1. In my opinion the West needed the kick in the ass that China is giving them. Competition makes for a healthy climate, and frankly we were getting a bit complacent.
    As for nuclear energy, this is a gift from on high. People will not like being left to eat China’s dust in this area, and that will help a great deal on the PR side.

  2. “…where supply and demand are balanced by forcing people to use less.”
    Or shame us into using less. Maybe that’s the objective of the “smart grid,” to allow the utility to broadcast to the web which appliances we’re using and when. We’ll see our neighbors pointing at us and whispering, “they wash their dishes at peak times, can you believe that…”

    1. You’re right, the ‘Smart Grid’ is just a euphemism for rationing at best, (although I personally think it is an excuse to gouge) and a form of regressive taxation at worse, wherein the poor save power for the rich.
      I lived for a time in Ontario, where we rented a house in a development that was all electric. As part of the contract we had with (then) Ontario Hydro, our hot water tank, and our electrically powered hydronic heating system were partially under the control of the utility, that could switch out one or ether for fifteen minute (if memory serves me) periods to load shed or to load balance. The signals came over the line, and its operation was transparent, that is we never experienced a cooler house, or ran out of hot water. Not only that, participation in this program got us a reduction in

    2. Some utilities are already doing this:
      On some bills, you can see your own energy use compared to those of your more efficient neighbors, and the average. It’s just a pilot project in many locations, but an ACEEE report claims such an approach can reduce energy use by 22% in some areas. My favorite energy efficiency story in last several years, the town of Juneau Alaska. Following an avalanche that took down much of the city’s transmission capacity, the city was forced to conserve at a rapid rate and it reduced it’s energy consumption by 30% in a matter of weeks. Rates went up a whopping 400%. People took to line drying their clothes, talking water heaters, shelving video games, spending more time at the library, using stairs instead of elevators, and more. “Evidence of the civic self-discipline is updated daily on the Web site of Alaska Electric Light and Power. The day before the avalanche, the city consumed 1,006 megawatt hours of electricity; on Friday, the number was 625.”

  3. This post is quite accurate in describing the fact that rural America experienced a nearly total revolution in its opportunities because of electrification. Yes, it’s good for the Chinese to get rid of their dependence on coal-fired plants and their pollution, although it’s not necessarily good for them to develop the over-reliance on consumerism that I think is responsible for where the U.S. finds itself today.
    Further nuclear power development does seem to make sense in the U.S., but it’s a democracy, and it doesn’t seem to me that this is one of those areas where the people are more progressive than the leadership. Our impression may be wrong, but we think that a majority of people still are cautious about nuclear energy because of NIMBYism.

    1. @seriousaboutamerica – You wrote: “Our impression may be wrong, but we think that a majority of people still are cautious about nuclear energy because of NIMBYism.”
      Can you elaborate on who the “we” in your comment are? I am always interested in discussions with anyone who is serious about America and trying to determine a better path forward.
      My impression, built up over nearly 20 years worth of atomic energy advocacy on the web and in real life, is that a good deal of the caution about nuclear energy is a direct result of the skilled us of marketing techniques by the enterprises that compete against uranium fission as a heat source. Many people wring their hands over the fact that America is one of the most fossil fuel addicted places on earth – except for the enormously wealthy and powerful people who happen to be engaged in exploration, extraction, refinement, distribution, and retail marketing of the stuff upon which our entire economy is based.

    2. When you refer to “NIMBYism” are you referring in part to the “my house is my pension” mentality, where people block development because they believe it will reduce the sale value of their houses? That’s a HUGE problem in Anglosphere countries…

  4. @Rod, This is has been my point all along with Nuclear Green. At the heart of nuclear Green has been an analysis of steps that can be taken to lower energy costs. The primary low cost energy source is nuclear power, and the cheapest nuclear power source would be molten salt reactors which are simple, require fewer parts, and less material. Building MSRs in factories will decrease energy costs in several ways. Factory manufactured power reactors can be transported by truck, barge and train, can be set up in months rater than years, and can be manufactured with labor savings equipment. By speeding up the manufacturing process, money can be saved on deferred interest payments. Costs can be further lowered by the use of low cost manufacturing materials, with small performance penalties. Existing power plant sites can be recycled to house MSRs. MSRs can be housed underground, savings on aircraft proof containment structures. The use of molten Salt Nuclear technology would allowte United States to compete with China and India on post=carbon energy costs.
    I have also posted this comment on The Energy Collective.

    1. @ Charles,
      I have followed the LFTR closely for several years now and have read the materials extensively. I was hoping for the kind of capital company set up by AEHI but the recent actions by the SEC make me wonder if they will allow capital to be raised for a new nuclear project. LFTR in my mind is a excellent long term stock investment but if over the period of 10 years or so it takes to develop, and move through the NRC you are at constant risk of being totally shut down by the SEC, the risk will be so great no one will invest.

  5. We could probably do an extended look at China, and find many interesting developments. From 1949 to 2002, there were two separate electricity systems in the country: a rural electricity system (which had separate departments and some local control and decision making) and a state system (for urban areas). The rural system had many different phases, the state had control of the process until the 1970s, but in 1977 it gave over management of the rural system to local governments. “Rural electrification is a common challenge facing developing countries due to the high cost of electricity delivery and the low income of rural residents, and because private investors have little incentive to invest” (73). This proved to be a very effective period, devolving system to local level and liberalizing energy development opened up funds from central, local governments, and even rural residents. They looked to small hydro as their main source of power (some thermal from diesel and coal), and by the late 90s had achieved widespread electrification (to some 95%) in country. The last phase to 2002 focused on the consolidation of local and national grids (rural grids were typically 20-50 MW in size). In the urban and state run system, coal provides some 80% of the energy (and some of this will likely be replaced with nuclear and large renewable energy industrial parks).
    Their newest approach to rural development also centers around energy, and the “China Village Electrification Program” (Song Dian Dao Cun), which is part of their massive 589 Billion stimulus package from 2008. It looks to small hydro, wind, and solar to bring energy to a remaining 3.5 million households in 10,000 villages by 2010 (some 20,000 villages in remote western regions of China are not yet electrified), and complete rural electrification using renewable energy by 2015. This is a so called “rapid commercialization” approach that has worked so well for China, it’s production of solar cells has grown 50% each year (China currently has 20% market share in the industry), producing 820 MW/year in 2008. This has helped China become one of the strongest competitors in alternative energy in global markets. Remote village electrification programs in India are taking much the same approach, where the goal is to “electrify all the remote census villages and remote hamlets of electrified census villages through non-conventional energy sources such as solar energy, small hydro power, biomass, wind energy, hybrid systems, etc.” (here). Results for early 2009 suggest 4,250 villages and 1,160 hamlets are powered with renewables (including 435,000 home lighting systems, 700,000 solar lanterns, 7,000 solar-powered water pumps, 637,000 solar cookers, and 160 MW biomass gasification systems for off-grid generation, and more).
    If there’s a message to this, it’s that we have to DO IT ALL in order to remain competitive with places like China and India as they scale up manufacturing and energy production in their country, and also have low labor costs and some advantages in trade, central planning, bulk consumers at home, currency, low energy costs from coal, and all the rest. There are rumors of a bubble and a slowdown in China, that they have expanded too quickly and are too overextended to weather economic storms. Who’s to say, maybe slow and steady like the turtle is the right approach?

    1. @ El,
      No the message for the USA is not “do it all.” When I lived in the Philippines and there were villages and islands who did not have electricity they were thrilled to have any access at all. This is the situation being described in the rural areas of China. The USA now has a fully built out grid. Some parts of it need improvement but the grid is now in place and electricity already flows widely as far is economically sound. Much of the grid in the USA is supported by fairly small coal plants that are widely dispersed. These plants are often old and are grandfathered into the current EPA standards. EPA is now getting ready to give them the same standards as newer plants. This will force them out of business and they will need to be replaced.
      We have a few options.
      1. Natural gas. – These are quick to build and have low capital costs but the price of fuel varies widely and consumers can be caught in the very high prices very quickly.
      2. Natural gas with a window dressing of wind or solar – These have the decoration of a “renewable source” but are essentially the same as #1. There is a requirement that both wind and solar have an 80% backup spinning reserve for the name plate capacity. So most of the 20% penetration of “renewable” is actually natural gas turbines.
      3. New style coal plants of various designs. These are much less polluting than previous plants but are nearly as expensive as Nuclear plants, (Look at the costs for Duke Energy in Indiana with their coal gassification plant. Nearing 3 billion for 650MW).
      4. Small Nuclear reactors that are right sized to fit into the existing coal sites. These have many advantages over the coal plants and can be a better than drop in replacement since they can also be designed to load follow. The cost for one of these is similar to a new coal install – about $4,500 kwh capacity. You then have very very stable power. Very stable electric prices. You have local jobs.
      5. biomass to energy – These have a very small potential – maybe a maximum of 200 MW but typically 30 MW and they need a 100 mile radius to pull fuel from. In other words, they are small impact but they do give 24/7 power.
      Finally, you have said that you are opposed to nuclear because of the impact on indigenous peoples. I have been thinking about this for some time since you stated the objection. I am sure that I have not studied this as extensively as you have, nor do I have the time at this point, but I do have some real world observations.
      Mining companies in general have always been unpopular and accused of exploiting the local population both “indigenous” peoples and the majority population. One mining company that I talked with in the PI was teaching tribal people how to identify minerals lying on the surface and bring them in for payment. This was specifically in response to the perception of abuse by mining companies.
      What I am saying is that I don’t understand your objection to uranium or thorium on the basis of problems with mining with a pass on Wind and Solar with no mention of their mining needs and problems. If you object to the one (uranium) why not object to the other (steel, and rare earths)?
      Most of the Uranium available comes from 1st world countries – USA, Australia, Canada. While mining in Africa might be abusive, that would not be unique to Uranium, but is a part and partial of the political environment which is deeply corrupt. Again the problem is not the Uranium but the setting.
      I am for an “all of the above” solution in areas where the cost of bringing in a grid is prohibitive. In many of the remote areas of the world a solar solution is the only solution between some electric and none. Wind is excellent for pumping water from wells. Wind is not excellent for powering a home, or a factory.
      So when the choice is between nothing and something – an intermittent source is better than nothing. But, when as in the case of the USA, the choice is between something already reliable and something that is by it’s nature unreliable, why choose what is unreliable?

      1. @David — Very well stated argument. It seems that those who tout wind and solar think the turbine towers are made of hemp, rather than steel, concrete and rare earth metals for the magnets, etc.
        You final point about off-grid, remote and rural applications where some electricity, even intermittent, is better than none is one I had been struggling with, ethically, until I resolved that conundrum the way you expressed it. I stumbled across this website: http://www.self.org and it placed in perspective the difficulty bringing any power to remote villages can be.
        Wind and solar systems with battery back-up are not perfect, but they may be a ‘bridge’ that will be good enough until the ‘better’ system is deployable. We can all hope that the future of mini-nukes, deployed in those areas that need them, will not be too far off.

        1. @DocForesight,
          Sometimes even electric pumps can be a problem for rural people, even with a grid. We installed about 17 new wells in the northern Luzon Area at one point. Most were hand pumps but some had electric pumps and storage tanks for pressure. We found two problems with the electric pumps. 1. neighbors tended to steal them so they required cages to protect them. The cost of the electricity was more than the local sponsor could pay so they uninstalled the motor and replaced it with a hand pump.
          I fully understand that in rural areas, with different cultures and economies you need to be as close a fit to the existing infrastructure as possible. One pump I saw was powered by solar panels, mounted to a very strong concrete base and locked in place so they would be nearly impossible to steal. This provided some pressurized water for the small village without additional electric cost, but the cost of the install was over 15,000 dollars (my best memory). It was a neat technical solution but I could install about 15 to 20 wells using hand pumps for the same dollars (depending on the local cost of drilling). Also, while resources from outside the country could afford to sponsor a 15,000 well and feel happy about it, I had the potential to recruit more sustainable internal donors using the smaller amounts.
          Nuclear power in these contexts will replace the coal plants, the drought pron hydro, the limited capacity geothermal and the newly installed windmills that vary at whim. If there was ever a place that did “all of the above” for power generation the Philippines is it. I have watched the effect on factories, homes and businesses of the all of the above and frankly I don’t care for it.
          My first task in the PI was to install a server for an office. We brought the server with us from the USA but I did not bring a battery backup. The electric went off so often I could not get the OS installed before loosing power corrupting the hard drive. After two weeks of trying, my uncle wrote asking if he could help. I had him sponsor a UPS. So, I guess some kind of grid storage was my solution…..
          Solar PV does have some potential. Costs are coming down a bit, but it is not a substitute for coal, or hydro. A fully built out grid is a much better overall solution, when possible.

        2. Thanks David. You have done an excellent job identifying all of the relevant issues, and areas where we can compare and have a more full discussion of opportunities, trade-offs, and advantages. I see two areas of difference, or places where I want to respond.
          1) You claim that wind and solar need 80% backup (typically coal, hydro, or nuclear) is not correct. There are many studies of real time operations of grids with high degrees of wind and solar penetration that show you don’t need such high levels of backup (here, here, or here). These are real time studies on minute, hourly, and daily variations, and conclude: “the impacts can be addressed by existing technology and operational attention, without requiring any radical alteration of operations.” The GE studies point to other methods of accommodating variability besides spinning reserves: minimum turndown, reliable diurnal start/stop, load participation with large industrial consumers, and increasing pumped storage hydro capacity. These are not complicated issues, and grid managers seem to be entirely competent in managing them in their daily work. Do you have any sources or research that suggests otherwise? Renewable energy can also be used as it’s own source of backup by running below capacity. If one MW of wind is added to the grid, that’s one MW that is not being generated in some other way. Solar is less variable than wind (or more predictable), and solar thermal also has it’s own source of energy storage. Grids are typically operated in the US with 5-7% reserves of total generation (in a mix of spinning and non-spinning reserves). I’m not discounting variability as a factor in grid operations, but it’s my sense that demand management is a far greater problem (and one that needs to be solved regardless), and that the back-up discussion is largely a positionally situated myth. It doesn’t show up as much in current studies as it did in the past.
          2) On the lifecycle risks of mining for steel, rare earths, and uranium. You have the tricky issue of ionizing radiation with nuclear fuel cycle. When looking at non-radiological health and occupational hazards, there appears to be no difference with the different industries. Extend the reach of regulatory oversight and accountability to all locations where uranium is mined, and I might feel somewhat different (although the weight of history weighs on my mind). EPA and House Oversight committees have a five year plan as part of the Super Fund Program to address long standing health and pollution concerns on the Navajo Reservation with respect to abandoned mine sites and water contamination. Let’s clean up one place first before we start again with somewhere else. Just for fun, we appear to get 10 times more energy per gram tellurium than a gram of uranium, so what trade-offs we are willing to accept for abundant and cheap energy?
          3) And something that continues to mystify me about proponents on this site. If nuclear is such an excellent source of back-up power, and renewables are in great need of back-up, why don’t their interests align and they advocate for a common solution more often. Seems to me like you’re willing to tie one hand behind your back as you focus your rhetorical barbs and arrows on a fellow comrades, rather than our mutual opponent (the cheap, non-renewable, and polluting fossil fuel industry).

          1. @ El,
            First let me say that Nuclear can come in all types sizes and shapes. The current light water reactor designs are only one of many good designs. So, when we are saying Nuclear here we have a broad understanding of the technology and recognize that it scales very well from the size of ships or locomotives up to as large as you can think with some practical limit on the thermal controls around 2GW or so. (Some “real” engineer can correct me here). You keep touting renewables as though they are a solution. But we keep pointing out their very real limitations. Sure nuclear can partner with renewables sort of in the same way that I used to partner with my 2 year old daughter in building things. Which is to say that I played with her because my strength and capacity were so far beyond her’s that we could not truly partner.
            Nuclear is not just a little bit better. It is vastly overwhelmingly amazingly superior because we are not moving electrons between shells but converting mater to energy (E=MC2). (Even superior to tellurium uses in solar panels because it’s about how much energy you can get out of it not how much can potentially pass by or through it in 20 years).
            I am not beating up on Solar PV. It has real potential in some specific applications. Windmills are a total scam. Sorry to be so blunt but after doing the calculations, learning how a transmission system actually works and LIVING with electricity that was off and on off and on….. , seeing the vast amount of subsidy that was going to Windmills and the super fast way that Mr Pickens pulled out when a new congress came in that was not likely to continue those subsidies – all lead me to say SCAM.
            You see, you keep talking about what is possible to integrate. Well a good tight rope walker can cross a hundred feet on a rope. We expect him or her to do that and there is a net below to catch them WHEN they fall. It can be done. But Wind… Oh baby, More than you need, less than you need. It is a constant balancing act and the more that comes into the grid the more difficult the act. Yes – some very very skilled tight rope walkers can balance people on chairs while they walk. The act is interesting but there is a net below. When someone is shaking the rope it gets very interesting. I like boring electricity.
            Wind sells natural gas. Period. No replacements for fossil here.
            Your # 2. I think this is really the crux of the issue. The whole reason why (I believe) you feel that Nuclear should be kept as is – tied down with regulations and lawsuits blocked at every turn. The concept that it is more dangerous because of ionizing radiation. I have listened to hundreds of hours and read maybe thousands of pages now on these issues. But they are not that hard. We know more about radiation than nearly any other possible effect on the human system. And frankly, it’s not that bad. My real “aha” moment came when I heard that in killing a cancer doctors expose the cancer to 2 Grays and the surrounding tissue is exposed to 1 Gray. At 2 Grays the cancer begins to die but at 1 Gray the healthy tissue is able to repair itself in 10 hours. I checked this with a friend of mine who works in nuclear medicine. He verified it. At that point I understood fully that the limits on radiation and the definition of

            1. @David – I rarely make a cheerleading kind of comment, but yours deserves it. Way to go.
              @EL – nuclear is a lousy “backup” power source. Putting it in that mode is roughly like putting a hitter like Barry Bonds onto the bench as a pinch hitter. He would do the job well when called upon, but think about all of the salary money you are wasting by only using him once in a while.
              I do advocate using nuclear to follow the load, because that makes it possible to replace fossil fuel without any backup. Though the grid is far more complex than this, I think about putting 3-10 nuclear generators into a system and keeping all of them operable except during scheduled maintenance. The output controllers can easily adjust power output to keep frequency and voltage steady as a rock.
              Sure, there will be a lower utilization, but those nukes would also never need to fire up specialty generators. Combustion gas turbines or emergency diesel generators would get rather dusty in such a grid.

            2. Thanks David. I am susceptible to the special interest argument, and your Pickens comment generated a small “aha” moment from me. There is a lot of money in clean tech (wind, battery, and solar), you are correct, and I see this as a good thing. We’ve been shedding manufacturing jobs faster than the blink of an eye in the US, and this is a positive step in the right direction. If the world continues to move in the direction of renewables, new transmission and storage technologies, and all the rest, we’ll be in pretty good shape. I think there is a good case that can be made on this basis because renewable energy technologies are relatively simple, work both off and on the grid, can be adapted with ease as a variable power source to large energy grids, and meet many of the growing energy needs of developing regions and markets. Nuclear is a large and concentrated source amenable to large and concentrated population densities (and stable governments). There is a niche for both in today’s world, and so we’ll be dealing with these technologies (and their various impacts, cost/benefits, and power densities) for many years to come.
              On ionizing radiation

              1. Yes, Radon Gas combined with heavy smoking is a sure path to cancer. Now that we know that we can ventilate the mines and have people stop smoking. Many jobs are hazardous, but not having one at all is even more. Does the identification of a hazard mean that the industry should be eliminated or improved? (Like crashing cars, or planes, or perhaps exploding natural gas lines)?
                Not all jobs are the same. Jobs in the power production industry are a cost to every other industry. Oil at 100 a barrel affects the price of everything else. That’s why a power source that is weak in the beginning requires a large number of jobs to capture it. This inevitably drives up the cost of energy. (If your cost of construction is about 4.5 to 11 cents, you need electricity priced between 10 to 20 cents to clear the capital costs). This high cost energy makes it more difficult to plant crops, run factories, produce goods, heat your home and nearly any other task we need to do. Energy is a slave for us. A low cost way of extending our abilities into many areas we could not reach otherwise – like Education for example. Without low cost energy, education and study are greatly restricted. It takes energy to print books, run computers, set up labs, travel to distant locations to gather information. One person’s cost is another person’s profit.
                I for one would like for people to be able to do more with more rather than less with less. I would like to be able to drive down the cost of energy by replacing it with a a source that is more than a million times more concentrated. Jobs in the renewable energy industry mean fewer jobs in other industries. Current Nuclear power plants take a lot of jobs as they are currently structured and regulated. But compared to the amount of reliable energy they produce they are a multiplier not a drag.
                By the way, I wonder if the steel mills that form the blades for the turbines run on wind and solar….. πŸ™‚ (Another test for a boondoggle is if the person will use their own product).
                Have a great day!

              2. @EL – Here is a question for you. Suppose that the market for new nuclear power plants had not crashed in the 1970s, partially due to concerted action by competitive heat suppliers.
                What do yo think that the economic opportunities and working standards would have been in those regions that you worry about now if the associated uranium mining industry had not also crashed and instead had continued to grow, prosper and improve? Though I have no way to prove it, I suspect that most of the health effects that you have seen would have never appeared since one of the most dangerous contributors to poor health in the world is lack of employment and opportunity for economic prosperity. Hunger, poor sanitation, and stress are far, far more deadly than exposure to a bit of low level radiation.
                Here is more food for thought – if we really were running out of raw material for nuclear energy, then why is there still so much measurable radon being emitted from tailings? What is the source of that element?

  6. @ Rod,
    One more,
    This article shows the mess that comes when you have a large number of “all of the above” sources trying to power a country that has constantly changing and arcane rules for power production. Introducing the complexity of a “smart grid” and the load balancing act in the USA could put us in the exact same situation as the PI where electricity is unreliable and expensive and because of that businesses don’t want to invest. Even in the PI where the average home only consumes less than 100 KWH a month they are still talking about “conservation.” I was using CFC bulbs years ago because at 25cents a KWH the repayment was only a few months. Independent power producers, geothermal, wind, solar, diesel, natural gas and coal! They even have a fully completed, ready to go Nuclear plant (Bataan) that Greenpeace managed to shut down in the 1980’s. (Could blow up, poor construction, sitting on a earthquake fault line, near a volcano). An inspection by a Korean team who runs an identical reactor in Korea found the plant was still operational today. But the fear continues.
    Most of the tribal people I met were eager for economic development. In fact, I don’t remember meeting any who were not eager, just frustrated. In terms of Power production I don’t see the Philippines becoming a leading example for the world. Every other place that is using “renewables” on a large scale makes them work by having either fossil or hydro backup. It is this lack of backup that makes the grid in the PI unreliable. There is NO reserve power.
    There are basically 4 fuels / markets for electricity.
    1. Stuff pumped out of the ground for burning.
    2. Stuff dug out of the ground for burning.
    3. Stuff dug out of the ground for Fission.
    4. Stuff dug out of the ground to capture external forces either solar or tidal. (All wind and wave energy are solar, tidal comes from gravitational interactions).
    5. (Well, I guess Geothermal falls under Fission).
    These markets are in competition with each other for market share in the USA and in the emerging world markets. They are also seeking for some kind of “value added” appeal to make even more money while providing the exact same service.
    So of the stuff we need to dig or pump – Nuclear fission gives us about 1,541,666 of times more energy per pound than any other source.
    Energy Content of Fuels (in Joules)
    pound of coal 16,000,000
    pound of gasoline 22,000,000
    pound of oil 24,000,000
    pound of Uranium-235 37,000,000,000,000
    Wish I could give a reference but it was a handy PDF that summarized various energy numbers. Lost where I got it from.
    So, if you really want to reduce the impact of mining on tribal groups. Go with an energy source that will have the smallest materials needed to be dug or pumped from the ground to get what you need, what we all really need to stay alive and prosper.

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