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Is nuclear essential to achieving our climate goals?

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Tony Paradiso's picture
Principal, E3

I provide consulting services primarily assisting renewable energy-related companies in areas such as strategic planning, marketing, and operations. I have helped bring to market numerous leading...

  • Member since 2023
  • 19 items added with 2,112 views
  • Jan 27, 2023

The world has turned its back on nuclear energy. I think the reasons are more emotional than based on an understanding of the pros and cons of nuclear power.

I understand the expense, development time drawbacks, and waste concerns with nuclear. But I also understand that it’s much more efficient than wind and solar and aligns better with the current grid architecture. And today’s technology has come a long was from the 1970s version of nuclear.

So I’m in favor of reevaluating nuclear and was happy to see that NuScale Power’s 50 MW small modular reactor has been certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But the question I posed was whether nuclear is essential to our climate goals?

Consider this: In the U.S. nuclear provides about 20% of all our power and 50% of our zero emissions energy. Shuttering these plants means we have to replace the generation with other sources of clean energy. That is easier said than done as California has discovered. They recently had to reverse their decision to close the Diablo Canyon plant.

That scenario is playing out in other areas so for me the answer is yes. Please weigh in on the topic. Would love to start a dialogue.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 27, 2023

The other question is timing: with nuclear plants taking so long to permit and build and SMRs and other advanced tech still needing some time before they take on the grid, do we have the time to wait? 

Tony Paradiso's picture
Tony Paradiso on Feb 2, 2023


That's a good question. No one really knows when the point of no return is so it's reasonable to say we should follow the most expeditious solutions. I'm not suggesting that we should abandon wind and solar. That isn't going to happen. But if I extrapolate 50 -1 00 years from now will solar still be considered the best solution? It's so inefficient from both an energy conversion standpoint and a land use standpoint.

And the grid wasn't designed for distributed generation. That's why I think we should take a second look at nuclear. It fits better with the current architecture of the grid. I also think the regulatory environment is contributing to the cost and time to build issues. Not that we should do away with regulation but my guess is that it could be streamlined to alleviate some of the cost and scheduling issues.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 29, 2023

Theoretically, nuclear is not needed, however reality is quite different.  Americans are frequently told that renewables are the cheapest source of electricity; however people in developing countries (e.g. China and India) are still building coal-fired power plants as fast as they can; they obviously know something the American public doesn't.

The truth is, variable renewables alone don't make the dispatchable electricity that customers buy.  Renewables work fine when added to a fully functioning dispatchable (e.g. fossil fuel powered) grid.  But such a combined grid requires much more up-front capital and much more government regulations and/or incentives to operate; furthermore the most economical combination of renewables and fossil fuel will allow far too much fossil fuel use than our climate goals allow.  These economic and regulatory issues make high renewable shares difficult in wealthy countries and impossible in developing ones.

In contrast, a grid can be grown using nuclear power without first growing the fossil fuel powered infrastructure.  When the fossil fuel infrastructure is already in place, the nuclear solution allows it to atrophy rather than getting subsidies to keep renewable-rich grid reliable.

Tony Paradiso's picture
Tony Paradiso on Feb 2, 2023


Your last point is my main reason for wanting to put nuclear back into the mix. It fits much better than DER with the existing grid infrastructure. You can build utility scale projects to replace existing fossil fuel power plants and interconnect them. Not to mention nuclear operates and generates power virtually 24/7.

Hans-Henning Judek's picture
Hans-Henning Judek on Feb 7, 2023

Nathan, there are already multiple other opportunities for grid balancing available. For example, almost everywhere are diesel generators used. We can produce carbon-NEGATIVE diesel fuel from customary field incinerated crop waste. You think probably not much influence? Worldwide every year 10.5 billion tons of crop waste are incinerated this way. This habit is creating 16.6 billion tons of CO2, 11.1 billion tons of CO2eq (CO, methane and other harmful gases), 9.9 billion tons of smog precursors and 66 million tons of PM 2.5 as well as huge amounts of micro carbon. Preventing this is already a big step forward. But we can theoretically produce 3 billion tons or 22 billion barrels of renewable diesel from it. For comparison, Kuwait is exporting yearly 1.1 billion tons of crude oil and oil products.
As the process accumulates non-digestible parts of the plants (lignin) as bio-bitumen, we have an integrated CCS system, so to say.  A diesel generator operated with our fuel would take more CO2 out of the environment than leaves the exhaust. Exhaust filters are available but have to be implemented by mandating it.
A friend of mine has developed heat storage for surplus of electricity from renewable sources. A 20 foot container-size system can store 140 MWh! For recovery conventional gas turbines can be used, and in combined cycle operation over 60% can be retrieved as electricity, while the rest is well usable as heat energy.
We are currently concentrating too much on batteries.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jan 30, 2023

You understand the issues but you didn't list the danger from accidents and terrorists. You also didn't list the water use. The source of the Uranium. QUOTE=

I understand the expense, development time drawbacks, and waste concerns with nuclear. But I also understand that it’s much more efficient than wind and solar and aligns better with the current grid architecture.  

Tony Paradiso's picture
Tony Paradiso on Feb 2, 2023


Excellent point. I'm not so worried about accidents because in that regard I think nuclear has developed an unfair reputation. More emotional reaction than reality. Outside of Chernobyl there hasn’t been an issue. And Chernobyl was because of the idiot Russians who built a defective plant, refused to fix it, then tried to cover up the accident.

Terrorism is a legitimate concern but I’m assuming protections can be built in.  And I admit I’m not aware of the water issues related to nuclear, but I will do some homework. So thanks for raising that point. But when it comes to water I’d say lithium mining has a major problem as well and I don’t hear much talk about how we should reconsider our use of it in battery technology.

Hans-Henning Judek's picture
Hans-Henning Judek on Feb 7, 2023

Tony, in the 70 years of commercial application it has not been possible to find a way for safely storing nuclear waste! It is all still in "intermediate storage".

Vince Bowen's picture
Vince Bowen on Jan 31, 2023

Tony, finally somebody who understands all the education in the world will not change the public's mind on nuclear. You are exactly right that the problem is emotional. I'm amazed that pronuclear people don't see this. I've been laughed at more than once by stating this. Just think of it as the vaccination problem. A significant part of the US believes vaccines are safe and no amount of scientific evidence will prove these people wrong. You might think of it as a Dunning Kruger effect. We need to bring social scientists into this act of persuasion.

Tony Paradiso's picture
Tony Paradiso on Feb 2, 2023


The nuclear industry needs better PR people. :-)

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 31, 2023

Nuclear is not needed as:
- advanced countries such as Germany, CH, Austria, Italy, Belgium, etc. show.
- the speedy grow of renewable towards 100% shows.
In NL renewable generated in 2019 only 19% its electricity. That was in 2022 already 40%...

Nowadays a mix of wind+solar+biomass+geothermal+storage*) is much cheaper and faster to install.  Besides no health & genetic risks regarding escaping radioactivity...
*) Storage being a combination of batteries and green hydrogen stored in deep earth cavities as done in South Texas.

Tony Paradiso's picture
Tony Paradiso on Feb 2, 2023


I look at the PJM queue of 2,500 or so renewable projects that can't get connected because the grid can't handle. It will take three years to clear the backlog before any new projects can even apply for interconnection. This problem is playing out all over the country.  

I'm not saying solar and wind aren't good solutions. I prefer offshore wind to any solar solutions. And I think green hydrogen may prove to be a better solution than distributed solar. Solar has the advantage of being around longer and is now cost effective, but it is incredibly inefficient. 

Part of the reason nuclear is so expensive and takes so long to build is because the regulatory issues. The technology has advanced and to my knowledge outside of Chernobyl there has never been a problem with the release of radioactivity. And Chernobyl became a disaster because it was built and run by Russia. If that accident happened in almost any other country it likely would not have ever escalated the way it did. All I'm saying is we shouldn't dismiss it. I think Europe probably wished some of the nuclear plants it's decommissioned were still operating today. 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2023

Outside of Chernobyl (~a million extra birth and cancer deaths?), we had Fukushima with 3 exploded reactors with about 30K extra deaths. Much lower, thanks to the prevailing wind during ~95% of the time which blew near all airborne radiation directly to the ocean. 
All nuclear reactors in the world together operated about 20K years. In that time 4 reactors exploded. That is 1% chance if a nuclear reactor operates 50years. A terrible safety track record!
After Chernobyl the nuclear community stated that such calamity would be impossible with western reactors such as those in Fukushima....

For Chernobyl check the book published by the New York Academy of Sciences
For Fukushima, studies found highly significant increased levels of baby deaths linear related to the fall-out level and no relation with the tsunami damage.

Even normal operating Nuclear Power Plants emit radioactive gasses such as Ar-41, which cause genetic and health damage to children born at distances from ~5 km to 40km from the plant (not nearby as those gasses first have to come down to the surface before they can be inhaled).


Tony Paradiso's picture
Tony Paradiso on Feb 9, 2023


I'm not trying to diminish the damage done by Chernobyl  but the reason I segment it is because it wasn't really caused by nuclear technology. That reactor would have never been built or allowed to continue to operate if it were in a "civilized" country. And the damage from the accident would have been lessened if it weren't for a paranoid totalitarian regime. 

As for Fukushima I may well be mistaken but I saw no reports of deaths related directly to nuclear fallout. If I have time I will review the referenced document on Fukushima. I certainly don't want to spread bad information. With that said I did notice in the abstract the following statement:

Since observational studies as the one presented here may suggest but cannot prove causality because of unknown and uncontrolled factors or confounders, intensified research in various scientific disciplines is urgently needed to better qualify and quantify the association of natural and artificial environmental radiation with detrimental genetic health effects at the population level.

In other words - they may be right or they may be wrong, It would be ideal if definitive studies were conducted.

Also, we're not dealing with the same technology as these plants. In 50 years many advancements have been made, but I get what you're saying. If any harm to people living within certain distances of nuclear power plants could be definitively proved I would not be in favor of nuclear.


David Svarrer's picture
David Svarrer on Feb 1, 2023

Dear Tony. We are many who know into the intestines of the indeed enormous benefits of nuclear power. We are some who studied it even in our primary school, and who have worked tirelessly to solve the extremely serious intrinsic issues with it.

There is one and only one reason for the 10 to 20 and for instance in UK longer time to commission a nuclear power plant. That is security.

The security precautions have escalated to beyond normal comprehension and with the current astronomic attempts to provide this security, I would say that we do not have security but security by obscurity.

In the wake of the endless problems we have had whereas we are in the public discourse only talking about the big accidents of Three Mile, Tjernobyl, Fukushima, it is my professional take that we are not ready. 

In order for security to work, it must be simple and not involve complexity in any way. 

When dealing with large scale powers even beyond the kiloWatts (ie. Above 1 MegaWatt) other factors are in play. In a home setting, if your 6 Kilowatt diesel generator sets out in a violent way, worst case scenario is a piston rod out through the cylinder. New engine, the old engine can largely be recycled in its original materials and everything is fine. Even if there is an oil spillage, this oil is being converted by bacteria to other substances which we also non poisoning.

In the case of the setout of a power plant, the pistons are larger, there can be a few fatalities and surely this is tragic, but the same is valid here: The magnitude of consequences is within the grasp of any normal human being with normal comprehension.

When a nuclear power station sets out, we are almost inevitably talking about evacuations, large land masses (sized like entire countries) being cordoned off for decades. 

The disaster zone after Tjernobyl is still polluted, yet the disaster happened in 1986 - 47 years ago. Unless you walk in the designated zones you can, up till today's date, be exposed to deadly radiation in particular areas where the visitors granted access, can go to. We are discussing certain basements in certain houses where journalists have visited with nuclear physicists to measure the radiation level as a matter of making movies about it. 

The area cordoned off is still a whopping 186,000 km² - a size slightly smaller than Scandinavia.


While indeed it is very interesting, if not even extremely interesting, to find out how the heck we can utilize the 24 million kWh of power stored in just 1 kilogram og Uranium, we are still at our infancy in regards to finding solutions to the security.

We are also at our infancy in regards to finding solutions to the extremely dangerous and also chemically poisonous residuals of Plutonium. And furthermore we haven't found any workable solution to the inherent radiation in the nuclear power plants. Give such a plant 60 years of operation, and at some point between 50 to 75 years of operation it must be vacated as the radiation accumulated is so high that people cannot work there anymore. The constructions oftenly weighing some 250 tonnes per megawatt power produced, must now stand idle for another 900 to 1500 years before they have "cooled off" sufficiently to be torn apart.

This means, in conclusion, that in order for humanity to have power from nuclear power in a particular region, we must reserve the space upfront for between 1500/50 to 900/75 nuclesr power stations as we cannot dismantle the worn out ones until this long time has passed. Thereby, area wise, it does not at all make any sense. The minimum area to reserve is then 900/75 = 12 times the area of 1 nuclear power station, or, some 75 to 100 square kilometers for a typical 1 GW setup. 

I therefore changed my focus many years ago, and must admit that even with all of its faults, it's intermittent nature, it's varying power quality, it's varying stability - any renewable energy source is better than nuclear power, simply because we cannot afford the unspoken about nuclear power problems to emerge. We only have one Earth. Those who have not yet seen the reality of the disasters at Three Mile Island, Tjernobyl and Fukushima are to some extent excused for being ignorant. But then do your homework. Fukushima is up till today's date a disaster zone too.

Tony Paradiso's picture
Tony Paradiso on Feb 2, 2023


You make a number of excellent points, and I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable enough in nuclear technology to know the answers to the issues of security. From a business perspective, I would look at it as an additional cost item that needs to be factored in.

In terms of accidents, that’s where I think nuclear has gotten a bad rap. Yes, nuclear accidents are scary but as I’ve replied to other posts - outside of Chernobyl has there been another accident where people were exposed to deadly levels of radiation? I blame Chernobyl on the Russians who knew the plan was defective, didn’t fix it, and then when it failed tried to cover it up. Very uncivilized behavior.

You mention Fukushima and there are still issues there, but that plant was commissioned in 1971 and was hit by a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Again, I get it. All the safety issues need to be properly addressed. I just think like all technologies, nuclear has advanced and should be fairly evaluated to again be part of the clean energy mix.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Feb 6, 2023

Your claims are not supported by reality. 

Older nuclear facilities are dismantled within a decade or so after being shutdown.

Green energy requires vast acreages that utterly dwarfs that of nuclear energy. Wind requires vast amounts of steel and concrete, while both wind and solar are painfully land intensive.

Seems to me, the motto of green energy is “We had to destroy the environment to save the planet”.

Fundamentally, the planet’s huge population requires vast amounts of energy. The needed facilities to meet that demand all have environmental impacts, with some more severe than others. However, the best environmental approach lies with balance, as opposed to putting all the eggs in one basket.

Diane Cherry's picture
Diane Cherry on Feb 6, 2023

There is no doubt that for baseload power existing nuclear means extending the current licenses from 60 to 80 and maybe even 100 years. But building a new plant is ridiculously expensive (think Vogtle). I think the better question might be what can long duration energy storage do and can that be an answer to this in any way. No small nuclear reactors have been deployed at grid scale. Between huge costs to build and lack of commercialization I don't know where that leaves us.


Tony Paradiso's picture
Tony Paradiso on Feb 9, 2023


Long duration storage is certainly a game changer for renewables. I guess my problem with solar in particular is how inefficient it is and with how much land it requires. Rooftop makes perfect sense but I'm currently working in the area of community solar and 5 MW (or less) farms don't make sense to me. Even utility scale I have an issue with. That's why I'd like to see more funds put into green hydrogen and would like us to take another look at nuclear. Maybe we conclude it doesn't make sense, but it is very efficient in producing clean power so the question is: is it possible to reduce the costs and time to complete in a safe cost effective way?  

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Feb 6, 2023

I think “our climate goals” are really those of a minority of elites who are making immense amounts of money peddling maliciously concocted propaganda that is seriously decoupled from reality. The primary driver for the average citizen is reliable and reasonably priced energy, not “zero carbon”.

In the context of this pragmatic and realistic viewpoint, the need for nuclear energy comes down to being reasonably priced. The cost of new nuclear facilities in the U.S. and Europe is currently hopelessly non-competitive. However, reactors being built outside of the U.S. and Europe are significantly less costly and more quickly constructed.

To be blunt, the cost problem for Europe and the U.S. lies primarily with vast bureaucratic overreach. That severe problem also exists for all the passively fail-safe advanced reactors currently being developed.

Nuclear reactors can be a key element for energy independence, but the cost of new facilities is likely “off-scale-high” in the U.S. and Europe.


chris zygarlicke's picture
chris zygarlicke on Feb 7, 2023

Nuclear electricity generation should definitely be in the mix for future U.S. power. The safety record is impeccable, yes impeccable compared to lives lost and health concerns of other energy forms. There are three geographic problems with nuclear, mainly resident in the minds of people: Fukushima, Three-Mile Island, and Chornobyl. 

Isuru Seneviratne's picture
Isuru Seneviratne on Feb 7, 2023

Great question, Tony.

The answer depends on what our climate goals are. If the goal is 30-40% emissions reduction, solar+wind+gas+storage may be the lowest cost solution.

But for economy-wide deep decarbonization, nuclear is essential.


"I love solar and wind. But I read models, I look at data. You can't run a well-functioning grid without a diversity of resources, and nuclear is the only resource that can scale to the same level as coal and gas today... The best-in-class models show that probably something in the order of 40% of grid electricity has to come from clean firm technologies." -Jigar Shah

Hydro is a proven source of firm clean power, but it is mostly tapped (even in China). Geothermal is another source, but is geographically limited.

System Costs

To understand the costs of electricity provision requires systems level thinking. The combination of plant-level costs, grid-level systems costs, & full social & environmental costs creates a framework that allows policymakers to compare the costs of different generating options.



See below the break-down of system costs as the share of variable renewables grows from 10% to 75% of electricity mix, incl. costs for compensating for variability & intermittency, connection, distribution, transmission, and balancing to compensate for uncertainty.


See below adapted from Bright Future NY):

Intermittency of solar and wind generation is not a trivial matter. The electric grid requires absolute moment-to-moment continuity in power supply in-line with demand. No energy storage option has the necessary technological maturity, affordability, or scalability to back up a grid for any extended period of time. Attempting to scale up storage to back up a 100% "renewable" grid would be ruinously expensive, incredibly resource-intensive and needlessly environmentally damaging.

Storage Costs

See below the numbers on lithium-ion battery storage costs based on the world's largest single-phase battery, Crimson Storage of California.

* If NYC were to be battery-powered for 4 hours of an 'average' day, it would need a $9 billion investment (higher for peak load). Remember this is just for storage, not generation.

If we spent that money to build nuclear, we'd have:

- 1.7 GW, based on the winning bid from Westinghouse/Bechtel for Poland's 6MW build with AP1000s ($5.2/W). This would generate contribute 14 TWh of carbon-free energy (28% of NYC electricity needs). The Korean bid was $3.2/W, and Poland is exploring this option too.

- 1.1 GW, based on Vogtle first-of-a-kind (FOAK) AP1000 overnight costs ($8/W). This would cover 18% of NYC's electric demand.

- 2.5 GW, based on nth-of-a-kind (NOAK) SMR ($3.5/W), covering 42% of NYC's demand (here, Natrium thinks $2.8-3/W).

- 2 GW, based on real-world-build costs of Barakah, UAE. Built by South Korea's KEPCO. This would provide 33% of NYC's electricity.

Crimson Storage was $550m for 1,400 MWh of energy, enough juice to power NYC for 14.7 minutes.

Even if the other storage technologies are half or quarter the cost of lithium-ion, storing enough juice to power NYC through the night wouldn't be economically viable.

Storing enough energy to bridge seasonal storage would be orders of magnitude more expensive. See NYISO's analysis on "wind lull" analysis or New York Energy and Climate Advocates' critique of the state's "100% renewable" draft scoping plan.


These findings are repeated in all cost-optiomization models that do not arbitrarily exclude nuclear. See below from the Breakthrough Institute's Advancing Nuclear Energy:

All least-cost plans that transition to entirely clean electricity by 2050 -considering cost & learning rate uncertainties- deploy a large quantity of Advanced Nuclear power plants. Even at the high end of nuclear costs and low end of learning rates, advanced nuclear captures a significant share of future electricity generation. Advanced nuclear technology provides important & extremely valuable benefits to the electricity system.


Widespread commercial deployment of advanced reactors in this study starts in the early-2030s and rapidly accelerates as the electricity sector grows over time, potentially supplying around 20-48 percent of domestic clean electricity generation in 2050.

Advanced nuclear reactors efficiently complement other clean technologies like wind & solar, balancing out variations in generation over time to reliably meet electricity demand. The flexibility of advanced nuclear can produce long-term cost savings in a clean energy system.

Industrial Heat

Beyond generating low-carbon electricity, nuclear energy can also efficiently provide high-temperature heat for industry, a task ill-served by non-thermal sources like solar photovoltaic and wind.

Conventional nuclear plants are able to provide high enough heat for desalination and district heating; advanced nuclear designs under development are able to generate over 700 °C. In the U.S., heat sources below 450 °C can satiate over 60% of process requirements, while 80% of all needs can be served with sources below 700 °C. Dow is partnering with advanced nuclear firm X-Energy to build a small modular reactor for heat generation by ~2030.



Matt's question on the pace of deployment is also important. What's relevant is neither how fast you can bring a single low-carbon generator online (e.g. a solar array) nor how many megawatts you can deploy, but the pace of fossil displacement using any technology through low-carbon generation (megawatt-hours). Given that nuclear facilities generate vast amounts of carbon-free energy, nuclear has dominated historic low-carbon deployments (on a MWh per capita basis) outside hydro. Also, the recent nuclear deployment at the Barakah plant in UAE show how large nuclear can still deliver at scale. (BTW: Barakah will feature prominently at COP28, and expect many other countries to announce nuclear projects at the coming climate summit).


After being anti-nuclear most his life, U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry recently stated at the UN Climate Conference COP27, “We don't get to net zero by 2050 without nuclear power in the mix." Canada, Japan, France, the U.K., Netherlands, South Korea, and the U.S. are all joining next generation nuclear energy race. China and India are already ahead.

Here's the best video on the subject. This one is good too.

Richard McCann's picture
Richard McCann on Feb 7, 2023

My hesitancy about nuclear is driven simply by economics. I used that perspective to recommend closure of Rancho Seco three decades ago. I have written several blog posts about the problems with nuclear: The key issue is that the cost per MWH of nuclear has been rising while other technology costs have been falling--it's simply no longer competitive. (And we underprice the risk of accidents.) SMRs will require both wide deployment and high operating capacity factors to be competitive which will crowd out more benign renewables. 

As for DERs and the grid, the problem isn't grid design--allowing customers to operate much more independently and in concert with each other will relieve grid stress--it's regulators captured by utilities protecting their turf. And in less developed countries, they can avoid costly and disruptive transmission investment. (As for land usage, DERs can be installed on "brownfields" and the amount of land required is trivial compared to global land surface.)

Hans-Henning Judek's picture
Hans-Henning Judek on Feb 7, 2023

  <<<And we underprice the risk of accidents.

Yep! Ask TEPCO, what an accident costs. Quote:

Fukushima’s Final Costs Will Approach A Trillion Dollars Just For Nuclear Disaster

There’s a reasonable case for an identifiable $800 billion in costs for the nuclear portion of the Fukushima disaster. It’s not hard to see that a 40-year recovery period along with costs excluded from this could add 25% to that without breaking a sweat.



Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Feb 17, 2023

Economics, reliability, speed, land use.

Economics. a) The UK chooses not to use much of the cheapest renewables onshore wind and solar, and yet its latest tender for renewables was £39/MWH (2012 prices). The last tender for nuclear is £92/MWh (2012 prices).  b) Plant Vogtle power will cost at least US$120/MWh before subsidies, wind and solar are being contracted at $35-50 before subsidies and $55-70 with firming.

c) Nuscale has announced that their unsubsidized cost is $130/MWh based on 90% utilisation. There is no realistic grid scenario where more than 20% of power can be supplied from nuclear at 90% utilisation unless there is massive storage/demand response. If you build the storage/demand response just charge it with wind and solar.

d) For the cost of plant Vogtle US$30bn 2.2GW peak capacity annual output 17 TWh the US could build 6 GW of wind, 9 GW of solar and 4 GW/40GWh of storage which would have twice the peak summer power and 42 TWh/y output 

Reliability The worst renewable month in Germany or Australia is 80% of the average renewable month. The worst nuclear month in France, Belgium, Switzerland or Spain is less than 60% of the average

Speed of construction during the nuclear boom of the late 70's early 90's world nuclear output rose from 650 to 2,000 TWh/y over eleven years or an average increase of 122 TWh/y. From 2015 to 2022 wind and solar output rose from about 1,100 TWh to 3,200 TWh or 300 TWh/y. Even in China from 2011 to 2022 nuclear output rose from 87 TWh to 418 TWh (11.1% CAGR) while wind and solar rose from 75 TWh to 916 TWh (25.5% CAGR)

Land Use: Plant Vogtle is five square km + its share of mines tailings dams and nuclear fuel processing and storage facilities lets say around 8 square km to produce, when all four reactors are running, 36TWh/y or 4.5 MWh/square metre per year. A modern 6MW class wind turbine uses about 300-400 square metres and produces 18-22,000 MWh/y =45-70 MWh/square metre per year. Most solar will be on roofs, carparks or wasteland zero land use or in agri-voltaic installation where agricultural productivity is enhanced or floating where it reduces evaporation (negative land use)

By all means keep existing reactors going as long as it is safe, but new ones...pretty much irrelevant.   

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Feb 17, 2023

This is an attempt to answer Matt Chester's question, which is reasonable, and only peripherally to get into this contentious issue.  Nuclear power has become heavily politicized, with political conservatives favoring it, and political liberals opposing it, and that has a lot to do with Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, which was something of a firebreak against the protests against nuclear power that were gathering steam in the late 1970s (and attracting all the ex-Vietnam War protesters).

1) MIT's Energy Initiative has a reasonable post on the high (capital) costs of nuclear - see 

It's not that one nuclear facility is built in the U.S., and it would be more expensive inherently (or less expensive) than one built in Ukraine.  The intensified distrust of government has promoted fear of nuclear, because the (liberal, at least) public doesn't believe government really does care about their safety.  The train derailment in Ohio will amplify this.  So decent government officials try to include increased safety measures to reassure the public, and the cost goes up.

2)  Ramping for nuclear plants is a serious issue.  It's not impossible, but the economics fight it.  Having small modular reactors (SMRs) will only get you so far - if volatility of weather continues to increase, there is going to be a desire to have SMRs ramp as well.  See 


Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Mar 12, 2023

Ramping of SMRs may be faster than conventional reactors simply because they have less thermal inertia, but it still brings the same economic problems and increased thermal cycling which in turn increases maintenance costs and shortens life, so by the time Capacity factor drops to 60% cost per MWh almost doubles. I am sure somewhere in the world an economic case can be made for SMRs but it will be a small % of world energy output until at least 2050

Some years ago, France had the reputation of being the best operators of nuclear plants because they could and did partially follow the load, so their CF was 72-75% vs 90-92% in the US. In the US nuclear only supplied 19% of the load so there was rarely a time where nuclear could just run at whatever load the operator liked and all other sources would fill the gap. Now we are finding that French nuclear plants are likely to have 10-15 years shorter lives. 45 x 70% is 40% less lifetime output than 60 x 89%

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