New Video: A Nuanced Discussion on Small Nuclear

September 14, 2021

I realized a few months ago that I’d been talking to a sampling of the smartest engineers and energy experts on the planet, and that they all had something to say about the prospect for small nuclear reactors to be part of the climate solution. Nothing like nuclear to start a food fight at a climate science conference.

The thing is, there is a somewhat nuanced conversation to be had about nuclear. Most important thing to understand is that, no matter your position, the obstacles to new nuclear development are real and substantial.

Importantly, if the first small nukes come on line in the late 2020s, and then take a few years to prove themselves – with the price drops and accelerating buildout of wind, solar, and batteries – will there still be a place for them in the mix?

Biggest issue that no one brought up – proliferation of nuclear weapons.

45 Responses to “New Video: A Nuanced Discussion on Small Nuclear”

  1. Martin Smith Says:

    We have had small nuclear reactors powering navy ships for decades. Why can’t these small reactors be used for power generation?

    • jfon Says:

      That’s pretty much what Rolls Royce is planning – they’ve been building reactors for the British navy for fifty years, and propose to make a bigger power version, and mass produce them.

    • John Kane Says:

      The Russian Federation is building some on barges and has at least one is operation. They seem to be niche market reactors.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      the big power reactors of the 70s were basically scaled-up versions of the naval reactors – which is one thing that lead to a lot of the problems they had.
      Newer reactors would hopefully take advantage of lessons learned, but history shows that has not always been the case in the nuclear industry.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        It certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. The way I understand it, reactors got big because smaller ones could no longer compete with fracked gas (one set of externalities replacing another) then wind & solar came along and have gone so low in price gas is also uncompetitive, even where corruption tries to keep it going. And the nuke industry seems to think going back to small is going to… what exactly?

        Permitting etc. will be just as long & complicated, I would think, or even longer given that it’s a new technology*…unless they do so many they can work with ALEC to force through state laws “simplifying” the process, ie, turning it into a rubber stamp in every jurisdiction. Maybe they think “smaller reactors, smaller bribes” since the $30 million one in Ohio was caught. (Is anyone doing time for the giving end of that, btw?)

        Hinkley Point, a monster gift to the French and Chinese by… the British government? is an incredible boondoggle, a turkey with huge cost overruns and long delays but if it ever gets built, with a contract to get paid more for its electricity than wind and solar are getting already. They’ll continue to drop, so by the time Hinkley is built, if ever, its electricity will be ridiculously overpriced, meaning the cost overruns will continue for decades. Rumor has it the reason for such a terrible deal is that the Brits wanted it as a back door to military nukes—submarines, eg. The continued desire to control and the impulse to conceal are strong evidence the people involved not only haven’t learned anything, they’re more addicted than ever to both aspects of ‘power’, a dangerous combination.

        * Yes it’s been around for a while but it would be a new enough application that a lot of testing and a thorough approval process would be necessary.

        • jfon Says:

          Reactors were up at about a gigawatt before fracked gas came along, and wind and solar certainly aren’t pushing gas out of the market. Three huge gas plants were built in expectation of the two Indian Point reactors being shut down ( yes, corruption was involved, at least on the part of Governor Cuomo’s staff.) The gas for them is being fracked from the Marcellus shale, and will fill about 90% of the hole left in NYC’s generation mix.
          Hinkley Point hasn’t been looking like such a turkey after all, lately – gas prices in Europe have been spiking, with concerns about whether supplies will be enough for the winter. Wind is proving as dependable as usual – 25 gigawatts installed is currently producing 0.8 GW of electricity. Nor is Britain famous for the amount of sunshine they receive. They’ve been forced to put some coal plants back into action.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            “There won’t be more natural gas burned for electricity in New York after the second reactor closes than there was the year before the closure agreement,” said Riverkeeper’s Paul Gallay. “We’ve been busy dropping demand — and yes, we are using some of those savings to make the region safer.”


            And for their next trick the nook boosters will use the old weaponized projective identification gambit: “We wouldn’t let you build it so now we get to pretend it’s the fault of clean safe renewable energy that there’s not more of it.” But the obvious answer to not having enough of something you need is to 1, reduce the need for it, and 2, create more of it.

            More than 99.7% of new US power capacity in the 9 months from Oct. 2020-June 2021 came from wind and solar power, not including rooftop solar, data from FERC shows. This continues a trend…from recent years.”


            Of course this isn’t just in the US; more than 80% of all new electrical generation capacity added globally last year was renewable, with solar and wind accounting for 91% of new renewables. Even the nonstans in Central Asia are getting in on the act. (To be fair, most of them are already far beyond the US in uncarbonized grids.)


            So yes, obviously wind & solar are pushing gas out.
            How can one possibly not know that?
            Oh, yeah, it’s jfon, who knows nothing inconvenient to his or her ideology.
            No matter how many times s/he’s told.

            All future-stranded-asset-fossil/fissile-fuel-infrastructure built now is entirely due to corruption & insanity. Although even they are inexcusably slow, California and New York are leading the way to banning gas in buildings in the US, & if civilization is to survive, one thing we’ll have to do is massively electrify buildings & transport over the next 5-7 years.

            And of course if gas can’t compete against wind and solar—and it can’t—it doesn’t matter what its price is compared to nuclear, which also can’t compete. (Except for that corruption, which pays no attention to price—that’s exactly the point. So again, conservatives forced to choose between their market religion & their bigmanlymachine bias will choose the bmmb every time, revealing in yet another way that their true motivation is not “freedom” or supplying power or anything like that, but to dominate.) Britain’s future lies in offshore wind, which is also coming down in price and now has a larger capacity factor than gas or coal in much of the world. The UK has among the best offshore wind resources in the world so it certainly does there. To the extent that closures of nukes, coal burners and gas bags are met with more gas bags, the lunatic right wing is to blame, people like jfon perpetuating the fossil-fueled right wing’s lies about well, everything, really, but especially about clean safe renewable energy.

            So yes, of course corruption was involved. That should be nuff said but of course isn’t, since corruption is what’s keeping both fossil & fissile fuels walking dead, and it’s a 3-way, mutual stroking relationship. And yes, I meant that to sound creepy. It IS creepy. And disgusting. And threatens civilization & nature. And its military connection is only one reason.

          • jfon Says:

            “There won’t be more natural gas burned for electricity in New York after the second reactor closes than there was the year before the closure agreement,” said Riverkeeper’s Paul Gallay. ‘ Well, he would say that, since Riverkeeper has been busting a gut to close the plant since before it was built – even though their best-known spokesman, anti-vac nutter Robert F Kennedy Jnr, has also done his best to stop offshore wind being built up near Cape Cod. Current installed windpower in the whole state is less than 2 gigawatts – nearly as much as Indian Point, you say? So they’d only have to build about three times as much as they already have to match IPEC, on an annual basis. At the moment, the 3.25 GW of nuclear remaining in upstate New York – which even Andrew Cuomo conceded needed to be saved, to prevent a carbon blow-out – is running at 95.5% capacity, which is about average for the whole US fleet. The 1.99 GW of wind for the whole state is running at 34.3% capacity, also not too far from the national average. Both, gas and fission, have very similar ratings for lifetime emissions per kilowatt hour produced, according to the IPCC – 11g/kwh for wind, 12 for nuclear. The difference is that nuclear maintains its average by running flat out for 18 months, and then taking one month off to refuel, sequentially, usually in spring or fall, when demand is lower. Wind does it by cycling randomly from zero to about 90% ( very rarely 100 ) with no regard for shortage or surplus on the grid, and generally in sympathy with the next few states over.. So no, wind will never drive gas off the market, since it stays off the market itself for long enough that gas is profitable. In fact, the recent dearth of wind in Europe has been helping to drive gas prices to all-time highs.
            Wind will start to compete more and more with itself, though. There are already many times on wind-heavy grids when wind is curtailed ( though often still paid, from subsidies or tax breaks, raising prices to the consumer ), or when prices are pushed well negative. If wind is mostly in one area, it can export to the neighbours, but if they have windfarms galore as well, they’re very likely also in surplus. OK, you say, time for the intra-continental, or even intercontinental, supergrid. New York has been cycling smoothly and diurnally from about 18 to 22 GW. Expect that to rise considerably if heating, industry, and transport go electric. Out west, round the Dakotas, the Southwest Power Pool has been generating 15GW of wind earlier in the day, down to 9 just now, from 26 GW installed. They’ve been using 30 to 40 GW themselves. So assume it never drops below 22% of nameplate – the lowest today, though far from the lowest ever – scale that up to power the whole SWP, which is currently running 50% coal and 30% gas, then add enough windfarms, and enough transmission, to keep New York alive too. About 300GW of wind farms, and a thousand miles by twenty something GW of intertie ? That is a mammoth undertaking, but its not even a start. On the way, you’re crossing the PJM, which uses 100-120 GW ( 2/3 coal and gas, 30% nuclear, 0.49% from wind running at about 7% of capacity) and the MISO, using 75 GW ( 12 from nuclear, 41 from fossils, a more respectable 16 from wind, at 60% of capacity). Add in the whole swathe from the Carolinas and TVA to Florida, which has hardly built any wind because they don’t get much, relying instead on coal, gas, and nuclear, in that order. You’re probably looking at about 20x the existing interstate lines, at least. Grid operators now rarely export or import more than about 10% of their total output to a neighbour, let alone totally powering that neighbour and the next couple beyond him. To make it even harder, the High Voltage Direct Current lines now being installed for long distance transmission are very hard to use for more than two terminals – you can’t just bleed off power half way along, as you can with an AC system.
            ‘ ..offshore wind.. now has a larger capacity factor than gas or coal in much of the world’. Here’s the figures for Denmark, the world’s best.
            Note that for 30% of the time, the whole fleet was below 22% capacity, and for 10% of the time, below 6%. It’s quite probable that some gas plants do have cf’s below 20. The difference is that when you need them, you just turn them on – and if you really need that power, you’ll pay whatever it costs, cf Texas (anyplace the pipelines weren’t frozen.)
            Anyway, enough facts for one night, I’m away to make my next offering to Nuclear Satan. Stay well, John O’Neill

          • J4Zonian Says:

            Germany, with roughly comparable solar resources to the UK, not only provides about 11% of its energy with PV so far, Germany (47% RE) & Denmark (47% wind) have the 2 most democratic and reliable grids in the world. But to get to 100% clean safe renewable energy they’re likely to have to connect better to the Iberian grid & maybe to MENA, which they may have to bribe &/or bully into building S&W. Solar of course was the last of the so-far big 3 renewables (#4 geothermal is coming along) to reach a price at which our psychopathic economic system would consider using it to avoid the end of civilization and most of nature, so it’s only been a few years that it’s been more widely built into the hocketed clean safe renewable energy system of the 21st century. It’s increasing exponentially now and despite a momentary supply chain plateau will join wind, batteries, & geothermal again as they all keep dropping in price & increasing in capacity & output.

            There’s no reason to believe anything jfon says but the purpose of distributed generation is to make up for temporary local lows. The answer is to build more & connect it better across wide areas, and numerous studies show it can be done with electricity cheaper than it is now. More nukes are just more problems, with mass casualties virtually inevitable if we try to expand it to any significant part of our energy.

          • jfon Says:

            Germany may have more wind turbines than Britain, but it invariably has much higher emissions per kwh, as well – mainly because it’s using coal instead of gas, but also because it’s halved its nuclear fleet, whereas Britain kept the nukes, as well as building gas and solar. At the moment, wind in Britain and Germany is still only making about four percent of nameplate, and has been for most of the last week. Solar in both countries is zero, but even at noon today was only making about a third of nameplate in Britain and just over a quarter in Germany. I haven’t been tracking Spain much, but today it varied between four and eleven percent of nameplate, and solar was (very briefly) at 29%. If you think it would be easy to build enough capacity, both in turbines, solar panels, and power lines, to run western Europe with North African juice, tell me why it’s taking so long just to build enough transmission to bring North German offshore wind power down to Bavaria, where it’s needed? Likewise, good luck building batteries to power five hundred million people in Europe for a week of low wind, when the world’s largest battery could only power 1.8 million people in South Australia for about twenty minutes. Don’t keep assuming I’m some kind of crazed nuclear loon, just look at some evidence –
            Note that your W&S hero, Germany, is putting out nearly ten times the CO2 per kwh France does. Denmark is faring better, but mainly because about half its juice is coming from Norway and Sweden, where hydro and nuclear cut coal and gas use to near zero. In North America, California, the mandatory solar exemplar, is doing rather better just now – only 174 g/kwh carbon dioxide, thanks to getting half its power from solar, whereas Ontario, with about half nuclear and some hydro, is getting 98g. But for most of the time between sunset and sunrise, California was still using nearly as much power, and making nearly ten times the emissions of Ontario. Remember, the climate doesn’t care that for one glorious moment you ran most of your grid on renewables – it just responds to total greenhouse gas tonnage. If you think nuclear is too dangerous and awful, Ukraine is making 65% of its power from nuclear, getting half the emissions per kwh of Germany despite having far less money to throw at its generation assets, and even straight after Chernobyl, was getting less cancers from a one-off, readily preventable accident than Germany does every year from coal fumes.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            jfon continues to be an idioillogicalidiot and utterly refuses to understand the concept of hocketing clean safe renewable energy. Some day I hope to find out how many of these nonsensical raiders are professionals, how many are just doing it for fun, or for purely ideological, ie, psychopathological conditions. Maybe the Climate Truth and Reconciliation process after the revolution we need to save us all.

            Solar, wind, geothermal could each power the whole world all alone, at minuscule cost of land, money, materials, and time, compared to the alternatives, but of course each would be exceedingly stupid, as like every scenario jfon seems to be able to imagine or lie about, it would be hugely more expensive in every way than combining them, locally and in places each is most suited to. Every ridiculous barrier the ARFs imagine is a pointless exercise in JA

          • J4Zonian Says:

            Computer malfunction; I have no idea why that happened except a momentary power surge/outage .

            To continue:
            Every ridiculous barrier the ARFs imagine, is a pointless exercise in whataboutery, JAQing off, straw people, and misrepresenting their opponents and our arguments, as well as nukes, clean safe renewable energy, and everything else. I have no patience right now for point-by-point repeat of the many refutations I and others have made of the garbage jfon has typed out; in any case I suspect s/he knows all of it and doesn’t care, and that pretty much everybody else here knows as well.

            But I will repeat some things I’ve said too many times here for jfon not to know them, or to lie about not knowing them. Making clean safe renewable energy work is about hocketing varied renewable resources across a wide geographic area, using demand response to fit it to supply, and eventually, some storage.

            jfon seems to have a problem with machines of low capacity factor. I wonder if jfon drives, what the car’s cf is; what the cf of jfon’s toaster, snow shovel or lawn mower or hammer is if s/he has any of those.

            The only important question remains: Why do people choose a deadly, expensive technology when safer, cheaper, faster, healthier, more ecological, more democratical, more egalitarian, better-in-every-way technologies are available and working—even providing more energy than nukes already? Until we recognize the psychological condition that makes people do that we’ll most likely be unable to stop it and solve the ecological crisis.

  2. indy222 Says:

    The real problems with nuclear costs are political,the foot-dragging in approval from the NRC, and the loan costs during the years and decades when they sit in limbo, and the fact that technology improves and yet they can’t afford to change for the better because it means starting the whole NRC glacial progress over again.

    Fix the politics, and nuclear will be shown to be much less environmentally damaging than utility scale solar vast thousands of square miles on our desert eco systems and our coast eco systems dealing with off-shore wind.

    12 acres of land at Diablo Canyon produces the same power – and always on – as 33 square miles of solar PV panels, and that doesn’t include the storage needed to make that PV really equivalent, nor the losses going into/out of storage.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I’ve always like wind and solar for reasons other than carbon reduction: They’re waterless, can fit in odd spaces and odd places, fail cleanly and safely, and have lower skills training. Even independent of GHG emissions, fossil fuel production is dangerous, dirty, poisons people with combustion products and leads to oppression to control the resource around the world.

      I’ll watch China, which I consider to be playing on the lowest difficulty setting, to see if nuclear power can succeed and at what time scale.

      • jfon Says:

        China has just fired up its first pebble-bed reactor, using helium coolant instead of water. The theory is that they could run hot enough to replace coal – coal plant turbines use supercritical steam, hotter than ordinary light water reactors can safely handle. I’m a bit sceptical – the pressure vessel is as big as one for a thousand megawatt light water reactor, but only makes a tenth as much power. It shows they’re not afraid to try things, though.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      One real problem with nuclear is that it uses deadly radioactive material handled by humans who are mostly corrupt or incompetent or both. It is NOWHERE NEAR as benign as solar and in fact, Hinkey Point’s construction zone and future “lawn” could be producing more energy covered with solar panels that it will if the nuke ever gets built. The 2 exclusion-zones-that-are would produce enormous amounts of energy if covered by solar panels–faster, cheaper, with a shorter money and energy payback, less ecological destruction, and better in every way. Not to mention all the exclusion zones that should be–Kyshtym, eg.

      You enormously and ridiculously understate the damage by the nuclear fuel cycle, vastly overstate that by solar, which can go on rooftops, parking lots, roadways, land wrecked by fossil and fissile fuels, reservoirs (where it can shade, prevent evaporation, provide fish habitat…) and farms (where it can provide needed shade for plants).

      Batteries can mostly go under solar panels or other non-bothersome places. Even with the batteries and efficiency losses solar is still cheaper than nuke energy as well as better in every way. And it’s still dropping in price.

      The NRC is a captured agency, completely inadequate to the task. Of course, corruption rules so completely in fossil and fissile fuelery that no agency would be good enough. But the NRC is not the problem. Fix the politics and it will be revealed how really awful the unholy twinity of nuke reactors and weapons is and how much we’ve been lied to.

      It’s not just 12 acres; it’s mining, processing, transport, storage, security, and generating land and everything that surrounds it, far more than with renewables and wrecked for far longer. Please stop cherry picking and misrepresenting the facts.

      • jfon Says:

        ‘..Hinkey Point’s construction zone and future “lawn” could be producing more energy covered with solar panels that it will if the nuke ever gets built.’
        EDF bought 230 acres to build Hinkley Point C on, though it will only need a fraction of that for the reactor. With 2 x 1650 MW units and a projected capacity factor of 92%, the plant should make 2 x 1650 x 0.92 x 8760 (hours in a year) = 26,595,000 megawatt hours a year. Coincidentally, Britain’s largest solar farm is Shotwick Solar Park, in Wales, at 250 acres roughly the same area and about the same latitude. The website for it claims it produces 68,590 MWh per year. That’s about a quarter of a percent of Hink C, and of that, none would be in the evening and not much in winter, times when Britons like to have power available.
        No, I don’t drive a car. I gave away my very useful hi-lo ratio, 4WD turbo-diesel van years ago, mainly because I couldn’t bring myself to buy diesel for it. I’d kept it for a few years, hoping to do a battery conversion, but finally decided batteries would never get dense or cheap enough to do what I wanted. I ride a bike, and live like a king on bribes from Westinghouse.
        John O’Neill

  3. redskylite Says:

    Danish company Seaborg are aiming for 2025 to put “compact Molten Salt Reactors” in service. Should help the toolbox of alternatives to fossils.


    “Seaborg said its goal is to execute a rapid worldwide deployment of the CMSR Power barge via shipyard serial production. The ambitious plan is to bring the first CMSR Power barge into service in 2025. The company was issued a feasibility statement in 2020 for the CMSR reactor by the American Bureau of Shipping. Seaborg is utilising the maritime New Technology Qualification process as a cornerstone in the regulatory licensing process.”

    • redskylite Says:

      Just to add more complexity to the technical issues…


      “Should an MSR be built, it will also saddle society with the challenge of dealing with the radioactive waste it will produce. This is especially difficult for MSRs because the waste is in chemical forms that are “not known to occur in nature” and it is unclear “which, if any, disposal environment could accommodate this high-level waste.” The Union of Concerned Scientists has also detailed the safety and security risks associated with MSR designs. ”

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Nuke waste management is also a furphy. All waste has difficulties. With nukes it is prevention of solutions, to prevent proliferation, Not technical difficulties. Note that Yukka mountain is ready and empty.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          The only question I have about Yucca Mountain is the aquifers (the seismic activity doesn’t seem prohibitive).

          “All waste has difficulties” is a stupid argument, since the difficulties—and the cost to overcome them—vary so greatly.

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            Not a stupid argument as the difficulties, and costs are overblown. Their purpose is to prevent nuclear power being built!
            As for Yucca Mt aquifers,what aquifers. A solid rock in a desert. A good example of the BS squawked about whenever nukes are mentioned. BTW, aquifers move very slowly. After 1000 years, any material extracted will have moved a few kilometres, safe underground with all the natural level of radioactives, with all the dangerous nuclides long degraded.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          BTW, aquifers move very slowly.

          That’s a gross misapplication of hydrogeology calculations.

          When assessing aquifers for water supply, they’re modeled under Darcy’s Law as propagating through homogeneous rock as a steady rate. This is perfectly fine as all water molecules are the same to us, so showing water moving through the system as a “square pulse” is adequate.

          As our hydrogeology professor kept telling us: Fractures rule.
          The real-life measurement for how fast a traceable material can move through an aquifer shows that fluids don’t move like a block through a perfect matrix. The calculation for how fast the added volume from an up-head rain event makes its way to, say, the town’s well, is useful in the real world. Introducing a tracer material at that same spot shows that some of the pulse arrives much sooner than the rest and some comes through as a lagging tail..

          If you want to see how fast a substance moves through groundwater (as with gasoline from a leaking in-ground tank), only an explicit tracer study can give you the rate for the leading edge.

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            Meanwhile, the non existent Yukka aquifers, which don’t affect the town well, are used as an excuse to not solve the storage system of nuke residue. Ergo. a madie uppie problem for nukes. Any part of this statement incorrect?
            Yep, aquifers are complicated.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Meanwhile, the non existent Yukka aquifers, which don’t affect the town well, are used as an excuse to not solve the storage system of nuke residue.

          FWIW, from the Wikipedia page:

          The aquifer of Yucca Mountain drains to Amargosa Valley, home to over 1400 people and a number of endangered species.

          I agree that these 1400 people don’t amount to a hill of beans in the big picture, but aquifers in deserts do exist, and they represent the only water that doesn’t quickly evaporate from the dry heat. It looks in this case like the Amargosa River is a “blind creek” (water flow continues underneath the streambed after the river subsides and is no longer visible at the surface).

          Ironically, it looks as if the ongoing megadrought (aggravated by climate change) might even wipe out what little water source there is.

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            You win.

          • jfon Says:

            If they really wanted the five-percent spent fuel to disappear effectively forever, they’d put it in deep salt, like WIPP in New Mexico. Those beds are effectively impermeable, and haven’t moved in 250 million years. The downside is that in the future, and possible the very near future, that stuff could be appreciated as the cornucopia of energy metals and rare, useful fission products that it is. Yucca was chosen instead because over time, the salt closes up, making retrieval very difficult. Leaving the used fuel rods next to the reactor that produced them, in a pool for a few years, and then in casks, is both the cheapest and the safest solution. Stored used fuel from civilian reactors has never harmed anyone in the history of the industry, and if uranium prices ever start to climb, as they may well do if nuclear becomes the default power source for humanity, it could be processed in situ and used in fast reactors within the site of the original plants. There’s enough energy in it for about three hundred years, covering all energy uses, for the United States.

    • redskylite Says:

      The second unit of a four unit Nuclear plant build by a South Korea led consortium has just come online and well on the way to full power in the U.A.E emirate of Abu Dhabi. The plant is expected to last 60+ years, the U.A.E is developing a used fuel storage plan, they do have a few sparsely populated rocky mountainous areas.

      In 60+ years time I expect there to be more carbon-free options available, who knows even nuclear fusion may be available by then, if the U.A.E is still wealthy enough to afford it. The climate is projected to become even more inhospitable in the future and indeed uninhabitable in some regions before the year 2100, a reliable power supply will be super critical for the nation to survive.

      Solar is also being increasingly employed (In 2020 the 2 GW Al Dhafra Solar project was announced by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.)

      The country has very sparse rainfall and has around 35 desalination stations of power.

      Survival is the driver, proliferation of nuclear weapons – I think U.S, China, Russia and a few others have enough of the satanical weapons already, last thing U.A.E would want to play with.

  4. Anthony William O'brien Says:

    Could have had modular off the shelf nuclear reactors decades ago, but no everyone wants the bespoke custom designed version. Modular design would cut down the design costs, manufacturing costs and should cut down the approval process costs. Design once, get it right, build and repeat. Training can be done for one and all of the same design, not a completely new training process for each reactor.

    The only modular ones were US Navy, operated in a more difficult environment with far fewer problems than the massively expensive power generators. Yes they are smaller, but two or three of them would still be way cheaper than a bespoke design.

    Cost wise they have probably left their run too late, renewables are now too cheap to compete. Renewables are far preferable in any case.

    But nuclear is preferable to coal. Coal is so very damaging even without the climate impacts. Radioactive waste, there is radioactive waste coming from coal mines and coal fired power plants.

    • jfon Says:

      ‘Renewables are far preferable in any case.’
      ‘Renewables are far preferable in any case.’ Nuclear lasts two to three times as long as solar or wind. It produces three to five times as much power per installed watt. It can run with no backup other than the twin reactor next to it.
      Dan Kammen says ‘ large nuclear doesn’t play well’ with renewables. The only thing that does, apart from hydro, is gas, and there isn’t enough hydro to keep everybody’s lights on every time the wind stops. ( Mark Jacobsen claimed that you could just add extra turbines to existing hydro to ramp up for the lulls, but there are certain problems with putting ten extra plugholes in your nation’s bathtub.)
      I don’t think Small Modular Reactors will be the main part of the solution, though. Climate change is a massive problem, and needs massive solutions. In the seventies, faced with the then problem of oil prices quadrupling, Ontario built twenty large reactors in twenty years, France built fifty in twenty years, Sweden built twelve in thirteen years. They do need solid backing from the government. Hinkley Point in the UK is paying nine percent interest during construction, when wind farms only pay about 2.5%. Interest will make up 70% of the final cost. Whitehall dithered for twenty years about building it, and is now doing the same about the next two reactors, at Sizewell, which should be capitalising on the experienced workforce from the first two. Meanwhile capital is being thrown at wind farms which will be junk long before the nukes have reached midlife, and which are currently running at 4% of nameplate capacity.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        “Nuclear lasts two to three times as long as solar or wind. ”

        Not so sure about that.

        Wind turbines are now expected to last 40 years.

        Modern PV panels have a degradation rate indicating many decades of useful life. A few years ago, Sunpower guaranteed a degradation rate of 0.25% per annum, which is eighty years until only 80% output. Their actual degradation rate was 0.20% per annum which works out to 100 years. There are panels from the 1970’s still operating at nearly full faceplate today. I don’t think anyone actually knows how long modern PV panels will work, but they appear to be at least as long as a nuclear power plant.

        • jfon Says:

          ‘Wind turbines are now expected to last 40 years.’
          That’s still half as long as nuclear – the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now licensing reactors to eighty years, and Rosatom, the Russian nuclear company, has developed a method of annealing the neutron damage out of a pressure vessel, so that it’s good to a hundred years. They’ve just done the one that provides a third of Armenia’s power.
          As for still getting 80% of nameplate at a century, many reactors have been upgraded to give 20% or more power increases over the original setting, mainly due to better computer models of the neutronics. They’re getting more full power hours in a year, too, thanks to more streamlined refuelling outages and fewer unplanned stoppages. Cloud, night, and dirt still cut solar output, and always will.

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

            Right now a lot of the problems with current nuclear power stations are related to water, with respect to temperature, flooding and drought. French reactors had to shut down during the high demand that comes with lasting heat waves because their cooling water was too warm, rain-bombs make flood-proofing along streams more of a cost, large lakes are becoming less reliable, and Turkey Point is…on Turkey Point.

          • jfon Says:

            Those problems apply to much of the other infrastructure we rely on, but in the case of nuclear, since it’s such a compact energy source, they’re easier to mitigate. Japan had 325 km of railway track, 23 stations, numerous bridges, and seven trains swept away by the 2011 tsunami, in addition to all the flooded towns. Walling off the five nuclear plants on the exposed coast is comparatively simple, and had in fact been done well enough for four of them.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            Over the past few years 80-90% of new energy is RE & less than 20 is gas; gas has now shrunk to a consistent 0-2%. To interpret that any other way but that wind & solar are driving gas out is either blatantly dishonest or disturbed.

            Since nukes can’t follow load, they need more fossil back up than the combination of clean safe renewable energy sources we have available, but we have to stop using gas if we want civilization & nature to survive. jfon & the other spent fuel rods utterly refuse to recognize that renewables don’t act alone; if they did, the conclusion would be obvious: Renewables won. Denying delayalists don’t like the implications so they refuse to accept the facts, whether they’re fossil or nuke fanatics. jfon continues to argue with irrelevancies, straw people, misrepresentations, cherry picking & outright lies.

            Yes, replacing the entire fossil fuel infrastructure is a big job. We knew that 40 years ago; it should have made the lunatic fossil & fissile fueled right wing do something other than deny & delay. It chose instead to lie, cheat, manipulate, steal elections & buy governments. It still is, so we have to do what’s necessary. It will only be made harder if nukes are part of it, since they can’t possibly be a significant part of the solution, only a distraction & detour. Climate & the drive toward fascism & ever-worse inequality are clearly an emergency; they have to be treated like it. Building both generation & transmission has to be the top priority of the US.

            Solar peaks in the middle of the day in summer; in addition to incremental & revolutionary improvements it can be increased as much as 60% through 2-axis tracking and other improvements available now.

            Like many places, east Texas wind peaks in afternoon, west Texas wind at night. Wind also peaks in winter, opposite solar over the course of a day & a year. So the solution is to link them together over a wider & taller area than Texas. Hydro (peaks in spring) and tidal add other rhythms. Geothermal, hydro, biomass are dispatchable, CSP nearly so, offshore wind is moving toward it. Ever-cheaper more ubiquitous storage makes every renewable dispatchable, but still cheaper than nukes and fossils, especially considering fossil & fissile subsidies & externalities outweigh renewables’ by 100:1. After 75 years for 1 & 150 years for the other, nukes & fossils are still dependent on policy-created subsidies & externalities.

            The fact that no country is transitioning fast or well enough is irrelevant to the ability of clean safe renewable energy to do the job. Most countries, especially those that matter most, are ruled by fossil & fissile fuel, agro-chemical, ICEV, rail, banks, right wing corporate media, & oligarchs, all of whom have collaborated to deny & delay. Germany’s emissions are high because of the 4th largest economy in the world’s industry, transportation, & use of dirty lignite coal from the German equivalent of West Virginia.

            As one who is collaborating w/ denial & delay, jfon is being either dishonest or ignorant about not knowing why there’s resistance to clean safe renewable energy & the transmission needed to use it. It’s a common tactic; weaponized projective identification—keeping people from doing something & then blaming them for not doing it. RE NIMBYism is funded by nuke corporations and government, too.

            jfon should stop making things up about what I know & believe. Readers are probably sick of all the dishonest & manipulative tactics; I know I am.

            Oops. Surprisingly, jfon left out the OTHER parts of the problem. Gosh, I can’t imagine that—jfon not being completely truthful??? Noooooo.

            “a perfect storm of outages at UK Nuclear stations (below), plus uncertainties about natural gas”

  5. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Nuclear proliferation is a Red Herring. The risk exists, but anyone that wants to build a bomb can do it regardless. IF they wanted they COULD do it. The world WILL cook, not IF and COULD.
    One. Nuke plant is Not required to make a uranium bomb,
    Two. Ignoring #1, 30 countries already have nuke power so can build more with ‘no’ risk. Also include half the worlds population, most of its CO2 emissions and increase nuke power will not increase bomb risk. They already make them.
    When, if and where renewbles can take the load, good, do it. Otherwise it is a Dangerous fantasy. Look for solutions!

    • jimbills Says:

      On proliferation, two things: one, the countries to really worry about either already have them or are already developing them. Two, a lot of the current nuclear being built is being produced and supplied by a handful of companies from nations that have had nuclear weapons for a long time – like France and China. They’re the ones building new plants in other countries. Only the rogue nations these days try to build their own, and those countries either already have or are currently building them. It’s possible some new threat will emerge, like Yemen or some place, but it’s a pretty easy thing there – if they try to build their own, they’re suspect.

      On nuclear as a whole, it’s very likely at some point that newer forms of nuclear will emerge as real possibilities – the smaller versions, or breeders, or even fusion – maybe not in a decade, but what about in the next 20-30 years? Plus, I have real doubts about the entire global economy’s energy being supplied, with the resources needed to do it, by just solar and wind plus storage. That will be a more significant topic as nations start to realize this as they build more and more renewables. Also, I think we’ll start to get more open to nuclear as we realize we’re not replacing FF quickly enough. The whole conversation about nuclear can change over the next 10-20 years – I think it’s been likely it will.

      • redskylite Says:

        Good summary I agree, especially about the conversation changing, over the next 10 -20 years.

        In the immortal words of batman, alias Bruce Wayne…

        “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy”


        “The Rate of Global Warming During Next 25 Years Could Be Double What it Was in the Previous 50, a Renowned Climate Scientist Warns.”

      • J4Zonian Says:

        NO ONE is suggesting providing the world’s energy with just wind, solar, and batteries.

        Though we certainly could provide it all with either solar, offshore wind, wind, or geothermal that would be really dumb and expensive. We can do it cheaper, faster, more reliably, and better by using all the worthwhile tools–solar PV, CSP, clothesline paradox energies like passive & active solar space & water heating & cooling, onshore & offshore wind, hydro, micro-hydro, run-of-river hydro, geothermal, biomass/gas/begasse/frass, tidal, wave, OTEC… plus batteries of many different persuasions, pumped hydro storage, rock storage, crane-&-block storage, etc.

        I certainly hope no one gets so desperate the grasp for deadly nukes because the lunatic right wing is stymying clean safe renewable development. That would be insane. And exactly what many of them are trying to doin their drive to dominate the universe. It can’t end well and should be stopped now rather than…well, never.

        With at least 65 countries having mostly-renewable grids, and at least 23 at or near 100%* we’ve already had quite a conversation and learned quite a bit about running a place with a wide variety of clean safe renewable energy. Iceland is 100% RE electricity, 81% RE primary energy with a rapid transition to EVs going on. Mostly geothermal and hydro. Norway has a 98% hydro grid, 40% RE primary energy with wind a growing part and the highest EV market share in the world–87%. Nicaragua is at 60%/75% using mostly wind & geothermal.

        Orkney, 120% RE, mostly wind and tidal, feeds its excess into Scotland, 69% wind with a lot more room for offshore wind (only 2% now). Scotland feeds into the UK grid, about 35% RE–wind, biomass, solar. Kenya: 90% RE grid; hydro, geothermal, wind. Solar is getting cheaper fast, and growing exponentially now so will soon be as large in countries’ use as hydro is now.

        3 countries are mostly nuke electricity; Ukraine & Slovakia are barely over 50% and every nook booster’s wet dream, France, has a nuke program in a shambles (like most others) & is almost certain to reduce it soon to replace it with RE. Old nukes are useless in this crisis; new nukes don’t exist and by the time they do W&S will be so cheap they’ll be unstoppable.

        *along with numerous island non-nations–Tokelau, Orkney, Faroes, etc.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      While dirty bombs are a clear issue, people have learned to use “conventional” weapons quite effectively, along with cyberwarfare, biowarfare and disinformation campaigns. I think if we stick to the costs, siting issues, time delays and the chaos that is utility/investor/grid relationship and that’s enough.

  6. Paul Whyte Says:

    A good conversation.

    What I’ve not seen in the discussion about small 4th Gen nuclear is the first few months of operation makes the plutonium in the core unusable for simple level bomb making due to pollution of short life daughter products.

    The small reactors are very energy dense and very radioactive. Moving that material out of a small reactor apart from the designed process would be lethal to any but the most expert.

    Bomb making Plutonium is more pure than reactor grade. But given the level of expertise needed for bombs. By comparison a high level of expertise is also needed for chemical explosives or biological weapons.

    Look at the explosives made with acetone and peroxide, called “mother of satin” due to the number of terrorists sent to their maker by accident. These simple ingredients can alway be obtained in an industrial setting with purification being high school level chemistry.

    Not using acetone or peroxide due to bomb making is not how the risk is controlled.

  7. Scott Adams has declared the anti-nuclear cause lost!

    • J4Zonian Says:

      The monetary cost of gas has absolutely nothing to do with this argument; that’s a lie apparently generated recently by Denialati like Shellenberger and picked up by trolls everywhere. Experts on climate/energy/ecology have said no such thing as nuclear breakthrough boy Shellenberger claimed; gas has to be abandoned for obvious reasons having to do with not wanting to end nature, and nukes likewise only a little more punctuatedly, less equilibriumish. Price has not a damned thing to do with it unless your only way of judging is by the psychopathic economic system that’s driving the world into utter destruction–the one that would have let profits continue to accumulate among the very rich while allowing exponentially increasing degradation of all living beings.

      Gas is as bad as coal for climate, the bookkeeping trick of only mentioning CO2 and leaving out methane may fool fools but won’t reduce the effects of the emissions as civilization ends. To base our actions on what insane morons do in response to the price of a deadly commodity would be insane moronity itself. Domcanman has struck out again.

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