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Nuclear should be considered part of clean energy standard, White House says (arstechnica.com)
425 points by nixass 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 354 comments



I hope that the federal government can provide incentives to keep reactors running that would otherwise close prematurely.

5.1 gigawatts of American reactors are expected to retire this year: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=46436

It's a shame that the US is retiring working reactors while still burning fossil fuels for electricity. Reactors are far safer and cleaner than fossil electric generation. It's mostly the low price of natural gas that is driving these early retirements. Low gas prices have also retired a lot of coal usage -- which is good! -- but we'd make more climate progress if those low prices didn't also threaten nuclear generation.

Some states like New York already provided incentives to keep reactors running for climate reasons:

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=41534

Federal policy could be more comprehensive.


About Iowas Duane Arnold plant that is being closed:

"The Mark I containment was undersized in the original design; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Harold Denton estimated a 90% probability of explosive failure if the pressure containment system were ever needed in a severe accident.[18] This design flaw may have been the reason that the tsunami in 2011 led to explosions and fire in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.[19]" (Wikipedia)

It's likely that many old power plants are just not safe and too costly to operate reliably.


Yes but their safety could be improved, new containment system can be built etc. Governments should step up and change the incentives to keep the good plants in operation. Being unprofitable is not a good reason to decommission a nuclear plant.

> DAEC's operation helps avoid the emission of nearly 4 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is the equivalent of taking almost 800,000 cars off the road


There are a lot of advantages to designing a better nuclear plant to be built than to retrofit one that is designed wrong from the beginning


Are retrofits and new construction equally possible in today's regulatory and media environments?


The NRC and DOE levy so much regulation, I really can’t imagine how anyone can make a profit with any changes.


The follow-on question is why aren't these plants retrofitted to be secure? I'd somewhat naively expect that its simpler to upgrade an existing plant than permit a new plant in.a separate location.


Each plant is unique, and not perfectly understood. Often the people that did understand it have forgotten, died, moved on, etc.

Understanding, improving, testing, and certification of a plan to protect against the huge risks involved is expensive and often in practice timelines and budgets often go significantly over.

There's numerous MUCH newer designs that: are much smaller, much easier to scale, absolutely identical, well understood, robust in the face of failure, and don't even need operators. Additionally since they are identical they get economies of scale and only need a finite number of experts on hand, not a group of them per site. You literally need a flat site, water, and electrical hookups. If you don't provide enough water for cooling they shut down. After their useful service life you put them back on a train car and ask for a replacement.

Some of these projects are ready to deliver, but the early customers have been cancelling. Bill Gates funded a project, and there's several around.


To be clear, none of the new designs have been certified in the US by the NRC


Couple that with outages being so expensive. Each day offline is millions in lost revenue.


Duane Arnold plant is being replaced with solar panels and battery storage:

https://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/business/duane-arnol...


A 615-megawatt facility coupled with 60 megawatts seems a bit low on the storage side. The more common approach I have seen with solar panels is 75% capacity for about 3-4 hours running time.

It should be quite clear that neither solution are even close to enough power to bridge the gap and require additional energy in the form of fossil fuels. It will be less fossil fuels than if the nuclear plant was exclusively replaced with fossil fuels, but it will be more fossil fuels than before and it will be adding to global warming in a time where the planet can't take more.


It’s possible that it would be more expensive to upgrade than to replace in many cases.

While I support expanding nuclear power capabilities in general, a straightforward rule like “don’t decommission old plants as long as fossil fuels are still being used” seems dangerous and irresponsible.


The plants have been retrofitted to be secure/safe. The retrofits can cost $100+ million and do not make much sense if the power plants are losing money.


I couldn't agree more. Retiring reactors before a green replacement is available has been a total disaster for Germany. To be honest, I'm pretty agnostic as to what the replacement is, but at least keep them going until it's available.


I would call it unwise, but there has been no disaster. Electricity production through fossil fuels went down, renewables reached 50% last year while Germany still has one of the most stable electricity network worldwide:

https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/38...


50% of german electric energy production is from high availability sources (nuclear+fossil fuels) and Germany's network is connected to the continental network, so of course the network is stable. It will be hard to get these sources down and maintain that stability. Maybe it can be done with energy storage, but so far it is not built.


Those fears have been discussed endlessly. Just look at the graph I posted to see the change in the last years that is still continuing.

Availability has nothing to do with what you are talking about (it’s much higher for photovoltaics anyway). Out of the 49.5% non-renewables only gas which makes up 12.5 percent of electricity can really be used to follow demand. Coal and nuclear are too slow for that.

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

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

https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/de/presse-und-medien/news/2020...


By availability I meant fraction of time that it is available for power generation. This is closer to technical term "capacity factor", which is higher for nuclear energy than for PV energy, so my point stands.

Modern nuclear plants can do load following and they do so in France and in Germany. So why is "nuclear too slow"?


Total pollution is the only factor that matters. Intermittency is irrelevant for reducing CO2 in the atmosphere and fighting climate change.

Intermittency is mostly relevant for 100% zero carbon energy which is a goal that is incredibly far away. At least another 10 years before we even think about it and then another 10 years to do it.


Here in nearby Sweden we are currently giving subsidizes to oil and gas in order to act as "reserve" energy, ie stability. Those fossil fueled plants get paid first once just to keep the engines running, the fuel tanks full and employees ready, and then they get paid a second time if demand start to rise and energy is actually produced.

I suspect Germany does the same thing, but it would be interesting to hear if my guess is correct.

Sweden is also currently investing heavily in connecting power lines with nearby countries in order to increase the capacity to buy energy with countries that produce energy through fossil fuels when needed.


it's basically what happens when decisions are made only based on ratings to get you through the next 4 years, instead of long term strategy.


> has been a total disaster for Germany.

What do you define as 'a total disaster'? Coal fuel consumption is down enormously, supplanted by renewables and a tiny bit of gas generation growth.


While non-hydroelectric renewables have gone up, fossil fuel usage remains largely flat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Germany#/media/File:...

Germany's CO2 intensity of electricity isn't actually very good. It's worse than the UK, and 7 times more than France.


Your use of that graph is misleading. It's not a graph of CO2 emissions.


The above comment didn't say CO2 emissions, it said that coal use is "down enormously" with a "tiny bit of gas generation growth". The reality is that overall fossil fuel use remains largely the same, coal reductions were matched by natural gas increases.

Likewise, CO2 reductions aren't very large, and is still above average for EU member states: https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/daviz/co2-emission-i...


if we are to come out the other side of this climate emergency we must keep our reactors online. the purity testing of what do we do with the waste is not helpful critique when we are still reliant on coal


The ignorance of the externalities of fossil fuels and a bipolar hyper focus on those of nuclear energy is mind boggling at this point.

I’m all for developing renewables, but we cannot abandon the one good technology we have for generating massive amounts of energy our base loads demand without polluting our air.


Indeed that is the strangest thing. By _any_ metric coal is far worse. Even the metric "amount of radioactive material that ended up in the atmosphere per watt of energy." (Coal contains trace amounts of radioactive material, that gets spread when burned).

The fact of the matter is, that we can dump all our waste on a couple of football fields worth of space. Or even better: store it in a cave somewhere deep and dark and away from rivers.


> Even the metric "amount of radioactive material that ended up in the atmosphere per watt of energy."

My old man worked at TMI. We moved to a new house and one day he set off the radiation monitors going into work. Turns out we had a radon problem. This part of PA isn't exactly coal country, but close enough.

My bro was an auxiliary operator at TMI until a few months ago... shut down.


Please define you acronyms. What is TMI and PA?


Three mile island, Pennsylvania


I've always said that if coal's waste was conveniently in solid form instead of destroying the entire planet's ability to host mammalian life, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

It's the pinnacle of "perfect is the enemy of good."


I'm going to sound tinfoil-y, but coal doesn't have dual strategic purposes which made it in the Soviet Union's best interests to focus opposition on it. Look into what happened to funding for the CND in Britain after 1991.


Pay spaceX to shoot it into the sun, why not?


From Earth, it is much easier to eject something from the solar system than to get it to fall into the sun by the way.

Well, not just Earth but from almost everywhere in the solar system (assuming being on an almost circular orbit).


You'd need to fire the rocket to slow down sufficiently to fall into the sun right?

Just imagining the solar system as a bowling ball at the center of a trampoline surrounded by fast moving billiard balls. The problem is probably the speed the earth is moving at, plus the speed we had to get the rocket up to, to get it off earth.


> You'd need to fire the rocket to slow down sufficiently to fall into the sun right?

Yes, which is around 30 km/s of delta-v, as compared with only 12 km/s delta-v to boost an object from Earth's orbit (assuming you launch it in the same direction that Earth is traveling) to escape velocity from the solar system.


As long as you're sure it'll actually go into space and not just explode in the upper atmosphere.


Too dangerous to send up in a rocket, especially considering we can reprocess and concentrate our nuclear waste into a absolutely tiny amount and bury it so far down that it will never reach the surface of the earth ever again. But of course without a large stable nuclear industry there is no demand/profit to be made from nuclear reprocessing when you can't get the materials to reprocess long term. We also have to deal with a bunch of old and outdated rules that give hard no's to certain reprocessing technology which was decided before we understood how most if it even worked.


Given unlimited money, this might be reasonable, but it's worth noting that the delta-V requirements for shooting something into the Sun are pretty astronomically (pun intended) high.


Why not? Because the environmental cost of a failed launch is massive. It's radioactive roulette. Where it lands... Depends on which way the wind is blowing.


You people are atrocious pedants.


This is probably one of those hacker news comments where it sounds good for 1 second then when you stop to think about it it falls apart, bu here goes.

throw the waste in a bucket strong enough to survive hitting earth at terminal velocitty. place bucket in spacex falcon9 rocket. launch rocket into orbit with escape velocity. watch nuclear waste vanish into vacuum of space forever. if crash, collect bucket and restart with new rocket.

financially costly? yes. solves the 'what about in 5000 years when someone opens it or it leaks?' questions, yes.


I'm torn on which one second response is best. Contenders are:

1. Reprocessing is a better technological solution.

2. That waste is much safer in it's current location in a dry cask in the back lot behind a power plant than it would be on even the safest rocket.

3. Even if we punt waste disposal or reprocessing to future generations, we are still better off stacking waste in dry casks in the back lot behind power plants than burning coal.


4. “Actually, giving up nuclear and politics on Earth and using said rockets to start building space habitat on L2, L4, L5, Moon surface and so on and do life and society and nuclear up there makes far more sense”


The standard answer is "there's too much of a risk that an explosion would spread nuclear waste through the atmosphere". These days I'm not sure if it's true -- we've learned a lot about building containers which are safe even during rapid unscheduled disassemblies, and used them e.g. when sending nuclear powered rovers to Mars -- but that's the usual concern.


I mean we’re wishing for a bucket that can survive terminal velocity impact with the earth and is yet light enough to ride a rocket, why not add to that wish that it could survive explosion from said rocket?


I think there’s a few orders of magnitude difference in the amount of radioactive material in an RTG in a probe bounds for Mars, and the total radioactive daughter particle output of a nuclear reactor.


Another crazy idea would be to put nuclear reactors themselves in orbit, and then beam the energy down to the surface. Space is already pretty thoroughly radioactive, so a meltdown goes from "ZOMG WE'RE GONNA GROW EXTRA ARMS AND DIE OF CANCER" to "meh, just another Tuesday".


We already have that nuclear reactor beaming energy down for us to collect.


It's just too bad the planet keeps getting in the way.


And sometimes the moon.


I support nuclear but if you're beaming power from space, it might as well be from solar panels. In geostationary orbit you have power 24/7, with 5X more sunlight per day than panels on the ground. The only time your satellite goes into shadow is for a few minutes per day around the equinoxes, half an hour max. Capacity factor is still over 99%.


Basically Gundam 00 haha. I was young when it aired, but it left a long lasting impression of what the future of space exploration might be like. Space elevators and massive solar arrays around the planet.


It’s not the worst idea, but we kind of need to get the whole orbital elevator but done first before the massive planet-spanning solar array.

Truth though: I think Gundam 00 showed a shockingly plausible future (sans mechas, most likely) for our planet if we do not get over our reliance on fossil fuels. Global conflict on a scale that makes WW2 look like child’s play is an inevitability if we cannot mitigate the environmental impact and eventual depletion of fossil fuels, and that includes support to help less developed nations move away from them.


It's too easy for space junk to destroy it, also a single point of failure or attack. It's a terrible solution as long as we remain a warlike species.


I hate to break it to you but most of our power stations are vulnerable to attack already. Certainly anything near the coast could be taken out by our major adversaries, even with conventional attack.

For a lot of plants, an anonymous cyberattack could probably do it. That'd be way worse than an attack to geostationary, which very few actors could manage, and probably nobody could pull off anonymously.

Space junk seems a more serious problem:

https://physicsworld.com/a/space-debris-threat-to-geosynchro...

I've seen various proposals to clean it up but it'd take some work.


With geostationary? Don't they track a location on the earth? Is the satellite not in the earth's shadow at night?


Geostationary is super far out— you're effectively in constant sun:

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

Except, as the parent noted, very briefly during the equinoxes.


And even that seems "easy" to circumvent by having redundant satellites, such that during the equinoxes (equinoxen?) only a fraction of said satellites are shadowed out at once. Alternately, a massive battery or capacitor bank could give the receiver enough buffer to hold out through an equinox-induced shadowing.


Interesting idea, but my next thought was "how are you going to cool that thing?!" :D


Not sure in which direction you're joking, but heat dissipation can actually be a difficult problem in space, at least as close to the sun as Earth is, while outside Earth's atmosphere. For example: https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/a...


That's exactly what I meant. Running a nuclear fission reactor (along with the high power beams to Earth) in vacuum might prove... problematic.


But then you have nuclear-powered space lasers, which will scare people.


Yeah, but if people don't like it, what are they gonna do? Complain? That'll just draw the attention of the nuclear-powered space lasers :)


Or it could blow away the Van Allen belts and fry everything else in orbit, then drop plutonium somewhere.


How does one efficiency “beam down” gigawatts of energy? Or at all?


Microwaves. Ground station has to be several square kilometers, but it's cheap and birds can fly through the beam without harm.

For economic reasons you pretty much have to use phased array transmitters, with a reference signal from the ground to make it coherent, so if the beam gets repointed it gets a lot more diffuse than that.


I've seen how this plays out in SimCity. No thank you!


Light. Focusing mirrors or lasers.

But as others have pointed out, why would you bother with building space based nuclear plants and then converting that energy to light when you could just use the sun?


Ironically perhaps, the best reason not to do this is "It is extremely likely that, given sufficient time, we will either figure out a way to use the waste besides high-yield weapons or a cheaper way to dispose of the waste."

Earth is huge. At the rate reactors create waste, the amount of land consumed by storing it is staggeringly low (the higher risks are transportation, which unfortunately the rocket idea doesn't solve unless we build a dedicated rocket site next to each reactor). Low enough to justify the risk-over-time of securely sequestering it instead of throwing it away.


Nuclear waste is a lot more than spent fuel. It's water, piping, tubes, maintenance tools...basically anything that went through or was part of a reactor.

The fuel itself is just a small part of it.


There are a lot of schemes that will solve the factual problem.

But I think the real problem is emotional. People are afraid of mushroom clouds and mutants.

They don't say that because that's not how we're wired. We come up with better sounding arguments to believe. But what need to be solved is the emotional problem.


One hundred million years later, a tribe of evolved cats sees an asteroid streak through the sky...


Haha. I've often said cats would likely take over.


There's also an ignorance of the externalities of renewables. Yes, they are magnitudes better than fossil fuels, but it amazes me how much people bring up uranium mining and ignore everything to do with rare earth mining in general. Or talk about waste storage of heavy metals and lithium. The problem is that everything has a cost. You can't make good comparisons if you only look at the costs of one system and the benefits of another. These are extremely complicated equations that people act like they are simple. I also frequently see a lot of belief that the issues are purely political (renewables and nuclear) when there is so much technical challenges still left.

There's no free lunch.

I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to say "nuclear > renewables" or even "renewables > nuclear" (this is a dumb comparison imo), but rather that every time we have these conversations in HN and most places we aren't even attempting to make a one-to-one fair comparison. I just wish that, especially on a technical form, that the conversations would focus on technology and science rather than the politics. Though I understand that not every (anyone) is really qualified to talk technically so we talk politically because we still want to engage.


I simply don't understand those people who claim to want to fix the problem but balk at nuclear. It's like they'd prefer going back to rubbing two sticks together for heat and building lean-tos for shelter. Which is where we might end up going back to if we keep overpopulating and destroying the earth and climate.


I simply don't understand those people who claim to want to fix the problem but insist on only getting 1/10th the electricity for their invested dollar, and at a schedule 10x slower than renewables. It's like they are being deliberately obtuse.


I see two options:

1. They're ignorant and follow a fallacious "appeal to nature" mentality. They seriously think that some sort of return to nature will result in a utopia instead of disease and famine.

2. They're Malthus apologists who want to cause an energy crisis and cause people (who aren't them) to die.

It also overlaps with the anti-GMO types.


It's not about money, but about replacing the coal and gas power plants. Renewable sources can't do that alone, they need massive energy storage facilities (which so far do not exist).


Because storage isn't tax credit incentivized, at least in the US. Coal still is. And FYI California will install 1.3GW of storage this year, and a storage tax credit is likely by end of this year. It's coming. Hopefully we find something more elegant or ways to recycle storage/battery materials.


Three Mile Island and Chernobyl loom very large in the imaginations of the boomers and gen x, respectively. Nuclear plant meltdowns are world news on the few occasions they've happened, whereas horrifying explosions and accidents at fossil fuel plants aren't considered remarkable. It's the same reason people overestimate the risk of flying relative to driving.


Just wait until a lithium battry storage facility catches on fire.


The way I think about the waste: for nuclear, the waste can be reliably (and safely) contained in a very small area, far from civilization and habitats, where it can't cause much of a problem. When we burn hydrocarbons, they pollute the atmosphere — for the entire planet.


Nuclear power plants have become incredibly expensive to operate. You are correct that some states such as NY, IL, and MA have provided subsidies, but these have been about saving jobs and tax base, not as much about the government. In NY the subsidy is for the Rochester-area plants, not Indian Point. Indian Point produces 12% of the state's power and an even larger % of power for NYC.

In Ohio, the subsidies we so large they led to bribery payments of $60 million by FirstEnergy (former owner of the nuclear plants) to the Ohio Speaker of the House. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_nuclear_bribery_scandal

Low gas prices have accelerated the decision to close down existing nuclear power plants as gas prices look to be low for the foreseeable future thus keeping power prices low.

As for new nuclear, I do not think there will be anymore after the Vogtle 3/4 plants are online. The certified construction and capital costs were estimated at $14 billion in 2017. In 2018 the costs were estimated upward to $25 billion. Analysts are now estimating an additional $1-2 billion due to COVID. With the estimated completion dates of Nov 21 and Nov 22 likely being pushed back. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vogtle_Electric_Generating_Pla...

A sister set of plants (Westinghouse AP1000) design were begun in South Carolina (Summer 2/3). In 2008, costs were estimated at $9.8 billion. Project was cancelled in July of 2017 after $9 billion spent and total cost to complete was estimated at $25 billion.

We do not know how to build new nuclear power plants even remotely cost effectively. The French have tried and it bankrupted their lead nuclear developer, Areva, in 2016. China has built some new nuclear power plants, but has not started a new one in a number of years.

One last side note, another item damaging nuclear power plants, particularly in the Midwest is the structure of the subsidy for wind power. Wind power tax credits are a Production Tax Credit (PTC). To earn the tax credit, the wind turbine must generate power into the grid. As a consequence, wind turbines have a tax incentive to produce power in negative price environments (e.g. overnight). Nuclear power plants cannot turn on and off easily so they end up paying to produce power at these negative price time. Not helpful for profitability.


The question needs to be asked how new power plants that have to cope with much higher building costs can be more cost-efficient than already existing ones. It’s not like that nuclear has any cost-cutting progress like wind and photovoltaics still have.


Exactly


That's incredibly stupid. Do you really want to waste your budget on expensive disaster cleanup of a single nuclear power plant? If you decommission old nuclear power plants you save the 200 billion needed to clean them up in an accident (think of Fukushima). That money could have been used to build 5 modern power plants and do a non disaster cleanup of the old power plant.


You don't waste your budget on either. You build solar/wind with natural gas combined cycles. Then you shut down the existing nuclear plant that is hemorrhaging cash and never build the new nuclear. The only new nuclear power plant under construction in the US is Georgia Power's Vogtle 3/4. As described above it is incredibly over budget. What investor would seek to try again? It is not like we build 1,000 of these a year and the industry get more adept. We are building 2 units over 10 years.


Nuclear energy is the Amiga of energy sources.

Ahead of its time, it was unjustly rejected and persecuted by the ignorant masses. Its advocates are bonded by the quiet pride that at least they weren't unthinkingly siding with those masses. (And they're right!) Meanwhile, as the Amiga stagnated for terribly unfair reasons, other, scrappier technologies like the i386 and UMG-Si grew from being worthless boondoggles (except in special circumstances, like spaceflight) to being actually far better and cheaper. But the Amiga advocates keep the faith, sharing their suffering and resentment. They inevitably try the alternatives a little and perhaps even start to like them. Gradually their denial recedes, decade by decade.

But they know that however much fab costs go down and leave their beloved Amiga behind in the dust, you'll never be able to run nuclear submarines and Antarctic research stations on solar panels.

— ⁂ —

Wind, where available, undercut the cost of steam power (including nuclear and coal) a decade ago, and PV undercut it in equatorial parts of the world about four years ago, or in even more of the world if you don't include storage. As a result, last year, China, whose electrical consumption has doubled in the last decade, built 48.2 gigawatts† of new photovoltaic capacity last year https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-energy-climatechang... but only has, I think, something like 10 GW of nuclear plants under construction, scheduled to come online over the next several years. PV installed capacity in China is growing by 23% per year, the same rate it has been growing worldwide for the last few years; with some luck that will return to the 39%-yearly-worldwide-growth trend that has been the fairly consistent average over the last 28 years.‡

(A previous version was posted at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26218673.)

______

† China's PV capacity factor seems to be only about 13%, so those 48 GWp probably work out to only about 6 GW average. It would be nice if China managed to site its new PV plants in places that could provide a capacity factor like California's 28%.

‡ Why 28? Because I haven't found figures yet on what worldwide installed capacity was in 01992 or earlier.


Your opponents of course seem ignorant if you turn them into straw-men.

There are legitimate concerns against nuclear:

Lack of a proper handling of nuclear waste, which is pretty much impossible given the timeframe.

Weakness to improper handling. Human error is very common and should not be able to lead to catastrophic events.

Weakness to unknown unknowns. Chernobyl and Fukushima haven’t been predicted, we’re not able to see all failure modes.

Usefulness of civilian technology in the spread of nuclear weapons. Just think of why the US keeps Iran from building up a civilian nuclear industry.

Expensiveness. Cost is mostly bound by construction costs, which rose faster than inflation.


Waste is easily the biggest straw-man concern there is against nuclear. The entirety of the nuclear waste produced by US nuclear grid electric power generation fits in a volume the footprint of a football field and 10 yards high [1]. We test waster supplies for uranium already because naturally occurring uranium sometimes gets into drinking water and it has to be filtered out [2].

Burying spent nuclear fuel in bedrock, with no aquifer poses zero risk. The only way it's getting out is by deliberate human intervention. Any nefarious group that has the capability of doing this could inflict far more harm by conventional means. And even if it somehow, by some mysterious force, leaks into the water supply we have infrastructure to detect it and filter it.

We dispose of materials far more toxic than nuclear waste on a regular basis.

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

2. https://www.kqed.org/stateofhealth/120396/uranium-contaminat...


> The entirety of the nuclear waste produced by US nuclear grid electric power generation fits in a volume the footprint of a football field and 10 yards high

No, this is just spent fuel. There's a lot more to nuclear waste than spent fuel.


Correct, the bulk of nuclear waste is from nuclear weapons development and manufacture. In power generation the containment vessel and cooling water also get irradiated. But that's not persistent waste, and doesn't require long term storage.


How dangerous is low level waste? Based on what I’ve read, it doesn’t seem super radioactive in itself, but it sounds like some of it may have a lot of “problematic” material like dust.


Hey, aren't you the guy who was saying that solar-powered electric freight trains would only be able to run at night? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26240032

I agree that nuclear waste is probably a manageable problem, but not for the reasons you say. "Zero risk" is not a thing that actually exists anywhere ever. "Bedrock with no aquifer" is a thing that exists, but it's not what you're looking for: the rockhead under a desert, for example, is bedrock with no aquifer, and it's commonly very porous and water-permeable. What you want is impermeable rock that will stay that way, like a salt deposit, which is indeed pretty safe—many salt domes have successfully kept petroleum or natural gas from leaking to the surface for 300 million years or more.

The special difficulty of nuclear waste is not that it's especially toxic—far more toxic materials certainly exist, even commonplace materials like hydrofluoric acid, hydrazine, and tetraethyllead. But if you pour hydrofluoric acid on the ground in most places, it becomes completely nontoxic within a few minutes. Hydrazine loses most of its toxicity if you just set it on fire, although burning it to totally nontoxic materials requires a little more care. Tetraethyllead also loses most of its toxicity when you burn it, though the resulting lead compounds were still toxic enough to cause a worldwide crime wave lasting decades.

What's special about nuclear waste is that no such simple means of detoxification exists. The only way to detoxify nuclear waste is with another nuclear reactor—and that's not only in need of additional development to bring it from the laboratory to production, it's also commonly prohibited because of proliferation concerns.

The real risk with nuclear waste, though, is not that disposing of it safely is rocket science; it's that the people who are in charge of it in countries like the US are the same ridiculous bumbling assclowns who've bungled the covid pandemic so badly. (Did you know that, though China was vaccinating college students last July, 1000 people a day are dying from covid in the US?) Have you read about the cat-litter explosion at WIPP? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_Isolation_Pilot_Plant#20... Someone used "an organic cat litter" in place of "inorganic cat litter" to immobilize the nuclear waste, so it caught on fire.

Fortunately, all of this is moot; as I said, nuclear energy is now so much more expensive than solar energy that there's no longer any reason to use it except in a few special niches, and that's unlikely to change for decades. Enjoy your Video Toaster.


The comment said that solar powered trains would only be able to run at night if wind generation is sufficient to power them in the absence of solar power - at least not without massive amounts of storage to account for this intermittency.

Regardless, I'm not sure why the inability to detoxify waste is such a concern. First of all, we do have the ability to reclaim >95% of it through reprocessing. This isn't detoxification per-se, but does represent a sizeable reduction in the amount of waste. And the remaining waste is stored underground. The danger of uranium entering the water supply already exists from naturally occurring uranium. The additional risk presented by waste buried in a known location, with no groundwater contamination risk is zero. Sure, if you want to be pedantic, it's not exactly zero: some nefarious group could dig it up and use it as a weapon. But any group with that level of capability could easily deal more damage through conventional means - so for all intents and purposes the risk is zero.


Aha, thanks for clearing that up.

I think probably trains will have an easier time carrying batteries than electric cars do: a one-tonne diesel internal-combustion-engine car might get (in medieval units) 40 miles per gallon of fuel, while diesel freight trains routinely get 480 miles per tonne-gallon. Teslas need to recharge about every 500 miles, so we should expect battery-powered electric freight trains with the same battery mass fraction as a Tesla to need to swap batteries roughly every 6000 miles or 10000 km. A night train making it through the night isn't going to be a problem.

If that's true, then why haven't batteries already replaced diesel engines in diesel-electric locomotives? I suspect it's a matter of battery costs and network effects. A gallon of diesel is 146 MJ, so a tonne-mile on a freight train costs 300 kJ, or 189 kJ/tonne/km in non-medieval units. Lead-acid batteries only give you roughly 20 kJ/US$, and low-power lithium-ion batteries are usually more like 10 kJ/US$. You get a multiplier of about 3 because diesel engines are typically about 35% efficient and electric motors are about 95% efficient, so you only need 70 kJ/tonne/km. But 500 km of range would still cost you 175 grand of lead-acid batteries for every 100-tonne railroad car in the train, which more than doubles the cost of the train. If you use lithium-ion instead, it's twice that: US$350k a car. So, expect this to take a significant amount of investment, and therefore take a couple of decades—if it happens at all, because quite possibly it's all-around cheaper to use cheap solar energy to produce ammonia or hydrocarbons and burn those on the train.

The inability to detoxify waste is a concern because detoxifying is what we normally do with hazardous waste. Learning to handle hazardous waste in a different way is risky and will involve some accidents. I mean, it already has.


> The comment said that solar powered trains would only be able to run at night if wind generation is sufficient to power them in the absence of solar power

To be perfectly fair, while that's presumably what you meant—and it's a sensible point—what you said was, "making it so that trains only run at night and on windy days".


Yes, trains can only run at night when it's also windy. I'm not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that solar powered trains can only run at night, short of willful misinterpretation.


Well, if something runs only at night and on windy days, that means it runs at night, regardless of whether there is wind, and that it runs on windy days—which might mean "24-hour periods that have a lot of wind", thus also including the night, or "non-night periods that have a lot of wind", due to the semantic ambiguity of the English word "day". In this case, though, the ambiguity doesn't matter; it comes to the same thing. But the meaning is different from your intended meaning.

A different way of stating the meaning of "only at night and on windy days" is "always, except in the daytime when it isn't windy". But of course the daytime when it isn't windy is precisely when it's actually possible to run solar-powered trains without batteries, at least if you run overhead powerlines or a third rail down the whole train track.

What you meant was "trains run at night only on windy days", which could also be validly phrased (at the cost of some ambiguity) as "trains only run at night on windy days". But the extra "and" that you inserted in the middle of the phrase made it impossible to read the phrase as having your intended meaning. Perhaps you hadn't noticed the extra "and" when I quoted it in my earlier comment above, accounting for your confusion. Or perhaps you just don't speak English very well. Which is okay! I'm a second-language speaker too, and it's hard at times! But it's not a valid reason to accuse people of willfully misinterpreting you.


Why on earth would it make sense to think that someone is saying solar powered trains only run at night? I'm a native English speaker so I don't think you're in any position to try and lecture me.

It's absolutely a valid reason to accuse you of willful misinterpretation, especially when you bring this up more than a month later in an unrelated topic. Your reply was downvoted with good reason.


I brought it up precisely because what you were saying didn't make sense, because what you were saying in this thread didn't make sense either. The reason I thought you were saying what you, in fact, said, even though it wasn't what you meant, was that it appeared on this website under your name.

It seems like you have a long history of not worrying about whether the things you're saying don't make sense, and you're continuing it. Instead of responding, "Oh, I see what you mean, you're right, I actually did say the opposite of what I meant—thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify and taking so much time to explain at such great length what was in the end very simple and obvious," you're responding with some kind of chimpanzee status hierarchy nonsense about being "lectured" and what "position" I'm in. Instead of responding, "Oh, you're right about the 'bedrock with no aquifer' thing, that was totally wrong and didn't actually make sense," you just ignored it.

I guess you're just trying to score some kind of points rather than learn what is true and help others do the same?


These "concerns" show lack of understanding of current nuclear industry capabilities and realistic undestanding of real and potential disasters.

> Lack of a proper handling of nuclear waste

"Nuclear waste" handling is very non-lacking since 40's, there is no real problem with it. It is a contentious topic because NIMBY and because anti-nuclear propaganda, but not a real problem that needs to be solved. There is very little of such waste. It is already being stored in acceptable way - power plants have water pools for the hot stuff and storage facilities for the less hot stuff. The hot stuff becomes less hot after some time. France has a process in operation for converting the waste into glass and storing it safely in casks. No, keeping the waste away from people determined to dig up spent nuclear fuel for 100000 years isn't a real problem that needs to be solved.

> Weakness to improper handling. Human error is very common and should not be able to lead to catastrophic events.

Nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima are very small when you compare them to other industrial accidents, like chemical plants or oil/gas. People are dumb and sometimes they cause disasters like these. Many times bigger disasters (in terms of deaths, property damage) happen without people having a say, like tsunamis, hurricanes, volcano eruptions. Nuclear energy is much safer, in terms of deaths per kWh, than solar or wind energy.

> Usefulness of civilian technology in the spread of nuclear weapons.

All big countries where more nuclear energy will be most important in dropping the CO2 production already have nuclear weapons and are not going to get rid of them. Spread of nuclear weapons is not a relevant argument against most of new nuclear plants, because the weapons are already there.


> current nuclear industry capabilities

If I talked about that I would write way more negatively. Olkiluoto 3 is such a shut show for instance.

> there is no real problem with it.

You need to keep it from polluting the environment like the ground water, which is very hard to do on a geological timescale. Containers can rust or get crushed by forces. Not even saline formations are safe from water entry. Also you need to stop mishandling like dumping it in the Mediterranean like what happen end in Italy in the 80s.

> There is very little of such waste.

1 kg per capita per year like in France is not very little. And they don’t have any permanent storage location for that.

> Nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima are very small when you compare them to other industrial accidents, like chemical plants or oil/gas.

Which industrial accident has turned multiple hundreds to thousands of square kilometers into exclusion zones for decades of not centuries?

And we have been lucky that those accidents happened in relatively uninhabited areas.

> Nuclear energy is much safer, in terms of deaths per kWh, than solar or wind energy.

That’s both wrong and irrelevant as lack of deaths are just one aspect of safety.

> All big countries where more nuclear energy will be most important in dropping the CO2 production already have nuclear weapons

The world is not just 8 countries. Especially Africa will play a huge role when its population will get wealthier and consume more.


> very hard to do on a geological timescale.

Yes, but geological timescale (millions of years) is an absurd straw man. We have no influence on what happens with anything on that timescale. Civilizations come and go in thousands of years. On scale of millions of years various different disasters are much more impactful and inevitable, both human made (nuclear war) and natural (volcanoes, tsunamis, asteroid impacts). Little waste contaminating ground water a little is of NO concern to us.

> they don’t have any permanent storage location for that.

But it is very little, when compared to other kinds of waste. We can continue storing it at few special sites/pools/warehouses for hundreds of years like we do now. Of course, at some point putting the hot stuff in the ground becomes preferable.

France does not have Cigeo yet but it is in the works. "Permanent" is a bit too ambitious word, but long-term storage is planned. It is long-term, so there is no rush.

> into exclusion zones for decades of not centuries?

I meant in terms of deaths. Direct deaths due to Chernobyl are in the order of 60 people. Long term impact on deaths is very unclear and estimations are contested.

Exclusion zone due to Chernobyl accident was defined as 30km-radius disk centered at the plant. Radiation contamination is going down and overall long-term effect on ecosystem there is deemed positive by scientists expert on this area.

Creating an "exclusion zone" isn't exactly the worst thing that could happen in an industrial disaster. For example, the Bhopal gas disaster directly killed thousands of people and harmed half a million. Much more devastating.

> That’s both wrong and irrelevant as lack of deaths are just one aspect of safety.

Are you sure you want to subscribe under this ridiculous statement? If it is one aspect of safety, a very important one I might add, how is it irrelevant? Also, where did you read this fact about deaths/kWh of nuclear energy is wrong? It is a broadly accepted easily findable fact.

> The world is not just 8 countries. Especially Africa will play a huge role when its population will get wealthier and consume more.

"Will". Do you realize most of coal/gas power production happens in nuclear weapons wielding countries? What will happen with Africa is not clear now, they may build more nuclear or more coal/gas, time will tell.


> Direct deaths due to Chernobyl are in the order of 60 people. Long term impact on deaths is very unclear and estimations are contested ... the Bhopal gas disaster directly killed thousands of people and harmed half a million. Much more devastating

100, not 60, and while it's true that the long-term deaths from Chernobyl are "contested", the controversy is about whether only 4000 people have died from it so far, or more like 60,000 people. 350,000 people lost their homes.

In Bhopal, by comparison, the official death toll was 2259, but other estimates go as high as 16000. More to the point, though, almost 2 million people still live in Bhopal, more than before the disaster. Nobody lives in Pripyat now. Before the disaster 14000 people lived in Chernobyl itself; now 1000 people live there—state employees with short tours of duty, whose job it is to keep everybody else out of the Exclusion Zone except for brief, strictly monitored visits.

I don't think this supports a judgment that the Bhopal disaster—the worst such accident so far, despite the existence of many more pesticide plants and similar facilities than nuclear power plants—was "much more devastating".

But the whole safety debate is a moot point, since solar energy is so much cheaper than nuclear now that nuclear will be relegated to niche roles for decades.


Immediate damage on lives was much bigger with Bhopal, long-term it is hard to say and let's not pretend we can analyze it here. It is hard to compare long-term effects between Ukraine and India and how much those effects were due to disasters and how much due to botched response. Different political system, population density and moving options for people.

My point is accidents other than nuclear with similar death counts do happen, thousands or tens of thousands people die or have to relocate. Natural disasters happen too - the tsunami responsible for Fukushima disaster killed 15000 people.

These kinds of disasters are immense and bad, but the damages are quite contained and can't dictate energy policy all around the world. The existence and non-preventability of similary big natural disasters shows that the narrative about nuclear energy being too dangerous is unsubstantiated. Chernobyl disaster is a lesson, but it is quite limited in scope - it is about pitfalls of soviet-like safety-neglecting attitudes, putting people who do not know how the reactor works in charge. Much less on dangers of nuclear energy.


> Nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima are very small when you compare them to other industrial accidents, like chemical plants or oil/gas

Hmm, it's been 35 years and При́пʼять is still uninhabited—and, I think, uninhabitable—as part of the 2600-square-kilometer Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Which chemical-plant or oil/gas industrial accidents are you thinking of that have rendered 5000 square kilometers uninhabitable for 35 years, or rendered 2600 square kilometers uninhabitable for 70 years? I'm supposing that "very small when you compare" implies at least a factor of 2—more likely a factor of 10?

I can't even think of any major wars that have had such an effect, although it's easy to think of wars and accidents that have killed more people. Chernobyl killed 100 people more or less immediately and several thousand more people over the years. The Fukushima accident itself has only killed one person so far, but the evacuation (to keep people from being killed by radioactivity) killed 2200 more people.

On the afternoon that При́пʼять was evacuated in 01986, it was the ninth atomgrad; today there are 11 atomgrads in Russia (ЗАТО under the authority of Росатом), producing 20% of Russia's electricity. If we had five times as many atomgrads, or if we had as many atomgrads as we have sites of chemical plants, how many uninhabitable atomic Exclusion Zones would we have by now? Would it be more, or—thanks to the extra experience—fewer? Surely some would be smaller than Chernobyl's, some larger.

I think there probably would have been a few hundred thousand more people dead in such accidents, and a few dozen more radioactive nature preserves like the Chernobyl zone, before we figured it out, and that would have been better than the global-warming catastrophe we were on track for a decade ago. For better or worse, though, that wasn't the way things went. Instead now we have solar energy that's not just cheaper than nuclear but cheaper than coal.


I meant in terms of number of deaths and significantly harmed people.

Exclusion zone is a human concept for human inhabitation, it does not mean the zone is lost from the map of Ukraine. According to scientists that study the zone, for the non-human ecosystem the benefits of people moving out outweigh the damage now. In time, the radiation will go down so people can live there. Some already do, even though it is illegal.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/23/wildlife-returns...


> I meant in terms of number of deaths and significantly harmed people.

Okay, well, aside from the 4000–60'000 people who died from the Chernobyl disaster, 350'000 people permanently lost their homes, so they were significantly harmed. What "other industrial accidents, like chemical plants or oil/gas" is that "very small" compared to? What non-nuclear industrial accidents have permanently uprooted (or otherwise "significantly harmed") 700'000 or more people, wiping out entire centuries-old communities? Even the Beirut Blast (300,000 homeless, 210 dead, 7500 injured) and the Bhopal disaster (2500–16000 dead, 500'000 injured) didn't manage that.

It's probably true that the deer, rabbits, and black mold are better off, even if the people aren't, and that might be a good reason for deer, rabbits, and black mold to build nuclear power plants. But it's not a very convincing reason for people to build nuclear power plants.

(Global warming was, though, or should have been, until we had the better alternatives we have now.)


I agree entirely. Chernobyl and Fujisima are examples of old, obsolete, and flawed tech that has long been ironed out and removed. With the new rectifications on technology, international incidents like Fukushima would never have happened. Also, new reactors produce considerably less waste than old ones, making it a manageable problem. Finally, Nuclear does not emit greenhouse gases; It has always been “clean” in that sense


Anti-nuclear activists aren't my opponents. They're the opponents of Amiga fans. You know. The people I'm making fun of.

> There are legitimate concerns against nuclear:

Yeah, I agree. There were legitimate reasons not to buy an Amiga, too: it was expensive, it didn't run WordPerfect or Microsoft Flight Simulator, and then it stagnated. Probably 20 or 10 years ago the legitimate reasons not to use nuclear were less important than global warming.

Now they're irrelevant because nobody is going to use nuclear anyway except for things like submarines because it's too expensive.

> Chernobyl and Fukushima haven’t been predicted

Hmm, are you suggesting (non-gas-cooled) US and UK reactors were designed with a negative void coefficient without knowing that this was a safety feature? I think that in fact Chernobyl was predicted but happened anyway. Similarly the power company at Fukushima was found guilty of predicting the problem and then not preventing it.


Construction of nuclear stations in the United States instead of getting cheaper as more were built got more expensive but what is surprising is a good amount of the costs were because of poor project management. [0]

Basically last minute design changes. Having people sitting around doing nothing because their skills were not needed at the current time. You would have over crowded work areas and either insufficient or lack of tools needed to do the work.

Standardization, the same methods by which the price of solar panels plummeted could benefit nuclear as well. there is no reason as a nation a standardized design could not be created and installed with good speed and low costs.

Think of it as a modern day Liberty ship except we are freeing ourselves from fossil fuels

[0]https://news.mit.edu/2020/reasons-nuclear-overruns-1118


> there is no reason as a nation a standardized design could not be created and installed with good speed and low costs.

There is, actually, if by "low costs" we mean lower than solar. If you take a nuclear plant and remove the nuclear reactor from it, what you have left is a steam-driven generator and a firebox where the reactor used to be. That's what a coal power plant is. Coal power plants cost about twice as much per watt to build as current solar power plants, and solar power keeps getting cheaper. So it's unlikely that nuclear power plants will start costing lessto build—per watt than coal plants.

(They could of course cost less to operate per watt, since they don't have to buy fuel by the trainload or dispose of fly ash. But just the cost to build a coal plant makes it uncompetitive with solar in most of the world, unless you make very pessimistic assumptions about intermittency and the cost of utility-scale energy storage, which is, however, still an unknown.)

So, it's even more unlikely that nuclear power will get cheaper than solar power. Unless you're in, like, Svalbard or something. Or there's a revolutionary new way to build supercritical steam turbines that makes them much cheaper per watt and isn't also applicable to making solar panels. Steam turbines were invented 137 years ago and have been a big business central to the economy of every developed country for decades, so I'm not holding my breath.


Nuke plants got more expensive because that was the whole point of starting the projects in the first place: reliable long-term pipelines of corruption, graft, fraud, and kickbacks lasting a good decade, sometimes longer, providing many $billions, with no strings attached, to well-connected beneficiaries.

It is the reason small, standardized reactors never got traction: there was so little scope for corruption, they offered nothing of value for the people who could have backed them.

The same applies to any big public project in the US, of late: California's bullet train, New York's 2nd Avenue subway, Boston's Big Dig, the F-35, NASA's SLS. It has taken a long time, but the US now ranks among the most corrupt nations. Corruption is wholesale, from the top, not retail, at the bottom.


To put the realities of PV capacity from your first footnote into perspective: Germany with 53GW of solar capacity and 8GW nuclear only produced 50.4 TWh of electricity in 2020 from solar to nuclear’s 64.3 TWh.

Their wind power generation is far more impressive though.


Yes, absolutely!

I think it helps a lot to restate quantities of the same dimension in the same units—if you measure steel beams in meters and a bridge in feet, it becomes needlessly difficult to understand the relationship between them. It's unfortunately common practice) to report peak capacities in GW and actual yield in TWh/year. A TWh/year is about 114'079'550 watts, which seems like a terrible unit to me. If we do the unit conversion, Germany's 53GWp of solar capacity produced 5.75 GW in 02020, and its 8GWp of nuclear produced 7.34 GW. This works out to capacity factors of 10.8% for solar and 91.7% for nuclear, which are not terribly surprising.

Wind typically has a higher capacity factor, but I calculate China's wind capacity factor as only 22% (405 TWh/year = 46 GW on nameplate capacity of 209 GWp for 02019), well below the typical 40%. I think solar is more interesting because the total available resource is orders of magnitude larger and the hardware lasts many decades, but wind is certainly cheaper.


> Nuclear energy is the Amiga of energy sources. > Ahead of its time, it was unjustly rejected and persecuted by the ignorant masses.

There is a documentary by Adam Curtis that basically describes this scenario (except for the Amiga part).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a0V2JFh6vY


This is the chernobyl of analogies


I'm a convert. I was anti-nuclear power, now I am pro with a boatload of caveats.

As a person who changed their mind, let me offer this advice to the people commenting here. Don't pretend there aren't legitimate concerns with nuclear power. Accidents did in fact happen and, given enough time and more reactors, will absolutely happen again. That's not a reason not to build more nuclear power, but let's not play make-believe about it. Don't pretend that just because we are better at handling nuclear waste it is a solved problem. It isn't. A hundred-fold increase in nuclear power generation would be a roughly hundred-fold increase in nuclear waste that must be stored away from all life for several hundred years (until we develop technology to resolve the issue, likely long after we're all dead). And maybe most importantly, acknowledge that nuclear energy is far more expensive than other green energy options and, even if we could drive down the cost, it will not solve all our problems. It is, at best, a big part of the solution, not "the" solution.


I don't think anyone is pretending accidents don't happen, only that over all there are far fewer deaths per gigawatt of nuclear than other options.

Handling nuclear waste is a hard problem but it's 100x easier than handling CO2 waste.

And is nuclear more expensive than other renewables? I think that really depends, I don't think you can compare 99.9% reliability power to 95% reliability power. They're two different goods sold at two different prices. You can use batteries or other storage to convert the 95% reliability into 99.9% but then that puts renewables at a cost far above nuclear.


I think the major issue is that those uninformed on the subjects treat the energy problem as if there is a singular solution: renewables, nuclear, fossil fuels. Which this is such a weird way to present the problem. But then again I see a lot of people complain about CCS because it "encourages the use of fossil fuels," implying that means emissions, which it doesn't. The conversation has become political and not technical and I think that's what is frustrating to me. (I bring up CCS because it is discussed in the article and also something controversial in the public eye but not in the scientific community)


> I think that really depends, I don't think you can compare 99.9% reliability power to 95% reliability power.

I question whether you can call any renewable 95% reliable. The capacity factor of solar in the US has averaged 25% and wind at about 35%:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacity_factor#United_States

One can certainly argue a large enough grid can shuffle energy to and from across large areas to create 'aggregate reliability' of course.


The new types of reactors can run on the "standard" nuclear waste: https://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Russia-proposes-new-...

In Russia, they are slowly getting adoption. Not only that allows to use the same fuel twice (so, cheaper energy), the end result is significantly less radioactive and does not contain isotopes with ~10k years life, which are short enough to be dangerous and long enough to be a hassle to store.

A hundred fold increase in the reactors will mean that the new closed-fuel-cycle economy will have even more sense, since the second stage reactors will also benefit economies of scale.

(not objecting your comment, just adding one improvement)


>>And maybe most importantly, acknowledge that nuclear energy is far more expensive than other green energy options

It is not really though when you factor in ALL of the costs of the main renewables (wind and solar), one of the big problems with both is the fact their output curves normally do not match demand curves every well, meaning when wind and solar are producing power, the demand for that power is at its lowest.

Thus wind and solar can only be a viable replacement for Fossil fuel and nuclear if you add in methods of energy storage, so electricity can be stored when it being produced and then consumed when it is needed.

Once you factor in this storage / demand problem the costs of wind and solar go through the roof


Nuclear definitely should be paired with energy sources like wind and photovoltaics. These sources are aren't consistent, so you need something to balance the load at night or when the wind isn't blowing. I find it hard to imagine another non-carbon energy source that could fill that role aside from nuclear energy.

Disposing of nuclear waste is certainly a difficult problem, since it requires designing structures to last longer than recorded history up to this point. There is at least one good answer to this problem that's under construction now in Finland, called Onkalo. The issue of nuclear waste disposal seems to be as much a political as an engineering problem. People don't want to have a nuclear waste dump anywhere near them, because they justifiably don't trust the government or industry to build it so that it works.


>...Accidents did in fact happen and, given enough time and more reactors, will absolutely happen again.

Well it is a straw man to claim that anyone says there won't be nuclear accidents. What people have said is that historically nuclear power has been much safer than all the alternatives that have been available:

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

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

https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-ener...

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-d...

Unfortunately anything at all related to nuclear is covered by the media orders of magnitude more than other power sources so many people have an understandable misperception that it is more dangerous than other sources of power. 200 thousand people had to be evacuated in CA a couple of years ago because of a lack of maintenance on a hydroelectric dam could have let to catastrophic failure. We got lucky that time as the rains stopped just in time, but how much did the media cover that story? How much would the media have covered that if 200 thousand had been evacuated because of a nuclear power plant?

>...Don't pretend that just because we are better at handling nuclear waste it is a solved problem. It isn't. A hundred-fold increase in nuclear power generation would be a roughly hundred-fold increase in nuclear waste that must be stored away from all life for several hundred years (until we develop technology to resolve the issue, likely long after we're all dead).

In terms of the waste, right now nuclear waste can be recycled (as it is in France) which would reduce the amount of waste:

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

Soon it will be possible to use most of the waste as fuel:

"...What is more important today is why fast reactors are fuel-efficient: because fast neutrons can fission or "burn out" all the transuranic waste (TRU) waste components (actinides: reactor-grade plutonium and minor actinides) many of which last tens of thousands of years or longer and make conventional nuclear waste disposal so problematic. Most of the radioactive fission products (FPs) the reactor produces have much shorter half-lives: they are intensely radioactive in the short term but decay quickly. The IFR extracts and recycles 99.9% of the uranium and Transuranium elements on each cycle and uses them to produce power; so its waste is just the fission products; in 300 years their radioactivity will fall below that of the original uranium "

>...IFR development began in 1984 and the U.S. Department of Energy built a prototype, the Experimental Breeder Reactor II. On April 3, 1986, two tests demonstrated the inherent safety of the IFR concept. These tests simulated accidents involving loss of coolant flow. Even with its normal shutdown devices disabled, the reactor shut itself down safely without overheating anywhere in the system. The IFR project was canceled by the US Congress in 1994, three years before completion.

Unfortunately, the IFR work was cancelled by the incoming administration because "it's a symbol":

>...Despite support for the reactor by then-Rep. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senators Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL) and Paul Simon (D-IL), funding for the reactor was slashed, and it was ultimately canceled in 1994, at greater cost than finishing it. When this was brought to President Clinton's attention, he said "I know; it's a symbol."

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

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

>...And maybe most importantly, acknowledge that nuclear energy is far more expensive than other green energy options

Cost should always be a consideration, but when you see people conveniently ignore some costs and focus on others, it does a disservice to the goal of decarbonizing the grid and it isn't clear what they are really trying to accomplish.

The levelized cost for residential rooftop solar is about as high as nuclear, but that cost doesn't seem to matter to some advocates and they continue to strongly support subsidizing it. The potential costs for renewables + storage is about the cost of nuclear, but that cost also doesn't matter to some advocates. (If grid storage was cheap, we would have built it decades ago.)

https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-...

Some advocates recommend massively overbuilding solar or wind to deal with seasonal differences. This is obviously at least a direct cost multiplier but that doesn't seem to matter to some advocates.

Advocates also describe how we will rebuild the electrical grid to move vast amounts of solar or wind power across the USA. This will not be cheap, simple or easy to protect against terrorism. Even the relatively small proposed Tres Amigas super station hasn’t been completed yet. The potential costs here don't seem to matter to some advocates.

Some advocates for renewables seem happy with relying on natural gas peaker plants where necessary to get around the costs of building grid storage, but methane is a very potent GHG in the short term. (There are lots of atmospheric losses in the capture and distribution of natural gas.) No one concerned about climate change seriously thinks that burning natural gas is a long term answer.

>...It is, at best, a big part of the solution, not "the" solution.

I agree.


A very expensive part of a solution. Being so expensive, it becomes part of the problem, instead, as money spent on it is diverted from actually cost-effective methods.

Nukes' main attraction, institutionally, is as a long-term conduit for public money into selected private hands. The Biden administration has as much need as any for plums to hand out. Nuke plant construction projects have served in that role reliably before. The skids are well-greased.

The outline is always the same: the $2B/3y project balloons to $12B/12y, blamed on "regulations, change orders, mismanagement". But a multi-$billion project can certainly afford sound management, if that were desired, and accounting for regulations and change orders would be part of that. But it is not desired. Coming in on time and within budget is the worst imaginable outcome for the project's backers.


Well as I said, cost should always be a consideration, but deliberately ignoring costs of some choices is not helpful. The levelized cost for residential rooftop solar is about as high as nuclear, but that cost doesn't seem to matter to some advocates and they continue to strongly support subsidizing it. Why is that? Do you also consider rooftop solar a very expensive part of a solution, or do those costs not matter?

The prices for utility solar and wind have come down dramatically which is great news. Unfortunately these sources have low capacity factors and can only achieve so much market penetration before some combination of very expensive energy storage or transmission or overbuilding would become necessary. Do these costs not matter and there is no need to consider them? Right now, no effort is made to collect the CO2 from burning natural gas nor the atmospheric losses from collecting/distributing natural gas - if people were required to prevent those external costs the price for natural gas would dramatically increase. Do those costs not matter?

>...Coming in on time and within budget is the worst imaginable outcome for the project's backers.

Conspiracy theories here are not helpful.


By definition, it is not a conspiracy if it is legal. Nobody is being indicted for nuke plant construction cost overruns, any more than for F-35 hemorrhage. That doesn't mean anybody meant for it not to happen.

And the only big open question about storage is which will prove cheapest for each case. Underground compressed air? Mineshaft gravitational? Tower gravitational? None of those depend on any new tech. Ammonia (more expensive, but also more useful, in excess)? Hydrogen (likewise)? Batteries are expensive just now, but those prices are also in free-fall.

The only reason you don't see much of that yet is that it hasn't been needed, and dollars are much better-spent right now building out generating capacity.

Then there is geothermal, which can now be done anywhere, and doesn't need storage. It uses the same tech, equipment, and staff as are used for drilling fracking wells.


>By definition, it is not a conspiracy if it is legal.

That might be your personal definition, but a common definition is: "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful"

>...The only reason you don't see much of that yet is that it hasn't been needed

Contrary to what advocates claim, people have been looking at grid energy storage for decades and it isn't as simple as they claim. So far the only noticeable thing that has been able to implemented has been pumped hydro.

It is possible new grid storage technologies will be designed/implemented in the coming decades, but it will be a challenge. One estimate is that for Germany to rely solely on solar and wind would require about 6,000 pumped storage plants which is literally 183 times their current capacity. This is why Bill Gates is investing in energy storage companies and 4th gen nuclear.


Conspiracy is defined in criminal law. You cannot be convicted of conspiracy for activity that is legal. You can make up any random other meaning you like, for any word, but sticking with dictionary meanings enables clear communication.

Grid energy storage requires no new technology. It isn't used yet most places purely because it hasn't been needed yet. Absent carbon tax, natural gas has been much cheaper, thus far.

Bill Gates does what Bill Gates does for reasons that Bill Gates is not obliged to be open or honest about. We may each draw our own conclusions.


>…Conspiracy is defined in criminal law. You cannot be convicted of conspiracy for activity that is legal. You can make up any random other meaning you like, for any word …

Please don't try and misrepresent what I wrote.

You wrote:

>>…Coming in on time and within budget is the worst imaginable outcome for the project's backers.

I wrote:

>Conspiracy theories here are not helpful.

You then continue and continue to appear to be claiming that since you didn't claim it was illegal that you aren't describing a conspiracy. I never claimed you said it was illegal. I simply said that conspiracy theories here are not helpful. (If my meaning wasn't obvious, I don't think conspiracy theories help understand complex issues of this sort.) My use of the word conspiracy is based on a common definition. (Indeed the first result from a google search is "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful"). You may have your own personal definition that limits it to only illegal activities, but that is your issue. Sticking with the dictionary meaning enables clear communication.

>…Grid energy storage requires no new technology. It isn't used yet most places purely because it hasn't been needed yet. …

Yes, I understand you are convinced of that.


Great news! France gets 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, and it's a very plausible part of the solution.

Relatedly I've been thinking about how to compare the moral culpability of anti-nuclear activists for climate change to that of oil companies. Are sins of preventing beneficial action comparable to sins of taking harmful action? Do intentions offset effects?


If you're interested, that question is most commonly referred to in philosophy as the "trolley problem". [1]

It's actually a huge area of philosophical debate. So while the bad news is there's no straightforward answer -- instead there's deep disagreement among philosophers who think about exactly this for a living -- the good news is you could spend literal weeks learning about the arguments on both sides if you wanted to.

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


The trolley problem and other ethical issues are covered in "the good place" on Netflix in a very entertaining way.

Though this solution always gives me a chuckle - https://external-preview.redd.it/wO3QAQsLh2xklK3-ifXUdyEjaAS...


Ha! That video and "solution" brings to mind Kissinger's famous remarks regarding the Iran-Iraq war: "It's a pity they can't both lose."


Children have a very strong sense of fairness!


It's better to watch these lectures instead: https://justiceharvard.org/ .


In France the National Assembly voted (2015) that by 2025 only 50% of France's energy will be produced by nuclear plants. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_France

The main pertinent local project is an utter disaster, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flamanville_3


Yes the French have a better system for nuclear. In the US the military can do anything nuclear they want.

But for civilian nuclear program it is all political. What did we spend on Yucca Mountain?

Chicago Bridge bungled their South Carolina reactor job so bad that Westinghouse had to take the job over from them. Complete shambles and Westinghouse had to sell their nuclear division to Toshiba. All one giant mess. The AP2000 NextGen reactor program is a failure. South Carolina plant never made it online. Busted budgets and nothing generating power. https://www.npr.org/2017/08/06/541582729/how-the-dream-of-am...


Stop being a negative Nancy, if france can do it we can do it. Who cares what the antinuke people think get some initiaives rolling and lets get going.


Opens up a can of worms into how intent factors into culpability.


> Relatedly I've been thinking about how to compare the moral culpability of anti-nuclear activists for climate change to that of oil companies. Are sins of preventing beneficial action comparable to sins of taking harmful action? Do intentions offset effects?

Seems like knowledge could come into play here. Someone could have made the same argument about coal 150 to 200 years ago because the data didn't yet exist to suggest it was harmful. From their perspective, coal could have looked better than the alternatives. Not sure how culpable activists would be in that scenario, at least relative to fossil fuel companies of today which deliberately release disinformation to their own benefit.


The climate effects of burning coal were well known in the scientific community as early as 1856 (Eunice Foote) or 1859 (John Tyndall).

Deliberate misinformation from fossil fuel companies has been around since at least 1991 when they published a film about climate change, "A Climate of Change."


> The climate effects of burning coal were well known in the scientific community as early as 1856 (Eunice Foote) or 1859 (John Tyndall).

So about 150 to 200 years ago...

> Deliberate misinformation from fossil fuel companies has been around since at least 1991 when they published a film about climate change, "A Climate of Change."

Exxon has actively fought to hide the dangers of climate change since the early 1980s. I think the film you're referring to was called "A Climate of Concern."


But after 1988, everyone knew.


There is a bad stigma associated with nuclear energy that I just don’t understand - Nuclear less impact to the environment when compared to other energy sources. What is is the problem with nuclear? Is it the cost of maintaining these power plants ?


I went back and forth a few times with my opinion on nuclear over the years and some points I've gathered, good and bad are:

-Nuclear is indeed a low-carbon energy source.

-It's also what you would want as baseload.

-The costs of storing waste properly have been underestimated - a few years ago nuclear operators reached a deal with the German government through which they paid 23bln Euros to make the waste the government's problem. The overall sentiment is that they were let off the hook easily and the total cost will be much higher.

-Both nuclear plants and waste storage facilities are easy targets for terrorism - fortunately that didn't happen yet, but things like Stuxnet proved that it's entirely in the realm of possibility. My pet conspiracy theory is that this, not Fukushima was the reason Germany eventually accelerated its plans to phase out nuclear.

-You can reprocess spent nuclear fuel which helps both with fuel accessibility and waste management.

-It's trivially easy to use the reprocessing infrastructure to create weapons-grade plutonium.

-Nuclear is generally safe.

-That being said its mode of failure makes a large area inhospitable essentially forever. Topsoil radiation measurements usually don't give the full picture of the problem.

-Every nuclear disaster resulted in increased safety by uncovering design flaws which were a result of cutting corners, so especially in the decade after Fukushima costs went up around 24% making nuclear the single low-carbon source to become more, not less expensive.

-As it stands even China cannot deploy nuclear fast enough to compete with renewables on delivered MWh. Since 2012 wind consistently delivered more energy in China than nuclear and the gap has been widening ever since. With the cost of storage plummeting we're heading towards a future where centralised power generation may become antiquated.

----

Overall nuclear has some advantages but there aren't enough of them to break the trend of using renewables + gas and storage, which on average replace coal faster and cheaper.

It's basically a textbook example of "worse is better".


I don't agree with you and most experts don't either. Storage is a solved problem. Nuclear is a solved probem. Energy storage on the scale of 1 week+ in cases of blizzards, and other freak weather events which are only going to get worse over the next century is not viable. Nuclear is here and it's safe and it's dependable and it might be the only way to save our planet (or at least us humans, the planet would do just fine without us).


Doesn't change the fact that nuclear capacity is currently not growing nearly as fast as renewables.


Because of non-scientific ideologues. If all the pro-nuke people sabotaged solar rollouts would you say that solar was less viable, or would you blame the sabotage?


Nuclear is also quite expensive.

Who has been sabotaging nuclear reactors?


GreenPeace, for example, has been lying about nuclear power forever. All the radiation grifters on Youtube who talk about scintillations per m^3 of seawater as proof that Fukushima is killing Californians, etc.

"Concerned citizens" who demand endless studies about things we already have a good understanding of.

People who ignore the 10,000 deaths per week worldwide because of coal power but focus on the ~2 deaths from Fukushima.

Right, smear. Sabotaging the process.


Oh, smear campaigns. I though you mean people were sabotaging reactors.


China still has trouble transporting renewable energy from where it is generated (in the west) to where it is needed (in the east). They are trying to solve that problem with UHV transmission lines, but they aren't there yet.

Nuclear plants can be built close to where they are needed, it's an advantage over renewables.


I think nuclear is also the least disruptive, least ecological footprint of all technologies we have. The amount of Lithium mined, the production of solar panels, plus all the install locations. Solar might be cheaper, but overall it means we need to move and manufacture much much more stuff, and all of that requires energy and land use changes. In order to fully power our economies with solar, we need to gobble up even more land than we are already using. That literally means deforestation and destruction of other habitats for wildlife.

Nuclear is the lowest footprint, biggest-bang-for-the-buck technology.


Please excuse this question, but how do you think Lithium is "mined"?


Take a look at some Lithium mines here:

https://www.mining-technology.com/features/top-ten-biggest-l...

Lithium mining has serious environmental impact:

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/lithium-batteries-environmen...


> The overall sentiment is that they were let off the hook easily and the total cost will be much higher. Even if it is more costly, who cares. It's national infrastructure that serves everybody, high costs are acceptable in light of the CO2 crisis. And it's not as if that money was burned or stolen by few people - it goes to local nuclear industry which employs many local inhabitants.

This 'nuclear is costly' argument would be relevant if there was a cheaper-than-nuclear replacement for coal energy with similar consistent availability and safety record. There isn't one.

> nuclear plants and waste storage facilities are easy targets for terrorism - fortunately that didn't happen yet, but things like Stuxnet proved that it's entirely in the realm of possibility.

As far as we know from public resources, Stuxnet wasn't a terrorist operation, but a state-controlled operation. And it wasn't a nuclear disaster - it was destruction of expensive equipment due to poor operational security (virus on USB drives hacked the network and destroyed the equipment).

Nuclear plants are NOT an easy target for terrorism, and they are NOT the preferred target for terrorists. When we read about some real terrorist attacks, it's clear they go for large death numbers and best visibility. The newer plants with domes are built to withstand a plane crash, a terrorist would have to be brainwashed by anti-terrorist agency to crash the plane into a nuclear plant instead of big city.

Lots of things are in the realm of possibility, but let's get real. Crazies attacking a nuclear power plant is a pretty small manageable threat, both in terms of probability of successful execution and in terms of potential resulting damage. Yes some people and equipment will have to be maintained to guard the plants, but it's not a big deal.

> -It's trivially easy to use the reprocessing infrastructure to create weapons-grade plutonium.

Yes, but again that is not a very relevant problem because in most countries where nuclear energy would be most benefitial in decreasing CO2 production already have plutonium sitting ready in nuclear weapons and can make more - US, China, India, US, Europe.

> nuclear has some advantages but there aren't enough of them to break the trend of using renewables + gas and storage

Gas power is not something we should prop up at all when we have the option to build more nuclear power plants. Gas burning produces CO2, nuclear operation does not.


Highly publicized 80s accidents (Three Mile Island in 79, Chernobyl in 86) coupled with late-Cold War anti-nuclear weapons proliferation protesting resulted in environmentalists lumping everything nuclear together until it reached "No" criticality.

After that, the reaction has been self-sustaining.

It's easy to campaign to tear something down. It's hard to be the one who has to rebuild the replacement. We need people who focus on the latter before the former.


"Believe the science" seems to be the rationale for many other things we are told to do, so why not this?


Well, in part due to the nuclear weapons programs, the US and Soviet governments told a lot of lies about nuclear energy in the 01940s, 01950s, 01960s, and 01970s. A lot of the science on things like nuclear fuel enrichment isn't actually available publicly, even today, only to people whose families have been interviewed to make sure they will lie if the government orders to.

So the US Secretary of the Navy is in a position to make an informed decision about nuclear reactors—and he's chosen to run a significant part of the US Navy on them—but the voting public is not.


I'll bite, what's up with those zero prefixes?


Preparation for the Y10K problem. Five-digit years is something the Long Now Foundation started using to encourage people to think longer term:

https://longnow.org/about/


Holy hell, talk about premature. That's 100 lifetimes away.

Is it still April 1st?


> That's 100 lifetimes away.

Such a pessimist!


Fine, 0100 lifetimes away.


lol that's ridiculous. We'll either have wiped ourselves out by then or be so far beyond problems like Y2K that it's a ridiculous thing to worry about


More fun than worrying about global pandemics or nuclear meltdowns!


It’s promoted by the Long Now Foundation, as a way of encouraging thinking on 10,000 year time scales.

https://longnow.org/


That's so -idiotic- short term thinking. 10k years is nothing in the timescale of the universe.



You’re missing the last bit, though. It’s “believe the science, when the science agrees with my ideas”. The truth is, a lot of those people claiming IPCC should be listened to conveniently ignore the bits in the IPCC reports that don’t align with their opinions. Also, nobody has time to read the reports and spend years training to actually understanding them.

We are overall woefully uninformed about these things, to the point that the majority of people in some recent opinion polls in Europe believe that nuclear power plants emit greenhouse gases.


Because NIMBYs


This argument is facile. We have a for profit energy sector that doesn't want to invest billions of dollars to see returns in over a decade when they can build wind turbines next month and start making money immediately. If you want nuclear power it needs to be a national investment (see France). No amount of NIMBY can stop coal plants. It seems silly to think that's the thing holding back nuclear adoption.


The "BY" in "NIMBY" gets larger with nuclear imo. Nobody cares if a coal plant is built miles out of town, but sentiment is big that nobody wants a nuclear plant in their state


Don't spread FUD. Fukushima was ten years ago.

The truth is our systemic desire to cut costs cuts corners. Everything after each disaster will have been "obvious".

The price of the tiniest of mistakes is outweighing the advantage.

Stick a power plant in the middle of nowhere and charge batteries with it if you want to convince people.


... Did you just accuse someone of spreading FUD when they're specifically arguing for people to be less afraid?

Fukushima was bad, but even if you count the deaths from the poorly handled evacuation, you're at ~2200 people that died because of it.

Coal kills 13,000 people in just the US /every/ year.


Fukushima was also caused by an earthquake and tsunami - not exactly a scathing indictment of nuclear power itself.


Eh? Earthquakes and Tsunamis happen, so it’s a bit weird to remove them from the equation.


Sure, but if you're going to build a nuclear power plant on an island that's prone to be hit by earthquakes and tsunamis, it probably makes sense to harden it against really bad cases of both of those things.


Yes, but is that an argument against nuclear energy in general or argument against building a nuclear plant in tsunami-endangered area?


I'm pretty sure people understood earthquakes and tsunamis from the 1960s to 2011.

> not exactly a scathing indictment of nuclear power itself.

No, but it's certainly a statement about our ability to operate nuclear power. You really can't separate the two.

Fukushima may have been spared the worst, but the amount of deaths is only part of the story. Pripyat is still a ghost town. That's nearly 50,000 people that were permanently displaced from their homes. I imagine quite a few people are not returning to the Fukushima area as well.


> No, but it's certainly a statement about our ability to operate nuclear power. You really can't separate the two.

... in tsunami endangered areas. Yes, Japanese made a bad mistake to let Americans build such a badly designed nuclear plant in that region and this was known before the disaster. They did not care - the price was good and the risk was acceptable to the people in charge.

Most of nuclear plants in the world are not in tsunami endangered areas though and are operated safely.


> Most of nuclear plants in the world are not in tsunami endangered areas though and are operated safely.

How can one begin to even make this claim knowing: a) Chernobyl, b) Three Mile Island, and c) Fukushima? They clearly aren't operated safely. Just to be clear, I'm not anti-nuclear and I'm not making a case against nuclear power. I'm making a simple observation that really shouldn't be a debate. Three entirely different areas with three entirely different political/power/environmental structures in place.

What about regime collapse? We've been worried about nuclear weapons and the political situation in Pakistan. But a similar threat lurks behind nuclear power. What if the government of the future cannot properly maintain their nuclear plants? Based on the past 100 years of history I do not believe this is merely a hypothetical concern.

There will be disasters in the future. You understand this concept, right? Things that we know today which we will later claim could only be known in retrospect, like a tsunami hitting a nuclear power plant in Japan. I'm rolling my eyes right fucking now.


Notice "most" and "not in tsunami endangered areas". By safely I meant following standard practices, not in areas in risk of being crashed by tsunamis. I did not mean no disaster can happen. Nobody can guarantee that for any industrial operation.

Yes sometimes people or nature do bad things that result in disasters. Disasters will happen with or without nuclear reactors.

I'm saying the serious disasters involving nuclear reactors are rare. Serious disasters because of nuclear reactors are rarer. Chernobyl was incompetence of personnel due to dysfunctional society + cheapest design without containment. It is not indictment of nuclear energy, but indictment of the soviet system. Fukushima wasn't as bad as Chernobyl, but it too shows problems with how government approached nuclear risk. I do not condone building plants like they did in Chernobyl and Fukushima.

> What if the government of the future cannot properly maintain their nuclear plants? Based on the past 100 years of history I do not believe this is merely a hypothetical concern.

We help them. West did help Russia with decommissioning of old nuclear equipment. I think that is a good strategy.

> There will be disasters in the future. You understand this concept, right?

Indeed I do. But it would be very stupid of us to stop advancing nuclear energy because we made mistakes in the past. We learn from mistakes and double down. I believe we can do it and we should do it.


Like the US seems to be the most stable regime in the world?


The problem with nuclear isn’t that it in theory can’t be made safe. The problem is that is is run by humans, in combination with the failure modes being so sudden and large scale.


The problem with nuclear is that it's expensive AND that it relies on oversight and regulation to be fully safe. What to do with the waste, how to prevent accidents like Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc.: that's the problem with nuclear. Ask yourself if you want nuclear plants in all of the dysfunctional governments around the world, given the risks we know exist. Then compare to solar and wind, which are cheaper and safer, it's not hard to see why mostly solar/wind are dominating new power additions.

I have no problems with nuclear personally, I think we should keep safe reactors running as long as our replacements would be LNG. I do think new-build nuclear would largely be deployed too slowly to help with climate change in the short run, but long-run I think it'll be an amazing source of huge amounts of power. Maybe we can have specialized reactors on-site which deal with the waste from our older reactors or from new reactors...not to mention new designs that are passively safe.


I see nuclear as insurance.

Solar and wind are much cheaper, but cannot be scaled in proportion to demand. Given sufficient advances in storage and transmission they may be able to eventually, but maybe not.

Building nuclear that we may not end up needing if the required advances happen means that our worst case is a vastly cleaner energy system, a much better worse case than a continuing dependence on coal and gas.


> how to prevent accidents like Chernobyl, Fukushima

Don't build 1950s design nukes in 21. century and don't build nukes sensitive to tsunamis in tsunami areas.


Bias: I am pro-nuclear, but I try to be realistic.

Nuclear is vastly better for the environment than fossil fuels are, however, it is still bad for the environment. This is why various groups have protested it in the past. Given both viewpoints, my stance is that we should have a real plan to phase out nuclear eventually.

Nuclear is significantly cleaner than fossil fuels. In addition, nuclear could potentially produce a huge amount of energy per "time spent deploying" (especially once there is expertise building nuclear reactors). Finally, nuclear waste can be physically handled and even further processed (in thorium reactors), which is in stark contrast to CO2 which dissipates into the atmosphere and is extremely difficult to sequester.

The problem is that nuclear isn't a perfect option, and people seem to focus on the few caveats over the numerous benefits. If there was a commitment to eventually (on the order of decades) phase it out, I'm sure many of the green energy purists would come to the nuclear party.


Unfortunately I think it's mostly the association with nuclear weapons. That has added to the not-totally-unreasonable fear of accidents like Chernobyl, but without actually evaluating whether other existing power stations are equally at risk, or if building new (and especially smaller / different designs) would be safe.


There are a few I'm aware of:

- Fear of nuclear accidents, 'not in my backyard' reactions from communities - Dealing with radioactive waste safely - Cost/time overruns building nuclear plants

Although I think all of these could be resolved, and I've heard some interesting things about thorium reactors which could be even better. I do wonder whether nuclear power is a good answer to climate change in particular though (beyond keeping the current ones functioning until end of life), nuclear power station design/building often takes decades and it seems like we have a shorter amount of time than that to make a significant difference.


> nuclear power station design/building often takes decades and it seems like we have a shorter amount of time than that to make a significant difference.

It takes decades now, but we know hot to build them quickly and more efficiently. We’ve done it in the past.

Now, it is too late to avoid climate change anyway, and almost certainly too late to avoid crossing the +2 degrees threshold in a couple of decades. We are too late already.

But if we want to minimise the cascading issues that are heading our way, it’s not “let us do something or something else”. We need to redirect as much as we can of our industry to decarbonised energy. This means wind and solar and nuclear fission and hydrogen, and a whole bunch of R&D into the next steps for all of that (including nuclear fusion). Also, we need to consume less. Quite a lot less, in fact.


People have 99+% irrational fears about radiation.

There are actual challenges with nuclear as well (waste disposal being the primary), but those are distantly trailing the radiation fear (and not obviously-to-me worse on-balance than the fossil fuel alternatives at this point).


The people who own the newspapers and the people who own the oil companies are BFFs. See the Bohemian Club for example, organized in 1872 in the San Francisco Chronicle office.


The average lay person knows "radiation is bad" and that Chernobyl blew up. That'll be about it.

People will be genuinely surprised when you tell them it's usually the same old mechanism of most other power plants - heat boils water, which generates steam, which powers a turbine. They're also really surprised to find out a coal plant puts out more radioactivity.

Same phenomenon as vaccines - people know very little about the mechanism, but have very strong opinions anyways.


"Anti-nuclear people are the utility version of antivaxxers" has not just nice ring to it but quite a bite. I like it.


There is a pretty important difference though.

Vaccine is and should be a matter of personal/parent choice, because getting the vaccine is a per-person action and its benefits and risks concern only their health, not health of other people. The benefit/cost analysis is very different for different people, for some it is in favour of getting the vaccine, for some it is against. Vaccination program can and should respect individual peoples' wishes.

While building more nuclear energy is a strategic country-scale decision that cannot respect all people wishes, only the majority's.


> getting the vaccine is a per-person action and its benefits and risks concern only their health, not health of other people

This is definitively not true.


How so? If a man gets vaccinated, he can still catch the virus and he can still transmit the virus.

Vaccine helps the immune system to fight the infection, but does not stop the body from getting infected and we do not know how efficient it is in preventing spreading the infection.


It does stop infection. New data out just a few days ago. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0329-COVID-19-Vacci...

> Results showed that following the second dose of vaccine (the recommended number of doses), risk of infection was reduced by 90 percent two or more weeks after vaccination. Following a single dose of either vaccine, the participants’ risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 was reduced by 80 percent two or more weeks after vaccination.

Immunocompromised people, folks who have allergies to the vaccines, etc. rely on others getting vaccinated to be protected via herd immunity.


That would be interesting however it is an unsourced press release. No names, no links. Hm.

Can you link the study itself? I can't find it.



Long term safe storage of the waste. Many regions in the US are fighting attempts to store waste in their town.


The problem is what to do with the nuclear waste you constantly produce. And the risks associated with having a new Fukushima in your hands. And the proliferation of nuclear technology.

That said it still seems better than many alternatives


> The problem is what to do with the nuclear waste you constantly produce.

We know what to do with it. Bury it, deep and somewhere remote. The US already has such a place: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_Mountain_nuclear_waste_r...


Indeed, but then how long does your moral responsibility last. Will the United State exist in a thousand year ? Will there still be an organization to monitor the place for leaks ? How deep is deep enough ?

Also, what about Not the United States ? It seems everybody is synchronizing policies, if you hear the rumblings out of the European Commission. Where are they gonna store the wast ?


Europe has similarly suitable sites.

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

The stuff stored in these facilities is not magic. It doesn't get up and run around. The sites are selected to be deep enough and to be resilient to leaks. I'm more concerned with our culpability for melting the world's glaciers and ice caps than the risk of someone digging up barrels miles deep a thousand years from now.


Thank you about the Onkalo site. I didn't know about it. Do you know if Russians have anything similar planned closer to Europe, in the Oural for example (iirc the oldest geological region in Europe) ? I could only find Krasnoyarsk on the web.

On your other info : I don't know about culpability. I'm passing the 40 year old mark, and I don't remember my generation, or the generations right before mine having enough influence on such matters until very recently.

These choices were made much earlier, by within your framing I'd say more culpable age brackets, and which are slowly let's say "disappearing".

What remains, in my opinion, for people currently in charge of affairs, and in the future, is a matter of responsibility to all future generations. We most certainly know what's what now, and the ethical and moral calculus is publicly in evidence, as a consequence of, amongst other such operations, the Greta Thundberg UN tour.

Again, not arguing against nuclear. If we do it, I'd say let's not create new problems out because we're too sure of our probability projections... As pointed elsewhere, we were due for an Ice Age. That might still happen down the line, whatever happens to surface human politics. Let's make sure somebody's there to check for such leaks down the line, and that it's easy to access.

Once we decide we won't make matters worse now, why stop at that ? Let's make sure we don't make them worse down the line out of some new error.



Thanks !

We know how to store the waste now and we can keep doing the same for hundred years. Why would it become a problem later? Is people IQ going to drop? It is a pure straw man to ask about what happens with waste monitoring in thousand years from now.


I'm not arguing against nuclear. I'm arguing for doing it better.

And a straw man ? Really ? I'd argue that the real hazard here is precisely such an off-hand moral position as you seem to have. Either that, or you think current civilization will stay as is, only progress.

IIRC, the Yuka mountain folks did indeed take such questions into account when designing the facility, as they though not doing so would be irresponsible. Moreover, barring climate change, we're statistically due for the start of an ice age sometime this century or the next. That would most certainly cover northern Europe.

So it's not a question of IQ, but of the stability of the civilization occupying a territory in the very long term. That could have major repercussions on any maintenance organization.

My questions would be, why even design such deep structures if it's now to take into account generations in the far future ? Solutions could be much simpler for nuclear fuel disposal.


The discussion on problems associated with naive future people digging nuclear waste from hundreds of meters in the ground is not relevant for our current environmental and social problems. If you want to discuss our responsibility to people after civilization disappears, please find a different discussion page for it. This one is about nuclear energy being relevant part of energy policy in coming years and decades.

Regarding doing it better, that is commendable but some waste will always be generated, we can't just burn the fuel down into non-radioactive state.


Lol human civilization won't be around at all in a thousand years if we don't do it with all the climate change occurring.


not yet!

"In the meantime, most nuclear power plants in the United States have resorted to the indefinite on-site dry cask storage of waste in steel and concrete casks.[14]"

Our local region just fought to shut down a plant, and now the fight continues on where to ship (or not) the waste. In the meantime of course, they're fighting over these short term store options which have guarantees of only 25 years.


Breeder reactors can produce less waste. You can cask it and store it on site if nothing else. It's not a major issue.


The proliferation of nuclear technology is a good thing.


Fun/Depressing fact: The USA has more floating reactors than reactors on land.


Source?


US Navy nuclear fleet.

Caveat: US Navy is more responsible about operating its reactors than commercial generators.


Further caveat: it's arguably much easier to cool a reactor when said reactor floats on a literally-planet-covering heatsink.


Absolutely. Worse case scenario, you scuttle the vessel and the reactor is surrounded by a cooling medium in perpetuity.


I think they're talking about the reactors in naval ships. The USA has little (any?) buoyant nuclear power generation for commercial use.


Isn't Russia the only one that has tried that with ships?


Solar is now the cheapest form of energy. Ever.

Before you try to sink billions into nuclear energy, explain why we can't do it with solar + storage alone? Just one good reason. I've yet to hear anything substantive. All I keep hearing is soundbites from the nuclear and fossil fuel industry.

All is missing is the political will, not technology.

Use nuclear for situations in which there are no alternatives. Rovers on Mars or something.


> All is missing is the political will, not technology.

I hate this phrase and it is something both the "only renewables" and "only nuclear" camps make. Neither technology is developed enough to effectively take over the grid (plus one source is terrible for energy security, but renewables is a bit diversified, though you're arguing purely solar).

The technical problem here is that we do not yet have the battery technology to sustain the grid. These are not the same batteries that we have in our cellphones. You cannot quick discharge common lipo batteries without starting a fire. But including batteries completely changes the cost structure and environmental impact which is why many suggest baseload technologies like hydro (nuclear would fit in here as well but yes, it is costly). This also creates a drastically different cost function for places like the American Southwest vs the American Northeast.

There is missing political will, but there is also missing technology (and missing political will to fund the development of that technology).


> Before you try to sink billions into nuclear energy, explain why we can't do it with solar + storage alone? Just one good reason. I've yet to hear anything substantive.

The fact that storage at anywhere remotely close to the required scale doesn't exist is a very good reason.


Solar and wind take significantly large amounts of land to generate electricity. NEI estimated in 2015 that wind farms require 360 times as much land to produce the same amount of electricity as a nuclear energy facility while PV solar requires 75.

I think the better investment is solar/wind + storage with significant investment in storage technology. BTW, cheaper storage addresses the transportation issue as well.

That being said, the cost of natural gas, particularly in the US will keep natural gas power plants in the equation for a long time.


because there is no storage that can handle natural disasters like week long blizzards or hurricanes that wipe out power for weeks. Also these same disasters destroy solar arrays a lot faster than nuclear facilities which are build to survive such natural disasters. Are you going to ask communities to do without power for a couple years while they rebuild the local solar array? We need both. But people just don't seem to be able to put two and two together.


I don’t think we have efficient enough storage (yet ?), do we?

Can I get a source on solar being the cheapest energy source? That surprises me


Suppose nuclear requires various government supports to make the projects economically viable and in research for new reactor designs. Now suppose we put that same money into subsidizing renewables, and building a modern grid. Which one gives a better result?

Edit: to add an even spicier question, why not keep renewables + natural gas with carbon capture?


Depends. Are we talking battery needs for the Southwest? Yes. Other places that don't have a relatively constant solar output and more variable seasons? No. But this is one of the many reasons the situation is substantially more complicated than the general conversation.


> Other places that don't have a relatively constant solar output and more variable seasons? No.

How big of a problem is this really, though? We could run more HVDC lines (as we already have in some places), such that sunny states provide power to northern states in the winter.


I don't actually know the answer. I do know that there isn't a singular grid in the US though so there are some complications. From my limited understanding the Texas power problem wouldn't have been solved if ERCOT was connected to the western or eastern grids. We're also talking about big losses if we're transmitting electricity across the country. There's also political issues as well as security issues (don't put all your eggs in one basket and don't putt all your baskets in the same place).


The losses aren't big, we'd get sub-10 percent between any two locations within the US, and sub-4 percent in the typical case.


That's good to know, thanks.


Sure. Just tell me where you are going to put all those solar panels now. On house roofs? In cities? Sounds great. In the desert? Count me out. We are going to cover this planet in tech junk like it's Blade Runner 2049. That's not a future I want to see. I like the deserts the way they are.


All of the above, because it works at residential and commercial scale at the load with no line losses, and at utility scale utilizing the existing spoke and wheel grid model, and for cities we'll use the community solar model already popular today. Welcome to the present!


Like I said before, I think local solar is great. But utility scale solar is an environmental nightmare. Look at Ivanpah. Do you want the deserts covered in that?


Ivanpah and concentrating solar power is not cost effective. CSP is dead. There are true environmental concerns but solar is the least worst option.


Ivanpah is concentrating solar with heliostats, right? Not flat plate photovoltaic cells which is 99.9% of solar electric energy.


Doesn't matter. Mirrors or photovoltaics. They both produce similar amounts of power per area over the whole facility, and nowhere near what a nuclear plant outputs. The power density is literally 8x higher for nuclear versus photovoltaics, according to this [1] (sorry for stupid paywall).

When you scale that up, you need insane amount of land that is literally nothing but solar panels. Where are we going to put all that new tech?

[1] https://www.forbes.com/2010/05/11/renewables-energy-oil-econ...


11 year old link, pre-utility scale pv. Nice, That's not true when you add in the exclusion zone for nuclear. land use is different for "solar thermal" (Ivanpah) and solar PV, as is the technology, the water use, the environmental concerns, and timing of the useful energy, the lifecycle, the time to build, the cost. But sure apples taste like oranges. Nuclear is great for baseload - but the cons outweigh the pros because they have to be on water. We gotta move forward.


Yeah, well read this study from 4 years ago: https://www.strata.org/pdf/2017/footprints-full.pdf

Upshot there: all factors considered, including not only the area of the actual power generation facility, but also storage, transmission, mining...everything. Nuclear is nearly 4x better in terms of power per acre.

I don't know what "exclusion zone" you are referring to. If you are assuming that every single nuclear plant is going to melt down Chernobyl style, this isn't a serious conversation, really.

And I'd like to point out that access to water (for cooling nuclear plants) is easier to come by than access to sun.


The access to water is the bug, not a feature since seismic events allow radioactive materials into water, like learned at fukashima. Access to sunlight is more prevalent than to non seismicly active areas. Here is the only nuke in construction in the US, and it's long been a debacle. https://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/news/2019/03/22/pla...


Neither the seismic event nor the megatsunami caused a release of radioactive material into waters at Fukushima. The failing of cooling because backup generators were flooded in the basement, leading to an explosion did. After that, they've released contaminated water into the ocean that can no longer be stored on site. Mistakes were made at Fukushima, but what radioactive waste release from seismic events is not what happened, and has never happened.


Not just that solar is the cheapest but nuclear is also the second most expensive option. I really don't understand this recent flood of pro-nuclear posts on HN.

https://ourworldindata.org/cheap-renewables-growth


Because we know about economies of scale and mass production. I think greens only think about their own pet projects. I don't know a single proponent of nuclear power who is against supplementing it with solar, wind, etc.


Because those costings for solar and wind don't include the costs and viability of storage.


Nuclear should absolutely replace fossil fuel baseload. There is an increasing difference between non solar generation during the day, and in the evening where there is no solar but demand is highest. Currently the difference is made up with natural gas peaker plants.

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


What happens to reactors after 50 or 100 years of global/national decline due to environmental and geopolitical circumstances?


What happens after another century of dumping 45+ billion tons of CO2 and other GHGs into the air?

The question is whether it's better to use nuclear power or fossil fuel power. There's little difference, practically speaking, between hemming and hawing about statistically small events happening re: nuclear power, or what we do a lifetime from now, and actively advocating for increased fossil fuel usage.

If nuclear can be replaced with something even cleaner and even safer then I'm all for it. But it's short sighted in the extreme to actively tear nuclear down when the only realistic alternative at that scale is fossil fuel.


Or the discussion is about nuclear versus other forms of "green" energy.


And what do you do when the other forms of green energy aren't available?


Well, then nuclear is better than fossil fuels. Has that been a barrier to adoption?


Yes, NIMBYs


>the only realistic alternative at that scale is fossil fuel.

Are the alternatives widespread in places like Denmark not realistic (wind from 50% in 2020 to 84% by 2035)? 4th best energy architecture performance and the second best energy security in the world. Is it not realistic elsewhere?


Correct, wind energy is not present in the same amounts everywhere. There are places where wind energy is more available and places where it's not available or marginal. You can't run your AC off of a gentle breeze.

Finding the best places to install wind farms is surprisingly difficult.


With enough wind energy couldn't energy transfer between countries and energy storage help? After all it is always windy somewhere. I know energy storage is hard and not enough alone but couldn't for example Sweden and Denmark transfer energy back and forth and only use other energy sources as backup?


There's a lot of power loss in transmission over long distances. China is attempting to move power from solar fields from the eastern deserts to its major cities using Ultra High Voltage (UHV) power lines [1], but not without problems.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra-high-voltage_electricity...


> There's a lot of power loss in transmission over long distances.

No, there's not. If one were to build new transmission today one would expect low-single-digits percentage loss per 1,000 miles of distance. It's not enough for anyone to worry about.


HVAC has significant losses, HVDC has less losses and allows power to be transmitted efficiently enough over long distances (guess it depends on what you mean by long).

A good example is North Sea link, linking the north of England to the abundant hydropower in Norway, which should come online this year I think. HVDC links connecting European countries of the length 400-600km are becoming quite common, unfortunately subsea cables are prone to failures and can cause a lot of outages etc.


Long distance transmission losses are pretty low. Most of energy losses happens in the "last mile" networks.


I'm sure in smaller less populated countries that will work, but in denser, much much larger countries it won't. Think USA, Brazil, China, India, Russia....


I dunno, but that worries me much less than what happens to the thermonuclear warheads so I'd say that ship has sailed.


The half-life of Tritium is ~12 years. In a scenario where upkeep stopped, eventually enough would decay that the warheads would no longer be able to attain their design yield.


That's not really a worry, it's relatively easy to tear down thermonuclear devices and then pitch the plutonium into the deepest part of the ocean.


Would you be OK with putting the reactors on the Moon and beaming the power down to Earth?


This is my favorite SimCity 2000 disaster type.


No. Riduculously expensive idea, dangerous and unnecessary.


Sure, 8 light minutes away sounds great. We’ll even get some light out of the transmission of energy to us and the waste is taken care of.


The moon is much, much closer than 8 light minutes away. Are you thinking of the sun? It's already doing a good job at sending energy to us from nuclear reactions.


That’s the joke. The Sun is safe, cheap fusion at a distance. Enough sunlight hits the Earth in 30 minutes (I’ve seen figures as low as 2 minutes from the UAE, but am conservative for argument’s sake) to power humanity for a year.


Unfortunately, the same NIMBY crowd that hates nuclear also hates the idea of fields of solar cells and the idea of fields of wind farms.


And yet, renewables account for almost all new generation being turned up.

Turns out there are lots of places to install panels and turbines where there aren’t NIMBYs.

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=46416


There are also lots of places to build nuclear power plants without NIMBYs.

Point being, NIMBYs often have a rather inflated idea of what counts as "in my back yard".


We’re never going to cover any significant portion of the Earth with solar panels, though. And the photoelectric effect has efficiency limits.


Can you provide evidence why we wouldn’t or can’t? We are only limited by panel production and deployment rates. We’re not going to run out of land or raw materials.


For a start, 2 thirds of the Earth’s surface are oceans. Then, fields and other agricultural land is about 40% of the land surface area. And we are supposed to grow forests as carbon sinks. Then, you have mountains ranges, which might or might not be good places to put solar panels depending on a whole bunch of factors. Similarly, some deserts can be used to put solar panels, at the cost of long-range transport for the produced electricity, but a lot of them aren’t nice places for this type of installations (either very cold or with wide temperature fluctuations, harsh environment).

That’s a lot of places where we can’t. And we need to be careful where we can put them. We are causing a mass extinction event just because of how we destroy ecosystems and degrade our environment, and crop fields of pastures are much less disruptive than covering massive areas with panels.

I am not saying we don’t or should not use solar panels where it makes sense, just that using the total energy received by the Earth as a measure is not really relevant, because the land we can allocate to that will always be insignificant compared to the surface of the Earth. If you factor land use, it is clear that solar panels by themselves cannot be all of the answer.


> If you factor land use, it is clear that solar panels by themselves cannot be all of the answer.

Disagree. Rebuttal: https://landartgenerator.org/blagi/archives/127

Direct img link: http://landartgenerator.org/blagi/wp-content/uploads/2009/08...


Right. What does it have to do with this? I pointed out that using the total radiation input on Earth as a measure is irrelevant, because we are never going to use anything close to this.


Right! This demonstrates how little land mass needs to be used to power the world entirely from solar. Total solar potential is clear, total land use necessary is clear, ergo solar can power the world. Anything else is hand waving and excuses.


It can't in natural disasters which quickly remove solar power and we also can't store up enough power to handle peak demand in summers and winters. It's nice to act like that's not a problem when you live in some place like San Jose where it doesn't regularly get 110 or -20F


> ergo solar can power the world

You forgot about clouds, nights and current lack of capability to store/transport energy to mitigate them. This can be solved but it is not trivial.


What's 'significant'? We're at the point where we are adding gigawatts of solar capacity annually. That feels significant to me.


Significant compared to the Earth’s surface area and the amount of radiation we receive. Sure, we get a lot of energy from the sun. But no, we’re never going to turn more than a tiny fraction of that into electricity. The orders of magnitude just don’t match.


Ok, but we don't need that much energy. Something close to 200 petawatts continuously strike the surface. Humanity uses something like 15 terawatts. To fully cover our energy needs we'd need to capture less than 1 in 10,000 watts or 0.01% of the sun's energy hitting earth. But I don't think 100% solar is anyone's goal. So we'd need to capture less than that.

So it seems to me that we could absolutely cover a significant amount of our energy use.


Soviet-built nuclear power plants did fine... with one notable exception.


I don't know about newer Russian designs (if there are any) but the Soviet era ones are terrible.


They are shut down and they sit where they are?


In a competent society, yes.


They produce no greenhouse gases.


Well actually I believe they have a rather large upfront carbon footprint, but the question is not whether they are worse than fossil fuels, but whether we should rely on other forms of "green" energy which do not have catastrophic failure conditions or rely on a competent society to safely maintain. We have already failed to stop global warming and we should expect to be in decline, so that's the future we should prepare for.


It is not either solar/wind or nuclear, it is use both. Technology on worldwide scale isn't in decline.


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