Pilgrim Nuclear Struggling to Survive Warming World

Pilgrim Nuclear Station, Plymouth, MAOnce again, warm Cape Cod Bay waters have forced a slowdown at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth. In its 44-year history, the plant has now had three heat-related slowdowns – all in the last four years:

Mary Lampert, director of the citizens group Pilgrim Watch, sees irony in the effect climate change is having on nuclear reactors.

“The nuclear industry incorrectly claims that nuclear power is the answer to climate change, but climate change brings warmer sea water temperature and this means that the reactor must shut down when the bay heats up,” Lampert wrote in an email. “On the other hand, when water temperatures get hot, truly clean sources of electricity — wind, solar, hydro, tide — operate just fine.”

Nuclear advocates like to claim it’s a reliable energy source, but what good is it if Pilgrim can’t take the heat during peak summer demand?

I’m not against nuclear power on principle. But between its struggle to survive in a warming world and nuclear’s exorbitant cost, we should focus our investments in building solar and wind far, far further out than the relatively tiny amounts they currently provide before we give nuclear the billions in subsidies it demands.



Discuss

38 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. We'd have a cooler planet with more nuke

    Like GMO’s, nuclear energy is another issue where otherwise sensible liberals ditch the science for meaningless symbolism. Nuclear energy is greenhouse gas free, and if we had invested in better and more efficient reactors after Three Mile Island instead of a moratorium, we may have cleaner energy now. France and Germany rely almost exclusively on nuclear energy for power, and their carbon footprint is substantially lower (helps they have good high speed rail as well).

    I agree it’s far too expensive and the conservatives who support nuclear and oppose wind make about as much sense as the ones pushing ‘clean coal’. I favor an all of the above strategy for alternatives-solar and wind are definitely cheaper and easier to implement. But we should be modernizing Pilgrim, not rooting for it to fail. We should make the economies of scale for nuclear energy work more efficiently.

    Stomv will probably have a litany of reasons why that’s impossible, which is why I love having a real expert around :)

    • Huh?

      Germany gets 17% of its power from nuclear, less than New England: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Germany

    • I am sure you have a solution

      I am sure you have a solution for the problem of the long term storage of high level nuclear waste so please let us all know. Make sure you include the distinction between on-site storage versus centralized location(s), and how you would deal with the transportation problems associated with storage so that those of us who only care about “meaningless symbolism” can be as well informed as you.

      Tell us how you propose to finance future construction of reactors, especially in light of the SJC decision that ratepayers cannot be forced to pay in advance for pipeline construction, which I expect extends to nuclear facilities. Also let us know whether you think it is a good idea to further extend the Price Anderson Indemnity Act to exempt the industry from full liability for nuclear disasters, shifting the burden to individuals, businesses and taxpayers.

      This activist really needs you to get me off of the path of meaningless symbolism. But remember that I was doing energy and nuclear politics before you were born and did not just get it from books.

      • OK

        But that, to me, seems like a forthright acknowledgment that the problem of long term storage of nuclear waste is greater than of climate change, and is prioritized accordingly.

        The orthodoxy is that nuclear power is a dangerous diversion from emphasis on “green” power. But the reality is that neither wind nor solar can be a steady and reliable power source in the foreseeable future, and must be supported by hyro, fossil fuels, or nuclear.

        The Pilgrim closing is a great environmental victory. What will replace its 680mW of power production? A little wind, a little solar, and a LOT of natural gas.

        • not close to what I acknowledged

          The issue of long term storage of nuclear waste is a disaster that we can avoid with a mix of conservation, increasing renewables including non-intermitent energy sources, and the development of better storage technology. All of these will reduce the threat of climate change but let’s be clear, that problem is already here, as made obvious by the last decade of worldwide temperature measurements, the rise in ocean levels, the melting of the polar caps and ocean acidification.

          Furthermore, there is no credible person who thinks that new reactors can be fast tracked nor existing ones kept alive. The same is not true for the solutions I noted, except perhaps storage.

          Feel free to explain how nukes can step in and fill our immediate needs and how you propose to deal with storage, nuclear accident liability, and financing of new nukes.

        • That's not a black and white reality

          But the reality is that neither wind nor solar can be a steady and reliable power source in the foreseeable future, and must be supported by hydro, fossil fuels, or nuclear.

          No generator is absolutely reliable or absolutely unreliable. That Pilgrim can’t operate when we’re in the midst of a hot spell underscores that reality. Managing reliability at a low cost requires a variety of generator types, sizes, and locations. There’s no silver bullet.

          The Pilgrim closing is [not] a great environmental victory.

          Environmental regulation isn’t closing Pilgrim. The low price of natural gas and the high ongoing cost of capital investment necessary to keep an old nuclear plant operating is what’s closing Pilgrim.

          What will replace its 680 MW of power production? A little wind, a little solar, and a LOT of natural gas.

          That’s true. But that was our choice. We could have increased our RPS, stimulating more renewables. We could have imposed a higher price on carbon, thereby driving up the clearing price in the energy market, resulting in higher payments to RE and to nuclear. The “we” is various level of government legislatures, but they’re all “we” and the fact is, nuclear is withering on the vine because despite the enormously deep pockets of the nuclear generator owners, they haven’t been able to convince enough GOP that climate change is real or enough Dems that nuclear and RE can coexist.

          Existing reactors can’t run forever. The cost of keeping the old tin can running just gets too high. How about new? We’ve got three nuclear projects ongoing now — Watts Bar, Summer, and Vogtle. And all three projects have suffered delays and are way over budget. The fact of the matter is that new nuclear is more expensive per unit power or unit energy than wind or solar, unsubsidized.

          Nuclear will continue to wither on the vine. If we’re to hit climate change emissions targets, electricity demand will increase as we electrify heating and transportation. The question is: will we build enough wind and solar and energy efficiency and transmission? That question is really the same regardless of the details of nuclear’s future.

          • And the answer to that is no

            Because no industry increases that fast. Wind and solar not only has to increase, but it must increase at a faster rate than the demand for power. Which is one thing during a recession, but will be something else when the economy starts to boom again.

            Meanwhile, climate change is The Most Important Thing, unless it comes into conflict with anything else. Nuclear is expensive compared to fossil fuels, and therefore Pilgrim an others are being shut down, to the joy of the environmentalists. But that is a direct trade-off: less nuclear, more fossil fuel.

            Maybe hyro? No! The dam prevents the fishes from swimming upstream, and there’s a snail darter! More fossil fuels, please.

            Even in transportation: the entire VW “dieselgate” scandal is a result of prioritizing anything over climate change. Those fraudulent diesels produce far less CO2, mile-for-mile, than a gas burning vehicle, but produce a lot of smog-producing NOx. So, EPA and CARB, in addition to fining the everloving bejesus out of VW for the fraudulent emissions certifications, and making VW get the offending cars off the road and to the crusher– thus ensuring ensuring the emission of a lot more CO2 over time. What a victory for environmentalism!

            • The elec industry has increased that fastlear

              The US had never built more than 10 GW of capacity in a single year. Then the early 2000s happened. We’re perfectly capable of building enough RE quickly enough. It’s simply a matter of legislative priorities.

              As for demand growth, it’s been flat for just about eight years now. Energy efficiency programs have countered the growth due to GDP increases. We will eventually see increases due to fuel switch (heating oil, gasoline), but energy economists are predicting flat “native electric load” for the next 30 years in the Northeast.

              And again, while some environmentalists may be pleased by the nukes shutting down, it is economics and not environmental policy that’s done it. The wholesale price of electricity in most parts of the country is set by the price of natural gas, and it’s been so cheap for so long now that the nuclear owners just can’t make enough revenue in the energy and capacity markets. That’s it going to change any time soon — so nukes can only be solved by policy makers. And the question is: per dollar of market alteration, will we get more nuclear MWh or more RE MWh? That may well depend on where you are in the country; I haven’t seen a careful analysis of this question, and the answer is really sensitive to a number of variables.

              P.S the VW scandal is a result of VW committing fraud. VW owns it, not the EPA, not Exxon, and not the greenie-weenies.

              • 1st sentence omission

                The US had never built more than 10 GW of GAS capacity in a single year. Apologies for the omission.

              • ...

                The US had never built more than 10 GW of capacity in a single year. Then the early 2000s happened. We’re perfectly capable of building enough RE quickly enough. It’s simply a matter of legislative priorities.

                … there is significant overlap. To a very crude approximation, it’s all just electricity generation and then transmission, and those are essentially ‘solved’ problems. It doesn’t, particularly, matter what turns the turbine: heat in the case of coal, gas and nuclear; water in the case of hydro; or wind in the case of, well, wind. (Solar is different: there is no turbine invoved and energy is converted directly from light into electricity…. but the lack of moving parts means it’s both easier to deploy and potentially amortized over a shorter time frame). So there isn’t an entirely new infrastructure to be provisioned… We’re adding on top, not starting anew with each iteration of RE.

        • Intermittency

          Denmark’s wind turbines supply the equivalent of about 42% of electricity demand as of 2015. Denmark also has one of the best if not best records of energy reliability with outages occurring very, very rarely.

          Intermittency of renewables is NOT a problem when done correctly. Germany has been running a simulation of a 100% renewable grid for over a decade as they plan their real renewable grid consisting of wind power, solar power, and biomass in an very energy efficient society. The wind blows when the sun doesn’t shine and biomass is available when neither wind or sun is providing energy.

      • Storing discrete waste...

        I am sure you have a solution for the problem of the long term storage of high level nuclear waste so please let us all know

        … , however we do it now, is a several-orders-of-magnitude better solution than the present situation wherein we store the diffuse waste product in the atmosphere. With nuclear waste the threat is discrete, proximate and limited to individual humans. With carbon waste the threat is global and it’s only a matter of time before extinction of the human race.

        Or, put another way, it’s the difference between urgent, but not important and important, but not urgent… We VOMIT carcinogens and other toxins directly into the atmosphere. The fact we’ve done it without discretion of any kind for well over a hundred years SHOULD NOT be cause for waving away the effects… Quite the opposite, in fact… and then act like nuclear waste is worse.

        So I’ll buy the peril of nuclear waste. It is, in fact, a better solution than present practices.

        • Not so fast

          I’m not sure your rosy view reflects our learnings from the Fukushima disaster.

          The “current solution” at that site was to store spent fuel in ponds on-site. I’m under the impression that the same is done at Pilgrim. While it is certainly true that our ACO2 emissions are a long-term disaster, that does not mean that the way we currently handle nuclear waste is “several orders of magnitude” better.

          In my view, the cavalier attitude we’ve taken towards nuclear waste is not very different from the same attitude we’ve taken towards anthropogenic CO2 emissions. I remind us that, in terms of deaths and injuries per passenger mile, the Concorde was the safest plane in the air until its first crash. It immediately became the most dangerous.

          Quantitative risk analysis is, in fact, extraordinarily difficult. I suggest that we should be very careful about making or believing claims of “orders of magnitude” differences in putative solutions.

          We’ve already experienced the crash of the Concorde and the Fukushima disaster. We are, by all indications, in the midst of experiencing at least the early stages of our self-inflicted climate change disaster.

          It seems to me that we should do whatever we can to reduce and/or eliminate our risk of nuclear catastrophe, while simultaneously doing the same for climate change catastrophe.

          In terms of the latter, expanding nuclear is at the VERY BOTTOM of the list of alternatives when that list is sorted by cost effectiveness.

          • Other than...

            I’m not sure your rosy view reflects our learnings from the Fukushima disaster.

            … property damage (and even a goodly portion of that is more attributable to earthquake+tsunami than radiation) how, exactly, was Fukushima a “disaster”??

            I suppose that, if we measure by the amount of fear generated, Fukushima Daichi was an event of unprecedented scope and unmitigated loss such that the very will to go on living ebbs so quickly away…

            If, however, we go by the number of people physically harmed (assuming, of course, that we can either differentiate or discriminate between damage done by Fukushima itself and damage done by aforementiond earthquake+tsunami) then we’re talking on the order of US highway fatalities in a normal weekend. unless you’re willing to recognize the epic scope of the utter and apocalyptic catastro-cluster-disastro-tragedy that is the US highway system, your fear is distorted, unwarranted, counter-productive and, frankiy, wrong.

            • you are mistaken on the facts and you ignore the social

              You are mistaken on the facts and you ignore the social costs of the Fukushima disaster, despite the fact that you read my post that included a reference to the Forbes story on the cost of Fukushima. So let me quote directly from the story

              The direct costs of the Fukushima disaster will be about $15 billion in clean-up over the next 20 years and over $60 billion in refugee compensation. Replacing Japan’s 300 billion kWhs from nuclear each year with fossil fuels has cost Japan over $200 billion, mostly from fuel costs for natural gas, fuel oil and coal, as renewables have failed to expand in Japan. This cost will at least double, and that only if the nuclear fleet is mostly restarted by 2020.

              The reconstruction and recovery costs associated with just the earthquake and the tsunami will top $250 billion.

              150,000 people were forced to evacuate the area in 2011 and six years later, in 2017, forty to fifty thousand still will not be allowed to return home. Yet you want somebody else to explain why this is not a disaster.

              http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/03/10/after-five-years-what-is-the-cost-of-fukushima/#67e234cd6016

              So you are wrong about the cost of the nuclear disaster. You are wrong about the cost of the tsunami damage. I will let others judge your comment

              how, exactly, was Fukushima a “disaster”??

              • yadda, yadda, yadda..

                The direct costs of the Fukushima disaster will be about $15 billion in clean-up over the next 20 years and over $60 billion in refugee compensation. Replacing Japan’s 300 billion kWhs from nuclear each year with fossil fuels has cost Japan over $200 billion, mostly from fuel costs for natural gas, fuel oil and coal, as renewables have failed to expand in Japan. This cost will at least double, and that only if the nuclear fleet is mostly restarted by 2020.

                The reconstruction and recovery costs associated with just the earthquake and the tsunami will top $250 billion.

                ….Property damage.

                And that inseperable from earthquake+tsunami (each some of the strongest in living memory…). I do not assert no damage. I assert only that damage, in comparison to F.U.D, is miniscule…

                How many people were directly and physically harmed by the radiation released at Fukushima? Is this demonstrably different in quantity from the amount of people who perished on US highways last weekend? If not, where is the alarm, re: the catastrophe of the US highways?

    • Historically, here are some central effects of nuclear power

      They postponed energy efficiency and renewables for at least a decade

      In jurisdictions that have CWIP financing so that nukes are still being built they are used to justify more coal capacity

      As a longtime critic, I agree that in principle nuclear power ought to be better for the carbon equation than they are. But the intersection of the technology with the human political and economic system has produced the opposite result.

      Maybe we need to use technologies that take those sorts of things into account.

      As for retrofitting Pilgrim (original slated for decommissioning in the oughts): We did. It has not turned out well.

  2. Perhaps...

    I’m not against nuclear power on principle. But between its struggle to survive in a warming world and nuclear’s exorbitant cost, we should focus our investments in building solar and wind far, far further out than the relatively tiny amounts they currently provide before we give nuclear the billions in subsidies it demands.

    … if someone could have foreseen the effects of storing our carbon waste in the atmosphere, and built and insured the power plants appropriately (as building nukes and insurance attempts to do for nuclear today, since we can both foresee and quantify the risks) then those insurance premiums would, likely, have been as forbidding as the insurance premiums are for nuclear power plants. In short, ‘exorbitant’ is a relative term and the relation you’re (re-)acting upon is in-comparison price of coal.

    I don’t want to say you’re suffering from a false equivalency… I suspect you don’t see the equivalence to begin with.

    Coal is “cheap” from ground to smokestack (or exhaust pipe). That’s the cycle against which we measure the cost. But the damage coal does occurs after the waste leaves the smokestack: in the atmosphere and in the water… and also in our lungs and bloodstream. But that’s not factored into the cost. We have, in fact, let the natural environment subsidize our use of coal… and to clean that up is going to cost us billions upon billions of subsidized dollars or we pay for that natural environment subsidy with our very existence. Nuclear power costs encompass the entirety of cycle, from mining to waste disposal…with, as noted, a much better understanding of the risks.

    Coal, ultimately, is going to cost us, in sum and total, much more than nuclear.

    • err..

      … meant to substitute ‘carbon’ for ‘coal’ in many places in this comment. If all y’all readers would be so kind as to do so in your heads as you read, that’s be great…

    • details, not unsourced assertions

      Petr wrote

      Nuclear power costs encompass the entirety of cycle, from mining to waste disposal…with, as noted, a much better understanding of the risks.

      but this is simply untrue. Let’s start with what you called the industry’s exorbitant insurance payments. The Price Anderson Indemnity Act caps industry liability. Each reactor operator must carry primary liability insurance of $200 million. Any damage done above the $200 million mark is assessed equally against all other nuclear operators up to a current limit of about $88 million per reactor. With 103 reactors covered, that generates a total ceiling on potential compensation from the nuclear power industry of about $9.5 billion.

      But the credible estimates of the offsite damages imposed by a serious nuclear event in the United States range into the hundreds of billions of dollars. The U.S. nuclear industry, then, is well insulated from being held responsible for any big nuclear accident that might happen. In short, the industry is not close to paying the real cost of insurance.

      The cost of the Fukushima disaster, according to a fairly conservative Forbes estimate, is currently at $265 billion for the big three items (containment, refugee costs and fuel replacement) and expected to double by 2020.

      On the issue of operating costs being fully paid by the industry, here is a quote from the NYTimes in May 2016

      Exelon, one of the country’s largest nuclear operators, for example, is deciding whether to close two of its struggling plants in Illinois after efforts to push a bailout through its Legislature fell apart.

      and from the same article

      there are efforts across the country to bail out nuclear plants at risk of closing, with important test cases in Illinois, Ohio and New York, as well as proposed legislation in Congress.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/business/energy-environment/nuclear-plants-despite-safety-concerns-gain-support-as-clean-energy-sources.html

      The nuclear industry has not taken financial responsibility for the cleanup up of uranium mill tailings, dumping that burden on the taxpayers and the poison on the unlucky people who live downwind and downstream from these nuclear toxic waste sites.

      Nor has the industry set aside enough money to decommission nuclear plants. And as many are being sold off to shell companies that do not have the assets to pay for decommissioning it is only a matter of time before a nuke owner declares bankruptcy. There are currently 146 plants around the world that are shuttered and awaiting decommissioning because they lack the funds to do so.

      For an example of how that happens in an ancillary part of the industry where we already have had a bankruptcy declaration in 2014

      USEC, a government supported company formerly known as the United States Enrichment Corporation, has already received nearly a quarter billion in federal subsidies in the last two years, and billions over the last two decades. The latest multimillion dollar lifeline to USEC comes even though it has been rejected for loan guarantees by the federal government

      http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/16/nuclear-boondoggle-announces-bankruptcy-plans-rakes-in-millions-in-spending-bill-anyway/

      And then we get to the issue of long term storage of nuclear waste. In a previous post you used the phrase

      however we do it now

      is better than how we store GHGs. That phrase “however we do it now” makes it clear that you do not know. It is pretty well documented. The industry has been waiting for decades for somebody (the taxpayers) to fund one or a few long term storage facilities. It is not in the offing. Nuke owners have been storing their spent nuclear rods in twenty foot deep water tanks that were designed to be temporary. They cannot last forever and some are already suffering from degradation. As the plants continue to produce waste with no long term solution, many if not most have sought NRC permission to re-rack them at five times the density they were designed for, a density approaching that of the nuclear core.

      If there is a power failure on the water circulating system, a system failure or a terrorist attack, the cooling water will boil off and the heat of the spent rods would melt or ignite the the containers. Hundreds of tons of radioactive waste would be vaporized and ejected into the atmosphere.

      http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/nuclear-waste/safer-storage-of-spent-fuel#.V7dwlRQfV-U

      You told us you are comfortable with “however we do it.” I am not. That is my opinion and YMMV

      You think the nuclear industry covers all of its costs. That is patently false.

      • for someone who...

        … doesn’t bother to read the written word very well, one would think you’d stop well before attempts to read minds.

        You think the nuclear industry covers all of its costs. That is patently false.

        That is not what I think and not even close to what I wrote. The very fact of unsuccessful attempts to hide the costs, however much you think it refutes my point, in fact underlines my very point: we wouldn’t know about their efforts to cheat if we didn’t have a cost structure to measure against.

        Derp.

        Carbon energy sources have been used for hundreds of years with a massive hidden cost to them: the storage of carbon waste in the atmosphere. This is a huge, possibly extinction level, cost to the use of carbon that was never once factored into any or all power plant design and/or manufacture.

        With nuclear, that cost is not hidden. When someone, today, sets out to build a nuclear power plant the questions are asked: Where? How big? What are you going to do with the waste? We know, ahead of time, that the cost structure of building and insuring a nuclear power plant includes waste processing. And, yeah, that number is going to be big. But nuclears ‘exorbitance’ of cost is only a reality in the face of the carbon plants never having to factor into their creation and use the possible destruction of the planet.

    • Falsehood

      Nuclear power costs encompass the entirety of cycle, from mining to waste disposal…

      Rowe Yankee closed down almost 25 years ago, and took 15 years to “decommission.” All of the nuclear waste it generated is stored above ground on the site.

      • fascinating...

        … that showing me something right out in the open is an attempt to refute the notion that the costs of nuclear aren’t that well hidden.

        There are costs that are hidden, in fact not even paid until too late. This is what I am talking about.

        There are costs that are not hidden, but maybe end up being more than originally estimated. I think this is what you are talking about. But the comparison was about carbon with hidden costs (including the as yet unknown cost of avoiding the wholesale destruction of the environment) versus nuclear with a known cost, if not the actual price tag.

        • THE COSTS ARE UNKNOWABLE

          You’re talking about hiding or being transparent about costs. How much will it cost to safely store the nuclear waste for tens of thousands of years? The answer is necessarily opaque, because nobody has the foggiest idea how to verify an estimate.

          We know what it costs to build a new nuclear plant (3 – 5 times what the proponent claims it will cost). We know what it costs to mine uranium, transport it, and refine it. We have a decent idea of how much it will cost in capital investments to keep the plant operating. We have no idea what it costs to safely store the waste for tens of thousands of years. That makes the cost of nuclear distinctly not transparent in my opinion.

          • We may not know the price tag...

            We have no idea what it costs to safely store the waste for tens of thousands of years. That makes the cost of nuclear distinctly not transparent in my opinion.

            … but we know that there is one.

            We also — now — know that there is a cost associated with carbon fuels. We didn’t even think about it when we heedlessly tossed the byproducts into the atmosphere. The price tag for avoiding extinction is going to cost so much more than however much it does end up costing to store the discrete waste for tens of thousands of years (if we don’t find better processing methodologies of, or even use for, radioactive waste in the meantime)

            Don’t pretend that your fear of the word ‘nuclear’ translates into a moral, or even logical, position.

            • ???

              I thought “nobody has the foggiest idea how to verify an estimate” was pretty clear.

              Let me try some different words. Expert A says “the cost to avoid extinction from climate change is three bazillion dollars”. Expert B says “the cost to safely store nuclear waste for ninety thousand years is six bazillion dollars”.

              The second number is simply un-knowable given today’s knowledge. It could also be twelve bazillion dollars. It’s probably more than thirty nine cents, but it’s simply not possible to perform the comparison you imply. There is no logical way to choose the opinion of either expert above the other. It’s not even possible to do both because expert B (and probably expert A as well) can say, as soon as we schedule the nine bazillion dollars, “I was incorrect. It will actually cost TWENTY bazillion dollars”.

              We do not have the means to validate an estimate for the cost of safely storing nuclear waste for tens of thousands of years. We’ve known about radiation itself for a little over a century. We’ve only had “technology” for a few centuries. We discovered how to make concrete (the most common encasement material) a few thousand years ago. We don’t know what happens to concrete when it is exposed to high-intensity radiation for tens of thousands of years.

              In particular, the statement that “price tag for avoiding extinction is going to cost so much more” is simply not supportable. We don’t know how to calculate “the price tag for avoiding extinction” (not that we aren’t trying), the current values for THAT number range all over the map, and as observed earlier we don’t know and don’t even know how to learn the cost of safely storing nuclear waste. The statement is simply not supportable.

              I didn’t see any “moral” reference in stomv’s comment. I do, however, see impeccable logic.

            • Oh, and by the way ...

              There IS an expensive but knowable alternative for nuclear waste.

              Instead of finding a way to store it on earth, we could instead create a way to safely encapsulate just long enough to launch it into deep space (well beyond escape velocity).

              The risks of this alternative are extensive, yet knowable. We know the short-term behavior of encapsulating materials. We know the cost of putting a given mass into space. We know how to measure the risks of malfunction, and we know how to put reasonable error-bars on those risks.

              Deep space is, in fact, a pretty hostile place. Once outside the shield of the atmosphere, radiation fields abound anywhere within the solar system. Who knows what’s beyond the solar system. The radiation levels of the material being injected are minimal in comparison to what’s already there even without shielding. Deep space is, more than anything else, pure “void”. Our expelled nuclear waste is NOT going to hit something.

              I leave, as an exercise to the reader, the question of associating a realistic cost with this strategy.

            • Honestly petr

              On what parallel earth could nuclear power possibly solve global warming? What utterly different political and economic systems would have to obtain there?

              What new laws of physics or chemistry or biology or materials science? What New Socialist Man New Nuclear Human would have to displace the common folk there?

              PS Just because you were oblivious to carbon back in the day doesn’t mean that other people shared that attitude.

              And, not that it matters, but if you had been among those fighting for energy efficiency and renewables in the 70s and 80s you would recall the nuclear industrial complex as one of the more formidable obstacles.

              • ... eh?

                On what parallel earth could nuclear power possibly solve global warming?

                In what parallel conversation could that be what I wrote? Do you people even read? Or do you just pick out a few key words and engage the auto-pilot? You got the cajones to preface this with the word ‘honestly’? Really?

                Somebody wrote to the effect that nuclear waste is a showstopper for the adoption of nuclear energy. I pointed out that, if it is a show stopper, then it should be more of a showstopper for carbon based waste as carbon waste has done, and will do, more damage and will cost more in the long term. If, on the other hand, storing diffuse carbon waste in the atmosphere is not a show stopper for the continued use of carbon fuels, storing discrete nuclear waste should not be a problem and would be, in fact cheaper and safer than what we’re already doing, for the same reasons already explicated.

                Somehow, and I’m really at a loss to figure out how, this stance has been ‘translated’ into the notion that I think the absolute value of nuclear is ‘cheap’ and that nuclear is the one thing that can save us. I have never said, stated, wrote, considered or even guessed at any such notion. I think nuclear can help, but more germane to this particular conversation is the ridiculousness — and the fear — that is generated whenever somebody says “nuclear’.

                The absolute value of nuclear is NOT CHEAP but it is CHEAPER THAN the absolute value of carbon. Storing nuclear waste is NEITHER SAFE nor CHEAP but it is SAFER THAN and CHEAPER THAN storing carbon waste in the atmosphere Not doing nuclear because you’re afraid of the waste is a ridiculous argument in the face of continuing to do carbon without a concern at all for the waste storage. It makes no sense, at all.

                And, not that it matters, but if you had been among those fighting for energy efficiency and renewables in the 70s and 80s you would recall the nuclear industrial complex as one of the more formidable obstacles.

                And during the same time period the Yawkey family were racist owners of the Red Sox. That didn’t stop me from being a Red Sox fan. The game is bigger than the people who think they run it. That’s why they, ultimately, don’t run it.

                • "you people"

                  It appears that petr is shutting down. Those words are hard to ignore.

                  petr, what you seem to be failing to consider is that while it may or may not be true that

                  Storing nuclear waste is NEITHER SAFE nor CHEAP but it is SAFER THAN and CHEAPER THAN storing carbon waste in the atmosphere

                  What we do know to be true is that wind and solar are cheaper than nuclear on a levelized, unsubsidized basis (pdf, see page 2). We also know that solar and wind are safer than nuclear, if we think in terms of how badly a very bad outcome could be for a wind plant, a solar plant, or a nuclear plant, both in terms of health and cost.

                  So if wind and solar are both cheaper and safer than nuclear, why invest in nuclear? Why not just double down on wind and solar (and EE, and incremental hydro, and geothermal) for sources of clean energy, and continue to push storage (pumped hydro and chem batteries), demand response, and demand presponse to help maintain our high levels of reliability on the grid?

                  • You already know the answer to that one...

                    So if wind and solar are both cheaper and safer than nuclear, why invest in nuclear? Why not just double down on wind and solar (and EE, and incremental hydro, and geothermal) for sources of clean energy, and continue to push storage (pumped hydro and chem batteries), demand response, and demand presponse to help maintain our high levels of reliability on the grid?

                    …It’s right there. You’ve just, yourself, said it.

                    You can’t really say ‘wind and solar are both cheaper’ whilst simultaneously admitting we can’t really have ‘wind and solar’ without a bunch of other stuff.

                    Don’t get me wrong. I want all that stuff. Gimme it. In spades. All of it. All that, and more: I’m about stopping carbon as soon as possible. As. Soon. As. Possible. Shut it down. Stop it. Today. Tomorrow. Soon. As soon as is humanly possible. Nuclear? GImme it if it means less carbon belched out into the atmosphere sooner. The more nuclear the better if it means the less carbon the sooner. I want electric cars sucking orders of magnitude more volts from the grid than we produce today and I want that tomorrow.

                    The goal, sir, is not all this, or cheap that. The goal is less carbon, sooner. Double down on wind and solar? Done. Triple down on nuclear? Done. Whatever it takes to stop the carbon and too damn bad if it tickles your nuclear phobia.

                    I think, 100 or 150 years from now, if the human race is still around, we’ll have a broad belt of solar encircling the entire planet, at or about the equator, probably tied to a ‘space elevator’ of some sort, constantly feeding a semi-sentient grid, with pockets of wind and hydro to fill gaps and for failsafe, chasing sunset around the planet. Those humans will have it good and I hope my grandchildren and great grandchildren are among them. I won’t even mind if they laugh at my quaint attachment to nuclear… as long as they can laugh into a clear blue sky and not have that laugh trigger any asthma.

                    • You can’t really say ‘wind and solar are both cheaper’ whilst simultaneously admitting we can’t really have ‘wind and solar’ without a bunch of other stuff.

                      All of that “stuff” I argued for in a world with lots of PV and wind power is also required in a world with lots of nuclear power. You’ll still need to deal with power plant output not aligning with unadulterated demand. And so yes, yes I can. And I did. And I meant it.

                      The goal, sir, is not all this, or cheap that. The goal is less carbon, sooner.

                      Indeed, but new nuclear plants take more than 10 years to plan, site, and build — whereas new PV can be done in months. And, as I pointed out, it’s cheaper, which means that we can get more of it sooner because there are very real political limits to how much money we’re willing to pour into fighting climate change at any one time.

                      Because I believe that we as a society aren’t doing enough to combat our carbon emissions, I argue that we spend more money than we spend now, and that we get as much no-carbon bang for our buck. The reality is that means I don’t argue for new nuclear, because it just doesn’t get us clean electricity quickly enough, and it doesn’t get us as much clean electricity as we’d get with wind or solar or EE or geothermal, per dollar spent, and it solves the carbon problem more effectively without leaving an impossible to understand burden of nuclear waste on the very people we’re purporting to save.

                    • ping

                      All of that “stuff” I argued for in a world with lots of PV and wind power is also required in a world with lots of nuclear power. .

                      I suspect you know this isn’t the case… It would be good to have better efficiencies, but it’s not necessary to add large scale storage for nuclear. You can replace every last coal fired power plant with a nuclear and manage demand just as easily as coal did prior to the wholesale advent of RE.

                      It is absolutely necessary to add all that extra stuff to be able to handle the complexities and variabilities of solar and wind. It is not at all necessary to enable that stuff in order to bring on more nuclear. But I want to add it all. All of it. I’m not going to say no to any of it.

                      . And so yes, yes I can. And I did. And I meant it.

                      I believe you did. And I believe you meant it. I just don’t believe you understand just how much power we are going to need to put an end to carbon. It’s not a one-for-one replacement. We’re not simply substituting. Demand is growing and it’ll grow faster as the rest of the world catches up to our living standard and as we transition from carbon to not-carbon… and that’s before both transportation and what we’re going to need, on top of that, to either mitigate warming (some scale of terraforming) or otherwise clean up (straight carbon removal from) the atmosphere. We can’t dump shit in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and expect to pay no cost.

                      Indeed, but new nuclear plants take more than 10 years to plan, site, and build — whereas new PV can be done in months.

                      And take more than ten years to get to the power output of one nuclear plant (to a first approximation). So you build your PV and I’ll plan, site and build my nuclear and ten years or so from now we’ll have a step function in power output. Which is what we’ll need when the world takes a few decades to move wholesale from transportation via the internal combustion engine to plug-in electrical…

                      The reality is that means I don’t argue for new nuclear, because it just doesn’t get us clean electricity quickly enough,

                      You’re qualifying your need for clean energy with the requirement it be clean energy. Kinda chasing your tail there, if you define your solution as the one that best fits your approved tools.

                      Once again, the goal is not ‘clean energy’ The goal is to stop carbon. It’s really simple: Nuclear isn’t clean but it’s not as dirty as carbon. My point.

                      In the end, you get your wish and it’s gonna be all PV… a hundred or so years from now. But to get there we have to pull out all the stops. All of them. And that includes nuclear.

                    • Pong

                      I suspect you know this isn’t the case…

                      As an energy professional who is paid to analyze and criticize electric utility’s integrated resource plans, I suspect I do know what I’m talking about here.

                      It would be good to have better efficiencies, but it’s not necessary to add large scale storage for nuclear.

                      I suppose you could build a 100,000 MW worth of electric heat coils, sink them in the water, and run them every time load drops faster than 1,000 MW nuclear fueled steam units can ramp down, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you wanted to run an electric grid on nuclear without fossil, you need fast ramping resources both for uptake of MW and for pushing MW onto the grid, because a fleet of steam units simply can’t ramp fast enough to maintain voltage in the sub-second, second, 15-second, 60-second, 5-minute, 15-minute, or even hourly timeframe. This is true for nuclear, gas steam, or coal-fired steam. Hydro can help, but we don’t have enough hydro on the grid, including pumped storage, to replace all the gas and oil-fired CT capacity needed for reliability.

                      You would need storage or even more expensive options (like overbuilding the nuclear capacity by a factor of 1.3x or more).

                      You can replace every last coal fired power plant with a nuclear and manage demand just as easily as coal did prior to the wholesale advent of RE.

                      Actually, you can’t. Coal units range in size from 10 MW to 600 MW. A few are larger, but they’re the exception. Nuclear units are about 1000 MW — a few are as small as 600 MW, but they’re the exception. Because the number of coal units per GW is so much higher, the ability of the entire fleet of coal units to ramp is greater. A fleet of coal units is substantially more nimble than a fleet of nuclear units — the change in the number of MWs of output they can achieve per unit time (minute, hour) is far greater than the same capacity of nuclear units.

                      In places where the minimum load is always higher than the capacity of coal (or nuclear), it wouldn’t matter too much, although you’d still have to worry about transmission constraints and uneconomic dispatch. New England and New York come to mind. However, in places like the Mid-Atlantic (PJM), Southeast (TVA, DEC, Southern), the Midwest (MISO), the prairie (SPP), Texas (ERCOT), and the non-California West (WECC minus CAISO), there’s so much coal capacity that you almost certainly couldn’t replace it with nuclear without substantial transmission investment to work around the ramping limitations that 1000 MW steam units face.

                      I just don’t believe you understand just how much power we are going to need to put an end to carbon.

                      I’m the coauthor on a soon-to-be-published paper that provides a roadmap for Pennsylvania to have a carbon-free economy within the next 30 years or so. This includes electricity, ground transportation, air transportation, manufacturing, HVAC, the works. I suspect I have a remarkably intimate understanding of how much energy we are going to need (with storage, “power” is less relevant).

                      I’ll plan, site and build my nuclear and ten years or so from now we’ll have a step function in power output.

                      Be my guest. But unless you can pull off the achievement of SCE&G or Southern Company or run a government agency responsible for electricity generation such as Santee Cooper or TVA, all of whom can force ratepayers to pay for cost overruns, I hope you’ve got a rich uncle. There’s a reason why no private dollars are being spent building nuclear units, and the existing merchant units are closing or begging for extra subsidies — nuclear isn’t cost effective, and far too risky from a construction and planning perspective. My suggestion: take the $10 – $20B you would have spent on 1,000 MW of nuclear power and buy 7,500 MW to 15,000 MW of PV. You’ll get the same amount of energy (or twice), and you’ll get it 9 years sooner. Plus, it’ll be far, far cheaper to operate, etc. etc.

                      Once again, the goal is not ‘clean energy’ The goal is to stop carbon.

                      To be clear, I was including nuclear in “clean.”

                      In the end, you get your wish and it’s gonna be all PV… a hundred or so years from now.

                      It’s not going to be all PV, it will happen sooner than 100 years, and it’s not my wish — it’s my detailed understanding of integrated resource planning that gets me there. In my opinion, so long as we’re operating coal fired plants and building new gas fired plants and new pipelines, folks who are concerned about climate change shouldn’t worry about opposing nuclear. But in terms of investing advocacy or actual dollars, nuclear is inferior to wind, PV, EE, and geothermal in terms of bang for buck.

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Mon 27 Mar 6:38 AM