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China to the Rescue of Nuclear Power? (wiseinternational.org)
30 points by spenrose 58 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments



"Officially China still sees nuclear power as a must-have. But unofficially, the technology is on a death watch. Experts, including some with links to the government, see China's nuclear sector succumbing to the same problems affecting the West: the technology is too expensive, and the public doesn't want it."


The technology is too expensive is utter nonsense. Nuclear is maybe the most cost effective energy source humanity has, France win tons of money by selling exceeding energy production to e.g germany.


>"Nuclear is maybe the most cost effective energy source humanity has, France win tons of money by selling exceeding energy production"

With that statement in mind, could you explain the economics of Hinkley C? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinkley_Point_C_nuclear_power_...


This thread has multiple links to nuclear professionals' on-the-record statements that cost is a problem:

https://twitter.com/sampenrose/status/1162772916125126656


I just spent the day reading about the economics of nuclear.

Long answer short: Nuclear still is cost competitive except on countries which have direct fossil reserves.

Nuclear is cost competitive but is an ultra long term investment (60/100 years lifespan for a power plant) And the construction cost is huge.

A fascinating thing to note is that today New power plants cost between 4000 and 5000 $ per KWe. As science and experience improve you would expect like everywhere else, for prices to go down. But it's the reverse, in 1960s power plants had a cost of 1500$ per KWe!!! This is sad and mostly explained by overengeenered security specifications. If we could make again such efficiency today, nuclear would be by FAR the cheapest energy source.

Still, Chinese and South Korea achieve 3000$ per KWe efficiency (making it for them the cheapest energy source by a significant amount) And 2 new promising reactor designs target sub 2500$ per KWe.

Among future reactor designs, they can have some of those advantages: Less or no wastes. Guaranted safety (auto shutdown by design) Ability to desalinate water or produce hydrogen for free Ability to use thorium making nuclear almost a renewable energy source (enough for 2000 years of energy supply for all humanity) And potential costs savings: Less employee (700 per power plant is a valid number today) More efficiency: from 33% to 45%

Source for many things: https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-a...


So why is the Hinkley Point C strike price about twice that, at £90/MWh?

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN_Strike_price_deal_for_H...


> Long answer short: Nuclear still is cost competitive except on countries which have direct fossil reserves.

That doesn't make sense: Countries that have reserves can sell them at the exact price that countries without pay. The comparison with nuclear cannot logically be different for those two cases.


Transport costs drive up the price for non-producing buyers.

Also, producer reduce supply when they use their own product, which pushes prices up and reduces the difference in costs for the fuel (non-producers also drive up the price a when they buy, but that doesn’t help them).

I doubt either of those effects is particularly significant, but they aren’t nothing.


My answer about the economics of nuclear people is if it were as cheap as it's boosters say there is absolutely no way a bunch of dirty hippies would have able to stand in it's way. There was a big fight in California over PG&E's plan to build two dozen reactors. The dirty hippies won based on economics. Later off the record PG&E executives admitted the company had been saved from certain bankruptcy.

The bad economics isn't a new problem. Washington Public Power Supply System planned to build five nuclear reactors in the 1970's. They managed to finish one.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WNP-3_and_WNP-5

It seems to me nuke plants only get finished when corners are cut or everything goes to plan. If there are any problems at all the costs and issues spiral out of control. That says to me that these things are barely within our industrial capabilities to build.


Fukushima destroyed nuclear energy.

If the Japanese, with their image of professionalism, smartness, ultra advanced technology, and total dedication to their job failed so spectacularly to manage a plant, nobody will believe any safety promise anymore, at least in places where people are asked about it (ie: not China)

Now add the Chernobyl TV series on top, it will be replayed and memefied everywhere a plant is proposed.

Of course, this being HN, I welcome the incomming ban.


> "If the Japanese, with their image of professionalism, smartness, ultra advanced technology, and total dedication to their job"

You're just cherrypicking positive stereotypes while ignoring negative stereotypes relevant to the matter, such as the trait of not making waves with your superiors and papering over problems to avoid embarrassment. These themes are explored in Shin Godzilla, which was a huge commercial success in Japan, undoubtedly because the Japanese public recognized some truth in how the movie depicted government incompetence in Japan.


I see your point, but I think the original point still stands - even if we take into account the shortcomings of Japanese business culture, what developed country is without its fatal flaws? In other countries, especially less developed ones, they might lack the negative stereotypes of not questioning superiority because they're too busy fighting worse stereotypes like greed, incompetence, or ignorance. What threshold of perfection does a country have to attain before it can be trusted to utilize nuclear power? And I would say Japan does set a pretty high bar when compared with most of the rest of the world.


In Japan they shut down each plant yearly for inspection. Everywhere else it's done on the refueling cycle. The plant I worked at was on a two year cycle so each year one of the two plants shut down for about an 8 week refuel/overhaul outage.


That's well and good, but an inspection is only as good as the inspectors and workers are honest and feel empowered to shut the whole deal down.

It's one thing to implement and andon cord, but it's quite another to get workers to actually use it.


'the Japanese, with their image of professionalism, smartness, ultra advanced technology, and total dedication to their job'

1 The plants were antiquated 1970's US GE equipment https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_Nuclear_Powe...

2 Japanese business culture is very deferential and top down. The amount of lying and covers ups around the Fukushima disaster was and is horrifying. Having worked for Sony I can say that there is an awful lot of dead wood in Japanese class system culture just as there is in the English class system, and that is not a healthy way to run something potential deadly on a global scale. I'm on the fence about nuclear power largely because of the above. It's not the technology, it's human and bureaucratic fallibility and greed that is the weak link


That's fair enough but shouldn't you have the same hesitancy about say, solar panel production or coal mining or oil production or wind farm installation and maintenance? All of these can be just as deadly and potentially more polluting.


But nobody dies from the Fukuushima disaster. And plants are getting safer. and many places are safe from earthquake, tsunami combos.


True, no one died, but it was immensely expensive. And that is important because one of the main selling points for nuclear is that it is supposed to produce electricity cheaper than any other source.


I think while cost savings is a potential benefit, nuclear’s primary appeal might be shifting more towards environmental impact.


“The Environmental Impact of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Disaster“

http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2016/ph241/dong1/


Total nonsense, Fukushima was designed in the 50s only around 15 years after we first invented nuclear power and then started construction around a decade after that using that old technology. It is like using a Model-T as an example of why cars are too dangerous to use. Or judging flight safety based on wood and canvas planes.


Yes it was designed in the 50s but there was plenty of time for the design faults making it vulnerable to a tsunami to be fixed..


If it was soo dangerous, why didn't all those safety experts shut it down?

You don't see wood and canvas planes flying today.



One year before Fukushima:

> Computed risks for new reactors are lower than for current designs "when only internal events are considered," according to a 2009 report that the Nuclear Energy Institute wrote for the NRC. (That includes fires or pipe breaks, for example.) But when risks of damage caused by external events — earthquakes, for example — are factored in, the new reactors are no safer than older reactors. In addition, because utilities have no operating experience with the new reactors, the probable risk assessments are purely theoretical and not as reliable as years of actual operating data from existing plants.

> The new designs are engineered only to withstand a predictable sequence of events, something engineers theorize may happen. In nuclear parlance that is called a "design basis accident." The new reactors, like their older counterparts, are not designed to survive an unexpected sequence of events. That is the critical flaw, says Lyman: "Three Mile Island was a beyond-design-basis accident."

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jun/21/how-safe...


>Now add the Chernobyl TV series on top, it will be replayed and memefied everywhere a plant is proposed.

btw are there other people who thought the show was really awful? I know this is a contrarian take but the constant <dialog about soviet doublethink> every three minutes was about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

About half an hour into the first episodes I was like, yeah I get it these people lie a lot to save their own skin. And while I'm not exactly crazy about physics correctness, the way it radiation was dramatized was just unnecessary, a pregnant woman isn't suddenly going to die or get birth defects from standing next to someone was exposed to radiation. The show gave the whole incident the flair of a zombie apocalypse.


> a pregnant woman isn't suddenly going to die or get birth defects from standing next to someone was exposed to radiation

In real life the baby died four hours after birth from radiation-induced heart and liver defects: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasily_Ignatenko

The man’s body absorbed radioactive materials that were slowly unleashed as he disintegrated.


the wikipedia article claims that the child's illness was radiation induced but the provided source does not.

Just to give you an actual statistic rather than anecdote, among Hiroshima bomb survivors the incidence of birth defects was about 0.9%, or about 500 children in total. I'm not entirely sure how trustworthy this story is.


> among Hiroshima bomb survivors the incidence of birth defects was about 0.9%, or about 500 children in total

From what I understand, this is because the blast spread the radioactive material very far and thin, reducing its concentration in any given area.


Why would you get banned for that?


The whole point of HN is to control the overton window.


I didn't downvote you, but I'm quite surprised by that remark. Say what you will about HN, but it seems to me it's damn near the only medium in the world that mostly doesn't use censorship to control the Overton window, that is genuinely quite open to contrarian views. (As seen in this discussion, where there is vigorous debate going on.)


> Fukushima destroyed nuclear energy.

For the paranoid developed world. It's doing fine for others (and surprisingly for France).


No, it is not. After Flamanville, France will NEVER build another nuclear plant again.

(Hit it bankrupted EDF more than tripled in costs and in more than 15 years late)

Solar / Wind Capital costs circa USD 1 /watt and Nuclear circa USD 11.


If there's one thing you probably shouldn't lecture France about, it's nuclear electricity production and its environmental impact : https://www.electricitymap.org


Those definitely didn't help, but the Chernobyl disaster and fear have been handicapping nuclear energy for decades. It was a big mistake (wrt climate change) that we didn't invest a lot more in nuclear technology.

It's been stuck in the past, instead of e.g., Gen IV: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor


Interesting none of the MSR efforts were mentioned

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/542526/china-details-next...

In all, there are 700 nuclear engineers working on the molten-salt reactor at SINAP, Xu said, a number that dwarfs other advanced-reactor research programs around the world

https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2017/12/china-spending-us3-3-b...

China will spend 22 billion yuan (US$3.3 billion) on two prototype molten salt nuclear reactors.

But, of course

The magazine of the global anti-nuclear community.


I think it would be great if one of the new nuclear technologies actually panned out and was put into large-scale deployment.

But it remains to see if that will actually happen. And that means that for now, we need to assume it might well not, and push ahead as fast as possible with renewables.


The article says China's deployment plans are being derailed by cost and popular attitudes towards nuclear. The cost of new tech in turn is mostly driven by the chicken-and-egg problem of deployment. So you have to solve deployment, which means you have to change attitudes.


And to start doing so, you develop passively-safe technologies (walk away), where, by design, Chernobils can't happen.


Chernobyl couldn't happen on today plants anyway. It was a succession of ridiculous human errors, where e.g while stress testing the reactor, they disabled the automatic recovery system. Power plants are now using computers and they wouldn't allow such human stupidity.


Thus the passive/walk away.

Three Mile Island was a much better Western design, and still shit happened, although with a fraction of the consequences. Fukishima, same.

I don't want a computer to be the failsafe. Computers fail. I want safe systems by design. Like this

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAI1zVH5ir8


At TMI the core suffered a partial meltdown. Downriver is Chesapeake Bay.

Lucky doesn't begin to cover what happened at TMI.


Čerenkov-Blue Screen of Death then.


If China beats us to cheap nuclear power, the American era will be over. You can’t compete, economically or militarily, with cheap abundant renewable power with wind farms and conservation.


Hopefully no-one will believe that the same government that built this disaster waiting to happen:

https://www.theepochtimes.com/experts-warn-of-chinas-three-g...

will be believable.


China the future of nuclear power, the same country that has not started a new project in years and ALL current projects are at least 50% - 100% behind schedule.


The Simpsons destroyed public perception of nuclear.

Homer Simpson as the safety inspector, green slime, and the three eye fish....


My tweestorm discussing this topic, with citations: https://twitter.com/sampenrose/status/1162772916125126656


Why build Gen 3 plants when they are on the cusp of commercializing Gen 4?




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