This optimistic – scary to multinational petroleum interests – pair of graphs were on the last slide in a March 1956 presentation by M. King Hubbert to the American Petroleum Institute


  1. Rod, I have a lot of respect for you and what you do, but I have to admit to being really puzzled at the gymnastics you’re going through to make the current administration seem anything but pro-fossil fuel. Which part of repealing the stream protection rule, for example, is a boon to lovers of clean air and clean water? How about not requiring Exxon to disclose their international finances? Or selling 3 million acres of public land (which they eventually had to withdraw because of the outcry from hunters).

    The current government and administration are not doing anything and have never given any indication that they are interested in anything but more coal and gas. Those artificially imposed barriers favour nuclear power, not the other way around. If there weren’t pollution regulations in place, what need would there be for anything but coal and gas? Might as well give everybody the Fort St. Vrain treatment.

    You’ve often railed against the fossil fuel interests in “environmental” groups (and for that I will stand up and applaud you any day of the week), but it seems that you are very strongly trying to ignore even stronger links of oil/gas/coal interests within the cabinet.

    1. @Robert Ball

      As a former large energy consumer — or at least as a financial analyst for one of the world’s largest fuel consumers — I can testify that nuclear energy has far more benefits than just its cleanliness and lack of air and water pollution.

      When properly regulated it is safe and extremely cost effective, making unrivaled power available to its users. It can go places where no other fuel source can go, and it can provide many years worth of power without resupply. It completely eliminates the dependence on fragile or politically interruptible logistics requirements.

      Unless you have been in the industry, have a deeply ingrained questioning attitude and some means of comparison with other energy sources, my statements might seem to be way “out there.”

      I’d bet, however, that there are some readers here who understand my optimism that unburdened nuclear can compete in most energy markets. (Airliners, small and midsize tractors, and personal vehicles are major exceptions to that assertion, but they are a fairly limited niche in comparison to the energy industry as a whole.)

      1. I do get what you’re saying, but the key point here is that the nuclear industry is heavily regulated, and of course it should be (although I prefer the CNSC model to the NRC model), that’s the nature of the beast. We are the most heavily regulated industry in the country (save for MAYBE aviation).

        The coal and gas people will never be as regulated as we are. There are ongoing efforts to reduce it even further. Even if they finally decide to abandon the idiocy of LNT (which I doubt they will), the nuclear industry will ALWAYS be more regulated. If you’re only going by the almighty dollar, we will never be able to compete, which is why the ANS has been pushing so hard for a carbon tax for all this time.

        The crux of what I was saying earlier was this: you have mentioned many times (in articles that I’ve relentlessly sent people links to) that fossil fuel companies have funded environmental groups to keep nuclear down. Why can we expect it to get better when now that they can just pick up the phone and call Perry or Tillerson? They have the ear of the highest echelons of power. If they were trying to squeeze us out before, what is stopping them from doing it now.

        I’m definitely more cynical about all this after my years in the industry, but I applaud you for your hopeful tone. Having said that, if the fossil fuel companies do try more shenanigans to get more nuclear plants prematurely shut down, this time through the cabinet, I expect to read about it on Atomic Insights through more of your excellent relentless journalism.

        1. “If you’re only going by the almighty dollar, we will never be able to compete, ”

          Some LCOEs
          China: nuclear $36/MWh @5% money, coal $55/MWh
          Korea: nuclear $40/MWh @ 7% money

          Source: OECD/IEA-NEA via WNA

          The same was true of US nuclear in the age of the AEC.

          The above pricing is of course for light water only. Molten salt or small modular has the potential to be cheaper yet via factory builds, walk-away safety, and/or utilization of thermal heat for fuels.

          1. I think you missed the footnote on that table. For China, 2.5 ¢ was added to coal and 1.3 ¢ to gas. Take away those penalties and nuclear starts to look less favourable. The ultimate smell test on this topic is: if nuclear was cheaper than gas, there wouldn’t be stations being shut down left and right. They can claim all they want about working with NRDC, no corporation would throw away a profitable plant immaturely if the alternatives were more expensive.

            1. @Robert Ball

              The reasons that companies are deciding to close nuclear plants are complicated. It is not just a matter of their current operating costs, but also the required capital investments to enable adherence to ever changing regulatory requirements, the costs associated with dealing with constant legal challenges, the costs associated with reacting to trivial leakage of “triitated” water, the lack of recognition for the value of clean energy, the lack of compensation for reliable energy that provides a steady frequency on the grid, and, unfortunately, the positive earnings potential from reducing supply to a level slightly less than demand.

          2. @Robert Ball

            Yes, you’re right I missed the emissions cost added to China and Russia. Without, coal generation in China is $30/MWh per that source versus $30 to $36/MWh for nuclear. Given the traditional pollution problems China is having (particulates, NOx, SOx) from coal, nuclear seems the obvious choice without harm to the economy.

            Aging, single reactor plants are closing in the United States in the presence of low cost gas competition because of NRC imposed operations costs. A GW CCGT gas plant runs with crew of a dozen per shift, not including roving maintenance personnel. A US nuclear plant is dictated to retain some ~500 staff, with average salary $100K/yr. Even at these staffing levels, most *dual* reactor plants are quite profitable, as is (was) Indian Point.

            There are parallels in other industries to the US nuclear environment’s built-in sense of great expense. I have some experience in space launch acquisition, where for years in that industry it was assumed that ~$20,000/kg to LEO was akin to Newton’s Laws of Motion, unchangeable, because of vague safety-this-is-the-way-its-done assertions, followed by flag waiving for the insistent. It turns out the old business model was the unchangeable aspect, as now comes SpaceX and suddenly launch becomes $2800/kg, not counting the pending booster reuse.

        2. @Robert Ball

          I’d like to clarify my theory about the involvement of fossil fuel interests in funding and politically supporting the antinuclear movement.

          Though there are a few exceptions, this effort has not been one led by fossil fuel companies but by individuals or countries that have a deep understanding of the importance of controlling energy supply in order to keep the enterprise as profitable and as powerful as possible.

          Based on my personal experiences and associations, the majority of the people at fossil fuel companies are good, dedicated people who believe that they are members of a professional group supplying a vital product to modern society. They are not deluding themselves; their product is important and enabling for the rest of us.

          I do not agree that nuclear energy should be regulated more tightly than other potentially hazardous sources of power. There is no need, for example, to have two full time federal regulators on the site of each nuclear reactor. That becomes an especially important assertion to overcome as reactors shrink into the right-sized markets that many foresee.

          There are ways in which to make nuclear energy a more profitable source of the “almighty dollar” [though I reject the worship of capital that “capitalism” implies] than more challenging to extract and move fuels.

          Nuclear energy should be fairly regulated to protect human health, but it should also be enabled for the very same reason.

      2. @poa

        My guess is that many, if not most, of the hydrocarbon interests that concern me have no real understanding of nuclear energy other than what they’ve been told repeatedly over the years. They believe it is too expensive to compete on a level playing field.

        They might successfully oppose efforts to FAVOR nuclear energy with generous subsidy programs, but they will have a more difficult time successfully opposing efforts that enable nuclear by removing rules that do not contribute to adequately protecting public health and safety. There is a reason that companies that claim to be “energy” companies seem to ignore nuclear and leave the job of public opposition to groups like Sierra, FOE, NRDC, UCS, and PIRG.

    2. @Robert Ball

      “If there weren’t pollution regulations in place, what need would there be for anything but coal and gas?”

      Yes, the new administration can bungle the environment but one can’t know by mistaking symbol for result, with no attention to context. For instance, suggesting the government wants *no* regulations on pollution is to embrace symbolism. And more importantly, such assertion blocks analysis of where things have fallen short in the last eight years, and thus the ability to identify action for improvement. Why analyze where Obama came up short if one can assert Trump wants to kill all pollution laws?

      Regulations require examination. Like anything else, they can have benefits and harm. See for instance the EPA $1/4 million fine of the *electric* vehicle company Tesla in 2010 for incomplete paperwork during its vulnerable start up era. No big thing to Tesla, but how many other would-be small businesses are deterred from any innovation, no matter how benign, that might draw the attention some federal employee? How many that discuss nuclear power in this space would deny that, if not for misguided regulation, it is likely that nuclear power might be far further along in displacing coal and gas fire electricity in the US, if not outright obliterating fossil electricity as was done other countries? Rod has repeatedly detailed some of the willful federal impediments such as the destruction of low dose research, and the malignant firing of an LD administrator. Where were the calls for resist mob protests at DoE?

      Certainly, the new government warrants skepticism as all power does, but where were the nothing-but-bad howls of pain while Obama reigned over this nonsense? Where were the objections to Clinton and Sanders outright rejection of all things nuclear, and their many links to well funded anti-nuclear, wind and solar interests?

      1. Absolutely. The NRC is currently not doing its job in the way it should be. You don’t need to look farther than the fiasco that NuScale has had to go through just to build what is ultimately a PWR.

        Having said that, I don’t see any evidence or reasoning that has convinced me that nuclear regulations will be fixed at the same rate as fossil fuel regulations are removed.

        The previous administration was more or less neutral to nuclear and hostile to fossil fuels, and gas generation exploded during that term. I think the current administration will be also neutral (at best, worst case malevolent) to nuclear but friendly to fossil fuels. Coal and gas will become cheaper, nuclear less so (if at all). There’s no evidence to the contrary.

        Granted, this is all my opinion. None of us have a crystal ball (otherwise we’d be at the bookie furiously betting on the super bowl). If the new administration magically improves regulations for nuclear plants and ushers in a new golden age, I will eat my words in joy.

        I also need to acknowledge that most people are not single issue voters, and the president’s other policies have left me horrified to say the least, so I will always tend to have a negative view of his administration. This is the elephant in the room, and we can try to ignore it because it’s off topic, but this is why there weren’t widespread howls of anger during the previous president’s term.

        1. “There’s no evidence to the contrary.”

          Agreed, torrents of speculation but no actual outcomes either way so far.

          “The previous administration was more or less neutral to nuclear ”

          Arg. Not sure how the last years have been neutral. NuScale fiasco, termination of low dose personnel, Jaczko illegal closure of Yucca, refusal to allow well financed Terrapower a prototype in the US. Rather, the policy might be said to have allowed the minimum of activity to keep the industry alive as long as it did nothing to impede solar-wind-gas interests, to the detriment of the environment.

          By way of illustration, consider for a moment an alternate US aviation scenario. Due to regulation, the commercial aviation fleet is still flying aircraft designed almost entirely before 1980, with a strictly limited fleet size, and throw in an FAA Commissioner openly hostile to aviation who acts in violation of the law (ala Jaczko), requiring a federal judge to have him knock it off.

          Still, the alt-aviation industry plods along with an excellent safety record and all credit US regulation. Meanwhile China builds brand new aircraft, doubling their fleet size every ten years or so, and simultaneously invests strongly in next generation nuclear.

          I suppose there would still be some that called such a scenario neutral as long as some aging airlines kept flying. I’m not among them.

        2. Robert, RE: NuScale

          Totally agree about the NuScale “fiasco”. Whereas fundamental change is needed (especially with SMRs, which should be used as justification for starting over, with a fundamentally different mindset), that was basically a surrender, to NRC and the “way the nuclear industry does business” (which is resulting in its demise).

          $1 billion and almost 25 years (of development and licensing), just for another PWR that is far smaller and therefore obviously much safer?? They need no active cooling (for an indefinite period)! The modules lie in a large pool of water, below grade, so loss of coolant (draining the reactor) is not credible! And finally, even under the completely hypothetical, non-mechanistic scenario of complete drainage, the potential source term is so small that radiation levels well over the range of natural background would not occur anywhere outside the plant boundary!

          Me? I’m so “crazy” that the last analysis I mentioned (for maximum possible, non-mechanistic scenario release) would be the ONLY thing I would submit to NRC. It is, by itself, enough to demonstrate that the NuScale module poses no threat to public health and safety. All the design details, etc.. should not be relevant to their safety determination.

          Another anecdote is that at a recent ANS conference, everyone laughed at the notion of a COL review taking only 4 years. That is, a follow on review for building another copy of an already-licensed reactor design, on a site that already has reactors and has thus already been thoroughly evaluated. The system is clearly broken.

          That said, I can hardly blame NuScale. They’re just a small company trying to get a new reactor licensed. How can we expect them to voluntarily take on this fundamental, nuclear-industry-wide fight? As Rod said in another article, companies don’t want to anger the agency that will be regulating them for all their future decades of reactor operation. Thus, they have to play along with the current rules.

          The industry as a whole (through NEI?) needs to do this. It needs to be done at the top, political level (perhaps Sen. Alexander can help us). Finally, WE need to do this. We need to make our voices heard an apply political and legal pressure, as groups like Environmental Progress are starting to do. Pressure needs to be placed on NRC from above. They won’t voluntarily change. And frankly, much of the problem lies with people working IN the nuclear industry, who don’t seem to want to change, or spend any effort fighting this.

    3. Robert Ball (Feb. 3 – 9:15):

      You’re logic seems sound to me. I find it hard to fathom how this administration will not be a huge negative for nuclear.

      My understanding of what Rod has written over the years is that nuclear has been made needlessly expensive due to excessive regulations (far in excess to those placed on competing sources), and that fossil interests are likely responsible, directly or indirectly, for those burdens. He agrees that the regulatory playing field is unlevel, but has also said that he is a fan of inexpensive energy, and therefore prefers reforms that bring nuclear’s cost down, as opposed to those that would increase the cost of fossil fuels.

      Well, given that the regulatory playing field is unlevel, either fossil fuel requirements need to be significantly increased, or nuclear requirements need to be decreased. If fossil requirements are to, instead, be decreased, then nuclear requirements would have to be decreased to a much greater degree.

      We already know that Trump and the GOP are determined to reduce fossil regulations. So, in order of the playing field to not get even more unfair, nuclear regulations must be reduced by a similar amount. And to make it more fair (or, actually fair) nuclear regulations would have to tremendously and fundamentally reduced.

      So, the question is, what are the chances that dramatic and fundamental reductions in nuclear requirements will happen under Trump? There are strong reasons to believe that, while fossil requirements will be reduced, little to no reductions in nuclear requirements will occur. Thus, the playing field will get even more unfair.

      For starters, whereas they talk endlessly about reigning in the EPA, I’m hearing no discussion of reigning in NRC (even though NRC regulations are far more strict and burdensome, and the NRC, unlike the EPA, has few if any legal or political checks and balances on it).

      And, as you point out, Trump is putting fossil fuel boosters (and industry leaders) in positions of power, not nuclear supporters. More generally, as we all know, the fossil industry wields infinitely more political and financial clout than the nuclear industry does, especially in GOP/Trump circles. As Rod would have said (I think) in the past, those fossil interests would never let such reforms (that would make nuclear more competitive relative to fossil) occur, especially now that they’re in positions of such power. They’ve been doing everything they can to hobble nuclear, for decades, so why wouldn’t they do it now?

      I haven’t lost all hope. Perhaps we can approach Trump with significant regulatory reforms that a Democratic administration/congress would never agree to. Fundamentally reduced requirements for SMRs perhaps, based on their inherent safety and limited potential source term. Or progress on waste/Yucca. The hope would be that these nuclear changes will be lasting (i.e., even Democratic governments in the future would quietly let them stay, given their merit), whereas those future Democratic govts. would promptly dismantle all of Trump’s policies on fossil fuels, i.e., pass tighter pollution regulations, actually put global warming policies in place, etc..

      It’s possible. You never know (especially with Trump), but note that this is me making an extreme effort to hold out hope. My real take is profoundly negative, to the point of being fatalistic. Been reading about Toshiba, and the potential death of the AP1000??

      1. “I find it hard to fathom how this administration will not be a huge negative for nuclear.”

        1. Uranium stocks. “The Global X Uranium ETF (URA), a basket of several big uranium mining stocks, is up nearly 40% since Election Day.”

        2. March 2011, immediately after Fukushima: “I’m in favor of nuclear energy, very strongly in favor of nuclear energy,” Trump said in an appearance on Fox News. “If a plane goes down people keep flying. If you get into an auto crash people keep driving.”‘

        3. Peter Thiel, Transition Team: Transatomic (GenIV) investor, and author of “The New Atomic Age We Need” in the NYT, Nov 2015

        Granted at this point no hard policy decisions have been made. In that absence, I find a gospel like narrative that the administration-is-anti-nuclear, with no real argument behind it, hard to fathom. It is all so reminiscent of the pre-election forecasts from political pundits: not the mistake itself, everyone makes these, but the baseless framework behind it, e.g. the “blue wall” BS.

        The focus only on the people new to this administration is misplaced I think. In the US government, it is the existing bureaucracy that is myopically focused on i) the light water nuclear industry and ii) LNT. They have given Congressional testimony to the effect that Gen IV designs need not apply, that the US nuclear industry was built on LWR, is using LWR, and always will use LWR.

        1. The stock market reaction shows that most investors are fools. As a (former) uranium stock owner (who took a bath) I read investor articles about uranium all the time, and it’s clear that the authors’ level of understanding is quite low. And yet, investors follow their advice. So, we have a new President who says a few nice things about nuclear (lip service) and the herd buys it hook line and sinker. Uranium investors have been fooled before (I was one of them). I hear Kazakhstan has started to limit production (OPEC style) in response to the weak market. That makes more sense as a reason to expect higher uranium prices (as opposed to Trump’s election).

          As for Trump’s general, supporting statements on nuclear, they are just lip service, as I mentioned above. He didn’t even make any campaign promises to help nuclear; no pro-nuclear policies were mentioned. Thus, he doesn’t even have any campaign promises to break. By contrast, he’s made several campaign promises to help bring back coal, and to increase production of all fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas). On top of that, he’s appointed several pro-fossil (not pro-nuclear) people to positions of power.

          I never said that Trump was anti-nuclear. He’s pro fossil. And doesn’t really give a damn about nuclear. Helping nuclear is not a priority for him, whereas helping fossil is. His political supporters are in the fossil industry (whereas nuclear has little political influence). So, he has a political debt (and campaign promises) to the fossil industry. Thus, he will help them, not us, and the playing field will get even more unlevel.

          You’re right about the existing, entrenched bureaucracy being nuclear’s main problem. But Republicans haven’t done any more than Democrats to solve that problem. Again, the real, fundamental problem being nuclear’s complete lack of political influence. At least the Dems wanted to do something about global warming, which could have helped nuclear. Now the only policies that tangible help nuclear are being passed in the states. BLUE states, that is (in the name of global warming).

          1. “least the Dems wanted to do something about global warming, which could have helped nuclear. Now the only policies that tangible help nuclear are being passed in the states. BLUE states, that … ”

            I agree with you that the nuclear policy of the new administration is up in the air.

            As for the rest, with respect to nuclear, see closures of SONGS, and soon the willful closure of Diablo eliminating nuclear power in CA. See closures of Vermont Yankee and now Indian Point by Cuomo. See the only new US nuclear construction in S. Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee. See US House passage of H.R.590 – Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Act of 2017 on day 20 of this Congress. See the action of Reid and Jaczko in recent years with respect to Yucca. See the hostile to nuclear statements of 2016 Democratic candidates for President, and in particular the Clinton assertion that she could power the US by wind and “500 million” solar panels.

          2. Falstaff,

            Point taken about anti-nuclear actions in blue states. Apparently, blue states giveth, but also taketh away (although Illinois has helped nuclear, and has never really done anything to actively screw it over). In NY, Cuomo’s position on Indian Point has been known for some time. At least he “compromised” and gave aid to the upstate plants, in a sign that he’s not dogmatically anti-nuclear. The fact remains that what NY did for nuclear created a significant precedent. As for CA, yes, anti-nuclear forces are deeply entrenched within the state (both in govt. and in NGOs).

            But the topic here is the federal govt., and what influences it may have. Having a GOP or Dem federal govt. will not affect the anti-nuclear politics in some blue states. Also of note is the fact that, whereas there are anti-nuclear states, there are no “pro-nuclear” states that have tangibly aided nuclear (unless you count PUCs in the South for “allowing” nuclear projects to proceed).

            So, what can the federal govt. do, for or against nuclear? Well, it can pass global warming policies, which would be tremendously beneficial to nuclear (unless they are tailored to not give nuclear any help, and yes, it could be argued that the CPP was). And they can appoint NRC commissioners that are more favorable to nuclear. They can pass laws like the recent ones to speed up new reactor licensing, and they can increase nuclear R&D. On the flip side, they can hurt nuclear with policies that will act to reduce the cost of fossil fuels.

            Unfortunately, I see the biggest impact being their actions to reduce the cost of fossil fuels (and do nothing about global warming). Sure, more accommodating NRC leadership, as well as some more R&D and laws to somewhat help new reactor licensing will help, but my view is that those things will have a far more marginal impact.

            The better NRC leadership will still be mainstream (their thinking being inside the box). As you know, I have “radical” ideas about what needs to be done, in regulation space, for nuclear to have a shot (or even to offset the reduced cost of fossil fuels that the Trump administration will cause). The problem is that even GOP/Trump-appointed NRC leadership is not likely to accept the needed level of change. I also doubt Trump would invest the political capital to wage a battle for significant reductions in nuclear regulations. No, he’s doing that for fossil fuels……

            I feel a price on CO2 emissions, as well as regulatory reform, will be needed for nuclear to thrive in the future. And I think I’m more likely to see that under the Dems.

            Of course, the best scenario would be GOP leadership along with a price on carbon. You may think that’s impossible, but perhaps there’s reason for hope. A significant number of influential Republicans have lined up behind the idea of a carbon fee and dividend:


          3. @Jim

            “Of course, the best scenario would be GOP leadership along with a price on carbon”

            I’d not rank US carbon pricing at the top of the list. Instead, I’d place acceleration of advanced nuclear at the top with everything else a distant second. The problem is *global*, not country climate change. Elimination of US emissions, entirely and immediately, will have little impact by itself on future CO2 concentration.

            However, the United States has changed world paradigms several times, *not* with some tax policy, but with innovations that have made change inexpensive and thus find eager global adoption. See personal transportation via mass production, the food supply, communications. Accelerated development of advanced nuclear has every indication of being inexpensive, walk away safe, and with small, relatively short lived waste streams. So, I ask, why would Asia be persuaded to tax their thousands of coal plants running hospitals and schools, given the billions still in grinding subsistence poverty? Even if they claimed to do so against interest, how would others verify? On the other hand, why would they not jump at the chance to replace their many existing coal fired boilers with a cheap, no emissions, 10 yrs with no fuel nuke?

      2. You said exactly what I’ve been thinking! Any decrease in fossil fuel regulation has to be met by equivalent….well, _greater_ reduction in nuclear regulations, given that nuclear has the lowest mortality per million KwH.

        We should carefully watch both Congress and the Executive for their moves on fossil fuel regulation —- and draft up proposals when we see what they’re up to. Gonna need to be unified.

    4. I’m referring to what I heard during his confirmation hearing about the law suits that he filed or joined in his role as the attorney general of Oklahoma.

      After the hearing, I looked up some of the actions that were mentioned. They are a matter of public record and document the rules that Pruitt actually challenged.

      One specific example is the “Clean Power Plan.” Sure, courts have ruled that the EPA had the authority to regulate CO2, but it did not use science when coming up with its state by state implementation goals for that regulation.

      It absurdly credits Vermont with having met its goals already, even though Vermont politicians contributed to the demise of Vermont Yankee, the cleanest source of power generation in Vermont. That closure happened AFTER the base year of 2012.

      Now, please tell me how that supports your incorrect accusation that I made a specific claim that is IMPOSSIBLE to back up with facts.

      UPDATE: Here is a link to a NY Times article published after the above comment. It seems to be in general agreement with my understanding of what Pruitt has done in the past and how that may predict what he will do in the future.

      1. To Rod
        And it’s things like this that make me believe that any sort of scheme other than “a simple and flat tax per unit of CO2 released” is a sham and some sort of game to unfairly and unjustly pick winners and losers.

        1. Hear, hear!  I’ve been saying the same for years, calling out the hypocrisy of the so-called Greens.

    5. Is this the kind of “sound Science” that you are referring to?
      “Former NOAA Scientist Confirms Colleagues Manipulated Climate Records”

      If it is settled, if it is verifiable, if it is true, why the manipulation and obfuscation?
      If you would look at real science web sites rather than the AGW pushing “Science is Settled” sites, even YOU would become skeptical of the theory.
      And please do not accuse me, again, of finding/parroting that from FOX or Breitbart. With out a doubt you read/watch them more than I do.

  2. My motto: Up and atom!

    I wrote a rather long letter to both Pruitt and Perry, urging that they open their agencies’ eyes to the advantages of nuclear power. I personally would like to see an emphasis on MSR, but even so….

    The interesting thing about nuclear is that it addresses the Global Warming issue, has a prompt positive environmental impact (I don’t care for acres of solar photovoltaics, nor windmills) , and at the same time has a positive economic impact for energy uses and electric utilities. These are diverse constituencies, and have a solution that meets the needs of some cast of characters is really rather rare. Everyone wins!

  3. What to do with coal?

    There is a paper, I believe peer reviewed, which advocates treating some coal seams as uranium ores. The paper, from ORNL, states that more energy would be extracted this way than by burning the coal and sending the uranium up the stack.

    1. It appears to be truth.  I read an (unfortunately un-footnoted) claim in a book about the history of atomic power that the Manhattan project needed uranium ore so badly that it had a particular seam of lignite mined, burned and the ash sent for processing as ore.

      Uranium doesn’t vaporize particularly well, especially the oxide.  Odds are that almost all of it winds up in the ash pits (either dry or slag) and in the fly-ash filters.

    2. It is not necessary to get the uranium from the coal seams, unless all the coal ash of the last century has been washed into the oceans.

  4. I’d love to believe that Trump’s DoE and EPA appointments might accidentally boost nuclear and put a stop to the idiotic solar unreliables,
    But I have long suspected that Germany’s Energiewende was contrived as a way for the coal and hydrocarbon interests tp get rid of their most dangerous rival, and fool the greenies with things that pose no threat and would make the adjective “green” derogatory.
    It seems to be working.

  5. Those living in California should be asking why aren’t the CA EPA regulations reducing the pollution levels causing the smog they complain about. The CAEPE requirements are far stricter than US regs. And Trump can not reduce them. So why the concern over who he appoints to EPA?
    Also read that Japan has started construction of 45 coal plants. Those, with shutdown of the NPPs ads even more CO2. I thought the objective was to reduce CO2 levels.
    PNAS (National Academy of Science) has an article on Siberian Arctic black carbon source. By my reading it appears this could be a large part of the reduced ice levels and warmer Arctic temperatures.

    1. You also need to look at exactly WHERE the pollutants are coming from. From the EPA. “Most particles form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles.” Strange that the majority of the pollution is also above the agricultural areas of CA. Look int what chemicals that plants, vegetables, fruit trees, fir/pine trees emit while growing and what happens to these compounds when in the atmosphere when the “chemically react” with other compounds. Scientists are finding that more and more of the PM in the atmosphere that has been attributed to man actually comes from natural sources. Guess it does come from man though when man is planting all of those crops that generate those compounds.

      1. Which is all the more reason for stringent regulations on factories, automobiles, and trucking. I note that Rod dodged answering when I pointed out that it is LUDICROUS to advance that premise that relaxing regulations will result in cleaner air. If natural agricultural emmission are already a problem, compounding that problem by allowing increased fossil fuel emmissions is absurd. You and Rod are offering political arguments that favor big business, particularly the fossil fuel industry. Your arguments in NO WAY are waged out of concern for our environment.

  6. Has the EPA subjected their data and methodologies to outside scrutiny or have they kept those numbers under wraps? Has the EPA promoted regulations that extend beyond their charter or mandate and done so without approval by Congress? Who at EPA is held accountable when the cost-benefit analysis is incomplete, fraught with erroneous assumptions or otherwise shoddy?

  7. I agree with Rod. About the only good thing I see about Messrs. Trump and Perry is that they might be willing to ignore some of the nonsensical rules, customs, etc., currently rendering the development of a genuinely sustainable (breeder based) nuclear renaissance impossible. Good writers like him might be able to convince them that it’s in the USA’s best business interests to encourage its/their national lab nuclear R&D experts to undertake the kind of projects that Weinberg oversaw fifty years ago. After all, energy has been the world’s biggest ”business” for over a century now & the way it’s generated needs a complete overhaul – an energy poor nation can’t do that.

  8. I’d like to get everyone’s take on another related story, on the topic of nuclear regulations and reducing costs.

    At the ANS winter meeting, a ThorCon MSR representative stated that “even if all of our equipment breaks we are still safe” (for 130 days). He may have only meant active components; perhaps failure of the reactor vessel and certain piping would have a significant impact.

    Soooo, my question is, does that mean that you will be classifying every such component in your reactor as NITS?? Commercial grade with no dedication (just buy it off the shelf and place it into service)?? At a minimum, nothing more rigorous than what is done in gas plants? And if not, why not?

    If SMRs are to be economical, they need to push really hard on this. If something is to be declared safety-related, there needs to be a clearly-demonstrated justification. They need to ask, how could failure of this component actually result in loss of life to a member of the public. If it can’t be shown, then “nuclear-grade” fab QA requirements and regulations should not be applied.

    Intellectually lazy practices such as just saying that anything and everything in a nuclear plant must be held to a standard of perfection, simply because “that’s how it is” for nuclear, need to end. I know that simply assuming, and requiring, that everything shall be perfect makes the analyses easier, but we need to put in this effort, especially for SMRs that will be produced on mass scale.

    Rod McCumllum said it well (at the same conference):

    “One of the reasons advanced systems are game changers is that they can be regulated differently because they are inherently safer. Putting the same regulatory footprint on these machines as on the existing fleet will fail.”

    High nuclear costs do not result from (poor) reactor design; they result from regulations and component fab QA requirements. The main determinant of a plant’s cost is how much of it is “nuclear grade” (IMO). Advanced reactor designs, such as SMRs, will not make nuclear cheaper, by themselves, in the direct sense. The main reason they may be cheaper is that (due to their inherent safety and much lower potential source term) they may allow much lower regulations and fab QA requirements, for most if not all of the plant and its components. But that will only happen if we fight for it.

    “Placing the

    1. I’m not convinced that the QA requirements are the cost driver. But even if you’re right about that, the QA is also the basis for the single failure criterion. Without the QA there’s no basis for assuming things don’t break; in fact you’d need to consider the consequences of simultaneous failures. Multiple pipe breaks, multiple equipment failures, the instrumentation fails in a way that causes the operators to do all the wrong things, etc etc… Are the SMR designs really robust enough to handle that?

      1. @Gmax137

        My opinion is that it isn’t the requirement to produce high quality products that are fully tested and reliable, it is the method by which the nuclear industry has chosen to implement the Quality Assurance program under Appendix B.

        My view as a rookie to the program after a career in the USN was that the requirements were overly prescriptive, old fashioned, and based on compliance with the exact wording instead of adherence to excellent engineering and manufacturing processes.

        1. Rod, Yes I understand that point. And it may be worth looking into as part of reducing the cost of nuclear design.

          However, JimHopf was advocating “just buy it off the shelf and place it into service.”

          When we do licensing analyses for the existing fleet of plants, we assume that all such equipment just isn’t there to help. And for the NNS instrumentation, we assume it behaves in whatever fashion makes the transient more severe. Examples: we assume the pressurizer heaters are full-on during events where pressure is going up; sprays are on during depressurization events. This may seem like “just making the analysis easier” but really, it is because the single failure criterion applies only to safety related equipment. It certainly is not because we are “intellectually lazy.”

          1. @Gmax137

            But why do you – and all other nuclear safety analysts regulated by the NRC – make the assumption that any equipment that has not bee produced via an Appendix B approved QA program simply fails to work?

            Is that a valid assumption? Aren’t there other shelves out there with high quality components on them? Sure, there is a “commercial dedication” program and process, but often the requirements (sometimes self-imposed) are as expensive to implement as Appendix B.

            Many potential suppliers simply won’t invest the resources required because the liability is too great and the market is too small. The end result is that traditional nuclear component suppliers are locked in, protected, and inefficient. They might not even be producing the best available components because it is too difficult to qualify new materials and new processes.

      2. “I’m not convinced that the QA requirements are the cost driver. ”

        Given that in Asia nuclear is close to the price of coal, Western QA requirements are almost certainly the cost driver. The argument then is whether or not Western QA is justified; that is, results in reduced harm not only relative to Asia, but also relative to the fossil fuel alternatives.

        1. Falstaff,

          Excellent point (and post). And, unlike my posts, concise!!

          Both the current experience in Asia, and the fact that reactors built in the US back in the ’70s were ~1/3 the cost of today’s (even in inflation adjusted dollars) clearly show that escalating regulations and QA requirements are the main reason for today’s high costs.

        2. To Falstaff
          I’d also bring up this facet: The question is whether the QA is justified, and I might argue that it is. However, the other facet of the problem is: Are there better ways to achieve similar QA that don’t result in extreme price increases, and I would argue “yes”. I’m really a huge fan of the QA approach of ThorCon, which build SMRs at a manufacturing facility almost identical to a shipyard. Most / almost all of the QA can be performed at the shipyard, and there is a huge degree of automation and economies of size benefits, which can drastically reduce QA costs, while achieving similar levels of QA. Plus the different design just seems so much inherently safer compared to current tech, which can be made about as safe, but at a much higher price point.

          1. We really need to revisit the question of whether the nuclear-certified QA actually adds any safety.  I strongly suspect that it does not.  If we aren’t getting anything for this money, we need to stop SPENDING and stop REQUIRING it.

      3. Gmax,

        In short, my opinion is, yes, they’re robust enough to handle that. This is based on what the designers themselves are saying (e.g., “even if all of our equipment breaks we are still safe”). I’m simply taking them at their word.

        These SMR designers have stated that all the active equipment, electrical/electronic stuff, and the operators can fail and it will still not cause a significant release. The point is that they are inherently, fundamentally safe, due to basic physics, as opposed to having everything work correctly.

        As I stated at the end of my 2nd paragraph, failure of passive structures like the vessel or critical piping may indeed cause a problem, and may possibly still have to be nuclear grade. On the other hand, NuScale modules are submersed in a huge pool of water (which is below grade), so it’s not even clear to me that pipe breaks would cause long term absence of (water) coolant in the reactor. On top of that, Reyes himself told me (to my surprise) that even if the water was somehow drained out of the reactor, a significant release would still not result. NuScale is claiming that they don’t need emergency planning outside the site boundary, since even the bounding source term (for some non-mechanistic scenario which causes fuel melting) doesn’t result in public doses of concern outside the boundary.

        Who knows, maybe you would have to give up the “single failure criterion” and consider multiple pipe breaks, etc.. But (as Rod also pointed out in his comment) one thing that needs to change is the simplistic mindset that if something is nuclear grade QA, is simply WILL work, and if it is not (e.g., commercial grade) is simply WILL NOT work. This is intellectually lazy (IMO), and yes, is done to make the analyses easier.

        As I’ve advocated before, what needs to be done is detailed evaluation of the *observed* performance of similar, non-nuclear-grade components in other industries over the last several decades. We need to determine both the frequency of failure and the nature of the failure for non-nuclear -grade components. Then we need to put all that info into rigorous PRA analyses to determine what the release frequency would be, under various QA levels for various components.

        I hear that NuScale’s frequency is something like 1.0E-10, assuming we do everything the old way (impeccable standards, etc.). Given the limited source term, they need to ask themselves what requirements can be relaxed (using the detailed PRA analyses I describe above) and still deliver a release frequency more like 1.0E-6 (i.e., the level of performance of today’s reactors). As nuclear is already the safest source, we don’t need yet more safety, we need lower cost.

        One final clarification. I’m not necessarily advocating using only “commercial grade” components, or placing stuff off the shelf directly into service. I’m advocating using whatever level of quality control they use in gas plants, or other heavy industrial facilities. Certainly, if analyses show that a component is not needed to ensure public safety, then they should be able to use the same standards gas plants do for those components. And based on what these SMR designers are saying, most of the components and systems in these plants are NOT needed to ensure public safety. As Rod points out, there is a much larger market for such “industrial-grade” components, which results in far lower costs.

        1. Well, just to clarify the question about crediting the non safety related equipment in the licensing analysis…

          If we rely on some equipment in the safety analysis, it is *by definition* safety related (see 10CFR50.2). And the QA requirements (10CFR50, Appendix B) apply to safety-related SSCs, so…

          Here’s the definition. We are talking about items which fit into (3) below — they are used to “mitigate the consequences of accidents” (by which the NRC means, protect the public from over exposure to radiation).

          Safety-related structures, systems and components means those structures, systems and components that are relied upon to remain functional during and following design basis events to assure:

          (1) The integrity of the reactor coolant pressure boundary

          (2) The capability to shut down the reactor and maintain it in a safe shutdown condition; or

          (3) The capability to prevent or mitigate the consequences of accidents which could result in potential offsite exposures comparable to the applicable guideline exposures set forth in § 50.34(a)(1) or § 100.11 of this chapter, as applicable.

          1. gmax

            With respect to (3), a lot hinges on the definition of public “over exposure” to radiation. I pulled up 10CFR50.34, and it seems to be saying no member of the public should get more than 25 Rem!! Hard to argue that’s too low! As we all know, no member of the public has gotten anywhere near that much, from any meltdown event. Is this an issue of unrealistically conservative analyses, or is it really true that failure of some of these components could result in releases far larger than that seen in any actual meltdown events?

            While they both seem reasonable, (1) and (2) actually appear to be “prescriptive” and not based on actual public consequences (let alone any evaluation of cost vs. public impact, such as using the govt.’s ~$10 million per life saved criterion).

            My (perhaps uninformed) read on this is that these SMRs may be able to meet the above criteria while greatly reducing the number of components that are nuclear-grade. OK, so the reactor vessel and primary coolant piping is still nuclear grade, to comply with (1). These reactors should have no trouble with (2). And, based on what the designers are saying, it’s essentially impossible for these reactors to exceed the public dose limit associated with (3). So, perhaps just the (passive) reactor vessel and primary coolant loop piping, but none of the active components, e.g., pumps, etc..

            My view has been that nuclear-grade QA requirements may be “tolerable” at the module fabrication plant (assembly line). There, they have a dedicated, experienced crew, making carbon copies of exactly the same thing, day in and day out. They have equipment and tooling, as well as procedures, to produce a high quality product. They will have done the leg work to know how to comply with NQA-1 (get an N-stamp, etc..). The burden is tolerable if there is high enough volume.

            Where I dig in my heels is at the site itself. It seems clear to me that, if SMRs are to work out, then there must be no nuclear-grade construction activities, procedures, or regulations, at the site itself (with the local labor, etc..). At the site, it needs to work just like a gas plant. The NSSS (i.e., the “boiler”, or steam source) arrives at the plant site, just like the gas turbine does, and is put into place. The balance of plant must be, in all ways, like a “normal” balance of plant, with respect to all requirements and practices.

            The good news is that, due to their inherent safety, these SMRs may allow that, while still meeting the general NRC requirements. This is because what happens outside the nodule has much less ability to affect the module, in a way that would jeapordize safety.

            All that said, if things don’t “work out”, then changing the regulations must be considered. It’s not like those regulations, including the ones you listed above, are literally the voice of God. Yes, we would be talking about a major rulemaking. And to justify such a rule change, we should be making the arguments I gave earlier, about asking whether something is a real, tangible risk to public health, and whether the cost of the regulation is worth the benefit.

            Are we really willing to have the promise of SMRs die because they can’t economically comply with some requirements, as currently (and perhaps prescriptively) written? As a specific example, I would demand significant justification for insistence that NQA-1 fab requirements and heavy nuclear regulation in general for activities at the plant site be maintained.

            Another possibility, to pursue these ideas, would be to try and use NRC’s “risk informed” regulations concept. This was proposed as an alternative to prescriptive regulations, if the applicant could “make the case”. So far, few if any have tried to use this program, probably because they felt that “making the case” to the regulator would be so difficult that it wasn’t worth the effort. Anyway, some of what I’m talking about could fall under this concept, i.e., requesting relief from certain, prescriptive, requirements, on the basis that the public health risks are limited and do not justify the cost.

          2. JimHopf – much of what you say makes sense to me. I have not looked into the SMR offsite dose issue but it may be that with smaller cores the “maximum credible accident” doses would be small enough too avoid a lot of the regulatory burden. The analysis required by 10CFR100.11 is done per an old document called TID-14844 which is very prescriptive (it has standardized assumptions on the fractions of fission product inventory to be assumed released into containment, and so forth). If the SMR designs can follow that prescription and show acceptable results then I think they’d be in a much better position than the 1000 MWe units. Here’s to hoping that is successful!

  9. Not to mention Nancy Pelosi – who is no friend of nuclear – said today: “While it’s only been a couple of weeks since the inauguration, we’ve seen nothing that I can work with President Bush on” – not even in the correct decade with the basics, much less totally unhelpful and unwilling, and its a a-ok non issue.

    1. LOL because if you repeat misinformation enough it becomes partially true, at least to the ignorant masses – aka POA.

      Like he was really trying or expected to mislead anyone intentionally with mealy mouthed US media hanging on discrediting his every word. Thats delusional in itself.

      The anti nuke movement was just the tip of the whole iceberg of a larger and often erroneous political advocacy mass media movement. Nuclear power would have NEVER been given an opportunity in such a climate. It was silly to even believe it ever would have.

Comments are closed.

Recent Comments from our Readers

  1. Avatar
  2. Avatar
  3. Avatar
  4. Avatar
  5. Avatar

Similar Posts