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Bill Gates' Nuclear Option

image credit: https://www.terrapower.com/terrapower-and-ge-hitachi-nuclear-energy-launch-natrium-technology/

With the coronavirus pandemic raging and the economic devastation it has wrought - not to mention all the other social turmoil this year has seen - it can be hard to focus on anything else. But climate change is still with us, and strong efforts are still needed to prevent the worst effects it can still bring in the short, medium, and long terms.

Current sources of renewable energy such as wind and solar have major drawbacks. These forms of energy are either intermittent (unpredictable), have low levels of energy density, or both. This means they need either huge swaths of land, huge batteries, or both. Also, huge amounts of natural resources will need to be mined and manufactured, and several technological breakthroughs in battery technology will need to be made, before we can power our society with it. The amount of electricity consumed by humanity is truly enormous: 25,606 TW-hrs, as of 2017. Since the twenty first century, global electricity consumption has increased annually by 3.4%, with developing countries increasing their electricity demand rapidly.

To limit climate change to acceptable levels, a large portion - if not all - of the global electricity supply will need to come from carbon-free sources. Currently, the United States produces about 1 pound of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity; values for developing countries, which tend to rely ore heavily on coal and natural gas, are likely higher. Fossil-fuel-related carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high of 37.1 billion metric tons in 2018. Drops caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns were significant, but too expensive to sustain, and still too small to bring emissions levels to acceptable levels.

To have a chance of limiting temperature increases to below 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), any climate scientists view nuclear energy as a crucial source of power. Per Forbes, “nearly all mainstream projections of the world’s path to keeping the temperature increase below those levels feature nuclear energy in a prominent role.” And according to the IEA, “achieving the clean energy transition with less nuclear power is possible but would require an extraordinary effort,” an effort which the world does not currently show the political will or unity to make happen. A new form of nuclear energy called Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR) technology shows promise. If it is adopted widely enough, it may produce significant amounts of carbon-free energy for the benefit of the planet and its people.

A Brief Explanation of Nuclear Energy

Some atoms are so large as to be unstable. Occasionally these unstable atoms will split themselves spontaneously. When this happens, it splits into two smaller atoms, and some neutrons. Also, some of the mass of the original atom turns into energy (remember that Einstein taught us that a small amount of mass can become a large amount of energy, and vice versa). Some of the neutrons that went flying off will collide with other atoms, which immediately causes them to decay as well. If you get enough fissile atoms packed in close proximity to each other, they can create a continual chain reaction, causing them to produce large amounts of energy. This process is called “fission,” and atoms that can undergo fission are called “fissile.”

The amount of electricity that can be produced by the fission reaction is truly enormous. Nuclear power plants currently in operation range anywhere from 510 MW to 1,500 MW. The United States generates 98 GW of nameplate capacity. That corresponds to up to 807 TW-hrs total of nuclear power every year, which is more than any other country, and accounts for 20% of the nation’s electricity.

Splitting atoms can be tricky, however, and the fission process creates a witch’s brew of radioactive byproducts. These byproducts emit harmful gamma rays for decades, centuries, millennia, or longer. They have to be carefully controlled, gathered, and stored indefinitely until future generations can figure out what to do with them. Also, high-level waste has to be guarded carefully: it can often be turned into fissile material, which can power a nuclear bomb in the hands of a rogue actor. Lastly, the methods to prevent nuclear meltdowns are comparatively primitive and are not fail-safe: if things go wrong, power plants can essentially become small bombs, blowing their top and releasing radioactive byproducts into the environment. This has happened occasionally, and the resulting outcry has largely soured the public on nuclear energy. Plus, the cost to build next-generation plants to current safety standards is enormous. Enormous cost overruns and schedule delays have scuttled or threatened several next-generation nuclear plants in the United States in recent decades.

Which is a shame, because the amount of energy that nuclear power can produce would be tremendous, certainly enough to power society’s needs for the foreseeable future.  And - crucially - it wouldn’t emit any carbon dioxide. If society could produce nuclear power that is safe, waste-free, scaleable, and cheap, humankind’s energy needs could be met, essentially forever. That’s still a big ask, but emerging technologies may be up to the task.

The Traveling Wave Reactor

In 1995, Edward Teller and Lowell Wood, two veterans of the American nuclear scene, published a paper outlining a new type of nuclear energy. The new system - called the “Traveling Wave Reactor”, or TWR, works in a manner very different from standard nuclear reactors. Most nuclear reactors run on a very highly enriched fuel: the atoms needed to run a nuclear reaction don’t naturally come in very high concentrations, so you need to pre-process it to get the right atoms in high concentrations. TWR, in contrast, runs off of a low-concentration material, which can enrich itself in a progressing, traveling wave. The extra neutrons that are flying around are used to turn useless fission byproducts into useful fissile material, which are then reacted as fuel.

In a TWR reactor, many disadvantages of traditional reactors are lessened or prevented entirely. First, the radioactive elements created are of the sort that need to be stored for decades, not forever. Second, existing spent fuel (which is currently stored indefinitely in special dumps) can actually be used to power the TWR. Third, there are no concerns about the byproducts being stolen and used to make bombs. Fourth, the way the reaction is controlled is inherently passive, so there’s no way for the plant to blow its top and release radioactive material. If the power turns off, it just stops. 

If TWR succeeds, the dream of nuclear power - limitless clean power for mankind’s benefit - could one day be realized. Just the power attainable from one nuclear waste storage site in Paducah, Kentucky could power the United States’ current energy needs for 100 years. All while burning up much of our existing nuclear waste.

This technology has been noticed and backed by none other than Bill Gates. He is working, through his foundation, to bring a TWR reactor to life. He has invested heavily into a technology incubator startup called TerraPower. Since 2007, TerraPower has been refining the process and design of their plant. Earlier this year, TerraPower announced a partnership with GE Hitachi to design and build a reactor plant design called Natrium. Natrium would pair TWR technology with molten-salt energy storage systems. The heat generated by the 345 MW reactors could be stored in the molten-salt tanks, and converted into grid electricity to smooth out fluctuations from other renewable energy sources.

Hurdles to the TWR

Several hurdles exist to building a TWR reactor, let alone to powering the public grid on them. The first is public acceptance of nuclear power. After the nuclear disasters of 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, the public is simply frightened of new nuclear plants. Ever-more stringent regulations for building, operating, and decommissioning nuclear power have driven up construction and operating costs, at a time when all other renewable energy costs are falling quickly. A “Not In My Backyard” mentality has also hindered efforts to construct new nuclear in the United States. TerraPower actually tried to build their prototype plant in China when public pressure and regulations made it too difficult to construct in the US. Their plans for a Chinese nuclear power plant were scuttled by the Trump administration, however, when they canceled the permissions needed to transfer the technology overseas.

An additional hurdle is the unknown nature of a first-generation TWR plant: it is very difficult - if not impossible - to know how much these plants will cost until one is built. Current next-generation nuclear plants have been plagued by cost overruns and delayed schedules due to unforeseen issues in plant construction, design, and startup. TerraPower estimates the cost of a 345 MW Natrium plant at $1 billion - though until a few are built, that will always just be an estimate. Recently, TerraPower won an $80 million grant from the Department of Energy to further develop the Natrium design. No publicly available information is available on TerraPower’s current operating budgets, but the overall expense of developing and deploying the technology is certainly in the billions or tens of billions of dollars. At one point last year, Gates offered to personally invest $1 billion - and raise $1 billion in private capital from other sources - if Congress would commit to supporting it.

The last question is whether the technology will be ready to deploy at scale in time to help combat global warming in a real way. Several scientist groups have published reports critical of the technology, including one from MIT in 2018. They contend that the technology remains more theoretical than proven, and that significant advances in fuel and materials technology will be needed to make it work. Given the urgency of addressing climate change, and the limited nature of capital to deploy to fight it, there are real questions about if it makes sense to fund moonshot projects like the TWR, or to use the capital to deploy ever-more wind, solar, and batteries.

Conclusion

As long as it overcomes the hurdles to its development, financing, construction, and deployment - which is by no means certain at this point - the Traveling Wave Reactor technology shows great promise as a next-generation nuclear technology. It offers the promises of carbon-free energy at large scale, very high levels of safety, and the burning of existing nuclear waste into energy and harmless residue. If it can be brought to fruition at a large scale in a short time, it should be something we can get behind. If not, it may make more sense to put public resources into deploying proven technologies at a larger scale.

Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 19, 2020

An additional hurdle is the unknown nature of a first-generation TWR plant: it is very difficult - if not impossible - to know how much these plants will cost until one is built.

This seems like such a huge consideration-- but one that's surely been overcome by other technologies before. But how do you go about getting investors and buy-in when this is such a question mark-- is it just about finding the right people with deep enough pockets and a willingness to take the risk (aka Bill Gates and others like him)?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 19, 2020

"But how do you go about getting investors and buy-in when this is such a question mark-- is it just about finding the right people with deep enough pockets and a willingness to take the risk (aka Bill Gates and others like him)?"

Matt, the simple answer is "you don't". Because the investment horizon of venture capital is typically < 5 years, sources of private funding available to finance projects requiring at least ten years of construction, even if they return steady profits for 80-100 years thereafter, are limited to the world's wealthiest individuals - people with too much money.

NuScale Power, Inc. is the first startup in history to develop the technology and receive government approval for a nuclear reactor. That the Dept. of Energy has allocated up to $1.35 billion to get their first project off the ground is a testament to their skill, persistence, and dedication.

Governments are great at funding big solutions to big problems. Private interests, not so much.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 19, 2020

"[cost]... overcome by other technologies before."

Governments drove large cost reductions in solar PV and wind power by providing subsidies year after year as well as being generally supportive, to drive up the production volume so the industries could mature.  The same will work for nuclear (and is already working in China, where nuclear remains cheaper than renewables when grid costs are considered).

---

To clarify, Natrium is not the new TWR design.  Natrium pairs a molten salt energy storage system with the existing GE Prism fast reactor design (which is derived from Argonne National lab's proven IFR).  The low cost solar-salt-based energy storage system (which avoids the tremendous cost and waste from used batteries) makes the system complimentary to solar PV, and replaces fossil fuel fired spinning reserves and peaking plants.

Prism/IFR can not only provide inexhaustible clean energy from our plentiful uranium resources, but it can also consume plutonium from used nuclear fuel (with the help of a fuel recycling plant), or from dismantled nuclear weapons (and consuming it is more compatible with disarmament treaties than hiding it underground).

The TWR is in part an attempt to get the inexhaustible energy of fast reactors without building a recycling plant for used nuclear fuel.  It's a reasonable backup plan in case we continue dragging our feet on recycling.  But there is really no hurry, since there won't be a uranium shortage for hundreds of years, and unlike emissions and ash from coal combustion, which builds up in giga-ton quantities, used nuclear fuel takes up very little space, and is easy to store safely.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 19, 2020

The government has traditionally been supportive of nuclear technology development, right? I know certain regional governments have closed nuclear plants in operation, which is obviously not supportive of the nuclear sector, but in terms of funding, supporting, and advancing the development of nuclear tech it started with the federal government and has continued through to the current development of SMRs. Are there other types of support that the fed gov could/should do that you think would be useful? 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Oct 23, 2020

Nuclear has always been way to expensive and unsafe to get started on it's own. We were promised that Nuclear would be too cheap to meter. Yet Wind , Solar PV and Hydro are the real low priced energy. Uranium is a finite resource.Today 90% of it is imported from Russia.  None of the tons of waste already produced has been stored safely or made safe yet. It takes a long time to ramp up or down so it is very inefficient. 

I would never bet on Gates or Nuclear. 

Roger Lippman's picture
Roger Lippman on Oct 24, 2020

Bill Gates needs $80 million in taxpayer funding? Let him spend the $2 billion himself to see if this thing works. Then he'll discover that there's no market for it. Imagine how much clean power he could produce if he put that kind of money into wind and solar. And that would be an investment he could actually make money on.

Sean Hagen's picture
Sean Hagen on Oct 30, 2020

In responses to Jim Stack's & Roger Lippman's Comments,

Respectfully, your replies would be more helpfulll if they adrressed the following paragraph from Trevor's post:

"Current sources of renewable energy such as wind and solar have major drawbacks. These forms of energy are either intermittent (unpredictable), have low levels of energy density, or both. This means they need either huge swaths of land, huge batteries, or both. Also, huge amounts of natural resources will need to be mined and manufactured, and several technological breakthroughs in battery technology will need to be made, before we can power our society with it. The amount of electricity consumed by humanity is truly enormous: 25,606 TW-hrs, as of 2017. Since the twenty first century, global electricity consumption has increased annually by 3.4%, with developing countries increasing their electricity demand rapidly."

1. Can the grid meet reliability requirements using 100% Renewable Energy? If not, can it meet it with 100% carbon free requirements?

2.  Has there been an unbiased 'cradle-to-grave' economic assessment of the costs and environmental impact of 100% renewable energy (including a heavily expanded use of wind and solar technonologies)? From "cradle-ro-grave' encompasses mining for raw materials needed in manufacturing of baterries & blades, all fuels (including natural gas required to integrate wind and solar into the grid), as well as site decommissioning and restoration once operations art that site cease. This should, of course, be used to compare holististically to all carboon-free (C-F) power generation sources for an apples to apples comparison. 

3. Is there an Integrated Resource Generation (IRG) plan of 100% renewable energy that shows decarbonized grid can be achieved with solar, wind & storage only? What is the projected Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) corresponding to each technically feasible IRG and how does that compare to today's LCOE? 

4. Is there adequate land to accomodate the current and future needs to provide C-F electricity, given the future need includes electiricity for the close ~1.8 billion people on the planet currerntly living without electricity, with the resulting negative impact on health & human welfare?

I have a few other questions, however, I believe these get to heart of the matter. Both responses expresse a dislike for nuclear, yet do not aknowledge and present coherent alternate plans that achieve the desired terminal objectives: significnt decrease in carbon emissions while maintaining the outstanding safety, reliability, and perfomance record on the current nuclear fleet.

 

 

Roger Lippman's picture
Roger Lippman on Oct 27, 2020

Sean, I will take a first crack at the response you ask for.

To your question #2: Here's a real-life economic assessment.

PacifiCorp study shows cost of renewables much lower than cost of SMNRs The utility projects the NuScale project to cost $6,229/kW, plus operation and maintenance costs of nearly $200/kW-year, which amounts to another $6,000/kW over 30 years. By contrast, the resource cost for solar plus batteries at Idaho Falls: about $1,600/kW plus only $30/kW-year for O&M. (See pages 12 and 8, respectively, of the PDF.) In other words, UAMPS utilities can decide to pay four times as much for nuclear as the resource literally falling on the ground around them, plus much higher operational costs They can wait a decade for the NuScale project to be completed, with likely cost increases (and delays) along the way; or they can have proven solar power within a year. PacifiCorp Integrated Resource Plan, September 17, 2020

See https://www.pacificorp.com/content/dam/pcorp/documents/en/pacificorp/energy/integrated-resource-plan/09-17-2020_PacifiCorp_2021_IRP_PIM_09-17-2020_FINAL.pdf

There are many more real-world examples. Many of them are not done in the form of published studies but rather as practical applications.

If you want to talk about decommissioning, let's hear some numbers for nuclear power plants. That would have to include the safekeeping of nuclear waste for something like 250,000 years.

Question #4: Back around 1980, Barry Commoner estimated that one wind generator on each corner of each square mile of the US agricultural Midwest would produce enough electricity for the entire US. And as for adequate land, let's start with rooftops. It's pathetic how many rooftops, even in places like Southern California, are empty.

Much more can be said. But my question for you is why would you go with the most expensive, most dangerous form of generation, and advocate for technologies that are barely more than conceptual? The example of clean renewables is all around us.

Every dollar wasted on nuclear is a dollar not invested in renewables. Amory Lovins has been saying this, with detail, since at least 2008. https://www.democracynow.org/2008/7/16/amory_lovins_expanding_nuclear_power_makes . 

And here's another article from this week: 

https://beyondnuclearinternational.org/2020/10/25/the-science-is-in-nuclear-is-out/

Sean Hagen's picture
Sean Hagen on Nov 1, 2020

Hi Roger,

Thank you for your response. I appreciate your comments and insights, and I would like to clarify at the outset that I am not "pro-" or "anti-" any specific type of power generation technology.

More directly, I am less interested in starting at which power generation technology is "best" because that is not relevant. I am starting at the overall objective: what are the technically feasible ways that can eliminate or maximally reduce carbon emissions to address Climate Change? Then, among those options, which are the most economically viable and socially just? 

To establish common ground, per the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the top three sources of carbon emissions in the US are, in order, (1) Transportation, (2) Power Generation, and (3) Industry. In round numbers, each account for a third (very roughly). Starting with power generation makes sense because it subsequently facilitates reduction in the other two sectors. One should keep in mind, however, that to have a significant impact on reducing industrial carbon emissions, a carbon-free thermal source of energy is required. In other words, a non-thermal carbon-free electrical power grid will complicate the challenge of decarbonizing the Industrial sector compared to a carbon-free grid that includes thermal sources.

If you would like to cut short the technical discussion of the grid and just discuss pros and cons of different power generation technologies without looking at the big picture, I suggest listening to the following TED talk by Michael Shellenberger.

His TED talk is here: https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_shellenberger_why_renewables_can_t_save_the_planet

Again, I want to emphasize that we need to change our paradigm of arguing about 'which type of power generation technology' is best. Frankly, based on over 20 years of high-level technical management consulting (TMC) services in the global electric power industry, during which I've been accused of being a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, a nuclear engineer, a chemical/process engineer, and a business executive (non-technical 'suit'); and having proposed, lead, and reported on the results of TMC engagements to clients ranging from construction management in the field to Board Chairpersons in the Boardroom in three countries on multi-billion dollar Independent Project Oversight engagements; and having performed these services across the globe, on transmission project in Brazil and Ukraine, to coal power projects from Peru to Pennsylvania, to nuclear projects from San Diego to New Brunswick to the UAE; to starting up a successful Renewable Energy Consulting Business unit, and on natural gas projects from Central America, North America, Middle-East North Africa, and Europe; I believe I can suggest what we need to change our paradigm to without referring to another URL.

Our new paradigm is that we need it all - which is nothing that I am sure the reader has not heard before. What I am trying to emphasize is that we need to apply solutions based on the myriad factors that will drive the right decisions for a given location. In other words, a given location's (or region, community, etc.) availability to: natural resources (e.g., access to hydro-resources, solar radiation and clear, cloudless & dry skies, and geothermal resources; rooftops and open areas with minimal environmental impact on endangered birds and tortoises; public opinion and receptiveness to different technologies (free from outside agitators with the own biases), etc.

Every technology has its own set of pros and cons - all of them. Someone characterized nuclear as the most dangerous technology, when the EIA statistics clearly show it is by far the safest form of power generation. Long-lived high-level nuclear waste? Very small quantities of the most highly regulated metal in extensive packaging or cooling pools at highly guarded facilities. Nuclear accidents? Have demonstrated that very, very bad things can happen with very little impact on human health and welfare. What slays me is the failure of government scientists in Japan to stop the forced relocation of over 150,000 people after the Fukishima event based on radiation levels less than that in the natural soils of Colorado Springs. Just because something can now be measurable does not necessarily make it dangerous - especially compared to the risks and social impact of uprooting and changing the way of life for so many people.

When assessing total lives lost from all three worst case scenario nuclear accidents, they are not comparable to a relatively recent single hydro power event - a dam failure in China where an estimated 85,000 - 240,000 people were killed. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_Banqiao_Dam_failure)

One last clarification. Based on several research reports I've prepared, the primary reduction in carbon emissions corresponding to new solar and wind facilities is the fact that natural gas plants built to enable the wind and solar plants to be integrated into the grid produce less carbon than the coal-fired power plants they displace.

There is an important corollary to this last point: wind and solar power are renewable energy but cannot be considered carbon-free energy as long as they depend on natural gas plants to be integrated into the grid. Due to wind & solar's variable output, they need either complementary flexible generation, or previously excess carbon-free energy generation that was subsequently stored, to balance their variable output and account for periods when they are not available. Currently, the only utility scale carbon-free flexible generation technologies are hydro plants (dams and run-of-the-river facilities), and geothermal plants, which are geographically limited. As for energy storage - current and foreseeable technologies are making progress for short-term periods, which will help with grid stabilization and power quality. However, they have significant challenges to store the energy required to replace natural gas plants currently on the grid. This means that the wind turbines at every quarter corner and solar panel on every roof would be a great solution - IF our goal were to put in renewable energy. However, since our goal is carbon-free energy, it appears another solution is needed.

Which only then leads me to SMRs and ARs:

Do they potentially address some of the challenges not met by renewable energy and energy storage technologies alone? Yes.

Are they perfect? No.

Should they be considered part of the mix? Yes.

Are they similar to the current fleet of plants in terms of construction (amount of material), financing (when they start generating revenue vs construction outlays), or the amount and complexity of systems required to meet required safety standards? No.

Do these factors subsequently indicate these plants may cost less and be more practical to finance? Yes.

Is every dollar spent on them a dollar wasted on spending on renewable? Absolutely not, unless there is a viable roadmap that addresses the challenges faced by renewables and energy storage to provide adequate carbon free energy for the grid, Transportation, and Industry.

Also, and very importantly, the IRP, since it was limited only to PacifiCorp, did not account for the projected amount of fossil fuel to be consumed by the developing world between now and 2035, then 2050. Frankly, these project amounts of fossil fuel will produce an amount of carbon that will dwarf the amount emissions from the developed countries. If from nothing else than a social justice perspective, my opinion is that we definitely need it all (renewable energy, microgrids, energy storage, Advanced Reactors that burn used fuel and are designed to fit inside SeaLand containers).

This is what I mean by We Need It All. No single type of power generation technology is going to be the Holy Grail. However, I believe that if we start looking at the challenge from the other end - that is, start at the point where electricity is discharged from the grid, as opposed to where it is injected into the grid - we can find determine optimal solutions whatever technologies are best suited to achieve our common objective for a given location and scenario.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Oct 26, 2020

I would ask the naysayers to wind and solar to look at the progress made in those spaces over just the last 5 years:  Massive cost reductions, huge innovation in efficiency and reliability, incredible increase in power production to the grid, massive progress in storage technology,  great progress by utilities in adapting to DER, huge increase in public perception and acceptance.  More of the same is highly likely over the next 5 years.  Who would not want to see where this goes?

What other source of power can claim any of those achievements? Not even hydro.

Sure, fusion, TWR and/or SMRs may yet prove to be game changers. I don´t think we can afford not to pursue them through public/private partnering.  But, they don´t promise demonstrable results until at least 2029.  And this from a sector that has not kept a promise in its history.  Who would believe them enough now to stake the future on that?

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 26, 2020

"And this from a sector that has not kept a promise in its history.  Who would believe them enough now to stake the future on that?"

Mark, I realize you want very much to power the world with solar energy, but for reasons based in fundamental physical principles it isn't possible. Never has been, never will be.

Contrast with nuclear: between 1973 and 1988 France decarbonized 80% of its electricity with nuclear power. It can be done, and will be.

 

President Jimmy Carter in 1979:

"There is no longer any question that solar energy is both feasible and also cost-effective. By the end of this century, I want our Nation to derive 20 percent of all the energy we use from the Sun..."

The U.S. missed that target, and not by a little. Depending on assumptions, based on progress since 1979 it would take at least 800 years to provide 20 percent of U.S. power from the sun. Yet solar advocates, with quasi-religious fervor, hang on tenaciously to their ill-fated dream.

Who would believe them enough now to stake the future on that? I don't know, and I don't care. There's no more time to waste.

Roger Lippman's picture
Roger Lippman on Oct 30, 2020

This is a public policy issue. Remember what happened first thing after Jimmy Carter left office? Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels Carter had put on the White House. That set the tone for the next 12 years. Later we had Bush II, the oil man, with similarly backward policies. And now Trump, the unapologetic representative of fossil fuel industries. If these retrogrades had tried for Carter's 20% it would have been easy.

Bob, what "fundamental physical principles" show that it isn't possible to power the world with solar power (in conjunction with other renewables)? The only one I can think of is the endemic stupidity of people electing Republican presidents.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 30, 2020

This is a public policy issue. Remember what happened first thing after Jimmy Carter left office? Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels Carter had put on the White House. That set the tone for the next 12 years. Later we had Bush II, the oil man, with similarly backward policies. And now Trump, the unapologetic representative of fossil fuel industries. If these retrogrades had tried for Carter's 20% it would have been easy.

This yo-yo of policy based on Executive Branch is one of the biggest challenges of energy policy, and I fear it's going to stay that way until widespread clean energy action gets more widespread bipartisan support. I think we were on that way, but the Trump Administration has surely ramped up the rhetoric and made getting back on track more difficult. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 26, 2020

"Massive cost reductions, huge innovation, incredible increase in power, massive progress,  great progress, huge increases...who would not want to see where this goes?"

Mark, sounds a lot like renewables are headed toward a future of empty superlatives, of hype. We need reliable, clean energy that works.

Trevor Jones's picture
Trevor Jones on Oct 27, 2020

I've noticed this post has brought out some heated debate between solar advocates and nuclear advocates. Let's remember, though, that we are ALL on the same team: Team Clean Energy. 

I advocate for both. I advocate for whatever works. Both have different issues. I think nuclear looks a lot better on paper, but hasn't been able to get the costs down. Meanwhile, solar has been able to get its costs down tremendously over the last decade, but still faces major hurdles with storage, reliability, and land use, not to mention deployment.

Remember, we don't live in the 70's or 80's anymore.

We shall see if next-gen nuclear can get its costs down, get public opinion on its side, and start deploying. If they can, then it's Game Over for hydrocarbons. If not, then solar and wind are the only games in town, and so despite their problems, we'd better hope they can pull through.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Oct 27, 2020

Thanks Trevor. Well said.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 27, 2020

We shall see if next-gen nuclear can get its costs down, get public opinion on its side, and start deploying. If they can, then it's Game Over for hydrocarbons. If not, then solar and wind are the only games in town, and so despite their problems, we'd better hope they can pull through.

And while we wait to see, the clock is ticking so we can't spare to sit around and hope-- action is needed!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 28, 2020

"I advocate for whatever works. Both have different issues. I think nuclear looks a lot better on paper, but hasn't been able to get the costs down."

Trevor, France, Belgium and Sweden have proven nuclear can rapidly decarbonize developed economies - it's already been done. Contrast with wind, solar, and batteries, which currently power not a single country nor community in the world, and never will (solar provides less than 2% of U.S. electricity).

Some nuclear plants are over budget; so are nearly all wind and solar farms. Renewables advocates never talk about nuclear plants like Watts Bar 2 that, in 2017, was completed both on time and on budget.

"We shall see if next-gen nuclear can get its costs down, get public opinion on its side, and start deploying."

That's been the refrain we've heard for the last 30 years from solar and wind developers. Translation: "Admitting safe, clean nuclear technology is already here will mean the end of our gravy train! Stall, or point to accidents from the distant past!"

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Oct 29, 2020

Trevor, Don't forget hydro. It's a great baseline power. Here in 20 Mega Year drought Arizona we have 7 massive dams to prevent flooding. They also make over 8% of our power. They hadn't been upgraded in over 50 years. Yet now each time they do a replair they also upgrade the equipment with much more efficient and reliable parts. I feel it could provide over 20% of our power as they upgrade. 

Van Snyder's picture
Van Snyder on Nov 16, 2020

Three Mile Island and Fukushima didn't injure, make ill, or kill anybody, although Japanese courts allowed that one plant worker's lung cancer might have been caused by exposure to radioactive materials. UNSCEAR says there is "no scientific means to determine whether a particular cancer in a particular individual was or was not caused by radiation."

Chernobyl is as irrelevant as the Hindenburg because nothing like it will be built again. But to put some context on it, the official death toll was 28, plus a statistical extrapolation of 15 juvenile thyroid cancer deaths in rural areas with essentially nonexistent Soviet "medical care."

Nuclear "waste" is actually valuable 5%-used fuel. It's the unused part that needs custody for 300,000 years. Among fission products, only caesium and strontium, 9.26% by weight, need custody for 300 years. Cadmium, 0.36% by weight, needs custody for 100 years. The "waste" in the United States would power an all-electric all-nuclear American economy for over 500 years. Uranium is four times more common than tin, and ten times more common than silver. There's enough uranium, especially in seawater, to power the entire world for a million years.

EBR-II was proven to an invited international audience to be "walk-away" safe.

The public was induced to fear nuclear power by gas company propaganda.

Start with Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste in December 2005 Scientific American (and online). Then read Plentiful Energy from Amazon, or follow a link at http://vandyke.mynetgear.com/Nuclear.html for a PDF that the authors have generously given me permission to post.

Roger Lippman's picture
Roger Lippman on Nov 17, 2020

Van, you can make a claim such as this only if you ignore the information that is readily available:

> Three Mile Island and Fukushima didn't injure, make ill, or kill anybody, although Japanese courts allowed that one plant worker's lung cancer might have been caused by exposure to radioactive materials.

Are you a propagandist for the nuclear industry, or just an uninformed citizen?

See, for example:

[Fukushima] Manipulated childhood cancer data hides radiation impact, harms public health protection.   http://www.beyondnuclear.org/radiation-health-whats-new/2019/7/19/oops-manipulated-childhood-cancer-data-hides-radiation-impac.html

 

Near miss at Fukushima is a warning for U.S., panel says Thanks to a lucky break, spent fuel stored at the reactors did not catch fire and send a radioactive plume across much of eastern Japan, including Tokyo. But it easily could have, and a report by the U.S. National Academies should serve as a wake-up call for the nuclear industry. Science Magazine, May 20, 2016

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/near-miss-fukushima-warning-us-panel-says

(Just because it didn't happen doesn't mean that it won't happen next time.)

 

[Three Mile Island]
“NO ONE DIED”: THE BIGGEST LIE
The nuclear industry line — that “no one died at Three Mile Island” — does not stand the test of fundamental medical scrutiny. Yet it is often repeated, including by the media, and has been taken up by today’s nuclear deniers in asserting that the Fukushima nuclear disaster, too, will yield no fatalities.

Not only deaths but illnesses resulting from the disaster are downplayed. The NRC website alleges that there were “negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment.” Again, this is contradicted both by independent analysis and by medical science.

Given that exposure to ionizing radiation is medically understood to cause diseases like cancer which can be fatal, there is no way definitively to state that “no one died at TMI” or later developed cancers. The opposite is far more likely to be true.

Estimates are complicated by the long latency period for illnesses caused by exposure to radiation and by the fact that many victims move away after an accident and are not then tracked in any scientific database.

Long after a catastrophic radiation release, disease can still manifest, both from the initial radiation exposure and from slow environmental poisoning, as the radionuclides released by the disaster are ingested or inhaled for many generations.

http://nuclearfreenw.org/ThreeMileIsland.pdf

 

[TMI] Hershey researcher believes new study makes first connection between TMI and cancer.  A type of thyroid cancer caused by radiation was more common among patients who were near TMI during the 1979 partial meltdown. Pennsylvania Real-Time News, May 31, 2017  

https://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/05/hershey_researcher_believes_ne.html

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 18, 2020

Roger, please: "beyondnuclear.org" and "nuclearfreenw.org" are activist websites making a cottage industry out of securing donations by scaring the daylights out of people. They have no idea what they're talking about.

And the claim of the Hershey surgeon, whose at-risk group "could have been exposed to radiation which escaped during the accident"? Neither fact nor evidence, it's something you might hear from any hypochondriac with a vivid imagination.

Van Snyder's picture
Van Snyder on Nov 19, 2020

I read the reports by the WHO Chernobyl Forum, composed of about a dozen independent international agencies (ISBN 9241594179). I read the reports by the Unitad Nations Scientific Committee for the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) concerning both Fukushima (e-ISBN 978-92-1-054482-5) and Chernobyl (e-ISBN 978-92-1-056591).

People like Hershey were saying in the 1970's that power lines cause leukemia. Actually, statistical fluctuations just made it look that way -- in a few places, and in other places it made it look like power lines prevented leukemia. Guess which fluctuations activists chose to scare you with.

There has never been any evidence of significant release of radioactive material from TMI. One activist claimed to have found traces of radioactive iodine on the tongues of three shrews, but nobody replicated his result. One tonne of nuclear fuel, within a nuclear reactor, contains 8 grams of iodine-131, which has a half life of 8.02 days. All other isotopes of iodine, except I-129, have half lives measured in minutes. The half life of I-129 is 16 million years, or 177 microcuries per gram, i.e., it's essentially not radioactive.

If radioactive materials were as dangerous as is widely claimed, the people in Guarapiri, Brazil, would be dropping like flies. The annual dose in some parts of town and on the beach is 1100 millisieverts per year. Same for areas of India where the beaches are composed of monazite sand. Dose on the Tibetan plateau is 13-20 mSv/yr. Average annual American dose 6.2 mSv per year. UNSCEAR says the estimated additional lifetime dose for people in Fukushima prefecture is 170 mSv, or about 2.1 mSv per year, which of course declines because radioactive materials decay. The dirt in Denver is twice as radioactive as the dirt in Fukushima. NRC limit for a nuclear power plant worker is 50 mSv/yr -- but their cancer incidence is less than the general population. The dose from one abdominal CT scan, with and without contrast, is 30 millisieverts. The X-ray dose for prostate cancer is 54 sieverts (not millisieverts), delivered over the course of two months. 38 sieverts, delivered essentially instantaneously, is the average lethal dose. Dose rate, not total dose is more important. The "linear no threshold" model is completely wrong.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 19, 2020

Great points.

The anti-nuclear groups were using "alternative facts" long before Trump.

Trevor Jones's picture

Thank Trevor for the Post!

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