Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Mapped: The world’s coal power plants (carbonbrief.org)
168 points by acidburnNSA 66 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 164 comments



Proud of my country for once (Nuclear France)

We decarbonated our electricity in a 20 years timeframe (while the consumption was rising) thanks to nuclear power. I always wondered why no other country went that road and why they are still hesitating.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_France#/...


The consensus from public easily googleable sources seems to be the "Messmer plan", e.g. https://energytransition.org/2015/03/french-nuclear-power-hi... ; an ambitious goal to de-oil the economy entirely! It doesn't appear that CO2 entered into the picture at all.

The combination of factors was

- 1973 oil crisis

- almost no domestic oil production, small domestic gas and coal

- pre-existing military nuclear programme

- strong engineering culture and availability of skills

- strong statist/dirigiste culture of state megaprojects

- enough anti-Americanism to not just buy it in from Westinghouse

The UK didn't go down this path because of North Sea oil and anti-statist Thatcherism, along with a classic British failure to do sui generis advanced technology properly (AGR). Germany probably didn't go down this path due to coal lobbying. Few other countries had any nuclear experience in weapons programs, and the anti-proliferation concerns made it hard for them to do so in the 80s (e.g. Iraq built one and Israel blew it up, https://fas.org/nuke/guide/iraq/facility/osiraq.htm )


> Germany probably didn't go down this path due to coal lobbying

Germany and Austria is strongly anti-atom. It comes from cold war where Germany was primary nuclear target for Soviets and US.


I'd argue the largest factor was the accident at Chernobyl with a very real risk of contamination.

We haven't found a site for final storage yet either.


> We haven't found a site for final storage yet either.

Nuclear waste storage shouldn't ever be "final". Nuclear waste processing and recycling today is far more advanced than it was in the past. Nobody knows what we can do in the future.

It's intellectually dishonest to extrapolate technological progress of so-called green technologies, but then not afford the same to nuclear technology, which has effectively been left in limbo for decades.


Fuel can be reprocessed, but most nuclear waste is not fuel.

Nuclear has received 100’s of billions in funding and shows little signs of the massive improvement needed to be cost competitive. It’s going to take a ~60% cost reduction to just catch up with current rentable prices.

Giant concrete structures, armed guards, medical officers, highly trained staff, decommissioning etc. Nuclear has never been cheap, and shows little sign of becoming so in the next 10 years.


I could say the same about wind or solar, it all depends on what you mean by "significant". The difference is that nuclear can actually support virtually any nation's energy needs today, wind and solar (or any other "clean" form of energy) can not.


Based on what evidence? Replacing all infrastructure today is hardly worth it, but wind and solar backed up by battery or hydro storage costs less than even base load Nuclear power.

Load following nuclear power costs even more per kWh than base load nuclear power. Which is why France imported and exported so much electricity while being theoretically 100% nuclear.

PS: Even battery backed up nuclear seems to be much cheaper than peaking nuclear power based on current market prices.


> Based on what evidence? Replacing all infrastructure today is hardly worth it, but wind and solar backed up by battery or hydro storage costs less than even base load Nuclear power.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that the amount of hydro or battery storage needed to support base load is orders of magnitude beyond current capacities:

https://www.oulu.fi/blogs/how-much-storage-does-the-energiew...

Batteries themselves aren't that green anyway, Lithium can be considered a "conflict material" and there's no better "eco-friendly" alternative today.

Now I'm not saying technology and production can't or won't improve for these complements, but that's way into the future. If we count that progress in, we can't just discount nuclear progress.

> Load following nuclear power costs even more per kWh than base load nuclear power. Which is why France imported and exported so much electricity while being theoretically 100% nuclear.

Riddle me this, then: France has among the cheapest electricity prices in Europe, Germany has the highest after Denmark. France is almost entirely nuclear, Germany is big on wind, but also coal.

France imports/exports energy because that is how the grid in Europe works. If France didn't export to Germany, they'd need even more coal or natural gas to support base load. Germany's wind energy also causes peaks that need to be exported, sometimes at negative prices, more so than coal or nuclear:

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/why-power-prices-...


> France has among the cheapest electricity prices in Europe

No, France has extremely subsidized electricity for consumers, but the economy pays the real price. Notably, French nuclear power is generated by the government rather than private industry allowing for minimal transparency in these subsidies.

France regularly needs to import electricity to cover peak demand despite being one of the world’s top exporters of electricity. It also meeds to regularly operate nuclear power plants at below 100% output because the market price often can’t support operations let alone capital costs. This was true before wind or solar became significant energy sources.

This means if other countries had adopted Nuclear then France would have needed even more subsidies. In a theoretical world with increasing Nuclear production globally, it’s costs just keep rising because demand is not a steady state.


> No, France has extremely subsidized electricity for consumers, but the economy pays the real price.

According to [1], not only are there significant taxes on electricity for households, but non-household prices are far lower, so I don't see where you got this information.

> France regularly needs to import electricity to cover peak demand despite being one of the world’s top exporters of electricity.

Again, this is how the grid works. European countries both import and export electricity to even out demand and production. This is more efficient than building out extra capacity that isn't needed most of the time.

> It also meeds to regularly operate nuclear power plants at below 100% output because the market price often can’t support operations let alone capital costs.

Like coal or gas plants, nuclear plants can be regulated to meet demand. This is a good thing, because demand varies seasonally. A low or even negative market price means production is too high relative to demand. Basic economics.

This is actually a far bigger issue with wind energy, which cannot be regulated in the same way. You end up with negative prices more often, as shown in the article that I linked to you.

> This means if other countries had adopted Nuclear then France would have needed even more subsidies. In a theoretical world with increasing Nuclear production globally, it’s costs just keep rising because demand is not a steady state.

Yes, demand is not in a steady steady, but that's a far bigger issue with wind and solar energy, where unsteady demand meets unsteady output. That would require far more buffering than steady nuclear power.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php...


> Significant taxes on electricity.

They tax all electricity while subsidizing Nuclear generation. Much like how the US has both farm subsidies and sales taxes on food. This is arguably due to non domestic production. EDF‘s finances are also wacky with huge debt both on and off the books, plus a very odd insurance situation.

>Yes, demand is not in a steady steady, but that's a far bigger issue with wind and solar energy, where unsteady demand meets unsteady output. That would require far more buffering than steady nuclear power.

Not so fast.

Nuclear needs both daily storage and unused capacity seasonally, just like wind and solar. The issue with nuclear is it also costs vastly more per kWh and due to long build times you need over provision pushing that kWh figure up more. On top of that they still need maintain them so you need to over provision even more again increasing kWh costs. And you still need storage to hit 100%.

The France model is to actually use a lot of non Nuclear power. The numbers look much better until you consider what customers are actually using vs just the raw production numbers for the country vs total demand. Something like (450 * .75 -61) / (450 - 61 + 21) so consumption is ~67% Nuclear which is not bad, but a long way from 100%. And this is also with regularly reducing output which again increases prices.


> They tax all electricity while subsidizing Nuclear generation.

That's different from subsidizing electricity for consumers to make it more affordable. Like many industries, nuclear gets some amount of subsidies, but so do renewables. That doesn't mean subsidies are the reason why electricity is so much cheaper in France. In Germany, wind energy is heavily subsidized - and it is paid for with higher consumer prices.

> Nuclear needs both daily storage and unused capacity seasonally, just like wind and solar.

Yes, but orders of magnitude less. You keep nitpicking nuclear while completely ignoring the fact that wind and solar fails miserably on these metrics.

> The issue with nuclear is it also costs vastly more per kWh and due to long build times you need over provision pushing that kWh figure up more.

Of course nuclear isn't the cheapest form of electricity generation, neither is wind or solar. However, as of today it's the only one that can sustain a grid for almost any country without simultaneously relying on massive amounts of fossil fuels or extremely expensive buffering infrastructure.

If that wasn't the case, everyone would be doing wind and solar everywhere. If wind and solar was so clearly superior, it wouldn't need any subsidies at all. The path to a green future would be clear. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.


> That's different from subsidizing electricity for consumers

No, the only question is the relative subsidies vs taxes, and the revenue from taxes are significantly less than the subsidies. These taxes go right back to the industry and the government adds more to the pot, resulting in a net subsidy. (US telecom’s got some similar taxes passed.)

> orders of magnitude less

Nuclear ends up needing more storage because wind and solar can be crafted to roughly follow load. Yes, peak usage does not exactly match solar, but it’s vastly better than nuclear which produces 1/2 it’s output at night when demand goes way down. Sure, you can buy more nuclear capacity, but buying more wind / solar capacity also reduces the need for storage.

The other option is to vastly over build nuclear capacity which sit’s idle 99% of the year. That’s ridiculously expensive per kWh.

> Of course nuclear isn't the cheapest form of electricity generation, neither is wind or solar

New wind, solar, and hydro are the three cheapest electricity sources. Read up on some of those solar power purchase agreements, it’s hitting under 3c/kWh without subsidies. Solar is not a great fit near the poles, but you can cheaply transport it 1,000+ miles north.


> No, the only question is the relative subsidies vs taxes, and the revenue from taxes are significantly less than the subsidies.

I've tried to find the extent of subsidies to the nuclear industry in France and I failed. It's not public information as far as I can tell. So, how would you know?

> Nuclear ends up needing more storage because wind and solar can be crafted to roughly follow load.

I've given you a link that calculated that Germany would need decades worth of worldwide battery production to buffer its renewables. It also doesn't have near enough locations for hydro storage.

Meanwhile, the share of France's nuclear is far higher than that of Germany's renewables. If that explanation was true, France would have to have massively more buffering than Germany, which clearly isn't the case. This brings us to your alternative explanation:

> The other option is to vastly over build nuclear capacity which sit’s idle 99% of the year. That’s ridiculously expensive per kWh.

So in this explanation, not only are France's electricity costs in reality far higher than those of other countries because of nuclear subsidies, but those subsidies are so large that they depress the price of electricity to half of that of Germany, which has all this really "cheap" renewable energy.

To show how unlikely this is, take the cost offset for a single cent per kWh for France's energy usage[1]:

450 billion kWh * 0.01 EUR = 4.5 billion EUR

That amounts to almost 0.5% of total annual tax revenue[2] for a single cent, or over 5% just to explain the consumer price difference between Germany and France without accounting for all this supposed extra cost that nuclear is causing. Yet, somehow France manages to hide this enormous expense in its accounting?

[1] https://www.worlddata.info/europe/france/energy-consumption....

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxation_in_France#Taxes_by_so...

> New wind, solar, and hydro are the three cheapest electricity sources. Read up on some of those solar power purchase agreements, it’s hitting under 3c/kWh without subsidies.

I'm not contesting that they are cheap on paper, but they're not that cheap if you count in the infrastructure to actually make them support a nation's grid in the general case. Again, if it was all so easy why isn't everybody 100% invested in wind and solar everywhere? Why bother with anything else? You're ignoring a lot of factors, like land use or location requirements. There's a vast difference in wind output depending where it is, and hydroelectricity doesn't work at all without a suitable location.

Of course there are cases where wind, solar and especially hydro totally make sense. That doesn't mean it's a solution for all energy needs. We can make do without nuclear, we can make do without fossil fuels, but as it is, we can't make do without both. That's the issue at hand.


https://www.oulu.fi/blogs/how-much-storage-does-the-energiew...

Is wildly incorrect. When calculating storing wind and solar power you want to minimize total costs, in most cases this results in over productions resulting in a lot of ‘wasted’ power.

Do this and you don’t get 6TWh for Germany. The country only uses 556.5 TWh per year or ~1.5 TWh per day. 0.2 TWh is a high but much more reasonable estimate. Considering they already have .0377 TWh of storage or 19% of that suddenly the numbers don’t look that huge.

> massively more buffering than Germany

France has massive buffering from the rest of the European electric grid. It’s fine because they use peaking power not actually going 100% Nuclear, using significant peaking power generation.

PS: France uses 6,939.52 kWh (2014) per year. A 0.1 euro discount is 70$ per person per year, not exactly crazy money. Germany and much of Europe on the other hand has huge energy taxes which push up their bills.

France (2013) spending central government 487.7€ billion, 562.9 Social Security, Local 252 billion, quasi government bodies 81.3€ billion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_France


> The country only uses 556.5 TWh per year or ~1.5 TWh per day. 0.2 TWh is a high but much more reasonable estimate. Considering they already have .0377 TWh of storage or 19% of that suddenly the numbers don’t look that huge.

The "average" isn't the issue here. If you just look at the graphs you will see that actual production is well below the required ~0.8-1.9 TWh load for several days in a row. That's how the buffering requirements multiply. You can also clearly see how massively larger the discrepancy between production and load is, when compared to the stable output of a nuclear (or fossil fuel) plant.

> France has massive buffering from the rest of the European electric grid. It’s fine because they use peaking power not actually going 100% Nuclear, using significant peaking power generation.

France doesn't have any buffering for itself that the other countries don't also share. As you can hopefully see by just looking at the graphs, Germany currently needs far more buffering than France:

https://www.power-technology.com/features/featureovercapacit...

> France uses 6,939.52 kWh (2014) per year. A 0.1 euro discount is 70$ per person per year, not exactly crazy money.

A 0.1 EUR (=10 cents) discount is ~670 EUR per person per year, or roughly 40 billion EUR per year, just as I calculated earlier. This is more than the entire military budget. If this kind of money was really spent on nuclear subsidies, do you think it could just be kept secret? Wouldn't it be all over the media, wouldn't every renewables lobbyist be touting it, talking about "the big nuclear scam" going on in France?

> Germany and much of Europe on the other hand has huge energy taxes which push up their bills.

France also has those taxes[1], but the taxes in Germany are even higher to pay for the renewables[2].

[1] https://www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/France-electrici...

[2] https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/what-german-house...


Ops typo 0.01 as should have been obvious by the calculation.

If you just look at the graphs you will see that actual production is well below the required ~0.8-1.9 TWh load for several days in a row.

Only because they had insufficient production. If you do the optimization extra production vs vs storage. It's more or less X$/kWh for storage, but Y$/kWh / (numbers of hours you would be storing it) for generation.

(to simplify) If you pay say 100$ per kWh of storage and 1,000$ per kWh of generation then storage is only a net savings up to 10 hours between generation and usage.

This ends up working out so you want enough generation that in the absolute worst day you still produce more electricity than you need. Be that from nuclear or wind. It's much cheaper to do this with returnables over very large areas.

Overcapacity is not inherently a bad thing as long as it's cheaper on net than the other options. It does absolutely destroy more expensive sources of production, but that's how economies are supposed to operate.


> Ops typo 0.01 as should have been obvious by the calculation.

It's not obvious that you made a typo there. Sure, reducing the cost by one cent is only ~70$ per citizen per year. But it's also only one cent, which is not much of difference, so you wouldn't really have a point there. The price difference to Germany on the other hand is about ten cents (=0.1 EUR).

What's more likely, you got yet another thing wrong after getting so many things wrong, or it was a simple typo?

> Only because they had insufficient production. If you do the optimization extra production vs vs storage. It's more or less X$/kWh for storage, but Y$/kWh / (numbers of hours you would be storing it) for generation.

There are days where production is 1/10th of the requirement, followed by days where production is double that required. Some days, there just isn't enough wind. What's the overcapacity required there? Where exactly does it show up in your earlier calculation of kWh cost?

It's pretty telling that you're ready to point out the demand to production discrepancy for nuclear, but when it comes to wind, which has far higher such discrepancies, you basically ignore it.

> Overcapacity is not inherently a bad thing as long as it's cheaper on net than the other options. It does absolutely destroy more expensive sources of production, but that's how economies are supposed to operate.

Overcapacity destroys electricity infrastructure if it's not manageable anymore. Negative energy prices signify that the grid is nearing its limits.

Also, if you end up needing 5-10x more capacity than base load, is it really still cheaper?


Germany specifically has very high electricity prices, it’s a poor comparison to the rest of Europe even excluding France. https://1-stromvergleich.com/electricity-prices-europe/

Frances electricity prices are 0.01 euro’s lower than Great Britten a comparable economy, but France is still higher than much of Europe.

> There are days where production is 1/10th the requirement.

Wind production in a single country on it’s own is extremely variable.

Germany: “The day with the lowest wind yields was 24th July 2018. With an average output of 1338 MW, corresponding to 10 percent of the average daily output, only 32,1 GWh of wind power was fed in on this day.”

However, solar output on that day was not also 10% of normal.

Low solar power and low wind power days are inversely correlated. Further, variability decreases over larger geographic areas.

A realistic look at generation goes something like this.

As an optimization problem you need to compare daily demand which is seasonal and weather dependent with solar and wind generation which are also seasonal and weather dependent. Further, choosing wind locations that match your demand both seasonally and hourly. Figuring out the cost of excess capacity for each generating source.

After doing that you can back fill with imports and hydro generation which is dispatch able over time.

Storage is effectively a last resort, though after building it you want to maximize it’s use which means reducing the need to import and use hydro power.

Finally, on extremely unusual situations you ask some consumers to cut demand and finally use backup generators.


> Germany specifically has very high electricity prices, it’s a poor comparison to the rest of Europe even excluding France.

It's actually a great comparison, because Germany has put a lot of money into renewables, especially wind. Remember, we're comparing nuclear to renewables.

Earlier, you made the claim that renewables are so much cheaper than nuclear and that the only reason that nuclear is competitive is massive subsidies.

If that's true, Germany should at least be competitive. Which it would be, if you took out the taxes. The problem is, it's those taxes that pay for the renewables subsidies:

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

> Frances electricity prices are 0.01 euro’s lower than Great Britten a comparable economy, but France is still higher than much of Europe.

"Much of Europe" is countries with far lower incomes and little to no taxes on electricity[1]. Among comparable countries, France is among the cheapest, despite not having any geological advantages.

Anyway, the point is not that nuclear is so much cheaper. It really isn't, coal is both cheaper and can support a grid just as well. In this sense, Germany got the worst of both worlds: Lots of toxic coal but also high prices.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/images/e/...

> Wind production in a single country on it’s own is extremely variable.

Well yes, that's the issue.

> Low solar power and low wind power days are inversely correlated.

Perhaps, but solar also is far less viable economically.

> Further, variability decreases over larger geographic areas.

So does loss due to transmission.

> After doing that you can back fill with imports and hydro generation which is dispatch able over time.

Well, where do these imports come from? Germany is not exactly a small country, how big of an area do you need to have a stable supply of renewable energy?

Remember, your claim is that renewables are cheaper, yet they need all this infrastructure and an electrical grid spanning vast areas of different countries.

You haven't done the math, you haven't provided a source, so what actually supports this claim?

> Finally, on extremely unusual situations you ask some consumers to cut demand and finally use backup generators.

In other words, you just fail.


The high level waste can be reprocessed. The low level waste, which is ordinary materials which have been exposed to high neutron flux, can't.


It can't be recycled, that doesn't mean it never will be possible to neutralize it. This is a problem we can put off for a thousand years, we'll likely figure out a solution in the meantime.

You can't say the same about climate change.


Congrats. You all did really an impressive job. Having a ~single utility that could basically standardize on the fleet and share engineering services and operator training across the fleet really is a good example of how to run nukes cheaply too. Nukes in France are currently about 30% cheaper than natural gas. Really awesome. Climate solutions here we come!


Climate solutions here we don't come. There's a very strong political lobby in France against nuclear with plans to reduce nuclear power generation there within the next decade(s)[1].

Europe's other "big example" (Germany) will be closing all of it's nuclear power plants within years. Only to replace them by (Russian) gas powered plants. Currently "only" 35 % of Germany's power production (2018) is from "sustainable" sources. CO2 production will go up significantly when they start moving from nuclear to gas and other sources: there's no power source that generates as little CO2 per TWH as nuclear when looking at the entire life cycle.

The end result in the future will be: more absolute CO2 emissions (debatable), more CO2 emissions per generated TWH (absolute certainty), more deaths per generated TWH [2], higher consumer energy prices ("sustainable" is way more expensive than nuclear sustainable), more political dependency on Russia due to gas imports and no more electricity exports from France to surrounding countries (France is a net exporter of energy thanks to nuclear) potentially leading to a more unstable European grid.

I don't get it.

[1]https://www.nucnet.org/news/france-plans-to-delay-shutdown-o...

[2]https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-ener...


   I don't get it.
Politics.

In the 1980s the Green Party emerged in Germany, a powerful new left-wing party. Unlike most new parties, they didn't disappear quickly, but proved remarkably politically adept. Their original USP (unique selling point) was environmetalism in general, but extreme and well organised opposition to nuclear power in particular. At the time, all other parties supported nuclear (including the hard left, since the Soviet union was all in on nuclear). At the time de-carbonisation and global warming wasn't a big issue. Merkel's 2011 decision to abandon nuclear was a direct (and political) reaction to the Fukushima nuclear disaster and impending regional elections: Merkel feared (rightly) that with Fukushima fresh on the electorate's mind, her party would be savaged by the Greens on the nuclear question. In order to prevent that, she forced a 180 degree turn on her party and promised to phase out nuclear energy quickly.

As an aside, I've always wondered to what extent the anti-nuclear movements had tacit support from coal/oil producers/users.


Nah, the Green movement was there from the 60s and always against nuclear because of the weapons. Much of the fighting was over nuclear weapons testing, then later over nuclear waste disposal at sea. This came to a head with the French government's terrorist bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, causing the death of a photographer who was on board at the time.

Not everyone who disagrees with you is a shill.


I'm not sure what you are arguing for / and against. I did not say that everyone who disagrees with you is a shill. However, I've worked in enough political organisations to doubt that large scale grass-roots movements are likely only grass roots.

I agree that the connection with nuclear weapons triggers powerful emotions against nuclear electricity generation. But nuclear electricity and nuclear weapons are not the same thing. (Cf. do you expect much opposition against nuclear fusion electricity because of hydrogen bombs?)

Clearly opposition against nuclear weapons was in parts guided by the Soviet Union: for example the World Peace Council was set up by the Soviet Communist Party in 1948–50 to to campaign against nuclear weapons at a time when only the USA had them [1].

Given that oil and coal based electricity generation would have been vanquished by going full-in on nuclear electricity generation, I'd not be surprised if there had tacit or not so tacit support of anti-nuclear movements from ... interested parties.

    Rainbow Warrior
The German Green Party was founded in 1980, Rainbow Warrior was in 1985. Much more important than the Rainbow Warrior event were the Three Mile Island accident (1979) and even more the Chernobyl disaster (1986).

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


> But nuclear electricity and nuclear weapons are not the same thing.

No, but distinguishing between the two from the outside can be tricky even for a small army of IAEA inspectors, cf the Iranian and Iraqi nuclear programmes.

> Clearly opposition against nuclear weapons was in parts guided by the Soviet Union

What I'm arguing against was your original "I've always wondered to what extent the anti-nuclear movements had tacit support from coal/oil producers/users." and the nearby comment "but here's an issue (Germans switching from nuclear to Russian gas) where the Russians would obviously benefit strongly both economically as well as politically."; it's very common these days to allege that people aren't who they say they are or are backed by shadowy forces, on the basis of zero evidence, and when this is levelled against the Left there's a whiff of McCarthyism there too.

As you say, the Chernobyl disaster was the end of Europe believing that nuclear power was inherently safe.

(The more I think about it, the more the reason nobody cared much about CO2 in pre-90s environmentalism was that the existential risk of nuclear war was seen as a much higher priority!)


    it's very common these days 
    to allege that
So? The reason that's very common is the increase public understanding that this is often happening. There are several reasons fo this, including: leaks like Wikileaks, opening of Soviet-block achieves (e.g. Stasi), transparency laws that force more transparency on lobbying, a massive increase in the amount of lobbying which means more and more people work in this domain, increasing sensitivity to such issues (e.g. Facebook, Cambridge Analytica). Anecdata, but I've personally been involved with an NGO that a big international oil company tried to use to get oil drilling right. Countries like Saudi Arabia have everything to loose from de-carbonification, and we've seen that they are not shy to undermine anything that threatens the affluence of the ruling families.

   against the Left 
So? Is the left immune from being used and sponsored? It's well know for example that Germany supported not only Lenin's Bolsheviks, but also socialist rivals (Leon Trotsky, then a Menshevik, who published antiwar articles in Paris and then New York City). During the Napoleonic wars, France aided Irish rebels to undermine Britain, and Polish nationalists against Russia. Britain, in turn, backed Spanish guerrillas fighting French occupation forces. See e.g. [1].

   whiff of McCarthyism 
The funny thing is that the original McCarthyite accusations were (in some sense) not without evidence. Maybe McCarthy looked at the wrong people, but there was Soviet subversion, up to the highest levels of the US government (e.g. Harry Dexter White [2]) famous for tricking John Maynard Keynes at the Bretton Woods Conference.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/opinion/was-lenin-a-germa...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Dexter_White


I'm not one to easily believe the West's "the Russians did it" rhetoric, but here's an issue (Germans switching from nuclear to Russian gas) where the Russians would obviously benefit strongly both economically as well as politically.

Or to put it in Putin's eloquent trolling words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDQDyt0B-1E


There are plenty of parties interested in preventing nuclear: oil producers, coal producers, gas producers, owners of oil and coal power plants. Also bear in mind that in the 1980s, when the anti-nuclear power movement became a serious political force, Russia as a state didn't exist. OTOH, the Soviet union was heavily invested in nuclear power.


I don't get it either.

Pretty much everyone who looks at it agrees that nuclear costs more than solar, wind and batteries and is a non-solution to climate change due to cost alone.

Yet, 'nuclear realists' show up in every thread to complain about how stupid lefties and greens are for not embracing nuclear.

If you look at support for nuclear in the US it's noticeably higher for Republicans, who also are distinctly less likely to be in line with reality on various related issues.

Sadly I have to assume that most of the people loudly supporting nuclear are actually part of the problem, voted for Donald "climate change is a Chinese hoax, so let's subsidize coal" Trump and now use this idea that Nuclear is being shut down by hysterical greenies as a way to salve their conscience, because they know they're actively involved in destroying the planet, but will feel better if they can convince themselves that "the other side does it too".

Current nuclear is too expensive and too slow to build to be any use for anything but a distraction in this matter.

Yes I know, you think that cost of regulation is also the fault of lefties and greenies and everything would be fine if the free market could just do its thing and build nuclear everywhere, but even in China, where they can basically do whatever they want, nuclear is not the answer. For boring economic reasons.

You'll never get a nuclear fan to meet you on that territory. Rhetoric about it being better than coal and the lefties and greens holding them back is all they have. I assume this is because they know they're in trouble if facts come up, so they just avoid them.

I saw someone attack the very concept of "net present value" rather than accept the answers it gave for nuclear investment.

It's not a good solution, no matter how hysterical the people are about nuclear radiation risks. Don't focus on them, focus on the people who say it's too expensive if you have a genuine answer.

And stop voting Republican if you expect your opinion on anything environment-related to be taken seriously, they're actively working against this goal.


> Pretty much everyone who looks at it agrees that nuclear costs more than solar, wind and batteries and is a non-solution to climate change due to cost alone.

So far nuclear power has done a lot more to quell climate change than solar. The world leader for dealing-with-climate-change is France, on something like 80% nuclear. The situation might have changed in the last 5 or so years, but realistically nuclear has always been obviously workable because it has been demonstrated to work.

> If you look at support for nuclear in the US it's noticeably higher for Republicans, who also are distinctly less likely to be in line with reality on various related issues.

That'll be a contender for the worst argument you'll make today; profiling is a very bad way of reasoning when the alternative is arguing from actual evidence.

> I saw someone attack the very concept of "net present value" rather than accept the answers it gave for nuclear investment.

NPV does have weaknesses at assessing long-term infrastructure spending, it tends to favour short-term cash grabs and a hope that something else comes up in the medium-long term. It is a great tool for assessing two broadly similar options but it isn't the be-all and end-all.

> Sadly I have to assume that most of the people loudly supporting nuclear are actually part of the problem

This really underscores a vibe I'm reading in your post that I do not like. You don't seem to want the environmental problem to be solved, you want Republicans to feel bad and mend their ways (on a rather questionable assumption that they are more disconnected from reality than any other group). If you wanted the problem to be solved you'd probably find your way to something more like "Wow, we can get this solved even if they don't believe in climate change! What a great resolution that would be!".


The thing about nuclear is that it has a major "told you so" moment since if we adopted it 50 or so years ago we would have been not burning as much coal for all of those years. It /is/ better than coal environmentally. Ironically even several exclusion zones from major fuck ups would keep the area purer than blanketing it with coal exhaust and lesser tailings than the sheer bulk of coal mining.

Battery and solar applications just weren't ready in the past yet in scaleability.

I won't get into the political with us or against us strawmen.


> Pretty much everyone who looks at it agrees that nuclear costs more than solar, wind and batteries and is a non-solution to climate change due to cost alone.

Could you point to some studies on this? I am open to persuasion but as far as I'm aware, the battery technology is not there yet, and lots of countries would struggle to find enough land to get all their power from solar + wind.


Most countries also live in a single time zone and have winters too, so having enough generation capacity in the winter alone would already skyrocket the cost by an order of magnitude. Add to that energy storage and realistically we are not looking at solar and wind as significant power sources in the next couple of decades for sure.


> solar and wind as significant power sources in the next couple of decades

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/...

Hard to declare 33% as "not significant". Yes, that chart also shows a significant contribution from nuclear, but it really does take much longer to build.


I would change "batteries" to some kind of storage, because while current chemical batteries are beginning to look like it could possibly evolve into something useful for longer term storage, it's not there yet as you say.

Here's the first study I found:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096014811...

Regarding land: Lots of small countries don't have the resources either in the current situation and import oil, gas and coal.


Morocco is doing interesting things:

https://edition-m.cnn.com/2019/02/06/motorsport/morocco-sola...

Store heat in salt for use at night time.

They are really ambitious it seems.

Obviously no longterm storage, but interesting non the less I think.


I don't agree that all pro-nuclear people are right wing. It's historically false for one. It's also financially unfeasible for private industry with current power plant design. The best model for current technology would be a large government backed program to build a national utility powered by nuclear with secure sources of fuel production and methods of disposal all of which requires influence at the state level to overcome nimbyism. It may even need to be run at a net loss but surely the value of removing such a large source of carbon emission and pollution is worth it.


It's not necessarily all pro-nuclear people being right-wing, just a correlation - which very quickly turns into a polarising issue.

> The best model for current technology would be a large government backed program to build a national utility powered by nuclear with secure sources of fuel production and methods of disposal all of which requires influence at the state level to overcome nimbyism

i.e. France.


Excellent point.

Some people feel judged by other people's lifestyle and personal choices.

Case in point: https://www.google.com/search?q=prius+repellent


I must have struck a nerve again - look at the downvotes...


I don't think new nuclear power (in any form) can be online in time to matter. Climate crisis is here.

And where would we even put it? Need water for cooling. And water crisis is also happening.

That said, I still want traveling wave reactors. We need to dispose of our stockpiles. And if we get some useful energy out of it, yay.

(Or dump our stockpiles into a subduction zone.)


What are you suggesting as an alternative? As I understand it, we aren't ready for storage of renewable energy either.


Storage is an interesting problem, but it's also a problem for nuclear. You don't get nuclear peaker plants because they cost so much you need to run them flat out, and then export your excess to other countries, plus subsidize your nuclear program under the table, before the math even starts to work out.

Someone suggested that you could use the excess electricity to generate hydrogen. Yes you could, but you could generate more hydrogen for less money with solar/wind.

Two options, with similar drawbacks, one of which is cheap and easy to build (well, conparitively, those windmills are stupid big) and roll out around the globe and one that isn't.

People are seriously working right now on how to get to 100% renewables. Lots of interesting proposals and plans. Basically every government is on board with this. It's just fiddling with the details. 80% is considered pretty easy.

No one is working on aiming for 100% nuclear because it's just a plain stupid idea. Build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it levels of stupid, as similarly it wouldn't even solve the problem.

Yet somehow you can pretend to be the adult in the room by armchair quarterbacking it as what we should have done if the sensible people were in charge.


> No one is working on aiming for 100% nuclear because it's just a plain stupid idea.

That was the France plan from the 1970s: 100% nuclear, as a way of getting off oil dependency. As we can see, 80% was achievable, 100% wasn't, and the decommissioning costs are starting to become a question.


I'm observing, not suggesting. Not an expert, just a self-preserving layperson.

--

As I currently understand it:

Most power generation will addressed with wind plus solar, and adopting direct power for our grid. The challenges here are time, money, politics. We'll need to prop up existing nuclear during the transition. Say 10-20 years. Better batteries (storage) will be better, sure. But batteries are no longer a blocker.

We can kinda us see how transportation will play out. 20-30 years to transition to EVs. Carbon taxes to greatly discourage shipping and air travel.

Construction and agriculture are all but unaddressed, much less solved.

--

Meanwhile, atmospheric carbon will continue to rise due to burning forests, ocean acidification, thawing tundra. These "natural" sources are 2-3x greater than anthropogenic. They are in a positive feedback loop. They are currently unstoppable.

For which we have no plan.

We'll need carbon capture. Olivine, CO2-to-ammonia, CO2 scrubbers, algae bioreactors are the only concrete proposals I've heard (and now remember). It won't be enough.

We should dump money into every half-way plausible idea (a la X Prizes) and hope some of it works. Somehow remove carbon faster than it's being added.

More far fetched notions will be tried too. Dumping iron into the ocean. Aerosols to dim sunlight. Light up some volcanos. Hopefully something helps.


We don't need to suggest alternatives here. The market is already supplying them.

Yes, long-term storage is expensive. But there are options: Overprovisioning, hydropower, thermal storage if you just need to heat up houses, thermal-electric storage if you need the electricity, biomass (plants store the energy).

Thermal and thermal-electric storage is still in its infancy, but if you show up with the need and the money, you could buy a plant to be installed in a year or two.


France being a net exporter isn't a positive of nuclear, it's one of its drawbacks. Every country can't be a net exporter, so Nuclear in France is subsidized by sales to countries who do not have their own nuclear.

If those countries built their own nuclear then neither they nor France would be economic since everyone would have the excess power at the same time. We can't export power to other planets, so nuclear is not an economic solution for the whole globe, it only works at small scale when the rest of the system can absorb the inflexible power.

Note that wind and solar have similar issues, which require geographic spread, oversupply and storage to meet. They can do that and still be cheaper than nuclear in an apple to apples comparison.


The reality is that France is the only country in Europe who converts most of it's energy through nuclear. So in that reality it's definitely an advantage to be a net exporter. This advantage becomes even more pronounced as other countries switch to non-continuous power sources such as wind and solar. Those sources have production drops around the same times (at nights and cloudy days with little wind), where France can charge a nice premium to produce nuclear for them.

"and storage to meet" --> There is currently no economically viable way to store electric energy from "sustainable" non-continuous sources at a large scale. If there was, we wouldn't be having this discussion right now.


> everyone would have the excess power at the same time […] it only works at small scale when the rest of the system can absorb the inflexible power.

You know that nuclear power is pretty flexible right ? France actually pilot most of the load variations through its nuclear plants. You can see it here: [1]. The only thing you can't really do at scale is turning on and off a reactor every once in a while, but you can easily go from 100% to 50% power in a few hours. You can even go further (down to 25% with recent fuel) but then you'll start burning the fuel in a sub-obtimal way, so they limit the number of times they go bellow 50% power.

[1] https://rte-france.com/fr/eco2mix/eco2mix-mix-energetique


Yes I know. It doesn't change the economics as there's no fuel savings. It's the same as overbuilding solar or wind and dumping the excess, you still pay the full price for the hardware and running costs so there's no real benefit to turning it down. You might as well find a cheap productive use for it (like making hydrogen as suggested by another commenter). But you'd be able to make that electricity that you're throwing away or using for hydrogen production cheaper with a non nuclear source.


While this is partly true (but not 100% accurate, you do save fuel when you reduce power) that doesn't change the fact that EDF does indeed use nuclear to pilot the power supply and that would work even with no European network to buy the surplus (they would make a little less money indeed, but that wouldn't change their business model at all).


Perhaps a larger electric grid would solve the issue? Power consumption varies greatly by time of day and even greater by local climate. Or perhaps we should put the excess to good use, desalination and pumping of water is very power intensive but would allow us to green the Sahara. Where there is abundance there is innovation, I'm sure we could find a use for it.


Putting off peak nuclear power to work generating hydrogen fuel is an option.

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


Possibly as it was achieved with state-run companies with the french government doubling down whilst others (I'm looking at you UK) privatised electricity production


Same for Switzerland. And even better: We're privileged to have the Alps in the middle of our country making hydroelectricity a very viable and renewable option.


I recently went on a trip to a power station and came away with the understanding that as far as electricity goes, Switzerland is somewhat screwed.

Switzerland has 5 nuclear plants operating right now, which produce 34% of its electricity (with hydro accounting for another 60%) [0] however these plants are approaching the ends of their lives and a referendum in 2017 banned new plants [1], so we need to find an alternative way to replace them.

Expanding hydro isn't an easy option because there's nowhere to build new dams (and the populace is generally against it) and the glaciers that provide the water are shrinking due to climate change. This will produce a burst of extra capacity but following that hydro won't be a viable option. There are plans to turn a few existing resevoirs into pumped storage facilities [2] but this isn't a great deal of capacity.

Wind can be a part of the overall solution but it's not enough. The Swiss government (optimistically) plans to have ~300GWh/month by 2050 [3] but that's only ~5% of Switzerland's current consumption.

Solar is another potential part of the solution but current capacity is minimal and adoption hasn't been going well [4].

The Swiss government has a 2050 energy plan [5] but it doesn't seem realistic to me. For one, they expect a 43% decrease in overall energy consumption _and_ a 13% decrease in electricity consumption. Assuming most of the non-electric consumption is from cars and it's reduced in favor of EVs, I just don't see how electricity consumption can be less than it is today.

In the end, I think Switzerland is going to be heavily dependent on importing energy from elsewhere in Europe unless it removes the nuclear ban in the immediate future. It doesn't look likely that it's going to be able to replace the lost capacity with renewables quickly enough.

[0]: https://www.eda.admin.ch/aboutswitzerland/en/home/wirtschaft...

[1]: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/vote-opener/43190762

[2]: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/hydropower_swiss-alps-proposed-...

[3]: https://www.uvek-gis.admin.ch/BFE/storymaps/EE_WEA/index.php...

[4]: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2018/07/12/switzerland-close-to-...

[5]: https://www.bfe.admin.ch/bfe/en/home/policy/energy-strategy-...


Is Switzerland ready to destroy the nature for cheap hydroelectricity?


I’m not sure about all hydropower in Switzerland but Grand Dixence is very high up. I’ve been there myself and the nature doesn’t seem to be disturbed. I don’t think there are any salmon swimming up from the Pacific like in a lot of rivers in the US. What exactly are your concerns about wildlife being disturbed?


Where did I mention wildlife?? One just needs to flood lots of area to build hydropower plants. Please look at this picture: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Norway...


Because of costs.

If you look at the reasons in France, I suspect CO2 did not matter much, but rather that it was a matter of national security.

If the European nations of today started to feel threatened, I'm sure you'd see plenty of public funding for renewables and nuclear.

Anyway, we'll get there some day, it least with renewables that are falling in price year by year.


I was taught the main reason was oil independence. De Gaulle did not want to depend on freshly independent Algeria, Saudi Arabia or Russia.

It was in the 70s, CO2 emissions were not yet identified as a serious problem but peak oil was already a known problem.


What I especially don't get: as far as I know all the security risks already apply for most of the countries near France. Sure, Belgium could build coal power plants, but if anything goes seriously wrong with a nuclear reactor in France, they're still screwed.


My impression is that France's nuclear policy was born out of their "Thanks, but no thanks" relationship to NATO. Meaning that France's domestic energy was an outgrowth of their decision to go their own way for defense (post Suez Canal?).


You mentioned the benefit, lower carbon emissions.

You didn't mention the cost.

I searched "France nuclear waste." The first response was a BBC article https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26425674 saying

"France generates around three quarters of its electricity from nuclear power but despite decades of activity it is no nearer a solution to the perils of nuclear waste. Many countries agree the hazardous material - some of it at temperatures of 90C - has to be disposed of deep below ground where it can be isolated from all living things for tens of thousands of years whilst the radiation slowly reduces."

Tens of thousands of years is long.

Unless I'm missing something, we have no idea the problems that may arise in a period longer than since Egyptian pyramids.

I'm comparing nuclear pollution not to coal, but to had similar resources been put into reducing consumption.


The claim that nuclear waste has to be stored for millennia is a false premise.

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste#Re-use

It would be unwise to gamble on technological progress making 100% green energy feasible, but not making safe nuclear waste disposal feasible. Consider that nuclear waste can be stored temporarily way into the future, but climate action and reliable energy is needed right now.

If I had to choose between the environmental impact of climate change and the odds of some nuclear leaks thousands of years down the road, I'd go with nuclear. Such radiation isn't that harmful and the effects will either be localized or diluted.


That's a much smaller problem than the problems coal power creates.


> I always wondered why no other country went that road and why they are still hesitating.

Because when things go wrong they go really wrong and many times we see capitalism continuously move the goal post on safety rules. A plant designed for 30 years with an acceptable 1cm crack tolerance surpasses both limits, lobbying occurs, and then it's now all of a sudden designed for 40 years and 3cm cracks.


> Because when things go wrong they really go wrong.

My impression is that the main reason is poor education and scaremongering, rather than actual causalities. When comparing nuclear with other energy sources, nuclear is still quite safe in deaths/TWh, see for example [1].

[1] https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-ener...


Imagine if Chernobyl happened in the middle of Europe (it _can_ happen again). Imagine if large parts around it became uninhabitable for hundreds of years.

This risk is not captured by a single deaths/TWh number, so please stop comparing this when debating (current) nuclear energy options (not talking about future designs or even fission-based plants)


Fuel fire to atmosphere is not particularly likely at the remaining Chernobyl type reactors, never mind more safety oriented modern designs.

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

The Fukushima disaster nicely demonstrated that there is lots of risk, but the incredible severity of the release at Chernobyl is probably going to be historically unique.

(Fukushima released quite a lot of material, mostly leaking Cesium into groundwater (and then the ocean). Chernobyl released several metric tons of fuel directly into the atmosphere...)


So you're saying the Fukashima incident is completely acceptable? Oh yeah, tons of irradiated ground water is fine because it's leaking into the ocean, what is this 1800s logic? Why do we care about plastic garbage, it's way out in the ocean!


Fukushima took a horrific natural disaster and from memory roughly doubled the economic cost. An area of land has been sterilised, which is not really that scary when you consider 71% of the surface of the earth is ocean and already uninhabitable - we manage fine.

There are massive social costs of displacing ~half a million of people all at once; added about 25% to the displacement caused by the original tsunami. Realistically, the government evacuation was probably the unacceptable part of the story. It was clearly excessively paranoid.

The health impacts of living next to Fukushima for 10 years and though the disaster appear to be less damaging than living in a coal mining region for 10 years.

As an engineer, theoretically I could in my life time screw up a decision and be responsible for killing 10 people. I'd much rather have Fukushima on my conscience.

To put it bluntly; if the situation is assessed without an anti-nuclear lens then yes Fukushima was acceptable. Not completely acceptable, as obviously they could have done better. And this is after scouring the history of the nuclear industry across the entire globe and picking the 2nd worst incident, ever.


No, I said The Fukushima disaster nicely demonstrated that there is lots of risk.

But people should analyze the risk as it exists, not shout about another Chernobyl. That a wealthy, stable nation failed to account for a situation with pretty strong historical evidence is not encouraging. And then there were multiple relatively inexpensive ways that Fukushima could have been better prepared.


> But people should analyze the risk as it exists, not shout about another Chernobyl

Well as you said, there are a lot of consequences and risks even if it's not another Chernobyl.

> And then there were multiple relatively inexpensive ways that Fukushima could have been better prepared.

And this is what it really comes down to. Can nuclear power be made safe? Yes, but typically stupidity, profits, and capitalism take precedence. Again, in the US nearly all operation nuclear power plants are operating past their designed life and have cracks larger than the allowable tolerances. Power plants are expensive to build and profitable to keep running so just like every other capitalist business/plant, you invest barely any money into fixes/repairs, you instead spend money on bending the rules to stay in business longer, and you run it into the ground, typically until failure. At the end of the day the owner of the company can declare bankruptcy, shut down the company, and go on with his life on some island away from any repercussions from the destruction caused.


also it takes a more long term vision than any corporation currently has. France electricity production is mostly state-owned and the government can afford to take a longer term view


In Vietnam the plan to build a nuclear power plant was shelved due to the lack of fund and opposition from the people. Guess what replaced it? Three coal power plants! As if that is any cleaner! Russia being embargoed isn't helping either, as we intended to use Russian nuclear technology.

As a developing country, Vietnam's electricity consumption will triple around 2030, overtaking Great Britain around 2027. Coal will provide half of that, as renewables alone is not enough. But what else can us developing countries do? Stop developing and stay poor forever?


> As if that is any cleaner!

To further emphasize your point, coal emissions and other air pollution from fossil is currently killing 4.2 million people per year [1]. Nuclear plants in their entire history have net saved over 2 million lives simply by displacing some of these air pollution deaths (while also preventing over 70 billion tonnes CO2-eq). Nuclear is far far cleaner and safer than coal, and that's an understatement.

[1] https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/


> But what else can us developing countries do? Stop developing and stay poor forever?

This is sad to see, because many of the environmentalists that I've talked to seem to expect that this is the path that the developing countries will actually take.

It's totally unfair that the developed world was able to bootstrap themselves into their current state using dirty power sources, continue to generate a lot of dirty power themselves, and now expect the developing world to somehow leap-frog them and build clean generating capacity from the start. But it just seems to be human nature – just like how the social safety net in the developed world is being pulled out from under the younger generations, now that the older generations no longer need it.


Solar panels weren't commercially viable until the mid 20th century. Nuclear power the same. Lithium-ion batteries came even later. None of this stuff even existed when first world countries were industrializing.

Now it's cheaper than coal. Look at the map and notice how many new coal plants are being built in Europe or even the US -- none. The only reason it still even exists is the existing installed base of power plants that have already sunk their capital costs, and half of those are still getting shut down because they can't compete even then. Coal is garbage. Building new coal fired power plants is nonsense even before the environmental impact is considered.

Pretending that first world countries burned coal because it was in some way better is revisionist. It was because the better alternatives we have now didn't exist yet. The path to modern power generation doesn't inherently require building a bunch of coal fired power plants and then knocking them down to replace them with something actually good. They can just skip to the end -- there isn't even any good reason not to do that.


They can't skip to the end, as solar, wind + storage is still not economically viable compared to burning things.


This a) clearly isn't true, b) goes against parent's claims, and most importantly c) is contraindicated by the fact (as per parent) that 'first world nation states' are not currently building power plants that, as you put it, burn things. This is because it's economically more viable to go solar, wind, storage - than coal now (and perhaps, if not today, then clearly within a year or two, gas).


> This is because it's economically more viable to go solar, wind, storage

Sorry, but this is just ridiculous. If you need power all year long and only have say 250 sunny days and even less predictable winds, you are really looking at an order of magnitude higher price here than burning fossils. If you only use a little bit of that power able to directly satisfy a little bit of demand without storage, then it's not as expensive, but still overall significantly more expensive than burning fossils. The only reason it can even be deployed is if governments promise massive returns of investments and let investors get rich, which of course ends up hurting consumers with huge electricity prices. The rest of the non first world simply cannot afford that.

If it was economically viable, investors would just invest into solar and wind farms everywhere in the world on their own to undercut all those fossil competitors.


You're assuming that countries with no existing infrastructure would build it the same way we did.

If you're a small African village, having a couple of solar panels is way better than a coal power plant. You don't need roads and trains to continuously ship in coal or the lights go out. You can get more buildings electrified before you have a stable power grid because you have decentralized generation. You can have small/cheap storage batteries because you build infrastructure to begin with that demand shifts to during the day -- pressurize a water tank during sunlight hours so that you have running water through the night with no nighttime power consumption. Use high efficiency LED lighting to minimize how much battery you need. And so on. All of which is cheaper when you design for it from the start.

Whereas if you're at the stage of India or China with a real power grid where you have to start worrying about baseload, that's when you build nuclear. Assuming that declining storage costs don't eventually make even that unnecessary.

About the only thing fossil fuels are still good for is as an emergency battery for long periods of low generation from renewables. But then you're not building them as baseload power generation and they only get run one week out of the year. And even then it's still not coal, because you can do that with natural gas, which is currently cheaper (and cleaner and emits less carbon).


Ground up infrastructure can only recoup some of the energy storage costs and mostly for home use. It's not going to help a steel factory, for example, or help with industrial use in general which ultimately has to compete on cost globally.


When you're at early stages of development you don't have steel factories. When you reach later stages you build nuclear. To the extent that an intermediate stage even exists, it's very short, because once you have roads and ports and a stable government you get foreign investment.

To get the first aluminum smelter the first world had to invent it. To get one now you just have to build it -- or have someone else build it for you. Then you power it with a ton of cheap solar panels and only run it during daylight hours.

So why would waste money building a bunch of coal fired power plants that you won't even need in a couple of years?

And why would it be uncompetitive on cost globally if everyone else stops burning coal too?


How else can solar wind and batteries have been invented? Charcoal, coal, oil, gas were all necessary economic fuels for the past 200 years. Without those we couldn't have ever had the energy to create cleaner options. Now they're available, those cleaner options should be being deployed hugely everywhere. However, it comes down to fossil fuels not paying for climate costs and air pollution costs, thus they have seemed cheaper on the surface.


Sadly, coal power plants release more radiation directly into the atmosphere than nuclear, due to naturally occurring isotopes embedded in the coal ore.

So because they were so scared of potential radiation, they ended up ... getting definite radiation instead.

Winning!


> Sadly, coal power plants release more radiation directly into the atmosphere than nuclear,

More on average. Far less worst case.


If we use worst case for everything then we should treat all coal mining as setting literally every coal vein on fire and unextinguishable a la Centralia, PA.

Absolute worst case isn't a very sane way of setting assumptions or we would bar all surgery because of the risk of it killing people.


Average is the worst case, as everyone has to deal with it. The chance of anything going wrong with a modern nuclear facility is astronomically low.


> Average is the worst case, as everyone has to deal with it.

That's true if: (1) No one in the worst case receives a kind of damage that is not compensable, and

(2) You have systems in place so that all the people who experience better than average results compensate all those who receive worse than average results.

> The chance of anything going wrong with a modern nuclear facility is astronomically low.

The chance of anything going wrong in a modern design, implemented without cutting corners, and operated without cutting corners is, yes.

Whether you trust the poltiico-economic system in your country (and that of whoever is providing design/build support, for countries where that isn't purely domestic) is an open question.

Social factors are part of the risk calculus. Nuclear disasters have generally not been unavoidable consequences of the technical knowledge at the time they were constructed and operated occuring at their irreducible rate, they've been symptoms of failures of the social systems involved in planning the deployment and use of the technology. You can't assess the real risk of nuclear from the risk posed by the technology when properly applied in an ideal social context alone.


The Huntly power plant in New Zealand is mainly natural gas now. It does maintain the last two coal generators in New Zealand but the intention of these are to be used as an emergency supply when there's a shortfall from hydro and wind. It's not fired consistently and it's usage fluctuates renewable generation in NZ from ~95% when it's off to ~80% when it's running. It was supposed to be shut down in 2016 but that was pushed back to 2025 when NZ is supposed to be above 90% renewable generation consistently.


This does not include other industrial users who are burning coal.

For example the use of coal in Swedish steel industry (and steel industries around the world). This energy use in coal is significant, the statistics in the following link show that it is using around 13 TWh per year in Sweden, which is approximately equivalent to 20 years of power consumption for Stockholm's municipality.

https://www.jernkontoret.se/en/the-steel-industry/industry-f...


Let's see...

2024100 MW (2018) of coal power would translate to roughly 1,76 Gt of CO2 emissions (ballparking an average of 870g CO2 / kW produced). That's 1,76 billion tonnes of CO2 - a hefty environmental price for electricity.

If the same power was produced in nuclear power plants that figure would be something like 0,02 Gt of CO2 (calculating at 0,012 kg CO2/kW) a 98.6% reduction of emissions.

Sure nuclear is more expensive, but what is a global ecosystem worth?

Food for thought.


I live in Poland which is one of the notorious coal using countries (roughly 0.5% of world's population and 1% of world's CO2 emissions). For Poland this list of coal power plants is not complete - it does not contain smaller CHP (combined heat and power) plants. However these facilities are cleaner and more efficient than burning coal at individual households, so their environmental impact is probably positive.


And also our biggest power plant in Bełchatów is burning lignite, which is probably the worst type of coal you could be burning for power generation. It looks like it's scheduled for closing from that graph?

And yes, the town that I'm from has a coal mine and a heat producing unit next to it which burns coal to heat the entire town through a system of municipal hot water delivery to all apartment blocks and most private houses.


>It looks like it's scheduled for closing from that graph?

It is not, it's going to be operating for as long as they can mine enough lignite from current mine (so until around 2037).

There are talks of opening new mine in Złoczew, that should support Bełchatów power plant for many years to come.

Also, Opole power plant is marked on this map as closing where it was just expanded this year and there are absolutely no plans of closing it.


“than burning coal at individual households” wait, what? who’s burning coal at home? :) can you imagine the discussions in those households?


What do you mean? There's still plenty of houses in Poland that use regular coal for heating. There's been a lot of movement towards banning it but there's always the "but what about poor people" argument. Sometimes you can get funding for replacing a coal fired boiler with either one that burns eco-pellets or a gas one, but people are often unwilling as both fuels are more expensive than just buying a tonne of coal at the beginning of every winter - the argument that made my grandparents switch(and only last year!) from a coal fired boiler to a gas one was purely one of convenience, grandpa is too old now to go to the boiler room every few hours to add some coal to the fire, so a gas boiler makes it easier for them. But of course they complained about the absolute fortune that gas will cost them over coal.


"What do you mean? There's still plenty of houses in Poland that use regular coal for heating."

you mean directly burning it? or indirectly from a coal plant that produces electricity and/or heating? why not use wood? why coal of all things?

lived in a bunch of european countries. first time i hear about it.

is this common in poland? or more of an outlier?


>>you mean directly burning it? or indirectly from a coal plant that produces electricity and/or heating? why not use wood? why coal of all things?

Directly in coal fired boiler. As to why - because it's very cheap. Like I said, my grandparents would usually buy a 1000kg of coal for the winter, it would cost them.....800PLN? So like.....200 euro? And that was for a big 250sqm house. Wood would be easily quadruple that, but the bigger problem is that it burns too quickly. With coal you could load up the boiler and it would last a good 6-8 hours, so if you loaded it up just before going to sleep it would keep you warm all night. Wood or eco-pellets burn much quicker, that's why boilers for those usually use some kind of auto-feeding system, but obviously it makes them much more expensive.

And no, it's still very common, I'd say on my residential street 2/3 of all houses will be coal fired, unless someone renovated recently and put a gas boiler in(but then we don't live in a city, small town of maybe 20k people).


thank you for the reply!


> is this common in poland? or more of an outlier?

In general, most residential buildings (houses and appartment buildings) from before WWII are probably still heated by coal. The post-WWII appartment buildings are usually heated via a warm water sent from an outside coal-based plant (either small one that's just serving a bunch of buildings or a large one serving entire districts/cities).

I live in a dense city where most buildings are from pre-WWII and thus most people burn coal (except for the ones who value convenience and can afford to install a gas boiler in their flats). The smog can be hard to bear during the winter. Also, since there a big population of poor people in the city, you can get 10 kg packs of coal in many convenience stores :) It's for those who didn't just buy a tonne of coal up front before the heating season, because they didn't have a spare $200 laying around.


Burning directly. Where do you live? What do people in the countryside there use?

I'd say individual coal burning is less common in cities, but still popular in villages. A family I know that lives in the countryside still burn wood most of the year to heat water and cook meals, and only buy some amount of coal (I think few hundred kilos, maybe a metric ton) for heating during winter.

Hell, the first location of our Hackerspace in Kraków - in the very centre of a 1M city - had only coal furnace for heating. There's a lot of old buildings in Poland.


> Where do you live? What do people in the countryside there use?

In the US propane, fuel oil and wood are the popular off-grid fuels. Electricity is also pretty cheap here so resistance heat is not uncommon. Heat pumps have gotten a lot better at low temps in recent years, so a lot of new construction or retrofits by the nonpoor will use them.


Heat pumps are appearing in Poland too, particularly ones meant for domestic hot water (vs. heating your home), and there are government subsidies attached to them. The people I mentioned in my example are currently considering getting such a heatpump thanks to that subsidy (it wouldn't be economical for them otherwise).

Electricity isn't cheap enough here to run resistance heating unless you're desperate. I don't know anyone using propane for heating, but many people - myself currently included - use it for cooking in places that don't have utility gas connection.


Germans also burn coal at home.


I never heard of anyone in Germany still using coal at home for anything but the BBQ grill.


where you buy the coal? do you order it at home, or do you go out and buy a truckload?


In Poland you just order it directly to your home. We have a coal mine in our town so you'd just get a delivery directly from there - a truck would dump it all in front of the house and then it was always a "fun" activity to shovel it all into the basement next to the boiler room.


UK Person here. It's not as common as it used to be but still a thing.

There's coal delivery people they deliver sacks of coal to your house.

Mainly rural areas, although these days boilers will more likely to be oil fired or LPG, you still see coal fires.


You can get it on Amazon if you like :) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Traditional-Coals-House-Coal-20kg/d...


The local supermarket sells small packs with bricks. If you need more you just order a bunch and get it delivered.


Not everyone lives in a big city.


i've lived in quite a few countries (countryside and cities), and it's the first time i read about it. i know about burning wood for heating (done that for a while), but burning coal never. you live and learn :)


Coal is more efficient in our winters. You can load a stove with coal and it keeps you warm all night which is not as easy with wood.

It is acctually a paradox here in Poland. I live in suburbs outside of Warsaw, surounded by forrest and still sparsely populated. People are building new houses here to get out of the city and pollution. They build heatpumps (or somerhing else) but also a fireplace as a secondary heating source. Then they learn to discover that coal is cheap, accesible and more energy efficient (more convinient) in winter.

As a result in winter at evenings you get smog and filthy air in suburbs worse then in the city center.


Well, coal is better than wood, but it so happens that some people in countryside have ample supply of free-ish wood :). I know some people who burn wood most of the year, and only add coal to the mix during winter.


Was initially happy when looking at Australia (my home country) - small circles and no planned stations (maybe Adani in Queensland).

Then I realized that the large circles in China and India almost certainly burn Australian coal.


They will, but if it makes you feel any better mostly they will burn Chinese coal [0]. Australia is disproportionate.

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


If you want to feel better, Australia also exports a lot of uranium afaik



That large high concentration area in Siberia. Is that permafrost melt?



I deeply appreciate your comment. Thank you.

Choice quote for others sourced from the first link:

>Whilst sulphur dioxide emissions are definitely associated with pollution from the mining of nickel these emissions that Dave and Margo have observed are far too extensive for this to be more than a partial explanation.

>It is simply much too large.

>Also of interest, the emissions are intermittent just as methane emissions are.

>One very reasonable hypothesis is that there have been geological changes which is leading to magma coming to the surface much as it did in the Permian extinction.


Maybe? There's also a lot of mining up there and gas production.

In New Zealand the high concentration area is just south of a few active volcano's so it seems that some of it on that map is probably natural causes.


They seem to have a very optimistic view on "closing" coal plants. E.g. all the plants in germany are colored as "closing".

Germany has a vague plan for coal phaseout in 2038, which is a) still almost 20 years in the future and b) not in any way binding yet, it's jut a vague plan.

(I do hope and actually believe that coal plants in germany will be closed much earlier than 2038 though...)


They will be closed earlier. Renewables and batteries will be cheaper than existing coal before 2038, meaning replacement will cost less than running these old plants.


There is nothing vague about it and it may even happen earlier and nobody is talking about it happening later or not at all.


How many of those grey dots representing "closing" plants are actually just converting to another type of petroleum? Like natural gas?

Certainly an improvement but it's not like we're replacing them all with renewables or nuclear.


I'd say a good chunk of them, but hopefully at the same time other gas stations are being decommissioned and replaced with sustainable generation.

If I look at NZ then in the last ten years pretty much all coal generation has moved to gas but in the same period about the same amount of gas generation was decommissioned and replaced with wind with thousand more MW of generation from wind and tidal consented to be built.


Natural gas is likely as bad or in some cases worse than coal from a climate change perspective (mostly due to pipeline leaks and leaks at the fracking sites). Switching from coal to nat gas may be better for air pollution deaths, but it's just as bad for climate change.

https://scienceblog.com/509512/fracking-prompts-global-spike...


The article I read in NZ showed that natural gas had about half the emissions of coal overall. New Zealand is very seismically active so there's a lot of gas and most probably it's close to the generators. The intention is to move from coal to gas to tide the country over until it can be replaced by wind and tidal. The goal was recently raised from 90 - 95% renewable generation by 2025. Right now on average it sits at 83% renewable but in summer when electricity usage is lower it can be more than 90%.


It's roughly half as bad as coal nominally, as in when combusted. It's when you look at the whole system, including pipeline leaks and fracking-site leaks that it starts getting bad. So changing infrastructure from coal to gas is approximately worthless from a climate change perspective.


Does NZ produce gas itself, or is it importing LNG?


Yes, the gas is produced locally. Coal is as well incidentally.


I feel as if my nation has been the dumbest if not the most left behind country in the world, Pakistan.

The nation is riddled with annual energy crisis and just falling behind in world economic growth. Not only is the energy crisis with black outs an occurrence but electricity itself is expensive. Far more expensive what the end consumer ends up paying compared to nations here in the West or China.

et the nation's politicians continue to popularize the use of solar which is stupidly expensive for scale of energy we need and far less reliant on local resources.

It does indeed saddens me.


How much does electricity cost for you? What sort of blackouts/brownouts did you experience?

It's around 10-20 cents per kWh in my state, for reference.


So what can be done about China?

They are going the wrong way and account for a sizable percentage. All reductions done by the rest of world have been offset (and then some) by their grown


Are there any statistics on cumulative coal burn estimates by countries till date? (let alone per capita & country's resources)

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

I'm sure adoption of coal along with petroleum was well praised in the west during onset of industrial revolution.


Those purple circles are pretty depressing.



Where can I find other datasets like this?


This is ok but not as nice of a UI: https://www.eia.gov/maps/

This one is incredible: https://www.electricitymap.org/?page=map&solar=false&remote=...


Tomorrow, the team behind Electricity Map, has a Slack team available to the public. Also, anyone can contribute a parser to an electric grid not yet being scraped for tracking and display.


It's always worth asking here as well: https://opendata.stackexchange.com/?tab=active


India and China output a lot, but to manufacture items for the west. A lot of Chinese and Indian government officials would turn around and say, show this map 50 years ago when your industries were growing and you had the fast economic growth. Now its their turn the are being curbed.

The solution is to help these countries build better infrastructure, rather than blame them for our own demands.


Coal plants in Australia, the UK and Germany are "closing"? Yeah, sure. They'll be "closing" for several decades to come, because neither country has a solution for its energy needs.

There should be a financial instrument to bet against governments making good on their grandiose plans for green energy. That might raise the odds of them actually succeeding.


> There should be a financial instrument to bet against governments making good on their grandiose plans for green energy.

Effectively, there is: you purchase securities relating to the industries that would be negatively impacted if the plans were realized (e.g., for the things you are talking about here, coal industry stocks.)


This isn't quite the same, because governments can simultaneously ruin these businesses while still failing on their goals.


Is there any relevant difference between the subcritical and supercritical ones?


Higher temps which means better efficiency and cleaner emissions. Ultra-supercritical is the current latest technology, though there aren't many of those.


It mentions the German plants are closing, but the plan is to do this in 2038...


Why does China continue to lead the world in so many terrible categories. Biggest polluter, tons of human rights violations. Just a terrible country with awful leadership.


Imagine a world where China split in two, East China and West China with each having 50% of the population. Each of those countries would have half the pollution, half the human rights violations of the current China. Just as much suffering, just as much pollution overall though.

If you want to make an informative comparison you have to do it on a per-capita basis.


Indeed. Worth remembering that for these issues, China should be compared not versus another country, but vs. all Europe, or whole North America.


It would be nice if they were better but if we assume that every human generates the same amount of terribleness, then China is going to lead in all categories if you just sum up by country. China happens to be leading in the number of well-fed people. What's terrible about that?


Maybe they are leading in the relative improvement. I doubt people are better fed than in a European well-fare state. Do you have a source for this?


I don't understand why you want a source for this because the statement relies on only two well-known facts: 1. China has the largest population of all countries. 2. There is no famine in China.


They're also leading the world in a lot of great categories.


Don't bother about it. Now, blame is all on Brazil.




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

Search: