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15 Comments

  1. Amory – (I hope it really is you, but on the Internet it is easy to do impersonations. If you are Amory Lovins, I also hope that you continue to participate here.)
    Interestingly enough, I tend to agree with you that small, fast options are better suited for today’s marketplace than very large and slow ones. Where I disagree with you is in your implied assumption that nuclear energy plants have to be large. They never have HAD to be large, that was simply the choice made by the market leaders in the 1960s. Those leaders happened to be companies that had successfully driven down the cost of generating electricity by building ever larger coal, oil and gas plants. The business and technology model that was familiar to GE, Westinghouse, Combustion Engineering, ABB, and other second generation nuclear plant builders was “the economy of scale”. If you go back to the first generation builders, however, and include companies like ALCO, General Atomics (before its acquisition by Gulf Oil) and Allis-Chalmers, you will find that a number of pioneers always thought that there was a market for much smaller nuclear plants designed to generate both useful heat and electricity. The US Army agree, and the US Navy has built and operated a couple of hundred widely distributed nuclear propulsion reactors that are 1/100th to 1/10th the size of commercial nuclear plants.
    Today, there are companies like Hyperion, NuScale, and B&W who are developing much smaller nuclear generators that can be manufactured in a factory rather than painstakingly site built. They are aimed at being nimble and responsive to market demands. Since they can generate reliable, emission free power without any grid connectivity for years without any new fuel, they are well suited to many markets that have never been penetrated by atomic fission.
    As a former nuclear submarine engineer officer, I have always been interested in small, independent nuclear generators that can push ships, power islands, and provide power and district heat to small towns, college campuses, industrial parks, and military bases. Heck, I even started a company in 1993 called Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. to develop this concept when I failed to interest my then – and now – employer in the idea of building on what we already knew about operating small nuclear plants with small teams of well trained people.
    For me, the big advantage of my idea of “micropower” compared to yours is that the machines I advocate are not “low carbon”; they are “no carbon” machines that use technology that has been clean enough to run in submarines for 55 years. They also do not depend on a tenuous supply of natural gas delivered by pipeline; that is an energy source that is simply not available in many of the parts of the world that need the power the most.
    One final point – you really do need to update your materials on China’s nuclear plans. They are looking well beyond 40 GWe. Here is a quote from a September 23, 2009 article in World Nuclear News titled Nuclear issues on the table in New York
    Even without external support China has plans for around 120 large reactors by 2030, which together with renewables would make a low-carbon contribution of 15% to China’s electricity supply, according to Hu.
    I am assuming that number does not even include the smaller reactors that China is building like the 250 MWth HTR-PM pebble bed reactors that are currently under construction as a follow on to their very successful HTR-10 prototype.

  2. “China has a world-leading nuclear goal of 40 GW by 2020 (enough to offset a tenth of global retirements meanwhile), but by 2006 had already installed a world-leading 49 GW of distributed renewables

    1. Of that 49 GW of “distributed” renewables, over 45 GW is hydroelectric. China’s hydroelectric is not exactly what I (or any sane person) would call “micropower.” For example, in 2007, over 12% of China’s electricity from hydro came from one source, the Three Gorges Dam. In China that year, this one site (which is still growing) produced over five times the amount of electricity as biomass, wind, and solar combined.
      I don’t know whether this person is really Lovins, but he is every bit the charlatan that the real Lovins is. Notice the subtle slight of hand: start by talking about the oodles and oodles of GW of “distributed renewables” in China, segue into a “micropower” and “negawatts.” Meanwhile, China’s energy policy today is pretty much the exact antithesis of “micropower” and “negawatts.”
      Then again, Lovins has never let being wrong get in the way of spinning more nonsense, so it just might be him after all.
      If it is him, I sincerely hope that he will answer a question for me: How’s that Hydrogen Hypercar® coming along?

  3. I will keep my opinion as to the first poster’s identity to myself until there is some verification.
    As for the post, anyone using that nun as a source for anything, instantly forfeits any credibility, as far as I am concerned. Among her other ideas she states, “It’s the military who have messed up our weather and ozone,” she maintains. “They blamed it on Mt. Pinatubo and now El Nino. Where did that come from all of a sudden? Everybody repeats El Nino and accepts it. It’s public relations: not scientific data.” Apparently such things as tree-ring data, going back 5000 years isn’t ‘scientific’ enough for the good sister.
    She also modestly claims: “I spent 10 years in radiation data and emerged as the foremost expert in the field.”
    Indeed

    1. Is this a good time to point out that Rosalie Bertell and Amory Lovins are both recipients of the Right Livelihood Award?
      Perhaps winners of this award stick together.

  4. Doubt that’s Lovins. His writing is always more punchy and emotional, not dry and boring. Plus, I’m pretty sure Lovins would know that China is expanding its capacity beyond 40 GW. He always keeps up with the latest stats. As well, I also doubt he’d be pumping those specific stats because he knows we’ve thoroughly debunked them in the past. It’s probably just a college student who read an old study of his.

  5. Yes, it is a matter of cost; on that, Mr. Lovins is correct. But cost is mutable – economics are mutable, and the invisible hand of the free market can be restrained and shaped by visible and invisible hands of interests that stand beyond the sphere of economics. Nuclear power has to face a moving target while it remains chained down by ever changing NRC regulations and the vagarities of state and local regulators. Petroleum refineries – wind-mills – solar panels – coal power plants – gas power plants – oil power plants – everyone does not have the onerous regulations and political risks that nuclear faces. Nuclear power faces an uphill battle in every way, while everyone else faces a downhill battle.
    As I said in another comment:
    “But the nuclear industry cannot prevent the NRC from raising, modifying, or changing regulations on plants already planned to one set of regulations because some jack*** got onto the Commission. The nuclear industry cannot prevent the usual pack of legal griefers and trolls, champertors, barrators, maintainers of suits, vexatious litigants, tortfeasors, and assorted blood-suckers from throwing monkeywrench after legal monkeyrench into the works. The nuclear industry cannot stop local and state government officials from changing their minds about the project after they’ve agreed to it. The nuclear industry cannot fight back against fearmongering and propaganda without political support and a somewhat educated population (or at least one that is somewhat literate, numerate, capable of critical thought, understands what energy is, understands – or can be taught – what electricity is, understands – or can be taught – how heat is made to generate electricity, and understands that the Earth is more than 6000 years old and they aren’t going to heaven next Thursday sometime between 11:30 AM and 1 PM; beyond that, of course, they may believe in whatever supreme being(s) they like).
    If you complain that the nuclear industry cannot compete with the petroleum industry, but neglect to mention the 45 degree tilt of the playing field against nuclear, then, in my opinion, your criticisms seem to have a certain hollow ring to them. If you want to see nuclear power compete against the petroleum industry, then let nuclear play by the same rules that the petroleum industry does, and nuclear will completely wipe the opposition from the field, probably in two seconds, with completely private financing and innovation the likes of which the world has probably never seen before, no ifs, ands, or buts. Until that time that nuclear is fully unshackled from the unfair chains that bind it, Federal loan guarantees remain nearly hollow compensation for the completely unfair rules and regulations that nuclear labors under.

  6. On a related note, huge explosion at a gas-fired plant, multiple fatalities reported:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35283135/ns/us_news/
    This means all natural gas plants will be closed down until appropriate measures can be taken to prevent something like this happening again just like in a nuclear plant, right? I’m not holding my breath…

  7. The fact is that producing energy and electricity is inherently a dangerous and risky enterprise. The key question is, relative to what? How does the risk associated with tritium leaking directly under a nuclear plant compare to the risk of a natural gas plant exploding and killing and injuring dozens of people? How many will be sickened or injured from leaking tritium? How many from exploding gas facilities? How difficult is it to fix the tritium leaks, and how does that compare to the difficulty of preventing gas explosions?
    I’m all for open, transparent discussions of risk, but it’s dishonest to raise a hue and cry about the risk from one energy technology while ignoring much greater risks from other energy technologies.

    1. “How many will be sickened or injured from leaking tritium?”
      Er … none … not a soul.

  8. I am an emeritus professor of biology,my specialty is microbiology and immunology. The LNT model does not make sense to an immunologist. One would expect all life to have evolved mechanisms to tolerate the range of naturally occurring radiation on the planet. The LNT assumption that cancer incidence would follow a linear regression from Hiroshima-Nagasaki bomb levels all the way to zero in the light of modern biology and evolutionary science is incredible. The LNT hypothesis is negated by many cellular mechanisms, such as radiation induced DNA repair, killer T-cells to eliminate damaged cells that could lead to cancer and apoptosis. Apoptosis a mechanism by which a damaged cell kills itself by releasing a bag of self-digesting enzymes.
    Forty five years ago, I introduced a lab exercise that demonstrated an ultraviolet radiation induced DNA repair process in bacteria. Over the years this demonstration was successfully replicated by my microbiology students many times. I regret that I did not have the foresight to postulate similar mechanisms for ionizing radiation in human cells.
    We now know that the process known as radiation hormesis mediates beneficial effect on health in humans. Investigators have found that small doses of radiation have a stimulating and protective effect on cellular function. Ionizing radiation stimulates immune defenses, prevents oxidative DNA damage, induces DNA repair enzymes and suppresses cancer. Kevin Kamps, government authorities and regulators

    1. John – Your view is shared by many in the radiation health profession. I highly recommend that you visit http://www.radscihealth.org/rsh/ for some interesting professional reading materials. As an emeritus, your view should carry a good deal of credibility; I encourage you to keep sharing and posting. If you ever have an interest in providing some focused papers or articles that would be suitable as blog posts, let me know. I would love to publish them here and help you get them out to a wider audience than the folks who read professional journals.

  9. Actually China’s “goal” is 86 GWs not 43 GWs. China’s “plan”…that is actual reactors that have either started construction, sites specified for new ones and/or applications for new reactors is 63 GWs.
    So “Lovins” here underplays the amount GWs. At least those GWs represent a 80 to 90% capacity factor…the “40 GWs of renewables” is…about 10 GWs in real power,much of which is ‘stranded’ and isolated from any grid connection.

  10. Rod thanks for the encouragement to share postings and also thanks for the website.
    I am a fan of Atomic Insights, it is one of three or four websites that I regularily follow. I am amazed at your productivity and broad range of interests. Often I find that you have contributed to the discussion of an article or editorial which I have perused. You are providing great leadership to the Renaissance of nuclear power. Actually, you are one of a handful of the top leadership in the world of the nuclear power movement. I hope that your passiion for small sized nuclear reactors will soon result in their mass production.
    When I retired ten years ago, I decided to change my research interests to world energy issues with a special emphasis on nuclear power. I do some local presentations, guest lectures, and letters to the editor of area papers. I got an unsolicited invitation to address our city council about nuclear power. I am not often a joiner of organizations but I did join the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition soon after it started.

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