Some Stuff About Nuclear Reactors


Back in 1992, I was on a project in New Jersey, and had some free time, so I took my camera-bag and my rental car and just … wandered in … to one of the big powerplants on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. There was no security at the gate, no security at the building, and the place was gigantic.

I wandered about for a half an hour before I ran into someone who was surprised to find me there, and I played dumb:
Him: What are you doing here?!
Me: I’m a photographer, and – actually – I am looking for someone I can ask for permission to be here.

In the pre-war-on-terrorism days, that was a fantastic way of deflecting the “caught where you don’t belong” situation: you’re signalling good intent, you’re maybe slightly stupid and clueless, and actually you were trying to do the right thing.

I’ve used that tactic many times, since.

In 2011, I visited Chernobyl, with a small group – we claimed to be photographers doing some documentary but mostly we were there to wander around. At that time, the area was still closed but since then Ukraine has opened it for limited scheduled tours.

Reactor #5 at Chernobyl. Partially constructed when #4 blew up in April 1986

Part of the fun was wandering around Reactor #5, and trying to figure out what the various stuff is, that you’re walking through. Nothing is there without some kind of purpose, because everything is pretty expensive – so based on the idea that it all has purpose, you ought to be able to infer some of what’s going on from a basic understanding of nuclear reactors and what you’re standing on top of. Sort of.

In a recent thread [stderr] we started discussing nuclear reactors, and small nuclear reactors, and the feasibility of lots of reactors. Part of the problem is, they’re huge.

Shawville power plant, Pennsylvania (175mw)

Currently, I live about 10 miles from the coal (now gas)-powered plant at Shawville. The entire plant at Shawville would fit comfortably in the reactor part of the #5 building – that’s the piece at the upper right with the big boxy thing atop it. The rest of the building down and to the left is where the generators would go (they was never installed) and the heat exchangers and refuelling systems would be. The plants at Chernobyl were designed to produce 1,000mw. The power facility I “visited” in 1992 was about the same size as Shawville. They’re all built along the same lines: there’s something that manages a whole lot of energy, and then there’s a generator or three hooked up to it. The plant I visited in 1992, I managed to see the generator – a multi-story tall thing on a concrete pedestal surrounded by walkways. I wish I could take a look inside at Shawville but when I went and asked they were distinctly shocked, then very unfriendly.

The reason I am dwelling so much on scale is because that is, in my opinion, the most memorable thing about these places. They’re not built on a human scale, at all; I’ve heard people use similar words describing the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral – it’s too big to talk about.

That’s a view from the 4th floor of the reactor building, looking back down toward the generator hall. The gigantic crane, there, barely shows up in the satellite picture. Those pipes on the ground by the crane are the standard size of the pipes everywhere that carried water or steam. You can stand comfortably in them (I’m 6′ tall) and not reach the top. They also make amazing sounds when you whack them with things.

That’s one of the access hallways that leads to the reactor pit. The pit is 4 stories down, the building vanishes up in to the darkness above. This hallway is about the same size and dimensions of a typical 2-track subway line such as you might encounter in New York or Paris or London. All the hallways are built to this dimension, the floors are rough concrete over I-beams and steel sheet – the building is constructed to have heavy machinery operate inside of it. I have no idea what one of those nuclear fuel rod canisters weighs …

Also, notice how all the copper is gone. Sure, it’s radioactive (the background radiation level in the building was about 10 times what it is at my farm in Pennsylvania) but it’s copper – it’s money. Everywhere you’d expect to find wire, there were piles of cut and shredded insulation. People are getting recycled radioactive copper, all over Europe.

While the other guys were setting up lights to do pictures of the core, I ran around the other side and took pictures of them taking pictures, to give a sense of the scale of the place. In the process, I nearly fell down a gigantic elevator-shaft in one of the floors, which went about 6 stories down to concrete. That was when I decided that one does not move fast in a place like this.

Source: Stanford University. Also: look at the measurements.

There are so many interesting things in the picture above. First off, that’s the pit where the reactor would sit. I believe that, once it was assembled in place, it was surrounded with sand – the sand that fortunately and accidentally vitrified the uranium at Reactor #4, as it leaked out the bottom of the room. See those gigantic pipes in the floor? I believe that’s where the water came in, to get heated, and go back out. Those pipes run under the entire building and over to where the generator is. If you look at pictures of the disaster at Reactor #4, it’s one of those pipes that the “elephants’ foot” of vitrified nuclear fuel is seeping down.

Also: look at the safety rail: that’s rebar tack-welded together. Soviet nuclear engineering appears to be best described as “git ‘er done.”

Between the generator room (which was just a huge empty space with gigantic concrete mountings) and the reactor, was a connecting gallery with great chain-winches and holes in the floor that went way down into what I assume were fuel storage pits, or cooling-off pits for used fuel. Down, through some of these holes in the floor, were drops of about 6 stories to a railroad track, which I assume was the train for removing or bringing fuel.

The refueling-hall from the perch high above where (presumably) the controls for the hoist were going to be located. See the big rails upper right/left? Those are what the chain-fall hoist ran along.

Six stories down, there’s nice soft concrete to catch you if you fall. That is what I believe was the refuelling railway. Note the rebar safety-rail.

One of the flanges for a steam or water pipe. There are many flanges in the world, but you’ve got to admit that if flanges had royalty, that’s the duke of flanges.

One of the fellows in the group was British and referred to these as “bottomless plungeholes” which was a pretty good name. It looks like a fuel storage pit, with lots of places for water to move around. There were little concrete disks stacked up for using as lids.

The main reactor has a concrete lid, too. Reactor #5 hadn’t had its constructed and installed, yet. The reactor lid is 1,000 tons of concrete and steel – when Reactor #4 blew (it was a hydrogen explosion, same as Fukushima) it flipped the 1,000 ton concrete lid up like a tiddly-wink, and it landed at an angle in the ruined remains of the pit, making it harder to douse the fire.

Those plates are 4’x8′ 1/8″ steel plates, tack-welded onto pieces of rebar that stick out from the concrete. The buildings are not “painted rust-color” they are made of rust.

From the roof of the reactor hall, there is a maintenance stairway that goes another 5 stories up to the top of the building. The guys I was with were all late 20s and early 30s and I decided I didn’t need to make a point about the fact that I was going to be celebrating my 50th birthday soon. I was carrying a huge Alice pack of gear (including the coca-cola and peanut M&Ms that were all I ate during the 3 days I was there, and a trolling boat battery with an inverter)(I turned out to be the battery-charging station for the whole group) so I let them go and caught my breath. As it was, I got a weird sort of revenge: when they were most of the way to the top, in that little cage-ladder (made of rebar) one of them said “hey, it’s kind of shaky” and I took a look and noticed that the entire goddamn stairway is not yet welded to the wall. I yelled up something to that effect, and they had a good look around from the roof and came down very carefully, one at a time.

I believe all the ferroconcrete arches above the roof of the generator hall are external strengthening (like the flying buttresses on a gothic cathedral) to keep the walls from collapsing inward when they use the chain-fall hoist.

One last image to illustrate the scale of the place. This is inside of the cooling towers for #6, which are about 3/4 of a mile away. The cooling system is pretty amazing – there are huge pipes that come through and the water gets dropped into galleries that presumably allow the heat to leave, then it’s collected at the other side. The tower’s shape is curved to increase the air-flow of the hot air rising, and to suck new cool air in from the open area at the bottom. It’s big. Really big. It appears that one constructs a cooling tower by making a concrete form out of plywood, weaving the rebar in, then filling the form with concrete, and constructing the next layer of form 8 feet up. See the rectangular textures on the walls? Those are the shapes of 4×8′ standard sheets of plywood. The acoustics in there were amazing.

We looked at the ladder up, which runs along the left side, and decided that there had been enough adventuring on rebar ladders that day. Especially when I offered to stay below with my camera on video record, so I could get the echoes of their screaming if the ladder failed.

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Timeline of the disaster at Reactor #4 [chernobylgallery]

Frederick Pohl’s Chernobyl is a novelized account of what happened. It’s pretty grim. [amazn]

One of the guys I talked to when I was there was a welder, who was working near the top of Reactor #5 when #4 blew. He said that the weirdest thing (to him) was that his eyes were filled with these weird blue-green swimmy dots for a few minutes. I had to excuse myself from the table and go to the bathroom.

I do think that humanity needs to be developing safe small nuclear reactors, that can be moved for emergencies, or to provide power where it is going to doubtless be needed as the global warming crisis starts to really sink in. The problem I have is that the ideas “small” and “nuclear reactor” don’t fit together in my head. Another thing is that nuclear reactors should not look like they were made by hammering shit together. I want nuclear reactors that look like fine British-made timepieces, not rusting stuff that looks like it was tack-welded by someone on a ridiculously unachievable schedule.

Charles Stross describes a trip to one of the peak nuclear reactors [stross] – Torness. Stross can really write, unlike me, his descriptions are better.

Comments

  1. Dunc says

    I do think that humanity needs to be developing safe small nuclear reactors, that can be moved for emergencies, or to provide power where it is going to doubtless be needed as the global warming crisis starts to really sink in. The problem I have is that the ideas “small” and “nuclear reactor” don’t fit together in my head.

    The Navy seem to have a pretty good idea of how to do that sort of shit. Obviously, given that they’re military, I’m not exactly 100% convinced that they’re entirely open about their safety record, but they do seem to be able to build pretty compact mobile reactors that work reasonably reliably and don’t seem to blow up very often (as far as anyone can tell). Of course, being the Navy, they have a pretty big advantage when it comes to coolant availability, which is one of the major issues when it comes to the siting of these things…

    Related to that, the Torness reactor (just down the coast from me) was once shut down by jellyfish… They clogged the main coolant intake. Apparently the same problem has occurred in Japan, Israel, and Sweden, at various times.

    Another thing is that nuclear reactors should not look like they were made by hammering shit together. I want nuclear reactors that look like fine British-made timepieces, not rusting stuff that looks like it was tack-welded by someone on a ridiculously unachievable schedule.

    This is one of the problems that people overlook when they argue that we should just build a shitload of nuclear power plants, like, tomorrow: you need a big, complicated supply chain to make the parts, and you need quite a lot of people with fairly specialised skills to put them together, and none of that can just be summoned up from the aether, no matter how much money you throw at it. For example, one of the problems they had (and probably are still having, since it’s not finished yet – 8 years after the planned completion date) with the construction of the Olkiluoto 3 EPR project in Finland was that they just couldn’t hire enough people with the right welding skills. Welding at that level is (IIRC) a 4-year degree course, so it’s not like you can just train a bunch of people up quickly, and people with those skills are in very high demand in other industries as well. Anybody who’s played resource management strategy games should be familiar with the problem – you can’t build X until you’ve built Y, and the rate at which you can build Y is limited by the availability of Z, and so on and so forth.

  2. cvoinescu says

    The welded rebar is part of the aesthetic of communism. That safety railing is clearly something thrown together, but they could make nice stuff out of it too. Where I used to live, the handrail on the staircase (single elevator, eleven floors, elevator uptime of no nines at all — 80% would be my best guess, and that’s not taking blackouts into account) was artfully made of welded flat and round rebar, and short slices of steel pipe, welded to bits of rebar purposely poking out of the concrete stairs — and this was pretty much standard. Window bars for the ground floor windows were made of welded rebar. The fence for the little communal garden was made of rebar mesh welded to rebar posts, with unprotected 3/4″ rebar spikes some 3″ long poking out from the top, waist-high. As a kid, I fell on that fence once, and got one spike buried almost all the way into my gluteus maximus. Play equipment, such as it was, was made of welded steel (mostly not rebar, but the ping-pong table was an old steel form from the nearby prefab concrete factory, with train rail lengths welded to it as legs). The see-saws had two bearings each, outer races welded to the center support.

  3. says

    cvoinescu@#2:
    That safety railing is clearly something thrown together, but they could make nice stuff out of it too.

    I saw some beautiful welding there. Clearly, they left the important bits to the good welders; they must have told the beginners, “make safety rail!”

    The best welding I’ve ever seen was on a Saturn V rocket engine. I doubt there is anyone alive who can weld by hand like that, any more.

  4. kestrel says

    First, those are amazing pictures.

    Second, that is incredibly terrifying.

    Was the welder OK? That is really distressing.

  5. says

    Kestrel@#4:
    These are pictures mostly selected to illustrate the interior of the reactor building. I should revisit my archive post a few of my “arty” shots.

    Was the welder OK? That is really distressing.

    Yeah, he was fine. He still lives in the zone and works as a security guard/guide, now. Neat fellow.
    Judging by his consumption, he consists mostly of vodka.

    The clean-up and post-disaster are depressing but fascinating. The Soviets took a very “realpolitik” approach to the whole thing, which was horrible yet showed tremendous political will. I’d say that the end result was much better than it could have been, otherwise. Also, the US is more or less completely incapable of making a comparable disaster response – which is a problem, given that there are nuclear reactors right upwind from New York City. The Soviets shipped 250,000 miners and laborers, in brief rotation, through the area and had them clean stuff up within the limits of an “acceptable dose” then sent them home again…

    Because of the way the Soviets did it, there were relatively few people who were exposed to lethal doses. There were a lot of lives shortened, though.

    The people who were irradiated the worst were the first responders, who did not know what they were dealing with. Many of them died.

  6. Dunc says

    Also, the US is more or less completely incapable of making a comparable disaster response – which is a problem, given that there are nuclear reactors right upwind from New York City.

    Fortunately, none of them are as badly designed as Chernobyl was, and I would certainly hope (with some degree of confidence) that they’re not as badly operated, either.

  7. says

    Dunc@#6:
    I would certainly hope (with some degree of confidence) that they’re not as badly operated, either.

    Yeah, me too.

    Well, New York’s going to be under water anyway, so I guess writing the whole city off wouldn’t be such a big deal anymore. Hmmm, I wonder if the anti-immigrant crowd would complain about migrant New Yorkers?

  8. Some Old Programmer says

    I have to assume (and hope!) that your opening vignette was about wandering around a conventional power plant, not a nuke. My own experience of working as a subcontractor for GE at a plant in your neck of the woods (Limerick Generating Station, near Pottstown) had the expected layers of security for access. I think (the memory’s hazy after so many years) that you didn’t pass a checkpoint to get to the parking lot, but from there on it would be (IMO) difficult to get very far without credentials.

  9. says

    The clean-up and post-disaster are depressing but fascinating. The Soviets took a very “realpolitik” approach to the whole thing, which was horrible yet showed tremendous political will. I’d say that the end result was much better than it could have been, otherwise. Also, the US is more or less completely incapable of making a comparable disaster response – which is a problem, given that there are nuclear reactors right upwind from New York City. The Soviets shipped 250,000 miners and laborers, in brief rotation, through the area and had them clean stuff up within the limits of an “acceptable dose” then sent them home again…

    No, this wasn’t “tremendous political will.” It was just one of the perks of being a fucking bloody totalitarian dictatorship. USSR politicians could easily dispatch millions of people to die in Gulag camps. Just as easily they could also forcefully grab people and dispatch them to die in Chernobyl.

    Firstly, men were literally grabbed and forcefully sent there. Well, they were ordered to get on a train and there was no option to say “no.” Refuse and you’ll get handcuffed and sent there anyway. Only upon arriving in Ukraine they were informed about the pesky little fact that the place is deadly. Surviving Latvian Chernobyl liquidators tend to metaphorically refer to aforementioned trains as “cattle wagons.”

    Secondly, what they got wasn’t an “acceptable dose.” Over 6000 Latvian men were sent to Chernobyl. By now a large part of them are already dead. The rest are all legally considered as disabled and they have truly awful health problems. Shortly after returning home most liquidators started experiencing health problems. Symptoms varied by person, but some were pretty common — the whole body hurt, teeth fell out, immunity and memory deteriorated.

    Majority of liquidators were young men. Upon getting back home they were the people who’d like to get married, have a family, have children, have a normal life. What do you think happened with those who got married and became fathers? And what about their babies? Their wives had to take care of sick and disabled husbands who were likely to get cancers and die prematurely. Their kids were often sick as well. And how do you think parents of those liquidators felt?

    In Latvian press there are a lot of articles about Latvian Chernobyl liquidators and what happened with them upon returning home, their life stories. I won’t post links for you (Google translate isn’t that good), but these stories are truly horrifying to read. Those were awful tragedies for their whole families. Oh, and by the way, some of the liquidators committed suicides while still in Chernobyl. The job really sucked. And they had to work there for months.

    Because of the way the Soviets did it, there were relatively few people who were exposed to lethal doses. There were a lot of lives shortened, though.

    Personally I’d prefer to get a lethal dose of radiation and die quickly rather than spend a decade with awful health problems.

    the US is more or less completely incapable of making a comparable disaster response – which is a problem

    I would change this sentence into “the US is more or less completely incapable of making a comparable disaster response – which is fantastic.”

    OK, I know that when nuclear reactors blow up, somebody has to clean it up. But it can be done better, without causing so much human suffering. My proposal would be:
    1) Don’t force anybody. Hire volunteers and offer them a big paycheck in return. People would volunteer. For example, for a poor person diagnosed with some deadly illness this would be a nice opportunity to earn plenty of cash that could be left to their family members as inheritance.
    2) USSR sent there very young people, most of them were in their early twenties. Instead you could send people who are 40 to 55 years old. At this age people are still capable of physical labor, and the consequences of radiation exposure are less tragic. A cancer 15 years from now is a tragedy for a 20 years old person, but it’s less awful for somebody who is already 45. Moreover, people over 40 generally aren’t interested in having children, which means no sick babies.

    I would certainly hope (with some degree of confidence) that they’re not as badly operated, either.

    Well, we can certainly hope. With the emphasis on “hope”. See:
    https://www.ap.org/press-releases/2012/part-i-ap-impact-us-nuke-regulators-weaken-safety-rules

  10. cvoinescu says

    What Ieva said. “Tremendous political will” is why we call those regimes totalitarian, almost by definition.

  11. says

    I didn’t mean “tremendous political will” was necessarily a good thing. I should have been clearer.

    It’s really an important problem to consider, though. When the Naval Research Reactor at Idaho Falls blew up, they … buried it. And that was not a quick or spectacularly effective response. I don’t know what is an effective response to some of this stuff but – putting my professional hat on, as a security consultant and advisor I am constantly telling clients that they need to model and be prepared for a couple of common failure-scenarios. I don’t think anyone should build a nuclear reactor upwind of New York without having a workable plan and the resources staged to be able to deal with it. You know what most of the plans read?

    1) call FEMA

    Well, not quite, but you get the idea. But if we want to talk seriously about having nuclear reactors upwind of NYC we ought to talk about NYC’s evacuation plan. What’s that? Oh, shoot, we need one of those?

    One thing they tried at Chernobyl was a variety of robots and remote clean-up systems. It turned out the electronics got too unreliable from the radiation. Oops. So the Soviets welded a gigantic dozer-blade onto the front of a T-72 and welded armor onto the cupola and let the tank’s armor slow the radiation down long enough. If a civilization wants to have lots of nuclear power plants (which I think is a good idea) maybe they ought to have a few radiation-resistant bulldozers handy. I’m just sayin’ – having that stuff is also a question of political will: it’s hard for politicians to spend money in advance of a problem, when they don’t yet have the problem. Which is why we can’t trust the sonsofbitches to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions are printed on the bottom.


    One of the other places we visited, where you’re not supposed to be able to get to go, was the vehicle graveyard. Acres and acres of radioactive trucks, armored personnel carriers, schoolbuses, and other stuff used in the cleanup. That lovely bit of wreckage was donated by NASA – if you watch documentaries of the early days of the disaster, you may see it appear in action. It didn’t work very long; too many computers.

    The footage down in the death zone below the reactor was captured using a radio-controlled toy tank with a camera duct-taped to it. It lasted long enough.

    Take a T-72, armor a truck cab with welded-on steel and leaded glass windows, and make a field-expedient grader blade and you have a Soviet radioactive stuff-scraper.

    At Fukushima they tried the idea of asking for volunteers who were old enough and didn’t mind dying a bit early. It didn’t help – there’s still too much infrastructure and person-power missing. I haven’t been tracking it lately, but apparently the reactor cores are still mostly in containment, but they don’t have any idea what to do with two incredibly heavy decomposing stainless steel boxes of very hot radioactive chum.

    I don’t think civilizations should build this kind of stuff unless they have a good idea of what they will do if something goes horribly wrong. Yet, like with the nuclear weapons, they just kick the can down the road and figure future generations’ll get it right.

    Related but unrelated: I don’t think “tremendous political will” is necessarily a good thing but a country that had that kind of willpower could ban fossil fuels instantly. “Just work it out.” Mankind may be heading toward some hard times where that level of decisive action is necessary, to save more than are lost.

  12. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#10:
    Secondly, what they got wasn’t an “acceptable dose.”

    Yes, you’re right. It was acceptable to the Soviet Government, not to the workers.

  13. cvoinescu says

    A good example of “tremendous political will” would have been “so this RBMK design is cheaper to build and to run, but more dangerous than the PWR? Fuck it, then. We’re spending the money and building the safer one.” Or, “Aleksandr Fyodorovich, you say it is not safe to continue the experiment. Let’s stop then, and I’ll deal with Brukhanov tomorrow.”

  14. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus
    Well, I wanted to keep this short, but I failed.

    The problem I have is that the ideas “small” and “nuclear reactor” don’t fit together in my head. Another thing is that nuclear reactors should not look like they were made by hammering shit together. I want nuclear reactors that look like fine British-made timepieces, not rusting stuff that looks like it was tack-welded by someone on a ridiculously unachievable schedule.

    There are designs that address these issues, IMO.

    The key is to not use water as the working fluid in the reactor. Once you do that, you don’t have the super-high pressures, and you don’t need the same huge amount of concrete and steel.

    Also, with a proper design without water as a working fluid in the reactor, a lot of the accident scenarios become far less bad and far less likely (i.e. no water -> no hydrogen explosions), which also saves substantially on the need for redundant backups, active safety systems, which saves substantially on cost and space.

    Further, due to the particular chemistry with the working fluid in a molten salt reactor – a fluoride or chloride salt – most of the very dangerous nucleotides will stay in solution in the salt. With water as the working fluid under high pressure and temperature, that’s a great driver to get the radioactive stuff airborne, but with a molten salt, the strontium and caesium will stay with the salt which will solidify. The presentation suggests that the strontium-fluoride won’t even boil under 2500 C (“or something ridiculous”), which poses fun challenges for reprocessing.

    There are several designs that I encourage you to look at. Primarily, the S-PRISM reactor aka the IFR, and the ThorCon reactor, one of many varieties of molten salt reactors.

    I strongly encourage you to look at the ThorCon proposal as one of the best examples that I’ve seen.

    http://thorconpower.com/docs/domsr.pdf
    http://thorconpower.com/docs/exec_summary2.pdf
    http://thorconpower.com/docs/two_ships.pdf

    I must point out that they attempt to address one of your concerns quiet clearly: The size. One of the people involved in the project, Jack Devanney,
    http://www.c4tx.org/ctx/gen/resume_djw1.html
    who has lots of experience producing ships, reliably, at-cost, at shipyards. They plan to use the same shipyards to do it, and they compare the raw material requirements of one ship produced by Devanney’s company, the largest double-hull tanker ever built. It cost 89 million dollars to build in 2002, and 40% of the cost was for hull steel, and the steel total was about 67,000 tons, which is almost 4 times more than the 17,000 tons of steel of their planned 1 GWe nuclear reactor. They give a breakdown of the various materials of the ship vs the reactor, and conclude that the simple cost of the reactor should be comparable. Back in the real world, as you might know, a 1 GWe nuclear reactor in the west costs around 6 billion USD. If they can build this reactor for anything even remotely close to 89 million USD, then they are making great progress. That’s almost 2 orders of magnitude which they can suffer in cost inflations from regulations and still be cost competitive.

    If you prefer, here’s a presentation on youtube that covers much of the same information, seemingly half-aimed to fans at the small nuclear conference, and half-aimed to possible investors.
    > ThorCon: A Thorium Molten Salt Reactor System that can be built Now -by Lars Jorgensen @ TEAC7


    Tangent: I believe their current design has a slight change to the above. I believe that the current plan is to build the nuclear reactor in a ship, and move the ship to the site, and then safely ground and stabilize the ship. Ergo, endless water supply for cooling. I’m not sure.

    One of my other favorite youtube presentations is this one, which deals with another version of the molten salt reactor.
    > Static Fuel Molten Salt Reactors – Simpler, Cheaper and Safer by Ian Scott at ThEC15



    I think he makes the case compellingly that it’s all about cost, and safety is the main driver for cost. If you can get a design that has (better) inherent safety, then cost will go down.

    Tangent: I should say “cost will go down in the West“. The capital cost of building a conventional pressurized light water reactor in South Korea has been dropping for like 30 years now. As soon as you get a proper standardized design and industry, and you don’t have the oppressive needless government regulations, then work can get done.

    PS:
    I’ll post a couple replies to comments in a separate post.

  15. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Dunc
    France managed to convert most of their electricity grid to nuclear in under 20 years, and they were not even trying very hard. It can be done.

  16. Holms says

    Australia stands as a nation that ought to be a leader in nuclear generation, but there is very little political will thanks to absurd levels of misinformation surrounding the concept. The word ‘nuclear’ may as well be ‘guaranteed to kill everything in the state’ to some people.

    Which is a shame, because Australia truly is ideally suited for nuclear generation. We have abundant uranium deposits that just being mined for oversea sale, and a continent that is uniquely geologically stable – it is the only continent in the world that sits entirely within the borders of a single tectonic plate PLUS the tectonic margins are surprisingly distant PLUS those margins are almost all passive rather than active PLUS those regions of the margin that are active have islands such as New Zealand and New Guinea positioned between Australia and the active region; any tsunami-causing event must pass around and be blunted by those islands first.

    And yet despite this, one of the most frequently used arguments continues to be ‘but but what about earthquakes and tsunamis hmmmmm?’

  17. Dunc says

    Australia stands as a nation that ought to be a leader in nuclear generation, but there is very little political will thanks to absurd levels of misinformation surrounding the concept.

    The political clout of the coal industry might have something to do with it too.

  18. says

    Holms@#17:
    And yet despite this, one of the most frequently used arguments continues to be ‘but but what about earthquakes and tsunamis hmmmmm?’

    Sounds to me like the main question ought to be “that’s not an RBMK is it?”

  19. avalus says

    Hello Marcus, the pictures are amazing, thank you for sharing them. Decaying industrial complexes are always awe-inspiring and make me wonder, how one can let such things just stand there to crumble and rust.

    As EnlightenmentLiberal pointed out, there are a lot of variations in nuclear reactor design. The links they post are very informative, thank you. There were quite a few new things I did not know (I consider myself an informed layman).

    A few thoughts:
    In university i took advanced nuclear chemistry and and the professor that taught actinoide chemistry was in the planing-group for national nuclear power (that nation being germany). He had very interesting tales to tell.
    There were a few very interesting groupdiscussions about civil nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Thoriumreactors would be a great alternative to uraniumbased reactors, but they would require an awful lot of new infrastructure if they ever see widespread use, because of the different chemical characteristics of Thorium. And the present uraniumfuel infrastructure is, of course, a byproduct of nuclear weapons manufacture, there is considerable military interest in keeping that going without much competition (i guess).

    I am really twisted about Nuclear energy generation. In for itself, I think, it would be a great thing, were it not for the problem of nuclear waste. And thats kind of a deal breaker for me. Leaving it up to generations to come fixing the problems we left behind is not a solution.
    Germany is trying to hide the fact, that they do not have any idea what to do ever since they started the nuclear program, but I guess different nations are about the same. And what i have read about the US and Russian nuclear waste management, it often seems to be: “Well, just dump it …. over there. Who cares?”. (the same attitude as in nuclear test sites?)
    And Rick Perry is the new head of Dept. of Energy? What a scary thought! Can I please wake up now to a sane world?

    (I hope my english expression is not too bad – it is not my first language)

  20. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To avalus
    As politely as I can be, the nuclear waste is a non-issue. People who say that nuclear waste is an issue are basing it on fearmongering science of the linear no-threshold “theory” of biological damage from radiation, which drastically inflates estimates of harm.

    Coal power produces much more coal ash. Because of the volume of coal ash, we cannot dispose of it properly. The best that we can do is just leave it in pits, and maybe cover the pits. That actually causes real and significant health problems. Whereas, as far as I know, no one has ever died from radiation exposure to (civilian) nuclear waste.

    We need to not use a double standard. Radioactive waste is not magically infinitely dangerous, and plenty of other industries produce toxic waste that is dangerous forever. We need examine it more rationally, without the extreme and ridiculous fearmongering.

    And as long as you’re reading my sources, I also suggest these two. The first one I suggest seriously, and the second one is slightly farcical, but it should show that deep ocean floor disposal is cheap, and incredibly safe.
    http://thorconpower.com/docs/ct_yankee.pdf
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/05/06/a-modest-proposal-for-nuclear-waste-disposal/

    I want to build on the second link. We know that there are large swathes of the ocean floor that are dead (except for microbial life). Nothing has disturbed these areas of the floor for millions of years. Put the nuclear waste there. Ideally, bury it like 10 meters in the silt. The silt will accumulate over time, and so even if the steel and concrete seal somehow breaks, it’s still under many meters of silt, and then it’s under miles of ocean water. It will literally never harm anyone, ever.

    I use this as the foolproof method for cheap, easy, and safe permanent disposal of nuclear waste. However, I think we should keep some of the nuclear waste around, because most of it is not waste, and it’s actually fuel for other reactors and it also has lots of rare elements that might be worth harvesting and putting to use in industry and society.

    PS:
    For me, my biggest concerns that I have about nuclear power are:
    1- availability of fuel (which should be solved nicely in the very long term by a breeder reactor),
    2- harm to the (human) environment during accident scenarios (which is hugely mitigated but not entirely removed by a design like ThorCon),
    3- any link to nuclear weapons production (and any such link is probably very tenuous).

  21. Dunc says

    We know that there are large swathes of the ocean floor that are dead (except for microbial life). Nothing has disturbed these areas of the floor for millions of years.

    We do? We know less about the deep oceans than we do about the surface of Mars, and every time we bother to look, we keep finding surprises. If you’re talking about the hypoxic “dead zones”, those are a very recent phenomenon resulting primarily from fertilizer run-off.

    Also, I wouldn’t be took quick to dismiss the importance of microbial life in the deep ocean. There is very good evidence that changes in the balance of such life played a significant role in the largest mass extinction in the Earth’s history.

  22. Holms says

    Willis is far from the first person to think of ‘gravity torpedoes’ driving waste into the sea floor.

  23. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Lofty
    The green energy experts are all liars, frauds, or fools. To call someone an “anti-green guru” is a badge of honor.

    And as I said in the other thread, go fuck yourself. Could you please let the adults have an adult conversation without your childish trolling? We’re trying to save the world here.

  24. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Also, I wouldn’t be took quick to dismiss the importance of microbial life in the deep ocean. There is very good evidence that changes in the balance of such life played a significant role in the largest mass extinction in the Earth’s history.

    This is a joke, right? No one will care if all microbial life in a few acres of ocean floor died. It would not impact the biosphere in any significant way. What you write here is beyond incredible. It’s asinine. It’s supremely foolish.

    It’s fundamentally different than killing off all microbes in the ocean, and it’s fundamentally different than killing off all microbes on the ocean floor. It’s an extremely small area of the ocean floor, at worst, and in all likelihood the radiation will stay under the meters of silt.

    Note that I’m not calling you a liar or a troll (unlike Lofty). I am, however, saying that you are deeply misguided.

  25. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Also:

    We do? We know less about the deep oceans than we do about the surface of Mars, and every time we bother to look, we keep finding surprises. If you’re talking about the hypoxic “dead zones”, those are a very recent phenomenon resulting primarily from fertilizer run-off.

    Quoting:
    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1996/10/the-sub-seabed-solution/308434/

    IN 1976 a giant coring device mounted to a ship plunged repeatedly into the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, three miles below the surface, bringing up 100-foot-long tubes of mud and clay with the consistency of peanut butter. The primeval muck told a tale of geologic serenity. Sediment records from the cores indicate that the region — roughly 600 miles north of Hawaii and spanning an area four times the size of Texas — has been tranquil for 65 million years, unperturbed by volcanic activity or by shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates. Charles Hollister, a geologist and senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, saw even more when he gazed at the thick dark ooze. He saw what might prove to be the perfect place to sequester our high-level nuclear waste — the most potent and intensely radioactive by-products of military or civilian enterprise.

  26. Dunc says

    So your sources for the claim that “there are large swathes of the ocean floor that are dead” are from more than 20 years ago: i.e. from before we had any idea of what was actually down there? Since then we’ve discovered that there is, in fact, a great deal more life in the deep oceans than anybody expected.

    The history of ecology is largely one of people assuming that the damage from some process is inconsequential, and then subsequently finding out that they were wrong. It’s extremely difficult to predict how changes propagate through ecological webs, and biological processes have a nasty habit of recirculating and concentrating pollutants in entirely unexpected ways.

    Anyway, the main problem with the disposal of high-level waste isn’t so much where you put it in the end, it’s how you ensure that nothing goes wrong with the process of getting it there. The real risk is with accidents in transit.

  27. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Dunc, you’re probably also the kind of person who would protest over building a dam because the harm from flooding a valley and the harm to the fish. You’re the kind of person that would object to projects like solar panels in the desert because of a single rare and endangered species that lives in the area. You’re not being reasonable.

    Again, I cannot take you seriously if you’re going to suggest that something noticeably bad will happen if we put some radioactive waste 10 meters under the ocean floor about 600 miles north of Hawaii on that cockamamy reasoning. Consider the worst case scenario, and some of the life on the bottom of the ocean floor in this small area, this isolated area, dies. The chance that this becomes a significant problem is beyond remote. And yet you bring it up as being incredibly dangerous. You’re being absurd. You cannot be serious. This is a joke.

    By this absurd reasoning, we would never be allowed to build anything, ever, anywhere, because of the risk that it might have to local ecosystems, like the aforementioned building of solar panels in the desert because it might impact some particular endangered species.

    We need to take strong action to save the vast majority, and if some microbes or other life on the ocean floor has to die because our drill bit kills them as we dig a big hole for our nuclear waste, oh well.

    Again, we’re talking about digging a big hole in the most earthquake and volcano calm area on the planet, where the chemistry means that any leaks will be sequestered long before it reaches the surface of the silt. To be this worried that this might have a noteworthy ecological impact is absurd.

    Of course, please take a reasonable amount of time to conduct an environmental impact survey. I’m all for that. Please don’t strawman me here (I’m not saying that you have). However, your degree of caution here is beyond all reasonable measure.

    Anyway, the main problem with the disposal of high-level waste isn’t so much where you put it in the end, it’s how you ensure that nothing goes wrong with the process of getting it there. The real risk is with accidents in transit.

    On this, at least we have some agreement.

  28. Dunc says

    EnlightenmentLiberal, please don’t try and tell me what kind of person I am based on a couple of blog comments. You don’t know me, and you don’t know the first damn thing about me.

    Also, I’m not suggesting that “something noticeably bad will happen”, and I’m certainly not describing anything as “incredibly dangerous”. I’m just saying that I’m be entirely comfortable with completely dismissing any possible concerns without even looking into the matter properly.

    If you’re going to misread or misrepresent me to that extent, you are in absolutely no position to complain about anybody strawmaning you.

  29. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Dunc
    It seems that you’re trying to counteract the tentative conclusions of a great many people that this is a wonderful idea. If all you want to say “let’s do some more studies and investigation to make sure”, you won’t find any disagreement from me or most nuclear advocates. However, I think you’re going beyond that. I don’t mean to strawman you, but you do seem to be going beyond “well, let’s do the proper studies beforehand” and into “there’s a significant chance that it’s a bad idea”, and I don’t get that at all. It makes no sense. I apologize if I’m misreading you, but currently I think I am not.

  30. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry to just repeat myself, but I think you also stated that there was a significant risk that this sort of thing could cause substantial and noteworthy ecological damage, and that is still absurd to me, and I don’t know how to respond to you when you say that it’s not absurd. We’re just dealing with entire separate facts. I’m not sure where to begin.

    Dunc, could you describe something like a “worst case” scenario which causes these sorts of ecological impacts, regarding that particular spot on the ocean floor, which is 600 miles north of Hawaii?

    For the sake of argument, I grant that maybe you could invent something that causes the loss of all life for several miles, even though that I think that’s basically impossible, and that wouldn’t happen even if all of the nuclear waste leaked out. However, even here, how could this lead to the sort of catastrophic chain impacts that you were discussing before? I just don’t get it. Surely this one spot on the ocean floor is not special, and there’s plenty of other ocean floor that’s just the same, and even in this hypothetical worst case scenario of a few square miles, that’s a metaphorical drop in the bucket, for how much ocean floor there is.

    So please, explain to me, where is this catastrophic impact that you see?

  31. says

    And yet the renewable energy industry is now climbing the S curve and discovering it can do without subsidies quite nicely, and be competitive. Meanwhile the nuclear industry hobbles from financial disaster to financial disaster hoping a friendly bunch of Republicans will give it some hundreds of billions of no strings attached dollars to play with.

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/gupta-plans-ev-plant-australia-powered-solar-storage-94177/

    Read that article and cry, EL.

  32. Dunc says

    Sorry to just repeat myself, but I think you also stated that there was a significant risk that this sort of thing could cause substantial and noteworthy ecological damage

    No, that was not my intention at all. I was merely pointing out that deep ocean microbiology is not inconsequential. Sorry, this is something of a hobby-horse of mine, and not directly related to the matter of nuclear waste disposal. I apologise if that wasn’t clear.

    So please, explain to me, where is this catastrophic impact that you see?

    Didn’t I just explicitly state in the plainest possible language (@ #31) that I don’t see anything of the sort?

    The only real risk I can see from deep ocean disposal of this sort of waste is that it ends up diffusing out and then getting concentrated back up the food chain, in much the same way that mercury, PCBs, and DTD turned out to be. How much of a risk that poses I currently can’t say, but I wouldn’t want to write it off without having somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about look into it.

    What I’m objecting to is your apparent attitude that just because there don’t seem to be any obvious risks that you (or I, for that matter) can think of, then we can safely assume that there aren’t any. That’s exactly the sort of assumption that’s turned out to be horribly wrong too many times in the past. The career of Thomas Midgley Jr. might be instructive here.

  33. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Dunc

    The only real risk I can see from deep ocean disposal of this sort of waste is that it ends up diffusing out and then getting concentrated back up the food chain, in much the same way that mercury, PCBs, and DTD turned out to be.

    Entirely reasonable.

    And it does seem that I entirely misread you. My profuse apologies. Lofty and John Morales have me on edge, not that the excuse should be sufficient.

    To Lofty
    You’re still a goddamned liar and troll.

    As for your point:
    Are they making their own storage? Seemingly not. Therefore, doesn’t count. If you bothered to try to understand my arguments, you’d know this already. The biggest problem with solar and wind is the intermittency and the lack of plausible storage tech, and the biggest reason why storage tech is really hard is because of the EROEI problem. The batteries that they buy will have been made via energy from fossil fuels, and if they succeed, that will be why. Even then, I’m dubious that they will succeed. Furthermore, are these cars going to be cost competitive, or are they going to be luxury items with far less range than conventional vehicles?

    Further, I’ve seen plenty of bogus green claims like “X and X industry or city runs off entirely green energy” by playing accounting games which assume infinite free storage. The link implies that this is not going to happen, but I’m still dubious of their honesty, and particularly I’m wondering if they will have a connection to the grid, and what fraction of the time they will be drawing power from the grid.

    Overall, I am entirely not impressed by your link, and I’m entirely not impressed by your complete lack of effort and your complete lack of honest engagement (e.g. you didn’t bother to understand the EROEI argument and why your source is irrelevant to that argument).

    PS:
    Here’s the argument again.
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2014/08/22/catch-22-of-energy-storage/

  34. avalus says

    Thank you for the answer, EL (if I may shorten your username to its initials, EnlightenmentLiberal). Nuclear Energy is an eternal discussion topic and an important one. I personally always found it very hard not to get dogmatic in favor and against civil nuclear use. It is not an easy, one solution fits all problem and solutions have to be carefully weight against all sorts possible risks.

    I hope I do not sound condecending and preaching top-down here. To point out again, my knowledge on nuclear energy matters is, of course, not flawless and maybe about 5 years out of date. Many scientific sources on the topic are not openly accessible, which is a shame.

    I have to agree with Dunc here, I think your assessment of risks, EL, very is idealized. For one thing, there is a rather large body of work regarding mobility of nuclear elements in different chemical environments. They conclude that most isotopes are chemically rather immobile over the observed timeframe (Tens of years under controlled conditions). But that frame is very short, the only long term infomation regarding the geological transportation of decay products are the african natural reactors near Oklo.
    For real life short term distributions one can look at the spread nuclear fallout (as Marcus showed) and the different spillings from nuclear solutions. The conclusion is that particles containing radioisotopes can move around quite a bit.
    As to the claim, that it would only hurt a bit of ocean floor: that is not a given. There is much still unknown about longterm effects, so one should be careful about making claims about the impact of a substance on the planetary system (As dunc pointed out tetraethyllead and freon come to mind, as well as phosphates in washing powder, carbon dioxide, microplastics or sulfur in fuels). Just dumping stuff and see what happens later is a really poor way to do things.

    As Lofty points out, green energy is growing and getting competitive. That is not to say they are perfect, they have problems for example with availability, peak overproduction and in case of solar cells raw materials production (Silicon is hard to purify). But their envionmental impact is much smaller that fossil or nuclear fuels.

    I complety agree with EL, that the amount of primary waste is much smaller than the amount of coal ash. This argument also nicely overlooks the vast amounts of energy needed and waste produced for making nuclear fuel. Wet-chemical extraction and vapor deposition/denstity gradient enrichment are expensive in every aspect and as stuxnet showed, prone to all sorts of problems one can not directly identify. Let us also not forget, that the actinoides are also very poisonous heavy metals, apart from the radiation.
    A point about storing nuclear waste in the pacific ocean crust: It seems like this plan will be very, very expensive (I wonder who will pay that. Oh yes, the taxpayer, because why should the energy companies.) I also think, that ocean drilling quite significantly raises the risks, by being very complicated (Look how clean off-shore oil drilling is in the best circumstances). The problems I see here are not storing the waste under the seabed itself, but getting it there without loosing significant amounts.
    LE, to paraphrase you, you said, that nuclear fuel is a scaregost and not really dangerous. If it is disposed of in a wrong way it can be very dangerous. Scrapped radiosiotopegenerators from hospitals for example, as well as the fact, that actinoides are heavy metals, as stated above. The management of nuclear Waste also comes down to oversight and rules. And with the beautiful economic mindset of always going with the lowest bidder, the cynic in my brain just cannot imagine that nothing goes wrong. Cutting corners will occur and sooner or later “haben wir den Salat”.
    The report about the Yankee site you linked, states that it will take around 500 years for the mean radiation output of the spent fuel to decay to todays background level (depending on composition of the fissile material a reasonable guess). That is a long time! The report throws centuries around like they are nothing, suggesting just to dump it in a borehole without really adressing any thoughts about safety, lifetime of the casing, resistance to acidic water leeching, erosion, human stupidity and such like. To me that is wishful thinking. Refining nuclear fuel to get Pu and Np isotopes also is a messy, complicated and therefore expensive thing to do and at least here in europe not standard procedure as far as I am aware. As for breeder reactors: the idea is as old as nulear reactors, but there seem to be some problems that are not yet solved, or they would be used pretty much everywhere. At least according to proponents. (I really don’t know what that problem is, maybe it is related to nulear weapons or it is just not as easy as everyone thought, but that is conjecture on my part. It always is “just over the horizon”. It would be really great if the breeder-concept would work, because that would reduce quite a few risks)
    Whatsupwiththat is far from beeing a credible source, why did you bring that up? It is not even slightly ‘farcial’ and rather undermines your point, in my opinion. The authors dismissal of climate science is not a good sign for his interlectual integrity. Can we trust his ability to understand the scientific cosensus? Personally, I do not.

    Also, yes, I am am proud green activist, thank you. Reducing our ecological impact, saving energy and other resources are good things to work for. And no, not the kind of activist, that blocks traintracks when spent nuclear fuel is transported.

    PS: In my last post I forgot to say: Hello Commentariat!

  35. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    As Lofty points out, green energy is growing and getting competitive.

    And I still disagree quite strongly. They are not sufficient to reduce CO2 emissions from electricity production to near 0, and that is what we need.

    But their [solar] envionmental impact is much smaller that […] nuclear fuels.

    Disagreed as strongly as I can. You appear to be basing your estimate of the impact of nuclear power on extremely false assumptions regarding the danger from radiation. I believe this is a central disconnect between us. I believe that there is a level of background radiation that is at least several times that of natural background radiation which is practically harmless for humans. For two of the best studies to this effect, I suggest the following links which I quickly googled.
    http://news.mit.edu/2012/prolonged-radiation-exposure-0515
    http://www.theenergycollective.com/roberthargraves/2395360/residential-radon-safe-not-scary
    Both studies are extremely powerful. Read more into Cohen’s study, and see the extreme statistical diligence that he did to try to account for confounding variables. The conclusion: It is improper to model biological damage from radiation as proportional to to the total received lifetime dose, which is a fundamental assumption of the prevailing American model of biological harm from radiation, the linear no-threshold hypothesis.

    All of your arguments stem from this fundamental mistaken assumption; your understanding of the biological harm from low levels of radiation is grossly exaggerated.

    There’s even some interesting evidence that this might be in part to fossil fuel industry lobbying, but that’s a story for another time. (At work, I’ll try to dredge up some links later.)

    A point about storing nuclear waste in the pacific ocean crust: It seems like this plan will be very, very expensive

    Says who? All of the studies that I can find say that it’s quite cheap.

    Refining nuclear fuel to get Pu and Np isotopes also is a messy, complicated and therefore expensive thing to do and at least here in europe not standard procedure as far as I am aware.

    The pyroprocessing of an IFR may be substantially cheaper, and the liquid fluoride reprocessing will probably be substantially cheaper, compared to the existing PUREX process.

    As for breeder reactors: the idea is as old as nulear reactors, but there seem to be some problems that are not yet solved, or they would be used pretty much everywhere.

    The IFR was demonstrated at industrial scale for nearly all of the parts at Argonne National Lab between IIRC 1984 and 1994 before the Clinton administration killed it. This is a self-fulfilling prophesy – “it cannot be done because we haven’t done it yet, and we never try because it cannot be done”. No, it can be done, and it has been done. The reasons why they’re not being built are entirely political, in large part based on this fundamental misconception, this gross exaggeration of the biological harm from low level radiation.

    The authors dismissal of climate science is not a good sign for his interlectual integrity.

    I was unaware. I did supply other links, presumably from credible sources, to the same effect. I didn’t try very hard because I already knew from previous research that it’s a very probably a great idea.

    Can we trust his ability to understand the scientific cosensus?

    The scientific consensus in this area is worth almost jack shit. It’s like we’re in the middle of the public debate over tobacco or leaded gasoline. The industry money is poisoning the debate, and the green experts on the topic of moving from fossil fuels to green energy are all liars, frauds, or been duped by the liars and frauds. It’s an intellectual sham all of the way through. I’d be more than happy to demonstrate this fact to you.

    Also, yes, I am am proud green activist, thank you. Reducing our ecological impact, saving energy and other resources are good things to work for. And no, not the kind of activist, that blocks traintracks when spent nuclear fuel is transported.

    I strongly believe in climate change. That’s why I’m such a strong nuclear proponent. Reduction on its own is not going to cut it, and it’s not going to remove the need for great amounts of nuclear power. Today worldwide electricity production is around 2.5 TW. It’s probably going to grow to least 30 TW, and maybe even 50 TW or 70 TW, before the end of the century. At those numbers, a mere 80% reduction of CO2 emissions from the grid is not good enough if we want to solve global warming. We need a near 100% reduction in CO2 emissions, and we need that now aka as soon as possible, and nuclear can do that, and solar and wind cannot.

    I am firmly convinced that the green energy movement is the party most responsible for preventing the world from fixing global warming because of their obstinate and ignorant advocacy against nuclear power.

  36. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS:
    Regarding breeders, there do appear to be some remaining engineering problems for the molten salt breeder. Kirk Sorensen IIRC has publicly claimed to have solved them, but he’s keeping it secret as a competitive advantage for his fledgling company. Not sure if I believe that, but I believe that Kirk Sorensen, despite his severe faults (fucking asshole Republican, I had to quit following his nuclear forum over it), he is generally a reliable source on nuclear matters.

  37. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Lofty
    I’ve been reading your paper. It’s bullshit, and clearly so. I just finished my first read. It will take a long time for a comprehensive takedown, and I’m hesitant to do so, given your apparent gish-gallop technique.

    In short, it appears that their reported value of “9-10” EROEI for solar PV is without storage completely, or with woefully inadequate storage. It’s unclear from a first read. The paper spends a great deal of space trying to justify their (apparent) decision to use inadequate amounts of storage in their EROEI calculations, and these arguments are flawed. In short, they’re basing this argument on the same sort of debunked arguments that are promulgated by Mark Jacobson. For a proper takedown of this paper, I would need to examine the source papers in detail in order to find their errors that justify this paper’s (apparent) decision to use inadequate amounts of storage.

  38. Dunc says

    @38:

    The authors dismissal of climate science is not a good sign for his interlectual integrity.

    I was unaware.

    Seriously? You were unaware that What’s Up With That is the #1 global warming denialist blog in the world? That doesn’t exactly speak well of either your research skills or your general knowledge of the topic. It’s kinda like linking to the The Onion as a serious news source.

  39. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Dunc
    My pet topic is how to solve global warming. I don’t exactly engage on the global warming topic itself, nor with global warming deniers. They’re not relevant to actually fixing the problem.

  40. Dunc says

    Fair enough, but even so – it’s generally not a bad idea, when introducing a source, to take a quick look around at some of the other material they publish and ask yourself “are these people obviously complete lunatics?”

  41. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Dunc
    Accepted. I should consider doing more vetting in my sources, and especially in this context where I’m (reasonably) perceived as the fringe outsider promoting a quack position.

  42. says

    Dunc@#42:
    It’s kinda like linking to the The Onion as a serious news source.

    Wait, it’s not?
    Uh…. (looks around furtively)
    Is it too late for me to change my vote?

  43. says

    EL

    My pet topic is how to solve global warming.

    A worthy goal I’m sure but one that would be more successful if you used all the tools at your disposal. It’s like attempting to build a house with just a big box of hammers, sure it’s possible but it’s inelegant.

    without storage completely, or with woefully inadequate storage.

    Now here you’re once again using black and white, all or nothing arguments. Solar without storage is perfectly capable of displacing a meaningful percentage (say 20%) of carbon emissions without storage, and substantially more with modest amounts of storage and demand management. Take a water utility for example that can schedule pumping for sunny days and can mount solar panels on rafts covering storage ponds. Floating panels reduce evaporation and cool the panels, increasing efficiency. With a small amount of storage, essential services can be maintained overnight and what was once a carbon intensive industry is all of a sudden carbon neutral. Don’t diss tools that are capable of being part of the solution if not all of it.

    As for nuclear reactors I imagine a future where modular reactors are mounted on ships that travel the world providing energy where seasonal/disaster related shortfalls exist. Waste is managed away from the destination ports and cooling water is never in short supply. How about that for a good idea?

  44. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Lofty
    I’m not like the irresponsible greens who put off solving the problem for a decade from now. I think we should take global warming seriously, and we should find a plan that we can do now that will solve the problem now. At a minimum, that means eliminating 100% of CO2 emissions from the grid, and finding an alternative to fossil fuel gasoline for air transport, sea transport, and ground transport. At a minimum. I will not take you seriously if your plan only involves a 20% reduction for the grid. I will not take you seriously if your plan only involves an 80% reduction for the grid.

    Again, we need near 100% complete reduction of CO2 emissions from the grid if we seriously want to tackle climate change, in addition to a replacement for fossil fuel gasoline for air transport, sea transport, and ground transport, and even with that, it might not be good enough, and we might need to tackle the remaining sectors, and we might even need geo-engineering projects like negative CO2 emissions.

    If you have a plan that can do this with existing demonstrated tech, or tech that we can do full scale commercial prototypes right now, that meets these goals, and that does not involve nuclear, then please, tell me. If you don’t, shut the fuck up already, you ignorant swine.

  45. says

    Atomic boy

    shut the fuck up already, you ignorant swine.

    Yawn. If you ever learn to do more than one thing at a time, let me know. Raging at people who aren’t welded to your cult of 100% nuclear won’t provide a viable solution.

  46. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Lofty
    No, I rage at trolls and liars. You have admitted clearly to trolling.

  47. says

    Well, your plan of 100% nuclear power is bound to fail if your public relations suck so bad. No-one wants ranty conservatives telling them to embrace nuclear or fucking die. You’ve lost already.

  48. Dunc says

    As I said up-thread, a country that is either unwilling or unable to spend the relatively small amounts of money needed to maintain its basic physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, public water supplies, and so on) is never going to commit a meaningful chunk of its GDP to a massive infrastructure build-out to solve a problem that a large proportion of its population and political leadership don’t actually believe exists.

    At this point, we’re not even rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, we’re arguing about who’s fault it is that we can’t agree on what arrangement they should have.

    We are not going to do anything about global warming. If it makes you feel better to blame the hippies for that, rather than the nearly 50% of the electorate who voted for an outspoken global warming denier, or the fact that we can’t seem to successfully deliver any large project of even moderate technical complexity without it turning into an insanely bloated, over-complicated pork-fest, well, knock yourself out, because it’s not like it makes any fucking difference anyway.

  49. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To dunc and lofty
    The United States is not the whole world. The European Union wants to be leading the way on climate change, and many of the member countries are doing things with relatively less interference from smaller numbers climate change denier. Hell, Germany has been going backwards, or thereabouts, and last I checked the current leadership in France wants to follow suit.

    To lofty
    I never said that my plan is 100% nuclear. It could work, but hydro is cool too, in spite of some of the ecological impacts. Geothermal too in the places where it works. Solar I guess as a supplement in some areas due to the decreasing costs.

  50. says

    I never said that my plan is 100% nuclear. It could work, but hydro is cool too, in spite of some of the ecological impacts. Geothermal too in the places where it works. Solar I guess as a supplement in some areas due to the decreasing costs.

    Hallelujah, you’re finally getting there. In the battle to rapidly decarbonise the world’s energy production, one must use every tool that is politically possible. Solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, pumped hydro etc are all useful tools, especially in sparsely populated or desert regions. HVDC is a currently available tool for shifting large amounts of energy across thousands of km with relatively minor losses. If a suitably robust HVDC net was built all over the world then storage needs would be smaller. And of course nuclear, where it is politically possible will be a valuable contributor to this goal.

    And if you’re wondering why I am fond of solar, it’s that it is benefiting from rapid advances in technology, both driving down cost and embedded carbon based energy, and it’s almost perfectly scalable. The smallest cell phone charger to the largest solar farm can deliver lower carbon energy all over the world. It is the first truly democratic electrical power source. Backed up with battery storage which is following the same cost curve it will be able to displace increasing amounts of carbon intensive energy sources.

    Now we can have a robust conversation on the relative costs, EROI’s and carbon benefits of each technology, past present and predicted future, without resorting to crackpot websites to bolster our claims. This technology is advancing very quickly and has the potential to change the way energy is used in a very fundamental way. Battery storage is just as democratic as solar power, in that just about everyone can purchase and use some. Subsistence farmers in rural India for example will hardly benefit from a giant nuclear plant far away, if they can’t afford a grid connection. Give them a solar panel, a battery and a LED light and they can educate themselves to do without carbon intensive energy sources. Kerosene light and coal heating energy suck big time in more ways than one.

  51. Dunc says

    France, Finland, and the UK all have new NPPs under construction right now. We’re also adding both on- and off-shore wind at a remarkable rate, and there’s a number of interesting wave and tidal power projects at the pilot stage.

    Unfortunately, despite only having something like 4% of the worlds population, the US accounts for around 25% of global CO2 emissions, IIRC. So yeah, the US is pretty fucking important.

  52. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I’ve been avoiding this thread. Let me take a couple more replies to the important bits.

    It is the first truly democratic electrical power source.

    This is the problem with the modern environmentalist movement. It’s an environmentalist movement at all! It’s sort-of Marxist anti-corporation movement. I’ve got nothing against Marxism and anti-corporation movements. I often call myself a card-carrying radical Marxist. However, in a discussion about the importance of the environment and preserving the biosphere, this sort of thing should be near the bottom of the list of priorities, and yet for most environmentalists, this is way too high on their list of priorities. In other words, in a discussion about environmentalism and the need for immediate action to protect the environment, I don’t give a damn about taking down the exploitive capitalist system. There are more important things to worry about, such as the environment.

    Hallelujah, you’re finally getting there. In the battle to rapidly decarbonise the world’s energy production, one must use every tool that is politically possible.

    I am convinced that a solution without large amounts of nuclear is not physically possible. I believe that changing public opinion is easier than changing the laws of physics.

    […] pumped hydro […] are all useful tools, especially in […] or desert regions.

    Wrong.
    For pumped hydro to work, you need substantial differences in elevations, and water. Both of which you don’t find in deserts. Again, I encourage you to read this source:
    https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/11/pump-up-the-storage/

    And again, I encourage you to look at the numbers involved. For just the United States, pumped hydro would be on the scale of the Great Lakes Of Michigan. That’s not physically possible. Let me again repeat a quote from that link:

    Yes, a diverse portfolio of a half-dozen inadequate solutions may be able to add to an adequate solution. But a half-dozen woefully inadequate solutions cannot pull off the same stunt. So far, my quest keeps turning up the woefully inadequate type. The scale of fossil fuel replacement is so daunting that we very quickly get into trouble when putting numbers to proposed solutions.

    HVDC is a currently available tool for shifting large amounts of energy across thousands of km with relatively minor losses. If a suitably robust HVDC net was built all over the world then storage needs would be smaller. And of course nuclear, where it is politically possible will be a valuable contributor to this goal.

    Not small enough. That’s the point of the work by Mark Jacobson, who has done the most extensive modelling on this subject, and even he couldn’t make the numbers work using wildly outrageous assumptions. In his 100% paper, he had to cheat, and badly, in several ways. In all likelihood, this is not a problem that is going to go away. This is why solar and wind cannot be anything more than a small fraction of the total solution, and this is why nuclear must be a large majority of the total solution (for electricity production).

    This technology is advancing very quickly and has the potential to change the way energy is used in a very fundamental way.

    It’s not. Solar might be advancing, but electro-chemical batteries are not. There are strict physical limits on electro-chemical batteries. Electro-chemical batteries require very high purities to function, and that requires large amounts of energy to produce. Almost all battery advances have come not from incremental advances on existing tech, but on finding new chemistries. There’s very good reason to believe that we’re not going to find some new chemistry that solves our problems. You need to drastically reduce the energy cost of manufacture, which isn’t going to happen, or you need to drastically improve cycle life and shelf life, which is very unlikely to happen due to deep physical reasons concerning how electro-chemical batteries operate.

    Subsistence farmers in rural India for example will hardly benefit from a giant nuclear plant far away, if they can’t afford a grid connection. Give them a solar panel, a battery and a LED light and they can educate themselves to do without carbon intensive energy sources. Kerosene light and coal heating energy suck big time in more ways than one.

    And where did their fertilizer come from? Fertilizer is responsible 1 to 2% of the world’s total energy consumption. And where did their batteries come from? Manufactured from cheap fossil fuels (or nuclear). What about the refrigeration for their crops? What about the electricity to pump their ground water? What about the equipment that they use?

    Again, this is my problem with environmentalists. They focus only on the familiar, and they’re grossly ignorant of industry. Our problem is not something so idyllic as residential or subsistence farming. The problem is the parts of the world that you apparently don’t know much about, including trucking, shipping, air travel, industrial heat processes, and so forth.

    I haven’t shared the story yet, but let me do so now. My late uncle used to work for one of the last flat-glas manufacturers in the United States, Guardian. He worked at the glass manufacturing plant. In short, it’s a giant furnace. It uses the float-glass method, which is basically heat up the glass stuff, mix it up, and pour it out over a bath of molten tin. It won’t mix with the tin, and it’s lighter than the tin, and this happens to make very flat glass with cheap costs. Over Thanksgiving dinner several years ago, he explained to me that over the next couple of months, they would shut down the plant, repair and replace worn parts, and start it up. It will take 2 months to start it up. Two whole months. It takes that long to safely heat it up from room temperature to operating temperature. People must be on scene the entire time to monitor the process to watch out for problems. If the power is lost while it’s at operating temperatures, then the plant suffers extreme damage, e.g. the plant is bricked.

    Most industrial heat processes are like this. They take a ludicrously long time to start up, and they cannot be shut down for a few hours or a day when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. This is why these industrial heat plants often have backup diesel generators on site even now with our reliable grid with its 99.95% uptime because that 0.05% downtime is not acceptable. This is the sort of problem that we need to solve – not the low-hanging fruit of a residential user. We need always-on reliable power. Our society depends on it, and wind and solar cannot provide it, and there is no tech that can store the energy to smooth out the production to provide the up-time guarantees that we need.

    Your understanding of how our society uses energy is incredibly ignorant and naive, and you’re making bad policy based on your gross ignorance.

  53. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Oh, sorry, I missed one other important point.

    For the amount of electro-chemical battery that we would need, we don’t even have 0.1% of the necessary raw materials for the common electro-chemical battery chemistries. We don’t even have 1 / 1000 of the necessary raw materials. We don’t have enough lithium, nor lead, nor nickel.
    https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/08/nation-sized-battery/

    We do have enough raw materials for some other chemistries, like sodium-sulfur, but those are quite a bit more expensive than the lithium batteries and their paltry advances that you might be familiar with.

    Protip: The relevant measure here is not charge per volume nor charge per mass. The relevant measure is charge stored over the lifetime of the battery vs the energy cost of manufacture, and the measure of “how much extractable raw materials are there in the accessible portions of the Earth’s crust vs the amounts that we need?”.

    I strongly encourage you to read both of my “dothemath” links. They’re very informative on just how daunting this problem is.

    Not a year goes by that I don’t see some new sales pitch in a format like a TED talk that promises some radical breakthough to this problem by finding a new battery chemistry. They’re all vaporware, sold to well-meaning but gullible fools.

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