Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
First U.S. Small Nuclear Reactor Design Is Approved (scientificamerican.com)
163 points by lambdasquirrel 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 105 comments





also: earlier recent discussion https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24358850

What is significant here is that the NRC has approved a design, rather than a single plant.

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...


> 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.

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.


Of course, modern planes, known for their constant crashing and terrible safety standards.

Every safety standard that modern aircraft have to meet is written in blood.

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.


> 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?


The aim of small nuclear reactors is to be "safe" and "reliable" so the chances are the states that switch their electricity supply to small reactors aren't going to have lots of backup power. We don't have significant backup power as it is, because we're not expecting all our power plants to fail on the same day.

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.


There always seem to be so many assumptions in these safety claims. I'm not really for or against fission power but I don't like to feel like I'm being conned by sales literature masquerading as science. Questions that seem unanswered by NuScale revolve around their subterranean cooling pool. The ultimate safety claims require this thing to be full of water, so the obvious question is: what if it springs a leak? What if the pool drains around the containment structure in such a way that the hydrostatic pressure of its own lost coolant forces it out of the ground, like an empty swimming pool in a flood? Speaking of which, what about floods? Also their safety claims rely on vacuums and anoxic environments, but this is Earth so what happens during oxygen intrusion?

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.


Fusion already has the advantage of being the safest energy source by a lot.

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

https://www.statista.com/statistics/494425/death-rate-worldw...

The "problem" with nuclear is the misconception and economic cost.


Nobody has a working fusion power plant.

It amuses me to wonder what an entity with the value of one of the current market behemoths could accomplish if only they put a % or ten of their capitalisation into 'nuclear' research, be it fission or fusion.

A sort of modern day swords to ploughshares in terms of the Apples and whatnots.


Kind of an amusing reference given the name of one of the prominent anti-nuclear (weapons) organizations: https://www.ploughshares.org/

We know what they could accomplished because billions has been sunk into nuclear research in the last DECADES. Decades which we could have spend that money on renewables and storage a technology already so cheap that it makes nuclear utterly pointless. A technology which would have made the whole discussion obsolete and in fact: it is obsolete today. The time scale in which "nuclear" is researched, approved or build is being counted in decades. We don't have decades so why waste a single $ on it?? It makes no sense at all.

I think you're right, and that it's very clear that research funds have been systematically misinvested for the past 40 years.

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.


The anti-nuke environmentalists spend massive amounts of time and energy building public distrust of nuclear. They managed to shut down existing nuclear reactors with safe track records. This makes me pretty skeptical we'll be able to get new ones on line regardless of how much safer they are.

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.


The PR battle has nothing to do with the lack of investment. That all comes down to well-supported reactors not even being buildable.

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.


The West has not been able to build any sort of infrastructure for a generation [1]. It's not that we can't build nuclear power plants on time and budget, it's that we can't build anything larger than a sports stadium period and we can only get over that by drowning it in money and hoping for the best.

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!).

https://www.spglobal.com/en/research-insights/featured/infra...


I guess the next question is: Why is the construction and operation so expensive? Did the cost of steel and concrete skyrocket? Are new reactors excessively complex? Is there insufficient competition in the industry to keep costs under control? Excessive regulatory compliance costs compared to other forms of power generation? Is it the cost of paying a team lawyers for decades to keep fighting all of the lawsuits?

I believe the cost of construction labor has outperformed inflation & materials have tracked inflation. But the cost of energy has underperformed inflation.

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.


I am 99% sur that solar requires more manpower than nuclear, for an equivalent controllable power output.

The Desert Sunlight solar farm generated 1,344,841 MWh in 2018 [1] while employing 15 people full time [2]. That is an annualized output of 10.2 megawatts per full time employee.

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant generated 18,213,519 MWh in 2018 with 1400 full time employees [3]. 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.

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

[2] https://www.energy.gov/lpo/desert-sunlight

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diablo_Canyon_Power_Plant


Yeah, but it's more granular and you can deregulate it and still be safe, so you can leave it to the market to handle pretty easily.

I read a study a while ago arguing that reactor cost was as expensive as it is because nuclear plants are so large, complex, and infrequently built that each project is essentially bespoke.

Was that study by chance suggesting a large number of small mass produced reactors?

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.


Fossil fueled power plants are cheap, quick to build, and has plenty of private companies that compete for the contracts. The cost per MWh has almost been cut in half for natural gas in the last 10 years, while nuclear is struggling to reduce costs (if at all).

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.


I think this overlooks the ways that opposition can increase costs of building nuclear and the extreme safety burden imposed on nuclear plants but not other energy plants & sources

> The strict safety regulations imposed on the nuclear industry are another reason why capital costs are so high. [1]

This is actually covered a bit in a recent 80,000 hours episode: https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/mark-lynas-climate-c...

[1] https://thebulletin.org/2019/06/why-nuclear-power-plants-cos...


If safety costs were not high, then suddenly the boogie men might be correct about the dangers?

The fatality rates of other source of electricity are much higher, and they seem to be accepted:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents

* https://ourworldindata.org/safest-sources-of-energy

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).

* https://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/kharecha_02/


The right balance would be to let nuclear meet the same safety standards as other power sources, instead of far higher ones.

The way I see it is you can measure how economical these things are in a country where they don't listen to the people. So I look to China and see if they think it's worth it. And Chinese nuclear power is spiking. They're building loads of reactors and loads of renewables. It looks like their renewables growth is more than the nuke growth, but they're doing the nuke thing too, which makes it seem like the economics aren't the thing.

As I see it China is just sampling a few of everything, and then observes how it performs. Can be seen by their massive building of high speed rail, which employs (almost?) every type of high speed train type from all over the world. The same seems true for their nuclear plan. AFAIK they have or build at least one of everything that's available.

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.


That's an interesting idea, for sure.

> So I look to China and see if they think it's worth it. And Chinese nuclear power is spiking.

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.


You don't need that many approvals a year. They're doing just fine. Check out the construction pipeline. They have 10.6 GW under construction right now. That's a 25% increase when it's built.

Tianwan-5 was just hooked up to the grid last month.


For comparison, China added ~30GW of solar in 2019. To make the GW of solar more comparable, one must adjust for capacity factors, which round to 1 for nuclear but is ~0.25 for new solar.

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.


Sheer incompetence has much more to do with our inability to build nuclear than the anti-nuke greens or onerous regulations do. Read about the comedy of errors that was Westinghouse's plans to build reactors in the US and their descent into bankruptcy.

“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.

https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2017/westinghouse-bankrup...


They can absolutely be built economically, but they are hobbled by excessive regulation due to public fear.

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.


I'm not sure that I've ever seen somebody in the field suggest a reform that would reduce that cost, except for the small modular style construction.

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.


>I'm not sure that I've ever seen somebody in the field suggest a reform that would reduce that cost,

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.


That doesn't sound like a smart strategy to me, because it leads to the conclusion that every regulation is necessary for safety and noting can be cut.

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.


The cost is upfront for nuclear and that's what doesn't align with society's immediate goals. France is no exception to that (and in fact if you know more about the state of research in France for example you can see that long-term investments aren't valued highly enough either).

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 [1] 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[2]. 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).

[1] (in French) perceived moderate and high risks for various items in social awareness: https://i.imgur.com/iPpS6rM.jpg

[2] (in French) actual amounts of deaths related to many of the items of the previous image: https://i.imgur.com/fOwKjka.jpg


There is a false dichotomy being presented here. A piece of infrastructure can be both technically difficult and politically challenging. I think that applies to traditional nuclear power stations. Nuclear engineering is difficult, and that makes it more difficult to build nuclear power plants! And past success and knowledge is not a licence to success in the future.

The person I replied to said they're not buildable. This is logically false because we've been able to build them. There's no dichotomy here, just an invalid argument.

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..


I'm thinking about "buildable" in terms of how an agent that would construct it thinks: if I spend X amount of money will I have anything to show for 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."


So you're thinking "buildable" in terms of short-term market when nuclear power is the kind of thing built to operate on the scale of a century (and really gives financial returns only when you look over many decades), ESPECIALLY because the initial capital invested is the only real cost and most of the energy income from nuclear power plants has to go back towards investors at a typical 10% (if governments don't step up to do it themselves at much lower interests), exactly because the market is expecting returns NOW.

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.


That last paragraph must be a brilliant excuse to use.

  * 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.
You can make any problem the fault of politics if you try hard enough. But it is hopelessly reductive.

Engineers don't have a say in whether things get built or not. Politics do, because politics are expressed through representatives of the people and people do.

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.


>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.

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.


There is a cost to long distance transmission which distorts those numbers, presumably.

Rust Belt cities use electricity, too.

I'm always in awe of how out of touch a lot of SV people are. The Rust Belt has cities. They have people. The rest of the country has people. The San Francisco-San Jose axis and NYC/LA are not the only parts of the country that matter. In Detroit alone, 6 million people live in the surrounding metro area. Cleveland? 2 million. Pittsburgh? 2.5.

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.


Michigan produces ~25% of its power via nuclear. Ohio has 5 nuclear plants including several near Cleveland. Pennsylvania produces the second most nuclear power of any state and ~35% of its total power that way. Illinois has the most nuclear capacity in the country and generates over half its power that way.

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.


Perhaps even more than expected — aluminum refining uses up a huge percentage (20%?) of total US GWHs produced.

Existing nuclear reactors may have safe track records in terms of their operation, but we still have no long term solution for high-level nuclear waste disposal. At all.

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 [0].

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.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-chapple-san-onof...


We could've if there was enough political will though. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_Mountain_nuclear_waste_r...

Do you want trains full of other cities' nuclear waste passing through your city?

"Trains full"? The US only produces 2,000 tonnes of spent fuel a year, and has only produced 83,000 tonnes in the entire history of its nuclear generation program[1]. That entire annual production, even accounting for the weight of shielding and other safety measures, would fit on a single train the size of a typical coal or oil train.

[1] https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/5-fast-facts-about-spent-...


Is this like....a rhetorical question? Of course no one actively wants them, but it's just a thing to transport like any other. I also don't want sewage or slaughterhouse waste transported next to my house(very smelly) but it has to be done at some point.

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).


You way overestimate how much nuclear waste is being produced.

Sure, nuclear waste isn’t sent for long term storage until it’s spent many years in a cooling pond radiating away the fastest-decaying and thus most dangerous components. After that it’s much less dangerous and frankly no more worrisome than plenty of industrial chemicals that are shipped around in traincars.

Wouldn't care, its hardly dangerous.

In terms of the waste, right now nuclear waste can and should be recycled which would reduce the amount of waste: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste

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"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_fast_reactor

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

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.


Sounds good in theory. But in reality the fuel rods need to be mechanically separated from their cladding, which is brittle, irradiated and whatnot else. Then chemical reprocessing of the fuel itself, and reassambly into whichever form is necessary.

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.


>...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.


That is probably because I don't care about ball sports at all :)

Yes we do have a long term solution for high-level nuclear waste. Right now.

Recycle it. You get far more energy out than the first pass as well. This technology is over half a century old.

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

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.


It would be good if there were a technology neutral expectation that all waste from energy production must be handled and addressed in both short term and long term.

France recycles yearly 1700 tons of nuclear waste, since 1966. Over half a century, that's what I would call safe enough. That's about the size of the US waste production, and represents the waste produced in France plus the Netherlands and Germany and and. So that end-to-end model exists already, it's just many people don't know some things are happening also outside US borders.

Vamos a la Playa!

> 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.

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.


And we can thank the anti-nuclear green activists for the waste disposal problem too. There are numerous ways to minimise waste (reprocessing, breeder plants) which have been lobbied against. And there have been good waste management options that failed only because of lobbying.

So they install one at Disney World. The Buena Vista district is privately run there. I think they even negotiated for nukes, when it was established. There are quite a few behemoth organizations that could pull it off, if the economics look ok.

It's not just them though. No one wants to handle the waste. If I recall, the middle of nowhere Nevada was designated to take on the waste from quite a few places and they fought it and won. Additionally, no one wants that waste passing through their town on the way.

I support nuclear but acknowledge the worst case scenarios of it.


Well, the bombs are way more dangerous than power applications. How do we get rid of these bomb cores?

Throw them into the reactors! Someone’s gonna have to do it,

Canada already blends ex weapons plutonium into their CANDU reactors.

http://ccnr.org/mox_griffith_1.html


Yeah all those terrible anti-nuke environmentalists making nuke expansive as hell and never done on time! They are the worst!

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.

https://phys.org/news/2018-11-france-nuclear-reactors-macron...

https://www.diw.de/documents/publikationen/73/diw_01.c.74261...


What's the smallest nuclear reactor possible? Could I have one to power my home, for example? Or is the energy released from even a single particle so great that it needs a huge structure to capture it?


RTGs are not reactors, they utilize natural decay heating.

This was covered before but it's very good news. More of these (with different designs) are in the NRC approval pipeline.

We need to build thousands of these immediately to provide baseload power and decommission all fossil fuels

Back in the mid-2000s there was a huge policy, PR, and financing push to have a nuclear renaissance. Lots of plans were made. Economics were ignored (and honestly should have been ignored because the worst case nuclear cost is still cheaper than climate change).

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.


The missing component is the need to integrate Electric Vehicles into the grid on a fundamental basis including selling electricity.

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.


Yes, exactly! A Tesla-size battery is three days' of electricity use for many people's homes.

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).


Wait what? Where exactly is that pollution from EVs coming from? Seems a pretty big leap you took there.

EVs still have tires, and though regenerative braking is far better than using brake pads, at low speeds and frequent braking that occurs in congestion and city driving forces EVs to use brake pads.

This is the source of fine particulate matter, reported as PM2.5 in air quality, that results in ~50k premature US deaths per year [1] [2].

Tire particulates are the major source of oceanic microplastics off the CA coast [3]. 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. [4]

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.

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S13522...

[2] https://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/10/22/mit-study-vehicle-emi...

[3] https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2019-10-02/califor...

[4] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tyres-plastic-environment...


Parts of Europe have had massive public opposition to building new nuclear the past 25 years.

This nuclear renaissance sounds interesting. I can't find record of it. Could you point me to some sources?

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.

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


I don't know of any authoritative histories yet, I'm just an outsider to the energy industry that follows closely.

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 [1]. Something similar was passed in Georgia but I'm having trouble finding it now.

Here's Lindsay Graham using the term "nuclear renaissance" [2]. Here's a 2017 article talking about how the VC Summer plant in Georgia was to be part of it [3].

In the UK this took the form of an explicit name of "nuclear renaissance" in government communication [4].

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.

[1] "... 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...

[2] https://www.postandcourier.com/aikenstandard/news/sen-lindse...

[3] https://www.axios.com/santee-cooper-sce-g-pause-work-on-14b-...

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/leading-the-way-the-u...


"immediately"? In nuclear terms it's not earlier than in 10 years. Later being more likely just like more expansive.

Luckily nobody besides the Michael Shellenberger Fan Club is falling for this line these days.


At >$6 Billion per, I don't think we're going to be build thousands any time soon.

When can I get a nuclear car?


thanks I ordered one from aliexpress

In the 1950's.

There's the one we left on Mars.

A little bit OT, but I watched a Youtube video that mentioned that "hydrocarbon is inexhaustible". Is this true?

I believe anyone saying hyrdrocarbons are inexhaustible is saying one of two things:

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenic_petroleum_origin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum#Formation


>we never use the last drop because it is too far underground.

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.


Hydrocarbons are fossil fuels, basically. They are not inexhaustible.

Fossil fuels get more expensive the more you extract, while also squeezing civilization's neck via global warming, which makes it quite plausible that even if the world set out to exhaust all fossil fuel resources, it might fall apart before it succeeded.

Biofuels are

Oh yeah, good point.

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).


Soil loss and salinification is always a danger. It's better to farm as little and as un-intensively as reasonable, in my opinion.

That depends on the alternative, doesn’t it? I think there is a place for biofuels, even if it is just replacing fossil jet fuel powering airliners

> I haven't thought about it, but yeah if you do agriculture just for biofuel, it could be considered inexhaustible (and even renewable?).

Only if the inputs are inexhaustible. Industrial agriculture is driven by fertilizer produced from fossil fuels.




Applications are open for YC Winter 2021

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: