The role of nuclear power in a low carbon future

OVERKILL

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As many have probably noticed, the Whitehouse recently announced plans to extend zero emissions subsidies to nuclear power plants, recognizing their contribution in displacing fossil fuels:

This is in-line with environmentalists reluctantly coming around on the source as being a critical enabler of an ultra-low emissions grid, as demonstrated in many places around the world such as France and Ontario.

It's a bit of an about-face for environmentalists who, until recently, had been plugged-in to the "wind and solar utopia" pitch that has utterly failed at delivering the same level of deep decarbonization as has been seen in grids with significant nuclear and hydro resources. Denmark has produced well north of 100% of its power using wind at times, but on average, it only provides ~40% of Denmark's power, resulting in reliance on fossil fuel generation and imports to make up the difference. The same is seen in California where solar is only able to displace fossil sources during the daytime and emissions skyrocket when wind generation collapses.

An article in National Geographic delves into this topic:

stating:
Renewable energy sources like solar and wind have grown faster than expected; together with hydroelectric, they surpassed coal for the first time ever in 2019 and now produce 20 percent of U.S. electricity. In February the EIA projected that renewables were on track to produce more than 40 percent by 2050—remarkable growth, perhaps, but still well short of what’s needed to decarbonize the grid by 2035 and forestall the climate crisis.

This daunting challenge has recently led some environmentalists to reconsider an alternative they had long been wary of: nuclear power.

Nuclear power has a lot going for it. Its carbon footprint is equivalent to wind, less than solar, and orders of magnitude less than coal. Nuclear power plants take up far less space on the landscape than solar or wind farms, and they produce power even at night or on calm days. In 2020 they generated as much electricity in the U.S. as renewables did, a fifth of the total.

I know I've mentioned this on here before, but a great place to find real-time emissions intensities of grids around the world is Electricity Map:

Ontario, Sweden and France are currently near the top of the list for lowest emissions intensity today:
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While Germany, Denmark, South Australia and California are much higher:
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Before the sun came up, California's grid was more than twice as dirty as it is right now:
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More nuclear instead of gas as baseload and solar could nicely work to displace peaking, keeping the overall emissions intensity down. Instead, California is heading the opposite direction, shutting down Diablo Canyon, so their emissions are in fact slated to go up instead.

It will be interesting to see if this act by the Whitehouse does anything to change the course on Diablo Canyon. It's clearly already too late to save Indian Point. With the two units at Vogtle coming online shortly (unit 3 is in the final stages at this point), will this new support from the Whitehouse prompt further investment or will gas continue to win-out?

Being a player in the pro-nuclear movement here in Canada, I know all too well the tactics used by anti-nuclear groups, who often receive funding from the oil and gas industry. Greenpeace managed to lose their charity status up here due to their antics. The ironically named "Ontario Clean Air Alliance", who received funding from Enbridge, proudly plugged gas as a replacement for Pickering. However, despite all of this, we are seeing support both Federally and provincially for new nuclear builds which include novel designs like Moltex Energy's "waste burner" SSR, which is designed to recycle and consume all the long-lived actinides in used CANDU fuel.

The "dyed in the wool" anti-nukes are getting old, so as they die-off, we'll see and hear less as well, as the younger generation hasn't grown up with the same level of fear-mongering. Lunatics like Helen Caldicott for example, who is now 82, will be leaving the picture with nobody to replace them while plants like Bruce, which produced first power in 1977, will be generating electricity until at least the mid 2060's, long after she is gone. She may in fact be out-lived by Pickering, which is slated to close in 2025 and which she has been outspoken about in her baseless fear-driven campaigning.
 
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i like cheap and reliable power. im old enough to have spent long (yet fun for me anyways, i was a kid) summers in a place with wick lamps, an outhouse, a hand pump well, and fridge that consisted of a hole in the ground lined with fir branches and ice blocks.

i lived and worked in a few countries in modern times where electricity is spotty, the sewage plant is the nearest ditch or river, and the biggest killer of kids is nonpotable water. i saw firsthand the extortion levied by greenpeace and carbon credit folks against my last employer.

i don’t want my comments to lock overkill’s highly useful post on nuclear power but it bears preaching that cheap, abundant and reliable electricity, and the internal combustion engine, and the intelligence and systems that create and use them, are godsends. i suspect that many folks who are dead set on some kind of carbon neutral world, whatever that means and entails, have never even camped rough for a week.

humans are great creatures, created in our maker’s image. every solution begets new challenges, and new solutions will be found. going backwards to the age of sailpower is a fool’s errand.
 

4WD

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So, reading up on the “oil & gas industry“ … see lots of “O&G investors” … “natural gas interests” … “those who profit from fossil fuel” … and many iterations meant to link - but some a link short of a chain.
Smells of hedge fund warlords …
 

wwillson

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Don't know much, but TMI and "The China Syndrome" are a long time ago and the technology has to have improved.
The accident at TMI wasn't a failure of technology, instead if was a failure of the control room personnel who couldn't keep their nervous fingers off the buttons and let the system take care of itself. Had they just sat on their hands, there would have been be no TMI accident.

Read "Nuclear Accidents" by James Mahaffey and you'll know more than 99.99% of the world knows about past nuclear accidents. You'll also be able to smell fear-mongering about nuclear power.
 

OVERKILL

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So we're trading short term pollution for extremely long term pollution, but the greens never see beyond their nose.

Can you clarify this comment? Used nuclear fuel isn't polluting, it's a solid (it can't "leak") that emits radiation, but the very highly radioactive parts have the shortest half-lives, so they are the first to disappear. The long-lived products, which are far less dangerous, are the ones that create the requirement for long-term storage, but units like the Moltex SSR, which I mentioned in the OP, are the able to eliminate those long-lived products, so the total storage timeline is ~200-300 years (cask storage is planned around 150 year cask life) at which point its benign and requires no storage.

That said, used nuclear fuel is probably the easiest to manage waste product on the planet. Being a solid that we already have securely stored. There isn't a lot of it, so even socking it all away in a DGR isn't a massive undertaking as it is easy to manage and already contained.
 
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Excellent presentation @OVERKILL.

Certainly gives plenty of food for thought on this topic. Truthfully, I hadn't given much thought to this subject in a long time. After a quick glance at Moltex SSR, it appears that nuclear technology has advanced quite a bit lately.

Thanks for taking the time.
 
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So we're trading short term pollution for extremely long term pollution, but the greens never see beyond their nose.
Burnt fuel is short to medium term (I think 30 years is consider medium and less than 4 is short, if I remember right). You know what's long term pollution? Plastic, oil spill (I think Exxon Valdez took at least 20 years to restore to original condition).

I'm all for reprocessing and transmutation, burning up all the stuff that could have long half life.
 
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i like cheap and reliable power. im old enough to have spent long (yet fun for me anyways, i was a kid) summers in a place with wick lamps, an outhouse, a hand pump well, and fridge that consisted of a hole in the ground lined with fir branches and ice blocks.

i lived and worked in a few countries in modern times where electricity is spotty, the sewage plant is the nearest ditch or river, and the biggest killer of kids is nonpotable water. i saw firsthand the extortion levied by greenpeace and carbon credit folks against my last employer.

i don’t want my comments to lock overkill’s highly useful post on nuclear power but it bears preaching that cheap, abundant and reliable electricity, and the internal combustion engine, and the intelligence and systems that create and use them, are godsends. i suspect that many folks who are dead set on some kind of carbon neutral world, whatever that means and entails, have never even camped rough for a week.

humans are great creatures, created in our maker’s image. every solution begets new challenges, and new solutions will be found. going backwards to the age of sailpower is a fool’s errand.
Carbon "neutral" will never happen. The only way to achieve it is population decline. I think it is a good thing and we are reaching it in developed nations, by 2070 or so. Prediction is pretty much any nation other than India and those in Africa will lose about 30-70% of its populations due to birth decline by then.
 
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Can you clarify this comment? Used nuclear fuel isn't polluting, it's a solid (it can't "leak") that emits radiation, but the very highly radioactive parts have the shortest half-lives, so they are the first to disappear. The long-lived products, which are far less dangerous, are the ones that create the requirement for long-term storage, but units like the Moltex SSR, which I mentioned in the OP, are the able to eliminate those long-lived products, so the total storage timeline is ~200-300 years (cask storage is planned around 150 year cask life) at which point its benign and requires no storage.

That said, used nuclear fuel is probably the easiest to manage waste product on the planet. Being a solid that we already have securely stored. There isn't a lot of it, so even socking it all away in a DGR isn't a massive undertaking as it is easy to manage and already contained.
100% this. The biggest danger to Nuke is always the control staff and the political stability (no civil war and no idiots would try to hit a civilian nuke plant in a war).

As we have seen in Iran vs Israel, nuke plant could be a target and nothing is off limit. We have 200-300 years of storage and we cannot guarantee a government to be stable for that long. That's my only concern.
 

4WD

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100% this. The biggest danger to Nuke is always the control staff and the political stability (no civil war and no idiots would try to hit a civilian nuke plant in a war).

As we have seen in Iran vs Israel, nuke plant could be a target and nothing is off limit. We have 200-300 years of storage and we cannot guarantee a government to be stable for that long. That's my only concern.
Seems one of the largest “oil spills” in history was from malicious intent … so indeed that’s always lurking …
 

OVERKILL

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Excellent presentation @OVERKILL.

Certainly gives plenty of food for thought on this topic. Truthfully, I hadn't given much thought to this subject in a long time. After a quick glance at Moltex SSR, it appears that nuclear technology has advanced quite a bit lately.

Thanks for taking the time.
Excellent post, as always, Overkill.

You are quite welcome guys :)
 

Al

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Good info. Yes. Nuclear waste is stored. But it is stored safely and its safety for hundreds/thousands of years is assured. Some people don't understand that coal emits more radiation than a nuke plant.
 
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In the mean time while the wokenista are swallowing all this crap and talk about giving up their cars, offshoring business and paying astronomical electric bills there is this..


They and India do not have to do anything at all for decades just keep stealing our industry, make our countries poorer while they prosper.
Time to call BS on the Co2 crap and start building nuclear power stations. Who knows maybe the jiggalo can latch onto Mrs Gates and retire for good.

Mods if this is in violation scrub it.
 

OVERKILL

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Not too confident of that one.

Took only a few thousand years to lose track of a solid gold sarcophagus; unlikely industrial waste will be regarded with more care. JMO.

That's the whole point of DGR's, the rock around them has been undisturbed for millions of years, so seal the bundles off in copper tubes that are secure for a million + years and then if civilization does collapse, they are safely stored half a kilometre below the surface in this rock.

That's the idea anyways. Cask storage is extremely robust, but it's not, and never has been, designed as permanent storage, this has always been a DGR.

On the other hand, if we do start leveraging breeders and alternative fuel cycle units like the SSR that burn up these long-lived actinides, the duration of the required storage is greatly reduced. I think that's a better solution IMHO.
 

OVERKILL

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In the mean time while the wokenista are swallowing all this crap and talk about giving up their cars, offshoring business and paying astronomical electric bills there is this..


They and India do not have to do anything at all for decades just keep stealing our industry, make our countries poorer while they prosper.
Time to call BS on the Co2 crap and start building nuclear power stations. Who knows maybe the jiggalo can latch onto Mrs Gates and retire for good.

Mods if this is in violation scrub it.

Yes, energy security is one of the reasons France went all-in on Nukes, as did we here in Ontario. Our nuclear supply chain is 95% local and we have some of the world's largest uranium deposits.
 
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