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As 2014 Has Come to a Close, Nuclear Energy is at a Crossroads - Again!

Milton Caplan's picture
President MZConsulting Inc.

Milt has more than 40years experience in the nuclear industry advising utilities, governments and companies on new build nuclear projects and investments in uranium.

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The world needs nuclear power – so says the latest edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO) issued in November:

Nuclear power is one of the few options available at scale to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions while providing or displacing other forms of baseload generation. It has avoided the release of an estimated 56 gigatonnes of CO2 since 1971, or almost two years of total global emissions at current rates.”

Yet looking back at 2014, the industry has had its ups and downs. There were setbacks as France formalized its intention to reduce its reliance on nuclear going forward, Sweden pulled back after its most recent election, and in Finland the Olkiluoto 3 project was delayed once again. In the US, the most recent plant to be shutdown is the Vermont Yankee plant; shutdown after 42 years of operation as not being economic, yet its shutdown will definitely raise electricity costs for its consumers and impact the local economy as a result of its closure-related job losses.

Vermont Yankee Shuts Down

There was good news in Japan as the first units were approved for restart since the 2011 Fukushima accident, although the actual restarts are taking longer than expected. The re-election of the Abe government also bodes well for Japan’s nuclear future. In the UK, there was a big win as Europe approved the project at Hinkley Point as not contravening state-aid rules; but once again progress is slower than most would like.

And then there are places where nuclear power is booming. China brought new units into operations and approved numerous new units with a larger-than-life target for its nuclear share in 2020 and beyond. The Chinese also approved its first Hualong One reactor, the evolution and combining of designs from both CGNPC and CNNC, as they plan for future exports. Korea approved new units and its first new site in decades. Russia continues to grow both domestically and continues to be very aggressive in the export market.

Given the importance of nuclear power, it is the first time since 2006 the WEO includes a special chapter on nuclear – in fact this time 3 full chapters performing a detailed in-depth analysis of the nuclear option. It clearly demonstrates the benefits of nuclear power in addition to being one of the only generation options at scale available to reduce carbon emissions; it also plays an important role as a reliable source of baseload electricity that enhances energy security. Clearly the benefits and the need for more nuclear is becoming clearer than ever. So why is there this continuing imbalance as we look around the world at various counties’ policies for nuclear power?

The WEO notes two significant issues holding back a large-scale nuclear renaissance. These are public concern and economics. Both are valid and need to be better addressed by the industry. We have written much over the past year or so on the importance of improving public attitudes and, in fact, in many countries we now see improvement. But we also acknowledge there is a long way to go to reduce public fear about nuclear power. For example, even though the main objective of Germany’s Energiewende is to reduce carbon emissions, their even stronger emotional response against nuclear is causing a short term increase in carbon emissions — i.e. their fear of nuclear appears to be stronger than their desire for a cleaner environment.

On the cost side, concerns about high capital costs and completing projects to cost and schedule are valid. The industry has more work to do on this issue as evidenced by some recent projects. At the same time we see that countries such as Korea and China, who are building series of plants in sequence and are achieving the benefits of replication and standardization resulting in lower costs and improved certainty, are completing projects to cost and schedule. Yes, it can be done. But even these countries are not immune to public concerns.

The real problem is that these concerns tend to overwhelm the discussion even amongst energy professionals. For example the summary in Chapter 12 of the WEO, “The Implications of Nuclear Power”, starts “Provided waste disposal and safety issues can be satisfactorily addressed, nuclear power’s limited exposure to disruptions in international fuel markets and its role as a reliable source of baseload electricity can enhance energy security….. “. Renewables are always addressed with hope and little concern for their very real issues while discussions about nuclear are most often focused on its challenges.

Yet even at Google, engineers have come to a conclusion that the challenges to achieving climate goals with renewables alone are very large. Two Google engineers assigned by the company to show how renewable energy can tackle climate change each came to a blunt conclusion:

Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.”

The following figure sums it up very clearly. In the case that doom and gloom overwhelms good policy and decision making, we may end up with the Low Nuclear Scenario. But this scenario has real implications. According to the IEA:

[T]aken at the global level, a substantial shift away from nuclear power, as depicted in the Low Nuclear Case, has adverse implications for energy security, and economic and climate trends, with more severe consequences for import-dependent countries that had been planning to rely relatively heavily on nuclear power.”

Of more importance, at the other end of the spectrum is the 450 Scenario which the IEA believes we need to achieve to truly have an impact on climate change. And in this case, even more nuclear power than the so called “High Nuclear Case” Is needed.

WEOFigure11 12

So there it is: the best strategy to economically and efficiently address climate change includes a substantial contribution from nuclear power.

This year’s WEO lays out the challenge very clearly, and once gain nuclear power is at a crossroads. The options range from a slow decline to a more than doubling of nuclear power in the next 25 years (see figure above).

Nuclear power must be an important part of any future low carbon energy system but there are beliefs that are very well entrenched in the minds of both the public and even many global energy professionals that must be addressed once and for all. It is our responsibility to take on these challenges for a brighter future. It’s time to go big and work together to build a strong base of global support for nuclear power. Beliefs are hard to change, but change them we must if we are to have a sustainable, abundant and economic energy future for us all.

And as 2014 comes to a close, I want to thank all of you for continuing to read our articles and contribute to the discussion. Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2015!

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Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 1, 2015


The cost of nuclear seems ultimately to stem from the need to locate it near populations, so people fear it and vast sums have to be spent on regulations, redundancy, etc. Nobody seems concerned that we have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers out at sea. 


Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 1, 2015


As I understand it, the apparent contradiction regarding the economics of Vermont Yankee is that once natural gas pipelines to New England are in place, natural gas will be less expensive than refurbishing the nuclear plant, but the pipelines are not done yet.

As always, it’s a pity there’s no fee on carbon to guide these decisions.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 2, 2015

“….main objective of Germany’s Energiewende is to reduce carbon emissions….”

All nuclear power out is the main objective of the Energiewende movement since 1986.

Democratize electric energy then became the second objective.
So ~50% of renewable energy sources are owned by citizens, farmers, etc.

80% renewable in 2050 is the third objective.
With 27% renewable now, increasing with 1.5%/a, good chance this target will be reached too.

Affordable (=low) cost is the fourth objective
High costs will stop support by the population (now >85%). Hence end the Energiewende.
Av. German household pays a lower percentage of its income for electricity than the av. US household.

Less CO2 is the fifth objective
Though important groups within Germany want to upgrade this target (e.g. Greenpeace). 

“…. emotional response against nuclear ….
Not really.
That response is supported by scientific study results after Chernobyl. Those studies show not only serious damage to next generations of Chernobyl in Germany, but also DNA damage in people living nearby NPP’s (tritium leakage? fast neutrons?), etc. Study results publiced in peer reviewed scientific journals by the official German environmental institute (Helmholts, Munich), and accepted by German government.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 2, 2015


If we can put wind turbines and oil drilling platforms off shore, why not nuclear plants?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 2, 2015

If we as a whole can consider the costs of ocean wind and all the undersea cable, we should also consider ocean nuclear, even though the best design that is meltdown proof and even closed cycle (only trivial amounts of 300 year wastes), is not best suited for the water (as Alvin Weinberg said the LWR was better for subs). Therefore, it might be quicker to scale up the old LWR as a compact mass producable ship design with wastes reprocessing on an island. We could have literally thousands of ’em (and use the island for an MSR type “global charging station”). The very little radiation from modern day plants compares as insignificant to the norm of the natural background. In fact, by extracting and fissioning uranium and thorium, we are reducing radiation (to some really small degree).

As the age progresses, less and less military nuclear accidents happened (most of them Soviet).

Jeffrey Miller's picture
Jeffrey Miller on Jan 2, 2015


I was wondering if you could shed more light on the reasons behind the Vermont Yankee shutdown. 

From what I gather, the plant was fully amortized. That would mean that the capital cost – the most important cost for nuclear plant – was paid for. Also, electricity costs in the region it serves are quite high. Given these two facts, it would seem that the plant should have been able to run at a profit. Why was it not able to do so? 

A second related question is how high would a carbon tax have to be ($ per metric ton) to make running the plant profitable?


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jan 2, 2015

(Unfortunately, this is what I see when I look at the state of affairs).

As the planet heats up, the people blissfully hope that their elected politicians will work it all out, while unfortunately the  Politicians ignorantly think that the Greenies and Environmentalists will guide them rightly.

The Media ignorant as ever, ignore the relative dangers and deaths from none nuclear power sources, or the inability of these soures to truly  limit climate change. They gobble up and report every real and imagined nuclear disaster, and report without checks every promise “environmentalists” say, as though it all proceeded from the mouth of a god.

The greenies for their part are basking in euphoria as they sense and anticipate the final downfall of their much maligned Nuclear power, (while waiting for the much anticipated  innovations which will materialise anytime now, and turn their renewables wishful thinking into planet saving reality). Dreams abound of Windmills everywhere, solar panels on every rooftop, roads tiled with even more solar cells, gargantuan helium Windmill Balloons floating up and up in the sky, and of course solar power toys for the little Indians and little Africans huddling together in stoneage villages around itty bitty tiny LED lights.

And meanwhile the planet continues heating up more and more…… 

Milton Caplan's picture
Milton Caplan on Jan 2, 2015

Here is the original announcement from Entergy in 2013.  I have not seen specific economic studies.  There is a lot of this on various blogs and on the NEI site. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 2, 2015

Jeffrey, there has been quite a bit of controversy in Vermont about not only VY, but also the Lowell Mountain Wind Project – and whether energy in the state is being manipulated by Canadian gas supplier Gaz Metro via some cozy political connections.

The website (Vermont Digger) has been dutifully digging up the details, summarized here:

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jan 2, 2015

Good article, thanks for it.

I’m wondering if nuclear economics and public acceptance are really separate issues. I think the economics heavily depend on the acceptance.

If the public has no confidence in the nuclear sector then no amount of regulation and quality control is enough. That is a recipe for cost escalation. Antinuke propagandists know this. That is the reason they undermine confidence by promoting fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 2, 2015

Hops, instead of spending billions to placate the irrational fears of some residents, the money would be better spent on educating those residents why such a strategy is foolish, exhorbitantly expensive, and unnecessary.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 2, 2015

Joris, you read my mind.

I wonder if excessive regulation makes nuclear more dangerous due to interruption of established workflows, and if it’s possible for an energy source to be too powerful – that concentrated energy activates a primal fear in some individuals which overrides any rational appraisal of danger.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 3, 2015

Chernobyl has nothing to do with modern day nuclear ambitions, thus can not conceivalbly be used as a scientific modern day deterent against the mastery of fission. German government acceptance against nuclear also has nothing to do with (what should be) international efforts to make your fifth objective an equal with your forth as a top priority.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 3, 2015

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to place thousands of mass produced reactors at sea than to pay the extra costs on land? There will probably be more than billions of dollars extra for “onland fear”. Divided by thousands of plants, an underwater “grid” would seem to cost no more than a few million dollars each, which would be only a small percent of overall capital costs in the billions.

Hastily edited below!

(still not thought through completely). The object is to get the plants cheaper than a billion each per GW. This should be possible in the absence of any one country’s hyped up fear factor costs. It could be as international protocol to successfully mass produce whatever easiest and quickest reactor design possible. At a dollar per watt, we should be able to plenty afford a bunch of undersea cable.

It would be lovely if the international community invested at least a few trillion dollars for such a defense against warming and acidification. Most estimates (for solving the problem) are far higher. And we both know that land based nuclear would cost trillions more (due to fear) and that RE would cost many tens of trillions more.

There would be advantages, too. The “global underwater backbone grid” would smooth out power distribution by averaging variations across wildly fluctuating demands from many different countries, not to mention excess electricity could be used for desalination and hydrogen production.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 3, 2015

Bas, you’re again citing Hagen Scherb on radiation at Chernobyl, while continuing to evade the question of whether he’s qualified to offer an opinion on the subject.

A simple request: what is his training? Do you know, or do you believe anyone who calls himself a “scientist” actually is one?

That’s not a very strong position from which to be arguing.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 3, 2015

Ike, by placating irrational fears we validate them, and instead of removing the “major argument” we reinforce it.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 3, 2015

Bob:”…money would be better spent on educating those residents…”

The fears around the damage normal NPP’s create got a boost with the publication of the KIKK-study. That could be partially repaired because other studies didn’t always find similar.

Also other study results, a.o. showing increases in Down syndrome and other health damage, for new born were published.

Another boost came with the publications about DNA damage at people living around nuclear facilities.
DNA studies with contrary results seem difficult, as these DNA studies simply calculate the sex-ratio of new born from the population registers.

Probably more such study results will be published.

Which education strategy do you think, could whipe out the impression &  fear of these study results?

The government strategy of Japan, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to discourage research (Belarus even put a professor in prison during a year when his group came with undesirable results) doesn’t work for scientists working in Germany, etc.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 3, 2015

Indians and little Africans huddling together in stoneage villages around itty bitty tiny LED lights…”
It concerns >1billion people!

That is the reason we should invest >$10billion to speed up the price decrease of solar panels + inverters & optimizers + batteries.
Especially since the potential for at least a 5fold price decrease exist!

So these poor Indians and Arficans can cook electric, have good light, a washing machine,  water pumps, PC’s, etc.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 4, 2015

Bas, can you provide one example of a solar-powered microgrid in Africa or India which generates enough energy for cooking and washing machines?

One solar microgrid in India which was recently the topic of discussion here on TEC was capable of providing each household with 18 watts of power. Either a washing machine or a simple hot plate requires 750 watts – forty-one times what a practical community solar array is capable of delivering.

You’re living in a fantasyland.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 4, 2015

@Bob:”… qualified to offer an opinion on the subject…
No opinion.
Please read the links that I stated.
You find the results of measurements.
Those measured results satisfy scientific standards, being published in peer reviewed scientific journals.

Play the ball rather than the man!

I explained already that scientific institutes in Germany, such as the prominent environmental Helmholtz Munich institute, check the credentials of their staff.

In addition to the WEB-site of the institute, you can read more regarding the credentials of dr. Scheb in this UNESCO-EOLSS paper (mathematics and physics in Saarbrücken).

If you do some search you can find more.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 4, 2015

Will solar and wind be able to make all the parts for all the appliances, and its energy/storage parts, let alone, a decent infrastructure? Since fossils are damaging the biosphere, we (whoever) should loan them advanced nuclear reactors for the kick start!

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 4, 2015

Eduted: I believe averaging child gender births by spot location will always yield imperfect non 50/50 results, thus sounds kinda conspiratorial.

Again, Chernobyle has nothing to do with modern reactors, especially the advanced ones that can’t melt down. However, if you really believe these repeated studies (yes, many of their links were older), then why not push for mega nuclear power generation off shore (in the likes of far offshore wind), so that no harm could be done on land? You might say some radiation harm, but I would wholly disagree – what harms the biosphere (besides excess CO2) is actual nuclear (test) explosions, not mere electrical generation. And how many nuclear weapons detonations were there in the past??? Perhaps, these fare more relevent (to the tune of MILLIONS of times) concerning those reports you preach by.

I have found some pretty adverse chemical harm done by mere solar panel manufacture, yet I believe these are still the “early days” of solar, thus less chemical harm resulting per unit of energy. An argument could be as: But the “early days of solar” does not apply because we are already in a well regulated age. Nevertheless, the main point is that trivial amounts of radiation from tritium at the oceans are (nothing) compared to normal background radiation such as radon (and especially as compared to “decades recent” nuclear weapons detonations) `~’

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 4, 2015

International waters should be subject to less overall regulation (regardless of nuclear fears)?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 4, 2015

The present very high price of solar installations (panels, etc) is the reason these people cannot afford a decent installation of 4 high efficient standard panels that can deliver >1KW.

So we should invest $10billion in order to create a fast, great price decrease (with panels that produce 300W/m², etc.)

If the price comes down so much, each house will buy it’s own >1KW installation, or a few houses together will do that. This summer I saw such super small micro-grids covering only 2-3 houses in Kashmir. But with far less power because the 2-3 families couldn’t pay/invest more.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 5, 2015

Bas, while you may be satisfied Hagen Scherb “studied mathematics and physics at Saarbrucken”, to any critical reader, that information is worthless. It doesn’t provide the specific school he attended, whether he graduated, or whether he took a few classes then spent the rest of his time there smoking dope. Or whether he once lived in Saarbrucken and read a few books before being kicked out of his apartment.

These are the tricks people hide behind when the ideology they’re pushing is bankrupt.

The Prominent Environmental Helmholtz Institute – Munich


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 5, 2015

You can start by educating the scientific establishment.  Because when an individual scientist or group of scientists comes to a conclusion that doesn’t match what the rest of the establishment believes, the rest of the establishment always sooner or later comes to the “correct” conclusion – that’s the nature of scientific progress. 

The implication that members of the general public or even politicians can look at the data and make better judgements than the scientific establishment is simply not plausible.

Unfortunately for those who think nuclear power plants are dangerous, the scientific establishment disagrees with you.  See this article Radiation Not A Big Deal.

Also see this scientific paper which found that mice exposed to radiation at 400 times normal background dose rate had no detectable increase in DNA damage.  Note that unlike the KiKK study which was put together by a team who was basically paid to tell us that nuclear power is dangerous, this report was done by mainstream scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Pittsburgh, with specialties such as radiation oncology and biological engineering (i.e. so they were accustom to a standard of proof based on real-world verification, not just subjective data mining).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 5, 2015

Agree, they have a decent fire exit.
Why do you publish that twice?

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jan 5, 2015

I’m sure excessive regulations make nuclear more dangerous than it has to be, at least to the on-site personnel. There is a story on the internet (lost the link to it) which details the woes of a senior operation manager who stated specifically that the heavy protective gear required for his personnel to protect them from minute radiation doses was sometimes hampering them in their ability to climb ladders and such, causing a danger of falling in excess of the prevented danger of the minute exposure. I believe occupational exposure on-site has to be left largely to the expertise of the personnel. It should not be regulated to any great degree, in my opinion. Regulating such exposure protection beyond what the personnel know from their training to be reasonable causes danger by forcing personnel to deviate from their factual understanding of radiation health physics in favour of ‘book rules’ which must undermine their ability to think rationally and pragmatically, causing demoralisation and mental fatigue. Such demoralisation and inefficient thinking on the site of nuclear power installations is dangerous, surely.

Concerning the fearful power of nuclear, I agree that nuclear power is a terrible beast. Imagining the power of uncontrolled fission should be a fearful exercise for any individual, I suggest. But the fear of uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions is certainly greater in my mind, at least. In any case, the fact is that the human intellect is far more powerfull even than nuclear fission, and history demonstrates very clearly the abilty of the human intellect to master this power sufficiently. That should be a comforting thought. So I believe that any individual who fears nuclear for it’s power can be brought both to the understanding that uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions are even more powerfully dangerous than nuclear, and that the power of the human mind ultimately trumps all, including the power of nuclear fission. We must all bank on that hopefull and evidence-based belief, because the alternative is too horrific to tolerate for any sane individual in our time, in my experience and opinion.



Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 5, 2015

Nathan:”…establishment always sooner or later comes to the “correct” conclusion…
May be. In ancient times scientists concluded that the earth is round and calculated it’s circumference within 20%. It took establishment a few thousand years to agree. 

Scientific establishment concluded that radiation danger in-/decreases Linear (with No Threshold) with the level (LNT). The results of regarding the low level Chernobyl radiation and even the DNA-damage to people living around NPP’s are in line with that.

You refer to James Conca, who writes as pro-nuclear reporter in Forbes articles which are then disputed in the comments by people who a.o. refer to articles published in journals such as the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences such as this and this.

Your mice
I responded already. Shortly: Level is far less important than dosage. And the dosage was much lower than people in e.g. Ramsar get (~6mSv/a). Those residents have enhanced levels of DNA damage.


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jan 5, 2015

If you’re going to “provide” cheap solar for cooking, know that you’re also going to have to provide it for Refrigeration, and you’re going to have to provide lots of  storage too, or people will ignore your solar and keep using biomass for cooking, which they can do anytime of the night.

Also, understand that you will need to provide solar ready appliances, unless you provide inverters. You will also need to train technicians to fix/instal these things, and also you better establish a recycling industry for all the used solar cells and batteries that are sure to happen.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 5, 2015

Bas, that’s the photo they provide on their website, and I wanted to make sure no one confused the prestigious Helmholtz Institute for some cheap retail space where a pack of antinuclear charlatans have holed up.

It would be an easy mistake to make.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 5, 2015

Batteries have similar great potential fast price deceases.

So local shop delivers a 4 panel installation that can deliver ~1.5KW, together with optimizer at the back of each panel and an inverter-battery combination. With a visual instruction paper, they will make it work fine. Either they do it themselves or the neighbour help (as I saw this summer).

Wood for cooking is time consuming. Petrol is dangerous and delivers a lot of dirt in the small house. 
So the will use electric cooking and may also buy a fridge. It may imply adding a battery.
If you design it modular that should be easy.

Such $10billion investment to make such installation 4 times cheaper, deliver a great yield. For the >1billion people and for the climate.


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jan 6, 2015


You are missing the point. Africans cannot afford the fridges (or the batteries)  they would have to have, and the more sophisticated the technology, the less likely it can be purchased or adequately maintained and repaired. Furthermore, the required recycling will be non-existent, there won’t even be landfills, much less recycling centers, just some random dumps full of toxic rundown tech.

The reason biomas (firewood) has worked is because it can be used anywhere and anytime, regardless of sunlight. They use it to cook as/when needed, and in whatever amounts they want.

I would love to see the outcome of this experiment in rural Africa, however, I wouldn’t want it as a substitute for a reliable grid.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 6, 2015

Robert:”… invested at least a few trillion dollars …“.
With that level of investment, cheap high efficient (36% vs now 18%) PV-panels + cheap inverters/optimizers + batteries can be developed (incl. the fully automated production lines).
So people can buy full installations for 50cnt/W!

Also a great help for the >1billion people without grid connection, as those solar installations do not require educated people.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 6, 2015

As stated, the proposal incl. the development of cheap batteries.
It does not include the development of cheaper fridges, TV’s, or so. There is no real prospect to make those at least a factor 4 cheaper with a development boost.
The poorest family in the village buy a smaller set and have good light. They then extend towards electric cooking, Television, etc.
This summer with the bicycle in Kashmir, I saw some houses with 3 solar panels; a very small, a bigger and a normal sized (~1.5m²) panel. They told that the panels were very expensive so they started with a very small one (with battery) that could feed only a small LED light.

The nice thing is that those small installations require far less technical knowledge than installing a grid connection. Hence the roll-out can go really fast.

Firewood is a problem nowadays. Many people, so wood far away. Also unhealthy, just as petrol which is also expensive and dangerous.

The problem is more urgent in rural India, as people there are more educated but still won’t have a grid connection.

Even poor places now have waste deposits (very old cars, etc.).
Btw. They repair far more than we do. Local whizzkids develop the know how fast. They have the time to find out how, learn form each other, and do trial and error.

Steve K9's picture
Steve K9 on Jan 11, 2015

It might be an oversimplification, but it often seems to me that everything depends on China.  There are several nations with the resources, but only China also seems to have the will to really expand nuclear power (maybe I’m being a little unfair to Russia).  

If China went ahead and implemented the policy goals stated in this article:

Fast reactors – make maximum use of uranium resources by generating a certain amount more fuel than they consume – are seen as the main technology for China’s long-term use of nuclear energy. Under previously announced plans, deployment of PWRs is expected to level off at 200 GWe by around 2040, with the use of fast reactors progressively increasing from 2020 to at least 200 GWe by 2050 and 1400 GWe by 2100.

or, exceeded them.  It would not take long for the rest of the World to realize, this is the way to go.  And then, we might have a chance at addressing climate change.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 5, 2015

Will solar and wind be able…?
Yes. And much cheaper (~half the cost) than new nuclear!

You forgot to mention the linked technologies that are involved:
Long term storage: Power-to-gas and renewable gas-to-power.
Short term storage: Batteries, pumped storage.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 5, 2015

…why not push for mega nuclear power generation off shore…
New NPP’s are now already >2 times more expensive than solar+wind+storage solutions.*)
So how would you justify offshore with its big extra costs? And take away the fear that you spoil the sea with leaked radio-activity?

EU recalculated the investment costs of Hinkley and concluded: £24b = ~$32billion for 3.2GW!
The investment costs for Vogtle are gradually expanding towards the same…
Calculate also the major liability and loan guarantee subsidies.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 5, 2015

… it …removes a … argument against nuclear … a “danger” being close to the demand …

Remember the Chernobyl radiation caused infant death in Germany, etc. >1,000miles away!

Mark Heinicke's picture
Mark Heinicke on Feb 6, 2015

There’s an enormous disconnect common to most (not all) of the comments here (and elsewhere on this site).

As an increasingly educated layman, I preface my comment here by saying that I respect the knowledge that so many of you bring to bear; I have learned a lot here.


Y’all keep throwing around rational arguments and numbers as if they really make much difference in the larger scheme of things.  As a nuclear power advocate, I am discouraged by the time and energy we put into making an already overwhelming case even more overwhelming to ourselves. The larger problem is, how do we get the message out to the world outside our echo chamber in a way that matters? What should we be thinking about in terms of action?

Give me more material I can use when I talk to friends, to U.S. Senate staffers when I call them about a bill or a vote. (It’s something I, a 69-yr-old have time for.) It has to have an emotional impact. History shows that reason I eventually prevails, but we don’t have an “eventually” left to retain the diminishing health of this planet.  Tell me more, so I can tell legislators, for example, how we respond to the proliferation issue in respect to breeder reactors.  

Most of us can see that the rational case for nuclear power as an answer to AGW is ironclad.  Rationality is not the decisive factor.  We have a persistent commenter on this site, a very intelligent person who clings doggedly to his anti-nuclear stance, digging up every scrap of evidence in favor of his position, regardless of any factual counterargument.  If a person of such intellectual capability is so willing to resist facts, what hope do we have that the benighted public (particularly in my own country, the U.S.) will open their eyes?  

What I’d like to hear about is, more possibilities.   When I worked in advertising, the time-tested adage was, to get the words “you” and “new” into, if not the headline, then into the lead paragraph.   I want to hear more about Gen III and Gen IV technology. What can it do for me, for the public–the “you” we need to speak to? If there’s any hope for progress in the U.S., that’s where the action is. But the case has to go beyond numbers. What is the selling point for nuclear?

Ralf addressed this early on.  While I don’t share his insouciance regarding climate change, I do share his insistence that we need to look at more than carbon to get movement.

I am tired of the repetitive, unproductive pushback against Bas.  Let him stew in his bubble.  It ain’t worth the time of day!  I’d rather hear more about SMRs and how investors are being sold new technologies (of any scale), or not, and why.   

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 6, 2015

Thank you for your advices, I’ll try to apply those.
Also for reading my ideas.

I understand you know my position and style of responses.
Agree that my style need improvement.
It often amazes me that facts I write about, seem not to penetrate the minds of pro-nuclear readers here.

Can you give me more specific advice to make my comments more effective?

Thank you already!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 6, 2015

Mark, these are all valuable observations you make, and believe me – other TEC contributors are as frustrated as you with the misdirection and lack of progress of viable energy solutions.

You and I are old enough to remember Chernobyl. It was frightening, even for those of us half a world away – and difficult to watch the news without feeling as though the earth was coming to an end. Now we’re faced with a similar experience with Fukushima, but armed with a better understanding the extent of Chernobyl’s damage.

We’re also more aware of the effect burning fossil fuels is having on climate, and the imperative  to find a lot of clean energy very quickly. As Fukushima recedes into the past, I believe the necessary perspective will arrive – but it’s going to take a lot of patience and perseverance.

Mark Heinicke's picture
Mark Heinicke on Feb 7, 2015


I owe you an apology for the harshness of my language. It was not called for.  I admire the breadth of your knowledge, your assiduous research, your belief in your position(s), and your tenacity in sticking to your guns despite the usual chorus of opposition.  It can’t be easy!  

I can’t give you any advice more specific than to say that putting your comments in a larger context might get a better hearing.  When you throw in a fact or computation that seems to have no broader objective than to needle pro-nukes, it makes you sound much like a mere contrarian.  To the extent you sound like one, it often provokes a tit-for-tat exchange in which the adversaries seem to be more interested in scoring points than in opening a bigger space in which to make progress. 

When I talk about “bigger space,” I mean the space in which renewables and nuclear can complement each other.  They should.  When I say the case for nuclear as an answer to AGW is ironclad, I’m not saying that nuclear is the answer, but I do believe it has to be the major component–the sine qua non of low-carbon energy production in our time. There’s a balance somewhere among nuclear, CCS, solar, wind, hydro, and other renewables, that we are, I hope, seeking in this “energy collective.”  I don’t sense balance; I sense that the signal is, too often, getting lost in the noise.  (I often catch myself relishing the noise when it favors my own views, but I try to guard against it.)

Of course not every post or comment can embrace all or even many points of view, but it can, I think, imply that opposing points of view have merit. There’s rarely a post in these discussions that completely lacks merit, but there are many posts which sound dismissive of the merits of others. 

You may not intend to be dismissive of the merits of others, but often your presentation doesn’t seem to have any give to it.  It’s as if instead of putting a ball in play, you plunk down a rock and say, here you are, try to kick it back.  You are not alone in this, but unfortunately for you, your minority position among this crowd makes it all the more difficult to get a hearing.  For many of us nuclear energy advocates, your posts seem to echo the anti-nuclear “clean, renewable energy” mantra thrumming mindlessly through the media.  

One other suggestion: as a way of putting things in context, lower the ratio of numbers to words in your posts.  I’m not joking.  I think you’d get a better reception if you assume your readers would like an explanation of why your numbers matter; the reason may be obvious to you, but it would help if you could make it more explicit.  If you did so, it might also help you to anticipate what kind of reaction is coming.

Lastly, you might check out the articles by Robert Wilson published on this site. They are good example of persuasiveness achieved by using numbers to support a thesis, rather than assuming numbers can speak for themselves. 

I plead with you to look for balance.  Without it, we’re all screwed.

Good luck!  








Mark Heinicke's picture
Mark Heinicke on Feb 7, 2015


Thanks for some confirmation that I wasn’t throwing a completely wild pitch with this post!  I acknowledge  the importance of the technical aspects of the energy conundrum, which form the substance of most of these discussions.  Nevertheless, I’d like to hear a little more about how the technology fits in our society, and our economy.  I don’t know how to work that in, but if we are to help move things in our direction, we need to be paying attention to it.  Case in point, with “Nuclear at the Crossroads”, it doesn’t matter how great a technology we have (Gen III reactors? SMRs? Breeders? Thorium?) if it can’t be sold to investors.  What makes that happen?  

I remember not just Chernobyl, but TMI.  I’m embarrassed to admit I was among the “No More Nukes” protestors at the U.S. Capitol a few weeks after the accident in 1979.  Not the only idiocy in which I’ve participated in my life, but perhaps the most public. Looking back at TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, and now knowing so much of the actual facts, I am struck by the power of imagery to override one’s rational faculties.  I am reminded of this every time I see images of power plants with clouds billowing from the cooling towers.  How many people understand that those emissions are just water vapor?  I’m convinced that many Greens see these as releases of radioactive poisons on a par with the real poisons spewed from coal burning power plants, and these images are used intentionally to scare the general (and generally ignorant) public as well as other Greens.


Another image favored by the anti-nuke crowd is, of course, the most truly disastrous, Chernobyl (which we know to be far less disastrous than people such as the pathetically uninformed Lesley Stahl still believe it to be–but still, it was scary). What I see in Chernobyl is an emblem of a vicious, corrupt, dysfunctional political system.  From what I know of Fukushima, the same elements of corruption played a big part in the inept response to the accident.  

That’s the soft spot in the nuclear power enterprise.  Not the technology, but human error, human weakness, human arrogance, and human corruptibility.  All of these human propensities to do wrong things can be contained within an honest, open, and well-managed political system.  So add to your “patience and perseverance” the necessity for vigilance–enforced by a level of government regulation and scientific scrutiny that are currently out of fashion. Let’s hope the measles scare will have a corrective influence in that regard. 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 7, 2015

Thanks a lot for your sincere advice!
Though habits are not easy to change, I’ll try to follow them,

If you find faulty reactions that I could have done better, feel free to tell!



Mark Heinicke's picture
Mark Heinicke on Feb 7, 2015


It is a bit of an oversimplification.  China is the key player, but India needs to get on board soon.  Since India has so much solar potential, it is tempting for them to put too much into solar. With that example, we might see more wrongheaded movement in places like Germany or Minnesota, where solar at scale is flatly inappropriate.

But we have to keep in mind that China is still pursuing an “all of the above” strategy.  Nuclear is a minor although growing part of the picture there. If they stumble with that, they’ll revert to prioritizing coal. They can afford scrubbing of toxins, and CCS. (Too bad CCS probably won’t work.)  

I think we should be wary about fast neutrons and plutonium production.  There’s another case of a superior technology vulnerable to warped human psychology.  The only serious objection to nuclear power than I can see is the risk of proliferation.  When you’ve got heaps of Pu-239 around, the risk goes up.  I think it’s reasonable to count on China to protect their fuel cycle adequately. India, I’m less sure about.  

Why not just push ahead with thermal uranium?  There’s plenty of it, and it’s a time-tested if less efficient way to go.  If we can get over the carbon hump that’s coming in the next 30 years, we’ll have opportunities to exploit fast-neutron for the long term.  Call me old-fashioned, I think LWRs still have promise. We know they work with low risk.  If we could get commitment from the political and economic powers-that-be, a crash program could make the difference between 550 ppm and 700 ppm (perhaps the catastrophic level of CO2).  

State actors such as North Korea pose the most serious risk, but state actors can make good ‘ol uranium bombs anyway.  Plutonium is the material of choice for terrorists. If I were a terrorist I would opt first for seizing a weapon that is already fabricated in Russia or Pakistan.  I think that’s the way to go with the greatest chances of success, if you have enough money, conventional weaponry, and/or the kind of ruthlessness we have seen among Islamist psychopaths. But terrorists are not always rational, and they have a capacity for surprising us. So they might still go for the difficult path of making their own weapons from plutonium obtained through bribing, intimidating, or infecting insiders with their own mania . One could hope that if they manage to put together something dangerous, they’ll produce a “fizzle” that will kill only thousands of people rather than millions.  

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