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Nuclear power: Are we too anxious about the risks of radiation? (bbc.com)
269 points by erentz 30 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 610 comments



Do we stress about the risks nuclear power far out of proportion to how safe it is? Yes. Even accounting for the worst accidents, it kills a very low number of people per TWh.

Do we ignore the risks of fossil fuels far out of proportion to how dangerous they are? Also yes. They kill an absurdly high number of people per TWh; by most estimates coal is several hundred times more dangerous than nuclear.

Does that mean nuclear is just a totally great idea? No; the issue with nuclear is cost. Historically it has been quite expensive, but subsidised in opaque ways. In a zero carbon world, it might make sense for baseline generation even if it's expensive; in the world we live in it needs to compete on price. Can it?

The debate about nuclear is never ending, and yet at the same time, seemingly never focused on anything relevant. How many times do we need to go through the same cycle? "But what about Chernobyl?" "But what about deaths due to coal?"


Nuclear is only so relatively expensive because it’s the only fuel source that’s forced to pay up for all the externalities up front (and I’m not saying that is a bad thing to require). A nuclear plant can’t be built if the money to make it safe (as per some specification), insure against all health complications while it’s in operation, decommission it, clean up the site, securely dump all spent fuel, and return the site back to “normal” decades later isn’t put up in escrow from the start: that’s all captured in the price.

If we did that for fossil (and other) fuels, you’d bet they would cost more too.


In fact, there is considerable concern over nuclear, precisely because it looks like it is underpriced due to underestimation of the decomissioning costs.

The economic lifetime of the first commercial installations is only now starting to end (partly because they have been extended so often). So we do not have that much data to work with, but so far it does not look good:

  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_decommissioning
"In Europe there is considerable concern over the funds necessary to finance final decommissioning"

Moreover, like the decomissioned reactors, the fuel will have to be stored for a very very long time. Most of the fuel generated since the 40's and 50s is in "temporary storage", in their original installation. We have never built installations that have to last as long as the nuclear storage sites we envision, and we have no idea how the ones we have started to build will hold up over the hundreds if not thousands of years that they have to last.

I can apreciate people taking an optimistic view on this, and saying that these problems should not preclude nuclear. But saying that nuclear is compared in an unfair light due to decomissioning is taking the issue the wrong way around.


> securely dump all spent fuel

Reminder that Coal and oil energy gets to dump their spent fuel in the atmosphere, and thereby our lungs!

The uneven treatment of different energy sources really is fantastic!


That's only about half their waste, the other half gets put into man made ash ponds that eventually become superfund sites, or leak into rivers and cause massive damage.


Rough numbers, but I get 917 million tons of coal consumed in the US (2014) and 130 million tons of fly ash (2014), or roughly 14% of the total input.

Still a lot, and nasty stuff, but less than half, to pick a nit.

https://www.worldometers.info/coal/us-coal/

https://www.epa.gov/coalash/coal-ash-basics


And that's not counting accidents in coalmines and tragedy's like Aberfan - where a soil tip collapsed onto a school and killed 115 Kids and 28 Adults.


And that burnt coal leaves a toxic waste product that also needs to be taken care of safely.


If that were the case, then why are we moving away from fossil fuels to renewables at all?


I wonder if a fairer cost comparison would thus be coal power plus carbon capture? IIRC that works out at similar costs, though I never looked much into it.


> Nuclear is only so relatively expensive because it’s the only fuel source that’s forced to pay up for all the externalities up front

Can you state in which country nuclear has to pay all the externalities up front? And if that country has any nuclear to begin with? (I know from Germany that the opposite was always a major point of criticism - the insurance nuclear plant operators need is limited, lots of the responsibility and costs of nuclear waste handling has been transferred to the state.)


The nuclear power plants in Czech Republic set asside a fraction of earnings for every MW/h they sell to a decomissioning fund.


If I read this [1] correctly, the fund covers only technical decommissioning work, "liability resulting from spent-fuel management (e.g., costs for on-site interim storage) and all costs related to final nuclear waste disposal is not covered by these estimates".

Even only the decommissioning fund requires a payment of 5 cents/kWh, which just itself is a cost that solar can compete with.

[1] https://epub.wupperinst.org/frontdoor/deliver/index/docId/26...


This would be great if it were true, but sadly the cost of waste disposal and plant decomissioning was not priced in during running times, at least in Germany.


I'm only familiar with policies in Germany and France, but there the externalities are in no way "covered up front".


I'm right now ambivalent on nuclear in its current form, but you're darn right it's not a fair fight (some would say free market). Petrol is subsidized up the wazoo in addition to people ignoring the externalities of climate change and pollution.


Your post conveniently ignores solar/wind + batteries, which is even cheaper than coal.


Where are you getting this claim? Natural gas costs somewhere between $40 and $70 per MWh [1]. Storage costs for batteries range from $100/KWh (very optimistic) to $300/KWh [2]. But that's per kilowatt hours. That's $100,000 per MWh to $300,000 per MWh.

Solar and wind's dispatchability remains its key weakness. Storage at anywhere near the required amounts remains a fantasy. That's why Germany and California are still burning fossil fuels for ~40% of their energy, while France's share of fossil fuel generation is under 10%.

1. https://blog.aee.net/the-numbers-are-in-and-renewables-are-w....

2. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/73222.pdf


You are mixing up the price of capacity vs. the price of generating the electric energy. A battery for 100/kwh can be used several 100 to 1000s of cycles.


> A battery for 100/kwh can be used several 100 to 1000s of cycles.

You're making the same error as reitzensteinm. The fact that you can charge and discharge a 1 KWh battery a thousand times doesn't make it a 1 MWh battery.

If the United States wants to use 80% renewables we need 12 hours of energy storage, which works out to 6 TWh. Even at a very generous cost estimate of $100/KWh, this works out to 600 billion dollars. The fact that batteries can be cycled for a few thousand cycles doesn't make this any cheaper. It just means we "only" need to spend 600 billion dollars every 5 to 10 years. And we'd still be burning fossil fuels at about 1/3rd the rate we currently do.


600 billion = +/- overnight cost of 30 nuclear powerplants (AP-1000).

And would struggle with providing 500Gw that the battery above could.

At that scale everything is expensive, but the market still seems to say that Nuclear is more expensive than the other options.

My hand-wavy maths aside, the people who sign the checks seem to agree that today (2020, it is cheaper to get power from solar/wind + battery than nuclear). Cost of wind and solar today is what nuclear needs to beat, comparison to gas and coal are not relevant for new build systems (as in neither are getting the same kind of new build capacity as solar/wind in the coming years).


The battery isn't the source of the energy. You are missing wind and solar (which isn't free), an electrical grid overdesigned for the peak-energy requirements (since you will not get all of your energy over the course of a day).

4 APR-1400 will cost the UAE ~ $24.4 bn to complete. So $600 bn will give you 98 APR-1400 reactors, for a total of 131GW of electrical power – not to mention twice that in thermal power, which can be used for central heating, hydrogen production, etc.

This thermal energy is currently ignored in almost all calculations; it makes little sense to include it in a debate that only focuses on electricity, but at the same time it makes little sense to have such a debate (unless one is a lobbyist), when the use-case is much broader.

The most expensive part of nuclear energy are the capital costs – the discount rate in particular – since it is a "everything up front"-project, where political scrutiny is extremely high (much of it for good reason, but too much is mainly the 'vetocracy' and NIMBYism in action) and the low amount of new plants being built is limiting the build-up of knowledge.

In my native country of Denmark, there is basically zero research in nuclear compared to other energy sources; even in the institutions that were led or founded by the Nobel-prize winning Danish physicist, Niels Bohr. That is all due to politics and it shifts the debate to be less and less about science, which is one of the saddest things to happen.


So to meet the requirement of the poster I replied too, you need to spend another +/- $1800bn to get to the 500Gw peak power production. What amount of wind and solar can you purchase for that? Considering you have just bought the battery per the description? Hornsea 1 pricing would get you there, and that includes transmission etc. With Hornsea 2 being half that and other offshore even cheaper.

After 60 years of being build and in action, the nuclear industry should be able to support it's own research needs. Considering the amounts still going to EurAtom (1.6 billion euro per five years) it is not yet as poor as one might expect.

I think the Nuclear proponents should really look at the numbers as they are today and in the near future * Why are they are these not good enough in a modern market place. * Why are the safe modern reactors not build ? * Why are the smaller modular reactors not yet in the market ? * Where are the complications? is it the NIMBYs or has the nuclear power industry taken the wrong direction ? * On a manufacturing level, how come I can order pv or wind turbines from a vast number of players at short notice (years) ? * What is required to compete with the expected pricing cost of battery, wind and solar of 2035 ? * Why are so many projects delayed in the construction phase ? How often from lawsuits How often from defects * Could nuclear be build at a rate that makes a difference if money and site licenses were not an issue ?

Nuclear should be wining, but why isn't it? My guess is that the physics is simple, but the chemistry is complicated.


You are skipping a crucial variable: Capacitance Factor.

New nuclear power plants come in at 90-95%+, while lower for both solar (10-25%) and wind (22% for onshore and 36% for offshore in 2018). This means that 1GW of nuclear power will, on average, result in 0,9-0,95GW of grid capacity, while 1GW of offshore wind will result in 1/3rd of that.

So if we use your example with Hornsea 2 (I haven't checked your data, but choose to believe you), Hornsea 2 is 50% more expensive than nuclear power, with out factoring in the cost of large scale energy storage. Ask any honest person in the battery industry – I have done that, because I wanted to know whether or not it was an option – and she will clearly tell you, that they will not even be able to meet the anywhere close to 10% of EU or US storage needs in 2050, while also supplying batteries to EVs and other needs.

Those windmills have an operating life of 15-20 years. Once again, we need to triple or quadruple the cost, to keep that capacity on the grid for an equal amount of time. The same goes for whichever storage solution you choose – batteries for example.

Newer battery technology might change that, but that is a very schizophrenic approach that I see in far too many people, who put their politics first: The environmental challenges are enormous, present and must be solved fast... just not with that specific type of technology, but rather one that we haven't invented yet. I find this close to disqualifying.

Safe modern reactors are built; look at the South Korean project in UAE. SMR's are a relative new field, they have already come very far, which is surprising for many, since government support of this research is close to none, compared to money spent on other green energy projects (even the foolish ones, such as wave energy).

Nuclear is stable and delivers energy 24/7. When the requirement is for stable energy with a high total EROEI, nuclear is a great technology. If one thinks of the environmental situation as a crisis, one should want to act now. Nuclear can be rolled out now and a wide rollout would make the industry do all those things, you think it is lacking. Because not enough is being done now and if it was a purely economic discussion (including proper safety, storage of spent fuel until it can be used, etc. – not cutting corners!), nuclear would already be the major power source in he world. But feelings go above facts, which is hurting science, humanity and the planet.


Capacity factor is bounded by limited demand. You can't put power on the grid that no one wants. So for an all nuclear grid you end up with a capacity factor that is around 60-70%. (note: France exports/imports a lot so capacity factor is higher than if it was an isolated grid).

For wind, if there is storage capacity factor goes up. Basically, if it can produce and there is a consumer (the battery) then the wind mill will turn. If there is no consumer it shut's off even if there is wind.

Windmills have a guarantee for 20 years (in common contracts, sometimes 25). Included in the above prices. Nuclear island lasts 60 years, but will be refurbished and it's power island is not guaranteed for 60 years (turbines). Solar panels guarantees are heading towards the 40 year mark (inverters not yet).

The law of large numbers favor's wind and solar for reliability at scale.

It's not about feelings, it's about hard economic reality. That even with massive economic subsidies very few modern nuclear plants are viable.

With the problem, that the scale up period of Nuclear is too slow. Even successes take decades to build. And are limited by sites/foundery's that themselves takes years to build.


History demonstrates otherwise. Not one country generates the majoirty of their power from solar or wind. By comparison, France and Belgium generate the majority of their electricity from nuclear power. Similarly the claim that nuclear is too slow to build is false. France constructed the majority of their reactor fleet over the course of 15 years.

Solar and wind are only viable with storage. Hydroelectric storage is currently the most popular, but it's geographically limited. Batteries don't provide anywhere near the scale of storage requires. The US would need 12 hours of storage to reach 80% renewable generation and 3 weeks of storage to reach 100% renewable generation [1]. The US consumes 11.5 TWh of electricity daily. But global lithium ion battery production is only 300 GWh per year [2]. Even if we contributed 100% of global battery production to grid storage in the US, it would take 800 years to fulfill 3 weeks of storage. Sure, battery production is set to increase to 2,000 GWh per year some time in 2030, but that only brings this time down to 120 years. And remember, this is just the storage demands for the United States.

If we're worried about the time it takes to decarbonize, then solar and wind are very poor choices.

1. https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2018/03/01/12-hours-energy-stora...

2. https://cleantechnica.com/2019/04/14/global-lithium-ion-batt...


You are really jumping through the scales there.

But using your numbers, right now it would take about 15 years of battery production to provide the storage for that 80% target. That is, empirically, the same order of time it takes to commission a new nuclear power plant. Add to that the fact that this battery production capacity itself is comparatively young (less then a decade, mostly) and very much scalable and you come to the conclusion that, right now, it is more efficient to achieve that 80% target by batteries vs. nuclear power. If the US signals to the world market that there is a demand of about 1TWh of storage per year, the production capacity will explode.


You missed a huge part of my comment: it would take 20 (not 15) years of global battery production to get the United States to have enough storage to reach 80% renewables generation.

As in, if we stopped manufacturing smart phones and electric vehicles and dedicated all batteries produced in the entire world, then it'd take 20 years to fulfill the storage required to reach 80% renewables for just the United States. We would still need to build storage for the rest of the world! And that still leaves us with 20% of our power coming from fossil fuels. To get to 0% we need 3 weeks of storage not 12 hours. Even if battery production increased tenfold, it'd take 80 years of global battery production to fulfill the storage demand to get only the United States to 100% renewables.

And the US only makes up ~1/5th of the world's energy consumption. To get the entire world to 100% renewables it would take 4,000 years at current levels of battery production. Even if battery production increases tenfold, or one-hundredfold it would still take much longer than the 15 years it takes to set up a nuclear power plant. Like I said, if you're worried about how long it would take to decarbonize, stay well away from intermittent sources of power.

Nuclear power plant construction has high latency, but you can build multiple plants at once: France took about 15 years to bring it's nuclear power generation from 10% to over 80%. Each individual plant took year to builds but in aggregate France built a nuclear plant every 100 days.


The batteries need to be replaced every 5 to 10 years depending on how many cycles they can endure. By comparison, the AP-1000 is rated to last 60 years. Furthermore you're being very pessimistic with the $20 billion dollar cost estimate for the AP1000. Plants with equivalent output have been built for less than $10 billion.

When you include the cost of storage, solar and wind is still enormously more expensive than nuclear. The reality is that we don't event know what storage at this scale would even look like. It would take 800 years of global battery production at the current production rates to reach the 3 weeks of energy storage required to decarbonize the US with renewables. And that's with the infeasible idea we're dedicating 100% of batteries to grid storage: no EVs, no smartphones, all grid storage. And again, this is just for the US's storage needs.

Forget cost, energy storage at this scale isn't event possible with one current levels of technology.


Batteries can be build that last more than 5 to 10 years.

e.g. https://ironedison.com/nickel-iron-ni-fe-battery


Nickel-Iron batteries have 10-20 times less energy density and are more difficult to manufacture. You might get a battery that lasts 30-50 years instead of 5-10 years but at a cost increase that's greater than the gain in number of cycles.


You can avoid a lot of storage requirements by making your grid smarter and electrifying transportation and heating. 60% renewables are possible with hardly any storage at all, certainly less than 12 hours. Shifting demand is always cheaper than storage. Once you've electrified transportation, you have hundreds of millions of car batteries that can help out with demand spikes. That distributes the high upfront cost of battery storage somewhat. Car batteries that are no longer good for transportation can than be repurposed for grid storage, hopefully much cheaper than buying new batteries.

To get to 100% renewables you most likely need chemical storage as hydrogen or methane.


Electrifying heating doesn't improve this situation, it worsens it drastically. People come back home after work and turn on the heat or AC right as the sun goes down. A big part of why renewable generation is so high in Germany is because they mostly heat their homes with gas (which emits carbon, but doesn't factor into electricity generation statistics).

Using car batteries for storage doesn't solve the fundamental mismatch between the staggering amount of batteries that get produced and the amount of storage that is required. Not to mention, I'm dubious if this scheme would even work. Why would I hook my car storage up to the grid? It's going to eat away at the battery life of my car. This essentially just offloads the cost of battery storage to consumers by decreasing the battery life of their EVs due to the constant charge and discharging.


Eletrifying heating helps a lot if you integrate it with a smart grid. People generally don't care whether their home is 21 or 23 degrees warm, but the difference enables a lot of load shifting. I know people who take advantage of this today. This is btw, also true for many industrial processes.

You'd integrate your car battery with the grid because you'd get cheaper charging in return, or some other form of monetary reward.


You use the word "smart grid" as though it just automatically makes electricity usage go down. A smart grid works by redistributing load to when there is power. A smart grid almost always needs storage, unless it's doing simple things like running your dryer where it's just a matter of turning on your appliances at a certain time of day. If you're at he from 7pm to 8am, and you want your home to be heated while you're there a smart grid isn't going to help you. A smart grid would tell to to be at home at different hours of the day, but people aren't appliances.

And again, car batteries being used or not, we wouldn't have enough battery storage fulfill the storage requirements for decades or even centuries, and by then the first batteries we built will have long since worn out.


I use "smart grid" to mean that the electricity provider has a measure of control over the load. For example they can turn heating in your home on or off as long as the temperature stays within a band defined by you. This is not science fiction, it exists today. I know people who use it already.


How much can the provider shave off the load though? if i set my band between 21 and 23 degrees, is the reduction more than a few percent max? Doesn't seem to make a dent given the peak requirement when the majority of the people all shift locations (i.e. go home)?


This paper [1] says up to 8GW in Germany with full integration of heating, cooling and mobility.

[1] https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S03062619150018...


Found the paper but couldn't find the 8GW claim. Doesn't that seem very little considering germany is producing electricity in the 500 TWh region?


The 8GW are in the abstract. 500TWh per year are about 60GW average. 8GW is quite a bit compared to that, but of course load shifting alone won't allow you get to 100% renewables.


Dang, i was reading the wrong paper. sorry.


> For example they can turn heating in your home on or off as long as the temperature stays within a band defined by you. This is not science fiction, it exists today. I know people who use it already.

That's how literally every thermostat has worked that I've encountered in my entire life, and I'm close to 30. Yes, this technology already exists. That's why there's no benefit to it: almost everyone already has a thermostat that works like this.

The problem is that most people turn the heat on from 7pm to 8am, which is when solar is producing little to no energy.


No, almost nobody has a thermostat where the power company decides when the heating comes on.


Because that's a terrible idea. what do you expect people to do when there's a cloudy winter day and the power company can't fulfill electricity demand? Freeze? When people are cold they're going to turn on their thermostat. If their thermostat doesn't turn on because the power company shut it off, they're going to use a space heater. Humans' desire to not freeze is a very in-elastic type demand, unlike the time of day they run their dryer.


I'm apparently not making myself very clear: A proposed way of shifting power demand is giving the power company some measure of control over the temperature in your house, or your hot water boiler, your freezer, the steam in your district heating's pipes, or your aluminium smelter. You define an acceptable band of temperature and the power company can choose to turn heating or cooling on or off, as long as the temperature doesn't fall out of the acceptable range. This allows them to heat up your home when the wind is blowing a little more, and heat your home a little less when the wind is not blowing.

This does not solve the problem of windstill, dark winter weeks, where you will want proper energy storage solutions, for example hydrogen or methane that you made during summer. But it does help substantially with reducing peak demand by smearing it out over a longer time frame and thus reduces storage needs. It is in fact such a good idea that it makes sense even with conventional power generation, because even with fossil fuels demand spikes are expensive.


You're making yourself perfectly clear, you're just wrong about the claim that smart grids will improve heating:

* With my normal thermostat I set my home to be heated to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. When it falls below 68 degrees it gets heated.

* With a smart thermostat I set my home to be heated to 68 degrees. When it falls below that, it gets heated.

There is zero difference between the behavior of a "smart" thermostat and a normal thermostat. Unless the power company gets to turn off your thermostat, or reduce the temperature range below what the user set then there's no way to reduce power consumption by hooking it up to a smart grid.

A smart grid works by rearranging the schedule of energy demand. This only works for types of energy demand that can be rearranged, like running your dryer. You can't rearrange the time when your home is heated, unless you want to be cold.


No you don't understand. The power company can heat your home warmer than 68°F when the electricity is plentiful so that it can wait longer with heating when the electricity is scare.


Okay, so now I have to pick between dealing with excessive heat during the day, or cold at night because our infrastructure can't fulfill energy demand.


Or you simply put a comfortable range of temperatures in your smart thermostat.


The only way to effectively offset energy demand is with a very large temperature range, which is not a comfortable temperature range.

This is largely and unavoidable problem. It's a big part of why Germany mostly heats it's houses with natural gas while France mostly heats with electricity.


I long for the future where power company decides whether I'm hot or cold. That truly would be a sign of progress.


And even more so if your heating and/or cooling system has integrated thermal storage. Storing a joule as heat (or cold) is much easier/cheaper than storing it in a battery.


Not to mention that modern district heating is super efficient thanks to modern isolation methods on all the pipes & you have a huge flexibility of prpducing the heat - combined gas steam cycle, waste incineration or extra heat from thermal or even nuclear power plants.


Agree about the car batteries. If you think about the storage problem in a less abstract way, it's largely shifting demand from around noon when the sun is shining to about 7-8pm when people are active but solar is producing zero.

For car battery storage to help with this, the car has to be plugged in while its owner is at work to soak up the noonday power, and then plugged in again at home to be discharged. By the time most people go to work in the morning, there isn't enough sun to charge the car yet, so they have to go to work without whatever power has been taken out of the battery at night, so the battery has to be bigger than is necessary for driving.

This extra battery capacity in the car is much more expensive. It's not 100% available, because sometimes people won't plug in their car, and it has to be made more rugged to deal with driving on the road. You're also paying an energy cost to haul an energy storage system to and from the office every day.

Overall, you'd do better by just using large scale fixed battery banks that can be optimized for energy storage. The only real reason to like vehicle based energy storage is that it takes the cost of energy storage off the books of renewable generation and hides it in transportation costs.


This very much depends on how you do the heating / cooling.

An efficient way to heat a house is to have a heatpump plus low temperature floor heating (and cooling). This system works best by keeping the floor at a constant temperature, day and night.

Of course, a house also needs to be properly insulated and have ventilation with heat recovery


Also using car batteries seem an odd choice, as the mismatch between renewable production and electrical consumption (duck curve) happens in the early morning and in the evening, just when people are about to drive (so they don't want to have their batteries emptied by the grid), are driving (so their batteries aren't connected to the grid) or have finished their drive so the batteries aren't full


Very few commutes require the draining of an electric car battery. If the cars were parked plugged in during the day they whey would likely have sufficient capacity to help with the main after-work spikes, base load nuclear during the evening would then recharge over night.


Peak demand for electricity occurs in the evening. If you're going to fulfill this demand with nuclear power, the just run the nuclear power plants at full capacity all day and don't bother with any storage or solar panels.


You can use batteries more than once! If you cycle them once per day for ten years to store solar power until night, your numbers given mean they add $30-100 per MWh to the cost of that stored power (but not daytime use).

Not cheap, but in no way a "fantasy". Certainly not in a world with sane carbon pricing.


No, that's not this works. Batteries currently cost ~$150 to $250 per KWh. As in, if you want to store one kilowatt hour, you need to spend $150 to $250 dollars on batteries. If you want to store one megawatt hour, then that's $150,000 to $250,000 worth of batteries. Yes, you can cycle this battery multiple times. I'm not sure how you think that this somehow makes storage cheaper. The fact that you can charge a 1 KWh battery and discharge it 1,000 times doesn't magically make it a 1 MWh battery. Battery cost is measured in terms of cost of capacity, in watt hours.

It absolutely is a fantasy to use this for grid storage. To put this in perspective, the US uses 11.5 TWh of electricity each day. The entire world produces 300 GWh of batteries every year. In order to achieve the 12 hours of storage for 80% renewables we'd consume global battery production for several years. To reach the 3 weeks storage for 100% renewable we'd need 805 years of the entire world's battery production at current levels. Sure, battery production is set to double over the next decade. But we're still talking centuries worth of global battery production to fulfill the storage demands of just the United States. And we're ignoring the fact that batteries wear out after a few thousand cycles.

Again, the idea that batteries are going to make wind and solar feasible is a fantasy.


Parent compared the price of one MWh of power from a natural gas plant with the capital cost of building batteries that can store one MWh. This is a type error.


The enormous capital costs demonstrates how expensive it makes solar and wind in simple terms. Even if we measure in terms of cost per watt hour stored and drawn over the lifetime of the batter it's still hugely expensive. Most batteries can support 300 to 1,000 charge and discharge cycles. So in terms of overall cost of storage, that's still in the range of $200 to $700 per MWh of energy stored and drawn over the lifetime of the battery.

This point is largely moot because we don't even have the manufacturing capacity to deliver the amount of batteries required. We only build 300 GWh of batteries globally each year. To reach 12 hours of storage, the US would need 6 TWh - 20 years of global production at current production rates.


US oil consumption increased by almost 100x from 1900-1970. In 1850 it was just a few thousand barrels annually! That orders of magnitude more batteries are needed is not in itself an issue, as long as the solution itself is sound.

NMC chemistry (as used in Hornsdale) is good for 3000-4000 cycles, although it's about 50% more expensive than LFP, at least if you buy them from CATL.

This isn't going to be cheap. But it is feasible, and if you care about carbon I'm not sure how else you do it.


> This isn't going to be cheap. But it is feasible, and if you care about carbon I'm not sure how else you do it.

How about we use the carbon free method of generating electricity that France has used to generate most of it's electricity for close to half a century?

We don't have to wait for a miracle that makes batteries cheaper, we don't have to scale up battery production by several orders of magnitude. If we built ten nuclear plants for every one that exists in the US today, that's enough for 100% carbon free electricity generation. It'd also provide enormous amounts of water if we use the waste heat for desalination. It also wouldn't involves consuming massive areas of land for solar panels. It would only involve technologies that currently exist and that we have decades of experience working with.


You don't need a "miracle". Hornsdale was installed for $500/kWh, which works out to $125/MWh of storage at 4000 cycles. Prices have already decreased by over 30%, so we're probably at $100/MWh today.

If you need to store half your generation on a diurnal cycle, add it on to the LCOE of ~$50/MWh for utility scale solar, and you are cost competitive with the LCOE of nuclear today.

Lithium battery production is going to skyrocket regardless of whether it's used for grid storage; we're going to need enough for a billion cars over the next decades, even if the world converted to nuclear. Prices will continue to fall just as they have.

I am a strong believer that we should have embraced nuclear, given what we know now about climate change. But starting in 2020 with next to nothing, we're just now passing parity where renewables are starting to win, and the gap is going to get larger.


$500 KWh is still much more expensive nuclear. Furthermore competition with electric vehicles isn't going to decrease battery cost, it's going to increase it. More demand for a constrained supply leads to higher prices. Wind is also geographically dependent, not all regions are capable of generating wind power at the same cost as Hornsdale. If your wind averages half the average wind speed you're going to have to build a lot more wind turbines. Nuclear power, on the other hand, is geographically independent in terms of it's output.


Sorry I forget, what happened to the price of gasoline as it scaled up orders of magnitude?


The price increased. And this increase occurred over the span of a century, not a decade.



Yup, the price of oil was a steady $20/barrel from 1880 through the 1960s. Now it's $100/barrel.

Now imagine what is going to happen if the demand for batteries increases one thousand fold (which is what is necessary to make grid storage possible) over the course of a decade or two.


But you said it increased! It did not.

So why will scaling up battery demand a thousand fold over the course of a decade or two make it explode in price, but scaling up nuclear plant construction five hundred fold (from two to a thousand) not do the same?

You are putting your thumb on the scales. I think we're done here.


Price is a function of supply and demand. Demand for oil was largely flat for most of the period from 1900 to 1970. It took 15 years to double from 1925 to 1940 [1]. And then another 10 years to double by 1950. It increased by a factor of 5 from 1960 to 1970, but in 1970 demand finally caught up with supply. And guess what? The price surged to over $100 a barrel.

Understand that even just 1 hour of energy storage for the US exceeds global battery production. If we try to use batteries for gird storage we're going to experience a battery shock in the same vein as the oil shock. That'll be terrible, because it will stunt electric vehicle adoption. There are much better uses for batteries than grid storage.

We're both putting our thumb on the scale: You're claiming that we're going to see a 10x decrease in battery cost, despite surging demand for batteries. I'm explaining that nuclear built at scale will likely cost 4-5x less than current nuclear projects.

The difference is I have historical precedence to justify this statement. We did build nuclear at a much larger scale during the 1970s, and it did cost 4-5x less on average.

Will battery production scale up like oil production did over the course of 1900 to 1970? Maybe, but that's an entirely speculative claim. The reality is that if countries start attempting to purchase grid scale batteries, we're going to experience a battery shock in the same vein as the oil shock following the Arab oil embargo. If the US tries the purchase 1 hour worth of battery storage the price for that amount of batteries is infinite. Or undefined. Because 1 hour of battery storage for the US is greater the the total amount of battery production in the entire world. The mismatch between supply and demand is that large.

Increase in demand, leads to an increase in cost, which in turn incentivizes increased production. The production of batteries is forecasted to increase substantially, but it's still well below what's required for grid storage.

1. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/World-crude-oil-producti...


Sure. Just make sure you don't ask the French to build your plants. It's 2020 now and we're still waiting: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olkiluoto_Nuclear_Power_Plan...


Cherry-picking an individual plant doesn't change the fact that France produces electricity with much less carbon than most other countries, and often at an even cheaper cost.


Feel free to cherry-pick a recent success story from Areva / Framatome to counter mine.



Your arguments are the most compelling I've seen so far for more nuclear as opposed to renewables.

I'm still leaning towards renewables for various reasons, but could be swayed - could you share any more details about where the 12 hour capacity requirement and costs mentioned come from?


please don't be swayed, he uses lots logical phallusese, in this thread for example: taking the US electric consumption at face value as being the power to be displaced 12 hours.

note how this assumes that every joule you consume must have come from the storage system as if there were zero overlap between consumption and demand such that all energy had to pass indirectly through the battery system

also note how he typically treats reminders by others as claims of silver bullet panaceas: even if governments had devoted to fully switching to renewables and had solid plans distributed over multiple sources (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, ...) and over multiple storage systems (synthetic fuel, batteries, flywheels, ...) in a way it sufficed our needs, it's not surprising that pointing at just one energy source or just one storage type, you'd arrive to the conclusion batteries, or solar won't suffice... even though in combination they might.


> please don't be swayed, he uses lots logical phallusese, in this thread for example: taking the US electric consumption at face value as being the power to be displaced 12 hours.

Excellent point: The power that's going to be displaced is during the evening and night, which is when peak energy consumption occurs. The power that's going to be displaced is even greater!

> note how this assumes that every joule you consume must have come from the storage system as if there were zero overlap between consumption and demand such that all energy had to pass indirectly through the battery system

I do no such thing, not all energy needs to pass through the battery system. Of course daytime energy use can draw on solar panels directly.

> also note how he typically treats reminders by others as claims of silver bullet panaceas: even if governments had devoted to fully switching to renewables and had solid plans distributed over multiple sources (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, ...) and over multiple storage systems (synthetic fuel, batteries, flywheels, ...) in a way it sufficed our needs, it's not surprising that pointing at just one energy source or just one storage type, you'd arrive to the conclusion batteries, or solar won't suffice... even though in combination they might.

In combination they might suffice. Do we want to bet averting climate catastrophe on a solution that might work? Or on a solution that does work? We know that nuclear power can power all of a nation's energy demands. We have firsthand examples of this happening. It's not contingent on unproven technologies like synthetic fuels, grid-scale batteries, or massive farms of flywheels.


12 hours of capacity would still leave 20% of electricity to be fulfilled by fossil fuels. To get to 100% renewable we'd need 3 weeks of storage: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2018/03/01/12-hours-energy-stora...


So the cost of storage would exceed the cost of generating the same power via a CCGT plant?


I just took parent's numbers at face value to show how they were misinterpreting them.

I haven't seen much in the way of true apples to apples comparisons. Most solar plants with storage don't have much storage. For instance I saw a link this week on HN for $30 + $15/MWh for solar + storage, but the storage was only one hour of the nameplate capacity.

Based on the falling prices of batteries, I don't think it will be long before solar + storage providing power evenly over 24h (an unrealistic worst case) becomes economical.

At a 30% capacity factor, assuming the batteries are charging for 8 hours and draining for 16, that plant would need 5x as much storage for a cost of $30 + $75/MWh.

More realistically you'd only need 3-4x as much storage as you get small amounts of sunlight later and earlier in the day, and demand curves are not flat. Halve the price of batteries, which already happened in the 2010s, and that's looking economical even with a zero price on carbon.

But most countries are pretty far from saturating solar potential, so you can still build solar without storage for a while. Once you need the battery backing, it's probably going to be cheap enough.


Are you sure it was $15/MWh? That seems more than 1000x cheaper than state of the art batteries.


I just checked some prices for small scale PV farms you can plant to your house. It's 16,83 euro-cent for the PV per KWH and 23,74 euro-cent for the storage. Production is 10KWH, storage is 11KWH.

So if we (naively) multiply by 1000 we get 23,74€/MWh. And that is for the home market. I know battery storage doesn't scale linearly, but also if you were to build this as a highly-scaled farm, I'm sure prices would also drop as well.


23 euro cents * 1000 is 230 Euros, not 23. But that is still a factor of 1000 lower then the prices mentioned in https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/73222.pdf and other web publications. Are you sure about those numbers and what kind of storage do they refer to?


That's how much the storage added to the price of power in the bid, not the capital cost of the batteries.


Oh! Thank you.


> solar + storage providing power evenly over 24h (an unrealistic worst case) becomes economical.

That's not the the worst case. Solar output varies by season. So you have to have enough storage for multiple weeks. This also means you have to greatly over-provison solar panels so that they not only provide power, but also enough to charge batteries.


Very rare long term outages would not be covered by batteries. For that, you want a rock bottom low capital cost, even if it's much less efficient. Hydrogen makes sense for that use case, burned in turbines.

For seasonal variation, simply overbuilding is also a possibility. No storage would be needed at all in Minnesota, for example, until renewables get to 70% of consumed electrical energy.


>Hydrogen makes sense for that use case, burned in turbines.

And where's hydrogen going to come from? You need to overprovision renewables so that they not only provide power for now, but also store enough power (via batteries or hydrogen or whatever) to get around daily, seasonal and inter-seasonal variability.

And by the way, hydrogen from renewables is massively inefficient.


It would come from electrolysis of water, using renewable energy when that's in oversupply.

Overprovisioning renewables for immediate consumption works in tandem with hydrogen, since it means there will be times excess power is available to make the hydrogen.

The round trip efficiency of power->hydrogen->power through turbines will be maybe 33%. But this is FINE, if the capital cost of storing hydrogen in underground caverns is low enough and renewables are otherwise cheap enough (low LCoE).


If you're using caverns to reduce the capital cost of storing hydrogen, then you're ignoring a substantial amount of the real cost. Caverns are a geographically dependent feature, you might as well just say that we should use hydroelectricity as our main source of power.


Geological formations suitable for storage of hydrogen are quite widespread. They're basically identical to the formations that are already used to store natural gas.


Storing hydrogen is much more complicated than storing methane. Not to mention the challenge of moving hydrogen from the production location (probably close to a river), to the storage site. Hydrogen rapidly corrodes metals, turning them into metal hydrides. Hydrogen molecules are small, and they permeate through metals effectively increasing surface area. Even if storage is widespread, transport is challenging.

Hydrogen gas would be useful for things like shipping. Such gas would likely be produced close to the port through thermochemical means, powered by a nuclear plant. This would minimize the amount of pipeline that needs to be built to transfer the gas to ships.


> Storing hydrogen is much more complicated than storing methane.

Not really. It has lower energy/mole. There is the possibility that if CO2 is present that microorganisms could react the two to make methane. But aside from that, where is this much greater complexity coming from? The equipment required for storing either is similar.

Hydrogen is already dealt with on a very large scale. If expanded to STP, the amount of hydrogen produced every year globally would occupy 700 cubic kilometers. This is not Power Point technology of the kind you find in pro-nuclear arguments.


> But aside from that, where is this much greater complexity coming from?

Did you read my post? Because I explain how it's permeability and corrosion make it challenging to build long lasting containers to store hydrogen.

It's not the same technology to store methane. Methane can be liquified and kept as a liquid at room temperature. Hydrogen cannot, it must either be kept as a gas (drastically reducing it's energy density per liter) or cryogenically cooled. The scale at which it is produced, stored, and transported is not even remotely close to natural gas.

Show me where you get this figure that 700 cubic kilometers of hydrogen is produced yearly? And even if it is, using it for energy storage is much more challenging than using it for things like chemical production because the latter doesn't involve storing hydrogen for long periods of time.

The amount of hydrogen produced yearly doesn't hold a torch to Methane. 3.9 trillion cubic meters of natural gas are consumed yearly [1]. This works out to 2.7 trillion KG or 297 billion tons. By comparison, 70 million tons of hydrogen are produced annually [2]. We produce over 4000 times as much natural gas as hydrogen annually. I have no idea where you getting this idea that the hydrogen economy and natural gas economies are remotely close to the same scale.

> This is not Power Point technology of the kind you find in pro-nuclear arguments.

You're right, pro-nuclear arguments don't need to hand-wave away severe technological limitations. Because it actually works, and there are real-world examples of it working.

1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/282717/global-natural-ga...

2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_production#:~:text=....


> Did you read my post? Because I explain how it's permeability and corrosion make it challenging to build long lasting containers to store hydrogen.

And did you read my post? There is already a great deal of equipment for manipulating hydrogen on an industrial scale. What, did you think they rip that stuff out every month? The issue you are raising is already well solved.

> It's not the same technology to store methane. Methane can be liquified and kept as a liquid at room temperature

The great majority of methane storage is underground as compressed gas, not cryogenic. Underground storage is cheap; the capacity in the US is a good fraction of the annual consumption of natural gas here. It is this long-proven technology I am referring to, which should have been clear from what I wrote earlier.

> Show me where you get this figure that 700 cubic kilometers of hydrogen is produced yearly?

World annual production of hydrogen is 70 million metric tons, or 7.0e10 kg.

https://www.iea.org/reports/the-future-of-hydrogen

The density of hydrogen gas at STP is less than 0.1 kg/m^3. Divide to get 7.0e11 m^3.

> We produce over 4000 times as much natural gas as hydrogen annually.

Globally, 6% of natural gas production is used to make hydrogen. I wasn't talking about hydrogen production by electrolysis; I was talking about total hydrogen production, to show that hydrogen is a material that global industry already has vast experience with.


> There is already a great deal of equipment for manipulating hydrogen on an industrial scale

If by "a great deal" you mean "a fraction of one percent of what is required". No, the issue I'm raising is not well solved. Currently hydrogen is used shortly after it's produced, typically for chemical manufacturing or oil refining. It's not being stored for long periods of time, nor is it being transported in anything close to the amount of natural gas.

> The great majority of methane storage is underground as compressed gas, not cryogenic. Underground storage is cheap; the capacity in the US is a good fraction of the annual consumption of natural gas here. It is this long-proven technology I am referring to, which should have been clear from what I wrote earlier.

That's assuming these underground storage will work with a substance that has greater permeability. And storage is only half the problem, it's also a matter of the infrastructure used to transport gas to the end user. Simply pumping hydrogen through the same pipelines as natural gas isn't as easy as it sounds. Hydrogen has greater permeability and turns metals into hydrides at pressure. Hydrogen pipelines need to be much more corrosion resistant.

To put this in comparison, the US has 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines [1]. It only has 900 miles of hydrogen gas pipelines [2]. Most hydrogen is produced near areas of demand, and is not transported for long distances or stored for long periods of time. There's research into carbon-fiber pipelines that could better resist corrosion, but this is not a mature level of technology. It's more feasible to pipe methane, and then use steam reforming on-site.

> The density of hydrogen gas at STP is less than 0.1 kg/m^3. Divide to get 7.0e11 m^3.

Volume doesn't matter, I converted the volume of methane produced to mass.

> Globally, 6% of natural gas production is used to make hydrogen. I wasn't talking about hydrogen production by electrolysis; I was talking about total hydrogen production, to show that hydrogen is a material that global industry already has vast experience with.

Excellent point, total hydrogen production is 70 million tons with most of it produced through steam reforming (which produces carbon dioxide). Electrolysis only accounts for 4% of hydrogen production: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_production#Methods_of....

The fact that 6% of natural gas production is used to make hydrogen doesn't mean that our hydrogen production equals 6% of our natural gas production. Most of the natural gas used in steam reforming is used to produce heat. And methane is 75% carbon by mass.

To recap, we have 3 orders of magnitude less hydrogen production and hydrogen transport infrastructure. Even less if you only count hydrogen produced through electrolysis. This is in no way "a great deal of equipment for manipulating hydrogen at scale".

1. https://www.ncsl.org/research/energy/state-gas-pipelines.asp...

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


No, you don't need storage for multiple weeks, that would be silly.

Solar is so cheap now that already panel generation capacity is frequently getting oversized compared to the potential inverter output, to maximize costs.

Future solar farm design will optimize seasonal generation capacity similarly; size your panels for the seasonal minimum, attach batteries, and you can have year round output of a firm amount with only hours worth of batteries.


>No, you don't need storage for multiple weeks

You have seasonal, and inter-seasonal variability in a solar and wind output. You need to account for that, in an economy that requires orders of magnitude more energy then being provided by renewables and is still electrifing. What do you mean it's silly?

I've seen a few articles now where a baseline required battery storage is on the order of weeks. What do you mean a few hours is all that's required? What if you have a multi-day cloudy, wind-still weather? What do you do then?????

>size your panels for the seasonal minimum, attach batteries

No. You need to over-provison even for minimum seasonal output, because even in seasonal minimum you still need to charge your batteries. Winter is very long.

> only hours worth of batteries

If you don't mind constant blanks during periods of prolonged reduced wind/solar output...then sure. I don't what 'few hours' means - there's a day-night cycle every single day. Multi-day and highly variable multi-weeks where solar and wind output is minimal or none are relatively common.

Here's what should give you pause and maybe make you reexamine your confidence - nobody is actually building out a solar/wind/battery infrastructure - nobody. We're essentially expanding natural gas use and complementing it with solar/wind (there's a reason why Germany is singing multi-decade contracts to ship Russian natural gas, and why every natural gas company is pushing renewables). Natural gas is not a transitional technology to renewables. It's the end-state for renewables.


Those are held to a much lower standard. I've seen people on HN seriously argue that we need to isolate nuclear waste from the biosphere for multiple generations, including contingencies for the collapse of English as a comprehensible language.

What is the plan to isolate the poisonous meals in a solar panel for multiple generations? There isn't one. It just goes in landfill, I expect with relatively little concern for if it is setting up the next Flint, Michigan scenario.

I doubt any form of energy would be economic if it was held to the same standards as Nuclear. It is perfectly safe, has proved itself to be perfectly safe now that we have 50 years of evidence and then the operators have to spend however much it takes to make it safer than that. This impossible task turns out to be hellishly expensive.

There are literally 2 or 3 stories where there was a bad meltdown, and even then the damage seems to be comparable to having used coal over the same period of time. Worst-case scenario with 40 year old reactor designs is comparable to business as usual, and people start arguing over if that is safe enough.


Radioactive material is treated differently because it is dangerous at a distance. You don't need to eat it or even touch it. Simply standing close enough to it is enough to be harmful. It's just not comparable to anything in a solar panel.

After decommissioning a solar farm, at worst the soil might not be suitable for farming but nobody would complain about building a house there. For the same to be true of a nuclear plant a very expensive decommissioning process must be completed.


The second hand market for decommissioned panels is now strong enough that it has gotten hard to source them by the container load.

This used to be a great way of sourcing solar panels for off grid applications where a small drop in efficiency was totally offset by the low cost.

I think we can also safely assume used lithium batteries will similarly remain in high demand.


> Radioactive material is treated differently because it is dangerous at a distance. You don't need to eat it or even touch it. Simply standing close enough to it is enough to be harmful. It's just not comparable to anything in a solar panel.

I don't think that is true, the article cites that the majority of the bad cancer cases from Chernobyl were caused by ingestion of tainted milk.

Besides, the core of that argument there is you have no evidence ergo there is no problem. That isn't a good argument. There are some horrific substances used in industrial processes (like, eg, the production of solar panels). Just because you want to think about them in nuclear but not elsewhere doesn't mean the problems go away. Industrial waste is industrial waste; humanity has been ignoring this stuff for millennia. It is no reason to block something as measurably environmentally positive as nuclear. The numbers suggest nuclear does less harm.

We should be holding all the options to the same safety standards.

> After decommissioning a solar farm, at worst the soil might not be suitable for farming but nobody would complain about building a house there. For the same to be true of a nuclear plant a very expensive decommissioning process must be completed.

Don't build a house there then. Incidentally it'd be a prime spot for a new nuclear plant.

These things are perfectly safe for people to work in, the issue is highly localised. The area of a plant is small. And, again, by the numbers a solar panel farm is going to sterilise a larger area of land. The fact that in theory it could be used doesn't change the fact it is going to be unusable by virtue of being covered in solar panels.


Just wait until people find out how lithium batteries are an incredibly toxic fire hazard with incredibly expensive externalities involved in their production and disposal. At least people haven't been stockpiling nuclear fuel pellets in their homes and sending them to their local landfill.


What are you doing with the waste? Coal being as dangerous is no argument, which also should not use coal. Also suing Coal has a different probability distribution. Coal power plants do not blow up like Nuclear power plants do. Even if they would do the consequences would be much smaller. How do you measure BTW lost area of the Chernobyl accident? You IMHO just cannot count only how many people died (which is difficult enough).


If solar/wind + batteries is cheaper than coal, why are new fossil fueled plants being built at a speed of about 10x capacity for every watt of renewable energy? Are people just bad at investments?

If I was an investor and I would choose something that has lower cost and higher profits, especially if it also favored political. Lower costs and higher profits are pretty nice. Choosing something that cost more and has less profits sounds terrible.


Coal is a subset of fossil fuels.

The investment in fossil fuel plants is mostly because of natural gas - a great deal many of coal plants have been converted or shutdown.


Are you really suggesting those have zero externalities not priced in?


The externalities are orders of magnitude less complex to deal with.


This right here is a prime example of Dunning-Kruger effect. You're completely forgetting the large scale effects on nature, for example, which nuclear does not have.


There is no such thing as batteries for wind/solar. You have battery-based peaker plants and occasionally you may have the right geography to for pumped storage. But no, there is no battery storage technology capable of bridging the variability of wind/solar.


Why not? Its just a function of availability/price.

Assuming some conservative numbers of 1kwh of batteries costs 100usd and can do 2k cycles, that results in extra 5cents per kwh.

With the day/night cycle the utilization could be around 50%. Offset by only roughly half of your electricity needs to be stored. Sunless days would be pain though.

Imo if combined with cheap solar can be competitive.

FWIW my current electricity provider already applies a 1 cent/kwh surcharge for "peak capacity assurance".


And that's why electricity is so cheap in Germany, right?


At least in the US utilities are now waking up to this reality for coal, which is why coal plants keep shutting down and no new ones are getting built.


In Germany the concept of "Ewigkeitskosten" ist factored in for coal and nuclear.


That is a fairly bold claim. There are laws around it, but it's far from clear whether all the costs are accounted for. There is for example continuous conflict over flooding old mines. That saves a lot of money, but it also risks contaminating ground water with e.g. PCBs.


Sorry, my comment was not meant to imply that _all_ future costs are covered by this. Just that there is a concept to factor in costs that would impact future generations.

This amount factored in will always be political in nature.


The concept exists but it’s not exactly transparent how those costs translate into actual energy prices because coal mining has been heavily subsidised.

There are estimates, however, saying that those costs will exceed the overall benefits in the next few years, i.e. in the end it‘ll have been a negative-sum game.


I am sure that you are right. Factoring _all_ costs is near impossible and as such the Ewigkeitskosten will not cover all the environmental impact ever.

What I meant is, that there is a concept to factor in such costs at all. Is it "complete" - surely not. Is it at least a concept that could be applied when talking about incurring costs for future generations? IMHO absolutely.


Correct. The right questions to ask is not 'But what about Chernobyl' (which is unlikely in most countries) but instead:

What about decommissioning costs?

Fukushima is a good example of costs from a normal accident we can expect from time to time. Costs are at 200b USD and rising, and they still don't have the reactor site under control.

Even normal decommissioning is incredibly expensive and usually covered by governments and ignored in the costs of electricity.

https://nuclear-news.net/2020/09/24/9-1-2-years-after-meltdo...

https://cleantechnica.com/2019/04/16/fukushimas-final-costs-...

Nuclear fusion (if we ever get to commercial production), will make nuclear much more attractive again though and cut decommissioning costs a bit (though there is still the question of how to deal with reactor parts).


"What about Chernobyl" is usually outright dismissed as being an edge case owing its disaster to the Soviet regime, more concerned over image than safety.

The real important question, as you aluded to, is "What about Fukushima" - a disaster occuring in a rich, western nation, Japan; Japan is a nation generally seen as being on the leading edge of technology. If a disaster can occur in Japan, it can feasibly happen anywhere in the west.


Totally unrelated but why the land of rising sun (cannot go east than that) is being called a western nation.


“West” is a vague notion that is neither coherent nor consistent. It’s particularly annoying because it’s named after a geographic concept, even though the selection criteria (as much as it exists) is socio-political.

The big giveaway here is that we now consider the great Greek writers as part of the “Western Canon”, while the Greeks and the Romans of the time considered the Greeks to be eastern. Oh and the byzantines are considered mostly considered to be Greek speaking easterners, even though they considered themselves to be Romans and the name “Byzantine Empire” was created long after it fell.

It’s a very confusing thing.


Western as in democratic, high income, economically prosperous, broadly supportive of human rights, etc.


A better term for that is "developed country".


Not really. That implies that a) there's some kind of objective end state for a country and b) they've reached it.


I definitely don't think "western" was the right term for it.


Another chilling moment when I realise that I'm way too old and can perceive slow changes of things (like the meanings of words). Please don't do that.


I highly doubt you are old enough that western did not always have that meaning for the majority of your life. It's a holdover from the Cold War, after all.


Of course the probability is never 0,00%. But it is obvious that the Fukushima accident happened due to geological factors. The same power plant would hum away nicely in Germany to this day, where there is little to no seismic activity and none on the scale of what happened in Fukushima.


But unforeseen factors are always a component of accidents. Otherwise it wouldn't be an accident. Of course boost is planning for this to happen.

The point is that it does happen despite planning. It won't happen in the same way in Germany but something else can happen.


But the problems were very much foreseen!

The chief architect of the Fukushima plant tried hard to convince his bosses that the wall which protects the plant is not tall enough to protect against rare but possible huge tsunami waves, but hasn't been heard. He turned out to be right.

The plant also had emergency cooling pumps, but the pumps were connected incorrectly. This was unforeseen, I can give you that.

In any case, the Fukushima disaster caused one direct human death, or something like that.

In general, modern nuclear stations are no less reliable than fossil fuel plants, and only freak accidents, like a major earthquake and a tsunami, or personnel knowingly switching off all safety systems (the Chernobyl case) lead to catastrophic failures. This still can and should be improved upon, by using reactors with inherently self-contained designs, lack of high-pressure components within the reactor, etc.


That makes it even worse though! If the problems were foreseen but willfully ignored.

It goes to show that even in developed countries corruption happens and this is a major liability to nuclear plants. If it can happen there it can happen anywhere.

And deaths aren't the only measure of accidents. It also caused major pollution.


Were the builders of Fukushima unaware of the geology of Japan?

I would argue that they were aware and still got hit by the risk. I don’t see “well, that specific failure won’t be what gets us in Germany” as especially compelling.


It’s hard to believe they took it fully into consideration. Or more likely someone just said ‘fuck it, just build it’ at some point.

Given the costs involved however, I find it hard to imagine tepco will make the same mistake again in the next 50 years or so.


Your first paragraph is exactly my point. What suggests that the plants being contemplated elsewhere in the world won't be subject to the same "fuck it, just built it" decision-making, whether that's around site safety, engineering, fuel handling, waste disposal, and other topics? (Especially because, at some point, you do have to actually say "judging everything, let's build it" which can look to opponents exactly like "fuck it, just build it".)

(Side note: I am pro-nuclear for baseline load in general. I'm also a realist about how likely problems are to repeat/ryhme.)


They planned for a certain level of tsunami/earthquake, but this particular tsunami exceeded norms.

They could have protected against this, but siting it near the coast is desirable for cooling purposes too (and has been helpful in some ways for cleanup as they've been able to dispose of waste in the ocean), so there are conflicting concerns here.

Things fail from time to time, if that thing failing is catastrophic, it gets very expensive to ensure 100% reliability.


Shoved the critical electrical stuff below the sea level... It's not like the reactors have fallen into a sudden volcano.


Can you show me the costs associated with decommisioning a hydro electric dam?

This is a hurdle people are only throwing in front of nuclear plants. Nuclear plants can run indefinitely if maintained - just like all major infrastructure.


I think we should be building nuclear everywhere, but it's important to realise the life of a nuclear power plant is between 20 to 40 years.

https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/29402043133.pdf

> It is evident that the average age of power reactors in the IAEA's Member States is increasing. (See accompanying graphs.) By 2000, more than 50 nuclear plants will have been providing electricity for 25 years or longer. Most nuclear power plants have operating life-times of between 20 and 40 years.

> Ageing is defined as a continuing time-dependent degradation of material due to service conditions,including normal operation and transient conditions. It is common experience that over long periods of time, there is a gradual change in the properties of materials. These changes can affect the capability of engineered components, systems, or structures to perform their required function. Not all changes are deleterious, but it is commonly observed that ageing processes normally involve a gradual reduction in performance capability.

> All materials in a nuclear power plant can suffer from ageing and can partially or totally lose their designed function. Ageing is not only of concern for active components (for which the probability of malfunction increases with time) but also for passive ones, since the safety margin is being reduced towards the lowest allow-able level


This study is from 1987. Might it it be slightly outdated?

This article from 2009 addresses the lower age estimates from the 1980’s era, saying reactors could last for 80 years or even more.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nuclear-power-pla...


In theory, there is no difference between theory and reality. In practice, there is.


FTA :

"We think we can replace almost every component in a nuclear power plant," said Jan van der Lee, director of the Materials Ageing Institute (MAI), a nuclear research facility inaugurated this week in France and run by the state-owned nuclear giant EDF.

EDF is state owned just as much as nuclear reactor construction company => I wouldn't trust that guy


This is a bit of an edge case. Who else can you ask about the practicality of replacing reactors, other than people who replace reactors?


This study is strongly influenced by when nuclear reactors were built. Of course there aren't any 100-year-old nuclear plants; the technology isn't that old.

Some components certainly do degrade due to use, but it's entirely feasible to reuse large portions of the old plant by replacing the components that have degraded.


> I think we should be building nuclear everywhere, but it's important to realise the life of a nuclear power plant is between 20 to 40 years.

This is simply untrue. Just look at French fleet. 40 years is minimum of their planned lifetime, and they probably will be operated for 50 or maybe even 60 years.


Surely the same aging effects also affect dams too, though?


The construction materials becoming brittle due to constant bombardment with nuclear emissions? Not noticeable in a hydroelectric dam. The materials becoming brittle and breaking down due to constant exposure to heat? Steam does not normally factor in hydroelectric production.

Nuclear ages faster then thermoelectric, which ages faster than hydroelectric. It's a tradeoff.


The aging effects are largely from radiation and heat.


Not at all.


>there is still the question of how to deal with reactor parts

I don’t think this has ever been a question. Put them in a shed for 100 years then recycle the metal.


I would say the largest inherent danger with fusion reactors is the prospect of a tritium leak. D-D fusion reactor designs are not on the horizon. They are a “probably, one day” option. So for now we are aiming for D-T operation. All signs point towards a functional MCF reactor needing to be pretty large and, by extension, have a large recirculating stored energy (roughly 100 MJ). Tokamaks face the prospect of disruptions that slam all of that stored energy into the wall. An event like this would breach the reactor and leak the tritium fuel. The entire reactor and tritium processing facility should be behind a bioshield that shouldn’t leak, but the risk is there and real. It takes extreme care to prevent dire scenarios.

Stellarators don’t have the chance of disruptions, but would still need to rely on tritium.


Well well. My girlfriends oldest brother died in what was a wave of cancer infant deaths that strangely coincides with the fallout of Chernobyl's radioactive cloud.

Her other brother came to the world deformed, which again happened to more mothers than hers. In my school class (~30 kids) alone there were 4 kids who had deformations or other mutations that affected their life's negatively (for those who still live: to this day). All of them were born in the years after the fallout.

In my region you are still adviced not to eat certain mushrooms or the meat of boars.

Not to speak that one death and one deformed child that needs life long attention does something to the families tho whom such things happen.

Of course all of it is incredibly hard to attribute this to Chernobyl, but the region which got the brink of the radioactive rain (southern Bavaria, southern Austria) had the most of such cases to such a degree that the doctors noticed it.

That being said: of course a lot improved after Chernobyl in terms of reactor safety. But nuclear is still a business, where a (not insignificant) part of the costs linked to waste and potential catastrophes aren't carried by those who earn the money.

So whether nuclear really is affordable depends on how you do the accounting — how much you get the public, the environment and by future generations to carry for free.

E.g. how much does it cost to store 1 kg of nuclear waste safely for 10 000 years? Is that cost prized into the cost of the produced electricity or do we expect future generations to carry it even after all uranium has been burned?

Please convince me that nuclear isn't a Ponzi-scheme on the future generations.


> My girlfriends oldest brother died in what was a wave of cancer infant deaths [..]

That's horrible, and I don't want to diminish it in any way. Nuclear power has killed many people, and impacted many more others negatively. Thousands, certainly, possibly tens of thousands. Some (very disputed) estimates for Chernobyl range as high as hundreds of thousands of premature deaths. Each of those is a unique tragedy.

On the other hand, fossil fuels kills thousands of people per day. There's no free lunch here. Deactivating a nuclear power plant and then having to rely on more coal than otherwise costs actual lives.

You can point to some actual victims of Chernobyl, so it feels realer to you, but the victims of fossil fuels are all around you too, and outnumber them enormously.

> of course a lot improved after Chernobyl

Quite true, but again, coal is hundreds of times more deadly than nuclear even if you include Chernobyl in the statistics. If you assume things have gotten better since then, then the deck is even more overwhelmingly stacked in favour of the safety of nuclear power.

To be clear: Even if you assume that nuclear power is a horrifying thing that will send a plume of radioactive ash across Europe every few decades causing birth defects and death, it still beats coal on safety. Of course, nobody thinks modern nuclear power plants are remotely that dangerous...and yet we're still building new coal plants, even today.

Oh, and not that it matter hugely, but:

> E.g. how much does it cost to store 1 kg of nuclear waste safely for 10 000 years?

So low it rounds to zero. I'm sceptical about the true unsubsidised costs of nuclear power, but waste storage isn't a particularly hard (or expensive) problem.

On the other hand, flip it around; what's the cost to store 1 kg of the radioactive waste safely? Wait, we can't store it safely; by the design of the plant it emits it straight into the atmosphere.

> Please convince me that nuclear isn't a Ponzi-scheme on the future generations.

The real question is whether it's affordable for current generations. It's clearly just fine for future generations.


Compare vs renewables not coal.


Renewables are not a silver bullet either. There are plenty of nasty things that go into building batteries and solar panels with no where near the attention to safely disposing them. Plus, renewables just can't handle baseload and load follow the way fossil or nuclear can.


Battery storage follows load much faster than fossil, and nuclear can't follow at all.


Wrong on nuclear. They operate in load following in France just fine.


Until it gets too hot and they have to ironically shut down the plants during heat waves.


The same would be true of any thermoelectric power station. They all need cooling of the condenser.


But not true of photovoltaic or wind power stations...


We're still building coal power plants right now. See, eg, "Japan Races to Build New Coal-Burning Power Plants" from Feb of this year (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/03/climate/japan-coal-fukush...).

In many places, what replaced nuclear power plants we decommission or choose not to build is not renewables, so that's by no means the only relevant comparison.


> of course a lot improved after Chernobyl in terms of reactor safety

My understanding is that Chernobyl was caused by an experiment that went wrong due to errors in following processes correctly.

I would assume that most reactors just make electricity, and outside of smaller reactors used for research they aren't used for experiments. Is that correct?


Not an expert but my understanding is that you are largely incorrect. The "experiment" was a test the facility had to pass (dark station shutdown) in order to be certified safe. The site's primary function was to generate electricity. Secondary function to create weapons material precursors. That humans had to follow processes in order to avoid contaminating large parts of Europe is a fundamental failing.


Kinda.

Dark Station shutdown is still a problem in some senses.

They were indeed, doing an experiment, not just to pass a certification, but they were testing a theory, that in fact makes perfect sense, just the execution of the test was extremely crap.

The problem: when the power grid fails, there is no power to keep the coolant system pumps working, thus might cause a meltdown.

Chernobyl solution: attempt to improve the turbine designs so they can keep generating power using their own inertia until the diesel generators are online.

Chernobyl first failed attempts: improvements were not enough, the idea DID worked, but the turbines stopped spinning too early.

Chernobyl last attempt: power usage in the day of the test was unusually high, not only the test was delayed but the reactor had to produce more power than usual, when the test finally came, the procedures of the test weren't followed properly, the crew that did the test didn't knew how to do it, and after they pushed the reactor parameters to values outside the design limits, the computer attempted to fight back, so they disabled the safety features of the computer and tried to control the situation manually, doing things the computer was requesting them to NOT do.


No, there was a design flaw in the reactor, that caused the emergency shutdown procedure to trigger a runaway reaction.


> Does that mean nuclear is just a totally great idea? No; the issue with nuclear is cost. Historically it has been quite expensive, but subsidised in opaque ways. In a zero carbon world, it might make sense for baseline generation even if it's expensive; in the world we live in it needs to compete on price. Can it?

Compete against fossil fuels? No, but neither can solar and wind. Nuclear power also loses out against solar and wind in the very short term, and depending on the geography. Solar is cheap until you saturate the energy market during peak generation hours. Adding storage into the mix creates costs an order of magnitude larger than nuclear. We don't have a plan to decarbonize the electricity sector with solar and wind that doesn't involve a massive breakthrough in energy storage.

The reality is that the only proven ways of powering nations with carbon-free energy are either geographically dependent (hydroelectricity and geothermal power) and nuclear. Nuclear also provides additional benefits in the form of things like desalination with the waste heat - which is going to be highly in demand as climate change ramps up- and thermochemical hydrogen production, which is likely our best method of decarbonizing shipping.


The economic reality is that battery on the grid is out-competing gas peaker plants in a lot of places because even with the current scarcity and price levels in the battery market, it seems economical to buy them by the MWH.

Technically, peak prices dropping because of solar/wind is a problem of everything else being too expensive. Battery storage solves that problem by being cheaper. Of course we'll need many TWH and the current production levels are still measured in GWH. But as we learned last week, Tesla is looking to fix that. But even at current price levels picking something expensive like lithium ion seems to make sense for some. Of course better options are possible and being worked on. But it's competitive already. We're talking about making it even more competitive.

This is actually proven technology; there are a growing number of places that have sharply reduced their conventional power generation and vastly reduced cost simply by deploying modest amounts of battery.

Basically the notion of a peaker plant seems to be reserved for recovering the sunk cost in prematurely unprofitable gas and coal plants. Building new peaker plants is not really a thing. The economic outlook for investors behind such plants is downright depressing as they can look at trends in the market and extrapolate sub 0.01 $/kwh solar prices are coming (rounded down, this already happened actually).

That's also why nuclear is not really viable because its closer to 0.1 $/kwh. That's an order of magnitude difference. It's too expensive. Too risky (financially). Too uncertain. And that's before you consider the general mood (irrational as that may be) against nuclear.


Sure, solar + natural gas is cheaper than nuclear. But that's not a solution to climate change. The amount of battery storage that some plants use is negligible compared to the 11.5 TWh that the US uses on average every day. The entire country has 8 seconds worth of battery storage.

The reality is that nobody has a plan to power a country with renewables. The storage requirements to do so are staggering. The US would need 12 hours of storage to get to 80% renewables - and we'd still be burning fossil fuels for the remainder. To get to 100% renewables we'd need 3 weeks of storage: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2018/03/01/12-hours-energy-stora...

Intermittent sources are fundamentally not viable as a primary form of generation. Solar is currently being used to supplement fossil fuel generation during the day, but one you saturate daytime power generation the usable energy you get from solar drops substantially.


> The economic reality is that battery on the grid is out-competing gas peaker plants in a lot of places because even with the current scarcity and price levels in the battery market, it seems economical to buy them by the MWH.

Do you have any citation for this because I've seen no evidence that this is true. The largest grid scale lithium battery is barely a drop in the ocean by comparison to the energy consumption of the grid. It is only used for short term grid frequency stabilization, which it does admirably.


I just read the news in the energy market. I think California just ordered a few MwH of battery from Tesla. They seem to be doing a brisk business of selling batteries to grid providers in a market that is entirely supply limited. There are loads of companies working on alternate storage technologies.

You are right that there is very little right now. But I'd counter that that is growing rapidly and that that is inspired by those investments paying off for their early adopters.

Short term stabilization is actually the key problem that needs solving with energy peaks (which are inherently short term). The sun comes out quite reliably every day to provide a predictable minimum of power levels. Basically solar and wind combined are quite OK. Things like seasonal variation are actually more predictable and something you can plan for. Extended freak periods of clouds with no wind across an entire continent is not a really thing. Such effects tend to be local and temporary. So we can fix a lot by simply moving power around (with cables, another proven technology).

The unspoken presumption with storage critics is that we'll need unspecified days/weeks/months of storage for such apocalyptic conditions. As far as I can see this is simply wrong and not something that energy companies are putting a lot of serious money on the table for.

I've actually seen zero credible evidence for this; not even a ballpark number of how many TWH of storage that would be needed. So, I'll bounce that question right back at you: how much TWH/PTW do you think is needed/economically justifiable and why? That will allow us to put a price tag on it.

The reality is that interconnected grids means the sun is always shining somewhere and wind turbines out on the water or wherever are always providing some power somewhere. If you look at the market, grid connectivity and storage are exactly two things where investments are happening. Long term storage seems much less of a concern for grid providers. Mostly 2-4 hours seems to be the sweet spot of what grid providers seem to be spending on.


In order to reach 80% renewables we'll need 12 hours of storage. In order to reach 100% renewables we'll need 3 weeks of storage: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2018/03/01/12-hours-energy-stora...


For grid stabilization in the UK we already have 28GWh of pumped hydro storage. I'm not an expert in sizing grid infrastructure but I expect we'd need storage of several times that to balance a less dispatchable grid.

The sun is always shining somewhere doesn't work for day / night solar production. Transmission losses are of the order of 0.5% per 100km. By the time you transmit power 20,000km there is nothing left.


Its <3 percent per 1000km if using high voltage DC and multiplicative not additive. So 0.97^(20000/1000)= 0.54. Just under half lost, not infeasible.

Also building enough battery capacity to offset the night is doable. UK annual consumption is around 300TWH, let's round to 1TWH a day.

The nighttime consumption is about half of the daytime's so only 33% needs to be saved.

So we need 350GWH of batteries. It will take a while, cost 35 Billion assuming 100 usd for 1 kwh. Or 2 billion a year or 0.6 cents per KWH of energy consumed.


I don't think you can really quote prices when you are talking about battery capacities on the order of the current world wide lithium battery production.

Also, it's interesting that Iceland, with their abundance of geothermal power, don't have an interconnection with Europe. That's only 1000km as the crow flies and yet hasn't been considered economically feasible yet.


There is no lithium shortage. E.g. Tesla is basically mining in Nevada in a place that has apparently more than enough for their quite ambitious roadmap. Also money quote from Elon Musk last week was that it's one of the most common elements in the world. Basically, we've only scratched the surface (quite literally) in terms of actively looking for the stuff as the demand for lithium at this scale is a fairly recent development.

As for geothermal, Iceland has geothermal; yes. So do other places. You're talking as if using that as an infinite source of energy is both cheap, feasible, and scalable. It's probably none of those things. Iceland has about 300K people, the UK has around 66M, so we're talking about 220x the energy demand. And running cables across the Atlantic. And doing a lot of infrastructure development in Iceland at the cost of many billions in a market that has energy prices trending down because of other clean energy options. Perhaps that's the reason that it was never really considered as an option.

Regarding the quoted prices, I think for the sake of argument this person was deliberately using numbers that are on the super conservative side. E.g. buying battery at 100$/kwh would probably be a spectacularly bad deal considering prices are already dipping below that (and that's for car batteries). Also, for the sake of argument assuming everything happens right now at today's prices is arguably not how this would play out at all. But as he's argueing, even if you make such assumptions it's still doable. So, it's likely to end up being a good deal cheaper than projected there as this plays out over the next decades as prices for batteries continue to drop and we figure out how to do this at scale.


You have to be very careful with claims about relative abundance. Take water as an example, 2/3 of our planets surface is covered in it and yet for practical purposes it's useless to us for drinking or watering crops. Regardless, I didn't make any claim about abundance of lithium, only the current manufacturing capacity.

My point about Iceland is they already have huge amounts of geothermal power and they should be able to develop it and sell it back to Europe as green electricity. Currently 70% of their power consumption is used to smelt aluminium so it's not like they are constrained.


> Take water as an example, 2/3 of our planets surface is covered in it and yet for practical purposes it's useless to us for drinking or watering crops.

It's not useless, it just requires too much processing and transportation to be practical. The issue with water is that for what we need it, we really require enormous amounts of it. This is not the case with lithium, where required amounts are trivial in comparison. Just to make the point: a truck-load full of lithium is worth around $300,000. To desalinate the same truck-load worth of salt water, it costs about $20, that is, 4 orders of magnitude less. If you don't have to desalinate, but instead can just draw fresh water, it will be around $1-2 for a truck-load. Obviously, trucking in water is still too expensive, because we need lots and lots of water, truly insane amounts compared to anything else.


You are forgetting wind.


The problem is there simply are not that many batteries. On a small scale the Tesla Australia battery is making money nad its out-competing gas peakers. But we don't jet have batteries of the scale to cover the really long substained drops.

Even the most optimistic projections about battery fall short of what is needed to replace gas peakers.

Lets hope Tesla, LG, CATL can spit out insane amounts of batteries and we maybe get some dispatchable CSP.


Just a day ago someone on HM mentioned that the Diablo Canyon plant is being shut down because it would need a 7B USD cooling system (evaporation towers), and building 40 GWh storage would cost less.

(I found this ~400 USD / kWh for 4 hours number, that gives 17.5 GW for 4 hours for 7B. by W Cole at NREL.)


I don't doubt that the Diablo Canyon upgrade is expensive, and various interests have been set on killing that plant for decades, but there is no way on earth you're getting 40 GWh of storage in central California at any price within a decade.

The total pumped and gas storage capacity of the United States is only like 25 GWh. Building that would require a majority of the total battery production of the entire planet for a year, and most of that wouldn't even be the right kind of batteries regardless of what technology they settled on. Some sort of dream moonshot project to build that would be awesome, but is completely outside the scope of any modern commercial endeavor.


There are 2 scenarios:

1. We drastically reduce fossils using regulation / legislation, in which case they become harder to get (eg more expensive) than the alternatives for most users.

2. We don't reduce fossils, in which case we're left with just trying to outcompete energy supply so nobody wants to pump the cheap oil and gas from the ground anymore.

Option 2 is never going to work and is equivalent to just giving up on fighting climate change.


>Option 2 is never going to work and is equivalent to just giving up on fighting climate change.

And option 1 is no better. You tax the crap out of fossil fuels forcing billions of people's standard of living to go substantially backwards, they start revolting, maybe have you lined up and shot, people like me say "told ya so" and we're left with shattered economies, refugee crisis and basically all the bad things climate change is going to bring anyway.

We're long past the point of solving this easily. Whatever option we pick is going to hurt given the choice between suffering at the hand of other people and suffering at the hand of nature I think the latter is going to result in a lot less overall suffering because the correlation between land becoming uninhabitable or non-productive and revolt is much weaker (or at the very least it takes longer) than the correlation between oppressive taxation/regulation and revolt. The climate change bill is gonna come due regardless. Having governments try and collect proactively is just gonna give is broken governments to go with our broken planet.


Pretty gloomy view!

Taxing fossils yields revenue that has to be used for thngs like income transfers or breaking dependency on fossils to offset these steps back.


>Does that mean nuclear is just a totally great idea? No; the issue with nuclear is cost.

Oh don't forget the other issue: It takes decades to build a new plant. We don't got that time.

For the $6 Billion or more it takes to build a nuclear plant that will then take 15 to 20 years to license and build before it generates a single Watt, we could have had a $6 Billion of solar and wind deployed and operating for 12+ years already.


> It takes decades to build a new plant.

No, it doesn't. It only takes a few years. What takes decades is resolving all the NIMBY lawsuits.


Vogtle, Summer, Flamanville 3, and Olkiluoto 3 weren't delayed by NIMBY lawsuits. They were delayed by construction screw ups. Nuclear power plants are complex, and if they are required to be constructed to high standards, delays and overruns are almost inevitable.

A PV field, on the other hand, is much simpler, with much more inherent redundancy, and can tolerate construction mistakes without either safety implications or substantial loss of capacity.


Virginia-class nuclear submarine(GE "S9G" PWR using HEU cores, 210 MWth) takes as little as 1-2 year from laydown to launching. 19 such hulls is in service, 11 in construction.


Thats still pretty small and usage specific - modern 1000 MW electricity producing nuclear power plants produce about 3000 MW of heat, so about 15x the naval nuclear reactor in your example.


Like I said, US had commissioned around 20 of those reactors in the past couple decades.


Fair enough - still what I'm trying to say is that those 20 cover the thermal output of a single modern reactor & many are needed even just to get rid of seriously polluting power sources, like the brown coal/lignite fired power plants used in many places in Europe.


How is the cost per MWh in construction and ops?


Three of the plants you mentioned were 40+ years ago, right? Seems a bit outdated to point to in 2020.


None of the plants I mentioned were 40+ years ago. They are all contemporary. Vogtle is still under construction, Summer was cancelled a couple of years ago ($9B down the drain), Flamanville 3 is still under construction, and the last is near completion. You may be confused with earlier reactors at some of those sites.


Olkiluoto 3 is a new design though. Making a second exact same one again will be much faster and cheaper as you have now worked out most of the issues.

Olkiluoto 1 and 2 were both built quickly and on schedule. Mainly because they were already proven designs with tens of other units already built around the world (and the second reactor is practically identical with the first one)


> Olkiluoto 3 is a new design though. Making a second exact same one again will be much faster and cheaper as you have now worked out most of the issues.

The second exact same one is actually Flamanville 3, the other one with the massive cost overruns.


Yes. Though they did start building it before Olkiluoto 3 was up and running so can't really use all the learnings from it.


Vogtle 1 and 2 were completed on 1987 and 1989. They will be online until 2047 and 2049. Vogtle 3 and 4 are currently under construction and will be completed in 2021.


I was refering to 3 and 4 (and Summer 2 and 3)


The Chinese have started building two reactors of similar conception as Flamanville 3 and Olkiluoto 3 after these, and they both came online in 2018 after a little less than 6 years of construction. Proof enough that it's totally political, if you ask me.


Looking at this page [1] it seems China takes about 5 years to go from start of construction to commercial operation of a reactor.

I'm pretty sure they have no NIMBY lawsuits to content with, so this seems like a realistic timeframe.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_reactors#China


Sure it does. It takes one decade for America to build 1.7 miles of rail. That's for a thing that is done daily across the globe. Doing a thing that's done rarely? Yeah, I have no hope that there is an American company today that can do it.

By the time we build expertise it will be 2080. And all that capital will be tied up until then. Who even knows if fission will be the right tool then.


So in practice is does take decades.


If we had enough solar to power the world, would all of the solar cells actually lower the temperature of Earth due to being black?


No. If you want to keep the planet cool you need to use white surfaces or mirrors to reflect that energy back into space.

Plus most electricty/energy that isn't stored somehow gets converted into heat. That's just how the universe works.

If you capture some energy with your solar panel just to immediately release ~100% of it as heat again because you power your servers with it, you didn't accomplish anything.


Still you could use that energy to power the work needed to bring the temperature down - produce the mirrors you mention, extract stuff from atmosphere that makes the temperature higher and store it, etc..


Solar radiation that is absorbed by a solar panel will either heat the panel or generate electricity, which will also mostly become heat in the end. Reflected radiation will hopefully leave the earth.

The things that cool the planet are mostly white — reflective. Clouds, white roofs, etc.

Trees cool their local area by performing endothermic reactions creating carbohydrates and lignans.


> Trees cool their local area by performing endothermic reactions creating carbohydrates and lignans.

Let's not forget shade. How much are they cooling the air above them?


A fair bit. I don't have numbers for trees in particular, but one of the benefits of putting solar panels above farms is supposed to be cooler panels, which improves panel efficiency.

Though most of that would be evaporation, not chemistry.


Possibly if we channeled the generatef power off-planet using eg high efficiency lasers.


solar/wind + batteries is now cheaper than coal and nuclear. And it can be brought online faster with virtually no safety issues.

Nuclear had it's day and it's over. At this point subsidizing it is just creating a mess so that we can give money to GE et al for providing something that--thanks to technology--has no value. If you really want to, just give GE the money directly so that we won't have to bother decommissioning some disaster decades from now.


Do you have evidence that batteries are cheaper than say nuclear? I only heard of the opposite, batteries are prohibitively expensive.


Until recently, batteries have been very expensive. However, like wind and solar, as we build the industry they are dropping exponentially in cost, at about 20% per year over the past decade [1], and we are hitting a non-linear inflection point when it's more profitable to include batteries in a new build than to omit them.

One set of estimated from Lazard: advanced nuclear at $118-$192/MWh, and lithium-ion charged from directly attached solar at $102-$139/MWh [2].

Lazard have analyses for energy generation costs by technology, and storage costs based on use case and scenario. (Note that the storage use cases include the cost of charging the storage system.)

These cost estimates work hard to simplify a hugely complex subject, by estimating a levelized cost of energy, which is then of course an oversimplification. It doesn't consider the value of when energy is delivered, or the price of when the storage is charged. EIA, filled with a lot of hard energy guys that are dismayed to see renewables outperforming in cost, puts out ridiculous numbers, but has also embraced something called the LACE to try to compensate. However they have been so wrong on hard numbers that they can't be trusted when it comes to renewables.

The design of energy markets has absolutely huge impacts on the profitability of storage as well, and it can still be very hard to get compensated for the value provided to the grid. There probably would already have been GW of batteries on Texas' ERCOT grid if they buy/sell dual nature had been legal earlier.

[1] https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/09/the-story-of-che...

[2] https://www.lazard.com/perspective/lcoe2019/


Batteries are only the most of expensive of many candidates for energy storage.

But, as was demonstrated in Australia, adequate.


But only adequate for a very narrow use-case so far, _not_ as a daily driver.

Here in South Australia where I live the Hornsdale installation (the Tesla one) is capable of storing 150MW. Its purpose is not to drive the entire grid every day, but to help deal with minor fluctuations in supply and demand, and mitigate brown/blackouts during emergencies. In-between those times it stores electricity while prices are cheap, and sells when the prices are high to turn a profit

The overwhelming source of electricity across Australia is supplied by fossil fuels (despite our abundance of clean nuclear fuel).

The entire reason the installation was built in the first place was because of a series of brownouts and blackouts caused by interruptions in the supply of electricity from interstate one day (we don't generate enough by ourselves sadly). It caused a fairly large political situation to develop, and resulted in the construction of the Hornsdale installation.

Contractually Hornsdale is obliged to be able to supply 70MW for 10 minutes, or 30MW for 3 hours on demand during emergencies. For some perspective, the current load on the grid as at the time I started writing this is 2150MW(6pm local time).

Australian battery installations are simply not operating at the scale you want them to be here. Hornsdale has a niche it is filling quite admirably, but be careful when you use it as an example of grid-scale viability. It's simply not.


I love that Australia battery, but lets be real its tiny. Comparing that to a solution that could fully balance all solar/wind energy is a gigantic strech.

I have looked into all of these storage mechanism, and not one is actually really read for the market and is mass deployable quickly.

We just have to hope Tesla can actually spit out many tera of batteries by 2030 and the other companies match them.


> Batteries are only the most of expensive of many candidates for energy storage.

Maybe. But nuclear does not require batteries.

> But, as was demonstrated in Australia, adequate.

I do don’t have the numbers from Australia at hand. Do you? Is it really cheaper than nuclear, or they heavily overpaid for them, or Telsa sold it with large discount?


One potential alternative to batteries might be to build a couple of towers lifting concrete blocks up and down: https://energyvault.com/#operating-parameters


My research into this a little while ago showed that this has a very poor energy density to capital cost. There are some other techs like molten salt which are supposed to be better.


I’m not sure this idea is all that they’re marketing it as.

Here’s a video discussing the drawbacks [0], the guy doing the video can be kind of abrasive at times but worth watching/skimming as a counterpoint.

[0]: https://youtu.be/NIhCuzxNvv0


I'd heard of this as a theory many times before, I didn't know someone had actually built one! Good site too, thanks for the link.


Australia has a tiny (on grid scale) battery used to stabilize the grid, not for long term storage like you would need for relying on solar energy in place that actually has winters.


I would assume wind and solar having unknown undesirable secondary effects.

A nuclear power plant is fairly self-contained.

A giant black solar installation captures a lot of heat that would’ve been reflected back into space.

Wind farms slow down wind (obviously..)

We all know how important the gyres in the oceans to preserving the current ecosystem.

Everything is in a delicate balance, if we start messing up something new who knows what would happen.

Are there any studies in this area?


>A giant black solar installation captures a lot of heat that would’ve been reflected back into space.

Nuclear plants take energy sequestered in matter and unleashes it to a form that ultimately will decay to heat just the same. This outcome is the same regardless of the power source.

If climate change is a relevant concern to the discussion then alongside discussing of sustainable energy there's an equal topic of how we re-sequester or eject the additional energy we've so far pumped into the atmosphere in the form of energy decaying to heat. Not to mention how to curb our energy demands so that we don't continue to worsen the situation.

>Wind farms slow down wind (obviously..)

Yeah quite a lot on the scale of large farms, slowing wind speeds by up to 50%. The optimist in me thinks this could be a beneficial thing given our atmosphere is generally expected to become more chaotic with stronger winds as a result of climate change, but the realist in me thinks it's largely irrelevant since turbines can't operate during the extremes, which are expected to become more commonplace.

>Are there any studies in this area?

Not sure, but it's an interesting question.


And nuclear plants release 2 units of waste heat energy for every 1 unit of electrical energy they produce. A solar field, if its efficiency > the albedo of the ground on which it was built, causes net local cooling. In both cases the produced power is eventually degraded to heat (in the grid and at the consumer), but the overall burden for direct global thermal pollution is lower for solar than for nuclear. Note, of course, that direct thermal pollution is greatly overshadowed right now by forcing from increasing greenhouse gases.


The direct global thermal pollution for both solar panels and nuclear are negligible compared to the 100-200 petawatts of light hitting the earth constantly.


Right. It's not any immediate global concern.



Nuclear companies generally aren't prepared to assume full liability for nuclear accidents [1]. This makes me pretty skeptical that nuclear power is really that safe.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price%E2%80%93Anderson_Nuclear...


Nuclear energy is regularly significantly (usually more than an order of magnitude, from what I've seen) cheaper for electricity than any other source in comparable countries (e.g. nuclear electricity in Toronto >10x cheaper than coal/solar electricity in Berlin)

Nuclear energy is and always has been inherently competitive on total profitability over the course of a plant's lifetime.

The main issue is the time it takes to get a plant built, and the heavy upfront investment. Both of these extend painfully the time before investors reach nonnegative ROI, which is (imo) part of why despite the actual profitability being much better human investors with inherently limited lifetimes opt for, for example, natural gas or solar installations.

+ Also of course, nuclear is much more heavily regulated than other sources of energy, which leads to good things like reduced accident deaths, but also heavily increases cost and time to build.


do you have a source for the >10x? because that was my assumption as well, but after reading through [0-3] i'm pretty amazed how cheap solar and wind have become over the last years.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source [1] https://www.businessinsider.fr/us/solar-power-cost-decrease-... [2] https://www.lazard.com/perspective/lcoe2019/


The average price I paid for electricity in Ontario over a couple years vs. the average of a number of sources I found for cost of electricity across Germany. I don't have any links saved, but yeah it was like ~0.05 CAD vs 0.55 CAD per kWh iirc.

You're right that solar has become very price competitive. We're pushing that at Tesla & I do think as the current regulatory environment around nuclear continues to stay roughly the same, solar will be much cheaper in the coming decade.

It should be noted that subsidies, regulatory fees, and economies of scale play a MUCH larger role in the LCOE of energy sources today than the fundamental physics, efficiency, material costs etc do.

Therefore it is wiser to look at the options from a first principles perspective and consider the potential costs of sources after equally large effort is put into scaling and optimization, and ignoring political factors. When you analyze the options in this way, nuclear wins every single time.


Nuclear is possibly cheaper if your power plant was gifted to you by the Nuclear Fairy. If you have to pay to have it built, and then service the debt, not so much.


They're extremely cheap to build by LCOE if you take away the extra regulatatory fees. Fission has several orders of magnitude less levelized material throughput per unit power than any other source of electricity.

If the world got to the point where corporations could successfully scale up mass production of reactors, this could drop by a further order or two of magnitude.


Regulatory fees? Nonsense. You mean cost of work required by regulation? Tell me how we make NPPs safe without regulation, or how we find sufficiently omniscient Regulator Philosopher Kings who can tell the necessary from unnecessary regulations beforehand.


Most of the cost of a MWh of nuclear comes from the cost of capital (interests). [1] Put differently, if capital is backed by the state, that the $/MWh could be a _lot_ less than it is.

1. https://imgur.com/a/4mAlUbO


This also seems to be a problem because the US seems to have gotten much worse at building fixed structures (bridges, buildints &c.) over the last 100 year.

Some of that cost is probably due to better workplace safety, but some of that cost has come in the past 40 years, and I don't feel like OSHA has tightened the screws that much in the psat 40 years.


Not only the US. The Flamanville EPR has suffered increased costs because the welders that actually learned how to do nuclear-level welds had retired by the time someone decided to build a new nuclear reactor after Chernobyl. Additionally, the foundries that build a key part of the nuclear core (I belive it’s called a chaudron in French, but it’s basically a big metal boiler) were not as good as they were, because they had to actually remake it twice.

It is horrifying but we lost a technological capacity.

Here’s a good source in French on that subject: https://www.economie.gouv.fr/rapport-epr-flamanville#


It's less that we've lost a technological capacity, and more than we are no longer leveraging economies of scale. France and the US built a lot of nuclear power plants in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (well, mostly just France in the 1980s). Nuclear power plants often require specialized parts that aren't found in any other industry. That means when one-off plants are built an entire portion of the supply chain needs to be rebuilt, but when a serial run of plants are constructed (as was done in France) overhead costs of setting up the supply chain are spread out across all plants.


I think you may have missed the punchline in the story of the defective castings for the Flamanville reactor pressure vessel: the foundry responsible were exactly as good as they used to be, their previous castings going back decades and in use at existing nuclear power plants had similar defects, and they'd just managed to cover it up for all that time. I suspect the same might be true of some of the welding on the existing nuclear fleet too; they've definitely discovered some welding defects.


Things are much cheaper when someone subsidizes them. If the state funds nuclear at below the rate the market would give, that's a subsidy. It could mean, for example, that the state is taking on financial risk that would otherwise have been accounted for in higher interest rates.


This is not a subsidy but a loan.

If the state wants to stay out of it, but only has to say: "we are going to be using nuclear power for the next 40 years", and the interests will naturally go down because the investment is safer, and so everybody would pay less.

One would think that the state backing (either politically or financially) investment in infrastructure would make sense, since it benefits everyone.


It's a subsidy, because the interest on the loan is below what the market would charge.

Requiring use of nuclear even if it becomes noncompetitive is also a subsidy.

What's happening in both cases is that risk is being moved from the investor to the public. Privatize profits, socialize risk. It's the nuclear story as old as time.


I cannot stress this enough - we have people allergic to direct development paid for by the state because "it's socialist".

Instead we invent all kinds of stupid ways of financing power plants, such a guaranteed electricity price for 50 years ahead, guaranteed profits to attract 'free market investors' for a project thats specified, sited and planned by the government and where all risk is born by the government. Ao then, instead of 0.25% interest we get fianance at 3-5% interest.


Last I checked, 30 years treasuries were in the neighborhood of 1.5%, and not 0.25%.

More importantly, the reason all those stupid ways are employed is that then the private companies running it have incentive to keep the costs down. Just compare it with recent California's high speed rail project, which was direct development paid for by the state, like you suggest. The most recent cost estimate was $100B, or $250M per mile.


Also because it's economically inefficient and fertile ground for rent seeking parasites.


Note that cost would also include getting rid of the nuclear waste, which AFAIK is still not a solved problem. E.g. you could send the waste via rockets to thes sun, but that would be very costly ;-) The problem with the statistics is also that we cannot rely on averages here. E.g. one big accident might cause huge environmental issues. Estimating accurately how likely that is seems difficult to impossible


Regarding nuclear waste: first off, the amount of nuclear waste generated today is drastically less than in the past. During WWII and the Cold War era the methods for processing nukes was extremely crude, resulting in an embarrassing amount of waste, which we are still dealing with today. Today, the amount of waste is small fraction of that. Second, the waste problem has been solved by vitrification. Vitrification takes nuclear waste (in liquid or solid form) and blends it with molten glass in a high-strength steel casing. When it cools, it becomes solidified. Then it can be stored in a remote location. Vitrified nuclear waste poses no acute danger to humans and IMHO is much preferred to the damaging effects of fossil fuels which include both harmful pollutants (Particulate Matter, NOx, Ozone, etc.) and dramatic acceleration of climate change.


Firstly, it's not really waste. Only a fraction of useful energy has been extracted & there is a lot of useful elements mixed in due to all the transmutations and fision going on. There are techniques to reprocess used nuckear fuel into more fuel and other useful substances but there is often no political will & a lot of noise from people protesting agains anything nuclear that prevents used up fuel from being properly reused.


This is the first time I have seen nuclear described as more expensive. My understanding was that it was several times cheaper than coal. I could be totally wrong of course.


That's because its a bit of a bait and switch. When people pull that out, it's about keeping existing plants running- extending them to run for 60+ years. That's pretty cheap, since the cost of fuel is tiny and you just need to pay for the ~1000 people onsite. The issue there is risk- you can't just open up all the valves to check how worn out they are, or if all the computers still have nice transistors and clean relays. You can do some basic stuff like looking for cracks, but the system is ancient. Who knows if that is okay or not.

Then, if you talk about new construction, the issue is cost but the conversation is entirely about risk. There's very, very little danger even for many decades. Cost is another matter. The best estimates are that nuclear costs as much as the most expensive other technologies to build, but the actual end figure has just gotten higher and higher over time. Manufacturing is not what it used to be and these huge plants have been outpaced by smaller plants and different technologies.


That’s just part of the story, annual nuclear refueling is also surprisingly expensive. The raw material is cheap, but you need to refine it to reactor grade, creating fuel rods, and only use ~6% of it before replacing the rods. So on net it ends up being quite costly before considering long term storage. You also need to shutdown the reactor for refueling. Other costs like maintenance starts to really add up over time. Similarly, reactors are small but nuclear power plants take up a lot of land for security, staff, etc.

It’s really a combination of several factors that’s keeping Nuclear so expensive in every country around the world not just the US.


Also the nuclear waste problem. Nuclear reprocessing looks nice on paper, but the technical implementation is problematic, it's chemistry but in a radioactive environment. If something catches on fire there's problems.


France has successfully processed 23,000 tons of spent fuel, or 14 years worth. With zero incidents. In fact it works so well, they process other countries' spent fuel, too.

https://www.heritage.org/environment/commentary/recycling-nu...


Spent-fuel processing isn't sufficient. After ~50 years with running nuclear plants France doesn't have any long-term waste disposal facility, and is actively searching a solution.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meuse/Haute_Marne_Underground_...


They have also very successfully "outsourced" part of the reprocessing to eastern Europe… there have been documented reports of storage in huge open vats of fuel officially sent for reprocessing.


That article shows the issue. “The entire process adds about 6 percent in costs for the French.”

Reprocessing is simply not cost effective due to how cheap reactor grade Uranium is.


So you are saying the reason a huge problem exists is because money? Hold the phone.


This is mostly just a problem in the minds of the general public.

Individual nuclear fuel rods get significantly less radioactive over time as short half life byproducts decay. Which makes both reprocessing and long term sequestration cheaper. Storing them for ~100 years is relatively cheap and can be funded ahead of time, so punting the issue seems quite reasonable IMO.


Well, sure, we are lucky that the waste from nuclear reactors is primarily solid heavy metals rather than fly ash or anything else, so we can just plunk them into pools and forget about them for a while. But eventually it makes sense to do something with all that waste.


Reprocessing doesn’t actually get rid of the highly radioactive waste though. You have exactly as much Caesium-137 and all the other nasty fission products before and after reprocessing, all it does is separate the waste you need to store from the useful fuel while contaminating all your reprocessing equipment. As we have plenty of fuel so that not particularly valuable.


What nuclear waste problem?

"Nuclear waste generally is over 90% uranium. Thus, the spent fuel (waste) still contains 90% usable fuel! It can be chemically processed and placed in other reactors to close the fuel cycle. A closed fuel cycle means much less nuclear waste and much more energy extracted from the raw ore. Additionally, this process allows you to convert your waste into chemical forms that are totally immobilized. France currently recycles their spent fuel. They put the remaining good nuclear fuel back in their reactors in the form of MOX fuel and immobilize the remaining waste in vitrified borosilicate glass.

The US had a recycling program featuring the use of advanced fast reactors (which have not been deployed on any major scale yet) that was shut down because it created Plutonium, which could be used to make a nuclear weapon. Were some plutonium diverted in the recycling process, a non-nuclear entity could be one step close to building a bomb. However, under programs such as the (now stalled) GNEP [wikipedia], where only countries who already have nuclear weapons recycle, proliferation-free waste recycling can exist. Since the many of the largest energy users are already nuclear weapons states, a massive expansion of nuclear could be done there with no additional proliferation concerns whatsoever.

If all the electricity use of the USA was distributed evenly among its population, and all of it came from nuclear power, then the amount of nuclear waste each person would generate per year would be 39.5 grams. That’s the weight of seven U. S. quarters of waste, per year! A detailed description of this result can be found here. If we got all our electricity from coal and natural gas, expect to have over 10,000 kilograms of CO2/yr attributed to each person, not to mention other poisonous emissions directly to the biosphere (based on EIA emissions data).

If you want raw numbers: in 2018, there were just over 80,000 metric tonnes of high-level waste in the USA. Between 1971 and 2018, nuclear reactors in the USA generated 3000 GW-years of electricity to make this waste.

For comparison, in 2007 alone the US burned 948,000,000 metric tonnes of coal. This means that coal plants made 32 times more waste every single day than the US nuclear fleet has made in the past 45 years! Granted, coal made a higher fraction of the country’s electricity, but the numbers are still crazy impressive for nuclear."

Source: https://whatisnuclear.com/waste.html

---

Interesting: "2018 Nobel Prize for Physics-winner Gérard Mourou has proposed using Chirped pulse amplification to generate high-energy and low-duration laser pulses to transmute highly radioactive material (contained in a target) to significantly reduce its half-life, from thousands of years to only a few minutes."

---

Aaaand then I have not yet mentioned fusion reactors... Just check it out here: https://www.iter.org/sci/Fusion


There will be no useful fusion power produced on Earth in this century, at least in a Tokamak.

Tokamak fusion is a jobs program for high neutron flux physicists, to maintain a population to draw on for weapons work. It does not need to produce other results.


The first part is very likely wrong.

Fusion won’t be a major grid player in this century and by extension may be “too late” for meaningful climate change. However, we may be more fucked than people think. Seasonal energy storage (10^14 Wh scale) has no solutions. Where are the low carbon alternatives to base load power production?

The second part is entirely wrong. That only applies to IEF programs in the US. NIF is the weapons program. Most of the money going into fusion energy research is to say “at least we tried” when the energy crisis causes a societal collapse.


There is zero need for seasonal storage. Solar is insanely cheap, just build excess capacity. If on average 50% of annual solar generation was wasted, that bumps it up to ~4c/kWh. Assuming 40% of your energy needs comes from battery‘s that adds 10c/kWh * 40%. So your total 24/7 365 grid energy including peaking power averages to just 8c/kWh which is vastly less than nuclear.

Further that’s optimistic from nuclear’s perspective, hydro and wind power significantly reduce the needs for battery storage.


You seem to be saying that all that is needed to conceal weapons-targeted budgeting from you is to label it "EIF"?


Sorry I should have said “ICF”: inertial confinement fusion. IEC is inertial electrostatic confinement. It’s a confusing set of acronyms that are easy to fumble.

NIF has always been a weapons project. It was made to step around test ban treaties. That’s how it was bankrolled. It’s time on energy research is up and its current primary objective is to keep a team of nuclear weapons experts sharp. The next largest ICF machine is tiny by comparison. I don’t generalize “all ICF machines”, but NIF is the representative of the technology, similar to W7-X for stellarators and ITER for tokamaks.


What is "quite costly", compared to wha? The statement is so vague its not informative - how much is it actually?

It's cheaper than millions of tons of coal needed to produce an equivalent amount of energy, or any other fossil fuel. Only renewables have lower running costs.

Nuclear is not expensive in Russia , France or China


If Uranium fuel rods where the only cost, nuclear would be ~50% as expensive as direct Solar in the US. Unfortunately, it represents 10% of of nuclear’s overall costs per kWh in the US. So compared to the perception or competing energy sources, refueling is surprisingly expensive.

With current US nuclear subsides it’s less expensive for power companies to use unsubsidized solar power and lithium batteries than build Nuclear. That’s not a question of which is more green, just basic economics.

PS: Numbers from a very pro nuclear article: https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-aspec...


A useful term to search the web for related to this is 'LCOE' - an acronym for 'levelized cost of energy'.

It's essentially the same notion as 'total cost of ownership' in IT, but in the domain of energy generation.


You haven't read much from a particular mindset then.

They tend to evaluate nuclear waste storage as pretty much an eternal cost.


> Do we stress about the risks nuclear power far out of proportion to how safe it is? Yes. Even accounting for the worst accidents, it kills a very low number of people per TWh.

That statement is true, but you are overlooking that fact that the reason nuclear power kills so few people is because we focus so much on the risks.


Why are containment and cost frequently seen as constants while the solar + battery solutions are frequently argued as the only practical solution as long as we keep funding the tech?

I have seen very few comments (if any) on HN that are critical of nuclear and offer thoughtful solutions on how to bring the cost down.


This death per TWh calculation is naive. In reality modeling and averages are not enough here.

If can tell a coal plant kills X people per year, then I can pretty safely deduce it will kill somewhere between 0.9X and 1.1X people next year. (Made up numbers, but the point holds)

For nuclear, we can easily estimate with the same models the damage. One miscalculation, or one disastrous outcome can cause 50000 deaths, or turn the entirety of New York City to radiated ground that has to be avoided for decades.

As long as the extrapolations for nuclear are prone to extreme outcomes, nuclear is more unpredictable and therefore has more danger potential. This is why small nuclear reactors which fail independently are the way to turn nuclear plants into common energy source. They can reduce our fragility to extreme Chernobyl like outcomes.


> As long as the extrapolations for nuclear are prone to extreme outcomes

The extrapolations for coal are prone to very extreme outcomes, believe me. :-)

> nuclear is more unpredictable

Citation needed, I think. The impact of coal on the climate and human health is still an open question, and given the scale of its use, a small change in our estimation of impact yields very large changes down the line.

I can see arguing that a "safety factor" should be baked into calculations based on how confident we are in the models. If you can say X +/- 50%, maybe we should just assume it's 2X, just to be safe (or whatever), but iff you can say X +/- 2%, X seems like a pretty good baseline.

However, I think you greatly underestimate the uncertainty of fossil fuels , and greatly overestimate the uncertainty of the safety of nuclear power. I mean....how exactly would a nuclear power plant cause 50k deaths? Or irradiate New York City? Obviously no nuclear power plants (or any other...) are being built in the middle of Manhattan.


But in the middle, but there closest nuclear plant to Manhattan is 40 miles away. And that’s in a world where everyone avoids nuclear plants like the plague.


the price of protecting many small nuclear reactors against say aeroplanes will rise per watt.

I certainly agree with death per TWh calculations being naive, but for a different reason: ethics trumps metrics.

If I agree to climb a roof and maintain some solar panels in exchange for money, I am risking my own life and limb. A child 100 years from now will not fall off in my place.

If you agree to work in a nuclear reactor today, in theory a child in the future could get cancer from a mishap today.

Put differently: even if eating 20 grams of human babies cured AIDS, and hence many lives could be saved in exchange for one, does not justify the trade. We expect informed consent of all parties involved.


How do you quantify the life and healthcost of the mining, “recycling”, and disposal of the PV and the battery?

PV and batteries are expected to last only three decades or a decade+, respectively.

Unlike a centralized power source, decentralized power has all of the downsides that we have today with consumer garbage. Disposal is left to the consumer, which means it’s just going into landfills.

Ethics is a strawman.


As long as the mining activity was by informed consent, i.e. no slavery explicit nor implicit, any life and healthcost of mining, recycling and disposal is incurred with informed consent...


The effects of mining and disposal don’t disappear after one generation, and solar and wind is not a solution that works for all climates and regions.

The multi-generational ethical problems you’ve constructed apply to oil; gas; solar; windmills; nuclear.

To put it another way: There is no free lunch, but some sources like gas and oil must be reduced. Of that there is no doubt.

The unethical choice is to outright disregard other proven solutions because of unfounded fear and doubt, and leave an irreversible disaster for the next generation.


sorting isotopes takes a lot more energy than sorting chemicals


Even if we completely put aside the discussion about safety, storage of the nuclear waste etc., the killer argument is the price. There are no current designs available that would allow nuclear compete with renewables. On top of that, nuclear power plants are rather slow to switch output levels, so are not a good companion to the renewable producers. Instead we should use gas for filling the gaps in the renewable production. Gas plants are rather quick to change power output and as long as we drill for oil, gas often gets even burned on site as there is not enough demand. And of course we should grow renewable sources strongly.


Exactly, its a bit like discussing systemd in that way. I suspect small modular nuclear reactors will find their niche for islands etc., but renewables + batteries will win due to cost reasons.


Okay you win, systemd as nuclear power is pretty epic. :-)

That said, there is something about nuclear power that is puzzling. Sure it has a lot of fearmongering but it is very well supported by folks who create these sorts of false narratives.

Kind of like conspiracy theories to me, how to they continue to exist when the narrative is clearly incorrect in the presence of all the facts?

I had a professor at USC who was teaching Nuclear Engineering and he was solidly convinced that these "whisper campaigns" were funded by the big oil companies. His thesis was that big oil couldn't survive if electricity became so cheap that the things we do with oil now could be done more cost effectively with electricity.

It is too bad he didn't live to see the revolution in PV solar power. Clearly the geopolitical aspects of cheap solar is changing the landscape, and yet solar didn't seem to get the same treatment as nuclear.

If I have learned only one thing in my life it is that if you can keep the debate emotional (fear, hate, anger) then you can prevent the incursion of unpleasant facts by shutting down the listener's ability to reason. This was not a fun thing to learn.


There are lots of good reasons why mega-projects fail or under-perform that nuclear is hardly immune to. In fact the complexity, scale and grandeur of nuclear may make it particularly susceptible.


To me the bummer of nuclear power is how much advocates try to underestimate the cost of handling the waste for decades and the potential risks. I think if you really think we need to go full speed ahead with nuclear power you need to ask how close a waste deposit to your home are you comfortable with? Often times these things just get transported to supposedly remote places which just mean a more vulnerable community may be exposed to the long term risks.


Modern nuclear power plants use waste from previous generation nuclear power plants as their fuel.


No, they don't, in most cases. And when they do (MOX fuel in some thermal reactors) it's a net economic loss. MOX fuel is difficult to fabricate; the Pu used has negative value compared to just using fresh enriched uranium.


Doesn't that then make it easier to get to the bomb?


The limit to producing nukes now is mostly energy requirements. Nuclear chemistry is not a secret and anybody can go to school for it. The limitation is the massive energy requirements to actually purify the materials to such high grades. The Manhattan project used 10% of the US total electrical generation capacity.


So then yes, it would be easier


ikr, too cheap to meter!


The power grid is a complex beast. In Europe, as an example, the power grid is the subject to the regulations, political ambitions, restrictions and technological legacy of around 30 countries, the European Union, Commonwealth of Independent States, NATO, CSTO and probably a bunch of others as well. Getting everyone to play along amidst power-play, public opinion, financial concerns and so forth is a nightmare, and yet that is BEFORE the expected major impact from any major changes introduced in order to fight climate change.

So, in order to be able to do a large roll-out of nuclear power, you need to:

1) Find a location where building a plant is viable and from where you will be able to transmit the produced energy to it's indended destination.

2) Convince the public that the plant won't render their home uninhabitable.

3) Convince the public that the plant won't result in more environtal damage in their back yard compared to someone else's back yard.

4) Convince the authorities to give you a permits for new plants.

5) Convince the authorities that you're the right one to build it, because they WILL have an issue if you involve people seen as political opponents, say a business from another power block.

5) Convince someone that it's OK if you dig down depleted fuel in their back yard for 100,000 years.

6) Convince the authorities that that it's OK to dig down that depleted fuel in someones back yard for 100,000 years.

Now, if you fail any of those things, then your new shiny plant will most likely never be constructed. Even if you do make it, you still need to compete with solar/wind/storage to make ends meet, while a semi-monopoly sold by the state to private investors in the 90's is still sitting on the huge dam built in the 20's, and can churn out base power from it considerably cheaper.

After all, it's not their problem if your local power grid is to weak to handle all that energy being sent through the entire country through one single line built in the 50's. You should have thought of that beforce you decided to replace your coal plant with a nuclear one!

End result: the owner of the local grid gets the blame and everyone switches to solar because the government is trying to stimulate the market and no matter how inefficient and insufficient it may or may not be compared to your nuclear plant, a solar panel on the roof is preferable to a nuclear power plant for many, many people.

I'm sure there will be new nuclear plants built in the future too. Not many though -- the situation's too messed up for that.


> it kills a very low number of people per TWh.

I worked in energy for 5 years. Deaths per TWh was not a metric we measured. Deaths are not made acceptable because of energy production. The goal was zero. We did not reach that goal, but nobody ever said deaths would be OK if only the numbers went up.


Obviously zero deaths is a great target, yes. Obviously zero deaths is impossible. No energy production method causes zero deaths; even wind and solar have a death toll (eg, from workers falling off things, construction accidents, manufacturing processes, etc), and yes, at the scale we're talking about that adds up.

Everything causes deaths when you're talking about thousands of TWhs. At most you can minimise the deaths.

> Deaths are not made acceptable because of energy production.

Nor are they acceptable because of food production, and yet food production causes deaths. Fishing boats are famously dangerous places; even farms have a lot of hazards (chemicals, large animals, heavy machinery). We could say the same about minerals, lumber (a friend of mine lost her father at a young age; he worked in forestry and a tree came down the wrong way), and more. And yet, we need all these things.

> Deaths per TWh was not a metric we measured. [...] nobody ever said deaths would be OK if only the numbers went up.

I don't doubt it. That is, after all, how we ended up in this mess.

Japan is currently building a large fleet of coal fired power plants (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/03/climate/japan-coal-fukush...). Those plants will kill a horrifying number of people; many hundreds of times more than died from the Fukushima disaster.

That seems fairly clearly like the sort of decision you'd made if you weren't thinking about the obvious results.


The buried lede from that article:

> But Japan relies on coal for more than a third of its power generation needs. And while older coal plants will start retiring, eventually reducing overall coal dependency, the country still expects to meet more than a quarter of its electricity needs from coal in 2030.

So this decade Japan's reliance on coal power will roughly drop from 33% to 25%. To provide even more context, Japan's energy consumption has been falling since before the 2011 disaster:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Japan_energy_and_GDP.svg


> Japan's energy consumption has been falling since before the 2011 disaster

That is really surprising. Can this be traced back to a cause. Some industry that closed down or did appliances and lighting got that more efficient?


It's worth pointing out that the trend is seen not just in Japan but in other major developed economies too:

https://d33wubrfki0l68.cloudfront.net/0784d9d63336606d4ca025...

The usual explanation given is that these countries have outsourced their energy-intensive industries to other countries that have a corresponding increase in energy use, but there is reason to be optimistic even when factoring in "imported emissions" of CO2, in the UK, for example:

"While UK carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions peaked in 1972, once we consider imported emissions – such as when the UK imports products that are manufactured abroad – UK emissions peaked in 2007."[0]

Of course, peaking emissions isn't the same as peaking energy usage, but it does assuage some of the concerns about outsourcing our manufacturing to countries with "dirtier" energy like China.

[0] https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/uksectoracco...


> Deaths are not made acceptable because of energy production.

What? Of course they are. Just like deaths are made acceptable by anything else people need.


> No; the issue with nuclear is cost.

Is it though? It seems countries are quite willing to build new nuclear power plants, but nobody wants them in their backyard.


> Does that mean nuclear is just a totally great idea? No; the issue with nuclear is cost. Historically it has been quite expensive, but subsidised in opaque ways. In a zero carbon world, it might make sense for baseline generation even if it's expensive; in the world we live in it needs to compete on price. Can it?

We are still using basically 1960 tech, that's why its expensive. As Elon Musk pointed out often, what matters is pace of innovation.

Nuclear has a pace of innovation that is almost inperceptable. The reasons are that its almost impossible for a startup to do anything, without 10s of millions or better 100s you don't even have to start. The existing reactors last for 60-100 years, so if the country built some in the 1970-1980, it might be enough for multible generations.

You don't have a large industry that can substain itself on building reactors. Industry basically makes money with the fuel dilivery, but those companies have no insentive to innovate on the reactor.

You can not even build a prototype or experimete. A university level research reactor is not enough to validate a real reactor. And the only other thing is a full commercial reactor.

This means companies are forced to develop everything on paper, long before they even get some uranium to play with. That is an insnaly difficult way to build anything, compare that to SpaceX Starship development.

I am a huge fan of nuclear, and we really did have the technology in the 1970 to basically solve climate change as France basically showed. I believe one 'gigafactory' that mass produces small or medium reactors and a appropritae fuel cycle would be by far the cheapest long term solution. Sadly I see no way how we can get to that situation, a single sighting project takes many, many years.

Also, the concept of 'baseload' is dead. If you only produce when renewables are not needed you are in a horrible market situation. Even if you wanted to be dynamic, current tech can't be. This is not an issue with nuclear in general, but the current generation. A load following nuclear reactor is possible, but even that will simply lead to an underutilized resource.

That is why companies like Moltex Energy are designing their reactor more like CSP installation. Where the nuclear reactor has a 'heat-battery' and multible CCGT so that when there is money to be made, you actually triple the output of the reactor for when prices are high. It also leads to the nuclear part of the investment being only like 30% and the rest is known cost, but of course it requries a pretty large scale of project to work.

All in all, I hope the best for nuclear, it would have been the right solution, but its unfortunate history and properties just didn't fit in socity correctly for many reasons. I hope by the end of the decade we have some advanced nuclear, but unfortunatly I now beleive the majority of 'green' energy will have to come from gathering up wind and solar power on massive scale, plus Terrafactories worth of battery production with some gas backup plants.


The problem with nuclear is that people are afraid of it. If we had spent the last 40 years trying to make it cheaper instead of trying to prevent accidents, it wouldn't be so expensive.


True, but this isn't exactly irrational. Nuclear only has such a good safety record because we have been so careful with it. Nobody seriously thinks "move fast and break things" nuclear reactors are a good idea.


Its about time a lot of nuclear power plans will reach their life-expancy. I wanna see how countries like France, Japan, Germany, Russia, China are going to deal with that.

Fukushima was not a good example of “how to treat reports of damaged facility”. Goverment knew and did nothing.

Newer nuclear reactors are safe, but older designs are a ticking time bombs.


Not a single person has died directly of radiation from the Fukushima accident. That's in the context of a tsunami wave that has directly killed large number of people by impact. So in general, Fukushima should be a very good example for promotion of nuclear power.


However the Fukushima cleanup has been very expensive (hundreds of billions of US dollars). If you factor in the cost of accidents like Fukushima then nuclear becomes pretty uncompetitive cost wise.


> Not a single person has died directly of radiation from the Fukushima accident.

This claim has been extensively debunked in Hacker News yet.


Is Wikipedia currently wrong on this with the sources listed there?

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

    Deaths 
    0 from radiation,[3] 
    2,202 from evacuation,[4]

    Non-fatal injuries 
    37 with physical injuries,[5]
    2 workers taken to hospital with radiation burns[6][7]
"For evacuation, the estimated number of deaths during and immediately after transit range from 34 to "greater than 50".[12][17][18] The victims include hospital inpatients and elderly people at nursing facilities who died from causes such as hypothermia, deterioration of underlying medical problems, and dehydration.

For long-term displacement, many people (mostly sick and elderly) died at an increased rate[17] while in temporary housing and shelters. Degraded living conditions and separation from support networks[19] are likely contributing factors. As of 27 February 2017, the Fukushima prefecture government counted 2,129 "disaster-related deaths" in the prefecture."

While looking at the tsunami itself:

    Casualties 
    15,899 deaths,[2] +2 (Overseas),
    6,157 injured,[3]
    2,529 people missing


> Is wikipedia currently wrong on this...?

Aye


Well, do you have any data or sources?


They used to, and every major accident raised the demanded safety measures.


But then we'd have more accidents and people would be more inclined to ban it.

This isn't a rational numbers game; if a nuclear plant goes, the effects last for decades.

I mean compare it with transport; airplanes are safer than cars because there's just so much more training and oversight involved. But if there's a car crash, it gets (at best) a byline in a local newspaper. If there's an airplane crash, it's world news. In the US alone, 35-40 thousand people die in vehicle fatalities per year; internationally, according to https://www.who.int/gho/road_safety/mortality/en/, it's 1.35 MILLION. Death toll from planes is less than 1000 per year, worldwide (https://www.statista.com/statistics/263443/worldwide-air-tra...). Don't take this as fact because I just googled for a few seconds, but car accidents cause more than 1000 times as many deaths as planes.

But planes get all the media attention and all the legislation, training, safety requirements, development, etc.

I'm not sure if I'm making an actual point here, but the tl;dr is that people will not be rational about their opinion on nuclear safety vs other forms of energy.


Sometimes I wonder if this ingrained fear is the biggest long term cost of Hiroshima.


"the issue with nuclear is cost" the cost is the problem indeed, but the cost is something that can be lowered with sufficient amount of innovation - see how SpaceX managed to lower cost of sending satellites or people to the space.

Nuclear energy researches were stagnant for many, many years - anything "atomic" was considered to be "non-green", and green movements were fighting nuclear energy vigorously, as a result there were not much research done in this area - working on that was a dangerous career choice, people who did that were treated like Holocaust deniers, people who do researches on differences between races or try to cure homosexuality.

Another "success" of ecologist was that they've managed to scare people. As a result finding location for nuclear plant is very hard, there are protests, people do everything to stop building plants in the area, so there is huge cost associated with paying compensations.

Fun fact: in early '90 there was a plan to build nuclear plant in Poland, obviously it was heavily protested, Greenpeace and friends arrived, do their usual stuff like chaining to to whatever they could, etc. The project was abandoned (first government after fall of communism was reluctant to act heavy-handed), however, believe or not, 30 years later people leaving near the planned location still put on their houses "stop atom" banners. I would not believe that myself I hadn't seen them. So instead of having clean energy Poland keeps emitting CO2 (not that the amount is even comparable to Germany emission or other more developed countries, but still).

Cost is also a matter of scale. France, which relays on nuclear energy a lot, managed to make it feasible with a great effect for both economy and environment.


> Another "success" of ecologist was that they've managed to scare people.

And that saves lives and protects the economy of entire areas.

In 1974 somebody wanted to build a nuclear plant in Murcia Spain. Same BWR model as Fukushima. A few ecologists marched with home made banners, a famous actor protested, and the plan eventually was dismissed.

In 2011, just 37 years after, the same area chosen to hold a nuclear plant suffered a 5.1 earthquake that devastated the city. The idiots were trying to build a nuclear plant over a fault.

Sometimes, ecologists just are right. Things would be really different in Europe today without this heroes daring to say the things that nobody wanted to hear.


A magnitude 5.1 earthquake would not have done much to a GE Mark I BWR like the one in Fukushima - the 2011 magnitude 9 earthquake didn't damage the Fukushima Mark I. The tsunami did.

This is a bad kind of fearmongering.


Not a joke at all. Just the presence of a old nuclear plant in a place being hit by an earthquake would have created enough reasonable doubts to distroy the tourism in the area. Loses by 2% of the country GDP at least since them. Probably much more if we extend the bad publicity to adjacent Mediterranean coasts.

Tourism is like 14% of the Spanish GDP so raise your offer or go away with your nuclear crap. No matter how safe you claim that it is, would be still a lose.

This in the best case. With even minor damages in the plant, things would turn scarily expensive. Really fast.

So it is a mistake to think in terms of either nuclear or fossils. In real life either you have nuclear, or you have tourism plus fisheries plus agriculture plus wind turbines. You can not just say that you want to replace Silicon Valley with a nuclear plant; that would be political suicide.

Nuclear needs to use exclusively a lot of room, can damage huge areas if something goes wrong, and is only justified if there is not a better option. At this moment there are potentially dozens of alternative uses that are not only better economically but also much safer.


It's telling that the same argument didn't work in say, France, which has dozens of nuclear power plants (and a fuel reprocessing plant) on the coasts and yet continues having successful fisheries and tourism.

You're implying that Spain couldn't have done the same thing ? Why not ? Are they any less capable ? More sensitive to radiation ?


Maybe more smart?

Spain has the biggest fishing industry in EU and is the biggest producer of fish in the area. Period. France is not even close in terms of captures or people employed.

And the area where the plant was about to be raised exports tomatoes to all EU currently. There are kilometers of greenhouses in the countryside. Another activity totally incompatible with the presence of a maybe-cracking-maybe-not ancient nuclear plant.


A lots of greenhouses nearby ? Well, thats perfect - nuclear power plants produce a lot of heat that could be used fow greenhouse heating instead of being dumped via cooling towers/sea water thermal exchangers. Win-Win!


We have sun here, m4rtink. This is not Finland


Duh! I might indeed have been playing Factorio a bit too much recently. :P But hey, at least got that train based (including steam) nuclear power plant working. :P


Similar fear mongering resulted in Austria never completing their Zwentendorf nuclear powerplant. Instead they built a huge gas fired thernal plant & protest the Czech Temelin nuckear powerplant being completed, that resulted in many Czech dirty brown coal power plants being shut down. Really, a productive affair...


> "the issue with nuclear is cost" the cost is the problem indeed, but the cost is something that can be lowered with sufficient amount of innovation - see how SpaceX managed to lower cost of sending satellites or people to the space.

so, four nuclear disasters in 13 years? :)


The first working nuclear reactor was hastily cobbled together in a tennis court. It's literally just a critical mass of inexpensive magic rocks, a control system, and some way to remove the heat.

The only reason it costs so much is precisely because everyone is paranoid, so we demand expensive security systems and protocols. If the regulators got out of the way you could probably put one together for a few million dollars.


We could, but we shouldn't.

The fact that we can is probably the reason for the fears around the reactor. People don't fear the technical limitations of a well-build and well-managed safe reactor, and those can be built. But they fear the danger of the corruption and corner-cutting in some countries which is very difficult to constrain, which will lead to building an unsafe reactor.


And the consequences of building such a reactor.

At the height of the Chernobyl disaster, calculations were suggesting a vast swath of Europe could be rendered uninhabitable by humans for several generations in the melt-to-groundwater-detonation scenario. As it stands, an area of diameter slightly smaller than the length of Manhattan is still considered high-risk for permanent habitation.


Strong disagree. And the brushing off of large scale risks from current technology, fail-deadly nuclear is very irresponsible.

Nuclear has the possibility for point-scale accidents to render large areas permanently uninhabitable. Given the fallibility of human social organizations point scale accidents are guaranteed in all domains. Therefor using nuclear power is conceding areas will be rendered uninhabitable. As we saw with the Chernobyl near miss and since, these areas may be as large as a continent in the case the point scale accident is bad.

Note all of this changes if nuclear technology is fail-safe. Examples include the fusion-seeded fission model, and the candlestick reactor model. Technology here is severely underfunded in interest of fail-deadly technologies more likely to be implemented and yield profit in the short term, even if we’re running huge risks by adopting them.

In the era of Covid where we see how badly our social systems can fail, the hand wavy attitude toward nuclear is simply appalling.


>Nuclear has the possibility for point-scale accidents to render large areas permanently uninhabitable

I disagree with your point, but on a tangent, didn't US(and others) explode nuclear bombs in caves,deserts, space etc so maybe there are such desert areas where you can have nuclear plants where nobody would be affected.


Copying another comment of mine since you're making the exact same argument as a sibling comment:

Countries like the Netherlands that don't have the space for sufficient on-shore wind have to go to off-shore wind, which is actually more expensive than nuclear energy.

With nuclear we'd be making faster progress instead of fighting residents and nature preservation for every plot of land again and again, auctioning land leases for every few megawatts, and it all just taking forever (basically how the rollout is going in most countries right now). But in the end it's cheaper yeah! Just that we can take more than a decade to build a few plants and we'll still be faster than with only wind and solar (exception: if you're in a country with water and significant height differences, by all means choose that over nuclear). Let's first get CO2-neutral, which is an asap job, with any means not more expensive than off-shore wind (we're building that anyway so apparently anything cheaper will do) and then worry about how to get to a final, perfect state.


That does not compute. The netherlands needs about 40000 wind turbines to cover current needs. The Netherlands is about 40000 km2. So you need roughly 1 wind turbine per km2 for current needs which is completely doable. Of course we need more in the future, but there is plenty of space.

At the same time, building off-shore wind turbines is profitable today.

In contrast, nobody is going to invest in nuclear if nuclear has to compete at the same conditions as now hold for off-shore wind (which includes putting up a reserve now for when the wind turbine needs to be removed). And of course, people find wind turbines ugly, but nobody wants to live next to a nuclear power plant.


> it kills a very low number of people per TWh

This is a grossly naive and over-simplistic way to judge safety and efficacy. Yes, perhaps fewer people die in a major accidents, but then you've left a large swath of land unusable for hundreds or thousands of years. And the cost for managing the disasters is astronomical. In a place like Japan, they lose a not insignificant portion of landmass to an accident. While other forms of energy may overall cause more deaths, it's been distributed across everyone evenly. And apparently this is considered an better outcome, because that is precisely the policy we are taking with Covid. I'd make a bet that by the end of this pandemic, the amount of suffering and death caused by the lockdowns will be more than from Covid itself, when you consider the massive economic failure of small business, children in isolation for so long, depression, overdoses, suicide, domestic abuse, diseases not being diagnosed or treated, civil unrest, etc. It's considered a good policy to share the suffering across everyone to avoid a few directly attributable deaths of compromised individuals.

edit: I'd be curious if anyone was willing to refute my statement rather than downvote it. I strongly believe what I say but am a big supporter of critical thought and would love for someone to challenge my statement and give me a reason to think otherwise.


> they lose a not insignificant portion of landmass to an accident.

After a tsunami wave. That was the reason for losing large land mass and a lot of destruction and death. It would have largely been the same way with or without the nuclear plant there.


Which large parcel of land in Japan is unusable for hundreds of years ? I am not aware of any large area declared unusable that way.



Where does it say the evacuated areas are off limit for hundreds of years ?


After doing a bit of searching around, it looks like 20-40 years:

https://www.brainscape.com/blog/2015/06/how-long-take-to-rec....

So one of my assumptions was incorrect - but only about Fukushima. Chernobyl is estimated at 20,000 years. So it depends on the nature of the contaminaation.


I have no doubt that all advocates for nuclear would agree Chernobyl is not acceptable, and that Chernobyl can't happen in more modern reactor designs.

If Fukushima is the worst case (and newer designs may even avoid/prevent Fukushima style event entirely), I'd say the cost is acceptable. ~300 square km area that's affected is relatively small, given the grand scheme of things - it would be certainly much, much less impact than coal mining has on land use and pollution (by mining itself, not counting the effect of burning coal).

So if I have a magic wand, I'd happily remove all coal mining and power plants, and replace them all with nuclear power plants (though not necessarily put them on the same location), and I think humanity will be better off.

In the really long term, if/when there's enough energy storage solutions, I think we may not need much of nuclear power plants anymore. But I think we can not wait for that to be viable as the climate disaster is already on its way.


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