Cut Noise

Whisper it, nuclear could provide a near-silent solution….


Nuclear may be back on the agenda. Mini nuclear reactors could be generating power in the UK by the end of the decade. Rolls-Royce has plans to install and operate factory-built power stations by 2029. Mini nuclear stations can be mass manufactured and assembled relatively easily, making costs more predictable. The nuclear industry is confident mini-reactors can compete on price with low-cost renewables. Rolls Royce plans to build up 15 stations in the UK, each a 16th of the size of a major power station such as Hinckley Point.

From a noise perspective it is preferable to solar, fracking and, particularly, onshore wind. People may express surprise when we write that. But the evidence shows that any noise from nuclear plants once they are up and running (they can cause noise to the local community during construction) generates few, if any, noise complaints. And most plants will constructed far enough away from residential properties to eliminate noise problems. Noise from badly-sited wind turbines can cause severe noise problems for local residents. As can fracking (though it can be muted by proper encasing of the plant and by diverting heavy lorries serving the plant away from local communities). Widespread use of solar panels is likely to create noise problems as they give off a hum which will annoy or disturb some people.

Countries such as France or Sweden showed long before climate change was on the agenda that the quiet alternative, nuclear, has the potential to be the catalyst for delivering sustainable energy transitions. It should not be our only source of energy but, if governments are to avoid the noise problems and ill-health associated with some of the alternatives, they should choose the nuclear option.

'the silent giant of today’s energy system – runs quietly in the background, capable of delivering immense amounts of power'

Small reactors: the future: There have been concerns around cost and safety of nuclear. But much is being done to address these. Although some of the large reactors are still being built across the world, the future is probably in small reactors. A small modular reactor (SMR) is defined as nuclear reactors generally 300MWe equivalent or less. The nuclear industry expects that there could be 96 SMRs installed across the world by 2030. They will be much more affordable to low-income countries. And costs are likely to fall further as more are installed due to economies of scale. Because of their small size and modularity, SMRs could almost be completely built in a controlled factory setting and installed module by module, improving the level of construction quality and efficiency. They also will be safer to operate and more secure. They give the potential for sub-grade (underground or underwater) location, thuroviding more protection from natural (e.g. seismic or tsunami) or man-made (e.g. aircraft impact) hazards.

A lot of the research and development has been private sector led but, if governments are to give energy subsidies, should it not be to the silent nuclear plants rather than noisy wind turbines?

We highly recommend this film which outlines the potential of nuclear: 

Want to kill fewer people? Go nuclear

The record of deaths and diseases over the past 60 years shows nuclear power is safer than every other source of energy.

This article by John Watson first appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald (11/7/2013)

Most of us do not understand every quantum-level nut and bolt of nuclear power - we have physicists for that. That does not quite explain why many people still treat it like black magic. Any suggestion that we use nuclear power virtually incites a pitchfork-waving mob who demand we have nothing to do with it, while relying on other energy sources that all kill more people. 

Nuclear power is the safest source of energy by a long way. Solar power causes five to 10 times as many deaths (depending on the estimate of panel longevity) per unit of energy generated. That can't be right, is most people's first instinct. Similarly, findings by a United Nations panel and the World Health Organisation that the Fukushima nuclear accident caused no deaths or illnesses, and is unlikely to affect the future health of anyone but a few emergency staff, were so widely ignored they must simply have been disbelieved.

Remember, this was the worst-case nuclear scenario of reactor meltdowns amid the catastrophe of one of the biggest earthquakes and tsunamis in history. The operator had a culture of corner-cutting and cover-ups. Even then, the record shows, the predictors of apocalypse got it badly wrong and the experts - nuclear physicists - got it right.

We also have decades of operational experience and research, which enable us to calculate every energy source's ''death print''. The data compiled by the WHO, the International Energy Agency, NASA, the Centres for Disease Control and the National Academy of Sciences in the US, and the Europe-wide ExternE project all points to a similar conclusion. Counting the deaths from power-producing activities and associated pollution and environmental damage, coal is by far the most deadly (and most studies exclude speculative estimates of global warming impacts). The WHO attributes at least 1 million deaths a year to coalmining, transport and operating accidents and air, soil and water pollution. (By contrast, even the radiation exposure of wildlife in the Fukushima evacuation zone was ''too low for observable acute effects''.)

In countries where coal is a big part of the energy mix, such as Australia, this increases healthcare costs by an estimated 10 per cent. Coal supplies half the world's electricity, in spite of an estimated global death rate of about 100 lives per terawatt hour of power - much higher than all other sources.

Oil is next with 36 deaths.

The world uses the two deadliest power sources for 60 per cent of its energy needs.

The fourth most dangerous source, natural gas, supplies 21 per cent, at a death rate of four per terawatt hour.

The dangers of fossil fuels are not a challenge to the thinking of environmentalists (I include myself) but the risks of some alternatives surely are. Biofuel claims 12 lives for every terawatt hour, hydro 1.4 lives (largely because of rare but catastrophic dam failures), solar 0.44 lives (mostly through roof falls and electrocution) and wind* 0.15 lives. Safest of all is nuclear, which supplies 17 per cent of global electricity, at 0.04 deaths per terawatt hour. Thus, for a given amount of energy, coal power kills about 2500 times as many people.

Ah, you might ask, what about Chernobyl, the full cancerous horror of which is yet to come? Well, the above calculations include the WHO's worst-case estimates of future Chernobyl deaths. Anti-nuclear advocates rely heavily on one disaster 27 years ago, when not one plant today is comparable to Chernobyl's fatally flawed design. It even lacked a proper containment vessel. Building of the Chernobyl plant began in 1970, just 14 years after the world's first commercial nuclear power station opened. To use Chernobyl as a guide to assessing current third-generation nuclear plants and the coming fourth generation is like judging today's vehicle safety on the basis of the Model T Ford first made in 1910, 14 years after the first commercially made car.

Why should Australia turn to nuclear power? First, as a country with nearly 40 per cent of accessible uranium reserves, which happily supplies the world, we are needlessly ignoring a huge domestic energy resource. Solar and wind power are effective for many applications but are not reliable sources of the massive baseload power we need.

Second, under the status quo, we unthinkingly accept Australian deaths from mining, transporting and burning vast amounts of materials and fuels and associated pollution. The amounts of nuclear fuel and waste are minute, which cuts mining, transport and pollution risks compared with fossil fuel loads, toxic waste and environmental damage. A coal-fired plant produces almost 15,000 times as much waste as its nuclear equivalent. Unlike most fossil fuel pollution, nuclear waste can be stored securely underground in stable geological formations.

Third, the decay of uranium-bearing ores releases radon gas, creating natural areas of high radioactivity. (Parts of Australia have restricted access because of this.) Radon accumulates in buildings and is a leading cause of lung cancer, so nuclear power may save lives by reducing its environmental release.

Fourth, nuclear plants can power cost-effective, high-volume desalination, using the waste heat energy. The heat from high-temperature reactors may also be harnessed to produce the ultimate clean fuel, hydrogen, on the scale needed to replace oil as a transport fuel.

Finally, the finite nature of oil and gas reserves - which are also essential for plastic and chemical production - pose a problem of energy security. Nuclear power could preserve oil and gas for industrial production. This might even eliminate one trigger for the use of nuclear weapons: conflict over oil and gas resources.

The genie of nuclear proliferation is out of the bottle and is not dependent on civilian power plants. We might as well reject oil because it fuels hugely destructive weapons of war. We often have blind spots when it comes to the miracles of science, and nuclear power is one. The blindness becomes wilful when we have leaders who pander to, even exploit, public fears rather than promote a rational policy approach to big national challenges. None of these challenges has a greater bearing on our future than harnessing energy on a sustainable, industrial scale. Our civilisation has been built on that and it is folly to let romantic, ill-informed and often hysterical notions of what is sustainable, green and safe decide national energy policy.

John Watson is an Age senior writer.

* We believe the wind deaths is likely to be an underestimate it excludes the impact of noise on people's health.

We are too emotional about risk — no wonder we make bad decisions

An irrational fear of nuclear has exacerbated climate change. Such faulty thinking pervades our lives

This is an abridged version of an article by Matthew Syed which first appeared in the Sunday Times 14/11/21

In the days after 9/11, images of planes flying into the twin towers circulated through the media. The pictures were dramatic and terrifying. Perhaps understandably, people were gripped with fear and started to change their behaviour as a result. One of the most significant changes was that many Americans stopped using planes for interstate travel and turned to cars instead. They thought they would be safer.

But there was a problem with that approach — and you’ve probably guessed it. On a per-mile basis, driving is about 750 times more dangerous than flying. The attempt to reduce the risk by avoiding air travel therefore had the effect of increasing risk overall. According to one authoritative estimate, 1,595 additional Americans were fatally injured in car accidents as a direct result the following year — well over half the number who died in the twin towers.

I mention this because it illustrates a systematic bias in the way that humans intuitively assess risk. Instead of doing so on a statistical basis, we do so on an emotional basis. We use the gut rather than the head. As Dan Gardner puts it in his book Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, “we routinely encounter risks — even eating breakfast can kill — so we routinely decide which risks are worth worrying about. Overwhelmingly, these judgments are felt, not calculated.”

And this has particular relevance today in the aftermath of the Cop conference. For the past few decades the majority of western nations have largely turned their backs on the clean fuel provided by nuclear energy. And they have done so for much the same reason that American citizens turned their backs on flying.

The nuclear industry has had its own high-profile, high-emotion disasters. You can probably name them: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. Nobody died in the first of these incidents and only one in the third (though some hospital patients and others died because of the evacuation); the second had little relevance to the West because it was largely caused by a faulty Soviet design.

But this didn’t seem to matter in the public debate that followed them. These were vivid, spectacular meltdowns, involving a strange and alien technology. The political left in many nations used them to demonise nuclear power, in cahoots with a cowardly political class. This is why nuclear today makes up a fraction of the energy needs of most nations, including our own. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that a statistical analysis presents a different picture. Measured by fatalities per terawatt hour of energy produced, coal causes 24.6 deaths, oil 18.4 deaths and natural gas 2.8 deaths. Nuclear, by contrast, causes just 0.07 deaths. It is also vastly cleaner, producing three tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per gigawatt hour, compared with 820 for coal, 720 for oil and 490 for natural gas. Even solar and wind produce more emissions than nuclear, according to the Our World in Data website. I am not suggesting nuclear is perfect. There are big upfront costs and important issues regarding waste disposal (although new designs may be able to use waste as a source of fuel), but it nevertheless reveals a paradox that will not be lost on many observing the Cop process.

The green movement has long warned of the risks of climate change but has simultaneously exaggerated the risks of one of the cleanest and safest forms of technology that could have helped us to address it — and still can.


Mini-reactors at the core of a local nuclear revolution

This article by Ben Webster first appeared in The Times (18/6/21)

Communities near oil refineries and old coal-fired power stations may face a dilemma under plans by Rolls-Royce for a new fleet of mini nuclear reactors. Although the phasing out of fossil fuels will mean jobs will disappear and house prices will fall, the best chance of economic revival could be to accept the blight of a nuclear site on their doorstep.

Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium developing a reactor that can be mass-produced in factories and will take half the time to deliver as the large reactors being built at Hinkley Point in Somerset, at half the cost.

It says the first will open in 2031, as many as nine more will be built by 2035, and 30 by 2050.

The initial focus will be on sites of decommissioned large reactors, the most likely locations being Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia National Park, Wylfa on Anglesey and Sellafield in Cumbria. Rolls-Royce believes coal sites and oil refineries will also be suitable for “small modular reactors” (SMRs), because they have grid connections and access to cooling water. They will also need a new role under the UK’s legally binding target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

All the main components of the new reactor, including the largest — the reactor pressure vessel — would be built on an assembly line then sent by lorry to be fitted together at sites across the country. The government said last year that it would invest as much as £215 million to develop SMRs. Rolls-Royce’s UK SMR Consortium, which includes Atkins, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, Assystem and BAM Nuttall, hopes to secure this funding, plus up to £300 million of private investment to help it get safety approval for its SMR design.

Rolls-Royce expects the cost to fall from £2.2 billion for the first reactor to £1.8 billion for the fifth, and only the first three would require subsidy. Eight nuclear plants produce about a fifth of the UK’s electricity but seven were built in the 1970s and 1980s and are due to shut down this decade. One of the latest compact SMR designs from the consortium led by Rolls-Royce One of the latest compact SMR designs from the consortium led by Rolls-Royce Hinkley Point C is the only new plant under construction; the £22 billion project has soared over budget and been repeatedly delayed — the first power to the grid expected in 2026 at the earliest, compared with the original target of 2017. 

EDF and China General Nuclear Power Group, the French and Chinese state-controlled companies building two 1,600 megawatt (MW) reactors at Hinkley, are planning a similar large plant at Sizewell in Suffolk, but the high costs mean funding is in doubt. Rolls-Royce says its British-built 470MW SMRs, each capable of powering a million homes, will be essential for meeting the UK’s climate targets. This is partly because, unlike wind and solar, they will deliver constant power. It also hopes to export SMRs around the world, creating up to 40,000 jobs and opening three factories in the Midlands and north of England. It believes the reactors could also help to decarbonise aviation, heavy industry and heating by powering plants producing synthetic jet fuel and hydrogen. SMRs would also help power-hungry datacentres turn zero-carbon, the company says.

The problem, however, is that they may be installed in places that have never hosted reactors. Tom Samson, the chief executive of the UK SMR Consortium, said possible candidates included decommissioned coal plants at Fiddler’s Ferry in Cheshire, Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire and Didcot in Oxfordshire. Oil refineries with pipelines to airports, such as Fawley in Hampshire, could also be “great locations for synthetic fuel facilities powered by our SMR”, said Samson. Rolls-Royce believes Stanlow refinery in Cheshire is another potential candidate because it already has plans for hydrogen production. Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia national park is another possible location.

Rolls-Royce has been building and testing nuclear reactors on the outskirts of Derby for nuclear submarines since the 1960s, and Samson said other communities would accept reactors because “they can see the economic value that it brings in terms of jobs and apprenticeships”. He added: “I live in Lancaster, a kilometre and a half from Heysham [nuclear power station] and I never give it a second thought.”

Each SMR will produce enough highly radioactive waste over 60 years to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool but as yet there is no agreement on where to build an underground dump to store it for thousands of years. Samson said the waste would be kept safely at each site for decades, “so there’s no urgency on our side that requires that [permanent storage] facility to be in place or available at any time in the life of the asset”.

Steve Thomas, emeritus professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich and a critic of new nuclear power, said Rolls-Royce’s SMR would “probably work satisfactorily” but would be a “massive bet of public money”. “You have to be careful with the jobs argument. Job creation is good as long as the skills are valuable and what you are building is a good use of public money. Building pyramids would be great for job creation in the narrow sense,” he added.

Dr Fiona Rayment, chief science officer at the government-owned National Nuclear Laboratory, said opponents of nuclear power needed to consider the scale of the challenge of decarbonising the UK. The electricity grid is rapidly becoming greener but it only accounts for a fifth of energy consumption. She advised Greenpeace supporters who wanted to prevent dangerous climate change to put “a cold wet towel on your head and really look at the data . . . you come to the conclusion that you can’t do it without nuclear”.

The greens gurgantuan error in opposing nuclear...from a climate perspective

This piece as been taken from The God Species - how humans really can save the planet by Mark Lynas (first published 2011) 

In climate-change terms, opposing nuclear was a gargantuan error for the Greens, and one that will echo down the ages as our globe’s temperature rises. Nuclear is an essential if we are to deal with climate change. Renewables are a crucial part of our toolkit, but not enough on their own. The battle of the energy titans comes down to one great contest: nuclear vs. coal. And by rejecting nuclear over past decades Greens have unwittingly kept the door open for this most polluting energy source of all.

Some in the environmental movement have begun to realize this mistake, including members of the Green Party and the former director of Greenpeace UK, Stephen Tindale. In the US, both Stewart Brand and NASA scientist James Hansen have strongly supported nuclear. As has George Monbiot, one of the green movement’s most fearsome and well-known campaigners, who wrote: “Like most environmentalists, I want renewables to replace fossil fuel, but I realize we make the task even harder if they are also to replace nuclear power.”

An interesting ‘what if?’. What quantity of carbon dioxide emitted over the last few decades from fossil-fuelled power plants have been been cut if it hadn't been for the anti-nuclear campaigning of the Greens? In Austria, for example, six nuclear stations were proposed, and none were eventually used. In the US, at least 19 nuclear plants were cancelled after being proposed – mainly due to the changing tide of public opinion brought on by the rise of the Greens. What if the nuclear build rate of the 1960s and 1970s had continued until today, and all these proposed plants had been welcomed by the rising environmental movement? There can of course be no definitive answer to such a question, but if we say that 150 additional plants would by now have been running for 20 years, these would have avoided the emission of 18 billion tones of CO2.

Read more in this a long but fascinating and easy-to-read article by award-winning environmentalist Michael Shellenberger Why Climate Activists Will Go Nuclear—Or Go Extinct

How the next generation of nuclear reactors could be smaller, greener and safer


This article by Isabella Isaacs-Thomas first appeared in PBS News Hour (12/2/20)

A new type of nuclear power technology — small modular reactors that promise to produce carbon-neutral energy more safely and efficiently than traditional nuclear power plants — is becoming closer to a reality as a handful of companies push to overcome key regulatory hurdles. The U.S. government has not yet approved the reactors, which require significantly less space than a typical nuclear plant and produce nuclear energy on a comparatively smaller scale, for construction, but it is signalling a willingness to do so in the future.

In December, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the independent government agency tasked with ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants, granted the Tennessee Valley Authority the first-ever early site permit for a small modular reactor project. The Tennessee utility currently has no plans to build and operate SMRs, but the permit gives it the option if it chooses to pursue that technology later on. If it did, the NRC’s decision would mark the first step in a long approval process, but industry watchers still see the move as an important indicator of where the technology is headed. Last week, the Department of Energy invited companies that specialize in advanced nuclear technology to pitch their designs as part of a government effort to keep the U.S. competitive globally when it comes to nuclear technology.

SMRs have been hailed as one way the U.S. could combat climate change. The new technology could help boost the nation’s production of nuclear power, which emits no carbon dioxide. Still, it will likely be several years before any one of the current SMR designs is in operation as businesses, federal agencies and local communities try to navigate the best path forward for the new technology. What is a small modular reactor?

As the name suggests, small modular reactors produce smaller amounts of energy than typical nuclear reactors. To be considered an SMR, the reactor cannot generate more than 300 megawatts per module, compared to current nuclear reactors which can produce anywhere from 500 megawatts to more than 1,000 megawatts. One SMR design from the Portland, Oregon-based company NuScale would produce 60 megawatts, enough energy to power 45,000 homes. But several SMR units could be combined into a network and built to scale based on the needs of the communities they serve. Their power output could also be adjusted after they are operational based on consumer demand or the availability of electricity produced by other sources at a given time of day or year.

“Small modular reactors can be designed to ramp up and down with the demand in a very flexible way, in a more cost effective manner, in order to fit more neatly with this emerging new electricity system that will include renewables as well as other sources of supply,” said William Magwood IV, director-general of the Nuclear Energy Agency, an intergovernmental agency that promotes global cooperation on nuclear technology.

SMR companies say their reactors would also require far less land than existing nuclear plants. NuScale has designed a 720 megawatt project that would be comprised of 12 reactors — enough to power 540,000 homes — and sit on 35 acres. At that size, it would be 17 times smaller than a traditional nuclear plant producing the same amount of electricity, according to the company. SMRs can also be built in a factory and shipped to the location where they’ll eventually operate, cutting down construction costs. Magwood compared that process to manufacturing a commercial airliner, whereas constructing a traditional large nuclear power plant is more analogous to building an entire city block.

How are SMRs designed to improve safety? Major nuclear accidents are fairly uncommon and account for far fewer deaths than accidents in other energy sectors. But the ones that have occurred — Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima — have led to widespread concern about the safety of nuclear energy production. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident remains the most serious nuclear accident in U.S. history, where “a small amount of radioactive material” was released but no injuries occurred. The companies that are developing small modular reactors hope to address those concerns by building new safety features into their designs. NuScale uses light-water technology, where water is used to keep their cores from overheating, similar to what is used in today’s nuclear power plants.

But there are key differences. Existing reactors use pumps to maintain a constant flow of water to cool their cores and are equipped with backup diesel generators to keep that process going in the event of a power outage. When these complex systems fail, as they did in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011, the core can overheat and risk catastrophic failure.

NuScale’s SMR relies on natural forces of heating and cooling that combine with gravity to circulate water through its system, eliminating the need for pumps. Marc Nichol, the senior director of new reactors at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group that promotes nuclear power, said that “greatly reduces” the potential for an accident. “As you simplify and make these machines smaller, you actually increase the safety of these such that you can design out potential accidents and eliminate backup equipment that would have been required,” Nichol said.

TerraPower, a nuclear innovation company founded by Bill Gates and headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, has designed two models that use liquid sodium and molten salt rather than water as a coolant. The boiling point of liquid sodium is higher than the temperature produced by the nuclear reaction itself, so the company says the reactor will not overheat. TerraPower’s molten salt reactor, meanwhile, mixes that heated, liquid salt with its fuel. This action creates a loop that circulates through the system naturally as it heats and cools, eliminating the need for an outside force to keep the process going.

Proponents of SMRs herald the improvements built into this next generation of nuclear technology, but these facilities have not yet been built and tested. Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, said he’s concerned that the companies that design SMRs are “putting too much stock” in what they claim to be inherent safety features. It is easier to prevent the cores of SMRs from overheating and potentially melting down given their smaller size and power output, Lyman said, but he argued that backup safety measures are still important. Reactors are complex systems, and Lyman said computer-simulated accident scenarios may miss potential shortcomings of proposed designs. Unexpected consequences can arise, he argued, once a facility is actually up and running. Lyman argues that the new reactors will need multiple layers of safety features, “so that if you’ve guessed wrong or your analysis has uncertainties and you’ve missed something, there’s a backup.” How close are SMRs to becoming a reality?

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently in the process of reviewing NuScale’s SMR design. If the process goes smoothly, NuScale could be approved as early as September, making it the first to be given the green light to license out its design for construction. TerraPower initially had an agreement to construct both a demonstration plant and, later, a set of commercial liquid sodium reactors in China. But those plans were derailed as a result of the Trump administration’s trade dispute with that country, which prohibited the export of advanced nuclear technology. Now, the company is looking to move forward in the U.S. instead. NuScale and TerraPower appear to be two industry leaders in the U.S., but several other companies are also in the process of designing SMRs and because the regulatory process takes years, it’s unclear which company, if any, will end up being the first to build and operate an SMR plant in the U.S. As seen with a Nevada solar plant, fast-developing technology also provides companies the opportunity to leap-frog one another and make competitors’ projects that have been in the works for years obsolete.

Could nuclear energy help mitigate the effects of climate change? In addition to renewable energy sources, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said nuclear energy could play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change. But before the technology can expand, the panel pointed out that concerns regarding nuclear power, such as safety, economic efficiency and waste management, should be addressed. Since 1990, nuclear power has accounted for nearly 20 percent of the United States’ total electricity production. The federal government intends to continue relying on existing reactors as long as it can, and many facilities have been permitted to extend their licenses for several decades. 

At a 2019 International Energy Agency conference, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said both existing nuclear reactors and new technologies were “crucial for reducing carbon emissions and boosting energy security.” Uranium, the element needed to power nuclear reactors, is fairly inexpensive and can be both mined from the Earth and extracted from seawater. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s uranium supply is “more than adequate” to meet projected global nuclear energy needs for the foreseeable future. But nuclear reactors also produce radioactive waste that can be difficult to dispose of. The waste is generally stored on site at nuclear facilities, even though the scientific community considers deep geologic repositories to be the best option for long-term disposal. Since 1987, the U.S. has considered storing its nuclear waste inside of a $96 billion repository within Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Yucca Mountain facility, the government argues, would solve the challenge of storing waste that can be dangerous for tens of thousands of years — radioactive materials that are now stored in facilities that some critics warn are insecure. The Yucca plan has become highly controversial and has stalled multiple times due to Nevada residents concerned about the safety of waste storage in their state, but the Trump administration appears to be working to restart the effort.

Some SMR companies are hoping to alleviate some of the concern about nuclear waste. Terrapower says its liquid sodium reactor can be fueled by depleted uranium, a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process that is used to create fuel for both nuclear reactors and weapons. Navin explained that the reactor also utilizes more of its fuel than traditional light water reactors, which would produce “about 80 percent less waste.” John Parsons, co-director of the MIT Energy Initiative’s Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, said regional needs and capabilities will dictate where nuclear will fit into the broader picture of energy production — including access to renewable energy sources, which varies across the country — as well as how successful companies are in driving down cost. “[Nuclear energy is] clearly low carbon. It is relatively safe. But it’s true that the public is anxious about safety issues and about waste,” Parsons said. “So we probably need to have a good conversation about that in order to move forward as successfully as we can.” It is also up to the industry to prove that SMRs and other advanced nuclear technologies are as reliable in practice as they are in theory. “[Manufacturers] actually have to go build these things and show they can build them cost effectively, on schedule and operate them safely,” Magwood said. “Until they’ve done that, it’s not real.” 

Political expediency kills off nuclear plant

Posted 1/5/20

It seems as is an effective (and quiet) nuclear-reactor, which received no public subsidy, in New York state has for ideological reasons been shut down to be replaced by natural gas and heavily subsidised (and noisy) wind turbines.

We reprint this opinion piece by Robert Bryce I

Indian Point nuclear-reactor shutdown a huge blow to New York’s environment

By Tuesday, the pandemic had infected 295,000 New Yorkers and killed more than 17,000. Amid the horrific toll, it’s appropriate to mourn the passing of one notable longtime New Yorker in particular: the Unit 2 reactor at the Indian Point Energy Center. The workhorse, Westchester-based nuclear-power generator, which could have run for several more decades, is scheduled to be unplugged Thursday.

Cause of death: political expediency and exaggerated fears about accidents and radiation.

Welcomed into the world just 10 months after the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, Unit 2 was an industry giant, churning out huge amounts of reliable, carbon-free electricity from a tiny footprint. A modest sort, it rarely bragged, but the 1,028-megawatt Westinghouse machine delivered about 8,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year from a site on the Hudson River that covers less than a half square mile. Unit 2’s prodigious output left its more politically popular rivals — solar and wind energy — in the shade. Ivanpah, the biggest thermal-solar project in America, puts out less than 800 gigawatt-hours of juice each year. Located in California’s Mojave Desert, the solar plant sprawls over about 3,500 acres (about 5.4 square miles).

To match Unit 2’s output with solar-thermal energy would require 10 Ivanpahs covering 140 times more territory than what Indian Point uses. Unit 2 also towered over wind turbines. Replacing the electric power it generated with wind energy would require blanketing roughly 250 square miles with wind turbines — an area nearly as large as New York City. Alas, Unit 2 had powerful opponents in Albany, including Gov. Cuomo, who didn’t care about the land-use conflicts over renewables that are now raging in upstate New York.

Environmental groups, like Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council, loathed Unit 2. They ignored pleas from small towns like Yates and Somerset, which over the past few months declared themselves “sanctuaries” against the unwanted encroachment of politically mandated wind and solar projects. Unit 2 watched wistfully as the state lavished subsidies on its competitors.

In 2017, three days after Cuomo announced Indian Point would be prematurely shuttered, his appointees at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority revealed plans to shower $360 million in subsidies on renewable-energy projects. NYSERDA, which gets most of its funding from surcharges slapped onto New Yorkers’ utility bills, agreed to pay $24.24 per megawatt-hour for electricity produced by wind projects owned by NextEra Energy and Invenergy. The state subsidies were to be stacked on top of the federal production-tax credit worth as much as $23 per

Thus, while Unit 2 got no financial support from the state, its Big Wind rivals were feasting on subsidies worth as much as $47 per megawatt-hour. That’s a hefty sum given that in 2018, according to the New York Independent System Operator, the average price of wholesale electricity in the state was about $45 per megawatt-hour. The loss of Unit 2 should be mourned by climate activists: Much of its electricity will be replaced by fossil-fuel (natural-gas) powered plants, including the 1,100-megawatt Cricket Valley Energy Center, a $1.6 billion facility in Dover completed this month. Over the past few weeks, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and other groups mounted a last-ditch effort to persuade Cuomo to spare the reactor. To no avail.

Indian Point’s Unit 2 is survived by a sister: Unit 3, a 1,041-megawatt reactor to be euthanized in April 2021. Final interment of the two reactors’ fuel rods at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is awaiting further action by Congress pursuant to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. Unit 2 was 45 years old.

Robert Bryce is the author of “A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations,” out last month from PublicAffairs, and producer of the documentary “Juice: How Electricity Explains the World,” available on iTunes on June 2.

If We’re Going To Save The Planet, We’ve Got To Use The Nuclear Option

This article by Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist first appeared in the Huffington Post (29/5/20).

Good news and bad news arrived this week from the world’s top climate change experts.

Good news: they can tell us in agonizing detail why the world should really, really keep the rise in global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Bad news: the 132 authors of the 700-page report offer many ideas but no feasible plan for how to do that. As the International Panel on Climate Change’s co-chair put it, “One thing the report did not aspire to do is answer the question of feasibility.” So we can call it the Beach Boys Report ― “Wouldn’t it be nice...”

The 2015 Paris Agreement set an overall goal of staying below 2 degrees Celsius of global warming. However, the combination of the deal’s country-by-country goals would not accomplish that, and no major country is on track to meet its goals anyway. The 1.5 degree target is rightly even more ambitious, but also even further from the reality of energy systems in the world today. In the first part of the 21st century, the fastest-growing energy source was coal. And energy use is going up rapidly because poor countries want to be richer ― and have a right to be.

Climate goals and realities are not converging. The main mitigation scenarios in the IPCC’s new report depend heavily on wind and solar power. These are both important parts of a solution, but they are harder and harder to deploy as they constitute more of the power grid. That’s because the outputs of wind and solar sources vary ― between day and night, between winter and summer, and often unpredictably. The desperately needed technologies to affordably store such renewable energy are still developing. Furthermore, renewable energies are diffuse, using large amounts of land, steel and concrete per unit of electricity generated, which makes it harder to expand them at the scale and pace called for by the IPCC’s dire timeline.

Other steps can also move us in the right direction without getting close to the goal. Individuals can stop eating meat and start taking public transportation. Air conditioners can become more efficient. Farmers can change fertilizer practices. But all of these put together won’t do nearly enough, and time is running out.

Here’s a different idea: Let’s look at countries or regions that have successfully cut carbon emissions. For the all-important electricity sector, the website shows how many grams of carbon pollution a region creates for each kilowatt-hour of electricity it generates. For the world, the average is now about 500. It needs to drop below 50 within a couple of decades to prevent disaster.

In this effort, the world can be divided into three general tiers: places that use mostly coal, including Poland, India, China and Australia (they produce about 700 to 800 grams CO2/kWh); places that have mostly replaced coal with natural gas and some renewables, such as the United States and Germany (about 500 grams; California has reached 200-300 grams with great effort); and places that have miraculously decarbonized their grids to below 50 grams.

It’s true ― some places have already reached that goal. Only two methods of electricity generation account for this. Some countries such as Norway and Uruguay are lucky enough to have vast hydroelectric capacity. Most nations don’t, and new hydropower comes at enormous cost to ecosystems.

The other decarbonized grids can be found in places that rely on nuclear power, such as France, Sweden, and Ontario, Canada. Nuclear power is free of carbon pollution; is highly concentrated, which minimizes environmental impacts such as those from mining and waste; and operates 24/7 without needing batteries. Most importantly, it can scale up rapidly ― exactly what’s needed to bring the IPCC’s goals out of fantasyland.

"Based on our analysis of many countries’ experiences, what might take a century to do with renewables alone could be done in 20 years with nuclear power".

Isn’t n-n-nuclear too dangerous, too expensive, too creepy? Well, no. It’s thousands of times safer than coal, which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. Actually, nuclear power is the safest form of energy ever used, in terms of deaths per unit of energy.

Nuclear also generates far less waste than other energy sources, including renewables. The spent fuel from a lifetime of electricity use by an average American generated entirely from nuclear power would fit in a soda can. Someday we’ll bury it, but for now the waste can be left safely in its dry casks, certified for a hundred years, while we attend to bigger issues like saving the planet. What might take a century to do with renewables alone could be done in 20 years with nuclear power.

Doesn’t nuclear power contribute to nuclear weapons proliferation? No. Weapons programs do not depend on civilian nuclear power, which operates under stringent international safeguards. The most problematic nuclear weapons countries, such as North Korea, do not even have civilian nuclear power.

In fact, nuclear electricity has enabled disarmament, as nearly 10 percent of U.S. electricity in the last two decades came from dismantled Russian warheads.

Nuclear power needn’t be too expensive either. Existing U.S. nuclear plants, which generate one-fifth of the nation’s electricity, produce less expensive power than either coal or gas. In South Korea, electricity from nuclear power costs less than 4 cents/kWh, which is cheaper than that from any other source. The key to replicating South Korea’s low costs is to focus on repeatedly building a standardized design, which brings costs down to $2 billion per gigawatt. That’s about double the capital cost of a U.S. natural gas power plant, but half that of a U.S. coal plant and less than half of wind and solar power facilities with equivalent production.

The problem in North America and Europe is that older nuclear plants cost much less than new ones, even though we have better technologies today. The latest U.S. attempts to build nuclear power escalated to $12 billion per gigawatt. But then unlike South Korea, the United States has gone decades without practice. Both Sweden and France have powered growing economies for decades on cheap nuclear power. Both transitioned off fossil electricity in less than 20 years.

There is no reason the world can’t do the same now. The IPCC has told us how urgently the world needs to decarbonize to prevent a climate catastrophe. We need a realistic plan. It will include huge increases in renewable power, greater energy efficiency and shifts in agriculture. It must also include building 100 to 200 new nuclear reactors worldwide each year for the next few decades. Instead of merely taking steps in the right direction that don’t add up, the world needs to get moving along this proven, feasible path to save our planet.

Joshua S. Goldstein, a professor of international relations, and Staffan A. Qvist, a clean energy engineer, are the authors of the forthcoming book A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow