Even with some modest ongoing investments, we'd have designs that are FAR safer than systems currently in operation.
People talk about failures of the market all the time, and there are many. This was one of the failures of regulation.
I think we're starting to see a small revival here finally, but is it too late? Renewables are driving down the cost of electricity so any nuclear companies not only have to find a way to be profitable today, but 1, 2, 3 decades from now.
Blunder 1: war. We dropped a nuclear bomb before we ever made a nuclear power plant. Nuclear became inextricably linked with sickness and death instead of power and prosperity.
Blunder 2: broken heuristic risk assessment. Radiation is scary because it's "spooky" - it's undetectable, and it kills you in a nasty, body-horror kind of way - a long time after exposure. (Although many environmental toxins also fit this bill and aren't so "spooky", so I'm not sure what's going on there). Fossil fuels just aren't "spooky" in the same way, even though the numbers show them as far more dangerous. Chernobyl is enough to put people off nuclear entirely, but even a hundred Chernobyls would not be as bad as the environmental damage wrought by the carbon industry. A bold claim? We're in the middle of a global mass extinction. A hundred Chernobyls wouldn't be a blip in Earth's biodiversity. Even Chernobyl itself is practically a wildlife sanctuary now.
Blunder 3: Status quo bias. Sure, fossil fuels are terrible in many ways. But better the devil you know!
From what I have seen, nuclear has earned a negative reputation from far more than its association with weapons and disasters. Many supporters of nuclear also overly enthusiastic in presenting it as the solution rather than as a solution. It makes it sound like the issues with nuclear are being glossed over, or outright ignored. This, in turn, makes supporters of nuclear sound ill informed or as though they have a vested interest.
If nuclear power is going to have much hope for adoption, people need to be informed of how it works, what the risk factors are (preferably with other forms of power generation being used as context), and what is being done to address those risks. Even then, there is going to be some opposition because different people will view different risks differently.
Step 2: Build extremely strong containment. Not that hard, just keep pouring concrete.
Step 3: Be at peace with the fact that even the worst nuclear incident, while harrowing, would not be the end of the world - which fossil fuels literally are. And it's not like fossil fuels are immune to massive eco-disaster failure points. Deepwater Horizon was far more damaging than Chernobyl - millions of animals perished.
Optional Step 4: don't use a reactor design that involves huge piles of flammable radioactive carbon, uncontained - try for something where the reaction stops if anything goes wrong. Then at worst you get a toxic site, instead of vast amounts of atmospheric radiation.
Not really. The reality is that most fear is based on totally false believes that exist in popular culture.
If people actually understood the real level of dangers they would not nearly be as scared.
The tail risks involved in nuclear power are just too high. It's not a question of laymen misunderstanding or thinking that radiation is magic or being scared by the specter of Chernobyl.
If there's anything that Fukushima should have taught us, it's that we underestimate the risk that bad things can happen with nuclear, and we overestimate our ability to engineer around those things.
I think it's increasingly likely that in the far future, when energy needs are no longer the bottleneck for progress, we'll look back on the idea of using nuclear fission as a power source as a laughably dangerous concept; on par with using x-rays for shoe sizing  or an atomic powered car .
> there were no deaths caused by acute radiation syndrome. Given the uncertain health effects of low-dose radiation, cancer deaths cannot be ruled out. However, studies by the World Health Organisation and Tokyo University have shown that no discernible increase in the rate of cancer deaths is expected
So basically Fukushima has taught us that over-reacting to nuclear accidents has not yet gone out of fashion? And that even when "radiation releases exceed official safety guidelines", there are still almost no consequences to humans?
Comparing fission generation to those other things is unfair. Fission reactors produce gigawatts of power, Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes were gimmicks and the Ford Nucleon was literally a toy.
That said, is it your belief that if the government had taken no action to protect the civilian population, that the impact would have been similar -- "no consequences to humans" as you say? Don't confuse the severity of the scope of the accident with the casualty list; the disaster was very serious and should not be underplayed. And most of all, it should force all of us to reconsider our assessment of the potential damage that can be done by failing nuclear power plants.
Nuclear was our alternative to the biggest environmental crises we have ever faced. The baseline consequences of not using it are worse then the tail risks you cite.
If you are arguing that because you missed something, then the figure is zero, I don't think that's a reasonable argument. I don't think that is what you are saying, right?
Whatever the amount is, if that same amount of money had been put into renewables, many of those people would still be living in their homes today, with sustainable power for the foreseeable future.
Sometimes, when there is a crisis as you mention, the alternatives have to be weighed against each other. Just because one alternative addresses the crisis, doesn't mean it is the best alternative. Sure, we can use both if absolutely necessary (renewables and nuclear being the alternatives we are talking about here) but it makes more sense to me to start with the sensible one, namely, renewables, and use both only if, repeating myself, absolutely necessary.
Nuclear energy is less sensible from a consumer standpoint because it is more centralized, has larger safety issues, creates more hazardous wastes, impacts property values more, raises anxiety levels more, and is more susceptible to corruption, big industry control, crony capitalism, cost overruns, and leads to huge tax increases imposed to pay for all these issues.
Even the property value impact alone should be enough for nobody to want to have a nuclear power plant in their area.
We should go as far as possible with renewables before resorting to a technology that has larger problems.
The damage is done. Building nuclear now won't fix it. But with the benifit of hindsight (and the benifit of arguing for the counterfactual), but strangling nuclear power decades ago was a regulatory mistake with literally disasterous consequences.
In 2018, nuclear accounted for 4% of global energy production . Since we have been shifting away from nuclear, this represents an underestimation.
Going back to Chernobyl, we have had 2 class 7 nuclear incidents. Scaling this up 25x, this gives us about 1 class 7 nuclear incident every 8 months; assuming no advances in safety occurred since the 70s, when both plants were built. For simplicity, I will round this down to twice a year.
So, how bad are these class 7 disasters? According to WHO estimations , Fukushima caused an estimated 0 acute deaths from radiation; 400 long-term deaths from radiation and 1,600 deaths from evacuations (I suspect elevated due to the trigger tsunami). For reference, the trigger natural disaster had about 15,897 deaths .
So, in terms of casualties, Fukushima made a natural disaster ~10% worse.
In terms of cost, Fukushima is estimated to cost about $187 billion USD in decommisioning and compensation (Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, 2016) . In addition, the disaster also caused an estimated $266 billion USD in fuel imports to replace the lost power (as of 2016, so 5.5 years of imports); I should discount the hypothetical operating cost of Fukushima, but can't find the numbers for that.
So, to get to 100% nuclear power, we are looking at 2 Fukushima's a year. That is 3,200 deaths and $374 billion USD a year. (In practice, this would not work because there are grid problems once nuclear becomes a significant chunk of power production, but we are really talking about the margin; just extrapolating out to make the numbers clearer). Also, these costs are concentrating in the near term to the incidents, so will go down fairly quickly once we shift away from nuclear.
I was going to compare this to global warming, but it is hard to find good estimates on the damage, and this comment is also already involving much more research then I intenended to do.
In 2010, an estimated 3,000 people died from fine particle pollution from US power plants. . This already almost exceeds are estimate for annual global deaths from nuclear power, so I can stop looking for all the other deaths non-nuclear power causes.
Estimating the cost of not nuclear is more difficult, and at this point I already spent way too much time on this.
I would, however, like to reiterate that this analysis started with me (in my judgment) comically overestimating the cost of the counter-factual nuclear disasters.
The problem with nuclear fission will always be the moments when somebody “should” have done a safety test or should have thought about it.
I often think about the reaction Angela Merkel had to the Fukushima incident. Before the Tsunami she had just scrapped the plan to end nuclear in Germany. She is a trained research physicists so that is the position you would expect from her. After Fukushima she immediately started to work on the complete shutdown.
Of course there might a lot of political calculation and the general mood shifted, but in Interviews she said that there was one thing that really got her. Fukushima was in Japan, and after Tschernobyl she always thought that this was an expected problem in a country like the Soviet Union, but in general nuclear should be safe. But after Fukushima, after the obviously bad planning and the mistakes that were done again and again, how can we expect that any country can manage the safety processes better, when Japan can’t do it. It’s not so much a technological question it’s a human and process question.
If nuclear is really needed, I would rather see it be the last resort option only in cases where renewables are not sufficient... but this conclusion about whether renewables are sufficient or not should be reached only after best efforts at renewables have been made, which is certainly not the case today.
Point is, the problem is financial, not technical. Nuclear, any nuclear design, is just expensive. As opposed to the bunches of a thousand windmills that T Boone Pickens wanted to slap up on whim in place after place. Those windmills start generating revenue a month later. It's just hard to compete with that. Which would you put your money into if you were the greedy energy investor?
Why would you think that? The problem with nuclear is that we are playing with significant tail risks, which are the hardest to engineer around. Catastrophic failures can have tremendous consequences, and in a sufficiently complex design there will be possibilities of catastrophic failures. While there are dead-simple reactor designs (like radiothermal), the vast majority of approaches work by layering complexity.
After Fukushima I became much more lukewarm on the subject of nuclear power, not so much because it was a huge Chernobyl-like disaster, but because I had repeatedly been told that a modern (post-Chernobyl) reactor was simply incapable of these failures modes. I had even, ignorantly, parroted back almost those exact words when discussing nuclear with people.
Fukushima was commissioned in 1971. Chernobyl happened in 1986. I would not call the design a "post-Chernobyl" reactor.
I can recommend the section on the wiki page for further reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_Nuclear_Powe...
> I had even, ignorantly, parroted back
I think this is probably the root cause ;)
Still, Fukushima has forced me to adjust my priors in estimating what the level or risk of a nuclear disaster is; before that I was a strong supporter of nuclear because I thought that the risk was essentially zero.
To me it's even more mind boggling that the club of rome 72 report was a Million-scale best seller printed book and nothing happened regarding energy and resource waste. And that's far less sensitive than nuclear physics.
The governor's desire to prolong their relicensing process made it more cost effective for Entergy to just agree to close them in 4/5 years, which is a shame because nuclear plants are all about the sunk capital costs.
Is it extremely cost prohibitive to dig down into existing abandoned mines (or even quarries)? and retrofit them with nuclear reactors?
Even if something catastrophic happens, if it's geologically separated by thousands of tons of rocks/dirt/sediment and is away from a water table, it wouldn't be a problem, no?
A lot of states have been giving carbon credits to nuclear plants for a long time. There are several where it makes good sense to implement subsidies of that nature. So this is not a terribly new idea, nor is it as controversial as the article attempts to make it out to be..
“No Nukes Is Bad News for Climate”
“How Old Nukes Can Help Green New Dealers”
Any reasonable intelligence would have understood from the context.
Would make a good test for anyone’s AI.
and? Nuclear power is just as "renewable" as wind, solar & hydro in every sense of the word.
Renewable means an energy source that literally renews itself. To avoid breaking the second law of thermos that implies there is an energy source (Sun) that recharges the renewable energy source with energy that would otherwise be wasted, therefore, you cannot net consume the resource.
In the case of wind and sunlight there is no net consumption of the resource because they'd otherwise be wasted (assuming you put solar over a parking lot and not over fertile land).
Nuclear cannot be renewable because fissile elements don't renew themselves (well, not without a supernova). We can extend the usefulness of the fuel with advanced reactors, but eventually all nuclear fuels, be they fast, thermal, fission or fusion end up with the most stable isotope of Fe - the most stable isotope.
In fact, fossil fuels are infinitely more renewable than nuclear fuels since eventually the biosphere dies, decays and some of material gets geologically captured to become fossil fuels (in geological timeframes).
There are (at least) two energy sources that are definitely not renewable:
- Tidal (when we extract energy from a tide, the moon looses potential energy)
Renewable is a soft definition, however all things considered “renewable” are based off of solar, geothermal, or tidal power. Fission fuels are only generated as endothermic nuclear reactions in violent cosmic events, of which there are none on our schedule. How would we go about finding more fission material once we’ve burned it all up into stable isotopes? “Renewable” is best defined as “useable power that is isn’t non-renewable”. “Non-renewable” is easier to define, since it involves a very clear, short term, one way reaction. Also on fossil fuels: they stopped being generated millions of years ago, so, no, they are not renewable currently.
People aren't capable of having a sufficiently long term view. People make short term decisions that are bad in the long term all the time. You see accident after accident caused by people making short term decisions that have a low probability of failure but where failure has disproportionately bad consequences. Just look at unsafe and drunk driving.
So the problems with fission power are:
1. We have no good way of disposing with the waste. This includes the waste produced in enriching Uranium (eg what to do with all the UrF6) as well as reactor waste.
2. As much as coal and other fossil fuels have negative health effects and probably cause deaths, there is only so much damage a single coal plant can do. A single nuclear plant on the other hand can make an area of thousands of miles uninhabitable for generations.
3. Storage and transportation of fissile material (ie reactor fuel) presents a bunch of environmental and security issues.
Renewable (specifically solar and wind) really are the solution here.