Nuclear as a Climate Solution – Trying the Soft Sell

January 1, 2020

Jigar Shah and Katherine Hamilton are experts usually associated with renewable energy. Shah is founder of Sun Edison, Hamilton is Chair at 38 North Solutions, LLC, which is focused on clean energy and innovation public policy.
Shah and Hamilton co-host a podcast, “The Energy Gang”. I’ve met Shah, who is both scary smart and, he says “crazy optimistic” about climate solutions, which he calls, “..the greatest wealth creation opportunity of our lifetime.”

The Nuclear Energy Institute has some video conversations with both, in a soft sell discussion of new nuclear options. Over avocado toast, at a chic bistro, the host poses the question, “how do you get Goldman Sachs interested in nuclear?”, and “Where do you go to find good vegetarian food in the city?”

45 Responses to “Nuclear as a Climate Solution – Trying the Soft Sell”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Fighting fire with oil again…

    Four nuclear reactors being built in the United Arab Emirates could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and leave the Persian Gulf at risk of a Chernobyl-style disaster, a leading nuclear scientist has claimed.

    => Nuclear power plant in UAE risks sparking arms race, expert warns

    A new form of uranium has been discovered which is likely to have implications for current nuclear waste disposal plans, say scientists.

    Many governments are planning to dispose of radioactive waste by burying it deep underground. However, new research has found that in such storage conditions a new chemical form of uranium can temporarily occur, while small amounts of uranium are released into solution. If uranium is in solution, it could make its way into groundwater.

    => New form of uranium found that could affect nuclear waste disposal plans

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      If uranium is in solution, it could make its way into groundwater.

      Basic competence would have the waste buried well below any aquifers. Between corruption and basic incompetence, I wouldn’t count on it, though.

  2. rabiddoomsayer Says:

    Nuclear is just too damn expensive.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      Too slow to install. Too dangerous. Too toxic. Carbon footprint too high…

      • Sir Charles Says:

        1st graph CO2 footprint of nuclear.
        2nd graph CO2 footprint of wind power.

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Try looking for solutions rather than excuses!
        My comment below is a rant against your first comment.

        • Sir Charles Says:

          What “excuses”? I’m posting facts. I leave that ranting to guys like you. And nuclear isn’t the solution. The solution is a rapid ramp up of renewable energy and R&D in storage technologies. Pity that you couldn’t figure that out.

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            You are posting data, of unknown probity, as excuses not to utilize a solution to AGW. Those excuses! Your solution is, UNFORTUNATELY, wishful thinking. THAT is blindingly obvious with very limited HONEST THOUGHT. I look for solutions in science and fact, not fashionable dogma. Try it.

          • Sir Charles Says:

            Not dogma, mining expert.

            130 of those boys are as good as a nuclear reactor:

            Cheaper, faster installed, and without a toxic legacy lasting tens of thousands of years.

      • jfon Says:

        Is the graph for emissions from nuclear from Storm van Leeuwin ? His figures were well above most estimates. I think according to his arithmetic the Rossing mine in Namibia was burning more diesel than the whole country was actually importing. Reactor lifetime on the graph is given as thirty years, with a capacity facor of 82%. All the US reactors have been relicensed to sixty years, many have applied for extensions to eighty years, and the first two such re-extensions have just been granted. The capacity factor for the entire US fleet last year was 92.6%. He also makes a lot of uranium ore grades getting worse. In actual fact, by far the largest energy cost for fuel was that involved in enriching uranium from 0.7% U235 to about 4.5%. France used to run three reactors full time just to power the enrichment plant at Tricastin – the other 55 powered the country. Now that centrifuges are used instead of gaseous diffusion plants, about twenty times less energy is required. Van Leeuwin’s calculations assumed diffusion. He also assumed cost was a good proxy for carbon footprint, which for nuclear is untrue.
        Less partial studies give nuclear a similar carbon footprint to wind – on the order of 11 grams per kw/h. Like wind, or solar, most of the carbon footprint, and cost, is front loaded on the construction. Assuming higher emissions from dismantling than from the original construction defies common sense.

        • Sir Charles Says:

          11 gCO2e/kWh for nuclear power is fantasy. You wouldn’t even find this number in Wikipedia. A meta study by Sovacool puts the mean at 66 gCO2e/kWh. But this number is heavily debated as not all investigated papers are really ‘independent’.

          • jfon Says:

            Most of the papers listed by Sovacool stemmed from the Smith/Storm van Leeuwin study, which did not use real data, but estimates made by the authors. The IPCC figures, which are more recent than Sovacool’s, have a median of 12 grams CO2/kwh for nuclear, exactly the same as offshore wind ( onshore is 11.)
            ‘Most recently, Sovacool (2008) calculated a mean value for the overall emissions by averaging the global results of 19 LCA [Life-Cycle Analysis] studies forming a subset of, as stated by the author, ‘the most current, original and transparent studies’ out of 103 studies. However, a critical assessment reveals that a majority of the studies representing the upper part of the spectrum are studies that can be traced back to the same input data and performed by the same author, namely Storm van Leeuwen. After careful analysis, it must be concluded that the mix of selected LCAs results in a skewed and distorted collection of different results available in the literature. Furthermore, since many studies use different energy mixes and other assumptions, averaging GHG emissions of those studies is no sound method to calculate an overall emission coefficient, as it gives no site specific information needed for policy makers to base their decisions.’

          • Sir Charles Says:

            Unfortunately you’re running zig-zag now. The Wikipedia article you are citing has two major flaws. Firstly it relies on a study by Warner et al which is one of the most cited flawed studies in the blogosphere. Secondly, they misinterpret this study. The authors are applying a statistical trick. What they call “harmonising” is basically halving the data numbers. The abstract reads:

            Screening 274 references yielded 27 that reported 99 independent estimates of life cycle GHG emissions from light water reactors (LWRs). The published median, interquartile range (IQR), and range for the pool of LWR life cycle GHG emission estimates were 13, 23, and 220 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt‐hour (g CO2‐eq/kWh), respectively. After harmonizing methods to use consistent gross system boundaries and values for several important system parameters, the same statistics were 12, 17, and 110 g CO2‐eq/kWh, respectively. Harmonization (especially of performance characteristics) clarifies the estimation of central tendency and variability.

            Wikipedia is then just taking the lowest of all numbers.

            I can only add: Do not trust any statistic you did not fake yourself.

            More on the issue in this article by Keith Barnham, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the Imperial College London => False solution: Nuclear power is not ‘low carbon’

    • jfon Says:

      If you look at the Lazard levelised cost of energy, nuclear is cheaper than residential rooftop solar. Certainly cheaper than RRS with storage, and almost certainly cheaper than any other kind of solar with adequate storage. Solar here in New Zealand would have been useless for the last few days because of a smoke haze drifting over from the fires in Australia, two thousand kilometres away. Today it would be useless just from ordinary 8/8 overcast – and there’s no wind.

      • Don Osborn Says:

        It is a common misconception to say “”rooftop” solar is more expensive” than central station generation such as nuclear or fossil fuel. But that is comparing apples to oranges and just ain’t typically true. You need to compare the entire cost of generation, transmission, distribution, billing, management, etc. Once all that is accounted for, the “price difference” becomes quite small. Here is CA, our fires rendered entire large areas with out power because of Fire Safety Shutdowns or actual power grid failure. The fairly few (but rapidly growing) people with solar+storage were the ones with power — and fortunately storage is falling faster in cost than even solar has. In any case, utility economists would conclude that on a net present value basis, the world is not worth saving. It is too bad we seem to all be saying that unless it saves money, taking steps to save the world (or actually to save us and our children) are “too costly”.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          Rooftop is a privatization of the highly- public electricity sector. No one but the owner benefits. Solar farms the opposite, hopefully.

          Solar farm cost could be egalitarianly financed. Transmission lines – if needed – need only be built once. Overall cost is lower per user.

          • Sir Charles Says:

            When your rooftop solar is connected to the grid (as it is common in Europe), it’s to the benefit of all, not just the owner. Actually, micro-generation helps making the grid more stable. When you lose a big power plant at once (e.g. an incident at a nuclear plant) you’re big time in trouble. Meanwhile, the loss of some micro generators is no problem at all for the grid operator. Also, wind and solar are predictable many hours in advance.

          • Don Osborn Says:

            Gin, I was in the utility business for over 10 years and energy over 40. What you say just is not correct. First off there are broad benefits from distributed generation (such as “rooftop” solar) to the rate base at large. With the addition of storage to shift generation to higher value time periods, those benefits substantially increase. Besides: (1) most of the cost of the “rooftop” solar are paid by the customer not the rate base in general (which pays ALL the costs of the Solar Farms) and (2) We NEED BOTH!! “Rooftop” solar accounts for over a third of all solar in the US and that share is growing faster than the large utility scale “Solar Farms”. WHY would we even consider throwing away over a third of this badly needed resource?? Finally, as proven by the proposed SMUD SolarShares Program (look it up) and many other large scale “Community Solar” projects, once all the various costs of managing the solar resource and getting it to the end-user, the final cost is NOT the wholesale cost that you see bandied about but is close to or even somewhat higher than retail, so the total price difference between “rooftop” and Solar Farms” for a fully delivered product is not much.

      • redskylite Says:

        On New Zealand’s North Island, I woke up to an unusual smokey sky with strangely eery deep red sun burning through the haze. It cleared up later in the day, so not an absolute loss for roof top solar users.

        In New Zealand we are endowed with Hydro, Geothermal, have persistent and predictable westerlies from the roaring forties trade winds, we are also encircled by large ocean energy resources, so we should be able to wean ourselves completely off fossils for electricity relatively easily, just a bit of commitment and determination needed.

        No so for the U.A.E – they do have an abundance of sun – but no one should rely on a single source of power, a lesson well taught by the past.

        Deteriorating problems from an impatiently changing climate and ecosystems..

        2020 has started with a shock – surely everybody can see that now.

        ‘Just one more horror’: Iconic South Island glaciers stained by Aussie bushfires

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        If you look at the Lazard levelised cost of energy, nuclear is cheaper than residential rooftop solar.

        Rooftop solar is an independent investment choice of individual households, has a fairly reliable ROI, can be ordered and installed in under a week in many towns, and is useful in places where the grid power isn’t reliable (e.g., storms pushing trees through powerlines).

        Nuclear plants require input from all affected jurisdictions, have long lead times, frequently overrun on cost or schedule, require inspection and maintenance by high-priced professionals, and nobody wants to invest in them.

        As for the calculation of levelised cost of energy, does that include the cost of partial and cancelled projects? Just as I can confidently state that the people that read this comment will on average live longer than the population as a whole (because surviving childhood automatically bumps your odds), by only measuring the successfully completed and operating plants I can hide much of the cost of false starts.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      What price saving the world? An swear would be nice.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Nuclear is just too damn expensive.

      The potential cost tail is very long. Fukushima is still an expensive mess with no end in sight.

  3. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Oh for FS!
    UAE reactors can lead to a nuclear arms race. And your plan to prevent this is what? Chernobyl was a heap of junk before it was built over half a century ago. Will never be built again and your ‘leading scientist’ can take his head out of his legendary shorts.
    ‘A new form of uranium has been discovered. WHAT!!
    Uranium lives under ground, is actually aqua soluble and highly mobile. Always was, how does putting a little bit back there change anything? Just plain silly! It is already in the ground water, the earth, plants and you.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      Sure. And Fukushima was “a heap of junk” too…

      Why don’t you calm down and come back when you have real arguments?

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Fshima was built 60 years ago, survived a category 9 quake and was knocked out by the highest ( ? ) tsunami in recorded history. Killed nobody.
        Japan’s emissions have gone way up since. That is a real argument, actually applicable to the Problem.

        • Sir Charles Says:

          You’re very wrong. Fukushima Daiichi isn’t 60 years old, and Japan’s emissions haven’t gone up since 2011.

          Now let’s read in Wikipedia:

          The reactors for Units 1, 2, and 6 were supplied by General Electric, those for Units 3 and 5 by Toshiba, and Unit 4 by Hitachi. All six reactors were designed by General Electric. Architectural design for General Electric’s units was done by Ebasco. All construction was done by Kajima. Since September 2010, Unit 3 has been fueled by a small fraction (6%) of plutonium containing mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, rather than the low enriched uranium (LEU) used in the other reactors. Units 1–5 were built with Mark I type (light bulb torus) containment structures. The Mark I containment structure was slightly increased in volume by Japanese engineers. Unit 6 has a Mark II type (over/under) containment structure.

          Unit 1 is a 460 MW boiling water reactor (BWR-3) constructed in July 1967. It commenced commercial electrical production on March 26, 1971, and was initially scheduled for shutdown in early 2011. In February 2011, Japanese regulators granted an extension of ten years for the continued operation of the reactor. It was damaged during the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

          The plant is on a bluff which was originally 35 meters above sea level. During construction, however, TEPCO lowered the height of the bluff by 25 meters. One reason for lowering the bluff was to allow the base of the reactors to be constructed on solid bedrock in order to mitigate the threat posed by earthquakes. Another reason was the lowered height would keep the running costs of the seawater pumps low. TEPCO’s analysis of the tsunami risk when planning the site’s construction determined that the lower elevation was safe because the sea wall would provide adequate protection for the maximum tsunami assumed by the design basis. However, the lower site elevation did increase the vulnerability for a tsunami larger than anticipated in design.

          The Fukushima Daiichi site is divided into two reactor groups, the leftmost group – when viewing from the ocean – contains units 4, 3, 2 and 1 going from left to right. The rightmost group – when viewing from the ocean – contains the newer units 5 and 6, respectively, the positions from left to right. A set of seawalls protrude into the ocean, with the water intake in the middle and water discharge outlets on either side.

          First of all, you should apologise for posting false claims. Secondly, the Japanese are now the new Guinea pigs for a lethal technology incompatible with nature, leaving a continuing legacy of contamination, insecurity and threat.

        • jimbills Says:

          Charles is right on this – Japan’s emissions haven’t dramatically risen. They’ve actually gone down a bit.

          But it is fair to ask what Japan’s emission reductions might have been without Fukushima and Japan adding more coal since that time.

          Meanwhile, we get stuck here in endless arguments about nuclear vs. renewables. I wonder why this has to be a pure one or the other situation. We should be asking why nuclear is costing more and more in the past few decades, figuring out how to lower those costs, and working on building any type of energy and technology that is both safe and effective at lowering emissions.

          • Sir Charles Says:

            Well. I’d know where to put my money …

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            Nicely said James William, enviable even.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            “I wonder why this has to be a pure one or the other situation.”

            Because nuclear reactors are incompatible with a safe, democratic, equal society. They cost too much, take too long to build, are unsafe, increase inequality, destroy democracy or thrive to the extent it’s absent or malfunctioning, heat and pollute excessive amounts of water, have intractable waste problems that can only be lessened by causing others that are worse. These endless unsolvable problems lead inevitably to shortcuts, captured regulators, massive corruption, and deviousness in the industry, which has become evident in France, Korea, China, the US, Russia and its former satellite countries, and other places.

            Those are some of the many good reasons 80% of the people in the US want more wind power and government help for it, 90% want more solar and help, and only 45% want more nukes. The first 2 are rising, the last is falling.

            There is no compromise or halfway solution, except what people are doing all over the world—building them halfway and then stopping, putting billions of dollars into them without ever finishing, talking endlessly about a useless, dangerous, and destructive technology a sane society would have had the sense to abandon before it got started, holding our breaths waiting for nonexistent nukes to happen, only they never do… etc. Those are dumb solutions; we should stop using them.

            “We should be asking why nuclear is costing more and more in the past few decades”

            We already know that.

            “figuring out how to lower those costs”

            There’s neither any sane way to do that, nor any reason to try. Nukes already don’t pay most of their costs; the only rational response would be to raise the price so they do. The industry would end forever that day.

            “and working on building any type of energy and technology that is both safe and effective at lowering emissions.”

            That’s exactly what we’re doing by using only clean safe renewable energy sources. The choices are more than enough according to dozens of studies: efficiency; wiser lives; solar PV; CSP; clothesline paradox energies like annual cycle energy systems, passive and active solar water and space heating and cooling; on- and offshore wind; hydro; micro-hydro; geothermal; ocean energies like tidal, wave power, and OTEC; piezo-electric energy with solar panels; demand response strategies and distributed generation. A bunch of those are dispatchable or nearly so, others have complementary peaks and valleys, are virtually dispatchable with storage, and are so cheap and getting cheaper that nothing else makes sense.

            We’re not switching nearly fast enough because people with power and money who profit from fossil and fissile fuels that are only problems for the world have delayed the solutions. There are no technical reasons stopping us, only those psychopaths’ refusal to give up profits and their mental illnesses.

  4. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Fukshima started building only 52 years ago. Horrors!
    Japans emission skyrocket after Fshima according to the Irish Times.
    Can I visit chateau Chas when next I visit Ireland?

  5. jimbills Says:

    Shah’s actual words: “….even though, you know, the data sometimes doesn’t support it, I continue to be crazy optimistic…”

    This is said after mentioning just 1% solar was the actual goal, saying a diversity of energy sources is a “great idea”, and while eating at a high end DC restaurant (that used to be a parking lot) with ingredients mostly flown in from Italy:

    There’s no doubt that many will get rich off of new technologies. The question is really whether or not this is enough to offset major impacts from climate change and other forms of environmental degradation.

    • jimbills Says:

      (Regret the word ‘mostly’ there – it’s an unfair exaggeration. The restaurant uses locally sourced and in season veggies and dairy. However, many of their meats, cheeses, oils, pasta, and olives are from Italy.)

  6. dumboldguy Says:

    More yadda-yadda-yadda and navel-gazing—-the usual blurgefest that occurs every time nuclear power is mentioned. A waste of our time because it’s likely that we have missed our best chance at using nuclear (the safest, cleanest, most reliable source of non-carbon energy) as a major weapon in avoiding the coming climate catastrophe. As long as COAL is even the smallest part of our vocabulary (and continues shrinking at such a slow rate), we are doomed.

    Regarding Sir Clucky’s laughable comments about “new forms of uranium”, reread Brent’s comments and maybe look up the world’s first nuclear reactor at Oklo, which ran quietly for maybe 100,000 years around 2 BILLION years ago, and didn’t harm any living thing, then or since.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      The average power output of the ‘Oklo reactors’ was about 100 kilowatts, which would power some 1,000 lightbulbs. As a comparison, commercial pressurized boiling water reactor nuclear power plants produce about 1,000 megawatts, which can power ten million lightbulbs.

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