Nuclear Power: The Dream that Failed

April 30, 2012

The Economist:

Looking at nuclear power 26 years ago, this newspaper observed that the way forward for a somewhat moribund nuclear industry was “to get plenty of nuclear plants built, and then to accumulate, year after year, a record of no deaths, no serious accidents—and no dispute that the result is cheaper energy.” It was a fair assessment; but our conclusion that the industry was “safe as a chocolate factory” proved something of a hostage to fortune. Less than a month later one of the reactors at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine ran out of control and exploded, killing the workers there at the time and some of those sent in to clean up afterwards, spreading contamination far and wide, leaving a swathe of countryside uninhabitable and tens of thousands banished from their homes. The harm done by radiation remains unknown to this day; the stress and anguish of the displaced has been plain to see.

Then, 25 years later, when enough time had passed for some to be talking of a “nuclear renaissance”, it happened again (see article). The bureaucrats, politicians and industrialists of what has been called Japan’s “nuclear village” were not unaccountable apparatchiks in a decaying authoritarian state like those that bore the guilt of Chernobyl; they had responsibilities to voters, to shareholders, to society. And still they allowed their enthusiasm for nuclear power to shelter weak regulation, safety systems that failed to work and a culpable ignorance of the tectonic risks the reactors faced, all the while blithely promulgating a myth of nuclear safety.

Not all democracies do things so poorly. But nuclear power is about to become less and less a creature of democracies. The biggest investment in it on the horizon is in China—not because China is taking a great bet on nuclear, but because even a modest level of interest in such a huge economy is big by the standards of almost everyone else. China’s regulatory system is likely to be overhauled in response to Fukushima. Some of its new plants are of the most modern, and purportedly safest, design. But safety requires more than good engineering. It takes independent regulation, and a meticulous, self-critical safety culture that endlessly searches for risks it might have missed. These are not things that China (or Russia, which also plans to build a fair few plants) has yet shown it can provide.

In any country independent regulation is harder when the industry being regulated exists largely by government fiat. Yet, as our special report this week explains, without governments private companies would simply not choose to build nuclear-power plants. This is in part because of the risks they face from local opposition and changes in government policy (seeing Germany’s nuclear-power stations, which the government had until then seen as safe, shut down after Fukushima sent a chilling message to the industry). But it is mostly because reactors are very expensive indeed. Lower capital costs once claimed for modern post-Chernobyl designs have not materialised. The few new reactors being built in Europe are far over their already big budgets. And in America, home to the world’s largest nuclear fleet, shale gas has slashed the costs of one of the alternatives; new nuclear plants are likely only in still-regulated electricity markets such as those of the south-east.

 ClimateProgress:

Recently, the editorial board of theWashington Post asked if the world can fight global warming without nuclear power, looking to Germany and Japan for the answer.

Both countries are known for a nuclear shutdown path. In Japan, only one of the 54 nuclear reactors currently remains in operation. Germany has closed eights reactors following the nuclear catastrophe of Fukushima in March 2011 and the remaining nine are scheduled to be closed by 2022.

That obviously must lead to rising emissions, the Post claims. Germany’s “electricity sector emits more carbon than it must after eight reactors shut down last year.”

If you look at the most recent emissions data, however, the opposite is happening. Germanyreduced its carbon emissions in 2011 by 2.1 percent despite the nuclear phase out. How can that be?

The cut in greenhouse gases was mainly reached due to an accelerated transition to renewable energies and a warm winter. In addition, the EU emissions trading system capped all emissions from the power sector. While eight nuclear power plants were shut down, solar power output increased by 60 percent. In 2011 alone, 7.5 gigawatts of solar were installed. By the end of last year, renewable energies provided more than 20 percent of overall electricity.

The Washington Post refers to critics of this transition who “reasonably predict that the country will instead rely on electricity imports from neighbors running old, reliable coal, gas and, yes, nuclear plants for years to come.”

So this means Germany would import electricity from neighboring countries, such as France, Poland, and the Czech Republic? It’s true, depending on time of day and year, that Germany imports electricity. However, even after shutting its eight oldest nuclear power plants, Germany is still a net exporter of electricity.

In 2011, Germany exported 6 TWh more than it imported, according to the industry federation German Association of Energy and Water Industries BDEW. Countries like Poland and the Czech Republic are not as concerned about providing electricity to Germany. On the contrary, they are mainly concerned about wind and solar power surges from Germany offsetting their own production of fossil and nuclear power. Additionally, German electricity exports to Europe’s nuclear power house France actually increased in 2011.

What does this tell us? The nuclear phase-out does not conflict with efforts to fight climate change. You can reduce emissions while shutting down nuclear power. And you can still supply industry and consumers with enough power.

By the end of 2011, Germany had reduced its CO2 emissions by more than 23 percent compared to 1990 levels, overshooting its Kyoto target. In addition, the country has build up a competitive renewable energy industry providing thousands of new jobs, even as competitors like China enter the game and catch up fast. In Germany, fighting climate change and phasing out nuclear power are two sides of the same coin.

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30 Responses to “Nuclear Power: The Dream that Failed”


  1. We don’t need nuclear power. We never did. Who needs power generation that turns into a national crisis every time power is interrupted due to some chance event, like a storm, a flood, an earthquake, or just plain human error? Think about it. Power generation that requires an evacuation plan. Huh? It’s an incredibly stupid concept. In a nuclear power plant crisis, power is interrupted from the plant and an evacuation is necessary. Then the area may be sealed off and uninhabitable for years. Before TMI, the WASH report said the chances of a melt down were as low as the earth being hit by an asteroid. Then there was no meltdown at TMI, but it did. Based on actual results, we should conclude that reactor should melt down at about the rate they have historically. No wonder countries like Germany are pulling shutting them down. It is almost inconceivable how so many people could have been fooled for so long.

    • kap55 Says:

      TMI was a Gen I reactor. Fukushima was Gen I reactors. (The four Gen II reactors at Fukushima Daiini experienced the same earthquake and tsunami. All four shut down normally and cooled normally.)

      Liquid fuel reactors, such as the Liquid Fuel Thorium Reactor (LFTR) cannot melt down, because the fuel is already liquid in normal operation. It also does not require external power if it is shut down. The LFTR operates at ambient pressure, so an explosion is impossible. And it produces no long-term waste.

      The planet is dying, and you’re objecting to the design of the lifeboat. We need carbon-free deployment, and we need it now. Kneejerk anti-nuclear attitudes on the left are just as bad as kneejerk anti-renewable attitudes on the right.

      • sailrick Says:

        But there are problems with more than two reactors at Fukishima, and besides some of them were already shut down for refueling. Nonetheless, several had problems with stored spent fuel rods, though I’m forgetting all the details. Wouldn’t the lack of cooling water pumps after the tsunami have prevented all six from being cooled, had they all been running?

        I have been intrigued by LFTRs, which do seem much safer, from the little I know.

        It seems to me we can get most of our power from PV solar, wind, and solar thermal with heat storage in the southwest.

        With nuclear power, it’s human error, more than technological errors that bother me.
        I think Fukishima showed that the nuclear industry and regulatory agencies have been overconfident, or put another way, have underestimated the power of nature. Obviously Fukishima never should have been built where it was. 4-8 hours battery backups in case the deisel engines can’t be started, doesn’t seem like enough. And we have many in the U.S. with the same setup.

        So generally speaking, I would rather see money spent on research to make nuclear safer and to come up with best we can, perhaps LFTRs. – Rather than going whole hog building nukes now.

        In the meantime, keep building solar and wind as fast as we can.

  2. Martin Lack Says:

    I am no technological optimist (like Bjorn Lomborg for example), and I would very much like to believe those who say we can and will always be able to do without nuclear electricity. However, I think the legitimate aspirations of billions of poor people make it unlikely.

    Japan is right to shut down its nuclear plants – as would be California and any other tectonically active place overdue a superquake – but there is no legitimate reason for Germany to shut down all its nuclear plants. Furthermore, although I would welcome the news that it has done so without increasing its CO2 emissions, I would like to know whether the marginal reduction could have been achieved without a mild winter. Despite this, a 60% increase in solar power generation is extremely impressive; and clear evidence of one of the greatest advantages of renewables over nuclear – the ability to deploy them rapidly (which is what we must do).

    However, in the longer-term I am much more sceptical of humanity’s ability to generate enough electricity from renewables alone… If humanity somehow manages to avoid significant reduction of global population as a result of environmental collapse, we will have significant problems powering modern civilisation for 10 billion people. Even if we are successful in encouraging millions to generate their own power (for air conditioning that will almost certainly become more and more essential), we will sooner or later run out of non-renewable resources – unless we build fast breeder reactors that can use uranium extracted from seawater (as well as all existing uranium ore, atomic bombs, and nuclear waste). This should buy us enough time (several hundred years) to harness nuclear fusion…

    I think the only sustainable alternative to this nuclear future – apart from far less humans – will be one in which the superconductive electricity transmission systems are used to transfer electricity from huge solar farms in deserts (where land can be put to no other use) to where people live. However, this will require fossil fuel companies to embrace sustainability and become renewable energy companies instead (something they have failed to do for 30 years already). However, if it can be done, I would be delighted to see it happen.


  3. Just to say it and get it over with:
    Nuclear and GMO are ‘game-changing’ technologies. I’m not surprised they would be deemed ‘too dangerous’ on first view: game-changing technologies rarely are deemed anything else. They revolutionize the species, but this takes time. We need to build the respect that time takes, and realize that, while humanity is ultimately dependent on these technologies during our expansion into the Solar System, they may not be best suited to the natural conditions here on Earth. Respect is required in both spheres. The Earth is absolutely unique. That’s something the greenies got right. There is nothing like it, in near space, or even in the Universe for all we know. At the same time, the ability to understand the fundamentals of energy (which is nuclear) and the fundamentals of genetics (GMO) and the fundamentals of materials (computers, solar PV, and a whole lot more), has given us the tools to become a truly space-faring civilization. All of human civilization is run on the Suns energy (just about). Guess what part of the Suns energy Earth subtends? Thats right: there is room enough, even in near space, for all of humankinds creations to reign. We just need to be respectful about it. We need to understand, given the arc of humanity, that Earth’s natural biosphere is completely unique, in all the Universe. This thing that gave us birth, is what we might wipe away, with the rash adoption of technologies that our science informs us will definitely power us into the Solar System, in the near future. What is sad about humankinds conflict over nuclear and GMO… is that there IS no conflict. Not really.


  4. The reactors that failed at Fukushima had nothing to do with Gen I and Gen II. All the reactors that were operating failed because they lost power and could not be cooled. If a Gen II reactor was in operation, it would have failed, too. If I had a nickel for every thorium dream… http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/for-nuclear-energy-supporters-hope-springs-eternal-the-fast-reactor-delusion/
    So if LFTRs are so great, where are they? They have been a colossal flop. Here’s the deal,… On average electricity is less than about 25% of the energy used. Nuclear is less than 25% of that. So nuclear is currently only a small fraction of the total. Unless the aging nuclear reactors are replaced, the amount of energy from nuclear is going to go down, not up. Forget about expansion. Nuclear will have a hard time keeping up with replacement at the current rate of building. It’s no panacea. It cannot solve our energy problems, let alone be safe, reliable, and economical. Uranium extracted from seawater? Ever heard of EROI? Energy return on investment. It means that in theory one could always pay a higher price to get anything, but when it comes to energy if it takes more energy to extract it than it produces, game over. So good luck with extracting from seawater. Nuclear cheerleaders have some splainin to do after Fukushima. I am waiting for some hard core real assessment of recent events. There are plenty of reasons for Germany to shut down all its nuclear reactors. If you have been watching these videos, you will note that it is a net exporter of electricity and its emissions have gone down. We don’t need nuclear power to achieve lower emissions at all. Germany shut down its nuclear power plants because its countryside is already contaminated from Chernobyl. If you place the Chernobyl nuclear desert over Germany, how much of Germany is left? That’s right. Big countries are still nuke cheerleaders. Small countries, forget it. One nuclear disaster and the country is lost a wasteland for the foreseeable future.

    • daryan12 Says:

      Chris,

      Actually I address many of the Gen IV reactor designs here:

      http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/ca/

      And the chapter on the aforementioned LFTR can be found here:

      http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/ca/part-8-msr-lftr/

      The short and fast summary of my little study is that, while these Gen IV designs do offer a number of advantages (notably on the issue of safety), the gain is modest, much smaller than supporters of such designs state. Such designs are simply too immature to be considered as serious alternatives to existing LWR’s, or indeed renewables.

      It will require many decades of research to rectify this, indeed given that some of the designs (notably the LFTR) are at such an early stage of development, one cannot rule out the possiblity of some ironclad “show stopper” being discovered that renders the design impractical and uneconomic.

      Further such reactors would almost certainly work out as being more expensive to build than either renewables or LWR’s, largely due to their use of exotic “super” alloys. The construction rate of such reactors would also be substantially lower than can be achieved at present.

      Finally, a sting in the tail. While some of these design’s “might” produce a modest reduction in nuclear waste (again not nearly as much as some assume) some of these waste products are actually quite nasty and arguably harder to get rid of than existing waste. Also the decomission costs of some of these Gen IV reactors would likely be higher than LWR’s, notably those that use Graphite cores (such as the LFTR or HTGR).

      • kap55 Says:

        Daryan,

        Although your blog post on LFTRs deserves a more complete response than I can give here, I will point out a few of the more obvious errors. You call Technetium-99 “nasty stuff”, yet it is one of the most common medical isotopes used in diagnosis. (In fact, Tc-99 is so useful it’s hardly correct to call it “waste” in the first place.) You claim thallium-208 is a gamma emitter (it’s a beta emitter with a 3 minute half-life: i.e., no threat) and also cite selenium-79 as a gamma emitter (it’s also a beta emitter, with a low-energy beta; ANL points out that the combination of low activity and low beta energy means that the hazard from Se-79 is low.)
        You state, “Obviously, once we exhaust the world’s U-235 stockpiles, LFTR’s and any other Thorium fuelled reactors will cease to function,” but this is incorrect. LFTRs breed their own U-233 during operation, and can be designed to breed enough U-233 to start other LFTRs.
        Finally, by calling LFTR advocates a “cargo cult,” you simply reinforce the belief that oppostion to LFTR is mostly political demagoguery that has little to do with science and nothing whatever to do with the climate crisis we are currently facing.

        • daryan12 Says:

          Sigh!

          A typical hatchet job reading of my post! For example I recall noting that I was citing the above from other sources as the crux of my critique was the engineering aspects (I’m an engineer not a nuclear scientist). But I did point out that the Th-208 comes from the decay of U-232, but don’t let pesky little facts get in the way of a good story!

          The issue of LFTR’s being able to generate the U-233 is unproven, as such a capability has never been shown. Also, can’t you make nuclear bombs out of U-233? doesn’t this contradict you’re argument earlier, as regards “LFTR’s can’t make bombs”?

          “political demagoguery”
          Oh, so I’m “one of them” now! Also, this is what worries me about you guys, you very quickly lerch into name calling and character assassination. Sceptical of nuclear as I am, I know people who are pro-nuclear (and nuclear scientist, indeed they have years of experience in the industry!) and indeed even pro-Thorium. And they reckon you guys are crazy! If anything they are even more hostile to the LFTR than I am (I, you will recall, see no harm in continued research, I’m just not very confident it will have a positive outcome).

          But you seem to be singularly fixated with the LFTR, despite the fact that there are alternative reactor designs (such as the HTGR) that are far more mature. You guys seem to belief that there is only one Thorium god and Weinberg is his prophet.

        • daryan12 Says:

          “thallium-208 is a gamma emitter (it’s a beta emitter with a 3 minute half-life: i.e., no threat)”

          I was troubled by that statement, but I let it go, as I was a little busy at the time (end of term, marking, Viva’s, etc.), but I’ve just realised where I got that info from:
          (A) A Kirk Sorensen video and (B) Furukawa etal (2008) a journal paper (one of the rare ones!) by a pro-LFTR author (which I was in the process of re-reading a few minutes ago). Both cite the high gamma emission levels of Th-208 as critical to the proliferation resistance of the LFTR fuel cycle. To quote Furukawa:

          “The daughter products of 232-U are highly radioactive and emit strong gamma rays such as 2.6 MeV of208-Tl. Concrete walls of 1 m thickness or 25 cm of lead are necessary to shield personnel from 233U fuel containing 232-U”

          http://www.geocities.com/rmoir2003/fur_icenes_2007.pdf

          So either you’re wrong (and I’m right!), or they’re wrong (and I should know better in future than to cite information from LFTR proponents whose technical knowledge can be considered suspect!), but either way it suggests you LFTR fans don’t have you’re facts straight!

        • daryan12 Says:

          “You call Technetium-99 “nasty stuff”, yet it is one of the most common medical isotopes used in diagnosis. (In fact, Tc-99 is so useful it’s hardly correct to call it “waste” in the first place.)…”

          Now while I appreciate this is my area of expertise, but doesn’t Tc-99 have a really long half-life, as in about 211,000 years or so? Are you seriously suggesting that we’ll continue to use the stuff for medical purposes for the duration of that period?

          http://www.periodictable.com/Isotopes/043.99/index.html

          Or again, is this a case of LFTR fans not having their facts straight?

          • kap55 Says:

            Yes, Tc-99 has a half-life long half life. You seem not to understand that the longer the half-life, the less radioactive it is. With a half-life of 211,000 years, Tc-99 is essentially harmless. That’s why, when Tc-99m (the metastable isomer used in medicine) decays to Tc-99 inside the body, no effort is made to remove it. It’s not going to hurt you.

            Yeah, that’s some “nasty stuff” all right. Will we see this unstraight “fact” removed from your blog?

            I would have liked to reply to your comment on Weinberg, but since that thread reached its limit, let me do so here. You wrote:

            “Pot calling the kettle black I suspect! Did you read any of the links I supplied? Clearly not, most are recently published peer reviewed journal papers, representing far more up-to-date science. ”

            Yes, I read them. But I did not misrepresent them, as you misrepresented Weinberg’s paper. Your actions were dishonest and shameful.

          • daryan12 Says:

            Kapp,

            misrepresenting?

            I’m told repeatedly by LFTR fans such as yourself that the key advantage of a LFTR is that it does not produce any long lived radioactive waste products and it is these long lived products that represent the bulk of the problem.

            Now you’re admitting that A) LFTR’s do produce them and B) long lived product’s aren’t necessarily a bad thing. This all but confirms what I’ve heard from pro-nuke, but anti-LFTR colleagues, so if anyone is “misrepresenting” themselves I’d advise you and you’re pals to look in the mirror sometime!

          • daryan12 Says:

            Oh,

            And if you’re looking for a reference for my prior statement look no further that you’re own prior comments on LFTR’s in this string:

            http://climatecrocks.com/2012/04/30/nuclear-power-the-dream-that-failed/comment-page-1/#comment-9284

    • kap55 Says:

      1. All four reactors at Fukushima Daini were in operation at the time of the earthquake, and all four achieved cold shutdown a few days after the earthquake.
      2. The blog you linked to, allegedly as a response to the “thorium dream”, actually says only one thing about thorium, and that one thing is false: that “there simply isn’t enough Uranium (or Thorium) in the world for us to sustain the current level of nuclear output for any sizable time period, let alone expand such operations.” Weinberg 1959 estimated that there is enough thorium in Earth’s crust to last 30 billion years. If even 2% of the crustal volume is recoverable, that’s still enough to last until the Sun boils the oceans.
      3. You ask, “if LFTRs are so great, where are they? They have been a colossal flop.” The MSRE ran successfully for five years with no insurmountable problems. Funding was cancelled for two reasons: first because you can’t make a bomb with LFTR or its products; and second because Weinberg was being punished for too alarmist about the safety of PWRs.
      3. You state nuclear “cannot solve our energy problems, let alone be safe, reliable, and economical.” Yet in making that statement, you completely ignore the safety of LFTR (and even of current nuclear, which is much safer than wind or solar), completely ignore the unreliability of wind and solar, and completely ignore the actual cost of even current nuclear, which is cheaper than solar and about as cheap as wind. LFTRs will also be much cheaper than current PWRs because they do not need the triple- and quadruple-redundant systems to prevent those kinds of accidents that cannot happen in the first place.
      4. You state, “I am waiting for some hard core real assessment of recent events.” Here’s a real assessment: number of radiation deaths from Fukushima: zero. Number of anticipated radiation deaths from Fukushima: zero. Number killed in the tsunami and earthquake: 20,000. Meanwhile, thirty-five years after Chernobyl, the number of excess cancer deaths among liquidators (cleanup workers) there is still statistically indistinguishable from zero. And that was a lot worse than Fukushima.
      5. The way to avoid a nuclear accident is to build the kind of reactor that is inherently safe. That means LFTR.

      • daryan12 Says:

        Weinberg’s estimates assumed highly implausible and optimistic estimates about the future performance of MSR or fast reactors, that have never been realized nor proven. It also involves us ignoring such concepts as “economics”, “EROEI’s” or “cut off” grades of ore. In a similar vein I could argue that theoretically we could extract 2,000 times more energy than we currently use from the Sun…its the thorny issue of putting up all those solar panels that’s the problem!

        You’ll find more info on Thorium here

        http://kevinmeyerson.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/thorium-nuclear-information-resources/

        And here’s a study by the NNL which is less than positive about Thorium

        http://ripassetseu.s3.amazonaws.com/www.nnl.co.uk/_files/documents/aug_11/NNL__1314092891_Thorium_Cycle_Position_Paper.pdf

        “MSRE ran with no insurmountable problems” such soviet-esque language ignores the fact numerous problems, such a fatigue failure, in-granular cracking of components and distortion of graphite core elements, among other problems. By that token we could state the the recent North Korean missile test “worked perfectly (until it blew up!) with no insurmountable problems (other than the fact it doesn’t work!)”
        LWR’s favoured because they can make plutonium? And easily debunked conspiracy theory! where is all that plutonium? Still locked up in the spent fuel rods! as US civilian reactors largely ran on a “once-thro” process with no effort made to reprocess them. The best way to make Plutonium is with purpose build breeder reactors, which is where the vast bulk of US military Pu stockpiles came from.
        – The reason why LWR’s were favoured is simple, LWR’s can be made from easily forged or cast Steel, use water and steam as working fluids (of which there was ample experience from conventional power stations) and were based on military reactors that had been running successfully for a decade or more. MSR’s are made from exotic nickel alloys (of which there was very limited if any manufacturing experience of back in the 60’s) and involved mucking around with molten salts and “nuclear lava”.
        If Weinberg advocated what you claim he did, well no wonder he got fired! Actually as he himself had participated in the design of LWR’s his objection was more to the size of such reactors, rather than LWR’s in general. Smaller reactors would be much safer, but considerably less economical and meant junking of designs GE and Westinghouse had invested many millions in perfecting. This is more likely what got him fired.

        • daryan12 Says:

          Oh, and you seemed to have missed the link on my blog (below) where I discuss Uranium and Thorium resources. It’s an old post, but still gets the point across.

          http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/myth-vi-%E2%80%93-there%E2%80%99s-plenty-of-fissile-material-in-the-world/

          My link relating to LFTR’s is above

        • kap55 Says:

          Daryan,
          Weinberg’s estimates made no assumptions at all about the design or performance of any particular reactor design; the only such assumption is that extraction of heat from a heat source will be as efficient in the future as it has been in the past. It is also painfully clear that you have not actually read Weinberg’s paper, since he discusses EROEI extensively in it. Would it be too much trouble to ask you to read the sources you criticize?

          • daryan12 Says:

            Pot calling the kettle black I suspect! Did you read any of the links I supplied? Clearly not, most are recently published peer reviewed journal papers, representing far more up-to-date science. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Weinberg’s been dead for quite sometime! Perhaps you could cite you’re source of his paper? I’ve heard similar assertions, but generally in the middle of a more modern paper which is tearing such notions apart!

            But clearly Weinberg was always right! The instant any scientists words are elevated to the level such that they cannot be criticized or challenged, you cross the line between science and fantasy. Maybe you should build him a temple?

      • daryan12 Says:

        5. The way to avoid a nuclear accident is to build the kind of reactor that is inherently safe. That means LFTR

        ….What about the HTGR (or VHTR as its also known)…..

        http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/ca/part-6_htgr/

        While the design is has its problems, its a far more mature design than the LFTR. Further, they have been tested with Thorium, although not on a commercial basis.

        • kap55 Says:

          It’s carbon-free, so I’m in favor.

          • daryan12 Says:

            Okay, then clearly you must accept that given the more mature nature of the HTGR design (decades ahead of the LFTR), there development should be prioritized over LFTR’s?

            I mean, I’m sceptical of nuclear energy, but even I’d concede that if it truly was a case of nuclear or nothing (and its not, renewables are already outperforming nuclear by some margin), then the HTGR seems to be the best shot we have.


  5. Whew! That was a hoot. So can we agree there are currently in operation, no commercially successful alternatives to the conventional nuclear reactors, the BWRs and PWRs and get on with it? All those theoretical next generation reactors have not been proven in practice. Nuclear had its chance and what you see is what you get. If there were some commercially viable alternatives, don’t you think they would be doing it already? There is no sense in denying its record. If you think nuclear power should be LFTRs or some other form, then you should be committed to decommissioning the outdated, leaky, unsafe reactors currently in operation and storing the waste in permanent storage. (and paying for it all) Meantime, wind and solar are happening in a big way. There is no need for pessimism about the future of energy production. Its not nuclear or nothing. There are plenty of other sources (cleaner and safer ones) available. Most of the alternatives are untapped. At the same time, there are limits, no matter what the source. That is what we have to adapt to. Our unbridled growth has its consequences. There is no reason we cannot live in a sustainable world. We are going to have to figure out how and start doing it. The demand curve can only be met by demand and supply meeting halfway. Exponential demand growth is unsustainable, and in the end, disastrous. Musings about unlimited future energy sources necessary to save civilization are a delusion caused by the erroneous notion that unlimited growth is necessary and an irrational rejection of the notion of sustainability. To reject and doubt the already proven record of wind energy while denying the failing track record of nuclear is irrational. Wind, solar, and renewables deliver huge volumes of safe, economical, clean power now and can be expanded greatly in the future. Its time for wind, solar, and other renewables now.

  6. daryan12 Says:

    Well technically, the British AGR’s (Gas cooled reactors) are alternatives in “commercial” operation, but that ignores the huge defacto subsidies they’ve received from the British (and increasingly French) government over the years. So something of a moot point.

    If you read my little study, you’ll see that LWR’s win out over the other designs for sound engineering reasons. The others are just too expensive. And if thus, the LWR is too expensive, then the industry is a bit of a bind. The article above from the economists is echoed by many other similar opinion pieces I’ve heard from economists about nuclear, the numbers just don’t add up!

    As far as the world’s energy future, I wrote I bit about that recently myself.

    http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/future_energy/

    I agree, that we simply cannot supply the energy resources to sustain current economic “growth” indefinitely and will pretty soon hit the buffers. If we’re not careful we could experience a dangerous “overshoot” with a painful post peak transition.
    While renewables can contribute substantially more than they currently do, the time to install them all and the support infrastructure for us to maximise usage of them, means they cannot be installed quickly enough to offset the rate at which fossil fuel supplies will dwindle, or indeed offset dangerous climate change (while sustaining our current consumer society). So in short we need to bring down our energy demand to match supply. Fortunately, we waste energy these days to such a ridiculous degree, that’s not going to be difficult to achieve, if people are willing to make a few modest lifestyle changes.

    And to head off the obvious reply from the nuclear people, as I point out in the link below, the fastest ever nuclear reactor build rate (unsustainable and uneconomic tho it is) can only provide sufficient energy to match 15% of the amount we’d loose annually post peak oil, or about 20-25% of what we’d need to offset against dangerous climate change, and even those figures, make some pretty broad and optimist assumptions.

    http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/peak-oil-primer/part-2-solutions/#Question%202.4

  7. John Puma Says:

    “The Economist” is a truly an integral part of our problems, hardly the voice of solutions that it smugly purports itself to be.

    It “concludes” that nuclear power cannot be appropriately regulated by neither “unaccountable apparatchiks in a decaying authoritarian state(s)” nor some democracies.

    Such regulation can only be provided by “a meticulous, self-critical safety culture that endlessly searches for risks it might have missed.”

    I would suggest that any such meticulous, self-critical safety culture would have an analytical publication worth the paper on which it is printed to use the Fukushima disaster to lobby heavily for the shut down of the nuclear industry.

    To prove, once again, it it simply shill for suicidal, predatory capitalism, “The Economist” does not know or will not reveal that the primary involvement of government in the nuclear industry is to put the ultimate legal/financial burden for clean-up of inevitable plant failures squarely on the taxpayer. Of course, if it did, that might suggest it’s true motive and a more appropriate name of the publication: “The Industrial Socialist.”

    • daryan12 Says:

      I recall seeing this sketch once, I can’t remember if it was Family Guy or the Simpson’s, called “economists at work” where they showed economists relying on headless chickens to decide who to invest in….probably not far removed from the truth!

      Although I would note, that by the standard of capitalists, “the economist” is pretty liberal, its the Wall Street Journal which the real blowhards read!….well they subscribe to it anyway, I doubt that even they read such drivel!


  8. Hi daryan12 – I agree with your comments across the board. Some advocates of advanced reactors are of the “cargo cult” variety. Others are just uninformed. While reactor alternatives that feature short lived radionuclides sound are better, they are still radionuclides. Reactors emit radionuclides all the time. For those exposed to their emissions, it makes less difference. While there are many technical reasons why conventioal reactors have problems, I am not so sanguine about their overlooked health effects, and the health effects of the inevitable disasters they create. Meanwhile, China is on its way to leading the world in wind and solar PV.

    Hey J. P. – Yes, the Economist is replete with its own distortions about Fukushima. It is becoming a growing realization that government is controlled by corporations, and placing the insurance burden for nuclear disasters on the public is an example, just as you say. It is only because of nuclear power’s economic failures that financial institutions are uninterested. Now, it largely becomes the governments act of collusion with the nuclear corporations, Exelon, etc.

    • kap55 Says:

      “…the health effects of the inevitable disasters they create.”

      In the first place, disasters are not inevitable. A LFTR in the Tohoku earthquake would have shut itself down and cooled normally — just as the four reactors at Fukushima Dai-ini did.

      In the second place, the WHO has just released its report on radiation in Japan after the accident, and the bottom line is, no health effects. The most affected areas received a dose of 10 to 50 mSv, while most of Japan received 1 to .1 mSv. For reference, radiation sickness begins at about 1500 to 2000 mSv, and there has never been a study that has shown any measurable health effect for a dose of 100 mSv or less. In the US, background dose is about 2 to 3 mSv per year, although some places in the world have background doses of 70 mSv per year or more, and populations in those areas show no effects.

  9. daveburton Says:

    Even China is souring on solar energy, and turning to nuclear, hydro & fossil fuels.


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