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Dawid Hanak's picture
Associate Professor in Energy and Process Engineering Cranfield University

I'm a climate warrior who believes that achieving our climate commitments requires immediate action. We can do this by deploying green energy technologies and building world-leading engineering...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Dec 15, 2020
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There is no single bullet to climate change 🌍

I believe that we need to leverage all options that we've got available to meet the net-zero targets, including:

🌬 wind
☀ solar
☘ biomass
☢ nuclear
🏭 carbon capture and hydrogen

Although we often see these as competing technologies, I believe we need to start seeing them more in the form of co-opetition.

I agree that these will compete to meet the energy demand at the lowest possible cost.

But these technologies need to support each other, for example, when there isn't enough renewable energy to meet the energy demand.

Do you think nuclear will play a significant role in the decarbonisation of the energy sector?

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 15, 2020

It's a tough question-- we want them to compete on the open market to find the most affordable and reliable way to decarbonize, but then do they cannibalize each other? Are there policies that can/should be implemented that can make the cooperation more viable? 

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Dec 16, 2020

The question of nuclear power is vexing. If one looks at things from a "first principles" perspective -- as Elon Musk has been able to do with great success -- then there's no question that nuclear power should be the cheapest, most scalable, and most environmentally benign energy source available for powering a modern global economy. No other option, wind and solar included, is capable of delivering the required amount of reliable power for a population of 11 billion human souls to enjoy a high standard of living without severely impacting all other life on the planet. 11 billion is the median best estimate for world population by the end of this century, barring cataclysmic collapse and die-off.

Unfortunately, we rarely have the luxury of working from first principles. There's a shortage of individuals today who even understand what first principles are. For historical reasons, nuclear power has acquired a great deal of baggage. The baggage has become well entrenched, and there's little hope of ditching it anytime soon.

Entrenched baggage renders "conventional" nuclear power uncompetitive with more expedient and politically popular alternatives. Small modular reactors of a new generation offer the best hope of turning things around. Most of the designs under development deliver far more energy per unit of fuel. Although the "nuclear waste' issue from current reactors is largely bogus even today, the tiny amounts of relatively short-lived wastes from these new generation reactors all but eliminate the issue. Some designs have net negative waste production: they can consume existing stockpiled waste as fuel.

The regulatory and testing hurdles for new reactor designs are a formidable challenge. And yes, there are technical challenges as well. Whether any of the new designs will pan out is something we'll discover over the next ten years. If any do manage to enter volume production, the workings of Wright's law can be counted on to deliver cost reductions that will allow nuclear to achieve its clean energy potential.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 17, 2020

I'll admit I actually wasn't familiar with the term 'first principles,' so for anyone else who was in the same boat-- here's a great article on it (as it relates to Elon Musk, as Roger notes): https://jamesclear.com/first-principles

A first principle is a basic assumption that cannot be deduced any further. Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle defined a first principle as “the first basis from which a thing is known.”

First principles thinking is a fancy way of saying “think like a scientist.” Scientists don’t assume anything. They start with questions like, What are we absolutely sure is true? What has been proven?

In theory, first principles thinking requires you to dig deeper and deeper until you are left with only the foundational truths of a situation. Rene Descartes, the French philosopher and scientist, embraced this approach with a method now called Cartesian Doubt in which he would “systematically doubt everything he could possibly doubt until he was left with what he saw as purely indubitable truths.”

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Dec 19, 2020

That's a good explanation for what "first principles" formally means, and thanks, Matt, for posting it. Less formally, it also refers to the difference between what follows from fundamental principles -- and is therefore unavoidable -- vs. what is only the result of how things have come to be done or of other constraints that are not fundamental. Custom and non-fundamental constraints are grist for creative circumvention. AKA opportunities for innovation. 

In the case of Elon Musk and SpaceX, Musk had a sufficient understanding of first principles to recognize that the cost of launching payloads into space was orders of magnitude greater than it fundamentally needed to be. So he assembled a crack team and set about innovating. 

My lament about "a shortage of individuals today who even understand what first principles are" was a comment on the consequences of increasing systems complexity and the resulting tendency for narrow specialization. But let's not get started on that. I might inadvertently reveal myself to be the grumpy old fool I seem to be turning into. In more lucid moments, I actually have great admiration for modern youngsters.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 25, 2020

A new generation of female nuclear activists is making progress at breaking through ideological barriers (the vast majority of anti-nuclear activists are women). Besides Zion Lights:

Kristin Zaitz and Heather Hoff - Mothers for Nuclear

Heather Hoff at the control panel (Diablo Canyon)

Brazilian supermodel Isabel ("Isodope")
https://twitter.com/isaboemeke/status/1287071018352181249

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