Yves here. I am sure many readers will be upset at this site posting an article that advocates for nuclear power. However, unless you are prepared to advocate for and implement radical energy conservation (and this includes everything from demanding rapid shrinkage of our military footprint to ending planned obsolescence to avoiding products that are part of overseas supply chains), nuclear is a less bad option for solving the base load problem than fossil fuels.
And we’re also going to have trouble with renewable sources. From a recent S&P Global report, The Future of Copper (hat tip Kent Y):
- Copper—the “metal of electrification”—is essential to all energy transition plans. But the potential supply-demand gap is expected to be very large as the transition proceeds. Substitution and recycling will not be enough to meet the demands of electric vehicles (EVs), power infrastructure, and renewable generation. Unless massive new supply comes online in a timely way, the goal of Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 will be short-circuited and remain out of reach.
- Copper demand is projected to grow from 25 million metric tons (MMt) today to about 50 MMt by 2035, a record-high level that will be sustained and continue to grow to 53 MMt by 2050. Power and automotive applications will have to be deployed at scale by 2035 in order to meet the 2050 net-zero targets.1
- The chronic gap between worldwide copper supply and demand projected to begin in the middle of this decade will have serious consequences across the global economy and will affect the timing of Net-Zero Emissions by 2050.
- The shortfall will reach as high as 9.9 MMt in 2035 in the Rocky Road Scenario, which is based on a continuation of current trends in capacity utilization of mines and recycling of recovered copper. This would mean a 20% shortfall from the supply level required for the Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 target.
- The gap arises even under assumptions of aggressive capacity utilization rates and all-time-high recycling rates in the High Ambition Scenario. Even with these aggressive assumptions, refined copper demand will outpace supply in the forecast period up to 2035.
- In the 21st century, copper scarcity may emerge as a key destabilizing threat to international security. Projected annual shortfalls will place unprecedented strain on supply chains.
The challenges this poses are reminiscent of the 20th-century scramble for oil but may
be accentuated by an even higher geographic concentration for copper resources and the downstream industry to refine it into products.
- In the United States, the nexus between a politicized regulatory process and the ubiquity
of litigation makes it unlikely that efforts to expand copper output in the United States would yield significant increases in domestic supply within the decade. The prospects for any expansions are higher on state and private lands.
- Under the Rocky Road Scenario, the United States will have to import 67%—that is two- thirds—of its refined copper demand by 2035. Even in the High Ambition Scenario, the United States will still need to import 57% of the refined copper during the years of highest energy transition–related copper demand.
- The complexity of permitting mines in the United States is reinforced by the long lead times also required elsewhere around the world. Multidimensional challenges make the development of mines a generational endeavor, spanning decades and requiring hundreds of billions of dollars. Projects under development today would likely not be sufficient to offset the projected shortfalls in copper supply, even if their permitting and construction were accelerated.
Now to nuclear.
By Felicity Bradstock, a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK. Originally published at OilPrice
- Energy security has now become a central focus for governments around the world as energy prices soar, and this new focus has seen a revival of interest in nuclear power.
- While nuclear power does have problems associated with its cost and its environmental impact, the safety issues that are frequently pointed to by detractors are greatly exaggerated.
- The U.S. Department of Energy expects demand for nuclear reactors to reach $1 trillion globally, although any nuclear accident could set the industry back drastically.
Governments are backing nuclear power in a big way but fears of disasters still linger, with any mishap having the potential to derail the big nuclear resurgence. As governments get behind nuclear projects for the first time in several decades, in order to boost their energy security, many continue to be fearful of nuclear developments for both safety and environmental reasons. But will leaders be able to convince the public of the need for nuclear energy as part of a green transition? Nuclear energy was hailed years ago as the cleaner alternative to fossil fuels that could provide reliable energy to countries around the globe. But as it was increasing in popularity, with several major global developments being achieved, three notable disasters undermined the potential for widespread nuclear development. The events of Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979; Chornobyl in 1986; and Fukushima in Japan in 2011 led to a movement away from the development of nuclear projects in favor, largely, of fossil fuels.
However, with growing energy insecurity being felt worldwide, in response to sanctions on Russian oil and gas; a rapid movement away from fossil fuels to greener alternatives; and a rise in energy prices, several governments are putting nuclear power back on the agenda. With its carbon-free energy producing capabilities, it appeals to governments who have made ambitious carbon pledges, while offering them greater mid-term energy security than other renewable energy projects that may take longer to be developed at the scale required to meet growing demand.
In the U.S., nuclear energy accounts for around 20 percent of the country’s power, and 50 percent of its carbon-free power. And with major public and private investments being pumped into research and development, countries around the world are hoping to build more efficient, lower-cost, and smaller nuclear reactors than what we have traditionally seen. If all goes well, the U.S. Department of Energy expects demand for nuclear reactors to reach $1 trillion globally.
But according to several energy experts, just one incident could radically worsen the already negative public perception of nuclear power. A multitude of studies deem nuclear energy the safest form of electricity generation, and yet many people around the world who have lived through nuclear disasters are still opposed to the development of new nuclear projects due to the danger associated with them. Others believe that nuclear power is not as green as it is made out to be, as although it creates carbon-free power, there is still the problem of waste management.
So, why are we so scared of nuclear power? Despite a lack of public understanding of nuclear technology, meaning that it can sometimes be confused with nuclear weapons, there was a general optimism around nuclear energy when it first emerged several decades ago. It seems that the current negative public perception of nuclear power stems mainly from the nuclear disasters that were seen around the world in real-time.
Although relatively few died during these incidents compared to deaths worldwide from other energy operations, the incidents were widely televised and the fear of the unknown spread rapidly. Governments responded to them differently compared to other energy disasters, mainly because it was not known how many people should be evacuated and the best way to respond to the disaster on the ground. This made people more panicked than when other events occur, such as an explosion on an offshore oil platform or a fire at a refinery. The overreaction by political powers in the face of a nuclear incident has led to widespread mistrust of nuclear technology. Furthermore, the portrayal of nuclear disasters in several TV series and movies has exaggerated the dangers associated with nuclear power.
In reality, the nuclear incidents that caused the fear resulted in relatively few deaths. No one died due to radiation in the Three Mile Island or Fukushima disasters, and fewer than 50 died during and following Chornobyl. While this may sound like a lot, if this is the only nuclear incident that resulted in deaths during the current lifespan of nuclear energy production, the figure is much lower than other energy sources, particularly fossil fuels that continue to create deadly air pollution.
Perhaps the only way to improve public perception of nuclear energy is through re-education that highlights the relative safety of the technology compared to other energy operations. In addition, as the public and international organizations put pressure on state governments to go green, better marketing of nuclear energy could help shift the public perception, as people begin to see the carbon-free energy source as necessary for a green future. However, for now, governments are feeling the mounting pressure to ‘get it right’, with the potential for any mishap to add to the long-term demonization of nuclear power.
Woah there!! I’m all for a debate on switching to nuclear, but statements like these are not going to strengthen the case. The public is not stupid, and their gut is right: There is an inextricable link between nuclear power technology and nuclear weapons technology. Ask Iran!
Is you want either, you need fuel and methods of enriching and processing it. You will need engineers trained in a field which draws the greater part of its history and development from the design of bomb cores, not reactor cores. The safety studies you bring to the table will be split between dry cancer research and Rand style fallout reports.
Should we replace our oil gas and coal plants with Nuclear? Probably yes. But please don’t expect to package this one in a standard campaign and suceed, especially these days. What is needed for nuclear is radical transparency, across the spectrum. Yes nuclear power IS linked to nuclear weapons BUT we need it that badly that we should reform the latter too.
Not true – at least for a very long time as one nuclear energy technology (long forgotten) is in the process of being physically demonstrated that will use non-radioactive depleted uranium hexafouride (the waste product from producing current reactor fuel) as fuel. There is ALOT of this material sitting around in stockpiles in every country that has produced nuclear weapons or reactor fuel. The US stockpile that DOE can’t figure out how to get rid of would provide enough fuel for this reactor technology to produce the equivalent of current US annual power generation for about 1400 years. As it turns out this reactor technology could also be used to eliminate nuclear spent fuel.
Depleted uranium hexafluoride (UF6) is the extremely toxic by-product of uranium enrichment. (The UF6 is vaporized & separated into UF6 containing 3% U235 and UF6 containing .3% U235) As JoeC100 says, there are enormous stockpiles of UF6 here and globally. UF6, like all uranium-based molecules is radioactive and emits alpha, beta and gamma radiation.
In order to use UF6 in a reactor, it is converted into ceramic Uranium Oxide (UO2) and mixed, usually with plutonium or enriched uranium, called mixed-oxide fuel. Although mixed oxide fuel has been used in several European nations and Japan, it is an extremely controversial process with significant nuclear proliferation implications. For an extended disinterested discussion of the subject see: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mox-fuel-nuclear/?gclid=CjwKCAjw9NeXBhAMEiwAbaY4lnfZ5-hjAVHaN1LbaPyPQZcipHinyanFTjvYwB4PUA676koJQEbpSRoCW0kQAvD_BwE
You are leaving out the part about the “non-radioactive” depleted Uranium (actually it is somewhat radioactive) and after going through the reactor it will be an extra-super radioactive mix of Americium and other fission byproducts.
Please remind me, who is going to safely store the waste for millions of years, where?
The answer is radical conservation, most of which needs to come from the top 10%.
In this reactor concept (subject of a U Fl nuclear physics PhD thesis in 1976) those problems don’t exist. FYI a gaseous Pf6 fuel (open core) reactor operated successfully for twenty years in the USSR – successfully addressing all of the potential corrosion problems, etc, of using Pf6 fuel. And Argonne National Lab has recently done two projects addressing how to design a modular refinery that could be placed at spent fuel cask sites to separate the transuranics so they could be used (and completely consumed) in this reactor concept.
Ditto this. Who’s guarding the stores and guaranteeing uninterrupted electricity for cooling for eternity? Post ww2 has seen high levels of international stability, a period that is now ending. I think for the first time, we’re seeing a country send missiles into a nuclear power plant (Ukraine attacking zaporizhia, [sp?]) as part of warfare. These plants represent a major source of fragility.
Further, the industry has been intimately tied to nuclear weapons, a military technology governments are incredibly secret about – remember a few years ago how a $1T+ Nuclear upgrade just came out of nowhere and was suddenly approved by congress with no debate? Peons don’t get to know all the issues around nukes.
Also, my understanding is the whole industry wouldn’t exist without gov’t insurance guarantees. That itself is a sign that it’s not viable.
Lastly, Yves was right: we need radical reduction in use. If it doesn’t happen voluntarily it’ll happen involuntarily. People claim upcoming nuclear tech could be better – but what about the history of the US or any large country gives you faith in what they claim? Does the gov’t actually care about the environment? A super-risky unproven tech that could leave a vast amount of toxicity around the globe for millennia is a foolish way to extend the insanity that already is industrial civ.
Even more lastly: one positive side effect of not going to nuclear plants and just allowing energy availability to diminish is that we don’t have energy for other terrible things like plastic production or mountain top removal mining. It really helps to see diminished use as a win – you just have to decide where your priorities lie.
Great one, Hickory. Shared it.
If you can convince Oliver Stone, I guess no one’ll ask about a trillion.
There’s always the CANDU design if you’re concerned about enriching uranium.
Also, most nuclear material for civilian energy purposes is minimally enriched. Taking it from natural levels of roughly 0.7% to 4-6% 235. Most military applications require significantly more enrichment (90% or more). So there really isn’t a connection between civilian use and military use, but just like you can take a hunting rifle and give it to a soldier, you can use similar equipment for refining nuclear fuel for military purposes. Of course the plant you need to effectively do that kind of enrichment looks different than one optimized for civilian use.
65,000 Kilo’s of CANDU waste sits next to the water supply for millions at Pickering along Lake Ontario, a little further along the Lake is Darlington. Since Stephen Harper privatized the body of nuclear power when leading a conservative government very little has been done to deal with the waste problem. These corporations milk the system until shit hits the fan, then its some one else’s problem, namely the tax payers.
I’m in favor of nuclear. My support is contingent on nuclear energy passing a few tests:
1. It must be a technology that can be based on a firm fixed price contract. In other words, the current “it is unknowable what it costs to build a nuke plant” era must end.
2. If this first test cannot be passed, then I still support nuclear if it’s built, owned and operated by a public/national utility company and taken out of the hands of private enterprise. There is no evidence to consider that corporate America is capable of building and delivering SAFE and cost-effective power.
3. Finally, once we have a rough order magnitude budget estimate for building out a national nuke power grid, it must also conduct an analysis of alternatives such as renewables plus battery backup (or whatever is thought to be a reasonable alternative) to see if nuclear is genuinely the best option. If the USA goes all in on a nuclear solution, and it must execute a LARGE SCALE effort to get cost and efficiency requirements met, then the analysis should also assume that there would be a similar “war-time-like” mobilization to realize the new energy grid.
4. I have thought about this for many years. My own feeling is that these tests/conditions are essential. Any idea of “private enterprise” building a national nuclear grid is simply counterfactual at this stage. So if I see the words “nuclear” and “free markets” in the same sentence, I think it can be safely dismissed as just another grift.
During his speech at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Director Burns stated: “Our best intelligence judgment is that the Iranians have not resumed the weaponization effort that they had underway up until 2004 and then suspended, so that’s something, obviously we at CIA and across the US intelligence community keep a very, very sharp focus on”.
Earlier, in December of last year, the Director had already stated something similar to these lines, indicating that there were insufficient reasons for the US to believe that Iran planned to produce nuclear weapons. However, on neither occasion did Burns clarify why the US government had repeatedly mentioned this hypothesis of resuming the program in recent years, even without any scientific basis to justify the narrative.
Alan, good thought !
but you arn’t considering the fact that America dosen’t need cars if we transitioned to all low cost mass transit !
All american industry would benefit from conversion to mass transit nationwide from cost reduction & lowered polution creating a benefit to the polution problems!
Think who benefits from every planned solution then the results from that result as it impacts all Americans not just business profits!
THINK ! Ask who benefits? How ? who is impacted & the result from that?
After a half a century the Elephant’s Foot is lethal in five minutes. Just run a slow train by it, at a distance metered for the time to the mass grave, and you don’t need to manufacture bullets or death gas.
The implicit assumption in such analyses is that there are no bad agents, which is silly-arsed considering a nuclear plant is currently being bombarded.
John Robb has a recent (paywalled) interview where he points out that almost all the scenarios are collapse scenarios (see ‘radical conservation’). He asserts that those haven’t worked out well in the past, and offers space-based solar arrays as a way to continue to expand energy availability.
Humans wither without hope. We’ll see if the possible becomes probable. At this point, comparing atmospheric carbon levels with the Great Oxygenation Event, we look like 75 kg single cell organisms lacking a single neuronal connection in our forebrains. But hey, hope is tasty, and I’m tired o’ gnawing old bones and skins…
Never mind that the dust cloud generated still have a measurable impact along its travel path.
While not instantly lethal, you still have to take special precautions when dealing with the plants, and the animals that feed on them, if meant for consumption.
How does a person use a space based solar array?
How to you get the energy back down to planet earth?
My fault I assume, but I’ve never even got close to understanding what j robb bangs on about.
> How to you get the energy back down to planet earth?
Microwaves, which I ain’t lovin’, but they don’t leave metals so heavy they decay. I’m all for nuclear energy, but we have a teeny tiny biosphere layer in a big dark universe.
‘Brave New War’ is a starting-point for Robb. From 2008, and like ‘Econned’ continues to give insight in repeated readings as events develop. Relevant now as it developed into the mass weaponization of empathy, so that the current discussion is about who is doing the bombing on whom, and not the systemic fact of targets with such range of impact.
The amazon summary:
I thought that was just what the big dogs do?
They’re protecting us from all those wily,little guys?
I really have to request that you give me a break.
Basically, the same way your microwave and TV work. It’s how the Sun works too, so we can just copy it. We’ve been “beaming” electricity for the last few years across distances. The issue would be carving up an asteroid and deploying robots. Those are all engineering issues now. The “science theory” is sound, and the hard parts like landing on a comet have been done.
Instead of using stored solar energy, we would just use it freshly made.
Is that not a little like saying your legs are pretty much the same as a formula 1 racing car?
I’ve seen, and almost been hit by lightning, so It is possible.
But getting that regularly in a bottle seems a little tricky.
I look forward to the ‘The Martian Macgyver science the shit out of it’ act soon.
Space based solar in a wonderful idea. We all need MORE heat from the sun while we are making our own extinction with massive Human Activity which produces Climate Change.
If only there was a nuclear power generation system that didn’t result in weapons grade materials….
There actually is one that should be physically demonstrated over then next three years. It will operate on gaseous uranium hexaflouride (non-radioactive waste) and produce only very small amounts of a few isotopes each year – most of which have industrial or medical markets. If the space shuttle had not eaten up NASA’s budget, we would probably have had this technology back in the early 1980s.
It’s called Thorium. No weapon grade material in dramatically reduced waste.
It’s called Thorium. No weapon grade material in dramatically reduced waste.
No. Not necessarily.
Absolute false, in fact, in the sense that a molten-salt thorium reactor can with a slight conversion be turned into the best possible reactor from the POV of proliferation — of producing highly-enriched weapons-level uranium or plutonium — that I can imagine.
See ‘U-232 and the Proliferation Resistance of U-233 in Spent Fuel’
by Kang & von Hippel, 2001
The statement was” if only a nuclear power generation system that didn’t result in weapons grade material.” By your own admission a thorium reactor does not produce weapons grade material. Old nuclear reactors generated plutonium.
The amount of waste generated by thorium is dramatically reduced . Making for limited material to enrich.
Um, it is called a dirty bomb. A sprinkling of the Americium left at the end of the chain reaction is more than toxic enough to screw us all. Also the waste could be processed into a bomb but the Americium contamination would kill the workers or quickly fry robots and them the resulting bombs electronics.but a suicide squad could do it and use it right away.
Gregory Etchason: By your own admission a thorium reactor does not produce weapons grade material.
No. I said the opposite: a thorium molten salt reactor absolutely WILL produce pure weapons grade uranium (and even plutonium) in regular, significant quantities after a minor conversion.
First of all, the thorium fuel cycle uses a thorium isotope, Th-232, as the fertile material. In the reactor, that Th-232 is transmuted into the fissile uranium isotope U-233, which is the nuclear fuel in the liquid fluoride molten salt thorium reactor (LFTR).
That’s how it works, no matter what you’ve heard. The LFTR is a type of breeder reactor, transmuting Th-232 into uranium-233.
Here’s how turning a LFTR into a breeder reactor for high-output production of weapons-grade fissile material production would work: –
 Thorium’s decay path is specifically as follows.
When bombarded with neutrons—by the fissile uranium seed that triggers the reaction in the LFTR’s fertile thorium—Th-232 forms the isotope Thorium 233, which has a half-life of 22 minutes and decays to a pronactium isotope, Pa-233.
Pronactium is element 91 on the periodic table, between thorium 90 and Uranium 92, and has no stable isotopes. Thus, Pa-233 subsequently decays over 27 days to U-233, which can undergo fission and is the nuclear fuel in the LFTR, but can also in quantities of 8 kilograms and above be used to construct simple “gun-type” fission-weapons (e.g. of the kind developed by the Manhattan Project).
 Simultaneously, however, during the LFTR’s normal operation quantities of the uranium isotope U-232 are also produced alongside that U-233. U-232 puts out hard gamma radiation and is a contaminant if you’re trying to produce weapons-grade uranium because those hard gammas fry electronics, like those in warheads. It’s also an operational radiation hazard that makes spent thorium fuel difficult to handle and thus further resistant to proliferation.
So that’s one source of the LFTR’s putative ‘proliferation resistance.’
 Then, too, enriched uranium isn’t usable to make fission explosives when it contains 20 percent U-235. Thus, there’s a proposal is to dilute the U233 in the LFTR by introducing U-238 to “denature” it to U-235, so it’s unusable for weapons.
 BUT PLEASE NOTE: what makes the LFTR itself and all these operations possible at all is that the reactor does continual chemical (re)processing of a stream of liquid fuel in both its core and blanket.
This liquid fuel reprocessing arrangement means that U-232 contamination can be easily avoided by filtering out pure Pa-233 before it decays into U-233– i.e. before the end of the Pa-233’s 27 day half-life. Once pure Pa-233 is filtered out, then it merely needs to be left and it will decay directly into pure U-233 without the U-232 contaminant.
It’s that simple.
Here. Both of these papers are easier to understand than the Kang-von Hippel : –
‘Thorium fuel has risks’ — 2012
‘Thorium power has a protactinium problem’
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Nice response. The length of it demonstrates the fact that
Thorium per se in the generation of energy does not produce weapon grade isotopes. Your response speaks to what’s required and the hazards involved in yielding weapons grade material from Thorium. I didn’t submit Thorium was perfect. My original statement stands.
The length of it demonstrates the fact that Thorium per se in the generation of energy does not produce weapon grade isotopes.
 ‘Thorium per se’ does not produce energy either. It’s only when uranium is introduced that energy emerges through the transmutation and decay chain above. And then the possibility of weapons grade material becomes easily possible, because the LFTR is a breeder reactor.
Seriously: what about that are you unable to understand?
 If you found the decay chain above ‘lengthy’ — it’s remarkably simple compared to many — you’re simply unequipped to have a useful opinion on anything to do with nuclear matters. Sorry.
Weapons are part of technology and industry, because weapons are tools, and technology is toolmaking. If you can make insecticides, you can make nerve agents. If you can dye textiles, you can make the earlier war gases. If you can make steel, you can make guns. If you can make automobiles, you can make tanks. If you can vaccinate children, you can make bioweapons. If you can launch a telecom satellite, that means you got ICBMs.
Nonproliferation is Hegemony, nothing else. We’re more likely to doom our civilization by trying to avoid nuclear weapons, than we would by accepting them. Nonproliferation does not make for peace even in a superficial sense; think of the “preventive” wars already fought for its sake.
The NPT was a valuable treaty only in the context of a highly structured bipolar geopolitics. Because the great powers had so heavily curbed and counterbalanced each other, the non-nuclear powers could often be relieved of the threat of direct invasion, without needing to acquire their own striking forces. At the same time, the bipolar conflict was made more safer by limiting the possibility of nuclear proxy-powers. But with the end of the Cold War, the NPT no longer had much geopolitical benefit for most people in the world. Instead, minor powers are bullied and conquered on a scale not seen since before the Great War.
Nowadays, I pronounce, “Fast Breeders and Closed Fuel Cycles for Everybody.”
In the end nuclear power will only be a stop gap measure. Yes, there is less CO2 and such emitted. But it still “burns” material to operate. In the end there is only so much viable uranium etc on the planet.
And my ongoing worry is that we will never end up replacing A with B unless A has either run completely out or has become insanely energy intensive to extract. Until that time, Jevons age old paradox will reign supreme, and new sources of energy will simply add to the existing pool and drive up usage.
And what is a critical resource for nuclear?
Water. I guess that would be why there is heavier consideration about building near coastal waters. Doesn’t take much imagination to know what the plans for the waste are.
Why even act like concern about deaths or long-term health effects are what’s stopping the development?
“Total: 1,060,755 – 1,059,641 = 1114 (365 * 1114 = 406,610; the new normal” accepted for a pandemic as of the most recent water cooler.
That’s tolerated and Musk’s and others “self-driving” technology have taken out more people than Fukashima (according to the back of a napkin calculation in this article).
I could go on, but I’m more than certain that concern over people’s lives is not what’s stopping the development of more nuclear plants.
Yep. Look no further than Japan, and the plans for the huge amount of ‘mostly non-radioactive’ water being stored at Fukushima that was used to cool off the burned out reactors. It will all be dumped into the Pacific sooner or later, and there will likely be decades more radioactive water to follow as the clean-up operation continues.
Although it will be some time before we have real numbers on how many cancers were due to the Fukushima disaster, the immediate issue in north-eastern Japan is not so much the health impact of radioactive waste spread all over the countryside by the hydrogen explosions that literally blew the top off several of the reactor buildings, but that the waste from those explosions rained down to contaminate a very large area of land, wiping out many farmers and entire towns. Much of the land is useless for agricultural production now (would you pay to eat mushrooms from Fukushima?), only a minority of the refugees have returned (what is there to return to when businesses have all closed?), and a number of the towns around the plant are ghost towns now. It’s pretty clear they will never recover.
If you haven’t done so, look into the story of Futaba town, as documented in the film series Nuclear Nation.
In an effort to decontaminate farmland, the government spent vast amounts of money scraping off topsoil everywhere and putting it into giant bags, stacked in huge fields, but a lot of the radioactive waste landed in plants and trees, so every time it rained, more radioactive debris would get washed back down onto the earth. The bags themselves will also leak radioactive debris, so even after they are moved in the future, the ground they occupied will be contaminated. Moreover, large areas of land were seized for this purpose of waste storage via eminent domain, with the prefectural govt overruling local authorities.
If all the farmers, landowners, and businesses in North Eastern Japan were actually compensated for their losses, not to mention the families broken up by the Fukushima disaster, it would have bankrupted TEPCO. But, as NC has pointed out again and again, corporations have more rights than communities, and Keidanren, the Japanese industrial lobby, must absolutely have its cheap electricity to remain profitable. So, of course there was lots of political arm twisting to provide legal immunity and evade any responsibility for the disaster, and the people whose land, businesses, and communities were all wiped out mostly got the shaft. The towns like Futaba that tied their economic fortunes to the nuclear village gambled, and lost.
Several Japanese historians have made a persuasive case that rural Fukushima has been an “internal colony” since the Meiji period, exploited for its labor and resources by the ruling class. The nuclear village represents a continuation of that system of internal colonization.
This kind of exploitation will continue, and I see no reason to believe that Thorium will be much of a game changer. A former colleague used to work as a software developer on an app that spec’s the fuel load for nuclear reactors. After the Fukushima disaster, he commented to me that the reactors there were basically obsolete tech, and it was “a shame” that the cost of licensing and upgrading to better technology was so high that better tech wouldn’t be forthcoming.
I gather that was one of the reasons he bailed out on being a software developer for the nuclear village.
The Japanese case is an interesting study of total failure. The plans to reprocess fuel with the Monju plant never worked, and after a series of nasty accidents (liquid sodium fires are not so fun), the plant was decommissioned and whole thing proved to be a massive boondoggle. As of 2014, ¥1 trillion ($9.8 billion) down the drain on a system that never worked.
Monju has been decommissioned, and Japan now has a very large pile of waste that it can only send abroad to France for reprocessing.
The reason Japan chose this system in the first place was to build a stockpile of material that could be used to create nuclear weapons. It was a matter of policy. The Japanese govt did succeed in that respect, and the way things are going in East Asia we can probably look forward to a Japan with nuclear bombs.
Thanks for such an informed response.
I agree with Yves’ comment. We, in the West, need to accept the reality that we need to use less energy – and this will mean some sacrifice. From where I stand, the nuclear energy option just isn’t worth the long-term risks, and I, personally, am prepared to live a less comfortable life with less.
This is anecdotal, but a nuclear engineer and I had a conversation a couple of years ago about Fukushima. I said, while I felt research should always be ongoing, at this point in time with the technology we have, it is just too dangerous. He replied that nuclear energy was safe as long as we retired the reactors after 20 years. He claimed that the older reactors were the danger. The problem is that the owners of these reactors don’t want to forgo the profit when the time comes, and extend the life beyond what is completely safe. Knowing how profit is king in capitalists societies, I can only see corruption in the future of nuclear energy and more disasters.
This is a suprisingly condescending and vapid bit of PR behind an absurdly tendentious headline. The choice to save ourselves with nuclear energy was to be made years ago. An article which doesn’t address the energy and materials costs of building nuclear plants, the time, the upfront carbon costs from all that concrete, and the sources for uranium and processing, cool, fresh water, and spent fuel storage seems to be less balanced than I would expect. The idiotic straw man that people confuse nuclear energy with nuclear weapons is amusing mostly for its dishonesty in covering the actual connection between our nuclear weapons and energy industries and technology, while joining the BS headline in claiming people are scared of nuclear energy, as opposed to the deadly externalized risks and costs they rely on in a market-based system. And they trot out the insultingly bogus figures about no deaths from ‘radiation’ talking point that is ridiculous, and might only survive if one distinguishes radiation from radionuclide exposure.
The technology that makes nuclear energy inherently unsafe is capitalism.
Yves’ brief warning paragraph had more meat than the whole piece, which floundered on its own emptiness.
Exactly. More Hopium for the liberals. The time is much latter then most think. The smart thing to do would be to work on resilience. As for nuclear, I assume all the advocates will volunteer their backyard to store the waste, forever?
BOE coming to your planet very soon.
The goverenment won’t be building anything. They’ve been told “they can’t” build anything.
It would require regulations to be safe and the anti-regulation extremists running around now aren’t interested in going nuclear without extreme deregulation and immunity from accountability.
Like the only immunity that was ever provided from the experimental covid shots: immunity for big pharma when things go south.
I have to say that this is where I stand on nuclear, especially with regard to the waste issue. In this neoliberal world of profit driven methods and cost-benefit analysis, l also worry that the build and maintenance/training will be compromised, and also regulatory capture will dumb the actual installations down further to essentially create lots of potential Chernobyls and Fukushimas. Until these things are addressed I will be opposed.
That’s exactly what the “educating the public” is going to consist of – pleas and defenses of deregulating. THEN after the regulations are watered down more…they will build.
The entire premise of this article is completely misconceived. Anyone would think that nuclear power isn’t succeeding because somehow the governments are victims of scare mongering among the public. Once again we are told about governments and industry cowering in the face of those big bad Greenies wielding their irresponsible power and vanquishing the military-industrial-energy complex at every turn. There is is no evidence for this whatever – if there was, then nuclear plants would never have been built in the west, Japan, China, Russia, or everywhere else they were built in the 20th Century (when for obvious reasons anti-nuclear sentiment was far stronger than it is now). In most countries there is far more active opposition to on-shore wind than there is to nuclear (just look at the UK where the Tories essentially banned on shore wind while pursuing nuclear). Nuclear power has largely fallen out of favour for the past 5 decades for a very simple reason. The Gen IV reactors are far too expensive, can’t be scaled to any significant degree, and they are more expensive than the alternatives. It really is that simple.
The real testing ground for nuclear is China. For the past 4 decades they’ve built examples of almost every commercially available reactor to test them out with a view to a major roll-out. PWR’s, fast breeders, heavy water reactors, US, European, Russian designs, they’ve built them all. Plus, they spent a lot of money on their own designs, in particular buying up the tech for potential new approaches, like pebble bed reactors. And the result? They are mostly investing in solar and off-shore wind. Yes, they are rolling out reactors – by Chinese standards at a fairly low rate. They have settled on a domestic design (Hualong 2) based on the older French reactor designs – essentially a 60 year old design. So far as the Chinese seem to be concerned, nuclear has a role, but a fairly limited one providing baseline power as part of a mix. They plan to build 150 reactors by 2035, which sounds impressive until you realize that China is building out 60GW of offshore wind capacity up to 2025 alone (and this is after the off-shore wind energy grant sunset has passed). 16GW capacity of offshore wind was built in China in 2021 alone.
A key issue for the Chinese seems to be water demand. Most reactor designs require a constant flow of cooling water. In water stressed lands, this is a particular problem. France is struggling this year with water cooling for its reactors and the UK ignored its own inspectors concerns about water supply to grant its one big proposed plant at Sizewell. Sizewell has been struggling to get going and requires huge hidden subsidies. In the meanwhile, the UK off-shore wind industry is busy adding more capacity by the day.
And please don’t pipe up about whatever todays favoured Gen V design is – fast breeders, molten salt, modular, pebble bed, yadda yadda whatever. Yes, they may work one day, but countless billions has been thrown into these designs since the 1950’s, and nobody has made them even close to commercially viable. They are classic unicorns. Maybe one day there will be a breakthrough. But there are absolutely no guarantees of this and changing energy policy because maybe one of the dozens of designs will work is a potential recipe for disaster (plus, even if they work, they all have their own potential bottlenecks if they need to be rolled out as scale). If small modular reactors were viable, they’d be on the latest generation of US/Chinese/Russian/French submarines and aircraft carriers. But not one of those countries is proposing this, they are still using variations on 1950’s designs, because thats all they can make work. And even then not very well – the new generation of Chinese aircraft carriers (the same size as the Ford Class) are diesel powered.
There are workable nuclear reactor designs out there that have a role in energy mixes, especially for very large grids with an existing heavy geographical concentration of grid circuits. There is a role for focusing on those tried and tested designs and building them where there is sufficient water and a need for steady baseline power. But it has to be accepted that at best it will be slow to build them out (mostly because of bottlenecks in capacity for the huge pressure boilers), and they are an expensive alternative if they are priced correctly (in other words, don’t pretend decommissioning costs don’t exist).
We have cheap, viable alternatives to fossil fuels for electricity that have rapidly dropping cost curves – solar and wind. There is no good reason not to build as much capacity as possible – we are nowhere near the capacity of most grids to take more renewables without requiring large scale storage (and bear in mind that nuclear is terrible at providing peaking or dispatchable energy, so nuclear power requires either storage or complements too, the exact same as renewables). By 2030 we will have far more options available – one will be nuclear, but there are plenty of other technologies by then that may well be cheaper. On current trends, nuclear is one of the least likely contenders.
And as for the issue of reducing energy use. Yes, of course this is utterly vital and unavoidable. But the key issue is a paradox – to reduce energy use, we have to increase electricity supply. Only the electrification of our transport, manufacturing, agriculture and domestic heating sectors can reduce overall energy use with existing technology.
Is this possible to do in time? We can’t avoid catastrophic climate breakdown, its already happening. But we can slow/mitigate it. To do this, we can’t afford to waste time on feeding unicorns and failed technologies. Renewables work and they are affordable. Nuclear has a role, but it is simply not possible to roll it out at the speed needed.
You seem to have utterly ignored the issues raised in the introduction:
1. We don’t have enough copper for renewable resources to replace conventional.
2. Even if we did, solar and wind are not reliable
3. Even when solar and wind do work, we have a base load issue.
I thought all the concerns about copper sourcing applied equally to uranium. I expect finding replacement conductors will be easier than finding replacement fissile elements.
Please provide evidence. We have with respect to copper. “I thought” is not evidence.
I concede I don’t have any evidence that permitting uranium mines or fuel pre- and post-processing in the US will be as difficult as the authors claim of copper mines, or less likely to meet domestic demand under plausible ‘nuclear-to-the-rescue’ scenarios.
I do have quick evidence of replacements for copper (in 2014):
Carbon Nanotube Yarns Could Replace Copper Windings in Electric Motors
CNT yarns could cut the losses of electricity in copper wires in half and ulitmately achieve three times their conductivity
Yves, the question of copper is largely irrelevant to the question of renewables vs nuclear. The rise in copper demand is related to the use of increased electrification, not to the source of the power. Renewables do need more DC lines, but aluminium is a suitable alternative for copper in long distance DC lines. Wind turbines and solar panels are not in themselves huge users of copper.
As for the intermittency of renewables – this is an issue I’ve dealt with many times before. Power balancing is a complex issue – its not one ‘solved’ by nuclear, nuclear creates its own issues as Frances regular problems in summer demonstrates. All grids need a balance of sources, and all need back up capacity, and each grid is unique. Not all grids need or use base load. In reality, most grid managers consider the question of base loading to be the core problem in supplying energy.
A core problem with this type of article is that its written as if every grid in the world was the US grid. The US grid in many ways is unique, and being direct and honest, most US engineers are decades behind the curve on grid management. The size and scale of the US grid and a plentiful supply of cheap energy means the US is only now facing problems that have been dealt with for many decades in other grids.
Two inaccuracies I could identify in your arguments :
1) NPP definitely can load follow, if they are designed to do so, which is actually the case for modern PWR reactors. France at the middle of the 90’s was 80% nuclear and the French grid did just fine. For details see https://www.oecd-nea.org/upload/docs/application/pdf/2021-12/technical_and_economic_aspects_of_load_following_with_nuclear_power_plants.pdf
2) submarines reactors, at least the US and UK ones, are not suitable to be transformed into civilian Small Modular Reactors because they work with Highly Enriched Fuel, which is a proliferation risk. They are also engineered to be silent, which increase costs , but is unnecessary for a civilian plant. This being said, the French flavor of SMR, Nuward, is a project that stems directly from submarine and aircraft carrier plants, and is relatively low risk endeavor, as far as technological development risk is concerned.
I have heard that it takes 50 years or more to decommission a nuclear power plant and it requires a steady supply of electricity the whole time to prevent a melt down. So we, and every one else with old nuclear plants, need reliable electrical grids. Whatever it takes to achieve that is fine with me.
So, we’d be simultaneously decommissioning and building, fueling, finding water to burn; CONCRETE, uranium, reactors, grids… anybody else, seeing the problem? We’d be burning WAY more carbon than we’d be replacing (while we’re releasing METHANE from hundreds-of-thousands of leaky, lethal, re-re-refracked; soon to kick, impossible to plug as abandoned wells) delaying cheaper, FAR more efficient renewables, who’s equities were BOOMING, until Feb 2021? Bailing-out reactors, results in FAR more short-term use of gas & coal and critically delays sane AGW mitigation to benefit Oilgarch’s snake-oil geoengineering, GE monoculture, carbon swap/ carbon sequestration scams. And so much is sourced in Russia, it’s kind of crazy?
I takes 1,000 years for the low level radiation to decay enough for the Nuclear plant site to become safe. to
Electronics and Power, January or February Edition.
I’d tried to reply to David, several hours ago. But my arguments really had nothing to do with “safety,” having grown up between Shippingport, the plant in Apollo, PA. that enabled Israel’s first bombs, palyed ball in “Plutonium Park,” Inspected at 8 of the largest coal-fired plants & worked for decades in the shadow of TMI (where 7-9 folks, I’ve watched die VERY young, did indeed seem oddly given to cancers?) I’ll stick with my arguments, above. Any bail-out of fission reactors, is money thrown at fracking, coal & BS “it’s just too LATE” scams, by Bezos, Gates, Musk, Bloomberg that delay what works (but fracking’s probably already locked us into run-away AGW? eg: Stopping Nord Stream 2 is what we’ve sacrificed Ukranians over!
There is nothing to get mad at. There is a lot of energy to be gotten from that source, but the current technologies are geared towards manufacturing of weapons grade materials and not electricity production. They are also inherently uncontrollable in case of a catastrophic failure. Proven time and time again.
To keep it short, I am for thorium molten salt reactors and against currently available uranium reactors.
To keep it short, I am for thorium molten salt reactors and against currently available uranium reactors.
To be clear, a thorium molten salt reactor is a uranium reactor, in the sense that its thorium — periodic table element number 90, classed as ‘fertile’ — requires an initial seed of uranium — periodic table number 92, classed as ‘fissile’ — to set the reaction going.
Furthermore, as I’ve noted above, a molten-salt thorium reactor can with a slight conversion be turned into the jim-dandiest reactor for purposes of proliferation — of deliberately producing highly-enriched weapons-grade uranium or plutonium in regular, significant quantities— I can imagine.
Again, see: ‘U-232 and the Proliferation Resistance of U-233 in Spent Fuel’
by Kang & von Hippel, 2001
Three thoughts immediately spring to mind.
There is a real possibility of another nuclear power disaster in Ukraine right now that would sharpen minds.
In France, there is talk of having to shut down riverside nuclear power stations because the water is too warm. Too warm river temperatures and falling water levels are a distinct scenario if future summers weather patterns are like 2022. And if not by a river, coastal nuclear power stations can face coastal erosion or rising sea level hazards.
Nuclear power stations take a very long time to come on stream, from planning to construction and commissioning. How late is too late in this case.
Not to mention all the other questionmarks including the likely socialising of the costs of long-term safe disposal and storage of waste.
The potential nuclear disaster in Ukraine is not due to the reactor. That is designed to old Soviet standards and is virtually indestructible.
It is due to Ukraine attacks on the waste storage areas.
The author mentions the waste in passing but what happens with it? I’m not anti-nuke as the current options are leading us into disaster. I suppose the waste of a nuke plant is peanuts compared to CO2 emissions.
This is enough to discredit that article completely.
1) The author only considers people fried by radiation on the spot or perishing shortly thereafter to have died because of a nuclear accident. This completely ignores the medium and long-term health effects of various doses that kill people more or less rapidly.
2) The Japanese government is known to have relied upon a variety of shenanigans to minimize the health impacts of Fukushima — massively increasing the standard for acceptable yearly radiation exposure, not following up what happens to the “liquidators” involved on the scene of the disaster, ceasing measurements of radiation, etc. As for Three Mile Island, was there a follow up of how the evacuated population fared? Any serious epidemiological study of the affected population?
So nobody died because of Fukushima and Three Mile Island? We do not really know, because (a) the authorities do not want to know and therefore do nothing to properly assess the consequences or (b) it is still too early too tell — radiation may take many years to kill.
3) Regarding Chernobyl, serious studies have been carried out — but the author blatantly ignores them. From the executive summary:
The list of gruesome consequences of the accident goes on and on, with plenty of technical, medical and epidemiological references to support the assessment. 50 deaths? If only.
However, the immediate counter-argument to atomic energy is that it makes no economic sense:
a) the cost of building power plants, decommisioning them and dealing with their radioactive waste is exhorbitant to the point of unviability;
b) as we see in France, for instance, their operations are severely impacted by climate change (and hence even less economical);
c) they require a technical, financial and personal (qualified people) commitment lasting 75-100 years (without even talking about waste management) — which nowadays few, if any, country can guarantee;
d) and producing more electricity will do nothing for the supply issues with copper, lithium, nickel, etc.
I am afraid that, as stated in the introduction, only radical energy conservation (and that means usage reduction and rationing) will do.
This article is really misleading, as though a lack of copper (which is vastly more abundant than uranium) will make renewable energy unsuitable to meet needs. The level of harm to the environment done by uranium mining, processing and then use in nuclear power plants is unsustainable, especially since there is nowhere to put the waste. Newer forms of energy generation are certainly on the way, and relying on the most harmful, most dangerous and most expensive technology to boil water is just plain stupid. The radioactive waste we have now needs constant tending and cooling, and you want to add to that massive growing pile? The nuclear power industry is the child of the nuclear weapons industry, and always will be. Time to end both.
So far, in this entire discussion, John Moffet’s comment is the only one that has actually faced the whole of the problem, starting with the absurdity of boiling water with nuclear processes. And it is the waste, which is seldom addressed, that is the biggest and longest lasting problem of all. And if that isn’t enough – the notion of large dangerous repositories of highly radioactive material that are the nuclear plants as well as the waste sites as targets of terrorists or national adversaries should also clearly and convincingly demonstrate the utter stupidity of continuing the promotion of this ridiculous technology even temporarily, as if it would ever be temporary.
I totally agree. My stance is: If you are for nuclear power, then you must agree to have the spent fuel rods buried in your backyard. If you won’t agree to that, then shut up and go away. As for Fukushima, they’re not attending to anything, just releasing all that radioactive water into the ocean (another reason why I stopped eating fish).
The president of the utility company should take the stuff home and store It in his basement. In econospeak, the issue of external costs never gets addressed. Who gains and Who pays?
Copper’s elemental cousin, Aluminum (Al, lucky atomic number 13), seems to get left out of energy discussions. Those power lines use the latter’s conductive properties without the heavier weight of the former (Cu, sadly, just a prime atomic number 29).
A few more, okay, thousands more miles of lines could be needed for various demands in the US and worldwide. That represents a lot of mined bauxite, turned into alumina, then smelted into aluminum before being converted into wire and other products. There are numerous environmental and energy concerns throughout that chain.
Now I’ll run down to a cheer-leading supply store, buy pom poms and even one of those short skitrs to lead any parade for shrinking military industrial complex and ending planned obsolescence no matter what happens with our energy plans. And I think we should end wasting energy on mass surveillance, bit coins, digital currency, usury, derivatives, useless insurance and so on. We should also stop having babies. Give men 50k to have a vasectomy. Never subsidize anyone who has more than two kids.
Perhaps I’ve missed it but I have yet to see anyone come close to reasonably answering nuclear waste problems. Simply stacking it all up at the plant, which is always close to fresh water supplies, for decades seems to be what most do now. Who’s going to care for that (perfectly) for many thousands of years?
Also, CEO’s and their family should live on plant sites we have now.
They’re going to magically get really serious about maintaining infrastructure and not creating industrial dead zones.
At first despite Yves’ “less bad” caution about nuclear energy, I was at first put off by old memories of the 3 accidents. Thinking more about the question helped and this 2019 Royal Institute video clinched it for me. Thanks for finding and posting the article.
As long as no one has come up with a real plan for disposing of waste, I’m agin it. If all you need to do is boil some water, we stand on a planet that has a sun inside it. Plenty of energy, relatively clean to boot. I’d be putting a few more folks on geothermal solutions. This fellow seems to have a good idea
This approach supports tapping into the energy source just about anywhere, like where we already have coal and gas plants. Not need to transport fuel…or build a new plant. And unlike other renewables, it’s always on.
I grew up in a world where power was generated by coal. Everything was filthy, buildings turned black with a few years of being built, and every winter London was covered in choking fogs. Respiratory diseases were rampant. Mining was exhausting, unhealthy and dangerous work, and accidents were common. I remember coming home from school to see coverage of the Aberfan disaster in 1966, when a slag-heap collapsed on a school, killing 150 teachers and pupils.
Nuclear power was the answer to all this: men in white lab-coats, high technology, safety and clean power. The problem wasn’t with the technology as such, but with the anti-scientific part of the ecology movement in the late 1970s, massively reinforced, of course, by the Chernobyl accident. It was also the height of the Cold War, and the anti-nuclear movement was unscrupulous in blurring the distinction between weapons and nuclear power. I met people at the time (and have since) who were quite convinced that all nuclear power stations were really nuclear weapons in disguise. The problem is that unlike coal, which you can touch, nuclear power is something ethereal and intangible, and requires specialists to understand and use it. It feeds directly into public fears of hidden forces that you can’t touch or see. In reality, nuclear weapon proliferation is the dog that didn’t bark: compared to the 60s, when the NPT was negotiated, we now realise that developing nuclear weapons is massively more complex, expensive and difficult than anyone had realised.
Anti-science, BULLSHIT! We were the first generation who grew up, itching to use fission, GE crops, smart grids & efficient, microprocessor controlled, robotic mass transit, MAGLEV… while unremittingly trolled by industry sock-puppets cherry-picking, straw-manning, gas-lighting & denigrating our motivation (I’ve been an energy industry surveillance auditor, aquisitions inspector, my entire adult life. We’re the folks stuck, trying to make these nightmarish, totally BS scams actually function through a few more quarters, to pay off investors. Fission, fracking, bio-fuel, dilute bitumen, G We monoculture… are ALL basically Ponzi schemes promoted as panacea to know-nothing, speciously gullible, churl investors.
I think you’ve hit the nail, David, particularly about public fears of radiation, nuclear accidents, and conflation of weapons and power generation. In Vaclav Smil’s words, nuclear energy is a “successful failure”. The industry’s claims of being “too cheap to meter” obviously failed in light of the high cost of construction and decommissioning of conventional pressurized water reactors, the complex problem of disposal of high level waste, etc. However, the worst accident in the US — TMI in 1979, resulted in no detectable cancers in the population. I well understand the paranoia, and radiation is an effing good thing to be paranoid about — but I would gladly accept the US nuclear power industry’s safety record and waste burden when compared with that of the petrochemical industry.
In my view the debate is plagued by a refusal on the part of many to recognize that are no easy choices here, and as Yves has said above and elsewhere, radical conservation is publicly unpalatable. But we will be forced to adopt radical conservation anyway — this is only a matter of time. The question is really: how to get there (a sustainable ecology, economy, population) from where we are now. Construction of so-called next generation modular reactors would buy us time, and should have begun in earnest long ago. Much of the debate surrounding issues such as fuel reprocessing (weapons proliferation), deep earth disposal of waste, should be conducted apolitically with a hard head, a recognition that there is no perfect solution, and above all accept that there are limits to growth — and we’ve far exceeded them, particularly in the US.
I’m no nuclear energy shill, but any energy conversion process generates waste — this is unavoidable — and much of what is considered “renewable” energy ignores the real whole system cost (materials, lifetime, disposal, downstream knock-on effects), limiting its “sustainability”.
The TMI failure was contained to the reactor. The site is not safe. As are Chernoble and its Environs, as as around Sellafield in the UK, or Hanson in the US.
The list of problems that a nuclear reactor design needs to solve:
– Proliferation risk (very few designs balance the considerations below, without being a proliferation risk)
– Safety (ideally passively safe designs, not ones requiring active cooling – but these are either not ready, or rarely commercially viable)
– Speed of construction (ideally don’t want huge reactors that take decades to build, there’s an opportunity cost to that when we need emissions reductions now)
– Technological readiness (is the design ready/proven, or still experimental/prototype for decades, or a potential decades-long boondoggle first-of-its-kind?)
– Military/terrorist risk (we haven’t seen someone fly a passenger airliner into a nuclear reactor or its cooling system yet – if unlucky, we might see a war achieve this with shelling shortly)
– Climate readiness (France having to shut down reactors during heatwaves etc.)
– Waste (a problem for the future – we pretend that waste stockpiles will last undisturbed for tens of millenia, several times longer than any nation has existed – and it contains a low-percentage of weapons-grade isotopes, enough to build weapons when enough is processed)
If we put aside the Waste problem (which can continue to be deferred), then I don’t think there is a single reactor design that meets all of these criteria? There are only so many types of reactor, so it should be possible to list and grade them on such criteria – and I’m pretty sure none of them meet the mark.
As a partial alternative, I’m a big fan of inter-continental ultra-high-voltage transmission lines (even a global electric grid along these lines), for helping to send renewable energy long distance to where it’s needed (e.g. across a significant stretch of the Earth’s circumference, with high efficiency), to reduce the reliance on Base Load in grid designs.
The problem isn’t the reactor design, it’s the political economic paradigm that they’re being implemented in. All of these issues are more or less solvable by massively escalating the scale of the nuclearization project.
Proliferation is a political problem.
Safety is solvable by brute force if necessary (just build the reactors underground; design *for* a meltdown, not to prevent one).
Speed requires mass production.
Technology readiness, once again, can be solved rapidly with mass production.
Attack, once again, can be mitigated by underground construction.
Waste can just be dumped *really* deep underground.
All of these just require massive amounts of political and financial support. It’s more or less the same problem that space tech has faced for the last half century: the basic knowledge is there, but it has to actually be implemented at scale for it to really fulfill it’s promises. Waiting forever for miracle tech to jump fully fledged put of the collective psyche of the engineering establishment isn’t going to achieve anything.
Whether you view some of the problems like e.g. proliferation as political or not, doesn’t matter – they require design solutions, otherwise proliferation is going to happen, which is unacceptable.
Scale and mass production don’t solve any of the design problems. Burying waste/reactors deeper underground doesn’t solve the safety/waste problems.
If you’re trying to engineer for a meltdown rather than to prevent one – which is unacceptable – then that’s as good as acknowledging that there are no reactors designs which fit the criteria.
Net zero emissions is not zero emissions.
From 8/31/21 at well, hmm: Naked Capitalism
‘Net Zero Emissions’ and the Carbon Offsetting Scam
Oh brother, that is an understatement for the ages.
Humans have always been messy, otherwise, archaeologists wouldn’t have much to do.
Will future archaeologists, if there are any, be wearing radiation suits?
MY WAG would be no. Nuclear takes too long to build and costs too much.
We’re also running out of suitable locations to build enormous heat engines that require constant massive cooling. Also, nuclear doesn’t really play well with renewables since they are more on-off type generators than reacting-to-demand type.
My father worked at Harwell AERE in ETSU (the Energy Technology Support Unit) during the 1970s, working on the UK’s world-leading wave energy programme. As some of you will know, in 1982 (after another Conservative government came to power) the UK government pulled the plug on wave power as being ‘too expensive’.
Ten years later they admitted they had massively exaggerated the calculated costs, but by then it was too late. Imagine what the energy scenario of the UK would be like if, as well as advances in wind power, the UK had been able to continue leading on wave energy as well.
Which is the first point to make. Energy policy in the UK is *never* made up on the basis of efficiency and social usefulness, it is a set of political decisions. The Tories of that day were cutting back on every aspect of government under the ‘small state’ premise and they didn’t want to pay for wave energy.
Now, with massive fluctuations in gas and oil prices and the likelihood of energy cut-offs in the UK, the conversation turns back to nuclear as a short-term fix, as it always does – short-term fixes are what the UK government prefers; remember the ‘dash-for-gas’?
Even so, why not nuclear? Well, here’s one reason: if you look at the adjustable sea-level rise map at Climate Central (https://coastal.climatecentral.org/map/) you’ll see a large part of Hinkley Power Point is below seasonal flooding by about 2080. This in a plant that’s already two years behind schedule and has a life expectancy of 60 years…. if you really want to have fun, take the map over to the other side of the UK and see how long it takes Sizewell to go under water.
Here’s another. According to many sources, global supplies of U-235 will last 80-90 years at current levels of use – sounds OK, right? Except… China, which has “19 reactors under construction, 43 reactors awaiting permits, and a massive 166 reactors that have been announced. The combined capacity of these 228 reactors is 246GW, more than the entire electricity generation capacity of Germany.” (Energy Monitor, China’s nuclear pipeline as big as the rest of the world’s combined).
That’s the same Chinese helping build Hinkley C. You know, the ones who had to pause building Hinkley C because of flaws in a similar reactor in Taishan in China, causing Paul Dorfman of the University of Sussex to point out “it’s beginning to look like there’s a potential generic fault with the key safety mechanism of the EPR reactor design itself”.
So, the problem with nuclear is not so much nuclear power itself (although as you can see in the UK they definitely exist), it’s that the decisions on nuclear are always being made by politicians with five-minute attention spans, people who ironically seem to have no regard to the global political economy. The Westinghouse farce at Morong on the Bataan peninsula is perhaps the ultimate case in point.
As we say in social sciences, the social may not necessarily be about energy supply and energy, but energy supply and policy are *always* about the social….
That’s an important point about the limited global supplies of Uranium and emerging Chinese demand for same.
This is one issue the article doesn’t address at all, and combined with the hand waving about the problem of waste storage, I find it rather difficult to take the author’s argument seriously.
So what if the ITER Tokamak really does work? It comes on line in 5 years and functions as designed? The fuels needed to keep it going are lithium and deuterium. Toxic stuff. But perhaps not in dangerous amounts? And the whole flap about fusion getting out of control and creating a black hole? Well, it is very unlikely… but maybe “just a small one.” Say, a wormhole? So fusion still sounds better than fission. It would be nice if it could be engineered to be as convenient as a furnace or a frig. But in the engineering, detailed plans for processing used materials would be the first objective.
ITER seems further off than that. Helion is has designed a small reactor that converts plasma directly into electricity. They fuel is D and He3. They hope to be on the grid in 3 years. Last year 2 billion of VC money went to fusion projects.
I am mesmerized by your last paragraph. You remind me, and us, that energy supply and policy are always social issues which though they may be forgotten, should remain ever of greatest concern.
Nope.. I have zero trust that our Federal government will be able to regulate and deal with the waste in a safe, effective manor. After forty years of Neoliberalism and regulatory capture of government by industry I doubt it even has the ability to think about what would be the safest way to roll out new nuclear power plants, let along deal with the long term maintenance and waste problems.
If this were another country besides the US I might think about it, but not here. Let’s work on conservation and rolling back the world police force first.
I will fully be cooperative and agreeable with seeing a production line of nuclear reactors being started up to provide power to all those places that need it. Just as soon as somebody explains where all the nuclear waste is to be stored, how it is going to be secured for the next tens of thousand of years, who will pay for all that ultra long-term storage, how to make sure that our descendants knows exactly what is stored in those places considering we have no idea what people will be even speaking in only a thousand years, what to do if such a storage site ends up in a war zone, etc. So, just as soon as those matters are fully resolved, I will be totally aboard with the nuclear power option.
Amen, brother! They ALWAYS (usually) leave that part out.
I think we should all be praying for deep geothermal with gyrotrons, as featured here on NC back in March. There are at least two US companies working on this, and hopefully many others.
AltaRock tried without gyrotrons and failed a
dozen years ago: as with fracking, liquids lubricated the strata, causing earthquakes that destroyed the borehole.
As NC reported, Quaise hopes the gyrotron will prevent seepage by vitrifying the borehole.
As I see it, these gyrotron projects could fail in two ways: (1) the vitrification could fail. (2) The principal investors, Alphabet and Exxon could sabotage the project.
If gyrotrons fail, I see nuclear (preferably spent fuel or thorium) as my grandchildren’s only hope.
” … unless you are prepared to advocate for and implement radical energy conservation (and this includes everything from demanding rapid shrinkage of our military footprint to ending planned obsolescence to avoiding products that are part of overseas supply chains) … ”
Here in western New York/Pennsylvania, we have many Amish neighbors and friends. They practice radical energy conservation, yet are embedded in and have become somewhat dependent on, an energy-intensive infrastructure.
Examples: They burn wood for heat and cooking. They also cut timber by hand, but then hire English with trucks to haul the logs from wood lot to saw mill. (Saw mills may be run on propane.) Most of the wood they burn is slab wood, i.e., the bark cut from the logs before they are then sawn into construction lumber.
No fast fashion. Clothing styles have been static since the 1700’s, for men, women and children, and are sewn at home. On treadle sewing machines. They do buy material at Walmart, as well as shoes (black) made in China.
Local travel is by horse and buggy. Buggy makers abound in Pennsylvania, and every community has a leather worker who makes and repairs harnesses and tack. But long distance travel (to Ohio, for example) is done by rental van, driven by an English driver. Such services advertise in local papers aimed specifically to the Amish communities.
Homes do not have refrigerators. There may be an ice house to keep ice cut from a local lake during the winter. Think about managing a household without refrigeration. Takes some re-orienting of food preparation. No left-overs, for example.
No plumbing. An outhouse and a well suffice. Although water may be pumped, by hand, into a holding tank that is the attached to a faucet in the kitchen sink, allowing the women of the house easy access to water for dishwashing. No hot water heater, BTW. Kettles on the wood stove. Or, for larger amounts (weekly bath, clothes washing), most houses have ATM-sized stainless steel boilers in the wash room.
Ah, yes, washing the clothes. There is a brisk business in old wringer washers, (we traded in two that were in the basement.) And, the long clothes lines on pulleys, that stretch from the back porch to the barn, are iconic. Wash day still exists. But washing powder is purchased.
No electric lights. All lighting is done with lamps, the ones with the tall, very breakable glass chimneys. And, the kerosene is purchased by the barrel. The glass chimneys (one of the very popular items carried in the local Amish dry goods stores,) are now made in China.
We barter and trade with our Amish friends; a ride to pick up a load of straw hats (de rigeur for all men aged 4 and up, in the summer) and we come home with a couple jars of black raspberry jam. Or an emergency run to the local bulk store to pick up a supply of sure-gel in the midst of peach harvest, and I receive a bag of fresh peaches. I tell them, only half jokingly, that I am building up a reserve of good will; come The Jackpot, we will be spreading our sleeping bags on their kitchen floor, right next to the polished black steel of the volkswagen-bug sized cooking/heating range.
There are 8,000,000,000 people on earth. The Amish way of life is a completely and utterly unrealistic strategy to support that size of population. I won’t even bother itemizing the myriad ways in which that approach is fantastical.
Eric, I am not saying that the Amish choice of life style is ‘realistic’ for 8 billion people. Something has to give: the forests or a huge chunk of the population. And, I pointed out that even the Amish rely on modern technology for many things in their life: roads for travel, kerosene for lighting, automated fabric mills and modern supply chains for cloth.
But, it is instructive to realize that a fulfilling life is possible without personal automobiles, automatic ice-cube makers, central heating, 50 pairs of shoes and an outfit for every day. Oh, and cell phones and the internet.
You could have stopped with “There are 8,000,000,000 people on earth” is you want to talk about unsustainable.
But parts of it are very realistic. My grandmother always used a treadle sewing machine, right up to the 60s. And my mother used a wringer-washing machine into the 60s because she thought automatics just “didn’t get clothes clean.” And living seasonally (like eating meat in the winter because you can keep it outside in a cooler, or other obvious things) is not such a hardship. The objective being to stop our insane consumption of energy and resources. Those 8Bn souls, soon to be 10Bn, will be reduced over a century or so with good birth control methods because emigration is already maxed out. Who wants to have children they cannot care for and will inevitably have a dreadful life?
You are correct. That is why a massive die off is inevitable. Leaving behind a lot of Human bones.
It has occurred to me that Intelligence as we practice it is very probably evolutionary dead end. I Cannot forsee human civilization lasting for another thousand years.
The forecast results of global warming are becoming very pronounced, especially this year.
If the choice is between a massive die off vs at least attempting to survive with nuclear power, I’d say nuclear energy has at least a chance of success versus giving up and accepting a massive die off without at least trying to save as many people as possible, along with emerging with acceptable standards of living.
If someone says, we are going to die and someone else is trying to offer an alternative, well, no matter how slim you think the odds of that suggestion are, anything is better than the “we are going to die”, which is of course a 0% chance of getting a decent outcome.
Thank you, AltandMain. It is all-to-easy to countenance mass death when one is not personally and immediately at risk.
Unless, of course, there really is no such thing as society.
I think, Altandmain, that when we refer to ‘a massive die off,’ we picture waking up one morning and seeing our landscape littered with dead bodies. Boom! There went 50% of the planets human population.
We are already, in the US, in the early stages of what might be termed a ‘managed die off.’ An NC post last week provided data for the decline in US life expectancy that began, in earnest, at least a decade ago. And, if we drill down, the differences in life expectancy among socio-economic levels is becoming more marked. A rich man in the US will live 20 years longer than a poor man. This is a policy choice.
Withdrawal of stable jobs, gutting entire towns and regions and sentencing their populations to increasingly precarious, and shorter, lives. Rapacious pharma pushing pain medication and the increasing criminalization of people who are drawn into that downward spiral. Availability of cheap and non-nutritious ‘junk’ food, heavily advertised and touted, rather than fresh healthful local food, resulting in a population where almost 40% of adults are obese, with all the heart, kidney, liver, and circulatory problems resulting. And Type 2 diabetes rages, while costs of insulin are allowed to skyrocket.
Our society has allowed all this to happen. Or, I should say, a certain segment of our society has directed this to happen. It does not have to be this way.
“The Amish way of life is a completely and utterly unrealistic strategy to support that size of population.”
I’m not quite sure why you say this. About a quarter of the world’s people today live by subsistence farming. Around 2/3 of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day. The Amish are far, far above the living standards of those folks.
The problem we’re facing is caused by people who don’t live like the Amish. Around 50% of carbon emissions are caused by the world’s richest 10%. That includes a lot of what Americans like to think of as “middle class.”
How is it that when we are in overshoot of the Earth’s carrying capacity that it is “unrealistic” to consider a way of living with less consumption? I’m baffled.
WRT the Amish and Mennonite ‘need’ for trucks: The instances you cite don’t use horses (or oxen or mules) because in our ICE-centric world, it’s impractical and in most cases illegal to do so via major highways. As to going to Ohio by carriage, people used to do it all the time. You cannot take a buckboard or a convoy of carriages onto the PA Turnpike now, but you could have used the Turnpike’s predecessor 150 or so years ago. My great-grandmother, who had hired on as a cook for the Erie Canal construction crews, walked back to attend at the birth of a grandchild. And then she walked back to work. The American West was won, homesteaders homesteaded, conquistadors conquered, pyramids were built, Stonehenge was erected without so much a single pickup truck and now people think nothing of driving for a carton of milk — and also thing nothing of commuting 30, 40 miles or more to work every day.
Not only do our buildings shape us, but our streets, neighbourhoods, cities, roads, and bridges shape us, and for the past 100 years, they have all been built to fit the automobile. If we want to get out of this trap, we will have to rethink how we build our living space and how and why we move around in it, and (re)build accordingly. Of course, there are problems with that, too; it’s mostly illegal to build sensibly. See Suburbs that Don’t Suck from Not Just Bikes.
Sounds like something out of a trade show. Is radioactive water still pouring into the Pacific from Fukushima? How does this guy want to fix that, and how does he intend to get rid of the waste going forward? These are questions that “re-education” and “better marketing” do not fix.
I’m fine with radical conservation, and would put my carbon footprint up against anyone’s (in the first world) right now. If we have not discussed ending profit motivated wars, mass transit and more densely built urban areas then it may be a little early to start making deals with the Devil.
The above post does come across as a sales pitch rather than a technical defense of nuclear power. While the public perhaps does have an exaggerated fear of nuclear technology, their fear of human fallibility–learned through experience–is entirely justified and commonsensical. IMO this has always been the crux of the never ending nuclear debate. “Just trust us” is weak when the consequences of mistakes are so great. Some of us would be interested in a detailed explanation of how all the objections listed in comments can be overcome. So bring on a debate by all means. Simple advocacy isn’t going to move the needle.
It’s not just copper, it’s nickel, cobalt, graphite, lithium and rare earth elements, among others, much of which is already sourced from relatively unstable and unregulated parts of the world.
When you take your shiny new EV out for a spin, spare a thought for the environment and the poor villagers in Myanmar: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/myanmar-green-energy-rare-earth-sacrifice-zone-2868636
I would Love Love LOVE to see some full-life cycle cradle-to-grave analysis of ALL energy systems, in a neat columnar format, pros cons. Heck, why not EVERY process Eww-mans utilize?
Give the accountants something truly useful to do beyond taxation-avoidance focus.
Otherwise it’s all conjecture and inanity, such inanity being all the RAGE these days.
I do know any nuke requires a LOT of cement (concrete and steel) extraordinary concrete and steel, and the embodied energy and carbon in that process is legendary. And hideous toxic waste.
Let’s clean up the present Nukes first. If you are in a toxic hole, put the shovel down and stop digging!
We really should be focused on conservation, prudent, reasonable, sensible conservation. It doesn’t have to be radical. Really bad word choice… and words matter.
The bigger problem, as we try to accommodate each and every individual’s right to make their silly choices without acknowledging the greater negative consequences of those choices- that Freedumb precludes our longevity as a species.
It’s an illusion, this Freedumb, but we will go down swinging. Viz USA 2022
Oh, and that pining for Freedumb is not the sole providence of OOSA OOSA OOSA.
I’m more and more convinced we a failed experiment. Just taking a while to play out. Lott pain in the Final Act, the denouement. I for one will sit out the ovation and curtain call. No Bravo will issue from these desiccated lips twisted into the cynic’s smile…
I am so glad to see the almost universal rejection of the arguments in this article. The long term waste that already exists is an existential threat to people in those areas. Anything can go wrong, including massive storms that take out the cooling power and any backup for weeks or longer. The US also seems hell bent on starting very dangerous proxy wars around the world, including wars around large nuclear power facilities. The possibilities for extreme disasters are enormous and it is only a matter of time before something fails big time at one of these many, many locations.
the nuke issue is a bit moot now.
the 2022 IRA bill bailed out the US fission industry. 51 Dems yea 50 R, no—near zerocoverage in the media.
anyone anti-nuke should send you thanks to NancyPelosi, Schumer, and AOC
As Amory Lovins pointed out decades ago, using nuclear energy to boil water is akin to using a chainsaw to cut butter.
Parenthetically, it’s disingenuous for the author to talk about the relatively few deaths caused by Chernobyl and Fukushima, when those events created huge, uninhabitable dead zones. They would not be the last, either. Speaking for myself, I’d rather my children and grandchildren didn’t live in a radioactive police state.
Factor in the costs and uncertainties of waste disposal, and these proposals are, or should be, DOA.
I think most people here know I am not a fan of nuclear power but it isn’t because I doubt that nuclear power plants in this country are safe. Nuclear power in this country is very safe and I wouldn’t have any problems living near a nuclear power plant. But does this author understand the reason that it is so safe is because of fear? Do you really think that the people who build and operate nuclear power plants do so because of some altruistic desire to protect the public? Nope, the reason that nuclear power plants are so safe is because the owner/operators know that one more accident would mean the end of their industry. If we get rid of the fear factor, then nuclear power will become just one more industry where profits matter more than humans and safety won’t be a priority.
Let us not forget the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act without which there would be no nuclear power plants.
If the route is taken to increase the number of nuclear power plants would it not be better for their construction and operation to be done by a federal agency and cut out the private sector. Make electricity generation truly a public utility.
An example of what a public power system can become….the 2nd largest muni default in us history.
So what happened with WPSSS then, was “contractors” showing what is bad about “public-private partnerships?” “Contractors” for some reason, having corrupted collectively the public processes of bugging and letting and administration of contracts, have changed the meaning of “oversight” to “negligently or intentionally skipping over and ignoring mis- and malfeasance of contracting officers and contractors.” So they get away with murder.
Federal contracting rules have, over time, changed to make it ever harder for government officials, even where they are not corrupted and still inclined to do the right thing, to do stuff like “debar” contractors from any future government largesse due to fraud, let alone incompetence and bid rigging and the rest. And a contracting officer who dares to suggest suing a contractor for any fraud, corruption needs mis- and malfeasance opens the gates of Hell on him(her)self. The same is no doubt true for state rules and contract management.
Big government contracts, any more, which are open to a very tiny pool of “competing qualified bidders” who all belong to the same clubs, are just cattle carcasses thrown into a pit of alligators and piranhas. Maybe the next generation of government employees will come in with chips on their shoulders toward the rotten contractors who bleed the rest of us. One can hope.
How did FDR’s admin manage big programs with less corruption and incompetence? Or did they? The Arsenal of Democracy bled from a lot of vampire squid wounds through WWs I and II and sh=ubsequently…
There is simply no way around it. People must use much much less “energy”. Simplification is the only answer. Having autos, flying to Timbucktoo (sp?), plastic service for the bar B Q……. We must localize and simplify. If you can’t put it in your coffee or tea, you shouldn’t have it. We can choose to get medieval and stone age or Gaia will put it on us, and not in a gentle manner.
According to Jim Hansen, a strong supporter of nuclear power, 115 new reactors must be built each year between now and 2050 for a total of over 3,500 if they are the successfully halt global warming. Currently there are 440 power reactors world-wide and only 44 under construction. The unresolved economics, opportunity costs, and safety and environmental concerns mitigate against nuclear power as a panacea regarding global warming.
Imagine civilizational collapse with 3,500 irradiated fuel rod storage pools. What happens to them when the lights go out?
Of course, the reason this stupid technology is even considered as a necessary step to take in providing enough energy throughout the world is because humanity has been (or at least its leaders have been) stupid enough to allow and/or promote population growth so that it has reached a point where there are not enough renewable resources to provide energy for all of humanity.
To paraphrase an old political slogan: It’s the population, stupid…
The author argues for re-education of the public. Excellent idea—let the wild rumpus start!
1) Of Disasters and Dragon Kings: A Statistical Analysis of Nuclear Power Incidents and Accidents
2) Burning waste or playing with fire? Waste management considerations for non-traditional reactors
3) Moving Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems to Global Deployment
4) Advanced Nuclear Reactors: Technology Overview and Current Issues
5) Failing French Nuclear Plants Drive Up Electricity Costs as Heat Waves Cut Production
6) Nuclear waste from small modular reactors
7) The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler
The Rocky Road Scenario…doesn’t tell you much. The above discussion is more illuminating (ahem). There are a lot of ways out, and each way is Forty Miles of Bad Road…an instrumental…apply your own lyrics. When I’m not thinking of three cackling, warted-up witches brewing a big pot, I’m seeing the Anasazi trickling out of Chaco staggering down one of their many straight and narrow roads to nowhere.
The PR move in the article is a classic: the problem is an irrational reaction to the unknown, fear. The writer must be ignorant of the history of nuclear power.
But the risk posed by nuclear power is understood by experts in the field: the insurance industry. As they testified before Congress in the 1950s, they do not have the resources to pay the claims arising from a large nuclear accident.
The Price-Anderson Act Nuclear Industries Indeminity Act caps liability at $12.6 billion. The industry pays into a fund to pay claims up to $15 billion. If an earthquake took out the Diablo Canyon plant and Los Angeles were contaminated, how fast would the total be reached, and how soon would Congress pony up the total claims, as the law outlines?
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, back in the 1970s, used to give odds on the likelihood of an accident, but then disclaimed the accuracy of their studies after accurate criticism of their methods became too public.
The article is about copper but the comments are about Uranium. I’m here mainly to comment on copper, but first my take on nuclear power (having been in the biz). Yves is correct, it must be increased. But the present generation of reactors has the fatal problem of the early steamboat boilers- they blow up. One Chernobyl every ten years is not sustainable. A new, safe, type of reactor must be designed and manufactured if nuclear is to be expanded.
Nuclear waste is not waste- most of the energy is embodied in what we call waste. But the proliferation threat from reprocessing is real. But that is not a technical problem, it is a political and administrative problem which nas not yet been resolved. Without that nuc fails for all the reasons in the comments.
Back to copper. Rarely have I found a paper as useful as this one. The commentors should read it. I’ve followed copper for years. A few comments:
This paper was “supported by” the major private miners of copper (page 5) and is a call to open up more mines on Federal land (page 9 and 21), which may be a good idea. New open pit mines go from “Billion dollars committed” to production in five years. And don’t forget the power plants and rail lines.
The price chart on page 18 is misleading because the $8,000/ton peak for 1964-70 is missing as are the WWI and Korean War peaks. In other words, we’ve been here before.
Changes in the processing of oxide ore could totally change the supply and cost picture (page 19). We are at the “steel in 1900” early stage in copper ore processing technology.
Charts on page 20, 21 and 22 should be compared. China mines produce a lot of copper but China has relatively small long-term reserves. Many of the biggest ore bodies are in politically unstable areas. My understanding is that African ore reserves are understated because political instability limits investment (page 21). The same may be true of other areas around the Ring of Fire volcano belt. Ultimately a UN/World Bank standard contract- with enforcement- for allocating the profits to the ore-possessing populations (not nations) and the risk-taking miners may evolve.
Rapidly modernizing countries like China use huge amounts of copper early in modernization (page24). What happens if modernization accelerates in India, Nigeria, Egypt and Pakistan? And if not, then they will put huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and negate the move to clean electricity. What will be the reaction of the rest of the world?
(Chart on page 9) The buildup in electrical distribution system and electrical cars will require most copper to be mined before 2035; after that these power lines and cars will be almost 100% recyclable. New copper will be required after that to support the “nonenergy transition demand” which I take to mean development of third world infrastructure consumption- pipes and home wiring. Note that distribution is larger than electric vehicles. High voltage DC lines will move wind and solar vast transcontinental distances.
The weight of copper required is directly proportional to the weight of the electric car. Automated roads can be much safer and may allow much lighter cars. 1930-1940 airplanes like the DC 3 and the B 17 were built like steel office building- heavy and strong; modern airplanes are stiff, thin aluminum tubes that use 1/4 the weight/passenger. Cars may follow the same route. And innovations like room-temperature semiconductors could be a game changer.
My take on nuclear power. Yves is correct, it must be increased. But the present generation of reactors has the fatal problem of the early steamboat boilers- they blow up. One Chernobyl every ten years is not sustainable. A new, safe, type of reactor must be designed and manufactured if nuclear is to be expanded.
I am not a nuclear engineer, I am a mechanical engineer, but I have worked on the back end (safe disposal) of the nuclear fuel process.
Nuclear power is the most highly subsidized power out there. If true life cycle costs were paid on a per kW basis, it would be at least 10 times that of the alternatives.
Alternate fuel cycles, thorium, fast neutron breeders, etc. might reduce this a bit, but the costs are enormous relative to alternatives.
I would note that some of these alternate fuel cycles (not Thorium, IIRC) also present very real proliferation risks.
Also note that despite best efforts, typical construction time for a nuclear reactor is still more than a decade, where spending on other alternate sources will typically come on line in just a few years.
Appreciate the many thoughtful responses. My attitude is advising my daughter to forego children because we have crossed the Rubicon on our environment. On thing from Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth that made sense is the convective loop that occurs as the permafrost melts allowing the escape of CO2/methane and thus feeding on itself. A young lady that rented from me a decade ago and then moved to Alaska with her dogs told me many years ago about the methane bubbling up in lakes up there and people would throw matches to watch it ignite. And it is fact that the arctic is warming much quicker than every place else. It is difficult to find optimism among the sadness suppressed by so many scientists as to the fate of the environment that supports our existence. Reading Graeber/Wengrow book “The Dawn of Everything” it appears that humanity was waylaid and led down a path of greed and lack of empathy. Thorium has been discussed for decades. Where to store the waste? The truth of Jevon’s paradox and the truth of who is controlling power leaves me little hope. I tend to my small orchard and garden. Have not had a TV in over forty years and gave up on newspapers and magazines about the same time, which is why NC is important to me. Could go on but will refrain for brevity. I support NC and appreciate the comments, all of them, because they make me question and think. All that written, for me there is no answer. I just watch, read and write poetry, feel fortunate to find ways to pay the bills and stay healthy and happy. Thank you all, no disrespect meant for your thoughts and comments.
Always like Carlin and he left us too early
Until the nuclear waste issue is successfully solved, I’m among the No crowd. I’ve been recycling and organic composting my whole adult life. I live in a small home by U.S. standards which has been totally renovated to be energy efficient. Same deal with the autos I’ve owned. My carbon footprint is very small. I live in a downtown urban area where I do a lot of walking, both for health reasons and to shop.
The author is either naive or not being truthful about ‘why don’t people trust nuclear, they must be irrational, how did they get that way’. They got that way because people don’t like what happened at Hiroshima. They don’t like what happened to workers involved in nuclear testing. Thousands protested for decades to shut down nuclear proliferation. And finally, Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon were put into a little movie which showed the back side of the PR-coated nuclear power industry. A hundred million people then decided they were against it.
I can see the argument that we need to have many various modes of energy production and MAYBE nuclear has a role to play. But then again, I look at how our elites have financialized and ruined and bean-counted every aspect of commerce and industry. On this next go round, we won’t have Jack Lemmon whistleblowing a dangerous situation, we will have some Homer Simpson pushing buttons at the behest of some greedy CEO tellling him to Never Shut Down, We Might Lose Some Money. It happened at the Macondo well, where BP’s young office engineer was incentivized to save $10,000 on spacers in the well design, creating a $20 billion disaster. And if you don’t think the ‘modern’ nuclear industry will be run the same way, you haven’t been paying attention.
As long as we’re talking about nuclear power we should be talking about thorium power. If industry sources are to be believed (I know, haha) it is cleaner, safer without the ability to be used for nuclear weapons and burns nuclear waste.
Nuclear waste has a very long shelf-life. Suppose some places were found where Humankind might store its nuclear wastes. How could these storage areas be marked to warn future humans — say 10,000 years in the future — about the dangers to be found within?
There are hundreds of nuclear power plants scattered around the world. Suppose events turn toward the worse resulting in large areas of unrest and conflict. Who will care for any nuclear power plants in a region of unrest? Who will carefully shutdown any of these nuclear power plants that run into difficulties in these regions of unrest?
Jon Cloke, in a comment at 8:21 am above, points to a class of difficulties which loom for any nuclear power plants that rely on a nearby source of cooling water — water levels are rising and subject to flux due to increasingly violent and Mercurial weather patterns. Before building more nuclear power plants, perhaps it might be wise to find some way to assure the long-term safety of the existing nuclear power plants as oceans rise, rivers flood, waters warm.
Before waxing poetic about new wonder-approaches to building nuclear power plants, I believe there are a few unresolved problems with the existing inventory of nuclear power plants.
Fukushima alone puts me off. Chernobyl also comes to mind. Three Mile Island was a near miss.
The many, many thoughtful and insightful comments here can’t dissuade me from shying away from the spent fuel problem. The timelines involved are beyond human ken.
One waggish paleontologist pal opined that there may have been civilizations of who knows what species prior to us but if they were present on a geological time scale, we’d have no way of knowing about them. Spent fuel approaches those scales.
Stephen King memorably and lyrically wrote about nuke ghouls in “Tommyknockers.” He’s at his simmering best, style-wise.
I grew up in the plume shadow of the Monroe, MI plant that almost went critical. It was scary.
Right now, the Ukrainians are firing artillery shells and other munitions into the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. We are told not to worry about the reactor vessel because it’s designed to “take” a lot more than an artillery high explosive impact, but it looks like the Ukies are aiming at the spent fuel and waste storage areas, with the intent to spray radioactive debris over the “errant” south Ukraine/LPR and anything else downwind. To punch the Rooskies in the eye, I take it, in a nice Gotterdammerung fit.
This shelling with a death wish might be a “response” to the Russians attempting to redirect the electrical output of the plant from the Ukie “heartland,” from which the Ukie entrepreneurs were selling it on to the rest of Europe, even as the Russians were stewarding the plant: “Oh, yeah? We’ll fix that, if we can’t have it, nobody will.” A very Wagnerian response.
And the Russian foreign minister then reminds the Ukies that there are other nuclear plants in “Europe,” which includes the three other very aged plants in western Ukraine. And that if the Ukies turn the Zaporizhzhia plant into another Chernobyl, the Russians might do the same to other such nuclear facilities. (The NYT implies that the RUSSIANS are shelling the plant that they control and have kept safely operating up to this point. F—- the NYT.) The Ukie plants supposedly are running full-tilt, risking various kinds of failure modes. All to have “product” to sell, the bulk of the proceeds likely being skimmed off by the corrupt SOBs that run the NATO appendage called “Ukraine.”
This kind of points out another serious flaw in bulking up nuclear plants. Turns them into high-value targets in the kind of take-no-prisoners warfare that seems likely to be a big part of the human future — however much is left of that.
The psychotic types that, albeit few in number but sweeping in impact, have risen to the top of not only the Ukie hierarchy, but other Great Nations as well, seem to have drunk deep from the warped vision of the Norse mythology, and are happy as punch to drag us all down into the terminal morass. (Are we supposed to feel bad for John Bolton and other US power players supposedly targeted for assassination by a Foreign Nation? They have put themselves in the bullseye.)
Lots of good reasons why nuclear plants are maybe not the best band-aid to apply to the arterial hemorrhaging of modern society’s “demands.”
We might well have to go there because of our neoliberal perversity, but I am with Eureka Springs on the waste problem. Safe storage for 10,000+ years? Nah gah happen. Advocates aver otherwise, but their solutions are unimpressive. Gobekli Tepe is 12,000 years old. Take a look. And yes, I know we have more advanced technology, but we cannot project 5 years into the future…
Having been in the vicinity of this abomination on occasion, how do we avoid the time, cost, ecological disruption, and potential for an accident that renders the Savannah River downstream a “glow-in-the-dark” atrocity? The Savannah River National Laboratory upstream and across the river has a problem with radioactive turtles escaping the reservation. Probably an urban legend, but Parr Pond is supposed to have Franken-bass in it. Different Cold War reason for being and different isotopes, same problem with radionuclides. They are deadly and long-lived.
And then there is this:
“During the construction of Vogtle’s first two units, capital investment required jumped from an estimated $660 million to $8.87 billion. ($16.4 billion in 2020 dollars)”
“Two additional units utilizing Westinghouse AP1000 reactors are under construction. Natural-draft type cooling towers were also selected, and the two new cooling towers are nearly 600 ft (180 m) tall. The units have suffered several delays and cost overruns. The certified construction & capital costs for these two new units were originally $14 billion, according to the Seventeenth Semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report in 2017. This last report blames the latest increase of costs on the contractor not completing work as scheduled. Another complicating factor in the construction process is the bankruptcy of Westinghouse in 2017. In 2018 costs were estimated to be about $25 billion. By 2021 they were estimated to be over $28.5 billion. Upon completion of Units 3 and 4 in 2023, Vogtle will become the largest nuclear power station in the United States. ”
“Clients” of the Southern Company are paying for this, in advance, every month.
It would be cheaper and more sensible in every way just to drive less and live better. Revitalize railroads for transportation. Tax private jets into oblivion. Stop with the military imperialism. Rely on the essentially unlimited supply of energy from the sun for farming instead of industrial agriculture, which is a category mistake – thank you, Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. But that would require the PMC to actually change their ways. Nah gah happen.
France has long been the poster child for the nuclear future, generating about 70% of her electricity through nuclear plants. Oops, make that 60% and falling. Meanwhile, every plant under construction in the West requires ever increasing subsidies and time to complete.
If the US hadn’t nuked Japan and vaporized thousands and thousands of people, perhaps there wouldn’t be this fear of nuclear power. But the US did do that, and actions have consequences.
For the sake of argument though, let’s say nuclear power is completely safe and there’s either no radioactive waste or its easily disposed of. What’s the result then? My guess is with that much clean power, we as a species would essentially pave over the entire planet and turn it into something like Trantor from the Foundation series. We are not wise enough as a species to deal with the technology we are capable of creating. We’ve proven it time and time again.
The solution to too many people needing more energy to survive isn’t even moar energy – it’s fewer people. We can either make that happen voluntarily, or Mother Nature will do it for us. Looking out the window the last few years, it appears she’s already started.
Ultimately, nuclear fusion needs to be rebranded as the consensus energy of the future, despite it not operating at present and the uncertainty of success. It’s one of those things we have no choice but to figure out.
Fusion does not carry fission’s dangers. And its fuel is inexhaustible.
The USA committed to put a man on the moon before they knew how and accomplished it by, a) setting a deadline, and b) having leaders with enough respect for national goals to put politics aside.
The only question is whether it would be more effective to have the technology built in an international “space race”, or in friendly, passive cooperation through the IPCC.
I fully agree with your idea that we must commit to nuclear fusion, and hope it can be achieved. As you say: “We have no choice but to figure out…” how to make it work. My opinion regarding your question about an international competition versus a friendly cooperation through the IPCC is that doing the work as a u.s. government “Skunk Works” operation and then widely and generously sharing and helping to implement the solution would be both most effective and most wise. I do not believe the IPCC is a suitably neutral organization, and I believe it is fair to say that an international competition is already underway with a long history of mixed results. A “Skunk Works” might enable international cooperation and “keep it between engineers and scientists” as suggested in the movie “The Martian”.
I deeply regret that the u.s. sent little u.s. flags to place on the Moon [my only consolation is that all but one — fallen and covered — have been completely faded in the sun]. The u.s. Space Race was an international effort, as I suspect the U.S.S.R’s effort was also. Scientists and engineers from all over the world worked hard to be a part of those efforts and worked hard to make whatever contributions they could. The footsteps on the moon were our pyramids. Making fusion work is the greatest challenge for the future. Perhaps that accomplishment, more that surviving the Nuclear Age, is the true criterion for Intelligent Life’s transition to the age where Humankind both survives and becomes worthy of contact from outside. Regardless, I believe accomplishing practical fusion power is the ultimate criterion for the survival of Humankind as more than a too smart, violent ape [I appeal here to a scene near the end of the widely and unjustly panned movie “Automata”].
Realistically … I believe Bender has it right: “We’re Bone.” — unless we can find some way to realize that it is easier for Capitalism to collapse than the end of the world. I believe there is no Market based ‘solution’ for effectively dealing with Climate Chaos. Humankind could find a ‘solution’ … but the remarkable society that created and discovered the problem is inadequate to find a solution.
The cleanup costs for the Fukushima reactor site alone have been staggering. It’s very misleading to just use “zero deaths!” as the primary factor here.
I’m very pro nuclear and see no other options.
Keep in mind that the older reactor designs were the ones thag melted down. We are not going to be building another Fukushima type reactor nor another Chernobyl type reactor. Newer Generation 4 type reactors are what will be constructed.
In the long run, nuclear fusion research is the most important invention in human history we will ever undertake. I do not expect to see it for decades.
There’s a lot of doomerism here, but relatively few skeptics are suggesting ideas on what else to do. Renewable energy is going to require massive energy storage due to the intermittent nature of the energy. Renewable energy is certainly going to play a role, and I daresay even a large role in the future, but these problems are not easily solved.
Hint: Based on the yellow vests and similar movements, attempts to impose conservation on the public voluntarily are unlikely to be successful. Not to mention, it would mean a far more drastic collapse in living standards than nuclear energy.
It comes down to the best options we have.
See Tom Pfotzer’s comment, below. Our current infrastructure is incredibly inefficient. There are solutions, but we are going to have to change our habits of energy consumption, too.
The savings from denser population would have to be accepted by the general public. Society is heading right toward the opposite direction right now in part due to the pandemic.
Democratic society would struggle to implement such a thing and I would argue that even authoritarian regimes would be unable to do so. Nations like China have government legitimacy because they are offering a higher standard of living in the long run.
But even if implemented, even if new buildings were constructed with good insulation, the savings would be a lot more modest than his post implies.
It’s not likely that the general public is willing to accept higher density and even if it does, it might be a lot more modest a savings than his post implies.
Take a look at nations such as China. They are densely populated, yet still require new sources of energy. There is a lot of ambitious expansion into the nuclear industry by China and Russia.
The end result will be a loss of Western scientific competitiveness as nations like China develop newer and more technologically advanced nuclear reactor technology, which means in turn a loss of job opportunities. We may find ourselves learning the hard way we do newer newer reactors, which means a total technological and economic dependency on other nations.
How desperate we are for a solution so we can continue in our wonderful, wasteful ways. Let’s hop in the giant four-door pickup and drive 10 miles to the fast-food joint for “food” grown in Brazil. And I’ll drop that super-sized cup on the side of the road just to exercise my Free-Dumb.
If we had any brains as a society, we’d sit down together and decide what parts of this energy-guzzling technology we really want to hold onto. Some medical stuff, no doubt. Maybe heat for people’s homes in cold winters and cooling in hot summers. Transporting essential stuff from one place to another. The goal would have to be to meet that requirement of reducing carbon emissions–essentially reducing energy consumption–by 7.6% per year for 10 years beginning back in 2020. That’s a lot of energy reduction in a very short time frame. Not much room for flying vacations, or driving ones for that matter. No shipping grapefruits all over the world. No launching billionaires into space or flying them around in their private jets either.
The other option is to let The Market handle it. The Great and Wise Invisible Hand will figure it all out by keeping the pedal to the metal until we hit the wall. Until then, as things deteriorate, let supply and demand, i.e. price, do the rationing. That way, there might be some, er, positive collateral effects that will draw this out a bit longer until the billionaires can get their Mars rockets ready.
Nuclear energy is just a component of the energy whack a mole game. Because few among us wish to make any meaningful changes to our energy intensive lifestyles we continually search for energy sources that will allow us to continue consuming large amounts of energy while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, as has become abundantly clear no non-carbon energy is clean, nor is it sustainable at high levels of consumption. Nuclear energy is no exception. Aside from the obvious waste disposal challenges nuclear energy is expensive to produce, reactors pose a significant security challenge, and few people wish to live next door to a nuclear power plant (for obvious reasons). The United States in particular has a difficult time operating large energy infrastructure safely. Oil refineries catch fire, pipelines leak, nuclear plants melt down, power lines cause massive wildfires that destroy entire forests and consume entire towns, etc…Who among us would feel safe living within a mile or three from a nuclear power plant. One Fukishima out of a thousand is one too many.
These hopes to resurrect the moribund fission/nuclear bomb industry are soon going to be destroyed for a generation, if not forever, by the Ukrainian Nazis! Chernobyl 2.0 at the Zaporozhye power plant could happen at any moment. The six reactors make it a larger plant than Chernobyl but not as close to the ocean as Fukushima to make all the ocean water radioactive. When Chernobyl 2.0 happens, all the marketing money of Gates and the war industry will not be able to resurrect the fission industry. Radiation from that many reactors will circle the globe and places with open water sources will have to end the drinking of that water.
Rather than nuclear, we need to up the anti for renewables – solar, wind, geothermal, wave, and small hydro, despite what the S&P says. (Went to one of their energy conferences and they were so far off the mark). Depending on the month, about 33% of US electricity is coming from solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. This will increase to nearly 100% by 2030, especially if Chernobyl 2.0 occurs.
Jeremy Rifkin on nuclear power:
75% of electricity generated in the U.S. – from all fuel sources, including nukes – goes to commercial and residential uses. Industry uses 25% of the electricity generated in the U.S.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Agency.
What does “residential and commercial” use electricity for? Mostly HVAC (heat and cool the building), refrigeration (cool the food) and lighting.
May I point out that buildings bleed heat. They absorb it when it’s hot outside, and radiate it from inside to outside when it’s cold.
When it’s hot, they have to use HVAC (electricity) to pump the heat from inside the building to the exterior environment. When it’s cold, they have to use electricity, natural gas, propane or fuel oil to heat the inside of the house, so it can rapidly escape through those ridiculous leaking sieves we call “buildings”.
Refrigeration and lights are the next big electricity consumer. Does your home and office have LED lights? And how much insulation surrounds your sleek new refrigerator?
Insulation is a much underappreciated technology.
Most of what happens in office buildings can just as easily happen in a home. A desk, a phone and a computer are almost always present in a home. They happen to be the very same tools used in an office.
Why do we heat and cool a house and an office, and yet use both only 50% of the time, if that? Why not heat and cool just one building?
The word on the street is that conservatism has to be “radical” in order to be effective.
Is insulation radical? Is telework radical? Is asset utilization (using a paid-for asset to its fullest potential)…is that radical?
Remember, I led off with the assertion that 75% of electricity generated gets used in homes and offices. I then stated that most of that 75% of electricity generated is wasted (vented to the atmosphere) within a few short hours of generation. A few hours.
If you doubt that statement, do an experiment. Turn off the AC on a hot day, and see how long it takes for your house to get uncomfortably hot.
Why are we not looking to “homes and offices” for solutions to this problem of electricity?
“Is insulation radical? Is telework radical? Is asset utilization (using a paid-for asset to its fullest potential)…is that radical?”
In our neoliberal world, the answer to all three question is “yes.” Telework is the easiest. If we telework, who will support the myriad of restaurants, bars and retail in “downtown” areas? Who will take care of the people dependent on income from all the gas stations that will close? Insulation? How will The Market ever “administer” insulating houses and buildings? A lot of those structures are owned by people who either can’t or won’t invest the money necessary. Isn’t the only realistic way to get all those buildings insulated some kind of “socialist” program? That’s not going to fly in LibertariaNation. And asset utilization in a society where we are fighting, usually unsuccessfully, for a “right to repair?”
We live in YOYO-land. Anything that puts the public good above the rights of capitalists to profit is “radical.”
As others have pointed out above, the push for nuclear power often seems to presuppose that we will just continue our current patterns of energy consumption. Thus, we hear arguments about “base load” used against proponents of renewable power sources.
But we will have to reduce our consumption in the future and change our patterns of energy use. That seems unavoidable. Tom Pfotzer asks:
There is the concept of “passive house” design, which is perhaps not yet well known but is gaining traction, e.g.:
It’s a set of design ideas that really push insulation. Energy savings can be dramatic. If I were building a house, this is what I’d investigate.
I don’t know how anyone can ignore the lessons of Fukushima. The control and cleanup will take decades requiring technology that does not yet exist and the commitment of people not yet born. The tank farm is full and the radioactive water will now be dumped directly into the Pacific. Two reactors are still in meltdown with no accurate picture of what that looks like inside and under the breached containment vessels.
“fear of nuclear power” is entirely rational and justified unless you smoke too much weed (Bob Marley) or don’t care about 10,000 years of highly radioactive waste which we don’t know what to do with. As John Oliver pointed out, we built a house and forgot to put in toilets. Maybe the author would like to store that harmless stuff at home?
This is the worst article ever published in this news source.
Lots of questions in the comments above are answered in this podcast  interview with Simon Michaux, Associate Professor of Geometallurgy at the Geological Survey of Finland.
1. We’re only adding 1-2 nuclear plants a year (net)
2. Scaling up to adding only as many as 25/year isn’t technically feasible
3. It will take decades to scale up
4. If we scaled up, nuclear fuel options would run out in around 70 years
5. The size of the spent fuel would require a stable energy source for at least 180 years to cool
The whole podcast is worth listening to in full.
Here is something on nuclear energy that details how nuclear energy got to its current unpopular state. It has not helped that in the past few decades the US no longer has the industrial capacity to manufacture a lot of the components we need which also adds to the construction time as well as cost. Also, keep in mind that there have been entire armies worth of fossil fuel lobbyists whispering in politician’s ears that have stalled nuclear energy development for decades.
Also, in terms of proliferation, using spent nuclear fuel from a power reactor is THEORETICALLY possible, but nobody has done it yet. This is because reactor-grade fuel contains high concentrations of plutonium-240 which captures many of the neutrons needed for a nuclear explosion, and results in spontaneous fission and a disappointing yield. Separating out the plutonium-240 from spent fuel would be a very expensive and time-consuming task as it is very close in molecular weight to more desirable isotopes that you would need for a nuclear bomb. If a nation or group had the financial resources and equipment to build such a facility, it would actually be cheaper to build a dedicated military reactor for producing military-grade nuclear material instead of trying to refine spent fuel. Anyway, you can read about the failed “Thin Man” project in which the US tried to make a bomb out of spent fuel but it was canceled because of how impractical it was.
We could all benefit from an open and transparent discussion on nuclear energy
In the real world the nuclear industry has a few problems:
US Reactors Dangerously Operating Using Counterfeit Parts
“Most, if not all, U.S. nuclear power plants contain counterfeit or fraudulent parts, potentially increasing the risk of a safety failure”
“According to the Electric Power Research Institute, counterfeit parts have been found in valves, bearings, circuit breakers, pipe fittings, and structural steel, and can be difficult to spot”
NRC Conducting “Open Investigation” into Allegedly Counterfeit, Substandard US Reactor Parts, & Impossibility of Evacuating Seabrook
Some of the economic models require creative accounting:
When Nuclear Plants Expire: Stick the Taxpayers With the Bill (and the Waste)
More Than Half of America’s Nuclear Reactors Are Losing Money
U.S. Consumers May Be $3.9 Billion ‘Losers’ From Nuclear Aid
Nuclear Reactors, Bankrupting Their Owners, Closing Early