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A message for conservatives about climate change and nuclear power

Written By: - Date published: 3:21 pm, January 9th, 2020 - 142 comments
Categories: climate change, dpf, energy, Environment, science, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags:

David Farrar recently posted this post on climate change and the use of nuclear power.  The title of the post was “A message for children about climate change” and the post itself is as condescending to young people as the header.

Although he did take a slightly different tack.  Rather than criticise young people for being passionate about something that is not actually happening it criticised them for not being supportive of nuclear energy. 

Yep all those passionate young people criticising the political leadership that has got us into this mess should be cheerleaders for energy that after Chernobyl and Fukushima and Three Mile Island should be treated with the utmost caution.

He quotes Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon who says this:

Nuclear energy used to be dangerous, back in the olden days. Today’s nuclear power plants (the ones built in the past 20 years all over the world) have killed zero people, and are considered the safest form of energy in the world. More people have died installing solar panels and falling off roofs than have died from nuclear power problems anywhere in the world for the past few decades. And nuclear energy is the obvious way to address climate change, say most of the smartest adults in the world, because it can provide abundant, cheap, clean energy with zero carbon emissions.

Note the rider about the ones built in the past 20 years?  Chernobyl melted down because of design flaws and inadequately trained staff. Fukushima also had design flaws that meant that it could not resist the effects of a major tsunami. Three Mile Island partially melted down and caused significant adverse health effects to local residents. Mother nature has the ability of throwing curve balls at human designed structures that pose problems that are not foreseen.

Then DPF said this:

Not quite zero as constructing the plants causes emissions. But it is 12 units per kWh compared to 820 for coal, 490 for gas and 41 for solar.

His figures may come from this Wikipedia page which refers to this IPCC paper.  He leaves out some other important figures.  For instance when the report was written offshore wind turbines had the same rating as nuclear power and on shore wind turbines are slightly lower.

The figures are from a 2014 paper.  Things have changed significantly since then.

For instance the IPCC noted in this 2018 report:

The political, economic, social and technical feasibility of solar energy, wind energy and electricity storage technologies has improved dramatically over the past few years, while that of nuclear energy and carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) in the electricity sector have not shown similar improvements.

And Mycle Schneider author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report thinks that we do not have time.  From Reuters:

In mid-2019, new wind and solar generators competed efficiently against even existing nuclear power plants in cost terms, and grew generating capacity faster than any other power type, the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) showed.

“Stabilizing the climate is urgent, nuclear power is slow,” said Mycle Schneider, lead author of the report. “It meets no technical or operational need that low-carbon competitors cannot meet better, cheaper and faster.”

The report estimates that since 2009 the average construction time for reactors worldwide was just under 10 years, well above the estimate given by industry body the World Nuclear Association (WNA) of between 5 and 8.5 years.

The extra time that nuclear plants take to build has major implications for climate goals, as existing fossil-fueled plants continue to emit CO2 while awaiting substitution.

“To protect the climate, we must abate the most carbon at the least cost and in the least time,” Schneider said.

Nuclear is too unsafe.  The worst thing you can have from a solar spill is a sunny day.  The worst you can get from a nuclear reactor mishap is a permanently poisoned local environment.  And most importantly implementing nuclear is too slow.

Rather than lecture young people for not supporting a technology that will not save us DPF should applaud them.  And he should persuade the dinosaurs in his party that we are facing a crisis that requires an immediate response.

142 comments on “A message for conservatives about climate change and nuclear power ”

  1. Climaction 1

    Hear hear

    nuclear is not the answer, as it’s a tax on the future of our planets ability to sustain life.

    basically an ultra-low rate of extractional energy with a negative renewable factor

  2. Matiri 2

    I worked on control system design and commissioning in the UK. One project I was involved in was Dungeness B nuclear power station in Kent, which has been non-operational since 2018 due to ongoing safety concerns.

    That aside, the whole nuclear industry requires an enormous amount of highly paid and well educated support staff to design, install, commission, maintain, and then safely decommission these plants, likewise the operational staff. These resources took decades to build up and now those personnel are either retired or looking for new careers.

    It is naive of anyone to think New Zealand could just build a nuclear power plant and it would solve all our problems.

  3. You didn't mention the dangerous waste products from nuclear power production, that need secure storage for thousands of years. Given that human civilisation's only existed for around 5,000 years and Plutonium-239 is dangerous for tens of thousands of years, that's a big ask. We should be producing as little of that shit as possible.

    • mickysavage 3.1

      Agreed. To decommission a solar panel you take it down. To decommission a nuclear power station you have to invest huge amounts of time and energy and put up with toxic materials for thousands of years. They only made sense when you needed the enriched material for weapons of mass destruction.

  4. Andre 4

    New land based nukes for grid supply don't make any kind of sense. They lost the economic argument a long time ago.

    But that's a different argument to prematurely shutting down already existing nukes. Japan and Germany's knee-jerk reactions to Fukushima has resulted in the release of huge amounts of GHG from fossil-fuel plants that would otherwise have shut down and been displaced by renewables.

    https://grist.org/energy/the-cost-of-germany-going-off-nuclear-power-thousands-of-lives/

    There also may be a place in a zero-carbon future for small modular nukes. At the moment, the only non-fossil proven technology to supply 5MW to 100MW 24/7 to power a large vessel is nukes. These are negligible meltdown risk compared to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima etc, because of their small size (less than 100MW, compared to over 1000MW), and because they are always surrounded by an infinite supply of coolant. Most small modular reactors are also specifically designed to be walk-away safe, using different fuels, principles of operation, and control schemes to ensure that in the event of total loss of control they safely de-power just using basic physics.

    So I could quite easily see China or India or Russia developing a series of mass-produced small nukes for the shipping industry. Then trying to expand the market, first for electricity supply to remote regions.

    If westerners don't like the idea of a proliferation of small nukes built to lax safety standards in the likes of China etc, maybe we should have a rethink about our knee-jerk opposition and obstructionism and support those trying to develop small modular nukes to higher standards here in western nations.

    • mickysavage 4.1

      Thanks Andre what about the delay and the decomission costs?

      • Andre 4.1.1

        One of the sales propositions for small modular reactors is that they would be a standardised design with numerous identical plants built on production lines. Once the first ones received type approval, all future identical ones would be covered under that type approval. Unlike large land-based reactors where each one is sufficiently different they really do need to be individually approved.

        Some of the more interesting and promising designs enormously reduce the waste disposal problem by using the using the problem isotopes as fuel, thereby effectively burning their waste. In current conventional nukes, over 99% of the available energy in the uranium fuel dug out of the ground is unused and that material becomes the extremely hazardous difficult to manage waste. Using it as fuel both reduces fuelling and waste management costs.

        A large part of decommissioning costs for current conventional nukes comes about because of the failure to develop waste storage and management plans, so a lot of plants just store their waste on-site and hope like hell somebody comes up with a solution (or it becomes somebody else's problem). Relatively little of the decommissioning problem is the actual power-generation machinery. In the context of hypothetical marine nukes, the power-generation machinery would be the bulk of the decommissioning problem, and that is generally lowish radioactivity that's fairly short-lived.

    • I like the idea of using modular reactors for shipping in principle, but the practice might not be so great – the thought of the shipping industry's ability to avoid regulation combined with lots of small nukes gives me the screaming shits.

      • McFlock 4.2.1

        Far too easy to drive them onto rocks. Bunker fuel is bad enough, try dissolving a radioactive salt in the middle of your local marine sanctuary.

        edit: on second thoughts, it would be an effective way of banning recreational and commercial fishing in the area…

        • Andre 4.2.1.1

          Yeah, the wildlife around Fukushima and Chernobyl seems fairly pleased that humans de-assed the area with quickness. But a sunken small reactor just isn't going to rapidly spread its guts over a wide area the way an explosion in a massive land based reactor does.

          • McFlock 4.2.1.1.1

            The core would be fine, I'd be worried about coolant leakage. All well and good until some genius manages to break it in an unexpected way…

      • Andre 4.2.2

        Yeah, in absolute terms the idea of nukes in shipping gives me the shits too. But in relative terms it doesn't give me the shits worse than the situation we have now, with largely unregulated shipping burning (and dumping) the nastiest leftovers from oil refineries all over the place.

        And I've got very little hope that the better solution is going to happen, ie that we stop producing and shipping and buying mountains of useless tat all over the world.

        Maybe the alien unicorns will turn up and start excreting photocatalytic hydrogen generators out their back ends and it will become worthwhile working out how to deal with the massive storage volumes and engineering headaches involved in making hydrogen propulsion viable.

        • Psycho Milt 4.2.2.1

          True – the risk of a relatively small-scale radioactive material in the future needs to be set against the actually-existing situation of large-scale toxic waste dumping in the here-and-now.

  5. Dennis Frank 5

    Review of latest tech here: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612940/the-new-safer-nuclear-reactors-that-might-help-stop-climate-change/ Short summary: still too much like pushing shit uphill.

    "Advanced fission reduces nuclear waste—even using it as fuel—and drastically shrinks the chance of tragedies like Fukushima or Chernobyl. Yet no such reactors have been licensed or deployed outside China or Russia. Many voters simply don’t believe companies when they promise that new technologies can avoid old mistakes."

    "It’s not just politics, though: cost is also a factor. Advanced fission promises to reduce the ridiculously expensive up-front costs of nuclear energy by creating reactors that can be factory built, rather than custom made. This would cause prices to plummet, just as they have for wind and solar. But private companies have rarely proved successful at bringing these projects to completion: the biggest advances have come from highly centralized, state-driven schemes that can absorb risk more easily."

    Global overview of industry here (good graphics): https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/nuclear-power-in-the-world-today.aspx

  6. Anne 6

    And he should persuade the dinosaurs in his party that we are facing a crisis that requires an immediate response.

    How can D Farrar do that when he is one of the dinosaurs in question. 🙁

    • mickysavage 6.1

      He has always said he thinks it is a problem. But then he writes these posts that let the climate change deniers pile in and say there is no problem apart from the attempt to foist world government and agenda 21 on all of us.

  7. Ad 7

    From The Press, 1966:

    "Steady progress in preparations for nuclear-fuelled power stations, the first of which is provisionally planned for the Auckland area in 1977, is shown by the report of the Planning Committee on Electric Power Development tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Electricity Mr Shand."

    The bullshit that Mr Shand tried to pull on the Clutha River and the southern lakes for hydro was IMHO even worse. Thankfully he lost more than he won.

    By 1966 Oyster Point on the Kaipara Harbour had been identified as the site for it.

    The Press reported that "The plant needed to process the uranium would be no bigger than the average home.

    Instead we discovered the Maui oil field in 1969, and Bill Birch's oil plan kicked in after that.

    Muldoon's Royal Commission on nuclear power predicted nuclear power stations wouldn't be needed until the early 2000s.

    Even the Lange government's Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act was silent on nuclear generation.

    Then came the RMA.

    We're going to get to 93% renewable generation without the government trying, and Minister Wood and Minister Parker are pretty clear there are plenty of other generation opportunities (even before we mention Tiwai Point).

    As in Australia, the common-sense-left need to actively defend the Greens against he loonie right who are well armed with Twitter bazookas and wanker columnists.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/100468448/from-uranium-to-nuclear-plants-new-zealands-secret-nuclear-past

    • mickysavage 7.1

      As in Australia, the common-sense-left need to actively defend the Greens against he loonie right who are well armed with Twitter bazookas and wanker columnists.

      Heh.

  8. Wayne 8

    While nuclear is obviously not relevant for New Zealand (we have many alternatives), much larger economies are going for it.

    In particular China is building literally dozens on advanced new nuclear plants. And have even sold one to the UK. I imagine India will also go heavily into nuclear, probably with thorium reactors, which although less power dense are probably safer. For both China and India, nuclear power is a pathway out of coal, especially for their base load power.

    France will have a big challenge within the next decade or so. What to replace the current nuclear plants with that generate 70% of France's electricity? I reckon much of the replacement will be nuclear.

    Given that China now seems to have worked out the efficient production of the new generation and safer reactors (unlike the French building the plant in Finland) I think you will see China offering their nuclear technology to a lot of countries, with full turnkey operations, including disposal of spent fuel.

    It will be yet another area where China will be ahead of the West. As a rule central planned economies (as China is with nuclear power) with little citizen input results in less safe systems. Will this be the case with Chinese nuclear plants? Perhaps not. If they are able to satisfy the UK that their nuclear power generation system is safe, then it probably is.

    So while we in New Zealand may be opposed to nuclear power, for many other economies with large electricity requirements, and few safe ways to generate power, nuclear will become an increasingly popular option.

    It is worth noting that 40 years ago New Zealanders were concerned about the possibilities of US naval ships having nuclear reactor accidents. Yet since then the US Navy has not had any serious nuclear accidents. Not that I am suggesting we change the policy. There are other reasons to keep it. But the lack of safety of US submarines and ships is not really a credible argument.

    • mickysavage 8.1

      China are on a crash course of shutting down their coal power stations. They are probably the only economy that could build nuclear power stations quickly. For the west of the world I don't see that this is an option.

      • RedLogix 8.1.1

        For the west of the world I don't see that this is an option.

        Because you are trapped into the old thinking that nuclear power stations have to be massive projects built as engineering one-offs. Everyone in the field understands this is way too expensive … none of the new designs are like this. That's why the generic class of them is called 'small modular reactors'. They get built at a plant using standard engineering tech very similar to ship building (in fact one contender Moltex suggests using Korean shipyards for their builds), and then shipping them as sealed units to site.

        I'm not entirely convinced their approach is optimum, but every advanced fission reactor design employs a similar approach to reduce build times and costs … dramatically.

        • Rocco Siffredi 8.1.1.1

          You could build a very effective solution simply by lining up a row of PWR3's. With a standard design, decommissioning costs reduce dramatically, especially when it is designed in from the beginning. It has been the bespoke, experimental nature of early nuclear that has made the construction and decommissioning costs so high.

  9. McFlock 9

    The thing about "safer" reactors is that nobody has ever built a nuclear plant and on opening said "yeah, there's a bit of a chance that it'll have a meltdown and irradiate a 50 mile radius, but you'll all be cool with that, right?"

    The producers have always called nuclear power "safe and clean".

    The thorium ones look interesting (especially from a waste-disposal point of view), but after so many disasters and near-misses only a fool would be an early adopter of the latest "safe" designs. They might help in a hundred years. Maybe.

  10. AB 10

    Nuclear will be an attractive option for conservatives irrespective of any evidence against it. That's because it offers the hope of just swapping out the energy system – but leaving the whole economic superstructure that sits on top of it exactly as it is now. Existing wealth, hierarchies and power relations would thus be preserved. Expect similar enthusiasm for geo-engineering or direct air-capture of CO2 if either of them look even half-promising.

    What wont be tolerated is any re-fashioning of the economy to work within planetary limits while also caring for everyone equally (i.e. civilisation).

    • RedLogix 10.1

      That's because it offers the hope of just swapping out the energy system – but leaving the whole economic superstructure that sits on top of it exactly as it is now. Existing wealth, hierarchies and power relations would thus be preserved.

      Ah yes … the old let's 'smash capitalism' agenda raises it's head. All very well if the track record of all the alternatives was not quite so catastrophic. If all the sodding old generation reactors existing in the world were to totally melt down tomorrow … the death toll might just compare with what marxism inflicted on us.

      • AB 10.1.1

        Don't be daft and stop straw-manning. I don't favour smashing anything, precisely because of the suffering it would cause. The point I made was almost embarrassingly self-evident – that conservatives want to preserve the status quo. That's almost a definition of 'conservative' by the way. But if the status quo runs up against planetary limits, what then do you do? I find you tiresome, one-dimensional and repetitive on this topic and a good reason to flag away bothering to comment.

        • RedLogix 10.1.1.1

          OK so if you object to "leaving the whole economic superstructure that sits on top of it exactly as it is now" it rather leaves completely unsaid as to exactly what you would replace it with. Doesn't it?

          Besides the Small Modular Reactor concept rather innately lends itself to greater decentralisation. These things are not necessarily the massive power plants you are ideologically objecting to.

          As for planetary limits … there is thousands of years of energy available from just known sources, without the very real prospect that the fast spectrum types can readily breed their own fuel indefinitely. All without covering millions of acres with solar panels and wind machines.

          But the really big kicker is that unlimited energy sources enable us to do things with other resources like water, metals and such … 100% intensive recycling if you like … that at present we cannot do because they would use too much energy.

          • pat 10.1.1.1.1

            and when will this energy miracle occur?,,,,,10 years after we hit 500ppm CO2?….20 perhaps?

            • RedLogix 10.1.1.1.1.1

              If the irrational political obstacles were set aside there is no reason why they couldn't be up and running at scale within a decade. Sooner if we were serious.

              • pat

                so the Indians and Chinese (et al) arnt serious about cheap endless energy?….like hell they arnt, but they wont waste resources disproportionate to the likelyhood of success.

                As Kevin Anderson says relying on unproven tech solutions is just another form of denial.

                • RedLogix

                  They're serious alright, but by simply copying the 1960's ORNL design they missed the real opportunity. And using the word 'unproven' is simply code for the same argument … 'if it hasn't been done yet this means it can't be done'.

                  For a putative progressive you're exhibiting wonderfully conservative thinking 🙂

                  • pat

                    as nothing other than a self confessed realist indulging in self destructive dreams in the face of scientific evidence is way down the list of my priorities

  11. Instauration 11

    Nuclear energy is just another instrument to be traded in the "commodification of nature"

    https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=%22commodification+of+nature%22&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

    Derivatives will abound – abstracted from outcomes.

    Thunberg promoted offsets similarly

  12. Craig H 12

    I look forward to fusion reactors – they must be due to come online any day now…

    • Andre 12.1

      They're about 20 years away from coming online. Like they have been for the last 70 years …

      • RedLogix 12.1.1

        As the old joke goes … fusion energy of the future… and always will be.

        Having said that, there have been some interesting hints recently that some of the daunting problems may have some smart solutions.

        • Andre 12.1.1.1

          I have an uncle that was a plasma physicist at Oak Ridge working on fusion (he got me a visit to Princeton's tokamak). His view was that there was still a lot of fundamental physics still to be understood, while the program managers were treating it as just an engineering problem problem to get it to work.

          Sprinkling pixie dust into the chamber looks to me more like a bit of engineering desperation, try it and see if it works.

          Something I've always been curious about fusion reactors and never seen any proposal for is: how do you actually get the energy back out of the chamber to do anything with it? Getting heat out of a plasma, through the middle of supercooled magnets strikes me as a quite difficult engineering problem in itself, and one I've yet to see even any proposals for.

  13. Robert Guyton 13

    Farrar's a honking goose with knees swollen from running to and fro, to and fro…

  14. Sacha 14

    Who is crossing Farrar's palm with gold?

  15. RedLogix 15

    Everyone commenting here is woefully uninformed on the topic. The OP reflects 1980's thinking of the worst kind and makes numerous faulty assertions.

    Not all fission machines are the same. Chernobyl was a second generation design with no containment vessel and significant design flaws. It could never have been licensed to operate in a Western country. Yet despite being the worst nuclear accident by far, the undisputed death toll from Acute Radiation Syndrome was remarkably low. Numerous studies have attempted to model and project long term impacts, but these remain exceedingly contentious; it's impossible to derive hard numbers. With humans gone the 4,000 sqkm exclusion zone has become a thriving sanctuary for wildlife, and the few people who have refused to leave show few ill-effects. The idea that it's a toxic wasteland incompatible with life is just wrong.

    Chernobyl was the worst nuclear accident, and I don't want to appear to be minimising it. Yet put into the context of deaths from particulate air pollution from coal power generation … which we know for certain has killed millions … nuclear remains by far the safest form of energy production ever. Look at the numbers in that link … deaths per TerrawattHour (TWH) from coal globally is around 160. Even hydro which we all think is totally benign manages about 2. Nuclear comes in 0.04 … a factor of at least 5 times better than the nearest best alternative. The idea that nuclear is unsafe is totally discredited by actual hard data.

    But that number relates to the now obsolete designs from the last century. In the 1960's ORNL ran a seven year experiment on a Molten Salt Reactor that should have changed the entire direction of the industry. It was defunded abruptly in 1969 … and to this day the people involved still believe it was because the design had little weapons making potential. Yet the results were incredibly promising for such a preliminary design of the era.

    The whole story is far too long for a comment, but around 2000 a very persistent individual by the name of Kirk Sorenson, rescued much of the documentation that was about the be destroyed from this experiment, and started sending copies of it on CD to researchers all over the world. Initially the response was tepid, but in the past decade over 20 companies are now working toward variants on the concept. The Chinese may well be leading the field with quite a substantial program.

    Of these variants the one I think has the most potential is Elysium Industries Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor. (MSCFR). These machines have almost nothing in common with the designs from Chernobyl or Fukushima. Nothing. In the interests of keeping this comment less than 10,000 words I'll leave it to you to read the links.

    If you are going to make blanket statements about nuclear energy, but remain ignorant of the huge changes in the field in the past decade, then what you have to say is irrelevant and misleading.

    • mickysavage 15.1

      What about the cost and the timing? New designs are a decade away and we have a very short time to start decarboning our electrical supply.

      My post was as much aimed at Farrar's use of statistics which appeared to be rather dodgy.

      • RedLogix 15.1.1

        Everyone in the field of these new advanced modular fission reactors states that the main obstacles are out of date regulatory regimes that are a poor fit for the new designs, and an irrational fear of anything 'nuclear' in the minds of the general public. If we pushed the go button on one of these designs we could have the first scale pilot plants licensed within 4 years and into mass production within 8 years. Sooner if we really wanted to take climate change seriously.

        As for Farrar's numbers … I haven't looked TBH. Been busy all day.

      • RedLogix 15.1.2

        There is now a multi-billion race from many US companies and China and Canada and European countries to develop molten salt nuclear power.

        * Molten salt reactors can produce one thousand times lower volume of radioactive waste of existing nuclear reactors because of deep burn. More complete conversion of the nuclear fuel. The unburned uranium and plutonium can be used and what is left would be products with half-lives of 100 years or less.
        * Molten salt reactors can have designs that are proof against nuclear meltdowns
        * The chinese reactors could use thorium. China has some of the world’s largest reserves of the thorium metal.
        * Molten salt reactors can be lower cost than coal and natural gas
        * Molten salt reactors could be factory mass produced or mass produced at shipyards to scale to 100 gigawatts per year of production.

        https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2018/08/global-race-for-transformative-molten-salt-nuclear-includes-bill-gates-and-china.html

        MSRs are walk-away safe. They cannot melt down like conventional reactors because they are, by design, already molten. An operator cannot even force an MSR to overheat. If for some reason an MSR were to overheat, the heat would melt a freeze-plug at the bottom of the reactor vessel and the liquid fuel salts would drain into the emergency cooling tanks where it would cool and solidify. No operator interaction nor even emergency backup power is needed for this to happen.

        Even a human engineered breach (such as a terrorist attack) of an MSR cannot cause any significant release of radioactivity. The fuel salts for MSRs work at normal atmospheric pressure, so a breach of the reactor containment vessel would simply leak out the liquid fuel which would then solidify as it cooled. (By comparison, a breach of a conventional reactor leads to the highly pressurized and radioactive water coolant spewing into the atmosphere and potentially leaking into surrounding bodies of water.) Additionally, radioactive byproducts of fission like iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137 (such as those released into the atmosphere and ocean by the Fukushima meltdown) are physically bound to the hardened coolant and do not leave the reactor site.

        https://www.zmescience.com/ecology/what-is-molten-salt-reactor-424343/

        • pat 15.1.2.1

          "China did announce this year that it intended to develop a thorium MSR, but nuclear radiologist Peter Karamoskos, of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), says the world shouldn't hold its breath.

          'Without exception, [thorium reactors] have never been commercially viable, nor do any of the intended new designs even remotely seem to be viable. Like all nuclear power production they rely on extensive taxpayer subsidies; the only difference is that with thorium and other breeder reactors these are of an order of magnitude greater, which is why no government has ever continued their funding.'

          China's development will persist until it experiences the ongoing major technical hurdles the rest of the nuclear club have discovered, he says."

          https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jun/23/thorium-nuclear-uranium

          .

          • RedLogix 15.1.2.1.1

            That Guardian article … like so much they publish these days … is unreliable bunk. The entire thing rabbits on about thorium without once mentioning the real game changer … molten salts.

            Now it's true that there is a significant overlap between the potential use of thorium as a fuel, and the quite different question of using molten salt as the principle fuel and energy medium. The same people are in some instances heavily involved in developing the potential of both.

            But from the perspective of safety thorium is mostly a distraction. It has some real advantages, it's much more abundant and in most forms it's much more resistant to misuse for weapons. But the big story is the MSR concept, and this your link completely misses.

            • nukefacts 15.1.2.1.1.1

              Actually many Thorium designs are molten salt reactors.

              • RedLogix

                Yes, but not all. The same people are often involved in developing the potential of both, but there is no necessary connection. Fast neutron reactors (designs with no moderation) can typically munch up anything fertile. And for what it’s worth these designs get my vote.

                There are a lot of variants being explored right now, and each tends to optimise for some specific basket of performance characteristics. No-one knows yet which one, if any, will be the winner.

                My favourite at the moment:

                https://www.elysiumindustries.com/technology

    • McFlock 15.2

      Fair points, except for two things:

      1) the same crowd have been asserting safety since the first one. Excuse the cynicism of us brutish menials.

      2) If the mortality statistics are "contested", then the death/kWhr stats are similarly "contested".

      • RedLogix 15.2.1

        Well as I point out … even the existing second and third generation designs with all of their known shortcomings … still have an actual safety record orders of magnitude better than any alternative. Even solar and wind. And that includes the dramatic events of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

        The a good comparison is to compare travel by car and by aircraft. We quite irrationally over react to events like the sorry 737MAX debacle, yet air travel is still by far the safest form of travel humans have ever invented.

        Of course this didn't mean in the first decades of air travel that there were no disasters, but the industry learned from them to the point where in 2017 there was quite remarkably not a single loss of life on a commercial flight anywhere in the world. And aircraft design is now orders of magnitude better than it was in say the 1930's when commercial air travel first became available.

        • McFlock 15.2.1.1

          And "contested" mortality estimates also differ by orders of magnitude – 40 to 40,000 deaths is a big margin for error to be claiming relative safety.

          • RedLogix 15.2.1.1.1

            Chernobyl was a deficient Soviet design that would never have been licensed in the West. It had no containment vessel! It had poorly understood design flaws and instabilities. It was pushed into a dangerous operating regime by a total fuckwit. It was by any reasonable measure the worst possible accident that could have happened.

            Yet even including this data point … nuclear still has by far the safest operating record per TWH. (Terrawatt Hour). And that's for all the old designs I'm explicting not endorsing. All the new ones absolutely will be orders of magitude safer than this. It's called engineering progress … just like the next generation of EV's will have a safety profile completely different to the primitive banger your dad first bought in the 60's.

            • Incognito 15.2.1.1.1.1

              The prefix is tera (T). Terra means Earth 😉

            • McFlock 15.2.1.1.1.2

              And you'll have similar disclaimers about three mile island, Fukushima, and whatever the next one is.

              It's not an irrational fear if the people talking today are saying the same damned things their predecessors said when they built the ones that forced the evacuation of areas that had hundreds of thousands of people in them.

              • RedLogix

                Yet oddly enough the few people remaining in the Chernobyl exclusion zone are living normal lives.

                And the evidence is now in, the panicked evacuation in the Fukushima event directly lead to more deaths among the elderly (around 1500) than the at the plant.

                Again I'm not endorsing these old pressurized water designs; they essentially date from the late 1940's when Rickover was tasked with building a nuclear submarine. It made sense in that context because they had to have a moderated slow thermal neutron reactor (minimal shielding).

                But it water moderated machines always had a fatal flaw when they were scaled up to grid power applications ..,. decay heat. When a core is running at say 3000MW thermal and it gets shutdown, the chain reaction will stop instantly, but the residual actinides will continue to generate heat at about 6% of the rate just before shutdown. In this example almost 180MW!

                That heat will destroy the solid fuel rods very quickly unless you can keep the water circulating and cooling the core for about a day. All reactor incidents can be tracked back to a failure to get rid of this decay heat, resulting in core damage or meltdown.

                MSR's by contrast simply do not have this problem. The fuel is already dissolved in the salt, there is no mechanical structure to 'damage' in any manner. All modern designs have a negative void coefficient, fancy word for 'the hotter the salt gets, the slower the fission process works'. In other words it self regulates by the physics. No control rods, no complex controls.

                As a backup if the power fails, freeze plugs melt and the salt drops into high surface area vessels which are the wrong configuration to sustain fission and allow the decay heat to simply conduct away safely. (One of several alternatives, another one I quite like is a bit harder to describe, but very simple and elegant.)

                And yes progress does happen, things do get better. The wiki article is quite good.

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

                • McFlock

                  The theory is fine.

                  Let's see them after a hundred years of being operated by the lowest bidder powering ships run by drunk captains.

                  Nuclear has had its chance. Leave it for space exploration well out of earth orbit. Japan seems to be transitioning to alternatives ok.

                  • RedLogix

                    Even then on the numbers they'd still be safer than all the alternatives.

                    You're making the same mistake when people get highly anxious about air travel accidents, yet they're hundreds of times more likely to die in the taxi on the way to the airport.

                    • McFlock

                      Except there's no "contested" level of air accident fatalities that's a thousand-plus times higher than the "uncontested" rate, and a single unexplained crash is enough to halt all operations of that type around the world, rather than the nuclear response "that was an old model and badly run, this version is totally safe" which gets pulled out each and every time.

                      If anything, the unrealistic comparison makes me even less likely to accept your assurances.

                    • RedLogix

                      and a single unexplained crash is enough to halt all operations of that type around the world,

                      Indeed. At least until the root cause has been identified and fixed. What it doesn't do is ground every aircraft of every type permanently and insist that we can never develop newer, better ones.

                      Incidentally the deplorable 737MAX story is at root the engineering mistake of trying to push a dated 60's airframe into competing with current designs. That's precisely the argument I am making wrt nuclear … consign all the old PWR designs to the dustbin of history and get on with building new machines that we know don't have the same shortcomings.

                      As for reassurances? Well go back and look at how many planes crashed, or bridges collapsed over the past century or so. But do you need 'reassurance' every time you fly or drive over a bridge?

                      As for renewables … they have their place, but they are absolutely not without substantial risk and environmental risk at the scale necessary to get to carbon zero, not now and not into a future with billions of people entering the middle class globally. This is still a landmark presentation:

                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0W1ZZYIV8o

                    • McFlock

                      Again, I know that aircraft safety commenters aren't likely to be out on their hazard assessment by a factor of a thousand.

                      As for renewables – the countries doing it seem to be progressing ok.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      "a future with billions of people entering the middle class globally" sounds fabulously fair, but is it sustainable?

                      A billion here, billions more there – pretty soon it adds up to a real load on the globe. Can billions (particularly "the golden 1b") really be persuaded to see the sense of lowering expectations to match what 'our' increasingly hollowed-out little planet can provide?

                      "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire when you can be a Billionaire!"

                    • RedLogix

                      Uncertain hazard assessments are absolutely everywhere, they're commonplace in medicine and all sorts of environmental issues.

                      One of the most interesting debates is around the minimum threshold for radiation exposure. Those people ideologically opposed to any form of nuclear power insist that there is no safe minimum radiation exposure level. The nature of all the reactor accidents is that a very few people were highly exposed, and with a certainty they died. A large number of people were exposed to substantial radiation and they had quite mixed outcomes. And a very large population across Europe had very small exposures … but we can draw almost no definite conclusions on whether this made any significant impact on their health.

                      What we do know is that some populations are exposed to low level radiation at significantly higher levels than the rest of us, and their cancer rates are lower than is normal. This is a challenging data point, it implies that some level of radiation actually stimulates the immune system rather than damaging it.

                      No-one is certain of exactly what this threshold is, but if we make an educated guess and on that basis exclude all the very large numbers of people who received doses below this level from Chernobyl …. then the projected numbers of cancers changes dramatically. This is a large fraction of the uncertainty, by orders of magnitude.

                      Now this simplifies a complex research area way too much, but as the years go by the initial very high projections of deaths (40,000 or more) have firmed up to much lower numbers.

                      Chernobyl is still by far the worst case accident ever, and no other existing design has come even close to something similar. And the MSR's I'm advocating for are inherently far safer again. Everything in life is a risk trade off … at some point I came to the conclusion that these things were a better bet than any other option we had to hand.

                    • RedLogix

                      "a future with billions of people entering the middle class globally" sounds fabulously fair, but is it sustainable?

                      Well yes. You go tell them they have to stay in poverty.

                      As for sustainable, well poor people with very low productivity are actually really hard on the environment. Cooking with wood stoves for instance is still a major cause of deforestation.

                      Unlimited energy however unlocks the potential to reorganise our industrial systems so that it can decouple from the natural environment. We can afford the energy to 100% recycle water, metals and all other resources. We can desalinate unlimited fresh water, create new materials that would be too energy intensive and so on. We could greatly reduce the land currently used inefficiently for agriculture and allow wildernesses to expand. We could suck excess CO2 out of the atmosphere and get back to a stable level much sooner. There are endless possibilities that are currently closed to us because our energy supply at present is limited, expensive and damages the planet.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      I certainly couldn’t and would't make 'them' stay in poverty, and don't expect them to. All I am saying is that ‘the planet’ is going to have to provide the resources for the impoverished billions to improve their lot. I believe that 'our' planet has a limited capacity to furnish this number of people with a middle class life style; I don't think that 'goal' is compatible with keeping all of those billions, not to mention the billions still to come, alive in the longer term.

                      What I would argue strongly is that “the golden 1b” have (on average) far more than they need; most really could stand to slim down. But:

                      "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire when you can be a Billionaire!"

                    • RedLogix

                      @DWK

                      I believe that 'our' planet has a limited capacity to furnish this number of people with a middle class life style;

                      Only if our energy sources are limited. The hallmark signature of all human material progress has been our ability to access and concentrate energy in higher quality forms.

                      I don't think that 'goal' is compatible with keeping those billions alive in the longer term.

                      That's the polite version of the mass die-off plan for the human race. I tend to be quite blunt on this … if your vision for the future requires the death of billions of inconvenient humans … you are morally no different to any of histories great mass murdering monsters. You may want to think about that, because I don't think this is what you really intend.

                      What I would argue strongly is that the golden 1b have (on average) far more than they need; they could really stand to slim down.

                      Maybe, but lets assume the human population in the next century peaks at around 10b. That's 9b other people looking to get out of poverty and increase their access to energy. However much the top 1b cut back (which is not a bad thing in principle) … it cannot possibly match the increased demand from the emerging 9b.

                      What most people are not understanding is that in order to reduce our consumption of the planet's natural resources, the critical thing we need is unlimited access to high quality energy that doesn't damage the environment. That is how we get out of the apparent trap we are in at the moment.

                    • McFlock

                      The trouble is that the song you're singing is seventy years old, and the chorus is "the last generation had design issues, but the one we're working on now is super-safe"

                    • RedLogix

                      @McFlock

                      Do you realise just how conservative sounding that makes you 🙂

                      The problem here is that we aren't discussing this from the same starting point. I've spent many hundreds of hours watching people like Kirk Sorensen, Gordon McDowell and Ed Pheil on YT. I've educated myself on the technology. I started my working life in Physics Dept, and then moved on to an intense career in heavy industry for over 40 years. I've a reasonable sense of what is doable and sane and what is not.

                      I'm no nuclear engineer, but Ed Pheil has designed reactors for the US Navy for over 30 years, and worked in the field all his life. He designed the tiny reactor that powered one of the NASA Jupiter probes. This is the sort of competence I respect; if he says it can be done I have to listen.

                      This is a science and engineering problem, just like climate change is. You don't get to selectively tell us that one domain is true, while another isn't. That's just motivated reasoning a cover for an irrational fear of nuclear energy that is simply not supported by the facts.

                    • McFlock

                      Again, the problem is one of how to make a decision based on trust when the same lobby says the same shit every time something goes wrong:

                      Oh, it's perfectly safe until the spent fuel rods end up being stockpiled because there's nowhere to reprocess it at the moment.

                      Oh, it's perfectly safe until someone fails to diligently maintain it for decades.

                      Oh, it's perfectly safe until someone decides to have a really smart experiment to see what happens when you redline it for a while.

                      Oh, it's perfectly safe until you start transporting fuel to the facility.

                      Oh, this latest generation is perfectly safe, honest.

                      Fuck it. Put the development money into renewables.

                    • RedLogix

                      @ McFlock

                      Arguing from a position of ignorance is terribly weak. It makes you look like a reactionary fool, which you are not.

                      Oh, it's perfectly safe until the spent fuel rods end up being stockpiled because there's nowhere to reprocess it at the moment.

                      No solid fuel rods. Instead of only consuming 4% of the fuel, MSR's consume 99% of it. The designs I am advocating consume the existing waste stockpiles.

                      Oh, it's perfectly safe until someone fails to diligently maintain it for decades.

                      MSR's have very few moving parts; the safety is built into the concept and the engineering at the outset.

                      Oh, it's perfectly safe until someone decides to have a really smart experiment to see what happens when you redline it for a while.

                      The physics of these designs means the operators cannot do this; even if the President was to phone them and order them to cause a meltdown … it would be impossible to do.

                      Oh, it's perfectly safe until you start transporting fuel to the facility.

                      In transport the fuel would be bound up in a solid salt and it would be impossible for it to leak into the environment.

                      Oh, this latest generation is perfectly safe, honest.

                      Well nothing is perfect; is that what you are demanding? But objectively … on the data … even our existing nuclear power tech is still massively safer than all the alternatives. MSR's are obviously safer again by a substantial margin.

                      Yet for some irrational reason you insist this is not good enough. The cure for this is to go and educate yourself; the material is all on the net if you care to find it. I'm a fairly patient person, but this is my boundary and I'm ending my side of the conversation here.

                    • McFlock

                      Arguing from a position of ignorance is terribly weak. It makes you look like a reactionary fool, which you are not.

                      Well, until the rest of the planet consists of nuclear physicists, most other people are in the same boat: lots of words and assurances of safety that have all proved fruitless time and time again.

                      Maybe this latest generation really is super-safe. Non-engineers can't know this, because it's the same damned tune played over and over.

                      But objectively … on the data … even our existing nuclear power tech is still massively safer than all the alternatives. MSR's are obviously safer again by a substantial margin.

                      Restricting it to the mortality data that everyone agrees on. How did that work with the tobacco companies?

                      And what I’m demanding is that an industry that has consistently fucked up and killed people in large scales and small be eliminated on the grounds that it is incapable of estimating the hazard it poses.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      @RL: Global human population growth and increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are locked in for a few generations.

                      "That's the polite version of the mass die-off plan for the human race."

                      Not at all; what I'm suggesting is that there is a trade-off between the sustainability of the growing global population, and the number (of billions) of people transitioning from poverty to a (more resource-hungry) middle-class lifestyle.

                      You and I both want as many humans as possible who are alive today to survive into the future, but believing that a parallel increase in resource consumption won't compromise long-term survival is classical 'disbelief in limits' (magical) thinking. The relatively resource-hungry lifestyles of the golden 1b are partly responsible for current global problems. I genuinely don't understand how converting billions more to that lifestyle can be achieved without a massive increase in consumption. It might help if the golden 1b were to consume significantly less – good luck with that!

                      With apologies for the repetition:

                      The current economic system being utilized and internalized relies on perpetual growth. It has long operated counter to the reality that we are confined to a finite planet with finite resources. Yet, this system continues to be practiced and promoted globally. As the environmental and social repercussions of disbelief in limits become increasingly clear, so does our need for a new economic system —one that is not wedded to growth. Neither growth in the number of consumers nor growth in the amount consumed.
                      https://garryrogers.com/tag/limits-to-growth/

                  • Andre

                    @McFlock: And what I’m demanding is that an industry that has consistently fucked up and killed people in large scales and small be eliminated on the grounds that it is incapable of estimating the hazard it poses.

                    Which industry are you referring to that has consistently fucked up and killed people in large scales? It's not a description than can reasonably be applied to the western nuclear power industry.

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

                    The Windscale fuckup in 1957 top end estimate for additional deaths is about 240. Three Mile Island deaths were zero. Fukushima radiation related deaths just recently ticked up to one. The death toll from errors in handling radioactives for medical purposes appears much higher than the death toll from western nuclear electricity generation.

                    The big fuckups were Soviet, in the last century. But even those are dwarfed by the ongoing deaths and illness caused by ongoing use of fossil fuels.

                    Fukushima, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl were all commissioned in the 70s. Dunno why you seem so resistant to the idea that enormous safety improvements have happened since then. Think about how much safer automobiles are. Or aviation. Hell, even helmets and other PPE for getting around on two wheels are vastly better now than then. Let alone that the nuclear industry has had to try to satisfy demands for far greater safety expectations than any other industry I can think of.

  16. pat 16

    "The chart above shows the number of "reactors under construction" worldwide. The number has grown since 2005 — and was at 65 as of January 1, 2015. That's way below the peak in the 1970s and 1980s.

    49 OF THE 67 REACTORS UNDER CONSTRUCTION HAVE FACED DELAYS

    It's also worth noting that this number can mask many of the difficulties in building new reactors. Eight of those reactors have been "under construction" for more than 20 years — including the US Watts Bar Unit 2 project in Tennessee, which began in 1972, was stalled for years and then restarted recently, missed a deadline in 2012, and is hoping to get connected to the grid by 2015."

    https://www.vox.com/2014/8/1/5958943/nuclear-power-rise-fall-six-charts

    "Eventually, however, all of the world's current reactors will have to retire — as the chart above shows, the report pegs this date at sometime in the 2050s. That means the world will have to build around 394 additional reactors between now and then just to maintain existing capacity. And if nuclear power is to expand above current levels, we'd have to build more than that."

    Even if we ignore safety concerns, public opposition and siting difficulties the reality is nuclear is not going to be a major factor in addressing climate change in the foreseeable

    • RedLogix 16.1

      All data points from existing third generation designs that have nothing in common with the new small modular molten salt reactors. It's exactly like talking up the limitations of lead acid batteries for energy storage, and ignoring lithium ion batteries.

      • pat 16.1.1

        Perhaps you should lend your expertise to the Chinese….they appear to be having some problems

        'Work on two molten-salt reactors located in the Gobi Desert in Gansu province began in 2011. The 12-megawatt reactors were designed to show the viability of the technology and it is hoped they will be up and running by next year'

        https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/2181396/how-china-hopes-play-leading-role-developing-next-generation

        Originally predicted to be operational in 2015….then 2018….now 2021(?)….maybe the nuclear radiologist quoted in the Guardian article knew what he was talking about

        • RedLogix 16.1.1.1

          Yes the Chinese teams literally took Kirk Sorensen's copied CD's with all the Oak Ridge data and copied them. This back in 2011.

          Xu told the MIT Technology Review in 2016 that Oak Ridge had posted most of the technical documents the Chinese team needed to develop the technology online for free.

          Unfortunately the approach they have taken keeps the fuel in solid form as did the ORNL experiment, which is has now been shown to be sub-optimal. They'll get it going, but events have overtaken them.

          Being first out of the blocks is not always a big advantage.

          • pat 16.1.1.1.1

            hardly first out of the blocks…there are many countries that have been trying since at least 2011, not least India (with massive incentives and an abundance of thorium)….and none to date have an operational generator

            • RedLogix 16.1.1.1.1.1

              Yes they were. That Chinese project … which copied the ORNL machine using solid fuel was pretty much the very first attempt at a MSR design since the 60's.

              The Indian project was similarly flawed … essentially they just converted an existing PWR design.

              Both approaches have proven more difficult than expected because solid fuel is NOT the optimum way to go. It misses the crucial advantage.

              And all your argument amounts to … it hasn't been done yet so therefore it can't be. Childish.

              • pat

                "And all your argument amounts to … it hasn't been done yet so therefore it can't be. Childish."

                Get it right…my argument is it hasnt been done yet, its unlikely to be done anytime soon (if at all) and however fast its done its not going to happen fast enough or at a large enough scale to have a timely impact on carbon emissions.

                • RedLogix

                  You have cause and effect muddled here. Everyone in the field says the primary obstacle is an irrational fear of nuclear energy. The next big obstacle is a regulatory regime that has become deeply over cautious around all the problems with existing designs, and is a poor fit to the completely different safety profile of MSR's.

                  And as a result of these obstacles, decent funding at the scale needed to go from solid concept designs (all based on well understood physics) to fully engineered pilot plants is constrained and progress is slower than it needs to be.

                  • pat

                    so a 'proven' 50 year old design thats had over a decade and billions invested and been worked on in multiple forms by multiple teams has been unable to produce a working example (and its own promoters say thats at least 5 years away and production years,possibly decades further on than that)….and thats the fault of "obstacles" and a lack of decent funding?…..and I'm the one muddled? Go figure.

                    You claim to be a control systems engineer and yet display no understanding of whats involved in establishing a new industry

                    • RedLogix

                      The fission physics are well proven and understood. If anything they're the boring bit, after all we been doing nuclear fission since the 1940's and the ORNL experiment demonstrated the potential of molten salts in the 1960's.

                      So this is not a 'new industry' we are trying to build from a physics perspective. What you keep failing to understand is the importance of the technical leap from MSR's that keep the nuclear fuel in solid form (a carry over from the known tech used in PWR's) to dissolving the fuel directly into the molten salt itself. That’s what’s new, they know it will work, but it needs to be engineered.

                      Conceptually it's quite simple, but as with anything nuclear there is an extremely high regulatory and social threshold regarding every aspect of their engineering. Materials, systems, controls, maintenance and so on all demand exceedingly thorough and mostly very boring testing and documentation. All of which takes a great deal of cash. But the more of it, the faster it all goes.

                      And all at a tiny fraction of the money being largely wasted on massive fusion projects with far less chance of a timely delivery.

  17. RedLogix 17

    If you don't want to read the links here are the main dot points for MSR:

    They operate at close to atmospheric pressure. They operate at temperatures around 600- 800 degC with salts that boil at much higher temps, typically around 1500 degC.

    If there is a breach nothing much happens, the salt leaks out, freezes and all the actinides (the nasty stuff) are trapped in the now solid salt.

    With various simple design techniques they can be made ‘walk away’ safe. Nothing the operator can do will allow the machine to overheat or runaway.

    Because the fuel is typically dissolved into the salt, it can be chemically processed during operation which means that typically 99% of all the fuel is consumed. Current solid fuel designs barely reach 4% before the fuel becomes useless and becomes waste.

    Not only is the waste stream far smaller, it has a much shorter half-life, typically about 100 years instead of 10,000's.

    The fast spectrum designs that I endorse gobble up virtually anything nuclear for fuel. They especially like munching up the existing waste stockpiles from the old gen machines.

    The thermal operating temperatures are much higher than the existing pressurised water reactors, which means the actual electricity generating plant (which is up to 80% of the total plant cost in existing designs) can be much more efficient, smaller and lower cost.

    The high operating temperature also means the heat can be used directly in industrial processes like cement and metals. All big CO2 emitters.

    Most designers are highly aware of the need to make their machines 'proliferation resistant'. This is a complex topic, but fundamentally the nature of the MSR's means it is far more difficult to extract a weapons grade material from them. It hasn't proven a big problem with existing commercial reactors, but if we are going to build thousands more of this type of machine, then it's a big advantage if they cannot be tampered with.

    And from my understanding as a control systems engineer, these are fundamentally stable machines to automate. This reduces complexity and cost dramatically; it reduces the need for skilled operators. Indeed I'd expect them to quite quickly progress to fully automated, remotely monitored, light's out operations with only minimal maintenance teams. Just like for example most hydro stations are these days.

    That's a quick off the top of my head list …

    • Poission 17.1

      as a control systems engineer, these are fundamentally stable machines to automate. This reduces complexity and cost dramatically; it reduces the need for skilled operators

      Simplification often leads to greater complexity.

      • RedLogix 17.1.1

        I spent 40 years designing and building control systems. The more fundamentally stable the process you are trying to control, the less onerous the demands on the control system.

        Your example however would be more persuasive if the Navy had abandoned all automation and gone back to crews of hundreds or thousands all operating everything manually. But they haven't, they learned from the mistake and made improvements. You see the same progress in all engineering endeavours, new tech always has some unhappy surprises … but in every instance the root cause is uncovered and we find ways to prevent it from happening again.

        Look at the progress in aircraft for example.

      • Incognito 17.1.2

        Great insight on how things can and do go wrong. The concept of ‘emotional junior staffer’ came to (my) mind 😉

    • Richard 17.2

      Well said RL. You articulate the advantages of post PWR reactors (particularly the MSRs) much better than I ever could. There is another use for waste heat not mentioned in your comment (apologies if you referred already elsewhere), and that is the desalination of salt water. Also, I want to reinforce the point (again possibly already made by you) that orders of magnitude increases in energy production will be required to clean up the mess we have made on this planet. Small energy dense output MSRs will likely be a major part of any solution delivering this outcome.

      • RedLogix 17.2.1

        Appreciated. It's a bit lonely in here at times 🙂

        You are spot on about desal, it's improved a lot in recent years, but to do it at the scale necessary to really transform landscapes and living standards in water poor nations, we'd need a vast amount of energy. MSR's would be ideal.

        Non-sciency people unfamiliar with engineering find lots of detailed physics, tech and numbers a bit bewildering. Indeed in any given field I struggle as well, it's very easy to reach the 'eyes glaze over' point when digging into any specialty. For this reason I try to keep my contribution here to broad brush overviews. I'm aware though I could be making errors around the details and I'd welcome anyone who has a better understanding to take my place in this debate.

        In an ideal world I love for someone like Ed Pheil to contribute here, but I'm dreaming.

        • Sacha 17.2.1.1

          Australia seems to be a logical candidate for bulk desalination but is their nuclear industry up to it?

          • RedLogix 17.2.1.1.1

            That's a good question I don't have a clear answer for. In general I suspect the irrational fear of nuclear energy is so deeply embedded in the Western nations that the first pilot scale MSR's are more likely to be in countries like Indonesia, Phillipines, India, China and Argentina.

            Which is a good thing because these are the developing nations where energy demand is going to grow fastest.

  18. nukefacts 18

    Here we go again. A conservative, with no science education and a proven history as a liar, spouting about how amazing Nuclear is and how evil those dirty greenies are in opposing it blindly.

    Nuclear energy is, without doubt, the most expensive way to generate power and creates large amounts of highly radioactive waste that lasts for generations and we have yet to even begin dealing with it properly.

    Nowhere in the world will a private company finance and build nuclear power stations because they are so damn expensive and subject to fluctuations in costs for raw materials and labour. All nuclear plants are state financed and sponsored to some degree – historically for the hidden reason of creating nuclear warhead grade fissionable materials for the military.

    As for the so-called small modular reactors, molten salt and thorium designs – these are totally unproven, and unproven at scale. The history of the nuclear power industry shows that they are incapable of moving down the manufacturing learning curve, where a given technology gets cheaper over time as more are built.

    SMR reactors have no market, would likely need to be manufactured in their thousands to achieve any sort of economy of scale, and don't deliver enough power to be economically viable. Check this great article for a dose of reality:

    https://energypost.eu/small-modular-reactors-for-nuclear-power-hope-or-mirage/

    One of the biggest mistakes the Nuclear lovers have is not understanding economics. All these ‘amazing’ new designs are useless if they can’t compete on an economic basis (ignoring for now the safety and waste issues), and the entire Nuclear industry has never had to stand on it’s own feet and compete in the open market. Arguably they never will be economic due to complexity, materials costs, learning curve etc.

    We see time and again people spouting about these 'next gen' designs, how they will revolutionise the world etc etc. The same shit the nuclear industry has always spouted, and have never delivered on. These things are just too expensive and will take too long to develop and build.

    Let's contrast this with some facts. We can deliver all the power the world needs using renewables, despite what the professional paid liars sponsored by the oil industry and Koch brothers say.

    There are some issues with storage that need to be ironed out, but none of the technologies now being developed have any fundamental technical limitations and all can be manufactured at scale. We are already seeing storage solutions moving down the industry learning curve, such as Lithium Ion batteries undergoing massive ongoing cost reductions as more are built – exactly what has happened with solar and wind. We don't see this with nuclear.

    It's very clear now the easiest approach is to massively overbuilt solar and wind, and store the excess power in many forms e.g. Hydrogen, compressed air, pumped hydro, etc.

    Renewables can be built extremely quickly, at the lowest cost of all forms of power generation, deployed in many different locations to optimise availability, and at exceptionally predictable economics that have a measurable return on investment that doesn't require massive taxpayer subsidies.

    Why the fuck do we still debate this?

    Oh, because of 1) evil scum like the democracy hating Koch's want to keep rolling in dirty oil money so they pay a bunch of professional liars to muddy the waters, and 2), a bunch of old fogey's can't conceive of a modern distributed power generation system and reflexively hate anything new especially if it's 'green'.

    Seriously, get over it, get some facts, and move with the times.

    • RedLogix 18.1

      A fine rant, but deeply uninformed.

      As for the so-called small modular reactors, molten salt and thorium designs

      So were solar and wind power … until they were. This isn't an argument, it's an ideological assertion.

      The first solar cells were inefficient, expensive and unreliable. Now they are not. And perovskite based variants promise to get them even closer to their theoretical limits if they can be made durable enough. Same logic applies to SMR’s … anything else is handwaving.

      It's very clear now the easiest approach is to massively overbuilt solar and wind, and store the excess power in many forms e.g. Hydrogen, compressed air, pumped hydro, etc.

      But you omit to mention the extensive land area that must be covered and the substantial resources and environmental costs imposed.

      Unlike you I'm not opposed to renewables in principle, and I'm very aware of the tech progress in the field. Also unlike you I'm literally in between comments building an interesting lithium titanate battery for my own use. Coming down the road are even more exciting developments (there are at least four lithium variants which show huge promise) that will have huge implications for all transport and mobile applications.

      But they will come nowhere near filling in the mass base load a rapidly growing world will need in the next few decades. Ignoring the hard numbers involved is deeply dishonest.

      • nukefacts 18.1.1

        Nice avoiding of the main issue I raised – nuclear is uneconomic everywhere and there's no demand for SMR's.

        This is not ideology, it's simple economics. You seem to imply that renewables have been massively subsidised and therefore so should SMR's to jumpstart them. Well read some actual figures Red – the Nuclear industry has had massive ongoing subsidies since day one, far more in excess of renewables:

        https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/nuclear-power-still-not-viable-without-subsidies

        https://www.taxpayer.net/energy-natural-resources/nuclear-power-subsidies/

        And you miss the main point – despite these colossal subsidies the nuclear industry shows no improvement in build and operate economics whereas renewables have a massive improvement.

        https://thinkprogress.org/does-nuclear-power-have-a-negative-learning-curve-b389ef2de998/

        Even in the example of France, possibly the best regulatory and political regime favouring nuclear power, the economics have worsened over time using standardised reactor designs.

        In contrast, renewables keep improving e.g. see the Bloomberg New Energy Finance report:

        https://cleantechnica.com/2019/10/30/latest-bnef-report-finds-levelized-cost-of-renewables-continues-to-fall/

        And storage is now on a similar learning curve of ever cheaper costs:

        https://rameznaam.com/2014/09/30/the-learning-curve-for-energy-storage/

        You seem to feel that with a wave of a magic subsidy wand SMR's will leap out of factories to take over generation worldwide. Wise up – they are still theoretical, and have totally unproven economics. Just because they are possible doesn't mean they are practical when compared to alternatives.

        You are the one being dishonest here.

        Let's address your other false believe – that we need to blanket the earth in solar and turbines to make a dent. Nope. The NREL estimates to power the entire US using solar would take 0.6% of it's land area and half that could be met using existing roofs.

        https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/2013/08/08/calculating-solar-energys-land-use-footprint/

        I particularly like this quote from the article:

        "One of the takeaways from the Fthenakis study: on a life-cycle electricity-output basis, direct and indirect land impacts for utility-scale PV in the U.S. Southwest are less than the average U.S. power plant using surface-mined coal."

        I seriously suggest you read this to get a sense of how we can scale renewables and have a cheaper more reliable power system:

        https://rameznaam.com/2016/01/31/how-far-can-renewables-go-pretty-darn-far/

        Who's being dishonest now?

        • Andre 18.1.1.1

          In a future world where climate change is taken seriously and adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is unacceptable, what do you think will be powering shipping and long-haul aviation?

          I'm deeply skeptical of hydrogen, because of the low round trip efficiency involved in using energy to split water, then storing the hydrogen, then turning it into useful mechanical energy, the low energy density of hydrogen after you include the vessels needed to store it, and the engineering challenges involved in safely handling large volumes of hydrogen. But if anyone develops practical photocatalytic hydrogen production, that may make it worthwhile overcoming the other engineering challenges.

          So to me, that leaves nukes as a likely choice for shipping, and biofuels for long haul aviation.

          • nukefacts 18.1.1.1.1

            There's a lot of very interesting work on new catalysts for catalysis of water to produce hydrogen (some based on common elements like Iron – I have a chemistry degree btw). I don't think this is going to be a problem in the very near term – overbuilding renewables is so cheap now (less than the fuel cost for coal, and within 1-2 years, gas) that we can have energy to burn to produce hydrogen.

            The issue is more storage of hydrogen – it's volumetric efficiency is quite low for air travel but probably not an issue for long distance shipping. I expect most short distance shipping will become electrified using Lithium Ion battery technology. E.g. check out this:

            https://ww.electrek.co/2019/11/26/electric-ferry-longest-range-saves-tons-co2/#

            Alternatively, excess renewable electricity and hydrogen could be used in the Sabatier process to create methane which is a useful combustable fuel for transport.

            Air travel is a bit of an unknown at present. Biofuels are too environmentally damaging so perhaps that would remain using jet fuel for now.

        • RedLogix 18.1.1.2

          OK I can take that response in good faith.

          What is not well understood by most people is that all solid fuel reactors operate at relatively low temperatures compared say a typical coal boiler. The reactor outlet temperatures have to be constrained to around 450 degC or so. This has an unfortunate implication for the steam turbine the steam is driving … it has to be much bigger and relatively non-standard. In essence they are unique to the nuclear industry and very expensive.

          Up to 85% of the cost of building a nuclear plant is not in the reactor core … it's in the BoP (Balance of Plant), the massive turbines, the cooling towers, the complex and demanding pumping system necessary to keep the core cool, and the highly specific control systems used. Also there is a requirement to shut down and remove waste fuel regularly (when only 4% of the fertile material has been used), it needs to be stored and so on.

          The shortcomings of the old PWR designs have a disproportionate impact on costs everywhere else in the plant. Dramatically so.

          Now let me make one point crystal clear … SMR's is a generic term for a very wide range of designs. I am talking about a specific type called FCMSR (Fast Chloride Molten Salt). Understanding the characteristics of these is central to understanding their economics.

          The key differences to all the prior designs you are pointing to are:

          1. The core is operating at 700 – 900 degC. This means the turbine can be a bog standard off the shelf machine of which there are thousands in the world …. much smaller, and a fraction the price. No huge cooling towers either.

          2. The fuel is molten in the salt, there are no mechanical structures in the core to damage by overheating, therefore decay heat can be safely and passively removed by simple low cost methods

          3. Nothing is pressurised, no massive containment vessel, no fancy and expensive seals, no mission critical pumps, no emergency backup generators, and on and on. The footprint of these MSR designs, watt for watt is less around 15% of the prior generations. This directly correlates to far less steel and concrete.

          4. The core itself is always subcritical, it's energy production is determined entirely by the geometry and temperature of the salt. The fission chain reaction can only happen if the salt is in the core vessel where the geometry allows the relatively poor fast neutron economy to sustain a chain reaction. Put the salt anywhere else and nothing happens. Period.

          5. The salt itself has the excellent property that the chain reaction gets significantly less efficient as it gets hotter. This is called a 'negative void coefficient' and is highly desirable because it means the fission process self-regulates on the physics alone.

          6. Because it's a fast reactor there is no pressurised water or graphite. This fact alone eliminates 90% of the design and maintenance issues with the core. There is no water to turn to steam and react with anything, and no graphite that gets damaged and needs replacing every 4 years or so.

          7. All of the above also hugely reduces the demands on the control system. Modern safety control systems can be readily specified using industry standard systems (and in this I do have significant expertise).

          8. Finally the reactor never needs regular shutdowns to remove spent fuel. Instead the salt can be chemically reprocessed at your leisure after a few decades have passed. Eventually better than 99% of the fissiles are consumed and the resulting waste is relatively trivial to deal with. It also has a dramatically shorter half life of around 100 years.

          All this dramatically changes the economics. The big impact is to reduce the BOP costs (which are by far the dominant component) by an order of magnitude or more. Now include the fact that Ed Pheil projects that his cores can be 'locked up' for 40 years with zero requirement for maintenance, that his fuel costs are essential zero (indeed if you are consuming existing waste you get paid to use it) and the economics have nothing in common with the article you linked to above.

          That link is relevant to the existing generation of PWR/LWR designs, but not to these new designs. Asserting that they're 'not proven' is mere handwaving; every new technology is 'unproven' until someone does the R&D to prove it. The people involved in these new projects have hundreds of years of combined experience in the industry and the modelling tools available these days enable very precise predictions of performance.

          I scanned your link on renewables … it seems to contain quite a lot of 'unproven' claims as well. Nor does it address the really big problem … that solar and wind on the scale necessary are far less safe than even existing nuclear tech, consume substantial resources and have a very real impact on the environment.

          • nukefacts 18.1.1.2.1

            Again until there are production SMR's in operation, these issues are totally unknown. E.g. there are still a lot of fundamental materials science issues that are poorly understood with molten salt reactors due to pressure, temperature and corrosion.

            It's not handwaving in this case. Until a system is actually in production with quantified performance and economics over a long period of time, you simply cannot know what the economics will be. In contrast, renewable technologies have proven performance, a proven manufacturing learning curve, and clear and proven technological developments that have move extremely quickly from R&D into production use and hence provided quantifiable metrics on operational performance e.g. bifacial solar panels.

            SMR's are so much further back on the R&D -> productionisation phase that your assertions cannot be backed up or validated.

            BTW, it's ridiculous to assert that solar and wind are in some way unsafe. How is a totally passive system like solar unsafe? Yes they consume resources, but so does all technology. What's clear though is that solar performs for 40-50 years, which is a remarkable payback in terms of resources in and power out. Sure some wind turbines fail, but come on, compared to coal, gas and even hydro, the 'fatalities' are vanishingly small and likely to all be industry accidents as opposed to the very real fatalities resulting from existing generation technology e.g. ingesting particulate matter from coal plants.

            I also think you belief that nuclear fatalities are almost non-existent is a heroic assumption at best. We know that the authorities in the former USSR did SFA to document the aftermath of Chernobyl e.g. still births, deformed births etc.

            The fact that you assert renewables somehow have a bad fatality record is simply an attempt to skew opinion in favour of your beloved nukes. In absolute and relative terms, fatalities from renewables are almost non-existent and not an inherent part of their form of power generation. What we do know is that existing tech like coal kills people just by operating day to day in burning fuel. Turbines and solar panels don't kill thousands of people worldwide just by running.

            • RedLogix 18.1.1.2.1.1

              I've explained the technology in some detail to you and you choose to ignore it, either because you are not capable or don't want to understand. This is normal; it was me for a very long time.

              I started life working in a Physics Dept, then went on to a career in controls systems in heavy industry. It's exposed me to a lot of engineering and tech over the years. I worked literally hands on with small isotope sources for seven years and this prompted a wider interest. In particular I was always fascinated by events like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Long before even the internet I made an effort to discover what caused them and the human chain of errors that led to them.

              From a systems perspective it became apparent to me that fission reactors as I knew them had at least four serious shortcomings; they depended on maintaining pressure, a flow of coolant to remove decay heat, electricity to keep that flow going, and they only consumed 4% of their fissile fuel load, creating an intractable waste problem.

              Alvin Weinburg one of the key figures in the development of the early industry understood all of this, and more, decades before most of his colleagues. Tasked in 1955 with an ill-conceived program for an nuclear powered bomber he had the remarkable vision and leadership to understand the potential of MSR designs to overcome all of the big shortcomings with the PWR/LWR designs that had become industry standard by that time.

              His advocacy for a better and safer industry eventually saw him removed from the ORNL program by Nixon and the MSR program was defunded abruptly. It was almost lost to history until Kirk Sorensen literally rescued the data from being destroyed in 2000. The remarkable renaissance this one man has initiated changed my mind.

              Maybe this is because I am an engineer, and as a profession ideology is useless to us. For us it either works, or it doesn't. Hard numbers and facts are all that count. When faced with new information we cannot ignore it or it will bite us in the arse very hard.

              E.g. there are still a lot of fundamental materials science issues that are poorly understood with molten salt reactors due to pressure, temperature and corrosion.

              You see I read that and immediately I can tell you have not read nor understood anything. MSR's operate at atmospheric pressure …. the temperatures are standard for coal fired boilers everywhere … and corrosion is absolutely not an issue because they use pure salts, not aqueous solutions. For most proposed applications Hastelloy-N is fully qualified.

              I would answer each of your points in turn, but first I suggest you should read the thread and some of the cites I have offered.

              • nukefacts

                Thanks for the condescending put downs we've come to expect from you Red when challenged by anything. I actually have a Chemistry degree and now work as an IT professional, and have an extensive education in physics, economics, astrophysics and mathematics so fuck you very much for the putdowns, I'm more than capable of understanding it.

                I also used to be a strong advocate for nuclear power many years ago but change my opinion based on the poor economics, changes in renewable economics, and persistent appalling behaviour of the nuclear industry in lying about operational problems with reactors and cavalier approach to handling waste.

                Do you realise that fluorine is highly reactive and corrosive with many metals? Sure you can dope a fluorine molten salt reactor with beryllium but that's pretty toxic which complicates fuel handling and raises the cost.

                You persistently fail to address the economic argument, which is a common issue for engineers. I know a great many of them, and they totally don't understand economics – it's a built it and they will come mentality.

                You believe that the technology is viable, which I don't doubt. I believe it won't be implemented in an economic way without massive subsidies, which you seem unable to understand or accept, or even debate. I also believe renewables can remove the need for nuclear entirely, over time, but you also don't want to debate.

                We fundamentally disagree on this and as you have now resorted to rudeness, there's no point continuing debating the issue.

            • RedLogix 18.1.1.2.1.2

              Oh and you also make the mistake of claiming that MSR designs are 'unproven'. That flies in the face of the fact that over 50 years ago ORNL actually ran their relatively primitive, experimental reactor for seven years straight. The exact opposite of 'unproven'.

              As for safety … again the data is different to what you imagine.

              The Chernobyl event relates to a Soviet design that would never have been licensed in the West, it remains an absolute outlier, worst case event. As for the consequences, they have been subject of numerous international studies since. I won’t go off topic here because Chernobyl has no relevance to the modern MSR designs I am advocating for. Besides whatever death rate you want to propose for Chernobyl, it’s dwarfed by the millions of lives that have been saved by nuclear power by substituting for coal power.

  19. feijoa 19

    Over the years I have seen a number of articles pop up in the NZ media about how nuclear is the best thing since sliced bread for NZ. Then it all goes quiet again for a few years.

    And then it appears again like now.

    Call me cynical, but I think someone or an organisation with vested interests is behind all this.

  20. I wouldn't worry about nuclear power plants in NZ, It just won't happen, but if ever the argument does take place, the question about costs of decommissioning (and who pays for it) should be high on everyone's list of questions along with safety concerns about building them on the ring of fire.

    Whereas Germany has set aside €38 billion to decommission 17 nuclear reactors, and the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estimates that clean-up of UK’s 17 nuclear sites will cost between €109‒250 billion over the next 120 years, France has set aside only €23 billion to decommissioning its 58 reactors.

    https://energypost.eu/how-much-will-it-really-cost-to-decommission-the-aging-french-nuclear-fleet/

    The Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Rowe, Massachusetts, took 15 years to decommission—or five times longer than was needed to build it. And decommissioning the plant—constructed early in the 1960s for $39 million—cost $608 million. The plant’s spent fuel rods are still stored in a facility on-site, because there is no permanent disposal repository to put them in. To monitor them and make sure the material does not fall into the hands of terrorists or spill into the nearby river costs $8 million per year. That cost will continue for an unknown number of years. David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that even without the ongoing costs of monitoring and security, the average reactor now costs about $500 million to deactivate.

    https://thebulletin.org/2014/04/the-rising-cost-of-decommissioning-a-nuclear-power-plant/

    • RedLogix 20.1

      All good information; but no-one is proposing to build new reactors like the ones you are referring to anymore.

      Because MSR's burn 99% of their fuel they simply do not have the waste and decommissioning issues that designs from the last century did.

      If you are going to reply to this, please don't recycle out of date ideas back to me, I used to believe them all myself. Read the link first.

    • Andre 20.2

      Land based nukes won't happen in NZ anytime in the next few decades, for cost reasons. We've got such an abundance of cheap renewables resource we just won't need them.

      But we might need to get used to the idea that the ships bringing stuff here and taking our stuff away might be nuke-powered.

      Then a long way away down the timeline in that potential universe, it may get to the point where small modular reactors drop low enough in price (due to mass-production for shipping) that an industry that needs a lot of power at a point, say for something like a new cement plant, may find it cheaper to install a small nuke than pay for the grid connection.

      • The Al1en 20.2.1

        1. Agree, and ignorant as I am, I'd rather see a skyline of windmills and a plethora of geo thermal plants which can be safely and relatively cheaply removed if and when safe green, tech is available to replace them.

        2. Probably won't happen until the oil is nearly all gone, and even then there would probably be restrictions as to where they travelled in our waters and at what ports they could use, but that's still different to spending hundreds of millions of dollars to grow your own.

        3. Imagine that. I don't trust most companies with health and safety of their workers, I mean, look at the number of workers killed or maimed on the job as it is. Last thing we need are a bunch of Homer Simpsons on every industrial estate in the country.

  21. No need to recycle any out of date ideas as I'm quietly confident, ill informed or otherwise, there will always be more people like me than you in NZ.

    • RedLogix 21.1

      So you didn't read the link obviously. Pontificating in both ignorance and denial of the science has a name …

      It’s quite interesting to see so many people here who claim to be concerned about climate change, which poses a well understood and dramatic hazard to human welfare … all run like frightened children from a nuclear solution that would solve climate change at an tiny, tiny fraction of the risk.

      I’m beginning to think the conservatives were right all along … some lefties really don’t give a fuck about the environment … it was merely the chance to have an ideological bash at capitalism which was the true motive behind climate change activism. But I may be ‘ill-informed’, who knows?

      • The Al1en 21.1.1

        I don't need to read it, I'm just waiting for a referendum to vote on it, knowing my vote against will cancel out yours.

        Don’t believe the spin on thorium being a greener nuclear option

        https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jun/23/thorium-nuclear-uranium

      • Incognito 21.1.2

        I don’t think that “some lefties really don’t give a fuck about the environment” when they don’t want to go anywhere nuclear energy generation because of their fear of all and anything nuclear. As you have said yourself, it is an irrational fear. You should see the fear in the eyes of people when they see that yellow-black symbol for radioactive materials and X-ray radiation, even at airport scanners, for example. If only they were to respect UV-radiation the same way then we might see a lower incidence of melanoma in this country. Rational discussion has its limits; it is a fact of life.

        • The Al1en 21.1.2.1

          Maybe, in a country like ours where renewable energy is plentiful, some lefties do care enough about the environment to not want to add to the already substantial amount of toxic waste by creating more of a different type.

          From the guardian link above @ 21.1.1

          “All other issues aside, thorium is still nuclear energy, say environmentalists, its reactors disgorging the same toxic byproducts and fissile waste with the same millennial half-lives. Oliver Tickell, author of Kyoto2, says the fission materials produced from thorium are of a different spectrum to those from uranium-235, but 'include many dangerous-to-health alpha and beta emitters'.

          Tickell says thorium reactors would not reduce the volume of waste from uranium reactors. 'It will create a whole new volume of radioactive waste from previously radio-inert thorium, on top of the waste from uranium reactors. Looked at in these terms, it's a way of multiplying the volume of radioactive waste humanity can create several times over."

          • Incognito 21.1.2.1.1

            I don’t know anything about Thorium reactors.

            Not all waste is the same as not all radioactive nuclides are the same and decay in the same way. Some have very long half-lives (e.g. Carbon-14, which you have in your body).

            Not all radiation/radioactivity is the same. Alpha and beta particles are charged and can be relatively easily shielded.

            With the world population rapidly approaching 8 billion, energy consumption is going up and up.

            The fear factor is huge in the debate on nuclear energy and may cloud our decisions and choices. However, we live in a relatively free world still and we still have enough energy, for now …

            • The Al1en 21.1.2.1.1.1

              Well it's not a fear factor in this debate, it's just the majority don't want it or see a need for it when we're already so close to being 100% renewable. Whether it will be in the future, who knows? But I believe for this majority, for whatever reasons, now is definitely not the time for NZ, if ever.

              • RedLogix

                For NZ I agree. If you look upthread you will see I anticipate these next gen machines being first used in developing nations with massive energy growth coming online.

                NZ with it's current population doesn't need them; nowhere am I advocating that. But climate change is not a NZ problem, it's global and that's the context I am talking about.

              • Incognito

                In short: you don’t want nuclear energy here in NZ because we do not need it here. End of debate, yes?

                • The Al1en

                  Not so short. Not just because we don't need it here but also because the risk in having it outweigh the benefits, the dollar cost immense, and the majority don't want it.

                  But yeah, end of debate, for now. Maybe when it gets to a ballot box we’ll try again, but I can’t see it happening in our lifetimes.

                  • Incognito

                    Ok, thanks, we’ll leave it at that because as soon as you start to include risk you cannot avoid fear IMHO.

            • Richard 21.1.2.1.1.2

              "…and we still have enough energy, for now …"

              I would argue that we don't have enough energy for now. If we did, we would already be recycling everything including digging up and recycling our existing landfills. We could be desalinating sea water so as to not take from the land. The underlying cost of energy (which is really the limiting factor on anything we need to do infrastructure-wise) is too great to do these things because we don't have enough of it. We need much much more energy to begin to seriously reduce our footprint in every sense. Who knows what else could be achieved in an energy rich environment that currently seems impossible.

              • Incognito

                With “footprint”, you don’t limit this to GHG, do you? You mean our overall footprint on this planet and its atmosphere, correct?

                • Richard

                  Yes. By 'footprint', I mean the drain on all planetary resources and not just the production of GHG. It is only with vastly more clean energy that this can be achieved. To take the pressure off the natural environment, almost everyone will need to be concentrated in cities. Every resource we use will need to be recycled. The cost of energy (the underlying cost of the economy) needs to drop drastically to enable this. The danger is of course that even with a 'magic bullet' energy source, it is brought online only in amounts to keep pace with the BAU economy (investors maximizing their returns). IMO, the state needs to own energy production to break this constraint. Countries with no current nuclear industry have the opportunity to be the only player in new nuclear. Somewhere further up this thread, the need for state subsidies has been presented as a negative. It's not a negative if the state owns the whole thing.

                  • RedLogix

                    Love it! Someone else who gets it … many thanks yes

                  • Incognito

                    Ta

                    That scenario, if you like, suggests an almost total and absolute separation and distinction between people and Nature. It sounds like we are being turfed from the Garden of Eden for a second time but this time we are the bouncer or Expulsator.

                    I confess that I struggle with this and do not like it.

                    • Richard

                      "I confess that I struggle with this and do not like it."

                      Well then, let us put to one side for now where people will live. I apologize for going a little off-point with that.

                      I would value your opinion on my main point though. That being, that the key to having less impact on the natural environment is an order of magnitude increase in energy production (all clean energy of course). I don't see that being achievable using just the currently accepted forms of renewables (damming all the rivers, lining every ridge-line with windmills etc). I think that the small modular fission reactors RedLogix has described on this thread, can provide the opportunity to make this a reality.

                    • RedLogix

                      That scenario, if you like, suggests an almost total and absolute separation and distinction between people and Nature.

                      Superficially I can see how it looks like that. But living in cities doesn't necessarily imply separation from Nature. It's my observation that city dwellers often highly value the natural world, and take every chance to visit it.

                      For instance most of the keenest trampers I ever met lived and worked in the city, but most absolutely treasured the wild places and sought strenuously to protect them if they could.

                      For me climate change becomes personal when I see how a warming climate has trashed all the Southern Alp glaciers I once walked on in my 20’s.

                    • pat

                      @ Richard

                      It is true carbon free energy production (in its operation) will be critical to cleaning up the mess we have made of our environment and necessary to support any population above pre industrial revolution level but the crucial factor (as usual) is time…and sadly the likelyhood of MSR reactors being sufficiently available in the required timeframe is about nil….that is not to say that the attempt should not be made but it should not be relied upon to deliver….therefore we must proceed as if it does not exist, for as of now it does not

          • RedLogix 21.1.2.1.2

            If you read the thread you will see quite plainly I am not promoting thorium as the magic bullet. Used in a standard thermal spectrum, water moderated, solid fuel reactor it has only some modest advantages over uranium. Primarily the abundance and low cost of the fuel, but not much else.

            The FCMSR (Fast Chloride Molten Salt Reactor) I am discussing here is something quite different. Here is Ed Pheil giving a reasonably brief presentation. It's only 23 min but it hits all the important points without getting too bogged down in the nuclear physics:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ou_xswB2b0&

        • Andre 21.1.2.2

          Couple of good essays on the fear of nuclear power and how it developed.

          https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2011/apr/04/fear-nuclear-power-fukushima-risks

          https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-rise-of-nuclear-fear-how-we-learned-to-fear-the-bomb/

          Personally, I've gone right off of Greenpeace for their contribution to the wildly irrational overblown fear of nukes. Along with their absolutist opposition to anything that fits their faith-based irrational definitions of what is a GMO.

          • Psycho Milt 21.1.2.2.1

            I'm pretty sure those two things are related. Can't prove it, but it sure feels like it.

          • Poission 21.1.2.2.2

            Along with their absolutist opposition to anything that fits their faith-based irrational definitions of what is a GMO.

            GMO is a different argument,as you cannot formulate risk a priori. A significant problem in probability forecasting.

            Even say with simple rules in cellular automata,randomness seems to appear.Why being the 30k question to rule 30.

            Nice problem from Stephen Wolfram here.

            https://www.wolframscience.com/nks/p23–how-do-simple-programs-behave/

            • RedLogix 21.1.2.2.2.1

              Thanks I enjoyed that. I'm not a real mathematician's little finger but when well presented like that it can be deeply satisfying.

              Three years ago I was struggling with stabilising the controls of a relatively simple hydrocyclone separating cluster. Nothing I did would get rid of apparently random pressure and flow variations; it was of course all my fault as it was causing bloody hell for the poor bastards on the process floor who had to clean up the resulting mess.

              Eventually I persuaded the senior process engineer that there was something unexpected going on in his piping design. A bit of late night tossing ideas about, some genius tradie welding and we modified the feed pipe just enough to get rid of the randomness. There was no deteministic reason why our change made the difference … it just damn well did.

              I still got the blame for the downtime it took to fix it 🙂 Sighs … big projects for you.

              • Poission

                Very clever mathematicians like SW have the ability to communicate (by reduction) the well posed problems succinctly.

                A good example with the well known (but poorly advertised) problems in fluid mechanics being that the equations are phenomenological (and not fundamental) hence admit infinite solutions.

                Gallavotti introduction is a fine example to the constraints that are implied with fluid dynamics.

                http://fma.if.usp.br/~eabdalla/exacta/000m2.pdf

          • RedLogix 21.1.2.2.3

            Thanks, that first essay by Dr Melanie Windridge essentially hits all the points I've been making all day. I could have saved myself a lot of typing …

            We are in a critical situation. The threat of climate change is much greater than the threat of radiation, but no one is scared of carbon dioxide.

            • Ad 21.1.2.2.3.1

              Programming maths AND nuclear energy generation science?

              This must surely be the biggest solid geek-out on The Standard ever.

  22. Rocco Siffredi 22

    " Three Mile Island partially melted down and caused significant adverse health effects to local residents."

    Your link contains the following quote….

    "A variety of epidemiology studies have concluded that the accident had no observable long term health effects"

    • RedLogix 22.1

      I've read your wiki cite thank you. The whole thing says a lot more than you infer.

      • Rocco Siffredi 22.1.1

        The link was provided to support the assertion that "caused significant adverse health effects to local residents."

        When you read it, there it is a very mixed bag. A lot of research indicates there was very little health impact, and there is some research that indicates more impact.

        "The health effects of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident are widely, but not universally, agreed to be very low."

        That doesn't really support the claim there were significant health impacts.

        • RedLogix 22.1.1.1

          Oh I see now. I made a mistake and omitted the negation. I meant to say 'no significant health impacts'. Thanks for picking that up.

          I'm often typing quite fast and prone to errors of grammar like that. surprise

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