Nuclear power and the Ukraine war

by John Quiggin on March 21, 2022

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has upended all kinds of certainties, created new possibilities, and closed off old ones. We can certainly see this in relation to nuclear power. Here are a few developments related to the war

  • Russia’s capture of the Chernobyl plant, and the associated fire, have raised new concerns about nuclear safety
  • Belgium has announced that its planned closure of a nuclear plant will be deferred, possibly until 2035, in order to reduce reliance on Russian oil and gas. There have been hints that Germany might do something similar
  • Finland has cancelled its proposed Fennovoima nuclear plant which was to be built using Rosatom’s VVER technology. Coincidentally, a few days ago, the Olkiluoto EPR plant was connected to the grid, twelve years late and way over budget

My guess is that the need to wean Europe off Russian gas over the next few years will outweigh enhanced concerns about safety.

On the other hand, the implications for new nuclear power are unambiguously bad. Projects started now can’t come in time to help with the transition from Russian gas, and the safety concerns will add to cost

Looking ahead, no one will want to deal with Rosatom any time soon, and Chinese proposals are also coming under more scrutiny. The cost over-runs on EPR plants create huge difficulties there also. These come together in Hinkley C (EPR) where hte UK government is trying to push China’s CGN out of the project, but having trouble attracting private finance to replace it.

The great remaining hope is Small Modular Reactors, most notably those proposed by Nuscale. But this hope has been around for a long time, with the arrival date always about 8 years in the future.

{ 25 comments }

1

nastywoman 03.21.22 at 6:28 am

and the danger that a Crazy War Criminal could even bomb nuclear power plants
has made it obvious to the world that
WE ALL
(and not only the Germans)
have to get rid of these plants
and
NEVER
built new ones.

2

oldster 03.21.22 at 10:07 am

“On the other hand, the implications for new nuclear power are unambiguously bad.”
Can I ask you to spell this out?
Do you mean, “the implications are that more countries will try to build nukes in order to wean off fossil fuels, and nukes are unambiguously bad?”
Or,
“The implications are that we should all build more new nukes, which are better than fossil fuels, but they take too long to help with the current crisis, and this delay is unambiguously bad”?

Nasty Woman, I want to thank you for making your meaning more accessible than usual, but I have to disagree. Nuke plants are bad, but our continued burning of fossil fuels is worse, for the environment and the health of animals, as well as for its geopolitical consequences.

3

TM 03.21.22 at 10:22 am

Deferring plant closures is a justifiable response, although the latest news from Germany was that it isn’t seen as feasible. Talk about new nuclear projects, that is now predictably coming from the idiot fraction, is nothing but a red herring that will only serve to sabotage the renewable energy transition. It should be absolutely obvious to anybody now that renewable energy investment must now be the number one strategic and national security priority (as it should have been for a long time already). If European governments at this point can’t rise to this challenge, there’ll be hell to pay.

4

nastywoman 03.21.22 at 8:15 pm

@
‘Nuke plants are bad, but our continued burning of fossil fuels is worse, for the environment and the health of animals, as well as for its geopolitical consequences’.

That’s why (not only) Fridays for Future is working very hard to stop burning fossil fuels altogether and it should be absolutely obvious to anybody now that any ‘nuclear option’ is NOT an option -(as any Crazy War Criminal could even bomb nuclear power plants)
‘It should be absolutely obvious to anybody now that renewable energy investment must now be the number one strategic and national security priority (as it should have been for a long time already). If European governments at this point can’t rise to this challenge, there’ll be hell to pay’.

Capisce – Oldster?

5

RichardM 03.21.22 at 9:30 pm

@3

The problem is current renewable economics assumes a natural gas backstop. They are competitive because every percentage of demand they meet is that much gas that doesn’t need to be paid for. At a national level, there can be more accurately called hybrid systems.

To move from such an hybrid system to a pure renewable one will involve some mix of storage, overprovision and wide-area grids. None of these will be individually, incrementally profitable. So central planning is more or less a necessity. It’s going to be really tempting for everyone but the richest and well-regulated of countries to switch back to a coal backstop.

Or simply adopt a narrative where dependency on Russian gas is a virtue, not a vice..

6

James Landry 03.21.22 at 11:45 pm

There is always the option of buying French nuclear plants, which Macron wants to market heavily.

When I see comments like #1, I become worried about mitigating climate change.

For example, Germany is often touted as a green leader and a massive example to the rest of the world. According to the European parliament, Germany emitted total greenhouse gas of 809,799 kT equivalent, while France emitted 442,985. So per capita, Germany emits much more than any other large European country. France looks much better, partly because of its wide use of nuclear energy.

Because of phasing out of nuclear power, Germany is mining soft lignite coal and burning it, driving climate change and destroying towns. If you look at the energy mix here, you can see lignite coal use actually increased recently!

There are reasons to be against nuclear power, but coal can’t be the solution.

7

Ike 03.22.22 at 8:56 am

@6

The main contractor for the Olkiluoto 3 EPR unit, which, as JQ above said, was delivered both way over budget and 12 years late, is Areva. I’d say Macron has got some work to do trying to sell any new French reactors for now.

8

nastywoman 03.22.22 at 12:17 pm

@5
Or simply adopt a narrative where dependency on Russian gas is a virtue, not a vice.

Nah – as I just had to explain to Paul Krugman – that this Gas Pipeline was –
(besides the obvious ‘economics’) a serious German effort – by cooperating with Russia – ALSO –
to get to a long lasting peace – as with ‘the other European friends’ –
BUT as we now all have found out – with a Brutal War Criminal like Putins as Russia’s Führer –
It just doesn’t work.

AND @6
‘There are reasons to be against nuclear power, but coal can’t be the solution’.
All agreed –
but ‘nuclear’ can’t be the solution either – Right?

9

MisterMr 03.22.22 at 12:46 pm

@James Landry

This is a chart of per capita CO2 emissions in the EU:
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC?locations=EU

It’s true that Germany is much higer than France, but for example Italy (which also doesn’t have any nuclear power plants) is more in line with France than with Germany.

So I think that the higer level of CO2 emissions in Germany might be more a consequence of the kind of industries Germany has, rather than just because of the energy mix Germany uses.

10

Raven Onthill 03.23.22 at 12:32 am

I looked into this in February, as the war was breaking out, and I found these energy budget charts for France and Germany. Looking at them I realized that France could go zero-carbon in 10 years, because France’s energy mix is 36% nuclear, and there would be no problem with the variability of renewables. Germany, with 70% of its energy from fossil fuels and 35% from oil, cannot.

I think the risks of assaults on nuclear power plants is overrated. Chernobyl is nearly 30 years cold. Most nuclear power plants are heavily fortified against assault, and while there is some danger from assaults on nuclear power plants, there is much more danger from the direct use of nuclear weapons – it is not like Vladimir Putin needs to attack a power plant to nuke Ukraine; Russia is a nuclear power.

Returning to nuclear power, Europe could accelerate the construction of nuclear power plants; the balance of political power is shifting there. The United States has been unable to agree to build new public infrastructure of any sort for nearly 40 years and I have no idea what US politics will throw up.

11

Michael Cain 03.23.22 at 12:45 am

The great remaining hope is Small Modular Reactors, most notably those proposed by Nuscale. But this hope has been around for a long time, with the arrival date always about 8 years in the future.

There are two announced projects in the US Western Interconnect: NuScale/UAMPS small modular reactors at the Idaho National Lab, and Gates/Buffett molten-sodium fast-neutrons in southwest Wyoming. NuScale has preliminary design approval, but still has a ton of work to do to get a license. Gates/Buffett aren’t that far along yet. OTOH, assuming Gates/Buffett use the Fast Flux Test Facility reactor as a foundation, the FFTF demonstrated actual walk-away safety, high burn-up, and other features.

If I had to bet on one getting finished, I’d bet on Gates/Buffett. I regard the UAMPS financing as suspect: their pool of small utilities fluctuates, and those utilities will be in trouble if they have to absorb a billion-dollar overrun. Gates/Buffett can pick up the phone and talk to people who will accept their word on a $500M investment.

Sanity check: Pacificorp, a large regional utility, declined to put money in NuStream/UAMPS, asserting the cost of electricity would be close to double what was claimed at the time. Pacificorp is an investor in the Gates/Buffett project.

12

TM 03.23.22 at 12:55 pm

Interesting talk (but in many ways not too reassuring):

Daniel Yergin Thinks Russia’s Days as an Energy Superpower Might Be Over

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/22/opinion/ezra-klein-podcast-daniel-yergin.html?showTranscript=1

Ezra Klein
“You back up a year, and Germany is shutting down nuclear plants and building a new natural gas pipeline with Russia. And now as the situation has changed, as their estimation of Russia has changed, what you’re hearing from Europe is that the future is not just to be less dependent on Russian energy, but decarbonization.

On March 8, the European Commission outlined this plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030. That required tripling renewable energy capacity. Germany’s finance minister recently called renewable energy “freedom energy.” What’s your read of how this has changed the European decarbonization and renewables pathway in reality? Is this all rhetoric, or is this accelerating them down a track they’re actually going to take?

Daniel Yergin
I think it’s accelerating down a track that they’ll put additional resources into it. Now we get into the nitty gritty of, are the supply chains there? How fast can you build big offshore wind turbines permitting? I was told, last week, by one of the top manufacturers of wind turbines in the world, at least in the Western world, that it takes seven years to get a permit for an onshore wind turbine in Europe, onshore not offshore.

Permitting is a real problem everywhere for building everything. But I think no question, that will speed up. So now, by the way, renewables is not only about climate, but it’s also about energy security. And that’s a different imperative that had been an amnesia about energy security in the Western world, including in the United States. Because we just assumed it’s all OK.

So I think that will happen. They’re going to scour the world for more L.N.G. They will burn more coal for a couple of years so they can reduce gas imports from Russia. They’ll accelerate energy efficiency. They’ll accelerate the rollout of electric cars.

And I think that they’ll also focus on yet to be developed natural gas reserves in the North Sea and around Cyprus, which is part of the E.U., that I think that will step up as well. So they’re going to move on a lot of fronts. But I think your focus on renewables will be at the very front of what they’re going to do so they don’t have to use as much gas for electric generation.

13

TM 03.23.22 at 1:16 pm

Re energy consumption in Europe:

Per capita, Germany is about equal to France, despite Germany having more industrial production and higher GDP per capita (which btw I think is overrated as a measure of anything important). Germany’s higher CO2 per capita is definitely due to more coal in the energy mix.
https://www.statista.com/statistics/701615/primary-energy-consumption-eu-countries/

14

notGoodenough 03.23.22 at 1:38 pm

This topic is a bit outside my area, but to throw out some highly speculative thoughts:

Power generation is, in many ways, the “low hanging fruit”. We will also need to look into transmission, storage, usage, and other key issues (e.g. decarbonisation of transport, thermal energy capture and usage, etc.). While I can see that there is a zero sum game argument to be made regarding building more of X or Y technologies, I can’t help but feel it is quibbling while Rome burns so to speak – my guess is we are still at the “throw money at the problem” stage, and that we still have a way to go in terms of funding and deployment before this becomes something to worry so much about (and I suspect there are multiple possible solutions – e.g. see Chris Clack’s work at Vibrant).

I can certainly appreciate people have quite reasonable concerns about nuclear power. On the other hand, it is an incredibly powerful tool to reduce GHGs. I think we must be careful not to prematurely remove anything from the table, and instead to try to assess rationally what balance of technologies is needed before discounting any. This is, even from the technological perspective alone, incredibly daunting – when we add in socioeconomic variable it becomes rather a nightmare (see, for example, this article comparing two minigrids in Nigeria [1]). Given the long lead times on nuclear (the old saw about “the best time to build being 10 years ago, the 2nd best time is now!”) my hunch (and this is highly speculative, so do take with a pinch of salt!) is that we should throw some money at this anyway to ensure the infrastructure and knowledge is in place to rapidly ramp up production if needed. Given how far we seem to be from GHG reduction goals, the increase in firm generation is unlikely to be unwanted.

I can’t comment on SMR feasibility, but there have been two potential benefits floated that I would find very interesting. The first possible benefit is that I seem to recall the possibility being mentioned for using the molten salt as a heat storage solution to improve load following and dispatchability (which, if I understand correctly, is one of the key issues behind integration of nuclear with VRE, or even to a certain extent 100% nuclear models). The second possible benefit is that there was some preliminary work looking into retrofitting fossil fuel power stations with SMRs – the tantalising conclusions including decreased cost and improved energy security [2].

Again, this is all far away from my field, but my understanding is that the consensus amongst most relevant experts and bodies is that nuclear, like other low GHG production (such as hydro, geothermal, and VRE), is likely to have a role to play – at least in the near future. Things can change, of course (who knows – maybe tomorrow they’ll get fusion working!), but my feeling is we should work to implement what we know works now as fast as possible, and while we’re doing that gather more data to work out optimisation later on. Perhaps not the most efficient way to proceed, but given the urgency of the situation surely it is worth asking ourselves if we can afford to wait?

TL;DR: nuclear may well have a role to play alongside other technologies in the “basket of generation” – though what that role would be seems to be a bit beyond those best placed to answer (from a purely technological perspective) and is certainly beyond me. But that, for the little it is worth, is my general impression.

[1] https://issues.org/fixing-disconnect-around-energy-access-dioha-edomah-caldeira/
[2] doi.org/10.3390/en14010120

15

Stephen 03.23.22 at 8:10 pm

Michael Cain: Re small modular reactors: see https://www.rolls-royce.com/innovation/small-modular-reactors.aspx#/

Mind you, if RR do get these going, I suspect you would be right to ignore them, since the prospects of their being allowed to be used in the US would never be good. Compare the cheaper but excluded AstraZeneca vaccine.

16

nastywoman 03.23.22 at 9:40 pm

@10
‘I think the risks of assaults on nuclear power plants is overrated’.

But nobody who have watched the assault on the nuclear power plant in the Ukraine thinks so.
So perhaps you just need to watch it – (it is available on Internet video platforms)
and about:
‘Germany, with 70% of its energy from fossil fuels and 35% from oil, cannot’.

Yes – Germany Can.
Energy wise – the houses of more and more Germans are completely ‘autarky’ and of if every German household would turn off ALL energy consumption from extern sources –
tomorrow – and also every German would stop driving ‘sinnlos’ around’ –
(like in the ‘Autofreien Sonntage’)

Or in other words – Germany definitely can – the prices for energy have just to ‘go through the roof’ in Germany – that everybody – like me drives a lot more bike and wears a lot more sweaters – and I haven’t even told you guys about the amazing ‘Warming’ of the area I currently reside in Germany.

17

notGoodenough 03.24.22 at 7:02 am

This topic is a bit outside my area, but to throw out some highly speculative thoughts:

Power generation is, in many ways, the “low hanging fruit”. We will also need to look into transmission, storage, usage, and other key issues (e.g. decarbonisation of transport, thermal energy capture and usage, etc.). While I can see that there is a zero sum game argument to be made regarding building more of X or Y technologies, I can’t help but feel it is quibbling while Rome burns so to speak – my guess is we are still at the “throw money at the problem” stage, and that we still have a way to go in terms of funding and deployment before this becomes something to worry so much about (and I suspect there are multiple possible solutions – e.g. see Chris Clack’s work at Vibrant).

I can certainly appreciate people have quite reasonable concerns about nuclear power. On the other hand, it is an incredibly powerful tool to reduce GHGs. I think we must be careful not to prematurely remove anything from the table, and instead to try to assess rationally what balance of technologies is needed before discounting any. This is, even from the technological perspective alone, incredibly daunting – when we add in socioeconomic variable it becomes rather a nightmare (see, for example, this article comparing two minigrids in Nigeria [1]). Given the long lead times on nuclear (the old saw about “the best time to build being 10 years ago, the 2nd best time is now!”) my hunch (and this is highly speculative, so do take with a pinch of salt!) is that we should throw some money at this anyway to ensure the infrastructure and knowledge is in place to rapidly ramp up production if needed. Given how far we seem to be from GHG reduction goals, the increase in firm generation is unlikely to be unwanted.

I can’t comment on SMR feasibility, but there are two potential benefits I would find very interesting. The first possible benefit is that I seem to recall the possibility being mentioned for using the molten salt as a heat storage solution to improve load following and dispatchability (which, if I understand correctly, is one of the key issues behind integration of nuclear with VRE, or even to a certain extent 100% nuclear models). The second possible benefit is that there was some preliminary work looking into retrofitting fossil fuel power stations with SMRs – the tantalising conclusions including decreased cost and improved energy security [2].

Again, this is all far away from my field, but my understanding is that the consensus amongst most relevant experts and bodies is that nuclear, like other low GHG production (such as hydro, geothermal, and VRE), is likely to have a role to play – at least in the near future. Things can change, of course (who knows – maybe tomorrow they’ll get fusion working!), but my feeling is we should work to implement what we know works now, as fast as possible, and while we’re doing that gather more data to work out optimisation later on. Perhaps not the most efficient way to proceed, but given the urgency of the situation surely it is worth asking ourselves if we can afford to wait?

TL;DR: nuclear may well have a role to play alongside other technologies in the “basket of generation” – though what that role would be seems to be a bit beyond those best placed to answer (from a purely technological perspective) and is certainly beyond me. But that, for the little it is worth, is my general impression.

[1] https://issues.org/fixing-disconnect-around-energy-access-dioha-edomah-caldeira/
[2] doi.org/10.3390/en14010120

18

JimV 03.24.22 at 4:27 pm

USA nuclear plant designs are required to withstand the crash of a commercial jet plane (one big reason they cost so much), which as we know can reduce a skyscraper to rubble.

Another big factor, when I was in the power generation business, was that when a valve leaks in a fossil fuel plant, heck, when a steam-pipe flange bursts, fills the station with steam, and sends the bolt heads through the walls of the plant, unless somebody is killed, it doesn’t make the local paper. When a cooling water valve leaked in a nuclear plant, it had to be reported to the AEC and they shut down all the plants with that design for inspections within two weeks–losing several thousand megawatts of power generation for the utilities involved. (When I read that in Power Magazine, I knew then that nuclear power in the USA was doomed, circa 1973.)

You need higher design and operating standards for nuclear power plants. They are paid for over the life of the plant, but utilities can recoup the costs of a fossil plant sooner and make more money that way. (While filling the atmosphere with CO2.)

Exploding steam boilers in the 1800’s killed thousands of people. Now there are rigorous design standards for boilers, and I haven’t heard of a death from one in my life time. (That will change if the Russians bomb them. They aren’t designed for that.) We learn things by trial and error, over time. As a civilization, we will learn the dangers of climate change the same way.

19

Raven Onthill 03.24.22 at 7:11 pm

nastywoman@15: “But nobody who have watched the assault on the nuclear power plant in the Ukraine thinks so.”

Only the experts. (The real experts, I mean, not the pro-nuclear cranks. Yes, I hate them too.) See, for instance, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00660-z

There’s so much misinformation on nuclear power. It’s distressing. Pollution and waste from fossil fuel plants kill thousands more people every year than all the nuclear power plants combined in their entire history, even including Chernobyl. Coal is especially troublesome. And yet we have preferred coal to nuclear.

“if every German household would turn off ALL energy consumption from external sources.”

Even the hospitals? Even the factories? I doubt that. At least, if you’re going to make that argument, back it up with some hard numbers. That said, Germany could be 60-90% wind and solar in 10 years, if they were willing to invest in the change. The problem comes with the remaining percentage. Wind and solar are called “variable renewable energy” (VRE) for that reason. In the USA, where I have seen actual data, 60-90% is what the engineers say, and then the variability begins to bite. And, yes, here’s a longer piece with links to the data. https://adviceunasked.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-green-new-deal-running-numbers.html

I have for over 20 years been saying whatever we do, we need to get started. Wish we would.

20

KT2 03.24.22 at 9:24 pm

Oldster asks JQ;- “Can I ask you to spell this out?”

As JQ hasn’t responded Oldster, here are a few of his posts:

“Burden of proof”
APRIL 10, 2017
…”But it’s important to avoid this temptation as much as possible. On any realistic assessment, renewables + storage (with the path to 100 per cent smoothed by gas) offer a far more plausible way of decarbonizing electricity generation than nuclear or CCS>”…
https://johnquiggin.com/2017/04/10/burden-of-proof/

At end of “Burden of Proof” are 3 more linked articles.

Decarbonising Australia (updated)
Coal and the nuclear lobby (updated)
When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do?

JQ also proposed ‘A Grand Bargin’ or similar, re a challenge for nuclear proponents vs carbon price.
“Rethinking nuclear”
AUGUST 5, 2019

“Of course, nothing remotely like this will happen. It’s rather more likely that Barnaby [our fossil of a deputy pm! ]
and the committee will discover a working technology for cold fusion, based on harnessing unicorns.” https://johnquiggin.com/2019/08/05/rethinking-nuclear/
*

Oldster, from Wikipedia link at end:
“Energiewende
“German for ‘energy turnaround’)”.

In a small survey of public opinion in Germany had; 

72% support for local solar, and
61% for wind farms, 
5% for nuclear power plant.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Power-plant-acceptance.jpg

So fear?, or imo, intelligent choice against stray radiation, decommissioning costs, and nuclear war make us, the public, choose some acceptable deaths now against a potential however small, as it is obvious we have the technology replace fossil & nuclear. And one nuclear war is too many.

The question I ask for an answer to is, why we haven’t sorted all of this out in the past. Geopolitics?  Human nature? Recurrent public news / politic amnesia?  

And to your points:
Oldster: “but our continued burning of fossil fuels is worse, for the environment and the health of animals,”

Maybe, If you do not include black swans, wars or stupidity. On stupidity, nuclear submarines are ‘safe’ if you listen to the pundits. When looking at nuclear sub accidents, they are mostly learner drivers backing in and out of ports. Minor radiation potential, maximum cost and “sunk” – ha – cost of subs doing nothing and being repaired. 

No where do I see these costs factored into “A study found that if Germany had postponed the nuclear phase out and phased out coal first it could have saved 1,100 lives and $12 billion in social costs per year.[9][10][11]”.

Which leads to your next point :
Oldster: “as well as for its geopolitical consequences.”.

I’d say a hot war will be a very big geopolitical consequence. And make all above monetary and human costs pale to insignificance. How many new nuclear states do you want? Putins?Renewables are not multiplicative.

And it seems Germany is propping up capital at the expense of local renewables, making the above coal death & cost projections, as per usual, tilted toward capital not supporting the commons, nor a fair analysis of coal pollution deaths & costs imo…
“However, changes in energy policy, starting with the Renewable Energy Sources Act in 2014, have jeopardized the efforts of citizens to participate.[129][137] The share of citizen-owned renewable energy has since dropped to 42.5% as of 2016.[138]
Above from: wikipedia.org/wiki/Energiewende

How many less deaths then if the “Renewable Energy Sources Act in 2014” was reversed?- “citizen-owned renewable energy has since”… risen, replacing fossils? We don’t know, yet capital wins again. How much subsidies seems ro he missing as well.

Further, -(Nastywoman?) – the German public I assume will try to change this policy. 

JQ, an economic consequences of coal deaths vs German policy “Renewable Energy Sources Act in 2014” comment? As if you have infinity time.

Thanks.

21

Dave W. 03.24.22 at 10:37 pm

One issue with renewables, solar in particular, is that China supplies most of the world’s solar technology (which I think is related to China having major deposits of the relevant rare earth elements). We could be trading off a dependency on Russian gas with one on Chinese solar, which could become a problem should China decide the time has come to reunite Taiwan by force.

China is a leader in the solar industry, and it seems to have cracked the code for the entire solar supply chain. In 2019, Chinese firms produced 66% of the world’s polysilicon, the initial building block of silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) panels. Furthermore, more than three-quarters of solar cells came from China, along with 72% of the world’s PV panels.

22

Michael Cain 03.24.22 at 11:06 pm

@16

nuclear may well have a role to play alongside other technologies in the “basket of generation” – though what that role would be seems to be a bit beyond those best placed to answer

My own perspective is admittedly parochial, but timing is a question worth discussing. I live in the American West, within reasonable transmission distance of both nuclear projects I mentioned (for US western states’ definition of reasonable). My electricity is generated by a power authority that serves three municipally-owned utilities serving a total of 500,000 or so people. The power authority has committed to making a best effort to reach no-carbon by 2030. Roughly half of their delivered power over the course of a year is already no-carbon, from wind, hydro, and solar in that order. It’s a sunny breezy afternoon, so as I type this 70% of the electricity running the computer is renewables. They have an RFP out to add a bunch more solar and storage by 2025. There are unsolicited offers to sell them more wind, and an unsolicited offer to sell them a quite large pumped hydro storage project.

For this authority, the Gates/Buffett project is better situated in terms of transmission links, and is currently scheduled to start delivering power in 2030. Figure it takes a couple of years longer than that. My power authority may be in a position where they want to buy modest amounts, but will likely have largely solved their problem before then. That’s true for many of the potential utility customers for that nuclear project: they are on notice to solve the problem before new nuclear is likely to be available.

23

Zamfir 03.25.22 at 10:02 am

A similar line of thought as notGoodEnough:

Where I live in Europe, the deployment of wind and solar power used to be limited by the amount of friendly money, mostly from governments. That could be direct subsidies, or indirect market advantages, or financing on favourable terms, etc. In that situation, nucelar power really was direct, zero-sum competitor. A project like Hinkley Point C draws from a similar purse as sun and wind. Not quite the same purse, but close enough.

But now in 2022, that is not the case. Deployment costs have come down, electricity prices have gone up. The political climate has shifted enough that wind and solar can always count on some amount of government support, at any scale. The limits are now more about permits and locations, about scaling up the installation and production industry, about having enough distributed grid connections. On those limits, there is much less zero-sum competition with nuclear power. Europe can plan any realistic amount of new NPPs (for start of operation in the 2030s), and it will not affect the level of deployment of wind and solar in the upcoming decade or more.

In the longer run, this might change again. When you build a wind turbine in the 2030s or 2040s, it will matter how many nuclear reactors are coming online. Also, intermittency is going to eat into the current cost advantage of wind and PV, requiring more costly and more complicated measures to balance power in time. At some point, there could be direct competition for funding with nuclear power again.

But that point is quite far away. Nuclear power has severe scaling challenges ahead, even if were to gain widespread support again. A first wave could be optimistically ready in the early 2030s, but it will be too small to change the big energy picture. Nuclear power can only become a potential large player again in a follow-up wave. A follow-up wave will only happen if the first wave exceeds expectations – within budget, within time, with steady popular and political support, no new Fukushimas. And only if the deployment of wind and solar (plus intermittency mitigation) is running into barriers – or there is no need for more nuclear power

In that hypothetical situation, we would be very happy if still have an experienced nuclear industry. In that sense, I support the construction of new reactors, for the option value. It is not the best choice at this moment. Most effort should go to other approaches. Centred on wind and solar, on efficiency and reduction, on electrification. But I am not fully confident that those other approaches will get us all the way. If we get stuck, we cannot simply revive a nuclear industry from scratch.

This is my Europe-centred view. JQ’s Australia isva different case. Much better geography for solar and wind, and probably too small for a domestic nuclear industry. I dont see a case for nuclear power there, in 2022.

24

Raven Onthill 03.25.22 at 3:52 pm

“ it is obvious we have the technology replace fossil & nuclear”

No, we don’t. It’s a disease of these debates that people claim technology exists when in fact does not.

Variable renewable energy can replace perhaps 60 to 90% of existing electrical production. Beyond that we need storage technologies which do not yet exist. I think the most likely result of this is we will go along replacing existing technology and then will come to a limit and there will be a huge price rises and panics. Or we will continue to run greenhouse gas submitting technologies because we don’t have any alternative.

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derrida derider 03.26.22 at 11:29 am

Yes, as anyone who has looked closely at it will understand a reliable 100% renewable grid is much harder to achieve than an 80% renewable grid. The latter we ought to have been pressing hard towards, so the silver lining to Putin’s madness is that Germany and the like will now be motivated to push harder. It was dumb of them to close their existing nuclear plants in favour of Russian gas, though.

Maybe should use a little (safe but expensive) nuclear for that last bit. More likely is what will happen is that countries without a good natural endowment for wind/solar/new hydro (eg Germany) will continue to use gas. It is no coincidence that the technical term for an extended period of low VRE production is German (“dunkelflaute”).

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