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Nuclear energy is a vital part of solving the climate crisis (archive.is)
419 points by ericdanielski 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 419 comments



Nuclear energy has the lowest death rate (deaths per TWh of any type of energy generation technique/source [1][2][3]. It is the obvious answer to the climate crisis but unfortunately the cultural and public effects are blocking the way for this solution. Unfortunately, facts do not change our minds.

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'[4].

[1] https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/death-rates-from-energy-p... [2] https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-ener... [3] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/06/opinion/sunday/climate-ch... [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TerraPower


Cost, cost, cost. Point to a cost-effective, new-build nuclear in the USA and SHOW me that it's more cost-effective than renewables or LNG.

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.


Yes, nuclear power is less cost effective than fossil fuels. But nuclear, when built at scale in serialized production, can be cost effective. France generates it's electricity at half the cost of Germany, while simultaneously emitting less carbon. The total cost of the nuclear transition program was 400 billion 1993 francs which is ~150 billion USD according to my conversions: https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-pr...

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.


There are nuclear reactors closing in the US not because of regulation, but because they cannot compete with much cheaper wind and fracked gas sources. 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.

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.


> There are nuclear reactors closing in the US not because of regulation, but because they cannot compete with much cheaper wind and fracked gas sources

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.


Market forces do not care if the power source emits carbon or not. We have to deal with that, and I don't like it either. Despite my surface appearance of being anti-nuclear because I point out the irrational, emotional nature of pro-nuclear arguments, I would greatly prefer to keep existing nuclear plants running until end-of-life, rather than replacing them with gas.

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.


Yes, if we want to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions we should tax or even ban carbon. Why is building nuclear instead of wind and solar "absurd"? France generates over 70% of its electricity from nuclear and it costs them half as much as Germany.

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."


France is no longer building nuclear reactors. Nobody is, really, certainly not at "do something about greenhouse gasses" scale. The problem is economic. The vast bulk of the cost of a reactor is up-front construction, amortized over 30-50 year lifespans. 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.

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.


> France is no longer building nuclear reactors. Nobody is, really

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.


The sole running nuclear plant-building project in France is Flamanville... and a disaster.

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


Let’s not forget the military. Regardless of how much the public hates it, the military loves nuclear and would switch all ships over if they could.

Why would France need to keep building reactors? They're not building more of them because reactors last close to a century.

> 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.


Solar thermal is zero carbon and 100% uptime, but it's still expensive. Costs are dropping rapidly, though. And as stated earlier, solar + storage or wind + storage also meet your requirements, and are technically viable. It's just a question of cost. Cost of PV solar has dropped so much in the past decade that it could become the winner, even factoring in storage costs. Wind has far less storage costs, because the "What if the wind stops blowing?" theory that sounds so clever isn't really held up by decades of actual data.


Solar thermal is 2-2.5 times the cost of nuclear: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/08/f25/LCOE.pdf

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[1]. By comparison, the Diablo Canyon plant generats 2,2000MWh of energy every hour [2]. These two energy storage plants can only store 5 minutes and 9 minutes worth of power generated by the Diablo Canyon plant respectively.

1. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/11/california-will-repla...

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diablo_Canyon_Power_Plant


Is cost a factor, or is cost not a factor? Pick one. You asked if there was clean, consistent renewable, I gave you solar thermal, and acknowledged it's still cost-prohibitive. But I also expect its cost to plummet as experiments turn to production and lessons are learned.


First of all solar thermal is still intermittent and subject to weather and seasonal fluctuations. It has a built in thermal battery so it's consistent on a 24 hour basis, but it's still a variable source of energy.

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.


Ignoring clouds, the daily average insolation for the Earth is approximately 6 kWh/m2. [1] So you get about 0.25 KWe averaged daily per m2. Solar has serious land use issues. It is estimated that 1% of the UK would need to be given over to solar to deliver the current power needs. [2]

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.

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

[2] https://www.solarpowerportal.co.uk/news/if_solar_covered_one...


> It's a problem with a thousand solutions. It's just a matter of getting costs down and production up

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


Have you read a paper saying we can't scale those solutions? Can you think of a rational reason they can't be scaled?

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.


Storing energy is not at all trivial. You want hard numbers? Here are the hard numbers. California's largest energy storage facility, still under construction, is set to have 300MWh of capacity. By comparison, the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant generates 300MWh of electricity every ten minutes. The largest energy storage facility in the world, still under construction in Utah, is set to store between 1-2 GWh of energy. This is still less than what the plant generates every hour.

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.


Why not store hydrogen? Estimated round-trip efficiency is approximately 40%. Storage in underground caverns / mines.

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.


Trying to rely only on intermittent power sources has huge storage requirements due to weather along with daily/seasonal variation. If grid energy storage was a simple problem it would have been done decades ago.

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.

https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/144985/1/cesifo1_wp5...


Land use becomes a real problem with some solutions, so yes it can be a “can’t”

You don't need to use solutions that don't work or scale. You only need to have those that do, and there are.

They just cost more than market rates.


It can't be true that keeping a nuclear power plant running is more costly than replacing it with a massive capital expenditure. Can it?

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?


When something is true, saying "it can't be true" doesn't make it not true. This is happening to existing nuclear plants in the US. Not plans for plants, not plants in construction.

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.


The market is easily distorted by government.

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.


>So what's the alternative?

Nationalization of all energy generation?


IMO, the most interesting power source mid term is tracking solar power. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72399.pdf

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.


Technically, this makes the duck curve worse, because the actual "problem" the duck curve presents is solar ramplong down in the evening faster than gas can ramp up. But trackers (or west facing panels) make that more like a square wave so it lasts longer but then falls faster than a static south facing panel.

But, the duck curve isn't a real problem anyway. Worst case scenario, some solar gets curtailed , creating an opportunity for storage solutions.


You’re thinking solar is all in the same location. Across a few locations in even a single time zone the ramp up and down is going to be fairly steady. Also, with nuclear in the mix you can be charging grid storage twice a day assuming a daytime and night time surplus. This possibly cuts the cost per kWh of some energy storage in half.

Ramp up/down is not much of an issue, as long as you can predict it. Yes tracking solar looks more like a square wave, but only in an extent a duck looks more like a horse, than a worm.

That's interesting. It may then matter that French plants are state-owned. It probably makes them cheaper on the long term

The price of power is probably also regulated. You can't really compare France to the US, the French state steps in and regulates pretty much anything.

> the French state steps in and regulates pretty much anything.

That’s a nice way of putting it.


Germany shows that even if your cost of building a reactor was zero, you could still have the reactor shut down due to other issues.

"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.


That's a problem caused by politicians. The same could be said of any energy source.


The argument here is that we need to streamline the regulatory environment for nuclear, invest in it, and convince people not to fear it, if we hope to make a real dent in climate change.

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.


We could have used our educational system in the US to teach people about radiation so they would not be so afraid of it. That would have been great and could have paved the way to the use of nuclear power about 30-50 years later.


I'd like to point out that the current extremely paranoid (and expensive) regulatory environment was brought to you by people who were "taught" about radiation during the cold war. I was taught of the dangers of radiation in the 80s. I kind of just translated it into ways to protect myself against alpha, beta and gamma, but I can guarantee most of my school mates only recall that gamma radiation penetrates a meter thick slab of concrete, and don't want any part of it anywhere near, even at the background levels they are already experiencing when flying to their vacations. These same people also don't realize that a coal fired power plant emits about 100x more radiation than a nuclear plant does, and if asked which they prefer would prefer coal. Even if you tell them that coal is more radioactive, most of them will not change their mind.

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.


I was discussing a system of education that starts early and is more soft. Like having 1st graders using coloring books with nuclear power plants surrounded by beautiful skies and forests while at the same time having pictures of coal plants belching out smoke that cover everything. Later have a class where everyone uses Geiger counters to measure radioactivity in bananas and talk about how it is all around, all the time, and is part of nature. A bit of indoctrination, like all education, but could have countered the high anti-nuclear content of the general zeitgeist.


I had exactly a children's book like that in the 80s, in a communist country.

Bill Gates was planning on building his new prototype nuclear reactor in China until the recent US/China spat made that impossible. Now he hopes to build it in the US, but it might be politically impossible. I hope that is not the case.

Math matters. Nuclear energy is not substantially cheaper in other countries than it is in the US (feel free to provide cites otherwise) - even countries like China where environmentalist rabble-rousers can find themselves in prison.

This suggests to me that the regulations for the ignorant paranoid treehuggers are not actually the problem.


Nuclear is one third the cost of gas per TWh in Korea: https://www.world-nuclear.org/getmedia/63b1bb09-dbb6-4ed8-90...

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.


Don't talk like a religious zealot.

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.


Personally, I think we should stop considering hydrocarbons as a viable power source in the long term. So it doesn't really matter how much gas costs - it should be replaced by a clean energy source regardless of cost. And we should make it economically viable for nuclear (the only currently viable replacement) to do so through a combination of R&D and changes in regulations. Knowing that this will be deliberately misinterpreted for the sake of putting up an argument, I will point out that I am not arguing for more lax _safety_ regulations. Just for removing the fossilized crap which doesn't make much sense from the safety standpoint anymore, and costs billions in compliance costs, making new nuclear construction untenable.


I'm not at all convinced that "regulation" is the cause of high nuclear power costs. I'll note that, per someone else's attempt to rebut me, I learned that nuclear power is cheaper in the US than it is in supposedly enlightened 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.


It is _technically_ viable as a replacement for hydrocarbons. As in, it could replace all energy generation from hydrocarbons, with room to spare. It is not currently _economically_ viable, however. This is what R&D and adjustments to regulations are supposed to help with. But then, wind and solar aren't economically viable either, and everyone is pushing them like crazy.

> Solar and wind ... cannot be the sole basis for a power grid without positing some new energy storage .. for which there is nothing on the horizon.

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

Slow Storage:

* electrolytic hydrogen stored in caverns (estimated cca 40% efficiency)

* automated train (cars) loaded with rocks on a slope (85% eff.)

Fast storage:

* batteries (Tesla)

* flywheels

Not that useful for scaling:

* pumped / regulated hydro - currently very important but scaling limited by geography.


I think the counter-argument here would be that nuclear is way over-regulated, and that's why it's so expensive.

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.)


Whose neighborhood do you propose to build these in?

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!"


Far from any population centers, just like large coal power plants.


Are you arguing we should make nuclear power less safe, then?

Why? So it can finally be cheaper than wind and solar? What's the advantage of that?


> Are you arguing we should make nuclear power less safe, then?

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.


China is one of my reference points for the cost of nuclear. After all, they don't have democracy's built-in resistance to unpopular ideas (no fear of anti-nuclear activists), and a strong ideological drive toward nuclear, in addition to cost considerations that are real everywhere.

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.


China is still increasing nuclear capacity. In fact they’re building 11 plants currently (yea I realize you said “much” but 11 new plants is a fair amount) and plan to keep increasing this due to air quality concerns from coal fired plants.

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


I'm much more sympathetic to this line of argument.

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.


China has been building nuclear plants for decades. They have a huge body of practical experience. I don't think "same level of nuclear technology" is the issue, because plants tend to be built with proven tech, not raw research.

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.


> And yet, China is dominated by coal, and not building much much new nuclear capacity, really.

Reportedly they haven't broken ground on a new plant since 2016.


We should have the same safety standards for all power sources.

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.


And we should have bumpers on rowboats, too. "Same safety standards" is nonsensical, because the failure modes and risks are completely different.


Regulatory capture are why costs are high.

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.


Your "in the USA" part is cheating unless you believe France builds inferior nuclear plants. Nuclear is only uncompetitive in the US because of lawfare at every single step of construction.


France isn't building plants, though. (Technically, they're building one...) And they're life-extending the plants they have now, but that won't work indefinitely, and it isn't free.


I wrote the second article (nextbigfuture) referenced in the nuclear safety citations.

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.


China builds all of it's large infrastructure projects like high speed rail for about a third of what it costs in the States. It might be regulations and bureaucracy accounting for that difference, but it's not specific to nuclear.


> the systemic failure of large construction projects in the US

I would love to hear any theories or speculation you have on why this is the case.


I wouldn't call it "incompetence". The US is clearly able to build large projects when it really has to. It's simple third-world style corruption that gets in the way. That's how congresspeople become multimillionaires on $170k/yr in a super high CoL area. Someone should look into that, and it's sure as hell not going to be Congress itself.


> LNG

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.


LNG has 1/3 to 1/2 less CO2 per MWh than coal. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

Sure, every little bit helps. But to avoid long-term catastrophe we have to get net carbon emissions down to pre-industrial levels. A 50% reduction sounds good on paper, but it's a trap. Suppose we achieved it. Then what? We're still increasing the overall CO2 concentration, just at a slower pace. That won't help us avoid catastrophe, it just delays it for a while, and probably not for very long. LNG is not a step towards a solution, it's a detour that leads back to catastrophe by slightly longer route.

50% is not good enough.

People don't talk about it, but what killed the Light Water Reactor is the same thing that killed coal burning power plants -- the size and cost of the steam turbine.

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.


This is also a problem for any future fusion power plants. Using the fusion power as a dumb heat source to create steam is not going to be economically competitive.


And cost matters. More than anything else.

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.


Battery storage is not an option for large scale. Battery technology is good for bridging gaps measured in minutes while larger power plants spin up and react to demand. That's a real benefit, and helps to eliminate some expensive peaker power plants, but the technology is simply not even close to being able to fill in the gaps needed for a grid where large percentages of the energy is wind or solar.

Nuclear is currently the only technology that exists that can do this.


The back of my envelope disagrees. I'm distracted so LMK if there's a major flaw in this analysis.

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)

(1) https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-a... (2) https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72133.pdf (3) https://cleantechnica.com/2018/06/09/100-kwh-tesla-battery-c...


Lithium deposits are already facing depletion and the price has been steadily rising for a decade now with the new demand for li-ion batteries.

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.


Grid level battery storage is very likely moving to other chemistries. The only reason to use lithium is that it's the chemistry that's the most developed right now, but lithium-ion batteries do not fundamentally speaking have the best properties for grid storage. Lithium-ion is great for energy density, but that's not a critical requirement for the grid.

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.

http://news.mit.edu/2016/battery-molten-metals-0112 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiRrvxjrJ1U


Lithium prices have gone down almost 60% in the last year.

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.


The fears of peak lithium are greatly overblown. New mines are coming online now that the element is in higher demand and the price is going down.

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).


Lithium deposits?

Most of the lithium found today is extracted from brine reservoirs located in regions of southwestern South America and China.


> Nuclear cost: ~6k per kW baseload

> Solar + battery cost: ~7.6k per kW baseload (~4k/kW generation, ~3.6k/kW storage)

So nuclear is cheaper than solar + storage?


China, South Korea are $2K-2.5K per kilowatt of baseload. A Nuclear kilowatt generates 70-95% of the time. A solar kilowatt generates 10-20% of the time. A Gigawatt of solar generates 1 Terawatt hour per year. A gigawatt of nuclear generates 6 to 8 terawatt hours per year. So nuclear generates an average of 7 times more. Solar lasts 15 years. Nuclear lasts 40-80 years. Solar needs to be rebuilt 3 to 5 times versus nuclear. There is no supply chain for matching battery storage at scale. They are just starting to build batteries for cars at the 200 gigawatt-hour levels. Solar and wind in California and many other places has only 10% of the generation during winter. There is no 90-day power storage and building one would be insanely expensive.

You pay for electricity by the kilowatt-hour.


Don't forget LiIon batteries only get a few hundred recharge cycles. Is that calculated in this kw-h figure?


Utility-scale power storage can use other technologies, such as pumped-storage hydroelectric generation. Basically they pump water uphill as a means of storing energy.

https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/nrg/ntgrtd/mrkt/snpsht/2016/10-03p...


Pumped storage is not realistic. It’s a cute nice to have on the side but cannot ever possibly scale enough to meet even double digit percentage of our need. To be quick about it let’s take some data from [1].

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.

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroelectric_power_in_the_U...


What you're not taking into account is that hydroelectric power production facilities are currently sized only for the gravity-driven amount of water that reaches their reservoirs. Without making the reservoirs any larger, or adding any additional dams, you can simply add lots more turbines and pumps to the existing reservoirs and get a lot more power production out of them.

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.


Following up on this, here's some math.

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.


That's an awesome thought :) but as you say, now we need to also get a few hundred GW of generating capacity out of the Hoover Dam and then we'd have something. Hoover Dam is about 2GW nameplate capacity IIRC, so if we could now somehow dig out 199 equivalently sized new turbine halls underground around the dam we would have a real tourist attraction. That might look something like 398 Manapuori power stations. We would also need to install however much solar is required to both provide enough renewable power during the day to offset fossil sources, and have excess to pump enough water to store energy in our Extreme Hoover Dam project to power the country during the evening post-solar peak hours and through the night.

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.)


You seem to know what you are talking about based on your comment history, however this statement needs some backup to be accepted at face value:

> 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


You also need to consider that solar/wind+battery needs to be massively overbuilt to get reliable power because of the variability, both day to day and seasonal. More sophisticated analysis needs to recognize that as your percentage of power from solar/wind approaches 100%, the amount of overbuilding required rises very rapidly.

See e.g. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611683/the-25-trillion-re...


Only if you do it as proposed in the battery-centered article.

An important point is that renewable energy and battery storage continue getting significantly cheaper with every passing year, whereas nuclear power is not getting any cheaper. That's why I said we're at the inflection point. It's not accurate to just take today's figures and project them forward; anticipated gains need to be factored in too. That's why nobody's building new nuclear; even if we assume your numbers are correct and say it's slightly cheaper now, it won't be in a few years. Nuclear power plants need to run for decades to recoup their large capital construction costs.

Tesla Powerwall: $14.5K for 27 kwh and $2.5-4.5k installation. $6.8K for each 13.5 kwh of Powerwall.

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.


Nobody was talking about Tesla Powerwall. We're talking grid scale energy production and storage, not at the level of individual houses. You can't remotely compare a nuclear reactor to a house-level battery setup.


What is the lifecycle on the batteries? What about the externalities of heavy mining to find the materials for batteries? Isn't it really toxic? Is it even feasible to run the whole world immediately on rechargeable batteries? How much more environmental impact would be levied, as opposed to nuclear plants?


Everyone says that, but no one who says that shows us their math or cites any sources. Show your work. Don't just say "can't". Consider variations in both output and load, both of which are well documented. Consider cost, which is also documented. Consider change in cost, which has been considerable.

Don't just say "can't" without any justification except your sense of certainty.


Power-to-gas technology can possibly fill that niche.


Power-to-gas would be a cool technology if we could figure it out, though honestly if we did it would make the argument for nuclear even stronger. Whatever the technology ends up being, it will benefit from large, efficient facilities fed by large amounts of clean, steady power. That means nuclear if you want the overall cycle to be carbon neutral.


You need to give size if you’re gonna start quoting build prices. “billions of dollars” would be a plant in the gigawatt range. The US currently uses about 400GW so we’re looking at a couple of trillion USD to replace the entire US grid with nuclear. What’s the surface area required for 400GW of solar / wind? Napkin math suggests around a million acres needed for solar (assuming internet sources are correct)

I'm not disagreeing, but it's worth pointing out that a large amount of the initial capital cost of nuclear plants is the regulation and public outcry that you have to overcome in order to even get started. And some of that regulation is based on that same public outcry as well.


My issue is that I have a hard time putting costs like regulation and overcoming public sentiment in the equation because they're self-imposed. I know they're real but they seem to distract from the evaluation of the actual tech.

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.


The sun is much bigget energy source than nuclear. You don't need to increase panel efficiency (although we might as well try), you just need to build more panels.


Don't forget energy storage costs, as solar only works for ~half a day, and wind is intermittent. You need to have an on-demand source of energy in addition to renewables.

I don't disagree. But death numbers I think gloss over the antinuclear point.

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.


On the other hand these black swan events usually aren't that bad. For instance the Fukushima disaster, without an evacuation, wouldn't have killed any more people than a equivalently sized coal plant operating in the same place for as long as Fukushima had operated. The difference is just that with Fukushima the deaths are relatively concentrated in time.

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.


That is like comparing getting killed by pollution by getting shortened your life expectancy to getting killed by getting stabbed in the heart with a knife.

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.


> Nuclear power is more like that latter. When it happens it is terrifying and scares the shit out of people.

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.


> 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.


Just because you don't understand other peoples' value systems, that doesn't mean they're irrational.


Doesn't mean they're not, either.


On some level, anything that isn't a paperclip optimizer is irrational. People weight what's important to them, and strive for those goals.


"Everything is relative so nothing is anything" doesn't solve climate change. Everybody is wrong but some people are wronger.


Fukushima cleanup cost that much because they're trying to bring radiation levels back to natural background levels instead of getting them down to levels thought safe enough.

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.

https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/


Fukishima only killed 1 person directly but the evacuation interrupted the medical care of a large number of sick and/or elderly people and ended up killing over a thousand people. But if there hadn't been an evacuation you'd be looking at more like 100 to 200 deaths related to radiation, though many by cancer long down the road. Of course really we ought to be looking at all this in terms of QALYs in which case the evacuation decision probably looks a lot better. And air pollution probably looks worse.


> Fukishima only killed 1 person directly but the evacuation interrupted the medical care of a large number of sick and/or elderly people and ended up killing over a thousand people.

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.


The radiation levels around Fukushima would not have caused prompt death. Cancer takes many years to develop. Elderly people do not have enough lifespan left to develop radiation related cancer to die from radiation.

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. https://www.health.harvard.edu/cancer/radiation-risk-from-me...

Radiation levels were about 2 chest x-rays every day.

6-16 mSv from CT scans.


What if there was concern the levels could continue to rise to 600 or 6000 times higher than normal? You're analyzing with the benefit of hindsight.

The plant was still nowhere near under control on April 4 and needed constant attention.


> Fukishima ... ended up killing over a thousand people.

Shorter version.


But the way nuclear power usually kills people is by increasing cancer rates…


> For instance the Fukushima disaster, without an evacuation...

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?


> Whereupon the cleanup is huge, requires state intervention, and possibly decades.

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.”

https://apnews.com/e757699344844f389d49048b15e9e0ae


That doesn't even register compared to the Fukushima and Chernobyl cleanups. That link seems to support the OP's point.


The death rates of nuclear power makes no sense to talk about. It is very hard to measure the reduced life expectancy due to radiation. Not to mention a lot of the horrors of Chernobyl was covered up. It also does not take into account the large number of people will severe health problems the rest of their lives.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


> That's exactly the pro-nuclear point; it's far less harmful in aggregate, and held back by irrational fears.

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.


>I don't suddenly get sick from pollution from coal power.

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.


>People are terrible at understanding risk, but very good at being influenced by propaganda. Anti-nuclear propaganda has been very effective.

Exactly! The money quote in this entire thread.


And I want just add here, as a short sidenote: It's very unfortunate Chernobyl accident happened and how it happened. Some random experiment running in an ancient Soviet nuclear plant, in the middle of the night for no good reason. Considering Soviet work culture and the most dangerous technology on the planet, I guess there was always a distinct possibility. Yet to cause such mayhem, and even better get spread out mixed with burning graphene's ashes across the Europe was really a major score for any anti-nuclear opinion from there on to I guess eternity.

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.


As I also mentioned, I agree with your points on the psychological effects of the nuclear disasters. But do not forget about dam failures that kill a lot of people instantly, gas explosions, oil spills, and most importantly smog caused by coal plants that affect people for the rest of their lives.

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[1]. Several sources calculate that on average, cleanup of an oil spill costs around 5 billion dollars[2]. 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.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oil_spills [2] https://twnsacredtrust.ca/concerns/economic-cost-oil-spill/


I’ll never forget what the Deepwater Horizons spill did to the ocean. I will never forgive that damage. Seems that many have completely forgotten about it though - but easily focus on Chernobyl/Fukushima. Edit-name


Deepwater Horizon?



I was correcting him, they originally said New Horizons which I think is a rehab facility.

I was correcting them*

(ugh, I missed one of those pronouns)


The Japanese can safely use nuclear reactors, only smaller ones with passive cooling, like NuScale.


>It is very hard to measure the reduced life expectancy due to radiation..

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.


There's been many long-term effects of Chernobyl disaster in eastern Europe. For example, thyroid diseases rate spiked dramatically in Belarus and eastern Poland.

It's not fully confirmed this was the only/major cause, but it seems very likely from the evidence.


Do most countries have big fat oil funds to finance the cost of the incoming environmental disasters?

> 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.


> It is very hard to measure the reduced life expectancy due to radiation.

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.


If you build a large nuclear reactor, you get big-scale negative effects in case of its failure. Both Chernobyl and Fukushima were "mega projects" by their design based on controlled explosion. You don't have to build gigantic reactors anymore, they could be relatively compact and the effect of their failure is appropriate. I don't want to reuse all these preachers about yet-not-existing-but-totally-superior-x-generation nuclear reactors, but as I understand there are already active reactors that are, unlike Chernobyl and Fukushima, already based on a reaction that won't cause an explosion and catastrophic effects in case of failure, instead they would just become unusable. Also the number of victims of the Chernobyl disaster are exaggerated. And the 235 billion dollar price tag is taken out of nowhere. The weak position of nuclear industry is the mining tho.


Alvin Weinberg basically said that one cannot make the same safety guarantees for a 1000 MW utility scale reactor vs. a 16 MW naval scale reactor.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iW8yuyk3Ugw


if 20 milliseverts per year is the correct level for evacuation then why do we not evacuate Kerela in India, Ramsdar in Iran. Kerela has radiation levels 3 times higher than 20 milliseverts per year. Denver has higher background radiation than most places in the US. Higher altitude and higher radon levels. They are not quite to 20 milliseverts per year unless they have more radon in their house which some do.

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.

https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/aberfan-coal-disaster-...

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.


> It is very hard to measure the reduced life expectancy due to radiation

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
And we are talking about Japanese people, the 1991 Gulf War Oil Spill involved mainly Iraqi people, relocation costs weren't so high, after all we were bombing them already...

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

How much did it cost? How much damage did it produce for the environment?

    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.


> It is very hard to measure the reduced life expectancy due to radiation

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?


Well, at least environment destruction gets a price tag now...


I don't think you're giving enough credit to the real cause behind nuclear power's unpopularity. It's too expensive. Even France who went all in with nuclear power is moving away from it due to expense. Look at how many people protested the Dakota Access Pipeline, and how little difference it made to the companies building it. Investors don't care about hippies keeping nuclear power plants away, and if they saw enough profit in nuclear power they would find a way to get it done. Even with the subsidies and grants offered by the Obama administration, there wasn't much commercial interest in nuclear power. If nuclear power is really the solution to climate change, then it needs to be even more subsidized if not nationalized in government run facilities by people who are motivated by something other than investor profit margins.


> Investors don't care about hippies keeping nuclear power plants away, and if they saw enough profit in nuclear power they would find a way to get it done.

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.


Same thing happened with the Rancho Seco plant (a couple miles from where I grew up), though at least that was somewhat justified, given that it had "a long record of multiple annual shut-downs, cost over-runs, mismanagement, multiple accidents that included radioactive steam releases, restarts after unresolved automatic shut-downs, and regular rate increases that included a 92% increase over one three-year span" (Wikipedia's words).

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.


Maybe that's true in Germany. I don't think corporations are as powerful there as in the US. That being said, it's my understanding that, like France, Germany is undertaking a massive shutdown of existing nuclear infrastructure. Do you have more details on the plant which was built but not turned on?


> Maybe that's true in Germany. I don't think corporations are as powerful there as in the US.

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.


This is a good point, but as far as I'm aware there is no legislation in the US prohibiting power companies from building nuclear plants right? In fact, there are subsidies and loan guarantees put in place by the government to encourage investment in nuclear. What precisely are oil and coal companies doing to prevent the construction of nuclear power plants?

When you're lobbying to destroy a competitor, it's hard to just pass a law explicitly prohibiting their industry. Media outlets will start asking why, and "because it causes coal companies to lose business" isn't a PR-compatible answer.

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 was also an completely finished Austrian plant never turned on because of a referendum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zwentendorf_Nuclear_Power_Plan...


Thanks, this is the clearest cut case of voters overriding the opening of a nuclear power plant. In the US we don't usually get to vote on things like that however. What is stopping the proliferation of nuclear power here?

The Kalkar fast breeder: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SNR-300

There are also plants in Greifswald and Stendal of Sovjet design that were completed or largely completed, but not put into use after reunification.


Ah, didn't realize what was being referred to happened 32 years ago and right before Chernobyl. Based on what (little) I've read about this reactor in particular, safety was just one of the concerns. The other was the expense. It took 13 years to build, was dramatically over budget and more expensive to run than anticipated. In addition, according to the report I read, the reactor had design flaws in common with Chernobyl which is one of the major reasons it ended up never being brought online. A similar reactor design in France (Superphenix) was also shut down due to the same safety and budget concerns. It seems like every single fast breeder reactor experiment around the world was an economic failure.

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.

https://publikationen.bibliothek.kit.edu/270037170/3813531

https://energypost.eu/slow-death-fast-reactors/

> 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.”


I'm on mobile and on the move, but it shouldn't be hard to find if you look at Wikipedia's list of nuclear plants around the world or in Germany or so.


France is reducing nuclear in the power mix because 50% is more than enough to supplement renewables and also because of aging utilities like Fessenheim that are becoming risky to operate and expensive to maintain. President Macron also pushed the target to 2035.


Which agrees with my premise. The reactors are being shut down because they are not economically competitive.


Not really. The average cost of electricity in France is 26.5% cheaper than the EU average. Fessenheim is also being closed due to pressure from anti nuke groups, Switzerland and Germany.

They're not economic at peak load but then become economic at base load in support of renewables? Sounds like a win-win.

That's factually incorrect, rooftop solar is ~5x as dangerous as nuclear based on reasonable estimates. However, grid connected photovoltaic solar is incredibly safe. https://www.statista.com/statistics/494425/death-rate-worldw...

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.


The problem with these comparisons, is that a death from installing rooftop solar is arguably something that the person doing the work actually have at least some ability to prevent.

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.


Isn't that exactly what they said, that nuclear is the lowest, so it makes sense that rooftop solar is worse (in terms of death only, of course)?


Your source is behind a paywall, but the small part available says

>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.


I think it was Churchill that the quote is ascribed to - "Many more men die from whisky each year than bullets. Men would still rather be full of whisky than bullets."

Unfortunately the same holds true when it comes to many people's opinions of nuclear power.


I'm confused because I don't even see wind and solar on the first citation you provided, but you seem to be using it to say it's better than renewables.


I usually say that nuclear is on par with wind and solar in terms of deaths/TWh. The numbers at these low levels have large relative error bars, and there's not much value in comparing them to each other when 80% of the world is fueled by fossil fuel, which is very clearly killing at least 4.2 million people/year from air pollution alone, (nevermind future effects of climate change).

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.

https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/


It is an apple to orange comparison though. Somebody falls down and break their neck from installing a wind turbine is pretty obvious.

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.


I agree that the perception of risk is because of the indirect effects you mention.

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.

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es3051197?source=cen


> Nuclear accidents in contrast are very hard to assess the deaths from because a lot of people don't die straight away.

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.


You can check out the second citation for this value. Also here is a relatively newer link which also explains the calculations: https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2012/06/deaths-by-energy-sourc...


A cursory Google search puts the solar number between 0.4 and 0.8 deaths per TWh.


Which is mostly people falling off roofs doing residential solar. It'd be nice to split out residential and industrial solar.


If I said I'd invented a new technology that would have less deaths per Terawatt than Nuclear, what would your first question be?

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 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.

I don't have a dog in this fight, but comments like this hardly seem helpful and are very likely against HN rules.


It's not helpful, but it's spot-on. I always think of this whenever nuclear arguments pop up here. The pro-nuclear side tends to be extremely emotional, but think of themselves as the "logical" ones. It's kind of annoying, actually.


It was actually an ironic take on the common "more-logical-than-you" stance that nuclear proponents often take, pre-emptively writing off anyone not gung-ho about nuclear as people who can't make objective evaluations either because they're either so irrationally scared of nuclear or are so hippy-dippy that they just want unworkable solutions that sound good but can never work. But yes, it is annoying isn't it?

I get it, but it’s not a very constructive way to point out their mistake, and it seems like a good way to incite a flame war. Everything else about your comment struck me as really thoughtful.

Well, my first question would be "How does it work?", then I'd have a good laugh after you explained it. But that's just me...

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.


> Unfortunately, facts do not change our minds.

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".


Ben Shapiro makes awful statements like,"I am getting really sick of people who whine about 'civilian casualties'... when I see in the newspapers that civilians in Afghanistan or the West Bank were killed by American or Israeli troops, I don't really care". And "We're above 800 million Muslims who are radicalized – more than half the Muslims on earth." and then he throws out the adage "Facts don't care about your feelings" as if the statements he makes are objective truth, and any disagreement is by people who only care about feelings and not facts. Ben Shapiro's M.O. is making emotionally charged statements that disparage groups of people. When people react, he labels that reaction emotionally driven in contrast to his "logic" and "facts". This type of disingenuous dialogue happens all the time, always to the detriment of the actual problem or issue that would be beneficial for society to solve.


Here is what he said about it later in an article called "So, Here’s A Giant List Of All The Dumb Stuff I’ve Ever Done (Don’t Worry, I’ll Keep Updating It)":

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.


So he keeps a list of the "dumb stuff" he has said... and yet continues to make disingenuous and provocative statements to rile people up and then make a big show of people getting riled up. There are conservative commentators, writers, and philosophers who offer genuine dialogue and substance. Yet, Ben Shapiro is lauded by the right as a thought leader for inciting outrage, and profiting from outrage. It seems to me that the problem is that we hear mostly from vacuous outrage inciters. The irony of Ben Shapiro is that he deliberately provokes emotional reactions, and then with a straight face claims that he reveres facts above all else. Spare me the bullshit.


A "fact" is that in our current political, social and technological context nuclear is extremely difficult. Hopefully that will change one day, but in the meantime renewables are an easy and simple way to make a difference.

> Nuclear energy has the lowest death rate [...] Unfortunately, facts do not change our minds.

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.


"Nuclear is safer because people smash their thumbs with hammers installing solar panels" is THE stupidest argument made by nuclear proponents.

Please, stop doing that. It makes you sound like a jerk.


It may well be the stupidest argument, but it is not the argument that the person you are responding to actually made. If you're going to admonish someone to stop advancing stupid arguments the least you can do is speak to what they actually said rather than raising a straw man.


No, they just said what I said, with flowery science words. Morally and emotionally, it's exactly the same thing I said.

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.


You had me at nuclear, and lost me at technology that won’t ever be licensed by the nrc in the next 20yrs. How will you save the climate?


Honestly, the NRC doesn't matter anymore. Because with respect to carbon emissions, the US doesn't matter all that much. (Harhar, not even you emissions are worls class anymore. An empire in decline. SCNR.) China does, and India will matter soon. Therefore, technology built in China will matter, and they don't give a rat's ass about the NRC.


Nuclear energy is deeply irresponsible. It requires maintenance of reactors to prevent significant environmental contamination. On a long enough timescale, it is impossible to guarantee continuous maintenance. At some point in the next millennium there will be a technological downturn, leading to thousands of unmaintained reactors dotting the landscape, leaking highly radioactive materials. Hard to imagine human civilization recovering in such an environment.


Actually it doesn't. There is no reason we could be burning todays "waste" in Thorium or other reactors. Reactor designs that also coast to a stop if their systems are interrupted vs. melting down like many of the current high pressure designs in use. There are many ways to produce nuclear power and there are plenty of designs that are far more efficient and safe than the currently widely used designs. Indeed China doesn't have to deal as much with irrational hype and is set to pass the rest of the western world: https://neutronbytes.com/2018/01/07/recent-developments-in-a...

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.


Nuclear reactors contain highly toxic materials. No matter how smart designs they use, they'll decay and leak if left unattended for a long enough period. We have huge spent radioactive material storage problems right now. Just imagine if every Dick and Mary had a reactor in their basement. If only 1% of these reactors go under maintained, we have a serious problem on our hands. That before considering a major civilization blip like a communist revolution or a world war.

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.


Have we not learnt our lesson? Nearly 70 years of massive global subsidies have gone by and yet the nuclear industry has not been able to produce anything competitive, let alone anything that doesn’t require government guarantees / externalisation of costs.

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.


Your post is an anthology of myths and incorrect information.

Some facts:

* 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.

Sources: https://nuclear.duke-energy.com/2019/01/23/debunking-9-myths...

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

https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-a...


* The market situation was vastly different. Renewables were being developed in a mature market.

* 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's happening at the moment in the Western world whether we like it or not.

that's what will happen to the current generation of solar and wind power plants


Yeah and it's a thousand times easier to quickly replace those because their key components are not the most dangerous substances on the planet!


There are a lot of much more dangerous substances on the planet, and many of them are likely used in the manufacturing process of photovoltaics.


Cite?

Have fun with the googling. Feel free to check out the toxicity of plutonium (separate from radiation) while you're at it.


Well, hydrogen cyanide is more dangerous, it is used to produce cyanide salts (potassium and sodium), which are also extremely toxic, and are commonly used in electroplating


And is hydrogen cyanide not used in nuclear plant construction?


> 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 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.


> 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.

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.


>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.

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.


Fukushima's atmospheric release was two orders of magnitude lower than Chernobyl's - 370TBq vs. 70Pbq (cf. https://www.npr.org/2011/04/12/135353240/fukushima-vs-cherno..., https://www.oecd-nea.org/rp/chernobyl/c02.html)


> Yet we are still not seeing them being built.

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.


Not probably, it definitely has.


> * Nuclear energy has received [a massive amount of subsidy]

> * 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[1], 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.
1. http://energy.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2003/07/MITEI-The-F...


> 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.

They have to keep extending obsolete reactors because they aren't allowed to build newer, safer, more efficient ones!


Aren't "allowed" by whom? If it was economical to replace these reactors they would have a plan for it.


By the US Government, nuclear regulatory agencies, the state governments, and above all ignorant people who are afraid of the word "nuclear" and anything associated with it, because they've never understood the idea that nuclear energy can mean something other than "bombs".

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.


One of your sources is literally a power company.


You could argue that they're biased, but you could also argue that they're the most knowledgeable people available.

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.


With current energy grids that are used in the world as a template, you can have one of two grid.

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.


Current grids are or have been mostly fossil fuels. You can displace a lot of those with renewables, no problem.

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.


For the US grid that is very true. There are nations which has reached closer to peak renewable and a good example is Denmark. At peak time wind production is almost 100% and if I remember right they export a lot when that happen, but then we have times like right now (when this comment is posted) and wind production is less than 10% of total usage and both natural gas and coal produce sits above 10% to compensate, in combination with imports from Germany which is also right now mostly produced from coal. (https://www.electricitymap.org/?page=country&solar=false&rem...)

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.


There are two common environmentalist arguments:

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.


How long has solar been that competitive? Less than a decade. How much power infrastructure is there in the world--a huge amount. How long will it take to retire and replace all that infrastructure? Decades at best.


Neither technology is so cheap as to make it economical to replace our entire energy system through market forces. That's why the climate crisis is not magically solving itself. That does not contradict the argument that nuclear, for cost reasons, is poorly-positioned to be the main player in a subsidized transition to a post-carbon economy.


https://terrapower.com https://terrapower.com/updates/netflix-documentary-on-terrap...

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, they've been touting these for 15 years now and still don't have any plans for a prototype. The nuclear industry always seems to have some game-changing innovation just around the corner. I'm all for aggressively funding the research, but these new designs are all hypothetical, not existing solutions.


There are plans to build a prototype but the Trump administration blocked them: https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a25728221/te...


Right, hence, no current plans for a prototype.


The plans are made and ready to go as soon as a president who isn't loyal to the fossil fuel industry is in office. This technology could literally save our species and the planet and it got spiked to protect dinosaur industries. You can watch the documentary "Inside Bill's Brain" on Netflix for more information, specifically episode 3.


> Solar and wind already are cheaper than anything else out there

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?


How are batteries, power-to-gas, and solar-thermal with molten salt not scalable?


Because they can provide nowhere near the amount of storage required. For example, one of the flagship solar storage facilities here in California has a capacity of 300 MWh. By comparison, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant generates 2,200 Megawatts. That storage facility can store less than _ten minutes_ worth of energy that the nuclear plant outputs.


The German natural gas infrastructure can in fact store several hundreds of TWh.


What do you mean natural gas infrastructure? Pneumatic storage?


Lots of German households and industries use natural gas for heating, hence we've got something like 400,000 km of pipeline as well as storage facilities sitting around. Instead of buying natural gas from Russia, we could fill them with synthetically produced methane and/or hydrogen, generated during off-peak hours.


Synthetic methane production has a theoretical maximum efficiency of 30-40%. So we'd need to build 3x as much power and is actually needed, and a bunch of electrolysis and Sabatier reaction plants on top of that.

Or we can just follow France's example and build nuclear plants.


Those numbers are outdated. Round-trip efficiencies of up to 80% have been claimed:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S036054421...

If that's legit and can be made cost-effective, the case for nuclear is largely gone...


Efficiencies of over 100% have been claimed. Over 50% of the US patent office's applications are for entropy-reversing devices.

Come back to me once these claimed figures are actually implemented.


Reverse fuel cells aren't magic, though. I agree that 80% seems rather ambitous...


...in the form of methane. How do you store wind and solar?

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.


German Wikipedia lists round-tip efficiencies of 30-38%, and 43–54% if you cogenerate heat.

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:

https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2015/EE/C5EE0...

Not sure how much of these claims will survive after contact with reality...


Heat cogeneration doesn't really improve efficiency of the methane generation process itself. Cogeneration refers to using the waste heat of a thermal plant to assist in some other facility. Using the waste heat of a gas plant to heat water in desalination is an example of cogeneration. So it does improve overall energy efficiency, but it assumes that there's a convenient source of heat next door. Wind and photovoltaics don't generate any significant amount of heat though, so there's no opportunity for cogeneration.


Cogeneration happens at the gas-to-power side of things. Doesn't help you with electricity generation, but that's ok as the goal is reduction of emissions across all sectors.

The source calculates somewhat optimistically. They assume storage at 80bar, while mentioning that actual storage is at 200bar. They also assume 60% efficient conversion from methane to electricity, while using 55% in other parts of the paper. There is no accounting for transmission losses or the energy needed to procure the CO2. Cogeneration is again creative accounting. We're talking about supplying electricity, and heat isn't electricity.

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.


They probably can scale, but haven't scaled yet. The only proven solution today is pumped storage, which is not available everywhere. Pumped storage accounts for >95% of world's installed energy storage capacity.


Not being needed to scale yet and not being able to scale are two completely different things though.


Simple: because at high levels of intermittent penetration, you have to build so much "non-productive" storage technology that the Energy Return on Investment is below the level thought necessary to sustain industrial civilization. For example, this was just published last week:

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211467X1...

(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.)


I accidentally clicked get PDF on the recommended paper from the page, this one:

"Will EROI be the Primary Determinant of Our Economic Future? The View of the Natural Scientist versus the Economist"

https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S2542435117300831?...

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.


That paper has problems.

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.


People are not only powering up their "macbook pros" to watch netflix. Try to run steel mill or any factory on batteries, solar or molten salt, even decent size server farm is not going to run well on solar or wind.


It has one massive advantage though. It's perceived to be "hated by the greenies". That makes some circles really love it - and that could make it very viable where those demographics wield enough power.


It’s sadly ironic that the greens historically opposed nuclear and thus share partial responsibility for where we are with respect to our energy production mix.

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.


There is some movement around small modular reactors. I hope they could be done in a fast and safe way.

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.


The same people who are pro-nuclear don't want it in their backyard, nor to worry about future waste storage sites, or invest more heavily in the current Superfund clean up aftermath from previous nuclear-related projects.

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.


>nor to worry about future waste storage sites

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.


Ok, let's just get one site approved, and all states that nuclear waste might travel through on board, simple, right? Why hasn't it been done then?

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.


Sure the waste is miniscule.

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.


That's why not-for-profit Chernobyl never happened? And the military, they do have their experience of hiding their failures. One mega-corporation. Totally not-for-profit.


You know that almost all the reactors in the world are corporate run, right?


What? According to whom? That's all just made-up FUD.


Because solutions to those issues never seem to come up in pro nuclear posts, only that the new reactors are safer and more efficient, while ignoring the issues of waste storage, expensive proprietary fuel and liability concerns.


> 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.

You should not compare raw prices but what's required to use it for an actual load, those figures look pretty different.


Intermittent renewables are making less than 5% of our primary energy today. At scale, the intermittency problem becomes significant because you have to build all this storage. The energy required to build the storage reduces the total Energy Return on Investment below what is necessary to sustain industrialized civilization. Nuclear EROI is about 50:1, well into the safe range.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211467X1...


Some of the most important advances came from making previously expensive things cheaper. Your argument could have applied to the space industry, for example. Then SpaceX happened.


Rooftop solar is available, but you can't exactly get a 30 kW washing machine sized nuclear power plant to install in your basement, can you? It's mainly due to non-proliferation risks. Remove some of the regulatory hurdles, like requiring airplane impact proof reactor containments (after 9/11 of course) and we'll see a boomibg nuclear industry.

https://www.troutmansandersenergyreport.com/2009/02/nrc-requ...


It does not really matter whether nuclear requires government backing, it's the role of the state to back things that may not be viable otherwise. Actually, currently renewables receive massive amounts of subsidies.

Nuclear works.

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.


Can't you replace "nuclear" with almost any of the staple renewable energy dujour and your comment remains valid?

Solar and wind have massive externalities specially when you factor in lifecycle of batteries.


70 years is not enough time to fully flush out the potential of nuclear power. We're already on the cusp of breakthroughs with Thorium (cleaner) and Fusion (more and cleaner) power that are derivatives of the science from nuclear.

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.


> Solar and wind already are cheaper than anything else out there, and they are still regularly falling in cost.

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.


Not quite.

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).


Coal plants are dying as gas became cheap due to all the fracking and shale gas in the usa. Germany is about to start a brand new coal plant in 2020 https://www.power-technology.com/projects/datteln-4-coal-fir... They need the coal plants to compensate lack of nuclear and alleviate the intermittent issue of the renewable.


That's because if the German government canceled the new coal plant, they would have to compensate the owners. The German government doesn't want to do that, so the plant is going forward. There's also political pressure from coal-mining regions in Germany to keep coal going.

This has less to do with electricity demand than with politics.


Also note that construction of the plant started in 2007 (ie years before Fukushima and the subsequent decommissioning of some nuclear plants). It was supposed to go online in 2011, but there were legal as well as technical problems that led to a significant delay.


Storage can solve any problem, but we don't have good enough solution yet. I agree energy storage research is the highest priority item.


We have a few promising ones IMO. Lithium will probably win out due to cost, but liquid metal storage is what I wish would win. It is more expensive, yet it also has basically infinite cycles (it doesn't wear out). That seems like an ideal characteristic for grid storage.


We're building new natural gas plants to provide peaking power, not to provide baseline power. Conventional nuclear plants can't provide peaking power, although there are designs that can.


>We're building new natural gas plants to provide peaking power

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.


But traditionally when people talk about 'baseload' gas they mean CCGTs and 'peaking' gas they mean OCGTs. It's not about ability to throttle but capital cost vs efficiency.

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).


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