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Nuclear Fusion Could Rescue the Planet from Climate Catastrophe (bloomberg.com)
112 points by pseudolus 18 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 189 comments



Consuming less would definitely rescue the planet but everyone not having a 1.5 ton hunk of steel to ferry a 70kg person from robot to robot while throwing away 40% of food produced goes against our hardwiring of having more and more. instead we hold out for some unproven brilliant technical innovation to save us instead of thinking about using resources rationally.


Or, you know - we could not lower our standard of living.

It's good to be able to visit friends in the next town over in a few minutes, in any weather, rather than having to walk and then transfer in some distant location.

It's good to be able to have our choice of food, rather than having to accept what's left of what the comisar of production allocated to are area.

The nice thing about technology is it will allow us to improve the future, rather than having to don the hair shirts of the past.


I don't mean to be rude, but aren't you being a little short sighted here? You can talk about how pleasant these choices are to have, but unless we look really hard at what's critical and preserve that immediately, there's not going to be a functional society and industrial framework in which these guarantees can be delivered.

We should strongly consider things like redefining energy security rather rather than wallowing in our base loss aversion. We'll need to develop alternative ways to deliver all of these improvements that don't assign an unpayable environmental debt to our future generations.


I don't think so.

I mean, fifteen years ago, electric cars weren't a thing. If we had abandoned cars in favor of bicycles then, Tesla wouldn't have gotten off the ground. And I think I'd rather ride around in a Tesla than on a Schwinn.

Basically, I think we have to find climate solutions that allow us to maintain our standard of living. And I think by accepting that's what we need to do, we can and will find those choices, and not divert attention to unpalatable options.

I'm an optimist, but the post-enlightenment world routinely justifies such optimism.


> Basically, I think we have to find climate solutions that allow us to maintain our standard of living. And I think by accepting that's what we need to do, we can and will find those choices, and not divert attention to unpalatable options.

This is a statement made by a rich and enormously privileged person. You can't deny that most of the world's population lives in poverty without these choices. Your goal is not to push a post-enlightenment techno-optimism despite the couching of things in that framework. Your goal is to avoid losing what you have today.

And that's just not realistic. We will all need to redefine what is "normal." Our lifestyles not only can't pass environmental debts forward, they can no longer be defined by the extreme luxury of the top 7 richest nations at the expense of the majority of the world. Both our lives are sustained by what amounts to indentured servitude. As traditional power systems are disrupted by the inability to maintain deep supply chains, people aren't going to bow to your desire for comfort at their expense. Why should they?

We absolutely have to keep moving forward with technology that is more efficient and makes energy essentially free in the long term (and minimally rationed in the short term). But we can't do it at the expense of the future while chanting "standard of living" at obvious outcomes we don't like.


>>>Our lifestyles not only can't pass environmental debts forward, they can no longer be defined by the extreme luxury of the top 7 richest nations at the expense of the majority of the world.

Outside of India and China, the developing world doesn't possess the military/technical capabilities to prevent the richest from securing the natural resources to maintain their gilded standard of living. Developing countries will either rapidly industrialize and militarize, becoming yet another part of the problem, or they are likely to be marginalized into migration, collapse, and death.

>>>Your goal is to avoid losing what you have today.

Which in practical terms applies to every human being, ever, who didn't become an ascetic monk.


> Developing countries will either rapidly industrialize and militarize, becoming yet another part of the problem, or they are likely to be marginalized into migration, collapse, and death.

Without re-examining our priorities quickly and changing our economies, this fate awaits everyone.

> Which in practical terms applies to every human being, ever, who didn't become an ascetic monk.

No, not everyone is a Reactionary.


> Without re-examining our priorities quickly and changing our economies, this fate awaits everyone.

I don't get this way of thinking. This isn't the first time people thought that:

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

They were wrong then, they will be wrong now. Why do I think that ? Because we are already far over the carrying capacity of the planet without fossil fuels. Either technology will save us or your doom scenario WILL happen. In other words, you could be wrong or right. If you're wrong, then of course we should only take limited steps to change. If you're right and we cannot adapt, then we're fucked unless we kill something like 90% of the human race (exact number doesn't really matter, even if it's 50%). Any event that kills 90% of the human race is going to be as bad as just waiting for the "migration, collapse and death", whether we engineer it or not.

So you're wrong. Not just because there's a range of technologies that could save our ass, but also because "changing our priorities" is no different from "migration, collapse, and death" at this point.

BUT on the plus side: stabilization is happening, without us having to do anything:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_growth#Human_popula...

World population is on the path to peaking at around 8.5 billion humans and then dropping to steady state at around 7.5 billion. That's our current guess. Barring a great war or something like that, that's what will happen.

Animals come with a built-in "carrying capacity guesser", and populations end up very close to the exact STABLE carrying capacity of whatever environment they find themselves in. And while it's possible to disrupt this (famously the case of rabbits and cats in artificial environments without good enough places to hide for the rabbits, but abundant food availability), shouldn't our default assumption be that there clearly is a mechanism controlling human population size, and that it's not in fact screwing up ? That that 8.5/7.5 billion number is in fact a pretty good guess ?

As the history of Yellowstone park illustrates, humans have done far more damage attempting to control population sizes of animals than we have just letting them be.


> They were wrong then, they will be wrong now. Why do I think that ? Because we are already far over the carrying capacity of the planet without fossil fuels. Either technology will save us or your doom scenario WILL happen. In other words, you could be wrong or right. If you're wrong, then of course we should only take limited steps to change. If you're right and we cannot adapt, then we're fucked unless we kill something like 90% of the human race (exact number doesn't really matter, even if it's 50%). Any event that kills 90% of the human race is going to be as bad as just waiting for the "migration, collapse and death", whether we engineer it or not.

I'm quite certain you've misread me because you seem to be suggesting I'm not advocating action and a possible stable outcome. I am. What I'm saying is that making no changes in the face of new data will simply continue to ignore the reality we're increasingly convinced of: that climate change is going to collapse every aspect of modern society unless we react swiftly and broadly to counteract it and its effects.

Suggesting this is Malthusian in nature is wrong.

> So you're wrong. Not just because there's a range of technologies that could save our ass, but also because "changing our priorities" is no different from "migration, collapse, and death" at this point.

If we refuse to apply said technologies, then we're in trouble. We might refuse if, for example, men are afraid recycling makes them look effeminate or because solar power is unpopular with people convinced oil industry=freedom.

> Animals come with a built-in "carrying capacity guesser", and populations end up very close to the exact STABLE carrying capacity of whatever environment they find themselves in.

... What? No, they don't. Any species that doesn't reach equilibrium dies.

> shouldn't our default assumption be that there clearly is a mechanism controlling human population size, and that it's not in fact screwing up ?

What a weird argument. So first you suggested we can and should use technology to preserve societal growth, and then you seem to suggest that being cognizant of these motivations and selecting among various strategies is wrong because we should trust in some kind of implicit governing principle or intelligence?

Which is it?

> As the history of Yellowstone park illustrates, humans have done far more damage attempting to control population sizes of animals than we have just letting them be.

Here again you're contradicting the sentiments you displayed in paragraph 1 and 2. Should we try and use technology to solve the problems before us proactively or accept any such intervention is doomed due to ignorance?

Are you sure you're the not the adherent to Malthusianism?


> But we can't do it at the expense of the future

There's a great range of opinion on this. The extent of the expense and the meaning of 'future'. And what needs to be done first and foremost. And who gets to decide. And how our own children will be impacted by our choices of adversity.

The only real 'sure thing' is the arrival of another dinosaur killer.


You’re a mind reader then to discern his true goal? Hardly, you just made up something you could easily attack. Yet anyone capable of looking around would see we already have the technology to allow the whole world to keep progressing, just some people would rather don hair shirts and make people feel bad for wanting everyone to own a car.


All I can do is point out the implications of what there saying.

And point out you and I live on lives sustained by indentured servitude.


I glossed over your indentured servitude the first time, but would like to know more now. If there are people in indentured servitude, then by the traditional definition they aren't in the top 7 countries. Are you saying if I drank less coffee, then farmers in El Salvador would have it better? If I bought fewer phones, then factory workers in China would be better off? If I ate less food, then wheat farmers in Kansas would rejoice?


No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that the system that gives you those things does not provide a commensurate share of the profit produced to the people who actually supply the base product or even work with the product to provide you the components of those things.

Those folks subsist in extreme poverty, doing difficult physical work. They're miners and farmers and duck haulers and other such tasks that make up the bulk of the actual work but a minority of the actual profitshare.

You don't fix those problems in the long term by buying different things. You solve them by paying people sums commensurate with the value they produce and by focusing on making the base standard of living more fair for more of the planet rather than making it realistic for Jeff Bezos to build a private moonbase.

Such a reprioritization will surely see changes in what is available for the top 30% of the world, to the betterment of the bottom 70%. It is recency and identity biases that make it difficult for us to understand how much that matters.


Good points, but it is only in this very briefest moment of human history that we're even rich enough to care about the lives of people one town over, let alone on the other side of the world.

But how would you propose to solve this? Say China implements a minimum wage that meets your standard of a fair wage. What happens to the people of Vietnam who would gladly take those jobs at half the pay? Will you tell them they can't have jobs they consider far better than what they have now, because you don't think they pay enough? Like it or not, we're not in some broken system, we're in the best system we've ever had with no clear competitor. And things are going up for everyone, the world has never been so well off, a truly incredible feet considering the incredible population.

Although if I were king for a day, I'd use the wealth of the industrialized countries to build out nuclear plants everywhere. Because at least with cheap unlimited power people would never have to worry about food, sleeping in the dirt, or clean water. Bonus points for ending the need for slash and burn, or more fossil fuels.


> Although if I were king for a day, I'd use the wealth of the industrialized countries to build out nuclear plants everywhere. Because at least with cheap unlimited power people would never have to worry about food, sleeping in the dirt, or clean water. Bonus points for ending the need for slash and burn, or more fossil fuels.

Just an aside, ask yourself if cheap energy is actually the problem to solve here.


I would rather ride around on a Schwinn in a metro area that has been designed for human sized inhabitants to enjoy their lives; not based on segregation era rules and property tax avoidance.


If we had made laws 20 years ago, forbidding combustion engines by 2019, I'm convinced we would have all been driving electric cars by now. The problem electric cars had in the past, that Tesla was the first to overcome, was range. So, we would have driven electric cars that were slightly less convenient than combustion cars, which would have been very tolerable and likely would have helped a great deal with our huge carbon emission.

The problem with your line of reasoning is that you seem to pre-suppose that the market has to solve every problem, even the ones that the market created.


Maintain? We will obviously increase our energy use, and not by a little but by order of billions and billions (non-accurate estimate). We haven't really even started consuming energy yet. We just came out of caves and are barely learning to walk as a civilization.

We don't need to cut our consumption until we actually run out of energy, i.e. have harnessed the whole sun with a Dyson sphere and used up every other source. After that, there are other stars to harness.


> unless we look really hard at what's critical and preserve that immediately, there's not going to be a functional society and industrial framework in which these guarantees can be delivered.

The hard truth that makes this stuff even harder to convince is that, deep down, we know society will still function for those of us at the very top. Things will get permanently worse but _somehow_ systems will get set up so that those at the top of society will basically live comfortably forever.

The worst case climate scenarios are not actually "game over" for a lot of people. It will cause immense, quasi-permanent damage to a lot of people. But those people don't hold the levers of power.


> Things will get permanently worse but _somehow_ systems will get set up so that those at the top of society will basically live comfortably forever.

> The worst case climate scenarios are not actually "game over" for a lot of people. It will cause immense, quasi-permanent damage to a lot of people. But those people don't hold the levers of power.

This really depends on the amount of system damage done. Sure, at +1.5°C of global average temperature increase, you'll probably do fine.

But at +15°C? What will wealth buy you?


Yep. That's techno-optimism in a nutshell. All of us rich folks will be just fine, and the poor people will get screwed just like they always do.


"The worst case climate scenarios are not actually "game over" for a lot of people."

These are not even close to the worst-case climate scenarios. We don't have enough scientific evidence to ascertain whether the real worst-case scenarios are likely, so reputable scientists avoid talking about them, but we can't rule them out either.


> we know society will still function for those of us at the very top

Even this seems optimistic to me. It might coast along on inertia for a few decades but once food production and distribution ceases, "rich" gets redefined pretty quickly.


What is the point of the human race continuing to exist at all if the standard of living of each future generation is worse than the last? In the long run each of our descendants must live better than the previous, or there is no point to civilization whatsoever.


If your entire existence is justified by creature comforts and an unyielding demand that nothing ever changes, then isn't technological progress just as disruptive to your ethos?

Doesn't that arguement suggest that despotism is self-justifying because it increases the quality of life for the despots?

The notion that a temporary setback due to our worldview basing itself on untenable principles is no different than societal collapse is, to me, terribly wrongheaded.

If anything, the knowledge and technology we have gained enables us to imagine building something truly better from scaffolding erected by our current, less-than-desirable societal structure and industrial dependence on expensive and toxic energy (made all the more absurd by the fact it is essentially free with modern technology if we are just willing to alter our usage patterns a bit). Maybe we can imagine a world with a place for everyone and an understanding that cooperation and coordination need not only be accomplished via super-massive hierarchies that unjustly benefit only the upper strata.


> If your entire existence is justified by creature comforts and an unyielding demand that nothing ever changes, then isn't technological progress just as disruptive to your ethos?

I said that I wanted each generation to live better than the last. From what did you draw the conclusion that this means stasis, or is contradictory to my ethos?

Over the past several thousand years, on average, each generation has lived better than the previous, and technological progress is the main reason for that.

Since you didn't really grok my basic thesis, I think the rest of your argument is against a strawman.


Is it good to be able to do those things when it is killing us? Lots of things are "good" in the short term if you ignore long term effects.


You kind of went from zero to one hundred there - pretty sure what the previous poster mentioned can be accomplished without a communist dystopia and with don’t way to still travel swiftly to visit friends, etc.


And there we have it. Why nothing will change. The idea of using less is so alien to how we have been brought up to always have more and more. Suggesting we don’t throw so much food away, not eat 200lb of meat per year or drive cars that do 60mpg instead of hulking suvs that barely crack 15mpg is seen as communism. That hardwiring is overwhelming hard to change


Lots of mindsets to overcome, but I'm sure, sooner or later we will forced to get rid of automobile and completely relay on public transport. May be in 50 to 100 years, but there isn't any alternative.


Honesty question for everyone proposing bicycling and public transit: are these feasible in rural environments? (Especially WRT cycling if you have a disability or young children and/or have to commute long distances in very cold or very hot weather)


Bicycling and transit doesn't have to be feasible for everyone, it just has to be made an option for trips where it makes sense, which is most trips. Nearly half of trips in the US were under 3 miles, 72% of those where done in a car. 60% of trips under a mile were made in a car or truck (!). Accommodating all those trips requires a ton of pavement, parking, gas stations to be built.

https://www.bikeleague.org/content/national-household-travel...

The vast majority of people making those trips are able-bodied people in urbanized areas (80% of the US lived in an urbanized area as of 2010).

https://www.icip.iastate.edu/tables/population/urban-pct-sta...

So if you can get bike infrastructure to where people are living, you've attacked a big chunk of the auto problem.

Per your second point, yes, it can be feasible. The modern rural US is very sprawling in terms of the built environment but it wasn't always that way. Rural areas in the US used to revolve around small villages and points of density that service a wide area, complete with transit connections. Many German rural villages are extremely bikeable and have regular transit through their regions and to larger cities.

You still can accommodate people who need vehicles, just the demand on infrastructure (parking, number of lane miles, subsidies and costs) would be greatly reduced. As it is now, the children, the disabled, and frequently the poor can't drive themselves and rely on other people driving them. Cycling can be done by almost anyone, is much cheaper and therefore much more accessible than driving.


I continued cycling with a young child, though less often and usually only solo trips. Bicycle trailers can help but it's still more work than putting the kids in a car, and with kids there is already less time for everything to be done.


Not everybody can use a car either. There's always exceptions to every proposal.

But I don't think bicycles and mass transit will take over ultimately. But self driving electric vehicles a bit larger than a bicycle could do it.

These will only need one seat and minimal storage. They'll go directly from home to work without stopping at every bus stop or train station along the way. And they'll be 1/4 the cost of today's car.

And, yes, they won't work for everybody and every situation, just like everything else.


The UN thinks 68% of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050 so it makes sense to focus on urban areas - rural areas could probably be the exception to the rule and still use cars, etc?

https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-...


Not at all. You cannot exist in the vast majority of the US without personal transportation.


Government sponsored automatic car is also public transport.


I don't think you should be sure of anything at a 50 or 100 years horizon.


Self-driving cars will blur and in the long run, possibly invalidate the distinction between "private" and "public" transport.


I strongly disagree with this idea.

While not having to park, consuming electricity, and more efficient road usage will make cars much much better, this future car will still be significantly less efficient than modern trains in several key metrics. Examples include efficient land usage, efficient energy usage, maintenance requirements, raw resource requirements, max speed.

As the process of urbanization continues trains are the most logical next step in transportation for our cities. While side driving cars will play a role in less traveled routes, we’ll see heavy investment in trains as cities try to find ways to allow more and more people access to their most busy business districts.


What you leave out of your calculation is the value of peoples time. Non individualized transport currently has the advantage of people being able to work instead of having to operate the vehicle. Once this goes away with self driving cars, the only advantage non individualized transport might have is price. Looking at current ticket prices, I doubt that it will be able to compete on that alone.


Sure, self driving cars will be common in a lot of places, but the most dense places will require more.


Or bicycles, which offer the personal freedom of an automobile but not the catastrophic environmental impact.


Plus the additional health benefits which come with the job of conveying self plus bike from a to b as well as the cognitive benefits of mens sana in corpore sano [1]

Bikes won't carry everything but they go a long way in solving day to day commuting problems.

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


Yes, particularly e-bikes. That's why the Netherlands now buys more e-bikes per year than they do traditional bikes despite that e-bikes cost about twice as much.


We just need to get past the mindset that e-bikes are cheating. This is one of the big impediments for anyone that I've talked to about e-bikes, they say they would feel embarrassed riding them (since the main purpose of a bicycle that many people see is as a form of exercise, not transportation).

The answer to that, of course, is e-bikes aren't cheating, but driving a car is.


This is only true for some lifestyles. Elderly people with limited mobility, freezing climates, and rural, spread-out areas are examples of reasons cycling might not be appropriate.

As someone who cycles to work year-round, I'd love to see more bicycles and infrastructure, but I don't think bicycles are a panacea.


You’re right but bicycles + public transport could go a long way in most of the cases you mention. The other problem is also the city planning most of which were made assuming ownership of cars.

I don’t own a car all my commuting happens on a bike. I live in a city with not so good public transport so when needed I just rent a car for the weekend or so.


Probably yes for single adults in their 20s and 30s without any small kids or elderly parents to take care of who live in a small (possibly European) city with low enough population density that it allows bicycles on public transport. Doesn't describe most of the world unfortunately.


I know families with 3 kids who don’t own a car. But of course they live walking distance to supermarket, kids school and the parents commute by bike. In case Of emergencies they don’t hesitate to take a taxi. From their point of view yearly taxi costs are lower than car ownership costs. But of course the city you live in must support bike paths etc.


Also you need high population density, not low.


The trick is to move to Europe. Plenty of families in bakfiets, or older folks cycling.


This is impossible in the U.S. unless the costs of building public transportation falls by a couple of orders of magnitude.


I'd strongly suggest finding a source of predictions for the 50 to 100 year future made 50 to 100 years ago, from any source you care to look for, and enjoying the spectacle of just how completely absurd 99% of them were, then thinking much more carefully about your own predictions for anything that far ahead.The vast majority of such predictions made today, either by professional scientists, "forecasters" or laypeople all suffer from the same two core defects: 1. they're based far too much on current assumptions and worldviews. and 2. they completely fail at taking into account unknown unknowns, even if they claim not to do so. By definition they can't do otherwise anyhow.


> goes against our hardwiring

It doesn't ; if anything our hardwiring is always for efficiency and less effort. It's just that there is no easy and low-effort way to avoid those things.


Okay, but consumer cars aren't actually the largest polluters by far.


Both agriculture and consumer transportation are non-trivial contributions.

We should go after military and cooperate polluters first because of their larger impact, but that’s easier to do when you gain moral high ground.


Agriculture wasn't really mentioned.

But one way to drastically improve this situation is to improve public transit and alternative transit (e.g., welcome electric scooters if they can leave they're sustainably designed and sourced). Most people live in cities, so improving that story for cities is the most impactful way to reduce civil emissions.

As for corporations, I doubt any moral high ground will be impactful. It will almost certainly come to violence (or if we're lucky, implied violence via state action) over that in one form or another.


Nuclear fission could, obviously -- I've yet to see anybody propose a reasonable alternative (with a known tech, not just hypothetical handwaving) to cover our enormous energy needs -- and even then some work is needed to migrate direct fossil consumption to electric. Wind and solar consumes ridiculous amount of spaces and the storage is not solved (we need it for too for other purposes, maybe not in the same form, but that does not make the problem disappear for existing usages...). Without storage, it is not a solution (it does not prevent it from becoming one in the future, but we need to start to build things now, while storage is being studied). Hydro is used already, and developing it to the max will not be enough. Nuclear fusion is not there yet.

So even with pervasive nuclear fission we would have a shitload of problem to solve, but at least that would be an immediate first step, and could be replaced if we eventually figure out how to replace it. We haven't figured out that yet.


Storage isn't the problem. The problem is that the governments 'own' all the nuclear material and anybody operating a nuclear plant is utterly dependent on government actors to do something with the 'waste'. It is illegal if the plant operators went about fixing the problem on their own.

And since the government refuses to solve the problem or even really look deeply into solutions then it's not getting solved and it isn't ever going to get solved.

Because of this the solutions to recycle spent fuel is still in it's infancy. Nobody is allowed to do anything, the government isn't really interested in allowing nuclear power to be competitive, so it's just not happening. No money, no motivation.

People in the industry are not going to invest millions in developing these breeder reactors and other ways to recycle fuel if they will never be allowed to use them.

Theoretically you could recycle the fuel to the point to where most of it is spent and isn't much of a danger. Recycle the fuel 60 or a 100 times. Then mix it with clay and cook into into a ceramic so that they are safe to handle, transport, and store. Massively reduce the danger and radiation levels.

Despite all the talk and rhetoric about CO2 emmissions you see coming from the state the petroleum industry is still king. People inside and outside of government are making a lot of money and they have no interest in seeing that go away.

The dirty secret with things like solar and wind is that in order for them to work reliably they need to have large number of natural gas generators. Because of this and other issues they really pose little threat to total fossil fuel consumption.


In the U.S. it's also quite hard to get permission to develop those reactors.

Several years ago I got to sit in a meeting between reps from a dozen advanced reactor companies, and a former head of the NRC. The reactor people said their biggest problem was that the NRC required several hundred million dollars worth of design work before even taking a look. Then they gave a flat yes or no. If yes then you still only had a paper reactor, and if no then you were out of business.

That's a difficult sell to investors. They said just a more phased process would help a lot. The NRC person was unsympathetic, said it wasn't the NRC's job to help develop nuclear technology, and was uninterested in climate change.


> The dirty secret with things like solar and wind is that in order for them to work reliably they need to have large number of natural gas generators. Because of this and other issues they really pose little threat to total fossil fuel consumption

Of course they do. Because storage is not solved. That's why I said they are not a replacement without storage (among other reasons)

As for the economical cases, nuclear is competitive in the long term if we do not require stupid high rentability. Given wealth is extremely strongly correlated to energy consumption, and we will have to get rid of fossil (even if we don't want, we will be forced to), the economy will restructure anyway, and we will be forced to do rational things rather than wishful thinking economy based on ridiculous hypotheses (eternal exp. growth)

So in the long term, the governments will not really be able to allow or disallow things by incentives, if the world simply does not have any other solutions. That's not even what all the governments are doing today. China is building some nuclear power plants.


>The dirty secret with things like solar and wind is that in order for them to work reliably they need to have large number of natural gas generators. Because of this and other issues they really pose little threat to total fossil fuel consumption.

The reality is that capital and fuel costs make running coal and gas plants uneconomical because wind and solar do not have a fuel input and low capital costs. Building coal plants is very expensive therefore they need to amortize their capital expenses over as many hours as possible, they have to keep running even if they make a loss per unit of energy. Building a gas plant is very cheap but the fuel costs are significantly higher compared to renewables. What happens is that the gas plant reduces its output during times of high renewable energy instead of keeping it running to amortize costs. In other words it is more economical to run both gas and renewables combined than either of them alone. Your "dirty secret" is just a big fat lie.


Nicely said. That last point tells you why they get support from oil companies. It's empty climate signaling. I'd like to see an oil company bet on nuclear.


My understanding is that models show that with a large enough geographically diverse combination of wind and solar almost no storage is required. Furthermore, with the cost of HVDC transmission lines dropping so quickly it's becoming economic to build such large networks.


Models shows precisely the inverse at least in Europe (there is mostly no independent abundance of wind/solar, at least way not enough)

It even shows today with even quite small capacity disturbing market prices. That's why even "low" production costs can make wind not profitable; you end up selling your production with very low prices (because there is some overproduction), in some cases even negatives. You would not have that problem with storage. But then the production costs of wind+storage are already high...


With a “large enough” network, sure, but you just defined your way out of the problem. The real question is, how large exactly the network need to be. Is the required installed capacity 2 times average use? 10 times? 50 times?


Networks are expensive and not resilient.


> Wind and solar consumes ridiculous amount of spaces

Yet the ocean and deserts are massive. More than enough room in the North Sea to provide enough kWh to power Europe each year. More than enough room in Saudi Arabia to power India (not to mention the indian ocean), more than enough room in China to power the far east, in the outback to power Austrailia


Adding another voice to the chorus of fission works, people are irrational, etc.

If you say to me that science proves the world is in grave danger, but we can’t use nuclear fission because it is “dirty” or “dangerous” (or even better, “solving one thing doesn’t matter because the real problem is our culture/capitalism”), I will immediately stop taking you seriously.


Maybe because TEPCO lies? And the history of other nuclear companies or agencies supposed to have fidelity to the public and not betray their trust is also poor?


Successful large scale fusion energy is not enough. It must be cheap enough to replace hydrocarbons and be viable within reasonable time scale.

If the cost and time scale does not matter, fission is already good enough. People are just irrational and can't compare things. Fukushima type accident every few years would be completely acceptable and compared to coal and hydrocarbons.


> People are just irrational and can't compare things. Fukushima type accident every few years would be completely acceptable and compared to coal and hydrocarbons.

You're quite right, but keep in mind that identifying the problem doesn't make it go away. If public opinion won't accept fission, then we'll need another option even if fission is technically a fine solution.


> Fukushima type accident every few years would be completely acceptable and compared to coal and hydrocarbons.

This is the most delusional thing I've ever read about nuclear feasibility. No country will ever accept more than one of those.


> No country will ever accept more than one of those.

And yet most countries accept death toll and land area denial orders of magnitude higher every single year to keep operating coal plants and ICEs. As a randomly sampled person, you are almost certainly going to live less because of the use of hydrocarbons and you are almost certainly completely unaffected by the use of nuclear power.

This is the same effect as car crashes being just a death toll yearly statistic that everyone accepts, meanwhile each individual plane crash is subjected to news theatrics despite flying being orders of magnitude safer than driving.

Australian mining industry destroys one of the natural wonders of the world spanning 344,400 square kilometres just while doing business as usual? Meh. Second worst nuclear disaster of all time results in 371 square km exclusion zone where people are still safe and wildlife is thriving and with 0 casualties? Stop everything. Ban nuclear.


>No country will ever accept more than one of those.

They won't (and shouldn't, since it should be preventable), but the fact of the matter is that coal power plants kill a hell of a lot of people, and recurring Fukushima style events are still less detrimental. They're just significantly flashier, and that makes them scarier.


All countries accept much bigger death tolls. Just the radioactivity released to air from burning coal is much bigger than Fukushima. Never mind that Coal causes almost all deaths by other means than radiation.

Consider this:

1.069 PBq/yr Radioactive release from annual coal combustion.

600 PBq - Upper limit of radioactivity released from Fukushima accident. Actual may be half of that.

> No country will ever accept more than one of those.

Because people are irrational as I said.

source:

http://nuclearaustralia.blogspot.com/2011/12/coal-1-fukushim...


It would, if people were rational and could do basic math. So you are of course right, but not because coal is saver, its demonstrably not, its because nuclear fear is a cultural affliction ingrained in the psyche of modern civilisation, and its going to cost us our future.

We can be carbon negative in a decade and multi-digit negative in two, allowing us to sequester carbon released from humanities previous carbon age. All using well understood save nuclear energy. Modern breeder reactors will take nuclear energy from being orders of magnitude safer than coal, to even safer levels. And we can do this today, with boring old fission.


This is great. I hope they succeed, but the climate crisis isn't solely about emissions.

Yes it's the largest most immediate threat. But we will continue to have the dust bowl, ozone crisis, emissions crisis, microplastic crisis, etc. Unless we fundamentally address our relationship to this planet.

There's an incredible documentary that was way before it's time called "Who's Counting?" by Marilyn Waring. I think it addresses some of the fundamental causes of each crisis that comes up every so often. We're not accounting for the economic value or the "jobs of nature". We might not even be able to, because we really don't fully understand it.


A new theory on fusion. It's actually a government organized strategy to keep nuclear scientists/engineers occupied on a sisyphean task that can never be completed. If they're hard at work on fusion, they're not taking payments from foreign governments to work on weapons or subs. It's pretty great because the cause is so high minded and noble that it can attract all the engineers and it's very difficult so it attracts the brightest too (those suckers are smart). Indeed, it's so difficult that they (the government non-proliferation people) may never have to think up a new way to keep the nuclear scientists occupied. US did something similar in the 90s after the Cold War by hiring/importing all the Soviet scientists, after WWII by hiring/importing German engineers. If you're working for us, you're not working for them.

At some point, maybe weapons engineers could start getting paid to just sit on their hands. Learn to make the bomb, get paid to not make it.

Is fusion a brain sink designed for non-proliferation? It's a pretty effective non-proliferation tool with total US fusion research at less than $1B/yr. Compared to a trillion dollar war or 10s of billions in monitoring etc.


That's a fun idea, but extraordinary theories require extraordinary (even if circumstantial) evidence.


The evidence is that 10s of 1000s of plasma physicists and nuclear scientists have fruitlessly consumed careers without any result since the 1970s. And, nuclear weapons and tech have not proliferated substantially.


This might point towards cold fusion being indeed a dead end, but not the existence of a conspiracy behind a "government organized strategy" you hypothesized. That's quite a leap.

By the way, the idea reminded me of "The Dead Past" by Asimov.


Yup, as much as things like magic wand, warp drive, aliens or parallel worlds colonization, they all can save us.

How dare people say just limiting consumption and CO2 pollution could have any effect. Let's just bet everything on zero.


Fusion is scientifically possible; executing it in a cost effective way is just an engineering challenge. That doesn't mean it'll happen, soon or ever, but it's a valid gamble. Yes, the history of fusion has been long and full of false starts, but it's undeniable that huge progress has been made, and it's hardly absurd to think the journey is finally drawing to a close.

Magic wands, warp drives, aliens, or colonising parallel worlds are not comparable. They are not, as far as we know, scientifically possible, and no progress has been made towards them.


Of course, but in a world where, practically, we aren't and won't be able to reduce emissions in time, what do we do? All approaches need to be looked into simultaneously. And it seems like that might be the world we live in.

In many cases it may be far easier to get billions funneled to researchers and scientists for moonshot projects like this than to get world leaders to agree to and enforce billions/trillions of dollars' worth of emissions reductions.

As mentioned in other comments, even if the warming issue itself is solved "out-of-band", there are still lots of other issues associated with what's being released. But it's a start, and might be the difference between turmoil and utter catastrophe. Countless human and non-human animal lives could potentially be saved which might otherwise not be if moonshot projects like this didn't exist. Reducing suffering and death, for all time scales, is the only metric we should be optimizing for at the end of the day.

This problem has to be viewed in terms of what will actually help, not what we "should" be doing. I'd certainly wish the president of my country would sign the Paris Agreement; obviously, we should. But a scientist won't be able to influence that, and probably otherwise won't be able to have much impact lobbying politicians, so they need to find a way to help any way they can.


My point is, we are trying to get workaround for the impossibility of reaching consensus and absence of political will with some complex tech. Probably we'll manage to do it this time with fusion. But this is a dead end in the long run.


It's hard to see fusion as a dead end, when it could produce as much zero-emissions energy as we need, and last until the sun goes out.

I hope we do fix the political situation, but doing that may be harder than achieving fusion, so I wouldn't want to bet entirely on that. And even if we accomplish it, fusion could still make our task easier if it's cheap enough. There's no merit to making things harder than they need to be.


Fusion is nothing like these things you listed - we can see that it can be done with our naked eyes each day, and we even managed to use it for weapons. The only thing stopping us from doing it now are engineering problems.

Limiting CO2 emission is needed anyway, I don't know why people feel the need to dismiss other parts of solution just to make their favorite parts seem more necessary.


What we really need is Mega Maid, but for CO2 this time.

EDIT For the young'uns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7aeWQCF1jM


Several companies are working on machines that directly capture CO2 from air. It looks like the cost will be around $100/ton at scale.

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

One of them should call their product Mega Maid :)


Yes but with fusion there is a zero. Warp drive etc is just walking away from the table.

We put our bets on everything that might help, long shots included.


Fusion is not necessary at all, thorium is a sufficent holy grail, currently underfunded because of humanity irrationallity.


Humans are being completely irrational. Can we create a safe nuclear power plant? Yes, but that doesn't mean we will and it doesn't mean there will be no issues in operation. Not to mention the lobbying for changing rules of what the design life is to keep running the plant after the engineered lifespan has expired or lobbying to continue operation with larger concrete cracks than the engineers recommend. Both these things happen today. I think something like 80% of the plants in the US expired their engineered design life 10-15 years ago and many also have larger cracks than they should be operating with. This is because humans will always be greedy and put their profits first.

Then there's also situations where engineers just make stupid design decisions like in the case of Chernobyl. Or when there's something that engineers just haven't thought of like a failsafe plan for an earth quake as we've seen in Fukushima.


Thorium also has its issues. Germany had a commercial reactor in the 80s, but it was abandoned.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/THTR-300


"Modern" Thorium designs (not really modern, but what people are talking about today) use liquid fuel, where as THTR-300 used pebble fuel. If you are comparing a uranium solid fuel reactor to a thorium solid fuel reactor, the differences are indeed marginal.

Most of the benefits people talk about with thorium are related to using a liquid fuel in the form of a molten salt (LFTR), which allows for things like continuous operation, 100% fuel utilization, and "meltdown-proof" designs.


The problem with nuclear is that people constantly talk about how designs that currently don't exist will solve all the problems. Cost overruns by nuclear power plants is primarily caused by the fact that almost every plant is redesigned from the ground up, yet somehow magically every project fails to consider these modern reactor designs.


LFTR designs currently do exist. There are a variety of reasons they haven't been built and used for large-scale energy production, some of them more conspiratorial than others.


> Most of the benefits people talk about with thorium are related to using a liquid fuel in the form of a molten salt (LFTR), which allows for things like continuous operation, 100% fuel utilization, and "meltdown-proof" designs.

If it is really that great, China will make it happen. If not, then it's just overhyped, like hydrogen. People like to focus too much on arbitrary metrics, when really it's economics first, politics second and science/engineering last.


"Utilizing more fuel" and "operating continuously" are first-and-foremost economic considerations. We don't want to do those things just because they are cool from an engineering perspective.

If we can make nuclear fission work with liquid fuel, that is a game changer. It is the equivalent of going from coal to gasoline. Except even better. Maybe more like going from wood logs to gasoline.


To my limited knowledge, there are today some reactor that take both normal uranium and thorium. (the state of the art seems to be Russia from 90s) The only issue I saw is that thorium is less lucrative than uranium with today technology. Being less lucrative make it still lucrative enough to provide energy for all humanity decently.


Suspending disbelief for a moment:

Future perfect nuclear fusion helps us become carbon neutral. Transportation, structures, agriculture, power generation are now carbon free. Yay!

But it's still not enough.

Carbon is now being added by "natural" causes, in a positive feedback loop. Thawing tundra, burning forests, ocean acidification. With the imminent threat of the ocean burping up all that the frozen methane currently stored on its floor.

Whatever is needed for humanity to become carbon neutral, we need much more to become carbon negative, to remove carbon faster than nature adds it.


> Whatever is needed for humanity to become carbon neutral, we need much more to become carbon negative, to remove carbon faster than nature adds it.

We have processes to do this, cheap electricity would really help there.


"Fusion will be available to all in 20 years."

Unfortunately, they've kept saying that every year since the 1950s. If it were truly possible, we'd be doing it already.


Another article from five days ago:

Nuclear energy too slow, too expensive to save climate: report

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-energy-nuclearpower/nucle...

Fusion is even further out than fission.


Fission isn't far out. Fission has been a readily available solution for decades. The only obstacle is political. The only reason fission is expensive is political.

As the climate situation worsens, more and more nations will overlook that obstacle and roll out large scale nuclear. The only question is, will they be able to do it quickly enough.

I feel like I'm the only person in the room missing something when watching the world focus on 'renewable' technology when a much less resource/labour intensive and much higher energy dense power source is already available. And it's safer too. [1]

Why is renewable in quotes? Because we don't actually have a way to recycle solar and wind installations[2][3]. Nuclear is the only currently available large scale power source that doesn't require a large and continuous supply of mined materials.

Am I missing something? Am I an idiot? Why is everyone so anti nuclear and pro 'renewable' when nuclear is significantly better by every objective metric? Looks like the 'ban plastic straws' activism which ignored that straws make up an insignificant fraction of ocean waste and the vast majority of it is discarded fishing equipment. Inconsequential feel-good activism is a higher priority goal than more difficult but effective solutions?

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-d...

[2] https://recyclinginternational.com/editors-top-picks/critica...

[3] https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/waste-crisis-looms-a...


I suspect it's because a lot of people don't see climate change as an actual problem to be solved as effectively as possible, but rather as an opportunity to effect the kinds of change they would favor anyway. It's "never let a crisis go to waste" thinking.

We could even keep generating power with natural gas and just capture all of the carbon emissions at the powerplant. Nuclear is an improvement but you don't even need to go that far if you are serious about decarbonizing the power grid as quickly as possible.


You’re not stupid. Nuclear is an amazing idea on paper. But it’s simply too expensive and too slow to deploy. I recommend reading the World Nuclear Industry Status Report the Reuters article is based on.


> Fission isn't far out. Fission has been a readily available solution for decades

the UK is building new fission plants. It costs more than renewables, and won't be ready for a decade.


Yet they will be indispensable when they are done.



You're not the only one missing this. It seems very common to miss, but I can point out what you're missing.

Your link number 1 is supposed to support nuclear being safer than renewables, and it simply doesn't do that.

There's a few links that regularly get shared, intending to make that point and they all don't actually make it.

The list of things that nuclear is safer than, is notably missing grid scale wind and solar. What a mysterious ommision from something that is trying to argue they are not safe.

Having read your link 2 and 3, I see they also don't support the point you are making (the first describes how to recycle turbine blades into concrete and is looking for more applications, the second says solar panels are 90% recyclable and just wants some government policies to ensure this happens), which makes me wonder if you're arguing in good faith here?


How does the first link not demonstrate that nuclear, at 90 deaths per trillion kWh (and this includes all the deaths from the earliest incidents when humanity was just figuring out how to harness nuclear power), is not safer than wind at 150, solar at 440, or coal at 100k?

Are you disputing the article? My interpretation of it? The sources it cites? The error bounds on the estimates? What?


Rooftop solar retrofitted onto existing rooftops, is entirely different from grid scale solar or even solar installed as part of building the roof in the first place. Those would be even lower.

The stats are from 2012 and wind and solar have improved markedly since then, generating more per installed item.

I didn't notice this link includes wind, the others I see shared usually only have rooftop solar. I know the figures will be very out of date though.

Trying to find the source of these wind figures is interesting. The same author links in a later column to what I guess must be the source though he misquotes their global figures as UK only figures. It appears to include suicides by people who live near wind turbines. The totality of 17 deaths globally in 2012 appear to be 17 bus passengers who died in march 2012 in Brazil, but I can't find any trace of a news story to explain what actually happened to them. Basically, it appears to be made up nonsense and even then it only has 3 deaths worldwide last year for wind.

This gets amplified further in the retelling, the author of your link however quotes 14 deaths in England alone in one year. Which simply didn't happen. And even then it compare favourably with other sources.


I once found out mining deaths plausibly caused by health impact of uranium mining in one region I could find data for (the Grants Mining District), and just this figure, after translating the total uranium mined into energy equivalent in contemporary reactors, was appreciably higher that what you're citing, even without counting any other mining accidents, or accidents in the rest of the nuclear industry after mining. So I remain a bit skeptical about that. (But nevertheless it was still low enough to be worth it, especially of course compared to anything coal-based.)


The deaths figure is not the whole story? The areas rendered uninhabitable matter as well.


There is a significantly larger land area rendered uninhabitable by coal mining operations. No one seems to care. The impact of all the nuclear disasters combined is negligible in comparison. Wind power renders larger areas unusable just by the fact of covering that area with wind turbines. No one cares. Solar and wind installations devastate wildlife populations. No one cares.

Why should we treat nuclear power differently and discard all of its advantages just because worst-case failures can render small land areas unusable, but smaller than other alternatives already do on a regular basis? I'm not even bringing up the fact that there exist modern reactor designs that are provably incapable of failing like this. The comparison is in favour of nuclear even when we're looking at currently rolled out explode'y reactors.

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

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47165522


Chernobyl is a wildlife haven. Its got one of the highest levels of biodiversity in Eastern Europe.


Yes, it's a wildlife haven because we decided to let animals instead of humans enjoy the tumors (see e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1994720/). And it turns out that humans are even worse than nuclear fallout for wildlife. I'm not sure if that means that nuclear fallout is good. It most likely means simply that humans are bad.


What are you talking about? Not only is wildlife thriving there[1], there are multiple permanent human settlements in the area, a growing hospitality sector[2], and a booming tourism industry[3]. If you're looking at elevated frequency of minor abnormalities, you have a few hundred papers relating those to agriculture and mining to sift through.

You sound like you've watched too many Hollywood horror films. The only place to get a meaningful dose is inside the sarcophagus or to venture deep into buildings that contain dumped cleanup equipment. Both are fairly difficult to access to wildlife or civilians.

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/wildlife-near-nuclear-reacto...

[2] https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Restaurant_Review-g298058-d10...

[3] http://www.travelweekly.com.au/article/chernobyl-sees-touris...


It's not a contradiction that wildlife is thriving there, since, as I pointed out, humans were even worse for the wildlife. That means obviously nothing for what effect it would have for humans themselves.

I'm in contact with people from our nuclear physics faculty that are doing actual research on this, I don't need to read random articles from your generic newspapers. If I need to know something, I can just go down the hall and ask them. That the exclusion zone still has significant hot spots is what they told me.

[EDIT: Your article [1] says basically the same things that I did, most notably the "Nature flourishes when humans are removed from the equation, even after the world's worst nuclear accident" and "The Chernobyl exclusion zone is still considered an unsafe region for humans due to the high levels of radiation". Thanks for that corroboration.]


> Having read your link 2 and 3, I see they also don't support the point you are making (the first describes how to recycle turbine blades into concrete and is looking for more applications, the second says solar panels are 90% recyclable

The 90% recyclable figure refers to the materials that can be used in low grade applications. The remaining 10% are the rare earth minerals that actually make the panel work and need to be mined.

You’re not talking about recycling, you’re talking about downcycling to a nearly worthless product. It will be cheaper just to send the old panels to landfill. How are these power sources renewable if they are only possible if we keep mining our dwindling natural resources?


> The 90% recyclable figure refers to the materials that can be used in low grade applications.

[1] says that "[the waste components] are crushed into granulates that can used to make new panels". Are new panels a "low grade application"?

> The remaining 10% are the rare earth minerals that actually make the panel work and need to be mined.

Excuse me, but what "rare earth minerals" are you talking about? There are none in solar panels, much less 10% of them. (That would be 2 kg per average panel, mind you!)

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-solar-recycling/europes-f...


> Excuse me, but what "rare earth minerals" are you talking about? There are none in solar panels

LMGTFY

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/a3mavb/we-dont-mine-enoug...


Did you just seriously use a VICE article as a source for technical information? Aside from that gaffe, even they don't mention any use for rare earth metals in solar panels. I challenge you to find some use that would make sense in your bog-standard crystalline silicon PV panel. I've never been able to find any.


https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-05843-2_...

Refer to Fig. 11.1

If you need more help to identify REM or understand basic PV chemistry, get in touch with a local middle school chem tutor, they will help you out.


Zero mention of rare earth metals in conjunction with PV, as expected. Thanks for agreeing with me.

[EDIT: Even in wind turbines, they're not technically necessary, as, e.g., Enercon turbines such as https://www.enercon.de/en/products/ep-8/e-126/ with induction generators are demonstrating. But I'm glad we dispelled once and for all this with this nonsense that lanthanoids have anything to do with PV technology.]


The nuclear industry report cited in that article (WNSIP) is written by an anti-nuclear activist (Mycle Schneider). His whole career is defined by it.


That's two very different kinds of 'slow'.

Nuclear Fission might be too slow to build - at least that's what the report claims. That would not be a problem with Fusion - its energy output should be so high that building it should still be worth it. The 'slow' regarding Fusion is the time taking to research it.

IMHO, researching Fusion is worth it, but we can't rely on it at all for solving our problems, since it's unlikely to be available in time. We'll have to handle our climate problem with more ordinary means.


[flagged]


...and the over-engineered solutions are over-engineering outdated, inherently unsafe designs.


So why is Hinckley Point C three times as expensive as wind farms?


There is at least one source claiming that the UK potentially has the worst track record in the world for installing cost-effective nuclear plants [0].

I'm not sure what they are doing wrong, but it probably isn't inherent to nuclear power.

[0] http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/sectors/report-claim...


> So why is Hinckley Point C three times as expensive as wind farms?

That's an Apples to Oranges comparison. Nuclear provides stable energy, wind provides volatile energy. You need to factor in the cost of buffering that volatility, which will likely be natural gas, in which case you should be fair and put a price on that CO2 as well.


> despite current overengineered safety specs

Yeah you're right, they should remove all redundancies, ridiculous factor of safeties, and over the top safety measures /s


Coal powerplants kill orders of magnitude more people and nobody cares. What makes safety of thousands of people threathened by nuclear powerplants worth so much more than the safety of millions of people threathened by the coal powerplants?

Because that's what we're doing in practice - assigning vastly different value for lives of people depending whether they live near a nuclear or a coal powerplants. And then complaining that nuclear power cannot compete on cost :)

Oh, BTW, renewables kill more people per MWh generated than nuclear, too :)

    Energy Source               Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
    Coal – global average         100,000    (41% global electricity)
    Coal – China                         170,000   (75% China’s electricity)
    Coal – U.S.                               10,000    (32% U.S. electricity)
    Oil                                               36,000    (33% of energy, 8% of electricity)
    Natural Gas                                4,000    (22% global electricity)
    Biofuel/Biomass                    24,000    (21% global energy)
    Solar (rooftop)                              440    (< 1% global electricity)
    Wind                                                 150    (2% global electricity)
    Hydro – global average          1,400    (16% global electricity)
    Hydro – U.S.                                     5    (6% U.S. electricity)
    Nuclear – global average              90    (11%  global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)
    Nuclear – U.S.                                0.1    (19% U.S. electricity)
Source (2012): https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-d...

It's so frustrating how irrational people can be with good intentions... If you demanded same safety factors from other power sources as from nuclear - they couldn't compete with nuclear on cost. But people killed by radiation are much more important than people killed by falling from their roof while installing a solar panel :)


Okay, so your argument for not making nuclear safe is that coal kills a lot of people? Nice one, that's about as sound of an argument as killing somebody and then saying the military kills more people so what's the big deal.


Misleading analogy. You don't need to murder people, so the alternative to murdering someone is not murdering anyone.

You need baseload power anyway, so you have to choose some way to generate power. Nuclear kills the least number of people per MWh. So not choosing nuclear kills people and choosing nuclear saves people.

Even if you decided to return to the pre-industrial era and not generate power at all - that would kill even more people, so going nuclear is still better.

You need to look at alternative costs when comparing your options, you cannot just look at bad sides of one option and good sides of the other.


Humanity would be saved if political parties had your understanding. In other words, humanity would be saved if politics became a science.


Human cost factors as well as CO^2 are not priced in. If they were then nuclear might make more sense economically.


Overengineering is not a bad thing in real-world engineering, to be clear.


It is when you overengineer safety for 1 technology and ignore it for the alternatives, and then compare the costs ignoring the safety record.

    Energy Source               Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
    Coal – global average         100,000    (41% global electricity)
    Coal – China                         170,000   (75% China’s electricity)
    Coal – U.S.                               10,000    (32% U.S. electricity)
    Oil                                               36,000    (33% of energy, 8% of electricity)
    Natural Gas                                4,000    (22% global electricity)
    Biofuel/Biomass                    24,000    (21% global energy)
    Solar (rooftop)                              440    (< 1% global electricity)
    Wind                                                 150    (2% global electricity)
    Hydro – global average          1,400    (16% global electricity)
    Hydro – U.S.                                     5    (6% U.S. electricity)
    Nuclear – global average              90    (11%  global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)
    Nuclear – U.S.                                0.1    (19% U.S. electricity)
Source (2012): https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-d...

If people wanted solar power to be as safe as nuclear powerplants it would have to be much more expansive than it is now. But apparently deaths are ok as long as it's not from nuclear powerplants :/


So you are going to use the official Soviet figures for deaths due to Chernobyl? That does not lend credibility to your argument. Also keep in mind, that accident could have been much, much worse and nearly was so. It could have rendered much of Europe uninhabitable for centuries.


What do you want to use instead?

If you like you can increase the Chernobyl number by 1,000x. The point still stands; nuclear is measurably, unambiguously and has proven to be safer than coal in every way that effects humans. Except evacuation risk. Which is still tiny vs any reasonable standard.

Plus the modern designs are different from the Soviet designs. They have improved. We have Computer-aided design now.


> It could have rendered much of Europe uninhabitable for centuries.

I've seen this bandied around a bit over the past few months - perhaps something to do with a certain TV show? - but despite trying, I've never found anything that substantiates the claim.


The real irony is if we truly did solve Global Warming, the propaganda machine would either decide we are creating carbon emissions from something else, or go create a new global crisis to panic about.

IE - the words will change, but the freak out will be the same.


Well yes that would be great, fusion is the holy grail, but it is always 50 years away.


This attitude probably doesn’t help it in securing funding. Not everything can be solved with more money, obviously, but if we were putting a fraction of the money into basic research that we are putting into the petroleum industry I’m pretty confident we would see that timeline jump very suddenly.


Check how much the fusion projects got in financing like ITER, Wendelstein 7-X and others received

The National Ignition Facility also got a lot of funding but it has goals beyond the study of fusion


It’s a lot of money, I’ll admit, but compared to the military budget it’s chump change.


Sure but the military... works.


For certain definitions of “works”


It is not proven, even informally that stable nuclear fusion is possible on human scale. Unlike sufficiently great solutions such as thorium fission.


Basic research is never a loss. Even if we weren’t to find a workable solution for nuclear fusion the technology developed as part of the search would almost certainly push forward many areas of physics and energy research.


Yup, that would be about the time fusion research received funding not sufficient to keep progress at zero.


The problem is that Nuclear Fusion is always 30 years away. It was 30 years away in the 1970s and it's still 30 years away today. Can't rely on a solution that would probably not be available in time.



First we must discover time travel.


The only good thing about time travel is that once we discover it we always had known it.


You can't predict the exact rate of technological progress, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. We were further away from the goal 30 years ago than today.


Fusion or not, only an abundance of incredibly cheap clean energy is going to turn back the tide on CO2 and other pollutants, and who knows what problems that may bring.


fission is already good enough. Let’s just adopt and build safe designs at scale


are you investing?


If it was that easy we would have built them already.


Fusion is cool and it would be a very nice accomplishment for mankind. But it's kind of like going to the moon. The benefits will be offshoots of the journey rather than the journey and goal itself. Basically, if we want commercially viable and global use of fusion, someone needs to fix the problems below (talking here about D-T fusion designs and not aneutronic concepts). Not being negative, just pointing at the walls that need to be scaled.

1. Cost. The big problem here is that fusion does not address the main impediment of current nuclear fission. It's going to be really expensive to build power plants that are about similarly sized to fission power plants and more complicated (ITER is $65B... other projects are in the $5B range). They will still be massive construction projects. Renewables have proven that you have to manufacture your power systems in factories to lower costs rapidly. At the end of the day, fusion is going to be construction with all its associated delays, cost overruns, and low productivity. Can't really fix this without going much smaller and simpler, and that's not really an option based on physical/engineering requirements.

2. No current functional prototype. How long does it take from functional prototype to large-scale deployment, especially considering the massive regulatory overhaul required? eg. 50 years for aircraft? That might be fast enough.

3. Lots of very difficult engineering to deal with all the neutron damage and extreme temperature gradients. Million degree plasmas, 600 degree coolants, -40 degree super magnets, all within a few meters = nightmare. It's quite a hassle, but there are lots of smart people working on this. Can probably throw more money at this.

4. Not safer than fission. Yes, no long lived fission products for fusion and meltdowns are more difficult. But reactor damage and tritium release are probably more likely than in fission. Fusion power plant would be a lot more complex (more parts and systems) and has lots of tritium (tritium likes to escape from where you put it and diffuses through metals) with tritium processing facility to breed and fuel the reactor. Tritium has 10 year half life and not good for you when ingested. Essentially, lots of radioactive material handling + lots of equipment to maintain = higher chance of small accidents. See page 10 in link at bottom. Can probably throw more money at this.

5. Proliferation. Fusion reactors have lots of neutrons and tritium. Neutrons can be used to breed weapons material simply by placing normal uranium or thorium in the neutron flux. Tritium is used to boost nuclear weapons (just a bit of tritium drastically lowers the plutonium required). Is the only we to solve this state controlled fusion power? How can that be market competitive?

6. Probably only good for electrical power. While this is really just a limitation, it illustrates that fusion, should 1-5 be resolved, is not a magic bullet. You can't do much with it other than make electrical power. The power plants are too big to use for distributed process heat or hydrogen production.

Lidsky's often ignored 1984 paper: http://orcutt.net/weblog/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/The-Trou...


> lots of tritium

I think (combined with the statement about hot things next to cold things) you're overestimating how much fuel there is in the plasma. It's density is about a million times less than air. In most other contexts, that's a very good vacuum. I don't think there are any consequences to a fuel leak, but I could be wrong.

The primary issue is neutron activation. The neutrons from the fusion reaction tends to make inert components of the machine radioactive. Again, short half-lifes, but a concern that needs to be mitigated.


In fact, the article quotes one of the fusion researchers saying if he stuck his arm in his 35 million degree plasma, he wouldn't even be burned.


[flagged]


What is your theory though? Who is pushing this concept and for what gain?


> What is your theory though? Who is pushing this concept and for what gain?

"Who benefits" is always a valid question. However in the climate and energy debates it is usually just left hanging there - implying that some cabal of shady characters somehow benefit. The question serves very little purpose if it isn't followed by a somewhat coherent story that points to "who benefits" and "how".

So in order to redeem yourself, would you mind terribly answering who benefits. And perhaps why this is either good or bad? Names, numbers and observable facts.

As for who doesn't benefit, that's much easier: incumbent energy companies and the immense government interests in maintaining the status quo. (Even the tinfoil hat "free energy" quacks manage to harp on about who is thwarting their efforts to supply the world with free energy).

Heck: _I_ would benefit from maintaining the status quo. I live in Norway - a country whose pension fund is built on oil revenue and is currently the largest national sovereign wealth fund in the world. My quality of life as I retire is directly linked to how large this fund is. It would be in my interest that we keep pumping out hydrocarbons for as long as possible so we can load up on stocks and not depend on being innovative or doing actual work to remain wealthy.

(That being said, this pension fund is essentially a giant index fund. So there's that :-))


> So in order to redeem yourself, would you mind terribly answering who benefits. And perhaps why this is either good or bad? Names, numbers and observable facts.

I might have misunderstood the comment I was replying to. I thought it was ironically suggesting that "climate catastrophe" is being pushed by some due to an agenda so I was genuinely asking who this was and what the agenda is.

At least it's my suspicion I might have misunderstood something since I'm a bit confused by the replies to my comment.


Ah yes, sorry. I misunderstood who I should really be responding to :-)


Who has more to lose here and who has more resources to put towards propaganda and disinformation, climate scientists and green energy companies, or a deeply entrenched $1.7 trillion/year fossil fuel industry?


sure, you could arrive at this rhetorical question after about 30 seconds of rational thought OR you could be a contrarian and feel super smart because you saw through a conspiracy!


The better question is how much money can by made now by getting in on the hype as early as possible. Just look at the disclosures.


You don’t run an effective propaganda campaign on resources you don’t have yet. The comparison in existing entrenched oil wealth to the money behind climate activism is absurd.


Obviously not true, a propaganda machine based on ideology runs itself, all the better if there is money to be made.


Wikipedia has some good content about this. Basically in the 80's petrol funded think tanks pushed the idea that global warming was an phenomena created from whole cloth by a cabal of globalist leftists. I'm not sure of the exact claim of what they were/are trying to achieve, but essentially they want to put the brakes on capitalism by making people consume less, and ultimately disrupting economic growth.

There are a few reasons why this was effective, especially in the US. The first is the most powerful, best expressed by the old Upton Sinclair quote, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." Second, many believe that God would never do such a thing to us - it states clearly in the Bible that the world is ours to do with what we want, and it would be unjust for God to let us shoot ourselves in the foot like that, and God is not unjust. And third, it's not even real science, just dirty red communists trying to psych us out, and feckless scientists out for grant money. Fourth, Americans seem very prone to believe on authority, powerful and wealthy people, even when the statement is self-serving.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming has a lot of great content, and is well linked to, e.g., climate change denial articles.


> I'm not sure of the exact claim of what they were/are trying to achieve, but essentially they want to put the brakes on capitalism by making people consume less, and ultimately disrupting economic growth.

That cabal definitely exists, it's the old "Malthusian vs. Cornucopian" debate, revived in the form of the Club of Rome and people like Paul R. Ehrlich. Lots of scientists have this attitude. The scientists that do not have this attitude are rarely heard, because anything less than the impending apocalypse barely sells an newspapers.


What about all the data? What about direct evidence like the glaciers melting way, and the coral reefs dying? There is video evidence of these two, fyi.


What is the likeliness of global warming being a climate catastrophe?


It is actually quite high. The problem is that we won't really know until it is too late. For instance, if the growth of phytoplankton collapses, it might well mean that really large ecosystems collapse in relatively short order.

And it isn't really as simple as "well, I don't eat fish anyway". It is unlikely that other ecosystems wouldn't be affected by this. There is a greater than zero probability that if this happened today you would be dead in a few years. If not of starvation then due to societal collapses resulting from a sudden shortage of resources.

The thing is, the things that can result from climate change are not part of our experience so we can't really relate to it. We're used to "tomorrow is going to be more or less like today" and "well, this has never happened before so it can't happen".


It is quite high but you don’t know. Okay.


How much time would you be willing to invest in understanding a longer answer? I suspect not much so why should I waste my time?


If you know better, why didn't you write a better answer in the first place? What's there to "understand", why does it need to be long? Just list the bad things that you know are likely to happen.

Don't do it for me, do it for yourself and posterity. As it stands, your answer is only fit for preaching to the choir.


What would be a better answer to you? No, seriously, what would convince you?


I think you mean an environmental catastrophe, which I would say 100% since we're pretty much there already with some key glaciers breaking away, the many species going extinct, and the collapse of coral reefs and plankton.


If we are there already then frankly I am cool with it.


Likelihood is probably the wrong way to look at this, since it completely depends on human behavior. That’s like asking, what’s the likelihood of my eating a banana. It’s whatever likelihood you want it to be.


Let's just use whatever tech saved us from the climate catastrophe everyone was preaching was coming 20 years ago. Or the ones before that I heard tell of




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