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Nuclear power is clean and safe. Why aren't we using more of it?

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  • Nuclear power is clean and safe. Why aren't we using more of it?

    Nuclear power is clean and safe. Why aren't we using more of it?

    Nuclear energy is far safer than its reputation implies. It's also clean and reliable -- yet power plants are being phased out around the world.

    Aquick thought experiment. What would the climate change debate look like if all humanity had was fossil fuels and renewables -- and then today an engineering visionary revealed a new invention: nuclear energy. That's the hypothetical posed to me by Dietmar Detering, a German entrepreneur living in New York.

    "I'm sure we'd develop the hell out of it," he said, before sighing. "We're looking at a different world right now."

    Detering thinks nuclear energy could be the key to solving the climate crisis. A former member of Germany's Green Party, Detering now spends his spare time as co-chair of the Nuclear New York advocacy group. He's part of a wave of environmentalists campaigning for more nuclear energy.

    Though the word evokes images of landscapes pulverized by atomic calamity -- Hiroshima, Chernobyl, Fukushima -- proponents like Detering and his colleague Eric Dawson point out that nuclear power produces huge amounts of electricity while emitting next to no carbon.

    This separates it from fossil fuels, which are consistent but dirty, and renewables, which are clean but weather dependent. Contrary to their apocalyptic reputation, nuclear power plants are relatively safe. Coal power is estimated to kill around 350 times as many people per terawatt-hour of energy produced, mostly from air pollution, compared to nuclear power.

    "Any energy policy has pros and cons, and we feel, after putting a lot of scrutiny on it, that the pros outweigh the cons of nuclear energy," said Dawson, a grassroots campaigner at Nuclear New York.

    It's a contentious statement. Many scientists and environmentalists say nuclear power is prohibitively dangerous and expensive, that plants take too long to build. "Better to expand renewable energy or energy saving, that is a better use of money in terms of climate change mitigation," says Jusen Asuka, director at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in Kanagawa, Japan.

    But many scientists and experts believe nuclear power is necessary to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. "Anyone seriously interested in preventing dangerous levels of global warming should be advocating nuclear power," wrote James Hansen, a former NASA scientist credited with raising awareness of global warming in the late '80s, in a 2019 column.

    This second camp mourns the decline of nuclear power, which has steepened since the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima. The International Energy Agency estimates the developed world is on track to lose 66% of its current nuclear capacity by 2040. In the US, where nuclear power produces nearly 40% of the country's low-carbon power, 11 reactors have been decommissioned since 2013 -- and nine more will soon join them.

    The most recent retirement was Indian Point Energy Center, which formerly produced 25% of the electricity used by 10 million New Yorkers. One reactor was shut last year and the second followed on April 30. The result? Higher emissions as the electricity gap is filled by natural gas.

    "The whole goal that everybody's talking about is to increase zero emission electricity, yet they are shutting down the source of the vast majority of zero emission electricity," said Dawson. "So this drives us insane."

    ...


    The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.

  • #2
    Purely economics. With the possible exception of China and South Korea, nobody has brought a new reactor in anywhere close to on time or on budget (and China's accounting is pretty opaque). Cost overruns are typically taking plants over double original estimates, and none have been completed in less than a decade. Making matters worse, all their competitors can typically be completed and generating power in under two years, meaning that you start getting a return on investment to pay off debts far more quickly, which accentuates the cost differential.

    So we're not building much in the way of new plants.

    Meanwhile, existing plants have had a rough time as fracking allowed gas to badly undercut nuclear on cost. And now gas itself has been undercut by wind and solar. So, in most states, nuclear operators are asking for subsidies to stay open. Depending on the state's carbon emissions goals, they may or may not get them. (Or, in the case of Ohio, they may get caught up in an enormous scandal while trying to get them.)

    The end result is that they only get built if the government really wants them built, and they only stay open if the government decides it's important they stay open.

    There's some hope that small modular reactors will get prices down and enhance safety. But i've been hearing about them for about a decade now, and nobody's come even close to building one, and the first planned demonstration project in the US is already seeing cost overruns. So, i'm putting those in the "believe it when i see it" category.


    Personally, given the climate situation, i'm a strong proponent of at least trying to keep existing plants open, even if we can't justify building new ones. I'm a bit horrified by Germany deciding to shut down every one of its nuclear plants post-Fukushima, instead of doing a plant-by-plant evaluation. In contrast, shutting down Indian Point (the example cited in the article) is a much more nuanced situation. If you put a Fukushima-sized exclusion zone centered on Indian Point, it would include West Point, the interstate and train lines that run from NYC through Albany to Montreal, IBM's Watson research lab, etc. And, rather than draining away into the sea, any contaminated water would flow down the Hudson and right past NYC. So, i can see why the consequences side of the risk/consequences analysis pushed things towards it being shut down.
    "Any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from trolling."

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by TheLurch View Post
      Purely economics. With the possible exception of China and South Korea, nobody has brought a new reactor in anywhere close to on time or on budget (and China's accounting is pretty opaque). Cost overruns are typically taking plants over double original estimates, and none have been completed in less than a decade. Making matters worse, all their competitors can typically be completed and generating power in under two years, meaning that you start getting a return on investment to pay off debts far more quickly, which accentuates the cost differential.

      So we're not building much in the way of new plants.

      Meanwhile, existing plants have had a rough time as fracking allowed gas to badly undercut nuclear on cost. And now gas itself has been undercut by wind and solar. So, in most states, nuclear operators are asking for subsidies to stay open. Depending on the state's carbon emissions goals, they may or may not get them. (Or, in the case of Ohio, they may get caught up in an enormous scandal while trying to get them.)

      The end result is that they only get built if the government really wants them built, and they only stay open if the government decides it's important they stay open.

      There's some hope that small modular reactors will get prices down and enhance safety. But i've been hearing about them for about a decade now, and nobody's come even close to building one, and the first planned demonstration project in the US is already seeing cost overruns. So, i'm putting those in the "believe it when i see it" category.


      Personally, given the climate situation, i'm a strong proponent of at least trying to keep existing plants open, even if we can't justify building new ones. I'm a bit horrified by Germany deciding to shut down every one of its nuclear plants post-Fukushima, instead of doing a plant-by-plant evaluation. In contrast, shutting down Indian Point (the example cited in the article) is a much more nuanced situation. If you put a Fukushima-sized exclusion zone centered on Indian Point, it would include West Point, the interstate and train lines that run from NYC through Albany to Montreal, IBM's Watson research lab, etc. And, rather than draining away into the sea, any contaminated water would flow down the Hudson and right past NYC. So, i can see why the consequences side of the risk/consequences analysis pushed things towards it being shut down.
      I sure was hoping this would summon you. Thanks!
      The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by TheLurch View Post
        Purely economics. With the possible exception of China and South Korea, nobody has brought a new reactor in anywhere close to on time or on budget (and China's accounting is pretty opaque). Cost overruns are typically taking plants over double original estimates, and none have been completed in less than a decade. Making matters worse, all their competitors can typically be completed and generating power in under two years, meaning that you start getting a return on investment to pay off debts far more quickly, which accentuates the cost differential.

        So we're not building much in the way of new plants.

        Meanwhile, existing plants have had a rough time as fracking allowed gas to badly undercut nuclear on cost. And now gas itself has been undercut by wind and solar. So, in most states, nuclear operators are asking for subsidies to stay open. Depending on the state's carbon emissions goals, they may or may not get them. (Or, in the case of Ohio, they may get caught up in an enormous scandal while trying to get them.)

        The end result is that they only get built if the government really wants them built, and they only stay open if the government decides it's important they stay open.

        There's some hope that small modular reactors will get prices down and enhance safety. But i've been hearing about them for about a decade now, and nobody's come even close to building one, and the first planned demonstration project in the US is already seeing cost overruns. So, i'm putting those in the "believe it when i see it" category.


        Personally, given the climate situation, i'm a strong proponent of at least trying to keep existing plants open, even if we can't justify building new ones. I'm a bit horrified by Germany deciding to shut down every one of its nuclear plants post-Fukushima, instead of doing a plant-by-plant evaluation. In contrast, shutting down Indian Point (the example cited in the article) is a much more nuanced situation. If you put a Fukushima-sized exclusion zone centered on Indian Point, it would include West Point, the interstate and train lines that run from NYC through Albany to Montreal, IBM's Watson research lab, etc. And, rather than draining away into the sea, any contaminated water would flow down the Hudson and right past NYC. So, i can see why the consequences side of the risk/consequences analysis pushed things towards it being shut down.
        There is also the issue of NIBY

        I'm always still in trouble again

        "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
        "Overall I would rate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as by far the best thing Biden's done" --Starlight
        "Of course, human life begins at fertilization that’s not the argument." --Tassman

        Comment


        • #5
          I have another thread around here somewhere talking about the newer nuclear reactors like the molten salt reactors that are said to be cleaner and more efficient that standard reactors. They can even burn the left over nuclear waste from standard reactors as fuel.

          https://www.popularmechanics.com/sci...nuclear-waste/

          And if we ever get fusion reactors working, they will be even cleaner.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
            There is also the issue of NIBY
            M
            The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Cow Poke View Post

              M
              Why would I want to add an "M" into the acronym "Nattily Ingesting Bacon, Yo."?

              I'm always still in trouble again

              "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
              "Overall I would rate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as by far the best thing Biden's done" --Starlight
              "Of course, human life begins at fertilization that’s not the argument." --Tassman

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
                Why would I want to add an "M" into the acronym "Nattily Ingesting Bacon, Yo."?
                yuh
                The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Cow Poke View Post

                  yuh
                  You didn't fall for it, did you?

                  I'm always still in trouble again

                  "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
                  "Overall I would rate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as by far the best thing Biden's done" --Starlight
                  "Of course, human life begins at fertilization that’s not the argument." --Tassman

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
                    There is also the issue of NIBY
                    NIMBY's definitely a problem for waste repositories but, at least for the most recent three plants constructed in the US, it hasn't been a major issue. (One of these isn't going to be completed due to finance problems, but the other two have come on line over the last few years.) That won't be a general experience, but chances are reasonable that you could find a site that was acceptable for the local community.

                    A more significant problem these days is access to cooling water. Put something on the coast, and sea level rise becomes an issue. Put it inland, and the increasing severity of droughts in the western US and the higher temperatures of the water everywhere can cause unplanned shutdowns. A recent study (can dig up the link if you want) found that the frequency of unplanned nuclear outages is rising with the temperatures.

                    Originally posted by Sparko View Post
                    I have another thread around here somewhere talking about the newer nuclear reactors like the molten salt reactors that are said to be cleaner and more efficient that standard reactors. They can even burn the left over nuclear waste from standard reactors as fuel.

                    https://www.popularmechanics.com/sci...nuclear-waste/

                    And if we ever get fusion reactors working, they will be even cleaner.
                    They're sort of in the same category as small modular nukes for me, in that nobody's ever done anything more than a research reactor using them. It's a long, long road to licensing and commercialization and, unlike the small modulars, i'm not aware of any companies trying to start down that road. The problem that they'd face is that, 15 years from now when they come online, who knows where solar, wind, and batteries will be in terms of price, given that they're all still dropping.

                    Another thing that isn't mentioned often is the challenge of convincing utilities to try new technologies. They're incredibly conservative, since destabilizing their grid can have severe consequences. While current nuclear technologies now provide >90% uptime, they didn't when they first came online in the 1970s. The initial capacity factors (ratio of what they generate vs. what they could generate) for our current plants were in the same neighborhood as offshore wind. It took about a decade for utilities to figure out how to run them effectively and squeeze an optimal amount of generation out of them. Utilities aren't anxious to repeat that experience with new tech.
                    "Any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from trolling."

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by TheLurch View Post
                      NIMBY's definitely a problem for waste repositories but, at least for the most recent three plants constructed in the US, it hasn't been a major issue. (One of these isn't going to be completed due to finance problems, but the other two have come on line over the last few years.) That won't be a general experience, but chances are reasonable that you could find a site that was acceptable for the local community.

                      A more significant problem these days is access to cooling water. Put something on the coast, and sea level rise becomes an issue. Put it inland, and the increasing severity of droughts in the western US and the higher temperatures of the water everywhere can cause unplanned shutdowns. A recent study (can dig up the link if you want) found that the frequency of unplanned nuclear outages is rising with the temperatures.
                      The effect that warmer water will have on the cooling is not something I had ever considered previously.

                      But as I told me brudda, I meant "Nattily Ingesting Bacon, Yo" not NIMBY.

                      I'm always still in trouble again

                      "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
                      "Overall I would rate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as by far the best thing Biden's done" --Starlight
                      "Of course, human life begins at fertilization that’s not the argument." --Tassman

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
                        The effect that warmer water will have on the cooling is not something I had ever considered previously.

                        But as I told me brudda, I meant "Nattily Ingesting Bacon, Yo" not NIMBY.
                        We had a coal-fired power plant near us when we lived in Ohio, and the discharge of the cooling water from the plant fed back into Lake Erie on a little channel we called "Hot Waters". It was some of the best fishing I've ever experienced, because the fish loved to come in from cold Lake Erie and hang around the "Hot Waters".

                        We used to joke, "well, at least it's not a nuclear power plant".
                        The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.

                        Comment

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