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US attorney details illegal acts, sealing the fate of the “nuclear Renaissance” (thebulletin.org)
60 points by pseudolus 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 31 comments





Responding to the other comment in the thread here, I see nothing about safety concerns, only about lying about the operational status of the reactor for tax credits, in the face of mounting delays.

Which doesn't excuse fraud but... cost bloat and regulatory delays are exactly what the nuclear fanboys are frustrated by. This doesn't really speak to the technology at all, just an incentive structure that motivated fraud.


It does in fact speak to the technology, because this particular technology is extraordinarily undecentralizable and thus lends itself to corruption and boondoggles.

SCANA CEO got 2 year sentence a couple days ago:

https://www.courthousenews.com/judge-signs-off-on-2-year-sen...


TL;DR This Westinghouse Project is to what we need, as Boeing's Starliner is to SpaceX's solution.

To reduce carbon emissions and bridges us until fusion (or some other tech) is more viable, nuclear still seems to make sense; ignoring the political and scaremongering issues.

This project suffered from corruption, mismanagement, and contractors who've gotten too good at "business" rather than engineering.


That's an excellent analogy. There is a scattering of fission-based startups (I'll plug UBattery, FliBe energy also looks smart).

Just like SpaceX, like it or not you're not going to avoid some government involvement. (You know what, I wouldn't call the unashamedly public-sector development in the '60s sluggish either.)


Some other tech like solar, wind, batteries etc. perhaps?

I've noticed a weird trend recently where the people still keen on nuclear power don't even mention the elephant in the room that is renewables.

They used to love talking about how expensive and unreliable and unsafe it is.

Gives me some small hope that a consensus is slowly being reached.


>Some other tech like solar, wind, batteries etc. perhaps?

The sun doesn’t shine at night, the wind doesn’t blow all the time, and batteries often are astronomically expensive and impractical at large scales. Nuclear is important specifically because of the greater penetration of renewables, that are inherently intermittent or variable. Nuclear provides a stable baseload to complement that variability.

A nuclear plant is producing its maximum capacity 93% of the time, as opposed to wind (34%) and solar (24%). To get 1 GW of reliable energy at any given time, you need 3-4 GW of wind and solar in the hope it will be enough, as opposed to 1.1 GW of nuclear. (Worth noting that coal is only 48% reliable). So I’m not sure where people are getting the “unreliable” part. [1][2]

As for safety, nuclear power one of the safest forms of energy generation there is, which is in line with solar and wind. [3] Finally, if we are talking about expense, it is only expensive when you compare it to coal and natural gas, which are baseload generating power sources. Again, with intermittent renewables, it is cheaper to build nuclear than to massively overbuild solar, wind, and grid level batteries.

[1] https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.ph...

[2] https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/what-generation-capacity

[3] https://ourworldindata.org/safest-sources-of-energy


I think you misread my comment, I wasnt saying nuclear was unsafe or unreliable or expensive.

I was saying people who wanted to distract from the high cost of nuclear would divert attention and say that solar/wind kills more people than nuclear per TWh (based on old, out of date stats) and that they were "unreliable" compared with nuclear.

As you note, renewables and nuclear are in the same bracket for safety, with renewables slowly moving ahead.

I was, perhaps naively, hoping this reflected greater knowledge of renewables continued roll out around the world, which would make such claims look silly.

Also, nuclear is expensive compared with renewables, but it's only more expensive than coal if you don't take carbon and pollution into account, which we definitely should.


>Also, nuclear is expensive compared with renewables

As I said above, nuclear is not more expensive than renewables if you are looking at functional grid without coal and natural gas. Solar and wind are both intermittent and variable. They vary greatly, both over an individual 24-hour period, and seasonally throughout the year. In order to build a grid that was able to meet demand consistently and reliably, you would have to massively overbuild renewables so they were able to meet peek demand, and deal with the issue of huge load shedding during times of overproduction. See section 5 and 6 of [1] for a study of what it would take to reach 80% and 100% renewables for California. To reach 0% fossil fuels, a total of about 7GW of nuclear power ( the equivalent of 4 Diablo Canyon plants) would reduce needed solar and wind by 11.5GW (the equivalent of over 5 million turbines) and solar by 5.7GW (the equivalent of 1.8 million rooftop systems). When you only need 40% the capacity, even double the cost is cheaper.

And of course there is the diminishing returns of building turbines in the best locations and solar on the best roofs, and still needing to build millions more. And this is just one state.

>I think you misread my comment

I did. You said "They used to love talking about how expensive and unreliable and unsafe it is." and the "it is" led me to believe you were talking about the singular nuclear and not the multiple renewables.

[1] https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/Comb...


>They used to love talking about how expensive and unreliable and unsafe it is.

Because now you can just look outside.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/energy-prices-in-europe-hit-rec...

Renewables are great, but you can't 100% rely on them. Batteries are too expensive to do more than short-term load balancing.

Either you massively overprovision everything - and MW for MW cost comparisons stop making sense - or you have brownouts.


Where by "look outside" you mean "read headlines in Murdoch-owned newspapers printed in the states and talking about Europe"?

Yes, high gas prices partly caused by political shenanigans totally made me thankful that we hadn't moved faster to electrification and renewables and instead dragged our feet for so many years because of bogus fears that renewables would be ruinously costly and not even work and kill all the birds etc. Well done to everyone who contributed to that propaganda effort.


If ignoring the facts is the reaction to demonstrable grid instability in most of Europe, India and China, the future looks bleak for renewables.

That's a very vague and non specific accusation.

Presumably because your facts aren't actually facts and if you stated what facts you thought they were ignoring, someone would point out that you're wrong.

But yes, let's all hope together that governments around the world don't ignore basic facts when dealing with this or any other issue.

We'll just quietly disagree on what the facts actually are, because hey they're only facts, nothing important.


It's very noticeable that all of those have an actual market, whereas if you want a reactor you have very limited choices. Nuclear power is more like the F-35, where the job of the contractor is to establish it as a "national necessity" and then bill as much as they can get away with while prolonging the programme, because there's no realistic competitors.

SpaceX made the product on private money and then sold it to the government once it could be seen to work.


> SpaceX made the product on private money

And public loans.

This doesn’t fully detract from your point that SpaceX is different from traditional government space contractors, but it should be noted.


How do the French do it?

The French have 100 varieties of cheese, and 3 varieties of nuclear power plants. In the USA it's the opposite.

More seriously, the French nuclear buildout (the Messmer plan), was a state driven program doing series building of large nuclear power plants. That is the recipe for quickly building out capacity on time and on budget.

(The delays and cost overruns seen today with the EPR's are largely due to there being such a long pause in building these that much of the knowhow was lost.)


So ... the free market approach doesn't work, government intervention, leadership, and subsidy is necessary?

Well, if the "free market" wants to create unique, hand-crafted nuclear power plants, with generally inexperienced workers... While the government's alternative is something between a production line and cookie-cutter tract houses, with experienced workers... Then duh. Not hard to figure out which one has an overwhelming advantage.

Somewhat my point, yes.

Well contrary to what Republicans believe all the great things America has done have been funded by the Federal government.

Not all.

But many, yes.

(A few of the not-so-great things as well.)


The Canadians do it with CANDU (Canadian Deuterium Uranium) reactors.

They are extremely (almost inherently) safe. They run on natural, unenriched uranium or any mix of uranium, plutonium and thorium that you have to hand.

Nuclear power is, in a sense, a solved problem. You can just make dozens of CANDUs.

There are a few dozen political issues with procurement and weaponization that made the safe, boring CANDU reactor a non-option for American politics. It's a shame.


If you can overcome "political issues with weaponization", then can't you burn the waste in a breeder reactor and be way more efficient?

My impression is that it adds many orders of magnitude to how long the available uranium will last.


our current “climate tzar”, John Kerry, made a career killing safe and promisingly nuclear designs.

With the current cost of large-scale renewables, instead of spending 9 billion dollars to not get 2200MW of fission power they could have built 9000MW of solar power with zero risk, or more usefully half that peak capacity of combined wind and solar and the grid-scale batteries to paper over the variance in output.

> With the current cost of large-scale renewables

"The project was initiated in May 2008 and gained final approval in February 2009."


Which only raises furher points:

- Nuclear projects have decades-plus lead times. VC Summer units 2 & 3 have been in-process for 23 years, to be abandoned due to both costs and mismanagement. Construction and commissioning remain only a part of the entire nuclear life-cycle.

- Solar and wind power have seen a long-term cost declines since the 1950s. Doubling installations reduces costs by 20% through learning-curve effects. At the same time, nuclear's costs have been increasing. These trends are well-established and must be factored into future projections of presently-planned energy projects. https://ourworldindata.org/cheap-renewables-growth

- Nuclear power, along with most complex and large-scale capabilities and institutions tends to promote corruption and mismanagement, along with tremendous consequences for mishaps resulting from these. Corruption is not a technical problem with a technical solution, it cannot be engineered against. Yes, other energy modalities have seen enormous failures, but, 1) those also arose from mismanagement and corruption and 2) because they were not based on nuclear power the affected regions rapidly recovered, are once again inhabited, and no latent risks remain a statement which cannot be made of the major nuclear incidents expereinced to date.


Apparently most LCOE estimates assume you'll be able to sell all the energy you generate for decades at current prices.

This affects all energy tech, but means new nuclear, which is already uncompetitive with those calculations, is being especially made to look better than it should be as baseload requirements reduce to zero.


Even then the cost of utility scale solar and wind was not that much higher than it is now.

The price trend of renewable energy was entirely foreseeable 15 years ago.



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