Nuclear plants in the US have been traditionally built like airports, each one bespoke to its site, each one separately assessed for safety. This pushes the plants to be very large, to offset the high up-front costs.
We should build reactors like airplanes instead of airports. You get your airplane design and factory approved, then you can churn out thousands. That's the hope for microreactors.
I learned about these ideas from this podcast episode: https://www.vox.com/2020/2/28/21155995/jessica-lovering-nucl...
Good there are some people with a sense of safety and this is not the case. A nuclear reactor is not a plane.
Maybe you should question the opinion of a lobbyist first before you start repeating their ads.
Even then, Boeing thought they were better than they are, and we have lives lost to 737 MAX because they tried to play the rules to get a completely new aircraft certified as an existing one. The reason we don't have planes constantly crashing is because if a serious problem is found we can stop the planes flying, grounding the entire fleet of that model/variant around the world because airlines know that they'll be taken to the cleaners by governments if they keep flying a known-dangerous plane.
Companies everywhere are placing profits ahead of safety and reliability. You order parts for a nuclear reactor that have to be made out of a specific alloy due to radiation, the contractor ends up giving you a slightly different alloy that is just as strong mechanically, but costs them 20% less, and it turns out that the bit they removed is the trace material that makes the specified alloy radiation resistant (they're casting contractors, not metallurgists).
But because we're all cutting costs you're certifying the factory not the part, so you end up shipping a thousand small nuclear reactors with coolant systems that perish due to radiation and end up leaking toxic radioactive waste two or three years after being powered up.
How do you ground a fleet of nuclear reactors? It's not like having a fridge or hot water is a luxury that we can just do without for a few months while the problem is resolved.
Is there a reason why backup solutions are not the answer to that problem?
On the other hand states that use nuclear to supplement a "hydrogen economy" powered mostly by renewables (typical plan is 500% over-production with surplus converted to ammonia for shipping) will already have heaps of backup power and the nuclear plants would be redundant anyway.
So either you only have nuclear, and most of it will be the same thing because that's how it got cheap enough to use, and when the fleet is grounded you're screwed — or you have enough "backup" power that you never needed the nuclear reactors anyway and the government of the day takes the opportunity to shut down your white elephant project which was only ever intended to funnel public funds into your colleague's pockets anyway.
I don't honestly believe there is a middle ground where nuclear is selected as a supplement to renewables by a government that isn't corrupted.
Fission people spent the entire 1990s hyping pebble bed reactors but ultimately they had these problems. The safety of a PBR lies in having an inert atmosphere. During an air or water intrusion event the whole this will burn, explode, and melt. Again, Earth is absolutely filthy with oxygen so this is a legitimate concern.
The "problem" with nuclear is the misconception and economic cost.
A sort of modern day swords to ploughshares in terms of the Apples and whatnots.
IMHO it's because there has been a false belief that energy consumption is tied by a constant factor to GDP. We knew this was BS even back in the 1970s, but perpetuating that economic falsehood was extremely beneficial to entrenched energy interests and lobbyists.
If we were 15-25 years ahead of where we are now, because we provided the same tax benefits to solar and wind investors in the 80s that we give to small-time oil investors to this day... the entire world would be so much better positioned.
Getting the NRC to approve them is one thing, getting a city to allow a nuclear power plant of any kind in their back yard is a whole other ball-game.
Even EDF in France, which has massive support, can't build nuclear these days, and France is often cited as nuclear's greatest success stories.
It's time to stop blaming boogie men for nuclear's failures, because that does nothing to help it succeed. Anti-nuke "greens" blame does allow for building a culture war, which is why I think it survives in the public imagination. However, in utility boardrooms, and at the NRC, none of that has stopped the world's attempts at building the next generation nuclear fleet. What has stopped that is the cost of construction.
It doesn't matter whether there is outsider opposition to the tech if it can't even be built economically.
Green energy is great in this regard because solar panels are just roofing and wind turbines are just really skinny 5 story buildings.
Hell you're on a website that exists only because no one is willing to do the type of R&D that build the tools we use in the first place (unix, arpanet, computers) so we instead outsourced it to people in garages and hope for something that works, or at least looks like it works and makes a ton of money before it crashes and burns (hi twitter!).
If the trend continues for much longer, energy sources which require less labor will become more competitive (solar).
If you're a greenie - this is a good thing. Because oil has almost nothing going for it beside how good a source of energy it is for jet/rocket fuel.
The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant generated 18,213,519 MWh in 2018 with 1400 full time employees . That is an annualized output of of 1.5 megawatts per FTE.
During operation, the solar farm generates more than 6 times as much energy per FTE.
Of course you need storage too for solar to supply power after sundown. I looked at some recent utility scale battery project news, like the Moss Landing project currently under construction, but I couldn't find information about these projects adding any number of permanent jobs after construction. They may be too low maintenance.
Finally, you need to amortize the project construction labor over the life of the project to get an all-in labor intensity analysis. Diablo Canyon was unfortunately built long enough ago that contemporary reporting was pre-digital. From recent nuclear projects in the United States, it looks like nuclear projects don't have lower lifetime labor intensity (inclusive of construction) than solar + storage either.
The low labor intensity of large scale renewables is an under-appreciated point. Most of the labor is front-loaded into the construction phase, and doesn't amount to a lot per lifetime MWh. When you see breathless reports about how solar power is employing a boatload of people, they're talking about short term construction work. If solar power were at steady-state, as mature as coal or nuclear power, it wouldn't provide many jobs. The only reason its job numbers are so much higher than coal/nuclear is because coal/nuclear are stagnant/declining while solar is still in the rapid growth/construction phase.
It's a workable idea unless you think the problem is that every reactor, no matter how large, has to deal with red tape and lawsuits from NIMBYs.
The cheapest possible energy gird currently available is to use wind as much as the weather allows it since it has currently the lowest cost per produced MWh, and natural gas for everything else. Solar is also starting to reach similar cost per MWh as natural gas when weather allows it.
We might see a renewal in nuclear if natural gas (and other fossil fuels) were taxed to the point of being economical unattractive. Without that I don't expect something that cost twice as much to compete in a market with a fungible commodity.
> The strict safety regulations imposed on the nuclear industry are another reason why capital costs are so high. 
This is actually covered a bit in a recent 80,000 hours episode: https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/mark-lynas-climate-c...
So why is there an insistence on potentially over-engineering nuclear? Why the insistence on lower rates of nuclear compared to other type of generation?
If we don't want to reduce nuclear safety—which is completely reasonable—then to be consistent, other forms of generation should be made safer—which may drive their costs up.
Pick a rate that is acceptable, and have design goals around that. Either by making things less onerous for nuclear or more onerous for others.
There are all sorts of gas generators coming online (because of fracking), and while they may be better than coal, but that's hardly a useful way to eliminate emissions. Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen:
> Our findings also have important implications for large-scale "fuel switching" to natural gas from coal or from nuclear. Although natural gas burning emits less fatal pollutants and GHGs than coal burning, it is far deadlier than nuclear power, causing about 40 times more deaths per unit electric energy produced (ref. 2).
Gaining knowledge that way.
And then, after maybe 20 to 30 years producing the best combination of all that, with the gained knowledge.
That is what really is happening at the moment.
The real results will be visible in decaces only.
One big field test.
Spiking? They approved two reactors this year and most years since Fukushima they didn't approve any. https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3100097/c...
...after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, China halted its approval of new reactors for four years. These resumed in 2015, largely driven by Beijing’s pledge to cut carbon emissions. Then, from 2016 to 2018, the country again stopped granting permission for the construction of new nuclear power plants. After three new plants were approved in June 2019, government approvals again ground to a halt until this week.
Tianwan-5 was just hooked up to the grid last month.
So China added the equivalent of 7 nuclear reactors worth of solar TWh last year.
They are also great at adding HVDC, which the US desperately needs.
“The cause of this latest problem seems to have nothing to do with nuclear power and everything to do with incompetent business practices, particularly Toshiba’s construction contractor,” Conca wrote.
This argument is akin to when congress accuses the US Postal Service of losing money and being uneconomic, when in reality congress itself mandated that it must be run that way.
That is to say, nobody involved with the process has a suggestion on what regulations are unnecessarily increasing costs. So I don't think the USPS is comparable, as there are very clear and easy fixes that would solve their problems (ie increase stamp prices).
When you look at what happened with Westinghouse and the AP-1000 in Georgia and South Carolina, it seems that parts of the problem is that the designs weren't even buildable as they were laid out, and when it came time to build the construction side just went ahead with whatever they could hobble together. So it's been suggested that if the NRC checked the plans not only for safety, but also basic construct ability, then maybe these massive projects would succeed. But because the engineers did not do their job, and construction teams did jobs they shouldn't have, and the business arrangements were such that all this went sideways instead of problems being identified and fixed, there was massive failure.
Personally, I think more regulation has a better chance of fixing the industry rather than less regulation. The executives are clearly incompetent and have no clue or long term planning ability.
You don't wind up in the nuclear field by being dumb and smart people don't say things that can easily be construed by the opposition as advocating for reduced safety.
Meanwhile at the same time lots of people are saying "too much regulation drives up costs," which means that the implication is still that nuclear advocates are asking for less safety fit cost savings.
That's why despite the knowledge being there (and exported, just check out what french companies do in China) the main obstacle is political and societal: people are still scared, and politicians oscillate constantly on the matter of nuclear energy (Fessenheim, EPR etc) and therefore cannot actually develop a consistent position over the development phase. France actually has a ton of benefits from using nuclear (check out maps pollution-related deaths, check out hybrid car CO2 emissions per km, etc) but it takes a long-term vision to make big commitments that can pay off handsomely, and most of the world is fairly myopic (and my country is no exception).
I could point you towards  the perception of nuclear risk (nuclear waste first, nuclear reactors second) in France being much higher than the perception of floods/fire/medical risks/terrorism, and much higher than the real numbers. There is a HUGE disconnect between what people THINK nuclear power plants and nuclear waste are in terms of risk and what actually is problematic, and this oscillation has been very strong in public opinion (after all, it was Hollande 4 years ago who committed to closing a perfectly fine Fessenheim following public opinion more than anything else).
So no, it's not about being buildable or not. Nuclear power plants are buildable. They're just not giving the private sector a good return on investment in today's market, and therefore it's on governments to get moving but for them to enact change their voters need to be consistently wanting it too. It's not even just a nuclear problem: just look at how public transportation can often be a constant fight between parties which delays advancements by decades (see: Toronto).
 (in French) perceived moderate and high risks for various items in social awareness: https://i.imgur.com/iPpS6rM.jpg
 (in French) actual amounts of deaths related to many of the items of the previous image: https://i.imgur.com/fOwKjka.jpg
And science isn't just a game of randoms. We know full well how to build nuclear power plants, let's not play mysticism about it..
In the US, the percentage of build failures has been too high for any utility or merchant generators to stomach the risk.
So the existence of new reactors is not sufficient to define "buildable." The existence frequency of failed builds is what scares off new projects, and what makes them "unbuildable."
Which also points to another difficulty with build ability: even if Rosatom or China or South Korea have figured out a way to build with a high success rate, that doesn't mean that it will translates to a different build crew and culture. We would have to see a string of probable 5 successes in a row in the US before a utility exec would consider risking their entire company on a new nuclear power plant. Too many gigantic companies have been destroyed in the attempt. There's a hilarious video of a SCANA (I think?) exec delivering blisteringly sarcastic remarks about the possibility of somebody else being able to pick up the pieces of their failed AP-1000 build. Nuclear is a career killer and a corporation killer in the US. It's likely that many execs in South Carolina will end up in jail for the stuff they did to try to keep the build going.
And this is from people that have none of the safety or environmental concerns about nuclear. It's purely economic and "can I ever build this thing and will it destroy the company I lead."
This is a problem of framing you've got there, because by definition pretty much all the actions taken on markets have short-sightedness in mind, and at the very least nowhere near a century-long vision.
The existence of reactors AND the fact that they are being built RIGHT NOW is enough to define buildable. That you don't WANT to build them is an entirely different problem, and again it is motivated by the fact that incorrect information is constantly being thrown at nuclear (even in countries where it once was a major thing to build new reactors, i.e. France) and that this information trickles down into the way people drive their representatives (politicians) towards short-sightedness.
* Boss - So why did the reactor vessel produce cracks?
* Engineer - Oh well, long standing misinformation being thrown at the industry.
* Boss - what has that got to do with my reactor vessel.
* Engineer - Err well, the craft was lost due to a lack of ongoing projects.
* Boss - But I though this was just science?
* Engineer - When I said that "we" know how to do this I was talking about humanity in general.
Yes you can make any problem a problem of politics because that's EXACTLY how things get solved: people legislate, and things are made legal, illegal, decriminalized, mandated, budgets are voted, etc.
I understand that some people can misinterpret the data about nuclear and have a perception of danger, but to say that nuclear can't be built because it is advanced engineering is as absurd as saying that a tower can't be built because it is advanced engineering. You've been proven wrong literally hundreds of times, and you still cling on to the idea that the thing can't be built?!
To say that it can't be built because people don't want to build them at that cost and that it's "just it", is a very very convenient way to dilute the lack of will and foresight into this abstract beast called "the market", a beast that I will repeat once again is absolutely short-sighted (you definitely give no shit about getting a ROI on the order of a century unless perhaps you're Gates or Buffett) and ultimately it is a MUCH bigger cop-out than to say that this is about political will.
Because at least political will is about all of us learning about the issues and expressing our will, not about some magical elves deciding to invest hundreds of millions into long-term schemes they won't directly benefit from.
Some rust belt city that doesn't have the luxury of making decisions in a way other than "strictly by the numbers" in a state that isn't inclined to meddle in local matters will go for it if those numbers make sense.
Nuclear would be a great way to replace coal and create new jobs as well. And that part of the country is prime for innovation in the energy sector having been dominated by coal for the last century and a half.
The Rust Belt has tons of nuclear penetration already. It's the west coast specifically that is lacking nuclear power. Either because hydro/solar are better options or regulatory reasons, I don't know.
The decommissioned plant outside of San Onofre, for example, is now storing nuclear waste in steel canisters on site. That site is on an earthquake fault line, right next to the pacific ocean .
Unless we come up with a complete end-to-end model for safely handling the waste, I don't consider nuclear to be a viable option. As it stands, it's a massive liability to the health of our future environment.
Let me ask you a question then - have you actually seen those railroad casks for nuclear waste? They are incredibly resilient, I'd be far less worried about having those travel through my city than living next to a 70 year old chemical plant(which I do).
Soon it will be possible to use most of the waste as fuel:
"...Fast reactors can "burn" long lasting nuclear transuranic waste (TRU) waste components (actinides: reactor-grade plutonium and minor actinides), turning liabilities into assets. Another major waste component, fission products (FP), would stabilize at a lower level of radioactivity than the original natural uranium ore it was attained from in two to four centuries, rather than tens of thousands of years"
While there are issues with nuclear power, the worry people have about nuclear waste is greatly overblown to say the least. The amounts generated are manageable and in a relatively short amount of time we can use most of this "waste" to generate electricity.
It's not like you could take a used fuel-rod and throw it into some breeder to have energy. Not to speak of the old cladding.
I mean, I'm not against it, but it's not that simple.
You are moving the goal posts.
Your original comment was "...but we still have no long term solution for high-level nuclear waste disposal. At all. ...Unless we come up with a complete end-to-end model for safely handling the waste, I don't consider nuclear to be a viable option. As it stands, it's a massive liability to the health of our future environment."
There is an end-to-end model for safely handling the waste. (For example, the IFR design would actually have reprocessed the fuel on-site.) Nuclear waste will not be a massive liability to our future environment. The amount waste is very manageable (the Netherlands actually stores their waste in an art museum) and in a relatively short amount of time we can use most of this "waste" to generate electricity.
Recycle it. You get far more energy out than the first pass as well. This technology is over half a century old.
Please stop saying we have no solution for nuclear waste. We absolutely do. It's just cheaper to keep storing waste than to build new plants due to the political barriers.
We only need to store the stuff for 2-3 decades, by which time it should be feasible to just yeet the waste into space.
I support nuclear but acknowledge the worst case scenarios of it.
Throw them into the reactors! Someone’s gonna have to do it,
Canada already blends ex weapons plutonium into their CANDU reactors.
PS. nobody stops you from building a reactor. Get it approved, come up with the money, build it and sell the power but stop begging for tax money. It's over in the civilised western world. Get over it.
After that huge push, we have nothing to show for it except for a tiny number of half-finished, over-budget, behind schedule construction projects, and a toooooon of abandoned projects. The UK can't even find somebody to build their projects anymore.
Hope has turned towards these small reactors, after the failure to build big reactors--despite immensely favorable regulatory, finance, and PR settings. I don't know of local opposition to a single reactor! At least not enough to cause a stir.
Thousands of small reactors won't be enough, and we won't be able to build thousands for another 10-20 years. So we are instead stuck with renewables and storage. And just like we were right to throw experimental money at nuclear in the mid-2000s when we didn't really believe the numbers, I think we are far better grounded to throw equal billions of dollars (at least $40B in the US) at storage projects that the industry currently disregards.
We have far better pricing data for storage, it's deployable within a year, and it has massive benefits. And investing now will decrease the cost more quickly.
Throw several billion each at more speculative storage techs like flow chemistries and cryogenic air storage, and then the rest at standard, shipping, off the shelf lithium ion. We will see massive industries come into formation whose economic productivity and value dwarfs the tiny $40B we spent on kickstarting it. This will work, without a doubt. Nuclear may or may not work, it remains to be seen.
We need a technical, regulatory and user regime to support this. For starters, by transmitting power demand/price information to cars so they can decide when to charge, and also allowing cars to deposit electricity back into the network.
If we manage this smartly, we can have battery storage and EVs in one go.
So we will be building massive amounts of storage as we shift our car fleet to electric (though personally I hope that we can massively cut down on car use too, due to the amount of PM2.5 pollution even EVs cause. The biggest source of microplastics in CA is tire road wear, not plastic bags or straws, yet the idea of reducing car travel is faaaaaar outside the Overton window even as we try to ban single use plastics.)
I think there's lots of room for demand response, both in terms of pre-cooling houses or pre-charging batters. But I would love to be able to power my house with the 50amps that my car battery could provide. If you're only taking a couple kWh at peak times, it has nearly an effect on battery longevity and could provide great value to both the grid and user if price signals could be used in an automated fashion.
For a model that won't scale to the general population, OhmConnect in CA will pay residences to reduce usage at certain hours, averaging about 6 hours per month for me. During the recent CA high load days, I made about $50 with minimal action on my part (used all the normal lighting, etc. just didn't run the dishwasher or clothes dryer during that period).
This is the source of fine particulate matter, reported as PM2.5 in air quality, that results in ~50k premature US deaths per year  .
Tire particulates are the major source of oceanic microplastics off the CA coast . Tire manufacturers produce tires that produce fewer particulates and last longer and are more expensive upfront, but which have a lower total cost of ownership. 
Sorry for the big leap, I accumulate all these news bits by trawling deeply in a few narrow topics, and forget that they are not common knowledge and often obscure.
To be clear: to me it looks like a "nuclear renaissance" is a hypothetical concept. Like a goal that was never attempted due to public image.
The US media is in shambles, and few people care about the grid, so it doesn't get much reporting here. And for the lobbying efforts that it took to convince the utilities to back nuclear were kind of shady: the utilities had to be promised that they would get paid by rate payers for the construction projects even as construction costs ballooned and even if the construction projects failed. This is not the type of screwing of customers that one wants done very publicly. But no US utility is going to take on the immense risk for tiny reward of paying for a nuclear plant without such a ridiculous guarantee. At least not until there are several successes and utilities can start to trust the industry again after all the financial disasters from construction mismanagement in the 1970s. In South Carolina the law was called the Base Load Review Act . Something similar was passed in Georgia but I'm having trouble finding it now.
Here's Lindsay Graham using the term "nuclear renaissance" . Here's a 2017 article talking about how the VC Summer plant in Georgia was to be part of it .
In the UK this took the form of an explicit name of "nuclear renaissance" in government communication .
I see it commonly used to describe the efforts of many to rebuild nuclear starting in the 2000s, but I don't think that Wikipedia page does much good about actually describing the very real lobbying efforts that went on in the US and UK to make it happen, despite (in retrospect well-founded) qualms by many involved in the energy industry.
 "... constitutionality of the 2007 state law that allowed SCE&G to recoup construction costs from ratepayers while construction took place." https://www.thestate.com/news/local/crime/article174561111.h...
Luckily nobody besides the Michael Shellenberger Fan Club is falling for this line these days.
According to economic theory, as we deplete known reserves, hydrocarbons will become more and more expensive, until it is so expensive we stop trying to pump it, thus, we never use the last drop because it is too far underground.
OR, they're talking abiogenic or "deep gas" theory, which supposes the earth produces oil without having to go through the trouble of millions of years of dead algae. Apparently oil has been found with abiogenic origins, but never in commercially significant amounts.
Either way, oil fields do on occasion recharge themselves and it's disputed why this occurs. Modern theory is "I guess there's a reservoir below the reservoir" and deep gas theory says "The earth is the reservoir and it will keep us topped off"
There does seem to be a pattern where the theory you subscribe to has to do with your economic theory. If you think there is plenty of oil, you will sell what you have now at a cheap price. If if you think oil will run out, you keep reserves untapped until the price goes up. Interesting gamble.
But that "last drop" is rhetorical, because competitive energy sources substitute along the way and a great deal of the fossil fuels never gets used once it's no longer cheapest.
I haven't thought about it, but yeah if you do agriculture just for biofuel, it could be considered inexhaustible (and even renewable?).
But that seems like a terrible waste of agricultural production (which is better used for feeding people and animals).
Only if the inputs are inexhaustible. Industrial agriculture is driven by fertilizer produced from fossil fuels.