I believe the best approach is to show people gradually that newer generation reactors are much safer and better than older generations. Just to give an example, the technology of reactors at Chernobyl is from 1953.
Newer reactor technologies are much safer and there are some types of reactors that they even use spent fuel rather than enriched fuel that all other types of reactors use. I believe Bill Gates also has invested some resources in this 'traveling wave reactors'.
Until we have a carbon tax or a massive policy shift in favor of extremely capital-intensive new-build nuclear, we will continue on our current path of renewables, batteries, and LNG dominating the grid.
I'm all for nuclear, by the way, but let's not pretend that cultural attitudes (which haven't dented GOP denialism) and misinformed lefty greens (which haven't ended fracking or coal) are to blame here. Nuclear is just way too expensive and hard to do in the USA, it's as simple as dollars and cents.
One of the crucial things to account for is that nuclear's cost is overwhelming overhead cost. So prematurely closing plants vastly inflates the price of nuclear power. This is why nuclear energy costs are so much more expensive in the US, Japan, and Germany. These countries prematurely closed nuclear plants, thus increasing $/MHW.
The real interesting part of this is that modern power is so much cheaper that it's less expensive to eat the capital losses and shut down nuclear plants early than it is to continue to operate them.
The former is intermittent, and the latter emits carbon.
> There is little difference in operational cost between running a nuclear plant at 50% and running it at 100%. So when they start losing key customers to cheaper power, pretty soon they're operating the plant in the red.
Yes, and we're replacing nuclear plants with fossil fuel plants because of it. When California shut down its second to last nuclear plant, it's carbon emissions from electricity generation rose by 35%. And now we're poised to shut down the Diablo canyon plant with solar during the day and natural gas during the evening.
If we cared about reducing carbon, we'd keep the nuclear plant operating and shut down a fossil fuel plant with the surplus energy.
But market forces disagree with me.
So what's the alternative? Crushing carbon taxes? That would eliminate the "intermittent" wind and solar solutions that are clean, safe, and cheap, because at the moment they need gas to balance the load. And it would effectively be doubling the cost of energy production in order to subsidize nuclear. And it still doesn't give us an exit ramp, so we'd have to build more nuclear and continue to de facto prohibit solar indefinitely. That's absurd.
What appears most practical to me is taking advantage of gas in the short run to load-balance wind/solar, and eventually moving to energy storage for the balancing, encouraged via increasing carbon tax.
Your wind and solar + gas solution is not a solution. We're still going to be emitting carbon of we are burning gas during the evenings. Energy storage at the necessary scale has not been demonstrated. Nuclear power is known technology. By comparison, solving the energy storage at this scale amounts to saying, "well... we'll figure it out eventually but until then we'll keep emitting carbon."
This rather impacts the risk of the up-front capital investment. Which affects the cost of the capital upwards. Which in turn makes building new reactors that much more expensive.
We should be building renewables because they're cheaper, safer (please, don't waste breath with nonsense arguments), and far more politically palatable. "Energy storage at the necessary scale has not been demonstrated". Of course it's been demonstrated. It's a problem with a thousand solutions. It's just a matter of getting costs down and production up (which in turn drives down cost). Batteries, thermal, compression, gravity storage... there are so many ways to store and release energy.
I see the "can't store at scale" argument everywhere, and it's utter nonsense, and it never comes with supporting math or facts.
The Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_reactors believes the following countries are building nuclear reactors: Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, China, France, India, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
> That requires predictable energy prices, in a market where solar prices dropped over 80% in a decade. There are three different major energy sources all running half the cost of nuclear right now
And how many of those sources emit no carbon, and deliver power all around the clock? Geothermal and Hydroelectric can, but those are geographically limited.
We could wait for solar thermal to get cheaper than nuclear (and assume that the cost of nuclear also remains static). Or we could just build nuclear power. The latter has the advantage of having consistent generation regardless of weather and time of year, and consuming a fraction of the amount of land.
Wind power has consistent output over long periods of time. But we still need to make the power grid resilient to fluctuations, which would require immense amounts of energy storage. To put it in perspective how infeasible energy storage is, take a look at California's latest energy projects. The current largest storage plant has 183MWh of capacity, and a planned one has a predicted 300Mwh of capacity. By comparison, the Diablo Canyon plant generats 2,2000MWh of energy every hour . These two energy storage plants can only store 5 minutes and 9 minutes worth of power generated by the Diablo Canyon plant respectively.
Cost is a factor but not the only factor. Intermittency is a factor. Geographic limitation is a factor. Land consumption is a factor.
Cheap intermittent energy is an okay supplement, but cannot reliably deliver when it is needed. Hydroelectric and geothermal are great, non-intermittent clean energy but are impossible to build without the right geography. Fossil fuels are cheap, and deliver power anywhere but emit carbon. Nuclear power isn't as cheap as fossil fuels or intermittent sources. But it's the cheapest non-intermittent source that isn't geographically dependent.
If our goal is to fully replace fossil fuels, then nuclear is the best option (besides building geothermal and hydro where we can). Sure, solar thermal can deliver clean energy without the need for additional energy storage. But we could build twice as much capacity with nuclear and use a fraction of the land, and avoid having to build larger plants in the north and south, and avoid seasonal output fluctuations.
Noor II CSP delivers 0.66 TWh and is 6.8km2 (200 MW - peak?)
Ringhals Nuclear Power Plant delivers 23 TWh annually (3955 MWe)
A solar plant using the tech of Noor II and the power delivered of Ringhals would be 237km2 - twice the size of Paris.
Can you source this? I heard of molten salt, gravity storage etc... but I have not read any paper stating we can scale those solution to 50% or even 20% of our current grid usage
The problem isn't "can't". Storing energy is trivial. The problem is cost. How much storage is required, and how much will it cost to build it, and how much will that make the total cost of a new energy system?
All this "can't" stuff is, frankly, reactionary bullshit by some very emotional people who are rather in love with the idea of nuclear energy. That's why you never see hard numbers attached to it.
Electricity to gas conversion has terrible efficiency. 30-40% for the electrolysis and Sabatier process, and then ~50% efficient for the gas combustion engine. Net efficiency is in the 20-25% range. Hydroelectric storage is geographically dependent. Most of the US is in flat terrain.
California said they would do solar and wind plus storage. Then they realized storage was not possible, and they used fossil fuels instead. Similarly, Germany closed down their nuclear plants, saying they'll build intermittent renewables plus storage. And then they ended up building fossil fuel plants when they realized storage could not fulfill the base load they lost from closing nuclear plants.
If most of the energy consumption is supplied directly, the storage part need not be overly efficient as long as it can cover the slack. 40% seems good enough. Even 20% is workable, if need be, just need to over-provision enough PV / wind and the over-provisioning itself significantly reduces needed storage.
If combined with capacious long-distance electrical grid (e.g. HV DC), load scheduling, high-uptime offshore wind, some PV in deserts, maybe thermo-electric solar, some batteries for rapid load following, etc, we really can supply enough power even with 0 coal, gas and nuclear power plants, and it wouldn't even bankrupt us. All we need is will. The technology is already sufficient and with improvements it won't be even that hard.
For example, one estimate is that for Germany to rely on solar and wind would require about 6,000 pumped storage plants which is 183 times their current capacity:
>...Based on German hourly feed-in and consumption data for electric power, this paper studies the storage and buffering needs resulting from the volatility of wind and solar energy. It shows that joint buffers for wind and solar energy require less storage capacity than would be necessary to buffer wind or solar energy alone. The storage requirement of over 6,000 pumped storage plants, which is 183 times Germany’s current capacity, would nevertheless be huge.
They just cost more than market rates.
The only possible way is if the alternative is massively funded by debt, and the "cost" is based on historically low interest rates and a repayment timeframe in the decades.
Even then, given the ongoing cost of nuclear is relatively small, how is it possible that the capital expenditure of solar + natural gas is cheaper than the running cots of nuclear? Can someone show me that maths?
This caught my eye when a nuclear plant in Iowa (near friends, including one who retired from working there) got slated for shutdown, over a decade before end-of-life. They'd lost a key industrial customer that consumed 30% of the plant's output to much cheaper wind/gas. At that point, operating costs went into the red. The plant was no longer generating the revenue to pay off its own debt. It was a purely economic decision.
And yes, the wind and gas that ate its lunch are also capital expenditures, amortized over time. But they're still much cheaper.
Want nuclear to win? Interest free loans.
Want wind/solar to win? Subsidies.
Put a thumb on the scale and make it say whatever you want.
Nationalization of all energy generation?
At grid scale 1 access tracking is ~7% higher per watt which works out to about 2.14c/kWh in an ideal location. https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2019/06/28/los-angeles-seeks-rec...
However, these systems produces ~30% more power outside of the normal range for solar systems. This effectively squashes much of the duck curve and with the right mix and wide geographic distribution work well with nuclear power and modest energy storage systems.
But, the duck curve isn't a real problem anyway. Worst case scenario, some solar gets curtailed , creating an opportunity for storage solutions.
That’s a nice way of putting it.
"Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its 17 reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022." - Wikipedia
Edit: This might just be because Germany is as close to the Ukraine as California is to Texas. Also removed dumb sentence.
Solar and wind are great technologies, but they cannot be the sole basis for a power grid without positing some new energy storage technology that does not exist today and for which there is nothing on the horizon.
Nuclear technology has stagnated horribly because of the fears. Even the newest reactors are using old designs because it's impossible to move forward with new ones.
You have too generous a view of the ability of an average person to understand and think rationally about such concepts. In the absence of understanding, fear takes its place. This is TL;DR of why nuclear power stations aren't profitable in the US today.
This suggests to me that the regulations for the ignorant paranoid treehuggers are not actually the problem.
Clearly it can be done.
And environmental rabble-rousers are religious zealots at this point - devoid almost completely of rational thought. The most environmentally responsible option at this point (and in the foreseeable future) is nuclear.
What is the cost of gas in Korea, vs the cost of gas in the US? We're the largest producer in the world. They have almost no gas of their own, and must import.
addendum: I find it striking that this thread is full of people telling me that nuclear costs are high in the US because of the treehuggers, and it's so cheap in France, but according to your chart, nuclear power is actually cheaper in the US than it is in France.
Of course, I completely concur that we should eliminate all fossil fuels from the electric grid, as much as possible from transport, and at whatever pace we can manage from building heating. But I want market forces working with us, not against us.
You mention "currently viable", but then we need R&D to make it currently viable? For how long? Ten years? Twenty? Wind and solar are viable now. Energy storage is viable now.
In investment and projects true, in technology no. It's just a bit expensive and politics..
Useful technologies (dramatic reduction of required storage):
* HV DC long-range transmissions (Russia)
* offshore wind (Hornsea)
* load scheduling (home dual tarrifs, remote-managed water heaters, regulated aluminum smelting, upcoming vehicle charging, ..)
* plain old overprovisioning
* electrolytic hydrogen stored in caverns (estimated cca 40% efficiency)
* automated train (cars) loaded with rocks on a slope (85% eff.)
* batteries (Tesla)
Not that useful for scaling:
* pumped / regulated hydro - currently very important but scaling limited by geography.
You could multiply the deaths-per-TWh by 100 from the stats quoted in the GP's link and still compare favourably to non-renewable options, or 10x and compare with renewables. That safety record is very clearly due to the public being (irrationally?) terrified of nuclear anything, and constantly ratcheting up the regulatory requirements.
Most people don't think about the world in this way though. Saying "we should increase the death rate of this technology by 100x" would immediately destroy the career of any politician. "Joe Politician wants 100x as many children to die" would be the obvious attack ad in response.
This is a shame, because if you could reduce the cost of nuclear by 10x by increasing the death rate by 100x (still ending up with a moderate death rate), and in so doing produce a radically cheaper and zero-carbon power source, then you might save thousands or even millions of lives from climate-related deaths over the next century. (To be clear, the "might" is important; I'm not making claims about how much of a win there is by taking this path. In this paragraph I'm making the meta-level point that no matter how much is to be gained from this path, we would not go down it.)
HN talks frequently about how opposed to NIMBYism it is, but I imagine they'd sing a different tune if the politicians told them "yo we ratcheted up the death rate 100x and we're building a new plant near you!"
Why? So it can finally be cheaper than wind and solar? What's the advantage of that?
I'm arguing that we should look at the cost-benefit of each marginal increment in safety, before dismissing nuclear power as "too expensive".
If you put in place requirements that wind power must kill no birds, forcing them to build expensive bird nets and other countermeasures, you could reach the same sort of conclusion that wind power is too expensive to be competitive.
> What's the advantage of that?
As I said, if nuclear was cheaper, and also not too dangerous, you would displace coal much more quickly (particularly in China). For some values of "cheaper" and "not too dangerous" you would prevent more deaths (by averting/reducing climate change) than you caused with such a policy change.
And yet, China is dominated by coal, and not building much much new nuclear capacity, really. That suggests that something other than treehugger political problems are causing the slow adoption. Meanwhile, they're building massive new wind and solar projects. Without checking the numbers, I expect those projects outstrip their planned nuclear in total capacity.
But the real cost of nuclear isn't the cost of safety. It's the cost of capital. And capital is sensitive to risk. So large scale projects with 30-50 year payoff schedules, in the face of new technologies that are already cheaper and continue to drop in cost, and don't have the political/social resistance nuclear does... well, that factors in to the risk. A little risk adds a great deal to long term capital cost.
Things I'd like to look into more (and would love to hear any thoughts if you have insights): are there anti-proliferation reasons that mean Chinese companies don't have access to the same level of nuclear technology as USA / France? Are domestic investors less willing to invest in these sort of projects in China (e.g. since there is a major construction boom)? Are international investors less able to invest in these sort of long-range and potentially sensitive projects in China, due to capital controls or other reasons?
But I agree, if China can't affordably build a nuclear plant, then that would at least suggest that the regulatory component isn't enough to explain why it's not cost effective.
Cost is a huge issue for nuclear power. It could sort-of compete with coal, but not with cheaper modern sources. This is a bitter pill for nuclear proponents to swallow. It's easier to blame irrational environmentalists and their unnecessary regulations than to accept that a fetish technology is not actually economically viable.
Reportedly they haven't broken ground on a new plant since 2016.
You want nuclear to be super-safe? Great, we've achieved that. But we should then apply regulations to wind, solar, coal, etc. that lead to the same number of deaths per TWh as nuclear, including from installation, air pollution and disasters.
If we don't do that, then we're effectively subsidizing the ones with lower standards.
There’s publicly available government record of wheeling and dealing, leveraging public fear of accidents, and the US not being invested in nuclear weapons development, to regulate us in a direction of favoring weapons development, and abandoning subsidy of nuclear energy development.
As usual, the cost scenario is entirely artificial, existing only in deference to decades old political decisions.
Deference to allowing those decisions to continue to rule is a public apathy problem. The political class isn’t going to shift on such things without public pressure at scale.
It is irrelevant that the recent nuclear reactor projects in the USA and Europe are expensive. A weighted average of cost and completion times for global nuclear reactor construction would be dominated by the 90% of the nuclear reactors built by China, Russia, South Korea and India.
Do you based your analysis on the price cars based upon the price of a Rolls Royce? Do you price bridges based upon the cost of the Bay Bridge? Tunnels based upon the Big Dig? Rockets based upon the Space Launch System?
Also, nuclear got expensive because constantly increasing regulations and bureaucracy drove up costs in the USA. Reactors without accidents built in China and South Korea for 4 times less. Also, the systemic failure of large construction projects in the US. Skycrapers, bridges, subways and highway costs went up. High-speed rail in California versus China for costs and completions.
China generates as much electricity this year as USA and Europe combined. China will double again within 20 years. Natural gas will dominate US energy mix.
The solar and wind will not scale well beyond 10%. The US will need massive buildout of energy storage and massive energy grid modifications. This will run into the big project incompetence of the USA.
I would love to hear any theories or speculation you have on why this is the case.
It is baffling to me that LNG is often cited as a potential solution to the carbon crisis. It's not. LNG is a hydrocarbon, and burning it releases CO2 just like any other hydrocarbon.
Gas turbines revolutionized power generation in the 1970s and since because the power density is so much higher than steam turbines, greatly lowering the capital costs of a power plant. For a while coal still competed based on cheap fuel, but after fracking came along the fuel is cheap and the power plant is cheap so natural gas overtook coal quickly.
A reactor that runs at a higher temperature than an LWR can operate a Brayton cycle gas turbine using Helium, Carbon Dioxide or Nitrogen Tetroxide as a working fluid. Some possibilities are liquid metal reactors (metal coolant), liquid salt reactors (liquid fuel!), HTGR (carbide fuel) or GCFR (nitride fuel).
It is a lot of technology to perfect, but as long as a nuclear heat source is coupled to a huge expensive steam turbine, the economics are going to bad even if we learn how to build reactors right the first time.
Everyone pointing to nuclear power as the solution conveniently ignores how insanely expensive it is. New reactors cost many billions of dollars, and aren't cheap to operate either. We're at an inflection point where new solar and wind plus batteries is cheaper than new nuclear, so that's what's going to be built. It's a simple economic reality having nothing to do with whether fears of nuclear power are overblown or whatever.
Nuclear is currently the only technology that exists that can do this.
Nuclear power generation costs ~$6k per kW(1)
Solar power generation costs ~$1k per kW(2)
Solar capacity factor is ~25%, so ~4k/kW to compare with 24 hour baseload power.
Storing 3 kW for ~12hrs requires ~36kW-h storage.
Li-ion battery packs are getting to ~$100/kW-h (3)
36 kW-h storage is ~$3.6k
Nuclear cost: ~6k per kW baseload
Solar + battery cost: ~7.6k per kW baseload (~4k/kW generation, ~3.6k/kW storage)
Building enough battery capacity for the grid would be far more than current world demand for Li-ion cells. I imagine prices would skyrocket, throwing off your calculations.
For grid storage I think molten metal makes the most sense. It's a technology that was developed to be ideal for grid storage from the start. Flow cell batteries might also make sense. And then there's other storage technologies like compressed air, pumped hydro, storing kinetic energy, storing thermal energy, etc.
Short-term storage isn't that bad, we have other battery chemistries or even completely different types (e.g. flow batteries). A bigger problem is seasonal storage, for which most batteries are far too expensive.
But that's only one of many energy storage technologies that can be used for batteries. It's popular for mobile/portable uses because it has high energy density, but that's not really necessary for grid-scale energy storage; whatever's cheapest will do (which may well be pumping water uphill).
Most of the lithium found today is extracted from brine reservoirs located in regions of southwestern South America and China.
> Solar + battery cost: ~7.6k per kW baseload (~4k/kW generation, ~3.6k/kW storage)
So nuclear is cheaper than solar + storage?
You pay for electricity by the kilowatt-hour.
Hydroelectric power generates 6.1% of all US power today. All those huge dams you see everywhere with their giant lakes you can see from space that did massive destruction to ecosystems across this country? Those generate a measly 6.1%. (Blows my mind I didn’t even know it was that low.)
Even if you turned every hydro dam in the US today into a pumped storage facility it would be barely a curiosity on our energy needs.
And you sure as heck aren’t going to 10-fold increase the number and size of dams and lakes we have in this country. Nobody will stand for that.
We all seem to keep doing these wishful mental gymnastics to try avoid nuclear power, but the numbers just never add up.
Consider that the vast majority of the pumping would be to even out the daily power cycle (the "duck curve"), whereas reservoirs are sized to hold years' worth of water. The amount of water pumped back uphill during the peak solar output of the day would be a negligible amount of water to the overall reservoir, and then you'd run it down through additional turbines in the evening to produce power.
As you may know, Lake Mead (the reservoir for the Hoover Dam) is currently running very low owing to various water shortage issues. If you've flown into Las Vegas recently this is very obvious. It's currently at only about 40% of its capacity, which is a shortage of about 210^13 L. The Hoover Dam's hydraulic head is 180m at peak height, but let's call it an average of 160m for our purposes below. Using the equations here: https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/hydropower-d_1359.html
For the total amount of energy available if we were to use solar to pump the reservoir up to full during each day and then generate power at night:
PE = (1 kg/L) (210^13 L) (9.81 m/s^2) * (160m) = 3.14 * 10^16 J = 8.72 * 10^12 watt-hours (this should be knocked down a little bit for efficiency losses; cursory Googling shows that turbines are roughly 90% efficient at turning PE into electricity). Contrast this figure with the annual total electrical usage of the entire US of 4 * 10^15 watt-hours. Divide by 365 and you get 1.1 * 10^13 watt-hours.
So, if you fully pumped just Lake Mead up to its full capacity and then ran it back down its current level each day, you could store most of the energy used by the entire country in a day. Just in that one reservoir. Obviously you'd need to add a lot more pumps and turbines to do so, like orders of magnitude more, but the point is that you wouldn't actually need any additional land to do so. If you're willing to fill up and then empty Lake Mead each day, you can easily do more than the power requirement of the entire country.
So anyway, that's a long way of saying, yes, pumped storage is entirely realistic. Add in all the additional extra capacity in other existing reservoirs across the US and you can easily store many days' worth of power in reserve, just using pumped water.
Is there a good study that explains how pumped hydro and solar can actually work to make a significant dent in our gas/coal power?
Some more spitballing:
Demand ranges between 400-650GW over a summer day (over 700GW in heat wave). If we look at EIA data for a summer week we see Hydro produces about ~50 GWh at peak, ~21GW at a low point, over a day. And we see fossil sources producing about ~270GW at minimum to ~460GW maximum over a day. Solar producing nothing at night up to 22GW then unfortunately falling away too early to contribute during the peak demand period (see the duck curve).
So the argument for pumped storage here seems to be that we can somehow get that 21GW to 50GWh production up to some meaningful number. Lets assume we can convert every dam in the country into pumped storage (obviously not but let's assume). Now as discussed need to increase the production capacity of hydro a lot. Let's say we can quadruple the generating capacity of every hydro dam in the country and turn them all into pumped storage. 200GW would be meaningful (not a full solution but nearly half way to a solution).
How? Sounds incredibly unlikely to me. Especially given not all dams are well suited to pumped storage anyway. You build new tunnels and pumping systems to get the water from downstream lakes back up. You add three more generating halls for every one, probably buried alongside the dam, how much is that going to cost? A lot. How long is it going to take? A lot longer. We need something that we can production line produce at this point.
Now if we wave a wand and somehow do that though, we could produce a maximum 200GW with our hypothetical hydro/storage set up. But we now also need to build however much solar is also necessary to reach our green 200GW target and pump that water back up during the peak solar period so the hydro can run through the non sunny part of the day giving us some 200GW of continuous Solar+Pumped Hydro base generation. That would have to be somewhere in the vicinity of what? I'm spitballing but maybe like 400GW of solar we need to install? How much do we add on for that cost? So we've quadrupled our dam's generating capacity at some incredible expense and built on top about 13x the amount of solar we currently have installed.
And we still have to keep fossil around to generate 70GW at night and 260GW during the day.
I just don't see how we get pumped hydro beyond anything more than a curiosity at this point. (That doesn't mean I think it shouldn't be pursued where it's feasible and the business case stacks up.)
> All those huge dams you see everywhere with their giant lakes you can see from space that did massive destruction to ecosystems across this country?
"dams are big" x6
See e.g. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611683/the-25-trillion-re...
Batteries by themselves not enough. Need inverters etc... You cannot get to the cost of the car by only adding up the cost of gasoline used over its lifetime.
China's and south Korea and Russia have nuclear build costs in the $2k-2.5K per KW range. They make 70% of the world's nuclear reactors.
Don't just say "can't" without any justification except your sense of certainty.
I am not an expert at the engineering or physics, but I did work at a leading PV manufacturer for 8 years, and I was amazed at the effort required to coax even the tiniest improvements in conversion efficiency out of the devices in a way that is both manufacturable and a benefit to the cost-per-watt. Then after all that, every PV platform has a theoretical limit anyway. So the whole enterprise seemed like pulling teeth. Especially when you think about how demand will increase in the future.
On the other hand, it seems like with nuclear the potential energy is so overwhelmingly high that the primary effort is holding it back (hence the dangers) - not trying to squeeze out tiny drops. Given this, just intuitively, nuclear seems like the preferable starting point. We can deal with the obstacles as we go. Seems like humans have done a pretty good job at turning what once appeared to be insurmountable risks into things we take for granted. Skyscrapers and air travel come to mind.
Nuclear problems have been catastrophic black swans. A nuclear plant is mostly great. Unless it's not. In a way nobody expected, (that is probably obvious in hindsight). Whereupon the cleanup is huge, requires state intervention, and possibly decades.
When someone dies because of an accident in wind power the implications are far more local.
It is not entirely unreasonable to prefer more highly-constrained danger to a smaller risk of catastrophe.
Now, Chernobyl was a disaster you're not going to see with the normal operation of any class of power plant. But hydroelectric dams also have the potential and sometimes do fail in ways that kill thousands of people but I don't usually hear people oppose those power plants on these grounds.
I think that the real reason people have such a fear of nuclear power plants is that we use the same terms, "radiation" and "fallout," for the dangers from a nuclear reactor failure and a nuclear war when the magnitudes are as different as a pebble and a boulder. I grew up mostly after the Cold War and always associated those terms with nuclear power and never realized that if you're a hundred kilometers downwind of a megaton scale groundburst you can die puking your guts out from fallout a couple of hours later.
It is the absurd statistician's view of life. That is not what it actually feels like to people. People would rather have a shorter life span due to say unhealthy eating than having a higher expectancy of getting stabbed to death by a maniac.
Nuclear power is more like that latter. When it happens it is terrifying and scares the shit out of people. It is easy to be a smart ass in hindsight when you know all the facts
But when a nuclear accident happens you will not have all the facts. You will not know the severity. You will have to evacuate lots of people. And it is going to have a severe mental toll on these people. These are factors entirely lost in your statistical approach to looking at this.
Not to mention the Fukushima disaster cost a FORTUNE!! 182 BILLION dollars! That is not pocket change. Who pays that? Not the nuclear power generators. It is tax payers.
In other words Nuclear power is getting a huge subsidy because they don't pay for their own clean. They don't pay for any insurance.
Had they paid for insurance, they selling nuclear power would have been impossible. It would simply have cost WAY too much.
You mean the Tsunami is like that? Because as far as we know there is MAYBE only one death that was attributed to the Fukushima nuclear incident for example, while thousands lost their lives to the Tsunami in the matter of seconds. yet people still live next to the ocean in Japan as we speak. Completely, utterly irrational.
There's entire towns that are still part of an exclusion zone people can't live in and around Fukushima. Even if you live near the coast in Japan a tsunami isn't likely to make the town you grew up in not exist anymore, there'll just be a lot of damage to deal with.
I'm generally pro-nuclear, but pretending this difference doesn't exist is disingenuous, particularly since the cost is disproportionately carried by people in rural areas living near nuclear power plants, whereas most of the benefactors of the energy production live elsewhere.
Nuclear power still saves billions in health costs by preventing air pollution deaths. Remember, air pollution from fossil fuel kills 4.2 million people every year... year after year. Chernobyl killed up to 4000 total, Fukushima will kill up to 1.
This is the product of highly naive analysis. Out of a population of 300,000 displaced people, ~1,500 died over the span of a month. This is the same as the expected natural death rate assuming a lifespan of 90-100 years. If you dig into the causes of death the overwhelming majority are elderly people and the causes are listed as "fatigue" and "exhaustion". This "study" really just measured the number of people who died of old age, and attributed it to the disaster.
On 4 April 2011, radiation levels of 0.06 mSv/day were recorded in Fukushima city, 65 km northwest of the plant, about 60 times higher than normal but posing no health risk according to authorities.
Would you have ordered the evacuation of thousands of sick and elderly hospitalized people if they were all going to get an X-ray? a CT scan?
The amount of radiation from one adult chest x-ray (0.1 mSv). A chest CT delivers 7 mSv — 70 times as much.
0.4 mSv from a mammogram.
Radiation levels were about 2 chest x-rays every day.
6-16 mSv from CT scans.
The plant was still nowhere near under control on April 4 and needed constant attention.
But that is a pretty irrelevant comparison since there was an evacuation. Unless you are suggesting we stop evacuating people in case of nuclear disasters?
On today's news
> Brazilian authorities said on Monday that they have no way of knowing how much more oil will wash ashore the country’s northeastern coast, despite President Jair Bolsonaro’s ominous warning during a Sunday night TV interview that “the worst is yet to come.”
A nuclear accident is more like a terrorist attack, while deaths from other power sources are more like car accidents. Sure more people die in car accidents, but it does not have the profound psychological effect of a terrorist attack.
Nuclear accidents is like a terrorist attack. They cause massive panics and scare. Uncertainty roams. It is an invisible danger. I don't suddenly get sick from pollution from coal power. Radio activity can make me seriously sick in short time without realizing it. It is an invisible danger.
And even if nuclear accident caused as little health problems and death as the most rose tinted stories suggest, you still cannot run away from the fact that these accidents carry MASSIVE price tags. Chernobyl involved hundreds of thousands of people doing cleanup. It cost 235 billion dollars to do. Fukushima cost 182 billion dollars.
For my native Norway that is roughly a whole state budget. It would bankrupt the country having an accident like that. Or at least if we did not have a big fat oil fund. Most countries don't have a big fat oil fund to finance huge nuclear disasters.
Unless you nuclear advocates start talking serious about the cost issue, you are just glossing over the most serious issues with nuclear power.
That's exactly the pro-nuclear point; it's far less harmful in aggregate, and held back by irrational fears.
I don't suddenly get sick from pollution from coal power.
You just get suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer, and that's somehow better because you can't say for sure that it was due to exposure from pollution. But overall, it's over 200,000 deaths per year: https://www.nyp.org/cancer/cancerprevention/cancer-preventio.... That's a whole lot of Fukushimas.
It's amusing how nuclear power is the one place where environmentalists start worrying about fiscal discipline. Amortized over decades of nuclear power, those aren't that expensive.
The problem here is that pointing out that irrational fears are irrational, doesn't change them.
This is pretty basic human psychology, and it's not going to change in a decade. I really don't think there's time to change the publics view on nuclear (maybe if there was no Fukushima, but not now) in time to get a huge investment in nuclear going in time to save the planet. I mean, I'll defend nuclear any chance I get, I just don't think it's helping.
Personally I think, if you consider the momentum of the technologies, it's clear that renewables seem to be on a path where they can actually replace nuclear at a lower cost. And that further investments in renewables might be more likely to accelerate renewables, than investments in nuclear is likely to give us an actual nuclear renaissance (although the ideal is increase investments in both). In terms of R&D we should absolutely put more in nuclear, but in terms of actual commercial projects, we should probably build all the renewable we can until it's not economical anymore.
Lung cancer isn't a "sudden sickness"?
Hundreds of thousands of people a year are estimated to die from air pollution. Nuclear has killed far fewer over its entire existence, and it would be almost none without the criminal Chernobyl reactor design.
People are terrible at understanding risk, but very good at being influenced by propaganda. Anti-nuclear propaganda has been very effective.
I'm encouraged by the innovation around Gen 4 modular reactors. I think they'll end up being successful, pervasive, and cheap. ThorCon in particular looks strong.
Exactly! The money quote in this entire thread.
I agree on lot of the points on both sides, but once feelings get in the way, it's very hard to say anything to convince the other party. I'm pro-nuclear as long as it remains as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. If renewables get to a point where they can support all energy needs in every location on earth, great. Let's do that instead. But I don't really feel that much fear about nuclear power than a lot of these anti-nuclear folks. Maybe I'm just dumb, maybe I should fear. But it just seems so far-fetched, if it's maintained properly.
You may not suddenly get sick from coal power plant smog but your life quality degrades over time and you develop certain diseases. Even though smog is a visible danger, nobody cares about inhaling it with a great cost to their lives.
There is only one nuclear accident (INES > 3) that has happened in the past 30 years and that is the Fukushima. On the other hand there has been 142 oil spill accidents in the last 30 years. Several sources calculate that on average, cleanup of an oil spill costs around 5 billion dollars. So, in short, oil spills has cost us 710 billion dollars to clean-up in the last 30 years, not including any health or repair etc. material costs. I would also be curious to find out a similar cost calculation for coal related cleanups.
New nuclear plants should not be built blindly. Japan perhaps should not use nuclear technology due to being in a highly active seismic region. But this should not stop other countries from investing in nuclear energy. For example, France is generating 71.7% of their electricity from nuclear sources and they are 'almost' accident-free.
(ugh, I missed one of those pronouns)
Not at all true, as there us a ton of research that all point to low levels of radiation having minimal risk. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linear_no-threshold_model
The hysterics that surround nuclear accidents (like what happened in Europe during the Chernobyl disaster) were simply an overreaction.
It's not fully confirmed this was the only/major cause, but it seems very likely from the evidence.
> I don't suddenly get sick from pollution from coal power
Coal power is actually worse for health than nuclear power and releases more radioactive material into the environment.
No it is not. The ability to fairly precisely calculate cancer risk over time based on radiation exposure is exactly how we get the death numbers for nuclear. It's basically no different than calculating deaths from other airborne pollution except that radiation gives you cancer whereas coal soot (for example) gives you lung problems.
Flight crews get 3.1 milliseverts per year. About 50 days worth of Fukushima exposure.
Air pollution causes 7 million deaths per year. 4 million from outdoor air pollution. The hospitalization rate increases on the bad air days. The effect is immediate for many elderly and asthmatics. Air pollution levels in some cities in India, China and other parts of Asia is like forcing everyone (including babies and the elderly or asthmatics) to smoke 6+ cigarettes a day.
Being barely able to breath is very unpleasant and scary.
12,000 people died over 2 weeks in 1952 during the London Fog air pollution event. Atmospheric inversion trapped air pollution. People dropped dead with blue lips and their last few minutes to hours were spent gasping for breath.
144 people were killed in 1966. During the Aberfan disaster. Millions of tons of coal mine waste were left in piles on a mountain. A heavy rain caused the mine waste to slide down the mountain and into the town of Aberfan. It buried a school. 117 children dead.
Multiple incidents where over 100 people get burned alive in oil tanker spills. 150+ in Pakistan in 2017. Poor people ran towards on oil tanker spill to scoop up oil from a leak. Then it caught fire and they were burned alive.
8 billion tons of coal is moved every year. 1000+ die mining it. Many die underground slowly when they are trapped in collapsed coal mines. 40% of freight trains and trucks move coal. So almost all freight train and truck accidents in certain areas are people being hit by a vehicle loaded with coal.
5 billion tons of oil per year.
Norway is big into oil and gas.
$62 billion for the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
There's virtually no radiation, but assuming there was some amount of dangerous radiation, we should also account for death caused by coal or oil pollution as well.
> Nuclear accidents is like a terrorist attack. They cause massive panics and scare
While oil spills cause death and destruction for hundreds of thousands, while also destroying the environment, but who cares?
> Chernobyl involved hundreds of thousands of people doing cleanup.
Hundreds of thousands sounds like a made up number.
But if we wanna talk about costs, the real costs are
The direct costs of the Fukushima disaster will be about $15 billion in clean-up over the next 20 years and over $60 billion in refugee compensation. Replacing Japan’s 300 billion kWhs from nuclear each year with fossil fuels has cost Japan over $200 billion
The cleanup costed "only" 540 million dollars, but
If you take into account all of the burning oil wells, it is likely that hundreds of millions of barrels soaked into the earth from January to November of 1991 (about the amount of motor gasoline burned in California in 1989
some of the oil spilled deep into the sea, burrowing up to 40 cm in the sand and mudflats. It remains there to this day. This disaster does not just highlight the responsibilities humans have in managing oil wells, rigs, pipelines, and tankers, it demonstrates how carelessness with a non-renewable energy source and pollutant, purposeful or not, can have devastating long-term environmental impacts that cannot be undone.
But radiation is very easy to measure. Coal pollution on the other hand is not.
So people have an inflated fear of radiation simply because it's so hard to measure.
It reminds me of how when Israel detected Polio in sewage, people said Israel is one of those countries with endemic Polio. Except other countries aren't even checking their sewage.
"We detected <tiny amount> of radiation from Fukushima in seawater, oh no!"
I've seen this many times: People notice when you measure some dangerous thing, and avoid it, while being completely blind to the fact that other dangerous things they do are not measured, so they think they are safe.
No one measured how much coal pollution was in sea water, so coal pollution is clearly safe, right?
Surely, if this is true, investors wouldn't sink a few billion into a project only to find that the politicians don't like it and shut it down? In Germany, a new reactor was completely built and ready, only to find that the government prevents them from ever taking it online. Investors saw money but the public perception in Germany (which is about as far from reality as anti-vaxxers are) changed it after all.
It's a shame that it had to be decommissioned entirely, though. I would've been okay with fixing it up. Alas, all that's left are the cooling towers; all the power generating equipment's long gone, so it'd probably be pointless to try to do anything with it now. It'll just have to loom ominously on the horizon. There's solar and natural gas generation there now, though, which is pretty neat, I guess.
But that's precisely the issue. The anti-nuclear lobby in the US isn't just hippies, it's the oil and coal industries. The hippies are just the face they put on the TV because "coal industry opposes nuclear" sounds like an advertisement for nuclear.
So the first thing you do is convince everybody that it's dangerous. Equate power generation with bombs, make a big deal about radioactive waste that lasts for thousands of years as if that's more problematic than ordinary chemical waste which lasts indefinitely, that sort of thing.
Once you've got everybody good and scared, demand safety rules. Paranoid, highly bureaucratic rules. Rules with much higher standards than the rules we use for other industries with a similar risk profile. As much red tape as possible. Make it so you can't unclog a toilet without an engineering study supervised by a team of attorneys. Make everything as arduous and expensive as possible and if anybody objects, accuse them of compromising safety.
Then tell everybody that we shouldn't build nuclear because it costs too much.
There are also plants in Greifswald and Stendal of Sovjet design that were completed or largely completed, but not put into use after reunification.
My source seemed relatively neutral if not friendly to the idea of nuclear power, so I don't think it's just a biased source, but would be happy to read about other analysis of the situation.
> Fast reactors aren’t becoming mainstream. One country after another has abandoned the technology. Nuclear physicist Thomas Cochran summarises the history: “Fast reactor development programs failed in the: 1) United States; 2) France; 3) United Kingdom; 4) Germany; 5) Japan; 6) Italy; 7) Soviet Union/Russia 8) U.S. Navy and 9) the Soviet Navy. The program in India is showing no signs of success and the program in China is only at a very early stage of development.”
Talking about rooftop solar in a safety context is very much a straw man argument. Putting stuff on roofs is dangerous, but you don't need to put solar on a roof.
PS: Concentrating solar is also very different from a cost and risk perspective than photovoltaic solar.
A death in a nuclear accident, or premature death from pollution, is not something the person doing the dying has much if any control over.
>In comparison, nuclear energy was considered the safest energy source
At the same time, their second source addresses that non-rooftop solar likely has a far lower mortality rate, and either way has 100x less of a mortality rate than coal.
Unfortunately the same holds true when it comes to many people's opinions of nuclear power.
Whenever someone says or implies that nuclear is safer than wind or solar it turns into this low-value debate that totally misses the point that nuclear, wind, and solar are vastly safer than our normal way of making power. The surprising bit is nuclear because most people think it's really dangerous.
Nuclear accidents in contrast are very hard to assess the deaths from because a lot of people don't die straight away.
You don't know how long these people would have lived otherwise. Not to mention many get sever health problems over many years. You don't get that kind of effects from wind and solar. It is far more clear cut if somebody died from it or not.
From the articles I've read it seems pretty clear that assessing the actual damage from Chernobyl is an utter mess. You cannot really put that much faith in any of the numbers.
The errors bar will be very large for nuclear power because you have a few massive accidents which are very hard to determine the full outcome of.
When a few people die from say solar power installation authorities have no interest in covering it up.
When huge number of people die from a nuclear accident there is a VERY strong incentive to downplay the accident and its effects, because it reflects very badly on the government.
There's a strong similarity between climate science and low-dose radiation science. Both have huge well-coordinated UN and WHO-organized teams of experts who have reached consensus (IPCC for climate, UNSCEAR for radiation). Both have passionate counter-advocates saying that the UN experts are in cahoots and lying (Breitbart for climate, Greenpeace for radiation). You appear to be referring to the Greenpeace side of the story (which is also who the recent Chernobyl HBO series listened to, unfortunately).
Let me direct you to the UNSCEAR side of the story: https://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/chernobyl.html
Today, we understand that low-dose radiation causes very little negative health effects over the long term. It's not the boogeyman we're lead to believe by the opponents of nuclear power. Including all the long-term deaths caused by Chernobyl, nuclear has still saved over 2 million lives simply by displacing air pollution deaths. Nuclear is definitively a life-saver.
Most nuclear power deaths are ordinary industrial accidents.
When there's a nuclear disaster, it's difficult to estimate the death count. But two important points:
* The way we usually estimate it is likely very pessimistic, using a linear no-threshold model. Even so we come up with very low numbers.
* The fact that people die later is a benefit: if they died immediately there would be more loss of life expectancy.
I'm going to guess it was "how much does it cost"?
Because we all instinctively know that human life is precious but not priceless. even if we're not familiar with the economic scoring that's done on new projects that might save or cost lives.
If nuclear costs so much that we could save more lives by spending that money on something else, then it's not a good deal. Different people might die, but overall less people will die.
I know nuclear fans are a bit emotional and don't like dealing with hard facts and figures. The thought of a single person dying is too much for them to cope with and they can't make logical decisions as a result, but think about it for a while and you'll see that expensive but safe power isn't particularly helpful if there's much cheaper alternatives with only slightly higher death rates.
Plus I think solar and wind are actually safer than nuclear now, but even if they weren't, their cost would probably still edge it.
I don't have a dog in this fight, but comments like this hardly seem helpful and are very likely against HN rules.
Anyway, nuclear fans know about the trade off between safety and cost. It is the antinuke zealots who insists that near infinite amounts of money must be spent on making sure that not a single person who might live a million years from must suffer from a slightly increased risk of cancer because of stored fission products, and it is the same zealots who made reactors expensive to begin with by insisting that they must be guarded against events less likely than an asteroid wiping out all humans.
The only way to reconcile your cost-vs-safety reasoning with an antinuclear stance is by assuming that people who die of radiation induced cancer are much, much deadder than people dying any other way.
Ben Shapiro frequently throws out the adage "Facts don't care about your feelings." Unfortunately for a lot of people "their feelings also don't care about the facts".
The “Enemy Civilian Casualties” Column. In this column, written when I was 18, I suggested that civilian casualties in war were of no concern. While the larger point of the piece — that we must calculate the risk to American service members when we design rules of engagement — is partially correct, the piece is expressed in the worst possible way, and simplifies the issue beyond the bounds of morality (particularly by doubting the civilian status of some civilians). It’s just a bad piece, plain and simple, and something I wish I’d never written. It’s also good evidence that a lot of the stuff you think is smart at 18 is just you being an idiot at 18.
arguably, it's not the right technology to solve these human problems then. for that you'll need one with the highest death rate possible.
Please, stop doing that. It makes you sound like a jerk.
And just to be clear here... arguing "nuclear power is much safer than commonly believed" is perfectly reasonable. Arguing that "nuclear power is safer than solar and wind" strains credulity. Doing it with carefully groomed and overtly partisan "facts" is just a way of saying "Everyone who disagrees with me is stupid, hahaha!"
It's not stupid because it's wrong. It's stupid because it doesn't convince anyone on the fence about anything except that you're being a jerk.
It's a combination of politics and hysteria that has painted nuclear into a corner, not science or reason.
The Japanese have been researching micro-reactors for a long time - hopefully they can make it work. I'd love to have a refrigerator sized thing in my basement that makes my power and removes my dependency on the grid.
As of China, they are the dirtiest civilization in human history. Not an example to emulate if we are to leave our children and grand-children a livable Earth.
I love the idea of nuclear, but it just hasn’t worked out. Solar and wind already are cheaper than anything else out there, and they are still regularly falling in cost. We can invest our money better elsewhere.
The nuclear age has come and passed.
* Nuclear energy has received less than 50% of the subsidies that renewables have. Renewables only recently ceased to "need" this, and they've been under development for decades. Nuclear power hasn't had investment in significant research since about 1970.
* Nuclear reactors are competitive in many countries, and in fact they are too in the US. Nuclear is the cheapest power per kilowatt-hour except when direct access to nearby fossil fuel sources is available, even using 40-50 year old reactor designs. Newer designs would be even cheaper. In fact this is irrelevant, however, because we're not looking for the cheapest power, we're looking for a way to supplement renewables with always-on electricity that doesn't fuel climate change.
Newer reactor designs will be safer, cheaper, and less expensive to build. They may even use something other than Uranium as a fuel. They will not contribute to nuclear weapons proliferation and they will not produce large amounts of waste. They will release less radiation into the environment than current coal plants do.
If all the people who believe 40 years of propaganda and misinformation spread by self righteous willfully ignorant individuals can do so, we can work toward a clean energy future using renewables and nuclear in time to limit global warming.
If we can't, once we start having wars over water and the world starts boiling in the heat of rising seas, we'll start building nuclear reactors after the fact. Assuming we survive that long.
* What you mean, but conveniently left out, is that nuclear reactors that are written off are competitive. Until they get too old to fix, then they're closed. That's what's happening at the moment in the Western world whether we like it or not.
When you talk about newer reactor designs, you are not talking about commercial reactors, but research reactors, for which the true cost/potential is unknown.
Nuclear isn't a good match for PV and wind, as those are cheaper when they're on. So you have a huge capital investment but only a low realized capacity factor.
that's what will happen to the current generation of solar and wind power plants
Have fun with the googling. Feel free to check out the toxicity of plutonium (separate from radiation) while you're at it.
That's the wrong conclusion. In a grid made of unreliables and nuclear power, electricity is worthless during the day and priceless at night. If you assume[^] cheap batteries, electricity is worthless in summer and priceless in winter.
[^] But remember, if you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.
The numbers for subsidies of nuclear power come with some many caveats that they are useless. It does not cover the cost of insuring nuclear power, so you can actually pay to clean up disasters. It does not cover the massive amount of money that went into it for military purposes that civilian nuclear power benefitted from.
I don't think it actually covers the decommissioning costs either, because these seems to typically be much larger than first anticipated.
The subsidies of renewables meanwhile give a false picture because the cost varies considerably depending on where you are in the world. Germany pushed solar into what it is today, but it is not a country well suited for solar power.
And unlike nuclear, these subsidies have lead to massive price drops. Subsidies of nuclear power has not led to any drop in price of nuclear power. In fact the costs keep rising.
> Newer designs would be even cheaper.
Eh... thus far newer designs have been massively more expensive to build and much slower.
> Newer reactor designs will be safer, cheaper, and less expensive to build.
Ah yeah.... how old are you anyway? I have been hearing this claim for something like 20 years now. I remember the promise of pebble bed reactors for probably 20 years or longer. They were invented back in the 50s I believe. Yet we are still not seeing them being built. At least not here in the west.
I am tired of empty promises from the nuclear industry. Wind and solar has succeed where nuclear has failed. They have been given there chance AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and failed to deliver.
> They will release less radiation into the environment than current coal plants do.
Ah yeah... until there is an accident. After Chernobyl we were promised nothing like this would ever happened again because that reactor was so bad, and bla bla bla. Oops then Fukushima happened. Always the same story "Nobody could have foreseen this!"
Ah yeah... that is kind of the point. That is why nuclear power is a terrible idea. There will always be something you did not think about.
This is remarkably sloppy logic. Chernobyl was a questionable design. Fukushima was a different design that's more common, but still old.
The two accidents had little in common. Did you really think when someone said that Chernobyl wouldn't happen again that they meant all reactor types everywhere would never have another accident of any kind? If so, you're pretty naive.
>There will always be something you did not think about.
True about every technology ever created, and not a good enough reason to avoid progress and invention altogether.
We’re seeing them be shut down because people don’t seem to want them.
> Ah yeah... until there is an accident.
Even with accidents nuclear has probably released less radiation than coal.
> * Nuclear reactors are competitive in many countries, and in fact they are too in the US.
Illinois has one of the largest nuclear deployments in the US. Our latest climate legislation was drafted by Exelon, and provides massive subsidy in the form of carbon credits to the nuclear industry. And yet even with this, they have no plans to replace their 50-year old reactor fleet and no projected path forward for them except seeking another taxpayer bailout in a couple decades to again extend the life of these obsolete reactors. Nuclear is not competitive, period, unless you choose not to look at the full life-cycle.
Here's what the collective of nuclear advocates at MIT concluded, but I'm sure that's just "propaganda and misinformation spread by self righteous willfully ignorant individuals", too.
For a large expansion of nuclear power to suc-ceed, four critical problems must be overcome:
* Cost. In deregulated markets, nuclear power is not now cost competitive with coal and natural gas. However, plausible reductions by industry in capital cost, operation and maintenance costs, and construction time could reduce the gap. Carbon emission credits, if enacted by government, can give nuclear power a cost advantage.
* Safety. Modern reactor designs can achieve a very low risk of serious accidents, but “best practices” in construction and operation are essential. We know little about the safety of the overall fuel cycle, beyond reactor operation.
* Waste. Geological disposal is technically feasible but execution is yet to be demonstrated or certain. A convincing case has not been made that the long-term waste management benefits of advanced, closed fuel cycles involving reprocessing of spent fuel are out-weighed by the short-term risks and costs. Improvement in the open, once through fuelcycle may offer waste management benefits as large as those claimed for the more expensive closed fuel cycles.
* Proliferation. The current international safe-guards regime is inadequate to meet the security challenges of the expanded nuclear deployment contemplated in the global growth scenario. The reprocessing system now used in Europe, Japan, and Russia that involves separation and recycling of plutonium presents unwarranted proliferation risks.
They have to keep extending obsolete reactors because they aren't allowed to build newer, safer, more efficient ones!
For a new plant type to be built, it first has to be approved by the US government. Then funding has to be acquired, insurance bought, permitting done. Unless the US government makes an effort to clear the way for new construction, all that overhead and cost makes new reactor types a non starter for any for profit business.
They could build more of the older types, but with the unreasoning fear associated with nuclear anything in the US population going on, the cost of doing so is ridiculous... and most of these companies don't much care about climate change anyway. They're about profit.
If you don't like those sources, look around. There are lots of government studies in many countries available.
If you are willing to read them, that is.
1) Nuclear, with the high building cost and externalization of spent fuel.
2) Renewable, with cheap building costs and externalization of variable production rate which is solved by burning fossil fuels like natural gas or coal.
If we look beyond current grids and look into the future there is solutions to those externalizations. Renewable could use batteries rather than burning fossil fuels, but the current best bet is to build enough hydro powerplants and dams to fully support the energy grid during low production periods, and pumping back the water during high production. This will cost a lot of land and put a lot of greenhouse gases into the air, in particular because putting a lot of land under water tend to create a lot of methane. The cement for the dams are just like the cement in nuclear plants a major contributor to greenhouse gas production.
Personally, I just would declare that the age of burning fossil fuel to manage the energy grid has come and passed. By 2020 we should not build any new natural gas power plants. by 2030 we should have decommissioned 90% of all fossil burning plants, and by 2040 a complete ban of burning fossil fuel for electricity for any scale larger than a hospitals backup generator. With those decision in place I trust that investors will figure out if nuclear is profitable or not, and I personally do not care. For the climate sake my only wish is that we stop burning fossil fuels.
It's true that to get to 100%, or to start a new grid, you need to have something to fill in the gaps. Here there's a wide array of options, of which the most deployed at the moment are hydro and biomass AFAIK. But there are other proposals.
In the past it mostly didn't make sense to store electricity, not when you are paying for coal or gas and could as well store that. So many of the latest proposals are not fully developed and operating at a massive scale yet.
Hydro as a natural resource is not a perfect fit to use in case like this as natural lakes can only take so much changes in water levels, and in many cases you have chains of hydro plants and lakes which mean dumping a lot of water in one place means you have to dump a lot of it further down without causing flooding. Hydro plants must also manage how much water they have available. Swedish power prices is notorious effected by how much water winter/fall periods produce.
1. Climate change is an existential threat to humanity, and we must make radical changes to our lifestyles and economies immediately.
2. Wind and solar are now so cheap that there's no need for nuclear.
How can both of those be true? If wind and solar are really that cheap, great! Build enough of them to replace all existing fossil fuels and nuclear plants, and we're done. The fact that this has not happened even in enlightened countries makes me question that claim.
Terrapower is one of Bill Gate’s active developments. There are immense amounts of depleted uranium that the gov thinks is waste sitting in fields. Terrapower can build nuclear reactors that can run and power the entirety of the US for 100 years. You’re right that most nuclear reactors haven’t made significant improvements which is why they’ve made considerable technological advancements for example no human operators (use AI like google to run their entire facilities) and liquid metal instead of water and disaster proof. Watch this documentary for more insight!
Yes if you conveniently choose to ignore the availability problems (in the night and in no wind). And that no scalable battery/storage solution exists yet?
Or we can just follow France's example and build nuclear plants.
If that's legit and can be made cost-effective, the case for nuclear is largely gone...
Come back to me once these claimed figures are actually implemented.
Uhm, well, electrolysis and Sabatier reaction, and then you clean it up and compress it or something. Unfortunately, you need a source of carbon dioxide (no, not air, extracting a trace gas is rather impractical), and then the whole process has a round trip efficiency of certainly no better than 20%. Looks like we need a 4x or so overbuild of unrealiables so that methanation can keep the lights on in winter.
What confuses me is that there are much more practical chemical storage methods nobody talks about. Ammonia comes to mind. It's easier to make and easier to store. I can't help but think that the whole methanation idea is a PR stunt by the gas industry, intended to positively associate renewables with fossil gas in the minds of the unwashed masses.
I've already linked a paper which makes promises of efficiencies of up to 80% using reverse fuel cells.
Here's an older one that promises 'only' 70% efficiency, using caverns for CO2 and CH4 storage:
Not sure how much of these claims will survive after contact with reality...
Those reversible fuel cells... I'll believe in them when I can buy them. And a round trip efficiency of 80% is unbelievable when simple electrolysis of water, which is only half the round trip, isn't that efficient.
(Iñigo Capellán-Pérez, Carlos de Castro, Luis Javier Miguel González,
Dynamic Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROI) and material requirements in scenarios of global transition to renewable energies, Energy Strategy Reviews, Volume 26, 2019, 100399, ISSN 2211-467X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esr.2019.100399.)
"Will EROI be the Primary Determinant of Our Economic Future? The View of the Natural Scientist versus the Economist"
Which actually answers why the point you bring up is not relevant:
"In a recent meeting of scientists and economists in London, economists raised eight points as to why it was not necessary to consider EROI in determining future energy availability or policy."
Now the above paper tries to refute those points, but using invalid logic, e.g. arguing that because EROI and costs are linked in oil and gas, then the same observation must hold across categories to renewables.
The red flag that stood out to me is that they show huge increases in tellurium, gallium, and indium demand in Figure 10. Those materials are only required for thin film solar technologies. But according to Table 2, their scenario includes one PV technology: fixed-tilt arrays of silicon PV. Where are the increased demand for tellurium, gallium and indium coming from? It reads like they copy-pasted information from prior studies without paying attention to their own scenario parameters.
But I don’t see them flagellating themselves over this flagrant mis-step they share responsibility for.
It’s unfortunate that people who become activists are often (but not always) more dogmatic than scientific in their approach to dealing with issues. I think, looking retroactively, that there was an opportunity to coöperate with industry to address issues and work towards a working solution. I mean Yucca mountain. Where would France be if they had capitulated to this thinking.
Even just heating cities could provide a huge saving in emissions. The reactor design simplifies and the whole facility simplifies even more massively if you forgo power generation. You can operate with low pressures and temperatures.
Usually they talk about how the newest reactors are more efficient and reliable than ever, but still cost billions to manufacturer and maintain, and only if liabilities are removed from those involved with building it.
Why would we need more than one waste storage site?
All the waste produced by power generating reactors in the US ever would fit on a US football field and be about 30 feet deep. That's less waste than one coal plant produces in a decade.
All that waste we can't figure out what to do with, that no one wants to store or transport? That's from making nuclear weapons. No one sane wants more of those.
Regarding the volume of waste, would you feel comfortable sitting next to even a gram of raw nuclear waste? Even if the volume is small, it still needs to be handled with extreme care. If the handling of weapons waste is any indicator, that level of care has yet to be demonstrated.
However I don't trust the corporations in running it. When profit motive rears its ugly head, bad semihidden shit happens.
I'd trust the military in running it. They do have operational nuclear knowledge.
You should not compare raw prices but what's required to use it for an actual load, those figures look pretty different.
The important points for our current problems is that it is low emission and that it can guarantee vast amounts of electricity 24/7.
In order to drastically reduce emissions while meeting demand, not least the upcoming demand from electric vehicles, there is simply no alternative.
This does not mean that renewables should not be pushed as much as possible as well.
Solar and wind have massive externalities specially when you factor in lifecycle of batteries.
There are several countries that rely heavily on nuclear today and have done so successfully and in a way that has helped curb their greenhouse gases: France being one (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_France)
Additionally, nuclear has unlocked insane potential in the military with nuclear subs and ships. They can go a whole year without refueling and at the micro level they are very effective. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_marine_propulsion)
So to your first rhetorical question. What lesson have you learned from Nuclear the last 70 years? What I have learned is that it's an incredibly effective and green source of energy. It's a type of power that we should invest more money into not only for green energy production, but also for the future potential derivative technology. We can solve climate change tomorrow (in the sense that next 30 years is tomorrow) if everyone made a conscious effort to adopt nuclear in all forms of energy consumption.
No one in Nuclear is saying no wind/solar/batteries, everyone in Nuclear is saying we should do everything that doesn't catastrophically harm the environment and we should invest more into a very powerful and ultimately useful technology.
Imagine a world where energy is functionally free and robots have enough AI to do most basic motor tasks, they can grow and deliver crops start to finish, run stores and shops, build houses and provide the materials necessary to do that. We're not that far from that reality and pushing the human cost to have basic living standards met down to near zero. We're also looking into nuclear as a primary fuel source for space travel, traveling to mars right now takes 9 months, that's an incredibly amount of time round trip for a human, just look up humans that went to the space station for 12 months, you need to spend about 3x that time to go to mars, that's incredibly harmful, if we had nuclear, we might be able to dramatically shorten that. (https://www.space.com/nuclear-propulsion-future-spacecraft-n...)
I know you think Nuclear is scary because sometimes things go wrong, we have to figure out a better way to deal with the waste, but in this science based community lets try to be the first to promote more science first and not let the fear of what could happen stymied the progress we all need.
But they can't provide stable baseline power without storage. Storage is not yet cheap enough to be cost competitive with fossil fuel solutions hence why we are still running old coal plants and building new natural gas plants. This is why people are still talking about nuclear. It can provide baseline power but without crapping carbon into the atmosphere. Yes we will have less use for power that cannot be throttled in the future as more of the grid is wind/solar but newer reactor designs can be throttled.
Edit: Yes I know that natural gas is traditionally for peak load but that is changing. See my reply to bryanlarsen's comment.
The bigger problem with solar and wind isn't baseline but rather the fact that they are variable in nature. That makes it harder to have a baseline power plant.
The reason natural gas is taking off is that it can quickly respond to differences in production vs demand (it's a peaker plant, as in it handles peaks in demand). Solar and wind make those peaks more pronounced while lowering what baseline can do.
This is why coal plants are dying, they are slow to respond to demand and renewables decrease the baseline that can run at (well, that and fuel costs keep rising due to inflation).
Storage solves both problems. Baseline can be higher, storage will consume it, and peaks are less a problem, storage can handle those.
Alternatively, load based demand would make sense (at least to solve the baseline problem). We could, for example, eat excess energy doing CO2 extraction (though, that only makes sense if baseline doesn't produce more co2 than what we are consuming).
This has less to do with electricity demand than with politics.
True, kinda, but that has more to do with there being no good reason to build a natgas plant that can't be throttled in response to demand. You can use anything for base load if you want but economically it makes more sense to use the cheapest stuff possible for base and more expensive stuff for daily fluctuations and peak. But coal is getting more expensive and gas is cheap so we see more and more base load taken up by gas. Instead of idling in off hours more and more gas plants are running at low capacity to provide a little bit of base power.
The whole base load/peak way of discussing things is slowly going out the window as more and more power comes from renewable since even base load is going to fluctuate around the grid based on the availability of sun/wind and something (currently gas, maybe storage in the future) has to absorb that load.
I really should have framed things in terms of stability rather than base load. With wind/solar you can't be sure you'll have wind/sun when everyone wants power some arbitrary date in the future which is where storage/gas come in. You have a base load but solar/wind can't be guaranteed to provide base power so gas/storage spins up. From a gas plant or battery point of view a dip in solar/wind capacity is no different than a demand peak on an otherwise coal grid.
The good reason not to build an OCGT if you're going to use it for baseload generation is that it's quite a bit less efficient than a CCGT. And the good reason not to build a CCGT for peaking use is that you probably won't recover the additional capital cost (because efficiency for a CCGT won't exceed an OCGT for several hours after startup).