A group of climate scientists, including former NASA scientist James Hansen, are calling for more nuclear power to address climate change:
Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires. While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power
We understand that today’s nuclear plants are far from perfect. Fortunately, passive safety systems and other advances can make new plants much safer. And modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently. Innovation and economies of scale can make new power plants even cheaper than existing plants. Regardless of these advantages, nuclear needs to be encouraged based on its societal benefits.
All the nuclear technology near my house is 40+ years old, of the same vintage (not the same design) as the Fukushima reactors. In general, utility operators aren’t building new nuclear plants, so I don’t see how adding more nuclear capacity could happen without a major government initiative, and that would be socialism.
c u n d gulag
YES – MOAR NEWKS!!!
Because Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima, and not being able to properly dispose of nuclear waste, have apparently fucking taught us absolutely fucking nothing.
But, I recall a few years ago reading Sen Gahram is for subsidies for the industry.
Repukes love nuke subsidies because liberals hate them. It’s a lovely combination of Cleek’s law and corporate pork.
@c u n d gulag: In this country, we haven’t learned much largely because we haven’t made any investment in R&D since the 1970s.
A rough analogy would be like having frozen aircraft design somewhere around 1940. We’d be stuck with DC-3s buzzing around at 150mph and crashing regularly. But we didn’t freeze aircraft design–we invested heavily in R&D that improved performance and safety. So today we have 747s and Airbus A-340s that can take you non-stop halfway around the globe.
If we’d made the same investment in nuclear energy, we wouldn’t anywhere near “too cheap to meter,” but we’d have much safer plants with much reduced end-products.
As a survivor of TMI, I say the industry is not to be trusted,and neither are the regulators- too much can go wrong. And you still have the waste disposal issue.
Thorium Molten Salt Reactors!
One thing that MUST happen is the renovation and upgrading of existing nuclear power plants. Nuclear is better for climate change, but the existing, older reactors need to be replaced first.
Also, I just don’t get why anyone would assert that wind and solar can’t scale up fast enough, at least in the US. As with nuclear, the capital costs for wind and solar (and necessary storage) are high, but unlike current and near-future nuclear designs (15 years or so), wind and solar can be deployed continuously in an incremental fashion, without the long lead times of nuclear plants, and without the massive cost overruns that would almost certainly accompany a big nuclear push. Maybe would could build a lot of nuke plants cheaply if we give up on this whole democracy thing we Americans claim to like, but short of that I don’t see how.
Negative learning by doing in the nuclear industry.
Jesus and George Washington were big supporters of nuclear socialism.
Nukes simply aren’t cost effective, and that’s before you figure out what to do with waste, how you handle security or decide who pays for the cleanup when the things that could never ever happen inevitably happen. Even with none of the add on costs of nukes figured in, they’re a horrifically expensive way to spin a generator.
I watched a show on this prototype power plant, and how this system “stores” solar energy overnight by keeping the molten liquid salt from solidifying through latent heat and by an electric “dump” furnace (which could theoretically use batteries). Certainly not more convoluted than a nuclear power plant, and maybe 99% safer to operate over it’s lifetime.
@Derelict: and if all the money, brains and time spent on nuclear research from 1934 up till now had been spent on solar research….where would we be. Way, way way past too cheap to meter I think. And imagine if serious effort had been plowed into solar research from 1873, when Willoughby Smith made the first photovoltaic cell.
But you can’t make a bomb from sunshine.
Nuclear power is/was/and always will be a fools errand. Time to stop and head in a new direction. A direction the world discovered 140 years ago, 60 years before nuclear fission.
The only way to get more nukes is a) finally get Yucca Mountain running and b) heavily subsidize the industry. A) is pretty much impossible while Harry Reid is Majority Leader. B) is an absolute necessity, as even doing the environmental impact reviews for a new nuke plant costs $1 billion+, without even getting into actual construction.
(I took a course on EIRs from an expert on nukes. Did you know only 1/3 of DoE’s budget goes toward energy related work and 2/3 goes toward maintaining/decommissioning our nuclear weapon stockpile?)
The word ‘nuclear’ scares the pants off of people. Because of that, there will not be an expansion in nuclear power. We can’t even properly dispose of the waste we have now, it’s so unpopular.
The current clog of batshit racist lunatics in our government will die. When that happens, there will be heavy investment in energy and infrastructure again, if only because they’ve made everything they hate sound attractive. I hope that by then, renewable energy will be ready. We honestly did not have the technology in the 70s, but now it’s advancing by leaps and bounds.
Nuclear power is not economically viable. It just isn’t.
There’s a giant nuclear reactor in the sky. It’s called the sun. Let’s use that one instead, ‘m’kay?
c u n d gulag
But I still ask, what do we do with the NIMBY problem of nuclear waste?
I dunno guys, waiting for the current crop of conservatives to die off before addressing climate change does not look like a viable option to me.
Twenty years more waiting will probably mean an extra hundred years of global warming for the next several generations.
Nuclear power may suck, but the alternative is way worse.
Another issue along those lines is the big issue that would scream socialism to these people: You don’t build nuclear reactors where there’s a chance of high damage, like in a state or country that is prone to earthquakes. You build it somewhere safe, and have a distribution system to send power to where it is needed.
This system would be useful whatever the power source. Hence, until we get a GOP targeting plague, we’re stuck.
We’d probably be somewhat ahead, but not a huge amount. Solar technology is based on semiconductor physics, and that research has been balls-to-the-wall since the 1940s. There’s only so much you can rush basic research.
I agree that we have to do everything possible to maximize use of renewable energy, but the experience in Japan and Germany is that if you shut down nuclear now you will replace it with coal. That’s what’s happening.
I have long thought that nuclear could/would be part of the solution, but much would depend on
being more than a pipe dream.
Something important to remember about nuclear power is that there is no market providing nuclear power. All extraction/refining of uranium is heavily regulated and subsidized by the federal government. Additionally the construction of the power plants is heavily subsidized by local/state/federal government. Finally nuclear power plants are not insured on the market, rather the government guarantees them against disaster. I am perfectly fine with all this, but it bears remembering about the resource.
Rob in CT
I’m mildly pro-more-nukes. The newer designs have better safety features. The government would have to roll out some backing, because w/o some special support construction just plain costs too much. And then there is still the waste issue (we should make like France and re-burn the waste even though it creates weaponized material).
In terms of externalities, I figure: Coal < Oil < Nat. Gas < Nukes < Wind/Hydro/Solar (not sure how to order those last three). Given that, yes, more nukes please. The only reason Connecticut ranks out decently re: carbone emissions from power plants is that we have a nuke plant.
Fukushima effectively killed the resurgence of the nuclear industry in this country.
Nuclear power can be safe. The Navy has been operating reactors for decades with a very high safety record, and these plants go out to sea.
The problem is that safety and profit margins are not seen as compatible in our implementation of the free market.
another thing to consider. Renewables can be used in places where the technical expertise/ geographical externalities make nukes far less of a safe bet.
You don’t need extra guards around a wind farm or a solar array-terrorists aren’t going to find much bang for the buck targeting them, and if they do, the effects will only be for a few days and weeks and that’s local. You don’t need highly paid and trained and monitored techs. This is important in the Third/Second World, where governments change frequently, and where there are simmering grudges, and where the demand for electricity will be ramping up the most in the next 20 years.
@Rob in CT:
Regulation of electricity rates, too. The utilities need a stable price floor for funding the huge, up front capital costs of building these plants.
@c u n d gulag:
I don’t want to make light of nuclear dangers, but what’s driving this is likely Hansen’s recent estimate that burning all fossil fuels would raise the global temperature by 30 degrees. With the polar ice caps melted, the only places still inhabitable by current animals would be tall mountains. Pretty much every fish and mammal species, along with most birds, would be extinct. The human population would be reduced by 90% or so, and the likely resource wars along the way would make things like WWII and the nasty civil wars look like a walking in the park. Having the entire world be a Chernobyl exclusion zone would be really bad – but still considerably less bad that *that* scenario.
True, although those jobs are nice to have to support a robust middle class :-)
Another thing we should be doing is accelerated retrofitting of buildings and replacement of less efficient appliances. One advantage is that these things could be ramped up tomorrow and would take effect immediately,
Even if the world would go balls to the wall nuclear (fat chance), construction would take years to complete and many more before they were fully operational.
Maybe we could give credits to people who buy more energy efficient stuff and recycle older less efficient stuff. A write off for your old tv?
Uranium mining is a rather nasty business with unique perils. And it leaves behind tailings which carry the pollution potential for major environmental damage (groundwater, etc.) for hundreds of years.
Improving the electricity grid would be a higher priority on my list than any push for nuclear plants.
@C.V. Danes: What you cite, something called “reality’, has a well known liberal bias. Therefore, getting to practical nuclear energy that isn’t ad hoc, jury rigged and/or “free market” driven will not come to pass.
to make warour energy policy with the industrial/gov’t regime we have, not with the one we wish we had.
Excellent points, all. However, what about a “Manhattan project” whose purpose is to increase efficiency, reduce dependency, and expand renewable energy.
The amount of global warming already programmed into the system and that will be unfolding over the next decades will be very destructive to the infrastructure needed to support the baseload capacity that Nuc plants are designed to provide. The billions of dollars we would spend on building these plants might be better spent on weaning ourselves off that model of power generation.
@magurakurin:pretty much how I feel. But: if the cost-benefit/opportunity cost analyses are possible and they show investment in NEWclear won’t beggar alt energy growth I’d have to say go for it. I just think warming is that dangerous. Sometimes there are no good choices, only less-bad ones.
They have one of those molten salt power plants up and running in Europe, don’t they? France or Spain?
The bigger problem is that we have a fleet of 100+ nuclear power plants in this country that produce over 20% of the baseload capacity, are all over 40 years old, and no plans to replace them any time soon.
On that train all graphite and glitter
undersea by rail
ninety minutes from New York to Paris
(more leisure for artists everywhere)
a just machine to make big decisions
programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
we’ll be clean when their work is done
we’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young
what a beautiful world this will be
what a glorious time to be free
And with a growing population, and the examples of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukishima, the number of places here who are willing to have a nuke in their backyard are decreasing. Who is going to wait out the endless delays, massive resistance, and cost overruns?
J R in WV
I was nearly pro-more-nukes until Fukushima. The Japanese built a defective plant with no safety protections against tidal waves in a place that has stone monuments from medieval times showing how far up the land the water comes.
And the plant is glowing in the dark today (metaphorically) and (actually) leaking a stupendous amount of highly radioactive water soluble pollution into the Pacific, where sea life we depend upon is dying in hideous agony.
If that amount of radiation was being released into the atmosphere where it would reach LA and San Diego and San Francisco in a week instead of months underwater you would hear the screaming from CA in DC.
But because the problem is mostly invisible right now, the Japanese can continue dorking around with the problem instead of solving it right away. The same incompetent lunatics who caused the problem are still in charge of fixing it, how crazy is that?
We don’t have children [except for the fuzzy ones!] so our long-term exposure to these issues is strictly limited. But the rest of you folks with your adorable kids should be paying attention, because this stuff is going to make life impossible on this planet if the stupid ones (Republicans) don’t get out of the way and let the smart ones (scientists the Republicans dont trust because Dominion!) fix the problems.
I actually heard a guy being interviewed about Lake Mead and Las Vegas’s water supply say something about new water projects!! Because Lake Mead is now dropping below the level of the Las Vegas water intakes!
NO!! The Stupid, it BURNS!!!
Water rationing, no more building permits, no huge green lawns and golf courses, no shiny cars, no fountains, act like you live in a desert because YOU DO LIVE IN A DESERT!
Unless we figure out a safe way to place nuclear waste in subduction zones where it will be pulled into the mantle of the earth for tens of millions of years, it’s never going to be a safe way to generate power.
And you can’t make the desert green unless you have an unlimited freeflowing supply of water, which you can’t have in a desert when the climate is trending drier.
And power companies want to build new nukes in Florida, which is going to be UNDERWATER soon if we don’t fix the climate.
Sorry for yelling, but this stupidity burns, it really does. And the Republicans are willing to tank the country to stab the President in the back, because he’s a black guy. Treason in defense of racial hatred! That’s the slogan I want.
‘Nuff said, I guess.
Right, and the solution to that is some rebranding. Patients don’t mind having a nuclear magnetic resonance imaging scan at the hospital, and that’s because NMR was renamed as “MRI” – magnetic resonance imaging.
In any case, all modes of energy production have an environmental impact. The question is what impact, how much, and where, and who is affected. Oil production in Nigeria is an environmental abomination, but here in the USA some people won’t even tolerate a windfarm in their line of sight. My homeowners association won’t even let me install solar panels on my roof.
@p.a.: Another thot…in our post 9/11 reality, with the resultant terror threats foreign and domestic, having nuclear plants dotting the landscape opens up really bad possibilities.
ETA not you, but I’m loving the pro-nuke trolls who come crawling outa the woodwork…good work, guys!
Rob in CT
Absolutely. Talk about low-hanging fruit. Decent stimulus too, I’d bet.
@c u n d gulag: Also, don’t drive cars, because of the Edseil and the Pinto.
And don’t use computers because of Windows Millennium edition or Apple products made in the mid nineties.
@NotMax: Absolutely right – upgrading the national electrical grid is definitely low hanging fruit, at least compared to a lot of the alternatives. Another point easily forgotten is that in recent decades a lot more “capacity” has been accomplished by energy conservation technology than by expanding older sources of energy production.
Not sure what real world they’re talking about, this sounds like burning the village to save it. Knowing how these things tend to work in the US, if you give the green light to expanded nuclear, nothing will be spent on solar and wind. Nuclear expansion will require massive government intervention, and is a wet dream for gold-plated contracting, with all the regulatory layers that are required for commissioning, operation, decommissioning and waste management. That will further suck the dollars and people out of all other energy research. In thirty years, we’ll be no better off and stuck with a bunch of worn out reactors that we don’t know what to do with.
mike with a mic
Nuclear power has really been the only way out of our carbon issue for a long time. Which is why people who believe in global warming but are anti nuke should be treated as the same sort of vile evil as people who claim global warming does not exist.
A government initiative isn’t needed, we can use technology that exists and is not 40 damn years old. Oddly enough our friends the French and Canadians have the best tech out there. It’s great stuff and light years ahead of what we used to build. This is because they didn’t have an issue with nuclear freak outs from know nothings who hate science (anti nuke people are worse than tea party anti evolution types when it comes to the science and should be treated worse than them as well) and kept developing the tech.
Well, two points. First, we don’t *know* the Manhattan-like project would work. And we are basically gambling with the world. Second, I wonder if part of the point is to pit a bloodsucking nuclear energy industry against the bloodsucking fossil fuel industry. Factually, the FF industry is successfully delaying things enough to significantly risk the world as we know it. Right now our only hope is to get bailed out by huge improvements to solar power and I’m not willing to count on that.
@Zifnab25: We are already doing that. Volt, Tesla , a growing movement that is encouraging people to move downtown and save gas, computers are certainly more energy-efficient than ten years ago.
Maybe, but that does create a multimegabillion dollar industry dependent on the public fearing global warming as much as the multimegabillion dollar fossil fuel industry is dependent on denialism. Maybe that’s the only way to break stranglehold the nonsense pushers have on communications.
@mike with a mic: People have real reason to be concerned, and I wish some of the pro-nuke people would take that into account. There are real concerns about waste disposal (often in places where the poorest and already challenged people live), real concerns about security (terrorism and sabotage), and a lack of trust in the competence of those who run them.
Compared to that, renewables are a breeze. Few concerns about waste, fewer about security. Solar panels can be put up anywhere, and windmills just about everywhere. If one goes down, it doesn’t take an entire city with it and poison groundwater and buildings for decades.
If the US would build the Canadian nuclear plant design – the famous Candu reactor – safety would be extremely high yet cost of building the plant would be a fraction of the standard cost to build a US plant design; the difference is that US reactors are still based on a sub design (uses enriched fuel; also, the reactor is far bigger.) Using enriched uranium is a bad idea relative to safety. Yes, more power per cubic meter of reactor core but at a terrible price – loss of coolant flow (much less loss of all coolant) in a US reactor is a disaster and leads to a melt down if coolant isn’t returned to flow. This danger requires all types of extra safety systems, training not counting the very expensive fuel.
Not so for a Candu reactor – those plants can lose coolant flow without a melt down; loss of coolant completely shuts down all fission (but latent heat would still require some coolant to prevent partial melting but even worse case, that is the fuel melts – for a Candu, is minor problem compared to a US reactor because all fission stops.)
If we are serious about AGW and until alternate forms that can deliver gega-watts 24/7 are available, the Candu is the real answer.
The only holdup is the “not designed here”; that is stupid beyond belief. While this reactor in no way changes the issue of fuel waste it is vastly safer and highly resistent to melt down – really the main danger for any reactor. Better still, the fuel costs are low (but not for energy produced) as is the cost of the plant.
I’m going to throw a totally uneducated opinion out there. I recently learned of the existence of solar shingles, and that there are attractive state & federal tax credits for them, and when it comes time to replace our roof, I will definitely consider those for the south-facing roof portions. They can cut your utility bill in half and sometimes you’ll be selling power back to the utilities. My question is, say we lived in a fantasy world where money we spent on nuclear was instead spent to just subsidize solar shingles for homeowners who were good candidates to capture a lot of rays. Take the tax credit to the next level and just sell people the things for the cost of regular shingles. Supply issues aside, the idea would be basically an army of very small, but very numerous, solar energy suppliers across the country. Hell, since it’s fantasy world, let’s make an army of WPA-style folks to consult on and install them. Is that nuts? Is the solar farm more efficient?
c u n d gulag
I’m sorry, but nuclear energy should be our last option, regarding finding energy sources to replace fossil fuels.
A lot of you folks are using the same arguments that our Reich-Winger make, when you’re arguing for it.
If we didn’t live in an “Idiocracy,” over the last decade or more, we’d have subsidized people and companies for putting solar panels for every rooftop, and made them mandatory by a certain date.
More wind farms, are also a solution.
And our energy grid is beyond antiquated – people with degrees in electronics will tell you how much energy is lost while it’s transported. We desperately need to update and upgrade our electric grid!
Also, many of our largest cities are on the coast, so, why haven’t we explored tidal energy more?
And other cities are along large lakes and rivers – and figure out more efficient ways to harness their tidal energy and water flow?
And then, if all else fails, then yes, I’d be for nuclear.
But substituting potential nuclear disasters for our fossil fuel disaster, is not the answer – at least not yet.
But we haven’t done jack fucking shit yet, because the Conservatives in this country don’t BELIEVE in global warming, and no amount of evidence will convince them that it’s happening.
@Jibeaux: Not only would it provide jobs in construction and maybe even local manufacture, but also immediate results in energy efficiency.
The solar farm could be a backup for larger enterprises. or for those buildings that can’t be retrofitted or be made more solar-friendly.
Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937
Hoping nukes are going to solve the problem is like hoping for unicorns to save the day. If all the benefits of nuclear that were mentioned were true, we would have more nuclear plants now.
If you’re willing to wait 10-20 years for a new plant to come on line and be willing to pay more for electricity then build 1000 wind turbines, retrofit every roof with solar panels, and upgrade the grid. Nuclear is expensive, complicated, and creates waste we don’t want to deal with.
To steal a phrase from the great Dan Loney:
Suggesting we use nuclear power as the solution to global warming is like suggesting we change the national anthem to “Sex Bomb” by Flipper. Maybe it’s a good idea. Maybe it’s not such a good idea. But it’s not gonna happen, so there’s really no point in talking about it.
I’m willing to go with pretty much anything that could minimize the impact of AGW. Right now the world as a whole is going balls-out towards the ‘rocks fall, everyone dies’ endgame on that, so relatively speaking even a mass buildup of Chernobyl type reactors would be an improvement.
Unfortunately, the right-wing is so insane on the subject of global warming, that even if you came up with a zero-emission reactor that ran on burning hippies, they’d still insist on burning all the fossil fuels because Cleek’s Rule.
I’d love for a sane energy policy of improving the grid, improving building and appliance efficiency, and a mass buildout of solar and wind. I’d settle for a stupid energy policy of massively subsidized nuclear because at least that’d decrease the CO2 emissions. What I’m stuck with, unfortunately, is an insane energy policy where the worst energy sources get cash money; and I’m grateful for even that, as a Republican policy would be even worse.
@Jibeaux: A lot of issues; first off, these units are very expensive and I highly doubt congress would fund that huge cost. Worse, these units like all solar based electric units only work when the sun is out; further and very importantly, such units really only provide peak power when no one is home – early morning and late evening, the sun is very low in the sky. Using batteries to partly address this issue would be very expensive – current batteries have short lives compared to solar systems and would, at best, provide only part of the power the average house needs. Also, the vast majority of people do not own homes where the sun is out enough or are too far North; also, most people, I believe, do not live in single homes – they live in apartments or live in cities. Having gega-watt power plants is a fact of life and solar will not address that issue.
@c u n d gulag:
There is environmental impact here too, and a very visible one as well. Any proposal to divert some of the Hudson or the Potomac River flow into a tidal generation facility would be one hell of a lot more controversial than upgrading a nuclear plant fifty miles away.
@Jibeaux: These shingles are HOA-compliant also. Too.
NC is a national leader in next level energy tech and contractors who install it, despite our shitty state gov’t and the world’s largest electricity monopoly. $$$ is the reason, which trumps TEA dumbass spite. Money can do that!
@c u n d gulag: The smart grid upgrade is creeping into enough local areas to hopefully show the way on large scale improvements. I guess you could call this a free market solution if you squint yer eyes a little.
@c u n d gulag: Read about safety of the Candu before you claim nuclear is unsafe – American AND far, far worse, French plants are the ones that are dangerous. The Candu plant is ultra safe.
Upgrading the electric grid will buy little unless you can store the extra energy in a manner that you can get most of it back. Haven’t seen anyone address those issues yet. Also, most major cities are not close enough to provide giga-watt amounts (what is needed for major cities.) You’d still need a huge power grid.
Nuclear can be highly safe and does provide power that can run cities.
c u n d gulag
I don’t know much about this, admittedly, but aren’t other ways of harnessing that energy, without having to divert rivers?
The solution may be going smaller, rather than larger. So, a lot of little devices may produce the same amount of energy, and do a hell of a lot less environmental damage.
Existing docks, bridges, landings, etc, could have some sort of devices attached to them, maybe. As I said, I’m no expert on this.
And by “smaller,” that’s what I’m talking about, with solar energy. And improved battery technology.
My vote is for thorium reactors and a genuine commitment to a more sustainable lifestyle. That means fewer McMansions, smaller home sizes, fewer manicured lawns (thanks be to God), tax disincentives to extend urban services to sprawl and subsidies to reclaim exurban development from that sprawl (thereby restoring an agricultural “collar” area to service metro areas and diversify food sources). This reclamation has a multifold purpose – most importantly, it shortens transportation lines for foodstuffs, decreasing the energy load.
@Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937:
Bad argument. It’s like saying that if single-payer health insurance was so great we’d have had it by now. Whatever you think of the benefits of nuclear, there are political roadblocks that can stop any movement.
1. Just saw an article on various efforts at fusion.
2. PeakVT said a lot of things I agree with.
3. One needs to learn that if a lot of libertarians are in favor of something, it is probably really stupid. The side effects probably are very harmful for some large group that is typically ignored by libertarians. The thing only works in an ideal world that has never existed and likely never will.
This blog may be a good location for learning just that thing. It may be a general rule.
It can certainly be used as an initial rule of thumb. Can anyone come up with an idea that lots of libertarians like that is a GOOD idea in the real world? Ok – free weed.
The vast majority of it is also done in developing nations with very poor human and labor rights. Kazakhstan is the worlds largest producer of Uranium and has little to no environmental regulation.
@Luthe: Getting Yucca Mountain running is only part of the problem. A number of states that waste materials must pass through to get to Yucca Mtn. have laws forbiding the transport of nuclear waste within their borders.
Incremental progress can be very powerful. If you’ve got an easy path to upgrade and a common desire you can get amazing results over a pretty reasonable timeframe.
This sometimes doesn’t go over very well with the political personality types that tend to get involved. I was listening to a show on nuclear policy in Europe and the debate over French reactors near the German border, and the German phaseout of nuclear power. One of the spokespeople for the anti-nuclear movement in Germany came out and said that they wanted to do it quickly to cause a crisis, so that the people could then come together and decide on the best, most environmentally-sustainable course going forward. The fact that a crisis doesn’t tend to bring out the best in people or the most measured solutions seemed to go over her head. So now Germany is ramping up imports from coal-burning countries.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Power is blowing billions on the Kemper (?) coal gasification project, which will be far more expensive than natural gas, AND worse for its global warming effects, plus the GOP establishment just loves government subsidies to the ‘right’ companies.
There is a normally nutty newpaper guy – Wyatt Emmerich – who is a relatively lonely voice against this particular boondoggle. I guess he did not get his cut.
@mike with a mic:
I hate Nuke power because its expensive and inefficient. We have no idea how much a KWH of nuclear power costs. Something important to remember about nuclear power is that there is no market providing nuclear power. All extraction/refining of uranium is heavily regulated and subsidized by the federal government. Additionally the construction of the power plants is heavily subsidized by local/state/federal government. Finally nuclear power plants are not insured on the market, rather the government guarantees them against disaster.
Wouldn’t this have happened already?
I mean, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that crashing a jet into a skyscraper would cause massive damage, but causing a nuclear reactor to melt down? I bet that’s a lot harder than it sounds.
That will inevitably be the taxpayers. After Fukushima, it’s hard to imagine any private insurer being willing to write coverage for less than a few billion a year in premiums, and no regulator that is politically accountable will ever allow that to be baked into rates.
Nuclear energy is dead and is not coming back, thorium reactors or whatever.
No matter what people do, we can’t seem to trust that the people in charge of our complicated worlds can be trusted with too much power. This is bad enough when we’re dealing with banks and money and military, but when we’re dealing with fundamental physical forces, it just seems at the moment human beings can be lazy, corrupt, and oblivious to the consequences of what they are doing at the moment, and that is why we can’t have something like a nuclear power plant, where incompetent or careless fools can put an entire town, or nation, at risk.
Enough other alternatives are here that we don’t need to contemplate yet again putting ourselves in a centralized, rent-seeking scenario where a handful of people are able to hold a fucking giant off switch over the rest of our heads, or kill us all with their incompetence and greed.
Imagine you have a carcinoma. An actual tumor is growing in your lung, your knee, possibly your brain. A trained specialist is telling you that you need invasive surgery, stat. Another consultant, a friend of a friend, is advising you against it. Instead, you need to radically change your diet.
Which road will you take? Whatever happens with your current situation, you are likely to pay attention to your diet in the years to come, if you still have them. But what about the immediate, pressing need? Climate change is like that. No matter how many rainbow-and-fuzzy-bunny solutions we implement now, in this country, there’s too much going wrong in the rest of the world for that to matter much.
We all know (or we should) that even if we could flip a switch and zero out carbon emissions today, world-wide, right now, there are still going to be ongoing climate effects for many years, due to what has already been done. That, of course, is the urgency that is causing this (OMG UNTHINKABLE) suggestion.
Another problem is Fukushima, TMI, Chernobyl, and all the mental imagery (and emotional excitation) that go along with them. We don’t need those kinds of dinosaurs, and I’m quite sure that is not what the cited person is talking about. But the moment one says “nuclear”, people start running around pissing their pants. And that is a problem. But then, so is climate change.
On the flip side, I believe I can imagine (as through a glass, darkly) how a researcher might be able to size everything up and conclude that, implemented properly, current nuclear technologies may offer the most likely, most timely, most scalable solutions. However, implementing that tech will require the use of human bureaucratic and/or corporate agents, and that does not fill me with optimism.
Occam’s razor cuts true here with nuclear, because up front costs are only overcome with sweet, massive gov’t
welfaresubsidy, and that’s a pretty tall order. Single-payer is creeping soshalist, and has been effectively fought off by the industrial insurance complex (and the politicians that work on their behalf) despite the fact that it is already in place and ready to be scaled up to meet many, many needs.
Nuclear can be safe, but in practice it is not.
Things that are theoretically possible are not always empirically practical, and nuclear power is one of those. You can’t remove human stupidity, ever.
@theLastMenshevik:Now those are VERY valid points and to this day, in the US, no one can figure out those numbers. To save time, they aren’t cost effective compared to coal. The issue is AGW; do you want cheap energy with AGW which will have vastly greater costs down the road or pay through the nose now and get rid of coal?
By the way, the basic US reactor building (the domes) were design to take a fighter jet (the big ones) at full speed. A commercial jet is minor compared to a fighter impact (very small area with dual engines at far higher speed. If a std reactor can stop a fighter impact, the commercial jet wouldn’t get through. That said, what if the jet hit the support buildings, that might lead to a melt down! Also, the storage pools with all the waste fuel – not sure they can withstand a jet impact – another good reason to store that in a mountain.
Another point about the Candu reactor – its fuel is useless to build an atomic bomb (but not a dirty bomb) so that is a none issue relative to that threat.
pseudonymous in nc
The long-standing line here is that nuclear power would be fine if the nuclear power industry weren’t made up of people who routinely underestimate both costs and safety considerations. It is also space-age technology, by which I mean it dates from the 1950s.
But Hansen’s basic point is that the collective impulse right now is to burn every crappy hydrocarbon that can be dug out of the ground — sour crude, tar sand, brown coal, probably peat bogs at the end — until there’s none left and we’re all fucked anyway We really can’t afford to be picky about the alternatives.
@Pincher: You may want to check into that. In California, the HOAs can’t keep you from installing solar or satellite. They tried and have long since lost the court cases.
I don’t think you want to be making this argument. Costs per kWh are going to go up with more emphasis on renewables, a lot. Currently Western Europe is paying about four times what the US pays, and Germany six times, even with cheap fossil fuels factored in. Coal is cheap, everything else isn’t. There’s going to have to be some thought about how to cope with this.
@SatanicPanic: No! Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine ftw!!
But seriously, not many nukes (relatively speaking) means a tighter security landscape; smaller, more numerous generators means that the risk of befouling the surrounding countryside gets into a scarier realm of possibilities. I guess the same could be said for oil refineries and fertilizer plants, but we’re talking about the better part of a half-century of misery wrt a nuclear breach. IMO
@Botsplainer: No; thorium still requires enriched uranium to operate! Also, no one can operate a thorium reactor because of the design issues for fuel cycling in the plant, much less processing. It would take decades at least to address just these issues much less create a huge new fuel production/processing system require a now existent reactor design all to support yet another fuel system. We have a working system that uses uranium – the Candu and that isn’t enriched! Read about an issue before supporting it.
@pseudonymous in nc: Yet the Canadian plants are NOT 1950’s and were not made up of liars like the US. Your points do not apply to the Candu – so why not develop that plant for the US?
@c u n d gulag: IIRC, between 10 to 15% of electrical power is lost during transmission over high-voltage lines. And the country is split with the East Coast using one type of power and the Mid-West and West Coast using another. Power cannot be sent from one side of the country to the other side. And yes, there has been little technical research in the field for years. The transmission grid is woefully old and antiquated for what it must do now.
ETA: Just saw your comments on tidal energy. There was a pilot program in the East River (actually a tidal estuary) under Con Edison, near the Big Alyce plant. I don’t know how it worked out. The tidal equipment was actually on Roosevelt, I believe, and opposite the power plant. (And Con Ed sold that plant to National Grid some ten years ago.)
@Mike E: Sure, I understand that it would be a huge disaster if someone were able to cause a meltdown, I’m just highly skeptical that any would-be terrorist would be able to do it. If that were the only concern about nukes I’d be 100% in favor of nukes.
@slippy: True but the Candu plants have never had even a minor accident relative to the reactor/fuels and don’t require complex safety systems – the #1 reason US plants are so expensive AND so unsafe! Energy density really matters for safety and there, the US design is a joke. The significantly lower energy density of the Candu plant makes these designs supper safe. By the way, I hate fission power but have looked at alternatives to coal and really, the Candu is our best option.
People here need to read in detail on what they support – I am reading mostly incorrect or wishful thinking based on false information. Learn about the problem and all possible solutions – then carefully research those solutions and make the effort to read BOTH the advantages and disadvantages before claiming something will help.
I dont mean nuclear power is more expensive, I mean we literally have no idea what it costs! For the past 20 years US reactors have been using fuel we purchased from the former soviet union at far below market costs. There is no estimate for insurance costs to nuclear reactors. No one know how much it would cost a for-profit company to mine/process/refine uranium. No one knows how much it would cost to build a nuclear power plant without huge government subsidies.
It is a mistake to undertake massive investment in an industry where there is no ability to do a cost/benefit analysis.
@Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937:
and creates waste we don’t want to deal with.
@SatanicPanic: First of all, we don’t really know that for sure until it’s been tested in real life. Also, there are other ways terrorist could attack a facility: the people working in it or around it or through sabotage. The reason it hasn’t happened so far is that nuke plants instituted real security before anywhere else. Areas cleared for blocks around, security badges, screening of personnel. And the nukes are located in places with strong central governments who can exercise their own security and deterrence methods. And there aren’t that many plants that they have to water down these measures to get enough personnel on board. But to do what Hansen wants means a lot of them will start being placed in politically unstable places with less reliable watchers.
Indeed, while I understand Hansen’s concerns, he needs to understand what we are up against here. both politically and cost-wise, It would be years before the first usable plant goes up,.
We need a different push and direction.
Herbal Infusion Bagger
I’d rather have localized trashing the environment to globalized trashing the environment. Global warming scares me more than Fukushima, which was about the worst conceivable set of circumstances you could subject a nuke reactor to.
exactly. nuclear technology is okay by me; it’s just physics.
it’s the people who design, site, build, run and decom these fuckers that i don’t trust.
c u n d gulag
And yeah, I remember reading about pilot tidal energy program in the Hudson River.
And I’d like to know, did it NOT work?
Or, did it work too well?
Maybe someone out here knows.
Herbal Infusion Bagger
“Coal is cheap” was true up until maybe five years ago, when Natural gas was $12/MMBTU, but it’s not true now.
A supercritical pulverized coal plant gets maybe 35-38% thermal efficiency, and with capital costs of $3.7-4/watt capacity.
A natural gas plant gets 60% thermal efficiency, capital costs of ~$0.9/MMBTU, and additionally the energy content per kilo of CO2 emitted is 80% more.
That’s why I’m pro-fracking – cheap natural gas shuts the coal plants down. As coal is, as Professor of Energy at U.Hawaii said “one of the greatest evils unleashed by mankind”, this is A Good Thing.
The problem with wind & solar is that the energy isn’t always available to meet the demand. We can’t store vast amounts of electricity to capture energy when we make it & dole it out when we need it.
Like all other kinetic work, there has to be a balance between supply & demand at any given moment. Until we can store huge amounts of electricity, there has to be sufficient energy generated to balance the fluctuating demands and keeping the AC circuits around 60 Hz. With power plants, the operators can control the amount generated to match the demand.
An FPer (Levenson?) recommended Before the Lights Go Out. It’s an easy read & not technically demanding, but does a good job of explaining what will & won’t work and what a few solutions might be. I thought it could have included more on some solutions and what the next phase of research would be, but I did like it.
My takeaway: We need to improve transmission efficiency, large scale storage (or develop smaller scale networks) and increase alternate sources. I know there have been great strides in solar collection efficiency in the last couple of years, but the big area is storage.
Oh and when the book describes how we got the network we do have, you can see that this is an issue for an involved & scientifically literate federal government to tackle. The investment is much too large for any single for-profit to engage in.
Out here in Boise, ID, someone is putting up anti-wind billboards. Not sure why. The ranchers get good rent; the turbines provide jobs in manufacturing, transporting, installing & maintaining the turbines. There are only a few locations in Idaho that can generate wind, but the potential supply alone can meet Idaho’s demand (though the balancing remains an issue).
Tim in SF
We need to get away from light water nuclear reactors – they’re death incarnate. Molten salt reactors, like the LiFTR:
– have ZERO risk of meltdown
– can fit into a shipping container
– can be built on an assembly line
– do not produce plutonium (no proliferation risk) and, in fact, can eat proliferation materials as fuel (reducing proliferation risk)
– can be unmanned (you could bury one fifty feet down and service it once every fifty years if this kid is to be believed)
– produce byproducts that can we really need
LiFTRs produce a teensy-tiny fraction of the waste (we’re talking well down into the thousandths) compared to light water reactors. The waste products from a LiFTR reactor have a half life of 300 years. The waste can be buried or entombed in cement. Light water reactors (the ones we are using now) produce waste that’s hot for thousands upon thousands of years, and must be maintained. It’s a *nightmare* scenario.
The only reason we are using light water reactors NOW is institutional momentum and the inertia against change. We went down the light water reactor path in the fifties because of our lust for plutonium to use in nuclear bombs. We don’t need that shit anymore and we should correct our mistake.
Safe nuclear power is available.
As mentioned earlier, there’s about zero chance we’ll do anything, because of the Fundies actively rooting on the end of Humanity, but I’m all for nukes. Don’t fear the atom, by default! All the issues with nuclear power can be dealt with, if we attempted to deal with them. Unfortunately, because of FEAR OF ATOMS, we do not.
So, we watch the world burn.
Wind power will never be the answer. Solar might, but not for a long, long time – and fret not. Crazy environmentalists will work to shut down widespread solar plants too.
And alas, fusion is but forever 50 years away..
@Herbal Infusion Bagger: How do you know that? Japan should have been one of the best equipped countries to deal with nuclear contamination and they completely screwed the pooch. Aside from that, I don’t see that adding a bunch of nukes will necessarily slow down carbon emissions, because it’s probably too late for that solution. It would take years to build the necessary plants, particularly when you consider that they also have to replace the base generation provided by older plants that are soon to go offline. There will be immense pressure to keep using fossils fuels in the meantime. People could just as easily waste the newly available energy.
Turning to nukes just plays into the fantasy of unlimited available power. Efficiency creates value; extraction does not. Efficiency is where you should place your incentives. Efficiency is the only way we are going to make solar and wind work. We could save huge amounts of energy and create a lot of jobs just by replacing existing lighting with LED lighting, which is now a pretty mature technology and ready to explode given the right incentives, e.g., really expensive electricity. That’s where your government subsidies should go, into helping poor people buy LED light bulbs and other energy efficient appliances, not to subsidize nuclear power plants to create rent streams. Hansen is emotionally invested in climate change and I’m sure the danger is quite real. I know that he means that nukes should only play a role in new energy production, but I doubt it will end up like that if nukes are greenlighted. Nuclear is capital intensive and concentrated and, therefore, will be attractive to the same mentality that has given us big oil and big coal.
Tim in SF
@ericblair: Coal is cheap, everything else isn’t. There’s going to have to be some thought about how to cope with this.
@Herbal Infusion Bagger: Cheap natural gas shuts the coal plants down. As coal is, as Professor of Energy at U.Hawaii said “one of the greatest evils unleashed by mankind”, this is A Good Thing.
Neither of those are in any way “cheap” when you consider environmental costs.
You people here really are cueless or just stupid. I see why this country has the problems it does. Stupidity is a choice and most of you really appear to choose it.
@Tim in SF: LFTRs sound great on paper, but nobody (company or government) has a commercially viable one anywhere close to production. The chemistry and materials just aren’t ready. If we (the American people via the federal government) dropped billions per year into research on the problem starting tomorrow, there’s a chance we could have a design ready for commercial deployment by about 2025. I’m all for dropping billions on the problem, but we still need to deploy other solutions until then, in case it doesn’t work out. Current nuclear technology has huge lead times and enormous costs, at least in western democracies. Wind and solar can be deployed today, and should be.
I don’t think we knew the first one would work, either :-)
@Redshirt: “And alas, fusion is but forever 50 years away.”
I think now it is only 20 years away.
I.e., Forever 20 years away.
That is 30 years better!
The only interesting thing I read in the article on fusion was the guy saying that getting a fusion power plant going that was simply competitive with other sources was not really exciting. He wants to get one that lowers the cost tenfold. Important if he can do it.
I agree with the poster who said getting efficiency improvements is the way to go.
I also saw a project where energy storage was by driving a 100 car train filled with rocks up a hill.
Similar to pumped water storage, but more mechanical.
@Southern Beale: Seems to be working fine in Germany, from what i understand.
Tim in SF
@PeakVT: LFTRs sound great on paper, but nobody (company or government) has a commercially viable one anywhere close to production.
I disagree with your opinion. We had a working LiFTR here in the US until the 1970s. It worked unmanned most of the time with zero safety issues.
India is developing LiFTRs right now.
I’ve heard estimates that we could be almost completely off fossil fuels in ten years, if we were willing to make the investment. Watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4
Instead, we are going to continue use our planet as a toilet; burning coal and fracking our way to environmental ruin. Our children and grandchildren will pay the price (to say nothing of the species with which we share the planet).
Methane tipping point, anyone?
@Redshirt: Wind power will never be the answer.
Nonsense. NREL estimates the total onshore and offshore capacity potential for wind in the US is about 15,000 GW, or about 9500 large nuclear reactors. Even if you make conservative assumptions about the amount that is actually developed and the capacity factor (say 25% for each), the US has enough wind potential to routinely match all existing generating facilities, which add up to about 1050 GW in summertime nameplate capacity.
@Tim in SF: So what if a very small experimental LFTR operated in the 1970s. There were lots of small experimental reactors that operated in the 1960s and 1970s. None of them worked out. A small experimental reactor is completely different from a commercially viable reactor.
And so what if India is developing LFTRs. India is deploying CANDU-derivatives and buying VVERs (Soviet-designed PWRs) from the Russians. And their advanced reactor research is focused mostly on a sodium fast reactor (the PFBR), which they may actually turn on in a few years. They’re no farther down the road towards a LFTR than anyone else.
The LFTR is a nuclear pipe dream at this point. It’s worth researching. It can’t be counted on as a solution.
Portraying yourself as The Only Person Who Knows is a losing strategy 100 percent of the time, regardless of the merits of your argument.
Your credibility is in tatters. You should stop before it’s altogether gone.
exactly. it’s a nice improved technology but it’s hardly ready for prime time. likewise, the idea that you can cram one into a small space adds to some of the technology’s problems (lack of stability due to delayed neutron loss).
people seem to want to point to thorium as ‘the one thing that will save us’. i hate that attitude.
@PurpleGirl: And the country is split with the East Coast using one type of power and the Mid-West and West Coast using another.
Not quite sure what you mean here, but I think you mean the regional grids are out of sync. This is true. But power can be sent between them in certain locations around the continent.
Herbal Infusion Bagger
No, efficiency and wind and solar isn’t going to get you far enough. Socolow and Pacala’s paper, which put paid to the idea of a silver bullet, is almost a decade old now. You need nukes AND solar PV and thermal AND wind AND carbon capture and storage AND increased efficiency AND a few ot other technologies on top of that.
Herbal Infusion Bagger
If Socolow’s projections on stabilization wedges are right, increased use of nuke power at best it’s one of the Nine Things that could save us.
The rate of subsidies needs to be factored in. Renewables are subsidized far less.
@PeakVT: Sure, and the total power of the sun is magnitudes larger than that. But solar is not going to save us either, not in the short/near term. We’re way too far behind to catch up that way, now. There is nuclear technology available now that is safe and could in a short time drastically reduce our carbon emissions, while at the same time providing plentiful and dependable power.
Renewables should certainly be part of the equation – I’m a huge fan of local generation. Solar shingles were mentioned above – great idea. Everyone’s house becomes a little power plant. The other leg of this tripod is of course efficiency and using our power more wisely.
But we are on the precipice – perhaps it’s already too late – and there’s no way wind will save us.
Wind has many of the same NIMBY issues as nuclear power, for far less engaging reasons, as it’s almost always about “views”. The Kennedy family, for example, blocked off shore wind turbines off Cape Cod for years.
@Tim in SF: The latest GIF annual report sez:
Among other things.
@Tim in SF: You’re wrong. The experimental American molten-salt reactor that ran in the 1960s was not fuelled with thorium, it was fuelled with U-233 and never generated more than 7MW thermal. There has never been a working molten-salt thorium breeder reactor run anywhere other than in Powerpoint slides. There has been some experimental use of thorium in pebble-bed reactors but they have not been a technical or commercial success, generally.
The Indians plan to fuel light-water reactors with thorium in combination with 20%-enriched U-235 and Pu-239 to provide the neutron flux to convert the Th-232 into U-233 which is fissile and will generate energy. It’s not molten-salt technology, just a variant fuel load like MOX for otherwise conventional nuclear plants. Other countries are looking at this technology too but at the moment uranium is ridiculously cheap and there’s no commercial demand for thorium given the cost of developing and proving it in use.
India doesn’t have much in the way of native sources of uranium and they can’t easily buy it on the world market hence their interest in using thorium. They’re still building conventional nuclear plants at the moment, they’ve just brought a new reactor on-stream about a week ago, a Russian 1GW VVER PWR design in Tamil Nadu with a second VVER planned to come on-stream next year.
@Redshirt: There is nuclear technology available now that is safe and could in a short time drastically reduce our carbon emissions
Um, no. Look, the development and construction time for a plant in the US is on the order of 8-10 years. Let’s call in 5 years from groundbreaking to first criticality. To “drastically reduce” our carbon emissions requires building at least a couple hundred of the things. (Math: 739 GW of installed thermal capacity divided by 1.1 GW). Even in the heyday of nuclear power, only about 40 plants were completed in the US in a decade, and costs were much cheaper then. The two units at Vogtle are going to cost about $7B each. Each! All of that has to either be financed or extracted from the ratepayers in advance. It’s no accident that the two new plants under construction are located in the corporate-friendly south (GA and SC). (Watts Bar is another mess entirely.)
Useful amounts of nuclear power is just not going to be done in reasonable time frame as long as we’re a democracy.
A phase of a wind farm, OTOH, can be planted in less than a year.
@Cermet: Actually the CANDUs are 1980s technology. The state of Ontario recently finished construction of some CANDUs they started building thirty years ago but which were put on hold because fossil fuel was so cheap and nobody cared much about global warming or acid rain or smog or toxic gas emissions or mercury back then. Ontario is aiming for totally fossil-free electricity generation in the next few months using roughly equal amounts of hydro and nuclear with some biomass thrown into the mix (they also have two wind turbines). The results are looking promising already as the number of smog days in the major cities has been drastically reduced as the older coal-fired plants are being taken offline.
@PeakVT: You seem to know quite a bit on the subject – can you speak to any negatives regarding wind power? I’ve read recently that the wind is not really that well understood as a system, and that has negatively impacted some of the earlier windfarms (from a productivity standpoint).
Also, the construction of wind turbines is quite extensive, especially given the size you’re talking about. Finally, what about off-shore energy grids? Are there any that are in truly harsh conditions?
Up here in Maine, on the good side, we’ve got prototype tidal generators installed in the gulf of Maine. I like the idea a lot, but it’s small scale. On the bad side, our Wingnut governor just blew up a signed deal with Statoil to build a large offshore wind farm. Why? Wingnut.
Put simply it’s a numbers game here. Triple the country’s nuclear generation capacity and you can replace coal as an energy source outright, triple the solar capacity and you might break one percent of the country’s generation (wind is a little better you’d get close to double digits if you triple it). In real terms 10-20 new nuclear plants could go a long way to eliminating carbon emissions from electricity generation, while 10-20 new solar installations could go a long way towards replacing burning biomas (1.4% of our electrical generation). Wind and solar are definitely worthwhile but they’re starting from far too deep a hole to make a difference in the timescales we need them to.
Actual losses are closer to 3%. There are standards to meet for EHV (typically 760 kV) and HV (320 kV) 3-phase AC power transmission lines, and mostly they do. (One annoying problem is that losses go up with resistance and resistance goes up with heat, which means that in areas with maximum load due to air conditioning, maximum load coincides with minimum efficiency.)
There are three (! not two) “main” grids in the US: the eastern, western, and ERCOT (basically Texas). These are not in phase with each other and thus cannot be directly connected (i.e., not simply wired together with big old transmission lines). There are still ways to connect them though, such as high voltage DC links and the variable frequency systems PeakVT noted.
All that said, efficiency (including transmission efficiency) and “more-local”, more-distributed generation like solar and wind are all good things.
@Nied: It’s not going to happen, sorry. Gas is cheap at least for the next ten to twenty years and nobody cares enough about carbon emissions to not frack and pump and burn gas because it’s there, an extractable resource that will be extracted by someone sometime and who better to reap the benefits than the current generation right now. The gas generators will figleaf their carbon burn with shiny solar panels (that don’t generate anything at night) and wind turbines (that don’t generate anything when the wind dies) and make out like bandits.
Nuclear isn’t actually that expensive IF MEASURED OVER A PERIOD OF SIXTY YEARS, the expected lifespan of modern-build plants. The fuel cost is mind-bogglingly cheap, operation costs are reasonable (no necessity to move millions of tonnes of fuel thousands of miles every year unlike coal and gas), the stumbling block is the cost of the upfront financial instrument required to build the plant in the first place.
Nobody quibbles about the upfront cost of an interstate highway or a major rail line because it’s being built for use for many decades to come, an infrastructure investment. The same isn’t said about nuclear power, except in places where folks think a bit further ahead than the next quarter’s financial report.
Herbal Infusion Bagger
The link you give is for a two 150 MWe farms built over two years. The capacity factor (according to the EIA) for wind is ~27% in the US, 13% in the EU. The lower figure for the EU suggests that the good locations for wind are increasingly being tapped out in the EU, but not yet in the US.
In any case, the 150 MWe nominal build per is equivalent (well, somewhat worse than) 40 MW levelized output (using US capacity factors). That makes building a 900 MW CANDU over a decade look attractive compared to the wind example you give.
Yeah, there’s offshore wind, but that starts to present a lot of maintenance and logistical challenges.
Each nuclear reactor produces 20 tons of burned fuel a year. Standing next to one of these fuel rods (500lbs) for a couple of minutes kills you. This waste is currently stored in facilities certified for 60 Yeats, even though it is radioactive for about a million years.
The fuel cannot be burned efficiently. Decay products aren’t burnable.
I used to support nuclear until I had to study it.
And 60 Yeats = 6 µShelleys if I recall my Poetiphysics correctly.
@sam: Many newer reactors burn the waste of older reactors. Man.
Bob's Had Enough
Nuclear can be safe.
If everything works as designed. That was not the case at TMI, Chernobyl, Fukushima, the Russian submarine that melted down, and many, many ‘close misses’ about which people are poorly informed.
Nuclear waste could be disposed of at Yucca Mountain.
If we shoved it down the throats of all the people who live there. And if we make no more. We’ve got almost enough radioactive waste to fill the Yucca site right now.
Nuclear plants could be built to allow us to quit using coal.
If we can find 100+ places in the US that would ‘host’ a new reactor. They need to be places with reliable cooling water sources. With the heat waves, floods and drought problems we’re having inland we need to find 100+ beach communities willing to have a reactor built in their midst. Or use the military to force them to.
Nuclear plants could provide our electricity.
If we were willing to pay a lot extra for our electricity. The best estimate we have right now is based on the guaranteed price the UK is offering for a new reactor. 15 cents per kWh. About three times our current wholesale cost of electricity.
BTW, during 2011 and 2012 the average PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) for wind in the lower 48 was 4 cents per kWh. Solar is now selling in the SW for 5 cents per kWh. And those prices will continue to drop.
And, BTW, thorium would not make nuclear energy appreciably cheaper. Very much less than a single penny per kWh. Fuel is not what makes nuclear expensive.
Small modular reactors are also unlikely to make nuclear cheaper. Arguably more expensive.
Nuclear could replace coal.
If we were willing to take a few extra decades to get coal off our grids. There is simply no way to build a lot of reactors at once. We do not have the trained and experienced personnel to do the job. It would take a decade to train a new generation. At least 20 years before we could get more than a handful of reactors built.
In 20 years we could install massive amounts of wind and solar. For a lot less money. And bring no new dangers into our lives.
Other than those few problems, yeah, nuclear. It rocks….
I have a concern I’d like to bring up: the grids. Not the out-of-phase issue (thanks for the concise explaination!) but the actual, physical structures and legal rights of way. Where I used to live there had been a HUGE (local) fight going on for years about the run of a proposed high-voltage line, and that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Creating a new network that runs from windfarms and solar plants to cities is going to be YEARS just in legal challenges to eminent domain actions.
Wind and solar also involve having to pave over a huge section of the planet- not just the turbine pads and panel acreage, but the access roads and the associated buildings.
I like the idea of thorium because it is the only thing I know of that can deal with our existing nuclear waste problem, and I like the idea of modules that can be dropped onto the sites of existing coal plants. I don’t demand they bs the same thing. ;)
Lastly, crew talking about the stabilization wedges is right: we need everything. Right now. Biochar, reforestation, decontamination, ocean oxygen/ph rebalancing, solar, wind, hydro, tide, space-based solar, fusion, thorium, regular nuclear- we need to be working as hard as we can on all of it.
Because we don’t know what we need. We couldn’t keep the Biodome going, we don’t understand how to create a closed-loop life support environment. And that means we can’t afford to screw this planet up.