by Yousaf Butt
Current nuclear technology is not a sensible solution to the climate change challenge – but research on “new-nuclear” and renewables infrastructure should be aggressively pursued.
Nuclear Power is being promoted as a necessary low-carbon solution to help mitigate the risks of climate change. But current-generation nuclear reactors, entail societal risks of their own – uncertain waste storage, serious nuclear proliferation risks, cost uncertainties, as well as the more well-known risk of the occasional nuclear accident. A massive increase in such reactors would mean a lot more nuclear material circulating and being enriched worldwide, including in the turbulent middle east.
Is a heightened risk of nuclear terrorism worth the benefit of mitigating a half-centigrade of temperature increase by 2100? How many more nuclear North Koreas is one willing to tolerate to ameliorate the ocean acidification caused by carbon dioxide emissions? Science alone cannot answer such questions. But science can help inform the politicians who must make these tough calls soon.
Before proposing any risky “solutions” to climate change we first need to figure out just how severe the problem actually is – how much would Earth’s surface air temperature increase if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled? Climate scientists do not have a solid answer for this key parameter called Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity, or “ECS” for short. And it’s not that there’s just a little uncertainty that can be nailed down by a bit more research – the uncertainty is large, and has stayed more or less constant for the past 25 years. In fact, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report declines to even offer a figure for their best estimate of ECS.
A better understanding of the climate sensitivity to carbon emissions is crucial in making sensible policy decisions between the two types of risks at hand: the societal risks of from the man-made component of climate change versus the societal risks of any proposed solutions. No one wants the cure to be worse than the disease.
Could innovative new nuclear reactors like small modular reactors or the molten-salt concept solve the cost, proliferation, waste and safety concerns that plague the current generation, and so be part of the low-carbon solution? While “new-nuclear” should certainly be aggressively researched even supporters argue it will be 15 to 20 years before the technology is mature enough for commercialization. And licensing issues in bringing the power online would entail significant changes at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
MIT professor Richard Lester argues that advanced nuclear could be thought of “as an insurance policy— an option that may be needed if nearer-term low-carbon technologies lose their viability or fail to materialize at all.”
But to help nurture the fledgling “new-nuclear” industry we must first stop subsidizing “old-nuclear”: there is simply no breathing room for new-nuclear in a skewed marketplace favoring traditional reactors. For example, the 1957 Price-Anderson Act helps indemnify the old-nuclear industry against lawsuits arising from nuclear accidents. In effect, this is a massive continuing insurance premium bailout to the old-nuclear industry.
As a result, energy from the old-nuclear sector is artificially cheap, one reason that it continues to displace renewables and new-nuclear in the not-so-free-market. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports that many nuclear suppliers have said that “without Price-Anderson coverage, they would not participate in the nuclear industry”. The government must now stop subsidizing this old technology and create the breathing-space to help new nuclear and renewables get off the ground. Old nuclear is the enemy of new-nuclear.
The latest research indicates that the climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide may be weaker than previously thought: recently published ECS values are lower than previous ones. This trend – if confirmed – would be wonderful news, and could give us decades more time to come up with less risky longer-term climate solutions.
So do we just sit on our hands until we have more precise values for the climate sensitivity parameter? Certainly not – the large uncertainty of climate projections should not be an excuse for inaction. Quite apart from the issue of temperature increase due to carbon dioxide, there’s the additional problem of ocean acidification: Carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean to make an acid which can degrade the ability of many marine organisms to make and maintain their shells and skeletons. Regardless of the temperature increase due to carbon emissions, ocean acidification could have potentially serious consequences for the entire marine ecosystem – and the humans that depend on it.
Luckily, there are several carbon mitigation strategies with few, if any, negative side-effects and these could be implemented right away while climate scientists work to refine their climate sensitivity estimates. For instance, a McKinsey study concluded that,“Energy efficiency offers a vast low-cost energy resource for the American economy….[A] holistic approach…is estimated to reduce end-use energy consumption in 2020 by…roughly 23% of the projected demand, potentially abating up to 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gases annually”.
Residential and commercial buildings consume roughly 40% of the nation’s energy budget and there is enormous scope for making current and future building more efficient. Put another way, implementing strict energy efficiency standards alone could more than obviate the need for the 20% contribution nuclear power makes to the nation’s electricity budget.
Similarly, government policies could help boost the use of carbon capture and renewable energy sources like wind, hydro and solar which have few negative side effects and many upsides. Specifically, government policies could be tailored to help address the technological challenges facing renewables: scale-up, storage, transmission, and backup capacity issues.
The key to understand is that we have options in the transition to a low carbon economy and there’s no need to resort to the riskiest first. Indeed, the clean energy sector can be a economic bonanza: according to the Department of Energy, the U.S. solar workforce has increased 123 percent since 2010 – and this is the third consecutive year of about 20 percent annual jobs growth in this sector.
There’s no need to continue to subsidize risky, proliferation-prone 1960’s nuclear technology in a fight against climate change. Until science arrives at a more precise value for the climate sensitivity (ECS) parameter it’s important to carefully calibrate the response to climate change. This means pursuing those solutions with fewest negative societal effects first: conservation, energy-efficiency, renewables, carbon-capture as well as researching novel nuclear reactor designs.
This essay was published originally in The Hill.
Biosketch: Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, is a visiting senior research fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University in Washington. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.
JC note: As with all guest posts, keep your comments civil and relevant.
This post is so wrong on so many points it is hard to figure out where to begin. I will start with one question: which nation proliferated using their civilian nuclear energy reactor? Answer: none. The proliferation pathway has never been through a civilian power reactor. Get over it.
Read further: Russia to start building nuclear reactors in Iran
North Korea provided nuclear reactor to Syria
So how do we stop Russia and their little partners by hastily running our “old nuclear” industry out of business, while we also squash coal? Wishing and hoping that “new-nuclear” plants start spontaneously sprouting out of the ground?
We have had some goofey posts lately.
David L. Hagen,
Sensible question: do you know of any nation or group that is using current versions of civil nuclear power plants to produce weapons grade material? Is it feasible to do so? Or is it much simpler and cheaper to build and operate dedicated nuclear reactors and facilities that are designed specifically to produce nuclear materials that are suitable for weapons?
Monfort’s question “So how do we stop Russia and their little partners by hastily running our “old nuclear” industry out of business?” is the first thing that I was going to ask.
It’s a rhetorical question of course.
I agree that we need to pursue next generation reactors provided that they:
1) do not use fuel that can be further refined into weapons grade by the same gas centrifuges that refine natural uranium into fuel grade.
2) are mace fail-safe by not using pressurized containment nor fuel that can go critical if moderators fail
3) are less expensive than current generation
Most if not all next generation reactors address the first two concerns but no one knows if they address the last concern until some are built and operated successfully. A thorium molten salt reactor was built and operated for five by Lawrence Livermore in the late 60’s and early 70’s but it would be prohibitively expensive to operate commercially due to the double-edged sword of fuel that rapidly embrittles stainless steel from radiation and that also rapidly corrodes anything that isn’t stainless steel. The pumps and plumbing needed to manage the fuel chemistry are complex and no materials with the necessary strength, ductility, and corrosion resistance are known to exist an economically feasible cost.
Ah sorry that was Oak Ridge National Laboratory not Lawrence Livermore.
The answer is that a civilian power reactor as defined by the regulatory limits imposed by the US cannot easily produce weapons grade material. The easiest way is to run the % radioactive uranium above 6% and run it “hot.” Another no no for a US style civilian reactor. The composition of weapons grade materials from such a reactor are known. Different from civilian reactors.
The primary problem with the anti-nuclear position is they have lost.
Claiming that we should eschew nuclear in favor of expensive unreliable renewables, is like arguing in 1900 that we should upgrade from horses to sedan chairs and avoid automobiles. Renewables are worse than what we have and a step backward.
Land is a precious commodity. Renewables try to capture weak distributed energy and will always require lots of land. It will either be expensive land or at the end of expensive “bridge to nowhere” power lines. Which have to be sized for 4 to 5 times the power they will carry.
And the final nail in the coffin is that the battle is over.
The China reactors under construction:
CPR-1000 PWR (their current reactor) – making 8 copies of hardware a year.
VVER-1000 PWR 6 under construction
CANDU-6 Heavy water – 3 built/3 under construction
AP1000 PWR (being installed and licensing technology) – 4 reactors planned to go online in 2017
EPR PWR (being installed and licensing technology) 2 under construction, 2 mostly complete with 2017 start.
Prototypes in design or start of deployment phase:
CAP1400 PWR (AP1000 derived prototype)
ACPR1000 (AP1000 derived prototype)
LFTR Prototype (working with DOE)
Terrapower PWR derived prototype (Gates)
ACP 100 PWR (modular prototype)
HTM-PM HTG (modular twin prototype)
LMFR (lead based fast reactor in prototype).
China stated plans are for 150 GWe by 2030 five times their current capacity. They are planning to export several of the reactors in prototyping, such as the HTM-PM.which is starting site prep for the commercial demonstrator (unit 0). Just for reference, the US 30% of world nuclear power is only 98.6 GWe.
The types under construction are Gen III and Gen III+. Most of the prototypes are Gen IV.
The US can transition to sedan chairs. China and the third world are getting autos, and when they hit the gas we will be left in the dust.
Thank you for this succinct list. Can you give a link to a source for your figures, preferably similarly concise?
Given China’s lack of commitment to safety, all those nuclear power plants could be a recipe for unparalleled disaster.
And we can thank the eco-warriors ( and POTUS ) for getting China to go for “low carbon” commitments.
Again I must point out that nature herself shows us the way to produce drop-in replacements for ethanol, diesel, and jet-A at a cost point cheaper than current extraction & refinement of fossil fuels.
Photosynthetic ocean bacteria (a.k.a. blue-green algae) that have been around for billions of years are the third generation of biofuel production. In a one-step process using brackish water and sunlight these organisms literally eat CO2 and piss biofuel.
The only real challenge at this point in being able to beat $30/bbl oil is an economical means of concentrating atmospheric CO2. Pilot plants using these organisms with concentrated waste CO2 from cement factory and power plant exhausts are already able to compete with $30/bbl oil, They can’t be scaled because the concentrated CO2 supply is limited.
Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2011 Aug; 91(3): 471–490
Renewable energy from Cyanobacteria: energy production optimization by metabolic pathway engineering
Naira Quintana, Frank Van der Kooy, Miranda D. Van de Rhee, Gerben P. Voshol, and Robert Verpoorte
DS, whether algae, cyanobacteria, or GMO versions of either that increase lipid or alkane yields (e.g. Sapphire Energy and Joule Energy respectively) there are a few technical problems that make this sort of biofuel a chimera on any large scale. Read essay Salvation by Swamp in Blowing Smoke for a summary, or chapter 7 of Gaia’s Limits for the complete analysis.
It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity.
Peter Lang | February 12, 2016 at 12:42 am |
Thank you for this succinct list. Can you give a link to a source for your figures, preferably similarly concise?
It was a combination of WNA and wikipedia articles:
+ a search for the exact status of some of the reactors
+ a search for China nuclear partnerships
And I overlooked that China has a mix of 10 export reactors planned with at least 2 under construction. With 3 of the reactors licensed CANDU 6s. And 4-6 reactors in the sales pipeline.
When some of its Gen 1V designs modular designs hit the demonstrator stage China could easily be exporting at a rate equal to 30-50% of its internal consumption. China has barely 30 working reactors and is already building/planning to build 10 overseas. A Chinese reactor costs about 1/4 of what an American reactor does.
Further there are almost 60 reactors scheduled to come on-line in the next 5 years.
437 Commercial Reactors, 66 under construction.
The current build rate is in the 12 a year range and accelerating. Compare to the pre-2014 build history. The 150 GWe by 2030 China plan will require China construction starts at a greater than 10 per year rate alone.
I really like the Candu6. It’s just the right size to fit into the Australian National Electricity Market gird. Mos tof our units are 500 to 660 MW, so incorporating the Candu6 would not require massive changes to the existing system.
I agree with your first sentence. For anyone to argue in favour of CCS and wind immediately leads to a serious and irrevocable loss of credibility.
There is NEVER any detail or acknowledgement of the shortfalls, costs and genuine dangers from renewabubbles, just rhetoric
And then credibility is just *demanded* … this is way beyond my ability to empathise
I thought the same thing until hearing about British Magnox reactors. Even then it turned out to be a temporary arrangement – why would any military tech want to be dependant on civilian operators?
Magnox and CANDU are an exception. These are relatively slow burnup nuclear reactors. Yet much of the anti-proliferation ammunition is directed against fast breeder reactors which are high burnup, and consequently totally unsuitable for manufacturing weapons grade material. There is no more unsuitable vehicle for making weapons grade material than a fast reactor.
Although one could theoretically make weapons grade material from the few low burnup reactors (CANDUs, all Magnox reactors are now shutdown), in practice this would be a very expensive way to do it.
Nuclear proliferation due to civilian nuclear power is an ancient anti-nuclear argument going back to the 1970s. It fooled a lot of people over the years, and is, in my view, mainly responsible for holding back better reactor designs. Many advanced nuclear designs are breeders or high burnup converters and these have been nixed by the anti-proliferators. Even today, designers of advanced nuclear power are loathe to suggest breeder reactor designs because they know the anti-proliferators and regulators will sink their efforts. Yousaf Butt and his anti-proliferation friends should give themselves a huge gold star for their efforts in “constipating nuclear power” by hindering efforts to improve our antiquated, wasteful, nuclear fuel cycles.
Likewise the subsides should be removed for other renewable energy sources and the similar level of insurance cover / insurance subsidy should be removed for hydro & pumped storage as they are both backed by government insurance schemes.
I agree that we should moving toward new nuclear but if you are arguing for a level playing field then it needs to be level across the board.
I agree with you.
There should be a level playing field for all technologies. This requires removing all incentives for all technologies, removing the impediments on nuclear and compensating nuclear in the interim until all the impediments imposed over the past 50 years have washed out of the system. We’ll know when that has been achieved when the cost of nuclear is down to where it would now be if the impediments had never been imposed. You can see that by projecting the learning rate that nuclear experienced until about 1970 (i.e. at about 40 GW cumulative global capacity) forward to now on Figure 13 here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421516300106 , i.e. Overnight Construction Cost about $500/kW or about 1/10th of what it is now in the USA.
I also agree we should be moving to new nuclear as fast as possible. That requires deploying existing nuclear designs as fast as possible to accelerate the learning rate for all nuclear. Commercially viable Gen IV is decades away. We should not wait, because this would slow development of all technologies, as well as slow the rate of reduction of genuine pollution as well as GHG emissions.
Since performance from energy technologies are not equal, the playing field should not be equal. As long as renewables are intermittent, unreliable and require a second backup generator system they should not be provided any special mandates or tax subsidies, such as feed-in tariffs, tax deductions etc.
These arrangements are onerous on utility rate-payers, destructive of the utilities and draining state and federal treasuries of precious tax receipts.
I mostly agree on this too. however, we can’t argue to ‘pick winners’ or ‘pick exclusions’ for one technology type and not for another. Therefore, I argue:
1. there should be no incentives or disincentives for any technolology or class of technologies (such as for fossil fuels, renewables, or nuclear). All incentives and disincentives should eb removed. However, until they are all fully removed, and the impacts of past bad policies are fully removed too, we need to level the playing field by compensating for the costs of the embedded bad policies.
2. The coast of technologies should eb compared on the basis of their impact on the total system cost. That address your concerns about the essential services that renewbles like wind and solar cannot provide. These essential services, why rnewables cannot provide them and the effect of each technology on total system cost is well explained in the ERP report covered in the post in January:
Sorry, my reply to your comment above should have been addressed to you, not to Leon Mills.
leon mills (@LeonJMills) said:
I see where the author of the post, Yousaf Butt, invokes one of the favorite shibboleths of the climatariat to justify subsidies for wind and solar:
Claims of this nature are based on the demand-side economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, who in The General Theory famously (or infamously) wrote:
Empirical studies, however, have demonstrated the economic claims made to justify government subsidies for wind and solar to be untrue.
For instance, a study conduted by the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos concluded that:
There’s much more in the study, but from those few bullet points one can get the picture.
As a result, what we have in Spain at the moment is this:
That quote from JMK about burying treasury bonds is actually a joke, directed against the gold standard, which Keynes campaigned against all his life.
All currently proposed projects are Gen III designs [AP1000 or ABWR, EPR, ESBWR or US-APWR], so I don’t think discussing ‘current generation’ reactors is relative to the risk of expansion of nuclear power. Many of the issues note above are quite different when Gen III reactors are the only sort being licensed.
I mostly agree with you and would add these points:
It will take decades until Gen IV are proven commercially viable – i.e. the clear choice of utilities without incentives. The fastest way to get there is by deploying the most economic technology at any given time as fast as demand growth, capacity replacement and economics dictates. To achieve this we need to remove the massive impediments on nuclear power. Allowing Gen III/III+ to deploy as fast as markets demand (without impediments) will be the fastest way to get to Gen IV being commercially viable. If we don’t do that, it will take decades longer to get to Gen IV. Development has already been slowed by 50 years of anti-nuke disinformation and irrational scaremongering. If not for this, the cost of nuclear now would be very much lower than it is; it would already be cheaper than fossil fuels, more developed, safer, and on a faster development and deployment rate than it is. Fatalities from air pollution and GHG emissions would be lower than they are and the rate of reductions would be faster.
I wish you’d stop promoting the lie that regulatory burdens make nuclear power so expensive. China, India, and Russia don’t have significant regulatory burdens. So why aren’t they bursting at the seams with nuclear power plants?
I wish you’d stop promoting the lie that regulatory burdens are not the cause of nuclear power being so expensive!
You keep posting your beliefs but don’t read the replies that refute your nonsense. You made the same baseless assertions, as well as your silly scaremongering, on the 6 Feb WIR Energy Edition. I refuted them there. Now you turn up repeating your nonsense beliefs again here.
We’ve already refuted on the previous threads this comment you’ve repeated here:
Read my comments on that thread:
Haven’t you been reading the comments? They are.
Funny watching you push for something that doesn’t exist while arguing against something that does – with a proven track record – using fabricated issues.
I have not followed nuclear power, but there are exciting developments in fusion. Many projects are attracting interest, some even with private risk capital — a sign that some smart people believe commercialization possible in a decade or less. For example, Tri Alpha Energy.
Their website: http://www.trialphaenergy.com/
“Secretive fusion company claims reactor breakthrough” in Science, 24 August 2015: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/08/exclusive-secretive-fusion-company-claims-reactor-breakthrough
Editor, all present versions of true fusion are problematic, possibly excepting the Lockheed Skunkworks high beta magnetic confinement idea.
Intertial confinement (US NIF) is DOA on two separate grounds, as just one example. Essay Going Nuclear covered this waterfront as of 2014.
You state your opinion about fusion as fact. This is, unfortunately, the standard practice in discussions about public policy re climate change — and one reason that the debate has become a cacophony.
Some very smart people have bet large sums of their money that you are wrong. That does not mean that you should change your mind, or that events will prove you wrong. It suggests, however, some humility might be useful.
No Fabius, Istvan is mostly right. Controlled fusion power plants are a dead end. The only thing Istvan is wrong about is that there may be one or two that hold promise. No one is betting large sums of private capital into it it’s all government money. And governments are putting vastly larger sums into windmills which, unlike fusion power plants, actually do produce more energy than they consume. There’s one next door to me that’s 100 years old used to pump water in fact. They’re not new they were once even more popular than they are today.
Fabius, what they’re investing in are tax shelters. That’s why they’re called “smart money”. Their cash cows are so lucrative they need to shelter the income somehow. Research into alternative energy is richly rewarded by the US gov’t in tax breaks. The system is rigged. Now you know.
Nuclear Fusion is now a reality:
There are is a fascinating accumulation of evidence and tantilizing experimental developments in Low Energy Nuclear Reactions/Brilliant Light.
Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) Phenomena and Potential Applications Louis F. DeChiaro, Ph.D.
1 MW demonstration in progress. Report ~ Feb/March 2016?
Heat Out/Electrical Power In ~ 20 to 80.
Current Science February 2015 Special Section Low Energy Nuclear Reactions
Brilliant Light Power
Electrical Power From Water/Fuel
Technical Presentation and Mills’ January 28, 2016 demonstration
A 200 kW electrical prototype for 2017?
Dunno about Brilliant Light. Do know that there is now plenty of experiment evidence supporting LENR, a weak force phenomenon explained by Widom Larsen. See the recognition chapter of Arts of Truth for details and references. What is NOT known is whether the LENR physics scales to something useful commercially.
David L. Hagan: Technical Presentation and Mills’ January 28, 2016 demonstration
Each time I watch or read about one of these splendid new devices, the actual demonstration of getting more energy out than was put in will take place in about a year. For the next lecture about the device, I hope Mills has at least one PV panel showing at least some electrical output for at least some half-hour or so of time. If it works as he says it works, he ought to be able to start selling electricity to SDG&E or the US Naval Base in San Diego, GE, Phillips, BNSF, or Siemens by about mid-April — don’t you think? If it works, he’ll be money ahead to give the electricity away to somebody.
This in my opinion holds a lot more promise in that it hasn’t yet been demonstrated to be impossible by engineers like hot fusion and enough theoreticians won’t let it go that there might indeed be some new physics that might yield fruit. It’s a long shot but it’s not a zero chance.
Your best selling Kindle book Blowing Smoke is ranked #635,702 (the other two are around #1,800,000).
The Kindle rank to sales calculator here:
says that’s less than one per day. I presume a lot less but they don’t do fractions. One sale per day is a ranking around #100,000. So I’d guess about one sale a week. But even if it was one per day and you kept the full 70% that Kindle offers individual authors (i.e. your publisher gets none) that’s barely enough for a large Latte at Starbucks.
Is the loss of dignity concomitant with plugging these books constantly here (you’re the only person trying to profit from comments here as far as I know) really worth that pittance?
You don’t have to answer and of course have a great Valentine’s day on the off chance there’s a woman somewhere who’d want to celebrate it with you.
I was discussing a claim of bio-nastiness to some current technology we all live with these days, when it struck me that the problem we, as a society, refuse to accept is that our 21st century, urban, industrialized, low cost, First World lifestyle is NOT at its core, low-impact, Eco-green friendly, non-invasive, harmonious with nature and indigenous tribal populations and sustainable in a non-confrontational manner. It requires, not just involves, the exploitation of resources by the lesser advantaged in for the greater advantaged. A disproportionate amount of energy and physical resources go to a 1% group; there aren’t enough of either to go to the other 99% in equal proportion (Leonardo DiCaprio and Naomi Klein please look around your living room and note). And much of the economic accessibility comes from a separation of unpleasant side-effects from production sites and workers and consumers. If we had to keep our production sources as clean as we do the grassy areas of city dog parks, we couldn’t afford the products.
Which goes to the insurance requirements of the nuclear industry. Crap happens. If we have to pay for all the crap that happens, as opposed to living with the results, we’ll have to sit at home in the cold and dark. This is an unpleasant truth. iPhones require the cobalt that kids in the Congo secure with their health. We could have a modern, safe process, but what would the price – and, hence, the consumer availability of – iPhones then be?
I’m not saying we should treat people and the environment badly. I’m saying there isn’t enough energy in the system to live the way we do to not treat some people and some environments badly relative to our Rouseauian ideals. Coal mines are big holes without surfaces suitable for rose gardens, and coal energy is cheap because we don’t have to backfill and restore as we go along. A New Englander can afford a Birkenstock sandal because his cost is at the far end of a series of such unfortunate truths.
So if we want nuclear, we have wastes. We could store wastes underground, like at Yuka Mtn. But people say they want storage without risks. That’s like saying you want to cross a Manhattan mid-block without risks. Risks – and inevitable accidents – are part of the scenery.
In Canmore, Alberta, Canada, mountain cats – Cougars – are now seen. Twenty years ago they weren’t. It’s not just that Canmore has expanded, it’s that we stopped shooting them all, pushing them to local extinction. Same with coyotes and bears. People as well as pets have been killed, because cougars are predators. People and predators do not mix harmoniously. The price of not exterminating a predator is the occasional death of a human. Suck it up or kill ’em all. A nasty choice, but there it is.
Until there is a universal source of boundless, cheap energy – fusion might not be cheap, though it would be boundless – we won’t be able to sustain a 100% First World human world and “natural” world at the same time. And if human populations increase with the “free” energy, consumption will remove all but select Preserves eventually. Our trash has to go somewhere and someone has to deal with it. Even Eden, if it had worked out better, would have been littered with apple cores after a while.
Nuclear Fusion is now a reality:
This article says that the German unit was turned on. It did not accomplish any new milestones.
Also, the goal is *commercially feasible power generation*. There are many milestones ahead on the road to making that a reality.
Yousaf Butt, thank you for your post.
What do you think about Germany’s fusion reactor?
Germany’s Fusion Reactor Creates Hydrogen Plasma In World First
February 3, 2016
“As a clean, near-limitless source of energy, it’s no understatement to say that controlled nuclear fusion (replicating the process that powers the Sun) would change the world, and several nations are striving to make breakthroughs in this field.”
The German Stellerator is a geometric twist (pun intended) on tokomaks, of which ITER is the largest, therefore theoretically the most stable. I seriously doubt it solves the fundamental plasma ‘pinch instability’ problem. But dunno.
The Stellerator corrects for the ITER’s challenge of controlling plasma with differing radius. Still have materials challenges etc.
For some reason I thought that neutron bombardment of the plasma facing wall was the fundamental problem?
Hypothetical fusion power plants have several “fundamental problems” including heat and neutron flux destroying any nearby metals. It’s an unlikely prospect. Sort of like climate science being able to figure out ECS +- 10% instead of +-100%.
Max, you are my bet for the position of first to believe Mr Butt’s all opinion, mostly fact free piece.
Readers should keep in mind that Yousaf is the person who has repeatedly made false representation of Price – Anderson here.
Forgive me if I’m missing the point, but shouldn’t a discussion about nuclear power be mentioning the current state of thorium research? I mean, it’s not pie in the sky stuff – the Chinese are going hard at it, as are the Indians. If they crack that nut then everyone’s concerns about proliferation and meltdowns and carbon emissions will be put to bed. Forever. So, Yousaf, do you see any promise for thorium reactors or is it not really a consideration at the moment?
We don’t need decades to come up with more “solutions”. Nor should we attend to the New Guard of climate botherers who want to soothe by sounding all sensible and gradualist. If your country really doesn’t have enough coal I feel sorry for you. So hook up some nukes like France did.
We need to sack the people who got us into the path of this white elephant stampede. Slowing the pace of the stampede won’t do it.
Remember the Port Kembla Wave Generator!
Let’s not get get all gaga over fusion. This is just being silly. (I actually saw a post for crowd funding). Take a look at the recorded history.
Fusion – first proposed as ‘powering the stars’ in the year 1920.
Fusion energy – hopelessly adrift without new ideas or breakthroughs towards an economic ‘reactor’ (yes, fusion energy actually requires a ‘reactor’) after more than 95 years since understood and more than 60 years of government funding. Terrestrial sustained fusion is really, really hard and those who say otherwise are merely rent seekers interested in challenging, but ultimately futile research. Maybe Elon Musk is interested (no wait, he only uses government funding, not his own money).
Neutron – first discovered in 1932 (Chadwick), with nuclear fission and the ‘chain reaction’ understood shortly thereafter (Szilard).
Fission energy- ‘Chicago pile’ 1943 first sustained chain reaction (neutron +12 years), ERB-I 1951 first electricity from fission (neutron +19 years), USS Nautilus 1954 first practical ‘power’ reactor (neutron + 22 years), Shippingport 1957 first full scale power reactor (neutron + 25 years), major commercial implementation 1972 onward (neutron +50 years).
So let’s stop drooling and get back to reality. GROUND CONTROL TO MAJOR TOM.
There is too much research into power technologies to say we won’t have a winner. We do know it won’t be ITER. That is the “renewable energy” of fusion technologies (expensive and iffy). Much of the ITER power goes to powering ITER (let alone the metallurgy, water jacket replacement, and other issues) . ITER if it ever works, would have a highest purpose heating enormous buildings.
But one or more of the niche technologies or the stellarator will work out or we will get organic solar with storage or something. And there will be a gradual transition. Nuclear will plug the gap and be part of the mix for the foreseeable future..
Oh, I don’t know. There are some very interesting graphs presented in a number of Ted Talks I saw, plotting out the power production from nuclear fusion reactors since the 1960s. They mirror Moore’s Law, and on that logarithmic path, one second the power generated crosses over the power spent–net energy generated equals zero–and one second later we’re generating petajoules of excess energy.
That appears to me to be why the private sector is starting to line up behind efforts to develop commercial nuclear fusion, despite the fact that we haven’t yet crossed over that magical break-even point. When that happens, it will already be too late for anyone not already on board. No doubt the projections of the guys giving the Ted Talks are rosy, but it’s not out of the question that fusion will be a major commercial power source in 15 years, barring government intervention to prevent it.
one second later we’re generating petajoules of excess energy.
Lets get some actual numbers and bring guns to a food fight.
ITER – target output 500 MW, power consumption 50 MW.
Hmmm. Don’t see petajoules there. A side note: no power company delivers petajoules of power (they aren’t called power companies for nothing). When you plug a 1/2 inch 7 Amp roughly 3/4 HP drill into the wall to spend 30 seconds drilling a hole, you want about 770 W for 30 seconds not 23100 joules over the next 10 minutes or so. Perhaps part of the reason renewable advocates are so confused and misguided is they think power is delivered in joules not watts.
Anyway, back to ITER. That is a huge machine to only crank 500 MW. Was supposed to cost $5 Billion with first plasma in 2016. By the time the US got on board it was 12.8 billion and 2018 and the estimate at the moment is $21 Billion and 2020. It is highly likely that this isn’t the final tally.
ITER isn’t planned to start fusion until 2027. It is going to spend 7 years practicing squeezing plasma.
$21 Billion without the energy conversion equipment of a full blown commercial system for just 450 MW is pretty pricey. By the time the reactor starts fusion China will probably be building 1 GW fission reactors for 1 G$. $46.7 billion for a 1 GW reactor might not be completive.
The truth about reactor costs. They declined from up to $6800 per KWe for early reactors to $1000-1500/kWe for the 14 first generation turnkey contracts. This price makes other power sources obsolete. I guess someone figured we didn’t deserve cheap power.
one second later we’re generating petajoules of excess energy.
Two other tokamak issues.
1. Power is generated by heating water in 440 beryllium surfaced copper/stainless steel modules that line a stainless steel jacket that forms the vacuum (combustion) chamber. All this gets embrittled by a high neutron dose and the “hot” material must be replaced periodically. The need to keep the combustion chamber unmelted limits the ability to generate power since heat generated must be transferred to the coolant fast enough to keep the combustion chamber surface intact. Beryllium is a pricey alloy.
2. Magnetic force decreases as 1/R**2 so there is an optimum size and going larger gets extremely expensive.
That’s what I thought.
“first need to figure out just how severe the problem actually is – how much would Earth’s surface air temperature increase if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled? Climate scientists do not have a solid answer for this key parameter called Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity, or “ECS” for short”
even if they did it still would not establish a relationship between fossil fuel emissions and warming. The only empirical evidence that links emissions to warming is a correlation between cumulative emissions and cumulative warming (i.e. surface temperature) as shown here
this correlation is spurious, as shown here
The uncertainty in natural flows is too high to measure the impact of fossil fuel emissions on the climate system\
nuclear power options should therefore be evaluated on their own merit and without the injection of the unknown effects of fossil fuel emissions.
I think we have had enough of computer simulations, we need something that we can feel by simple physics and mathematics. Of course the current warming is caused by humans, click on my name and read…
“Similarly, government policies could help boost the use of carbon capture [unworkable] and renewable energy sources like wind [raptor choppers], hydro and solar [bird friers] which have few [enormous] negative side effects and many [few] upsides.”
There. Fixed it for ya.
I agree with the general sentiments of this post. Climate sensitivity is low enough that we have the decade(s) to do proper 4th gen fission reactor research and piloting, for which there are presently several plausible variants. Fusion, I am skeptical of for several fundamental reasons laid out in ebook essay Going Nuclear. LENR is a real weak force phenomenon (Widom Larsen theory) but whether it could ever be commercially harnessed is unknown–and grossly underfunded since contaminated by cold fusion disrepute. (The Rossi E-Cat version is inconsistent with LENR, and comes from a convicted con artist.) Lets get 4th gen fission development seriously going. China is presently doing more than the US. Not good.
Nuclear Power is being promoted as a necessary low-carbon solution to help mitigate the risks of climate change.”
Mitigating the ‘risks’ of climate change should be easy since we don’t seem to care how low the risks or how high mitigation costs may be…
not to mention the fact that it was environmentalists who caused anthro global warming. In the 1970s, electricity providers were spending billions on new, CO2-free energy sources- nuclear power. Environmentalists effectively killed new nuclear, meaning the electricity providers had to use coal where they could have used atoms. What would nuclear look like today if the industry hadn’t been put on a 40+ year delay by junk science? What would global emissions look like today?
Shallow and factually wrong on many counts; silly essay.
It’s what you get when you ask a physicist instead of an engineer.
Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) cannot be calculated for it is ill-defined in the first place. As defined “surface temperature rise for doubling carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere” is meaningless, for the time of doubling the concentration is not defined. Climate forcing is time dependent and how come ECS is time independent? I propose to hold onto climate solutions until the numbers are available make sense.
Of course you can compute the effective transient rate from observations.
It is 2.4 C per doubling if these lines are parallel (1 C per 100 ppm in this range). ECS would be higher.
Clearly you have missed the point. ECS as defined is time independent when in fact it is as you have explained. As defined, ECS is meaningless and its definition should be revised to account for emission time. Only then will ECS become a useful climate parameter. As of now, two past climate campaigns having different periods of emission times but the same concentration change in carbon dioxide yield to the same value of ECS. We know that from Ice Core Data and the current warming trend that this is false.
You missed the point that TCR is less than ECS, so we can set a lower limit of 2.4 C because it is impossible for ECS to be less than TCR. This alone gives us over 3 C by the time we hit 700 ppm, and we know from its relation to ECS, it will be higher.
My calculations of climate sensitivity on one of Climate etc. posts was 1.18 degrees C, assuming doubling of carbon dioxide, 2×280=560 ppmv, occurs around the year 2068.
Then you are not using the observations in the last 60 years which give twice that as a transient sensitivity. The pace you indicate gets us to 700 ppm before 2100.
They are based on observation extrapolated in the future. Please see “Anthropogenic and Natural Forcings as Functions of Emission Time, Development in Earth Science, 2015, 3(0), 1-9. doi: 10.14355/des.2015.03.001”
That only explains why your numbers are off.
Time will tell.
Forcing proportional to number of years makes no physical sense at all. You don’t need time to tell if some things are just wrong.
It does make physical sense based on observations. Time is an argument of climate forcing, and this what the current science has been missing all along; It is missing in the definition of Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity as you can see.
In the last 260 years, CO2 concentration increased by 100 ppmv, yet surface temperature rise is less than 1 degree C. During past climates and when CO2 increased by 100 ppmv over 10,000 years, and surface temperature increased by 8-10 degrees C. Clearly climate forcing is time dependent.
The current climate science is inherently wrong by assuming that surface and atmosphere are in radiative balance, they are not. They are in thermdynamic equilibrium. The 330 watts per meter square of down welling infrared irradiance (Back-radiaiton) do not exist in the real world. No one has ever measured backradiaiton. Those who claimed to have done so made a mistake. They measured backradiation of the instrument itself and not from the atmosphere.
Look, I heat my bathroom using 250 watts thermal bulb and can feel these watts on my skin. How come I do not feel 330 watts of backradiaiton at midnight as the current science claims? They are too huge to be missed by our senses. The reason we do not feel backradiaiton because it does not exist.
The assumption of radiative balance between atmosphere and surface is not physics; it is fiction. If you think that ECS or climate forcing is time independent, then it is obvious that you are a believer in the radiative model that has not passed the test of time or endorsed by the public.
What happened before 1960 then?
Note, the calculate equilibrium climate sensitivity 1.18 degrees C is based on sea surface temperature. This is the temperature that we should watch for since sea surface energy is the driver of the climate and weather.
Jim D | February 12, 2016 at 12:31 am |
Then you are not using the observations in the last 60 years which give twice that as a transient sensitivity. The pace you indicate gets us to 700 ppm before 2100.
So now go back and cherry pick the early 20th c warming and see what you get ? You can use one of those straight line “trends” from supposed pre-industrial levels up to the the beginning of the Keeling data as your CO2 rise. The temperature rate of change was indistinguishable from the period you cherry picked.
If you don’t get the same answer you need to explain why not. Until you can do so you can stop all the waving and shouting “we must act now” stuff.
What you have shown with the WFT graph is spurious correlation, not causation as explained above.
Nabil Swedan | February 12, 2016 at 2:53 am |
Note, the calculate equilibrium climate sensitivity 1.18 degrees C is based on sea surface temperature. This is the temperature that we should watch for since sea surface energy is the driver of the climate and weather.
Indeed, see my article of yesterday about why ‘average’ land + sea is physically wrong for evaluation of radiative forcing.
Certainly back-radiation has been measured. Swedan is a crank. Just ignore him. A cheap non-contact IR thermometer can measure back-radiation. The test is dirt simple. On any two nights when air ground air temperature is the same but one night is cloudy and the other clear just aim the instrument upward and observe the (huge) temperature difference between clear sky and cloudy sky.
Goodman is mistaken. He doesn’t know WTF he’s talking about. Ignore him AND Swedan. I produced all kinds of empirical data that precisely measure the relationship between SST and Marine Air Boundary Layer Temperature. Except near coastlines they track almost perfectly with MABL being less than 0.5C different (always cooler) than SST. It’s perfectly valid to average SST with land surface air temperature.
Curry REALLY needs to be a lot more picky about guest authors. Goodman is a prime example of one that makes her judgement look poor.
Of course IR back-radiation is practically always less than outgoing radiation. Pretty much only sunshine can overpower radiative emmission from the surface. But the thing of it is that incoming radiation, whether sunlight or back-radiation, cancels out a like amount of outgoing radiation. If anything makes the atmosphere warmer it is physically impossible for that not to retard surface emission by a like amount. Just think of it like two streams of water – one leaving a bucket through a hole and another refilling it. It’s exactly like that.
75% of the forcing has been in the last 50-60 years, and the other 25% was spread over 100 years before 1950. If you are going to look for an effect, it is much easier to see in the last 60 years because the rate of change of forcing has become so much larger recently and now easily dominates other trends, which it didn’t before 1950. This is why the temperature trend has become so clear only since 1950.
Really Jim D, are you suggesting that the effect switched from being totally insignificant to totally dominating within less than 10 years?
…especially seeing that the effect is logarithmic
…within the last 60 years.
But you apparently have a good correlation over the 60-year period, with poor to no correlation before that.
So just how much of that 60-year correlation is real, and how much is accidental?
Natural variability can destroy any correlations below 0.2 C, but by the time the perturbation becomes 0.5 C it is very clearly correlated, and now it is 1 C, so there is no surprise that the correlation has become so clear.
So you’re saying that most of the correlation must be real, and can’t be spurious.
It must be nice to be so sure of yourself
Once again, the observational evidence, which happens to support the science very nicely.
“Certainly back-radiation has been measured. Swedan is a crank. Just ignore him. A cheap non-contact IR thermometer can measure back-radiation.”
I thought that you were supposed to keep your comment civil and relevant. You have failed in both.
Don’t bother. Jim D has a force field surrounding him that is impenetrable to logic, fact and reason.
Man the barricades, boys ! Repeal Price-Anderson NOW ! Stop the Russians proliferating ! Or, something like that.
My memory is getting to be a problem. Who was that knut that was pounding the Price-Anderson drum for the last month or so?
Peter Lang: Or, if each technology is not penalized for the fatalities it causes, society should subsidise nuclear $140/MWh to substitute for coal and $37/MWh to substitute for natural gas generation.
Do we really need to wade through the alleged supporting info in over two dozen links to get what’s in this post? Ludicrous.
Don Monfort: Do we really need to wade through the alleged supporting info in over two dozen links to get what’s in this post?
Following links is always a personal choice.
Rhetorical question, Matt. But thanks anyway.
If you chose to follow the links, I would be interested in knowing how long it took you to read all that crap and if you learned anything.
No. It only took me a couple of links to conclude that whether intentional of not the links tend not to convincingly focus on the broad assertions they appear to be supporting.
Wouldn’t it have been great if Western science had matured during the 20th century and was capable today of helping society understand the difference between change and danger?
It should be noted that Price Anderson is not a ‘paid subsidy’ of any sort.
It simply sits there in the event there is a nuclear disaster and then dictates how damages should be paid.
Correct Markx. The US Treasury has never made a payout in almost 60 years the P-A Act has been in existence.
We all know this, but Yousaf either doesn’t or he purposefully misrepresents it.
In either case do we really want to listen to someone who fits the description?
I agree with the author that the case has not been made that we should spend money on CO2 mitigation policies, other than on ‘no regrets’ policies (which are justifiable whether they have any effect on climate or not). However, even if we ignore the CO2 mitigation argument, nuclear power almost certainly will provide most of the world’s electricity generation in the future. The reason is that no other economically viable technology (or mix of technologies that excludes nuclear) can meet all the requirements of the electricity system sustainably. Fossil fuels are causing a huge number of fatalities and their fuel supply is limited and has high value for other purposes. Renewables cannot meet the requirements and meet the future demand for electricity.
For those who argue we need to decarbonise the global economy, nuclear power will have to provide most of the electricity. There is no other rational alternative. Renewables cannot make much of a contribution and CCS is unproven and has large uncertainties. Nuclear is proven, can meet the requirements and is the safest way to generate electricity.
If you think otherwise, please answer these specific questions:
1. What is the projected global electricity demand in 2050 and in 2100 (by authoritative organisations like EIA, IEA)?
2. What proportion of global electricity supply can realistically be supplied by nuclear versus by your proposed low-emissions alternative by 2050 and 2100?
3. How do you propose your alternative would be achieved – e.g. explain what your proposed proportions of each technology would be and explain how the essential requirements of the electricity system would be delivered?
4. By how much would the CO2 emissions intensity of electricity be reduced?
5. What would be the CO2 abatement cost?
6. What would be the capital cost of your proposed alternative to the nuclear solution?
7. If you oppose deployment of Gen III/III+ while developing Gen IV, how long do you believe it will be until Gen IV is commercially viable (i.e. the utilities’ choice for new or replacement capacity without incentives and market distortions)?
Please provide your basis of estimates and references with links to support all figures and assertions.
Wasn’t any of that in the over two dozen links he has provided for our edification? Maybe he hasn’t thought that basis stuff through yet. Let’s get rid of the “old nuclear” first and we can talk again.
Are you suggesting no more deployment of existing nuclear power designs while we wait decades for Gen IV to become commercially viable – i.e. the choice of utilities for new capacity or replacement of existing capacity?
I am mocking y?butt, Peter. I am with you, on this one.
Don, sorry, I wasn’t sure when I read your comment, but then I read your other comments and realised you were being sarcastic.
Peter Lang: If you think otherwise, please answer these specific questions:
That’s another good post.
I think the only folks here who aren’t with you are Springer and maybe Max.
David should take a look at his little buddy from OK. If Max is on his side of the discussion he has to be wrong.
“Current nuclear technology is not a sensible solution to the climate change challenge……..”
Then, what is, in your opinion?
[Repost in correct place]
Are you suggesting no more deployment of existing nuclear power designs while we wait decades for Gen IV to become commercially viable – i.e. the choice of utilities for new capacity or replacement of existing capacity?
Didn’t you see the sign?
Don’t feed the chimps.
What are you suggesting? Are you suggesting no more deployment of existing nuclear power designs while we wait decades for Gen IV to become commercially viable – i.e. the choice of utilities for new capacity or replacement of existing capacity?
The power density of “renewables” is too low.
” Residential and commercial buildings…”
In other words, all buildings. I support energy efficient building methods for new construction, but we can’t expect to replace a large subset of the existing buildings in the next decade or so – it is too expensive. It’s not enough.
The population of the planet is growing, and everyone but North Korea can see and wants to share in the wealth of the first world nations. We are going to need a lot of power dense sources of energy in an ever more crowded world.
The most populous and greenest state, approaching 40 million residents, in the USA – California – get’s 7% of it’s electricity from two little nuclear power plants on 960 acres of land, generating electricity day and night, rain or shine, hot or cold, 24x7x365.
Just a quibble…”first world nations” aren’t really the wealthy ones. The term refers to Europe, and, while extremely wealthy by comparison with the third world, it’s the “second world” nations–particularly the United States and Canada–that are the richest. That’s really the whole reason for the “third world” label in the first place. “One of these things is not like the others…”
Consider what’s on offer here (with me supplying the mounting anguish):
“Similarly, government policies [uh oh] could help boost the use of carbon capture [oh no!] and renewable [here it comes…] energy sources like wind [noooo!], hydro and solar [aaargh!].”
Then there’s this:
“the U.S. solar workforce has increased 123 percent since 2010 – and this is the third consecutive year of about 20 percent annual jobs growth in this sector.”
Which is a lot like saying Attila gave employment to lots of Huns.
So you get the same-old-same-old…but you don’t even get the nukes!
Good try, warmies.
Say, mosomoso, yr parenthesis tetigisti acu. )
Mind you, we toffs quite like it when we are paid a fortune by the realm, or by scoundrels bilking the realm, just to accommodate wind turbines on our domains. One just needs a good tax structure and a main house well removed from the whoosh-whoosh sound. Pity about the cattle and the serfs.
Well, pity about the cattle, at least.
Tsk! Why do we serfs put up with it!
Nuclear is not an alternative “against climate change”, but the main alternative to the growing energy needings of humankind.
Dead right! No other technology is capable of supplying our energy needs effectively indefinitely.
“No other technology is capable of supplying our energy needs effectively indefinitely.”
Thanks Peter for caring for our infinite needs, or for our needs in the distant future.
I say – let’s worry about our needs NOW. Let future generations worry about their energy needs “indefinitely”. Nobody is a prophet, and nobody can see into the “indefinite” future, and energy technologies available then.
There is no urgent need to go nuclear now (except research), and no need to build hundreds or thousands of the cumbersome and flawed current reactors. Neither are we capable of it. Won’t happen (now).
Let’s keep researching and revisit the issue in a couple of decades, maybe nuclear will make sense then (and maybe not).
You say Gen 4 is at least 2 decades away – fine. We’ll wait. No problem.
Jacobress, Are you saying wee should keep using fossil fuels for electricity generation? (I trust you understand that spending money on renewables is a massive wast of money and the only viable option to fossil fuels for supplying a large proportion of electricity generation is nuclear, right? I trust you also realise that replacing coal with nuclear world wide would prevent around 1.3 million fatalities per year that are caused by pollution – i.e. genuine pollution, not GHGs, right?)
There seems to be an urgent need to do something in some jurisdictions where the political will has resulted in the premature decommissioning of baseline coal generation that cannot be reliably replaced with renewable sources or pop up gas turbine generation. England seems to be a case in point. Ontario is teetering in that direction too.
Say, Guillermo Gefaell and Peter Lang, U2 ‘hit the nail
on the head.’
This is the worst guest post I’ve ever read on this distinguished blog… there’s not much else one could say.
There is not a single claim made by the author which could not be refuted, or counter-examples brought forward, even by a high-school student with access to internet.
This guy clearly has an anti-nuclear agenda, based on populat galore or urban legends (like the nuclear proliferation threat).
A total waste of bandwidth.
This is just special interest pleading dressed up in reasonable sounding, I’m not anti-nuclear really, language.
As an example, wind has a huge cost, for little benefit, and as economists tell us we can only spend that money once.
Either climate change is an immediate threat we have to deal with now, in which case only the nuclear option makes sense.
Or it is longer term in which case we simply need a workable (not cap and trade) market solution, e.g. Low carbon capacity auctions
What we need to stop doing is picking winners and stop the wishful thinking (that energy efficiencies or insulation programmes will meaningfully help)
I agree 100%,
Gary Moran, do you hails from down-under?
Ignore that question. I was mixing Alan Moran and Gary Johns, highly respected in energy policy advice and economics. Gary Johns was a Minister in the Bob Hawke Government.
“Until science arrives at a more precise value for the climate sensitivity (ECS) parameter”
In many quarters this would lead to you being decried as a climate change denier…
We need other nations to industrialise and make their populations healthier and wealthier and, ideally do it as fast as possible to save as many lives as we can to ensure that the growth in global population tails off as swiftly as possible.
If it has to be done now (I’m all in favour of taking people out of poverty), with the technology we have to hand, *and* we’re constrained to using low/no carbon sources, then nuclear is all we have. Warts and all.
“While “new-nuclear” should certainly be aggressively researched even supporters argue it will be 15 to 20 years before the technology is mature enough for commercialization.”
In other words, if the Warm had faced reality in 1988 when they started ramping up warnings about AGW, we’d be “solving” the “problem” now. Instead we wasted 27 years discovering wind and solar won’t cut it and they’re still pushing it.
The Warm believe AGW isn’t bad enough to do anything serious about. And they call us deniers.
It is not easy to explain current events using any theory which entails human “reasonableness” or “rationality.”
It should be noted, however, that not all historians buy into the linear theory of history. The theory — fundamental to the philosophies of nihilists, positivists and progressives alike — holds that human history follows an upward-sloping straight line, and that this upward trajectory of humanity is forever and unlimited.
One such dissident historian who rejected the linear theory of history was Carroll Quigley. He subscribed to a circular theory of history in which civilizations rose, declined and fell.
Carroll argues that when the rate of economic expansion in a civilization begins to decline noticeably it enters what he called “the Age of Conflict.”
During the Age of Conflict, Carroll theorizes,
Carroll’s theory seems to explain current events much better than the linear theory of history espoused by the nihilists, positivists and progressives.
The only word you’re missing here is “urgent.” That’s the word they used in 1988, 1991 at the Rio Summit, 1997 in Kyoto, all within the “15 to 20 years” window.
I think Quigley is wrong. History trucked right along on an upward arc and simply blithely ignored the Warm. As well as the “sustainability” fetishists. You may have noticed that energy actually has been radically transformed in the US since Kyoto. The Warm had not a jot of influence on it.
Although heavily subsidized renewables generate little more
than 10% of the world’s electricity the International Energy
Agency ‘s World Energy Outlook 2015 estimates that the
total costs of subsidies for renewable energy were $135
billion in 2014 and are expected to to rise to about $250
billion in 2030.
There is 1960’s type cooling on cards within a decade for the N. Hemisphere. In UK where number of coal power stations are closed and just one nuclear plant is planed and will not be ready, severe electricity shortages are almost guaranteed. Best option is converting old coal powered to gas electricity generating plants, if that is feasible, that is.
Vuc – does LPF stand for Low Pass Filter? Also, what exactly does “Tectonics” represent? Continental movement? Earthquakes? Volcanoes? What?
yes, and yes, just as a proxy whatever controls volume of warm water move into Arctic. Some of the whats? are mentioned here
As a developer of advanced reactors, I offer the following observations:
The Chinese are already deploying advanced reactors (gas reactors). The 10 to 15 year time frame applies to the US where there is a mindset that only the government should select the winners in the energy markets. Further, the financial markets are not going to make investments that have very long time frames with minimal (if any) returns.
The solution to the innovation killing environment in the US is actually quite simple. Let the financial institutions/venture capitalists write-off their investments in such innovations. This market-based approach will quickly find the best solution. However, “big-government” advocates would not be happy as they would no longer be in control.
On the broader front, it is painfully obvious that the current regime in Washingtion is not actually committed to reducing CO2 emissions. Rather, they are intent on amassing more power & money for “big-government” and its supporters. The proof: they are twiddling their thumbs why massive CO2 free power nuclear plants are allowed to die.
The United States built 100+ reactors in 25 years. About 97% of those have operated reliably for longer than their originally estimated design lives. One failed totally (Three Mile Island) without causing harm other than the loss of the investment capital and the costs of cleanup. Two failed because of inadequate replacement pipes (San Onofre) — it might cost less to repair them than to replace them with solar and wind farms, an economic challenge but not an insurmountable technical challenge. With standardization of design and manufacture, the US could build 100+ reactors in the next 25 years, and those would most likely perform at least as well and longer.
It is reasonable to debate whether it is advantageous to wait for better designs to be proven by experience, but the technology to build up nuclear power generation exists now.
The principle problems are psychological: fears, values, possibly ignorance regarding the overall success of the program, up front capital costs. People do not mind exposure to ionizing radiation via flying and high altitude sports, but do object to the overall much lower exposure to radioactive waste and accidental releases of radiation. Hence the need for or utility of caps on insurance payments.
More people have been killed by the electricity from nuclear power plants than by exposure to radiation: burns, fires, electrocutions. It’s a wonder they do not sue the nuclear power plant owners for recompense.
Excellent comment. Great to see more people coming out and stating the relevant facts objectively, clearly and succinctly as you and other are doing.
By my count, 110 units went commercial between 1969 and 1988.
New units are much, much more reliable and lower maintenance due to better component design, digital upgrades and a better understanding of materials (IGSCC, FAC, etc. issues). New units are also designed for much lower radiation dose to workers.
SONGS was a management disaster of the highest order on the procurement front. If they bought S/Gs like the replacement units at PVNGS (scaled down), they would still be operating today.
Production from new units in Korea is still cost competitive with coal (30% less) and gas (70% less). The US industry needs to demonstrate they can bring in the new units at Vogtle and Summer. So far it doesn’t look good.
My understanding is that the aircraft impact rule got applied to the reactors after they got financing/broke ground so to some extent they are getting redesigned on the fly.
If Yousaf Butt doesn’t want “the turbulent Middle East” to have nuclear power then he should be advocating for “let them burn coal”, which also happens to be their best economic choice anyway. There is no climate change challenge, because the climate is not changing faster than humans can comfortably adapt.
Increasing prosperity also tends to have the pleasant side effect of reducing turbulence and also reducing migration in search of a decent life elsewhere. India and China are actually putting into practice what Western aid agencies used to preach extensively before they discovered global-warming: That a huge number of human and environmental problems can be solved by domestic economic growth and stability.
Part of the problem is politicians and activists who talk a good long-term but insist on radical short-term so they can make their mark on history before they die or leave office. They want their legacy today.
And don’t get me started on the ocean acidification scare twaddle please, Yousaf Butt. Biology has seen it all before, and much more too, every single day. And it has more tricks up it’s genome than is imagined in a global-warmers philosophy, Horatio.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports that many nuclear suppliers have said that “without Price-Anderson coverage, they would not participate in the nuclear industry”. The government must now stop subsidizing this old technology and create the breathing-space to help new nuclear and renewables get off the ground.
Some obvious questions. First, Is Price-Anderson a subsidy? How much tax money has been transferred into the nuclear power industry as a result of the Price-Anderson Act? Second, if new technology were available at least as reliable as the old technology, would anyone build a new technology power plant without similar protection? Wouldn’t you have to make the case that the next 100 power plants with the new technology cause even less harm than the first 100 with the old technology? How could that case possibly be made?
Mining and hauling coal are more dangerous than building and operating nuclear power plants. Lives are also lost extracting and handling natural gas (cf the LNG port explosion and fire caused by the tsunami that knocked out the Fukushima power plants). If lives are what matter, build the old technology power plants and save lives.
Having the private sector build nuclear power plants was a policy goal. No sane investor would invest in building and owning nuclear power plants without adequate insurance, which the market was unable to provide, so it is a subsidy as it help achieve a policy goal.
JCH: so it is a subsidy as it help achieve a policy goal.
That is not a subsidy.
Well this is weird:
Not necessarily, I read the article, there might be more to it. For years there was a report on the nasa’s webpage, then about 3-4 years ago I posted two graphs (with its full name, now abbreviated to the initials, just in case) on the WUWT, within short time the report wasn’t there any more.
There is a paper written by a Japanese team that explores atmospheric bomb testing after WW2.
Just now seeing JCH’s offering. At the end, found this:
“On the other hand, Ehrlich et al. (1985) also pointed out the
possibility of “nuclear summer” which was gradual global
warming by CO2 concentration increase after the temporary
“nuclear winter”. There is a possibility that we are suffering
a “petit nuclear summer” if the stagnation was a “petit
nuclear winter”. Those countries which have
responsibilities to the atmospheric nuclear explosions
should recognize that they might have being significantly
influencing the world climate.”
But which way? Summer, or winter?
Yesterday I picked up a recent issue of a popular magazine with little Shirley Temple and James Dean on the cover. My God, I thought, I”ve been taken back in a Time Machine to 1956. Reading the NYT article gave me the same feeling.
Ya know, we had an actual nuclear event along with years of testing and doing a google (and scholar) search for “how much climate impact was caused by hiroshima and nagasaki” I can find no study was done based on the actual events. I only find ‘projections’ of likely should it happen again. Interesting?
While I have met General Paul Tibbets, a very gracious guy, I don’t think his little bomb did much to the climate.
Yeabutt, how much would 2000? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_weapons_tests
Seems like this is a question which should be answered.
The hydrogen bomb testing… I think that has legs. WW2 was a gigantic combustion event. But so was Vietnam. Around 2011 several of us were looking at it.
Any other links than the one you offered? Surprising to me that there’s not more except forward looking. Was there a post here in 2011?
No. It took place in the comments. Vietnam has a huge amount of conventional bombing. I lost interest in it.
Seems like there no one else out there with interest either. Seems to be a hole in the consideration of ‘anthro’ impacts on climate.
Perhaps those two have figured out a way to get in front of the next funding wave, should the planet head into a down turn in temperatures.
Or they proudly display their framed certificates from clown school next to their other degrees.
Actual quote from that NYT peace:
Interesting discussion on this thread. Judith Curry is to be encouraged to accept studies of the sort that started this discussion even when the study has some basic flaws as this one does.
The Matthewrmarler |February 12, 2016 at 12.38 pm | comment is an accurate summary of the US nuclear story. Clearly the technology to build nuclear power generation capacity exists and is being improved progressively.
A major hurdle to installation of this capacity in most countries is the public fear mentioned in the comment.
This public fear can be minimised by a substantial reduction in the volume of nuclear waste as has been achieved by the French nuclear industry.
France currently operates 58 reactors, second only to the USA with 100 reactors.
It is one of the few countries in the world with an active nuclear reprocessing program, at the COGEMA La Hague site. Enrichment work, some MOX fuel fabrication, and other activities take place at the Tricastin Nuclear Power Centre.
Enrichment is completely domestic and is powered by two thirds of the output of the nuclear plant at Tricastin. Reprocessing of fuel from other countries has been done for the United States and Japan, who have expressed the desire to develop a more closed fuel cycle similar to what France has achieved. MOX fuel fabrication services have also been sold to other countries, notably to the USA for the Megatons to Megawatts Program, using plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons.
France is a member of the European Union and is subject to the economically irrational EU directive that all members generate 20 per cent of their electricity from renewables by 2020. Thus the French government (which is sympathetic to the directive) plans to reduce the nuclear contribution to electricity generation from about 75 per cent to 50 per cent of the total. This will ensure that French electricity consumers will no longer enjoy some of the cheapest electricity in Europe.
The French nuclear industry is further advanced than most others in ‘closing the loop’ such that there would be ‘nil’ net accumulation of spent nuclear fuel.
Thanks, Jim. Nice work. This looks like a good place to end this story. The author seems have zero time or interest in discussing it. And after having assigned us all that homework to get us up to speed.
Yes, we have to wonder y there r no re buttles…must have been a hit and run.
YButt is allways hit and run. That’s his style. He loses every point he tries to argue and clearly realises that so he doesn’t debate.
justinwonder, sorry for the typo in your name
I second Don Monforts’s comment. Yours is an excellent comment. Thank you.
I don’t regarded used fuel management as a significant technical or cost issue (cost for all management including permanent final disposal is about 1% of electricity cost), although it is a significant cause of public alarmism and therefore a political issue.
“the clean energy sector can be a economic bonanza: according to the Department of Energy, the U.S. solar workforce has increased 123 percent since 2010 – and this is the third consecutive year of about 20 percent annual jobs growth in this sector.”
Good God! If this were true, we could just subsidize all industries and create infinite wealth! Jobs ‘created’ by taxpayer subsidies are a DRAG on the economy, not a benefit. Or shall we break windows and pay people to fix them? This just goes to show that physicists can’t be trusted to think clearly when they step outside physics.
“physicists can’t be trusted to think clearly when they step outside physics”
They can’t even be trusted to think about physics clearly.
Nor can environmentals be trusted to think clearly when they step outside their house.
Recently I read an article discussing the bounty that the State of Utah put on coyotes in 2013, which were dramatically increasing in numbers and causing economic damage and increasing risk to humans and more desirable game animals (and pets). Environmentals objected with the argument that “the systematic killing of coyotes increases reproduction, immigration and survival,” and “It cannot be over-emphasized how powerfully coyote populations compensate for population reductions.” (http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=25052737)
By that logic, shouldn’t bounties be placed on all at-risk and endangered species so that we can save them from extinction?
He is into Keynesian physics. The Tom Friedman school.
It is the veritable plenty provided by the use of fossil fuel in the 20th century that gives rise to the luxury of being able to pay Leftist gadflies to serve society by throwing monkey wrenches into the wheels of progress.
Just shoot me now. Adding jobs in maybe the most productive and competitive sector (energy) of our economy reduces productivity. What if we could produce all the electric power to supply the nation with one worker? Ask Barry, Bernie and HRC whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing.
This piece commentary is extremely sophomoric, filled with long-discredited chestnuts that would earn a D- in any university class.
As for Price- Anderson, for example, let’s reiterate the obvious: after almost 60 years since inception, Price-Anderson has not cost US taxpayers a cent.
P-A is a secondary program that insures for damage in the event of a catastrophic nuclear accident, hence, the costs are only theoretical in nature. There’s never been a payout under provisions of P-A.
Nuclear fission plants are extremely safe, providing operators are prevented from cutting corners on known safety risks as occurred in Fukushima. Still and all no one has died as a result of Fukushima which occurred under highly unusual natural events.
There are only two ways to generate cheap and reliable energy available 27/4: Fossil fuels or nuclear. I prefer nuclear because it’s cleaner and safer for the environment, providing, of course that nuclear waste is recycled. Large fission plants may be obsolete and one would hope that alternative designs and processes will emerge, including fusion using dense plasma focus configurations. Until then it’s nukes or fossil fuels.
To chose otherwise is economic suicide which the rest of the world will only laugh at for the petulance and delirium that infects Western societies.
“There’s never been a payout under provisions of P-A.”
Correct that: There’s never been a “government” payout under provisions of P-A. There were small payouts from the nuclear industry for Three Mile Island, as required by the P-A Act. But not the taxpayers.
The amazing thing about Fukushima was the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami caused 16,000 deaths and 3,000 missing. You can assume that approximately 19,000 deaths were caused by the tsunami. Yet all you hear are the chants Fukushima Fukushima Fukushima! What about the people killed by the tsunami? Hardly anyone talks about the dangers of living in coastal cities on the Ring of Fire, yet the noise about 0 deaths due to the reactor failures is deafening. Beach property everywhere is expensive – people are lined-up to live on the beach.
A classic example of the availability heuristic, the fear of nuclear power is irrational and belongs in the same category as fear of vaccinations, GMOs, and extra-terrestrial invasion.
The real danger:
sarastro92 – excellent post, btw…
Operators did not cut corners at Fukushima. It was the owner, Tokyo Electric who ignored the science in 2007 that said ‘Yes, once-every-500 year tsunamis really do happen and expose the most seimically-at-risk economy in the world. Better fix your seawalls.’
In any case, you are correct. The Fukushima Daichi and Daini disasters and near disasters were institutional failures partly attributable to Japanese culture. Same thing happened 100 years earlier when Japanese authorities ignored warnings that an earthquake would kill 100,000 in Tokyo due to fires which they were ill prepared to fight. Guess how that one turned out. (Hint – death estimate was right on the button.)
This is a sadly disappointing article. About all I can agree with is the idea that global warming doesn’t require us to go nuclear right now – but that’s because global warming is not an immediate threat.
The points against nuclear are simply not correct and sound more like stale anti-nuke propaganda.
Nuclear waste is a political, not a technical problem. In many countries, therefore, it is not a problem at all. In the US, we have nuclear waste sitting vulnerable in cooling ponds when it could have long ago been safely buried. That’s due to an unholy combination of NIMBY’s and environmental extremists, not technology.
Nuclear proliferation has long been used to hobble nuclear power – such as breeder reactors. That hasn’t stopped rogue countries from developing nuclear weapons. It is thus not a serious argument – especially for China and India, which have huge electricity needs and are already nuclear armed.
All technology has accidents and related costs. I am sure more people have been killed installing rooftop solar than were killed by all non-Soviet nuclear power accidents. Only one nuclear accident in non-Soviet power reactors released significant radiation and that was Fukushima, a very old system operated by a not very competent electric authority. The Soviet accident – Chernobyl – was in a carbon moderated reactor operated to produce weapons grade plutonium as a byproduct. The reactor had no containment building. Even in that worst case accident, few people died – too many, but a tiny number compared to those who die from pollutants from improperly burned fossil fuels.
The cost of nuclear reactors is only unpredictable in countries where nuclear phobics have significant political clout. Outside of those countries, the costs have been declining as one would expect as a technology matures.
Stick around, John. You raise the IQ level around here by about 17 points.
I agree to a point but a a tad misleading on Chernobyl. The surrounding area was devastated. The area is still no mans land. If the reactor had exploded all of Europe would have been rendered unlivable by the radiation fall out. According to Gorbachev they were seconds away from that happening and it was a miracle that it was contained. It was literally that close.
Thought you might find a 2011 update via ASME of interest. Still ‘no man’s’ land, but a wildlife haven. U.S. building standards, it’s stated, would have contained the explosion. FYI. https://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/nuclear/chernobyl-25-years-later
“Current nuclear technology is not a sensible solution to the climate change challenge – but research on “new-nuclear” and renewables infrastructure should be aggressively pursued.
For example, the 1957 Price-Anderson Act helps indemnify the old-nuclear industry against lawsuits arising from nuclear accidents. In effect, this is a massive continuing insurance premium bailout to the old-nuclear industry.
As a result, energy from the old-nuclear sector is artificially cheap, one reason that it continues to displace renewables and new-nuclear in the not-so-free-market.”
Translation, if not for sensible legislation, we progressive activists would have been able to sue energy companies into bankruptcy on speculative, specious claims.
Notice what this progressive professor/senior research fellow’s answer is to globalclimatewarmingchange, and nuclear power? More funds for progressive professors/researchers like himself to “study” nuclear power, in the finest post-modern scientific/Democrat Party tradition.
The only thing missing from this economically paleolithic post is proper reference to class struggle and the alienation of the proletariat.
Post-modern philosopher-[ kings whiling away the tenured
hours in cloud towers… ‘No problem we can’t solve given time
…oh, we forgot, tick-tock, the doomsday clock.
Surely before declaring victory for nuclear we need to see what China is doing with the competing renewable technology.
All the charts below show actual electricity production (in GWh or TWh) in China – not the capacity installed. So to achieve an increase in renewable electricity production compared to the same increase in nuclear then 3-4 times as much wind or 4-6 times as much solar capacity (in GW) would have had to be installed as nuclear.
Let’s look first at what happened in 2013 and 2014.
The outstanding feature is the huge extra hydroelectric generation. Some of this may be due to extra rain, most of it is due to increased capacity.
From the red block, some coal was decommissioned.
There was a little extra generation from nuclear, nearly matched by the extra from solar and beaten by the change in wind generation.
Gas, biomass etc. was beaten by the total of extra nuclear, wind and solar.
The chart hides the switch from coal to gas which is taking place, which is reducing air pollution and CO2 emissions.
Out of nuclear, wind, solar and hydro the clear winner is hydro right now, not nuclear as PA states, whether you measure it in terms of absolute generation fraction or by the increase over the last few years.
Also, wind and solar together are beating nuclear, again either in terms of absolute generation or in terms of the recent increase in power produced.
Enough of the present. What of the future?
China Daily covers the plans for additions by 2030 in the most recent 13th Five Year Plan here – http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2016-01/29/content_23299809.htm .
These are capacities, not electricity to be generated, so we much multiply by some sensible capacity factors (CFs). The results in order of descending production expected (with my assumed CFs) are :
Wind 120 GWh / hour (CF 30% x 400 GW)
Nuclear 90 GWh / hour (CF 90% x 100 GW)
Solar 60? GWh / hour (CF 20%? x 300 GW)
Hydro 75? GWh / hour (CF 50%? x 150 GW)
Solar is a guess depending on which bit of China and which technology they go for. Solar PV with 2 axis tracking helps capacity factors but costs a little more than fixed solar PV. Solar thermal with hot salt storage can have a high capacity factor but is much more expensive Most likely the Chinese don’t know things down to this level of detail yet.
Hydro is tricky because the total generation per year depends on the rainfall behind the dams, not on the generating capacity installed. If you are using it to back up wind and solar you may wish to overconfigure the generation. So the 50% capacity factor is a guess and typical figures for hydro could be anywhere from 70% (Norway) to 30% if you just want peak power to fill gaps in renewables. And hydro is limited by geography.
Wind is the winner on the numbers, not nuclear.
But the real message is that China intends to go flat out with all of the renewables plus nuclear. Good for China – just get rid of the coal as fast as possible.
And the 13th Five Year Plan says 100 GWe of nuclear by 2030, not 150 GWe.
i would be interested in a guest post on what china is up to
Very happy to oblige. It will take a few weeks to put together.
Sensible decision: Thorium can work for the betterment of the planet and mankind. Let’s pursue it aggressively.
Capitalist decision: Thorium will destroy the market for coal, uranium, gas and oil. Let’s kill it off.
Ipso facto capitalism is about making a few people rich while the rest live in misery. Market decisions are made for the good of corporations not the planet or mankind. People need to understand this fundamental point. It is a lie and myth that free market decisions are good ones. These decisions like the one above are made every day and capitalism always wins. Because it is the system. The proverbial doomsday machine with no off switch. To quote the Doors “No one here gets out alive”
I used to be pro Nuclear (as in Uranium) until I did a lot of reading on Chernobyl. Keep in mind that was just one Nuclear facility. When Gorbachev states quite bluntly in an interview that we almost lost Europe due to massive radiation fall out you sit up and take notice. Some real unsung heroes died at Chernobyl for all our sakes, containing that reactor. That’s the problem with current nuclear reactors. If things go south it’s bad on a monumental scale. I don’t think people realise how bad it can be.
Chernobyl in no way indicts nuclear power. It was a Soviet reactor, poorly built with no containment structure. It was dynamically unstable because its graphite core allowed the breeding of Plutonium for weapons. It was being operated beyond its design limits in an experiment. Even so, few died from it other than those heroes who fought the radiation release. Animals in the radiation exclusion zone close to the reactor are doing fine, with very little radiation impact found – and they have been looked at very closely for a long time. Today, you can tour the exclusion zone – it is a wildlife preserve.
Nobody else builds power reactors that way. They have containment buildings which have worked in every case except in Fukushima, and even there they greatly reduced the release of radiation. Fukushima was also an old design. More modern reactor technologies are likely to be much safer – many cannot melt down because they are stable even with loss of power and coolant.
No technology is without risk. Wind turbines kill huge numbers of birds and some people. Solar panels on roofs cause injury to maintenance personnel. Both require mining that is hazardous and environmentally touchy.
Not only that. The control rods were tipped with graphite to improve neutron economy. The net effect is that when inserted, rather than shut down the reaction, the initial control rod travel actually inserted reactivity. Wow! You can’t make this stuff up. No containment, flammable moderator, instability issues, non-critically reviewed test procedure, and and control rods that insert reactivity. Only in Stalinist Russia!