Going Nuclear

An epic tweetspat with pseudo-modern engineers made me think of the following confutation of the Breakthrough playbook:

First, nuclear energy needs to compete with fossil fuels, not renewables like wind or solar. This point rests on the basic observation that the only way to replace fossil fuels is to replace fossil fuels. This point also rests on the idea that the path toward sustainable energy requires more nuclear energy than anything else, a conclusion that seems to be supported by the work of David Mackay [1].

Second, the capital intensity required to go nuclear is quite substantial. The total costs of building nuclear power plants is what matters most. As Bernard L. Cohen says:

It is useless to develop new plant designs if they will be too expensive for utilities to purchase.

Most working American reactors were commissioned before 1975. Investing in nuclear is done over decades. Generations in fact: one builds nuclear plants for one’s grandchildren. Intergenerational justice is involved: if you invest money now for your grand kids, that’s less money for your kids. To estimate that kind of investments, discount rates matter. Institutional investors must step in and play harder than GRRROWTH enthusiasts usually promote.

(A remarkable corrolary is that the more you crank discount rates, the more nuclear becomes costly. So there’s a crucial tension between the pseudo-modern and the lukewarm playbooks. At least Richie’s or Matt King Coal’s version of it.)

Third, even if in small dose can be beneficial, hippie punching is a path of least resistance that can’t stand alone. It won’t reduce carbon emissions, and amounts to the same kind of scapegoating that contains any populist playbook. It’s a distraction, like if APPL started to whine about Linux. The difference of scale shows it’d be tilting at windmills. The alpha to beat is fossil fuels.

Fourth, the main financial obstacle to reduce fossil fuels are subsidies. According to Coady et al 2017, we’re talking about a $5 trillion dollars ballpark worldwide. That’s more than 5% of the global GDP. This is lightyears away from what we give solar and wind. To give you an idea of what we can do with that much money, 0.3% of the world’s 2014 income would be enough to achieve the Millenium development hunger target.

In short, divestment from fossil fuels will be required, whether we go nuclear or not. Hippies are winning more than their caricature make it seems. They at least picked to right target, i.e. fossil fuels, something that still escapes the BTI guys, whose proposition, I duly submit, has been confuted with this note.

I’m all for going nuclear. I live in Canada. Many uranium bases belong to us. I’ve been waiting for a decade now to go long on uranium. But I’m no dummy – I won’t invest in a market that low energy prices could kill in a whim just because gaz guzzlers decide to keep subsidizing fossil fuels.

Kevin Anderson suggests that we’d need 4000 new nuclear plants by 2050 to meet 25% of our total energy consumption. We are building 65. Going nuclear means regulating the energy market for a long time. That doesn’t imply nationalization, although this is tried, tested, and true. I suppose market-based solutions exist: the trick is to make sure corporations are kept in check.

To paraphrase Scott Denning, if Freedom Fighters shirk their responsibility, decisions will be made without them. They had all the time to make themselves heard. So much the worse if they waste everyone’s time punching hippies and tilting at windmills.

And that’s the memo.

[1]: This claim has been revised on 2017-11-29 (17:11 EDT), based on BBD’s suggestions in the comments.

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89 Responses to Going Nuclear

  1. afeman says:

    I just find it delicious who favors the energy solution that is most thoroughly statist (not that that’s a disqualifier).

  2. jacksmith4tx says:

    It seems to me the DNA of technology want’s to move to a more decentralize ecosystem. It’s more resilient and can deployed many times faster than centralized systems like massive power plants and millions of miles of grid infrastructure. A close analogy is what has happened to communication networks as they transitioned from wired to wireless. The explosion of IoT (Internet of Things) devices is clear evidence there is a paradigm shift underway. In 2017 IoT devices already outnumber humans.
    https://diginomica.com/2017/11/29/paradigm-shift-decentralizing-energy/
    Currently it seems the limiting factor is on site energy storage (batteries?). Once that problem is solved FF and nuclear will become obsolete.

    Another approach to the problem is slash demand. I noticed there is a stealth program working to limit global population by injecting lots of fake medicine into 3rd. world health care systems. It’s just withholding some key drugs and letting nature do it’s thing so nobody has blood on their hands.
    “Approximately 10.5% of medicines in low and middle income countries including India are sub-standard and falsified”
    http://www.livemint.com/Industry/6i5W6D4n07yGwmZDV2JalN/India-among-countries-where-10-of-drugs-are-substandard-WH.html
    “According to the study, the failure rate for commonly used antiepileptic medicines was very high at 65% and for genito-urinary and sex hormone drugs, the observed failure rate was 56%.”

  3. Willard says:

    Indeed, afeman.

    My inner cynic makes me suspect that Californian techno-communists are preaching for that kind of scheme:

  4. Willard says:

    Wireless energy transmission would indeed be great, JackS.

    An alternative explanation to your stealth program is a Pharma gold rush:

    The sheer number of studies has sparked fears that some companies are engaging in a medical gold rush, hoping to chance upon the right cocktail without doing the appropriate scientific groundwork.

    Almost 800 clinical trials involving a checkpoint are under way in the US, according to a government database, more than 700 of which are testing the drugs in combination with one or more additional medicines. This compares with about 200 in 2015.

    Some investors are unnerved by such haste, says Brad Loncar, who runs an exchange-traded fund focused on immunotherapy: “People are concerned there is not as much scientific rigour as there should be.”

    Pascal Soriot, chief executive AstraZeneca, which is trialling its own immunotherapy combination, admitted as much in a recent interview with the Financial Times.

    “The field is very competitive. Right now you have a lot of companies that take bets . . . without a lot of data,” he said. “So we also have to consider the speed, and sometimes we’re going to have to take educated risks with maybe not as much conviction or data to support the clinical programme, but enough of it.”

    https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/03/fears-over-a-medical-gold-rush-in-cancer-drug-race.html

  5. jacksmith4tx says:

    Willard,
    But we already have wireless energy… solar power from the sun. I generate excess energy an average of 320 days of the year, every year, since 2011. But because I don’t have an affordable battery storage system I have exported over 9.3 MWh ($1,290 earned with net metering). I even bought a Chevy Volt to boost my self consumption but I’m still getting a credit on my electric bill every month. This is with only a 6.7KW PV system that cost $23,000 (my money, no tax credits or government support).

    Death by withholding treatment.
    The key difference is that cancer drugs sell for billions and are targeted at populations that can afford them (or the insurance coverage that does). The other problem with drugs is that genetic engineering will actually cure cancer (someday) and not just treat the symptoms, again assuming you are rich enough to afford the treatment PLUS using gene drive technology the cure is inheritable. The plan to distributed fake medicine is way more effective at global population control and much easier to avoid responsibility by the ruling class.

  6. Willard says:

    My vision of wireless solar would be if the sun’s energy is transformed into an electricity that goes directly into my phone without any cords, JackS, if possible without any storage whatsoever.

    What actual configuration would be nearest to that ideal?

  7. Willard says:

    > The plan to distributed fake medicine is way more effective at global population control and much easier to avoid responsibility by the ruling class.

    It might be wiser if we don’t conspire to go that far in this thread, JackS. Please.

  8. BBD says:

    This point also rests on Mackay’s conclusion that the path toward sustainable energy requires more nuclear energy than anything else.

    I don’t really think that this was MacKay’s conclusion but I’m not sure what exactly you are thinking of (there’s quite a lot of that book…). Is there a specific statement you have in mind?

  9. Canman says:

    Breakthrough Institute founder, Michael Shellenberger, appears to be the worlds leading advocate for nuclear energy. The best place to follow this issue is his Twitter feed. He even has some recent victories:

  10. Willard says:

    I may be mistaken, BBD, but here’s for instance one passage where I read it:

    [W]hat’s required are big changes in demand and in supply. Demand for power could be reduced in three ways:

    – by reducing our population (figure 19.2);
    – by changing our lifestyle;
    – by keeping our lifestyle, but reducing its energy intensity through “efficiency” and “technology.”

    Supply could be increased in three ways:

    We could get off fossil fuels by investing in “clean coal” technology. […]

    We could invest in nuclear fission. Is current nuclear technology “sustainable”? Is it at least a stop-gap that might last for 100 years?

    We could buy, beg, or steal renewable energy from other countries – bearing in mind that most countries will be in the same boat as Britain and will have no renewable energy to spare; and also bearing in mind that sourcing renewable energy from another country doesn’t magically shrink the renewable power facilities required.

    http://withouthotair.com/c19/page_115.shtml

    I don’t think we should expect solving AGW by reducing demand alone, nor do I think “clean coal” is the way to go. The only alternative for UK to go nuclear therefore seems to be that someone else goes nuclear elsewhere.

  11. jacksmith4tx says:

    Willard,
    “What actual configuration would be nearest to that ideal?”

    Forget the phone and lets just go with telepathy.
    “But with scientists beginning to understand the link between specific neurons lighting up and speech – even down to individual words and phrases – we are looking ahead to a world where humans may be communicating each other through a kind of machine-enabled telepathy”
    http://www.idgconnect.com/abstract/28859/is-google-inspired-moonshot-factory-model-tech-r-d

    The Read/Write mind interface with light:
    “Carefully crafted light pulses control neuron activity”
    https://phys.org/news/2017-11-carefully-crafted-pulses-neuron.html

  12. Willard says:

    If only I could see these tweets, Canman.

    I still can read his “manifesto,” however. There are 23 occurences of “climate.” Here’s one:

    Significant climate mitigation, therefore, will require that humans rapidly accelerate existing processes of decarbonization.

    Here is another one:

    [A] variety of social, economic, and institutional challenges make deployment of present-day nuclear technologies at scales necessary to achieve significant climate mitigation unlikely.

    Hippie punching covers the first variety, but does little for the two other ones. In fact, the only reason why the “institutional challenges” aren’t being adressed is that these challenges are harder to sell. Hence the focus on hippie punching. Hippie punching is the laziest non-solution to the decarbonization problem.

    In any case, I don’t think it’s possible to reconcile the two quotes.

  13. Willard says:

    Well, it seems I can see MikeS’ tweets when included in webpages!

    MikeS is wrong about France, BTW:

  14. Canman,

    The best place to follow this issue is his Twitter feed.

    Some of us can’t.

  15. BBD says:

    Willard

    MacKay’s statement is not prescriptive:

    We could invest in nuclear fission.

    We could look here in Without Hot Air:

    If we are to get off our current fossil fuel addiction we need a plan for
    radical action. And the plan needs to add up. The plan also needs a
    political and financial roadmap. Politics and economics are not part of this
    book’s brief, so here I will simply discuss what the technical side of a plan
    that adds up might look like.

    There are many plans that add up. In this chapter I will describe five.
    Please don’t take any of the plans I present as “the author’s recommended
    solution.” My sole recommendation is this:

    Make sure your policies include a plan that adds up!

    As far as I can find, that really is the limit of MacKay’s prescriptiveness wrt energy mix choices, including nuclear. He never goes anywhere near saying this:

    This point also rests on Mackay’s conclusion that the path toward sustainable energy requires more nuclear energy than anything else.

    The reason I labour this point a little is that there are some people out there who claim that MacKay is a shill for the nuclear industry, something not borne out by what he actually says.

  16. BBD says:

    Expanding the focus from the UK to the world, MacKay goes on to say:

    The bottom line

    The non-solar numbers add up as follows. Wind: 24 kWh/d/p; hydro: 3.6 kWh/d/p; tide: 0.3 kWh/d/p; wave: 0.5 kWh/d/p; geothermal: 8 kWh/d/p – a total of 36 kWh/d/p. Our target was a post-European consumption of 80 kWh/d per person. We have a clear conclusion: the non-solar renewables may be “huge,” but they are not huge enough. To complete a plan that adds up, we must rely on one or more forms of solar power. Or use nuclear power. Or both.

  17. Ragnaar says:

    Is it $5 trillion a year or less?

    https://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-the-challenge-of-defining-fossil-fuel-subsidies

    Coady was compared to whatever they thought it should be compared to. And others are closer to $500 billion a year.

    People have been arguing for a long time as to what the definition of a subsidy is? Minnesota doesn’t have a sales tax on grocery store food. McDonald’s fries yes. So is that a subsidy for eating?

    With this complicated web of subsidies and kind of subsidies, we in the United States got something. Cheap reliable energy along with our share of global warming which about 0.2 C.

    Assume subsides. We got, yes that’s some good energy. Will it work for wind and solar? We don’t know but we are seeing signs already. Are we even talking about wind and solar? Once they are sufficiently blunted as an alternative, nuclear power looks more promising.

  18. Willard says:

    The last part has a “we must rely,” BBD, which looks like prescriptive to me. If you suggest a way to reformulate what I said, I’ll gladly edit it. After all, you’re my goto guy for all things Mackay.

    I know of no scenario where solar alone can fill in 50 kWh/d. Do you?

  19. Willard says:

    Too much rhetorical questions, Ragnaar.

    If you have a point, make it.

  20. Mackay’s point can be simply summarized: whatever choices you make as a nation, make sure you do the maths. For Britain, his personal view was that nuclear was difficult (but not immpossible) to avoid as a component of UK’s electricity generation. That would not necessarily be true of Spain or Italy, for example.

    The civil nuclear energy industry is UK started as at least in part a source of Plutonium for UK’s weapons development. It has had many mishaps along the way that have damaged public trust, but has still received huge levels of support. They have had numerous chances. Now it has had an Nth chance of rebirth leading to the cathedral-within-a-cathedral design that in Hinckley C.

    Those silly people at the Centre for Alternative Technology, messing about with Heath-Robinson wind power in the 1970s (here Creatan windmill with Rod James and George Collier) …

    … that everyone laughed at …

    Who’s laughing now?

    CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain may require some radical changes to how will live, but it illustrates what is possible, and indeed what may be necessary …
    http://zerocarbonbritain.com/en/

    Nuclear has had it’s day, and lost the plot.

  21. BBD says:

    The last part has a “we must rely,” BBD, which looks like prescriptive to me.

    Well, MacKay did first list all the other energy sources and estimated potential outputs then say that we must therefore rely on additional energy from solar or nuclear or both, which I didn’t read as prescriptive so much as descriptive of our choices.

    I know of no scenario where solar alone can fill in 50 kWh/d. Do you?

    As you know, solar has the raw potential to deliver this and far more, but whether actually accessing this potential and distributing the electricity is feasible is less clear, particularly as even Big Solar in N Africa might only yield about 16kWh/d per person to 1bn people.

    Personally, I think it will be very, very difficult to get anything in the order of 50kWh/d/p from solar, which is why I’ve never been persuaded by the 100% renewables argument and believe that nuclear is going to be a necessary part of the decarbonisation toolkit if we ever actually start seriously trying to do this.

  22. Willard says:

    Thanks, BBD.

    Someone over the tweeter suggested Reinventing Fire by Armory Lovins:

    https://www.rmi.org/insights/reinventing-fire/

    I’ll revise my statement later on tonight. On don’t need that strong of a claim.

  23. Willard says:

    BBD,

    I’ve changed my claim to This point also rests on the idea that the path toward sustainable energy requires more nuclear energy than anything else, a conclusion that seems to be supported by the work of David Mackay.

    Tell me if that’s OK with you.

  24. BBD says:

    Yes, that’s fine, I think (sorry for the slow reply – sleep intervened). It’s a shame we can no longer just ask MacKay himself.

  25. Andrew Dodds says:

    Given that my day job involved telecoms, I find the idea that the internet is decentralized quite interesting. Really, nowadays especially, when talking about The Internet you are talking about a relatively small number of huge server farms and very high-speed/high capacity connections. Not dissimilar to centralized power grids.. and although it’s true in theory that you don’t *need* all this centralized stuff, take a few high-speed links and data centers out and the cumulative demand will swamp the rest. It’s really not as decentralized as you think.

    As far as Hippy-punching goes.. here’s the problem: Often, in online discussions around climate, the subject of nuclear power comes up. And no matter how gently I try to broach the subject that it might just be handy to have a relatively dependable source of electricity that is very low-carbon, there tends to be the inevitable replies from those who have quite obviously decided that nuclear power is unacceptable and therefore any anti-nuclear argument will do, however flimsy. Is it hippy-punching to get annoyed with such an approach?

  26. BBD says:

    Someone over the tweeter suggested Reinventing Fire by Armory Lovins

    I think it’s fair to argue that MacKay’s approach incorporates substantial energy efficiency assumptions per Reinventing Fire. MacKay’s global per capita energy consumption estimate of 80kWh/d/p contrasts sharply with the current 250kWh/d/p for the US, the 125kWh/d/p European average and 125kWh/d/p for the UK.

  27. Andrew Dodds says:

    Looking at the RMI site..

    The problem is one I often have with this area: lots of verbosity, lots of context-light facts with detail, if any, deeply buried. So you have to dig to find out that hydrogen cars seem to be a big part of the proposal..or that renewable indeterminacy can be hand-waved away with a few choice phrases. It’s frustratingly insubstantial.

  28. Steven Mosher says:

    “Many uranium bases are belong to us.”

  29. Steven Mosher says:

    “To paraphrase Scott Denning, if Freedom Fighters shirk their responsibility, decisions will be made without them. They had all the time to make themselves heard. So much the worse if they waste everyone’s time punching hippies and tilting at windmills.”

    he pretty much nails it.

  30. Magma says:

    The nuclear industry has to 1) get its engineering, construction, and maintenance costs under control and 2) reduce the expected number of multi-hundred billion dollar disasters. Based on its record to date, with costs continuing to spiral upwards and with n(very bad things) = 2 for <10,000 nuclear plant-years, this is a challenge it may have difficulty meeting, especially given the rate at which renewable energy sources and storage are advancing.

    Personally, if I was starting over as a young physicist or engineer, I would not choose nuclear power as my future career path, as technically interesting as it may be.

    http://www-pub.iaea.org/books/IAEABooks/12246/Operating-Experience-with-Nuclear-Power-Stations-in-Member-States-in-2016

  31. BBD says:

    Based on its record to date, with costs continuing to spiral upwards and with n(very bad things) = 2 for <10,000 nuclear plant-years

    The problem with this argument is that the bad things happen to very old plant which is inherently more dangerous compared to modern plant. Better to focus on more robust concerns such as engineering and maintenance costs.

  32. Willard says:

    > It’s a shame we can no longer just ask MacKay himself.

    Yes, it is. I don’t need his authority, as it’s an assumption that comes from the pseudo-modern manifesto. I can say it now that no pseudo-modern came up to doubt it. Wink wink.

  33. BBD says:

    Shocking 🙂

  34. Willard says:

    > The nuclear industry has to 1) get its engineering, construction, and maintenance costs under control

    Indeed, Magma. As I said in my first tweet that started my tweetspat, costs matter. At one point I couldn’t resist to push back against Joris’ engineered snobishness:

  35. Willard says:

    Thanks for the point about decentralization, Andrew. As always, the difference between theory and practice is higher in theory than in practice.

    Getting annoyed never solves anything. If that makes you punch hippies harder, then it’s more than counterproductive. It makes you look like a bully, and it reinforces the belief that they’re right. What doesn’t work with your kids won’t work with random people on the Internet. (I admit being less patient IRL.)

    Since some give and take is involved, my own strategy would be to acknowledge that going nuclear is more by necessity than by choice. It involves risks, costs, and regulations. Nevertheless, if we’re serious about decarbonizing our energy consumption, it will have to play a more or less big role in many parts of the world. The only alternative I see is going solar, but that’s not something I would suggest to people living 45 degrees North.

  36. Willard says:

    > The problem is one I often have with this area: lots of verbosity, lots of context-light facts with detail, if any, deeply buried.

    Exactly. And when I asked for details to the tweeter that mentioned Armory’s work, I got some handwaving to a book. That’s not something I like very much:

    If techno-utopias could be more accessible, that’d be great.

  37. Willard says:

    Here’s what I could find on Armory’s point against the baseload argument:

    The electricity system doesn’t rely on any plant’s ability to run continuously; rather, all plants together supply the grid, and the grid serves all loads. That’s necessary because no kind of power plant can run all the time, as Stewart says they must do to meet steady loads. I repeat: there is not and has never been a need for any particular plant or kind of plant to run all the time, and none can. All power plants fail, varying only in their failures’ size, duration, frequency, predictability, and cause. Solar cells’ and windpower’s variation with night and weather is no different from the intermittence of coal and nuclear plants, except that it affects less capacity at once, more briefly, far more predictably, and is no harder and probably easier and cheaper to manage. In short, the ability to serve steady loads is a statistical attribute of all plants on the grid, not an operational requirement for one plant. Variability (predictable failure) and intermittence (unpredictable failure) must be managed by diversifying type and location, forecasting, and integrating with other resources. Utilities do this every day, balancing diverse resources to meet fluctuating demand and offset outages. Even with a largely (or probably a wholly) renewable grid, this is not a significant problem or cost, either in theory or in practice—as illustrated by areas that are already 30-40% wind-powered.

    http://grist.org/article/2009-11-09-do-we-need-nuclear-and-clean-coal-plants-for-baseload-power/

    That article refers to a PDF entitled Four Nuclear Myths. It leads nowhere on MRI’s website. It can be found here.

    There’s also his Carbon Brief interview, which I enjoyed:

    https://www.carbonbrief.org/carbon-brief-interview-amory-lovins

    So far, a likeable chap.

  38. Willard says:

    Solid pitchin’ beats hippie punchin’:

    [W]hat we found is you can run a very prosperous U.S. economy, 2.6 times today, in 2050, with no oil, no coal, also no nuclear energy and a third less natural gas. It’s $5 trillion cheaper in that present value than business as usual. The transition requires no new inventions, no acts of Congress, and it’s led by business for profit.

    https://www.npr.org/2011/10/21/141591191/reinventing-fire-getting-beyond-fossil-fuels

    Now that gets my attention. I still won’t buy Amory’s book, but I gotta admit the guy knows how to pitch.

  39. BBD says:

    Solar cells’ and windpower’s variation with night and weather is no different from the intermittence of coal and nuclear plants, except that it affects less capacity at once, more briefly, far more predictably, and is no harder and probably easier and cheaper to manage.

    This *might* be true in some geographical areas, but for Europe it just isn’t so. In winter, there are unpredictable multi-day wind lulls that reduce wind farm output over very large areas (eg. all UK; all Germany). These pop up most years and typically last for 3 – 5 days. Since it is winter, solar output is also very low (~10% of summer average). In a future energy mix heavily dependent on W&S, these wind output dropouts will require something else to step up and meet perhaps 50% of national scale demand for several consecutive days. This is a very, very major challenge for a future energy mix to meet and waving it away as Lovins and many others do is not acceptable.

  40. Willard says:

    > CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain may require some radical changes to how will live, but it illustrates what is possible, and indeed what may be necessary … http://zerocarbonbritain.com/en/

    Thanks for the link, RichardE. I’ll take a look.

    For some unknown reason, your comment ended up in spam. If it happens often, ask Akismet for help.

  41. @Willard – no problem. On CAT’s ZCB plan, I have personally challenged politicians as to why they do not have a similar plan, or indeed, any plan. Whatever we do, it needs less waffle and hand -waving and more details. I am not saying ZCB is the answer, but it is at least an answer.

    A personal anecdote that makes me skeptical of a nuclear renaissance (even ignoring Kevin Anderson’s mathetical critique). I was doing an information strategy a few years ago for a country in the middle east planning to build a nuclear industry, pretty much from scratch. As I walked around I noticed something that most of the senior roles were grey-haired expats from USA, Britain, and a few other countries with faded nuclear industries. Some told me they’d been tempted out of retirement and each were shadowed by young locals with no experience. I think that tells us all we need to know about a proposed rapid scale up of nuclear globally.

    Lack of skills capacity, and time to scale up these skills, is a huge limiter on any renaissance..

    The Ecomodernists hate low-tech (solar and wind) because it goes against their high-tech vision of energy intensive, Singapore-like cities, separated from nature; which nuclear aligns so well to (even modular ‘small and safe’ sitting in the middle of these cities); or so the fantasy goes. But of course low(er) tech RE are much easier to scale – both vertically (bigger) or horizontally (more of and/or more spread out) – and at an increasingly competitve cost per MWhr.

  42. Canman says:

    If you’re blocked by someone on Twitter, you can still read their tweets (by not being signed in) and they still show up on a WordPress blog.

  43. Willard says:

    > If you’re blocked by someone on Twitter, you can still read their tweets

    I know (Tweetdeck is also good for that), but I don’t think MikeS’s tweets are worth the effort.

  44. Willard says:

    > Lack of skills capacity, and time to scale up these skills, is a huge limiter on any renaissance.

    That’s a problem that seems to be more acute in ClimateBall ™, RichardE. Being able to knock-down the pseudo-modern playbook with the fact that nuclear needs to compete with fossil fuels is underwhelming to say the least.

    In my opinion, the choice between nuclear and Sun, Sea, and Wind (SSW) is simply a false dilemma. The main choice is between sustainable energy and unsustainable energy. That’s it.

    I don’t think going nuclear hinders going SSW. In my mind, they’re more or less complementary, because I don’t see any reason why we won’t need every weapon we have to get enough sustainable energy to replace fossil fuels. This is the problem Anderson, Mackay or Lovins’ calculations try to solve. For lack of a better term, I’ll call this the energy output problem.

    (I’m looking for ways to name problems like this one. Suggestions welcome.)

    The same argument applies to the output energy problem, i.e. reducing our energy intensity, our energy consumption. In the end, we need to stop beating around the bush and ask ourselves: is the proposal under consideration helps us stop dumping carbon in the atmosphere like there’s no tomorrow fast enough? If not, then it’s a non-solution.

    As you can see, my argument is a logical one, and applies to any solution, scenario, mix model, or whatever. It just so happens that this simple, logical argument refutes pseudo-modernism. If going nuclear is needed, then its advocates need to face its socio-economic consequences and stop punching hippies.

    Incoherent manifestos don’t cut it.

  45. izen says:

    @-BBD
    “In a future energy mix heavily dependent on W&S, these wind output dropouts will require something else to step up and meet perhaps 50% of national scale demand for several consecutive days.”

    Or not.
    It might be cheaper to copy the 1970s and have power cuts and a 3 day week if conditions require a transient reduction in consumption.

    Some of the dispute in on this issue derives from the unspoken assumption that any replacement for the current mix of energy generation from fossil fuels must exactly match or exceed the quality and cost of provision by CO2 emitters.

    If you are not using fossil fuels then replacing some of the capacity with nuclear just to match current baseload demand more than 90% of the time may be less adaptive than altering usage patterns in response to seasonal climate variations.

    3 hour power cuts during winter calms would be a wonderful incentive for the home storage 1Kwh lights and computer/tablet/phone backup power package. No doubt being designed in China as we type…

  46. Willard says:

    > a 3 day week

    I’m interested. Go on.

  47. izen says:

    @-W
    “I’m interested. Go on.”

    Okay.
    despite Ugo Bardi and his Seneca cliff being somewhat persuasive, I think Mosher had it right in his assesment of the future impacts and responses to climate change. He doubted any great catstrophic collapse or calamity, or a sudden enlightenment and global conversion to reducing fossil fuel use. In his apposite phrase, “things just get incrementally shitty.”

    In the UK the last time there was insufficient power generated to sustain the usual level of economic and social activity it did eventually prompt a transition to an alternative power source. But the immediate response to the shortage of coal (as a result of an industrial dispute) was to adjust consumption patterns by fiat.
    This also how the mismatch between demand and supply is managed in communities without the level of provision in the modern industrial society. Brownouts and blackouts.

    Democracies will balance the amount of hardship they can impose aganist the cost of transition to a low carbon energy regieme according to the horizon of the next election.
    The idea that fossil fuels will be abandonded for a system that is capable of providing the same level of service is unrealistic. It will either be replaced with a system that is as bad as the suppliers can get a way with. and sometimes worse. Or the fossil fuel generation will continue.

    Any emergent system of power supply will have to match FF use in terms of profitability, not level of service.

  48. Willard says:

    > Any emergent system of power supply will have to match FF use in terms of profitability, not level of service.

    I thought you were talking about the three days work week, izen.

    Wait. I am the in-house cynic!

    (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻)

  49. izen says:

    @-W
    “I thought you were talking about the three days work week, izen.”

    I am.
    If fossil fuels are not available and SSW are incapable of meeting demand, either due to a temporary weather condition, or they consistently fail at high demand peaks, then the adaption will be;-
    1) Use fossil fuels despite the risk of exceeding your Paris promises.
    2) Impose an enforced holiday or limited hours on industry with high power demands combined with rolling power cuts. The historical precedent is clear, that is politically feasible, if dangerous, and avoids excessive financial costs for marginal gain.

    Building high cost, high financial risk nuclear might happen if a government throws enough money at it, (China?) but the expectation that demand will be met when using SSW by adding high cost additions rather than ‘managed’ when it exceeds profitable levels is realism not cynicism.

  50. Nick says:

    Never have posted here, but try my best to follow the blog.
    Just saw this short piece in the SF Chronicle that Shellenberger is going to run to replace Jerry Brown (being termed out) a an independent. Doubt he’ll win, but kind of amazed by his hubris, and (I’m guessing) a way to spend Pritzker money.
    http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Pro-nuke-activist-from-Berkeley-to-run-for-Calif-12396711.php

  51. Ken Fabian says:

    As far as manifestos go the Ecomodernist one looks good. On paper. Or in this case on screen as a nicely formatted PDF. I just doubt the sincerity of it’s principle advocates and their priorities. I’ve been (mostly) consistent in urging mainstream not-hippies to show commitment and leadership; attacking those who are most committed to addressing climate risks because adequately addressing them is, itself, deemed to be an (economically) extremist act isn’t the same as mainstream commitment to addressing them by other less (economically) extremist means.

    Ecomodernism does have many of the rhetorical flourishes of what mainstream commitment to climate stability might look like – a focus on long term future of our economic prosperity and security, with (optimistically) a flow on effect of taking pressure off and preserving the natural ecosystems that have been a primary focus of environmentalist led early commitment. But it’s advocates look more concerned with opposing, diminishing and perhaps displacing environmentalism than concerned about advancing a transition to low emissions.

    Hippie punching – (an appalling phrase IMO – that just shows that most people have no innate aversion to violence … that it’s even something to be amused by as long as you dislike the victims) – “hippie punching” in the context of nuclear for climate, has the presumption that in the absence of opposition to nuclear by political environmentalists, that nuclear would face no political impediments and the problem would be solved. The continuing opposition to strong climate action is framed as primarily a reactive response to environmentalism rather than a rejection of climate responsibility. ie that if it weren’t for environmentalists the climate problem would get solved, easily, with nuclear. I don’t believe it would; the same reasons for opposition to strong climate action would still be there. The rhetoric might change but the goal of climate responsibility avoidance would remain and continue to have enormous political influence.

    Whatever my personal reservations with thousands of rapid build nuclear plants around the world, I continue to believe that it is not even within the realms of achievable possibility without an overarching commitment to fixing the climate problem from those mainstream influences that currently oppose and obstruct it – because “the only way to replace fossil fuels is to replace fossil fuels”. Renewables at the scales needed would be greatly aided by the end of political obstruction but nuclear at the scales needed requires and depends upon it.

  52. William says:

    McKay, towards the end of his last video interview, said he would not build any wind or solar, if I remember correctly.

  53. Ragnaar says:

    “…ie that if it weren’t for environmentalists the climate problem would get solved, easily, with nuclear.”

    It would be some environmentalists. And it would also be some Republicans. The opposition is varied.

    “The Democratic platform is completely silent on nuclear energy.”

    There’s a lot of Democrats. Silent. With the recent campaign and Trump calling climate change a hoax, what did they say about nuclear power? It’s worse than we thought. Sit on your hands.

    It’s not easy. Another billion dollars over budget in the latest news. We’re going to need nuclear power plants to sneak in from Mexico at this rate.

    If the Democrats changed their platform to favor nuclear power, I imagine some will feel split off and pushed to the Green Party. The Republicans would be signaled to not fear the Democrats on the issue. This is trying to set up a nuclear power solution and it involves leaving some out. We can ask, what is preventing nuclear power? And then of that list, which are the easiest to remedy?

    We can also blame the Republicans for not pushing harder, and nuclear power is in contest with fossil fuels politically. The harder it is to build nuclear, the more coal and natural gas gets sold. Which oddly make the anti-nukers have something in common with fossil fuel companies.

  54. Willard says:

    > The continuing opposition to strong climate action is framed as primarily a reactive response to environmentalism rather than a rejection of climate responsibility. ie that if it weren’t for environmentalists the climate problem would get solved, easily, with nuclear.

    Well said.

    I’m tempted to write a post with all the sentences that mention climate in the manifesto.

  55. Canman says:

    I had no idea when I made my comment:

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2017/11/29/going-nuclear/#comment-107064

    I don’t think there’s anybody in politics who has his potential to generate an interesting, open discusion of climate and energy. If I lived in CA, I’d be happy to vote and even campaign for him. Those tweets I posted show that he can deliver!

  56. Nick,

    Just saw this short piece in the SF Chronicle that Shellenberger is going to run to replace Jerry Brown (being termed out) a an independent.

    Thanks. I’m also rather amazed by his hubris. He has a facebook post about it too, in which he both claims to be wanting to clean up politics and that he is willing to do whatever it takes to win. I think the latter is one of the reasons why politics isn’t as clean as we might like.

  57. Canman says:

    Hubris? Wrong! He’s got youth, energy, vision and drive! There’s no one else in politics with his potential. Is there any specific facts you can refute in his facebook post?

  58. BBD says:

    @ izen

    You aren’t the first person who has suggested this to me but my answer remains the same: it isn’t politically survivable. Power off for much of the country for 3 days or more? People die. The electorate didn’t like what happened in the ’70s in the UK very much IIRC and it was nothing compared to what would happen if we loose ~50% of capacity for 3 days or more. And of course business and industry would move to where the energy supply is more reliable which would mean a rapid collapse of GDP. It’s difficult to imagine how any government could survive this.

  59. Andrew Dodds says:

    Izen –

    We know from third world countries what happens if mains power is not 99.99% reliable.. people buy diesel backup generators. Something of a step backwards..

    In the UK at least, most gas central heating systems are electric appliances as well, so a loss of power also means no heating or hot water. Combi boilers with no hot water tank are promoted for energy efficiency, which is fine, but absolutely depend on 24/7 power.

    Willard –

    Yes, the test is to see the reaction of the breakthrough boys to a plan where the government invests $500 billion over a decade to bring those passively safe, mass produced, modular reactors to reality. That’s the sort of thing that a nuclear solution requires.. which is why even though I think it’s the best way to address global warming, it’s very unlikely to happen.

  60. Steven Mosher says:

    i love willards links.
    the article on state ownership in France was interesting for 2010.
    interesting to get an updated view that also references nuclear power.

    https://www.ft.com/content/9be75d5c-a72e-11e6-8898-79a99e2a4de6

    shrugs.

  61. BBD says:

    Yes, the test is to see the reaction of the breakthrough boys to a plan where the government invests $500 billion over a decade to bring those passively safe, mass produced, modular reactors to reality.

    Meanwhile, here in the UK, Ernst & Young appears to have buggered up its analysis of SMR costs (my emphasis):

    These arguments will be called into question by the EY report but SMR developers insist the findings are based on outdated information and did not include the Rolls-Royce technology which is among the frontrunners for government backing.

    An apparently fatally incomplete analysis which is anyway based on a misconception of the cost of W&S:

    Development of SMRs is regarded as crucial to the future of the nuclear industry as it struggles to remain competitive against the rapidly falling cost of renewable wind and solar power.

    Solar modules and turbines are the cheap part of the total system cost of a major scaling of W&S. The expensive bit is the parallel scaling of PHES, long distance transmission capacity upgrades and grid interconnections necessary to make it all work, all the time. Presumably someone will eventually work out that presenting the cheapest part of the system as the total cost is, to put it mildly, misleading, but it certainly hasn’t happened yet.

  62. BBD says:

    We know from third world countries what happens if mains power is not 99.99% reliable.. people buy diesel backup generators. Something of a step backwards.

    Guess what…

  63. Willard says:

    > Those tweets I posted show that he can deliver!

    I’m afraid MikeS has little to do with France’s energy policy, Canman.

  64. Canman says:

    Willard, he definitely made a difference in S Korea:

  65. Marco says:

    Canman, Shellenberger is being decidedly dishonest in that tweet. It’s like New Zealand claiming it beat Nazi-Germany, ignoring all other parties involved. In this case Shellenberger completely ignores the powerful nuclear power lobby in Korea itself (to indicate its economic power: export of nuclear facilities worth 400 BILLION, not million, projected by 2030).

    There is little evidence that EP’s actions had any measurable impact on the recommendation by the citizen panel that Moon installed.

    Oh, and the “victory” is rather small: South Korea will still phase out nuclear power (as per the panel’s recommendation), and the planned construction of 6 plants has been scrapped. The “victory” was that two plants under early construction will be build anyway. Even that was already a possibility anyway, as the permits had been given, and litigation thus likely.

  66. BBD says:

    I’m hitting a paywall.

    Ah. I thought that article was open access. Could be because you aren’t in the UK. I’m sorry about that. Paywalled links are irritating.

  67. BBD says:

    Given South Korea’s rather lively tectonics, not to mention the neighbours, maybe a big nuclear expansion isn’t such a brilliant idea.

  68. Joshua says:

    I’m hitting a paywall.

    You can sometimes get around the WSJ paywall (if you don’t see it as a violation of ethics to do so) if you use archive.is…but it didn’t work for the FT URL for that link. Can someone tell me the headline it’s under?

  69. Joshua says:

    Ken –

    I don’t believe it would; the same reasons for opposition to strong climate action would still be there. The rhetoric might change but the goal of climate responsibility avoidance would remain and continue to have enormous political influence.

    I’m not entirely sure that “climate responsibility avoidance,” is a complete description. For example, if we woke up tomorrow and found that hippies had just disappeared, my guess is that many of those who currently present as advocates of nuclear would dig in with resistance at the federal funding and energy policy centralization that would be required to make a massive nuclear build out feasible.

  70. Joshua says:

    My point being that the resistance could be considered tax avoidance, or responsible government avoidance, or personal responsibility avoidance. Or just plain maturation and intellectual consistency avoidance – in the case of libertarians 🙂

  71. BBD says:

    Can someone tell me the headline it’s under?

    Sorry – afk – it’s “Development of small nuclear power plants gathers pace”

  72. Joshua says:

    BBD –

    Thanks. Archive.is didn’t work – but surprisingly going in via The Google (and the headline as the search string) worked just fine.

  73. BBD says:

    Thanks Joshua for finding the article and posting the tip.

  74. BBD says:

    Okay, belated due diligence finally got done. I have to admit that I’d never seen MacKay’s final interview.

    Upthread, William said:

    McKay, towards the end of his last video interview, said he would not build any wind or solar, if I remember correctly.

    And that may be at the heart of the pseudo-modernist misrepresentation of MacKay.

    Here is a Guardian article with link to the actual video interview which Prof. MacKay gave before his death in April last year.

    What MacKay said is very clear indeed: energy plans must be tailored to the region or country they serve. The UK would be better served by more nuclear because of seasonal solar dropout and periodic winter windspeed lulls.

    MacKay did not argue that the global energy mix should favour nuclear. He argued only for the UK. An important distinction, I’m sure you’d agree.

  75. Ragnaar says:

    This from MIT:

    https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608271/small-reactors-could-kick-start-the-stalled-nuclear-sector/

    It says Trump is not on board.

    $3 billion for 600 Megawatts or as I figure it, $5000 per kilowatt. Wind is about $2000 per kilowatt. With a 40% up time for wind and 100% for this nuclear, the cost is the same. But there are other costs to consider and SMR’s numbers have a lot of uncertainty.

    Since theirs is transportable, remote locations, for instance Puerto Rico and Hawaii are potential users. One module would provide 50,000 kilowatts, which is roughly 50,000 households in the United States.

  76. Willard says:

    > It says [teh Donald] is not on board.

    Teh Donald does a lot of board switching:

  77. Ken Fabian says:

    Joshua – I sometimes use “climate responsibility avoidance” to try and be more inclusive; not all opposition to strong climate policy is based on explicit rejection of climate science although I think it is implicit in a lot of the economics based opposition that comes with “we accept climate science”
    declaimers. Such as using relative costs of energy choices that don’t include the de-facto subsidy to fossil fuels from an enduring amnesty on externalities.

    I haven’t seen any consideration of the impacts of climate risk denial/responsibility denial on the nuclear “alternative” approach from the leading Ecomodernists – and I continue to think it’s impacts are profound and wide reaching. Ecomodernists seem mostly focused on blaming and stopping pro-renewables climate activists like they are not only an impediment, they are the only significant impediment. There is a strong element of “if the whole issue was treated differently, solutions would be straightforward” (and no doubt that is true) but no credible pathways for doing so are offered. Most of those activists, despite the attempt to broadly apply the (pejorative) label, bear no resemblance to hippies.

  78. Ben McMillan says:

    The bit that needs a repeated reminder in an analysis like Mackay’s is that the vast majority of energy is not currently distributed via the electricity grid.

    A very large fraction of it is process heat for things like making cement, fossil fuels for making fertiliser, and aviation fuel (hard for batteries to take on this role): these kind of bulk commodities would likely be made (in a low-CO2 scenario) while electrical power prices were low, or at least not made for the few weeks when they are high.

    So ‘use less power when there is a lull in the wind’ is mostly going to mean shutting down a small number of the most energy-intensive industries for a couple of weeks, and storing some energy-intensive outputs, not shutting down the whole economy.

    The other (UK-specific) thing is that most of these energy-intensive goods probably wouldn’t be made in the UK: the UK currently imports a large fraction of its primary energy and will continue to do so. This idea that countries should be self-sufficient in energy is frankly a bit weird and strikes me as a bit of a straw-man.

  79. BBD says:

    So ‘use less power when there is a lull in the wind’ is mostly going to mean shutting down a small number of the most energy-intensive industries for a couple of weeks, and storing some energy-intensive outputs, not shutting down the whole economy.

    The standard decarbonisation scenario is to move substantially to electrification and away from FFs. This makes the national infrastructure somewhat more dependent on electricity supply than it is at present. But consider only the present. How well do you think the UK would cope if electricity generation capacity was cut by 50% for a week?

    This idea that countries should be self-sufficient in energy is frankly a bit weird and strikes me as a bit of a straw-man.

    The idea that capacity should at all times be capable of meeting demand is a basic requirement of a functional national infrastructure.

  80. Willard says:

    > The bit that needs a repeated reminder in an analysis like Mackay’s is that the vast majority of energy is not currently distributed via the electricity grid.

    Agreed. It’s important to distinguish between electricity production and energy production. For instance, Canada produces North of 650 kWh of electricity, This only covers 80% of its electricity supply. Its energy production is most probably quite bigger: the sum of its energy assets are North of $550 billion.

    When we’re speaking of 100% renewables or sustainable energy, I believe we refer to electricity production, not energy production. In the end, it’s the energy production that really matters. If we’re serious about reducing fossil fuels, we can’t satisfy ourselves with generating 100% electricity with sustainable energy. In fact, we could worsen our situation in cases where more fossil fuels are being produced at the same time. This implies, as BBD observes, that we need to increase electricity generation, unless of course we find a way to reduce our need for energy.

    Hence why we need to get all the sustainable energy we can, including nuclear energy. This doesn’t mean our need for fossil fuels will stop, but if we don’t reduce our fossil fuel consumption it’ll be hard to reduce our fossil fuel consumption.

  81. Willard says:

    Alex Gilbert has really good thread over the tweeter. A relevant tweet:

    Another one:

  82. BBD says:

    When we’re speaking of 100% renewables or sustainable energy, I believe we refer to electricity production, not energy production. In the end, it’s the energy production that really matters. If we’re serious about reducing fossil fuels, we can’t satisfy ourselves with generating 100% electricity with sustainable energy.

    Yes. Decarbonising electricity generation is the ‘easy’ part. Continuing to decarbonise total primary energy production is necessary for deep decarbonisation, which is what we actually have to do. Or try to do.

    Just touching back on Ben’s point about embodied energy (that which is imported in the form of stuff made elsewhere). Embodied energy also needs to be from a low carbon source or there’s a failure in the decarbonisation process.

  83. BBD says:

    I don’t share your enthusiasm for Alex Gilbert btw.

    . Nuclear’s characteristics make it terrible for terrestrial commercial electricity. Rather, its ideal for CHP, military, and space

    That’s the ‘nuclear can’t load follow’ myth.

    The 100% RE fight is annoying because both sides are right and just talking past one another

    And that’s meaningless. Either you can feasibly get to 100% RE without nuclear, or you can’t.

  84. Joshua says:

    Ken –

    Ecomodernists seem mostly focused on blaming and stopping pro-renewables climate activists like they are not only an impediment, they are the only significant impediment. There is a strong element of “if the whole issue was treated differently, solutions would be straightforward” (and no doubt that is true) but no credible pathways for doing so are offered.

    Agreed. Everybody loves a counterfactual. They’re very useful for advancing agendas.

  85. Willard says:

    > That’s the ‘nuclear can’t load follow’ myth.

    No, that’s the “nuclear can’t compete with the markets we have” fact.

    ***

    > And that’s meaningless.

    C’mon, BDD. That makes plenty of sense. There are issues with nuclear. There are issues with WSS. Most points against both are more than less valid.

    Bickering over these issues distracts us from the main ones, the first one being that dumping fossil fuels byproducts into the earth systems like there’s no tomorrow is a Very Bad Thing.

  86. BBD says:

    Okay, well, we’ve read those tweets differently. I’d agree with your readings. And I’d certainly agree with the Very Bad Thing clause.

  87. Eli Rabett says:

    Ms Rabett’s sister lives out in the country, or about as out in the country as anybunny can get on the east coast of the US. Everybunny has a diesel generator, or two, for the frequent times during the year when the power goes out because of a storm.

  88. See also Richard Heinberg’s renewable energy plan for the US:
    https://www.ecowatch.com/heres-how-we-get-to-100-renewable-energy-1891172891.html

    As with MacKay, he doesn’t see a way to get back to the amount currently in use. (He doesn’t propose nuclear, he proposes a society that uses much less energy; MacKay liked the idea of dropping demand too.)

    In this hour-long video, Saul Griffith offers a comprehensive view of energy and infrastructure solutions:
    http://longnow.org/seminars/02015/sep/21/infrastructure-and-climate-change/

    In this 8 minute video from 2012, Griffith offered a better way to use stimulus money.

    Griffith and his team made a great interactive Sankey diagram:
    http://energyliteracy.com/

    And they made a video to demo it. Former Energy Secretary Chu makes a cameo at the end. I cued it to an interesting story, referencing a conversation Griffith had with MacKay.

    David MacKay initiated this global simulator project, also interesting:
    globalcalculator.org
    Try different recipes.

    re: Wind power without city-scale storage; not likely, I’d think. People aren’t going to plan a society that runs down when the wind stops. This would defeat the purpose of refrigerators, HVAC, subways, and hospitals.

    We’re working on a wind plan for NYC that would entail harnessing the enormous reservoirs of the water system (and some new ones) for pumped hydro. It’s unlikely, but then *everything* is unlikely.

    Asia is going to need nuclear, because a billion new air conditioners (already on the way in China, and soon India) will need a terawatt, which would be about a thousand mile by 250 mile patch of ocean covered in wind turbines, matched with storage that doesn’t exist.

    Another good read pondering this sort of question: Powering the Planet, by Nathan Lewis at CalTech. (2007)
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0rWjVMvjHb0YmNYUzZNWndtWHc/view?usp=sharing

    A succinct take from MacKay.
    http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/371/1996/20110431
    His central point is that people per square meter is the key factor on renewables, which are diffuse as well as intermittent. Low density places with a lot of sun are easy. New York State with two million people could run off of Niagara Falls with plenty left over.

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