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  1. “Any course of action that demands fundamental – and admittedly uncomfortable – changes in both behavior and belief systems from nearly everyone on the planet is asking the impossible.”

    Precisely. You can not deny economic behavior. Billions of people act in their own self interest. Obtaining dependable, ample electricity is an immutable goal of developing nations. They must choose the least expensive source because they need to optimize their limited capital resources. We need to assure that atomic fission is cheaper than coal. For these buyers, emission-free is secondary goal.

    The only roadblock is unfounded fear of all ionizing radiation, a product of the (continuing) greatest scientific fraud of the 20th century, LNT and ALARA. Latest book on the truth is Brian Hanley’s Radiation — Exposure and it’s Treatment: a modern handbook. Rod Adams has been writing to bring this fallacy to public attention; please help.

    1. What about the perceived risk of terrorist attacks on plants and the massive financial burden from ridiculous security staffing? Nukes look more like a Supermax prison than a power plant.

  2. Love this article!

    I would slightly tweak the part on storing lifetime fuel on site, in light of the Elysium reactor’s capability to use SNF as feedin fuel means that most nuclear plant sites, already store 1500-2000 years of fuel on site, IF Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactors are built on-site. With small 1mt/GWe-yr conversion from oxides to chlorides without separations.

  3. Rod,

    I am all for Nuclear Power and worked in the industry for 30+ years. Now, please tell me why all the great plans for the “Nuclear Renaissance” have failed. Between 2007 and 2009, 13 companies applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for construction and operating licenses to build 30 new nuclear power reactors in the United States. We know know that is down to 2 reactors. Why? It’s simple…..It’s too expensive to build. No utility is going to risk spending 10’s of billions of dollars on a facility that may never produce a single watt of power. If cost wasn’t the overriding factor, then there would be 30+ new reactors under construction.

    1. @Brian

      You answered your own question. The Renaissance faltered – so far – because light water-cooled, large reactors with low pressure saturated steam power systems are too expensive to build.

      Since you spent years in the nuclear industry, I suspect you have some ideas on why the established industry has a difficult time doing new things in a cost effective manner.

      Constructing power plants is a “new thing” for most people in the US nuclear field.

      1. It’s a “new thing” for the Chinese as well. Yet they are able to build the same Western designs without the cost and schedule problems.

        Anyone trying to figure out what is wrong with the nuclear industry must take this important bit of information into consideration.

      2. light water-cooled, large reactors with low pressure saturated steam power systems are too expensive to build.

        Then how is South Korea able to build the Barakah complex on time and on budget?

        First-of-a-kind units may be too expensive, but that’s the nature of FOAK.  France, China, Korea and Russia all got where they are by building lots of established designs.  The 2 units at Vogtle, if completed, will provide the domestic experience base to finish Summer much faster and perhaps start the AP1000 ball rolling again.  Even before Vogtle is complete, the example of Sanmen will be there as a taunt:  the Chinese have surpassed us?

      3. The Barakah design has already been put into operation in Korea and is essentially a modified CE System-80. KEPCO also has total control over the supply chain. Based on the contractor salaries I’ve seen, no expense has been spared on hiring consultants, advisors, trainers etc.

        If any large LWR is built in the US in the next 20 years, it will likely be this design.

    2. it is not that nuclear power plants are too expensive to build. They are not too expensive to build smart but they end up too expensive to build dumb. Large construction companies in concert with organized labor, lard these projects from start to cancellation. They need to understand that you cannot win this game with their foot on the neck of the golden goose.

      1. I am not a fan of unions but they cannot be blamed for the current problems with commercial nuclear power construction. The recently cancelled VC Summer’s construction force was non-union. By all indications, they were not used efficiently and were often idle while waiting for components to be delivered or engineering packages to be completed. Note that the Vogtle project which has survived (so far) had more union involvement.

        One problem with the labor force was the relatively advanced average age which resulted in numerous injuries and medical issues that would not be as big an issue for a younger population.

      2. I agree with FermiAged. Today’s problems with the AP1000 and the EPR are of the fault of no one but Westinghouse and EDF. There are 8 AP1000s under construction, and not a single running. EDF has 4 EPRs under construction and not a single one running. In other words, we have 12 FOAK plants under construction. That’s a guaranteed recipe that every single one would be delayed.

        They should have continued building existing designs until the FOAK is up.

  4. We should develop nuclear energy as a capable tool that can make other fuel sources cleaner, easier to transport and more valuable.

    This actually works, though most of the schemes proposed thus far require completely new technology like helium-cooled high-temperature reactors.  What we really need is something that works with our existing fleet, to cut the gas lobby’s predatory pricing attack off at the knees.

    Instead of positioning atomic energy as an interloper angling for an increasingly large share of an energy supply industry with little growth, we should be using atomic energy to enable expansionary thinking that begins to view kilowatt-hours as being as worth conserving as kilobits on fiberoptic cables or kilobytes on terabyte hard drives.

    That’s going to be hard when you’re up against people who think like this:

    “While it has also allowed us to do many good things, energy cannot be seen in isolation from our relationship with other resources. Free energy would mean we would drain the aquifers faster, degrade the soils faster, work our way through the earth’s other depleting resources at an accelerated rate.”

    1. … though most of the schemes proposed thus far require completely new technology like helium-cooled high-temperature reactors

      How is that “completely new”? We had such reactors operating commercially in the US and in Germany back in the 1980’s. This is “back to the future” technology.

      1. The Fort St. Vrain HTGR only ran at somewhat over 550°C. (primary steam outlet was 1000°F).  Thermochemical stuff involving carbon and steam only gets going really well at temperatures substantially over 700°C, so you need a reactor outlet temp in the neighborhood of 900-1000°C to drive them.  That’s beyond any HTGR of scale built in the US.

        It would be great to have all the regional garbage going into a nuclear processing facility and coming out as liquid fuels, replacements for natural gas, ammonia/nitrates, sequesterable biochar and stable ash or slag, wouldn’t it?

      2. The Fort St. Vrain HTGR only ran at somewhat over 550°C.

        You’re thinking of only the temperature of the superheated steam. FSV’s core outlet temperature was 775°C. Germany’s THTR had an outlet temperature of 750°C.

        This is for reactors that came online in 1976 and 1984 respectively.

      3. You’re thinking of only the temperature of the superheated steam. FSV’s core outlet temperature was 775°C.

        That was the only data I could find.

        If you have to have a 225°C temperature drop between the core outlet and the point of use, an 800°C gasifier is going to need a helium feed at well over 1000°C.  FSV didn’t reach that territory.  Arguably the Fireball Reactor, running at 850°C with a much denser coolant, was in the ballpark.

      4. That was the only data I could find.

        Yes … and please don’t comment on this topic in the future until you have learned more about the topic. This type of information is available in standard textbooks on the technology.

        I offer this advice to keep you from further embarrassing yourself.

        The rest of your comment is equally as embarrassing.

  5. Another problem is the specific effects on the West.  Absent strong borders, one of the immediate effects of cheap clean energy in the industrialized countries would be to promote a surge of migrants from countries which haven’t built their own and probably cannot for reasons like this:

    My town was full of young men doing nothing. They were waiting for a government job. There was no private enterprise. Private business was not illegal, just impossible, given the nightmare of a third-world bureaucratic kleptocracy. It is also incompatible with Senegalese insistence on taking care of relatives.

    All the little stores in Senegal were owned by Mauritanians. If a Senegalese wanted to run a little store, he’d go to another country. The reason? Your friends and relatives would ask you for stuff for free, and you would have to say yes. End of your business. You are not allowed to be a selfish individual and say no to relatives. The result: Everyone has nothing.

    What we call corruption and sloth is the norm in most of the world.  The more such people are allowed to migrate here, the more it will become—HAS become—the norm HERE, the less we will be able to do, and the cost of doing what we can goes up.  We must stop and reverse this.

      1. I believe that is one of the things you’re not allowed to notice out loud without being tagged with the R-word.  Because historical inequality or colonialism or privilege or something, you can only get away with objecting to additional environmental impact when it’s white people doing it.  Everyone else gets a free pass.

  6. The real future of commercial fission in the US, IMO, is in the remote ocean territories (the Exclusive Economic Zones of Wake Island, Howland/Baker Islands, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, etc.), where substantially cheaper– centrally mass produced– nuclear reactors could be deployed for the production of carbon neutral synthetic fuels such as: methanol, gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel, dimethyl ether, etc.

    Such carbon neutral fuels could be shipped to coastal towns and cities in the US and around the world for transportation fuels and for the production of electricity.


    1. I’m really inclined to doubt that.  Do the numbers for starting from CO2/carbonate ion (as your ocean-stead units would have to do) vs. starting from fixed carbon a la municipal garbage.  There’s no question which one takes less energy, less investment and even dispenses with a chronic problem.

      1. Coastal and Great Lakes cities produce municipal garbage that can be exported to Ocean Nuclear sites for the production of synfuels through plasma arc pyrolysis. Methanol power plants also produce CO2 that can be recycled and exported to Ocean Nuclear sites for the production of more synfuels. Since Ocean Nuclear facilities could add hydrogen to the process, they could produce at least three times as much synfuel with no CO2 going to waste.

        And current natural gas power plants can be easily and cheaply converted to methanol power plants. So I look at natural gas power plants as convenient gateways for ocean nuclear-methanol power.

        CO2/carbonate synfuel production from seawater really wouldn’t have to come into play for Ocean Nuclear power facilities until there starts to be a shortage of municipal and rural biowaste.

        For electricity production, that probably wouldn’t occur until more than 400 GWe of Ocean Nuclear power was deployed for US customers (assuming the recycling of CO2 from methanol power plants). However, synfuel from seawater might be required much sooner if there is a significant demand or requirement for the carbon neutral production of gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.


      2. Coastal and Great Lakes cities produce municipal garbage that can be exported to Ocean Nuclear sites for the production of synfuels through plasma arc pyrolysis.

        You can do that right on the shores of the Great Lakes and save the shipping, while using the plants to power the electric grid during the day.

        current natural gas power plants can be easily and cheaply converted to methanol power plants.

        If you’re trying to capture CO2 you should probably make them Allam-cycle plants.  One of the possibilities is to use the hot fluid coming through the recuperator to crack MeOH into CO and H2, recycling heat back to the combustion chamber as chemical energy.

        CO2/carbonate synfuel production from seawater really wouldn’t have to come into play for Ocean Nuclear power facilities until there starts to be a shortage of municipal and rural biowaste.

        The cost of shipping of raw biomass makes it impractical to move more than a few tens of miles unless it’s some dense form like solid lumber or wood pellets.  Even for MSW it might be cheaper to use seawater carbonate capture right off the bat.  That loses you the benefits of a sink for MSW.

      3. Anything which moves your nuclear plants out of transmission range of US loads is a major loser, because it makes it vastly more expensive to decarbonize the electric supply.  The best use for electrofuels production is as a dump load, used after homes, industry, commerce and plug-in vehicles have been served.  If you can get a 4:1 energy gain over the electric input in plasma gasification, and 20% losses in conversion to product, a gallon of gasoline (115000 BTU) consumes about 10.5 kWh(e).  That’s starting to look attractive.  Shipping low-density solids halfway around the world to ship liquids back looks like it would require dedicated shipping fleets for each purpose, and that is definitely not an attractive proposition.

        that probably wouldn’t occur until more than 400 GWe of Ocean Nuclear power was deployed for US customers

        If you had 400 GW(e) on US soil you’d decarbonize all of the base load and much of the mid-load.  You could run plasma gasifiers during off-peak hours, using them as dump loads.  Between overnight PEV charging and gasifiers you could slash net carbon emissions from FFs by going at demand from both ends, displacement by electrons and substitution by biofuels.

    2. Implying that reactors can only safely be built thousands of miles from anywhere, on uninhabited islands, means you’ve already lost the argument – nuclear can’t be safe. Instead we should be building plants that are demonstrably safe enough to put right next to a city, so the ‘waste’ heat can be used as well as the power output.

      1. @John O’Neill

        The only kind of reactors I’ve ever been interested in working on are safe enough so that I would feel comfortable living next door to them. In many cases, they are safe enough to feel comfortable living with them in the basement or the backyard like any other well-designed and maintained furnace or heat source.

        I wouldn’t allow a faulty propane tank in my grill, but I certainly don’t spend any time worrying about the one that’s in there now. I wouldn’t live in a house with do-it-yourself, non code wiring or plumbing, but I also would not live in a house without electricity, running water and flush toilets.

        There is nothing especially hazardous about atomic energy. The idea that there is must be addressed with vigor, science, reasoning and even emotion.

      2. I propose building Ocean Nuclear reactors– in remote island locations– for the production of synfuels because I don’t believe that its– politically possible– to build thousands of reactors and thousands of synthetic fuel processing plants off American coastlines.

        Here in California, we don’t even want oil drilling off our coastlines!


  7. @Rod, one of your better if not best articles.

    I still can not logically accept or believe the prognostications about CO2 when supposedly intelligent people claim that horrendously expensive measures are needed to prevent catastrophic destruction of mankind and in the same presentation claim just as vociferously claim that the use of Nuclear power is an unacceptable solution. If the money wasted over the years trying to shift to renewables had been spent on Nuclear, CO2 levels would now be decreasing. However, even with all of the additional renewables, Fossil fuel use has NOT decreased and CO2 is still increasing. Additionally, their program to save the world, Paris Accord, allows both to increase for at least the next 15 years. There are proven systems for burning Coal to make electricity that release no more CO2 than NG and can load follow Renewables better, yet they are prohibited in the USA

    One problematic cost for NPPs is the regulatory creep. And it goes in two directions. First is that the law of diminishing returns on nuclear safety was exceeded years ago. The second is the heavy, if not excessive, involvement of the NRC on balance of plant (BOP) and off plant equipment, structures and even auxiliary equipment. In the early 70’s BOP was not regulated. Only requirement was that the plant agreed with the description in the FSAR, Final Safety Analysis Report.
    IMHO, INPO helped shove the NRC’s nose into the BOP tent. I think the Officers trained (Indoctrinated) by Naval Reactors felt the entire NPP was not as safe as a nuclear submarine. They were concerned about the fact that on a sub, you need the plant to stay alive and forgot that a NPP on land for making electricity can simply be shutdown. The recent Pilgrim shut down is a good example of that mindset.

    1. The whole “CO2 is a pollutant” meme is designed to better control populations via controls on food, energy and mobility as well as make a buck. It is really dismaying that nuclear power advocates have grasped this particular bundle of straws. It’s like the Republicans trying to win the black/hispanic vote based on their “traditional family values”.

      Ask a climatologist what possible evidence would cause them to change their mind. You will NEVER get an answer (even among commenters here) indicating that climate change is non-falsifiable. It is OK to conduct tests to challenge quantum mechanics, general relativity and even gravity but don’t you dare look askance at climate change.

      1. @FermiAged: Perhaps climate change isn’t falsifiable. But demonstrating that water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide are as transparent throughout the infrared spectrum as they are in the visible, would definitely be a worthwhile start.

      2. demonstrating that water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide are as transparent throughout the infrared spectrum as they are in the visible, would definitely be a worthwhile start.

        Of course, we’ve done this test and demonstrated the exact opposite.  These tests were first done in the 19th century, after Langley invented the bolometer.

      3. There is no doubt that water vapor, CO2 and methane are “greenhouse gases”. The question is to what degree human emissions of CO2 have caused the net temperature rise since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The affirmative case rests on the climate models which have been “tuned” to the climate record and thus have no independent verification since we have only one climate record.

      4. @FermiAged, who wrote:
        “The question is to what degree human emissions of CO2 have caused the net temperature rise since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The affirmative case rests on the climate models which have been “tuned” to the climate record and thus have no independent verification since we have only one climate record.”

        Actually, your original question was whether or not CO2 can be considered a “pollutant”, and whether CO2-induced climate change is a falsifiable hypothesis. It is indeed falsifiable, and I suggested one test by which, were it affirmative, it could be done so.

        There are one or two others, equally iffy. But you have moved the goalposts.

        To which I’ll only state that the affirmative case for anthropogenic CO2 emissions having caused the net temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution most assuredly does not rest upon climate models, finely tuned or otherwise.

        Although that is the commonly held misperception.

        James Hansen, author of the day’s best, did not mention climate modelling during his seminal 1986 hearings before the United States Senate. Rather, his testimony relied solely upon the geological record of atmospheric temperature and CO2 concentrations — at the time mainly from Greenland and Antarctic ice cores — during the Holocene, and more recent direct measurements in the mid-to-late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

        Hansen’s “Storms of my Grandchildren” is highly entertaining — if occasionally sobering — reading. AIP historian Spencer Wearte’s online history, The Discovery of Global Warming, is more scientifically detailed, and at least equally fascinating.

        A man of your curiosity might find either intriguing.

    2. Rich, don’t forget the costs associated with the broad ratcheting of security requirements over the years. I find it somewhat staggering that the security staff of many NPPs outnumber the operating staff by a factor of two or three. If INPO really wants to make itself useful, it would lobby for a reduction in the often unnecessary security requirements. The present fleet of reactors is challenged in large part because the O&M costs make them uncompetitive with natural gas plants (which in some ways are the facilities that should have enhanced security). Ratcheting down all those duplicative and unproductive regulatory requirements, from bloated security staff to millions spent on ALARA to save a millirem here and there, would go a long way towards bringing those costs down.

      1. I truly believe it should be the responsibility of Federal Government to secure these facilities. The massively increased financial burden after 9-11 is ridiculous and almost criminal to place on the utility alone. Protection from a foreign entity (terrorist organization) should not fall on the utility. That is the lone job of the Federal Government.

        The very same goes for “spent” fuel dry cask storage. Utilities are forced to spend millions every couple years to store the fuel the Federal Government is obligated under LAW to dispose of.

        Mandatory Fukushima mods that cost my plant (3.5 hours from the coast) 80 million alone. Thanks NRC!

        INPO “visiting” every couple weeks and “helping” out….the list goes on and on and on.

      2. INPO has worn out its welcome unless it gets back to being helpful rather than a burden. We don’t need more regulatory ratcheting, whether it comes from NRC directly or “suggestions” from INPO. What we really need is sensible, practical assistance in bringing costs down for operating plants and stopping the kind of regulatory ratcheting that, in part, doomed the VC Summer expansion project.

        Your notion of federal responsibility for plant security has precedent. Airports, large and small, international terminals or only domestic, were protected in part by placing the TSA in those facilities, as well as assistance in upgrading equipment like scanners and sniffers. While everyone complains about the TSA (with good reason), I don’t see any problem with the feds helping out with some kind of voucher system, or a similar financial agreement, to fund the cost of professional, private security personnel. There are any number of good companies that employ high quality people.

      3. There is a scene in the “China Syndrome” where Jack Lemmon takes a security guard’s pistol before the guard even knows what’s happening. It was the most realistic scene in the movie. Most of the guards I saw at the three stations I worked at looked more at home in a Dunkin Donuts than a firing range.

        I think the information sharing fostered by INPO was helpful. There was a continous decline in SCRAM rates throughout the 1980s and 90s until a realistic minimum was reached. The INPO “visits” whether assist or evaluation were always greeted with trepidation. I rarely saw any INPO “recommendation” not implemented no matter how dubious. It was just easier to do so and get INPO off your back. It was not uncommon to see a really strange procedure or program requirement and discover that it was a result of an INPO recommendation made years ago. Now with plant profitability on the line, there is a big effort to go through procedures and programs to eliminate this accumulated nonsense.

      4. About 20 years ago an engineer at my plant submitted a safety concern about electrolytic capacitors. Seems he was reading the specifications on a capacitors needed in one of his designs and discovered that they had a one year shelf life. Following the guidance of our Nuclear Power Plant Personnel – Employee Concerns Program he submitted a safety concern about the fact electrolytic capacitors could fail due to being so old etc. As a result of the safety concern management required that all safety related capacitors be tested for ESR, (equivalent series resistance ) and capacitance. And added this test to all annual maintenance tests.
        INPO loved our actions and the resultant test, and I have heard that other plants are doing this test.
        Now think for a moment. Why have four safety channels with a two out of four logic, and then get into each module on an annual/refueling basis and perform such an invasive test upon a component that has a 30 year MTBF? They are actually swapping out some of these capacitors on a multi-year periodicity. I basically got told to STFU when I told management how stupid this was. “If we don’t test them and one fails we will get a violation.”
        How old is the Mars Rover now? Who is doing maintenance up there?

        Info on the Nuclear Power Plant Personnel – Employee Concerns Program –

      5. No doubt in my mind that the only REAL risk to a plant and it’s personnel from a security standpoint……..is a heavily armed security officer having a really bad day.

        It’s not a terrorist or a plane smashing into the reactor building or a rogue Delta Force making it to the control room and activating the “commence meltdown” switch.

      6. No question that such an individual would cause quite a bit of mayhem and perhaps numerous casualties, but would he/she pose a threat to plant and public safety? They might be able to shoot up the control consoles and cause a shutdown, but shutdown systems would very likely remain intact. Do these individuals know what switches to throw and in what sequence to really effect a serious transient? Do they have that kind of training? One might challenge that and say it doesn’t matter, just blow everything up. But shutdown and other safety systems are designed to fail safely. And I’m guessing other security personnel would be on duty to neutralize the offending person.

        The optics would be poor for such an incident, no question about that. You’d have “journalists” from all over the country swarming the place like locusts, the Jane Fonda wannabe types. But in terms of protecting public safety, my guess is that would still be in place.

      7. I guess my point is the only security risk at a commercial Nuclear Power Plant is a security officer going “postal” and killing coworkers and these individuals don’t have even a smither of system knowledge to carry out sabotage that would lead to core damage…..which as you pointed out above, this sabotage would have to be massive, involving way too many barriers.

        While a security officer could cause significant casualties, I doubt the rampage would last very long being there are many other heavily armed and very well trained officers strategically located throughout the site.

      8. @Rich: Sounds like somebody did not know the difference between “shelf life” and “service life” of an electrolytic capacitor. Nor (apparently) the chemistry of how they work.

        Nothing wrong with checking the date and cap/esr specs at installation. But once in, you are quite right: as long as they are powered up at least once every few months, that 30 year MTBF is probably conservative.

        I don’t know if Mars Rover uses electrolytics or not. Either way, the damn thing is never powered off.

  8. I know that there are those who doubt the economics of the SMR’s but I still think a demo reactor in the 100-300 Mwe range would be the best use of federal tax dollars by the DOE. This would be better than blowing more money on solar and wind power systems , most of which are retreads of earlier projects.

    1. The thing I wonder about SMR economics is if the “S” also applies to staff size, particularly security requirements. I mean, we’ve got 1000 MWe plants out there now that aren’t economical, even with their construction debt retired. I understand there are ideas for reducing capital costs for SMRs, but if they are forced to carry a security staff of 75-100 (is that about the average today for US reactors?), as well as a few hundred more in operators, training, maintenance, and logistical support, I wonder if a 100-300 MWe plant can be economical, based on O&M costs alone.

      1. Not sure about other plants, but the security department at my single unit plant has upward of 170-200 personnel, with the high majority being security officers.

      2. That’s the kind of thing I wonder about. A standalone single unit SMR with 100-300 MWe is going to have a tough time being competitive if the NRC still insists on a security staff of that size. That along with the regular O&M staff is going to blow any cost savings of going to an SMR all to pieces.

        Existing plants in the 1000 MWe capacity range can be economical and competitive with gas if they can get those O&M costs down. If INPO would take on a helpful attitude in that regard rather than ratcheting and taking an adversarial role (for whatever stupid reason they might have for doing that) it would go a long way towards keeping our existing fleet intact. That has to be a high priority in the nuclear business. Otherwise we’ll all be working ourselves out of a job doing decommissioning work, which is what people like Peter Shumlin and Joe Mangano say we should be doing (FWIW, I won’t do it for any price).

      3. I will repeat my unpopular opinion here that NuScale needs to:

        1. Automate as much as possible.
        2. Perform tests that justify significantly reduced EPZs, regulations etc.

        Plants of the future won’t be viable if they require a cast of hundreds including PhDs determining loading patterns, engineers spending a great deal of time as lawyers interpreting Tech. Specs, hundreds of Barney Fifes running around with guns and hall monitors making sure no one is late for training classes.

    2. That’s what is killing us now. The layers and layers of overhead which burdens the cost of production. You’ve got CCGT plants out there putting out power in the hundreds of MW range and staff sizes of 20-30. That and (temporary) low fuel costs knocks the $/KWhr way down. I don’t think even an SMR can run with a staff of 30 or so. Until we can get those overhead costs down, particularly on the security side, I can’t see how a 100 MWe SMR can be economical. If NRC requires that kind of staff size per reactor, we’re spinning our wheels trying to get SMRs into production, because they’re going to go bankrupt in the present environment.

  9. Rod – Thanks for the thoughts as always. I have two observations.

    ‘addressed with vigour, science, reasoning and even emotion’ – From my experience and my reading on psychology, emotion comes first. It doesn’t need to be strong emotion instantly, but people need to be emotionally with you before you can sway them or lead them. Facts need an emotional frame.

    ‘ugly tradeoffs’ – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s an emotional response. I think the author, David Roberts, was after shock value with his article title. It’s certainly bait for clicks and eyeballs. It’s along the lines of the coin-flipping cartoon that you included in your Twitter feed. And I love the use of ‘whim’ for ‘wind’. I think it strikes just the right emotional note.

  10. Is there any study of the radiation profile and system-cycle production of various greenhouse gases, adjusted for electricity production, of various reactor designs?

    And as to Rod’s comment about only working on a reactor he’d be willing to live beside, I’d go further than that. Presently living beside one would lower my house’s price, so I could pay off my mortgage sooner, and there’s the hypothetical possibility that I’d get a slight innoculation against cancer. In context I think it’s a good idea for a typical middle-class family to live beside a working reactor.

    On the downside ofcourse would be the higher premium for home and life insurance. Also, I have no idea how much traffic goes to a reactor at night. I expect that traffic would be minor, though, since a reactor is basically a closed system.

    1. Price-Anderson has you covered on the insurance side. People often cite the fact that your typical homeowners policy excludes coverage for nuclear incidents as meaning insurance companies won’t bear the risk of those accidents. That isn’t the case so much as you are already covered by the P-A provisions. And the P-A liability pool is privately underwritten and funded. No taxpayer dollars involved.

  11. “I know that there are those who doubt the economics of the SMR’s but I still think a demo reactor in the 100-300 Mwe range would be the best use of federal tax dollars by the DOE. This would be better than blowing more money on solar and wind power systems , most of which are retreads of earlier projects.”

    Mr Ernst – I think you are absolutely right. Any technological innovation gets better by evolutionary changes rather than revolutionary changes. Building one (or more) of the Small Modular Reactors that we’ve read about would allow the tinkering to get the technology ready for market. The knowledge gained could be a boon to future generations.

  12. Nuclear construction is currently economic in newer nuclear countries and has become costly in older ones. It may be time for outsourcing and/ or evolution.
    All energy is legitimate and we should constantly balance benefits and costs/sacrifices.
    I think old nuclear areas should try to get maximum benefits from existing plants and build only more promising plants if and when hey are developed. It may be in old areas like US, Europe and Japan or new areas like China or Korea.

    1. @Jagdish

      Primary cost drivers for nuclear construction might not change much as a result of “outsourcing.”

      A substantial portion of the key components at Vogtle and Summer were manufactured in places like South Korea and imported.

      South Korean workers and managers would still have to figure out how to navigate the rules in places like the US or France in order to successfully complete projects in those places. The language barriers and the extra costs of housing an imported work force would negate any advantage they might have from having experience building completed systems in their own country.

  13. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when all the Gulf states have nuclear power plants. I’m assuming their current priorities are:
    1) stop burning oil for power, freeing up oil for export
    2) increase desalination allowing more local food production

    I wonder if there’s a follow on plan to start producing petrochemicals from waste once the price of oil gets high enough? The smaller gulf states can see the end of the oil booming coming fast and are actively planning for it e.g. by expanding tourism and airlines as new income streams.

  14. You wrote: “There may be limits, but we are not even close to seeing where those limits might be.” That is true. However, I think that it may be even harder for some people to give up their Malthusian dystopian fantasies than it will be for them to embrace nuclear power.

    For example, the message that worldwide violence and poverty have decreased in the years since WWII is not a message that people want to hear, and it is not a message that anybody except Hans Rosling’s followers are trying to spread. In contrast, many people have a deep affection for what Leigh Hunt calls “collapse porn” in his book. https://www.amazon.com/Austerity-Ecology-Collapse-Porn-Addicts-Progress/dp/1782799605

    So, as usual with nuclear, we are fighting two battles at once. The first battle is against fear of nuclear energy. The second battle is against the idea that the world is in worse shape than ever before, Malthus (or maybe the Day of Judgment) is coming, and only an exciting collapse can possibly save the day.

    1. Meredith – I see one consideration that we might want to turn onto a limit, or into climate engineering. That’s the heat that we release from our use of fossil fuels or nuclear power.

      All of the energy we use from these fuels (except what’s used by rockets outside of Earth’s atmosphere) is heat that is over and above the heat that’s arriving from the Sun. Fossil fuels release heat stored when the source plants and/or animals grew using it millions of years ago. Fission releases energy stored in nucleii synthesized in the supernovas that made the elements beyond lithium that make up the Earth.

      Back in 2013 I used the best numbers I could find (BP review etc.) to calculate how much primary energy our civilization would have to be using to result in one degree Celsius of climate forcing. The numbers have changed since then, but I think my calculation still has the right order of magnitude. I don’t think any of the numbers are known well enough for anything beyond that.

      I concluded then that we were currently using about 2.5% of the energy required for a 1 degree C climate forcing. I think we could safely say we could be using between 20 and 40 times the energy we’re using now, coming from ancient stored energy.

      That would allow a population of 7 billion a power budget of 50 kW each. My current power use here in Canada is around 12.5 kW, so I’ve got some room to grow. The energy poor countries, with average per capita power around 2 kW, have a lot of room to grow.

      The target heat budget for the Earth would ideally be negotiated as part of a global commons: our shared climate, atmosphere and oceans. It would be set by fiat, as all regulations are.

      I think the only reason that fossil fuel companies haven’t jumped on the idea of nuclear generated synfuels is that they think of themselves as carbon miners, fuel manufacturers, and fuel distributors. Oil, gas and coal certainly aren’t used exactly as they come out of the ground. All it would take is an expanded view of the fuel manufacturing side of the business.

      I’ve seen one science fiction author anticipate this issue. Larry Niven, in his Known Space universe, has the Puppeteer’s home planet moved away from it’s star because of the waste heat generated by a trillion Puppeteers. There are doubtless other authors who have used the idea.

      1. I concluded then that we were currently using about 2.5% of the energy required for a 1 degree C climate forcing. I think we could safely say we could be using between 20 and 40 times the energy we’re using now, coming from ancient stored energy.

        While climate change driven by GHGs is a global phenomenon and concentrated toward the poles, direct heat emissions are dissipated far more locally.  We already have urban heat islands to study; they don’t appear to have major effects far away.

        I suspect that this is going to put tighter limits on our energy consumption than your 20-40x estimate.  Coastal areas will be able to use seawater as a heat sink, which might have larger-scale impacts due to thermohaline effects, but even that will probably not go far beyond the region.

      2. I should dig out my copy of Petr Beckmann’s “The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear” He told of a ridiculous mainstream news “documentary” that suggested that power plant thermal pollution would cause Lake Erie to boil.

        Too bad Beckmann passed away. There are others that are sort of like him but are, unfortunately, usually tied to some stupid neocon outfit like Daily Caller or Breitbart.

        Dixie Lee Ray was also quite good. Alas, she too has passed on.

      1. Nope. Oil wells are judged safe enough to have thousands of them in LA County, but reactors are only politically possible way out at Midway Atoll ? As for offshore drilling in California –
        ‘Despite the long-term bans on new leasing in state (since 1969) and federal waters (since 1984), drilling and production have continued on existing leases, from existing drilling and production platforms.
        Nine active offshore drilling and production locations remain in state and municipal waters: one platform and one artificial island in the Santa Barbara Channel, and four artificial islands and three platforms from the offshore portion of the Wilmington Oil Field in San Pedro Bay/Long Beach Harbor. The first artificial offshore island, for Belmont Offshore Field, was removed in 1999.[24]
        Twenty-three offshore drilling and production platforms remain in federal waters, producing 22 million barrels of oil and 21 billion cubic feet of gas per year (as of 2009).’
        Note also that radiation levels as a result of offshore drilling are considerably higher than they would ever be from normally operating nuclear reactors.

  15. ‘Yeah, but that’s natural radiation and not the deadly man made radiation that is brewed at Nukes.’
    Polonium 210 is maybe the most deadly isotope brewed in a reactor – it’s what was used to kill Alexander Litvinienko in London. It’s also found naturally in the ocean, from the decay of dissolved uranium. Levels are considerably higher when oil drilling tailings get into the water – as they always do. However, thanks to the miracle of legal doubletalk, these emissions are called ‘ technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials ‘ – see, they’re natural ! – and get a free pass. Anything coming out of a reactor, even something like tritium which has such weak emissions it’s never hurt anyone, is much more strictly controlled. Such tight restrictions are possible, because only two plants used to make a fifth of California’s power, they only needed a few truckloads of fuel every eighteen months, and the fuel is solid. Oil and gas are fluids, and to make equivalent amounts of power you need thousands of tons of them, so pollution is almost unavoidable. Radiation is far from the worst part of it, but it’s still easily detected in the sea.

    1. @John O’Neill

      And to further illustrate the fact that the oil and gas industry employs some smart marketers, the acronym for naturally occurring radioactive material is NORM, which firmly plants the idea that it is normal and acceptable.

  16. Consider a radionuclide that decays and gives off a particular combination of subatomic particles. I’ll put forth uranium-238 decaying to thorium-234 + alpha particle + whatever else as an example.

    1. Typically speaking, what statistical distribution best describes the energy level of that alpha particle around the average energy level? Normal distribution, perhaps?

    2. How, if at all, does this statistical distribution change when we talk about a disintegration that releases an alpha particle as opposed to one of the types of beta particles, a gamma ray, a free neutron, or some manifestation of cluster decay?

    3. Does the maximum energy level of that alpha particle cause a significant deviation from that statistical model?

    Is there a particular book you’d suggest I work through to learn more? I’m familiar with 3-variable calculus, and to a lesser extent differential equations (1 course) and linear algebra (2 courses).

    1. In coming up with this cluster of questions, I was thinking back to a conversation where I told a friend about the Taiwanese apartments that had cobalt-60 in the steel. The other guy conceded that this particular isotope inflicts no measurable harm provided that this radioisotope doesn’t get into the body. He was much more skeptical than I am regarding radiation hormesis, though.

      I wanted to argue that there is an essentially continuous distribution that described the energy level for a particle subatomic particle (I’m ignoring the neutrinos and muons since my recollection is that these don’t often interact with larger forms of matter). In that case, this study of the Taiwanese apartments would provide insight into how other isotopes that decay primarily by B- decay would affect the body. I was pretty sure it would suffice to conduct a series of studies of decay chains. I wanted to see studies on a high-energy alpha particle emitter and low-energy alpha particle emitter, and the same for each type of beta emitter, gamma emitter, etc. I thought this topic could be thoroughly studied with about 14 studies. In this case I’m sure the research would already be done.

      This friend, on the other hand, wanted to see a study on every single radioisotope that comes out of a reactor before he’d concede fission is a viable source of generating electricity. He’d thus require at least 100 studies, most of which would cause a negligible radiation uptick (even in the context of normal reactor emissions).

      Does either point of view have merit? I understand the difference between Sieverts and decay counts; it’s just that I’m trying to reach a slightly more sophisticated level of understanding.

      1. It sounds like what you really want is a way to compare the health effects of one type of radiation versus another. That is precisely the purpose of measuring the “effective radiation dose”.

        For radiation doses given in REM or Sieverts (which equal 100 REM), the dosage has already been corrected for the relative biological effects of that type of radiation, unlike the older unit Rad which is simply a measure of energy delivered per unit mass of tissue.

        For example a given amount of Rads of alphas is 2-3 times more REM compared to gammas or X-rays, and neutrons are about 10x more REM than gammas/X-rays.

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