The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Why the Climate Change Numbers Say “Nuclear”

Lot of people won’t like this post, but some of the smartest people I know have been saying for decades that a solution to climate change means nuclear energy. The numbers cannot, and will not, work without it.

The below info-graphic shows why:

French v German carbon production

The problem with nuclear energy is the problem with everything in our society.

Running it requires competent, risk-adverse individuals who takes its dangers seriously. It’s not that these dangers can’t be managed, it is certainly not that we can’t design better and safer reactors than we have now, it is that our elites do not care about the future. They are rational, utility-maximizers in the short run, who believe that investing to prevent disaster or catastrophe is foolish. Any catastrophe can be managed or survived. Katrina happened, life went on. Indeed, Katrina was a brilliant opportunity to introduce charter schools to New Orleans.

The financial disaster happened, and the people who caused it came out richer and more powerful, as a group. Fukushima happened, and, well, we’re all alive, thanks.

The long lesson our elites have learned over the past 40 years is that nothing can go so wrong it can’t be recovered from and that most catastrophes and crises are just opportunities to make even more money. There is no reason to invest in preventing crises when higher returns await elsewhere and when catastrophes are beneficial to our leaders.

As such, we cannot, overall, be expected to run something like nuclear energy properly.

Or financial markets.

But, if we really wanted to mitigate climate change, what we would really need to do is figure out how to run nuclear energy safely–including handling shutting down plants, dealing with waste, and running them safely. That would mean a significant framework/infrastructure redesign.

But it would also mean a change in our culture and society, a change to a society capable of managing risk, and we would have to be given some reason to believe that change would be relatively long-lasting: At least as long as the life-cycle of the nuclear plants.

Nuclear energy would be used as a transition energy source, needed for a generation or two, as we move to better sources. But generational cycles, and our own recent history, indicate that expecting our social structure to stay sane for as long as the life-cycle of nuclear plants isn’t a safe bet.

As usual, technical problems are subordinate to cultural and social issues.

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  1. Holden Pattern

    I might also suggest that nuclear plants ought not be run by for-profit companies, especially not for-profit companies subsidized by public insurance.

  2. Jeff Wegerson

    Fine. Bring it on. Maybe get Elon Musk on it, if you want results fast. And there’s the rub, fast. Well that and costs. But really costs are just economics and if we can do one we can do the other.

    Imho wind scales up the fastest. There is no fancy tech in wind. Maybe blade design.

    But sure, neo-nukes. Anyway I have the impression that nuclear these days is two to three generations ahead of the technologies in place now.

    So yeah, whatever works.

  3. V. Arnold

    Yep, go ahead and talk about climate change; talk, talk, talk…
    In the meantime, we’ve past the tipping point; it’s over folks.
    The only thing left to talk about is how you’ll meet your end…
    McPherson may offer some suggestions of use for the very short future of us humans…

  4. Synoia

    “Some of the smartest people I know have been saying for decades that a solution to climate change means nuclear.”

    – When I was at university there was a study in tthe UK’s Electronic and Pwoer magazine, a magazine for Electric Engineers, published by the British IEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers), on nuclear power station decommissioning.

    — One Year for the Highly radioactive active parts (spent fuel, reactor vessel) if a safe storage was available.

    — 5 Years for the middling radioactive parts, containment vessel, etc.

    — 1,000 years for the site to become safe.

    – I then went to work at Pelendaba.

    – Personally I cannot conceive how one can fence and guard a site for 1,000 years. Chernobyl is now reported to have to be secure for 3,000 years, which is longed than western civilization.

    – The British polluted the Irish sea with plutonium and cause familial cancer clusters with Sellafield, the British nuclear fuel processing plant.

    – The French have plutonium pollution issues in La Manche (or the English Channel) between France and the UK.

    – Hanford in the US will probably never be safe.

    – The Tennessee Valley Authority have polluted nuclear sites in the US.

    – The only safe moderately reactor we known is 8 light minutes from earth, the Sun. Wind and Solar, and Wave energy are all driven by the Sun.

    – There is a saying in electrical engineering: “You can bullshit the customer, you can bullshit management, but you cannot bullshit the electrons.”

    – Let’s go with Solar in one of its variants.

    – Uranium extraction is very energy intensive.

    You need intelligent friends who are engineers.

  5. Gaianne

    Sometimes I think modern humans will do anything, literally anything, to avoid facing reality.

    The reality is this: We must–and will, regardless of what we do–reduce our per capita energy usage. We must–and will, regardless of what we do–reduce our total energy usage.

    Only five things are relevant in the long term:

    1) The extent of desertification of the Earth–from climate change, chemical destruction, and radiological destruction–when modern civilization winds down to its sorry conclusion.

    2) The extent of destruction of the biosphere, when the Sixth Great Extinction finally reaches its conclusion, and the living beings on the Earth begin their recovery.

    3) In the context of (2) whether humans are among the recovering organisms (actually rather likely).

    4) In the context of (3) what the human carrying capacity of the Earth (obviously drastically reduced from today) turns out to be in the new, globally warmed and desertified setting.

    5) Whether, in the context of (2) and (3) humans attain any collective wisdom.

    That we are still tempted by the idea of nuclear power shows we are still, collectively, active energy addicts racing as fast as possible toward group destruction. Like addicts in a heavy binge–which is exactly what we are–there is only a modest chance that we will “hit bottom”–the emotional realization that we really are killing ourselves, and that death and extinction are supremely possible–before we have removed circumstances completely and permanently out of human control.

    Notice we are not even discussing health–only safety, and the fact that nuclear plants intermittently blow up to permanently contaminate large areas of the Earth’s surface. Safety alone is too hard for humans to manage: While some of the basic requirements of safety have long been known, even what is known is not followed. When Brown’s Ferry caught fire in March 1975 and came within a half-hour of melting down, it showed further that you never know everything you need to know to have safety–even when good efforts are made.

    Most of the nuclear plants operating today are unsafe, and will never be made safe.

    Oddly enough, reactors have in actual fact no off switch. If you need to shut a plant down–for whatever reason–you can insert the control rods and stop the fusion reaction, but the plant will still generate heat from ordinary radioactive decay. That heat must be carried away by active, energy-consuming cooling systems or the reactor will melt down anyway, despite the fusion reaction being shut down. And, as Fukushima Daichi has shown us, if the reactor melts down the fusion reaction may well restart. At this point there is no theoretical–let alone practical–method of dealing with Fukushima, or a feral reactor type situation.

    We cannot manage safety. If we could, we would still need to ask about health. Contrary to popular impressions and government pronouncements, no amount of radiation is safe. The Earth’s natural background radiation (from various sources) tends to be about 100 milirem per year. Does this radiation cause cancer and birth defects? Absolutely: But the number is small and we cannot do anything about it anyway. Somewhere between ten and one hundred times Earth background, the increase in cancer and defects becomes statistically significant–measurable over large groups. It is possible to calculate how many people we kill when we introduce radiation into the environment, even though we never know exactly who they are. Is this form of murder acceptable to you? It is obviously acceptable to our political leaders.

    Of course, the nuclear energy cycle is not a cycle at all, it is a once-through process of mining uranium ore, separating out the uranium and concentrating somewhat the U-235, fissioning it to produce energy, and discarding the “daughter products” as (highly radioactive) waste. Where shall this waste be put? Nobody knows a good place: It should remain undisturbed and away from humans–and all life–for at least 50 000 years, but nobody knows a way to do that.

    Of course, it is pointed out,if we don’t adopt nuclear energy energy, we won’t be able to run our ever-increasing mass of electrical and electronic toys. Well du-uh!

    Does nuclear energy sound green to you? Really?

    There is good news: Uranium production is already approaching its peak. It may be that the Earth will not suffer vastly more radiological damage than that which we have already committed ourselves to.

  6. Synoia


    The half life for Plutonium is 240,000 years.

  7. Julien

    The techno-geek in me likes newer nuclear designs like Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors a lot, but it’s starting to look like solar can get us there cheaper and faster, with any of the waste or the socio-economic problems nuclear suffers from.

  8. Flaser

    Dear Synoia and Dear Gaianne!

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…

    Spouting the half-life of plutonium (which is bogus, since there is a whole *family* of Pu isotopes with varying half-lives and activities) without actually quoting some activity levels highlights that you’re more interested in fear mongering than educating the audience.

    Is nuclear waste a problem? It is. How hard a problem is it? That depends on what you’re willing to do about it. With transmutation* it could be a lot less had than what hard-line Greens make it out to be. I could go on about the issue, especially since I was taught *some* nuclear and reactor physics , however people with better education (and more work on their part) can make a better case, so I’ll quote them instead:

    *Transmutation is any process that renders dangerous, long lived transuranic radio-isotopes into more stable, less dangerous products. Feasible methods envisioned today involve sticking the waste into a reactor with sufficient excess power that it can handle the neutron cost of having the waste just soak up neutrons without contributing to the chain reaction. During this process the bombarding neutrons eventually cause the transuranics to undergo fission themselves, turning into less dangerous decay products.

  9. John

    To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, we would burn the innocence of our children to keep our consumptive lifestyles going.

  10. We’d also have to get rid of war to make nuclear energy safe. I think we’re almost there…
    Seriously though — we don’t need electricity any more than we need a million dollars in everyone’s bank account. It’s purely a want, and quite frankly, the cost is more than we (or the next million generations that we’ve failed) can afford, no matter the source.

  11. scruff

    The problem is that even if the culture could be trusted to run nuclear reactors safely, it still cannot be trusted to use the energy gained from those reactors wisely. If you give this culture more energy, it will use it for the same things it has used all the extra energy it got from oil, and from coal before that. There will be more environmental destruction and loss of biodiversity as the culture uses that energy to expand its human population and “standard of living”. Until this cultural problem is solved, nuclear cannot be a solution to anything, it can only serve as another support for the problem.

  12. Gaianne:

    You see fit to give us a scholarly lecture on the function of a reactor, and yet you repeatedly refer to the “fusion” reaction that occurs within it. We have never even come very close to a sustainable fusion reaction in a laboratory, let alone a commercial reactor, and all of our power is generated by fission nuclear reaction. If you had said it once I would have let it go as a slip of the pen, but you said it repeatedly. Are you under the misconception that our power reactors run by fusion reaction?

  13. Shh

    I grew up in Los Alamos, NM where the atomic bomb was invented. My father was Associate Director of short range nuclear weapons planning and development for the US. While a very different use of fission (fusion being limited to H-bomb, not A-bomb), there are many coincident considerations.

    He used to say “There’s nothing wrong with deriving electricity from nuclear reactors in theory. The problems arise when humans get involved.”

    Let’s face it, the mantra of Capitalist investment schemata, the entire philosophical underpinnings of “efficient construction management,” “ROI” and the entirely rational, selfish need for individuals at all levels of the decision making hierarchy to prioritize their own short term interests over all other considerations simply results in the fact that nuclear reactions are beyond the reasonable control of humans. Fukushima is an outstanding example of why.

    As Ian has pointed out before, it’s all about factoring out externalities to maximize personal gain. To make nuclear financially viable, all true safety considerations must be minimized. I happen to work for a Company that owns a nuclear reactor. I have seen up close and personal the decision making that goes into running it, from environmental impact assessments, geological safety engineering (earthquake safety), to site security and personnel management and I can say with complete, experience based knowledge, that financial incentives drive all decision making and that known, demonstrable risk is sidelined to ensure that the company meets Street expectations on earnings.

    Decommission costs are understated, earthquake risk buried under a miasma of “professional disagreements on likelihood,” etc. The problem is not a political one, it’s a philosophical one and I hope no hope whatsoever that 7 billion souls could even share a common understanding let alone derive a solution to the many problems that confront us.

    To Gaianne’s notion #3, what we have created is simply a high intensity inflection point to introduce greater genetic variation in our species. Whether the subset of mutations proves successful under the new conditions is entirely unknowable by anyone currently alive.

  14. Bill H…

    Yes, there’s a big difference between fusion and fission… but as Scruff states so succinctly, it doesn’t really matter in the end. I and others I know have often focused on a single issue (i.e. is nuclear energy a suitable energy source) without incorporating the big picture into our decision matrix, and therein lies the problem. Nothing we do exists in a vacuum.

  15. Peter VE

    The radioactive waste from Chernobyl seems to have wiped out the microbial life in the soil, with the result that dead plant matter does not decay. With no decayed plant matter, the soil loses fertility, and the current bloom of wildlife in the exclusion zone will give way to a desert. Of course, the microbes will evolve to withstand the radiation, but not soon enough for our children’s children’s children.

  16. Gaianne


    Transmutation is an idea that sounds good on paper. Getting it to work is another matter.

    Bill H–

    Of course I meant fission. Sorry about the brain fart!


  17. Synoia


    Please illustrate by point to a working system of what you describe.

    “*Transmutation is any process that renders dangerous, long lived transuranic radio-isotopes into more stable, less dangerous products. Feasible methods envisioned today involve sticking the waste into a reactor with sufficient excess power that it can handle the neutron cost of having the waste just soak up neutrons without contributing to the chain reaction. ”

    Especially hoe neutrons are “soaked up” when they are the most difficult particles to contain, being chargeless.

    And while you are at it, Google “Pelindaba”.

  18. Solar Hero

    Any idiot saying nuclear energy is the way to go is also saying “there will never again be any earthquakes, floods or war”.

    One small fighter-bomber plane can destroy half an American State with one bomb on a nuclear reactor. Or an ICBM, anyone? Not to mention earthquakes and other natural disasters.

    Honestly, the “smart people” need to be rounded up. Seriously.

  19. S Brennan

    Late to the party; but I am glad to see that LFTR [Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor] got mentioned in one of the twenty comments…that’s a tear in the iron curtain of state mandated ignorance…real progress…

    “Thorium-fueled molten salt reactors offer many potential advantages compared to conventional solid uranium fueled light water reactors:

    Inherent safety. LFTR designs use a strong negative temperature coefficient of reactivity to achieve passive inherent safety against excursions of reactivity. The temperature dependence comes from 3 sources. The first is that thorium absorbs more neutrons if it overheats, the so-called Doppler effect.[42] This leaves fewer neutrons to continue the chain reaction, reducing power. The second part is heating the graphite moderator, that usually causes a positive contribution to the temperature coefficient.[42] The third effect has to do with thermal expansion of the fuel.[42] If the fuel overheats, it expands considerably, which, due to the liquid nature of the fuel, will push fuel out of the active core region. In a small (e.g. the MSRE test reactor) or well moderated core this reduces the reactivity. However, in a large, under-moderated core (e.g. the ORNL MSBR design), less fuel salt means better moderation and thus more reactivity and an undesirable positive temperature coefficient.

    Stable coolant. Molten fluorides are chemically stable and impervious to radiation. The salts do not burn, explode, or decompose, even under high temperature and radiation.[43] There are no rapid violent reactions with water and air that sodium coolant has. There is no combustible hydrogen production that water coolants have.[44] However the salt is not stable to radiation at low (less than 100 C) temperatures due to radiolysis.

    Low pressure operation. Because the coolant salts remain liquid at high temperatures,[43] LFTR cores are designed to operate at low pressures, like 0.6 MPa[45](comparable to the pressure in the drinking water system) from the pump and hydrostatic pressure. Even if the core fails, there is little increase in volume. Thus the containment building cannot blow up. LFTR coolant salts are chosen to have very high boiling points. Even a several hundred degree heatup during a transient or accident does not cause a meaningful pressure increase. There is no water or hydrogen in the reactor that can cause a large pressure rise or explosion as happened during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.[46][unreliable source?]

    No pressure buildup from fission. LFTRs are not subject to pressure buildup of gaseous and volatile fission products. The liquid fuel allows for online removal of gaseous fission products, such as xenon, for processing, thus these decay products would not be spread in a disaster.[47] Further, fission products are chemically bonded to the fluoride-salt, including iodine,[dubious – discuss] cesium, and strontium, capturing the radiation and preventing the spread of radioactive material to the environment.[48]

    Easier to control. A molten fuel reactor has the advantage of easy removal of xenon-135. Xenon-135, an important neutron absorber, makes solid fueled reactors difficult to control. In a molten fueled reactor, xenon-135 can be removed. In solid-fuel reactors, xenon-135 remains in the fuel and interferes with reactor control.[49]

    Slow heatup. Coolant and fuel are inseparable, so any leak or movement of fuel will be intrinsically accompanied by a large amount of coolant. Molten fluorides have high volumetric heat capacity, some such as FLiBe, even higher than water. This allows them to absorb large amounts of heat during transients or accidents.[33][50]

    Passive decay heat cooling. Many reactor designs (such as that of the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment) allow the fuel/coolant mixture to escape to a drain tank, when the reactor is not running (see “Fail safe core” below). This tank is planned to have some kind (details are still open) of passive decay heat removal, thus relying on physical properties (rather than controls) to operate.[51]

    Fail safe core. LFTRs can include a freeze plug at the bottom that has to be actively cooled, usually by a small electric fan. If the cooling fails, say because of a power failure, the fan stops, the plug melts, and the fuel drains to a subcritical passively cooled storage facility. This not only stops the reactor, also the storage tank can more easily shed the decay heat from the short-lived radioactive decay of irradiated nuclear fuels. Even in the event of a major leak from the core such as a pipe breaking, the salt will spill onto the kitchen-sink-shaped room the reactor is in, which will drain the fuel salt by gravity into the passively cooled dump tank.[19]

    Less long-lived waste. LFTRs can dramatically reduce the long-term radiotoxicity of their reactor wastes. Light water reactors with uranium fuel have fuel that is more than 95% U-238. These reactors normally transmute part of the U-238 to Pu-239, a long-lived isotope. Almost all of the fuel is therefore only one step away from becoming a transuranic long-lived element. Plutonium-239 has a half life of 24,000 years, and is the most common transuranic in spent nuclear fuel from light water reactors. Transuranics like Pu-239 cause the perception that reactor wastes are an eternal problem. In contrast, the LFTR uses the thorium fuel cycle, which transmutes thorium to U-233. Because thorium is a lighter element, more neutron captures are required to produce the transuranic elements. U-233 has two chances to fission in a LFTR. First as U-233 (90% will fission) and then the remaining 10% has another chance as it transmutes to U-235 (80% will fission). The fraction of fuel reaching neptunium-237, the most likely transuranic element, is therefore only 2%, about 15 kg per GWe-year.[52] This is a transuranic production 20x smaller than light water reactors, which produce 300 kg of transuranics per GWe-year. Importantly, because of this much smaller transuranic production, it is much easier to recycle the transuranics. That is, they are sent back to the core to eventually fission. Reactors operating on the U238-plutonium fuel cycle produce far more transuranics, making full recycle difficult on both reactor neutronics and the recycling system. In the LFTR, only a fraction of a percent, as reprocessing losses, goes to the final waste. When these two benefits of lower transuranic production, and recycling, are combined, a thorium fuel cycle reduces the production of transuranic wastes by more than a thousand-fold compared to a conventional once-through uranium-fueled light water reactor. The only significant long-lived waste is the uranium fuel itself, but this can be used indefinitely by recycling, always generating electricity.

    If the thorium stage ever has to be shut down, part of the reactors can be shut down and their uranium fuel inventory burned out in the remaining reactors, allowing a burndown of even this final waste to as small a level as society demands.[53] The LFTR does still produce radioactive fission products in its waste, but they don’t last very long – the radiotoxicity of these fission products is dominated by cesium-137 and strontium-90. The longer half-life is cesium: 30.17 years. So, after 30.17 years, decay reduces the radioactivity by a half. Ten half-lives will reduce the radioactivity by two raised to a power of ten, a factor of 1,024. Fission products at that point, in about 300 years, are less radioactive than natural uranium.[54][55] What’s more, the liquid state of the fuel material allows separation of the fission products not only from the fuel, but from each other as well, which enables them to be sorted by the length of each fission product’s half-life, so that the ones with shorter half-lives can be brought out of storage sooner than those with longer half-lives.

    Proliferation resistance. In 2016, Nobel Laureate physicist Dr Carlo Rubbia, former Director General of CERN, claimed a primary reason for the United States cutting thorium reactor research in the 1970s is what makes it so attractive today: thorium is difficult to turn into a nuclear weapon.[56]

    The LFTR resists diversion of its fuel to nuclear weapons in four ways: first, the thorium-232 breeds by converting first to protactinium-233, which then decays to uranium-233. If the protactinium remains in the reactor, small amounts of U-232 are also produced. U-232 has a decay chain product (thallium-208) that emits powerful, dangerous gamma rays. These are not a problem inside a reactor, but in a bomb, they complicate bomb manufacture, harm electronics and reveal the bomb’s location.[57] The second proliferation resistant feature comes from the fact that LFTRs produce very little plutonium, around 15 kg per gigawatt-year of electricity (this is the output of a single large reactor over a year). This plutonium is also mostly Pu-238, which makes it unsuitable for fission bomb building, due to the high heat and spontaneous neutrons emitted. The third track, a LFTR doesn’t make much spare fuel. It produces at most 9% more fuel than it burns each year, and it’s even easier to design a reactor that makes only 1% more fuel. With this kind of reactor, building bombs quickly will take power plants out of operation, and this is an easy indication of national intentions. And finally, use of thorium can reduce and eventually eliminate the need to enrich uranium. Uranium enrichment is one of the two primary methods by which states have obtained bomb making materials.[8]

    Economy and efficiency
    Comparison of annual fuel requirements and waste products of a 1 GW uranium-fueled LWR and 1 GW thorium-fueled LFTR power plant.[58]

    Thorium abundance. A LFTR breeds thorium into uranium-233 fuel. The Earth’s crust contains about three to four times as much thorium as U-238 (thorium is about as abundant as lead). It is a byproduct of rare-earth mining, normally discarded as waste. Using LFTRs, there is enough affordable thorium to satisfy the global energy needs for hundreds of thousands of years.[59] Thorium is more common in the earth’s crust than tin, mercury, or silver.[8] A cubic meter of average crust yields the equivalent of about four sugar cubes of thorium, enough to supply the energy needs of one person for more than ten years if completely fissioned.[8] Lemhi Pass on the Montana-Idaho border is estimated to contain 1,800,000 tons of high-grade thorium ore.[8] Five hundred tons could supply all U.S. energy needs for one year.[8] Due to lack of current demand, the U.S. government has returned about 3,200 metric tons of refined thorium nitrate to the crust, burying it in the Nevada desert.[8]

    No shortage of natural resources. Sufficient other natural resources such as beryllium, lithium, nickel and molybdenum are available to build thousands of LFTRs.[60]

    Reactor efficiency. Conventional reactors consume less than one percent of the mined uranium, leaving the rest as waste. With perfectly working reprocessing LFTR may consume up to about 99% of its thorium fuel. The improved fuel efficiency means that 1 ton of natural thorium in a LFTR produces as much energy as 35 t of enriched uranium in conventional reactors (requiring 250 t of natural uranium),[8] or 4,166,000 tons of black coal in a coal power plant.

    Thermodynamic efficiency. LFTRs operating with modern supercritical steam turbines would operate at 45% thermal to electrical efficiency. With future closed gas Brayton cycles, which could be used in a LFTR power plant due to its high temperature operation, the efficiency could be up to 54%. This is 20 to 40% higher than today’s light water reactors (33%), resulting in the same 20 to 40% reduction in fissile and fertile fuel consumption, fission products produced, waste heat rejection for cooling, and reactor thermal power.[8]

    No enrichment and fuel element fabrication. Since 100% of natural thorium can be used as a fuel, and the fuel is in the form of a molten salt instead of solid fuel rods, expensive fuel enrichment and solid fuel rods’ validation procedures and fabricating processes are not needed. This greatly decreases LFTR fuel costs. Even if the LFTR is started up on enriched uranium, it only needs this enrichment once just to get started. After startup, no further enrichment is required.[8]

    Lower fuel cost. The salts are fairly inexpensive compared to solid fuel production. For example, while beryllium is quite expensive per kg, the amount of beryllium required for a large 1 GWe reactor is quite small. ORNL’s MSBR required 5.1 tons of beryllium metal, as 26 tons of BeF2.[60] At a price of $147/kg BeF2,[50](p44) this inventory would cost less than $4 million, a modest cost for a multibillion-dollar power plant. Consequently, a beryllium price increase over the level assumed here has little effect in the total cost of the power plant. The cost of enriched lithium-7 is less certain, at $120–800/kg LiF.[2] and an inventory (again based on the MSBR system) of 17.9 tons lithium-7 as 66.5 tons LiF[60] makes between $8 million and $53 million for the LiF. Adding the 99.1 tons of thorium at $30/kg adds only $3 million. Fissile material is more expensive, especially if expensively reprocessed plutonium is used, at a cost of $100 per gram fissile plutonium. With a startup fissile charge of only 1.5 tons, made possible through the soft neutron spectrum[2] this makes $150 million. Adding everything up brings the total cost of the one time fuel charge at $165 to $210 million. This is similar to the cost of a first core for a light water reactor.[61] Depending on the details of reprocessing the salt inventory once can last for decades, whereas the LWR needs a completely new core every 4 to 6 years (1/3 is replaced every 12 to 24 months). ORNL’s own estimate for the total salt cost of even the more expensive 3 loop system was around $30 million, which is less than $100 million in today’s money.[62]

    LFTRs are cleaner: as a fully recycling system, the discharge wastes from a LFTR are predominantly fission products, most of which (83%) have relatively short half lives in hours or days[63] compared to longer-lived actinide wastes of conventional nuclear power plants.[57] This results in a significant reduction in the needed waste containment period in a geologic repository. The remaining 17% of waste products require only 300 years until reaching background levels.[63] The radiotoxicity of the thorium fuel cycle waste is 10,000 times less than that of the uranium/plutonium fuel lifecycle.[8]

    Less fissile fuel needed. Because LFTRs are thermal spectrum reactors, they need much less fissile fuel to get started. Only 1-2 tons of fissile are required to start up a single fluid LFTR, and potentially as low as 0.4 ton for a two fluid design.[2] In comparison, solid fueled fast breeder reactors need at least 8 tons of fissile fuel to start the reactor. While fast reactors can theoretically start up very well on the transuranic waste, their high fissile fuel startup makes this very expensive.[citation needed]

    No downtime for refueling. LFTRs have liquid fuels, and therefore there is no need to shut down and take apart the reactor just to refuel it. LFTRs can thus refuel without causing a power outage (online refueling).

    Load following. As the LFTR does not have xenon poisoning, there is no problem reducing the power in times of low demand for electricity and turn back on at any time.

    No high pressure vessel. Since the core is not pressurized, it does not need the most expensive item in a light water reactor, a high-pressure reactor vessel for the core. Instead, there is a low-pressure vessel and pipes (for molten salt) constructed of relatively thin materials. Although the metal is an exotic nickel alloy that resists heat and corrosion, Hastelloy-N, the amount needed is relatively small.

    Excellent heat transfer. Liquid fluoride salts, especially LiF based salts, have good heat transfer properties. Fuel salt such as LiF-ThF4 has a volumetric heat capacity that is around 22% higher than water,[64] FLiBe has around 12% higher heat capacity than water. In addition, the LiF based salts have a thermal conductivity around twice that of the hot pressurized water in a pressurized water reactor.[33][50] This results in efficient heat transfer and a compact primary loop. Compared to helium, a competing high temperature reactor coolant, the difference is even bigger. The fuel salt has over 200 times higher volumetric heat capacity as hot pressurized helium and over 3 times the thermal conductivity. A molten salt loop will use piping of 1/5 the diameter, and pumps 1/20 the power, of those required for high-pressure helium, while staying at atmospheric pressure[65]

    Smaller, low pressure containment. By using liquid salt as the coolant instead of pressurized water, a containment structure only slightly bigger than the reactor vessel can be used. Light water reactors use pressurized water, which flashes to steam and expands a thousandfold in the case of a leak, necessitating a containment building a thousandfold bigger in volume than the reactor vessel. The LFTR containment can not only be smaller in physical size, its containment is also inherently low pressure. There are no sources of stored energy that could cause a rapid pressure rise (such as Hydrogen or steam) in the containment.[46][unreliable source?] This gives the LFTR a substantial theoretical advantage not only in terms of inherent safety, but also in terms of smaller size, lower materials use, and lower construction cost.[8]

    Air cooling. A high temperature power cycle can be air-cooled at little loss in efficiency,[66] which is critical for use in many regions where water is scarce. No need for large water cooling towers used in conventional steam-powered systems would also decrease power plant construction costs.[41][unreliable source?]
    From waste to resource. There are suggestions that it might be possible to extract some of the fission products so that they have separate commercial value.[67] However, compared to the produced energy, the value of the fission products is low, and chemical purification is expensive.[68]

    Efficient mining. The extraction process of thorium from the earth’s crust is a much safer and efficient mining method than that of uranium. Thorium’s ore, monazite, generally contains higher concentrations of thorium than the percentage of uranium found in its respective ore. This makes thorium a more cost efficient and less environmentally damaging fuel source. Thorium mining is also easier and less dangerous than uranium mining, as the mine is an open pit, which doesn’t require ventilation such as the underground uranium mines, where radon levels are potentially harmful”

  20. The Tragically Flip

    My predisposition is against nuclear, but I think I could be persuaded it is better than the realistic alternatives:

    1) 4C+ warming and the end of global technological civilization in the fallout, 10 figure casualty counts.

    2) Geoengineering

    Nuclear’s risks and harms as a power source seem preferable to the outcomes we’re setting ourselves up for. Maybe fusion will break through, or solar will fall so fast so quick that market forces make the switch on their own, but that’s a gamble.

    A Fukashima or Chernobyl every 10-30 years is better than the options above. Securing nuclear waste sites for 1000s of years is obviously impossible to guarantee, but 4C of warming will last hundreds of thousands of years and if that becomes 8C or 12C of warming by 2200 or 2300, you’re talking about outright human extinction.

    There’s no non-sucky outcome here, just varying degrees of suck. Perhaps nuclear will suck less.

  21. AlanSmithee

    You know what? Fine. Just flippin\’ fine. It\’s bad enough the vast majority of people don\’t know and don\’t want to know about global warming. People are ignorant cowards. I get that. So it\’s utterly meaningless anyway to advocate a wildly toxic and unsafe solution to a problem that no one acknowledges or wants to acknowledge. It\’s just exhausting, you know? Just exhausting

  22. different clue

    @S Brennan,

    Is this the kind of nuclear reactor described by James Hansen midway into his book Storms Of My Grandchildren? The kind of nuke which he says will fast-consume 93% of all the neutronly-destabilizable nucleii down to a fully stable radiopassive state? And leaving the last 3% of all possibly radioactive nucleii being the short half-life forms which can be baked into super-tough glass ( vitrified)? Is this the kind of reactor being studied at Argonne National Lab and showing signs of promise when it was suddenly and belligerently cancelled and all possible data on its existence destroyed . . . according to James Hansen?

    If it is, he makes a good-on-its-face case for this form of nuclear in his book.

    Of course, another question arises separately. How much less electricity can we consume than we are consuming now and still live a mostly okay life? Could we pull our electricity consumption so far down as to bring it within reach of what renewable sources of electricity can provide? That question is worth pursuing too, even as we pursue the kind of relatively safer nukes that Hansen discusses in his book.

  23. different clue

    There is an energy-affairs blog called The Ergosphere by someone called Engineer Poet who seems to be some kind of energy engineer and who describes himself as a “right wing environmentalist”. Some of his posts are about nuclear power. I will offer links to one or two of them so readers can get a flavor of his writing. I have zero background in any of this engineering so I cannot know which of his posts are chicken salad and which are chicken shit and which are mixed. But they seem no-bullshit to me, based on pure intuition and “readfeel”.

    ( I think this reactor mentioned in these two posts was the reactor approach mentioned by Hansen).

    And here’s a sample of his rarely revealed approach to politics.

  24. Lisa

    The world made a fundamentak mistake when it basically standardised on the US pressurised water design (PWR)

    This design has several flawsm the worst being the need to keep coolant flowing all the time using pumps, lose the pumps or the even just the power to the pumps and you are screwed.

    The British Advanced Gas Cooled reactor (AGR) is superior, being a ‘passive’ safety design where the natural circulation of CO2 will keep it cool without the need for any pumps (this was actually tested and worked perfectly).

    The AGR also has the advantage of not needing a stainless steel containment vessel and can mostly be made out of concrete due to the lower stresses and with no risk of a hydrogen explosion. It also runs at a higher thermal efficiency.

    The PWR design requires an expensive and hard to make stainless steel containment vessel.

    So making a safer design is not hard … it has been done.. and, to be fair, you can make the PWR very safe indeed, but at a higher cost and greater complexity. The latest Russian PWR designs are reckoned to be the best in the business right now. The problem then becomes that the extra ‘safety’ cost means it then is more economic to have a very large reactor, when it might be better to have multiple smaller ones due to geographical issues.

    If the Fukishama reactors had been AGR there would have been no problems whatsoever (except for the ..illegal..spent fuel rods stored outside the reactor).

  25. S Brennan

    Rather than worry about reducing power consumption we need to increase electrical capacity and use it; to name just two such uses:

    In low demand hours for desalinization and pumping water into Vast Underground Storage & Distibution Networks [VUSADN], formally known as aquifers vastly depleted, they cover the western plain states in particular and almost every world desert has just such a network. Nature did the hard work, we just have to connect the dots.

    Additionally, with proper weather alignement, we can use water compressor blades to heat & thrust saltwater skyward 1,000 ft at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, the salt is heavier and will fall back to earth, while the water vapor is lighter than air and will form artificial rain clouds.


  26. different clue

    What kind of design are the reactors in nuclear submarines and on nuclear surface ships? How thoroughly do they consume their nuke fuel down to near zero? Could their design be hybridized with the Fast and Thorough Reactor to which Hansen was referring?

    And of course we can reduce electric power consumption by doing manually what can be done manually ( like can openers and pencil sharpeners) and doing passively and/or directly solar what can be done passively and/or by direct sunshine harvest . . . such as super weatherising houses and increasing the equator-facing window space to harvest more sunshine and retain better the heat which the harvested sunshine degrades into. Also, skylights directly in/through the roof leading light into the building, reducing the need for electric light in the daytime. And so on.

  27. Hugh

    As I have posted here before:

    PT = -ER, where P is population and T is technology level, and E is environmental and ecological damage including pollution and global climate disruption and R is resource shortfalls and exhaustion, most notably oil and water. I call this the wing equation (pter- = wing in Greek). If you think about it, P and E are mirrors of each other, just as T and R are. Hence, the negative sign. P and E, roughly, define the scope of the problem (human population and its effect upon the biosphere) while T and R reflect its rate.

    I figure the optimum population for the Continental US is somewhere around 150 million. By 2050, US population (P) is expected to be a shade shy of 400 million. Factor in the high per capita energy usage (in part represented by T) and you get an idea of the unsustainable nature of the problem. And here we are talking about an “advanced” country with many more tools to address these problems than is the case in the developing world.

    My point in all this is that we must consider population in all this. The US would have many more options, including non-nuclear ones, if it had a smaller population. Responsible population reduction is possible, but it means things like limiting immigration and emphasizing smaller families. It means an “aging” workforce, but with automation, this is still feasible. It also takes decades. So stopgaps, like nuclear energy, especially with thorium, should be on the table.

  28. Lisa

    different clue

    Nuclear submarine use a variant of the PWR reactor design. In fact the PWR commercial designs came from that originally. It was a bad mistake.

    Another safety issue, the water is pressurised to raise its boiling point to increase thermal efficiency If the pressure or circulation drops then the water will split into hydrogen and oxygen a rather explosive mix. Similarly if the water temp rises to much. Therefore you have to make thew containment vessel strong enough to resist a hydrogen/oxygen fire/explosion.

    “PWRs were originally designed to serve as nuclear marine propulsion for nuclear submarines and were used in the original design of the second commercial power plant at Shippingport Atomic Power Station.”

  29. different clue


    Well then, we go back to the Fully Fast Reactor or whatever that reactor James Hansen wrote about is called. It is very likely the same reactor design that Engineer Poet wrote about on his blog The Ergosphere ( linked to in above comment)

    In which case one wonders how small such reactors could be workably designed so as to be mass producible and all verifiably the same and have minimal fresh-design-for-every-unique-reactor problems.

  30. Joe

    I agree with Hugh. Population pressure limits our options considerably. There is nothing to work with if we can’t address population pressure. Another global climate conference and a few hundred more tons of carbon go into the sky. The experts, politicians business leaders and activists fly to the event. It’s a perfect illustration. The polluting event is rarely attached to the cause. This e mail created x amount of co2. I purchased a tax subsidized solar array a couple of years ago, gridtie, I love it. It is totally reliable and looks cool. The county made me pour cement footings and mount it on aluminum and steel rails very cool looking. I wonder when it will be worth it’s carbon footprint. Until we begin to look at what we actually do on a realtime basis you might as well party on. It’s just going to take a really hard behavioral tack to keep this boat off the rocks. Solar and behavior modification certainly seems like more subtle and elegant option than a bunch of massive radiation wheezing energy factories. The Mayans and easter islanders couldn’t change there behavior either. They chose the party option.

  31. different clue


    We are in the midst of what has been called the “Crisis crisis”. Multiple separate crises overlap
    eachother and sometimes step up eachothers’ effects. Any crisis could be the one that kills us first. There are too many crises to keep up. No one can enforce “crisis targetting discipline” on everyone else, so not one single crisis is addressed at all as everyone spends their energy demanding that everyone else devote themselves to spending all their time and energy on solving somebody or other’s special pet crisis.

    The only solution to the “Crisis Crisis” is for everybody to respect everybody else’s right to pick their own personal choice of crisis to work on. That way, at least several crises might be addressed.

    I notice that Hugh did not say that Overpopulation was the root crisis and the only crisis that matters, therefore everyone else must devote themselves to solving Overpopulation and ignoring every other crisis completely. Hugh did say in his own very comment that thorium could be a temporary time-buy for more leeway for solving the Overpopulation crisis eventually, maybe. For example.

    Let every wannabe crisis-solver address the crisis he/she knows the most about and/or is most committed to addressing. That way every crisis gets its own best attention from the best people for that crisis.

  32. Lisa:
    Sorry, no. If the pressure drops the hyrogen and oxygen do not separate; the water turns into vapor. An exploding PWR reactor is a hyperbolic myth.

    Chernobyl was a different type of reactor in which the overheated core developed hydrogen, which exploded, and the uranium mix of the fuel itself burned vigorously and disasterously.

    The PWR does not lend itself to such an event. The almost certain event in the event of coolant loss is meltdown, as happened at Fukushima in a boiling water reactor, which has a much less robust containment vessel, none of which ruptured when the reactors melted down.

    That’s not to say that we should be building nuclear power plants. If nothing else, storage of spent fuel is a massive problem which we have not come close to solving, and we seem to have lost the ability to regulate the industry properly.

  33. Flaser


    I was paraphrasing, but capturing neutrons is 101 nuclear physics. When a neturon hits a nuclei, it can be absorbed, it can split the nuclei or it may even bounce off.

    Absorption is how Plutonium is created in nuclear reactors, the U-238 (92 protons, 146 neutrons) captures a neutron, turning into U-239 (92 protons, 147 neutrons). U-239 then beta-decays (emitting an electron) into Np-239 (93 protons, 146 neutrons) a different element, which again beta-decay into Pu-239, your favored nuclear weapon material from Uncle Sam to Kim Jong-un.

    (Keep in mind though, that to get weapons grade material, i.e. mostly Pu-239, you can only expose your breeder material for short duration, since otherwise U-239, Np-239 or Pu-239 themselves can once again absorb more neutrons, leading to my previously mentioned *other* host of Pu isotopes. This is why it’s “relatively” easy to spot when a nuclear plant is used to manufacture weapons, as its operation cycle is drastically different that of an electricity producing one).

    The fact that you asked me what you did clues in that you have big gaps in your knowledge of nuclear physics. I suggest further reading before making judgement calls on these technologies, as I can’t help but feel you have a lot less complete picture than you imagine you have.

  34. scruff

    @S Brennan:


    It is exactly this mindset that caused the problems in the first place. The entire history of the society you seem to believe can solve this mess is one of consistently increasing attempts to control nature as much as possible for the benefit of rich civilized humans and under the belief that “well, now we understand enough to be able to do things right even even though we thought that last time and it turned out to be wrong”.

    How is what you’re suggesting any different than saying that we need to make sure that the very banks and financiers that caused the economic crisis have even more money in order to save the economy?

  35. S Brennan

    “storage of spent fuel is a massive problem which we have not come close to solving”

    Actually, we can use those spent rods for LFTR seed fuel:


    Your fact free and very emotional argument has nothing to argue against..except your opinion, but if it’s cutting back power consumption you’re after, there’s nothing stopping you from turning off your computer

    Oh, I get it, “other” people should sacrifice while you and other “tech bros” continue to pontificate on their sacrifice, anything to enhance your

  36. different clue

    @Bill H,

    It is the present types of nuclear reactors which leave the huge amounts of radwaste. Hansen claims that the reactor design he advocated in his book Storms Of My Grandchildren fisses 97% of all the possibly fissile nucleii down to energy and stable nucleii . He claims the 3% residue is composed of short half-life unstable nucleii which can be stored in baked glass (vitrification).
    Engineer-Poet at the Ergosphere claims the same thing.

    These claims deserve a look-see at the very least.

  37. Lisa

    Bill H:

    3 Mile Island
    ” Steam in the system prevented flow through the core, and as the water stopped circulating it was converted to steam in increasing amounts. About 130 minutes after the first malfunction, the top of the reactor core was exposed and the intense heat caused a reaction to occur between the steam forming in the reactor core and the Zircaloy nuclear fuel rod cladding, yielding zirconium dioxide, hydrogen, and additional heat.

    This reaction melted the nuclear fuel rod cladding and damaged the fuel pellets, which released radioactive isotopes to the reactor coolant, and produced hydrogen gas that is believed to have caused a small explosion in the containment building later that afternoon.[27]”

    “On the third day following the accident, a hydrogen bubble was discovered in the dome of the pressure vessel, and became the focus of concern.
    A hydrogen explosion might not only breach the pressure vessel, but, depending on its magnitude, might compromise the integrity of the containment vessel leading to large scale release of radioactive material.
    However, it was determined that there was no oxygen present in the pressure vessel, a prerequisite for hydrogen to burn or explode. Immediate steps were taken to reduce the hydrogen bubble, and by the following day it was significantly smaller. Over the next week, steam and hydrogen were removed from the reactor using a catalytic recombiner and, controversially, by venting straight to the atmosphere.”

    “Just after 6 AM local time on Tuesday in Japan, a sound like an explosion was heard near the suppression pool of reactor No. 2 at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. This followed an explosion March 11 that ripped the roof off reactor No. 1 and another at reactor No. 3 on March 14 that injured 11 workers. The culprit in all three cases is likely a build-up of explosive hydrogen gas—as occurred at Three Mile Island in the U.S. in 1979 as a result of the meltdown there—caused by nuclear fuel rods experiencing extremely high temperatures stripping the hydrogen out of the plant’s steam.”

    “The high temperatures that the fuel rods create boil water and continually turn it into steam. If no fresh water is introduced to cool the rods then they continue to heat up. Once the rods reach more than 1200 degrees Celsius, the zirconium will interact with the steam and split the hydrogen from the water. That hydrogen can then be released from the reactor core and containment vessel and, if it accumulates in sufficient quantities—concentrations of 4 percent or more in the air—it can explode, as has apparently occurred at reactors No. 1 and 3, and possibly No. 2 as well. The explosions at reactors No. 1 and 3 destroyed the surrounding buildings ”

  38. stephen

    Nuclear currently generates 5% of world power. If it was instead 50% we would have had 10 Fukushimas and 10 Chernobyls over the past 40 years. That’s 1 major nuclear disaster every 2 years or so. There might have been one near you. One or two of them would have been much more destructive than anything we have seen so far.

    Going forward we would be expecting a major nuclear disaster every 2.5 years. There would be say 10 Chernobyl type uninhabited areas on the planet. We would be creating a new one every 5 years.

    Scanning through the comments I came across the usual LFTR fan. LFTRs are at least 20 years away from the first deployment. 20 years is too late given the state we are in. We would then have to deploy another 4000 to reach 50% of current world energy consumption. How long would that take?

  39. S Brennan


    Your comment:

    “LFTRs are at least 20 years away from the first deployment.”

    Amuses me since one was built and successfully operated 50 years ago.

    No, they didn’t hook it up to a conventional turbine with a generator on it, but jeeze, Bangladesh has the technical chops to handle that…but too tough for the USA huh?

  40. Flaser

    @S Brennan: Unfortunatelly, the MSRE can’t be considered a viable prototype for the kind of Thorium fueled reactor that the world really needs. It was liquid-salt cooled prototype reactor, that has shown that salt cooling is viable, the experiment has run up an impressive number of reactor hours without *any* incident, the design was shown to be as inherently safe as its proponents claimed it would be and finally, it showed that the deign can operate using U-233, (bred from Th-232 in *another*, convetional breeder reactor). The MSRE was a huge success and has proven a whole range of ideas to be viable.

    However LFTR still needs more research, as to be viable as envisioned. In-situ fuel management is necessary to use the same reactor for breeding more fuel and generating power. (One should keep in mind though that a *similar* design has *already* been achieved in the IFR using solid fuel, a *bigger* challenge than reprocessing liquid fuel!)

    OTOH, there’s no reason we couldn’t *already* build liquid salt cooled reactors in the meanwhile, as the design *already* offers some remarkably safety and efficiency features over conventional designs.

    @stephen: I’m actually staggered at the levels of ignorance your post shows. OK, let’s *assume* nuclear power is as dangerous as you claim (which it isn’t, but let’s run with it just for the sake of the argument)… What alternative can you offer which has a *better* safety record? Here’s a clue… contrary to all the fear mongering that you ignorant Greens spout, nuclear power has the *best* track record of all our power sources.

    How can you do this? My pet theory is, because conventional power-sources kill in “mundane” ways that humans can process as “life sucks”… nuclear power by contrast is inexplicable to the Average Joe, and as such it invokes an atavistic fear that grips him *because* its spooky beyond what his mind can grasp.

  41. Gaianne


    You are right, except you are missing a piece: By itself water does not dissociate into hydrogen and oxygen–not even at the high temperatures of a runaway reactor–but when it is in the presence of zirconium, which is the metal most often used (for good technical reasons) to hold the nuclear fuel where it is supposed to be (in fuel rods, rather than scattering freely at random), the overheated zirconium reacts with the water–pulling the oxygen right out–to oxidise, leaving the hydrogen free to cause trouble elsewhere, as it inevitably does.


    Every ten years or so, someone comes up with a new reactor design that is supposed to be immune to the failure modes of the reactors that already exist. Almost as often, someone somewhere builds a prototype of the design, and discovers that the theory was wrong, and in practice the new reactor also fails, or, just as bad, the reactor fails in a new way that has never been seen before and no one had predicted.

    Molten salt has been around since the 1940s. Salt is much more corrosive than water, and water is bad enough. Water has been around for centuries and still gives trouble. If you are introducing a new salt, ask yourself how well is the chemistry understood after a few years of dabbling?

    After all that, a reactor for producing electricity must produce enough electricity to pay for the cost of building, running, and decommissioning it. Of course the costs of decommissioning are dumped on the future. But even the costs of building and running have proven too high in the absence of (direct and indirect) government subsidy to make nuclear power viable–even setting aside safety and health. I mention this last as a point of real hope: Most of these reactors will never be built, and radiation damage will destroy a good deal less than the entire Earth.


  42. S Brennan

    “Every ten years or so, someone comes up with a new reactor design”

    Really? Please cite a reference for such an R&D enterprise where some 7-8 new approaches have been developed and tested.

    If corrosian is something we can’t abide, then surely ships should sink…after all they’re in saltwater no?

  43. Gaianne

    S Brennan–

    There are many designs, which, if you are actually interested in this subject, you should be aware of. Graphite (the original Chicago pile), boiling water, pressurized water, air-cooled graphite, CANDU (water is replaced by deuterium oxide in the reactor core to moderate neutrons), molten salt, liquid sodium (a very awkward chemistry) are a few, and each of these has several variants. Several breeder designs have been tried, and abandoned for various reasons. An interesting subject, in a way. It is not easy to get these things to work. Nor pay for themselves.

    Boats do not sink because sailors are constantly repainting and replacing the corroded and rotted parts. It is a significant expense and a major hassle. Unless they don’t do those things and then the boats do sink.


  44. Lisa

    Gaianne: Yes and all PWR reactors will do that if the water gets too hot….

    Except in an AGR reactor because it is all CO2 and though they have a slightly lower nuclear efficiency, that is compensated with a highrt thermal efficiency…because they can run at higher temps safely.

    No need for new reactor designs just dust off the AGR ones…

  45. S Brennan


    All that is old hat; the Russian used Graphite at Chernobyl…you clearly are arguing against your original post…pathetic.

  46. Laie

    Even if the whole world was all in on nukes (can anyone believe that) it would be at least another decade before the first plants could go online.

    Go renewables, go go go.

    We Germans put up a good example when we rushed solar a few years ago; the most important lesson (IMO) is just how disruptive solar can be. From looking around, maybe one in ten roofs carries some sort of photovoltaics; year-in year-out it’s less than 5% or our electricity. Yet on a good summers day it can be so much that everything else has to grind to a standstill, and needs to be brought back online a few hours later. The large coal plants, of which we still have way too many, don’t like this. Keep in mind that latitude-wise, Germany spans from Portland to Alaska.

    Overall, wind and solar complement each other very well: if you look at daily (rather than hourly) patterns, the output is quite steady. Storage would be needed, but mostly short-term (personally I’m quite fond of flywheels).

    Fifteen years ago we were getting <5% of our electricity from renewables (mostly hydro which has existed since way back when), now it's 30% even though the conservative government has done it's best to tamp down of further development for the last six years or so. There is still considerable room for growth. On the other hand, we still only get ~10% of our whole energy needs (including heat & propulsion) from renewables and may never be able to cover all of it.

    What I'm trying to get at with all of this: renewables can make a big dent, and quickly, with considerable effects long before any nuclear plant can be finished.

    It may well turn out that this won't be enough. That nuclear will still be needed. Public opinion may even come around. But only if it seems to be the measure of last resort, if most everything else has been tried and shown to be insufficient. Nukes first? I just don't see how this could happen.

  47. DrNomad

    Climate change is not caused by humans. The science is broken and rigged. The Climate Change hoax is another attack on property rights, done by the ‘social’ movement. Climate Change is a legal (but fake) reason to raise taxes, introduce an emmision-trading scheme where the wealth goes from the rich countries to the poor (Kyoto protocol). So Climate Change is just a lie, to come to world-socialism; meaning distributing the wealth. As environmentalist define most human activities as a threat to the environment (a definition that gians control for one, and loss of freedom for the other), it is best to let the poor die, as dead people don’t act. The climate change hoax has the secret goal to save the poor, enslave the capable, to make an energy transition as we don’t want to depend on jihadist countries, protectionism, and ofcourse extend western hegemony to the east (Russia, China).

    The nuclear option is just pretending that human-caused-climate-change is real. There is a small golden disc floating in the sky, burning ferociously, and it causes the difference of day and night, winter or summer, permafrost or tropical. It is the sun.

  48. different clue


    If you are correct, then the global is not warming and indeed will not warm. Certainly not in a predictable upward direction. Therefor the sea level is not rising and will not rise.

    Have you considered the amazing contrarian investing opportunity laid out at your feet if your stated belief is correct? As more and more of us poor victims and witless dupes of the global warming hoax avoid the coasts or flee the coasts, land values will start dropping and then plunging near the coasts. This will be your big opportunity to buy all the land you can afford in coastal areas. Hi-valu land in South Florida, coastal Louisiana, etc. You could plant the seeds of vast family-fortune wealth for your descendants.

    Are you bold enough to act on your knowledge?

  49. Flaser


    I can’t grasp how you can be such a strong proponent of renewables in light of the chart Ian started his post with. Germany has spent an *insane* amount of money and effort on renewables and your CO2 emissions are less than stellar. Meanwhile France has done leaps better relying on its own nuclear fleet and has done so without the environmental impact of either wind, solar or hydro power. (Something you Greens often forget to address is that renewables have their *own* drawbacks too).

    Nuclear power is proven, it’s effective and it can immediately make a significant impact on the CO2 emission levels. The same can’t be said of renewables as their unreliability and their harmful impact on the power-grid (funny how you Greens *also* forget to ever mention how wind is wreaking havoc with the power-grids with its resonance effects) tend to force power producers to actually *burn more* fossil fuels in the end.

    Germany did the insane thing: you shut down your nuclear power-plants while moving to renewables. You immediately forced your power producers to up their fossil fuel use as that is the *only* way to mitigate the imbalance between the variable and non-responsive renewable power-production and the demands of consumers.

    Finally your claim about the ten year buildup claim on nuclear power-plants necessitates quoting Anthony McAuliffe: NUTS! Nuclear plants *can* be built faster. They can be *developed* faster. They can be *mass produced* a lot faster…

    …if the industry wasn’t so over-regulated, so locked into the “elephant” model of the big ‘ol producers (GE, Westinghouse, etc):–ORaxxbXdWnXK

  50. Laie

    I won’t defend our energy policy as a whole. We depend on a lot of… whatever the inferior coal is called. It’s half peat. Only very recently has there been any kind of acknowledgment that this maybe shouldn’t go on for much longer. God only knows when this will lead to any kind of action, all major political parties have lot to lose (near term).

    However, a lot can be learned from our rush into renewables — not all went well, but that makes it only an even more teachable example. And 30% of all electricity despite the government stepping on the brakes is nothing to frown at, either.

    The most important lesson is the tremendouos potential and reliability (yes, you heard that right). When there’s no sun there’s wind and the other way round. The necessary storage would be mostly short-term, buffering the midday sun into the evening and such stuff. I’m sure we could have that by now if there had been a follow-up program subsidising storage systems similar to the one that brought about the solar boom in the first place (as said before, personally I put great hopes in flywheels: need regular inspection but little maintenance, and can last a lifetime).

    The main point in favor of renewables is that whatever opposition there may be, it’s nowhere as fear-driven as the anti-nuclear movement. Building a new nuclear plant in my country is totally out of the question, doing so on a fast-track schedule …is there any word for doubly impossible? Not gonna happen. Not in my backyard, not in yours, and -if we can prevent it- not in any other european country either.

    Opposition to nuclear is insanely incredibly unbelievably strong. It may waver someday, but that day is far in the future. As long as there is any alternative to nuclear, it will be pursued first. Maybe even rolling blackouts.

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