advanced economies might actually reduce nuclear proliferation risk by using up nuclear material, in other countries, nuclear power might increase proliferation risks.[161]

It will not be used in many emerging economies.[162] Consider that only 1–5 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are currently plan to have commercial nuclear power and these countries are at least 10 years away from starting construction on nuclear plants.[163]

citations here: http://lets-fund.org/clean-energy


Generation 3 nuclear is producing power in France, right now. It is able to solve climate change and carbon emissions globally. The problems you list are psychological, not technical.

Gen 3 nuclear buys us time to get to Gen 4 nuclear which will buy us time to get to nuclear fusion. The theoretical work is proven, these more advanced technologies only need engineering solutions.


Which gen 3 nuclear plant is producing power in France? The flamanville gen 3+ nuclear plant is not operational yet.


Yeah, we should remove those pesky humans from the equation... But good news, nuclear can help with that !


You can dismiss "psychological" problems all you want, but that won't make them go away.


I am acknowledging that all the real problems are solved. The only roadblocks left are literally in our heads. Let’s talk it out :)


I'll laugh at you blind nuclear supporters when one the French reactors inevitability fails catastrophically. Unless I'm busy dying or evacuating to some place that has spare housing for a few million people.

I mean, nuclear is still better than fossils, but it's still a ridiculously stupid idea.


Personal attacks and uncivil comments will get you banned here. You've done this elsewhere too—that's not good. Would you mind reviewing the site guidelines and taking greater care to follow them on HN? We'd appreciate that.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Yes, I will.


Thanks!


There is no alternative to nuclear, if you care about cutting CO2 emissions. Wind and solar is necessairly paired with natural gas (or coal) because they cannot power a modern economy by themselves (and there is no battery technology capable of operating at city-scale).

So how else are you supposed to cut CO2 emissions?


We are gonna have to change the "modern economy".


Yes. Unfortunately, for you, it won't be easy to convince people to give up their high-end electronics, AC in the summer, and heating in the Winter, cheap vacation flights, etc. etc.

It is amazing to see how far people will go to deny the only solution to climate change - namely nuclear power.


> and there is no battery technology capable of operating at city-scale

Batteries aren't the only way to store energy. Isn't pumped hydraulic able to work at city scale?


> Isn't pumped hydraulic able to work at city scale?

Not really. Pumped hydro is able to work at the scale of a city, but not in the scale of many cities - effective pumped hydro requires very specific locations (a sizeable river with sufficient flow; a comparably high drop, and space for a large reservoirs not only above the dam but also below the dam) which are quite rare. The best spots for it are already used; you can't simply take a normal hydro power dam location and use it effectively for pumped hydro.

We could double the current use of pumped hydro; we could triple it; heck, perhaps we might use ten times of current pumped hydro if we're ready to destroy lots of ecosystems by altering major rivers, but it's physically impossible to have enough pumped hydro to cover half of our grid.


> effective pumped hydro requires very specific locations (a sizeable river with sufficient flow; a comparably high drop, and space for a large reservoirs not only above the dam but also below the dam) which are quite rare

I also thought that pumped hydro needed all that to work, until I found a study about potential locations for pumped hydro in my home state. First of all, you don't actually need a river with that much flow; you only need enough flow to replace the water lost through evaporation, and for the initial fill of either the lower or the upper reservoir. Second, both reservoirs can be completely separate, the lower reservoir doesn't need to be directly below the dam of the upper reservoir. Both reservoirs are connected by a tunnel, with the generator/pump being at some point within this tunnel.

So what you actually need is a pair of areas with suitable geology for a reservoir, one being higher than the other, close enough that the tunnel isn't too long (that study had tunnels of over 4 km, so they don't have to be very close), and a river near one of them.

> The best spots for it are already used; you can't simply take a normal hydro power dam location and use it effectively for pumped hydro.

The best spots for normal hydro would be the ones where the river is near the upper reservoir; pumped hydro allows using spots where the river is only near the lower reservoir. That's the insight I was missing before I found that study.

You could even use an already existing hydro power dam as the lower reservoir for pumped hydro, as long as there's a suitable spot for the upper reservoir nearby.


Disused coal mines have a surprisingly high capacity for that. And hydro is not nearly the only storage method aside from batteries.


- pumped-hydro won't work because there are very few places that have the conditions to enable it. Hydro in general is great, but we've pretty much dammed every river that can be dammed.

- batteries won't work because there is no technology today or incoming that can a) store enough to power a city for hours, days, or weeks and b) can even main storage across weeks or months (as would be needed since wind/solar varies seasonally and yearly)

So what other storage methods are left?


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

Search: