Skip to content(if available)orjump to list(if available)

Why is the nuclear power industry stagnant?

uranium

"Recently, places as diverse as Texas, California, Oklahoma/Iowa/Kansas/Nebraska (SPP), the UK, and Germany have rapidly decarbonized without nuclear."

Uh...Germany's actually recarbonized by shutting down their nuclear [increasing coal and imported electricity to pick up the slack].

"The nuclear electricity production lost in Germany's phase-out was primarily replaced with coal electricity production and electricity importing. One study found that the nuclear phase-out caused $12 billion in social costs per year, primarily due to increases in mortality due to exposure to pollution from fossil fuels." --[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Germany]

California's likely to have serious shortages [again] if they shut off the rest of theirs. Plus: "California's electricity rates are among the highest in the United States as a result of the changing energy mix within the state, including aggressive construction of new natural gas power plants." --[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_California]

I don't know enough to check the rest of the article, but this certainly gives me some doubts as to its accuracy.

jillesvangurp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Germany

Actually, Germany did not have a long term increase in coal/gas due to the nuclear shut down but a decrease. Coal has been in a slow but steady decline in Germany (mainly due to cost); which is on track to decline all the way to 0 as Germany is committing to getting rid of coal based production completely by 2035 or so. Gas production did grow but mainly to offset declines in coal. And even there you might argue Recent events in the Ukraine are cutting off cheap Russian supply of both coal and gas, so that looks like it might actually accelerate decarbonization and short term raise the ambition levels even more.

The thing that grew absolutely massively in the same period was wind and solar. Vastly more capacity of the latter was added than ever existed in nuclear form. It now dwarfs everything else in the German market. All without blackouts BTW.

oceanplexian

> Recent events in the Ukraine are cutting off cheap Russian supply of both coal and gas

This is not the impression I have gotten from recent events.

The reason Germany hasn’t experienced blackouts is because they are funding the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine in exchange for energy. Germany has advocated for the continued purchase of Russian gas and has pushed back against the EU admitting Ukraine to the union. It’s obvious that the decarbonization had not succeeded in solving their need for base load power, in fact you could argue that their denuclearization is the very reason Russia has so much leverage in the situation. So while they may be saving the planet, this is a great example of a government missing the forest for the trees.

jhgb

You're confusing German gas consumption and German electricity consumption. It couldn't escape my attention that many people especially from the US make this fatal mistake (presumably because of the prevalence of natural gas electricity generation in the US - almost 40% in the US, compared to ~15% in Germany). In Germany, the vast majority of gas is being used for heating or for industrial purposes (chemistry etc.). This is not (yet) substitutable by other electricity sources.

Even if the denuclearization hadn't taken place, they'd still be dependent on Russian gas for at least a significant part of their gas supply. They can always substitute basically any gas shortfalls in the electricity sector simply by increasing coal generation, since there's a lot of unused capacity now that renewables leaped massively, and even replacing all the gas currently being used for electricity generation (because there's so little of it!) with coal would not even reach the levels of coal generation that Germany had as recently as just five years ago, so the coal plants can simply somewhat increase their output for a while. What Germans currently don't have is any way to not freeze to death and keep the industry running without Russian gas.

jillesvangurp

Germany can't wave a magic wand and switch off Russian imports overnight. But they did just commit a few hundred billion to accelerate their plans to get rid of coal and gas based generation. That's a direct consequence of the Ukrainian situation. Like the US, Germany was overly depending on cheap gas until recently. Now that it has to import the gas in liquid form from the US (and a few other places), it's going to be a lot more expensive. Hence hundreds of billions to cut their dependence on the stuff entirely.

Regarding nuclear in Germany, I think you are a bit short on the facts. Nuclear in Germany was always pretty minor. What little they had is now nearly gone. During the same time, they cut coal generation from 47% to about 25%. Gas grew a bit during that time but is still smaller than their remaining coal generation and even the amount of coal capacity they got rid off. Coal is going to be gone by 2030 according to the latest plans. Indeed cheap Russian gas was part of this plan until recently. But those plans are shifting rapidly now for obvious reasons.

null

[deleted]

croes

Gas has more use cases than just electricity.

These can't easily be replaced by nuclear power.

natmaka

Nuclear isn't better on this account: https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/exclusive-us-utiliti...

This is even true for France, as most of its uranium comes from Kazakhstan.

anovikov

But now Germany is committed to stopping Russian coal imports in 3 months and oil, by the year's end, and a (less format and obligatory) statement of intent to quit Russian gas too, in the next two years.

Emma_Goldman

> "Actually, Germany did not have a long term increase in coal/gas due to the nuclear shut down but a decrease"

> "Gas production did grow but mainly to offset declines in coal"

This is dishonest at two levels.

First, nuclear power fell and, at the same time, renewables and gas sharply rose in Germany's energy mix. Power is fungible. It is not as if power generated by renewables substitutes for nuclear, but power generated by gas doesn't. Germany had to add up it's energy inputs to meet 100% of its needs, and it used both sources to do so.

Second, everyone in Germany knew they were supposed to get rid of coal by 2030. That's the international deadline for coal in advanced economies. But the national phase-out law, until very recently, was eliminating coal at a far slower pace - aiming towards a terminal date of 2038. One reason why was the decline of nuclear.

jillesvangurp

Renewables rose by far more than gas did. The overall market also grew. If you take coal and gas together and look at overall fossil based generation, it declined and continues to decline. The unspoken implication of nuclear proponents is that Germany started putting out more CO2 because they shut down nuclear. The reality is that there was a continuous decline in fossil fuel related emissions related to electricity production. So, who is being "dishonest" here?

Gas "sharply" rose to much less than the coal and nuclear reductions combined. Renewables are on track to grow to about an order of magnitude more than the nuclear capacity Germany ever had. New gas plants might still happen as that is part of their plan to decommission coal. Or at least it was until a few months ago. But it will probably never grow to close to the level of coal production Germany had 12 years ago when it started shutting down nuclear plants.

The decision to get rid of coal by 2030 is fairly recent. There are no international deadlines other than what was agreed at Cop 26, which thanks to China and India avoids any big explicit commitments. However, there is a lot of peer pressure especially in Europe to clean up the energy sector. Germany actually resisted that peer pressure quite long. E.g. the reason brown coal is still a thing in Germany is because until a few years ago, the CDU essentially blocked all attempts to kill that massively polluting industry to protect jobs. I think at the time of the Paris agreements they were thinking/hoping a 2050-2060 time frame. Germany even opened new coal plants as recent as two years ago. The ambition levels have of course increased dramatically in the last few years; mainly due to the success of renewables. Mostly this is driven by simple economics. People like cheap wind and solar energy. Nuclear they don't like for lots of reasons; including the bad economics.

legulere

I think we're discussing semantics there. Coal use fell, coal and gas combined fell, but gas alone has risen. Which goes against predictions that coal would replace nuclear, that somehow some people claim have come true when there is obvious data that shows the opposite.

I agree with the point that we should have phased out coal before nuclear, but you have to state it like that and not cling onto some dream that nuclear and not renewables are the way forward for decarbonization.

> 2030 That's the international deadline for coal in advanced economies

Of the countries that have a pledge of a phase-out of coal, most have an even earlier deadline. However a lot of countries like the US or Poland don't even a deadline.

https://beyond-coal.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Overview-o...

seydor

what is the yield of solarwind in germany though? looking at their energy stats , it is underutilized

https://energy-charts.info/charts/power/chart.htm?l=en&c=DE&...

https://www.energy-charts.info/charts/installed_power/chart....

https://sminpowergroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Renewa...

and what happens to that massive coal+gas infrastructure?Apparently , wind+solar don't work at night and you will always need the same level of coal+gas+oil

arinlen

> Apparently , wind+solar don't work at night (...)

This line of argument is either disingenuous or ignorant.

https://m.dw.com/en/new-energy-storage-facilities-in-high-de...

https://www.iea.org/reports/energy-storage

jillesvangurp

Wind works just fine at night.

Erikun

What a great site, thanks for linking it. I looked up Sweden and, boy, it sure explains why phasing out nuclear gets delayed all the time here.

WalterGR

Batteries work at night.

ulfw

Germany has one of the highest electricity costs on the planet. That leads to reduction of use (as people just can't afford it) and this is before the Russian corrupt cheap gas deals. Who knows what it'll look like with higher gas and oil prices.

legulere

Only for household consumers, for instance because there's a special tax on household electricity to get people to use less electricity: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stromsteuergesetz_(Deutschland...

For none-household consumers it's the same as the EU average: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php...

At the same time Germany has one of the most reliable electricity nets with less outages than other countries.

vrfvr

> That leads to reduction of use (as people just can't afford it)

I consider this a good thing. Wasting energy ain't good, especially when it isn't completely climate neutral

croes

That would be a strange corruption that causes cheap gas

emteycz

Germany doesn't have blackouts only thanks to Czech and French nuclear energy ;-)

brazzy

The other way round, actually. France recently had massive problems because they had to switch off multiple nuclear plants for unexpected maintenance issues, and bought lots of power from Germany

freemint

Trade is not bad?

andromeduck

It only cost 40k lives and millions of livelihoods. No big deal.

gregwebs

The article on the site about solar is equally bad. Both are full of lots of good information but then have some key misunderstandings. The solar article doesn't acknowledge that installing a solar requires installing a gas peaker plant on the grid as well. [1] Although solar certainly reduces carbon emissions (the gas peaker plants only runs some of the time), the result is that the cost to the grid, rather than being the lowest, could be one of the highest depending on how the math actually works out. Battery can be installed instead of peaker plants, but the prices of raw materials for batteries have increased dramatically recently and it isn't possible for the mining of battery materials to keep up with the future demand. Tesla's car prices are shooting up- even though they are building huge battery factories to drive down price- it's not enough- they are now exploring mining Lithium, having already bought mining rights for it in Nevada.

[1] https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w22454/w224... Does anyone have a more up to date citation?

ZeroGravitas

The site actually has several articles about why this specific criticism is silly.

To summarize: we already have gas plants, and gas storage, leaving them turned off except as a fallback insurance is the sensible option. Even when building new plants, gas plants are the cheapest to build and simplest to run which matters a lot if they're mostly idle, which is why they get used as peakers.

https://austinvernon.site/blog/gasredemption.html

I don't agree with everything they write (they seem to think "virtue signaling“ is a real thing and that renewables had nothing to do with sensible government regulation but rather the free market which reveals a bias that runs through their conclusions) but the facts are fairly incontrovertible if you actually look at them so they come to the reasonable conclusions anyway.

gregwebs

That’s another mostly great article you linked to. Still though it doesn’t mention the dramatic cost increase of natural gas plants when used as a peaker instead of always-on, and it assumes we can produce as many batteries as we want. It also assumes we can continue producing massive amounts of natural gas in the US and export huge amounts to the rest of the world.

The author's article on renewables and batteries states "The cost of these batteries is plummeting. Material constraints are not an issue because storage batteries do not require top-tier energy density" [1]. This was reasonable to think just two years ago but now is obviously wrong- and this assumption underpins most of the author's writings on energy.

Energy policy is very unforgiving- missing one important fact or one wrong assumption can dramatically alter the outcome.

[1] https://austinvernon.site/blog/renewablevariation.html

cycomanic

Gas peaker plants are needed for nuclear just as much. Generally the article is looking at the most favourable conditions for the technology, e.g. only considering OCC and not interest cost for building and decommissioning of nuclear plants.

gregwebs

Nuclear is producing 100% output during peak power needs. Solar varies greatly but in the winter may be producing little output during peak power needs. So yes, a 100% all the time output requires peaking, but a variable power source that is not producing during peak times requires much more.

LilBytes

You're going to have to source this because there's been absolutely no need for gas plants in the two cities I've lived in that were both powdered by nuclear in Europe.

jhgb

> Uh...Germany's actually recarbonized by shutting down their nuclear [increasing coal and imported electricity to pick up the slack].

No, they did not -- look at the fourth chart in https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/germanys-energy-c... . There's no "increasing coal". The recent changes in nuclear and coal generation correlate rather than anti-correlate. You'd need them to anti-correlate for the thing that you're claiming to be true.

nickelpro

Coal and other carbon sources would have been able to dive much more sharply if the nuclear capacity had remained online or been replaced appropriately. By taking down nuclear capacity, the Germans _kept_ coal and other non-renewables online and prevented them from being replaced by rising renewable sources.

More important to the discussion, note the sharp rise in coal when there is a renewable availability dip. This need to burn coal and gas when renewables have less-than-perfect availability is the conundrum for the Germans.

jhgb

> Coal and other carbon sources would have been able to dive much more sharply if the nuclear capacity had remained online or been replaced appropriately.

While this is true, the claim that carbon emissions could have decreased even more than they actually decreased is very different from a claim that they increased (as opposed to decreased).

> More important to the discussion, note the sharp rise in coal when there is a renewable availability dip

Annual fluctuations are to be expected. They don't change the long-term trend. In fact you can see on the charts that the fluctuation was comparable to one year of recent trend. Additionally, this rise happened together with the abatement of the pandemic recession effect which impacts consumption of electricity. Without the anomalous electricity consumption dip in 2020 (which you can see clearly in the third chart), the rise in coal in 2021 vs. 2020 would have been about halved.

stkdump

So, by how much did Germany increase its carbon output during the nuclear shutdown? Hint: it didn't. It went from 14.8 to 7.7 tons/capita. You can always argue that it could have decreased faster by keeping nuclear plants online. But please don't believe the headlines of opinion makers without looking at the actual data.

varajelle

In the same period, France went from 10 to 4.2 t/capita

(Source: https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/germany?country=DEU~F... )

mixermachine

And they have a massive problem with their old plants because many are about to be decommissioned. They need to build many new ones while the state run nuclear operator is basically bankrupt.

https://theecologist.org/2017/mar/16/edf-facing-bankruptcy-d...

freemint

Germany has a lot of heavy industry.

pstuart

I can understand reluctance to build more nukes, but Germany shutting down nukes that were already paid for and working seems crazy.

disclaimer: I'm pro nuke if we can do it right, a la LFTR/SMRs etc.

logifail

> reluctance to build more nukes, but Germany shutting down nukes that were already paid for and working seems crazy

Is this statement about climate change, or nuclear safety, or a bit of both?

At least for those worrying about safety, isn't this simply the wrong way round? New nuclear plants would have to be constructed to the latest safety standards, older ("paid-for") plants are the ones which were built in an era before them and have grandfathered-in approvals which might not be granted today.

pstuart

The reluctance refers to those that are scared of nukes (I am not) or that they've historically been way over budget (understandable).

The crazy bit is climate change -- they intentionally moved backwards to more coal.

arinlen

> Uh...Germany's actually recarbonized by shutting down their nuclear [increasing coal and imported electricity to pick up the slack].

Wikipedia contradicts your claim.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Germany

From wikipeda's article, Germany has been constantly shutting down it's carbon-based energy sources for the past half decade, with dropping to a fraction of its contribution in the past six or seven years alone.

Germany currently relies primarily on wind, and wind+solar contribute more than all types of coal.

shakow

I don't know what Wiki says, but this here[0] says that right now, Germany is both producing one of the dirtiest electricity in Europe, all while still importing over 1GW.

[0] https://app.electricitymap.org/map

lispm

Germany has been a large net exporter of electricity for years. 18.9 TWh in 2020. Of that 52.5 TWh were exports and 33.6 TWh were imports.

What you may have missed is: Germany is in the middle of Europe surrounded with a bunch of neighbor countries. Most of them are in the European Union which worked for years on building a joint energy market. Thus various electricity exports and imports are NORMAL. Note also that electricity may travel through more than one country in Europe.

Germany imports huge amounts of energy from other countries, given that it doesn't have much own resources of Gas, Oil, Uranium - it has some coal, though. Coal, too is imported.

Exchanging electricity with other countries will increase massively. In my region there is now a 1 GW power line to Norway to exchange electricity both ways.

Another example: Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium are investing 135 Billion Euros in a joint offshore wind project.

https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/germany-denmark...

ZeroGravitas

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1290224/carbon-intensity...

This graphs shows the carbon intensity of their electricity dropping for years. There's a small uptick in the estimated number for the most recent year, but even with that it's a massive drop, so where is the recarbonization you mention?

superlopuh

That site doesn't mention whether it's the intensity of electricity consumed or produced, when Germany imports electricity it tends to be from countries with higher carbon-intensity production[0]

[0]: https://app.electricitymap.org/zone/DE

acidburnNSA

Nuclear engineer here. If you want a deep dive into US reactor development history, I wrote this up on a vacation.

https://whatisnuclear.com/reactor_history.html

My take on the more modern economics is here

https://whatisnuclear.com/economics.html

And waste here https://whatisnuclear.com/waste.html

roenxi

All those words. I want to highlight what I think it a theme there that is relevant to the framing of today's article:

Nuclear was undergoing a series of massive technical improvement as humanity discovered an exciting new technology. Then people got scared and strangled all innovation out of the nuclear industry some time in the 70s.

Heavy regulation makes it really, really expensive to experiment with new approaches. If we'd kept pushing on with nuclear, the existing nuclear technologies would probably have been obsoleted by now and we'd be using something different, cheaper and better with much more attractive cost structures. There is no point trying to improve a technology that governments are trying to regulate out of existence.

Meandering

What's your favorite or most closely watched Gen IV reactor? Figure you'd be one to ask.

acidburnNSA

I think we should be building the best LWRs right now to decarbonize immediately: ABWR, APR-1400, AP1000. My favorite decarbonize rapidly at scale idea is to build a shipyard-based nuclear reactor gigafactory and mass-produce floating PWRs. (This was actually almost done in the 1970s in Jacksonville Florida. They had a manufacturing license from the NRC, the world's largest gantry crane installed and, everything [1]).

Assuming we do build 1000+ gigawatts soon, then we will need to look into nuclear fuel recycling with breeder reactors. The most popular Gen-IV concepts in this area are sodium-cooled fast reactors (SFR) and thorium molten salt breeder reactors (T-MSRs). We have 450 reactor-years of experience with SFRs and like 5 with MSRs. Many of the SFR years were not great, and the MSR tech performance has never been seen at industrial scale (though China is about to turn on a T-MSR really soon!)

So yeah I'm kind of a "decarbonize now with what we know 100% works" person. Focus on Gen-IV is fine for some people, but I think the industry and fans of the industry are way too overhyped on Gen-IV and not nearly hyped enough about Gen-III+. Japan can build gigawatt-class ABWRs in 36 months.

We had a ABWR licensed and ready to build at South Texas Project but we just let it sit there. What a sad sad thing. That's a billion carbon-free watts we are not using.

[1] https://whatisnuclear.com/blog/2020-01-26-offshore-power-sys...

natmaka

As far as I know there is, after 70 years of research in many nations, not a single industrial satisfactorily working fast-breeder reactor. Is there one? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breeder_reactor#Development_an...

The most advanced one is Russia's BN-800 (now burning 60% MOX). Its planned big brother was cancelled "In 2015, after several minor delays, problems at the recently completed BN-800 indicated a redesign was needed. Construction of the BN-1200 was put on "indefinite hold", and Rosenergoatom has stated that no decision to continue will be made before 2019." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BN-1200_reactor

This is not due to a lack of interest or funding because Russia launched a new project towards another architecture and builds a small reactor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BREST_(reactor)

cycomanic

So if nuclear is significantly more expensive that wind/solar like stated in the original article and faster to build (or are you disputing the numbers?), why would we not use the same money to instead build more renewables to get us there faster?

freemint

Salt water + molten salt sounds like a real headache to maintain.

AtlasBarfed

Existing plants are barely competitive with the worst wind/solar from the LCOE graphs I've seen.

There's NO WAY a new LWR will ever beat LCOE of solar + wind + battery. And that is current day prices that doesn't count forthcoming sodium ion storage, LFP, and solar/wind cost improvements.

And it won't come online for a decade at best, with inevitable massive cost overruns.

LWR/PWR is all the crap with waste, fuel rod reprocessing, only using select isotopes of uranium, and while I'm not an expert at nuclear plant economics and accounting, have tons of unpriced externalities.

I wouldn't support any LWR/PWR unless it had LFTR or other reactors built with it that could "online process" the waste. And if we had those, why bother with the huge shield domes?

I'll read your blog posts though carefully, maybe I'll change my mind. But a cursory look seems like it is caged too much in the baggage of the last century of nuclear, which IMO are just dead ends that won't practically advance nuclear for the next century.

As in, we need a couple decades of wind/solar to wipe clean the current slate of nuclear, from politics to actual installations.

Edit: The old designs are interesting, but they are huge and expensive.

What I look forward to in next gen nuclear is basically all of these:

- breeds (so you can use thorium and reprocess old spent waste to usable stuff)

- meltdown proof (LFTR has the melt plug and cooling tank that will decriticalize the liquid)

- scalable to a bunch of shipping containers or smaller (LFTR allegedly fit in a closet for the demo)

- 99% fuel use (per the docs, no idea if this is true or not)

LFTR promises those, if it can deliver due to containment degradation issues, who knows.

When I look at the gee-whiz LFTR presentations, what sticks out to me is the closed fuel cycle/complete usage, promise of breeding old waste to non-waste or new fuel, and so many other things that fix the errors of nuclear history.

The other thing that is missing is computer simulation. We should be able to develop far more usable designs with modern simulation software. We know the military has a lot of fission simulation software. Materials degradation and so many other things can be calculated far better than was available in the 1960s.

The final thing holding back nuclear is that despite a lot of their idiocy, the fact of the matter is that the "greenies" were correct about nuclear energy. It was poorly designed from a long term perspective, played fast and loose with waste, and many other considerations which probably derived from its military inception. The military only cares about the end result, and giving a 100,000 people cancer from spillage/meltdowns, dealing with the full cycle of waste, or actually maintaining safe operation.

Tepco, a japanese company with all the supposed strict adherence to process, was operating the reactor incompetently. Fukushima wasn't an outlier, it was an indictment of the large reactor design over the long haul.

LFTR design addresses SO MUCH of that. Far better meltdown protection, and full fuel use so there's practically no waste (not by the old solid fuel rod standards).

So if the nuclear industry doesn't reformulate around things that LFTR can do, then it will just fail in the long run again.

wnolens

Awesome, what a great effort. Thank you.

Bookmarked to read on my next vacation!

jimt1234

This is great. Thank you so much.

camel_gopher

What do you think about NuScales SMR reactor?

cycomanic

So the previous poster talked about how nuclear is so much more space efficient and the first picture I see on your waste page is a large field of temporary dry cask storage. So what is the size of the facility (including safety zones), is there a no fly zone around it and if yes how large is it?

SemanticStrengh

Do you have news on Westinghouse? Is had filled bankruptcy, did they survive? how? Are they in maintenance mode or do they pursue evoltution of their models? China has bought their patent and is in the process of upscaling the original Westinghouse design, is westinghouse still collaborating with china? Have they abandoned their own models? It seems according to their website they are joining the small reactor fad..

acidburnNSA

Here's some recent news: China's announced that they're building 4 more Westinghouse AP1000 PWRs. They'll use the Chinese supply chain, but it's still a big win for W.

https://info.westinghousenuclear.com/news/four-westinghouse-...

I really wish we could get a few more orders in the USA so that we could leverage the learning and supply chain being so painfully built in Georgia for the AP1000s there.

systemvoltage

We need to build hundreds of Nuclear Power Plants. Electricity should be so cheap, it’s not worth monitoring usage for homes.

The fact that this hasn’t happened is a testament and an indictment of dysfunction in our society.

I’ll turn into a single issue voter if any candidate for the President is pro-nuclear in a big way.

SemanticStrengh

for 4 AP1000 they are building ~20 CAP1000, westinghouse should never have sold they patents for a penny.. Also they are obscoleting westinghouse with their 4 planned CAP1400 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_commercial_nuclear_rea...

JoeyBananas

It has nothing to do with economics, nuclear energy is stagnant because the industry is a regulatory hell. From eia.gov:

Of the 104 operating nuclear power reactors in the United States:

The last construction permit for a nuclear power plant was issued in 1978 for Progress Energy Inc.'s Shearon Harris plant, near Raleigh, North Carolina.

The last operating license for a nuclear power plant was issued in 1996 to the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Unit 1, near Spring City, Tennessee after initial construction began in 1973.

Maursault

> It has nothing to do with economics

Nuclear power is not profitable. It has nothing to do with regulation and everything to do with economics. If nuclear power were profitable, you could not stop it. If nuclear power were profitable, the regulations would change with a quickness, because motivated investors remove any and all roadblocks to their money. If it wasn't for the absurdly bad economics, bad track record proven bad for 7 decades bad, you could not stop investors from building a nuclear power plant in every county in the US.

I promise you that you can have all the nuclear power plants you want, but all you need to do is make it make money. Make nuclear power profitable, and the world is your oyster. Because we need it, and the pronuke crowd is stuck in the mud moaning about regulations and doing nothing but being annoying. It isn't the regulations. Even if the nuclear industry were entirely unregulated, it still couldn't generate profit. There is a huge problem, and it isn't the regulations. Every new plant design is more expensive than the last. Make cheaper nuclear plants. It is that simple. Scale it down or scale it up, I don't know, but do something other than allow it to be unprofitable and keep bitching about regulations... rather than design a plant that has a sane build and operating cost, draw in investors, let them deal with the regulations, and retire with a fortune. But no, instead we get blaming and finger pointing. It is the money, and that is all it is. Make it make money, please, make it make money.

webmaven

> There is a huge problem, and it isn't the regulations. Every new plant design is more expensive than the last. Make cheaper nuclear plants. It is that simple. Scale it down or scale it up, I don't know, but do something other than allow it to be unprofitable and keep bitching about regulations... rather than design a plant that has a sane build and operating cost,

Part of the problem here is encapsulated in "every new plant design". What you aren't saying is that practically every new plant is a new design.

There are multiple reasons for this. One is a bit of a chicken and egg issue: because starting up new nuclear power projects is rare, it has probably been quite a few years since the last time someone started one. So the last plans you used probably need a serious update. Another is NIMBYism that takes the firm of objections thrown up arbitrarily that require changes to be made.

The answer is as you suggested, to scale the plant size down, and the number of them up: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_modular_reactor

systemvoltage

You're mixing up the matters and has gotten it backwards. The industry has been regulated to teeth after scare mongering by environmentalists post Chernobyl/3-mile-island. It has wiped out any hopes for private industry to build and hope to bring down costs by economies of scale.

Too much regulation leads to death of economies of scale.

If software was regulated like nuclear power, say because of hypothetical AI risks; then we'd never have anything. Software would have been written by large corporations who have the funds to penetrate the regulations.

Let's not take one iota of blame away from regulations. It needs to be brought naked to people to see why environmentalists have gotten themselves into a chinese finger trap (want to save the world but without nuclear).

cycomanic

Seriously did nobody read the article?! Is this reddit or Slashdot?! The article goes through the calculations, it shows that even with deregulation LWRs would not be competitive. It says that other designs might be, if they ever get off the ground.

And let's not discuss the fact that regulation affects many markets which work perfectly fine and when lifes depend on it they should be. I'd rather not that the CRT gives me a deadline dose of radiation because the programmer was playing fast and loose with his unit conversions.

Maursault

Except, it was never the regulations.

A nuclear power plant costs between $6B - $9B to build, before it generates any electricity, that is just the construction cost these days for a 1100MW plant

Regulatory costs for a nuclear power plant will range between $7M - $15M annually.

Do the math: it is definitely not the regulations. Any time someone complains about regulations, you know there is a Republican agenda. We need regulations, because they are the only thing preventing Big Business from enslaving you and me and worse. Regulations are good. Unless you make more than $400K/yr, stop doing the 1%er's jobs for them making sure most of the wealth is controlled by just a few by... removing regulations which really only bothers them because it means they make slightly less of the fortune they'd make without it.

The money is what is important. Your money should be important to you, so please make sure you only support agendas that work for your personal economic interests rather than the interests of the richest of the rich. If everyone always voted in their personal economic interests, we'd see a boom economy. The problem is, 99% of the Republican Party is literally voting adversely to their economic interests. They are voting to keep themselves economically stagnant and also to make sure the rich stay rich, for that day that will never come when they are rich, or maybe it is the absolute distractions that do not affect economy, like abortion or 2nd A. issues. If everyone only voted in their personal economic interests, and ignored all other concerns, there could not be a Republican Party. Well, there would be, but it would only have about 20 members, all listed among the top 25 richest Amercans. Most people aren't rich, and could benefit from better opportunity, which will never come so long as a minority party somehow has and has had control of the Senate for 18 of the last 20 years. If you care about your money, you should be on board with making DC and Puerto Rico legitimate US States, tax them and let them vote, and let's progress as a nation, rather than stagnating.

prawn

I think they're suggesting that industry motivated by profits will out-lobby environmentalists and anyone else. I've seen it suggested that the anti-nuclear message was propped up by the coal industry who saw it as a direct threat.

Environmentalists have made minimal headway against Murdoch media here in Australia, struggled to make progress against coal/mining, etc. Industrial lobbyists have far more money and power.

stkdump

TFA says that the reactor part of a plant only makes up ~25% of the construction costs. The rest is the same that coal plants also have to deal with.

CyanBird

> Make nuclear power profitable

I mean, I would like to say that "people have made them profitable" "but then they blew up"

But I would be being too hyperbolic, as I would not say per se that the rmbk reactors where all that profitable at the time, tho they were certainly cheap tho

But yeah, issue with nuclear is a cursed triad of

Having nuclear reactors be cheap Having nuclear reactors be on schedule Having nuclear reactors be safe

Choose 2 from above

Even the AP1400 fail the test above, as more than a couple of them at least in China have been build over/close by seismic faults and in shores with tsunami risk

The fact that Toshiba nearly went bankrupt trying to build ap1000 nuclear reactors ought say it all

charlieyu1

And China isn’t building major nuclear plants anywhere near the capital. All on southeast.

AtlasBarfed

Well, there's a lot of hidden assumptions here.

If by "nuclear" you mean pressurized solid fuel reactors, well yeah I agree.

But EVERY nuclear idea out there? Come on, the orders of magnitude of power density, availability of thorium an others for fuel, there has to be SOME design that is safe and economical.

But "economics" is a moving target with Solar/Wind cost improvements year on year.

That will eventually stabilize. Then there's a fixed target.

I hope that:

1) this target puts all the PWR people and their entrenched regulatory influence and reprocessing and lobbying to death. That does exist, and it is a major blocker. Too many people are making money as old nuclear circles the drain.

When that gets permanently put to bed, then ...

2) Then some LFTR/pebblebed/whatever design starts getting actually researched and invested in. The LFTR people claim that it's illegal to do liquid reactor research, which is why the pebble bed is being researched. I don't know the regs to know if they are telling the truth, but it does show lots of "chilling effects".

Then you target an actual number. Probably would require an iterable and scalable design.

Space may be the other good pusher.

But it's going to be a couple decades before nuclear should think about pushing anything to market, and the old nuclear should be shut down when battery storage gets good enough to replace it.

A couple decades is a generation, and it will clear the table of the old guard.

concordDance

> Even if the nuclear industry were entirely unregulated, it still couldn't generate profit.

I recommend doing some simple arithmetic here. This is simply false:

As the article points out, reactors used to be under $2000/kw (this is with some regulation, just not onerous amounts). The UK electricity wholesale price is currently at £100/MWh, so at current prices your new plant in the deregulated world (which will take 5 years to make) will make back its construction costs (ignoring operating costs for now as nuclear is dominated by capital costs) in two years of operation.

That's a damn good rate of return compared to most businesses.

diegocg

Regulations aren't some random worthless bullshit imposed by bureaucrats. They are the consequence of nuclear accidents. Dreaming of a world without regulations in the nuclear sector is just as stupid as a world without regulations in the airline industry. It just won't happen and pretending that there some kind of environmentalist plot behind the regulations won't make these regulations less necessary.

There is no way you can recover the investment costs of a modern nuclear plan in two years. It takes a very long time to recover the money (decades), and this is the main reason why investors are just not interested in nuclear plants. They have to lend money long term, and in that time lots of things can happen - from renewable technology being discovered, to changes in prices of nuclear fuel and geopolitics. You essentially can't predict the profit of a nuclear plant in the far future, and that means you can't predict how fast the investment is going to get repaid. It's just not an attractive investment, which is why some modern nuclear plants can't go ahead without some kind of government support.

kyrra

Not an expert here, but from a commentary piece from 2021:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/nuclear-regulatory-council-nrc-...

> In 1957 the internationally recommended limit for radiation exposure was about 15 times the natural background radiation that people absorb from rocks and cosmic rays. Without evidence of harm from exposures within the 1957 limits, the U.S. had by 1991 ratcheted its public limits down to less than a third of natural background radiation.

This is a common theme that the WSJ opinion pages push. Much of the regulation put out by Washington isn't about safety, but more about bureaucrats protecting themselves from every being too loose with regulation. It's rare, if ever, that a federal agency gets in trouble for having rules that are too strict. They do get blamed if something happens in an industry they regulate, and people scream that more regulation is needed.

maccam94

I think the root cause here is that people are afraid to live near nuclear plants, and would get mad at their political representatives if they got built in their area. Making these limits more stringent makes it look like the politicians are forcing the plants to be safer, when really they are just blocking the plants from being built in their districts at all.

runarberg

I’m not an expert but I feel like there is an actual merit behind these regulations. I mean I just did a quick google for "Hanford Cancer Rate" and immediately see stuff like:

> study shows that Hanford workers were 11 times more likely to develop mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs strongly tied to asbestos exposure, than in the general population.

I know that Hanford was an exceptionally bad Nuclear Plant, but it is also a plant which was build in the laxer regulatory environment of the military with an excuse that appeals to "national security". But that is kind of the point though, without the regulations I would expect these plants to be at least as bad as Hanford.

This rhetoric about nuclear power plants being to heavily regulated is starting to feel a bit conspiratorial.

bamboozled

Would you like to live near one ?

_djo_

Those regulations are designed with the knowledge that 100% compliance is impossible, so a safety buffer is designed in that ensures people are kept as safe as possible even within an imperfect regulatory compliance regime. Those limits are a target, and plants will likely exceed them slightly from time to time. That might not be caught for months, and keeping them at such low levels means the plants can have reasonable time to return to compliance without shutting everything down.

That's over and above the possibility of catastrophic disasters, which are covered through other regulations.

Some regulations are bad, sure, but there's generally a ton of thinking and precedence behind those related to safety.

trashtester

When it comes to regulations, there are cultural differences in compliance. In places like Germany and Scandinavia, I'm pretty sure that such over-provisioning through regulation is overkill.

Anyway, a lot of old nuclear plants are still in use, and the total number of deaths is extremely low. We would have to lower safety standards quite a lot for the average safety of the new plants to be lower than the average of the pre-existing ones.

Trombone12

> This is a common theme that the WSJ opinion pages push.

Am I reading this correctly when I take it to mean that you think something being on the WSJ opinion pages gives it credibility?

kyrra

I said that phrase so that people that care know this article was pushed in their opinion section.

Opinion pages don't mean they lie, it means they will use facts to back up an opinion the writer is expressing. Their opinion pages have a slant for sure, but tend to be much on the rails that some other papers.

You are welcome to argue against the point WSJ editorial board (or guest writers, such as the piece I linked) is making on their pages, but outright discounting an argument because of a source is intellectually lazy. Yes, we need to discriminate by source at least some, but that should make us skeptical, not out right reject a point being made.

ZeroGravitas

Maybe low carbon power sources like nuclear would have done better if the WSJ hadn't been telling people that Climate Change didn't exist/wasn't a problem/wasn't caused by humans/was being pushed by communist beaurocrats for their own devilish purposes.

kyrra

That's not their opinion as far as I can tell. They have published Lomborg a lot that mainly says that it is changing, but the impact won't be that bad and can be mitigated. Holman Jenkins also has a similar stance.

https://www.google.com/search?q=Bj%C3%B8rn+Lomborg+site%3Aws...

https://www.google.com/search?q=jenkins+climate+site%3Awsj.c...

EarthMephit

One of the points that the article brings up is that a nuclear power plant takes around ten years to build, and that's ignoring the political red tape that you mentioned which would add on another 5+ years, plus the huge upfront capex costs.

With the energy industry changing so rapidly at the moment, that's a huge risk for anyone wanting to invest.

In that ten years for construction its likely that battery, solar, and wind prices all drop by two or three times. So by the time that the nuclear plant is completed its very likely to be far too expensive.

As the article mentions, the only future for nuclear is going to be small, cheaper reactors that are quick to construct.

pdonis

> the only future for nuclear is going to be small, cheaper reactors that are quick to construct

But even those will be nonstarters unless the regulatory environment is fixed. Nuclear has always been held to much, much stricter standards than any other energy source, for no good reason.

Joeri

As far as I understand the regulation that exists was added to prevent disasters of the kind that occurred previously. You seem to be arguing some of the added regulations were unnecessary for safety? Which ones are they, and how much money can be saved by getting rid of them?

cycomanic

That's a myth. Regulatory requirements for all large scale power generation have to deal with very similar regulatory requirements, which typically scales with size of the project. In fact wind had likely to deal with more restrictions than nuclear (largely to protect the nuclear investments of operators), let's not even talk about certain housing communities not allowing rooftop solar for aesthetic reasons.

webmaven

> > the only future for nuclear is going to be small, cheaper reactors that are quick to construct

> But even those will be nonstarters unless the regulatory environment is fixed. Nuclear has always been held to much, much stricter standards than any other energy source, for no good reason.

The stricter standards are addressable. What's missing from the above is the word "standardized". As it is, practically every large reactor built is a custom implementation. Smaller, cheaper, standardized reactors that are built in a dedicated facility (I'm not sure "factory" is quite right) and then shipped to the installation site should fix that problem.

7sidedmarble

I think nuclear has a place in our future energy sources, but...

Could the difference perhaps be that one has the capability of venting radioactive materials into the surrounding countryside?

jeffbee

These statements do not seem factual. Didn't the NRC issue a construction license for Virgil C. Summer units 2 and 3 in 2012? Which subsequently failed to be built despite spending 9 billion dollars, because companies like Westinghouse are structured solely for the purpose of robbing the American public blind.

runarberg

Yes. If wikipedia is correct, construction on two new reactors at Virgil C. Summer started in 2013 and the project was abandon in 2017. The bankruptcy filings cited 9 billion dollar loss. This affair is dubbed The Nukegate Scandal.

And before that, at the Alvin W. Vogtle plant in Georgia, there are 2 new reactors under construction. Approved by the NRC in 2009, they are projected to open next year at the cost of over $30 billion. Initial planning had the reactors open in 2016-2017 with an upper estimate of $16.4 billion. Big surprise, there is also a bankruptcy case aligned with this construction, which is the only nuclear project under construction in the USA.

I honestly don’t know where parent got 1978 from.

tbrownaw

AIUI new reactors at existing sites are slightly less headachey than entirely new sites.

replygirl

$10 billion for a gigawatt of the cleanest, safest, most energy-dense, most thermally efficient, and most reliable power you can find

vs $4 billion for a gigawatt wind farm that takes up 100-1000x the land, always has a few % of its installed capacity down for maintenance, and doesn't provide predictable output unless you mine about half a million pounds of lithium

epistasis

These points are either inaccurate or irrelevant

We can not build nuclear at $10/GW, that's a fantasy.

The use of the land is quite different too. When a wind farm "uses" 100x-1000x the land (and I am not accepting those numbers, just quoting you), that land is still available for other uses. The fraction of "used" land is so neglible as to not matter at all. So to discuss it in the same terms as a reactor doesn't make sense at all.

jhgb

> that takes up 100-1000x the land

Practically irrelevant unless you're Singapore or the like.

> always has a few % of its installed capacity down for maintenance

That's true for a nuclear power plant fleet as well. There's always some downtime for maintenance and/or refueling (although usually you prefer to do both at the same time, sometimes unplanned outages are still a thing).

> and doesn't provide predictable output unless you mine about half a million pounds of lithium

Nonsense. Why would wind power plants require any lithium?

BTW in my country, $10B are close to providing 1 GW in average solar PV power output -- that is, capacity-factor-adjusted -- and it would have been more than 1 GW of average output if it weren't for our terrible PV capacity factor, so other countries fare much better. But even that would be on par with your 1 GW reactor (since that is slightly below 1 GW on average due to its own capacity factor). Yet PV costs keep decreasing year by year while reactor costs are increasing. The future will be very interesting...

cycomanic

Dfunny how the article directly mentions that because the economics don't work out, nuclear proponents try to shift the discussion to misleading metric such as space occupied. At least consider the size of the nofly zone and the safety zone around your nuclear power plant.

pvarangot

Considering how difficult it is to build just a house without the magical "pre approved plans" from the contracting agency or the realtors I don't even want to take a glimpse at nuclear regulatory code. If someone manages to build a new reactor we should also research how to create energy from lawsuits, because everyone in the country will sue them for absolutely every illness they get.

bsder

> It has nothing to do with economics, nuclear energy is stagnant because the industry is a regulatory hell.

Except that San Onofre just shut down because we couldn't engineer the water tubes in the system properly in the face of being irradiated.

The real problem is that we have poured orders of magnitude more subsidy at fossil fuels than we have at fission or fusion.

If it weren't for the fact that it can ride the semiconductors R&D gravy train, solar would be in the same bad shape as nuclear.

Meph504

It takes billions to stand up one of these plants, and decades for the projects to pay for themselves with a nearly a 38% projects failing to be completed. And let's not forget that we haven't really ever built a nuclear plant (outside of academic or the military) that hasn't been double if not triple the estimated cost.

And the article is a bit misleading in that, sure there has been new permits, for new plants, but there are several plants being added on to most notable Vogtle which has been for the last 10 years building 2 new generation units. they are currently some $15 billion dollars over budget. and still not fully operational.

And attempting to building nuclear plants in N.C. and Georgia, bankrupted Shaw, and Westinghouse in 2008-20013.

it honestly seems that it is an unappealing investment, that only applies to those that look at profits over decades not quarters and are willing to gamble billions on projects that nearly 1 in 3 fail.

jhgb

> because the industry is a regulatory hell

That's weird, since many believe that the US nuclear industry is a fine example of regulatory capture.

fallingknife

You know that's the same thing, right?

jhgb

I thought it meant the opposite, especially in context. Surely the problem of US nuclear construction doesn't lie in the NRC making concessions.

jmyeet

This is a solid write-up. I particularly like this part:

> Most fusion concepts are just a more complicated way to heat water.

It's kind of wild that our means of power production do ultimately mostly boil down (pun intended) to turning a turbine with steam and, as the article notes, this is an inherent cost problem whereas solar is a direct form of energy. I hadn't really thought about it in those terms but it's true.

It's also kind of wild to consider that we want to heat up hydrogen to a 100 million degrees... to boil water and turn a turbine.

I'll also highlight this:

> As we've seen, traditional LWRs have a cost problem. That is why the PR ignores costs or focuses only on operating costs.

My own view:

1. There are several hundred nuclear power plants in the world. Not one of them has been built without government assistance. This goes to the capital cost issue;

2. Nuclear power plants take too long to plan, build and bring online. IIRC it's at least 11 years;

3. We still don't have a good long-term plan for dealing with processing waste at scale;

4. We still don't have a good long-term plan for dealing with fuel waste at scale; and

5. I just don't trust humans, particularly within the corporate structure, to build and operate nuclear power plants safely. The temptation is simply too high to increase profits by cutting costs.

nine_k

There is a known way to handle "nuclear waste": burn it in fast-neutron reactors [1]. The waste is mostly still uranium. The rest can still be burned, turning it into much less active isotopes and producing energy.

Yes, these machines produce plutonium suitable for nuclear weapons. But plutonium is a perfectly good nuclear fuel, too, and the US already has nuclear weapons, longer than any other country.

[1]: https://whatisnuclear.com/fast-reactor.html

Manuel_D

Or, bury it underground in impermeable rock. Short of a meteor strike right on top of the repository, it will not make its way out to the surface.

euroderf

And if you bury it a kilometer or two down, then if a meteor strike is big enough to dislodge it, the nuclear waste is the least of your problems.

webmaven

The best impermeable rock (ie. granite) formations for this purpose are in the eastern US. Congress excluded them from consideration as sites when they mandated the selection of Yucca Mountain as the sole site in 1987.

pfdietz

That only handles (some) actinides. It doesn't handle fission products, seven of which have very long half lives.

acidburnNSA

You can partition the LLFPs into special irradiation targets and transmute them to short-lived things if you really want to, also in fast reactors.

I'm still a bigger fan of stable geologic disposal.

https://www.iaea.org/publications/7112/implications-of-parti...

nine_k

Still, much less to bury, and the resulting waste is much less active.

ClumsyPilot

> 3. We still don't have a good long-term plan for dealing with processing waste at scale;

Who is 'we' that should come up with the plan? Government? Most westerners don't like government planning - your own post considers government involvement as a downside. We expect the market to manage most things, but markets don't come up with long term plans, that's not their function.

If you come with a subject at random and ask, 'do we have a long term plan for X', generally the answer is no.

We don't have a good term long-term plan for dealing with global warming, the oil running out, falling birthrates for some nations, rising house prices, or for anything really.

webmaven

> Who is 'we' that should come up with the plan? Government? Most westerners don't like government planning - your own post considers government involvement as a downside.

I think an even broader we was implied, that of human civilization as a whole.

ClumsyPilot

Okay, is it possible to answer my question - what aspect of life does Human Civilisation as a whole have a plan for?

Because if there is no area of life that we can indetify a plan for, then the whole criticism doesn't make any sence.

Chris2048

> 3. We still don't have a good long-term plan for dealing with processing waste at scale; > 4. We still don't have a good long-term plan for dealing with fuel waste at scale; and

Because there isn't enough waste produced to make such a thing economical versus current storage method i.e. there isn't enough economy of scale.

> 5. I just don't trust humans, particularly within the corporate structure, to build and operate nuclear power plants safely

Fukushima was built despite studies warning of the dangers. At some higher level, there wasn't enough caution in the planning stage.

pfdietz

Among the fusion concepts that does not heat water is Helion's. For that reason (and some others) I consider it the least dubious of the various commercial fusion approaches.

SemanticStrengh

> Nuclear power plants take too long to plan, build and bring online. IIRC it's at least 11 years

It's crazy what people come to believe. To generalize the pathetic bureaucratic failures like the EPR to all model couldn't be farther from reality.

Russian commercialized VVER 1200 models take 57 month to build. Their successor, the VVER-TOI take 40 month, so 3.5 year to build. It output 1300MWe Besides the russian competitive advantage, China build plants in 6 years.

jltsiren

Finland was trying to get one VVER 1200 built, with an option to build another later. The political approval for the project was given in 2010 and the contract with Rosatom was signed in 2014. In the following 8 years, Rosatom failed to produce the blueprints and other documents required for the actual construction permit. Meanwhile, Russia bombed some factories in Ukraine that were supposed to build key parts for the power plant, and it's looking increasingly unlikely that the construction will ever start.

In contrast, the EPR reactor built by Areva only needed 3 years from the political approval to the construction permit. While Rosatom is probably more competent in the actual construction, they seem to have major issues in operating in countries where the regulatory authorities are strict (but still pro-nuclear).

epistasis

> It's crazy what people come to believe.

It's not crazy to believe the reality of what is actually happening in the US and Europe

Assuming that the US and Europe can build the way that Russia or China can might be crazy though.

polski-g

Yeah these things don't take 11 years to build. Government makes them take that long.

nrp

I would be interested in understanding what drives this. Even in Korea, where large scale infrastructure projects like new subway lines get built very quickly, new nuclear reactors seem to take >10 years (both the ones installed domestically in Korea and the export ones in places like UAE).

epistasis

That's absolutely false, check out what has happened in Georgia and South Carolina and you will not be able to find any government interference or regulation slowing things down.

It's just rank incompetence, bad management, and three-party contracts where each party is preparing for failure and a gigantic lawsuit in the end.

Meanwhile, the latest excuse for the recent US failure in building was that they commenced building before design was complete, and if we just try again now that designs are complete, everything will proceed smoothly. Meanwhile others in this thread are complaining that the NRC requires complete plans before building.

Those who complain about imaginary regulations can neither state the regulations that slow things down, nor describe suitable regulations, nor apparently even agree on what the current regulations are.

I've been asking "which regulations" for years, nobody has ever, literally ever pointed me to which. They just have supreme confident that it's the answer, despite not knowing specifics.

sb057

The fact that nuclear power regulators are routinely anti-nuclear power probably isn't helping things.

https://www.powermag.com/blog/former-nuclear-leaders-say-no-...

>Dr. Greg Jaczko, former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Prof. Wolfgang Renneberg, former Head of the Reactor Safety, Radiation Protection and Nuclear Waste, Federal Environment Ministry, Germany Dr. Bernard Laponche, former Director General, French Agency for Energy Management, former Advisor to French Minister of Environment, Energy and Nuclear Safety

DennisP

A few years ago I got to sit in a meeting between reps from a bunch of GenIV reactor startups, and a former chair of the NRC (not Jaczko). The reactor people said their main problem was that the NRC required near-complete blueprints before they would even look at a design. Getting to that point took several hundred million dollars. Then the NRC would give a flat yes or no. If no then you were out of business.

That's a pretty difficult environment for investors. The reactor people said just breaking the process into phases would be a huge help. The NRC person was unsympathetic, said it wasn't the NRC's job to help develop nuclear technology, and was uninterested in climate change.

cycomanic

So if I want to build a house I have to come to the building authority with blueprints and ask if that building design is OK. I can't just ask step by step: is it OK if I use these walls, these windows... And build up my house like that.

Why would that be different for a nuclear regulatory body? Moreover, they are designing new reactor technology much more complex and less understood than a house. I imagine for safety assessments one would need to look at the whole design, just look at the example on cable trunks given in the article.

I wonder what the startups would say if the agency would approve their first steps, but then disapprove the full blueprints, because even though the steps made sense the whole does not meet requirements. Or do they want guarantees?

int0x2e

I think all they want is to use modern, iterative development principles. It's fine to have the final 'yes' take the full lump sum and a 'no' being a real possibility. What they want is to be able to get multiple opportunities to fail and get a 'no' earlier in the process, when the stakes are smaller. While your building analogy is nice, I'll propose a different one - pharmaceutical companies face a similar, lengthy, expensive regulatory process, but a new treatment doesn't just go from a single prototype to human trials - there are many steps, costing more and more as you get closer to certification, and each can block the entire thing. We need a similar path for new nuclear designs if we want to be able to live on this planet for long.

Spooky23

It’s a political problem — congress is more interested in clean coal or fermenting grass.

Federal civil servants are trained early that their opinions are irrelevant.

mateo1

JTBooth

It would be nice if, say, ten million dollars into the process of preparing blueprints, the agency could look over the prints and the plans for the remaining prints and say "yes it looks like you're on the right track, make sure the reactor wall you decide on isn't too heavy for those struts." In a much more precise way that probably costs a million bucks, of course.

Regulatory intervention could happen at any point in the process. You could imagine an even worse world where the first inspection is after the plant is built, and changes are typically requested to the high level design.

Manuel_D

The issue is that the NRC requires this process even for subsequent versions of the same design. That's just nonsense, if it's a copy of an approved design this process is unnecessary.

dv_dt

Requiring blueprints would seem critical to actually being able to have a product to review for safety. Not only blueprints, but detailed material specs as well.

DennisP

Nobody was asking for complete approval without blueprints. They just wanted an early indication along the lines of "sure, you're on the right track" or "don't waste your time, no way in hell we're approving anything like that." Or maybe "that sorta works but we would require X and Y," and then they could incorporate that into the design.

pfdietz

The NRC exists to separate nuclear advocacy from nuclear regulation (AEC did both.) Perhaps you are confusing non-advocacy with opposition?

sb057

I'm not sure how a statement describing nuclear power as "too costly... too costly and risky... unsustainable... financially unsustainable... militarily hazardous... inherently risky due to unavoidable cascading accidents... subject to too many unresolved technical and safety problems... [and] too unwieldy and complex" can be construed as anything other than opposition to nuclear power.

freemint

They can be construed as opposition to tax payer founded nuclear power which technically is so something else then nuclear power. One is a policy the other a technology.

SemanticStrengh

It's a tragedy

ncmncm

I.e., the more you know about nukes, the less you like them.

sb057

I'm not sure about the other regulators, but Jaczko is hardly liked by his colleagues.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_Jaczko

>A report by Nuclear Regulatory Commission Inspector General Hubert T. Bell accused Jaczko of "strategically" withholding information from his colleagues in an effort to keep plans for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository from advancing.

>In October 2011, all the other four NRC commissioners—two Democrats and two Republicans—sent a letter to the White House expressing "grave concern" about Jaczko's actions at the NRC. On December 14, 2011, Commissioner William Ostendorff, a Republican, told a House oversight committee that Jaczko's "bullying and intimidation... should not and cannot be tolerated."

ncmncm

The more you know about nukes, the less you like nukes.

diordiderot

Are you a nuclear scientist

sanxiyn

I live in South Korea. One thing people miss about nuclear power in South Korea is that natural gas is expensive in South Korea, because there is no pipeline connection and it is imported liquified. The article quotes $25/MWh for natural gas in PJM, where comparable number in South Korea is $100/MWh.

Truth is, if South Korea had pipeline connection to Siberian natural gas field (not an absurd supposition, there was fairly concrete plan proposed in 2012 which fell through due to politics), nuclear power would be uneconomical in South Korea no matter how it keeps construction cost cheapest in the world. Therefore, economical nuclear power in the United States can never happen by copying South Korea, because natural gas is cheap in the United States.

qiskit

If pipelines between russia and germany ( who had ties stretching centuries and pipelines for decades ) are such an issue for the US, any pipeline between russia and korea or russia and japan are non-starters. After fukushima, we allowed japan to buy lots of gas from russia. There was even talk about Japan and Russia building pipelines. But that got squashed real quick. Instead we forced japan to build LNG terminals for gas shipments by sea. Far costlier, more inefficient and much slower.

It's an example of politics trumping economics. Russia has the largest gas reserves in the world by far. Japan and Korea are relatively wealthy but energy poor nations. A pipeline between Russia and Japan/Korea makes all the economic sense in the world. You'd expect there be a bunch of pipeline already and more scheduled to be built in the future. But no. Not a single pipeline.

nosianu

Yes, Russia has all those great resources.

Unfortunately it also has the paranoid aggressive Russian security apparatus in charge that brought us to where we are, which for some strange reason you entirely omit.

Also, we have climate change, remember? We are supposed to not use up all the available fossil carbohydrates! The more we bring up the more even more large-scale issues we will have. Making fossil fuels cheap and easy does not lead us to somewhere good.

> It's an example of politics trumping economics.

Which is good especially in this case, so I don't understand your point.

One thing I don't understand is why nobody in German government (I'm German), not even the Greens, mentions that the kick in the rear that we get from the threat of Russia cutting gas is actually good for us, otherwise we would happily continue to rely on lots and lots of cheap natural gas and climate goals be damned because it's soooo convenient.

We would need to make big changes to our (German) economy to use significantly less fossil fuels even if Russia had a nice and peaceful government.

> Russia has the largest gas reserves in the world by far.

Which should remain where it is, underground! Or 50 °C will be the new normal in some heavily populated areas of this world, and other very inconvenient changes.

The plan for some seems to be to ignore the laws of thermodynamics and spend even more resources and energy on collecting carbon from the atmosphere and returning it underground using technology, instead of just letting it sit where it already has been sitting for several hundreds of millions of years. Funnily enough, this inefficient and leaky and destructive busywork adds much to GDP, compared to doing nothing (leaving the carbohydrates and not raising and using them).

pg_bot

I will start this off by saying I am very pro nuclear. However, I think it is likely that the last nuclear power plant to be built in the United States will be built in the next 5-10 years. Looking at the trajectory of renewables and energy storage it seems that every other method of generating power will slowly be priced out of existence.

Given the politics (fission) and uncertainty (fusion) of nuclear, I think it is highly unlikely that there is a long term future for the industry (100 years). Even though we will need some level of baseline power for when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing, I think it is likely that geothermal or natural gas plants will fill that role.

Nuclear is too bespoke, and you need a massive amount of capital before you generate one watt of power.

RealityVoid

I have nothing against solar, except I am not persuaded by its promise. Would like for it to be able to deliver all that it promises. But right now, you have diminishing output as panels age, you don't have a storage solution that works at scale, you will have a large volume of panel waste at the end of panel lifetime. I seriously doubt even the average life time of a solar panel will be enough. I just looked up some numbers and apparently the embodied energy of a kilowatt installed panel is 3700 kw. One kilowatt will, apparently, produce on average 850kw per year (again, looked it up online, if you have better figures, please!). This means you need to run your panel for 4 years, assuming you use all the power produced in a meaningful way, in order to break even with 1 solar panel.

I simply don't see how we can decarbonize at this rate. Now with residential panels, that's for sure.

tralarpa

> you have diminishing output as panels age

The degradation seems to be quite slow in practice. Below 0.5% per year, i.e. less than 15% after 25 years.

> on average 850kw per year (again, looked it up online, if you have better figures, please!)

I think the number is closer to 900-1000kWh per year for Central Europe and 1200KWh/year for Southern Europe and California, but I don't know whether the higher average temperature at those places increases aging.

> This means you need to run your panel for 4 years

Sounds good to me?

robocat

The article doesn’t include the word “baseload”, which is an important consideration. Utilities pay more for peaker capacity. For the same reason, market pricing regulations need to encouraging sources that provide a base amount of power despite weather conditions: network reliability and security of supply are valuable. (Let’s ignore Texas though).

In New Zealand, we are dependent on seasonal rain for our hydro-power, and in some years we run dry and the whole economy is affected. In NZ the 1992 power crisis due to a 1:100 year drought required 10%-15% reduction in power usage nationwide, which caused a 0.6% reduction in the NZ GDP: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/how-we-learned-the-lessons-fro...

Even a predicted security of supply risk of 1% has consequences (even thinking we could run dry causes costs). Fantastic article: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/will-nz-run-out-of-electricity-th...

NZ is lucky that if we install solar electricity, we can effectively store it in our existing lakes, no batteries needed. We are unlucky that politically our government wastes money[1] on subsidising electric cars, when they could subsidise solar instead (in fact it just needs political will, private investors have $X*100 million plans already designed for solar, but surprisingly held up by lack of interest by government).

[1] https://www.1news.co.nz/2022/05/16/29b-climate-change-boost-... “A new scrap-and-replace scheme to help low-and-middle income New Zealanders buy EVs and a nationalised curbside waste collection service is part of a significant $2.9 billion investment into tackling climate change and reducing New Zealand's emissions.”

tuatoru

While the governments' (plural, all the recent ones) car-centrism and lack of action on new energy are disapppointing (so 20th century), I disagree for a couple of reasons.

Main reason: end-user subsidies of any kind (whether for cars or for rooftop solar or $asset) are merely a transfer from poor taxpayers to high-income or wealthy people, those who own their homes or can afford to purchase the asset. They entrench inequality.

I'd be able to tolerate subsidies if NZ funded them with a smallish fraction of a capital tax/land value tax and/or a capital gains tax. (Such taxes being recommended by the Tax Working Group but rejected by successive governments).

The idea of low-income people buying EVs is ludicrous. The typical budget for a "good" car where I work is NZD $2000 - $6000, and it's a very significant purchase.

Second reason. NZ doesn't actually have a lot of land suitable for solar that doesn't have higher-value uses, but it does have a lot of wind, and wind power can share land use. Although wind is not as cheap as solar, it's cheaper than everything else (except already-built hydro). Wind farms are being built now in unsubsidised projects with ordinary commercial leases from land owners.

Bonus reason: hydro operators don't need subsidies; it's worth them installing some solar on their lakes today. They are merely as anti-entrepreneurial as the governments.

robocat

Yeah, I mostly agree with your gist, although I feel you have straw-manned me with the points you brought up;)

> NZ doesn't actually have a lot of land suitable for solar that doesn't have higher-value uses

Do you have any references? I know somebody involved with a bid, and solar could heavily outbid farming ($ per hectare per annum) for the location they looked at. A solution only needs some land, not “a lot of land” as you put it, although there are constraints and objective function variables (hours of sunshine, nimby, high voltage network access, land value per hectare, , etcetera).

> rooftop solar

Expensive wasteful rooftop solar makes economic sense for some individuals, which really shows up the inefficiency of our electricity market design, since utility scale solar generation makes more economic sense in New Zealand. Government intervention would be useful if it fixes market failures.

> hydro operators don't need subsidies

Psychologically loaded point. An electricity market should be designed to price in long-term requirements (like security of supply, CO2 costs, network reliability), which could be thought of as cross-subsidisations. Of course, be very careful of perverse market incentives (law of unintended consequences). . . https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/540/handouts/french/unin... The government could invest in high-risk research, even if network generators/operators are freeloading, so long as it helps NZ much more than it costs, we all win.

Sometimes the government can take on risk, for example the broadband fibre rollout. I strongly disagreed with that at the time: the goal of technology literacy was a lie and the system looked to me like a subsidy to NetFlix et al. Although it happened to work out well during Covid lockdowns, and it looks like it will make financial sense to the government, and hopefully the social gains well outweigh the social losses.

Private markets can’t make long term investments if the cost of utility scale infrastructure is dropping too fast. This is a market failure that can be fixed by appropriate financial incentives (regulation or market design to pay for the long term gains to the country).

tuatoru

No, I don't have specific references - you got me! :-)

I live not far from "NZ's largest grid-connected solar power plant" (2.1 MW nameplate: feeble), and also not far from one of the larger wind farms. The solar plant is on valuable dairy land, that's true. I wish Todd would publish some figures for it, although it hasn't been operating for long.*

When I wrote "higher-value", I had just been thinking about NZ's trade problem: it exports dried milk, red meat and a few other low-value-add bio-materials in order to buy everything else. Land is valuable to the country as a whole for its export revenue.

I had also been re-reading Vaclav Smil's Energy in Nature and Society, in which he says the areal (per square meter) power intensity of PV production is approximately the same as the areal power consumption of cities, so we need the same order of magnitude of land that cities take up if we use PV primarily. And it can't be too erosion-prone.

That (value/national interest) is also an issue (and this is specifically what I had been thinking about) for carbon farming conversions of hill country sheep and beef stations into Radiata monoculture plantations. Privately profitable, but probably against the national interest, and due to policy.

> Private markets can’t make long term investments if the cost of utility scale infrastructure is dropping too fast.

Design, legal, permitting, interconnect, civil, structural and electrical balance of system, and present value of O&M collectively dominate now,* and they are not subject to the same rate of cost decline as panels and inverters (and batteries), so overall, the cost isn't dropping super fast any more. (The PV version of Amdahl's law, perhaps.)

* Total installed capacity of wind power seems to be at least two, possibly three orders or magnitude higher than that of PV solar in NZ. Maybe this is due to the "social licence to operate" / nimby factor, but maybe not. It does suggest that rooftop solar is a tiny niche in the ecosystem, so maybe the market structure isn't all that bad?

* In NZ finance costs a lot too, because policy privileges residential real estate investment so greatly.

null

[deleted]

nimbius

investment cost and payoff. a gas turbine plant can deliver returns in as little as six years and requires minimal oversight. a nuclear plant may take as long as 30 years before it returns a profit, and it lives under a government regulatory and security magnifying glass.

personal opinion but the modern american investor has no patience for anything but instant profits. nuclear could be great but the executives you have to convince are all well familiar with and scarred by their 60 year old reactors.

colinmhayes

WHy would any executive be interested in an investment that takes a decade to even pay its first dollar when renewable prices are dropping exponentially? For all we know solar, which is already cheaper than nuclear, will be cheap enough by the time a nuclear plant is done to make that plant completely obsolete.

pfdietz

In a time where energy technologies are changing rapidly, patience is not a virtue. Investments had damned well better pay off quickly.

hammock

This rings true and I'd like to see a comparison of interest rates or curve steepness vs energy supply/construction

PaulHoule

Energy crises are caused by cheap energy. When energy is cheap people use a lot and stop investing in new sources. The resulting crisis causes high energy prices which causes people to be more efficient and to invest in new energy sources. It takes 20 or 30 years for this to play out. (mid 1970s, early 2000s, current 2022)

Each cycle leaves behind a tranche of books that reprise the last crisis, with the interesting effect that the literature often looks like a stopped clock.

One bit of stoppage is that people still compare nuclear to coal, although coal has been uneconomical in North America since the 1980s. One issue is that a coal burning plant (like a current nuclear plant) has a huge steam turbine that's more than 10 times the size of gas turbines used for aircraft engines and for generating power from natural gas.

It's no accident therefore that we stopped building coal and nuclear plants at the same time. The Amory Lovins "soft energy path" was not a transition to renewables but rather a transition to methane.

There's not just the capital cost of the steam turbine but also the cost of the heat exchangers, if you look here

https://www.nrc.gov/reactors/pwrs.html

the image is roughly to scale and you see that there are multiple "steam generators" that individually are as large as the reactor vessel and are every bit as safety critical as the reactor vessel because a breakage could lead to a loss of coolant accident.

The cost of the heat handling parts is substantial enough that even if the cost of the core was zero and the heat was free the LWR would still struggle to compete.

A reactor that runs at higher temperature using liquid metal, liquid salt, or a gas coolant like helium, could drive a Brayton cycle gas turbine powerset which would fit inside the employee break room of the turbine house of an LWR.

Of course it's tricky: we have quite a bit of experience with liquid metal reactors, and a little bit with other types. The closed-cycle gas turbine however is a work in progress

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed-cycle_gas_turbine

pfdietz

Closed cycle gas turbines still need heat exchangers (at least two).

One very interesting grid energy storage concept (currently being commercially developed by Babcock & Wilcox) involves heating sand using electric resistance heating to about 1200 C, storing then using that heat to drive a gas turbine (round trip efficiency > 50%). I mention this because you can transfer heat from sand to compressed air in a very compact and cheap device that mixes the two, then separates the air with cyclone separators.

(This concept would likely also need something to destroy thermal NOx in that air, though.)

Nuclear is going to have to compete with heat from cheap renewables stored in sand, then turned back to power using a machine like this with only the one really cheap heat exchanger.

ncmncm

This is why geothermal has not taken off. Anything that needs a steam turbine needs very expensive periodic maintenance.

All the other nuke expenses just add to that.

Manuel_D

Geothermal is popular in more or less every area that has the right geology for it. It's just that those faults that being usable thermal energy close to the surface are few and far between.

ncmncm

Almost all geothermal was, like nukes, built long before renewables got so much cheaper that literally anything else.

null

[deleted]

mateo1

tomrod

I consider this an unfair comment. Paul is a polymath and typically on point. Please point out the issues.

nycdatasci

The Lazard report cited is two years old. There’s an updated version here: https://www.lazard.com/media/451881/lazards-levelized-cost-o...

Better visualization of the key chart here: https://www.dallasfed.org/research/economics/2022/~/media/Im...

credit_guy

But does this mean nuclear is uneconomical?

Nuclear energy costs about $170/MWh, coal about $100 and solar/wind about $50/MWh.

For comparison, the average price of electricity in the US in 2021 was $140/MWh.

It's almost guaranteed that in 2022 it will be much higher, because the jump in price of both natural gas and coal.

[1] https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=51438

stepanhruda

Solar/wind will always fluctuate - nuclear can provide a guaranteed output to smoothen the need for massive batteries.

danhor

Most nuclear power plants are designed for constant power output, so they still need some other thing (like batteries?).

Some are engineered for changing their output power quicker, but that means higher costs (lower usage), more complicated design and for short periods (<30 Minutes) some other energy source/sink while the power is adjusted.

psadri

My theory - technology advances at the rate of half life of each buying cycle. Phones advance quickly because people replace them every 2-3 years. Cars, every 7-10 years. Nuclear reactors every 59 years. Hence the slow rate of advancement.

BenjiWiebe

Wouldn't it be more likely to be the other way around? e.g. the reason people buy new phones so often is that new features come out so often.

Drblessing

Interesting theory - why is that?