16 votes

A summary of the book "Why Nuclear Power Has Been a Flop" by Jack Devanney

18 comments

  1. [5]
    vektor
    Link
    From just reading the summary (i.e. the post) I would have liked to see explained how the proposed deregulation of safety standards would affect safety. Generally, I thought that old reactors...

    From just reading the summary (i.e. the post) I would have liked to see explained how the proposed deregulation of safety standards would affect safety. Generally, I thought that old reactors (built to lesser safety standards) are less safe - quite significantly so, and to a degree most would consider unacceptable today. Do we really want to go back to that?

    8 votes
    1. [4]
      nukeman
      Link Parent
      Obligatory reminder I’m not on the commercial side of nuclear (DOE BABY!). I would hesitate to say that older reactors are significantly less safe. It really depends on which design you are...

      Obligatory reminder I’m not on the commercial side of nuclear (DOE BABY!).

      I would hesitate to say that older reactors are significantly less safe. It really depends on which design you are discussing (PWR/BWR versus RBMK, for example), and which accident type (core melt, criticality, aircraft accident, etc) is being analyzed. An MSR prevents a core melt, but it isn’t necessarily going to prevent a criticality any better than a PWR. [Aside; a core melt isn’t necessarily a problem, TMI-2’s core remained within the reactor vessel.] I’d also consider that a 1/10000 chance of core damage over 40 years is still really safe.

      I don’t think we should be wholesale deregulating everything, but certain points would be good to consider (e.g., allowing a prototype to be built with reduced regulations to test a reactor plant prior to commercial construction).

      Finally, don’t forget that global climate change is a much worse fate.

      5 votes
      1. [3]
        vektor
        Link Parent
        On the point of climate change I disagree. By the time we could have new reactors online (much less break even in terms of CO2 [lots of concrete and steel]) in 10 years or more, we're fucked in...

        On the point of climate change I disagree. By the time we could have new reactors online (much less break even in terms of CO2 [lots of concrete and steel]) in 10 years or more, we're fucked in terms of climate. We have about 15 years to achieve net zero, and the techs we need to get there are known.

        I agree though on the point that a lot of the regulatory bullying doesn't really help safety.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          spctrvl
          Link Parent
          It's gonna take a lot longer than that to ramp up energy storage infrastructure on the scale needed for a fully renewable grid. I take the opposite position that a crash nuclearization program...

          It's gonna take a lot longer than that to ramp up energy storage infrastructure on the scale needed for a fully renewable grid. I take the opposite position that a crash nuclearization program like France undertook in the 70's and 80's is the quickest realistic path to a carbon neutral grid. It has precedent, and doesn't involve a total redesign of the electric grid and creation of entire supporting industries and supply chains.

          While growth in solar and wind use is impressive, storage represents a fundamental barrier to full adoption far higher than the up front costs and lead times of nuclear plants (especially considering they've been built cheaper and more quickly in the past, per the article) and without that, renewables are just a way to burn less coal, not a viable source of primary power. That's not to say storage is insurmountable, but that there's no way you can ramp up battery production by a factor of over a hundred faster than you can build some nuclear power plants. And non-battery storage is either geographically limited, or in need of further development that makes it equally or more unlikely to meet deadlines.

          2 votes
          1. vektor
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            Synthetic Methane from Green Hydrogen stored in depleted gas fields + gas plants = Cheap Longer-Term storage. And a lot of the infrastructure is already in place. As for the shorter term,...

            And non-battery storage is either geographically limited, or in need of further development that makes it equally or more unlikely to meet deadlines.

            Synthetic Methane from Green Hydrogen stored in depleted gas fields + gas plants = Cheap Longer-Term storage. And a lot of the infrastructure is already in place.

            As for the shorter term, batteries (potentially using plugged-in cars as additional storage). A Tesla Model S, at 100 kWh, has enough storage to last a person 140 hours[1] [2]. I think getting 3 weeks of storage installed in the grid can be achieved in 10 years, probably even sooner if we want. Granted, further electrification will drive those 700W (for germany, that number) up, but that will happen in parallel with expanding the grid and storage, and a good part of these to-be-electrified processes can be switched off in a pinch or have their own battery - "supply following" is almost never talked about, but it's a super useful tool. Slightly inconvenient, but free. [If there's one good reason for Internet-of-shit appliances, it is to run the dishwasher not at your convenience, but at the convenience of the grid.]

            Regarding the point of the limits of battery production, look at crises like the second world war. It was won not by a few high-tech products (Fancy german tanks, jets, V2 rockets or nukes contributed only marginally to the outcome) but rather by mass-production of reasonably well understood and simple products. We have 30 years of very active expertise with Li-Ion, and we used to have that with nuclear power. Those days are gone. Nuclear was the right tech to bridge the gap to renewables 40 years ago, imo. But our leaders refused to see the signs.

            1 vote
  2. [10]
    ImmobileVoyager
    Link
    I almost stopped reading right there : mapping the world on a two-dimensional plane is usually not the greatest harbinger of perspicacity. Moreover, the GDP used to be an interesting metric back...

    There is a great conflict between two of the most pressing problems of our time: poverty and climate change.

    I almost stopped reading right there : mapping the world on a two-dimensional plane is usually not the greatest harbinger of perspicacity. Moreover, the GDP used to be an interesting metric back when economists thought that natural resources were infinite and the world population stable, early last century. We now need better criteria to quantify prosperity.

    Reading further anyway, I found some tidbits that may be interesting, such as the chart labelled Devanney Fig 1.4: Electricity consumption in a decarbonized world, which should be in everyone's mind when considering electric cars or more generally the shape of de-carbonized everything.

    It is indeed a pity that the topic of interest rates isn't mentionned in any other form than a question underlining its conspicuous absence from the book, which, all by itself should be reason enough not to read this book, or at the very least not to read this book only. Interest rates are, after all, the costliest component of an atomic power station.

    Which leads me to two further remarks : first, this article is unbashedly US-centric, although only one in four reactors in revenue service is in the US, and second : since we're considering the economic side of things, it would be a good thing to consider what the economy would be without energy, and also to consider that the enormous deposits of domestic petroleum (used to) set the American economy quite apart from other (post-) industrial nations.

    For those still there and still wanting to investigate the titular question, I warmly recommand this lecture Economics of Nuclear Reactor as well as, for all energy matters, all other lectures by Illinois EnergyProf.

    5 votes
    1. [9]
      NoblePath
      Link Parent
      Warmly, heh heh heh. While reducing the number of dimensions under consideration is necessarily a reduction in perspective, it is often necessary to obtain amy practical value from an analysis....

      warmly recommend

      Warmly, heh heh heh.

      harbinger of perspicacity

      While reducing the number of dimensions under consideration is necessarily a reduction in perspective, it is often necessary to obtain amy practical value from an analysis.

      Interest rates are primarily a byproduct of an artificial market structure and are easily offset by government actors.

      Final challemge to you: of course electric consumption rises as its use supplants traditional, delocalized fossil fuel uses, but this can easily be offset by efficiency gains created by large scale, centralized power generation.

      Considering only petroleum, a car engine is what, 30% efficient vs. an oil fired power plant like 80%? Even accounting for transmission losses all the way to where the rubber meets the road, it’s still a huge improvement.

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        spctrvl
        Link Parent
        I don't think there's an oil plant in the world that's 80% efficient. The point still stands, but it's more like 20-30% for cars and 50% for large scale fossil fuel plants.

        I don't think there's an oil plant in the world that's 80% efficient. The point still stands, but it's more like 20-30% for cars and 50% for large scale fossil fuel plants.

        2 votes
        1. arghdos
          Link Parent
          There’s a reasonable overview of power plant thermal efficiencies by type here. It varies quite a bit, but 30-60% is a good ballpark.

          There’s a reasonable overview of power plant thermal efficiencies by type here. It varies quite a bit, but 30-60% is a good ballpark.

          3 votes
      2. [6]
        ImmobileVoyager
        Link Parent
        in the United States of America ?

        easily offset by government actors.

        in the United States of America ?

        1. [5]
          NoblePath
          Link Parent
          Interest rates are set by the fed, government can also make loans.

          Interest rates are set by the fed, government can also make loans.

          4 votes
          1. [4]
            ImmobileVoyager
            Link Parent
            In the United States of America, the monetary policy enacted by the Federal Reserve System does bear on the cost of money for private corporations, but that's about as far as it goes when...

            In the United States of America, the monetary policy enacted by the Federal Reserve System does bear on the cost of money for private corporations, but that's about as far as it goes when considering the delayed ROI of an atomic power station and how palatable it is for investors accustomed to the Wall Street tunes and rythms.

            The US federal government has been running on debt since 1970 and hasn't much money to lend. Even if it had, its lending money to a private corporation that operates on the commodity market would be problematic on so many level.

            Now, a SOE like the TVA can borrow at very low rates, but in the last 40 years, the forced march to de-regulation make it very unlikely that a new TVA-like organisation be incorporated anytime soon, how desirable that would be.

            1 vote
            1. [3]
              NoblePath
              Link Parent
              The financial crisis bailout and QE would like a word. Seriously you need to back up a claim like this with some reason and data. US debt is a singular entity, it is not like consumer debt, large...

              The US federal government has been running on debt since 1970 and hasn't much money to lend

              The financial crisis bailout and QE would like a word. Seriously you need to back up a claim like this with some reason and data.

              US debt is a singular entity, it is not like consumer debt, large corporate debt, state governmant debt, or even the debt of many other sovereigns. This is because, in part, of the unique status of the US dollar in the world, and the US govt ability to affect supply.

              My pet theory, admittedly somewhat radical, is that US debt is really a form of sorta kinda democratized tribute, paid in deference to the financial stability provided by pax americana. While imperfect, that stability is unparalleled in the known history of civilization.

              4 votes
              1. [2]
                ImmobileVoyager
                Link Parent
                In all seriousness, no, I don't. Every conversation starts by assuming a shared knowledge and understanding of basic facts. Your pet theory isn't radical, it's cute.

                Seriously you need to back up a claim like this

                In all seriousness, no, I don't. Every conversation starts by assuming a shared knowledge and understanding of basic facts.

                Your pet theory isn't radical, it's cute.

                1. NoblePath
                  Link Parent
                  I’m happy to engage you as far as you are amenable in exploring how facts match your theory, but tildes is not the proper venue. Do you have a favorite subreddit or discord server?

                  I’m happy to engage you as far as you are amenable in exploring how facts match your theory, but tildes is not the proper venue. Do you have a favorite subreddit or discord server?

                  1 vote
  3. Wes
    Link
    Interesting post. That restriction on multiplexing is something I'd like to read more about. Imagine something like that on modern computers. I'm not wholly convinced on the takeaways at the end,...

    Interesting post. That restriction on multiplexing is something I'd like to read more about. Imagine something like that on modern computers.

    I'm not wholly convinced on the takeaways at the end, but I think there's probably some truth to it. The only one I can't really see is this:

    Align regulator incentives with the industry. Instead of an hourly fee for regulatory review, fund the NRC by a tax on each kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity, giving them a stake in the outcome and the growth of the industry.

    I feel this would create an incentive to rubber stamp reactor designs even before they're ready. For an approval board, having incentives completely decoupled to what they're approving seems more sensible to me.

    It's an interesting article. Nuclear does seem like one of the biggest missed opportunities so far.

    3 votes
  4. skybrian
    Link
    Here's a Twitter thread with some interesting points about the economics of nuclear power. It doesn't look good in the US, but other countries might do better.

    Here's a Twitter thread with some interesting points about the economics of nuclear power. It doesn't look good in the US, but other countries might do better.

    2 votes
  5. nukeman
    Link
    Liked the review. Disagree with the original author on a few points.

    Liked the review. Disagree with the original author on a few points.