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Should a Green New Deal include nuclear power?

Posted on 15 April 2019 by greenman3610

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

It’s a perennial question. Perhaps, to quote “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau, one raising “some of the foremost rhetorical questions of our day.”

The issue here, in this month’s “This is Not Cool” video feature, is of course the potential that “clean” nuclear energy can help combat global warming by reducing future reliance on still more combustion of fossil fuels, in particular coal.

A little background here: Many fear that the projected threats posed by a rapidly warming climate are so serious that “even” nuclear power may shine by comparison, reducing need for more combustion of coal and other fossil fuels, including natural gas. This theory holds that renewable and other “clean energy” sources can’t do enough, soon enough.

Prospects for ‘green new nukes’ raise some of the day’s ‘foremost rhetorical questions …’

So, are what independent videographer Peter Sinclair refers to as “green new nukes” the way to go? Or at least one of the ways to go?

Maybe yes, but maybe no, two university energy experts say. They point not only to high construction costs but also to long lead times before on-the-drawing-board “new nukes” could really go commercial. They point to the pros and cons of keeping aging nuclear power plants on the job: “If we shut them down and replace them with natural gas,” says climate change expert (and Yale Climate Connections contributor) Zeke Hausfather, “that’s a disaster from a climate perspective.”

A nuclear power representative at one point in the video recalls often being asked by eager would-be customers, “Can we have it ready in six months?” Her reply: Think a decade or more, more like at least 15 years.

Given that a new nuclear power plant getting underway today is unlikely to come online, on average, until around 2033, those seeing nukes as a silver bullet are engaging in “a complete boondoggle and a waste of money,” Stanford’s Mark Jacobson says.
In the real world, concludes Hausfather of Berkeley, “new nuclear power is pretty much off the table” at least in the U.S. and in Western Europe, and “no new large build-out” is foreseeable.

Like it or not, find it promising or find it inadequate, Hausfather says, renewables appear to present the most promising prospect, “sort of ideal” compared with other foreseeable and practical options.

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Comments 1 to 28:

  1. I'm a bit concerned about a plan does not ALSO include an aggressive NP component, but only subsidizes for a 100% RE direction. If people were to study what it would take to achieve 100% RE (both in coverage of land, how much MASS of material will need to be mined out of the ground and how much MASS of material is needed to keep replenishing all of that as it depreciates), then environmentally minded people would start scratching their heads and say, whoa, I didn't realize how much we have to eat up the earth (read: that much harder to get off fossil fuels) to achieve 100% RE (no gas peaking in the mix).

    This video HERE is a little nerdy and these two guys throw out the #'s WAY too fast. But it is a real head scratcher. The chart at the very end makes NO sense to me and they don't explain it well. But, the chart near the beginning that shows the necessary land coverage is troubling. Then, the real WHOOPER is that 1.2mm solar panels would have to be replaced EVERY DAY and FOREVER just to replenish the ones that wear out (on a 40 year rotation cycle). ... I've checked their numbers; they are not lying about this.

    For any environmental person who also is very anti-NP and is willing to put due diligence in what we ultimately have to do to achieve 100% RE, then this should deeply make them think twice. If they are REALLY about zero emissions, then they've GOT to reconcile with this.

    Shellenberger videos are also very good on this subject, such as THIS one.

    I know NP takes time, but if we go the 100% RE route (like Germany, vs France), and don't succeed to get below 50% reductions 30-40 years from now (due to the not having a stable baseload source and use a lot of gas peaking power to 100% avoid brown outs), and then realize we need some other form of stable baseload NP, then we will be that much more be behind. So, I think we need to look at what it really takes to go 100% RE and then be honestly realistic. If that path doesn't seem really plausible, then we should ALSO include NP (R/D and commercialization) in the accelerated GND program. ... HERE is a good site to use to compare France w/ Germany.

    Ultimately we ALSO need a rev-neu CT so to comprehensively address the underpinnings of our economy away from carbon consumption as well. The current EICDA bill (#763) is ideal for this (now up to 30 house co-sponsors).

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  2. These kinds of discussions seem to always imply that our current energy demand primarily satisified with fossil fuels must be replaced with low carbon electric production.  The low hanging fruit is reducing the energy demand through conservation.  Pricing carbon emissions using a carbon tax would create a demand for the conservation sector of the economy.  We could retrofit all our existing buildings to be super energy efficient.  This becomes more economical as carbon emissions become expensive.  Yes, it would be inflationary.  I do not think we should commit to our current level of abundance as a given.  That is leading us to disaster.  

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  3. Nuclear power is relatively safe as long as we have our present economy and infrastructure but we seem to be in the final phase of an exponential growth curve.  In the real world of biology, these end in a vertical graph — straight down.  Under these conditions, the finance and infrastructure no longer remains to manage these devices and they are likely to all go critical and  melt down.  This will result in areas around the plants which are no go areas of high level radioactivity.  Anyway, on a practical level, even now, wind and solar are financially feasible to replace fossil fuel and energy storage systems are improving by leaps and bounds.  We probably do not need nuclear.

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  4. Metals are a finite resource and some are quite rare. It's very troubling but would effect nuclear power as well as renewables.

    But the answers are difficult. I suspect people wont voluntarily go without electricity, heating, computers, and transport etcetera.

    The most realistic answer is probably a fairly urgent drive to waste less, more energy efficient appliances and getting population growth to stop. Does the world need more people? I can't see a good reason why.

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  5. ELIofVA - I did an analysis of how my countrymen (NZers) spent energy and results were a little depressing on the conservation front. Every country would be different but it is worth looking at. Home energy costs were about 10% of energy used. Even a 100% reduction doesnt reduce emissions much. Worse, here at least where we have 85% renewable electricity, home energy wasnt a big part of emissions. Transport, especially flying and cars (retail petrol), were the big factors. With cars at least, a move to electric is a big saving. And the elephant in the room was the embodied energy in all the stuff we consume. Reduce, reuse, recycle (in that order) is probably the biggest conservation measure we can make outside transport.

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  6. Nigelj and Sauerj:

    Jacobson 2011 (cited over 1100 times) has done the analysis for renewable energy and all the materials, including land for the panels, are readily available for renewable energy.  Jacobson discusses the amounts of materials used for the panels and wind turbines.  Recycling solar panels and wind turbines is covered.  Your 1.2 mm (? what does mm mean) per day seems off.  Perhaps a comparison to Jacobson, which is peer reviewed, is warrented.

    Jacobson found that all materials exist in adequate quantaties except for rare earth metals used in the turbines.  Since then the designers of wind turbines have reduced the use of rare earth metals so that is not an issue.

    By contrast, Abbott 2012, published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (and other places and here), shows that sufficient materials for significant nuclear plants (more than 5% of world power) do not exist.  (Nuclear plants also use a lot of rare earth elements.) No nuclear supporter has attempted to show that enough materials exist for nuclear plants.  On Tamino's site a nuclear supporter told me to contact an economic geolgist on my own for answers when I asked if materials existed.  No citations exist. 

    It currently costs more to run a nuclear plant with no mortgage than to build and run a new renewable plant including mortgage costs.  Nuclear is not economic.

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  7. Michael Sweet, interesting and I accept all that you say. I will try to explain better what I mean. Its well known from numerous reports that humanity is using resources too fast, including metals, which puts future generations under strain. However I think  there are some viable solutions to this if our generation acts proactively rather than dumping the problem on future generations.

    The starting point is metals are finite and some are in limited supply as you would obviously realise. Of course this has implications for all forms of electricity generation. As you would know we are using the resource up fairly fast and increasing population and economic growth can only amplify this. Some report, the UN I think, stated we are using materials up at twice the rate that is sustainable longer term.

    It's projected that we will run out of some metals by 2100, on the basis of known land based reserves at current prices. If we include for some more discoveries, higher priced reserves, and minerals in sea water there are several centuries left at current rates of use. 

    Clearly I think that means there is enough for a mass conversion to renewable energy. As you point out substitutes are found for the rare earths. Nuclear power is more troubling because it uses such a wide range of exotic metals that are harder to substitute for.

    However we are still using metals at a fairly rapid rate, and this risks leaving future generations in short supply of some of them. This risks shortagages, price increases and other problems that could be severe.

    So what are the solutions? Metals can be recycled almost forever, including lithium. But this doesn't resolve the problem of a fundamentally depleted resource, and intense population and economic pressure. It would therefore make some sense for our generation to conserve what materials the earth has left.

    Of course we have to be realistic. People want technology and aren't going to drastically cut their use of technology, metals, and electricity unless forced. But we can prolong a renewable energy and technology based culture as long as possible on this planet by our generation starting by wasting less, recycling more, being more efficient, and also proactively getting population growth to stop. If we don't do this in the near future, in a planned way, I fear shortages will create an extremely painful situation for future generations and some sort of relatively abrupt increase in mortality and hardship, to add to the climate problem if we don't fix that as well. Sorry if I have digressed a bit, but the issues interrelate.

    Nuclear power is clearly just not currently competitive. There are too many problems with it. However I don't think the GND should rule it out completely, because there is no sound basis to do that.

    I think we should let generating companies decide what to build, as long as its low carbon emissions, but with a condition that they must be able to build any nuclear power in a timely manner so that reliance on fossil fuels is minimised. This shifts the burden back to the nuclear industry to smarten up. It also avoids the government getting too hands on in deciding the proportional mix of generation and leaves it a little bit to the market. The government are there to give direction if the market starts to wander off course.

    It certainly doesn't make much sense to me to close existing nuclear plant.

    I'm a bit scperical of nuclear power, having grown up with watching Chernobyl etc, but I try to keep an open mind.

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  8. I'm a bit "sceptical" of nuclear power, having grown up with watching Chernobyl etc, but I try to keep an open mind.

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  9. Michael Sweet, Thanks for your feedback. The 1.2mm (million) figure for replacement panels per day comes from the 1st video that I linked above (I think the link I gave above does not directly launch the video, so I'm linking again here). [In case this link too is bad, the title of the YT video is: "Mark Z. Jacobson's 100% Renewables (100% WWS) Roadmap to Nowhere by Conley & Maloney @ TEAC8"]

    The guys that did this presentation (video published 1-6-2018) are using the total panel numbers directly from Jacobson's report (18bn panels), and doing their own daily replacement math based on assuming the most ideal panel service life of 40 yrs. This seems like a earnestly fair use of Jacobson's own work. Doing the math, this does work out to be replacing 1.2 million panels everyday. (That's a staggering continuous maintenance consideration).

    On the relative difference in tonnes of materials per TWh, the Shellenberger videos give the tonnes/TWh values for SP, WP, NP of 16,447, 14,067 and 920 respectively. Doing the math, thus a SP/NP ratio of 17.9, and a WP/NP ratio of 15.3. Thus, there is more tonnage of materials "impact" associated with SP & WP than nuclear.

    I don't have peer reviewed critiques of Jacobson's work at my ready. I am a novice, and only just beginning to investigate & learn (in the last 9 months) on this specific branch of CC mitigation: the involved & complicated comparisons of RE vs NP (especially the complications of next gen NP). So, I can't offer any further serious, peer-reviewed critique of Jacobson's work. But, certainly, there have been serious researchers that have done that (as cited on Wikipedia).

    All I can personnally say is give my opinion from people I feel trustworthy and they are saying things that seem very concerning about a non-NP plan (as given in my 1st comment above). In the least, it seems that we should tred down the national macro-energy management path with eyes open wide on all options (being honest w/ ourselves & giving due diligence to all the facts). And, to that, I'm hearing reasonably concerning things about Jacobson's plan (who was the main citation for the above greenman video).

    I have no skin in this comparitive game; I could care less. My only goal is zero emissions as fast & smartly as possible. [And when I call people "trustworthy" above, I earnestly believe they have the same goals of urgency toward zero emissions and associated due diligence, in earnest good faith, to get there as fast & smartly as possible.] But, for giving serious peer-reviewed rebuttal of Jacobson, I transparently admit that I am an amateur here, and only passing on misc internet information that seems trustworthy to me.

    FYI: I am a 35-year career chemical engineer with lots of project experience under my belt who takes CC mitigation as priority #1, #2 #3 thru #10. I am also an fervently active Citizens' Climate Lobby member.]

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  10. Those numbers sound big but on global scale, is it? 1.2m a day is what sized workforce in making and replacing them? IEA is saying 1.6m panels being installed per day at moment. The panels are recyclable so I dont see waste materials are as complex as coal or nuclear. And as for workforce, well WSJ isnt my pick of reliable source but it claims coal (mining, transport, plant operation) needs twice as many workers per MW as solar and 5x as many as wind power. I would welcome a more authorative source - ah, how about DOE.

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  11. Saurej:

    Googling automobile production I wee that last yeat world production of autos was about 70 million cars.  That would be about 1.2 million cars every 6 days.  Since solar panels are so much smaller than cars it would be a lot less than current automobile production.   I do not have figures on how many power plants are currently under construction.  In my experience when you do a global calculation it is a big number.  1.2 million panels per day seems like a reasonable number to me. As Scaddenp describes it is less than current production!  Since the panels can be recycled most of the materials would come from the scrapped panels.

    Schellenberger is a nuclear shill paid by industry.  His job is to mislead.  It may be correct that more tons of materials are required for wind and solar, although it has not been determined how much materials are needed to dispose of the nuclear waste since there are no operating waste disposal sites. 

    On the other hand, as Abbott 2012  describes, there are many many more tons of rare metals in a nuclear plant.  Wind and solar are almost entirely steel, aluminum, copper and sand.  Nuclear plants depend on a host of rare elements like uranium, hafnium, beryllium, zirconium and many others.  These rare metals simply do not exist in enough quantity to build out a nuclear utopia like Schallemberger describes.

    In addition, nuclear is too expensive and too slow to construct.  If we waste billions of dollars on expensive nuclear plants like the Hinkley plant in England,  Olkiluoto in Finland and the Vogtle and Summer plants in the USA, all of which are either years (decades) behind schedule or cancelled and billions over budget, we will never be able to deal with the carbon problem.

    Read Abbott 2012 and the other papers from Abbott I linked above to get an idea of some of the problems nuclear has to deal with.  Currently nuclear proponents are backing modular reactors that have not yet been designed or thorium plants that are also in the design stage.  The reactors being built by Korea and Russa are "unsafe" (as described by nuclear supporters) designs.  The "safe" designs are turning out to be unbuildable.

    We do not have the time and money to waste on a technology that has failed.  Nuclear has failed and cannot scale to the size required to help the carbon problem.  Wind and solar are proven technologies that can be scaled to any required scale.

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  12. "If people were to study what it would take to achieve 100% RE (both in coverage of land, how much MASS of material will need to be mined out of the ground and how much MASS of material is needed to keep replenishing all of that as it depreciates),"

    In fact if America was powered entirely with solar panels, it would use less than 1% of the land area here and of course much of that could be on rooftops anyway. Wind farms only use land to the extent of the supporting towers, and animals often graze around these towers. Wind farms are also located offshore, and costs for this are dropping fast.

    Regarding the quantities and types of materials needed to build solar and wind power, this article discusses problems and some very realistic and workable solutions. Use of materials is a valid concern and  a challenge that needs highlighting, but there are answers. Its obviously important to remember other forms of electricty generation also use a range of materials and would eventually need replacement and rebuilding.

    "Then, the real WHOOPER is that 1.2mm solar panels would have to be replaced EVERY DAY and FOREVER just to replenish the ones that wear out (on a 40 year rotation cycle)."

    Surely this is of little significance? A red herring? Millions of cars have parts replaced each year. Solar power is very financially competitive with fossil fuels and nuclear power, and cheaper in many places, based on levelised costs that include replacement and maintainance here. To me this is all that really counts. 

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  13. All, 1) You guys mistook the 1.2mm panels per day figure being for global replacement; that figure is for the US alone (you all must not have watched the video very closely). The 15x mass differences (RE vs NP) is still a lot of "impact", a lot more energy; even if able to recycle all these materials. 2) Other reliable people question Jacobson's plan (see wiki article under his name). 3) Shellenberger: I see nothing on the internet that makes me believe he is a "nuclear shill paid by industry". He seems trustworthy to me; admitting his own past bias misunderstandings, and his genuine passion for zero emissions gives him (at least for me) a good spirit of credibility. This is bolstered by the fact that many other very trustworthy people are in the same camp with him; people like James Hansen, whom I greatly trust & admire. 4) Study Lazard's free cash flow methodology on page 13 of their energy PDF report (linked HERE). It DOES include capacity factor differences, but it does NOT account for service-life differences and it does NOT account for levelized on-demand reliability. So, I'm a bit skeptical that its costs are 100% levelized. Besides, even if putting these differences temporarily aside, Larard still reports NP as cheaper than solar & NP equal to wind (see nigelj's link above, 2nd slide). 5) France vs Germany comparison gives me pause (see this site). 6) So, I remain very skeptical that a anti-NP (no NP) policy is prudent. I fully admit I could well be wrong, but I'm seeing & reading signs (above refs & others, see below) that gives the prudent, due-diligence eng in me great pause. 7) I have no skin in this debate. Without a very steep $100-200+/MT CO2e CT (rev-neu so to allow it to be so steep), I am positive that we are going to be screwed anyway, no matter what we think we are going to do (RE or NP). But, my concern here is that even w/ a good CT policy (like EICDA), it won't be nearly as effective if all safe energies are not equally "on the table".

    Here are three more articles that just hit my desk today, which only continue to add to my concern about a 0% NP plan. I have read the first two (they are relatively short), but not yet the 3rd one (very long) which is referenced in the 2nd article.

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  14. Sauerj @13, 

    You are not reading what people say. It doesn't matter about replacing panels because solar energy is still cost competitive.

    As Lazard says costs of new nuclear power and solar / wind are similar, but nuclear power is a mature technology and prices are static. Prices for solar and wind have been on a falling trajectory, and virtually all commentators think they will fall further, so by the time new nuclear plant is half way through the approval process, solar and wind will almost certainly be cheaper options than nuclear and much quicker to build. 

    However I have no objection to the GND including a nuclear component, provided the choice is left up to generators and not forced by governments. So therefore it would be driven by the economics and practicalities and these currently dont favour nuclear power. This may change: but its up to the nuclear industry.

    If you think differently how so?

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  15. Recommended supplemental reading:

    In 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi power plant, Gregory Jaczko, then the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, had to worry about two things: whether radioactive fallout would harm the U.S. and whether a similar accident could befall an American plant. The answer to the first question turned out to be no. The second question preoccupies him still.

    The NRC directed the operators of the 60 or so working U.S. nuclear power plants to evaluate their current flood risk, using the latest weather modeling technology and accounting for the effects of climate change. Companies were told to compare those risks with what their plants, many almost a half-century old, were built to withstand, and, where there was a gap, to explain how they would close it.

    That process has revealed a lot of gaps. But Jaczko and others say that the commission’s new leadership, appointed by President Donald Trump, hasn’t done enough to require owners of nuclear power plants to take preventative measures—and that the risks are increasing as climate change worsens.

    U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Weren’t Built for Climate Change by Christopher Flavelle & Jeremy C.F. Lin, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Apr 18, 2019

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  16. Sauerj:

    I wasted 30 minutes listening to Shellenbergers lecture.  It was a load of mistruths designed to fool a non-techjnical audience.

    I have only a few observations to make, a full discourse would be far too long.

    1) Shellenberger did not address any of the 13 reasons Abbott presents why nuclear cannot generate a significant fraction (more than 5% of total power).  You have not addressed them either.  Since Abbott was peer reviewed and you have not addressed it we must accept his argument as correct.

    2) At one point Shellenberger argues that renewable energy is bad because electricity is more expensive in Germany.  Then he argues that renewable energy is bad because electricity prices decline when renewable energy is added to the mix.  This is a direct contradiction.  Since the lecture was prepared long before it is a deliberate contradiction.  Deliberate contradictions are lies and we can simply discard all of his talk since he has been demonstrated to lie.

    Why would anyone think that a decrease in electricity prices is bad???  Please justify that argument.

    2) Shellenberger denied that the nuclear industry is responsible for the people they killed at Fukushima.  The industry demonstrates their complete lack of concern for safety when they do not accept responsibility for the people they kill.

    3) I tried to source the graph you cite that claims more tonnage of materials is used in renewable energy.  Shellenberger cites a pro-nuclear book that I could not find on the internet.  I found the same graph at a site that supports nuclear power.  They referenced figure 10 from an EIA report from 2015.  The report did not have a figure 10.  From my position the graph is falsified since the reference I found for it was false.   We already know that Shellenberger is a lier.   Please provide a reference for the graph that shows how it was made.

    4) In any case, nuclear is not economic. In the Lazard report you cited in the first graph of the report (the most important) on page 2, the low levelized price of solar power is $36/Mwh and wind is $29/Mwh. The low value for nuclear power is $112/Mwh.  Nuclear is three times the price of solar and four times the price of wind. It costs more for operation and maintenance of a nuclear plant (with no mortgage) than the full costs of a renewable plant.

    There is no comparison graph on page 13 of the report you linked. Costs for disposal of the nuclear waste must be missing since nuclear has no plan for how they will dispose of their waste

    In general it is a waste of time to debate a nuclear proponent since they insist that black is white and up is down.  I have provided peer reviewed data that shows nuclear power is not capable of producing a significant amount of power.  You have not addressed those arguments.  You have not produced any peer reviewed data.

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  17. The cost of nuclear accidents should also be factored in. It's estimated clean up costs for Fukushima are $180 billion US here. Ouch!

    I was watching something on nuclear power last night on television, and disposing of the many thousands of tons of contaminated soil is proving to be another headache.

    The sarchophagus containment vessel to encase Chernobyl also cost billions of dollars. It was originally intended to be concrete, but this proved not to be viable, because it was too heavy to slide into place on rails, and so they used stainless steel, which will have to be replaced eventually and does not completely contain some forms of the radiation. 

    Nuclear power was promised to provide limitless cheap energy. I always thought that sounded too good to be true. There's no such thing as a free lunch.

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  18. I confess that I didnt look a video - life is too short for listening to spoken word - I read much faster. Furthermore video usually doesnt give you references nor citations. I am happy to look at source references used however. A solar "panel" isnt a great measure, but assuming domestic size (because I bet Shellenberger would use whatever gave him biggest no), it seems installers can frame, wire and install 20 panels in 1-2 days. Given the 174,000  currently employed in coal workforce would seem that they could manage the 1.2 million panels per day. Replacement of existing panels where framing already exists should be faster.

    I actually think nuclear power may have a place - David MacKay's figures in "Sustainable Energy without the hot air" are pretty sobering for the UK - and especially the "gen iv" tech, but I am still waiting a proper (reviewed) response to Abbott and certainly not convinced that the USA needs to consider it.

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  19. All, I am hardly a NP biased proponent. I have only just began to learn about NP (only starting in the last 9 months). I was technologically agnostic before that (instead only focusing on revenue-neutral carbon tax policy). I would call myself a proponent of skeptical science and due-diligence. I have made my primary motivations (zero GHG emissions) quite clear in the above comments. The above characterizations and snide remarks toward me (#16: "black is white and up is down") are unprofessional. I have been fair, professional and forthcoming; referencing all of my points and pointing out (w/o meanness) where the refs that I provided were not correctly understood (ex. 1.2mm panels per day and for US only). ... Nigelj points out that this latter point doesn't matter b/c NP is cheaper (#14); but, this cost detail is very complicated and not so clear, as I explained above & further explain below. Regardless, I still think a continuous replenishment of 1.2mm panels per day, for the US, forever, (assuming a conservatively high 40-yr life span), even if recycling, is something not to dismiss lightly.

    I am still worried that a 100% RE plan (per Jacobson's plan, who was a big part of this greenman video) would be imprudently bias against NP and close-minded to how NP can help us (in the mix) get to zero GHG emissions as quickly, smartly & justly as possible. I believe that Jacobson's 100% RE 35-year roadmap plan needs more careful cross-examination; and I base this on what appears to be a thorough review video (cited above & again HERE for convenience), as well as per what other reputable people are saying, also pointed out above, such as highly respected people like James Hansen & others), and I feel that this sort of on-going diligent cross-examination of Jacobson's plan should be pointed out (as I have done).

    In the end, I feel that cost should decide, but only provided we are truly & earnestly looking at all costs, and also including all external, long-term costs in the cash flow analysis (which is what the EICDA bill ultimately gets us at (concerning GHG pollution). I am not convinced that that kind of total & comprehensive cost analysis is done w/ Lazard's cost #'s, mostly b/c of the two missing big factors (mentioned in my comments above) which are: non-equal service-life & non-equal reliability (which are not included in Lazard's cash flow analysis).

    1) Abbott (MSweet's 16.1): I didn't address the Abbott 2011 paper (material resource issue, #13 in his paper) b/c it is way over my head technically. By myself, I could never get to the bottom on what is the definitive truth on this. To fairly review this paper, it would take a team of senior NP & geological experts, to be able to give Abbott's conclusions due analytical diligence. I am nowhere near qualified for that.

    But, in order to meagerly attempt to do that (in the last 2-3 days), I have submitted this Abbott 2011 paper to NP experts (who frequent this "RE vs NP" FB public group) to give them a chance to review & comment on this. A 'Colby Kirk' has given me the following information that throws the Abbott 2011 paper into doubt.

    1.1) On Abbott's Material Resource Issue (his point #13):
    Per Colby Kirk: "I reviewed his [Abbott] claims on the limited materials. He didn't give a number of materials per reactor, he just claimed all of these materials are required for nuclear reactors and then did a basic algebra formula based on the reserves limited to only the U.S. This is far from being scientific, quantitative or honest.

    "For instance zirconium ... "15 Metric tons per reactor unit of ACR1000" at 15,000 reactors will still not be an issue [see page 73 of this site HERE for this 15MT/rx #]. 225,000 tons for the world nuclear fleet against a world supply of 73,000,000 tons [sauerj insert: Abbott has this at 56,000,000 tons]. That's also assuming we only use that reactor design, which advanced reactors will eliminate the need for zirconium cladding.

    "None of this brings up the possibility of recycling which would become a large part of the supply line as these materials go up in price. Fuel assemblies go in and come out with the technical possibility of reprocessing and recycling. Different reactor designs have different needs and any bottle neck on certain materials will just motivate a substitution or design pivot."

    1.2) On Abbott's paper being "peer reviewed":
    Per Colby Kirk: "I've learned to not rely on the approval of peer review since lots of easily refuted antinuclear hit pieces get published in the literature under "peer review". Editors and reviewers can play favorites, have bias and also not know what they are looking at, which is unfortunate. I've seen lots of terrible work pass under "peer review". I can say for sure he [Abbott] is citing some widely refuted anti-nuclear hit pieces that were not peer reviewed like SLS. [sauerj inert: See my note below about this SLS paper below (*).]

    "There are also some egregious errors and mistakes in the rest of the paper that any honest reviewer would catch, like cherry picking U235 as the only viable nuclear fuel.
    "The document is labeled under "point of view" [sauerj insert: see top of the Abbott paper & on every corner] which looks to be a debate platform in the IEEE content stream. They talk about "personal positions" and "predictions" without mention of peer review like they do for the rest of the journal. Therefore I doubt it is peer reviewed. HERE is the description of that page. "

    (*) About the non-peer reviewed SLS paper (that Abbott cites 3 places in his 2011 paper): Colby Kirk also sent me the following two rebuttal articles about this SLS paper, see HERE & HERE.

    Finally, on this 16.1 point, I personally could not find where Abbott says that the shortage limit of Be, Nb, Zr, Y, Hf will limit NP to 5% max of total power (NP currently provides 11% of global power today). MSweet, could you cite where Abbott claims this?

    2) Lazard pg 13 Methodology (MSweet's 16.4, 2nd para of 16.4): This page 13 is just an example free cash flow analysis for just one technology (wind). That is why it doesn't show a comparative table for NP. But regardless, no, they probably don't include disposal costs for NP; so that is a fair point. But, they probably don't also include replacement & recycle costs with the RE options either; though this is probably much less $ than that for NP.

    3) Costs (MSweet's 16.4, 1st para of 16.4): My statement above (comment #13) about NP being less than solar & equal to wind (based on slide #2 on THIS site) was not apples-to-apples in comparison; I did not read the slide carefully enough (my error). This slide is a comparison of old fully depreciated NP and new un-depreciated solar & wind, which shows old NP being less cost than new solar & equal to new wind (but this not a fair comparison on new vs new). As MSweet pointed out above (pt 16.4) (in the PDF that I sited), new NP is much more than solar & wind. ... My next thought (per the bottom citations I gave above in #13, & for convenience citing again HERE & HERE) does NP have to be this expensive (based on installations in China, India & South Korea being 25-30% less and per the 3.1 & 3.2 paragraphs below that give credible evidence & references that Jacobson's 100% RE plan would cost 3x more than a Gen III NP plan in reguards to capital costs). But, I fully admit & agree, per Lazard's #'s, without any correction for service-life & equal reliability differences (or without consideration of the capital cost differences per 3.1 & 3.2 below), that new NP does cost more than new RE.

    Lazard's #'s do not account for differences in service-life (per its pg 13 methodology), nor offsetting to achieve equal on-demand reliability (ditto). I think these two are big cost factors that are missing from Lazard's cash flow analysis, which is otherwise quite rigorously & technically well done. This lack of 100% apples-to-apples comparison (due to these two missing points) is the same lack of apples-to-apples consternation as cited in the Grist article above (conveniently cited again HERE, see below the "Are renewables cheaper?" header)

    On comparing capital cost differences b/w a 100% RE plan vs a mostly NP plan to supply the US with enough non-carbon energy to de-carbonize the US, the following information is noteworthy:
    3.1) Capital cost to put the US on 100% RE: Per Jacobson, to supply the 1591GW US demand using his 100% RE plan will cost $15.2tr (not counting necessary pumped hydro back-up which adds $1.3tr for every 4 hours of total US grid back-up). Ref: See this video (3:15-4:15) for these Jacobson 100% RE costs #'s.
    3.2) Capital cost to put the US mostly on NP: The Gen III reactors (in SKorea) were built for a cost of $4.4bn/GW. Therefore, to satisfy the US power demand, this would cost $6.7tr (almost 1/3 the cost of the 100% RE costs if the RE plan includes a moderate amount of pumped hydro back-up). And, this NP capital cost could fall to $3tr with Gen IV MSR reactors. These NP costs are per this video (4:50-6:30).

    4) Shellenberger (MSweet's 16.2 [the first 16.2]): MSweet, Could you post which video (& time) is pertinent to where you said he (Shellberger) contradicted himself? If that is so, then you are most right; and I would agree. Yes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with RE driving power prices down.

    5) Shellenberger (MSweet's 16.2 [the 2nd 16.2]): About Fukushima deaths: Shellberger's claims of no deaths due to NP (this video at 14:37) are backed up by the May-2013 UN report (see wiki article, below the "UNSCEAR Report" header), which cites "No radiation-related deaths or acute diseases have been observed among the workers and general public exposed to radiation from the accident". In addition, Shellenberger ref'd the actual UN report, (in the above linked video slide at 14:37), which appears to be extremely thorough (200 pgs). Therefore, I see nothing to make me believe that Shellenberger misrepresented the facts in his video stating that there were no radiation deaths due to NP. Therefore, b/c the nuclear industry didn't technically kill anybody (that all associated deaths were only due to the fault of inappropriate emergency response) per this reputable UN report (that Shellenberger cites), my conclusion is contrary to MSweet's above statement: "Shellenberger denied that the nuclear industry is responsible for the people they killed at Fukushima. The industry demonstrates their complete lack of concern for safety when they do not accept responsibility for the people they kill."

    Regardless to no one dying due to radiation, the Fukushima accident was still not good. But do we throw out any good that NP can provide, in getting to zero emissions, if done safely and prudently, due to a possible bad & risky design at Fukushima?

    6) Material Mass/Power Comparison (MSweet's 16.3): MSweet, On this "tons/Mwh" point, you mentioned above having trouble finding ref docs that Shellberger referenced. To be clear, I used this Shellenberger video at 18:39 for the mass/power ratio #'s that I posted in #9 above. When I check Shellenberger's references here, I was able to quickly find his referenced doc HERE, which then points to HERE to access it. But, you have to have a sign-on clearance to access it, which I don't have. My expectation is that this doc will, in fact, have a Table 10 (that matches the same figures on Shellenberger's slide). So, I believe you might have been too quick to say that Shellenberger's graph was "falsified"; and to call him a "liar". Now possibly you were looking at a different video and slide, b/c the reference Shellenberger cites here (18:39) is not a "pro-nuclear book" but instead a DOE paper (which led me to the above two sites). If you are able to access this report (again HERE), and find no Table 10 to back-up Shell's slide here, then this does discredit him.
    To try to find additional docs on this tons/Mwh ratio subject, I could also ask the above mentioned NP experts for more refs on differences between NP & solar & wind on this point. On the surface, it does jibes w/ my eng sensibilities that solar & wind would far outweigh NP on this ratio due to much lower energy density of the RE's vs NP, especially for the required large scale (per Jacobson's #'s) as outlined in this video (2:40-3:30, and 6:35-8:30).
    At this point, on this mass/power ratio matter, I see nothing that gives me reason to doubt Shellenberger's numbers; and certainly no definitive evidence to classify him as a "falsifier" and a "liar".
    Also, his presentation cites people who were once very anti-nuclear (Brand, Monbiot), but now in their zeal to really get to zero emissions (as smartly & quickly as possible), and in their honest examination of all the facts, these people have changed their minds. This is profoundly moving to me. Hansen's word is also profoundly moving to me, as I mentioned above (#13).

    7) NP Maturity (Nigelj 14): In my learning's about NP (in the last 9 months), I have learned that the NP industry is certainly not fully mature. It may be more mature than the solar industry, but there are many things that could be strategically done to bring the capital cost of safe NP down via alternations/upgrades to different paradigms (from Gen II to Gen III, IV) and construction streamlining techniques. Other countries are moving forward into these more cost competitive & safer paradigms (per all of my points above in #3 of this reply) and lower cost construction techniques.

    In Conclusion: I am not a NP hack; please do not characterize me of that. I am a CC mitigation hawk and active CCL member, who is simply asking questions & trying to learn to find the truth, and I feel that reputable sites & people (as ref'd) legitimize my questions & concerns about a 100% RE plan. With this reply, I feel I have addressed your points comprehensively and professionally, and on subject concerning this greenman video and its Jacobson referenced content.


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  20. Sauerj @19, I get where you are coming from.

    Regarding Abbots research. It's hardly surprising that people with vested interests have attacked Abbots published research, however the criticism of Abbott has been informal in articles. Until his critics commit to a proper published peer reviewed criticism their criticism obviously lacks rigour.

    I see a potential place for nuclear power, probably alongside renewables, but I think it's really a decision to be made by generating companies on the basis of costs. We all want the cheapest power providing its safe and low carbon, and despite accidents like Chernobyl, nuclear power kills or disables fewer people per mwatt hour than other generating options.

    Right now generating companies are building renewable energy in western countries because nuclear is not cost competitive, and remember generating companies would consider the longer term cost issues you raise. Maybe this would change if resources for wind and solar power start to get scarce, or the nuclear industry reduces costs but these are market issues. What is it governments or you and I can do or say about it? Not much. I dont see a case for governments to artifically favour nuclear power above other options.

    I don't know why nuclear costs are cheaper in Asia. America has strict safety standards and I would not want to see those compomised. But in any event America has to deal with its own realities.

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  21. First a quibble. 100% nuke electric for current patterns of consumption means about half of them must load follow.  Lifetime of thermal loop components decreases with thermal cycling, so maintenance cost and downtime rise.

    Much more important: The nuclear industry has lost trust. No matter what the design safeguards and failsafes, it is not clear that in the USA  can build one correctly any more (Vogtle, Sumner) , or operate the current nukes safely.  Davis-Besse is a prime example, the only metal left at some points in containment was the thin layer of chromium plate, all the steel was gone. And Jaczko is absolutely correct, flood defense in US nukes is a travesty. They were warned of flood vulnerabilities for more than a decade and they have done far less than they need to. I think the operating extensions granted to some 40 yr old nukes was a bad decision, and one that will bite.


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  22. Sauerj,

    Unfortunately, this week I am too busy to watch more nuclear videos.  Please start using peer-reviewed, written assessments instead of unreviewed sources on the internet.  I doubt others want to read more about nuclear so I will summarize as much as possible.

    While you are concerned about 1.2 million panels per day, (Jacobson has calculated that all materials and labor are cheaper than fossil fuels including this amount), Abbott calculates that worldwide they would have to build 1 nuclear plant every day forever or about 1 nuclear plant every 4-6 days for the US alone to supply all power.  Since they are currently struggling to find laborers for 2 plants in the USA under construction I doubt that could be attempted.

    Questioning Lazard's costs without data to support your claims makes you look bad.  Using nuclear supporters references to industry estimates instead of neutral authorities is arguing black is white.

    1) The opinion of some random internet guy cannot be compared to Abbotts paper published by invitation in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.  The editors peer reviewed it.   Arguing that we should listen to a random internet guy with no qualifications is black versus white.  The fact that the nuclear advocates have not answered Abbott after 10 years indicates that they think he is correct.  

    Nuclear plants cannot recyce their materials since they will be rendered radioactive.  They will probably bury most of the plant on site (intending to leave it there forever) since there is no-where that will accept the nuclear waste.

    2) Lazard is an accepted expert.  Substituting internet analysis for them is black versus white.

    3) KEPCO (the Koreans) are way over budget and way behind schedule on their builds in the UAE.  The budget is secret but estimates are currently $25-30 billion for 4 plants.  China and India budgets are similarly not transparent.  On this basis, you should double your nuclear cost estimates.  The first plant in the UAE is three years overdue.  A nuclear supporter told me that the first plant was built on time because they claimed it was finished in 2016 even though it is currently three years past due for generating power.  There must be serious construction defects to keep the plant closed. You cannot use build estimates for nuclear proposals.

    You have left out decomissioning costs from your estimates.  For nuclear they are the same or higher as the build costs.  All your nuclear estimates have to be doubled again.  Black versus white.  Most nuclear plant owners seem to be currently planning on getting the government to clean up their mess. 

    By contrast, wind turbines are refurbished and resold when they are replaced by new units (the new units are more efficient).  Nuclear proponents claims that turbines last only 20 years are deliberate lies.

    Jacobson's recent estimates are for buiilding out all power, electricity, transportation and industry.  You appear to be comparing an estimate of most of electricity for nuclear to all power from Jacobson.  All power is about 3 times electricity.  This is a black/white comparison.  Jacobson's estimates include all storage.  Nuclear advocates use pumped storage because it is the most expensive storage and makes renewable look more expensive.  Renewable advocates do not use pumped storage since there do not exist enough locations to build them (b/w).  Most existing pumped storage in the USA was built to store excess nuclear power when nuclear was supposed to be "too cheap to meter".

    You have not included costs of storage for nuclear.  Since the demand for power is not constant during the day or seasonally and nuclear cannot load follow, nuclear requires storage also.  No-one knows how much storage is needed for nuclear since they have not done any analysis, but it would be comparable to storage for renewables (b/w).  

    4) I do not have time to review Schellenberger again.  He compares France to Germany with an unlabeled graph to argue renewable is too expensive (France subsidizes electricity to make people thing nuclear power is cheap).  He has a graph of declining electricity prices declining as more wind is added to argue that renewable is uneconomic.  

    5) I have demonstrated that Schellenberger is a deliberate lier.  Refering to anything he says makes you look very bad.  B/w.

    The nuclear industry killed 1500 people at Fukushima.  There are arguments about how many cancers they have caused.  Hundreds of thousands of people cannot return to their homes.  Nuclear advocates deny they are responsible for the damage they cause.  B/w.

    6) If Shelenberger's graph was genuine he would provide a tracable citation.  Textbooks never generate graphs, they copy them from sombody else.  He should have cited the original source of the graph, not a copy.  If the graph exists, the data is probably from 1990.  Shellenberger is a known lier.  

    7) If nuclear cannot get it straight after 70 years why should I expect them to improve in the future?

    8)  You make yourself look bad parroting the nuclear industry internet position.  Read way more.  All the papers looking at future power systems (there are hundreds of them, not just Jacobson) discount nuclear.

    We did not discuss how you would power Syria, Iran and all of Africa with nuclear.  Your internet wiz refered to new designs which do not use exotic materials which take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  There is no evidence that they can be designed without the necessary exotic materials.  The implied claim that exotic materials are not needed is transparently false.

    Nuclear plants take at least 10 years to build and are generally at least 15 years from first proposed.  If you could overcome peoples resistance it is impossible that significant nuclear could be built before 2035.  That is too late.  Trained engineers, welders and plant operators do not exist.  By contrast, renewable facilities are built by regular engineers and builders who exist in plenty.  Renewable can be built today.

    In a renewable world peak power to back up wind and solar on windless nights is the most valuable.  Baseload power is not valuable.  We need storage not baseload.

    Nuclear is uneconomic.  I am sorry I ran on so long.  

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  23. M Sweet @22 don't apologise for long comments. All quite interesting!

    India has cancelled many of its nuclear projectshere. "While the government did not provide a reason for the nuclear power cancellations, it is likely due to the following challenges: 1) a lack of funding, 2) a supply chain that cannot reliably handle huge increases in orders, and 3) a lack of trained personnel, who can build and operate the plants at the planned level of activity."

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  24. Joe Rohm describes the Trump administration's decision to allow nuclear plants to ignore flood risks here.  I have seen similar reports elsewhere.

    The article describes efforts made to reevaluate flood risks to nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster.  It was found that 90% of nuclear plants were not built to withstand current flood risks.  The Trump administration overruled the NRC staff and decided not to require the plants to build new defenses against flooding.

    Of course we already know that the nuclear industry does not care who they harm.

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  25. What I hate about these discussions is that they assume the status quo must continue. "We can't have new nuclear plants until 2033" is a prediction purely based on the status quo - the current level of government support for nuclear power (tepid at best), the current regulatory structure in the US (which penalizes innovation), the current investor appetite (which of course is low if there are no carbon fees, only tiny subsidies for better nuclear technology, and no good supply chain for building reactors).

    If this were any other clean tech people would ask for more government support. But I don't think people realize that baseload is actually important, like, really.

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  26. It's not fair, either, to dismiss new nuclear power on the basis of two failed startups while ignoring all the other activity that is still going on. Among molten-salt reactor enthusiasts centered on Gordon McDowell, Kirk Sorenson et al., TransAtomic power wasn't given much attention and Kirk Sorenson viscerally rejected the travelling wave reactor design (the one promoted by Bill Gates), saying "it's just so darn hard!"

    I've been looking at MSRs for years with great interest. My favorite reactor designs right now are the Stable Salt Reactor by Moltex and the IMSR by Terrestrial Energy. I was a big fan of ThorCon - they have a great plan logistically speaking, but they require a generous regulatory environment to build their reactor (e.g. they seem to want to use uranium fuel enriched to 19.75% U-235 which is four times higher than most other reactors use, and they want a testing-based certification scheme rather than the traditional "prove it works on paper first to the eggheads in NRC" model)... I think it will be much harder to get the desired regulations than they seem to think.

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  27.  DPiedpgrass Thanks.  People are ignoring Gen 4 nuclear. We at least need to build some prototype reactors before we give up.  China is leading in Gen 4 Fission reactors. They have just started a Gen 4 Gas Cooled, Pebble Bed Reactor prototype.  If the US does not want this technology the Chinese will. Gas cooled reactors are extremely safe. They use silcon, carbon and ceramic fuel spheres rather than having melting steel fuel rods currently in use.  China is going to build over 50 nuclear reactors.  We should help them make the safest possible reactors. Trump has just stopped the US/Chinese TWR reactor project by Terrapower.

    This is a serious option.  And we need more options. Just saying we need to build prototypes to check they work.  Or China will.

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    Generation 4 Molten Salt Reactors.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Activated hyperlink

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