Nuclear power discussion thread

by Judith Curry

THE LIGHTS ARE not going off all over Japan, but the nuclear power plants are. Of the 54 reactors in those plants, with a combined capacity of 47.5 gigawatts (GW, a thousand megawatts), only two are operating today. A good dozen are unlikely ever to reopen . . .  (from the Economist)

The one year anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown has stimulated a number of analyses of the future of nuclear power.

Economist

The Economist has an post entitled The Dream That Failed, with subtitle “A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright – for reasons of cost as much as safety.”  This is from a longer report with the same title.

Some excerpts:

Looking at nuclear power 26 years ago, this newspaper observed that the way forward for a somewhat moribund nuclear industry was “to get plenty of nuclear plants built, and then to accumulate, year after year, a record of no deaths, no serious accidents—and no dispute that the result is cheaper energy.” It was a fair assessment; but our conclusion that the industry was “safe as a chocolate factory” proved something of a hostage to fortune. Less than a month later one of the reactors at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine ran out of control and exploded, killing the workers there at the time and some of those sent in to clean up afterwards, spreading contamination far and wide, leaving a swathe of countryside uninhabitable and tens of thousands banished from their homes. The harm done by radiation remains unknown to this day; the stress and anguish of the displaced has been plain to see.

Then, 25 years later, when enough time had passed for some to be talking of a “nuclear renaissance”, it happened again (see article). The bureaucrats, politicians and industrialists of what has been called Japan’s “nuclear village” were not unaccountable apparatchiks in a decaying authoritarian state like those that bore the guilt of Chernobyl; they had responsibilities to voters, to shareholders, to society. And still they allowed their enthusiasm for nuclear power to shelter weak regulation, safety systems that failed to work and a culpable ignorance of the tectonic risks the reactors faced, all the while blithely promulgating a myth of nuclear safety.

Not all democracies do things so poorly. But nuclear power is about to become less and less a creature of democracies. The biggest investment in it on the horizon is in China—not because China is taking a great bet on nuclear, but because even a modest level of interest in such a huge economy is big by the standards of almost everyone else. China’s regulatory system is likely to be overhauled in response to Fukushima. Some of its new plants are of the most modern, and purportedly safest, design. But safety requires more than good engineering. It takes independent regulation, and a meticulous, self-critical safety culture that endlessly searches for risks it might have missed. These are not things that China (or Russia, which also plans to build a fair few plants) has yet shown it can provide.

In any country independent regulation is harder when the industry being regulated exists largely by government fiat. Yet, as our special report this week explains, without governments private companies would simply not choose to build nuclear-power plants. This is in part because of the risks they face from local opposition and changes in government policy (seeing Germany’s nuclear-power stations, which the government had until then seen as safe, shut down after Fukushima sent a chilling message to the industry). But it is mostly because reactors are very expensive indeed. Lower capital costs once claimed for modern post-Chernobyl designs have not materialised. The few new reactors being built in Europe are far over their already big budgets. And in America, home to the world’s largest nuclear fleet, shale gas has slashed the costs of one of the alternatives; new nuclear plants are likely only in still-regulated electricity markets such as those of the south-east.

Brave New Climate

Brave New Climate takes issue with Economist article in a post entitled How realistic is The Economist’s cool view of nuclear power?  Some excerpts:

An economic victory for nuclear will have to come (if it does come within the next 50 years) from an ever increasing focus on standardised designs and their accompanying construction and operating licences, modular components or fully modular units with integrated passive safety systems, some considerable learning experience from building multiple reactors of the same design, and cooperative government-commercial financing, among other factors. This is starting to become a reality in Asian countries like China and South Korea (based on AP1000, APR-1400 and related Generation III+ designs), although the end result remains far from clear. At present, in most countries, however, fossil fuels still rule.

In 2010 the world’s installed renewable electricity capacity outstripped its nuclear capacity for the first time. That does not mean that the world got as much energy from renewables as from nuclear; reactors run at up to 93% of their stated capacity whereas wind and solar tend to be closer to 20%. Renewables are intermittent and take up a lot of space: generating a gigawatt of electricity with wind takes hundreds of square kilometres, whereas a nuclear reactor with the same capacity will fit into a large industrial building. That may limit the contribution renewables can ultimately make to energy supply. Unsubsidised renewables can currently displace fossil fuels only in special circumstances. But nuclear energy, which has received large subsidies in the past, has not displaced much in the way of fossil fuels either. And nuclear is getting more expensive whereas renewables are getting cheaper.

In this statement, Morton correctly identifies some of the key limitations facing large-scale non-hydro renewables — intermittency and unsubsidised cost. But he wholly fails to explain what the implications of the variability problem is (the need for overbuild of generation capacity and expensive/unfeasible large-scale energy storage), nor whether, if an effort is made to deal practically with these problems in real national electricity grids, the ‘increasingly cheaper’ renewables will ever become cheap enough (when all relevant real-world factors are considered) and reliable enough (without natural gas ‘backup’), to actually substitute for and displace fossil fuels (or nuclear) at the scale required.

The Economist concludes with the following:

In the energy world, nuclear has found its place nourishing technophile establishments like the “nuclear village” of vendors, bureaucrats, regulators and utilities in Japan whose lack of transparency and accountability did much to pave the way for Fukushima and the distrust that has followed in its wake. These political settings govern and limit what nuclear power can achieve.

There is truth in this statement. But equally, there is much missing from it. Political and social settings of the future will be governed by a mix of energy-price, energy-security and climate-change-mitigation realities that MUST be faced. Fossil fuels have to be replaced. Energy costs from fossil fuels will rise as demand continues to increase, and supply — especially from conventional sources — declines and becomes increasingly regionally concentrated.

WSJ

WSJ has two relevant articles:

Fukushima and the future of nuclear power, subtitle There’s no evidence that low doses of radiation are harmful and no reason to paralyze our economy out of fear of nuclear power. 

So far there have been zero fatalities or adverse health effects from radiation exposure at Fukushima. All the damage has been from depression, despair and even suicide among the 100,000 people who have been evacuated from their homes within a 12-mile radius.

Some of these people are even being shunned in their new locales under the bizarre supposition that they constitute a radioactive danger. Yet as Ted Rockwell, one of the most notable veterans of the Manhattan Project, points out, people around the world live with radiation levels much higher than is present in the evacuation zone without showing any ill effects. 

The etiology of radiation-related disease is well-known. Radiation can cause DNA damage but the body has repair mechanisms to deal with it. Last December scientists at Berkeley made microscopic videotapes of these cellular repair sites in action. “Our data show that at lower doses of ionizing radiation, DNA repair mechanisms work much better than at higher doses,” wrote Mina Bissell, a world-renowned breast cancer researcher who co-authored the report. “This non-linear DNA damage response casts doubt on the general assumption that any amount of ionizing radiation is harmful and additive.”

Other researchers speculate that low radiation doses may immunize the body against cancer and birth defects by stimulating these repair mechanisms into greater responsiveness, just as vaccines stimulate the immune system. That would explain the low cancer rates in Taiwan.

As long as government agencies around the world continue to operate under the premise that even the smallest exposures to ionizing radiation can be harmful, Germany and Japan will go on dismembering their economies while countries such as the U.S. attempt to straddle the widening gap between outlawed coal and a renewables future whose promise now appears greatly exaggerated.

Taking a clear-eyed look at the actual dangers of nuclear energy seems like a much more sensible course.

From the article Cheap natural gas unplugs U.S. nuclear power revival:

The U.S. nuclear industry seemed to be staging a comeback several years ago, with 15 power companies proposing as many as 29 new reactors. Today, only two projects are moving off the drawing board.

What killed the revival wasn’t last year’s nuclear accident in Japan, nor was it a soft economy that dented demand for electricity. Rather, a shale-gas boom flooded the U.S. market with cheap natural gas, offering utilities a cheaper, less risky alternative to nuclear technology.

“It’s killed off new coal and now it’s killing off new nuclear,” says David Crane, chief executive of NRG Energy Inc.

Power Mag

Power has an article on actions being undertaken by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement 7 safety regulations based upon lessons learned from Fukushima:

  • The NRC require licensees to reevaluate and upgrade as necessary design-basis seismic and flooding protection of structure, systems and components for each reactor in operation
  • The NRC require licencees to perform seismic and flood protection walkdowns to identify and address plant-specific vulnerabilities and adequacy of monitoring and maintenance for protection features.  
  • The NRC order licensees to provide reasonable protection of equipment fro effects of design-basis external events.  
  • The NRC strengthen station blackout mitigation capability at all operating and new reactors for design-basis and beyond-design-basis external events
  • The NRC strengthen and integrate onsite emergence response capabilities such as emergency operating procedures and severe accident managemetn guidelines
  • The NRC require facility emergency plans to address prolonged station blackout and multiunit events

Michael Lemonick

Michael Lemonick has an article at Climate Central entitled No Nukes? Only if You Believe in Magic. Some excerpts:

Nuclear power involves big risks, as Fukushima and Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have all demonstrated. Anyone who touts it as yet another magic answer to climate change is kidding himself or herself. It’s not cheap and it’s not perfectly safe. But then, neither is coal, which has killed uncounted numbers of people through respiratory disease and mine disasters, and which hasravaged the environment in Appalachia. “Clean coal,” in which carbon has beenstripped from plant exhaust and pumped underground only solves part of that problem — and it, like many other magic solutions, is only in the earliest stages of development.

So while nukes have plenty of issues, it might be premature, albeit understandable, to rule them out as part of the climate solution. They have plenty of safety issues, and they’re hellishly expensive to build, but engineers are working on safer, cheaper nuclear plants.

I wish we didn’t have to think about nuclear power as a viable option for the future. Magic would be much nicer.

But I don’t believe in magic.

 JC comment:  I’ve tried to assemble articles that present a variety of perspectives on this complex subject.  Here’s to hoping for safer, cheaper nuclear plants.

260 responses to “Nuclear power discussion thread

  1. Nuke is dead and so it’ll remain as long as there’s radiationphobia. 1kg = 100,000kg oil and we should’ve had by now portable nuclear generators, instead of waiting for behemoths that will fight years to be built after years.to be authorized, and will simply litter the landscape for centuries to come.

    • “Nuke is dead” - not - for anyone who grasps the meaning of E = mc^2, and the simple fact that almost the entire mass of each atom is in its nucleus.

      If civilization survives, we will return to the nucleus because that is where energy is stored.

      Energy from neutron repulsion is stored as rest mass in the centers of heavy atomic nuclei (A> ~150 amu), ordinary stars, and galaxies. [This may be the source of excess heat from Jupiter (Dr. Marvin Herndon)]
      http://dl.dropbox.com/u/10640850/Neutron_repulsion.pdf

      Nuclear reactors were operating here before mankind arrived,
      http://www.springerlink.com/content/n556224311414604/

      We can use that energy source safely, if politicians and scientists start working for the people instead of for short-term personal gain.

      With kind regards,
      Oliver K. Manuel
      Former NASA Principal
      Investigator for Apollo
      http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/

      • We have no viable energy program today because world leaders secretly agreed in ~1971 to obscure information on the nuclear energy that is stored as rest mass in centers of heavy nuclei (A > 150 amu), planets (?), ordinary stars, and galaxies.

        http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/

        Leaders of the scientific community – like John Holdren, Ralph Cicerone, Steven Chu, Lisa Jackson, and Charles Bolden – refuse to address and continue to ignore the ienergy recorded in rest mass data of every atom:

        http://www.omatumr.com/Data/2000Data.htm

      • Oliver,

        You wrote “neutron repulsion.” You mean “proton repulsion,” don’t you? The point goes back to Lise Meitner’s and Otto Frisch’s original calculation that explained the discovery of fission.

        Dave Miller, Ph.D. in physics (Stanford, 1983)

      • No, David, I meant neutron repulsion. That is the form of energy that powers the universe as it expands and fills interstellar space with H and He [1].

        The Sun produces H and He too, and discharges it in generating the energy that sustains life on planet Earth.

        The entire universe consists of two forms (compacted or nuclear) and (expanded or atomic) of one fundamental particle [2]:

        The Neutron Hydrogen atom (p+ and e-)
        _Compacted Expanded

        Charge separation occurs when a neutron decays. Coulomb repulsion is only important in the expanded (atomic) form of matter.

        Neutron repulsion is the dominant energy source of the compacted matter at the centers of:

        _a.) Heavy nuclei (A >150 amu);
        _b.) Planets (Herndon et al [3]);
        _c.) Stars like the Sun; and
        _d.) Galaxies!

        Structure, stability and reactions of compact matter are determined by interactions between nucleons (n and p+). That is why:

        _a.) Lightest nuclei (A 150 amu) have neutron-rich cores and increasing instability up to A = 209, the heaviest stable nucleus.

        A Hungarian scientist solved the mystery of Earth’s heat source in late 1977 [4] but disappeared. I only recently heard of his work.

        http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/

        REFERENCES:
        1. O. Manuel, “Neutron repulsion,” The Apeiron J., in press (2012)
        http://dl.dropbox.com/u/10640850/Neutron_repulsion.pdf

        2. O. Manuel “Is the universe expanding?” J. Cosmology 13, 4187-4190 (2011).
        http://journalofcosmology.com/BigBang102.html

        3. J. M. Herndon, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 93, 646 (1996); P. J. Valbracht et al Earth and Planet. Sci. Lett. 144, 185 (1996); D. F. Hollenbach and J. M. Herndon, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 98, 11085 (2001); “Are there nuclear reactors at Earth’s core?”, Nature 15 Many 2008: http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080515/full/news.2008.822.html

        4. Peter Toth, “Is the Sun a pulsar?”Nature 270, 159 (1977).
        http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v270/n5633/abs/270159a0.html

      • Never give up!

        The entire universe consists of two forms (compacted or nuclear) and (expanded or atomic) of one fundamental particle [2]:

        The Neutron; The Hydrogen atom (p+ and e-)
        _Compacted; The Expanded atomic form of matter

      • I just received information on another report of the Sun’s pulsar core:

        V.A. Kotov, “A pulsar inside the Sun?” Radiophysics and Quantum Electronics 39, 811-814 (1996).
        http://www.springerlink.com/content/j549440457107v36/

        The Crimean observation of solar oscillations in 1974–1982 showed that the basic period of pulsation of the Sun hidden in its deep interior was equal to P 0=160.0101±0.0001min. More recently, the period was changed to the new value P 1=159.9662±0.0006min, which almost coincided with the annual sidelobe of the former period P 0. The amplitude of the P1 oscillation has increased considerably over 1994–1995. We substantiate the hypothesis that a) the change in the period was caused by the interaction of the P0 oscillation with the rapid rotation of the solar core and that b) the latter has the form of a compact, highly magnetized object like a neutron star rotating with sidereal period P1.

        Translated from Izvestiya Vysshikh Uchebnykh Zavedenii, Radiofizika 39, no. 10, pp. 1210–1214 (October 1996).

        PS – Typo correction on my post above:

        The entire universe consists of two forms (compacted or nuclear) and (expanded or atomic) of one fundamental particle [2]:

        The Neutron; The Hydrogen atom (p+ and e-)
        _Compacted; The Expanded, atomic form of matter

      • The United States cannot possibly develop a reliable energy policy while leaders of our scientific community ignore the most powerful source of energy known:

        Neutron repulsion in the cores of:

        a.) Heavy atoms (A>150 amu)
        b.) Fluid planets like Jupiter
        c.) Ordinary stars, and
        d.) Galaxies

        http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about

      • David Springer

        Nuclear isn’t necessarily dead but it’s definitely a means of last resort. It’s twice as expensive as combined cycle natural gas and 50% more expensive than conventional coal. Adding insult to injury electricity, even were it free to produce at centralized generation facilities, cannot practically replace liquid hydrocarbon fuels for lack of distribution capacity to local consumption and lack of storage capacity for transportation.

        It’s a solution to a problem that generally doesn’t exist in other words.

        If reactors could be made portable enough so every berg and hamlet could have one of its own and the energy produced could compete pricewise with oil and gas then things would be different. But the fact of the matter is that Japan’s need for nuclear power is arguably greater than that of any other industrialized nation on the planet. Japan imports some 85% of its fuels including the uranium fuels for its nuclear power plants. Nuclear power in Japan by percentage of total electrical power is only the 15th highest in the world. France makes them look sick in comparison and the United States which has vast reserves of natural gas for electricity at half the price has close to equal percentage of nuclear power generation.

        So Japan has this huge need for nuclear power and for at least the last few decades has world-class scientists and engineers capable of improving upon current generation reactors yet the result in more practical, more economical nukes is exactly bupkis. This is as good as it gets for nukes until such time as something economically superior to stainless steel is invented for making the pumps and plumbing required of reactors. There is no such material on the horizon. The combination of requirements in strength, ductility, corrosion resistance, no embrittlement in high neutron fluxes, and economical to produce is an intractible problem (or for climate boffins it’s a super wicked mess).

        So nuclear isn’t strictly dead but this is as good as it’s likely going to get.

    • John from CA

      LOL, the principal issue, every plant created will be decommissioned in 50 years.

      We would need to build a plant a day forever to keep up with demand. Its a dead end to meet global demand but has it’s regional benefits if properly defined.

      Climate Scientists and related goofs have NO business chatting in this realm.

      • Look at Thorium reactors instead.

      • David Springer

        Thorium reactors are even less economical to operate due to moderators far more corrosive than hot water.

        You see nukes are expensive because they are hell on the materials used for containment and plumbing. Thus they have to be inspected on a schedule that makes a commercial airliner look like a low maintenance machine in comparison. And unlike an airliner you can’t just go waltzing up to it because the bits needing inspection are so radioactive you’d be dead meat before you could say ‘Kirk to Enterprise: Beam me up Scotty I’m melting”.

        There are very good reasons why the promise of nuclear power made by proponents in 1960s (virtually free energy) didn’t come to pass and those reasons are technical in nature not political and not for lack of trying so solve the technical problems.

      • Doug Badgero

        “You see nukes are expensive because they are hell on the materials used for containment and plumbing. Thus they have to be inspected on a schedule that makes a commercial airliner look like a low maintenance machine in comparison. And unlike an airliner you can’t just go waltzing up to it because the bits needing inspection are so radioactive you’d be dead meat before you could say ‘Kirk to Enterprise: Beam me up Scotty I’m melting”.

        Wrong, these costs are all rolled into fixed and variable operating costs. A nukes total operating cost is lower than nearly every other source of power. Once again, they cost a lot to build and are cheap to operate. Operating cost INCLUDES these tests and inspections that you claim are costly and dangerous. You don’t know what you are talking about.

      • Doug Badgero, how come your crowd never get to the bottom where the line is?

        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/21/science/earth/as-nuclear-reactors-age-funds-to-close-them-lag.html?_r=1&ref=nuclearregulatorycommission

        A penny for your ideas.

      • Doug Badgero

        “Doug Badgero, how come your crowd never get to the bottom where the line is?”

        Yes, the 10-15% of plants that may not have saved enough for decommisioning costs is tragic. Of course, since most of those plants will likely have an additional 20 years to accumulate decom funds I am not sure it is quite the tragedy you claim. Wanna talk about the 30+ billion the government has been paid by nuclear utilities to deal with high level waste next?

      • Climate Scientists and related goofs have NO business chatting in this realm.

        So being neither a climate scientist nor a related goof qualifies you to chat in this area then?

      • Certainly we have learned from Ehrlich and Schneider to not trust scientists demanding great policy or moral authority?

      • Nuclear energy can be used, if politicians and scientists start working for the people instead of short-term personal gain.

        The waste can be encapsulated and used – as the concentrated energy source that it is – to generate energy, instead of storing it in barrels or hiding it underground for future generations to deal with.

        We cannot possible develop an energy policy that works for the public, if leaders of the scientific community – like John Holdren, Ralph Cicerone, Steven Chu, Lisa Jackson, and Charles Bolden – continue to ignore and refuse to discuss the information recorded in nuclear rest data that were published in numerous peer-reviewed articles* and on the front cover of the ACS Symposium Noble Laureate Glenn T. Seaborg and I organized in 1999: http://tinyurl.com/3yvexl

        I encourage them personally, or their army of tax-supported scientists, to address the data here, in the “Neutron Repulsion Group”, or in research journals so this country can formulate a realistic energy policy.

        With kind regards,
        Oliver K. Manuel
        Emeritus Professor
        Nuclear & Space Sciences
        *http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/

    • The English gave up the race, mesmerized and hypnotized by windmills, the Germans were bamboozled by AtKrafNeiDanks and deceived by mirages of renewables, the Russians are shamed by their past, the French, like cats, want in and out au meme temps, the Japanese are shocked into doubt, the Americans faint politically and legally hearted, and the Chinese and the Indians look into the future with optimism re: fission power.
      ===============

      • David Springer

        Or maybe there’s no there there.

      • The English are quite keen on new nuclear power stations, the Scots however are not so keen.

        “In October 2010 the British Government gave the go-ahead for the construction of up to eight new nuclear power plants.[3] However the Scottish Government, with the backing of the Scottish Parliament, has stated that no new nuclear power stations will be constructed in Scotland.[4][5]”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_the_United_Kingdom

        It bugs me when people invent their own facts when they are so easy to check.

  2. Lynas, Monbiot, Pearce et al chimed in on this very subject less than a week ago. Rejecting nuclear is not a viable option if you want to reduce emissions.

  3. I’ve tried to assemble articles that *****prevent***** a variety of perspectives on this complex subject. (present, I hope :) )

  4. Low level radiation is good for us. Life developed in much higher radiation fields. Unfortunately the linear-no-threshold model (bad science, like climate science) was accepted as the consensus, even though there is no evidence supporting it, and the rest is history.

    • Yes, Steeptown, you are precisely correct. Good.

      • The best radiation level for life on earth is higher than we have now. The Best CO2 level for life on earth is higher than we have now. The best temperature level for life on earth is, well, that depends on where you live and what you want to do. It is very clear that more like it hot than cold. Compare the population in Alaska to Mexico. When the earth warms, people expand northward. When the earth cools, people die.

    • Doug Badgero

      First in the interest of full disclosure:
      I work for AEP at their lone nuclear site, but speak only for myself. I have worked there for about 22 years in Operations, Training, and Engineering.

      I would actually be a little easier on those that adopted the LNT model. It was adopted before we understood the effects of LLR exposure. Our failure is the failure to change our actions and attitudes as our understanding has changed. I do agree, there is a long line of evidence that the LNT model does not apply.

    • “Low level radiation is good for us.”

      It’s interesting to see those invested in climate denial broadening their critique to reject science in general.

      After all, if they can be self-proclaimed experts in climate science, why not medicine, biology, and radiation physics as well?

      I salute the power and vigor of your narcissism. I don’t suppose you’d like to provide some evidence for the claim above?

      • “I salute the power and vigor of your narcissism. I don’t suppose you’d like to provide some evidence for the claim above?”

        I have wondered if there was any risk to health if there was near zero levels of “harmful” radiation. Of course, this is assuming one took a vitamin D supplemental.
        So I would like some evidence, that zero radiation is healthy. Or just some population that has had a history of lowest radiation- I am guessing it would have to be modern, low elevation, and living near the equator.

      • “2009: Researchers begin an experiment in the WIPP underground designed to examine the effects of low background radiation on bacteria.”
        http://www.wipp.energy.gov/science/UG_Lab/UG_LabNew.html

        ““Initial results from June 2010 show … the growth of ‘radiation starved’ cells are (sic) inhibited
        compared to cells grown in the presence of background radiation levels,” the researchers reported.
        “The noise in the data is still fairly high,” Smith clarified. “It’s preliminary, and we still need more
        data to show it as statistically different.”
        http://www.wipp.energy.gov/pr/2011/Low%20Background%20Radiation%20Experiment%20News%20Release.pdf

        “One third of the experiment takes place in the WIPP underground, next to the EXO project in the northern end of the repository. The idea is to let the two strains of bacteria grow side-by-side in an environment where they are receiving virtually no background radiation. In fact, the bacteria incubator has been placed in a pre-World War II steel chamber to eliminate even the slightest amount of background radiation. The bacteria underground will receive close to zero radiation dose for hundreds of generations. ”
        http://www.wipp.energy.gov/science/biology/biology2.html

      • Doug Badgero

        Start here:
        http://www.jpands.org/hacienda/article50.html

        There is a cellular mechanism that has been observed in the laboratory, and there is evidence via epidemiological studies of those that have been exposed to LLR that at least suggest hormesis. I am not ready to jump on the hormesis bandwagon just yet, but the LNT model is falsified.

      • David Springer

        re; low-level radiation is healthy

        I question the veracity of this which is basically a permutation of “that which doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger”.

        Okay, how about if I cut off your legs and gouge out your eyes but I’m careful not to kill you in the process. Will that make you stronger? Probably not.

      • Cruel and evil.

      • *Real world evidence from a natural reactor in Oklo, Gabon, indicate low migration rates.

        For comparison: Just looking at radiation from soil and bedrock, ignoring cosmic rays and other sources of exposure, “(s)cientists have determined the NORM terrestrial doses in many parts of the world. These doses vary depending upon the geology of the area. Regions with high amounts of uranium and thorium in the soil and bedrock also have higher radium and radon concentrations. The US average is 30 mrem. The highest US terrestrial dose is 88 mrem. The highest measured terrestrial dose, 26,000 mrem/yr, occurs in Ramsar, Iran. Other high annual terrestrial doses occur in areas of Brazil and India (3,500 mrem), China (1,000 mrem), Norway (1,050 mrem), and Italy (438 mrem). The areas in Iran, India, and Brazil are associated with high concentrations of uranium and thorium in the soil. Epidemiological studies of the people in these areas have been made to determine, what, if any, affect these high radiation dose levels have on health. To date, no radiation related health effects have been found.” [UNSCEAR 1993; NCRP Report #94]

        http://www.quaker.org/fep/U7.html

      • “David Springer
        I question the veracity of this which is basically a permutation of “that which doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger”

        So you think vaccinations don’t work then? Injecting a small amounts of a live or a dead virus/bacteria can’t trigger a biological response?

        Ever seen the linkage between low antigen exposure during childhood and autoimmune disease like childhood allergies, asthma, and eczema?
        Do you know what happens to animals who are raised in sterile environments?

        Have you by any chance heard of the BER pathway? HSP’s?
        Ever heard of Harman’s free radical theory of ageing?
        Did you know that low levels of ionizing radiation up regulates glutathione levels in human being exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation?
        Airline pilots and cardiologists have much higher glutathione and hair-trigger apoptic pathways, compared to controls.

        Want to know the single biggest risk factor that leads to an early grave?

        UNEMPLOYMENT.

        Think on that when you want to screw up the economy.

        http://www.ecolo.org/documents/documents_in_english/Bernard.Cohen.rankRisks.htm

      • The simplest explanation of why low level radiation is healthy is that we, and everything on earth, have been living with low level radiation since life began. The background levels vary by a factor of approximately 10 world wide, with a few selected places near the Black Sea around 100 times the world average. I have been unable to find any research that links any general level of health or cancer rates(except lung cancer from radon exposure and thyroid disease from Iodine 131) to varying background radiation. This is not a case of “if it doesn’t kill you it only makes it you stronger”. It is a well-established fact that radiation levels from a couple of microSv up to a couple of hundred are not demonstrably harmful.

      • Now that’s a scientific argument if ever I heard one.

      • LNT models seem to be the major divide. In Japan, the government set low allowable exposure dose rates. When Fukushima happened, they had to adjust the dose rates to more realistic standards. Automatically, that cause a lack of confidence in the government. When the Japanese recommend a school yard dose rate of 20 millisieverts per year be used, the parents freaked out. 20 millisieverts per year is the allowable dose rate for workers in the nuclear industry. There is no evidence that 20millisieverts per year is harmful, but the dose limit for the population at large is 1 milliseivert, the average for Americans is 6.2 millisieverts, the average in parts of India and Iran is 50 millisieverts. But since the pre-accident limit was 1 millisievert, that is what the parents wanted and will get.

        The EPA in the US is mandating that the Yucca Mountain waste storage facility be limited to 15 millirem per year. 15 millirem is 0.15 millisieverts. Because of the EPA Yucca Mountain limit, the residents of the Republic of the Marshall Islands cannot return to test islands that the NRC have deemed safe, because of the ridiculously low limits the EPA set for Yucca Mountain.

        The regulatory limits are so low, that many vegetables, potatoes, Lima beans, bananas and worst of all, Brazil Nuts, exceed the limits.

        However, anyone that mentions that some limits are too tight or some LNT model test unrealistic, they are a merchant of doubt.

        BTW, if you look at the estimated impact of a double of CO2 with the caveat of “all things remaining equal”, you have classic LNT model over reaction.

      • Robert,

        I’m more than willing to see who has a been basis to discuss the risks from exposure to radiation – you or me.

        Current US policy is based on rather limited amount of study back in the early 50’s. Additional research from the same time frame provided evidence contrary to what became the offical findings of the US government. There have been subsequent studies in the years since, of survivors of the Japanese atomic bombings and of US naval shipyard workers. Both are populations exposed to low level radiation at rates above the norm.

        We have also had a 25+ year experiment involving the people living in the Chernobyl plume. They are still looking for all of the deaths and increases in cancers that were initially predicted by some.

        Almost all evidence supports the position that exposure to low levels of radiation is not a significant health risk.

    • Some indirect information, from data-of-opportunity, about low level radiation is in the introduction of this article.

  5. Nuclear is dead in the U.S. until we know how fast sea level will be rising and the cost benefit analysis shows natural gas cannot be used any longer. Same for the rest of the world where shale gas formations like the Marcellus are available. The 2 reactors iunder construction in Georgia are it ffor the forseeable future.

    • Sea Level is easy. The oceans have already started dropping. Oceans maxed and they are on the way down. Any reasonable cost benefit analysis will show that we will use natural gas until it really runs out. We will work our way through this Flawed Science about CO2 and get on the right path again.
      Fossil Fuel is good stuff and Nuclear Energy is good stuff and we will advance the Sciences and get less Stupid. I do know that I should not include that last part, but it is late and I really could not help myself.

    • Nuclear is dead in the US until we vote out the watermelons. And, no, watermelon does not refer to race – it refers to someone who either is or pretends to be green, while desiring to leverage the “green” movement to establish a communistic or socialistic form of of government. Or in the case of the US, a government that is even more socialistic than it already is.

  6. PhysicsWorld.com has a short article on the construction of Small Modular Reactors – take the source of the electricity directly to the remote consumer.

    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/48927

    • The Holy Grail of superconductivity research is a superconducting power grid that reduces resistance heating loss to nearly zero. Distributed generation using modular thorium or other compact non-pressurized reactors could be a viable alternative.

  7. The future of fission is pebble beds, Sinoic. Unless it’s Thorium, Indic.
    ================================

    • Yellow Cake, Yellow Cake,
      Mullah’s man,
      Bake me a bellyache.
      As fast as you can.
      You bathe it, you gasify,
      You spin in the ‘fuge.
      And pack it in ballistic tubes,
      Nine keys gran’.
      ===========

  8. Maybe they should remake the movie that started it all, The China Syndrome.. They can call it The Japanese Myopic Precautionary Principle Syndrome. They could even dig up Jack Lemmon to play the lead, and sign Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda to play progressive nonagenarians terrified of the world dying from the radiation equivalent of eating a couple of bananas.

    • Since they lack both the earthquake and the tsunami excuse, I think the Germans deserve the naming rights for this one.

      • The Germans are trail blazers. They get rid of Nuclear Energy and Build Windmills in the North Sea that they cannot use and buy Power from neighboring countries that use Energy Sources that they refuse to use. I am sure they have proved some point, but I do not even suspect what is. If the Germans name something it should relate to the Windmill disaster.

      • “and buy Power from neighboring countries that use Energy Sources that they refuse to use”

        Substitute “states” for “countries” and you’re talking about California.

      • Thanks, I could have started closer to home for an example.

    • Charlie Sheen could be play the role of “the exposed.”

  9. There’s a curious thing with nuclear power that usually escapes notice. The US Navy has been operating nuclear war ships of all things, both surface and submarine for over a half a century without serious accident. In fact, one supported emergency power supply off Japan after the quake/tsunami. On a lesser scale this is also true of Russia, England and France.

    This I think points to engineering vulnerabilities in civilian nuclear application design. We should be able to do at least as well with static, land based facilities where (usually) no one is shooting at them.

    • There is also 60 years of safe operating history for commercial generation in the US.

    • You are missing an important difference between Naval and civilian nuclear power plants. From the beginning, the navy adopted service-wide policies of standardization, from design, to maintenance, to training, to supervision. An engineer moving from boat to ship and back was always working with the same reactor give or take progressive enhancements.

      These policies have led to very safe and inexpensive (relatively) power plants.

      Civilian plants represent an opposing approach. During every step of planning and construction, every politico and bureaucrat with a desire for publicity, and that’s every one of them, and every green radical, and every nuclear-phobe protests, testifies and otherwise put the brakes to the project. These Ignoratti have managed to force generally unneeded changes to the design and the construction methods of, dare I say, every public nuclear power plant in the U.S.. The result is that each nuclear installation became, effectively, a prototype design at greater than needs be cost. Given this interference, it’s no wonder nuclear sourced electricity is more expensive. It is a wonder that this same interference has not been the cause of a major accident. I can only attribute this to engineers flat out refusing to allow safety considerations to take a back seat to these jackasses’ braying.

      cheers,

      gary

      • To Mrs Stokes of seventh grade English, I apologize; you taught me better.

        During every step of planning and construction, every politico and bureaucrat with a desire for publicity, and that’s every one of them, and every green radical, and every nuclear-phobe protests, testifies and otherwise put the brakes to the project.

        Should read

        During every step of planning and construction, every politico and bureaucrat with a desire for publicity, and that’s every one of them, and every green radical, and every nuclear-phobe protest, testify and otherwise put the brakes to the project.

        I won’t bother about my capitalization of ‘naval’.

        g

      • “These policies have led to very safe and inexpensive (relatively) power plants.”

        Can you elaborate on the inexpensiveness of the Navy’s nuclear submarines? These billion-dollar babies are inexpensive relative to what, a ship made of solid gold?

      • Robert,

        Yr. “Can you elaborate…inexpensive relative to what?”

        Isn’t the answer to your question obvious, Robert? Inexpensive relative to the CAGW scam pushed by you, Robert, and your knob-job (as in CO2 is the control knob, of course), pestiferous, Lysenkoist, serial-zit-abuser, B.O.-centric, geeks-with-an-attitude, mouthy, dork-muffin, never-held-a-real-job, sloth-bucket, can’t-get-a-date-party-crasher, carbon-swilling-eco-hypocrite, wannabe commisar, enviro-trough-addicted, control-freak, toady hive-flunky, “Delinquent Teenager”, doom-butt, useless-eater, goof-off, flatulent vegan, watermelons-for-brains, cull-crazy, hustle-happy, self-tracked “idiot”, doofus, sore-loser pals.

        Now that was a simple question to answer, wasn’t it Robert?–I’m surprised you didn’t think of the answer, yourself.

      • Gary, you are right on. Let me tell you a story.

        Many years ago, I was privileged to be on the floor of a plant that made pressure vessels for nuclear reactors. At night, the scene was one akin to a circle from Dante’s Inferno. Flames heated a huge cylinder as rings (sections) were welded together. The cylinders were made of a special steel; they could be annealed only twice. If a weld needed a third try, the whole vessel was scrap.

        The welds were X-rayed when the metal had cooled. There were rooms of well-organized X-rays. An inclusion had to be ripped out and re-welded while hot. The engineers and welders had two shots to get it right.

        These folks were benchmarks of care and professionalism. They were “ja-sagers”. The politicians, bureaucrats and green radicals find it more satisfying to be “nein-sagers”.

      • Gary: As you point out, when building a nuclear plant, the subsystem which requires the most time to complete and is also the most expensive is the building permit.

        Not surprising, as for all practical purposes the time and cost are both infinite.

  10. So why aren’t there more small scale nuclear power generators as in Submarine sized? Surely the usual economies of scale would bring the price right down.

    Personally, I don’t want nuclear and I suspect pro-nuclear forces created the whole AGW nonsense. The present reality of nuclear will help water down AGW fervor, since there are not economically realistic options and maybe coal isn’t dangerous anyway. Clean coal is less risky than clean nuclear.

    • Nonsense. You should read Beckman’s book about the cost of not going nuclear. Let’s not be sentencing so many coal miners to death, please.

    • The modern military use highly enriched cores, >70%. They achieve a constant, controllable, neutron flux by using burnable neuron ablatives, like dysprosium. They are never designed to be refueled, and never have to worry about a lack of cooling water, except when they do.
      A US sub resting on a muddy bottom just off the Russian coast had its cooling water intakes blocked by mud and seaweed. Very nearly lost it.

    • There are.

      Oregon State has designed a 25 mw reactor. Bechtell has developed a design based off of their submarine reactor. There is at least one other design out there. I believe all of these designs are modular and utilize passive safety features.

      What’s keeping them from being built – right now it is the licensing process of the NRC.

      As for the risk from nuclear – name it? The Economist states that the harm from Cherynobly remains unknown to this day. Want to know why? Because they haven’t been able to identify any problems in 26 years. The human cost has been from the exposure received by emergency responders and within a year afterward, by mostly children developing thyroid cancers. The latter being totally preventable, had the Russians acted fast enough instead of covering up the problem.

      Number of deaths to date from Fukishima – zero.

    • … Nuclear weapons programs rely on the existence of large nuclear processing facilities including mining, milling and enrichment of uranium as well as a highly specialized and experienced labor pool. While it is possible to produce nuclear weapons without a nuclear power industry it is far preferable to have a dynamic nuclear industry in place. The nuclear facilities that existed in 1979 would not last forever and the industry was seen as an essential component of the military industrial complex. These factors may well have been over-riding considerations in the DoD JASON committee report.

      One of the principle scientists engaged in formulating the AGW theory was Roger Revelle, a US Navy oceanographer who was employed at the Office of Naval Research. The US Navy was actually central to the development of the civilian nuclear power industry in the US due to its reactor designs for nuclear powered submarines and ships.

      Another outspoken early proponent of AGW theory was Britain’s Margaret Thatcher who also sought the construction of new nuclear power plants as well as Trident nuclear submarines along with new nuclear weapons. Her Conservative party also sought to crush the coal miner’s unions with which they had intractable disputes. Britain went on to build new nuclear power plants during the 1980s while firing tens of thousands of coal miners.

      In the US, the Carter administration sponsored the establishment of the solar energy industry, another carbon free energy source. George Tenet (later named as director of the CIA) became the promotion manager of the Solar Energy Industries Association which included companies such as Grumman, Boeing, General Motors and Exxon. Proposed ‘renewable’ and ‘green’ energy legislation over the decades consistently facilitated the viability of the development of new nuclear power plants. Other ‘alternative’ energy technologies were never seriously expected to become significant sources of electric power generation.

      In 2008 another CIA director, James Woolsey would also become involved in promoting “a Fortress America of tanks and solar panels, plug-in hybrids and nuclear reactors,”2 only in his case the service to the carbon free industry would come after the CIA stint rather than before. Woolsey has recently appeared in an anti-oil print ad for the American Clean Skies Foundation. …

      Full article:

      http://alethonews.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/three-mile-island-global-warming-and-the-cia/

  11. Maybe some day airplane travel will be as safe as nuclear power reactors. Then we can work on automobiles.

  12. Off topic – but I just read about this book and thought about my old buds here at Climate Etc and thought some might find it interesting (And besides, I never let being off-topic bother me before.)

    The key to understanding tribal behavior is not money, it’s sacredness. The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness.

    • Joshua? We thought you we incarcerated. Or found a day job :)

      • Well, the incarceration only explains the first couple of days. The rest was due to a lot of travel, a couple of important projects, and an unusually early Spring requiring time spent doing garden and yardwork.

        Plus, I thought it would be interesting, as an experiment, to take some time off and then come back after a couple of months to see if anything that gets argued here changes over time with the input of new data. My theory is that basically nothing much will change – because the arguments that are being made (over and over) are primarily the reflection of partisan orientation – or views on what is “sacred,” if you will.

        I’ll report back with my findings in another couple of months.

      • Joshua, welcome back!

      • Joshua

        We were getting worried about you,

        You probably missed seeing the threads whereby AGW was conclusively disproved and both Iolwot and Robert agreed they were totally wrong and decided to spend time over at Real Climate trying to persuade them that the game was up? And you missed all that…good to see you back.

        tonyb

      • Look what you guys have done to these 2 poor souls. Yes, cherish Joshua while he is still lingering here.

      • Joshua –

        It will always look the same if you look at it in the same way. A slightly changed perspective may reveal surprises and wonders.

      • Ant,
        A very nicely expressed pearl of wisdom. Let’s see what another couple of months of reflective sabbatical does for our little friend. In the meantime, we will all actually read the book that our little friend has read about and try to rid ourselves of our tribalism. Perhaps we will have attained a new level of enlightenment by the next time he looks in on us and he will come back to us in a guise different from the contentious little threadjacking ideologue putz that we know so well.

      • Anteros –

        For you – because I know you’re interested in doom-saying and fear-mongering.

        From one of our country’s most prominent “skeptics,” Rick Santorum:

        http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/40105_Video-_Rick_Santorums_Insane_New_Fear_Mongering_Ad

        Wow! And do check out the nice bit of subliminal fear-mongering 39 seconds in. It’s a real piece of work.

      • Josh – still pushing BS, eh. Well, you wouldn’t be you without it. Glad to see you again. :-)

      • Interesting how underneath all the animosity there is a general fondness for each other here : )

      • Count your long spoons after supping.
        ==================

      • MattStat/MatthewRMarler

        Joshua: an unusually early Spring requiring time spent doing garden and yardwork.

        I feel closer to you, after reading that.

    • Been wondering where you were.

      Welcome back.

    • This is a trait in social organisation in monkey troops. The alpha male is the stongest individually – but is easily defeated if three or more individuals – can work out how to co-operate.

      But are there 2 sides to the climate war? Or is it more like a spaceship cult within the broader boundaries of an ordinary civil society.

      • There are more than two sides

      • This is a trait in social organisation in monkey troops.

        From the book:

        The central metaphor of these four chapters is that human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. Human nature was produced by natural selection working at two levels simultaneously. Individuals compete with individuals within every group, and we are the descendants of primates who excelled at that competition. This gives us the ugly side of our nature, the one that is usually featured in books about our evolutionary origins. We are indeed selfish hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue that we fool even ourselves.

        But human nature was also shaped as groups competed with other groups. As Darwin said long ago, the most cohesive and cooperative groups generally beat the groups of selfish individualists. Darwin’s ideas about group selection fell out of favor in the 1960s, but recent discoveries are putting his ideas back into play, and the implications are profound. We’re not always selfish hypocrites. We also have the ability, under special circumstances, to shut down our petty selves and become like cells in a larger body, or like bees in a hive, working for the good of the group. These experiences are often among the most cherished of our lives, although our hivishness can blind us to other moral concerns. Our bee-like nature facilitates altruism, heroism, war, and genocide.

        Once you see our righteous minds as primate minds with a hivish overlay, you get a whole new perspective on morality, politics, and religion. I’ll show that our “higher nature” allows us to be profoundly altruistic, but that altruism is mostly aimed at members of our groups. I’ll show that religion is (probably) an evolutionary adaptation for binding groups together and helping them to create communities with a shared morality. It is not a virus or parasite, as some scientists (the “new atheists”) have argued in recent years. And I’ll use this perspective to explain why some people are conservative, others are liberal (or progressive), and still others become libertarians. People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.

        Notice how you spell organization and how I spell organization. Clearly, your spelling is a sign of intellectual inferiority – no doubt based on an depraved moral view on the importance of a good education.

      • Re-read the excerpt. There is no “90 percent group.” There aren’t two (or three) “categories.” We’re all a mixed bag.

        I can only conclude that your misunderstanding is yet another reflection of intellectual inferiority — caused by the moral depravity that also lies at the root of intergenerational cycles of misspelling? Unfortunately, even more evidence that the foolish belief in the value of “multi-culturalism” and moral relativism – which allows misspelling to proliferate – is corrupting our moral standing.

        No doubt, that cycle is attributable the liberal tendency of nanny-state Americans to coddle the failings of our primitive ancestors and other lines of descendants from those ancestors spawned from freakish genetic mutations? All we’re doing is allowing this culture of dependency to continue unabated. It’s time for it to end. I WANT MY SPELLING BACK.

        For the sake of the planet – the sooner we throw all the misspellers in jail and prevent them from reproducing – the better.

      • Josh

        We are a broad church. We believe in the enlightenment principles of individual freedom, free markets, the rule of law and democracy. You may spell any way you please – and your right to do so will be defended to death.

        Crossing the line into oppression of those who spell differently is another thing entirely. If imposed by law – we will vote you out of office and rescind the law. If you refuse the dictate of the ballot box – we will rise up and bring you down.

        These are hard won principles of social organisation – not to be resiled from in any iota. Are you opposed to individual freedom and democracy? Let’s vote on it.

        Robert I Ellison
        Chief Hydrologist

      • I too am a staunch defender of AAVE.

      • as a member of a disadvantaged minority with a specific mental disorder I am rather displeased by you Joshua. Dyslexic males are the most over represented group in the prison system, even outstripping Blacks.
        Actually being unable to spell, and not knowing if something is spelt correctly, missing words, using the wrong word or getting words in the wrong order is not actually fun.

      • Cod, I didn’t know you were lysdexic.

      • Alex Heyworth

        Lysdexia Lures, KO

      • Tomas Milanovic

        Pekka

        The most incredible fact about Fukushima reactors is that they were not planned to survive tsunamis of a size that occurs on those coastal areas more often than once in a century. Something like once in ten thousand years would have been a more appropriate planning basis.

        Here you are precisely doing what I said that should not (and is not) done.
        Namely taking a particular accident that happened and saying that a safety system should have been designed to prevent this particular accident.
        It is natural that you think that because you have apparently never had to design a safety system in the real world.
        Actually when you design a safety system you design it to prevent accidents that never happened. Trivially if we were only protected against accidents that have already happened, we would have equipment exploding right and left all the time.

        The reason of the difficulty is that high impact low probability accidents are always causal chains. There is never only one cause – each individual event in the chain is generally harmless, what causes the catastrophe is that these events figured in a chain in a particular order.
        But the number of possible chains scales worse than exponentially with the length of the chain – it scales like N! where N is the length of the chain (and the probability goes down like 1/N!).
        This is typically what one can see in Tchernobyl – the activity vs power behaviour you describe is not a problem per se – it was known, accounted for and the safety design took of course this specific behaviour in account.
        This property was just ONE element in a chain which was necessary for the explosion but by far not sufficient. Actually it even illustrates what I wrote above – to anticipate the accident one has to be able to consider in advance the whole chain and not this or that element alone.

        For instance if you wanted to consider chains of length 10, you would need to consider 4 000 000 individual specific and very differently acting chains. Much more if the individual events thus combined were more than 10.
        This is simply not feasible.
        Besides even if it was, there is another problem – the huge number of possible chains makes almost sure that a chain C1 would lead to a safety design S1 while a chain C2 would lead to a safety design S2 where S1 and S2 are mutually exclusive.

        I can illustrate that on the Fukushima example.
        Considering plane crashes and terrorist attacks leads to a safety design where emergency pumps are in bunkers as deep as possible.
        Considering floods leads to a safety design where the emergency pumps are as high as possible (this is more efficient than walls).
        Considering mechanical and electrical integrity the design puts the components near while considering explosions it puts them far.
        As it is impossible to satisfy all that at the same time, choices are made.
        In this particular example the plane crash (or terrorist attack) has priority and pumps are generally in deep bunkers.

        I have not experience with anti tsunami safety but have one with anti seismic safety. I suppose the design parameters work in a similar way.
        In practice it doesn’t make sense to design for a “100 year” or a “million year” particular event because nobody has a clue what the probabilities of such events are.
        So what we have are the data and they are not reliable beyond 200 years.
        Was the Lisbon earthquake a 1000 year event or a million years event?
        Nobody knows – we only know that it happened once in Portugal history which doesn’t exceed 1000 years or so anyway.
        I don’t know what the data on tsunamis in Fukushima are but I would expect that there were none reasonably trustworthy in Fukushima history and having an intensity significantly greater than the one in 2011.

        So as far as these kind of events are concerned for the safety design we take in practice the biggest registered event we have, the “biggest” itself being only an educated guess if the data is too old (e.g several centuries back).

        In summary one has to realize that ANY industrial activity works with dangerous substances in conditions (temperature, pressure) where accidents are bound to happen.
        Safety design can alleviate most of the accidents but the paradox is that the better your safety design the worse is your ratio (“small” accidents/”large” accidents).
        I let the reader ponder why it is necessarily so :)

      • Thomas, based on your analysis, it seems that the simpler the system, the fewer chains one must consider. Therefore, simpler is better WRT to nuclear reactors?

      • Doug Badgero

        I don’t want to speak for Tomas, but in my opinion yes. Fewer moving parts and less reliance on external power sources is better. Many newer generation designs are based on natural circulation cooling post accident with no, or limited, reliance on external power sources post accident.

      • Simpler solutions have obvious advantages and wide support among specialists but many people also disagree as noted in the following excerpt from the Economist Special Report:

        The EPR is the biggest plant ever designed and has safety systems galore, which means more pipes, more wiring, more concrete and higher capital costs. The AP1000 aims instead for simplicity, with fewer valves, pumps and wires and a greater reliance on “passive” safety systems that use basic physics to provide emergency cooling and other safety functions. A French insider, unwilling to be named, considers the AP1000 to be a far more creative piece of engineering. The Union of Concerned Scientists, an American ginger group critical of most real-world nuclear programmes (though not of the technology per se), prefers the safety concept of the EPR, with its multiple back-ups.

        This excerpt refers to UCS, but it’s certainly possible to find similar views among other nuclear safety professionals as well. Both approaches require great care in figuring out how common cause failures can develop and assuring as complete separation of complementary safety features and systems as possible. Full perfection is not possible, but improvements can always be done, but require often thorough studies for assuring that the changes don’t turn out to be new sources for failure. At some point of complexity any additional system starts to be more likely to add to than to reduce the risks.

      • Alex Heyworth

        Why am I not surprised that the UCS prefers a non-American solution?

      • Tomas Milanovic

        Pekka

        On that basis it’s incredible that plants close to the coast of Japan were not prepared to survive much larger tsunamis that they were.

        And by that you mean exactly HOW large?
        While I know the TMI and Tchernobyl accidents quite well and have read the internal reports because haveing been in this particular safety business at that time, I admit that I only know the Fukushima accident from what is available to public.

        From that information I know :
        1)
        Tsunami event was considered a provided for . There was an anti tsunami wall. So it’s not that Japanese are likely to forget about earthquakes and tsunamis.
        2)
        The topology and resistance of the wall were designed for the largest event recorded in the immediate area.
        3)
        The Tsunami topped the wall by only a few cm. This shows that the design parameters were not “stupid” and that the calculation surely showed (this is my deep conviction of somebody who designed safety systems in real nuclear plants) that based on the available data this design would prevent tsunami flooding.

        4)
        Anything else looks just like polemics. Could the wall have been 1 m higher? Sure. 2m thicker? Sure. 200m longer? Sure.
        Tell any random number about almost any random wall parameter and teh answer will be “Sure”.
        But when one has to build a real wall, random numbers don’t work. One has to justify and explain the design.
        I would bet that what they used was a model that calculated the “max” tsunami height at that particular place consistent with the available data and then took a x% margin. That’s what one always does in practice when one deals with very low probability, complex natural events.
        Of course there is and will never be a 100% safety and one has to be clear about that.

      • Tomas,

        I would never propose what you claim that I do propose. Actually I have been quite a lot involved with risk analyses and I have had numerous lengthy discussions with specialists of nuclear safety.

        Therefore I tried to discuss the question, whether well known and accepted principles were broken in the case of the Fukushima plants. The principles concern determining, what kind of potential precursors to accidents should be considered. That should have led to decisions to improve the defenses against tsunamis. Not based on what we know now but based on what was known before. On that basis it’s incredible that plants close to the coast of Japan were not prepared to survive much larger tsunamis that they were.

        In aftermath of the Fukushima accident the question on preparedness of the plants to survive whatever is known to be possible at each site have been reconsidered all around the world.

        Preparing against known threats is very important, but that’s not sufficient by itself as you say. Because something unforeseen may always happen, it’s also essential to develop generic preparedness to handle unforeseen situations.

        Coming back to the specific case of tsunamis on the coast of Japan. Whatever is done in other ways, it’s incredible that they were not taken properly into account at Fukushima. This was most clearly a accident that could have been avoided as tsunamis must have been very high on the list of obvious improvements at that plant. Even if one cannot prepare against everything one must most definitely prepare against risks that have been known so long and are so obvious and large probability events on the scale of precursors to severe accidents.

      • Doug Badgero

        Nuclear plants in the United States were previously designed to withstand a certain population of deterministic events. Examples include loss of coolant accidents, continuous rod withdrawals, etc. These events were non-mechanistic, e.g. there was no interest in what caused the initiating event, it was simply assumed to occur. The plant had to be capable of withstanding these events with varying acceptance criteria depending on the perceived probability of occurrence. For instance, some minimal fuel damage is accepted due to a large break loss of coolant accident, but not due to a simple main turbine trip.

        In 1975 the WASH 1400 report, using a probabilistic approach, indicated that the risk of core damage was actually dominated by the occurrence of a series of “unfortunate events” such as equipment failures coupled with operator mis-operation of equipment coincident with those failures. The previous sentence pretty much sums up the events that caused TMI. WASH 1400 has long since been replaced by ever more sophisticated studies, but the thrust of current regulation is focused on this probabilistic approach. Most US plants are currently regulated under a combination of the above deterministic and probabilistic approaches.

        The danger with the probabilistic approach is treating failures as independent events, and not considering common modes and effects that may simultaneously result in redundant equipment failures. Frequently, these common mode failures are initiated by natural disasters; seismic, tornadoes, floods, fires, etc. The emergency diesels failed at FD as a result of a common mode failure. Natural disasters have always been part of the design basis for plants in the USA, but these events are necessarily considered on a deterministic basis. Someone has to decide what is credible. This is where the Japanese failed, and why I agree with Pekka on this issue. There had been two tsunamis of similar size in that area of Japan in the last 120 years. Reasonable people can disagree how high a tsunami they should have been protected against, but it is hard to argue that they should not have been designed to prevent core damage given an event that occurs roughly twice per century.

      • This is where the Japanese failed, and why I agree with Pekka on this issue. There had been two tsunamis of similar size in that area of Japan in the last 120 years.

        ‘Nearby’ really doesn’t say much. There are a whole bunch of geologic variables that translate identical amounts of Tsunami energy into different wave heights a few miles apart.

        Predicting potential Tsunami Height is a somewhat immature science.
        NOAA attempted to predict the waves heights for various US coastal locations based on ‘known’ data from the Japanese Earthquake. The prediction for Adak,Alaska ended up being half actual
        and the prediction for Sitka, Alaska ended up being double actual.

        http://wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov/previous.events/03-11-11_Honshu/03-11-11.htm

        If we can’t predict Tsunami height within a factor of two with an earthquake of a known location and a known magnitude how can anyone make an ‘informed’ decision about how much Tsunami protection is prudent for an unknown earthquake of unknown magnitude?

      • The facts on the ground are that the sea wall was about 50 cms. short.

      • it seems that rumours of your demise have been exaggerated. Since your post had almost nothing to do with the topic I see that its BAU for you.

        To be honest, the quality of the trolling on this blog has recently deteriorated and is badly in need of a lift.

        Welcome back Joshua.

      • “The central metaphor of these four chapters is that human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. Human nature was produced by natural selection working at two levels simultaneously. Individuals compete with individuals within every group, and we are the descendants of primates who excelled at that competition.”

        No we are not. You want to know about a primate, check out the sperm count and testicle size.
        Our closes relative is the highly promiscuous bonobo, Sperm count correlates with female willingness to sleep around, Bonobos score highest, followed by the Chimp, then humans, then the Orangutang and finally the Gorilla. Humans are closer to orangutangs in social structure. We do not compete in social groups but co-operate. We like to be teams; look at team sports, our co-operate structures are seen on the turf, we like to be in groups of 10-15. In small groups we aid the young, the old and the sick.
        The ‘village idiot’ is a classical example of how wrong you are. People with mental handicaps or mental disorders were not killed as a waste of food, instead they were accepted as people and had a place in society. There are neolithic skeletons of people who have suffered massive injuries, yet been nurse back to health. The Neanderthal Shanidar Cave has poor Shanidar 1, he had a healed crushing fracture to his left orbit which would blinded the eye, a withered right arm which had been fractured/healed in places and with forearm and hand amputated. He also had deformities in his lower legs and foot and would have a painful limp and be unable to walk.
        This 45 year old man cannot have done very much in the way of work, but he lived.
        How many disabled chimps you seen in the wild Josh?
        You have a really low opinion of your species, very common on the left. .

      • Doc –

        What a bizarre post.

        First of all, it seems pretty clear to me that what I posted was an excerpt. Is it significant that you apparently missed that incredibly obvious fact, went on to formulate wrong conclusions about what I do or don’t think, and then even further, laughably, go on to state generalizations about millions of people(“the left”) on the basis of your own specious reasoning? Talk about confirmation bias. Sheese!

        Secondly, I think that the author was making a more general point rather than referring specifically to chimps.

        Thirdly, it seems rather preposterous that you would generalize about humans as a group by saying that we “accept” people with “mental handicaps and disorders” and give them a place in society. Not to say that there aren’t many examples of “acceptance” as you describe – but how do you get to your broad generalization? Your conclusions are based on a highly selective accumulation of data. You left out years and years of institutionalizing disabled in dehumanizing conditions. You left out many instances of infanticide of disabled children. The majority of American states had statutes providing for the involuntary sterilization of mentally handicapped and certain physically handicapped citizens. I mean seriously, bro, are you completely unfamiliar with the history of “insane asylums?” Certainly, you must know of the historical examples where disabilities were considered to be the embodiment of “evil spirits, the devil, witchcraft or God’s displeasure.” What about state-sponsored mass killings of people with disabilities? How about differential rates at which people with disabilities are subjected to abuse or likely to be victims of crime? The disabled are less likely to be employed, more likely to be incarcerated, impoverished, and undereducated. Would you consider it coincidence that popular culture has had freak shows, Shakespeare’s hunchback Richard III, pirates with wooden legs, eye patches, hooks for hands, Dr.’s No and Strangeglove, the Phantom of the Opera. Is there some way that you have managed to missed all of this? Do you really think that there is no tendency whatsoever among humans to compete within groups for food or mates? Really?

        Fourth – in contrast to your characterization of what the author said, you will note that in reality the author spoke of both cooperation and competition within social groups. Contrast that with your strange categorical statement: “We do not compete in social groups but co-operate. ” Certainly, you would not have to think terribly hard to come up with a long list of examples that would disprove such a categorical statement.

        Here’s my suggestion for you: Instead of going off half-cocked in a rant against me about something I didn’t write to form laughable generalizations, read the book (not just that excerpt) and contact the author with your scholarly disproof of his ideas about the intra-tribal aspect of competition among groups of humans. I will be very curious to hear from you how he responded.

      • “Thirdly, it seems rather preposterous that you would generalize about humans as a group by saying that we “accept” people with “mental handicaps and disorders” and give them a place in society. Not to say that there aren’t many examples of “acceptance” as you describe – but how do you get to your broad generalization?”

        I think if think about what doc said: “we like to be in groups of 10-15. In small groups we aid the young, the old and the sick.”
        This is the size of a family.
        A family may be describe as bloodlines, but people do form families type groups without it having anything to do with genetic material. As example US military is structured from squads. And in a war it’s about protecting your buddies- rather than some bond with entire army- the bond with army/nation is an abstract concept relating ideas- whereas war buddies is an emotional and personal bond.
        Anyhow his tribal/family bonding and it’s pretty strong trait in humans.
        And it seems that this tendency isn’t “somehow” all good- and various customs and social rules have been developed with the modern nuclear family is one result of this.

      • Joshua, you quote is
        “The central metaphor of these four chapters is that human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.”

        Which means that the author knows nothing about the evolutionary biology and cooperative nature Chimps, Bees or people.

        ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

        Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

        ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

        ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

        ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

        ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

      • Doc –

        Which means that the author knows nothing about the evolutionary biology and cooperative nature Chimps, Bees or people.

        Really? And this you conclude not from reading the book, researching his background or theories in any level of detail, but from the use of a metaphor in an excerpt.

        And let’s not forget how you went on further to apply that analysis to not only my thought process, but to tens of millions of people on “the left.”

        Too bad he doesn’t have the scientific standards of analysis you apply, eh doc? If that were the case, he wouldn’t selectively use examples to prove a point, over-generalize, etc.

        Oh.

        Wait.

      • Yes, Joshua, just from reading the line “he author knows nothing about the evolutionary biology and cooperative nature Chimps, Bees or people”.

        You see Josh, all the Bees you ever see are clonal.
        Bees serve the bee colony in the same way as the cells in your body serve you testicles/ovaries.
        Bee cooperate in the same way the cells of you liver cooperate.
        Your liver cannot have kids, neither can bees. Trying to understand the how/why of bee cooperative behavior without this piece of information is a waste of time. Trying to compare ANY aspect of human behavior to the innate behavior of bees is stupid.
        Chimps were all thought to be one species, but eventually, on the basis of behavior and genetics we now recognize two species Pan troglodytes (Common Chimp) and Pan paniscus (Bonobo).
        Both P. troglodytes and paniscus form fission-fusion societies, with only maternal bonds counting for anything.
        Humans are, on the whole, form long term pair-bonds.
        We have very little in common with the other great apes with respect to our cooperative. Two people, who have never met and are unlikely to meet again, walking in opposite directions down the streets of large cities, cooperate by exchanging information (using body language) so that they do not collide, do not threaten each other or invade personal body space.

      • Doc –

        As usual, you provide interesting and relevant information. The problem is that you combine that information with facile reasoning – presumably because your interest in the topic is agenda-driven?

        You’ve made ridiculous over-generalizations. You’ve missed the obvious to mis-attribute someone else’s thoughts to me. You’ve taken a metaphor from a short summary excerpt, presumably a metaphor not meant to be a strictly academic analysis, and stretched it so that you could make rather absurd generalizations about the author.

        Differences between humans and chimps does not negate any similarities (with chimps or other primates) that do exist. The same applies for bees: Bees fly, we don’t. They dance to communicate navigational clues, we don’t. But there is a long list of similarities in high-level physiological and behavioral attributes that we share with bees.

        Once again, as I read the excerpt, the author was saying that humans have evolved to sacrifice for group benefit in some ways, to work together with other members of our species in some ways, to work to the benefit of our social groups (of various definitions and sizes) in some ways, to compete with members of other groups in some ways, and to compete with other members even in our own groups in some ways. Maybe my reading is wrong, but that’s how I interpret what he said and it seems to me to be entirely consistent with my observations. I find it interesting to look at how social scientists describe patterns in human behavior so as to to help understand phenomena I observe, such as the tribal/political/partisan bickering that dominates the climate debate. Accordingly, I offered the link.

        Again, the information you’re providing is interesting and relevant, but if you want to actually discuss the implications of what the author was saying about patterns in human behavior, and how they relate to the context of the climate debate, you’re going to have to leave the agenda-driven hyperbole, weird overgeneralizations, torturing of metaphors, selective use of data, and misattrubutions of belief behind – not continue to double, triple, quadruple, etc. down on them..

      • Doc –

        Two people, who have never met and are unlikely to meet again, walking in opposite directions down the streets of large cities, cooperate by exchanging information (using body language) so that they do not collide, do not threaten each other or invade personal body space.

        So there is a categorical statement, to which I could apply a long series of conditions that would prove it to be inaccurate (e.g., How long has it been since I’ve eaten? Are you carrying a weapon? Are you wearing a uniform? What are the other characteristics of your dress? What is your skin color? Do you look like a member of a competing tribe? Am I attracted to your gender?, etc.) That doesn’t completely negate the value of your statement as a generalizable datapoint to further a discussion about human behaviors (although it would be more valuable if the statement weren’t categorical). Should I focus on the ways that the statement is inaccurate – so that I could further an ideological agenda – or should I use that statement as a way to further a more informed discussion?

        I’d say that the vast majority of times, the real world answer to that question is how you and I turn out to be aligned around various groups defined by partisan orientations. Smart people making facile arguments is usually a tell.

        Interesting.

      • “But are there 2 sides to the climate war?”

        Less of a war, and more like the US and Al Queda; you have a decent, functional group (the US/scientists) and a group of terrorists, incapable of building anything, but without morals or restraint in their determination to act upon their hatred and tear down what they cannot emulate.

      • We don’t think the science is that clear cut – most of that dealing with decadal prediction suggesting a cooling influence from natural variation over a decade or three. When natural variability is subtracted – in peer reviewed science – we get about a 0.1 degree C rise per decade at most. Is this news? Something to quibble about? It shouldn’t be. I’d suggest you go read the science with open eyes but you can’t possibly.

        The minority – I believe – of passionate and activist supporters of advocates of catastropic climate change (whether they be qualified scientists or not) are more of a millennialist cult.

      • Drama Queen?

      • Robert

        That is a very spiteful and silly thng to say. I am surprised at you making this sort of absurd analogy
        tonyb

      • Robert,
        Al Qaeda has hijacked AGW and you are a member of it, by your sad analogy.
        Also, in light of Gleick’s wire fraud and forgery and the believer response to it, and the well documented cherry picking from other AGW promoterss, and the dreary growing list of AGW believer bad behaviors, you come across as little more than a two dimensional parody of a rabid true believer.

    • Steven Mosher

      Joshua. as i have said many times. the hockey stick is the shroud of turin. unecessary to the agw belief system yet fought over as if it were a relic
      welcome back
      do u support lying?
      do u still question my ability to spot a change in writing style

      • The hockey stick is more like the Towers — a hated symbol of the enemies’ success, and the terrorists’ failed fundamentalism.

        The key difference being that the attacks on the World Trade Center succeeded, while all the attacks on the hockey stick have, to date, utterly failed.

      • Steven Mosher

        Seriously Robert you need to get a clue. Gavin himself has said the HS is scientifically uninteresting. That’s because it doesnt constrain our estimates of climate sensitivity. All attempts to “improve” on the HS have in fact weakened it’s conclusions. The latest paper to call parts of it into question was authored by Mann himself, but you have to read the SI to see where he backs off on his earlier claims.

      • Steven,
        If Gavin thought the HS was worth a flip he would trumpet it from roof tops.
        He knows it is crap so he pretends it is no big deal.
        He fibs.
        The HS is like the shroud: evidence of the faith.
        The faith is that we are in a climate crisis right now.
        The HS gives a sciencey veneer to that faith based axiom.

      • Steven Mosher

        For the record willard, I don’t support lying for the cause?
        do you?

  13. The articles sited do not discuss thorium molten salt reactors. I think that any discussion of nuclear must include thorium and fluoride fueled reactors. A search using either term as an operand will return many articles from the archival literature for those who wish to explore the subject.

  14. Oops, “articles cited” not “sited”

  15. I’ve been wondering why Thorium reactors are not more interesting. What are the key issues?

    • Think of hot molten corrosive NaCl and how to keep it from eating up everything that tries to contain it. If thorium was the slam dunk we all wish it was, it would be happening NOW. The idea has certainly been around a long, long time.

      • My dad worked on designing the reactor control system for the Seawolf. He remained a proponent of sodium cooled reactors for some time. Thought it was just a matter of metalurgy catching up. To the best of my knowledge – I’ve been out of the industry for some time now – it still hasn’t. Guess my dad let the engineering advantages of the design blind him to the operational problems.

        My favorite design was the Westinghouse 2-loop PWR generating 500-600 megawatts. Had the US standardized on this design, as the French did, we would likely be looking at nuclear producting 50% of our electrical generation today. Now, I like some of the new compact modular designs in the 25 -100 megawatt range. One of the neat advantages they offer is they can be placed close to the demand, greatly reducing the need for long distance trnamission lines.

      • Like the one in Krško, Slovenia?
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kr%C5%A1ko_Nuclear_Power_Plant
        http://www.nek.si/en/

        Total energy produced: 136.45 TWh (~5.5 TWh/year) in ~30 years.

      • Yep.

        Both my dad and one of my brothers have visited the plant while visiting family over there. My brother might even have done some Fire Protection work for them.

  16. The lessons learned from Fukishima are 1) The 30(or older) design reactors worked perfectly and shutdown correctly. and 2) The backup and storage facilities where in hindsight (some say foresight ignored!) horrendously under specified.

    The take home conclusions are 1) Newer reactor designs should be even better for surviving earthquake and external power outages and 2) It will be hard to under estimate problems (like flooding) now that the results from under estimating have been shown.

    Any new installations based on new designs and lessons learned from Fukishima will be MUCH safer.

    • Backup power needs to be located off-site.

      • The US reactors have former F-Phantom jet engines (re-designated GE LM-1500) on the roofs, hooked to generators and with a supply of kerosine.
        These are distinct from the diesel’s , grid and battery backup.

      • “Nearly all of the events that occurred at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility following the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami can be traced to the complete loss of electricity, including backup generators and emergency batteries, that was needed to power reactor cooling systems.”

        and “Within days of the Fukushima Daiichi acident, every electric utility that operates a nuclear plant in America began a series of detailed inspections to validate safety and emergency response systems, personnel resources and programs. Companies continue to assess each facility’s ability to maintain safety systems and protect reactors even if a plant loses all electric power…”

        http://safetyfirst.nei.org/industry-actions/u-s-nuclear-operators-employ-multiple-safeguards-to-cope-with-power-outages/#

  17. One aspect of powerful technologies is the risks they pose when rushed prematurely to implementation. Nuclear energy is the prime example – but as the power of our technologies grow it is unlikely to be the last.

    Having said that – nuclear energy is approaching maturity. It is a matter of fuels and materials technology to produce inherently safe designs with highly efficient fuels use and relatively short lived (hundreds of years) waste products. Energy for thousands of years.

    http://www.iea.org/papers/2010/nuclear_roadmap.pdf

    Adams Atomic Engines has gone out of business – unfortunate as it is such a great name. It has provided me with many imagined space opera moments. Can I be the first to coin a term although not first to the concept by any means? Peak helium.

    http://adamsengines.blogspot.com.au/

    http://www.gen4energy.com/

    http://nuclearstreet.com/nuclear_power_industry_news/b/nuclear_power_news/archive/2012/03/05/savannah-river-announces-agreements-with-small-modular-reactor-developers-030502.aspx

    Gen4energy designs are based on Los Alamos technology developed over decades. This seems one immediate future of nuclear technology.

    This is not to say that nuclear fusion breakthroughs might not occur through high powered lasers or some rogue researcher promising endless cheap energy through dense plasma focus.

    https://www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2011/Sep/NR-11-09-08.html

    http://www.lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=68&Itemid=86

    If Lerner succeeds – it will be a game changer.

    Robert I Ellison
    Chief Hydrologist

    • Having said that – nuclear energy is approaching maturity.
      Wow! Nuclear is almost settled science. This means that you are saying that we have almost learned as much as humans will ever know about Nuclear Energy. If you are right, we have progressed a lot faster than I ever suspected. If you are right, we have progressed a lot faster than almost anyone has ever suspected. This is a lot like Climate Science. It was Declared to be settled long before it can be settled.

      • The question goes to how society commercialises ever more powerful technologies. Technological maturity has the meaning that the technology can be safely deployed. Gene slicing is an obvious example of a powerful technology – but it is just the start one would hope of technologies that have immense power and promise but require management of equally great risk. There was a recent example of an engineered H5N1 bird flu – http://www.popsci.com.au/science/health/should-a-new-recipe-for-engineered-bird-flu-potent-enough-to-kill-millions-be-published – that was infectious in mammals and airborne. This is the scariest thing I can imagine at the moment and the question is do we want this knowledge in the public arena before we have a cure for the disease? Or indeed at all. Is there some knowledge that is better left on the shelf?

        Nuclear power is an example of where the technology went into commercial use with obvious flaws. There is not yet a repository for long lived waste – http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/SS/storage.html – decommissioning wasn’t thought through – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/21/science/earth/as-nuclear-reactors-age-funds-to-close-them-lag.html – failures are of course big news and simply shouldn’t occur. Costs of the old designs are escalating beyond reason.

        The new modular designs and the new fuels cycles resolve these problems. So almost ready for broadscale deployment.

      • I see your point now. Thanks!

      • FYI – the Trojan Nuclear plant was decommissioned under budget and ahead of schedule.

        Decommissioning is not an area people are feeling they way around. We know how to do it. That some people were poor planners or failed to act in a fiscally responsible manner is not a “nuclear” issue. You can find that in almost any field.

      • Herman,

        That nuclear fission can be used to generate large amounts of electricity safely is a very well established, mature fact. At least if you consider 50+ years as mature.

        That doesn’t mean we can’t improve on our knowledge base, but we are pretty well advanced when it comes producing energy with commercial fission based plants.

  18. Doug Badgero

    On the cost of nuclear plants:

    Nukes cost a fortune to build and are cheap to operate. The variable operating cost of a nuke is cheaper than every other baseload source of power………except hydro. And this isn’t just by a little bit, this is by a large margin even at today’s nat gas prices. When you build a nuclear plant you are paying for tomorrow’s generation at today’s prices. When it is first built customers will be complaining about how expensive the power is, but 20 years later they will be enjoying some of the cheapest power available. This is the situation the nuclear plants operating today are enjoying now. The only real risk in this analysis is if the price of coal and nat gas don’t change for the next 20-60 years. This is no different than the relative cost of a mortgage in year one v. year 20.

    That said, we should never build so many nukes that we have to load follow with them. This would raise the fixed costs per MwH (levelized capital cost primarily) to unsupportable levels. Nukes only make sense if they are baseloaded.

    • Any examples that nuclear power plants are not baseloaded?

      • All the examples we need are the subsidies and tax credits and laws and rules that favor renewable energy that cannot compete in a fair and honest market and cannot deliver a reasonable fraction of their capacity, that suck up our tax money that should be used to promote Nuclear and Clean Coal. It is not how we are using the Nuclear Power Plants that we have, it is how we are not building the ones we need because of junk CO2 science.

      • Doug Badgero

        No, there currently aren’t enough of them in the US to worry about load following. I wouldn’t build more than about 40-50% of our total electricity capacity as nuclear though. The PJM RTO is the largest in the USA. The load on the PJM RTO can be anywhere from 60,000 to 150,000 Mw depending on weather and time of day. My point was that it doesn’t make sense to have to routinely reduce nuclear capacity as load changes through the day. This could all be fixed if we could just figure out a way to store power at utility scale…………..good luck with that. The levelized capital cost of any power plant is based in large part on its capacity factor. Since the cost of nuclear is primarily up front capital cost, we need to operate baseloaded to justify that up front cost.

      • For the moment, yes. In future hundreds or thousands years later, after fossil fuels used up, no more AGW scams. Like it or not, it will be near 100% nuclear for the rich countries, wind and solar for the poor countries with the hard decisions as to have these miserable power plant outputs or planting for food.

      • I think Doug is closer to being on target. I don’t have the numbers available that show how much of the US’s generation capacity is considered as baseload, but it isn’t 100%.

  19. “How many people remember the peril of nuclear winter? Crichton shows how the entire concept was ‘from the outset the subject of a well-orchestrated media campaign’ conducted for political ends. A Washington DC public-relations firm was paid $80,000 to publicize the research. The first appearance of the work in the peer-reviewed, scientific literature was in the December 23, 1983, issue of Science (Turco et al., 1983). But the dangers of nuclear winter had been heralded nearly two months earlier by Carl Sagan in the October 30, 1983, issue of Parade magazine, a supplement to Sunday newspapers (Seitz, 1986). By 1986, it was apparent that the conclusions of Turco et al. (1983) were suspect, and that the entire field of research was highly politicized. Writing in the January 23, 1986, issue of Nature, K. A. Emanuel (1986, p. 259) noted that ‘nuclear winter research…has become notorious for its lack of scientific integrity.'” (David Deming. Global warming, the politicization of science, and michael crichton’s “state of fear,” JSE. 2005 Jun;19(2).

    • Interesting post. I always wondered about the science behind nuclear winter, but it seemed to me that it constitute a secondary concern here, because the radiation fallout that would ensue from a nuclear bombing free-for-all would be the major concern for the participating nations, United States and Russia.

      I served in naval intelligence and saw that just speaking of one service branch, our Navy possessed plenty of nuclear warheads for delivery to Russia.

  20. total non sequiturs everywhere…commercial nuclear power (outside the USSR where no one bothered about proletarian lives) the accident rate is startlingly low. Compare with lives every year lost in mining for coal or drilling for oil. Fukishima was a freak event and yet the nuclear reactor accident has accounted for zero deaths. So we need to be scared of nuclear. Even in the USSR, how many lives were lost at Chernobyl compared with lives lost at their coal/lignite mines?

    • Lost in which mines? The number of lives lost in China per year is three orders of magnitude greater than in the US per year. In the US, miners, demand safe working conditions, OHSA regulates safe working conditions and the miners elect to work in the mines. There are huge differences between the US and China just like between the US and the former Soviet Union.

      If it wasn’t for the huge differences, Kyoto would be fine and the IPCC would be fine. They are not though, because it is not yet a Kumbaya world.

      • Comparing rich and poor? Rich people lives are expensive, poor people rather risk lives than hunger to deaths.

  21. Thorium now, Thorium forever…

  22. Fukushima meltdowns caused zero deaths. That’s the reality. Japan needs the power back soon. Some expect announcements in a few months they will be starting some back up. Nuclear always comes back safer each time there is a problem. China announced it’s building 50+ plants. India is starting into nuclear and says it has no alternatives to it. Canada is restarting a plant that was down for years. The world needs energy and nuclear is an obvious choice. France has the most developed program and it’s not going away either. The UK is expected to be looking at it in the near future also.

    • Yes, we will need the power here in Japan soon. Japan is now importing additional oil to make up for the loss of nuclear power from the earthquake and the associated shutdowns. Now that Japan is “voluntarily” reducing its imports from Iran there will be more cost pressure on the country to put its nuclear reactors back on line.

  23. Those who worked on the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) have an interesting story to tell, but not a pleasant one. IFR was a sodium-cooled fast reactor with inherently-safe fuel rods made of “spent” fuel (article by Dr. Till). It’s difficult to avoid concluding that some politicians thrive on crises and will go out of their way to ensure that we have plenty of them.

  24. One pertinent quote from The Economist:

    “But if nuclear power teaches one lesson, it is to doubt all stories of technological determinism. It is not the essential nature of a technology that matters but its capacity to fit into the social, political and economic conditions of the day.”

    • Doug Badgero

      Agreed, but the only thing that should matter is its ability to fit into the economic conditions of the day. Then we would argue about negative externalities, but at least we would be arguing about the correct things.

  25. People claiming zero deaths from Fukushima need to take their rose colored glasses off. Most radiation-related deaths are from cancers which take many years to manifest. Epidemiological statistics are used to estimate the altered incidence compared to background rates. We won’t know the Fukushima death toll for at least 20 years.

    http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/news/stories/climate-energy/2006/chernobyl-death-toll-grossly-u/

    Maybe the bottom of the ocean is the best place to site small, mass produced submarine-type nuclear reactors?

    • Those 10,000 or so displaced have bigger chance died of suicide (Japanese society has not taken good care of these misfortunates) than radiation. Lets monitor them under microscope.

    • COOL – I always follow a link to Greenpeace when I want an unbiased study.

    • blouis79,
      People ignoring the reality of 20,000 deaths from the earthquake and tsunami and focusing on the possiblity of damage in coming years are irresponsible.
      People condemning an entire industry because of the failure of three plants are not rationally considering the problem.

    • Doug Badgero

      There were perhaps twenty people who received a dose high enough to have any danger of increased cancer risk based on many studies. Of course, this sample size is much too small to know if any died because of their exposures to FD radiation. It will not be possible to tell from the “noise” of the 16% or so that die of cancer from natural causes.

    • I remember the news stories of those 50 workers giving their lives to save others…yea, they were surely all going to die…might not even get to see their loved ones again…

      Have the newspapers ever done a follow up to say they were wrong? that the grossly overestimated the impacts? A Health Physics friend of mine did some work for the NRC following the accident…those workers who received high doses have about a 1% higher probability of developing cancer than the normal population…

      You won’t know “the Fukushima death toll” because statistically you won’t be able to see it…but there is a guy in Pennsylvania who might be able to get your data to show a sharp increase…like a hockey stick…

      • Background cancer rates are well known because the world keeps cancer statistics. The data are robust and independently verifiable. But the media won’t like it because the numbers will take many years to manifest.

    • So what about the 25 years since Chernobyl? How about the studies of Hiroshima and Nakasagi survivors? Or maybe shipyard workers who build and serviced nuclear powered USN vessals?

      The shipyard worker studies not only showed no difference in rates of cancer from those of shipyard workers in non-nuclear environments (the control group), they indicated that the group exposed to low level radiation experienced lower rates of other diseases, as compared to the control group.

      The Japanese survivors group has also not showed any increased rates of cancer from the Japanese population as a whole. One interesting observation was that the survivors group has exhibited a longer life span than the Japanese average. No conclusions can be drawn for this, as it be due to their being genetically predisposed to long life. What certainly can’t be proven is that low level radiation exposure should be avoided at all cost.

  26. It’s often interesting to follow the international discussion on nuclear power from Finland, where the situation appears very different.

    Finland is a rather small country and the average power of the electricity consumption is not much more than 10 GW. Presently the generation is less than consumption, because the cost of import from Russia has been lower than additional own generation and because Norwegian hydro plants have been the lowest cost source for regulating power.

    We have four nuclear units operating since 1977-81, all with an excellent track record of excellent availability (over 90%, and almost 100% of planned as there have been very few shutdowns in addition of scheduled annual maintenance breaks, which have also been short). The economics of those units has also been excellent. The investment costs including interests were recovered fully in something like 15 years and that includes also reservations for dismantling and nuclear waste disposal. The construction of the site for spent fuel final disposal is nearly completed. All that has been done with minimal subsidies.

    Presently we have one ongoing construction project. That has not been as successful as the earlier experience, because the French company Areva has failed in running the full project. They have excellent track record on technology deliveries, but they did obviously lack competence in running the whole project. The project has been delayed by several years and Areva is making heavy losses on the project. The economics will suffer also for the power company, but by far most of the extra costs are almost certain to fall on Areva.

    The difficulties of this project have not made power companies less eager to start additional projects. Three power companies had a fierce fight on getting construction permits which were finally given to two of them (further permits are still needed, but they are on the technical level).

    Thus it seems clear in Finland that power companies are very interested in building nuclear power an fully commercial basis without any government subsidies. (Antinuclear organizations may disagree on the lack of subsidies, but that’s their role. There remain some issues on the liability insurance, but the related subsidy is minimal, if it’s calculated based on estimated risks.) That’s true in spite of the fact that the price of electricity in Finland is not high, but rather low in international comparison. Finland is part of the Nordic electricity market, where the price of wholesale electricity is nearly the same in all participating countries.

    • PP,
      Why do you believe the Finns are able to be so rational regarding this issue?

      • Finland Energy Factsheet
        http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/doc/factsheets/mix/mix_fi_en.pdf

        More than half of energy imports are crude oil. Solid fuels account for over a quarter of total imports, with gas accounting for 19%. The Russian
        Federation provides all of the natural gas and most of the crude oil and hard coal imports into Finland

        Vlad Putin has a history of using energy as a tool to settle political disputes in his favor.

      • The political disputes related to energy deliveries have all concerned counties that were earlier parts of former Soviet Union. Nothing like that has influenced deliveries to Finland, and few people consider that a significant threat.

        For natural gas Russia is the only possible source, but for oil and coal the large share of Russia is due to economics. Finland buys both from other sources as well and could easily reduce imports from Russia and even stop them assuming that there’s not a situation of global shortage.

        Concerning electricity, it is true that there’s interest in reducing imports from Russia to enhance the security of supply. The main threats are seen in technical reliability and in the possibility of future shortage of power in Russia.

        These factors may have a small influence on the attitudes on nuclear energy. At least many people prefer own nuclear plants if the alternative is taken as nuclear generation in Russia close to the border.

        The strongest reason for the relatively positive attitudes on nuclear energy is probably in the positive experience that we have had with the earlier nuclear plants.

      • Because Finns are both smart and well educated. Their CSF is also rather high.

    • I’ve never doubted in the ability of the Finns to do things right.

      After the Slovenes, Finns are the smartest, hardest working and most handsome people in the world.

  27. “…So while nukes have plenty of issues, it might be premature, albeit understandable, to rule them out as part of the climate solution.”
    Use of the term ‘climate solution’ implies that there is a climate problem. This existence of such a problem (other than the perennial weather and climate hazards that humans have always had to cope with) has been widely postulated, but not yet demonstrated. Until we have a problem, no solution is needed.

  28. Judith,

    I’m a physicist who has been an outspoken defender of nuclear power for the last forty years. Now, I’m beginning to wonder…

    Yes, nuclear power can and should be safe — if the people designing it, running it, and regulating it do not act like complete idiots.

    Alas, humans often do act like idiots: even those who are not really idiots often act like idiots as a result of social and organizational pressures. So, how idiot-proof can we make nuclear technology?

    I’m not sure.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

    • Tomas Milanovic

      In the beginning of the 80ies I happened to work on safety system design for nuclear power plants.
      It is staggering how uninformed are people and specifically journalists when the topic is industrial safety.
      Follow some examples of the most frequent errors.

      1)
      The probability of an accident is iid (independently and identically distributed). Wrong, wrong, wrong! Everybody working on safety systems knows that the probability for an accident is many orders of magnitude higher during a transient than during a steady state.
      Plane crash? Take off or landing transient – almost never during a cruise at high altitude.
      Chemical unit explosion? Shut down or start up for maintenance.
      Tchernobyl? Safety (ironical but true!) test at a power level much lower than the production level.
      The reason for that is mainly physics – the process parameters vary in highly non linear and coupled way during transients that are very difficult to evaluate. Industrial equipment is designed for steady state operation, transients are supposed to be short, few and far between. The reason why nukes should run at 100% design power 365/365 is safety as well as economics.

      2)
      Safety is a question of investment. Wrong. While investments can massively reduce failures for “small” but relatively frequent problems, they hardly impact the tails (low probability, high impact). The crushing majority of high impact accidents is not due to equipment but to humans.
      There is this unsolved (unsolvable?) problem of how far should an operator be allowed to override safety automatics. In all systems I know, the freedom of the operators is always almost complete.
      And high impact accidents very often happen when a human overrides the automatics and alarms.
      The reason for that is that the human brain fares even more poorly during non linear transients than a computer that is already at pain to manage.
      In Fukushima the automatics did their job very well (seismic safety was mastered already since the 80ies) the problem was triggered by the ridiculously low residual heat which couldn’t be evacuated because the safety pumps were flooded.

      3)
      Nuclear accidents play in another league than other industries. Wrong.
      The Texas City “small” refinery explosion killed 15 and injured more than 100.
      Fukushima “large” accident killed 0 in one year and it can be expected that nobody (but perhaps Greenpeace or WWF) will be able to find a statistically significant correlations in cancer rates in 30 or 40 years either.
      At Tchernobyl most recorded casualties were workers sent to shovel materials with staggeringly high radioactivity levels that everybody knew to kill after few minutes of exposure.
      Most of the radioactivity in a nuclear power plant is beta and it is very easy to be protected from beta – few millimeters of any shield do the trick.
      Just avoid inhaling or ingesting beta isotopes.
      Besides the activity decreases exponentially in time. The higher the half life, the lower the activity because very high half life isotopes desintegrate rarely.

      4)
      Any accident could have been avoided. Wrong.
      While it is true that an audit of an accident always finds out the errors that happened, this is not the same thing as predict these errors beforehand.
      Fukushima example could have been avoided by preventing the pump flooding (e.g constructing a 50 cm higher anti tsunami wall). But what if the Tsunami was 70 cm higher than what it was? There is always a residual probability that something will happen slightly above/beyond the prediction.
      Also Tchernobyl.
      In last analysis one could say that the first reason for the explosion was the failure of an unrelated COAL power plant which didn’t allow the shut down of the reactor for the safety tests at the time it was foreseen for because the weather was too cold in Ukraine and Tchernobyl was needed for production.
      This then triggered a whole chain of complex machine and human decision which lead to the explosion but were almost impossible to foresee and to include in a safety design.

      Last comment is not safety but economics.
      Somebody already very rightly wrote above that the operating costs of a nuke were negligible compared to the capital costs.
      Understanding that shows how absurd it is when journalist talk about “expensive nuclear power”.
      The advantage of highly capital intensive power production is that its cost decreases with time. It doesn’t makes sense to take a nuclear kwh at the day of start up and extrapolate constant it for the next 50 years.
      It is clearly visible in France – 80% of power is nuclear and most nukes were constructed in the 70ies.
      The price was then high compared to the alternatives (coal, fuel) but today France has the by far cheapest electricity in Europe and if there was not the f…. contribution for “renewables” (e.g racketting the consumers to build idiotic wind mills and solar), it would probably be one of the cheapest in the world.

      • Three Mile Island meltdown was caused by human errors related to the maintenance and operator decisions in the unexpected situation caused by that error. The properties of the reactor contributed to an essential degree to the accident. That particular reactor type gave much less time for making proper decisions than most, if not all, commercial reactor types.

        The description of Tomas on what led to the Tchernobyl accident is essentially correct, but the properties of the plants were essential for what occurred. One very important safety related property of commercial nuclear reactors is a negative temperature response: when the reactor heats up, the reactivity goes down. The Tchernobyl reactor behaved in the opposite way after it had been running at low power for a lengthy enough period. It had also other very bad properties under such conditions.

        The most incredible fact about Fukushima reactors is that they were not planned to survive tsunamis of a size that occurs on those coastal areas more often than once in a century. Something like once in ten thousand years would have been a more appropriate planning basis. There are also other features of the plants that should have been corrected long ago (given that such errors were understandable at the time the reactors were originally built, which is also questionable).

        All severe accidents are partially unpredictable but it’s common that some avoidable or correctable obvious errors of judgment have contributed to them. As far the knowledge that I have heard is correct (and the source is highly knowledgeable) one or more international expert groups have gone trough the safety aspects of the Fukushima plant and told that certain corrections should have been implemented rapidly. Some of these improvements had probably prevented much of what has now occurred.

      • PP,
        I believe that history shows Three Mile Island was a very limited problem.
        http://www.nucleartourist.com/events/tmi.htm
        and the risk was very small.
        You are correct in your larger point- accidents and responses to accidents are greatly influenced by human action.

      • The TMI accident did not produce large releases to the environment because the containment was not broken. The reactor itself was, however, severely damaged and a lot of radioactivity released to the interior of the containment.

        I emphasized the importance of planning of the reactor and the safety systems. I think that the properties of the Babcock – Wilcox design were an essential factor in this event.

        It’s important that the improved knowledge is used both in planning of new plants and in back-fitting old plants to make them more safe as well as in developing operational procedures to reduce risks as far as possible.

      • TMI was an economic disaster…

        There have been some studies done comparing fatalities and recovery costs for accidents in the various technologies used for generating power (primarily electricity)…nuclear has by far the fewest fatalities but nuclear events are far more costly…hydro plants kill many more people but their recovery costs are low…coal and oil are in the middle…

      • Pekka,

        As I recall, it wasn’t so much a case of faulty reactor design at TMI, as it was a poor layout design of the controls and instrumentation in the Control Room. My dad was brought in to do a review of their control systems before the plant started up. Many of the recommendations he listed in his report later where identified in the NRC review of the incident. At the time, the utility decided that redesigning the control room so late in the process was too costly and added too much unwanted delays.

    • All fool-proof systems, may be overcome by any fool at some time.

    • “Alas, humans often do act like idiots: even those who are not really idiots often act like idiots as a result of social and organizational pressures. So, how idiot-proof can we make nuclear technology?”

      Making nuclear reactors idiot proof has been the general direction taken.
      The Moon is the best place to have nuclear reactor being idiot proof- it does not matter if the nuclear reactor had a complete meltdown.
      A question I could ask is there any place on earth in which the consequence of a complete meltdown would have insignificant consequences. What about at a mile depth?

      Is it possible to find “underground real estate” in which if the worse case occurs the result doesn’t have a significant effect?
      The problem with digging underground anywhere is the water table- and what I mean is going below the water table and/or having reactor in which in worse case the reactor would not contaminate the water table.

      One question is costs. The idea of some entity that wants to build a nuclear reactor, choosing to built nuclear reactor a mile or so underground is not likely- there are cheaper start up costs. Instead what I am talking about is city planning and “land development”.
      The first thing needed is knowledge of what is mile below surface and such exploration may have already been done for other reasons- oil exploration perhaps, earthquake studies, or whatever.
      City councils should all have access to knowledge of the land mile beneath the city- they should have 3 dimensional maps. And having such maps could be the first thing needed.
      There are boring machines can tunnel at fairly reasonable cost, example:
      “New York City is planning to construct an ambitious tunnel that will bypass the failing sections of the Delaware aquaduct which conveys water from upstate reservoirs to more than 50% of the city’s inhabitants.
      The 5km by-pass tunnel will be constructed between Newburgh and Wappinger. It will run at depths of 180-240m below the Hudson river and divert water around the leaking sections of the aquaduct.

      The total cost of the project, including land acquisitions and environmental reviews, is expected to be in the region of US$1.2 billion.”
      http://www.world-tunnelling.com/global-news/tunnel-proposed-for-leaking-new-york-aquaduct

      So rough scale of simply making tunnel to somewhere around 1 mile depth- is somewhere in 1-5 billion dollar range. The planning and getting the legal right to do this is the part which is expensive and difficult. The idea isn’t a tunnel for one nuclear reactor, it’s make industial park for nuclear power for the city [maybe even exporting power] for centuries into the future. So city would be making real estate
      they would sell to entities which would generate electical power for city.
      Such a plan could [and should] include other types of projects.

      So this a road underground to a region which has at least 1/2 mile of rock separating a power plant and people. Not a underground city where people live. Any personnel involved in whatever operations can take vertical subway [elevator] to get to the area.
      The benefits are you short power transmission distances which fairly uninterruptable. Once nuclear fuel is at tunnel entrance, you have safe route to transport nuclear fuel [the "road" isn't a public road with unscheduled traffic]. And if not storing nuclear waste, transport to tunnel exit is safe. The road could/should be seal-able. Any vertical access could/should be seal-able. And radioactive leak to public isn’t possible- one doesn’t have NIMBY. The city isn’t building all the infrastructure- it’s making a tunnel, a tunnel which give access to real estate which is volume of “undeveloped” rock which could be “developed”- which could be “zoned” for anything other than residential or “shopping areas” which not permitted within 1/2 mile of the area.

    • In my college student days I had the pleasure of working on the construction of the nuclear power plant in Byron, IL (not far from where Dr. Curry did her undergraduate studies). Re quality of the workforce: “if you only saw what I saw” (excluding YT of course). It was, I believe, the only nuclear plant in the U.S. that the NRC refused an operating license on initial application, and that was under Reagan (tells you a lot there). At least I can say that there were no Dixie cups or cigarette butts sticking out the walls when the NRC inspectors did their tour in the areas under my watch, but I can’t vouch for others.

      I also remember the heady days of the Rasmussen Report and its probabilistic risk assessment that even then struck me as patently bogus. Redundancy in safety systems leads to multiplication of probabilities; after all, what else are you going to do with them? Problem is that failures of these systems are prone to cascading especially when human factors are involved. And then there’s Fukishima, all of the redundancy taken out of the oceanfront plant in one fell swoop by a tsunami, in Japan of all places. Who woulda thunk it?

      Nuclear power hold great promise as long as we are very good, site these facilities wisely, mind our p’s and q’s about safety always without lapse, and build true redundancy in safety systems. The price of failure is that we create a circle on the map of about 20 miles radius (more or less) that becomes uninhabitable for a long time, in addition to all of the mortality and morbidity. Are we up to it? I don’t know. You might say I’m skeptical.

  29. One aspect of the obsession on the Fukishima reactors is that it is at the expense of what caused the problem and the scales of the damage.
    No one died from Fukushima. About 20,000 died from the tsunami.
    Seawalls, warning systems, power distribution were all proven to under engineered for the reality of the threat. Fukushima was under engineered in that its backup systems were too vulnerable tidal wave surge and contingency plans were inadequate to deliver timely power for cooling ponds. No one is talking about abandoning the Japanese coast even though critical coastal defenses failed. They are rebuilding with lessons learned.
    Yet the nuclear power plants, which killed no one, are being shut down across the nation.
    This is a failure of leadership at the top and demonstrates the corrosive effects of anti-science ‘progressives’ who are unable to think rationally about risks.

  30. Alex Heyworth

    Take one sphere of thorium, the size of a tennis ball. Hold it in your hand (it is safe to do so). That piece of thorium can provide enough energy for one human (even an American!) for a whole lifetime.

  31. Michael Hart

    But for the anti-nuclear lobby, we could have been at least three decades more advanced in reactor design and safety issues. The PR success of the lobby means that the planning delays (=cost) and risk idemnity (=more cost) have a huge impact. This then allows the same lobbyists to claim that nuclear is not economic either.

    The same lobbyists are keen on talking about the future, but I see the medium term (>50 years) as being predominantly only fossil fuel (shale gas/coal) and/or nuclear, whether we like it or not. A lot of people still haven’t grasped this nettle (in their thoughts). Encouragingly though, even Richard Black at the BBC is beginning to have some troubled dreams that ‘Plan A’ isn’t going to work. I suspect, like a lot of others, he had no ‘Plan B’.

  32. In addition to the interesting history of Thorium Fission:

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

    …the Bussard Polywell inertial electrostatic confinement fusion reactor:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell

    is extremely interesting – not least because of the way it was funded.

    There some developments in this area:

    http://newenergyandfuel.com/http:/newenergyandfuel/com/2012/03/07/bussards-emc2-fusion-contracts-extended/

    and there is even a forum that discusses issues relating to the Polywell “Whiffleball” fusion concept:

    http://www.talk-polywell.org/bb/

    I find the Polywell concept to be extremely intriguing. It has been proved to work, but there are some engineering challenges yet to be solved. It involves rather arcane physics – stuff we learnt in high school – which makes it really easy to follow for lay-people. One of the goals is to use a boron + proton fusion which would result in no radioactive residue (ie emitted neutrons) at all.

    The reason this project has flown so low underneath everyone’s radar is interesting. But it’s development is in the open now and has been up until now an extremely cheap project.

    If the engineering problems can be overcome, the optimal size for this type of reactor would be about the size of jumbo jet engine, and producing roughly the same amount of power, which you would grid multiple units together to provide power for cities etc. It’s the holiest of holy grails, cheap plentiful energy potentially making arguments about other forms energy we may be having now somewhat irrelevant.

    While it may not be with us yet, I don’t think it would be wise to take our eye off the potential for some ground breaking development to create a paradigm shift within the next 20 years. If I was a policy maker or an investor, I would be highly senstive to it.

    • The Canadian acoustic lead fusion reactor is my favorite odd one.
      http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-11/30/general-fusion-plans-reactor-test

      http://www.generalfusion.com/

      General Fusion hope achieve the necessary power density by injecting a low-temperature and low-density plasma of deuterium and tritium into the spherical void in a rotating sphere of molten lead/lithium. They use 200 pneumatic hammers to generate a shock wave in the outer lead sphere, and this wave is concentrated as it approaches the center. When the shock wave arrives in the center, it will rapidly collapse the plasma, creating the energy density required for thermonuclear reactions. You will have a lot of gamma/X-Rays that will heat the lead, which is linked to a heat exchanger, running a turbine. The neutrons are captured by the Li dissolved in the lead, providing tritium gas for future injections.

  33. There are a few AGW alarmists who are hypocrites when they pretend to wish for a better world by returning America to a society based on hunting and gathering. Those few are people like Al Gore Hollywood types. And, they’re small in numbers.

    And, there are a lot a nuts and nihilists, of course–i.e., maniacs suffering from Hot World Syndrome.

    However, the vast majority of AGW fearmongers–e.g., those that label skeptics as deniers and have made a cottage industry out of manipulating data and playing politics with science–are knowingly living and pushing a lie. These facilitators of climate porn are the academics and bureaucrats of the Western government-education industry and all of those who hate America, such as the Eurocrat socialists, despots and tin-pot dictators of the nations that comprise the UN.

    • What I find fascinating, Wagathon, is the borderline between true belief and cynical belief among the alarmists. I find the former territory to have a much higher population than the latter, and I find the population of true believers to be slowly emigrating across the border into neighboring doubt, since the moral tariffs at the border into cynical belief are too high.
      ===============

    • How simple it would be if our opponents were all liars.

  34. Nuclear isn’t dead in the US.

    There are 3 main financial risks involved in building nuclear
    1) Regulatory Risk
    2) Construction Risk
    3) Demand Risk.

    The answer to #1 in the US is barely 3 months old. Yes…we can get regulatory approval.
    We won’t know what the answer to #2 will be until Vogle #3 and #4 and VC Summer #2 and #3 are built(Vogtle is a poor guide as it is ‘First of a Kind’). 2016-2017 timeframe.

    The answer to #3 is dependent on the price of natural gas. The historical price of natural gas is between $6 and $8 per MMBto. At the moment natural gas is selling at less then half it’s historical price.

    There is anectdotal evidence for both the argument that cheap natural gas is going to be ‘forever’. There is also anecdotal evidence that ‘cheap natural gas’ is a temporary thing caused by ‘over investment’ in natural gas drilling when the price was $12/MMBtu.

    I like nuclear as a generating technology…but I wouldn’t invest in it until I had a better view of what the ‘actual’ construction costs are going to be and a better handle on where natural gas prices are going to be in the future.

    A ‘wait and see’ position appears prudent to me at this time….maybe get some of the permitting stuff taken care of now so that construction can move ahead promptly once the 2 risks I think I should concern myself with are clearer.

  35. Anti-nuke is just more of the same: superstitious fearmongering. It’s a crime the way lazy and superstitious useful idiots of the Left continue to torch the culture.

    These constant naysayers take whatever they can get without providing anything of value to society that anyone voluntarily pays for. They actually believe there is such a thing as a free lunch.

    Remember the “pusillanimous pussyfooters” and “nattering nabobs of negativism? Just listen to them gripe about the consequences of the poverty, misery, hate and death that their support for failed secular, socialist liberal utopianism and jihad against capitalism has brought about.

    And, if that is not bad enough they use their votes to give power to fearmongering politicians who abandon the scientific method for ideological purposes and have nothing to offer but to blame Bush and America for the worlds’ problems.

    • ceteris non paribus

      Well, Wag – Just listen to you gripe about the “Left”.

      It’s understandable, of course.
      The “Left” control –everything–, except the local, state, and federal governments, the media, resource extraction, industry, and the courts.

      And, of course, politicians on the right are so darn hip to “the scientific method”… Dr Santorum to the laboratory, stat!

      It’s getting so that you can’t even “liberate” countries – preferably ones with billions of barrels of fossil fuel reserves – without crazy blow-back from people, some of whom aren’t even Americans.

      Anyway – If things don’t work out, you can always blame “old Europe” – especially the French.

      Just leave China out of it. Your communist-dictatorship trading partner of choice might decide to call in its debts.

      • Hackneyed crab. The meter is running on other peoples’ money.
        =============

      • Facts are facts: holding everything else constant the Left really does not give a damn about polar bears. Even the founder and past president of Greenpeace has seen behind the red curtrain. Patrick Moore was the had the intellectual courage to stand up against eco-terrorism. Compare that to an EPA that applauds the Left’s jihad on energy for humanity.

  36. I don’t blame people for being frightened. They’re only reacting to what they’re being told. Much like AGW. Your average Joe doesn’t have the intellectual wherewithal to investigate for himself. Which explains a lot,

  37. Josh, semiliterate (or xenophobic) as you seem to be, here’s wikipedia’s summary of spelling conventions in different parts of the anglo-talk world:

    American and Canadian[34] spelling accepts only -ize endings in most cases, such as organize, realize, and recognize.[35] British usage is split between both -ize and -ise (organize / organise, realize / realise, recognize / recognise),[35] and the ratio between -ise and -ize stands at 3:2 in the British National Corpus.[36] In Australia and New Zealand -ise spellings strongly prevail: the -ise form is preferred in Australian English at a ratio of about 3:1 according to the Macquarie Dictionary.

    Worldwide, -ize endings prevail in scientific writing and are commonly used by many international organizations, such as the ISO and the WHO. The European Union switched from -ize to -ise some years ago in its English language publications, and this resulted in the coexistence of the -ize spelling in older legislative acts and the -ise spelling in more recent ones. Proofreaders at the EU’s Publications Office ensure consistent spelling in official publications such as the Official Journal (where legislation and other official documents are published), but the -ize spelling may be found in other documents.

    The same pattern applies to derivatives and inflexions such as colonisation/colonization.

  38. I suspect that the public would be more pro-nuclear power if the designers and operators used a slightly different sales pitch.
    The vast majority of the public are worries what happens if one has a big firework moment.
    If you could persuade them that a massive loss of coolant, while operating at maximum power would not lead to a deposition of radioactive material into the environment. Simply stating that accidents will not happen is not going to cut it. Members of the public have enough knowledge that million to one chances happen nine times out of ten.
    The Fukushima accident is a case in point. The operators didn’t vent steam/radioactive noble gasses from the towers designed to do just that, because they didn’t want the radioactive Xenon going into the atmosphere. So, as they did not get rid pf the over-pressure, they couldn’t pump in cooling water. As they didn’t get rid of hydrogen gas, they ended up getting a hydrogen gas explosion.
    Their not wanting to release a small amount radiation caused a much bigger release.
    The amount of power they needed to run the emergency system was trivial. They could have run their boards and all the key pumps with the small gasoline pumps one buys from Sears.
    Call me Dr. picky here, but one would guess that the operators and builders might just have thought that their power switching gear, batteries and main backup generators should have been in some sort of water tight environment?
    The hospital I work in was flooded in the 80’s. It now has water tight doors and diesel generators with air inlets and exhausts about 30 meters above ground level.

    • Duncan Hawthorne is the former head of WANO, and still the head of Bruce Power (which has about 6000MW of nuclear capacity). He recently gave a speech to the Empire Club in Toronto (it’s on youtube) where he stated venting would be standard operating procedure anywhere, but in Fukushima the rules required they get permission from the Mayor – and the explosion was because they couldn’t find him for 6 hours.
      The point of his speech was that excessive regulation exacerbated the problems, and searching for success through regulatory excellence just prices nuclear out of markets … and in Fukushima some regulations prevented the operator from operating.

  39. Doug Badgero

    Moderator,

    My comment to Robert at 7:04pm is getting captured by the spam filter because I am posting a link. Can you allow it to escape?

  40. THE LIGHTS ARE not going off all over Japan, but the nuclear power plants are. Of the 54 reactors in those plants, with a combined capacity of 47.5 gigawatts (GW, a thousand megawatts), only two are operating today.

    So all this power has been turned off, yet the lights are still burning ??
    How is this possible?

    • Candles are in great demand!

      Seriously, 47.5GW must represent a good percentage of Japanese electricity generation. I would like to know as well.

      • One reason is the Japanese public has taken rather exceptional steps to reduce consumption. I’ve read how less than 50% of office building lights are turned on during the day and that in many cases air conditioning is also turned off. So yes, the Japanese are showing that they can greatly reduce their consumption. But it is at considerable sacrifice.

    • They took old uneconomic oil fired plants out of mothballs.

  41. Doug Badgero how does France with 80% nuclear, load follow?

    • Load follows demand, all the time.

    • Only 1/2 of Frances ‘nameplate’ capacity is nuclear. So most of the load following is done with non-nuclear generators. Nuclear plants have some load following…it’s just not particularly economic.

    • Doug Badgero

      Let me clarify, nuclear plants CAN load follow. It is not an issue of technical capability, it is an issue of economic efficiency.

  42. The banana radioactivity scale. Note that the radiation exposure from living within 50 miles of a coal fired plant is much, much less than exposure from living in a brick or stone house.

    http://xkcd.com/radiation/

  43. Civilian nuclear power worldwide has fewer deaths per teraWatt-hour than any other power source, including wind and solar. http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/10/snapshot-of-deaths-per-terawatt-hour.html
    Because uranium is so energy-dense, the environmental footprint of any nuclear plant is small. While producing cheap and reliable electricity around the clock, nuclear plants’ carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are extremely low. Annual average radiation exposure from a US nuclear plant: .01 millirem/year. From a coal-fired plant: 1-4 millirem/year. These are low exposures in either case, but if someone is a radiophobe, that person should campaign to shut down coal-fired plants and avoid household natural gas (9 millirem exposure per year).

    As world energy demand grows, fossil fuel combustion is increasing. In the US alone, the EPA estimates 70,000 deaths per year due to all sources of fossil fuel combustion, the biggest ones being power production and transportation. Fossil fuel power plants emit gases–NOX and SOX–which combine with water vapor to form fine particulates that are inhaled into the airways and cause around 25,000 deaths per year from lung and heart disease and hundreds of thousands of cases of illness (Clean Air Task Force). In 2010 “clean, safe natural gas” killed 14 Americans due to explosions. Deaths in the US from the operation of commercial nuclear reactors in the past five decades: 0.

    Marine biologists continue to report increasing acidification of seawater due to the ocean uptake of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide chiefly produced by burning fossil fuels. For millions of years the ocean pH has remained stable but now is changing due to human activity. Most marine organisms can’t adapt quickly enough to the rising rate of acidification. About a billion people depend on the ocean for survival. Heat-trapping greenhouse gases originating mainly from fossil fuel combustion are responsible for the steadily rising global temperature, the melting of glaciers and ice caps, the expansion of the ocean and rise in sea level, the increase in droughts and subsequent problems of climate refugees, and the increase in violent storms. Scientists from many, many different disciplines agree on these facts.

    On the other hand, the fossil fuel industry, wealthier than any other industry in the world, has mounted a massive PR campaign to convince the public that fossil fuels are harmless.

    The fossil fuel industry has only two rivals: nuclear power and a more universal understanding of the gigantic impacts of fossil fuel combustion.

    • My friend the conscientious biologist has done coral experiments and knows increasing CO2 in water increases coral growth. The mainstream of “science” does not like that “inconvenient” truth.

      To properly compare the “costs” of nuclear vs coal, one must properly consider negative externalities. Sadly, rational analysis is lacking due to selective quoting by most sources.

      I think CO2 emissions are much safer than radioactive leaks. AGW proponents have a different view.

      • I invite you to read a paper written by 29 marine biologists and chemists under the auspices of several eminent oceanographic laboratories around the world: https://darchive.mblwhoilibrary.org/bitstream/handle/1912/370/Orr2004-12-27985_text.pdf.txt?sequence=7

        The ocean is the world’s biggest carbon sink. It readily absorbs CO2. But then there’s a tipping point, thanks to the accelerating, large-scale introduction of anthropogenic CO2 and the combination of CO2 and seawater creates carbonic acid. That’s happening quite rapidly, after 400,000 years of stable pH. Marine organisms that must secrete shells cannot adapt rapidly enough to such a rapidly acidifying ocean.

        Here’s a quote from the peer-reviewed, footnoted paper:
        “Surface dwelling calcitic plankton such as foraminifera and coccolithophorids, may fare better temporarily. However, the beginnings of high-latitude calcite undersaturation will only lag that for aragonite by 50 to 100 years. The diverse benthic calcareous organisms in high-latitude regions may also be threatened, including cold-
        water corals which provide essential fish habitat. Cold-water corals appear much less abundant in the North Pacific than in the North Atlantic46, where the aragonite saturation horizon is much deeper (Fig. 2). Moreover, some important taxa in Arctic and Antarctic benthic communities secrete magnesian calcite, which can be more soluble than aragonite. These include gorgonians46, coralline red algae, and echinoderms (sea urchins)47. At 2×CO2, juvenile echinoderms stopped growing and produced more brittle and fragile exoskeletons in a subtropical 6-month manipulative experiment. For high latitude calcifiers though, responses to reduced [CO32− ] have generally not been studied. Yet experimental evidence from lower latitude, shallow dwelling calcifiers reveals a reduced ability to calcify with decreasing carbonate saturation state. Given that at 2×CO2, calcification rates in some shallow dwelling calcareous organisms may decline by up to 50%9, some calcifiers could have difficulty surviving even long enough to experience undersaturation. Certainly, they have not experienced undersaturation for at least the last 400,000 years and probably much longer. Changes in high-latitude seawater chemistry that will occur by the end of the century could well alter the structure and biodiversity of polar ecosystems, impacting multiple trophic levels. Assessing these impacts is impeded by the scarcity of relevant data.”

      • Gwenyth,
        Bunk.
        We are not close to a tipping point in ocean pH.
        The paper you refer to is deceptive.

      • Numerous badly performed scientific experiments on coral have been published as part of the cargo-cult confirmation-biased science in defence of AGW .

        I understand from my friend that the coral pH experiments have not been conducted under properly biological conditions. Under correct conditions, symbiotic coral algae eat CO2 for lunch and love it.

      • Well mixed gasses have been replaced by well qualified phrases. In your quote: “may fare better, may also be threatened, appear much less abundant, which can be, have generally not been studied, may decline, could have difficulty, could well alter”, etc.

        “Assessing these impacts is impeded by the scarcity of relevant data.” – Please send money?

      • Gwyneth,

        I see from your bio that you are a journalist and a defender of nuclear energy. And, I also note your reference to a “peer reviewed” paper by “29 marine biologists and chemists” on the perils of CO2 and ocean acidification.

        As a layman, with a profile that, I suspect, is one with the target-audience of your nuclear power advocacy and your concerns with CO2, I offer, for what it’s worth, my visceral reaction to your above comment:

        As background for my “first-blush” response to your comment, Gwyneth, I place your comment in the context of the multi-decade, CAGW scare campaign, now fading rapidly, of media hype, Solyndra-style fiascos, windmill blight, and “science” of the sort revealed in the two tranches of the climategate e-mails. And, as the CAGW scams are losing their effectiveness and wind-down, I also can’t help but notice that the agit-prop machinery, formerly devoted to pumping up the CAGW hustles, has now pivoted to a worry-wart obsession with “ocean acidification” and the wondrous benefits of “nuclear energy.” Always, of course, with our “old friend”–demon CO2–as the evil-doer deluxe of the morality-play pitch and pretext for implementing every conceivable sort of noxious, lefty agenda item.

        So, Gwyenth, once-bitten, twice-shy, as they say. How do I know you’re not just part of some new-offensive, “bait-and-switch”, greenshirt intrigue–especially since you seem to be appearing regularly at all the pulpits previously reserved for the exclusive use of the CAGW prophets of doom? And, it might be added, your sudden appearance as an eco-prelate opportunely occurs just as us jaded carbon-sinners tire of the hoary, bogey-man tales of hot-house apocalypse, and, worse, our willingness to fill the collection plate, on behalf of those scare-stories, takes a conspicuous powder. Not to mention our disgruntlement with high gas prices.

        So as a heathen, Gwyneth, who wants to believe, but has his unworthy suspicions, could you please help me out?:

        One of WUWT’s posts (Google: “wattsupwiththat 29 July 2011
        inspector general’s transcript of drowned polar bears) provided, or so it seemed, a rare opportunity to see pretty much how the “sausage” is made in the world of green-science.

        In reference to the above WUWT post, Gwyneth, is the quality of the “science” and “peer review” entailed in the work of the “29 marine biologists and chemists”, you cited, better or worse than that entailed in Dr. Monnet’s seminal work on polar bears?

      • Jim,

        Thanks for the reference. That Gwyneth seems to be puncturing some of the “myths” about nuclear power hazards–“myths” carefully cultivated by the “green” crowd for a generation or more, I might add–appears to me, in and of itself, a “good” thing. But her interests are broader, I recommend. That is, Gwyneth’s nuclear advocacy seems to adopt the further position that CO2 is “bad”. And in support of that angle she cites a study by “29 marine scientists” and so forth. So Gwyneth’s interest in nuclear power may well be, indeed, seems so to me to be, all wrapped up in a big push for “nuclear” as an escape from the CO2 bogey-man. And that gets me suspicious.

        The whole environmental movement appears to work to a pattern: a “problem” is delcared, a “solution” asserted, supportive scare-mongering suddenly erupts in the media, sympathetic politicians begin spouting the latest “green-speak”, academic institutions and NGOs go into their “cheerleader-science”/agit-prop routines, and well-connected make-a-buck/make-a-gulag entrepreneurs cash-in. And, of course, everyone’s trough gets filled–everyone who counts, that is–while the hapless taxpayer takes it in the shorts.

        Further, with the CAGW hustle ending its notable, good-while-it-lasted run, there is a whole army of marooned eco-parasites with no job skills and related parasite-institutions to consider. And, then there’s also all those great, old, lefty visions that remain, dancing like so many authoritarian, collectivist sugar-plums, in the left’s collective head. Hence my concern and suspicion– Gwyenth’s brand of “nuclear power” advocacy may be nothing more than just a pretext with which vast UN bureaucracies can be kept alive, party-animal enviro-conferences booked for decades to come, gold-plated grant applications justified at the cyclic rate, brave-new-world schemes salvaged, the money-spigot kept full open and gushing with campaign-contributions, brainwashed kids and their NGO youth-masters kept happy with a little walking-around money, and our philosopher-king/queen “betters” kept in a position to pick winners and losers to their considerable profit, at our taxpayer expense.

        And, Jim, all that stuff, above, is what prompted my original comment addressed to Gwyneth. But, at the same time, I hope my unkind suspicions are completely unfounded.

      • Mike, you seem to enjoy the ad hominem approach.
        I find in my research that the politicization of scientific endeavors tends to receive a lot of financial support from the fossil fuel industry, nuclear power’s only real rival. One nuclear plant can replace three coal-fired plants. The fossil fuel industry is funding all kinds of ad campaigns, think tanks that prove that smog is good for you, etc. For every member of Congress there are seven lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry whose mission it is to ridicule any information about anthropogenic climate change. Hundreds of businesses contribute to the lobbying fund.

        But science, done well, just tries to determine the facts.

        What interests me in regard to accelerated anthropogenic ocean acidification and global temperature rise, which are being monitored by instrumentation worldwide, are the vast amounts of data reported and the longitudinal studies done by glaciologists, marine biologists, chemical oceanographers, botanists, climatologists, reef specialists, and their colleagues in other scientific disciplines. As more information is reported and analyzed and peer-reviewed, it becomes easier to discard data that may be flawed and to arrive at more accurate conclusions. Alvin Weinberg predicted back in the 1960s at ORNL that the increase of carbon emissions was bound to have global effects. His assumptions have been proven. Anthropogenic carbon emissions can be traced because of the particular carbon isotope being released by fossil fuel emissions. That’s the great thing about the scientific method. As testing continues, as experiments are conducted, as data is gathered, these conclusions about the impacts of fossil fuel emissions are accumulating and they tend to point in the same direction. As these findings are discussed, argued, examined from many angles, and made known through the usual scientific channels–laboratories around the world, science departments of universities, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, peer review, replication of results, etc., etc.–there will be disagreements. Eventually science-based facts emerge. This is how science has always advanced.

        I was lucky enough to have Dr. Rip Anderson, an organic chemist, chemical oceanographer, expert in probabilistic risk assessment, and the director of four major projects regarding nuclear waste disposal at Sandia National Labs as my guide through the nuclear world as well as my tutor in regard to the impacts of anthropogenic global warming and ocean acidification. He regrets that both nuclear power and climate change and its impacts have become politicized by various camps with various agendas, and I share his regret.
        Often I encounter people who oppose nuclear power but refuse to listen to any description of its potential benefits or learn about its safety record or how it works because they’ve decided that all of the science of nuclear power and radiation protection is false, that nuclear energy is bad and that’s it. It’s “religious” position rather than a fact-based one, and in those cases there is no hope. Fortunately, more and more people in the nuclear world are in agreement with the climate scientists and oceanographers, and more and more climate scientists, oceanographers et al are voicing support for nuclear power plants to replace fossil fuel burning plants.
        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120301143735.htm

      • Well, I like Gwyneth’s approach better than “let’s form a world government” so we can deal with global warming. I don’t see a downside to building nuclear power plants, no matter the motivation. I see big and multiple downsides to a world government.

      • Jim,

        Can’t disagree, JIm, with the points you make. Except to say, I’m not inclined to throw out carbon-based power options until nuclear becomes demonstrably a cheaper, faster, smarter and clearly safe alternative and made that way on some venture capitalists dime, not the taxpayers’. Especially, as it becomes clearer that “demon CO2″ is not a pressing peril and may, very well, be of net benefit with increasing levels.

        Rather, I recommend that the nuclear option be explored at a prudent, careful pace so that we can get the final solution right. And let the guys with their own money riding on the deal do the development, take the risks, and reap the profits if their technology takes off. Or let those governments that do not have America’s wealth of cheap carbon fuels at their disposal assume nuclear’s R&D burden. But leave the politicians, academics angling for a taxpayer buck, wannabe commissars, the U. N. and that whole merry crew that formed around the CAGW scam out of the nuclear picture–or at least not brought into the picture with taxpayer monies. And no bait-and-switch hustles either, please.

        If that’s Gwyenth’s approach, I would be delighted and would offer my sincerest regrets for my previous comments, I might add.

      • Gwyneth,

        Sorry I didn’t see your reply earlier and addressed Jim’s only.

        I can see, Gwyneth, that you’re bought into the idea that “demon CO2″ is an urgent menace. And you obviously hold that view based on your understanding of “the science” of the issue. I merely asked if the standards of the science and it’s peer review, on which you rely, is at the level of Dr. Monnet’s “polar-bear” science or not–and how you went about evaluating the science on which you so confidently rely. Instead, you heaved an appeal-to-authority bunker-buster into the discussion to make your point.

        Don’t mean to be a spoil sport, Gwyneth, but a whole lot of the CAGW scam was pursued by means of seemingly unimpeachable appeals-to-authority. . All sounded good until the climategate e-mails opened up a whole can of worms that still has critters crawling out of it. So, for what it’s worth, I’m not convinced by your response that you’ve latched on to some science guys who really know the score. Maybe they do, but, then again, maybe not.

        But, you know, Gwyneth, there is one thing that would go a long way to convincing me that your science gurus are worth a listen. Namely, if they were to quit their cushy Sandia gig, cash in their retirement accounts, pull out their life savings, and, with kindred, entrepreneuial spirits, produce the faster, cheaper, smarter, safer nuclear power of your (and my) dreams. And if they pulled it off, I’d be the first to doff my cap and tug at my forelock in deference and grateful respect for your wonder-working scientists.

        But until then, I’ll maintain a healthy skepticism and keep a watch out for any grab at the taxpayers’ hard-earned bucks on behalf of “nuclear power” scams and boondoggles, as successors to the CAGW hustles of yore.

      • Gwyneth,

        Pardon me for choosing to ignore your concerns over CO2, but keep going with information about nuclear.

  44. Fukushima disaster has 3 injured nuclear workers who did not stape their anti contamination pants legs to the water proof boots and got a dose that increases their chance of cancer in a lifetime from 21.1% to roughly 21.12%.
    On the other had 18,000 people died immediately in the tsunami and 16,000 were swept out to see months ago. They are also likely dead.

    Relative risks are weighed that nuclear is worse. Good luck on reducing greenhouse gas impacts without nuclear.

    • Putting risks of energy sources in perspective . . . .
      DEATHS PER TERAWATT HOUR
      Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
      Coal – China 278
      Coal – USA 15
      Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
      Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
      Biofuel/Biomass 12
      Peat 12
      Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
      Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
      Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
      Hydro – world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
      Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

      Even taking into consideration the ~60 deaths from Chernobyl, nuclear power remains the safest energy source.

      World average for coal is about 161 deaths per TWh.
      In the USA about 30,000 deaths/year from coal pollution from 2000 TWh.
      15 deaths per TWh.
      In China about 500,000 deaths/year from coal pollution from 1800 TWh.
      278 deaths per TWh.
      Source: http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

  45. I have a question I hope a knowledgeable person might be able to answer for me.

    It is about the choice of discount rates for making decisions about what policies to pursue and which investments to make.

    In Australia, at the moment we use around 10% as the discount rate for comparing the levelised cost of electricity between electricity generation technologies. High discount rates make nuclear and renewable energy relatively less viable and fossil fuels generation relatively more viable.

    Yet, when we estimate the damage costs of CO2 emissions, Sir Nicholas Stern, Ross Garnaut and Richard Tol use comparatively very low discount rates. Tol (2011) used 1% discount rate in these analyses: http://www.esri.ie/UserFiles/publications/WP380/WP380.pdf

    Surely there is something wrong in this? If the discount rate to use in estimating the damage costs for CO2 emissions is 1%, then why aren’t we using 1% discount rate in evaluating whether to build nuclear or coal fired power stations? Or the 10% discount rate is correct and we should apply that rate for analysing the damage costs of CO2. If we did, we’d find that the damage cost of CO2 is negligible.

    • Further background on Tol:

      Tol (2011) http://www.esri.ie/UserFiles/publications/WP380/WP380.pdf seems to be saying the ‘social costs’ of CO2 emissions (base case) are around $8/tCO2 (for CO2, not CO2-e). This is based on what seems to be some very high values such as “The value of a statistical life is set to be 200 times the annual per capita income”. That means the average Australian life is valued at $13,000,000. That is far too high. “Based on international and Australian research a credible estimate of the value of statistical life is $3.5m” http://www.finance.gov.au/obpr/docs/ValuingStatisticalLife.rtf. This is 50 times, not 200 times annual per capita income. Furthermore, the discount rate used for the analyses is 1% pa. What is the justification for such a low rate? At 3% discount rate the social cost estimate falls to $0.3/t CO2. I assume at $10/tCO2, which is the discount rate we use to evaluate wheter we should build nuclear versus coal or gas power stations, the damage cost of CO2 would be near zero.

      If my understanding is correct, why are we considering implementing polices that will cost $50/tonne http://emf.stanford.edu/files/res/2369/EMF22OverviewClarke.pdf – with a high probability they will not achieve the expected objectives?

      • Correction: $10/tCO2 should read 10% in this sentence:
        “I assume at $10/tCO2, which is the discount rate we use to evaluate whether we should build nuclear versus coal or gas power stations, the damage cost of CO2 would be near zero.”

      • Tol is responsible for many of the lowest estimates of the social cost of carbon. There have been dozens of papers on the subject, mostly with numbers much higher than Tol’s. If you believe in $8/ton, then the sensible thing to do is tax carbon emission at $8/ton, and let the market work out how that effects the competitiveness of other sources.

      • I am not persuaded pricing carbon, either by tax or ETS (Cap and Trade) would necessarily be the correct approach.

        Firstly, can you show that taxing CO2 emissions at $8/tonne would achieve the desired result of controlling the climate and sea levels? What is the uncertainty that the policy would achieve the goals? How will you know if the policy achieves the goals? What are the diagnostic measures of success?

        Secondly, what is the compliance cost? EPA estimated $21 billion per year for additional EPA full time staff alone. And that is only the start. The compliance cost will certainly increase much faster than inflation as more and more stringent measurements and methods are added – as EPA has been doing to the monitoring requirements for the other gasses for the past 30 odd years. And that is just the regulator’s cost. You can assume the cost to business will be at least ten times this cost. What will be the real cost to measure an unmeasurable gas to the level of accuracy needed for trade?

        Thirdly, once installed a tax or WETS is politically very difficult to remove if for example we find the policy is not achieving the desired results ofr if we find it is not needed for whatever reason.

        Why not, instead, take an economically rational approach? Why not remove the impediments to low cost nuclear power. Roll small modular reactors off production lines in competing businesses to power the world. Roll them out at the rate the USA and Russia produced military tanks in the second world war. Produce them on production lines like the Boeing and Airbus jet liners are made. Here is an example of one of several small nuclear reactors http://gigaom.com/cleantech/hyperion-to-build-nuclear-pod-at-doe-test-site/

        I am still hoping someone can answer my actual question.

      • Those are great questions, Mr. Lang. Another one is how is any of that going to help unless China and India stop using fossil fuels? Another might be, what will happen to our competitive advantage in the world. Some are already talking about the return of some manufacturing here due to cheap natural gas, a raw material as well as an energy source. The proponents of carbon taxes or other pie in the sky schemes never want to consider those questions. Of course, the watermelons want to use China, India, and other countries who value fossil fuels as an excuse to create a world dictatorship. I would much rather die a free man from some effect of CO2 than live in a world like that one.

      • “Why not, instead, take an economically rational approach? Why not remove the impediments to low cost nuclear power. Roll small modular reactors off production lines in competing businesses to power the world. Roll them out at the rate the USA and Russia produced military tanks in the second world war. Produce them on production lines like the Boeing and Airbus jet liners are made. Here is an example of one of several small nuclear reactors http://gigaom.com/cleantech/hyperion-to-build-nuclear-pod-at-doe-test-site/

        I am still hoping someone can answer my actual question.”

        Other than political reasons there is no reason why nuclear power in various types of power plants could not provide all the world’s electrical needs.

      • Small nukes should be a great solution, IMO. Obvious uses would be for any somewhat isolated location that needs lots of power: mines, industry, oil fields, and isolated cities like Galena, Alaska.

        “In design phase
        BN-1800, Russia, build starting in 2012, operation in 2018-2020[5]
        Toshiba 4S being developed in Japan and is planned to be shipped to Galena, Alaska (USA) in 2012 (see Galena Nuclear Power Plant)
        KALIMER, 600 MWe, South Korea, projected 2030[6]
        Generation IV reactor (Gas·Sodium·Lead cooled) US-proposed international effort, after 2030
        JSFR, Japan, project for a 1500 MWe reactor begin in 1998->2010″

        http://www.thefullwiki.org/Fast-neutron_reactor

        It could make sense to power large industrial areas in urban settings. It would give industry a reliable supply of power off grid, an advantage in today’s insane green energy world. (Green meaning wind and solar.)

      • Jim2 said:

        “Small nukes should be a great solution, IMO. Obvious uses would be for any somewhat isolated location ”

        Jim, I am looking beyond that market. I am looking to the market in countries like Australia. We have a grid where most generating units are coal and mostly less than 500 MW (some up to 750 MW). Gas generators are usually about 150 MW or so. They are quick to build so low risk for investors. They can be added incrementally.

        I’d like to see small modular nuclear power plants of around the same size as the gas units – and comparable in cost of electricity. Then they could be rolled out across small to medium economies such as Australia, African nations, small Asian nations, and South America and Central American nations. If we want to reduce global emissions we need to make nuclear cost competitive everywhere, especially in the poor and developing nation states.

      • Peter Lang | March 24, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
        I fear that some peoples in some countries will not benefit from either money or small nukes thrown at them. In some cases, they need to undergo a huge and painful cultural shift. In other cases, they are held down by a dictatorial or simply brutal government. Anyone who has been paying attention to the recent wars in the Middle East will know that even mighty military force isn’t adequate to change culture. I’m not sure what can be done for them.

      • Jim2

        “I fear that some peoples in some countries will not benefit from either money or small nukes thrown at them. …”

        I agree. However that arguments misses or dodges the point. It has nothing to do with “throwing money or small nukes at them”. Governance issues are a separate issue.

        All over the world power demand is increasing and is the trend is expected to continue. The demand will be satisfied by fossil fuels and/or nuclear (mostly). Throughout most of the world, and especially in the developing countries – which is where most of the demand growth will occur – the least cost option, and the option with the lowest financial risk for investors – will be used to meet demand. At the moment the option with the lowest financial risk is often gas or coal. Nuclear is high capital cost and high financial risk. Australia, for example, would be much more likely to start with small nukes than large nukes if the small nukes could be made cost competitive with coal and gas. I believe that is possible as Rod Adams pointed out and I expanded here: http://bravenewclimate.com/2012/03/17/economist-nuclear-view-impractical/#comment-154432

      • Hey Peter,
        I see what you mean. I am for the development of small nuclear designs, CO2 or no.

  46. JC,

    What is the sort order for comments? Why are comments dated 22 March posted after comments of 24 March?

  47. After 9/11 all US nuclear plants were inspected and upgraded with emphasis on security and safety. In particular, possible ways backup power and flow of coolant to the reactors could be cut off. Apparently Tepco, the owner of Fukushima, didn’t do anything like that. The nuclear plants on the California coast keep their backup diesel generators up the hill and well behind the plants. At Fukushima the generators were stored between the plant and the seawall. The California plants transfer spent fuel from pools to concrete casks. This was not done in Japan.

    It’s important to keep in mind that all the nuclear plants in Japan withstood the earthquake. The tsunami caused problems only at Fukushima.

    • Tepco’s biggest problem was they did not begin venting early enough. The Japanese prime minister planned his fly over and the operators didn’t want to vent small amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. That delay over-pressurized the containment building leading to the hydrogen explosions which complicated an already complicated situation.

      The design of the plant is actually pretty good for 50 year old technology.

      In case you want to check, http://www.ucsusa.org/news/media_alerts/ucs-analysis-hydrogen-leaks-0524.html that is a fair analysis. With over pressurization, hydrogen is more likely to escape. There is a rupture disc in the vent line to prevent over pressurization. The vents would have to have been manually closed to cause the over-pressurization. Compassionate human error unfortunately cause more fallout.

  48. Why should bigger be better? Surely bigger is more expensive, more complex, more incomprehensible, and more likely to fall over because operators who don’t really understand what they are doing will make the wrong decision under unusual circumstances.

    If someone designed a nuclear power generator small enough to power an office building, would the market respond?

  49. Doug Badgero

    “Nearby’ really doesn’t say much.”

    Perhaps, but no one said nearby. A 45 foot tsunami is not a local event. FD was designed for a 6m tsunami. There had been larger tsunamis in that area of Japan in both 1896 and 1934. It is not difficult to conclude that these plants were poorly designed against credible natural disasters. The general difficulty in predicting tsunami height is of little relevance in this case.

  50. The US was the cradle of nuclear technology, but because of lack of government support and anti-nuclear sentiment, other countries have taken the lead and are now exporting nuclear power hardware to countries that want a reliable source of electricity but may have poor resources.

    France, Russia, and Korea are examples of countries whose governments support nuclear technology and nuclear development and are successfully building plants in other countries. Meanwhile, the US chose to give the biggest subsidies to fossil fuels, both federally and privately. Fossil fuels still get the big bucks and tax breaks, etc., although now renewables are taking the lead. Nuclear power has gotten a relatively small boost from the government recently, but not enough of one to make the US competitive with other exporters.

    Despite these obstacles, current US nuclear technology has made innovations in safety and security features. Nuclear plants are absolutely necessary to national security and can function without importing fuel from troubled parts of the world. US nuclear plants, which are tightly regulated, are far cleaner and safer than most coal and gas plants.

    In 2010, a gas-powered plant exploded in CT and killed 6 people and a gas pipeline exploded in CA and killed 8 and devastated a neighborhood. Not one member of the US public has died as the result of the operation of a commercial nuclear reactor.

    Therefore, the notion that we should just keep expanding fossil fuel usage and wait until nuclear power becomes “safer” is foolish. Fossil-fuel plants are responsible for thousands of US deaths annually due to fine particulates alone. These get in the airways of the lungs and cause heart and lung diseases and thousands of cases of illness annually. The NAS National Research Council calculates that the health costs from fossil fuel combustion are in the billions:
    “WASHINGTON — A new report from the National Research Council examines and, when possible, estimates “hidden” costs of energy production and use — such as the damage air pollution imposes on human health — that are not reflected in market prices of coal, oil, other energy sources, or the electricity and gasoline produced from them. The report estimates dollar values for several major components of these costs. The damages the committee was able to quantify were an estimated $120 billion in the U.S. in 2005, a number that reflects primarily health damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation. The figure does not include damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, and risks to national security, which the report examines but does not monetize.”
    http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12794

  51. What the heck does the safety and viability of nuclear power have to do with climate science, and what is the purpose of this blog anyway? I came here to learn more about Judith Currey’s insights to climate science, which seemed interesting, but instead I found a politically conservative, scientifically stale community stuck in the status quo and unwilling to consider an alternative future. It is no wonder that Judith’s views on global warming and what to do about it are generally not well regarded … it appears that they are motivated by the “isms” of the status quo.

    • Mike,

      This is what happens when you take someone from the 1st grade and throw them into a graduate course.

      Not understanding the connection between power generation sources and climate change indicates a very low level of knowledge on the topic.

  52. Alex Heyworth

    The bottom line on Japan and nuclear power is that, given it is both a major earthquake zone and prone to tsunamis, it is one of the least suitable locations on Earth for nuclear power plants. Maybe they should think about putting nuclear power stations on offshore platforms :)

  53. Alex Heyworth

    This blog has recently been exhibiting really weird behaviour regarding where your post ends up. I just added a post at the bottom of the thread, it ended up several places back up the thread. Anyone know the explanation?

  54. Doug Badgero

    From INPO report 11-005 available here:

    http://hps.org/documents/INPO_Fukushima_Special_Report.pdf

    “Forty-one minutes after the earthquake, at 1527, the first of a series of seven tsunamis arrived at the site. The maximum tsunami height impacting the site was estimated to be 46 to 49 feet (14 to 15 meters). This exceeded the design basis tsunami height of 18.7 feet (5.7 meters) and was above the site grade levels of 32.8 feet (10 meters) at units 1-4. All AC power was lost to units 1-4 by 1541 when a tsunami overwhelmed the site and flooded some of the emergency diesel generators and switchgear rooms. The seawater intake structure was severely damaged and was rendered nonfunctional. All DC power was lost on units 1 and 2, while some DC power from batteries remained available on Unit 3. Four of the five emergency diesel generators on units 5 and 6 were inoperable after the tsunami. One air-cooled emergency diesel generator on Unit 6 continued to function and supplied electrical power to Unit 6, and later to Unit 5, to maintain cooling to the reactor and spent fuel pool.”

    I am not sure what the source of the information circulating that the tsunami just barely overtopped the breakwater.

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