Yves here. This article, apparently reflecting the messaging of various interest groups, doesn’t appear to acknowledge the elephant in the room: why the big push to designate pretty obviously not green power sources, here gas and nuclear, as “sustainable”?
Readers can correct me, but it looks as if this is a huge effort of a lack of better solutions to the base load problem. Solar is fickle, particularly given Europe’s short and often overcast winter days. Hydropower, which is often tidal hydro, and wind aren’t fully reliable.1
And note that Europe still has a long way to go; the European Environment Agency reported that in 2020, 21.3% of energy came from renewable sources.
Again, no one in a position of authority or even with a good media megaphone seems willing to state the obvious: the first line of defense is radical energy conservation. But it needs to include above all the energy hogs, which are the top wealthy, and they seem even less interested than ordinary citizens.
By Stella Levantesi, an Italian climate journalist, photographer and author. Her book “I bugiardi del clima” (Climate Liars), published in Italy with Laterza, investigates climate change denial history and tactics. Her work has been published in The New Republic, Nature Italy, Wired Italy, the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico, Mint India, Internazionale, il manifesto, 7 Corriere della Sera, LifeGate and others. Originally published at DeSmogBlog
“Again, no one in a position of authority or even with a good media megaphone seems willing to state the obvious: the first line of defense is radical energy conservation. But it needs to include above all the energy hogs, which are the top wealthy, and they seem even less interested than ordinary citizens.”
Absolutely right, Yves. And if anyone doubts it, I’d invite them to check out the EN-ROADS simulator, a tool put together by a team of MIT systems thinkers. Play with the sliders for a while. You’ll find that the most powerful one on the board is GDP growth rate–and the EN-ROADS simulator doesn’t even allow for a zero-growth option.
The small province of New Brunswick is dipping its toes into nuclear power as the answer to getting rid of energy that produces greenhouse gases. This province has had its share of boondoggles (the Bricklin, ore emulsion non-sale) and does not need another.
How about a nuclear powered monorail?
Huh? We don’t have nuclear powered jets because the amount of lead cladding they would require to keep them from making staff and passengers glow in the dark makes them too heavy to fly. A safe nuclear train would similarly be hugely heavy and require vastly more power to operate than a conventional train.
I think it’s sarcasm. Probably playing off the famous Simpson’s monorail episode about Springfield getting fleeced by a smooth talking futurist salesman. The town gets the monorail money due to Mr. Burns’ nuclear power plant accidents.
I think DontCallMeShirley was making a funny and referencing the “Monorail” episode of The Simpsons. Definitely one of their best episodes!
The Simpson’s best episode is “Bart Sells His Soul”.
Not only do you have an on point reference to Pablo Naruda, but you also have a church choir tricked into singing Inna-Gadda-Davida.
If it uses electricity generated by a nuclear power plant then it is running on nuclear.
That is not what the comment said. It said nuclear powered monorail. Nuclear powered ships = vessels with little nuclear reactors on them.
Energy conservation is a non-starter politically. You would need elites as a whole to see it as necessary, but as Yves rightly points out, elites put all kinds of energy consuming carve outs for themselves. Can’t give up the private jets, can we? Hell, we can’t even snuff out crypto currencies which waste energy and technology for a huge scam. I wasn’t alive for it, but the “oil crisis” of the 1970s seems to be the closest we came to some pivot towards this. Yet from my reading, Carter was pilloried for putting on a sweater and turning down the heat.
Europe and China’s push for BEV cars is another symptom of this. Energy intensive production with unknown wasteful life cycles for individualized transport. No serious effort at radically building out public transit, like say restoring street cars and interurban transit. Locally in my neck of the wood, the MBTA is working on discarding our last “trackless trolleys”. Electric busses that run on overhead wires. I used to ride this route all the time and the busses are truly great. Quiet, no diesel fumes. Running on infrastructure built ages ago. It seemed like the thing that should be expanded all over Boston. But no. They’ll get diesel busses for two years (probably more) and then full battery busses that cost more and can’t run for as long.
Thus far, the elites still see it as easier to cut back on population than consumption.
When the Fed stomps the brakes and destroys what’s left of the small business economy, accelerating rather than damping inflation, it may start to dawn on some the integrated dependencies in industrial civilization.
Financialization has created a condition in which the elite can operate entirely on their social heuristics without any understanding of the underlying systems massive complexity and integration their cavalier decisions are incrementally disintegrating. The collapse will proceed until political and financial institution, now that the two are merged, are so illegitimate that people who understand the systems can again take charge of them.
Few points :
– tidal hydro is only a minuscule part of hydropower in Europe. Hydro is by an overwhelming majority based on rainfall in mountain ranges.
– « green » or « sustainable » are not precisely defined concepts. Today there is no source of energy which is sustainable because to a various degree, materials for building the power plants and the combustible are sourced using fossil powered machines, and so are the related manufacturing processes.
– there is a misleading logical fallacy putting nuclear power and fossil carbon power together because as they both require a fuel and produce waste, they both are unsustainable. But orders of magnitude have an importance : the share of the cost due to the extraction of the raw uranium counts very little in the price of nuclear power, so much that multiplying uranium prices by 4 to 10 only affects marginally the end cost. At 4 times current prices, extraction from seawater becomes viable and there is enough uranium for thousands of years. Thousands of years is not billions of years of course, but it is much better than the few decades of use of non renewable resources that we have left.
– same reasoning is true for the waste problems : the waste of carbon fossil fuel is ejected in the atmosphere but the waste of nuclear is concentrated in comparatively minuscule volumes that are manageable. We may not have it solved thoroughly for the next millions years, but we already have solutions that can last a few centuries at least, and can be rolled over if needs be. That leaves us time to solve the urgent problems of climate change and fossils carbon fuel ressource depletion in the 21st and 22nd century. We can come back at it in the 23rd century and beyond. By that time, we will probably have space transportation safe and cost efficient enough to park the waste out of planet Earth.
We should also work on closing the nuclear fuel cycle, much like France which gets 80% of its energy supply from nuclear energy. Ironically, France gets a nice profit selling its energy surplus to nations like Germany, which has started building heavily-polluting, lignite-burning coal plants to make up for its energy defecit ever since it decided to shut down its nuclear energy program as a political stunt.
There are also many different other applications for what you can do with nuclear process heat with some reactor designs, ranging from using it to make carbon-neutral synthetic fuels like diemethyl ether, nuclear desalination, as well as district heating in some urban centers.
I suspect that we will develop the technology to handle nuclear waste material the same day that we develop fusion power to the point that it is commercially viable. And even if the solutions to dealing with it lasts centuries, what is the point when that stuff lasts longer than recorded history? It lasts so long that scientists are trying to work out a warning sign for nuclear wastes that will be recognized by people in a few thousand years time who will speak completely different languages and have different values. It lasts that long. Yes, when concentrated in comparatively minuscule volumes, it is manageable. Such as digging a trench, putting that stuff in and then covering it up. But when it goes boom, then those small volumes are still deadly enough to clear out whole regions like they discovered in the Ukraine and Japan. If they solve the waste problem, then I will be onboard, But till then? Forget it.
I seem to recall the French solution was 55 gallon steel drums in the Deep Ocean. And then they were caught.
What could Possibly go wrong?
Reading about Kemmerer, WY (birthplace home-town of JC Penny’s) re-tooling from coal boom to nuke boom, thanks to Dr. Pick a Winner Wm Gates Jr.
Made me sad. Kemmer / Gates ‘newfangled nuke tech is an iteration of the failed Salt-type system that failed around Moorpark, CA in the early 60’s. Lotta cancer in that area.
Nobody Cares. Nobody shares. Ironically, we all will share in the Unlimited Bounty of the Jackpot!
What ever happened to Amory Lovins, advocate for soft energy paths and the easy low-hanging fruit of conservation? Think if we had gone that way when he was all the rage in the late 70’s early 80’s. Thank GOD for Reagan and Saint Miltie Friedman !!!
Lovins became a contractor for the Military, apparently mothballed in a warehouse similar to the final resting place for The Ark of the Covenant in Spielberg’s Raiders ….
The great thing about nukes is how little reinforced carbon intensive cement/concrete they require.
Sort of like the ballast bollards under wind towers.
No Free Energy Lunch
“the waste of nuclear is concentrated in comparatively miniscule volumes that are manageable”
I don’t get the trades from the nuclear industry anymore (too expensive) since I retired. They were full of ‘ideas’ of how to handle nuclear waste but no real solutions that could be implemented. So much for ‘managing’. But it sounded like they were doing ‘something’ so these ‘theories’ were what came out in their press releases.
So because I no longer have access to the latest numbers (and theories) I went to google to see what I could find that has been happening with nuclear waste:
Here in the US where we all know there is no nuclear waste depository for non-Defense waste:
And in France:
And in Germany:
And in Japan:
No country that I know of has a permanent or even semi-permanent place to put its ‘miniscule’ nuclear waste for long term storage right now (long term storage meaning storage for at least 100 years).
BTW, ‘managing’ nuclear waste usually means just moving it around.
Was it only 200 years ago that everyone thought dumping their pollutants into the air was the proper way to dispose of waste? I mean the atmosphere was vast and each plant was only putting out a small amount, wasn’t it? Not enough to cause any real problems! So now we are dealing (sort of) with that legacy. Have we learned nothing from that experience? So now, because we want as much energy as we can use, we are willing to repeat that cycle and pass our waste down to our grandchildren and great grandchildren. Only this time, we aren’t putting something into the air that can be removed in a generation, we are giving them a pollutant that will stay around for thousands of years.
What about Yucca Mountain? Sure, Reed put the kabash on it, but that doesn’t mean something like it wouldn’t work as a reasonably safe, long term solution to nuclear waste. Imagine a country like China, where NIMBYs don’t rule–why couldn’t they do something like that (and probably do it better)?
And that doesn’t even factor in new, less wasteful reactor designs. China’s been very serious in its exploration of such designs. It has two experimental thorium reactors up and running right now, and the Chinese claim that they’ve overcome the design problems that hampered the thorium reactors of the 1950s.
I say why not experiment with nuclear power in this time of great, great crisis and danger? We ought to throw everything we have (including radical energy conservation!) at the problem.
Well, I’m done trying to convince people that nuclear probably isn’t the best way to handle our problems. I think I am beginning to sound like Kate from a recent movie!
There are a lot of BASHes out there trying to tell us that we can have it all and their technology will save us from ourselves and make everything all better. You can believe that if you want – just “Don’t look up”!
Good to know that you think of yourself a protagonist in a Netflix movie, correcting us lowly secondary characters.
If only we all could have top billing.
Is that how you saw Kate in that movie – as someone correcting lowly secondary characters? I saw her as someone who understood the issue but was completely ineffective in getting her message across. That was what I was referring to.
The fact that you ignore the mention of thorium is telling.
Thorium burns through the input material and leaves effectively no radioactive waste.
The problem with thorium is it is gonna be too long before it is deployed to be of much help.
Thorium does produce radioactive waste. The good thing is that the waste decays in 500 years v 10,000 years.
The bad news is that thorium is much harder to work with.
Thorium reactors produce 1/1000th to 1/10,000 of the waste of a nuclear reactor.
You also may not be up on improvements in the technology. From a 2016 article:
You are right. I am not up on the latest technology. I left the field almost 10 years ago when I retired and pretty much abandoned researching it. I also have never worked with Thorium reactors or their waste – not any chances to do so – so I only know what I read. Thanks for this article!
I did oversimplify but I have been frustrated that thorium has gone nowhere. It seems like a pretty good technology, particularly for addressing the base load issue. The question to which I have no answer is the cost of building these plants. Concrete has high environmental cost. But the Delft piece suggests reactors could be small scale, and given that thorium going in is less radioactive, it may not require as much costly cladding of various forms.
Even with what I’ve read in the past about them, if we are to continue down the nuclear path, thorium reactors do seem to be the way to go. Less waste and less long-lived waste gives future generations a better chance at survival.
We are not in a world where best choices are possible. We’re not going to reduce energy consumption fast enough, except through species dieoff, including ours.
China started testing an experimental MSR utlizing thorium in fall 2021. Location is Wuwei. Experts are hopeful that in case of success, this might clear the way for commercialization.
No, we’re doing it right now more than we ever did 200 years ago.
No permanent place for used fuel.
More money to be made temporarily storing it and sucking money out of the government to research reprocessing. Like all nuclear waste management, a grift.
I think this might be helpful in clearing up some misconceptions on nuclear energy. It was posted awhile ago on the now-defunct Depleted Cranium blog…a rational-skepticism blog…and it goes into detail on various topics that are easy to understand. I managed to find it using the Wayback Machine…
What Is Spent Fuel, Anyway?
What Does It Cost To Build Nuclear Reactor? What Could It Cost?
Early in my career I oversaw and managed spent nuclear fuel pools. I also served as a duty officer on the last spent fuel reprocessing run at my plant. I do know the difference between the nuclear world’s hype and reality.
To add about the nuclear, some of the Gen IV plants can use spent fuel from other reactors as their fuel. It takes a product with 30,000 year radioactivity to 300 yrs.
Even if the “new generation IV nukes work as proposed, a proposition many disagree with (For example, see WISE ) there simply isn’t enough time to build enough nukes to make an appreciable difference. Radical conservation, whether planned for or forced by resource and environmental constraints, is our future.
People are converting to BEV for environmental reasons even though the ROE( return on energy) is at maybe 100,000 miles or 6-10 years? That’s not very fast.
I agree with you that US nuclear plants have taken too long to build to be of much help in the next 10’yrs. Look to other countries and they are being built in just a few. Standardized designs greatly speed up the building process. I know that engineering reviews take a long time, again standardized greatly speeds this up.
For example, just yesterday my latest Simple residental solar system was signed off, after 6 months from initial submittal to the county snd utility. Total time for the actual installation? 4 days. If a nuclear plant construction is anything like that it can sure be built faster.
I think the nuclear industry has backed themselves into a hole when it comes to scale and standardization. The Koreans had some success with reducing costs through modularization, but only to a fairly limited degree. The Chinese, notably, haven’t really tried, which suggests that they don’t see much value in it. There appears to be major bottlenecks when it comes to the type of very large pressure vessels involved – very few companies in the world can make them. The new UK Rolls Royce design has tried to go in the other direction, scaling the plants down to try to make them cheaper for mass production. But this loses the scale advantage of a big GW sized thermal plant.
The problem is that as with any thermal plants, you have to go very large scale to make them efficient. But very large scale plants are not really suitable for modularization. And if you try to build a lot at once, you don’t get the benefit of building up a base of engineering skills to drive down costs. The EPR has failed for this reason – its just proven too difficult and expensive to build.
The simple reality is that the nuclear industry has tried everything then can think of over the past half century to drive down construction costs and they’ve failed. Its pretty clear that PWR’s are as mature a tech as you can get and they are still hideously expensive. Only a new generation of designs could succeed, and it will take decades of work to develop them. That’s far too slow.
Do they incorporate the potential effects of terrorism and/or incompetence into their assessments? /s
The answer has to do with the ratio of U 235 to 238.
Reactor ratios are like 3% 235 for reactor, but you need 90% for a bomb. Reactors use up the 235 so this amount decreases over its use.
Here is a professor of energy taking about nuclear energy and he does bring up your question about bomb being made from reactor fuel. It clears up a lot.
More nonsense from the utility companies.
First any discussion of electrical energy cost MUST use real numbers. This is not a place for feelings or opinions.
At present the best sources for electrical energy costs are
Second the motive of the power companies must be understood.
Most US power companies (and I suspect this model includes European companies too) are cost plus operations this is a built-in incentive to generate high priced power.
This is why in Ohio https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_nuclear_bribery_scandal, why in South Carolina https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nukegate_scandal. Both of these generators struggled mightily to save their high priced, cost plus generation
Third there is a canard promulgated by the electrical generating companies that “The sun don’t shine all of the time” which leads to a lie that photovoltaics (PV) are unreliable. In fact PV is very reliable during the periods of sunshine. And it is cheaper!! (See Lazard / DOE)
Fourth changes in electrical lighting especially “nighttime security lighting” is being directly impacted by LED applications. It is estimated that lighting accounts for 25% of all electrical consumption and that LEDs can reduce that by half. Not to mention that LED lighting does not have the “restrike” lag which allows LED to have an instant on feature. This means that LED lighting esp security lighting can be controlled by sensors.
Fifth Energy conservation is simple -“If you don’t need it turn it off” Oh and this means turning off lights in areas are unoccupied. And for real savings turn off your electric water heater when you leave for a week end. You don’t need the government to do this for you.
Sixth The French reliance on nukes in the past has been severely impacted by lack of cooling water caused by low rain fall. Nukes ain’t as reliable as folks think
Just build the reactors deep underground, with the intention of operating them for a few centuries, then simply abandoning them. A 500 meter deep deposit of radioactive materials isn’t going to hurt anybody, unless they go digging for it. You also get the benefit of meltdowns not presenting a danger to the surface.
Nukes are too expensive. In fact they are among the most expensive sources of electric generation.
See reglobal.co/lazards-levelized-cost-of-energy/ or
DOE – http://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/12/f46/levelized-cost.pdf
And of course when they fail the costs are astronomical. And any mechanical system will fail it is only a question of when. Look no further than Fukushima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Chalk River, Enrico Fermi and so on.
I’m not a fan of nuclear but generalizing from Fukushima is intellectually dishonest. That reactor was put on a completely ridiculous site. Even then more could and should have been done to harden the site and wasn’t:
TEPCO sounds like Japan’s answer to PG&E. You wouldn’t generalize about electrical grid safety based on PG&E.
I think there’s a case for not decommissioning nuclear reactors that are in locations that are not exposed to earthquakes, tsunamis, and storm surges and are up to date on necessary safety enhancements.
I recently slogged through Michael Mann’s ‘The New Climate Wars.’ He has strong reservations regarding geo-engineering and nuclear and seems to regard ‘renewables,’ i.e., solar, wind, tide, as the answer to the climate problem.
The introduction of one’s ‘carbon footprint,’ he points out as a concept developed by the fossil-fuel industry, as a way to deflect attention from a systemic change solution and focus mainly on the individual’s fault. He identifies this as a corporate tactic to sow divisiveness among the populace. A kind of ‘virtue signaling,’ involving finger-pointing; look at his humungous gas-guzzling SUV, while I drive my gas-sipping teeny-car.
Unless I missed something in his book (and I admit I did a lot of skimming,) he does not address conservation. I think Yves is correct: the first line of defense is radical energy conservation. But the wealthy aren’t interested in conservation, for obvious reasons. Mann advocates for a hefty carbon tax and thinks the ‘social injustice’ fallout from this could be addressed through subsidies, thus avoiding the ‘yellow-vest-reaction.’
Well, a hefty marginal tax rate on income and wealth could encourage conservation as well. But, as my spouse pointed out, as we walked by the tent city hosted by the Lutheran church up the street, the homeless have almost zero carbon footprint. A few more years of sky-rocketing costs of college, medical care, land/real estate/rents, and now food and gas, with attendant debt peonage, and the carbon foot-print of most of us will be approaching zero. Fortunately, there are more of us than there are of them.
Fracking puts more methane in the atmosphere. And that heats up the earth quick. The graphs tell the obvious story. Since the fracking boom started, we’ve been shooting up like never before.
Natural gas is the route to quick extinction.