Save the nukes

by John Quiggin on January 25, 2019

I’ve written numerous posts pointing out that expansion of nuclear power is not a serious option in decarbonizing the electricity supply. In a sense, there’s no need to make the case, as no profit-oriented corporation is ever likely to start a new plant. The recent abandonment of two proposed plants in the UK, despite the offer of massive subsidies, illustrates the point. The only purpose of talk about new nuclear power is to attack the only realistic options, wind and solar PV.

On the other hand, nuclear power is a lot less dangerous than coal. So, it’s worrying to see nuclear power plants closing down in the US and elsewhere, when there are plenty of coal-fired power plants still in operation. The worse case is Germany, where the phaseout of nuclear power has left lots of lignite-fuelled power stations still in operation.

The sensible policy is first, to abandon any idea of closing nuclear power stations by direct regulation and second, to impose a substantial carbon price, putting coal-fired power stations first in the “order of demerit” for closure.

We need a carbon price, but in the short term the goal must be to shut down the oldest coal-fired plants and replace them with a crash program of renewable generation, publicly and privately owned.

{ 147 comments }

1

Brett 01.25.19 at 5:58 am

Why restrict yourself to private operators? There’s no reason why there can’t be a public power company that leans hard into nuclear power.

2

nastywoman 01.25.19 at 6:31 am

@
”The worse case is Germany, where the phaseout of nuclear power has left lots of lignite-fuelled power stations still in operation”.

Or let’s say:
You need the experience of Germans – who – after Tschernobyl – for years –
couldn’t even eat their contaminated forest-mushrooms anymore?

On ”lignite-fuelled power stations” you can put at least any amount of filters – (as the Germans do) to make sure that your environment doesn’t get contaminated.
With nuclear power plants exploding that’s pretty difficult?

So much for understanding that nuclear power is a lot MORE dangerous than coal.

3

nastywoman 01.25.19 at 6:41 am

– and do you guys think that it is a ”cultural hang-up” – that so many Australians and Americans seem to believe that nuclear power is ”less dangerous” than even ”the oldest coal-fired plants”?

Or is this theory of an Australian friend of mine true – that growing up in a country where ”space seems to be unlimited” – and the concept of -(any type of) ”well working filters” is comparable ”new”?

4

nastywoman 01.25.19 at 8:09 am

– and this from wikipedia:

”Germany has been called “the world’s first major renewable energy economy”.[1][2] Renewable energy in Germany is mainly based on wind, solar and biomass. Germany had the world’s largest photovoltaic installed capacity until 2014, and as of 2016, it is third with 40 GW. It is also the world’s third country by installed wind power capacity, at 50 GW, and second for offshore wind, with over 4 GW.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with a vast majority of her compatriots, believes, “As the first big industrialized nation, we can achieve such a transformation toward efficient and renewable energies, with all the opportunities that brings for exports, developing new technologies and jobs”.[3] The share of renewable electricity rose from just 3.4% of gross electricity consumption in 1990 to exceed 10% by 2005, 20% by 2011 and 30% by 2015, reaching 36.2% of consumption by year end 2017.[4]

AND one of the major reason for such ”progress” was/IS that ”nuclear” for most Germans is –
”NO OPTION” –
(at all!)
– and there is this belief that if Australians and Americans would just belief the same thing – OR would have had to eat the same consequences from nuclear explosions – as Germans and/or Japanese – we would be able to fight climate change much more effective?

5

MFB 01.25.19 at 8:59 am

Obviously, phasing out power plants which don’t generate carbon dioxide is a bad idea. On the other hand, nuclear power plants, because they rely on enrichment plants which require immense amounts of power to generate fuel, are not as green as they look.

One possibility would be to burn some of the vast stashes of plutonium (which all nuclear countries generate) as nuclear fuel. Of course that, too, has safety issues.

6

David L. 01.25.19 at 9:16 am

I have three words for the anti-nuclear types: Japan, China, India.

All three are burning humongous amounts coal, and bringing large numbers of new coal-fired plants online at rapid rates.

If we (US, EU, and Japan) had committed to providing India and China with nuclear plants instead of coal ones twenty years ago (and if Japan’s NIMBY disease had been avoided), there’d be a chance of averting disaster.

But that didn’t happen, so basically, we’re scrod. Greenland’s ice (average thickness: 2 km) will all have slid or melted into the oceans by 2050, and NYC, Florida, half of Tokyo, Bangladesh will be under water. And that’s even without the Siberian tundra melting and releasing all its stored carbon into the atmosphere. Or the polar ice caps.

The idea that nuclear is “more expensive” than coal is simply insane: the cost of not doing nuclear is astronomical. And we’re already too late.

7

David Evans 01.25.19 at 10:03 am

Nastywoman:

You can’t filter out CO2, which is what this post is about.

Also nuclear power causes far fewer deaths than coal, however you measure it:

https://ourworldindata.org/what-is-the-safest-form-of-energy

8

P.M.Lawrence 01.25.19 at 10:04 am

… no profit-oriented corporation is ever likely to start a new plant. The recent abandonment of two proposed plants in the UK, despite the offer of massive subsidies, illustrates the point.

I don’t think it does illustrate that point, in the present environment. That is, it makes little or no sense to start a new plant if you have grounds for believing that outside pressures would only trip it up – the “T” in a “SWOT analysis” (internal strengths and weaknesses, with external opportunities and threats). It could well be that – other things being equal, which they aren’t – certain nuclear power projects would indeed be cost-effective in their own terms. Analysis means, breaking the parts down to see them better in isolation; in that sense, it’s not analysis to build in the outside costs as though they were an internal and so inherent and essential feature of the nuclear projects themselves, rather than handling them as part of the outside features. That doesn’t mean leaving them out, it means categorising them properly. If nothing else, it helps avoid double counting them.

9

Hell low 01.25.19 at 10:30 am

Considering the UK and I assume other countries once had public sector nuclear energy it really doesn’t matter that private companies won’t take the risk. The option is available. If there are cost overruns and so on then yes the taxpayer or the customer eats that loss, but that’s like having to pay a subsidy for a private company anyway. The point is to keep the lights on without more CO2.

One reason why private business is disinterested is that in the US massive subsidies make fossil fuels look more “competitive” than they really are. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/10/6/16428458/us-energy-coal-oil-subsidies

10

P.M.Lawrence 01.25.19 at 10:39 am

On 01.25.19 at 8:59 a.m., MFB wrote:-

… nuclear power plants … rely on enrichment plants which require immense amounts of power to generate fuel …

No, they do not, not in general.

What happened was, the U.S.A. focussed on designs like that because they were a better fit with other needs like making nuclear weapons. These were aggressively marketed and also benefited from the body of R&D they built up. That has led to many current designs being like that.

But that does not mean that nuclear power plants actually need that. For instance, the first round of CANDU reactors that Canada developed used non-enriched fuel, precisely because that bias favouring enrichment wasn’t then in place there. In fact, Canada found it almost impossible to get enriched fuel in those days, what with U.S. restrictions etc., but it was far more practical for Canada to use (stranded?) hydro-electricity to get the heavy water moderator those CANDU reactors needed. And the study work on yet other types of nuclear power plant, e.g. thorium breeder reactors, wouldn’t lead to needing enrichment plants either.

11

nastywoman 01.25.19 at 11:21 am

@7
”You can’t filter out CO2, which is what this post is about”.

– and I thought that this post is about:
”I’ve written numerous posts pointing out that expansion of nuclear power is not a serious option in decarbonizing the electricity supply”.

– which could get us to @6

”If we (US, EU, and Japan) had committed to providing India and China with –
(emphasize mine) –
”WIND, SOLAR and BIOMASS PLANTS instead of ”nuclear” or ”coal ones twenty years ago – there’d be a chance of averting disaster!”

12

nastywoman 01.25.19 at 11:30 am

AND about:

”Also nuclear power causes far fewer deaths than coal, however you measure it”

– as a dedicated Lover of European mushrooms – I mentioned ”contaminated mushrooms” for decades – and as humans are able to connect all kind of ”dots” – from ”contaminated mushrooms to whole contaminated areas and all kind of ”veggies” – and for the meat lovers to all kind of contaminated meat – and all kind of health consequences the consumption of such ”stuff” can have – okay possible NOT death – or death – right away?

BUT does @6 have some numbers about ”death” after eating too much nuclear mushrooms?

13

nastywoman 01.25.19 at 11:38 am

And there is this German saying that some people:
”Leben hinterm Mond” – and that’s not ”nasty” it just a cute saying that some people are living so far behind the moon that they haven’t realized (yet) –
that in this century –
and especially concerning ”climate change” –
there is only ONE type of ”acceptable energy production and consumption –
and that is definitely NOT
NUCLEAR!

Capisce?

14

Tom Hurka 01.25.19 at 1:58 pm

My understanding is that events like Chernobyl and Fukushima have made nuclear plants more expensive to build, because they have to have more elaborate, and more effective, safety features.

If I’m remembering correctly, a fairly recent proposal to build, with public money, a new nuclear plant in Ontario, which has closed its coal-burning plants, died over a dispute about which level of government, federal or provincial, would be on the hook for the inevitable cost overruns. Isn’t that a significant obstacle, that any initial costing of a new nuclear plant will almost certainly turn out to have been way too low?

I’m with JQ about the defensibility of nuclear but also about the unlikeliness of any new construction.

15

Omega Centauri 01.25.19 at 2:04 pm

The points of the OP are that (1) it will be much harder to reach “stretch” climate goals like 1.5C (I think 2C at best), if we shut down existing nuke plants early. And (2) new nuke plant build cannot meaningfully contribute to hitting those targets. I can’t see how either of those points can be disputed.

The other point is that the chorus from certain quarters that we can’t fix the problem without a huge nuke expansion is harming our enthusiasm for making the transition to renewables at the needed pace. Not all of these choir members have slowing the transition as their motivation. Some such as Hansen seem not to have marked to market current costs of nuclear and current costs of renewables (and the cost trajectories of such). But, it does seem to lead to a sort of defeatist attitude, which may be one reason the transition is only proceeding at about one third of the proper pace (I saw one quarter above, but lets not quibble over that).

16

Jonathan 01.25.19 at 2:39 pm

Yes, nuclear is better than coal, but they’re both worse than solar and wind. Wind and solar are dropping rapidly in price and improving in performance. Taller wind generators are reducing wind’s variability and energy storage technologies are improving and becoming economical. On the decadal time scale of building and paying off a new nuclear power plant there’s no way it beats wind and solar. That of course doesn’t apply to existing nuclear power plants where the price to build them (including CO2 emissions of their concrete) have already been paid.

17

Dragon-King Wangchuck 01.25.19 at 4:36 pm

I don’t think you’ll find argument that closing coal is preferable to closing nuclear. Removing coal is definitely the top priority. But it’s not quite so simple in practice.

Nukes are not very flexible. While newer reactors have some very impressive ramping and load following capabilities, they don’t like to do it. Even in France, where the nuke fleet is regarded as the most flexible in the world, they don’t really load follow. Coal is much better at this. And when you pull generators off the grid, you need to account for more than just their energy, but also their impact on load following requirements.

As nastywoman pointed out @4 shuttering the nukes helped drive renewables build out. Building renewables is a front loaded capital heavy endeavour. The cost of renewable energy is mostly capital costs since the fuel is free. Add in the cost curve of renewable power and it’s clear that there’s a strong incentive for each jurisdiction to not build renewables until they are needed. Load growth in developed nations has flattened (a result of energy efficiency and conservation measures as well as a shift to less energy intensive economic activities) – so the need to build new generation is mostly driven by the retirement of existing units. When you consider the variable output nature of non-hydro renewable generators, the need for keeping flexible generators like coal becomes more important. That said, the big trend is of coal plants getting phased out for natural gas.

The renewable cost curve decline is driven by installs (e.g. Swanson’s Law). Deep decarbonizing the grid in the long run is going to be renewables, demand response, and storage – including shifting electrical energy to heating and mobility. Or maybe fusion if you believe in that. Anyways, shutting down nukes can help get to that point sooner – because the energy supply hole left by the decommissioned nuclear plants will drive renewables uptake, which will further drive down install prices – setting off a virtuous cycle.

18

Joseph Brenner 01.25.19 at 4:42 pm

In a sense, there’s no need to make the case, as no profit-oriented corporation is ever likely to start a new plant. The recent abandonment of two proposed plants in the UK, despite the offer of massive subsidies, illustrates the point.

I suspect that if you go by that methodology, almost any large construction project isn’t “serious”– the West seems to have lost the ability to do things at scale. My guess would be this is a matter of corruption in the construction industry, which is regularly rewarded for lies and what amounts to sabotage, but if you’re an anti-union type, or an anti-activist type, you can probably work up a theory that features those aspects more prominently.

(Myself, I’ll plead guilty to pointing the finger at anti-nuclear activists– they exaggerate, get things wrong in ways that have arguably led to the deaths of many people, but they continue to get away with wrapping themselves in the pious flag of environmentalism.)

19

Joseph Brenner 01.25.19 at 4:46 pm

On “Save the Nukes”, I agree of course, and in particular I’d remind people that the Diablo Canyon nuke in California is still slated to close. Jerry Brown, despite being Mr. Green, decided to throw away a huge chunk of California’s clean energy generating capacity.

20

Alex H. 01.25.19 at 5:43 pm

“The only purpose of talk about new nuclear power is to attack the only realistic options, wind and solar PV.” has it absolutely backwards. The only reason to talk about wind and solar is justify not taking the nuclear road.

On one hand, we *know*, with vast experience, that nuclear is safe, is carbon-free, and can be built up affordably (no grid decarbonification scheme will be cheap, sorry). We could start tomorrow, and (for the UK or USA) be done within a decade.

On the other hand, we also *know*, with vast experience (see for example Germany’s titanic efforts with little payoff), that absent a massive, and unforeseen, unicorn improvement in energy storage, that solar and wind aren’t going to cut it at the levels required.

So, choices. Bet our civilization and the lives of our children on a scientific breakthrough that we have no reason to expect will come, or take the road we know will work? Easy choice. Do people irrational fear nuclear power? Yes, yes they do. Is that a massive problem for a massive nuclear build? Yes, yes it is. Is climate change an existential crisis? Yes, yes it is. Is the *currently false* belief that solar and wind will save us all part of the reluctance to choose nuclear? Why yes, yes it is. I’ve had many conversations where I’ve convinced people that nuclear is safe, and a viable route for solving climate change. But even people who realize that climate change is an existential crises, and have been convinced that nuclear is (from an engineering/economics POV) a good solution, still shy away because they see the figment of “renewables” on the horizon.

Bluntly, unless you have run through the full logistics and modeling for solar/wind, and can say, with absolute confidence, that it *will work, at the level needed (>90%) and work in time*, it is your absolute responsibility to argue against solar/wind because, even if they can help at the margins, they are being grasped as excuses to not take the obvious road. Look, if you really, really believe that renewables can cut it, argue against them and for nuclear *anyways*. If a miracle occurs, and storage technology makes renewables a better solution than nuclear, it is years down the line, and nuclear power plants don’t last forever. The research into power storage will continue anyways (for vehicles if nothing else). The cost of taking the sure bet is small. The cost of taking the risky bet and being wrong…

Ugh, I’m making a Pascal’s Wager argument. I feel dirty.

21

John Quiggin 01.25.19 at 6:41 pm

“We could start tomorrow, and (for the UK or USA) be done within a decade.”

The US started its “nuclear renaissance” program in 2005. Nearly 15 years later, out of 30+ proposals, four plants have been started, two abandoned despite being 75 per cent complete, and the last two are still unfinished.

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

22

Sebastian H 01.25.19 at 6:49 pm

They aren’t profitable for the same reason private subways in the US aren’t profitable: it’s a huge up front investment with a million regulatory choke points to strangle them when they are half done so the risk is too high. We are closing nuclear plants for the same reason we strangle them when we build them—people are irrationally afraid of the word “nuclear”. That’s why we are closing them in priority over the real danger of coal plants—it is an irrational fear driving it. Nasty woman upthread illustrates this, she doesn’t COMPARE to the environmental damage of coal, she fixates on the nuclear scares. You have to attack the irrational prioritization of fears first, but if we could do that nuclear would have been much more prevalent than it is.

23

nastywoman 01.25.19 at 7:02 pm

@20
”On the other hand, we also *know*, with vast experience (see for example Germany’s titanic efforts with little payoff)”

In Germany –
”The share of renewable electricity rose from just 3.4% of gross electricity consumption in 1990 to exceed 10% by 2005, 20% by 2011 and 30% by 2015, reaching 36.2% of consumption by year end 2017.[4]”

How much more ”payoff” does anybody want?

Oh – wait?
Because there is this… rumor that energy in Germany is more expensive than in other so called ”advanced countries” and especially as in the US?

YES!!
That’s the GREATEST payoff –
that a whole country is willing to pay MORE than anybody else for fighting climate change!!

24

nastywoman 01.25.19 at 7:21 pm

– and furthermore @20

Many moons ago I stepped into a house in Freiburg Germany which energy-wise was completely ”self sufficient” – and it might be hard to believe -(in America?) – that in Germany there are already whole towns – which energy-wise are already completely self sufficient – and all of it with ”clean energy” –

So just follow the lead – and we soon won’t have to talk about ”nuclear or coal” at all – anymore…

25

mpowell 01.25.19 at 9:13 pm

I don’t really know what the forward looking economic prospects are for nuclear vs solar/wind. What I believe is true today is that with current technology, it is not feasible to replace baseline power generation with wind and solar in the near term. On the other hand, France has used nuclear power for baseline power generation for quite some time. I’ve heard people talking down nuclear power for as long as I can remember – certainly since the early 2000s. I guess the US gov attempted to subsidize nuclear construction over that time frame and it ended up not working out? But in other countries nuclear has been economically and technologically feasible? I don’t really plan to get into the details of how or why things worked out this way, but it sure seems that nuclear baseline power generation is a feasible option the world keeps not selecting. Meanwhile, there has been tremendous progress in solar and wind technology, yes, but we’re still not really there? I’m sure solar and wind will get there eventually, but I don’t really understand why people would so much prefer to wait for that moment.

26

Matt 01.25.19 at 9:24 pm

On the other hand, nuclear power plants, because they rely on enrichment plants which require immense amounts of power to generate fuel, are not as green as they look.

First generation enrichment facilities based on gaseous diffusion were extremely energy-hungry. But much more efficient centrifuge enrichment has replaced gaseous diffusion facilities. The last US diffusion plant shut down in 2013.

27

Mark Diesendorf 01.25.19 at 9:54 pm

“nuclear power is a lot less dangerous than coal”
That’s true in terms of GHG emissions and local air pollution, but not necessarily correct under a total scientific risk analysis. The latter would include the contribution to nuclear war from the proliferation of nuclear weapons assisted by and cloaked by ‘peaceful’ nuclear power and the contributions from nuclear accidents and potential nuclear terrorism. At a basic level of analysis, risk is the probability of an event multiplied by its potential impact. While the probabilities of the above events may be low (but cannot be calculated), they are greater than zero and the impacts are potentially huge. In particular, nuclear war resulting in nuclear winter causing the devastating of global agriculture would have even greater impact, in the short term, than global climate change.

Nevertheless, I agree that the top priority must be to phase out fossil fuels and replace them with renewable energy and energy efficiency, while opposing proposals for new nuclear power stations.

28

nastywoman 01.25.19 at 10:00 pm

and this:
”Jerry Brown, despite being Mr. Green, decided to throw away a huge chunk of California’s clean energy generating capacity”.

One of the most wonderful character traits of every ”Mr. Green” I know in California – IS -that like all the other Mr. Greens I know in Europe – closing nuclear Plants make them ”Great Mr. Greens”.

29

Matt 01.25.19 at 11:41 pm

The latter would include the contribution to nuclear war from the proliferation of nuclear weapons assisted by and cloaked by ‘peaceful’ nuclear power and the contributions from nuclear accidents and potential nuclear terrorism.

States that already have nuclear weapons account for more than half of the world’s electricity production and consumption. The two nations with the most expected growth in electricity consumption, China and India, are already nuclear weapons states. There would be some justifiable charges of hypocrisy but no new danger if nuclear weapons states built new power reactors while trying to prevent others from entering the nuclear weapons club.

But as has been said in this thread already, the high financial cost of nuclear power relative to utility-scale renewable projects has already rendered it relatively unattractive. The nuclear route won’t look particularly attractive on a financial basis until/unless renewable penetration rises so high that storage requirements push system costs above that of electricity from reactors.

30

John Quiggin 01.25.19 at 11:46 pm

But in other countries nuclear has been economically and technologically feasible?

It hasn’t been as disastrous in China as in the developed world, presumably because safety concerns have been over-ridden to some extent, but it has nonetheless failed there. Projects ran over time and over budget, and there have been hardly any new starts since 2015.

The line that excessive safety concerns led to the failure of nuclear in the West was popular after Three Mile Island, with the Soviet Union being pointed out as making the right trade-off. Then came Chernobyl.

31

alfredlordbleep 01.26.19 at 1:59 am

The spent fuel rods
are stored at the over hundred nuke power generating sites (active or retired) in the U. S. I have wondered for a long time why concrete casks storage was blocked (versus current “swimming pool” variety) mainly by Republicans (if memory serves) for a cheap ~$100M (if memory serves).

Dry cask storage is a method of storing high-level radioactive waste, such as spent nuclear fuel that has already been cooled in the spent fuel pool for at least one year and often as much as ten years.[1][2] Casks are typically steel cylinders that are either welded or bolted closed. The fuel rods inside are surrounded by inert gas. Ideally, the steel cylinder provides leak-tight containment of the spent fuel. Each cylinder is surrounded by additional steel, concrete, or other material to provide radiation shielding to workers and members of the public.

wikipedia
[emphasis added]

It’s a question—what exposing relatively hot rods to spontaneous combustion once out of water and in the air—would do to real estate values in, say, California (two plants).

As for Diablo Canyon—that plant has been discovered to lie within a mile of an earthquake fault since its inception (if memory serves).

I gladly hand-off to expert writing. . .

32

Omega Centauri 01.26.19 at 2:30 am

It is so tiring to keep hearing “wind and solar can never provide baseline”, when dozens of detailed studies have shown that it can indeed. Most well know is Jacobson from Stanford. There have also been detailed models for Germany, which use years worth of actual weather data to look for
meteorological holes in the scenarios. And yet it is a matter of faith that it is impossible.

Usually it takes the form of “somewhere someplace it might be cloudy and calm for two weeks, therefore you need a battery sized to completely cover two weeks worth of usage…” But, that’s not what simulations show. Partly this is because the catchment area for the grid is larger than individual weather systems.

33

Alex H. 01.26.19 at 2:44 am

@21
Of course the Nuclear Renaissance failed. Fracking happened, and nuclear is more expensive than natural gas. So what? *Everything* is more expensive than natural gas. If your requirement is “economically viable without government intervention”, then you’ve ruled out all carbon-free solutions. What I meant was that, if the US (or any other 1st world nation) decided to go nuclear, it 1) wouldn’t break the bank (it wouldn’t be cheap. any grid decarbonification plan will be expensive) 2) could be done, the logistical plans could be written up tomorrow. The same does not go for Solar/Wind. Even if we threw the entire GDP into those, we simply do not have the technology to make it work. And we simply do not have a clear research route to get there. Real life isn’t a computer game with a known tech tree. From an engineering/economics viewpoint, a carbon-free nuclear powered is the only known solution.*

You still haven’t explained why we should turn away from the only known-to-be-feasible route towards a carbon-free grid even though we are in the face of an existential crisis.

@23
Please be careful conflating solar/wind with renewables. Also, note that Germany is already capping out its wind generation.

*Constraint may not be binding on small countries made of volcanos (pop 1), and small countries made of mountains (pop several), check your local geothermal or hydro power plants for details, offer void in cases of prolonged droughts.

34

nastywoman 01.26.19 at 6:24 am

@22
”Nasty woman upthread illustrates this, she doesn’t COMPARE to the environmental damage of coal, she fixates on the nuclear scares”.

Not really – as she ”fixates on food” – and hardly anything is more scary then not being able to eat the food anymore – once grows.
– Or not being able to send your child (ME) – out into the forest anymore – to play because of being scared about contamination.

But as I already mentioned – I guess you got to experience such a ”scare” by yourself – to understand the ”environmental damage of nuclear” – which in these times – where there actually isn’t any need for ”nuclear energy production” at all anymore – is such a stupid and senseless scare!

35

nastywoman 01.26.19 at 6:36 am

and about@
”Please be careful conflating solar/wind with renewables. Also, note that Germany is already capping out its wind generation”.

Please conflate any ”NON-nuclear” with each other – as long as the engineering/economics viewpoint – of German Engineers prevail – that a carbon-free ”NOT- nuclear powered” is the only known… or should we even say – ”practical” solution?
-(of the 21th century)

36

novakant 01.26.19 at 10:10 am

Feels like groundhog day, I have last been arguing with nuclear energy proponents, who minimize the tremendous risks and completely disregard the question of long-term storage, in my teenage years…

But hey, a few pointers:

– the German nuclear phaseout has been one of the core policies of the Green Party for decades and has finally become mainstream (with Fukushima forcing Merkel’s hand) – maybe they are not just ideologues but have instead amassed a wealth of expertise over this time that can’t be just waved away

– it is a fact that most nuclear power plants in the US and Europe are over or nearing their originally intended life-span and that the risk of malfunction increases exponentially – so relying on aging reactor to solve our energy/climate crisis is completely irresponsible

– finally, again, what are you going to do with all the spent nuclear material? This question has not been solved.

37

nastywoman 01.26.19 at 11:22 am

@
”finally, again, what are you going to do with all the spent nuclear material? This question has not been solved”.

Easy solved – send it to all these nice nuclear energy proponents – that they can bury it in their front- or backyards?

38

John Quiggin 01.26.19 at 12:18 pm

@Alex Fracking didn’t cause the massive cost overruns and long delays at Vogtle and VC Summer. And there weren’t any major protests , except about the costs.

39

Ian 01.26.19 at 3:12 pm

The cheapest energy of all is that which is not used. The technology for almost zero input buildings is known and achievable. We should be investing in energy efficiency at a scale comparable to HS2, etc and instead of the ludicrous costs of Hinckley.

https://www.withoutthestate.com/panchromatica/2016/10/an-alternative-to-hinkley-1.html

40

Will Boisvert 01.26.19 at 3:33 pm

@JQ OP,

I’m glad you’re speaking out to keep existing nukes open, but I don’t think we should give up on new nuclear builds. They are currently very expensive and hard to finance in the West, yet they still make economic sense as a decarbonization strategy.

Let’s compare new nuclear with new solar. For example, last year 9 new reactors came on line, with a capacity of 10.4 gigawatts. I haven’t done a detailed analysis of how much they cost, but I’ll overestimate it at $10 billion per GW, or $104 billion. You could buy a lot of PV for that money: at $1000 per kw global average capital cost (an underestimate), that would buy you a whopping 104 gigawatts of solar.

But the greater productivity and longevity of nuclear compensates for that disparity. Assuming generously that the PV has a service life of 40 years and the global average capacity factor of 14 percent, that 104 GW will produce 5,101 terrawatt-hours over its service life. With their rated 60 year service lives and 85 percent capacity factors, the nukes will produce 4646 Twh, or 91 percent as much as the solar panels. Tweak the assumptions a bit—give the nukes the US capacity factor of 90 percent and assume a service extension to 80 years (one US plant has started an applications for an 80-year license), or that the PV capacity factors drop with age and curtailment, and the balance tips a bit in favor of the nukes.

Nukes have higher operating costs—three cents per kwh in the US last year, versus probably 0.5-1 cent for PV. Over their lifetimes at a 5 percent discount rate and 20 year payback period, the nukes would have an LCOE of about 6 cents per kwh. That’s not an outrageous price to pay for carbon-free energy. And of course it’s a much better quality of power than solar is—very reliable and dispatchable 24/7/365, doesn’t require the huge extra costs of expanded grids or storage that are not counted in solar LCOEs. And it’s more scalable—both Germany and now China have had to slow their solar deployments at low penetrations because of difficulty integrating chaotic solar output into the grid.

This is all assuming super-expensive costs under stifling Western regulatory regimes. Nukes can be built a lot cheaper. The latest APR1400 reactor in South Korea cost about $4.5 billion per GW. At that price nuclear’s superior productivity and reliability give it a serious economic advantage over wind and solar.

You can make a case for nuclear or solar having the edge in particular contexts, but ruling out new nuclear in every context is irresponsible. Anathematizing it as nothing but an “attack on wind and solar, as the only realistic options” only robs us of a low-carbon option that is making major contributions right now.

41

Will Boisvert 01.26.19 at 3:34 pm

@NW 2, 12, etc.

“BUT does @6 have some numbers about ”death” after eating too much nuclear mushrooms?”

Yes, there are numbers on that, and you’ll be happy to hear that the Chernobyl radioactivity in wild mushrooms in Germany was not enough to pose a significant risk.

This survey of European radiation exposures from wild mushrooms contaminated by the Chernobyl accident reckons, “Wild mushroom consumption contributed up to 0.2 mSv to the effective dose in individuals consuming about 10 kg (fresh weight) of heavily contaminated species per year.” [http://kch.zf.jcu.cz/vyzkum/publikace/separaty/2001-0035.pdf]

If you upped that consumption to 1 kilogram per week that would give you a 1 millisievert per year dose. (Natural background radiation is roughly 2-3 mSv per year.) Doing that for 80 years, for an extra lifetime dose of 80 mSv, would raise your risk of getting a fatal cancer from the normal 30 percent to about 30.5 percent. (Per the US National Academy of Science’s estimate of a 0.57 percent fatal cancer risk per 100 mSv of exposure.) But the radioactivity in the mushrooms would have declined pretty quickly as the years went by, so you wouldn’t get anywhere near that much even eating a kilogram per week.

1 kilogram per week, or even 10 kg per year, sounds like a lot of wild mushrooms to me, but anyone eating those benchmark quantities would still face a pretty negligible risk.

42

Will Boisvert 01.26.19 at 3:35 pm

@ Dragon King Wang Chuk,

“Even in France, where the nuke fleet is regarded as the most flexible in the world, they don’t really load follow. Coal is much better at this.”

No, coal and nuclear ramp about as well as each other. The Craig Morris article you linked to is misleading. He simply observed that in daily operations coal ramps more than nuclear in France and Germany, but that is explained by the merit order. Coal plants have high marginal costs: they save on fuel costs by ramping down when prices drop, then ramp back up when prices rise abover their marginal fuel costs. Nuclear plants have zero marginal costs: they save nothing by ramping down and expend nothing by ramping up. So nukes always run at full capacity unless prices are pushed into negative territory by oversupply or grid operators order them to ramp down (to accommodate falling demand or wind and solar surges, e.g.).

Coal ramping is wasteful of fuel—coal plants burn fuel most efficiently at steady full power—and therefore generates more emissions. Even if the plant is sending no power to the grid, it has to have its boiler stoked—thus burning fuel—to be able to ramp quickly. It’s a good way to increase global warming.

“When you consider the variable output nature of non-hydro renewable generators, the need for keeping flexible generators like coal becomes more important.”

Here you’re not talking about “load following,” you’re talking about “renewables-following.” Your argument is that coal can ramp to accommodate surges and slumps in wind and solar better than nuclear can. Leaving aside whether this is true or not, I’ll note that it’s logically absurd. There is no reason for carbon-free, zero marginal costs nuclear power to ramp down to accommodate surges in wind and solar; displacing nuclear with renewables has no emissions benefit. It makes more sense to let nuclear run at constant full power and force the wind and solar generators to deal with their own chaotic output by curtailing their surges. That sensible approach, however, would tank WS economics, so wind and solar are often given “must take” privileges so that utilities have to buy their power, whether it is needed or not, even if it means ramping down nuclear and hydro to compensate.

“Anyways, shutting down nukes can help get to that point sooner – because the energy supply hole left by the decommissioned nuclear plants will drive renewables uptake, which will further drive down install prices – setting off a virtuous cycle.”

So we should use new low-carbon power to displace existing low-carbon power, with no net progress on emissions, while leaving coal plants open so that wind and solar surges will have plenty of carbon to partially abate. This argument is insane—so naturally it’s become green gospel.

43

Will Boisvert 01.26.19 at 3:36 pm

@ Mark Diesendorf 27

“That’s true in terms of GHG emissions and local air pollution, but not necessarily correct under a total scientific risk analysis. The latter would include the contribution to nuclear war from the proliferation of nuclear weapons assisted by and cloaked by ‘peaceful’ nuclear power and the contributions from nuclear accidents and potential nuclear terrorism. At a basic level of analysis, risk is the probability of an event multiplied by its potential impact. While the probabilities of the above events may be low (but cannot be calculated), they are greater than zero and the impacts are potentially huge. In particular, nuclear war resulting in nuclear winter causing the devastating of global agriculture would have even greater impact, in the short term, than global climate change.”

This is just hand-waving alarmism, about as far from “a total scientific risk analysis” as you can get. You’re conjuring an unspecified causal chain whose probability of even existing “cannot be calculated,” but must nevertheless be accorded dire attention because of its imponderably huge “impact.” (Actually, the scenario of catastophic nuclear winter is by no means a scientific consensus especially since arsenals today are much smaller than when the scenario was concocted.)It’s the demagogues oldest trick: just declare the potential costs to be virtually infinite so that they swamp any rational probability assessment or cost-benefit analysis; then people stop thinking and start panicking.

This issue isn’t really imponderable. We have tons of evidence and logic and history showing that there is no causal chain linking nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

–Most countries with nuclear plants don’t have nuclear weapons, and most nuclear weapons states got them before they had civilian plants.

–Weapons programs aren’t “cloaked” by civilian power programs; to the contrary, as in Iran, North Korea, etc., any civilian nuclear program in a suspect state immediately draws intense international scrutiny, sanctions, diplomatic crises or Israeli fighter-bombers. The notion that you can hide a weapons program under a civilian reactor “cloak” is laughable. Want to hide your weapons program? Don’t build a power plant.

–As others noted above, nuclear weapons states comprise much of the world, and civilian nuclear states much of the rest. The world has lots of knowledge about nuclear technology. That knowledge isn’t going away—knowledge never does—and it will keep spreading. Banning nuclear power can’t put the genie back in the bottle, it can only prevent the genie from doing anything useful.

44

Will Boisvert 01.26.19 at 3:43 pm

@ JQ 30

“The line that excessive safety concerns led to the failure of nuclear in the West was popular after Three Mile Island, with the Soviet Union being pointed out as making the right trade-off. Then came Chernobyl.”

The Soviets made the right trade-off. Given how dirty their fossil-fueled power supply was, there’s no doubt that the lives saved by Russian nuclear plants’ abating of air pollution outweighed the lives lost in the Chernobyl accident many times over; Kharecha and Hansen put the number at 180,000 lives saved by nuclear in the Soviet Union and FSU.

There’s also no doubt that excessive safety concerns did indeed lead to the failure of nuclear in the
West. Take the Oyster Creek nuclear plant, which shut down last year under pressure from the State of New Jersey. OC was a 619 megawatt plant built in 1969 for $488 million in 2007 dollars, about $1000 per kilowatt in today’s money. That’s cheaper than PV, for six times the productivity. The plant did fine for 50 years, good safety record, still in excellent shape when the state forced it to close.

So there’s no way to argue that safe plants can’t be built cheaply, because historical data show that they can be, in the US, France, China, Korea, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Japan etc. It’s clear that the cost blowouts today are the result of gold-plated safety and regulatory burdens. We should be building more Oyster Creeks, but we can’t because of misguided “concerns.”

What this means is that the “trade-off” with nuclear isn’t just between safety and economics but between safety and more safety. Not building a nuclear plant avoids a minuscule accident risk but at the cost of incurring a vastly greater and certain harm from ongoing fossil-fueled pollution and warming; the net effect is to forego a large gain in safety—and almost always in the name of safety. In the 1970s there were plans to build thousands of nuclear reactors, but greens and allied politicians and regulators stopped that push by ratcheting up costly safety standards. In so doing they shortened the lives of millions of people who would have had cleaner air to breathe had we built those reactors, delayed decarbonization for many decades, and made the world profoundly less safe.

It’s good that you recognize that nuclear is safer than coal. (Let’s underscore that: it’s roughly 100 times safer, and statistically about as safe as hydroelectric power.) But you’re not following that insight to its logical conclusion. The real trade-off to consider is this: we should make the world safer by making nuclear power marginally less safe and less costly, like Oyster Creek. That’s the right trade-off to make, the math says so. But to grasp that will require you to undertake a really searching reexamination of your preconceptions on this issue, more than you’ve attempted so far.

45

Eli Rabett 01.26.19 at 9:15 pm

But remember how wind mills chop up birds. . . .

It’s all nonsense.

Wind and solar can cover maybe 75% of baseline without massive overbuilding which makes them uncompetitive on cost and hydro has been pretty much maxed out, leaving current nuclear. Jacobson is a pit bull, but he is clearly pushing the envelope beyond its limits.

The argument above that coal can be ramped quickly is risible. If you are going to ramp fossil fuel sources, gas turbines do a much better, faster, and more economical job and can be shut down more quickly and with a whole hell of a lot less waste.

46

John Quiggin 01.27.19 at 12:17 am

‘Anathematizing it as nothing but an “attack on wind and solar, as the only realistic options” only robs us of a low-carbon option

The post was originally written for my Australian blog, where this point is clearly accurate. There is no realistic prospect for nuclear power in Australia any time before 2040. Its advocates are mostly denialists, backed up by deluded nuclear fans who inevitably spend most of their time attacking renewables. The Brave New Climate site, now defunct, was a mixture of both.

47

John Quiggin 01.27.19 at 12:28 am

“both Germany and now China have had to slow their solar deployments at low penetrations “

But China, with no political constraints, hasn’t started any (or hardly any) new nuclear construction in several years. And the Korean plants in the UAE, which were being touted as a success story not long ago, is already years behind schedule, with the recent news looking bad
http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_international/874728.html

Whatever the problems of integrating solar into a grid designed for coal, they are evidently trivial in comparison to those of building new nuclear plants.

48

Joseph Brenner 01.27.19 at 1:28 am

Omega Centauri@32 wrote:

It is so tiring to keep hearing “wind and solar can neverprovide baseline”, when dozens of detailed studies haveshown that it can indeed. Most well know is Jacobson from Stanford.

And myself, I get tired of hearing about Jacobson.

Mark Z Jacobson’s claims that we could decarbonize solely withwind, solar and hydro were severly criticized by work by Clack et.al, published by the National Academy of Sciences.

(Jacobson then revealed he has some serious issues, by respondingwith a $10 million defamation law suit– though after a major uproar, Jacobson dropped it.)

The main complaint of Clack et.al. was that Jacobson was insanelyoptimistic about what could be done with hydro. There’s a studyby Clack from 2016 that concluded it would be optimum to go with80% from wind, solar & water but we’d still need 20% from other power sources:

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/10/f33/1_NOAA%202016%20Paper%20-%20Christopher%20Clack%2C%20University%20of%20Colorado.pdf

By the way, currently California was got 18% of it’s electricity from Diablo Canyon in 2017.

49

Joseph Brenner 01.27.19 at 1:36 am

Following what I was saying Joseph Brenner@18:

The eastern span of the Bay Bridge was projected to cost 250 million, but it wen up to 6.5 billion.

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2015/10/from-250-million-to-65-billion-the-bay-bridge-cost-overrun/410254/

Should the project have been abandoned? Should we give up on trying to build bridges?

It’s occurred to me it might be a win to build small scale, transportable nuclear plants because we can evidently handle manufacturing but something has gone wrong with construction.

50

Joseph Brenner 01.27.19 at 1:40 am

Many people here (e.g. nastywoman@4) remain enthusiastic about the German “energy transformation”, but it really doesn’t seem to be playing out very well:

James Conca, “Why Aren’t Renewables Decreasing Germany’s Carbon Emissions?” from October 10, 2017:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2017/10/10/why-arent-renewables-decreasing-germanys-carbon-emissions/#3cd2c38368e1

Germany’s carbon emissions per person actually rose slightly in 2013 and 2015. The country produces much more electricity than it needs and is not addressing oil in the transportation sector.

As Peter Rez at Arizona State University discusses, renewables will not make much of a dent in their total carbon emissions. The problem is that even when renewables produce enough energy to supply all of the country’s electricity, the variability of the renewables means Germany has to keep the coal plants running, over half of which use the dirtiest of all coal, lignite.

In fact, in 2016, 7 out of 10 of Europe’s biggest polluters were German lignite power plants.

This article has a nice graph of per-capita GHG emissions for US,
Germany and France. You might ponder how it is that France is so low.

51

Joseph Brenner 01.27.19 at 1:46 am

Responding to alfredlordbleep@31 and friends:

You know, it’s not like no one has ever thought about Diablo Canyon’s earthquake safety, “diablo canyon fact sheet seismic and tsunami issues”:

https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ml1112/ml111290158.pdf

This also discusses what they’re doing with spent fuel at present– new expended cores go in a wet storage pool, then they get moved to dry storage. This is really and truly in okay thing to do with expended cores– it would’ve been nice to have the Yucca Mountain repository so we could check the box on a “long term storage solution”, but on the other hand arguably we should begin reprocessing the expended cores first, to (a) extract more usable energy from them (b) to reduce the amount of waste.

52

alfredlordbleep 01.27.19 at 2:11 am

Found among my folders. For what it’s worth—

2011 “terrorist attacks” (spelling it out)
Who wants to pay to secure storage?

. . . The lack of a clear plan for temporary fuel storage to date has created a situation in which large amounts of radioactive material are being stored in cooling pools at nuclear reactors, and such storage facilities are potentially vulnerable to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. At Fukushima, at least one cooling pool lost water, allowing the spent fuel to overheat and release radioactive materials. This has led some experts to call for spent fuel to be moved more quickly out of cooling pools in the United States and into dry casks that do not require water to keep cool, just naturally circulating air.

Others, including Kadak, counter that there will always be a need for cooling pools, since water cooling is important for removing heat from spent fuel that has recently been removed from a reactor. It takes about five years for the spent fuel to cool down enough to be stored in dry casks. (Moving sooner would be prohibitively expensive.) Moving out the old fuel will do little to make the water-cooling storage areas safer, he says, since this fuel is already cool enough that it doesn’t need water. He says what’s needed, instead of a push to move fuel into dry casks, is backup systems that can supply cooling water reliably, even if the pools leak and there is no power for pumping in water. . .

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/423854/a-100-year-plan-for-nuclear-waste/page/2/

53

Omega Centauri 01.27.19 at 2:46 am

Joeseph Brenner. It is true that Jacobson was rightly attacked for heroic burst hydro assumptions. But, one can redo the computations without that assumption, and the results aren’t that bad. Expenditures for storage, and “overbuilding” has to be increased. But wind solar and storage economics are improving rapidly, estimating future costs is a mugs game because of that. Nevertheless, what we need to do in say the next decade deployment wise hardly depends on the ultimate balance of energy in fifty years. Its all about getting the first 50-80% done quickly and creating the basis for further progress.

For instance in solar, we actually have a couple of startups trying to do Perovskites for PV. If silicon plus perovskite combo cells can be made cheaply, the efficiency of PV could nearly double. If the folks touting rectilinear nano antenna cells are right, they could quadruple. There are already 10-12 MW windturbines nearing production. If floating wind for deep water can reach a virtuous learning curve like European seafloor mount offshore has, then lots of new wind with capacity factors over 60% could be forthcoming too. Clearly its not just a deployment game, we also need to get R&D into overdrive too. And I agree Nuclear should be a part of that.

54

faustusnotes 01.27.19 at 2:52 am

Just a few points about Asia’s experience with nuclear power … contra David L at 6, Japan does not have a problem with NIMBYism – there are nuclear plants spread all around Japan and the locals had very few objections to them, since they played an important economic role. It was Fukushima that sank the Japanese nuclear industry, in combination with a DJP government that had completely muffed its disaster response and was looking for a signature policy that would show it cared.

The other thing that screwed the Japanese nuclear industry was the discovery that it had a dodgy and corrupt relationship with its regulators, and that many of its plants weren’t up to the standards required for earthquake safety. It’s likely in fact that the Fukushima incident was caused by lack of earthquake resilience, not the tsunami, which just compounded things. The rest of the country’s plants were shutdown for “safety checks” and even when Abe got back in and had solid support (before his constitutional shenanigans and the bullshit with the primary school) he was unwilling to reopen them. That wasn’t NIMBYism – that was the realization that they were vulnerable to earthquakes. Now he is reopening the plants as they complete their safety checks.

I agree with the nuclear boosters on this thread that nuclear is very safe but it is only very safe if it is subject to stringent safety rules. A fullblown nuclear disaster (not a managed half-disaster like Fukushima, or a disaster averted by great self sacrifice like Chernobyl) is truly terrible. And remember: if the wind had been blowing to the southwest there would have been a risk that people would have fled Tokyo. You can talk about radiation panic as much as you like but if even 10% of a population of 37 million have an irrational fear of radiation, you have a disaster on your hands when the wind changes.

Japanese people are very realistic about the risks of nuclear, and there is significant support for it in the Japanese population. But on the very clear understanding that it is safe, and in an earthquake zone that means real “gold plated” safety standards. If you doubt me, come experience a shindo 6 earthquake and tell me you think that safety standards here should be sloppy.

Also, this idea that China has “no political constraints” is ridiculous. The CCP is not some kind of one-man show that can just wave its hands and get stuff done. Not only does it have a lot of competing internal factions that have to be balanced, it does retain a strong awareness of local public opinion, and party leaders make decisions to avoid unrest and dissatisfaction. This is the whole reason for their efforts to reduce air pollution over the past 10 years. The CCP also values the health and welfare of the population it governs, and makes policy accordingly. So they can’t just plop down a nuclear power plant anywhere they want, and they have made rational decisions about pursuing solar power on that basis. It’s a big mistake to analyze Chinese behavior on the assumption that its government are unaccountable, unprincipled psychopaths.

Having said all that, regardless of the economics of building new nuclear plants, I think it’s madness to close existing ones. We should be running them out as long as we can until all the carbon emitting power sources are dead. I also think if baseload power is an issue, or there are timing issues, more investment in tidal power could be a good alternative to nuclear. It’s very reliable even if intermittent, in some areas it’s constant, and it’s huge.

55

nastywoman 01.27.19 at 5:12 am

@50
”Many people here (e.g. nastywoman@4) remain enthusiastic about the German “energy transformation”, but it really doesn’t seem to be playing out very well”:

Yes it does! –
As IT (not only) teaches ”stupid egotistical and too much carbon emission stinkers” to reduce their emission as fast as possible – the quoted article also teaches how creatively we can play with ”statistics” – as indeed – and kind of hidden in the comparison to France is the following quote by Peter Rez:

” The careful reader may note that the French emit less carbon dioxide per person than the Germans and attribute it to the fact that the Germans are busy churning out BMWs and Bosch appliances, while the French lounge around on extended lunch breaks”.

– and the writer makes this point just in order to make the following point:

”However, the reality is more prosaic. The French baseload is almost completely nuclear with negligible carbon dioxide emissions”.

BUT still – Germany’s economy is far more ”YUUGE” than the economy of France and so it might be a bit of an unfair comparison and let’s quote all of the above just to make the point – that:
YES – The French baseload is almost completely nuclear –
BUT! – concerning WHAT future costs and problems with trying to get rid of all their nuclear waste? –
They could ship it to US -(or Australia?)
Right? – as there might be enough ”wasted space Down Under”?
AND/BUT the fact that France currently might be ”doing better” than Germany doesn’t negate the fact how much better Germany does in comparison to the US –
and thusly how ”well the energy transformation” in Germany really plays out?

And let’s suggest (again”) to connect some dots and finally also look at all these German efforts to construct ”zero emission houses” -(BE-cause of the nuclear scare?) –
BE-cause those houses might make Germany in the future even be better than France – and the –
”Über Progressive Replacers of Fossil Fuels by Renewables.”

56

John Quiggin 01.27.19 at 6:11 am

Better late than never, Germany has just announced a plan to close down all coal-fired power by 2038 at the latest.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-energy-coal/germany-should-fully-phase-out-coal-by-2038-commission-idUSKCN1PK04L

There’s an estimated cost of $45 billion, which is about 1 per cent of German national income. Spread over 20 years, it amounts to 0.02 per cent of national income per year.

57

Will Boisvert 01.27.19 at 6:29 am

@ Alfredlordbleep 52

“At Fukushima, at least one cooling pool lost water, allowing the spent fuel to overheat and release radioactive materials.”

No, this never happened. The cooling pool in question never lost enough water to uncover the fuel, the fuel never overheated and there was no release of radioactive material. The reference you linked to was written in April 2011, a month after the Fukushima accident, when there was still uncertainty about what happened in the spent fuel pools.

58

Will Boisvert 01.27.19 at 6:40 am

@ Omega Centauri 53, on Jacobson’s all-renewables models.

“It is true that Jacobson was rightly attacked for heroic burst hydro assumptions. But, one can redo the computations without that assumption, and the results aren’t that bad.”

It’s hard to take anything Jacobson publishes at face value. His “burst hydro” scenario assumed that the US could build *1300 GW* of hydro capacity, thirteen times current capacity, and without any major new dam construction. That result is obvious lunacy, by an order of magnitude, yet Jacobson placidly made it a centerpiece of his paper until public criticism forced him to correct it. Given how outlandish that paper was, I can’t have any faith that his latest “computations” don’t have other outlandish assumptions buried in them.

Take his deployment of “demand response.” DR is a favorite magic wand in all-renewables modeling and Jacobson waves it frantically in his recent papers.

That’s because Jacobson’s studies actually demonstrate that all-renewables systems cannot supply reliable power. Let’s look at last year’s “Matching Demand with supply at low cost in 139 countries among 20 world regions with 100 percent intermittent wind, water and sunlight (WWS) for all purposes.” Although he employs a toolkit of wind onshore and off, PV and thermal solar with storage, hydropower, geothermal, batteries, hydrogen storage, underground thermal storage, phase-change storage and more, all overbuilt at colossal scale, his modeling shows that there are still many lengthy periods when load can’t be met.

So Jacobson has to resort to “demand response” to avoid blackouts. That means that households and businesse have their power cut to reduce demand on the grid—what Jacobson euphemizes as “flexible load.” Here’s how it works in his model:

“All remaining loads are electrical and are separated into inflexible loads that must be
satisfied immediately and loads that are subject to demand response thus are “flexible.” The flexible loads must be satisfied within a certain number of hours (a maximum of 8 here). All flexible loads not met after the demand response time limit are converted to inflexible loads that must be met immediately with current or stored electricity.”

So whenever demand outstrips supply the “flexible” loads go unsatisfied for up to eight hours, depending on how the wind and sun and waters are feeling. A large fraction of energy use will be consigned to flexibility:

“Of the total transportation electric load among 139 countries, 41.4% is assumed flexible for charging vehicles any time ahead of use, another 43.6% is assumed flexible for producing hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles any time ahead of use, and the rest (15%) is assumed to be inflexible for charging electric vehicles immediately before use.

And not just transportation:

“Other flexible loads include 70% of high temperature industrial-process loads; 15% of
energy for non-heating, non-cooling, non-transportation loads in each sector; and 75% of loads in the “other” sector.”

In North America, Jacobson reckons that out of a total load of 1,532 gigawatts, 1,104 GW will be classified as “flexible load,” and 436 GW will be directly subject to demand response. So a quarter or more of the energy supply and economy—driving, air conditioning, smelters and blast furnaces, 75 % of “other”—will be subject to a regime of chaotic scheduling in which activities can be halted and time-shifted for uncertain periods of up to eight hours, on short or no notice.

This is the best Jacobson could do using WWS, but it’s still a far cry from the super-reliable, power-on-demand systems developed countries now have. The chaos would impose large inefficiencies and costs on economies (that Jacobson doesn’t seem to account for), which by themselves might tip the cost advantage to a reliable nuclear-powered grid. Developed societies simply won’t tolerate the level of disruption from demand response that Jacobson envisions (think yellow vest) so on that ground alone his WWS model is a dead letter.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t build wind and solar, but it does mean they will be reliant on fossil-fueled backup power. That’s OK: an 80 percent renewables, 20 percent gas system is probably feasible and will mitigate a lot of global warming, though not fast enough to meet the 2-degree goal.

More importantly, anti-nuke renewables zealots who want a true emissions-free system should focus on carbon capture and sequestration to cope with ongoing fossil-fuel use. Storage and demand response are dead ends, as Jacobson’s work shows; CCS is probably the best way to make a mostly-renewables system work.

59

nastywoman 01.27.19 at 10:19 am

@58
”the best way to make a mostly-renewables system work”.

– IS – finally to talk mainly about how -(not only zero emission houses) – will radically change the demand for energy in the future.

As (clever) customer already are ”saving” to such a degree – that a country like Germany supposedly ALREADY produces more electricity than needed –
WHY would anybody in his or her right mind write all these comments which are based on a current demand which might be halved in ten or twenty years?

Why?

60

soru 01.27.19 at 12:18 pm

> Jacobson’s all-renewables models

This argument seems irrelevant. Renewable energy is sold as a premium product, and a higher price than commodity energy. As such, it inherently requires the existence of some form of commodity energy to be superior to. If it is the only option, it loses that premium, and the numbers don’t add up.

Nuclear is unable to capture that premium, not because of the direct effects of green activism but the wider diffusion of ideas of environmentalist and green branding that seem unlike to reverse any time soon. There is a limited amount of money that people are willing to pay for the future happiness of their grandchildren, and that money is naturally going to go to the most attractive options first.

So unless nuclear can economically compete as commodity energy, against forms that do not have to pay for the externalities they impose, then it has no role.

If politics changes that fact, it becomes false. Until it does, it remains so.

61

Zamfir 01.27.19 at 1:46 pm

John, some remarks on the German coal Ausstieg: the 2038 goal looks far away, but the first (and most fleshed-out) phase of the plan is that almost a third of the capacity is already to be closed by 2022. I would have some hope that the rest of the plan will eventually be accelerated to that date as well.

Second, the mentioned 45 billion is not a cost, in the economic sense, more transfer. It’s money that the federal government promises to send to coal-dependent regions, hopefully to smooth the effect on jobs.

The sensitive part is here is that lignite tends to be mined very close to the plants. That makes it cheap, but it also means that a power plant closure costs jobs in the plant and the mine, both in the same area – a lot of them in the poorest parts of the former DDR where new jobs are harder to find.

62

Omega Centauri 01.27.19 at 3:57 pm

soru @60 Only renewables are increasingly being sold to utilities as the cheapest power available. Not all, but increasingly so. So the challenge for the more traditional baseline sources is to be close enough in cost that utilities will be able to justify the higher price per unit of energy. So yes Nuclear if it is going to compete has to justify that premium. whereas mostly renewables won’t need it -at least until integration of time varying sources starts becoming more difficult.

63

John Quiggin 01.28.19 at 1:42 am

@Zamfir – thanks. V helpful

64

Will Boisvert 01.28.19 at 7:24 am

@ Faustusnotes 54

1. “It’s likely in fact that the Fukushima incident was caused by lack of earthquake resilience, not the tsunami, which just compounded things.”

No, the reactors shut down as soon as the earthquake hit and emergency cooling with diesel generators started up and was operating properly for almost an hour. Then the wave hit, knocking out the diesel gens and electrical switching equipment that powered the cooling systems, leading to the meltdowns. No tsunami, no meltdowns. Fukushima etc. weathered the EQ okay.

2.“I also think if baseload power is an issue, or there are timing issues, more investment in tidal power could be a good alternative to nuclear. It’s very reliable even if intermittent, in some areas it’s constant, and it’s huge.”

3. No, no and no. Tidal power fluctuates wildly not just during the day but between spring and neap, the overall capacity factor is about 25 percent, even widely separate coastal sites correlate, and tides aren’t constant. It’s reliable only in the sense that you can set your watch by the blackouts. In no way is it comparable to nuclear.

4. “A fullblown nuclear disaster (not a managed half-disaster like Fukushima, or a disaster averted by great self sacrifice like Chernobyl) is truly terrible.”

What are you talking about? Chernobyl was as bad as an accident can get: a red-hot fire open to the sky lofting radioactive material for days on end. That kind of accident can’t happen with the reactor models being built today.

5. “And remember: if the wind had been blowing to the southwest there would have been a risk that people would have fled Tokyo. You can talk about radiation panic as much as you like but if even 10% of a population of 37 million have an irrational fear of radiation, you have a disaster on your hands when the wind changes.”

No, there wouldn’t have been any evacuation unless the government had ordered people to evacuate Tokyo, as they did in Fukushima. And it’s out of the question that fallout in Tokyo, a hundred miles from Fukushima, could have been heavy enough to pose any health risk at all, even with a southwest wind. Also note that Tokyo, like every dense city, is a great place to have a nuclear accident: the stone and steel buildings block virtually all radiation, and the city’s paved surfaces and sewer lines make it easy for rainfall to wash fallout out of inhabited spaces.

Nuclear evacuations are elite panics—they are caused by public officials and activists deliberately trying to fan hysteria and start stampedes in the name of safety. In your scenario, as long as the government simply tells the truth—there is no health risk from the radiation—and refrains from forcing people to leave, Tokyo-ites will shrug and stay put.

6. “nuclear is very safe but it is only very safe if it is subject to stringent safety rules.”

No, even if the rules are lax, nuclear is still very safe. You’re right that Japan, with all its fearsome seismic hazards, had a corrupt and mediocre regulatory regime and dumb design choices like not raising the Fukushima sea wall and not storing the diesels above the tsunami line. As a result, they got the Fukushima accident.

But so what? When you quantify the health consequences, accidents and all, it’s still an extremely safe industry. High-end estimates of Fukushima casualties are about a thousand excess cancer deaths over many decades. Had the Fukushima plant been a coal plant of similar size, its air pollution from normal operations would have caused many times more deaths over the years. Not only was the lax, corrupt Japanese nuclear industry as a whole dramatically safer than the coal-fired power sector, the Fukushima Daiichi plant on its own, counting the accident casualties, was much safer than any equivalent coal plant would have been.

This is the heart of the debate about nuclear power, this systematic misunderstanding of risk and safety by greens. Much of this is just scientific ignorance—greens persistently overestimate the danger of radiation by orders of magnitude, and conjure up disaster scenarios that are unphysical. But some of it is a cognitive confusion in the counterproductive fixation on safety.

Both Quiggin and you, FN have stated that you support keeping existing nuclear plants open because they are much safer than coal plants; great, you’re half-way home. But both of you also lapse back into a safety critique to justify banning new nuclear plants, or what’s the same, subjecting them to “safety” standards that are so stringent as to price them out of the market. By effectively banning the kind of cheap, mediocre nuclear plants we used to build *you make the world less safe* by foreclosing a very safe alternative to fossil-fuels that has marked advantages over renewables in performance, scalability and total-system costs.

Being too safe makes us less safe. That’s the insight anti-nukes need to absorb.

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faustusnotes 01.28.19 at 8:35 am

William, I think you’re wrong about a few things here …

1. the timing of the Fukushima accident: There is some evidence (I think from an inquiry) that the cooling pipes failed when the earthquake happened. It’s disputed, I think, and I think everyone accepts that the tsunami would have been a disaster anyway, but this was reported here (I think in a report to the Diet). Furthermore, I think the safety issues with the other nuclear plants are a matter of public record now and the restarts are happening slowly because of them.

2. “No, there wouldn’t have been any evacuation unless the government had ordered people to evacuate Tokyo, as they did in Fukushima.”

This is slightly wrong about what happened in Fukushima. The government designated several zones, many of which were not initially mandatory evacuation zones, and people evacuated anyway. I have first hand evidence of this – I was involved in several studies of mortality of elderly people evacuated from the area, and these people were not evacuated only due to government orders but because they were unable to continue living in the region due to all the locals abandoning the area. In fact they tried to shelter in place but couldn’t due to loss of power, food and medicine. The stories are quite harrowing. In an elderly population radiation panic is very dangerous. The point I was trying to make about Tokyo was not that it would be dangerous if the government mandated evacuation, but that people would evacuate anyway. I also have first hand experience of this – at the time this happened my partner was living outside Tokyo so I took the shinkansen to her house about 2 days after the tsunami (aftershocks had made my house unpleasant and we were subject to rolling blackouts and my work was shut for a week, so why not?) and Tokyo station was an absolute shitshow of people desperately evacuating. Students canceled their study plans (two or three year degrees) because of fear of radiation. For about a year after the earthquake Tokyo was suddenly depopulated of foreigners, and the locals came up with the term “flyjin” (a pun on gaijin) to joke about the sudden exodus. That was when the cloud went northwest and the government could credibly maintain there was no threat to Tokyo. Had it come southwest it would have been a disaster regardless of what the government had mandated, unless they had shut down roads and trains and imposed a curfew.

Everything you say about the safety of cities, reactors etc. is true but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when radiation panic sets in. Trust me, I was there and I saw it. And evacuations kill, which means that evacuations of big cities are a terrifying prospect. I saw all of this in a country that was very supportive of nuclear power, very sanguine about radiation risk, very well-educated scientifically, and very used to disasters.

You also argue that the problem in Fukushima was that they had “dumb design choices like not raising the Fukushima sea wall and not storing the diesels above the tsunami line” but then you say that we should have laxer safety rules? Perhaps you think that nuclear power plants should be built close to major cities with low earthquake resistance and no backup generators? Great plan!

And finally, Chernobyl was not “as bad as it can get.” Lots of people died to make sure it was contained. It could have been a lot worse. Fukushima also could have been a lot worse. And even putting aside the disaster aspects of these plants, putting all your eggs in an exploding basket is not a great plan if you want a stable power supply. Remember, once these plants go south they can’t be repaired – you can’t even send people inside them. If you want a nuclear plant in Japan to work for 80 years you need safety features that make it proof against shindo 7 earthquakes, 30m tsunamis, and stupid mistakes. Otherwise you end up with a giant glow in the dark elephant that only lasted half as long.

I’m not as evangelical about this as John Quiggin – I think we could have new nuclear power builds, I think the entire fleet of big freight ships should be nuclearized to reduce their carbon footprint, and I think that nuclear can be safe and probably economical. But I think John is right that the empirical evidence doesn’t support that idea, and we should go with the evidence.

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Zamfir 01.28.19 at 9:23 am

“You’re right that Japan, with all its fearsome seismic hazards, had a corrupt and mediocre regulatory regime and dumb design choices like not raising the Fukushima sea wall and not storing the diesels above the tsunami line.”

Thing is, before Fukushima that same Japan was the poster child of nuclear power – the rich, well organized country that was not cutting corners, but could still build plants without breaking the budget.

The Japanese public was not aware of the risks they were taking. The international nuclear sector was not aware (or at least, not sending warnings) despite all the regular review rounds. Japan’s own nuclear second was mostly unaware, or keeping mum.

At the time, I was working in the nuclear industry, and I asked myself: how could I convince someone around here, that the same won’t happen here? Even if I believe that our part of the sector would not accept such risks, can I be really sure? I am not at the table at every meeting where costly conclusions might be buried. And even if I am sure, why should the general public trust me? After all, my Japanese equivalents didn’t sound the alarm either.

I do not have an answer, and I have not seen a convincing answer from the industry either.

I do see the opposite movement, more like what you are saying here. The argument that radiation effects were always overblown, that 1 Fukushima every few decades is not that bad in the greater scheme of things, that evacuation schemes do more harm than good, etc.

There is, AFAICT, a lot of truth in that! It’s also an argument that never had any success before. Even when the competition was the dirtiest of dirty coal power. That’s why the industry promised gold-plated safety – because it could not convince the public that a little radiation is not actually that bad for your health. And those decades of safety promises just helped to emphasize the health risks of radiation -or why else take all that effort?

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novakant 01.28.19 at 9:37 am

Here’s some context on Germany’s nuclear phase-out:

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/history-behind-germanys-nuclear-phase-out

NB: 81% of the population are in favour of it.

It seems to me the main problem with these debates is that some people style themselves as technocratic philosopher kings whose insights are supposed to translate directly into policy – the same goes for the debate about genetically modified food debate. And yet humans are fallible and we still live in some sort of a democracy.

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Joseph Brenner 01.28.19 at 5:20 pm

novakant@67:
When polls show people are in favor of nuclear power– presuming the information registers at all– the anti-nuclear activists just take them as a sign that they need to shout louder. They don’t go “well okay then” and shut up and go away.

In the United States, people are typically more positive on nuclear power than you would expect from the volume of the anti-nuclear folks. For example, “American’s Still Favor Nuclear Power a Year After Fukushima”:

https://news.gallup.com/poll/153452/americans-favor-nuclear-power-year-fukushima.aspx

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mpowell 01.28.19 at 7:09 pm

Coming again to the question of nuclear power generation, this is my basic perspective:

Given the substantial amount of power that has been historically generated by nuclear power and the actually quite excellent track record of accidents and fatalities traceable to it, especially outside of the USSR, it has clearly been quite effective and economical in the past. I find it impossible to use the outcome of ongoing build programs to evaluate this question. There are so many ways for anti-nuclear forces to make this harder – are we on net anti-subsidizing nukes or subsidizing it? I don’t have any confidence in my ability to assess the totality of the evidence and generate an informed opinion on this basis. It is also very difficult to trust other people’s summary of the details to borrow their work – it is clearly a space with strongly held opinions and not much in the way of common trust.

Given the past success of nuclear plants, I hold a very strong prior that they can be at least as effective today. Certainly, I don’t see why technology advances would not be helping even more so. If you want to persuade me (and I assume many other people have a pretty similar very basic take), you need to explain why nuclear is less cost-effective today. Is wind/solar today already less expensive than nuclear was in 1970? Is there a good way to explain what happened here?

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novakant 01.28.19 at 7:48 pm

#68

You might have quoted a more recent version of the same poll:

“For First Time, Majority in U.S. Oppose Nuclear Energy”

https://news.gallup.com/poll/190064/first-time-majority-oppose-nuclear-energy.aspx

It seems the US population is rather divided on the issue and I think decisions of such a magnitude should have strong popular support.

Anyway, I was talking about Germany and there the picture is clear. Of course one could argue that the survival of mankind is at stake so who cares, but in the real world, unless you want to suspend democracy altogether, you have to get a broad consensus.

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Faustusnotes 01.28.19 at 11:13 pm

I found an article in the journal sustainability that attempts to estimate the total insurance cost for Fukushima from published media reports, and which finds it cost between 1000 and 25000$ per household, with a disproportionate burden on the poor. I don’t think that article includes any information on compensation to landowners whose farmland is permanently damaged or to businesses that collapsed. This is for a disaster that mostly cast its residue over unoccupied mountains…

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Collin Street 01.29.19 at 3:00 am

Current data says nuke plants fail catastrophically once every ten thousand plant years (twice in forty years over about 500 plants): this is not what I’d call particularly good. There simply have never been more than tiny numbers of nuclear power plants; if chemical-engineering systems failed at that rate people would be appalled.

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Omega Centauri 01.29.19 at 4:28 am

The thing I mainly think about Nuclear power, which is rarely discussed, it its lack of assured reliability. Solar and wind are always attacked because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. But after a nuclear panic, the nuclear plants are shut down in a hurry. And we can’t just wait until the next shift in the weather, politics then dictates that they plants can’t run come hell or high water, Look at the huge power gen deficit in Japan months to years after the accident. Every plant that had a temporary planned shutdown, was refused permission to restart, so the entire nation became power starved. That is what we risk is we rely on Nuclear to any degree. An accident even halfway around the world to a design that we don’t even have can still generate an irrational panic movement, and possibly a rapid shutdown of all of much of the system.

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Collin Street 01.29.19 at 5:01 am

I mean… flour mills have a failure mode where they literally explode, like a bomb. That’s a pretty catastrophic failure, comparable in degree to a core meltdown although rather lower-impact in consequences.

They don’t explode very often, though, and people think they’re safe because practically the failure rate is brought down to acceptable levels rather than because of innate safety. They probably explode at more than one every every twenty years, though… but there are rather more flour mills than nuclear plants. We can compare the rates: is a nuclear plant less likely to melt down than a flour mill is to explode? How effective is nuclear risk management vs farinacious?

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John Quiggin 01.29.19 at 6:11 am

“the anti-nuclear activists just take them as a sign that they need to shout louder”

Can you give US examples. Looking for reports of protests against nuclear power (not nuclear weapons), I couldn’t find any in the last decade, compared to heaps against oil pipelines, coal ports and so forth.

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John Quiggin 01.29.19 at 6:16 am

On safety,its reasonable to claim that Gen II plants are safer than coal (despite spectacular disasters that have convinced the public otherwise), and that (if public opinion could be ignored) it would have been better to persevere with them than to incorporate all the expensive safety equipment that has made Gen III uncompetitive. But that’s a point of purely historical interest now.

New-build nuclear is competing with renewables not coal, and here there is no comparison. Renewables are cheaper and safer, even allowing for the costs of storage and grid integration. Safer is obvious, and cheaper has been demonstrated in many different countries, with different markets and quasi-markets. So, the conclusion of the OP remains valid.

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John Quiggin 01.29.19 at 6:20 am

@72 As well as the catastrophic disasters, there have also been lots of failures that have led to the shutdown of plants. TMI, for example. In this context, TMI-1 is due to close soon for economic reasons, which would probably not be happening if we had a carbon price.

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Sebastian H 01.29.19 at 6:45 am

“It seems to me the main problem with these debates is that some people style themselves as technocratic philosopher kings whose insights are supposed to translate directly into policy – the same goes for the debate about genetically modified food debate.”

This is the kind of thing that shows up right as I’m feeling open to being convinced that just makes me rethink the idea of changing my mind. Lots of people are open to the idea that vaccines might cause autism, but they are just not correct. At some point being strongly influenced by the flatly wrong is a problem. I’m really trying to be open to Quiggin’s argument that nuclear just can’t work rather than my suspicion that its largely about zoning and regulating it in such a way as to intentionally make it impossible to run (akin to the Texas method of regulating abortion centers). But raising the almost entirely made up GMO debate really enflames all my suspicions again.

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lurker 01.29.19 at 7:50 am

‘It seems to me the main problem with these debates is that some people style themselves as technocratic philosopher kings whose insights are supposed to translate directly into policy – the same goes for the debate about genetically modified food debate. And yet humans are fallible and we still live in some sort of a democracy.’ (novakant, 67)
I don’t know about Germany, but where I live, every few years some high profile crime brings up the bright idea that the criminal justice system should reflect more the very real feelings of the law-abiding majority and less the views of experts. Fortunately this never gets anywhere. Yet all that is at stake there is the lives of a few thousand not particularly nice human beings, not the survival of life on Earth.
The majority of the population does not have real opinions on anything as complicated as energy policy: the do not know or care enough to understand it. Someone has to make the decision, preferably based on expertise rather than the desire to pander to people who are afraid of atoms.

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Zamfir 01.29.19 at 8:47 am

mpowell: “If you want to persuade me (and I assume many other people have a pretty similar very basic take), you need to explain why nuclear is less cost-effective today. Is wind/solar today already less expensive than nuclear was in 1970? Is there a good way to explain what happened here?”

This might be good starting point, an in-depth study to the historic cost of French nuclear power:
http://www.cerna.mines-paristech.fr/Donnees/data04/429-BoccardSlides.pdf
These are summary slides, you can find the paper with more details as well.

It’s focussed on France, though it also mentions some (comparable) numbers for the US. It matches my general impression form other sources: nuclear power from the “golden age” was roughly competitive with other electricity sources in cost, but never truly cheap. Electricity cost itself has grown roughly in line with inflation, over the decades. So, if wind and PV are now getting roughly cost-competitive with the general market, then they are not miles away from the cost of golden-era nuclear power plants.

On the cost escalation issue: here is a study n that, looking at more countries than the US and France https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030142151630010

Most countries in the sample show a gradual increase, but not the crazy escalation of the US (now also seen in France). The best case in their sample is Korea, where costs keep falling slowly over time. That’s a reasonable baseline of what is possible, if you can avoid the nebulous problems of other programs.

Though note that Korean costs are still somewhat higher than golden-era French and US costs; and the recent UAE plants (build by Korea) are now showing some of the worrying signs of safety-related technical woes, delays and cost overruns.

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novakant 01.29.19 at 10:25 am

I’m really trying to be open to Quiggin’s argument that nuclear just can’t work (..) But raising the almost entirely made up GMO debate really enflames all my suspicions again.

For someone purportedly basing his opinions on facts alone, you seem to be rather susceptible to emotional responses and tribalism.

I don’t know about Germany (…)

Well, I provided a link which describes how the resistance to nuclear power in Germany has been developing over decades now, so this is not comparable to the occasional crime scare.

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Orange Watch 01.29.19 at 3:18 pm

Omega Centauri@53:
It is true that Jacobson was rightly attacked for heroic burst hydro assumptions. But, one can redo the computations without that assumption, and the results aren’t that bad.

It should be noted that anyone claiming to propose carbon reduction by invoking massively increased hydro – particularly by increasing reservoir size to increase energy storage – should not be taken seriously regardless of how tight their calculations are. If they’re strictly arguing for an increase in renewable energy sources, that’s one thing, but if they propose to address greenhouse gas emissions by substituting fossil fuels’ carbon dioxide emissions for hydro’s methane emissions (from its reservoirs), they’re either engaging in magical thinking, or haven’t kept up with what is ostensibly their field.

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mpowell 01.29.19 at 3:43 pm

The additional input from JQ and Zamfir was very helpful here. It is much more plausible to me if your argument is that Gen II nuclear offered a reasonable safety/cost tradeoff, but Gen III nuclear (required for various political concerns) is unworkable. But given this, I don’t really agree with JQ’s claim that the OP is essentially correct. Solar and wind may be lower cost than Gen III nuclear at their current levels of market penetration, but this is not the same as saying they are cost competitive with Gen II at the levels of market penetration required to sufficiently address global warming. Reliability and the attendant mitigation techniques will only become more and more costly as market penetration increases. And I don’t really see the evidence that this is a close to solved problem or one with proven economic costs. This is still an open question for me.

And I wanted to touch on Sebastian’s point as well, except I have a different perspective. It’s not possible to advocate technologically infeasible solutions, but neither is it possible to advocate politically infeasible ones. The question to me, on the topic of strategy to reduce carbon emissions, is how much deference should be given to a political movement that has done so much work to turn public opinion against nuclear energy (should we really take this as a given at this point)? It is a little unfair to single individuals who may have had nothing to do with this, but I also don’t think it’s a dynamic that should just be swept under the rug and forgotten.

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SamChevre 01.29.19 at 4:27 pm

Looking for reports of protests against nuclear power (not nuclear weapons), I couldn’t find any in the last decade

My impression is that there are protests against any new nuclear power, and any plan to move nuclear waste, but that the key focus of anti-nuclear-power activists is the courts and regulatory agencies, and protests are focused on affecting their decision-making. I’ll just note the wikipedia article on Vermont Yankee. Yes, the stated cause of shutting it down was competition from natural gas, but I find it implausible that the years of legal battles had no effect on the decision.

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Joseph Brenner 01.29.19 at 4:53 pm

The new issue of the AAAS publication _Science_ has an editorial that agrees with Quiggin that existing nuclear plants should be kept open:

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6423/105

Nuclear is already the largest source of low-carbon energy in the United States and Europe and the second-largest source worldwide (after hydropower). In the September report of the MIT Energy Initiative, The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World, we show that extending the life of the existing fleet of nuclear reactors worldwide is the least costly approach to avoiding an increase of carbon emissions in the power sector. Yet, some countries have prioritized closing nuclear plants, and other countries have policies that undermine the financial viability of their plants. Fortunately, there are signs that this situation is changing.

http://energy.mit.edu/research/future-nuclear-energy-carbon-constrained-world/

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Sebastian H 01.29.19 at 5:35 pm

Sure. It turns out that I’m human and that we suck at the facts based approach. But I’m owning my failing on the issue and being clear about how the emotions are inappropriately pushing me. As opposed to the anti-GMO folks who act as if their fear mongering it is a good thing.

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Faustusnotes 01.29.19 at 11:07 pm

Mpowell , by “opponents of nuclear power” do you mean the environmental movement? Because they are the only people who from the beginning were serious about global warming, and if we had ignored them as you suggest we would already be locked into the end of civilization. Ignoring the environmental movement got us DDT resistant mosquitoes, collapsed fish stocks, anti microbial resistance, global warming and the rapid loss of our irreplaceable soil stocks. See the fate of the grand banks cod fisheries as a perfect microcosm and moral lesson of the consequences of ignoring the environmental movement. Betting against them has always been a dangerous strategy. Even on nuclear they have been half right – the environmental movement proposed alternatives and those alternatives have become cost competitive with coal , and would have done so 10 or 20 years sooner if we had not ignored them on global warming.

If you mean we should ignore NIMBYs I’m all with you.

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Another Nick 01.30.19 at 4:33 am

mpowell: “If you want to persuade me (and I assume many other people have a pretty similar very basic take), you need to explain why nuclear is less cost-effective today.”

mpowell: “this is not the same as saying they are cost competitive with Gen II at the levels of market penetration required to sufficiently address global warming”

Regardless of GenII or GenIII, it’s 2018, not the 1970s. Nuclear plant construction and operation is highly labour intensive, and especially in first world countries, that labour is expensive. Think thousands of qualified engineers and scientists and construction workers required.

There is already a shortage of qualified workers in the industry. One third of current nuclear employees in the US are aged over 55. So, first you need to invest heavily in the university sector and encourage many more young people to enter the industry, which they are most definitely not doing currently at anywhere near the rates required to scale up nuclear quickly enough to become an effective solution to climate change – or even achieve replacement levels for its current 10% share of world electricity generation.

This is well acknowledged by the industry itself, and one of many reasons the scaling up of nuclear power quickly becomes uneconomic. You don’t get economies of scale with nuclear in the same ways you do with solar and wind renewables, which can be mass-produced, and require orders of magnitude less labour and time to deploy.

Nuclear technology by contrast, despite the best efforts of an incredibly well-funded and heavily publicly subsidised and underwritten industry, has defied mass production for 80 years, and that is highly unlikely to change any time soon.

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John Quiggin 01.30.19 at 7:30 am

It’s important to distinguish between correctible false beliefs, such as “GMOs pose severe health risks”, and deeply ingrained cognitive biases, most notably “rare spectacular disasters attract disproportionate attention relative to hard-to-detect increases in background risk”.

It might be true that building plants on the Chernobyl model was both cheaper and safer than new coal, but the chance that the public could be convinced of this, with or without an active anti-nuclear movement, is essentially zero. A suggestion now that safety standards should be lowered is just ludicrous.

Transport provides an obvious illustration. Air travel is incomparably safer than road, and there is no “anti-airline” movement, but rare plane crashes attract massively more attention than daily deaths on the roads. In this context, I have joked that, if my car were a plane, I could get on the TV news by announcing that I pulled into a garage when the oil light came on. Imagine proposing that we could increase the share of air travel by cutting safety checks and lowering costs.

If a cognitive bias can’t be fixed, there’s no point complaining about it. Fortunately, the bias seems to be diminished a bit in the case of plants that have operated for a long time with no safety problems, that is, those considered in the OP.

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novakant 01.30.19 at 4:13 pm

The belief that “GMOs pose severe health risks” is not the only reason people oppose GMOs.

Maybe they’re not happy with Monsanto et al controlling agricultural production. Maybe they’re worried about the medium-term environmental impact. Maybe they’re not convinced that the purported benefits are worth trouble and that they are presented as a false solution to the crisis of the food industry. Maybe they just prefer organic, maybe they don’t like the taste and prefer variety.

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mpowell 01.30.19 at 10:29 pm

Another Nick – thanks for highlighting the point about training and scalability as well. I guess that could be another factor.

Faustusnotes – I’m not suggesting to ignore the environmentalists completely, but there is a somewhat surreal quality to this discussion. Environmentalists have been opposed to nuclear energy for a long time and have been successful, as with many of their priorities as you point out, to make it much less prevalent. To the point that, it is possibly no longer feasible to aggressively build out a new round of nuclear power anywhere on the planet. At the same time, global warming is a really big deal and environmentalists have been advocating for all types of solutions expect, for the most part, nuclear. Yet from a historic standpoint it really looks like a larger build out of Gen II nuclear 20-30 years ago would have been enormously beneficial. In this context, it hardly seems fair for JQ to make claims like, “the only purpose of talk about new nuclear plants is to attack the only realistic options, wind and solar PV”. If the explanation JQ and others are offering for why nuclear is too expensive today is correct, it seems like there should be broader acknowledgement that the environmentalist movement made a really big mistake here. There’s lessons to be learned about finding pragmatic solutions to problems instead of what is aesthetically pleasing to a movement.

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Sebastian H 01.30.19 at 11:54 pm

Right, on some level it speaks to a classic human move. THIS IS A CRISIS inevitably means that you must give up your concerns about other important issues to fix this, but that I shouldn’t give up anything I think is important for it. Global warming is important enough to do all sorts of things if it effects the other side’s issues (it is of course a brilliant time for environmentalists to continue long held critiques of capitalism), but not important enough that we should seriously fight false narratives about nuclear power. I applaud John for trying to fight back against it even a tiny bit by arguing that we keep open the existing plants instead of shutting them down, but even in that, the crisis doesn’t appear severe enough to motivate environmentalists to change course even slightly.

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Faustusnotes 01.31.19 at 12:16 am

We’ve been over all this before but I’ll say it again for good measure: concerns about health effects of GMO are a far right/infowars/survivalist obsession. When I was a kid and gmo products first came out in the up the “health concerns “ were the province of the daily mail, not your most left wing paper (they worked the disgust angle – flounder genes in tomatoes!)

Environmental concerns were about cross pollination, intellectual property, overuse of pesticides, and the bullshit argument about feeding the worlds poor. All these concerns have slowly been borne out, to varying degrees, to the extent that now the starving poor grow gmo crops for the rich west. All the gains we have seen in vitamin a blindness and malnutrition were achieved in China without a hint of a gmo (and at very low cost). But when people attack environmentalists about their opposition to gmo they always say it’s about health. And it seems no matter how many times I point this out they insist on repeating this misinformation.

If you want to talk about the health effects of gmos you need to engage with Alex Jones, not greenpeace.

Mpowell, 20-30 years ago we had a perfectly decent program for eliminating carbon emissions, the Kyoto protocol, that didn’t require nuclear. Now the same libertarian climate change denialists who helped sink that protocol are telling us nuclear is our only hope. Could it be that they’re not really serious about global warming? I think so …

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John Quiggin 01.31.19 at 1:21 am

Sebastian @92 “the crisis doesn’t appear severe enough to motivate environmentalists to change course even slightly”

Prior to the emergence of global warming as an issue, the standard environmentalist position was to close down nukes as fast as possible. Solar power was seen as the ideal replacement but since it was hopelessly uneconomic, new coal and gas represented the actual replacement and went through with hardly any resistance.

Have environmentalists “changed course, even slightly”? I’d say they’ve changed direction pretty radically.

Some of the most prominent anti-nuclear environmentalists (Lynas, Monbiot) have reversed course completely, to argue (mistakenly in my view) in favor of new nuclear. The great majority have dropped the topic and focused on arguing against coal and oil.

AFAICT, only a handful of environmentalists (at least in the English-speaking world) are actively campaigning to close down existing nuclear plants. Even Greenpeace, which generally takes the hardest line on most issues is focusing its campaign on resisting new nukes, not closing existing ones
https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/issues/nuclear/

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faustusnotes 01.31.19 at 1:28 am

I put a link to an article about the early origins of anti-GMO in the fake news thread instead of here, I guess it works there too …

I think the basic problem here is that Sebastian refuses to accept that environmentalists are arguing in good faith, and instead of taking them at face value when they say they’re concerned about the environment sees them as using environmentalism as a fig leaf over communist ludditism. This is a common belief amongst libertarian/conservative critics of environmentalism (the watermelon critique). Until they accept that the environmental movement is first and foremost about the environment, that there’s often a lot of friction between labour/commie movements and environmentalism, and that environmentalists have been mostly (almost entirely) right about the challenges of living in an industrial society, they will continue to misrepresent and misunderstand what the environmental movement believes, what it does, and what it achieved.

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Orange Watch 01.31.19 at 2:38 am

Seb@92:

Global warming is important enough to do all sorts of things if it effects the other side’s issues […] but not important enough that we should seriously fight false narratives about nuclear power.

While I agree this is a very human tendency, I would be inclined to be a bit more sympathetic to environmentalist than you if for no other reason than the fact that there are politically powerful forces with large, prominent media platforms who are not just the environmentalists’ opponents WRT climate change (and other issues), but actively argue that the crisis is not a crisis – or at the extremes, that the crisis is not real. Granting concessions when this is a prominent face of the other side is rhetorical and possibly political suicide – at best, you’ll sacrifice credibility in exchange for precisely nothing from the naysayers, who are prominent rather than marginal bad-faith cranks.

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Jerry Vinokurov 01.31.19 at 3:41 am

I take as read JQ’s argument that the private deployment of nuclear power is uneconomical, and to this I respond: who cares? How much does one of these things cost, roughly speaking? $10 billion? I realize that this is a somewhat US-centric argument, but this is like a drop in the ocean that is the federal budget. If the will was there, we could easily have publicly owned nuclear utilities in the United States, and whether or not it’s “economical” is something that I’m actually not super concerned about, given how much money we routinely light on fire for the stupidest reasons. Of course, it would also be great if we invested heavily in renewables, but there’s no reason that new nuclear plants can’t be part of the equation.

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Collin Street 01.31.19 at 7:58 am

I think the basic problem here is that Sebastian refuses to accept that environmentalists are arguing in good faith, and instead of taking them at face value when they say they’re concerned about the environment sees them as using environmentalism as a fig leaf over communist ludditism.

But this is of a piece with everything from the Right: gay people don’t want to fuck other gay people, they want to disrupt my family, unions don’t want safer and better-paying jobs, they’re using that to take over my company, women don’t join together because they want to be treated with individual respect but because they want to castrate men-like-me, girls and boys complain about being raped by priests not because they don’t want to be raped by priests but because they’ve been seduced by godless communism.

Everything they see they see as motivated by spite and malice, an unshakeable belief in the perfidy and secret plotting of everyone who disagrees with them; all statements of motivations are pretextual, to cover the malice that’s in the heart of those who want things to change.

Like… this is not normal behaviour. Healthy people don’t act this way.

99

nastywoman 01.31.19 at 9:40 am

@
”Like… this is not normal behaviour. Healthy people don’t act this way”.

being currently in Miami Beach –
(and still having a cold from Germany) – and listening yesterday to all these weather men talking about ”the cold vortex” –
-(or something like that?) – I have to soo agree with this Sebastian dude:
”Global warming is important enough to do all sorts of things if it effects the other side’s issues” -(if he or I would know who is ”the other side”?) –
but until we BOTH haven’t found out who and what ”the other side” actually is? – it’s really better to be totally against ”nukes” – BE-cause they’re really –
REALLY bad for US!

Capisce?
– and if there is still somebody on this thread here – who doesn’t understand this fact
– and complains about ”false narratives about nuclear power” – that’s just a silly ”internet thingy” where silly people try to contradict each other – like the dude who told me on the plane from Zürich to Miami: We got to give Von Clownstick a chance to destroy himself – as we all will be better off – after he succeeds!

100

Zamfir 01.31.19 at 4:23 pm

“I take as read JQ’s argument that the private deployment of nuclear power is uneconomical, and to this I respond: who cares? How much does one of these things cost, roughly speaking? $10 billion? I realize that this is a somewhat US-centric argument, but this is like a drop in the ocean that is the federal budget. “
It’s not just one, though. Some numbers to get a feeling, for the US: about 400 extra of those to cover all electricity production, another 100 to cover electric cars, perhaps another 100 to replace fossil-fuel heating. And very roughly, yet another 100 to cover peak load (or you get the same mismatch problem as solar and wind).

10 billion for a reactor (lets say 1 GWe) is high. It really should be possible to get it much cheaper (especially if you build 100s of the things), but how much is conjecture. Add about 250 million/ year/reactor in operating and fuel cost.

So that’s serious money – even on the scale of the US government. Private or public money – things get easier if they are cheaper.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 2:53 am

@ faustusnotes 65,

1. “There is some evidence (I think from an inquiry) that the cooling pipes failed when the earthquake happened. It’s disputed, I think, and I think everyone accepts that the tsunami would have been a disaster anyway, but this was reported here (I think in a report to the Diet).”

Yes, the Japanese Diet report is “disputed” by every other expert report on the accident—IAEA, NRC, you name it. The consensus is that reactor cooling powered by diesel gensets was operating as designed until the tsunami hit.

You’re cherry-picking an outlier here and ignoring the scientific consensus.

2. On evacuations and shadow evacuations in Fukushima and hypothetically Tokyo.

Again, no, there would have been no evacuations from Tokyo absent a governmnt order. The Fukushima incident demonstrates that beyond any doubt.

Consider Fukushima City, the prefectural capital, 50 km from the plant and close to the 20-km mandatory evacuation zone. It lay directly in the path of the northwesterly fallout plume, and got a dusting of fallout much heavier than anything Tokyo could have gotten from a southwesterly plume. Yet there was no mass evacuation from Fukushima City. Very few people fled—in fact, tsunami refugees fled to the city—and the city functioned normally throughout the crisis. Conclusion: mass evacuations don’t happen unless the government instigates them.

You are right that there was a “shadow evacuation” of some people from areas beyond the mandatory evacuation zone around Fukushima. This happened mostly in areas adjacent to the mandatory zone, where the government had warned people to be prepared to evacuate on a moment’s notice should the fallout intensify. The shadow evacuation was thus a textbook case of an elite panic in which the public simply responded to hysteria instigated by the government. Even so, most people in those areas stayed put. Outside the be-prepared zone, as at Fukushima City, nearly everyone stayed put.

So we know for a fact that people don’t suffer spontaneous mass panics and evacuations, even when they are in a fallout plume very close to the accident site. They only flee when the government orders them to or deliberately foments hysteria by telling them to prepare to flee.

(Note that there is an extensive literature now on the consequences of the Fukushima evacuation orders, and the scientific consensus is that they were not warranted—the health risks from lingering in the evacuation zone would have been trivial—and led to more harm than they averted. We need to reconsider whether civilian evacuations should ever be ordered during a nuclear accident.)

Anecdotes notwithstanding, your Tokyo-panic scenario is definitely wrong.

2. “And finally, Chernobyl was not “as bad as it can get.” Lots of people died to make sure it was contained. It could have been a lot worse. Fukushima also could have been a lot worse.”

Hand-waving alarmism. A few dozen men died at Chernobyl, mostly firemen who were rushed onto the scene without radiation protection or even a knowledge of what was going on. The spew was snuffed out by dumping sand, lead, boron and clay onto the reactor from helicopters, which is not excessively dangerous. That’s a pretty general method for extinguishing even the worst reactor spews. So yes, Chernobyl is as bad as it gets. And no, a light-water reactor accident like Fukushima can’t get anywhere near that bad.

Anti-nukes always make apocalyptic claims about the nuclear accident yet to come. The science and real-world accidents prove the doomsaying wrong.

3. “You also argue that the problem in Fukushima was that they had “dumb design choices like not raising the Fukushima sea wall and not storing the diesels above the tsunami line” but then you say that we should have laxer safety rules? Perhaps you think that nuclear power plants should be built close to major cities with low earthquake resistance and no backup generators? Great plan!”

Yes, nukes can be built close to major cities, like the Indian Point plant, which is 35 miles north of my apartment in New York. Living near nuclear plants is very safe, especially if you’re in a big city that’s already a radiation-proof bunker, like New York and Tokyo. Plants should have adequate EQ resistance, which Japanese plants do, and backup generators, which all plants have always had. (Fukushima’s mistake was failing to stash some generators and electrical conduits on upper floors out of the reach of tsunamis, something that’s easy to correct.)

The point I made, which you side-stepped, is that even the relatively lax and corrupt Japanese nuclear industry was still extremely safe by any rational measure, Fukushima included, and much safer than the energy sources that replaced it after the shutdowns. Closing the plants to improve the safety regime thus made Japan and the world less safe by ramping up pollution and carbon emissions. Likewise, ratcheting up the safety regime is counterproductive if it stymies the growth of the sector. To shutter plants or price new ones out of the market with gold-plated designs and safety strictures just makes us less safe, which is irrational.

4. “And even putting aside the disaster aspects of these plants, putting all your eggs in an exploding basket is not a great plan if you want a stable power supply. Remember, once these plants go south they can’t be repaired – you can’t even send people inside them. If you want a nuclear plant in Japan to work for 80 years you need safety features that make it proof against shindo 7 earthquakes, 30m tsunamis, and stupid mistakes. Otherwise you end up with a giant glow in the dark elephant that only lasted half as long.”

Nonsense. A grand total of 4 Japanese reactors were knocked out on March 11, out of fifty others. That was the only major accident in Japan in its 40 + years, and it had no measurable health consequences. Japan’s nuclear plants were not all in one exploding basket; all the rest of the plants survived the EQ and the waves. The Japanese nuclear sector continued to be a very stable source of power until it was shut down by political fiat.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 2:57 am

@ Omega Centauri 73,

“The thing I mainly think about Nuclear power…it its lack of assured reliability. Solar and wind are always attacked because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. But after a nuclear panic, the nuclear plants are shut down in a hurry. And we can’t just wait until the next shift in the weather, politics then dictates that they plants can’t run come hell or high water, Look at the huge power gen deficit in Japan months to years after the accident. Every plant that had a temporary planned shutdown, was refused permission to restart, so the entire nation became power starved. That is what we risk is we rely on Nuclear to any degree. An accident even halfway around the world to a design that we don’t even have can still generate an irrational panic movement, and possibly a rapid shutdown of all of much of the system.”

OC, this is specious. You’re saying that nuclear is unreliable because its opponents want to shut it down, and that this is a law of nature which we can’t change. Nonsense.

Nuclear plants are not always shut down after an accident. The 3 Mile Island accident caused an enormous uproar in the U. S., but the nuclear sector was not shut down; it simply absorbed the safety lessons from the accident on the fly.

Japan did not immediately shut down its nuclear sector after Fukushima, only gradually over many months. There was time for cooler heads to prevail and switch to a reasonable program of making improvements to the plants while they remained in operation, as happened after TMI. The Japanese government instead chose to close the sector, and made that decision long after the crisis and the initial elite panic had passed. And that was a contingent and reversible decision, because one plant that was judged critical to the local grid was kept operating through 2013 after a planned outage.

Note that politicians who order nuclear shutdowns have an easy out—fossil fuels. Japan actually was not energy-starved after Fukushima. Electricity production in 2011 was 1104 terrawat hours, down just 4.7 percent from 2010’s 1156 TWh and less than 1 percent from 2009’s 1114 TWh. In 2012, when the nuclear shutdowns were almost complete and nuclear generation plummeted to 18 twh from 2011’s 163 TWh, total electricity production actually rose a bit to 1106 TWh.

On the whole Japan had adequate fossil-fueled capacity to make up the nuclear shortfall. Had the economy relied on nuclear power and faced serious energy shortages, the government would not have closed the plants.

So no, shutdowns are not a brute force of nature that reason cannot sway. They are contingent, calculated policies, and they can and are avoided when political leaders want to do that.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 3:03 am

@ JQ 75,

“Looking for reports of protests against nuclear power (not nuclear weapons), I couldn’t find any in the last decade, compared to heaps against oil pipelines, coal ports and so forth.”

As SamChevre notes, the anti-nuclear movement is not hippies waving placards, it’s lawyers in pin-stripe suits filing lawsuits and arm-twisting utility executives in back-room deals. Anti-nuke groups like Friends of the Earth have budgets in the $ hundreds of millions and enormous lobbying clout. It’s also establishment politicians like Jerry Brown, who campaigned at anti-nuclear rock concerts in the 1970s. And now it’s the renewables industry, which lobbies vigorously to close down nukes and forestall new builds that might compete for market share.

It’s also the nuclear regulatory establishment. Obama’s NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko was an anti-nuclear activist in grad school, worked on the staff of then-Congressman Ed Markey, a stridently anti-nuclear member of Congress, and went back to being an anti-nuclear activist (and renewables-industry consultant) after he was ousted for bullying the NRC staff. His replacement, Allison MacFarlane, is an academic who specializes in alarmist studies of nuclear waste.

The anti-nuclear movement is an elite movement that has leveraged enormous institutional power to regulate the sector into irrelevance. They don’t need to protest, they are writing the rules.

104

Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 3:13 am

@ JQ 76,

“New-build nuclear is competing with renewables not coal.”

1. How can new-build nuclear *not* compete with coal on the same grid?

it’s renewables that have a hard time competing with coal. Hundreds of coal and gas plants are still being built despite the alleged cheapness of renewables, because renewables can’t provide the reliable power that economies need to develop. That’s why fossil-fueled generation continues to rise sharply, along with emissions. Nuclear, by contrast, can replace coal plants with reliable power. So you’ve got it backwards: Nuclear is the direct competitor to coal; wind and solar are imperfect, partial substitutes that cannot completely de-coal the grid.

That’s why Germany, now 19 years into the renewables revolution and with vast renewables capacity on line, is taking yet another 19 years to phase out coal. You toasted that announcement without registering just what a damning testament it is to renewables’ inadequacy as a decarbonization strategy. (And without noting that the shuttered coal capacity will be replaced with gas capacity to back up unreliable wind and solar. That’s why Germany is desperate for a new gas pipeline to Russia and LNG terminals.)

2. “Renewables are cheaper and safer, even allowing for the costs of storage and grid integration… cheaper has been demonstrated in many different countries, with different markets and quasi-markets.”

What does this mean? Wind and solar are a pretty cheap way to displace some fossil-fueled generation from established grids in many places, and that’s great. But if you’re saying we can run the whole grid from renewables and storage, and do it cheaply, there’s no evidence to support that.

There is no grid where storage provides more than a sliver of backup capacity. Wind and solar everywhere rely almost exclusively on fossil, hydro or nuclear backup. The only feasible all-renewable systems would be dominated by hydro, geo or biofuels, but they won’t scale and biofuels are too destructive. We have no examples of grids that run reliably on wind, solar and storage, and studies show it’s impossible. That includes Jacobson’s studies, see 58, which rely not just on physically impossible engineering feats but also massively disruptive “demand response” with costs he does not count. And, of course, your “cheaper” comparison is to overregulated, overdesigned nuclear with inflated costs, not the cheaper nukes that predominate.

Wind and solar could get pretty high penetrations, maybe 80 percent, but only with fossil-fueled backup power. It’s okay to propose that, but you need to be clear and not imply that “100-percent renewables” is a solved problem.

2. “Renewables are cheaper and safer…safer is obvious.”

No, it’s not obvious. Nuclear is as safe as hydro. It’s much safer than biomass and biofuels, which create pollution and crowd out food production. (German biomass burning generates almost as much electricity as solar.) Expanded hydro, biomass and biofuels are key components of most all-renewables scenarios because they provide the dispatchable energy that wind and solar can’t. it’s quite possible that an all-renewables grid could be less safe than an all-nuclear grid.

Nuclear might even be safer than rooftop PV. Workers fall off roofs, the wiring can cause fires. It wouldn’t take much for solar to outstrip nuclear. High-end estimates put Fukushima casualites at 1000 cancer fatalities spread over many decades, so if a few dozen solar workers fall off roofs every year we’re talking Fukushima levels of mortality.

People here just aren’t processing how safe nuclear really is when you run the numbers. It’s very safe.

105

Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 3:15 am

@ Another Nick 88,

I don’t agree that staffing a revived nuclear sector will be a major hurdle. We’ve done it before.

The nuclear industry only got going in the late 1960s, yet it was humming along in the1970s. A workforce was trained up quickly from scratch. We have a much larger and more experienced industry today than in the 1960s in every respect—training, supply chain, contracting. With supportive policy and a rational regulatory regime, there’s no reason the industry can’t ramp up fast.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 3:18 am

@JQ 76 and 89

“On safety, its reasonable to claim that Gen II plants are safer than coal (despite spectacular disasters that have convinced the public otherwise), and that (if public opinion could be ignored) it would have been better to persevere with them than to incorporate all the expensive safety equipment that has made Gen III uncompetitive. But that’s a point of purely historical interest now.”

“It might be true that building plants on the Chernobyl [??] model was both cheaper and safer than new coal, but the chance that the public could be convinced of this, with or without an active anti-nuclear movement, is essentially zero. A suggestion now that safety standards should be lowered is just ludicrous.”

Look, the older designs aren’t enigmas from the mists of time. China brought a Gen II+ plant on line in 2017, part of its CPR1000 campaign that built 20+ reactors on time and cheap. It’s not beyond the wit of man to dust off the blueprints and build them again.

And no, the public won’t rise up in revolt. We know this because of the Watts Bar II reactor. It started construction in 1973 and was abandoned mid-build for 20 + years. The project was finally revived and completed in 2016 (at pretty high cost because of the hiatus). The design is ancient and would never get a license from today’s NRC. But there was no public outcry over bringing this Gen II relic from the lax regulatory regime of the past into service in today’s supposedly more stringent Gen III+ era.

Today’s stifling regulations and gold-plated designs are not the product of public agitation or some ineluctable law of history. They are contingent policy decisions made by politicians and regulators influenced by anti-nuclear elites. They can be reversed, and the public will go along with the regulatory consensus as it shifts.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 3:21 am

@ JQ 89,

1. “It’s important to distinguish between correctible false beliefs, such as “GMOs pose severe health risks”, and deeply ingrained cognitive biases, most notably “rare spectacular disasters attract disproportionate attention relative to hard-to-detect increases in background risk”.

No, the “spectacular” aspect of nuclear accidents is an illusion cause by elite panic. Nuclear disasters don’t destroy property, they don’t bear down on people with a firestorm or a wall of water from a dam collapse, they don’t drop civilians in their track. They manifest as hard-to-detect (more like impossible-to-detect) increases in the background risk of cancer that emerge slowly over many decades: exactly the same (mythical) risk profile as GMOs. There is literally nothing offsite to see in a nuclear accident; there is just anxiety, and epidemiologists debating endlessly over whether the cancer signal-to-noise ratio is tiny or nonexistent.

For an accident to become spectacular, the state has to panic and order an evacuation. Then people really are terrified and traumatized, and Greenpeace gets to make poignant documentaries about desolate villages and sad, abandoned dolls.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 3:24 am

.JQ 89, “If a cognitive bias can’t be fixed, there’s no point complaining about it.”

JQ, you’re projecting: If you hold a position you assure us that the public can be persuaded of it; if you reject a position you assure us that the public will always irrationally reject it so shut up and bow to the cognitive biases of the people.

A lot of commenters here have been sounding a similar theme about the uncorrectibly anti-nuclear public: “Yes, yes, science and all that, but the peasants simply won’t listen to reason, so nothing can be done.”

This is distasteful, and it’s a myth, as I’ve argued upthread. Here’s more evidence: in November Taiwanese voters passed a referendum to repeal a new law that would have abolished the nuclear sector in 2025, by a 59-41 margin. Vigorous debate can change people’s minds on nuclear power.

I’ve found that ordinary people are quite open to reconsidering nuclear power when they encounter an honest discussion of the science. It’s intellectuals who tend to be the most irrational on this issue.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 3:27 am

@ JQ 89
“Imagine proposing that we could increase the share of air travel by cutting safety checks and lowering costs.”

1. Something very much like this did happen with US airline deregulation in 1978. Critics howled that a deregulated industry with cutthroat price competition and lower profits would skimp on maintenance and safety, that the FAA and the air-traffic control system would be overwhelmed by increased traffic, and that more crashes would happen. And the industry did lower its inflation-adjusted maintenance spending, and the system was strained by increased traffic. But the airline sector got safer.

2. A nuclear industry with a relaxed regulatory regime and lower costs will also likely get safer. That’s because it might, like the airline industry, orient towards cheap, practical safety improvements geared toward actual risks and away from expensive overdesign geared toward far-fetched theoretical risks.

For example, Fukushima did reveal some issues, and practical fixes: build higher seawalls in tsunami zones; stash some diesel gensets on upper floors. Those fixes are cheap, easy to implement, don’t require drastic redesigns and protect against risks we know are significant.

But the thrust of nuclear regulation is in a different direction, towards things like the EPR’s double containment building. That’s a major driver of cost blowouts and is essentially there solely for the scenario of a 9/11-style aircraft impact, which is really far-fetched; it’s probably unnecessary anyway, because conventional containment buildings are immensely strong and likely to withstand the impact enough to prevent a release. A regulatory regime that’s geared toward absolute defense against far-fetched scenarios is making the industry spend hideous amounts on things that don’t increase safety much.

So it’s a mistake to think that retreating from Gen III+ is a retreat on safety. There’s a universe of safety initiatives that are orthogonal to the Gen III+ paradigm but deliver more safety at lower cost. An Oyster Creek outfitted with the upcoming accident-tolerant fuels and well-sited gensets is a substantially safer beast than the original Oyster Creek, but just as cheap. Building a thousand cheap CPR1000s (which do have some advances, like tougher steel alloys in the reactor) will result in an industry that’s statistically safer than today’s. Building a thousand APR1400s, which is safer than Gen II even with the concreting defects you pointed out (which can be patched) will also result in a much safer nuclear industry than we have today.

In fact, a relaxed regulatory regime is likely to accelerate safety improvements. It is unbelievable how slowly the regulatory apparatus works to approve any change in nuclear technology or operations.

So again you need to rethink your preconceptions about nuclear risk and safety. If we relax the regulatory regime and build cheaper models, the industry will get safer, quite possibly faster than it would with Gen III+. The fixation on behemoth designs and flawless concreting and welding doesn’t add much safety and makes the world as a whole less safe by choking off low-carbon power.

110

John Quiggin 02.01.19 at 6:35 am

“JQ, you’re projecting: If you hold a position you assure us that the public can be persuaded of it; if you reject a position you assure us that the public will always irrationally reject it”

On the contrary, I hold lots of positions on which I recognise that there is very little chance of persuading the public, and adjust my political stance accordingly. Most relevantly, while I continue to hope that some element of carbon pricing will happen (something that would save lots of existing nuclear plants*), I’ve reached the conclusion that we are going to end up relying primarily on much less efficient regulatory solutions. I have a piece coming out soon in Aeon, making exactly this point.

As regards your Taiwanese example, it seems to support my view, not yours. The referendum was about stopping the phase-out of existing nuclear plants, an issue where I think people are persuadable (hence the OP). And the same is true regarding new Gen III+plants, except that they are too expensive to happen. But persuading anyone to relax nuclear safety standards is a fools errand, in my view.

* And help new nuclear plants, if they were anywhere near economic viability.

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faustusnotes 02.01.19 at 7:22 am

Will, you’ve made too many comments for me to address all but I’ll make a few points…

1) there was “shadow evacuation” in all areas of Fukushima prefecture, ranging from a reduction in population of about 40% in the area north of the power plant to 2-4% in the western areas. There was also flight out of Tokyo (I told you this happened – I was there). There was also rationing of bottled water in Tokyo, because of radiation panic. This rationing was not introduced by the government because of the real risks, but in response to panic buying. Also, I should point out I am aware of the literature on what happened with evacuation in Fukushima, because I helped to prepare some of it.

2) It is not the case that the collapse of power plants did not affect Japan’s electricity supply: TEPCO had to introduce rolling blackouts after the earthquake. See this English language explanation, which I hope makes clear that analyzing the change in Japan’s total output of electricity is meaningless. Here is an example of a press release from Tepco instructing people when their blackout will be – we have varying levels of blackouts for about a month after the event (which is part of why I joined the exodus from Tokyo in the week after the event, and part of the reason my work was closed). Even the following summer, my workplace was receiving instructions about energy conservation and some people were being given stern letters, because Tepco was writing to big businesses to ask them to reduce consumption during summer. You seem to have some idea what you’re talking about but this:

On the whole Japan had adequate fossil-fueled capacity to make up the nuclear shortfall. Had the economy relied on nuclear power and faced serious energy shortages, the government would not have closed the plants.

Is completely ignorant. It’s general advice that when someone was there, experiencing something, reporting on what happened to them and their city during a nuclear disaster, and what they’re telling you doesn’t match your “facts” that you should investigate whether you actually have all the facts.

3) You talk about completely reasonable safety measures that were not taken, and then seem to think that although we have evidence that people didn’t take completely reasonable safety measures, they will do so next time. See e.g. here:

Plants should have adequate EQ resistance, which Japanese plants do, and backup generators, which all plants have always had. (Fukushima’s mistake was failing to stash some generators and electrical conduits on upper floors out of the reach of tsunamis, something that’s easy to correct.)

If it was easy to correct, why wasn’t it done? If it was easy to correct why wasn’t it predicted? The consequence of these supposedly easily predicted and prevented common sense safety measures that were not followed for no apparent reason was a pretty big hassle for those of us who lived here, and especially for the farmers of Iitate Mura and Soma, or the fishermen of the towns up and down the coast. If a similar easily-corrected-but-not-corrected mistake happens at your nearby plant, and parts of New York are under the plume, what is going to happen to the elderly people who are abandoned by their family (trust me, that’s what happens)? What is going to happen in a country as vulnerable to anti-science panic as the USA?

4. You think that the panic was an “elite panic” caused by the government, but it wasn’t. It was the pictures of the plant exploding, playing on a loop on tv, and the US government urging the Japan government to set a 50 km exclusion zone, and the constant panicky local journalists – it wasn’t the government. And since the media are out of the government’s control, what do you think will happen in the USA? Do you think Fox News are going to stand back and talk about the low risk of exposure? The experience here was that it is extremely difficult for the government to contain the panic once it starts spreading (and in 2011 Japan wasn’t a big facebook user like it is now!) Furthermore, even small mistakes of transparency (like failing to release radiation readings in a timely manner) feeds panic. I remember tuning into the daily government press conference and Edano san, the cabinet spokesperson, was the only calm person in a sea of panicking journalists – the worst of whom were American. You need to think about what your reckless and irresponsible news media would do if this happened near a big American city.

5. the people falling off roofs thing is just silly, if you don’t consider deaths in the installation of nuclear power. It’s just silly.

6. There have been previous nuclear accidents in Japan.

(As an aside, I doubt the calculation of 1000s of deaths due to Fukushima is likely to be true. I suspect it’s an order of magnitude lower. Which is why I did not think the government should close nuclear plants in response to this disaster).

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 7:30 pm

FN 111,

1. “there was “shadow evacuation” in all areas of Fukushima prefecture, ranging from a reduction in population of about 40% in the area north of the power plant to 2-4% in the western areas.”

This geographic survey is meaningless. What matters in assessing the propensity for spontaneous evacuation from Tokyo is to show that there is mass spontaneous evacuation from areas that the government has not urged people to evacuate.

When you write “the area north of the power plant” or “the western areas” we don’t know whether these were mandatory evacuation zones, be-prepared-to-evacuate zones where people were primed to flee by government statements that evacuation was imminent, or areas that the government had not urged people to evacuate. If “the area north of the plant” was mainly a be-prepared-to-evacuate zone, that would explain why there was a large shadow evacuation.

And of course you have sidestepped the example of Fukushima City, which is the exact test case—30 miles from the plant, right in the path of the fallout plume, radioactivity higher than anything Tokyo would get from a SW fallout plume. But because the government didn’t urge evacuation there, there was no mass evacuation, the city in fact swelled with refugees and continued functioning normally. Because that happened in Fukushima City, we know for a fact that there would have been no evacuation of Tokyo, 150 miles away, unless the government urged it. QED.

2. “There was also flight out of Tokyo (I told you this happened – I was there).”

This isn’t evidence, it’s just an anecdote—about a sighting of crowded Tokyo train stations, which are not exactly unheard-of.

3. “There was also rationing of bottled water in Tokyo, because of radiation panic. This rationing was not introduced by the government because of the real risks, but in response to panic buying.”

That’s because the government announced that the tap water was unsafe for infants to drink because of iodine levels that exceded legal limits. People understandably (tho mistakenly) generalized that to adults and started a run on bottled water. The government’s advice on infants was of course incorrect and unnecessary, because the legal limits are meant for chronic consumption, not the fleeting spike in iodine in Tokyo water (and are in any case incredibly conservative).

So the run on bottled water was not a spontaneous public panic, it was again caused by the government panicking and wrongly telling people the tap water was unsafe.

4. “I am aware of the literature on what happened with evacuation in Fukushima, because I helped to prepare some of it.”

Link, please.

5. “It is not the case that the collapse of power plants did not affect Japan’s electricity supply: TEPCO had to introduce rolling blackouts after the earthquake. See this English language explanation, which I hope makes clear that analyzing the change in Japan’s total output of electricity is meaningless. Here is an example of a press release from Tepco instructing people when their blackout will be – we have varying levels of blackouts for about a month after the event (which is part of why I joined the exodus from Tokyo in the week after the event, and part of the reason my work was closed).”

FN, the power shortages in the month after the EQ (one of your press releases is dated March 14, 2011) were the result of a generalized devastation of the grid caused by the EQ and tsu. That included not just the damaged coastal reactors, but fossil-fueled plants knocked off line (these are specifically mentioned in your sources) as well as downed power lines and damaged substations and transformers.

To ascribe this general devastation specifically to the properties of nuclear power plants is false and misleading. Had all of these plants been coastal wind farms or solar plants, they would have been wiped out too or cut off from the grid by damaged distribution infrastructure. They would also have been subject to catastrophic interruption by cloudy days, calm weather and nighttime.

6. “Even the following summer, my workplace was receiving instructions about energy conservation and some people were being given stern letters, because Tepco was writing to big businesses to ask them to reduce consumption during summer.”

Stern letters, you say? I had no idea that Japan was driven to such extremes by the energy famine.

7. “You talk about completely reasonable safety measures that were not taken, and then seem to think that although we have evidence that people didn’t take completely reasonable safety measures, they will do so next time… If it was easy to correct, why wasn’t it done? If it was easy to correct why wasn’t it predicted?”

Look, like every human enterprise, nuclear plants are run by fallible people, who don’t always anticipate risks or calculate them right, and have to learn from painful experience. So yeah, nuclear plants are going to continue to make mistakes, and there will be accidents in the future. But the industry will learn lessons and get steadily safer (as it has throughout the past).

The problem is that anti-nukes won’t accept nuclear power as a normal human enterprise with occasional lapses and a learning curve. They insist that nothing short of perfect safety be tolerated in the industry. That’s because they believe that radiation is a uniquely dangerous toxin and that any nuclear accident poses a literally apocalyptic threat.

These are basically religious beliefs, and they are false. Radiation is not very dangerous, and even catastrophic nuclear accidents are less of a threat than normal operating conditions at fossl-fueled plants; in the aggregate nuclear power is about as safe as renewables.

By insisting, as you do FN, that nuclear plants never make mistakes, that every possible risk and scenario be anticipated and made impossible, we make nuclear power too expensive to run. And so we have to resort to fossil fuels—and some renewable sources—that are more dangerous than nuclear.

Making nuclear power too safe makes us less safe.

8. “You think that the panic was an “elite panic” caused by the government, but it wasn’t. It was the pictures of the plant exploding, playing on a loop on tv, and the US government urging the Japan government to set a 50 km exclusion zone, and the constant panicky local journalists – it wasn’t the government.”

Yes, it was the government that panicked, not the public.

People in Fukushima City watched TV too, and saw the explosions, and heard the panicking journalists, and were close to the plant and right in the path of the fallout plume—but they didn’t hold a mass evacuation, because the government didn’t tell them to.

Yes, Gregory Jaczko, head of the US NRC, did say that people should evacuate out to 50 miles (not km) although NRC experts in Japan told him that was unnecessary. This is another case of panic by a government official (who is also an elite anti-nuclear activist). But people in Fukushima City paid no attention to Jaczko. They did not evacuate because their own government didn’t tell them to.

People don’t panic until their own government tells them to.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 7:32 pm

9. “As an aside, I doubt the calculation of 1000s of deaths due to Fukushima is likely to be true. I suspect it’s an order of magnitude lower. Which is why I did not think the government should close nuclear plants in response to this disaster.”

I kind of agree, though I always cite high-end estimates. But if you really think there will be 100 or so deaths from Fukushima, spread over many decades, then nuclear just isn’t meaningfully dangerous. We shouldn’t be worrying about safety with a technology that safe.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 7:36 pm

10.” the people falling off roofs thing is just silly, if you don’t consider deaths in the installation of nuclear power. It’s just silly.”

No it’s not silly. You’re not thinking rigorously about the risk. All-factor studies of deaths per TWh usually rank solar as more dangerous than nuclear, for good reason.

I couldn’t find stats on fatalities in nuclear power plant construction, but I did find stats on a close proxy, “industrial building construction” in the US, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So on average from 2003 to 2014, 16 workers died every year in the whole US in the construction of industrial buildings. So if the US were to devote all its industrial building sector to building nuclear plants, we could expect 16 fatalities per year from that. More reasonably, if say 10 percent were devoted to new nuclear construction, 1 to 2 fatalities per year.

Nuclear plant operations and maintenance (which involves a lot of construction) are very safe. From 2003 to 2014 in the entire US “nuclear electric generating” sector, there was a grand total of 2 worker deaths.

Roof work is a lot more dangerous, and a lot less supervised and regulated than heavy construction. Every year about 100 workers in the US die falling off roofs. And rooftop PV will mean a lot of roof work, not just installation but periodic maintenance and cleaning of the panels. So let’s say there is a ubiquitous rollout of rooftop PV which increases total roof work by 10 percent, then deaths will scale up proportionately and we’ll get 10 additional deaths per year from rooftop PV. But that seems like an underestimate. If we imagine giving, say, 100 million roofs a 4 kw PV rig and estimate that that will raise roof work by, say, half, which sounds plausible, then we would have 50 additional deaths per year, three times the nuclear construction deaths even if the entire industrial building sector was devoted to building nukes.

That huge rooftop PV sector might generate 600 terrawatt-hours per year if we’re lucky, less than the current US nuclear fleet. So we would have a lot more deaths for considerably less energy.

And we’re not done. A huge PV sector requires an expanded grid, which will mean dozens of extra worker deaths per year from power-line construction and accidental contacts with power lines.

And that’s just worker deaths. When PV panels are buried in snow, there will be homeowners climbing on the roof to clean them—very dangerous.

Then there’s road accidents from all the driving to far-flung sites for RE construction and maintenance, mining deaths because RE uses a lot more material inputs than nuclear, other stuff.

All-in-all, a much higher death toll than at Fukushima.

It’s not a huge safety difference, and in perspective it’s right to say that nuclear and rooftop PV are “comparably safe.”

But greens who thinks that solar is decisively safer than nuclear just haven’t done the math.

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Will Boisvert 02.01.19 at 7:43 pm

JQ 110,

“But persuading anyone to relax nuclear safety standards is a fools errand, in my view.”

Building cheap Gen II is not the same thing as relaxing safety standards (see 109). And the public still does accept Gen II, as at Watts Bar 2 (see 106), which exactly disproves your proposition. Gotta look at the facts.

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Peter T 02.01.19 at 11:37 pm

Over the not so long run (say, a few centuries) arguing over nuclear vs renewables misses the point. Which is that the earth cannot sustain even modest continued growth rates in energy use – however generated – without raising temperatures. See, eg https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/07/galactic-scale-energy/

Since what cannot go on will not, why not argue about the most efficient way to minimise energy usage? Lots of low-hanging fruit there.

117

Collin Street 02.02.19 at 10:43 am

Will, your presence and your posting make sensible discussion impossible. Observe:
2. A nuclear industry with a relaxed regulatory regime and lower costs will also likely get safer. That’s because it might, like the airline industry, orient towards cheap, practical safety improvements geared toward actual risks and away from expensive overdesign geared toward far-fetched theoretical risks.

Note the problem! Your evidence is “might” [“might like the airline industry”] but your conclusion is “will also likely”. I mean, one point… but it’s literally the first thing that caught my increasingly-glazed eyes as I skimmed over your walls of text; the chances that there won’t be other critical logical gaps are so low as to make continuation futile.

I mean, certainly it’s not worth responding to: I must have posted my “inherent diseconomies of scale in critical safety systems make widespread and safe nuclear deployment impractical” a dozen times over the past few years and I can’t once remember you ever responding to it. I mean, it’s not like there aren’t easy ways you could diminish the point… but none of them occurred to you to post.

It’s just, anything you don’t have a response to you ignore. This is bad: the things a person has no response to includes the things that hold the key to demonstrating that person’s errors: if they ignore them, they cut off the possibility of self-improvement.

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Another Nick 02.02.19 at 12:47 pm

Peter T: “the earth cannot sustain even modest continued growth rates in energy use – however generated – without raising temperatures.”

From the article: “Earth surface temperature given steady 2.3% energy growth, assuming some source other than sunlight is employed to provide our energy needs and that its use transpires on the surface of the planet. Even a dream source like fusion makes for unbearable conditions in a few hundred years if growth continues.”

Solar, wind, hydro and tides have no effect on the Earth’s heat budget. The limitation he finds with renewables is that the sun only puts out x amount of energy, so continued growth in energy usage means we hit that limit in 1400 years. (Figure 2)

The limitation he finds with nuclear is that within 2-300 years from now, heat budget effects start warming the planet worse than CO2-induced climate change. (Figure 3)

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Matt 02.02.19 at 9:54 pm

My usual preface: I believe that nuclear power is safe enough, certainly safer than continuing to burn fossil fuels. I live near an operating nuclear reactor. I’m much happier to have it nearby than a combustion plant. I absolutely believe that fossil combustion should retire ahead of still-working reactors. I even think that new nuclear builds, slow and costly though they are, may be justifiable once the grid is already decarbonized as far as renewables and short-term storage can reasonably take us.

But new reactors are slow to build, expensive to build, and — even worse — have unpredictable and often severe slippages in both schedule and budget.

It’s ridiculous to advocate for new reactors in the near future in places that still have modest renewables penetration, like the US. The overruns are completely out of control. I put the blame for cost and schedule blowouts squarely on the nuclear industry itself. Supposing NRC standards are ridiculously high: granting that for the sake of argument, then you may need a very long and expensive construction program. But don’t say “we’ll do it in 5 years for under $5000/kw” and then come back once you’re deep into disaster territory, saying “oops, nobody knew nuclear regulations were so strict — we’re going to need way more time and another bulk cargo carrier full of money.”

Is there no humility from the nuclear booster club following the disastrous American AP1000 projects? As recently as 2015 Will was writing that V.C. Summer was going to be completed for $5800 per kilowatt, financing included. Today he’s writing as if it was clear all along that building Generation III reactors to present regulatory standards is effectively impossible. And writing with the same blithe confidence of 4 years ago that there’s a simple way to get costs and schedules under control again — just go back to building simpler Gen II designs! (As if none of those projects were ever canceled due to cost and schedule problems.)

The AP1000 was already supposed to be the way to get American nuclear project costs and schedules under control again. “Give American nuclear another chance, it’ll be affordable and predictable this time” — this was the line from Westinghouse, the utilities, and pro-nuclear bloggers all around the web. Carefully planned, standardized designs were going to erase memories of all those bad old construction projects that crashed and burned in the 20th century because of schedule and cost overruns. We saw the first scheduling problems acknowledged the year after construction started, while many in the pro-nuclear camp were downplaying the problems up until Westinghouse went bankrupt.

The South Carolina Post & Courier has written several in-depth articles about the colossal management fuckups of the VC Summer Ap1000 builds. None of it was due to anti-nuclear “lawyers in pin-stripe suits filing lawsuits and arm-twisting utility executives.” AP1000 designs did not change after VC Summer construction began in March 2013. No new NRC regulations came into effect to disrupt the schedule since construction began in March 2013. The budget and schedule estimations from 2013 now look, with hindsight, completely ridiculous. Will Boisvert appears to be trying to retcon what happened with “well of course nobody can build affordable reactors with all these regulations and lawyers around.” But all these same lawyers and regulations were around when construction started in 2013! Why did pro-nuclear bloggers keep touting the over-optimistic official cost-and-schedule estimates instead of warning everyone?

And even more importantly: have the nuclear optimists corrected whatever error of reasoning caused them to be over-optimistic about American AP1000s in the first place? What evidence is there that “just clone proven Gen II reactor designs, and they will be affordable and predictable to build” is any better founded than the previous claim of “just build standardized AP1000s, and they will be affordable and predictable”?

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Matt 02.02.19 at 10:13 pm

Here are the Post and Courier stories tagged “Westinghouse.”

A sampling of headlines:

S.C. utilities knew of big problems 6 months into nuclear project but didn’t tell customers

Georgia Power knew for years about nuclear contractor’s flaws that doomed S.C. project

Letter shows S.C. utilities knew Westinghouse’s reactor designs would lead to increased costs and schedule delays

Confidential Westinghouse report details early faults with nuclear projects

Insight that would’ve alerted problems with nuclear project scrubbed from audit two years ago

Another SCANA employee says execs weren’t ‘truthful’ with Wall Street investors

SCANA decided not to disclose critical review of SC nuclear project when auditor asked

Santee Cooper secretly griped for years about SCANA’s ‘ineptitude’ in failed S.C. nuclear project

Whistleblower says he was demoted after finding problems in S.C. nuclear project, report says

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steven t johnson 02.03.19 at 4:12 am

Peter T@115 speaks of global warming from waste from power generation. Larry Niven in Ringworld imagined an alien civilization that solved that problem by moving their planet away from their sun, cooling in the shade so to speak. Other planets were used as farmland. Niven is (was?) the great-grandson of the Doheny oil millionaire, of Teapot Dome obscurity. As I understand it, Niven could never quite grasp how a squishy liberal like himself could be regarded so widely as a conservative. But then, I also gather he believed his sometime writing partner Jerry Pournells to be more of an independent thinker and part-time contrarian.

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Will Boisvert 02.03.19 at 5:08 am

@ Matt, 119-20

Right, Matt, I was too optimistic about the AP1000. It’s a bad design, and was immature–when they started the builds they didn’t have a complete set of blueprints, and design revisions were ongoing during construction.

Now I’m talking about building APR1400s and CPR1000s. Those are mature designs, with plants in operation. So we know they can be built in 5 years for $4-5000 per kw. The CPR1000, for example, has 20 reactors online now, the last one finished in 2017, each one brought in on time and budget.

CPR1000s are actually Gen II+, somewhat more advanced designs than the Gen II models that both you and Quiggin agree should remain in service. So they are safe, cheap, established supply chain, experienced project managers, etc. No reason not to build them.

You’re kind of cherry-picking evidence, Matt–looking only at the failed designs but not at the successful ones. Gotta look at all the evidence.

” AP1000 designs did not change after VC Summer construction began in March 2013.”

False. The monitoring reports for the South Carolina and Georgia PSCs go into great detail about how the design packages–the detailed blueprints– for the AP1000 were not finished even years into construction, and that delays in their provisioning to the contractors by Westinghouse were a major driver of delays and cost overruns. Those blueprints for modules and equipment that were finished often had to redesigned because the suppliers found them to be unbuildable.

That won’t happen with a mature design like the CPR1000–provided NRC doesn’t demand changes in the design.

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Peter T 02.03.19 at 6:20 am

steven t johnson

I will be entirely un-surprised if “We’ll find a way to move the planet before it gets too bad” becomes a response to climate change.

I took the point of the article I linked to to be that any form of society that assumes continual growth will be in trouble in what is, in social terms, quite a short time. One could make the same point about soil loss, fisheries, invasive species, species loss, nitrogen overload and so on. SF is right in that, unless we can leave the planet, our socio-economic options are really rather limited – and do not include capitalism or anything like it.

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Matt 02.03.19 at 7:51 am

“False. The monitoring reports for the South Carolina and Georgia PSCs go into great detail about how the design packages–the detailed blueprints– for the AP1000 were not finished even years into construction, and that delays in their provisioning to the contractors by Westinghouse were a major driver of delays and cost overruns.”

Sorry, you are correct about that. I meant that there were no design changes required by regulators after construction started. The regulatory requirements were there in 2013 and stayed fixed. Revision 19 of the AP1000 design control document, from 2011, was the final revision. The AP1000 builds weren’t surprised like those reactors that were half-built when Three Mile Island happened.

Shin Kori 3 looks like it’s operating well so far, and its construction was both affordable and brisk. As for foreign builds of the APR1400 — we’ll see after the Barakah units begin commercial operation. The first was originally supposed to start in 2017.

Are new CPR1000 units still being built? I thought that the Hualong One superseded it. Once the Pakistani Hualong One units are in commercial service we’ll see how those projects went.

Climate change is an enormous threat that will be catastrophically expensive if not addressed. Paying $10000/kW for new nuclear power is better than continuing to burn fossils. But efficiency measures and intermittent renewables are a cheaper way to decarbonize at the margin in the US (and most other places that don’t already have high intermittent renewable penetration). I don’t see this changing in the next decade or so. In fact I expect the cost gap between new renewables and new nuclear to further widen over the next decade. South Korea and China both seem to be pulling back from previous nuclear ambitions, and solar and wind equipment manufacturers are still scaling up. We may need more nuclear power to reach deep decarbonization, but I see scant hope of it being particularly cheap.

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Raven Onthill 02.03.19 at 12:47 pm

I agree with the original post, of course.

As to the broader issues, I recently wrote a post, Climate Change: Reconsidering Nuclear Power.

My long-time position on this issue has been that nuclear power would be an excellent technology if we could find saints and angels to run the system. Lacking a supply of those, we would do better to solve our energy problems in another way. But we are running out of time. As to what has been done so far, success in nuclear power generation requires both good management, and a willingness to spend what is necessary. Capitalist design and operation of nuclear power generators is risky; safe use of nuclear power requires a social commitment of resources, something nearly impossible in any extant capitalist economic model of power generation. If we are going to adopt nuclear power, a competent socialism is needed. (I can already hear the gnashing of teeth. Many strong nuclear power advocates believe intensely in capitalism.)

We are on the edge of planetary disaster. Opposition to the use of nuclear power and yet rising demands for energy has led the world to embrace fossil fuel electrical generation. This cannot be sustained; it is already changing the earth’s climate. Yet we can hardly say to the world’s people that they must accept widespread poverty.

Our environmental problems can in time be solved but time is what we do not have. We have dawdled, and we have perhaps 15 years to act.

I have been an alternative energy researcher, and alternative energy has something to offer these problems, but I do not see how we are to deploy any alternative energy technology quickly enough to save us. What safe nuclear power, deployed widely, might be able to do for us is buy time, time to reduce our population to a reasonable level, time to raise the world out of poverty so that our birth rate falls, time to mitigate the damage of climate change. Despite the risks, it is time to consider nuclear power again.

This will require discipline which is not characteristic of our civilizations. The so-called “green revolution,” hyper-intensive technological farming, was intended as a stopgap measure. Instead it has become permanent, and aggravated the problems of environmental degradation, enabling our population to grow even further. Deployment of nuclear power to mitigate climate change could easily follow a similar path. If humans on earth are to have a future, we must not simply swap one potential disaster for another.

As to practicalities, arrays of small boiling water reactors like those used in submarines are a plausible design; they have an excellent safety record. Based on my limited knowledge, if we started today, I would start with those.

As well, there are a number of technical paths in nuclear energy that have not been tried and these deserve further exploration. I know of two: the liquid thorium reactor and the traveling wave reactor. The traveling wave design is hopeful, but has not even been prototyped; the liquid thorium design has been prototyped, but is chemically nasty (florine!) There are probably others; someone could do a great service by writing a survey report or article gathering them all together while the original designers are mostly still alive.

In any event, I don’t see moderate rationality in these areas arriving any time soon. As with GMOs, there are real risks and the public is terrified, but the public is largely terrified of the wrong things, and I do not see how this can be set right in less than a generation. Still, as with other difficult social problems which emerge from environmental degredation, it is time to get started.

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nastywoman 02.03.19 at 12:50 pm

@Will

What a way – trying to defend an outdated and stupid way to produce energy?

Or as a barkeeper told a Drunken Dude who went ”nuclear” on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach just yesterday:

”Para el Carro”!

127

JimV 02.03.19 at 2:07 pm

(Anecdote conservation notice)
For the first several nuclear plant visits I made in the 1970’s, GE gave me tested course in Health Physics/Radiation Protection and issued me with a film badge and dosimeter for the trip. At the plant site, I was issued another film badge and dosimeter by the plant which I turned in there before leaving.

For my last visits, in the 1990’s, I had to have a letter signed by a psychologist certifying that I was not crazy, and, in addition to the film badge and dosimeters, had to have a whole-body count in a machine I put my arms and legs into, and a urine sample tested before I could leave the plant. There was a wall around the plant with guard towers, which there had not been in the 1970’s.

(My psychological assessment was “you are reasonably well-adjusted”. Mario’s was, “You have savoir faire!” Fair enough.)

Sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s I saw a note in Power Magazine that a leaky valve was found somewhere in the cooling water system of a Westinghouse/Bechtel nuclear plant, and as a result the NRC had mandated that all W/B plants be shut down to check all the valves within two weeks. That was when I knew the nuclear power industry in the USA was doomed. One day you’re generating 1000 megawatts of electricity per plant and the revenue from that, and the next you’re shut down for a minor problem. Without judging the merits of the case, that’s not a good business to be in, or a good investment, under capitalism. Capitalism tends to put sociopaths in charge of decisions, unfortunately, hence the need for NRC rigidity. (Maybe every competitive system does.)

Robert Heinlein had a short story about putting nuclear power plants in satellites in space and sending the energy down somehow (“Blowups Happen”?). Probably a more costly cure than NRC regulations, though.

128

William S Berry 02.03.19 at 5:00 pm

Robert Heinlein had a short story about putting nuclear power plants in satellites in space and sending the energy down somehow

Right. I think the idea was to use a collimated microwave beam. Giant equatorial receivers would rectify the current and pump it into super-conductor networks for distribution.

And, damn’, if you thought wind turbine generators were deadly for birds . . .!

129

steven t johnson 02.03.19 at 5:04 pm

Yes, it was Jerry Pournelle, not Jerry Pournells, who was henchman to Stefan T. Possony, would-be Strategy of Technology war guru and, if I remember correctly, an editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology. I sort of got the impression it was sort of a house journal for the military-industrial complex. But other people nicknamed it Aviation Leak, so maybe it wasn’t?

PeterT@123 adds the point that unlimited growth is impossible. But the vast majority of SF would rather imagine capitalism in orbit than imagine something after. The recent discussion on the Green New Deal gave me the distinct impression that John Quiggin and the vast majority of professional economists are firm in their belief that indefinite growth on a net neutral energy budget is conceivable. It seems to me this is even less likely than a capitalism without economic crises. And even fewer dare even in their studies tackle the problem of population control. Peter Frases’s exterminist future is far more likely than the others.

130

Zamfir 02.03.19 at 5:22 pm

Will, the big thing about the AP1000 is for me: why did this all come as a surprise ? Not just to you, but in general. How could the AP1000 become the leading light of the nuclear renaissance, if it (and Westinghouse) was actually in such a bad state? It would have been nice if someone had said, look, before you spent those billions, this is actually a half-done design and the supply chain is rotten. Did no one realize, or were all knowledgeable people keeping quiet because they didn’t want to disturb the new development? And going forward, how can the public trust the industry in the future?

It’s a similar question as about Japan and its cozy industry-regulator relations. Or all the other project-management and/or safety boondoggles. It’s like the technology structurally wired for over-promising and hiding problems.

So yeah, perhaps Korea finally figured it all out. Or they are another Japan, keeping costs low by burying the problems out of sight. You talk about APR1400 as if they are a proven design, but there is only one of them running – after a delayed startup due to a fire safety scandal. It’s brother plant is delayed some more years, due to insufficient earthquake preparations that surely would have been ignored before Fukushima. The first Barakah plant was supposed to be running by now, delayed for somewhat vague reasons. Enough worries that South Korea is delaying future plants, quite possibly forever.

All of that might just be minor issues, caught by the process as it is supposed to do. Or they are canaries in the coal mine. I honestly do not know, and I don’t know how I could reliably find out. If Americans could be so mistaken about Westinghouse, the French about Areva, or the Japanese about Tepco and its regulators?

131

Will Boisvert 02.03.19 at 5:56 pm

@ Matt 123,

1. “I meant that there were no design changes required by regulators after construction started. The regulatory requirements were there in 2013 and stayed fixed. Revision 19 of the AP1000 design control document, from 2011, was the final revision. The AP1000 builds weren’t surprised like those reactors that were half-built when Three Mile Island happened.”

It’s more complicated. Because the blueprints weren’t finished in 2013, and because many components had to be redesigned when they proved unbuildable, significant aspects of the plants were undergoing design assessment by NRC throughout the builds. Dozens of license amendment requests were filed for both Vogtle and Summer, covering everything from the basemat rebar to the underfloor cabling, and each one had to be vetted by NRC, which takes time. The extraordinary scrutiny NRC gives to even minor construction changes is part of the regulatory sclerosis that drives costs.

Also, NRC’s new aircraft impact rule exerted a major influence on the 2011 design and later project costs. The rule forced Westinghouse to redesign the shield wall of the containment building to satisfy both aircraft impact and tornado scenarios. Instead of a conventional reinforced concrete shield wall, WH came up with a composite wall featuring a concrete core panel sandwiched between sheets of steel. It turns out that the composite wall panels are hard to manufacture, and they became a major source of delays and cost overruns. That wall design wasn’t in the 2006 generic design approved by NRC, it was changed later to satisfy the aircraft-impact scenario, which has been driving many of the expensive features of Gen III+.

Yes, WH’s cost projections were very wrong. (I once tried to interview WH execs for an article, but they did not respond. I thought it was because I was a nobody, now I realize they were hiding under their desks.) But there’s also no doubt that NRC standards and regulatory burdens are driving costs.

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Will Boisvert 02.03.19 at 5:58 pm

Matt 124,

“As for foreign builds of the APR1400 — we’ll see after the Barakah units begin commercial operation. The first was originally supposed to start in 2017.”

Part of the Barakah delay is delays in training their staff on Korean APR1400s, a knock-on effect of the delays in those plants caused by a substandard cabling scandal.

Now there are issues with voids and cracks in the concrete of some of the Barakah units. But, I think an exaggerated response to this is another aspect of regulatory overkill, of “being too safe makes us unsafe.”

The obsession with flawless concreting and welding has been a central driver of cost overruns. Work stoppages and rework over these issues have added several years to the Flamanville build. But it’s unlikely that welding and concreting is worse these days than it was back in the 1970s when Gen II was built in places like Brazil and India. In fact, other plants have had similar defects; they were patched up. Since we benchmarked Gen II as safe, can we say that Gen III APR1400s, even with concrete defects, are unsafe?

Concrete defects can weaken these structures against major shocks like EQs or aircraft impact, or allow radioactive material to leak out during an accident. But do they make Barakah meaningfully unsafe? Almost certainly not. The plant is not in an active seismic zone. And 18 years into the age of terrorist spectaclulars, no one has bothered to fly a plane into a reactor. These scenarios are incredibly unlikely. And even a flawed concrete containment building is still immensely strong and likely will stand up to these insults.

According to its probabilistic risk assessment, the APR1400 has a major release frequency about 5-fold lower than 70s-vintage reactors. Even with concrete defects, there’s a lot of safety margin before it becomes as unsafe as most of the old reactors that we have agreed are safe enough to keep running.

And there’s an overriding factor that makes Barakah unusually safe: it’s in the desert. Even if there is an accident, there is no one around for 50 kilometers to be contaminated. Apart from the financial loss, it’s a low- to no-consequence event.

A systematic and rational risk assessment would likely conclude that Barakah is extremely safe, concreting defects and all. Unfortunately, as always, the nuclear regulatory regime is fixated instead on absolute safety against far-fetched scenarios that would in any case have no health consequences. That’s what drives up costs.

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Will Boisvert 02.03.19 at 5:59 pm

Matt 124,

“Are new CPR1000 units still being built? I thought that the Hualong One superseded it. Once the Pakistani Hualong One units are in commercial service we’ll see how those projects went.”

Right, China has stopped building the CPR1000 and moved on to the Hualong One (last one comissioned in 2017). That’s a huge mistake, driven partly by China’s desire to get into the Western-regulated export market, partly by elite radiophobia, which infects all regulatory establishments. The Hualong 1 has a severe case of EPR-itis, with a double containment and core catcher, so it’s more expensive than the CPR1000. But there’s no question that the CPR1000 is safe. Western countries should be ordering it; I’m sure China would oblige.

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Will Boisvert 02.03.19 at 6:01 pm

Matt 124,

“efficiency measures and intermittent renewables are a cheaper way to decarbonize at the margin in the US”

Sure, if you want to marginally reduce carbon you can do that with RE; you might get up to 80 percent penetration or so, with fossil-fuel backup. That’s OK, that will help a lot with the pollution and climate change problems. It won’t meet the2-dgree goal, but I don’t think that’s a threshold of doom anyway.

What I object to are claims that new nuclear can’t be cheap and safe. We know that it can, and commonly is, even in the West; that’s not a “hope,” that’s an observed fact about the world.

I always hear that we must base energy policy on computer models of the conjectured performance of novel renewables technologies decades in the future, but we must never base it on the proven performance of real-world nuclear plants built just two years ago, since that’s an irrelevancy that is of merely “historical” interest. I don’t get it, but then I’m not a professor.

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Will Boisvert 02.03.19 at 6:03 pm

Raven Onthill 125

“If we are going to adopt nuclear power, a competent socialism is needed. (I can already hear the gnashing of teeth. Many strong nuclear power advocates believe intensely in capitalism.)”

We already *have* adopted nuclear power. It makes 10 percent of the world’s electricity (used to be 17 percent), 75 percent of France’s power. Some of it’s socialist, some of it’s capitalist. It’s safe all round.

“nuclear power would be an excellent technology if we could find saints and angels to run the system.”

No, it doesn’t need angels and saints. We have nuclear power now, it’s run by ordinary mortals. They pinch pennies, they cut corners, they drink, they kick their dogs, they screw up, they have accidents, they clean up and get on with things. It’s still safe, run the numbers.

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Raven Onthill 02.03.19 at 6:20 pm

Why are so many people so certain that wind and solar after going to be enough, when we are talking about scaling then up by a factor of hundreds? Any project that large is going to have unexpected problems.

I don’t want to fall short. I don’t want to say to hundreds of millions “Ooops, we’re sorry, you’re going to die because we were afraid of an alternative.” Even if it’s not die, even if it’s just “You and yours will live in grinding poverty for the foreseeable future,” that’s not acceptable.

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Raven Onthill 02.03.19 at 6:26 pm

I think there’s a lot of wishful thinking on both sides of this argument. On the one hand, scaling up wind and solar is going to have problems. On the other hand, the safe widespread deployment of nuclear power demands a level of discipline which is not at all usual for human societies. We do ourselves no favor with either attitude.

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Raven Onthill 02.03.19 at 8:23 pm

nastywoman@126: Anti-nuclear activism got us to depend on coal, which suggests to me that we are better off advocating for alternatives, rather than focusing on the preventing the use of nuclear power, though we also need to heavily regulate any such use.

There are certain to be problems with the massive deployment of solar and wind power, because there are always problems with any project that large. I do not want to bet the future of civilization on being able to resolve those problems in time.

Burning coal is a very dirty way to produce electricity, or even just heat. It pollutes air and water, and produces large amounts of toxic waste. When one accounts for that, indeed, so far coal has been a much larger pollution problem than nuclear power – and that is not even counting the release of greenhouse gases.

Chernobyl was indeed a disaster, but it is unlikely that anyone will build a large reactor that dangerous again. It was an incredibly wrong-headed design. I am not (you know from my remarks above) sanguine about the reliability of human social institutions in the face of the dangers of nuclear power, but I do think we have at least learned that lesson.

Links on pollution from coal (notice that these are not pro-nuclear sites.)
https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/coal-water-pollution
https://content.sierraclub.org/coal/disposal-ash-waste
https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Air_pollution_from_coal-fired_power_plants

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Matt 02.03.19 at 9:47 pm

“What I object to are claims that new nuclear can’t be cheap and safe. We know that it can, and commonly is, even in the West; that’s not a “hope,” that’s an observed fact about the world.”

There’s some severe tense-mixing in this sentence. Safe, sure. “Be cheap” — yes, it can still be cheap to run nuclear reactors that began construction in the 20th century.

The cost and schedule problems account for *gestures vaguely* about 75% of the problem with getting new reactors built now in the West. Most Western countries have at least some regions where a new nuclear project would be welcomed for the property tax base and good employment opportunities. The problem is that those new projects have been costly debacles that discouraged follow-on projects instead of paving the way for more.

If the initial EPR builds in France and Finland had gone as planned, I’m sure there would be more new builds on the way by now. Same with the AP1000 builds in the US. APR1400: wait and see. South Korea can obviously build reactors swiftly in South Korea. It may be a different story for export projects. (Russian and Chinese nuclear export nuclear projects, too, have long timelines and aren’t cheap except by comparison to the externalities of fossil combustion.)

Why was the original construction timeline for Flamanville 3 only 54 months long? As far as I can tell from browsing the IAEA Power Reactor Information System, France never built reactors that fast — not even during the peak of its 20th century nuclear program. Flamanville 1 took 70 months from construction start to first criticality and Flamanville 2 took 73 months.

Regulators have excessively high standards? That still doesn’t explain why project planners keep underestimating the time and cost to comply with those standards, across multiple reactor designs and multiple countries. I hear people in medical devices and pharmaceuticals complain about the FDA regulations they have to comply with, and I know that regulations do indeed increase development cost and time to market. But you don’t see Pfizer systematically and drastically underestimating how long and how much money it will take to complete a Phase 3 clinical trial: they produce estimates in line with the stringent regulatory environment they know they’re facing.

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faustusnotes 02.04.19 at 2:16 am

Will, is it true that in 2015 you were writing articles boosting a power plant design that the funders now describe as “a de facto ponzi scheme”? If so, do you think you’re the best judge of these issues? Why is it, incidentally, that this ponzi scheme cropped up in the nuclear industry? Any thoughts on that?

I think you are blind to some of the realities of nuclear power. You certainly are very comfortable ignoring the reality of what happened in Tokyo in 2011, by relying on only English language reports (which were hideously biased) and ignoring the reports of a person who was there (and patronizing him!) For example, dismissing my experience of people fleeing Tokyo as “crowded railway stations” like I don’t know what a crowded railway station in Tokyo looks like is … well, let’s just say it doesn’t reflect well on you. Dismissing the many reports of foreigners abandoning Tokyo because you can’t read them so they just can’t be true is also … well, it’s not a good look.

In particular I think you don’t understand how terrified people in the west (not Japan) are of nuclear power, and how sensationalist US media in particular are about this issue – without any encouragement from “elite panic.” If you had lived here when it happened, accessing social media and reading Japanese news sources, you would be aware of the intense atmosphere of panic that set in amongst westerners (but not Japanese) when the disaster hit. You would know about the intense pressure that we faced to leave – not because of the tsunami or the threat of buildings falling on us, but because of fears about a nuclear plant that is 2 hours away by Shinkansen. There were lots of foreigners living in Osaka, for example, who were putting up posts on social media showing their distance from Fukushima so their foreign relatives would stop panicking. As I mentioned above (and you ignored), students cancelled two year study plans on the basis of western media panic.

You don’t know any of this stuff, and you’re dismissing it as “anecdote.” If you are really serious about expanding nuclear power to deal with global warming, then you need to be focusing not on reducing the safety measures on the plants but on ways to convince Americans – and in particular American media – that it is safe. This means dropping your belief that it is all the fault of environmentalists and the government, and looking at the broader problems of anti-science, denialism and hysteria in the American media. After a sober assessment of those issues, you might recognize that they may be insurmountable.

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Will Boisvert 02.04.19 at 3:03 am

@ Zamfir 130,

“And going forward, how can the public trust the industry in the future?”

Here’s the answer: you can’t. We’re all fallible, we’re all sinners. You can’t completely trust anyone, not even yourself. You also can’t trust 100 percent-renewables studies, or green critiques of nuclear safety and cost, which are often flawed and dishonest. Yet we still have to act even though we can’t ever entirely trust our course of action. Otherwise no progress is possible.

Westinghouse, for example, was indeed untrustworthy, but was I wrong to trust it? Hard to say. The four AP1000s in China are operating now, churning out clean energy. Over there lifetime they will collectively prevent 1-2 billion tons of CO2 from being emitted, and other air pollution. That’s a huge benefit, even if they are too expensive, so Westinghouse’s legacy in building them is by no means entirely negative. If you need power at night, they are more trustworthy than solar panels.

I don’t place absolute trust in the nuclear industry. There will be more accidents. They might happen in China or Korea or France or at the Indian Point plant near my home, but they will happen; it’s not a question of if, only when and where. And most importantly, how much. I am confident that the rate of deaths from nuclear power, per terrawatt-hour, will remain extremely low, comparable to the death rate from renewables. I’m confident precisely because the industry has had its share of shoddiness and corruption, and accidents, and yet the deaths-per-twh stats show that it’s still very safe.

We always face risks, no matter what. All we can do is calculate them as best we can, decide which ones are worth running, and take our chances.

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Orange Watch 02.04.19 at 5:48 am

Another Nick@118:
Solar, wind, hydro and tides have no effect on the Earth’s heat budget.

I hate to say this because I don’t think I’ve really said much of anything else in the last few climate change threads and I’m starting to feel a bit like a one-note crank, but AFAIK current credible science says hydro increases atmospheric release of methane significantly, so it absolutely does have an effect on Earth’s heat budget. Hydro is renewable and is not “dirty” in an old-fashioned toxic smoggy sense, but it’s absolutely not carbon-neutral (even if it’s CH4 rather than CO2).

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Another Nick 02.04.19 at 10:36 am

Thanks Orange Watch, I’ll read up on it.

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Peter T 02.05.19 at 2:12 am

There’s a repeated theme that asking people to use less energy is unacceptable. It may well be politically unacceptable, but it’s also inevitable. As in, the choice is not about whether we use less energy because we chose to, or because the system collapsed and so we had to. Just like we can’t keep logging, or fishing, or mining, or depleting top-soil, or overloading the nitrogen cycle. A politics that does not centre on limits is doomed, one way or another.

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steven t johnson 02.05.19 at 1:04 pm

As to “people” using less energy, that tends to mean “people” should eat less, ideally no meat at all. Direct energy consumption in homes tends to be largely for heating water, and temperature control. Though I suppose a serious environmentalist is against lighting and consumer electronics. Paper consumption in the home, as opposed to the workplace, is relatively low nowadays, with the exception of toilet paper and diapers. Should we be using washable cloth? Except that means heating water. It is a quandary. Also, do packaging materials count as depraved people using too much energy?

As to the use of energy by private businesses, given the universal acceptance that planning is inconceivable, it will be what it is. After all, economics tells us the consumer is king. Therefore it’s all the fault of the “people.” Eliding production to strike at the maw of the beast (aka “people”) in this discussion, without considering private appropriation of environmental resources in production for profit seems to me skipping a step. Somehow I’ve not yet been convinced that the profligate use of resources for private profit means there are too many “people’ infesting the planet. It seems to me there are too many capitalists instead. And calls to get rid of the people, or impoverish them, without getting rid of capitalists first, seems more like scaling back production so that the old system can survive. That the excess of people is a problem for making a profit the old way.

Peter T says a “politics that does not centre on limits is doomed…” There is no such politics, never has been. Nor is it clear to me there can be any that does not require planning so pervasive that it accounts for all output, including carbon dioxide, habitat destroyed, local thermal effects, etc. as well as the product and profit. It seems to me those whose first principle is the repudiation of planning have implicitly premised the ultimate impossibility of industrial civilization. Or, the impossibility of democracy, so that planning is by definition wicked.

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Raven Onthill 02.05.19 at 7:08 pm

I don’t agree that current nuclear reactor designs are adequate. The large boiling water nuclear reactor has turned out to be an appallingly expensive and difficult way to generate electricity. It would be best to reconsider reactor designs if we are going to build new reactors.

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Collin Street 02.06.19 at 8:23 am

I don’t agree that current nuclear reactor designs are adequate.

So the 500 number I gave earlier is reactors, not plants. And fewer nuclear power plants have been decomissioned than I thought: about 150. So we’re talking world-wide maybe six hundred odd power reactors, ever, or blind-stab-in-the-dark maybe four hundred sites.

Yeah, they ain’t safe.

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